30 June 2011

Independence Day

I keep hearing Martina McBride singing in my head...

...it's done.  We're free.  (Mostly--but I'll tell you about that in a minute.)

James just made the final payment on our debt.  Not a big deal for some, but this has been HUGE for us, and an issue since before we were married.  I am not proud to admit that I started using credit cards in college and just got...hooked, even though it's a cliche.  My mindset?  Credit was the same as having money.  I could spend and spend, and only pay what I wanted to pay.  I shared some of my bad habits with my Boy, although he's always been better than me when it comes to spending.  Fast forward a decade, and add a decade's worth of overspending, spending what we didn't have, financing things we didn't need to finance, and a whole lot of sticking my head in the sand when it came to money.

We hired a financial advisor at one point, and just loved him.  Great guy.  Great ideas.  Didn't even phase us when he sat us down, looked us in the eye, and said, "your net worth...is negative."  He gave us a plan to get out of debt and build wealth.

That binder made a pretty addition to the bookshelves I charged at Target several months later.

Even when we sat down and looked--really looked--at our finances to make the decision to move to Brenham and for me to leave the classroom, we weren't looking with eyes that saw the truth.  We thought we were in pretty good shape.

We had a "budget" that left no room for new tires, or medical bills, or any unexpected expenses, much less daily life.  I was STILL charging stuff when we moved to Brenham and started our "new life."  With the same old bad habits.  Thank God--literally--that He did not answer our prayers about buying another house when we moved here.  Honestly, we were lucky to get out of the one we sold...that we'd financed with a 100% loan.  100% loan - 3 years = lucky to break even.  I have no doubt that if we had bought a house at the prices we considered (keep in mind, we thought we were in good shape, even with my smaller salary!) it would have ruined us financially.  The little green house was a blessing 5 years ago, and it still is today.  Dave Ramsey's plan includes living under your means...I wouldn't say we've done that well, but we have learned to live WITHIN our means.  And though we laugh about it sometimes, our means right now to finance the lifestyle we have (rich in family time, not so much in stuff anymore) are this very small rented home and two 6-year old vehicles.

But going back...Life came at us pretty hard and fast after we moved.  We quickly learned that our "budget" (not that we had one, we just thought James made enough money to cover everything) wasn't cutting it.  Quite frankly, we didn't have two nickels to rub together that first summer we were here...it hadn't occurred to us that since I didn't get paid year-round anymore, we ought to save money for the summer months.  We lived through that summer by eating a lot of sandwiches and just hanging out, not spending anything more than we had to.  Things picked up that fall when work started and I got an awesome online teaching gig...then I got sick and it took 4 months of testing and waiting to find out it was simply my gall bladder.  A quick surgery later, I was good as new.  So good, it kick-started my system and Kayci's birthday wish for a baby brother came true.

Then you know what happened a few months later...Dad got sick, our world came into focus, and we decided it was time to quit waiting and start LIVING.  So we cleaned up our acts, took a good, long look at our finances and decided to take control.  If you've gone through this, you know how defeating this can be, and it got us down.  But once we started Financial Peace University at church, it felt like a lightbulb went off, and then another, then another.  We had tools and a plan and support and we learned that people we respected in our community were in the same boat--we may have been the only people dumb enough to talk about it, but we were not alone on the sinking ship of debt.  For some reason, that made a difference...we were stupid, yeah, but others had made our same mistakes.

Our first step?  Budgeting.  This was HUGE for us.  The idea of actually knowing what we were going to bring in each month and naming each dollar before we got it was life-changing.  Our M.O. before was:  get paid, go shopping, live it up...then pay the bills with what's left over and eat cheaply for the last week of the pay period.  I had used gas cards (my parents', of course, until I was married) since I started driving, as had James, so giving those up was painful--that's a lot of money to come RIGHT OUT OF THE BANK each week.  We had to make a lot of changes like that, and it was painful at times.  But what made it easier was seeing our debts fall away.  We made a lot of progress fast, and from October until April when my Dad died, we had paid off all of our small debts AND our student loans.  What was left was a big ol' pile of credit card debt that we'd used a bank loan to "pay off."  That sucker has lingered and lingered.  Of course, we quit being as intense about eating out and stuff as time went on, and if we had followed Dave Ramsey's advice about "rice and beans, beans and rice" we could have posted this last year.  But we got to the point where we set a goal and just set about working quietly toward it.

And here we are, June 30th, with the last payment made.

Do you want to know how stupid we were?  $50,000+ debt...paid off in two years and nine months.

Now, we still have to pay off our cars, so we're not ready to go screaming on Dave Ramsey's radio show just yet.  But still, today is a good day.  We are finally free from our stupidity, and can use the money we've been putting toward debt to build our future.  In a lot of ways, the exciting part is over once this day ends.  In a few months when our cars are paid off, that will be exciting.  But really, now we just quietly keep saving...the hard part isn't over.  In some ways it's just beginning, because now we have to be disciplined enough to save toward our new goals:  savings, home, retirement, college...good stuff.  But stuff we would still be a million miles away from if we hadn't taken the reins of the runaway horse that was our finances for the first decade of our marriage.  I could focus on the bad things, how stupid we were, the things we charged we didn't need, the wastefulness of our early married years...but that's not my style.  Instead, I'm looking ahead at how our choices now will, hopefully, have such an impact on Kayci that she'll say no to the credit card company on the college campus that offers free t-shirts just for signing up.  That's where it all started--they handed a lit match to a pyromaniac, friends.  The rest is history, but we've changed our future.  I'd like to think that's what matters.

Let freedom ring...

28 June 2011

One Little Monkey...




...jumping on the bed!


What rules do your kids get to break on vacation? :)

27 June 2011

21 June 2011

The One That Got Away




That's no fish, folks...he's telling us about his poop from earlier. It was THIS big, he says.

Guess Grandpa's fishin' stories stuck with him, after all.

A fail & a blank wall

We now have a blank spot on our bedroom wall. I realized this morning that my happy little fruit of the spirit print is...




...never mind. You tell me what's wrong with this picture. :) And if you can figure out how I missed it for six months, let me know that, too!

20 June 2011

Potluck!

Yesterday evening we went to a potluck dinner. James told me afterward that he thought our spoons were a great idea, so I thought I'd share. Since we didn't know who would be there last night, I listed all of the ingredients in each dish and tied them to the serving spoon, just in case anyone had allergies.




Come on, girls--bet you can think of a way to make this cuter!

(Teresa, I'll never forget the time you accidentally ate a coconut cookie...that's my cautionary tale!)

Remembering


I know the picture quality is terrible...I'm pretty sure Noble had licked my phone or something.  That's Noble with Grandpa, on Good Friday 2009.  We took Dad to HEB there in Deer Park to pick up a few groceries.  The next morning we got up, went and had breakfast at their favorite Mexican place, then went to Lowe's and bought plants for their back porch.  Dad supervised James and Kayci's planting, and he was pretty well worn out by the time everyone got there for an early Easter dinner.

And a week later, he was gone.

I have faith, and I know God has a plan and Dad's death has nothing at all to do with me.  I know it's a part of life, and life goes on.  And it has--it has to.  That toddler in the picture up there?  He was still 17 days away from walking.  Now he's old enough to buckle his own seatbelt and count, mostly, to 20.  His sister turned 8 yesterday, and instead of a party she wanted to go to the Downtown Aquarium, just the four of us.  But it wasn't just the four of us there, because I turned the corner and I could see Dad standing there, in my mind's eye, holding baby Kayci.  I could see him dressed up in his starched Polo oxford and black Dockers, excited about a night out to celebrate James' raise.  I could smell his cologne.  But I couldn't see him, and I couldn't talk to him...and it's moments like those, even though they're rare these days, that can bring me to my knees.  I miss my Dad.  I miss my children's Grandpa.  I miss my husband's father-in-law.  I miss my Mom's husband, and my brothers' Dad.  I miss everything he was, good and bad.  I miss him.

My Dad was a good man, and the best father he knew how to be.  I have to say, he got better at it as he--and we--got older.  He loved, loved being a Grandpa from the moment he found out Ronny and Amy were pregnant, and for the six kids that would follow (between the three of us, there are seven grandkids).  We were lucky enough to see him and Mom almost every day for the first two years and eleven months of Kayci's life, until we moved to Brenham.  Even then, Kayci and I spent half of every week at their house in Houston while I worked, and they spent a fair amount of time in Brenham.  Dad would come out whenever we needed a babysitter, or when James was out of town, or when Kayci had a special day at school...we could depend on him, and we did.  As is usually the case, I didn't know exactly how much I depended on him until he was no longer able to babysit, and he wasn't around to answer my questions about how long to cook this or that.

If my Dad was alive today, we would have given him "True Grit" for his father's day gift.  That's a given.  He would have gone with James to the movie to see it, and before that, he would have been so excited when James called to say he'd run into the crew during filming that fall in the hill country.  Mom would still have a new bag for an anniversary gift, and Dad still wouldn't have gone to the store to pick it out--but he would have given her his blessing.  :)  I would have called him as soon as I woke up this morning, probably even before James could open his gifts, because I would have known he was waiting.  I'll just tell you Dad, the movie is pretty awesome, even for a remake.  You would have liked the new Rooster, and would have talked about the movie for days, I'm sure.  And I probably would have gotten tired of listening, and I probably would have tried to change the subject...and you probably would have brought it up again, later.  Right?  

I don't know where to go from here, so I think I'll pack it in and head to bed.  After I wake my Boy up, of course.

Good night, and happy father's day to all the dads out there!  Just a word of advice:  every day matters--use them wisely, and joyously.  Life is too short to hold grudges and create drama.

19 June 2011

More Than a Father

I know father's day is winding down, but I couldn't let it pass without saying something to my Boy.

Right now "we're" watching True Grit, your pick...you're sitting on the couch, fast asleep.  I know if I wake you up you'll insist you are awake and have been watching the whole time.  You've been working around the clock for the past couple of months and have run yourself ragged.  I hope you know how much I (we) appreciate that.  

Yesterday was Kayci's 8th birthday.  At first, I thought to myself, we've been parents for 8 years.  But that's not really true, is it?  As far as we are concerned, we became parents on that October night almost 9 years ago when you kept giving me Pepsi so I could take more pregnancy tests.  I think we both grew up a little that night, and I know we both grew up when Kayci came along almost 9 months later.  It's been an amazing journey, to say the least.  These past 8 years have brought unimaginable joy and nearly unbearable sorrow, but you have been there through it all, standing strong.


You have been my best friend for 15 years, Boy, and I have loved you for so long I can't remember what it feels like not to share my heart with you.  You have seen me at my best and at my worst, and loved me through it all.  Thank you for that unconditional love that you show me, and maybe more importantly, our children.  I know you are far from perfect, but you are what God has called you to be.  You are so much more than a father.  You are a Daddy.  You are ours, and we are blessed.  I love you so big, and Kayci and Noble love you even bigger, they'd say.  I don't know about that--we all love you big, big, bigger than the world.


Happy father's day, Boy.  And by the way, you slept through the whole movie.  Again.  :)

17 June 2011

In a few minutes,

my Bitty will be 8.  8!  It doesn't seem possible that she's been here for 8 years already.  When we saw her in the operating room right after she was born, it was like we'd known her forever.  Our big girl really is a big girl now...it's bittersweet to watch her grow, but to see her growing into a lovely, kind, smart, funny, talented young lady is such a blessing and a privilege.

I have to move on or I won't be able to (sniff!).  I don't know who gets more excited about birthdays...the birthday kid or me.  Okay, I do--it's me.  This year has been a bit of a challenge, as Kayci was set on her birthday party back at Christmas so we reserved it...then a few weeks ago, she changed her mind and said she didn't want a party.  I don't know if she really thought that through until this week...and I can tell it's been weighing on her.  Of course Daddy and I have several surprises for her, including 8 weeks of activities (skating, trips to children's museums, etc.) that we will do with the money we would have spent on her party.  Kayci doesn't know it, but she and I actually brainstormed a list of things she'd rather do instead of a party one day...I'm slick like that.  :)  So, I hope once she gets up and sees that even though she's not having a party, we're going to cElEbRatE that she'll be just fine.  I can't wait to tell you what Daddy's BIG surprise is...but you'll have to wait until Kayci finds out.  It's a good one!

Once the knuckleheads were asleep, we got to work decorating so Kayci will wake up in the morning to a birthday-fied house.  She decided on pink and zebra after she and Grandma made me the cool zebra birthday banner back in December, so I think she'll be really pleased.  She's actually made her own birthday hats this week (the kid has been crafting like crazy!) so I'll post pictures of those tomorrow.  They're really cool--the details she thinks of just amaze me!

I have GOT to go to bed or I won't be much fun tomorrow.  Here's what Kayci will be waking up to tomorrow...












Happy birthday, Bitty!  Can't wait to celebrate with you tomorrow!

Love you big,
Mommygirl

16 June 2011

Taking a Break


I'm not going to tell you what we've been doing for the past two weeks because you're busy, too.  But I am going to tell you what we're doing today:  very little.  I had already committed to an hour of VBS work time this morning, then we're going to the pool for Noble's last swim lesson...then, we're coming home to stay for the day.  I found myself making plans for today last night with friends and I got home, totally exhausted and the kids were exhausted and my Boy was exhausted...and I just told myself, STOP.

So we are.

Just for today, at least.

13 June 2011

Wish




Wouldn't you love to know what he wished for?

12 June 2011

Baby Fever

It seems like EVERYONE is pregnant or has just had a baby.  Okay, not everyone, but a LOT of my friends.  I kinda have baby fever.

And I'm kinda not ever gonna have another one, unless we buy one.

And mostly I'm okay with that.  Until the fever hits.

This week has been particularly tough, for some reason--I think because in the past two weeks Noble has all but mastered potty training, given up sippy cups completely, and totally mastered sleeping in his own bed all night.  All at once, he's let go of being a little guy and is turning into a big guy.  When he stops wuving my hair, I might just curl into a ball and die.  Kidding.  Kind of...

So, earlier this week we heard something.  And heard it and heard it...a mama had put (or had) a kitten under our house.  Lucky for us, the little one was living right. under. our. bedroom.   Mama cat was coming in and out, so he'd cry for a good part of the day, it seemed like.  Daddyboy went to see what he could see, and the little guy was too far in the corner to reach.  After a couple of days, he came close enough to the opening for James to pull him out.  And, he did while we were in Houston the other day.  I started thinking, uh oh.




The back story:  we had two awesome cats, Buddy and Kitty.  When our house was on the market, they drove me NUTS...they started climbing on our table and just doing goofy cat things.  Things settled down once we moved, until we had a baby and I couldn't take the boys climbing into his crib (bleck!) and chewing on his toys.  So, Nana and Dan adopted them.  And I vowed no more animals.  And then Sami came back to live with us, until she didn't anymore.  Once she was gone, we had a family talk:  no more animals.  Seriously, no more animals.

You heard God laugh, right?

Yesterday we woke up in kind of a hurry to get to Austin to pick up the kids.  But the little guy's cries were pretty loud and frantic, so James went out and brought him in for a while.  He was obviously hungry, so my hero went and bought some catmilk (true story--it's a real product) and food for Mama cat, hoping to lure her back.  While Daddy was at the store, the kids and I got to play with the kit-ten, as Noble says.  And since we all know how this story ends, we started talking about names.  Kayci and I like George (as in, Curious, or, I will love him and call him George).  Noble?  Stuck on Milky Way.  Just...no, Noble.




I think the kitten thinks James is his Mommy.  It's sweet.




So, after filling his little tummy, Daddyboy tucked him safely back under the house and we said a little prayer that his Mommy would resume her visits and headed off to Austin.  When we got home late last night, I went out to check the mail...and he was sitting on our bottom step.  Poor little guy.  My heart sank--he was easy prey, sitting out like that, and the busy street is right. there.  As soon as I picked him up, he started to purr.  I guess he was looking for somebody since his Mama didn't come back.  :(  And that's that...or, the story of how the ones who were never going to have a cat again got a cat.

Stay tuned for the next installment or, let's see if he actually becomes an outdoor cat when he's old enough.

10 June 2011

07 June 2011

Define Fail...

The pasta is totally red...so is it still a fail?





How 'bout now?





06 June 2011

Good times...




Just sitting here doing my coursework for the evening and this popped up in my e-mail inbox.  This is from our family portrait session back in October...apparently, the kids and I had HAD it with lighting adjustments.  It's funny now...

Keep Calm...


That's my plan for today.  I have a horrible habit:  the busier I get, the less I pay attention to my calendar and my to-do list.  So, today I'm getting back on track.  How many freaking blog entries have I written to this same tune the past few years?  It's just that time again...crazy May's over, and it's time to get into laidback June's healthy habits.

I'm starting with my calendar, then moving on to my to-do list, and before I go to bed tonight, we'll have a menu for this week.  Oh, and I realized this morning that I overbooked us today, so now I have to backtrack and figure out where we most need to be.  Sigh.  Don't even get me started on tomorrow!

Ironically, I borrowed a book from GoGo and Angus this weekend about procrastination.  I'll read it tomorrow.  Just kidding...