Saturday, March 5, 2011

Date at the Pub

One Thursday night we went to a pub on Post to play pool for one of our active dates. There was hardly anyone there and no one was using the pool tables. We played for about an hour and listened to the great variety of music while trying to act like pros. Next time we go we will probably bring IBC root beer to make our pub experience a little more authentic. We had a great time and didn’t have to spend any money; this is something we will definitely have to do again.

Cost: $0

Beating Ben in pool: Priceless

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another January tradition in Memory of our ancestors

When I was researching Epiphany day I found that some Eastern European countries historically celebrated it on the 19th of January. They focused more on Christ’s baptism and ministry. Traditionally this holiday put a lot of focus on water symbolism and blessing one’s house.

To remember this day, I made a nice fresh salmon dinner and we read about Christ’s baptism by John. Ben also blessed our home. If anyone is interested and would like to learn more about this holiday or more about what Ben and I did to honor this day and our Ancestor’s memories, feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Traditions of our Ancestors (I wrote this a while ago and am just finding time to post it).

January tends to be somewhat of a let down and can be a bit depressing. All the excitement is over and it’s just plain cold. Dark and dreary is a perfect description. Well one day I was talking to my dear grandmother and she mentioned that we needed to do something to spice January up, so I said I would make up a holiday that paid homage to our ancestors. Turns out, I didn’t have to make up a holiday because there is one that already exists. Some of you probably already celebrate this holiday that I simply stumbled upon it is called Epiphany day or Three Kings day. Feel free to take this moment to Wikipedia this January holiday because I’m only going to share my version. After much research and picking and choosing of the aspects I liked, we have a holiday (outside of MLK Day) to celebrate in January. This is a holiday that both Ben’s and my ancestors most likely celebrated.

Let me explain our adaptation of our new tradition. On the 6th of every January we will have a special German cake with a bean hidden inside. Whoever gets the bean will be king or queen for a day. This year I got the bean, which was especially lucky because our bathroom flooded, and I had to do very little to help clean up since Ben wanted to make sure I enjoyed my queen day. During the evening we drank homemade apple cider, ate the German bread and read the story of the wise men in Mathew 2. We also wrote down our own gift to Christ for the year to symbolize the gifts the wise men brought to baby Jesus. We put our pieces of paper in a special box to keep until next year when we plan on reading and evaluating our progress. We hope to get gold, frankinsence, and myrrh to add to our box and further help with the symbolism.

We really enjoyed participating in something that our ancestors probably participated in. It was another way for us to carry the Christmas spirit into the new year, plus I now have a perfectly legitimate reason for keeping my Christmas tree up for an extra 6 days.

If you want more information on how different cultures celebrated/ celebrate Epiphany Day, please email me or leave a comment asking for more info. Ben and I chose certain aspects of the holiday that best represented our own ancestors and adapted it to fit our lives, but we left out some traditions that might appeal to others. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spending Fast Update

I know I have been slacking on the spending fast updates, but I have a perfectly legit reason: my Internet didn't work last week. See?! What's a girl to do?

First off,  I have a few issues with my spending fast.

1. This is my life. We don't spend. Ever. Ben realized that I was calling our lives by a different name pretty early on when he remarked that the spending fast actually changes nothing for us and we still can't buy anything. I guess a rose by any other name is still a rose. 
2. I don't like to blog about things that I have to do to maintain my out of debt existence (not including student loans). It's depressing. It would be much more fun to do this as a growing experience instead of necessity.
3. I have probably spent more this month than any other month. We went out to eat for Valentine's day, which only ended up costing us a few dollars extra since we had the gift cards, but that is still more than we would normally have spent. We also got each other inexpensive gifts, but that is still more than normal. We had to spend money for Ben's deployment supplies, which had to be bought immediately because when the Army says "jump" you say "how high?" It is amazing how much a year supply of all the basics end up costing.

So how have we done? 

I'm not sure. Like I said, we had to spend more money this month than normal. I also had to buy a fast food meal while I was at Youth Conference because I was allergic to both lunch and dinner. We buy our groceries every 2-4 weeks depending on sales etc. I decided to just buy for the month not including perishables. I initially spent $128.31 including perishables for the first 2 weeks. After that, we made several purchases of forgotten but necessary items and perishables that brought the total to $144.76. My dinner at youth conference cost $5.54, which brings my total to $150.30. This leaves me with $9.70 for this week. I'm confident that I can finish and meet my goal of $160 or under for the month. I probably should have lowered my goal amount to make it more interesting. I should have made it a lot more painful because we are still pretty comfortable and didn't really have to think about it much.

 Things I do to save money

1. Make your own bread. I don't eat bread, but Ben does. He is pretty happy buying the $.99 loaf but there is a ton of crap in that bread, and it is poor quality, so I make better bread for him.

2. We don't buy cereal. Most days we eat oatmeal that comes in the big thingy (not individually packaged). You can flavor your oatmeal a ton of different ways, so it provides variety and it is so much more filling than cereal. If you want to know some of my oatmeal concoctions just comment or email me. I also make eggs, muffins, pancakes, crepes, grits or whatever else strikes our fancy on a given day.

3. I buy my eggs at Walgreens. I know this sounds strange, but Walgreens will frequently advertise $.99 eggs. I go there and stock up because their printed expiration date is usually a month or so away. I buy a ton of eggs at once, and that lasts until the next egg sale.

4. I don't buy packaged/ heavily processed food. If I want a cookie, I have to whip up a batch, which certainly makes you think twice about your cravings. I even make my tortillas from scratch, but I still buy my noodles.

5. I don't buy ground beef or beef. Most of our meals consist of ground turkey. Our meal breakdown turns out to be something like fish 2x/month, sausage 2x/month, pork 2x/month, and chicken 2-3x/month. Everything else is turkey or vegetarian give or take a meal or two depending on sales and special occasions.

6. I don't buy soda or juice. Our exception for this is OJ. Ben loves OJ, so I buy him the more expensive OJ. Otherwise I make and drink herbal ice tea (about 1.40 for 4 qts+ unless I have a coupon)  and Ben drinks powdered Gatorade when we want something besides water. Every Monday I make a big pitcher of each to last throughout the week. I also have a juicer, so when I want something like apple cider, or a healthy juice, I can make it on my own.

7. I've downgraded my toilet paper. I used to use Charmin Ultra Soft, now I use Whatever is cheapest but doesn't fall in the sand paper category and is still 2 ply.

8. When I run out of my old cleaning supplies, I use vinegar and backing soda. I only buy cleaning supplies for the bathroom because I'm anal. I also have a supply of Shaklee that has lasted a while.

9. I don't window shop. I only go into stores when I need something. I haven't been to a mall since I've arrived in TX.

10. We only eat out once a month. I freeze leftovers in individually portioned sizes, so when I don't feel like cooking we have a good healthy and hearty meal ready to go.

11. We come up with cheap, if not free, date ideas so we don't get bored sitting around. Plus we play a lot of board games.

12. I'm brand specific on very few items. This makes it easier to use coupons

13. I buy on sale and use coupons. When it comes to household items, I get those things on sale and with my coupons. Sometimes Walgreens will have a great sale price for an item. You can use their coupon and a manufacturers coupon on top of the sale price. This helps for things like toothpaste and contact solution or whatever. I was able to buy a year's supply of All hypoallergenic laundry detergent for $14. I also know how to make laundry detergent for the same price.  

14. I meal plan. I plan out all my meals on a chart. This makes grocery shopping easier but also keeps me from wondering what to make for dinner and then deciding not to make anything.

15. We don't have cable. We can get most of our shows online and others will eventually show up on Netflix, if we are still interested. During football season, Ben would listen to the game over the internet most of the time. If it was a game he really wanted to see, he would buy a soft drink and sit at the bar at Applebee's. $2 certainly beats the $50+ that cable costs. Now if only we could live without the Internet. 

Doing these things and more has helped us live within our means and still enjoy life. We have a great time together. My philosophy is "If we don't have it, we can live without it." Telling myself that when we first started cutting back really helped. Eventually you stop thinking about what you can't do with what you don't have and start thinking about all you can do with all that you do have. It was great when we sat down to make our Christmas lists and couldn't really think of anything that we really wanted or needed. I know that I'm really grateful for the opportunity we have had to truly assess our needs and wants. I know we could do even better than what we are doing now if we really wanted. I'm keenly aware of the many things that we still have or buy that we could most certainly live without, but I'm also thankful that I don't have to do without for the time being.

Anyway these are a few of the things that we do. If you are interested in knowing more or just want some good cheap recipes, let me know. Feel free to leave a comment about your money saving techniques. I don't plan on posting anything else about the spending fast. I'm thinking that in March  I want to start a thing where I get rid of 1 item  everyday in March. Anyone interested?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Snow Day!!!

We had a snow day not too long ago. It was pretty awesome. Ben did not have to go to work so we slept in and then made a snowman. It took us a long time to make since the snow was too powdery and there wasn’t a ton of snow to work with, but in the end victory was ours. I’m pretty happy with the results even though the red eyes make him look a little like a creeper. Maybe that is why a kid stomped him to pieces and ended his life early. Oh well.

P.S I'm pretty sure this is my shortest post ever.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday

Ben turned 27 on January 30th, isn’t he old?. At the marriage retreat a couple we met surprised Ben with a pastry and organized the whole banquet hall to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. It was so sweet! When we got home that night, it was too late for me to make his birthday dinner and cake, so we just had one of our frozen meals and played a board game of Ben’s choice. We ended up playing Babel, which is a great strategy game for two. After drinking sparkling cider and eating chocolate for dessert, he opened his presents. My parents gave him Fifa 2011 for the Wii, and I gave him a cordless mouse ( I know your jealous). I also gave him my old set of laser tag equipment that I had from when I was a kid. My mom graciously sent the set to me so that I could give it to him. Laser tag equipment is pretty expensive for a brand new set, so I was so glad that my parents still had my old set. He was pretty excited about all of his gifts, and I know that he will have a lot of fun with the laser tag. He really likes to play laser tag and now we can play whenever he wants.

On Monday I made Ben’s steak dinner and chocolate mouse cake with chocolate ganache. Unfortunately, right before everything finished cooking he got called to CQ. Someone forgot to tell him that there was a schedule change and he was supposed to be there from 6:30pm to 9am. Needless to say, I was not happy. I had spent forever preparing the dinner and cake. I even made the cake twice seeing as I have mad skills and knocked the first one off the counter and all over the kitchen. Fortunately, Ben’s friend covered the first two hours of CQ duty and we were able to eat before he left.

I almost started to forget the disorganization of the military after the marriage retreat, but luckily I was swiftly corrected. That’s the military for you, always screwing up your plans. Fortunately it worked out in the end.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marriage Retreat

Over the weekend of January 30th (also known as Ben’s Birthday), Ben and I decided to participate in a very lovely and very free marriage retreat. We traveled three long hours to a beautiful and relatively secluded resort in San Antonio. The trip consisted of 2 nights and 3 days in the Hyatt resort with all meals provided for FREE (paid for by the Army). Of course we had to sit through 8 hours of marriage workshops, but it is was well worth it, and due to my participation, I won us enough books to constitute a mini marriage library.

When we first arrived we were a little unimpressed with our sleeping arrangements not because the rooms weren’t nice or anything, but because we had a room with 2 double beds instead of one king size bed. Ben was all like “Well at least it is free,” and I was all, “I don’t care our bed at home is better, this is not going to work unless you want to sleep alone.” Turns out, when put like that he agreed with me, so I found someone to rectify the situation. We were able to move into a more suitable room once I explained to the facilitator that I didn’t think they wanted us sleeping separately on the marriage retreat because I certainly wasn’t going to cram into 1 double and let the other bed go to waste. Our new room even had a balcony with a beautiful view looking out over the courtyard.

When we weren’t in classes we found plenty of other things to do around the hotel since our goal was to not spend any money outside of gas and not use electronics outside of occasionally watching CNN and SNL (We don’t have cable at home). As a tradition the hotel allows guests roast s’mores in the huge fireplace in the entrance, which was pretty exciting. During free time we borrowed bikes from the hotel and went for a ride through the nature trail. We also spent time laying in a hammock, playing tether-ball, and chatting with new friends. Saturday night they showed Fireproof, which surprisingly enough turned out to be a good film on marriage and relationships*. Both nights we had plenty of free time, so I dragged Ben to the beautiful hot tubs despite his complaints of 50 degrees being too cold (What happened to my Chicago guy???). The hot tubs were huge and had beautiful waterfalls. I loved it.

I’m glad we went. Even though we didn’t learn a lot from the lectures we did get a few extra tips. Despite the fact that I think Ben and I have a pretty awesome relationship, we are always open to learning how to make it better. This retreat was kind of like a mini vacation and we love vacations. Vacations always do wonders for our own personal well being as well as our relationship. If you get the chance to go on something like this, I say take it. It is well worth it.

*I enjoyed the film, but I still had to put aside Kirk Cameron’s bad acting and the somewhat contrived religious message. It was a lot better than expected. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spending Fast 2011!!!

Sedona: A possible vacation destination

A friend did a spending fast last year and documented it on her blog. I thought it was brilliant. Although I didn't read about her experience until a month after she did it, I knew I wanted to do it in 2011. The time is now. I originally planned to do this in March, but she preempted my slight procrastination by initiating a challenge in February, so I am rising to the occasion.

What is a spending fast? Simply put: don't spend money. ever. You can pay your bills, fuel your car, and feed your family but that's it. As for feeding your family, you are on a tight budget. My friend sets a limit of $50 a week in groceries and no fast food. I am setting a slightly tighter budget of $160 for the month. Ben and I already lead a relatively frugal existence, so the $160 presents more of a challenge and that is what this is about: The challenge. I'm not going to lie, I'm hoping to add a little more money to our pre-deployment vacation fund, but I also want to push myself to get creative and think outside of the box when it comes to dealing with our budget. As far as gas, we are hoping to use our gas conservatively.

Valentine's will be our only outside expense. I certainly considered not really celebrating V-day, but Ben will be deployed during V-day next year, so I feel comfortable making a reasonable exception. This exception will most likely include homemade cards, dinner paid for with gift cards, and an exchange of thoughtful gifts that fall within a $15 price limit.

I will post updates on our progress as well as savings tips that I already employ along with new ones I learn throughout my journey. If you want to join in, please leave a comment so we can keep up with each other. I will probably do this until the middle of March.

Monday, February 7, 2011

52 weeks of personal history: New Year’s traditions

I wrote this post a few weeks ago but trouble with the internet preventing me from posting.

My family has never been super big on New Year’s traditions. When my sister and I were younger, right after midnight we would run around the house like mad fools trying to be the first to touch, use, or kiss this or that item in the new year, but that is pretty much the extent of our traditions. In one of the more recent years I got out pots and pans and banged on them inside the house and out in the streets to ring in the year with my little brother and sister. This year we did something completely new. My little sister, Taytum, and I made popcorn balls and bread together (using my brand new stand mixer). Afterward we all played the new WII that we got for Christmas. Then around 11:55 we turned on the TV to watch the ball drop. Once the clock struck midnight, we called family while we drank sparkling cider and ate black-eyed peas. We had so much fun! I look forward to following that tradition every year. Normally we eat the black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, but I think I enjoy doing it at midnight. I suppose it doesn’t matter when we get to eat them as long as it happens at some point. The Black eyed peas are supposed to bring luck and money in the New Year, so we put some in our tummy and 3 dried beans in our wallets.

This New Year Ben and I decided to set some goals for the year. We made a couple goals last year and really enjoyed the results, so we have decided to expand on that general idea. Basically we picked several categories to set goals in. Our categories: financial, spiritual, relationship, physical, and individual.
There are a few that I will probably post more about than others. One of our relationship goals is to have at least two active dates a month. By active, we mean dates where we can actually take pictures and record the event with our brand spanking new camcorder. We are hoping to capture, record, and further document these dates so that we can have specific memories to draw upon when Ben deploys. We want to create a sort of date memory book for each of us before he leaves. I also want to share one of our goals in the spiritual category since I will probably be posting recipes/ pictures for this one. We have decided that I will cook at least one fully nutritional yet vegetarian/vegan meal a week. This is in the spiritual category because we want to follow the Word of Wisdom more fully by eating meat sparingly.

What goals and resolutions did you come up with this year?

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lull between Christmas and New Year’s

There was no lull for us this year. We flew into TX on the Monday after Christmas and were off to Dallas to pick up my family the following day. I do have to say, I’m not used to this small town living. We are 1.5 hours from Austin, 2.5 from San Antonio, and 3 from Dallas. We are right in the middle of nowhere. I call it Texas’s butt hole, but maybe that is not appropriate to put on my blog. I guess you should just ignore that previous sentence if it offends. The point is, it was a very long trip to get my family and come back. The trip was made even longer by the fact that we got lost, and it rained the entire time.

Once we successfully brought my family back to our lovely government living quarters, we had a grand ole time. I can’t remember much of what we did, but I do know that we spent a lot of time driving around because apparently we didn’t get enough driving on the 7 hour trip to and from Dallas. While they were here we did happen upon a lovely little German Imbiss. This place has wonderful and authentic German food. We ended up eating there twice in the three full days that my family visited. I also took them to the deer neighborhood. I was so excited to show them this cool neighborhood. So excited, in fact, that it prompted my mom to relentlessly tease me over my giddiness (who am I kidding? My mom does not need prompting).
So what is so special about this neighborhood? The DEER!!! It’s not that I haven’t seen deer before, because I’ve seen plenty and that’s not even counting petting zoo style. There is just something about this neighborhood (I’m guessing the woods directly behind it) that attracts so many deer at any given moment. You can drive through this neighborhood in the day or at night and there will be about 20 deer just chillin’ in people’s yards. If you wanted to, you could probably even stick your hand outside your car and pet one. Not that we did, because that’s just gross, but if you wanted to, you could.

Since I was unable to attend my family’s Christmas, we had Christmas again.
After our large breakfast and some wonderful apple cider that I made from scratch, we sat around the Christmas tree and exchanged gifts.
Later that night we went to see this really cool Christmas light show that they put on at a nearby lake and camping ground site. It was very nice. It probably took us about an hour to drive through the entire thing.

Although we spent New Year’s Eve with my family too, I’m going to save that post for another time. I really enjoyed the time that we got to spend with my family. Much like our trip to Minnesota, this visit was just too short. I also wish that my Dad and sister, Brittney, could have visited as well. I can’t wait to see my family again, but I’m thankful for the time I was able to spend with my mom and my two adorable siblings.

Here are a few more pics from my family's visit including our trip to the First Cavalry Museum.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

African American Genealogy

I have decided to focus my genealogical intentions on my dad's side of the family. I am starting with Huell and Walls; the names of my grandmother and grandfather respectively. This is proving to be a lot more difficult than I thought. My grandparents know very little about their parents and ancestors. I was able to get partial names from them and approximate death dates. My grandmother was able to give me some locations, which is helpful, but they know a lot more about cousins, aunts and uncles than direct ancestors. I never realized how difficult this was going to be. Fortunately, I have made some headway and have been able to find information that they didn't even know. My grandmother is enjoying the different things that I am finding, especially about her mother's line, since she died when my grandmother was only 4 months old. Another thing that has helped me has been the stories I did for the Advent Calendar. My grandmother unknowingly gave me a bunch of details that I have been able to use to form a partial time line. She doesn't even realize she knows these things until I point them out. I guess that is the power of story telling. You get so immersed in the memory that you are able to access information that you didn't even know you had stored. There are certain pieces of information that can only be accessed through the process of telling a story.

Anyway, the real point of this post was to share this helpful video for people starting out on their African American genealogy adventure. It may not be super helpful. I'm actually partial to Darius Gray because I have read the books he has authored with Margaret Blair Young and watched their movie called "Nobody knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons" when they screened it in Hyde Park. Ben and I even got to Chauffeur them around after church. Do I sound like a groupy? Anyway, it is helpful if you are starting out on this journey. I hope you enjoy it!

No Fork In This Branch

I recently jumped into (what I consider) real genealogy. This interest was prompted by a closeness and familiarity I've felt to one of my ancestors named Mariah Elkins Loy. I contacted my grandmother about her. My grandmother is a genealogist and pretty good with all of that sort of stuff. We started digging around and found out a few more things that helped us flush out Mariah's story.

Once we figured out that little mystery, I started looking through my family tree that my grandmother has on I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but then I found something. I found a name that looked familiar. That's when I remembered Ben's mother telling us about a women named Mary Hooker in their family line. I couldn't remember exactly what she said about her because I was wondering why she decided to tell me about this women, when I should have been listening to the story instead. I do remember that at some point during her story I interjected with "What an unfortunate name." Anyway, the point is I'm glad Kathie told us the story, even though I'm the only one who remembers it, because we found out that my family and Ben's are related. You have to go back to the 1600's to find it, but it's there. I guess that is not really anything to be super excited about. I should probably be more creeped out by it actually. The thing is, you would never think that Ben's pure line of blonde hair and blue eyed direct descendants of Mayflower riding ancestry would ever cross paths in such a large way with my mutt mixture. Our lines even follow each other for a couple of generations!

Isn't that just fascinating...and slightly creepy. Of course, I embrace the creep factor by calling Ben cousin.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Christmas in Minnesota

For the first time ever, I spent Christmas away from my family. Luckily, no huge disaster occurred, I didn’t melt or anything. Anyway I was more likely to freeze in the Minnesota snow. Speaking of freezing, I learned that frogs freeze in the Minnesota winter and then come spring they thaw out and continue living their lives. Is it possible for me to do the same thing when Ben deploys?
We enjoyed our time in Minnesota. While we were there we went to the temple, which was really nice because instead of driving 3 hours we only had to drive about 15 minutes. I especially enjoyed Christmas Eve. The whole thing turned out to be quite a mystery. I kept asking people what sort of family traditions they had for Christmas Eve, and nobody seemed to remember what exactly they do every Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t until we got over to Ben’s brother’s place that the mystery was revealed. It was rather lovely. We had a nice Christmas dinner and gathered together for a spiritual devotional that they accented with illustrations of the story of Christ’s birth and Christmas hymns that we all sang together. Ben and I really enjoyed the wonderful spirit that we felt as we participated in this tradition and look forward to adding something similar to our own families repertoire of traditions.

Christmas day was certainly a completely different experience for me. The kids opened Santa’s gifts, and then we paused everything and ate breakfast. Breakfast was very good. We ate yummy breakfast burritos and sweet rolls.
After breakfast and phone calls to family, we opened the rest of our Christmas presents one at a time in order of birth. The rest of the day was very relaxed. Ben and I stayed in our pajamas all day as part of our own family tradition. We didn’t have a big dinner, but a lot of snacking on junk food throughout the day. The kids got to eat anything they wanted whenever they wanted on Christmas day including soda for breakfast. This most definitely has its ups and downs.
1.After eating so much junk food, I ended up very sick on the flight and trip back to TX.
2. I never felt fully satisfied even though it felt like I was constantly eating.
1. We got to eat stuff I wouldn't normally buy.
2. I don’t want to eat such fatty fried food for a very long time (maybe not until next Christmas). This is worth two on its own :)

Ben and I had a lot of fun spending time with the family in Minnesota. Both of us felt like the trip was way too short. This is by far my favorite visit to MN, and as a result I’m now fancifully considering living there after our stint in the Military.