Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Weekend Adventures: Chocolate Factory

Last week I introduced everyone to our new hobby and shared some of the caches we had found that first weekend out. I mentioned that we managed to find 3 caches that first afternoon out and about. What I didn't tell you was that one of those caches involved chocolate. Yes, chocolate!

You may have caught this sneak peek on Instagram...

There is a chocolate factory (sorry, I should clarify, a Russell Stover's chocolate factory) not too far away from where we live that's located right off of the interstate. And someone decided it was the perfect place to hide a cache. Honestly, I agree - it's the perfect place. The cache is pretty easy to find with the coordinates. But then you start to think... well, we're here, so why don't we just go on in and check it out?? Yep, it pulls you in! You can practically hear the chocolate screaming your name.

The best part? Because its an outlet store, you can get the chocolate for a relatively reasonable price compared to the retail stores. Plus, they have what I like to call "whoopsie" bags with chocolate that wasn't good enough to be sold in pretty packaging. But, not so pretty packaging = deeply discounted chocolate. And, they also have candy from different holidays, so you can bet there's quite a bit of clearance items they're trying to get rid of.

Here's some of the shots that I took inside:

I must say, I was pretty disappointed the didn't have UCF chocolates :( I don't care if I don't eat pecans... it's the principle of the thing!

By the time we finished walking around and checking out the warehouse, we walked away with $2 of chocolate. Caramel Santas, marshmallow Santas, & peppermint patties. All on clearance. And totally worth the $2!

Seriously, if you're ever driving down I-75 and you're craving some chocolate, this is the place for you! The service was friendly and the options were never ending. I'm telling you what though....if more caches take us to places like this, our wallets and waistlines will not be happy with us!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Weekend Adventures: Geocaching

One of my colleagues volunteers at a local state park and loves to email us about the upcoming events being held there. Occasionally, if its an event being held on the weekends, I'll print out the flyer and post it on my message board for students to see. 

This time, one of the flyers caught the eye of my janitor. The battlefield was hosting a geocaching class. Her and her husband had recently purchased a handheld GPS device and was trying to figure out geocaching on their own, but with no luck. She said she was going to go and wondered if I was going since it was up on my door. I told her I was thinking about going, but wasn't sure if my husband was going to be up for it (boy, if I knew then what I know now.... that's the understatement of the century!). So I asked Dan about it, and he said sure. Didn't seemed enthused, but willing to go and get out of the house and explore somewhere new.

So Saturday morning, we woke up and made a quick breakfast before hitting the road and heading to the battlefield. We got there just as the class was starting. Luckily my coworker and her husband had saved us seats next to them. The gentleman leading the class was a park volunteer as well as a Boy Scout leader. He seemed really knowledgeable and walked us through pretty much every aspect of geocaching. After the lesson, he broke us up into groups and told us to find the temporary caches he had placed around the park.

At this point I should probably stop and explain what geocaching is. There is a great, short video about geocaching here that you can check out. But the basic concept is this: People hide treasures, or caches,  in random places. They then go online and leave latitude and longitude coordinates for the cache for others to go and find it. The caches are usually camouflaged, so they can be difficult to find. Once you find the cache, you open it up and sign the log. If there is "swag" inside, you can take it as long as you replace it with something of equal or lesser value. That's the basic gist.

Our instructor paired us up with an experienced geocacher who allowed us to use his GPS device to find the temporary caches around the park.

Ignore the fishing line. The guy who this belongs to says he's typically on boats, so this was the easy "lanyard" he created.

Dan and my coworker's husband led the way towards the first cache. 

I ended up being the first one to spot the cache. We were approaching a large field and the only thing in the middle of it was a stone marker (you can see it in the distance in the photo above). I stopped to read the marker and snap a picture, and then I spotted it.

See it? It's one of those metal pill containers that you can hook onto your key chain. How about a better angle?

Yep, caches can be small. The instructor told us that there are caches out there that are even smaller than that! The traditional caches were old ammo containers. But now they can be pretty much anything, as long as they have a seal on them to keep them waterproof.

After the first cache, we passed the GPS around so that each of us newbies could have a shot at leading us to the next treasure. There were a total of 4 hidden around the park that the instructor had set up that morning.

There are 3 permanent caches hidden around the park. But the expert in our group had to get going, so we didn't have a GPS unit to go searching for those.

After the class, Dan and I headed out to Walmart to do some grocery shopping. Randomly, we decided to check the geocaching website to see if there were any caches nearby. Surprisingly  there were 3 caches in the parking lot alone! The only problem is that there were too many people around to really hunt them down, so we decided we'd come back later when it wasn't so busy.

Dan seemed a little disappointed that we weren't able to find a cache on our own. So, on our way to our friends' house later that night for dinner, we stopped near their neighborhood to search for one. And voila! Dan found his first cache!

After dinner and a late night of Apple to Apples, we started to head home. About 5 minutes away from the apartment complex I asked Dan if he was awake. Obviously he was awake because he was driving, but I wanted to know how awake he was. He asked why. I thought it was the perfect time to go back to Walmart & search for that cache we couldn't find earlier.

2 a.m. and we're walking around a set of bushes looking for a hidden cache. Yeah, not creepy at all. Luckily, this store seemed to not have security driving around. Small town. Most people are sleeping at that time of night. Anyways, we found it!

This one had a trinket in it, but since we didn't have anything to swap it out with, we left it there for the next people to find. We tried looking for one more in the parking lot, but it was too dark to see anything very well, so we moved on and went home.

Sunday we woke up and did some chores around the house. About 1 o'clock, we were getting into that lazy mode - you know the one where you don't want to do anything but veg on the couch in front of the t.v.? Yeah, that one. Anyways, Dan looks at me with his innocent little kid face and asks if I want to go out and hunt for a few more caches. I said sure.

He grabbed his car GPS (which I found out later had been downloaded with all the nearby cache coordinates - like I said before, him not being interested = understatement of the century) and we headed out. The car GPS could only get us so close. What we really needed was one of those handheld devices. 

We weren't able to find the one that was suppose to be hiding under this bridge. Even with Dan getting down and dirty to try and locate it.

 But we did managed to find another 3 caches before the sun started setting.

The last one we found had a geocoin in it, which we thought was pretty cool. The person who originally placed this coin is hoping that it will travel to Germany and back. We're hoping to find another cache to leave it in when we make a trip to Ocala next weekend.

We're both loving this new hobby. It gets us outdoors, introduces us to new places, and it's not overly physical (which is more for my benefit that Dan's). We've already decided that the only time we're allowed to go out hunting for caches is when we're both together. But I'll be honest, yesterday was a little frustrating not having a GPS to work with. It was hard not knowing how close or far away you were from the targeted coordinates. But, we did download a new app which has a built in compass, so we're hoping this will work much better on our next trip.

We've even started looking at caches that are hidden down in Key West - we're planning a vacation there in the Fall to celebrate becoming debt free (fingers crossed!). Geocaching seems like an amazing, and cheap way to explore new areas. And we're both excited to see where it takes us!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Not Normal

During lunch I checked my phone to see if there were any messages that had come in during the morning. The hubby had sent me a text saying that he thinks friends of ours had put an offer in on a house. Had no idea they were even looking. I mean, we both knew they were upset with their current living arrangement, but we didn't know they were going to take that big of a leap to fix it. I logged on Facebook, and sure enough, there was a status update about an offer being accepted along with a link to the property. Not bad. Builder basic. But definitely nice. Especially for first time home buyers like our friends are.

But then it hit me. I'm not sure how to describe the feeling exactly... guilt? like I'm on the wrong track? I feel like society dictates the order in which we're suppose to live our lives. First you meet a guy. Then the ring. Then the vows. Then the house. Then the kids. I mean, that's the ideal, right? Yet there are so many people that do things out of order nowadays. How many couples move in together before they get married? How many children are born out of wedlock every single day?

The hubby and I have a plan. We talk about it quite frequently. Sure, we make changes to it occasionally, but the basic plan has always remained. No house until all of the debts in our names are paid off. No house until we have a decent emergency savings fund built up. No house until we can put some sort of down payment on it. And that's going to take a while. We may or may not have our first kid before we even buy our first house.

Usually, that's okay with me. That's okay with us.

But yet... days like today, I still have this feeling like we're doing something wrong. Like we're going against what society says. Like we're going out of order.

And then I have to remind myself... we're not normal. We're not like everyone else. We're not going by what society tells us to do.

As soon as I remind myself of that fact, I remind myself of our plan. The plan we talk about most nights before going to bed. The plan we talk about over the weekends while sitting on the couch. The plan we talk about on long road trips. The plan and dreams we have for our future. And I'm reminded that our plan makes me feel safe. The idea of feeling safe and secure in our future makes a whole lot more sense than trying to fit into the mold that society deems to be "normal."

If "normal" means going into debt to the point where money stresses me out, then I don't want to be normal. I'm looking forward to the day where I control money and money is not controlling me. And if it takes being "weird" to get there, then sign me up!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Remembering a Hero

I know it's January and Christmas has already come and gone, but I have one more story from Christmas to share. When I shared our holiday festivities I mentioned that I had to put some finishing touches on a gift for my stepdad. So I wanted to share the project with you, as well as the story about the man behind the project.

This is Dennis (I really wish I had a better picture). He was my stepdad's best friend. He was also a veteran of the US Navy and served in Vietnam. By the time he and his family came into my life, he was already a grandfather to 3 and working hard towards some form of retirement. He was a handyman and was always there to help when needed. He had an infectious laugh and smile, and always knew how to brighten your mood. You could always find him at the VFW or American Legion helping out - either that, or on my parents' back porch having a good time.

A couple years ago, Dennis was diagnosed with cancer. To be honest, it's not surprising because of the lifestyle he chose to live. But, regardless, the diagnosis was hard to swallow. He started seeing the oncologist that my mom and sister work for (and I use to work for). He went through chemo. He had multiple scans done. The typical journey for someone who has been diagnosed with cancer.

He had a follow up appointment at the office. I can't even remember what day of the week it was... maybe a Friday? He talked and joked with my mom and sister at the office. Things were going pretty well. Not great, but nothing that the doctor deemed to be urgent or concerning. He had come over to my parents house that afternoon and was talking with my stepdad on the back porch eating cheese balls. I remember being there that day for some reason.... even though I was living in Zephyrhills at the time. Probably because it was July and the middle of the summer - my schedule is always out of whack during those months. After a while, Dennis wasn't feeling too well and decided to go home. Nothing out of the ordinary. He tired easily at this point. I remember heading back to my apartment shortly after that, and Dan must have come with me.

Later that night, I got a phone call from mom. The conversation started off as normal. Hey. How you doing? What are you up to? But her voice sounded funny. Immediately I asked what was wrong. My mind feared it was my stepdad (we've always been worried about his health). But it wasn't him. It was Dennis. He'd had a heart attack. The doctor said it must have been caused by a blood clot, which is sometimes a side effect of the medication regiment he was on. But we'll never know for sure. I just remember sitting on the bed and crying. I don't think Dan had ever seen me cry like that.

Anyways, what does Dennis have to do with my stepdad's Christmas gift? Everything. You see, at his funeral, there was a 21 gun salute. I didn't know it at the time, but the family collected the shell casings. The divided them up among the children. And then they gave a few to my stepdad.

A few months later, I noticed these shell casings sitting on top of my parents' television. Seemed odd considering they aren't gun owners. So I asked my mom about them. She filled me in on the story. I told her they should be somewhere safe, not just sitting on top of a t.v. where they could get knocked off. She agreed. So, I started brainstorming a way to protect them, but still allow them to be seen. And then it hit me...a shadow box.

Initially I thought about just a simple square box with the 3 shell casings spaced evenly. But then I realized that years down the road, people might not remember what the shell casings were. So I knew it had to be a little more than that.

I found a small, black, 4x6 frame at Target that would work as a shadow box. I went to Michael's and picked up some scrapbook paper (for the background), a set of military stickers, and some tacky glue. I recruited my mom to order a name plate from a local trophy store.

Honestly, gathering all the supplies took longer than actually putting it all together. I didn't take any "in progress" pictures, but here's the play-by-play. I laid out everything to make sure it would all fit. Then, after cutting the scrapbooking paper down to size, I glued it directly to the back of the frame. The name plate came with an adhesive backing, so I stuck that and the round naval sticker into place. I played around with the direction of the shell casings and decided they should all face the same way. I tried my best to keep them aligned as I glued each one down. Once those were in place, I added simple stars in between the casings.

Here's the finish product while the glue was drying:

And here it is being wrapped before taking it to Orlando:

I texted that last picture to my mom to show her the finished product. She showed it around the VFW where Dennis was well-known. Everyone loved it. Everyone said my stepdad would cry. 

To say my stepdad was surprised is an understatement. After he opened it, it took him a second or two to realize what it was. Then he ran out the door. Yep, right out into the front yard. He needed a minute to himself to soak it all in. We all got a little teary eyed. I can pretty confidentially say that he loved it. He didn't even realize that the shell casings had been missing. Shoot, he didn't even realize they had somehow migrated to the living room - he thought they were still sitting in the top drawer of his dresser.

I don't think we will ever be able to top this gift. And you know what, I'm okay with that. I can't wait to see where they choose to hang it up.

If you're looking to do something similar to this to honor a fallen veteran, I can tell you it was super simple in terms of skill. The supplies probably ran us just under $25 - the most expensive items being the frame ($7) and the name plate ($7.50). Plus, if you already have the glue on hand, that's one less thing you'd have to purchase.

We all miss Dennis. But I'm glad that we now have a way to remember him, and remember his sacrifice to this country.

Orlando Hockey

Sounds like an oxymoron, huh? Hockey in Florida? But it happens. We even have our own NHL team - the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not only are the Lightning becoming more and more popular, there are smaller leagues that are expanding across our state. One of the newest teams to join are the Orlando Solar Bears.

Actually, the Solar Bears use to be pretty popular in Orlando, but the team dissolved a few years ago. This year they've returned to the Amway Center.

So why am I talking about hockey? Well, because Dan has gotten bit by the hockey bug. It started a couple years ago when his brother joined an amateur league at the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland. It's the only indoor ice skating and hockey rink in the Central Florida area that was close to home. Once his brother got into it, he talked Dan into joining a team. And from there, it's history. Sadly, we now live too far from the RDV so Dan hasn't played hockey since our wedding. But, it doesn't mean he hasn't stopped watching or talking about it.

When his birthday rolled around in November, I thought tickets to a Solar Bears game was the perfect gift. So I told him what his gift was and told him to pick a date. He knew his brother would be coming down from Georgia for Christmas and he wanted to know if they were going to go to a OSB game while they were down. So we waited until this past Thursday to celebrate the Hubby's birthday.

It was our first time in the new Amway Center. And I have to say, it didn't disappoint. The only gripe I have is the amount of money you have to pay to park in their garage. We opted to park at Dan's office and walk a couple city blocks to get to the Amway. It was worth saving the $15-20 it would have cost us otherwise.

I'll be honest, I wasn't really into the game. Not like Dan was. But things started to pick up by the 3rd period  when Shades, the team's mascot, got a little more interactive with the crowd.

The best part, hands down, was during the last intermission when they shared a JibJab video of Shades dancing gangnam style. It was hilarious!

All in all, the night was a success. The Hubby really enjoyed himself. And I'm glad he got to experience the game with his brother.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ringing in the New Year

Happy New Year! I know a lot of bloggers out there are posting their New Year Resolutions over the next couple days, and I guess I'm jumping on this bandwagon once again.

First things first. We need to revisit last year's resolutions and see how well those went.

  • Help friend plan her wedding. Success! Her wedding turned out absolutely beautiful. You can see pictures from that special day here.
  • Learn to live with a roommate. Although the friend we were initially allowing to move in with us figured out other arrangements, we did take on a roommate in November. We're doing it to help out an old friend of ours who moved from the panhandle and is settling in at a new job before finding a different living arrangement. So far I think things are going well, so we'll mark this one as a success as well!
  • Purchase a new car for hubby. Again, another success! We weren't able to save up enough money to pay for the car outright like we were initially hoping, so we did have to take out a car loan. Luckily, we should be able to have the car paid off before the end of this year.
  • Work on our debt snowball. Wow, we are on a roll - this is another success! It was slow going at first, but we've made some major headway these past couple months. Even with the holidays, we've managed to pay down my car loan to within two months of being paid off. There are no words to describe how good that feels!
  • Have another successful year of teaching AP. And the ball keeps on rolling.... This past year we did have a higher pass rate, only by 3%, but still a higher pass rate. What makes me feel good is that the AP program at our school currently ranks the highest in our district. So even though I was hoping for a slightly higher passing rate, I'm still really proud of what the kids accomplished last year.
  • Get into better shape. And this is where the ball stops rolling... Yeah, total fail. I actually weigh more now than I did last January. And that 5K I wanted to run? I trained for all of 3 weeks and gave up. Yep. Epic fail. Oh well. There's always this year, right?
  • Try more foods. I started out doing really great on this one with my recipe resolutions. But then I lost steam and stopped cooking them completely.
  • Stress less at school. Again, this one is so-so. During the Fall semester, I think I do pretty well at maintaining an appropriate level of stress. But when it comes to the Spring semester, that whole idea goes out the window.

On to this year's resolutions...

  • Swim with the manatees. This one is already in the works. Dan received a voucher for his birthday to go swimming in Crystal River with the manatees. Hopefully within the next month or so we'll be checking this one off the list.
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  • Go Camping. We just found a little camping facility a few miles away from home that looks like the perfect place to camp. The only problem? We don't have a tent. Or sleeping bags. Or basically anything that you need to go camping. But we've been talking about wanting to go camping for a while.
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  • Travel to Key West. Or anywhere really. But we're hoping for Key West. I've been in the past, but Dan's never been. We've been talking about going on a vacation for a little while now, and the Keys seems like the perfect place to escape and relax.
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  • Pay off both cars. As I mentioned above, we're so close to having my car paid off. And we're hoping Dan's car should be paid off by October/November. And once that's done, we're planning on...
  • Saving up 3-6 month emergency fund. This one probably won't be done before the year is over, but we definitely want to get a start on it. The Dave Ramsey plan says this is the next step after paying off all of our debt. Technically, Dan will still have a student loan in his dad's name to pay off. But, we're making the choice to put that on hold (basically only make minimum payments and save everything else) because of our next goal...
  • Get pregnant. When we got married we said that we'd wait until our debt was paid off before getting pregnant. And then we bought another car, which pushed back that plan. But we'll hopefully be starting that crazy journey before the year is over. We have no idea if we'll have problems conceiving (I've been told in the past I might have difficulties getting pregnant), but we're excited to start the next chapter in our family.
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So that's it. I'm definitely looking forward to 2013!

What resolutions have you made this year? Or maybe you've chosen not to make resolutions at all. Would love to hear about them!


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