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Our Favorite Winter Meals

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I love that the cooler weather is here. We are enjoying our last week or so that we get to stay home two nights a week (before volleyball practice starts.) As a result of these two things, we are cooking a lot. I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon of posting a few of our favorite winter meals, some of which are pretty affordable

Hashbrown Potato Soup

This is the hands down family favorite. You can make it either the crockpot or on the stove. We prefer it on the stove, and I save time using frozen hashbrowns rather than whole potatoes. There are lots of recipes on the internet, some include meat, some cheese, we cook straight potato soup and then everyone doctors their bowl to their own taste.

Deviled Eggs

Princess has become famous around town for her deviled eggs. She’s even been paid by locals to make them for special events. Sea Cadet recently asked her to make them for a Christmas Party he was attending.  We are spoiled by her love to cook. (Tonight she made brownies.)

Meatloaf

Gymnast favorite meal to make these days is meatloaf. I think he just likes to get his hands dirty…literally. (We haven’t had to buy meat since we moved. We are still eating through the freezer of meat we brought from Virginia. We are down to our last week of that though.)

We also eat a lot of beans and noodles.. Sea Cadet makes Asian inspired dishes almost every time it’s his turn to cook. Noodles and pasta sauce are another thing we are still working through from our rations we brought from Virginia.  Who knew we had so much food!

I’m so blessed that all my kids enjoy cooking and better yet, are good at it. Cooking at home saves us money, even when we cook more elaborate meals. But the best part is the fun we have preparing and trying new things. Some of our meals are true hits and some of them force us to take a McDonalds run and eat fries and sweet tea for dinner (okay, that’s only happened once.)

I hope you are enjoying the beginning of this holiday season with your loved ones. Taking time to slow down and just enjoy the holiday decorations and festivities. Enjoying some quality time. And being grateful for all the many blessings. I know I am.

 


Homemade Gift Giving

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We haven’t bought a single thing yet for Christmas. I mentioned before, but both sets of Grandparents are kind of going all-out for Christmas this year. The girls are going to be spoiled rotten as-is. So, we’re planning to go pretty minimal for them and just stick to basic needs (e.g., some new school clothes, socks and undies, etc.)

We originally said we were NOT going to get anything for each other. But in thinking and talking about it more, we decided we’d do a homemade gift exchange. We set the limit at $10 for any supplies or materials that need to be purchased. Anything we already own is fair game to be used (we have a decent amount of crafting materials already due to our kiddos).

I’m looking for some good homemade gift giving ideas!

We’ve been broke for a long time, so I’ve already done some of the more popular cheap/free craft ideas. I’ve done a scrapbook, 52 Reasons I love you (similar to this), coupon books, etc.

Source

I need something new. Something more creative and innovative….but not too challenging for someone who doesn’t have a lot of talent when it comes to arts-and-crafts.

Any ideas? Does anyone else exchange homemade gifts with significant others?


Public Schools Here They Come

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Beginning in January, both of my younger children will attend the local public schools. My heart breaks just thinking about it. It brings up all the sense of failure I have pushed away the last two years as we have struggled so much financially, with housing and then with this move to our new tiny town. And I am scared. But in the end, I want what is best for them, for all my kids, and right now with our current town, my work issues and the need for me to pick up a lot more work and continue to job hunt…this is what is best for right now.

We have visited to two schools they will be at, met with the counselors and Gymnast has completed the required testing.  (I also tested them independently to make sure I am very clear on where they are at.)

We will still have quite a few logistics to work out with gymnastics and volleyball training and competitions going on through April and us needing to on the road 15 minutes after school lets out. But we will take it as it comes, and figure it out.

Saving Money

I know this is a bad thing, in general, but it will save me some money…maybe.  The majority of the school Gymnast will attend qualifies for free breakfast and lunch, so they offer it for free to the entire school. My guess is he will not want to take his lunch, and he rarely eats breakfast, so that will save me some grocery money. That is not the case at Princess new school, so I don’t know if she will pack a lunch or purchase, I don’t even know the prices yet.

The Silver Lining

With my work situation, this will really free me up to search for jobs and work during the day. It will really be a new experience for me since the little kids have always been homeschooled.

I don’t know if it is the “rest of our lives” school option, but it is the “for right now” option we are going with. But I will be honest, I will most likely be like a mom of a kindergartner and come home to cry after I get them to school.


Freezer Meals

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One of our big downfalls with our budget has historically been in the area of food. We’ve relied a lot on eating out for quick and easy meals when time is short, work in long, etc. But because of you guys, I’ve been challenging myself to try to make more freezer meals. Over Thanksgiving week (really, in the wake of Thanksgiving), I created several freezer meals to have on-hand that can help with those busy nights when I know I won’t have time to cook.

My photography skills are not the best, but this will give you an idea of some of the things I’ve thrown together and will maybe give you an idea or two for creating Freezer Meals out of leftovers at your house!

Turkey Shephard’s Pie:

This meal was truly thrown together as a random hodgepodge of ingredients, but it worked out so well together! I did a take on “Shepherd’s Pie”, but using turkey! I made it up as I went, but it was somewhat similar to this recipe. I used shredded turkey that had been chopped up (rather than ground turkey). I didn’t use the heavy cream or egg and, instead, had stirred in a can of cream-of-celery soup to the meat mixture. I still did include peas with the meat, topped it all with potatoes, and then a generous serving of cheese. It was delicious!

Turkey Enchiladas Verde

I got real ambitious in making a TON of enchiladas! We had a MASSIVE turkey (16-lb. for our family of 4!) so this was the one meal I planned on making ahead-of-time, knowing it would be a great way to use up a bunch of turkey. In all, I made 3 containers-worth of turkey enchiladas. I used up a can of green chilies that had been in my pantry for a long time and used a store-bought can of verde enchilada sauce. Topped with some cheese, and placed gently in the freezer for future use.

Turkey Sandwiches

There’s no reason that every meal has to be this big, elaborate thing. My Mom was a stay-at-home Mom until I was a teenager, so I think I got used to each meal being this “event.” Every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) was served at the dinner table with everything nicely “set” and each meal was totally balanced: fruit, vegetable, protein, and dairy. <3

I love my mom and would love to emulate her in any way I can. I still insist that we eat at the dinner table each night together because I think it’s nice to sit all together and talk about our days, etc. But I also don’t think every meal needs to be this big elaborate thing. One night we just had plain-jana leftover turkey sandwiches. I made a little honey mustard sauce (literally just mixing together honey and mustard) and it was a tasty dinner one night with carrot slices and chips on the side as accompaniments.

Thanksgiving Bowl

Probably the ugliest picture of them all (and this was totally lopsided because I swear the potatoes were not that out-of-portion with the rest of the meal!), but this is what I called the “Thanksgiving Bowl.” I got the idea from the KFC Bowl. If you’re unfamiliar, the KFC bowl consists of layered food: mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and fried chicken, with gravy and cheese on top. Sounds like a lot going on in one bowl, but it comes together nicely. I decided to do a similar thing with leftover Thanksgiving Food. In our bowl, I layered turkey on the bottom, leftover stuffing, sweet corn, mashed potatoes, and gravy. It looked pretty gross, but it tasted delicious! The kids gobbled it up, each asking for more! That’s a win in my book!

Turkey Noodle Soup

Last but not least (and, unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo), I did a turkey noodle soup! I used the turkey bones to make a homemade turkey broth (remember my last homemade broth?). To it, I added turkey, chopped carrots and celery, and some frozen noodles. This was our last of the Thanksgiving-related meals. We had one serving while still “fresh” and I froze the other serving to have on-hand for an extra freezer meal.

I have LOVED having additional freezer meal options on-hand! Even though they do require some advance planning (in order to take them from the freezer to thaw out), I can typically look at my schedule and estimate what days they would work best. It’s been so convenient that I really hope to maintain this new “tradition.” I hope to plan at least one meal per week that I can double (eating half of it and freezing the other half), but I also plan to stock up on freezer meals at times when I’m home more (e.g., over the winter break will be a great time to stock up!)

Do you cook freezer meals? If so, link to recipes you like to use! I’d love to compile a list of options!


I Just Want to Quit My Job

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I just want to quit my job, but I know that would be wholly irresponsible so I won’t. But that doesn’t stop that thought from going through my head every single time I think about work. If you are stumbling upon this, you will want to read this post to know what and why I am saying this.

And I said I wouldn’t rant in my last post, but I have to get this off my chest or my explode. Beginning with Black Friday, I started my work day at 3am ET four out of eight days. Culminating with a solid 14 hour work day on Friday for the 1st day of the month work that happens every single month. (It didn’t help that I had the flu/upper respiratory issues all week. Which I believe were partially the result of the stress/lack of sleep.)

Not a single, solitary acknowledgement of my work. Not a single “thank you” for donating all these work hours, going above and beyond, and so on.  But I did hear from my boss with this type of statement “you know if you would just…” and I had to cut him off right there, saying, “well, you’ve already told me I’m fired so does that really matter at this point?”  I mean, seriously?

With all this being said, I just want to quit. I just don’t want to go back to the office at all. I know that’s unrealistic, I mean, I have to get my stuff.  But seriously…

Need Some Advice

So here is my question, and I know this isn’t a job advice site, but this is the closest thing I’ve got…I can do EVERYTHING I do for them remotely. I don’t have to be onsite for any of it, at all. I have two huge development projects  that I am supposed to complete for them that really require me to focus on code and no be distracted. This is in addition to the mundane daily and weekly tasks I take care of.

I want to write them an email and say:

“Seeing as you have already told me you are firing me after I finish these two development projects and launch them (Feb. 1), I do not see any need to be a regular presence in the office any longer. I will continue to do all the work I do for you, including creating some SOPs (which is more than I had when I started) from home while you search for someone to take over.”

I could go to the office for check ins on the two larger projects I am working on, but at this point I definitely do not have any intention of fighting to stay. I do not want to work there any longer. I don’t want to burn my bridges, but I am just so angry and feel so taken advantage of and feel so bullied.

What are your thoughts?  I am barely containing myself from sending the email now. But I am definitely on the verge. (And to be honest, if they have anything to say to me about Friday (my 3am-7pm shift,) I will probably lose it right there. But I am trying.) Please advise.


Update to Plan #1: Pay Off Debt

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At the end of October, I revealed my initial plan to pay off debt after being so focused on saving since I started my new job this past March. It had been a long time since I could focus on that goal with so much of my energy focused on keeping us housed and fed during the time I was unemployed or at least under employed. This plan had three goals:

  • Pay off my Amazon line of credit
  • Pay off my computer line of credit
  • Settle one of my collections accounts (the largest one at the time)

Dec 1 Status Update

Amazon – As of Nov 1, I paid off the Amazon account and have not used it since.  Doing a happy dance for debt pay off and celebrating self control!

Computers – I have continued to pay the minimum due on most of my bills and we have focused on not spending unless it is a need (with the exception of our Thanksgiving trip to Orlando) and as a result, I believe I will be able to pay off this debt in whole the week after Christmas.  I will make my end of the year goal by the skin of my teeth, barring any emergencies. I will pay off this debt! I will keep you posted.

Collections – I made the call to this account to discuss a settlement or pay to remove situation and they were not willing to negotiate much. I got angry and hung up.  And to be honest, with the goal of paying off the computers, I am not sure I could have done this too.  BUT…the other collection account (several smaller bills held by one company) is willing to negotiate and remove the items from my credit report once paid.

Making Money

I mentioned recently about my W2 employer’s “notice of firing” for lack of a better description. I could write a really long rant on that situation, but I am controlling myself. Anyways, I have been applying for jobs like a mad person and spending a lot of time looking for freelance work as well.  I am happy to update that I have had several nibbles at freelance work, good work. I am in the middle of the interview process with several companies and am doing some introductory work for a couple as well.  I feel good, at least better, about the situation.

With that being said, if I can bring in some extra money in December my goal is to tackle goal #3 with the collection account, just not the one I originally planned.  With that being the goal and I’m hopeful I will be able to make it happen. I guess it’s time for me to come up with my next steps in my paying off debt plan!

I’ll get a debt update posted in the next week or so. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions on what my next goals should be.  I won’t be able to focus on anything else until the new year and will have to temper that with what my job situation is looking like, but right now, today, I’m hopeful and proud of the steps I am taking.

 


A Tale of Two Sisters

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My sister and I have not always had the best of relationships.

All though childhood, we fought like cats and dogs. We were not close AT ALL! One of my best childhood friends will laugh recalling memories of when we were 10-years-old and my little sister (then 6-years-old) and I would get into huge physical altercations. Like, ripping each other’s hair out and rolling around wrestling. And not in a cute or nice way either. It wasn’t pretty.

We were four years apart and, at the time, the gap felt as wide as the Grand Canyon. I felt like she was so young and immature and I wouldn’t be inconvenienced to let her hang around me and my friends. Due to our age gap and timing of birthdays, we never went to the same middle or high school at the same time. We had wholly different interests, friend groups, and even physical locations due to the different schools we attended.

Then a funny thing happened. After I graduated high school and moved out of my parents’ house, my sister and I started talking more. Then when she graduated high school and moved out, the frequency of our interactions picked up even moreso. We became friends. And then…best friends.

It’s now been a full 15 years since I graduated high school. Even though we weren’t close growing up, we made up for lost time in the 15 years since moving out of our patents’ house. And there’s been a lot of LIFE during that time. We were each other’s’ maid/matron of honors for our weddings. We’ve seen each other through good times and bad, through pregnancies and childbirth, through moving cross-country (twice). Through fun sister-trips to Vegas and tough funeral-visit trips. We’ve been there for each other truly during both the best and worst of times in each other’s lives. We haven’t lived in the same city for over a decade at this point and, even with all the miles between us, she’s still been my best friend.

But something has happened to our friendship that’s been tearing us apart.

In August 2015, my Dad was diagnosed with dementia. Since he had no spouse or partner, we became his primary caretakers. First, the bulk of responsibility fell to me. He was living in Utah at the time and due to my proximity (in Arizona), I was making frequent flights back-and-forth for doctors’ visits, to help pack up his house, and eventually to meet with realtors and get the place sold.

At that time, my Dad moved to Texas and since then, my sister has had the bulk of “caregiver” duties thrust onto her. I’ve tried to help as best I can, being a thousand miles away. I’ve taken over handling my Dad’s finances while my sister has taken the day-to-day/medical/hands-on stuff. Undoubtedly, she has the bigger burden. Without question. I knew the load on her would be hard. It’s not easy to be a caretaker to one’s parent. And though I haven’t shared specifics, none of us were ever close to our Dad. He was not a large part of our lives growing up. So, the burden feels double, or even triple, being that we’re caring for a person who never even really cared for us (at least in a physical sense). A person who was never really a significant part of our lives in our youth nor adulthood.

It’s been hard. Really hard. I started going to therapy, initially, for issues related to my dad’s dementia.

But then things got better for me. As we’ve moved my Dad to higher and higher levels of care, things have gotten easier and easier. Now that he’s in a locked memory care facility, we have no more emergency phone calls from police or social workers (which, at one point, were literally a weekly-occurrence). He’s well cared for, fed, and groomed. All his basic needs are met and none of it requires work or effort from me or my sister (or brother for that matter). My sister still has the bulk of responsibilities – she still goes to visit nearly 3 times a week, takes “groceries” (all food is provided, but he likes snacks in his room), takes him to doctors, delivers his prescription medication, etc. etc. etc. It’s still a lot.

Having a family member with dementia is a lot. For everybody. And for my sister most of all.

Slowly, over time, I sensed a strain in my relationship with my sister. Nothing specific that happened. But things were tenuous. I think things reached a boiling point over summer when we moved my Dad from his independent-living facility into the memory-care facility. My sister had to handle most of the preparations (touring new facilities, scheduling movers, getting things boxed and ready, etc. etc. etc.). I went out and helped with the actual move, but I had to come back to Arizona shortly thereafter. She was left to handle the aftermath. Though things went well with the move (even better than we’d expected), things did not go well between my sister and me.

And so, as things seemed to deteriorate between us, I went back to therapy again. This time with greater frequency, too. Not only was I dealing with issues caused by my Dad’s illness. Now, it felt like I was also losing my best friend. It was heartbreaking, to say the least.

If you notice the timeframe of the sister-breakdown, it occurred right at the same time that our finances got out of control. Coincidence? Well, yes and no. Some of our financial issues just happened to occur at the same time – like the ending of my part-time job and hubs’ closing his business.

But it’s so easy for our finances and spending to get wrapped up with psychological issues, isn’t it? Much of my spending during and since this summer has been for things I might consider therapeutic, even though they seem like superfluous “fat” in the budget. Things like happy hour with friends or yoga classes to center my mind. Oh yeah, and I’m still going to weekly talk-therapy, too.

I think things with my sister are slowly getting better. I’ve been working hard in therapy, developing coping techniques and skills, and surrounding myself with things to bring me joy and happiness. We’ve been talking a little more. I’m hopeful for our future.

But I’m not going to lie. The past few months have been some of the personally hardest in my life. And not because of any specific “event” (no cross-country move, wedding, or childbirth). But just because of the psychological stressors of the entire caregiving situation with my dad and the fallout it has caused between me and my siblings. I hadn’t realized what a source of social support my sister had been for me until I felt like I had lost her.

I’m not perfect. Our family finances are still in need of triage. We have so much work left to do.

Right now I’m considering myself a “work in progress.” Both in terms of my financial habits and just my general psychological well-being. But I just wanted to provide some additional context and background for why it may be difficult for us to turn things around as quickly as we had back in March 2015 when I first started blogging. I’ve been lucky to never struggle with mental health prior to these most recent years. And now that I know the struggle from the other side, I know how truly all-consuming and debilitating it can be.

If you have time and are interested, I’ve linked to two videos about dementia that have been personally moving to me:

I know this post is a little different than the traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, but I felt compelled to share a little piece of myself with you today. I hope you can take it and remember that everyone has their own inner demons and battles that we know nothing about. Especially in this holiday season, let’s do what we can to uplift and encourage others and to promote kindness and empathy for others.

I’ll be back soon with a more traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, too! <3

~Ashley


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