Tag Archives: working moms

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Zinfandel

This week I was on a mission to revisit types of grapes that I had at some point in my life decided were not to my taste.  One such wine on my dislike list is Zinfandel.  I’ve only ever had a few, and I can’t even remember which specific brands, but for some reason I’ve avoided Zinfandel for years.  It doesn’t really seem fair to write off an entire selection of wines from a few bad experiences, so that is how I found myself at the grocery store recently trying to decide which lucky bottle was going to redeem the entire Zinfandel name for me.

After about fifteen minutes (hubby, knowing my indecisiveness, usually leaves me alone in the wine aisle and continues shopping) had it narrowed down to two bottles.  One appeared serious and “respectable,” the other boasted a cheesy moniker on a faux-burnt label: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel.  It was so corny looking that it couldn’t be legit– so of course that’s the bottle I picked.  Priced at $12, it wouldn’t be a huge loss if it turned out to indeed be terrible.

An intense ruby, almost blood red color in the glass, it was actually a very attractive wine.  I took a whiff before I tasted any– it smelled pleasant enough.  First sip– “Oh!”  I think I actually said that out loud.  It was full of deep, complex flavors and I really liked it.  Subsequent sips (or gulps) only solidified my happy surprise.  There’s plenty of smooth, jammy fruit: ripe cherries, blackberries, and plums.  There is a dose of warm vanilla and cinnamon, balanced by a hint of the spicy burn of black pepper.  A little earthy leather rounds out the palate.

It is still a bit difficult for me to look past the kitschy bottle and name, and maybe it’s not what you’d give the boss as a meant-to-impress Christmas present.  However, it is a really tasty wine and I would absolutely buy it again to enjoy in my home or to take to the rare, but much-needed “Girls’ Night.”  And really, for $12 you can call it whatever you want as long as it’s good!

Why I Turned Down a Job to be a Stay at Home Mom

Why I Turned Down a Job Today

The original plan was never for me to be a stay at home mom.  When I quit my job in November, I intended to enjoy the holidays at home with my family and immediately begin looking for new employment after New Years.

Within days of resigning, I had an interview lined up already.  It seemed a very promising opportunity.  After a month-long interview process in which I was all but guaranteed the spot, there was a “miscommunication” and I was told they were going to “pass.”  Definitely a bummer, but perhaps a blessing in disguise– I might have ended up working for another shady company.

“Why don’t you just stay home with the kids?  You don’t need to go back to work– we’re doing fine.  It’s been so good for the girls.”  I couldn’t believe my husband was suggesting such an idea.  Work was all I knew.  It was part of my identity.  I’d been a part of the workforce since I was old enough to legally do so.  (Actually, I started much earlier as a groom at the stable where I took lessons in trade for attending horse shows.)

To be honest, it was such a relief to think my world would no longer revolve around someone else’s schedule (except two little girls!)  I had been so happy for the past month– apparently I had been more miserable than I realized at my last job.  It was as if a fog had been lifted and I was truly enjoying life.  I was reluctant to do anything which might jeopardize this newfound happiness.

So I stayed home and resolved to do all the things that had fell by the wayside while I was working full time.  I caught up with the laundry (for a day…then of course it was piled everywhere again, but hey I did it!)  I thoroughly cleaned and reorganized our exercise studio/game room.  I made sure the kitchen was spotless every night before I went to bed– waking up to an empty sink and sparkling counters is an amazing feeling– even I can hardly believe I just said that, but it’s true!  The girls and I took leisurely walks whenever the weather allowed.  Matt and I ran errands on his days off– just enjoying being together as a family.  I re-dedicated myself to my writing.  Work had sucked my energy to where I was literally just surviving every day.  Now I was actually living.

This went on for a few months and our family settled into a comfortable routine.  Then I got a call from a former work colleague.  She too had left the company I worked for last due to the negative environment.  Now she was asking if I would like to come meet the owner of the new spot she had gone to– they were looking for someone with my experience and she thought I would be a great fit.

Panic set in.  Things were going so well at home, was it worth it to rock the boat?  Annabelle still had a couple months before we could start weaning– I couldn’t bear the thought of dusting off the dreaded pump.  Would I still have time for my writing?  That was my “me” time– I looked forward to it every day.  Did I even want to go to work outside the home?  Was I lazy or selfish for even having these feelings?

“So don’t do it.”  Hubby said matter-of-factly.  “You don’t have to.”  He sees the world very black and white.  It’s easy for him to make decisions without getting emotional.  If only it were that easy for me! I decided to at least go in for a meeting and see exactly what the position entailed.  I was flattered that my friend had suggested me and felt I owed her that much.  I figured that it would be at least 40 hours plus some nights (as most event jobs are) and that I would simply be unable to meet those demands.  But at least I would have “tried” and given the opportunity a fair listen before politely declining.

Fast forward a few days and I’m sitting in front of one of Houston’s culinary greats.  He is an imposing physical presence, but at the same time very warm and easy to talk to.  “So what schedule would work for you?  Do you need to leave by 2?  Can you be here at 9?  Family is important to me, so I understand your situation.”  Well this was not what I expected.  Here he was asking me what would be my ideal schedule.  He was so willing to work with me that I wanted to take the job for that reason alone.

I had anticipated an easy out– a schedule to which I would be unable to commit.  Instead I had an offer on the table for a part time job with hours that were tailored to me.  The pay wasn’t great, but what part time job would be able to compete financially with the salary and commission I pulled before?  Plus I could probably learn a lot from someone so knowledgable in the industry.

Hubby was less than excited.  “It’s not that much money.  It’s not really worth it.”  At first I was frustrated– he wasn’t even listening to the positive aspects!  “If you really want to do it, we’ll make it work,” he assured me. “But I love having you home.  And what about your writing?  You won’t have as much time.”

He was trying to be supportive, but I could see that he did not want me to accept.  Could I blame him?  Sure, the part-time schedule worked great for me, but what about him?  As a night manager he often doesn’t even get home until 4am.  If I was leaving at 8am every morning, it meant he would get an absurdly little amount of sleep.  No one could function on 3-4 hours of rest every single day.  It really would be asking him to make a huge sacrifice– for what amounted to only a couple hundred extra bucks a week.

I agonized (probably more than I should have) over the decision for two days.  However, when I thought about what was best for our family as a whole, it is for me to be exactly where I am at the moment.  It still didn’t make it any easier for me to write a letter of regret turning down the job.  To accept that for the time being I am not the prime breadwinner.  To let go (at least temporarily) the part of me that sees myself as a working woman and embrace this new identity as a stay at home mom.

That is what I am right now, but that is not ALL that I am.  I am a writer.  I am a counselor to family and friends who come to me for career advice (I was there for over 15 years!)  I am a motivator to those that need a little extra encouragement to make a positive change in their lives or pursue a dream (leaving a fairly lucrative career to stay home and commit to my writing was a risk, but it is my dream).  I am the backbone of our family– keeping home and finances in order.  I am molding two little girls into strong and intelligent little ladies.

Typing it out and owning it is such an empowering feeling.  If writing is not your thing, I encourage you to say it out loud mamas!  Often when we make the choice to stay home, we often lose a little bit of ourselves and our identity as an independent woman.  But it is still there inside– your assets and gifts that you offer the world, whether it be from an office or your house.  Remember your strengths and your passions and know that you are still as important, if not more so now, than you were before!

I do feel truly blessed that I am able to have this time with my family and my girls, though it was not without sacrifice–read about the one lifestyle change that we made which allowed me to be a stay at home mom.

The one lifestyle change that allowed me to be a stay at home mom

The One Lifestyle Change That Allowed Me to be a Stay at Home Mom

As a member of mommy support groups, I frequently see the question posed: how can I afford to be a stay at home mom?  I’ve been a working mom, so I get it that some of us crave “adult time” and enjoy career accomplishments.  But I also know what a crappy feeling it is to leave your kids in the care of someone else all day.  Ultimately, I made the choice to leave the corporate world, and I wanted to share the one lifestyle change that made it possible.

This past November, I quit my job.  The plan was for me to enjoy the holidays with my family and start the search for a better employer in the new year.  I did that, and things went so wonderfully that hubby and I decided it would be best for our family (and my health) if I stayed home indefinitely.  There was just one problem– we were cutting our income in half.

While I was working, I always stressed about money.  Even with two solid paychecks, it never felt like enough.  How would we be able to make it on just my husband’s income?

Aside from monthly non-negotiables (housing, utilities, insurance), there was one expense that dwarfed them all. Once we seriously reevaluated our spending in this area, it freed up a huge chunk of our budget.  I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t our cable bill.

It was FOOD.  Hubby has always loved to cook, and did so on a regular basis.  However, we never planned out meals for the week.  As a result, we were forced to pop in to the grocery store on multiple occasions throughout the week for whatever he decided to fix on a whim, or pick up take-out when we were short on time.

It seems hard to believe that food could have such an impact on the budget, so to prove it, I’ll show you what we used to spend:

$240 – We made at least 3 grocery trips every week, spending about $80 each time.  Going to the grocery store without a list means you’re likely to forget items and end up having to return later.  Multiple visits make it easier to succumb to impulse buys, as you are tempted over and over.

$160 – We ordered take-out about four times a week.  Whether for lunch or dinner, with tax and tip it’s about $40 for our family.

$50 – While working, I spent about $10 per day on lunch.

$50 – Hubby also would order out food at work.

Add that up and you get $500 in one week!  That’s $2000 every month — insane!  This doesn’t even take into account any occasions where we would go out to eat in a restaurant.  It was money we spent without even thinking– we had to eat, right?

It was actually hubby’s idea to start weekly meal planning.  Amazingly, a commitment to this one concept was the key to a budget that worked.

On Sunday evenings, hubby and I sit down and talk about what we’d like to eat for dinner each night.  To make it easier, we’ve designated days such as “Salmon Mondays,” so all we have to decide is sauce and sides.  Other days, hubby might have a new recipe he wants to sample.  When the week’s menu is determined, we make the grocery list so we know exactly what needs to be bought.

Having everything figured out in advance allows us to only have to grocery shop one time.  We go in with a plan and don’t end up buying things that aren’t on our list.  Impulse buys are a thing of the past.  Since we’ve got a meal for each night of the week, we don’t need to order take-out.  Hubby cooks for an army, so there are always plenty of leftovers for lunch as well.

Here’s a look at our weekly food budget now:

$150-200: One grocery shopping trip for the ingredients needed for dinner every night of the week.

That’s it.  We’ve gone from spending $2000 a month on food to no more than $800.  It’s an incredible change and all it took was setting aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to create a meal plan.  If you think about all the time saved by consolidating grocery trips, it might actually be less time to meal plan than to try to go through the week without one.

Of course, we’ve made other adjustments to our lifestyle since I left my job, but none as significant as the meal plan.  Maybe it sounds overwhelming to cook every single night, but just look at how much money you can save (for us it was $1200 a month!)  An added bonus is that when you cook your own dinners, you know exactly what you’re getting– it’s healthier!

Even if you don’t aspire to be a stay at home mom, you could put an extra thousand dollars in the bank every month.  That’s a weekend vacation!  If you take a realistic look at what you’re spending on food, you might find that you don’t want to “eat up” a large portion your income any more.

A $600 Mistake and Life Lessons Learned

It’s that time of year– some look forward to it, some dread it– tax season!  This is the first year I expected to get a refund (yay for marriage and babies!), but I also expected things to be a little more complicated than usual with the new Affordable Care Act.

The Healthcare Marketplace has been a blessing for Mateo, who works in an industry that rarely provides insurance to its employees, even at management level.  However, it has also caused much confusion and frustration since nobody seems to understand how it works.  But that is a topic for another day…

One of my titles in the Rodriguez family is Money Manager.  I pay the bills, keep track of what comes in and goes out, and make sure taxes are in order.  Until this year, my tax duties simply meant that I nagged Mateo to get his done on time and watched my dad do tedious calculations for mine to see how big of a check I had to write (boo! one of the drawbacks of bartending).

This year, as a married couple, I felt like it would be a little ridiculous to ask my dad to do my taxes… I’m 30 after all..that’s officially a grown-up.  But I also wanted to make sure that I got them right, so I figured it would be best to let the professionals handle it.  I made us an appointment at a large company that specializes in income taxes.  (I’ll let you guess which one.)

Now, being a Garska (aka being very anal about finances), I had already done a little run-through with Turbo Tax (before I had received all of the extra healthcare forms so I couldn’t file then) and I had a general idea of what was going to happen.  We were going to have to pay back some, but not all of Mateo’s insurance subsidy.  (Seriously Obamacare?!  Lame.)

Our tax appointment was relatively quick.  However, when the final number for our refund popped up, it was much lower than I had anticipated.  The “tax associate” cheerfully showed us how much money we would be getting back.  The scowl on my face confused her.  “They’re making us pay the entire subsidy back?” I asked.  “Why no, there’s no penalty for you!” she said with a smile.  I then pointed to the screen where it showed that amount being deducted from our final refund and explained what that meant.  (Wasn’t she supposed to be the expert?!)  She stammered, “well, um, uh, that doesn’t seem fair.  I’m sorry.”  But she said there was nothing else she could do.

On the way home, I just couldn’t let it go.  She was wrong.  I just knew she was wrong.  As soon as I had to explain to HER what the subsidy meant, I lost all confidence in her ability.  Having to pay the tax preparation fee pained me.  Mateo tried to look on the bright side, “it’s still a lot of money,” he said. “Just let it go.”

But again, as a Garska, I could not.  I pulled up Turbo Tax and filled in all the numbers.  Lo and behold, it said that we did not have to pay back to entire subsidy.  There was an alternative calculation since we were not married the full year.  It was a $600 mistake.

I immediately called the office and told them that I needed to come back in for them to fix my taxes and why.  The receptionist didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, and when I returned the same evening I found that she had scheduled me with a brand new associate.  At least this one readily admitted that she was not equipped to handle this situation.  Unfortunately, the manager was out, though he called me and assured me that he would look into it personally the next day.

He did– but said that the numbers had come back the same.  I knew that he had probably just plugged everything into the computer program again, so of course the results would be the same.  I had no choice now but to go to the IRS website, print out all the instructions and worksheets needed, and check everything by hand.  It took most of my afternoon, but I was RIGHT.  I went back for the THIRD time and schooled the manager on how to properly complete the section dealing with the Affordable Care Act.  (Not to brag…ok, maybe a little.)  I wasn’t rude about it– it wasn’t his fault– turns out their computer program itself is flawed!  Imagine how many others out there might have errors in their returns too!

I learned a very important lesson today.  As my mom says, “no one is every going to be as careful with your money as you are.”  It is so true.  It wasn’t the supposed “professionals” that I had PAID (though I will get that fee back obviously) to do my taxes that checked all their work by hand, it was ME.

I also learned that I am more capable than I give myself credit.  I don’t know why I doubted that I could handle my own taxes.  I can read.  There are instructions for every single line.  Sure, it takes a lot of time, but not as much as making several visits to a tax office and re-doing everything over and over!  I think we are all guilty of self-doubt at times, even if it is undeserved.  As I found out today, not trusting in your own abilities and relying on others can have serious consequences.

It can be difficult to turn off negative thoughts that tell us that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough– but we ARE!  We have to learn to silence these internal voices, and in doing so, we will be able to do things that before might not have seemed possible.  It’s tough– it’s something I work on every day!  If you take nothing else away from this– at least double check your taxes! 🙂

Are you ready?

“Can you make an audition Monday at 10:15am?”  On Friday, much to my surprise, I got a call from my acting agent.  I figured they had forgotten about me after 2 years of being pregnant and then taking time to focus on the new baby.  I was planning to let them know as soon as I felt like I was “camera-ready” again, but being overly critical perhaps, I still had yet to do so.  Anyhow, I figured that now was as good a time as any to jump back in, so I readily agreed to the early morning appointment.  (Anything before noon is early when you’re trying to get out of the house with a baby– even if she’s not going!)

Since I knew it might take me a good while to get on the road, I resolved to have everything prepared the night before.  It’s a daily struggle (I get it honestly from my family) to be on time, but I’ve been doing very well these days with a concentrated effort.  Amazingly, I found my headshot folder immediately, despite not even touching it for longer than I cared to admit.  I printed up the audition notes and script to add to the folder and slipped it into my purse, which would be waiting for me on the loveseat nearest the door.  No way was I going to forget anything!  I mentally went over outfits in my head until I settled on the right “look” which would pop in front of the studio background– likely blue or green paint.

The audition, for a national commercial, was quite laid back– we were told as we signed in that it would mainly be improv– awesome!  We were each partnered with another actor–I did my best to make conversation beforehand so we would be comfortable together.  As comfortable as you can be after knowing a person for five minutes.  We were the second pair to go in, and it was definitely nice not to be stuck waiting around for our turn.  The director was friendly and did most of the prompting.  It was fun and I found myself easily conversing with my fellow actor, while making sure to look towards the camera at key moments.  For being out of the game for so long, I felt like things went just about as well as they possibly could.

I was lucky.  When I got home I began to realize just how UNprepared I really was!  In my inbox waiting was an email from the casting service alerting me that I still needed to upload a photo to my profile on their site.  I logged in and sheepishly put up my headshot– which has to be about eight years old!  (Completely unacceptable!  Adult performers should get new head shots every 3-5 years or sooner if your look changes substantially.)  While I was logged in, I took a quick review of my resume– yikes!  My last training workshop was in 2005!  It had been almost a decade since I had done any real work to improve my craft– again, totally unacceptable.  Even my address on file was the apartment I had moved out of four years prior.  Sadly I had the thought that if I was my agent, I would NOT send myself to any castings!

What had happened to the young actress, fresh out of college, who couldn’t get enough time in front of the camera?  Who signed up for at least two seminars a year, who read every book on the subject she could get her hands on?  Who got nervous with excitement just thinking about any upcoming projects?  Life had happened.  I threw myself into my day job– the job that paid the bills.  I dedicated myself fully to my kids and family.  Both are admirable causes, but in all this I had forgotten about ME and my passions.  I had let fall by the wayside something that I really enjoyed doing, and that potentially could be a source of income.  But just like anything else, an acting career requires investing to be successful– investing time for studying, training, and driving to auditions; investing money for quality and up-to-date head shots, classes, audition outfits, and for us lucky females our hair cut and color!  Just like any other business, if you don’t put anything in, you won’t see a return.

I have a lot of work to do, but instead of feeling down or discouraged (which if indulged, these negative emotions can lead people to give up altogether), I made a list of all the tasks I needed to accomplish in order to be a respectable actress, and someone the agency could call upon with confidence.  I prioritized what should be taken care of immediately (updating online profiles) and what could be done over the next couple months (new head shots, finding a good acting workshop).  To make myself accountable, I sent an email to my agent thanking her for submitting me today, letting her know I was ready to get serious again, and asking what casting services they use and need updating.

Sometimes as moms we get so caught up in the lives of those that we take care of, that we forget to take care of ourselves.  I’ve been both a working mom and a stay at home mom, and both are tiring and time consuming in their own ways.  Sometimes it feels that there really is no time left to do things that we like to do, just because we LIKE them.  Or sometimes we let the details slide, either out of exhaustion or complacency.

But success is in the details– so I made a commitment today to get back to work on these things that have been hanging over my head unfinished.  Loose ends are a drain on energy– so taking care of them will not only make you more productive, but happier as well.  And every mama deserves to be happy!  Even better, the definition of success is subjective– it could be finally organizing that closet that you can barely walk through, or writing a business plan so you can make your dreams reality.  The only thing standing in your way is yourself, so don’t be an obstacle– be your own best ally!

Monday is just about over, but the week is just getting started.  Make this week the one where you embrace a positive change in your life!

2012 MacMurray Pinot Noir

Soccer Mom Sommelier: 2012 MacMurray Estate Vineyards Central Coast Pinot Noir

I wasn’t planning on reviewing wine tonight, but after an exhausting evening I figured it was a good excuse to have a glass!  When I was studying for my sommelier exam a few years ago, my hubby (just boyfriend at the time) brought me a bottle of his favorite pinot noir: MacMurray Ranch (also known as MacMurray Estate Vineyards).  To reward myself for hours of reading and memorization each night, I would taste different wines to help better understand what I was learning…seriously!  I was studying! 🙂

Back to the wine: hubby used to work at an Italian restaurant and often got to sample wines as they were added to the menu.  At the time, MacMurray Ranch was newcomer to the wine industry, but Matt thought their pinot noir was something special.  Fortunately, so did a lot of other people, as today it is pretty easy to find.  Not only is it widely distributed, the Central Coast bottle is inexpensive– we can usually find it for around $13 at the local grocery store.  But don’t let the price fool you– this is a quality wine– better even than some for which I’ve paid significantly more.

This is one of the richer pinots I’ve had, full of fruit, notably black cherry, raspberry, plum, strawberry, and blackberry.  A touch of oak adds a spiciness not often found in pinot noir– it reminds me a little of a syrah in that sense.  In very basic terms: this is fruity, yet complex wine bursting with flavor.  It is smooth and well-rounded– easy to drink for red-wine “beginners,” but interesting enough to please sophisticated palates as well.

This is our go-to red wine at the Rodriguez house.  Every time I open a bottle I am surprised by how much I like this wine and just how good it really is.  It tastes like a splurge bottle, but you can fit it on a soccer mom’s budget.  What’s more to love?

The Soccer Mom Sommelier: 2013 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier

It’s Friday night so you know what that means– mommy gets to have a glass of wine after the kids are in bed!  I generally prefer red, but I recently stumbled upon a deliciously drinkable white (hubby took note and grabbed a bottle for me for the weekend– definitely earned himself some brownie points!)  Pine Ridge 2013 Chenin Blanc + Viognier is an interesting, non-traditional combination of varietals (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier).  It’s really affordable too– I got it for around ten bucks.  What’s not to love?

In my “past life” as a working mom I did some time as a sommelier, so while I’m no expert, I do know a little about wine.  I’ll provide my unofficial tasting notes–basically what the wine tasted like to me– this may or may not be how the wine is described on the winemaker’s website.  I’m not a wine snob (if it’s not total garbage or spoiled I’ll drink it), so I like to keep it basic.

The wine has a smooth mouth-feel, with a pop of effervescence, which especially after just poured gives it a hint of “sparkle.”  The nose is bright and citrusy; on the palate I get apple, golden pear, peach, and lemon with a hint of floral.  To keep it super simple: it tastes and smells really good and I like that it has a few bubbles– it does not have that flat taste that some whites do.

So, if you’re like me and treat yourself occasionally after a long week– go get this wine!  It would also be great if you’re having company over– it’s so easy to drink that it will definitely be a crowd pleaser.

Happy Friday mamas!