Friday, April 26, 2013

Faith: Good Choices

This past Christmas, I received a devotional collection from my mother-in-law. A few years ago, I would have thought the gift was a waste. My testimony of faith is colorful (I think), but it wasn't until a year ago next month that I started regularly attending church. I started opening my Bible again. I was reintroduced to Him. 

And let me tell you, it has been wild. 

I pick up this devotional collection every morning. If I skip a morning or two, I feel as if my whole day is off. I try to hang on to sometime from each reading for the day because my mind gets cluttered and crazy very quickly. About a week ago, I read one devotional that just stuck

As focused and motivated as I can be, I do stray from the task at hand. When I'm tired or worn out, I will not do what I should be doing. I feel like I shut down and throw an inner temper tantrum at what needs to be done. I'll start working on one thing, get distracted, think about the million other things on my to-do list, freak out, and then I'm left with nothing accomplished. Once I've hit this stage, I beat myself up over the choices I've made and the time I've wasted.

Then I read that morning's devotional and this line hit me.

I love Hello Kitty. And pink pens. 
That Hello Kitty post-it is on the center of our refrigerator. It reminds me to stop, breathe, and think it all through. Because at the end of the day, I don't want to regret the way I used the time God has gifted me. I want to spend that time doing whatever it is I am meant to do... and I'm pretty sure throwing myself a pity party over what I haven't accomplished isn't in His plan for me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Three Awesome Things

Recent awesome in life lately:

- I'm done with one class this semester. I'm one small paper away from finishing the other class. This girl is not taking summer classes because of my work schedule, and I'm pretty excited for the break.

- Oh, and we bought another car last week. We have been a one-car family for 5 years and it feels pretty awesome to have flexibility in life. I want to do a large post about this, so I'm going to leave you in suspense right now. 

- A little girl I hadn't seen in over 6 months reappeared in my library this week. She saw me sitting at my desk and exclaimed, "Miss Olivia!" A little later, I was working at the circulation desk when she came up and said, "I really missed you." Sometimes I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have the job that I do.

Tell me something awesome going on with you!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

YouTube Study Break

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this semester. I'm physically and mentally exhausted, but I'm almost there. When I take a break, I get on YouTube and gravitate towards music videos to get pumped up for the next round of work.

Tonight during a break, I found this.

And now I will return to working with tear-stained cheeks and a smile on my face.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Summer Personal Finance

I would guess that there are about three of you who are currently reading this blog who are familiar with a previous blog I kept about personal finances and weight loss. While I no longer maintain that blog, I am still struggling with these two areas of my life. Keeping that blog was an educational experience. The things I learned during that time have made for a good foundation to make progress. I wish I could report about huge strides in both those areas, but alas, I'm still making baby steps.

Richie is working his way up the employment totem pole of high school education. When a teacher retires, there's little chance a new one is hired. When a budget is slashed, you just make do. He has an excellent position at the high school he's employed at, but one tiny drawback: he's a contract employee. What does that mean? If there's no school, there's no income.

Does this make us nervous? Yes. A little scared? Heck yes.

Source: PT Money
We recently learned that his contract will be renewed next school year, and his boss told him that he would renew the contract for as long as Richie wants the position. His boss knows that Richie is looking for another position that is more long-term, has benefits, and utilizes the training he has, yet with this knowledge, his boss is still comfortable with renewing his contract. This is a huge blessing and weight off our shoulders. But once the school year ends, that's it. There's no second income until school begins in August.

So what do we do? We've sketched out a game plan to get us through the lean times coming up.

1. We are praying. This job was an answered prayer. We'll continue to pray for financial peace over the summer.

2. I have been paying a little extra on our bills each month so in case we come up short this summer, some of the regular bills won't be as high. I have also added a little extra cushioning to savings in case something comes up.

3. We received many gift cards this past Christmas. Generally, we spend them faster than teenagers. However, Richie mentioned putting them aside and using them over the summer. So that's what we're doing with those. Brilliant!

4. To bring in extra income, Richie will be housesitting and petsitting for families we have done this for in the past. He has also spread the word through his school that he's available to do this, and he has a few more interested families. I also have a few items I'm going to list on Craigslist to hopefully unload.

5. We will only be eating out after church on Sundays. This will be our most difficult step, but we are both committed to sticking this out. We chose Sundays because it's our tradition now and we really enjoy it.

Of course, we'll be doing some of the other basics. I'll still be bringing my lunch to work. We use coupons and shop sales for groceries. We try to wait as long as possible to turn on the air conditioner to save on electricity. We made mistakes last summer, and I'm confident we have learned from those mistakes and will be smarter this year.

What are your absolutely tried-and-true, crazy or not crazy, ways you save money in lean times?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Make A Child Smile

This is the final post about our vacation. About time, right?

There was one night where we were back at our hotel room by 7:30. We weren't tired, but we also didn't want to drive to get anywhere. There was an arcade within walking distance of the hotel, so we hoofed it. We wasted a good hour blowing through $20 worth of game tokens and playing games we remembered from our childhoods. Once our token bucket was empty, we got a count of all the tickets we earned from playing games and peeked at the selection of prizes.

Source: Lisa Padilla
For future reference if we procreate: Avoid arcades like the plague. The prizes aren't worth it.

However, here's what made the entire experience worth our time.

We had roughly 750 tickets that could be redeemed. We knew we weren't going to use them, so we gifted them to this adorable little boy and his father who had waited so patiently earlier in the night while Richie finished some game. We approached them, handed the young man our tickets, and explained to dad that we weren't going to use them and that we thought his son could benefit. The appreciative expression on dad's face was awesome, and then the little man spoke up.

"Thank you! I'm going to get something then go play laser tag! Thank you!"

We left pondering what the boy would choose. I hope he had a blast playing laser tag, too.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Restaurant: Bert's Hometown Grill & Pizzeria

My favorite food is pizza. It has been since I was a child and I don't see retiring my love of this dish anytime in my future. I love cheese pizza - I have nothing against toppings, but a pizza that can stand on its own with just the classic ingredients is all this girl needs.

We discovered Bert's Hometown Grill & Pizzeria a few years ago on a road trip. We stopped in on a whim, and it was one of the best whims we have ever acted on. My mother-in-law was the first one to try the pizza after a recommendation from the waitress. Every time we return to Bert's, I get pizza. We make plans to stop here when we are passing through.

Delicious love.
This is a small cheese pizza. I won't lie: I ate most of it. Richie had some with his meal. It's deep dish, super cheesy, and pure pizza heaven. I know I should try other things off the menu, but if I find something I like, I'm not often adventurous enough to branch out. Fortunately, this pizza doesn't make me want to branch out.

Thank you, Bert's Hometown Grill & Pizzeria, for being at a halfway point on our road trips to the Smoky Mountains so I can refuel with your delicious pizza. I look forward to visiting again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vacation Recap: Ripley's Aquarium in the Smokies

I was hesitant to go to Ripley's Aquarium in the Smokies when we spent a day in Gatlinburg. My mind equates Ripley's with too touristy. Some of Richie's coworkers had recommended the aquarium, and I read plenty of reviews on TripAdvisor before agreeing to go.

OMG. So worth the visit!

Richie and I had never been to an aquarium together, and neither of us could remember the last time we ever visited one. We were both excited for the visit because of the new experience. My recommendation? Get there first thing in the morning. I am so happy we did that because when we left almost three hours later, the place was packed to the gills (no pun intended).

Aside from all of the incredible aquatic life, we watched a penguin feeding and got to pet stingrays and sand crabs. I'm pretty sure the penguin exhibit was my favorite.

The aquarium is right in the heart of Gatlinburg. When you look out from the outside part of the penguin exhibit, you see one of the mini malls at the beginning of the strip.

The sound of rushing river water is nice, too.
Sadly, most of our visit to Gatlinburg was rained out, so we called it a day in the early afternoon and went back to our hotel to relax. We left the following day and took our time going home. We killed two hours in one town in order to grab lunch at one of our favorite restaurants on the route back home.

Can you guess what my next blog post is going to be about?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Vacation Recap: Dollywood

My first trip to Dollywood was in December 2008. We had just moved to Georgia and my in-laws took us to Dollywood for Christmas. I really didn't know what to expect. As native Floridians, we had done the Disney/Universal Studios/Busch Gardens circuit enough to wear us out on theme parks. Plus, neither of us like rollercoasters. Yes, I know. We are boring.

But I fell in love with Dollywood. Richie loved Dollywood already. As part of our trip there, my in-laws purchased a season pass for each of us so we could continue to make trips. Since 2008, I think we have missed one year of having season passes.

Each year, Dollywood has different themes that special shows are tailored around. This year and last, we made it a point to make our first visit during the park's Festival of Nations. In 2012, we saw Spirit of the Dance (Ireland), Los Pampas Gauchos (Argentina), and Paper World Show (Ukraine). This year, we also saw three different shows: Glass Duo (Poland), Mystic India (India), and Cirque Shanghai (China). Every single Festival of Nations show we have seen has been nothing short of awesome.

Here's a video of the Glass Duo. You can't say this talent isn't impressive.
I took a few pictures during the Cirque Shanghai show, but they don't do any justice.
There is a new exhibit at the park this year called Chasing Rainbows. It's a museum filled with Dolly Parton memorabilia: costumes, awards, personal history, and so much more. I loved walking through the museum! My favorite part? The Imagination Library display.
Let's hear it for early childhood literacy!
I tend to sound like a travel agent when describing vacation destinations. If you're looking for a theme park that has something for everyone at a reasonable price, we give Dollywood two thumbs up. We are already planning for another quick getaway for the next festival: Barbeque and Bluegrass.
Up next? Our first visit to an aquarium together.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Vacation Recap: Driving

One of our favorite places to vacation is Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in Tennessee. Yes, both areas are touristy... but we love it! There's always a shop to pop into, a scenic route to drive, and plenty of people watching to partake in. And neither of us like the beach (blasphemous as native Floridians!), so vacations in the mountains are right up our alley.

We don't take the main roads to get to Pigeon Forge. We did that once, then discovered the back way and realized it is a much nicer experience. Also, I avoid driving on interstates as much as possible, so finding back roads ensures that Richie gets a break from being behind the wheel. Plus, back roads are always more scenic.

And no traffic is a nice bonus.
Southeastern Tennessee.
When you're in Pigeon Forge and heading to Gatlinburg, there really is only one way to get there. However, it's incredibly easy and beautiful. Depending on the time of day, you'll sit through a considerable amount of traffic. The wait is worth the reward. The main strip of Gatlinburg is fun to explore.

Hello, Gatlinburg!
If you look really closely at the mountain top, there's snow!
If you're driving on US 411 in Tennessee, you'll pass through a small town named Delano. If you blink while driving through, you'll miss it. I didn't take pictures of the drive here because I was driving. It is an absolutely beautiful area! There is also a Mennonite community in Delano that has a fantastic farmer's market. We didn't stop this year, but last year I bought some of the best strawberry jam I have ever consumed from the market. If you ever drive through, there will be signs for the Delano Community Farm Market. It's worth a stop.

Up next? A visit to our favorite theme park.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Back In Action

Hello, real life. How's it going?

We are not particularly thrilled to head back to work tomorrow, but our time off and away was so needed. We had family visit for four days, and then we skipped out of town for another four days. It was really a welcome escape from the day-to-day routine. Since Richie isn't home much during the week for work, and my schedule of work and school leaves my time pretty booked, it was awesome to spend uninterrupted time together.

I'm hoping to have posts up here throughout the week recapping some of the fun we had. I'm looking forward to writing about some of our adventures because we truly had a good time. Remind me when things get crazy to reread these posts and remember why vacation is good for the soul.