Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fiscal Fast is Over

Day 5 of our first Fiscal Fast was hot and sunny... Ok, ok, so it went just fine without any accidents. We didn't go to any stores, didn't spend any money, didn't even think about spending money. The refrigerator was getting emptier and we ran out of fresh fruits (I know, I know - not quite the Donner Party story, but YOU WEREN'T THERE!). I took Mark to the lake to feed the ducks and then to the pool in the morning. Then in the afternoon, after Chris came home from work, he took Mark to our neighbor's pool, which is actually better than the Lake Johnson pool because it has a real spring board, hehe.

Day 6 was a Saturday. As usual, I was going to sleep in while Chris was supposed to entertain Mark for a couple of hours, until 8-9am. Through my sleep I heard them leaving the house... Did they go to a playground? Did they go to a park? Or maybe they went to a post-office to mail a letter? No, no, no! They went to a coffee house (guess who's idea that was). And so our Fiscal Fast was interrupted. But just like any successful dieter would know, it's important not to regard these occasional slip ups as an all-or-nothing deal. That's where the cheat-day concept comes in. And so we cheated just a little bit - Chris had his morning coffee and later that afternoon we bought a big $3-dollar snow-cone at a Moore Square concert. In our defence, it was VERY hot out there and we did split the snow-cone between the 3 of us (yes, Mark loves snow-cones).

Day 7 was supposed to be the last day of our Fiscal Fast. Well, turns out, while asleep, we made a joint decision to cancel Day 7 altogether and stick to a 6-day week. We decided to properly celebrate the end of the challenge by going to the Gypsy's Shiny Diner in Cary for some breakfast. And since our fridge was practically empty, right after breakfast we went to the Farmers Market and then to the Whole Foods. But that was it as far as day's spendings. In the afternoon we went on a stroll along one of the greenways. And in the evening we went to yet another free concert, this one at the Fletcher Park. And really, we could've done a lot worse and went to a mall or to a Target store instead.

So all in all, even though we didn't last the entire week, we didn't do too bad either. We didn't perish nor did we go through hardship. We didn't stay at home getting bored. As a matter of fact, we found one of the nicest parks in Raleigh (Fletcher Park) and re-visited possibly the best playground in the Triangle area (Kids Together) and we went to more concerts (3) this week than many people go in a year. We haven't been to any store, except for Whole Foods and a couple of book stores. And best of all, we only drove 134 miles - half-tank of gas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fiscal Fast - Day 4

The week is almost over... I can't wait for the weekend and a chance to get some decent sleep. Mark keeps waking up at 6am, but now that he's teething AGAIN, he wakes up more often at night and stays awake longer... I'm really thinking about starting drinking coffee in the mornings.

Anyway, today I had to go to the store to buy some fresh milk for Mark. Even though we're not buying any groceries for ourselves this week, we agreed that I'll have a $10 budget for Mark - milk, fruits, etc. So I bought him some goat milk, a couple of bananas, and a small thing of raspberries for a grand total of $6.30. I still have $3.70 left over to spent - I'll buy a pint of blueberries at the Farmer's market. One thing though - I had to really restraint myself from buying items that were on sale or from buying more than what was absolutely necessary.

Usually on Thursdays we drive to the North Hills shopping center for a free concert. Also usually we get a bite to eat and some ice-cream. And on the way back from the concert we usually stop by Target to pick up whatever we have on our "wanted" list. Today we just went to the concert. How much money did we save? Well, let's say $8 or so for ice-cream and around $50 at the Target store (it just seems like every time I step into a Target, I walk out at least $50 lighter). We had a good time at the concert, except it was very hot and I kept thinking about cold drinks and ice-cream!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fiscal Fast - Day 3

Still doing ok... Not much happened today. The main challenge I have every day is to come up with entertainment for Mark. Usually I have a small schedule of recuring weekly activities for mornings and afternoons. So on a typical Wednesday we might go to Pullen Park to play, feed ducks, and ride on a carousel and on a train. And in the afternoon we might go to the Monkey Joe's. Well, this week both options are unavailable to us - each ride at Pullen Park costs $1 per person and Monkey Joe's price is $5. So instead we went to the Kids Together playground in Cary - absolutely free, with lots of play areas, huge sand boxes, and plenty of shade. And in the afternoon we went on a long stroll.

In case you're wandering, we're ok on food, even though last time I went grocery shopping was over a week ago. As a matter of fact, I finally cleaned up the crisper and made vegetable soup. And for main course I made a simple salad - home-made bread (baked by Chris), tomatoes (the last of the ones I bought at the Farmers' Market) and home-grown basil. And we even had a dessert - fresh sticky buns baked by Chris!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fiscal Fast - Day 2

We're still on track. Chris even left his wallet at home this morning. He said that since he wasn't going to spend any money, his wallet was essentially useless. Personally, I think he was just trying to put some distance between himself and his credit cards. And it worked - he did not spend $3.60 on a Tuesday lunch special - mac'n'cheese and a Coke. It was more difficult for me since I kept my wallet with me. I took Mark to the playground, then - to the library for toddler story-time, and finally to the Tookie Toys toy store for a playdate (they let kids play with almost all their toys). This was all accomplished without any breaks. Naturally, by the time we were done, I was starving (Mark had some snacks and juice). And I kept seeing food places everywhere - a Subway, a grocery store, a pizza place, etc - all running these great specials. But I managed to get home without wipping out my wallet.

In the evening we all went to the Barnes&Noble for our regular Tuesday night. Except we couldn't buy anything, of course. Honestly, it was just not the same! Going to B&N was always as much about sipping on a double-chocolate chip frapp as it was about looking through books and magazines. It is especially important now that we're stuck in the children's section because that's where Mark stays busy and quiet. Still, we didn't spend our regular $7 or so. And I didn't buy any of the cookbooks - a savings of at least $20.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fiscal Fast - Day 1

Ok, so 1 down, 6 more to go! It wasn't so bad after all, this first day of the Fiscal Fast. The most challenging part for me was to keep Mark busy during the day without doing too much driving (since I don't want to run out of gas before the week is over). So we ended up mostly staying in the house, playing with the toys. He gets really bored with the same old toys, but fortunately he's easily entertained with even the simplest new ones. For example, today I took some of my business cards (for lack of a better option) and an empty shoebox, cut a slit the width of the card in the box top, and we played the "mailbox" game. Surprisingly, Mark really liked putting cards into the box (ok, so I had to help him a lot) and then taking the lid off and collecting the "mail". We also played some water games!

And we did go out - in the morning I took Mark to the lake for a walk and to feed the ducks. And in the evening Chris took Mark to the pool for a little while (we have pool passes, so no money exchanged hands today).

All in all, Mondays aren't our spending days. Ok, so if we could spend, we would've done it:

Chris said he would've spent $0.60 at a vending machine and
I would've definitely went to a coffee shop this morning for a much-needed pick-me-up - $1.75.

BTW, I found a couple of free events to keep us busy this weekend. So now I'm crossing my fingers that the weather holds.

Fiscal Fast - Day 0

Chris and I started our first Fiscal Fast today. It consists of spending no money, $0.00, for one full week. We got this idea after reading Jeff Yeager's "The Ultimate Cheapskate". The whole thing sounded challenging, yet not extreme. Besides, we would have to stick to the plan for only one week. We felt we were mentally and financially ready. Fresh after the house-selling scare, with a very limited income and a cash-flow resembling the Murray River in extreme drought, we wanted to feel more in control of our finances. Besides, as I mentioned in one of the earlier posts, I started calling our neighborhood Target store my second home.



Now, to briefly go over the rules:



1) No spending money for 7 days (yes, this includes a weekend)

2) No stockpiling of groceries, gas, iTunes, etc beforehand

3) Keeping track of what we would've spent if not for the Fast



We did have to make a couple of exceptions (blame them on Mark):



1) I am allowed to buy 1 carton of milk and 1 pint of berries or peaches at the Farmer's Market so that Mark has fresh food

2) We did top the car off on Sunday (usually we do it on Thursdays)

3) My business expenses are exempt from the Fast

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cute as a Button



Mark's got his first real haircut last week. He did pretty well at first, better than we expected - sat in my laps for a while letting the hairdresser cut his hair. But then the novelty wore off... Still, the results are pretty cute, don't you think? Also, we moved him into the forward-facing car seat which he enjoys a lot because he can now see us.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

More Crawling

The Father's Day this year got a bit screwed up because of the stupid flat tire. Yesterday, just as we were going on a grocery run for our little party (read below), Chris saw that we had a flat tire. So he replaced it with a donut and decided to take the car to the shop early Sunday morning. But on Sunday he found out that the donut got a flat as well! So he called AAA at 8:30am and they promised a tow-truck by 9:20am. Instead the truck showed up around 11am! So basically we couldn't do anything for the first half of the day. Well, actually, I ended up taking Mark to a brunch with Stephanie and Maeli. Then Mark decided to take a power nap that lasted over two hours - extraordinary! Long story short, by the time the car was fixed and Mark was awake, changed, fed, it was well past 3pm. The only thing we got to do was to go to Target (ughh, I feel like I live in that store now!) to buy a new car seat for Mark. Yep, the boy finally outgrew his little rear-facing seat.

Anyway, yesterday we had a little party for some of our friends - Sean and Stephanie and Bill and Georgia. We didn't make any definite plans and told them to stop by any time between 5 and 7 pm. And so they did - Sean and Steph at 5pm and just after they left, Bill and Georgia stopped by at 7pm. But it was cool anyway - we ended up having two very nice dinners. Chris made pizzas and I marinated some veggies and put them on scewers along with some home-made raviolies (yeah, I had to brag about this) and also made some artichoke crostinis and avocado sandwiches. Noone went home hungry, hehe.

Here's a video of Mark crawling around the house:


video

Thursday, June 12, 2008

CRAWLING!!!!

Mark is CRAWLING!!! Can you believe this? I still can not. He just turned 16 months on Monday. And he finally started crawling on his own and totally enjoying it TODAY!!! It's so funny because he usually starts of scooting on his behind, then switches to a crawl, and finishes with a bunny hop-style crawl. I have to get it on video.

This past month was just full of achievements for him. He's got some new teeth. How many I can't tell. There are 2 new in the front, on the bottom. And I think he's got at least one big molar, maybe even two. But we can't confirm because we can't see them and we're smart enough to know not to stick our fingers in his mouth to check the gums. He's been a champion eater too and finally got over the magic 20lbs mark. I think he's about 21lbs now.
He knows lots of body-parts and can point to them when asked - nose, eyes, ears, butt, wee-wee, arm, leg. He says a few words, all in Russian - cheese, booby, this, give, cookie (well, he tries hard with this one), papa, baba. He also started saying "moo" for a cow (when he sees a picture of one). He knows lots of objects and points to them if you ask him - lights, fans, cars, our cat, dogs, refrigerator, windows, flashlight, door, ball, stairs, etc. Most he knows in both Russian and English. He plays a lot of different games - loves throwing balls, doodling on a MagnetDoodle board, taking things in and out of containers, playing with stackers, pushing things across the room, doing gardening, digging sand in the sandbox, sliding down the slides (the bigger - the better, as long as Mommy is with him). A couple of days ago he learned how to put together one of the puzzles (a Melissa&Doug puzzle with geometric shapes).


He is a huge flirt - smiles, waves bye-bye, blows kisses. Even though he's still a Momma's boy, he is a lot more social and likes other babies. And most nights he gets to sleep through the entire night! Now we just have to work on his waking-up time - he always wakes up at 6am and that's too early for me.

Mark already feeds himself with spoon and fork, but when he gets tired and frustrated (which happens very quickly), he uses his hands. Anyway, his table manners are lacking and he always makes a HUGE mess.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

At the Outer Banks

What a great weekend! Oh, wait, it wasn't a weekend yet, but it sure felt like one! Chris finished his temp job on Tuesday and we decided to go to the Outer Banks for a couple of days before his new job with the State starts on Monday. Even before moving to Raleigh we wanted to go to the Outer Banks, but things would always get in the way. Plus summer-time is crazy there - rooms are very expensive, require a minimum stay and are hard to book. This was not exactly off-season either, but still, the hotels were cheaper and plus we were going during the week.


We left home on Wednesday morning and arrived at Kill Devil Hills about 4 hours later. After dropping things off at our cheapie-hippie motel we decided not to waste time on unpacking and such. Instead we drove to the town of Manteo to see the Roanoke Island aquarium. It's a small aquarium, but they had about everything we needed - lots of fish, naturally, big sharks, divers cleaning the salt water tank and an outdoor space with the great view of the Roanoke Sound and a whale bone garden.

After checking out the fishes, we drove a bit further north - no more than 2 miles - to the Elizabethan Gardens. The admission price seemed a bit steep at $8/person, but we paid it and went it. And we weren't disappointed. The gardens are on the site of the first English Colony in America, the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, right next to Fort Raleigh and the Lost Colony Theater. There is a beautiful rose garden, a great lawn, a terrace overlooking the Roanoke Sound, and a sunken garden with a fountain and statues of mythological figures. Overall, it's a great place to go hide from the afternoon heat, see beautiful flowers, enjoy fresh air, and relax.


After so much sight-seeing, we were very hungry. So we stopped at the Nags Head Pier for some fresh seafood. The setting was as good as it gets - a perfect view of the ocean and the fishermen on the pier, the sound of waves breaking on the sandy beach... But oh boy do you get to pay for the view and the sound and the ocean breeze! Even though the portions are on the smaller side, the food is fresh and local. Most everything is served with french fries and hush puppies. Mark made a HUGE mess out of his meal of fried fish! The fries and bits of fish were everywhere and what little apple sause did not make it on his T-shirt got smeared all over the table. Good thing we were the only diners on the terrace for most of the time.

Finally we made it back to the hotel and bathed Mark. The messy dinner left us feeling a bit upset, so we decided to do something relaxing yet fun before bed. And what can be more relaxing and fun than a round of mini-golf? So once again we drove down Virginia Dare Trail to the nearest putt-putt, which happened to be Galaxy Wars-themed. Even though it was not nearly as fancy as the mini-golfs in Daytona Beach, we had fun playing it. 18 holes later, Chris won - by 1 point! - and we headed back to our room.

The next morning it was time for me to go to my hang-gliding lesson. After a huge breakfast at Stack 'Em High (the place is actually much better than it sounds - big, bright, great food, fast service), we all drove to the Jockey Ridge State Park. There I had an hour of ground school instructions followed by a 2-hour dune flight session. How awesome was it? Well, first of all, even if you don't want to fly, the dunes are worth seeing - they are the tallest on the East Coast and are an amazing sight. Kite flying is excellent there because of the strong breezes. Chris and Mark joined me once I was on the dunes and ready to fly and Chris took some pictures (see my Gliding post).
After the gliding lesson we were ready to head home. But first we stopped by the Kitty Hawk Kites store to get some souveniers. We ended up buying a couple of small toys for Mark, some fudge for us, wine for Chris, and some lunch for all of us. And that was the end of our non-weekend weekend.

Gliders

Finally, after more than 2 years of planning, I got to fly a glider at the Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head, the Outer Banks. I took a beginner dunes lesson - an hour of ground instructions followed by 5 flights (instructor-supported) on a little Eaglet glider. The longest flight was probably 15 seconds and I flew no more than 100 yards at an altitude of 5-7 feet. It doesn't sound like much, but it was absolutely amazing! I'm ready to go for more lessons and maybe even a high-altitude tandem flight.


video