Category Archives: Three Weeks, Three Kids: Summer Break on a Shoestring Budget


“The Second Week”: 3 Weeks, 3 Kids, entry #8

Days 8-14, July 24-30

Money Spent: $769
Thurs: $90 groceries and cleaning supplies
Fri: $71 gas, fill up (completely empty tank) + $100 groceries (shabbat dinner and weekend groceries)
Sat: $45 Chinese Food dinner + $75 parking ticket (from June) + $15 emergency Safeway trip
Sun: $245 groceries (Sun dinner plus stocking up for week)
Mon: $15 used book store; $11 new lunchbox for Duncan for school year; $12 bagels; $20 swimming pool admission
Tues: $26 swimming pool admission + ice cream sandwiches
Wed: $12 train tickets; $7 merry-go-round tickets; $25 dinner
Spending an average of more than a hundred dollars a day does NOT jive with my idea of a shoestring budget… On the other hand, we spent $0 on childcare, household help, camps, classes and our entire week’s budget for activities/entertainment for our family of five was $59, which is an average of less than $9/day. We filled up our gas tank once, had to pay for one expensive mistake (the parking ticket for running over the meter), and spent $25 on material goods (used books and a new lunchbox). The rest of our week’s expenses was food. Wish us good fortune when our three hungry boys hit their teen years…

Miles Driven: 150
Thurs: 67 miles
Fri: 45 miles
Sat/Sun/Mon/Tues = 0 miles
Wed: 38 miles

Quantity/Quality of Exercise: Good
I ran everyday this week, although most were just quick runs with Floyd in the morning. Floyd is NOT a good running partner yet. Runs with him involve racing down one block and then coaxing and pleading slowly up the next… and then we are back to a sprint on the next block. One day I hope he will master trotting along at human jogging speed.

Since we didn’t use the car Sat-Tues, the kids got a lot of walking, biking, and scootering, plus swimming at the public pool two days in a row.

Run: Yes. A couple longer runs over the weekend plus short runs on the weekdays. I am not nearly as speedy as would want to be this close to the start of cross country season—my longer runs were pretty plodding—but at least I’m starting to be able to work running into our daily routine again.

Read: Yes although mostly just reading children’s books aloud. At least the Sherlock Holmes I’m reading to the older boys is fun and interesting for me, too.

Write: Some. I focused more on getting out and about with the kids this week, which meant I did not get to spend much time in front of my computer. The “Accidental Blackface” story was my only post this entire week.

Temper: B+ average for the week. Most days, I think I did a very good job enjoying the kids and my time with them, but there were still times when I probably would have been just as (in)effective disciplining without raising my voice.

Toll on House/Yard: High. Things are not looking good around our home these days. Every room and surface is trashed. I’ve got to find a way to get things somewhat under control just so I don’t feel embarrassed when people stop by.

Screen Time: 285 minutes
Thurs: 0 min
Fri: 120 min (family movie night: “The Nut Job”)
Sat: 0 min for Wyatt; 45 min of “Max and Ruby” for Duncan and Milo
Sun: 120 min (kids watched “The Nut Job” again before we returned the movie)
Mon: 0 min
Tues: 0 min
Wed: 0 min

Scheduled, over-, under-, or just right?: Just right. Things felt pretty good this week. The weekend was kind of amorphous—we didn’t really do anything—but during the weekdays, we had a good routine of doing one outing or activity per day.


Thursday: Beach Day!

I took the kids and dog to spend the afternoon at the beach with my sister and her baby. It was Floyd’s first beach trip. I was interested to see what he would make of the sand and ocean. As it turned out, initially the presence of other dogs and people was far more interesting to him than anything else. He cavorted around, accepting pats and attention from people near the beach entrance and then galloped right down to the water’s edge to play with a friendly boxer-mix. At one point, in the midst of their frenetic play, Floyd launched himself Superman-style across the toned and oiled stomachs of three sunbathing European guys (who luckily had a sense of humor about the situation). When he finally took notice of the ocean, he startled and ran to hide, trembling, behind my legs and had to be coaxed and carried back down to the water. That was all it took for him to accept that the beach was F-U-N. After that, he played nonstop, spreading sand and joy wherever he went. He tends to be a pretty lazy, mellow puppy at home, so it was a riot to see him so energetic.


Floyd made a friend.

My sister brought burritos and a picnic blanket for our lunch. Keeping sand off the blanket/out of the food was a losing battle from the first. The kids were so excited to be there that they could not be convinced to just stay put and eat their food. They would come running over and plunk their soggy sandy bottoms down on the blanket for two bites and then jump up, kicking sand behind them as they ran back down to the water, fully expecting their food to be there waiting for them when they came back for another bite. Thus, instead of playing with my little niece or chatting with my sister or splashing with my boys in the ocean, I spent most of the first part of our visit guarding the food from dogs and sand and calling the kids to come back and just eat up before everything got stone cold.

At one point I found myself distracted by some kid who was just completely coated in sand from head to toe. He must have dunked himself in the water and then rolled around in the sand intentionally to have managed to so thoroughly coat his arms, legs, shirt, and shorts. I was just about to elbow my sister and say, “Hey, look at that kid over there!” when I realized… it was Wyatt. I should have guessed.

Friday: Gardening + aborted movie trip

wyatt gardening

We have been looking after the garden at the elementary school since we got back from visiting my parents in the midwest. When I volunteered for this job, it sounded like a really good deal: in exchange for a little watering and weeding, we would get to harvest and eat anything that ripened under our watch. I have been meaning to put in a vegetable garden for, oh, about the past eight years now. Somehow it never comes to fruition. In theory, this would be an excellent way to get some of the experience and benefits of a summer vegetable garden without any of the upfront expense and labor.

In practice, here is what it is like: we get out the door about an hour after intended, bike over to the school, and arrive just as the sun starts really beating down on us. The kids love opening the lock on the shed and taking out the water key—this is Super Secret Special Access Stuff and makes them feel mighty important. If anyone happens by while we are there, they call out something to the effect of: “We get to do this [not you] because we [not you] are taking care of the garden [not you]!” They proceed to overfill the watering cans and then slosh water down their fronts while lugging their cans from bed to bed, watering and weeding haphazardly. We are in a serious drought. The sloshed water causes tension in my mind: “Spilled water is waste. Waste is bad. Therefore, kids in the garden is bad…. But caring for plants and working hard is good for kids and eating vegetables is good for them, too. Therefore, kids in the garden is good…” After watering, Duncan and Wyatt like to terrify me by helping prune and harvest with the Super Sharp Shears. Neither has lost a finger… yet. As they work, they systematically eat anything that can be consumed immediately: almost ripe blueberries and strawberries, sour apples, the occasional string bean or snap pea, and the flowers off the nasturtium and fennel. The berries are especially attractive because the most direct route to those bushes is to hop the fence. (This is an activity that they enjoy enough to find excuses to go back and forth several times per gardening session.) Once there is nothing left to eat and all three kids are soggy from the watering, and soil is thoroughly jammed under their fingernails and turning to mud mixed with the sunscreen on their faces, they lose interest and wander off to the playground to leave me to fill in the gaps in their “work”.

Here is what we have been able to harvest and bring home from the garden in the past two weeks: cucumbers, lots and lots of enormous cucumbers. More cucumber than we typically eat in a year’s time. And two small yellow squash. That’s it. We love tomatoes, but not a one of the many, many hard green ones on the vines has shown any sign of ripening under our care.

You say "potatoes"... even Milo knows that those are "'matoes".

You say “potatoes”… but even Milo knows that those are “‘matoes”.

In the late afternoon, after our gardening responsibilities were completed, I loaded the kids in the car to go see a movie I’ve been promising to take them to for weeks now: “Earth to Echo”. It is only showing at a theater nearly a half hour’s drive away from us. I thought I was accounting for rush hour when I gave us an extra twenty minutes to get there. No such luck. We sat in traffic, inching forward as the movie time ticked closer and closer. I stayed the course even as we passed the movie start time, thinking I would account for previews and then, maybe the beginning of the movie wouldn’t be all that important… but finally, when it was fifteen minutes past the start of the movie and we still had five miles to go, I gave up and pulled off the highway. We went to the grocery store instead. One of these days I am going to learn how to stay off the roads during rush hours. (As a consolation, Aaron stopped by a Redbox on his bike ride home from work and picked up the only kids’ movie available that looked even halfway decent. It was “The Nut Job”—one that Wyatt has been asking to see, so he was happy.)

Saturday: Kindergarten Social + Making Floyd Puke
Today we had a play date with a bunch of Duncan’s future kindergarten classmates. One of Wyatt’s friends from school happened to stop by our house just as we were getting ready to leave for the kindy social, so we brought her along with us. The kids had a good time and Aaron and I got to meet the other parents, a couple of whom we already know from the neighborhood and/or having kids together in Wyatt’s grade. This is such a different experience from Wyatt’s kindergarten start. In his case, we had just moved across the country, knew nobody, and Milo was born four days before the first day of school. Wyatt did a pretty good job of just rolling with it, but Duncan is a very sensitive kid, so having a more solid start is good for him.

In the evening, I was pretty sure Floyd had swallowed the pit of a pluot—at least, I had one pit unaccounted for after dinner. My Aunt Amy, who is a vet, advised me to make him puke by squirting hydrogen peroxide down his throat, half a teaspoon at a time. Apparently this only works with fresh hydrogen peroxide, so Aaron went off to the Safeway to grab a bottle. (Even in the midst of this minor emergency, he had the presence of mind to remember to pick up a big pump bottle of hair conditioner, which I had been meaning to do– and forgetting– for several days prior, only remembering once I was already in the shower at night.)

I successfully made Floyd puke up the pit. The kids all came running out in the backyard in their pajamas, calling, “Wait for me! Wait for me!”, not wanting to miss this exciting event. The pit came up, along with half a blue crayon and a 3-inch long piece of a chew toy, and the kids all made gagging noises and ran back into the house, thoroughly thrilled and grossed out.

Sunday: Alone Time + Scrabble Date
Aaron took the kids and Floyd up the road to the park in the morning to give me some time to myself. I got to take a little run and then write most of the story about the kids donning blackface (see entry #7 if you missed that fiasco). I am not sure how many days it had been since I had had that much time to myself. It was lovely.

After lunch, we set out to take care of the garden and then found that Wyatt’s bike was “stolen”. It turned out he had left it at his friend’s house the day before, so we had to head the long way round to the garden to grab his bike. And the long way round anything is always exponentially longer when Wyatt is on foot because he finds a ridiculous number of distractions along the way. We were in no rush, so I let him chat to people in their yards as we walked along. We were invited back to see stranger’s gardens, shown birds’ nests, and fed fresh tomatoes and berries, which I hoped could count as afternoon snack. When we finally made it to the school garden, Milo wet his pants, so I had to call Aaron to drop off an emergency pair on his way to band practice. Milo was a bare-bottomed little gardener for a good half hour that day and did not mind one bit.

Usually once the kids are in bed, Aaron has work to do. This night, Aaron asked me if I wanted to drink some wine and play Scrabble. Of course I said “yes”. It was like going on a surprise date (to our kitchen table). Also, I love Scrabble and I had not played in several years. Just before Aaron’s brother died last year, we had arranged to have a weekly Saturday night babysitter for the kids so that we could have regular date nights for the first time since Wyatt was born in 2006. It was good we had arranged this ahead of time because the framework was already in place when Adam died and having those weekly evenings together was very important during those first few months of intense mourning. In late November, we bought our house and soon found we had to give up our date nights. In 2014, we have gone out without our kids a grand total of four times. One of those times was to go couch-shopping with Aaron’s mom when she came to visit.

This is fine. A lack of date nights and alone time is a common “hardship” for parents of young kids. Still, I am reminded of the advice Aaron gives undergrads who are considering applying to doctoral programs but are hesitant to commit so many years of their lives to further education. Aaron tells them they cannot think of the pursuing of a PhD as a time that their lives will be on hold. You still continuing living life even while in grad school. You will eat and sleep, work and play, meet people and go places, think thoughts, lose stuff, watch the seasons change. Life goes on, whether you believe it does or not. Date nights are not a financial possibility for us at the moment, but we still need to find a way to enjoy our years together as a couple. Sure, we stayed up too late and drank more than our usual single glass of wine per night, but it was fun and totally worth it. I teased Aaron for taking too long on his turns. He accused me of stealing his heritage when I bingoed with “BRISKETT”.

Monday: Lots and Lots of Walking + Abandoned Play Center
We have not gotten back in the routine of visiting the library since we moved last December. For the months of the school year, I was able to borrow books from Wyatt’s school library, which was convenient since I was there every afternoon anyway. But now it is the end of July, school is long over, and we still have not visited our local library once. I have also been meaning to take the kids swimming on a weekly basis. They only swam three times from last summer’s visit to my parents’ house until this summer’s. There’s a pool just half a mile up the hill from our house.

I decided today would be the day. Our first official Monday Library Day and weekly trip to the public pool of potentially many years to come. Then we walked over to the library, got there just before 10AM only to find that it doesn’t even open until 12:30PM on Mondays, which was right when I had anticipated heading up to the pool, which opens for recreation swim only in the afternoons. I stood there, trying to decide how to reschedule our day’s activities on the fly.

“Can we go to that playground?” Duncan asked, pointing to a small structure with a slide on the property adjacent to the library’s.

“Sure,” I said. They were off and over the fence in a flash. I walked around the perimeter looking for the gate.

Climbing fences is their hobby.

Hopping fences is a shared passion.

Once I found a way in, I started looking around. Something was not quite right. It was clearly a childcare facility of some sort, with two play structures, garden beds, and a school building, but it looked as if it had been abandoned and unused for some time. Could all those leaves on the tricycles just be from the months of summer break?

zzzz zz

“This is eerie,” Wyatt said.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I wonder what happened.”

We poked around, gathering evidence. The play toys for the yard were locked up and inaccessible, but we could see that they were sun-faded, dusty and covered in brown leaves. The windows were dirty, but by peering in, we saw nice-looking gym equipment in a large room, a photo of smiling preschoolers on the wall, the academic year 2010-2011 printed underneath. Budget cuts, was my first guess. But Wyatt had another theory: “I think I know what happened,” he said.


“I think there was a terrible virus that broke out or a chemical leak and then everyone started getting super sick and dying and they just panicked and locked up the whole school so the virus wouldn’t get out-”

“You mean, with the people still inside?”

“Well, the ones that didn’t escape…” (If I didn’t know better, I would think he had been secretly reading Steven King or Michael Crichton.)

“Wy, I think it was probably something simpler, like not having enough money to keep the school running.”

“No, no, look around, Mommy. It is definitely something more eerie than that.”


Looking around a place like that, I can’t help but imagine what I would do with it given enough resources: revamp the playgrounds, plant some trees and flowers, power wash and repaint the building in bright child-friendly murals, dust the classrooms and stock them with wooden blocks and art supplies and cozy reading nooks. And then, their world prepared, bring back the teachers and the children and watch them thrive.

My sons were right there with me before I had even shared this vision with them: “What if nobody wants this place?” they asked. “What if we could buy it and make it the best preschool ever?”

“It would have swings!” said Duncan, who has recently learned to pump.

“And a workshop with real tools!” said Wyatt.

“And ‘matoes in garden!” said Milo.

“And a paint wall!” I said and they agreed that was a very good idea.

Another fun thought exercise was to imagine what would become of the place if it was left unattended for decades. We thought about which animals would move in first– the general consensus was that the rodents and birds would be the first occupants, but they were all pretty certain that mountain lions and bears would move in given enough time. The drought-hearty plants popping up in the cracks of the blacktop helped show how quickly the process of returning to nature begins.

monsucculent mon3

Because the library was closed, we walked instead to the used book store and I let them each pick out a book or two, including the next book in the Harry Potter series, which Aaron has been reading with Wyatt. Then we walked to the bagel shop. Then home to walk Floyd. Then up the hill to the pool. In the end it was more than six miles of hilly walking for those little legs and an hour in the pool (Milo had to be carried home from the pool because he finally hit the wall). For once, they all went to bed with minimal fuss.

Tuesday: Pool
After all the activity of the day before, I felt okay about having a lazy morning at home. The kids played and stayed in their pajamas until lunchtime. Then we headed back up the road to swim again. This was our third visit ever to this pool. The first had been in the spring, before school let out for the summer. On that visit, the kids’ first swim in a while, they stuck close to me and were a little tentative about remembering how to swim. What a difference a couple months makes. As soon as we walked in the door, Wyatt declared he was ready for the swim test. I didn’t even know there was a swim test. He warmed up and then passed the test, earning a wrist band and the freedom to go off the diving board and swim in any of the three pools without needing to stay within arm’s reach of a parent. Duncan, meanwhile, made a friend and was completely independent of me playing underwater torpedos with his new buddy. This left Milo to play with me. We discovered a new mutually enjoyable game, which I called, “Super Flying Jump Shot”. This is how to play: Milo holds a ball and then I throw him up in the air in the direction of the waterside basketball hoop and he tries to make a basket before he splashes back into the pool. I was worried he would tire of the game before I did, but every time I checked with him, he had a big smile on his face and would declare, “My shoot ‘nother time! My win! My win!” Maybe I finally will have at least one child who wants to play ball sports with me. I can’t tell you how many times I have brought a soccer ball to the park only to end up kicking around with someone else’s children.

Wednesday: Tilden Park

Dogs are allowed to swim in Lake Anza in Tilden Park, so I decided we would take Floyd on an adventure to teach him how to doggy paddle. First we rode the train through the redwoods (which dogs are allowed to ride without a ticket), then we stopped to take in the view of the Bay from the hills, and then we hiked to the lake. There were retrievers and pit bull mixes splashing fearlessly into the water in pursuit of tennis balls when we arrived. Floyd was interested, but not enough to wade any deeper than his waist. I tried luring him deeper with crusts of the kids’ PB&Js, but he would not make any effort to go for the pieces beyond his immediate reach. Once I tried carrying him into deeper water and setting him down. He sunk and then floundered, trying to claw his way up in to my arms. I came to the conclusion that Floyd is a cream puff. The same traits that make him such a good family dog make him a pretty uninspiring athlete. He gives up easily—if something is out of his reach, he does not try for it—and accepts his place at the bottom of the totem pole without any struggle. He is sweetness to his core. We have never heard him growl once. At this point in my life, I’ll take a dumb, easy dog over any other variety.

Toward the end of our hike, we found a sandy place for the kids to wade. Right as it was time to start hiking back to the car, Floyd surprised us all by inching forward until he was deep enough that his natural doggy instincts—weak as they are—kicked in and he started paddling around. We all cheered, “Yay, Floydy! You can swim! Good boy!” which so surprised him that he stopped paddling and sunk under again. I pulled him up, sputtering and sneezing, and he licked my neck appreciatively as I carried my wimpy baby back to shore.


 Addendum: We did a fun art project we did this week. We used a little mini watercolor kit that the kids got in their Easter baskets this year to make abstract paintings. Then the kids used permanent markers to outline pictures they discovered hidden in the watercolors.

Wyatt and Mommy masterpiece

Watercolor by Mommy; Marker by Wyatt.


Works in progress.

duncan art

Watercolor by Duncan, Milo and Mommy; Marker by Duncan.