Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Truths and (I Hope) a Lie About Tonight's Dinner

1.  There are sauteed greens hidden under that red sauce, those three eggs, and all of that freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

2. In an already-failed attempt to not waste any part of my CSA this year, the greens I sauteed were pretty close to spoiled. And I used a can of red sauce I made a few weeks ago, and put in the fridge without ever officially sealing.

3. I'm not at all worried that the food I prepared and consumed tonight — in an honorable attempt to be frugal — might make me just a little bit sick.

You know how this game goes: you guess which one is the lie.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Garden Glory 6.22.13

I'm currently trying to tone down a draft post about the credit skeletons in my closet and how we might not get the house now because of a debt I didn't even know I still had. I need to edit out at least 50% of the four-letter words and most of the rambling, ranting text before I bother anyone with that. 

In the meantime, I thought I'd share something much more positive: pictures from my first "major" garden harvest on Saturday.

It's so neat to see how these Japanese eggplants grow out of their flowers.

Our green beans are currently trying to strangle the green onions. I guess we had to expect at least one turf war in a 2.5 by 6-foot community garden plot. And maybe it will make for some really great flavors in the beans.

Remember when I was worried my carrots wouldn't grow? I think it will still be quite a while before I have actual edible carrots under that dirt, but this is a great start.

Naturally, Saturday night's dinner came from a box.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Garage Sale Recap: I Made $126.21 and Peed My Pants

Saturday's garage sale got off to a great start. With Kyle's help, I set up pretty quickly. And before he went to work, he ran to the store to get me coffee and change. 

It wasn't a busy day, but for the most part, I had fairly steady shoppers. I even sold a bunch of beige polyester tablecloths from the wedding to a woman who worked at a nearby church. Kyle's mom and sister came by for lunch — with lunch — and then my adorable friend Danielle surprised me with a visit.

Like me, Danielle is trying to save money and pay down debt. She's so organized about it, she even travels with her own healthy snacks — carrots, celery and almonds in Ziploc bags — neatly tucked into her little purse. Around 3, she left with the stability ball I bought with the best of intentions but never used.

My plan for the rest of the afternoon was to stay open for a few more hours, then call the guy who runs the thrift store down the street to come pick up what I hadn't sold — since I'd promised Kyle nothing would return to the house or garage. But not long after Danielle went home, it started to get really dark. I should have taken that as a sign to close up shop, but I figured it it would rain before it poured, and I was there to make money, not worry about the weather.

Well, then all hell broke loose and the sky opened up, and within a matter of seconds, Mother Nature had dumped what seemed like an entire ocean on top of me and my sale. My first thought was to grab the mattress from the daybed I was trying to sell (another purchase I never used). As I was trying to get it into the house — fighting against the huge gusts of wind — I heard a loud crash. My tallest shelf, which was stacked with books and knickknacks, had been blown over. It wasn't an incredibly sturdy shelf (in fact, it was a piece of crap Kyle had in his kitchen before we ever met, which is why I was trying to sell it) but if we weren't in the middle of the country, I might have worried I was about to get stuck in a hurricane.

I slid the mattress into the house and ran back out in the pouring rain to rescue linens and try and collect the quickly bloating books. The bottoms of the boxes I was stuffing were breaking out as I picked them up, and soon everything that could contain or retain water was — including my clothes, shoes and hair.

I spent nearly an hour cleaning up the front of the driveway, and had to throw away probably 40 books. Throwing away any books, ever, makes me sad. When everything was cleared from the front, I moved toward the back to get started on the dishes and kitchen items — many of which had been blown off of the table.

By this point, I was soaking wet from head to toe, and I really, really, really had to pee. The heavy rain wasn't helping. To go, at least like a lady, I'd have to track water in the house and all the way up the stairs, since we don't have a toilet on the main floor. But the real problem was the fact that I was wearing skinny jeans — which are never easy to get over my elephant-like calves, especially when I've just put lotion on my legs or it's super humid out. I knew that if I pulled those jeans down, there would be no getting them back up. I also know myself well enough to know that when the pants come off for the day, they are not to be replaced by new pants. Once free of wet jeans, I would want nothing more than to take a warm shower, slip into some dry jammies, and spend the rest of the evening on the couch.

However, I wasn't about to leave a huge mess in my driveway, even if I could blame it on the weather. To be honest, I really didn't mind being out in the pouring rain; it wasn't too cold, and by this point, the whole thing seemed so ridiculous, I was laughing as I picked up shards of glass and debated grabbing anything metal for fear of being struck by lightning.

I kind of surprised myself when I decided to just pee in my pants. I was also surprised at how easy it was. For whatever reason, I can't pee in the lake or the ocean, but in my driveway, in my pants? No problem. I was already wet, and all alone (everyone else had sense enough to get inside before the rain came).

Of course, I immediately regretted my decision. It's not the most pleasant smell in the world. But then my rational rain brain saw the garden hose, and thought: What the hell? I'm already soaking wet, and I've peed myself. Hose it off, girl.

So I did, and spent about another hour cleaning up more wet garage sale inventory... which, of course, meant taking some of it inside. Jack didn't mind. 

I had to leave a few things on the curb, and all of it has disappeared, except for this wonderful mid-century-esque dreser that's still in front of my house. I hope it finds a new home soon.

Overall, I still consider the day a success: I saw an old friend, made $121.21, got rid of a lot of stuff, and got a pretty good workout frantically cleaning for two hours in the pouring rain.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Garage Sale Day

Today is the neighborhood garage sale. About a month ago, when the neighbors decided on the date, I thought it would be perfect timing — I hoped we'd be close to done packing up the house, we'd have the basement and the garage completely cleared out, and we'd have a ton of stuff to sell. In my head, I'd already spent the money on paint for the new house. Um, nope.

Since the mortgage process has been consuming me, I've really just managed to mess up the entire current house by pulling everything out of its home, and all without putting a single item in a box. While I'm pretty proud of the inventory I managed to throw together in just a couple hours on Thursday night, there's still so much more I want purge.

I've always had a lot of stuff: books, vintage Pyrex, clothes, shoes, purses, dishes, knick-knacks, three sets of flatware. Hell, we even have four sets of coasters for one coffee table. You'd think that having lived in 11 places over the last 13 years would have forced me to downsize. But with every move, I felt like I got rid of at least 25% of my belongings. Unfortunately, my stuff problem is a lot like my weight problem — I work really hard to get rid of it, then before I know it, I have just as much as I started with, and sometimes more. It's probably a management issue. I don't have good habits, so I eat too much at dinner without exercising enough the next morning, and I bring too much into the house without getting rid of old things to make room. Then, I crash diet and crash purge. Oh, and then there's the crash opening six months worth of mail thing (though I recently found a year-old check for $100, more on that later!).

To make matters worse, hoarding is in my blood. On both sides. I hold onto things because they have sentimental value, or for perfectly practical reasons (you never know when that expensive sunscreen that totally irritates my skin will come in handy, right?). A lot of stuff stays because I don't want to hurt the feelings of the person who gave it to me. And when you're a person with a lot of stuff, people want to give you more stuff.

I'm slowly losing that sense of sentimentality, though, and I think it's a good thing.

Now that we're (hopefully) moving into a house that will be ours — ours for as long as we want it to be ours — I just don't want to be surrounded by so much stuff. While I think my home will always be a little messy, it doesn't have to be so cluttered.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to get rid of at least two times more stuff than I put out for today's garage sale. I'm sure I'll always hold onto the box of my Grandma Ruth's costume jewelry, and my Grandma Freda's wacky shoes. But before I put anything else in a box or bag meant for the new house, I'll ask myself "Do you use this?" If the answer is "no," the next question will be, "Do you love it?" If the answer to that is "no," I should just get rid of it. However, taking this project into consideration, I should probably also ask myself, "Do you think you'll need this, or something like it, within the next year?" If I can't answer "yes" to at least one of those questions, it should go.

Honestly, for as much as I hold onto things, I've never missed anything I've sold or given away (save for a few cute vintage dresses I now see on my cute friends). If I can get another garage sale together, I might as well make back at least some of the money I wasted on all of that stuff I didn't even need in the first place. If not, Goodwill is good enough for me.

As far as this garage sale goes, everyone in the neighborhood thought everyone else was going to put signs up on the main streets, so we're not getting much traffic. Since I promised Kyle none of this stuff would go back in the house or garage, I might be making a trip to Goodwill sooner than later.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lazy Mondays and Losing My Ambition

Mondays aren't generally my favorite day. I know, I know; that's like saying constipation isn't really my favorite feeling, or that my under-wire bra isn't the most comfortable thing I've ever worn. Unless you're in the service industry, Mondays suck. There's no denying it. But when Kyle and I both have the day off, Mondays are like a bonus Sunday, and I think everybody deserves a bonus Sunday from time to time. Yesterday, we took ours. 

Of course, it was still a Monday, and we did have one task to accomplish. Somehow, a bird found its way into my sister's apartment Sunday night. When she noticed it flying circles in her living room, she grabbed her keys — but didn't take the time to put on shoes, pants, or a bra — and fled for our house. In the morning, Kyle and I went back with her, planning to shoo her little feathered friend out with a broom, or at least dispose of the body. But there was no sign of it. However it got in, it managed to get out. (That, or it's time to have a talk with my sister about the dangers of hallucinatory drugs.)

Other than our failed bird-hunting mission, we were able to hang around the house for much of the day, just enjoying each others' company. When evening rolled around and the temperature dropped a bit, we spent some time time tending to our little container garden.

As I practiced my iPhonetography (it's getting a little better, right?) Kyle fired up the grill to make chicken wings for dinner. It might not sound like the most romantic meal, but I first developed a crush on Kyle when I watched a video of him making chicken wings.

Overall, it was a simple, wonderful day, and I want more like it. I guess lazy days wouldn't feel quite so special if I had them every day, but this one did get me thinking about why I work so much, and why I've always worked so much.

I got my first job when I was 14 so I could buy things — name-brand shampoo, Union Bay Jeans, the cool Dr. Martens my friends had but my mom couldn't buy me — and I've never really stopped (working or buying). I'd like to think my tastes have improved with age, but my spending habits haven't. And because I've never been good at managing my money, I've always felt like I needed more of it — sometimes literally to keep the lights on. Sure, I also wanted to accomplish things, and get jobs that would lead to even better jobs, and bigger salaries, and put that really expensive liberal arts degree to good use, but the more money I made, the more I would spend.

As I start to think about moving into a home where we will raise our family, I want to separate myself from so much of the "stuff" I've accumulated over the years (luckily, this Saturday is the neighborhood garage sale). I want to live more simply, spend less time working, and spend more time doing the things that make me happy with the people (and pets) I love.

For now, I'm enjoying being able to handle unexpected visits to the vet, and the fact that I'm at least financially stable enough to almost buy a home. Though it's still very small, having a little cushion in my savings account feels nice, too.

If only I'd had this realization a decade earlier.  

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Saving a Surplus of Spinach

Wednesday was a big food day for us. It was the first day of our CSA, we were hosting Supper Club (a gathering of four couples, well, now three couples and one guy, who get together once a month to geek out over home-cooked food), and when my friend Kristina showed up, she brought us two big bunches of organic spinach that needed to be consumed or composted ASAP.

Confession: Before I started this project, I was always throwing out produce (save for the summer I spent eating on $50 a week). I would buy it with the best of intentions, but when I'd come home from work hungry and tired, and was faced with the choice of cooking versus carryout, I bet you can guess which way I would go.

But I wasn't about to let this spinach go bad, or at least get any closer to decay than it already was. So, I separated out the bad leaves, rinsed the good ones and put them in the food processor with a little water. Then, I scooped my spinach sludge into Dixie cups and put them in the freezer.

Now I have 20 servings of frozen spinach for my morning smoothies. I have to tear the cup or run a just a little bit of warm water over the top to loosen the spinach, but it's great to have another frozen element to go along with the berries, especially since summer is about to sneak up on us.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Friday, June 7, 2013

Next Stop: Our Litte Urban Homestead

I'm usually a pretty optimistic person. But when 5 pm rolled around today, and we hadn't heard a thing about our home loan application, I figured our mortgage counselor was sparing us a shitty weekend and waiting until Monday to let us know we hadn't been approved. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, right? I mean, I'm not necessarily used to things working out in my favor, especially when it comes to financial matters.

Maybe it's time to get used to a new normal.

While I was out talking food blogs and bad photography with some friends after work, I missed a call from Kyle, followed by a text that said, "Check your email!"

Like emoticons, exclamation marks don't really exist (at least earnestly) in our communications, so I knew exactly what it meant: we got a true pre-approval. Yes, we are "conditionally approved" for a mortgage. I think that means unless we majorly screw something up in the next 30 days, we're getting our old house with new windows on a double lot after all.

I was eager to get home (er, what will be our home for another month or so) but on the way back to my car, I had to stop when I saw the above sign taped to a light pole. It felt incredibly appropriate. This life is pretty amazing. Though even if we'd been rejected, it would be hard to deny that fact.

I won't feel 100% relaxed until we close, but I'm sure as hell enjoying some cheap celebratory wine.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Big Purchases and Bad Decisions

As I've mentioned a few times, Kyle and I would like to buy a home at some point in the near future. I want a space I can make ours (read: I want to rip down cabinets, build things into walls, etc.), and we are desperate to have enough outside space for a chicken coop and garden beds so we can grow a good portion of our own food. 

In addition to our 2.6 x 6-foot community garden plot, we're doing a lot of container gardening in the driveway to manage in our little rental house. There's not enough yard to legally keep chickens, and while I'm all about rogue hens, our landlord has only approved the idea of keeping legal livestock — a position I completely understand and respect.

Mentally, we're ready to have our own little piece of land, and to stop throwing away money on rent every month. Yes, there are benefits to renting: if something breaks, it's not our responsibility to fix it, and if one of us gets an amazing job offer in New York or San Francisco, it would be pretty easy for us to pack our bags and go. But for the most part, we really like life in Kansas City. I can't see myself returning to Brooklyn unless we become filthy rich; after four years back in the Midwest, I'm too spoiled by the housing costs per square foot and and the emerging culinary culture. Plus, we both have family here, which will be a huge asset (read: free babysitting) when we do have kids.

Because we didn't have any savings until recently, I dreamed about owning a home, but I thought we weren't financially ready. However, I guess this is as good a time as any to offer full disclosure that not long after I committed to the idea of this project, and had even named it, purchased the domain, designed the header and written the first post, Kyle inherited a bit of money when a relative passed away. I decided it wasn't going to change anything about this project, and it hasn't. That money is not play money (though we did prepay for one somewhat ridiculous trip we're taking to Chicago later this summer, and Kyle finally got a lawn mower so he can stop driving to his friend's house to borrow one every week in the spring and summer).

While we finally paid off what remained of our minimal wedding debt, it's not pay-off-Emily's-credit-card-debt money. It's not even enough to pay off our student loans. And it's not money to live off of every day, or any day. In fact, Kyle put it in his bank account, not our joint account we each contribute to for living expenses. (We don't completely combine our finances, and a lot of that has to do with my spending problem. But that's another post for another day.)

It is buy-a-house money. Not an entire house, of course, or even half of a house, but a percentage of a house, a respectable down payment, at least in the Midwest. Of course, I'd been obsessively watching the market for months, long before we ever knew the inheritance existed. I can't help it; I love real estate, and the older the house, the better (maybe I should have been a real estate agent). Paying off our wedding debt meant Kyle was ready to start looking, too.

So, we applied for pre-approval. We didn't ask for much, but I was still pretty surprised when a lender gave us the greenlight to start looking. My credit isn't great, and Kyle is a public school teacher in Kansas — a state not known for supporting or giving much of a shit about education (don't even get me started on sex education). But we were good to go, or so we thought, and we started looking.

We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted. Sort of. I wanted an old house with a claw-foot tub in the city. Kyle wanted new windows and an open kitchen in a family-friendly neighborhood. We both wanted a double lot.

We looked at about 20 houses. Each had some of what we wanted. None of them felt like home.

Quite by accident, we found the perfect place for us: an old airplane bungalow on a double lot in what is perhaps the most family-friendly neighborhood in Kansas City. It has new windows, a solid foundation, enough bedrooms and bathrooms to comfortably accommodate us plus two rugrats, and plenty of green space for some chickens and a few huge garden beds. It also has a new, insulated garage that could easily house a commercial kitchen someday should Kyle ever start that summer ice cream business.

So, my wonderful husband agreed to give up his open kitchen (for the time being; I'm happy to tear down a wall any old day) and I gave up my claw-foot tub (for the time being; how hard can it be to install one?). It also happens to be owned by a friend who did a lot of work on it, so we knew the guts were in good shape. We also knew about the house before anyone else did, because he hadn't yet put it on the very hot market. We made an offer the night we went to look at it.

I was giddy. Unlike me, Kyle doesn't make any decision quickly. Seriously. Standing with him in a grocery store aisle while he decides which cheese is best for whatever he has planned that evening can be torturous. Then there's the trouble of deciding what beer will go best with that cheese. He's great at pairings, but those aren't decisions he makes lightly, so imagine what it took for him to decide to commit to a 30-year mortgage on not one, but two plots of land (double lot). His exhaustive examination of the pros and cons of any possibility is a good antidote to my spontaneous spending style. But that night, we were on the exact same page. Everything about that house felt right, even though the kitchen is slightly cramped and the tub has jets (ick).

We had found our home, a modest place where our little family could grow, and even grow some of our own food.

Because our friend was willing to work with our offer that was slightly lower than his asking price, we agreed to do this thing for sale by owner (as much as we loved our agent). We trust him, and luckily, one of my best friends in the world works for a title company, so she was able to provide us with a contract and some guidance on making the whole thing official. We're still planning to do the appraisal, inspection, etc. of course.

While I was working on what seemed like a very complicated contract last Thursday, we were given a strong suggestion from another friend who is pretty knowledgeable about real estate, too, to go with a different lender. Apparently, he hadn't had the best experience with the lender who pre-approved us. The approval process is pretty much the same, he told us, it's the customer service that matters most with a lender.

So, the we reached out to a mortgage consultant at a very well-respected lender, who came very highly recommended. When I tried to send her only the signed contract and receipt of earnest money paid to the title company, she told us everything else she'd need before she could even process our pre-approval application.

Oh. My. God. 

As she explained it to us, the first lender most likely only ran our credit scores and salaries — which were good enough to get us pre-approved, which is a good sign — but not our credit histories. He would have required all the same stuff at closing, she said, and and the result will probably be the same ether way, with either lender. The first thing she did was get a full credit report.

Based on our, well my, credit history (not just our scores), she thinks our chances of actually getting approved are 50/50. Kyle has better credit than I do, but he doesn't have much credit, and his teacher's salary alone isn't enough to carry the loan amount on paper.

I doubt I have enough of an audience yet for anyone to notice that there was a week-long lag between my silver post and my smoothie post. But there was. That's because I spent the last week compiling documentation on every paycheck either of us has received in the last two years, every rent check we've written in the last two years, verification of the inheritance, and how the earnest money went from one bank account to the other (that required a trip to the bank, and a signed letter from the branch manager). To back all of that up, we needed two years worth of tax returns, W2s, and bank statements, and a verification of two years of rent history, signed by our landlord. Though I've paid everything on time for the last two years, I had to explain every credit inquiry on my report, and write a letter of appeal to the loan underwriter, letting him or her know why we should be considered credit worthy. It was really more of a restrained plea. I hope our mortgage counselor was kidding, at least a little, when she said my letter might have moved the needle to 50.5/49.5. Those aren't terrible odds for some things, but when it comes to a home loan, they're not very promising.

Two days ago, she finally had everything she needed to submit the application. Whatever happens, I'm glad we took care of all of the documentation on the early end, and are getting a true approval (or not) now, and not just when we think we're about to close on a house.

So, now we just wait and see. I'm not very good at that. I never have been. I'm already concocting alternative financing solutions in my head, and even shared one of them with our friend selling the house via email earlier today; subject line: "Because I'm a crazy lady."

I hate that the financial mistakes I've made have given us such terrible chances of getting a home right now, even though we're more than capable of making the monthly payments, and have a bigger down payment than most first-time homebuyers. I wish that someone would have taught me the importance of establishing good credit, or at least of not abusing credit, before I got my first credit card application in the mail at 17. Instead, like most things in life, I had to learn it the hard way.

I made a lot of bad decisions in my late teens and early twenties. I put myself in some pretty dangerous situations — physically, emotionally and financially. It’s part of being young, I guess. I consider myself lucky that I’m not paying for the physical or emotional bad decisions today (unless you count my slow-as-molasses metabolism). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the bad financial decisions I made. I pay for them every day with the high interest rate on my car payment and the secure card I got to try and re-establish good credit. Now I'm facing the possibility that I've jeopardized my little family’s chance to get a home while interest rates are still so low.

I hope that whatever underwriter gets our file can see that I'm getting better, smarter and more responsible every day. I hope next week, I'm back with really great news (in the meantime I plan to tell you all about preserving a surplus of spinach). And I hope I haven't bored you to tears with this rambling post.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Photo of the Day: Baby Basil

Our little garden is already doing so much better than it did last year. We've had lots of rain, and a fair amount of sunshine. And Kyle's planning surely had a lot to do with it. I would like to state for the record, though, that even with my haphazard gardening last year, I still got basil.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Morning Smoothie

When it comes down to it, this blog is really just a wordy attempt at getting my shit together. While it starts with a strict commitment to financial responsibility, my hope is that it will encourage me to be more deliberate about all aspects of my life. In fact, I don't really see how I can separate frugality from living deliberately, because gone are the days of grabbing takeout when I haven't planned dinner, or spending $12 on my daily salad (that's $240 a month and the first time I've ever done that math).

This morning, after a quick outdoor run/walk that made me realize just how out of shape I am, and how much work I have to do if I am going to get my ass across the finish line of the October half marathon I signed up for last month (on the half-price registration day, of course) I spent half an hour in the kitchen. Yes, I'm terrible at mornings, but I made the time… and was only 10 minutes late to work today.

Anyway, I made myself some lime water in mason jars and put them in the fridge for the next few mornings, I made a salad with lettuce from my garden, and I made myself a beautiful pink smoothie.

Even before I started this frugality project, I was pretty good about making myself a morning smoothie, at least a few days a week. Now that I'm not making it rain every time I need to eat lunch, it's much more important to eat (or drink) breakfast.

Though the color varies a bit every day depending on the type and quantity of berries I use, this smoothie is my favorite because it's full of nutrients but tastes, well, not like one of those disgusting smoothies that's full of nutrients. I think I'm being a bit more generous with my berries lately since my last berry haul came from Aldi. They're not organic, so I'm probably ingesting some pesticides, but they're affordable and they taste great.

Here's what I put in my morning smoothie (including the pesticide berries):
  • 3 kale leaves (with stems) or a handful of spinach (you can freeze your own)
  • One apple (with skin), cut into about 8 pieces
  • About a half-cup of frozen berries (you can also use fresh berries, but the frozen ones make the smoothie cold) 
  • A heaping teaspoon of whatever nut butter you have on hand 
  • A cup or so of unsweetened almond milk (I did find organic almond milk at Aldi!) or coconut milk
I blend my morning smoothie in the NutriBullet. (I may or may not have purchased it at target.com last year after seeing the infomercial while lounging on the couch with a bottle of wine around 2 am. It should be noted that unlike the people in the infomercial, the NutriBullet hasn't caused me to lose a bunch of weight or spend more time with my grandchildren, but it pulverizes frozen berries, so I'm happy.) It's great if you're making one or two smoothies, and compared to a VitaMix, the NutriBullet's $99 price tag doesn't seem so bad. It's much better than the $16 individual blender I bought at Target the previous year, and it's super easy to clean.

Maybe NutriBullet should hire me to do its next infomercial. Then I can go back to my organic berries.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin