Terrors in the Night

No, this post isn't going to be about more mice in our attic.  From what we can tell, we've gotten all of the mice.  At least for now...

No, this post is about Dave.  You see, Dave has nightmares, which are particularly intense when he's under a great deal of stress, like he is right now with teaching, coaching, advising, rental properties, money, etc.  But before I get into the dream itself, some background information is important.

On Tuesday night we took Murphy to the vet.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, Murphy isn't a very friendly dog towards other dogs.  As we were walking into the vet, I noticed that there were 3 particularly large dogs in the waiting room (English Mastiffs, I later learned) so Dave stood outside with Murphy while I checked in.  After one of the mastiff's went into an exam room, we decided to bring Murphy inside.  I held him, and Dave blocked his view of the other dogs.  This is usually the best way to keep him from being a total jerk, and for the most part, it worked.

We were amazed at these dogs.  I watched one of them as she was being weighed, and she weighed 169.8 pounds.  This dog weighed way more than me, and a lot more than many other humans we well.  And this particular owner had TWO of these enormous dogs on one conjoined leash. 

The picture above shows the face and color of the two dogs that we spent time with in the waiting room. One was male, one was female (and surprisingly, the female was the heavier of the 2.)  But to give you a sense of just how enormous Mastiff's are, here are a few pictures you should consider. 


In case you need further explanation of that picture above, that's a horse, next to two people, next to a mastiff... which is nearly as large as the horse.  

Now, I will say that the dogs that we saw were not as big as the horse-dog above.  But anyway, you get the picture - Mastiffs are BIG dogs.  Back to Dave.

So, we went to bed around 9:40 p.m. or so on that same night as the vet appointment.   I woke up with a start precisely at 10:00 p.m. because Dave was yelling.  He was thrashing into the air in front of him saying, "Get them away from me, get them away from me!"  I was like, "Get WHAT away from you???"  "The dogs! Get the dogs off of me!" he responds, starting to sound calmer.  I thought he was finally waking up - he usually does once I start talking to him.  I was wide awake at this point, and I calmly said, "There are no dogs on you."

Then I noticed what he was doing.  He was half sitting up, clutching our electric blanket in one hand and frantically pulling at the fuz on the blanket with his other hand.  Plucking, picking, pulling "dog hair"... who knows.  But after hearing and processing my telling him that there were no dogs on him, he firmly said, "NO - there's a dog RIGHT HERE!"  Meaning the blanket.

I stared at him, wide-eyed - I am always so amazed at these sleep-talking experiences that he has, and am never quite sure what to say or do.

So, I say, "No, that's not a dog.... the dog is over here," pointing to Murphy, who is probably wondering what all of this commotion is about.  Dave looks at Murphy, and relaxation suddenly poors over him - he plops back down onto his pillow.  "Oh," he said, and I can see in his face that he's still trying to fully wake himself up and understand what was going on.

The next morning Dave tells me that in his dream the dogs were big and on top of him, and although they weren't mastiffs, he's sure that the dream was inspired by the enormous dogs that we saw at the vet's office.  This is the first time that dogs were involved in one of his "night terrors" - usually it's bugs or spiders or ceiling fans falling onto him while he sleeps that causes him to jump out of bed or yell or swat the air.  I wish it was more feasible to keep a video camera besides my bed to record all of these moments, since it's difficult to really convey to you just how ridiculous these episodes are.

So, you'll just have to trust me when I say that they are absolutely hilarious - it's unfortunate that I usually fall asleep right afterwards, which really affects my ability to recall the details!

My new hobby

During a routine check-up last week, my doctor casually told me that I could afford to lose a few pounds, but added that "by Pittsburgh standards, you're practically anorexic."  Wow. Thanks!  That line is more or less irrelevant to this post, but I thought it was a funny thing for a doctor to tell a patient, when in the same sentence he basically told me to lose a few pounds. 

So what's a great way to expedite weight loss?  Exercise.  I want to make exercise my new hobby.  Gardening is my summer hobby, but I don't have a winter hobby.  I'm thinking that exercise could be it.

Now, I know that hobbies are supposed to be fun, and that most people don't consider exercise to be fun.  I don't really either, especially when I'm trying to dig up the motivation to take off my warm clothes on a cold, cold evening to put on workout clothes.  But, once I'm there, it's really not so bad.

There are 2 obvious reasons why this will be a great hobby if I can make it happen.
1. It's good for me - I need to lose weight; exercise can help me achieve that
2. It's cheap - Hobbies can be expensive, but I already own two pieces of expensive exercise equipment that can make it all possible, and even if I didn't, walking or running outside is totally and completely free

And for Christmas I received 2 additional gifts that directly support this new "hobby" mine.

Workout clothes:

Perhaps self-portraits will be my next new hobby.... 

And a heart-rate monitor:

The watch... 

And the chest strap. 

Now, I don't intend to wear the work-out clothes every time I run on the treadmill.  Those are - instead - for workouts that require me to leave the house, such as a Zumba class or going to North Park to jog with Dave (something that we hope to do in the spring.)  During my fall semester Zumba class, I felt so ratty in my baggy t-shirts and over-sized mesh shorts or sweatpants.  Part of feeling good about one-self includes looking the part, and I certainly didn't look good or feel like I looked good.  Hopefully this will help.

The heart rate monitor is something that I've wanted for some time now.  Over the years, I've browsed through many discussion boards on MyFoodDiary and noticed that when people were discussing how many calories they burned during a workout, most people who weren't exercising on machines referred to the calories burned as reported to them by their heart rate monitors.  Even a large majority of those who worked out on machines still referred to their HRM to report calories burned, since the machines usually don't take factors such as height, current weight, age, activity level, resting heart rate and maximum heart rate into consideration when determining the number of calories burned.  HRM's do all of that.

I intend to use the HRM for more of my outside workout sessions in the spring, but I have used it a few times indoors already to get a sense for how it works.  It's programmed specifically to my specifications and beeps softly when I'm in my target heart rate zone to encourage me to stay there.  I believe that the calories-burned count is more accurate than it is on the treadmill, but it's definitely more disheartening that I had ever imagined.  After reportedly burning 360 calories on the treadmill, the HRM was only reported 240.  That's a HUGE difference.  But I know it's more accurate, and so I know that if my goal is to burn 500 calories in a workout, I need to burn more like 750 or more as represented on the treadmill's counter.  Sad, yes.  But, it will hopefully help me to achieve my goals more quickly.

Monday night was the start of my new hobby, and so far, so good.  If I can just get through my birthday without gaining much weight, I should be good!

The end of an era

In November of 2005, I was at my all-time highest weight ever of 165 pounds.  That same month, I joined an online community called MyFoodDiary and started counting my calories and going to the gym.  I loved the site and felt empowered by the control that I had over food.  Over the course of over two years, I lost weight the healthy way, and got down to 137 pounds in May of 2008.  I felt - and looked - great.

I loved MyFoodDiary.  I joined challenges and groups, was active on the discussion boards, uploaded recipes, and tracked my calories religiously.  But the past few months I've stopped using the site as much, and the $9 a month membership fee - which I felt was TOTALLY worth it back in the day - just seemed unnecessary now.  About a month ago I started using Fat Secret.com and their Calorie Counting app that they offer for smart phones.  I don't love it, and it's not as user-friendly as MyFoodDiary, but I felt like I needed something new, and something free.  $9 a month didn't seem like much before, but now that we're budgeting out annually, $108 is a lot more - 2 nice dinners out, groceries for a week, etc, etc.  I just couldn't justify it anymore, but I also couldn't make myself take the leap to actually cancel my membership.

Well, today I did it.  I made the decision to cancel, logged into the site, and then went straight to the cancellation section. But then I paused, and felt incredible, ridiculous guilt.  I clicked through my weigh history, my "fridge," my peaks of valleys of success.  I went into some of the groups that I used to be so actively involved in, looked at what they were chatting about, and felt sad that I had sort of abandoned them.  I caught myself up with their lives, let out a big sigh, and then hit the cancel button.  It was over.

Except it wasn't!  They wanted me to fill out an exit survey!  I did, indicating that I quit because I was simply no longer using the site, but that it was definitely helpful to me in the past.  After completing the survey, I went into my inbox to find this message:

Cancellation Confirmation

We have cancelled your membership.  We hope to see you back soon.

Best Wishes,

Broke. My. Heart.  I felt like I was leaving my best friend or abandoning my puppy or something ridiculous like that!  Where in the world did I acquire all of this guilt!?!??! 

Anyway, it's done, it's over with and I'm moving on.  I don't currently love Fat Secret for a number of reasons, but am trying to make due with it, reminding myself that it's free and that I don't really track most days anyway.  More on that in a future post.

The fanciest "Save the Date" EVER

On Saturday we received a fancy brown envelope with the return address of our friends Scott and Alison, who were recently engaged and are getting married this July.

"Wow!," I exclaimed, after picking up the large square, thick envelope. "A wedding invitation already? Isn't this more like, 'save the date' time?"

"Well," Dave replied, "it MUST be the actual invitation, because look at how fancy it is!"

"Yeah, I guess you're right!" was my response. 

(Ok, so this probably wasn't our exact conversation, but you get the gist...)

Anyway, we proceeded to open this very fancy invitation.  The envelope was this beautiful heavy brown paper that had a colorful shimmer to it, and the address labels had their picture on it.  Inside was an inner-envelope sealed with a belly band that also contained a picture, ostensibly from their engagement pictures.

Super cute, right?

At this point, we were totally convinced that this was the actual wedding invitation.  After removing the belly band, the flap opens up to reveal a pocketfold invitation, complete with inserts!


At this point we were still convinced that these were the actual invitations for their wedding... until we noticed the small line on the very bottom left hand corner of the middle panel; "Formal invitation to follow." 

We were so impressed!  We knew that Alison was a very talented graphic designer, but we were blown away by these Save the Dates.  They were so well done, so nice, and much fancier than our actual wedding invitations!  "Formal Invitation to Follow!?!?!"  I can't even imagine what their invitations are going to look like - how can you top something like this? 

If their Save the Date is any indication, this is going to be one amazing wedding.  Dave and I are already excited for it.  AND, it's the day before we leave for Mexico!  (Don't worry, we knew that before we booked the Mexico trip - we were originally going to leave for Mexico on the same day as their wedding, but decided to postpone it a day so that we could attend, and just make the whole vacation week even more fun!)

Here's one last look at the entire suite:

Congrats Scott and Alison! We can't wait for July!

In love with Adobe

I recently acquired - through nothing less than pure luck, I believe - the entire master suite of Adobe products.  And I loooove it.

I have been using Adobe Photoshop 5.5 for years.  I think I acquired it originally in late 1999 or early 2000.  But obviously it's 2010 now.   I wasn't really interested in committing tons of time to learning more about 5.5, because most of the books for 5.5 editing were written before digital photography had really caught on, and since that's all I really use photoshop for these days, the tutorials seemed wildly outdated. 

I wanted an updated version.  Adobe products are really amazing and useful once you've learned how to use them, but they are soooo expensive to acquire.  I could never justify the cost of purchasing it for myself just to edit a few photos every now and then. 

Occasionally I would go through a phase where I wanted it so badly that I would browse for it on E-bay, or on Half.com or anywhere else I thought I might find a deal.  But it's even too expensive to ask for as a Christmas gift (and not really practical) and so it was basically just a pipe dream... 

Until we got it! For free! (Sorry, I can't disclose the details..., but it's legal, I promise.)

And this past weekend, Dave's mom came to Pittsburgh for our birthday's.  She asked for ideas of something I wanted, and I decided to ask for the Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book For Digital Photographers book.  (Note: I do not try to kid myself into believing that I am a "digital photographer" in the professional sense.  I just like to play around with photos and editing software.)

So I decided to start by playing around with some of the adjustment layers, which was something I knew how to do in verson 5.5.  The CS4 adjustments layers operate exactly the same way that they did in 5.5, but they're so much easier to use!  You don't have to dig as deep into the menus to find features that you want to use, and when you select an adjustment, all of the options are presented right in front of you.  I would really love to purchase some of the professional editing "actions" for CS4, but right now the budget can't accommodate such a request.  Oh well...

Anyway, my first attempted project was to try to create a "vintage" looking photo.   Below are my before and after shots.  I'm not really sure that this is a vintage look (and in fact am not really sure what a vintage look should look like), but I like the results nonetheless and think that with additional practice, I may come away with some neat looking photos!


You've seen this original before in a post from a few months back

And after:

What do you think?

As I learn more techniques, I will be sure to post the results here!  We received all of our wedding photos unedited, and I had prints made for frames a long time ago, but would love to jazz them up with some editing! I'm very excited!

Do any of you use CS4 for photo editing? Do you have any tricks that you'd like to share with me?

Happy Birthday!... Still!

Ugh.... That's all I can say. 

Dave and I continue to celebrate birthdays and had another gluttonous weekend, filled with multiple meals eaten at restaurants (fortunately, we only paid for one of them - the budget is happy!)

Dave's mom came out to visit this weekend, between our two birthdays, to celebrate with us.  She treated us to two meals yesterday, and I think Dave and I officially felt our age when eating two meals at a restaurant completely destroyed our bodies.  Of course, that didn't stop us from going out again tonight (but we had a free birthday entree coupon! Come on!)

I was too busy eating the entire weekend to remember to take any pictures, so I only have these 2, from when we opened the birthday gifts from Dave's mom.

Birthday presents! - Dave is excited!

Some curiously shaped gifts...

We're lucky kids! Dave got a new pair of hiking shoes that will be delivered in a couple of days along with a tin of probably 2 dozen or more oatmeal cookies that he's already mostly consumed.  I got a new Photoshop CS4 for Digital Photographers book (!) and two bottles of Blue Maui (!!!) - my favorite drink in the whole world.  Those from St. Marys are probably familiar with the syrupy blue product, but it seems that here in Allegheny County I'm the only one who purchases it, and it's becoming increasingly hard to find.  So few people have ever even seen it outside of our home that it's become known as my "signature" drink.  I'm ok with that. I love it!

So, once I recover from all of the food I consumed this weekend, I'll be back to posting more frequently.  In the meantime, I need a nap!

Back in the saddle...

The holidays - and the weeks following that led up to today - were hard on me.  Or rather, I was hard on myself. 

I gained back all of the weight that I lost previously, and I am once again trying to lose it.  I am truly the roller-coaster dieter that everyone tells you not to be.  I am good at losing weight.  I am good at gaining weight.  But for some reason, I am not good at maintaining weight.

So, that's my new goal.  Learn to maintain.  The hard part?  Losing enough to get to a weight that I'm interested in maintaining. 

The other challenge is that this is Dave's birthweek (yes, we celebrate birth WEEKS, not just days) and my birthweek is less than 2 weeks away. Birthweeks mean that we get tons of free meal coupons from area restaurants - places that we love to eat at, and we're definitely always tempted to use them. 

With the budget in place this year, we're trying to be more strategic about which coupons we use and when we use them, but it's still likely going to be mean overspending, and also overeating.

So I've been working hard this week to at least lose a few pounds that I can gain back in the next two weeks without too much guilt, and THEN I will really be back on the horse.  Right now, I guess you could say I'm just in the saddle... sitting in a saddle on the ground in the stable...  BUT! I'll be on that horse before you know it!

Wow, what a horrible analogy....

Hartman Ski Weekend

The content of this post has been removed by request.

Here's a picture of a dog instead.

Happy Birthday Dave!

Today is Dave's birthday! He is now officially 29 years old, and for the next two weeks or so, he will be "older" than me in number.

Mornings aren't my best time of day, and in my sleepy grogginess, I totally forgot to wish him Happy Birthday before he left for work.  I'm notoriously bad at remembering birthday's (if you have any hints for ways to help one remember, please let me know) but that's still no excuse and I felt horrible.  In thinking about how I could make that up to him, I thought, "What better way than to post it for the entire world to witness!" Right?  

So, Happy Birthday, Dave.

May we continue to stare into each others eyes with goofy grins on our faces for years and years to come.

I love you. 


After much stress and heartache, we are finally scheduled to receive our new washer and dryer tomorrow.  In preparation for the new machines, Dave sold the old dryer last weekend (the old washer wasn't worth anything, so we're having it hauled.)  I was thrilled to have an extra $40 to put towards the budget!  There's just one small problem... I haven't done any laundry since December 28.....

Source: Home Depot

Fortunately for me, that's not too huge of a problem (although I was stressing a bit when I first found out that he had sold it!)  For some reason, I have more underwear than a normal human being needs in a lifetime, so I was all set as far as that went.  I also have a lot of clothes, and although I tend to rotate the same outfits through my wardrobe every other week or so, this lack of laundry situation has really allowed to take inventory of what I truly plan to wear again, and what I should just give to Goodwill.

But what if the new washer and dryer doesn't come tomorrow?  While I have to go to a .... dun dun dun... laundromat??!??!  Oh the horror!  (If you take your laundry to a laundromat, I'm not judging - I've just been wildly spoiled for way too long.)  Hopefully, that beauty pictured above will be all mine by the end of the day tomorrow!

Wish me luck!!!... especially if you're someone who encounters me on any sort of regular basis.

"We kill small animals in the night...."

For the past few weeks, we've been hearing scuffling noises coming from our attic. We know - from past experience - that this likely means the mice have returned to our attic.

We'd have mice before, but I like to forget about those times.  Until they make so much noise that they wake us both up at night, and then I can't continue to forget about it. So last night, Dave set mouse traps in the attic.

Here's a great glimpse into the way our relationship works. Dave sets the traps, because there is something fundamentally dangerous in setting those rickety old school mouse traps that do the best job.  He doesn't want me to lose a finger.  But then later it's my job to retrieve their bodies. Me, the person who is devastated every time I see road kill. I'm put on body clean-up duty.  I like to think that, deep down, that makes me to stronger partner in our relationship. 

So we set the traps around 9 p.m. last night.  At 2:32 a.m., we were both woken up by crazy noises coming from right above our heads.  I'm fairly certain that I was in the middle of some pretty serious REM sleep, so it took me awhile to come out of my haze.  But I'm sure of what I heard.  Plenty of scuffling and scraping and playing around (enough to rouse me) and then a loud SNAP!, followed by pure silence.

"Oh. My. God."

That is what I said.  I still couldn't open my eyes, but my brain was wide awake.  And it was disturbed.

"I'm sorry, Dippold," is what Dave said.

So we were both awake by this point.  I mentioned how I thought it was crazy how much noise there was before the actual "snap" of the trap.   "I have my theory... " Dave said, and then trailed off.  "Go ahead," I said, because I knew my theory was probably the same.

We both agreed that we believed that the mouse had somehow gotten his tail - or perhaps a limb - stuck in one of the three traps.  In painful panic he thrashed around, trying to get it off, until he encountered yet another trap, which led to the snap.  After coming to that conclusion we tried to go to sleep, but I know was awake for at least a solid 45 minutes.  I couldn't get those noises out of my head.

So fast forward to 5:45 p.m. this evening.  I decided to face my fears as soon as I got home from work - might as well get it out of the way, right?  I set up the trash can next to the ladder in my closet (where the attic access is) and moved some of my clothes out of the way.  I got the flashlight and a wad of paper towels, just in case I had to come into contact with something gross.  I lifted the wooden cover and slid it to the front of the house. I then poked my head up into what must be about a 12x24 hole, with my back arched at a weird angle, because the arch of the closet was against my back.  I knew the traps were situated at the back of my head, so I shined the flashlight to my right first, and then twisted my body so that I could see behind me.  I saw two of the mouse traps sitting on the piece of cardboard that Dave had placed them on, still set as they had been the night before.  I saw the squirrel trap that we had purchased back in the day when we couldn't believe that mice could make so much noise.  But I didn't see any dead mice. 

I went up another step on the ladder, with my head still facing the back of the house, towards the traps.  My head was fully in the attic now, instead of my eyes peeping just above the threshold.  As my eyes adjusted I continued the shine the flashlight around.  Where was that damn mouse???  Had I crushed him when I slid back the access cover???

I flicked the light back to my right where I initially started looking, and then turned my head towards the front of the house.

And came within an inch of the face of One. Very. Dead. Mouse.

I yelped like a startled 10 year old and went down the ladder.  Murph, who is always very responsive when I sound distressed, jumped on the bed and tried to reach out to me.  I was doing deep breathing exercises, mentally preparing myself for going back up there and facing the mouse again on my own terms.  But then I decided to do it blind. I reach my hand up with the paper towels and felt for the back of the trap, where I knew the mouse wasn't.  I pulled him out, and as his tail brushed one of my sweaters on the closet shelf - "EW!" - I dropped him into the trash.

Now comes the part where I understand why I am the one to retrieve mouse bodies (and I'm promise this is almost over.)  I think I am strangely intrigued by dead mice. I examined him in the trash can.  I looked into his dark eyes, which reminded me strangely of Murphy's eye, and they didn't look dead at all.  He was plump, soft, and broken, and I felt sort of sad for him.

I examined this mouse up and down; confirmed that he had indeed died of a snapped neck and DID NOT - in fact - get a tail or limb stuck in another trap.  Rather, I think that the noises we heard were just amplified sounds of him moving the trap towards the front of the house, onto the attic access door.  In fact, I give him props for getting it as far as he did without dying.  He was a clever little character...

So, that's my story.  A little anti-climatic, I admit.  But you have to understand how incredibly disturbing this entire event was.  I'm actually surprised that we only got one mouse - usually where there is one there are plenty more.  But I am hopeful that tonight we will be able to sleep soundly without the sounds of animals dying above our heads. 

And I'll end with something that Dave posted on my Facebook page earlier today, "We kill small animals in the dark of the night... We're bad."  I just hope it's not two dark nights in a row...

The Beard

Over the holiday break, Dave tried to grow a beard.  I say "try" because his facial hair grows rather slowly and thus he never really had what most people would call a true beard.

I called it a beard though.  As a person who absolutely loves a freshly shaven, smooth face, the beard was no fun for me.  Dave had contemplated keeping the beard for when he went back to school, so that his kids could see him with it, but on a whim one day, he decided to shave it off (and I swear that I did NOT pressure him.)

If you're friends with us on Facebook, then you might have seen some of the pictures from the early days.  This picture however, is from the final day.

Oh, the sand-papery horror!!!

Needless to say, I was glad to see THAT go away real quick...

And then it was over, and my soft-faced Dave was returned to me for good.  While it was fun for a short while, I'm glad that he doesn't have any long-term plans or desires to grow a beard (at least, I hope he doesn't!)


Does anybody use Adobe Contribute as their blog editor?  I have recently acquired the complete Adobe suite and I have been experimenting with some of their products.  I love Adobe products, but find them to be wildly NON-intuitive, and so sometimes they're more work than they're worth.  But, I've also been annoyed with the Blogger editor lately, so I'm looking for something new.

What editor do you use?

Also, in light of the recent budget entry from the other day, I was wondering if anyone would be willing to share approximately how much you spend on groceries each week or month? Dave and I are very curious as we both feel like we currently shop as if we have a family of 5 or more. 


2010: The year of the budget

Such an exciting title, right?

With the need to make quite a few major purchases over the past two months or so - not even including holiday shopping, which we never plan for financially - Dave and I have decided to start a budget for 2010.  It's an annual budget, and we're only counting purchases that we've made since 1/1/10 (not anything purchased prior to that, even if we pay off the card that it was charged on in January.) At the end of the year, we should have a very clear snapshot of how much we spent in 2010, and where that money went.

As I mentioned, the budget is annual, but it has a monthly breakdown for all of our major categories.  There are two main headings - Fixed expenses and Variable expenses.  For the fixed expenses we just budgeted the monthly amount times 12.   But the variable expenses took a little more work.

We have to think creatively about how much we spend on certain things like eating out, entertainment, groceries, gas, medical expenses, home and car expenses, clothing, toiletries, travel, and a handful of other things. Then we had to step back and decide how much we WANTED to spend on those things.  For example, eating out - which I write an entire blog post about a few weeks ago - is something we spend WAY too much money on.  So instead of budgeting how much we spend in that area, we budgeted how much we are going to spend, which is $100 per month.

Here's how it works:
Each of the categories has a monthly budget amount, the total annual amount budgeted towards that, and then a column that shows how much we've accrued to date.  That's right - it's based on a daily accrual system.  The spreadsheet recognizes today's date, looks at how many days there were between today and 1/1/10 and then accrues a per day amount toward each category.  So instead of saying, "We have $100 to spend this month," at the beginning of each month, we wait to let funds accrue towards that budget line.

For example, since we spent $19 pizza on January 1st, we were originally at negative $16, since we had only accrued $3.28 towards eating out.  Since then, we've let funds accrue and so far we've earned $17 towards our next meal out!  Essentially we are "earning" the money to go out to eat, and we know exactly how much we can spend when we do finally go.

Here is a section of the budget that I copied and pasted (so sorry if the formatted goes out of whack.)  This is from the summary page.  Keep in mind that each category item has it's own tab, and this page pulls the data directly from the individual page in order to reflect what shows in the "spent" column.

Category Per Month Per year Accrued Spent Left
Variable Expenses:          
Dining Out $100 $1,200 $36.16 $19.00 17.16
Social/Entertainment $50 $600 $18.08 $0.00 18.08
Travel $150 $1,800 $54.25 $0.00 54.25
Gifts (Xmas, Bday, etc) $140 $1,680 $50.63 $50.00 0.63
Medical (Rx, Dr.) $80 $960 $28.93 $132.66 (103.73)
Gasoline (not incl. FP's) $50 $600 $18.08 $0.00 18.08
Groceries $550 $6,600 $198.90 $116.00 82.90
Beer/Alcohol $50 $600 $18.08 $0.00 18.08
Toiletries/Target $100 $1,200 $36.16 $9.53 26.63
Clothing $100 $1,200 $36.16 $62.58 (26.42)
Miscellaneous $100 $1,200 $36.16 $32.10 4.06

I had to buy new glasses on January 2nd, which is why the "medical" budget it in the red.  Dave also bought new running shoes right after the new year so that he could start a learn-to-run program (he's making great progress!)  We also budgeted a LOT for travel, mostly because we're planning on going to Mexico this summer and we wanted to make sure to reflect that.  However, it's not likely that we'll continue to save $1800 a year that would go exclusively towards travel (although if we can pull it off, I would be THRILLED!)

It's not perfect yet, and we know that there is going to be some tweaking along the way as we encounter expenses that we didn't think about originally, especially during this first year, as we really start to think about what we spend.  But I think overall it's going to work out really well for us, and will hopefully force us to be more thoughtful about out money. 

What do you think? Do you use a budget? Any suggestions for ways to improve mine?

White Elephant Extravaganza

Can you believe that Christmas was over 3 weeks ago? My how time flies.... 

On the Friday night before Christmas, Dave and I attended our one and only Christmas party of the season - the Annual White Elephant Extravaganza.

All of the gifts set out on the table

Our gifts were a set of photo coasters (that we filled with randoms photos of ourselves, our dog, and a stove) and a box of plastic leis with a giant bottle of wine.  The "theme" of the wine gift?  "Drink wine and get leid." I think that people liked it.

Our general motto for white elephant parties is to never gift totally useless gifts - we will always give something that is at least moderately valuable to the right person, and we try to make sure that it's universally useful (even if the person who ultimately received it may or may not agree.)  But on the same token, we don't want to give the MOST valuable gift because you will never ever ever come away with anything even remotely as nice.  So, basically we half-ass it, but keep usability in mind. 

Anyway, the hot gift of the night was a $25 American Express gift card - clearly the most valuable gift amongst a lot of random things including two ugly statues, the American Pie DVD, Play-doh, a book, and a frame.  One of the other popular gifts including a live Betta fish with a gift certificate, a bottle of whiskey and our wine gift with the leis. 

Dave was THIS close to getting to keep the whiskey.. but, no such luck.

So what did we walk away with when it was all said and done?  A weird little clock that only lights up when you hit it and make it rock (not the greatest, but certainly not the worst), and THIS t-shirt.

Is there anything more than I can say?  I don't think so.....

Ok, Winter - Let's have a talk

I'm ready for winter to be over.  Or, at the very least, for it to stop snowing.  I'm tired of the messy, dirty slush that has taken over sidewalks and parking lots.   I'm tired of having to dry the dog every time he comes in from outside, and I hate that his leash is always frozen shut, so that I have to stand outside and squeeze it with my hand until it thaws enough to open.  I hate that I'm always cold, even though I'm wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt AND a sweatshirt.  My bones still ache with cold...

I hate how unmotivated I am when I'm cold.  I know that if I started working out I would quickly warm up (at least for a short while), but the mere thought of me having to take my clothes off in order to put on workout clothes deters me every time.  I've taken to not turning on the exhaust fan when I shower, because I don't want to shower if I know that I'm going to be freezing when I get out (and obviously, I need to shower every once in a while.)

I like snow for Christmas.  I enjoy the first snowfall, the first shoveling job, the first sled ride of the season, and watching Murph literally frolick in the snow the first time it falls. 

Murph likes sledding too...

But once mid-January kicks in, I can't take it.  I start looking for jobs in warmer regions, and Dave and I have semi-serious conversations about where we might be interested in moving, just to get away from this cold.  Yeah, we could turn our heat up until we're toasting and happy, but we can't afford that, so it's not really an option.

What I really need to spring.  Right here, right now.  I need that ground hog to poke his head out of his hole in three weeks saying that it spring is just around the corner.  And then I need to crocuses to start poking this little heads up as well (a sure sign that's spring!)  In the fall, meteorologists were saying that this was supposed to be a "mild winter."  I lose more and faith in the field of weather predicting each and every day...

Spring, I miss you.  I NEED you... and soon.  Because even though you're not always warm and pleasant, at least your temperatures are higher than 21 degrees.  And I know that your arrival means that summer isn't far behind......


Christmas Miles 1020 - 1165: Home Sweet Home

Originally, we thought that we had drive about 1300 miles, which was probably just an estimate rounded up slightly each time, and which also attempted to include all of the little side trips that we made (which are obviously not included in my totals here.)  So, although it seems like we traveled slightly less than 1300 miles in total, trust me when I say that 1200 or so is PLENTY.

Murph was SO excited to be home and in his own yard.


And so we were.  It was good to be home.

So, what did we learn from this trip? Well, for one, we definitely don't want to do anything so intense ever again in future years.  What made it so tough?

1. We spent waaaay too much driving.  Our carbon footprint increased to a size 14 in just 7 days. Mother Earth is still crying.

2. We planned for others instead of ourselves.  Sound selfish? Sort of.  But basically we traveled around events that were going on in each respective location instead of trying to just spend quality time when we were there, which is why we did ridiculous things like drive to Wilmington twice, instead of just going there once and spending an extra day at that time.  Driving time is wasted time in my opinion, and it's also wasted money when it's done unnecessarily.  While it's great to be at family gatherings, it can be at the expense of our own personal enjoyment - we had good times each place we went but we were way more exhausted than we should have been. 

3. We tried to do it all.  We basically tried to visit every single family member that wanted to see us.  That's great and all, but it was US driving to THEM and that felt a little one-sided.  Distance between families can be hard, since everyone wants to get together during the holidays, and I think that we need to find a way to become more comfortable with saying, "Sorry but we aren't going to be able to make it."  We have a hard time with that right now, and always try to find a way to make it work, which can make a holiday all the more stressful.

How do you balance it all?  How do you combine your desire to spend the holidays with your family (and in our case, many families) while still enjoying your time off at home?  At first we thought, "Well, if we have kids then we won't be expected to drive as much." But is that really true?  Now that I'm thinking about it, I feel like if we have kids, that will only mean a fuller car since everyone is going to want to see the grandchild/niece/nephew/whatever-it-is.  Am I right in thinking this? 

It's not an easy problem to juggle and I don't think there's an easy solution (if there is, PLEASE comment or message me with details!)

As it stands right now, I think we will continue to play it by ear year to year, but definitely some additional thought into how much driving it will mean for us.  We want to see everyone each year, but we don't want to dread it, which means we need to go easy on ourselves in the future when it comes to planning.  We also don't want to seem whiny - we realize that we're lucky to be close enough to everyone to pull off seeing everyone. But OH! How exhausting it was!

So anyway, that's it! Those were our Christmas miles - each and every one of them!!! 

How was YOUR holiday season?

Christmas Miles 736 - 1019: St. Marys

On the morning of the 28th we packed up the car for our second-to-last destination - my hometown of St. Marys, PA.  We were spending a full day and a half there (which meant sleeping two nights in a row in the same place! Oh how glorious!!!) and we were excited to get some relaxation in - something we felt like we had not yet achieved.  The start of the day was beautiful and we made great time.  We had never made this trip from the direction we were traveling (usually we would take this route FROM St. Marys instead of TO) and Dave thoroughly enjoyed the mountains, rivers, and scenery of central Pennsylvania.

However, once we got onto Interstate 80 it started to snow, and conditions immediately began deteriorating.  We had to slow down considerably, as the roads were snow covered.  It was somewhat treacherous for those last 50 miles or so, but we made it safe and sound and were finally reunited with Murph!!!

He was surprisingly uninterested in us

Actually, that picture is from the next night in St. Marys and not the eve of arrival, but it serves it's purpose nonetheless.  And really, we weren't too surprised to find Murph less than enthusiastic to see us, since my parents probably gave him more love and attention than we even do, and since it's the nature of the Cavalier Spaniel to "love the one you're with."

Anyway, we did get some good relaxation in during our time in St. Marys. We watched two movies - Angels and Demons and the Hangover, and we were SORELY disappointed in the Hangover.  Was it because we were too tired to really enjoy it? Was it because it was too hyped up by others as being the most amazing movie of all time?  We'll never know, but I can honestly say that I don't think either of us laughed out loud once during that entire movie, and that's rare for us and a comedy.

On our second and final night in St. Marys we went to visit my aunt/godmother and uncle.  We had decided to gift them with a picture of us from our wedding, since we had noticed during a visit that summer we were the only ones with a wedding photo NOT prominently featured in the foyer area.  How happy we were to find that we would be the ONLY ONES featured for a short period of time, since the pictures had been removed to allow room for the stable.  They even made space for us inside the stable with baby Jesus.

No caption necessary

Finally, as we were getting ready to leave, we noticed that we were also not featured on their refrigerator, which held dozens of holiday themed pictures.  Apparently we're wildly competitive when it comes to making sure that we receive equal face time in photos featured in prominent places, so my aunt decided that we would take a photo in front of the Christmas tree that could be featured on the fridge-of-honor the next year.

So, all in all, our trip to St. Marys was successful.  Very relaxing with some crazy antics thrown in.  The next morning we packed the car bright and early and started our drive back to Pittsburgh.  We were VERY excited to be heading home....

Christmas Miles 675 - 735: Back to Wilmington

Still with me?  Wow... I'm impressed.... In fact, I can barely believe that I am still me, since reliving this exhausting experience is exhausting in itself.

Anyway, when I last left you, were being sent off with a glorious "wave," as we headed back to Wilmington for a Christmas party.

This particular Christmas party was being held in honor of the girlfriend of the one of Dave's cousins, who traveled all the way from Thailand to be there, and it was a great time.  She was super sweet and I like large family gatherings where you get to catch up with a lot of people all in one place.

I'm going to let this post be picture-heavy, since the photos really do share the story better than I could with words.

A family photo - all of those open mouths are directed at me, and are saying "Hey! You need to be in this!"

Noi, Dave, and two Lisa's

An incredibly cute baby, and Dave's cousin Mike

A group photo before we left

And finally, I save the best for last.  Here's the background story..

You see, Dave's younger brother decided to go away for a mini-honeymoon shortly after Christmas, meaning that he was going to miss this party.  Even though we knew that they were on their "honeymoon" of sorts (I use quotes because they're actually going on their real honeymoon in March, but I'm pretty sure that one is the 3rd or 4th one that they have planned in total) we wanted to show them what fun they were missing.  So, we took and sent them this.

Sorry for the poor picture quality, but it was taken on my phone which has a really weird colored flash.  But doesn't that look like fun!?!?  Wouldn't YOU be sad to realize what fun you were missing if you received this picture??? Needless to say, we did NOT hear from the honeymooners that night, nor did they mention it in any subsequent conversations.  Perhaps because they were so infinitely jealous of the fun that we had?  That's what I'm going to let myself think.

These holiday travels are almost over - but we still have quite a few miles to go!!! Onwards to St. Marys!

Christmas Miles 577 - 674: Delta

fter the White Elephant party, we drove to Dave's dad's house for a brief visit.  We were tired and so were they, so we exchange some (real!) gifts and headed to bed.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and jumped in the hot tub, as has been our custom there recently.  I think it's a sign that we're getting old when we'd rather get in the hot tub in the morning after a good night's sleep over jumping in at night with a beer and then going to bed.... You agree?

The next morning we had a huge breakfast and then talked at the table and caught up on everyone's lives.  It was nice and relaxing... unfortunately, it was cut short by our need to leave to go back to Wilmington for a party that afternoon.

We were attacked by snowballs for leaving, but then they came around, and we got a nice send-off.

Click to enlarge - I swear there are actually waving people in that picture

Then they decided to do a wave!  This next picture is sort of horrible and blurry, but I find it incredibly funny.  You'll see two people in the far bottom left hand corner, and evidence of the wave that took place.

The Wave

At this point, have your found yourself thinking, "Seriously, this isn't over yet?"  Sorry, no such luck.  Stay tuned.

Christmas Miles 456 - 576: Maryland White Elephant

On the morning of the 26th we ate breakfast and then headed off to Gaithersburg, MD for a White Elephant gift exchange party at Dave's half-sister's house.

The rest of this post has been removed....

Christmas Miles 157 through 455: Wilmington, DE

Our Christmas Day drive to Wilmington was an exciting and stressful one.  The weather was horrible.  There was freezing rain and wind so violent that I was actually afraid that the car might blow over.  Dave was driving, and even in the passenger sheet, I could feel the effects of the wind on the car, and I saw how much he had to struggle to control it just to keep it on the road.

On top of that, the fog was denser than I've seen.  On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there are mile markers every 1/10th of a mile.  In addition to that, there are 5 mini-mile markers between each 1/10th mile marker (so, basically a marker every 2/100ths of a mile - 105.6 feet, according to Dave.)  As we passed one 2/100ths of a mile marker, we could not see the next one - that's how foggy it was.  There was a car about 4/100ths of a mile ahead of us, and we never saw it unless the driver tapped the breaks.  We were going 35 mph at some points and it was awful.

Fortunately though, there was very little traffic on the turnpike and literally no congestion.  We still made decent time - less than 6 hours total, including rest stops, and arrived at Dave's mom's house by 5:30 p.m.

We had a few drinks, played a ping-pong tournament (Dave and I were both eliminated in the first round) and then opened gifts. 

A thoughtful look on the face of the elder Hartman

Are those canned goods that I received?  Why yes! They are!

I set up our air mattress in a little room off of the living room, since it was a full house.  Unfortunately, it had been raining all day, and when we went to bed, we learned that the roof was leaking right next to our bed.  We put a bucket with a towel underneath it but I was still going crazy from the noise, so we were forced to move the air mattress into the living room, which is always sad for me, since it means that we're the last ones to go to sleep and the first ones to have to wake up.  Needless to say, neither Dave nor I got a good night's sleep that night and it sort of left us at a deficit for the rest of the trip. 

But either way, Christmas Day was over and we had more driving to do the next day!

Christmas Miles 145 - 156: The North Side

On Christmas morning we packed the car and headed to my sister's house.  A mere 12 miles away, this was by far the easiest drive of the trip.  We had already exchanged our gifts the night before, and my family had carted away the larger gifts that were going to be opened this morning, and yet we still had a packed car.  So much so that Murphy had to sit on my lap, which he was absolutely thrilled to do.

For some reason I forgot to take pictures of this morning, but that is not to say that it wasn't a great time.

Dave received his brand-spanking new laptop, which was a joint gift from me, my parents, my older sister, and Dave's mom.  He was very excited about it, and thrilled at the level of coordination required on my part to keep it a surprise.

Let me explain.

You see, Dave had a list of "wants" that weren't particularly exciting.  However, I wanted him to get the things that he needed, while also getting a few surprises (I love surprises, and apparently I think that other people should too.)  So, I coordinated the joint laptop among everyone so that they could still buy him a little something else.  I also had it shipped to my place of employment instead of at home, so that he wouldn't see it in the driveway (since he is usually the first one home.)  Even then, I still told him not to look at the boxes of the gifts that were delivered, to keep him on his toes, and since I was coordinated the gifts for ALL of our family members - mine and his.  All he had to worry about was a gift for me (which I'm pretty sure he still struggled with.)

The other gift that took some significant coordination was a filing cabinet that his Dad and step-mom ordered for him. Since it was a big gift, they had it shipped to our house, but that meant that I had to be home to accept the delivery.  It was being delivered by a full-sized tractor trailer, which is ridiculous in itself.  Furthermore, I had to coordinate the delivery on my cell phone while in the car with him on the way to his brother's wedding.  Fortunately I had that following Monday off already and was able to be there (even though it arrived 3 hours later than the 4 hour window that they had given me - I literally wasted an entire day off waiting around for this thing.)

Anyway, the delivery guy parked his 18-wheeler in the middle of our road, lugged this enormous thing up the driveway and pushed it in the back of our garage.  I promptly covered it with a sheet, put a "Dave - stay away!" sign on it and pushed a lot of crap in front of it.  He was intrigued but stayed away, and I don't think that he ever guessed what it was.

So anyway, we had a good Christmas. In addition to the laptop, Dave received a sweater, a pair of jeans, a snorkel set for our Mexico trip (which I also received), some stocking stuffers and a 4-waffle iron.   I got a new black pea coat, jeans, two sweaters, a heart-rate monitor, snorkel set, and an I-pod nano! We definitely made out.

But two and a half hours after arriving at my sister's, we had to leave Murphy behind with my mom and head on to the next leg of our journey - Wilmington, DE.


Or SLEDDING, as it is more commonly called.  In a moment of blurred speech, I called it swedding and I was promptly teased for being drunk (I was not.)  The term stuck for most of the day... 

What day, you ask?  Well, New Year's Day, of course!  Eldest Hartman brother had a lady-friend guest in from out of town, and she currently resides in Arizona.  Although she has certainly seen snow before, we decided that she needed to partake in some good old fashioned sled riding.  Our mountain of a backyard - and a half-dozen sleds collected over the years - was the perfect backdrop.


A smart dog knows when to abandon ship

Although I was primarily the picture taker, I did take one journey down the hill with the fastest of the three sleds that we were using.  Because I broke my leg 8 years ago (actually, it was almost exactly 8 years today) I was nervous about using my legs to slow down to make the turn at the bottom of hill.  So, instead of braking, I ended up going right past the turn, through the pakasandra (sp?) garden, and off of the retaining wall into the driveway.  While that sounds sort of crazy, it felt much safer to me than braking with my legs, and was actually quite amusing.

And I survived to tell the tale

Elder Brother Hartman asked me to wear my ski goggles, and I happily obliged

Braver than me

It was a good time and soon after going inside, we promptly fell asleep.  A great way to start the new year!

Team photo that I took with my extended right arm. Pretty good, huh??

Christmas Mile 144: Christmas Eve at our house

The one event we did not have to travel for was the Christmas Eve gathering at our house with my immediate family.

As soon as we arrived home from skiing I started cooking.  We had planned a low-key, appetizer-based event, but on the drive home from 7 Springs decided to incorporate potato skins in our menu, something that I had never made before, but knew that they took a lot of time.

In the end, we're glad that we decided to make the potato skins, since my family came hungry, even though they knew there wouldn't be a formal dinner.  We made: potato skins, fried flatbread with fresh spinach and artichoke dip, and soft pretzels with cheese and honey mustard dip.  My sister also brought shredded pork and rolls, which ended up being the "meal" portion of the evening.

Then, in our effort to cut down on the number of gifts that we had to transport, we convinced my niece to open her gifts that night at our house.  She received Dog Park Barbie.

And a Sponge Bob Connect Four.

Which Santa ALSO brought, even though I TOLD Santa in an e-mail that I had purchased that for her

We were really glad that she opened her gifts then, since she really enjoyed getting them and since on Christmas morning, there's always so much going on, that she doesn't even realize or get excited about some of the things that she receives.

We also enlisted her help in opening Murphy's gifts.  Murph is one lucky dog!  He received an enormous bag of dog treats and a new fleece for his bed!

Sniff sniff... what are those???

This is SO much better than an old, crappy towel!

After gifts, the party wound down, and we loaded some of the larger gifts into my family members vehicles since our car was already going to be packed to the brim and we didn't think we would be able to fit everything (that turned out to be true.) 

As is our tradition, Dave and I decided to exchange gifts that night.  He gave me a piece of abstract art for above our bed (something that I asked for), a collage frame for our basement family room wall, and a rawhide.  I'm still not sure why he wrapped the rawhide and gave it to me, obviously that was passed on to Murphy.  If you ever want to see instinct at it's best, give a dog a bone and observe.

He walked around trying to find a place to bury that thing for nearly an hour

After presents, we went to sleep.  After all, we had a big day and the bulk of our traveling ahead of us!

Christmas Miles 0 - 144: To Seven Springs and Back

As I mentioned previously, we did a lot of driving over the Christmas.  I've decided to chronicle those adventures by tracing our miles to recap our travels (and I promise I'll finish with the Hartman brother wedding recaps soon after.)

Our holiday started on Wednesday, December 23rd, when we traveled to 7 Springs for an overnight ski trip.  Dave had already planned a January one-day trip with his brothers, but part of the fun of skiing for me is staying in the lodge, but trying to coordinate that with a group of people has proven to be a pain in the ass, so we decided to do our own little get away.  We took advantage of the last day of their pre-season rates, and got an amazing deal on an overnight package.

We upgraded to a king bed, slopeside room and this was the view we got when we arrived.

Totally awesome

Lift tickets for skiing that night were included in our package, but we decided to skip the night skiing and rest up for the next day.  "Resting up" meant having a nice big dinner and quite a few drinks before calling it a night.

We watched skiers and "drank" everytime one fell.  Sadly, most people who do night skiing are pretty good, so even though we were looking exclusively at black diamond slopes, we saw very few falls.

The view of the main lodge when out on the balcony

We rearranged our room to provide ourselves with viewing comfort

It was also during this trip that Dave decided to start growing a beard.  Here is a picture of Day 1. You will see subsequent days in the upcoming posts.

The next morning we rose early for our free breakfast, and we realized that preparing for skiing is quite a time investment.  Since we didn't ski the night before, we still had to rent out skis that morning.  And, since it was already 9 a.m. by the time we were done with breakfast - and since we had to be out of the hotel by 11 - we needed to basically get completely dressed and pack the car to check out before skiing.  So, we didn't actually get to hit the slopes until 10 a.m., but all of the time investment was worth it because it was PERFECT skiing weather.

On the lift

Blue skies, plenty of snow, and temperatures that were just below freezing, which meant no snow making! (I HATE skiing during snow making...)  There were almost no skiers there, probably since most people were still at work, and nearly every slope and lift was open, which meant absolutely no lines at the lifts, and no pile-ups at the intersections of slopes.

Sidenote: When Dave whipped out my cell phone to take the picture you see above, I was scared to death that it was going to be the end of my new Droid.  Fortunately, that was not the case.

We skied until about 3:30, which was way earlier than we had planned on leaving, but we had both skied so much and so hard (given the ideal conditions) that we were absolutely exhausted, and we both felt like we had gotten more than our money's worth out of the experience, so it was well worth it.

A daytime shot from the balcony

Up next: Christmas Eve party at our house!