abundance + gratitude

Hello, my long-lost friends! It has officially been one month and one day since I married the love of my life. I can’t believe how time has flown! I am working on a humongous recap wedding post chock-full of photos for y’all. Here is a sneak-peek photo. ūüôā

dal-and-al-just-married

In the meantime I wanted to pop in and talk about something that has been on my heart and mind a lot lately: the concept of abundance.

If you had talked to six-months-ago me or one-year-ago me about money, “abundance” would not have been a word on the tip of my tongue. I used to worry about money. Since childhood, I have always been a “saver” more than a “spender” — but I have also followed my passion to a nontraditional career with financial¬†ebbs and flows. When we got engaged and began planning our¬†wedding, everything seemed more expensive than I had anticipated and I remember thinking, “How are we going to afford this??” When we talked about the future, about having children and maybe buying a house one day, inwardly I started doing tabulations and felt myself panic a little. Not to mention the unplanned emergencies, the curveballs that life throws at everyone sooner or later.

When you’re in a mindset like this, it can seem like the only solution is to clench your fists and dig in. To count your nickels and dimes, scowl at every donation request you receive, and feel even the most necessary of expenses gnawing away at you. To worry yourself into a consciousness of scarcity.¬†

My parents generously offered to shoulder the financial burden of our wedding, and my gratitude was immense and boundless. But instead of seeing this as the pure blessing it was, I felt¬†guilty with every plan we made — because even the simple wedding we wanted came with many expenses, many moving parts and things to consider. Even though my parents had told us, plainly and clearly, how thrilled they were to be able to help us in this way, I for some reason felt like I was letting them down by using the gift they had given us.

Everything changed when I remembered a story my father told me and my brother when we were kids. It is a story about two brothers who were also great friends. One brother’s passion in life led him to a career with a lot of money. The other brother’s passion led him to an equally worthy career, but one that was not compensated as highly. Both brothers eventually got married and had children of their own. The first brother lived in a beautiful, large home. The second brother had dreams of buying a home for his family, too. Eventually, he worked up his courage and asked his brother for a loan.

‚ÄúNo,‚ÄĚ the first brother said. ‚ÄúI won‚Äôt loan you the money.‚ÄĚ

The second brother felt surprised and hurt‚ÄĒbut only for a moment. Because then his brother said, ‚ÄúI won‚Äôt loan you the money, but I would be overjoyed to give you the money.‚ÄĚ

The second brother gratefully accepted the first brother’s generous gift, and both brothers felt richer in spirit because of it.

I think my father shared this story because he wanted to teach us that money gives us the most joy not when it is hoarded or spent thoughtlessly, but rather when we intentionally use our money as a means of helping those we care about. When I thought about the gift my parents were giving me and Allyn in this new light, everything shifted. And this shift carried over into not just the wedding, but into other parts of my life, too. I began to see the resources in my life not as limited, but instead as abundant. And I began to use gratitude every day to cultivate these feelings of abundance even more.

Thinking back on my life so far, one of my most treasured experiences was when my brother accepted a small financial gift from me to help him with his business school expenses. It was just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of his degree, but it gave me such joy to feel like I was investing in him and his future. As author Gretchen Rubin writes in her ‚ÄúSecrets of Adulthood,‚ÄĚ sometimes we can be generous by taking. Accepting that money was a gift that my brother gave to me.

me and greg graduation

Furthermore, “money” doesn’t have to literally mean money. It can be any type of resource — time, energy, relationships, activities. Sometimes we feel the urge to hoard these resources all to ourselves, to focus on all that we do not have and to worry that we will never have enough. But when we shift our perspective to thinking about how we can share what we have with others, it is amazing how what once felt like “not enough” can suddenly feel like an abundance of riches.

So I’ve got a question for you today, dear readers. Where do you notice and appreciate abundance in your own life — right here, right now? Small details matter just as much as the big things. Write down your list. Read it to yourself a few times today, breathing in deeply with a smile on your face.

It’s amazing how rich this can make you feel.

fall colors cleveland

 

Here are some things on my “abundance list” as I sit here at my desk on this sunshiney Wednesday afternoon:

:: abundant in love {never more true than on our wedding day… I am still basking in all the love we felt in that room!}

:: abundant in friendship

:: abundant in community

:: abundant in ideas {driving around in silence has really boosted my creative thinking… it is crazy how many more ideas I get now that I intentionally cleared away a bit of noise}

:: abundant in nourishing food {including these amazing pumpkin gingerbread muffins that I cannot get enough of… I’ve eaten three of these babies in the past five hours and I feel great about it because not only are they autumn in delicious muffin form, they are also ridiculously healthy}

:: abundant in inspiration {there are so many good people in this world, working to do so many good things!}

:: abundant in time*

 

* Okay, I’m still working on this one… maybe this one should more accurately read “MORE abundant in time than I used to feel”… while I still have a million projects I want to tackle and books I want to write and things I want to do in this one wild and precious life I have been blessed with, lately I’ve been feeling less crazy-frantic-rushed than I was feeling, say, a month ago. {This might be because I am no longer planning a wedding!} But I think it is also because I have really been thinking about how I want to structure my days and what it is truly important for me to make time for… and what it might be best to gently let go of. The important things include working on my novel for an hour every morning first thing; doing yoga for even just fifteen minutes every day; and breathing quietly/meditating for five minutes every day. Purposefully setting aside time to do these things makes me feel like more¬†minutes have magically¬†sprouted into my life as the¬†day progresses.

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you feel abundant in your life?
  • What do you feel most grateful for in this season of your life?
  • Where in your life would you like to cultivate more abundance?

why I love meal-planning

Hello, lovely people! It is currently Sunday afternoon and it is raining, for which I am very grateful. {Even though the rain sometimes causes ant invasions in our apartment… stay away, ants!} We can use all the rain we can get. Also, there is something that feels especially cozy to me about rainy weekend days. I just want to listen to Jack Johnson and maybe some old school Maroon 5… Sunday Morning, anyone?

I forgot to mention earlier that last Sunday, I went to a baby shower for my cousin Sharon, who is due with a baby boy in June. So exciting! It was actually the first baby shower I have ever attended, and I thought the hosts were so thoughtful and creative with the way they put the event together. We decorated burp cloths with fun designs, played a game where the goal was not to say the word baby {I totally failed, haha!} and showered Sharon with adorable baby gifts, including some of the cutest onesies I have ever seen. Congrats, Sharon & Matt!

Typically Sundays are when I plan out the week ahead; I like to get a handle on things so I feel like I begin the week with a bang! Allyn and I talk about our schedules for the week and if we have any special events coming up on the calendar. Something else I like to do on Sundays is to jot down a quick dinner menu plan for the week using this handy-dandy whiteboard magnet calendar I picked up in the dollar-bin area at Target.

meal whiteboard

I never used to really do meal-planning, but I am a full-fledged convert now. I have been surprised at 1) how little time it takes and 2) what a big difference it makes¬†in how prepared and productive I feel. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes looking through recipes and planning out dinners for the week saves me a LOT¬†of time and mental space, because then¬†I don’t really need to think about dinner at all for the rest of the week… I just follow what’s on the whiteboard, and we’re good to go!

Here are some things that have been helpful for me when it comes to meal-planning:

  • I look in our cupboards and fridge and see if there is anything that needs to be used up. For example, when Allyn and I make pasta for just the two of us, we usually only¬†use half a jar of sauce. So I usually like to make some sort of pasta dish two weeks in a row to use up the rest of the pasta sauce. Other examples could be veggies, greens, or little leftover bits from our Blue Apron meals¬†like seasonings or half a head of garlic. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy to use up leftover ingredients. Embrace the little things!
  • Putting special dinners on our meal plan calendar, like going to a restaurant in the city with friends or celebrating someone’s birthday, lets us look forward to these events all week long and makes them even more special. As Gretchen Rubin writes about, according to her research on happiness, anticipation plays a huge factor in enjoyment.¬†
  • Meal-planning gets me to actually try out new recipes that I tear out from magazines or dog-ear in my cookbooks. If left to my own devices, figuring out what to have for dinner the day of, I tend to fall back on my same tried-and-true recipes: vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, chili and corn muffins, enchiladas with black beans. I love all of these recipes, and they are great to have in my arsenal as staples, but it is so easy to fall into a “cooking rut.” I¬†get tired of always eating the same thing, yet never know what else to make. But with meal-planning, I look through my recipe folder and specifically decide in advance what I am going to cook on which days. {I think the key for me is in advance!} Every week, I cook one or two new-to-us recipes. It helps that Allyn is pretty much game to eat whatever I put in front of him, so even my less-successful cooking attempts have been sweetly consumed¬†in our house. ūüôā
  • Planning our meals also makes grocery shopping much simpler and much less wasteful. Allyn and I use the app Wunderlist to add items to our shared grocery list whenever we run out of something. When deciding on recipes to make, I immediately¬†add to Wunderlist all the ingredients needed to make everything on our meal plan for the week; this ensures that I don’t forget that one crucial ingredient like lime juice or tumeric that I may not have in the pantry already. I’ve learned that trying out new recipes means branching out of your comfort zone, and sometimes venturing into new aisles of the grocery store you don’t usually visit! Plus,¬†nothing derails my cooking juju more than realizing I forgot to get something on the recipe’s list of ingredients, and need to run out to the store. #letsjustorderpizzainstead
  • Meal-planning helps us prevent food waste, which isn’t just good for our wallets — it’s good for the planet. I was staggered to learn that throwing away a pound of chicken wastes 519 gallons of water! Ruth Mathews of the Water Footprint Network explains that when you throw away food, you are not just throwing away that food item, you are also throwing away all of the resources that went into producing that food item. Furthermore, tossing food into the trash means it will end up in a landfill, producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If meal-planning helps you eat everything in your fridge before it goes bad, you could be saving thousands of gallons of water every week — not to mention saving extra dollars in your wallet, too!
  • Something else I do that has become a little joke between me and Allyn is that if I am going to be gone for whatever reason and there are leftovers in the fridge I want Allyn to eat up, I write him out a little menu as a reminder. I purposely try to make the leftovers sound as fancy, gourmet and appealing as possible. For the parents out there, this might be an easy way to make leftovers more fun for picky-eating children!

allyn menu

In short, meal-planning makes cooking much simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable for me. Now… I’m off to plan this week’s meals! ūüôā Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Questions for the day:

  • Do you plan out your meals every week?
  • What helps¬†you cut down on food waste?
  • Any fun recipes to share?

a year of Wooden: week 19

Hi, everyone, and happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend. Tomorrow I’ll share some photos from my lovely weekend at home, but today it’s time for¬†this week’s¬†year of Wooden¬†challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.
  • April:¬†Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May:¬†Be true to yourself.

For the month of May, we’ll be focusing on the very first item of Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Be true to yourself.” Each week, I’ll be posting a question for you to reflect on, perhaps through journaling or meditation. The goal is that by the end of May, you’ll have a clear idea of what it means to be your happiest, most authentic self so that you can work on being true to that self.

Last week, the question to reflect upon was: If you won a zillion dollars and no longer had to work for money, how would you spend your time?

I would spend my time visiting and laughing with the people who matter most to me; traveling across the U.S. and around the world; writing pieces I’m passionate about without worrying about anyone reading {or not reading} them; volunteering for social justice causes; teaching; reading; going to plays; planting a huge organic garden; cooking and baking. I feel incredibly lucky that, even though I haven’t won a zillion-dollar lottery and do need to work for money, my life includes pretty much all these things that I love and my job is something I would do for free because it fulfills and nourishes me.

This week, here is your question to consider: What in your life makes you feel drained, overwhelmed or fearful?

quote on stress

a year of Wooden: week 17

Hi, friends! Happy Monday! Time for¬†this week’s¬†year of Wooden¬†challenge, wrapping up our last week of April before we transition into May…

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.
  • April:¬†Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).

Last week, the challenge was to make a small change of habit that results in more money in your savings account. When I was working as a graduate student teacher at Purdue, my paycheck was deposited into my checking account automatically each month, and I began immediately transferring a couple hundred dollars into my savings account. And as a result, my savings grew steadily each month.

Now that I’ve graduated and stopped working at Purdue, I’m working as a freelance writer and editor and don’t have a paycheck automatically deposited into my checking account each month. So for this week’s challenge, I’ve made a small change of habit of depositing a quarter of the checks I receive into my savings account instead of my checking account.

For this final week of April, the challenge is to make a financial goal that you want to accomplish this year and an action plan to achieve it. My goal is to put $1,000 into my Roth IRA by the end of the year, which means I need to save $20 a week, or about $85 a month.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Coach Wooden that always inspires me:

John Wooden fortune cookie

Question of the day:

  • What is a financial goal you have for this year?
  • What steps might you implement to achieve this goal?

a year of Wooden: week 15

Hi, everyone! Monday means it’s time for this week’s¬†year of Wooden¬†challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.
  • April:¬†Build a shelter against a rainy day.

This metaphorical shelter includes¬†family, friends, good work, faith¬†— but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now¬†we are focusing on the financial interpretation.

Last week, the¬†challenge was to keep track of where you spend your money — even small amounts. Not counting¬†staple items like groceries and drugstore purchases, I tend to spend my discretionary money at Starbucks, bookstores, the movie theater, and going out to lunch at places like Panera.

This week, the challenge is to take just ONE of your weekly discretionary purchases and drop the money into your spare-change jar¬†instead. For example, maybe I’ll swap one of my Starbucks chai lattes for a mug of home-brewed green tea on my own back porch. Or instead of meeting up with a friend for lunch at a restaurant, maybe we can meet up for something free like a walk outside in this beautiful weather.

Having a savings safety net is so important, and these little actions can really add up! I’m inspired by these words from Coach Wooden:

john wooden quote

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you tend to spend your discretionary money?
  • What small change are you going to make this week to drop a little extra money into your spare change jar?
  • Have you ever had the experience of not taking the time to do something right the first time, and having to go back and do it over?

a year of Wooden: week 14

Hi, friends! It’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

For this month of¬†April, we’re going to be focusing on Coach Wooden’s creed to “build a shelter for a rainy day.”¬†This metaphorical shelter includes¬†family, friends, good work, faith¬†— but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now¬†we are focusing on the financial interpretation. In other words: save now to weave¬†a safety net!

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

Last¬†week, the challenge was to create a “spare change jar.”¬†Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop¬†it into the jar. This week I ended up with $3.49. I’m planning to continue this spare change jar throughout the year!

This week’s¬†challenge is to keep track of where you spend your money — even small amounts, like that Starbucks pick-me-up or the impulse drugstore purchase. For the next three days {or the entire week, if you’d like} make note¬†of every penny that leaves your pocket. We’ll work with the results in next week’s challenge!

coach wooden quote details

Questions of the day:

  • Have you ever kept a strict budget before?
  • What are the “little details” that have made a big difference¬†in your life?

a year of Wooden: week 13

Hi, everyone! Apologies for my extreme delay with this¬†year of Wooden¬†post… this week has flown by incredibly fast. My mom was in town, I had two job interviews, and last night was my final reading as part of my Steinbeck Fellowship. {More about that¬†in tomorrow’s fabulous friday post!}

Now that we’re into April, we’re going to be focusing on a new topic for this year of learning from Coach Wooden’s philosophies and teachings.

a year of wooden

  • January:¬†Drink deeply from good books.
  • February:¬†Make friendship a fine art.
  • March:¬†Help others.

Last¬†week, the challenge was to help someone less fortunate than you are.¬†I dropped off a donation of clothes to a local thrift shop; books and magazines to the library; and canned goods and toiletries to a homeless shelter. In these next two weeks, I’ll also be volunteering at an event my church is holding called “Winter Nights” in which we feed and shelter homeless families from the area until Easter Sunday. I’ll be helping cook and serve dinner and leading some activities for the kids.

  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.¬†

This month’s challenge also comes from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed. I thought rainy April would be an appropriate time to focus on this credo! I like to interpret “building a shelter” in a multitude of ways: family, friends, work that satisfies and sustains you — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, I’m going to focus this month on the financial interpretation of “building a shelter against a rainy day.” In other words: save now to build a safety net!

For this week, the challenge is to create a “spare change jar.” Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop¬†it into the jar. You could continue this challenge all month — or even {as I plan to} all year long! How much spare change will you wind up with at the end?

I’ve always loved this wise sentiment from¬†Coach Wooden:

wooden quote peaks valleys

This month, we’ll work on building a shelter to keep life’s inevitable valleys that come along from getting too low!

Questions of the evening:

  • What are your favorite tips for saving money?
  • In what ways do you “build a shelter against a rainy day” in your life?

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: delicious recipes to re-use your leftovers

Today I’m linking up again with Tammy’s Recipes for Kitchen Tip Tuesdays!

kttovenmittbanner425

A couple weeks ago, I posted a tip about making the most of your oven time by cooking meat or veggies to use later in the week. {I often bake chicken to use in later dishes.}

This week, I’m sharing some recipes to use up leftovers. I really dislike wasting food, and re-using your leftovers in new recipes is a great way to save food and money!

  • Leftover mashed potatoes? Fry them up into potato pancakes.
  • Leftover oatmeal? Make these delicious, super-moist oatmeal cookies.
  • Leftover veggies? Add them to pasta or a casserole.
  • Leftover fish? Make baked fish cakes.
  • Leftover chicken? Add it to a leafy green salad, or mix in some mayo, mustard, raisins and almonds to make chicken salad.
  • Leftover quinoa or rice? Dump it in a pot of soup to make the meal heartier.
  • Leftover French or sourdough bread? Tear it up into chunks and bake cinnamon french toast.

This is another terrific post about creative ways to reuse leftovers: http://www.findananny.net/blog/27-blogs-sharing-creative-ways-to-reuse-your-leftovers/

Does anyone else repurpose leftover food into new dishes? I’d love to hear your recipes in the comments below!

saving money & time by utilizing my freezer

One of my goals for this year is to put at least 10% of each paycheck into my savings. I’ve always been a saver — I was the kid who saved up my Chuck E. Cheese ticket winnings visit after visit to eventually spend on the coveted 1,000-Ticket Big Prize — but in the grown-up world saving isn’t always that easy. As a grad student, there are months it seems downright impossible to put aside any of my small paycheck for savings. Yet I know how important it is to save for the future, and I know how fortunate I am to have a job — after all, even a small paycheck is better than no paycheck.

With that mindset — that even small savings deposits are better than no savings! — I am aiming to discover little ways to save money throughout my daily living.¬†Since I hate wasting food, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying small amounts of produce every week — even produce I really like and eat often — because I don’t want anything to go bad and go to waste. Sometimes this caused me to lose out on good weekly deals because, though I knew I would use up a lot of that specific fruit or vegetable, I wasn’t sure if I would eat it quickly enough. This also lead to some situations where it felt like I was racing against the clock to eat up all of the peaches or blackberries or celery before it went bad and into the trash.

freezing produce

Then I came across this post from my blogging buddy Andrea at Simple Organized Living about how she cuts up and freezes her fruits and veggies {and lots of other goodies, too!} … and it really inspired me! It seems so obvious, but it had never occurred to me that I could freeze my fruits and veggies and use them later. It was like a light-bulb went on in my brain!

Serendipitously, this week at the grocery store, they were having a great sale on bell peppers, something I use often in my cooking. Normally I would have bought one, maybe two, and made sure to use them up in dishes this week. But now I knew exactly what to do to take full advantage of the sale: use my freezer!

I bought half a dozen bell peppers, used two in recipes this week just like I normally would have, and then took a few extra minutes to chop up the rest. Then all I had to do was put them into ziplock baggies and into the freezer!

bell peppers

I used one small bag per bell pepper, because typically my recipes use one bell pepper at a time. An extra bonus is that cooking with these frozen veggies will be easier than ever because the chopping is already done! Surprisingly, it seemed much faster to get in the zone and chop up four bell peppers in one go than it does chopping them up one at a time.

And I felt so proud putting these babies into the freezer. I pictured a harried, midterm version of my Future Self, hungry and desperate to get dinner on the table, and I thought, “This is my gift to you, Future Self. ¬†You’re welcome!”

Do any of you use your freezer to stock up on produce? I’d love to hear your money-saving tips!

homemade christmas gifts

When I think back on my favorite gifts I’ve ever received, they are not the most expensive or glamorous, but the most thoughtful. Many of them are homemade: the blue-jean quilt sewn by my grandmother and passed down to me; the handwritten letters my dad writes for me on each birthday; the paintings made for me by my brother. My other most treasured gifts are not “things” at all but experiences: the “girls trips” I’ve taken with my mom; the Taylor Swift concerts I’ve been to with my friend Holly;¬†the time my Gramps took me on a tour of the small Ohio town of his boyhood; the trip to Ireland I took with my brother to explore our family’s Irish roots.

holiday masterpiece

This holiday season, I am approaching gift-giving not as a money-draining, stressful obligation, but instead as a fun challenge. How can I show all of the people I care about how much I care about them? How can I be thoughtful and proactive in gift-giving without breaking the bank?

My answer: homemade, personal gifts.

I mentioned in a post last week about my quest to upcycle gift containers rather than waste money on brand-new bags and boxes. Not only is this good for my wallet, it’s also good for the environment — AND it seems more thoughtful and personal, to boot!

One of my favorite homemade gifts to make for loved ones is hand-knitted scarves. My junior year of college, I studied abroad in England and my friends Janet & Lauren taught me how to knit. Ever since then, I constantly have some sort of knitting project going. {It’s a great project to do while watching TV or on long car rides!} My favorite thing to make is scarves because they are straightforward, versatile, and get a lot of use. With each stitch, I love thinking of the recipient wearing the scarf and staying warm during a cold winter day.

scarf

One Christmas, I made a “scarlet and gray” spirited scarf for my Gramps to wear to cheer on his beloved Ohio State football team. It was one of the first scarves I ever made and I worked on it painstakingly for months, trying to make my rows even and neat. I was so proud of myself when the scarf was completed. And my Gramps’s surprised smile upon opening the gift is one of my favorite Christmas memories!

me and gramps

Here are some good online tutorials for how to knit a scarf:

–¬†http://www.wikihow.com/Knit-a-Scarf
–¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqeG05HFP1E
–¬†http://www.ehow.com/video_12221356_knit-scarf-beginner.html

I also love to give homemade baked goods as gifts. I mean, think about it: even “the person who has everything” could appreciate a nice big batch of still-warm-from-the-oven brownies, right? ūüėČ To me, homemade food gifts carry the message of comfort, delight, and indulgence. One year, Holly mailed me a batch of cookies all the way across the country and they made me feel SO special and loved — I swear those were the most delicious cookies I’ve ever eaten!

holiday treats

Here’s a wrap-up of some of my favorite recipes for delicious holiday treats that would also make great gifts:

holiday white chocolate pretzels
butterscotch pudding cookies
chocolate-covered popcorn
pumpkin-oatmeal cookies
red velvet cupcakes with coconut cream-cheese frosting
rice krispies treats with m&ms

Making someone a homemade gift is almost like prayer: as you work on the gift, you spend time thinking good thoughts about the person and how much you care about them and how lucky you are to have them in your life. I love homemade gifts because, to me, they are the ultimate testament to the warmth, joy, gratitude and selflessness of the holiday season.

Are you making any homemade gifts this year? What are some of your favorite gifts you’ve ever received?