Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Things I am afraid of

I am going to make a list of things I am afraid of. Lists are the best, and I am not afraid of them, so they will not be included. But if they were, that would be crazy meta and your minds would be blown. Anyway, here's some stuff I'm terrified of. Do with this information what you will.

This is not a comprehensive list. If you think of something I should be scared of but seem to have left out, please, by all means, leave it in the comments. 

1. Biscuit cans
2. Hot stoves and the people I love standing within five feet of them (see also "electrical outlets" and "box or personal fans".)
3. Punch fronts (I am working on this.)
4. Having my neck or arms restricted in any measurable way
5. Ghosts, murderers, and murderer ghosts
6. Sudden noises, in any context at all (biscuit cans, people dropping stuff, horror movies, the radio, etc. I seem to manage wine corks okay, though.)
7. Horror movies
8. Asking people for favors
9. Large trucks, especially semis
10. Plastic shower curtains (do. not. touch. my. skin. vile. creature.)
11. Most bugs (but not lightning bugs. I dig those.)
12. Getting fired from a job (this has never actually happened, but I am always sure at any job that I  am only seconds away from being "let go".)
13. Frozen bodies of water (especially if there are frozen bodies in the frozen bodies of water,)
14. Train tracks
15. Snakes (because I am pretty sure they are all poisonous killers. Don't try to convince me otherwise.)
16. WebMD (though I have managed to overcome every fatal disease it has ever diagnosed me with.)

Basically the whole world is scary and probably is going to violently knock off me and everyone I love unless I anticipate its moves and take preventative measures. Fortunately, I have a cape for just such occasions.

So far, so good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to go make sure the coffee pot is turned off, unplugged, and has fully cooled. Again. Also, did you hear that? I locked the door, right? Did you SEE me do it? Okay, good. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September No-Spend Challenge: How'd We Do?

If you recall, we decided to make September a no-spend month. Between buying a new (to us) truck (and four new tires for said truck) and working our butts off to pay off my student loans and our Jeep payment, we felt like our budget needed a reset.

Here's where we screwed up spent unplanned money. It is detailed. It is boring. You can feel free to bail right now. I won't respect you less, and in fact, I might respect you more. 

September No-Spend Month Unplanned Spending:

4th: $4 at Subway. We had enough points on our cards to get the rest free, but we still had to pay for Bear's sandwich.

9th: $64 on Girl Scouts stuff. I had already planned on $20 for Bear's yearly registration fee and monthly dues, so that is not part of this total. But I ended up volunteering to be the assistant troop leader, which came with a registration fee, and then Bear and I went to the Girl Scout store and got her new uniform vest and accoutrements, so that was another $49 I simply hadn't thought about. But totally worth it, as we love Scouts and are excited about the new year. I regret nothing.

10th: $175 vet bill. Our doggie had a urinary tract infection and needed more heartworm medicine, too. Worth every penny to keep her healthy. We were planning to take her in for a regular check-up appointment next month, anyway, so that's just something we don't have to do in a few weeks. Again, I regret nothing.

11th: $18.44. Husband went out to lunch with co-workers and I gave him the stink-eye for it. The STINK-EYE, PEOPLE.  I even made it official. I said, "I have to give you the stink-eye for this. You know that, right?" He took it like a man.

And no, he does not normally spend $18 on the rare occasion that he goes out to eat for lunch. Someone bought him lunch a few weeks ago and he picked up their bill this time.

Anyway. This was not going well.

On September 14th, Husband got called in to work and was rammed by a deer on the way. In his brand-new (to us) truck. He was/is totally fine. It's a big truck and he wears his seat belt. But... $500 deductible.

At this point I began to give up on no-spend month. I managed not to cry, and I reminded myself that avoiding unnecessary spending had put us in a position to absorb the unexpected, so in that way we were quite successful. But it was very hard to watch all that money going out of our checking instead of into our savings. Very hard, indeed.

15th: We ate a late breakfast and timed out our lunch poorly and ended up stopping at a Penn Station up near the Cincinnati Nature Center, all full of bubbling hanger and frustration. $31.91. Because heaven forbid anyone but me just get a damned WATER. NOOOOO. Mt. Dews and lemonades for his and her highness!

I am resorting to blaming. It's not a good look.

18th: $17.51 at Wendy's for dinner. You can just hush. Just hush it up right now. I hate cooking a meal after a long day shopping. Also, I got water at Penn Station, so it probably all balances out. Ahem.


19th: $8 for my background check for Girl Scouts. Apparently they prefer that their volunteers not be dangerous criminals, and I support that. You'll be pleased to know I passed. Shut up! I did!

22nd: $4.60 at the Girl Scout store for another book. Not a mandatory book, but it's a bit of a long story, and this post is already hella boring/depressing.

Can my family make it eight friggin' days without spending anything extra? Can we just make it through eight more days?

The answer is, "Probably not." But I wouldn't know because I stopped paying attention in the last stretch. I know I didn't buy anything, but if Husband got lunch or something, I don't remember.

In conclusion, I'm glad we tried again. And this month of all months proved to be a good one for consciously attempting not to spend unnecessarily, because a multitude of unexpected but mandatory expenses cropped up and the money for those was there. We didn't have to go into debt because of an emergency, and we feel good about that. And actually, the $500 won't go out until this week (October!) because the repair place couldn't get Husband's truck in until today. So that's technically October spending.


And that is how I choose to end this post. On a classy note, as always.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

'Mur'ca Chili

I love chili. I will make it any time of year, regardless of how hot it is outside, because I keep my house cool and comfortable. It is never "too hot" for chili.

I've been using the My Fitness Pal app to track my caloric intake and exercise (ha!), so when I made a pot of chili last week, I carefully noted every calorie that went into it. Not because I'm all, "I MUST WATCH EVERY CALORIE!!!", but because if I'm going to track my calories, I must watch every calorie. Make sense? Good.

Anyway. I totaled up the calories in this recipe and it came out to...1776. I shit you not. My chili is a fucking patriot. So here I present to you: 'Mur'ca Chili.

'Mur'ca Chili
8 servings

1 roll 92%-lean Laura’s Lean Beef
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup diced onions (white, red, or yellow. I had yellow on hand)
1 24-oz. jar Local Folks diced tomatoes
2 15-oz. cans Muir Glen tomato sauce
2 15-oz. cans Kroger Simple Truth tri-bean blend
1 packet Brooks Chili Seasoning
2/3 cup water (adjust for your own wateriness preferences)

Brown beef with onions and garlic in skillet over low-medium heat. Drain off grease and set aside.
Add all ingredients to a large pot and simmer over low-medium heat until hot throughout.

Entire pot: 1776 (patriotic!)*
Per one-cup serving: 222 calories**

I ate it all before I remembered to take a photo, so here is a comparable picture that I found on the internet.

It's a tasty chili. I was pleased with it. My favorite chili is still my Gramps', but this was flavorful and low-cal, so it hit the spot. Mama's jeans are getting awfully tight these days, and I am too cheap to buy new ones, so it is more likely that I will simply live with a muffin-top until I drop a few pounds than purchase clothes that fit. It's best for everyone if I watch what I eat for a minute.

*Only if you use exactly that same stuff I used. I can't speak to the caloric content of other brands.
**That is before obligatory crackers and spaghetti noodles. Figure that shit out on your own.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's high time to "no-spend" again!

If you recall, Husband and I have undertaken two no-spend challenges in the past fifteen months (June 2013 and October 2013). Both were fairly successful, with only a handful of "slip-ups" in each month. I've decided it's high time we do this again, and here's why now is the perfect time:

  • We finally upgraded to smart phones and the plan is far more expensive than our old plan.
  • We hosted a couple of parties this summer, which included food, yard additions, and gifts.
  • We bought a truck almost entirely in cash, which hit our savings pretty hard and almost doubled our car insurance rate, even with multi-car and safe-driver discounts. 
  • We want to pay off the tiny bit of the truck purchase that we financed (so as not to leave us with too little in savings) in six months.
  • We need to reset our spending habits because we want to pay off all my student loans and what's left of our Jeep payments within four years. 

So in the interest of remaining credit card debt-free, we're slowing it down this month. I have all the books (yay, library!) and curriculum items I need for our first month of school, which begins tomorrow. We have our staycation planned for next month.  There are a couple of planned things we need to spend a little on this month, but nothing huge (Bear's Girl Scout camping trip; a Florence Freedom game). The clothes we have will be completely sufficient for a Northern Kentucky September.

So. No non-grocery or unplanned purchases for thirty days. Again. This will help us bulk our savings account back up a bit so we can get moving on that whole "5-10 acres" plan.

I may do some Christmas shopping this month, but I have money set aside for that, as I put some away specifically for Christmas every pay period. So that money is already accounted for and frankly, I need to get cracking. Not to mention that doing some Christmas shopping should appease the "buy spend buy!" voice a little.

My other distraction plans? Finally open the can of paint I bought a month ago and paint Bug's room; submit some writing to literary journals; learn mah youngens; go for a walk a few times per week.

Wanna play? It's actually easier than it sounds, and once you have one under your belt, you kind of look forward to the next one. Try it for a week. It's really quite manageable and definitely beneficial. And if you want, I will hold you accountable. I will be all, "Nooooooo! If you buy that Thing, you FAIL!!!!!" And no one likes to fail. I will be that defeatist voice in your head. It's just the kind of friend I am.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Top Ten Mommy Wardrobe Essentials

Everyone knows that I, Jen, freelance writer and mother of two, award winning poet, gymnastics enthusiast and minimalist-in-training, am also at the very cutting edge of fashion. I wear clothes every single day. Many of them fit me, or at least closely approximate fitting me, anyway. Sometimes they are even clean.

This is why I have taken it upon myself to put together this very helpful list of Mommy Wardrobe Essentials. These are the classic, timeless mom-items every woman with children under the age of thirteen should have in her closet/dresser/laundry basket/foot of bed.

1.) Comfortable sweatpants

The ones you have to spend ten minutes talking yourself into changing out of because you have to leave the house. They should have a stretchy waistband which can accommodate at least three
different pants sizes. Stick to neutrals, like gray or black, so that they will go with your...

2.) 3-4 ratty t-shirts

No fewer than two of these should have been stolen from your husband or brother at some point. You've got a lot of leeway here, style-wise, so use this staple to express yourself! Support your favorite college sports team, advertise a vintage candy or cartoon, or rock a hilarious quip right across your chest. Your chest which will be somewhat supported by your...

3.) Ill-fitting bra

Well, it used to fit. The lady at Victoria Secret measured you for it and everything. But then you got pregnant, and then the baby was born, and between nine months of incubation and a few months or years of nursing, your breasts have been every imaginable size. And this bra has seen you through them all. It's okay that the straps no longer tighten, or that gapping or overspill are a constant. It was an expensive bra, and despite the huge hole in the banding, you'll want to just hold onto this one until you're finished having kids and nursing and your tits have calmed themselves.

4.) Yoga pants

These serve a very important purpose in the Mommy Wardrobe. They are the consolation prize for taking off your sweatpants to finally wash them or because you have to leave the house. You can find them made with compression fabrics to hold things in. They can be worn with a flip-flop or a sneaker (versatile!) Again, stick with neutrals here. Actually, just get black. Or extremely dark gray. Better to hide the peanut butter and wine stains.

5.) Jeans

Jeans are ideal for when you have to take off your sweatpants to leave the house and go somewhere fancier than your yoga pants are appropriate for. Like lunch with adult people, or Target instead of Walmart. You know—nice places. Your jeans should have little to no stretch so that, after about two hours of wear, you appear to be wearing a full diaper underneath them.

6.) A sexy dress

Let's face it—it's black. We all know it's black. So let's not even pretend otherwise. This dress was/will be purchased for one specific event (a wedding, a company Christmas party, perhaps even a funeral). You felt or will feel amazing in it, like you might even actually still be a woman, a real person, and people might look at you and think, "DAMN, GINA." (Gold star if you get that reference.) After said event, the dress will be hung delicately, reverently, even, in the closet, where it will gather dust forever and ever amen.

7.) Sexy heels

See number 6.

8.) Some kind of random accessory.

This is the thing you put on when you step into the yoga pants or jeans. A cute scarf, a pair of designer sunglasses, an overpriced designer bag that you actually got at an outlet...something to spruce up your "taking off the sweatpants" look and trick people into thinking you've made some kind of effort here.

9.) Non-ratty t-shirts

The ones you picked up when you decided during days 12-15 of your menstrual cycle that you "deserve to feel pretty, damn it!", so you went to Old Navy with a coupon and grabbed a bunch of t-shirts in neutrals and maybe one or two in actual colors. Rock these with your jeans and accessory!

10.) Flat shoes

Maybe they're flip-flops, or sandals, or ballet flats, or possibly even boots. The point is, they are flat. They are comfortable. They slip right on and you don't have to think about them. You probably want a few pairs for all the seasons: flip-flops for the summertime, when you got that wild hair up your ass to go get a pedicure and start trying to appear groomed, but also something with a covered toe (a boat shoe?) because that pedicure hasn't looked fresh since May and you can't find the nail clippers and your nail polish remover is down to fumes.

If you have all or most of these things, you should be all set to mother your children well into their teen years. Someday, when they voluntarily shower and drive themselves off to their own jobs, you may look into upgrading. But for now, these simple staples should see you through.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Even more of my favorite things

I've written a couple of times now about the things I love. I'm not quite a minimalist, but I am much closer to that end of the spectrum than the "hoarder" end, and the physical things that I genuinely love are fairly few.

Here are my first and second favorite things posts. And here are a few more:

My custom quilt

My mother-in-law is one of the most talented people I know. A few years ago she started making these fantastic quilts out of washcloths and fleece, and I was thrilled to receive one as a Christmas gift. The colors are exactly what I would have chosen for myself. And the fleece makes it so soft and warm that it's become my go-to blanket for throwing over my legs while I read or watch a movie on my laptop. I will love and use my quilt until it is in literal tatters.

"Nightlife" filter
My new phone

Husband and I took the plunge and got smartphones. We're still waiting for the sting of that first bill (*shudder*), but we're both really happy with our phones. I got the Nokia Lumia 1020 and I am so pleased with it. It takes great photos (and I need all the help I can get...), and it has great editing options right on the phone. I also downloaded the free Photoshop app, though I haven't played with it that much. I'm looking forward to really getting comfortable with all the different settings and options to optimize my generally lackluster photos.

My great-grandmother's China

My beloved, antique, family heirloom China
My Gramps (my mother's father) picked this pattern up for his mother in Japan in the fifties. He had it shipped to the States, which had to have been hella expensive at that time (and on a sailor's salary). She absolutely loved it. She gave it to my grandmother (Gramps' wife) who eventually passed it on to my mom...and now, I have it. I remember seeing it come out only at holidays, as the good China all-too-often does. I've watched in horror as pieces of it shattered. I remember the thrill I got when my mother told me it was eventually going to be mine.

As I've said before, I am not particularly sentimental when it comes to stuff. I attach emotions much more strongly to places than things. But there are a few exceptions, and my family's China is one of them. It's an impossible-to-find pattern (and yes, I have looked far and wide, and there is likely nothing you can suggest that I have not tried, including but not limited to contacting the manufacturer and scouring Ebay for hours upon hours) and I know that the likelihood of my ever being able to replace some of the pieces is pretty slim. While beautiful, it's not a pattern that 2014 Jen would choose in a showroom. Because of our space limitations, I have never been able to store and use it the way I want to. I have plans for bringing it out into the open in our dream house, but for now, it is packed carefully in a tote. It's the very definition of sentimental clutter.

All boxed up. *sigh*

But it is mine, and it was my mother's and her mother's and her mother-in-law's, and someday if she wants it, it will be my daughter's. So the minimalist bloggers can pry it out of my cold, dead hands, and I suggest they come armed because my angry corpse will reanimate and beat them with a beautifully crafted gravy boat.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Little projects I've been working on

Since we concluded our official "school year" in May, I've turned my attention pretty heavily toward getting the house in order for us. By "order", I do not mean clean. No, no, no. Hurricane Bear and Typhoon Bug live here, after all. My philosophy on cleaning with young kids in the house is simple: If it can draw bugs, or make someone sick or naked, it should be dealt with. So I focus on those things and get to the other stuff when I damn well feel like it have time.

I digress. All the time. Back on topic: projects! I have done some sewing and painting and more painting and I have another sewing project in line, plus some fun ideas for making the backyard more appealing to the kids.

First, I mentioned before that we bought a free-standing pantry to help with some of the kitchen overflow. It was this boring, cheap, particle board number from Lowe's or Home Depot or something.

This was legitimately the least-blurry shot I got with my increasingly worthless point-and-shoot.

I decided to spruce it up:

Chalkboard paint! I think it's a requirement in all homeschooling homes.

I got the idea to do this with the measuring cups on Pinterest. I LOVE it.

My Bug, doing the drawing of the things with the chalks.

I'm very happy with how it turned out. I put the bulletin board up because I wanted a place to display the photos our loved ones often give us of their adorable children, but I do not really do albums or photo shelves and always find that those pictures end up in paper piles on the counter. The bulletin board gives me a no-thinking-required place to stick them and enjoy them. Once I find more of them in the paper piles, that is...

I also painted the entire main floor of the house in Behr's Natural Gray. I love it because it is an actual GRAY. It's not greige. It's not bluish or greenish. It is, as the name implies, a very natural gray. I love how it looks. It's calming and neutral and I very well may use it again when we move in a few years. 

Okay. Sewing. I made some toss pillows, WITH ZIPPERS, for the living room. This was my first experience with zippers since I took a costuming class in college and had an instructor right there to help me the entire time. I did it all by myself. With a tutorial. Ahem. But I did it and they look AWESOME.

I made those! By myself! Yay, projects with straight lines!

I also painted my dining chairs black because 1.) they looked like crap, all dinged up; 2.) black looks better with our gray, green, and blue color scheme. I am going to make cushions for them, probably out of the green fabric I used for the toss pillow on the right, because they are very uncomfortable chairs. I'll post a picture of the dining table and stuff when that's all done. Try to contain your excitement.

And then there's the back yard. It's a great space, all fenced-in, and with a nice awning over the back porch. But we needed to add some things to make it more fun for the kiddos, so here's what I've got so far:

Normally I'd spread things out a bit more, but Husband has to mow again soon, and it's easier to stick everything on the patio if it's closer to the house.

We've had this set for years, but Husband scrubbed it down and fixed all the terrifyingly rickety chairs so we can eke a few more years out of it. I'm hoping to find a good deal on an outdoor rug, too.

The thing I wanted in my back yard more than anything else in the world when I was a kid. But this one is, um, for my children. I have absolutely NOT done a handstand or a full turn on it. Ahem.

He gets a little nervous.

I saw something like this on Pinterest, obviously, and had to make one. I do have a pre-schooler, after all.

And another one of Bug, because Bear was reading and in her pajamas and didn't want to participate.

I also want to get them a mini trampoline. We used to have one, but Ella ate it because she is Ella.

Oh! And apropos of nothing, I won a poetry contest.

               It's really me. Not a different Jennifer. The poem itself will be at one of our county library branches for people to read. Pretty cool!

Our county fair has a creative writing contest with various categories each year. I decided to enter a poem and I won! Now I make sure to constantly refer to myself as "an award-winning poet". "Well, as an award-winning poet, I think we should have Subway for dinner." I think this is charming and delightful and not at all obnoxious. Ahem. I also had my first poem published in a literary magazine a few months ago, and I have a few more out right now. It's been nice to do some actual writing for myself again.

There is always a ton going on in our lives, which I love. Selling the house finally freed us up to move on. Next goal: buy Husband a truck. In cash.