Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thirteen things that happened in 2013 - a year in review

Wow - 2013 was a year filled with lots of adventures. I hope that 2014 is a little quieter and (possibly? hopefully?) more relaxing & sane. :-) It was a mix of highs & lows, but I'm grateful to have my family, and a lot of optimism for 2014!

Here are some of the things that happened this year:

  1. We achieved $1 million in net worth, which was pretty exciting. ;-) 
  2. I ran some races (and several that I didn't blog about).
  3. We skied, all winter long. Both boys started skiing black runs. I'm left behind now on the blues. ;-) 
  4. I achieved a personal best in a half marathon. 
  5. We spent a fantastic long weekend at the beach, & celebrated Easter.
  6. After being sick for a few months, I found out I have lupus.
  7. We had an absolutely incredible vacation. First with the kiddos on the Oregon coast, and then enjoying some adult time in Las Vegas. 
  8. Celebrated my sister's 40th birthday, with my two BFFs (sister & friend from college). Girl time is always the best. 
  9. Michael got a new job.
  10. We moved to California!
  11. I quit my job of 16 years.
  12. And found a new job.
  13. Last but not least, spent a crazy fun Christmas at my parents house & at the Oregon coast. I'm blessed to have such a great family. We laughed like crazy, took walks on the beach, ate too much, sang & danced, went on bike rides, and enjoyed festive drinks. It was the best way to end the year. 
Here are some pictures from #13. :-)

Those are elk on the golf course, and night time bike riders - wearing their new helmet lights!

What are your memories from 2013?

I hope your 2013 was filled with all kinds of fun, and that 2014 is even more fabulous! Big hugs to all of my blogger friends - I love having a blog & sharing a little peek into our life with you, and reading about your lives. Happy New Years!

Belated Menu Plan

We flew in last night, so I'm slowly trying to put the pieces back together this morning & plan for our week ahead. I have today & tomorrow off, but am going to put in a few hours just to catch up. I'll work Thursday & Friday.

I dashed off a quick menu plan this morning, so I could make a shopping list for today.

Here's what's on the menu for the week:
Tuesday (NYE) - Tacos. The boys choice. :-)
Wednesday (1/1) - This amazing rice pilaf recipe, with chicken added.
Thursday (1/2) - Breaded tilapia for the adults, & chicken for the kiddos. With pasta & veggies on the side.
Friday (1/3) - stuffed peppers. I need to find a good recipe, but have the basics in mind.
Saturday (1/4) - leftovers
Sunday (1/5) - homemade pizza.

What about you? Are you ready to go with a menu plan? 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

On vacation, & life is good

Work has slowly ramped down (finally!!), & I can feel myself starting to relax a bit. We are at the Oregon coast, enjoying the vacation house for what will surely be one of our last visits. We had friends visiting all day on Thursday & yesterday, & my parents arrive this morning. We're happy to see everyone & connect while we're in the area, but the beach house is usually a quieter place. ;-)

I defrosted some leftover spaghetti for the first dinner, and our neighbors came over at the last minute, so I threw more pasta & meatballs into the pots. All worked out. We received a reciprocal invitation for pizza at their house last night, so I have lots of leftover spaghetti that we'll have to get to for lunches. :-)

My parents should be arriving shortly, so we'll be doing grilled burgers, corn, & I still need to figure out how to prep the fresh beans I purchased. We'll also make our traditional goat cheese crostini & pomegranate martinis for happy hour. Yum! I've definitely gained a pound or two over the holidays. Good times have been had by all. :-)

I'm *very* excited to see my nephews & sister when they arrive tomorrow. We'd planned on pizza, so that's on the menu again. I did find some extremely inexpensive fresh/local crab marked down the day after Christmas, so I may make some crab cakes as an appetizer.

Other than all of that food-related stuff, we're doing our regular clean out at the vacation house (clothes, toys, books that the kids have outgrown), as well as laundering all of the rugs & really cleaning things out of the freezer & pantry.

I committed yesterday to Michael, as we talked about our goals & plans in California & the future in general, that we will sell the vacation house (or, list it at least, the market here takes a long time to close) in 2014. It was a big step for me, & I get all teary just thinking about it. But, it's necessary & the next step in moving us towards buying a home in California.

Hope you have a fabulous last weekend of 2013! I'm already thinking of all of the things I need to go to kick off my 2014 goals! Can't wait. :-) What are you up to this weekend? 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Financial Summary - How Did We Spend Our Money

While there are still a few days left in 2013, we're closing the books & calling it a year. Below is a quick look at our top spending categories. No surprise that our mortgages (both) are the top two categories, followed closely by our rent in San Francisco (and, that was just for four months!).

Here's a more detailed breakout. In case you're wondering what "other" is, it's every category with less than $1,500 of spending for the year:

Percentage of total spend for the year (errors due to rounding):
  • Seattle house mortgage - 21%
  • Vacation house mortgage - 14%
  • Rent in San Francisco - 12%
  • Taxes - 8% (these are taxes we owed outside of what is deducted from our paycheck). Our actual tax rate is much, much, much, MUCH higher :-))
  • Childcare - 6%
  • Other - 5%
  • Travel - 4%
  • Groceries - 4%
  • House - 4%
  • Seattle house utilities - 4%
  • Car - 3%
  • Cleaning - 2%
  • Insurance - 2%
  • Gas - 2%
  • Dining out - 2%
  • Boys college - 2%
  • Gifts - 1%
  • Refinance - 1%
  • Vacation house utilities - 1%
  • Boys lessons - 1%
A few notes:
  1. Contributions to our retirement accounts are not included. We max out our 401Ks each year.
  2. Charitable contributions are deducted in our checks, so also not included.
  3. Health care - same as above.
  4. Categories that were combined into other (i.e. less than $1500 of yearly spend):
    1. Adult clothing
    2. Kids clothing
    3. Dry cleaning
    4. Personal (aka hair cuts for everyone, plus the occasional pedicure for me)
    5. Health (race fees, etc)
    6. Entertainment
    7. Boys birthdays
    8. Miscellaneous boys spending
    9. Liquor
    10. San Francisco utilities
  5. Our refinance was the cost associated with buying our Seattle house down from a jumbo loan.
I'm really surprised by how low (percentage-wise) most of our expenses are. It's very clear where we're spending our money!

I need to dive deeper into the income side, & provide the complete picture. I'll also have a net worth update as it gets closer to January 1st.

What about you? Do you analyze your spending like this? What do you learn about your own spending habits? I find it fascinating to understand where our money goes over the course of the year. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Goals in Review - How did I do?

There are a few days left in the year, but I'm calling it a wrap! Here's my original post on Goals for 2013, and here's how I actually did. Honestly, the year was full of lots of unexpected challenges - from my lupus diagnosis, to M's new job, to our move to California, leaving my job of 16 years, and my new job. I'm exhausted just thinking about it! All told, I think I did pretty well, but plenty of room for new goals & strategies in 2014.

  1. Lose 12 pounds, bringing my weight to 135. - I've lost 2 pounds. :-) It's been a very, very challenging year, and I normally let my workout routine go & eat too much when I'm stressed. I'm happy to be down 2 pounds, but really need to achieve 135 in 2014, due to medical issues.
  2. Track my food/exercise every day in My Fitness Pal.- Yes!!! In fact, I have lots of detailed nutritional information that I'll be sharing in a separate post, if you're interested in that kind of stuff. ;-) 
  3. Improve my fitness by doing the following: - I revised the cardio portion to 10,000 once I got my lupus diagnosis. I had a month or so where I could barely find the energy to work out.
    1. Complete 13,000 minutes of cardio - Revised goal of 10,000. I'm at 9,878, and I WILL hit this before the end of the year. :-) 
    2. Complete 100 strength workouts. - I'm at 90! It will be difficult to hit this, as I need to do a strength workout every day for the rest of the month, but I'm going to try for it. This will be yellow until I actually complete this. :-) 
    3. Complete 100 stretching workouts. - I've completed 46, so my revised goal for the year will be 50. These workouts make me feel *so* good, but they are tricky to work into my routine. 
  4. Run consistently, as measured by the following: - As above, I revised this goal after my lupus diagnosis. 
    1. Run 10 races. - I completed 4 races this year. I was hoping for 5, but I'm running the 5th on New Years Day. :-) 
    2. Run 20 miles (or more) per week. - no longer a goal.
    3. Run 1000 miles in 2013 - No longer a goal.
    4. Achieve a personal best in a half marathon. - Yes! I did this right before I got my diagnosis, which thrills me. I was able to beat myself, through sheer grit, because my energy level and overall feeling certainly wasn't helping my cause.
    5. Run a 5K, 10K, 15K, & 30K. - I completed a 5K, 10K, 5 mile trail run, & a half marathon. 
  5. Reach 50% of our boys college fund savings. - Blergh. We didn't make this a priority with the move. We're currently at 44%. :-( 
  6. Pay $50,000 of principal on our mortgages - Well, we paid off a $44,000 401K loan that was used to buy down our mortgage, but I'm not counting that here. We paid off $30,117. This is pretty good progress, given that we turned our priority to the move & saving money for a downpayment on a house here.
  7. Have one date night per month with M, & get together with two friends per month. - Yes! Although one of the months we did a few date lunches instead. 
  8. Track our spending, stick to our budget, & continue the monthly reports. - Yes! Even through the move, I tracked. 
  9. Review our charitable contributions, & increase our yearly giving by 10% - Yes! we increased our charitable contributions by 20%!!!
  10. Organize one room in our house per month. - We'll, considering we got rid of more than 1/3 of our stuff, and moved, I think I super overachieved on this goal. ;-) 
  11. Learn to bake bread. - Yes! Although, I have a breadmaker now, and tend to use that over the homemade recipe I finally mastered. 
  12. Create/finalize will & guardianship papers. - Sigh. NO. I suck at this - it's been on my goal list for years. What's holding us up? M & I can't agree on guardians.
  13. Generate $1,000 in side hustle. - Yes! I paid for my sister's flight, hotel, & our cabana rental (plus my own costs) at her 40th birthday party. I made $3,072 in extra money, and could have made more if I hadn't stopped with the move. 

And, that's it for the year! I'll do a small update on my fitness numbers, but 2013 is in the books, baby. How about you? How did you do on your 2013 goals? Looking forward to new, shiny goals in 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Almost across the finish line

Work has taken superhero strength over the past few weeks, but my "in the office days" are done until January 2nd. I'm EXTREMELY excited about this, and really need the break. I will have to work over the holidays (even though I have vacation days & actual company holidays) - it's frustrating, but if I don't do it, other coworkers will suffer, so it has to be done. When I planned my holidays, there was another person covering my area, so it's really disappointing to be flying all the way to visit my family & know that I'll be distracted with work, but. . . c'est la vie. I'll focus on the positives for now.

Here's a list of everything that makes me happy right now.

  1. My baby (okay, he's six, I'm in denial) lost his front tooth today. He looks adorable.
  2. I don't have to use the alarm for 11 days!!!!!!!! 
  3. I'm going to see a friend from Seattle tomorrow - she's in town for the holidays. Can't wait.
  4. I'm going to drive around with M & the boys tonight to look at Christmas lights.
  5. I've truly realized that work is just not worth it, and that my family will always come first. I've never had quite an opportunity to grasp how I feel about this, until the past few weeks. I WILL change things, because my health is too important, and I can never get this time back with M & the boys.
  6. I fit into my skinny jeans! This is unheard of, at the holidays. :-) 
  7. I'm going to see my family in three days! I'm incredibly excited about this, and my kids are just as excited. They love their auntie, & Nana & Papa.
  8. I'm going to see one of my high school friends on Christmas Eve morning. It's been at least three years since I've seen her, so I feel really lucky we're making the time this year.
  9. My oldest, Sam has had a harder time adjusting to California. He misses his best friend from Seattle terribly. We've planned for his friend/family to join us at the beach for a day. He's going to be thrilled! So happy it worked out.
  10. I'm very happy with the amount of gifts we got the kids, how much we spent, and just our overall holiday budget. Win/win!

And, with that, I'm off to pick up my little guy a few minutes early. We're then off to pick Sam up at a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. Followed by happy hour (at home, of course :-)) with M. Yeah for Friday night!! :-) 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

January Goals & No Spend Challenge

I've been working on my January goals,  and it will definitely take some focused effort to achieve what I'm hoping for! :-) To keep me motivated, I'm planning on joining Carla's January No Spend Challenge. 

Here are my goals for January!

  1. Lose 2 lbs.
  2. Track my calories every day in MyFitnessPal.
  3. Complete 1,000 minutes of cardio.
  4. Complete 10 strength workouts.
  5. Complete 8 stretching workouts.
  6. Find a half marathon for the spring, and start the training plan.
  7. Have one date night with M.
  8. Plan/do one social activity with friends.
  9. Save $1,000 towards our California house down payment fund.
  10. Save $500 in boys college fund.
  11. Pay $3,000 towards our mortgage(s)
  12. Talk to my parents about potentially watching the boys for a 2014 vacation.
  13. Work is very, very crazy & the schedule is not something I can handle long term with my health situation. I'm currently working 60+ hours during the week, & I'm on call every day. Every holiday. Every weekend Everything. It's way too much. I need to start figuring out a plan.

Phew! That's a lot, financially & otherwise.

And now, what cuts am I going to make to achieve my goals?

  • Trim our grocery spending down to $450
  • Trim dining out down to $75 (should just cover one date with M)
  • Spend $0 on clothes for the kids + me.
  • Spend $0 on gifts, travel, personal, health, liquor, & house categories. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thinking about 2014 Goals

I'm starting to think about our 2014 goals, and here's my current plan. I'll likely refine as we get closer to month end.

  1. Lose 10 pounds, bringing my weight to 135. I've really struggled to lose at my current weight & activity level, so I need to spend some time considering what's necessary to drop these last (very stubborn) 10 pounds. After my doctor's appointment & prescription complication, this goal is more important than ever. Time to focus.
  2. Continue tracking my food/exercise every day in My Fitness Pal. This has been tremendously helpful.
  3. Improve my fitness by doing the following:
    1. Complete 11,000 minutes of cardio.
    2. Complete 100 strength workouts.
    3. Complete 75 stretching workouts.
  4. Choose a half marathon to train for, and complete it! Sometime this spring.
  5. Have one date night per month with M. 
  6. Plan one social/friend activity per month.
  7. Finalize will/guardianship.
  8. Save $50,000 towards a downpayment for a house in California.
  9. Put $5,000 in boys college accounts.
  10. Pay $30,000 towards our mortgage principal(s).
  11. Figure out a plan for vacation house.
  12. Track our all of our spending, stick to our budget, and create monthly spending reports.
  13. Plan an adult only vacation with M!
  14. Likely most importantly, figure out the work/life balance, even if it means finding a new job. Money isn't worth the current schedule. 

What about you? Are you thinking about your 2014 goals?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our Christmas budget, and how we spent the money

I'm now officially done with my Christmas shopping! We allocate $1200 to the holiday budget, but I only assign $900-1,000 to specific gifts (actual amount varies year by year). That way, there's a little bit of flexibility for the unexpected. ;-)

How do we save the $1,200? I intentionally save a percentage deduction towards my 401K (rather than a fixed dollar amount), knowing that I will  max out towards the end of October. This leaves the extra money (allocated in previous months to my 401K) for November & December to go towards Christmas. This year was a bit different, as we had to pay for our travel to Portland ($1,200). For next year, and going forward, I will have to save the travel money earlier in the year - this year it came from savings.

Here's the breakout of our budget, and how we did. Note that M's gifts to me don't come out of our holiday budget (he refuses to talk about what he spends, & uses his personal money - but we never get too extravagant. ;-)

  • Stocking budget - $120 (this covers four boys). We only do stocking for the kids. This year, I spent $116 on stockings.
  • Budget for M - $150. Actual spend = $250. I ended up picking up a pair of jeans for him - I forgot that I typically get him his once a year splurge jeans. :-) 
  • Nephews - $30/each = $60. Actual spend = $82.88. They each got a Rainbow Loom + a game.
  • Grandmother - $25. Actual = $22.
  • Grandmother's husband - $10. Actual = $0. We opted not to exchange this year.
  • Aunt - $25. Actual = $17
  • Best friend's daughters - $30/each = $60. Actual spend = $59.02
  • Sam - $150. Actual = $293. 
  • Nick - $150. Actual = $318.
  • M's best friend's daughter = $30. Actual spend = $34.88
  • Christmas cards - $20. Actual = $16. Postage not included. I had stamps at home, and didn't need to buy any.
  • Food/drinks for Christmas festivities - $100. We typically bring the festive drinks (pomegranate martinis) & contribute food. This year, we'll be traveling, so we're buying ingredients for the drinks & giving my mom extra money towards the meals. Actual = $150.
  • Giving tree donations - $50. Actual spend = $60.
  • Additional charity donations - $50. I had an opportunity to donate $50 with a four time match from my employer (to a food bank), so I couldn't resist. 
Actual spend total = $1228 (and change). I'll call that a win!

I used gift cards, discounts, etc to offset some of the spending. The kids are getting scooters as their big gift. Their other gifts are: books, clothes, and one game each. We try not to spoil them, and would rather spend our money on travels, activities, etc as a family.

For M, he got his jeans, two Under Armour shirts for running, & a couple of things he's been asking for around the house (mortar & pestle - apparently I lost ours during the move), & a platter for making his famous kebabs. Our other platter cracked. 

As for stocking stuffers, we kept things pretty basic this year. The boys got gift cards to an arcade, a book, and an origami kit. They both love origami. :-) 

That pretty much covers it! Favorite find of the year (not particularly frugal, but something that I think will be a huge hit) - a sewing kit for my friend's daughters. It looked so cool that I wanted to keep it!

What about you? Are you done? Is everything wrapped? I'll be doing a lot of wrapping on Christmas Eve, as I had most of the gifts directly mailed to my parents. Everything that I have, I've wrapped. How's your budget? 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Focusing on the positives, after an insane week

It's a gorgeous Saturday in sunny California. Cold this morning, but clear & sunny. I had one of the most challenging work weeks of my entire career, so instead, I'm going to focus on a few things I'm happy about right now:

  1. M & I have a date tonight! We're attending a party at a winery. Fun! :-)
  2. We gave our boys their big (physically big, and their big item) gifts last night, with the lights of the tree shining in the background. We can't take the gifts on the plane, so we figured we may as well let them enjoy the gifts this weekend. They got SO excited- it was a perfect Christmas moment. The gifts were a Razor Drifter & Electric Scooter - as soon as they are assembled, I know what they'll be doing today! :-) 
  3. I mailed my holiday cards! Finally! :-)
  4. M got me two gorgeous pair of shoes for Christmas. Pics to come. 
  5. Sam made it onto a select soccer team! He's so very excited. The cost? Well, I was less excited. ;-) 
  6. I received a completely unexpected bonus at work. $6,000. The timing could not be better - after tax & other deductions, it will be around $3,000. Here's how I'm spending it:
    1. $750 for Sam's soccer (estimate).
    2. $1400 for plane tickets for the boys birthdays. We'll be flying to Portland. The boys opted not to have a party with friends here, and wanted to have the party at my parents house. The real goal of the trip is for my boys to spend time with their cousins (my nephews). They will be with their dad out of the country over the holidays, and my boys are devastated they aren't spending the holidays with their cousins. It's important for me to have them spend time together. 
    3. $400 for Great Wolf Lodge - a cousins trip during the boys birthday. It's over Valentine's Day, so my sister & I will be having a very romantic Valentine's Day together at an indoor water park, with our four boys. ;-) 
    4. Remaining money (ha ha) to savings.
What are you happy about right now? How was your week?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What's Cooking?

I'm working on my meal plan for the rest of December. It's always a challenge to ensure that we have enough around the house (my husband absolutely panics if we're short on fruits & vegetables), but not wasting while we're traveling & out & about.

Here's what's up for the rest of the month (we have salad & fresh veggies with every meal, so I don't mention it with the menu):

  • Monday (12/9) - adults will have leftover pizza, kids will have leftover tacos.
  • Tuesday (12/10) - Grilled chicken + pasta. Our go-to staple.
  • Wednesday (12/11) - Spaghetti & meatballs (from the freezer)
  • Thursday (12/12) - Oven baked chicken risotto. My favorite "cheater" risotto.
  • Friday (12/13) - Leftovers (risotto or meatballs)
  • Saturday (12/14) - M & I are attending a birthday party, & eating there.
  • Sunday (12/15) - homemade pizza.
  • Monday (12/16) - Some sort of casserole that I have in the freezer. Can't remember what I made. ;-)
  • Tuesday (12/17) - Leftover pizza
  • Wednesday (12/18) - Leftover casserole.
  • Thursday (12/19) - Whatever is left in the fridge. Clean out before we leave.
  • Friday (12/20) - Tortellini & chicken (from the freezer)
  • Saturday (12/21) - I'm meeting a friend who is in town, & the boys will make sandwiches or something.
  • Sunday (12/22) - Eat up whatever is left in the fridge.
  • Monday (12/23) - Eating in Portland with my sister, after our flight.
  • Tuesday (12/24) - Christmas Eve! Contributing $ to our family potluck, since we can't bring anything. We usually have ham.
  • Wednesday (12/25) - Christmas dinner! My mom cooks.
  • Thursday (12/26). We'll be at the beach for the first time in four months. No clue what's in the freezer, but we'll eat something from there, & pick up any fresh ingredients as needed. Likely, chicken & pasta.
  • Friday (12/27) - Ditto the freezer comment above, & add in goat cheese crostini.
  • Saturday (12/28) - my parents will be visiting. We'll either make burgers or steak.
  • Sunday (12/29) - my parents + my sister/nephews will be visiting. We're getting a couple of pizzas + salads, & will be having some sort of appetizer with the kiddos.
  • Monday (12/30) - grabbing dinner at the airport before our flight home.
  • Tuesday (12/31) - New Year's Eve! I'll poll the crew & see what kind of fun/fancy dinner they'd like. Maybe homemade pizza + dessert. :-)
  • Wednesday (1/1) - I have the day off of work, so I'm thinking chicken marsala casserole.
  • Thursday (1/2) - Leftovers
  • Friday (1/3) - Tilapia + pasta side dish
  • Saturday (1/4) - May try my hand at Lubia Polo again (Persian recipe that M's mom makes).
  • Sunday (1/5) - I'll try a new stuffed peppers recipe. 
What about you? Do you have all of your holiday meals (and those wedged between) all planned out? How are you planning on spending your December grocery budget? I am fairly certain that we'll be over, but I'll do my best to keep the spending in check!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happy Monday!

Is that a real expression? ;-) I'm taking a cue from Carla today, & trying to focus on the positives on the week ahead. Monday is usually a turkey of a day. See picture of wild turkeys that always chase me on my runs at the nature preserve. ;-)

Two weeks from today, we're flying to Portland to see my family for the holidays, & then heading to our vacation house. Very excited about that!!

Here's my list of tasks I'm hoping to accomplish this week:

  1. Create a menu plan.
  2. Mail out all holiday cards.
  3. Wrap last few gifts.
  4. Finalize packing list for holiday trip.
  5. Book February/birthday trip.
  6. Five cardio, 5 strength, & 5 stretching workouts. This is ambitious. :-)
  7. Make a special gift/note for my husband for Christmas.
  8. Have two no spend days.
  9. Work on my patience in the evenings (not a task, so much as a reminder "goal"), and spend more time doing bonus snuggles with my boys.
  10. Work on menu for holidays (out of town items).

I think that will most definitely do it. I'm about to embark on a hugely crazy time at work (it's our busiest season anyway, and the person who does the operational side of my job is about to take an unexpected 6 week leave to care for an ill family member. I'm about to be thrown into the deep end of the pool!!! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Night Chit Chat

This was one of those rare weekends when we didn't have much going on, in terms of planned activities. Thank goodness, because we had a ton to do! Here's what happened around our house.

First up, on Saturday morning, we went out & picked all of the ripe fruit, knowing it was going to freeze overnight. Here was our harvest. Still a *ton* of citrus fruit & avocados on the trees, so hoping they survive. In the bowls, we have - red leaf lettuce, four giant Haas avocados, 8 mandarins, 3 lemons, 4 smaller oranges of unknown variety, and 5 Valencia oranges.

We juiced the oranges & made these orange muffins. Last time I made them, they were amazing. This time, they had a slightly bitter flavor. I wonder if it was because the oranges were too big. Next time I'll add more juice, & peel part of the rind off when using larger oranges.

Since it was chilly, I also made one of my favorite (and incredibly easy) soups - tomato with chicken & gorgonzola. We use feta in place of the gorgonzola, because we always have that on hand.

I also made homemade pizza (taco, a childhood favorite - taco meat, cheddar cheese, mild chiles, topped with fresh tomatoes), Italian chicken sausage/pesto/mushroom pizza. And, since the kids had already had pizza once that day, I made their pizza dough into pigs in a blanket/weiner wraps. They were fantastic! M & I even had wrap. :-)

We took the kids to see the Christmas lights last night, and there was a clear winner. The picture doesn't do it justice, but . . . wow. So much going on! :-)

I also ordered our Christmas cards today, & attempted to make an old family favorite holiday recipe - cardamom bread. My great aunt made it every year until I was in college or so. We would toast it & eat it with butter on Christmas morning. Her version was a yeast bread with cardamom (of course :-)), candied fruit, nuts, & a glaze on top. I finally tracked down the recipe, & gave it a shot. Her instructions (from memory, of course) were a little vague, so it wasn't perfect, but the taste is great, & my house has never smelled better! I still have to add the glaze tomorrow, and then wrap the loaves for the freezer. I plan on bringing them in my suitcase for Christmas with the family, as a surprise. :-) 

Thanks to Carla for hosting!

  • Reading: Nothing. I haven't gotten into any books lately, & I need to fix that. Just the usual mix of blogs these days.
  • Listening to: Christmas music, all weekend.
  • Watching: Nothing. We don't typically watch TV in the evenings.
  • Cooking/Baking: See above! The kitchen was busy all weekend.
  • Happy you accomplished this week: So happy that I finally ordered our holiday cards, & ordered the last gifts. I'm officially done with our shopping.
  • Looking forward to next week: I need to wrap the last couple of gifts, & mail out the cards, & I'll be on to the relaxing part of the holidays. :-)
  • Thankful for today: Having two boys who are just at the perfect age to enjoy the holidays. Love it!
  • Bonus question: What is your favourite Christmas carol? - I like any Bing Crosby song, but am also partial to "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses.
Hope you all have a great week!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Doctors and dentists & a call out for weight loss motivation

It's been a wild week! I finally got Sam in to see a dentist yesterday. He's been having swelling near a crown. It turns out he has an abscess and a huge infection between the crown & the permanent tooth that's trying to come out. The dentist cleaned it up, but referred us to an oral surgeon. We had a consult with the surgeon yesterday, but his computer is down, so he can't schedule us for surgery. Also, this is going to be a very painful extraction, so he has to be fully under for the procedure. I can only imagine how much that will cost. I haven't used our dental insurance through our new employer, so I guess it's time to do some research & see what's covered!

I'm also worried about time away from work. I'm still "new" at my job, and left early yesterday for the dental consults, and worked from home today. . . I had my own doctor's appointment & finally got in to the rheumatology clinic at Stanford. I've been waiting for a few months, and am almost out of medicine, so the timing was good. I loved the two doctors I saw, but going there took three hours, round trip with traffic. Yikes. I had blood drawn to check all of my levels, & the doctor spent close to 90 minutes with me. He was fantastic. He basically confirmed that I'm on the right track with my self management (combined with medicine), but also recommended that I drop my weight by 12 pounds. Although I'm not overweight at my current level, the drug I'm on is the lowest possible dose (my choice, to minimize risk), and works best when a patient is between 130-135 pounds. Something to do with the fat, etc. All I know is, if my choice is to increase my risk of blindness, or to lose 12 pounds to get more out of the medicine I'm already taking. . . well, the choice is clear. The medicine will also hopefully be slightly more effective at 135, which would mean fewer headaches, less muscle aching, & more energy. None of that is a guarantee, but being at the right weight increases that possibility.

Anyway, it's time to get extremely serious about my weight loss. I've been fooling around in the 140s for a good 18 months, so it's now on! I have a follow up appointment in 8 weeks, & my goal is to lose 4 pounds, which I think is reasonable with the holidays.

Again, I have no idea how much this appointment will cost - time to research my new health care plan! I'm on a high deductible plan, with an employer contribution. I chose that hoping that I wouldn't use the full employer contribution (since I started work mid-October) & could roll some over for other years. Who knows if my plan will be successful. :-) I also have close to $2400 in an HSA that my previous employer rolled over for me. 

Fingers crossed that Sam gets in to the surgeon asap! The longer he goes with the infection, the greater his risk is of it spreading to other healthy teeth.

Please give me your number one weight loss tip! I track my calories, work out, & am generally pretty knowledgable about what I eat. So, apparently, it's a motivation problem. :-) 

Where did all of the money go - the November Edition

November was an unusual month - I got my first two (complete) paychecks, as well as my sign on bonus.

Net Income for the month:
Standard income (both me + M) = $12,800
Sign on bonus = $10,080
Total income = $22,880

Total spending for the month = $11,990

The other roughly $10,000 went to our savings account, to save for our anticipated 2013 taxes.

Spending categories (note that for this month, I'm not including our $5,000/month rent in California, as it's our last month of getting reimbursed for our relocation. I'm also not including our rental income from our Seattle house, as the first month mainly goes towards property management fees). Slight errors due to rounding:

  • Seattle house mortgage - $4,124
  • Vacation house mortgage - $2,250
  • Child care - $1,167
  • Seattle house utilities/yard service - $703
  • Christmas - $619
  • Groceries - $499
  • Utilities on our current/California house - $434
  • Cleaning service - $360
  • Gas - $324
  • Boys clothes - $322
  • House - $266
  • Insurance - $231
  • Boys - $194
  • Liquor - $170
  • Dining out - $150
  • Health - $95
  • Personal - $76
  • Car - $24
  • My clothes - -$13
  • Gifts - -$7
Commentary on the spending:


  1. We stuck to our grocery budget!
  2. We spent nothing on vacation house utilities (billing cycle) & boys activities.
  3. I returned a shirt, and spent $0 on clothes.
  4. I used a Nordstrom reward to buy a birthday gift for a friend.
  5. Christmas - we're on track with our spending.
  6. Not noted on our spending, but I managed to max out my retirement. (Most of it was done earlier in the year, but I put $3,500 in to hit the IRS max with my sign on bonus.)
  1. Seattle house utilities. I can't believe how high they were! I can only imagine that the construction crew had all lights blaring 24x7 all day, every day for months at a time. Luckily, our renter has now taken over everything but $160/month, as we're including yard service in the rental arrangement.
  2. Lest you think we're lushes, the liquor budget included an expensive bottle of champagne, & two bottles of wine - all of which we brought to the Thanksgiving we attended.
  3. Boys clothes - we had to buy both kids two new pair of shoes each, and my older son outgrew his entire wardrobe. Underwear, socks, jeans, jackets, you name it.

I think that pretty much sums it up! Lots of areas for improvement in 2014, but we finally have renters for our Seattle house. That should tidy up our cash flow quite a bit.

How about you? How did you do with your November spending? Which categories are you hoping to change in 2014?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December goals

It's the last month of 2013, & I still have a lot to do before the end of the year!

Here are my goals for December:

  1. Complete 1,000 minutes of cardio.
  2. Complete 16 strength workouts (this is my last month hurrah to achieve my 2013 goal!) :-)
  3. Complete 9 stretching workouts, which will put me at 50% of my 2013 goal. Not quite, but I would take it. :-)
  4. Order & mail out all holiday cards.
  5. Figure out all of the logistics of our holiday plans (car rentals, supplies for our vacation house, etc)
  6. Finish all Christmas shopping/wrapping/budget, etc.
  7. Complete our 2013 spending wrap up.
  8. Set goals for 2014.
  9. Set budget for 2014.
  10. Plan spring break.
  11. Declutter our vacation house, so we're ready to list when the time comes.
  12. Choose a fitness race/event to train for.
  13. Have one date night with MR.
  14. Extend myself socially, as I try to make friends & expand my circle with the move. :-)
  15. Roll over my 401K.
  16. Find a dentist & make an appointment! I'm way overdue.
How about you? How are your December goals shaping up? Are you ready?! :-) 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

November Goal Recap

I can't believe it's December (and, I think I say that every month), but here's how I did on my November goals:

  1. Complete 1,000 minutes of cardio - I closed out the month with 909 minutes. I'm very impressed that I was able to build in a new workout routine with my work schedule changing things pretty drastically.
  2. Complete 10 strength workouts - I completed 6 strength workouts.
  3. Complete 8 stretching workouts - I completed 5 stretching workouts.
  4. Have 1 date night with M.- No date "night", but we did meet for lunch three times in November. We spent our date night money on a sitter for Veteran's Day, when we both had to work, but school was out.
  5. Figure out Thanksgiving plans. - Done! The boys wanted to do a Turkey Trot, go to Santa Cruz, hike up to the Stanford Dish, decorate for Christmas, & visit the Winchester Mansion. We did all of this. :-) 
  6. Finish (almost) all of my Christmas shopping. - Yes! I still have just a few last minute things that need to be ordered, but all of my wrapping (that I can do early) is done, and now I just have to finish up my Christmas spreadsheet, to determine the remaining budget that we'll donate to the food bank.
  7. Lose 2 pounds, bringing my weight to 144. - I lost one pound! I'm pretty pleased, given the holidays. :-) I'm at 145.
  8. Rent our house in Washington - DONE!!!!!!!!!!
  9. List our vacation house. - We opted to wait on this, the market is still pretty soft, & we're trying to determine the timing of a sale.
  10. After I get my first paycheck, build a 2014 budget. - I'm about 2/3 of the way there. 

Given that this was my first full month back to work, I'm pleased with how things went. I definitely need to devote more time to working out, and cut my calories back a bit further.

How about you? How did you do on your November goals?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Menu Plan for the Weeks Ahead

Planning a menu helps us keep costs low, minimize work day stress, & also ensures that we eat in, rather than grabbing dinner out.

I'm happy to report that in November, we spent under $500 on groceries! $499.57, to be precise.This is huge for us. :-) Our goal for the month was $540, so it's great to see that we're slowly driving our overall spending down. We had a few expensive months after we moved, & had to restock.

A few things that are keeping our spending low(er):

  • Running to the grocery store after work is rarely possible anymore, due to our schedules. As a result, we do one trip to Costco each weekend, & occasionally I'll go to the produce stand for something during the week. 
  • Free lunches at work during the work week, for me + M, as well as free coffee & breakfast for me. M goes in later, so still drinks coffee/eats breakfast at home. I've always been a lunch packer, & previously took leftovers. Because I'm no longer eating leftovers for lunch, we have more left for dinners, which means both less cooking, & more money savings. Win/win!
  • We continue to menu plan, watch our food waste, & focus on primarily spending our grocery money on: produce, dairy, & meat. We buy  little in the way of snacks.
I premade quite a bit of food before I went back to work, so we are eating our way through those stockpiled freezer meals. Here's what's on the menu for the weeks ahead.

  • Sunday - M's famous grilled cheeseburgers. It's still grilling weather!
  • Monday - tilapia & pasta, as a side dish
  • Tuesday - leftover burgers
  • Wednesday - Tacos (late night, with soccer tryouts)
  • Thursday - Chicken & veggie sautee over rice
  • Friday - Spaghetti & meatballs (Freezer)
  • Saturday - Grilled chicken & pasta
  • Sunday -Homemade pizza
  • Monday - Leftover spaghetti & meatballs
  • Tuesday - Leftover pizza
  • Wednesday - Leftover grilled chicken & pasta
  • Thursday - chicken soft tacos
  • Friday - Tomato, chicken, & gorgonzola soup + homemade bread
  • Saturday - M & I are attending a birthday party, so we'll eat there. The kids will have something quick & easy.
  • Sunday - Risotto
In other news, I made the most amazing butternut squash, goat cheese, & chicken sausage risotto. I doctored a couple of recipes, so I'll try to recreate it into one & post it. It was restaurant quality & absolutely delicious!

How are you doing with your grocery spending? What's helping you control costs at the grocery store?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Funday

It's the last day of vacation before we head back to work (and school, respectively) in our house. We put the tree up yesterday, went to visit the Winchester Mansion (the kids + M - I did some returns in my own version of hell - aka the mall). We wrapped a few gifts this morning (both boys were very excited to wrap), but we can't do much of it, as we're bringing gifts in our suitcases for Christmas, & adding boxes makes them too hard to transport.

M & I only exchange a few small tokens, so I've wrapped his gifts & they are now under the tree. :-)

Unfortunately, when we were unpacking the Christmas decorations, we discovered that the movers did a really terrible job packing the items, & my favorite Christmas decoration (an advent house monogramed with our name), is substantially damaged after the move. This is especially sad because they don't make them anymore. :-(

As for today, we plan to hike up to the Stanford Dish, which will complete all of the things the boys asked to do on our long weekend:

  • Santa Cruz Boardwalk (we did this on Friday)
  • Put up the Christmas tree (yesterday)
  • Visit the Winchester Mansion (yesterday)
  • Hike up to the Stanford Dish (today)
We also bought the game Clue, & have been having a great time teaching the boys how to play. :-)

Here's what else I'm hoping to accomplish today:

  1. Wrap a couple of bigger items that we're not taking on the plane (the boys are getting scooters, but we will give them to them the day we fly out).
  2. Pick all remaining persimmons, as the crows & squirrels are making a giant mess in our yard.
  3. Do yoga
  4. Finish my November goals summary.
  5. Write up December goals.
  6. Make a menu plan.
  7. See if our babysitter is available for a party in two weeks.
  8. Deal with an IRS drama. Oh my. Way back last year, we had to pay back part of an advance from 2011 that was miscategorized as a bonus. We did all of this, paid back the bonus, and eventually had to refile our 2011 taxes, and received a return. Apparently, M's employer at the time, did not file his revised W2, so the refund is due back to the IRS, unless we fill out a mountain of paperwork. I'm so tired of this situation & want it to go away.
I think that will about cover it!

Here's a picture of the view from Thanksgiving. We were invited to join M's cousin's wife's family (got that? :-)) at their home on Thursday, & suffice it to say, the house was amazing. As Nick said, "it's a mansion!" It was pretty terrifying to have my two boys roaming around in a home filled with extremely expensive antiques, but we did make it out without damaging anything!

Hope your Sunday is relaxing! What are your plans for today?