Author Archive

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of ALDI.

Today I wanted to share an adorable gift idea for someone special in your life. Today’s tutorial is how to make beautiful chocolate coffee spoons that you can pair with a big basket of coffee for gift-giving. This gift is perfect for any occasion and can be made in less than 30 minutes. The inspiration for this project came along with the opportunity to try the new Barissimo line of premium coffee products that are available at your local ALDI store.  I’m so excited to be partnering with them again on this project.

In case you missed my Maple Coffee Bacon post from last week, I had the opportunity to try out all of the new coffees from ALDI and create some fun projects using this newly launched line at their store.

This line features nine bagged and single serve coffee items, along with additional seasonal and Special Buy items that will be available for a limited time. Pictured below are a few of the ones that I found on my store shelves this month.

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com

Nothing pictured here is over $5 (even the Fair Trade coffee) which means it is quite the steal. In the past, I have relied on these bags of coffee for easy hostess gifts and breakfast baskets for new homeowners. It is an excellent gift to give especially to a tired new mom or a new college student.  I thought it would be fun to dress these baskets up a bit with beautiful chocolate coffee covered spoons that you could package in your basket.

Let’s get started!

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com

Supplies Needed

1 bag Baker’s Corner Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Morsels

1 bag Baker’s Corner Milk Chocolate Baking Morsels

1 cup Baker’s Corner White Chocolate Baking Morsels

½ teaspoon Carlini Pure Vegetable Shortening (or more, if needed)

Edible sprinkles of your choice

Ribbon

Pastry/candy decorating bags

Candy wrappers

Antique spoons or plastic spoons (I got these six for $5 an antique store)

*Some of these items are Special Buy or Seasonal items that are only in stores for a limited time and may no longer be available.

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com

Directions

  1. Melt your semi-sweet chocolate chips (the whole bag) over a steam bath or in microwave. Melt chocolate slowing, stirring frequently. If chocolate clumps or doesn’t melt smoothly, add 1/2 teaspoon of shortening to help smooth it out.
  2. Dip your spoons into the chocolate and then rest them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.

 

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com 3. Decorate with your choice of milk chocolate, white chocolate and/or various garnishes. Drizzle with melted white chocolate (using my pastry bag) and then shake on some edible pearls so they would stick. Let these set completely before placing into decorative bags and tying with beautiful ribbon.

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com

How to Make Chocolate Coffee Spoons from MomAdvice.com

We placed these beauties into a basket with a variety of our favorite Barissimo coffees, exclusively from ALDI. A pretty dishtowel on bottom pulls it all together and acts as bonus gift.

These spoons add another level of richness to your coffee giving you a rich chocolate flavor. These also would make a fun addition to your cocoa.

I hope you enjoyed our fun series with ALDI this month and that these ideas have inspired you to give their new coffee line-up a try! I promise that you won’t be disappointed, not just in the incredible taste, but the incredible amount of savings to be had for your family!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of ALDI.

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m challenge: Focus on Fashion

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

m challenge: Focus on Fashion

 

Welcome to our third month  in the m challenge series.  If you missed our focus on money management last month, be sure to visit the syllabus where we have gathered everything you need to get caught up! I don’t want you to miss a single moment of this inspiring series. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am and I look forward to tackling another topic with you!

m challenge: Focus on Fashion

For this month, our site focus is on Fashion as we begin thinking (and praying!) towards warmer temperatures and revamping our Spring wardrobes.  This challenge is not just about making smart purchase though, this is also about whittling away at the closet clutter that you might be harboring. This year I have went through a bit of a fashion transformation and decided to tackle a capsule wardrobe project for the year. I will be pulling together my third capsule for the year and sharing it with you this month.

We will also be hearing from several fashion bloggers on what Spring trends we should be embracing and their must-haves for your closet.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Each month I will be sharing a book selection that you can read that goes along with our theme for the month. This month as we begin whittling away at our closets, I decided to select a book on decluttering our homes that I have just started reading.  It is called  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  Although this book deals with tidying up our own home, I thought it would add renewed focus for Spring and also on what clutter we might need to whittle away in our home & closets for the year. Many fashion books are quickly dated and it was a struggle to find one that I felt fit best with the goals of the challenge. I think this book illustrates the importance of holding on to only what you truly love and letting go of the things that are weighing you down. Consider this book to be the start of good things in your wardrobe and in your home this year.

I look forward to reading along with you and exploring these topics with our fashion experts this month!

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February 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, February 27th, 2015

February 2015 Must Reads from MomAdvice.com

 

I told you that I couldn’t possible have read as many books as I tackled over a vacation, but I was wrong. This month I was a reading machine thanks to freezing cold temperatures and snowy days and nights that left us unmotivated to leave our cozy house. I am so excited to share with you some new books that you can add to your book stack and, thankfully, many of these writers will also be featured in our Sundays With Writers series in the upcoming month. How cool is that?

 

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

INSIDE THE O’BRIENS by Lisa Genova

(available April 7th)

I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader of this book on NetGalley for this book. I am a huge fan of Lisa Genova, particularly her novels STILL ALICE (have you seen the flick yet?)  and LEFT NEGLECTED. She truly has a gift for writing about illnesses and diseases that can affect the brain and mind.

Genova continues with her trademarks of great writing paired with a neurological issue, raising awareness for diseases that the public may not be aware of. This book captured a typical Irish Catholic family on the East Coast where the dad, Joe, finds out that he has Huntington’s disease. This book explores not only the everyday struggle of someone who works in an occupation that would make it impossible to continue doing his work, but the struggles of each family member as they grapple with their family member’s illness and the possibility that this genetic disease could have been passed down through the family lineage.

It’s a beautiful read, but I particularly appreciate that not only is the author raising awareness for a little known disease, but she is also trying to raise funds for charity through her readership. It was a beautiful read that should be depressing, but ends with a lot of hope & positivity.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

I requested that my book club read this book for our discussion after hearing everyone talking about this one. Did you hear that the movie rights were already sold? Wild!

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

This is a twisty dark psychological thriller with an unreliable and unlikeable narrator. The novel has a slow start, but builds beautifully once you get going.  Not a character in this one feels trustworthy, taking the reader along on a bumpy train ride when a woman in town goes missing. The comparison to GONE GIRL is warranted, but the ending is far more satisfying. The book kept me guessing and each character was beautifully fleshed out. Usually in alternating viewpoints, I want to skim chapters, only enjoying one point of view. In this one, I looked forward to each viewpoint as it built upon the mystery. I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait to see this book adapted to film.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

DEEP DOWN DARK by Hector Tobar

I heard about this book on NPR since it is their first Morning Edition book club selection and we know I am all about anything NPR-related. When a Chilean mine collapsed in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. This book is the story of the miners and what they  experienced below the surface. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hector Tobar gains exclusive access to the miners and their stories and tells these beautifully. It helps to offer an understanding of the families and the personal stories of these miners, as well as adds insight into what it would be like to work in this type of job.

When I read stories like this, much like the beautiful book UNBROKEN, I am reminded that I would die in the first day because I am a very weak, weak person. I could not exist in this kind of tomb-like existence. It is an incredible testimony to the strength of these men and the love they had for their families.

This is a survival story unlike any other I have read. The harrowing tale of these men trapped in this mine is completely unbelievable and what they do to survive together is just as unbelievable. The story of their survival proves that miracles really do happen and I am so glad I got to read the stories of their days in this mine as well as what life is really like after you become a hero in the eyes of the media and public. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be as author to capture all of these stories of these men in one book…and do it so well. I am so happy NPR Morning Edition selected this as their first book club pick so I could dig into something that was outside of my usual genre this year!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

THE BULLET by Mary Louise Kelly

(available March 17th)

If you are looking for a fast page-turner of a book, this is it. This is a beautifully written mystery that echoes some of my favorite thrillers from Chevy Stevens. When a woman discover a bullet in her body that she was never aware of it, it sends her life spiraling in a direction that she never expected. The origin of that bullet and the people around her that it has affected, cause this cold case to be reopened… reopening wounds of the family and friends around her. Despite the gravity of the case and the circumstances surrounding it, the book is laced with great humor and a cast of endearing characters. I really enjoyed this one for a quick escape!

I’m looking forward to featuring the author in our Sundays With Writers series next month!

* book obtained through Netgalley- all opinions & thoughts are my own.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES by Frances Whiting

This is one of those books that you think will just be a quick escape, but ends up being a beautiful story with endearing characters that you think about after you close the final pages. This coming-of-age story follows the friendship between two teen girls and then the consequences of them both falling for the same guy, which destroys their friendship. Thankfully, it was just so much more than that and really built around a cast of flawed characters, the bonds & love of our family, first loves, true loves, and how friendships between unlikely people can reshape your destiny. There were some really great themes in this one and it is the kind of book that reminds you of your own coming-of-age story and the friendships that can endure those tumultuous years. The theme seems simple, but the story was not. I highly recommend this one!

Read my interview with Frances Whiting HERE!

* book obtained through Netgalley- all opinions & thoughts are my own.

5 Out of 5 Stars

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith

 

WHISKY & CHARLIE by Annabel Smith (published as WHISKY CHARLIE FOXTROT in Australia)

US version available on April 7th, Australian version available now)

Wow! What an incredibly moving story this was. The story centers around estranged adult identical twin brothers who are brought together when one brother, Whiskey, is involved in an accident that leaves him in a coma. The story goes back and forth from the time they are kids gabbing through walkie-talkies until the present day and what caused the strains in their relationship. The author does a great job tackling the difficulties of sibling rivalry, what it would be like to be a twin, and how even when we don’t always like our family members, they are always our family and loved. The most ambitious element of this book is that the author uses the phonetic alphabet for each chapter that perfectly weaves into the story and adds another level of charm to this story. I highly recommend this book!

I am so excited to have Annabel join us for our Sundays With Writers series next month!

* book obtained through Netgalley- all opinions & thoughts are my own.

4 Out of 5 Stars

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

Freebie Friday February 27, 2015

Friday, February 27th, 2015

freebie friday Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! As always, we would like to thank Couponing 101 for assisting us with our freebies each week for loads of deals, savings, and freebies!

This week on MomAdvice our m challenge posts include a completely inspiring reader transformation – Shanna’s no-spend challenge, how to save money by making one of 33 copycat Starbucks drinks, and our focus on money management wrap-up Notebook Syllabus. You’ll also find an incredible Maple Coffee Bacon recipe and a Sunday’s with Writers interview with Walking on Trampolines author Frances Whiting, as well as our our weekly round-up of great giveaways. Be sure to check out this week’s edition of It’s the 3 Little Things to get your weekly dose of happy!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Food & Drink
Mountain Dew Kickstart at Kroger with eCoupon

 
Health & Beauty
 
 
Entertainment
 
 
This Week’s Freebie Events: February 28 – March 6
 
28th – Barnes & Noble: Join story time featuring I am Jackie Robinson and I am Rosa Parks, 11 am
 
28th – Lakeshore Learning: Create a Hats Off Pencil Holder, 11 am – 3 pm
 
28th – Lowe’s: Build Max-D from Monster Jam, 10 am
 
3rd – Lego Store: Build a Lego Robot, 5 pm

 

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Maple Coffee Bacon Recipe & a NEW Coffee Line from ALDI!

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Maple Coffee Bacon Recipe
Tracking PixelThis is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of ALDI.

If there is one thing I have learned over my years of surfing on Pinterest it’s that anything bacon and anything coffee is always a hit (and not just with me!).

Today I wanted to pair these two flavors together in a Maple Coffee Bacon that your whole family will love. The inspiration for this project came along with the opportunity to try the new Barissimo line of premium coffee products that are available at your local ALDI store.

Since you know I am a regular shopper, I had noticed the new line on the store shelves and was intrigued. The packaging is beautiful and the product feels very high-end, but a whole bag of ground coffee is a mere $3.99.  It is, seriously, a steal!

This line features nine bagged and single serve coffee items, along with additional seasonal and Special Buy items that will be available for a limited time. Pictured below are a few of the ones that I found on my store shelves this week.

Barrisimo Coffee Line from Aldi

The Barissimo line, available exclusively at ALDI, includes the following (and here are the prices on these items too) for my fellow frugal shoppers:

Ready-to-drink Iced Coffees (French Vanilla, Mocha and Coffee) – $1.19

Whole Bean Coffee (Morning Roast and Donut Store) – $3.99

Fair Trade Coffee (Medium and Dark Roast) – $3.99

Donut Store Ground Coffee – $3.99

12 oz. Bag Coffee (Breakfast Blend, House Blend, and French Roast) – $3.99

Assorted Flavored Coffee (French Vanilla and Hazelnut) – $4.99

Flavored Coffee Cups (French Vanilla and Hazelnut) – $4.79

Regular Roast Coffee Cups (Breakfast and Donut) – $4.79

Specialty Roast Coffee Cups (Fair Trade Colombian and Dark Roast) – $4.79

Maple Coffee Bacon Recipe

Maple Coffee Bacon Recipe

Ever since a trip last year to NOLA, I have been thinking about the embarrassing pile of praline bacon I ate in one of the local restaurants that my brother took me too. Bacon that tastes like candy? How could that be bad?

I loved the candied sweetness of the bacon, but I love to add on to that layer of flavor with something to cut the sweet and I decided the Fair Trade Dark Roast Coffee paired with the thick sliced Maple Flavored Bacon would be a delightful combination.

If you haven’t tried the coffee itself, the dark roast is delightfully full-bodied and strong.  It’s the kind of coffee that a mom who has to get her kids on the bus in the morning can really embrace.

As I had suspected, this delicious dark roast coffee was just what this sweet bacon needed to balance it out. The coarseness of the ground coffee adds an element of texture and the brown sugar glaze made from freshly brewed coffee and brown sugar is brushed on to each side of the bacon to create that delightful layering of flavors.

Maple Coffee Bacon Recipe

Since this bacon is so sweet, you don’t want to pair this one with another sweet breakfast item.  I recommend an easy frittata for balance, a little fresh fruit, and a big mug of coffee (of course!).

Now run over to your local ALDI and snag a bag of this delicious coffee for yourself- at a price like that, you have nothing to lose!

Maple Bacon Coffee Tutorial

Maple Coffee Bacon Recipe

Maple Bacon Coffee
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10 servings
 
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of ALDI.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound Specially Selected Maple Thick Sliced Bacon
  • 1 tablespoon Barrisimo Fair Trade Dark Roast Ground Coffee
  • ½ cup packed Baker’s Corner Brown Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly brewed Barrisimo Fair Trade Dark Roast Ground Coffee
  • Note- *Some of these items are Special Buy or Seasonal items that are only in stores for a limited time and may no longer be available.
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment or waxed paper and set a flat rack on top. Lay bacon strips on rack, overlapping slightly if needed. Sprinkle top of strips evenly with ground coffee. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and brewed coffee, stirring just to blend to a paste. Brush top of strips with half of sugar mixture. Bake 15 minutes. Turn bacon over and brush with remaining sugar glaze. Bake until crispy, 10-15 minutes more.

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Amy’s Notebook 02.25.15: The M Challenge Focus on Money Management Syllabus

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

m-challenge

Note: As a wrap-up of each month’s m challenge theme, we will be using the last Notebook of the month as a sort of “Cliffs Notes” edition of the challenge – a place where you can find a list of all the articles we’ve published for the challenge, as well as more inspiration and links from the web around the challenge theme. Our hope is that this will serve as a one stop shopping for the theme that you can refer to as well as catch up on in case you’ve missed anything!

February M Challenge: Focus on Money Management

Recipes

Links for More Money Management Ideas:

How-to-Budget-For-People-That-Hate-Budgeting via Premeditated Leftovers

Source: Premeditated Leftovers

 

How To Budget (For People That Hate Budgeting)

Couples & Money – Building a Solid Relationship with Money and Each Other

How To Stop Living Paycheck To Paycheck

6 Tips for Living on One Income

30-Day Money Cleanse

The 5-Step Plan: How To Get Out Of Debt

Accountability binder 30daysblog

Source: 30 Handmade Days

 

Teach Your Kids How to Work & Manage Money

9 Ways to Cut Expenses without Feeling Deprived

Teaching Children About Financial Responsibility

How to Make Living on a Budget Fun

Avoid These 7 Common Mistakes When Getting Out of Debt

Saving Money on Groceries Without Using Coupons

35 ways to save money

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed this notebook, a collection of gathered links all around our m challenge about focusing on money management. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

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33 Copy-Cat Starbucks Drinks

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

It’s no secret around here that I love a good coffee drink and you all know I love a good way to save – especially when it’s easy. Making your own versions of coffee shop drinks gives a particularly good return since most DIY drink recipes take only a few minutes to make and are only a fraction of the cost of buying. And the no-guilt feeling while you’re enjoying your beverage? That’s right – priceless.

33 Copy-Cat Starbucks Drinks

So I’ve rounded up some of the best copy-cat Starbucks drinks recipes for you from our own Mom Advice archives and other fabulous blogs so you can save some of your hard-earned money and enjoy a coffee (or non-coffee!) break at the same time. Here are 33 copy-cat Starbucks drinks categorized into four sections for your convenience – Hot Coffee Drinks, Hot Non-Coffee Drinks, Iced Coffee Drinks, and Iced Non-Coffee Drinks (as always, please pin individual pictures from the original source):

Copy-Cat Starbucks Hot Coffee Drinks

homemade_salted_caramel_mocha

photo: Salted Caramel Mocha Latte @ Mom Advice

Gingerbread Latte @ Mom Advice

Peppermint Mocha @ Mom Advice

Pumpkin Spice Latte @ Mom Advice

Caramel Macchiato Starbucks Copycat @ Babble

Caramel Brûlée Latte @ Brewed Daily

Cinnamon Dolce Latte @ Farm Girl Gourmet

Starbucks Eggnog Latte @ Copykat

White Chocolate Mocha @ Kitchen Concoctions

 

Copy-Cat Starbucks Hot Non-Coffee Drinks

homemade-chai-tea-latte via Live Simply

photo: Chai Tea Latte @ Live Simply

Starbucks Caramel Apple Spice @ Cincy Shopper

Chocolate Chai Tea Latte @ A Lazy Girl

Quick & Easy Starbucks Hot Chocolate @ My Frugal Adventures

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate @ Bright Green Door

Copy-Cat Starbucks Iced Coffee Drinks

salted caramel mocha frapp via Girl Cooks World

photo: Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino @ Girl Cooks World

Iced Peppermint Mochas @ Mom Advice

Mocha Frappuccino @ Around My Family Table

Healthy Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino @ The Lemon Bowl

Iced Cinnamon Dolce Latte @ Simplee Thrifty

Iced Caramel Macchiato @ Milo and Me

Mocha Cookie Frozen Coffee @ Bubbly Nature Creations

Light Frappuccino @ Food.com

Iced Caramel Snickers Frappuccino @ Savvy Saving Couple

Coconut Mocha Frappe Cappuccino @ Food.com

 

Copy-Cat Starbucks Iced Non-Coffee Drinks

Vanilla-Bean-Frappe via The Black Peppercorn

photo: Vanilla Bean Frappe @ The Black Peppercorn

Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino @ Blommi

Green Tea Frappuccino @ Raining Hot Coupons

Iced Chai Latte @ The Grant Life

Very Berry Hibiscus Tea Refresher @ Hip2Save

Green Tea Lemonade @ Momtastic

Passion Tea Lemonade @ The Pin Junkie

Chai Tea Frappuccino @ Flour On My Face

Cool Lime Copycat @ Just A Pinch Of Ginger

What is your favorite coffee shop drink?

Apron Full of Giveaways 02.24.15

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Monogram Linen Apron via Etsy

Source: BicoEstonia,  $29.00

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Reader Transformation: Shanna’s No Spend Challenge

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

no-spend-challenge-header
Note from Amy- I am SO thrilled to be featuring one of my amazing friends today as we continue our m challenge towards saving money. Our family tries to take on a yearly challenge to dedicate one month towards not spending any money.  No spend challenges are something that I find help me to regain focus and discipline towards saving. They also highlight some of my terrible habits that I have towards spending money unnecessarily. I had the incredible honor of following Shanna through social media as she challenged herself to not spend money for one month. I asked if she would let me share her journey because I found her story so incredibly inspiring. Are you giving up anything for Lent? Perhaps this story of transformation will help inspire you and consider the savings a gift to those in need or to help your family save more this year. I hope you enjoy Shanna’s transformation as much as I have! 

shanna

It’s always been important to me to do what I love. The problem is that goods and services cannot be bought with emotional contentment – you have to use money.

I’ve never been good with money, but I’m not irresponsible either. In fact, I’m quite frugal by most standards, but I don’t earn much money. With my master’s degree in contemporary dance, I’ve danced and taught classes for a small company and taught dance at a community college. I’ve held many other jobs as well; all low paying. For years I’ve pieced together a living by holding more than one job at a time. I currently work full-time for a non-profit, teach yoga twice a week and I have several regular massage clients.

But life is expensive, especially if you don’t live near your loved ones. Clothing and food also cost money. Despite being generally frugal, my deficits accumulated. After ten years of working hard and not earning much, I had gotten into some bad habits and some bad debt. My journey to dig myself out was an eye-opening experience.

In January 2014, I made some pretty lofty personal finance goals for the New Year. First, I wanted a new job that paid at least $10,000 more per year. Second, I wanted pay off my $10,000 in credit card debt (although at the time I didn’t know how I would do it). Third, I would sign up for a fitness challenge at my gym, take first place, and win the fancy $75-a-month executive membership I could not afford.

I would win 2014! I would be confident, fit, and debt free by 2015!

So it began. My husband Matt got me a new interview suit at an after Christmas sale, and then I signed up for the two-month fitness challenge at my gym, planned a strict diet, and revised my resume. I had a determined mind and a hopeful heart.

By mid-February, that vigor and determination became… well… less vigorous. I was becoming increasingly frustrated because I wasn’t finding anything but parallel moves in my job search. The lack of job prospects was crushing my spirit as well as my motivation. I felt like I wasn’t making any progress towards my prosperous new year.

I began looking for some positive reinforcement, so I decided to commit to a 30-day meditation program being offered by my friend and fellow yoga teacher Erin Menut. Every day during those 30 days I would receive an email and an audio recording from Erin. I would read along and listen to the affirmations and reflections.

On day six the affirmation was: “I am here. I have arrived.” Erin talked about being present by acknowledging the present situation rather than ignoring how things are and looking toward brighter times. She told a story about her friend with credit card debt and called it “an extreme example of this.” Her friend was struggling with credit card debt and when Erin asked if she had a good repayment plan in place, she said “I don’t even know how much I owe. I don’t like to look at all of that stuff because I am afraid to find out how bad it is.”

Yikes! Erin and I never talked about my financial issues, but she might as well have been quoting ME! I too had never sat down with all my credit card bills to really look at the interest rates and fees and come up with a consistent plan to pay them down. I had been simply ignoring all that stuff and hoping for a brighter future. Not only did her friend say exactly what I would have, Erin also called her friend, and by proxy called me, an extreme example! In her reflections on her indebted friend, Erin went on to talk about what it means to be brave—the ability to face and conquer our fears so that they no longer control us. I needed to be brave – I had to figure out how I would tackle my financial mess.

On one of the days that followed day six, I was standing in Mountain pose repeating the affirmation “I am here. I have arrived.”, when I suddenly realized that part of the reason I was feeling so helpless was because I never actually asked for help. After that realization, it didn’t take me long to contact a credit counselor. I made an appointment and, to my absolute terror, would face my fears by sitting down and looking at my financial mess. I would go over a budget with my counselor. I would put a repayment plan in place. I would force myself to take control.

The appointment came, and my terror was realized. I remember the gulp of emotion that swelled up in my throat when we added everything up. My credit card debt wasn’t $10,000, it was $13,860.84! Through heaving sobs, I asked the counselor if I could call her back, and hung up with her. How could I let this happen? How did I continue to allow myself to spend? After I wiped the hot angry tears from my face, I felt my mind beginning to clear. Sure, I was angry and embarrassed, but knowing the number actually relieved my fears. It wasn’t a million dollars. It certainly wasn’t zero dollars, but it wasn’t insurmountable. In being known, the number lost its terror.

$13,860.84 was surmountable, if I could only figure out a way to surmount it.

Then I remembered Amy Clark. I read Amy Clark’s blog post about her no-spend challenge a few years prior. I decided to go back and read her post again. She and her husband and two children (one in diapers) budgeted $250 for groceries (including diapers), and declared that there would be no other spending outside of gas and utility bills for an entire month. I did a quick calculation of my prior month of spending. HOLY CRAP! I spent $300 alone at the grocery store! Yep, alone… that doesn’t include what my husband spent—AND we don’t have little mouths to feed or butts to diaper! It took me until April to get my mind set, but on May 1, inspired by Amy, I committed to a no-spend challenge of my own. I would pay my bills as usual and give myself $150.00 to spend on gas and groceries through May 31.

no-spend-challenge-1

Coincidentally, I actually got to see Amy in April when she was in Salt Lake City attending a crafting conference. We were able to steal a little time together. I told her that I was planning on doing the challenge and she was more than encouraging.

On May 1, the no-spend challenge began. I found myself posting on social media about my progress and experience, which forced me to be accountable.

no-spend-challenge-2

This photo is from day one. I’m very happy that I live only two miles from work. During my no-spend challenge, I rode my bike to work every day. I spent no money on parking and no money on gas.

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Day two, and the no-spend challenge was already inspiring me to learn new skills! Before the challenge, I would have just walked my bike two blocks over to the bike shop and had someone else change my tire for $10. There was no way I was going to cheat on day two! So, with a little help from Matt over the phone, I was able to change my own tire. He was beaming with pride.

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During the no-spend challenge I was constantly reminded that there were plenty of ways to entertain myself for free. On day eight, I remembered how to use the public library.

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The challenge also inspired me to get creative with spend-free gifting. This is Anna. I like to call her my gluten-free girlfriend. Day sixteen of no spending was also her last day as my co-worker. Just because I couldn’t spend, didn’t mean I couldn’t give her a great parting gift. I made her Super Power flaxseed bread entirely out of ingredients I already had in my pantry. A plain lunch sack and reused ribbon made for quite a lovely gift wrap. (If I do say so myself.)

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In case anyone was wondering, I didn’t win first place in that fitness challenge… I came in second, and won a six-month executive membership! I had FREE access to this gym including laundry service during the entire no-spend challenge. What a luxury!

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Committing to the no-spend challenge not only opened my eyes to all free resources I had access to, now my perspective was beginning to change. I noticed my thoughts moving away from scarcity towards gratitude.

This photo was taken in City Creek Canyon on day twenty during a seven-mile run. I remember feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for all this beauty and fresh mountain air that I get to enjoy near my own back yard.

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“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” My thoughts were also moving away from I can’t afford…, to I can afford…

I can always afford a clean home. This photo was taken on day 21. I spent hours cleaning the apartment and I was pretty proud of the results. Just look at those shiny wood floors!

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Remember all that money I was spending at the grocery store before? During the no-spend challenge that wasn’t much of an issue. I stuck to the budget of $37.50 a week on groceries (including wine). I rationed. I clipped coupons. I dug deep in to the pantry to use what I already had. Instead of spending so much money at the grocery store, I was spending quality time with good friends. This photo was taken on day 23 when my sweet friend Amelia made me this beautiful and delicious vegetarian dinner. We ate it on her porch where we spent the rest of the evening sipping wine and dreaming out loud.

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Throughout the month, in addition to dinner invites, I was also receiving gifts from many of my friends who found out I was doing the no-spend challenge. Chocolate bars, flowers, garden veggies, and more! Jenita, my best lady from Cleveland wanted to send me a bottle of wine. She knows me well and probably figured that I would run out of that first. However, she found out that sending alcohol to Utah is a felony. (Ridiculous) So instead of wine, she paid for a Gallup strengths finder test and emailed a link. The test was intended to help me understand how to use my strengths at work and find out what kind of environment and team I need to succeed. Jenita is a good listener.

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I had a special moment on day 28. Here the photo caption reads “Studio time! In the home stretch and finding more and more gratitude for what I already have. I get to spend time alone in this beautiful space before class on Mondays & Wednesdays. This morning at Avenues Yoga was particularly uplifting – doors open, birds singing, clear mind, not a want in the world.”

This was day 28 and I wasn’t even thinking about what I would be spending my money on after the next three days. On that morning, in that solitude, I was complete. I felt like I could go on forever without a spending fix.

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Here it is, the moment of truth. On June 1, I sat down and added it all up. I saved $702.90 during the 31 day no-spend challenge! My husband and I used $400 of that to buy plane tickets to Chicago for our one-year anniversary trip, and I threw the remaining $302.00 at my credit card debt. In September, we stayed on the lake where we got married a year prior and spent quality time with my side of the family. While $400 only covered the cost of one ticket, we didn’t have to use a credit card to cover the rest.

I haven’t used a credit card since before the challenge. I believe the no-spend challenge actually cured me of my debting and credit card use. Now, if I have a big expense coming up, I save my money and plan for the expense instead of automatically pulling out my credit card. That’s huge for me, because I feel more in control of my own finances. In October, I took another 31-day no-spend challenge and used the money I saved to buy plane tickets back to Indiana for Christmas.

It’s been a year now and I only used that interview suit twice. I didn’t get a new job, and I’m certainly not debt-free. I didn’t succeed in meeting those lofty goals, but I think I still won in 2014. Some financial success did come my way. I received a nice bonus a work back in July, and got some new Thai Yoga Massage clients and gigs throughout the year. Most importantly, I learned a few things. I learned that I can’t run from my fears and expect anything to change. I learned that in order to be able to take control, I have to be brave enough to bring my full attention to the present situation. Presently, I am healthy and I am loved. I know that I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m here in the present, and I’m resolving my financial problems.

 

Sundays With Writers: Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Sundays With Writers

I hate to complain about winter, but it has been a pretty brutal one lately.  It has been hard to get motivated to do anything and so I have found myself on more than one occasion with a pile of laundry and chores to do, but huddled next to my little fireplace with a hot coffee and a big book.

On Friday I will be sharing my round-up of great things I read this month and one of those great books was WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES  by Frances Whiting. I thought it looked like a light escape, but what really grabbed my attention was the recommendation from Liane Moriarty who praised it  as “a tender exploration of friendship, families, and first love.”  You know I love her so I had to read it.  I decided to dig in and read it in a record two days- I just couldn’t put it down.

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

“Tallulah de Longland,” she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgment. “That,” she announced, “is a serious glamorgeous name.”

From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah ‘Lulu’ de Longland is bewitched: by Annabelle, by her family, and by their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river.

Their unlikely friendship intensifies through a secret language where they share confidences about their unusual mothers, first loves, and growing up in the small coastal town of Juniper Bay. But the euphoria of youth rarely lasts, and the implosion that destroys their friendship leaves lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt that haunts Lulu into adulthood.

Years later, Lulu is presented with a choice: remain the perpetual good girl who misses out, or finally step out from the shadows and do something extraordinary. And possibly unforgivable…

It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.

This is one of those books that you think will just be a quick escape, but ends up being a beautiful story with endearing characters that you think about after you close the final pages. This coming-of-age story follows the friendship between two teen girls and then the consequences of them both falling for the same guy, which destroys their friendship. Thankfully, it was just so much more than that and really built around a cast of flawed characters, the bonds & love of our family, first loves, true loves, and how friendships between unlikely people can reshape your destiny. There were some really great themes in this one and it is the kind of book that reminds you of your own coming-of-age story and the friendships that can endure those tumultuous years. The theme seems simple, but the story was not.

I asked Frances if she would share a little bit about her journey as a writer today because I think her story is the story of many of us. We have a story that we just have to tell, but our family and careers sometimes get in the way of achieving our dreams to share it! Please grab your coffee and join me for a beautiful interview with Frances Whiting today to discuss her book, WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES!

Frances Whiting

 I absolutely love the unique title of your book. Why did you title this book WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES and what do you think this title really says about your story?

Thank you! Walking on Trampolines is my first novel, and I really wanted to find a title that I loved, but also one that that would capture that feeling of the book, that time between childhood and teenage -hood, which is so exciting but also really unsettling at the same time. I remembered when I was a kid the feeling of trying to walk on a trampoline, I would take these big, loping steps, and it was fun but it also felt very unsteady beneath my feet. So, given that much of the book is rooted in that time and place for Tallulah and Annabelle, I thought it would be an apt title…it’s not just in our youth we feel like this though _ sometimes I still feel like I’m walking on trampolines!

WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES was previously published in Australia, where you live and have been a weekly columnist for the Australia’s Sunday Courier-Mail for over 20 years. What is it like to have your book coming out in the United States and what are some of the ways that you had to adapt it for your US readers?

Well, being published in America still seems a bit surreal to me…I am so excited and grateful that Simon and Schuster saw something in the book and took it on. To be truthful, I still can’t quite believe it’s happened. In terms of adapting it, there were really only a few tweaks here and there, with some really, particular Australian terms or brands that had to either be explained a little bit, or replaced with something universal. Everything else stayed the same, because one thing my column has taught me in the 20 years it’s been going, is that people are people everywhere. We have so much more in common than we do our differences, so the themes of intense friendship, love, betrayal, mental illness, family, redemption, the power of laughter, forgiveness are, I think ones that we can all share in. And I love the idea that Tallulah and Annabelle are all the way over there!

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Source: Simon & Schuster Canada

This coming-of-age story really takes on some adult themes including the struggle of Tallulah’s mother, Rose, and her mental illness. One of the most endearing things about Rose is the dresses she wore and the names she had for them. What was it like to see Rose’s dresses come to life through those illustrations and what was the inspiration for the naming of these dresses?

When I saw the illustrations, it’s hard to describe how I felt, because seeing something that’s been in your mind’s eye on paper is a strangely familiar feeling! I loved seeing them all, it brought Rose alive to me.  The inspiration behind naming the dresses was my work as a journalist, believe it or not! I have interviewed so many families in so many situations over the years for my feature writing and some of those families had members with a mental illness. What struck me was how many of those families coped with the situation, and how the person with the mental illness was both loved and loving. They may not have been the cookie-cutter type of family, but they had worked out ways to be a family and function around that person. When I reported on mental illness myself, or when I read other articles about it, more often than not it was painted as a tragedy or a great burden on families, and I felt a real need to redress that. So I wanted a character who had a mental illness but was so loved by her family and who loved them right back! Many of the people I have met over the years had some sort of manifestation of their illness _ one man I met was, for example, made pots and pots of jam when he was feeling anxious. So when it came to Rose, I thought naming  her dresses could be her way of making jam!

You create a character that really comes alive in this story in Duncan, Tallulah’s radio host boss, whose larger than life personality really seems to leap off the pages. He was definitely my favorite character and, I would say, the relationship between him and Tallulah was one of my favorites in your story.  Who was your favorite character in your book? Was there one relationship that really stood out for you?

Thank you again! You know what? I loved Duncan best too! And the strange thing is when I was first writing WOT he wasn’t even a character in it. But one night at home, I started to write about Lulu’s new adventures in the city and suddenly there he was! I’m not sure how to explain it without sounding crazy but it was like he entered the room and demanded to be written. And he was by far the easiest character to write, he just seemed to jump from my pen to the page. And my favourite relationship was between Duncan and Tallulah, I really loved playing with that whole “When Harry Met Sally’’ theme of whether men and women can truly be friends. I think they can and I loved the love between the two of them.

How much fun was it to create the unique language between Annabelle and Tallulah? Where did you get this idea?

So much fun!!!! I got the idea from my own childhood, and the childhoods of many people I know, because one of the things that kids (including me) seem to love doing is to create secret worlds for themselves. Whether it be cubby houses, or clubs, or hidey holes, there is something very appealing to children about a space and place that is just for them. So I wanted to capture that appeal of being exclusive with your friend, of knowing something that others don’t, of  being a member of a secret club that only you and the others in it understand. I liked the idea of doing it through language because as a writer one of the things I really love is playing with words. This gave me permission to have a whole lot of fun and to hell with writing conventions!

What has been your feedback on Annabelle as a character? Do your readers seem to like her or do you think she is unlikeable because of what she did to Tallulah?

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the world who does like Annabelle, and I really do! I have a lot of sympathy for her, in that I think she had such a confusing childhood and ultimately was really just desperately looking for love and security. But most readers don’t like her at all-  and they let me know! But I think there’s a lot that’s good about her – her loyalty to Tallulah ( apart from that one BIG transgression), her strength, her sense of humour and her ability to forgive and truly forget.

In one line, Tallulah says, “I let them go, finally realizing that your first love, no matter how big it may have been, wasn’t necessarily your true one.” Did you have a big first love like Tallulah and then later find your true love or were they one and the same?

I did have a big first love! It was everything a first love should be, exciting and scary and passionate and dreamy and dramatic and blissful…  sometimes all in the one day! But it was a first love, in that it was a young love that didn’t last into adulthood. My true love came many, many, many years later, when I met my now husband. I’m lucky.

It took you seven years to write this book- that is no small feat! Many people I know dream of writing a book, but can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. What made you persevere and keep writing it? What was the biggest struggle with the execution of finishing it?

It was tough sometimes for me to believe I would finish it. I was working as a journalist full time, with two small kids (one of them, my daughter a surprise baby and 45 and mid-way through the book!) to love and care for, and all the other things that make up our lives.  I think what kept my going was the characters themselves. I came to love Tallulah and Annabelle, and I just didn’t want to leave them rootless and unfinished…if that makes any sense at all. I wanted to see them through, and every time I returned to writing them (sometimes it could be weeks before I returned to the book) it was like greeting old friends.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Oh My! What a hard question! I love books so much, choosing just one is almost impossible. But I’ll bite the bullet and say…no I just can’t do it! So instead I’ll say The Shadow of the Wind, The Great Gatsby, anything by P.J. Wodehouse, The Last Anniversary, anything by Mary Wesley, Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and Clive James.

Is that cheating?

Thank you so much for your interest in my book, Amy. It meant so much for me to receive your email and warm words. Thank you for loving books.  Thank you especially for loving mine!

You can connect with Frances Whiting on Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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