Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy Moments Before Deployment

It's official - my temporary state of bachelorettehood has commenced.  Mike is off doing his Captain America thing until the end of the year so it will be me and the cats for the next few months. 

The week leading up to send-off was spent doing terribly routine things together: cooking dinner, giving the cats a bath, going on walks, biking, taking hikes, going on Dairy Queen runs, and watching reruns of The Cobsy Show and Community online. 

The day before, we went to Mike's favorite cajun restaurant in Des Moines and wandered around the Botanical Gardens

Jambalaya courtesy of Fat Tuesday

Blackened chicken done right

Cajun fries - seriously addicting

Sweet potato pie served hot ... must duplicate!

Nom nom nom

The risk of a self-timer - accidental photo bombs

Holding down the fort, Woodly 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Saving a Wet Phone with Rice

Never in a million years would I have thought to rush to my pantry for rice after my phone fell into water. 

Backstory - yesterday I was lounging on my patio, feet propped up, sunning myself with a book in hand.  To my left, a glass of water innocently sitting on the concrete.  In front of me and a foot away, my phone perched on an arm rest.  With the kind of brilliance that only comes in fleeting moments, I shifted in my chair with just enough force that the phone launched into a beautiful swan dive right into my glass of water.  Unintentionally perfect aim.  

Kerplunk!  Splash!

My phone was completely submerged in the glass.  I swooped in immediately to rescue it but it was clear water was working its way into the phone's innards.  It let out a pitiful beep and shut itself off.  I managed to turn it back on after an hour and while the keyboard buttons lit, the touchscreen was non-responsive.   

Under normal circumstances, I would have waited it out to see if time and dry land could cure it.  But with Mike deployed, I felt the immediate need to replace it.  Unfortunately for that time on a Sunday, no Verizon stores were open.

My lament on Facebook brought several suggestions to cover my phone with rice.  I was deeply skeptical.  How on earth could a simple white grain save my drowned electronic?

As if it weren't apparent from cooking all these years, rice loves to wick up moisture.  It doesn't care that it won't be eaten afterward as long as it soaks up any liquid you give it.

Still unconvinced this was anything but enormously silly, I took apart my phone, dried it off as best as I could, slide out the keyboard for maximum exposure, placed it in a bowl, and covered it with risotto. 

To my great surprise and sheepish delight, my phone works again today!  It's a tad sluggish, which is to be expected, but works fine otherwise.  The only hiccup is there is moisture trapped in the camera lens.  It will still take a picture, but it looks like you're looking through a foggy window on a rainy day.  Perhaps a few more sleepovers with rice will help.  If not, a hazy camera pic is the least of my concerns.

This little venture was a good reminder about being creative in a jam.  Fueled by Mike being gone, some extra bank in checking, and my distain for my phone model, I was all ready to run out and replace the darn thing, no questions asked.  Under normal circumstances though, I would have done everything to save that phone.

By giving the rice a try, I neatly saved myself anywhere from $75-120 bucks.  That's a smart move when I'm trying to do so many other things with Mike's deployment income.
To be on the safe side, I'm going to keep up with the overnight rice baths for the next few days.  It's possible the phone could still corrode, but for now, it's working properly.  Then if I do have to replace it down the road, I can at least have the satisfaction that I did everything in my power to keep it going.

Have you lost a cell phone to a freak accident?  My previous phone to this one vibrated itself off the couch and into a foot spa filled with water.  What is it with me and water???

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Health Finally Gets a Boost!

Almost 3 months has passed since I found out I had a Vitamin D deficiency and I ditched birth control.  I'm happy to report that I've seen a marked improvement in my health! 

On the birth control front, this was seriously the best (health) decision I've ever made.  Even though I had a rough withdrawal, the benefits have been marked.  I feel as calm and clear as I have been in years.  I am in control of my emotions, stress rolls right off, and my feathers are pretty hard to ruffle.  I simply handle everything better.  

I feel like myself again. 

The calm, rational person that is the core of my personality finally has a chance to breath again and reestablish herself.  I can happily say goodbye to the panicky, stressed-to-the-maxed gal I was with hormones surging every day.

Going off the Pill confirmed that I was right about my health - something was wrong with me, I just didn't realize it was the hormones.  The problem wasn't in my head, it was in my blood stream.   

Sigh of relief <phew!>

I can honestly say that I will NEVER go back on birth control again.  There's just no way I would ever sacrifice my sanity again to stop ovulation.  Since Mike is deploying soon, accidentally getting pregnant is a non-issue and we'll be looking into permanent options when he returns.     

In regards to the Vitamin D deficiency, that was also a significant breakthrough.  You are supposed to have 30 nmol/L in your system at minimum but I was sitting at 15.  No wonder I was having major muscle, joint, and fatigue issues!  

I've been taking 5,000 IU of Vitamin D a day and increased the amount of dairy and eggs in my diet.  I've worked my way up to 25 nmol/L and have seen a huge difference in my pain levels.

I can now exercise without fear that I'm going to be sore for days on end.  I'm still testing where that breaking point is, but a recent bike ride and ellipical machine session left me appropriately stiff but not sore in the least.  Same with the walking and Pilates I'm doing.  

This is a major breakthrough for me.  It's so amazing to enjoy physical active once again!  Now I'm looking forward to getting into a regular routine.

To be fair, taking away one pill and adding another hasn't resolved all of my health issue.  I wasn't expecting a magic bullet.  On the plus side, my weight gain has been halted in its tracks.  For the time in months the scale hasn't moved up, but it hasn't moved down either.  I'm hoping with more consistent and vigorous exercise that will change.

I still have problems with acne, which is getting very tiring.  My face has always been a mess since I was 12 and at age 28, acne is simply unprofessional.  I'm trying out a medicated face wash (Noxzema) to see if that will provide some clarity. 

Dehydration issues continue to plague me as well.  I seem to have heat intolerance - I get overheated and zap!  all of the water in my system evaporates.  No one so far has any ideas about what's causing this, and I've been tested for diabetes twice.  It's something that concerns me as I can't go an hour without drinking water and not get dehydrated.  It makes me nervous to do things in the sun (funny, given the Vitamin D deficiency ...) and I am forced to take a water bottle everywhere.  Hopefully we'll get to the bottom of this one day.

For now, I'm going to continue increasing exercise and taking supplements.  My Vitamin D levels will be tested again in two months and if they don't increase enough, I'll get a prescription for it.  I'd like to avoid that for cost's sake, but it's not too hard to go sit on my patio and read for 20 minutes.

How has your heath and exercise routine been lately?  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Plans for Deployment Income

Relatively soon, our entire income situation is going to drastically change.  With Mike off in another time zone for the rest of the year, he'll be earning deployment money.  All of sudden, our monthly budget will increase by about $3,000.

Before you go ape crazy with jealousy, this money comes with a price tag.  For Mike, a 100+ degree location, camel spiders, limited communication, living out of tents, and John Wayne toilet paper (rough, tough, and doesn't take crap from no one).  For Jennie, complete responsibility for our finances, dateless weddings and family events, full management of condo and catbox cleaning, and the general suckiness of not having a spouse around.

Last time Mike deployed (four years ago), we were far less savvy with our finances.  We used our income boost to pay double rent, make double student loan payments, eliminate one student loan altogether, and treat ourselves to a week-long vacation in Jamaica.  It wasn't irresponsible, but we were living in the financial present with little thought to when Mike came back.

Not this time, no sir and ma'am.  I am going to squeeze every penny out of this windfall and create a good foundation we can capitalize on once our income goes back to normal.  After many discussions, we've come up with a game plan, of which I will be the sole keeper to perpetuate and maximize.

Honor Family Debt. This debt originated years ago when Mike was stationed in England and some lousy bank decided to wrongfully repossess his car.  Talk about taking advantage of our military.  A parental unit kindly handled the situation in Mike's absence but was forced to tell off the evil financial institution with their checkbook. Said gracious giver of genetics assures us this debt is not a priority, but it certainly is for us.  It holds the #1 spot on our to-do list and the payoff will be accompanied by a good bottle of wine.  Amount unspecified for internet eyes.

Exterminate ALL Credit Card Debt.  I am waiting for the day when I can say that all of our credit cards are at zero.  The price for the feat is around $7,000 between all of our cards.  Not a number I'm proud of, but $5,000 is all on one card that we weren't working on in 2011 (as if that's any comfort or excuse, but there it is).

Polish Off the Car Loan. We owe the bank just under $9,000 for the Mazda.  Not only would it be awesome to own the car free and clear, but it will free up $200 a month to be rerouted elsewhere.

Save Up for a Vacation.  After the last deployment, Mike and I took a memorable vacation to Jamaica.  We booked right after the economy crashed and made off like bandits, but inflation is a lot like karma.  We've been going back and forth with a travel agency over a couple of options, but current estimates put us at around $4,000 for airfare and a week at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort.   Fuller post to come!

St. Lucia, one of our top picks
Now, you may be adding up these numbers and wondering how exactly we're going to meet these goals.  Keep in mind that I still get my usual salary (and likely summer teaching income), but there's one less person to feed, use electricity, take showers, or go out to eat with. 

I can create savings by taking advantage of these small decreases in our regular bills.  For example, our water bill is around $80 every two months.  If it drops down to $60, I can move $20 in savings.  That doesn't look like much on it's own, but if I do that for 8+ months, that's $80 that I didn't break a sweat to set aside and that's just with one bill!           

I also intend to create a food pantry for us out of our lowered grocery bills.  This is something we've never been able to get off of the ground and it hurts us in the long run.  So every time I go to the store, I'll be on the hunt for non-perishables like rice, pasta, canned beans and tomatoes, baking supplies, juice, and cereal.  Same will go with household supplies like laundry and dish detergent.  

Realistically, we may not be able to meet all of these goals.  In the span that Mike is gone, there is still $785 a month for rent, medical bills, routine doctor appointments, regular car maintenance, and summer activities/trips that still need to be accounted for.

It will also be tempting for me to increase our standard of living since there won't be as much pressure to count pennies.  I'll have to resist upgrading food products or going on shopping trips.  Those little splurges could add up and compromize one of our goals.  I will need to be ever mindful to focus on maximizing our savings, but I think it's completely doable with a little mental elbow grease. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Microwave Went Bust - Replace or Repair?

It is with great brevity that I announce the Morton-Wood household suffered the loss of their 3-year-old microwave. The appliance served dutifully in the face of reheating leftovers, melting butter, steaming frozen vegetables, and baking potatoes.  It is survived by a toaster, waffle iron, and a crockpot.
Boo, it really chaffs me that our microwave is caput.  Three years isn't an acceptable amount of time to just die on us already.  We were pretty gentle with it too - no microwave casseroles here!

Now begins the great debate of how do I spend my money to restore a microwave in my kitchen (which after two weeks without one, we have determined we do need).

I see several options: 

Replace: When we bought our current model, it was $30.  I've honestly had no complaints.  Because we just reheat stuff with it and bake the occasional potato, the size is appropriate for our needs.  With three years of inflation, it will cost me $54.99 to get the same exact appliance.

The drawback is that in another 3 years, I would likely run into the same problem.  Some of the reviews online said the microwave only lasted them a year.  Not cool.   

The landfill waste this creates also really bothers me.  Even if you have to replace your microwave every 5 years starting in your 20s, you'd be buying and throwing away over 12 microwaves if you lived into your 80s!
Repair: Our local Sears offers appliance repair.  Their online estimate quotes me at $48.99 for labor - parts not included.  It may be that I only need a $2 part and this would be a good deal. 

But I know nothing about the inner workings of a microwave, what the common problems are, and how much replacement parts could run. There's no way I can estimate how much money a repair will cost, though I imagine I could walk into Sears and ask them to take a stab at what the problem is before actually fixing it.   

Upgrade: If I ever wanted to upgrade my microwave, now would be the time.  The questions is what else would I be looking for and how much am I willing to spend?

The problem with upgrades is that they're always more expensive.  When I look at the top-of-the-line microwaves at Target or Walmart, they're running between $100-160.  They're usually much larger than I need and have options I'll never use. 
I don't need bells and whistles - I need a microwave that will last a good number of years.  Do they even exist anymore?  My mom still has the microwave she bought when I was 2.  Apparently GE was a good brand back in the 80s, but barely anything is designed to last long anymore.

What would you recommend?  How's your microwave treating you?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Natural Deordorent - The Pits or Worth It?

Hippie chick alert - this post is full of dripping wet tidbits about air pits, sweat, and deodorant.  Oh yes, I'm going to shave right through social norms and talk about body odor.  Get ready!

My tentative venture into the world of natural deodorant started because of a mole.  Tucked away in the crevice of my arm pit, this raised clump of cells has given me pause for thought lately as he appears to have grown a little larger.  He certainly wasn't that size when I was a kid, though I'm not putting too much stock into my memory.  

Couple that with my dad's recent run in with melanoma carcinoma (after years of hotly turning down sunscreen, might I add), I've been a little more mindful of my body's oddities. 

I've been a user of gel deodorant for years and never had any complaints.  But recently, my brand (Secret) started to burn a little when applying.  I switched to an unscented version and problem solved.  But it got me thinking about deodorants in general and whether there was a Mother Nature-approved version.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who thinks an antiperspirant causes breast cancer.  However, I do think we humans would do well to lessen our chemical exposure in all areas.  What better place to start than a part of your body you voluntarily slather chemicals on every day?

If you've never looked at the ingredient list on your stick of Old Spice or Dove, you might be surprised to know it contains synthetic parfums, heavy metals such as aluminum, and preservatives called parabens.  Call me crazy, but if I don't want artificial ingredients in my food, then why do they exist in a product that's absorbed by my body?

Knowing how much more "natural" or "organic" products can cost at the store, I was skeptical that I could find a suitable replacement without breaking the bank.  I was pleasantly surprised that Walmart had a nice variety to offer at reasonable prices.

They carried natural sticks from brands like Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees, and Arm & Hammer.  I was tempted, particularly when their prices were competitive with my original brand (ok, about 60 cents higher) .

But something else caught my attention - a deodorant crystal.  I'd read about these substitutes before and had been curious to try them.  They work by eliminating the bacteria that causes your pits to stink - sweat itself is odorless.  

For $2.39, the crystal stick would keep my underarms fresh for up to a year.  A pretty good value considering I spend $3.49 on deodorant every 2 months.

You just wet the crystal, apply to your pits thoroughly, and that's it.  I gotta say, this stuff works fairly decently.  No scents, no sticky residue, no white marks on shirts.

Having used an antiperspirant for so long, it's been weird actually sweating again under my arms.  Not buckets or enough to leave a mark, but there nonetheless.  

But I'm not fully sold.  Even after a normal day of working at a computer, I am ever so slightly pungent at the end of the day.  But that's really only noticeable when I shed my clothes for the night - it's not like Mike is starting to call me Pig Pen.

But I may not be so cool with that slight twinge in the nose come this summer, after an long night of dancing, at the end of a tradeshow, or while wearing a strapless top.  Since I've only been using the crystal for two weeks, I'm going to continue testing its performance, particularly as the weather gets warmer here.

And if you think I'm being pitiless with deodorant, rest assure that I'm carefully picking my way through the rest of my bathroom supplies for alternatives to soap, conditioner, body wash, shampoo, and tooth paste.  Thank goodness I don't wear makeup!

Are you concerned about chemical exposure?  What natural bath products have you tried?  Did they work or were they just overpriced experiments?   

Friday, March 2, 2012

TV-Free for 3 Years and Counting

Have you ever wondered what you'd do with your time if you didn't have TV?  

Three years ago, I asked myself that very question.  I was in the midst of a jam-packed teaching schedule and always feeling crunched for time.  I wondered how I could squeeze more minutes in my day for exercising, reading for pleasure, catching up on classic movies, and home cooking. 

At the time, we were just like everyone else.  TV was a normal part of our schedule with few perceived negatives.  We watched everything from junk reality and reruns of 90s sitcoms to Food Network and Dirty Jobs.  We spent a not unreasonable amount of time in front of the boob tube, around 12 hours a week or 2 hours a night.   

As our cable prices and my waistline continued to climb, I thought I would try an experiment to reclaim some of that time.  After all, you can do a lot with an extra 12 hours.  So I lower our cable package down to the most basic level.  I called it The Old People's Package, only channels 1-22.

Despite more limited options, we ended up watching TV the same numbers of hours.  There were just too many good things to watch on PBS, the Discovery Channel, and FX.  So it wasn't the number of channels that was a problem - it was us.  I began to feel as if I were paying to waste my time. 

We took our experiment to the next level and temporarily ditched cable after moving into a new apartment.  We were trying to cut costs and with my growing dissatisfaction about time management, it was a good move.  We figured we'd add it back when our finances recovered.  

Little did we know it would become a permanent decision.  It was surprisingly easy and not really much of an adjustment to remove television.  It was so pleasant to have so much free time back that we just left things the way they were.   

In the three years since going TV-free, we haven't regretted our decision.  This has saved us hundreds of dollars a year (around 45 bucks a month).  Now we just pay $65 for internet and $20 for a Netflix subscription each month.

Most importantly, I cannot imagine having the time to add cable back.  It would have to cut into something else, and I certainly don't want to give up the things I've been able to add.

People are always surprised when I reveal we don't have TV.  Most of them think it's weird, a few wish they could do the same.  To be clear, we're not those people saying TV is ruining the world or anything.  It does worry me a bit how much time people devote to it, but I also feel the same way about video games and being online. 

Thumbs up if you understand the reference

It had just become a big waste of time for us.  Now whenever we stay at a hotel, TV is a special treat.  If there's a special sports game or a program like the Oscars, we just go to a friend's house and be social.    

We even recently started an $8 Hulu subscription so we can watch The Cosby Show, Mary Tyler Moore, CSI, and Community.  It's great because you can just sit down, budget your time for a few episodes, and walk away.      

Do you worry about how much time you spend watching TV or do you just love Mad Men, American Idol, and The Soup too much?