Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thankfulness 2013, Day 2: Nicky

Twenty years ago this school year, I met my best friend.

Man, I feel old saying that.

It was early in fourth grade, and our class had just moved from the elementary building over to the intermediate school building. I didn't know many kids in my class very well, so I was super nervous about this school year.

But then I saw it.

A Lisa Frank binder, just like mine.

I think this is what mine had looked like

It was a different picture, but still, whoever had a Lisa Frank binder must be super cool and have great taste, ya know?

We became fast friends, and her family became a second family to me.

Nicky and I have been thought of as sisters or even twins on occasion, have been known to spend six hours shopping for prom shoes (but go back and buy the first pairs we looked at), and have gotten lost in the city for an hour and a half just because we turned left out of a parking lot instead of right.

Out to lunch and a shopping trip on one
of her last visits to NY

We've gone long periods of time without speaking, either because we were hurt and upset about something or because we've just been so busy (mostly the latter, thankfully).

She was by my side the day I got married, and she has become a beloved aunt to my kids.

The girls (with a little Ry in my belly!)

We live far apart now (why must Florida be so far from New York?!?), but I know no matter what, if I need her, she's just a phone call away. She knows me better than a lot of people, and has seen me at my best and worst.

Okay, now I'm all teary and miss my girlfriend. Anyone have a teleportation device they'd be willing to let me borrow so I can get to Florida quickly?

Love you, Nicky!!! Thank you for being there for me :)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thankfulness 2013, Day 1: My Phone

*dust dust dust*

*sweep vacuum sweep*

*cough cough*

Excuse all the dust as I brush off the blog and attempt to bring it back to life!

Welcome to November! Last year I tried to post everyday about something I was thankful for in preparation for Thanksgiving. It was hit or miss, but I think that I ended up having something to be thankful for, even if I didn't post every day. I'm attempting to meet that goal again this year, and hopefully I'll get back into the habit of posting more often.

To start off the month, I am thankful for my smartphone.

Okay, it tends to be more stupid than smart, but seriously, I can see why people love having one!

We've had the phones (Samsung Galaxy SIII minis) for just under two months, and they're wonderful. Pete's cell phone screen had broken a few months ago, leaving him unable to text for awhile. He then started using my ancient cell phone which worked, but was very slow. My phone had just started to die (the microphone wouldn't work, leaving me unable to make phone calls), so it was time. Thankfully our contract was up for renewing, and we were able to get great deals on the phones (hello 99 cent phones!).

The downside is that our bill is triple what it had been, but I think although it's affecting our budget a little, it's worth it.

My favorite apps so far (random thought: it's weird seeing our last name everywhere!):

Mint: Mint can be used on a computer or mobile device (including our tablet), and it's a free budgeting system. It links up with all your bank/credit card/mortgage/investment/utility accounts, so you can see what bills are coming due, how much money you have left in a certain budget category, or how much money you have in your checking account at a glance. We use it on the laptop to set up the monthly budget, but have it on our phones so when we're shopping, we can see how much money we have left to spend on food, gas, etc. that month while we're out and about. No more guessing about what's left, we have no excuse anymore. We've only been using the app about three weeks, and I really think that it helped our spending, and we had more money left over at the month than we were expecting (we were $100 over budget when we planned the month, but ended up about $150 under budget. Not bad!) Even if you don't have a smartphone, I highly recommend this for anyone to use on their computer!

Google Keep: Pete put this on my phone, and at first I was all confused by it. I didn't know what it was or what to do with it, but now I don't know what I'd do without it! It's basically a place for me to keep lists and reminders, and I know I don't use all of it's features, but I still love it. I have a note for all the individual stores we go to (Aldi, Wegmans, JoAnn fabrics, etc) , so when I notice we're running low on something (Cheerios or thread), I add it to that specific note. If I'm afraid I'm going to forget to get something off my list, it will pick up on my GPS and remind me (kinda freaks me out how that works, but it's come in handy more times than I'd like to admit....). I can also send lists to Pete, so if I know he's going to get gas after work, he can swing over to Aldi or Wegmans which is just down the road and pick up our items. Pretty snazzy!

Google Calendar: So this one isn't something super new to us, but I'm actually using it routinely for the first time ever. Pete's always using it to keep track of his work schedule, meetings and when he's teaching what unit or giving a test, but I never got into it as I would never think to check it. However, I'm also not very good at checking his calendar for his schedule or the wall calendar in our dining room or my planner that I'm supposed to be taking with me everywhere, or even syncing them up. Having this calendar on my phone, which is always with me, and having it synced with Pete's calendar has been amazing. All of a sudden we know who's doing what when and where, and there's no more arguments about lack of communication regarding scheduling. It also can be used on a computer if you have a Google account, but if you don't think to check it often, it's not super handy.

Minion Rush: Hey, everyone needs a super fun game to play once in awhile...or be addicted to. You get to be a Minion from Despicable Me and run through various locations, like Gru's neighborhood, his lab, El Macho's Lair, and Minion Beach. And you get to ride a Fluffy Unicorn. It doesn't get much better than that! We downloaded it onto our tablet awhile ago, and it was one of the first things I added to my phone. My kids love playing it, and it was a great way to distract them at the doctor's when they were getting shots.

Okay, I need to go make up November's budget on Mint while kids are napping! Happy November, everyone!

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vegetable Garden Update

It never ceases to amaze me how you can plant some seeds and turn this:

In the spring. Bed #1 is on the left,
 bed #2 is front right, bed #3 is back right.

Into THIS:

Bed #2

Crazy, isn't it?

As you can see in the first picture, we have three beds surrounded by U-shaped wood frames. For the past two years we've been meaning to fill them in and have raised beds, but finances haven't allowed that. 

Well, this year turned out to be that year!

We did a mixture of half top soil and half compost in each bed. One weekend, a Monday, lots of back breaking work and about $300 later, we had beautiful raised beds. I remember telling Pete while mixing the compost and soil in the beds that this had better be the best garden ever, or else I was going to be mad. It seemed like such a lot of work for a garden, and as we've had mixed results the past few years with crops (disease, plants not growing, etc), I wasn't sure all the work was worth it.

Boy was I wrong!

I LOVE my raised beds. These are my top reasons why raised beds are the best thing ever:
  1. It's easier on your back. I have a lot of lower back issues, so bending over to ground level to garden hurt a lot. Having the gardens be almost a foot off the ground doesn't seem like it would make a huge difference, but it really has!
  2. Weeds? What are those? I'm the QUEEN of weed growing. I don't have pictures of the past few years' gardens because, couldn't see the garden, only a big patch of weeds. If I wasn't out weeding every day, they'd take over. Heck, they still took over! This year, I can go for a week if not more, and then get not one, but all THREE of my beds weeded in 20 minutes. That's 336 square feet of garden in that amount of time!
  3. Square foot gardening. Enough said. This was a new concept for me, but we tried it. We've been able to put more in each garden bed (our original plan had less plants but in the space of all three beds; we put more plants into two beds, so we turned the third bed into a new berry patch), and everything is thriving.
  4. Pests have a harder time getting in. Remember how I hate snakes? I would always find some in my plants, meaning that part would never get weeded, watered, or harvested. There have been two snake sightings this year, one outside of a garden bed, and one inside of a bed. That's a huge drop from the previous years, and it makes this gardener very very happy.
  5. There's less disease happening in my tomatoes. Every single year that we've had a garden at the house, I've had one disease or another in my tomatoes. A couple years it was blight, the others it was blossom end rot. Not this year! My tomato plants are big, bushy, and covered in tomatoes. I haven't changed my watering habits (I'm usually either too much or not enough; there is no middle ground!), so the soil is draining better (prevents blight), but still retaining water to keep the plants hydrated (prevents blossom end rot).
Here are the beds; some pictures are from mid-July, the others are this week:

Bed #1 - contains lettuce, spinach, corn, paste tomatoes, beets, swiss chard, bell peppers, carrots, and red and white onions.

Onions, carrots, and bell peppers (July)

Corn, spinach and lettuce (July)

Perky onions! Swiss chard and beets are in the back (July)

This week! Beets and carrots have been harvested,
and the onions are just about ready to be picked.

An overflowing laundry basket of swiss chard!
Look at the size of those leaves!!!

Bed #2 - contains various varieties of pumpkins, zucchini, excess red onions, hot peppers, and regular tomatoes.

Pumpkins and zucchini (July)

Baby pumpkins and zucchini (July)

The pumpkins are invading the onions,
hot peppers, and tomatoes!

Happy tomato plants

This week! Things have exploded in growth!

We're growing ghost pumpkins...

...Cinderella's coach pumpkins (which
you may notice is growing OUTSIDE
of the garden bed)...

...and a huge 18" pumpkin that we
named Linus! We're hoping for an
appearance from the Great Pumpkin :)

Bed #3 - contains newly transplanted golden raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.

Little berry plants! (July)

Getting bigger! We have some blackberries that are
ripening, and the strawberry plant sent out runners :)

Our first strawberry! I ate it all myself.

We've harvested a lot already this year; we've decided we're going to need another upright freezer if this is what our garden bounty is going to be like every year! 

Did you plant a garden this year? How's it doing?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Financial Friday: A Book Review

Okay okay okay, I know. It's Thursday.

But I'm too excited to wait until tomorrow to post this, so bear with me.

For the past couple years, I've been following a blog called Words of Williams. If you remember, I did my very first guest post over there last year. Eric and Kelsey write about topics on marriage, parenting, and finances, and I'm really enjoying seeing all the cute pictures of their daughter, Rooney, as she grows.

Today, Eric's first book, It's Your Money, released in hard copy and ebook on Amazon, and it's amazing.

I was able to get an advanced copy of it (thanks, Eric!), and I was a little skeptical. I'm familiar with the Williamses' financial story from their blog, and as I've taken Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU), how much more would I get out of the book? Would the book really speak to me if I wasn't brand new to the budgeting process? I had my doubts, but I gave it a try.

Let's just say I sat down in my recliner one night with the book on my tablet, and next thing I know, it's an hour later and the book was finished. I couldn't put it down!

And you know what? I got so much out of it!

It's Your Money is based upon the same principles as FPU, but it spoke to me and encouraged me in ways FPU couldn't:

  •  Eric and Kelsey are the same ages as Pete and I, and we got married around the same time; no offense to Dave Ramsey, but he's...umm...well, older. We're at different stages in life, and that plays a huge part in your monthly budget.
  • In case you haven't noticed, the economic situation today is not what it was years ago. Hearing Dave talk about 12% interest for savings accounts is not easy to find these days; knowing that Eric and Kelsey are achieving their goals in relatively the same financial market that we are is encouraging. If they can do it, why can't we?
  • They made similar mistakes to what Pete and I have made. We haven't been on the brink of bankruptcy like Dave and his wife were, but we still had finances out of control for awhile. And we're still making mistakes today, even while we're making progress on our goals. 
I think my favorite part of the book was when Eric was talking about when he wanted an iPhone while they were still making progress on their goals. He talked about how important it is to celebrate milestones and progress. Those aren't always words I hear when talking about finances, but for a free spirit like me, it was so encouraging! I do better with goals if I get to celebrate often; it keeps me motivated to keep up with the hard work. Having him say that and knowing that they have their six months of living expenses saved up (the goal Pete and I are working on) and are now on their next goal, just made me feel like it is okay to splurge sometimes, and that it's not going to deter from us still making progress. Wanting to celebrate milestones is hard wh
en you're married to a financial nerd...but sometimes he lets me do it anyway :)

This book would be great if you have never attempted a budget, if you're struggling sticking to a budget, or are a seasoned budgeter and are on to other steps. If you're familiar with the Williamses' financial story or FPU, you will still find something new and exciting to apply to your financial situation. 

To get your own copy, head over to Amazon to grab it for Kindle or get a hard copy! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

You can read my other Financial Friday posts here.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Nate!

Today is Nate's sixth birthday.

How did that happen?!?

I sat down with my boy who is growing up way too fast, and asked him the same questions as Paigey and Ry for their birthdays:

How old are you? Six!

Who is your best friend? Joel

What is your favorite color? Blue

What was the best thing about being five? Getting really smart at school. And playing the Wii.

What do you want to be when you grow up? A football player

What is your favorite movie? Monsters University. And Star Wars!

What is your favorite song? I'll Fly Away

What do you want most of all for your birthday? Skylanders!!!!

What do you want for your birthday breakfast, lunch and dinner? Star Wars pancakes for breakfast, not sure for lunch, and pizza with pepperoni, olives, peppers, and onions for dinner. With red sauce. And lots of cheese!

At a park for his cousin Z's birthday party last weekend

Happy birthday to my sweet boy, my buddy, and my favorite cuddler (shhh, don't tell Daddy!!). Love you, Nathan Thomas!

Do you have any questions you'd like to ask the birthday boy?

Friday, July 26, 2013

My New (And Hopefully Temporary) Enemy

It's summer time, and one of my favorite things about this time of year is the plethora (wow, what a fun word!) of fresh fruits and vegetables available. We've been picking tons of greens (spinach, beet and swiss chard) from our garden, and have recently started enjoying zucchini. Farmers markets have fruits available, and we went blueberry picking and got almost 25 pounds of them!

I've also been dealing with almost paralyzing headaches and unbelievable amounts of indigestion and stomach aches. I get headaches frequently, and usually at bedtime I'd have shooting pains of heartburn whenever I'd lay down. I never thought of it as odd, just as me being normal.

Well, normal until I started eating mostly fruits, veggies, and whatever grilled meats we happened to be having for dinner that night.

I felt good, less stomach aches, no heart burn, virtually any headaches.

Then all my uncomfortable symptoms came back with a vengeance. We'd had a few cool days, so I baked.

And baked some more.

In a week's time, I had three days I was down with migraines.

For three Sundays in a row I'd come home from church with stomach aches and migraines, and would end up sleeping between 2 1/2 and 3 hours before feeling any relief.

I had a week where I barely ate anything, only my normal comfort foods. Little did I know that those foods were causing me to stay sick.

A week ago Saturday we had a small family reunion at my Aunt Sharon's house. We try to gather at her house every year for pizza and wings, games, and just connecting with family members from all over the country. I hadn't had pizza in a few weeks, so I ended up having three pieces. I chowed down on wings, as well as the fruits and veggies available.

A little bit later, I was talking to my mom and a headache started in. I didn't think much of it, maybe I was just tired.

We left a couple hours later, and the entire way hour ride home I was almost doubled over with a stomach ache, and didn't eat anything until after church the following day.

It was the first Sunday I hadn't had a migraine in a month. Every Sunday previous had only one thing in common: I'd eat toast or a bagel before leaving, and a headache would start approximately half an hour to an hour later.

I got online and began some research. Indicators of gluten intolerance are severe headaches, bloating, stomach aches, heart burn, and joint pain.

I suffer from all of those, and have been for a long time now. But I never noticed it until I stopped eating things with gluten so often.

I tried to stay away from gluten-rich foods for the remainder of that Sunday, and didn't touch anything until Monday night's dinner where I had half of a home made pita. 

By the end of dinner I was popping the tums and was on the couch with a mild headache for the rest of the night.

I have been eating very little gluten since Monday. I have had no headaches, no stomach aches, no heartburn at night, no bloating, and reduced joint pain. Other things I've noticed is that I've been less irritable, less tired, and I've lost 3 pounds.

It has been one of the best weeks for my physical in a long, long time. Looking back, I've seen signs for this for months, but just haven't really put it all together.

Has it been hard not eating my favorite foods, especially as I'm a carbaholic?

Honestly, the only times I've really noticed is when I made the kids macaroni and cheese and I couldn't lick the spoon, or when Pete and I went to the mall and I smelled Auntie Anne's pretzels and I couldn't get one. Granted, this time of year I don't eat much breads or pastas. During the winter it will probably be harder, but I'm finding a lot of great recipes online, and my awesome husband (who's actually more bothered than I am about this, but mostly it's because he's afraid I'll feel left out) went out and got me some mixes for pizza crust/cinnamon rolls, pancakes, and some brown rice flour. We still have some more things we're thinking about getting, but in this day and age, it's much easier to find foods I can eat, even at restaurants!

I'm not going completely gluten free, just cutting out the major foods at the moment to see how I do. In a few weeks, I may try a slice of real bread again or some pasta to see how I do, but for now, I'm staying away from them.

Do you have any food allergies or intolerances? Do you have any gluten free recipes you're willing to share?

The Charcoal Corral and Drive In

About half an hour away from where we live is the Charcoal Corral and Silver Lake Twin Drive In. Pete and I try to get there at least once or even twice every summer for a movie, mini golfing, and ice cream. We usually go with our friends Stephen and Vanessa and pile pillows, bean bag chairs and blankets in the back of our van for the movie, along with tons and tons of food (which we rarely eat half of!). Sometimes we'll go with Pete's brother, but this summer was the first time we took our kids.

Paige and Nate had an awesome school year and their report cards were excellent, so we wanted to celebrate. When we heard that Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University were playing on the same screen on the same night, we knew we'd have to take the kids that week. The only challenge was that the first movie wasn't going to start until after 9...and our kids go to bed by 7. Eek!

Thankfully the kids took later rests/naps, and we were able to go :)

First stop? Picking up our extra cheese pizza at the Charcoal Corral for dinner!

Yummy pizza!!!

Then the kids got to play on the playground; in front of the screen are play areas with swings and slides for kids, and they had a blast. Paige found one of the girls from her class who moved away halfway through the year, so she was so excited about that! We had to pry them away from playing to get ice cream.

Amazingly enough, the kids were still going strong and bouncing off the walls by the time Despicable Me 2 started. We liked the movie, but think the first one was better. The kids were a little scared by the villain in the movie and the purple minions, but we're not sure if it was the characters that scared them or the fact that it was their first time seeing a movie on the big screen. Everything was bigger and louder than they're used to, plus there were fireworks going on at the lake nearby, so they weren't too sure about those, either.

The kids made it through Despicable Me 2, and Pete and I weren't sure if we were definitely going to stay for the second movie. We thought at least one of the kids would have fallen asleep, but they were all excited and begging to stay for the next we did! Monsters University was awesome, we all really enjoyed it. I thought it was as good as, if not better, than the first one.

All snuggled in the back enjoying their movie

All three kids stayed awake for the movie, and only Ryan fell asleep on the way home. We didn't arrive home until almost 1:30! We expected the kids to wake up early and be super cranky the following day, but two of them got up at 8:30 and the other didn't wake up until 9:30! They were actually in really good moods that day...

...and they're begging to go back again :)

Have you ever been to a drive in before?