Monday, February 14, 2011


That's how Lana says I love you. Sometimes it's spoken in a soft whisper as we're together, rocking before bed. Other times it's shouted enthusiastically, followed by a heartfelt blown kiss or a full-on headbutt slobbery kiss. Either way, it's heart-meltingly adorable and oh-so-appropriate for Valentine's Day.

We made some sweet Valentine's Day treats. They were yummy, but didn't really turn out like the picture. Have you checked out Bakerella? I encourage you to visit her site, but be warned. I am not responsible if you drool on your computer.

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you feel loved today (and every day).
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Frugal February Challenge!

If you recall my Year of MORE/LESS posts (here and here) I did say I would be doing a big challenge in February. It's now 11 days into this, the shortest month of the year and the challenge is in full-swing, I've just felt completely swamped and haven't written about it yet.

One of my goals of 2011 is to Save MORE/Spend LESS. But before I dive into the specific plan for the month, I should give you a bit of background information. I guess you could say it all started with pre-marital counseling and a talk-radio show. Dan and I went through pre-marital counseling during our three-month engagement. One thing I took away from those lessons is that it's much, MUCH easier to deal with the common issues of marital discord (in-laws, kids, religion, money) if you and your spouse have a plan and clear expectations. Statistically speaking, disagreements about money is the single biggest reason couples divorce, and since I'm not one to try to be a statistical anomaly, I made it very clear to Dan that we NEEDED to be on the same page and agree about issues related to money. My dad had recently discovered the Dave Ramsey Show on his new satellite radio and encouraged me to give it a listen. I was hooked after about 12 minutes and I played some of the podcasts for Dan. This led to us having some really great talks about money, debt, and future goals. Right after we got married we took Financial Peace University (a wonderful gift from my parents) at our church and got with the program. We immediately paid off what little debt we had and went to work on our emergency fund and saving for a house. We set up a budget and put clear limits on spending. We still did fun things like dinners out and movies, but we did them as part of the overall plan.

Then we bought a house and had a baby and our perfect, beautiful budget and spending plan got torn to shreds. It took a few months, but we got things back in order. Every month I sit down and figure out what we did, pretty much to the cent. Then Dan and I have a budget committee meeting and talk about what's coming up in the next month we need to prepare for and how we can do better in certain spending categories.

One area of the budget I have taken responsibility for is the grocery money. It may sound very gender-stereotypical, but I'm the chief cook and meal planner in our house. I actually enjoy this responsibility and try to make meals we all like, as well as make new things to challenge our palates.

When we first got married, Dan and I spent about $500 per month on groceries. GASP! I know, right? $500 for two people is completely ridiculous. We decided to work to reduce that and cut and trimmed and whined and complained and got it to $350 per month for the two of us. I know some of you can feed your family of 23 with that budget, but dang, we felt really great about that. Over time I've gotten better at matching coupons with sales and planning meals around what I buy and not the other way around, and I regularly feed our family of three (the little one now eats normal, big-people food - some days A LOT of normal, big-people food) for anywhere between $300-$350 per month. It's actually not hard for me to keep us in that range and I feel we eat well and no one is deprived of their favorites.

In an effort to do even better, I've taken some inspiration from the $5 Dinner Mom. I actually won her newest cookbook on a facebook contest and have been enamored and motivated by her clever, tasty and cheap-o recipes. Her cookbook also offers some handy-dandy tips about shopping and food prep that cut costs and time. She's all about a good challenge and encourages her readers to really stretch themselves.

So, a'la $5 Dinner Mom, I give you my Frugal February Challenge:

Total Grocery Budget for February = $200.

The rules:

1. Don't go over $200 (well, duh!)

2. No Cheating! (ie no buying groceries at the gas station and filing the purchase under 'fuel')

3. Don't eat out more than usual (our dining out budget per month is $75)

So far, I've spent $108.81 on groceries and the month isn't even half over. Sigh.

Now, of course the minute you decide to set a big goal for yourself, something happens and you want to back out immediately, right? For me, that included my mom getting sick and me switching into I-just-want-to-worry-and-pray-and-eat-comforting-take-out-and-convenience-foods mode. But I decided that since part of the reason for this challenge was to see if I could cut expenses in the event of a financial emergency, actually following through with it during a time of crisis was important, and would be a big part of the learning process.

While preparing for February, I discovered some wonderful frugal blogs. Some of these are the super amazing women you hear about getting $400 worth of groceries for $40, but most are moms looking to save money anyplace they can. Here are a few of the frugal living blogs in my Google Reader:

Deal Seeking Mom (Love this one. She does a great freebie round-up every week and links to the best coupons.)

Fabulessly Frugal (They do a weekly Winco sale/coupon match-up which is oh-so-very helpful when planning shopping trips)

Thrifty NW Mom (So many of the frugal blogs focus on the Midwest or South and I love that this one is for us folks in the good ol' PNW. All the stores featured are ones I can actually go to, so it prevents me from being jealous that the gals from the South have their ALDI and Kroger and other equally magical places that double coupons.)

If you've actually stuck around for all this - wow, you're quite dedicated and I appreciate your endurance. And if you are trained and well-versed in the frugal arts, please share your tips/websites/deals with this frugal-newbie. I'll keep you updated on just how 'fun' Frugal February turns out!

P.S. Thanks for your encouragement and prayers for my Mom. She is still in the hospital and probably will remain there for at least a few more days. Physically she has improved tremendously. Her motor skills are fine. She can feed and bathe herself without assistance. Her speech is fine. She can read, spell and do math. She knows her name and phone number. Her memory hasn't come back fully though and she doesn't know who her children or grandchildren are and doesn't recognize them in photographs. She is working hard to remember though and asks to see pictures and wants to know more. With brain swelling comes potential memory loss and we are ever hopeful that as the swelling continues to go down, her memory will come back.

(Update a few hours later: My dad just called with fabulous news! My Grandpa Cy, Grandma Janet and Grandma Carol drove over to see her today and Mom recognized all three of them and knew their names!!! I am over the moon excited that she is FINALLY starting to remember people!!! She didn't magically remember everything, but this progress is very encouraging.)

P.P.S For those of you who really only stop by for the cute pictures of Lana, I apologize. I don't think I've posted any pictures of her in a few weeks. Here you go. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Viral Encephalitis: A Disease I Never Wanted to Know this Much About

But I do. And now you're going to know too.

My mom has been in the hospital since Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning they were able to confirm a diagnosis of Viral Encephalitis. This is a swelling of the brain and very serious, but the type my mom has isn't fatal. According to the MRI, her brain swelling has remained localized. She currently has memory loss and gets fatigued easily. She has been able to regain motor skills as the brain swelling goes down and I am very optimistic that her memory will come back more and more as the swelling continues to go down. She is currently on a course of antivirals to help her own body's immune system fight the virus. It's very important that she stay as healthy as possible to be able to combat the encephalitis.

Recovery from this virus and the subsequent brain swelling will probably be slow and tedious. The full extent of the damage won't be known until the swelling has completely gone down - this could take weeks or months. She'll remain in the hospital for at least several more days before she's released to recover at home. As soon as my dad gives me the green light, I'll drive down to see her myself.

Many of you already know about this and have been faithfully praying for my mom - Thank You! I know your prayers are being heard. Please continue to pray for her. Several people have also posted notes of encouragement on her facebook wall. I'm sure once she checks, those will be uplifting for her to read.

My sister-in-law, Christina, is currently in medical school and has been very valuable to talk to during this time. She sent me this link from the Mayo Clinic that explains Viral Encephalitis in regular-people terms:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Year of MORE/LESS: January Wrap-Up

It's been a whole month of living my Year of MORE/LESS and so far....not bad. My January goals were mostly fitness and food-related. I was inspired by the awesome scrapbooker/designer/blogger/funny woman, Cathy Zielske and her goal to Move More and Eat Less. Every month she faithfully takes a full-body picture of herself in the mirror and posts it next to the same picture taken the day she started. The stark contrast is amazing and inspiring. (A side note: I will not be posting such pictures. Blame it on pride, shame, vanity, or other personality flaws if you want to, but it ain't happenin'.) She also journals about what went right, what went wrong and how she's feeling about the whole thing. I appreciate her honesty when some months are sucky and celebrate with her when she has a great month.

My specific goals in January were:

1. Food journal every day. This means everything I eat gets written down every day.

2. Run at least 10 miles per week and do some other type of work-out on non-running days.

My January results were:

1. I wrote down every single morsel of food that went in my mouth and doing so helped me better control my eating habits. (Another side note: Four years ago I joined Weight Watchers, bought all the materials and fully followed the program. Every food item is worth a certain number of points and you get a specific points budget for the day/week, so keeping track of what you eat is of the utmost importance. I still have all those materials and even though the WW program is changed, right now I'm following the old program.) I found that it made me smile to write down words like apple, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Words like candy bar, and doughnut were indeed tougher to bear. Because I wanted to eat healthier (and thus write down happier words) I tried out some new recipes in the kitchen, which helped achieve another one of my goals to Experiment in the Kitchen MORE/Make same-old, same-old LESS.

2. I met my running goal and really noticed an improvement in how fast (well actually, less slow) I can run and how my endurance increased. I ran some 5ks last year and have decided to run two 5ks this year and one 10k. I'm going to need a lot more endurance to get in that distance. I was inspired by my running friend, Harmony, to set running goals. (Only her goal is to run a MARATHON and mine is to survive a 10k.) On my non-running days I spent some time doing this:

And whoooooo-boy did Jillian kick my hiney. But in a good way. I had to schedule time to do this workout either before work on week days, or carve out some time during normal laundry/clean/channel-surf-time on Saturdays, but it's been totally worth it. On the days I do the work-out before work, I definitely feel better and make wiser food decisions.

The net result of January has been overall positive. I've lost a few pounds, gained some energy and feel pretty good. I think I've got good momentum and definitely want to keep it up in February.

Speaking of February, it's a new month, and thus some new plans. I want to continue with the Move MORE/Eat LESS (aka exercise regularly and make wise food choices) but increase my weekly running distance from 10 miles to 11 miles. I'll also add another February-specific (not fitness related) challenge. Stick around. I'll post more on that in a couple days.