Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thirsty Thursday: Bourbon Slush (Sequiota Bike Shop)

Hey--remember those crazy kids who used to own an ice cream shop as a "side business" because they thought it'd be "easy"?  What a hoot!

Oh wait...that was us.


So, if you recall, a few years ago we sold our business to some friends (veteran restauranteurs). I can't recall if we ever did an update, but they have truly transformed that location. It's now the Sequiota Bike Shop--they have a great menu of sandwiches, a full-on outdoor dining area and bar, just a really fun space.  They even do bike rentals. 
Our formerly awkward parking lot is now a lovely covered seating area (perfect for those drizzly-but-still-warm days)...
And for every other day, there's an outdoor bar in the back, plenty of seating, oh, and they even added a fire pit for those slightly cooler days.
The interior of the building was reorganized and the indoor seating was removed to give them some much needed additional space inside for workers, where they crank out some of the tastiest sandwiches in town.  No fryers to mess with, so they serve up sides like chips, housemade soup, and potato salad instead.  It's a really smart use of a small space (about 600 sq feet).
Jamis Roast Beef sandwich.

The Hubs & I like to stop by periodically to have a drink (great local beer selection) and share a sandwich (our personal favorite is the Finnegan's Reuben). 
Soooo good.

It's always a little bittersweet because we have so many stressful memories tied to that business and location, but I'm honestly very happy for our friends.  They've done more with it than we ever could have.

Anyway, enough gushing.  Bring on the booze!
Sweet tea bourbon slush.

So, Bike Shop has a rotating menu of slush cocktails, made with Four Roses Bourbon.  As much as I love my beer, it's hard to not get a slush when I go.
Watermelon mint slush.

Simple, cold, refreshing. And I do not have the recipe, so I cannot replicate it here.  So I guess you're just going to have to go try one for yourself.
Granted, we are in October....in Missouri.  Where it can be 70 one day and 40 the next.  But I still think Bike Shop is a great destination for this time of year.  Because if it's 70, you get a slush. If it's 40, then you grab a chair by the fire and ask for a spiked cocoa,coffee, or chai instead.
They also frequently have live music, so if you don't have a kiddo (or are lucky enough to have one old enough to leave at home, or better yet, be your DD), it's a great place to kick back in the evenings.  It's like your own back yard...but better.

Cheers!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Working Mom's Beauty Regimen

There are moms out there, even working moms, who always look gorgeous and put together, like the gosh-darn #GIRLBOSSES that they are. I know some women find joy in testing out beautiful hairstyles they found on Pinterest,  shopping for new makeup,  getting a blowout, or sitting at their vanity in the morning getting ready to face the day.

I am not one of them.  My joy comes from a) sleep, b) time with my kid/husband, c) cooking breakfast on weekends, and d) realizing that by putting my potted plants right by the kitchen sink, I can use the sink sprayer to water them and not let them die (like their predecessors).
(I really have no idea why this didn't occur to me sooner.)

It's not that I don't take pride in my appearance, it's just that my only real style goal has been to never end up on What Not to Wear.  With the bar set that low (and the show having been cancelled), it's pretty easy to exceed expectations. 

I CAN, in a pinch, look like a stylish, professional lady who's got her shizz together.
But face it--Work Picture Day is just like School Picture Day.  It's the nicest you're ever going to look that year.  In order to achieve the look seen above, I had to bring the necklace to work in my purse (lest the kid rip it from my throat before I left the house), bring a flat iron and makeup to the office, and primp right before photo time.  And take off my glasses (just like a superhero).  


Suffice to say--most days, I don't look like that, whether at the office or at home.  My office is pretty casual.  I'm a geologist, and emergencies come up. You never know when you might have to run out to a site.
(Work style, 32 weeks preggo)

So while I am by no means a "Style Influencer" who would ever be sought out by marketing teams to push their products, I am a normal, average, run of the mill working mom...who happens to have her own blog and can therefore share whatever the heck I like.   So here it is, folks--my own personal "Working Mom's Beauty Regimen".

Essential Tools-Hair
Hairbrush, comb, hair ties, bobby pins, large hair clip, scrunchy*
*I can't sleep with my hair down. It is posessed & will strangle me in my sleep.  This also comes in handy for The Mom Bun.

Optional:
Dry Shampoo, Hairspray (for serious updo's only) & elastic headband (for my one fancy go-to updo): 

Things I Own But Never Use:
Flat Iron (this now lives at work for emergency/last minute meetings), Hair Dryer, Curling Iron, Hot Rollers, Wet Hair Curlers, Mousse, Hair Smoothing Serum

Look...yes, I'm a woman, and I own these things because society and Cosmo has said we're all supposed to have them.  But I haven't used a friggin' blow dryer in at least 3 years. I have too much hair, it takes too long, and that's an extra 10-15 minutes I could be sleeping.  My hair dryer doesn't even live in MY bathroom--it's in my husband's.  (Yes, we have separate bathrooms.  Marriage Tip: Have separate bathrooms. It's awesome.)

This also affords me the opportunity to revel in some slightly smug self-satisfaction every time I see one of those "hair repair" ads:
TV: Do you suffer from dry, brittle, style damaged hair?
ME: Nope. *changes channel*


Essential Tools: Face
That's it. Seriously.  (I would include links but my research seems to indicate most of these products are so old they've been discontinued. Soooo....yeah. But I'd wager a guess I spent less than $40 total on everything shown here.)

  • Almost-empty blush 
  • An eyeshadow trio, only one color used  (because ain't nobody got time for contouring)
  • Roll-on concealer (Momma's got dark circles)
  • "Cream" style eyeliner  -  I don't stick pencils that have to be sharpened anywhere near my eye.
  • Blue-black mascara - I read in an article called something like "Hangover Beauty Routine" that blue-black mascara makes your eyes look more open, or the whites to look brighter... something, I forget. "Hangover", "sleep-deprived mom"...basically the same thing.
  • Moisturizer w/SPF.  Because it's probably cheaper than getting Botox later. I'm not diligent about using this, but I'm trying to get better. 
  • (Not shown) lip balm - these live in my purse, and don't seem to get used until my lips are already cracked & bleeding (hydrate much?  Nope.)

Things I Own But Never Use:
Foundation, bronzer (I have olive skin, I have no idea why I bought this), more eyeshadow (reserved for when I need to do Halloween costumes or stage makeup).
My mad "black eye" skillz.

Pro Tip: Don't want your kids to get into your makeup and ruin hundreds of dollars worth of product by drawing on the walls & themselves? Don't buy it, then it's not in your house. BOOM.  Problem solved.

So, a typical week for me involves some combination of the following 3 options.

Option 1:
Wake up, lay there for 5 more minutes.  Realize I need to shower before the kid wakes up.  Head to the bathroom: shampoo, conditioner, face scrub, shave (if warranted), body wash (optional and time-dependent).

Pro tip: to save time in the shower, just forget to shave one leg. Or forego shaving altogether. After all, it's fall y'all.

Post shower:  comb wet hair, then pull up into a French twist with big hair clip, or braid (yes, I go to work with wet hair). My Pinterest Style board is full of links for "how to style wet hair", but I rarely take the time to do anything beyond these two options. 
(One morning I threw it up in the clip and ended up with this cool twist. I have never been able to replicate it.)

No hair product. Brush teeth, get dressed, then moisturizer (if I remember), deodorant, and apply makeup until tired or distracted (about 10 seconds).

Option 2:
If hair is not oily and was braided the day before, it might have a nice wave in it, so no shower.  Leave it down, or re-braid it. Wash face (just a washcloth--I own a fancy microscrubber but consistently forget to use it) & such. Full makeup is more likely because there's no noise from the shower to wake the kid up early--but you just never know.
(I'm letting my hair grow out so I can donate it. Ergo it is long and rather shapeless at the moment.)

Option 3:
Mom-Bun!  Then brush teeth, deodorant, makeup (full makeup more likely to make up for the fact that I'm unshowered and disgusting).

Bedtime Beauty Regimen:  Non-existent. I might wash my face, I might not. To be honest, I wear so little makeup that I've already rubbed most of it off my face by bedtime.  Hair goes up in a scrunchy so it doesn't murder me in my sleep.  

And that's it.  I haven't dyed/highlighted my hair in about 15 years, I get a pedicure about 2-3 times a year (I own polish, but I like the pampering, and am too lazy to do it myself). I don't get manicures because I find nail polish distracting (yes, I know that's weird).  I haven't gotten a haircut in over a year (for the reasons mentioned above).  I have noticed a lot more gray coming in, so MAYBE after my hair donation I'll finally bite the bullet and get some highlights to cover the gray. But maybe not, because the idea of maintaining it makes me tired. 

Part of me feels a little sad about my routine, that it's become pretty hum-drum. I used to play around with my hairstyles & makeup a little more.  But I also used to get more sleep and didn't have to spend half an hour every morning getting a tiny human to eat breakfast and then whisking him off to a day care that's in the opposite direction from my work.
  
And ultimately, I know this is just a season.  Someday I will have more free time in the morning, and a kid who doesn't wake up at random times overnight.  This is just where I am now.  Maybe 5 years from now I'll be a Style Influencer Mom telling you about my favorite beauty creams and avocado hair wraps.  
But not today. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Breakfast Oatmeal Bars

This has become one of my go-to staples for breakfast. I can make a 9x13 pan of baked oatmeal bars over the weekend, cut & wrap them in wax paper, and have ready to grab-n-go breakfasts for almost the whole week.

They're also really easy to change up.  The base of the recipe is solid, so you can use raisins & pecans one time, the next time add dried cherries & chocolate chips...sky's the limit.

INGREDIENTS: (makes approx 10-12 bars)
Base:
2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla

Add-in ideas:
- shredded coconut
- chopped nuts
- raisins or other dried fruit
- candied ginger
- chocolate chips
- flaxseed
- chia seeds

DIRECTIONS:
Heat oven to 350F, and then lightly grease a 9 x 13 pan.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and then add in the wet ingredients.  Stir until well combined, and then cover and place in the fridge for about 20 minutes (VERY IMPORTANT STEP--don't skip this.  Otherwise your oats will be crunchy and not chewy & moist.)

Then transfer the mixture into the greased baking dish, and bake under golden brown and the edges are pulling away from the pan (about 30 minutes).  Let cool completely and then cut into bars, wrap in wax paper or cling wrap, and store in the fridge.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thirsty Thursday: Moscow Mule

My last trip down south, my buddy Dre introduced me to Q Ginger Beer.  If you like ginger, you will LOVE this stuff. If you don't like ginger...well, you should probably steer clear.  There was a time when I thought Gosling's was intense.  This stuff...man.  If the first sip doesn't make you cough, you're a tougher mother than myself.  Big, bold, peppery, the heat of ginger, all in a fizzy cold soda. It's crazy.
Dre's sweet handmade man-cave bar in the background.

So Dre made me a Moscow Mule with Q, and I was hooked. I immediately went to Target & picked some up when I got home and made drinks for The Hubs & I that next week. (Note: I do not have the fancy copper mugs. Sorry.)

INGREDIENTS: 
Large glass
crushed ice (our new fridge dispenses crushed ice. I'm so spoiled now.)
1-2 oz lime juice (start w/1 oz, and if you need a little more to offset the burn of the ginger beer you can add more)
2 oz vodka (we like 360 Vodka, made in Missouri!)
6 oz Q ginger beer

DIRECTIONS:
Pour lime juice & vodka over ice.  Top with ginger beer and add lime wedge for garnish. Enjoy!

Note: I also had a killer Bloody Mary this same trip. So if you're flying through New Orleans (MSY), stop by the Atrium Bar (D Terminal) and ask for one.  (I am easily bribed by lots of free pickled snacks in my drinks, obviously.)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Work Life Balance

A few weeks ago I started reading a book called "I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time".  The author found a few hundred highly successful women, most of which who happen to also be working moms, and had them log their time for a week, and then analyzed the results.
I've gotten a lot out of this book, but mostly this: Stop thinking about your time as a day, 24 limited hours.  There are 168 hours in a week.  If you work 45, and sleep 56 (8 hours a night), there's still 67 hours for other things. You have a 1 hour roundtrip commute?  Then you still have 62 hours left.  You spend 3 hours a day getting ready and/or eating meals?  You still have 41 hours, to do with what you will.  Basically: STOP MAKING EXCUSES.  It's not that you don't have time to do the things that bring you joy--you're just bad at managing your time.

I'm not saying this to anyone else. I'm saying it to myself.  I had a wake up call.  Since having my kid, I've dropped my gym membership, stopped going to my caving grotto events, and just generally stopped doing a lot of things, using the excuse that "I'm a busy working mom". 

Which I am.  Sure.  I'm also a giant hypocrite. I'm in charge of time management and productivity training at my company...

But what have I been doing with those "free" hours?  Sure, 26 of those non-working-sleeping-eating-commuting hours are the weekend, and weekends tend to fill up pretty quickly at our house.  Those other 15 hours?  What am I doing with those?  I'll tell you...

...sitting on my couch scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest, with the TV on in the background (all hail the DVR).  That is our nightly ritual after Lil' Man goes to bed.  Get home from work, dinner,  about an hour or so of playing with the kid, and then *boom*, we're vegetables.

There are so many better things I could be doing.  Or at the very least--things that I could be doing WHILE watching TV!

So...I made a list.  A list of Things that I Would Like to Do More.
  • Crochet.  I learned to crochet from my mom when I was a kid. I'm not good at it--I know exactly two stitches. My mom is left-handed, so I had trouble learning from her.  But I can still make things.  Chunky yarn hides a litany of poorly spaced stitches. I've got a basket overflowing with full skeins of yarn, but haven't made anything in a couple years.
  • Crafting. I enjoy making things. I have a Pinterest board.  I have a CRAFTING ROOM IN MY HOUSE.  In which I've never made a thing (except beer.  We're pretty good at that).
  • Crossword Puzzles.  My ideal weekend would start with a cup of coffee and the answer to 1 Across.
  • Volunteering.  We currently volunteer at our church 2x a month, but I'd like to do more.  Usually my bi-monthly blood donations fill this need, but because of a trip to the apparently malaria-riddled Punta Cana, I'm benched until April of 2018.
  • Exercising.  I'm a Flabby Abby and I know it. I get winded coming upstairs from the basement.
  • Blogging.  I have about 10 recipes I could post right now, but don't make the time.
  • Education.  There's some MIT Open Courseware classes I downloaded several years ago, planning to help fill gaps in my formal education.  I've never started any of them.
  • Devotions. I have an alarm on my phone that tells me to do a devotional every day at lunch.  This gets ignored more often than not.
  • Play outside with my kid/husband.  I see very little sunlight.
  • Spend quality time with The Hubs. Sitting side-by-side watching TV at night while we each have our computers in our laps does not count.
  • Have lunch outside the office.  I eat lunch at my desk almost every work day. And not necessarily because I'm working through lunch. Far too often I end up watching YouTube videos of people cooking while intoxicated, or Irish folks saying funny things about American food that wouldn't be half as funny if not for those awesome accents, or comparing street tacos to lavish meals.  Which, sure, is entertaining, but there are better ways to use this time.
  • Date Nights.  This is probably something every couple with kids wants more of.  But sitters are pricey and we don't have local grandparents to drop our tot off with.
Quite a list.  But none of these are all that daunting individually, or even costly (Date Nights probably being the most so).  And the big revelation--most of these aren't even things I need/want to do every DAY.  Just MORE.

So, then I started thinking: how often could I reasonably do these things?  Or how often do I want to?  When can I fit them in?

What How Often When
Crochet 2-3x / week While watching TV in evenings
Crafting 1x / month An evening or weekend
Crossword Puzzles 1-2x / week Saturday or Sunday mornings
Volunteer 1 hour, every other month After work
Exercise 3x / week Mornings? (ugh), during lunch, evenings
Blog 2x / month During lunch, evenings
Online Course 2-3x/week During lunch
Devotions daily During lunch (come on, lady, it takes like 5 minutes.)
Play Outside w/Family 2-3x/week (in good weather) Weekends, After work
Quality Time w/The Hubs every night Before day care pickup / After Lil' Man goes to bed
Lunch Out 1x / week During lunch (duh.)
Date Night 1x / month Any Night

So...I started trying. I started small. On Sunday, I worked on the Washington Post crossword online while I drank coffee and made breakfast. Granted, I then didn't have time to shower before church, but hey...I did a thing.

I found an online devotional that I liked, and added a shortcut on my internet taskbar to make it as easy as possible to NOT ignore my daily lunchtime reminder.

Then on Tuesday night, I played card games with The Hubs instead of vegging on the couch.  And it was nice.  He slaughtered me, but it was still nice.

And then the next night, I grabbed some yarn and started working on an infinity scarf while we watched Expedition Unknown.

The next morning, I had to get up early for a work meeting. Both The Hubs & Lil' Man were still asleep, so I did on the USA Today crossword while eating breakfast. (I suspect that USA Today's puzzles don't get harder as the week goes on, because there's no way I could finish the newspaper's Thursday crossword in 17 minutes.)

Friday night, I cut out of work a little early and met The Hubs for happy hour at our favorite watering hole.  Then after picking up the kid, we played outside in his "water table" (read: storage tote filled with water and toys) while waiting for dinner to cook.

On Saturday, my brain woke up early, so instead of rolling around for another half hour, I got up, ran up & down the stairs 10 times, did about 10 minutes of floor exercises in the basement, then made a cup of coffee and read for a bit. Was it a LOT of exercise? No.  But it was better than none.

And obviously, I found made some time to blog, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this.  Did I hit all of my items? No.  But I had a great week.  And that's the real point, right?  I made time to do things that bring me joy, and it didn't require any sacrifices--I just used my time more wisely. Hopefully I can keep it up.  I suspect the exercise will be the hardest part--because it's not really something I WANT to do, but it's something I know I NEED to do.  So I'll work at it.

Hope you all have a joy-filled week and can make the time to do things you love.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Sixth Wedding Anniversary: Iron!

First, a quick shout out to my amazing and wonderful husband.  This marks our 6th wedding anniversary!  Time really flies.  I am so eternally grateful to have been blessed with such a great life partner, to have shared these past 6 years (and beyond), and look forward to all of the future years to come.

As you may know from previous years, I like to do DIY anniversary gifts.  However, I am not a blacksmith, so creating an iron gift was a bit out of my wheelhouse.  Nor could I find any gifts made from iron that seemed either a) useful, or b) like something The Hubs would appreciate.  So, I had to dig a little deeper.
Iron City beer sign:  Pittsburgh Brewing is one of the U.S.'s older brewing companies, located in Pennsylvania for over 150 years.  We've not been there, or tried any of their beers, but the name works, and it'll make a nice addition to the Craft Brew Room.

Iron Man shirt:  The Hubs likes Marvel, so it works.  Plus this shirt is super soft.

Iron-Themed beers: I hit up our local Brown Derby International Wine Center (aka "the big Brown Derby") and asked a customer service rep in the beer department to help me find Beers either with "iron" in the name of the brewer or the beer.  The rep's eyes lit up--a challenge!!!  We scoured the aisles and found these two perfect options:
- Left Hand's Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown
- Robinson Brewery's Trooper "Red & Black" Porter, created in collaboration with...IRON MAIDEN.  It was a good pull on part of the rep. I would have totally missed this bottle if not for him.

Over the weekend, my in-laws volunteered to keep Lil' Man for us for a while so we could have a date night.  So we checked out a new tap room, then had dinner at White River Fish House, sampled a few moonshines, perused some of the shops at Branson Landing, then had dessert--24 Karrot Cake from Dino's (very yummy).  
After that, we played a twilight game of mini-golf (until twilight turned into "I can't see the course anymore"--so we got through 13 of the 18 holes), then picked up our kiddo and headed home. It was a great day.
If we look tired, it's because we are. Happy, but tired. Teething toddler with a cold = crappy sleep for parents.

To see previous year's gifts, check out:


Year Three: Leather / Glass

Year Four: Fruit & Flowers

Year Five: Wood

If you missed it, I did a "Wedding Week Countdown" after our first year of marriage. Here's the links if you're interested!






Friday, July 7, 2017

Pizza is Not an Emergency, and Other Personal Finance Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

So, real quick, before we get started:

What this is: 
One human's unique personal life experience with money over the long haul.

What it is not: 
- A list of tips & advice for obvious money saving techniques (aka-"stop going to Starbucks so much!");
- A get rich quick scheme or advertisement for any particular money saving strategy; or
- Humblebrag about a "hashtag-blessed" life.

I entered college in 1998, the only child of two great parents who were blue collar factory workers in rural Missouri.  My folks didn't impart much money-knowledge on me, but they taught me how to be thrifty, have a savings account, balance my checkbook, work hard for the money that I get, and never burn bridges.  And that's about it. I didn't have a finance class in high school (or college), nobody taught me about loans or credit scores, taxes, 401(k), etc. I'm pretty sure I didn't even have a debit card at that point.
Junior prom: young, innocent, and completely unaware of what "compound interest" is.

So when I went off to college, I, like most college students, was inundated by credit card offers.  They showed up in the mail, and there were booths scattered across campus offering free t-shirts in exchange for filling out an application. Stupid Me thought, "hah, they'll never approve me, so yeah, I'll fill out your form and get a free shirt!" 

And then...the credit cards arrived.  Small at first--my first card only had a limit of $500.  And I said, "I'll only use these for emergencies."  And that lasted about 6 months.  Because to an 18 year old, pizza can be an emergency.  By the time I graduated in 2003, I had over $15,000 in credit card debt, a high interest $2,000 "rent-to-own" loan on a crappy laptop, a $4,500 car loan, $1,600 in "Stupid Tax" I'd accumulated by paying bills for roommates that never paid me back (despite taking them to small claims court), a judgment against me for a card I'd defaulted on, a credit score in the 500s...oh, and of course, now $25k in student loans that I needed to start paying on.  

Note: I went to a state school so my tuition was pretty reasonable, and my folks pushed me to apply for scholarships and fill out my FAFSA. My parents told me to "only take what I needed"--so each semester I only took out a subsidized Stafford loan which covered my books & tuition with a few hundred bucks leftover. My student loan debt could have been WAY worse if they hadn't given me that direction.  I worked through college to pay for rent and living expenses (usually 2 part-time minimum wage jobs at a time: errand runner, pizza delivery, retail/cashier, bartender, photographer for the student paper, etc.). Because I was working, I took a smaller course load (~12 credit hours) each spring & fall, and then also took summer classes.   But in retrospect, I wish I would have known more about community colleges. I had a really snobbish opinion about 2-year schools as a young adult, but I wish someone would have told me that they're a great tool for knocking out gen-ed classes at a deeply discounted rate.
After college, a coworker introduced me to Dave Ramsey's radio show (while I was working my second job as a pizza delivery driver, because surprise surprise, entry level jobs, even in your career field once you have a degree, still don't pay that great). I started my Debt Snowball, and threw every extra penny (after rent, utilities, groceries, and a little bit of pocket cash) at my debt. And I made a lot of headway in that year.

But then, I decided to move to Louisiana for grad school in 2004 (more loans & out of state tuition), had a bad breakup with a live-in boyfriend (so now paying all of the bills instead of splitting them), and lost my job and graduate assistantship to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (buh-bye savings).  Back in the hole I go.  

Eventually I got a new job, graduated, started the cycle again. Lived on a cash budget for a while.  But in 2008, I decided that because I'd gotten a promotion at work and had the word "manager" in my job title that I needed a nicer car.  Got $15,000 in car loan debt with a high interest rate (because of my crappy credit score, then somewhere in the low 600s).  But otherwise, continued to live modestly and pay down the debts.  I can't say I had the best money management habits, though--I dined out for lunch with coworkers most days of the week and did my share to keep coffee shops in bankroll.  I was also horrible about keeping track of how much I had in the bank, and at one point had EIGHT overdrafts ($35/each) in one month.  Probably for purchases that were about $10-15.  Stupid.

In 2009, I finally paid off all of my debts except the car and the student loans. I decided to move back to Missouri for a job that paid less, but allowed me to be closer to my family.  I started dating a really nice guy, who was actually great with his own money, and who inspired me to be more responsible with mine.  He also inspired me to start tithing, which I know seems contradictory to throwing all your money at your debt, but I decided to go by faith....and got a promotion/raise at work not long after, so I 100% believe that's a God-thing.
At the 2011 World Series, Game One. Go Cards!

Then the nice guy proposes (in case you haven't figured out, this is now "The Hubs"), and we decide--we will pay for our wedding and honeymoon with cash, no credit card debt. Which we did.  And I also managed to pay off the car that year (2011, so 4 years after purchase).  Then two become one, and I moved into the modest 3BR/2BA house he had bought in 2004.  So now we share a joint bank account, his mortgage, and my student loans.  We made a budget (which included some monthly allowance for personal spending), and then we started throwing all of our extra money at the student loans and mortgage.  We still liked to dine out a couple times a week, and hang out with friends every Wednesday to play trivia at a local pub, go to the movies, and travel a bit, but otherwise, we lived pretty cheap. 

In 2012, a horrible tragedy... my aunt was killed in a car accident.  My family was devastated and completely caught off-guard.  My cousin & I decided to step up and become the executors of her estate, because our aunt didn't have a will and our parents were grieving and shouldn't have to think about money and all of the stressful little things that come with a horrible event like that. Unbeknownst to us, this Aunt had a life insurance policy...listing me & my cousin as beneficiaries.  As her executors, we used the insurance money to pay for legal fees, funeral expenses, and her outstanding personal debts, and after everything was said and done, had some left over.  I used part of my share to pay off student loans, we used another portion to pay down our house, and then the rest we put into savings until we could think of something to do that would honor her memory.  While I would rather have my aunt back than even a million dollars in the bank, I'm including this bit because that "inheritance" played a big role in our finances. 
Me & my cousin with our Aunt at her wedding in 1995. We miss you so much.

Later that same year, the owner of my company passed away in a plane crash...2012 was a really rough year. So maybe the Mayans were a little right.  But these things inspired us to make sure we had a will in place, because life is short and you really never know what could happen.  On the flip side of that--we paid off our house AND my student loans by the end of the year. But it was very bittersweet.

In early 2013, we had some savings amassed from being debt-free, so we decided to invest--in ourselves--and buy a business. We bought a small ice cream shop that was sold to us as a "great seasonal absentee-owner opportunity for side income" (this is HILARIOUS now).  We committed to a 2 year lease, paid for the business with our savings, and never had any debt on it.  Running that business was the most stressful time of my life (we were both still working our regular full time jobs).  It definitely wasn't a cash cow (and the "side income" didn't really off-set all the man-hours we put into it), but we learned A LOT, and we both have a much greater respect for the small business owners of the world.  After the 2 year lease was up, we sold the business to friends who are veteran restaurateurs in this area, and they've transformed that location into a hugely successful restaurant...which is a little bittersweet, but I'm glad for them.  The money from the sale of the business went into the stock market, retirement savings, and savings for fertility treatments, with the remainder to eventually go into a college savings plan for our (hopeful) future kid.
In late 2015, after 2 years of trying, we had our son--I was 35.  Since he was VERY much planned, I'd been working on a "baby budget" for years. I knew how much day care would cost, and what the best price point for diapers was, and had short-term disability coverage to help with lost pay during maternity leave.  We were incredibly blessed with hand-me- downs from friends and family, so his first year of life cost us very little (other than sleep, our sanity, and my ability to not pee when I sneeze.)

Now...here we are.  In our late 30s, "old but experienced" parents, but incredibly blessed.  I have a 6 year old car, purchased with cash, that runs well (despite having over 180k miles and the imprint of a deer on the passenger side).  We moved into a bigger house in November of last year, and between savings and a 401(k) loan (that we paid off once the old house sold) were able to buy the new house without a mortgage.  We have good paying jobs (for this area), but it took over a decade of work experience each to get to that point.  Lil' Man's day care is our biggest monthly expense (day care is stupid-expensive).  Since we have no debt, The Hubs & I max out our retirement contributions each year, contribute to a college savings account for the Kiddo, and I've recently started maxxing out my Health Savings Account (HSA) as well, which we can use down the road...because we'll almost be senior citizens when our kid graduates from high school, so we'll likely be falling apart and in need of new bionic 3D-printed body parts.  We also still tithe and donate, because we are supernaturally blessed and believe we should give back generously.  That all means that we still live very modestly--living on about 20% of our gross income for our 3 person family.

I don't dare take credit for this.  I KNOW I've been lucky. I believe my life has been blessed in supernatural ways. I hate that part of the reason we became debt-free when we did is because I lost someone I loved.  Yes, I've worked hard, but that's only a small part of this equation.  I married someone who was good with money.  We had a lot more to throw at our debt because we waited so long to have children. I've always lived in relatively "cheap" areas of the country (except the year in New Orleans, but it WAS considerably cheaper before Katrina than it is now). And there's the whole inherent "white privilege" thing. My situation is very unique.  And I know it can all change in a matter of seconds in the future.  But I'm no less grateful for all of it, the entire experience.

And honestly, I'm really proud. To know where I was 15 years ago, I honestly thought I would just always be broke. That broke-ness would just be my lot in life, because that's all I saw around me--everyone was broke and in debt.  Debt was normal.  Which sort of made it seem okay...sad, but okay.  Now, I can see how hard I worked, and that it didn't happen overnight.  It sort of snuck up on me.  And that's pretty amazing.