Friday, November 30, 2012

Deck the Halls!

I love Pinterest. I really, really do. Most days that I sub, I find myself meandering through the millions of pins and get inspiration for my next project. When I moved into my Cute Little House, I opened a "Holidayyyy" board to categorize my inspiration for the upcoming festivities.

Except for one more possible project, my Cute Little House is now Christmas ready!

The front window in the kitchen. There used to be f'ugly blinds here that didn't even fit; now glitter and Christmas ornaments sparkle in the sunshine while I'm cooking!


I have never had a real Christmas tree in my adult life. In my first apartment, The Oasis, we had an eighteen-inch toy tree that sat on our kitchen bar.
My senior year of college while I was living at The Apple, my roommate Megan had a three foot Christmas tree. Turns out her dad had hacked off the top of a real one and brought it to our house. It smelled so sweet!
Last year, at The Manor, we never put up a Christmas tree. I remember we had a "roommate meeting" regarding Christmas decorations but a tree never happened. We put up twinkle lights on the mantle and hung stockings, but a tree never happened.

My parents have done the unthinkable and purchased an artifical tree this year. It's scrawny and you can see the pole where the branches come out. It hurts my heart. I'm currently in mourning.

When I realized that this meant that a real, green, gorgeous, sweet-smelling Christmas tree would not be in my life this year (I wasn't planning on going overboard with decorations), I was devastated. At just the right moment, the family that I nanny for called and asked if I wanted them to get me a Christmas tree. They have the tradition of going up to the mountains for Thanksgiving and chopping their tree, and decided I needed one, too. I asked for one that was "short and fat." This baby is perfect!

My dad graciously came over and helped me set up my tree (since they have gone artificial, guess who gets their tree stand -- I do love free items!). After he drilled the hole in the bottom, we carried it in; his first sentence was, "Get rid of half of this furniture. Immediately." The bottom of this thing is ginormous. It takes up about 1/6 of my living room. I'm not complaining, though, because I have my own real, green, gorgeous, sweet-smelling Christmas tree!

I decided to go with a red and silver theme; classic and reppin' the Pack!

While perusing Pinterest one day, I came across an ornament wreath. It was so sparkly and inviting that I knew that I had found my Christmas wreath for that year. I headed over to my local Dollar Tree and cleaned out their supply of red, gold, and silver Christmas ball ornaments. Twelve hot glue sticks and four hours later...TAA DAA!

Front-door Christmas wreath
My favorite decoration, I have to admit, is my dining room table centerpiece. During my adventure to Dollar Tree, I stocked up on craft supplies for this too. This entire piece cost me $8 + tax. I can handle that!

The best part of this? I get three more wine glasses come New Years!


No, this is not my family, but I thought this was too cute not to share. I love the Novogratz family; my cousin Angie introduced me to their show and ever since I am a loyal fan. They are a husband-and-wife interior design team with seven kids. On their show, Home by Novogratz, they mix modern and vintage to create chic homes with vivid colors and fun inspiration.

This picture popped up on my Instagram feed the other week and I almost peed my pants from giggling so hard. Their Christmas card theme? Caught Mommy kissing Santa! I love it!

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Friday, November 9, 2012

What are you doing?

"Wait...what? So, what are you doing?"

This question keeps popping up in my life. Consequently I have decided to answer it globally.

What I Am Doing.
I am...
...substituting during the day to pay the bills.
...nannying in the afternoons to put money in the bank.
...spending way too much time on Pinterest.
...spending a lot of time talking to Jesus.
...eating vegetables and healthy foods.
...decompressing after a really hard first year of teaching.
...working through some battle scars that have been left behind after the past few years.
...trying to get my health back in balance after a long year of stress, stress-eating, and not sleeping.
...sleeping more than four hours a night.
...reading books for pleasure (and writing about them in my "Reader's Report" section of the blog).
...casually dating (no one special, just enjoying new adventures with new friends).
...writing books. I'm actually getting serious about a couple of projects and it's fun.
...cheering on my Wolfpack through the thick and thin.
...passing time outside and in the sunshine.
...looking into grad school programs!
...overly involved at my church (kids' choir, the Christmas pageant, drama team, small group). lots of fun recipes.
...Instagram-ing every single photo I seem to take.
...spending fun times with my kiddos while I sub for their current teachers!
...gaining back my social life.
...decorating my Cute Little House.
...spending way too much time doing Pinterest projects.
...learning more and more how to coupon and save money!
...exploring downtown Raleigh.
...missing pouring daily into my kids, but trusting that the Lord loves them more than I do.
...being thankful for all of the blessings that I took for granted last year while I was completely consumed by my job.

What I Am NOT Doing.
I am not...
...teaching full-time.
...grading papers.
...filling out paperwork.
...sitting in meetings.
...reading books in which I have no interest.
...losing my hair.
...eating fast food.
...crying myself to sleep.
...feeling worthless.
...being emotionally abused. more than I am receiving (in the unhealthy way).
...breaking out in rashes caused by large amounts of stress and unhealthy eating.
...taking for granted that I only have this one life and filling it with inconsequential things.

This year was not one that I had anticipated or expected, but one that I am growing more and more thankful for. I am growing and learning and deepening relationships. I am seeing my family on a daily basis and figuring out what really is important in this life. I am happy.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
...a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
...a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for peace and a time for war.

...He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Day on Hillsborough Street.

The school system where I substitute had a vacation day yesterday so I got to sleep in! This time change has not been my friend and consequently, "sleeping in" only meant until 7:45, not the hoped-for 9:00. Alas, I spent the next few hours in bed watching Dawson's Creek on Netflix and enjoying a lazy morning. 

I finally decided to roll out of bed about 10:30 to dress for the day so that I could do my civic duty and vote!

My Facebook newsfeed was blowing up with reports of "hours long" lines to the polls and a whole lot of other drama. However, I pulled into my precinct and there was ZERO wait. I figured since I got there around lunch time that there would be a minor line. Thankfully, this was not the case. I cast my vote for Romney/Ryan, got me a sticker, and headed on my way.
It hit me that people don't take "lunch breaks" in my sleepy little town so the idea that a lot of people would be in line was actually preposterous.

As I was heading into Raleigh to pick up my kiddos for my nanny gig, my phone rang. The dad called to tell me that he was enjoying his day with the little girl, and I could just come in at my normal time. I suddenly had two-and-a-half hours to kill and no idea how to fill them.

I called about fifteen friends of mine as I continued to head into Raleigh, hoping to find someone for a last-minute coffee or cupcake date. Around the thirteenth phone call, the fact of how grown up my friends and I are hit me. No one could meet because we're not in college anymore...they have grown-up jobs that don't allow them to slip out of the office for an hour.  When did we grow up this much? I was a little depressed over this realization.

I decided to head to Hillsborough Street, adjacent to my beloved NC State and pick up a cup of my favorite coffee from my favorite little coffee shop, Global Village. One medium Med Irish for me, please!

I had my school bag with me so I knew that I could entertain myself -- I had the current writing project I'm working on and the book I'm currently reading.

I headed to the Court of Carolinas (a courtyard on NCSU's East Campus) and sat on an old favorite bench and did a sudoku from the school's newspaper, The Technician. I felt like a college student again. I was killing time in my favorite area of campus, right beside the building where 75% of my classes were held.

The beauty of the campus amazes me.

 NCSU catches a lot of slack because of how many bricks are used around the campus. Some people claim there isn't enough nature. Clearly these people have not seen NCSU in the fall.  Or been to the Court of Carolinas.

The bench where I sat faced the Caldwell building. I took those steps every single day of my college career. If you were to look in those windows, you would see a comfortable lounge complete with couches and chairs and desks where I spent many a lunch hour and many a stressful cram session between classes.

I walked up and down this hill every day. I cursed it during rain and snow because I knew that I was going to meet my death by slipping and falling. Thankfully, it never actually happened.

I was, however, once nicked by a bicycler. My elbow still creaks when it rains. I'm getting so old.

I loved the time that I spent on campus. The four years as an undergrad, and the time yesterday. I walked around nostalgically. I saw the building that held my classes: Tompkins, Caldwell, and Poe. I dodged two professors whom I still cannot stand to this day. I went up into the upper floors of Tompkins to find some of my favorite professors to say a quick hello.

I loved the hushed, intense vibes that come from the upper floors of Tompkins. All of those academic minds grading papers, counseling students, editing one another editorials. The energy is almost palpable, just like it always has been.

While I was sitting, basking in the beauty of NCSU, the bell tower chimed it's 2:00 alert. I realized that very little had changed since I graduated. The steps outside of Caldwell Lounge used to have little potholes from overuse, but those had been filled in. The traffic circle in front of the bell tower has been re-routed (again). Other than that, things were the same.

The inner pathways of Winston, Caldwell, and Tompkins were still confusing as ever.
The bell tower still chimed on the hour and half hour.
The 1911 building sat stoically at the top of the Court of Carolinas, overlooking the other buildings and the students in the courtyard like a regal king, watching and protecting its subjects.
When the wind blew just right, you could smell the bagels baking at Bruegger's across the street.
Finding parking on Hillsborough was still a pain and the fee was overpriced once you did find it.

As students passed me, some gave me a curious look. I was an outsider. You grow used to seeing the same students on your way to and from classes. They had never seen me before. I was an imposter, a wanna-be.

"It's true what they say: Time plays tricks on you. One day, you're dreaming, and the next the dream has become your reality. Now that the scared little girl no longer follows me wherever I go, I miss her. There are things I want to tell her: to relax, that it is all going to be okay. I want her to know that meeting people who like you, who understand you, who accept you for exactly who you are is a gift. A gift that becomes more and more rare as you grow up."

In one of the episodes of Dawson's Creek, Joey Potter said that quote. I whole-heartedly agree. I was an over-confident, secretly terrified freshman only five years ago. There are so many things that I wish to tell her. NCSU hasn't changed that much, but I have. I have these bricks, these building, these professors to thank for that. I am a better person because I sat on this bench every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for two years.

I love coming back to this campus. It makes me feel whole.
Ghosts come back to greet me, some good, some not so good.
Every single room has a memory, a piece of happiness, somewhere that I learned and grew.

I am thankful for these bricks and the catalyst that they were in the growing up process.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Frugal Life of Miss Reba.

My money-management skills have been a roller coaster of a learning curve over my life. When I was younger, you couldn't pay me to spend money. I put everything I had into savings and didn't apologize for it.

And then college hit. My friends kept wanting to go out to dinner instead of eating at the dining hall and there was always a reason to go shopping. After the Post-Clearwater depression hit, shopping was an instant way to feel better about myself and my life, even though the euphoria was short-lived.

There was a time when I literally had $6 left in my bank account, my gas tank had about one more trip to work left in it, and I had two more days until pay day. I don't think I had ever cried so hard because I knew that I had dug myself into this hole. I knew that I had done this to myself; there was no one to blame but me and my stupidity. 

Then last year, I got my first teaching job and moved into a house with four other girls. My total bills came to about $800 a month (including car payment and rent) and my paycheck was almost three times my bills. I was truly working for profit and I was stoked. Looking back, I wish I had managed my money more efficiently and not gone out to eat as much or pour as much of my paycheck into my classroom. I wish I had paid off more of my car loan and put more money into the bank. Especially now that I am back living closer to a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, I would love for my bank account to have more digits to it.

Alas, I am back to the frugal ways that I had developed during the lean times in my life.

I'm not at all complaining (this time around). I chose my current life situation (subbing instead of teaching, living in my new house, driving my car that has a payment instead of being paid in full when purchased). I am actually enjoying my carefree life that comes with not teaching and love the nanny gig that I have that puts more money into the bank (to save, not to spend). I am challenging myself to save more money and to see which corners I can cut!

This morning, I went to Harris Teeter to rake in some savings during their "Super Double Coupon" week. For about two months (possibly more!) of non-perishable groceries, I spent $74 and saved $123! I literally jumped up and down in the check out line. I "tooted my own horn" on Facebook and let the cyber world know of my savings. I've talked to a lot of my other "broke lifestyle" friends and they begged for advice.

The easiest way to pass out knowledge to a large group of people: the blog.

Unfortunately, I don't have many tricks; most of my things are fairly common knowledge and would only really work for my life, and probably not for someone else's. However, I'll see what I can do.

Electricity bill.
1. Work with the outside temperature. I do my best to not use electricity. Most of the summer my A/C was turned off and I kept my ceiling fans on when I was home. I have only recently turned on my heat because I was getting sick thanks to literally shivering in my sleep (despite about twelve blankets). Even now, I have my heat set to 65 degrees. I keep a sweatshirt on most of the time, but my electric bill is still down and I'm not suffering from a chronic runny nose! I'm also hot-natured so I don't mind a chill in the air.
2. Use the sun. If the sun is out, I have my blinds open and I am using the sunshine as my light. I also try to use lamps instead of an overhead light. A lower wattage bulb = a lower amount of energy used = a lower power bill. The biggest slap in the face that I give myself (literally!) is when I come home and realize that I left a light on. UGH!
3. Unplug everything you're not using. The only things in this house that stay plugged in all the time: refrigerator, living room TV, washer/dryer, stove, dishwasher, DVR. The TV in my bedroom and the VCRs stay unplugged unless I'm using them. Same with the microwave. I unplug my phone charger, iPad charger, printer, etc. when they're not in use. Simply having that plug in the wall generates a small amount of electricity. Research shows that keeping eight plugs in while not being used will cost you over $100 a year. Granted, per month, per plug that's not that much. However, cutting little corners make a big difference over time.
This section might seem a bit extreme, but my light bill for this past month was $39. Jealous?

Gas is expensive. We all know this. We all complain about this. However, there's a free app for smart phones called "GasBuddy" that will find cheap gas near you. Most gas stations now have some kind of membership club that will save you gas by having a card. There is now a Sheetz in my hometown (cue "Hallelujah" chorus) and I have a Sheetz card. My car has a 15 gallon tank and I save $0.03 on each gallon when I use my Sheetz card. $0.45 a fill-up isn't that much, but I fill up about once a week, and that is over $23 a year. That'll pay for dinner out one night. My Sheetz membership also sends me coupons that I can use to get free/reduced price food, snacks, drinks, and gas. It's a win-win. Also, fill up when your gas tank is at half-a-tank, instead of when your light starts blinking. This keeps your car in better shape and will save you money on repairs over time. Regular oil changes and checking your tire pressure frequently will also keep money in your pocket in the long-run.

1. Stop eating out. I know that sounds trite, but heavens's expensive! I only eat out when invited. I cut out fast food as part of a food challenge I'm doing with my cousin and my bank account is already thanking me only a month in! Make a pasta dish instead of running to Olive Garden. An $8 bottle of wine from Target, a $1 box of pasta, $3 for cheese or Prego sauce and you've got the same meal at half the price. Sure you've gotta do the dishes, but c'mon'll live. It's also wonderful to open your home to friends and have a party in your living room. Have everyone bring one thing and you've got yourself an old-fashioned pot-luck. You may even find another recipe that you can add to your collection without the help of Pinterest!
2. Speaking of Pinterest, get a Pinterest account immediately. Tired of making the same six meals over and over again? There are thousand of different ways to cook chicken breasts on one website. There's also some great tips for frugal cooking on there! Once you get an account, you should follow me! I'm always pinning new recipes and new coupon sites and other nifty things. I would also love for you to comment on any of my pins that you've tried before and let me know about any advice you have!
3. Most other frugal people are now screaming at their computers telling me to mention something about meal planning. Confession: I don't meal plan. Supposedly this will help cut down on grocery spending and that kind of thing, but I don't have a clue. I just buy what's on sale and make a meal out of it.
4. Cut out all soda and bottled water. I'm pretty sure some of you just fainted. Please keep reading once you wake back up. Soda is expensive and is absolutely awful for you (I learned this week that carbonation causes cellulite -- EWW). Bottled water is also a rip off. Get yourself a cute little water bottle and re-use it! If you can't stand the taste of tap water, get yourself some Crystal Light packets and calm yourself. Your body will thank will your bank account.

This section is going to be the longest and hardest to write. Most things I've noticed over time (I've been couponing "seriously" --I could not have my own reality TV segment, but I do save a bit of money-- since August of 2010). None of these are an exact science, but they work for me.
1. Find a favorite grocery story and get their app on your smartphone or bookmark it on your work computer. For major couponing, I use Harris Teeter (Kroger is also a really good one) and I use the Food Lion in my hometown for other minor shopping trips. I get weekly emails with in-store specials from Harris Teeter and I get an app alert from Food Lion on deals. I've heard lots of people complain about not having "time" to coupon. I know very few people who don't have half-an-hour to spare over the course of a week to look over their email at what they can pick up from the grocery store at a discounted rate.
2. If it will last in your cabinet for more than a week, DO NOT BUY IT AT FULL PRICE. I love pasta. I cook a bit of pasta with almost every meal (most of my meals are pasta, chicken, and veggies thrown together in some way). Today, I picked up ten boxes of pasta for $10, plus tax. Each box of pasta will last about six servings, so consequently I purchased the bulk, if not all, of sixty meals for $10. I also picked up some frozen veggies at "Buy One, Get One Free" and four trays of chicken breasts (three breasts per tray, I eat half of a breast per serving = 24 servings of chicken) at "Buy One, Get One Free"...24 servings of meat for $15. Heck. Yes. (I freeze the chicken, that's why it lasts longer than a week).
3. Be willing to do some math. If you clip coupons, always carry a calculator, or use the one on your smart phone, with you to the grocery store. Today, Chef Boy-R-Dee ravioli was on sale 10 for $10 at Harris Teeter. Sounds like a deal, right? I think I would have saved about $3.50 for picking this up (I typically eat a can of ravioli for lunch on days that I sub). I looked over and realized that the Harris Teeter brand was $0.75 a can. It was cheaper to grab ten cans of the off-brand than it was with the discount and the coupon I had in my purse. This is true for a lot of items: paper towels, toilet paper, canned veggies. You won't see this as part of your savings at the bottom of your receipt, but it does pay off!
NOTE: It's also cheaper to buy individual boxes of tissues than it is to buy the three-packs of Kleenex.
4. Do mass shopping on super discount weeks. It was "super double" coupon week at Harris Teeter. HT normally doubles any coupon you bring in that has a value of $0.99 or below. This week, they were doubling any coupon with a value of $2.00 and below. I got some great family-size Stouffer's freezer meals (that will give me four-six meals!) for only $3.25 (with tax)! HOLLA AT YA GIRL!
5. If possible, use your coupon when the item is on sale. This allows you more savings! The Stouffer's freezer meals? They are typically around $7.25. However, HT had them on sale for $5.99. I then had a coupon for $1.25 off, which was doubled to $3! I did this for a lot of my items today. My wallet praises me.
6. Know your grocer's coupon rules. HT will only accept 20 coupons per customer per day. Food Lion doesn't double coupons. A simple phone call or some internet research will help you out with this. Thirty minutes of research one afternoon will pay off in the long run!
7. Hold on to your coupons. This one kind of goes with #5. If you have a coupon for something from your newspaper cut-out, more than likely it's about to go on sale in stores in the next week or two. Also, most "super" weeks of discounts are followed closely by more "super" weeks. I'm fully anticipating "triple face value" week at HT in the next two weeks (again, this isn't an exact science, just something I've noticed).

Like I said, I know that some of these won't be able to translate to larger households. This is my pantry. For one person, it's super stocked and will last me through Christmas, but I know that for me, a box of pasta will last a week, but for families, it will go away in about a meal. I also know that if I had tried to be this savings-savvy last year in the house with five girls, it wouldn't have been as possible simply because I didn't have the space to store as much (especially freezer space!).

I do like knowing that I will rarely have to spend money on food for the rest of 2012.  My bank account gets to stay just like it is for two more months, doing nothing but earning interest.  I will have to go back to the store once or twice if I need a specific ingredient that I might run out of, but of course I will be going with a coupon in hand!

A few more things to think about for your "frugal" state of mind.
1. Cook ahead of time. I am most tempted to go through a drive-thru or something when I have to go home and cook. After a long day, I just want food, not to stand on my feet for another half an hour. Again, Pinterest is full of "freezer meals" (meals that you prep/begin cooking ahead of time, so you just have to re-heat them), use it as a resource! I will cook a couple of casseroles one Sunday afternoon and then divide it up in Tupperware, some to be frozen to be eaten MUCH later, and others to be put in the fridge to be eaten for lunches later that week.
2. Do very little without spliting the bill or without a coupon. If you go out to eat, most restaurants serve meals that are two portions; split a plate with your friend! Or, ask for a to-go box before you begin eating so that you can start your meal knowing what you should eat at this meal and then the rest can be used for another meal. With the holidays coming up, there are a lot of seasonal attractions; a quick internet search will almost certainly find a cheaper deal or a night where you can get in cheaper.
3. Do it yourself. I know that this is a huge fad right now but there's a reason! Make a front door decoration for Christmas instead of buying one at the store. Make dinner instead of going out. Watch a movie you already have instead of going out to the theatre.
4. Be patient. Wait to go to the $2 theatre instead of spending $10 on a ticket. Plan to do a craft and then use weekly coupons to get the pieces on sale. Wait for that fabulous new dress at Target to go on sale or hit up a few Goodwills to see if you can find something almost as perfect as the one in the store.
Story time: I love big, over-sized "comfy chairs." The ones with the ottomans. Oh, they are my love language. I deeply wanted a comfy chair, but I didn't have the spending money to go out to get one, even off of Craigslist. I decided to use a portion of my $5 Savings Plan (wait for it, it's #6B) to get me a big comfy chair when furniture goes on sale after the new year. I could rough it on the couch for another two months. No big deal. About three weeks after I decided to be patient and save my money, I got a phone call from my grandparents asking if I wanted any of their living room furniture. They had not one, BUT TWO comfy chairs in their living room and now they're both sitting in MY living room...FOR FREE! Patience is a virtue people.
5. Tithe. For any non-religious friends that may read this, some of this isn't valid, but bear with me. When we first started getting an allowance, we were told to put 10% into our savings account, and then 10% to tithe. It is a Biblical principle to tithe and give ten percent (Leviticus 27:32). I find that although I may have less money in my bank account after tithing, I never seem to stress about money afterwards. I also believe that the Lord gives us small blessings to see how we handle them (squander, save, use for Him) so that He knows how to trust us with bigger blessings. I once was driving to a job interview very confident in my ability to get this job. After the interview, I knew it was mine; I had ACED it! However, it hit me that I hadn't tithed in two months and "that little voice in the back of my head" reminded me that unless I proved faithful to the Lord, He wouldn't prove faithful to me. So, I tithed and just like in the book of Malachi, the Lord opened the floodgates and I was amazed by the blessings I received from that job. It's not always easy to give away that money, but the blessings are so worth it. Like anything that is a bit uneasy, a little practice makes it a whole lot easier.
6. Save. My parents taught us "the envelope method" on how to budget our resources (I believe Dave Ramsey is now preaching this). Cash your pay check and put your budgeted amount for each category (groceries, gas, electric bill, etc.) into the envelope with that label. It's a more visual thing; when you're thinking about catching a movie in Raleigh, and you realize that you have $3 left in your "gas" envelope and only $10 left in your "fun spending" envelope, a TV marathon at home seems like a lot more fun.  Now, my monthly allowance for food in my household is $200. I have spent $37 of that (I shopped for two months today). What am I going to do with that other $163? I'm going to keep it in the envelope until the end of the month, and then I'm going to put it in my savings account. I'll obviously have to take out some of it if I run out of eggs, or if I decide to eat out one night. However, my goal is to spend as little money as possible every month. That $163 will also come in handy in case my nannying paycheck doesn't show up in time for the bills to be paid at the start of December. Or if I have to make an extra trip to Raleigh and my gas budget doesn't suffice. I try to do as little "cross-over" between the envelopes as possible. You never know when you may come in need.
6B. The $5 Savings Plan. I saw this on Pinterest and it struck my fancy. Now that I'm doing as much as I can with cash, it's more of a reality in my life than before. The $5 savings plan is simple: every time you receive a $5 bill, you tuck it away and save it.  That's it. I try to put it in the ATM as soon as possible, because if I just had cash lying around, I would be too tempted to spend it. Out of sight, out of mind is better! I've turned it into a game for myself: it makes me excited to get a $5 bill because now it's $5 going towards my cruise in July with my Clearwater Family! I find myself praying for a $5 at a register because it's an unexpected blessing to put a bit of money back in the bank! The pin that described the $5 Saving Plan on Pinterest explained that you should try to set goals or make a list of things you would want to do if you saved a certain amount of money. My cruise certainly makes saving more desirable, but for more "short term" planners, a fancy pedicure at a favorite salon would be a good thing to save for. Think about it and enjoy your money.

I know that was super long, y'all. But I so enjoyed writing it. Am I always this perfect at saving? No, no I swear I'm not. I like a new nail polish color as much as any girl...but I'm trying. Saving and frugal living is like a muscle: you have to practice it often and use it as much as you can to make it work properly. I'd also rather eat spaghetti three nights a week (good things I L-O-V-E spaghetti!) than get to the first of the month and realize I can't pay my rent. Logic definitely favors this lifestyle.

If you have any questions or would like any advice in any other areas, feel free to leave a comment or hit up my e-mail. I would love to help any way that I can :)

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Southern Girl Afternoon

A Southern woman's role was once defined in the eloquent tones of one Ms. Ouiser in the timeless movie, Steel Magnolias.

"I'm an old Southern woman. We're supposed to put on funny-looking hats, ugly old dresses, and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don't ask me why. I don't make the rules."

Such a perfect movie. Shirley MacLaine is truly class on a stick, is she not?

On Tuesday, the outside world looked perfect. The sun was shining and the air was crisp, and I wanted to do nothing but be a part of it. Unfortuntely, the day's lessons didn't allow for such an adventure, so I planned my afternoon to allow me to be outside.

I called Daddy to see if I could borrow his lawnmower. My grass was looking all kinds of horrible. Normally my next door neighbor cuts it for me while he's out taking care of his, but I decided to pull my weight for that go 'round.

"Daddy, I need the lawnmower."

"Who's cutting the grass, baby?"

"I am."

"Who you paying to have it done?"

"No one."

"Oh...who's Granddaddy paying to have it done?"

"No one, Daddy. I'm going to do it."

"Child, I believe you. Or I will once you tell me where we keep the lawnmower."

Folks, therein lied the problem.

After laughing to himself for a bit longer than I liked, Daddy said he would have Will, the guy he pays to cut his grass, get out the mower and make sure that it was working properly.

I took the mower down to my house and got ready for my version of an old Southern woman's day. I put on my big, pink sunhat, threw on a tie-dyed cotton sundress and my Jackie O. styled sunglasses and was ready to work. I know that I was missing the part about "growing things in the dirt" but if you know me, you know that I don't do nature. Grass cutting is as close to dirt as I'm willing to get.

I feel like the actual mowing itself is best described by my Tweets from later that day.

3:01 -- "Peeps of MySmallTown, come snap a picture...I'm about to mow the grass. #firsttimeforeverything"

3:38 -- "You know it's gonna be a good day when the mower starts smoking."

3:58 -- "Dear Town of MySmallTown workers, please quit circling my block to watch me mow. It's creepy. Flattering, but creepy."

4:09 -- "My front yard makes me feel like a NASCAR driver: sharp left-hand turns in a tight oval."

4:39 -- "My yard looks like I gave a 4-year-old a pair of scissors and said, "Have fun!""

4:40 -- "Well, that satisfies my desire to mow for the next decade."

The first tweet is a bit misleading...I have mowed grass before. It was a long-time ago, and I haven't done it in probably seven or eight years, but I have done it.

During the course of my adventure on the mower, there were some mishaps. I didn't have a clue how to turn it on. It started smoking three or four times and consequently I had to take it home to Will to fix seven or eight times (there were other issues that required Will's attention, as well). Every time I pulled up in the yard, I explained -- very animatedly, I might add -- just what was wrong with this old piece of machinery this time, and bless his soul, every time Will said, "I can fix that." Gentlemen, you want a woman? Learn to be able to back up saying things like, "I can fix that." Any girl would love to never have to tell her daddy that she broke his lawn mower.

It probably wouldn't have surprised Daddy if I had to call him and admit the death (or murder, who knows) of Ol' Snapper. This thing is older than me. We have pictures of all three of us kids riding with Daddy on it, grins taking up our faces, so excited to be spending one-on-one time with him. Ol' Snapper was also the closest thing that we had to an ATV, so we were mighty thrilled to be chucking along on the beast.

After I returned Ol' Snapper to his normal resting place, I decided I needed to swing by Granddaddy's house to get a glass-bottle Coke. Granddaddy salvaged an old Coke machine from his days as a hardware store owner and it now sits in his garage, providing the family with America's classic soda and a sweet piece of conversation for any guests we bring over.

A glass-bottle Coke in hand, I walked home, wearing my funny hat and ugly dress. The sun was shining and the evening was starting to set in, and I said a quick prayer, thanking the Good Lord that I was American by birth, and Southern by the grace of God.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I was on Twitter earlier this week and saw that my high school best friend, Mandy, was planning on carving pumpkins that evening. She soon texted me asking for advice on how to properly carve a pumpkin, thinking that I know all things crafty, since I am, as she said, the "craft queen." After talking through tools or whatnot, I asked if she could hold on twenty-four hours after her planned time so that I could join her, along with our other high school best friend, Kasey. She said she would love to, and we all sat on pins and needles for the next twenty-four hours until we could meet up and dig in (to the pumpkins, that is).

The next morning, I realized that I had no pumpkins. In order to carve a pumpkin, one must possess a fresh, ripe, round, orange pumpkin. I didn't even have a fake pumpkin in my house, much less one that fit those adjectives. Thanks to Facebook, I was told that the Lowe's Foods in the next town over had a stash of ginormous carving pumpkins. After school, I headed that way and picked out a pumpkin for me and one for Kasey as well -- Mandy was bringing her own already-acquired pumpkin and Kasey was making me dinner in exchange for me picking up a pumpkin for her.

We arrived to my Cute Little House on Tuesday evening, set out newspaper on my front porch, grabbed some kitchen knives, spoons, and a large bowl for the guts, and went to work.

We laughed and talked about our jobs and boys and graduate school possibilities. We sat on my front porch of my cute little house and I was so thankful to have such sweet friends.

Before long, we had ourselves some might fine pumpkins!

Now, you may notice in the above picture (how you like that Block S? GO WOLFPACK!) that the candle inside of my jack-o-lantern is a bit small. I had forgotten to swing by the Wal-Mart and pick up some tea candles so that we could get some decent pictures with our newly-made pumpkins. I did, however, have a nice stash of birthday candles from different celebrations.

Since they were party hats, we decided it was a celebration of autumn and all the glorious things that come with it!


Thursday, October 18, 2012


This evening I went back to Wildcat Kingdom to go see some of my former students' choral performance. They did a most excellent job and they were so excited to see me (and I, them!!!). I tell ya, there's something about a mom coming up to you and saying, "You're still her favorite teacher."

I got in my car and was headed back to my Cute Little House and this feeling of inadequacy overwhelmed me. I can't even tell you all of the adjectives that I was having to process. All I know for sure is that my heart hurt, deeply and truly.

I have recently discovered the USB plug in my fancy-shmancy car and have enjoyed listening to my iPhone's playlist while driving down the road. I find it to be no coincidence that Big Daddy Weave's song "Redeemed" came blasting through my speakers as the first tear rolled down my face. Folks, do yourself a favor and click on that link and just listen to these words.

Seems like all I can see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then you look at this prisoner and say to me
"Son, stop fighting a fight that's already been won."

I am redeemed, you set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Cause I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed...I'm redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear you whisper, "Child lift up your head"
I remember oh God, You're not done with me yet

I am redeemed, you set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Cause I'm not who I used to be

Because I don't have to be the old man inside of me
'Cause his day is long dead and gone because
I've got a new name, a new life, I'm not the same
And a hope that will carry me home

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
And wipe away every stain
Cause I'm not who I used to be

'Cause I am redeemd
Thank God, I'm redeemed

I have a "Dear God" board. When something gets too much, I just write it down, stick it on the board, and talk to Jesus about it. There was another ride home similar to the one that I had tonight where those words were taking up too much space in my head. I pulled off to the side of the road and found a napkin and started writing these words down so that I could get them out of my brain.

unhappy -- unworthy -- forgotten -- lonely -- unliked -- scarred -- calloused -- empty
insignificant -- insufficient -- ugly -- unlovable -- screw up -- failure -- aimless
mistake -- worthless -- bankrupt -- misunderstood

These words kept coming back to me on the way home tonight. They ran through my head like the Olympics had started over and Usain Bolt was looking for another win. They weighed on my heart and nothing I could do would shake them. I reminded myself of all of the good that had come out of the past eighteen months. I reminded myself of all of the ways that I have grown from the hurt that has happened. I reminded myself that I have done everything I could to forgive people that have wronged me and how I was turning this whole career situation into a positive. I recalled the looks on my kids' faces tonight when I saw them and tried to tell myself that they didn't hate me for making the selfish choice to take a year off; they still loved me and they were still just as beautiful and vibrant without me.

None of this worked.

unworthy -- unloved -- insignificant -- forgotten -- replacable
failure -- insufficient -- aimless -- worthless

And then "Redeemed" came on.

Then I remember, oh, God, You're not done with me yet.

You look at this prisoner and say to me, "Daughter, stop fighting this war, it's already been won."

Those children you left behind? They're still mine, and they still love you, and they know that you still love them.
Those people that hurt you? They're human, but I created them and I love them and therefore you must too.
That pain they caused you? Beloved, please remember I know pain. This is not too great for you -- this too shall pass.
That unshakable feeling of loneliness that you feel as you lay in bed at night and cry? I'm right there. Allow me to hold you. Remind yourself that I'm right there.

Zechariah 9:12 "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you."

Isaiah 52:2 " yourself from these chains, Daughter of Zion!"

The only chains you are captive to, my Daughter, are the ones that you put on yourself. I took all the burdens on for you. You simply keep taking them back.

Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him..."

Let it be, Child. Let it be. You have been redeemed. I've set you free.

Job 19:25 "And I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand on the ends of this earth."

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Ms. Sandy..."

"How many kids do you want?"
"I don't know. I kind of need a husband before I have kids. But I think I want a lot."
"I hope you have a lot of kids. You need a lot of kids. Imma see you at the Food Lion one day with all of your chillins' and I'm gonna get to meet them. Do you know what I'm gonna tell them, Ms. Sandy? I'm gonna say, 'You've got yourself a good mama there. She was my mama first. I was one of her school babies before you were her baby.'"


"Sandy! You gotta come to the football game on Friday. I'll be starting and you'll hear my name over the loud speaker a lot. Whenever you hear it, I'll then hear you on the field, yelling for me!"
"What will I be yelling?"
"That's MY CHILD! That's my boy! MY BOY made that play! Oh yeah, LOOK AT MY CHILD RUNNIN' SO FAST! ... I'm gonna do so good on Friday and you'll be so proud of me!"
"I'm already proud of you, baby."
"I know you are Ms. Sandy. You the only one."


"Guess what. I'm taking AP English IV!"
"You're doing WHAT? Why are you doing that?"
"Well, Ms. San-San...I figured if I could pass your class, I could do anything."


"All right, children. Let's quiet down. Let me take roll."
*children continue to talk*
"I'm not yelling. I'm not going to yell to get your attention. Children, you know better than this."
One of my children: "MS. SANDY SAID BE QUIET. You either listen to Momma or you deal with me."
*dead silence in classroom*
"Go ahead, Ms. Sandy. I'm ready to learn today."


I'm up at the white board, writing instructions for the day.
Student #1: "Ms. Sandy, I have a question!"
I turn around, "Yes?"
Student #1 "...I forgot."
I turned back to the board, continue writing.
Student #2: "San-San!"
I turn around, "Yes, honey?"
Student #2: "Never mind."
Student #1: "Sanna-sin..."
"What's up, darlin'?"
Student #1: "I forgot again."
I turn back around to the board to finish writing instructions and I hear, "I told you she flips her hair around. It hurts if it catches you in the face."


I walk past two students in the hallway.
#1: "Hey, Sandy!"
"Hey, baby!"
#2: "Hi!"
"Hey, darlin."
#1: "I told you she won't call you 'baby' ... you're not her real baby. She only says that to her kids and you never had her full-time."


While I was subbing one day, I decided to go read through my cousin Hannah's blog so that I could re-live the cuteness that is Baby Eden. In one of her posts I found this little questionnaire that she tagged me in to do, so I decided (eighteen months later) to do it!

1. If you have pets, do you see them as merely animals or are they members of your family? I no longer have any pets. I have had three dogs in my lifetime (Lady, Ginger, and Milley) for a total of about sixteen years. Milley lived with me in Raleigh for almost two years before we had to put her down back in July. When she was living with me, she was my baby. Lady and Ginger were just pets, but being Milley's sole provider put a whole new idea of having a pet. I've also had a collection of goldfish, but they don't really count.

2. If you could have a dream come true, what would it be? Oh gosh. I have lots of dreams. Maybe I would publish a book? Lose all the weight? Get married? Meet Tim Tebow? MARRY TIM TEBOW -- I like that one. Travel endlessly at no cost to me. Adopt some orphans and live happily ever after?
Nope. I've got it. I had a dream a few weeks ago that I did marry Tim Tebow (from my subconscious to God's ears) and his wedding present to me was a plane ticket. Not for me, but for my Belarussian brother, Petr. My family participated in ABRO (American Belarus Relief Organization) for several years and had Petr come and live with us for five summers. For my wedding present, Tim flew Petr to America (I haven't seen him since July, 2007) for a month to be in my wedding and reconnect with our family. I think about that boy a lot. I would love to know how he's doing.

3. What would you do with a billion dollars? Travel. Pay off my car. Go to grad school debt-free. Build a house. Build my parents a house. Invest it so I would never have to work again. Open a school. Open orphanages and schools overseas. Adopt said orphans. Go see Petr.

4. What helps to pull you out of a bad mood? My love language is acts of service. Someone doing something good for me (especially without being asked!) is a way to bring out the sunshine for any day.

5. What is your bedtime routine? I haven't had a "routine" in years. Now it's more of a "wake up on the couch at some point in the night and move to the bed to finish the sleeping hours." Back when I did have a routine it looked like this: wash off my make-up, take a sleeping pill, let Milley outside for five minutes, the two of us head over to bed, cuddle while watching an episode of "Friends" and then fall asleep until the dreadful alarm makes his appearance into my life.

6. What activities did you do in high school? If you could go back, would you do the same stuff or something different? Oh goodness. High school. Marching band was my main thing. I also participated in the spring musicals, Student Council, Beta Club, National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society. Among others, I'm sure. I would do high school almost exactly the same. College might be another story (note: I loved my college years, but I would love to experiment to see if the grass would be greener elsewhere).

7. What kind of books do you read? Chick lit. Historical fiction. I want happiness and romance. Daisies, roses, and sunshine. I don't do creepy stuff.

8. How do you see yourself in 10 years? I'll be 33. Wow. 33. That's hard to consider. I don't know. Published? Living in a house I own? Married with kids, maybe? I don't know if I'll be teaching again. Definitely with a Master's Degree. Hopefully have traveled some more.

9. What’s your fear? I have lots of them. Snakes and heights are my biggest ones. Failure. Being cheated on. Dying young.

10. Would you give up all junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to see outer space? Nope. I really don't care that much about outer space. I would totally give up junk food for a decent trade-off, but outer space isn't it.

11. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Pee. Isn't that everyone's answer? Or maybe it's "hit the snooze button."

12. If you could change one thing about your significant other, what would it be? I don't have a significant other. Next question.

13. If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be? I used to be obsessed with the name Elizabeth. I'm pretty content with my name, though. It's recognizable, but spelled atypically.

14. If you had to choose between six months of sun or six months of rain, what would you choose?
Well, I hate rain, so I guess I default to sun. Can we have the sunshine like in the Bahamas? No humidity, a slight breeze? A high of 75 every day? Yes, I choose that.

15. If you could only eat one thing for the next 6 months, what would it be? Oh goodness. Either Asian food or Mexican food. I could live off of queso. And sesame chicken. But that means I couldn't eat pasta. That's probably the hardest question I've ever been asked.

16. What is the thing you enjoy about blogging the most? Events. I like documenting the people that are most important to me. The main problem is is that I hate using my laptop. It's slow and it's bulky. If I had the money laying around for an adapter to get pictures from my camera to my iPad I would be more likely to document it. As it is, any pictures on my camera are super unlikely to ever make it to the blog.
17. Do you prefer salty or sweet foods? SWEET! I hate salt. I dated a guy once that would load up everything I cooked him with salt and pepper. During one really hormonal (on my end) meal, I barked at him asking why my food wasn't good enough. I let him know that I never had to cook for him again if he didn't like what I fixed. Completely caught off-guard (and probably completely terrified), he said that he loved my cooking. I then waved the salt shaker in his face and asked why he felt it necessary to use so much of this. He proceeded to laugh until he cried. Apparently, he loved salt. He claimed he would "put salt in his toothpaste if it were allowed." He knew I hated it and while my food had good flavor, he also knew it wasn't proper etiquette to simply spoon salt from the shaker at the dinner table. Food was just a gateway.
18. What items are in your purse right now?  I currently do not use a purse. I will just grab my card, ID, or some cash whenever I need something. My car is kind of my purse. Anything I could possibly need I'm sure I could find in there.
19. One week, anywhere in the world, all expenses paid – where do you go? Wow. Anywhere? Beirut would definitely make the list -- but I would want to take someone I love with me to show them the incredible place that stole my heart. I've always wanted to see Spain. Or go to an orphange in Uganda. Or Australia, but I would totally need a first class plane ticket to survive that flight.

20. What do you watch on television that you know you shouldn’t?
That I "shouldn't"? Well, I watch "Sister Wives" and I definitely do not condone that lifestyle, but I am fascinated by it. I also used to watch "The Girls Next Door" -- it was a show about Hugh Hefner's (the Playboy founder) girlfriends that lived in the mansion. No, there was nothing illicit shown (and anythingconceived that way was tastefully bleeped out). Again, I was completely fascinated by it. It would never be a lifestyle that I would have and to see people living was like a social experiment.