Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lundi Gras Brunch

It's that time again, peoples.  No, not *that* time where we put red and pink upside down bottoms all over the place and pretend we're all loving each other.  And no, I'm not talking about the junk food extravaganza for the Super Bowl (although I might watch this year since the Ravens are playing. I remember when they won my senior year of college--Baltimore was celebrating like crazy--and the gal I partied with went out back and fired her shot gun. We knew how to have fun then. Anyway...).  Nope, it's Mardi Gras, my favorite holiday besides Thanksgiving!  I love it because it's not a holiday of moderation--it's about excess right before a time of penitence and self-control.  I personally detest moderation and balance. Give it your all, y'all, whether it's time to boogie down or take a facebook fast.

20 lb ago.

Little Winslow was all dressed up for the parades.

Anywho, my mother is a New Orleans native and currently lives there, so my brother and I have spent many Fat Tuesdays down in the awesomest American town.  We've never shown our boobs, and Bourbon Street has never been a necessary part of the celebration, although we've been there, done that, and don't need to return (except to Galatoire's Restaurant, which is so wonderful, serving classic Creole dishes).

This year, Aaron will be down there with his wife Zafera, but we can't make it.  Maybe next year baby Drew can finally witness the Mardi Gras madness like his sisters have.  For 2013, however, we'll have to bring some purple, green, and gold to Roeland Park, Kansas.  And we'll have to invite every kid/parent combo we know (P.S. If you haven't been formally invited, don't despair--I only handed out these invitations at Katie's preschool--let me know if you'd like to come!).

I got the invitations from Vista Print.  The shipping cost more than the cards themselves, but I think they look great! 
Cool invitations aside, the real draw is the food.  I'm hoping to ship up a couple of King Cakes from Frances' Bakery in Metairie.  It's my favorite, and I've tried a lot of King Cakes.  We're also going to have finger sandwiches.  I can't speak for everyone down in New Orleans, but I can say that finger sandwiches are a big deal for some.  They're not too fancy and are often served on gooey white bread (the kind that sticks to the roof of your mouth).  My mom and I have been known to put away an entire platter between the two of us, and we especially love the chicken salad.  I haven't decided what kinds I'll make, but there'll be something for the unadventurous as well as the foodies.

We'll have beads and crowns for the kids, but otherwise, they'll be left to their own devices, as it should be for a playdate (hate that term, but I wanted everyone to know it's totally casual).  We won't craft, paint, or do games because Katie Bel is sure to organize everything anyway (Little boy, you play the bad guy and chase me all around while I scream. Ready?  Go!).

Things left to do:

Make all the food
Finish the ceiling in the living room (thanks, Ryan!)
Bully everyone who hasn't RSVP'd properly yet
Drink a few cocktails in preparation
Make extra food so that Ryan can enjoy some since he won't be at the brunch

And yeah, I'm hosting this on a Monday morning. Why?  Well, because the mom organization I'm a part of has Monday Morning Coffee Club every week, and I haven't been able to go in ages, so hosting it means I get to be a part of it.  Also, because I can!  Katie has school Tues-Fri, and afternoons are terrible after nap (takes an hour for everyone to get non-grouchy), so there you go. Monday morning works best. I can't please everyone, and I'm not gonna even try.  I'm going to enjoy myself, and I'll leave the stress to the folks who want to make handmade masks from real turkey feathers using only kitchen twine and grass clippings.

In preparation for Mardi Gras, I'd like to give you an assignment: Enjoy a delicious cocktail.  Flash your husband/partner.  Lament that there ain't no place to pee on Mardi Gras Day.  Eat another pastry.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Man, I'm Broke Today: When there's a crisis

What do you do when the poo hits the fan?  When the transmission in your truck unexpectedly dies or the sewer line breaks or you need a root canal (not covered by insurance) right now or that pair of orange platform shoes is calling your name from across Nordstom and you might actually die if you don't purchase them?

Most of us have been there. And many of us don't have loads of cash sitting around. With median income hovering around $50,000 in this country, many can't afford to have more than a little in savings. And if we all saved as much as some experts recommended, the economy would collapse. Doesn't mean we should all think it's our duty to spend loads of money on crap, but still.  Somebody needs to (so rich people, get spending so us poor people can save a bit more without feeling guilty!  Otherwise, we'll have to continue spending 110% of our incomes to pay for golden parachutes!). 

Ryan and I are facing a bit of an issue right now.  We have qualified for a weatherization program (different from the one we got rejected from in October), but guess what stands in our way?

Asbestos. Yeah, we've talked about it in the past, having our ceiling tiles tested.  You see, asbestos is usually okay if you leave it alone, as long as it isn't deteriorating.  But we were planning on demolishing at least one ceiling, so we needed to know what was in those tiles (luckily, it was just cellulose).  However, we ignored the asbestos we suspected was in the basement all over the duct work.  And so we were disqualified from any work at all because of the toxic stuff down there.  

Did I mention asbestos abatement is really expensive?  It's a big pain in the butt, for one thing, because you have to treat the work areas like hazardous waste sites reminiscent of the plastic tarped tents in the movie E.T. (except they don't actually bring an alien to put in the freezer...unfortunately).  And the process requires testing as well as "safe" disposal of the stuff.  You can't just throw it in the trash.  We're talking mega bucks to cover the cost of professional abatement.

Getting the duct work that clean and asbestos-free cost us millions!  Well, not that much.

Anyway, back to how we face financial challenges such as these.  I have a few ways of dealing with it.

1) Taking the short view.  

---Was there anything I can immediately cut to open up a few bucks in the budget?  Why, yes.  Ryan and I had plans to go out for Restaurant Week.  We canceled those plans, saving about $100 (this event is annual, so we splurge just once a year on it).  We could also cut back on groceries for the next two weeks so there was a little extra cashflow.  And finally, we cut back on our energy drink consumption (sorry, Ryan, no more coffee). 

2) Creative maneuvering with the budget.

---Can I push back any bills at all?  Sometimes, you have a grace period on a bill, your mortgage for instance, so you don't have to pay it on the due date, but actually a couple of weeks later.  You can also try calling creditors to see if you can skip a payment (I think that's drastic, but sometimes, you gotta do it).  These suggestions only work if you have the money to cover the payment later!

Right now, because of biweekly paychecks, we are ahead on one large bill, so we could actually just move the payment ahead a month without ramifications. 

3) Finding things to sell.  

---That old-fashioned boob tube you keep in the basement might sell. Old electronics in general usually have a market.  Unused kitchen appliances, furniture, old lingerie, whatever you have lying around you don't need.  Get it listed on Craigslist now. Price to sell.  Just an FYI: You cannot sell your children or their services online.  In case you were wondering.

I am NOT for sale, Mommy!

4) Picking up more hours at work.

---This one is tricky.  Not everyone has access to overtime or hourly employment in the first place, but some do.  You could also advertise your services (babysitting, gardening, document editing, knowing everything) to pick up extra cash.

5) Using credit wisely.

---Right now, I don't have to use this step.  We have enough in savings plus my creative accounting to cover the cost.  However, if there were an emergency, and I had exhausted every other method of making money appear, I'd use credit.  Sometimes, a home maintenance vendor will not accept a credit card, so what do you do about that?  You can charge groceries and other bills, freeing up the cash you've set aside in the budget for that line item.  If you choose this route, immediately make a plan to pay it off.

6) Asking for an advance on the inheritance.

--Just kidding.

And then finally,

7) Taking the long view.

--Is there anything you can do to make sure you have savings for the next crisis?  Saving a lot is very difficult when money's tight, but there might be something you can permanently cut back on so you can sock away a few dollars.  Cell phone plans (some people spend hundreds!!  We pay $50/month total for our smart phones), French cheese, Amway products, sparkling wine (tough, I know), grooming (although I consider Ryan getting his eyebrows trimmed a necessity).

If you're getting a tax refund, consider popping it all into savings.  That's not really any fun, but you'll feel peace of mind knowing it's there if you need it.  And if you get an enormous refund due to overwithholding during the year, consider changing your W-4 so that you don't owe, but you don't get a big lump sum back--instead you'll get it in your paychecks (if you're American, that is. Sorry Canadians and others, I don't know anything about your tax systems).  I'm a little anal about this, and calculate throughout the year to make sure our tax situation is all in check.  

One big check later, our house is now certified asbestos free.  The basement looks so shiny and beautiful that I think I might finally get my chance to appear in House Beautiful (call me, okay?).  Now we'll hopefully get the house all sealed up and weatherized.  Once the work is done, I'll report back.

What do you do when a large, and unexpected, expense comes up?  Sell the Van Gogh?  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Man, I'm Broke Monday: The Bibliophile Has Needs, Too

I'm keeping this one short and sweet.  If you're a reader like I am, don't forget to use the library. Many systems have e-books available (even my tiny county has them now!), so you don't even have to leave home to get books without spending a fortune.

On my desk right this very second.
You can get books, magazines, newspapers, movies...and there are often toys and fun things for the kids, too.  For free.  And if you want just a quick visit, put an online hold on the book you want, and it'll be waiting for you! If you don't have online holds, start asking about one.  Libraries listen to their patrons. It's such a blessing to have great services like these.

Also, consider starting a book swap with friends. I'm a member of two such groups.  We get together every two months to share books we've been reading. I find it much less stressful than a formal book club, and you'll learn about books you've probably never heard of!  (Just don't bring books we all read in high school. No one will pick them up)  Plus, it's a great excuse to hang out with pals, eat snacks, and drink wine.

The real point of this post is to get you to join me over at Goodreads.  I love getting book suggestions from others, and the site makes it easy to follow your friends' reading habits.  Here's my profile.  Be my friend! Validate my existence!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Man, I'm Broke Monday: Cheap Organizing

Everyone's organizing for 2013, right?  I've seen proclamations all over Bloglandia as well as Facebook Country and Twitterburg.

"I WILL get organized in 2013!"

"I WILL have my closet look like a store!"

"I WILL have everything in the house color coded, in order by size, weight, and astrological sign!"

I will get this crap neat and tidy!
And many of the posts and tips from experts are centered on what things you need to buy to stay organized.  Totes, boxes, wall-thingies, magic genies that grant you three wishes. That kills me. I, for one, don't want to buy anything if I can get away with it.  Not just because I'm cheap.

But also because I think it's cheating (except for the magic genie--that's just awesome).

The least expensive way to organize is to get rid of stuff.

Don't hit me.  It's just the truth.  Although truth hurts, so I guess you can hit me if you'd like.  But once you're done taking your rage out on my arm (please spare my head), start purging.  There aren't any hard and fast rules for that no matter what anyone else says.  I think it's okay to keep things you don't use often as long as you really get a benefit when you *do* use it.  For me, that's my food processor.  Or fondue pot.  Or offset spatula.  (Yes, kitchen items are a big deal around here)  But that plastic thingy that is so dusty I'm not sure I'll ever use it ever?  Off to charity.

If it doesn't fit in here, we have to really think hard about keeping it.

What we do around here:

*Once the kids' clothes start busting out of their dressers, we don't buy another piece of furniture.  We cull until everything fits.  Careful that you don't toss all the undies and leave the kids with only PJs.

*When the bookshelves prove to be inadequate, we take a serious look within (Look inside your heart, as my Dad says at his construction meetings. Yes, he says it to grown men) to decide if we actually need another one or if we need to give some books away instead.

*When my lovely mother-in-law gifts us with a large set of her mother's china, we don't just add to our collection of stuff.  We think about whether there's anything that can be culled so that we don't outgrow our home.  We keep what's meaningful (the china, for instance) and trash what's not (my fingernail clipping collection).

*Regularly revisit any group of things prone to clutter: toys, clothes, paper.

My friend Brooke has challenged herself to get rid of 5 things a day.  And since she began, she's gotten rid of much more than that, cutting back on things her family has outgrown or broken.  In the process, Brooke is turning her small-ish home into a place where a family of six can thrive, since moving just isn't an option at this time.  Can't beat that this organizing project has been close to FREE.  Use her success as inspiration for some meaningful organizing--that which takes more than a wallet full of cash.

Kitchen storage is at a premium. Can't buy every item we see on TV.

And speaking of cash, you might be able to write your donations off on your taxes if you itemize (just be careful with valuation. Follow the IRS rules for deciding the value of that lava lamp).  We don't because our mortgage is tiny and our state taxes are miniscule, but we do make some money from selling things we're finished with.  This is pure fun money (most of the time) since it rarely adds up to anything substantial.  But when you're on a tight budget, every penny helps, right?

Get organizing, people!  You'll feel lighter!  And sleep better!  And that wart on your nose will disappear overnight!*

*Results not typical.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kitchen Beams: From Dark to Shiny

Our kitchen has been in stasis for a few months.  In fact, our entire family has been in stasis in the basement while we wait for the spaceship to arrive at the alien planet, but that's beside the point (I'm currently blogging while unconscious).  The kitchen has looked like dees for quite some time now.


For Christmas, though, Ryan got me a great present.  Can you figure out what it is?


Oops.  Wrong angle.

Yes!  He painted the beams!

So much better.  The whole room feels brighter. The ceiling doesn't suffocate me anymore.

Sure, you can still see a few stains popping through the paint, but I'm not unhappy about that.  Adds some personality and depth.

And speaking of personality, did you notice the lovely china my Mother-in-law Nancy brought us over the holidays?  It belonged to her mother.  Love the coffee pot especially.

We got six full place settings in addition to these extras.  Except four bowls which somehow disappeared into the ether. Perhaps they're in stasis, too.

A reminder where we started:

Sigh. Now onto painting the cabinets.

So I made out like a bandit this Christmas.  And we're getting closer to finishing this room with some cabinet paint (quite necessary--doesn't it look like I have two different kitchens? The cool kitchen and the warm kitchen?).

Did you get anything awesome this year?
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