No Pants 2012 Month 2: Using My Resources

It has now been 2 months since I took on the challenge not to clothes shop for the remainder of 2012. I also pledged to be more mindful of my spending overall. By using some free or low-priced resources, I have been able to get a handle on not only my spending, but also my saving. It’s really reassuring to look at my money, see where I’m cutting back and where I can cut back, and make real changes. To do this, I’ve used a few tools along the way:

Emeals is the meal planning/money saving/grocery helper service I’ve been using since I started the challenge. Click the link to read my full post, but this has definitely been a very helpful resource for me.

Mint.com is my newest ally in mindful spending and saving. This website is awesome, you guys! You link your bank accounts to it (I know, I know, it sounds scary, but it’s secure, and you can’t actually move your money, just see what’s going on with it), then you can see all of your accounts, transactions, outstanding loans, etc in one place. It also helps you categorize your spending, set goals and budgets, and makes suggestions for saving more in the future. Some of the ways I’m looking forward to using Mint are:

  • Getting a handle on everything. Once all our accounts are entered, we’ll be able to see where we stand with debts, income, spending, and the like.
  • Setting goals. Mint suggests setting goals such as paying off loans or saving for retirement. I can’t wait to set these goals and start working toward them.
  • Paying off some things. While my husband and I don’t carry balances on credit cards, we do have a mortgage and one car payment, as well as student loans. Approaching things systematically will help us see what we can pay off, and where there might be extra money if we stuck to a stricter budget.

Way Back Wednesday: Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men

I can’t tell you how many times I sang along to this CD as I played it in my boombox.

BIG NEWS! Boyz II Men is coming to the Iowa State Fair this year. They’re coming, they’re performing, and it’s FREE. I mean, you have to pay like 47 zillion dollars admission to get into the fair, but then, you can wander over to the Susan Knapp Amphitheater and SEE BOYZ II MEN! In 2012. I am so, so, so excited about this, as are all of my born-in-the-80s-Boyz-II-Men-was-an-integral-part-of-my-adolescence-type friends. My friends had the following to say about this concert:

We are SO going!

All I want is to see “On Bended Knee” live and I can die happy

It’s on a Sunday night but…of COURSE I’ll drive 4 hours round trip. It’s Boyz II Men!

As you can see, this is a BIG deal (did you see how I didn’t make a Joe Biden joke there? I’m growing, you guys). And not just because Boyz II Men sing fantastic songs such as:

End of the Road

I’ll Make Love To You

One Sweet Day w/Mariah Carey (This song made my head explode with its awesomeness. Don’t even get me started.)

On Bended Knee

Water Runs Dry

I also love Boyz II Men because they were my first-ever concert. It was the first time I went to our arena, the Five Seasons Center, for anything other than Sesame Street Live or some random cousin’s high school graduation. It was the first time I spent $25 on a t-shirt that immediately shrank, faded, and the design peeled off in the wash. It was the first time I got that my “ears are ringing and I can’t hear anything for hours afterward” feeling that comes from an awesome concert. It was everything an 11-year-old’s first concert should be.

The concert was in the spring, but let me back up to December 1994. When I turned eleven, the only thing I wanted in the wholeentirewideworldpleasepleasepleasepleasemomcomeonpleeeeease was a CD player. Having just recently discovered non-country music and top-40 radio, calling the radio station and requesting my favorite songs just wasn’t enough, I had to OWN that music. I did own a few cassettes, including Some People’s Lives by Bette Midler, featuring quite possibly the best song ever written, “From a Distance.” But we’ll leave the Divine Miss M for another post. Anyway, I needed a CD player.  So, my mom fulfilled my dearest wish and bought me not only a CD player, but the newest Boyz II Men album, II, for my birthday. Thus began my love affair with Boyz II Men. So when my BFF Erika and I found out they were coming to Cedar Rapids, we did what all self-respecting pre-teens would do: we made our moms drive us to our nearest Ticketmaster Authorized Outlet (Hy-Vee grocery store) at 10:00 on a Saturday morning to stand in line. This was before ticketmaster.com, but not before crazy ridic fees. What exactly is a “handling fee” anyway? Sorry, I’m getting off topic. So we scored tickets for ourselves and our moms (because firstly, they were paying, and secondly, we were 11 and they weren’t quite ready to turn us loose at a concert).

The concert was absolutely amazing, of course. My mom was worried that I wasn’t going to enjoy it because the music wouldn’t sound the same as the produced-in-a-studio CD I listened to 1,000,027 times. But I didn’t care. I was only approximately 50 rows from my favorite band and they were singing to me. You may not believe this, but Nathan looked right at me during that concert. Trust me, he did. I was on Cloud 9. That concert rocked my world for so many reasons:

  • It was my first concert, therefore so very exciting
  • It was a weeknight and I got to stay up until, like midnight. So cool
  • IT WAS BOYZ II MEN. What else do you want?

My first concert was incredibly memorable, and even though (according to Wikipedia) Boyz II Men is currently only a trio, I will still go to the Iowa State Fair and be transported back to middle school and love every minute of it.

Do you remember your first concert? Who did you see and how old were you?

If you’re in Iowa and want to geek out along with me, here’s the link to Boyz II Men’s performance on 8/19.

No Pants 2012 Update, Month 1: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

No PantsIt’s been one month since I started my No Pants 2012 challenge. First, the good:

I’ve been keeping busy. In addition to this blog, I’ve contributed to Space Savers (here and here), and got to review my favorite author’s new book.

I haven’t bought any clothes. Believe me, I’ve been tempted. I’ve attended a wedding, several client meetings, and many fun summer events. In the past, I would have picked up some new clothes for some or all of these events. But I’m working on being creative and working with what I’ve got. And so far, it’s working.

Note: The following text conversation happened between me and my best friend last week

Me: I’m wearing the same shirt I wore last night. Don’t judge me.

BFF: I’ve known you since we were six. It’s going to take more than that to offend me.

This is when I realized two things: (1) There is a reason she is my best friend, and (2) Not buying new clothes isn’t the end of the world.

Emeals: Still awesome. We’ve been sticking to our Emeals menus and eating at home more often. In the summer there are more events in the evenings, so we eat out once or twice a week, but we figure that into our budget and it works out fine. We have found some super awesome recipes from Emeals that we love, and in a month and a half we’ve already saved quite a bit on groceries.

Emeals

A sample of some of the awesome meals we’ve been enjoying this month.

The bad:

I suck at going to the gym. Even though I’m down to one gym membership, I’m still having a hard time getting up and going every morning. They are in the middle of revamping the entire program, and I love things that are new and different, so I’m excited for the next couple weeks. After that, I will have to continue to make myself accountable to go, even when I don’t want to.

The ugly:

I WANT DIET PEPSI. I am super addicted to this stuff, and it’s hard to give up having it at home. I’ve gotten a LOT better about not buying it at the checkout, mini-mart, etc. But I’m not completely cured yet. Good thing I still have six months left in 2012 to work on it. I also discovered this new energy drink that’s supposed to be “healthy.” I’m sure it’s not actually good for me, and I don’t need to spend the money. It was on sale for the month of June, so now that we’re into July, I’m done with that. The benefit to trying to drink less Diet Pepsi is that I have been drinking a whole lot more water, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Really, things are going pretty well. I’m doing ok not buying clothes, and I love that I’m more mindful of my spending overall. Even though I falter every now and again, I know I’m on the right track and I really appreciate this challenge.

Father’s Day Gift: Dad’s Cookbook

I’m usually pretty good at coming up with creative gifts. And when I come up with a brilliant idea for a gift, it’s almost always after the gift-giving occasion has come and gone. This is especially upsetting for one-time events like weddings or graduations, where the opportunity to give a great gift doesn’t come up year after year.

Luckily, Father’s Day is an annual occasion. I can’t say that I give brilliant gifts every year, but some years I come up with better ideas than others. If I do say so myself, this year’s gift was pretty fun.

My dad is single, and very busy. For his job, he travels all over the Midwest and is sometimes on the road 5 days a week. I wanted to give him a gift card, but I wanted to present it in a creative way. So I came up with Dad’s Cookbook.

Dad's Cookbook

The cover to Dad’s “Cookbook”

I went to several fast food restaurants that are located close to his house, but also have restaurants all over the Midwest, in case he wanted to use his gift cards on the road. Then, I wrote out the recipes.

Fried ChickenBurgers & FriesChicken SandwichButterburgersSub Sandwiches

He laughed when he looked at the cover of the book. Needless to say, he’s not much of a cook. But he was pleasantly surprised when he looked inside. He confided that he “shouldn’t be” going to KFC, but he was prety excited about the gift card nonetheless. Even with his busy schedule, he tries really hard to only eat fast food about once per week, so these should last him for quite some time.

My dad thoroughly enjoyed his Father’s Day gift, along with the steak & potatoes we grilled for lunch.

Did you do anything special for Father’s Day? I’d love to know in the comments.

P.S. I’m writing this at Starbucks, and there’s totally a guy having an intense conversation with himself. No Bluetooth earpiece, nobody else around. Just him and his triple Venti latte. Lay off the caffiene, dude.

Wikipedia Diagnosis: Exploding Head Syndrome

“Exploding head syndrome is a phenomenon or condition in which the sufferer sometimes experiences a sudden loud noise coming from within their own head. The noise is brief and is usually likened to an explosion, roar, gunshot, loud voices or screams, a ringing noise, or the sound of electrical arcing (buzzing).”

via Exploding head syndrome – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Exploding Head Syndrome

Not what actually happens to my head.

Today, Wikipedia diagnosed me with Exploding Head Syndrome. I have been waking up in the middle of the night, feeling like I heard a sudden loud noise, but unable to put my finger on what the noise was or why it was happening. As soon as I hear the noise, my eyes fly open, and my heart pounds. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, trying to remember what exactly I heard. I feel like I am still asleep and am not convinced that I could move if I wanted to. One time, I purposely moved my arms & legs to prove to myself that I wasn’t paralyzed, but it felt like I was holding somebody else’s limbs, flopping them around like a puppet or a rag doll.

So I Googled “loud noise while sleeping” and the Wikipedia article for Exploding Head Syndrome appeared. I have all the symptoms, including hearing a sudden, loud noise (in my case, it takes the form of a pop/crack, roar, or scream), sleep paralysis, and elevated heart rate. I don’t, however, suffer from out of body experiences or increased laughter.

I’m not a great sleeper anyway, so this exploding head thing is a bit of a nuisance. I suppose I could consider going to a sleep specialist, but I’m afraid they’ll tell me I have some crazy sleep disorder and give me one of those Darth Vader breathing machines.

Have you ever had the internet diagnose you (or your kids) with anything? Did you confirm it with a doctor? I’d love to know in the comments.

Way Back Wednesday: Guess Who

One of my favorite games as a kid was Guess Who? from Hasbro. It was in the “I don’t own it therefore it’s the coolest thing in the universe and we MUST play it at my friends’ houses even if they want to do something else” category of games. Also included: Mouse Trap, Grape Escape, and Mall Madness. But can we talk about Guess Who for a minute? I loved this game with all of my little elementary school heart. I prided myself in asking all the right questions, and even though I didn’t own the game and memorize every face like some of my friends (which, let’s be honest, that’s cheating, right?), I definitely knew which questions to ask. But, the more I’m looking at this picture of the box (I think this is the original version, I can’t find any documentation providing an earlier box), I’m realizing something that I did not notice when I was little. Everyone on this box is white. At closer examination, one character is named Maria, so I guess we’re supposed to assume she’s Hispanic?

Guess Who?

Cultural Diversity Fail

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. version of Guess Who? was released in 1982. There were 5 women and 19 men. The questions I remember asking are very simple but made me think the characters on the box were super diverse. But there was a pretty finite list of questions regarding basic features:

  • Male or Female?
  • Hat or no hat?
  • Glasses?
  • Moustache?
  • Hair Color?
  • Eye Color?
  • Smiling?

Really, I think that’s about it. Growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by people who looked, sounded, and acted exactly like me and my family, I’m not surprised that I didn’t figure this out when I was a kid. And I do have to give props to Hasbro, who has really expanded their characters, including a version with (slightly more diverse) kids, a “pets” version, as well as several themed versions such as Marvel Comics and Disney. So they’re expanding their horizons a little bit. I also noticed on the newer-looking box, it mentions that you can go online and download new character sheets. So that’s pretty awesome.

Guess Who

The newer version of Guess Who?

I have yet to find a really awesome online version, but if anybody does find one, let me know! I’m always up for a good game of Guess Who. I also found this Twitter account that asks awesome questions such as “Is your person struggling to find meaning in an unfair and unkind world?” Warning: If you’re easily offended, I wouldn’t recommend following. Also, they don’t tweet much. But, still fun.

What were your favorite games growing up? Have you made any realizations as an adult about things you loved as a kid? Let me know in the comments!

Read This: You Take It From Here by Pamela Ribon

You Take It From Here by Pamela Ribon

You Take It From Here by Pamela Ribon

If you’re looking for a summer read that’s a little more meaty than the average chick-lit book, I recommend “You Take It From Here” by Pamela Ribon. Full disclosure: Pamie is my absolute favorite author, so I was pretty much in the bag for her fourth novel before I opened the cover.

The story, which takes the form of a letter, begins in the small southern town of Ogden, Louisiana. The narrator, Danielle, has just arrived at the airport and is waiting for her best friend Smidge to pick her up. The two are headed on their annual vacation, to a spot Smidge has chosen and kept secret from Danielle. Ogden, the town both grew up in, is still Smidge’s home, where she lives with her husband and thirteen-year-old daughter, Jenny (the recipient of the letter). Danielle, on the other hand, is visiting Ogden from Los Angeles, where she now lives and works. Recently divorced, she enjoys a successful career in L.A.

Smidge chooses a road trip, and takes the opportunity to tell Danielle that the cancer she has beaten once is now back, and her prognosis is not good. Danielle, feeling guilty about being absent during Smidge’s last bout with cancer, is willing to do anything to make her friend’s remaining time on Earth as comfortable as possible. But Smidge makes the one request – scratch that – the one demand, that Danielle is least expecting: she wants Danielle to take over her life. Marry her husband, raise her daughter, keep up with her social obligations; become Smidge 2.0.

This book is at the same time heartbreaking and uplifting. The relationship between the two women, especially when the power shifts from one to the other, is inspiring and lovely. It can also be frustrating at times. I think I saw some of myself in both of these women, which is probably why some of their traits drove me absolutely nuts. Smidge is bossy, self-assured, and incredibly stubborn. It’s a little irritating how Danielle never stands up for herself. But, these things made me think: What in the world would I do in that situation? Even if your best friend has been bossing you around since childhood, and you’ve never bothered to question her, can you really start when she’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer? And of course, things are not always as they seem, and everyone has their reasons for acting and interacting the way they do. This book definitely made me look at things differently than before.

I laughed a lot while reading this book (when Smidge described a man Danielle dated as having “rapist hair” I not only laughed out loud, but could picture exactly this poor man and his terrible hair). I also shed some tears during this story. As I said, it tackles some issues that will absolutely make you think. There are plenty of books out there about people suffering from cancer. And there are more than enough books about women being friends. “You Take It From Here” strikes the perfect balance, discussing death without being morbid, and describing friendship without being cutesy. By the end of this novel, you will care about these women and their fates, even if you don’t agree with their decisions.

Thanks to Rare Bird Lit, for the opportunity to preview this book
Check out Pamela Ribon’s website, Pamie.com, for more on the author.