Saturday, June 30, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

Ove the past week I read this book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I had heard about the book from a friend of mine who shared an excerpt with our small group.  In a nutshell, the author shares her story of writing a list of one thousand things she is thankful for in the course of a year. But it is so much more than that.

She has experienced many things in this world that should leave you with a broken spirit, closed and hard hearted. But she has turned toward God and pursued Him with a passion spurred on by an empty and thirsty spirit. She knows he offers her more than what she has . . . and she desperately wants it.

But how do you experience more of God and His gifts when you are up to your elbows in laundry (for her six children), cooking, cleaning, parenting and everything else life squeezes in.

She shares her story. She opens herself up to you as you read of her past, her hurts, and her fears. The language she uses can only be described as "beautiful" and "heart-language." She speaks to your soul - because your soul is thirsting for more of God too (at least mine is). She shares how making a list of gifts turned into an attitude of thankfulness and joy -- even in the midst of the hard times.

I wish reading this would mean I obtained this same thankful spirit she now has. But unfortunately, there is work I have to do in my own heart and mind to achieve it. But at least I know it's possible now! I really enjoyed reading the book and hope to work toward cultivating my own heart of thankfulness.

Baby Doll Pants

You may remember that I started sewing doll clothes for my niece a while ago. Well, I just wanted to report that I finally finished! Her outfit is complete! (Unfortunately, it will be a while before she gets them.) I made the finishing touches this morning and I love how these little blue pants turned out!

The shirt also has little specks of brown that will match the jumper I made for her last year. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Staying Away from Sugar: Week 3

Once again, I did alright. And that means I've made it an entire three weeks without eating sweets! That's enough time to seriously break this habit! I will admit, I had a little bowl of Jello a few times through out the week. Of course I had the usual culprits of temptation: cookies and ice cream, coffee cake, donuts . . . but I stayed strong.

I read in my "Heath" magazine last week that people who say, "I don't eat _____" are 80% more likely to stick with their diet/choice than if they said "I can't have _____." Saying "I can't" implies a weakness and restriction where as "I don't" is a decision and more empowering.

I really think that is true. When I say "I don't eat donuts" I really don't even want them. If I say "I can't" or "I shouldn't eat that" there is wiggle room to go back and say, "but I will anyway" or "just this once." And then I just feel lousy and my self-talk gets really negative.

I was able to exercise three out of the five workdays last week and I hit the gym hard yesterday.

Here's to staying strong for one more week!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Staying Away from Sugar: Week 2

I set a goal at the beginning of the month to stay away from sweets and simple carbohydrates (aka: white processed flour). Week 1 went great. When I craved something sweet, I was prepared and had vegetables or fruit to snack on. And when people offered me sweets, I was strong and able to politely decline.

Week 2 came and went. And although I would say I was still successful, it wasn't 100%. Twice in the last week we attended a lunch or dinner put on by other people.  I said no to the obvious things like chocolate cake and cupcakes.  But in both events, white bread was the only option for the sandwiches being served. So, I had a total of three white buns last week (yes I had two sandwiches at one of the meals. I'm okay with that). I wasn't going to make a big deal out of it and honestly, I really enjoyed my simple carbs that day. I could have gone without the bread and just enjoyed the meat, but I didn't think about it until afterwards. But I'll remember that for the future!

I also had some Jello, which I made for a pot-luck. It was delicious. Not going to lie.

I was also pretty sick all week. I stayed home from work for 1 1/2 days and had some sort of sinus, cough, chest congestion going on. I'm telling you this because you need to know that I didn't work out at all! Not even my physical therapy exercises. Not one bit.

So, over all, probably not a great week for fitness/health. But I'm getting my strength back and getting back on track.

The Glass Castle

Last week I read a book called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A friend was giving away some books and I grabbed a big stack. The title intrigued me but I really had no idea what it was going to be about. It had been on the New York Bestseller list and the author's other novel was also pretty well known.

The Glass Castle is the story of the author's life, a memoir. I don't think I've ever read about a childhood like this one. And I don't know if I want to read one like it again. I can't count the number of times I thought, "I cannot believe her parents!" "This poor girl" or "Oh my goodness! This is awful." But at the same time, I couldn't put the book down. I wanted to find out how she got out of this situation. I wanted to see her redeemed.

She grew up with a mother who didn't want to impose rules on her children, didn't want to cook, or work when they needed money. So, her four children went wild and hungry most of the time. Her father saw himself as an inventor, but had no money to build his inventions and couldn't keep a job for long. Any money he did come across was used on gambling or drinking. They moved around that country, often to evade the police. Neighbors were often perverts or drunks, probably both and multiple times the children found themselves in situations you wouldn't wish on anybody.

Jeannette was smart and did well in school. She was also ambitious and knew if she got out of her family situation, she would survive and even do well. The last few chapters summarize her life in New York City where she does in fact do very well for herself. Her parents on the other hand, follow her to New York and decide being homeless is the way of life for them.

Her life was and is completely different from mine. this book was hard to read at times, but very interesting.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Staying Away from Sugar: Week 1

It has already been 7 days since I posted my resolution to stay away from sugar and simple carbohydrates.      And I have to admit, I was scared I wouldn't make it this far. But I did! I have gone 7 days without eating baked goods, simple carbohydrates like white bread or sweets. And it really wasn't that bad. Some days were hard but overall, not bad.

Here are some of the interesting and tempting moments from the last week:
Day 1: The morning was great but in the afternoon a co-worker handed me a piece of homemade chocolate coffee cake. It stayed on my desk all day but I resisted. (I gave it to someone else -- I just couldn't throw something that delicious away.)

Day 2: My church small group was celebrating a birthday with a cake from a specialty bakery . . .  I just watched everyone else eat that decadent dessert . . . with yearning and desire, but did not cave.

There were a few other moments where I was tempted but these two were worth sharing . . . mostly because they make me look so successful in my goals -- haha! Throughout the week, I could tell that I wasn't craving sugar or sweets as much as I normally do. But I was also really motivated to stick with this plan. The weekend was a lot harder. I still have a few sweets around the house and it was really difficult not to go to them. Not because I needed them but because they were there.  Pudding, candy, sweetened cereal. . . you get the idea.

I wasn't able to work out as much as I had hoped this weekend either, on Friday I started coming down with a cold which became a full blown illness on Saturday and put me in bed even through Monday. Hopefully Tuesday will be the start of feeling normal and getting back to normal activities.

Week 1: Success!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Gifts of Imperfection

I just finished reading The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Dr. Brene Brown. I found the book while searching through the blogher network website.  It caught my eye because, well, let's face it, I am imperfect and need to learn how to deal with that.

The book was a lot different than I expected. It's not like other self-help books in that it tells you straight up how to get over your weight issues, social awkwardness, or other obvious imperfections we know we have. It went deeper. Kind of uncomfortable deep.

Her theme and goal was to live a Wholehearted life. She's a researcher of shame, authenticity and belonging and has interviewed countless people. She came to find that some people don't let shame change who they are or affect them as much as the rest of the population seems to do. Her findings of how those people live a wholehearted life and how her research as changed her own life is what makes up this book.

She goes through 10 guideposts "on the power of Wholehearted living." She shares personal examples of how each guidepost has changed her life and others and offers a few ideas on how it could do the same for you. Things like creating self-compassion and being less critical of yourself (cause you know you hold yourself to an impossible standard) or cultivating a heart of joy and gratitude. Things that we think should be easy but because we carry hurt and baggage seem impossible to do.

She talks about things like guilt and shame, love and belonging and how one gets in the way of the other. She even talks about how playing is just as important to our being as sleep!

Although, this isn't coming from an overtly Christian perspective, a lot of what she shares seem to be true to the nature of human beings, regardless of religion. Knowing Jesus would probably make the things she talks about a lot more fulfilling if anything. She does talk about the idea of spirituality and that being key to wholehearted living.

So many sentences I read and wanted to write down or underline, but I didn't. It was a library book and I read it while exercising . . . So many things she mentioned spoke to my heart and I was invited to think on things a lot more than I normally allow. It was a good "thinking about feeling" kind of book.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

CVS: Oral Hygiene and free makeup

I found a few good deals at CVS this week and with the Extra Care Bucks I got back my purchase was almost free!

Crest Pro-Health mouth wash: On sale for $5.99 with $5 Reward back;
      used $.25 off manufacturer's coupon
Oral-B toothbrush: On sale for $2.77 with $2 Reward back; 
      used a $.25 manufacturer's coupon and $1 store coupon
Colgate toothpaste: One sale for 2.74 with $1 Reward back
Cover Girl mascara (2): On sale, buy one get one 1/2 off regular price $8.49;
      used buy one get one free manufacturer's coupon, $1 off coupon and $4 store coupon
My out of pocket price without sales tax: $9.48 (with sales tax $11.11)
Received $8 in Extra Care Bucks to use on my next purchase

The mascara purchase kind of bewildered me, but I had to try it. I had seen people commenting on site that it worked. Here's what happened: The store promotion took off $4.26  from one mascara, then I used the "buy one get one free" coupon which took off the maximum amount of the coupon from the full priced mascara ($7.50). Then the $1 coupon was applied to the half off mascara. And finally, the $4 coupon was good for any cosmetic purchase over $12 (before coupons) which meant I actually paid only $.23 for them both (before tax)! Whew.

Getting those kind of results kind of freaks me out  . . .  

Living by the Budget

As we sat down to do our monthly budget at the beginning of the month, I had a thought. I should share this with people! Not because my budget looks amazing or to show off how much I make (cause you would just laugh). But rather, to share how it works and how we thrive using it! (Because surprisingly, we do!)

The idea of a budget is to not only know where your money is going but to decide where it goes. You have the power here, not your money or your bills. The goal of a budget is to keep your expenses below your income so a) don't go into debt and b) can start saving.

It took us several months to get used to having a shared income, knowing how much we should budget for everything, and felt totally comfortable with it (aka new what we were doing).  But once we got there, we loved it! It doesn't feel as restrictive as I thought "budgeting" would. Do I dare say it is freeing? Invigorating? Yes, I get that excited about my budget.

Anyway, I'd like to share what we do in case it would help someone out there.

Chris created a spreadsheet where we keep track of our income and plan out our expenses:

  • At the top, we enter in our income. (Each paycheck on a separate line then totaled below that.) I should note that we use the income from the previous month not the upcoming month's paychecks. For example: In March we each had two paychecks, those went into our April budget. It may take a while before you can do this 100% but I would recommend it. That way you are only spending money you know you have (especially important when one of you works by contract).
  • Then begins the list of our expenses. These are broken up into three sections: Housing (rent, utilities, internet, etc. ) Bills (you know the ones you have every month), and Cash/Credit Card expenses (this includes everything else)
  • The next section is Savings. We have several things we are saving up for all the time - emergency savings, a trip to Europe, camera equipment, a new bike, etc.  Every month we decide which savings fund gets money, which ones don't and if our goals need to be changed.
  • Then at the bottom of the spreadsheet we have the outcome: Income Total - Expense Total - Savings = Left Over Savings (We try not to let this be too high because we have all of our savings listed above it, but this will tell us how much we have left over . . . or if we went beyond our income . . . in which case we need to revise the budget).
Now for the fun part: Spending money!
Chris and I use the cash-envelope system for most of the items in the Cash/Credit Card category. Again, this takes time to get used to but is definitely worth it. This is by far the easiest way to stick to your budget . . . if the envelope is empty you can't spend it! It also reinforces that YOU are in charge of YOUR money. You decide how that cash is spent. You start questioning your decisions a little more. "Do I really need to eat out again? Is this shirt really worth $__. If I buy this now, I won't have enough for ___." You get the idea. When we stop asking ourselves these questions, that's when we pull out the credit card and go into debt. That is not an option for us.

Some envelopes accumulate money month after month. Like my clothing envelope. I don't buy clothes every month which works out well because then when it's time for new running shoes, I have enough money ready to pay for them. Our car and home maintenance funds accumulate too because you never know when you need to make a larger purchase or repair. For our hair cut budget, we only put in a third of the cost of the hair cut each month and that way every three months we can get a hair cut (this helps so you only take a small sum each month instead of a large sum once every three months). But our grocery budget gets used up every month . . . and that's how that envelope should work. Our fun money varies every month; sometimes I go through it in the first week (which is too bad for me), but other times I have a lot left over and can use it however I want in the following months.

Some purchases are made with the credit card and we do use it for online purchases, too. But that is either already allotted in our budget (like automatic donations or medical bills) or paid back with cash from the respective envelope.

When the month is over, we go back through the budget and see how well we did. What did we overspend on (unexpected trips or visitors) or what money didn't get used. This helps us know if we need to be adjusting our budget for the next month. When gas prices went up and Chris had a longer commute for one of his projects, our gas/transit budget was way off! But we adjusted it for future months and now it hasn't been a problem.

I hope this was helpful to some of you. Creating a budget, learning to live below your means, and sticking with it are worth all the effort I promise! There are so many resources out there for creating and following a budget. This is what works for us. I'd love to hear what works for you! And if you have any questions, please ask! I love talking about budgets, saving and financial freedom.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thomas the Tank: The Little Miracle Truck

When we moved into the city we contemplated selling our truck. In most parts of the city, parking is either very rare or really expensive. This was something Chris hated considering. He loved his new-to-him 1994 Toyota pickup. He had purchased it just a few months before we got married so he hasn't owned it for very long. After his car broke down beyond repair he had prayed for very specific things concerning his new vehicle. Although it took quite a while, God answered every single one! He wanted:

  • a small Toyota truck 
  • with an extended cab
  • with manual transmission
  • not sold by a car salesman
  • for free*

The truck definitely came in handy when we needed to move to California. But once we got here? We weren't sure. Thankfully, we didn't have to make the decision to sell or keep right away. Street parking was pretty easy in our neighborhood. So we held on to it.

In the past two years, the question has been raised if it was time to sell only a couple of times. And the look on Chris's face every time was enough answer for me -- not yet. He loves his truck. One of the reasons he wanted a truck in the first place was so he could help people. And currently that is exactly what it is doing.

Over the past six months or so, we've lent it out to at least six people and offered it out even more. Many of our friends were moving or buying large furniture and in need of that extended cab. Last week, someone even borrowed it to haul speakers for a wedding dance and another used it to pick up his wife from the airport. 

We love being able to help our friends. We are so glad we kept the truck; it's been a good little truck to us and many others! "Thomas the Tank," as we call him, has been very busy these days.

*It was free after he received a large monetary gift

The Great Thing About the Gym

I have been going to a neighborhood gym for three months now. I try to go at least four times a week, sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less. Memorial Day weekend was not a good one for me . . .  I let four days in a row slip by without going to the gym. Oops!

I really enjoy going. It's kind of like "Me Time." I can read while I use recumbent bike, I can listen to music while I use the elliptical machine, sometimes I just think and process. Sometimes I'm so focused on pushing myself I don't think about anything else. It's time set aside on an almost-daily basis where I can do something good for my body and my mind.

I do a lot of sitting at work so to get to the gym after 8 hours of sitting is . . . can I say glorious!? My body loves to move. I need to move! Biking and going to the gym have become the highlights of my day.

I still have quite a few health issues, but working out and taking time to focus on my physical therapy exercises in a gym setting (instead of my living room) has helped a lot. I'm getting stronger, my pain is usually less and I'm in such a better mood. Seriously, I feel so much better after I work out. Even if I didn't want to go in the first place (like Saturday morning or Sunday after church) I am almost always glad I did when I'm done.

One of the things I had expected to see after three months of consistently working out is changes in my physical appearance. Regretfully, I have to admit, that has not changed. The scale and not tipped nor has stomach bulge decreased. (I'm being honest here, so please don't tell me I look fine, blah blah blah . . .) And I know why: I eat . . . and eat . . and eat foods that are not good for my body. I can be really determined and diligent in spending five to six hours at the gym every week but I cannot turn down those donuts, bagels, chocolates and other sugary simple carbs for the life of me. Last month I went two days without sweets . . . that's as far as I got.

So, I'm going to try to improve on that weakness of mine. I have set up a challenge for myself and you and my sugar-despising husband are going to keep me accountable! I am going to say "No!" to sugar and simple carbohydrates for the rest of the month.

I have my workout plan in place. It includes, my PT exercises, cardio and strength training. I've been doing it for three months and I've gotten it down. Now, I'm adding a new element--the diet. The test: do I feel better or look different after 27 days of abstaining from things I know to cause inflammation and weight gain.

I've been on anti-inflammatory medications on and off for almost a year and I'd like to be able to stop taking them. I'd also like to look a little more toned. So, I've got to try this. I'll keep you updated each week and on July 1st, we'll see what happened!