Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Ten Month Baby

Harper is 10 months old!  I can't believe it.  Ten seems so old.  Double digits.  Almost one.  

But numbers aside, it can't be hidden any longer - this girl is officially no longer a little baby.  She's a full mouth of teeth, belly-laughing, jumping, playing, rolling little wonderful mess. 

She grabs fistfuls of chicken and eats with wild abandon. (obviously).  She pinches neck skin and bangs toys.  She is spunky and sweet and fingers always in her mouth.  She sleeps on her belly and loves to hang upside down.  

She's a full head of hair that's just starting to curl.  She's sticky and giggly and full of life.

She's scrunched faces and endless curiosity.

She's a dancer to any music and enjoys a silly voice.  She smiles for pictures and demands bites.  She is proud when she is standing and always eager to do some crunches.

She is beautifully perfect and growing up too fast.


And the outtake... Tony wasn't doing his assistant job very well.  No babies were harmed in this photo shoot (too badly... just kidding... just mulch in the mouth...)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Random Thoughts for the Week

I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend!  We kept it simple, but I was living vicariously through everyone's lake/beach/camping/etc pictures!

- Harper is 10 months old - what the what??  That's totally downhill to one year, and she's starting to act it, too!

- We worked (a little) on making steps towards getting our kitchen finished.  It's been half-done for a few months as we lost steam after opening up the doorway and painting.  We're putting up beadboard, so the walls were half painted with torn off chair rail.  It's been ugly.  Glad we're getting back at it!

- We house/dogsat for Tony's parents the past twoish weeks while they were in Europe (lucky dogs!).  We always go and stay at their house (like five minutes from our own house) when they go away, since it's just way too crowded at our house with four dogs.  It used to be easier when there were just two of us and a small bag... now it requires multiple carloads full of stuff, mostly baby paraphernalia.  So while we were more than happy to do it, I feel like we just got back from a trip.  I'm happy to sleep in our own bed again.

- Budgeting - ugh!  My last post was so positive and youcandoit! and blah blah.  The realities do kinda suck though, sometimes.  This month has been tight, mostly because we overspent early and there are five weeks.  We were glad we could raid Tony's parents' fridge while we were there!  Usually Tony is the one who handles the finances - I'm informed and on-board with the big picture, but he handles the day-to-day, since that's his forte.  However, this month, I handled things, since he was pretty busy with work and etc.  Maybe it's just the fact that I don't usually concern myself with the details, and instead leave that burden to him, but this month it has weighed on me.  That's why I wrote that budget post in the first place.  I have so much I want and/or need to buy, and it's just not possible.  I am constantly weighing costs and have a running tally of how much we (don't) have.  We even rolled change (hello $40!).  It's stressful!  It makes me thankful Tony usually bears the brunt of it.  And as always, it's great to know that it's not that we literally don't have the money, we just want to stick to the budget and not dip into savings.  Very grateful for that.

- I've been out and about!!  As a followup to that post about being afraid to go out with just Harper and I, I went so many more places this month.  And like you all said - once I did it, it just got easier and easier.  I feel like I'm finally over that mental hurdle.

- Mikey and Kacy's baby Finn was born last week!  I need to post about him.  He's precious.  Kim and Corey are due soon as well, so it's a baby-type of summer.  I love it!

- I've been working out!  I posted this on Instagram already, but I logged over 12 miles last week, some running, some walking.  It feels so good right now, and I'm really wanting to just keep going so I don't lose steam.  

Brain dump...over.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Real.

On May 24th, Tony and I will celebrate 5 years of marriage. (more wedding posts here and here!)  

I feel like it's gone by pretty quickly, yet thinking back to the sweltering late-spring day when we made it official, it seems like we were just babies.  Young and happy.  Naive and optimistic and a little unsure of what the world held for us.
Perhaps we've now dropped the "young" and "naive" parts, but our happiness has expanded and matured and grown in a way we couldn't have fathomed on that May day five years ago.

Five years is just a blip compared to the decades and decades that stretch out before us.  Yet I do think that these five will be some of the most fondly-remembered ones of our marriage.  These years stretched us.  These years loved us.  These years certainly blessed us and shaped us and have set our lives on a course that we can embrace.

These years saw us through jobs and new jobs and money stresses and financial blessings.  These years witnessed heartache and frustration and satisfaction and joy.  These first five years led us to our baby.  We learned together, we grew together, we schemed and dreamed together.  These past five years were real.

Tony and I aren't the public affection type.  Or even much of the private affection type (kidding. sorta...).  We are both so perfectly in sync on how we love each other in that neither cares for gifts or declarations or grand gestures.  And in truth, that's much how our relationship started.

(And guess what?!
?  Here's where I belabor the story of our love...)

It was fall of my sophomore year of college at the University of Georgia.  I was feeling my independence and the need for cash and had decided I needed a job.  I had browsed ads half-heartedly with little success.  I happened to take a short cut through our student center one day and happened to notice a sign advertising a local job fair than happened to be going on that very moment (see what tales of fate hold?  lots of "happened"s).  

I decided I didn't have much to lose so I gave it a try.  Seeing as how the job fair was school-sponsored, it held lots of strange companies and not quite the restaurant job I had in mind.  I was about to leave when I saw one booth where the woman working it had the same black flower necklace that I had which was one of my favorites.  I lingered longer, simply because of that necklace.  She caught my eye and I walked up to her booth. 

She was pitching the Holiday Inn that was super close to campus and Athen's lively downtown area.  There were positions available in the on-site restaurant.  I took a flyer and went home, brushing it off a bit.  Yet as my options remained slim, I decided to apply.  I remember asking my friends if it would be totally lame to work at a hotel restaurant, the Holiday Inn, no less (Chingy's song was in in those days...)  We all decided that it probably was, but money was money.

I interviewed, wowed them with my college-student skills and prowess, and was told to come in for my first day.  I was supposed to wear black pants, a white button down shirt, and the typical terrible non-slip shoes that make your feet look like they are immersed in black cement bricks.  I am already shy and nervous in new places and felt like a total idiot walking in there that day.

(I know, this is terribly long already - sorry.)

As I entered the deserted restaurant and bar (a typical scene, I would soon discover...), a guy was standing behind the bar, watching tv, eating, and doing his homework.  I quietly introduced myself as the new person and he barely looked my direction.  "Friendly" and "welcoming" were not how you would describe him.  I already felt like a fool and he didn't help.  His name was Tony.

(Thanks Addison, for capturing this special moment... ha!)
Finally someone else came out and I went about my shift and the shifts after that.  I saw him occasionally  but we didn't always work the same days and we still weren't friendly.  I thought he was standoffish and a slacker since he would do his homework behind the bar (soon enough I would be doing the same, once I realized how slow it could get in that place!).

Don't tell the health department...

We worked together in this way for nearly a year.  He had a girlfriend, that I knew, and I remember passing by him one late night as we were both enjoying Mardi Gras with friends.  It was the first time I started to notice him in a non-colleague sort of way.

I'm eternally grateful to our friend who snapped this picture - we weren't dating yet - but I think Tony was already in love. :)

 A bunch of us who worked together began hanging out socially in the summer of 2005.  As I got to know him, I suppose I began to like him.  There's not a time I can pinpoint where I really started to like him - it was just so gradual, moving from friendship on.  I think our first date was when a bunch of people were supposed to come watch a movie and no one else showed up.

He remembered that the first time I really flirted with him was by texting him the lyrics to Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" song... B-A-NANA-S! We are cool like that.

I'll spare you the sappy details - but believe it or not (you wouldn't believe it if you know me in real life - I'm shy!) - I kissed him first.

Tony came into my life at a time when I needed him the most.  He was unexpected.  We didn't seek each other out or over-try, life simply brought us together and what blossomed was real.

We've never been sugar-coated or sappy and we like it that way.  We don't take ourselves too seriously.

Tony makes me laugh every day.  He supports me, he thinks of me in ways I am constantly surprised by.  He knows what I like on a sandwich and knows to not give me the spoon used to scoop the ice cream because I don't like the sticky.  He cares for me, and shows it in a way that is so uniquely him.

We spent the rest of our college years working together at that infamous Holiday Inn.  We would bartend together and I would crack up as he won over the older single women who just wanted someone kind to talk to.  He paid off my credit card balance so I wouldn't pay interest (I paid him right back!!  He set us up right from the beginning, though, that's for sure...).  We would go to Waffle House at 5 am after working the bar all day long on football game days and he would tip the waitress a $20 because we had a good night.  He loved his dog Sandy in a way that was so very special.  He painted me a music box when I insisted we do homemade gifts for Valentine's.  He gave me a Christmas card that sang Feliz Navidad.  He cooked for me, introducing me to a diet beyond cereal and mac and cheese.  He made me happy.

Tony comes across crusty, just like he did that very first day I came to work, but spend just a few minutes getting to know him and you will see the kind, compassionate, selfless person who I have the pleasure of waking up to every single morning.

We bonded over restaurant exploring and beach trips and our dreams for the future.  We didn't really talk about it, because we never needed to, but I knew I would marry him after only a few months of dating.  It was just that easy.  That real.  No pretense, no crazy, just real.  I blinked, and here we were, inextricably together with such ease.

Tony is the source of joy in my life.  He makes me so very happy, each day.  We don't live in a fairy tale, and we don't get into big shows of romance and affection.  But the real, the real life we live each day is full of happiness and joy.

One April Saturday, when I was out of town on a day trip for school, Tony woke up, made a decision, and drove to Atlanta and bought me a ring.  When I got home that evening, he let me pick a movie (Love Actually!) and afterwards, as we were just talking, he went into his closet, nonchalantly.  My heart started racing because I could just tell something was off.  He emerged with some laundry and I felt silly for letting my mind get ahead.  Minutes later, he was talking, telling me all of the wonderful things that were so true and so wonderful about our lives.  He asked me to marry him and I said yes among tears and shaky hands.  I so wish I could remember what he said (that was the first and likely the last time I will ever get that kind of emotion out of him!!)

Before we knew it, we were growing up.  Out in the big, wide world with our big dreams.  We lined up jobs, we figured out where we were going to live.  We were so eager to grow up and be adults.  We were thrilled with the idea of our lives together, facing it all together.

Well, we soon learned that we were a little too eager to grow up, since the real world holds real struggles and efforts, but life surged on anyway.  We built our lives together and learned how the real world worked, slowly but surely.  

We bought a house.

We got married.

We had a baby.

A silly little necklace brought us together.  Or fate.  Or something bigger.  (I'm going to go with that one).  The last five years of marriage have been so revealing:  life is at times plain or boring or stressful or rocky, but at times, life can truly surprise you.  It can make you so incredibly happy that you wonder how you could have ever really and truly been "living" before.  Tony is my all, and I am so grateful we've traversed these paths together, and will forever more.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Our Savings Plan: An Update

Over the years, I've posted a few times about how we budget as a family.  I first talked about it here in 2010 when I shared our savings plan and our cash system, after we sat down early in the year to make a plan to save a ton of money.  

I couldn't mention it at the time, but we were doing that in anticipation of me quitting my job in a year and going back to school full-time (which I did in April 2011 - hooray!  Look for a sappy reminiscing post about that soon...).  

I came back in February of 2011 to say that our savings plan was still going strong and that we were 100% debt free (not counting the mortgage...) and we had shifted to living completely on Tony's income and saving all of mine.  

I can't remember now exactly how much, but within that year and a half from when we decided to overhaul our finances to the day I quit my job, we saved a significant amount of money - over $25k.  Sure, it  certainly helped that we both worked and didn't have children.  We made good money, but not a crazy amount.  I feel like a broken record because I said it so much in those older posts, but we've been blessed by so many things in our lives that had allowed us to get to those financial benchmarks (had parents who helped us through college so we didn't have undergrad loans, Tony was able to use a work car and phone, no major life hardships that required us to go into debt, etc.).  But it can't be denied that good old fashioned hard work and sacrifice helped too.  

If you had asked me at the beginning if it was possible to save that much money in such a short time frame  I would have said it was impossible.  We were saving some money, but it's amazing how that much money was just being frittered away somehow throughout the year.  It was there all along, but we just weren't aware of just how much we were spending.  With just some simple life adjustments we were able to save a tremendous amount.

This post from 2011, detailing the "hows" of making it possible for me to quit my job and to take on single-income status, is a good picture of how we are still living today.  To quote myself (shameless.):

So we have saved a ton of money.  The savings were supposed to be so we would have a fund to help pay our bills while I wasn't working, since we didn't think we could live off of Tony's salary alone.  We would take out student loans for tuition itself.  Turns out, we've whittled our budget down so much, that we ARE living off his salary - so we will be able to probably break even each month, pending no disasters.  We are even going to try to pay for school with our savings in an attempt to avoid loans.  It's all coming together beautifully. 

Turns out, we were totally able to make it work while I was in school.  Only on occasion did we need to dip into that savings fund, and that was usually when something unexpected happened - like when our water heater and ac/heating unit and stove and car went out all at once.  We begrudgingly learned that emergency funds are awesome, even when you have to use them.  We also were able to use some of the cash we had saved to pay two out of four of my semesters' tuitions in cash.  That was awesome.  We decided to take out student loans for the other two, so as to not clean us out completely.  Once I got a job, we would just pay off the loan as quickly as possible with my new income and continue to have an emergency fund.

Well, as you all know, I've not been working since graduating last summer.  So we still have student loan payments, but they are small and manageable with very low interest.  Once I do go back to work, we will have gotten so used to living on just Tony's income that we will be able to put 100% of my new salary towards those loans, our car payment, and back into our savings account.


Anyway, detailed history out of the way - where do we stand now??

We still live on a tight budget and stay out of debt when possible.  We owe money on our house, the student loan, and my car (we had to get a new one when my other one died - we were quite sad to take on another car note when we had just paid the other one off - but it had to be done.  We got a car neither of us loved, but it was affordable and safe. We are plugging away at getting rid of this car payment too.).  We never carry a balance on the credit cards.

We still do the cash system, as it has always worked well for us.  Yet in the interest of honesty and not sounding like we are know-it-alls (I'm really not trying to! Promise!!)- we have ups and downs.  Some months, we are totally ON IT and dominate the budget.  

Then, there are times when we slip.  For instance, last summer was a hot mess - we had a baby...  No matter how you prepare, there are always things that come up that you didn't prepare for.  This certain pacifier works? OMG buy 10 more on Amazon RIGHT NOW!  Money is no object when you are scared out of your wits and just want to have what works.  Exaggerating a bit, but we fell off the wagon some.  Luckily, we still had a nice cushion to fall back on, so we weren't going into debt.

We soon righted ourselves and went back to it.  Then this spring, one month we found ourselves a few days into the month without getting our monthly cash out.  So we used our cards.  Then it was too late so we just went with it.  The budget was a mess - we feel there is so much less accountability with our cards. We learned from it, we righted it.

Our most recent struggle has been with using our debit cards and not accounting for it.  For instance, things bought online can't be paid for with cash.  We also keep our cash at home and only grab what we need before we head out somewhere.  But there are always those little things that crop up - stopping into the grocery store to grab milk or a soda at the gas station - and sometimes we just don't have the cash in hand to use.  One month, Tony added up stuff like this - and we had spent over $200 on our cards during a month that was supposed to be all cash.  It was simply little stuff that added up in a major way.  


I don't want to come across as obnoxious at all in these posts.  I simply wanted to share what we've learned as we have gone.  Money is a big part of most people's lives, whether they like it or not, and it's something that is influential in this season of our lives especially.  I hope to just add another voice to the chorus out there of people who are making it work.  I hope to come across as supportive and not judgmental   Everyone has their own way of making it work for their family.  Our way works for us.  I just want to share the value we found in actually making conscious decisions about how our money affected our lives and how we struggle, but how we find so much joy in our successes.

So, here's what we do now (the details):

  • We pay our fixed bills online (house, car, loan, utilities, etc.) and use the debit card for gas.  We have whittled our fixed expenses down as low as we can, within reason.  There was a time when we didn't have cable at all, had non-smart phones, and had slower internet.  We have changed some of those things as we have been able to - we have basic cable and I have an iPhone (we get a discount through Tony's work for my phone and he uses a company phone (and car!)).  But at the times when we needed to get to bare bones - we weren't afraid to go there.  
  • We have $800 in our cash budget each month.  Anything else we want to spend that isn't a fixed expense must come from here. The total has changed as we've gone through different phases in the past few years, but that's where it stands today.  We used to have a lot less.  We used to break our cash envelopes into many specific categories, but now we just use three envelopes:  Grocery ($400), Entertainment ($200), and Incidentals ($200).  We found we were just shifting money around if we broke it out more precisely, so this works for us.  We no longer have personal money for just ourselves (it all goes to the baby now, it seems!).  We consider anything you could buy at Walmart as Grocery, including paper towels, diapers, shampoo, etc.  Incidentals are things like gifts or haircuts or fees or whatever.  Entertainment is basically meals out, since we don't do fun things like movies anymore :).  I usually don't worry too much about the envelopes themselves, they are more so just a guide - what really counts is the total at the end of the month.  Again, this is just the way that works best for us.  Whether you have 50 envelopes or just one, as long as there's a system that works for you, that's all that matters.
  • We keep an empty envelope for online/card expenditures.  Now if we have to use the card, we take cash out from our budget and put it into this envelope.  At the end of the month, the money in there goes into the total for the next month and we just get less money out of the bank, so we aren't going over budget by using the card.  I write on the envelope when I put money into it so I can go back and make sure all is accounted for by comparing with our bank statement.
  • We're saving.  It's not much, but we've gotten to a point where we can still save a little (something we couldn't do while I was in school).  This helps maintain our emergency fund and also allows us to not feel as bad when we want to go over our monthly expenses occasionally for something substantial, like re-doing our kitchen or go on a vacation.  Our savings are taken automatically from Tony's check and go straight into the savings account.  We used to put into our 401ks, and one of our goals is to move to eventually funding that type of saving again, and hard, to make up for lost time.
  • We're donating.  Again, automatically   

Again, I don't want to sound smug or ungrateful.  So many other people would love to have what we have, and that's never lost on us.  What feels like a tight budget to us would be a windfall for others.  I don't want to ever seem like we are struggling, because truly, we are not.  I try to remember that on days when I am being self-pitying and sad, and I just want to buy new pretty things for our house, or cute clothes for Harper (heck, or just clothes that fit me!), or actually tackle more than one house project a season.  I try to remember that we are so lucky, so blessed, in such a great position.  


What we've learned:
  • It's worth it.  I'll say it again - IT'S SO SO SO WORTH IT!!!  Three years ago when we started this process, I had no clue where life would take us.  School was a dream, kids were in the distant future.  I couldn't have predicted that I would be a stay at home mom three years later, and have the ability to do so, simply because we made the changes we did, way back when.  Our efforts then have payed off tenfold - we have the freedom to make choices now because of how we have set ourselves up for the future.
  • You have to be flexible - and patient.  Things change.  Our budget sheet has been reworked 50 times.  We've cut expenses and then added them back.  We've shifted money from envelope to envelope.  This kind of thing takes time.  You learn as you go.  We had cut cable entirely last year, using Netflix only for a grand total of $8.  It was awesome.  I gave birth to Harper and Tony was on the phone with Comcast three days later, re-installing our account.  We needed that TV to keep our sanity at the time.  And that was ok.  This type of budgeting took us a few months to first get the hang of it, and we're still learning.  We didn't see results at first - only the cuts.  But now, oh we see results.
  • It's takes attention.  Getting serious about finances doesn't just happen on its own.  It take attention - daily attention.  You have to think about each purchase.  No impulse buying allowed - or if you do, say goodbye to Chinese take-out this Friday.  You have to be conscious of every cent and know when you need to tweak things or make sweeping changes. 
  • You have to redefine "wants" and "needs."  There were so many things in our lives that we considered essential to human existence.  Turns out, when you get down to it, so many of them really weren't.  It was nice that Tony had a fancy truck, but it's even better that he uses a branded work car (that we can't use personally) and we just have our one car payment, one insurance bill, one car to gas up.  A DVR and a ton of channels was nice, but not wasting too much time glued to the TV is even better.  Our gym membership was convenient, but now it's just as fulfilling to push Harper on a walk outside.  Tony would like to have a non-work flip phone that can do more than just make calls, but a single cell plan is even better.  Like I've said - we have lived in leaner ways than we are even living today, but at the time, it was necessary to make cuts, and we did it.  We had a bare-bones cash budget for a while.  While it was tough, we found out the simple life was actually pretty rewarding.  Now we can really appreciate the things we have been able to add back in.
  • It's so worth it!!

The point of all this is - it's never easy.  Never.  It feels so so good to be frugal and responsible with our money.  It's a HUGE blessing that we were able to get our finances in order so that I could go back to school and now can stay home with Harper.  We don't have to scrape by and can still enjoy doing things in moderation.  We actually have it pretty great!  It makes us truly happy to live simply, but it's never easy.  It takes work and constant reorganization and renewal of goals.  It takes learning from mistakes and listening to wise voices.  It takes communication.  But it's so worth it.  It makes us stronger as a couple and sets us up for the kind of life we want to lead.

My final thought for you is this - If you've been on the fence about getting serious with your finances, just do it.  If you're in the thick of it - keep trudging!!  If you're on the other side - hooray!! No matter where you land, the important part is being intentional.  It's worth it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Saturday!

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Baby Isaac!

The past couple of weeks have been the kind that have been busy - not crazy busy or even stressful busy... but the kind where you have things planned and then look down and the day is winding to a close and you didn't get much done.  We've had lots of happy things happen and friends and family to spend time with.  Yet it's mid May and here we are.


Happy news!  On April 30th, our little nephew Isaac was born!!  (If you follow me on Instagram you have already been spammed baby pics - apologies. (claireity66)).  He is such a sweet little thing and looks so much like his sister did when she was born.

The hospital let Ava go in and be with him while he got checked and cleaned up.  And luckily, much like with her birth, we were able to peep through the windows of the nursery and witness his first minutes in this world.  What a blessing babies are.  Truly.

Proud Papa

This is my favorite one - Tony's all - ohh, this is a minutes-old baby, I'm just gonna casually hold him like this... 
Happy family.

It was great to be a part of such a wonderful day.  Isaac marks the beginning of lots of babies that are soon to be born that we know (including my sister's around Halloween and quite a few friends!).  (And I kinda want another one again now).  (Eventually).  (Don't tell Tony.) (Because he's all about another.) (Believe it or not.) 

Monday, May 6, 2013


This.  This perfectly captures who my daughter is these days.  

Happy and screeching.

[and wearing shorts because pants that fit around the waist are entirely too long!]
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