Striking An (Im)perfect Balance

I have a confession to make. I always read blogs and, until they post a photo of themselves, have a picture of the writers in my mind…always beautiful people with perfect lives living in perfect little houses with perfect friends that come over for barbecues at the pool all the time. I am not that blogger. I am not thin, perfect or model-beautiful. I am overweight. I do not have a perfect house, and it certainly isn’t always perfectly clean. Although I think my children are perfect, they are usually not fresh-pressed and sometimes not even very well-behaved. I don’t have a pool, and although we have friends, we don’t barbecue often because we all lead such busy lives it seems like we can never connect. I wish that perfect-version was my life, but it isn’t, and I really wonder if anyone actually has that life. If they do, I am jealous. 

Anyhow, in all of that whining, the point I am getting to is that I am overweight and always trying to change that.  In my ever-present quest to rid the excess weight, I have tried so many fads (hint: they don’t work!), and have come to realize that I just really have to adjust to healthier eating and a more active lifestyle. I need changes that I can continue permanently. Fads aren’t healthy, and definitely aren’t long-term healthy. 

On this journey, I have set mini goals for myself – my first goal period ends at the start of our Disney vacation. In the last few weeks, I have dropped 8 pounds, and am pretty pumped up about that! I now have about 24 weeks go to complete my first mini goal, and about 38 more pounds to lose. Is it doable? Yes! It breaks down to less than 2 pounds per week – so not only is it doable, it is a healthy goal. That is not my norm. Usually I want to lose 30 pounds in 2 months or something equally crazy…not healthy at all. 

So a few days ago, my mom starts to tell me about a new plan she heard on the radio…instantly I think “oh no…not another fad diet!”. But when she told me the details of this “plan” (which isn’t really a plan at all, rather a set of guidelines), I realized it is actually pretty healthy advice – stuff we’ve all heard before – but in a fun, sensible, easy-to-remember way. I am definitely going to put it into practice, and I thought I would share it with you, incase someone else out there struggles to count calories or figure out what they should eat when: 

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Daily Plan for Healthy Eating*

5 – cups of fruits and/or veggies (fresh or frozen is best)

4 – upbeat songs that make you want to dance

3 – meals with protein

2 – cups of water before each meal

1 – indulgence of up to 150 calories 

See what I mean? Easy to remember, and good solid advice. No fad diets here! 

*They also did note that you CAN eat carbs but to limit them to breakfast and lunch, none for dinner. Why? Because the evening is when you are already starting to feel run-down and tired, and adding carbs on top of that will make you even more lethargic. If you skip the carbs at dinner, you will not be as tired in the evenings…that means more energy to burn calories, right?!

Blessings,

Mariah

 

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The House of The Mouse

When we started planning our Disney trip, my husband and I both knew what we wanted it to be. We wanted to make it the trip of a lifetime for our kids – since it’s probably the last time we’ll all be able to go to Disney World together. We had only been 2 other times, once in 2002 when our oldest daughter was 5 and then again in 2010 when we were able to take our 3 youngest. In 2002 we stayed with family and drove from Lakeland, Florida to Orlando for 2 days out of our weeks’ vacation to take our daughter to Disney World. In 2010, we planned for the whole week at Disney, but stayed off-site to save money.                                                                                                                           

I think I’ve mentioned before that we use our tax refund to pay for our annual vacation. Typically we use only a portion of our refund (because of our family size we usually get a decent amount) and the rest goes to other things – but this year almost all of it was allotted to our trip, as even a basic Disney vacation is an expensive trip in itself. However – we still want to save wherever we possibly can, so that maybe we can afford some of the little things we wanted to do but that weren’t necessities like hotel, tickets, travel and food expenses. We told ourselves that if ALL we could do was afford to get there, go to the parks and eat every day – that was enough. But the more we save on those necessities, the more we have left for special things like flying instead of drive, attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and purchase the Candlelight Processional dinner package (so that we’re guaranteed a seat). 

This time we definitely knew we wanted to stay in a Disney resort – that was a must, and of course more expensive than staying off-site so it was also the reason we had to allot most of our refund towards our vacation. 

Our dream was also to fly instead of drive – although we normally love road trips, our youngest 3 have never been on an airplane, so that would make the trip that much more special for them. But flying a family of 6 is usually a budget-buster, even if you can find super-discounted fares. Luckily, we heard about a deal through Southwest that if you got a Southwest Visa, you’d earn 50,000 Southwest Rewards points if you met their qualifications*. The qualifications weren’t hard for us to meet, and once we’d done some quick calculations we realized we’d be able to get at least 3 round-trip tickets to Orlando out of those 50,000 points which cut our out-of-pocket expense for airfare in half! When Southwest opened up their December schedule, I booked and actually ended up being able to book 3 full round trip tickets with our points, and another one-way ticket also. So out-of-pocket we only had to purchase 2 round trip and 1 one-way ticket – even better! What we ended up spending on airfare ended up being only a small amount more than we would have spent driving – and the savings of time spent traveling vs. on vacation more than makes up for the cost! I was so excited that everything ended up working out this way for our travel. Another bonus to flying in with Disney is that you get to take part in their “Magical Express” free of charge – they not only pick you up at the airport, but also pick up your bags and transport them to your hotel room without you having to lift a finger! Definite bonus, and while the kids could not care less about that particular aspect, it really ups the magic content of our vacation for the grown-ups! 

So, so far we’ve not really ‘saved’ any money in the aspect of real dollars spent – but for basically the same amount of money we are able to fly instead of drive, not only increasing our vacation time and lessening our weariness from driving 16+ hours but also making this a milestone for our 3 youngest children by taking their first plane ride. For this mama, that equals a savings that can’t be measured in dollars! 

I’ll keep you updated with our plans as they come about – Disney has just released the hours for December, and we’re almost at the 180-day mark so that we can make any dining reservations we are planning – and I’m crossing my fingers that Disney releases a free dining offer in July – so hopefully there will most definitely be more plans coming together in the near future! 

Blessings,

Mariah

*The current qualifications for this offer are that you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months of activating your card. I want to stress that I would only recommend doing this if you can use that $2,000 to purchase/pay regular monthly expenses and then use your budgeted money for those expenses to pay the bill when it comes. If you can’t do that – then racking up $2,000 in debt to earn a couple of flights is NOT worth it!

An OCD Planner’s Dream…And Also Nightmare

Over the next year, our family has several ‘big’ things happening. Things that need to be well thought-out and planned in advance. This August, our daughter turns 16 and we’re planning a “Sweet 16” party for her. In November we have 2 non-milestone birthdays that we’ll need to plan parties for. December is our big all-out holiday trip to Disney World. And then next June we are planning a destination vow renewal in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.                          

For a somewhat OCD, planning-obsessed person like me, the next year is both exhilarating and terrifying. This may well be the most stressful, expensive year my husband and I have ever experienced. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Well, birthdays come around every year, and there was no getting around the 16th birthday this year whether we are ready for it or not. The Disney trip…well if we want to have one final Disney trip that includes our whole family, there isn’t really much putting it off since we only have a few years left before kids start sprouting wings and planning their own adventures. We took a vote last year, and everyone unanimously decided they wanted to go back to Disney again one more time before that happens.

Our vow renewal is the one thing that really puts everything in the ‘too much’ category. We planned to renew our vows on our 10th anniversary, but then we moved that year and changed jobs and it was a whole thing, so we pushed it to 15 years (which would have been last year). So we planned a trip to Hawaii…but then only my parents were able to go (we wanted it to be all of our parents). We thought about going ahead with it – after all we were going to be in Hawaii! What better place for us, it was our dream destination. But the more we thought about it…well…we really wanted our kids involved too – and we just couldn’t see spending what it would have cost to take them to Hawaii with us. The plane tickets alone would have cost us almost as much as we spent on our entire trip for the 2 of us. So we decided to push it back, but with my dad’s cancer diagnosis we didn’t want to push it back to our 20th anniversary. We want him there and with the kind of ‘life expectancy’ MCL has…we just knew it had to be sooner. So we decided – why not make it our 17th anniversary? 17 has always been ‘our’ number. Among many other smaller things – the 17th is the date I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, it was her due-date and ultimately her birth date also, it was the day we were married and it was the day our 3 youngest moved in with us. It’s our number…so what more perfect anniversary to renew our vows anyway? And now our renewal which originally included just 8 people (our parents, step-parents and ourselves) has grown to about 23 people to include our children, siblings and their children and a few of our absolute closest friends. 

I will probably be making lots of posts regarding party planning, vacation planning and vow renewal planning in the coming months. I hope to share some tips I learn along the way, some DIY projects and maybe – hopefully – some very budget friendly ideas since I will be trying to cut costs as much as I possibly can so I can fit everything we really want to do into all of our plans.

As of right now, my brain is consumed with different ideas about our 3 “big events” just bouncing back and forth, smacking into each other. I’m quite afraid at this point that I might end up inviting Disney Princesses to my daughters Sweet 16, reserving a beach house for our Disney trip and wearing a hot pink & zebra striped wedding dress to my vow renewal…

Stay tuned!

Blessings,
Mariah

December 28, 2009

Relax, Refresh and Renew

I sit here at my computer, thinking about my blog and realizing it was almost this exact same time last year that I thought starting a blog back up was a great idea. Now here it is…a year later…and I’ve made a seriously pathetic number of posts so far. I started this blog as a way to remind myself to be motivated, be creative, be inspired…maybe even to help keep my goals. I still want this blog to represent that…and everything about life that I love so much – God, family, home, writing, crafting – living my life to the fullest. Enjoying every moment and hoping that I make the people in my circle feel as blessed as they make me feel. There are reasons…or excuses…as to why I have neglected to post – we really have had a very busy and very productive (!) year. We went from a family of 3 to a family of 6 almost overnight. That all started about mid-year…right after we were licensed to be foster parents. We started on the fostering journey thinking eventually we might adopt a child, maybe even two that came into our care along the way. That all changed pretty suddenly when 3 little blessings came our way, and the only way I can describe how it all happened is that it was meant to be…pre-destined, pre-determined…God’s plan for our life. Everything that happend was simply too unbelievable, too coincidental to have happened by some happy accident. These 3 kids were meant to become a part of our family, from the very beginning…all roads have led us here. I know this. So…now our happy little family of 3 is a happier, larger (and of course, busier) family of 6. The 4 kids we always dreamed of but knew we could never have…well now we have them. Life is good, God is amazing. So now, here I am…seemingly back to where I started. Right after Christmas, vowing next Christmas I will be more prepared, ready ahead of time and have made most of our family gifts. That didn’t happen for this Christmas – but I am even more determined than ever to make that happen next Christmas. I realized this Christmas just how hectic it is and how fast it goes with 4 kids…so much faster than it went with just our daughter. I think I took for granted her first 11 Christmases, the calm, the time we were able to spend together just enjoying the season. Things sure went differently between work, therapy appointments, doctor appointments, shopping for more gifts than I’ve ever imagined buying for one occassion. And although next year we will also be busy, decidedly so, at Christmas…that is pushing me even more to vow that I will be 95% ready for Christmas by December 1st (5% reserved for baking which can’t really be done that far in advance, haha). The reason we need to be ready so early? Because over the week of Christmas, to celebrate the first Christmas after finalizing the adoptions, we will be on a family vacation to Disney World! I am so excited about that…and want everything to go smoothly. The first 5 days of vacation will be spent at the parks, and the last 2 relaxing and enjoying each other. We plan to drive to the coast and spend Christmas Eve watching the sun set over the Gulf. So you see…I really do need to be more organized, more productive and more prepared for 2010. I have set several goals and I am hoping that I can see most of them to fruition. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. For me, although hectic and crazy, and except for a few not-so-great moments, it was one of the most wonderful Christmases yet.

God Bless and have a happy and SAFE New Year!

Mariah

Disney Dreaming

Color me thrilled! This month, I scored a few Disney-themed items on Christmas clearance (mostly at Wal-mart and Walgreens), which I stashed away for our trip in December. Look what I found:
IMG_8498

I got the cookies, stickers and stockings all for about 50¢ each, the beanie Mickeys and Minnies for $1.50 each, and the little green and red balls are tree-shaped packages of gum I picked up for 25¢ each (not Disney themed, but they’ll love them!).

My plan, in trying to make this last Disney World trip extra memorable and special, is to have one small little item for each kid every day. Nothing big, nothing expensive – just a little treat to make them smile. I am not sure how I’m going to accomplish it, but I’d love to be able to have them waiting for them when they come home from the parks each day. Maybe I’ll just have to be the last one out the door every morning and try to secretly toss them on the counter…I really haven’t figured that part out yet! I thought about packaging them in little gift bags ahead of time and leaving them in our room with a note for “Mousekeeping” (I love that word!) to set them out? I am not sure if that would work. Anyway, I’ll figure it out!

Speaking of Mousekeeping…I am also thinking of leaving something special for them each day (in addition to tipping, not instead of!). Not something Disney themed necessarily because, well, they work there and that might be overkill. But maybe something along these lines (click pictures to go to the original site):

Cute little bags of M&Ms from Cricut Chick!

Hot Cocoa sets found on Kirtsy (made by Megan from Not Martha)

Apple Caramel gift set from Jo and Sue

Toasted Marshmallow Jelly Belly Tin from Sassy & Sweet Notes

Christmas Soaps with Printable Tags from Plum Adorable

My husband thinks I’m nuts but…it’s close to Christmas after all, and most of those things can be done up pretty inexpensively – and I just think if it was me working there and cleaning up after someone, I’d be completely excited about something like that – what do you think?

Blessings,
Mariah

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

3д illustration: Travel rest from work.Do you take family vacations? I know it’s not an option for every family. It wasn’t for my family growing up. My first real ‘vacation’ (i.e. not traveling to visit family) was at age 18, to Slovakia. It was a trip to visit an exchange student I had become close friends with during my freshman year – a graduation gift from my parents – and I was hooked from that moment on. The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of a place so different than I was used to…it’s a feeling I can’t even describe. My husband got to go on a few family vacations as a teen with extended family, and loved it also. So vacations are important to us – something we decided early on was a priority for our family. I know not everyone feels the same…but to each their own, right? To us, our vacations are a time we feel we can spend an entire week of quality time with our children and each other, while also giving them an experience and memories that will last a lifetime.    

How do we pay for our vacations? We certainly aren’t rolling in the dough, that’s for sure! We use our tax refund. As a family of 6 – with home improvements, car repairs, and kids who have hollow pits for stomachs, and are always wearing out shoes or the knees in their jeans – saving for a vacation out of our normal budget is not just difficult, it would be almost impossible. So earmarking our tax refund is a fairly painless way for us to fund our yearly trip.  Of course, every family is different with different priorities, and I know it is not feasible for everyone – and I certainly don’t want to discuss my finances too in-depth here, or debate the political side of taxes – but each year we get a tax refund, padded a bit due to tax credits for our 4 children. 

Disney

With this year’s refund, we are taking our kids to Disney World for the first week of December (Christmas at Disney – but without the high prices or crowds of later December)! We have taken them to Disney before, in 2010 during the same time of year with my husband’s sister, her husband and their 4 children. They were on the brink of separation, however, so while it was still a fun vacation and they certainly put on a happy face for their kids – the tension was palpable. We also stayed off-property for that trip, which allowed us as a group of 12 to stay together and save money. Oh, and the weather? Record lows, of course! They even had a freeze warning in effect while we were there. Thanks, Mother Nature! Whatever the circumstances though, Disney magic still worked its wonders. Our kids loved it – as did my husband and I – and decided then and there that we wanted to go back again (just our family this time).

We know realistically this is the last chance for us to go back to Disney World as a family (when we go the kids will be 10, 12, 13 and 16), so we are making it happen and want to make it the best trip yet. Mixed with that, however, is also having to still be budget-minded…because even if we are going at a discounted time of year – Disney is expensive. We want to stay on-property this year, which is even more expensive. Oh, and I think I mentioned before that we also have some major birthday celebrations to plan this year – so, my plan is to utilize every tool I can to save money while planning this vacation (and those birthdays)! Stick with me – I’ll be sharing the ups and downs of our planning here!

If you have any tips or tricks you’ve used to save while at Disney, or to save money to help pay for your vacation – let me know! I’d love to hear your advice!

Blessings,
Mariah