Bye-bye Easter Bunny

WHEN THE KIDS HAVE GROWN, holidays just aren’t what they used to be. Granted, holidays were never full of hoopla in our house, but we were all together. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day … these types of holidays weren’t huge deals in our house. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve never been one to make a big fuss over such holidays.

TODAY IS EASTER. Three of our kids have to work. One is working right now, and two are probably sleeping because they have to work later tonight. The fourth child (now 16) and I are attending her best friend’s baptism. After that, we don’t have any plans at all.

Bye-bye Easter Bunny

bye-bye easter bunny

Photo by Thirteen-Thirteen Photography – also posted on 100 Layer Cake-let.

My sister-in-law invited us to their house at 10:00am, which is when they are sharing a special message at their “home church” or fellowship gathering or … I’m not sure how to describe what she does or if it even has a name yet. A church plant or “life community” in the home type of deal. She’s going through some sort of training, but I don’t understand it. I’m not knocking it. It’s a rising trend it seems, too. I know another couple else who is doing this in their home. At any rate, it was too early for us considering our kids’ plans and schedules.

Speaking of schedules … time to get going!

HAPPY EASTER … however you celebrate – or don’t celebrate!

The Day After

Day After ChristmasYou wanna know something about my brain? No? Well, that’s alright. I’ll tell you anyway. It’s defective. There. I’ve said it. I have a faulty brain. At this point in my life I blame it on the not-managed-by-medication ADD combined with aging. It’s the day after Christmas, and I have the day off. The hustle and bustle of the season is over, and I thought it would be a perfect day to do something I used to love to do but now only long to do. It would be, but my brain had other ideas. It’s full of thoughts, and my heart is full of emotions, and together they make one interesting soup. Let’s see if I can isolate some of those ingredients to come up with somewhat of a coherent blog post.

I’ll start with over-abundance. More than ever, this really stood out to me this Christmas. Even in our own current state of belt tightening, we have an over-abundance of material possessions (aka: stuff). It has taken us a number of over-spending years to accumulate much of that stuff, and we’ve worked on that considerably. That’s why it stands out to me even more as I observe others adding to their over-abundance of stuff. Pictures of Christmas trees with oodles and gobs of presents flooding out from underneath resonated deeply with me this year. We had just a puddle of presents under our tree. My heart ached a little (OK, a lot) because I can’t help but compare and because I don’t want to be pitied.

Being in the financial situation we’re currently in has been an eye-opener. Not only do I see what careless use of credit can do, but I also see that there is so much stuff out there that we don’t need. Oh my gosh, there were so many things I would throw into a shopping cart for no other reason than I wanted it and then blindly hand over my credit card at the checkout! Every time I go through an uncluttering phase and come across such items, it disgusts me a little. I beat myself up. I’m becoming the opposite of an over-spender. I’m not quite there yet; more so with myself than with my kids. I can’t tell you how many things I look at in stores and really want but know that I don’t really need and then leave it there.

Like my favorite ornament here with exhausted Santa soaking his feet after a busy Christmas season, I just want to rest for a minute and be thankful that it’s over. I’d say I’m looking forward to a new year, but I’m not sure that’s true. If I knew that the new year would bring better times, then I’d absolutely be looking forward to it. I’m thankful that we made it through Christmas without going completely broke. This was due to having one less car payment plus a considerable amount of overtime I worked in November.

If my defective brain were better at planning enough to come up with a financial forecast, I might feel better. It’s the unknown that’s causing the anxiety to hang around. I have this ultimate budget formulated on Excel with an entire workbook of expense tracking. I’ll try to make that a New Year’s resolution one more time. My goal is to update that budget over the weekend and then stick to it in 2014.

I think I’ll end it there. There is so much more I wanted to vomit onto this page, but spitting this part out caused enough anxiety (and a bit of depression). Perhaps my next post will be brighter.

Closing Up Shop on 2011

As 2011 comes to an end, my mind goes once again to a place of analyzing the symbolism of it all. We use the entrance of a new year as a sort of vehicle to start fresh, even though January 1st is just another day like another. We make resolutions and set new goals. I might actually partake in this ritual for 2012. Stay tuned for details if I choose to share! :D

So we’re in the final four days of 2011 – last chance for a final purge. This is more work than just tossing things in bags or boxes and taking them to Goodwill. Thanks to a friend in the tax biz, I now know that I need to take photos of everything we donate and keep them on a CD with our taxes for that year in case of audit. I guess it’s a small price to pay for a tax deduction. ;)

Once that purge is done, and the Christmas tree and decorations are put away (up late and away early this season), then maybe I can work on some goals for next year. One of those goals is going to be creating quarterly and monthly goals both within and separate from those annual goals. Work must be getting to me with its goal setting craze. :twisted: My personal goals won’t be so difficult, though. I’m not going to require myself to track and measure so meticulously. METRICS – ::scream:: !

Speaking of work, I do know that one of my goals is to strategically plan days off throughout the year as mini-breathers. I get four weeks of vacation. Using one or two weeks as full weeks is enough, especially when we can’t afford to take a trip. Planning long weekends and personal days off is better for me.

Any day is a good day to start fresh, but I think I’ll jump on the New Year bus this time and wave fare well to 2011 and welcome 2012 while begging her to be much kinder than 2011 was. :P

Past Bliss the Anguish of Today

Raw and Exposed

One doesn’t realize how true this is until one has lived it:

“But as in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of today, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.” ~Edgar Allan Poe

The memory of having lived a lifestyle of more lavish giving, even though the giving was beyond our means even then, and now to be able to give so little makes it harder because we do know otherwise. I see how the memory of past bliss is the anguish of today.

I can’t help but wonder how many people say they are tightening their belts, but they are just saying the words. How many are tightening their belts to be able to afford extras here and there, and how many are tightening their belts to simply get by?

I wonder how many people who are fortunate enough not to have to tighten their belts understand that some of the people who say they can’t afford certain luxuries really mean that? For some, it’s hard enough to say those few words as they swallow some pride. To have to go into more detail to prove that they really mean it would be humiliating. I’m sure those who don’t understand don’t intend to humiliate, though. Maybe they just think it can’t be that bad.

I guess we’ve just done a good job of hiding the fact that, yeah, it is that bad. Not bad enough to need assistance, but definitely bad enough to have to cut out almost all extras, except an occasional dinner out or trip to the theater to see a new movie. Even when those extras are afforded, they are usually deals like $5 movies with smuggled in snacks and drinks. We’re always on the lookout for fun free things to do, too.

With that said, the look of excitement on our girls’ faces when they opened the Christmas gift that revealed that we’re taking them to see Wicked in May was priceless. A true surprise! For less than an iPad or even an eReader with WiFi, four of us will experience the magic of theater that will be something we remember for a lifetime. I was so excited to give this gift, too! I couldn’t wait for them to open it!

So while that past bliss may be the anguish of today, just how much anguish we allow it to be is up to us. There will be some things that stand out more than others, naturally. But we can create a new bliss with what we have now (or the lack thereof). Sympathy is  unnecessary, but empathy is appreciated.

Christmas 2011 | Still in the Grip of Change

I don’t send Christmas letters in cards. I don’t even send many Christmas cards. I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s a combination of poor advanced planning and letting time get away from me (due in part to working any and all overtime allowed). In fact, I wrote in three handmade Christmas cards this morning through tears because I won’t see those people on Christmas. There were only three cards because I only had three stamps left. So this is my “Christmas letter”.

That’s me in the photo. I thought it was fitting to use because I know times were tight at that time, and times are tight for us now. I can’t help but feel bad about not being able to give as much as we have in the past; yet, I’m not at all sad about not receiving as much. Look how happy I was with that doll! I’m sure she wasn’t the latest and “greatest” doll in the big name store, and I didn’t care a bit! It was a doll, and it was mine, and I loved it!

Since we’re not able to spend Christmas with extended family, my favorite thing about the day is spending time around the table playing games that make us burst with laughter, grazing on ham throughout the day, and lounging in the family room watching movies together. The few minutes first thing in the morning spent opening a few gifts have become a very minor part of the day. What is it that’s written in a great book about three things … faith, hope, and love? The greatest of these is love. You can’t wrap that in a box and tie it up with ribbon. We can only hope for a brighter future and have faith that it will come to exist!

Here’s where the family newsletter comes in…

For those who missed the major change that happened in our lives about this time last year, you can read about that here. Big adjustments were made, including credit counseling and entering a debt management program to get rid of credit card debt in five years (less than four years to go now!). So even when it seemed that we could give more freely, we really couldn’t – we charged it. Never a good plan. Don’t do it! So we truly are living on cash now. The only card we swipe now is the debit card.

Since then, I did get a raise at the normal annual review time. This is good, considering that many places are foregoing raises in this economy. Then about five months later, I was promoted and received another raise! Don’t get too excited – I still basically do the same thing, just more of it. :) Greg even gets a few more dollars in his weekly paycheck now. It’s funny, though, how movies and television used to make getting a raise seem so huge, but really it’s more about the recognition of a job well done because the extra money (minus taxes) might be just enough to cover a fast food dinner from the value menu for the family each week. :D

Ali had a summer job this year and bought a car with her own money! She’s not currently working through the school year as she’s heavily involved in all things theater (even choir) on top of AP classes. She recently played Scrooge’s little sister, Fan, in A Christmas Carol!

Jason graduated from Redstone College and is now a certified airframe & powerplant mechanic. Then he moved out! Now he’s going to be moving again from just six miles away to six hours away in New Mexico, where he’ll be working as an A&P mechanic for Great Lakes Airlines.

Josh got a full-time maintenance job working nights at Walmart. He’s saving for a car that he’ll most likely have to pay cash for, which means waiting longer to get more than a beater. The whole credit game is odd. You have to work for money to buy a car, but you need transportation to get to work! Fortunately, he gets a ride most nights from a friend who also works there and can use one of our cars at night other times.

Miranda is still too young to work, but she talks about wanting to get a work permit as soon as she can to start working earlier than 16. We’ll see how that works out, but I admire her desire! She’s also involved in theater and choir, including a separate a Capella group that sounds amazing! She is part of a six-girl singing and dancing ensemble in the “Beauty School Dropout” scene in their spring musical, GREASE!

So our wallets may not be full of money, but our hearts are full of love. That is something we can give to all! We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope for a more prosperous New Year!

Royal Engagement Ring

If you haven’t already noticed, I’m mildly obsessed with the British Monarchy and everything England. I love Kate’s style, and I have always loved that engagement ring since the first time I saw it on Diana’s finger! I’ve seen rings inspired by the royal engagement ring, but they fall grossly short of the real thing.

The real deal has 14 prongs holding the sapphire in place. There are 14 diamonds surrounding the sapphire, and each of those is held in place by five prongs. Many rings inspired by the original have only five prongs holding the center stone in place and three prongs holding each surrounding stone. Many even have additional stones surrounding the sapphire. Some are set on a thicker band either with additional stones set in the side, solid, or partially split – all unlike the original small band.

I finally found one that is a true replica of the original. It’s a lab-created sapphire, held in place by 14 prongs, and surrounded by 14 Cubic Zirconias, each of which are held in place by five prongs! It’s set on a simple, thin band as well. It’s just lovely!

The price was so low that I wouldn’t feel nervous wearing it in the scariest part of town (not that I frequent such places). So I ordered it for myself for Christmas! Any other day I would pass it by as a want, not a need. But … ’tis the season!

UPDATE: Here is a better photo of the actual replica now that I have it:

12/28/11 Edit:
Why is this special to me?  Several reasons. For starters, the story behind the ring chosen by Lady Diana, which caused a bit of a scandal. She chose what she wanted, though, not what was expected of her. I admire that immensely! Also, the fact that the ring I have consists of a lab created sapphire surrounded by cubic zirconias and still looks this fabulous … I mean, come on! Case in point – it doesn’t have to cost a half million dollars to be stunning. And finally, this was the only Christmas gift this year that is only for me. So, in a way, it symbolizes hope for a better more comfortable future.

Thanksgiving 2011 | Changes Continue

Happy Thanksgiving

Keeping in line with the steady stream of changes that have happened over the past year, how we’re spending Thanksgiving has also changed. We’re staying home and keeping it very simple. If we had gone anywhere else, some of the family would have been left behind due to work schedules, and we wouldn’t have seen them at all.

I’m cooking a turkey breast and a spiral sliced ham. Oh yes, my friends, there will be plenty of leftovers for us this year! :D No yams allowed, either. I don’t hate them, but I can live without them. There will be corn and fresh-from-produce green beans and mashed potatoes. These potatoes will have some skin left on and won’t be whipped to creamy submission but will maintain some hearty lumps giving us something to bite into. Yum! Of course there will be dinner rolls – the simple brown ‘n serve kind. And for the stuffing … wait for it … Stove Top baby! Awwwww yeah! That’s right! Not a lot of people in this family eat stuffing anyway, and a couple of us love Stove Top Stuffing. :lol:

I baked two Marie Callender’s frozen pies yesterday: Cherry and Pumpkin. I’m thankful for the gene that makes me a fairly laid back person who has no problem saying, “Sure! go ahead and slice into that pie already!” the day before Thanksgiving! Instead of looking at it like a bit of staged perfection has been ruined, I see it as spreading it out longer. Those who really know me know that I like to bend rules. ;)

I echo everyone’s thanks for health, family, and friends. This year, especially, I’m thankful for so much more. I’m also hopeful that these things continue to be constant in our lives. There was a time when we’d just go out and buy things we didn’t necessarily need. That has changed. Things are really tight. It makes me look at those things differently. So, yes, I am thankful for the over-abundance of material items we have that we couldn’t afford to replace now.

I’m also thankful, and this may sound weird, that each and every person in this world is different. We’re all unique. Even twins! If we were the same … if we all held the same opinions, what a boring world we would live in!

I’m thankful for Facebook! :lol: Whatever it’s original intent, I love that it keeps far away (and not-so-far away) family and friends connected conveniently without the need to find mutually convenient times to sit and talk on the phone for an hour or more at a time.

I’m thankful for Pandora! An extra thanks to them for lifting their monthly listening limit, too!

I’m thankful for Xfinity, where I can catch up on shows without relying on DVR.

I’m thankful for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which I’m about to go watch with my girls while baking cookies! :)

Summer Vacation or Just Time Off?

In the states, we call it “vacation”. In the UK, they call it “holiday”. Why does it feel like neither when you just stay home? It’s merely time off. The silly term “staycation” doesn’t even seem to fit. How about a “relaxcation”? Now that I could go for! An entire week (or at least half of it) to loaf around and be lazy. I’m not sure how much of that I’ll be doing, either. I need to use this time to catch up on things that I haven’t been able to do around the house. Take time off of work to work. Hmmm. :|

My official time off this week started with rain. Yesterday morning I did a little map searching for possible photo locations. There are so many parks tucked away that you couldn’t possibly spot them by simply driving around. I picked out two parks to check out, and we only managed to see one of them: Cherry Creek Ecological Park. Of course, as soon as we parked and got out of the car, it started raining. :( So we sat in the car and waited a few minutes for it to stop. Then we made it as far as a gazebo about 100 yards away before it started raining again … harder. Since I was in no hurry for anything, I thought it was nice to just sit there listening to the rain hit the roof and enjoy the breeze. Miranda, on the other hand, thought it was boring. Kids. :roll:

Once the rain stopped again, we strolled around some of the trail in this park. Part of the trail was a boardwalk, which could make for some interesting photos. There’s also a bridge over Cherry Creek, but I’m not that thrilled with it as a photo op. Being an ecological park, we’re supposed to stay on the path. So photo options are pretty limited here, except for this boardwalk.

Why are we not traveling?

Simple … money. I’m not airing dirty laundry here. I’m just telling it like it is. We are trying to do something now that we should have put into strict practice years ago. We’re not using credit cards for anything and are working towards being credit card debt free by (if not before) November 2015. To expand on this would take an entire post itself. It started when this major life change negatively impacted our income. I immediately started doing things like this to stop unnecessary spending. More opportunities to work overtime opened up along the way, and we got a little stupid again. That has to change. We have to stick to the budget!

We had tentative plans to drive to St. Louis and visit family during this time off (aka: vacation), but a semi-unexpected car expense (followed by this) happened that cost about double what our fuel expense would have been for a road trip to and from St. Louis. Not only that, but we decided that some home improvements should take a higher priority once and for all. When I sit back and look at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see that this situation is quite common. When someone moves out of state, it’s usually the one who moved who is expected to travel back for visits. Interesting. The highway runs both ways, and we would love for more people to come visit us. ;)

What are we doing instead of traveling?

It’s also important to note here that Greg was not able to take time off since he hasn’t been at his job for a full year yet. So he wouldn’t have been able to go with us anyway. We used quite a chunk of “vacation change” to go to the Colorado Renaissance Festival on Saturday. Only the girls went along because Jason had to work and Josh didn’t want to go. Even with saving $3 per ticket buying them at King Soopers, the total for four tickets was nearly $70. Add to that the expenses for food, drink, and trinkets while at the festival. Suffice it to say that this ate a considerable amount of money. I will say that the $4 spent to ride an elephant for all of about 4 minutes (including time sitting still waiting for the other riders to pay and get on the elephant) was definitely worth it! This could, and quite possibly will be, another post entirely.

Ali had to work Sunday and Monday at the pool, but they closed early both days due to the weather. Today still holds a threat of rain, which is only a slightly higher threat than tomorrow holds. So our plan is to see how much we can do for very little cost (while staying dry). I took out a certain amount of cash for the remainder of the week so we can easily see how much we have to play with. I’m tossing around the idea of a zoo day, complete with picnic lunch, but I’d be just as happy taking that picnic lunch to a reservoir (Colorado’s idea of a lake with a purpose) where I can relax with a book. :)

In other words, I have no plan at this point. That is actually worse, to me, than having a plan. That usually results in doing much of nothing, which results in disappointment over wasting an entire vacation. On the other hand, planning too much ends up overwhelming me and makes the week pass by way too fast. How do I find a happy medium?

What Type of Vacation Accommodations Do You Choose?

Many people are still just now learning that there are alternatives to staying in a hotel when on vacation. Without mentioning that place that starts with V and ends with O and has RB in the middle (that dot com place), I thought I’d ask the few people who happen to find this post to participate in this little poll. Pick the one you use the most.

Thanks for playing! :D

Have You Heard of VRBO and HomeAway?

Going on vacation but not looking forward to a cramped hotel room? Try VRBO and HomeAway. These companies are being recognized by the media more and more these days! Here’s an article on CNN.com’s travel page.

{They don’t look up properties for you or take any part in the reservation process. They are simply a venue for advertising for individual property owners and managers. Searching is the traveler’s job and booking is strictly between traveler and advertiser. This is stated in the Terms & Conditions that hardly anyone reads.}

Here is a snippet from Travel & Leisure Magazine:

And here is a snippet from Sunset Magazine:

If you’re a little hesitant about the whole idea of renting someone’s house instead of staying in a cramped hotel room, read this. You may have to do a little more homework before jumping into a rental agreement (and I suggest that you do), but it’s well worth the effort.

Going on vacation isn’t always about seeing how many activities you can do and how many sites you can see in a short period of time. It can also be about relaxing and experiencing life as you might if you didn’t have to work. There are homes around the world to fit any budget on these sites. There are even houseboats and yachts! Check it out if you haven’t already.

  • Edited on 6/3/11. Everything in this post is, without question, already public information. Not being snarky – just standing on principle. :)