Saturday, February 26, 2011

Preparing for a Trip

When planning a vacation there are so many things to think about! I mean the trip itself is so exciting and we have to plan on what to take and what not to forget, but at the same time we have to think about our home and our animals.

First I had to get a responsible person to take care of my animals!

We got Savannah! She is our neighbor and she is great with our animals and super responsible!

I knew that she would take great care of Nikki, Rebel, and Patches!

You also have to think of certain items in your house that you may not want to return home to. So here is my list:
  1. Make sure all trash cans are emptied outside.
  2. All dirty dishes are loaded and washed in the washing machine.
  3. All left overs emptied out of the refrigerator.
  4. Litter Box emptied and refilled with new kitty litter.
  5. Plentiful cat food ready for animal sitter.
  6. Plentiful dog food ready for the animal sitter.
  7. Feed fish.

Now that we have taken care of the important things at home it is important to make sure you have everything to take on the road for the trip.

  1. Tickets for events on trip.
  2. Gift Cards
  3. Reservation information.
  4. Map/Route information.
  5. Emergency Contact information.
  6. Suit cases with clothes, swim suits, lap top, game systems and LOTS OF FUN!
Now you can sit back, travel on, and ENJOY A GREAT VACATION!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

12 Paws and 3 Tails

I haven't really touched on my awesome animals!  Yep - 12 paws and 3 tails that is what we have running around our house!  They are sometimes crazy, they've torn up some things, and ruined my carpet (ugh!) but I LOVE THEM!

This is Nikki. Otherwise known in our house as the "fat mammas". Ok so she is a big shih tzu and a little hefty but her she got her nickname because she is kind of hefty and she is a mamma to every little critter we have had. The poor thing has had to put up with countless kids and was pretty much pulled and drug everywhere when the kids were toddlers which has now made her well....temperamental. I find myself now having to put her up when little kids come over (after she nipped after my friends toddler - no blood but a little mark after he accidentally stepped on her tail). But I sure do love this dog!
She has made me upset at times for growling and like I said she nipped at my friend's little boy and I thought I was going to die! But this dog, she loves me and I love her. Nikki and I have been together for almost 8 years now and we have been through countless military deployments, and she has moved many times and thousands of miles. She has always adapted and still been a loyal friend and a protective companion.

This is Rebel or otherwise known in our house as "bubby shwubby". He was our solution when I started to get the itch to have more babies about 5 years ago.  I was sending my baby off to kindergarten, I was only 28 years old and many people my age were just now starting to have babies. But..... my mom and Michael got talking and they new I wanted another puppy so we agreed that I would move on from having another baby and settle for this cutie pie (and I got a new washing machine lol!).
Rebel is very curious about everything! He is always getting into some sort of trouble and we can totally thank him for ruining my carpets even though he is 100% potty trained. I think he does it on purpose when we don't do something he likes. But I can't help it, he is one of the loves of our lives and he is sweet and stupid but the most loving of all of our animals.
Bubby is the perfect medicine to a bad day! How can you resist that face?
Patches is the newest member of our family. We have had her about a year and a half and she is the funniest cat I have ever had. As you can tell she loves to sit in our sinks. She curls up and sleeps there. Sometimes she wants my sink and sometimes Michael's. She also loves to lay in our bathtub too! She is vocal and playful! She loves playing with straws and drinks water out of the faucet (as a matter of fact she almost refuses to drink water any other way).

As you can tell these 12 paws and 3 tails mean so much to our family! I know that these awesome animals love us and I can't imagine not having them with us everyday! After a stressful day I love petting and loving on our pets!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TAX Time and Tips

So I am going to start off by saying I am not a CPA, nor do I want to be so always double check with your accountant or the IRS don't just take my word for it!

Ok, now that my little disclaimer is out of the way, let me tell you how much I dread tax season!

I have always done our taxes until the last year.  With it being a good problem to have we had entered into a more complex situation and decided it was in our best interest to have an accountant do our taxes starting last year. It was the best decision we ever made! (well at least one of them).

I had been working the numbers and at best I had us still owing about $1000.00 by the time he got done with our numbers and asked us lots of questions we no longer owed money but actually got some back. We were thrilled no matter the amount just to now owe.

He provided us with some information about things we would want to track especially since my husband is law enforcement there are a lot of things that are tax deductible for us that we had no idea. So I developed or shall I say tweaked the system I already had.

I call this my life! It is my life in a note book. I do not carry a check registry, I keep all the documentation right here in this little notebook.
As you can tell the  notebook has several pocket holders and dividers. The first section I keep important things like bills, receipts, my tracking sheet for paying bills off (which is the sheet that you can see says Feb). I have all our bills listed out with the approximate bill due and the due date and they are split in two by pay days (basically the 1st and the 15th - this started back when my husband was in the military). I check off each bill as I pay it so I can visually see a reminder that bill has been paid.

Behind the first section I then have what some would call a check register. It's just on notebook paper and it is easier for me to track and write down.

There is another divider with tabs and this is where I keep important information like phone numbers, VIN and license numbers for our cars and drivers (I get asked for this more than you would think), mileage rates to common destinations (you will need this a lot for tax purposes).
Here is how I list the places that I frequent enough to list them. For instance as you can see I  have our Dr.'s listed for each of us (and this is not in OCD order but for now it has to get the trick done). I also have places we would purchase work supplies, school donations, and prescriptions. These are common for a lot of people and I track the mileage one-way because I know I can multiply by 2 because we always have a round trip to get the stuff (not sure if this is the best way but it is how I do it.)

As we make purchases or go to the Dr. throughout the year I keep everything! I document on the top of the receipt or paper what it is for so I can track it better. FYI - the receipts they print out now often have all the ink erased by the end of the year so I will circle or bracket the item and then write the total at the top.

I take this information that I have collected and I put it into a spreadsheet at least once a quarter - trust me do not wait until the end of the year or you will want to pull your hair out! There are always last minute things that I have to scramble to get and I was so thankful this year that I had updated my spreadsheet at least quarterly. 

I keep track of all my receipts in my file folder. I have a file folder for each year and they are not expensive at all.

Inside of the file folder I normally section it off in corresponding sections to my spreadsheet.

Although you can see the tab that says medical - in my spreadsheet I will separate the medical out per person in our house to just be very clear on the expenses. I also have all the charity going into one file but I also have to separate this out to actual items or money donated or the value of items such as the totals of when I donate items to Goodwill or Salvation Army. These are entered into the tax worksheet separately and it makes it easier for our accountant. 

Some things we hadn't considered (but glad I kept the receipt) was the insulation we bought for the inside of our garage door. It was Energy Star certified and was a tax deduction we could take under home improvements. It wasn't a huge amount but I figure every little bit counts and I am glad I kept that receipt. 

My spreadsheet broken down:

Medical - each person has a sheet within the spreadsheet workbook.
Charity Items - again cash or donated items (exact cost to buy and donate) and then a separate sheet for the used items donated to places such as Goodwill.
Michael's Work Expenses 
Shanna's Work Expenses

I do go ahead and put the formula in the spreadsheet because it will add my totals and mileage as I go so I don't have to do manually. 

I am so glad I have been doing this because our accountant said this year our tax return figures were a direct result of my hard work all year long tracking expenses. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kids Beg For This

Ok so I really  have to give another shout out to my great friend Mindy for introducing my family to a fabulous fun family game!
I had never heard of the game Mexican Train Dominoes much less ever played the game.  After we played with a regular set of Dominoes (which is totaly doable) I did go buy us the actual game set that looks like this
Cardinal Industries Mexican Train Domino Game in an Aluminum Case

We first played this game on Christmas Eve this past year with our GREAT friends Mindy, Glen, and Melaina!  We had made a southern friend chicken dinner together and sat down to play some family games.
This game is easy enough for small kids but so much fun for teens and adults! It took a couple of rounds to really learn the game and from experience it really seems there are different rules depending on where you learned to play - but nonetheless SO MUCH FUN!
 Stradegy Talk - they were cracking me up!
Oh Cody! You are always so animated!

We love the game so much when my parents visited at Christmas we took the game with us up to Scottsdale to play while at the resort!
Both kids were explaining (or trying) to my parents.

So if you have never played Mexican Train Dominoes you have got to try it out! If you don't have dominoes just grab any good family game and sit down with your kids!

My kids love playing games, having family movie night - bottom line even with tweens and teens won't admit it they do want and love family time!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Grocery Deals!

For my friends in Arizona - Fry's is having fabulous deal through Tuesday February 22. I am not sure what their ad will be starting the next day but I never take chances. For my friends that go to Krogers, Dillons, and other Kroger family groceries their deals are very similar but I think Fry's is the only one that accepts competitor coupons and makes all manufacturer coupons a 1.00 (which really helps!) so check out your local grocery store for their coupon policy.

Fry's is having a Mega 10 deal where if you buy a combo (mix and match) of the specified 10 items you will save $3.00 now and get a coupon for $3.00 off your future purchase.  Plus remember you can still "stack" your coupons! So if you have a competitor coupon you can use it WITH a competitor coupon!

There are several websites that you can go to print out manufacturer coupons.
Wow Coupons
All You Magazine

There are many sites and you can google these and so many great sites and awesome blogs will come up. I am only touching on a few points but there are some blogs out there that are unbelievable and can tell you specifically what the deals are by item. I will try to give you the best details I can.

Remember don't forget to go to the Target website and print out their coupons as well.

So I went to the grocery store with Cody and we had to be smart with our carts since I was going to do all the Mega 10 items in one cart and check out and then use my $3.00 coupons on my next cart (all non-mega 10 items).

Non-Mega 10 Items

Mega 10 Items Cart

It was a crazy day at the grocery store and having Cody there to help me was so helpful he doesn't even realize. I did "catch him being good and helpful" (as parents we often catch them doing wrong) and told him he could have one "freebie" item (one that isn't on the list) - he chose a candy bar which made him happy and was cheap for me!

This is what it looked like as we went through the store. One cart on top of the other trying to squeeze through the aisles while trying to be polite and teaching Cody that others aren't always as nice as I am trying to teach him to be (it was frustrating at times).

Some of my deals!  And most of these are mega 10 items plus coupons.

Easy Mac 4 pk Mac-n-Cheese - Target has a coupon for $1.50 off a 4 pk and I printed off a coupon (remember all manufacturer coupons will be worth a dollar) and with how the coupons were I bought 2 - 4pk Easy Mac for $3.88 which made them $1.94 each.

Ritz Crackers - Target coupon and manufacturer coupon. Bought 2 boxes of Ritz crackers paid $2.88 which made them $1.44 a box.

Oreo Cookies - Target and Manufacturer coupons. Bought 2 boxes paid $2.98 which made them $1.49 a box.

Oscar Mayer Lunch Meat - Target coupon (must buy 3) and manufacturer. Bought 3 packs of lunch meat. Paid $4.47 which made them $1.49 a pack of meat.

Bounty Paper Towels 8 pk (not a normal item for me to buy). Target and manufacturer coupon. Bought 8 pk for $4.69 which made it $.58 a roll for paper towels.

Kraft BBQ Sauce - Target Coupon (looks like mayonnaise but says other Kraft products below picture which included the BBQ sauce) plus a coupon that if I bought 2 Kraft products save a $1.00 on a 2 liter (mega 10 coke 2-liters were .99 which made it free). Kraft BBQ sauce after coupon were $.19 a piece plus a free 2 liter.

Totino Pizza Rolls and Totino Pizzas - buy 2 saved a dollar. I printed the maximum number of coupons and bought Totino rolls for $.47 a box and Pizzas were $.30 a pizza and I bought 6.

On My Non-Mega 10 Items

In one of the coupon circulars last week there were cut out coupons for Target for Tide Detergent. There were 2 coupons and I had 2 manufacturer coupons for Tide plus Tide is on sale for the Super 8's sale that is also going on. Tide $5.88 minus my coupons = 2 Bottles of Tide for $3.38 and $4.13 each.

Yoplait Yogurts - Target and Manufacturer Coupons. Bought 12 and they were $.23 each.

I also still have Snapple Mail in Rebates so I made sure that I bought 1 pk of Snapple Teas with both check-outs so I was able to get 2- 12 pks for free!

Bought 151 items - $389.27 Worth of Food and Paid $182.23 out of pocket. I had a $25.00 gift card I had been holding on too and used that before out of pocket. I saved $207.04. Average of feeding a family of 4 is $91.12 a week.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Day that Changed our Lives Forever

It is amazing what can change in 2 years! Two years ago today I was faced with a fear that I had dreaded and never wanted to think about (even through a tour in Iraq and endless dangerous missions). I was faced with the possible or questionable events that included the outlook on my husband's life.

February 20, 2009 was like every other Friday. Except the 2 weeks leading up to that day Michael had been sick. He had gone to the Dr. and was diagnosed with Strep throat and given antibiotics along with our kids and one of our best friends Eve. They had all been sick but it just seemed that Michael could not kick the cough. The night before I had joked with him that since he was off the next day he needed to go back to the Dr. because it sounded like he was going to cough up a lung and I just simply didn't have time for him to die on me. In hindsight wow I wish I had not said that.

Friday I was at work heading into a meeting that I had called together and I received a text from one of my best friends (and she is a RN) and she said hey by the way I wanted to let you know that Mike is on his way to the hospital. I thought maybe he had just decided to go because the cough was so bad. When I texted back she quickly called me and so the journey began for me. Michael was already about 30 minutes to an hour into this life changing event.  She told me he had been working outside on our grill and he coughed really hard and went down. He couldn't breath and she had come over and thought he collapsed his right lung.

If you know me you would think I would have immediately freaked out! Eve is so good with her calm nature I had done the calculation and figured that we lived far enough out of town that I had time to finish my meeting and still get to the hospital at the same time ( I don't know what I was thinking!!).

I did finish my meeting quickly and I headed to the hospital. I pulled in and parked just as the ambulance pulled in. After about 20 minutes of pushing and flexing my wife muscle I was able to get back to the trauma room just before they placed a chest tube in Michael chest.

With a little bit of fibbing we were able to get 2 of Michael's friends back in the trauma room with me. We just said they were his brothers because only family was allowed in that room and thank goodness because I think I was just still in shock. A collapsed lung? I had seen ER, Grey's Anatomy, Trauma Life in the ER -I knew about collapsed lungs, I knew they had to insert a tube into his chest after they cut it open.

This is my husband - the strongest person I knew physically, medically, mentally. He is laying in a bed in front of my out of it, in and out of sedation, I could tell you the moment the morphine started wearing off because he would go from conversing with us to moaning in terrible pain. I just kept telling myself to hold it together. And THANK YOU to all my friends!! Eve had my kids and it allowed me to focus 100% on Michael. After sitting in the ER for 10 hours we finally got in a room for Michael. We were told that he had a spontaneous pneumothorax which is when you have a hole in your lung and it collapses. Again we were told that these types of holes will normally heal within 24-48 hours and then you can go home.
As you can tell they were really giving Michael some good medications to help control his pain and I was so thankful because I have never seen anyone in so much pain! The first night we were in the hospital I don't think I slept more than an hour all together. The heart monitor kept going off all night long because his heart is so healthy it really beats effectively and so it is much slower than the majority of us. But I was so scared his heart was going to stop beating. 24 hours turned into 72 hours and we were starting to be told that his situation was a bit different and the hole in his lung was quiet bigger and therefore still not healing and it took a while but they were able to get him transferred to a different hospital because they were telling us he was facing lung surgery.

All of a sudden about 9 p.m. they walk into Michael's room and tell us he is being transferred. They transferred him via ambulance with a RN and paramedic. I closely followed and after many hours of settling in and seeing a multitude of Dr.'s I think I finally hit the pillow at home about 2 am. I decided not to stay since he was in a step down ICU unit and knew he would be taken well care of.

So many things were happening and we were talking with so many Dr.'s. Really so much is a blur of what was going on. I made sure I knew who had my kids and then I let it go and knew I could focus on Michael. I don't know what I would have done without Eve, Jen, Teresa, Mindy, and countless others (sorry if I forgot your name). I don't know what I would have done without Michael's friends and coworkers and their words of encouragement, visitations to Michael, and continued support.  Bottom line - it was a fog and I was just trying to get through everyday and support Michael the best I could.

The Dr.'s were saying he had a hole in the bottom portion of his right lung the size of a small orange, it wasn't healing, and he was going to need to have that part (about 1/4 of his lung removed). 31 years old and he was facing have a quarter of his lung removed. He called his dad and told him he would like for him to be here. His dad hopped on the next flight he could get and flew to Arizona. During this time our Pastor, Ashley Evans, was visiting at the hospital and prayed with us before Michael went in to have a bronchoscopy, which is basically where they go in, clean out your lungs, and take samplings for testing (they thought he had Valley Fever- never heard of it? look it up- it's not pretty). He prayed the normal things pastors pray and he added that he prayed for a miracle that Michael would be healed without explanation from the doctors.

The next day his father had arrived and we were going to the hospital to see Michael. He was going down for one last CT and we were meeting his with Pulmonologist and Cardio Thoracic Surgeon.  We noticed they were taking Michael back to his room quickly and were told to get back because both doctors were in his room waiting for us. When we spoke with the doctors they told us they didn't know how to explain it but the outside of the hole had sealed and so no air was leaking from his lung. They were going to pull the chest tube wait a few hours and hopefully release Michael. After 8 long days in the hospital and without answers (thank you God!) Michael was going to get to go home.

February 20, 2009 changed our lives forever. I look at things differently (sometimes forget but refocus) and know that some things are so much bigger than ourselves.  The support we received from our family and our friends was unparalleled and I still can't express my thankfulness enough for having these people in our lives.  Friends we haven't seen in years (thank you Michael and Heather Labadie) sent well wishes and balloons, we received so many cards and phone calls to support us, it was amazing!

It was crazy, emotional, exhausting and I wasn't the one fighting to get better! After a couple of scares over the last couple of years we don't take symptoms for granted or hesitate if something doesn't feel or seem right.

It is amazing the difference 2 years can make!

Cleaning Cleaners

Seems kind of odd thinking about cleaning something that cleans other things but that is exactly what I do about once a month to my washing machine.

I have a HE top loading washing machine and every once in a while it starts having a smell that is really disgusting! After a little bit of research I found out that it is really important to clean your HE washing machine.
It's embarrassing to think I let my washing machine get to this state but hey I am a working mom with lots of things to get accomplished. In my goal of completing small projects I set out to clean my washing machine.

 It seems odd that the areas that we actually put the soap and cleaners in get nasty and dirt build up in those areas.

There are several different types of washing machine cleaners and we have bought a really expensive cleaner and we have also tried this Tide Washing Machine Cleaner Tide Washing Machine Cleaner 3 ea

This system is super easy. You open one pouch of cleaner and you put it where you would the detergent then you run a cycle through the washer (empty - no clothes!). The scent is very fresh and the stinky smell from my washing machine is gone. Usually after the machine has been running a few minutes I will go and open it up and take a rag and get the water with cleaner and wet my rag. I take this rag to clean the top of my washing machine as well and it works great!

I don't have time for long drawn out projects or products that don't work. But this is one products that works while I do something else and the time it takes to clean around the top is like less than 5 minutes! I always love when it looks clean and there isn't any more build up!