Wednesday, October 15, 2014

SNAP Challenge - Day Three

Last day of the SNAP Challenge and I went into today just hoping to not skip meals and not try to substitute snacks for meals. It has been much, much harder than I expected to be able to eat a complete diet on such a low food budget for the day. It really would be a heck of a lot easier to just microwave some EasyMac and call it a day, but I'm pretty sure that stuff gives you Ebola.

Too soon for Ebola jokes?  Noted.

Ahem.

So.....here's how things went on the last day of the challenge! (Please don't write me nasty comments for my poor taste in humor. I'm well aware that I'm not all that funny and sometimes horribly inappropriate.)


Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs, Avocado, English Muffin: $0.75
  • 2 scrambled eggs: 0.25
  • 1/2 avocado: 0.25
  • spoonful of salsa: 0.05
  • Whole wheat English muffin: 0.20 


This breakfast was delicious. I chopped up the other 1/2 of the avocado from Day 2 and paired it with a low-cal wheat English muffin.  Of course, I had to eat it cold because Day 3 happened to fall on a school morning when I was trying to get all three kids' lunches packed, pants on, shoes tied, backpacks stuffed, breakfasts eaten, syrup scrubbed off faces, and coats zipped. I'm not sure if I actually remember tasting any of my breakfast, but at least I remembered to take a photo of it! 

Lunch: Honey Crisp Apple with peanut butter: 0.80

  • Apple: 0.50
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 0.30


Not a huge lunch, I realize. But I got in some protein, so I'm going to call it good!

Dinner: Turkey Leftovers Sandwich: $1.25

  • Deli Turkey: 0.40
  • 1/2 roasted red bell pepper: 0.25
  • 1/2 avocado: 0.25
  • Baby Spinach: 0.15
  • 2 sliced wheat bread: 0.20


I used the leftover roasted red bell pepper from last night's chicken sandwich and the rest of the avocado from breakfast to make a really delicious grilled sandwich for dinner. I used the lean turkey I bought on my little grocery shopping trip along with the fresh baby spinach and used the mashed avocado as the glue to hold it all together. I grilled it in a skillet on the stove-top and I was really pleased with the result. 

Snacks and Beverages: $0.30

Since I came in a full $1 under budget after my meals, I splurged a bit and helped myself to a can of Diet Pepsi and a little air popped popcorn with sea salt for a snack. That added about another $0.30 to my total because the last time we bought soda we scored a sweet deal at Target of four 12-packs for $9.  

Total for Day 3: $3.10

Thus ends the SNAP Challenge. What have we learned? More than anything, I found out the hard way that it was practically impossible to eat full MEALS and stay under budget. I really had to stick to small plates, sandwiches, and snacks in order to pull it off. It was especially hard to incorporate filling proteins like chicken breast and I didn't even attempt to use fish - way too expensive!

I can't even imagine how tough it would have been to try to do this for my entire family.

Big thank you to Abby for encouraging me to give this a try and to blog about the process. It was definitely eye-opening and even a little bit of fun. Not gonna lie though, I was really excited to splurge on coffee and ice cream the following day!
 


Monday, October 13, 2014

SNAP Challenge - Day Two

Even after a budget victory on Day One, this day had me nervous. I was shocked at how close I had cut it even with the little bit of food I ate, so I knew this day would probably be a bit harder. Also, I didn't want to just default to the same things I had made on the first day, so I had to get a little creative.

 Breakfast - Oatmeal w/ Apples: $0.51

  • 1/2 cup Quaker Oatmeal quick-cooking oats: $0.30
  • 1/4 diced Macintosh Apple: $0.05
  • A few dried cranberries: $0.10
  • sprinkle of Pumpkin Pie spice: maybe $0.01 if I'm generous
  • splash of milk: $.05

My friend Abby, the coordinator of this little experiment, recommended to me that I incorporate oatmeal into my diet for the challenge because it's filling, healthy, and CHEAP. This breakfast was on the money. And seasonal too! To jazz up the typical oatmeal, I added apples, pumpkin pie spice, and cranberries. Extra fruit and flavor without ruining it. It was excellent. I have a feeling I will be repeating this meal a lot over the fall.

Lunch: Ummmm.....nothing.

I blew it. I totally meant to pack a lunch to bring to work this day, but then the morning got nuts and it completely skipped my mind. By the time noon rolled around, I just stayed at my desk and just carried on.


Dinner: Chicken Sandwich w/ Red Bell Pepper and Avocado & Broccoli: $2.18
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast: 0.95
  • Roasted red bell pepper: 0.34
  • Avocado: 0.25
  • Healthy Life whole wheat bun: 0.39
  • Broccoli: 0.25

I found a great deal on these frozen chicken breasts a while back and I seasoned it with a little salt & pepper and cooked it up on the stove stop and finished it off in the oven while I roasted up a red bell pepper and steamed the broccoli. I peeled the skin off the bell pepper and cut it in half, saving one half for another day. Half an avocado made this sandwich DELICIOUS! I was really happy with how this meal turned out and it was surprisingly affordable.

Total: $2.69

In all fairness, I skipped lunch so it made it a little easier to stay under budget. I think I did a better job of eating more balanced meals on this day though. My breakfast was packed with fiber and fruit and my dinner had lean proteins and a lot of vegetables. I saved the other half of the avocado and the roasted red bell pepper to reuse tomorrow at lunch so we'll see what I can come up with.

I'm getting a much better idea of how much I actually spend on food on a regular day during this challenge. It's been really hard to stay under $4! When I eat "normally," I'm guessing that I would spend somewhere around $7 or maybe even more, especially if I didn't eat out at all.

One day to go! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

SNAP Challenge - Day One

Let's review the rules of this little game. The whole goal is to get people to recognize how hard it is to a nutritious, balanced diet on the limited budge provided by the foodshare benefits of my county.  You can find more information about the SNAP Challenge here, but let's talk about how I did on my first day. I'm listing my meals and my best attempt at figuring out the cost of each.

Breakfast: Green Smoothie - $2.00

  • Spinach - .20
  • Banana - .20
  • Greek Yogurt - .75
  • Honey - .75
  • Milk - .10

Ignore the random Pumpkin Pie Spice in the photo. I had it out on the counter for something else and then I just absentmindedly left it there when I assembled this photo. If you'd like proof that I hadn't had any coffee yet, there ya go. I'll admit that I didn't really measure these ingredients so this really is a guestimate. I tossed in a small handful of spinach from the groceries I bought the other day plus a whole banana. I have a tub of Vanilla fat free Greek yogurt in my fridge so I threw in a large spoonful of that, squeezed in about a tablespoon or so of honey and a splash of milk before finishing with a few ice cubes and blending. It made more than enough for a satisfying breakfast and I felt pretty good about the protein, potassium and other vitamins present. For $2, I thought it was a pretty good start.

Until I remembered that I only had a TOTAL of $3.89 to spend for the ENTIRE DAY.

Darn.

Lunch:  Chili - $0.80


My husband made a ginormous batch of chili the other day that made for a perfect re-heat. He used a pound a half of lean ground beef, black beans, red kidney beans, tomato juice, spices, and a few noodles just for fun. To be honest, it was practically impossible to figure out how much this would cost so he helped me come up with a decent attempt. The beef is about $4 per pound, so that means the meat was $6. The beans are each about .50 per can so that adds up to $2. Tomato juice? Approximately $2. Pasta? Maybe .50. All together, he estimated that the total batch of chili probably ran about $16 and yields at least 20 Sarah-sized servings. Since my man got himself a math minor at college, that was good enough for me. 

Dinner:Yogurt and Granola - $0.90


So, that left me with $1.89 to spend on dinner. Not great. Thankfully, I ate a late lunch so that chili was still satisfying me pretty well when dinner time rolled around so I really didn't need very much at all. I had a container of raspberry Greek yogurt with a little sprinkle of granola on top and that's it. My favorite 4-packs of this yogurt run about $3.19, so that come out to $0.79. Add in the granola, and my mini-meal only cost me about $0.90.  

Snacks & Beverages: Zero!

I didn't count the coffee I had in the morning because it's the coffee from the staff area of my office that is provided for us, so I hope that wasn't breaking the rules. Other than that, I just had water.

Day One total - $3.70

I stayed under budget on my first day, but I will confess that at about 10 o'clock at night when we were sitting there watching TV, my tummy started to growl at me a bit. Apparently my yogurt cup was a poor excuse for a meal and my belly was letting me hear about it. Honestly, I have no idea how I would have actually made myself a legitimate meal and still stayed under budget because even with the meager food I ate, I still barely made it. Day Two could be a real challenge indeed.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Weight Loss Battle - The Dreaded Rebound

When we first moved here, I was kind of crazy. Don't get me wrong, I'm still quite crazy, but I find that I'm crazy in a completely different way. Don't you just love it when bloggers start posts that make absolutely no sense?

In 2012, I lost 75 pounds. I started in January and by September I was weighing in at the lowest weight I had been since my first year of high school. For the first time in a long time, I felt confident in my own skin and comfortable wearing fun clothes. I actually felt pretty.

At my lowest weight

I also obsessed over every bit of food I ate and felt like I had to run an extra two miles or spend another hour at the gym if I ate a single cookie. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for healthy eating and exercise but looking back on it now I think I was a little too concerned with the number on the scale and not nearly interested enough in learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long haul.

Right after I reached my goal weight, we moved to a new city and I found it was difficult to keep up the old routines that had worked so well for my weight loss.  I used to go for a run after putting the boys to bed because I lived in a village of 700 people. I rarely even saw a car go by, let along run into someone else. Now I live in a city of 70,000 and I'm afraid to run at night because I don't want to get hit by a car or encounter some sort of crazy person who bashes me over the head with a rock and throws my body in the river. Back then, I only worked two nights a week. Now I work two jobs that add up to about 55+ hours each week. By the time I finally get home at night, I'm too exhausted to even lace up running shoes, let alone work out. And the mornings? Forget about it. I've tried. It's already an uphill battle trying to get me out of bed in enough time to get everyone ready for school and work and I find it impossible to wake up earlier.

It sounds like such a cop-out to give the old excuse of "I'm too busy" to exercise, but that is where I find myself. In addition, I've lost my grip on the diet that was so effective and returned to my old ways.

Where has this left me? Without pants that fit and a bad attitude, that's where. I've only rebounded by about 10 pounds, but that still makes me mad. On top of it, I've lost all the muscle tone I developed when I was doing Crossfit workouts like a boss.

Where I'm at now - about 10 pounds over my ideal weight

I'm sick of it and I want to do something about it, but I feel stuck. Maybe I need to go back in the blog archives and read my own advice. Maybe I need to just suck it up and get up early or stay up late, but I'm already so tired that I don't want to risk getting even less sleep.

Just remembered that I need to be on the lookout for coupons to get cheap Halloween candy for trick-or-treating. See? I have problems.

I know people doing this clean eating thing, the Shakeology thing, the Beachbody coach thing, the PX90 thing, the Insanity thing, all the things. I've seen all the things. Heck, I did one of The Things. Maybe I just need to jump back on the WW train and get back after it. If it worked once, it would likely work again. As for figuring out how to get my butt back in gear and exercising? Now that's a struggle I really have no idea how to remedy. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

SNAP Challenge Shopping

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I wasn't able to get to the grocery store when I would have liked to this week. This led to my children eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner about three nights in a row and to me received a text from my friend Abby asking me if I had dropped off the planet or if I was still doing this whole SNAP challenge thing.

It would drive me crazy to deal with people like me sometimes.

But I finally made it to the grocery store and I was ready to so my shopping specifically for this challenge. The whole challenge is to try to keep the cost of your food to under $3.89 daily. I figured that I would just multiply that by three and that would be my budget at the grocery store.

Armed with my $11.67 budget, I grabbed my cart and got to work.


Basically I tried to choose items that I knew I would eat, that were at least somewhat nutritious, that I could stretch out to last a couple days, that were cheap. As I shopped, I snapped photos of each item I was buying so I could keep track of my total.





Of course, I forgot a very important detail. I'm terrible at math.


So much for staying under budget! I bought everything anyway because I realized I likely wouldn't be eating ALL of this food in three days and that I would also be using some resources that I already had on hand in my kitchen. Hopefully I didn't lose points right out of the gate.

It wasn't until I got home and started unloading things that I realized that I hadn't really planned for actual MEALS. Looking at the small collection of items on the counter, I started to worry that I was going to be really hungry and that I'd missed the point of all this entirely.

Thankfully, my husband was making a huge batch of chili which is very cost-effective and could easily be used in this challenge. Score.

Plan for Day One:
Breakfast - maybe scrambled eggs with avocado? Oatmeal?
Lunch - reheated chili
Dinner - pasta? Something involving the chicken thighs I got for super-cheap last week?

There's going to be so much more math involved in this thing than I realized. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SNAP Challenge

When a good friend calls on you for a favor, you do your best to come through for her. When you realize that the favor you have agreed to means you will be missing out on your morning Starbucks for three days, you take a moment to really reconsider how much you really liked her to begin with. Once you come to terms with the fact that Starbucks really isn't that necessary to life, at least not for three days, we move on and get to work.

Abby challenged me to try the Waukesha County SNAP Challenge, a way to recognize and draw attention to how difficult it is to provide nutritious, balanced meals on the tight budget allowed by FoodShare Wisconsin program. FoodShare Wisconsin helps low-income families and individuals to buy nutritious food.

I've done an awkward little video in the way of introduction so you know what to expect on the blog. If nothing else, I'm going on a little mini-diet for a couple days!




So if you have any bright ideas about how I can stretch my dollar and still eat right for this challenge, I am all ears!


Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy Monday

We blew off our super-strict bedtime routine last night in favor of  big bowls of popcorn and How to Train Your Dragon.

The Packers won, but I suffered my first fantasy football lost of the season. I went from such elation to terrible dejection.


Big project of the week - interviewing and hiring a new nanny. Our current caregiver, who we love, is leaving us to care for a sick relative and we are bummed. Finding out this process is much harder when the first person you interview isn't a curly-haired soul-sister who also works at Starbucks and can bring you weekly whole bean coffee.

Watched way too many episodes of New Girl on Netflix last night. That show makes me laugh so hard that I end up with tears running down my cheeks and I start worrying about incontinence issues.

Stayed up too late as a result because Evan and I can't stop saying the phrase "one more episode."

Played a prank on my new boss for his birthday that involved four full stacks of pink Post-It notes covering his desk, cupboards, and office chair. Isaiah was my accomplice and can now explain the difference between a "good prank" and a "mean prank." Yes, I work at a church. Why do you ask?


I have no idea where September went.

The fact that Photo Stream still isn't working between my iPhone and my laptop, even after the IOS8 update, has me seething. The level of frustration I feel about this is quite irrational. Honestly, I nearly got physically violent late last evening as I was trying to pull a couple photos off my phone for a blog post and it wouldn't work.

Scrolling through my Facebook news feed the other day led to my discovery of an unfortunate spoiler about the TV show Bones. Immediately my swiping finger was going crazy trying to scroll down through the screen to try to avert my eyes from the news, but it was too late. I know someone on the show is no longer with us but, hear me now, I DO NOT KNOW WHO IT IS. For the love, do not make it worse by telling me who they killed. I'm only about 4 seasons behind, so a few weeks of binge watching on Netflix and I should be good to go.

Getting ready to get my next tattoo soon. My mother-in-law is going to be thrilled. I really should make sure to get video of her reaction when she sees it for the first time. I predict it to be something similar to the face I made when I realized that the combination of Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham put the nail in my Fantasy Football coffin this weekend. Love you, Mom.

If you need me, I'll be slamming my coffee and scouring the waiver lists for a defense that can replace Carolina because I am so firing them after they lost me 8 points this weekend.

Evan warned me that if I started playing fantasy football that I would REALLY get into it. I blame him for this.

Happy Monday.





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stitch Fix Review - A Huge Recap

  

Ha! You thought I was done with these goofy Stitch Fix posts, didn't you?  Nah, I've just been too lazy busy to sort through all the photos and edit them and then write about them and you know, ALL THE THINGS. It's a lot, yo!

But as the summer is officially transitioning to fall, I figure it's a good time to share a few of the highlights (and lowlights!) of the items I tried on from my Stitch Fix boxes over the summer.

That's right, friends!  It's time once again for me to share the goodies that came in my lovely box from Stitch Fix boxes and show you the incredibly awkward photos I take in my dirty bedroom mirror.  Glamorous, right?  But it's awesome because I'm still not having to try on these clothes in a cramped dressing room, but in the comfort of my own messy home.

(P.S.  If you're reading this and wondering what the heck this whole Stitch Fix thing is that I'm talking about, I invite you to check out my previous reviews for the more detailed run-down.)

Super Quick Recap of Stitch Fix:
  • Sign up and get on the Waiting List (this usually moves pretty quickly)

  • Fill out your detailed Style Profile

  • Schedule your first "Fix" and work yourself up into a frenzy as your personal stylist chooses some great clothes for you to try on

  • Pay your $20 styling fee and wait for the goodies to arrive on your doorstep

  • Receive a box full of items hand-picked by a personal stylist, just for you, based on your profile

  • Try everything on, keep what you want, send back what you don't. (The $20 styling fee comes off the price of anything you choose to keep and if you buy all 5 items, you get a 25% discount!)
Word of Warning: Yeah, so I've let myself get pretty far behind on these so there is a LOT coming at ya today! Buckle up, Buttercup.

P.S. If you see anything pictured here that you would like your stylist to try out on you, PIN IT to a Pinterest board that you share with your stylist. They will be able to identify the item. Me, I'm a basket-case, so I've totally thrown out all the adorable cards that tell me what each of these things are called. 

First up.....Dresses!


I wish you could feel how comfortable this dress is. It makes me stand up straighter and walk with a little more class than I usually do. You know, because I usually shuffle about with a pretty strong air of trashiness. But seriously, I love the blue of this dress, the cut of the skirt, the sleeves, everything. I added a little belt to define the waist a bit more, but that's it.


I asked my stylist to send me a pretty dress I could wear out to a fancy dinner in Savannah for our 10th anniversary. I didn't want something so glamorous that I would feel over-dressed, but I still wanted to look polished and pretty for the special occasion. Oh my word, did she deliver exactly what I asked for. The seafoam color of this dress was so lovely and the fit was right on.

Oh, and check out the detail on the neckline:


I felt like a princess of a very, very small country in this dress. It was just right for the occasion.

My hubby and I outside The Olde Pink House in Savannah, GA


 

Next up....Things that Sucked! 

It probably goes without saying that these are just a few of the items I tried on that did not make the cut and were sent packing. I have had a fantastic experience with Stitch Fix and I've received more than a dozen boxes now. In my personal experience, the duds are definitely more the exception than the norm.


I love a good slouchy sweatshirt as much as the next person, but this was just all wrong in all the places. The goofy cowl neck, sleeves that were too short, the frumpy box shape it created. Nope.


In retrospect, I really should have never purchased khaki shorts. I'm so flipping pale that it looks like I am naked from the waist down. I concede my mistake and I swear to never wear those shorts again. Now, on to the top. My stylist sent this button down navy top that I like when I saw it in the box because it actually had some really nice eyelet details below the collar, but it was WAYYYY too small around the chest when I put it on. My boy and I decided to do some "muscle pictures" with it and I was afraid it was going to split up the back like Bruce Banner getting angry.

 
Let's talk about this skirt. It's cute, right? Kind of? I really was on the fence about this skirt because I liked the pink color, but I thought the length was pretty awkward. What sent me over the edge was when I looked at the price list and found that this skirt was priced at more than $60! You gotta be kidding me.  Back she went!

Annnnnd now....Things I Really Wanted to Keep but Couldn't! 

Sorry, there really wasn't a super-catchy way for me to title this section.


I have a really hard time with pants. Jeans especially. I fell in love with my beloved Hudson jeans and when tragedy struck and I ripped gaping holes in the knees of both pairs, I set my stylist on a quest for their replacements. So far, we are still looking.  The jeans above fit great in the waist and actually made my but look decent, but there was something weird about the cut of the legs and how they looked with my boots. Maybe I'm just crazy, but I just couldn't get over it, so I sent them back. 


The two pairs of jeans you see here were both great, really great. The grey/green ones on the left were so so soft and comfortable and I loved the cut. Unfortunately the handful of pounds I have gained since my food binge anniversary trip were not kind to me and they were too tight for public viewing. I have spared you the photo. You're welcome.

As for the pair on the right, they fit perfectly, the color was great, length was exactly what I needed and they did good things for my booty. But....they had NO ZIPPER.  You just pulled them on and off. I couldn't handle it. They freaked me out. Jeans that don't have a zipper are like bras with no straps - you just can't trust 'em. I sent them back.


These earrings were sent in the same box as the pretty anniversary dress and I totally LOVED them. They are exactly the kind of earrings I would buy in a store and they looked so nice with the dress.


But I just couldn't see blowing nearly $40 on these earrings when I knew I could get something very similar that I would like just as much for $16 at Francesca's. With a heavy heart, I put them back.

 
I am still in mourning over the loss of this navy blazer. Can we just take a moment of silence to really appreciate how perfect, stylish, and cute it is? I audibly gasped when I pulled this out of the box that day and my heart rate rose a bit as I pulled it on. Curse you bosoms!!! Curse you!!!! The girls simply would not allow it. The arms/shoulders were just too snug to be comfortable and that button was NOT happening. Oh how it hurt me to send this back.

And finally....more KEEPERS!

Let's finish strong and share some of the cute things I did decide to keep over the last few Stitch Fix boxes.


Ignore the previously discussed semi-weird jeans. Also ignore the very dirty mirror smeared by toddler hands. Do notice the good hair day. And definitely notice the happy teal top that is now happily hanging in my closet.


Teal bermuda shorts. I never thought I would wear teal bermuda shorts. But when I wore them with my trusty LOFT striped tank and a pair of cheap flip-flops, I was really quite pleased. It was the answer to my anti-shorts hangup that I've harbored for years! I wore these a lot when we were in Savannah.


It still makes me sad to see the hole in my Hudson crops, but at least that new coral top makes me happy! I love the length because I feel like I have full-coverage of the areas that might like to sneak up and pop out if I'm not paying close enough attention. Love the color and the fit that is flattering, but not tight. Winner winner chicken dinner!


This polka dot skirt closely resembles another skirt I already have in my closet that I actually wore with that exact yellow top the last time we took family photos, but it was just so freaking CUTE that I couldn't bear to part with it. It just felt so June Cleaver. Had to have it.


My most recent Fix brought me this fantastic teal top with a bunch of pink birds on it. I love the fit, the color, the sleeve, the collar detail, everything. I don't love that my spastic self spilled coffee on my jeans right before I took this photo.  Oh and HEY! See those distressed boyfriend jeans? Yup, those are from Stitch Fix too.  They quickly became a favorite of mine in the waning summer months!


Last but not least is this slouchy orange top that I am in love with for fall. I wore it to work this week with my favorite boots and skinny jeans. It looks very much like this outfit that I pinned on my Pinterest Stitch Fix board.  I apologize for the messy room, but really you should be used to that by now. Also, can we please discuss how long my hair is getting? Should I stick it out and try to get a little more length going or is it time to give it the old chop-a-roony? I welcome your thoughts.

How are you doing? Are you still with me? Are you sick of looking at selfies of me yet? Good, me too.  Let's talk about getting you hooked up with a personal stylist of your own, shall we? 

**STITCH FIX TIP!!**
Don't be afraid to be critical of the items you get in your box. You're not going to hurt your stylist's feelings if you are up front about why and how something didn't work for you. Be honest and specific and your stylist will get to know you and your style much better!



I have really enjoyed using this styling service as a way to mix things up in the wardrobe department.  It's so fun to see what my stylist has chosen!  My favorite part is that it is NOT a subscription service where you are charged every month.  You can get one Fix and be done or not get another one for several months if you choose.  Or....you can choose to get a box of goodies every month.  It's your call!  CLICK HERE to get started for free!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting this blog (and for helping keep my clothing budget under control)! 

Linking up once again over at The Pleated Poppy for some amazing fashion inspiration!







Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When in Rome...errr...China

For the record, I have this dude's permission to blog about this and share the photo. Just wanted to make sure that was out there right away before I start getting the nasty emails.

My husband is on a business trip in Tonglu, China. Now, usually when I blog about Evan being away in China it's some sort of sob story about how stressed I am, how the kids are being nuts, how the house is a disaster, how I'm running out of patience, how the lawn looks terrible, how I wrecked the car through epic stupidity with a snowblower, how I'm hemorrhaging money thanks to extra childcare, and how I am really REALLY looking forward to him being home.

All those things are still true. Except the snowblower thing. I learned from that mistake, by golly. I'm never touching that cursed thing ever again.

Anyway, this is not that kind of post. Instead of this here website always being about me, I thought it might be nice to give you a little glimpse into the toil and struggle Evan is going through as he endures this trip.

The other day, Evan and his colleagues saw a guy on a scooter in the street and my American husband thought it would be a great idea to snap a photo of him so he could point and laugh at this guy for the next few days. Apparently a little levity was needed at the time because the other guys he is traveling with thought it was pretty gosh darn funny too.

In between serious business like audits and vendor visits, foundry inspections, and other such things that I'm not entirely certain actually take place in real life, the boys went SHOPPING.

Meet Steven. He's the guy on the right.

I mean....wow.

Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the fact that those crazy capri pants, white shoes and crop top were all available for purchase? And furthermore, can we all please give a shout out to Steven for having the chutzpah to rock that crop top for THE ENTIRE DAY??! And, I'm sorry, is that shirt BEDAZZLED?

Bravo, Steven. Bravo.

I think this just goes to show that when you take men away from their families for weeks at a time, they do crazy things like eat sea cucumbers and buy crop tops.  Can't make this stuff up, friends.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Beyond the Pulpit - The Insider Scoop on Working on a Church Staff

This is an expose, friends.

Just do me a favor and pretend one of those fancy accent thingys is on top on the second "e" in that word because I really need it to read "expose-ay," but I don't know how to type it. Right now it just says expose. Which isn't grammatically correct. Also, it doesn't make any sense.

Let's try it this way. I've got the DIRT, the goods, the secrets, the insider scoop on what is really happening outside that hour on Sunday morning that the people fill the pews and then go on their merry way. Now, I don't want to scare anyone, but let me just say right out of the gate that there are SHOCKING things taking place. Things I never knew about. Things that have sent me back to my office only to shake my fist at the heavens and demand, "Why God? Why didn't you warn me it would be like this??!!"

Prepare thyself.

Ministry is Fattening

Y'all. There are treats EVERYWHERE. My very first day on the job, the regular staff meeting was moved outside so we could check out the enormous blue x-ray truck that a staffer had turned into a mobile video ministry machine and there was a table covered in food. A couple days later, my new co-workers took me out for a welcome lunch and I ate a bowl of quinoa the size of a hubcap. We welcomed a new pastor to the staff - PICNIC! The lovely ladies who work in the office next door to me decided to throw a "block party" to welcome me and the Building Services guys to our wing of the building. I'll give you two guesses what was set up right outside our door.


As I stuffed my face with warm peach crisp, cream cheese danish, and lemon bars, I fake-lamented to my office-mates about the dangerous work environment. They laughed at me. Laughed. Shaking their heads, they smiled and said, "Didn't anyone warn you about the Ministry 15?" Popping another donut hole in my mouth, I shook a powdered sugar coated fist toward the sky and asked, "Seriously God? I thought you were supposed to lead me AWAY from temptation??!!"

Then I went to a meeting - CANDY!


It's Friday - MUFFINS the size of your head!

Way to go on that amazing staff meeting today. Know what errbody? PIG ROAST!!!

No joke.  I give it a month and I'll be petitioning to wear my yoga pants to work because nothing else will fit.

Crazy things are happening.

During the Sunday morning services last weekend I scrubbed mud out of a giant bounce house alongside a pregnant woman wearing white pants.

Once again, the muddy veteran next to me just laughed and exclaimed, "Welcome to ministry, Sarah!"

Don't Even Breathe Without Filing a Spending Request

Spending requests are this carbon-copy, white copy here, pink copy there, yellow copy gets filed, get the account number and product code right, don't forget we're tax exempt, better to submit them with chocolate attached necessity that I'm convinced will give me nightmares at some point. I work myself up into a tizzy every time I have to fill one of these out because I am convinced I'm messing it up. I mean, what happens if we need the hula hoops, pool noodles, a Frisbee golf goal, bubble wrap, pipe cleaners, and giant jugs of cheese puffs RIGHT NOW and I haven't filled out that blasted spending request? Now I'm scrambling, chasing around the finance department, throwing chocolate at anyone who can't outrun me, waving the hastily scrawled pages like a maniac, knowing that the clock is ticking before I need to peel out of here and race through the aisles of Sam's Club and ohforthelove do NOT forget to bring the tax-exempt form.

I need a nap.

A Catchy Name is Essential

When's the last time you were hanging out on your church's website and came across a new group called "Young Adults Meeting?" Never, that's when. Who would want to take time away from playing Madden '15 to attend that snooze-fest? Nobody, that's who.  But COLLIDE, now that's where it's at. Sign me up, get me the t-shirt.

A training program designed to make me a leader in my workplace? Yawn.......Hey, UNLEASHED!!! That sounds awesome! Where do I register?

The Garage, Impact, Legacy, No Regrets.

What's in a name? A whole lot, baby. That's why there is candy in the meetings - it fuels the name-creating creativity.  See, it's all making sense now.

The church staff is genuinely gifted by God and their passion for working hard for the Kingdom's cause is as real as it gets.

I'm going to go ahead and turn off my sarcasm font here for a second and say from the bottom of my heart what a blessing it is to be on this staff. I've only worked at my church for a little less than a month and already I feel welcomed, supported, valued, and encouraged. More importantly, I see God at work in BIG ways every single day. It's a rare privilege to work in an environment that is inherently selfless, team oriented, and encouraging. The people who work behind the scenes (and even those right in front of your eyes) are for real. They work out of service to Christ. Period.

It is such a blessing that I get to clip on that staff badge and be part of it.

P.S. I have chocolate in my desk. Stop by if you need a fix.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for me, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Will Never Forget

I realize there are probably a lot of people posting their "Where I Was" statuses on Facebook and elsewhere today and that this post is not unique. Feel free to gloss over it to watch another goofy cat video or a Vine of some skateboarders falling off a railing. I get it - it's kind of hilarious and we all need a little levity in our lives.

It's hard for me to get my head around the fact that it's been 13 years already. 13 years since the day when the world as I knew it turned upside down. In a way, I feel like that day jarred out of childhood and into adulthood because the world suddenly became very small and very, very scary.

Very rarely do I re-post something I have previously published, but I think the post I wrote on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is still appropriate.  So here we go:



Someday my boys will ask me if I remember September 11, 2001.  They'll ask where I was, what I felt, how I reacted.  I certainly remember doing school projects where I asked my grandparents about Pearl Harbor and my parents about the JFK assasination and the Challenger explosion.  These are all such defining moments in our nation's history and I know when I woke up that morning, I never imagined that I was about to experience one of those moments that my children would someday be interviewing me about.

I was 18 years old and had just started college, a brand new freshman at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.  I hadn't even figured out what the quickest route to walk to my classes was yet.  I woke up that Tuesday morning and went to my first class at 8:50 without any clue of what had already taken place in New York.  I didn't turn on the TV before I left my dorm.  I arrived for my French 101 class and realized I still needed to staple my assignment before I turned it in, but the classroom didn't have a stapler.  I knew there was a media room a floor below that had one (I'd done it before), so I ran down there quick before class started.

There was a large group of people gathered around a huge projection screen and another group huddled around a TV, but it was dead quiet.  I snuck a peek at what they were watching and the picture on the screen and the headline showed the Pentagon burning.  I figured the Pentagon had caught fire somehow, but didn't really think too much of it.  I returned to class.

I headed to my next class, a large lecture.  When the professor began his lecture for the day he said, "I'm sure all of you have heard by now what's going on in New York, but we're going to carry on with class for today."  I'm sitting there like an idiot thinking, "The Pentagon is in New York?"

It wasn't until I returned to my dorm room after that lecture that I turned on the TV.  By that time, both towers had fallen, the Pentagon was still smouldering, and United 93 had crashed.  I swear, I sat on that futon and stared at the screen for the next 4 hours.  I don't remember getting up to go to the bathroom, going to eat, or anything else.  I do remember our RA poking her head in and asking how I was doing, but for the life of me I cannot remember my response.  The rest of that day is a total blur.  Everyone on my floor just stayed in their rooms, watched the news, and sat in shock. 

When that day arrives and Isaiah comes home from school and asks me about my recollection of 9-11, I want to be able to tell him more than just my experience.  I want to be able to give him some sort of reason for why it happened.  I wish I could explain to him why thousands of people died that day, but nothing I can come up with seems good enough.

I can't believe it's been ten years.  My thoughts and prayers today are with those who lost loved ones on this day ten years ago.  We will never forget.

P.S.  This video gets me every time.  It was shot from the window of an NYU dorm room on that morning.  The sheer terror that comes through kicks me in the gut. (WARNING: Contains some strong language. Though, I suppose that's to be expected considering the circumstances.)




We will never forget.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Sweet Gig


Things sure can change in only a couple weeks, huh? This summer already threw a wrench in things when I went from being home with the kids during the day to running around church after other people's kids every day. And now I've transitioned again to wearing a name badge and real clothes, sitting at a desk, and attending meetings. I feel like such a grown up.

I have worn eyeliner and mascara every day for three weeks. I've actually made my bed. I spend one less night a week waiting tables. My house is a total mess.

Ok, so some things never change.

Obviously it has been a season of transition in our family. Mom going to work during the day is a big deal, even if it is just part-time. It's created an entirely new climate in our house and we are still working out the kinks that come with figuring out a new way to do life. But it's been good. Crazy. Busy. But good.

I'm so grateful.

My boys are thriving and I am just in awe of how their personalities are continuously changing and maturing. Being home just that one extra night a week has opened up so many more chances for me to snuggle and read with them, talk to them, and just spend time learning about who they are. There have already been some nights where I have had to say, "Evan, I have a deadline and I absolutely MUST hole up in my office and work tonight." And that's been ok. Because at bedtime all three of those little boogers march right on in and Mommy gets a built-in break for bedtime.

Thomas now sleeps with four different Curious George stuffed animals. And Blankee.

Micah almost always prays the same prayer every night: "Dear God, please help me be good, please help me be nice and clean, in Jesus' name Amen."

Isaiah, ever my sensitive child, will sometimes become suddenly overcome with emotion out of clear blue sky. Like tonight, when in about two seconds he went from laughing at Phineas and Ferb to crying into my shoulder because he misses his Daddy. 

I swear, I feel every day like I am screwing this all up. When Micah is in Time Out for the ten millionth time, when Isaiah is kicking at his door and screaming that I'm so mean, when Thomas is losing his ever-loving mind because it's his brother's birthday and not his.

The anger, frustration, and defeat all come to a head and suddenly I'm slamming cupboard doors and yelling. And then comes the acknowledgement, the confession, the apology, the forgiveness and the repentance. My parenting secret is that I mess up in big ways every single day. I apologize to my kids, confess it to my God, repent and try my darndest not to screw up in the same way the next day. A lot of the time, I fail.

But I'll tell you what. Even though the kid threw away the cover to his lunch container causing his uneaten raspberries and blackberries to become pulverized as they bounced around freely in his brand new lunchbox, I love him to pieces. And I tell him every day.

And I know that they love me. In spite of my constant screw-ups, they love me. Through my inadequacy, I am somehow teaching them grace. Albeit, only a hint of it, but an important introduction.

Sure, my new job comes with a name badge which makes me feel like kind of a big deal. Go ahead and try to tell me it doesn't feel a little cool when you wave your badge at the sensor thingy and the door opens. It's empowering.  (I'm also easily impressed.)

But my full-time job is a pretty sweet gig too. 








Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Simple Indulgence - Review and Giveaway for The Simple Soap

I don't know about all of you, but I am jacked up about school starting today. Sure, I only have one kid heading out today and I have to figure out how to get his two brothers to their two respective completely different schools at totally different areas of town at the exact same time I'm supposed to be at work, but ohyeahthatsright....they start on different days.

Just another dose of fun around here, friends.

But we made it. Summer is in the books and I'm shipping these boys off to school. In my book, that deserves a glass of red wine and a little extra fist bump to my fellow mamas out there who also just barely held on by their fingernails for these last couple weeks.

We deserve a little pampering at this point, don't you think?

I'm there for ya.  Now, if you've been around here for a while you know I'm not exactly the organic-obsessed granola-crunchy type, but I'm going to go ahead and admit that this little treat I've got for you today is very simple, organic, and indulgent all at the same time.

Website - www.thesimplesoap.com 

I don't do a lot of giveaways around here.  It's just not really my thing.  But when Emily from The Simple Soap contacted me about offering up three of these delicious soaps to you and I thought about the summer we've had doing ALL THE THINGS with the kids and work and playdates and pool days and sunscreen and late nights and early mornings and everything else....I decided it was a great idea. 

My vision for you is that you actually indulge in a shower of a full ten minutes someday so you can fully enjoy this soap.  :)

Here's how The Simple Soap describes their products:

The Simple Soap is made from the finest organic ingredients.  We combine natural palm, coconut and olive oils with herbs and essential oils to provide long lasting, fragrant and luxurious feeling soaps.  Our soaps are not made with perfumes and additives that tend to dry out and irritate the skin.  When our customers use The Simple Soap they can be confident that they are making a healthy choice for both their families and the environment.

Got it? Organic, natural, healthy. Oh, and it smells good.  :)

Now, here's what I think of this stuff.


When I opened up the box, I was struck by how yummy the soap smelled. Not overpowering, just indulgent. I was especially excited about this Organic Creamsicle bar. It has a light citrus scent that convinced me it was the one I wanted to try out first. 

I have super-dry skin. So dry that I often take off black dress pants and have to shake out the dead skin that coats the inside of my pant legs.  Sexy, huh? Welcome to my life. I'm very skeptical of soaps and body washes and stuff because the last thing I want to do is dry my skin out even more.

To test out this bar, I put on my exfoliating shower glove that I use about twice a year when I actually remember that I own it and lathered it up with this soap. It rinsed clean and didn't leave any filmy residue, but I was most impressed by how it didn't dry out my skin at all! My skin felt soft all day and I could still detect the subtle scent hours later. 


In addition to the Creamsicle soap, I also got bars of Organic Lemongrass and Organic Fresh Aloe.


The Lemongrass is definitely the strongest smelling of the three soaps, but in a good way.  My husband really loves lemon desserts, so I think this one will be a hit in our house. By contrast, the Aloe is very very subtle. It's very close to having no scent at all, but instead just smells.....soft. Does that even make sense? 

When is someone going to invent smell-o-blogging?

Get Me Some Soap!

The Simple Soap is offering their products via a new subscription service that sends out a box of three organic, handmade bars of soap. With over 20 amazing scents, each month's soap is sure to surprise you. A single bar of soap will usually be enough for one person for an entire month. The attractive soaps are perfect for everyday use in the shower or by the sink and also make an amazing gift idea. There is also an option for a 2-bar per month box. Go get signed up here

Giveaway!

Let's be honest...this is the best part. One lucky winner will score their own box featuring three bars of these hand-crafted organic soaps. Sweet, right?!  Enter below to win!


Disclosure - The Simple Soap provided the product for my review and for the giveaway, but all opinions are my own.





Thursday, August 28, 2014

Surrounded



I dropped the ball recently.  Not just a slight miscommunication, forgot to send the birthday card until a day too late, tossed a red shirt in with the whites kind of misstep.  No, this was a feelings hurt, tears shed, angry words spoken kind of mistake that had me hanging my head in disbelief that I could be so brainless and inconsiderate.

Ever had that moment?

It feels like a ball of lead dropping into your stomach followed by an immediate choking sensation followed by a panic attack.

My first impulse is to go into damage control mode.

I picked up the phone, admitted my mistake and apologized profusely, but it didn't take long for me to understand that the problem doesn't really lie in my error.

I've been studying the idea of greatness for a writing piece I'm working on.  The central Scripture of the piece is Matthew 22 where Jesus responds to the Pharisees and their question about which commandment is the greatest.

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  -Matthew 22:37-39

Love God.
Love people.

Seems simple enough, doesn't it?

By loving people, we demonstrate our love for God.  If we truly love God, we will love on his people. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Our family has been going through a time of transition. I have gone back to work at a day job which has brought about a whole new set of childcare challenges.  My husband is on the brink of another trip to China. All three kids are about to be in school, at three different schools, on different days and times. I started doing more work from home.

In a way, it's felt like standing in the eye of a hurricane. I can see all these things swirling around me and I'm very much entrenched in the middle of it, just trying to keep focused and centered to avoid being swept away.

My problem isn't that I can't manage the storm. My problem seems to be that I don't have anything left of myself to give to people.

I forget to make phone calls to chat with family.
I fail to make time to text someone just to check on how she's doing.
I don't drive up for a visit as often as I should.
I completely space on inviting someone very important to my son's birthday lunch.

So this is my call for grace.  This is my plea for forgiveness and for patience. This is my attempt to humble myself, to admit I'm a massive failure in this area, and to ask you to bear with me. You see, Jesus made it clear that we are called to serve others and that's what I've been trying to do...I need you to believe that. Where I've gone wrong is that in the process of trying to work hard to serve my family, my friends, my church, my job(s), and my community, I have struggled to maintain healthy boundaries that keep me from stretching myself too thin. Jesus had a much more hectic schedule than I do and he modeled how important it was to rest, to recharge, and to not allow himself to drain everything out to everyone for everything they felt they needed.

This morning I read the story in Mark 5 about the woman who pushed through the crowd surrounding Jesus just to touch his clothes, believing that it would heal her. Jesus is being pressed on all sides by throngs of people with illness and diseases, people with sick loved ones, people with needs too numerous to mention. They all wanted a piece of Jesus and they were literally putting the pressure on him to pony up. As he maneuvered his way through the sea of people, he stopped and turned to find the one person who had reached out and touched his garment and dropped everything he was doing to hear her story and call her Daughter. At that moment, she was his priority and he put everything else on hold to attend to her in her crisis.

But Jesus wasn't just out for a morning stroll when all this took place - he was on a mission, already heading on an urgent trip to Jairus's house where his daughter lay dying. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to have been Jairus, a father desperate for anything that might save his beloved child's life. What despair he must have felt when Jesus' attention was diverted to this woman, delaying him enough that his daughter dies in the meantime.

Can you picture it? I can see Jesus, who had the power to heal every single person in that crowd with a word, choosing the priorities from among the crushing collection of needs that surrounded him. Do I think it hurt him to make the conscious choice not to do a sweeping solution to everyone's issue? Yes, I do. And then...he reaches the home of Jairus, where he is about to do the most incredible miracle of his ministry to date...and he tells everyone except his closest disciples to wait outside.

My point is this: I am not Jesus.

Shocking stuff, I know. If there is anyone who has ever walked this earth who could have handled all the pressure of handling all the people and all their things, it's Jesus. He's God and last time I checked, he can do everything. I am about the furthest thing from Jesus possible and there are times, like now for example, when I feel all the things pushing in on me, clamoring for my attention and my efforts and I simply cannot do it all. I am so very imperfect and flawed.

There will be things that have to wait.
There will be needs that are so acute, so urgent, and so significant to me that I will divert my attention from other things, important things, to attend to them. Feelings will get hurt.
There will be people who don't get exactly what they are looking to get exactly when they are looking to get it.
There will be important matters that I forget to attend to simply because I am human and I mess up....a lot.
But there will also need to be time when I just need to ask people to wait outside while I focus on doing something that is really requiring my undivided attention.

That's the place that I'm in right now.

I realize that all this probably made way more sense in my head than it does in these ramblings, but I just had to run outside in my bare feet to capture a toddler who escaped from his bedroom during what is supposed to be naptime and in the process I stepped wrong and ripped a chunk out of my big toe causing me to have to carry a screaming, flailing little boy back to his bed while limping and leaving a trail of bloody footprints in my wake. As I write these words, he is still screaming from his bed, railing at me for disappointing him, for ruining his fun, for not giving him exactly what he wants exactly when he wants it.

And that's ok.

Because right now, my priority is to change the Band-Aid on my toe because it's already bled through the first one and to get myself ready for work.

And to the one who I hurt, who I know is reading this, I again want to tell you how sorry I am that my forgetfulness hurt you. Please believe me when I tell you it was not my intention and I fully accept responsibility for my mistake. I definitely need to be more considerate of your feelings in the future.
I promise to try to do better in making you feel loved and important in my life, but I am asking you to extend me a little grace and understand that if I ask you to wait outside for a bit, it's not because I don't love you.

I hope that makes sense.

Now, I'd better get off the computer and go clean up the blood before work.  Love you guys.



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