Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stopping The Madness

After a painful look at everything yesterday, we have decided NOT to sell our house and look for another one.  There were several factors in it--first and foremost my in-laws.  I'm thankful of them for this, because they are people that The Editor listens to.  All along, I've been trying to explain to her that I was worried about being able to do everything financially.  We've got an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World that is going to cost around $20,000 (yes, you read that right).  We just spent a veritable fortune on not one but TWO brand new Mazda CX-9s.  And now she's wanting to spend a God-awful amount on a new house.

I can't do it all.

True, I like change.  Change is good.  But when we're talking a quarter of a million dollars in change, well, that's asking a bit much.  And, yes, between the two cars, the trip, and the new house, that's what we were looking at spending in one year.  

Holy.  Moly.

So, after I've been saying for a couple weeks that I was seriously doubtful we could have the money to do it all, her parents stepped in and started asking all the same questions I was asking:
  • What happens if one of you loses your job?  Not uncommon in this day and age.
  • What happens if your house doesn't pass inspection?
  • How are you going to pay for your children's trip to Disney World, buy a house, and pay on the cars?
  • How much is it going to cost to get the new house ready for you to move in?
  • What if your house doesn't sell?
True, we need to move.  We live in a teeny tiny house.  Six people and three dogs are CLOSE in a 900 square foot house.  We also have a lot of crap in our house.  I mean, do you know how much stuff six people can acquire?  And the CLOTHES!  Dear lord, the clothes.  We have to do laundry every day.

Every.

Single.

Day.

I know it's not going to change when we do get to move.  But I do feel like, if we moved, our house wouldn't look so cluttered.

I know the children really need their own spaces.  I get that.  But at the same time, I can't justify committing financial suicide just to get a bigger house.

So.  Finally.  I--with the help of my in-laws--stopped the madness.

And I feel so much better about it all.

Now I can get back to concentrating on losing my weight (I haven't lost anything, but I also haven't gained anything, either), paying off the trip, saving for the trip, and getting the kids Harry Potter scarves done.

Because that's what counts right now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Real Estate Stress

Since my last post last week (sorry about that, I've been under a bit of stress lately and am having issues with figuring out exactly how to put it into words), we've had a bit of an adventure in house hunting.

For starters, the house that we really wanted got yanked off the market--yet the real estate agent's For Sale sign and all their information on it still sat in the front yard.  Why?  Because they were trying to drum up business.  They figured they could get people to call them, they'd get some clients, and when that house went back on the market (turns out, it went back on five days later, the day after we found another house that we absolutely love), they'd have a client base they could pull from and get the ball rolling again.

I wasn't happy.

So we found another house.

And I'm about to reach through the phone and choke that real estate agent.

Honestly, people, how hard is it to DO YOUR FREAKING JOB?  Do you seriously have to stand in the way of progress every step of the way?  Is it us?  Is it the house?  Why are you doing your dead-level best to prevent us from even putting a bid in on the house?

These were all questions I had until I finally basically forced our agent to call the broker for the other agent and get the information we needed to finally submit our offer.  We'd filled out all the paperwork, written the earnest money check, all that other crap that we have to do, and we couldn't get the other agent to just simply send us the Disclosure paperwork.  She "wasn't going to be in the office until much later."  She "put it online," yet, no, she hadn't.  She "just didn't have time to do it right now."  She asked that our agent text her (which she did), and then we were ignored.  Finally, after four days of this BS, I told our agent that if she didn't call the other agent's broker, I would.  She did, and we got it five minutes later.

Praise Jesus.

We've signed everything and turned it in, and now we're in a waiting game to see if they'll accept the offer.  Unfortunately, I'm betting that this agent will once again drag her feet and do everything she can to prevent the sale from going through.  If so, you'll be reading about it here.

And I'm about ready to tell y'all her name, so you can avoid her like the plague.  

I may do so anyway.

And the closing date we're shooting for?  Yeah, I didn't set that.  Our agent did.  It's next month.  Dear. God. This gives us about a week to get our house ready to sell so we can get it on the market.  It needs a paint job, stuff that we haven't used in a while needs packed so we can show off the size of our house, and it needs a good deep cleaning from top to bottom.  Six people (four of them children) and three dogs can be murder on the cleanliness of a house.

So, I'm stressed.  I never want to do this again.  Ever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Putting One Step In Front of the Other

OK, so we've now gotten the pre-approval for the home loan that I was discussing yesterday.  Praise GOD!

Now we are waiting for the mortgage loan officer dude (I have absolutely no idea what the guy's actual title is) to e-mail the approval letter to the real estate agent so she can get the offer paperwork done and submitted.

I swear, I am aging ten years during this process.

I really, really want this house.  I'm not in love with the house, don't get me wrong.  But it's absolutely the perfect house for us.

First off, it's five bedrooms.  This will mean that each of my children can get their own bedroom (well, kinda), as well as keep one open as a guest bedroom.

Yes, I can see that question spinning in your head--we have four children, why wouldn't they each get their own bedroom period?  Because those bedrooms are upstairs.  There are two bathrooms upstairs.  One is off a bedroom by itself, and the other is a shared bathroom between two bedrooms.  I don't particularly want to force one of my children to go through the bedroom of another to get to the bathroom.  This will complicate matters when they are pissed off with each other.

And since the three that will share two bedrooms are boys, getting pissed off is a regular occurrence.

Besides, the fourth bedroom has a door to an outside deck, and I don't particularly relish one of my children having that kind of access.  This is why this door will get a bolt lock, as well as being in the alarm system.  I'm no idiot.

Also upstairs is a common room larger than the living room we currently have.  My children are overjoyed at the very idea that they would have their own television upstairs, as well as a couch and some bean bag chairs.  I laugh at this possibility, because they'll have to learn how to get along and watch something that they all agree on.

My children have never been able to do this.

In fact, they rarely agree on anything.  And with mornings like this morning?  It spiraled out of control very quickly.

It all started with the death of a goldfish. 

We're not talking about a beloved goldfish or anything.  We're talking about those $.23 jobs from PetsMart.  Or PetSmart.  Whatever it is.  Doesn't matter.

Anyway, a goldfish die, as they are prone to do.  I regularly replace these guys, as they tend to last about two weeks in our house.  There's a reason why they're called "feeder goldfish."  You use them to feed larger ones.  So, it doesn't surprise me that they don't last too terribly long.

But my daughter, however...

So, this goldfish dies, and she goes into hysterics.  She's five.  Leave her alone.  It's her favorite goldfish.  She's named it Rapunzel.  This is my fault, as I should never have allowed her to name a goldfish.  I take full responsibility for that.  But I digress...

So, we have this funeral at sea thing, and it's now time for breakfast.  Because she's still snivelling, I allow her to pick whichever spoon she wants to use.  This, again, is my fault.  She picks the wrong spoon.  She picks the Mickey Mouse spoon her younger brother always uses.  

To make a very, very long story much shorter, here are the highlights:
  • Youngest son gets pissed, grabs a spoon and chucks it at his sister.  He misses, striking the next to oldest child.  This starts another chain reaction that I'll get to in a minute.
  • Youngest son gets even more pissed (because he missed), and bites his sister.
  • Sister screams bloody murder, then bites him back.  He starts screaming and runs to Mommy, who doesn't know what the heck is going on, and proceeds to punish my daughter, completely ignoring my protestations.  Yes, I understand biting is wrong.  Yes, I understand that she's five and he's three.  Doesn't matter.  He started it.  Well, she did.  Well, I did.
  • Next to oldest blames oldest for the chucked spoon hitting him, and he starts yelling at oldest, as well as flicking cereal at him.
  • Oldest gets pissed, and lunges across the table at his brother.
  • The two older boys end up getting into a Taekwondo throw-down, which ends in a tie after I have, um, dealt with the matter.
  • Two older boys bawled the rest of the morning.
  • Two younger children bawled the rest of the morning.
  • I felt like bawling the rest of the morning.
So I came to work.

Just putting one step in front of the other...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Waiting for a Sign

My wife and I have lived in our home for roughly 11 years now.  Now that we have four children, WE WANT OUT.

It's a nice home, don't get me wrong.  It's three bedrooms, and roughly 1000 sq ft.  It was built by a hippie in the late 60s (read:  he was either high or drunk at the time), and we've sunk a LOT of money into this home to get it renovated where it's actually pretty nice inside.  There's still probably about three thousand dollars worth of work that still needs to be done to it, but that's OK.  None of it is critical.

But it's only 1000 sq ft.  And WE WANT OUT OF IT.  Six people and three dogs is a little much for this house.  We are living on top of each other.

So, about a year ago, we decided that we really needed to start thinking about moving.

Well, on Sunday, we found the PERFECT house for us.  Five bedrooms--so each of the Cub Reporters would get their own room--three bathrooms, massive MASSIVE house that I know we don't have the furniture to fill...  It's absolutely perfect for us.

It's also a bank-owned home.  Some poor family couldn't keep up with the payments, and they were foreclosed on.  I do pray for them.

Anyway, this house is a fixer-upper, but it's in the right neighborhood, with the right schools, etc. etc. etc.  And it is MASSIVE.

We want to buy this house.  Really, really bad.

Unfortunately, we can't make an offer on it until we get pre-approved for the loan.  I know we WILL be pre-approved for it, as it's not much more than our annual salary.  And, typically, a home loan is easy to get when it's that close to your annual salary.

The only problem is we can't get the guy who is "working on" our pre-approval to actually work on it.  

The house has been sitting empty for two months (there's a reason for this--it needs about $10K worth of work done to it), and no one has put any bids on it.  Why?  Well, the house market is crap right now.  Truth be told, I'm worried about us selling our house.  But that's not the problem right now.

I *need* to get this pre-approval so the bank will know we are serious about this house.  It's like a gift from God Himself.

Yet this guy will not crunch the numbers to get us this pre-approval. 

He told me it would take him about an hour to get it done.

He's had all our information for 24 hours now.

I'm a nervous wreck.

I need a drink.

I need a sign.  "Sold" would be perfect, if it means that we're the ones buying it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

American Gothic Horror

This past Saturday, we had an appointment to have our family portrait taken by the people who are doing the church's "annual" pictorial directory.

I say "annual," because I have no idea what the actual word is that means "we do this horrible thing once every six years."  

Sure, doing a pictorial directory for the church is a great idea.  In theory.  And I'm sure all those families out there who only have a couple of perfect children have absolutely no problems getting them all dolled up and smiles pasted on their plastic faces have absolutely no issues with doing family portraits like this.

And then there's us.

Do you remember the movie The Klumps?  Or maybe it was in The Nutty Professor.  But I believe it was The Klumps where this happened.

The scene started out with the family all lined up and walking across the parking lot.  It was evening.  There was a light behind them, so all we could see of them was their outlines.  Descending--slowly--on an all-you-can-eat restaurant.  The dad says "Klumps, party of six, please."  And then the mother says "Yes, and we're hungry."

Except she doesn't say it "hungry."  She draws it out.  "Yes, and we're huuuunnnngggrrrrraaaaayyy."

And the horrified look on the poor staff's faces are classic.

This is the same kind of look I saw cross the poor photographer's face as we walked in to take our family portrait.  Me, The Editor, and the four Cub Reporters--ages 11, 9, 5, and 3.  And the five year old and the three year old were...ahem..."excitable."  You see, we had just come off a very busy morning.  We worked out at the YMCA, then ran home, scrubbed the sweat off our bodies, got the children dressed, got ourselves dressed, got the youngest two children dressed again, put the dogs in their cages, got the youngest two children's shoes on again, found everyone's jackets, found the umbrella (because, you know, it just had to rain), put the youngest two children's jackets on again, and headed out the door only to find that it had stopped raining.

Until we got to the church wherein my children decided to descend upon the place like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

For the next twenty minutes, we made this poor photographer's life a living, breathing Hell.  I'm sure he thought we were some of the worst parents in the world, based on our youngest two children's behaviors.  And for that, I truly apologize, Mr. Photographer.  You were wonderful.  My children were banshees.  They were dealt with when we got home, believe me.  That smile you coaxed out of them?  Yeah, it was gone real quick.

Frankly, I'm hoping that they can airbrush out The Editor's and my sweaty brows and make them look fresh and dry.  Maybe take a little of the red out of my face as the Cubs got my blood to really pumping.

But I am grateful to you, Mr. Photographer.  You actually accomplished something I thought would be impossible:  all four of my children were looking at you and smiling when you snapped that picture twenty minutes after we started.

For a ten-minute session.

That's a big reason why we spent more money than I had anticipated us spending.  To reward you for all your hard work.  

I do hope you get hazard pay.  And if you don't, well...  I apologize again.

And, no, I don't expect to see you again in six years...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Soup's On!

Since I'm on this huge recipe kick, and since I watched the Soup Nazi Seinfeld episode not too long ago, and since I'm also seriously excited about our upcoming trip to Disney World (even though it's not until December), and since it's Friday, I thought I'd give y'all a series of some of my favorite soup recipes from Walt Disney World.

Lightened up a bit, because, dear LORD, they like to use some heavy stuff.  I'll note what they use out beside my ingredient substitutions.  And, yes, my family enjoys these every bit as much as the Disney versions.  Also, I have absolutely no idea what the calorie count is on these, but I can guarantee you it's less than the originals...

Butternut Squash Soup (from Boma, the restaurant in Animal Kingdom Lodge)
Ingredients:
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (3 oz unsalted butter)
11 ounces Butternut Squash, cut into chunks (you can find this already cubed at your local grocery)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
2 cups skim milk (1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk)
1/2 tsp Splenda (1oz sugar, adjust if needed)
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 ounces fat-free/skim shredded cheddar cheese (3 oz American Cheese)


Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.  In a small baking dish, mix the squash and the extra virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, then roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a blender (or a food processor, if your processor is leak-proof), blend up the squash with the 1 cup water.  Pour into a large soup pot, and add the milk, Splenda, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and coriander.
  3. Make a slurry with the cornstarch by taking a tablespoon of COLD water in a measuring cup, adding the cornstarch, and mixing it well.  Add to the soup to thicken (which it will do when it heats up).
  4. Add the cheese to the soup, and continue mixing until smooth.
  5. Adjust seasoning to your tastes.

Ginger Pumpkin Soup (from Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort)
Ingredients:
1 tsp minced shallot
1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cans plain pumpkin (2- to 3-pound pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and diced into 3/4-inch pieces as well as 1 1/4 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree)
(1/2 cup brandy - I skip this entirely)
4 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tbsp white wine (I skip this)
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp fat free cream cheese (mascarpone cheese)

Directions:
  1. Sweat shallots in oil until translucent in the bottom of a large soup pot.  Add the pumpkin and the broth, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Finely mince ginger and set it aside.
  3. Thirty minutes before serving, add the ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg to reach the desired flavor.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with a dollop of cheese on top.
Note:  If you add the ginger too early OR you add powdered ginger, it can make this soup pretty spicy if you're not careful.  With the powdered ginger, the soup gets a more peppery flavor the longer it cooks.  So BE CAREFUL.


Big Bowl Chicken Soup (from Pop Century Resort--this makes 12-14 servings, so please adjust for smaller batches!  This is an Asian take on chicken soup)
Ingredients:
2 lbs cooked, deboned, shredded chicken
3 lbs cooked yolk-free egg noodles (udon noodles)
1lb bok choy (Bias Cut)
8 oz canned sliced mushrooms, rinsed and drained (slicked mushrooms--I have no idea what those are, so I'm leaving it as is.  I'm hoping they're SLICED mushrooms...)
6 oz bamboo shoots
10 oz chicken broth, hot
1 oz minced fresh ginger
1 oz minced fresh garlic
1 cup water (10 oz)
1 oz extra virgin olive oil (canola oil)
(2 oz rice wine)
1 oz soy sauce
1/2 oz sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste (3 tbsp house seasoning)

Directions:
  1. Heat wok to 175 degrees and add oil.
  2. Saute garlic and ginger.
  3. Add chicken, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.
  4. Add veggies, soy sauce, wine (if you're using it), chicken broth, and water.
  5. When water is at a boil, add noodles and bok choy.
  6. When the noodles are tender, turn off wok.
  7. Finish by adding some sliced green onions, if you'd like.
  8. Enjoy!

Tomato Bisque (from Sunshine Seasons in The Land in EPCOT)
Ingredients:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (butter)
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 cans diced tomatoes (I use fire-roasted, but the recipe doesn't call for anything specific)
1 tbsp Splenda (sugar)
1 tsp dried basil OR 1 tbsp fresh basil
1/4 cup chicken broth
8 cups water
corn starch (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup skim milk (heavy cream)

Directions:
  1. In a large soup pot, drizzle oil and saute onions.
  2. Add the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, and basil and onions into a blender, and blend until smooth.  Pour everything back into the soup pot.  (This is not exactly how they tell you to do it, as they expect you to have a hand-held blender that you can use in your soup pot.  I don't have one, so....)
  3. Add chicken broth and water.
  4. If it's too thin, make a slurry of the corn starch with a little water, then add to the soup to thicken it up.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the milk, then serve when it's at the perfect temperature for you.

Strawberry Soup (from 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian)
Ingredients:
2 lbs, 8 ounces frozen strawberries in their own juice, thawed
16 oz skim milk (heavy cream)
2 oz sour cream (I use fat-free)
3 oz strawberry yogurt (plain yogurt)
8 oz fresh strawberries

Directions:
  1. Mix first four ingredients in a blender until smooth.
  2. Chill; shake well before serving.
  3. Add the fresh strawberries as a garnish.
Note:  If I'm just making this into a quick snack for me, the Editor, or the Cubs, I cut way back on this and make it in our Bullet.  If I'm making this for everyone, I'll do it all in the blender, though.


Well, that's it for today, folks!  I hope you enjoy making these soups as much as I do.  They are wonderful, as everything from Disney is.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I WANT CHOCOLATE!

Probably the hardest thing about this lifestyle change I've made is the cutting out of chocolate.  I can deal with no sugar, no cookies, some diet cake (I'll tell you about that in a minute), no ice cream, all that kind of stuff.

But when it comes to chocolate, it's a different story.

I'm not talking Russel Stover chocolate--which, I know, a LOT of people love.  I'm talking Hershey's.  M&Ms.  Ghirardelli.  Lindt.  Dove.  Doesn't matter if it's milk or white or dark or semisweet.  

I.

LOVE.

CHOCOLATE.

And I can't have any.

And it's just about to kill me.

I know, I know, you're probably saying "but you CAN have some--you just have to make sure you don't eat but just a little bit."

And therein lies the rub.  I can't stop once I start.  I can't eat just one or two M&Ms.  I have to eat the whole bag.  Not the little snack bag.  The large size bag.

And now I hear that there's good news on the chocolate front--that a little dark chocolate every day improves your life, science has proved.  To those scientist, I just say "WELL DUH!"  I've known this for a very, very long time.  They just want us to cut way way way back on it and only eat like a half an ounce.

Which is like trying to eat one M&M or one chocolate chip.

It's not possible.

So, I broke down and found a pretty good recipe that helps me out.  Kinda.  And it's something that stores easily, too!

3-2-1 Cake
Ingredients:
1 box Angel Food cake (I use Duncan Hines)
1 box any flavor regular cake mix (again, I use Duncan Hines)
2 tbsp water
fruit slices/fat-free or sugar-free or both Whipped Cream/whatever floats your boat for toppings

Directions:
  1. In a one-gallon-sized food storage container (Rubbermaid, Tupperware, Ziplock bag, whatever), mix the two cake mixes thoroughly.
  2. In a microwave-safe coffee mug, drop in three tablespoons of the cake mix, two tablespoons of water, mix it up well, and microwave it for one minute.  Let it rest for a couple minutes to cool off a bit, because you don't want to burn the snot out of your mouth.
  3. Top with your favorite topping(s).
Store the remaining cake mix in a cool, dry place for up to three months.  You can get about 48 small mug cakes out of this recipe, since the mix itself is about six cups.

The basic cake prior to you adding toppings has 80 calories, 1.3g of fat (0.2 g saturated, 0.5 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 1.2 g protein, 15.8g carbs, 0.2g fiber, and 114 mg sodium.

And you can eat it out of the mug with your spoon.  

My favorite is mixing devil's food with the angel food.

For obvious reasons.
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