Friday, November 4, 2011

Debt Free By Thirty

Nick and I are on a mission. We are going to be completely debt free by the time I turn thirty. We ran the numbers, and we know we can do it by November 2013, but my thirtieth birthday is May 2013. That will cut six months off of our time line. I'm not entirely sure how we will pull that off, but we may just have to sell something.

I read a book by Dave Ramsey called "The Total Money Makeover". That man is a genius. He doesn't have any short cuts or magical ways to make more money. His philosophy is very basic. Don't buy something you can't afford. Yep, that means no credit cards, no car loans, nothing. If you want something, you need to do the work, save your money, and buy it when you can afford it. He doesn't include a house loan in this, but he advises that you have at least a twenty percent down payment and a fifteen year loan. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Fortunately for us, Nick and I have never had a credit card. I'm not sure why, but we just had a fear of them in the back of our minds. We've always used debit cards instead. We do have student loans, though, and at the rate we were going, we'd have those paid off in about 15 years.

I had no idea how to pay extra on our loans. We were basically using all of our income each month. Dave Ramsey said the first step was to make a budget. A firm monthly budget that Nick and I had to agree to stick to. I didn't see how that could help much, but I did it. To our surprise, at the end of the month, we had several hundred dollars left over. It was awesome! It took a lot of sacrifices, but Nick and I got used to them quickly and we don't feel like we are missing out on anything. It is actually pretty fun and challenging to find ways to save money. 

At the end of the month, every penny we had left over went straight onto our smallest loan payment. Once that one is paid off, our monthly payment plus all extra money will shift to the next loan. Dave calls it the snow ball method. The first loan may feel like it takes a while to get going, but once you pay it off and move onto the next one, you will pick up speed and pay them off faster and faster.

Once we are debt free, we will start saving for a van so that we can have a third child. (I'm not sure that we can squeeze a third car seat into the back of our Chevy Aveo, but I'll look into it!) Then we will save up for a down payment on a house. Can you imagine how quickly you could save if you didn't owe any loan payments? And I don't want to even think about all that money wasted on interest.

I'm a little obsessed with paying off our debt right now. I just love paying bills and balancing our budget. It is super exciting to see how much under budget I can be on groceries at the end of the month. I never thought managing our finances would be fun. I guess I'm a bit of a nerd, but I'm proud of it!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Six Months to Glory

I have no self discipline. Zero. I'm not exaggerating. For example, when I eat a meal, I know that I am supposed to eat slowly so that my stomach can tell my brain when it is full. It is a good way to make sure I don't over eat. Knowing this, I will purposely eat super fast, that way I can squeeze more of a delicious meal or dessert into my mouth without my stomach complaining. I almost always regret this about half an hour later. But I still do it. That is just one example. I'd rather not talk about any others and expose myself to public ridicule.

Nick, on the other hand, is the most self-disciplined person I have ever met. Except for maybe my father. They are neck and neck. Oh, and let's not forget my brother Ben. Basically I am surrounded by over achieving stud muffins that make me look bad.


In the past two years, Nick has lost about sixty pounds. He has also run 3 half marathons and a full marathon. My father is about to turn sixty-two years old, and he regularly competes in triathlons. He, Nick, and my brother Ben competed in the Iron Man Triathlon relay in Branson two weeks ago. Dad swam 1.2 miles, Ben biked 56 miles through the Branson hills, and then Nick ran a half marathon. So basically, they make me look like a sloth. Oh, and they make me want to vomit. Let's not forget that.


Witnessing these guys half kill themselves just for the sheer glory of it got me thinking. About how short life is. About my laziness. About the fact that I rarely complete a project or achieve my goals. I think you all know what is coming next. I decided that I need to set a goal and reach it. I am going to run a half marathon. I am already a runner, if you can call it that. I run about two miles, four times a week. I do enjoy it, but the thought of running two or more hours in a row makes me quake in my boots. That is why I have to do it.

I've given myself 6 months. The Go St. Louis half marathon is in April. I don't have a treadmill or a membership to a gym, so part of the fun will be found in running through freezing temperatures and snow. That should definitely test my will power. Also, about half of my runs will be done while pushing fifty pounds worth of babies and stroller. Yikes! What have I gotten myself into?

I figure that the shame of announcing this to the world and then failing should be adequate motivation. Also, there will be the money I've forked over to just enter the race. And lastly, Nick is going to run it with me. He has promised to go at my snail's pace the entire way and cross the finish line with me. I very much doubt he will have to do much, if any training for this race. I am that slow.

When I am done, I will have joined the less than five percent of Americans that have run 13.1 miles. I will have proven to myself that I can accomplish something huge. Hopefully this self discipline will rub off into other areas of my life. And lastly, but equally as important, I will get a nifty t-shirt!

Monday, September 26, 2011

One Thing At a Time

It seems like I've had a problem with anxiety my whole life. I worry about everything. School, work, money, children. The list goes on and on. I'd blow little problems way out of proportion and dwell on them for hours. It would interfere with my appetite and my sleep schedule. I would literally get sick to my stomach.

I don't think I can help worrying. It is in my nature. But over time, I began to identify things that made my worrying snowball into full out anxiety attacks. I've made remarkable progress these last few years. I almost can't remember my last anxiety attack.

The first thing I noticed was that caffeine and I do not get along. It makes my heart pound and I feel jittery. That feeling would blend with any worries that I had and I couldn't separate the two. So I stopped drinking all caffeinated beverages. The only caffeine I ingest is in dark chocolate, which I adore. I have to have it in very small portions though.

Every once in a while I'll crave a Coke in a glass with ice. It reminds me of summers with my grandparents, when we'd have one as a treat after a hot day at the zoo. But every time I start to drink one, I just feel horrible. I get about half way through and have to stop. I like the memory of them more than the actual taste.

Now that my body has been pretty much caffeine free for years, I notice the effect that sugar has on it. If I have too much sugar, I start to feel the same way that caffeine used to make me feel. So I try to cut back on that too.

I also discovered that exercise helps, A LOT. It just isn't possible for me to worry when I am out running. I'm so focused on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, that it just isn't possible for my body to take off on it's jittery, heart hammering roller coaster. Yesterday, I noticed that my heart was starting to pound and the first thing that popped into my head was that I needed to go for a run. I knew that running would instantly take the edge off.

A new thing that I know I need to work on is multi-tasking. It seems like a good thing. You can get so much more done if you multi-task. But it drives me nuts. I get myself all worked up. I start to feel panicky if something interrupts me, which my children almost always do. I noticed myself getting irritable with Ada when she would ask for attention. I need to try to focus on one thing at a time. When I'm playing legos with Ada, I need to focus on her and her alone. When I'm doing the dishes, I need to let my mind be calm and not dwell on all the things that I need to do next.

This is going to be hard for me. For example, as I'm writing this, I'm also simmering carrots for Joe's baby food and trying to entertain my kids at the same time. At least I am aware of what I'm doing. Now I just need to focus on making myself stop.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alone Time

I went to the movie theater by myself the other day, and believe me, it was done under protest.

My husband works for a new company and he has to put in a lot of hours right now. Therefore I get to put in a lot of hours. I stay at home with my two year old daughter and 6 month old son. Having no help during the week can be exhausting.


Also, we moved recently. We've only lived in this area for six months. I have always been slow to make new friends, so I spend a lot of time alone with the kids during the week. Sometimes I feel starved for an adult conversation. I have been known to go a whole week without leaving the house, unless you include the neighborhood walks I take with the kids. 

I definitely look forward to the weekends and a lighter work load. Nick is a wonderful father and we split the duties when he is home, that way we can both have a little bit of a break.

On Sunday, Nick noticed that I was a little frazzled. He suggested that I go to a movie. I shot that idea down, since there was nothing I wanted to see. I'd rather sit on the couch and read a book or watch a movie with Nick. I didn't want to go out by myself. I just didn't have the energy. But Nick wouldn't give up. We had a little bit of an argument about it and I finally gave in.

My son, Joe, doesn't take a bottle. So I fed him his last meal at 6:30. I then left Nick to put the kids to bed. I was definitely dragging my feet. I went to a nearby movie theater that is located inside a mall. The mall is mostly empty now, so it is kind of eerie in there. I purchased my ticket to see "Rise of the Apes". It sounded like a super dumb movie, but the show time fit my schedule. I was way too tired to stay out late.

I walked into the empty movie theater and picked out a seat. I moved around a couple of times until I found the perfect one. I then read a book in order to pass the time until the movie started. Finally the lights dimmed and the previews started. Looking around, I realized I was the only one in the theater. It was the weirdest feeling.

It was great! Zero distractions. No coughing. No overly loud laughter. No rustling plastic as someone took five minutes to open a bag of candy.  And to top it off, the movie was excellent. I haven't had that much fun at the movies in a long time.


So I guess a thank you is in order. Thank you, Nick, for forcing me out of the house kicking and screaming. Thank you for being such a wonderful husband and father. Thank you for understanding that I need to take time to be an adult and to just breathe. Thank you for knowing what I needed when I didn't. I promise, I'll try to not fight it so hard next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer Isn't Over Yet!

The air is dryer with a decided nip to it. The green leaves are slowly fading and turning crisp on the edges. The wind has picked up and the mosquitoes have disappeared from my back yard. It is starting to feel like autumn. This time of year I start to get excited for sweatshirts, football, apples, squash, pumpkins, and roasting marshmallows over a camp fire. Somebody slow me down! Summer isn't over yet.

No matter what season I am in, I always yearn for the next one. Except maybe winter. Snow is pretty and all, but I hate the bitter cold that comes with it. During the heat of the summer, I yearn for fall. During the dreary cold of winter, I can't wait for spring to arrive. I don't know why I can't just slow down and enjoy the present.

So in a bid to do just that, I am going to enjoy every summer day until September 22nd, which is the first day of  Autumn this year. I don't care if we get an early freeze, I am doing summer things for the next 11 days.  I'm not going to eat so much as a single apple.

Today I made a peach cobbler. Peach season is grinding to a halt, but you may still be able to find some fresh ones for super cheap. One of the highlights of my summer were the farm fresh local peaches sold for ninety-nine cents a pound at the store a few blocks from my house. I ate them plain, put them on pancakes, oatmeal, made freezer jam, and now a cobbler.

I had trouble finding a recipe that I liked. I wanted one that was fast and easy. Oh yeah, and delicious. Can't forget that. I browsed the internet and couldn't find one that caught my fancy. Instead, I found one that had a deliciously easy cake topping, but you were supposed to fold raspberries into it. Someone described it as a "buckle" in the reviews. What the heck is a buckle? Guess I'll have to make one of those next. Okay, I'm getting off topic. My point is, I combined two recipes to fit the ingredients I had on hand and the amount of time I wanted to put into it. Here it is:

Ingredients

Topping
     4 cups flour
     2 cups sugar
     5 teaspoons baking powder
     1 teaspoon salt
     6 tbsp. butter, melted
     1 1/3 cup milk
     2 beaten eggs

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Combine wet ingredients and mix into the dry ingredients. Voila. That's it.

Peach Filling
     6 or 7 fresh peaches sliced
     2 tsp lemon juice
     1/4 cup sugar
     1/4 cup brown sugar
     1 tsp cinnamon
     1/4 tsp ground nutmeg.

Combine dry ingredients. Sprinkle lemon juice on peaches. Add dry mixture and toss peaches to coat. Also, most people peel their peaches, but I didn't want to spend the time or have the hassle of that. To be honest, I didn't even notice when I ate the cobbler. It tasted wonderful and I forgot all about the skins. So save yourself some aggravation and skip the peeling process.

Butter a 9x13 baking dish. Spread peaches over the bottom. Spoon batter over the top. It doesn't have to look pretty, and if there are holes, great! The peach juice will bubble up through them.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. At this point you'll have to check on it every 10 minutes to see if it is done in the center. All ovens are different and mine took about an hour and a half of total bake time. When it was done, it was golden brown and crispy on top.

Now this makes A LOT of cobbler. Nick claims it is the best peach cobbler he has ever eaten. To be fair though, he is the least picky eater I have ever met and easily pleased. I was still very flattered though.

I hope you enjoy the rest of summer, as well as some peach cobbler!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Love of a Dog

Some of my favorite childhood memories include dogs. We lived in the country and spent our summer days hiking through the woods, horse back riding, or wading in the creek, always with a dog or two trailing us. When I married, I knew I wanted dogs to be part of my children's lives. Childhood just doesn't seem complete without a dog.

We have two dogs, both mutts from the pound. They are wonderful. Annie is a bird dog mix and Ender is some sort of strange looking terrier. We were told poodle, but I very much doubt that. We adopted each of them as puppies before we had children.

Knowing we were going to have children one day soon, Nick and I wanted to make sure our dogs would be gentle. We both wanted to be able to trust them with our babies. So Nick worked with them. Teaching them their manners. It wasn't anything fancy. Just the basics. Sit and lay down. No jumping. Heel. He also played with their food as they ate, sometimes taking it directly out of their mouths. He knew that a toddler would think dog food was fun to play with and he wanted to make sure they wouldn't bite little fingers. When he gave them treats, he would hold onto the end and make the dogs nibble it out of his fingers.

Nick also rolled them over on their backs and tugged on their ears and tail. He never hurt them, but he wanted them to get used to being handled all over.

Our dogs definitely aren't the best trained, but I think they are trained perfectly for children. Annie especially loves our kids. When they were tiny babies, she would lay by their bouncer and lick their toes, making them giggle. If Joe is crying in his crib, Annie whimpers and lays outside his door. Now that Ada is two, Annie and Ada can get into trouble together. Ada tries to ride Annie like a horsey. They tumble in the grass and play fetch. On walks, Ada holds Annie's leash and Annie stays right by her side.

I'm glad we can show Ada the joys of having animals in her life and teach her to love and care for them. I've never had a moments worry that our dogs would hurt our children. I think that if you get a puppy and train it right, they can be a wonderful addition to a child's life. They certainly were to mine.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Homemade Pizza

I love to make homemade pizzas. I found a great recipe for pizza dough at simplyrecipes.com/recipes/homemade_pizza/, one of my favorite cooking blogs. It is easy to make and tastes just as good as any restaurant pizza that I have had. This recipe makes enough dough for two pizzas, so I usually freeze half of it to use later.

Homemade pizzas are quite a bit cheaper than ordering from a restaurant. Depending on the toppings I choose, I can usually make a pizza for under $4.00. Plus, they are just fun to make. And the best part is, Ada will eat anything if it is on a pizza, so she gets a healthy meal without realizing it!

I love experimenting with different toppings. Spinach, squash, and colorful bell peppers are just a few of my favorites. But my all time favorite is inspired by a small pizza place here in town called Dewey's. They include goat cheese, minced garlic, pesto, artichokes, and mushrooms. It is absolutely delicious. Now that I have had it, pizza just isn't the same without goat cheese. It is a bit expensive though, so we only have it for a special treat. Usually with a bottle of red wine. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dirt

I'm sitting outside on my covered back porch enjoying a little down time while Joe takes a nap and Ada plays in the dirt. Again. That seems to be all she wants to do these days.

Thanks to our dogs, we have a small patch of dirt underneath a shade tree in our back yard. Ada thinks it is wonderful. Every time she goes outside she heads straight for it, armed with a large kitchen spoon and her truck. What more does a little girl need?

 I've recently read how good it is for kids to get outside and play in the dirt. They get to explore nature and make a mess. Plus, frequent exposure to the bacteria in dirt is good for their immune system. I remember having a blast playing in the dirt as a child.

I'm not going to lie, I wish Ada wouldn't play in the dirt. Especially when she takes handfuls of it and throws it straight up in the air, coating her hair and clothes in a fine layer of dust. For some reason she also feels the need to taste it. Everyday. You'd think that one disgusting bite would be enough, but nope. Hey, maybe it will taste better tomorrow.

So every time we go outside, I know it is going to end in bath time and some very dirty clothes. Sometimes we take three baths a day. It is definitely a hassle, but I know it is harmless fun for her. Much better than sitting inside watching t.v. all day.








Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bread

There is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread permeating every room in my house. The feel of the warm, soft bread dough under my palms as I knead it. The taste of it all crusty on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.

I've just recently discovered the joys of baking homemade bread. I'm not very good at it yet. It feels like a big chemistry experiment that I can never get quite right. I am constantly tweaking my recipe. Substituting milk for some of the water. Slowly inching up the amount of whole wheat flour I use in place of all purpose.

There are so many little details to be aware of. I have to get the water temperature just right. Too cold and the yeast won't activate. Too hot and I kill the poor guys. I have to make sure I knead it long enough. All the recipes say 10 minutes, but that depends on the baker. If you are new to the process like me, you may knead at a slower speed, meaning that you have to knead the dough longer than 10 minutes. Supposedly I will get a hang for what the kneaded dough should feel like and I will know when to stop. We shall see.

Then there is rising. The temperature of my house plays quite a role in this. On especially hot days, my dough may rise in as little as an hour. Cold days may take two or more. If I let it rise too long, my dough looks like a saggy, deflated balloon. So I am constantly checking on it, afraid to leave it unsupervised for long.

It is all very confusing and intimidating at first. I checked out several books from the library and learned step by step how to knead, what risen dough should look like, and what proofing was. The best book I came across was The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens. He does a good job guiding the clueless newbie through the maze.

I can't describe the feeling of satisfaction I felt when I turned out my first lopsided loaf. Then there was Nick's groans of rapturous delight as he ate it piping hot and without a thing on it. Success!

So now I'm hooked. Some days my bread doesn't turn out at all. Other times it is near perfection. I make at least two loaves a week and we have stopped buying bread from the store all together. Who needs bread with preservatives and high fructose corn syrup when your ingredients can be flour, water, salt, and yeast. You just can't beat that.









Saturday, August 13, 2011

Too Much Stuff

I have too much stuff. Things that sit around my house and are never used. Books on the shelf that I never read. DVDs that I don't even like. Gifts from friends and family that we have kept purely out of guilt. Some things stay in boxes for years. It just adds stress to my life. More things to clean. More disorder to look at.


So I've decided to have a yard sale. I'm 28 years old and have never hosted a yard sale before. There is something almost un-American about that. This past week I have been systematically going through my house and  pulling out items that I don't need. I don't get attached to objects very much. Nick is the softy in this house. I am relentless. Slowly the pile in our basement is growing.

Once this stuff is gone, I am going to be much more careful about what I let back into my house. If there is a movie or book that I really like, I'll check it out from the library. Not only will this cut down on possessions, but it will also save us money, which is something that I just love to do. The hard part will be birthdays and holidays. The time of year when toys and clothes start pouring in. Believe me, Ada has more toys than any child should have. More than she knows what to do with. Don't get me wrong, we are very grateful for the gifts, it just seems so wasteful sometimes.

So I've made a decision. Every thing we own should be loved or used regularly. No more cluttered shelves collecting dust. No more over stuffed closets. I want to be able to find what I need and find it quickly. I want to be able to breathe.




Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fearless

Being a first time parent takes a lot of guess work. We aren't born experts at child rearing and discipline. It is a lot of trial and error. I have experimented with different strategies. Some are complete failures, so I discard them and try something new. There are a lot of different theories on raising children. I believe that you have to step back and give them room to explore and grow. It is hard, but I try not to hover and fix everything for my kids. 

My husband, Nick, and I have a daughter named Ada. She just turned two. We have tried to allow Ada to do things for herself. We want her to grow up to be independent and self confident. If she gets herself into a sticky situation, we try to allow her to solve the problem for herself before we step in and help her.


There is a water slide at our swimming pool. Ada just loves it. It is called an Otter Slide. It is wide enough for two people to go down at a time and about 30 feet long. Nick and I take turns sliding down beside her while we hold her around the waist.

One day, Ada decided she wanted to do it by herself. Nick is much braver than I am and he let her try. He stood at the bottom, ready to catch her. Little Ada walked up the stairs and sat on the slide. Without hesitation she counted to 3 at the top of her lungs and went for it.

All the onlookers were astounded. Nick kept getting asked how old she was. What they probably wanted to say was that we were insane for allowing a 2 year old to do that. If Ada was afraid or nervous, we would never make her do it. But she is fearless. So we try to encourage her to try new things. Sure, Ada gets hurt from time to time, but I believe it is important to teach her to pick herself up, dust herself off, and try again.




Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just Slow Down

Nick and I love to take walks in the evening. We just meander around the neighborhood with no goal in mind. I used to think we were walking for exercise so I didn't have much patience with Ada's slow progress. Her constant stops to poke at a rock drove me nuts. It also didn't help that I kept checking my phone to make sure we would get home in time for the kids to go to bed. I always felt like I was in a hurry. Instead of relaxing me, these walks were actually stressing me out!

I'm not sure how it happened, but I knew I had to make some changes. So one evening I said to myself, "Who cares!" I left my cell phone at home and we let Ada pick which direction she wanted to go. (She almost always picks the same way, but that's okay.)

We live in a very quiet neighborhood so Ada is able to wander all over the street and into people's front yards. She may stare at a leaf for five minutes or run like a crazy woman after some rabbits. It just doesn't matter. What matters is the joy it brings her. And the joy it brings Nick and I to watch her discover her world.
So now we have no goal. No plan. Nick and I get to catch up with each other and Ada exhausts herself. Joe usually ends up sleeping in his daddy's arms. Yes, his bedtime is right around the corner, but that doesn't matter either. It'll all work out.