Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Referrals Round-Up

I've learned about some pretty cool websites by having friends send me referral links, so I figured I'd do the same for others. Obviously each of these referrals comes with some sort of benefit for me, but I wouldn't be sharing each link unless I've personally used the product/service and can confirm it's legit. Here are sites I use and like, along with my assessment:

1) Stitch Fix - I've ordered from them at least 5 or 6 times and I've purchased at least 1 item from each shipment. It definitely gets better the more fixes you do, because you can fine tune your style preferences and request specific things. I like their service because often I look at something they've shipped and initially go "I would never try this on at the store." Then I put it on and fall in love. It makes you step outside of your comfort zone and expand your style portfolio. These aren't discount items, though, so don't expect to get a great bargain. You can spend $30-$45 on tops, $60-$100 on bottoms, and then it varies on dresses, shoes, accessories, jewelry, etc. You rate each item whether you buy it or not, with price being one of the variables, so you can let them know if items are too expensive. The first time you try a fix, through my referral link, you'll get your styling fee waived. Going forward, you get charged $20 when you schedule the fix and that gets applied to anything you decide to buy. If you like all 5 things they send, you get a 25% discount off the total. It's worth a shot!

2) Rue La La -  this site features boutiques for a few days at a time and sometimes you can get really good deals. I love whenever they feature Hudson Jeans because you can snag some amazing pairs for half off. They also feature luxury brands occasionally, so if you've been eyeing a designer handbag or pair of shoes, it could be a way to land it for less than retail. The majority of their offerings are everyday brands, though, so you don't have to break the bank. It's not just clothes, too. They also offer home furnishings, jewelry, kids' toys, pet accessories, etc. I've found good deals on Melissa & Doug items in the past. 

3) Ebates - I love ebates! I've been a member for 5 years and have earned $500 cash back during that time. It's a simple concept. If you're going to shop online, go to the ebates site first and see if they partner with that retailer. If they do, click through to the retailer from ebates and you'll get credit for your purchases. They pay you 1-3% cash back at most places, but some even go up to 15%. You get money back on things you were going to purchase anyway. Easy peasy. Another pretty great feature is that they check for all available coupons for a site, so you might save even more. I've been very pleased with ebates and haven't seen a downside to using it. (The only negative is that if you forget to go to ebates before making a purchase, there is no way to get credit for it after the fact. So, you just have to be diligent about always navigating to ebates first! There are plug-ins you can add to your browser to help you remember, though).

4) Ibotta - this is a fairly new program I've joined, but I've earned $25 in less than a month, so I'm pretty happy with it! After you make an in-store purchase, you take a picture of your receipt and upload to Ibotta and you get cash back on certain items or on the whole receipt. They partner with grocery & warehouse stores, home furnishings stores, home improvement stores, electronics stores, convenience stores, etc, so chances are you are already shopping at a place where you can earn cash back. The nice thing about this app is that you don't have to tell it ahead of time that you're going somewhere, or what items you're going to buy, so there's no preparation necessary. However, you can click on a store before you go to see what kind of offers they have. That might lead you to buy a certain brand that has a good deal attached to it, or remind you of something you need. After you are done at the store and have a receipt, you upload a picture of it and select which things you purchased that are eligible for cash back. They verify it and put the money in your account quickly. If you sign up through my referral link, you'll get a bonus in your account.

5) Tesla - I know this one won't get used as much, BUT, if you are in the market for a new Tesla Model S or Model X, you should definitely go through a referral link first. If you do, you'll get free supercharging for life. Use mine!

6) Personal Capital - if you've used Mint or another website like that, you'll be familiar with the general idea of Personal Capital. It's great for seeing all your transactions in one place and staying on top of your finances. Where Personal Capital differs, though, is that it's better at long-term or goal-based financial planning. It lets you see a consolidated view of everything, plus includes investments and forecasting. You can see how likely you are to meet retirement goals, analyze your investments for risk and fees, and get recommendations for what to change in any area. And, it tracks all of it over time so you can see how you are progressing. If you want to give it a shot, use my referral link and we'll both get a $20 Amazon gift card.

7) Energy Ogre - If you've lived at your residence for at least a year and think your electricity bills might be too high, you should consider Energy Ogre. (You have to live in an area where you can choose your electric provider). Whenever our electricity provider contract came up for renewal in the past, I would wade through the gazillion options and try to figure out which plan would be best for our household. It wasn't easy - there are so many different types of plans, fixed versus variable rates, tiered prices, specials related to nights and weekends, etc. I never knew if I was paying too much. When our annual electricity costs hit $3,800 for the second year in a row, I knew something needed to change. I discovered Energy Ogre and signed up. It costs $10/month, but they do the work for you. They review your usage for the prior year and find a plan that is tailored to your household. After we made the switch to the plan they recommended for us, our costs went down to $2,200 for the year. Can you believe that? We use a lot of electricity each month because of the size of our house, the fact that we work from home, and because of our pool equipment. They found a plan where the price per kilowatt hour went down to a ridiculously low amount once you went above a certain threshold, and based on our prior usage, Energy Ogre knew we would always hit that level each month. I was SO happy with their efforts and Meezy and I both had a hard time believing it was true! When that plan expired after a year and we weren't eligible to renew it, they found a new plan with not quite as good of a discount, but still a marked improvement over the $3,800/year bills. We spent $2,650 this past year, and even after factoring in the $120/year cost of Energy Ogre, we still came out $1,000 better off than before we signed up with them. I wholeheartedly recommend this site if you feel like you use a lot of electricity or are paying too much for what you do use.

8) Frontpoint Security - I've talked about my bad-ass home security system in the past and I'm happy to talk about it again! We love how connected we feel with Frontpoint. I have indoor and outdoor cameras, door and window sensors, smoke detectors, keyless locks, and a garage door opener. I can manage everything from my phone! I can see a video feed at any time, lock or unlock my front door, open or close my garage door, and see what window or door has been opened/closed at any time. I get reminders to set my alarm if I forget to, and I can do it from any location as long as I have access to my phone or a web browser. I get a reminder if my garage door stays open for more than a few minutes, and I can close it remotely, if necessary. I get a notice if the battery is running low on any of my sensors. I can set motion rules on my cameras so that it records clips if anything passes into the frame during certain times. It automatically records and saves clips in the event of an alarm. I can easily set up user codes for family members or guests or contractors and then deactivate them at any time. If a friend needs to pick up something from inside my house when I'm not home, I can turn off the alarm and unlock the door for them remotely, and then lock and set everything back when they leave. Seriously, I'm a big fan of their offerings. Their customer service is also fantastic. If you want to sign up for service, check out their website, but don't fill anything out yet. Send me your email address and I'll refer you. We'll both get a free month of monitoring.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Power Washing Transformation

We used to have a power washer, but when it went kaput, we didn't replace it. Since that time, I hadn't paid attention to all the areas where we could really use some deep cleaning. I had a contractor at the house for an unrelated project and he mentioned that he also did power washing. So, I asked him to power wash our stone walkways and patio, the stone around our pool, portions of our fence and rolling gate, and parts of the brick on our house where water had discolored it over time. Oh mylanta, y'all, the transformation was jaw-dropping.

Here is the before picture of the walkway up to our front door:


And the after:


Here is the walkway leading to our side yard, before the power washing:


And what it is apparently supposed to look like:


Last, but not least - here is the patio in our side yard:



I don't think the stone looked like this when we bought the house 4 years ago, so I didn't really know just how bad it had gotten. Worth every penny! We are so pleased with the results and it honestly looks like we just had the stone installed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Second Week

I'm now in the second week post-surgery and things have definitely improved. The feelings of despair have lessened, but I'm still acutely aware of the long road I have ahead. I wear a back brace at all times throughout the day unless I'm sleeping or taking a shower. It's rigid and constricting, as it should be, so you can imagine how comfortable it is. Whenever I am not wearing it, I have a bit of terror that something is going to happen and I'll injure myself.

When I wake in the morning, I have to ask Meezy to prepare the shower for me. I need a chair to sit on and then a stool next to it that holds my soap and hair products. Everything has to be within easy reach because I don't need to be standing and sitting over and over again. Thankfully we have a hand-held shower head so that I can control the water. If I drop something, I have to yell for Meezy and ask him to retrieve it for me. When I'm finished, I step out and he helps dry my legs since I can't bend at the waist. He also helps me put on my clothes for the same reason.

After I'm ready for the day, I try to help with the kids but there's not much I can do. I can bark directions at them, but I can't physically help with their dressing. I can do some breakfast preparation, if it's simple, but I wouldn't be allowed to pour their milk if the jug was too full (i.e. too heavy). From there, Meezy drives them where they need to go and I'm left at home to fill the hours.

My days are spent focusing on walking, sitting correctly, and standing as part of my rehabilitation. I have time goals that I'm supposed to meet and I'm not supposed to remain in the same position for longer than 30 minutes without getting up and moving around. I work on the computer or do very light tasks like paying bills or writing thank-yous. I'm not allowed to do any type of housework, which used to encompass big chunks of my day! No errands, no loading or unloading the dishwasher, no laundry, no sweeping, no yardwork, no cleaning the bathroom, etc. Some people would think they were in heaven with a restriction list like that, but I'm the opposite. I live for cleanliness and organization and knocking things off my to-do list. It's very hard to walk by a sink with dishes in it and not just want to put them in the dishwasher.

A couple times a day I have to get an ice pack and lay down for 30 minutes. My back needs rest and some comfort for the trauma I've put it through. Laying down is not necessarily comfortable, though. I'm only allowed to lay on my side with my knees bent and a pillow between them, or on my back with a pillow underneath my knees. It's annoying to have to consciously remain in a strict position when all you want to do is relax. Overnight I get restless and constantly change from my side to my back and back again. I have to move very slowly and keep everything in a line when I rotate.

I haven't started driving yet, but I hope to do so by the end of this week. I've ridden in the car a couple times to places for errands, but I've stayed in the car while Meezy gets out. Once I get some independence back by driving myself, I think my spirits will improve even more.

I've been lucky through this ordeal that I have the most self-less husband around. I literally would be lost if he wasn't by my side. After him, I've been surrounded by helpful family members and friends, offering to bring food, offering to take Dutch on play dates, offering to clean the house or buy our groceries. It's truly refreshing to see my village respond when I needed help. I love you guys so much!

The following weeks are going to be filled with much of the same - limited movement and restrictions on my activities. I'm supposed to wear the back brace for 3-4 months. It's daunting to think about how long I'll be forced to forego many of the things I would've previously done, but I know it's for a good cause and I don't want to jeopardize a successful recovery.    

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The First Week

Five years ago I started having back and leg pain. I can't believe I've been dealing with it for this long. I've done physical therapy, medications, injections, and even a surgery to try and correct the problem. Some things have worked for a little while, but nothing has truly addressed the core problem - I had a degenerating disk.

You should see a disk between L4/L5, like you do above and below it, but instead there's a crumbling mass with a herniation on the right side into my spinal nerve.

The nerve pain in my legs had steadily increased this year. I had to limit my activities and take pain medication just to get through each day. I knew I didn't want that to be my life, but the thought of a serious surgery was scary. I have a full-time job, a (more than) part-time volunteer position, and two small children. How could I just walk away from all of those responsibilities while I recover? After a lot of deliberation, a second and third expert opinion, and increasing pain, I decided I had to move forward. I needed a laminectomy and spinal fusion.

Once I made that decision, the hard part was picking the time to do it. There's never an easy time to halt your daily life as you know it. I knew the surgery would mean a few days in the hospital, 2 weeks of no driving, 4 to 6 weeks of trying not to work, and then months of wearing a back brace. I looked at my calendar and felt like there were a couple of events I couldn't miss, so I picked the next available date after that. It ended up being August 3rd.

My surgery took 4 hours and the surgeon said the herniation damage was more extensive than originally thought. So, there was essentially more trauma to my body during the procedure because of what they needed to do. When I got out of recovery, I was in immense pain. I was hooked up to an IV that could deliver pain meds every 8 minutes if I pressed a button, but it never seemed like any relief came. I cried a lot that first day and regretted my decision. They tried other pain medications but those first couple of days I could never get below a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale.

Despite my pain, I needed to try to get up and moving for my recovery, so they would make me log roll onto my side and then use my arms to try and sit myself up. It was excruciating. I would cry out in pain because it felt like I was ripping my back apart with every movement. Once I got to a seated position, my blood pressure would plummet and I would come close to passing out. I could never sit up for very long. I know what it feels like right before you pass out, so luckily I could prevent it from happening by forcing the nurses to let me stop whatever activity they were wanting me to do. I'm not sure how much they believed me at first, but luckily once they started taking my blood pressure while it was happening, they knew I was telling the truth. Laying down my BP would be fine, but as soon as I got to an elevated position, whether seated or attempting to stand, my BP would drop to a level like 80something over 40something.  It was so frustrating. While some patients might be walking by day 2 or 3, I was still trying to just sit up.

The first few days after surgery were dark and depressing. It's hard to fully explain the emotions I went through, but they included fear, anger, sadness, and regret. Couple that with constant pain and you can see why I felt the way I did. There were lots of tears and feelings of loneliness.

On day 5 post-surgery, a flip switched and my body started cooperating. I was able to sit up without my BP dropping, and that eventually led to standing. I was allowed to take a shower (with a lot of assistance), and I think it really helped. The water and the feeling of clean raised my spirits. It was the first day I wore something other than a hospital gown. My physical therapy was going well and I even walked a little (with the assistance of a walker). On day 6 post-surgery, the surgeon cleared me to go home. It's not like I was able to do anything on my own at that point, but I no longer had the concern that I could pass out at any moment. So, the responsibility of my care now fell on my husband and my family.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dutch Plays Sports

We did a round of swim classes for Dutch in the Spring and then we wanted to shift gears and have him try a couple different sports. We know 5 year olds playing sports is somewhat of a beat-down, but we thought the team aspect, the exercise, and the camaraderie would be good for him. And maybe he'd even find something he likes. First up was t-ball. Our neighborhood is really great about getting families together to meet and start building friendships in preparation for kindergarten. So, a team was formed through the local Y made up of mostly incoming kindergartners at Dutch's future elementary school.


Regardless of his skills on the field, he could rock that uniform like a champ! As far as hitting went, he was pretty good at that. He made contact and rarely missed or hit the tee. His fielding left a lot to be desired, though! He would always forget to actually use the glove when a ball came at him and he was a tad bit slow to react. His throws were great - he would step into the throw and it would go in the right direction and have some distance to it. Running, and running fast at that, was another strength of his.





Dutch's friend Parx (my bff's son) was on the team too, so that made it even better. After most games, we would all head over to Monster Yogurt for a treat and a chance for the parents to relax.



Towards the end of baseball season, Parx's mom mentioned that he was playing on a basketball team. I didn't plan to sign Dutch up for that, but once he got wind from Parx about it, I didn't have a choice! He wanted to play because his buddy was. Why not? We'll give it a shot. So far Dutch has gone to one practice and one game. He has very little background in basketball, so we're really starting from scratch on this one. I have to say I'm fairly impressed with how well he has done in such a short time. He is picking up dribbling quickly and understands you have to do it in order to advance down the court. He's having fun putting his hands up to block opponents' shots, but so far hasn't been very aggressive in trying to get rebounds. He loves to attempt shots, but doesn't have the power to get it up into the basket yet. Based on what I've seen so far, I think he'll get there soon!





I look forward to seeing how he improves over the course of the season. Plus, it's always nice to have weekly guaranteed visits with my bff and her baby girl while we sit in the stands and watch our boys play.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hold Your Horses, Meezy Hit the 3-5

Meezy had a milestone birthday this year, as he turned 35 in early April. We wanted to do something memorable for it, and we love celebrating with friends, so we invited 25 people to join us in a private suite at Lone Star Park. The setup was awesome! Our suite had a private bar with a dedicated bartender, in-suite hors d'oeuvres, a self-serve wagering machine, couches and recliners, a couple of TVs, a dining table, and a private balcony. We were situated right over the finish line, so we had a perfect view! We also had access to the extensive buffet right outside our suite, which was top notch. It was really cool to have an unlimited assortment of food and drinks at our fingertips, while being able to hang out and be comfortable among just our own group. When it was race time, we'd head out to the balcony to cheer on our favorite horses. I highly recommend a private suite if you're going to spend a day at the races!






Our awesome friend, Rachel, made custom cake pops to commemorate the occasion. And did I mention they had exotic racing in-between the horse races? That means we got to see zebras, camels, and ostriches race too! It was quite entertaining. I know my hubby had a great birthday celebration and I hope our guests enjoyed themselves too!



Monday, April 24, 2017

Dutch and Mom Staycation Week

Dutch is in daycare full time and will start kindergarten in the fall. We have to pay tuition for him at daycare whether he's there or not (i.e. holidays, family vacation, sick days, etc), but he does accrue "vacation" days every 6 months.  This means we can keep him out of daycare and we won't get charged. They don't offer this for new students, but he was grandfathered in under the old policy when the daycare was acquired a couple years ago. So, he had 5 vacation days saved up that I figured we might as well use before he starts elementary school. I decided to put my normal responsibilities on hold so we could spend a week together, having fun and taking a break from the daily grind. Of course it would be worth it because of the activities we'd get to participate in together, but the added bonus was that if we spent less than $250 throughout the week, it would come out cheaper than what I would have spent on his daycare!

Day One:
First up on Monday was a visit to Kid Mania. He had been there 1 or 2 times in the past, but it's been quite a few months. I had never gotten to take him first thing in the morning on a weekday, so I thought he might enjoy it being less crowded. That was actually not the case. Lol! After spending 30 minutes going through every single play structure, he came out and told me he was bored and wanted to play with somebody. Luckily we saw another boy about his age (that conveniently looked like a cousin he adores), and that kid was up for playing tag. That bought me another 45 minutes of Dutch's happiness.




After Dutch built up an appetite, we headed to BJ's Restaurant because he said he wanted corn dogs AND chicken fingers and I knew they could provide that. We had fun completing the tasks on his menu together and he liked helping me write the tip on the receipt.


I next took him to the Village at Allen because I remember seeing a small play area there and it also happened to be home to my FAVORITE ice cream shop - Coldstone Creamery. We first played outside in the kids' train depot and maze and then rewarded ourselves with the best ice cream ever made.



As you can see, Day One was a success:


Day Two:
On Tuesday I needed to get some grocery shopping done, which is not one of Dutch's favorite tasks (KROGER IS SO BORING, MOM). So, I had to sweeten the deal by letting him push his own cart and pick something out to put in it (he chose mini fudge brownies).


We spent a short while at home after that while we waited for Chuck E Cheese to open. I'm not a fan of that place for a few reasons, but I don't mind bringing Dutch there on a day when it's not busy, just to play games. All their games only require 1 token, and there are usually coupons online, so you can play a ton of things for not a lot of money.


Next on the agenda was a visit to see our friends at a local fire station. We stopped by Stein's Bakery on the way to pick up some petit fours to bring to them. Dutch got to sit in the engine and pretend to put out a fire, and then the guys were nice enough to oblige him on a game of Trouble!






Day Three:
I decided to take Dutch to the Perot Museum on Wednesday because he loves a few things there, but also because we usually don't get the chance to explore the whole museum when we go as a family. I did not factor in the school field trip schedule and YOWZA, was it crowded. Seemed like every school in the metroplex was there, but we still got to do some of the things Dutch loves most - play the predator/prey video game and visit the mock farmers market in the young child section.




After the museum, I drove us to The Lot, which is a kid-friendly restaurant we had tried to visit on a weekend recently but were unsuccessful because it had a 2+ hour wait for a table. I figured afternoon on a Wednesday wouldn't be a high traffic time, and I was right. We got to eat on the patio, right next to the huge sandy area where kids can play. Luckily I had some random toys in the car, because Dutch needed something to do in the sand.



He enjoyed himself and I certainly didn't mind having a relaxing lunch in the nice weather.

Day Four:
On Thursday, we started with a trip to Adventure Landing. Dutch asks to go to this place all the time. It's a second-rate Dave & Busters, but the prices are good and he typically wins a ton of tickets, so I don't mind bringing him.


He has crazy good luck here.


Target was nearby, and we needed to pick up a gift for a friend's birthday party coming up, so I also let Dutch pick out a puzzle we could do together. I used to love to do large puzzles when I had a thing called free time, but that ship has sailed. I thought our staycation might be a good chance to actually complete one though, so we grabbed a 1,000 piece puzzle related to superheroes.

1,000 pieces is too many for a 5 year old. He quickly got bored!

We didn't want the fun to end, so we grabbed Daddy and picked up little bro from daycare and headed to a nearby playground. It was an awesome day!



Unfortunately, there wasn't a Day Five for our staycation because Meezy and I had to go to a funeral on Friday. One of Jude's teachers, Tuesday Wilson, unexpectedly passed away the week prior and there was no way we were going to miss her service. Jude adored her and she previously taught Dutch as well. She was a wonderful teacher, caregiver, and nurturer, and I'm so sad there won't be the opportunity for more kids to have had the pleasure of knowing her. 

Dutch was able to spend time with his cousins and his Oma while we were at the service that day, and I know he enjoyed it! He even got to dye some eggs to get ready for Easter.


I had a great time with my kiddo during our staycation and I can't believe how soon kindergarten will be upon us!