Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Learning to be frugal

I'm struggling. I've mentioned before that my sweet hubby and I have a little spending problem. Somehow we are still not doing such a great job of figuring out how to budget for everything, or to quite make our budget align with our priorities.

I think part of the problem is that we want our priorities to be different than what we actually seem to make them.

For example, I think we could save a tiny bit of money each month if it wasn't a priority for us to drink wine every few weeks. But since we are making that a priority, and not cutting our favorite, Silver Coast, out of the budget, we are taking away from our ability to give and our ability to save for the future.

Same with Netflix. We love that instant queue. But that $10 a month might be something that would get us to sit on the couch less, and to do more, and to have $120 in a year that we could put towards bringing sweet hubby's brother to visit and go to school in the states for a semester.

Also, I think we could do a little better on the power bill. We like to have the lights on in lots of rooms at once. We like to come home to a couple of lamps, and we like to light up the giraffe (sculpture) at night. We don't like to be in the dark. We have timers that come on all the time -- even when we are away, and even when we have the lights on in other rooms....We should probably cut back. It'd be nice to reduce the power bill a little bit.

What we are getting good at, though? Passing things off as "necessary" purchases. Or pretending, when we report to Mint.com, that things are groceries, when really they are for school, or the house, or snacks that shouldn't have been bought in the first place.

Someone needs to remind me, sometime soon, that I should stop giving gifts away. They cost so much. And until I can afford to sell this lovely house of mine that is a neighborhood losing value, I should start doing everything I can to save a few pennies here and there. I mean, really. It shouldn't be this hard to make my actual spending reflect my perceived values....Now I just need to start putting my money where my mouth and heart are. Sounds easier than it feels everyday.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


It's Sunday morning. I'm sitting at the kitchen table in my pjs, listening to Rayen crunching her kitty food, staring at the pile of dirty dishes, with a bird singing in the background, a cup of hot chocolate and slippers on my feet.

I'm thankful today. Thankful for sleeping in, for a kitty cat who wakes me up to feed her breakfast, then settles for purring and petting as I refuse to get up. Thankful for my sweet hubby, who washed all the clothes yesterday and only asked me to help fold the very last load. Thankful for my mama, who cooked an AMAZING chicken marsala last night and made TWO desserts, special for my sister and brother's birthdays. Thankful for a roof over my head, with enough stuff to create clutter, and thankful for the series Hoarders, which makes me want to clean up and clean out and share my bounty with others. Thankful for the boxes of stuff we could donate yesterday to goodwill to help build others up, too.

I'm thankful for things I don't have yet, too.

I'm thankful for the dreams that sweet hubby and I dream together. A garden, a trip to Europe, some major car repairs, medical treatment for his mama, maybe even here in the states and not in Chile, and so many more things. I am thankful that I have the possibility of dreaming these dreams, and the luck and blessing to have been born in the US.

I am thankful today.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Today is my sister's birthday.

She is beautiful, smart, skinny, kind, thoughtful, and in general, a pretty cool girl.

She is bringing broaches back.

She will be a Ph.D. soon.

She runs with her best friend, who is losing weight to fit back into the wedding dress she didn't wear several years ago, when she called off her first engagement. (The friend, not my sister.)

She makes everything look fancy, all the time.

She uses her free time to bake real things, like cinnamon doughnut bread pudding with custard sauce. And honey angel biscuits. Yum.

She has impeccable fashion taste. I'm usually jealous. Even when I manage to buy the same things, because somehow they look better on her.

She has a sweet kitty who talks to her in cat chirps.

She sews neat things, like pouches to keep her vintage white gloves in. And then she wears the gloves to fancy dinners, just for fun.

She kicks but at scrabble and bananagrams.

She is a champion in the pineapple game.

She can waterski like no one's business.

She's gorgeous, and celebrating her 27th, today.

Happy birthday, little sister!

Friday, January 14, 2011

the china cabinet

I needed a project.
I needed a project very badly.

In the evening of the third day of no school, I think I lost it. There were some unkind words from my mouth directed at sweet hubby, and I don't think he appreciated them. I didn't appreciate that he wanted/wants to put off new shelves in the guest room until Monday. I didn't appreciate that he *had* to go back to school on Wednesday, while I was still off for another whole day. My unkind words did serve one purpose, though: they got me some help.

I said unkind and jealous words about how I wasn't enjoying not getting anything done with too much free time, alone time, time at the house by myself, and then told sweet hubby that if he wasn't going to install the shelves for me, that he was going to go with me to get all of the wedding china and grandma crystal. And that he was going to go with me *NOW*.

And even though it was cold out, 8pm, and starting to ice over again, sweet hubby did. He did tell my mama that he thought I was a little crazy and losing it, but he did help.

We had been bringing boxes of wedding china and grandma crystal to our house, slowly, slowly, slowly, one or two at a time, grabbing one each time we were at my mama's house and remembered, or didn't have too many other things in our hands, since Christmas. I wanted to have all of the boxes on hand so that I could see what we have and put it away in the china cabinet accordingly -- leaving the appropriate amount of space, making it look pretty, and all of that fun stuff. And since it has been almost five years since we received the wedding china (yes, I'm slow. I know it) I wasn't really sure what we had.

I'm sure now.

I spent a lot of day #4 out of school unpacking china, washing crystal, and staging the china cabinet.

Here are my boxes, mid-project. The dining room table was a little bit scary. But I took it one box at a time, folded up the tissue paper for when I'm putting my winter dishes away in a month, and kept going. When I finished with these boxes, I pulled out another stack from the guest room.

This is right after I started. See? A few dishes look better than none. And certainly better than the boxes of packed-up dishes that made it here, but no further.

I unpacked, unwrapped, unpacked, and unwrapped for a while. I started putting the plates where I thought they would look nice. After the plates, it was time for the grandma crystal.

Oh, the grandma crystal. Boxes and boxes of brown and dingy crystal glasses from my grandma's house. She moved from her home of 52 years in November 2009. When she moved, the crystal she gave me went into boxes and then to my mama's house, for safe-keeping until I was ready for it.

These snow days made me ready for it.

I unpacked it into a sink full of warm, soapy water, gave it a bath, a rinse, and a good towel-dry, and then started to realize just how much crystal had come to live in my china cabinet.

There are water glasses, sherbet cups, wine glasses, and juice glasses. Do they even still make crystal juice glasses? And if they do, who buys them? At what store? And why? How did you get so much money that you can justify using crystal juice glasses? I would really like to know.

I put some of the grandma crystal in the china cabinet. I had to put some of it out of sight, because there wasn't space for 18 water goblets and everything else in the china cabinet.

I also found the three sets of crystal that I started collecting when I got married to sweet hubby -- two glasses each of three different patterns. Two goblets, that I love, but are so expensive that it makes me nervous to handle them. Two goblets in a pattern I didn't choose -- but looked up last night and think I might ask for as a birthday present, to have either six or eight, because it is pretty and compliments my china well, even though I didn't pick it out. And two champagne flutes in yet another pattern, used for the wedding toast. I put the juice glasses in a different cabinet to make space for these.

So in the end, I spent almost all day working on the china cabinet. Here are the empty boxes....

And, though not great quality, here is the finished product:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

going on four days now....

So, tomorrow is day four of no school.

I should have been on a cruise.

No, really.

Sweet hubby looked up cruises for me, in August and September, when I was constantly reminding him of the fact that he was away for 1/6 of the year, between his trips to weddings and a month in Chile and his stint at Idyllwilde and the trip to Brazil, and I was home. I think I went out of town for a couple of weekends without him, but nothing near the extent of traveling that he was able to do. So to make up for it, he was going to send me on a cruise with my friends.

My friends are broke. And I would have had to take time off work.

Or so I thought. Apparently I could have gone on a cruise and not taken time off work, since we have snow day #4 tomorrow.

I am getting seriously stir crazy. I just had winter break, and was able to get a great deal of relaxing and project-making out of the way. During December, I managed to convince sweet hubby to help me clean out the fridge (also thanks to the help of Hoarders on Netflix). I moved books onto the new bookcase. I had sweet hubby's help cleaning out the pantry. I made pajamas for my friends and for myself. I made freezer lunches. I made a budget (it will never last -- we spend way more than we make) and tried to start cleaning up our financial life. I went back to school for a week.

And now I have been home for a week, going crazy.

Monday we had the dance party. That was good. Tuesday, I lounged on the couch and tried to not lose it. Today, I pulled everything out of a closet. Everything. And didn't put any of it back. I need sweet hubby to change the shelves around, but he has put it off until Monday. I bought him the supplies (mostly...except for the mishap with the saw at Lowe's, when just before the last cut, the saw cut through the power cord in a stunning display of red flashes) and I have the plan all ready for him. I even bought some new, beautiful, green plastic bins to move some of the things that will be put back into the closet into more manageable units -- like, not paper shopping bags. But sweet hubby is determined that we will not be working on the closet until Monday.

So I made him go with my to my mama's house, and load up the fine china and crystal into the car, and carry it up the icy steps to our house, and set it all on the dining room table, and after yoga class tomorrow morning, I will set it all up nice and pretty in our china cabinet. Approximately two months before our five-year wedding anniversary. Is there a time limit on how long it is acceptable to leave wedding gifts at a parent's house? Because if there is, I think I might be way past the acceptable limit. Maybe we'll eat a fancy home cooked meal on our fancy china this year for our anniversary.

For now, the Deadliest Catch marathon continues.

Here's hoping that this is the last "snow" day of the year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Days

It's true. The south has had snow twice in one winter.
And not just a tiny little dusting of snow -- enough snow to cancel school for going on three days now.

Three days. Today was number two, tomorrow is number three, and hopefully that will be it -- I'm getting cabin fever. But the roads down south are too icy for us to drive on, and too dangerous for the school buses to run, so all public schools in this area are closed.

Yesterday, I invited my neighbors over for hot chocolate and a movie. We watched New York I Love You and drank a variety of my favorites by Land O Lakes. I thought everyone would go home after the movie, but they sort of hung around....so we played a few rounds of scattergories. We sent sweet hubby to the grocery store, which he said was PACKED, after he cleared a thick layer of ice off of the car.

We fixed some pizzas and played a dancing game on the wii. The power went out briefly while the pizzas were in the oven, and came back on as we were setting the table by candlelight. Dinner was followed by lots more dancing and some mulled wine.

Good friends and a fun afternoon made snow day #1 much more bearable than thinking about missing the only day off from school in February and March to a weather-make-up-day. I was pretty bummed when I heard that we'd also be missing today, since today cuts spring break short by a day.

Today, I slept late (really late -- 10:00 -- and I'm normally up at 5:30), then lounged around the house for a long time. Like, all day. I helped a friend convert some boot-cut jeans into skinny jeans and covered the spines of some Spanish text books, to add to the bookcase in the living room. I used blue paper this time -- and I'm very pleased with the results. It will still be easy for me to tell which books can be used for tutoring, since these are color coordinated.

Tomorrow, for snow day #3, I think I will try to get part of the guest room closet under control. It's pretty scary in there, though, so I might wimp out and watch TV like a slug all day, with the kitty curled up on my legs and a blanket and a cup of cider....

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Boo! I'm sick! And it is Saturday!

To be fair, I knew yesterday that I was sick, too. I just tend to ignore it when I have cool and important things planned for school. I took some medicine in the morning and felt well enough to make it through the day -- and someone must have been praying awfully hard for me and my students, because it was a GREAT day in the classroom.

I love it when my students can handle themselves and we can actually get some fun stuff done.

Yesterday was a lot of wrapping things up. Finishing unit 5 in math (unit test), last sound activities before sound projects next week(and vocabulary quiz), working with kindergarten for the first time, and behaving well enough to have 30 minutes of math games.

It is extremely unusual for there to be a school day in which I do not have to give my students laps to walk at recess for behavior problems -- blurting out and failure to follow instructions and the like. Now that winter break is over, I'm also giving out laps to the entire class if I hear English in my classroom. I hear English 3 times, the whole class has 3 laps. This allows me to give some warnings and to be a *little* bit flexible -- but the truth is that these kids should be speaking only in Spanish in my classroom, and usually they don't.

There is an added incentive, too, for my kids -- they have to prove to me that they are speaking only in Spanish if they want to help out the kindergartners. I talked this one up a lot. Señora Q. is looking for leaders who can help her students practice speaking in Spanish. Señora Q. will be so glad that you are helping her. Señora Q. only wants role models to help in her classroom -- she doesn't want to teach her students that it is ok to misbehave.

So on Friday morning, I took my first group of students to play "Top It" and read a book to their new kindergarten buddies. Most of my students enjoyed it. When we were back in the classroom and talking about how it had gone, I got quite a mixture of feedback. Some of my kids loved it. Some of them loved helping their buddy, reading their book, talking to the kids. Some of my students don't like speaking in Spanish, so didn't like it that their former teacher, Señora Q., was telling them in front of their new buddies that they couldn't speak English in her room. One of my former behaviorally challenged students made the comment that he didn't like it since his kids wouldn't do what they were supposed to do. I am thinking that this experience will help some of my boys to realize how frustrating it can be to have something fun planned, and not to be able to do it since others are not following directions. I'm hoping that this will be the type of learning experience that my kids need.

Friday afternoon, my second group had their turn. More of them loved the experience. Their comments went more like, "One of my kids hugged me!" and "My partner was so funny! He looked at the cards before he turned them over to pick the bigger one!" and "Do I get to have the same partner next time?" In the second group, it seemed like my kids and their buddies were a little bit more talkative. I think this will work out well, since the groups in kindergarten will switch, and the more talkative kindergartners will now be paired with my less talkative 3rd graders, and my more talkative 3rd graders will be paired with Señora Q.'s less talkative kindergartners.

So we'll start practicing a new book, learning another kindergarten math game, and speaking only in Spanish....And will look forward to another Friday's "Amigos españoles".

I'm so glad that I can work well with Sra. Q.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

tomorrow is friday

And boy, do I need a weekend! Monday back at school was ok, Tuesday a little rougher, I almost snapped (maybe I did snap, a little) Wednesday, today was tough, but I was calmer than yesterday, and tomorrow is Friday. Saturday, Sunday, how you tease me.

And how sad I will be when Saturday is here, and Christmas vacates my home....

We'll pack up the ornaments, the lights, the Christmas cards (ok, we'll just toss those), wreath will come off the front door....

Sweet hubby will start back to class on Monday, though he hasn't been completely on vacation as he has worked through the break.

And it is a good thing, too, since we are broker than broke, and horrible at sticking to a budget. I'm sure I'll feel a little bit better once the next pay checks post to our bank accounts, but until then....I'm feeling the pinch.

Sweet hubby is agreeable, so far, to the matching retirement with charitable giving idea. Sweet hubby is not agreeable, so far, to the idea of matching "entertainment" or "fun" spending with goal oriented savings -- he thinks this will just make him not ever want to spend money. In my mind, that was kind of the point -- if we're just not spending, we're still saving, and if we *are* spending, we'll be saving, too. In contrast to what we have been doing, which is overspending all the time.

I anticipate having budget discussions/savings discussions/heated misunderstandings about money all weekend long. Not my favorite, but I'm pretty sure that they are a necessary evil at this point, and may potentially save us from future homelessness and bankruptcy. I'd rather tighten the belt this year than lose the house, or even have to face the stress of not being able to make the payments. I always start freaking out when there is not enough in the bank account to cover the visa bill....It's been a hard time financially since August, when I needed to go ahead and take a class at the university, knowing we didn't have the money until the spring (like, March of this year, maybe), and then all of the business about the car getting stolen, and fixing the AC in the other car, and really, I should just stop and count my blessings.

I have a job, an education, a roof over my head, food in my kitchen, and enough sense to fix my debt now. Sweet hubby has a job, talent in the kitchen, an amazing set of computer skills, and is working on an education. We have family and friends that love us, and we're going to make it through. We might struggle a little to get there, but we'll make it in the end.

With that, I leave you thinking about the blessing that is the weekend. And the sadness that is taking down the Christmas tree. Boo.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

back to school

99 bottles of....
Oh, wait.

Wrong song.

99 days of school left to go, 99 days of school....
Monday starts and Tuesday follows, 99 days of school left to go.

back to school tomorrow. BOOOOO.

home from the beach. BOOOOO.

great weekend with friends to bring in the new year? YAY! Just wish it could have lasted longer!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

it's a new year...

And I've got some goals.

While I think that last year was a good year, and I accomplished a lot, I have some things that I think would make me feel good about myself during the new year. Or, as Annie, my favorite yoga teacher put it in class on Thursday morning, things that I can do to spend more time as my "best self".

I like myself best when there are a couple of things going on. One of them is....
I like myself best when I am at the beach. I know, I know, that is not a surprise at all, to anyone. I love being at the beach, how much more relaxed I can be, how much more productive I can be, spending time away from the TV, in the sun, and all of those good things. While I don't really spend more time in the sun during the winter, I still love being at the beach house. It is one of my goals for 2011 to spend some time at the beach at least once a month. The summer months, I'm sure, will be easy. Finding time in spring, fall, and winter has always been more difficult. But today, I'm making a commitment to finding the time and making the effort to go to the place where I feel I am my best self.

I also like myself best when I am doing things. And by doing things, I mean productive things. Not things like sitting on the couch and watching the entire series of Deadliest Catch until way too late. I mean things like making myself a skirt that I can actually wear to teach in, and pajamas for my friends' Christmas presents, and a months worth of frozen lunches. I like myself best when I am doing things and making things that will either provide enjoyment or provide something in the future. It is one of my goals to sew something at least once a month this year. It doesn't have to be something huge....Hemming a pair of pants the same weekend I buy them or fixing a button can count just as much as making a basket for the bookshelf.

Another time I like myself best is when I'm not freaking out about money. And since that is something there has been a lot of in my life lately, it makes sense to me that it is time to do something to address it. I'm almost 30 and still don't have a retirement account. I know, I missed the whole 10 years of my 20s when I could have been accumulating interest. I have great excuses. I was in a foreign country, I wasn't earning enough money, I was paying for my husband's green card, I was doing a million things that had nothing to do with looking towards future financial security. So this year, I'm going to do a few things. First of all, I need to open a Roth IRA. That will be done before the end of January. Secondly, I will put the same amount of money into the Roth IRA each month as I give to my church and other charities. This may leave it more open than it really should be...because I am not a consistent giver at church. And I'm inconsistent with charities, too. But if I give ten bucks to the united way, then I can also put ten bucks away for my future. And if that extra ten bucks hurts me to give away, then I'll have to suck it up and give five to the united way and five to savings. And maybe this will help me learn to worry less about what I'm not doing for the future, because I'll actually be addressing it.

Another way that I would like to address the money issue, but haven't discussed with sweet hubby yet, would be to put some serious limitations on our spending that we could enforce together. We are HORRIBLE at keeping a budget. We like to go out to eat, we like to go out of town, we like to shop, we like to have gadgets, we like to watch movies, and I think you get the picture. If we put the same amount into a savings account that we spend each week, by the end of the year we might actually have enough money for some big traveling. I think this kind of strategy would work two ways. It would make us highly aware of the cost of everything we do, by effectively doubling the cost of all entertainment, and it would also get us saving together for our future. It might also get us to reduce out spending in a way that would change our current spend-spend-spend lifestyle to a more manageable and balanced lifestyle for the future. I hope that sweet hubby will go for this, but I have my doubts. I can always put it into place for my own purchases, but it would be much more effective as a family policy.

So there you have it. Three goals for a year of living as my best self, making changes over time to improve my quality of life. I think these are manageable goals....We'll see how I do throughout the year!

Happy New Year to you! And in case you haven't already, don't forget about this: