Sunday, July 19, 2009

Parenthood 5 months in

This past week, Baby MoneyPenny was 5 months old. In some ways, those weeks and months have passed in an eye blink. In others, it may well have been years. It's hard to remember what life was like without our daughter - it seems like she's always been here.

The first few weeks were pricey - she came a bit early, so we weren't totally ready (although at 38 weeks along, probably should have been). It felt like every day my husband made a new run to Babies R Us. Starting to burn through our savings - even for it's intended purpose - was tough. For the first few weeks we burned through diapers at an alarming rate - we held off on the cloth diapers until we got adjusted and I healed from my surgery, and now we use a mix of cloth and paper. 

We didn't buy a lot of baby gear up front. Since every baby likes different things, we waited until we knew what we would use. The baby swing and bumbo seat were both great spends. The swing buys me 20 minute stretches of free hands, which is miraculous for a new parent.  

Since she loved the swing at my sister's house, we ended up getting the same one for home. You don't mess with what works when you are trying to get some downtime.

I had also refrained from buying a lot of clothes before she was born. Hand me downs and gifts made up her wardrobe for the first weeks of life, and after that I started shopping. I've bought both retail and second-hand, and will probably continue to do both. But as I find more secondhand sources of clothes, and  yard sale season continues, I hope that retail purchases will be to supplement gaps, rather than to be her primary source of outfits. But buying her cute outfits is fun, and I suspect we will sometimes succumb to temptation. Sale stuff though.

I went back to work part-time early, and began supplementing with formula. She ended up requiring an expensive formula because of some food sensitivities - and eventually I had to wean her.  Formula runs about $280 a month. Insurance now reimburses us for it, but it's a pretty big outlay every month while we wait for the money back.  

Severe reflux and a milk protein allergy sent us to the doctor and ER , and eventually a pediatric GI specialist multiple times. Copays and prescriptions have cost a couple hundred dollars thus far. This was far more than we bargained for.

But other than the surprises of some small medical costs, and some gear we hadn't bought up front, like the baby monitor, swing, pack n' play, and so on, the biggest cost (and one we planned for) is child care.  It's worth it though - our child is loved and well cared for at my sister's home.   That and the fact that we're finally probably going to indulge in a housekeeper 2x a month, since working has made it near-impossible to keep up.  I've managed to keep the house relatively clean, but that means that all attempts at organization and other projects have fallen by the wayside.  Which means our dining room now looks like the local dead letter office, with piles of paper breeding in the corners.  I can't manage it all, and my husband's chores focus around yard work and the projects we need done, like finishing the shelves in my daughter's closet.

So working parenthood is pricey, I'll admit.  I'm happy to be back to work, and I do like my job, despite missing my daughter.  I am lucky, she was almost 5 months when I finally went back full-time, and I get a day a week to work from home.   Every expense has been worth it.  

Still, I'd recommend to new parents to get as much second-hand as you can.  The $7 fill-a-bag sale clothes from The Children's Orchard (a used clothing chain) and bulk clothing I've gotten off craigslist are just as cute as my Gymboree indulgences.  I may not give up on Gymboree entirely, especially buying larger sizes at their end of season sales.  My daughter already has some great clothes for next summer at fire sale prices, both used and new.

And while I'm not a fan of used stuffed animals, any toy that can be washed clean is fair game at yard sales.  New toys are often not worth the price.  And our local 'used book superstore' has been a great source of children's books cheap.

When you can't buy, borrow.  Our high chair is being borrowed from my sister, and I've gotten other loaner items as well.  Kids go through gear pretty fast, so it's worth not spending too much.  That said, a notable exception is a pack n play - that's worth owning.  We used it when she was an infant in our room, and since we travel a fair bit, it's already earned it's keep.

Kids can be expensive...but they are also worth every penny.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Local Food Project

Last summer, I had a disappointing garden year.  Intense rain, the fact that we were late to the planting season after working to build out the first three garden beds (of a planned 7-8) and pregnancy exhaustion meant that our yield was only so-so.  We managed to freeze some homemade salsa, roast some peppers, and have a few salads from our garden, but that was really about it.  

This year isn't going to be much better.  While we do have a garden planted, it's pretty small - some potatoes, tomatoes, kale, and a few other things.  We didn't start any of it ourselves, despite me being proactive about buying seeds before our daughter came along.  Thankfully, most seeds last for multiple years (and often even increase germination rates) as long as they are stored in a cool, dry place, so we're all prepared for next year. Instead, my sister and parents took pity on our sleep-deprived selves and gave us some seedlings.  

But similar rains this past June, making Massachusetts feel like a temperate rain forest, rotted many of those seedlings.  

And the remaining garden beds will have to wait another year, as will a chicken coop and chickens, our next sustainable living project.  We have some critical house projects that need to get started now that I'm back to work.  So that means that we won't be providing very much of our own food this year.  

And after an experiment with a CSA that just didn't work that well for us, I was back to the drawing board.  But food price increases are making a local diet harder.  

The downside of living in a high-population, high cost of living area in the current economy is that local food is expensive - far more so than last year.  I mean it's really expensive.  A quart of organic strawberries from the local farmstand, in season?  $6.59.  Local beef?  $8-$11 a pound. Local chicken?  $20 for a whole chicken.  A head of lettuce?  $4.


Since our total grocery budget (this includes personal care and cleaning supplies), not including diapers and baby supplies, is about $400-450.00 per month right now, it's clear that shopping at our local farmstand is perhaps not the most financially sustainable option.  It's still a part of our shopping repertoire, but isn't replacing the grocery store.

The farm stand does have a co-op for a cost of $50 a year, and I'm mulling over giving it a try. There's a 129-page abbreviated text catalog that I need to go through first, just to make sure there's foods that we would eat that make the purchases worth our while.

Still, local is important to us.  And so is growing our own food, now that there are signs that perhaps, someday, our 5 month old daughter will sleep more.  There's still time for a late summer garden, and some fall lettuces.

I've found a local beef farm about 2 hours away that sells in bulk, and my parents are talking about going in with us.  My older sister, in upstate NY, is willing to raise us meat chickens, and we still have some from the last batch she raised.   I make it to the farmstand about once or twice a month now, which is far less than I would like, but it will have to do for now.

With the cost of local food going up so high, it means that we're going to have to focus more on what we can grow.  So we're adding some more strawberry plants and a couple peach trees this year, and then next spring we'll break ground on the remaining 5 garden beds, and start up on the chicken coop.  It's my hope by July of 2010 we'll have chickens helping us on bug patrol, and finally that big garden we dream of.  

In the meantime there's the farmstand and the grocery store, and the occasional donation of fresh produce from family - and that will have to do.  It's not my preferred way of doing things, but it is what works now.