Gift Guide

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 3

Today is the day! It is THE day! After four years, our calendars are marked, we have accepted the invitation, and we are ready. to. go. As I wrote about before, four years ago Kris and I set out on a journey to figure out our personal finances. We had no prior understanding of budgeting or debt or anything in regard to money.

Though several friends suggested we take some plan of action for our finances before getting married, it never caught on. It never stuck. And by that, I mean we weren't interested in hearing about money--it sounded boring and not "for us." At least not until that January of 2013; not until desperation began to take over and we had no choice but to do SOMETHING--ANYTHING to get our finances in order. Once we had no money, no career, and nearly $100K in student loan debt, we knew something had to happen.

What happened next was one of those experiences I wish more of my life looked like. It was one I think could be compared to a marathon instead of a sprint...not that I would know, but it was one I can look back on and see that we didn't simply recognize a problem, but we took the hard, difficult, and necessary measures to change them.

So often in life, recognizing our issues isn’t the difficult part—at least not if we’re being honest. The difficult part is figuring out what needs to be done in order to change our path, to redirect our steps. And we actually did, my friends. We actually changed our outcome. I hope that as time goes on, this part of our history is something we can pass down to our children and their children. I hope this isn’t an aspect of our lives soon forgotten because this wasn't easy and because it's an experience worth passing along.

I’m not going to get into all the details of the hows, the whys, and the mistakes because I’ve shared that with you already, but I am going to share the tools with you in hopes that it will continue to inspire others to make the necessary changes. I'm going to start by saying that money and personal finances and budgeting and debt and workbooks and courses all sound like an awful combination of words that make me want to fall asleep just thinking about it. But please trust me when I say that Financial Peace University can truly be a tool that changes your life. No, I'm not getting paid for this in any way; I'm just a really happy student whose life and family were changed because of this material.

There are classes you can attend, which honestly may be ideal as far as having others to go through this process with, but that’s not how it looked for Kris and I. I honestly do not remember the conversation or the final push that made us decide to go through the FPU material, but I do remember it was on sale. I also remember being sorely disappointed when I thought I’d ordered DVDs, but in fact ordered CDs—uh….what? 13 sessions (now 9) of teaching on personal financial over CD. . .?

I mean, it already sounded fun, but man…now we’re really in for a treat.

But guys, it actually worked. For one, Dave Ramsey is hilarious. He’s engaging and he speaks from and to the heart. He shares his own past and struggles with finances and he gives so much detail and encouragement that he really just kind of pumps you up, even over CD-Rom.

Anyhow, there we were 13 CDs and a workbook (a workbook of which I bought used on Amazon because we were so broke) at our fingertips. Quick survey, does anyone still own a CD player? We sure as heck did not. What to do now?

Fortunately, we had a road trip planned. NJ>Niagara Falls>Grand Rapids>Columbus>NJ.

We’re pretty roundabout people, as you can see from a map, but we made the best of our long, snowy drive that January of 2013. We listened; we wrote. Most importantly though, we learned to talk about money and how to get on the same page with one another in regard to our finances.

Four years later, we’ve hit our goal. Today is the day. The final payment is headed to Great Lakes this very day.

I hope you can hear this, friend. If you’re struggling at all with your finances or you simply want to get to the next level, take the time to take FPU. It’s worth it. It’s nothing more than a tool, but it’s a really great tool that helps people find financial freedom.

I think the idea that really sums up the material for me is that Kris and I stopped being controlled by our money, and we took control of it. And by that, I don’t mean either of us spent uncontrollably or had major money issues. But, in truth, we just didn’t know where it was going. We didn’t know how much we made or had or how much we spent on food or gas or electric bills. We learned to be the ones to make those decisions before they just happened.

Have you taken the course? How did it help your family? Have you thought about it and not gotten around to it? Where are you in your financial journey?

Merry Christmas, and have a Financially Freeing 2017!!

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day One

ahh, my people! It's been too long. I've been thinking about my blog and all of you every day since I last wrote you. I've been thinking about what to write, what to possibly share in this chaotic time.

This year's presidential outcome, racism, devastation, terrorist attacks, and war seem to be overtaking our world. It's all been on my heart and mind, and in my prayers, but what could I say? Every direction I turned, people were talking, people were hating, judging, and pointing fingers, so I stepped back, breathed deeply, and searched for my direction.

I've had an amazing few months with my two daughters and husband: laughing and delighting in one another, stretching and growing as a family of four. I've been tired and at a loss. I've had margin, but in all honestly that margin has been used to make up for sleep-deprived nights. Over this past year, my heart drew deeper and deeper into my desires of researching, writing, and sharing, and for this reason, I am thoroughly excited to see what awaits in 2017.

But! In the meantime, I have so many things and people and passions I want to share with you! When I found out last week that the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" begins on Christmas day, I was excited to bring a writing idea to life. Only now, that idea looks slightly different than it did initially. At first, I was going to share with you 12 coffee shops, no—books, no—coffee blends, no—coffee shops in the East Bay...Uhh, do you see my dilemma? There are SO many things I love and want to share with all of you for the 12 Days of Christmas. So now, I'm just going to share 12 anythings I love: some coffee, some people, some books, some organizations. I have a few passions swelling up in my heart; and now--they are my gifts to you.

I want to start today by sharing a person: a writer and fellow saint of the Christian faith who passed into eternity 20 years ago this past September. As I laid (lain? lyed? l...?) awake at 4:45 this morning, I picked up one of his books where I last left off some time last week…in the introduction. After reading through a couple chapters, I began to think that this man might be the single most influential writer for me in 2016. Over this past year, this man's words brought healing and restoration for both my husband and for me. His words have been an arrow pointed towards, and shooting us full force into the direction of, grace and redemption.

I have had a bumpy relationship with Henri Nouwen over the years. Craziness--I know. I first picked up one of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son in 2009, and I couldn't even finish it. I remember something about his voice bothering me, and I put the book down. I picked it up and put it down again. Though it screamed redemption, art, beauty, and story telling, I couldn't hear him. I was distracted, and I never finished it.

A couple years later, my girlfriend lent me a copy of Reaching Out. Ugh, this guy again. His voice. I couldn't read it. I couldn't read it, but I also couldn't let it go. Three years—maybe four years later, when the cross-county move and therefore, the Great Book Purge came upon our family, it was one of the few I held on to. I didn't know why; I didn’t even like this guy's style. Maybe because I wasn't the book's true owner or because the original owner was now living in New Zealand and the friend who lent it was up in New York, and yadda yadda. It was small enough in size, wasn’t mine to give away, and so I brought it over 3,000 miles with me.

This past spring, I decided to read it. No, I needed to read it. It stared at me like a portrait in hush hush art museum. Shh, don't speak. Listen. What is the art saying? I don't know because it keeps following me around the room. Haha, I'm somewhat joking—I love museums. But really, the book had this you-must-read-me-now sense about it. It had a voice that whispered, "I will bring you healing. I will help you rest in the love of your Heavenly Dad." It said, "I know you couldn't hear me in the past, but the time for healing is now, right here, in the midst of my very few pages."

And it was right. It brought to light, it convicted, it healed, it encouraged, and it spurred me on to the deeper life. It was JUST what I needed right when I was ready to hear it.

After I closed the last page of the book, I hoped my husband could hear it too. I hoped that he too could hear that we were arrogant and self-centered, that we were living out of a place of loneliness. And again, it did.

A few months later, he (Kris) says that he found another Henri Nouwen book that is slaying him. "I have your next book," he says to me.

"Ugh, I don't want to be slain again. We're going through all of this wonderful Emotionally Healthy Spirituality material with the church, and that is already doing a great work in me. Do I really have to?"

Enter: Christmas Morning 2016. 4:45am. The children all tucked under their blankets with care. "What the heck, man? Why am I awake???!!!" Usually. Ok—sometimes, and really only on my best, most devoted, deep, and obedient days, these early-morning moments beckon me to prayer. But this morning, at the early hour of 5am, I was beckoned into the world of Henri Nouwen once again. I was called into the world of Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World and oh. em. gee.

Like, the literal Gee. Does he ever slay me with His love? I am a beloved of the great I AM--the God who is with us, which we are reminded of every year on this very day. Many of us will sit in church buildings and hear the message of the good news of Jesus, our ultimate beloved One, but will we hear? Will we understand? Will it change us?

I know, I know, shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus and the manger and all things Advent and Christmas for these next 12 days? The truth is, these are the things that point me to Jesus. The everyday moments and people, books, coffee shops, and conversations that point me to my Beloved.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, family, and strangers alike.

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. -Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

If you're in a place of hearing him too, here are some of my personalized links to a few of Nouwen's works:

I'm a Sucker for a Good Referral. Am I alone?

A year ago this month, I discovered my first online customer referral program, and guys...I'm hooked. Any site I go to now that has a referral program and an item I want to buy, I'm instantly sending out those semi-obnoxious, but well worth it, emails, texts, and social media plugs with my personalized referral link (i.e. albeit to a lesser extent: this post). Recently, a friend and I even worked together so she could get a free 15 bucks to spend and I could get 15% off my purchase to try out a new American-made company. Win win win.

1. ThredUP. So...it was this time last year. I don't remember how it happened, but I discovered ThredUp. I'm obsessed with buying used clothes. You know...typical millennial wanting to lessen my load on the landfills. ThredUp and I became besties pretty fast. Originally, if a friend signed up through my link, I'd get $20 to spend and they'd get $20 to spend. How cool is that? I built an entirely new wardrobe just from friends signing up to get their $20. I literally got to spend hundreds of free dollars because of my link. Since becoming more established, they now offer $10 for referral signups, but hey--you won't see me complaining. ThredUp is still my first source for any clothes I need. Designer, but not new and overpriced? I'm in! Here's my link if you want to get your free $10 to spend.

2. E-Bates. Other sites have come along over this past year, which I'll share below, but my latest main squeeze in the online shopping world is E-Bates. This is a site that really and truly gives you money back just for shopping through their links. They are basically the ultimate friend referral for loads of sites where you already buy stuff and things. It's also the site I'm kicking myself for not using when friends told me about it two (gosh...maybe three?) years ago. To think...all the baby items I've ordered these last two years and how I could have gotten cash back on all of them. I've been a committed user for two weeks, and already have $20 in my account. I would have more if I ordered more from Target's website instead of going to the brick and mortar for things like my newly acquired Nutra Ninja. Se La Vie on that one, but here's my link for that site as well. This one won't have a popup; simply click my link then hit the Sign Up button in the top right corner. They currently have a welcome bonus of $10 when you spend your first $25 AND if you refer 3 friends, you'll get $60!! The more friends you have sign up on E-bates, the greater your bonuses become--so their incentives are well worth creating a free account.

3. Notice how the links on these things are never pretty? Well, mine are currently hyperlinked, but when you click and sign up for your various accounts, you'll see what I mean. There's nothing personal about them; they are long and random. I'm just a number in a system, and I'm totally OK with that since I've tested these sites and they've each paid their dues.

This is true, with one exception. When you partner personally with other blogs and small businesses, you just may have a personalized link or code. For instance, if you visit my friend Lindsay's shop over at Chalk Full Of Design any time this month, and put in the code SACREDGROUNDS, you can enjoy 15% off you order!! AND since she's on Etsy, you'd get 1% cash back with your E-Bates account. If you've read this blog with any regularity, you know how much I love, and prefer, to support small businesses. Lindsay has always had an incredible talent for calligraphy. It used to come in the form of notes during our years of working at summer camp, and now she's turned it into a her own business. She's both creative and an inspiration!! The thing that impresses me most about Lindsay's model is that each item is HAND-DRAWN!! This is a rarity these days with so many options to print a piece of artwork.

4. Traveling somewhere? Try Airbnb and Turo. If you haven't tried Airbnb, let me tell you--it's awesome! People renting from people--how ingenius is that? Furthermore, a GREAT referral program. Here's $35 of spending money if you want to get out of town or enjoy a little staycation. You can also get money by offering to rent your own place (a room, the whole house, whatever you're feeling adventurous enough to try). For this, you'd get an even bigger referral bonus. I haven't gone that far nor do I have the space to, but it could be fun!! Our last trip was to Groveland, CA for a visit to Yosemite National Park. We rented a 3-bedroom for 5 of us, and we saved tons of money avoiding a hotel and having to eat out.

If you need a car during your travels, check out Turo. I've used Turo for out-of-town trips and when I needed a truck for moving into a new apartment. Renting cars from other people in your area or at airports around the country can save you TONS. Here's $25 to give that a go.

Here are a few more services I use that also have referral links. Because, as with all of these referral programs, it's a no brainer--with the exception of small businesses, these companies are MAKING OUT with these business strategies, so why shouldn't we? Whatever online services or sites you use, I definitely suggest checking to see if they have a referral program and then SHARE IT...share it far and wide because it's only benefiting you AND those who sign up through you. Have fun everyone and go make that extra dough!!

5. Grove Collaborative. Another site I've tried out this year is Grove Collaborative--where I now buy all of my cleaning supplies. Grove is SO good. Almost out of tin foil and tooth paste even though I was JUST at the grocery store!? No biggy; I'll hop on Grove. They are fast, convenient, and the prices are fantastic. They're customer service is on point too. They forgot to ship one of my items recently; their response team was so kind and helpful, and they even offered me a $5 credit for my trouble...which was really no trouble at all. If you try them out, you'll also get free and discounted goodies to try quite often, which is just an extra bonus (chap stick, a toothbrush, things like that). If you want to give Grove a try, here's a free $10. **Something to Note: Unlike other membership sites, Grove does not have mandatory monthly purchases, but they will send you emails each month with suggested items they've already put in a cart, You'll want to login and remove the items if you don't want them sent to you automatically. Smart cookies.

6. Love trying new coffees? Obviously, I do. Here's $5 to try a Bean Box. Coffee delivery tasting service? Uh, yes please. If you review the coffees they send you to try, you'll also get a $1 credit per review.

7. Thanks to my friend Jeana's recent $10 referral code share, here's 10 Bucks for Backcountry.com. Remember that Ebates link above? Go there first for an additional 4% back on this site. Say What!??

8. Here's $5 for Amazon Prime. I'm sure Amazon Prime has way more advantages than I've ever explored, but I use it for the free 2-day shipping.

9. 15% off American Giant. Have you heard of them? The ultimate American-made sweatpants? I watched their video and immediately knew I'd be purchasing a pair this season. Click the link. Watch the video. I'm sure you'll understand. **Side note: A friend and I ordered together to get free shipping.

10. Want to try HULU? Here's a free two weeks!

What do you think? Have you found any referral programs on sites you already love? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Feel free to share your referral links as well!!

Because both of my ladies mentioned in this post are back in NJ,
here's to a coffee shop I used to frequent for Philly > NJ meetups in Haddonfield.
This is also the FIRST NJ Coffee Shop or Roaster I've featured.
Is that weird? It is my home state after all..I'll have to get on this.


Jersey Java + Tea Co. // 140 N Haddon Ave, Haddonfield, NJ, 08078
IG // FB // Tw

Books and Reading // Influence

For 20 years of my life, I didn’t read. Like, ever. Before this last decade, my life was confusing, chaotic, and in need of some serious changes. But, as the years have gone on and as I have seen spiritual, emotional, and mental growth, I’m really grateful that I made reading a priority. I'm specifically grateful to certain authors and books and articles that helped redefine my character and being.

A decade ago, when I only started to see glimpses of myself as a whole person, reading was a big part of my personal healing. Sometime in that first year of cultivating a relationship with reading, a friend gave me a book written by Shauna Niequist. I still remember the day we spent at the art museum and the conversation that led to her giving me a copy of Cold Tangerines.

 This post includes affiliate links. This means, when using the links to purchase books, I will receive tiny bits of moneys from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

This post includes affiliate links. This means, when using the links to purchase books, I will receive tiny bits of moneys from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

This book is full of stories that have been encouraging and challenging over these years. It is a book I’ve brought along on my travels, given to friends, and read chapters from over the phone. As I think back on my first read through of Cold Tangerines, I’m reminded of cafes and greens around Cambridge where I read from its pages; I’m reminded of the situations I was in when the words struck me, and how they made me feel a little less like a crazy person. I’m reminded of the songs I listened to that year and the places I visited. It’s funny how a book can do so much for a person, isn’t it? Like a song or smell might bring a distinct moment to our minds, I have books that do the same for me.

I think in many ways, Shauna Niequist was the first one to show me the importance of cherishing time spent around a table, gathering with friends, and embracing sacred moments. The vulnerability in her stories have always made me wish I could sit and share a meal with her—or even be a passive spectator as she communes with friends. Over these past ten years, as I’ve grown and changed, I'm so grateful she’s continued to share her life and her heart with her readers; along with the book that initially captivated me, she's also written:

I’m writing about these books this week for two main reasons. One being that they were a source of nurturing for my soul during many years of growing pains, so I mean—why wouldn’t I want to share them with you? The other is that Niequist is scheduled to publish another book in August of this year. What this means, is if you haven’t been formally introduced to her writings yet, I'm doing so now. You officially have about four months to catch up and prepare for her next publication:

The title itself reflects who Shauna Niequist is as a writer, and why I’ve come to feel like she’s been my friend and mentor over the years. The title alone reflects what that These Sacred Grounds is all about—cultivating moments that come to define our lives and being present in them; about community and friendship and struggle, and about finding beauty in everyday life. In many ways, this blog involves so many lessons Shauna Niequist taught me about living as a human—both in my brokenness and my wholeness.

Because her books have been so influential in my life, I want to continue sharing them. Since I’m only just beginning to find my online community as a writer, I want to provide two opportunities to get some of these books into the hands of this little Internet community of mine. The first way is on Instagram and the second is on the blog:

On Instagram: follow me, like the Cold Tangerines photo from today, and tag a friend who you think would like the opportunity to win a copy (you may tag more than one friend in separate comments for more entries).

On the blog: Come August, when Present Over Perfect releases, all of my faithful subscribers (either via Bloglovin’ or my email subscription) will have the opportunity to win a copy of her new book as well as, in true These Sacred Grounds fashion, a lb. of coffee from a local Oakland roaster. And who know, maybe some other goodies when the time comes...

I’m grateful to all of you for joining me on my writing journey so far, and I'm excited to continue cultivating relationships in this space as time goes on. Thank you for being here with me. I would also really love to hear about some of the books that have changed your life in the comments below.

BGC

A Mother's Day Gift Guide // aftcra

In light of my love for all things American and locally made, I wanted to share a site with you I recently discovered. In their words,

"aftcra is an online marketplace where you can buy and sell American handmade products. Our mission is to support local artists and artisans living in America by connecting them with handmade admirers across the globe."

In hopes of spreading the word about this up-and-coming American artisan site, I've created this Mother's Day guide featuring products from aftcra. Don't worry, don't worry--you didn't forget; Mother's Day is still about five weeks away. But, in order to support artisans, it is important to look ahead for the necessary turnaround time for production.

I know my husband and I often forget to show appreciation for the moms in our lives. For this reason, I'm taking some time to think about all the things I'm grateful for about them, and beginning to plan which of these aftcra treasures might show them our love when May 8th arrives. You can click on any of the photos to go to the artists' links, none of which are affiliate sites. Enjoy!!

For your Crunchy Mamas

 Coiled Rope Basket with Handles Made in North Carolina Price Tag: $58 (plus $10 US shipping)

Coiled Rope Basket with Handles
Made in North Carolina
Price Tag: $58 (plus $10 US shipping)

For your Wine-Loving, Hostess Moms

 Handcrafted Wine Rack with Early American Finish Made in Texas Price Tag: $62.50 (plus $18 US shipping)

Handcrafted Wine Rack with Early American Finish
Made in Texas
Price Tag: $62.50 (plus $18 US shipping)

For your Homebody Mamas

 Coffee Books and Rain Tee Shirt Made in Ohio Price Tag: $22 (plus $5 US shipping)

Coffee Books and Rain Tee Shirt
Made in Ohio
Price Tag: $22 (plus $5 US shipping)

For your Gardening/Homesteading Gals

 Reclaimed Glass Honeycomb Sun Catcher Made in Minnesota Price tag: $100 (plus $12.50 US shipping)  

Reclaimed Glass Honeycomb Sun Catcher
Made in Minnesota
Price tag: $100 (plus $12.50 US shipping)
 

For your Ladies who are always behind the Lens

 Business Card Pocket for Camera Strap Made in Oregon Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

Business Card Pocket for Camera Strap
Made in Oregon
Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

 Camera Lens Cap Pocket Made in Oregon Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

Camera Lens Cap Pocket
Made in Oregon
Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

For your Eclectic, Book-Loving Ladies

 Industrial Desk/Nightstand Lamp Made in Illinois Price Tag: $65 (plus $20 US shipping)

Industrial Desk/Nightstand Lamp
Made in Illinois
Price Tag: $65 (plus $20 US shipping)

And of course...your E-Book Worms too

 Oak Wood Valet Charging Stand Nightstand Dock Made in Virginia Price Tag: $49.99 (plus $13 US Shipping)

Oak Wood Valet Charging Stand Nightstand Dock
Made in Virginia
Price Tag: $49.99 (plus $13 US Shipping)

For the Mothers who taught us the value of Traveling

 A Custom Passport Holder Made in Utah Price Tag: $69 (plus $4 US shipping)

A Custom Passport Holder
Made in Utah
Price Tag: $69 (plus $4 US shipping)

 A Custom Driftwood Collage Made in Ohio Price Tag: $149 (plus $14 for US shipping)

A Custom Driftwood Collage
Made in Ohio
Price Tag: $149 (plus $14 for US shipping)


For the Mums who've always wanted to live in a Hobbit Hole: "Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
-
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

 Barrel Top Twig Coffee Table Made in Kentucky Price Tag: $175 (Includes Shipping)

Barrel Top Twig Coffee Table
Made in Kentucky
Price Tag: $175 (Includes Shipping)

And lastly, for the Moms in your life who've heard far too many times, "I can build you that!"

 Pine Wood Dining Room Table with Hairpin Legs Made in Michigan Price tag: $555-$635

Pine Wood Dining Room Table with Hairpin Legs
Made in Michigan
Price tag: $555-$635

I'd love to hear your ideas for great Mother's Day gifts! Fill me in by commenting below :)...

Thanks for joining me, and don't forget to check out aftcra!!