Year of “Better”- February

About a month ago, I shared how instead of doing resolutions, I was picking a word of the year and trying to implement a few small habits at the beginning of each month, to try to be in a significantly better place in December 2017 than I was at the end of December 2016.

Last month, I was focused on fixing my budget, reading a few minutes every day, and drinking a glass of water every morning. How’d I do?

Well, we started using the EveryDollar app, and I am still desperately trying to share my experience with the app with you without giving away our entire real budget. I have a great review written, but it’s more fun with picture of the app, right? Anyway, last month was our first month using it, and I am really proud of what we’re doing. We’re talking about money in a more concrete way, and I had a handy chart to refer back to when we were planning this month’s budget. Even with extra doctor appointments we weren’t planning on, and a few other expenses, we were able to keep a zero dollar budget, and it revealed some very interesting things about our spending habits. We also only went to Sonic twice in the month of January, which is basically a miracle, since we were previously going there once or twice a day. Now it’s truly a treat, and I enjoy it much more this way.

Last month I was also able to finish six books, as well as start two more (I’ll talk about one of them more in just a little bit). Last year? I finished one book. One. Book. That’s embarrassing. I look forward to seeing what the total is at the end of the year (and I am definitely in love with the cute spread I have for my completed/started books of 2017. I don’t remember who originally posted it, because I saw about fifty of these on Pinterest, but I’m pretty proud of mine. My visual art skills are basically non-existent, as evidenced by my failed 365 art project from last year).


And as for drinking water every morning? That was a big fail. Whoops. It started out so well, but at the end of the month I had fallen off the water wagon. I just hate water so much. I know I feel better when I just do the thing, but I just prefer drinking everything else today. I actually made drinking water in the morning one of my goals for THIS month, and so far it’s going a lot better. I’ve figured out what I have to do to get me to gulp it down (hint: it involves a reward of the caffeinated variety).

This month, in addition to trying once again drinking water in the mornings (and everything else I did last month), my goals are to read with the kids every day and to write out my morning pages.

Reading with the kids is something I love to do, and they truly love it too, but lately we just haven’t been doing it consistently. I love when they snuggle up next to me while we read. I love when they bring me a book and ask me to read it to them. And I love that it’s an easy way to restart a cranky day, but sometimes I forget about it and turn on a movie instead. While I totally dig watching movies, I think an appreciation of listening to a good book is important, so I knew I wanted to build this habit again. We’ve been reading at different times throughout the day, as well as attending story time at our library. I hope to continue these visits (which teach us how to sit down, usually include a snack and a craft, and let us interact with lots of other moms and kiddos) as well as our habit of reading throughout the day. Right now we’ve been reading a treasury of Beatrix Potter tales, our Good Night and Good Morning yoga books, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, along with several other picture books. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll definitely want to bring back our daily book picnics. Just a blanket, a huge stack of books and fresh air. Until then, snuggle time on our couch is a welcome way to spend our day.


Morning pages are something I have been doing off and on for the past ten years. They’re a tool taken from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love them because they show me things I need to change in myself and in my life, and hate them for the exact same reason. Change is hard. This time it’s especially challenging, as I’m actually going through The Artist’s Way right now with my dear friend, Sadie. 


We’re about a quarter of the way through right now, and some of the exercises we’re supposed to do are especially hard. Especially since I’ve read ahead enough to know that coming up very soon is an exercise called “Reading Deprivation.” GULP. Dustin and I talked about it, and now he knows it’s coming, so he’ll be holding me accountable, too.

Other things I’ve added in this month are: artist dates (another tool from Cameron’s book), dancing with the kids more, getting the clay and crayons out, playing piano, and drinking chamomile tea with lavender every night before bed. With just a smidgeon of honey. It’s delicious and fills me up with the warm sleepies. It also means I’ve been getting better sleep, which means I’ve been happier about waking up super early to do my morning pages before the kids wake up. Everyone wins!

How are your resolutions going? How is your yearly focus going? Let’s keep each other motivated! I love hearing from you.

PS. Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means I do receive some compensation if you click on them. Please know that I only recommend products we truly love. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on over here!

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I’m Drinking Free Starbucks Right Now

So, one of the sweetest things my husband does for me is he occasionally kicks me out of the house. In a loving way. But he knows when I start getting stir-crazy, and he takes care of dinner while I walk around a store without the kids, or go get coffee and write, or go get coffee and people watch, or go get coffee and stare into the abyss without any children touching me or asking me the hardest why questions I’ve ever heard. There’s a big difference between questions like “why is the sky blue?” And “why is everyone on tv so angry?” And “I hurt my bottom. Why won’t you kiss it better?” And while I was totally prepared for the science questions, nothing could have prepared me for the questions about politics, her body, and everything in between. 

As an introvert, I know I need time to myself, but I’m often really bad about giving myself that time. So sometimes Dustin kicks me out of the house. Because he loves me.


Anyway, so I’m all about crazy ways to save/earn money, and usually I spend it on sensible things. But I’ve recently decided that it’s okay for me to sometimes use this extra money for something silly for me. One of my favorite ways to earn extra is using shopkick on my phone. I walk in a store, go scan a few items, and easily earn about $10 a month. I earn more than enough for me to go treat myself to coffee a few times a month. You can link your debit/credit card to the app if you want to earn even more (but I haven’t done it yet! Don’t tell!). And because I also have the Starbucks app, I also earn “stars” when I use it to buy myself a treat, and after a certain number of stars, I get a free beverage. But I also got a free drink just for Valentine’s Day because I had the app and money on my giftcard, which is how I happen to be sitting here drinking a “free” coffee, that I earned from a free giftcard, that I earned from walking around stores I already go to. 

If you’re interested in earning free gift cards just from walking around Target, Walmart, and other places you probably already go to, download the shopkick app here (it’s an affiliate link, which this time means the app gives us BOTH a small reward when you use it, but  I only share stuff I really use and love on my site. Using my affiliate link means you help keep us both caffeinated!)

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10 Days of Beans and Rice

Earlier this month, I shared some of my favorite cheap meals, and mentioned off-hand that it was totally possible to eat beans and rice for a week without getting bored of it. And then I thought, “can you really?” So I looked at the recipes we regularly ate, found some super cool new ones and decided that I was going to challenge myself to cook up 10 nights of beans and rice dinners, and document how we felt about our experiment. I made a pinterest board full of beans and rice recipes, some of which we tried during this experiment, and you can look at it right here. I tried to include recipes when possible, but some of them are just kind of “wing it” recipes. 

Some notes About the Beans and Rice challenge

  • We made a different beans and rice dish every night, which normally you wouldn’t do. For this particular challenge, I wanted to show several different types of meals that could be made with beans and rice, so we did 10 different dishes.
  • Because we cooked ten different dishes, we didn’t save as much money as we normally would. In the end, our experiment was about the same price as it would be if we had cooked normally, but we made a lot more food. Because of that, we were able to put lots of these dishes into single serving bags and freeze them for Dustin to take to work. This will save us money and time in the evenings when he needs to pack a lunch for work. In the end, this will save us money later on, but this month it was a break even.
  • Not every dish contains both beans AND rice. To make sure things didn’t get too similar, some nights we focused on rice exclusive dishes, some nights we didn’t include rice at all. This was to help keep the texture of rice and beans from becoming too much, not so much a flavor issue.
  • Some of these dishes contain meat. I tried to use meat I purchased on sale or deeply discounted, and wanted to keep costs down by not using meat in every dish. I wasn’t worried about needing protein in our diet, but because meat provides great flavor and texture, I didn’t want to leave it out completely.
  • We didn’t always eat the leftovers for lunch. I’ve got two kiddos at home, and didn’t want THEM to experience burnout, so occasionally we had things like chicken nuggets and fresh veggies. I also packed these things for Dustin, because I like him and didn’t want him to hate me. 
  • There is one day where we forgot we would be out of town for work, and that dinner was provided. If it hadn’t been provided, we probably would have continued the challenge with a packed meal, but instead we had roast beef (it was the BOMB), and then the next day got back on our meal plan. 

Here’s what we had!

Day 1:


We decided to start off simply with bean and cheese burritos at the house. The kids loved this, because we added cheese, salsa, sour cream, and more cheese (my kids inherited my cheese infatuation). And it came in a tortilla. Which meant it was a good day. We used a can of ranch style beans we had in our pantry, and I used this day to soak a pound of some red beans for the next day.

Day 2: 


My husband was so happy about this day, because we had red beans and rice, cajun style. I found a great deal on some smoked sausage from the ag department at the college we live next to (jalapeño sausage.. yum!) and so we added that in there. It was really good and super filling. Having the snap of the sausage added texture.. While mommy, daddy, and our one year old loved the spiciness of this dish, my three year old wasn’t having it. But she also ate an apple before dinner, so I wasn’t too surprised that she didn’t eat much of her dinner. I pre-soaked two pounds of dry black beans overnight so that the next day I could cook all of them in our slow cooker.

Day 3:


One of my favorite ways to save money on meals is to cook a huge batch of beans in the crockpot, and then bag them up individually and freeze them. Even though canned beans aren’t super expensive (about $.75-$1.00 a can, depending on the type of beans you use), cooking your own dry beans means we take that cost down to less than $.10 a can. And I can feel confident that there’s no added salt or other stuff in my recipe, so I can have more control of the flavor of our meal. Today, because the weather was gloomy and gross, I made a soup that contained both beans and rice. It took way longer than the twenty minutes it was supposed to, so by the time it was done, someone had fallen asleep. But the people who were awake really enjoyed it. 

It was around this time when I asked Dustin if he was getting tired of this beans and rice challenge. “It doesn’t even feel like a challenge,” he told me. We’ll see.

Day 4:

My sweet husband took over making dinner tonight, so we had stuffed bell peppers. He used the leftover red beans and rice to stuff them, and topped it with cheese. This was a great way to use some of the leftovers. When I made the soup, I saved just enough for us to have lunch today, and then bagged the rest of it up into single serving bags. 

If I can brag for just a second, Dustin made a fabulous dinner. Because we already had the stuffing fully cooked, Dustin diced the bell pepper he cut off the top, and set it in the fridge for me to use later this week.  

Day 5: 

Today I made southwest chicken and rice, which was delicious, but had kind of a mushy texture. This is the first time I felt less confident that we could make it through the entire 10 day menu plan. I also remembered around here that we would accidentally be skipping a day, since Dustin and I would be working out of town and dinner would be provided. But we decided to stick to the meal plan, and just get a small break from beans and rice. As delicious as dinner was, the texture of was beginning to wear me down. But! This meal is also freezer friendly, so it got bagged up, also. I decided that in the morning I’d be soaking some chickpeas for a curry, one of our favorite bean and rice dishes. I also forgot to take a picture of the chicken and rice, but we definitely ate it. And we definitely have enough in our freezer to feed chicken and rice to a small army now.

Day 6: 


Because the rice texture yesterday was SO soft (it was over cooked, but I made it all in the slow cooker, so I shouldn’t be too surprised), I decided this day to go to one of my families all time favorite meals. Pizza. But instead of making a normal pizza, I was going to make a bbq chicken pizza. And then I learned we had half a pound of ground beef hiding in the back of our freezer, so instead I made up a quick recipe for a taco pizza. I whipped up a quick batch of red enchilada sauce (and then put most of it back in the fridge for bean and cheese enchiladas), seasoned the ground beef with taco seasoning, and then used pepper jack cheese and black beans to finish it off. It was a gorgeous pizza, and it tasted so good. So good, in fact, that my husband ate the leftover beef and beans with a biscuit for breakfast the next morning, and THEN had the leftover pizza for lunch. I asked him again how he was feeling about this challenge. He replied “I love it.”

As for me? I was noticing a difference too. I don’t think we eat a ton of meat anyway, but this whole week we’d eaten one sausage link, about 1 1/2 lbs of chicken, and that 1/2 lb of beef. But we’d still had a ton of good protein, and a lot of veggies. And after we finish dinner, I don’t feel super full. Partly because we’re eating smaller portions, and maybe partly because we’re eating really good food. At this point, adding beans to every meal seems pretty sustainable. We haven’t done *as much* rice, but that’s partly because a lot of the rice dishes are coming the last half of this challenge. And also it’s partly because Dustin is the rice making champion, and I’m still learning about rice dishes. Since he hasn’t been home to help with dinner most nights we’ve done this challenge, I’ve been focusing on meals I know how to make! But rice hasn’t been off the menu. In fact, four of the past six dinners we’ve made have contained both beans AND rice. So there. 

Day 7: 

I made “refried” beans in the crockpot by cooking 2 lbs of pinto beans overnight. When we wake up the morning of day 7, I text Dustin (who is working) and ask what he thinks the house smells like. “It smells like bacon. Is that what you used to flavor the beans?” But I have put nothing in the beans except water and time. They just smell so good. I’m tempted to eat a bowl of them with rice for lunch, also, but instead I decide we will have pinto beans and rice for dinner, and I will use the leftover beans for my “refried” beans. It’s kind of a repeat meal from day two, but the beans smell so good I doubt anyone really minds. Plus there’s no meat, which makes it *totally* different. And different beans! I decide to use brown rice to *really* switch things up. I divide the beans into refried beans and dinner beans, mash up half of them, and then quickly clean out the crockpot to make some chickpeas. I was supposed to do this yesterday, and then I didn’t. Whoops!

Day 8: 


Because I’d made enchilada sauce and refried beans, tonight’s dinner practically made itself (especially since Dustin put it together for me while I took a shower ALONE). Weeknight enchiladas, for the win. Also, today I finally looked at my favorite website for food, Budget Bytes, and saw the beans and grains section. Can we do this forever? It’s entirely possible.

Day 9:

Dustin was home for less than ten minutes this day. I had no patience for the stove. The kids wanted “apples” for dinner. I wanted to make curried chickpeas with spinach, which is normally one of our favorite meals. We compromised with bean burritos that I didn’t take a picture of because everyone was crying. Not because of the food, just because we’d had a hard few days. The burritos were good. Mine had avocado in it also. We used beans from a can.

Day 10: 


We had friends come over for dinner tonight, which was a very appropriate way to end our beans and rice experiment. So we celebrated by making a more expensive dish (we used shrimp!), jambalaya. To stretch the cost, I added extra bell peppers, sausage that Dustin’s parents had given us, and chicken on the bone, that I shredded and deboned after cooking. The whole package of chicken was a dollar (for five bone-in thighs), and the sausage was free. The shrimp was a treat, and my oldest daughter loves shrimp, so it was worth it. I had never made jambalaya without using a box, and I was so impressed by how easy it was (except I should have stirred the rice more often to prevent the stuff on top from getting too crunchy). It was still really good. And still fairly inexpensive. 

So there you have it. I guess I should add that the next night we had black bean lettuce wraps, even though the challenge was over. And I should also mention that there are a TON of meals I added to my meal plan that we ended up not eating, AND there are a ton of meals still on my Pinterest board that I’m itching to try. We didn’t make chili! Or fried rice! Or the curry I kept talking about (and even cooked chickpeas for)! What?? It really caused us to look at our meal plan, and I see a lot less meat on our dinner table in the future. 

I also couldn’t believe how many freezer bags we used during this challenge (almost 70 quart sized bags), but I was pretty happy with how much of the leftovers we ended up eating also. Most of the things that went in the freezer were beans from the crockpot, as well as the stock I made today from the chicken bones and veggie scraps we generated during the challenge. 

I see this as a semi-permanent change in our eating habits. While we won’t be exclusively planning beans and rice dishes, I see us sticking with most of the meals we made during the past ten days. They were good for our budget, we felt great eating like this, and I even lost a pound and a half, which really surprised me because I thought we were still eating pretty hearty! 

If you made it through all of this, you deserve a cookie. Or at least, a big ol’ bowl of chili!

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I Finally Tried EveryDollar

So, when we first got married, one of the things we recieved was tuition to a Total Money Makeover class. This was the best thing ever, and I wish we were also financially able to pay it forward. We’re getting there. One month at a time. But we’re still learning the best way to budget. Mostly because we have a fluctuating income, my husband changed jobs just over a year ago, we had another baby, and because there’s always something new to learn about how to save money and where to spend money. I’d been doing our budget on paper since we took the class, but recently, I goofed. Pretty big. And so I knew I needed a better system. I had the EveryDollar app installed on my phone, but I hadn’t really used it much. Now I’ve tried it, and I think this is the system for us.

Here’s how it works (for us):

You enter all your income streams in for the month. If you’re not sure about how much to enter because your income fluctuates, add the bare minimum you usually make. If we make extra money one month, I add an extra income line that says “EXTRA” or describes how we earned the extra income, so that it can be included in our “Every Dollar” budget. 

Then you add all your bills in. Insurance, rent/mortgage, electricity, internet, debt. All the things you definitely have to pay for. Then you see how much is left, and allocate those dollars into categories like groceries, restaurants, clothing, savings, and gas/oil for your car. You can even add categories if you need to, but I found it had categories for things I hadn’t even thought of. After that, you just keep moving the numbers around until you’ve allocated every single dollar into a category. This is your Every Dollar budget, but it’s still pretty flexible. I found that I had severely underestimated how many times we had to fill the car up, so we’re trying to drive less, because when you run out of money in that category, you’re supposed to stop. Next month, I’ll have a better idea of how much we spend on gas. But if I really needed to, I could pull money out of one category and put it into gas. Just as long as I don’t “invent money,” doing it this way helps.

Every time we spend money, cash or card, I pull my phone out and a) take a picture of the reciept for Reciept Hog (they pay you a small amount for shopping), and then b) log that purchase into the appropriate category on my app. There’s is an Every Dollar PLUS option, where you can sync up your bank account to the app so it knows where you spent money, but I prefer this way… it makes me make sure I’m staying on target with our budget. When we run out of money in our grocery budget, that’s the end of the grocery budget. We will have to survive on the food we already have (which is probably plenty of food) until the next month.

The app tells you how much you have left to spend, the percentage of income you spend in each category, and how much you have left to spend.

Playing with the app for about ten minutes shows you everything you need to know (it’s pretty user friendly), and it’s free to download for both Apple and Android. There is a paid version, and maybe one day I will bite the bullet and try that, but until then the free version is wonderful, and is helping us track every dollar we bring in or send out. 

The only thing I have a problem with is how easy it is to fuss with my budget all month long. On one hand, that can be helpful. If I budget $100 for a bill that ends up only being $80, I should tell that extra $20 to go somewhere else, so we don’t waste it on something silly. On the other hand, that means if I decide to go crazy and buy a ton of extra groceries, I can *technically* pull money out of other budgeted categories to make sure I’m not over in any one category. I’m trying my best not to do this, but it sometimes happens. And I also learned that I had been rounding a few of our bills down (by a dollar) to make the numbers easier to work with. This means that on a few occasions I went “over” in a category by a few cents, but it was just as angry as when I accidentally typed “$72.70” instead of “$7.27.” This just means next month I’ll use less round numbers, which will make our budget more accurate anyway. Because I do *not* want to go over budget. 

Other than those few things? I love it.

I should add that I’m not getting paid or sponsored to talk about this app. I just really like it, and think it’s helpful. As a household who follows the Dave Ramsey method about 80% of the way, this app is exactly what I was looking for. Simple, easy to use, shows me exactly where my money is going, and reminds me that we don’t only spend money on groceries and bills (I am forever forgetting that I go get coffee every other week, and we occasionally leave the house in cars that need gasoline to help them go). I will be using this app along with my pen and paper budget (I like to see when bills are due so we don’t pay late fees, and I like to track our emergency fund and how much we’ve paid onto our debt), and I think this combination is a winner.

What’s your favorite budgeting tool? Tell me about it in the comments! I love learning more about budgeting and financing, and I’m always excited to find new tools that make it a more integrated part of my life.

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Word of the Year:2017

This year is the first year I’m trying a word of the year, and so I wanted to spend a while making sure that the word I chose was the right word for me and my family. I thought about choosing something like “rest” or “refresh,” but those words didn’t seem quite right.


Last year was a rough year, for many reasons. And in my conversations with Dustin, I kept coming back to the idea that I just wanted this year to be better. I want this year to be better. And so we continued to talk about what we meant when we said we wanted our year to be better. We wanted to take better care of our finances, our relationship, our bodies. We wanted to nourish our minds, declutter our house, and be a force for good in the world. And I was having trouble coming up with a word that summarized all the things we wanted to make better in our lives, homes, and hearts. And then I realized I was inadvertently repeating my word of the year. This year, my word is “better.”

During one of our conversations, Dustin told me that the key for our family was to not try to improve everything all at once. That would be doomed to failure, because inevitably we would miss a few things one day, and then slump back into our old habits. So every month, I’ll be focusing on a few habits every month, trying to slowly build them into our routine. This month, I’m recommitting to our budget (I know. You’re shocked), trying to read for just ten minutes every day, and drinking a glass of water first thing every morning. I’ve written down a few things for next month, but I think the best way to stay focused on these goals is to look at them a few days before the next month starts, and look at where our family is, to see what changes need to be made right then.


I think breaking this into small, bite-sized pieces I’ll more likely to succeed than if I simply said, “I’m gonna work out more and do better” on January 1st. I’m also really glad I wrote down an action plan for the months to come.

A few of the things I know Dustin and I are going to be working on is consistently working out, reorganizing and decluttering our home, spending less time on our devices and more time doing things that we love, and recommiting to prayer/journaling/meditation (we each have done a combination of these things, and would like to find a way to do all of them more consistently). 

And how has it worked so far? With the month more than halfway over, and me committing to drinking water, reading, and budgeting, I’ve

-read two books (and half of another one!) which is already one more book than I completed in the whole of 2016. I can’t wait to see my grand total for this year. 

-I’m drinking a glass of water every morning, which has helped my energy level considerably and made me a less crabby person. 

-I’ve started using a new app to help track our finances. I’ll be sharing that with you on Friday, provided I can figure out how to take screenshots of it without giving away our personal finance information.


But beyond those things, because I’ve started focusing on doing better, I’ve also:

– Practiced piano consistently (and put on a concert in my living room!)

– Written something every day, because I’ve had more energy and haven’t needed to nap when the kids go down.

– Decluttered various cabinets and drawers in my house, and made a plan to continue these efforts throughout the year.

– Woken up earlier than I have since my youngest was born, so that I can journal and drink that water and pray before the kids get up.


And while I haven’t been as consistent with those habits, those aren’t the ones I’m really focusing on this month, so I don’t beat myself up if I sleep in a little later or don’t get to declutter anything one day. Those are just a few things I know I will want to add in consistently as the year goes on. 

So my word of the year for 2017 is “better,” and I am looking forward to seeing what “better” looks like a year from now. Did you pick a word this year? I’d love to hear what you picked, and how your implementing it as the year goes on. I’ll do occasional updates as 2017 goes on, to stay focused.

P.S: The photos used in this post were taken by the fabulous Tif Holmes, who came to our house over the summer and shot these. I love them all, and really loved working with Tif (she’s taken some of my favorite pictures of my family). To book a session with her, visit her website. She’s wonderful. 🙂

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