12.31.2011

2011 in the rearview mirror

Our year started off with quite a bang...literally.





We waited to hear from the Army as to MacGyver's short-term fate and, after months of waiting, we heard back that he gets to stay in!


For the time being.


His initial promotion was rescinded and he will have to reboard in the spring but no one here is complaining. Following that wonderful news, we were quickly brought back down to earth by the news that we would be PCSing off the rock that we had come to love into the very flat midwest...about as far away from the ocean as you can possibly get while remaining in the United States. C'est la vie.


We finished out our first year of homeschooling with a bang...and a play! Both The Boy and The Girl enjoyed our homeschooling adventure and asked to continue on the following year (yes, I did ask and yes, their opinion carries with it a lot of weight). So I set about analyzing our successes and failures, our likes and dislikes, and researching the necessary changes in curricula. Thankfully, there wasn't much change necessary.


In the face of the impending move, we set about to hike as many trails as possible, enjoy as many beaches as possible (collecting samples of sand from each), spending as much time with friend as possible, and soaking up as much of Hawaii as we could possibly soak up. We also made a massive "TO DO" list for our visit and started laying plans to move back as soon as possible.


2011 wasn't the easiest of years for our family but it was, in no way, the most difficult. And for that, I am grateful. I have many friends who faced incredibly challenging circumstances this year and my prayer is that 2012 brings with it more good news than bad, more good health than illness, more successes than failure, more joy than heartache. For all of us.

I'm going to close with something I rarely do - a quote from someone I don't know on Facebook. Her perspective gives us all something to think about as we close the door on 2011 and look forward to 2012.


I got onto facebook today thinking that I would post about hoping 2012 will be easier than 2011; but my facebook friends quickly made me realize that this past year wasn't really all that bad. I was going to complain that Troy's contract is up again in two weeks; but then 2 amazing young wives of Wounded Warriors, 4 incredibly strong fiancées and girlfriends who never got to marry the man of their dreams, and 2 inspiring young Widows raising little boys who barely, or never, got to know their Daddies made me realize that having some extra time with my husband at home isn't really such a terrible thing. I thought about complaining that the Marine Corps sent me back a boy who is different both physically and mentally than the one I dropped off at MEPS in 2007, and that he'll be starting off 2012 jobless and still with no help from the completely overwhelmed VA; but then 10 wonderful Marine Moms and 2 incredible Marine Dads who will be starting their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 15th years without their sons reminded me that, no matter what, I am so lucky that he came home at all. I came on here to complain about not having what I thought we needed to have a better year...but you all made me realize that, no matter what, I definitely have everything I need. God Bless all of you and your families on this last day of 2011, and all through 2012.





Pau.




- hfs




p.s. go click the links to the left! Please? Thanks!

12.28.2011

Well that didn't go as planned

The best-laid plans of mice and men...


Yep. They went out the window. The holidays snuck up on me and totally derailed my plans to be a more prolific blogger. Between the scramble to get it all done before departing on our holiday travels and the scramble to get all of the schoolwork done before the holidays hit, the computer was cast aside like a Christmas sweater from Aunt Marge. Which is not always a bad thing.


But I'm still here. Still on vacation with no plans to change that any time soon. And it's glorious! We traveled to the west coast to visit family and friends who are like family and had a great Christmas. Even better because there won't be the normal post-Christmas panic attacks when opening the credit card bill. Thanks to a website called Swag Bucks and cashing in all of our change, I was able to pay for the children's Christmas gifts (including the "Santa"/family gift) with Amazon.com gift cards. Everything else was purchased with spending money. I will admit that the plane tickets were purchased with the credit card but no one's perfect, right?


I can't say I'm sad to see 2011 leave. So many of my friends have faced challenges and heartache this year - just seems like a lot of people were nailed with a 1-2 punch or kicked when they were down. I can't count on two hands the number of friends whose main bread-winner either lost their job or faced a serious cut-back in their hours and/or salary. I'm hoping that 2012 brings with it some improved circumstances for everyone. Our situation remains tenuous, moreso by the fact that MacGyver's slot for a class was pulled. We were hoping he could get into the class as a way to help boost his chances when he goes before the promotion board in 2012 but it seems that is not to be. Instead, he will be flying his 'okole off (figuratively, not literally) and racking up as many hours as possible. In the meantime, we are researching Guard and Reserve options as well as civilian employment possibilities. Ideally, we want to get back to Hawaii but that might not be possible. We'll see.


And yes, before anyone says anything (*ahem, my Godmother...ahem*), I am well aware of the fact that, until about 2 years ago, I was counting days until I could get back to the mainland. Stop reminding me. I'll say this in my defense: I moved out when I was 18 to go to college. My parents sold my childhood home and left the state toward the end of my freshman year. I've not found a place since that I could truly call home. We loved Colorado but we were college students. We loved Alaska but didn't put down roots there, really. I don't have any desire to live in California ever again (I will if it comes down to putting food on the table but, really, it's a sinking ship that the rats are leaping off of).


But Hawaii...Hawaii became home to us. Six and a half years is a long time to live in one place, especially if you are a military family. In addition, some of our best times and some of our worst times happened in Hawaii and we were supported through it all by incredible friends. Our children know nothing but Hawaii and we all miss it desperately. It's home. I'm not sure exactly when it became 'home' but it is. I was talking with a friend of mine who IS Hawaiian and I was telling him that I wanted to come home. He asked where 'home' was and I told him, Hawaii. He was so happy to hear that - he and his family work really hard to make everyone feel at home in Hawaii.


So it's home. Didn't mean for it to happen that way but it did and that's how it is. And I'm homesick. Miserably so. But I'll live. In the meantime, I'm hoping and praying a full-time Guard slot opens up on O'ahu for a Chinook Maintenance Test Pilot. A girl can dream.


The new year will bring with it a few more opportunities for travel - up to the DC area for the milblogging conference and to visit family, hopefully out to Colorado to visit old friends and eat good food, possibly up into Nebraska to visit the zoo up there, and throughout Kansas to explore the state. The weather this week and into the weekend is supposed to be unseasonably glorious so I'm hoping we might be able to swap out the water pump on my car. MacGyver doesn't seem to think my clutch is a problem - most likely the noise I'm hearing is coming from the engine mounts. We'll see. He'll be able to look at it as he's tearing out the old water pump. I'm hoping it's not the clutch - that's just money I don't want to spend and the clutch on my car is a bear to swap out (MacGyver has done it on his car - same model - in the past). The beginning of 2012 will usher in a slightly tighter budget with the hopes of paying down more of our debt. My goal is to make us as light as possible, in terms of debt, by the time the promotion board results come out in the summer in addition to beefing up our small savings as much as possible.


That's a tough balance to strike. In the face of a possible loss of job, how do you know how much to put toward paying down your unsecured debt and how much to put toward stashing in savings? Do I stop paying more than the minimum on our credit cards and squirrel away every last penny into savings so that we have more to live on should the paycheck stop arriving? Or do I pay down the credit cards as much as possible in order to not only lessen the monthly burden of minimum payments each month but also to free up as much available credit should we need it to make ends meet? Tough call. Thoughts?


We're about as lean as we can get in terms of expenses. We are ditching Netflix in favor of RedBox. I'm still lobbying to ditch cable completely but I have no one else in my corner. Our utilities are as low as they are going to go. We rarely eat out. The kids are in 1 extracurricular activity. I don't even go to Starbucks much anymore and, when I do, it comes out of my spending cash. Once the holidays are past and the lines thin out at the post office, eBay and I are going to strike up a relationship as I start to sell off a lot of our extra "stuff". I've already started stashing a lot of what I deem to be unnecessary in the guest room downstairs. That way, if we find that we need it, it's still there. If, by the time I get around to putting it up on eBay (or Craigslist if it's too big to ship), no one has noticed that it's missing, then we obviously did not need it. Right now, it's mostly books, baby/toddler clothes, old toys, etc. but there isn't anything that's truly safe in our house unless it was handmade by a family member. Everything else will be scrutinized for possible sale. Not only will this bring in some extra cash but it will also lighten our load should we need to store stuff.


I need to start digging into the regs surrounding Involuntary Separation Pay and what the restrictions with regard to federal employment are as they pertain to it. Ideally, we'd transition directly from the active duty Army to either full-time Guard or Reserves. But I'm not sure if that's possible after accepting the Involuntary Sep Pay. And then there is a the GI Bill to look into. If all else fails, MacGyver can put the new GI Bill to use and pick up a part time Guard slot on the side. So there are options.


For now, it's time to have dinner with friends. And start thinking of the next blog post.




Pau.




- hfs

12.12.2011

Changes are a-coming

Actually, they are already here. If you look to your right, you'll see the Google AdSense toolbar over there (and the Amazon widget further down the right side). I had it set up a while back but when I changed the layout, it got lost in the shuffle. And now it's back. In my efforts to eek out income any and everywhere I can, we'll see if the old blog can help out. Even a quarter is 25 cents more than I had yesterday, right?


I'm in the process of creating a new blog aimed at focusing my efforts to improve our finances. I'm not sure exactly how it's going to look just yet but I have ideas down on paper. I'll let you all know when it goes live.

In the meantime, if you're so inclined, feel free to click on any of the ads that catch your eye. Every little bit helps. And (in reference to an Ann Taylor ad I saw a few minutes ago) I scored Ann Taylor jeans - my absolute favorite jeans IN. THE. WORLD. - for half off the sale price WITH free shipping. All told, I paid about 25% of the normal retail cost ($80+) for brand new jeans. When we lived in Hawaii, I scoured Savers on a regular basis for used AT jeans. I'd find them occasionally for anywhere from $10-20. So $25 for brand new AT jeans is a STEAL especially for things I need (as opposed to simply wanting. Having spent the past 6+ years in Hawaii, I had 3 pair of jeans to my name and 1 pair is falling apart). SCORE!




Pau.



- hfs

12.11.2011

Apple-pumpkin butter

A few years ago (eek...more like 12 now that I think about it), I came across apple butter. I don't remember where but I do remember liking it. I dug around for a recipe and found one but it came out tasting kind of one-dimensional. It was my first attempt at canning anything and I realized how relatively easy (though rather time-consuming) it was. I started trying to come up with ways to 'dress up' the apple butter around Thanksgiving and canned pumpkin was on sale so I decided to mix some in and see how it turned out. I liked it. MacGyver liked it. But the litmus test would be his family.


Each year for Christmas, MacGyver's family makes pumpkin spice pancakes for Christmas breakfast. I figured their pumpkin spice pancakes would go nicely with my apple-pumpkin butter so I brought some along when we went home for Christmas. The A-P butter was HIT - so much so that it garnered me the top-secret recipe for the pumpkin spice pancakes (well, that and actually marrying into the family). Now, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I get the same question each year..."You ARE going to make your apple-pumpkin butter, AREN'T YOU?!?"


So here is the recipe. Enjoy!




Apple-Pumpkin Butter
3 pounds McIntosh apples
2.5 cups apple cider
1.5 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
15 ounce can solid pack pumpkin
1tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp each ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon

1. Peel and core apples. Reserve. Combine peels and cores + 2C cider in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 mintues. Press through strainer to extract juices. Reserve juice. Discard peels and cores.

2. Meanwhile, combine peeled apples, sugar, and spices with remaining 1/2 cup cider in large saucepan. Boil over medium heat. Reduce to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally 30-40 minutes or until apples start to fall apart.

3. Add reserved juice to apples and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally 45-60 minutes or until thick. Discard cinnamon sticks. Stir in pumpkin.

4. Heat oven to 300*F. Pour mixture into a 9x13" baking pan/dish. Stirring every 15 minutes, bake 1-1.5 hours or until thick. Blend in blender to remove lumps.

5. Spoon into sterilized 1/2 pint canning jars. Leave 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims and threads clean. Top with hot lids and screw bands on firmly. Process in boiling water 5 minutes. Remove and cool completely.




Pau.




- hfs

Gunfunnit

Seems the Army has thrown a big monkey wrench into my EMT plans. MacGyver was supposed to be on the list to take the Advance Course here, locally, as all of the slots at Mother Rucker were full. He's been pushing to get this class because it will help his chances when the promotion board convenes next spring. He had secured a slot for the class here and then it was taken and given to someone else. So now he has to go to Mother Rucker for the course early next year for six weeks.


I had been counting on his presence to make it possible to FINALLY take the EMT-B course again. It's not in our budget to pay a sitter to watch The Boy and The Girl while I'm in class. It's just not do-able. We're quite tight right now and every extra penny (and there aren't many, trust me) is either going to pay down our debt or into savings in case the Army says "thank you for your service. Have a nice day." next spring. Oh, and possible a new clutch AND a new water pump for my car. Yay.


So, barring a major change in plans, no EMT course for me. I'm frustrated and disappointed. I've been trying since 2000 to retake this silly class, having taken it originally in SoCal before we left for college and got married. The first time I had the opportunity, I found out I was pregnant and you couldn't take the class while pregnant. Two years ago, I found a class in Hawaii but MacGyver's deployment put the kibosh on that idea due to the logistics of being a single parent. Then he didn't deploy but we made the decision to homeschool and that killed off that idea again. I thought I had it in the bag this time - courses are free, MyCAA is still in effect to cover the class even if it weren't free, the school is just down the highway, it was a night class so MacGyver would be available to at least pick the kids up from me when he was done in the evening, etc. Sadly, it does not seem to be meant to be.


And before you remind me that I should be grateful that my husband still has a job...shut up. This is my blog and I'm allowed to have a pity party. After staring into the abyss that has been my life for the past few years, NO ONE is more grateful that her husband is still employed than I am. And I'm very relieved that he will be able to take this course and that it might counteract the effects of the past two and a half years and might possibly allow him to remain in the Army. I GET that. But I am also disappointed and frustrated that I wasn't able to work this out. Please don't rain on my pity party.


So now that I'm not taking the EMT course, it's time to figure out some things to do to help pay off our debts and build our savings a bit. The Army's "golden handshake" is pretty generous but that won't last very long, especially in light of the debts we're carrying. We've been chipping away at them over the past 2-3 years but, each time we start to get ahead, something hits the fan (see above where I mentioned the need for a new clutch and water pump? Yeah..there you go.) I'm going through all of our stuff and starting to get it organized so that I can start putting things up on both Craigslist and eBay. We have too much stuff to begin with so selling things off kills two birds with one stone. I'd put it out for a yard sale but that won't be possible until spring and I want it all gone before then in addition to wanting to pay down these debts as soon as possible.


In addition to selling off a lot of our excess, I'm starting to look for more frugal ways of doing things. Pinterest has been a treasure-trove of resources for this. I've found recipes for homemade laundry detergent, homemade dishwashing detergent, homemade hand soap...all for mere pennies per load/wash whereas the stuff you buy in the stores costs 10-20 times that amount. If I can make my own laundry detergent for 1/10 of what it costs to buy it (even at the commissary), then I'm all for it! In addition, it's better for you as it doesn't have 1/2 of the unpronounceable chemicals in it. I have two children who have relatively sensitive skin so this is a bonus. Plus, it's fun!


There are a bunch of other things that I am doing or plan to do as I cinch down our budget even further. Moving from Hawaii was painful in more ways than one...we lost our cost of living adjustment and we're no longer renting for LESS than our housing allowance. Quite the double whammy to the budget. I think I'm going to start up a blog about our financial adventures and what we're doing to lower our expenses and pay down our debts.


And maybe writing on that one will help me remember to write on THIS one! (and the homeschooling blog)


For now, I'm going to lick my wounds and wrap up this pity party.




Pau.




- hfs