blessed budget

Christmas is a handful of days away [if we're talking about sloth's hands, that is]. In the pit of my stomach, I feel like I'm 5 years old. I can't help it. It's almost CHRISTMAS. It's such a joyful, skipping, bouncing, happy time of year. In honor of this once-a-year time of giddiness, I have painted my nails [my left pinky and index fingers (pastel-y green) and my right thumb (dark teal)] for the first time in... well over a decade. This is what happens when I receive free nail polish in the mail. I am now a force to be reckoned with.

Each weekend since Thanksgiving, we have been checking all kinds of Christmasy things off of our to-do list.

  • Tree chopping. Check.
  • Christmas bulb swapping. Check.
  • Snow bunny hopping. Check.
And then, there was only one:  Christmas gift shopping. 

Unfortunately, gift giving is not one of my strong points. I am generally terrible at coming up with gift ideas that are not perfectly spelled out for me. It is most likely due to practicality: Why risk getting someone something they won't like/need/appreciate? When it comes to gifts, I know spontaneity and thoughtfulness ["Oh, I saw this and knew it was perfect for you!"] are admirable traits. It is just hard for them to overcome my more boring/practical/this-just-makes-more-sense side. I fluctuate between thinking of this as a flaw and thinking of this as a very, very good thing... Ahem. Anyway. Luckily for me [and even more so for Jason], most people do not mind listing various things they would like to receive. Christmas lists are good. Christmas spreadsheets are even better.

My next gift-giving obstacle is a little less... excusable. I could attempt to paint it in a better light, but I always hate those "present your flaws as a strength!" exercises. Ugh. Demanding does not always mean focused. Impatient does not always mean driven. Talks a lot does not always mean good with people. And, in  my case, while I consider myself frugal, I am honest enough to recognize that I may actually have a stingy streak.

I have to work for money. I go through frustrations for money. I don't have mounds of money and I have yet to discover a dollar bill hanging from the branches of either Mario or Luigi [who, by the way, have lost all of their leaves and look rather forlorn now], so I am ever aware of how much I have versus how much I need versus how much I would like. I don't like to spend more than I need to and I have pretty stringent requirements of what makes it on the Need To Buy list. Gifts are always borderline items. I know this is terrible. I know this. I am a work in progress.

Luckily [for all who know me], there is a treatment. It is quite simple, actually. It is a solution that engages and satisfies both my head and heart so that stinginess is not a factor and practicality rules the day. The magic cure? Practice generosity, but practice generosity within the safe parameters of a blessed budget. Good golly, it works.

Jason and I probably have a much more rigid definition of "budget" than most, but to us, it just makes logical sense. To us, a budget is not just knowing how much money you have. It is not just knowing where you are spending your money. To us, having a budget is having predetermined amounts of money being set aside in numerous spending categories based upon percentages and need and, obviously, paycheck size. It is honestly defining what are actually needs and what are wants. It is always having an exact idea of whether you can rationally afford to not cook dinner at home or to buy that neato gadget and, even further, if you should.

To us, a budget is a detailed spreadsheet and organized receipts. It is knowing that our first 10% goes to Tithes and the next 10% goes to Savings; no negotiation. It is knowing we can spend up to $225 on whatever groceries we feel like each month. It is knowing that when we finally need that new pair of shoes or those new tires down the road, we'll be okay because we've been setting aside money each month in our Clothes and Auto categories. Ironically perhaps, having such a meticulous budget gives incredible peace of mind and... freedom. We control our money and not the other way around.

It is our excessively detailed budgeting that gives that final touch of Awesome to this entirely joyous time of year. I recognize I have tight-fisted, stingy tendencies, but due to my understanding of the value of money [thanks so much, Mom and Dad!] and Jason's spreadsheeting skills and slight OCD tendencies [he's not that bad, really], I do not have to be bound by them. I can deliberately practice generosity without losing my peace of mind. Knowing we've set aside a specific amount of money each month in our Gifts category makes Christmas shopping completely freeing. I know how much we can spend with zero amount of guilt or stress attached to any of our purchases. The money in Gifts is supposed to be spent on gifts! It just makes sense.

So, yes. I am extremely grateful for all of the Dave Ramsey courses my parents made me sit through and all of the envelope budgeting of my allowances and just the common sense that was bored into my head as a kid. I appreciate it so much more now when I have more than $10 to divide into 15 categories, and now that I have Jason to do all of the painstaking accounting.

Moral of the story:  Thanks to our blessed budgeting, everyone on our Must Shop For list will receive a gift on or around Christmas.

I wish you all a guilt-free, stress-free, gift-giving-filled Christmas!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Owl see you in 2014.


an open letter (also, snow day)

To the guy who knocked on my door this morning:
Thanks for knocking on my door this morning, and the rest of the doors in my building, asking everyone if they left their car's lights on. I did not answer the door because it was pretty early and I wasn't dressed yet, but through the door I heard you asking the neighbors if they left their car lights on, and it got me thinking. Could I have left my lights on? Not the headlights, since my car beeps incessantly if I leave those on... But the interior lights? Hmmm...

~48 Hours Earlier~

What a perfect day for a snow day. It was Sunday morning, and we were already planning to go to a Christmas tree farm. Each year we go to one of those neat places where you can wander through a forest of Christmas trees, pick one, cut it down yourself, and take it home. We were then planning to go to some sort of horse thing (Sharayah could give more details on that) and then possibly to my parents' house to watch football.

When we woke up, it was just starting to snow. It wasn't sticking, but it's still always fun when it snows. By the time we had eaten breakfast and were ready to leave, it was snowing pretty heavily and starting to build up. We decided to try to follow through on our plans (carefully), and just turn back if the roads got too bad.

By the time we got to the main road, it was snowing like crazy. Cars were leaving pretty good tracks to follow, so we headed toward Pennsylvania and the Christmas tree farm. We turned on the crummy Christmas radio station (we can only find two, and the other is even worse), sang along, and enjoyed the blizzard surrounding our car as we cruised along. We had to go a bit slow, but we made steady progress for quite some time. All around the road we saw the snow continuing to pile deeper. Even on the road, in some places, it was building up. After a while, traffic started to get pretty slow. A few times we were stuck for a long time behind cars that seemed to be stopped for no apparent reason. It seems to me that you should either keep going (maybe slowly) or pull off the road. At any rate, it took forever to get to the tree place, and we were baking in the car (the ice built up too much on the windows if we didn't keep the heat/defrost turned all the way up), but it was enjoyable all the way. Driving through falling snow is pretty fun, as long as the roads are still passable.

When we got to the Christmas tree place, the snow was already a foot deep and still falling. My car was lined with ice around all the windows and everywhere that wasn't a window. We cleared it all off and set out to find the perfect tree.

It was really an adventure just to get from our car to the Christmas tree forest. Tromping through the deep snow through rows and rows of trees, we searched for just the right one. We actually didn't spend too much time getting a tree, since we didn't want my car to freeze while we looked. All the trees were covered in snow, which just made them look that much better. Once we found one we liked, we shook it a bit to see if it also looked good without snow, and set to cutting it down. Either I'm getting better at it, or the saws at the place we used to go to aren't as good, but it came down really fast. We carried it back, tied it to the car, and set off on the next phase of our adventure.

We were going to head somewhere or other to see some horses next, but it was pretty far away, and we didn't know if it would be canceled, and it had already taken us a really long time to go what should have only been 45 minutes, so we decided to skip that part of the plan. We started heading to my parents' house. It turns out, the path to their house was on some less frequently used Pennsylvania roads, those really scenic two-lane roads through farms and Amish country and stuff. It was really pretty, but we had to take it pretty slowly and carefully since the road hadn't been traveled as heavily (and the snow was continuing to fall). Still, we made it safely with only 3 scary moments for Sharayah and none for me (I was driving, so it was less scary for me).

Once there, we shoveled my parents' considerably large driveway (much bigger than it looked, what were we thinking?). I don't think I've ever gotten to shovel a driveway, and Sharayah hadn't either, so we thought it might be fun until the novelty wore off. For Sharayah, I don't think it wore off, and for me it really wasn't so bad (sometimes manual labor is relaxing for me). Anyway, shoveling the driveway is still playing in the snow. We also got to play in the snow with my mom's tiny puppy. Most of the snow was way too deep for him, so we had to stomp some down for him so he wouldn't sink and disappear. Once we finished the driveway, we ran around in their yard through the (quite deep by now) snow. We made a couple snow angels (mine was pretty impressive) and went inside to get warm. Our team won the game, we had some good food and good times, and we headed (carefully) back home.

We realized on the way home that we didn't know where my phone was. We figured it was probably under the seats or somewhere at my parents' house. I didn't remember whether I actually brought it in, but I knew that I didn't have it most of the time I was there. Anyway, the phone never did turn up. The next day (Monday), I had to be at school all day to proctor and then grade exams, so when I got home I turned on the lights in my car to see if I could find my phone. Alas, it was not in the car. Our best guess is that I had it in my coat pocket when we were in the snow, and it fell out when I made the snow angel, since I made a long dive to land where I wanted to make it (so there wouldn't be any footprints), and we know I've lost house keys while making snow angels once before. If that's the case, the phone is, of course, busted, since it's sitting in water and snow. I guess we'll see if it turns up anywhere else.

While I didn't find the phone in the car, I did manage to leave on the interior lights in my car. So, again, thank you kind stranger who knocked on my door this morning. Without you, I would have a missing phone and a dead car battery. I did not answer your knocking, but I do appreciate your considerably generous actions.


slowest half marathon ever

I'm not much of a runner, yet I often randomly find myself thinking, "It'd be cool to participate in some kind of timed [for glory!], long-distance [more than a couple miles], leg-moving activity." Usually I am dissuaded from acting on these thoughts by the following:
  • I believe there is a registration fee for most things of this nature. Boo fees.
  • I doubt that I would do well enough for my satisfaction. I am a harsh critic and a pathetic runner. Not a good combination.
I figured that one day [that ever elusive day in the future] I would cave, buy in to some trendy running event [the Color Run always looks fun], and just do it. I figured I would just keep Do Some Running With An Absurd Number of People on my bucket list until a convenient occasion arose [ORU's Fun Run doesn't count, for some reason]. I never figured on semi-checking this off my list the day after consuming a pound of mashed potatoes and pie. 

But that is what I did.

I am pleased to announce that Jason and I have completed A HALF MARATHON.


Sigh. Alas, my conscience will not allow me to leave it at that, so I suppose this requires a slight disclaimer. I have completed a half marathon... if running a half marathon equals traversing over 13 miles, eating pizza at a Magical Pizzeria, Resisting the Urge to Pee, eating chestnuts, gazing upon a real-life Ugly Naked Guy, visiting the Magical Pizzeria once more, and accumulating [and subsequently employing] chutzpah.

Before getting into all of those minor details, however, I think the common thing to do is to proudly state one's time accompanied by a picture of the victorious ones. So. To make this authentic, here we go:

We finished our half marathon in 11 hours 37 minutes. That is over 1 mile/hour [thanks to my Math Man* and his quick calculating skills!]. We are the chapped lips champions.

Now to elaborate. 

Jason and I went to New York amidst Black Friday madness. We walked and walked and walked. It was such a splendid, absolutely tiring day.

Our trip this year was planned around our $16 Megabus tickets from Newark, DE, to New York City. It was an excellent purchase. Our tickets were $5 to NY and $3 back to DE per person. As the prices rose a week or so later to $20 per person each way, we felt quite lucky. In addition to the great prices, there were options for arriving and returning that fit perfectly with our Adventure Desires [spending the entire day without feeling the need to stay overnight]. Perfect.

Front row!  
Our bus left at 6 a.m. [from one of University of Delaware's parking lots (in which Jason's parking pass conveniently worked)]. There were few enough people and we were some of the first to board that we even scored the front row seats on the second deck of the bus. It was like a 2.5 hour amusement park ride filled with "Oh goodness, we are not going to  make this turn!" and "Duck! We are not going to make it under this tunnel!" Since we woke up at 4:30 a.m. and knew we had a long day ahead of us, we both fell promptly to sleep as soon as we hit the interstate and there were no more sights to see from our front row seats. However, thanks to Jason's excellent inner clock, we woke up just in time to experience the Entering of the City.

Being the super-organized-when-we-want-to-be people that we are, we had printed out a map of NYC and labelled all the things we wished to visit [plus some, just in case we had extra time]. Jason carried along a pencil and we traced our route progress throughout the day. It probably gave the appearance of two lost tourists [and we were even asked once if we needed help finding something], but looks can be deceiving! We were quite the opposite of lost; we knew exactly where we were, where we'd been, and where we were going. 
Awesome bench idea.

First stop on our map was the High Line. Think railroad tracks, odd sculptures, and winterized foliage. Honestly, what I found most appealing [aside from the peacefulness of it all] were the benches. Since it was still early morning and my fingers had yet to acclimate from the warm bus to the chilly outdoors, I didn't take many pictures, so I found this one from the interwebs. The benches seem to just come right out of the sidewalk! I thought it was extremely clever.

We entered the High Line somewhere in the middle of its 1.5 mile stretch, so we first headed to the south end and then retraced our steps back and went all the way to the north end. On our way back up, we had a visual run-in with the aforementioned Ugly Naked Guy. There was a hotel. There were many windows. There was a man who, from a distance, seemed to be standing up against his hotel window wearing some skimpy underwear. As our legs took us closer and closer to the hotel, the illusion of underwear was removed. I wished for the illusion again. Twas not a sight I wanted to see before Second Breakfast. To be fair to him, I suppose, he may not have been Ugly, but he most definitely was Naked so... If 2/3 words fit, the name is considered appropriate in my book. Plus, if there's anything I've learned from the Vermettes, you should never waste an opportunity to make a Friends reference. More to come.

Times Square was the obvious next stop on our route so off we went. We made a few pit stops in several brands of chocolate stores [free samples!]. We strolled into a retail store [American Eagle, I think?] to check out the Black Friday madness and quickly were reminded why we are not shoppers. We saw people dressed up as Minions and Buzz Lightyear [gigantic head, tiny wings]. The big ad campaigns for all the screens and billboards and buses and taxi tops were Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and something [a show?] called Mob City (?). I suppose the new Disney movie Frozen also had its fair share of the limelight [I really want to see it, even though I have absolutely no idea what the story is about since the advertisements for it are focused solely on Snowman Olaf and his reindeer friend and apparently they aren't the main characters? ]. Times Square was as shiny and larger than life as always.

About this time in a half marathon is when you take a pizza break, right? Good. Because that's what we did. Now, we'd had pizza on the brain for quite a while but for whatever reason we had not seen anything that appealed to us. It felt like we walked round and round and round without finding any pizza other than Sbarro. The situation was getting desperate. Once my mind gets set on FOOD, I can't think of anything else. I was nearing the point in time where my brain goes into starvation mode [not my stomach, but my brain], the point in time where the whole day collapses into a puddle of sadness... And then! Right as I was slipping into the "Well, I guess we just won't get to eat anything ever and for always," I see a sign. It says PIZZA. We were saved! No one would die of mental hunger or sadness.

I mentioned earlier that it was a Magical Pizzeria, but at this point we didn't realize it was a Magical Pizzeria, so that will be explained later. The important thing here is that we ate pizza. I had one topped with tomatoes and onions and mushrooms and broccoli, while Jason had a slice of cheesy Sicilian. Delicious! Once refueled, it was off to the races again!

I am secretly offended on behalf of all of my bovine friends.
Next stop was Rockefeller Center. I valiantly won the fight between Frugality and Outdoor Ice Skating [You know how many pizzas I could buy with the $54 we saved?!]. We observed the not-yet-lighted Christmas tree. Jason and I both discovered a curb where we were unaware a curb should be. We observed all the antics of the Lego Rockefeller Center [Lego now has dogs! that can be walked on leashes! When I was a kid, my Lego dog consisted of a 2x4 with a 2x1 for a head and legs. Lucky kids these days...]. We went into the NBC Experience Store just to see the section dedicated to Friends. I especially liked the shirt that read "He's my lobster!" and the Moo Point [it truly is brilliant]. Sadly, jacked up prices make for no souvenirs. But at least I have a picture!
His name is Chad.

We then wandered up towards Central Park. List of things to do:  Explore FAO Schwarz, gaze upon all the pretty horses giving carriage rides, and then get lost in the Park itself. I can say with much satisfaction that we accomplished all three tasks. Did you know you can buy a 16-foot giraffe for only $7999.99? You can. Go get one today. Did you know that the FAO stands for Frederick August Otto? Now you do. And worry no longer about what you will name your first son. Did you know that I have a secret boyfriend who is a debonair Lego man? Neither did Jason, but we've reconciled. Also, I would have more pictures of Jason with Lego Batman or Lego Pirate Man or Lego Man From Halo [I just noticed a trend here... there were no Lego Ladies. Que paso! (Jason: "I don't think that means what you think it means.")], but he's camera shy sometimes. OH. And still related to Legos, did you know they now have an entire book filled with things to make with Legos?! It's crazy cool. If I still had my bucket of Legos...

On to Central Park. There were dozens of pretty horses all dressed up for carriage rides outside of Central Park. Unfortunately, they are $50 for a 20-minute ride. Psh. So we just walked around and looked at them all. This, of course, means that every other carriage driver asks if we want a ride which inevitably leads to us not wanting to linger about the area. We saw one horse skillfully tip his bucket of oats over and then right it again with his nose. I like to think he was just sharing his meal with the hundreds of overweight pigeons and squirrels flocking around all the carriages. Once we finished horse gazing, we bought a pretzel and a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and commenced our Central Park explorations.
It's a thinker, that's for sure.

There's not much to mention about this part of our adventuring, I suppose, since all we did was walk along the various paths with no particular route or destination in mind. We did find an odd exhibit called Eight Giant Red Snails [or those words in a different order], and I persuaded Jason to contemplate the deeper meaning of this display. He was cooperative but unsuccessful. The snail was no help either. We also stumbled upon a castle and got to climb up some spiral staircases to the top. We took the obligatory picture. Sad story:  When we got back to the bottom of the castle, we saw a tiny little tiger glove left on one of the stone walls. He had no companion or owner in sight. I fear the tiny tiger had a long, cold night ahead of him.

Time for some chutzpah. So, apparently, both the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are sneaky little institutions. If you go to their websites, they have the usual "Admissions" section where they outline the prices of admission and such. However, if you are unfamiliar with them or just are skimming such a section for price info, you may very well not realize that the prices are only recommended admission prices, or "suggested donations." To make it even more confusing, they also, in contrast, list member admission prices as Free. So, if you aren't a member, $25. If you are a member, Free. But to become a member, you have to pay some absurd fee/donation. So... What's the dealio? Welp, admission is technically free. But, if you don't look at it closely enough or are vague on what in the world it means ["Can we actually just ignore these outrageous prices and just walk in without paying?"], you may just decide not to visit these gigantic places of Interesting Things to See. Upon further research, it seems that as long as you're willing to walk up to the ticket counter, look the official ticket lady in the face and say that you do not want to pay the recommended donation and that you only think their museum is worth, say, $1 a person and not $25 and that, by the way, they should offer free pizza and chocolate...! Well. She cannot deny you. [She cannot deny you the admission, but she probably can (and will) deny you the pizza and chocolate.]

Armed with this information, we decided to go for it. We accumulated as much chutzpah as two not-very-chutzpah-filled people can accumulate and made our way out of Central Park and towards the Museums. As we did not think we would have enough time [or chutzpah] to go to both museums, we chose to explore the Museum of Natural History. We walked in. We wandered around the foyer pretending we weren't about to be cheapskates. And then... I telepathically shoved all of my chutzpah into Jason's brain and told him to go Do the Deed. Yes, he does my dirty work. Reason #849 that I love him. [And, I find it fascinating that he continues to love me despite the fact that I pretend not to know him while he's carrying out my dirty work. Keeper.]
One of many gorgeous species.  

So yes, Jason chutzpah-ed his way through the ticket counter for a "donation" of $1 each. Excellent. It was $2 well spent, I think. We explored just a fraction of the place, and there always seemed to be something new around the corner. We enjoyed the animal displays the best. Some of them were extremely life-like, and the way the painted scenery just melded into the actual scenery in each display was quite impressive. The details were spot on. And did you know the number of different horned/antlered animals is absolutely ridiculous? Well, it is. They all looked so similar, yet so different. God is such an awe-inspiring artist and creator. Anyway, there were also hours worth of more educational displays, but we really didn't have time [or energy] to be educated this trip. Maybe next time.

By this time, we were plumb tuckered out. The oddest muscles and joints were sore beyond belief from the miles we had walked up to this point [I'm too lazy to calculate the exact number] and the slow meandering pace that we used to walk circles upon circles in the museum. Between the bottoms of my feet, some weird spot in my upper thighs, and my lower back, I officially felt like an old person. I think if I had listened closely, I would have audibly heard my joints creaking. We were sitting down every time we saw an open bench, regardless of the display, which probably was about every 3 minutes. The benches were like little pieces of heaven placed in front of bow and arrow, basket weaving, and South American wrestling match displays.

How in the world was it only just past 4 o'clock. We were only 2/3 of the way done with our day! Oy. What a day. I am 100% convinced that,  if you are already weary and sore, it is significantly less tiring to walk quickly than to walk slowly with a lot of starts and stops and pauses. Science [maybe]! So, thankfully, once we were back outside and briskly walking without making a lot of stops, my soreness and weariness were less noticeable. Good thing, too, since we still had quite a bit of walking to do. I believe we next started our Christmas Window Display viewings. We went from Bloomingdale's to Barneys to Bergdorf Goodman. Darkness was upon us by this time, so it was perfect timing. Oh how I love Christmasy things! By the time we were finished with these three stores, we decided to head back to Times Square to see it at night.

We were also getting hungry for dinner now and decided to be lame [or brilliant!] and eat the same thing we had had for lunch: Pizza! Boy, do I love a good slice of vegetable pizza. So yummy. But, then, disaster struck! We carefully studied our map and the route we had traveled earlier and made an educated guess as to the whereabouts of the tasty pizzeria we had visited earlier. But upon reaching the spot, there was no pizza to be found. Tragedy! We knew we hadn't quite accurately traced our path to the pizzeria earlier [remember, earlier we had just seen a sign off in the distance and promptly deviated from our planned route, without taking care to note specific directions] so we were devastated to be in the same spot we were in 6 hours earlier: Desperately hungry and no pizza in sight.

We wandered about for a bit but knew we were running out of time. We still had a few more sights to see and still had quite a walk to get to our bus stop, and we knew if we didn't get food quickly, we most likely would not be able to eat until we got home after 11. So just as we were about to give up the search and go find something mediocre and less happy and not pizza, just as our spirits reached their lowest points of the day [since earlier when we couldn't find pizza], just as our perfect day teetered on the brink of no-longer-perfect...!

We found it. We literally were standing on a corner, about to head off pizza-less towards the rest of our sight-seeing route, and Jason happened to look to his right, and there it was. On that corner. Less than 20 feet away. This is where the Magical Pizzeria gets its name. I believe it is a place of magical wonder, a place that appears when you are at your lowest and are in desperate need of a pizza miracle. It's a beautiful thing, this Magical Pizzeria. I will not forget you**.

Science again! I said science again!
Once refueled, we were able to finish our adventures on an energized note. We looked at the Christmas Window Displays for Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, and Macy's. Our favorite this year was Saks. They had a story of a Yeti who made friendly snowflakes.

We only had one last hiccup in that we were under the impression the bus stop was at one particular location and it was actually another block or so farther, but we made it there with plenty of time regardless. And with that, we had unknowingly completed our first half marathon. Our completion time is laughable, but I think it is semi-respectable when you take into account all of the pizza and pit stops and pedestrian crossings and pigeons. Respectable indeed.

Unfortunately, some people finagled their way on to the bus before people were officially allowed to board so, even though we were in the front of the line, we were unable to get front row seats on the top deck. I decided to sleep the entire way back though, so I still had a perfectly lovely trip home. We made excellent time back to Newark. Waking up and stumbling off the bus after all of my muscles had solidified into a mass of soreness was my last bit of entertainment for the night. What a good day.

Boom. I'm done. I have detailed our entire adventure for future generations. Now I'm tired. And I really want pizza...

Accurate representation of post-half-marathaon us.

*As I write this, my beloved Math Man is pleasure reading... a book titled, "Amusements in Mathematics." No lie. He's the best.

**I currently still do not know the real name of the pizzeria nor at which cross streets it lies... Sigh.