Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pondering God

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland
Our honeymoon in Ireland was absolutely amazing and breathtaking.  Every sight we saw filled the senses with wonder and joy.  This trip gave me the most wonderful opportunity to ponder God's love and beauty, something I forget to do amidst the hustle and bustle of a daily routine.

Irish Countryside, Co. Sligo, Ireland
In today's world, we live often in a state of fear (or in a bubble ignoring the fears that surround us.)  It can be difficult to find joy or happiness in the midst of consumerism, apathy, and a general disgruntledness.  Which is why we need to take a step back and remember Who is really in charge and Where we are ultimately headed.  And for me, there is often no better reminder than taking the opportunity to wonder at God's creation.

Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal, Ireland
My trip to Ireland was a dream come true.  The weather was absolutely perfect (chilly but clear skies), which is uncommon this time of year.  That gave us the opportunity to truly witness the natural beauties that Ireland's rich landscape has to offer.  And I was surprised at the variance in the landscape.  The traditional view of Ireland is that of green hills stretching for miles.  And a large part of Ireland is like that.  But we also explored the north-west corner of Ireland and discovered a more wild and untamed, rocky beauty there.

Knock Cemetery, Knock, Co. Mayo, Ireland
We visited numerous ruins and old churches and cemeteries, another reminder of the length of the Church's existence and the fact that the cycle of life and death has gone on and will continue on for centuries to come.  A sober reminder that we're not meant for this world, but for the next.  And while God has given us the grace and Divine assistance needed to join him in Heaven, it is up to us to accept His offer.

View from Queen Maeve's Cairn, Knocknarea, Co. Sligo, Ireland
As we begin our Advent journey, we look towards Christmas and ponder our lives.  Are we truly worthy of the coming of Christ?  How can we prepare for the Infant birth?  How can we grow in sanctity?  How can we draw closer to Our Lord and place our lives in His hands, to lead us where He wants us to go?  I pray for guidance and understanding, for myself and for all of you.  May your Advent be one of prayer, contemplation, and joy-filled discovery of the plans God has for your life.
View of Glenveagh Castle, Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal, Ireland

Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal, Ireland

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


I'm currently enjoying my honeymoon in Ireland, which means Thanksgiving is going to be a bit strange this year . . . but I wanted to take a moment to ponder the meaning of gratitude.  

In our modern world of convenience, we tend to forget all of the abundant blessings we have in our lives.  We get caught up in not having the latest gadget or the fanciest clothes.  We lose track of what really matters.  It's easy for us to ask God for help when something is troubling us or there are obstacles in our way.  It's not so easy to remember to express our gratitude to Him for the gifts He bestows on us.

As we enter into this season of thanksgiving and preparation for His coming at Christmas, take a moment to thank Him for all you have received.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Destination: Honeymoon

Glenveagh National Park
It's finally here!  In just a few days, my wonderful husband and I are setting off on our postponed honeymoon.  It crept up on me in a way . . . what with everything going on at work and at home.  And now I find myself in the last few days with a tizzy of preparation.

I thought I'd share my (international) travel checklist with you all . . . seeing as checklists are an immensely important part of my organized life.  :)

  • Passports and all travel documents.  Plus copies.  Multiple copies.  And copies of your itinerary, flights, vouchers, etc.
  • List of all destinations for ease of access.
  • FOOD.  This is extremely important, especially if you're traveling (a) on a budget; (b) with short layovers; or (c) with specific food allergies.  Our layover flight there barely gives us enough time to get from flight A to flight B, let alone find food.  So packing enough substantial food is a must.  I'll be using my New Day Tote and the Thermal Tote as a carry-on for ease of organization and access to food.
  • Layers of clothing, especially if you're unsure of the exact weather or how you'll adapt.  Going from Florida (where it's currently mid-70s and 80s) to Ireland (where it's likely mid-50s and rainy) means I'm packing pants with layers and shirts with layers.  And a bag (or three) to put the dirty clothes in so that they don't stink up the rest of your suitcase.
  • Cash.  Especially whatever money is used wherever you're going - luckily for us, we received some EUROs for our wedding, so that's less we have to convert when we get there.
  • All the chargers . . . and a converter plug if necessary.  Ireland (and many other countries) runs on a different electrical system than the USA.
  • Extra batteries for your camera or other battery-operated devices.
  • Any medication you're currently taking as well as aids for jet lag, headaches, etc.
  • Ear plugs and a travel pillow, especially if you're going to be in the car or on a plane for an extended period of time.
  • All necessary toiletries.  If you can check a bag, you can save some by packing your full-size ones.  If not, travel-size works great too.  I absolutely love my travel bags from Thirty-One, and you can get one similar to mine here: Jewelry Keeper (also useful for any small items); Shine On Jewelry Case (especially useful for tiny earrings); Glamour Case (for your makeup, but it also doubles as a great bag for pens and little travel things).
  • A few travel entertainment items . . . but don't go overboard.  Mostly you'll likely be sleeping or resting on your flight (unless traveling with children . . . eventually I'll write a post on that).
County Donegal
Above all else, try to pack as many multi-purpose items as possible to cut down on your overall luggage.  After all, travel is about the road and the destination, not how many outfits you've packed.

I'm off to finish the laundry, prep the food, and pack the bags before we jet off on our fairy tale honeymoon!  If you've got tips for travel, comment!  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tools of the Trade

As a budding homemaker, one of my joyful duties is meal preparation.  Since my husband and I both work full-time currently, he often steps in to help with dinner, which I greatly appreciate.  Typically, however, it is my honor and privilege to craft our meals - from the early morning tea to the packed lunches to the healthy dinners.  There are a few tools I use on a daily/weekly basis that make my meal planning and preparation so much easier.

First, actually creating a meal plan - even if I don't follow it to the letter.  Jotting down a week's worth of dinners before I head to the grocery store helps me plan my shopping and make sure I don't waste any food I've already got at home.  Plus, I KNOW there will be food to make because I have it planned out.  Granted, there are very few weeks when I actually follow the meal plan exactly, but it definitely keeps me from binge shopping and ending up with way too much food.

When it comes to lunch preparation, it gets a bit trickier.  My husband and I both commute to work, so I prepare a bagged lunch.  I try to stay away from grains or other carbohydrates, especially at lunch, since they slow down our functionality and increase our sleepiness.  So salads it is.  Now, that may sound boring . . . but you haven't seen my salads.  And my salads are "boring" . . . I'm not too adventurous.  But salads in my house typically include a combination of chicken and bacon, dressing, tomatoes, boiled eggs, walnuts, dried blueberries or apples, carrots, and more - all served over a bed of lettuce, of course.  For more salad ideas, I suggest browsing Pinterest.  That website has been a lifesaver when it comes to meal planning - both on a budget and with dietary restrictions.

I <3 how easy these tools make lunch preparation.
Packing salads for lunch can get dicey, especially with dressing and various types of foods.  Luckily, I have two amazing tools to pass on to you.  First, the Bentology Lunchboxes.  These are amazing.  They come with various sized containers that all fit within the lunchbox itself.  Two of the containers even have lids for those food stuffs with extra liquid.  There's even a salad dressing container that holds the perfect amount of dressing - no more over dressing your salads!  What makes the lunchboxes I have even more incredible is that they fit perfectly into the bottom of my Around-the-Clock Thermal bags from Thirty-One Gifts.  Once I've put these lunchboxes in the bottom (over an ice pack if necessary), there's still enough room to include additional food items (apples or such) and the bowl/fork needed for salad, and juice boxes.

I have to admit that there are days when I really don't want to make lunch.  Or evenings when I really don't want to wash the dishes.  But then I remember the joy that comes from fulfilling duties even in the midst of distaste.  (Or my amazing husband offers to chip in and help.)  Regardless, I believe any job gets easier if you have the right tools - and for me, the lunchbox and thermal tote are just the tools I need to prepare lunch every day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Budget Can Set You Free

My father taught me to handle money at a young age.  I had an allowance for several years, and various chores and babysitting gigs afterwards.  He had me balancing the family checkbook at age 11, and I got my own checking account at age 12.  Throughout my teenage and college years, he showed me how to craft a budget for myself.  And not just a "here's what I have and here's what I spent" budget.  A budget that grows and breathes with my income and lifestyle.  A budget that covers everything from rent to Christmas to trips to utilities and everything in between.

The first time you create a budget can be exhausting and overwhelming.  Don't give up!
Now that I'm married, my husband and I are adjusting our budget to fit the needs of our family.  I firmly believe that both spouses should be involved in the planning and plotting of a family budget; however, typically one spouse is more inclined to creating the general budget than the other.  Once that budget is created, there can, and should, be discussion as to where the money will go and what should/should not be purchased etc.  With my upbringing and head for details, I've willingly crafted our family budget.  We went through a month's worth of actual expenses this past weekend, and together, my husband and I discussed where we should be cutting costs and saving money.  I'm excited to see where this budgeting takes us, and I am so grateful that my wonderful husband is on board with the budget.

But you must be wondering (if you're still reading this post) just what my budget process is.  So I'll tell you.  And keep in mind that this process can work for any size household or any size project.  For example, I have used this process for my personal budget, and my father uses a similar one for the family budget.  I also used a similar process when budgeting for my wedding.  So here are my tips and tricks.  I hope you find them useful.

Sample budgets can help you remember ALL the expenses.
First, make a list of all your expenses.  Divide them up by weekly, monthly, or annual expenditures.  An Excel or Google Sheets file works wonderfully well for creating your budget.  These expenses should include ANYTHING you spend money on - from your typical rent, utilities, groceries, insurance, etc. to eating out, fun money (which I'll explain in a moment), clothing, etc.

Second, create two versions of your final budget.  The first is your estimated budget.  This is where you input what your estimated expenditures are by week, month, etc.  The second is your actual budget.  This is where you fill in the actual amounts that you spent over the course of a month.  The estimated budget helps you decide where your money should be going.  The actual budget helps you see where you money is actually going.  This helps immensely with seeing how much those trips to the gas station for potato chips or ice cream really add up.

Third, once you've added up your expenditures, you'll need to add a separate section for your income.  Ideally, you want your income to be greater than your expenditures each month.  The idea here is that if you have excess income each month, you can put that towards savings.  Approximately 1/3 of American households live paycheck to paycheck or hand to mouth.  Surprisingly, the vast majority of these families are ABOVE the poverty line.  The definition of living hand-to-mouth is not having much in the way of savings or a retirement account.  The trick to saving money is taking charge of your income.  Make your money work for you, not the other way around.  
What's your Latte Factor?
One popular method is the Latte Factor.  Check out this calculator to see how much you could be saving if you took your coffee or gas station stops spending and invested it instead.  If you took $5 unnecessarily spent every 3 days and invested it over a 25 year period, earning 8% interest, you'd increase your savings by $32,985.34 instead of simply spending $15,200 on your latte every few days for 25 years.  Kind of shocking when you see the numbers.

Fourth, on the flipside of saving money, don't stifle yourself.  Make sure that you budget money to spend on fun things.  A budget is not supposed to be a chain, tying you down and never allowing you to do anything except purchase the bare necessities and save the rest.  A budget is meant to give YOU the freedom to decide where YOUR money is going.  The trick is staying within your set budget.  It takes time and practice, but you'll get great satisfaction the more you succeed.  My husband and I both like to spend money on fun things throughout the month - art supplies; new books; bags; snacks; etc.  But we're also taking control of our income and choosing to limit the amount available for such expenditures.

Finally, keep in mind that your budget is not, nor ever will be, set in stone.  It is going to fluctuate each month as the prices of everything you purchase fluctuate or your income fluctuates or the number of people in your household increases or decreases.  But that's the beauty of having a family budget in place (especially in an Excel file).  You can adapt it month by month and year by year to fit your particular needs.  The most valuable aspect of creating and maintaining a family budget is knowing WHERE your money went.  If you can tell where it's going and curb your unnecessary spending (different from fun money), you can feel confident that you're being fiscally responsible and move on to the next issue looming in adult life . . . what to do with all your saved income! ;)  

I hope these were helpful!  If you have questions or would like assistance creating a budget of your own, please comment!  I also recommend you check out some of the many, many, many resources available to help you create a budget and start saving money today!