Tuesday, November 29, 2011

15 Easy Ways to $ave Money

I do pretty much all of my shopping at Target these days. Ever since they got groceries I decided not to go anywhere else. HEB and Wal Mart are really the only places with better food prices, but HEB is too far and I'm still holding a slight vendetta against WM for running so many small businesses out of town, so I try not to shop there. Also, the Eternal Threads motto from a t-shirt I bought a while back always rings in my head when I walk in: "Lower prices does not equal better living. Say no to sweatshops".

That saying is very true, but the heart of it is the second sentence- say no to sweatshops. There isn't anything WRONG with saving money, and we all want to do it. The question is... how?

After looking at the bottom of my Target receipt last night and noticing I had saved $48.56 on my trip (total for all my groceries, clothes, toiletries and household items ended up being $159.61), I said to myself, "Self, you're onto something". So I decided to start writing down some easy ways I've found to save us some money. Nothing I'm going to suggest is impractical, impossible, or even really that difficult, and it's the combination of all of the following that is allowing me to be a stay-at-home mom while living on one teacher's salary.

Without further ado, I give you 15 Easy Ways to Save $Money$ (in no particular order)

1. Don't live off toll roads. This is probably one of the more difficult ones because the prospect of moving is not a joy to most of us. Consider this though: last year alone, Brandon and I spent roughly $2,000 on tolltag costs alone. Here's the basic math: $1 each toll, one there, one back, for two cars= $4 a day. Within 10 days our Tolltag would have used up it's $40 and we'd be recharged. So, every two weeks we spent $40 on a Tolltag if the only driving on the toll roads we did was to work and back. This isn't even taking into consideration shopping trips, going to church, on dates, out to eat, etc. Some months have five weeks, so basically every two months we spent $200 every two months. Sure, we didn't use it nearly as much in the summer, so for two months we were down one expense, but it was not at all worth it. Even without those two months of Tolltag costs, we're talking $200 every two months for 10 months out of the year. That's a totally unnecessary $2,000 that you could spend on something else. In every city in America highways outnumber toll roads. Live off a highway, not a tollway.

2. Live close to your job. Along the same lines as the previous suggestion, but really a simple solution to most money problems. Gas prices in Houston are around $3.10 right now, give or take about 10 cents. That's astronomical. I got excited for paying $2.99 last night, and that's ridiculous. I shouldn't be happy about that. However, driving 40 minutes to work and another 40 back each day meant that for 10 months out of the year I was filling up with gas every five days. Sometimes sooner. Gas was easily costing $50 each time I filled up, sometimes breaking my heart and costing me $60. There are 304 days total from August to May, so for those 10 months, filling up every five days, even with a guesstimation on the low end, $50, and not including any trips we took on weekends or Thanksgiving, Christmas or spring holidays, my gas expenditure was roughly $3,040. Oh yeah, double that, because we were living in Houston and Brandon was doing the exact same thing. So we're talking over $6,000 in gas in 10 months. There is no reason for that. None whatsoever.

*In August, we moved to Rosenberg. Brandon drives 5 minutes to work. When I go to Needville it takes me less than 15. We use our tolltag when we go on trips. So far the past four months we have spent $40 on a tolltag and each fill up with gas every other week. This is one of the main reasons why I can afford to stay home.

3. Pay off the balance of your credit cards each month. We do have two credit cards, but one account stays open just to help our credit score, and the other is for emergencies. The emergency card gets paid off each month, if necessary, and the balance is never more than $200. Credit cards charge an absurd amount of interest, and it took me a while to learn this fact. A couple of years ago I had an Amazon card because I do a lot of shopping online and thought it would be the best way to earn rewards. I tell you this: NO REWARD is worth the 13.1% interest that my account was charged each month. 13.1% interest is like owing the company an extra $13.10 on your $100 bill just for the privilege of having a credit card with their name on it. No thank you! Watch for the interest rates on your credit cards, use them in emergencies only, and pay them off. It'll keep you out of debt and prevent you from paying ridiculous fees for no reason.

4. Save as you go. I'm a big believer in this little system offered by Wells Fargo. Bank of America has something similar, and others may do too, but I'm not sure about them. WF offers "Save As You Go", which automatically transfers $1 from your checking into your savings account each time you write a check or use your debit card. The idea behind it is that so many Americans think they can't afford to save, so by having it happen automatically, the more you spend, the more you save. This saves us money in the long run mainly because we too were Americans who thought we couldn't afford to save. However, by saving as we go, our savings is quickly building itself, allowing us to dig into savings for emergencies or unexpected payments before we would have to go to a high interest credit card. Also, about half due to this program, we had enough in our savings to buy the van that we're in. Cash. No car payments. #EPICWIN

5. Budget. It's simple, boring, and no one wants to do it. Until, that is, you're in a bind, sitting at the kitchen table with your jaw on the table, looking at bills you can't pay and saying, "Der.... where did all da money go?" Some people go way hardcore into their budgeting. I know Dave Ramsey advocates having cash in envelopes and once the cash is gone, your budget for that item is gone too. Personally, I'm not big into that. I hate charging/debiting something less than $4, but I have no problem spending cash on it. I'd use my cash food budget on Sonic Happy Hour and Starbucks. Budgeting doesn't have to be complicated. Figure out what you make each month, when the money comes in, what money has to go out and when it has to be paid. It's not that difficult! Brandon gets paid on the 15th and 30th of each month. There are about half of the bills that have to get paid with the 15th money and the other half from the 30th money. Just don't be a blind fool about where your money goes! If you set up the simplest of spreadsheets you can not be in a bind when it comes time to pay your bills.

6. Target Debit Card. This is new to me, but I can't express my love for it enough. As I previously mentioned, I shop at Target for everything. They know me there. The recognize Brooklyn. I know a couple of the cashiers by name. They were always trying to get me to sign up for the Target Red Card. No, I would say, I don't want another credit card. Then last month a cashier tells me, "You know we have a new Target Debit card too. There's no fees, no interest. It takes it directly out of your bank account and you still get 5% off. There's no catch. Really it's just a reward card". After doing some research I found out he wasn't kidding! So now I automatically get 5% off every time I shop. No strings attached. Just extra money in my pocket.

7. Basket, not buggy. It's a straightforward idea, yet one we don't think much of. If you have more space, you will try to fill it. This is why you never seem to have enough closets whether you live in a one bedroom apartment or a Tudor mansion. When there is more area, we think we need to fill it in. Same idea when we go shopping. If you have 6-10 items on your list, don't get a cart. You'll end up overflowing it. Grab a basket. Get what you need and guess what? No more room- you're done. This way you spend exactly what you planned on spending and nothing else. For moms, I recommend taking your child in his/her stroller to ensure smaller shopping trips. Whatever you can fit in the basket below the seat, you can buy. Once that's full, you're finished shopping. And here's a freebie tip: load the stroller back up when you get home and voila! Your own personal shopping cart you can roll into your home :)

8. Coupons. I'm no extreme couponer, though yesterday while shopping for donations from our church, Aja, Wendi and I were asked multiple times if that's what we were doing with our buying in  bulk and our six full shopping carts. I do use coupons when its applicable. Note: applicable doesn't mean available. DO NOT use coupons just because you have them. Do you REALLY need 4 packs of 9 Volt batteries just because they're 50 cents off? Probably not. But last night I used an $8 off a purchase of $80 coupon. WHAT UP. Since everything I buy comes from one place, it's easy to spend $80 on things I need and routinely use. I have paid a total of about $12 in shipping costs to Shutterfly.com when ordering cards and pictures. Never paid a penny for my actual products because I never buy from them unless I have a coupon.

9. Shop sales and clearance racks. See how easy these tips are becoming? It's nothing you didn't already know, but I'm just breaking it down for you because I don't have a job so I've got the time to do it. Become a person of a simple principle: I will not buy a shirt unless it costs me $10 or less. I've got A LOT of cute clothes that were bought under this thought umbrella. $8.25 for this sweater? Why, I do believe I will. $4 for this pink t-shirt? Don't mind if I do! $2.70 for my favorite pair of sparkly gold hoop earrings that I wear multiple times a week? You shouldn't have! I've become kind of a fashionista since Brooklyn was born. I'm fatter. And I know it. I didn't lose all the baby weight and now it's starting to shift, like I'm becoming this anamorphic blob. I care about what I look like. Not enough to work out and get rid of it because I know I'll have another kid and I don't care THAT much, but enough that I want to be cute. So cheap clothes, jewelry and hair pieces it is. I accessorize and match to items I've already got and I do it cheap. I dress up and feel pretty. And despite that I weigh about 55 pounds more than I did when I graduated high school, I feel prettier now than I did then. **Side note to all my former students who are reading this: I wish I could go back to high school and realize how hot I was and not complained about my looks. You're gorgeous!

10. Don't focus on name brands. I owned one Abercrombie and Fitch shirt in my lifetime. It was a gift from my boyfriend. And it didn't really fit right and was really thin and cheap. Yippee- brand name. Who cares? I've got my pajama jeans on right now. And I wear my moccasins more than any other pair of shoes I own. And I used to buy all my shirts from Goodwill. No brand names there. Forget brands. Find what fits and what's cheap. NO ONE REALLY CARES WHAT YOU WEAR! You need to just be yourself and be comfortable. And I find that I'm most comfortable in things that didn't cost much! Also, think about foods. With a few exceptions (most notably Pop Tarts and Cheerios), the cheaper store brand food item tastes the same or better. Why pay a dollar more for a brand if it doesn't taste any better? It's broken logic that we've all bought into.

11. Accept hand me downs. Many of these tips just spin off each other, but this one is directed at baby clothes. Kids grow out of clothes SO FAST that it's almost pointless to buy them. Why don't we let them all run around naked? We'd REALLY be saving money then! Moms are terrible. We want our kids to be the cutest kids on the block. We want them to have adorable little shoes even though they can't walk yet, bows in their hair even though they won't stay on their heads, and jackets even though we live in Houston where it's always to hot to wear a coat. I'm guilty of it too. I've tried to live simply, but I've bought Brooklyn some shoes, socks, pajamas and the occasional cute outfit. But for the most part, I've let her wear whatever other people give her because it saves me money. And you know what? People love to give clothes as baby gifts. And people who are finished having kids love to hand their stuff over to friends who are just starting a family. Garage sales have baby clothes often still with tags on them, and just last week Aunt Lanette gave us a big bag of 2T and 3T girls clothes that had been left at one of their rent houses after the family was evicted. Good thing 2 and 3 year olds don't know how to tease each other yet, because I'm pretty sure "Apple Bottom" jeans are an African American brand. Not exactly FUBU, but close. Oh well. They're cute. And little white Brooklyn is going to wear them. Plus, there's more to hand me downs than just clothing items. Not a single furniture item in our living room was purchased by us. Recliners? One used to be my dad's, the other Brandon's grandmothers. Our end tables were the ones in my parents living room while I grew up, The entertainment center was mine since 4th grade. The speakers my dad found in the trash and fixed up to work. TV stand was bought as a house warming present. The couch was my sister's when she was in college. I guess we bought the Christmas tree, but that's besides the point. The point is that I'm very comfortable in my place. It works for me and I love that it cost me nothing.

12. Don't idly walk around the mall. This is the one piece of my own advice that I break all the time. I love to shop just to look. But Brandon hates it, because he knows the secret: it's never just to look. Even if it's just a $5 item, I always buy something. Try to limit your trips to the mall just to get out of the house. You think it's a cheap day of entertainment for you and the kid, but it usually ends up costing more than you expected. With that said, I do plan to become a mall walker after the holiday season is up. I need to exercise despite how much I hate it, and I hate outside even more. I always walk or run somewhere and then I'm tired, but it's not like I can teleport back home, so I have to walk or run back to where I came from. It's annoying and I'm in a bad mood and hate everything by the time I get back home. As Alice says, "I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it".

13. Shop throughout the year. Find deals and buy them. Think about Christmas WAY ahead of time. This serves multiple purposes: 1)You can walk "idly" around the mall and actually have a reason for it. Sure you can do Christmas shopping for your brother in July. Why not? 2)There ARE sales year round. You do not have to wait 'til Black Friday and wait in forever long lines or Cyber Monday and stress out about how much you spend in one day to get good deals. 3)If you've been budgeting like I suggested, you may feel a tug on your bank account in November and December. This leads to more credit card charges because you forgot to plan for all those Christmas gifts. Keep a small amount each month in your budget for gift giving and then you won't feel that wallet aching.

14. Make gifts! Everyone loves a homemade gift. And if they don't, then they're a jerk and don't deserve to be given a store bought gift either. Win-win. It can be as easy as buying a $1 cup, writing their name on it and filling it with candy. Or get a clearance picture frame and decorate it with buttons and bottle caps (currently my favorite gift. Some of you may see them in the near future). I've also been experimenting by making headbands and bows for Brooklyn and her little girl friends. Heck of a lot cheaper than buying a finished product and a lot more fun.

15. Make the cards. Or maybe you feel like you aren't crafty enough to make a gift. That's cool. Refer above to other options (shop sales, shop throughout the year, etc.) But everyone can make a card. It's as easy as folding a piece of paper in half and writing something on it. Use stamps (often 50 cents at Michaels) or stickers (shop the 99 cent aisles at Target and Hobby Lobby) or markers (you should own these already, I'm not going to tell you how much they cost) to create colorful designs for any occasion. I have not bought one birthday card since Brandon and I got married. At $3 a pop and with nearly 15 people in our families alone, that's a significant amount of savings. I'm even in the process of making some of this years Christmas cards from pieces that I cut out of old Christmas cards people have sent me over the years. Fun, cheap, and surprisingly not time consuming.

Be patient and understand your priorities. Last, but certainly not least... in fact, this is without a doubt the most important way to save money. Don't live beyond your means. Make priorities and stick to them. We wanted a child before we wanted a house. We live in a 931 square foot apartment and are perfectly content (still not enough closet space, but you know what that's like).  Be patient. The time will come when we can get a house, but it's not worth taking out a giant loan, paying a miniscule amount down and have through the roof monthly payments. So we wait, and we save. We know our priorities, and it's keeping us in the black. We're 25. We can't think "Man, our parents both have 4 bedroom, two story houses. I want that". Of course our parents have that. They're twice our age or more. "Our friends have nice new cars. I want a car like that!" So? We have a baby. They don't. Set goals, and don't think that you have to reach them by the time you're 30. People are living longer now than ever before, which means we have more time to reach our dreams and more time to be wise with our money. Don't let your money outlive you. Be patient, and understand your priorities.

"11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength"- Philippians 4:11-13

Hopefully this gives you some laughter, insight, strength and/or comfort in this crazy, wonderful time of year. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Talk About Variety...

It's so hard to answer the question "What kind of _____ do you like?"

Ok. If we're talking about food, then I could answer a lot of ways. I could say Mexican food. Or chocolate. Or Cheerios. You have to be more specific. What kind of food do you like when you go out to eat or on a special occasion... what kind of food do you eat way more than you should... what kind of food do you like for breakfast. Like that.

When it comes to media, I feel like a renaissance woman. "What kind of movies do you like?" I look at my movies and see classics, triologies, comedies, dramas, war films, westerns, Christmas, Disney, children's movies, Best Pictures, gangster films, chick flicks...I like a little bit of everything.

My iTunes is even more ridiculous. "What kind of music do you like?"
Well, here's an experiment. I'm going to put my iTunes on random and write down the 20 songs that play.

1)Memory from Broadway musical "Cats"
2)Cinderella Man by Eminem
3)Strip My Mind by Red Hot Chili Peppers
4)Because We Can by Fatboy Slim, from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack
5)Agree, what I called the following Morgan Freeman quote from the movie Seven:
"Ernest Hemingway once wrote 'The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part"
6)Believe it or Not by Alvin and the Chipmunks (yes, a Chipmunk version of the theme to "Greatest American Hero"
7)My Grown Up Christmas List by Amy Grant
8)Dream a Little Dream by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
9)Blink Him, what I called the following Tim Allen/Tom Hanks quote from Toy Story:
Buzz: "I've set my laser from stun to kill"
Woody: "Aw, great. If anyone attacks us we can blink him to death"
10) Break the Silence by Thousand Foot Krutch
11)Checks in the Mail by Weird Al Yankovic
12)Stripped Part 2 by Christina Aguilera
13)Me by Paula Cole
14)Bee Your Man by Relient K
15)Narcolepsy by Ben Folds Five
16)Sister by Creed
17)Love's Got a Hold On You by Alan Jackson
18)Theme from Schindler's List by Itzhak Perlman and John Williams
19)A Lot of Nothing II by Coheed and Cambria
20)On My Own by Familiar 48

That's just a sample.
From Broadway. Rap. Rock. Electronica. Movie quote. Chipmunk cover. Christmas. Jazz. Another movie quote. Christian rock. Comedy. Pop. Soft rock (stuff you hear on 103.7 in Dallas and 99.1 in Houston). Christian punk. Alternative piano (What DO you call Ben Folds anyway??). Alternative. Country. Classical. Silence (literally. "A Lot of Nothing II" is just about 6 seconds of silence). And another alternative to round out the top 20.

I dare you to find a more bizarre collection of songs on your random 20. Try it and comment. I'd like to see who can find some folk, hip hop and gospel all mixed together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cat Detectives

A few weeks ago there was another hoard of people tramping their way up the stairs to our murderous, drug dealing neighbors (all conjectures, by the way... we have zero proof, just a lot of fun conspiracy built up since August). Once it started sounding like they were practicing for the stomp team, we finally had enough.

Since we're total wimps, however, instead of knocking on the door and telling them to SHUT UP, we hired our cats as private eyes.

You heard me.

Rather, you read me.

Walk around an apartment complex and it's easy to spot those people who own cats. Their blinds are up at least 6 inches to prevent broken blades. Also, there's usually a cat sitting in the window watching everything that happens around them. Our cats are no different.

Brandon has this genius idea that since they're such voyeurs anyway, we may as well ask them what's going on. The following instruction actually happened:

Brandon: Ok Sasha, here's what we're gonna do. You know you're not allowed outside anymore, but we're going to make an exception. We're gonna let you go explore. Walk up the stairs and wait until someone comes outside. Then you're gonna sneak into the apartment and hide out. Listen to their conversations and if you're feeling really brave, walk around and try to see if you can find anything before they notice you and kick you out. Little Bit- you act as a lookout. Keep your eyes open for any dangerous criminals about to head Sasha's way.

Our neighbors are gone.

I'm not kidding. They moved.

I feel like pinning badges of honor onto our cats right now! Sure, it's just coincidence. Or is it? We're always saying animals are smarter than we give them credit for. Little Bit can open doors. Sasha does love Brandon a whole lot and pretty much does whatever he says. I think there's a legitimate chance that while I was out shopping one day, our cat detectives went to work.

The only downside to all of this is what they want in payment. I'm embarrassed to even admit it, but... I'm letting them sleep with us. For as long as they want. I feel we owe it to them. We're living in peace now, not in fear of our lives, our clean neighborhood going to waste or of a barkless dog (yeah, we finally figured out they probably had one of those. Beyond creepy).

On the other three sides of us we have a cop, a set of grandparents, and two more cops.

Tune in next week when the cat detectives travel to the corner to take on the potheads.

Name that driving cat! (Photo from windingroad.com)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Medical Update

Update on my most recent post:

Brandon's parents offered to help pay for my medicine. That was pretty awesome, though it meant I had to swallow my pride and accept it. So Friday night I headed to Target to get my expensive prescription filled. I tell the pharmacist I know it's not covered by insurance so I'll have to pay full price, but I need it filled anyway. She says okay, and to come back in 15 minutes.

So I shop. Which, by the way, is one of my favorite things to do now. Especially after not losing all the baby weight and really having little to no motivation to do so because I know I'll eventually have another one, I have become interested in fashion and making myself look cute because it's kind of a challenge. Thankfully, Target always has some CUTE clearance jewelry :) So I shop.

I go back to pick up the prescription.

Pharmacist: "Okay, your total is $58"
Me: "What???"
Pharmacist: "Is that... really expensive? Or really cheap...?"

I proceed to apologize, saying I should have started my sentence with "Yay!" and not "What???" because of the look of shock and fright on her face. I tell her briefly about the fight I've just had with the insurance, explain how I have NO idea what's going on, because the prescription was $15 more than usual, but not through the roof like I was expecting.

But I was not going to ask questions. Or complain. I'm just thankful :) No crazy Tracey! Hip hip hooray!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Healthcare Reformation

I'm not usually one to post political thoughts. Today I'll make an exception.

I have 1 refill left on my anxiety medication. My pharmacy won't fill it. Not unless I want to pay full price ($174.00) Why? Because my insurance has told them not to. Without warning me, they have decided I have to order it through the mail. Oh, and I need to make sure I have a 14 day supply on hand before I do so. Thanks for letting me know. I've got 2 days.

I call the insurance company. Order through the mail, they say, and it'll save me $60 in the long run every 3 months, which totals a savings of $240 a year. Sure- that's great news! Let's do that!

Hold it, they say. You need your doctor to call in a 90-day supply before you can get it. I can't get it one month at a time? No, 3 months at a time. Oh, okay. But you can go ahead and send me my one refill that I have remaining, right?



Let me ask that again. I have a prescription that a medical doctor has prescribed for me, and I have one remaining refill that will just disappear? I cannot ever get it filled? How is that possible? How is that fair?

This is my life. I am humble enough to admit that I don't function well if I'm not on my medicine. I just don't. I have fits of rage, I cry, I can't control my emotions. I freak out, I stress out, I don't sleep. And just taking 1/2 a little pill each day helps all those crazy chemicals stay balanced so I can run my life.

But you don't care, do you? Nope. You want me to buy into your 90-day prescription service. Wouldn't be that big a deal except...

Do you realize how difficult it is to get an appointment with a psychologist/psychiatrist??? There are so few of them that when I called to get a consultation two days ago, the receptionist told me the first opening was at the end of March 2012! How am I supposed to wait that long while literally tearing my hair out the entire time?

Luckily we found a loophole in the system which will allow me to see my regular doctor and the psychologist at the same time. Now I only have to wait ONE MONTH before discussing medication.

I'm so pissed right now. I have medicine that is owed to me, and our healthcare system won't let me have it. Not without a doctor providing a NEW prescription refill. Why isn't the old one good enough? Just because it's good for 30 days and not 90. I'm sorry, but that reasoning just isn't good enough for me.

I'm a big believer in medication. I may be one of the few, but I love seeing how God and science work together. I know you don't have to choose between medicine and prayer. But the choice was just made for me. I have no medicine. All I have is prayer.

So, with all my heart, I ask that you pray for me that I don't absolutely lose my mind over the next month. If I snap at you, I apologize. If I don't show up for parties, try to understand that I am feeling depressed and may just need to stay home. If I burst out crying for no reason, just hug me. Don't ask me what's wrong, because I won't be able to explain it.

Anyone out there still think our healthcare system doesn't need reformation???

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Honestly Want to Know How to Get to Sesame Street

Being that I'm a stay-at-home mom for the most part (I do venture out to Needville to dance occasionally), I've become engulfed in children's toys, clothes, and entertainment. And all I can say is there is a lot of trash out there. Cheap toys that break so you have to go buy a new one so your kid doesn't freak out, bibs with sayings like "Brat in Training" or "Daddy's Diva" that we can certainly do without, and a whole lot more on television than I am definitely interested in watching.

I've criticized people before for sheltering their kids... mainly by sending them to private schools or homeschooling them. Sue me, I'm a public school kid and public school is where my heart is.

I won't hate on them anymore. I get it. I may not shelter my kid that way, but I do control what she watches on TV. She, for example, will never know Barney the Dinosaur exists, if I have my way. Is he evil? No. Well, it's debatable. But annoying is an adjective all parents can agree on.

It's easy to only allow her to watch certain programming because guess what? We don't have cable in the budget. Netflix, which I have already praised in a previous blog, serves us just fine. As far as Brooklyn knows, Sesame Street comes on in the mornings while she eats breakfast, Blues Clues comes on in the evening just before dinner and SpongeBob or English Premier League soccer comes on Saturday mornings. Also, football must seem awfully important to her, because that's on a lot too.

Recently I've started putting in DVD's to watch with her. For those who haven't been to our apartment before, just know that we've got a wall of movies comparable to a small town Blockbuster. We're extremely proud of the fact that they are all categorized and alphabetized, unless it's a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa (greatest Japanese filmmaker EVER)- those are under the TV for easy access. Oh yes, and our Best Picture shelf that currently houses about half of the Oscar Winners from 1928-2010.

We've also got a huge Disney collection that we love because we both grew up on Disney movies. Brandon and I even spent our Honeymoon in Disneyworld. We're definitely Disney children at heart. My heart was broken when I learned in a film class in college how racist Walt was. Sign of the times, true, but still... I can't watch Dumbo or Jungle Book the same (In "Dumbo", while putting up the circus tent in the rain, faceless black men sing about blowing all their pay... the crows are super stereotypical...in "Jungle Book", King Louie, an orangutan who sounds an awful lot like Louis Armstrong sings to Mowgli about how he wants to be human... Hmm...) He was a great filmmaker. He has given joy to countless number of people all over the world. I can forgive his bad judgment and prejudiced views.

So I watched "Beauty and the Beast" with Brooklyn a couple of days ago because she always points to Belle when we see any Disney princesses. For some reason, Belle seems to be her favorite. She was actually really good and sat with me for a good chunk of the film. I was happy :) Many movie nights with popcorn and pajamas are in our future!

But as I watched, I was reminded of a Facebook status I posted about this time last year, the last time I watched B and B. The gist of my argument is this: The timing is all wrong! Supposedly the beast has been in his castle for 10 years before Belle gets there. The fairy/witch gave the prince the rose and said he had until his 21st birthday to learn how to really love. So if he was alone for 10 years and turned 21 when Belle was in his castle... it means he was 11 when the witch came to the castle door in the first place. Herein lies the twofold problem: 1)What was an 11 year old doing ruling a castle all by himself? Poor kid- where are his parents? Did the king and queen die in a horrible battle? and 2)For crying out loud, he's 11. Of course he's not going to let you in the house you old hag! His parents, God rest their souls, have told him not to talk to strangers. He would have already been in trouble for opening the door if his parents were alive to scold him for it. Certainly not worthy of being turned into a beast. Maybe ground him for a week, but geez. Harsh.

 There's a lot of things like that in Disney movies. Example?

Snow White:

"My evil mother wants to kill me! Whatever shall I do? ..... Oh look- deer and birds! Let's sing as we clean up a random forest cottage. Lalalalalala"

Um, hello? Did you forget about your plight? You almost died. Someone tried to murder you. And you have a fast enough turnaround to "whistle while you work"? You're crazy.

But I shouldn't pick on Disney. They're not the only ones who do ridiculous things like this. What's currently bothering me is this:

Sunny days
Sweeping the clouds away
On my way
To where the air is clean
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?
Come and play
Everything's a-okay
Friendly neighbors there
That's where we meet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?

They describe this wonderful place in the happiest show opening in the history of public broadcasting, and then tease us by asking how to get there AND NOT GIVING US THE ANSWER!

I've actually found myself watching the introduction to see if there are clues to where the real Sesame Street is located. It's in New York. Past the Brooklyn Bridge. Next we see the Bethesda Terrace and then the Empire State Building. But from there we just fly on to a park and then I've lost it. I have no knowledge of random city parks in New York.

It's just cruel. I honestly want to know how to get to Sesame Street.

Photo from beta.wosu.org

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Today I came home, sat Brooklyn down in her high chair, started her on her dinner, and updated my Facebook status: "I really miss teaching."

This is a true statement. I do. I have always thought teaching came naturally to me and now more than ever I am convinced of it. Whether or not I have a paid teaching job at an ISD, I am a teacher and I always will be. It's just in me. It is who I am.

When given free reign over "Two Time" at the A&M Church, my boss Sarah said, "It's just a little more structured than the nursery, but basically you play with them and give them snacks and that's it".

"That's it?" says I. No way. If I've got a captive audience of 10-15 two-year-olds for an hour while their parents are in church, I will teach! We learned how to put puzzles together. We learned about Dr. Seuss (they LOVED "The Cat in the Hat"). I taught them fun songs and games (many of which I learned at either Iron Springs Church Camp or Build-a-Bear) and we learned colors, numbers, letters, shapes and animals. I changed our bulletin board every 3 months to teach about the seasons. My favorite was always the Easter egg hunt in spring :)

There are a lot of reasons why I miss teaching. Partly it's because of Brandon's stories he comes home with. When the stories end with things like, "My sub for 8th period said they quit teaching full-time because of classes like mine", I don't envy him so much, but each time I'm up at Lamar to eat lunch with him, I just miss the feeling of having a classroom, having control, having minds to mold. When we go to football games all of his students yell out "Strother!" and try to high-five him as he walks by. I miss the love.

For the majority of this semester I have been at Needville once or twice a week after school rehearsing with the new show choir, Soundsation. I knew about half of the kids before I started doing choreography for them either from being their speech teacher, their debate teacher or both. I love working with Rodney, who was always one of my favorite teacher friends. Today I got to visit the middle school to work on Christmas choreography with 5th and 6th grade. To most people, this would be a nightmare. For me it was pure joy. Even with Brooklyn strapped onto my back in her carrier :) As some of you read on Facebook, I told the kids that if they spoke when they weren't supposed to, the baby would cry. And no child wants to make a baby cry = Successful day!

I started telling Brandon about everything that I got to do today- 5th grade, 6th grade, high school rehearsal by myself since Rodney was gone with Pre-Area All State stuff. It was great. And then I teared up because... I really miss teaching.

Then, like he always does, Brandon came in as the voice of reason:

You teach everyday. You teach Brooklyn everything she learns, everyday. And you do still teach, for an hour or so a day, two days a week, to kids in a school.

Don't be upset about what you can't do. Be thankful for all of the things you can.


Story of my life. And Brandon is always the one who has to repeat the moral.

It's not hard for me not to be a "glass-half-full" kind of person. For the most part my outlook on life is positive, though that wasn't always the case. A lot has changed since Brandon and I have been together. Sometimes though, the pessimism, anxiety and uncertainty still creep in, tainting my view of myself and the world around me.

For example, a week 1/2 ago I held an "Eternal Threads" gathering, which was a little party designed for my girl friends to come over and buy products from a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to get women and children out of the cycles of poverty they are in. I sent out an evite, announced it in Bible class, sent out email reminders and did all of that in plenty of time. Supposed to begin at 10 AM, at noon when no one had shown up, the doubts and negativity started.

"I guess no one likes me. Maybe I'm annoying. Am I rude? Am I mean? Do I smell bad?"

No, Brandon said. Just wait. People will come.

And they did. Some of my friends showed up later in the afternoon and bought stuff. Another friend came the next day. Others called or Facebooked me and asked me to hold things for them. Still, I couldn't help but feel that more people would have shown up and supported this very important cause if I were somehow a better person.

Nonsense, says my wise husband. Don't worry about all the people who didn't show up. Be thankful for Aja, Wendi, Brittnie and Cynthia. 

Dang. Why does he always have to be right?

It's true. I do miss teaching. But the good news is, I can go back, and there will still be kids who need me. Right now, it's my kid who needs me. Like I said tonight, "I want to be teaching everyday AND I want to be home with Brooklyn everyday".

And you can't always get what you want.
No, you can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You might find
You get what you need
-Rolling Stones

I've got a good life. I am content. I am thankful for each day I get to teach show choir moves at Needville. I have a blast singing and dancing in the choir room with all those kids. I am thankful for each moment I have to teach Brooklyn. Today she showed me she can put all five rings on the stacker in about 10 seconds. We also learned how to beat our chest and make gorilla noises today.

Not every mom has the opportunity to stay home with their child. I don't ever want to seem like I make light of this fact. I have the best job in the world and am so blessed to be able to not have to do anything else besides it.

So I'm going to try really hard not to say "I miss teaching" anymore, because I don't have to miss it. I do it everyday. And if I say I miss something, then I'm really just missing out on appreciating what I have.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tracey and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Fear of Heights

I am afraid of heights. Terrified is a better adjective for it, actually. I don't like sitting on people's shoulders. I don't like elevators that I can see out of. I don't like ladders. I was in a play in 10th grade and performed nearly all of my songs/lines on top of a scaffolding, shivering and quivering every step.

I violently fought my fellow choir members when they claimed they were forcing me on the "Scream" at Fiesta Texas. I literally bit and clawed my way out of so-called friends' arms out of fear for my life (Michael Crane, I haven't forgotten this!). I get sick just looking at roller coasters. This is no exaggeration. I drove by myself from College Station to Galveston one time and nearly died. Driving along I glance to my left and see the Astrodome. Oh, how nice, I say to myself. then I look to my right and there, all lit up, is Astroworld and all it's disgusting thrill ride madness. I almost lost control of the car and drove off the road I was so horrified.

I know where this fear comes from. I almost had fun the first time I was at Six Flags. I think I was 7 or 8, and we rode the Mine Train. Ok, maybe it was the mini-mine train. Regardless, I was nervous but enjoying it until I saw the Shockwave tracks right next to us. For those who have never been to Six Flags over Texas in Arlington, the Shockwave goes upside down. Cue the screaming, uncontrollable 2nd grader. No way was I going to do that. If I had the option of jumping out of my seat I think I would have.

I've tried to get over some of my heights problems. The summer before my senior year of high school I decided to show how stubborn I am by proving everyone wrong about my fears. I signed up for the church backpacking trek and climbed the 14,000 foot mountain by myself, no one carrying my pack for me, in tennis shoes and not hiking boots (Why was I going to buy boots that I would wear one week? Please. Waste of money) and was not even at the end of our group. On our 1 year anniversary of dating, Brandon and I went to Reunion Tower. Did I hyperventilate on the elevator up? Of course I did. But I lived. And I got to see a beautiful view of downtown Dallas from about 55 floors up. When on a spring break mission trip to Windsor, Connecticut we took a train to NYC for a night. Brandon, Jonathan Hawkins and I decided to use our short time traveling to the top of the Empire State Building. Yeah, that's over 80 stories tall. You can definitely feel the elevator shaking after about 40 floors or so. Luckily, we didn't have time to even contemplate how scary this would be because we got to shoot to the front of the line. Oh, the perks of hanging out with a guy in a wheelchair. Thanks, J Hawk!

The other night I had the only reoccurring dream I've ever had. Since elementary school I've had variations of this dream, but the end result is always the same. I'm at the mall on the 2nd or 3rd floor and all of a sudden the floor shifts. Instead of being a flat walkway, the floors start to rotate and lean at a sharp angle towards the ground below. I walk as close to the walls as I can, but to no avail. I slip and fall underneath the rails and fall to my death on the ground floor. I always wake up in a cold sweat after these dreams. I know they're impossible, but it doesn't stop me from actually hugging the walls when I go shopping at the mall. I will not look over the rails. Don't ask me to. I'll walk down the stairs and see what needs to be seen, but I'm not leaning over anything. I will fall and I will die. And these are facts in my head. The only good thing I can say about my reoccurring dream is that at least this time every time I stepped on a tile it lit up like in MJ's "Billie Jean" video, and at the end I walked into a store where Clive Owen apparently lived. Not a bad dream until, of course, I slipped through the rail and died.

My life seems to revolve around that fear. I want to know if there are stairs or an elevator I can go on instead of an escalator when we go to sporting events. I want to know how many windows there are in tall buildings. I need the details before I will agree to do anything up high.

And yet when I think about heights, it really isn't any of these things that comes to mind. When I think about heights I think about God and an immediately answered prayer.

When I went backpacking I was jealous of everyone else around me. On our summit day we hiked up and I heard comments like, "This is beautiful!" and "Wow, isn't God amazing!" and realized that everyone trekking with me was loving their surroundings. I hated them. Not only was I bothered by the bugs and the crappy food we had to eat, I didn't see any beauty around me. It was scary. All the others were enjoying the view and I was terrified. So halfway up the mountain I stopped. I looked around. And then I pleaded with God.

I closed my eyes and said, "God. I know you can do anything. All I want right now is for just this moment to not be afraid of heights. Just for today, please take away my fear. Please don't let me be afraid. I want to see nature as your beauty and not as something to be scared of."

I opened my eyes. My immediate next thought was, "Wow. This is awesome". All of a sudden I looked around and I didn't see a possibility of falling. I didn't see a death trap. I didn't see a eulogy. I saw God's beauty. Then I laughed. I laughed and rejoiced and sang the entire rest of the way up and down the mountain.

God answers prayers. We know that. But he answered this one IMMEDIATELY. I asked and He said, "Ok. I can do that." No problem. SO easy. And so inexplicable! One second I'm near tears wanting to just sit and wish myself back on solid ground and the next I'm running and jumping thousands of feet above sea level. Never since that day have I doubted the existence and goodness of God. Even when I don't understand it, I never doubt it.

That's what I think about when I get on an airplane. No, I don't particularly like take-offs. No, I certainly do not like turbulence. I don't have a thrill-seeking bone in my body and I definitely don't like that stomach-jumping feeling that gives others so much excitement. But when I get in the air I don't think about how painful it would be to fall to my death. I think, "Thanks God. Thanks for all of these beautiful things you made. Thanks for airplanes that give us the ability to have this view of your creation". And when I feel nervous, I sing "Lord, Be There" or "Be Strong and Courageous" and am comforted. And in fact, I actually love airplanes and would travel by them every vacation if I could.

Next summer Brandon's mom has planned for the entire family to go to Lake City, Colorado. It's a scary place to me. In the middle of the mountains. Close by all these frighteningly skinny jeep passes that Brandon and the other men in the family love. I, however, am convinced that he will die on one someday. I'm trying very hard to forget about my obsessive fear of heights and focus on the knowledge that I don't have to be afraid of heights because really, it's just tall nature. It's a challenge and a struggle, but I think I can do it. After all, my reoccurring dream isn't about dying in Colorado, it's about dying in a mall.

As long as I don't go to the mall in Denver I guess I'll be alright.

Friday, November 11, 2011

30 Reasons to Be Thankful

30 days has September, April, June and November.

I can't ever remember how many days in each month without repeating that line to myself. I do, however, no longer have to make L's with my hands to tell my left from right, which is nice.

November is the month of Thanksgiving, and everyone seems especially thankful this year. I like seeing all of the Facebook posts about what people appreciate in their lives. Too often we focus on the negative. We give in to our human nature to be pessimistic, believe people are out to get us or complain.

In our young marrieds class we have been challenged to keep track of how often we complain. It's embarrassing. Especially on a day of sports.

I don't think it coincidence that I stand at this intersection of complaining and thanksgiving. It's an obvious decision I have to make. I choose to be thankful. I've always had a problem talking about what I'm thankful for, or what I need or what I'm having problems with. Maybe it's because I'm stubborn. Maybe it's because I'm actually more private than I'd like to admit. Maybe it's the way I was brought up. I remember my first Thanksgiving with Brandon's family. Extended family including cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents were there. They suggested we go around the table and tell what we're thankful for. I was in shock. I couldn't say anything. I nearly had a panic attack wondering what on earth they were doing. All I ended up muttering when it got to me as "God knows what I'm thankful for".

That is still true. God does know what I'm thankful for. But I've learned that it's okay to let others know what I'm thankful for too.

I love my husband. I love my daughter. I'm thankful for my cats, which seems silly, but anyone who has pets knows how often we pray for them and how much we love them too! I'm thankful for my church and all of my friends who are stay at home moms. I've got everything I need in life- I'm thankful that Brandon has a job, that we have money, food, and clothes. I'm thankful for the cooler weather because I LOVE WHEN IT'S COLD! I'm thankful for Facebook because it lets me keep up with my friends. I love pajamas. I love Halloween. I'm thankful for Hallmark because of their Christmas ornaments. I'm glad that I'm creative and have the ability to make things for my friends and loved ones. I love my siblings. I love visiting family. I love road trips. I love Alabama. I'm thankful for the understanding that God and doctors work hand in hand and that you don't need to choose either medicine or prayer. I'm thankful that Brooklyn has 8 great grandparents still living. I'm thankful that I knew Mema so well- she lived until she was 94. I'm thankful that I got to go to North Carolina for Grant and Meredith's wedding. I'm grateful to all of the ladies at church who didn't know me but came to my baby shower anyway. I'm thankful that Brooklyn is sleeping so I can blog again. I'm thankful for all of the Soundsation kids at Needville who make me laugh and smile twice a week at rehearsal. I'm thankful for movies. I'm thankful for memories. I'm thankful for all of the toys I had growing up. I'm thankful that I grew up going to church. I'm thankful for my education. I'm thankful for Jesus. I'm thankful for friends that I miss like Chelsea and Lydia and Kerie and Jacqueline. I'm thankful that I married into a great family. I'm thankful that I have a 3rd family in the Newberrys.

I lost count, but I could go on and on. The point is that I'm thankful to have more than 30 reasons to be thankful and that this wasn't hard at all to write.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Now I KNOW They're Evil

The saga of the mysterious upstairs neighbors continues. I was just about ready to admit defeat and give in to the fact that they're just a normal couple with a son, nothing more.

Then the insane amount of visitors returned at all hours of the day and night. Then more hair appeared on our doorstep. Last night it sounded as if someone were bouncing a bass drum on the ground, causing our apartment to resonate with noise. And the cherry on top? Someone just came out of their apartment in a purple "Death Valley" shirt.

My heart was just broken last night by LSU. Now I'm not sad anymore. I'm pissed. And the truth, at long last, comes out. Now I KNOW they're evil.

Roll Tide. Then, now and forever.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mixed Feelings, AKA Simon Cowell is a tool.

I've never been one for reality shows. I watched the first season of "The Mole", largely because I was strangely attracted to host Anderson Cooper. I've never seen an episode of Survivor though they've had as many seasons as "The Land Before Time" had sequels. And I've always thought it was dangerous to enjoy a show that calls our pop stars "idols".

Despite all of this, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon the first night of mentoring at the judges' homes on The X-Factor. Aaaaaand I'm hooked. I had absolutely no desire to watch it when the Fox airwaves were inundated with advertisements leading up to the premiere, mainly because I think Simon Cowell is all that is wrong with the entertainment industry. And yet, there I was that night, wanting to be friends with the super sweet Nicole Sherzinger, enjoying making fun of Paula Abdul, and wowing at the resume of LA Reid. And now I'm totally invested in the show.


Drew is beyond amazing. She's my favorite by far because honestly she's the only one whose album I would actually buy. Melanie Amaro may be the most talented of them all, and Astro is a 14 year old kid who can rap like nobody's business.

Two nights ago they had their first live show that America got to vote for, and last night they narrowed it down to the bottom two vote getters and had them sing a "survival song" in order to stay in the competition. It came down to a group of 5 black guys called "StereoHoggz", who are like Boyz 2 Men meets The Temptations, and 10 kids called "Intensity", who are like listening to Radio Disney on steroids.

For their survival song, StereoHoggz sang a beautiful rendition of the BeeGees "Emotions". Gorgeous, perfect harmonies. Intensity Two people out of the ten in Intensity sang "My Life Would Suck Without U" by Kelly Clarkson. The other 8? They danced around. They jumped. They smiled. They threw their hands in the air. They screamed the chorus. All together. Same notes. No harmony. All melody. So boring. Not to mention the boy who actually attempted to sing one of the verses was an entire half step below his ending note and had to not-so-subtley slide up to it. It was painful to watch and hear. But I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the right group would be sent home.

Tuesday night, Simon called the StereoHoggz one of the best bands in the world (wow, go ahead and lay it on think there buddy). Last night, however, he voted to KEEP Intensity and kick off StereoHoggz... BASED ON LAST NIGHT'S PERFORMANCE, he said. Whaaaaaa?  Luckily, the other three judges made the right decision and the tweeny boppers were sent packing.

As the show ended, it hit me. I know why Simon voted to keep the kids. He said it repeatedly throughout the past episodes: they're like a new, younger Glee. It's all marketing. ALL marketing. He's a producer. He's Hollywood. He is the music industry. And what does the music industry care about? Certainly not TALENT, like they claim. It's about who and what can sell. All of these shows- American Idol, America's Got Talent, The X-Factor... they all say they're trying to find the next new thing. Someone with talent that they can show to the country. Someone whose dreams they can make come true. Fine. But what a double standard. It was 100% clear last night that there was a group of guys who weren't as energetic but doubly or triply talented vs. a massive show choir of OK talent who could sell big to a specific market. Simon voted for the ones he thought he could make more money off of- not the ones who were the most talented. He HIMSELF admitted the other group was one of the best in the world. So either he's a liar, a hypocrit or a total tool jerkwad. Or all of the above.

It really made me angry. I had once told Brandon I wanted to try out for one of those shows when they came to Houston, just for the fun of it and to say I'd done it. Then yesterday, despite just having a conversation about how much fun I'm having choreographing the Needville show choir moves and singing and dancing with them, I told him singing for me is not like baseball if for him, like I once thought. See- if Brandon were offered to play for a major league baseball team, he would. If I were offered a record contract, I wouldn't take it. They'd want to change me too much. Color my hair, cut it, give me extensions, whatever. Make me lose weight. Make me sing things I didn't want to sing. Make me be sexy and exploit me. Make me record "That Thing You Do" in Spanish!

As fun as these shows are to watch, I have to remind myself that these "dreams" these people think they are fulfilling are not going to make them nearly as happy as they think. I wish the best for them all, but my heart aches a bit knowing that the producers behind it all don't necessarily have the artist's best interests in mind. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

I also wish I had the strength to stop watching the show because of the hypocrisy. I might. Ridiculous lengths of stubborn boycotts do run in my family: my dad didn't go to a single baseball game from 1994 to 2007 after the players went on strike for more money.

I guess the good news is it IS a show where America gets to vote. So my advice: vote for the talent, not who can sell. That's not what music is supposed to be about. (in other words, Lakoda Rayne, you're getting the boot next!)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Concerning Netflix

There's a small hole in my heart where my daily dose of the Dick Van Dyke show used to be. Every month, Netflix rotates what they offer, adding new movies and TV shows and removing ones that have been available for long periods of time. Being a fervent list-maker, I check periodically at my queue to see what will be soon departing and make note of it. Dick Van Dyke was removed from Netflix on November 1st, and I successfully watched every episode, viewing the last one on October 30th. No more guessing if Rob will fall over the ottoman or sidestep it. No more flashbacks into army life. No more one-liners and jokes about finding a husband. No more beautiful, graceful Laura to model my life after.

I'm not bitter. Lots of people are upset about the frequent changing of titles on Netflix. Others are omplaining about them doubling their prices. This would be a big deal if it were expensive in the first place, but seriously folks, c'mon. If you want to get DVD's in the mail as well as streaming movies it now costs you $16/month. That's less than the price of one dinner for two. Do you realize how many movies and TV shows you can watch in a month? Just based on watching Sesame Street everyday it's like paying 50 cents an episode. Compared to what we paid when we had Dish Network, and I feel like a thief.

Such a silly thing to be upset about. I have over 215 items in my queue waiting to be watched. You won't hear me complaining about paying $8/month for streaming films. And though I'll miss Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, I'm enjoying being entertained by John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. Long live Monty Python's Flying Circus!