DIY: HOLIDAY DESIGN ON A DIME

It’s December, and ‘tis the season to DECK THE HALLS!!!!! If you are like me, you have been waiting for this awesome time of year and are ready to express your excitement by giving your space a wonderful holiday facelift!!! Of course, you too have probably been bombarded with the images of homes covered in tinsel and garland from front porch to back yard, from above the stove to the bathroom in the basement!!!! How in the world can ANYONE keep up with that????  If you have been following my blog, (WHICH OF COURSE YOU SHOULD!!! 😊) you know this is only our 3rd Christmas in our current home. Though it has been SOOOO tempting to go Christmas-decoration-crazy, buying new Christmas eye candy for every room in the house, I have had to take a much more conservative approach.

Holiday decorations can be VERY costly. I’ve seen single ornaments cost as much as $21!!! Not to mention pillows and hand towels and wreaths… WHEW!!!! Decorating an entire home from scratch can cost more than all your Christmas gifts combined. And though décor is indeed an important part of any holiday experience, we can’t let it consume the majority of the holiday budget. So. I have come up with a few ways to spruce up your home without breaking the bank!

  1. Inexpensive must haves: Lights, wreaths, burlap, ribbon, and flowers are sure to give any space a holiday boost. The best part is, you can find all these items for less than $5.00 at places like Walmart, Hobby Lobby and Michaels. (SEE PICS AND DESCRIPTION)
  2. Items to build on: Instead of jumping right into the latest $300 Christmas duvet and sham set, or chunky yarn blanket, look for holiday sheets, throws and pillows. Places like Ross, TJ MAXX, Marshalls, Target and Walmart, have some very affordable options to suit any decorating style. (SEE PICS AND DESCRIPTION)
  3. The fancy stuff: Just because you want to maintain a healthy decorating budget, doesn’t mean you have to forfeit having name brand/fancy items for your home. If you see an item that you REALLLY love, wait until right after season and purchase it when it is a fraction of the cost. You may have to wait until next year to enjoy it, but it will be worth it to have it at a reasonable cost. (SEE PICS AND DESCRIPTION)

It is super tough to see the Deck the Halls XLT version on social media, in magazines, stores, and even at friends’ homes. However, one of the greatest parts of this season is the fact that it is built on memories. Whether you are in a studio apartment, have the basement floor of your mom’s house, or a 6,000-square foot home with a new family, take your time building on the traditions, decorations, gatherings and all the other beautiful things that make this season so bright. Whether cooking an amazing meal, searching for the perfect gifts or hanging ornaments on the tree, when you do it with love and to the glory of the one who gave us the greatest gift of all, it will translate to all who encounter it.  In the meantime, may you enjoy this wonderful holiday season!!!

HOW TO TEMPER YOUR TURKEY TIME… Tips to Reduce Holiday Indulgence :-)

Ok. We are just a couple days away from the incredible holiday season!!!!! Awesome days filled with joy, peace, laughter, rest, and fun. Great memories are made with all our FAVORITE things to enjoy; football, family, friends; time off work, and the best of all… SHOPPING AND EATING of course!!!! I tell you, I am an AVID Black Friday shopper!!! I will be out there with the BEST of them searching for a super steal (yeah right… do they really exist???? But I WILL be out there nonetheless!!!) and of course will enjoy a wonderful FEAST on Thanksgiving and Christmas day!!! However, I have learned over the years the good old adage “a moment on the lips, equals a lifetime on the hips” to be SOOOO appropriate during this season. We can actually apply it to not only food, but spending as well. Here are a couple ideas to consider when making choices about eating and shopping during the holidays.

For the sake of establishing my point, let’s look up the definition of 2 words. 1st indulge. Indulge simply means “to take unrestrained pleasure in.” 2nd temper. Temper means to “restrain. To serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to something.” Ok. So, the teacher in me is coming out. Lol.

Here’s the deal. Holidays are a time for great indulgence. We will all be tempted and most likely give in to eating without restraint and sometimes spending without restraint. We will be welcomed REGULARLY with treats, candy, cupcakes, muffins, lattes and other goodies each day. I mean, sugar is lurking on EVERY corner! At work, church, friends’ houses, school celebrations, holiday parties, etc… The Thanksgiving Day dinner alone will be loaded with DELICIOUS appetizers, meats, sides, desserts and drinks!!! HALLELUJAH!!! And we will commence to filling our bellies until we look like the stuffed turkey lying on the platter!!! We are quick to tell ourselves… “Oh, it’s the holidays… go ahead and indulge!!” FOR SURE!!! I get it!!! IT IS THE HOLIDAYS!!!!!

We do the same thing with spending. We have Secret Santa gifts to buy, Amazon is having super sales, phones have no more memory, everyone in the family needs a SUPER-DUPER gift, and shoot, while you were out looking for your mom’s present, they had a buy one get one 20% off sale, so you had to get one for yourself as well!!!! I KNOOOOWWWWW!!!! AND… It’s the break and the kids need something to do, so why not Disney, or at least the movies, dinner, a theatre production, and ALLLLLLLLL those great goodies. Everyone is coming over to your house, so you must UPGRADE your otherwise ANCIENT Christmas décor… I KNOOOOOOOWWW!!!

This has all become the beauty of the celebration. At this point, it wouldn’t be the same without it. However, we have to get real with ourselves. We run wild during this time only to spend the next few months cleaning up the mess we made, or even worse, ignoring it. Our credit cards are smashed full and our waist takes an unrepairable hit! I can admit, I have come back from many a holiday break weighing more than 5-8lbs more than when I started!!! We drudge through to New Year’s with yet another promise to get it all back in order… uuuggghhh.

Perhaps there is a better way. Simple temperance during this time can save us a ton of headache in the months to come. How can we do this? Here are some simple ideas to help temper your spending and eating during the holidays.

Temper your eating:

  1. Treat yourself, but limit yourself to one plate only. (No 2nd’s/No doggy bags!!!)
  2. Load your plate with double the amount of veggies, salad, soups over everything else.
  3. Commit to an extra workout regime during the month of December.
  4. Don’t arrive starved. Have a healthy snack or drink 2 big glasses of water before going to any holiday party (it’s tough to overeat when you are already full!!!)
  5. Bring your own favorite healthy option to the party… EAT THAT!!! 😊

Temper your spending:

  1. Make a holiday budget based on cash vs. credit.
  2. Get creative with your gifts, décor, and recreation (cook/bake/DIY-type gifts/board games/light viewing etc.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to say NO to commitments beyond your budget.
  4. Condense gift buying (Everyone pull a name. This is the person you will buy for this year.)
  5. BUY USED (You can always give gently used video games, books, toys etc. instead of the brand-new version)

I KNOW. I KNOW. This all seems to take the fun out of the experience, BUT ultimately, you have to get your mind, will and emotions in check. Let them know who’s in charge!!! If you make it a practice to operate in discipline during the most DIFFICULT of situations, there is no temptation you can’t completely obliterate!!! You can DO THIS!!! Trust me, your waistline and bank account will be much better off because you used wisdom and restraint. In the meantime, remember what this season is all about. Though you have a heart to give the most and best, though you want to enjoy great memories and times with loved ones, it will be much more enjoyable today and tomorrow when it is done with love and self-control.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOUR CREW!!! 🙂

 

Photo cred: Pinterest

CHOOSE JOY: How to Overcome a Season of The Blues… (My Journey Through The Valley)

Ok, so it has been a couple months since I posted. I wish I could tell you it was because I was out enjoying my journey to the fullest. But if I can be honest with you, it was actually just the opposite. I was in the dumps, overcoming the blues… my peace was under attack and I have to tell you, it was a major struggle. Though it took just about 2 months, now that I have come to see the light, so to speak, now that I am back, I want to share what I have learned from my experience. Because let’s face it, we all have our rough patches, walk through valleys, experience pain and drama and let downs. And though I consider myself one tough cookie, and a pretty happy person, sometimes, these occurrences/circumstances/ordeals/setbacks/rough patches can indeed try to steal our joy. Sometimes these situations are devastating and a mere “suck it up buttercup” just won’t do.

For an example, surely you can have a bad day at work, or a heated exchange with your spouse, or leave your favorite scarf at the restaurant, or your kid gets a bad grade on his report card and this can be super frustrating. However, you can make a few adjustments, take a few deep breaths and bounce back soon after. But what about the more devastating experiences???? The big blows that throw you off your rocker, that shake your entire world. Like a death of a loved one, a CONTINUAL exchange with your spouse, a child who is perpetually in trouble, a job loss, a bad medical report, etc… How can we overcome the devastation that comes with these situations, especially when there is minimal evidence the circumstance will change?

Well without going into the details of my ordeal, I will confide some of the ways I was able to get my joy back and how I plan to maintain it. First of all, I realized quickly that my mind was completely filled with sadness, frustration, and even anger. Once that happened, there was no room for me to see anything with the right perspective. EVERYTHING seemed wrong. Everyone was bad. My efforts were worthless. Nothing had value to me. There was a fog clouding my mind and because of it, my vision was blurred. My perspective was off. Regardless of the fact that I otherwise had a pretty great existence, I literally could not see that. I was consumed by my grief. Overwhelmed by my doubt. Immersed with fear and frustration. I WAS going to church, I WAS reading the bible, I was doing all that blah, blah, blah. But my situation was there every day looking at me in the face like a huge dark cloud of reality and all I could do was roll around in it with self-pity assuming it would never get better.

So, let’s start there. Let’s assume that your situation doesn’t get better. Maybe that child won’t come to his senses for 5 more years, the bankruptcy has left you with bad credit for 7 years, your spouse won’t get the job he’s been believing for for another 5 months… how can you keep your spirits up? I submit that though those situations can bring devastation to you and your need for control, your peace and joy cannot be contingent upon them getting better. Once I came to that realization, operation Get My Joy Back, was in full swing!!! Here are the four steps I took to help me stop, drop and roll out of my gloom.

  1. Eliminate the waste/Take out the trash: In order to get rid of my stinkin’ thinkin’ I had to get rid of the negative influences that were clouding my vision.  It wasn’t deep. I mean, I don’t hang around or have regular exposure to negative people, but I had to eliminate the subtle contact. Like the images on social media, some of the TV shows, the songs, news, and even the conversations with people who were regularly complaining about their own drama. It was too much. Some of those songs will have you ready to jump off the mountain you are supposed to be moving!!!! They will subliminally fill your head with images and ideas that are not related to you. For example, some of the regular commercials on TV will make you think EVERYONE is depressed, EVERYONE has cancer, EVERYONE’S man cheats on them!!!! SOOOOO NOT TRUE!!!! TURN IT ALL OFFFFFF!!!!! TUNE IT ALLLLL OUT!!!! Those images will only hinder your path to mental clarity and set you back miles on your journey.
  2. On the contrary, immerse your mind with positive: Pretend your mind is a cup. As much as you possibly can, overload that cup with positive images, messages, thoughts, words, ideas and people. During my time in the valley, I ordered 4 new books, read great magazines, followed several sites that uploaded positive quotes and images, watched a series of faith-based movies, listened to Joel Osteen every time I got in the car, listened to uplifting music and conversed with positive people.  It is SOOO easy to want to call your best buddy and unload your issue on them. Often times they will even help you sit in your stew. But I connected with a friend of mine who challenged me. Who encouraged me. She helped me lift my spirits and help me get my eyes on what was important. Surround yourself with positivity. Great sources that will help center your focus upward.
  3. Minister to yourself: I know this is so cliché, but I was on a plane recently and the flight attendant went through the whole spiel about “securing your oxygen mask FIRST before trying to take care of others’…” That really spoke to me. It is SOOOOO important that we minister to ourselves, not only during the tough times, but REGULARLY. I dare say, EVERY DAY!!!! During my frustration, I went to the movies, went on long walks, had some quiet book reading in the coffee shop, took long hot baths, went window shopping, baked, and even went on a weekend getaway with just myself. Whatever you enjoy doing, which more than likely, you have somehow forfeited… DO IT!!!! It is therapeutic. It is necessary. These are the things that help you ENJOY life and should not take a back seat to busyness. Furthermore, intentionally doing some of these things on a regular basis, is a great way to stay out of the rough patch.
  4. SEEK THE LORD: Jesus is the ultimate supplier of joy! Seek Him first thing every single day! I personally don’t answer a text, a call, open social media, exchange with humans at all until AFTER I pray and read the Word/devotional each morning. If you don’t have a daily regimen or don’t know where to start, Pray in the shower. Download the Bible App on your phone. Read a chapter of the bible a day. Find a devotional that ministers to you. Get a good bible based book. Whatever the case, I have found that no person, no thing, no idea, no quote, no method can renew my strength, feed my spirit, restore my joy like Jesus. No house, no spouse, no clothing, no weight loss, no achievement, no surgery, no drug, no degree, or pursuit can provide the lasting joy like a relationship with Christ. Once I surrendered my worry, doubt, frustration, fear, anger and sadness over to Him. Once I took my hands off the wheel and released the need for control, I was able to allow His peace, hope, joy, faith, and love to fill my heart completely. And the best part is, He was right there all along. When He has preeminence in your life, it is difficult for outside forces to get in…

Now. Does that mean that we will never experience a rough patch ever again? Of course not. But I am confident that as I used these steps to recover my joy, if I make them a regular practice, I can use them to maintain my joy, regardless what the circumstances are around me. No doubt life can be tough. We have a TON going on and so many things coming at us each day. However, joy is a choice. It is contingent upon nothing other than our decision to activate it… Here’s to getting back out there and making the decision to ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR JOURNEY!!!! As for me… I CHOOSE JOY.

 

Photo cred: Stephanie Archer

The Most “Unloveable” People Need Love the Most…

I was watering my bushes a few days ago. I noticed that after a year and a half of planting and watering just about every day, some of the bushes were beginning to grow and the buds were actually blossoming! I was THRILLED at the SIGHT of life, because up until now, though I was diligent with their care, my flowers seemed pretty unresponsive. The new blooms motivated me to water more. I even watered the couple with the biggest blossoms a bit longer because they had become my prize. I then looked over to the four that were not blooming and I grew frustrated. I didn’t even want to waste my time watering them. Something must be wrong with them if they couldn’t produce the same results after the same care! THE NERVE!!!! I mean, they have given no evidence of even THINKING of blooming!!! I even considered uprooting them and planting something more “suitable” for success.

At that moment, the Lord showed me the correlation between my frustration about the non-budding bushes with how often times we as a society can become toward others that behave in a similar manner. Think about it. How easy is it to write a person off, to become offended, to hold a grudge or withhold mercy on a person who acts in an unbecoming manner that may be different from otherwise attractive behaviors. How often are we repelled by a co-worker, a neighbor, a child, even a spouse who seems to have missed the mark on seemingly obvious objectives. ESPECIALLY when you have gone out of your way to extend an extra amount of mercy toward them… THE NERVE!!!!!

I remember my last year teaching, I had a student in 1st period named “John.” Since I actually loved teaching and even more so, LOVED the students, I never had many discipline problems. My students could see my sincere care and determination for their success, it created a mutual relationship of love and respect. However, “John” was one of the toughest in all my career. He showed up late just about every day, he sat in the front row and attempted to sleep regularly; when he WAS awake, he sat there, unprepared and unmotivated to do ANYTHING, and often times became a MAJOR distraction. Though I had to continually redirect him, something in me could not give up on “John.” This kid challenged me to my CORE, but I knew he was capable of fulfilling the tasks put before him. It was his senior year, he had made it this far, and I was NOT about to let him FAIL. He required EVERY drip drop of my patience, but I wouldn’t accept less than his best and I encouraged him to get through.

I realize extending this kind of grace takes an enormous amount of tolerance, perseverance, and strength. People can be super- extra difficult at times! It is SO easy to just throw our hands up and quit. I mean, even if “John” MAKES it out of high school, even if those plants do get a little stronger, it is so much easier to devote the energy to a person/plant that appreciates the love, or at least shows PROMISE of success.

I remember my students asking me that same question… “Mrs. Harper, why do you keep working with “John,” you know he’s not even going to graduate! He doesn’t even care!” What they didn’t know, and what I didn’t even know until later, was that John’s dad walked out on their family the year prior. It had a devastating impact on them emotionally and financially. His mother had a to carry a weight that was too much for her. They lost their home, and were forced into some very unbearable living conditions. This certainly took its toll on “John” and he began to act out, lose interest in school and everything else.

From somewhere deep inside, without knowing this prior, I was devoted to seeing “John” win. I remember explaining to the class that if we all treated John the way he deserved to be treated based on his behavior, he would see frustration and annoyance from his teachers, his mother, his classmates, his family and everyone in his life. How would that make him feel? How could he POSSIBLY blossom in that case? But what if we treated him like we hoped he would be. What we wanted him to become? What if we loved on him. What if when he acted out, we didn’t retaliate with anger, but redirected him with compassion? Considering how challenging his behavior was, this seemed a near impossible task. But I was up for the mission and was sure to model it in front of my students.

I know this is not easy. I know. But what I have come to appreciate is the one who is the most challenging, the one who is the most unloveable, the one with the threat of failure, is the very one that needs love the most. We simply cannot give up on people who don’t have it all together, who present a challenge, even those who act out. That is the expected response. That is what they are used to. That won’t help promote a change or motivate them to rise higher. We must reach deep into our hearts… DEEP (lol) and find that compassion. Extend that mercy. Overlook that offense. I am convinced that love never fails. I am settled that if we rise to a higher place, we can win over the hardest of hearts.  We can inspire that tough individual to overcome.

I will never forget graduation 2014. I sat on the field during the commencement as a proud teacher of the graduates. We were to sit with them, help supervise, and escort them off the field after the ceremony. One of the proudest moments of my teaching career happened at the end as the graduates engaged in a procession off the field. “John” came up to me with tears streaming down his face, beaming with pride and gratitude. He looked me in my eyes, and with all sincerity told me, there was no way he would have made it to this moment without me. He apologized for being so difficult to handle and concluded his message with, “thanks for never giving up on me!!!” It was the last class of my career, but that lesson was one of the greatest of them all.

Though you may put forth great effort, though you may not always understand, though that difficult spirit may push you to your limit, somehow go to that place deep down in your heart and activate that compassion, extend that mercy, muster up that hope, water those plants and love the seemingly unloveable. It may just be the very ingredient necessary for them not to fail…

 

 

Photo: picturequotes

TIME DOES NOT HAVE TO FLY… A Back to School Reflection.

Ok, so both my kids are in high school!!!!! 😲😲😔 WHAATTT???!!! This blew me away!!! I mean, it seems like YESTERDAY I was nursing them and teaching them how to use the bathroom!!!! I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed them, or getting them bundled in alllll their layers of clothing in order to weather the cold, and carrying them in their car seat and wondering “how in the world was I going to get through this????” I mean, it seemed SOOOOO hard and because they were only 19 months apart, it seemed there was no relief. Something as simple as getting ready for bed meant individual baths, and getting them dressed and keeping one entertained while the other was being attended to… it was literally EXHAUSTING!!!!

I remember some of the elders, (ie. WISE, BRILLIANT people we tend to ignore because they just don’t understand our specific situation) used to tell me, “enjoy these moments because they fly right by…” I remember WISHING they would… 😂😂lolol!!! Now that those beautiful babies have grown into amazing 14/16-year old’s right before my eyes, I’ve learned that time does indeed FLY by and I have come to appreciate allllll those tough times as fond moments in this AMAZING journey. Because I have come to value each phase of parenthood, I have also learned how to seize the moments and literally slow down the time.

How in the world can you slow down time, you say? It is actually quite simple: Make each moment count. BE PRESENT. Adjust your perspective and see the joy in that perfect place of the journey. Especially you new moms, or moms of toddlers, or moms of those goofy pre-teens, and OMG… MOMS OF TEENAGERS!!!! YIKES!!! Know that each phase brings about a new terrain. It can be tough, especially when you haven’t tread that path before. It completely sucks when they learn the word “no”, or when they THINK about talking back, driving, dating, or wanting to go on field trips, or getting a new cell phone, or starting HIGH SCHOOL!!!! OMG!!!! IT’S A LOT I KNOW!!!! Each phase brings new challenges indeed, but they are times you will never get back. Ask any empty-nester what they wouldn’t give to put that perfect part in their daughter’s hair with pigtails for the first day of school. How they wish they could sit through just ONE more basketball game. How they wish they could watch one more Disney movie together…

I remember my daughter being rushed to the hospital because her appendix ruptured. We had no idea, but it actually ruptured days before she was admitted, which put her in a critical position. Infection had spread through her body and we were in the hospital for several days. I was still working during that time. I remember actually wrestling with the idea that I had 150 final exams to grade and report cards to post while my daughter had a tube sticking out the middle of her stomach!!! 😦😦😦 It dawned on me then, that my job was taking WAAAAY too much of my attention.  That it hindered me from fully focusing on the monumental moments of my children’s lives. I considered how much of my attention COULDN’T be on them, because I was trying to be excellent at my career. That was my last year of teaching. We downsized our lives, I retired from my job and am at home to fully serve my family. Now, I am by NO means suggesting anyone quit their job. For me, I HAD to, and it has made all the difference. But there is surely a way you can slow down the time in your life right now. Whatever way God leads you specifically to enjoy your journey, be sure to adhere. Realize that though we have our entire lives to indulge, chase after dreams, seek promotion, gain advanced education, get overtime hours, one thing we can’t get back is the time that passes and the events that happen throughout. Figure out how YOU can be present for your kids and get to it ASAP.

It doesn’t even have to be super deep. Being present in the moment looks like this: Attuning fully when they show you their 7,456th completed page from their coloring book, listening like you are at a concert when they ask you to hear that song they learned on the flute in band class today, sitting with them while they struggle through that English project, putting your phone down and talking to them in the car on the way to EVERY WHERE, turning off the TV and listening to them during dinner, helping them make that sign for their student council election and the like.

Parents have a tough job. We seem to constantly need relief from the weight it bears. However, if we adjust our perspective a bit and see each phase as a once in a lifetime moment on an amazing journey, we are sure to savor the time. When we purpose to enjoy each day of their childhood, we will never have to answer that horrible question, “Where did the time go?” Because we were right there in the middle of each one of those precious moments with them. Today is tomorrow’s “good old days…” so get out there and Carpe Diem!!!!

 

18 WAYS WE MADE IT 18 YEARS… AN ANNIVERSARY REFLECTION.

Today I celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary!!!! WOWZERS!!!! It’s hard to believe it has been that long, but what an INCREDIBLE adventure indeed. Especially jumping into marriage at 22, my husband and I grew up together. We have raised 2 children, traveled the world, bought and sold property, developed businesses, paid off debt, overcome challenges and setbacks, and learned SOOOOO much along the way. The best part about it, is that we did it all TOGETHER!!!!! And more importantly, with God at the forefront the entire time. We are by no means perfect, sooooo far from it. We have DEFINITLY had our challenges, but we are committed to growing and getting better and better as we go. Over the years many people ask, how do we stay together? How do we keep the love alive? Well, I truly believe that the secret sauce to a successful marriage is doing it according to the bible. Marriage is created by God. It is a sacred covenant between you and Him and when done in line with His Word, it can be the greatest journey of our lives. In honor of 18 years, I reflected on 18 specific things that I believe has kept our marriage blissful.

  1. Seek Godly/professional counsel during the tough times. Sometimes you just need a 3rd party who can shed light/Godly wisdom on an issue that neither of you can seem to agree on. We have sought counsel on several occasions during our marriage and it helped us regain our focus.
  2. Travel/ride through beautiful neighborhoods/test drive nice cars/connect with people you admire/try new foods… DREAM BIG!!!! It sets the tone for “the possible.” We are not called to settle and be stagnant. Step outside your comfort zone and dream/vision cast together. We do this ALLLLL the time. It is so much fun to explore the AMAZING possibilities that await.
  3. Do as many things as you can TOGETHER. Pretty much, if you see me, you see my husband and/or the kids. We are always together. We LOVE being TOGETHER. We grocery shop, walk, ride, go to basketball games, read, eat, worship, do yard work, etc. TOGETHER. We are a team. It makes EVERYTHING enjoyable.
  4. Divide chores and tasks evenly among each other. Because we are all stakeholders in this estate, we work together to help it run smoothly. He has strengths and so do I. We use them daily to help take care of the needs of our home/family in a balanced way so that no one is overloaded.
  5. Build your budget on one salary. Even though for a while we had 2 incomes coming in, it made it that much easier to transition into me stepping away from my job (both times) because we ALWAYS set our budget and spending on his salary. This takes the pressure off when babies come into the equation or any other demands that will require one of you to reduce work or step away from the job.
  6. Get out of debt and stay out. We eliminate the main area of contention when we don’t have enormous amounts of debt lingering over our heads. It takes such a load off and allows for great freedom to not have to use every dollar we make paying a bill. SOOO worth the sacrifice.
  7. Take vacation time. We go on at least 1 major trip and several weekend getaways each year. We enjoy the time SO much and it helps us recalibrate for all the great adventures ahead.
  8. Go on a date regularly. We go out at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but just getting dressed and out keeps the party pumpin’!!!
  9. Put the kids to bed!!! Many people allow the kids to stay up late, sleep in their bed etc. We never did that. The kids have a bed time. We spend a TON of time with them every day. But when it is bedtime, they go to bed. That leaves time for us to have some time each day as well.
  10. You build your family, let God build your enterprises. Though we have goals and dreams, we are careful not to rush them at the expense of our marriage and/or family. Enterprise and businesses will come. However, these precious moments to raise our kids and build a strong foundation takes time, effort and dedication. It is our #1 priority.  We leave the work at the office…
  11. Pray together daily. Though we pray and have our time with God each day independently, we also pray together as a family each day. It sets the standard in our home that God is the head. It helps us keep our hearts on him FIRST.
  12. See and celebrate each other’s differences as additions/bonuses to what you lack individually. Though I am super outgoing and passionate, Mike is laid back and calm. This helps complete the package vs. creating a source of division. Differences are assets.
  13. Keep a thankful journal. I write in a thankful journal every night. Often times when I get frustrated or FORGET how great my husband is, or how great things are in our life, I can look back on years of great things that have happened to me EVERY SINGLE DAY and it INSTANTLY gets my mind right back into perspective.
  14. Take a MILLION pictures, keep records, make playlists of moments during the journey that you can regularly reflect upon. It goes SO fast and there are SO many monumental adventures to cherish. They will help keep a smile in your heart.
  15. Build your foundation on the Word. Avoid TV shows, movies, songs, examples of marriages that don’t line up with the Bible. This thing IS NOT miserable. Instead, it is SOOOOO much fun, when done God’s way. (ie. Love is patient, kind… does not dishonor others… is not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs… etc) Look in the right places for wisdom and examples of marriage.
  16. Look good for each other, KEEP IT TIGHT!!! Lol!!! Put on your make-up, workout, dress nicely, be sexy for him/her as much as possible. Reinvent your game and stay SPICY!!!
  17. Spend time growing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc. as an individual to offer your best to the union. Read books, attend conferences, invest in yourself regularly in you can be a strong and healthy teammate.
  18. Last but CERTAINLY not least: Acknowledge that DIVORCE IS NOT AN OPTION. I KNOW times get tough. I mean TOUGH. But (with the exception of infidelity/abuse), it can be worked out. If you fight for your marriage, and don’t give any outside force a foothold, together you and your husband can put 10,000 to flight. Love never fails. I am thoroughly convinced!!!

Whew!!!! Aren’t you glad we haven’t been married 40 years!!! Lol!!! You would be reading forever!!! Lol!!!! I am thrilled to share this awesome ride with my best friend. We are having a BLAST!!! We have built something SO special and I am committed to seeing it through to forever. I hope some of the items on this list are a blessing to you. It was a fun reflection for me. Thanks for reading it!!! May you experience all the joys of an awesome union!!! Here’s to Happily Ever After…

DIY #9: HOW WE MADE OUR OWN WALKWAY…

Well here we go! If you’ve been following my blog, (which you SHOULD of course!!! 🙂 ) you know that my family and I had a home built in the North Georgia mountains about 2 years ago. We had an awesome builder, however, he did not include a walkway that led from our driveway to the front door. For a while that had been fine, however, after a very rainy season, and the grass not quite growing in yet, the water began to wash the dirt from the mountain onto our “rock” walkway. Of course, this meant that my kids, my dog and everyone else that came over were dragging mud or dirt ALL over the house!!! Uuuggghhh!!! We immediately contacted our builder who gave us a price ($3000-$3500) to complete the task. Though this seemed to be a bit steep, we set up a budget, a date and were excited to get underway.  Unfortunately, we waited, and waited and waited to no avail. DOUBLE UUUGGGGHHH!!!! Sooooo, I sat with a couple girlfriends one afternoon, and during our “girl talk” (if you could ever imagine) we discussed the idea and the “ease” of using pavers to create a beautiful walkway. “THAT’S IT!!!!!” I thought!!! I could go to Home Depot and price out some super pavers and as always… DO IT MYSELF!!!!

Though Home Depot offered an amazing variety of paver options, I counted up the cost, and it was waaaaaaaay too high. So, after searching on Amazon, I found the Quikrete Brick Walk Maker!!! It was PERFECT!!! Now this was something I could do! Use the molding to create a pathway!!! I ordered the mold for $24.99 and while waiting the couple days it took to get here, I looked on YouTube and studied the materials I needed and created a configuration that would work best for us. Simple right????? UUUMMMM…. NOT QUITE!!! Considering the area we had to cover, this was quite an adventure, and after 3 months, our walkway is finally complete. While we are certainly LOVING the results, I decided to put this blog together to help guide you through our personal process to help avoid the bumps along the way. Here are the 3 steps we took:

  1. The first step was to use the mold to create the bricks. We used a 60lb bag of quikrete. I bought an $8 mixing tub for mixing and an $8 trowel to level the mix and of course kept my hose very close to make the necessary consistency. It would seem you should over fill the mold with mix in order to create a thick/strong brick. That is not true. Fill the mold, but don’t over-stuff it. This will make the top of the brick uneven. Some people rent a concrete mixer for this part. Though that would come in SUPER handy, we did it the old-fashioned way, with a shovel. Let each mixture set for 5-10 minutes and carefully remove the mold. We proceeded to mix the next bag of concrete while the current one was setting. That helped keep the pace going smoothly. Repeat this process for each brick. Be sure to line the mold next to the prior brick in order to accomplish a patterned walk. Don’t be afraid to add curves as long as the distance isn’t too far from the adjoining brick.

2.  Once you have designed your configured path or patio, you can prepare to prime and stain your bricks. I love this part of the project, because there is a super selection of colors and shades you can select from. Go to the paint/stain section of your local Home Depot to choose the color that works best for your space. Many people add dye to the bricks while mixing the concrete. I like staining afterwards because it is MUCH more cost effective and gives you a greater selection. The prime and stain manufacturers advise you to wait 30 days until your concrete has cured before starting this process. We didn’t quite wait the full 30 days, but perhaps at least 15 worked for us. We primed first and stained it a charcoal color one day later. The prime goes on easy. I used a paint brush, but you can use a roller as well. You really can’t mess this part up, so enjoy this opportunity to be creative.

3.  Finally, once the stain is the shade/tint you like, you can add the SAKRETE PermaSand for a “grout” effect. We found this item at Home Depot as well, however, it was quite costly at $20 per container. Because we had so many bricks to fill, I could have easily used 8-10 of these. However, I decided to buy Quikrete sand topping mix for the bottom portion as a filler. I poured the sand in the grooves of the bricks to about half way. And THEN added the Permasand as a sealer on the top portion. I then swept it into the cracks. The directions will tell you to use a leaf blower to remove all excess sand from the surface. We did that and lightly watered the sand and watched it harden. This was a great part of the process because you can see the contrast of the grout and the color of the bricks. It is a great signal that the project is almost complete.

Once the grout has dried, you can enjoy your paver patio/walkway etc… Contrary to my initial plan, this is not an overnight project. It is indeed labor intensive, but I admit that most of the job was done by me and my 14 year old daughter in 90 degree temperatures. If we can do it, surely you can. The key is making sure you take your time. Do not rush this process. Loading the quikrete concrete itself has to be done in stages (depending what car/truck you have) because you don’t want to ruin your struts. Mixing that mix is tough and doing too much in one day, can put undo strain on your back. TAKE IT SLOW. When done well, it will be a super cool project you can enjoy and reflect on for years to come!!!!

THE SLUMBER PARTY POOPER: A Quick MUST- READ for EVERY Parent…

It’s the end of summer… the kids are getting older, they want to kick it with a few friends on the weekend, or perhaps you just need some well-deserved RELIEF… Tis the season for a good old fashioned, harmless sleepover.  I mean, you’ve known this family for years, or better yet, they ARE family, and your daughter has a cell phone in case of emergencies… AND you have equipped her well with “the talk!” Surely, all things will be fine right????… Not so fast.

For this blog post, I will address a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It may be difficult to receive, or even believe. But if it slows you down, or helps you consider your decisions more thoughtfully, well… mission accomplished.

As a friend, teacher, and parent I have counseled many young women who have been the victim of rape, molestation or sexual assault some time in their life. Studies show that 1 in 5 will have some experience in their lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, it is rare that a stranger off the street, will kidnap and violate his victims. But more so, it is the distant cousin, uncle, family friend, neighbor etc. at which the innocence is compromised. Too many times, it happens during the sleepovers/camps/weekend trips/family reunions, when our children are most vulnerable. When our guard is down because of the trust we have given to the people in our camp.

Here’s a typical example: You let your daughter go to her cousin’s house for the weekend. I mean, this is your sister!!! She would NEVER let anything happen to your daughter. Besides, her daughter is your daughter’s best friend. They are the same age and have grown up together. This situation seems completely harmless. However, you didn’t consider the fact that your nephew is now 16. It’s Friday, and he has a couple friends over. Maybe they aren’t perfect angels, but they are boys… they are teenagers… and… well… You get my point. Or perhaps your brother-in-law has a few guys over to play pool. They are drinking a bit, but nothing crazy. I mean, your sister is right there. TRUST ME… I get it.

But as a victim myself, I can tell you, it only takes 10 minutes to steal the innocence of a child. As a matter of fact, one touch, one look, exposure to sexual sin, can completely obliterate your child’s image of God’s holy, beautiful, sacred act forever. Furthermore, many former victims of a sexual violation/deviation, have changed their entire perception of themselves, others and their sexuality; leaving them with bouts of depression, low self-esteem, promiscuity, and a disgust for heterosexual relationships and intercourse all together.

With the level of pornographic images on TV, magazines, the Internet at an easy grab, it seems to only exploit the sexual appetite, which promotes a stronger drive for sexual deviance now more than ever. We must be super proactive in our awareness of this potential threat and let it govern our decisions regarding overnight/home-alone/babysitting experiences. I am certainly not trying to scare you. But perhaps increase your awareness to avoid potential unwanted behavior.

As a parent, here are some simple ideas to help:

  1. Of course, give your child “the talk.” No matter their age or gender, they should know that there are areas of their body that are OFF LIMITS!!! NO EXCEPTIONS!!! That if anyone were to EVER touch them there, they should get away and get help IMMEDIATELY.
  2. You should maintain an open line of safe communication where your child knows they can come to you and freely ask questions and seek advice at any time. Create this exchange by giving them your undivided attention, time and concern at will. A safe place where they can share their most sacred thoughts without judgement or penalty.
  3. Be mindful of your child’s whereabouts at all times. Not just where they are. But who else is there? Make regular check-ups to evaluate the security of this place. This includes after school practices, pick-ups and drop-offs etc.
  4. Let your presence be made known. Your child and all parties involved should know and feel your presence. Be active in calling-in, asking questions, and showing up. Even if the kids are playing in the basement, there should be a natural understanding that you are on the scene and will make an appearance in some way shape or form. Of course, you shouldn’t be “Stalker-Mom” or anything, but you must be “there” if only through a FaceTime, phone call, drop-in exchange.

There are so many great benefits to giving our children some time away from home. There are so many great social experiences to be had and memories to create. Nevertheless, we as parents must be aware of the potential threats that can bring harm to our children and act accordingly. If we are mindful of these simple steps, we can help prevent a lifetime of heartache.

HOW TO BUY YOUR CAR WITHOUT A LOAN… 6 Easy Steps… YOU GOT THIS!!!!

Remember back in the day when your parents/grandparents had a vehicle? They may not have had 3 cars in the garage, but if there was one, they owned it, maintained it, worked hard for it and pretty much drove it until the wheels fell off. If your parents were like mine, they even had to save up for the car and perhaps carpool or ride the bus until they could actually afford to finally make the purchase.

Many of us look back at those days and reflect a time of hardship and lack. We see people today with 3-4 new cars in the driveway and deem it a point of success… we have finally arrived and are so much better off than our parents ever were. Unfortunately, though we look the part, and banks have made a way for us to “seemingly” attain, most of us are not “owners” of anything. We are paying monthly payments on just about all our (what we like to call) “assets”.  We are convinced that if we didn’t finance them, we would otherwise not have them.  And though we may not be able to afford $20,000 + upfront, surely, we can all afford $299 – $599 + a month right????? OF COURSE…. It seems that way. However, we can all agree that life doesn’t always turn out like we planned, and unexpected expenses occur which add undo stress and pressure to our financial situation.

I submit that our parents/grandparents owned way more than most of us today, simply because they were not borrowing. Let’s not talk about how less chaotic our lives would be if we were able to cut back on our hours at work, or if we were able to sow, invest or multiply the money we were throwing away each month on finance fees for an item that lost value the MINUTE it was driven off the lot.

Well, I am here to tell you that it IS indeed possible to OWN everything you purchase without having to borrow from anyone. Nearly 20 years ago, my husband and I started the process of becoming 100% debt free; that we would not charge, or finance another thing.  With the exception of our home, (we have a plan for that too) we have stuck to that goal and are super close to owing no one, nothing (pardon the double negative!!! 😊). It has been a sacrifice, and definitely delayed gratification, but it so liberating to have complete control over our spending. However, it has certainly required us to alter the process for some of the major purchases, such as buying a car.

In a world where everyone around is driving the latest $30,000 + vehicle, our appetite can often times be greater than our bank account. Though most vehicles on the road are less than 5 years old,  studies show, a very small percentage of them are owned by the driver themselves. So technically, most drivers are 1-2 missed payments away from repossession, or in laymen’s terms:  the true owner (the bank) can come take it back. Not to mention how many times beyond the actual price consumers are spending once the financed term is complete… and by that time, the once satiated appetite is way past ready for yet the newest version… and the vicious cycle begins yet again. And here we are, the $30k turns into $50k;  we are now at the perpetual mercy of the improved features of overpriced vehicles for which banks have so graciously provided ways to consume our salary….7 year chunks at a time.

In the meantime, we are led to believe that our infant child, toddler and pre-teen would otherwise be riding in harm’s way if we didn’t buy a new carWe would risk DEATH if our engine blew up while driving on the freeway to soccer practice… or heaven forbid the transmission left us stuck at a red light because it had 119k miles on it!!!! DON’T BELIEVE THAT LIE!!! I am here to dispel the “used car” myth once and for all. You CAN buy a new or used car that is safe, dependable, quality, stylish AND in your budget…WITHOUT GOING INTO DEBT.

Over the past 20 years we have had super success buying cars for our family. We have a process that has given us great results, and guess what, neither of our cars has ever caught on fire, blown up or had the air condition freeze it to ice!!!!  Here is a little list of our purchases:

Year purchased Year/Make/Model of car Price of car Mileage at purchase Mileage at the end of the term Years we owned it
2017 2007 Hyundai Veracruz $6,200 130k+ Still have it… 131k 1 month and counting
2015 2015 Subaru Cross Trek $27,000 BRAND NEW Still have it… 104k 2 years and counting
2012 2003 MINI Cooper $8000 81k 122k 2 years
2008 1998 Mercedes Benz $5000 98k Still have it…286k 9 years and counting
2007 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee $3400 151k 298k 10 years
2004 1995 BMW $8500 153k 215k 3 years
2001 1989 Audi 80 $3600 69k 145k+ 3 years
2000 1991 Volvo 240 $3100 155k+ 300k+ 7 years

 

As you can see, we have enjoyed some of the luxurious, foreign, sport utility, compact, etc. cars and have gotten great life out of each of them. Here’s how we do it.

  1. Establish a price. This is SO important. What can your family afford? Not just for the moment, but throughout the life of the vehicle… gas, repairs, maintenance? Look at your bank account, bonus for the year, extra money you received and consider a CASH amount you can spend. If you don’t have it yet, SAVE IT!!!! Put aside a little money each month, combine it with a tax return, sell an item in your house you don’t need anymore, and create a specific amount you can spend. Don’t be afraid to start off small. You would be surprised what kind of car you can buy with only $2,000!
  2. Determine the need. Many people buy cars based on what’s hot and flashy, what looks cute. Consider what you NEED. Do you have a long commute and need fuel efficiency? Are you in the car for long distances and need extreme comfort? Do you drive through mountains and/or snow and must have 4-wheel drive? Or do you have a growing family of 5 and need ample seating? Whatever the case, be sure you are addressing the NEED vs. style, name, color, or other superficial reasons that will cause you to spend outside of your price range.
  3. Consider your options. Now that you know what you are looking for, you can explore the HUGE variety of vehicles out there to meet your need and your budget. Today there are many places to search for new/used vehicles right online, which can often times present a much better alternative to used car lots. One of our favorite sites is www.autotrader.com .  You can refine or streamline the search to accommodate your exact budget, need, amenities, and other items on your wish list. Be sure to explore ALL the options. You would be surprised of the makes and models you’ve never heard of or noticed on the road. Our latest purchase was a Hyundai, Veracruz. It is a vehicle we didn’t know existed, but after research, we discovered it met our needs PERFECTLY and ultimately became our only consideration.
  4. RESEARCH. RESEARCH. RESEARCH. This may be one of the most important parts of the purchase process. Once you have narrowed your search to potential vehicles, you must research the history of that particular make and model. www.edmunds.com , www.kbb.com , and www.cars.com are all great sites that offer details, specs, reviews, recalls etc. about automobiles from every year of the manufacturing process. They provide information such as gas mileage, pricing, amenities, safety ratings, size, towing capacity and so much more. When researching alternatives to the Veracruz we recently purchased, we considered other vehicles such as the Subaru, Tribeca and the Volvo XC90. However, after extensive research and reading consumer reviews, we found the Tribeca to have major transmission issues and both required premium gas. This helped make our decision very easy. Taking time to consider the history of the vehicle and the background of its manufacturing can save a lot of heart ache in the long run.
  5. TIME TO SHOP!!!!! Finally, you are ready to take your money and make an informed purchase. Search your spirit when exchanging information with the seller. If it is a used car dealer, have they marked the price up to an astronomical rate? What is the Kelley Blue Book value of the car? How many owners has it had? Any accidents? How well was it cared for? Why are they selling it? Don’t buy off your emotion. You want a car, but YOU have the power… YOU HAVE THE MONEY!!!! If they are asking too much, but you really like it, talk them down. Be firm on your price. You have done your research, so you know how much this car is worth based on mileage, and condition. When you test drive it, LISTEN!!! Listen to the car, the sounds its makes. Look at the handles, the locks, the windows, the tires, the brakes. Does the moon-roof leak? The condition of the car will tell you a lot of how well it was cared for and help you make an informed purchase.
  6. HAVE A SUPER MECHANIC. Last step. Many people swear by taking their car to the dealership to have it serviced. We have never done that. We have always been fortunate to know of a very knowledgeable mechanic who is reasonable and enthusiastic about his/her job. We always have him look over our vehicles before putting it on the road. Remember you are buying your used car in “as-is” condition. Surely, it may need a tune up, new tires, extra coolant etc. He will be able to put it on the computer to determine exactly what it needs before driving it, and throughout the life of the car. It is always a plus when the mechanic develops a relationship with you and your car, so you have a reliable source to help when repairs or maintenance arises.

There you have it!!!! I know this was a long one, but you are now equipped to make an informed decision when purchasing a vehicle. Whether you are in the market to buying a brand new or used car, I strongly encourage you to always buy it with cash. Who wants to spend half of their paycheck each month for YEARS on newer features that will only expire soon after. When you buy it, it’s YOURS. It becomes an asset. No one can come take it and no one will hound you each month for their dues, while overcharging you several times over. The best part of it is this: When it is time for you to move on to a true upgrade, you will have the choice of doing whatever you choose with your car. So far, we have been fortunate enough to give several of our cars to others upon upgrading, (which has been one of my favorite parts of car ownership). I am excited that every purchase is better than the one before. I am excited that instead of spending our money on expensive car notes each month, we are able to save, invest, and enjoy. I pray this post helps you as well. May your greatest purchases be ahead of you!!! Here’s to 300k+ mile debt-free voyages!!!!

 

 

WALK THIS WAY…

After almost 18 years of marriage, many people ask, “How do you do it? What’s the secret?” Of course, there is not one specific answer to that question. However, I believe simple choices made each day contribute to a long road to happiness… AND, for you, I will indeed release at least ONE of my juicy, hot, steamy secrets, free of charge… ready? Here it goes… TAKE A WALK!!!!!!

No really. Check this out. My husband and I have been walking together 3-5 days of every week for almost 20 years and I truly think it is one of the things that has helped keep our bond strong. I mean think about it; you can’t talk on the phone, clean a house, fulfill any requirements, finish tasks, or any of the other things that demand your attention, time, and energy. Instead, you are forced to talk, vision cast, share stories from the day, plan vacations, DREAM, take in the scenery, talk about unresolved issues and expectations etc. All the while, you are getting some great exercise and inhaling some of that good old fashion fresh air.

You can delve into a plethora of landscapes, including blocks surrounding your own home, to the high school track in your community; or even find a great parking space in a beautiful neighborhood nearby and explore future homes you dream of living in someday; a local park, beach, lake, mountain or the like. Whatever the case, the uninterrupted time together will help create opportunities for great communication to take place. You will find that when you are intentional about this special time with each other, the visions, the vacations, the dreams, the unresolved issues, the unfulfilled desires all become areas of focus and ultimately points of pleasure and fulfillment because the necessary time was invested.

My husband and I are so committed to our walks, we look forward to them even while on vacation. Sometimes we bring the kids and/or the dog along, but most times it is just us.

Now I won’t even begin to discuss the potentially hot, smokin’ bod you may develop while on these great expeditions, but in the meantime, give this idea a try. When your marriage goes to the next level, when you have come up with new streams of income, great destinations to explore, super ways to resolve that issue with your child, or the fastest method to paying off your last credit card, shoot me a line and let me know!!! I’ll charge you for this great advice then!!! 😊😊😊 Here’s to enjoying the journey…

(scenes from some of our great treks…)