Out with the old, In with the new!

Happy New Year! Here’s to lucky number 13!

We rang in the new year in a pretty low key manner. Just the 4 of us at home, playing games, eating and being silly.

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We did our official toast to the new year at 9 pm so that Isabella could participate. We mixed orange juice and Squirt and drank out of wine glasses (champagne flutes are still in storage…) to make it fancy. Then we took some more silly pictures and called it a night!

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Now, let’s talk resolutions…

I started out 2012 with a long list of resolutions (30 of them! Eek!). I acknowledged at the time that it was ambitious and tried to break it down in to manageable chunks. I actually stuck with it for a good 6 months too and can say I crossed off about 50% of the items (I say “about” because some of the goals were in multiple parts or I did a resolution for the first half of the year but not the last, etc.).

I could site many excuses for not doing more (laziness, being pregnant, changing priorities, etc.) but the fact of the matter is that I’m human and can only do so much. I’m not perfect (are you shocked?) and so I think getting through half of my list is pretty darn good.

That being said, this year I’m going to come at it a bit differently. I have 2 goals (you know, other than the Big One of having a baby) and they pretty much go hand in hand:

1. Get our finances in order and pay down our debts

2. Establish and maintain organization in the household

The first one is a carry over from last year. I learned a valuable lesson in the last couple of months – no matter how much money you make, it’s all about how you manage it. To that end, you have to have a budget and a plan, neither of which we really had. I really struggled in December with our money situation and how I let us get here (I’m the CFO of the house). But “shoulds” will not solve anything and all we can do is fix it going forward.

So I took some time over the last couple weeks to come up with a budget, formulate a plan for how we’ll pay down the debt and save money and put it in to action. It’s a work in progress and I’m sure we’ll have to adjust as we go but it feels good to at least do something. Admittedly, we are not nearly as bad off as many others in America and I am truly grateful for what we do have. But it could be better and I’m determined to make it so.

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In my mind, #2 will help us with #1. The more organized we are around the house, the more money we’ll save. Case in point: the other week I bought new toothpaste for Isabella because she ran out, only to discover a couple days later when rifling through the closet that we already had some for her. Also, the more diligent we are about cleaning, maintenance and upkeep of the house, the fewer ’emergencies’ we’ll have down the line with things breaking or wearing out due to improper upkeep.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we’re slobs or don’t take care of things, it’s just that with the daily hustle and bustle, things tend to get dropped by the wayside, forgotten or overlooked and the next thing you know, you’re taking your car to the mechanic for a $200 job that could have been avoided had you remembered to change the oil 3 months ago (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…).

So I’ve put together a Household Management Binder that will hopefully keep us on the straight and narrow. In it there are sheets for:

1. Weekly meal planning (this will save us money on groceries and help avoid eating out plus take away the daily stress of “what’s for dinner?”)

2. Weekly Cleaning Checklist – I’m using #2 (breaks up cleaning tasks out by day of the week so that we have a few small things to do each day rather than a huge list on the weekend)

3. Monthly Cleaning Zones (lists out items that need to be done on a monthly basis so they aren’t overlooked)

4. Budget (visible reminder of our budget that will help us see how we’re doing and stay on track)

5. 52 Weeks of Organization (a weekly guide to organizing so that by year end, the whole house will be organized and de-cluttered)

6. Play date Calendar (monthly look at all the play groups, story times and open gym times around town for CJ and Isabella to use)

7. Emergency Contact Information (list of emergency numbers for easy reference for us or baby-sitters)

8. Household projects (list of all the big projects / to do’s that need to be done around the house so that CJ and I can sync up and track them together)

We’ve been using it since Sunday and so far, so good. Crossing items off the weekly cleaning list feels good because it means we’ve accomplished something and that we’re doing good things for our house! And the meal planner has made the week so much easier when it comes to lunches and dinners.

We also got one item checked off the household projects list – putting the storage cabinet together and organizing it!

In our old house, we had this cabinet in Samson’s Room and used it for storing gift wrapping supplies, games, scrapbooking stuff, and miscellaneous small décor items (like candles). We had to take it apart when we moved and it never got reassembled – until this weekend!

The basement went from this:

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To this!

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Pretty awesome, huh? I was able to unpack and toss about 7 big boxes, freeing up so much more space.

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Here’s what the inside looks like:

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On the left is the gift wrapping station (ribbons and accessories on top, bags and tissue on the hangers, and wrapping paper and boxes on the bottom). On the right we have games, memory boxes, extra baskets/art supplies and candles (in the top drawer). Bottom drawer is empty which means there’s room for more!

Feels so good to have that done and I smile every time I go in the basement and see that area!

Cheers to a good year!

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January Check-In

It’s the end of the month and that means it’s time to check in on how I’m doing with my resolutions for the year. Let’s just say I’m totally kicking butt so far. January has been very productive and while there were a few setbacks and frustrations, overall, I’m really proud of my progress.

Now let’s get specific.

Family and Home:

1.  Do at least one family outing a month. We slam dunked this one. We went to Sesame Street live…

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a movie, a neighborhood pot luck, a trip to the playground and the zoo.

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We really had a fun month as a family and I’m stoked to see what things we can come up with to do in February!

2.  Tackle the following home projects this year:

  • Buy and hang curtains on all the windows. We got a good start on this one. We started with Isabella’s room because we wanted ones that would block out the night, particularly during the day.

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We also put up some in the front room, on the window between the dining room and play room.

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Pretend the play area is totally neat and organized….still working on a better solution for that. I do think the panel curtains really help separate the 2 rooms more visually. Also adds some much needed color.

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It’s amazing how much curtains can add to a room. Such an easy way to add punch and visual interest.

We also got some pictures and a mirror hung on the back wall of the dining room which was a big accomplishment for me. That blank wall has been sticking in my craw for months so it feels great to have it filled. Took a while to find stuff we liked. We knew we wanted a mirror but aside from that, we weren’t sure. I was going on feel and 2 criteria: it had to be blue and bold. As soon as I saw those 2 flower prints at the store I knew they were perfect!

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Samson likes them too.

  • Unpack the remaining boxes in the basement. Did nothing on this one. The problem is that most of the stuff left in boxes is awaiting another project to be done. For example, the built ins. Once those are done, we can empty a whole slew of them!
  • Do something with the front room. I’m getting close on this one. I haven’t purchased anything yet but have more ideas and may even act on one of them tomorrow! Squee!
  • Create a sitting room within the master bedroom. Nothing yet. This probably won’t happen until later in the year.
  • Add built in shelves to the living room by the end of the year. Again, this is a project that most likely won’t be started until summer.

3.  Break Isabella of the “oobie” habit once and for all. Done! Though she still asks for one on occasion and often dreams of them, for the most part I would call this a success. It wasn’t without a lot of crying, hand wringing and alcohol prayer, but we did it. She can sleep without them so long as she has her blankets and stuffed animals. I imagine the reliance on those will go away too in time so this one can officially be crossed off! Boo-yah!

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4.  Move Isabella to a toddler bed. Not yet. Wanted to wait for her to get through the “oobie” withdrawal. And I’m in no hurry so it’ll happen sometime this year, just not right away.

5.  Have Isabella potty trained by her 3rd birthday (September 30). We bought her a potty book and talk about it but no formal transition plan yet. Not sure she’s totally ready for that. She seems to view pooping as an ailment. Whenever she poops, and believe me, we can tell when that is, I’ll ask her about it and she says, “No I’m not pooping, I’m fine” through gritted teeth. She’s gonna be quite a catch for some lucky young man!

6.  Research pre-schools and enroll Isabella in one to start in the fall of 2012. No. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

Financial and career:

7.  Attend one career professional event a month. I attended one event in January and already have one on my calendar for February and March. Look at me being such an overachiever!

8.  Spend less money – save 5% of each paycheck in a nest egg AND apply 5% of each paycheck toward paying off our credit card balance. This one didn’t go as neatly as planned. With the first paycheck there wasn’t enough left to put money in savings and pay towards the credit card so I chose to forgo the saving. But with the second paycheck, I was able to do both. Money in general stresses me out because it seems that no matter how careful we are, we always end up counting down to the next payday. I’m working on figuring out better ways or not letting it get to me. It’s a process. Fortunately I get paid a bonus every quarter so that fills in some of the gaps.

9.  Save money for Isabella. This part has been easy. I just drop my loose change in a jar every day when I get home. I don’t even miss it!

Spiritual and ethical:

10. Find a church that we all like and attend regularly (at least twice a month). I was all gung ho to get going on this the first week of the month but our weekends tend to be really busy and we haven’t had time to look in to any churches, much less attend a service. Maybe next month.

11. Get back to daily prayers/talks with my Higher Power. I can’t say I did this on a daily basis but I was more regular about it. Maybe once or twice a week. I’ll keep at it.

Physical and health:

12. Adopt one new healthy habit each month. January – Add a fruit and/or vegetable (preferably both!) to each meal. I’ve actually done really well at this one. There were times if I was in a hurry I would be tempted to skip the veggies but most of the time I made myself do it.

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I think I only had 2 meals all month that didn’t have at least one fruit or veggie. Most of them had both. I found that overall, this helped me eat better throughout the day and I’ve noticed a difference in my skin and nails.

Social and cultural:

13. Attend at least 4 cultural events this year (e.g. Broadway shows, concerts, museum exhibitions).This month CJ and I went to see Blue Man Group with a bunch of friends and had a blast! I forgot how much I miss going to shows.

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Particularly ones with big balls.

14. Regularly participate in events put on by the social clubs I belong to (speaker’s events, parties, happy hours, etc). We did this too! Not only did we go to a neighborhood function but we also attended a Chinese New Year celebration put on by one of the members of our volleyball club.

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Both events exposed us to new friends and helped get reacquainted with old ones. Smashing success!

15.  Go on a date night with CJ once a month. Blue Man Group and the Chinese New Year outings were both date nights so we did 2 this month! We already have a couple scheduled for February too. Go us!

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Overall, I’m really happy with what I’ve been able to do this month – both for myself and with the family. February is already getting booked with play dates, social events, date nights and cultural experiences so there should be plenty of great stuff to share – and cross off the list!

How are you doing on your resolutions?

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2012 Resolutions

Pony Up

It’s time to step up and look back at the resolutions I set at the beginning of the year, to see what I accomplished and how much progress I made.

I only had 3 resolutions last year but they were pretty lofty. Looking back, though I tried to define how I was going to achieve each one but I wasn’t nearly specific enough – and some weren’t even realistic.

Let’s take a look.

1. Project Tone and Tighten: Goal – lose 3 lbs. of holiday weight gain and then maintain while also toning up all over. Verdict: Fail.

To be honest, I don’t think this one was a very good goal. First of all, lose 3 lbs. Really? That’s like the difference from one day to the next just in retaining water! 3 lbs. is laughable! While saying you want to maintain your current weight is good in theory, there are no parameters around that. No one can be the exact same weight every single day. Our bodies are too dynamic. So something like “stay within the 135-140 pound range while continuing to exercise daily and eat a healthy diet” would have been better.

Also, I never took measurements or before/after pics in January so there was no way to measure the “tone all over” part, other than what I can see in the mirror, which is definitely deceiving. That being said, I did try various workout programs (like the 30 day Shred, P90X and Kosama) to add variety to my workouts. I ultimately weigh the same today that I did when I made this resolution so I didn’t lose the 3 lbs but I did tone up a bit.

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2. Operation Dream Home Goal – sell our current house and buy our forever home. Verdict: Success!

We put a lot of time, money and effort in to getting our old house market ready and were able to sell it in 3 months, which is really good considering the market we were dealing with. There were some frustrations during that 3 months as I wanted things to move faster, but ultimately we got there.

We also found our dream home! At the time of making my resolution, I didn’t spell out any specifics of what that dream home should have but we later did when we were ready to shop. After searching for what seemed like months and looking at hundreds of houses, the very last one we looked at turned out to be “the one”. We’ve been living in it now for 3 months (OMG!) and couldn’t be happier with our home!

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3. Mission Debt Diet – Goal – pay off all credit card debt and pay down loans while also creating a nest egg. Verdict: Fail.

This one was definitely not specific or actionable enough. It was also too lofty and not doable, particularly considering Operation Dream Home. I should have come up with specific dollar amounts to put aside each week/month for paying off the credit card and also determined a specific amount for savings. Instead I just threw whatever extra money we had at the credit card. Some months it was only $100 and others it was $600. However, one valuable lesson I learned was that you can’t be so focused on putting all your money toward one thing and forgetting another. I was so hell bent on getting the credit card balance paid off that I would put TOO much money toward it, leaving us with not enough to live on. So I would have to pull money from savings or start charging things, which just defeats the whole purpose. Slow and steady wins the race.

I paid off a good chunk of it for the first part of the year but then as we started working on the house, we added a bunch back on to it. Today, we’re sitting with a little less on the card then we had in January but still have a ways to go. I’m going to carry this goal over to next year only come up with a specific and achievable plan.

There you have it. Overall, I didn’t do all that great. However, I learned lessons that I can apply toward my goals for next year and hopefully be more successful! Stay tuned for my list of goals for 2012!

Oh! One item that I committed to in January which wasn’t really an “official” resolution was to write daily in my Perpetual Journal.

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I can happily report that I have done just that! The fun part will be starting back at the beginning come January 1, 2012 and comparing each day of the New Year to the same day the year before. I imagine some days will be eerily similar (“long day at work, I’m tired”) while others will be drastically different (like on the days when we lost a loved one or something of significance happened). Should be interesting!

Pony Up

It’s time to step up and look back at the resolutions I set at the beginning of the year, to see what I accomplished and how much progress I made.

I only had 3 resolutions last year but they were pretty lofty. Looking back, though I tried to define how I was going to achieve each one but I wasn’t nearly specific enough – and some weren’t even realistic.

Let’s take a look.

1. Project Tone and Tighten: Goal – lose 3 lbs. of holiday weight gain and then maintain while also toning up all over. Verdict: Fail.

To be honest, I don’t think this one was a very good goal. First of all, lose 3 lbs. Really? That’s like the difference from one day to the next just in retaining water! 3 lbs. is laughable! While saying you want to maintain your current weight is good in theory, there are no parameters around that. No one can be the exact same weight every single day. Our bodies are too dynamic. So something like “stay within the 135-140 pound range while continuing to exercise daily and eat a healthy diet” would have been better.

Also, I never took measurements or before/after pics in January so there was no way to measure the “tone all over” part, other than what I can see in the mirror, which is definitely deceiving. That being said, I did try various workout programs (like the 30 day Shred, P90X and Kosama) to add variety to my workouts. I ultimately weigh the same today that I did when I made this resolution so I didn’t lose the 3 lbs but I did tone up a bit.

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2. Operation Dream Home Goal – sell our current house and buy our forever home. Verdict: Success!

We put a lot of time, money and effort in to getting our old house market ready and were able to sell it in 3 months, which is really good considering the market we were dealing with. There were some frustrations during that 3 months as I wanted things to move faster, but ultimately we got there.

We also found our dream home! At the time of making my resolution, I didn’t spell out any specifics of what that dream home should have but we later did when we were ready to shop. After searching for what seemed like months and looking at hundreds of houses, the very last one we looked at turned out to be “the one”. We’ve been living in it now for 3 months (OMG!) and couldn’t be happier with our home!

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3. Mission Debt Diet – Goal – pay off all credit card debt and pay down loans while also creating a nest egg. Verdict: Fail.

This one was definitely not specific or actionable enough. It was also too lofty and not doable, particularly considering Operation Dream Home. I should have come up with specific dollar amounts to put aside each week/month for paying off the credit card and also determined a specific amount for savings. Instead I just threw whatever extra money we had at the credit card. Some months it was only $100 and others it was $600. However, one valuable lesson I learned was that you can’t be so focused on putting all your money toward one thing and forgetting another. I was so hell bent on getting the credit card balance paid off that I would put TOO much money toward it, leaving us with not enough to live on. So I would have to pull money from savings or start charging things, which just defeats the whole purpose. Slow and steady wins the race.

I paid off a good chunk of it for the first part of the year but then as we started working on the house, we added a bunch back on to it. Today, we’re sitting with a little less on the card then we had in January but still have a ways to go. I’m going to carry this goal over to next year only come up with a specific and achievable plan.

There you have it. Overall, I didn’t do all that great. However, I learned lessons that I can apply toward my goals for next year and hopefully be more successful! Stay tuned for my list of goals for 2012!

Oh! One item that I committed to in January which wasn’t really an “official” resolution was to write daily in my Perpetual Journal.

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I can happily report that I have done just that! The fun part will be starting back at the beginning come January 1, 2012 and comparing each day of the New Year to the same day the year before. I imagine some days will be eerily similar (“long day at work, I’m tired”) while others will be drastically different (like on the days when we lost a loved one or something of significance happened). Should be interesting!

Thrifty

I’ll admit it. I used to be a snob about thrift store shopping. The whole idea of wearing someone else’s clothes gave me the heebee jeebees. And I didn’t have the patience for combing through the racks or walking around looking at endless shelves of “junk”.

I’d much rather pay full retail price for something shiny and new, I’d say.

But then during a casual conversation with friends, we found out that upon losing a lot of weight, and needing to basically get a whole new wardrobe, they started hitting thrift stores. Virtually their whole closet is filled with items found at said stores (and they always look good). That gave me something to noodle over. Then, in reading more decorating blogs with stories of people finding something shabby for a dollar and turning it in to something amazing, I became convinced that this was worth trying.

So, 2 weeks ago I made my first Goodwill run. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Not sure why but I guess there’s a certain skill to thrifting and I felt like a total newbie with the spotlight shining on me. I walked among aisles, glancing at things but not really looking. I saw other people with shopping carts full of stuff and was in awe. I went to 2 stores and my total loot was one throw pillow.

I felt somewhat successful though I knew I could do better. I decided to make Friday evenings my Goodwill time so last Friday I carried out the same mission, only I went to two different stores. This time I loaded up.

At the first one I found 2 cardigan sweaters, a pair of slippers (we’re going to have a “no shoes” rule at the new house and want to provide slippers for guests to wear), a blue vase and 4 colorful plates (for the new kitchen). Grand total: $20.

At the next one I got a cool lamp that will be perfect for the family room and 3 pairs of child sized slippers. Grand total: $15.

Then on Saturday, I took Isabella with me and we hit one store. Didn’t find as much there. We got a throw pillow, Clifford book for her, and a water bottle. Grand total: $6.

I’m still new at this and trying to figure it all out. But I’m learning. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up so far:

  1. Go often: this is probably the biggest rule of thumb. You can’t go once every 6 months and expect to find what you want. You have to be a regular as the product moves fast.
  2. Don’t have expectations: unlike regular shopping, you can’t go in with a list of items you want, because they may not have them. You need to have a general idea of what you’re looking for but yet have an open mind.
  3. Isolate: No, not yourself. Isolate the various items. It’s hard to see an item on the shelf, amongst hundreds of other items, and picture it in your house. You have to pick it up, look it over and try to envision it on your mantle or countertop or in your kids’ room. And again – have an open  mind!
  4. Carve out some time: you can’t race through the store in 5 min. If you want to find stuff, you have to walk up and down every aisle. That was my rookie mistake the first time around. I was too impatient.
  5. Go to different stores: there are like 20 different Goodwill’s in Omaha, plus all kinds of other thrift stores. Rotate locations. They all have different inventory and depending on the neighborhood, will have varying qualities. It goes to show that a store in a more wealthy part of town will probably have nicer stuff. But not necessarily. Visit them all and find your favorites, then get in a rotation to visit your favs on a regular basis.

My hope is to build my wardrobe and decorate my new house with thrift store items. Not only will it be cheaper but I’m also more likely to find unique and fun pieces that I couldn’t find at Target, Wal-Mart or other retail chain stores.

Thrift on!

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