April: Progress on My Goals for This Year


Cooking with Dried Beans

Pretty regularly, Michael and I usually have some sort of Mexican-inspired meal, whether it's quesadillas or tacos or the like. I like to incorporate black beans, but what usually would happen is that I'd open up a can and only use half of it (since there are only two of us), and then try to come up with creative ways to use the rest of the can or overdose on tacos as leftovers.

So a couple months ago, I finally bought a bag of dried beans to experiment with using them instead of the canned variety. (It was about two years ago that I first heard about the joys of cooking with dried beans. Of course, being slow and hesitant to adopt new things, it took me that long to finally try it out.)

The idea is that you take the dried beans, put them in a bowl of water and let them soak for 4 to 8 hours. Then, you let them simmer on the stove for one to two hours. While it is a bit time consuming (and definitely calls for planning your meals out at least a few hours ahead of time), it really is pretty easy and uninvolved, kind of like cooking with a crockpot.

And I have to say, I'm hooked. I love that you can measure out the exact amount you need and not have any wasted or sitting in a tupperware in the fridge. It's also more cost-effective to use dried beans; a small bag costs about a dollar and equals about 3 cans worth of beans. I started off with black beans but recently picked up some dried garbanzo beans as well, because while we don't use them much, I do have some recipes I'd like to try out with them.

I still keep a jar of canned beans in the pantry, for those off-the-cuff, ready-at-a-moment's-notice times when you can't wait for the beans to leisurely soak and cook. And I've also recently started to cook a larger batch of beans and freeze them so that I don't have to go through the whole day-long process if time doesn't allow. So far it's been working quite well and I'd highly recommend it. Try it next time you make our homemade black bean burgers!

Have you tried cooking with dried beans? Do you have any favorite bean recipes you'd like to share?


When We Try to Make God Choose (A) or (B)

Here's a confession for you: Often when I go to God about decisions I’m making, I come to him with my proposal typed out and neat and tidy in a folder. I lay it all out on the table and show him how I’ve narrowed it down to two choices, A and B, and which would he like to choose?

The reality of this astounds me. That I have the audacity to take the God of the Universe, the Creator of everything complex and incomprehensible who wrote this great story that we call Life and Eternity, who is bigger than anything I can imagine and who understands it all and somehow stitches this huge tapestry together into one great, intricate and beautiful masterpiece; and I give him a multiple-choice quiz with two possible answers: A or B.

Of course I don't realize I'm doing it at the time; I simply fail to see beyond my human eyes and perspective of what the possibilities are. It's only later or even in hindsight, that I realize how greatly narrowed my convention of "answers" are. And it's not just me; people did that to Jesus back when he was alive, too: taking to him these questions or demands and presenting them to him as having only two options. But time and time again, He would break that mold and show them how close-minded their thinking truly was, instead showing them (and us) another route or another question that never crossed their mind.

I realize that what is better, what is more fruitful, is to focus simply on just asking God the question and leave it at that; stop it with the “I’ve already analyzed the situation, so choose between these two.” Go to him from the beginning with the raw question and leave it open-ended. “What do you want? What do you want me to do with this?” and then…wait and listen.

This acknowledges that he knows better than we do and that his answers are so much better than the lousy and limiting–and un-interesting!–A and B choices I often give him. Even more than that, it's his desire to want the best for me even more than I do. There are so many other options; I need not strip him of his creativity and his power. Option C can be so much greater than I ever could have imagined!

I will bring you gold in place of bronze,
silver in place of iron, bronze in place of wood,
iron in place of stones.

Isaiah 60:17

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Words of Love: 5 Ideas from the ReviveOurHearts.com Challenge

I recently wrapped up the 30-day Husband Encouragement Challenge (which I talked about here). While I do try to be very aware of the power of my words--for good and for bad--one of the things I liked about this program from ReviveOurHearts.com is that it offers a myriad of suggestions for ways you can encourage your husband. Especially things I wouldn't have thought to praise him for!

Now that my 30-day string of emails from the ReviveOurHearts.com group is over, I went through all the emails and pulled their suggestions together in one big list, so that I can refer to it all at once as a reminder for how to be encouraging Michael. (Have I mentioned before how much I love lists?!)

Here are some of the more unique suggestions they shared as ways to be encouraging your husband (which can also extend to friends and family around you!):
  • Can you identify an area of spiritual strength in your husband? Does he pray or read his Bible regularly? Does he like to read about or discuss spiritual matters? Does he go to church with you? Is he a spiritual leader? What do others say about him? If you can identify a specific area, praise him for that.

  • Does your husband have an eternal perspective that allows him to reject materialism and temporal values? Express your gratefulness for his value system, and praise him for putting eternal things before riches and other things of this world.

  • Is your spouse a man of integrity? Is he fair in his dealings with people? Does he understand the meaning of justice? Is he honest in business? Unhypocritical in his faith? Consider all the ways a man can live in integrity, and praise your husband for one of them.

  • Does your husband bring an atmosphere of peace into your home? Is his presence a calming influence? Does he bring music, entertainment, books, or people into your home that build a sense of serenity? Let him know how much you appreciate this wonderful quality, and support his choices.

  • Have you ever considered how wonderfully God designed men and women? No matter how a man looks by the standards of the world, a loving God designed them all, and they are all "beautiful" in His sight. Encourage your husband today by praising his uniqueness.
(All suggestions from ReviveOurHearts.com 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge.)

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A Love Letter...


Our Kitchen Nook

Last week I showed a little peek into our kitchen with the pictures of our makeshift art gallery on the wall above the sink. I figured it was time to unveil a bit more from this room and share our cozy little kitchen nook!  (Also, because I got a new tablecloth that I wanted to show off!)

Without a dining room, we set up our round table in this little corner of the kitchen (catty-corner from the little art gallery). This has worked out really well for us because there's gobs of sunshine that streams in through these windows and so it makes a really comfy place to take some work or do a little sudoku puzzle while I'm waiting on water to boil or something like that. Plus, now that it's springtime, it's so awesome to be able to look out the window and watch the squirrel build her nest or pay attention to the different kinds of birds that frequent the neighborhood, from cardinals to even a hawk. (Watch out, baby squirrels!)

Anyway, I picked up this a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e avian-spangled tablecloth recently, which ties in with the mustard-yellow of our chairs perfectly.

Then, while cleaning out some folders, I came across this printed envelope that I'd picked up during my days at HOW magazine from the lettering artist and illustrator Elvis Swift (see up-close photo below). I'd held onto it because I loved the beautiful calligraphy, but then when I actually took time to read it, I realized the passage was actually Ecclesiastes 3:11 ("He has made everything beautiful in its time..."). My favorite verse! So I decided to frame it, which now means that this verse decorates three places throughout our home now: Here, here, and here!

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3 Easy Ways We've Learned to Stretch Our Finances (No Coupons Necessary!)

The past few months, Michael and I have learned a lot about finances and budgeting, since, up until recently, we were never quite sure what the next month might bring us as far as a paycheck. We couldn't bet on having money later and so we learned to be intentional with our money and trying to make each dollar count and stretch further.

One of the things that has been especially helpful for us during this time has been to get creative. One of my favorite avenues has been to find ways to make extra money--and here's the beautiful part--by doing things we already do. There are multiple opportunities out there that offer rewards for things you're already doing, and I've tried my hardest to tap into that and maximize that as much as possible. It might require a wee bit of time up-front researching, but I think the rewards pay off: Free money is free money!

Here are my top three suggestions for ways to get rewarded for doing things you already do:

Swagbucks Search Engine
What are Swagbucks? Basically, Swagbucks.com is a new search engine, with the perk that they reward you for searching with them. Since you do it already, probably at least a couple times a day, why not get rewarded for it?

A coworker had recommended it to me and I thought I'd try it out. I've been using it for about a year and have cashed in reward for $50 worth of Amazon.com gift certificates. It's been a nice way to pay for some of our little extras and not have to pay out-of-pocket for the whole thing.

Here's how it works: You sign up for an account with them, and they pay you with points as you perform your searches through Swagbucks. When you rack up enough points, you can cash them in for gift certificates or selected products. Swagbucks uses Google and Ask.com to generate its search results so it's not really any different if you already use either of those. I was able to go into my internet settings and set my search toolbar to automatically direct any searches through Swagbucks so that it's almost completely seamless. (Here's a more in-depth article I wrote about using and understanding Swagbucks.)

If you want to sign up, follow this link. If you do, it'll show that I referred you, and I'll get extra points for doing that! (Come on, show the love!)

Cash-Rewards Credit Cards
If you're disciplined about using credit cards and have the money to pay off your balance each month, I think there is no reason why your credit card shouldn't be paying you. I've had a rewards credit card for the past 5 years or more and have received hundreds of dollars of checks as well as gift cards for things like my camera. It's a nice little perk when a $50 check shows up and covers unexpected expenses like buying new car tags or getting an oil change, things I often forget to budget for anyway.

After doing some research and recently switching my own credit card, we're now using a Citi Cash Returns. It's 1% reward on everything you buy, and they automatically cut you a $50 check after you rack up $5000 worth of expenses. Discover and American Express also have some good cash rewards programs. Or you can sign up for a store-specific rewards card like the Target or Gap card, which rewards you with points or gift certificates to their stores. That might be a good pick for you if you want to reward yourself with a fun, free shopping spree every once and awhile. Personally though, I like the flexibility of cash.

In my researching different cards, I've found that 1% back on most purchases is pretty standard, but if you know of anything better, please let me know! I am hoping in the next couple of years, rewards percentages will increase but for now,  1% is better than nothing.

High-Yield Savings Accounts
Michael and I are starting to save up money for some of our big down-the-road purchases, including when we're in the market to buy a home. With our money just sitting there (for who knows how long!) it was important to me that we take as much advantage of that as possible and tried to find as high a savings rate as possible.

The two routes that I have found for nabbing the best savings account rate is either to use a high-yield online savings account or check out local credit unions' rates. (You can also look into CDs and Money Market accounts, but like I mentioned before, I like the flexibility of having access to my money and sometimes those lock you into time periods without giving you much more of an interest boost.)

For about two years, I kept my savings online in a high-yield online account from FNBO. When I first opened it, I was making a pretty nice rate (about 5%, I think). As the economy tumbled, so did their rates (down to 1.5%, which is still 3x the national bank average), so I started looking around for something better.

That's when I looked into credit unions here in Atlanta. I found a local credit union that offered 2% interest that we were able to qualify for because my dad works for the US Postal Service. (Some credit unions are harder to join than others, but oftentimes you just have to live in that area or work--or in my case, be related to someone who works--in a particular sector.) Even though the interest rate was only slightly higher, we decided to transfer all our savings over, especially since this would give us local access to all of our money. Another bonus of joining the credit union is that we also earn 1.5% on our checking account, too. (Here's a good site for researching and comparing online savings accounts rates.)

All told, through these miscellaneous tactics, my rough estimates are that we can expect to get an extra $500 in rewards, cashback and interest payments over the course of the year just by doing these three little things. See how little things add up? (I'm a little impressed myself at how much it amounts to!) Try it for yourself and see what little ways you can save a little bit more cash, without clipping a single coupon!

Do you have any advice to share about some ways you've found to cut, save or add money to your bottom line?

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{ wallet from urban outfitters }

Our Kitchen Art Gallery

For months now, I've been trying to make our apartment feel like a home. One of my biggest struggles has been with what to do with our large expanse of empty walls. I don't want to just buy something to "fill" them up, but to fill them with things that mean something to us. I've had slow success with other parts of our house, but the huge wall in our kitchen has continually eluded me, which is why I even added it to my year's to-do list (#8).

The other day, I was picking up around the house, moving and sifting papers, collecting things that belonged in different rooms, and was walking through the kitchen with a stack of Easter and birthday cards we'd received over the past week or two. I saw the bare wall and realized, even if only temporarily, we can use it as a makeshift fridge door--a place to display notes and pictures. (Our fridge door is where we post much more exciting things like bills and recipes and RSVP cards.)

I dug through our tool box (actually a cardboard box) and my craft drawer for the supplies: a level (wedding gift!), some ribbon (leftover from decorations for the wedding, I think), nails, hammer, and alligator clips. In minutes, I had the ribbon strung and clipped our latest cards in place. Then I taped up two pictures that Michael's brother and cousin had drawn of us. (On the left you have Michael playing the guitar and me sitting down beside him, courtesy of his little brother, Sam. On the right is a drawing of us standing outside, looking at each other, which we received at Christmas from his cousin Molly.)

And in about 10 minutes or less, our kitchen already feels more homey. (And feel free to send us more mail, knowing now that it could end up on display in our makeshift gallery!)

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A God who treasures ordinary people, like me

photo by lif
"Oddly, as I look back on Jesus' time from the present perspective, it is the very ordinariness of the disciples that gives me hope. Jesus does not seem to choose his followers on the basis of native talent or perfectibility or potential for greatness. When he lived on earth he surrounded himself with ordinary people who misunderstood him, failed to exercise much spiritual power, and sometimes behaved like churlish school children....I cannot avoid the impression that Jesus prefers working with unpromising recruits....From such a ragtag band Jesus founded a church that has not stopped growing in nineteen centuries."
- Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew

I'm working my way through this book, and it was only minutes after reading this section that I received a phone call. It was from a girl I'd never met who just started coming to our church. I send out emails for one of our pastors to newcomers who fill out a visitor's card, so that's how she'd found my number. She was asking me about redemption and what does that mean? She'd had a dream where Jesus kept writing this word “redemption” over and over again, but, having had no real interaction with faith before this encounter, she didn't even know what the word meant. So, of all ill-equipped people, she came to me.

It was a humbling experience because through clumsy words and unprepared explanations, I tried to explain to her what redemption means and why Jesus would plead with her through her dreams to understand it, to pursue it, to pursue him. I hung up the phone and wondered, Did I even answer her question? Was it good enough? What if I messed up?

I prayed over our conversation that the Holy Spirit would use my words--however simple and mediocre--to speak to her heart whatever it is that she needs. And I realized the glory in that--that it's not me doing the work, but God, who in turns get the glory for anything that comes of it. And why he would choose to use me--an ordinary person without polished speaking skills or a battery of verses by heart (working on that one though, #7!)--to assist him in his work on this earth, even in the most insignificant matter? I do not deserve it and yet here we are, pulled along by his graciousness and mercy.

So please pray for her as she sorts through these questions that she's facing and as she's exploring who God is and what a life pursuing him promises. I keep praying in terms of the parable of the sower & seed from Luke 8: "Some seed fell on rock, and when it began to grow, it died because it had no water. Some seed fell among thorny weeds, but the weeds grew up with it and choked the good plants. And some seed fell on good ground and grew and made a hundred times more." That her faith will be watered and spared from the weeds that choke, but grow bountiful and with a harvest.

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From Today's Miscellaneous Files


We're officially a one-car family.

Well, it's official. We are now a one-car family.

Even up to now, we've mostly used my Honda Civic (the infamous one that was broken into in our parking lot), since my husband bikes to school and I work from home. There's not the greatest need for two vehicles except when we need to haul something or both want to run errands.

So the other week, the clutch went out on my husband's truck. We took it to the shop who estimated the repairs to run between $1,200 to $1,600.

With nearly 200,000 miles on his truck, we decided it was time to cut our losses while we were ahead, rather than gamble that more things won't start breaking down on the truck and cost even more money. We were able to sell the truck to a worker there for $100, but will save even more on car insurance, tag registration fees, upkeep, etc.

We're going to try to live with one vehicle as long as possible until it's completely inconvenient to do so. Fortunately, I just got word the other day that my freelance job will last through summer, which is an incredible blessing! My husband graduates in May and will start looking for a job, so even then we should be fine. It's only when we both have outside full-time jobs that we'll need to start looking for another vehicle, presuming that our workplaces aren't near each other.

And while we wait, we'll stash the saved money in a car fund--either to use for repairs on the Civic or to use for when we do need to add another to our name. For now, we're choosing to consider this a blessing rather than a liability, and praise God "whether we win or lose."

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Sights and sounds of Savannah

It seems incredible to think that a week ago, I was turning 27 and driving through the Georgian countryside on our way to the coast for Savannah. The routine of everyday life has already rooted itself again to feel like it's always been this way.

Savannah was a great getaway for us. (See the photos here.) We spent the first night camping at a historic park just outside Savannah that served as a fort during the Civil War to ward off Northern troops. We built a campfire, roasted hot dogs, pitched a tent, marveled at the spanish moss hanging from every tree branch, watched boys catch crabs in the river that flowed alongside the park, and toured the adjacent museum and restored fort. We doused ourselves in bug spray, slept on the unforgiving ground, and collected pollen on every surface imaginable until our shoes were coated in a neon yellow dust. We learned that hikes and cook-outs are probably more of our calling than full-out camping.

Then we drove into downtown historic Savannah and found our way to a little coffee shop whose line stretched out the door. We sat and ate our lunch (not cooked over a campfire, thankyouverymuch) and then jumped on a little street car that drove us around the city, pointing out a house that once belonged to pirates and that was built with all sorts of secret passage ways beneath it--and, as most things in Savannah--is supposedly haunted.

Our hotel overlooked the river and used to be a storage building for the cotton industry. I picked up a few books from the library about Savannah and did some reading on the drive down, learning all sorts of things about old Savannah life: their diet was filled with rice, cornmeal and sweet potatoes, and they seemed to fry everything. I thought back to my fridge and choice of apples and bananas back home and realized what a novelty it all is. They had communal ovens where people could come and cook things without making their houses any hotter than necessary. Even then, they spent their evenings outside; kids playing on the community squares that dot the city and parents retiring to the piazzas built onto their homes while the houses cool down inside.

Our trip was filled with a lot of restaurant eating, walking around and meandering through the gardens and parks nearby. Then we called it a night and went back to our hotel to watch the newest episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and watch the fireworks over the river from our hotel room.

The next morning, we packed up and headed for home. A whirlwind weekend, but wholly worthwhile and relished. A happy birthday, indeed! All thanks to my dear, sweet husband.

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27 things to do while I'm 27: My goals for the coming year

Last Wednesday, on the night before I turned 27, I decided to come up with a list of goals for this coming year: "27 things to do while I’m 27."

I’ve never made a list like this before, but thought it might be good to keep in the back of my head so that when I say, “Oh we should do that!” there’s a bit more accountability to actually do it rather than let it fall to the wayside like so many great ideas and good intentions.

So, in absolutely no particular order, my 27 for 27 list:
  1. Go camping. { Update }
  2. Buy more locally grown food. { Update }
  3. Continue trying new recipes and learning to make things from scratch. { Update }
  4. Get a blog layout I like (which likely translates to another goal: Learn more HTML/CSS). { Update }
  5. Go swimming. { Update }
  6. Continue learning how to respect and honor my husband and strive to be: “A wife of noble character is her husband's crown.” (Proverbs 12:4) { Update }
  7. Memorize more Scripture { Update }
  8. Do something with the blank wall in my kitchen. (Perhaps paint something?!) { Update }
  9. Continue learning to guard against negativity and what I say.
  10. Blog every week.
  11. Cultivate a more generous and hospitable spirit toward others. (Maybe throw a party?) { Update }
  12. Go thrift shopping / antiquing! (It’s been too long!) { Update }
  13. Undertake a new craft. { Update }
  14. Keep in touch with friends in Ohio and Michigan. (I'm not too fond of the phone, so too often I lose track of time and it's been months since I've talked to my nearest and dearest!)
  15. (Of course make trips back to Ohio, but that’s a given, isn’t it?) { Update }
  16. Watch a sunset with Michael.
  17. Have a photoshoot! { Update }
  18. Spend less time at my computer.
  19. Take as many walks outside as possible. { Update }
  20. Use my crock pot more. { Update }
  21. Get my laptop screen fixed.
  22. Keep up daily quiet times and Bible readings. { Update }
  23. Win a vacation. (I’m a sucker for those contests where they promise you the world--literally! One of these days...!)
  24. Take picnics! { Update }
  25. Stop picking my cuticles. (Completely unattractive habit.) { Update }
  26. Plan a date for Michael. (He deserves it!)
  27. Go to a ballgame or other outdoorsy event this summer. { Update }
Monthly Updates on My Goals for This Year
As I make my way through the year, I'll share the progress I'm making on these 27 goals of mine.

Here's how I've been doing so far during the months of
April, May (Part 1Part 2), June, July, August, September, October.

{ photo }

    As Easter Approaches, a Look Back to the Christmas Story

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