Thursday, January 31, 2013

Join In The February Fitness Challenge

A few days ago, I kicked off my idea to have a February Fitness Challenge, so we could all motivate each other on our fitness goals. The whole idea is to post your successes, any challenges that we can support you on, and keep each other accountable.

Sound fun? If so, please join in.

All that you need to do is:
  1. Set yourself some goals. If you have a blog, link up in the comments. If not, just specify your goals in the comment themselves. This is for you, so if your goal is to increase your water intake, or up your servings of fruit & veggies, or work out 3 days a week . . . whatever you're trying to accomplish.
  2. Check in weekly (again, either in your blog or comments)
  3. Support the other folks as you can.

I'll use a random drawing at the end of February to pick winners, & two winners will each receive $25 via paypal.

February is a short month, but we can accomplish a lot!

Here are my February Fitness Challenge goals for the month:
1) Track my calories in MyFitnessPal every day, & stay within my calorie allotment 90% of the time. In February, that boils down to 25 days. It's my birthday month, so trying to be realistic.
2) Get 1,000 minutes of cardio.
3) Complete 10 strength workouts.
4) Complete 7 stretching workouts.
5) Bonus goal - attend a Pilates or Barre workout class. I have a Groupon for a local studio, but have never made it given M's travel schedule & the kids. I'd love to make this a priority.

What about you? Are you in?! Please join us!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

February Goals

January is just about a wrap, so it's time to look on to February. A month that I always enjoy, because it marks my birthday & the month that I became a mom. The greatest gift I've ever been given, & completely rocked my world.

This gorgeous boy was born almost seven years ago! I CANNOT believe how fast the time has gone. He looks a lot different now, what with his black eye & missing front tooth. :-)

It's the shortest month of the year, but I'd like to make great progress this month! I focused a lot on finances & decluttering in January, & would like to continue working on those (finances are always at top of mind, especially), but would like February to be devoted to fitness.

Here are my goals for the month:

  1. Lose 2 pounds, bringing my weight to 143.
  2. Track my calories in MyFitnessPal every day, & stay within my calorie allotment 90% of the time. In February, that boils down to 25 days. It's my birthday month, so trying to be realistic.
  3. Get 1,000 minutes of cardio.
  4. Complete 10 strength workouts.
  5. Complete 7 stretching workouts.
  6. Bonus goal - attend a Pilates or Barre workout class. I have a Groupon for a local studio, but have never made it given M's travel schedule & the kids. I'd love to make this a priority.
  7. Run 20 miles/week, 80 miles in February.
  8. Buy one college tuition credit for each child.
  9. Have one date night (or lunch) with M.
  10. Get together with two friends.
  11. Track spending, stick to budget, create monthly spending reports.
  12. Increase charitable contributions by 10% (Year Over Year)
  13. Clean out my closet & dresser.
  14. To increase my baking skills (and reduce our grocery budget), try English Muffin bread (again!) & bagel making. Bonus would be tortillas. :-)
  15. Set up meeting with attorney to go over wills & guardianship.
  16. Generate $400 in "side hustle". Mostly from Ebay, I think, but open to other methods of generating income.

January Challenge Wrap Up

We're in the home stretch, so I'd like to recap my progress on the January Challenge that I took part in!

These were my original goals for the month:
For the financial challenge, my goal was to keep our weekly spending to $360/week. This includes the following categories (and, does not include standard bills like the mortgage, child care, etc):
  1. Groceries
  2. Dining out
  3. Gifts
  4. Clothes (mine & kids)
  5. Kids lessons
  6. Gas
  7. Personal (this is hair cuts, etc)
  8. Car
For the decluttering challenge, my goal was to get rid of (either sell, toss, or donate) 20 items per week in January. Bonus goal was to clean my closet & dresser.
So, how did I do?

For week one, the additional goals were to make do, rather than purchasing something. I did well with this, challenging myself to make do with our existing menu, rather than going all out when we had a house guest, avoided buying lunch even one time this month (!!!), and stopped buying protein smoothies at the gym, subbing them for free chocolate milk at work.

I also managed to spend $360.29, so just $.29 over my weekly financial goal. I'll call this a win!

I crushed my decluttering goal, & got rid of nearly 50 items. Yeah!

Week Two

Well, this week was harder financially with our car tabs coming due, so we spent $610 for the week, well over our goal of $360.

In terms of decluttering, I cleaned our junk drawer, & stayed on track with my "elimination" of more than 20 items per week.

Week Three

Again, financially it was much more difficult on week three. We spent $460.57. $80 of that was an unplanned expense for two kids karate uniforms. The other was for my pedicure. *blush* After we went over our initial amount, I kind of lost my mojo & just spent.

On the decluttering side, I went through both boys dressers & found well over 20 additional items to donate!

Week Four

For an additional challenge during week four, I cut our goal of $360/week to $300. And, we made it! We spent $240.11. I'm so, so impressed with our progress!

For decluttering, I got rid of more than 30 items, & combed through our food stash/pantry & found some old things to toss & other items that need to be used up.

Final Results:

How do I feel about the month overall? I feel great, actually. Staying on track with our financial goals was very challenging, but I know the goals gave me that extra incentive to keep the spending on track. All told, I was only about $50 over my monthly challenge of $360/week, which is fantastic!

On the decluttering side, I feel really great about the amount we donated, but I know there's still much work to do. We donated several bins of clothes & household items, & I'll continue to keep working on this in the month ahead.

Special thanks to Carla for giving me the much needed kick in the pants this month, with her great January challenge!

Did you participate in the January challenge? How did you do?

Monday, January 28, 2013

The February Fitness Challenge

We're one month into the year (almost), & for me, January was all about a much needed review of our finances, & budgeting, & goal setting. Now that February is rapidly approaching, I'd like to take a similar look at my own fitness, & would love to have you along for a February Fitness Challenge.

There aren't any "rules". You define your own goals (can be eating more fruits & veggies, working out a certain number of days, drinking more water, trying yoga, whatever is on your own personal goal list), and I'll post a weekly check in linking us all up. We can cheer each other on, & I promise to do a prize or giveaway at the end. Still thinking on what might be a fun and appropriate prize!

Here are my goals for month, to get you started on your thinking:

1) Track my calories in MyFitnessPal every day, & stay within my calorie allotment 90% of the time. In February, that boils down to 25 days. It's my birthday month, so trying to be realistic.
2) Get 1,000 minutes of cardio.
3) Complete 10 strength workouts.
4) Complete 7 stretching workouts.
5) Bonus goal - attend a Pilates or Barre workout class. I have a Groupon for a local studio, but have never made it given M's travel schedule & the kids. I'd love to make this a priority.

If you're interested in joining, just leave me a comment & start thinking about your own goals. I'll kick things off with an "official" post the first few days of February. Looking forward to cheering you all on! :-)

We're just at the starting line, so to speak, so thought this photo was appropriate. :-)

Menu Plan Monday

And, we're into February meal plans! Well, we will be this week!

Here's what's on the menu for the next few days:

  • Sunday (yesterday) - spaghetti & meatballs (freezer). We didn't have our usual after-ski pizza, as we didn't go due to M's illness.
  • Monday - Hearty turkey stew with vegetables. (M is not a soup fan, but he's currently sick, so I'm taking advantage).
  • Tuesday - Chicken enchiladas (freezer)
  • Wednesday - Leftovers
  • Thursday - M is out of town. I'll have leftovers again.
  • Friday - Penne in almond chicken sauce
  • Saturday - Leftovers
  • Sunday - Homemade pizza
I also share that I made a fabulous tomato soup recipe over the weekend. It took about ten minutes to put together, & it was wonderful & easy. Do not leave out the cheese, as it makes the recipe. We had feta (instead of Gorgonzola), & that worked well. We served it with homemade bread & salad. Definitely give it a try.

I made rice krispie treats for the kids this afternoon (so gourmet! ;-)), & I'm hoping to make a biscotti & another batch of the crazy good chocolate chip muffins for the freezer. I'm secretly hoping to find time to make bagels, but. . . we'll see. :-)

What are you having this week? Any great new recipes to share?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January Challenge - Week 4 wrap up

I made it through Week 4, and guess what? I stuck to the budget! That was even the revised down from $360 to $300 budget. Here's my original post with my goals.

  • Stick to $360 $300 for all of our variable expenses. I've cut this down, as per the final challenge of the month. The $60 in savings will go towards our tax/emergency fund savings account.

We spent $240.11 this week, & that included quite a bit of postage for my Ebay sales (and, many lessons learned on what to & not to sell on Ebay, as well as how much to charge for postage!). Here's how the spending breaks out:

  • Groceries - $82.33. M was out of town for most of the week, so we didn't need as much as usual.
  • Dining out - $0!
  • Postage (and mailing supplies) - $70.46.
  • Kids - $27.38. M promised S ski poles, if he was regularly skiing black runs. The time has come, so we purchased him second hand ski poles. We should be able to pass them down to N, and then also resell them.
  • Gas - $59.94
The $120ish that we save will go towards our repair bill at the vacation house &/or the tax bill. There are plenty of places for it to go this week. ;-)


  • Get rid of 30 items this week. Increasing from my original goal of 20, because I think there's still more there. :-)
  • Organize the food stash!
I definitely got rid of more than 30 items. I went through both kids closets & got rid of everything that didn't fit, brought up clothes in a larger size from my spare dresser, I also got rid of a full punch set (including 16 mugs). I'm giving them to my mother, who has lots of parties. I've never used them in the ten years I've owned them, so clearly, I don't need them. :-)

I also went through my food stash again (just cleaned & organized it at the end of December), but still managed to find an old container of cereal that was six years old. Yes, six years old. We don't even eat cereal, so who knows why I bought it to start with. It was tucked way in the back, so looks like I need a better food rotation system.

I also have a few random pantry items that I'd like to use up in the next few weeks. Some of them are "one hit wonders" (i.e. I bought them for a specific recipe & never used the remaining).

  • Sweet mochi flour (?!). Had to look this one up online.
  • Oatmeal. I love oatmeal & we use it regularly, but we have a *ton*.
  • Manicotti noodles. I only have 2 or 3, & don't want to buy another box, so need to get creative with these.
  • Orzo (love this, but it's been in the pantry for a while)
  • Chia seeds (one time wonder, need to use these up, as they were crazy expensive)
  • Dry roasted almonds. Stale, so no good for snacking. Would like to use them in something. I've tried this recipe with great success, but not sure how it would work with the dry roasted version.
Any recommendations for the sweet mochi flour, your favorite oatmeal recipe, lonely manicotti noodles, or the others? Help me! :-)

Many, many thanks to Carla for keeping me on track this month with the January challenge!!

And, here's a picture of our January donations - more than 100 items to give to Goodwill!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Is that you, Murphy?

Because, between the super awesome unexpected payback in December, coming up with money for both of the refinances (planned, & great for our long term future, but expensive just the same), & the tax "surprise", I feel like we've had quite enough of the bad lucky fairy.

But, nonetheless, we got a call last night that we have a big leak at our vacation house. When we bought it, we put a condition in on fixing a flashing issue on the roof, & also resealing the door to the deck. Either the work wasn't done correctly, or the Oregon pounding rain just accelerated the decay of the door, but the entire door, all of the woodwork & some of the roof needs to be fixed. Additionally, it needs to be done NOW, as any further delay will damage the wood floor inside the house.

M was gone ALL week, & is now home sick with a terrible flu. Again. He was only supposed to be gone for one day next week, but it now looks like he'll spend most of the week working from Oregon, to try & correct the problem. Which leaves me with all of the kid stuff - I offered to watch another child on Tuesday to help out a mom, ski bus on Wednesday for S + another kiddo (again, trading with another mom) & all of the pickups, drop offs, & work. Yikes.

Because no one likes a whiny post, here are a few nuggets of good news:
  • I baked two more amazing loaves of bread. HEAVEN! I'm not a bread maker at all, so highly recommend this recipe for novices.
  • I ran 7 miles today. I'm exhausted, but happy with myself.
  • I got a hair cut! Just in time for the video on Monday. ;-)
  • Our second refinance went through on Friday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! After all that time investment, I'm thrilled.

Now on to make soup for the sick husband, relax a bit with the kiddos (ha, ha) & prep for tomorrow.

Hope Murphy is avoiding your house!

And, S pushed a fence open, it popped back up & hit him in the face. Poor guy, first black eye!

Friday, January 25, 2013

My nemesis - taxes

Oh, taxes, taxes, taxes. Cue me slamming my head against the keyboard & crying.

Yes, we owe a lot. Again. Now, we were not supposed to owe very much ($7K was what we were expecting) based on our calculations. However, M switched jobs, we had the income/bonus/repayment issue, & an error on the side of M's previous employer where they did not correctly withhold from a stock exercise when he left the company.

We owe just under $16,000 in federal taxes. Now, I've already had my crying jag over this. My personality needs to immediately process & accept the situation, then look for solutions for dealing with it. I do not handle drawn out stress well, & must have a solution in mind before I move on, mentally.

That said, it's money we owe, & we clearly (CLEARLY) need a more proactive tax strategy for 2013. Here's what I've done (again, aside from the crying):

  • Increased my with holdings by $200/month, to make next year less painful
  • Increased M's with holdings by $200/month, for next year
  • Figured out where the money is coming from (the vast majority will come from an investment that we will sell. The rest will come from our liquid savings account. We don't want to completely empty this, in case of an emergency).
Of course, all of this happened the week that we're refinancing two mortgages, & I've written checks for just under $10,000.

We are two very smart people, so . . . how do we keep screwing this up on such a giant scale? Well, I know that the only accountant we used was not able to predict how much we'd owe, the IRS calculator is grossly inaccurate, & we've had a variety of "changes in circumstance" this year that made any calculation difficult.

My goal for 2013? To owe less than $5,000. If we can get within that window, well, that's about as good as I can hope for.

How am I going to accommodate the $400/month in "lost" cash flow? I'm working on that. Given our tight budget, that should be a very fun exercise. ;-)

I almost blew it on the frugality side. The stress & "oh, what does it matter if I keep my weekly spend under $300, when I owe $16000) side of my almost took over yesterday. The kids wanted to go out to dinner (I almost caved), I was running late for lunch, & almost went out. . . the list goes on. I managed to keep my head together & we're still on track for our weekly spending goal. Baby steps, people!

Have you done your taxes yet? We've uploaded 95% of our information into TurboTax, & I don't expect the remaining 5% to have a material impact on how much we owe, luckily.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I have a goal this year of generating an extra $1,000 in snowflakes/side hustle, & I've kicked it off with a vengeance! I figure it's best to get started on this goal right away, as my motivation wanes at the end of the year. :-)

How do I plan to spend it? Well, it's my sister's 40th birthday in September, & M & I made a deal not to spend any of our 2013 budget on travel. I'd still like to do something special & keep our annual girls trip this summer, so I'm hoping to save enough for a trip to Las Vegas, as the money won't be coming from our 2013 funds.

Here's what I'm thinking for a budget:

  • Three nights in a hotel (I'm hoping we can get 1-2 nights comped based on previous visits) - $200
  • Airfare - I think I have enough frequent flier miles to cover our tickets. Taxes/fees - $50
  • Food - this is where the bulk of the spending will come from, I think - $550 (my part)
  • Cabana rental - a total indulgence, but split three ways, & cabana/pool day is our favorite part of the trip. My part will be $200
And, here's how I'm doing with my snowflake so far!

  • $30 - sold two portable DVD players on Craig's List
  • $13 - sold books at Half Price books
  • $8.95 - rebate check
I also have around $170 of Ebay sales that will be ending in the next day or so, a $30 survey check I'm expecting, $10.15 in a book sale from Amazon, & about $15 leftover from holiday checks that I haven't cashed (due to our refinance).

That's a confirmed (money in hand) of $51.95, & an expected total of $277! I'm so happy with my progress so far, & would like to earn basically all of the money before the summer, & then set a new goal of $350 or so for a trip to Great Wolf Lodge (an indoor water park) with the kids before Christmas. I'm also looking into other income streams, like potentially writing or editing opportunities.

How about you? How are you doing with your snowflakes or side hustles?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January Challenges - Week 4

Carla is doing an amazing job on her goals & hosting the challenge, so go check it out! :-)

Here are the goals I'm focusing on this last week of the month!

  • Stick to $360 $300 for all of our variable expenses. I've cut this down, as per the final challenge of the month. The $60 in savings will go towards our tax/emergency fund savings account.
  • Get rid of 30 items this week. Increasing from my original goal of 20, because I think there's still more there. :-)
  • Organize the food stash!

So, that's what I'll be up to this final week of the month.

Question for all of you. . . now that we're putting our finances & houses back in order, would anyone be interested in a Fitness-Focused February Challenge, where we set goals & check in & cheer each other on? Maybe with prizes? ;-)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Do you ever feel like a slacker?

Because, I'll confess, I often do. I think by external measures, most people would classify me as very efficient, but . . . there are many, many days that I feel lazy & like I have not accomplished a single thing.

It's very hard to break that thinking, & sometimes I try to dig a little deeper. This morning, as I was thinking about my pedicure over the weekend, I asked myself why I really wanted one. The answer? I think it was less about the pedicure itself, & more about the "reward", the "treating myself" by going somewhere (ALONE) for an entire hour, dedicated to me. And, wet toenails meant I couldn't go on my run for the day. . . The more I think about it, the more I realize that some days - I'm just exhausted & need a break. It's so hard for me to take the time to relax without feeling guilty, like I really should be accomplishing something. But, taking time for myself is an accomplishment, after all.

I worked out four times last week, which is two workouts less than I prefer to get. I had a pathetic running week (clocking all of two miles), and it sort of haunted me that I was falling behind on my goals. Rather than asking myself why I didn't feel like running (the answer is - I was exhausted from skiing & my race on Saturday), I kind of beat myself up over it. Beating yourself up, for the record, is not a very motivating technique. :-)

I skied super hard on Sunday (my kids are getting good, & I can tell that I'm going to be putting in a ton of effort to keep up), but still managed a work out yesterday. . . because I wanted one, & it felt good. Not as though it was an obligation.

I'm trying to find the balance, because I have a new job that's very demanding, M is traveling a ton, & it can be overwhelming. I'd like to be super woman, but some days it's just not possible. So, I'll settle for myself, and giving myself a break when I start to reach that exhausted stage. Because, that's clearly my body & mind's way of telling me to put the brakes on for a few hours & relax.

Do you ever struggle with these feelings of "not enough"? That you're not quite capable of tackling everything on your plate, or that you're not being "efficient" enough? How do you handle it? Do you build in self rewards?

This is the least glamorous picture that exists of me, but reminder that hard work & motivation pays off. Completing a task way outside of what I thought was possible. On the flip side, lots of "rest" days went into making this day happen. Lots of regular, take a step forward, take care of myself days were needed before I was ready for the challenge. And, that's sort of the rub, I guess. If you're not regularly taking breaks & taking care of yourself, you're never know what you're capable of.

Monday, January 21, 2013

January Challenges - week 3!

Week 3 is now complete, & thanks to Carla for hosting the fabulous January challenge!

Here were the goals for the challenge:
Decluttering Challenge: Choose a closet, any closet, and clean it out!! Pick 2 closets if you're feeling really energetic & determined!! Take before & after photos so you can awe & inspire everyone else participating in my challenges as well! ;) lol!
Financial Challenge: Give. Find a way in your budget to "give" financially somehow... It doesn't have to be grand, you don't have to go hungry. I just want you to go that 'extra mile' for someone else. Buy a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop, hand a $5.00 bill to a homeless person on the way to work, throw a little extra into the collection plate at church, toss your change into the charity box in front of the register at the grocery store, etc... simply give
My additional goals from the beginning of the challenge were to declutter/get rid of 20 items/week, & stick to $360 of weekly spending money (all variable expenses, no mortgage, fixed bills included).
Let's start with the financial end of the challenge. Here's how we did:
  • Groceries - $103.19 - we continue to spend more than I'd like on groceries. That's pretty much all I'll say here. I'm still looking for ways to make more bread products at home to save on things like: bagels, tortillas, sandwich bread, etc, but it's the produce that kills us. And, for M, that's a non-negotiable.
  • Dining out - $15.63 - this was $8 for our lunch date (I had a gift card for the rest + a snack while skiing yesterday).
  • Health - $74.77 - signed up for my next race (a half marathon in March).
  • Misc - $134.98 - $80 for the boys karate uniforms (by far the biggest unplanned expense this week), + dry cleaning (a 2013 category I completely forgot to include. Oh boy!) + items for S's seventh birthday that's coming right up.
  • Gas - $27.79
  • Personal - $77 - N desperately needed a hair cut (I suppose I should learn to do this myself?), and after repeated requests from the husband, I got a pedicure. My feet get very gnarly when I run & I caved. I shouldn't have, because it was an unplanned expense. It did make me feel pretty fabulous, & now all of my toes are covered (you can't see the blue bruises & swelling under the polish), but it was totally unnecessary.
  • Car - $9.71 - car wash after skiing.
  • House - $17.50 - some new light bulbs & various other items that I can't remember
Total spend = $460.57. . . $100.57 over my goal. $80 for the unplanned karate uniforms, & $30 for the pedicure. Otherwise, I would have been right on target. I haven't had my hair cut in a year, but pedicures are my weakness. Maybe it's time to learn how to do them myself?
The good news about the karate expense, is that I thought the fee for classes was monthly, but it's actually 8 weeks, so we won't have any lesson fee in February, & the $80 can offset that savings.
On the other side, I've increased my charitable giving this month by 10%, and I also have a secret (financial) surprise in store for someone in my family this month, post-holidays that will be around $150. So, I'm counting this as a win! :-)
On the decluttering side, I failed to clean my closet, but I did comb through both boys dressers & closets (clothes only - the toys remain) & pulled out anything that didn't fit. That was a project unto itself. Next up is going through the toys. Both boys are moving up sizes, so I need to transition S's clothes to N's closet, move new shirts into S's closet, & donate anything left that doesn't fit N. The advantage of having two boys a year apart. Hand me downs! :-)
How are you doing with your January challenges? My goals for this week? To stick to my financial spending plan, get my closet back in shape (still stashed with tons of Ebay stuff, but the clutter is making me nuts), & finish the kids closets.

Menu Plan Monday

M is traveling this week (we're back to our routine, I suppose), so I'm going to keep things easy:

  • Monday - 1/21 - Chili (freezer) + homemade bread
  • Tuesday - 1/22 - Fiesta Chicken casserole (I have a tiny portion that didn't fit into a casserole dish, so perfect for one person) (freezer)
  • Wednesday - 1/23 - Chili (freezer) + homemade bread
  • Thursday - 1/24 - Leftover pizza
  • Friday - 1/25 - Grilled chicken with tortellini & pesto
  • Saturday - 1/26 - Chicken risotto
  • Sunday - 1/27 - Meatball & fresh mozzarella pizza
  • Monday - 1/28 - Chicken pastina casserole (freezer)
  • Tuesday - 1/29 - Tomato soup with chicken and gorgonzola (I'll likely substitute feta, as we have it on hand)
  • Wednesday - 1/30 - Leftovers
  • Thursday - 1/31 - Chicken fiesta casserole (freezer)
  • Friday - 2/1 - Santa Fe chicken over rice
  • Saturday - 2/2 - Leftovers
  • Sunday - 2/3 - Barbecue chicken pizza
I'd also like to do a little baking, time permitting:

What's on your menu for the next week or so? Any great cranberry recipes to recommend?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday night chit chat

Thanks to Carla, for hosting!

  • Reading - I haven't started a new book, so nothing really.
  • Watching - Arthur, with the kiddos.
  • Listening to - Ditto above.
  • Baking/Cooking - It was a low key weekend for cooking, but I made a homemade cheese pizza (kids) & a chicken pesto pizza for the adults.
  • Happy you accomplished this week - I got a ton of big work projects done, & we finished one of two refinances.
  • Looking forward to next week - I have another monster work project, & if I can get that done, it will be amazing & a total relief. Also, if I can get our second refinance out of the way, it would be brilliant!
  • Thankful for today - for having the time & energy to ski with the kiddos. Today, S outskied my husband, who is a double black diamond skier. It was quite the moment. S still has some skills to learn, but his speed & fearlessness is unmatchable, especially by us old folks. ;-)
  • *BONUS QUESTION* Are you an optimist or a pessimist? - Optimist, for sure!
  • First time we put S in ski gear, right before we took him to the mountain. He was not quite three, & a natural. :-)

    Saturday, January 19, 2013

    Change can be exciting - and terrifying

    Right now, I'm leaning more towards the "terrifying" side of it.

    I was asked yesterday to become the consumer face of our blog at work, & start writing weekly & filming video clips. It's a major consumer product, & to say that I'm nervous would be a huge understatement. I'm not a fan of being on camera (I swear, the camera makes my face look like a pumpkin), I turn all red & blotchy, I get nervous & use words like, "dude" a lot. . . I can just hear it now, "Well, um, dude, you should like totally um, check out our product."

    It also doubles my workload, which should be . . . interesting. I'm already feeling swamped, so I'll have to vet all of that out with my manager.

    On the other hand, my long term goals involve shifting to freelancing (writing, editing, project management consulting, etc) & I've spent the last 15 years in a content discipline. So, it's a great fit & will help build my resume in an amazing way that I could never do on my own. Oh, & I'll have access to a copy editor, so that will certainly be helpful. ;-) This could be huge in terms of developing my portfolio & opening up my career in a very new & flexible way, which is amazing.

    But, I'm totally terrified. And, both my mom & sister told me I need a hair cut, & potentially a full makeover. Thanks?

    When I get nervous, I bake. So, check off one of my 2013 goals, because I baked two amazing loaves of bread yesterday!!! And, homemade vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting for our dinner party tonight.


    Other than that, it's been a pretty mellow day. Karate for the kids, a quick workout for me, hair cuts for the boy who was too sick to get one last weekend, a stop at Target to return a sweater my mom purchased (which was lovely, but had a hole), picked up goodie bag items for S's birthday party, made lunch for the crew, got a pedicure, & now I'm relaxing while M has the kids out at Home Depot. We're heading to dinner at a friends, so no dinner preparation necessary. I'm also trying my hand (again) at an English muffin bread recipe, since my last once didn't rise & tastes great, but is way too dense.

    What's the last thing you've done that's terrified you? How do you feel about being on camera?!

    Friday, January 18, 2013

    Five Things Friday

    I know, another list post. However, I swear that this week has been crazier than usual due to last minute refinance issues, & a huge backlog of work.

    Here's what I'm thinking about today:

    1) I'm going to try my hand at baking bread. Again. This time I learned about proofing the yeast. We'll see. :-)
    2) We signed one of our refinances!!!! Our primary residence, which is not the most valuable (i.e. biggest rate reduction), but one out of two to kick off the weekend! Yeah!!!
    3) I ran today. It was a super short run between appointments & signings & meetings, but I did it. Back in the saddle again. This is much needed, since I signed up for a half marathon in March, & this is week one of my training plan.
    4) It's Friday! We're having curried butternut squash soup, goat cheese crostini, sauteed brussels sprouts, & wine for dinner. I'm excited. :-)
    5) I volunteered at my youngest's school today! It's been one of my goals to both increase my volunteer time, & spend more time helping at school, so this was a win/win. Especially awesome is that my employer matches my volunteer time with an in kind cash donation for each hour that I volunteer!

    This little guy was extremely happy to see me in his classroom today. :-)

    What is everyone else up to this weekend?

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Ten things Thursday

    Crazy week! Here's what's happening in our world.

    1. It's lunch date day with M! So excited. We switched from weekend/evening dates to lunch dates, & while I'll admit that it's not the same, it's much less expensive. Getting together for weekday lunches is one of my favorite treats. I even have rewards from my credit card to use, so it should be free!
    2. I've invested over 100 hours in our two refinances. That's no joke. Last night I got an email that we were going to lose funding unless I could find a ridiculous piece of paperwork. We're talking about an account that has $47 in it. I cried - I've spent SO much time & energy on it. I got up early this morning (skipped my workout - more on that) & dug through our massive filing cabinet, and . . FOUND IT! I'm waiting news from our broker, but I think this will work. Booyah, baby! As my oldest son would say.
    3. I listed my first things on Ebay! I'm a novice. :-) I'm sure I'll screw something up on these first few sales, so I started small.
    4. I finally got over my nerves, and started investigating alternate sources of income, including freelance writing. I'd like to build up a portfolio, & there's no time like the present. For whatever reason, I've been hesitant to take the next step.
    5. S is turning seven in a few weeks, & wanted a small bowling party. Unfortunately, his birthday falls on a weekend that is the start of "ski break" in our area, & no one will be around. He was okay with not having any friends attend (two are going to Whistler, three to Hawaii, & one on a cruise - rough life), so I'll have to make it special for him. My parents, my sister, & her boys will be there, so we'll go bowling & then do a casual dinner at our house.
    6. I finished three GIANT work projects yesterday. I have one other super hairy project to go, but I feel so happy to finally make progress at my new job.
    7. I haven't been working out regularly. See #2 & #6. :-( Not working out makes me feel like a slug. I need to be up at 5:00 to work out, & my 5:00 brain is awesome and coming up with excuses & just generally being lazy. Tips?
    8. I'm going to sign up for my second race of the year - a half marathon in March. I think it will help spur me to overcome #7! :-)
    9. I dressed up for work today, in anticipation of my lunch date. It feels kind of nice! Black pencil skirt, black patent pumps, tights, cashmere sweater. . .
    10. It's almost the weekend!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    How is your Thursday going? Tips for motivating me to get up earlier - consistently!?

    Cannot believe that this little love muffin is almost seven! Where has the time gone? And, where have those chubby cheeks gone?! He is now crazy skinny, & I have to beg him to eat. . . Ahh, to have that problem. :-)

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    January Challenge - Week 2

    Here's how my progress went on week two of the January Challenge. Many thanks to Carla for hosting.

    • For the financial challenge, my goal is to keep our weekly spending to $360/week. This includes the following categories (and, does not include standard bills like the mortgage, child care, etc). . . And, the second week did not go as planned! We were out of basically every kind of grocery in our house - flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, canned tomatoes, black beans, chicken, ground beef. . . You name it, we were out of it!
      • Groceries - $281.43. :-( Holy smokes. Our monthly budget is $500, so I'm trending way up.
      • Dining out - $16.55 - I bought snacks (and a Gatorade for N, who really wasn't feeling well) at skiing.
      • Gifts - $6.56 - I picked up a gift for N, that was a craft project.
      • Health/Misc - I spent $10 on parking at my race on Saturday, because I was running behind & they were out of parking. Fiscal fail!
      • Clothes (mine & kids) - $0.
      • Kids lessons - $0.
      • Gas - $36.31
      • Personal (this is hair cuts, etc) -
      • Car - $259.17. We had to renew our car tabs, & we had both cars washed at the car wash following skiing. It's been below freezing here, so no hand washing.
    Total spend for the week, & well over our goal $610.02. So frustrating! I'm hoping that we'll need very minimal groceries this week. I think the big thing I'm noticing is that our grocery spending is going up, as our eating out is going down. To be expected, but I'd really hoped to drive down our grocery budget further.
    • For the decluttering challenge, my goal is to get rid of (either sell, toss, or donate) 20 items per week in January. Bonus goal would be to clean my closet & dresser! Carla also gave us an additional challenge of cleaning out our junk drawer!
    I did, in fact, get my junk drawer cleaned out! I didn't make as much progress on my donation pile, but I'm well past 40 for the past couple of week, so on track. I've cleaned out my dressers, & I still have a giant pile of Ebay donations sitting on the floor of my closet. That's on my list for next week.
    Here's the before & after pictures of my junk drawer, plus my giant closet mess. :-)

    How did you do on your January Challenge in Week 2?

    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    January Goal Check - Mid-Month

    The month is halfway over (already!) so I thought it would be good to see how I'm doing against my January goals. Following up on my progress reminds me of anything that I still need to do, & helps me prioritize my time.

    Also, I sold something else (two old portable DVD players) on Craig's List yesterday for $30. Woohoo! Two snowflakes for the year. :-)
    1. Lose 4 pounds. This should be very doable. Goal end weight for January is 143. - No, sadly. I've done really well on my exercising, & reasonably well on my eating, but no progress. I'm going to continue to push on. I'm in that hard initial part, where I know I'm getting in better shape & converting fat to muscle, as well as letting my stomach adjust to smaller portions. :-)
    2. Track food & exercise every day in My Fitness Pal. - Yes! And, I added something to this goal to stay within my calorie goals for 90% of the days. So far, I'm at 10/15 for January.
    3. Complete 1100 minutes of cardio. - On track. I'm at 526 minutes of cardio.
    4. Complete 10 strength workouts. - I'm at 4/10, so a little bit off pace.
    5. Complete 10 stretching workouts. - 2/10, so off pace. Need to step this up.
    6. Run consistently, which means:
    7. Run 1 race. I'm currently signed up for a very close (& frugal - $15!) race on January 12th.  - Done!
    8. Run 20 miles/week. - Pretty much, although I've tried to just make this "run consistently", which is a little more vague, but on week's where I'm skiing twice, or on days when I have an actual race, easing up the mileage. Basically, I'm ramping up my running, & don't want to focus so much on the number/goal that I'm injuring myself.
    9. Run 100 miles for the month. - I'm at just over 30 miles for the month, but pleased with my ramp up, as I took a few weeks off over the holidays.
    10. Buy one tuition credit for each child. - This is on hold until I can cash some holiday checks that I have. I'm waiting for our refinance to clear, as you have to "source" all of your deposits, & I'd prefer not to have to source checks from my family. ;-)
    11. Pay $5000 principal on mortgages. (This will be dependent upon the timing of our refinances.) - We've paid $1359 so far, & have two pending mortgage payments that may or may not close by the end of the month due to the date of our closing.  
    12. Have one date night (or lunch) with M. I have a gift card to keep the costs low. - This is scheduled for this week!
    13. Get together with two friends. - Done! I got together with one friend for lunch, & skied/had dinner with other friends over the weekend.
    14. Track spending, stick to budget, & create a monthly report. - On track!
    15. Increase charitable giving by 10% - On track!
    16. Clean my closet, dresser, & donate/purge 20 items from the house. - I've purged more than 20 items (and am actually shooting for 20 items/week, and I think I'm at 50 for the month). I've also cleaned my dresser. My closet is currently a disaster, pending listing a bunch of stuff on Ebay.
    17. Practice my baking skills by trying one bread & one English muffin recipe. - Done! The English muffin bread didn't rise, but I'll keep trying because the taste was fabulous. I also made a bread recipe, but I'm still definitely learning on getting the bread to rise. I have mixed luck on that element. :-)
    18. Research wills online (i.e. what do we need to do to prepare? Is it covered under my legal insurance, etc). - Yes! We've tentatively agreed on a guardian, & I have a meeting set with an attorney. Woot!!!!!

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    Menu Plan Monday

    Can't believe that it's Monday already - the weekend went by way too quickly!

    I did a lot of freezer cooking over the weekend, so we're fully stocked & ready to face the rest of the month.

    Here's what's on the menu:

    • Monday (1/14) - We're having spaghetti with meatballs tonight. The sauce is already prepped, & the meatballs come from Costco. ;-) Making them in batches & freezing is the next thing I want to tackle, but ran out of time this week.
    • Tuesday (1/15) - Butternut squash soup & homemade bread (bumped from last week) + roasted brussels sprouts
    • Wednesday (1/16) - Chicken enchiladas (freezer)
    • Thursday (1/17) - Tacos
    • Friday (1/18) - Oven baked chicken risotto
    • Saturday (1/19) - Dinner with friends. I'm in charge of dessert, so I think I'll make cupcakes.
    • Sunday (1/20) - Pizza after skiing. I'm thinking I'll try barbecue chicken.
    • Monday (1/21) - Fiesta chicken casserole (freezer)
    • Tuesday (1/22) - Leftovers
    • Wednesday (1/23) - Chicken pastina bake (freezer)
    • Thursday (1/24) - Salmon + rice
    • Friday (1/25) Spaghetti & meatballs
    • Saturday (1/26) - Leftovers
    • Sunday (1/27) - Pizza! Meatball pizza, or chicken pesto

    What's on your menu for the week (or weeks ahead)? Trying any yummy recipes?

    And, completely unrelated to food preparations, but here's one of my favorite pictures from the holiday. (I blame Blogger for making me wait this long to post it!) This is my youngest, N, as he sees Santa walking across the deck at my parents house, with a bag full of gifts. N is so excited that he literally leaps from the couch & flies through the air. It's a little blurry, because this is an action shot. :-)

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    Sunday night chit chat

    Thanks to Carla, for hosting!

    I'm still fiddling with Blogger & the "HTML" picture setting. This is a picture from today on the mountain. It was gorgeous! Friends & S, on the far right. :-) We had to go home with N, who had the flu & got sick at the lodge. Poor baby. My wonderful friend & her daughters entertained S for the rest of the day at the mountain.

    What are you...
    • Reading - Just finished a Tami Hoag novel from the library. Haven't started anything else.
    • Watching - Phineas & Ferb. With the kiddos. :-)
    • Listening to - Ditto above.
    • Baking/Cooking - I made Best Chocolate Chip cookies (substituting dried cranberries for the nuts) & pizzas for everyone. We had friends over (impromptu) after skiing. Chicken pesto pizza for the adults, cheese pizza for the kids, salad for everyone + chocolate chip cookies. Oh, & pomegranate martinis for the adults. Fun! :-) I cooked a ton yesterday.
    • Happy you accomplished this week - I completed my first race of the year, & did my first snowball - $13! :-) Baby steps. :-)
    • Looking forward to next week - Finally accomplishing a big work task, hopefully completing an 8 (or 10) mile long run, and . . . setting a date for the closing of our refinances. That would be sweet!
    • *BONUS QUESTION* What is your favourite board game?  - Pictionary! Or, Monopoly.

    Out of everything

    Well, in December, we came in right at our grocery budget for the first time ever, & I think January is definitely reflecting that. We've spent a small fortune at Costco & the grocery store, after having a relatively frugal first week. I did do a major freezer stock up yesterday, but we were out of:

    • Flour
    • Sugar
    • Brown sugar
    • Butter
    • Milk
    • Eggs
    • Ground beef
    • Chicken breasts
    • Olive oil
    Plus all our normal grocery expenditures. Holy smokes! We're now at $326 of our $500 grocery budget for January. How's this going to work? :-)

    ETA: Thanks so much for the help with the pictures!!!

    Trying something new to get photos to work in Blogger. . . Here's the before picture of our junk drawer. We're pretty tidy, so it wasn't too out of control.

    And, here's the after shot!

    I got rid of some cords, found something for my donation pile, & cleaned up extra paperwork. Feels good to be able to mark something off of my January challenge.

    But, if you want to see something MESSSY, check out my Ebay pile, currently hanging out in my closet. I'm definitely not always tidy & still haven't found time to tackle listing all of this.

    How  about you? How was your weekend?

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

    A fantastic day!

    I got so much done today, that I feel downright virtuous. :-)

    I was up early & set out a schedule for the day. First up was taking the kiddos to karate practice. I got in a quick workout while they learned "blocks". They are total newbies, & hilarious at practice.

    After karate, I splurged on hot chocolate (it was 20 degrees outside!) for the kiddos & used a gift card at Starbucks, then we picked up a few groceries at two different places (Fred Meyer & Trader Joes). We also hit up the used book store (I've learned my lesson from selling on Amazon!) & I made $13 on a few books. My first snowball of the year! This will go toward my trip for my sister's 40th birthday. Win! I also finally bought something for my son that I promised way back at Christmas time. One of his most requested gifts was a sock puppet craft kit. Of course, on Christmas Day, all four of the boys wanted to make a puppet, & he graciously shared. Well, semi-graciously? As graciously as you might expect a five year old to share. :-) I promised to buy him another sock puppet kit, as he wanted two of his own to play with.

    Once we got home, I made lunches for everyone & started on my work. I made:

    I also made Shrinky Dinks with the kids. :-)

    I ran a race in the afternoon (25 degrees, but clear!) & had a great time. My goal was to finish in under an hour (on a very tight, hard-to-pass, windy & uphill 5 mile trail) & came in at 54:00 exactly! Yes!

    There were definitely things that didn't go exactly my way today - we went over budget as a result of stocking up for a cooking day, M also made all of his grilled chicken for the month & we ran out of propane (and, propane is expensive!), my English muffin bread never rose (but tastes great!) & so on. But, I took Carla's fantastic advice today & made myself happy. And, it worked!

    I had a glass of wine with dinner, & I'm enjoying my evening.

    Bonus - I cleaned out my junk drawer! :-)

    I'm off for a snuggle party with my boys! :-)

    Hope you also had a fantastic & productive Saturday!

    Friday, January 11, 2013

    Almost the weekend!

    And, I'm definitely ready for it. :-) I've struggled a bit getting my head back in the game after the holidays. Especially with my eating & calorie intake. I use MyFitnessPal to track my calories, & following my goal to track every day, I've been doing that. However, huge caveat, I haven't been sticking to my allotted calories each day. I've been going over almost every day. Time to fix that. I really do want to drop these last 10-15 pounds. I have clothes that are still snug, I don't feel or look my best, & I want to be in better shape. All good reasons to make this a priority. Starting today, I'm also going to track the number of days I am at or under my calorie allotment in MFP.

    I also have my first race scheduled for Saturday! (My goal is to complete 10 races this year). Tomorrow's race is a very small, local, trail five miler. It's supposed to be very cold, but clear. Fingers crossed that the forecast sticks!

    I did NOT accomplish everything on my to do list yesterday, but . . . I did manage to complete a giant work task that's been lingering for weeks. I worked on it until late in the evening, & I'm so happy that it's done. One project down, 50 more to go. ;-) Or, something like that!

    M went to Costco yesterday, as we were out of beef, & down to our last few packages of chicken. We buy the jumbo packs at Costco, marinate & grill them in one big batch, & then divide into meal-sized portions. This helps get dinner on the table quickly during busy nights. Our freezer is looking pretty sparse.

    Here's what we currently have to work with:

    • 2 pieces of Copper River salmon. A good dinner for M, if I'm going out or have other plans.
    • 1 small Trader Joe's pizza. Emergency dinner stash. :-)
    • 1 smallish container of butternut squash soup. Probably enough for a dinner for me + M if I serve it with a large side.
    • 3 lunch sized portions of chili.
    • 1 dinner's worth of Three Cheese Chicken Florentine
    • A couple of pizza crusts, that I will use on Sunday for our post-skiing dinner.
    • Ground beef (thanks to yesterday's Costco run).
    • 1/2 a package of tortellini.
    • 3 small packages of grilled chicken, ready to be used in dinners.
    • 1 dinner's worth of chicken enchiladas.
    • 1 dinner's worth of taco meat.
    • 1 dinner's worth of spaghetti sauce (as long as I add meatballs for bulk)

    And, there you have it. We did a great job eating through our freezer stash in November & December. I'm planning on moving all of the above to the front, & stocking with a few additional recipes this weekend. I'd like to make at least three freezer meals for the week ahead.

    I also need to bake bread tomorrow, and would like to try both a sandwich bread & an English muffin bread recipe. We'll see how much time I end up with between karate lessons (the kids) & my run.

    We're skiing on Sunday, which takes up the majority of the day, so I need to be as productive as possible on Saturday.

    What are you up to this weekend? Any great activities on the agenda?

    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    A little forward progress

    I am *this* close to wrapping up the two refinances. Please, next time I suggest a refinance to save money, I need one of you to give me a giant (virtual) slap in the face. . . Can I ask why the banks require me to "source" (i.e. create a paper trail) for the $50 my sister reimbursed me for a Christmas gift? Because, $50 is going to make or break our 360 mortgage payments?

    Yesterday was my son's first day riding the "ski bus". Every Wednesday, our school district gets out at noon. Typically, I pay for the kids to attend an "after school" program, but starting in first grade, the kids are eligible to ride the ski bus. For a fee, of course. :-) The ski bus picks them up outside of school, & takes them to lessons on the mountain. Chaperones are also provided. The bus picks them up after lessons, & drops them back at the school in the evening. There is a huge wait list in our district for the ski bus, so way back in October, I waited in line for hours one evening to sign S up. And got in. Yeah! Except, after we were registered with our non-refundable deposit, the organizer mentioned that we had to go to the school every Wednesday at noon, change the kids, & personally deposit them on the bus with all of the gear. Fun, so I get to leave work every Wednesday for an hour or so & manage that process.

    Luckily, S had a fabulous time & was able to get into a lesson group with a buddy. I was anxious all day, wondering how he was faring, if any of his gear would come back, and if he would enjoy himself. It went perfectly! He was able to ski harder runs than I'm capable of taking him on, & had a blast. Win/win.

    Mr. Ski Bus - S.

    Here's what was on my agenda yesterday, & what I actually got done.
    1. Call our insurance company about rates. Done! Rates went up by $15/year due to an increase in the cost of rebuilding (home owners insurance) due to inflation.
    2. Renew car tabs. Done!
    3. Fax forms for our refinance. Again. This is pretty much an every day occurrence. :-) Done!
    4. Run 5 miles. Done! Well, 4.5 miles at least.
    5. Complete arms strength training exercise. - Not done. Ran out of time.
    6. Power yoga. Done! I did pilates instead, but it's a stretch workout.
    7. Solve a login issue on my phone. Done!
    8. Clean my junk drawer. - Nope. Didn't even start.
    9. Figure out why I can't send the movie clips I made for my grandmother's gift. The goal was to share them with other family members as well, but they can't access the files. - Nope. Need to move this to today's list.
    10. Make some progress in my closet. I have a ton of items ready for Ebay, but want M (the better photographer in the house) to take pictures for me. - Nope. It was a crazy night last night.
    And, here's what's on my list for today!

    1. Fax yet ANOTHER refinance packet over.
    2. Run 4.5 miles this evening.
    3. Complete an arms strength workout.
    4. Email invites to S's birthday party (just family). He wants to go bowling & then do dinner at our house. Easy!
    5. Rolled over. Clean my junk drawer.
    6. Rolled over. Figure out why I can't send the movie clips I made for my grandmother's gift. The goal was to share them with other family members as well, but they can't access the files.
    7. Rolled over. Make some progress in my closet. I have a ton of items ready for Ebay, but want M (the better photographer in the house) to take pictures for me.
    8. Laundry
    9. Review training plan for upcoming run.
    10. Plan our weekend activities.
    11. Talk about guardians with M. Again.
    12. Start thinking about a gardening plan for the spring.
    13. Bake a loaf of either English muffin bread, or sandwich bread.

    I think if I finish that list, I'll feel like a super star! And, on the financial challenge front, I've decided to divide the car expense for the week (renewing our car's tags) into two weeks. Otherwise, we'd have nothing left for groceries. :-) Dividing the budget into weeks is meant to help me stay on top of it, but I don't want to create artificial challenges for myself, so this feels like the best approach.

    We've spent $186 of our $360 for the week, with four days to go. Of that, we've spent:
    • $6.95 on groceries
    • $18.69 on postage (M had to mail a package to his mom, & she's out of the country)
    • $117.38 on half of the car expense
    • $43.69 on home repairs. M forgot to lower the car when pulling in the garage with the ski rack on. Oops. :-(

    How are you doing with your challenges & goals for January?

    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Wednesday Wrap Up

    I mentioned yesterday that M's alarm went off at 3:55, & I did not get much sleep. As a result, I skipped my workout & went to bed at 8:00 last night (with the kids). It felt so good, & I slept in until 6. Wow. Ten hours of sleep! I clearly needed that. :-)

    I'm entering the part of the month where I need to clearly remember what needs to be accomplished - it's all too easy to get caught up in the daily grind & lose sight of my goals.

    (Blogger - will you PLEASE fix the photo upload functionality? I'm running out of pictures to recycle.)

    Here's what I really need to get done today.

    1. Call our insurance company about rates.
    2. Renew car tabs.
    3. Fax forms for our refinance. Again. This is pretty much an every day occurrence. :-)
    4. Run 5 miles.
    5. Complete arms strength training exercise.
    6. Power yoga.
    7. Solve a login issue on my phone.
    8. Clean my junk drawer.
    9. Figure out why I can't send the movie clips I made for my grandmother's gift. The goal was to share them with other family members as well, but they can't access the files.
    10. Make some progress in my closet. I have a ton of items ready for Ebay, but want M (the better photographer in the house) to take pictures for me.
    What about you? Where are you at with your goals?

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    The million dollar mark

    Before I jump into the milestone, I've been hard at work on my January goals this month. Here's what I've accomplished so far.

    • Not listed, but my primary goal is to get up to speed in my new role at work. I switched positions right before we left for Hawaii, & I'm still trying to wrap my head around my responsibilities. I like feeling totally confident in my work, so I'm devoting extra time to work & getting up to speed.
    • I've lost zero pounds so far. *womp, womp*. But, I've tracked my eating every day in MyFitnessPal, and. . .
    • Completed 340 minutes of cardio, 3 strength, & 1 stretching workout. Additional exercise planned for tonight. I was too tired to work out at 5:00 am this morning, as M's alarm went off at 3:50 for an early flight.
    • I've paid $1359 in mortgage principal (towards our monthly goal of $5000).
    • I've also decluttered my night stand, a dresser, & a jewelry armoire. I have a huge stack of things to list on Ebay.
    • I sold my first item of the year & made less than a dollar due to postage costs. *sad panda*
    • I'm also attempting to increase my volunteer time (as part of a larger goal to increase my charitable giving - both financially & my time).
    • I refiled our 2011 taxes (as a result of the repaid bonus drama fest) & expect a refund of around $5,000. Yeah!
    The Refinance That Never Ends:
    We're also neck-deep in refinancing our two properties. Why, oh why, oh why did I sign on to refinance through different brokers (the properties are in different states, which makes licensing a problem) over the holidays? I've spent at least 80 hours pulling paperwork, running back & forth to another building where there's a fax machine, & just generally wanting to pull my hair out at the sheer volume of paperwork needed to complete this task. As part of our refinances, we had to complete appraisals on both of our properties.

    It's not surprising that our primary residence was up quite a bit (the Seattle market is very hot, & inventory is extremely low right now), but it was even higher than expected. And, the area our vacation home is in has also been recovering nicely from the market collapse. That house was also valued quite a bit beyond what we expected.

    What does all of this mean? For the first time ever, our net worth exceeds one million dollars.

    *if only blogger was allowing image uploads, I'd upload pictures of confetti, balloons, & people celebrating. I guess you'll just have to visualize it. :-)*

    We're not fools & understood that the real estate market can fluctuate. As we learned very distinctly a few years ago. We consider our net worth a yard stick of how our investments are doing, and how our portfolio compares with where we'd like it to be. We will not be booking a trip around the world any time soon. In fact, I'm fairly confident that one of the reasons our net worth is growing is that we're keeping our variable expenses as low as we comfortably (and, in some cases, uncomfortably :-)) can - to focus on building our net worth via our real estate investments. We intentionally have a great deal of our income tied up in fixed expenses (mortgage payments), which not everyone is comfortable with.

    The Math:
    Here's how our net worth plays out. (And, if you're a long-time reader, you may notice that I removed my stock options from this list, as they are not accrued yet and vest over time. This protects us in the event that I leave my employer before the next vest). We also do not include kids college funds, as we consider those part of their net worth, not ours.

    • $1,007,981 - Property loans
    • $45,000 - 401K loan. This is a new loan we took out a few weeks ago, in order to secure a non-jumbo loan. We've run the number  & this will drop our interest payouts drastically over the next ten years. Jumbo loans are still very high, given the current market, while non-jumbo loans are at historic lows.
    Total Liabilities= $1,052,981

    • $1,045,000 - value of primary residence
    • $400,000 - value of vacation home
    • $562,335 - retirement accounts
    • $54,542 - investment account. (Most of this is the 401K loan, waiting to be applied toward the property loans once our refinance clears.)
    Total Assets = $2,061,877

    Total Net Worth = $1,008,896

    What's Next:
    Where do we go from here? Well, our number one financial goals this year (aside from staying on budget :-)) is paying off the 401K loan. After that, it's to continue to pay down our mortgage balances. I want to see a number below a million in 2013!!!

    I've hesitated sharing information like this in the past, because I know our financial situation is not applicable to most people. However, if there are basic suggestions I can share, or background of how we got here that would be interesting, please ask & I'm happy to post more.

    Goals for Week 2

    As we head into the second week of January, I want to stay focused on my monthly goals, as well as the weekly challenges I'm working on. I posted my first week's progress here.

    I find that breaking my monthly (and, certainly yearly) goals down into smaller action items help me visualize & make progress. I don't do well with big giant goals, unless they are broken down into smaller steps.

    With that said, here's what I'm focusing on this week!

    1. Run 20 miles
    2. Complete 3 stretch workouts (I'm a bit behind - we skied two days last week, & I was sore!)
    3. Complete 3 strength workouts (ditto the above)
    4. Run a 5 mile trail race, commencing my first of ten races for 2013!
    5. Stick to our $360 variable weekly budget goal (as part of my January challenge). This will be tricky given that we have a $234 car licensing bill due this week. I'm working on a plan for this.
    6. Inventory our freezer, pantry, & fridge. Make a revised menu based on this to minimize grocery spending.
    7. Bake bread.
    8. Restock the freezer
    9. Organize & label all of S's ski stuff. He's starting on a ski bus lesson activity through his school, & I've received SIX emails with instructions on what he needs, how to label, etc. I'm a little overwhelmed with all of the details, & need to review everything & get him prepared for Wednesday.
    10. List 10 items on Ebay.
    11. Clean/declutter my closet.
    12. Try English muffin recipe.
    13. Plan S's birthday party, including budget, location & food.
    14. Clean my junk drawer! (This is a new addition based on Carla's challenge for week 2!).

    Learnings from week one, all up. I learned that skiing twice in one week & running 20 miles is. . . difficult & unpleasant. Need to space out my running more, & remind myself that when I take an unplanned rest day, it means I have to double up on runs later in the week. Hopefully this is a lesson that I'll only need once, but I'm a glutton, so who knows. ;-)

    Additionally, it is becoming a bit easier to just "say no" to many kinds of spending. I am starting to find it more natural, & interestingly, I'm actually wanting less overall. Win/win!

    What are you working on this week? Any big lessons or wins from last week?

    Monday, January 7, 2013

    January Challenge - Week 1!

    As I don't plan on spending any money today, or accomplishing much more on my decluttering challenge after work, I'm going to wrap up week one & share my progress!

    You can find my initial post about the January Challenge here. And, thanks to Carla for hosting the January Challenge.

    I found the first week of the challenge to be very enlightening! I honestly didn't think it would be terribly difficult - after all, it was just sticking to my budget. ;-) I thought that would be cake in the first week of January.

    For the financial challenge, my goal is to keep our weekly variable spending to $360/week. This  does not include standard bills like the mortgage, child care, etc.
    And, here's how we did:
    • Groceries - $94.39
    • Dining out - $33.10
    • Gifts (returned a Christmas gift, & exchanged it for the correct item) - +$3.88 (slight price difference between the two, so I received a credit).
    • Postage - $9.68
    • Gas - $136.51
    • Dry cleaning - $35.73
    • House - $54.76
    For a grand total of $360.29!!! We were over by $.29, so . . . close enough. I actually expected to be well under our weekly budget, but a few things caught me off guard. M's cousin paid us a visit (which was a fabulous treat), but I wasn't planning on having guests when I devised these numbers. M took him to lunch as a thank you for some electrical work he did around the house (he's an electrician), so that was unexpected money spent in dining out. We also bought the supplies for the electrical project (again, unexpected), & I sold a book on Amazon & had to pay for postage. $9.68!! What was I thinking when I listed it? I'm barely going to make the money back on the sale when it comes in. C'est la vie.
    Also, the gas tanks in all three cars must have been practically dry at the beginning of the month, because we filled up all three this week, which is very unusual.
    Next week will bring new challenges, because I just received our car licensing bill for $234. .. . Almost our entire weekly budget! I'll have to be very creative to hit our numbers, but I don't think we need too many groceries, we certainly shouldn't need any gas, & I'm not expecting any guests or other unusual spending to come into play.
    For the decluttering challenge, my goal is to get rid of (either sell, toss, or donate) 20 items per week in January. Bonus goal would be to clean my closet & dresser!

    And, here's how I did with the decluttering challenge during week 1 . . . I got rid of 14 items of clothing that the kids outgrew, & cleaned my jewelry armoire. I donated at least 35 items of jewelry that have been sitting there for years. I also got rid of all of the old receipts, paper work, & just junk that accumulated. I also decluttered my nightstand and one of my dressers!

    As a bonus, I went through my closet & found about 30 potential items to list on Ebay. I've used Ebay very sparingly in the past (to get sell higher end items), but I'm willing to try a few things out & see how they do.

    I'm very, very pleased with my decluttering challenge progress, & aim to continue decluttering my closet this week.

    I would insert a picture of some of this, but Blogger still won't let some of us add new pictures to posts (you can, however, add pictures that are already posted on your blog in older entries.) I promise to add pictures once I can.

    How are you doing on your January challenges?

    Sunday, January 6, 2013

    Sunday Night Chit Chat

    Thanks to Carla for hosting tonight!

    Blogger still won't let me upload a new photo, so here's an old favorite :-) Both the boys, after skiing last year. Seemed appropriate since we skied today as well.

    What are you...
    • Reading - Just finished "Where Azaleas Bloom" by Sherryl Woods, from my library stash.
    • Watching - Well, nothing for me, but Pokemon is currently being enjoyed by other members of my family.
    • Listening to - Ditto above
    • Baking/Cooking - I didn't make much this weekend. Salmon & rice on Friday, a caprese appetizer with risotto balls (courtesy of Trader Joes) & pesto chicken pasta. Tonight after skiing, it was fresh mozzarella & meatball pizza. Yum!
    • Happy you accomplished this week - I started the decluttering & made a giant pile of things to list on Ebay. I also organized my entire jewelry armoire (I don't have much jewelry, which means it was full of paperwork, receipts, & other junk). And, we had a great ski day with the boys today!
    • Looking forward to next week - getting the kids back on a regular schedule with school, & a race that I have next Saturday + skiing again on Sunday.
    • What is the minimum # you feel comfortable with sitting in your bank account/piggy bank? - I feel comfortable with between $5000 & $7500, depending on the time of year.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013

    Fixed vs variable expenses

    Sometimes, I get frustrated when I come up with a plan to accomplish all of my tasks, & it falls apart. Let's take this morning, for example. . . I got up at 5 am to squeeze in a 7 mile run between the rest of a very busy day. . . And, when I woke up, I saw that it was 35, pitch black, & icy. A no go on running outside in my very hilly neighborhood. Now, normally my backup plan is to run on our treadmill. However, we have a guest asleep downstairs, so that's also out. I finally come up with a plan - drive to the gym, eke out the miles on the dreadmill there, & then come home in time for breakfast & to take the kiddos to karate lessons. Except, I get to the gym & it's closed until 7 am. What the what?!! It opens at 5 am on week days, so I foolishly assumed it would be open.

    So, I've been up since 5, I didn't sleep well, & I'm panicked about when I'm going to run today. . . Ahh, fun times. I have since (grouchily, I'll admit) come up with a revised plan. I'll squeeze in 3.5-4 miles while the kids are at karate, & then complete the other half of my run later in the day when M will hang with the crew. It's all about flexibility!

    ETA: well, that was a lot of worrying about nothing. I finished my run & feel great. Why was I driving myself so crazy? Oh, I know. . . because I'm a planner & flexibility is not second nature to me. I still have a lot to learn. ;-)

    It's been the longest short work week ever! Now, if only the rest of the year could model itself after these past four days, I'd be a super fast runner, at my goal weight, & fulfilling all of my financial goals. A girl can dream, right? :-)

    Speaking of dreams. . . a little double rainbow action, from Hawaii. :-)

    I was inspired by a post of Sharon's that broke down her family's variable expenses. It started me thinking on the topic of variable expenses, & what percentage of our income goes to fixed expenses vs variable.

    A few things to note - this percentage of income only takes into account our standard salaries, bonuses & stock grants are not included, as we're shifting our budget to live off of just our salaries. (Bonus/stock grant money, should they come again, will be allocated towards mortgage pay down.) And, we intentionally chose to spend more on fixed expenses when we opted to buy our vacation house. Finally, this is our 2013 budget, and what we need to stick to. It is not the best picture of what we spent in 2012. ;-)

    We spend 83% of our income on fixed expenses (we include savings & retirement in that calculation) & 17% on variable expenses.

    For budgeting purposes, I consider the following to be fixed expenses, in ranked order:
    • Mortgages (across both properties)
    • Savings (retirement & other)
    • Child care. Unless M or I stop working, we will need child care. We currently pay for one child in full-day kindergarten (the state only covers half day), plus two kids in after school care, & full-time care in the summer.
    • Tax savings (we frequently owe over $10K, but it's hard to predict based on the unknown bonus/stock issues).
    • Utilities (across both properties). Some of this is technically variable, but we've cut all of what we want to from this category & it would take ending contracts with fees, etc to lower this further. And/or living without power & water. ;-)
    • Insurance.

    Here's how we spend our variable budget, on a monthly basis:

    • Groceries - $540
    • Gas - $275
    • Boys college - $200
    • Cleaning service - $200
    • Dining out - $175
    • Boys lessons/sports/activities - $150
    • Clothes/shoes (for four of us, & any makeup for me) - $100
    • Gifts - $100
    • Household (covers everything from toilet paper to furniture) - $100
    • Car - $100
    • Christmas - $100 (save each month for yearly budget of $1200)
    • Personal - $70 (includes hair cuts for everyone, plus the occasional pedicure for me)
    • Boys (misc) - $25 (this is everything from taking them to the aquarium, to giving them $5 at the arcade near our beach house).
    • Charitable contributions - $25 (this is for random, unplanned donations - i.e. a request from a friend, a sponsored event, donation for the schools, etc. This is not where the majority of our charitable contributions go - the majority is deducted out of our net pay via our employer & is considered a "fixed" expense.)
    • Boys birthdays - $25. (Includes a gift & party. This is the monthly cost, but we save for the two birthdays/year)
    • Liquor - $20. I think most people consider this under their grocery budget, but as we're trying to really lower our grocery budget, I wanted to line item this separately. Obviously, it's easily cut if we're over in other categories.

    One of our big aims over the next 5-10 years, is to drastically reduce our fixed expenses. We have no debt, short of our mortgages, but they are a substantial amount. By doing this (we'd like to have the vacation property paid off very quickly & then move on to our primary residence), we will then allow ourselves the flexibility of taking different jobs that are more suited to what we want to do & provide more lifestyle flexibility.

    Our retirement plan is to sell our primary residence (which should be fully paid off at that point) & move to Hawaii or another warm weather destination. We may keep our vacation home, so we have a local residence when visiting family, etc.

    What are you up to this weekend? Any fun plans? How do you plan for variable vs fixed expenses?