January and February shopping roundup

Man, it has been a while since I have done one of these.  I’m linking up with Franish and the budgeting bloggers to share a report of the clothing that I have purchased so far this year.

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In January I bought two new dresses to replace the two sweater dresses in my capsule. One had worn out and the other shrunk badly in the wash.  After sitting on them for a few days I realized that, while I liked both of them, I didn’t love either of the dresses that I bought.  So I returned a sleeveless gray dress and kept the blue one above.  Old Navy ran a promotion in the beginning of the year where if you bought two clearance items the third one was free.  Because L had gotten something, the dress that I kept wound up being free.  So, oddly enough $0 spent in Jan.  (I don’t count spending on L’s clothing toward my yearly total and the third January item was for him.)

The dress doesn’t sit quite as oddly on me as it looks on the model.  It’s a simple ponte flare dress.  I think that I might actually try to shorten the sleeves to just above my elbow so I can continue wearing the dress into the spring.

In February I bought a pair of white jeans and a trench coat for the spring. I’m happy with this Old Navy coat at the moment but I am going to think on it for a bit longer.   I really wanted to like the “white” jeans that I bought…but they unfortunately wound up not being white at all.  Imagine washing a pair of white jeans with the rest of your regular blue jeans.  Can you picture the color?  That’s the color they wound up being when they came in the mail.  Total spent: $42.

That leaves me with $558 for the rest of the year.  Spring clothing is hitting the stores and I have already seen lots that I really like!  I do think I will be buying a few things in March since i am switching into my Spring capsule wardrobe.  I would like to find a new dress for Easter – the one dress I have that would work is sleeveless and Easter is early enough this year that I’m positive it will be too cold for that.  I’m still on the hunt for white jeans to add to my Spring wardrobe.  Lastly, I think I may try to replace a boatneck tee that I have had forever with one from Everlane that Fran reviewed.  I know she didn’t love it but the weight of it appeals to me more than anything.

 

Public displays of faith

If we ran into each other on the street today you’d notice something very distinct about my appearance: I have a big black (or gray, depending on the spiritedness of the giver) smudge of ashes on my forehead. Theoretically they are supposed to look like a cross and I’m sporting them because it’s Ash Wednesday and I’m Catholic.

I remember looking at my calendar for February and realizing that today would be a work-at-home day and feeling very relieved. And then immediately terrible. But, still relieved. I live and work in the outer reaches of the Chicago area and while people here are often religious or grew up with religion it’s not something that is talked about often. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just an observation. And when I compare it to the almost anti-religious nature of most of New England I feel very grateful to live where I do.

If I’m making water cooler conversation at work and talking about my weekend I generally leave out the fact that I went to mass on Sunday morning. Not that the person I’m talking to would say anything either way. I have a lovely cross necklace that I nearly never wear into the office, and never on purpose. (It is dainty enough that I can forget I’m wearing it so it’s sometimes still around my neck on a Monday morning. But then again, the only time I have actually taken it off was when a client unexpectedly showed up at the office.)

You may have noticed, if you read here often, that faith and religion only occasionally comes into my posts. I think that if you’re someone who has met me as an adult that you would have the same read of my presence and our interactions. It isn’t that this part of my life is unimportant but I tend to keep it confined to certain people and parts of my day. Does that make sense?

Now I don’t wear religious garments on a daily basis and I have no idea what that experience is like. I would love to hear about it, but I’m not trying to equate one day per year to that experience. The fact that ashes are only worn once a year makes them even more apparent to people I come in contact with. I have seen startled eyes (and been offered face wipes multiple times!) when someone encounters me wearing them. On the other hand it is a sweet moment of solidarity when you find yourself surprised by someone else with a cross/smudge on his or her forehead.

Aside from today’s ashes and the occasional cross necklace there is only one other workplace indicator of my faith. I observe the Holy Triduum in the lead up to Easter, which means that I always request to be off on Good Friday and to have it noted that I’m not working on Thursday evening either. We have a complicated calendaring system so people in my department can see that I’m off for a religious observance as opposed to a dentist’s appointment or family vacation. Luckily I have never once been questioned or given a hard time about it.

I don’t have a clean way to close this post, but I would love to hear about your experiences with being public about your faith, regardless of whether or not you live in an area where that is a generally acceptable thing to do!

Day in the life : January 31 2015

I have done a “day in the life” post before but I picked a work day to document.    This time I thought I would capture a normal Saturday for us.  It was actually a lot of fun to jot down notes at random parts of my day, and now that I’m going back and editing this post I already notice a few small things I had forgotten about. Saturday January 31st was a pretty typical one for us. My husband is back in school which means that he spends Saturday and most of Sunday on schoolwork and I am left to entertain myself.

The only atypical things about this particular Saturday were the lovely weather (almost 40!) and the fact that the Super Bowl was the following day which meant I did all of the house chores in one day instead of two since we were headed out to a party on Sunday.

7:58 was the first time I saw on the clock. I finally got out of bed at 8:12 after much prodding from both the husband and the dog. Normally the dog likes to sleep in like me and I have no idea why he flipped sides this particular morning. I think he is annoyed at me because I said he was too chubby for treats right now. #winterpug

I’m currently reading a really interesting novel set in my MIL’s hometown.

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9:25: it is a lovely January day and I took the pup out for a walk around the neighborhood. I snapped this picture because it shows about how much snow was on each lawn (boot for reference :)). This is crazy for late-January in the upper midwest, but we were supposed to get hit with a big storm this evening.

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10:13 back from our walk and time for breakfast. Granola and blueberries isn’t the most filing option I could have chosen but since it was so late in the morning I didn’t want to ruin lunch.

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The next hour or so was a pretty random blur. I called my mom about a recipe, put away laundry and picked up around the house. There was some blog reading in here as well. I am starting to get the sneaking suspicion that Mr. Student is going to want to go out for lunch.

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11:41 I am adulting: tracking our spending for the month. I also have a grocery list going on the side. Still waiting for the student to say he wants a break. I’m ready with errands when he does!

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1:14 leaving the grocery store in search of some lunch. We are supposed to get almost a foot of snow overnight and people were going crazy!!  (ETA: there actually was quite a lot of snow and most schools and workplaces shut down on Monday.  In retrospect I understand the clamor a whole lot better.)

 

1:40: We decided to take a detour on our way home and stop at That Burger Joint for burgers and a game of chess. (I knew L was going to want to go out!) I lost the first one in four moves…and I very nearly won the second game but flaked out at the very end. Chess is not my strong suit.

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2:10: Netflix on my iPad because L decided he wanted to be in the same room as me but I couldn’t make noise :)

3:00: My mom called and asked if we would do a few things around their house and around town because she isn’t able to drive right now. So I ran over and helped her out and then stopped by Starbucks on my way back home.

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4:56: More Netflix.  I’m just now starting Parenthood because of all of the rave reviews it has gotten. Gilmore Girls is one of my top three favorite shows and so far Lauren Graham is just as great in this show. I’m going to watch another episode before contemplating dinner.

6:25: My mom called us (again) and asked that we come by tonight on account of the snowstorm that is supposed to hit. That way we will already be here for the game Sunday afternoon and we can help my dad shovel. I adore my parents and enjoy spending time with them. Finding this candy bar was an excellent bonus.  Double bonus: no need to contemplate dinner any longer!

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9:25:  We barely made it to the parents’ before the snow started and I have just gotten in from shoveling and changed into pajamas. More reading with the Chicago Blackhawks on in the background

And there is no picture to show here but at midnight on the dot I was the last one awake and watching the end of the Blackhawks game by myself.  The end.

Sunday Review

Sunday Lately with KatyNicole and Meghan

Happy Sunday!  I haven’t often posted on Sundays but I saw this link up on Meghan’s blog and thought that it sounded like fun.  Here are some quick tidbits about my week and what I have been up to lately.

Doing: creating our menu for the next few weeks.  Rather than plan weekly we create a meal plan around our big grocery shop, which is every 2-3 weeks.  I am over heavy winter foods; I think we’ll be eating a lot of fish, chicken and vegetables over the next few weeks.

Appreciating: my physical health.  No reason in particular, but I have been feeling very thankful for the wonderful life that I lead lately.  I think that spending more time in the gym has helped me realize what my body is capable of and I am appreciating that more and more.

Designing: my spring capsule wardrobe.  It has been a welcome change to pull out colorful pieces that I haven’t seen in quite a while.  One of my goals for 2015 was to continue with capsule wardrobes for the full year and I think that it is changing my views on clothing quite a bit.

Humming: my bike tires are humming along.  I have really picked up mileage over the last few weeks.  Now the wheels are turning (pun intended ;)) and I am debating a century ride this summer.

Expecting:  an icky commute into my office tomorrow.  Traffic has been really rough lately, even when the road conditions are fine.  There must be something rerouting people onto my commute because my Monday commuting time has almost doubled over the last few weeks.

How has your week been?

“Take Me To Church” is the worst

While “Take Me To Church” has been on the radio for a few months, Hozier’s name is now much more well known thanks to his fantastic Grammy performance with Annie Lenox.

“Take Me To Church” is a powerfully sung song with a strong message and an even more pointed video. Hozier doesn’t shy away from controversy with these lyrics; he directly challenges the Church’s teachings on sexuality. The music video goes after the anti-LGBT laws that Russia has enacted and the vigilante gangs that are brutalizing gay Russians.

Given how I have just described his most popular song, it is no surprise that Hozier is a polarizing figure. While I am not surprised that many people dismiss him after just one song, I really think that everyone should give him a second chance.  He is supremely talented and his sound is a mix of blues, pop and gospel that not many performers of our generation have attempted.

In addition to the Catholic Church, Hozier has taken on rape culture with “To Be Alone”.  Not every song is heavy; there are plenty of angst-fueled breakup songs and love songs on his album as well.  Whether or not you like Take Me To Church, his full album is worth a listen to see whether anything sparks your interest.

My favorite song is “Cherry Wine”, both for the music and the lyrics.  There is something uniquely Irish about being able to make a very sad song sound lovely, and “Cherry Wine” is one of those hauntingly beautiful songs.  Against a tranquil, melodious background Hozier softly sings about being abused in a relationship.  Sure, other men have sung about abusive relationships in the past (Pearl Jam’s “Betterman” comes to mind) but I can’t think of another song where the (male) singer is suffering at the hands of a female partner.  It’s beautiful and unique and what tipped me over the edge to full-on fandom with Hozier.

So, go give him a listen.  Or don’t.  But whatever you do, don’t make up your mind on Hozier based solely off of “Take Me To Church”.

Married Budget: How We Track Expenses

In a word: imperfectly.

It has been a long (long) time since I posted something about our budgeting and how we manage our money as a couple. I don’t think I have mentioned it on the blog yet, but for the month of February I am attempting to track our expenses daily. I am doing this for no real reason in particular; I was curious to see how tedious it was and whether I noticed any patterns by tracking on a daily basis.  It got me thinking about how a general overview of tracking expenses may be of help or interest to anyone else out there.

Mint.com is a really popular spending tracker. We don’t use it because we were both a bit nervous about putting that much data online, even though Mint is supposedly very secure. So we stick to good ole’ Excel.  Lots of banks also create spending reports based on your credit and debit card usage, but that isn’t particularly helpful to us because we use several different cards for different types of spending.

Each month gets its own spreadsheet with several different columns for different categories of spending. On a day-to-day tracking basis I get pretty specific about spending categories. For example, restaurants and traveling food are separate columns, even though they’re essentially the same kind of spending. Car payment, car insurance, gas, parking and misc. auto (washes, oil changes, etc) each get separate categories as well. And then at the end of the month I combine the columns into a more general report – one with far fewer categories: rent, savings, car, travel, groceries, etc. I like having the specific tracking in case one column is unusually high in a given month (such as restaurants in February because of all of the birthdays). The more general reports tell us how we are spending on a month-to-month basis.

I save time and mental energy by not trying to sub-categorize receipts. For example, we generally shop for groceries at a big box store. If we happen to buy a bottle of shampoo or hand lotion I’m not going to put that $7 or whatever into the personal care category; I’ll leave it in grocery spending. If we’re having a big party and buy lots of alcohol at the big box store then I may separate out the spending, but it just isn’t worth it to us for everyday expenses. Same thing goes for car washes. If they’re bought from a station where the receipt just adds the price to the gas total I’m going to leave it in gas. Staying out of the minutae of budgeting might drive some people nuts, but for us it’s what keeps our tracking simple enough for us to do consistently. If it were more complex I would be afraid that we’d abandon it entirely.

Right now I have two more posts planned in this series: how we set spending limits per category and a more detailed analysis of our grocery spending in particular. If there is anything else you’re interested in seeing, let me know! I’m a total finances geek and I really enjoy discussing this stuff.

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up over the weekend because this book has gotten lots of buzz lately and I was curious whether it would live up to the hype.

You need to know one thing before beginning this book: the author is eccentric and self-identifies as such.  If you can get past the fact that some things that she says are really out there (to most people) I think you’ll enjoy the book a lot more.

I expected to enjoy the lessons in this book quite a bit, but not so much the actual reading of it.  I tend to shy away from books that fall into the “self-help” category because I find the writing style to often be tedious.  I have to say that, until the summary pages at the end, this book was very easy to get though.  The end got a little bit preachy and over the top but I suppose that’s to be expected.

This book got quite a bit of buzz in the minimalist blogger circle and even generated some mainstream buzz at the start of the new year.  The basic premise of the book is as follows: the ideal way to keep your home and life clutter-free is to only keep those things that you love, and find a proper place to store them in your home.

You can see how it appeals to minimalists, can’t you?  As an American I freely admit that we surround ourselves with and generally become comfortable with quite a bit of clutter.  I’m not just talking stuffed closets, but also kitchen gadgets, home decor, tools, books, makeup, etc.  I think the American Dream tacitly supports this.  Think about it: self-reliance can be stretched into meaning the need to have everything you could possibly need (who borrows anything from neighbors anymore?).  That’s not to mention the fact that single-family home ownership is seen as the ultimate trophy of being a successful American.

That’s a total tangent, but my point is that most of us probably have a lot of clutter around our homes.  And our schedules, if you think about it.  But that’s not something that Marie Kondo’s book goes into at all.

For the act of decluttering itself, this book is full of helpful-but-not-extreme tips.  Kondo’s opinion is that you should endeavor to clear the clutter out of your house in one go because that will insure that your house never gets cluttered again.  I think there is a lot of validity in that train of thought.  Cleaning house is also a more positive experience when you focus on keeping what you love, rather than focusing on what you don’t like and should therefore give away.

I’m much more of a meticulous organizer than a true minimalist and I agree with Marie Kondo about several of her points: storage solutions almost always mean that you have too much stuff, everything should have a specific spot in your home, and that rooms do feel fresher and lighter when they are less cluttered.  I disagreed with some of her ideas though: emptying out a purse or a tote at the end of each day seems like wasted energy if you’re using it the next day and I can’t imagine keeping my shampoo and shower gel anywhere besides the shower.

It was in the organization section that more of Marie Kondo’s eccentric ideas came out.  For example, she suggests letting your things rest and breathe, as if they have actual spirits that need refreshing.  That’s not for me.  And instead of being thankful to God or another deity for the blessings of her possessions, she chooses to funnel her thanks into the possessions themselves: she thanks her apartment, clothing and shoes for all of the work that they do for her.

In sum, I think The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up can be a fantastic quick read for anyone looking for the motivation to get cleaning their space.  If you go in prepared to find some of the suggestions pretty bizarre I think that you’ll be able to gloss over those and enjoy the book as a whole.  If you have read it, I’m curious to know what you think!