Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Siren Song of Papa John's Cheesey Bread

Today I desperately wanted Papa John's Cheesey Bread with their Garlic Butter dipping sauce. I mean, really, what is not to want? It is pizza dough, brushed with melted butter & garlic, and topped with mozzarella cheese. Then it is dipped in melted butter & garlic sauce. I mean, just LOOK at it!!
Brand Eating

You feeling me NOW?? SUPER YUM!

BUT, it is September 29th, and guess what, I have no money left in my "dining out" budget. Granted, Cheesey Bread is only $4.99 (plus delivery), but $0 means $0.

So, I did what any red-blooded American woman with a craving and a tapped out budget would do: I semi-homemade myself some cheesey bread!!!

Step One: gather materials-- you need a stick of margarine, garlic powder, a Boboli crust and some Mozzarella cheese.

Step Two: melt butter and 1/4 tsp of garlic in the microwave (about 30 seconds), and then spread melted butter garlic sauce (liberally) on Boboli crust

Step Three: top with copious amounts of mozzarella and bake for 8-12 min in a 450 degree oven.

Slice & enjoy!!

Cheesey Bread is Little Man approved and so delicious that even the Rockstar wanted some!

Honestly, the dipping sauce flavor was not an exact match for Papa John's dipping sauce, but the cheesey bread was spot on!! I may or may not have eaten almost half of the cheesey bread. 

(and that mess behind & to the left of Little Man is Diesel's "area"... I have tried my best, but alas... we're still a decluttering work in progress!)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cosmic High-Five

So how excited was I to go to church on Sunday and see this little beauty fall out of the bulletin?

HELLO?? Let's talk about a message from God! I'm so excited to start this small group. I'm even looking into getting the book from the library ahead of time so I can start reading (I have a compulsion to get information first hand, rather than someone else's interpretation of it.).  I like it when I get a cosmic high-five from God. It makes me feel like I'm on the right path for a change!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Budgetary Update 9/24

Arvind Balaraman
Friday is going to be Budget Update day on the blog. Maybe not every Friday, because that would get boring, but Fridays will be the day we check in.

GOOD news:
- Diesel (aka my husband) looked over my calculation and discovered the reason for our STAGGERING overspending wasn't just that we're spending like it is going out of style, but because I had miscalculated our annual income. I had calculated based on being paid 2x a month, rather than based on 26 paydays a year. Who knew that 2 extra paychecks could make such a HUGE difference. It also means that, generally speaking, we are NOT swiftly driving ourselves to the poor house. In fact, we're (marginally) in the black  every month. That being said, we're still going on a money diet!

BAD news:
- Diesel steadfastly refuses to use our savings to pay off the truck. We went several rounds on this one. The problem with being a Taurus married to a Taurus (with a Taurus child, no less) is that you are equally stubborn. There was no making him budge. As much as I tried to point out that we could replenish our savings rather quickly and the additional cost based on APR, etc., the man was immoveable. So I acquiesed.

GOOD news:
- Our new budget will allow us to pay off said truck in less than a year. I'm putting a hopeful 9 months on it, then the truck is OURS! This is a compromise, because Diesel gets to keep the security of our little emergency fund and I get to see us move one step closer to being debt free.

BAD news:
-After we pay off the truck, we still have to pay off my student loans. Anyone want to purchase a kidney from me? Actually after the truck is paid off, we should be able to "snowball" the former truck payment money into my student loans.

GOOD news:
-We are almost to the end of the month and have stayed below our new budget of $90/month for dining out. This $90 is WELL below our average dining out spending. That was $270... YIKES!!! (Hey, look at that, $180 to put towards our debt!).

So that is three GOOD newses vs. two  BAD newses. I'd say that is a pretty good start. Next I tackle my Target addiction and am going to try to learn to coupon. Any suggestions on how to handle my Target problem? Do you think Dr. Drew has a Sober House for Target addicts???

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's Your Dream?

What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is [the] land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' [...] Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'.  --"Happy Man," Pretty Woman

In light of yesterday's post, I thought I'd post the quick list of my dreams. Some are more obtainable than others, some are more shallow than others, but they are mine! (listed in the order they came into my head, not in the order of their importance).

I dream of....
  1. living in Europe-- short list is Ireland, Switzerland, England or France
  2. living in the Portland, Oregon area
  3. getting a PhD in literature
  4. becoming a published writer (short stories, articles, etc)
  5. writing and publishing a book
  6. starting my own business or a family business
  7. learning a handicraft and doing it well
  8. being a stay-at-home mom
  9. traveling the world
  10. raising happy and well-adjusted children
  11. learning to paint
  12. learning to take really great candid photos
  13. having 4 children (and yeah, it is a gender specific dream of 4 boys, but a girl would be just as well loved!)
  14. doing mission/humanitarian aid work in sub-Sahara Africa
  15. starting/funding a large-scale animal rescue a la Best Friends
  16. feeling less rushed and more tranquil/peaceful on the inside
  17. finally sitting down and turning my idea about the novella Passing into a research article and then submitting it for publication in a literary journal
  18. becoming a professor of literature
  19. having a clean and organized home that stays that way!
  20. learning how to self-promote
  21. having time to go on family bike rides or hikes-- and actually going on them!
  22. finding and sticking with an exercise routine
  23. wearing a bikini and looking good in it
  24. providing my dad with top-notch health care (and a new liver)
  25. starting a scholarship program
  26. getting involved with a non-profit that I truly believe in
  27. maintaining a happy marriage to my wonderful husband forever!
  28. training my dog in flyball or agility
  29. being completely debt free
  30. maintaining a more sustainable lifestyle
  31. learning to garden so that I can grow my own produce (if/when we get our plot at the community garden)
  32. learning to batch cook and learning to can foods
Those are the 32 dreams I came up with on the fly. Now I need to figure out which to start working on first!

What are your dreams? Are you on a path that is taking you towards them?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Wake-up Call

Today I was reading Courtney Carver's blog Be More with Less and her most recent post "The Right Time Is Right Now" really resonated with me. One statement in particular hit home in a major way:
[The] path of least resistance will kill you.
How true I'm finding this to be. I gave up my job as an adjunct professor, which, although it did not pay me a great deal, gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction, in order to have more "security" and to have health benefits. I quit being a "freeway flier," flitting from campus to campus, and now work the 9-5 at a corporation. Don't get me wrong, I like my current job and I am good at it, but it is not as fulfilling as teaching was. In many ways, I feel as though this new position is slowly eating away at my hopes and dreams.

I no longer have the scheduling freedom that I once had. I no longer have summers off. I no longer use my beloved Master's degree (that I am still paying for). I no longer have the daily intellectual stimulation of discussing writing and literature with my students and colleagues. This is not the fault of my job or the company I work for, it was my decision. I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I could walk away from teaching and that the increase in salary and the health benefits would make me forget that I have given up something that I loved to do. These perks are nice, but they don't make me forget. If anything, it makes me feel worse to know that I would sell something I love for so little.

It is causing me to feel bitter and frustrated about my work life.

Yet, in all of this, the silver lining is that this decision has brought me to this point. It has caused me to start doing what I'm doing now. Downshifting and reassessing our finances and pursuing my own Happiness Project! I'm actually finding myself feeling more hope and more excitement about not only the future, but the present. I'm actively trying to find ways to pursue my dreams, without having to sacrifice anything I don't want to be rid of. I'm ready to take, as my buddy Bobby Frost once said, "the road less traveled by" -- a concept that has always terrified and fascinated me.

 I will take this road, because I refuse to let the path of least resistance to kill me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What My Toddler Taught Me About Minimalism

As parents, we always want the best for our kids. We want them to be happy and satisfied. Somehow this desire for happy, well-adjusted children has morphed into a weird materially driven thing. We try to buy their happiness (much like we try to buy our own) by getting them toys and games and do-dads and whatzits.

I am guilty of buying stuff just because I think my son will like it or because it makes me sad to say no (despite the fact that my son is 2 and forgets his disappointment in about as much time as it takes for me to round the next aisle in the store).  In comparison to his peers, the boychild doesn't have a ton of toys, because we just don't have the space. We try to be very mindful of how much we get him, but the little toys-- like Matchbox cars-- do add up

That being said, the other day, my son taught me an important lesson about kids and toys and minimalism. I was cleaning the house and he was playing in the living room. After quite awhile I realized that I hadn't heard much out of the boychild, save for the occasional happy babble, so I peeked into the living room only to find him sitting on his booster chair in the dining room, happy as a clam, playing with our coasters.


All these toys and the kid chooses to play with our COASTERS!!! He was happily stacking them and arranging them and spinning them around. Having a grand old time!  In that moment I realized that my son was showing me what I need to do in my own life. I need to learn to find joy and happiness in the little, inexpensive things in life, rather than trying to keep up with the bigger & better lifestyle.  In that moment, I also realized that minimizing the toys and the stuff, will not in any way bother the boychild!

 Sometimes it takes a child's eyes to show you what is important!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Budgetary Horror

I just finished totalling our spending vs. income and had the horrifying realization that we've been spending our money like we're still earning the same amount of money that we were a year or so ago-- before the hubs' wages & hours were cut. If we continue spending at the rate we are spending right now, we will be almost 12k in debt at the end of the year. 

I need to go throw up now.

A game plan has been drawn up, and if we stick to our budget we should come out a little bit ahead every month and we should end up in the black by the end of the year. Interestingly enough, there are no DRASTIC cuts-- we can still go out to eat (occasionally), we will still have money for hobbies and fun "stuff."

We will fix this! Update next month!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hi, My Name Is Colleen and I am a Target Addict.

So I'm trying to work on a family budget, thus I am slogging through our account records on Mint. As I was looking through transactions for this year--and by this year I mean the past 9 months-- I am embarrassed to admit there are two FULL pages of this:
It came up to over 3k spent at Target in 9 months.  That is over $300 A MONTH!!!!

Seriously. If I told someone I spent 3k on drugs in the last 9 months, they'd be staging an intervention, yet somehow 3k at Target is acceptable.

When I look at that total, I'm nauseated. I'm sure some of those purchases are legitimate (diapers, baby wipes, pharmacy items, etc.), but I'm willing to bet that the vast majority are just for crap I thought I "needed." Let's say half that total was for legitimate purchases. That means the other $1500 could have gone to pay off debt (Hail to thee Concordia...) or gone into savings or into our investments... ANYWHERE but into Target's coffers!

I think I may have just hit rock bottom. Maybe it is time to have a Target-free week or month!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Red, White and Bizarre!

I was in Joann Fabrics the other day and I saw this little beauty and I had to say "SERIOUSLY?!?!?!"
I mean, I'm as patriotic as the next, but why on earth would I need an American Flag silverware cozy made from felt?
Can you believe I actually resisted the urge to buy this????

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pantry Week

Our family's first ever pantry week (or so) has begun.

What is pantry week? It is a week where we do no grocery shopping (save for toddler essentials, like milk & bananas) and only eat meals from foods we already have in our pantry, refrigerator & freezer. While we do have some "ready made" freezer meals, I'm actually going to have to get creative with meal planning.  I am not usually a look-in-the-pantry-and-whip-something-up type of a person. In fact, I'm normally a look-in-the-pantry-and-announce-that-we-need-to-go-out-to-dinner type of person.I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to hit and use the ingredient search to figure out what the heck we're eating all week!

A major part of pantry week was taking a food inventory. I took an inventory of our two freezers, the pantry and 1 food cabinet, which accounts for the vast majority of our food. I still haven't inventoried one cabinet of miscellaneous (mostly cereal & snacks) foods or our baking goods and spices, but I will.

To continue the idea from my last blog, taking a pantry inventory drove home my embarrassment of riches. Never again will I proclaim that we have "nothing to eat," just because I don't want to cook anything! WOW! We have a LOT of food in this house!!

Tonight I made homemade mac & cheese (with garlic & onion powder & diced tomatoes), but it came out a little gritty. I think I put too much flour in the roux. BUT, it made a TON of mac & cheese, so we're stuck with it!!

Mini-Goal for the week: Make the bed every day.
Here are the fruits of today's bed making-- though in all fairness, boychild LOVES to play in and on the pillows, and is especially fond of building "mountains" and burrowing in "caves" that my nice, neatly made bed never quite stays all pretty & catalog worthy for long!

Also other progress-- my lovely, organized photo albums & scrapbooks where there once was a jumble of knick-knacks, books, CDs, a cowboy hat and dust bunnies.

Please note the empty shelf. It is inspired by the following, which I read in The Happiness Project when Gretchen's friend tells her:
"I keep one shelf, somewhere in my house, completely empty. I'll pack every other shelf to the top, but I keep one shelf bare."
I was struck by the poetry of this resolution. An empty shelf! [. . .] An empty shelf meant possibility; space to expand; a luxurious waste of something useful for the sheer elegance of it. I had to have one. (31-32)
I'm keeping my empty shelf to remind me of how awesome it feels to declutter and clear out, but it was inspired by the book.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Embarassment of Riches

As I lay in bed this morning, with Little Man snuggled up on one side of me, Hubby snuggled up on the other side of me, and the dog nestled in the crook of my knees, I realized that I am richly blessed. Laying there in my comfy cozy bed with my 3 guys, it dawned on me that I don't appreciate the fact that I already have SO much.

I think it is having so much (and not realizing it) that has turned my need/want filter off. While I do think there is some societal pressure to "keep up with the Joneses," I also feel like it is because I have all my basic needs met, that I have a harder time differentiating want from need. Somehow my suburban middle-class existence has made stuff like new brown shoes into a need instead of a want. As in "I really need a pair of brown shoes to go with this outfit." I already have two pairs of brown shoes, so I don't actually NEED new shoes, but in the moment, the fact that those two shoes aren't exact matches for my outfit make me feel like I NEED new shoes. In reality, I just want them.

This is the crux of my over-buying and over-consumption. I WANT things but haven't learned to differentiate my wants from my needs. I think that is what I'm going to work on next. Of course, some things are a want/need... as in I want to finish my scrapbook, so I need to buy some replacement pages. It will be tough to tackle THOSE types of wants.

But on the whole, when I find myself bemoaning the over-priced, under-sized nature of my house, or our lack of yard or whatever, I need only look around me at all that I already do have and be thankful for that.

In other uncluttering news, I tackled the shelf on my side of the closet and managed to get rid of 4 shoebox size boxes of stuff. I had boxes of photos and memorabilia that I had boxed up in the hope that I would scrapbook it one day. It is actually pretty sad, because I have all these great photos from trips, but they've spent the last 5-10 years boxed up  and out of sight. So I went to target & got a few regular photo albums and filled them with my photos. Now I can actually enjoy those memories and if I get a chance to make a scrapbook for them, great, if not, at least they're out where I can see them. Added bonus was that I got to take a little trip down memory lane, I got to realize I'm much better looking with age and I got to find some great photos of me with my aunt who passed away this past March.

I've also decided to start a very simple scrapbook for all those cards & photos and other flotsam & jetsam that I keep in boxes. Same principle applies to these items as to the photos-- why have them boxed away when I could have them out where I can enjoy them more regularly.

The purge continues around the house. I got rid of some books-- always a difficult task-- and some knick-knacks I've been keeping around the house that I don't really like or need and some queen sized sheets from our old bed that I was hanging onto for the "someday" when we have a house with a guest room. It feels good to have another load of stuff to take to Goodwill.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Evacuation Game

As I was watching the news coverage of the tragedy in San Bruno, CA, I was, yet again, struck by the realization that our possessions are all so very temporal. In the blink of an eye, all of the stuff you've worked so hard to accumulate could disappear. EVERYTHING. 

This got me thinking about what things-- not people or animals, but things-- are most important to me. What items would I be devastated to lose. When I see tragedies like wild fires and hurricanes and the like, I play a game in my head, which I call the Evacuation Game.

The Evacuation Game

You have 15 minutes to load your car & evacuate your home. Everything left behind will be destroyed. What do you take with you? (In the Evacuation Game, it is assumed all people & animals are out of harms way, so they do NOT get counted on the list. Clearly, nothing compares to losing a family member in a tragedy and for me, saving my loved ones would trump saving any and all possessions.)

My list contains only a few items that are of KEY importance. I didn't include clothes and bedding and the like, because I view that as replaceable stuff-- plus, in 15 minutes, I'm pretty sure I could grab the key items and still have time to grab clothes, shoes & what not. Instead, the items on my list are MUST HAVE items for me. I did not include items for other members of the household, because everyone's list will be different. I also didn't include "sensible" stuff like I.D.s and deeds and insurance paperwork, my list focuses on things that would devastate me to lose, not things that would be a pain to replace or to not have.

So without further ado, this is just MY evacuation list.

My Evacuation List:
  1. Photos in all their forms-- framed, albums, scrapbooks, boxed loose photos
  2. Memory boxes
  3. The computer & external hard drive-- our home movies & pictures are on there
  4. A few key pieces of jewelry
  5. My white Bible-- because my mom gave it to me & it has a note from her in it
  6. My blankey-- because, to me, it is extremely valuable and irreplaceable
I was actually surprised at how short my list was. I kept mentally going over the house and thinking "there has to be something else..." and there wasn't. There are definitely items I'd be really sad to lose, but pretty much everything else is replaceable.

I think I'm going to keep this list in my head as I continue to purge items from the house. While I don't plan to live a Spartan existence, with only these 6 items to my name, I think I will use the "would I save this in a fire" scenario to help me along and to temper my purchasing.

So, what is on YOUR evacuation list?

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Remarkable Life in Progress

In her book Unclutter Your Life in One Week, Erin Rooney Doland (of Unclutterer) writes about figuring out what the life you want looks like and how uncluttering can help you move towards what she calls your "remarkable life." A life filled with the things you love and love to do, rather than a life enslaved to your clutter, possessions and job. As I was reading, I followed her instructions to list all the things that make me happy and to focus on these things in order to live my remarkable life.

One of the things I put on my  list was entertaining & socializing. I love people and having people over to my home is something I have always wanted to do, but have not really done much of in the last 5 years, because at 730 sq ft, our house isn't exactly a palatial manor! However, I've decided that instead of trying to wait until I had a bigger home (which isn't going to happen anytime soon), I was just going to start having people over and making what I have work for me.

This weekend was my inaugural start! I had my sister, brother-in-law and niece over for the weekend, and on Saturday night we invited my sister-in-law, her husband and my nephew & niece over as well. Since we had 6 adults and 4 kids in the house, I decided we should have dinner on the patio. Our patio table only seats three, so I brought our dining room table outside. We put the two little boys at the little picnic table we have, 3 adults at each of the tables and the two little girls in high chairs. It actually worked out great and we had a fun night-- until my poor 15 month old niece had a little too much dessert & threw up on her dad, our couch & the living room rug.

I feel very happy that we did this and have committed to having people over more often. If I want to live my remarkable, happiest life, I need to do more than just clean out my closets, I need to start doing the things that make me happy!

In other news, we made it a full month without eating any meals out-- but totally BLEW it this weekend!!! Friday night we had dinner out with my sister & brother-in-law (they paid, so it doesn't TOTALLY count!). Saturday after my bro-in-law and I ran our first 5k, we all went out for breakfast. Sunday, we went out to lunch before sending my sister & bro-in-law on their way, and today I met some friends I hadn't seen in a while for lunch. It is okay, though, we'll get back on the wagon again!

Yesterday, I gave up the plan to try to sell my purged stuff and decided to just donate it. So, we loaded up the truck and dropped off a massive load of stuff at our local Goodwill.

Here is the stuff that went:

Aaaaand here is the nice big open space left after we went to Goodwill!

Woo hoo!!!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Clutter of the Uncluttering

I seem to have caught myself in a clutter spiderweb. I have been furiously decluttering my house & getting rid of "stuff"-- only I haven't gotten rid of anything. Instead it has all been boxed up and until tonight, clogging up our already cramped dining room. Now, because company is coming, it has been relegated to neat stacks against one wall of our already cramped bedroom (anyone sensing a theme???).

This begs the question: if I'm trying to get rid of stuff, why am I hanging on to it?

It is still hanging around the house because, initially, I planned to have a yard sale & then donate whatever was left; however, the more I think about it, the more I realized that I don't have the time, energy or desire that it takes to have a really successful yard sale. Also, with only 730 sq ft of living space, we have little-to-no room to store all this stuff while waiting for yard sale day to arrive.

In an effort to sell the stuff without having a yard sale, I tried posting items individually on Craigslist. This method got me a few nibbles on my items and I actually sold one set of bakeware; however, most of my postings went unnoticed and unsold. So now what?

In a flash of 3 a.m. insomnia fuelled brilliance, I decided to create the "Make Me an Offer" cyber-yard sale. I posted a new Craigslist ad, including a link to my flickr photostream of the same name AND I posted the flickr photostream to my Facebook. Basically, the premise is this: I post up photos of the items along with a description and it is up to the interested party to tell me what he/she is willing to pay for said item. If I like their offer, I'll accept. If I don't, I won't. In all honesty, no offer is likely to be refused because I've decided if the original items haven't cleared out by the end of the week, I'm just going to take them to Goodwill, but continue to update and repost my cyber-yard sale.

Hopefully this works! If not, at least we'll have some hefty donations to put on our taxes this year!