Monday, December 31, 2012


There are 5 broad categories in which people statistically resolve to improve in the coming year:
Health and Wellness

There are many "anti-resolutionists" out there, but the thought of a beautifully typed out list of all the ways to better myself, complete with boxes just waiting to be checked, makes me absolutely giddy! 

So without further adieu, here are my 2013 Resolutions:

Health and Wellness: Like most of you, I've got plenty of room for improvement in this category. 

You'd think one's daughter constantly asking if one has a baby in one's tummy when one is NOT pregnant would be motivation enough...

...or perhaps pulling out one's "fat clothes" bin, replacing all "skinny clothes" with said "fat clothes", would light a fire...

...but alas, I am forcing myself into this resolution, kicking and screaming,
out of nothing more than sheer necessity!
Get a gym membership, gather some friends, and try my darndest to get my money's worth!!

Home: With 7 years of wife-hood under my belt, I should be a pro in all things "home". 

Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth... just ask my husband! 

As the queen of "all or nothing", I either have an immaculate home, a monthly meal plan, and a perfectly set routine...

...or I am surrounded by chaos, scrounging up dinner at the last second, and unsure of where my day went!

So, while keeping my "all or nothing" tendencies in check, I resolve to:
Set up an attainable meal plan and cleaning schedule that I can stick to without giving up!!

Finances: We've made a lot of headway in this category, but have more work to do!
All the hustle and bustle of the holidays has messed with my budget, and there is nothing I hate more than changing my spreadsheets to accomodate excessive spending!! (I'm so lame!)
We are planning to buy a house late summer/early fall and we'll have to be on our best financial behavior until then!
One specific way we resolve to improve our finances is to:
Be more intentional with our day to day spending!

Family: I've been blessed beyond measure with a loving husband, two adorable kids and and an awesome extended family.

The holidays bring out the best and worst in families.  Thankfully for me, more of the former than the latter! 

But a busy 22 month old who seeks danger and learned the art of escaping from a pack 'n play while staying at Grandma's, doesn't always bring out the best in mama.

I want my kids to remember the times we spent together, not their mama having no patience!

So, my family-based resolution is:
Always remember how lucky I am to have the time I have with my kids and husband 
and to use it wisely!
Faith: I've saved the best for last! 
I'm guilty of constantly failing to give God the time he deserves in my life.  I somehow think that He's the one missing out on a relationship with me, when in reality it's the other way around.
In my prayer life, I often play the role of the whiner who only calls when there is a imminent need, instead of taking advantage of the direct line of communication I have with God.
I've more than once made the goal to read my Bible cover to cover and have sadly never accomplished it.
But this will not be the case in 2013!  In fact, thanks to an inspiring testimony from a friend of mine, I started my Bible reading resolution early and have made it through all four gospels before the New Year has begun!
In short (or long) I resolve to:
Make my relationship with God the most important aspect of my life - starting my day with Him, talking to Him throughout the day (not just quick prayers before meals and bedtimes), and reading through His Word, in its entirety, in the year 2013!!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Total Money Makeover

I had the pleasure of sharing my recent financial journey with my MOPS group this morning.  I've mentioned Dave Ramsey in a previous post and the title to this blog is a play on the title to his book that inspired my financial overhaul. 

The Total Money Makeover is one of his books that encourages people to change the way they think about money and debt.  The hubs and I had tried to keep credit card balances low and had already done a little debt reduction - paid off my car a furniture loan with tax return in 2011 - but we were stuck financially between a rock and a hard place, or more precisely and mortgage and a rent payment. 

We had listed our house for sale in August and moved to Grand Forks in September of 2011.  We would be able to swing both payments for a short period of time and thankfully we had an accepted offer shortly after relocating.  However as things go, the buyers' pushed back the closing a few times before eventually backing out altogether, and we were left at square one still juggling both payments. 

Throughout our marrige we have strived to keep our financial integrity intact by making payments on time and not stretching ourselves too thin.  With little left in savings and a dark cloud of financial doom hovering over our heads we needed to come up with a way to increase our income.  After much prayer and consideration, I returned back to the workforce as a server at the Olive Garden that was opening up in town.  It was hard for me to do this as I adore my kids and hate being away from them, but the necessity was there and they would be with their dad when I was at work, so that helped to calm my nerves. 

With the income I earned, we were able to keep current on both payments and eventually sold our house in May 2012.  I read The Total Money Makeover that spring and was anxiously waiting to finally close on our house so that we could start the plan.  The day we sold the house finally came and I was thrilled to finally close this annoying, drawn out chapter of our lives.  Waiting so long actually made it more satisfying and it felt like God began blessing us for honoring our financial obligations.

To our happy surprise the amount we were required to bring to closing - yes, we had to pay to sell our house - was actually $1000 less than we had been originally quoted.  Then we went to pay our final heating bill and they said that we had overpaid on our budget billing plan so they gave us a check for $158.  A couple of weeks later I received a check in the mail for overpayment on our escrow fund in the amount of $400.  A week after that we received a refund from our insurance company for over $750.

I am a budget freak. I get a sick pleasure out of creating Excel spreadsheets to map our finances, so  I had mapped out every penny that would come in and go out.  But I had not accounted for these payments to us and it jump started our Debt Snowball.

The Debt Snowball is part of Dave's 7-step process to achieve financial health and Step 1 was to create an untouchable emergency fund of $1000.  I was expecting that step to take a couple months and it was covered solely by the change in closing fees.  Step 2 is to pay off existing debt.  This was going to be a much longer process, but with $1300 (checks from electric, escrow and insurance) we were pumped to get started.

Fast forward to the current time and we have eliminated all debt, except for my husband's student loans.  In less than 7 months we were able to pay over $23,000!  It's amazing how easy it is to go without the frills when you see the balances going down!  We do not have an impressive household income by most people's standards, but hard work and sheer determination helped us accomplish more than we had planned to!  We still have a long way to go and are creating our own version of Dave's plan (I'm sure he wouldn't approve!), but we have gleaned some very important financial insights from what we've learned so far. 

1. STOP using debt (credit cards, loans, etc)
2. Pay off your debt - once it's gone, it is GONE
3. Think before you spend... You can spend money, you just have to have it first!
4. Budgeting, forecasting and planning help you identify and realize your goals, and make the sacrifices you make totally worth it!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trimming the tree

Christmas is officially here!!  Well, technically we've got about 25-26 days left depending on how you calculate, but to me it starts the day after Thanksgiving!  Natalie has been begging for us to put up our tree for weeks and it was so fun to see her face when she saw it all lit up!

Mini craft sticks cut and hot-glued together - add a little
tacky glue and then sprinkle with "snow"
Last year my tree was so pathetic!  It consisted of a few ornaments that had survived the unfortunate mice incident from the year before, a single piece of garland, and a santa hat for the topper. 

Cute little snowflake Natalie made!
Natalie and I tried to spiff it up with a few ornament crafts made from foam balls, mini craft sticks, glitter and artificial snow, but it was a pretty sad sight!

After staring down that ugly thing for a month, I vowed to make all new ornaments for our tree the next year.  I got a steal of a deal on Christmas balls after the holiday season had passed and managed to get a handful of ornaments made before I lost my motivation.

In early November, with Christmas already on its way, I put the ornament DIY-ing in high gear.  I wanted to do something neutral but with a warm pop of color.  I settled on a deep goldenrod yellow, cream and browns, with a pop of red for the topper.

I purchased 4 holly berry stems for $.99 cents each in hopes of making a wreath, but after realizing I didn't have anything planned for a tree topper my plans changed. Natalie really wanted a star on the top, "like Caillou has on his Christmas tree!" so that is what we went with. The stems are made of wire so I just bent them together, reinforced with floral wire and attached to the top of the tree.

I started with a few felt ornaments I had pinned on Pinterest.  Felt was $.20 per sheet, the embroidery thread was $.39, and I barely made a dent in the package of pearls I bought for $2.39, so for about $3.50 I made 16 mini flowers and 5 3D Christmas balls. 

I started by tracing out templates on felt.  I just traced around the top a drinking glass for the circle and used this template from the original pin on pinterest. 

I pinned these to applique on a throw pillow, but I thought they would work well for the Christmas tree. 

I made these in a goldenrod felt with pearl center (shown) and a white felt with red holly berry center.  The white ones kind of clashed when I put them up so I will be making another set of goldenrod ones to replace them.  For the first set, I used the mini craft sticks I had on hand from making kids name ornaments last year ($2.49 for 75).  But for the next set I will just use floral wire ($1.99) and attach them directly to the tree, since my little darlings seem to enjoy "picking flowers"!

Then it was time for garland!  I really wanted to do a burlap garland and found a roll at Michael's; however it was a little thick so I ended up cutting it in half.
Next I wanted to make a linen fabric ball. I saw some for sale on Etsy and thought I could easily replicate it with supplies on hand.  I ripped 1 inch sections of muslin (Leftover from Natalie's Little Bo Peep Halloween costume from 2011) and used mod podge and a foam paintbrush to adhere the pieces to the Christmas balls.  I finished it off with jute cord to hang it on the tree and voila!

I added a little more texture by simply covering Christmas balls with yarn.  I was able to get 5 Christmas balls out of each package of yarn.  They didn't require any adhesive - I just wrapped 5-6 times in one direction and then switched to another direction until I had covered the entire surface.

With the circles of felt I had previously cut out, I made 3D Christmas balls. Of couse, I missed taking a crucial picture, but I'll try to talk you through it.  Start by folding two of the circles in half and stitching down the center.  Then you take the other two pieces and after folding each of them in half, you place them on either side of the first two circles (where my thumb and middle finger are in second photo - like a plus sign) and stitch them together.  I just left a loop of embroidery thread to hang it on the tree.

I pinned these twine chandeliers for my DIY Dream House of the future, but thought they'd make really cute ornaments!  I started this project last year so I'm not sure of the overall cost but I believe you can get 12 balloons for $1.50 or less and I know the jute cord is under $5.  I blew up balloons to the size of an average christmas ball.  Balloons have a natural egg shape that I was not wanting for this project, so I twisted the tied off end until it became more round and then tied with yarn.  The twine, or in this case, jute cord, requires an adhesive to keep its shape after balloon is popped, so I tried tacky glue and mod podge (the mod podge works better because it is more runny).  There are probably 101 better ways to do this but I just poured glue into my hand and ran the cord through it, making sure it was pretty well coated.  Then I just wrapped around balloons until I had the look I wanted, cut the end, and tucked it under another piece of cord.  They were dry after about 2 hours but I waited until morning to pop the balloon and then tied another piece of cord to it so it could be hung on the tree.


Since my white felt ornaments clashed so badly I was in need of a few more ornaments to fill out the tree.  I had purchased a package of those delicious smelling pine cones to go with my wreath project and just used some floral wire to attach them directly to the tree.

All my ornaments before I put them on the tree!!

Our Christmas tree all dolled up!
Next projects are making new stockings and a tree skirt and thenwrapping all the gifts to go under the tree!

I will be adding some more pinecones (found another bag from last year!), another set of mini-flowers, "Justin" and "Sarah" ornaments (like Natalie and Theodore's), and am using up some left over materials to make these twine ball ornaments.  They are a bit picky, but I think I've figured them out!  Just take a styrofoam ball and wrap twine in circles around it.  I started by making a loop for hanging and wrapped the cord around it.  When you get just over halfway, the top half starts trying to unravel on you, so hold it firmly in the palm of your hand.  The twine didn't want to sit quite right for me when I was nearing the end, so I used sewing pins to wrap it around and secured with a couple just to be safe.  Then I coated the exterior with a healthy dose of mod podge, let them dry for a couple hours and removed pins before hanging.

I'm so excited with how it turned out and I can't wait to finish up my last few projects!  Here's a recap:
Holly Berry Topper - $4
Felt mini flowers and 3D Christmas balls - $4
Burlap Garland (appx) - $5
Linen Christmas balls - free
Yarn Christmas balls - $6
2 kinds of twine Christmas balls - $10
Pinecones - $5
Misc Supplies - $13
Total - $47
Joy it brought me to make them - Priceless!
I'll end with a moment of silence for those ornaments that just didn't make the cut :)

Brown paper bag and burlap covered Christmas balls.
BRIGHT white mini-flower and 3D Christmas ball.