All posts by Ronnica

Taking a Break

Given everything that is going on in our lives right now, we need to take some time away from the blog.

As we have spent a lot of time discussing priorities, it is only fair to say that neither of us have room in our priority list to do this blog justice. It is time for us to practice what we preach.

At this time, we are not permanently saying goodbye, but neither do we know when we will return. Know that we will not return until we have the bandwidth to devote the proper attention to create new content.

Thank you for the time you have taken to read this blog.

Amanda and Ronnica

Traveling with Dietary Restraint

As I am writing this, I’m in the 36-hour window between two business trips. Somehow, I’ve swung getting 4 business trips this year…all for a position that requires no travel. I still have 2 more to go!

Traveling was less stressful before I decided to get my diet under control. I’m trying to give myself grace while traveling, but it’s hard not to spend a lot of time working out what I should eat. In my everyday life I do all my meal planning for the week at once, so I’m not used to having to think about it during the week and do much better when everything is pre-planned. This just isn’t possible when you’re eating out and on another’s schedule.

For these trips, I’m doing as much research ahead of time that I can. For last week’s trip, I was told ahead of time who was catering each meal, so I used that information to pick out the healthiest options I could. I also pre-planned my airport meal for DIA (smaller airports are proving to be more difficult), so I knew exactly where to go.

chocolate decadence
The picture isn’t great quality, but this is the “chocolate decadence” dessert that I allowed myself. It was worth the wait!

I knew that on these trips that food would be available in abundance that I do not need right now, including desserts. I decided to allow myself one dessert for the week, and ate that on the last night. That made saying “no” to the other sweets much easier and less stressful.

For the upcoming week, my schedule is more loose. I’m going to research the local restaurants and find a handful of meals that will work, so that I have options. Something else I’ll be doing on this trip is bringing chia seeds with me…eating differently is causing dietary issues on the other end, so I want to add some additional fiber to my travel diet. I should be able to add the seeds to my breakfast to help myself out.

As much as possible, I’m trying not to stress about food while I travel, as I don’t want food to rule me in that way, either. So far, I’ve been able to enjoy the good food while also keeping it mostly within my usual limitations. I’m okay if I’m not losing my 2 pounds a week during this time, but I also don’t want to gain anything back.

Stress Relief

As I am writing this on September 11th, I am entering a couple very busy weeks. As an introvert, some of the most stressful times are those when I am spending every waking hour with people. Add to that a lack of routine, and I can be quite discombobulated.

So what can I do to combat this stress? Here are a few things that I have found to help me stay a little more sane.

1. Get proper rest. This can be hard, especially as my schedule changes. As I transitioned from evening work hours to day work hours, I had few nights in a row of sub-optimum sleep. I know that there are people who live on fewer hours of sleep than I do, but I know that if I am going to perform my best, sleep cannot be skimped on.

2. Remain on a good (little d) diet. This is not something I’ve ever really tried before. Previously when I entered stressful seasons of the year, I used it as an excuse to become even more excess in all the junk I craved. By keeping on my healthy diet, it has helped me not to feel entirely off kilter. Helps to stay regular in the bathroom, too.

3. Find the fun. Right now part of the stress is that I’m preparing to play a team game at work. While it can be easy to think of the game as fun (and it is!), the pressure to study as much as you can and perform well can be great, especially as this pressure is mostly internal. I’m continually reminding myself that this is fun and to enjoy it.

Even when my primary task is not preparing for a game, I want to do what I can to find the fun and the purpose in what I’m doing, and remind myself of it.

Ronnica at Fern Falls4. Find a vacation. This time last year I went on a 3-day weekend in Estes Park, and I loved it. I had hoped to do it again this year, but my budget (of time and money) doesn’t have that much room. However, I did take a full day to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park a hike that I have been wanting to do for over a year. That was just the “vacation” I needed before I dived back in to these busy weeks.

5. Give myself permission to let go. In order to focus my mental energy on the task at hand, I’ve had to stop some things temporarily, like extra reading. I can’t do it all, and I need  to constantly reevaluate what is important to me at this time and focus on those things.

6. Keep things in perspective. Ultimately, a game is just a game. While I am stressed, I have taken on this stress because I really love it. Others are in stressful situations due to circumstances outside of their control. This too is temporary, so I want to enjoy the good parts while I can.

Joint Book Review: Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin

ymoylThe latest version of Your Money or Your Life has been updated from the book that Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez had written in the early 1990s. It details the 9 steps of the “financial independence” (FI) system.

Amanda’s Take

This was another worthwhile read for me, and should be on your “must read” list if you are looking to improve your relationship with money.

One of the key takeaways for me was something I already felt strongly about:  there are many non-monetary costs to working; they include less time for your family, working endless hours, and stress.  This certainly does not mean one should not work; rather it means one should be wiser about their expenditures and priorities.  The discussion on your real hourly wage is one everyone should stop and consider.

If you are looking for a book on money management that is a bit more in-depth and involved, Your Money or Your Life is worth a peek!

Ronnica’s Take

Reading Your Money or Your Life was inspiring. I like the idea of measuring money in the hours of “life energy” that you gave for that money. It was very eye-opening to realize that I work 62 hours a month for my rent.

The chapter that was most surprising to me was the chapter about finding a high-paying job. In contrast to most advice to find something that you find fulfilling, Robin encourages her readers to pursue paid employment that yields the highest pay while still “consistent with your health and integrity” (p. 233). By doing so, it allows you to focus the bulk of your time on activities that you most want to pursue.

I did step through the steps outlined in the book, but I couldn’t help but compare these steps to Dave Ramsey’s system, which I am more familiar with. Quite simply, I find Ramsey’s plan much simpler to work through.

However, what I think the FI system does better is frame financial principles in terms of life value. After all, money has no inherent value: its value is in its representation of the things that you can do with it for yourself and others.

For the Love of Routines

Recently at work I received a new schedule. While my new shift is only 30 minutes different than my previous one, I decided to take this opportunity to reevaluate my routine.

I absolutely love routines. I feel more at peace if I can practice the same routine. If I don’t make up a routine for myself, I’m bound to fall into one anyway, making habits of things I’d rather not make a habit of. I’d rather be proactive on this point.

sunny streetOne of the best things I’ve added into my routine this year is a morning walk. While I could get my 10,000 steps in other ways, this 30 minutes walking outside not only ups my step count, but it gives me a good dose of fresh air and sun. This is a great way to start my day.

Another part of my routine that I’m definitely keeping is the 30 minutes of cleaning I do. Between dishes and laundry, this seems to be a daily necessity. I’ve been able to clean up my apartment into its cleanest state it’s ever been by spending a few minutes a day on this task.

As a part of my routine, I’ve also been able to read Scripture more regularly than I have in previous years. This provides the proper spiritual grounding for my day.

With my schedule shifting later, I have decided to shift some of my reading time from the evening to the morning (going to bed about the same time I was on my earlier shift). This will help me from using that time watching TV as I’m more prone to do in the evening.

While I’m glad that I spent some time thinking through this, it looks like my next few weeks are going to be a bit up in the air. More on that later!

Photo by David Schiersner

Recipe: Vegetarian Chili over Roasted Potatoes

healthy chiliI love football. As in, I love watching others play football. (Boomer! Sooner!)

Watching football always makes me hungry for a few things: Diet Dr Pepper, junk food and chili. This is my first full football season without the first two.

But there is no reason why I can’t do chili.

Though generally, I want to eat my chili with Fritos and a lot of cheese and sour cream…that’s not happening these days.

So how do I make a tasty chili and fixings that also comes in at under 450 calories? Here’s how I did it:

Black Bean Chili

1.25 cups dried black beans (soaked in water overnight)
1 16 oz can of tomato sauce (hopefully homemade one day)
1 white onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
2 cups vegetable broth (I now make my own)
seasonings to taste (I used salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper…basically, chili powder)

To make the chili, dump all the ingredients in a small crock pot. This recipe makes 5 servings, but can be easily doubled for a big batch in a standard-size crockpot. Cook on high until the beans are soft when bitten (6-8 hours).

Roasted Potatoes

5 medium russet potatoes or 3 large ones
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
Seasonings to taste (I used garlic salt, onion powder and paprika)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Scrub and chop potatoes (with peels still on), in chunks smaller than 1″. Place potato pieces on greased tray or casserole dish. Drizzle with olive oil and add seasonings. Stir until evenly coated. Bake 30-40 minutes until potatoes are soft when pierced, stirring every 10 minutes. This recipe makes 5 servings.

Serve chili over potatoes and top with shredded cheddar cheese and plain Greek yogurt, if desired. I topped mine with 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2/5 cup nonfat Greek yogurt.

This meal’s nutrition facts (topped as I did):

447 calories
27 grams protein
62 grams carbs
10 grams fiber
13 grams fat

Not bad for a filling football-watching meal that costs less than $2 a serving! And did I mention it’s delicious?

Money in the Bank

Last week I had a conversation with a coworker about how many of my other coworkers eat out every lunch. He said that it was something that he, as a husband and a father, just couldn’t afford to do. I replied that I didn’t feel I could afford it either, even with only having myself to support.

His response, “So you have money in the bank.”

I’ve never thought about it in those terms, but that’s exactly what not eating out meals has afforded me. When I was younger, I used to be just like my coworkers, eating out most meals. Sure, they weren’t anything fancy, but $5-15 each meal adds up very fast. Not to mention the types of food I was eating added to the 112 pounds that I’ve been diligently working to get back off me these last few months.

So instead of all those delicious, convenient meals, I have “money in the bank”. I am still eating pretty tasty fare that is as convenient as sticking today’s previously-homemade meal in the microwave for two minutes.

This conversation made me realize I needed to re-calculate my net worth. Sure enough, for the first time in my adult life, my net worth is larger than my annual income:

Ronnica's Net Worth

It’s excited to see that number grow as I continue to squirrel away money towards a future home purchase and even more long-term, for retirement. I still feel like I’m playing catch-up a bit from the time I spent in my 20s spending every dollar I made, but slowly the numbers are starting to work in my favor. That’s only going to continue to be the case as my money starts working for me, too. As Chris Hogan says, “Interest paid is a penalty; interest earned is a reward.”

Halfway There

January 12, 2016
January 12

A couple of weeks ago, I reached the halfway point on my weight loss goal.

I started at 252 pounds in March, and now weigh 191 pounds.

When you have 112 pounds to lose to get to a healthy weight, even halfway is a big deal (pun intended).

If I had to pick up 56 pounds and carry them around all day, I’d struggle.

23 pounds down, May 17
23 pounds down, May 17

 

Reaching this milestone has had me in a reflective mood. Here are a few of those thoughts:

1. I now fit where I didn’t before.

While at a Royals game with my brother and niece, I realized I fit quite comfortably in a seat that would have been a tighter fit a few months ago.

I also overestimate how much space I need to get around someone/something (which helps my general klutziness).

 

30 pounds down, June 3
30 pounds down, June 3

 

 

2. Self-control isn’t so hard when you have already decided the answer is no.

Key for me has been to make a decision about food choices before the choices have been placed before me.

3. Fruit tastes so much better now.

Prior to four months ago, I rarely ate fruit. I had a doctor tell me one time that I should only eat fruit if I replace another carb…and I’d never replace bread or pasta with fruit.

40 pounds down, June 28
40 pounds down, June 28

 

Now, I eat fruit as a special dessert on hiking days and really look forward to it.

4. You can still eat according to your pleasure, even on a 1200-calorie diet.

I have craved Mexican, pizza, rice and pasta, and have allowed myself those options every time.

Since I’m making my own food, I’m choosing to alter those meals in ways that promote health by upping the veggies, using whole grains or using Greek yogurt as a creamy substitute.

 

50 pounds down, July 21
50 pounds down, July 21

 

5. But I still crave junk sometimes.

Thankfully, it’s never tempting while I’m at the store (again, making the decisions about what I’m going to buy before I set foot in the store), but sometimes when I have no access to the junk, the cravings come.

From past experience, I know that giving in to these cravings will not be as satisfying as I imagine.

6. Weight loss is more about diet than it is about exercise.

I suppose I could have upped my activity by 1300 calories a day instead of lowering how much I’m eating by that amount, but that requires more time than I have.

57 pounds down, August 15
57 pounds down, August 15

In 3-4 hours a week, I can shop for and prepare all the food I need from scratch, compared to multiple hours of exercise a day.

7. It’s been easier than I thought.

Of course, weight loss isn’t easy for everyone: there are so many variables. For me, I had no idea it would be this easy.

I kinda just fell into it, and staying in good habits once established was easier than doing something else.

I’m on track to hit my end goal sometime in the first quarter of 2017.

I’m excited to see how the next five months go.

 

Learning for Free

notebooksI love to learn. As a kid, I remember how hard it was to sleep the day before a new school year because I was too excited. I anticipated starting school as much (or more) than my birthday or Christmas.

In college, I loved the first day of class when you would receive the syllabus. It was so much fun to read over what we would be studying and reading!

When I worked at Walmart, I loved ringing up school supplies. Almost as fun as buying them myself, though I was making money instead of spending it. Plus, my items rung per hour would go really high during August with all those small items.

Given how excited I’ve always been about school, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out I have a history degree as well as a graduate degree from a seminary. When I finished formal education almost 8 years ago, I wasn’t sure what I would do. Would life without studying turn out to be dull?

Turns out, it hasn’t been. While I’m no longer reading for credit, I read just as much now as I ever did as a student. (Bonus: I get to pick out the subjects I’m studying!)

Despite my own education background, I now value the education that can be found outside the classroom more than what I got in class. There are plenty of valid reasons to get a formal education, but I don’t think it’s the only way to learn.

Here are a few ways to learn for free:

1. MOOC it up. MOOC = Massive Open Online Courses. There are many places where you can take free online courses. Some formal institutions are offering them these days, or you can go through a site like Coursera, like I have done. All the benefits of an online class you’re paying for, without the cost.

2. Hit up the library. Think of a subject you’re interested in learning more about and find a book on the subject. Search for a good one online or take advantage of your local library’s research librarian. Even if your local library doesn’t have it, they can request if for you through inter-library loan.

The only problem is that you’re bound to think of related topic you want to explore more thoroughly so be prepared to have to repeat the process.

3. Apprentice yourself to someone doing what you want to do. If you have a skill you want to learn, ask to learn from someone who already has it. Cooking, gardening, carpentry, sewing…so many possibilities.

4. Listen while you work. Find a podcast or audiobook on a subject that interests you and listen to it while you do another task. I listen to hours of content a day this way. Even if you can’t listen at your job, you probably can listen in the car, while doing dishes or while mindlessly surfing the Internet. (And no need to pay for audiobooks: your local library probably has many available, on CD or in electronic format).

5. Make friends with someone whose first language is one you want to learn better. Practice your conversational language skills with them while getting to know them.

So even if you aren’t going back to school formally this fall, take some time during this season to renew your desire to learn!

Photo by Kitty Ireland

Joint Book Review: Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen

51QtHln5c0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This month’s joint book review is Locally Laid:  How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm-from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen.  Detailing the process of how the Amundsen family created and developed their vision of a humane and healthy chicken farm, Locally Laid also provides information on the industry, and demonstrates the importance of local businesses with both humor and passion.

Amanda’s Take

I picked up this book because it came highly recommended for being both informative and humorous.  That’s a win for me!

This book did turn out to be both informative and very funny.  It also had the added effect of inspiring me to never raise chickens–at least not on the scale of the Amundsen farm, Locally Laid.  I would rather spend my time and energy on something I am a little more motivated to work on; the closest I have ever come to chicken-raising is watching a friend’s small flock for a weekend, and while educational, it is also laborious and, well, dirty.

A more subtle theme in the book is what it takes to start a business from the ground up–and not surprisingly, it entails a lot.  I really admire the courage it took for the Amundsen family to leave all they had known and take the leap of faith in starting a chicken farm.  They started out not knowing a great deal about the birds, but they followed their passion (or, in the case of the author, her husband’s passion) and learned a lot along the way.

Check out this book for more insight into what it takes to start a business–especially one involving animals–and for a lot of laughs along the way.

Ronnica’s Take

Reading Locally Laid gave me a much more realistic view of what it would be like to raise my own chickens. I don’t know that I ever will, but it’s something that I consider when I dream of growing most of my own food. I’ve always been more comfortable with plants than animals, but I think it would be a good thing to stretch myself in this area…if I get some first-hand experience first.

I enjoyed this book as it was one example of someone seeing a problem in our food system and taking action. I buy the cheap eggs (when I buy them, which isn’t that often), but I can see the merits of supporting businesses like Locally Laid. I’ll be honest, knowing more about where my food comes from is something about which I’ve willing stayed ignorant, sadly.