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Archive for June, 2012

June 30 fitness results; the end of CC rewards?; a timely windfall

June 30th, 2012 at 09:46 pm

10-min. workout: 20 min. cumulative biking during grocery shopping (some of it with a heavy backpack)
Final monthly tally: 24 out of 30 days

Calorie counting: Estimated 2240. (My target is 1280-1400.) I'm hoping I overestimated (was at a party and ordered delivery, so it's harder to tell), but I think this is about right. Man, it is SO easy to overdo it on any kind of festive day.
Final monthly tally: 28 out of 30 days (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Not so much. We came home from a party and ordered food; at least I kept it to much more of a minimum
Final monthly tally: 27 out of 30 days


I was looking for credit cards with good cash rewards that we haven't applied for, and there are very little. I almost had AS sign up for a Chase Sapphire double-dip before I even find out if mine worked, but this time I noticed explicit notes in the Ts & Cs about how it was for first-time customers only. So I didn't bother. Interested to see whether I get mine now.

So we've signed up for a Citi Dividend (one for NT and one for AS; $150 back for spending $500) and I for a Capital One ($100 back for spending $500). I'm going to apply for the same Citi Dividend as soon as I close a Citi card I already have open. Together, this may mean $550 back for spending collectively $2000.

But after that, there will be NO publicly mentioned large CC cash rewards with no annual fee that we haven't all three applied for. So I think we'll take it easy, scaling back to one or two cards per person, and just earn the regular rewards. (Unless the big money-makers come back, of course.)


Friday our June 30 paychecks hit, and I noticed NT's extra pay didn't show up. $150 possibly down the drain, if they don't pay him for it on his regular paycheck. However, the financial gods smiled on us and sent AS a $415 refund check from the doctor regarding the pregnancy/labor. That more than made the shortfall of NT not getting paid for that day. We weren't expecting this AS refund so it's as good as money to us. I'll use it to take some of the bite out of this year's necessary expenses.

I'm practically falling asleep as I write this, so I'll give my monthly goals tomorrow.

June 29 fitness results

June 29th, 2012 at 06:56 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! Went down and up the stairs of my condo for 10 minutes.
Results so far: 23/29 (23 out of 29 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1952. (My target is 1280-1400.) Whoops! Going to a food truck for lunch really blew it for me.
Results so far: 27/29 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Not even tempted.
Results so far: 26/29

Pretty pleased with my work this month, and with my better level of fitness, but not so much the scale. I know the scale is only part of the story, but you'd think the weight would come off if I increase my activity and decrease my eating. Sigh. We'll see how I feel at my weigh-in Sunday night.

June 28 fitness results

June 29th, 2012 at 08:58 am

10-min. workout: Yes! Hopped on the Wii Fit for 17 minutes of step aerobics, hula-hooping and boxing.
Results so far: 22/28 (22 out of 28 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1406. (My target is 1280-1400.) Nice! Two light days in a row. If I don't blow it this weekend, hopefully I'll show some nice weight loss at my Sunday weigh-in.
Results so far: 26/28 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Not even tempted.
Results so far: 25/28

June 27 fitness results + several pieces of good money news

June 28th, 2012 at 02:14 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! A mix of various strength-training exercises.
Results so far: 21/27 (21 out of 27 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1062. (My target is 1280-1400.) Whaa? It really felt like a normal eating day with a slightly heavy dinner, but I checked my guesstimates a couple of times and didn't forget anything. AS pointed out dinner had a bunch of fiber-rich root vegetables, so maybe they made me feel more full.
Results so far: 25/27 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Even though I knew I was under my calorie count, I just felt no urge to do so.
Results so far: 24/27


You know how Thriftorama says she just has to post a wish on her SA blog and it will come true? I just have to whine about not having enough money to make money mysteriously come my way. Smile

First, I got a letter that our mortgage escrow payment is going down by $1.70 per month. Not much, but I'll take it!

Then, AS had her annual review and learned she'll get a $2,000 raise (and 6 more vacation days!) starting after parental leave is up! I usually calculate we'll get 50% of a raise, since otherwise the tax bite tends to be over my estimate. This way it's always better news than I plan. Wink So I'm estimating another $84 per month in the budget!

And finally, NT let me know that he'll be working a Saturday, which isn't fun, but they'll pay him for it since he's only working three regular days that week. Also, he reminded me that since their fiscal year (and thus their paid time off) resets in July, he'll go back to full pay sooner than I had calculated. Estimated one-time cash influx from this: about $479!

All this extra money is getting socked away for healthcare expenses, which is fine because it makes our upcoming expenses that much less scary! Smile

As for AS's raise, once we learn what our mortgage payment will adjust to in November (should find out around the end of September), we can see whether we'll need that money to cover a higher mortgage payment or can allot it to something else.

PS: Phew, I would've lost this entry except I always Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C before I hit Save and Publish.

Big brain dump: fitness results, debt goal reached, and more.

June 27th, 2012 at 10:12 am

First, fitness results for the past two days:

June 25

10-min. workout: NO! I've been uber busy and hopefully burning some calories, but haven't had time or energy left at the end of the day for a workout.
Results so far: 20/25 (20 out of 25 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1522. (My target is 1280-1400.)
Results so far: 23/25 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success!
Results so far: 22/25

June 26

10-min. workout: Nope. Same as above.
Results so far: 20/26

Calorie counting: Estimated 1567.
Results so far: 24/26

No night snacks: Success!
Results so far: 23/26


AS's student loan payment hit. Also, some money from the UPromise program hit! (I signed up for it but don't really get how to use it, but apparently I managed to rack up about $15 that transferred over to AS's student loan. Sweet!) All told, $142 went to principal. That means we paid $1069 of debt this month, exceeding the $1000 goal. Yippee! I'll take what I can get, because it's been a rough summer financially and it's only going to continue.


As I mentioned, we've had an expensive couple months and more to come, which is kind of painful when we're on reduced pay and already trimmed extra debt repayment and most travel out of the budget. We've got dental surgery and one other outpatient surgery for NT coming up, $700 for the teeth and $?? for the other. We've gotten insurance letters indicating we might owe about $2000 more for SL's birth -- darn! We'd already paid over a grand and I was kind of hoping that would be it. We have $2500 in our medical EF and another couple hundred in the checking account allotted to medical, but it looks like we're going to be wiped out completely and still have to come up with more money somehow. Years of medical savings have been decimated in just a few months, thanks also to my teeth problems, my skin problems and the cat's UTIs.

We also need to replace a window which is going to be about $300. Desperately hoping to cashflow that somehow so we don't have to resort to using our EF, which already is less than we started the year with.

One fun expense that's scheduled and we do have the money for, but isn't set in stone, is an August road trip (about $600 for hotel and car combined). Worse comes to worst, we could cancel that and harvest that money, but it's one of the few fun mini-trips we're able to take this year, so I'm hoping we find another way.

I'll be super glad when parental leave is over (in terms of money)! Then we'll have a big travel budget and big extra debt repayment line item, both of which can be dipped into when absolutely necessary for other things. Meanwhile, we just have to figure out a way to pay for everything.

I do have a small travel budget surplus since it sounds like none of my siblings are taking me up on the offer to fly them out here for a visit. (The one that is coming insisted on paying for everything herself.) I was hoping to keep it all for travel or other fun activities (like hiring babysitters for date nights), but the way things are going it might have to go toward yucky bills instead.

I also thought we should try to tap some credit card offers to ease the pain of the above. NT had $105 from a recent credit card so I'll put that toward medical expenses. If my Chase Sapphire double-dip works, I should be getting $400 in August that I can hopefully use to help pay these bills.

I asked NT and AS to each apply for a Citi Dividend card, which has a good $150 bonus if you spend $500. If they're both approved, that's another $300 we can use to these expenses. I might apply for that card, too, if it's still available once I'm done qualifying for my Chase Sapphire reward. If not, Capital One usually has a $100 bonus if you spend $500 offer available, and that would be better than nothing. Heck, the amount we're needing to spend, I might as well apply for the Citi AND the CapOne! If I did that and was approved, that would be another $250 we could put toward the medical fund.

Unfortunately, I think if any of us get holiday bonuses at least some of it will need to go toward bolstering our savings. It sucks to see it take such a nosedive! This is the first time it's happened this much since we even started HAVING savings (which granted has only been a couple years).


Anyhow, on a brighter note, I've started implementing some of your excellent suggestions about rearranging the house! I decided to start with the kitchen, since that was something I could do on my own. Some of the others will need the input and skills of NT and AS to complete.

I Freecycled some stuff (the George Foreman grill, the fondue set, some extraneous dishes) and rearranged a lot of the cabinets. I adhered to the no-mixing-food-and-utensils rule that some of you suggested. Sometimes a cabinet will have mixed use, but each shelf at least has a discrete purpose.

I moved a lot of the countertop stuff into cabinets, moved the coffee stuff into a corner where it's less imposing, and cleaned everything but the daycare calendar and the menu off the fridge. I moved AA's sippy cups into the cupboard and put away that big glass bowl they were in. I moved silverware and napkins over closer to the table and dishwasher, and the coffee appliances are now directly under the coffee itself. Everything makes a lot more sense and the surfaces look a lot cleaner. I'm holding off photos because we need to get some different sizes of storage containers for some of the stuff that moved, so I want to wait until the interior of the cupboards looks more organized. Plus we're still in the process of Freecycling and getting rid of things, so some of the surfaces are temporarily cluttered with stuff that's about to go away. When I do post, I think you'll all be pleased!

I also decluttered AA's toy shelf to some extent and hid the free-weights that were visible under the couch. We're still going to try and store stuff under the couch and bed, and we're going to test out covering the shelves with fabric we already have. If we like the effect but the fabric doesn't quite go with the room, then we'll know it's worth investing in some better-matching fabric. We just have to buy some Velcro and cut the fabric to try it out. (And AS will probably want to hem the fabric so it doesn't look too rough.) I'll post pics as soon as we get this all done.

That's all for now! I have to go tackle a big pile o' work.

Fitness results for June 22-24

June 24th, 2012 at 07:29 pm

June 23

10-min. workout: Yes! Biked 16 mins.
Results so far: 19/22 (19 out of 22 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1543. (My target is 1280-1400.) Not too bad considering one of my meals was from Burger King on the road!
Results so far: 20/22 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success!
Results so far: 20/22

June 23
10-min. workout: Yes! Did a melange of crunches, squats, jumping jacks, etc.
Results so far: 20/23

Calorie counting: Estimated 2136. What can I say? Vacation eating.
Results so far: 21/23

No night snacks: Failed, sadly. It wasn't late night snacking, but I had a choco-dipped pretzel, a peanut butter meltaway, and a cherry cream soda. Enough for a meal on their own!
Results so far: 20/23

June 24
10-min. workout: No, I don't think I'm going to manage today. I'm headachey and unmotivated.
Results so far: 20/24

Calorie counting: Estimated 2373. Two killers: Belgian waffles for breakfast & pecan pie for lunch dessert.
Results so far: 22/24

No night snacks: Success! Just counting up today's calories made me lose any temptation to add more.
Results so far: 21/24

Well, I just weighed in and my weight held steady, so at least I restrained myself enough to not lose ground. Vacations are hard!

June 21 fitness results; gearing up for (hopefully) low-key vacation

June 21st, 2012 at 10:16 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I was making a casserole, so while it was baking I jumped into my exercise clothes and did 5 minutes of jump-roping and 5 minutes of lower-body weight training.
Results so far: 18/21 (18 out of 21 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1387. (My target is 1280-1400.) I can't believe it -- I had wine AND a night snack (one of my allowed exceptions), and still came under my top number. In fact, without wine and a snack I was at less than 1100, and didn't even feel hungry. But I figured it wouldn't pay to go too far below my target, so I deliberately added some calories.
Results so far: 19/21 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Since I was so far under my calorie goal, I did have an apple with dollops of peanut butter, but those are within my challenge parameters.
Results so far: 19/21


Tomorrow we're off on one of our brief, cheap vacations we've planned this year. Leaving around 5 p.m., we'll have drive-through for dinner and arrive at the cabin hopefully by 8. We're going to English Castle's state, just across the border, to some riverside cabins near Buffalo City, Wisconsin. Checkout is 10 am Sunday, and then we'll just make our leisurely way back home, maybe stopping off at some places (scenic or cheese-selling!) along the way.

This was going to coincide with the CSA farm's strawberry social, but with the weird weather their strawberries peaked too early and they moved the social up to last weekend. We'd already made plans for the Governor's Mansion & Father's Day, so we decided to just keep this cabin and find something else to do. We'll be looking for pick-your-own farms nearby; I've already printed out directions to one.

Other than that, we're bringing pancake fixin's, spaghetti & a jar of tomato sauce, and some veggie hot dogs w/ buns & condiments. We have to pick up our CSA share before we leave, so we'll bring some of the more perishable veggies with us and have them with either the spaghetti or the wienie roast.

It's SL's first trip away from home overnight, so we're looking for a low-key trip. We did the same when AA was about this age; we went to a nearby small city overnight just to test that we could do it. Honestly it's not as stressful this time because we're so much more practiced at being parents. They won't have a travel crib at the cabin, so we're just bringing the Moses basket that SL sleeps in most of the time. AA will be fine on a low bed or on the floor, depending on how the cabin looks.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter when we get on the road, so we haven't done much prep. But I'm hoping to get off early (summer hours) and be ready to hit the road by 5 pm. I suppose that means I should stop nattering and get ready for bed. Smile

Thank you thank you thank you! It's been an amazing 5 years for me

June 21st, 2012 at 11:01 am

Today is my 5-year blogoversary! I'm such a dork I put it on my calendar so I wouldn't miss another one. Wink

As many of you know, I started this blog in pretty bad shape. My shape's not perfect yet, maybe never will be, but I'm so much more in control of my finances, my current cashflow is great, and my future actually looks pretty stable!

This blog has been instrumental because it's given me a place to be accountable for my decisions, to weigh and sort various notions and find the ones that work best for my family and our financial health.

If I were just blogging in a vacuum it may have been much harder. It's the give-and-take, the respectful criticism, the heartfelt praise, and the feeling that attention is being paid that has made it easy to keep blogging here.

So THANK YOU. You helped save me and my family!

June 20 fitness results

June 20th, 2012 at 09:41 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I did an upper-body free-weights workout and some crunches.
Results so far: 17/20 (17 out of 20 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1570. (My target is 1280-1400.) True story: My food count came to EXACTLY 1400 calories. The wine I had with dinner (and during my kitchen photo session) was what did me in.
Results so far: 18/20 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! I feel a bit peckish but I don't want to go over my calorie range any more than I already have.
Results so far: 18/20

Kitchen storage pics

June 20th, 2012 at 05:46 pm

I can't believe I did this. LOL. snafu asked for it! This makes me tired just looking at it. Smile Of course you don't have to pore over all of these, but if you see anything that jumps out at you that you'd like to comment on, feel free. But as stated before, be gentle. This is our home that we love! Smile

To make sure I photographed EVERYthing, I first opened all my cabinets and doors. So then I had to take a photo of that. I don't know if it gets across just how weird it looked:

These are the drawers within the kitchen island. They hold 1) large utensils, measuring cups & spoons, 2) foil, saran wrap, potholders, etc., 3) pens, pads, random tools, etc. (junk drawer).

This is AS's baking cabinet, also under the kitchen island, holding mixing bowls, cooling racks, cookie cutters, sifter, etc.

The big double cabinet under the kitchen island holds pots & pans, pot lids, cutting boards, colanders and steamers.

This hard-to-reach cabinet is over the fridge. It holds seldom-used things: fondue pot, cupcake carrier, deep fryer. We do use these things, but only once or twice a year. I also see a couple bowls and a baggie cleaner that we haven't used in a long time. In front of it we've put the food processor as well as AS's pumping bags, bottles and other supplies.

This cabinet is over the microwave to the right of the fridge. Bottom shelf: bowls and plates. Middle shelf: coffee, tea, some baking ingredients. Top shelf: pasta maker, tortilla press, tortilla holder, kitchen scale, more baking ingredients.

This is the corner cabinet. Bottom shelf: cookbooks. Middle shelf: cookbook holder, some baking supplies, straws, some snacks for the toddler. Top shelf: crockpot, plastic cups, milk steamer/thermometer that might be for the espresso machine.

This cabinet is between the corner one and the sink. Mostly condiments, plus two martini pitchers.

Cabinet over the sink. As you can see, cups, mugs, cocktail glasses.

The cabinet to the right of the sink, over the dishwasher. Spices, canned foods, Asian noodles, drink mix. (We worked VERY hard to find a spice cabinet arrangement that worked for us; this one is pretty functional compared with our other attempts.)

Under the sink (the child-safety cupboard): cleaning supplies & garbage bags.

The drawers to the right of the fridge under the microwave. Bottom: napkins, some random tools like potato ricer, funnels, etc. Middle: bulk foods such as grains, beans, nuts & dried berries. Top: utensils.

This is the lazy-susan cabinet under the corner counter. Large space but very hard to get into the depths of it. Close-up pics to follow.

Right side of lazy-susan cabinet: cereal, cat food, pastry board

Left side of lazy-susan cabinet: tupperware, more cereal, bibs. In the lazy susan are pasta, pitchers, lunch containers.

Middle of lazy-susan cabinet: waffle iron, George Foreman, oh and some Girl Scouts cookies we seem to have forgotten about. Smile

Cabinet above the stove: high up, but not impossible to get to if you drag a chair in. Chips, breakfast bars, salad bowl, popcorn bowl, salad spinner, serving bowls. A bunch of lesser-used but still occasionally necessary spices.

Since we store some stuff out on counters, I took pics of that as well. This is in the corner between the microwave and the sink. Salt, rice, sugar, couple of snacks, flour, onions, toaster, Clorox wipes, tea kettle.

Counter above the dishwasher: Coffee supplies. Coffeemaker, espresso machine, coffee grinder, steam pitcher, flavored syrups. Also, vitamins and other medicines for mama and baby, so they're easily remembered in the morning. Smile

Drawer under the oven: baking sheets, muffin tins, loaf pans, etc.

I also took this pic of the bottom of the fabric storage, because here we keep the Kitchenaid mixer and mixing bowl.

Not pictured because it was in my previous post: the kitchen island which holds the Vitamix blender, the fruit bowl, and a pretty punch bowl that has turned into a repository for sippy cups, baby nail clippers, and some random bits of candy. Smile

Sigh. So there you go. I have noticed a few random things during this process that we could get rid of, but most of it we do use, with varying degrees of frequency.

June 19 fitness results

June 20th, 2012 at 11:22 am

10-min. workout: Yes! I went down all 18 flights of stairs from our condo, then up all 18. That only took 6 minutes total, so I walked up and down the last flight of stairs for 4 more minutes.
Results so far: 16/19 (16 out of 19 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1429. (My target is 1280-1400.) Woo hoo! It feels like it's getting easier to stay close to my desired target and still feel satisfied.
Results so far: 17/19 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! 2 cups of herbal tea kept me on track.
Results so far: 17/19

June 2012 net worth update

June 20th, 2012 at 11:18 am

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,884 pounds ($27,768)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $16,579
NT's Roth IRA: $4,118
AS's 401(k): $7,000
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $6,884
CJ's 401(k): $42,755
CJ's Roth IRA: $4,118
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $14,124
Total Assets: $584,456

Total Debt: $309,845

Current Estimated Net Worth: $274,611

May 2012 estimate: $269,679

Change in net worth: +$4,932

Summary: Modest gains in all our retirement accounts and a modest amount of saving and debt repayment really add up! We're at about the halfway point of the year, and we're about halfway from our starting net worth ($250,418) to our goal net worth ($300,000). With parental leave more than half over, and hopefully the expensive repairs on the rental property out of the way, we should be able to meet our goal -- as long as the EU crisis doesn't completely tank our retirement accounts!

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out per person.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are very approximate. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update (unless I happen to get some info by chance). UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.60 per British pound.

Our cluttered space -- (mostly) uncensored

June 19th, 2012 at 07:05 pm

For CCF and anyone else interested, here are the pics of the main living area of our condo!

I did tidy up a bit more than I do on weeknights, but didn't try to quickly solve any of the clutter problems I wrote about in my last post. Soo ... be kind! Wink

OK, so here's the view through the hallway from the foyer into the living space ... note record collection and random liquor bottles on left, AA's toy kitchen & the cat's house thingie that AA also plays with more than Noodles does.

Here's a view from the corner of the kitchen, looking over the island, that attempts to capture as much of the space in one shot as possible.

Here's the kitchen straight-on ... very small space. The stuff that's out pretty much has to be out; we've used most of the cabinet space to its capacity.

Here's the living room, and the least problematic view of the space, probably; unfortunately it's the view I look at the least, since I spend a lot of time on this couch. Wink

Here's the dining room/crafts room. The sewing cabinet is behind the dining room table; the sewing machine lowers into it, which is super sweet because it's one less bit of "stuff" visible. To the left is my pet peeve, the sewing supplies storage unit.

Here's the view of the DVD/CD/videogame storage that AS finds problematic. I will admit that the clock which was there when we had a much taller entertainment center looks sort of silly and off-center.

This built-in cabinet is against the wall by the window, and in the lower right you can see the toy shelf and the board games shelf just peeking out behind the couch -- the couch is about 8 inches away from the shelf, so getting games is a pain, but we don't play them that often now that we have kids, so it doesn't matter too much. If we had room elsewhere, that's something I'd consider moving (the board games).

Closer view of the toys and games:

And, just so you can see some of the more "necessary" clutter -- AA's blackboard, our rocking chair, the bassinet up on two chairs, the swing, the bouncy seat -- so you can see why I want to simplify elsewhere and give my eyes a rest! (To the left in this shot you can see the balcony door covered by the brown curtain.)

There you go, my life laid bare. Wink Let me know any suggestions or ideas this gives you of how to improve.

Ugh, got the decorating bug

June 19th, 2012 at 10:40 am

We've been watching a lot of HGTV lately, at least having it on in the background. (We used to like watching true crime shows when nothing else was on, but we all agree that it's too scary now having two young daughters, because too many feature brutal crimes against young women.)

Anyway, it's kind of inspiring, but then frustrating, because you start to see all the flaws in your own home's design, and figure out solutions, but none of the really amazing solutions come cheap. We REALLY don't have money to spend on interior decorating this year. Truth be told, I don't want to spend a ton on it until our student loan debt is gone (about three years from now if we stay at our current pace).

We all have particular pain points that we don't like about our main living space. (The bedrooms are actually in pretty nice shape.) The problem is that we have a big open-plan living space combining living room, kitchen and dining room. This is also where AA spends most of her time playing and where SL spends most of her time lying around in various bouncy chairs, bassinets, etc. It's our family room, entertainment center, sewing station, you name it!

Being such a multipurpose space, it has lots of stuff stored everywhere. The "stuff" is pretty well organized, but since it's all on open shelving, the cumulative effect is rather cluttered. We have kitchen appliances, fabrics and craft books, DVDs, CDs, many of AA's toys and books, NT's DJ equipment, and family board games all basically out in the open. Oh yeah, and in the nearby hallway we have a massive shelving unit that houses NT's record collection as well as various bottles of liquor, the cat's toy basket, and a few other random odds and ends. I love clean lines, and while I realize a family of 5 in 960 square feet who love home-based entertainments can't exactly be minimalist, I do wish there was a way to minimize or hide away some of our "stuff."

AS's least favorite stuff is the bookcases of DVDs and CDs. I'm bugged by her fabric collection, the toys and games, and the turntables etc. NT would love to have art covering the few blank spots on the walls (I actually like the blank spots because they offer my eye some relief, but I'd probably consent to some art if it weren't too busy). I'm also constantly moving rubble off our kitchen island and hiding it away, because it's a magnet for the random crap we bring home at the end of the day (mail, keys, phones, etc.)

The easiest (but one of the most expensive) solution would be to buy storage units that have doors to hide away the busy-ness of our stuff. We also talked about folding screens and curtains last night. We could probably fit a bit more stuff into closets if we really moved stuff around and downsized the stuff we already store there, but not everything would fit.

Anyway, just thinking out loud. I would love to find short-term solutions that would satisfy all of us and didn't break the bank. Maybe I should post photos and ask for your input, huh?

June 18 fitness results -- back on track

June 18th, 2012 at 09:35 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I did a random combo of things like pushups, crunches, jumping jacks and squats.
Results so far: 15/18 (15 out of 18 days)

Calorie counting: Estimated 1480. (My target is 1280-1400.) I had a high-calorie dinner but skipped breakfast because I still felt full from the night before. So it came out about right.
Results so far: 16/18 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Nursing a chamomile tea as I write this, happy to be back on track.
Results so far: 16/18

Delicious dipping sauce for spring rolls

June 18th, 2012 at 05:18 pm

I finally cracked the code! We used to get this amazing sauce with tofu spring rolls at a local Vietnamese restaurant, but it closed down about 5 years ago. Since then, I've been making a pale imitation of the sauce, based on what the waitress told me once when I begged her for the secret. All she told me were the ingredients: Coke, Sprite, peanut butter, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and chili sauce.

Most dipping sauce recipes just involve combining the ingredients cold, so that's what I do. It tasted pretty close, but it was difficult to get the nice thick consistency without adding more peanut butter than I wanted.

Recently it occurred to me to try cooking it to thicken it. Tonight's the first time I tried it, and I nailed it! So here it is, the yummiest spring roll dipping sauce I've ever had. Makes enough for probably 12 spring rolls.

1/4 c Coke
1/4 c Sprite
1/4 c unsweetened peanut butter
1/4 c hoisin sauce
1/8 c soy sauce
Sri Racha sauce to taste (I added about 1/2 t)

Pour Coke and Sprite into a small saucepan and heat on med-high while you measure the other ingredients into the pan. Use a fork to break down the peanut butter and blend it all together. When it's boiling, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes or until it reaches a nice consistency (like gravy or apple butter). It'll thicken a tad more when it cools, but not much.

I serve these with tofu spring rolls. Ideally (when I have time to make them my favorite way), this consists of:

- Tofu, pressed, cut into pieces, fried in peanut oil until slightly crispy, and drained & cooled on paper towels (slightly warm is nice)
- Lettuce, shredded into strips
- Rice vermicelli, cooked & cooled (keep in cold water until you're ready to use it, so it doesn't get clumpy, then drain when ready to assemble the rolls)
- Several stalks of cilantro
- Spring roll wrappers

Pour very hot (not boiling; you need to be able to touch it with bare hands) water into a pie plate. Take one wrapper and dip into water, rotating it in your hands and dipping until it's all wet. (It will soften as you put the ingredients on it.) Put on clean surface, place tofu in a row (leaving room to fold down the top and bottom like a burrito), add small clump of rice noodles, small handful of lettuce, and lay 2-3 strips of cilantro on top. (The leafy tops can stick out for a nice visual.) Then roll up, and serve as soon as possible so the wrappers are still nice and haven't started to harden.

The sauce would be good with other things too! It's awesome!

June 16-17 fitness results (WARNING: It ain't pretty)

June 18th, 2012 at 06:58 am

10-min. workout:
June 16 -- Yes! I biked to and from the grocery store. It was 10 minutes each way, so 20 min. total.
June 17 -- sadly, no.
Results so far: 14/17 (13 out of 15 days)

Calorie counting: FAIL on both days. I could go back and try to guesstimate, but I may as well start fresh today.
Results so far: 15/17 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks:
June 16 -- Another slip-up. We got home late and tipsy from our first date night since SL was born, and decided to order food from our fave pizza place. I had a giant sandwich and some veggie buffalo wings -- more of a huge meal than a snack!
June 17 -- Success, but mainly because I was STUFFED from another big meal and couldn't even contemplate tea, let alone food. I still feel kinda full this morning ...
Results so far: 15/17

So our weigh-in was last night, and I had a bad feeling since the meal we'd had a couple hours ago was still sitting in my stomach like a big guilt-inducing stone. Sure enough, I was up THREE pounds, back up to 142 which seems to be my resting weight when I'm not being good. Sigh. I'm hoping part of that is a bigger-than-usual fluctuation due to the giant meal in my belly. Plus, lots of non-homemade food usually equals higher sodium & thus more water weight. Maybe.

The weekend was a fun, and unusual, whirlwind. I'm slightly devastated to lose ALL my progress of the past month because of two days, but it was ALMOST fun enough to counteract that feeling.

Saturday we did grocery shopping in the morning, spent most of the afternoon at "Haircut Day" (we all go together once a month and hang out with our barber friend). Saturday night we had free tickets to a fancy soiree at the Governor's Mansion (snagged the invite from a wealthy alumna of my college who actually lived in the mansion as a child, before her family gifted the house to the state). It was quite a night!

Sunday was Father's Day so we spent the whole day spoiling NT. I helped AA (who's 2) serve him breakfast in bed to start. Then AS and I cooked up an exotic (for us, since we'd never cooked these dishes before) Persian-themed lunch. We cleaned up and watched the kids while he went to get a new tattoo (among other things he added SL's name and birth date to his arm, so it was fitting for Father's Day). Then I got a carshare and drove him to an Indian restaurant for dinner.

So it was super fun, but really pricy and took an obvious toll on my fitness goals.

June 15 fitness results; dreams (and fears) re: England

June 15th, 2012 at 10:31 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I biked to and from the CSA drop site to pick up our veggies. It was 8 minutes each way, so 16 min. total.
Results so far: 13/15 (13 out of 15 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1802. (My target is 1280-1400.) Yikes! Dinner really added up, even though it didn't feel that filling.
Results so far: 15/15 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Just some tea.
Results so far: 14/15


AS just randomly saw a job posting for a position in England that she seems ideally suited for. Now, getting hired in England as a non-citizen is really hard because supposedly they have to declare that you're a better candidate than anyone not only in England but the whole European Union as well. But AS is pretty awesome.

Talking about it was scary and exciting. It made us realize that we'd like to be a lot more financially secure before we try, because it would be an expensive move and at least some of us would experience an interruption in income.

Also, the thought of doing all the legal stuff again (both the immigration and the estate/adoption stuff) just makes me feel tired.

I realized too that in my projections of late, I've been envisioning a future with no interruption in our trajectory financially. Moving to England, which is our ultimate goal, would be a big interruption. Last year I realized I needed to map out more scenarios so we'd be prepared for that, but with the new baby and everything I just haven't gotten around to it.

We'll talk to NT tomorrow (he's already in bed), but AS has pretty much decided it's just not a good time to go for the job. She needs to strengthen her career and solidify her reputation, and I need to get our financial house more in order.

I agree with AS more than halfway. But another part of me knows that opportunities and chances aren't infinite, and also that the longer we stay here, the deeper our roots and the harder it'll get to uproot.

It's so crazy to be a binational family, and especially one that doesn't fit legally recognizable structures. It feels a bit unsteady at times. Like, I know we're solid as a family, but the outside world seems wobbly. And sometimes I feel like that wobbliness could threaten our stability.

Cost of raising a child -- how do you stack up?

June 15th, 2012 at 12:27 pm

The USDA released their interesting study of what people spend on their kids. Of course all the news articles about it have headlines bleating "It costs $235,000 to raise a child in the U.S.!!!" The study itself is much less alarmist. They're talking what people SPEND, not what a basic, good child-raising would cost.

So, I had some fun playing with numbers to see how I stack up. You can play too! Here's the study: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/CRC/crc2011.pdf. I'm basing my calculations on page 29, the line for a year of raising a 0- to 2-year-old, with before-tax income of more than $102,590, in the urban Midwest.

Their estimates:
Total expense $20,070 (so $40,140 with 2 kids age 0-2)
Housing $6,850
Food $1,830
Transportation $2,500
Clothing $1,030
Health care $940
Child care and education $5,080
Miscellaneous $1,840

My estimates (with some explanation):

Housing $120 (Most of their estimate comes from upsizing to a home with more bedrooms, which we didn't do. They include furniture, and we have spent a bit on a crib, shelves, dresser over the years, though most has been borrowed/hand-me-down/used. This is my estimate per year per kid.)

Food $540 (SL doesn't take any food except vitamin D supplements, and I suppose a few extra calories for AS while nursing. AA doesn't eat much more than we'd cook before, but she does drink milk and eat yogurt and string cheese and a few other things we wouldn't have bought before. So I estimated $85 per month for her and $5 per month for SL [that will clearly go up when AS needs to transition her from breastfeeding to formula].

Transportation $888 (I included the cost of the stroller $1100 minus the profit we made from our hand-me-down stroller $400, so I included $700. After some back-and-forth, I also included the Hourcar, which we spend about $90 per month on. Although we might have eventually gotten a carshare anyway, having kids definitely pushed us toward that decision. We don't actually use it to transport them much, but we use it for convenience and speed partly because kids add more work and take more time out of your day.)

Clothing $816 (Though we hardly ever buy clothes for the kids, we use a cloth diaper service [$91 per month] and buy compostable diapers for when AA is at daycare [about $45 per month]. That's 100% of this cost; any other bits of clothing we buy like sunglasses, socks and the occasional pair of sneakers are truly negligible when divided over 2 kids over a year.)

Health care $750 (I'm only counting the healthcare deductible, which is pretax so even less than this. They have the occasional co-pay or bottle of medicine needed, but both kids have been insanely healthy so far, and so there's really not much else so far.)

Child care and education $6900 (Here's the first cost we have that's greater than the average. We have a REALLY good price for where we live in the city, but I suppose they average it in with the metro area and get a lower average; or maybe people don't have full-time daycare like we do.)

Miscellaneous $1,056 (My estimate is a bit lower than the USDA's. I counted $100 each for Xmas and for each of their b-days; $8 per month each for miscellaneous gifts & supplies; and $63 per month to cover the additional cost of travel [AA needs her own seat now when we fly]. These are just estimates [except the Xmas and b-day gifts].)

Total expense $10,254 (so $20,508 with 2 kids age 0-2)

So, we spend a bit more than half the average in our region for our income level. Not bad! I'll be interested to see if we track the averages at this level the whole time through having kids, as different expenses come and go.

June 14 fitness results and June debt progress

June 15th, 2012 at 10:22 am

10-min. workout: Yes! I was very close to copping out AGAIN. But I finally talked myself into doing 10 minutes: mostly crunches, some mountain climbers, plank holds and jumping jacks.
Results so far: 12/14 (12 out of 14 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1276! (My target is 1280-1400.) OMG! My first time getting under my max target, I even made it under my lowest target! Didn't feel like a particularly light day, but it worked out that way.
Results so far: 14/14 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! Just some tea.
Results so far: 13/14

Debt repayment: sent some money to NT's student loan, with $107 going to principal. That takes us to $927 paid, $73 to go on the debt goal AS's student loan payment at the end of the month will push us over the top.

June 13 fitness results

June 13th, 2012 at 09:40 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I was very close to copping out tonight; heavy meal later in the evening than usual. But I finally talked myself into doing 10 minutes of upper-body free weights.
Results so far: 11/13 (11 out of 13 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1517. (My target is 1280-1400.) Not too bad. My evening meal was heavier than usual, but my breakfast was light so it kind of balanced out.
Results so far: 13/13 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success! I couldn't even finish the dinner I'd dished up, so I definitely don't need a snack. I am having some chai tea but that fits within my exceptions.
Results so far: 12/13

June 12 fitness results

June 12th, 2012 at 09:10 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I went to our regular trivia night with friends, and I first walked down the 18 flights of our condo (4 min) and then jogged to the bar (6 min).
Results so far: 10/12 (10 out of 12 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1594. (My target is 1280-1400.) I was actually under 1280 before I went to the bar, but I had a glass of sangria and shared a plate of fries, so that pushed me way over.
Results so far: 12/12 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Uh, see above. I had french fries and sangria. The first night I've cheated.
Results so far: 11/12

June 11 fitness results

June 11th, 2012 at 08:33 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I was trying to decide what to do, but AA wanted to practice jumping (she just learned how!) and wanted me to do it too. So I kept doing it (and "falling down," and leaping away from her in a kind of chase) for 10 min. Phew! I'm realizing that if you focus, it's really easy to get the heart rate up for 10 min. without a lot of preparation or thought. Smile
Results so far: 9/11 (9 out of 11 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1403. (My target is 1280-1400.) My best day so far -- only 3 calories over! (And I only estimate some measurements, so I could well be in range.)
Results so far: 11/11 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: Success again!
Results so far: 11/11

June 10 fitness results

June 10th, 2012 at 09:13 pm

Had our weekly weigh-in tonight and I was down 2 lbs. to 139! Yay, glad to be in the 130s again and to be back at my starting weight for the year. Now I just have 10 lbs. to go on my goal. Which is to say I'm back to square one, but it's better than being completely off the board!

Now on to today's fitness tracking.

10-min. workout: Yes! We walked about 4 miles total today, to and from a friend's brunch, but that was pretty leisurely so I don't count it. However, I did 10 minutes of upper-body weights and ab exercises when we got home.
Results so far: 8/10 (8 out of 10 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1637. (My target is 1280-1400.) Not too bad!
Results so far: 10/10 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: I had some celery with peanut butter, which is one of my allowable exceptions, so it still counts as a success.
Results so far: 10/10

June 9 fitness results

June 9th, 2012 at 09:27 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! NT and I went on two separate errands, totaling about 40 minutes of biking. Plus we walked a few miles to and from a local arts event with the girls in their stroller. Fun, exhausting day!
Results so far: 7/9 (7 out of 9 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1965. (My target is 1280-1400.) It was kind of a high-calorie day, but I feel like I more than made up for it with activity.
Results so far: 9/9 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: success! I didn't even have (free) wine or beer at the event, just water. I may have some tea, because that's becoming a comforting ritual.
Results so far: 9/9

June 8 fitness results

June 8th, 2012 at 09:24 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I had to pick AA up from daycare, and I had relatively comfy shoes on, so I jogged home (OK, walk/jogged; there are hills). Took almost exactly 10 minutes.
Results so far: 6/8 (6 out of 8 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1515. (My target is 1280-1400.) My lowest day so far! Very exciting. At first I felt hungry during the day, but the last meal really filled me up. Hopefully I'm getting acclimated to smaller, lighter meals.
Results so far: 8/8 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: success! I did have some fresh strawberries (those are in the calorie count above, and within the allowances for night snacks). I'm still pretty full from dinner, so I'll be fine with a cup of herbal tea.
Results so far: 8/8

June 7 fitness results

June 7th, 2012 at 08:16 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I was feeling tired and hungry when I got home, so I looked for the thing I could get out of the way the quickest. So I jumped rope for 10 minutes. Whew, tiring!
Results so far: 5/7 (5 out of 7 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1609. (My target is 1280-1400.) My third lowest day so far! I skipped wine tonight because I knew dinner was going to add up to be a bit heavy (veggie burger on toast, corn on the cob w/margarine, potato salad w/vegan mayo)
Results so far: 7/7 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: success! I'm still pretty full from dinner, so I'll be fine with a cup of herbal tea.
Results so far: 7/7

Hoping the food budget is getting under control

June 7th, 2012 at 01:15 pm

We budget $700 per month for groceries and household (including some but not all the diapers we use, plus wipes). ($754 if you count the amount I escrow to save up for our summer CSA vegetable farm share.) We don't even try to get all organic like LuckyRobin (whose post inspired this train of thought) and yet we still struggle to meet $700 per month. We're constantly going over this amount, and I've occasionally refreshed our funds with budget surpluses. We're not going to have many surpluses this year, probably, so it's even more paramount that we stick to it.

A couple months ago I started feeding our Amex card rewards, which is 6% for groceries, straight back into the grocery budget. That's about $40 per month. That's helped somewhat. Also, if anyone wants extras like ice cream or chips, they now pay that back in from spending money.

I'm hoping now that the CSA share is about to kick in, our weekly grocery expenses will get under control for the summer at least.

When SL starts going to daycare, she'll need compostable diapers during the day since our daycare lady doesn't do cloth ones. So, starting in August, I'm upping our budget to $750 per month. So, if you add $54 for the CSA and $40 in Amex rewards, our grocery/household budget will be at $844 per month.

Hopefully AA will potty-train this year and help ease the diaper costs that are one of the main sources of pain for our budget. We haven't been pushing her but plan to start in earnest in August if she hasn't shown any more interest in self-training before then.

June 6 fitness results

June 6th, 2012 at 08:48 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! I walked upstairs to the condo and then checked my time -- it had only taken 4 minutes. So I walked down and up the last flight of stairs -- maybe the equivalent of another 18 floors? -- for 6 more minutes. My legs will feel it tomorrow! My arms are very sore from the sworkit.com workout yesterday
Results so far: 4/6 (4 out of 6 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1570. (My target is 1280-1400.) My second lowest day so far!
Results so far: 6/6 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: success! I'm a bit peckish, but since my calorie count is already over my limit, I won't even have fruit or veggies. My chamomile tea will get me through. Smile
Results so far: 6/6

June 5 fitness results, plus weird refunds

June 5th, 2012 at 07:36 pm

10-min. workout: Yes! AS told me about a cool website (also a mobile app) -- sworkit.com -- that generates workouts based on the amount of time you have. I asked for 10 minutes and got a pretty intense workout! I didn't know some of the exercise so I faked it or did something similar; I'll have to look up the exercises before I use this again. Good website though!
Results so far: 3/5 (3 out of 5 days)

Calorie counting: estimated 1628. (My target is 1280-1400.) Not too bad! A half cup of lemonade and a cup of red wine pushed me over 1400.
Results so far: 5/5 (my goal is to track, so even if I go over my target, it counts as a success)

No night snacks: success! I'm finishing a glass of wine I was too busy to drink earlier, but I won't have any late night snacks tonight.
Results so far: 5/5

Now to my two random refunds:

First, that dentist that charged me so much sent me a $228 check. No explanation, so I'm not sure which visit it's a refund for! I'm pleased, but maybe not enough to use them again. I think I'll try another place.

I'm going to put that money back into the medical fund; we'll probably need it for AS's and SL's hospital bills from the birth.

And second, this morning when AS's mom checked out of the hotel we'd paid for, they gave her an invoice that showed they'll be refunding $260! (Now I just have to remember which card I used!) Weird ... part of it seems to be a refund for the first night, since her flight was canceled and she didn't come in Friday night. Not sure why it was so much. Or why they refunded that, since it was a special nonrefundable online rate. But who's complaining?? It was nearly half of what we'd paid for the room. If I really do get that refund, I'll put it aside because NT's sister and stepmom, and maybe his brother-in-law and father, are thinking about coming to visit later this year, and we'll handle the hotel costs if they do. This $260 is a nice chunk of change toward that!

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