Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In-depth coverage: a year in review

Really deep in my head today. Trudging through the memories of the most pivotal and amazing year of my life so far. I feel so well-equipped for absolutely anything that may fall in my path from here forward. I've spent time in the trenches and pulled myself out each and every time with the help of God, friends, and family. But you know what? A lot with the help of just me. I'm finally giving myself the credit I'm due. I'm liberated. I'm free. I'm empowered. I'm owning my flaws and barreling through every obstacle. I know the definition of true grit inside and out. I'm resilient. I'm strong. Nothing beats this feeling.

January - New chapter, new house, the voyage of Kimmy and me.

May - A glimpse of the way I want my life to be in the future (in retirement or whenever that chapter may come). Spent time on a mission in Cambodia being a voice for some amazing and powerful girls whose voices were stripped from them. Learned the meaning of being the hands and feet. Loved others before loving myself. Truly the most amazing experience of my entire life thus far. I would go back in a heartbeat, and I will go back at the soonest opportunity without hesitation.

July - Accepted to grad school. With my team, won the case competition against 18 other teams in our tournament and one of 2 team winners among all 36 teams. Really humbling experience to be around so many professionals, yet to realize that I've genuinely got what it takes to hold my own.

August - First real vacation with my daughter. We did Disney. We had a blast. We didn't spend every penny we have. We made memories. I single-handedly traveled on a very huge trip, air travel and all, with a toddler, and we made it back happily and safely. One of my proudest accomplishments ever, no joke.

September - Started the realest juggling act of my adult life: single mothering full-time, work full-time, school full-time, 2 side jobs, and so much more--and I made it work. I somehow kept the plates spinning. What a grueling, satisfying challenge!

November - Turned 27 and reached a huge epiphany: I don't have to be defined by society's standards of a 27-year-old woman. I can let the pressure go. I can release myself. I don't need to be married, barefoot, and pregnant. I don't need anything at the current juncture. I define myself. There's no race to be won. There's no race at all! I can decide everything for myself. I need no advice or outside opinions. Everything I have is within me and before me. This month changed my entire outlook on life and freed my heart. (More on this in another post later.)

December - Took a solo daycation to Chicago (a lifelong dream destination, both for food and for art) and truly had one of the very best days of my whole life. Time waits for no man. Kelsey waits for no man. Kelsey doesn't need a man. As long as I have myself, my adventurous spirit can never steer me wrong. Scared to go somewhere new all alone? WHY??! What on earth are you waiting for?! GO!!!!!!!!!!! You will never regret it ever! Live YOUR life on YOUR terms! This month is still in progress, obviously, but I can't help but mention that I've also taken up a recent [surprising] interest in physical fitness and am killin' my goals. I'm also all set for the greatest Christmas ever with my darling daughter. I cannot wait for all that's ahead of us.

But as much as this is a year in review, it is also a life in review. A life well lived. It's a hard life. It's a stressful life. But it's a beautiful one. There is beauty in every moment, every breath, every breeze. It's everywhere if you just open your eyes, open your heart, open your mind, open your arms, and let life in. If there is no wind, row. Make your own way and allow yourself to enjoy it.

I'm in love with life. I'm in love with living! I am tied to no one and no thing. Only the passing of the hours and all that each solitary moment holds. The very idea of soaking up everything here is exhilarating, and I can't get enough of this world. All the people in it. All the places to be explored. I yearn to touch it all.

I'm happy. Happier than I've ever been in my adult life. How did I even get here? (Through a whole lot of bad.) Was it pretty? (No.) Was it messy? (Undeniably so.) The path was long and hard and incredibly daunting and imperfect, but I have arrived. I have felt every emotion in the book this year without exception. Every valley and high, I have experienced. Dark, depressing weekends when my daughter was away, and I spent 48 hours lying in my bed simply existing with the deafening, noisy thoughts inside my head until I could go pick her up and fall back into our normal pace. The last evening in Cambodia with my soul sisters, such beautiful daughters of Christ, when half of us were sobbing, half were smiling, we all were praying and singing to Jesus--when the evening sky turned the most vibrant bright pink, and I could have sworn we saw the face of God right there on that slab of cement. Direct juxtapositions of huge, heavy emotions and off-the-wall experiences that make absolutely no sense side by side. But this is my life. It's the only one I've got. How can I not love every moment with every fiber of my being?

One burning questions laps at the edges of my mind at all times, but I now have the answer. Am I enough? Of course I am enough. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent (Eleanor Roosevelt). God has blessed me with this incredible life, and I am enough. I am a mother, daughter, sister, friend, adventurer, jokester, writer, art lover, traveler, foodie, dreamer, weirdo, idealist, wit master, and more. And I am enough for all of the people who meet me in those roles. Beyond that, I don't care what anyone thinks because I love me. I am happy with the way I am. I know myself. I love myself. I'm living a genuine and authentic life, totally true to myself, and there's no way I'd rather be.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Birthday freebies

With my birthday 5 days away, I figured I'd lighten things up a bit with a fun post! This one's all about birthday freebies.

If you know me, you know I love a deal, and a deal is even better if it's free. I strongly dislike junk email, but at the same time, it's a small price to pay for some pretty cool freebies come birthday time! Also, sometimes when you sign up for an email list, you get a free item or really good coupon just for signing up + a birthday freebie.

Check out my list of fave freebies below and feel free to chime in on the comments with some of yours that I may have missed!

Arby's: Free small milkshake

Auntie Anne's: free pretzel (you have to download the app)

Aver's Pizza (Bloomington, IN): Free lunch or dinner buffet

Baskin Robbins: 1 free scoop of ice cream

Buffalo Wild Wings: Free snack size wings (dine in only)

Chili's: 80 rewards points, which can be used for a free appetizer or dessert (dine in only)

Classic Lanes Bowling (Bloomington, IN): $5 credit (must be used on your birthday)

CVS Pharmacy: $5 ExtraBucks Rewards (store credit)

Dairy Queen: BOGO free Blizzard coupon

Denny's: free grand slam (must be used on your birthday)

DSW: $5 off coupon

Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse: $25 off lunch or dinner (This one's KILLER! Lunch IS $25, and Dinner is like $50. HUGE savings, especially since my Kimmy is 3 and will eat free.)

G.H. Bass & Company: 20% off shopping pass

Godiva: $10 e-gift card for use in store or online (You better believe I got me some free chocolate!)

Golden Corral: Free adult buffet with purchase of an adult buffet

Great American Cookies: Free cookie cake slice with the purchase of a regular soda

HuHot Mongolian Grill: BOGO free adult entrees

MaggieMoo's: free small cup or cone with unlimited mix-ins

Mastercuts: $3 off a haircut (which I seriously need to take advantage of!)

McAlister's Deli: $5 off a meal

Moe's Southwest Grill: free entree with purchase of a drink (burrito, bowl, taco, quesadilla, etc. One item = an entree, whether a big burrito or a smaller taco)

Noodles & Company: Free regular size bowl of noodles up to $9 (that's enough to add in a protein fo' free, too!)

Olive Garden: Free dessert of your choice (dine in only)

Panera Bread: Free bakery pastry

Payless Shoes: 25% off shopping pass (no excluded items)

Pizza X: Free 4-pack of chocolate chip cookies (No other purchase required as long as you pick up)

Potbelly Sandwich: Free cookie

Red Lobster: $5 off 2 adult entrees (dine in only + not a super great coupon)

Scotty's Brewhouse (Bloomington, IN): $10 credit (dine in only)

Sephora: free birthday sample make-up pack (no purchase required if picked up in store, but "free with purchase" if ordered online)

Shoe Carnival: $5 off $29.98 purchase coupon

Starbucks: free drink or food item (can be used on any one menu item; go for the biggest, most caffeinated thing you desire!)

Steak 'n' Shake: Free double steakburger and small fries

Sushi Bar (Bloomington, IN): free meal on your birthday when you have a 5+ person table

Texas Roadhouse: free appetizer-size order of ribs or regular appetizer with purchase of an adult entree.

TGI Friday's: free dessert with entree purchase

Tidewater Grill (Charleston, WV): discounted adult meal on your birthday (if dining with 1 other person, 50% off; if dining with 2 other people, 33% off, etc.)

WhichWich: Free 7" sandwich 

Okay, that's all I've got for now. There may be more to come before or after my actual birthday! Oh, and if you're wondering, no, I won't be using all of these...but most of them, yes. Enjoy!


P.S. If you do any online shopping this holiday season, you had better be using ebates! I even got cash back from my $1.50 overage after applying my Godiva coupon online. Woot woot!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Things I wish I had known (part 1 of more to come eventually)

I wish I had known years ago that when you become an adult, your friends all become too busy for you. Not consciously, of course. Just as a result of having to go out into the world and become something. Everyone moves away, gets married, goes to school for years, works tirelessly to make something of his/her life, and slowly fades away. No one has time for just you because there are always other things that need attention.

(Side note: I have friends. I have excellent, friends-for-life friends. But they live far, far away from me, and it's not the same as when we were young and relatively carefree. And it's certainly not the same as having in-person friends that you can call up on a whim and go adventuring with.)

Add huge life changes to the mix...having a child, moving away, "big-girl jobs"...and each event is automatically more isolating to the nth degree.

Add transitioning to a single parent to the mix, when many of your friends haven't even been struck with baby fever yet, and suddenly most people feel like they don't know how to talk to you any more. They "like" your pictures and comment on how sweet your daughter is. They pray for you. They wish you the best. But there's an understood gap in the closeness from that point forward. Empathy goes hand in hand with experience for most people--just a fact of life. Once you surpass someone's experience, sympathy steps in, and sympathy is usually not comforting at all, at least for me.

Add in the fact that being a single parent leaves you with no partner or equal to unload your brain information on, and the isolation is real. The silence is deafening sometimes. Deep, dark pit lonliness. Screaming mind and empty house with no people in it (or just a 3-year-old in it who only deserves to see my happy face, not the one where I'm glazed over with worry). Heartwrenching need for a real, live human person to interact with, but so many things to do that I don't even have the time for that. There's side-job money to be made. There's mothering to do, errands to run, a house to clean, homework to be done, clothes to be washed, food to put on the table, sleep to be had. Every waking hour is spent trying to make ends meet and worrying ceaselessly when they don't.

You're in a predicament where you need a shoulder all the time, and no one has one available. Whether that's a result of being so wrapped up in a companion for years and letting friendships become secondary or whether everyone really is too busy with their own stuff or whether it just happens with age, it's very alarming to be in a situation where you need a person, but all you seem to have is multiple people over which you have to thinly spread out your burdens for fear of becoming one yourself.

But dumping small things on multiple people and spreading the burden evenly is tiresome. It's like re-telling the state of your headspace over and over, but only on a small scale so as not to freak anyone out with the gravity of it all. Kind of like the tiresomeness of the process of making new friends to begin with. And the censorship of true authenticity because who wants to constantly reveal and never receive?

I'm a strong person, but no person can be all strong, all the time. It's easy to see how people drown in the weight of the world. There's a breaking point, a faultline, a thin little crack, and eventually a sinkhole where no one can find you. However, I choose to believe that I will never find mine.

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but earth can never hurt me. I have Jesus, I have my daughter, and I have writing. Amazing how you can find beauty in the most suffocating spaces. Lonliness forces me to find beauty every day.

This is not my one shot at life with everything outside of my control; my real life is waiting for me in heaven, and it rests perfectly in God's hands and timing.
This is not my predicament until the end of time; I'll spend eternity with my Lord and Savior and all the family who were taken from me too soon.
These are not my problems, for I have none.
There are no friends absent from me--not really; my true friends hold me in their hearts, even if they have no clue what to say or how to help me right now. And who could begrudge someone for that, anyway? We're all out here trying to survive.
I won't always be without people in my everyday life; one day I'll have companionship with the heavenly choir and love music again because my sister will be there, too.

I will not let this dark world steal my light. I know what's to come...I know what awaits me for all the days after my last day. Money, all fades away. I will never stop seeking out the good or searching for joy. Even if I die trying.

I wish I had known that it's far more important to ground yourself in Jesus fully and completely, above all else in life, against all odds--because his is the only shoulder you'll ever need and ever always have.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Introspective limits

Sometimes the single mom life is the worst form of mental torture.

My own personal introspective hell.

Think, think, think.

Dwell, dwell, dwell.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

And I'm a 100% introvert who lives on thinking and alone time.

Isolation and solidarity have their limits.

New day, please.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pulling up the weeds

There's just something so deeply rewarding and richly symbolic about pulling up weeds. As I was working in my garden this afternoon, the thought occurred to me that the work I was doing with my hands had more real-life applications than I'd ever before dared notice. Amazing how getting lost in a physical action so rote, routine, and familiar can take your mind to somewhere completely new that draws you to such profound conclusions. There's an art to slowly pulling up those little plants that grow against all odds, disrupting the perfectness of a well-organized garden variety. The gentle tug and lift of some; the necessary act of digging and roughly pulling with others. So, too, exist the tugs and pulls of life.

Musings on Weeds

If you don't get rid of problems fully and opportunistically, they'll come back over and over until you're forced to deal with them head-on. Removal of weeds from a garden bed requires care and attention. You want to get rid of the whole plant. If you pull too hard, you'll have a handful of greenery, and you may not even see a visible weed remaining in the ground. But, carelessly leave the roots behind, and you'll inadvertently re-establish the cycle of pesky growth--just like problems and problem-people (like those toxic, negative people that you eventually have to truly unfriend) in your life.

When you spend time trudging through the weeds, you notice things you never would have noticed otherwise. Life's not all sunshine and rainbows. There are bad times. There are things you won't want to do or surround yourself with. But when you accept it and rest there...just be there in those less-than-ideal places, you'll still find beauty. Like the dozens of itty bitty buds on my vegetable vines that will be zucchini and squash in the coming weeks. Like the pinky-gray-brown earthworms that live under the earth, silently nurturing my plants' roots. Like the teeny tiny purpley-green clover that so delicately hide among the leaves of other plants. A bird's feather resting gently against a stem. A stone so perfectly round and smooth. Had I spent 2 hours even sitting still in nature on my bum, I wouldn't have noticed these things. It took getting on hands and knees, fingers covered in dirt, spade and cultivator in hand, to have my eyes opened to these little wonders. Beyond the sweat and labor was beauty in its purest form.

Sometimes things that appear to be a certain way are, in reality, something vastly deeper and more complex. Let's take dandelions as an example. They look harmless enough on the surface. They're known to be edible, even, and appear on 5-star menus in dandelion green salads across the country. Zig-zaggy-edged leaves, yellow flowers, and the fun gray puffs that you blow to pollenate the dandelion weed that much further. But have you ever tried manually removing them from your garden? Those plants are a beast! No kidding, I've pulled out roots 1 foot long from my garden. There's more than meets the eye with those suckers! And it's the same in life. Things are rarely merely what they seem to be. Never evaluate something only at face value--you'll be deceived.

Value is subjective. Do I assign value and worth to the weeds in my garden? Nope. The vegetables I've planted, though, are a vision of organic nirvana in my mind. Fresh squash, tomatoes, green beans, and more that I've cultivated from seed to mature plant, that I've watched and inspected after each summer storm and sunny day, that I will pluck straight from the vine and eat in their still-warm form ripened just so from the sun's rays? Bliss. Meanwhile, bees happily dine on the blossoms of the dandelion and clover plants. Birds snatch up any old leaf or twig for a nest accoutrement. Rabbits, who love carrots and other vegetables, will just as easily munch on a fresh patch of regular green grass. Why do we waste so much time stating who or what is so much more important that this or that? We humans are all just trying to get by. There are no weeds, no less-thans. God's grace makes us all equal. The only real value is our value in him, not some false valuing system that exists in our minds and in our culture. Human is human.

Doing the rough stuff gets easier. This was my 4th time doing an in-depth de-weeding of my garden this summer. The first time, there were so many weeds that I didn't dare spend the necessary amount of time to get them all. Had I done so, I could have filled a whole trash bag. I filled 3 Kroger bags to the brim and called it a day. The next time, I filled 2 bags. The 3rd time, 1. Today, half of a bag. I find that this is true with any rough thing in life that I choose to tackle head-on. Budgeting, assessing my debt ratio, having a hard conversation with someone, deep cleaning my house, sticking up for myself, whatever. The more I give it a valiant effort and keep at it on a regular basis, the easier it becomes.

You don't know something/someone's limits until you've seen them weather a storm. This summer has been so rainy. I actually haven't been complaining because the days have been so mild, and my power bill has been so low. There's also almost nothing more refreshing than summer rain--(I do love the dog days, though, and wish it would heat up at least a little)--but it's been torturous to some of my vegetable plants. Peas? What few weren't consumed by chipmunks and made it to the seedling phase were uprooted and overturn in the muddy soil after a single summer storm. Tomatoes? One plant snapped clear in half (though I did manage to tie it to the stake in a way that made the stem graft back onto itself, and it's still alive and even has a handful of blooms). Watermelon? The shrimpy growth would make you think I planted them a week ago, instead of a month ago. Eggplant? Very few even sprouted, the soil was so wet. Herbs? Surviving, not thriving. (You catch my drift.) My dandelions and other weeds whose names I haven't even bothered to learn? Sturdy and sprightly as I don't even know what. There are no words to describe how well they've flourished in the near-flooded conditions of this summer. Certain things and people crumble under pressure; others thrive. You often don't know which it'll be until the water gets hot. Why label people? Let them be. Let their reactions to their circumstances show you who they are. It might just save you from eating your foot!

I love that I've found an activity that helps me think with such clarity. I actually can't wait until it's time to weed my garden again! (See? Rough stuff = easier.) I think I'll use that time to also pull up the weeds in my head and clear my mind.

More later,

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guarding my daughter's heart

Want to meet a real momma bear? Talk to me! You will never find a fiercer child advocate. I love my daughter beyond comprehension (as do many parents with their children), and I will do absolutely anything to keep her safe and secure. Especially in the wake of the chaos and back-and-forth that she's forced to endure as the product of a split family.

What kinds of things do I do to protect her? Let's walk through a few!

1. Tell her that I love her no matter what. I recently read a great book called The 5 Love Languages of Children, and I highly recommend it for every parent. It stresses that each child has different ways that they feel loved, and it's up to us parents to recognize those needs and consider how our actions will make our children feel. Some children have many love languages; some have 1 or 2 that really speak to them. Kimmy has some of them all, at least right now.

The main theme of the book, though, is this: your child needs to know, hands down, unequivocally, fully, always, that you love matter what. It's not tied to actions, behaviors, physical things, money, mood, stress, or any source of outside influence. Kimmy loves to talk--not just to talk, but to engage in back-and-forth conversation with question after question fueled by her curious little mind and often even if she already knows the answers. That lets me know that one of her love languages right now is words of affirmation. I tell her frequently that I love her. Even if she's mad or I'm mad or something's not going right. I let that little sentence--"I love you, Kimmy."--stand all by itself.

2. Give her structure and a solid routine. I can't control what goes on outside our house, but I can control our home. Toddlers are emotional little beings, full of fluctuating levels of feeling understood, appreciated, and confident. I happen to be blessed with an incredibly articulate little girl who is low on the mood swing and tantrum spectrum. (In lamen's terms, she's an old soul and has this amazing aura of emotional maturity that very few toddlers have. So cool to witness!)

However, as a child of custody and visitation and being passed back and forth and having her comfort disrupted, she is susceptible to deep unsettling feelings on the inside. I see it when she bursts into crocodile tears once in a blue moon when I come home for lunch and have to leave to go back to work. I see it when she stalls at bedtime and bolts up to ask in a slight panic, "Am I staying at Kimmy's house tomorrow?", "What am I doing tomorrow, Mommy?", or "What time/day is it? Do you have to work tomorrow, Momma?" At our house, she is safe and secure. We have rules and bedtimes and regular meals. We have playtime and talking time; reading time and praying time. Kimmy and Mommy's house is safe and sound.

3. Give her thoughtful surprises! This is my favorite thing to do as a mom. Every time Kimmy comes back home from being at her dad's, I make sure to do a little something to welcome her home and let her know how happy I am to see her again. It's not about gifts or spending money; it's about being present in my daughter's life--showing her that her heart, time, thoughts, ideas, and actions are safe with Mommy. I don't want her to ever be spoiled or to expect things, so I mix it up a lot and make sure that I'm giving her a wide array of little surprises and activities. The point is to make her feel loved and to welcome her back into quality time with me with open arms.

Here's a list of some of the things I've done so far:

  • Pick up a fresh stack of books from the library
  • Grab a donut with chocolate and sprinkles (Kimmy's favorite kind)
  • Get a decaf Frappuccino and pour some in a kid cup, then scoop all the whipped cream on top just for my little lady
  • Clean her room and lay out a favorite pair of PJs to wear at bedtime
  • Write her a card and let her open it when she gets home
  • Bake cookies or muffins and have them ready for her
  • Go straight to the playground when we get home
  • Set up a coloring station on the dining room table to spend time talking and coloring
  • Visit the grocery store, let Kimmy push the cart (seriously, Kroger and Sam's Club are her 2 favorite places on earth right now), let her carry in a bag when we get home, and let her put the items in the bag away. (Okay, I'm aware this one sounds lame, but she loves doing this. I can tell it makes her feel so important, and she knows she will have yummy things to eat at her house when we arrive!)
  • Put out all the ingredients for dinner and let her help me cook a meal (even if it takes 4 times as long and my hair turns gray in the time it takes for dinner to cook)
  • Tell her a surprise (like plans I've made to do a future fun this case, Disney) and spend time looking at pictures and videos of said fun place online
  • Give her my phone to play with for a little while when we get home. Those eyes light up, and she always feels so special that she gets to use something of mine!
I imagine this could get hairy if I ever surprised her with something drastic like re-arranging the living room or getting rid of half her toys. That would kind of defeat the purpose of welcoming her back to a safe place. For a more drastic surprise, I would probably have to create a longer period of easing her into it...or just un-surprise it and let her help me with whatever the drastic thing is. More on this later, I guess. For now, those happy smiles and excited words at all the little surprises are all my heart needs to know I'm doing something right.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Single momma crash course: how to do Disney for 2 for $1,500

It's no surprise that my 20-something self is broke as a joke more often than not. I'm still in that awkward financial phase where I'm finding my footing and paying off debt like crazy to be free from the stress.

I've also got a severe case of wanderlust. More so than any other person I know, I'd venture to say. Couple that with the forced routinization of raising a toddler, and I'm absolutely desperate to travel and explore at all times with little need for justification or external motivation.

So, imagine my surprise when I received an email from Frontier Airlines nearly a month ago advertising $29 flights to/from many major US destinations. YES, PLEASE!

I tried to talk myself out of it. I tried to refrain from digging deeper and doing that research. I just couldn't stop myself, though. Nope. Couldn't do it.

I booked that IND --> ATL flight for my daughter and me for $166 (taxes and fees included), and I haven't looked back since. One heavenly week in August on the books, and we're Georgia/Florida bound. Let the vacation planning commence!

Mmk. So I've been dying to go to Disney World since I had my precious daughter. As she grew, so did her love for Disney movies and Disney characters and all things Disney. And, I mean, I haven't been to Disney in 10 years now, so I thought, "Why not?" But, wait. Atlanta is not Orlando, right? Right. After running through all my options and trying to optimize on having the ultimate flexibility on this trip, I opted for getting a rental car to travel from ATL to Orlando. I actually discovered that it was cheaper to rent a car for the entire week than to rent it 2 separate times to travel from the Atlanta airport at the beginning of our trip and again to Atlanta at the end. This immediately opened up a world of possibilities for maximizing our fun!

Let's talk budget. I'm determined to do this trip and clock in around $1,500. I may sound crazy, but I think it can be done.

One little tidbit before I delve into numbers: I'm working on repairing my credit--an ongoing goal. I'm doing well, so I keep getting these pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. I did a lot of research, especially where consumer reviews are concerned, and I decided to sign up for a credit card that offers a pretty generous 9-month introductory 0% APR period. This will allow me to "pay" for and plan most of my trip in advance and pay it off on a rigorous schedule after we return to still come in under the cut-off for the no-interest period. I'll be drastically improving my credit by making these monthly payments on time, I'm going to be careful and closely monitor my balance, and I'm going to have the peace of mind needed to enjoy my daughter's birthday at Disney and not blow the bank. This was a really good decision for me! I feel confident with this little cusion under me.

1. Airfare was step 1. Easy peasy.

Total cost (including tax, fees, and baggage): $166

2. Like I said, we'll be traveling for my daughter's 3rd birthday. ("But she might not remember your trip! Don't do it! She's much too young!" Don't care. Your advice is not solicited or welcome. She will have an amazing time while we're there, and so will I. Also, we will have amazing pictures to look back on, and we'll cherish them always. Oh, and did I mention we're saving about $300 by taking advantage of doing Disney at her current age?) Our first Disney day is August 6, and Kimmy turns 3 on August 7. It's no secret that for Disney World guests under the age of 3, their visit is on Mickey Mouse. Fuh-ree! I talked to a Cast Member through Disney's online chat and confirmed in writing that since she'll be starting her visit at age 2, she's going to be free for her whole trip. Boom! Park-hopping would be overwhelming with a toddler, so not having to spring for that option on my ticket offers even more savings. I purchased my 5-day Disney base ticket from Undercover Tourist and saved about $13 off the Walt Disney World website's cost. They're an authorized vendor, so I'm good to go without worrying that my ticket is a gimmick. In fact, I've already successfully linked it to My Disney Experience account!

Total cost (including tax and fees): $321.95
Running total: $487.95

3. I booked our rental car not long after purchasing my Disney ticket. I used ebates to get my cash back, and I went with the always-reliable, always-economical Enterprise. 7-day rental: check!

Total cost (including tax, fees, and a toddler car seat): $373.41
Running total: $861.36

4. With the flexibility of having a rental car in mind and the ability to drive beyond the realm of Orlando with ease, I reached out to an awesome friend in Tampa, who agreed to host us for 3 of our 6 nights of travel. (Side note: never cut ties with people who were once great people in your life, even many years ago. This summer camp friend and fellow arts lover has popped up with an amazing act of generosity at a really cool point in our adult lives, and I'm so excited to see her again! Bonus awesome thing: her name is also Kelsey. Very cool.) Next, I scoured the web for hotel deals for our remaining 3 nights and came across a golden nugget of information: Caribe Royale, a very fancy-looking Orlando conference hotel, has a deal where with proof of identity/birth date, any guest in your party with a birthday during your stay earns you a FREE night. That's 3 nights for the price of 2 for Kimmy and me. Plus, parking is free, the hotel will be sending a birthday cake up to our room on her birthday, and we'll get 20% off all food/beverage within the hotel during our stay. All I have to do is bring along a copy of her birth certificate. It's a really well-reviewed hotel, and unlike many Orlando hotels, they don't throw in a hidden nightly resort fee. I priced our our stay and compared to some other hotels I had been considering, and we're coming in about $100 under the total for what 3 nights at a Best Western in the same zip code would have been.

Total cost (including taxes and fees): $290.25
Running total: $1,151.61

That covers all our big expenses and leaves me with about $350 in flexible spending.

Here's a rundown of what I'm budgeting out for the rest of our trip expenses:
Additional trip necessities/grocery items (a leash/harness style backpack for my Kimmy, Magicbands, a cheapo umbrella stroller from an Orlando Walmart, and enough grocery items for cereal breakfasts and packed sandwich lunches in the parks): $80. 
Georgia visit to Lane's Orchard en route to Florida: Let's face it: I need some Georgia peaches in my life. Pronto. Roadtripping 6 hours from Atlanta, through the land of heavenly peaches, and down to Tampa/Orlando presents a perfect solution to this problem. A friend recommended an orchard/cafe/store (comparable to the Apple Barn in Pigeon Forge, TN) that's just off I-75 on our route to Florida, and we're going to stop to buy enough peaches for our whole week and have dinner there that night, as well. $50.
Disney character breakfast: I wanted one really special meal for Kimmy on her birthday, so I booked a character breakfast at Chef Mickey's. With tip, I'm estimating we'll dine for $40.
Dinners: I'm looking into a lot of "kids eat free" fast-casual restaurants (Sweet Tomatoes, Steak 'n' Shake, etc.), and I estimate $16/dinner spent on the two of us. 16 times 5 will put us at $80.
Souvenirs/in-park snacks: I'm doing my research and pre-selecting most of our souvenirs. That way I have good estimates of what I'll be buying for Kimmy and me, I'll know my price point if I need to swap anything, I'll know how much money I should aim to save, and I'll know how much flexible spending I have in the midst of my overall trip budget. Since it'll be Kimmy's birthday, I'm just going to route our souvenir budget to gifts for her, especially since I don't need anything (you've seen one souvenir; you've seen them all):
  • Definitely doing the pack-your-own-box of Disney-speficic Mr. Potato Head parts for $20.
  • Pick-a-pearl at Japan in Epcot: $15.
  • A light-up thingamajigger at the Magic Kingdom fireworks show: $25.
  • Minnie Mouse ears w/embroidery: $15.
  • In-park snacks (let's just call this our Dole Whip and ice cream budget @ 1 to share per day): $24.
Total of all extra expenses: $349
Running total: $1,500!

Side note: I participate in online surveys for a little extra side cash. I'm planning on cashing in for enough Visa gift cards to totally cover our "additional trip necessities" category and any in-park ice creamy snacks we purchase.

Other side note: This trip will include all kinds of free activities, too, like collecting seashells at Clearwater Beach one evening when we go to meet up with some of my friends from college and playing with Legos in Downtown Disney. There are plenty of memories to be made without spending extra cash!

Final side note: Hopefully my wonderful parents will agree to cover the cost of our 3 tanks of gas needed for our fuel-efficient "Toyota Corolla or similar" for the roadtripping portion of our vacay. It is their only grandchild's only 3rd birthday celebration, after all. (Love you, Mom and Dad!)

And there you have it. How these 2 are gonna do Disney for $1,500.

What do you think, fellow Disney lovers? Am I right on the money, or am I totally clueless? What's your #1 tip for this single momma's first Dynamic Duo Does Disney vacation with her little lady?

More later.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Guy friends

I miss having guy friends.

(Let me be clear: I am not talking about a boyfriend or any type of romantic companion/fling/relationship.)

I just miss having guys in my life who are my go-to people. I used to have the best guy friends!!!! Tons of them! We have since all grown apart. But for years and years, I had up to 10 at any given time that I could text or call or just go hang out with and be myself with. I'm not just talking quantity, either. These were all amazing friends, and I had awesome relationships with them all.

I've gradually turned into an old fart of a 20-something woman who stays at home most of the time with her kiddo or only goes out when errands are necessary. My friendship artillery is a whole hoard of women--nothing wrong with that, nothing bad...just vastly different from age, oh, 14 on. It's a huge adjustment for me.

Guy friendships are easy and natural. Secrets feel safer. Jokes come easier. There are no emotional over-reactions to deal with. Very little drama. More adventurousness and spontaneity and random/fun activities. A good amount of space and alone time and non-high-maintenance.

I suppose I'm just feeling rather hum-drum these days.

So, if any young whippersnapper guys are out there who want to be my sounding board and activities companions all spring/summer and beyond, apply now.

Also, I need some member of the male gender at some point to show me that not all of you are selfish scumbags.

K. So there's that.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Must be nice

Tonight I discovered that someone I have blocked on Instagram (and all social media) has been using my daughter's hashtag, #kimmyjarae.

Too bad hashtags are public. In my naivety, I was eagerly scrolling back through my Kimmy hashtag, expecting to see nothing other than my own tagged pictures of my baby girl and visualize how much she's grown over the past few months.

So, intent. Is this being done as a means of provocation? (Who knows, and my brain probably doesn't need to be there anyway.) As a means of trying to fit in? Most definitely. And that's just so sad!

It must be nice to occasionally play house with a well-behaved, loving toddler who isn't yours. Whose discipline and teaching you have had no part in. Whose care and financial provision you take no part in. Whose heart you've not protected from the womb days on. Whom you never nursed, never anxiously waited up with all night until the doctor's office opens at 8am so that you can her her in for a much-needed appointment, never been present with for a first anything. I'd imagine that would make you feel like the odd woman out right quick.

(Actually, I'm thankful that Cheaterman's partner in deception claims to love my daughter. If it's at all genuine, that's absolutely the best outcome for my sweet daughter in the swirl of all of this childish, flighty behavior.)

What's despicable and sad is that she's thrusting herself full force at a toddler who is in a very vulnerable stage of transition. She doesn't need gifts and forced selfies with a non-Mom figure who is showering her with confusing messages via PDA with her dad and who knows what menagerie of other nonsense!

Hashtag confusing. Hashtag givehertimetoadjust. Hashtag considerherperspective.

What's more, how can one live with herself when she is outwardly taking away from her partner's daughter's livelihood? He can't scrape together more than $500 per month for his daughter (which ONLY covers just over half of one month's childcare costs; let's not even talk food, medical insurance, housing, clothing, or personal care. It's mayyyybe 1/3 the actual cost of a child's monthly expenses, and that's if I'm being generous), yet he can afford dinners out and God knows what else with this person?

Hashtag IRRESPONSIBLE. Hashtag growup. Hashtag wakeup.

This is why I block people on social media. I do not want to be party to these people's dreamworld/alternate reality.

Going to sleep tonight seriously THANKING GOD from the bottom of my heart that I have a strong sense of reality, that my daughter's emotional health is priority numero uno at all times, that I have the selflessness and sheer common sense to put my baby first, and that I have an entire magazine of means to take care of my daughter and help her thrive.

That's why she calls me Mom.

Hashtag onlyone.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Meal planning + food prep

I received a topic special request from a friend (Hi, Steph!), so this blog will be all about meal planning and food prep! Be warned: this will be long. I'm going to include a lot of info and some recipes, too.

I've always been sort of ruled by food, ever since I started putting on weight in puberty. I feel as though I could look at a carrot and gain 5 lbs. Even though I cheered and danced and swam and ran around all day every day all summer long and ate more vegetables than most of the people I knew, I was always a chunker from about 3rd grade on.

Over the past few months, I've been working to transition to a place where I rule the food around me, not the other way around. Instead of being controlled by my cravings and food wants, I make a conscious effort to think of food as nourishment and fuel for my body, plain and simple.

Yes, food may taste good. Yes, I am a true foodie, always looking for new flavors and ideas. But, I'm trying not to make it matter so much what I eat, just that I'm eating things that are whole, healthy, and as un-processed as my budget will allow. I'm not in the mood for the food I packed for my work lunch? Too bad. I'm saving money and being more health conscious by eating it. I'd rather run through the drive thru after work for a happy meal for Kimmy and a burger for me? Nope, I have a 20-minute meal waiting for me at home, and it's $2.50 per portion and chock full of veggies. See how I'm trying to train my thinking?

So, how am I making that switch?
1. I'm shopping based on what I need for specific meals, instead of shopping by what looks good and tickles my fancy at the store.
2. I'm planning a menu based on those meals. If I want to change things up, I can just switch the order of my meals, instead of going out for a quick fix and breaking my planning cycle.
3. I'm making a budget and sticking to it. Only extravagant budgets allow for over-indulgent food, after all.
4. I'm prepping my ingredients/dish components as much in advance as I can, so I can come straight home from work and cook, rather than giving in to ravenous food cravings and ruining my good planning.
5. I'm being less wasteful. If I have fresh produce in my fridge that has the potential to go bad, I don't need to be ordering take-out or procrastinating by eating non-perishables out of the pantry first. I've thrown away too much produce in the last few years, and I refuse to do it anymore.

Then what?
First thing's first: you need a good planning document. I print out these menu planner/shopping list combos every 2 weeks. I get paid every other Friday, so I either do my shopping on payday or the day after, and I get enough food for our household for 2 weeks. (I'm currently trying to spread our shopping out to 1 month intervals by shopping in bulk, but that's a work in progress, especially with my limited freezer space. I'll have to let you know how that goes.) Anyway, this document is cool because you can write down your meals in each box, guesstimate how many leftovers you'll have to allow that meal to stretch across a couple days, and write all your ingredients in the handy dandy categories below. This is a lifesaver (and timesaver) for me!

Once you've got your meals planned out and ingredients written down, you can take a look at your store's circular ad to see what can be swapped out to make your meals cheaper. If fish is cheaper than chicken, make a switch. If Brussels sprouts are on sale, but asparagus isn't, do a switch-a-roo. See where I'm going with this? Once you have some meal-planning practice under your belt, you'll be able to take a look at your grocery store ad first and do some quick calculations in your head to figure out which meals from your repertoire are feasible and which aren't.

My budget allows for $100 spent on groceries every 2 weeks. You might be sitting there thinking that's impossible, but I think you'll be shocked when you discover how much money you save by shopping by meal! I know I was. I usually come in under budget these days at ~$85-$90 every 2 weeks. This includes snacks like extra veggies, peanut butter, cheese, and crackers. Your initial few trips may cost more while you're stocking up on essentials, but I promise it can be done on a way smaller budget than you're used to long-term! And, obviously, if you have a bigger household than a 26-year-old and 2-and-a-half-year-old, you can adjust your budget accordingly.

"What do you usually buy at the store? What's your typical 2-week spread?" you ask.
Well, let me give you my current 2 weeks as an example! Some of the items I already bought, prepped, and/or froze, but I'll pretend I bought it all on Saturday for the purpose of this exercise.

Week 1
Breakfasts: refrigerator oatmeals (Monday-Friday), eggs and turkey bacon (Saturday), waffles (Sunday)
Lunches:  salad w/cheese and hardboiled egg (Monday-Friday), grilled cheese and veggies w/hummus (Saturday), chili (Sunday)
Dinners: moussaka (Monday/Wednesday), chicken thighs with rice and kale (Tuesday/Friday), spaghetti and meatballs (Thursday/Saturday), any remaining leftovers and salad (Sunday)

What I Bought
Dairy: butter, eggs (lunch salads, meatballs, breakfast), milk, parmesan cheese (meatballs), cheddar cheese (grilled cheeses), 1 qt. plain yogurt (oatmeal x 5)
Meat: 3 lbs ground beef (moussaka, chili, meatballs), bulk package chicken thighs, turkey bacon (or regular bacon if cheaper)
Frozen foods: 1 bag frozen fruit (oatmeal x 5)
Produce: hummus, celery (moussaka), carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, onions (chili, spaghetti, moussaka), lettuce (salads), eggplant (moussaka)
Canned goods: tomato paste/tomato sauce/diced tomatoes (chili, spaghetti, moussaka)
Dry Goods: 1 lb. kidney beans, thin spaghetti, bread crumbs, chili seasoning, pancake mix (waffles), syrup, rice (bulk is way cheap if you have somewhere to store it), oatmeal, whole almonds, bread
Misc: any additional spices/seasonings/dressings, snacks like popcorn or peanut butter or crackers, coffee, and coffee accessories

Week 2
Breakfasts: refrigerator oatmeals (Monday-Friday), eggs and turkey bacon (Saturday), cereal
Lunches: chili (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday), broiled tilapia and broccoli (Wednesday, Friday), grilled cheese and veggies w/hummus (Saturday), leftover pizza (Sunday)
Dinners: chicken leg quarters with potatoes au gratin and carrots (Monday/Wednesday), hamburgers and salad (Tuesday), meatballs w/tomato sauce and broccoli (Thursday/Friday), homemade pizza (Saturday), any remaining leftovers and salad (Sunday)

What I Bought
Dairy: eggs, milk, 1 qt. plain yogurt (oatmeal x 5), cheddar cheese (and/or whatever other kinds you like for potatoes au gratin), mozzarella cheese (pizza)
Meat: bulk package chicken leg quarters, ground beef (hamburgers, pizza)
Frozen foods: carrots, broccoli x 2, bulk bag frozen tilapia
Produce:green onions (potatoes au gratin), lettuce, potatoes
Canned goods: tomato sauce (pizza), black olives, mushrooms
Dry Goods: pizza dough yeast, flour, oil
Misc: any spices/seasonings

Simple enough, right? You have only what you need for your meals, plus when you get things like flour, eggs, oil, butter, cheese, and rice that are part of your meals, you're likely to have leftovers that become staples in your food supply. A lot of times things like that will last for several rounds of meal planning. This helps you save money in the long-run.

So, some tips and tricks:
  • Do yourself a favor and purchase a big package of food storage containers. Throw away all the crappy ones you've accumulated and use your brand-new matching set. You'll thank yourself a million times!
  • Plan to buy and use frozen veggies for the last part of your meal-planning cycle. They're less likely to go bad, and you're more likely to get use out of them and not throw away good money.
  • Soups, sauces, and beans go further if you're trying to stretch your money. A pot of chili or hearty soup will last forever (which is why I freeze half as soon as I cook it)!
  • Always have ready-made food items in your freezer like muffins, waffles, casseroles, meatballs/loaf, pasta dishes, and whatever else floats your boat. These are nice bonus items when you're waiting for the next payday to roll around...or when you have no food for the next day's dinner, but don't have time to go shopping. Just thaw and warm!
  • Buy meat in bulk and repackage into meal-sized portions of your own to freeze. If ground beef/turkey is one of your meats, you can go ahead and shape your burgers and form your meatballs before freezing.
  • Label everything you freeze and look through your freezer stash every time you plan your next set of meals to see what needs to be eaten soon.
  • If you work (or have kids who throw off your stay-at-home-parent schedule), spend a few hours on Saturday or Sunday prepping all your breakfasts and lunches and morning/afternoon snacks. You'll remove almost all of the temptation to go out for lunch, waste money, and consume way too many calories. My fave work lunches are salads, a big casserole split into 5 portions, or a cooked meat + frozen veggie. You can actually put the veggies in your containers still frozen to save time, since you'll be heating your meal in the microwave before eating anyway.
  • Always check your menu for the next day after dinner to see what's coming up. If it's something that's in your freezer, move it to the fridge. It'll be nice and thawed by the time it's time to cook din-din!
  • Know your top 5 fastest dinners and be able to roll them off your tongue in 30 seconds or less! This comes in clutch when menu planning if there's a particular day you're going to be super strapped for time. Our busy days are Wednesdays because of church, so I usually plan leftovers that day or something I can cook in 20 minutes or less like broiled fish and a frozen veggie, tacos, veggie omelets, hamburgers, spaghetti, or fried salmon patties.
  • Toddler mommies: save those old bananas that get wasted more often than not! They make the most delicious muffins that will have your kiddos begging for their breakfast fruit/fiber!
  • Use coupons and buy generics whenever possible. Kroger has some amazing store-brand foods. Just sayin'. I used to be a name-brand snob, but I'm loving the savings and still-intact flavor/texture integrity I've found in Kroger generics.
  • If you see something at the store that's an unbeatable deal like several pounds of steak or salmon that's been mega marked down, grab it!!! Adjust your menu accordingly. Flexibility is key if you're serious about saving money!
Ready for some recipes?! None of these are extravagant, and all are super easy and delicious! Have you seen a recent food pic on Facebook or Instagram that you'd like a recipe for? Comment and let me know. What's mine is yours, friends!

1 lb. ground beef
2 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 eggplant, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large onion, sliced
5 ribs celery, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced (optional...I hate bell peppers!)
1 large can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper

Layer everything in a casserole dish with raw beef on the bottom to tomatoes on top. Cover and bake for about an hour at 350º. Traditionally, this Greek dish is topped with a béchamel sauce, but I'm rarely feeling that fancy. Plus, this is a really filling dish, and I fear a creamy sauce would make it too rich for my blood. One other note: this dish is really versatile! You can really add whatever veggies or seasonings you like. I've done it with zucchini, spinach, kale, and mushrooms. All delicious additions!

1 lb. ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. fresh grated parmesan (like DIY grated much filler and processed junk in pre-grated cheese!)
1 tbsp. dried basil (or fresh minced if you have it!)
2 tbsp. dried parsley (again, fresh if you prefer. Fresh herbs are cheap and delicious, and leftover fresh basil and parsley make a bangin' pesto sauce!)
1/2 c. bread crumbs
salt and pepper
2 cloves minced garlic

Mix it all up, form into 1-2" balls, and either freeze raw or bake at 350º for about 20 minutes and cool before bagging and freezing. Pop 'em in your favorite pasta sauce or bake/fry them and serve as mini meatloafs with tomato sauce, ranch, or ketchup. These are a big hit with my Kimmy--very toddler friendly!

Potatoes au Gratin
4-5 potatoes, thinly and evenly sliced
3-4 green onions, chopped
1 stick butter
2-3 c. shredded cheese
salt and white pepper

Line your casserole dish with butter. Layer potatoes, green onions, little pats of butter, salt and white pepper, and cheese in 2 big layers. Cover the top well with cheese. Bake at 375º for 40 minutes (covered) and 10-15 minutes (uncovered).

Refrigerator Oatmeals
Ingredients (each)
1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. plain yogurt (not flavored and not low-fat)
1 tbsp. whole almonds (the baking kind, not the salted/snack kind)
1/2-3/4 c. fresh or frozen fruit of your choice
2 oz. milk

Measure all your ingredients and put them in a container. Pop on a lid and toss it in the fridge for at least 8 hours and up to 5 days before eating (the texture is not ideal outside of this timeframe). No stirring, no nothing. You can sweeten with whatever floats your boat (honey, Splenda, etc.) and stir it all up before eating. Seriously measure your ingredients, though: this is unbelievably filling. Overdo it, and you will not finish this breakfast in one sitting. Just sayin'.

Buy a box of Kroger brand buttermilk pancake and waffle mix. It's the best. Hands down. I do not buy any other brands. It's either this or homemade from a Googled waffle recipe. You'll also need vegetable oil and water.

Follow the waffle directions on the box. Put however much batter your waffle iron holds in your waffle iron. Cook. Cool completely. Freeze. #boom

This recipe or this recipe

Add in or substitute whatever fruits float your boat (especially those old bananas we all love/hate!). Cook. Cool. Freeze.

I hope this helps all you other busy bees find a little balance in your cooking/food schedules! I'm always open to blog suggestions, recipe suggestions, and whatever else you want to know about how I do things if it can help you organize your life.


Monday, February 9, 2015


Hmmm, where to start on this topic? Let's go here first:

I'm a feminist. I will advocate for women's equality until the day I die. Equal pay. Equal rights. Removal of sexism from all aspects of life. There is no wrath like the wrath of a woman scorned, and media and society do a lot--both intentionally and unintentionally--to "put women in their places."

One thing that absolutely boils my blood is the societal idea that women are too high-maintenance and have standards that are both too high and unrealistic.

Society could not be more wrong.

Women have high standards because they know what they want, and they know what they deserve. We are clear thinkers. We may change our minds a lot, but we have coherent goals, dreams, and plans. I'd even venture to say that we're even better off for being mind-changers because that implies malleability and resilience and flexibility and adeptness and pure, effervescent wit.

Beyond that, we are absolutely entitled to have the standards we have--for people, for relationships, for jobs, for parenting, for gender equality, for healthcare, for women's rights, for life--and we should be lauded for having such a firm grip on our wants and needs.

A lot of times, "standards" and "goals" are interchangeable words. Why should one gender be allowed to set clear goals and the other held in constant contempt for it?

Sorry, men, but women keep the world running. We bring a hell of a lot to the table. I dare you to try to do it without us!

Anyway, off my soapbox. Kind of.


I'd like to advocate for women never to be afraid of having high standards and never to settle on something below those standards if it is within your power. It could lead to getting lost in a total mess, whether that's a bad relationship, a job that's a waste of your time, doing things for people who don't appreciate you, a whopping pile of debt, etc.

Set your standards high and hold your ground. Your life will be so much more amazing because you'll be living it on your terms. Circumstance and person will not affect your outlook and ambitions.

I've got a lot of standards for my future, and I refuse to find myself in a situation within my choosing that's too far away from those ideals. I'm specifically talking about future relationship, financial, and professional/educational goals for myself.

If I enter into another relationship in the future, it must be with an honest man. Honesty makes everything else tolerable, or at least overcome-able. He must be honest and worthy of my trust, time, and attention. Beyond that, he must be worthy of the time he will take away from Kimmy and Mommy 1:1. He must love my child as much as me and/or as much as his own if a blended family is in my future. He must be someone I can be comfortable praying with/around.

My financial standards include being debt-free with the exceptions of car and home loans in my future. I will save for emergencies, for Kimmy's college education, for retirement, and to help others. On these standards, I will not bend, unless forced circumstance would make it so.

I will receive a graduate degree, come hail or high water. [I think the generally accepted phraseology is "come hell or high water," but "hail" makes so much more sense to me. Natural disaster + natural disaster versus death + natural disaster. I've changed it to "hail" for myself. Why? Because I can.] I'm willing it to happen. I will not break this goal. I will work during my working years and my retirement years. I will help others all I can. Lord willing, I will spend my retirement providing free childcare for a future single momma around my age now, so she can work and save and not have to worry about the most worrisome time of life. But I can figure all that out when the time arrives. It's my plan, at least!

Why should I be made to feel "less than" for having such high standards for myself, my daughter, and my/our future?

Sorry, boyz. I'm standing strong. Row your boat to my island, or row right on by and leave me be.


Unsolicited advice

I don't know what it is about my life in particular, but people have always felt especially compelled to give me advice on a myriad of topics. I'm also one of those people who, when out in public, gets approached by the most random people, who then proceed to tell me their entire life story. And then, ironically, a lot of people come to me for advice, so they can't think I'm entirely dim...right? These things don't seem to happen to most of my friends on so large a scale, and they certainly don't add up in my mind. So, I'm just incredibly perplexed and always have been.

The life stories thing is more entertaining to me than anything else, but I find the unsolicited advice to be tiresome and draining more often than not, plus it draws unwanted attention to me. I'm a true introvert and like to hide behind a curtain in my life without people seeing my every move (Yeah, I know that probably sounds weird out loud, but it's true. Don't notice me, people!) And even people who know me and know how often I post on FB are probably reading this thinking, "What? You post all the time. You post everything that happens in your life." Wrong. I'm a really busy and active person, so much so that it makes my head spin and causes me to live out my hectic life on detailed post-it note lists, and I really only post like 1% of my thoughts and feelings and life happenings, believe it or not.

I feel like I am very clear in when I am asking for advice and when I am definitely not, so I am often left with swirling questions. Do people think I'm stupid? Do I appear to lack common sense or the ability to think for myself? Do I come off as dependent--the direct opposite of the independent person I actually am? Do people want to feel like they have a say in my choices and be stakeholders in my life? Is my life really all that outwardly interesting (because it certainly doesn't seem like it to me)? Do people even care about what they're pushing advice on, or do they just like to hear themselves talk? Even if I take someone's advice or if I don't, why does it matter/pertain to them?

Like I said, I really don't get it. I know people care--I get that part--and I certainly don't mean to sound snobby or rude or pretentious. I just truly don't understand why I'm the target of so much more advice than your average Joe. And, especially since becoming a single mom, I've had to fight off even more advice than usual. It's not that I don't love the people who are "helping" me--I do, and I have nothing personal against anyone who offers me advice, but rather a general feeling of disdain about it all.

The point is, though, that I want to figure things out for myself. I enjoy a challenge and a learning opportunity and the ability to learn from potential mistakes. I don't have a fear of falling or failing in most things (postgraduate education is an exception because I have been there, and I have failed) because I'm very in tune with my resilience. Even if someone tells me of their failure with an exact decision that I'm making in an exact scenario I'm in, it's absolutely meaningless to me until I experience it for myself. Example: people's movie recommendations. If someone tells me a movie is terrible, and I shouldn't see it, I 100% disregard their sentiments--on purpose, as well as an innate response within myself. I totally ignore it. If I want to see a movie, I go see it, regardless of what someone else thought of it. Even if that opinion comes from my most trusted circle. Why? I have to experience it for myself.

Maybe I'm just so independent that I'm over-sensitive to the whole topic of unsolicited advice and feel boxed in and defensive and like I need to stick up for myself, but I find it very hard to bite my tongue at times. Especially those times when my absolutely harmless Facebook posts turn into a gigantic controversy of people flat out telling me what to do, as if I'm asking for their permission. I find myself thinking, "HELLO?!?! You do not own me or my decisions! Being 26 has it's benefits--it means I'm an adult who can make sound decisions for my own life. I am not a child, nor do I act like one. In fact, I have one...for whom I have been making important, foundational decisions for 2.5 years now! Treat me as such. Hush. Leave me alone. Get off my back. Butt out. Silence!"

Yeah. Responding to unwanted advice is one of my biggest challenges as a Christian--right up there with patience, a virtue with which I was not blessed. I truly struggle with it. Huge personality flaw of which I am quite aware. I have always walked the line of...
 "I shouldn't say something. I really should just swallow it and not respond. It will eat me alive, but I must refrain from a rebuttal."
"I'm not being forthright with people or honest with myself if I don't say something. People will never learn the type of communication I value most if I don't speak up for myself. I will continue to be misunderstood and walked on. I must speak up."
Maybe it's wrong of me (I feel like it probably is because of the small twinge of guilt I feel), but this is where I stand right here, right now: if you don't know by now that I don't appreciate unsolicited advice, it is my job to tell you--not to be mean, but so you can learn that about me and respect me as a person for who I truly am. By combating it, I am being true to myself and my needs and removing the flurry of wanting-to-scream thoughts that overcrowd my mind when I'm being inundated with unwanted opinions. I try, and will continue to try, to be kind in expressing that I don't want any advice on whatever topic is the Kelsey controversy of the day; however, it's important to me to feel like I am being heard loud and clear to prevent future occurrences.

I guess what it boils down to is honesty. Honesty is the one human capability that I value first and foremost above all else in myself and in other people. By speaking out against the arrows of advice people send soaring my way Katniss-Everdeen-style on a daily basis, I am projecting honesty. Perhaps I just need to continue my journey on the path of Balance to find that happy place where I'm not also projecting angry-bear-who-just-awoke-from-hibernation / #LEAVEMEALONE!

#sorrynotsorry? #imnotperfect #workinprogress



For as long as I can remember, I've hated routines. Loathed them. Lots of people feel liberated and stress-free with a daily routine. I just feel trapped. Absolutely caged and boxed in, like there is nothing exciting about my life. There is nothing more boring and redundant and hopeless-feeling to me than doing the same thing at the same time every single day. In fact, that's a large part of why I chose a music major over a biology major in college (it was close!): the prospect of a free-flowing day throughout my career, being able to travel where the breeze takes me, and the ability to learn/practice/perform new and exciting rep all the time.

It's pretty surprising to me that I've wound up in an 8:00-5:00 job with a strict home routine with my Kimmy-girl. It's even more surprising that I don't hate it--actually, I'm learning to like it, especially since I know it has so many benefits for my baby! I guess there was a slight oversight on my part because I didn't realize how valuable financial and personal stability and health/retirement benefits were with this type of career path.

At the same time, I am actively trying to change up my routine as much as possible, so I don't get bored and revert back to that "trapped" feeling. I actually dread the day that Kimmy starts school because it will start a long set of consecutive years of routine. I don't even want to think about it!

One of the things I dread most about routine is the feeling of waking up to the same ol' thing every morning and the realization that I have so much to do before I can actually start my day. I'm supposed to get up at 6:30 each morning. Does that happen? Nope! I hit the snooze button, re-set my alarm for random times like 6:51 and 7:03 and 6:37 and 7:06 and my personal fave: 7:17am...only 30 minutes before I'm supposed to leave for work. I also change the names of my iPhone alarms periodically to change things up. Current alarms are "Alarmed," "Alarming," "WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and "Don't Hit Snooze!" The unintentional multiple-snooze approach leads to me being sluggish, having a bad attitude about waking up, feeling stressed over all that needs to be done before I can leave for work, and being super grumpy until I have my coffee.

I've recently caught on to a gem of a concept, which is much more bearable for me. I spend my weekends working on pre-completing my routine, so I don't have to do much of anything but roll out of bed and get dressed come Monday morning. I can plug away at my checklist at my own pace, stop and start, take a nap, work late into Saturday night if I want to (great option for this night owl, who doesn't get her big burst of energy until around 7:00pm each day). It's brilliant! I'm wondering why it took me so long to work it to its fullest extent.

I'm going to share a little bit of what I did late last week/this weekend in hopes that it will help anyone else with the same routine woes.

Thursday Evening
Since Kimmy was at her dad's, I worked tirelessly on our budget. I paid off what debts/bills I could pay online. I wrote down what needed to be handled by phone the following day. I worked on my budget sheet, daily expense tracker, and balance sheet. I basically got all of our ducks in a row and allocated our entire federal tax refund to all the things it needed to be allocated to and wrote everything down, so I didn't have to stress about how much money I had and what expenses were going to be coming in over the next few days. I always feel so stressed about money until I sit down and plot everything out. I feel so much better when I get down in the details and come away with an overview of what's going on with my finances. Before bed each night, I memorize the amount that's in my checking account going into the next day.

This budgeting evening was my best yet! We're so close to being into the black it's not even funny. Car is paid off. All but one medical bill is paid off. All credit cards are paid off. Everything but student loans, really, and if I continue to work for a non-profit/government institution for 9 more years, my loans will be forgiven. I'm on a Pay As You Earn plan for my loans with a total of $0 set for my monthly payment, so I'm just releasing that debt from my worry bank entirely!

I got a pep in my step walking into work Friday morning with my giant document shred pile and my newly very slim financial planning folder! I truly thank God for that tax-refund money. I know that the several years of financial struggles were so I would know how to use that money intelligently when it arrived. All things for good.

Friday Evening
I picked up my baby, and we splurged on a Pizza Hut pizza (our fave) for dinner: large pan with pepperoni and black olives cooked just a few minutes extra. Delicious and worth every bit of $16 including tip. I kept my pre-routining simple that night and just made a detailed list of everything I planned to handle over the weekend. I won't bore you with that list, but I will say that writing things down is key for me, both with getting my life organized and relieving my stress (hence this blog, which is the best Kelsey therapy ever).

We got an early start to our Saturday! Well, Kimmy did. She woke up at 7:00am on the dot and wanted to watch "Peppa Pig." I set her up with my phone, and she cuddled with me in bed for another hour, while I slept. Love when that happens! It's a rare treat.

We went downstairs and ate breakfast. Then I busted out my computer and got started. First, I made a list of all the things we needed to buy. Next, I scoured all kinds of weekly store ads to find the best deals around town. Then I re-wrote my list by store and wrote down everything I planned to get from each store, along with the prices of each item and the estimated total to be spent at each store. I also gathered my coupons for each store and put each store's coupons in a separate Ziploc bag. This whole process took me a solid 2 hours, but it saved me a lot of time and hassle throughout the rest of the day (and a lot of stress about how much money I'd have left in my checking account after each shopping extravaganza).

After my list-making, I packed a lunch of leftover pizza and blueberries and water. I gathered all my shopping supplies (Thirty-One's Making Memories Rolling Thermal, Deluxe Utility Tote, Essential Storage Totes, and Fresh Market Thermal) for the day and packed my list and coupons. (If you don't have any big totes for shopping, I can hook you up! I love the income from selling my Thirty-One products, sure, but I love the functionality even more and truly stand behind the usefulness! They are seriously just so functional and total lifesavers, especially with a toddler in tow.) We got dressed and headed out of the house around 11:00.

Where all did we go? Everywhere, it seems like! The post office, Lowe's, Walmart, Sam's Club, Kroger, CVS, Target, and Speedway. That's 8 times getting Kimmy into and out of her car seat, which is tiring in and of itself, as any parent knows all too well. What a long and tiring 5 hours, but so worth it! I saved a crap ton of money shopping like this, and we only went to a few more places than we usually would. Not to mention all the free food samples at Sam's on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, and the pretty weather outside. It was a really enjoyable day, and Kimmy was very well behaved because she was having so much fun.

Normally, we shop for food every 2 weeks the Friday or Saturday of payday week, but I think I've managed to get us set with groceries and household items for at least the next 3 weeks this time. If I can keep shopping like this, I *think* I can get away with only going on one big shopping trip once a month with maybe one teeny tiny trip for fresh produce and a few gallons of milk in between. Buying in bulk is an amazing luxury to have in this country!

Once we got home, I put all our groceries away. I left my meats in the fridge, so I could separate out the portions and freeze them to save lots of thawing time once we're ready to use them. We had an easy dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, put together our new shoe shelves and organized shoes, and called it a day. The rest of the evening was spent playing and talking and laughing, and the Kimmy and I went to bed early around 8:00!

Perhaps it's just the sudden change in weather, but Kimmy and I both woke up not feeling well with coughing and sore throats. I decided we better not go to church, in case we were contagious, so we spent the day at home for the most part. Pretty sure it's just allergies, but you can never be too safe when volunteering in a room full of 2-year-olds who can catch things.

Sundays are my meal-prep and cleaning days. I like to space it all out throughout the day, so I don't get too bored with any one activity, and so I make sure to spend plenty of weekend time with my sweet girl. She so cherishes our weekends together (I do, too), and it's easy for me to get caught up in my to-do list and miss lots of moments with her if I'm not careful.

So, I tried to juggle a lot of activities, but I have some practice to do, especially when Kimmy wants to help in the kitchen while I just really want to get things done quickly. It's going to take some practice. Here is what all we/I did:
  • took out the trash (I'm still gradually unpacking, so there are a ton of boxes and packing supplies accumulating through the week. Kimmy's Radio Flyer wagon has been a God-send for carting our trash to the dumpster!)
  • vacuumed the entire downstairs
  • did 3 load of dishes throughout the course of the day
  • changed our sheets and pillowcases
  • ran to CVS for a few things, including a Sunday paper with coupons
  • clipped coupons
  • checked/sorted/trashed mail that I had accumulated through the week
  • balanced my checking account
  • cleaned up toys (several
  • washed and dried 2 load of clothes (Kimmy and I have established a brilliant system throughout the week. During our bathtime routine, we take off our dirty clothes and put them directly in the washer, which is in the laundry closet right outside our upstairs bathroom. Usually by Friday/Saturday night, we have enough for a full load of laundry! I wash everything in cold water, so color sorting doesn't matter so much. I can start the washer before our evening bath/bedtime routine every weekend and pop everything in the dryer right before bedtime. Then on Sundays, I can wash sheets, towels, pillowcases, washcloths, and rags before church and stick 'em in the dryer after church. Painless! The sorting and folding and putting away part? Well, let's not go there.)
  • set my coffee pot on auto timer mode (If you don't have a plain ol' coffee pot with auto timer setting, you're ruining your morning routine. Just sayin'. Keurig takes time. Auto timer takes a few non-rushed minutes of your evening and does all the work for you, so you just pour and go in the AM.)
  • did food prep (Bagged my chicken thighs and chicken leg quarters in smaller portions, labeled them, and stuck them in the freezer. Started dinner in the oven: 1 lb. ground beef, 2 sliced potatoes, 5 ribs sliced celery, a sliced onion, and a can of diced tomatoes. Made a Mommy-sized hamburger and a Kimmy-sized hamburger with a little more ground beef and stuck those in the freezer. Turned the rest of the beef into pre-formed meatballs with some parmesan, egg, bread crumbs, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper and stuck those in the freezer. Made my refrigerator oatmeals for the week. Made some banana muffins with our old bananas and stuck most of those in the freezer for easy toddler breakfasts. Made my lunch salads and my veggie and hummus snacks and my sliced apples and oranges. About an hour of prep for all my work foods, and I've saved myself tons of morning hustle and bustle...and calories and money!)
  • watched Frozen with my Kimmy Jarae
  • took some silly photos
  • cleaned my kitchen counters
  • somehow got our baths and bedtime routines handled on time
It was a lonnnnnng Sunday, but it felt so nice to get everything done early. All I did this morning was wake up, unload the dishwasher and put my breakfast and lunch and snack containers in my lunch box, pour my getting-ready coffee and my work coffee, go back upstairs to throw on some clothes and make-up, put on my shoes, grab my lunch box and coffee, hug and kiss my baby, and head out the door.

That's a routine I can live with! It's so short that it feels like no work at all.

Over and out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It is well with my soul

Life is good. Life is really, really good.

In our hard times, it's difficult to see the light through the darkness. Money troubles. Relationship troubles. Dichotomy between where you thought you would be and where you actually are. Chaos where you always thought there would be order.

I can't tell you how many times over the last few years I've thought or said, "If only I had $___." If only I could pay this off. If only I felt unburdened by X, Y, and Z. If only I didn't have to worry about such and such.

I have prayed over my finances for about 2 years now. I've cried and agonized and gritted my teeth and worried myself sick...physically sick, to the point I could have been a poster girl for Zantac 150. I've budgeted and skimped and saved and done without, but I've prayed and prayed through all my strife. I had gotten to the point where I didn't even bother uttering words for my financial prayers; I just spoke with my heart because God knows my heart.

"If only I had $____."

Well, guess what? I just got $____ through my tax refund. Prayer answered. And what did it take? Several years of terrible financial troubles, bringing an unplanned [but never unwanted] child into the world, unemployment, not enough employment to do anything but strike evven, barely scraping by, unthinkable betrayal and the end of a long friendship/relationship. Terrible things...that led to head of household tax status...single parent status...a literal answer to my financial prayers, and an open door and unburdened soul for much, much bigger and better things to come. My tax refund was basically the exact amount I have prayed for for years: that token accumulation of funds that would relieve my financial stress. I'm not kidding.

The path is crystal clear in retrospect: just what God ordered for my life. His perfect timing; his perfect method. Would any person ever put themselves through all that and know that this would be the perfect outcome? Umm, no. That's unthinkable! In the midst of enduring it all, this outcome was not even on my plane of vision, and I think the enemy thrives on that negative energy--the idea we 21st Centurians walk around with that our lives are defined by our wealth (or lack thereof), possessions (ditto), relationships, how many movies and TV shows we can quote, the number of friends and followers on our social media, and just all this stuff that doesn't even matter at all!

I'm happy to say that my life--my success--is defined by Christ alone.

Is it coincidental that all of my challenges over the last 3 years led me to exactly where I am today? Is it serendipity that my life suddenly just really turned around and became this really great thing that I am so sincerely excited about living every single day?

Absolutely not. Want to know when a change stirred within me? When I "let go and let God." It sounds corny. (It probably sounds ridiculous to the non-believer.) It is positively true of my life, though. A friend happened to lead me to a church on Easter Sunday last year, and I was finally so spirtually nourished that I had no choice but to let my troubles fall to the wayside and give over all that pain and frustration and chaos to God.

I have never lived so lean in all my life: this house's budget is tight. But I have never felt more full in all my life. I don't dread waking up in the morning. I have friends. I have purpose and a place. I have amazing coworkers and the best benefits package from my employer imaginable. My sweet daughter brightens my every moment. I have passion for my hobbies again. I have goals for my future. I have confidence. I am loved. I have love in my heart. I have love to give. I have clothes on my back and hot water in my pipes and coffee in my cupboard and music on my computer and in my head and coming out of my mouth. I'm funny. I'm happy. I'm unashamed of being me. Life is really, really good, and the best part is that I'm not pretending. Being here and feeling this way and having absolute assurance in my faith and my eternal future is worth every single bump in the road in my rearview mirror.

I'm pretty sure I could give examples of all the "God things" in my life over the last half a year, ever since I really got serious about attending church and growing my roots, and make jaws hit the floor. I'm not talking about supernatural occurrences here, just other things--like the money thing--that keep happening. I'm talking about his plans falling into a clear path beneath my feet that, through trust, I am walking on more and more steadily, and it's really making all the difference in my life. I don't believe in coincidence; I believe in free will. When things appear to be coincidence, I belive that that is when human will and God's will align. My life is aligned. My soul is aligned.

Anyway, all of this is to point out one key word: trust. Trust is key. We look for trustworthiness in humans all our lives, but people let us down without fail. I don't have a single close person in my life who has never broken my trust in some miniscule way. There is no trust like the trust we can put in God. If you're looking for something your soul craves (honesty, trust, love, attention, acceptance, guidance, validation, worth) in someone, I hate to break it to you, but you're looking in the wrong place. There is only one way to quench the soul.

I'm looking forward to letting go even more and trusting and walking where I am led to go. Why? Why would this Type A control freak want to let go more? Because it's working.

I'm taking my first big step this May, when I'll be spending 10 days in Cambodia and meeting young girls who have endured horrible things through the industry of human trafficking. No human should be forced to deal with what these girls have dealt with. But, I think this is where I need to be. I'm so looking forward to committing scripture to heart and memory over the next 3 months, so I'll have the right words to say. I cannot wait to follow this call and be a messenger. I have dreamed about this journey from the first time I went to church camp around age 11/12 and first heard the concept of missions work. I think--I hope--my life experiences are for such a bigger purpose than I even know right now. I'm so excited to share my testimony with these girls and show them the freedom I have in my soul through Christ, despite anything that's happened in my past...the huge imperfections in my life that are made perfectly okay through the precious grace and forgiveness of Jesus.

I've tucked away this urge for years, deep in my heart and mind, and I think now's the time to act on it! I've done plenty of living for me in my life; I can't wait to see what happens when I start living for others just as much. And all that is to underscore the concept of trust. I'm trusting my curiosity and the tug in my heart and trusting that funding will work out and trusting that this is my path. The rest is up to the one in whom I trust, and guess what? He's never failed me.

Keep me in your prayers, peeps!

Much love.