Friday, February 21, 2014

Your Architecture

Today after dropping the kids off at preschool and mother's day out, I decided to head down Walton Way to MCG (the "scenic route") so I could bring Jake the ID he left at home.  I was NOT expecting to see what I saw...  Total destruction.  It actually brought tears to my eyes.  Downed trees and huge branches everywhere.  Tarps covering damaged rooftops.  I drove over a downed power line, which luckily was not live.  And just to add to the strangeness of this new landscape in West Augusta, we had constant storm warnings and tornado watches with massive, straight line winds this morning which pushed already stressed trees to their limit.

It was incredible to see the strength of last week's ice storm and the power of something that ordinarily seems so innocuous.  Hearing this song as I drove through the path of the storm reminded me of who owns our world...who is always in control...and who sees everything from an infinitely better perspective than our own.

You built me up like a city of gold
The battles rage but I'm standing tall
You formed my heart like an empire
The wind and rain can't stop this fire

If only I could see it from Your perspective
The beauty and the grace of Your architecture

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero

I may be one of the worst when it comes to sticking to a budget.  Creating budgets?  No problem.  I use Mint for tracking all of our non-cash transactions and also use Budget Simple to design and change future budgets, but no amount of budgeting software has helped me actually stay WITHIN said budget.

The quite a bit of our budget goes to leasing our current home here in Augusta, but part of my motivation for re-vamping our spending habits is due to the unfortunate increase in our cost of living with our impending move to Nashville.  As much as we *thought* we were spending here, we are now going to be forking over nearly TWICE that each month for our new home.  It is worth it to us because we are in love with the property and the area, but what better a reason to get control of our finances NOW.

I was intrigued by the 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero challenge from Ruth over at Living Well and Spending Less.  I really love her take on living life with less clutter and she has a great advice when it comes to eating from your pantry and freezer.  If you haven't already done it, read through the challenge and be sure to click on the links for each day.

Inspired yet?

I was.  And I am still inspired.  Because I have zero confidence in my own ability to STOP the spending, as a true shopaholic myself, I chose to have a spending freeze for the entire month of February - coincidentally the shortest month of the year.  Surely I can do this for 28 days, right?

I started by printing off a few of Ruth's free printables and filling in my own "Ground Rules," which are as follows:

Grocery or Toiletry items I/We MAY buy this month:
*dairy products (milk (whole or 2% only), sour cream, cream cheese, block cheeses, etc)
*whole carrots
*dry beans
*paper towels
*toilet paper

Things I/We have already committed to paying for this month:
*housing (rent, mortgage, HOA, etc)
*utilities (water, gas, electricity)
*internet & satellite TV
*Mother's Day Out/preschool
*cello lessons/dance class
*babysitting for siblings during lessons
*2 movie tickets

Things I/We may absolutely NOT purchase this month:
*lawn care
*home furnishings

Other Rules/Notes:
*We will try to put off all purchases until March, even for "necessary" items (filing taxes, etc).

Next I went through our pantry, refrigerators, and freezers and did a small clean out and reorganization just to see what kind of inventory we were dealing with.  As much as we have, I felt like we were lacking some basic pantry and freezer stocking items, specifically canned veggies/tomato juice and frozen veggies.  After doing some searching through grocery store circulars and scouring for printable coupons online, I went to the store on January 31st and did a *slight* pantry stock-up, but primarily only on items that were significantly on sale.  This was technically not a necessary step in our freezing spend, but there were a few essential items on my list and so I decided it was worth the $100 for a boatload of fresh produce from Aldi, buy one get one free items from Publix, and scoring Cheetos puffs for $1.98/bag on sale...for Asher, of course...kid's gotta fix this failure to thrive diagnosis.

I used Pinterest to brainstorm meal ideas that we could use this month with our current inventory, and I'm hoping that I can stick to cooking  My goal is that by we can reduce our grocery budget by 75% this month, although I'm thinking this is unrealistic.  I am also hoping to cut out our entire restaurant budget for this month as well...aaaaaaaagggggh!  We will shoot for the moon and see where that gets us...

We are four days in to February and doing well so far...but I know that it will only be a matter of time before I'm *dying* for some fast food (complete addict) or really needing a Target run.  For now I just have to keep reminding myself that saving the money now will give us so much more peace in the long run compared to the fleeting happiness that comes from a Chick-fil-A diet lemonade...

...oh their lemonade.

And Chick-fil-A sauce.

This is going to be difficult.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Venus Sensitive Embrace - Another Review

I was happy to be chosen for Influenster's Venus Sensitive Embrace VoxBox and just received it a few days ago - excitement!  Full disclosure: I received this 100% free, although the opinions are my own.

After opening it up I was happy to find the new Venus Sensitive Embrace razor handle, two cartridges, and an awesome shower pod (that holds your razor for you in the shower and attaches easily to tile via a suction cup).  I wouldn't necessarily consider myself to have truly "sensitive" skin, but in winter my skin can definitely be temperamental...and mainly dry.

Ordinarily I use the Target Up&Up generic triple blade razors, which work fine, but I was eager to test out this new one to see if it is really better.  I can honestly say that the Venus Sensitive Embrace with five blades was actually slightly better than my generic, especially given that I had zero little red (itchy) bumps after shaving my legs, where typically I'll see that after using other razors.

I think the "coolest" part about this VoxBox (if you can call shaving paraphernalia "cool," that is) was the included shower pod.  It is SUCH an improvement on the old one (that was always huge and never seemed to stay stuck to the wall...nice).

Final verdict: is it worth it?  I would say if you have sensitive skin, it is certainly worth upgrading to the Venus Sensitive Embrace, especially given the smoother results.  Razors are expensive...but taking the (hideous amount of) time to shave only to have ugly, red bumps appear is more than worth the upcharge!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Joovy TooFold Verdict: Too Cool!

The Joovy TooFold
Full disclosure: Joovy was kind enough to give me a VERY generous discount on their brand new stroller - the TooFold.  As always, the following opinions are all my own...

Asher crusin' in his Joovy TooFold
I became fascinated with the Joovy TooFold a couple weeks ago while planning for an upcoming vacation to Marco Island, Florida.  I was debating on which of our hundreds of strollers to bring...ha.  Typically when we fly, I bring our trusty single Maclaren umbrella stroller and I'll beautifully bungee-cord our Lascal Buggy Board to it so we can at least allow two out of our three kids to "ride."  The bungee-cord thing can be obnoxious to have to mess with, but it does the job fine.  Of course I started to think about yet another issue - once we land, we will be going to a home on the beach...quite literally two doors down from the entrance to Tiger Tail Beach.  Sand + umbrella strollers = do not pass go, do not collect $100.  What I *really* wanted to bring was our (massive) Bugaboo Donkey, which is even advertised as being sand and snow friendly.  But as nice as the Donkey is, it is no match for tiny rental car trunks.  Nope.  We need something that is lightweight and folds like an umbrella stroller, but with the durability of an all-terrain stroller...oh, yes, and the ability to somehow carry not one but two children.  Enter the Joovy TooFold.

TooFold assembly process
I chose to purchase just the stroller, although there is the option to purchase a great second seat, making it a true double (the ride on board can not be used while the second seat is in use).  The TooFold came folded and *mostly* assembled, only requiring installation of the front and back wheels and the seat padding.  Within a few minutes, we were on our way in one of the coolest looking strollers on the block.

The learning curve for folding and unfolding as well as using the integrated ride-on board (yes, you read that correctly) was fairly short.  I love that this stroller utilizes the basic chassis for the Micralite Fastfold Superlite, but the TooFold manages to make the Superlite even better by giving your older child a fun place to ride.

Vera, in her "sharkly shoes," testing out the board
Speaking of the ride-on board, it is definitely one of my all time favorites (and yes, that even includes my beloved Orbit and its' double ride on boards!)  As you can see here, it is a fairly tall board, sitting on top of the 12 inch air-filled back tires.  I have found that this gives my older kids a far better view and also (and this is a big one) prevents me from kicking the board when it is in use - love that.

Thoroughly enjoying the great recline
The seat has a 45lb weight limit and an active/upright position as well as a resting/reclined position.  The ride-on board has a 45lb weight limit, which is sad because our oldest, Cole, is already 44lbs at 4.5 years old.  So the entire stroller has a 90lb grand total weight limit.  As you have already seen, he more than happy to run along side, however...

TooFold with waterproof shopping bag (and sunshade extension)
I was immediately impressed with the TooFold if only because of what all was included in the box.  When you purchase the stroller you not only get the basic stroller plus seat pad, you also get a sunshade extension (similar to the "Protect-a-Bub" sunshades that we have for our Maclaren umbrella strollers), portable air pump for the tires, and a massive shopping bag that easily attaches to the back of the stroller while the ride-on board is down.

"O" shaped handlebars
2 handlebars
As with many umbrella strollers, the TooFold has front wheels that can easily lock straight for more rough terrain.  The brake is easy to operate and certainly "flip flop friendly."  Another detail I especially love is the versatility of the handlebars (as pictured above) - not only can you easily adjust the height by moving the handlebars up or down, but you also have the ability to rotate those handlebars and essentially go from a seamless "O" shape (nice for pushing one handed) to the more stereotypical 2 handlebars (great for shopping when you need a place to hang lightweight bags), and anywhere in between!

Vera (2.5yrs - 28lbs) and Cole (4.5yrs - 44lbs)
Now let's talk about stability.  True, it is certainly a very back-heavy stroller.  Like an umbrella stroller, you are going to need to be cautious about what you let hang from the handlebars.  I have noticed, however, that flipping out the ride-on board really creates a lower center of gravity and helps to stabilize the stroller much more.  Our almost one year old weighs in at a very tiny 17 pounds and so I am accustomed to this back-heavy phenomenon with our umbrella strollers.

Asher: a little man with a serious face (and future symphony director).
Are there *any* cons to this stroller?  Sure.  The basket underneath is fairly shallow and is obstructed by a strap that allows it to fold so compactly.  Of course Joovy mostly remedies this by giving you the huge, waterproof shopping bag that can be attached to the stroller or carried separately.  Another "con" might be the smaller sunshade, but again, Joovy gives you a sunshade extension that is very easily attached and removed.

TooFold with sunshade extension (and shopping bag)
I hope to update you all again in March after our beach vacation with some pictures of the TooFold on the beach.  I have a feeling it will do great, especially if I tip it backwards and "drag" it through (similar to how you would with the Bugaboo Donkey).  Stay tuned for the update...

Full disclosure: Joovy was kind enough to give me a VERY generous discount on their brand new stroller - the TooFold.  As always, the opinions above are my own.