Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Safety Net

When I heard about this company, Earnest, earlier this week, and was sent their blog post here, I had to laugh at how much my financial responsibilities have changed over the past ten years.  This is the second financial institution I was introduced to within the last few months.  You can read the other financial post on my blog here.

As a young, single teacher in my early twenties, I had no desire to save money and seldom thought of emergency situations.  I paid my bills on time and often had a small surplus of funds that I spent selfishly.  I would go salsa dancing with friends every other week, and loved shopping for new dresses and accessories.  If I was later invited to a party or gathering and did not have money to buy a gift, I would whip out my credit card.  Bad idea.  All those little swipes began adding up to big debt!

At a roaring 20's party in my mid-twenties.  Do not be
fooled by the photo; I could have been better about
handling my finances.
When my husband and I were engaged, we took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace class at our church.  Over seven years of marriage later, I still say it was one of the best decisions we made.  It ensured that we were on the same page financially.  Ramsey has what he refers to as 7 Baby Steps:  1. Save $1,000 2. Pay off debt 3. 3-6 month fund 4. Invest 5. College 6. Pay off house 7. Give

Because we are a young family with three children ages five and under, and life happens, we have spent some time hanging around Step 3.  We also regularly do Step 7.  We hope to eventually tackle Steps 4-6 simultaneously.  All in good time.  Step 2 can be made easier and help you with Step 1 by refinancing your student loans to lower your rate and payment with companies like Earnest.

When building an emergency fund past the initial $1,000, you want to have 3-6 months worth of your expenses saved up.  The logic being, should calamity strike (job loss, natural disaster, accident, etc.), you will not go into debt providing for your family's everyday needs.  It gives you a small cushion and window of time to gain control of your finances again.

Back in April of this year, we had plans to begin converting our garage into a piano studio.  We had saved up money and received our income tax return, which would help.  About a week after deciding to move ahead with our blueprints, our city received a large amount of rain in a brief amount of time.  During the storm, we noticed that our kitchen ceiling started leaking.  As often happens in life, we had to put what we wanted on hold in exchange for what we needed:  a new roof.  Though I was initially disappointed at having to hold-off on the studio, I was thankful that we had the funds necessary for our new home improvement project.

Adventures in life are great!  Having a safety net in case
something goes wrong is ideal.
Situations like these, though not super common, have happened enough to show me the absolute importance of having a safety net.  Because of our commitment to living debt-free and continually building and rebuilding our savings fund, we have managed to stay afloat when unexpected events have occurred.  We have not had to borrow money to make ends meet.

If you are interested in reading more on the importance of saving and getting your finances in order, I highly recommend visiting Dave Ramsey's website here.  For a step-by-step guide on how much you should ideally set aside in an emergency fund and how to do that, read this Earnest blog entry.  When you find yourself in a situation and are not sure if you should dip into your emergency fund, ask yourself these questions first.

I shudder when I reflect on some of the poor financial decisions I made in my early twenties.  Though I learned valuable lessons and had times when I was greatly humbled, I am happy that I no longer live there.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jammin' with my Berries

A dear friend that I attended college with, Becky, is an Independent Jamberry Consultant.  When she contacted me recently and asked if I would write a blog post and review their product, I eagerly accepted.  I had seen many on Facebook and elsewhere sporting Jamberry nails.

My clone's hand and mine.  The pattern Becky picked for me
perfectly matched my Qalo ring: bonus!
A bit of history before I go any further: I am extremely practical.  I wear make-up once a week, on Sundays.  As a stay-at-home mom who works part-time, this has been the case for the past five years. In my former profession as a classroom teacher, there were days that I did not have time to put my face on, as some say, before heading out the door.  I was au naturel before Alicia Keys made it cool.

Do not be misled, I love being pampered.  Massages and pedicures are the way to my heart!  However, I only treat myself to such pleasures a few times a year.  Manicures have never been worth the investment, in my humble opinion.  My nails typically begin chipping after one week of use.  

Enter:  Jamberries!
My daughter's hands

I was not super familiar with "jams" (what the cool kids call them) except that they looked cute.  Within a week of agreeing to blog about them, I received a Thirty-One bag that had all I needed to try them out.  Becky was quite thoughtful and not only picked out a pattern for me, but sent some for my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, too.  For complete instructions on how to apply jams, please watch this video.  There is also a Spanish version here.

If you're anything like me, after watching that video, you're thinking, "That's an extensive process..."  I watched it a couple of times and set out all the needed supplies before taking the plunge.  And you know what?  It was easy.  Not only that, but my daughter, who requests that I give her a manicure at least once a week, sat through the whole process while I applied the jams to her right hand!  She peeled them off about 30 minutes later, but she liked them!

My jams after two weeks!  So, I can't be a hand model...
I would liken jams to stickers.  Mine lasted for two whole weeks before finally starting to peel off.  And the reason they started coming off was because strands of my hair (of which there is a lot!) would get stuck in the tiny crevices left due to my nails growing.  Over the course of those fourteen days, they endured:  washing dishes, working in my garden, pruning trees and plants, showering, doing laundry and playing with my three children.  I was surprised at just how durable they are!  And receiving compliments on them was a nice change of pace for me!

Needless to say, I am a fan of the jams.  More importantly, they are affordable.  The designs that are available to choose from are endless!  With the holidays upon us, a quick browse through a catalog is sure to find you something you would like!  Please take the time to browse my friend Becky's website here.  

Monday, October 3, 2016

On Being Content

I'm an ambitious person.  I typically have a special project I'm working on or our towards outside of my wifely (pastor's wife, at that), motherly, friendship and piano teaching duties.  When my husband and I first became engaged, we agreed that I would stay at home to raise our children (when they came around) for a season, with the understanding that I would keep a part-time job.  "Also, you need to know that I will always have side projects.  Otherwise, I'll go crazy, " I said to him.

Why yes, oldest daughter, some days
I feel like this, too.
Presently, I find myself living the life we envisioned years ago.  The life that I dreamed of, then.  Our four-year old son attends school, and our two and a half year old and three month old girls stay home with me.  Just last night, I was conversing with a dear friend over the phone, venting about the monotony of my day-to-day schedule.  "You are an incredible mother," she shared, "incredible."  "Thank you," I responded.  Truthfully, she could have shared, "the sun comes up each day," and it would have had the same effect.  "Is it enough?" I have often wondered.

This year has been marred by unexpected events and death.  I feel like I am constantly running to catch up with basic, daily responsibilities, barely keeping things afloat.  I go back and forth between wanting more and craving less.  Rejection from writing contests and speaking events has become the norm.  My current figurative state, sitting by a window and waiting for the next big thing.  And feeling like I will internally combust if someone asks anything more of me, yelling, "What more do you want from me?!  I have nothing left to give."

I am certain that had I been born male, my name would have been Jacob.  In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jacob was the man that wrestled with the Lord.  Literally.  I am constantly wrestling with the Lord, trying to discern what He has for me next.  In the midst of what has been a challenging year, He has shown Himself faithful and answered so many prayers.  Still, I find myself asking Him why, how and when.  Quiet, reflective moments are hard to come by.  When I do have them, I feel Him whispering the same thing, "My child, this is what I have for you.  This is what I've called you to—you're already doing it."  

"But, God," I often interrupt, "what else?"  

And so it is with us, right now.  Me, frantically looking around at all these other things I could be doing, and the Lord, gently and constantly reminding me that I am doing what is best for now.

"I have learned to be content in any circumstance.  I have experienced times of need and times of abundance.  In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.  I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me." -Philippians 4:11-13 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Musings on Love

"No one has greater love than this– that one lays down his life for his friends." -John 15:13

There was a period in my life when I was obsessed with the idea of love.  As a freshman in college, I read every book I could get my hands on that dealt with the topic.  When I would meet and visit with married couples, I typically asked how they knew they had found the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with.  Answers varied.  One response, in particular, stuck with me.  "If you're not ready to give up your life for someone else," this woman said, "you're not ready to get married."  "That's a little drastic..." I thought to myself.
As an education major at Central College, I heard countless stories of young ladies who were taken to a particular bench at a nearby park to have a DTR (Defining the Relationship) talk with what would be their future spouse.  I listened to each tale with awestruck wonder, yearning to be that girl.  When my junior and senior years rolled around, it felt like I had a wedding to attend every other weekend.  Lavish and sacred events, I sometimes envied the couples exchanging vows before me.  They were so in love.  

I had no desire to get married at that point, but I did want someone I could stroll through our little town of Pella, Iowa, with, arm in arm, gazing up at him with lovestruck eyes.   I filled journal upon journal with entries about how he looked at me that particular day, or caressed my hand or said something special. (The he would be someone different, in my imagination, with each changing season.)  I would cling to each him loyally with tunnel vision thinking that he was the one.

If I could have a conversation with my younger self, I would say, "I know you are confused about what love is, but it is not what I believe you think it is."
I have matured much since being in my early twenties.  Recent events in my life have caused me to pause and reflect on what real love looks like, timeless snapshots kept in the camera of my heart:

Love is...

Walking in the ocean with one of my best friends in high school, mostly covered up because I was so self-conscious about my skin.  I told him this, and he gently put his hand on my leg, looked at me, and said, "You're beautiful."  Not in a selfish or sexual way, but in a way that said, "You are my friend and I love you."

A father forgiving his daughter though she has repeatedly broken his heart.

My lifelong family friend who took me shopping for school supplies and clothing at the beginning of each academic year, expecting nothing in return.  I lived for the living room fashion shows I put on for my family afterwards, wearing the latest Kmart and Payless trends.

A mother waking up before the sun rises to pray for her estranged daughter.

My husband filling my Ozark cup with ice water for the evening and setting it by my bedside every night.

Me, choosing to stay at home with my children, and continually wiping their butts, wiping away their tears, teaching and instructing them "in the way they should go."

Friends that will stop what they're doing to help in your time of need.
There are many things that our world, and especially our society, say that love is.  As for me, I say that Jesus, the woman I quoted at the beginning of this post, and Shakespeare, in some of his writings, got it right.  I will leave you with my favorite Sonnet:

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved." 

-Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

Now, what do you say love is?

Monday, September 12, 2016

For the Love of Convenience

Meet Hershey, our Chocolate Lab.
Hello, everyone!  I'm happy to be back in the lovely world of blogging.  I unintentionally took the month of August off due to our family transitioning from four members to six—with the birth of our second daughter on June 19th, and the adoption of our chocolate lab about a month ago.  I would liken life, currently, to a constant three-ring circus:  challenging, fun and noisy.

The Wal-Mart Grocery Pick-Up program has been a lifesaver for us this summer.  Historically, I have not been the biggest fan of Wal-Mart (for reasons I won't disclose in this post).  About a year ago, they built a store in our neighborhood.  With the convenience of it being five minutes away (when walking), I frequented the store much more than I ever had.

An example of our "favorites"
that are automatically listed
when we shop online.
At the beginning of June, I saw different friends sharing links for $10 off a first Wal-Mart pick-up order through Facebook.  At the encouragement of my husband, I decided to check it out.  Friends, I don't know that I will step foot in a grocery store ever again.  The convenience of ordering my groceries online and having them delivered to my van has been spectacular!  If you have not experienced this yet and would like to, follow these steps :

1.  Go to the Wal-Mart grocery website here.  There is also an app you can download for your phone (Walmart Grocery).  We have had the easiest time going to the website on our phones.  When you become a frequent online shopper, your "favorites" will automatically be saved, making it much easier to shop for your next purchases.

2.  Search for the groceries you would like to order.  This is especially helpful if you are a financially frugal nerd, like my husband.  It makes it easy to compare prices per ounce and get the best bang for your buck, so to speak.  Fresh baked and cooked goods are not included in the pick-up program (ex:  Rotisserie Chicken and French Bread).  If they don't have the particular amount of the item you request in stock, they substitute a larger one at no cost.
Park here or in another
designated area and call for

3.  Schedule a pick-up time for the following day, proceed to checkout and use this code to get $10.00 of your first order.  Bonus:  If you use this code, we both get $10.00 off our next orders!

4.  Drive to the Wal-Mart on Boca Chica Blvd or Alton Gloor Blvd (if you are local) and park in the designated area.  Call the number listed on the grocery pick-up sign and wait while a worker brings out your order, has you sign for it, and loads it into your vehicle!

5.  Kindly thank them, enjoy the treat(s) and drive away like the boss you are!  Depending on the worker, I have been given (at the very least) a bottle of water, Takis and Hershey bars.

This is Sonia.  She works at the Walmart on Boca Chica
and gives the best treats!
That's it!  Easy, right?  It's important to note that this is a FREE program, and the workers are not allowed to accept tips.  The best way to thank them is to fill out the survey they provide the link for when they hand you your receipt.  Thanks for reading, and Happy Shopping!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Many Uses of Basil

Want to know a pet peeve of mine?  When I look up a recipe online, that's precisely what I want:  the recipe.  It's rather inconvenient when the blogger gives me a whole backstory on how the concoction originally came from their great great grandmother and how it's the best version for such and such a reason...blah, blah, blah.  I like a good foodie story as much as the next person, but it's the how to that excites me most.  Thus, here are my favorite go-to basil recipes in no particular order.  Enjoy!

Basil Dressing (adapted from Park's Success with Herbs, 1980)*

Basil Dressing is delicious and healthy!
1 large clove garlic (or whatever size you have to achieve the same amount)
1 c salad (vegetable) oil
½ tsp powdered mustard
1 tsp water
1 egg white
½ tsp kosher salt (can omit for salt-free diets)
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp ground pepper
⅓ c vinegar (I use apple cider or white wine)
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped (I use 4 Tbsp)
Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on low for 15 seconds.

In making the dressing I have found the following to be true:

1.  The longer it is blended, the thicker it will be.  Good as a dip for veggie trays, especially raw okra.
2.  For a thinner dressing, add a drizzle of water or milk while blending.
3.  Good as a substitute for mayo on sandwiches.

*This recipe was given to me by Angela McGowan Barnard, The Master Gardener herself.  Notes are hers.  Let's be honest, I was not yet born in 1980...


Cherry tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Mozzarella Cheese, cubed
Balsamic Vinegar**
Olive Oil
Tooth picks

1.  Assemble skewers.  Sandwich tomatoes and cheese in between basil leaves.
2.  Drizzle with Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil.
3.  Enjoy!

*Recipe originally found on Pinterest.
**Balsamic Vinegar can also be used separately, as a dip.

Tomato and Basil Pasta

Penne Pasta (or other preferred pasta)
Fresh basil leaves, chopped
Diced tomatoes
Feta cheese*
Olive Oil
Salt to taste

*Because everything is betta with feta!  I threw this together on a day that I needed to go grocery shopping, with items that were readily available.  The basil and tomatoes were fresh from our garden!

Refreshing Strawberry Basil Water!
Strawberry Basil Water*

4-6 strawberries, hulled and quartered
½ lemon, sliced
Small handful of basil, scrunched
Ice and cold filtered water

Fill pitcher to the top with ice and fruit.  Slightly scrunch up the basil so it releases it's flavor.  Cover with cold filtered water.  The water is best if you let it infuse for at least 1 hour.

*Original recipe here.  We love this drink!  I originally made it in an attempt to get one of my little ones to drink more water.  It's delicious and refreshing– the perfect summer drink!

Basil Ice Cream*
Old Fashioned Basil Ice Cream (the children loved it)!

2 c heavy cream
2 c whole milk
¾ c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
Handful of basil, finely chopped or blended

Whisk all ingredients together until sugar dissolves.  Freeze for 4 hours.  Enjoy!

*This recipe is a combination of two different ones I found online.  I needed it to be child-friendly because I was making it with my children (they ate it up!).  For the two recipes, click here and here.

Let's not forget that basil leaves are also enjoyable by themselves.  My husband will often grab a couple of leaves from our garden to "cleanse his palate," and my two-year old daughter eats at least 4-5 leaves when she spends time outside.
My daughter picks a basil leaf to consume.  It has led to us having great discussions about which plants are safe to eat and which are not.
And there you have it!  These are some of my favorite go-to recipes when the basil is plentiful.  What are some of yours?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My Sister's Keeper

Erin and me, circa 1990.  As you can tell, I was typically
the more reserved one.
January 10, 1990 has always been one of my favorite days.  It was the day that my younger sister, Erin, was born.  I was an only child for eight years, so the thought of having a sibling thrilled me.  When she came around, everything was so much more fun.  I never felt jealousy towards her, and fighting would have been ridiculous since I was so much older.  In some ways I was like another parent to her.

Our family and those who knew us well described us as, "night and day."  Not only were we different in appearance, her with her lighter, porcelain-like skin, light brown hair and green eyes.  We were also uniquely individual in our personalities.  I always admired her spirit.  From the time she was a toddler, she had no problem making her requests known and not taking anything from anyone.  She didn't care who you were.

Sometimes when Erin smiles, her eyes disappear...isn't she cute?!
She had, and still has, an extra soft spot in her heart for me, though.  When I was in the 7th grade, I made a really bad decision and my parents were scolding me (trust me when I say I deserved it).  She immediately burst into tears and said, "Don't get mad at Sissy (her lifelong nickname for me)!"  We attended an awards ceremony when I was a junior in high school, and immediately after receiving my certificates, she ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and walked me back to my seat, smiling up at me and beaming the entire way.  Suffice it to say she has been one of my greatest fans.

About three months ago, Erin went to see the gynecologist regarding a lump in her pelvic area.  They decided to surgically remove the mass, sent it to a lab and found out that it was Squamos Cell Carcinoma (SCC).  The good news is that the surgery removed it all from the pelvic area and that part of the body does not need further treatment.  The bad news is that after months of tests and lab work, they found five precancerous cells (SCC) in her lungs.  Starting tomorrow morning (Wednesday), Erin will go through eight sessions of chemotherapy, followed by multiple sessions of immunotherapy, in hopes of killing off the cells.

We are optimistic, overall, about the diagnosis and that all will be well in the end.  Erin is now 26 years old and has shown great resolve and strength in the midst of this whole ordeal.  She has told me the dose of chemotherapy she will receive is a low one, and the doctor has said she won't have the usual side effects (hair loss, nausea, etc.).  Ultimately, we won't know how she will react until she has gone through a couple of sessions.

Though she is a full grown woman, I still see her as the little sister that followed me around everywhere when we were younger.  I will likely always see her that way.  This whole process has been a journey for me, too.  I have had moments of great faith, and other times that I have fallen apart at the thought of her suffering.  For a long time growing up, I felt responsible for her, almost to a fault.  It wasn't until I was a mature adult that I realized I was not.  The Lord is her keeper, and will do a much better job caring for her than I ever could.  He has gone before her and will be with her throughout this entire process and will see it to the end.

So I ask that you please keep her and the rest of our family in your prayers.  Pray that she is healed.  Pray that this makes us all better, and not bitter.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." -Jeremiah 29:11-13