Thursday, June 23, 2011

Struggles of the process

Having $1000 stashed away just for emergencies is wonderful. You feel secure (mostly) and are able to handle most issues that arise unexpectedly. Then there are the inevitable Murphy moments that come up and clean you out completely. We got visited by one those today. Our "new" car's transmission went *barf* yesterday, and the bill from the mechanic will be upwards of $1700! That's a lot of money and the cheapest we've found.

So back to Baby Step 1. We need to get $1000 back in the bank. Rough month for this to hit. We had just mailed our first Debt Snowball payment to the Horrible Woman (SallieMae).'s all part of the process of getting control of our financial future. This would be so much worse if it weren't for the initial $1000 in the bank! I've had to try to find $2000 before to fix a car, and this time I've only had to scrape together about $500--not bad, all said and done. Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps. I keep reminding myself that it's only a matter of time and things will get better.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

St Tikhon's Monastery

Possibly one of the better kept "secrets" of the road is "America's Holy Mountain"--St. Tikhon's Monastery and Seminary. Actually the oldest Orthodox Monastery in the United States, unless you happen to be Orthodox, you probably aren't aware that it's even there. And how would you be? It's a good 10 miles from Scranton off of I-84 and (though well signed) is pretty remote in its setting. It is, however, an incredible site and well worth a visit (even if you aren't Orthodox).

Picture courtesy of

The grounds of the monastery are rather small, though there are a couple of lakes and ponds as well as well-paved roads to walk along and enjoy the quiet of the afternoon. The bookstore/cafe are open every day to the public and contain a great collection of books, icons, music, and vestments. The cafe brews Starbucks Coffee, but don't hold that against them. It's only a dollar and was well needed after leaving the house with very little coffee early in the morning! The bookstore is run by monks and seminarians, and the people are truly wonderful: easy to talk with, intelligent, and genuinely friendly.

The highlight of the trip was the museum of Orthodoxy in America containing everything from Alaskan pieces to vestments worn by St Nikolai of Ochrid and the chalice, panagia, and vestments worn by St Innocent of Alaska! It's also a treasure trove of Orthodox icons and family life collected from families of immigrants over thecourse of the last couple of centuries! A truly amazing collection of items with historic and religious significance. Tip: if you want to see the museum, best to call ahead and set up an appointment so that one of the brothers can lead you through.

It was a well-spent two hours on site, and not nearly the time we would have liked. We definitely plan to return again for a longer visit!

Skyline Drive

We started off our summer vacation with a mini-road trip.  Since we'll be spending the summer in North Carolina, we decided to take our time going down and take Skyline Drive through Northern Virginia, instead of rushing along on the interstate.  We really enjoyed the drive and are looking forward to doing it again in a few years, possibly camping along the way as well.  There was no camping this time, since trying that with a toddler and a ten-month-old, both of whom love to explore, would be extremely nerve-wracking, if not just plain stupid. But, we did drive the whole park, we stopped for a picnic lunch and wandered the visitor's center.  Most enjoyable was the drive itself: slow, scenic and generally relaxing.
However, both of our little ones hit a wall after their afternoon naps (about 3pm), after that driving was nothing but stressful for everyone.  No matter how enjoyable the morning had been, the horror of the afternoon erased it.   Two screaming, inconsolable children in the midst of rush hour traffic is enough to make us rethink our whole scheme.  This translates into an important lesson that we will use on our Great American Road trip: drive in the morning, arrive in the afternoon.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A practice round

We head south to my parents house for the summer on Monday the 13th--after school lets out, and we can get the girls into the car. We're gonna pack up and hit the road early for an excursion south through Pennsylvania and into Hagerstown, MD. We've got some fun stops along the way that we're going to be visiting!

Stop 1: St Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, PA for a tour of the Oldest Orthodox Monastery in the US! We're hoping to get a tour of their museum and icon repository. We'll definitely be stopping in for some coffee/food/snoop around the bookstore and pay our respects to St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre
Photo by Yates Jarvis

Stop 2: Shenandoah National Park: Skyline Drive so that Ana can see "Oh Shendoah"  and the drive will provide lots of opportunities to stop and stretch our legs! I first drove this road when I moved to Texas after graduating Gordon College and didn't take nearly the time necessary to really enjoy it! Hoping to fix that this time around.

We're plugging away, putting quite a bit of money onto Emily's student loan over the summer and trying to keep motivated about the trip. It sounds like there will be some friends joining us on the west coast portion (Mostly WA and OR) and possibly someone who will join us the whole way! Keep working at it, folks! The prize is worth the work!

Currently reading: A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Currently watching: Cars

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Budget Night

At the end of every month, we do our budget.  For us, that means sitting down together with a monthly cash flow plan and an allocated spending plan, a pencil (with a good eraser), our computer's calculator and Dave Ramsey's  Gazelle Budget software.  Since Emily is the nerd in this relationship and likes to work out the nitty-gritty details, she gets the pencil and paper.  Caleb, being more of a free spirit, takes the computer.  Together, we work out how much money we can expect to get this month, when it's coming in and what we'll need to spend it on.  Every month is different, so we have to sit down every month and change things.  We discuss places where we're spending too much, or not enough.  Then, after we've got all the necessities taken care of, we take all that's left over and put it on our debt.

This month, we'll be putting $990.19 towards our debt.  We'll be finishing off a medical bill and starting on Emily's student loans.

Baby steps, baby steps...