Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Childcare in America: Challenges and Solutions

I recently read this article which covered the history of childcare in America and government involvement in childcare from World War 2 to present day. Although I did not fact check the article, it lines up with much of what I know about the history of working women in our country and the challenges they have faced in balancing childcare with career.

As I have written about already this year regarding maternity leave, I do not believe women can have it all. It is simply impossible to have a career and be the best mom you want to be. Each week working women spend 40 hours on the job, 3-5 hours on lunch breaks, and more hours on commute time, leaving just a few hours at the beginning and end of the day to get everyone ready and to wind down.

The article I read discusses how devastating childcare costs can be, especially for single moms or lower income families. The cost is so prohibitive that mothers especially of two or more children often cannot go to work because of inconsistent and unaffordable care.

The author suggests that it is time for the government to step in like it did during World War 2 by offering subsidized childcare. The author wants workers to be paid more and for the government to make more facilities available. Yet the author wants parents to pay much less.

While this is a fantastic idea, it makes me wonder what would happen if those wishes were implemented. If childcare options are already poor, imagine how bad it might be if the government were to run it. Every government "service" I participate in is typically a hellish experience. Think about waiting in line at the DMV or filing taxes. Think about our K-12 public school system (which most people would agree needs an overhaul). The government lowers incentives for efficiency and quality. When the government pays for, subsidizes, or completely takes over an industry, the standards typically lower and the costs go up.

The other issue with government subsidized childcare (or government subsidized anything) is that someone will be paying for the subsidized childcare. The money will come from one of three places:
  1. Higher taxes (which typically trickles down and hurts the people it was supposed to help)
  2. Debt (which will have to be paid by future generations)
  3. Inflation (which is basically a tax on everyone as it raises the cost of goods)

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I made $15/hour. But I was a contractor and had to pay all my own taxes so it was really more like $12/hour. But, my hours were not consistent and I worked a lot of night shifts. So I left that position for one that only paid $10/hour but had consistent, daytime hours and commission opportunity. So, I typically made between $400-$550/week. On a bad week where I did not commission, my paycheck would be less than $400 because of taxes. This job offered no sick days or paid time off so if I did not work my full 40 hours, I was out of luck. I called in sick one day (I had a cold) the whole six months I worked there and took on overtime when it was available since I was trying to pay for my midwife and save for an unpaid maternity leave.

Thankfully, once I gave birth to my daughter, I got another job which paid significantly better plus offered vacation, sick days, and reasonably priced benefits. In addition, my parents and little sister have flexible enough schedules and big enough hearts that they were willing to watch my child.

If I had not gotten a better paying job or if I had not had childcare through my family, I do not think I would have returned to work as more than half of my smaller paychecks would have gone to childcare expenses. Not to mention, I know that the quality of childcare can be spotty and I do not easily trust people around my child. I am not sure what I would have done to bring in income for my family, but it would have had to have been something I could do at home while caring for a child.

I can only imagine how difficult this situation is for many women who do not have a spouse, do not have family support, and do not have a decent salary.

Like with the dilemma of maternity leave, I do not have an easy answer to this challenge. I think the best thing the government could do for moms, however, is to get out of the way. If income taxes were actually lower, women would have more of their paycheck to go toward childcare. In addition, the government has many regulations on childcare facilities which cost them time and money to comply with. While the regulations and standards were implemented to keep kids safe, they raise the cost of care. I would recommend the government lift the regulations and allow parents to make the best decision they can regarding their child's care. With online reviews, childcare centers which do not offer quality care will soon run out of customers. They will be forced to self-regulate in order to keep their customers. By creating barriers to entry through regulations, though, the government may be keeping potential daycare centers from ever getting started in the industry because they cannot afford to get through all the red tape. Less competition means higher prices for parents.

Like many issues facing our society, there is no one size solution or easy answer. My personal belief is that the more freedom people have to open up businesses (like childcare facilities) and the more money that is in the hands of the parents (through lower taxes), the more choices parents will have to get quality care for their child at a price that they can afford.

For my family, I can only express how thankful I am that my parents are in a position to watch my child which puts me at much greater ease while at work and in a better position financially (compared to other moms who pay for expensive care).

What solutions can you think of?

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Cruise Experience: Tips, Tricks, & Ideas

I love to travel. However, going on a cruise was not travelling. It was a vacation.


travel (v) - make a journey, typically of some length or abroad


vacation (n) - an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home


Going on vacation may involve travel, but travel does not always equal vacation.


In high school and college, I spent several months working and living in a different place (once in Hungary and once in South Dakota). Both locations offered plenty of tourist attractions, but in both instances I spent a good amount of time building a community and making friends (not just sightseeing). I had a job and a purpose in my presence. I did not just receive but I was able to give to the community. This is how I prefer to travel.


Last week, my husband and I went on our first true vacation. We went on a 5-day cruise stopping in Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico. The whole purpose of the cruise was to relax, have fun, and enjoy ourselves -- to escape reality. This is a pretty foreign concept to us. We have gone on trips "just for fun", but never one where we were waited on hand and foot. A few times a year I will get a pedicure or a massage or try to find a way to treat myself, but those instances are always short and few and far between. Our past travels have always involved family and were not nearly so "luxurious" as a cruise. This was definitely a new experience for us!

I wanted to take some time to write out my thoughts and top tips for any other newbie cruisers.

Tip #1: If you are going to cruise, work to get into relaxation mode before you get to the boat! Prepare ahead of time, do breathing exercises on your way down, and get in the right mindset.

It probably took me 24 hours after stepping on the ship to feel relaxed. After all the stress of whether or not we were even going to have a cruise and get to the ship due to hurricane issues in addition to just not being used to being on vacation mode, I struggled to unwind and relax. I was also leaving behind my daughter overnight for the first time which made me feel guilty.

A cruise involves nightclubs, bars, pools, hot tubs, comedy clubs, casinos, music shows, being waited on, not having to pick up after yourself, having photographers constantly trying to snap your photo, and food (lots and lots of food!). And that's just what is on the ship! Once you get to port, excursions can include day passes at resorts (which means more food, alcohol, and pools) or more adventurous excursions such as horseback riding, ATVs, or other tours. Nothing about a cruise is "normal" (at least not in my life). So getting in the right mindset before you begin can help you take advantage of every minute of the cruise.


Tip #2: Even if it is not your usual scene, try some alcoholic beverages and study up on casino games and etiquette. Those two activities are how a lot of people spend their time on the cruise. I did feel like I was "missing out" a bit by not being a part of that scene.

I'm pregnant so alcoholic drinks were out for me. Drinking by the pool is a big part of a cruise so if that's what you like, a cruise is probably a good choice for you! In addition, people who love to gamble were having a great time. We have never been to a casino so we tried a few slot machines but were honestly so confused and had no idea what we were doing so we did not spend much time there. I wish we had studied up a bit more regarding casino games before getting on-board.

Tip #3: To reduce spending, look for deals, ask for discounts, or just wait till you get to your port of call. Going on a cruise does not have to break the bank, but you need to be prepared to shop around a little.

The two things we spent the most money on was a couple's massage and on photos. (If we were into gambling and drinking, those probably would have made up most of our on-cruise spending.) As it turns out, there were several places in port to get a great massage at a fraction of the price we paid on the boat. In addition, we probably did not need every single photo we purchased. So if you do not want to get caught in the trap of over-purchasing photos, I would suggest just not getting so many of them taken. Once you see them, you feel an attachment because those are your photos. If you decide you do not want the photo, they have you put it in a recycle bin. So you are literally throwing away perfectly good photos of yourself. The cruise line has a monopoly on everything so services like spa treatments and professional photos are not cheap.

Tip #4: Take advantage of the food and order as much as you want. There was more than one day where my husband had steak at both breakfast and dinner. I also ordered multiple appetizers at dinner more than one night. If it sounds good, try it. If you don't like it, don't eat it, but a cruise is a fun way to try new foods. The food is part of the price of admission so enjoy!

Tip #5: Try something new on-board. The gambling was not the only new activity we tried out. One of the things we enjoyed the most as far as on-board entertainment was the comedy club. We have never been to a comedy club so we went to multiple shows and laughed until our bellies hurt! Now that we know how much we enjoyed it, we will be looking at comedy clubs in town for us to visit for date night.

Tip #6: Consider booking excursions through a third party. The cruise line offers interesting and fun excursions for when you are in port, but so do a lot of great local companies.

For our time in Cozumel, I booked a dune buggy tour of the island which included an amazing local lunch and snorkeling. My husband and I had a tour guide all to ourselves. After tipping our amazing guide, we paid about the same as we would have paid through the cruise line for a similar excursion except ours was completely private. We talked to some other cruisers who booked third party and they agreed that their experience was wonderful and their group was very small and intimate for typically a better price than the cruise line offered. Some people get nervous about booking an excursion third party because they have to be back at the boat by a certain time. However, the third party companies know the rules and will help ensure you get back in plenty of time.


Pro-tip: don't go on a cruise when you are as far along in your pregnancy as I am! If possible, I would recommend not being pregnant at all so that you can also drink as much as you want. However, if you do go on a cruise pregnant, it can still be a blast. But as your belly gets bigger, sleep becomes less comfortable. I slept fairly well but did struggle at times. Because of weight gain, I also just felt like I had less stamina than I otherwise would have had.

On a similar note, I would not recommend bringing very small children. As much as I missed our daughter, the cruise would not have been a good experience for any of us if she had joined. She needs a lot of sleep -- she sleeps 11-12 hours/night and usually takes two naps during the day. This is awesome at home, but not conducive to a vacation. If she had come with us, we would have been confined for more than half of the cruise to our cabin due to her sleep schedule. We would have missed out on the evening entertainment (or had to take turns watching the baby while the other spouse went alone). There is on-board babysitting but that is an added expense plus you are leaving your child with a stranger (not a comfortable experience for you or the child). I would also have been constantly worried about her well-being and making sure she was entertained. It would have made the cruise the opposite of relaxing! As kids get older, there are more activities for them to do. But toddlers and babies (basically any child requiring a nap), should probably stay home.


I consider my husband and me to be very normal, down-to-earth people. A cruise is certainly an easy way to feel like you are living the life of wealth and luxury for a few days. There are not even any trash cans on board because the crew is constantly picking up after the cruisers. You didn't even have to throw away your own trash!


I am not sure if or when we will cruise again, but it was definitely a unique experience. If we do cruise again, I feel better prepared to enjoy myself even more and spend my money more wisely.


Have you cruised? What is your top tip?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

100 days of blogging -- I did it!

When I logged into my blog and wrote that post about considering daily blogging, I was honestly not even sure I would log in the next day and make it a two day streak. Before this daily blogging challenge I do not think I ever blogged two days in a row, much less 100. Not to mention, it had been over a year since I put out a blog post... where had my inspiration to write gone?



In the past month alone I have had over 1,100 page views which is pretty crazy to think about. There are plenty of posts I write that I do not feel are all that worthy of readers. Other days, I am extremely proud of my content. Every day, I am thankful that I live in a place where I am free to express myself and in an age where it is so easy to spread ideas.



Writing/blogging is 100% free. I do not pay google for space on the internet. I already own my computer and pay a monthly subscription for internet. There is no added cost, except my time, to blogging daily.



But what it has given me is incredible. I have learned to be creative every day, I have been forced to feed myself something each day to inspire me, I have learned to discipline myself daily.


Two days ago, I wrote my 100th consecutive daily blog post. Yesterday, I skipped writing on purpose. Although I could continue to write daily for an indefinite amount of time, I did not want to get glued to the number. I did not want to keep writing every day for the sake of making it one more day. Perhaps because I had the number 100 in my mind or perhaps because I have gotten lazy, I feel like some of my recent posts were not that great. But still forcing myself to write daily has been an excellent exercise for me.


I hope anyone who has read one post or all 100 posts from this challenge have gained some value. Maybe you're even inspired to come up with your own creativity challenge.


I'll continue writing, just not daily. Please know I am thankful for each and every person who takes the time to read.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

If you want to help, give cash

Link to photo source
The coast of Texas is certainly suffering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And the damage is not done. The Houston area is expected to have as much rain in the coming week as it did this past week. The flooding is bad and will likely continue to trap people in their homes and damage property in the coming week or two.

There are a lot of companies and individuals gathering up supplies to send to those in need. Their hearts are in the right place -- the people on the coast need help. But sending truckloads of clothes, water, flashlights, and canned food is honestly not the best move right now for a couple of reasons.

First, it is an extremely inefficient use of resources. All of those items will have to be sorted and distributed by somebody. This takes an enormous amount of man power.


Second, it does not allow for relief organizations to take advantage of economies of scale.


Instead of donating a couple cans of food, the people in need would be much better off we all of us donated a dollar or two to relief efforts. With one dollar, the food bank can purchase seven dollars worth of food because putting all those dollars together allows them to buy in bulk. That way, they can buy fresh food that is exactly what they need plus it is already sorted. This saves time, money, and man power. The same concept holds true for all of the other supplies that is needed on the coast right now.

In addition, a lot of people just need to get out of the area. Bringing them supplies will not make their house less flooded. Getting people evacuated takes resources. Bringing them some water and boxes of mac and cheese is good, but getting them to dry land is better.

In an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, he makes the case for discontinuing in-kind donations and most of our volunteering. Here is a snippet from that episode about canned goods.

The reason we continue to give in-kind donations instead of cash is because it makes us feel better. It makes us feel good to give a can of beans and think someone in need will open this can of beans and be oh-so-thankful. Or to give a package of socks and think someone in Houston who has wet socks is going to be so happy to open up this package of socks and have dry feet again.


While those in-kind donations will hopefully get to  people who need them, cash is always king. Cash always fits, it is always the right color, it is always the right flavor. Cash allows relief agencies to allocate resources efficiently and get exactly what they need to aid the people in distress.

If you want to help people in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, donate money. This New York Times article gives links to both local and national organizations you can give to. It is not guaranteed that all of your cash donations will be used for relief efforts. It is not a guarantee that none of those funds will get used for administrative needs or could possibly be mishandled. However, there is no guarantee that your in-kind donations will get to the people who need them either. Your cash donation has the best chance of helping someone who needs assistance right now.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Expectations can change attitude

Living in San Antonio, TX, we had an exciting weekend starting Thursday afternoon. Everyone rushed to the grocery stores to stock up on supplies as we were concerned Hurricane Harvey would cause us to have up to two feet of water in the city. San Antonio is prone to flash flooding. It does not take a lot of rain or time for our roads to become unsafe. In addition, we were all geared up for power outages. My family even bought some candles and matches just in case. We were all geared up for having to sit at home all weekend and possibly into Monday and Tuesday.

And for most of the city, nothing really happened. No power outages or flooding. No missed work.

All of those expectations for road closures and power outages definitely affected people's attitudes. I went out to get bloodwork Saturday morning (when things were supposed to get pretty bad). The main receptionist kept asking the people coming in why we were getting out in this weather. Most had the same reply, "I really needed to get this done today" but inside we were thinking, "We've seen worse rain than today."

This morning, I drove through to get my breakfast. Although the employees were reasonable and kind, I still felt like there was a looming disappointment that the weather wasn't too bad for them to stay home.


I'll admit that I was kind of let down as well. Instead of thinking about the people who lost their homes, I was disappointed that I didn't get more "action" -- or at least enough action to warrent cancelling work for the day.


Expectations really do affect attitude. If we had gone into the weekend thinking that this was probably all for nothing but better safe than sorry, then there would be no disappointment when we did end up having to go to work as normal. But because we were all hyped up and ready to take it easy, wrapped up in blankets in the house and watching Netflix (assuming we had power), there was a change in attitude.


Hope for the best but expect the worst. In my experience, this can prevent a lot of disappointment. Instead of being disappointed, I am going to work hard on being productive today and this week. There will be time to rest during another natural disaster. I still have my family, my home, and my job. Therefore I should be thankful, instead of dissatisfied, with how things turned out for me during this hurricane.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Listening to my little one hum

My daughter is just over a year and a half old. Although she certainly understands many of the words we speak to her -- banana, cheese, water, outside, shoes, cup, yes, no, the names of certain people -- she does not ever speak very many words back to us.

Instead, she prefers to make soft, sweet little noises. Sort of a mix between humming and singing.

hum (verb) - make a low, steady continuous sound like that of a bee

I love listening to these little noises she makes. It will not be much longer before she starts speaking many words and then full sentences. She will soon learn how to yell, scream, demand, and talk back. But for now, even when she is demanding something or trying to refuse and tell us "no", it comes out in mostly soft hums and sweet noises. It is music to my mama ears.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Another case of my fragility

Hunger is a reality for most of the world. Food insecurity (waking up in the morning and not being sure of where you will get your food for the day) is prevalent in many societies and is even an issue for some Americans.

For myself, I am rarely hungry unless I just want to be because I am restricting my food intake.
This morning, I went in for bloodwork. I knew I had to arrive fasting, but I did not realize I would not be able to eat for several more hours as they conducted testing. Between being pregnant and not being prepared for the fact that I would not be allowed to eat, I was frazzled at first. I felt somewhat faint, to be honest. By the time I even started the testing I have usually eaten once and halfway through the testing I normally would have had a snack by then. Being completely unable to eat but knowing I had to get through that testing today made me feel tied down against my will.

Again, my fragility showed. So I have to wait a couple of hours before eating breakfast? Big deal. A lot of people go weeks at a time with barely enough food to keep them alive. I have to go a couple hours, and I even know that the end is in sight.

Many of us are so fragile, though, that we throw little fits when we can’t fulfill this basic need at the exact moment we want to. In addition, Americans spend a lot of money eating out. We love quick hits of energy and sugar bursts. We get upset when we don’t get to eat immediately. (Sure, this isn’t everyone… but for my fellow fragile people it’s true!) 

When these situations arise, I get stressed and upset. But I am trying to change my mindset. As soon as I can convince myself to think clearly and rationally again, I remember that this is just a test and that training myself to handle the stress now will help me handle more severe and stressful situations in the future.