Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter Lunch

We had lunch in J's parent's backyard after church. They had spent a lot of time beautifying their yard and Nacky had DIY'd some fun yard games for the kids to play.

Of course, I insisted on a group photo first thing.

And then when we wanted to get a family photo, BB decided it was time to dance and be silly - check out the sequence of postures in these photos. The last one just cracks me up.



Lunch - my contributions were the green bean casserole (from scratch - YUM) and a salad made completely with lettuce from my garden (!!! so cool, right?) and homemade ranch (using this recipe - so simple!). I also made these rolls that were supposed to be shaped like bunnies, but came out like some kind of devil/horny toad hybrid. I almost peed my pants when we pulled them out of the oven. 

And of course, the pinnacle of any meal - dessert. Shawna made a lemon cake filled with homemade lemon curd and covered in lemon buttercream frosting (the frosting was amazing), and J made strawberry cream pies (adding to the grand tradition of Vineyard pie-making men).

After lunch, it was time to hunt some eggs!

Armed with baskets and ready to hunt!

Little besties

SS didn't quite grasp the concept - see the eggs on the ground? Pretty sure he threw them.

Finding an egg with Daddy (who SS calls "Mama")

And then SS took another egg out of his basket and replaced the one he took. :) This is one of his favorite games at home, so it was funny to see him translate it to the egg hunt. 

Uncle Matt giving BB a lift to find an egg

Confetti eggs were a bit hit

With the kids AND the adults

Uncle J was a popular target

I love my precious niecies!

Happy Easter! 
Love, the Barking Baby family

Our Easter Morning

Excited to see their Easter basket!

J and I tried to come up with a semi-unprocessed Easter basket (minus the Peeps of course). We included some Pirate's Booty, organic juice pouches, organic fruit snacks (these are totally junk food, but whatever, the boys loved them), a book about Jesus, and new U of A t-shirts (a great excuse to buy the boys U of A gear! They had almost outgrown/destroyed their current U of A stuff, and OUR BLOOD RUNS RED AND BLUE! so that just won't do). 

Happy boys discovering their treats

SS thought shaking the bags was the funnest thing ever. BB zeroed in on the book and immediately started reading, my little bookworm.

Family pics out in the yard before church

I attempted to take a picture of the boys together, of course, and of course, SS would not cooperate. This is the best shot (before SS really realized what was happening).




SS is a happy Easter boy by himself; BB looks like a little school boy

My cuties

I attempted reproducing our family photo  from last year, which I LOVE - we took this in the same place arriving to church, but eh, not so great. The boys were done with pictures.

Once we arrived at church, we jumped in the (crazy-longest-ever-of-any-year-snaking-around-the-entire-lawn) potluck breakfast line before BB had to report for duty for his performance!

Here are all the kiddos waiting to go sing their song at the beginning of the service. They sang Jesus, You're My Superhero, which is why they are wearing capes :) 

BB had missed most of the church services where the kids learned the song due to intermittent travel and illness, but we'd worked on the song at home a lot. I didn't know if he would be nervous or if he would sing, but he ended up singing the whole chorus a couple of times, and he LOVED when the action was jumping!

BB shouted "This is my fave-wit!" when they started jumping

Somewhere out there is a picture of all of us moms huddled in the center aisle with our cameras :) 

And here are our wonderful friends, who joined us for lunch. Remember when E was a little baby E? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

From Daytime TV to a Full Thermometer

Last year J and I were sorting through some tough decisions regarding the financial investment that is our home. Like many others, we bought our home near the peak of the bubble hoping to get in before we couldn't afford to, and then, as we all know, the bubble popped, leaving us with a mortgage that was very disproportional to the market.

But we have a home. We can afford to pay our mortgage and put food on the table and clothes on our backs and still have wiggle room for fun luxuries like eating out and traveling. We are abundantly blessed, especially when we maintain a whole world perspective. However, we also wanted to be financially wise, and from an investment standpoint, we were aboard a sinking ship - "underwater" is the popular term. So in the interest of good stewardship and proactivity in our finances, we evaluated our options. We had to do something. We had to do something. We didn't want to keep paying this crazy mortgage into nowhere anymore. What if we ever want to move? That wasn't an option because there was no way we could sell, and we could never rent to cover our payment. After a lot of thought, prayer, and wise counsel, we decided to go with a hare-brained scheme I cooked up after watching a talk show.

No joke.

Anna Newell Jones was the guest on the talk show - she writes the blog And Then We Saved, all about how she went on a spending fast in order to pay off her overwhelming debt. Her initial goal was just to pay off $6,000 in a year, but once she got going she was able to pay off over $17,000 of debt in the first year. And her complete debt of over $23,000 was paid off in 15 months!  And I know, if she could pay off $17,000 of debt by herself in a year, together we should be able to too.

I was inspired.

Our mortgage was actually two loans - it was an 80%/15%/5% loan, the 5% being our down payment.  Thanks to the HARP 2.0 program, we were finally rewarded for paying our mortgage on time every month and we were able to refinance the 80% loan, giving us a much better interest rate and lower monthly payment on that loan. But we were not able to do that for our 15% instead, I came up with the crazy idea that we should pay it off.

It seemed like a huge, intimidating number. But we had some wiggle room in our budget already, and, thanks to the refinance, we were about to have the extra money we were saving from our newly lowered monthly payment. And so I started thinking about what else we could cut from our budget so that we could pour that money into paying off our 15% loan instead. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that now is the perfect time for this kind of project. The boys are young and won't notice less gifts, less vacations, less extras.  Paying off the small loan would lead to a lower monthly mortgage payment, and would bring our payment down into a range where we could possibly rent the house for that price, if we ever decided to move. So I punched in the numbers, presented the idea to J, and we decided to go for...not broke, exactly, but a streamlined budget.

I thought it would probably take us 18 months - optimistically, maybe we could cut it down to 15 months - but I guessed there would probably be some unexpected hiccups along the way.

I knew this would only work if we stayed motivated and excited about this project, especially when we were missing a luxury item we had cut out, and I didn't want to dump most of our savings account (we did keep an emergency fund in our savings) into this mortgage if we weren't going to finish the job, so I made us a little thermometer to fill in each month to track our progress. Nothing fancy - in fact, it looked grade-school caliber, but I hung it behind our computer where we would see it every day. I did not expect that little thermometer to be as motivating as it was - the thermometer helped us keep track of exactly how much we owed at all times, and every time we colored more red and saw our progress we got excited about new ways that we could get to the top faster.

On Saturday, J paid our last payment on our small loan.

We accomplished our goal in 10 months.

And I got to do the honors of coloring in the thermometer all the way to the top.

I still cannot believe we were able to accomplish this goal in such a short time frame. Initially we used a chunk of savings and our tax return, and this year's tax return went in too, and J took extra side jobs which also really moved things along. We had also cut out or cut down on various luxury items. And we did it!!!

Now, between the refinance of the larger loan and paying off this loan, our mortgage is cut down by 1/3!

Now that I know what we are capable of, I am already coming up with more crazy saving schemes - but first, J and I are going to celebrate this summer. We are going to my niece's high school graduation in Washington, are planning on a family beach trip (a yearly tradition we have missed the last two summers), some camping with the boys, I'm getting a new pair of running shoes
......and J and I booked a Hawaii trip!!

Work hard, play hard, right?

And that's the story of how daytime TV transformed my life...or, at least, my budget. :)

San Francisco Treat

Oh my gosh, J and I went to San Francisco back in October to celebrate with my cousin at her wedding. Just the two of us.

My cousin was my very first best friend, and my brother and I spent a LOT of time with her family growing up. In fact, we used to joke that, because of our coloring, I was really my aunt's daughter and my cousin was really my mom's daughter. The wedding and surrounding celebration was a fulfilling time with cousins and aunts and uncles. There's just nothing like family to remind you of yourself.

Here are a bunch of (very tardy) photos of this luxurious, relaxing, exploring trip.

Rooftop deck

Walking around the Mission District, where we stayed

Crab sandwiches on the Pier

Bread = alligators, turtles, and lobsters. Also, the baker has a speaker from outside, so when you whisper "She's kind of socially awkward," your husband whispers back "She can hear you.".



Roped into an impromptu comedy video

Painted ladies

Wedding venue

Family wedding photos, including these photos of my grandparents

My ever-creative cousins' wedding decor art





Walking to Lombard Street

The Crookedest Street in the World

The Crookedest Street in the World behind us.
A must-visit, because without this street, I may not exist.....My dad sent my mom a postcard of this street, begging her to move to San Diego to be with him. And so it came to be, and so I came to be.

Classic San Francisco

J and I rented bikes

And biked across the Golden Gate Bridge! Best thing ever.

The bridge on the bridge

Justin took these two on the ferry back from Sausalito...while I was sick with coconut water poisoning at a table inside


Our Victorian Inn reminded us of Downton Abbey..."And I do love this place." - J

Mission Dolores