Sunday, December 30, 2012

Being Debt-Free

I was going through my blog archives and I found an old draft that I never published.  It's still a very relevant topic in my life, so I thought I'd finish it and add some notes about what has happened since it was first written over a year ago.  I would love to hear your thoughts, tips or advice on money management!

One of the things I wish someone had taught me before I was released into the wild/real world, is personal finances. Not just the basic: you make this much, and can only have an apartment within this price range, but rather things like credit cards and car loans and saving for the future. So as a still immature 20-something, I took out a credit card a few years ago and proceeded to almost max it out. Cut up credit card, lesson learned. But unfortunately, we sort of need credit cards to build up good credit. Yes, paying your bills on-time will build up a good report, but the best way to show a lender that you are dependable, is to have a great payback record with a credit card company and to make more than the minimum payment.

Since graduating school with almost $40K in student loans, buying a new car and having a credit card, I've been dealing with being in debt for quite sometime. I'm not trying to blame anyone here, I take full responsibility (no one needs a new car, right?) but I now have a plan in place to manage at least one of those pesky bills: the credit card.

I recently received a notice in the mail that I was pre-approved for a 0% APR CC from a local federal credit union. The wheels started turning, so I went into the FCU (which is conveniently located next door to my office) and spoke with their CC manager about what my plan. She agreed that transferring my debt to this CC and making twice monthly payments for the 12 months I have 0% APR was a great idea. I am one step closer to my goal of being free from credit card debt.

One of the most important lessons I've learned from this ordeal is that I will teach my children how to be smart with money. No one ever explained to me about the different types of interest or what exactly makes up your credit score and don't even get my started on saving for retirement!  I recently read a very interesting article in Real Simple about the issues that women face when it comes to long-term savings and investments. We are great a getting a good deal and saving money at the store, but (and I am totally in this boat) whenever the HR representative starts to talk about the 401(K) and my Class-B profit units, I can almost feel my eyes glaze over and the dumbstruck expression involuntarily morph onto my face.  I know that I don't want to send any of my children, especially my daughters, out in the world not knowing this information.  Of course, before I can teach any of those future kiddos, I should probably teach myself...

One year later...

The credit card idea ending up working like a charm and I was able to pay down the debt in the one-year time frame I had set for myself.  It felt so great to get that paid off and really helped to boost my confidence. Money is a little tighter now that David is in school full-time and not working, so I am having to depend on the credit card from time to time, which I know isn't good, but I make a real effort to pay it back down whenever we have a surplus.  I have started to involve David in the budgeting process and we have a shared spreadsheet on our Google drive that tracks how much money comes in and how much goes out.  While we both feel uncomfortable having to discuss money (since it's usually a tense conversation just by its nature), we are getting more realistic about being open with each other and our spending habits.

I feel like discussing money with your spouse is an excellent way to build trust and a feeling of shared responsibility.  I'm glad that David and I are both level-headed enough to talk about it without letting anything get heated.  However, I'm still pretty lost when it comes to long-term savings and retirement, but baby steps are the only way I'll ever learn.  I like taking a bite-sized problem (such as $4,000 in credit card debt), solving it, and using my new found confidence to tackle the next, hopefully slightly larger, bite.

Lots of love!

New Year, New You

It's that time of the year again.  The time when we all make resolutions to finally lose those 15 pounds, eat healthier, exercise more, spend less money and be a better person in general.  It's also that time of year when we make empty promises to ourselves to change, but in the back of our minds we all know that the 6 am runs and the low-carb diet aren't really going to happen...

I am as guilty as can be when it comes to doing this.  Every year, pretty much for as long as I can remember, one of my New Year's resolutions has been to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 pounds.  I've been on the heavy side since high school, and every year for the past 10 years I've been telling myself that this is the year to drop those pounds.  Well, (I hope I didn't just jinx myself) because this is the year!

There are so many crazy exciting things happening this year, and I want to be my best possible self in order to fully enjoy all of these wonderful blessings.  David and I are new to the beautiful state of Colorado, and there are so many things for us to do and explore there.  We have an awesome new dog who loves nothing more than to go running with me.  And we are on the verge of starting to try for a baby.  The baby probably won't happen for at least (at least!) another year, but still, I want to be healthy for that precious life, whenever it does happen.

But not to mention that I'm 27 years old.  I'm quickly approaching my 30's, which is exciting, but also something to remember and take seriously.  I want to be healthy for my husband, my future kids and my future self, and if I keep putting off the weight loss goals, I'll be that overweight mom of 3 who blames her weight on having kids.  And all I hear is how it only gets harder the older you get.

I also have a more serious health issue to consider.  I've known about my high cholesterol for about three years now.  It's not so high that my doctor is worried (yet), but every year it gets a point or two higher.  Coincidentally, every year my weight has gone up five or ten pounds.  I know that dropping the extra weight would have a big impact on my cholesterol, and it high time to get it under control!

I've had one serious chat with my husband about it, but I plan to have a few more.  In order to seriously take charge of my health, I need my support team behind me 100% and the thing about moving away from all your family and friends is that it tends to shrink the size of your support team.  He and I are in agreement that it is time for a change in our diet and exercise routines, but it will take commitment from the both of us to get the ball rolling.

All that being said, I wish you all a very happy, healthy a blessed New Year and I hope that you wish me the same.  Hopefully, I'll have some happy progress to report on soon!

Lots of love,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What is Important?

Well, it's nothing new, but money is tight right now.  Life in Colorado has been a bigger adjustment than we thought it would be, and one thing we didn't take into consideration is the cost of living here.  Even though I was blessed with a significant pay increase with my new job; our bills, mainly our grocery bill, is noticably higher every month.  Of course, D isn't bringing in any money at the moment either, our rent is slightly higher and we got a dog...who we love, but who costs money. 

It's been a source of unwelcome stress and tension for me and the husband, both between us and for us as a family.  I know that money issues are what most couples report fighting about when asked, although I wouldn't really classify them as "fights" - it is true that we have "discussions" about money.  Being the sole breadwinner is nothing new to me.  In fact, all of our relationship I have been the main financial provider because D has been in school.  But for some reason lately, it has been breeding resentment inside me.  Resentment towards our situation, the state of Colorado, and, I hate to admit it, my husband.  And, ashamedly, sometimes my dog...

I think these feelings are normal and I would wager that a lot of women feel this way.  You work all day and then come home to a dirty house and dishes in the sink and a dog that needs walking and then you're expected to make dinner.  You're also expected to do laundry and grocery shopping and pay the bills and clean the house.  All while staying fit and looking sharp.  It's EXHAUSTING!  But the funny thing is, no one but me expects all these things.  Sure, if I completely stopped doing the laundry my husband would wonder what is up, but he would start doing it himself since it would need to be done.  So I probably pile about 30% of that stress onto myself. 

It begs the question of how much value I place on my societal "appearance".  It's nice to know that I'm a good, capable wife who takes care of house and home while working 40 hours a week.  Throw a child or children into that mix and I would be like most of the adult women in this country.  (Thank goodness for responsable family planning.)  But I will openly admit that it's nice when a single male co-worker compares me to the wife he would like to have.  Not that he would like to marry ME personally, but that he would like to marry someone LIKE me, in that I take good care of my husband and home.

I would love to be a stay-at-home wife and mother.  And hopefully, one day, that will happen and I will blessed to be able to stay home and raise our children.  If that were the case, I don't think I would feel resentment about my situation, but rather joy at being able to fullfill that deep need inside of me to take care of people.  But until the hubby graduates and becomes employed, I must be patient and carry on.

I think that what needs to change in this case is not our situation, but rather my outlook and values.  I have no one's expectations to live up to but my own, and we are happy, healthy and financially secure, so why do I feel the need to be/do/have more?  I should look rather to my spiritual wealth and emtional wellbeing, focusing more on the inward happiness and less on the number on our bank statement. 

All of this leads into a recent urge I've been feeling to start going to church again.  I was raised in the church and even worked in a church for several years during and after college.  When I left, I halfheartedly attended services every few weeks, but eventually stopped because I wasn't feeling any spiritual fire in myself.  I've remained a believer, and certainly want to include the Spirit in our daily lives, but there is something missing.  Now I feel like God has placed a need on my heart to return to Him and remember whose child I am.  Perhaps that is the origin of this resentment.  The Lord is gently reminding me of what is important in life, and what is not. 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Welcome to Golden!

That's right, we are now officially Coloradans!  It's amazing to look back a year from now and see how much has changed in our lives, and how much further along we are in realizing our dreams!  We have learned how to live without A/C, David started school, I started a new job, we're busy exploring our new home and making some friends, and we adopted another sweet soul into our little family, Ranger:

He's a pretty adorable Aussie/Boxer mix, and we're smitten.  Despite his unknown beginning, sketchy upbringing and his stint in the doggie slammer (aka: shelter), he's a great dog who is teaching us as much as we're teaching him.  He is learning new tricks almost as fast as I can teach them, and he is showing us a thing or two about patience.  No one is lying with them say that having a dog is good practice for having kids.  We fall a little more in love with him everyday.

Our actual move may not have been the smoothest, considering that we do not have A/C and we moved to town during the hottest summer in Colorado history.  After spending the first sleepless night cursing everything and sweating through the sheets, we made the trip to Home Depot to purchase some fans and haven't looked back since!  Especially since the nights get cool here, we get a healthy dose of that fresh mountain air and a lower electricty bill!

Sadly, two days after we moved here, the Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting occured.  Even as new residents, we mourned this senseless loss alongside our new fellow Coloradans.  I've noticed that as I get older, I begin to imagine myself in the place of people suffering terrible loss.  One of the victims was a newlywed.  Every time I think about his young widow, my heart breaks for her all over again.  Just another reminder to hug David and tell him how much I love him. 

Speaking of, David has officially started his Ph.D. program at Colorado School of Mines and he couldn't be happier.  He comes home teeming with information and ideas, busting to tell me all about his classes and professors.  Just seeing how happy my husband is tell me that the move here was the right choice.  I'm also learning a new set of ropes as I commute into Downtown Denver everyday for my new job.  I work with a great group of people for a really cool company in the heart of Lower Downtown (or LoDo, as it's called here).  I've already made a few friends and although it's a completely different work environment than I'm used to, I know that I'm going to be very happy here.

It's been an incredable two months here in the Centinnial State, and I'm so excited to see what the winter brings (excited, and also a little bit scared). We've done more hiking, walking, creek swimming, concert going and ball game watching than we've done in the past year in Texas (granted the weather here is more tolerable). I'll sign off this post with a few pictures from our recent adventures. Enjoy! ~K

Clear Creek runs through the downtown of Golden, Colorado. 
Makes for some cold swimming!

At the top of Lookout Mountain.

Hiking with Ranger at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park.  You can't tell, but it's
47 degrees in August in this picture!  Brrr!

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Red Rock Amphitheatre.  Coolest venue ever!

Hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

June's Lemon Icebox Pie

This pie is my father's favorite and a classic that my grandmother used to make for her 6 children.  I have a photocopy of her original recipe, covered in food smatters and drips, and every time I make it I remember her kitchen and the smell of baking sweets.

June's Lemon Icebox Pie

1 Graham Cracker Crust (homemade or store bought)
3 egg yolks (reserve the whites for meringue)
1 whole egg
2 cans Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lemon zest

3 Egg whites
1/2 cup sugar

Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl.  Pour in the condensed milk, continue mixing.  With a spoon, slowly incorporate the lemon juice and zest.  The mixture will slowly thicken as the lemon juice cooks the eggs.  Pour the thickened mixture into the crust (make sure the crust is completely cooled if you made it yourself).  Refrigerate while you make the meringue.

In your stand mixer or with beaters, beat the egg whites on high until frothy.  Slowly add sugar a bit at a time.  Continue to beat on high until thick and stiff peaks begin to form.  Spoon the meringue onto the top of the pie and using the back of the spoon, form the meringue into stiff peaks.  Place the pie in a 350 degree oven until the meringue is toasted and brown.  Refrigerate pie until ready to eat.  My grandmother suggests that it's best the next day. 

Sorry I forgot to take pictures of this one.  It was a last minute creation for a hasty dinner party.

Enjoy this sweet treat while it's hot outside!

Update on Life

Well, life has gotten very interesting over the past few months.  Biggest change is about to take place in about two weeks: we are moving to Golden, Colorado!  The hubby was accepted for his PhD at Colorado School of Mines and I have accepted a position in Downtown Denver.  So it looks as though very soon we will be learning to live without A/C, how to drive in the snow, and trying to mask the "y'all" in my accent.

I'm having some issues with the blog.  See, after getting married, I created a new Gmail username with my married last name.  Blogspot, on the other hand, does not like that I no longer use my old Gmail username and has decided the my blog should be no more.  Any help or suggestions on how to fix this problem would be appreciated.  I've tried to figure out how to update my username, but they really don't want me to do that...

I'd like to continue to blog and post the occasional update about our new lives in Colorado, especially so that my Texas family and friends and keep up with the going's on.  But since this is a food blog, and I haven't written about food in ages, I guess I should say something about food...

Stay tuned for June's Lemon Icebox Pie.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Diner-Style Strawberry Pie

I made this delicious and fresh strawberry pie for the hubs and my cousin and her husband last night. We started the night with chicken and veggie kabobs which were light enough to leave room for the delicious slice of heaven that was dessert. I think I may have found our new summer dessert favorite...

Both recipes are from America's Test Kitchen, and in our rush to eat it, I forgot to take any pictures... You'll have to make it yourself to see what I'm talking about.

Diner-Style Strawberry Pie

2 lbs. frozen straberries
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. gelatin
1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
pre-baked pie shell (I used Pillsbury)

Allow frozen strawberries to thaw for 30 minutes. Bake pie shell according to directions and allow to cool completely. (Side note: If I were a true domestic goddess, I would have made my own pie crust, but let's face it, Pillsbury is just as good, and a heck of a lot easier.)

Cook the frozen strawberries over medium heat until juices begin to release, about 4 minutes. Once juices begin to release, crank the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, for 25-30 minutes until thick and syrupy. Combine the water, lemon juice and gelatin and allow to set for 5 minutes. Once the mixture has cooked down to 2 cups, turn off the heat and add the sugar, salt and gelatin mixture. Stir well to incorporate the gelatin.

Pour mixture into a bowl and allow to cool for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Add sliced fresh strawberries to mixture, stir well, and pour into pie shell. Place in the fridge, UNCOVERED, for at least 4 hours to allow the gelatin to set. Top with Cream Cheese Whipped Cream (see below). Enjoy!

Cream Cheese Whipped Cream

Two heavenly versions of cream used to made my new favorite topping.

1/2 block cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cup heavy cream

Put your bowl, beaters and cream into the freezer about 20 minutes before you're ready to made the whipped cream. Add cream cheese, sugar and vanilla into your cold bowl and beat on medium until incorporated. Slowly stream heavy cream while mixer is on and allow to mix until stiff peaks begin to form. You may need to stop and scrap the sides to allow all of the cream cheese to mix in.

I used my stand mixer, but a hand mixer works just as well. I also used less sugar and more vanilla than usual because this topping is supposed to be slightly tart. The pie is sweet enough on it's own, so you don't need as much sugar in the topping.

This is one dessert whose leftovers I will NOT be taking to the office...

Much Love!