Friday, March 30, 2012

Wide Open Spaces

"Have fun storming the castle!"
When Husband and I began thinking seriously about the kind of home we wanted to build, we found that we really saw eye-to-eye on most things with very few exceptions. We knew we wanted several acres, a two-or-more-car garage, a workshop area for Husband, an office for me because
I work from home, no fewer than 2.5 bathrooms, a dedicated guestroom, etc., etc.

Personally, I wanted to find the smallest possible option that included all of our necessities, but despite the increased upkeep and utility costs, Husband really loves larger homes, so we found a plan we both love that's larger than I would like, but gives me literally everything else that I want. You can see it HERE.

I'm not going to go into our building plan here—I'll save that for another post—but you get the gist of what we're going for in a home. It's a lot of house, but it is our forever house (or should be...), and there's plenty of space should we need to move a parent or two in with us someday.

For Husband and I, though, the dream part of the Dream Home goes beyond the house. We want at least 10-15 acres (which we'll be sharing with our brother-in-law/bestie) in a rural area, though Husband doesn't want to have to drive more than 45 minutes, MAX, to work. 

We just want space. When we first started looking at house plans, we looked at an absolutely beautiful Ryan home that included everything I'd ever wanted in a a subdivision. Subdivisions are not the devil or anything (we already established that the devil is credit card debt), but when we left the model home tour, Husband pensively remarked that he absolutely, unequivocally did not want to live in a subdivision anymore. I was surprised, but although I'd never even entertained the idea of going rural, I liked what I was hearing once I heard it.

The idea of stepping outside onto our own property and not being able to hit a neighbor with a garden hose (which I'd totally do to some of our neighbors, given the chance) is very appealing. A big yard with plenty of space for our dog and kids to run and play, and room for an (eventual) pool sounds wonderful. I want to sit on my deck in the early light, watching deer graze fifty yards from my back door, well within paintball range.* No more neighbor kids screaming in the street in front of our house or knocking on our door, trying to sell us the same crap my daughter is selling for school. No more cars zipping right past my front door, driving way too fast in a cul-de-sac. No more solicitors trying to sell me windows or lawncare or their versions of God. I want a big, fat "Beware of Dog" sign, right next to the "No Trespassing" sign at the mouth of my (long) driveway.

I don't want, like, a farm or anything. I will not be rising at five a.m to milk anything, and I'd rather support local farmers by buying their eggs than gather my own. Well, my own chickens' eggs. My own eggs are not really very useful in a quiche. I know—I've tried. What a mess that was. But I digress.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, although I would never have thought of it on my own, I, too, want to get away from subdivision living. For good. I honestly think that this was one of Husband's finest, most insightful moments in our marriage, and I'm so grateful that he didn't just let me make the call on this one like he typically does.

You probably think I'm anti-social, based on my clear disdain for...people. Maybe. I don't hate people. I just don't want to deal with their daily lives while I'm trying to live mine. I want to live peacefully, simply, and as much on our terms as possible.

What makes a Dream Home for you? I love hearing other peoples' thoughts. When I ask for them, anyway.

*I'm kidding. I would never shoot an animal with anything. Sober.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting the Hell out of Here: Part Two

 "There's not a lot of money in revenge."

Get out of Debt

Before we can even think about trying to sell this house, and especially breaking ground on a new one, Husband and I feel strongly that being mostly debt-free is a must. Now we've been working on this for a few years anyway, but once we decided that we were ready to buckle down and get out of here, it became Priority One.

While I'm not going to give out specific numbers, 'cause that's none of your damned business, here is a basic breakdown of what we owe to various people*:

Mortgage            65% 
Student Loans     20%
Car                      9%
Credit                  4%
Medical               2%  (it's all 'dactyl's fault)

*percentages are approximate, but really quite close

The mortgage doesn't count, because once we sell the house, that will be gone (god, I hope...), so that's not where we're focusing our efforts.

The student loans carry the lowest interest rate of the remaining four debt areas, and are the least damaging to our credit as long as they are paid on time each month, which, of course, they are. We were lucky that I picked up a well-paying, long-term freelance job right before the first payment came due, and that income more than covers the loan payments. So we never really felt the impact in our budget. Let's hope the client continues to like me.

The car was a necessary evil. Husband and I dutifully drove our embarrassingly decrepit Chevy Luminas, loan-free, until mine finally begged for the sweet release of death, at which time we sold it for a reasonable price to my sister-in-law's friend who desperately needed transportation. With a new baby on the way last summer, we simply had to replace one of the vehicles, especially since the air conditioner in my Lumina didn't work. So we bought the Jeep for a good price, and while we don't regret it at all, it is an additional expense each month.

Then there's the credit card. Credit card debt is evil. It is the devil and we learned that the hard way. No, we were never on the brink of financial ruin or anything, but we did get enough over our heads to feel uncomfortable. This is the debt that we are focusing on with the most fervor. We're actually transferring it this week to our Discover card because they got all sad and missed us and offered us 12 months interest-free on balance transfers.

Now, I am not a proponent of credit card jumping, because it can sneak up and bite you in the ass very quickly and with little warning. However, we will actually have the total amount paid off with relative ease in under 12 months, so dropping the interest makes sense in our case. We'll never see the interest. *knock on wood*

So once the credit card debt is paid off next February, we'll able to refocus that money toward the car payment, further decreasing our icky debt.

That's the plan, anyway. Eliminating toxic debt is an important step in our road to Getting the Hell out of Here. Let's hope it all works out that way!

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Don't Buy Pop Tarts

"I've never worked for so little. Except once, and that was a very noble cause. "

So I coupon a little. Really, I do. I get my paper and I cut my coupons, and I try to use them when things are on sale to really reap the savings. I've managed to cut our typical grocery bill down some, even with our Green B.E.A.N. Delivery every 2-4 weeks. But still, I look at these women who proudly boast a garage full of groceries that they got for $4.73 total, and I wonder, Why can't I even get below $100 per week?

And then I realized. It's because I don't buy Pop-Tarts.

Well, Pop-Tarts, or Fruit Roll-Ups, or Easy Mac, or most of the stuff that I usually see coupons for.

Now don't misunderstand—I respect the mighty Coupon Lady. I understand that she is not feeding her kids Pop-Tart Surprise for dinner just because she got all of the ingredients for $.06 at Target. Many of the Coupon Ladies stock up and then resell for a profit, or donate their stockpiles to disaster victims or shelters. I think that rocks (the donating, not the reselling). I don't judge that. Hell, I'm in awe of that.

But what I've realized in my case is that, although our diet is not perfect (there are DEFINITELY some Totino's Party Pizzas in my freezer and a bag of Doritos in my snack cabinet), the reason I could never cut my bill as drastically as the Coupon Ladies can is because of the things I buy. All of my produce—all of it—is organic, and most of my dairy and meat are, too. Husband and Spazz refuse to eat beans, so while I do prepare meatless meals on occasion, I can't sub beans into my recipes to save money. Buncha' whiners.

Please understand, I'm not complaining or blaming, and I'm not looking for praise for my food choices (did I mention the Ramen Noodles in the cupboard?). And because I know myself, I realize that even if I did forgo all of the standards I've set for our food in the name of saving money, I would never, ever have the patience or the skill to figure out how to bring a cart full of groceries from $200 to $13. Ever. But when I decided that I would buy only organic tomato products in glass jars, that meant that my ready-made pasta sauce selections would be very limited. And while the Ragu Old World sauce seems to be on sale every other week, the organic variety never is.

So while I will continue to try to trim our bill by buying consciously and with a carefully planned list (and my coupons!), I've decided to forgive myself on this one. For the most part, I like the way we eat, and I don't want to compromise it in the name of saving money. I do find coupons for organics on a somewhat regular basis, but the amount of fresh produce we purchase is a large chunk of our bill that I'm not willing to give up. I'll settle for the cheap-o garbage bags and toilet paper, but I will not give up my fresh, organic grapes! Well, once they're in season again. Pfft.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Date Nights and Whatnot

"That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, 'As you wish,' what he meant was, 'I love you.' And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back."

No, not that kind of whatnot. This is a family show, people.

Last night Husband and I saw The Hunger Games together on our first night out kid-free since a few days before Christmas. We both loved the first book, and while I've read the whole trilogy, Husband and Spazz are looking forward to listening to the audio book on our way to Florida for vacation this summer.

I'm not going to post any spoilers here, so don't worry about having the film ruined for you. This is not a Hunger Games post, although I could totally do a Hunger Games post because I loved the movie and the books are so good and hey-if-anyone-wants-to-chat-about-THG-let-me-know.

No, this post is about the importance of the date night and, more specifically, what makes a date night work. I think that for a lot of couples (us included!), date night can become sort of rote, a dutiful (if infrequent), routine evening out that's supposed to count as "quality time" and "reconnecting". Husband and I have absolutely sat in total but comfortable silence over a meal at a restaurant, occasionally smiling at each other or chatting lightly about our kids or our work. Holla if you hear me.

*gives you a moment to "holla"*

With two kids now, there's even less time for connecting in any meaningful way, but Husband and I do make an effort, and one of the ways we do that is to try to choose activities that genuinely celebrate the things we have in common. I know it seems counter-intuitive to try to bond over a movie, what with the whole "no-talking" policy and all that. And it definitely can be.

However. THG is a movie we've both been looking forward to for months. We've read the first book. We've excitedly watched the trailers together. Our drive home from the theater was chock-full of lively conversation about everything from the casting to the tweaks and alterations (and our opinions about them) that were made to make this movie work. We talked about what we loved, what we would have liked to have seen more of, what worked, and what didn't. We chatted the whole way to pick up our kids, and it was really awesome.

I think the point is that real opportunities for connecting with your spouse are very difficult to force. The best moments happen organically, fertilized by the things that already connect you. Sometimes it's your kids, but other times it's whatever it is that makes you two adults who enjoy each other's company.

I'm not giving out marital advice here. Just expressing what works well for us, and what I want to continue to encourage in our marriage.

What do you think? How do you and your Extra Special reconnect?

Friday, March 23, 2012

One of My Most Favorite, Easy Dinners

"Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world—except for a nice MLT. Mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe...they're so perky. I love that."

Not for the vegetarian or vegan set. Unless you alter it, which you totally can. But here's how I do it.


1 pound of Laura's Lean Beef
1 box of Near East Rice Pilaf
1 Tbs. organic butter or olive oil
Seasoned salt or Mrs. Dash Tomato, Basil, & Garlic seasoning blend

Begin preparing the rice according
to the box instructions.

Season and brown the beef while you wait for the rice water to boil.

Add the (drained) browned beef to the rice at the beginning of the "reduce heat to low and simmer..." step on the rice box.
Let it cook together for 20 minutes or so.

I like to serve it with croissants. Husband likes to roll his up in a tortilla.

This is so, so yum, and super easy. It's a great, filling meal to throw together in a half hour if you have thawed beef on hand. You could totally sub in beans, though. I'd love to add onions and even mushrooms, but Husband and Spazz are lame and don't like them, so unless I saute them separately for myself, they're out. :(

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Getting the Hell out of Here: Part One

 "Let me 'splain...No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry' Humperdinck in a little less than half an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the princess, make our escape... after I kill Count Rugen."

As promised in my post about our plan to get out of our starter home and into our dream house, here is a more detailed examination of our super-awesome plan.

Admitting we have a problem

Frankly, this part wasn't hard. Our infant son, Babydactyl, doesn't even have a bedroom of his own. No big deal for now because we're breastfeedin', co-sleepin' hippies, but this is only going to be sustainable for so long. He makes up for his intrusion into our bedroom by not taking up any bathroom time, which is good, because there are three of us sharing one. Our dog, Ella, got way bigger than we expected her to, and truth be told, we probably shouldn't have gotten her in the first place, but sometimes love trumps logic and she is ours and we love her so there. And we do have a nice, fenced-in backyard for her. 

Anyway—I digress. I do that when I sense I've just said something for which I may be harshly judged. It's a problem.

So several weeks ago, or like, a month, or something, I cornered Husband and informed him that I think we should buckle down, hardcore, and formulate a plan that will help us get out of our little house and on with our lives by next spring. We talked about all the things that need to be done—paying off the remaining credit card debt, finishing up projects and necessary repairs, uncluttering, staging, etc. Our house is cute, but it's not going to be an easy sell in a buyer's market. 

So that's step one, in a nutshell. Committing to the plan was a major milestone, but it was the right one, and now we're on our way.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Things I Don't Care For

"Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! Boooooo!"

Oh, look. Jen's being a Negative Nellie. Again. What a grouch.

Yup. Love it or leave it. I run on about six hours of sleep and maybe a slice of peanut butter toast on a good day. So until my son can wipe his own ass, this is the Jen you get. *buuuurp*

So here is a list of things I don't care for. I think many of you will agree, and many more will disagree.*

In no particular order, except numerical:

1.) Spelling C words with K's

Kiddies do not belong in Korners, and there's no such thing as a Kountry Kitchen or Kountry Kraft. Why would you mess with the natural alliteration of Country Crafts, anyway? It's already perfect!

But because I hate it so much, I do it all the time in an ironic way, because I'm so witty and above it all. I once joked to my friend LeeAnne, whom I hope will do a guest post here sometime, about my hatred for Krafts, and she said she used to own a business called Kool Krafts (false). I nearly spit out my sweet tea.

2.) Speaking of K's, Kardashians, in general

I have literally never seen a single episode of any of their 17 shows, but because I have internet access and eyeballs, I still somehow know everything that's going on in their lives. I know that Kim dumped Chris because his name started with the right sound, wrong letter; I know that Khloe and Lamar moved to Dallas so he could become a professional ranch hand; I know that Kourtney is expecting another baby with that douchey guy who wears the robe all the time. No, not that one. He only likes blondes. The other one. Scott Dipshit, or something.

3.) Excessive use of ellipses...

...and the smart-ass comments bursting with them that are sure to follow. Look, ellipses have their place! I love an appropriately placed ellipsis! I do not like when they are used in place of all other punctuation! I'm using a lot of exclamation points here!

4.) Swedish Fish

I know they have a following, but they gag me. I won't stand for them.

5.) A ringing phone right when my baby falls asleep


*How many people do I think read this Krap? Seriously?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Our Super-Awesome Plan to Get the Hell out of Here

"I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped."

Husband and I bought our two-bedroom, one-bathroom tri-level in April 2003, just three-and-a-half weeks before our daughter, Spazz, was born. We must have looked at thirty houses before finally settling on this one. It was (is) small, but it was (is) less than two miles from Husband's job, and it was clean and ready for occupancy. On our budget, that was enough. Besides, we only planned to live here for about three years, and then we were going to upgrade and never look back.


Needless to say, almost nine years, two kids, a ninety-pound dog, and one major kitchen renovation later, we're over capacity and ready to go. We kept putting it off for a variety of reasons, but Husband and I sat down one night last month and had a lovely Come To Jesus talk about the house and our debt, and we're finally committing our resources to making this change happen.

So here's our plan. I'll go into more detail on each of these steps in separate posts over the next few weeks. Be prepared to have your mind blown.

1.) Admit we have a problem

And we do. It's called "too damned many people in this house".

2.) Pay off debt.

The only debt that really makes us cringe is the credit card. It's not a major balance, though, and we'll have it completely eliminated in a year or less.

3.) Purge the toxins.

Better known as "all the crap we have and don't want in our new house so it's better to get rid of it now rather than messing with continuing to store it, packing it, and moving it."

4.) Find land on which to build.

This is sort of going on simultaneously with steps 2 and 3.

5.) Ready the house for sale.

This means finally finishing up all the little projects and stuff that needs to be done.

6.) Sell this bitch.

You heard me.

7.) Move into an apartment (for 1-1.5 years).

"But Jen, why in the world would you move into an apartment?" I'll explain later, but we have our reasons. 

8.) Build the dream house.

Blissful agony. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Welcome to My Custom-Built Life

"When a job went wrong, you went back to the beginning. And this is where we got the job. So it's the beginning..."

First posts are always so awkward. I mean, where do I start, you know? Do I go with the whole, "I started this blog because [insert drivel about expertise and encouragement from friends/family here]," angle? It feels a little trite. I could try to be funny, and frankly, I'm hilarious, so in theory this is a great idea. But since this is a first post, I haven't really found my voice here yet, and you haven't gotten a chance to know me, so any real attempt is likely to be cringe-inducing and possibly even a little painful.

So no.

I really want to create an established About Me page, so talking about my life and general bad-assery feels potentially redundant. But I guess that's where I'm headed, because if you're still with me at this point then you deserve something here. So here's a basic introduction to me and the life my family and I are carefully, thoughtfully custom building.

I'm Jen, a stunning(ly audacious) 31 30 24-year-old model (citizen) from Northern Kentucky, which is not the same as Cincinnati AT ALL, so don't call me Jen from Cincy. 'Cause I'm not. My doting husband, Husband, and I are raising our two kiddos (a girl and boy, who shall be given fun but identity-concealing nicknames at some point), ages 8 years and 6.5 months, respectively, in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom tri-level that we planned to move out of six years ago. I also work from home as a professional freelance writer, and clearly I love a run-on sentence.

So now that we have (male child), it's become even more strikingly apparent that we really, really have to move. We're making big plans and paying off debt so that by this time next year, we'll be putting our tiny-but-adorable house on the market and moving on to the next phase of our lives, which includes building our custom dream home on 10-15 acres.

So yeah. This is my way of chronicling that process and all the beautiful, messy stuff in between. I hope someone comes along and enjoys this inevitably hot mess. I can't promise you much, but I will promise you honesty, semi-full disclosure, and frequent profanity. Enjoy.