Frugal Ways to Hang Out with Friends

Does your social life suddenly end when you decide to start living a more frugal existence? Of course not! I had a young friend ask me how she can save money and still maintain those important relationships that usually revolve around eating out.

Eating out used to be a big part of my social life too. My friends and I would go out after nearly every play and concert, or after work. Now Josh and I have other financial goals and priorities. We believe in simplicity and living on less so we have more to save and give.

But friendships are worth investing in, of course! Good quality friends are worth way more than money. I love how Kalie from Pretend to be Poor put it in her post You Can’t Afford Not to Date: it’s about connection, not consumption. Connecting can happen in lots of ways that are non-consumerist!

Here’s how I’ve been maintaining my social life for the past several years: 

Play the Host

A restaurant isn’t the only place quality hang-outs can occur. Whenever possible, I open up my home to folks rather than meeting them places. I know this isn’t always an option, but sometimes all people need is a venue. And they won’t come unless you invite them. I have a pretty well-known open-door policy at my house. That’s not to say we don’t do other things, but friends know my place is always an option. I’ll brew some coffee or tea, we can bake healthy cookies or have some green pancakes for brunch. We can play with my kiddos or watch a movie after they go to bed. It may not be glamourous, but it’s affordable and it’s real. I’m convinced people are more authentic in a home than in a restaurant. And no waiter to tip!

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Backyard hangs with Lotus House friends!

Get Outside

Meet up for some frugal physical activity outdoors. If your friends enjoy hiking, biking, or running, get out there and enrich both your body and your soul. Some of my favorite dates with Josh have been long hikes and runs. It costs absolutely nothing – okay, a little gas money to get to the place – and it’s got all the perks of a conversation over coffee…and then some!

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How we celebrated our anniversary: with a free run in Forest Park!
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A free hike in the woods while camping.

My girls and I love exploring the city and doing photo shoots with one another. We’ve been doing it since we were teenagers and the tradition lives on. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s creative, it’s self-expression, and it brings us together.

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Taking photos at parks is so much fun!

Just say no to the American sedentary lifestyle. Invite your buddies to go explore a cave with you and you’ve just taken your friendship to a deeper level. No pun intended.

Google state parks near your city and you’re sure to find some frugal fun adventures.
If you belong to a gym, indoor workout dates are great as well. Community centers and county pools are also affordable ways to interact with the members of your neighborhood.

Get Creative

Josh and I regularly get together with groups of friends to do things as simple as craft or make music. Whatever your hobby, try turning it into a social activity. If there’s any costs or supplies involved you can split it up. Craft night gives me a chance to be creative and catch up with my ladies. We potluck the appetizers and wine and create for hours. It’s not always planned, but spontaneous jam sessions happen quite often among the musically-inclined members of our gang. The sky’s the limit. Let your creativity and passions be the inspiration next time you want to do something with friends.

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Sing-alongs aren’t just for kids. We love jamming with our musical friends.

Picnic or Potluck

If food is a must, go on a picnic with your friends. This doesn’t necessarily mean PB&J. Have fun thinking up crazy things to eat in crazy places. Start at the grocery store or shop your fridge for a gourmet antipasti platter: crackers, grapes, olives, wine, cheese, and apples. Eat it at a park, in a tree, in a parking lot under the hatchback, on a bench downtown, or in a cemetery (just don’t get locked in the cemetery. This may or may not have happened on one of our first dates…we’re still together though!) In the summer, I keep a blanket in the car at all times for spontaneous picnicking.

We also host and attend many potlucks year-round. That way the food responsibilities never fall on one person. It’s great to taste everyone’s specialties! Potlucks are so casual and laid-back, there’s no stress in the planning! Everything from the food to the conversation encourages community. We usually talk for hours afterward!

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My guys and the trusty car blanket.

Pre-game

When you’re not involved in the choosing of the event, but still wish to make an appearance, eat beforehand. I’m one of those people with a large appetite. There’s huge savings to be had by eating dinner ahead of time, and just ordering dessert and water. Or a salad and water. Or a drink, but no food. You get the idea. I consume very little. I focus on the people. I tip well at the end of the night.

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Breakfast stout and good company. Worth it every time.

Do any of these ideas apply to you and your friends? How do you make the most of your relationships without spending a lot?

If you’re in St Louis, here’s some of my favorite places to explore:

Meramec State Park

Castlewood State Park

Hawn State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

Forest Park – the Zoo, the Art Museum, and the History Museum are all great, but I particularly love the running trail around the park’s perimeter.

Have fun with this! You might find sitting in a resultant is downright boring next time!

Functional Winter Fashion: How to Stay Warm and Save Money

Functional Winter Fashion: How to Stay Warm and Save Money

IMG_9664.jpgWe keep our house warm in the summer and chilly in the winter. No, we’re not crazy…though some may call it that. It is far more economical to warm your body than your whole environment. Dressing practically for the weather, even indoors, helps us save energy and makes us more comfortable when we can’t control the temperature.

The Benefits:

Save money

Our single biggest motivator is the heating bill itself. Maybe you’re not ready to commit to all winter, but you’re willing to try it for a short-term monthly challenge. Anything is possible for a month, right? The thrill when you see the savings might just be addicting. Josh and I are kind of nerdy and actually get excited about our utility bills. It’s a chance to see the outcome of our efforts in convenient graph form!

It’s not that we can’t “afford” to run our heat. It’s just that we have different priorities than some people. We are truly privileged to do these kinds of lifestyle changes by choice. It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between doing something challenging and suffering. We chose 62 degrees because it was the sweet spot that was challenging for us but not miserable. That number might be different for your family, and that’s okay. Misery is never worth it.

Save resources 

Aside from the money saved, Josh and I believe in treading lightly on the planet and not using excessive resources. Every degree lower that we can tolerate adds up. Every time we choose to walk or bike rather than drive adds up. Every light bulb we change from incandescent to LED adds up. It’s awesome to not consume more than we need.

Acclimate

The really great thing about running the furnace less is that your body knows how to acclimate! Our family is very well-adjusted to the weather outdoors because it’s reflected in our indoor temperature. This makes camping, walks, bike rides, zoo trips, and runs to the store more comfortable year-round. It’s wonderful to embrace those changing seasons and get outside on days other than just the 70-degree and sunny ones (when everyone happens to be out, kind of defeating the calming effect.) Camping with my family in all different seasons taught me at a young age that one doesn’t have to be 100% comfortable at all times in order to have fun. Sweating can make you feel re-charged. Icy wind on your face can be exhilarating. Complete comfort is very, very overrated. 

The Details:

Leggings / thermal underwear

My secret weapon.

Fleece-lined leggings are so simple, but they make a huge difference.  Not only are they in style, they’re the answer to staying toasty all winter while running the heat as little as possible. I’ve worn them with tunics, sweaters, under dresses, and under long skirts.

And a thermal base layer isn’t just for being outdoors, hunting, and doing extreme sports. It can be worn indoors everyday under your normal clothing. It effectively traps body heat because it’s close-fitting and made from insulating but lightweight materials.

The material these base layers are made out of is important. Look for base layers that are either fleece, marino wool, or moisture-wicking synthetics. These materials are extra warm and save on electricity by not needing to go in the dryer.

I recently discovered this article by Low-Tech Magazine. I already knew that leggings and thermal undergarments kept me warmer than jeans, but I never really thought about the science behind it. It’s kind of amazing!

Skirts

If long skirts are your thing, don’t stop wearing them in the winter! A good casual skirt is kind of like a blanket you don’t need to take off….and way more attractive than a Snuggie! Slip one on over what you’re already wearing for added style and warmth.

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Skirts aren’t just for summer!

Wool

I’m pretty sure wool is the greatest material on the planet. My favorite wool sweater right now was actually given to me at a free clothing swap! (Yes, I’m still in the middle of a year-long ban on buying clothes. Have I been tempted by a few quality thermal and wool items in stores? Yes. Do I already have enough to get through this winter? Indeed, I do! I can be excited about these things without stuffing my closet to the point of bursting.)

Thrifted wool hats and vintage arm-warmers are worthwhile finds if you don’t already have them. I gravitate toward function over fashion, but there’s no reason your winter wardrobe can’t be both! If you know how to knit, you can make custom arm and leg-warmers that meet your unique needs and fashion preferences. 

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Two thifted wool hats and one handmade!

Wool makes a great middle layer, since you probably don’t want it right next to your skin. I usually do a thermal base layer consisting of leggings and a long-sleeve shirt, then a wool sweater, wool socks, and fuzzy boots. That’s my uniform if I’m staying indoors. 

Down

For going outside, I add a coat if it’s windy or wet, but my tolerance for cold weather has increased to the point that I often don’t need a coat for short errands. I did this recently and it wasn’t until I got in the car and looked at the temperature on the dash that I realized it was 32 degrees outside!

When I do need a coat, down is the warmest material. I got rid of several stylish but thin coats recently because they took up lots of space in the closet, and didn’t actually insulate. I invested in a nice down coat about 9 years ago. It was a good decision, as it’s still my favorite!

Warm Extremities 

I read here that women’s extremities get cold faster than men’s. I don’t know about everyone else, but I now think more deliberately about what I have on my toes and fingers.

I keep a pair of cozy fleece “driving gloves” in the car at all times because even when I don’t need a coat, I often want my fingers covered. And who says gloves are only for outside? Indoor gloves can be cute fingerless varieties, or just arm-warmers under clothes.

I wear my thrifted fuzzy boots around my house all winter. They are so much warmer than socks alone! They have rubber soles, which make it easy to run in and out of the house for things and they prolong the life of my nice wool socks. There’s all different types of boots and house-shoes out there, and they help a lot!

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Cheap boots. Warm toes.

Holding something warm in your hands gets the heat going to your fingers as well. I drink lots of herbal tea when I’m home in the winter. I also carry coffee and tea around in mason jars to warm my hands when I’m out for a winter walk. I don’t recommend drinking sugary beverages to stay warm, as sugar can mess with your immune system. Vegetable soup, homemade stock, unsweetened herbal tea and unsweetened green tea are excellent ways to keep your body warm and maintain your immunity all winter. Even drinking plain hot water will keep you warm and hydrated!

Flannel 

Our secret to turning the heat way down at night is flannel. Flannel sheets are great, as they don’t get cold when the air hits them like normal cotton ones do. I know it’s not as minimal to have special sheets just for winter, but trust me, it’s worth it!

I love wearing my (and my husband’s) flannel shirts around the house. And I wear this upcycled flannel shirt scarf by Laura at Deliberate Hands pretty much everyday. It’s adorable, it’s not scratchy like other scarves, and it stays in place.

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Best practical and cute scarf ever!

Stay active

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s totally worth mentioning! Being active around the house is SO different than sitting on the couch. When I’m up and doing laundry, cleaning, or working out, I warm up. It gets stuff done too! It’s awesome. Josh and I are huge advocates for an active lifestyle. Whatever gets you motivated and moving….do it!

In case you’re wondering…

Yes, we do raise the heat for our guests! Historic houses like ours aren’t easy to heat (the fireplace has been removed) so our closest friends know to bundle up a little when they come over and stay. But hospitality is worth it! Friends are worth it! And I have lots of coffee, tea, soup, blankets, and a cute baby to pass around if someone is still shivering.

There you have it. The secret to how I enjoy winter in the midwest without freezing…and save money on heating! What about you? What’s your cold-weather uniform?

 

 

 

No Sugar Month

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It’s time for another monthly challenge!

Josh and I already did a “buy-nothing month” back in October and a “frugal grocery month” in November.

This challenge is less about minimalism and more about health. Our family already avoids sugar. I share our reasons why here. We don’t buy white sugar or cook with it at home, but it’s amazing how much of the stuff is still out there. Donuts at work, candy at holidays, deserts at potlucks, cake at birthday parties….it’s everywhere even when it’s not in our home.

I think some sweets here and there are absolutely fine. It’s part of enjoying life and celebrating. But every now and then it’s good to do a complete reset. That’s what February is going to be. And hey, it’s even a short month! If you’ve ever considered giving up sugar, this is the easiest month to do it!

But…no chocolate on Valentine’s Day?

That’s right. Josh and I don’t participate in the consumerist traditions of most holidays. We decided several years ago that we don’t need to buy each other gifts. It’s more frugal, less stress, less clutter, and gift-giving isn’t our primary love language. If it’s your love language, that’s awesome. Lots of gifts don’t contain sugar: flowers, plants, notes, cards, dinner, or handcrafted jewelry are all good options.

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Flowers from Josh…before we agreed that we didn’t need gifts.

Create new habits

I first gave up sweets and processed foods in favor of whole food diet nearly three years ago, following Malachi’s birth. I did it by first replacing my sugary snacks with homemade, healthier snacks. I’ll share my favorite healthy dessert recipes in an upcoming post!

Another thing I did right away was stop sweetening my coffee and tea. I haven’t the slightest desire to ever go back. I found I better appreciate the flavor of my coffee and tea plain. It was an adjustment at first, but I now prefer it. This one simple habit cuts my sugar intake each and every day.

Gradually, my tastes began to shift and sweet things were way too sweet. Even my healthier indulgences were no longer necessary. The cravings went away. Fruit was the sweetest thing I needed. It was incredible for someone who used to be a sugar addict! Even I was surprised.

If you’re not ready to give up desserts altogether, perhaps you could commit to make some smaller changes like no sweetened beverages or only healthy, homemade desserts. Gradual change is still change, and it can last the longest.

My personal rules this month

No chocolate

I normally buy the 85% dark chocolate because the sugar content is so low, it doesn’t have the addictive nature of other chocolate. I’m giving that up this month though.

No added sugar 

In order to completely reset my tastebuds, I’m going to forego even natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar this month. Fruit is still allowed though. You can bet I’ll be putting raisins in my oatmeal!

No alcohol

This is just for myself, in accordance with my desire to not buy alcohol this year. I’ll save some money and avoid the sugar in the alcohol.

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No chocolate or alcohol for me this month!

Feel free to make your own rules for this monthly challenge. Let me know if you’re interested in participating so we can encourage each other!

Simplicity 

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Enjoying the simple pleasure of hiking.

Why do I write so much about minimalism?

Are we just riding a trend started by Marie Kondo? 

The answer is no. Minimalism is just a small piece of me and Josh’s overarching goal of simplicity.

Our family mission can be broken down into three pillars:

Simplicity. Generosity. Hospitality

These three things follow a natural progression that leads to growing community. I write more in-depth about hospitality here, and I’ll write about generosity in an upcoming post. 

Here’s some reasons why we’re so excited about simplicity!

Simplicity is what we’re called to

1 Timothy 6:7-8

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.

Simplicity is the opposite of greed. It’s not denying ourselves everything, but it’s about not taking more than we truly need. It’s being content with food and water and clothing and shelter and giving thanks rather than worrying about the future. It’s common in our culture to spend money on “necessary” things to make us “happy.” In reality these things waste money, time, and resources and make our lives more complicated. As crazy as it sounds, a simpler life is actually more fulfilling.

Simplicity breeds contentment.

The book Affluenza points out that Americans have bigger houses, nicer cars, and more gadgets than anytime in our history. In spite of this, people are not any happier. We are more stressed and dissatisfied than ever before. All these possessions hang over our heads, needing to be maintained and fixed. People are so busy working to pay off their “toys” that they rarely get the free time to enjoy them. It’s a depressing reality that we’re probably all a bit familiar with.

When Josh and I did an experiment to see how little we could spend on groceries one month, rather than feeling deprived at the end of it, I felt truly grateful. We went to the store to buy our usual staples after running out of them. Those “normal” things never felt so luxurious! What a great reminder that getting to choose between having an apple, cheese, grapes, or a banana is awesome! 

…the core of successful frugality is rooted in disrupting the psychological pleasure cycle involved with buying new things. The association we have in our culture that buying = happiness is firmly entrenched in our lizard brains. We’re told, and hence we believe, that spending money is a means to bring jubilation into our lives. So if we spend and don’t experience a resulting jolt of euphoria, then the solution must naturally be to spend more. This approach then puts us on the never-ending treadmill of hedonic adaptation whereby we must continually increase our spending, and our acquisition of stuff, in order to commensurately increase our pleasure. When we conversely embrace the joy that comes when less is enough, we’re able to liberate ourselves from this cycle.

-Frugalwoods

Hedonic Adaptation is a phenomenon meaning “no matter what happens to you in your life, you’ll very quickly get used to it.” This is for good and for bad – but we’re talking about the good here. Why spend money on new gadgets that will just inflate your lifestyle? You’ll only adapt to them and they will set a new standard – the newness will wear off quicker than you think. You’ve entered into a cycle of dissatisfaction.

Simplicity means more to give.

Since we generally save money by living a simple lifestyle, our finances are freed up to help us achieve larger financial goals. The less we spend on ourselves, the more we have to share with others.

Josh and I make an effort to live our life in the “Before.” For example, let’s spend like we did before the raise. Let’s act like we didn’t just gain square footage with the new house. Let’s live on less than we can rightfully “afford.” It keeps our home less cluttered and gives us margins in our life.

Intentionally giving ourselves margins means we’re not working constantly to keep up with our lifestyle. All of this adds up to a less-cluttered life with more time to focus on important things. I gladly took advantage of nearly 4 months of maternity leave with each of my boys. It wasn’t all paid time off, but I was able to do it because Josh and I are used to living on less than we make.

 Simplicity is beautiful.

Owning less means my house is a peaceful, restful place. Clutter has a way of stressing and weighing on my mind. The less we own, the easier it is to clean. No stepping over piles of dirty laundry. I’m not claustrophobic in my own home. White space is lovely.

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Simplicity doesn’t waste.

If you’ve ever seen the show Hoarders, you’ve seen the extreme cases of people who don’t know how to simply let go of things. Rooms and rooms filled with wasted resources! Letting go can result in a cleaner, less stressful home. Letting go can give you breathing room. Letting go can bless others. By donating my excess clothes, baby stuff, kitchen utensils, and furniture, I know someone is getting it who needs it more than I do. 

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Consuming less and reducing waste is also better for our planet! We strive to use as little of the earth’s precious resources as we can. 

Simplicity is about more than possessions.

It’s about a lot more than just what we do or don’t own. Josh and I are also interested in the metaphorical form of simplicity – not overbooking ourselves and remembering to relax and take care of our bodies. A core reason we moved to the city was to be closer to areas where we could serve – downtown, North City, South City, and East St. Louis. The hour it took us to drive to Oasis International every week could have been spent actually serving! We also liked the idea of being closer to our church and being intentionally involved in that community. We can now walk to our church, which is awesome!

Another part of why we moved out of the suburbs was to destroy Josh’s commute. We were originally inspired by this post, where Mr. Money Mustache breaks down the true cost of commuting.

While I would personally consider it far more important than even the salary or the work performed, most people put commute distance below house price, perceived school quality, and neighborhood preference.

-MMM

We very intentionally bought a house within biking distance of Josh’s job so we could get down to one car and simplify that area of our lives. On the rare occasion we do need to sit in traffic to get somewhere at rush hour, we can laugh about it because we don’t have to deal with it every single day.

We also wanted a smaller yard with less yard work. Neither of us ever enjoyed yard work – it was just something we had to do that took up valuable time and effort. We now have a yard so small that Josh can mow it with an old-fashioned reel mower in about 15 minutes. And we don’t worry about our children having space to play. We’re within walking distance of a nature preserve, a community garden, and some really nice parks. These are all our “yard” without the work.

Simplicity reminds us how abundantly blessed we are.

Having less means we take less for granted. Spending less money on ourselves means we not only have more resources available to give, but also have more mental and physical energy to actually apply those resources. Simplifying our schedule means we actually have time to enjoy those things. We are content and very thankful.

Have you taken steps to simplify your life either materially or metaphorically? I’d love to hear about it! IMG_6846

 

Simple Goals for 2016

I’m not much of a yearly resolution person as I’ve let myself down too many times.

I am, however, a fan of goals and sticking to them.

While a fresh yearly reset is nice, I like making changes right away, not waiting for January. That’s precisely why my clothes-shopping ban started in June – there was no point in putting it off. Now I’m more than halfway through it!

Last year my only resolution was to get through pregnancy (not my favorite) and give birth to Mr. Shiloh. We did that!

I’ve found that monthly goals are easier than yearly goals if it’s something really challenging. Sometimes what starts as a monthly challenge becomes a habit that sticks anyway! I hope to do more monthly money challenges this year in order to spend and consume less.

I’ve found that the more specific and public I am with my goals, the greater the chance that I will stick with them. As soon as I share it with people, there’s accountability. I sometimes let myself down, but I don’t want to let y’all down. So here goes…

My Simple Goals for 2016:

Run at least two races – one for fun and one for speed.

Running is important to me, and a great outlet for my energy and emotions. I didn’t run a single “real” race last year due to pregnancy fatigue, so this is the year to rekindle that fervor. Hopefully I’ll regain some speed too!

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This was after my fastest 5K – 24:45

Don’t buy alcohol.

Difficult, as I have a fondness for craft beer, and I’m not even pregnant this year! But quality adult beverages can carry a hefty price tag, and I can think of a dozen better ways to spend that money. Why not pay down debt, make a needed home repair, invest it, or give it away? I’ll still allow myself sips here and there, but I won’t go crazy, and I won’t purchase any for myself. I can appreciate all the flavors, aromas, and nuances in a sip that I can in a bottle.

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Coffee stouts are nice, but I’ll save a lot by taking a break.

Finish my clothes-shopping ban strong.

I would really like to finish this ban in June with a sense of contentment and not feeling like I need to go out and buy a years’ worth of clothing. If I can just buy a new pair of running shoes and be happy with that, awesome!

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Eventually these shoes will need to retire.

Take breaks from sugar.

I already don’t buy sugar, and the homemade treats we have on rare occasions are naturally sweetened. While it’s fairly easy for me to control my sugar consumption at home, when sweets show up at work or parties, I need better self-control. I know for a fact that it’s more fulfilling to resist the sugary treats than it is to give in. Every time. I also know that for me, having an all-or-nothing approach is helpful. If I decide ahead of time that I’m not giving in, that’s all it takes. Decision made. It’s the gray areas that are hard: Should I? Shouldn’t I? I plan to take a solid month off sugar in February to re-set my sweetness threshold and conquer the cravings.

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The less sugar I eat, the more greens I’ll want to eat.

Keep it simple.

It’s important to Josh and I that our normal weekly routine be enriching and not wear us out. That said, this year we want to slowly add in more serving our community while keeping the family and rest balance healthy. This will require lots of communication and check-ins. We want to work with refugees, host foreign exchange students, tutor kids, and continue hosting bands and overnight guests in our home. It’s easy to get excited about these things, but important that we don’t overdo it and get burnt-out!

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Yes, we’re still figuring out life as a family of four!

 

Cheers to a great year of wellness, frugality, and simple joys! 

Bouncing Back: Fitness After Baby

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Taking Malachi on as many hikes and adventures as we can!
Before I had kids, I thought all mamas were “sacrificing” their trim, healthy bodies in order to have children. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I didn’t achieve many noteworthy fitness goals until after I had kids. Your childbearing years have the potential to be some of your fittest, healthiest years ever!

“Bouncing back” definitely depends on your type of birth and on how you feel. I healed much faster with my second baby than my first so it was easier the second time around. 

Tips to get you started:

Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. 

There are a lot of great reasons to workout. There are also some bad reasons to workout. I believe in working out to improve health, fitness, and confidence. I believe in working out to challenge myself, to get off the couch, to regain strength, to take time for myself, to improve my stamina and my mood.

Some less-awesome reasons to workout are hating the way you look, trying to offset unhealthy habits, and trying to look a certain way for an image-driven society. This is all in vain. Jumping into a workout routine because you’re insecure about your body is not good motivation. 

Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes. Embrace your journey to health and fitness by embracing your postpartum body before any weight is even shed. If you’re reading this after giving birth, your body just did an incredible thing! It sustained and grew and birthed a human! Working out isn’t meant to be punishment for your body for doing something bad. Especially postpartum.

Working out is a way to say thank you to your body for all it’s done. It’s a way to keep your body performing well for years and years to come. Working out is the main thing that boosted my emotions and stabilized those crazy postpartum hormones. I felt so amazing and powerful after a good workout! That was my motivation, first and foremost.

Take it slow.

Especially if you weren’t very active before, you want to ease into activities. Birth causes your body a lot of stress and it takes time to recover. Allow yourself to rest for the first month at least. Gradually add things back in.

With Shiloh I started with just daily chores around the house. Then walks in the neighborhood. Then hikes. Then core building. Then runs (I was already a runner. Couch to 5K is a good resource if you’re starting from scratch.) Then I started adding in more cardio and resistance training. By three months postpartum I was doing full workouts like I used to.

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Getting outside with Shiloh at one month postpartum.

Set realistic goals. 

 Give yourself grace. It takes time. It took 9 months to make your baby. It’s normal for it to take 9 months to a year for your body to fully “bounce back.” Every day you workout, you’re making progress though. Count each workout as a victory.

Fuel.

Focus on nutrients rather than calories and fitness rather than weight-loss. Make sure you replenish your body after every workout. If you’re breastfeeding, nursing will mostly take care of any extra pregnancy pounds. It’s so important to keep eating and nourish yourself and your baby.

I eat a whole-food, mostly meatless diet, but I don’t count calories. For instance, I add an extra smoothie if I do an intense workout. I eat a bigger lunch if breakfast was too small. As long as what I’m putting in my body isn’t processed or empty, sugar-laden calories, I follow my (usually ravenous) appetite.

Don’t look at the scale.

I was eating nutritious food and working out. I felt amazing and my pre-pregnancy wardrobe was fitting, but I was still disappointed by the number on the scale. I don’t know how many times I’ve over-analyzed what the scale says, but I finally stopped checking it.

“That’s the most I’ve ever weighed.”

“I’m not down to my pre-pregnancy weight yet.”

Maybe your weight will fall off when you start eating better and working out. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will at first and then you’ll hit a plateau like I did.

Just don’t worry about it. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

If you’re building muscle and losing fat, the scale might not budge. Track your progress other ways. Track your speed increase, track your resistance increase, track your distance increase. Don’t obsess over weight.

Do what you enjoy.

Someone once said: “Do whatever workout you will do.

Yoga, cycling, dance, running, swimming, hiking, crossfit. The type of workout doesn’t matter. Do what inspires you. Whatever gets you excited about being active. Get some friends together and walk at the park or the mall. If the library or grocery store is nearby, consider walking there rather than driving. My family walks to church and often the grocery store year-round. We save money, car emissions, and we get ourselves moving at the same time. 

 

A Christmas day hike with Shiloh at four months postpartum.

Sign up for something.

Whether it be a class or a race, this is a huge help. I signed up for a mud run with my friends after Malachi was born. I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I trained and learned to run. This is what got me into running, which I still enjoy!

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First 5K ever! Five months postpartum. 
Find a workout DVD or online program.

Because let’s be honest, it’s sometimes hard to get out of the house. If your daily workout requires a babysitter, it’s unlikely you’ll stick with it. Something you can do during nap-time or after bedtime when you can grab a few minutes to yourself is best. I personality love doing Insanity. (Not promoting them particularly, it’s just what I use!) The cardio feels amazing, and the whole thing takes 30-40 minutes. If you have help with the baby on the weekends, then is a good time to go for runs or to the gym. Working out can be a huge stress reliever and it feels amazing to do something for yourself by yourself when you can! The rest of the week, DVD it up!

Incorporate the baby.

Since it can be hard to find childcare for every workout, try to find ways to do it together as much as you’re able. My first workouts with Shiloh were long walks around the neighborhood while wearing him. Jogging with a stroller, hiking with a carrier, and learning some baby yoga moves will make it easier to transition back into your active lifestyle. I know my walks are more strenuous and my squats are more effective when I’ve got the baby strapped on in his carrier.

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A rainy hike in Arkansas…but we’re all smiles!
Get a buddy.

I find it hard to find the motivation to get out of the house with my kids unless I’ve made plans to meet a friend. A workout buddy will give you motivation on a regular basis. There’s nothing like setting an actual day and time to workout with your buddies every week. Turning “I should workout” “I should go for more walks” into a real activity on the calendar makes all the difference in the world. And the community and relationships it builds are a huge plus!

Ask for accountability from other moms wanting to get active, from your sisters, friends, or husband. The internet makes it easier than ever to find like-minded people in your area and meet-up for hikes and runs. Take advantage of this powerful tool!

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So much fun! These girls were my accountability.
Rebuild Your Core.

The amazing way your body makes room for the growing baby is by splitting your abdominal muscles down the middle. Ouch, right? It’s important to help fuse them back together correctly if a large amount of separation occurred. After my first child, I jumped right back into crunches. Bad idea. My abs never fully healed properly. After my second child, my midwife taught me exercises that helped pull my core together – no crunches allowed. Planks and simple core contractions will safely rebuild your core and promote healing. A strong core is so important because it saves your back a lot of strain when lifting and bouncing that baby!

Don’t forget pelvic muscles.

Hahaha… If you delivered vaginally, be sure to empty your bladder before every workout! Every time. No exceptions. Don’t learn this the hard way (like I did, sprinting to the finish of a 5k!)

It’s important not to overlook those pelvic floor muscles. As a mother, Kegels are just part of my life now. Rebuilding those muscles to the strength they once had takes time and a lot of patience. 

Benefits:

Less fatigue.

It may seem counter-intuitive but I find working out gives me more energy to get through those nights of interrupted sleep. A workout invigorates me more than a nap. Even if it’s just a DVD during nap-time, I feel so much more alive afterward than if I’d just rested.

Better mood.

Some days are long and lonely after baby comes. Sometimes the workout is the highlight of my day. Just being honest. Getting my body moving after six weeks of sitting on the couch nursing and healing felt awesome! Mentally it’s a huge reliever for me.

More to give.

Carving out some time for myself recharges me and I feel like I have more to give my kiddos as a result.

Sweat.

After giving birth, my body retained some leftover water weight from pregnancy. I had night sweats immediately following delivery, but for months after found that I sweat easily. It was that water weight shedding. I helped it out as much as I could by incorporating cardio and sweat into my routines.

Stamina.

You’ll be hauling around this baby and their car seat, gear, and diaper bag for months now. Working out preps your body for this extra daily haul. Shiloh likes to be worn and carried a lot, so he’s like my little personal trainer everyday!

Teaches your kids.

If you want healthy, active children, now’s the time to get started. They’re ready to imitate everything you do, so why not give them some good habits to mimic? Why not make hiking, camping, running, or cycling family traditions? By starting young and leading by example, an active lifestyle will be their “normal.”

It’s Worth It!

Given enough time, you’ll eventually return to the body type you were before you got pregnant. Having children and breastfeeding won’t magically make you fit, but if you were active before baby, and you continue to be active after baby, you will likely get your body back. At less than a year postpartum with Malachi, I was buying small jeans again. Now at four months postpartum with Shiloh, I’m back in those same jeans. The scale probably says I still have a ways to go. But you know what? I feel amazing and that’s all that matters. Get out there. 

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Getting faster and still loving running!

 

On the Other Side of Infertility

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I’ll be honest. This is probably the most personal post I’ve written yet. It’s difficult to write these things as it involves revisiting the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with. But I think it all needs to be said. I think there’s healing and hope in the fact that we’re not alone. Unexplained infertility is incredibly common but rarely talked about. And that’s exactly why we should talk about it. 

 

“So when are you going to have kids?”

Like it’s a totally original idea.

Like I haven’t already thought of it myself.

Like I haven’t prayed to God a thousand times and wondered why my seemingly innocent, unselfish prayer would go unanswered.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was waiting for a baby I’d never met.

Not knowing if he or she would ever come.

Not knowing if there was something wrong with me.

It’s not something people in their twenties are supposed to struggle with.

It’s rarely talked about.

People our age are more concerned about unplanned pregnancy than infertility.

Our expectation was that we’d get pregnant the first time we tried.

People in movies and TV shows get pregnant awfully easily.

So it took us by surprise.

It took us 12 long months of trying.

Of waiting.

Of guessing.

Of getting our hopes up only to be disappointed.

Of crying…so much crying.

Of putting aside my pride.

Of getting ultrasounds with no baby to look at.

Of swallowing my shame and buying fertility trackers at Walmart.

Of breaking down in front of my OB, who didn’t seem to understand my pain.

“Are your friends all pregnant?”

“No.”

She didn’t get it. This wasn’t a mere desire to fit in.

“You’re young. Try to relax and enjoy your baby-less-ness. There’s nothing visibly wrong with you. Babies are sort of a miracle.”

Thanks, doc.

I honestly don’t know why I wanted to have a baby so badly. Does anyone really know why they want those kinds of things? It was just a longing. A deep, uncontrollable desire. I felt like I was destined to be a mother and it was something I had always wanted.

“God, if I’m not meant to have a baby, please take away this desire!” I prayed. “It hurts too much. I don’t want to want this anymore.”

 

Things I learned from battling infertility for a year:

We take normal things for granted.  Things like health and the ability to get pregnant right away are easily taken for granted. If you’ve never struggled with infertility, at least take a moment and be thankful. If you’re on the other side of it like I am, it’s important to look back with gratitude.

We’re not really in control. God’s timing is better than ours and sometimes his plan is different than ours. Yes, my doctor admitted that babies are a miracle. She can provide the care and she can deliver them, but a lot of it is out of our hands. This is both awesome and terrifying. I’m not a control freak, but I’m a planner. It’s hard to relinquish control, especially when I feel so strongly about what needs to happen. When things are completely uncontrollable, my only comfort is knowing that God controls the things I cannot. And on the bright side, I’m unable to mess up the things I can’t control. It’s all in his hands.

Bitterness isn’t worth it. For a while I battled deep resentment and longing every time I saw a pregnant woman. But that bitterness hurt me more than anyone else. I had to do my best to let go of it. I had to try my hardest to be genuinely happy for each and every person. I don’t know everyone’s story. It’s not my place to judge. I have no idea what each woman is secretly going through. All I see is a woman who’s pregnant when I’m not. She may be battling her own doubts, anxiety, and questions. She may be struggling to accept her pregnancy, just as I’m struggling to accept not being pregnant. There is no place to judge. This is no place to be divided. As women, we must do our best to love and support one another even when jealousy wants to divide us.

Getting pregnant doesn’t magically fix everything. I told myself when I was trying to get pregnant, “Everything will be perfect once I’m pregnant.” But it wasn’t. Pregnancy is hard. And once you’ve tried so hard for a child, there’s this unavoidable fear about the pregnancy. I trusted everything would be fine and we’d have a healthy child, but there’s so much at stake when you’ve tried so long. You know the heartbreak of a loss would completely shatter you. So it changes from “I just want to be pregnant” to “Everything will be perfect once the baby is born.” But that’s false hope too. Children are a huge life change. I was a little disillusioned with my first about how easy the adjustment would be. I had mild postpartum depression with both of my boys. The bottom line is, having kids doesn’t fix everything. After they’re born you will still struggle, just with other things. Your fears might change from infertility to SIDS, but you will still have fears if you don’t address them. I gained complete freedom from fear only when I surrendered the wellbeing of my children into God’s hands.

It’s important to exercise sensitivity. Getting pregnant is an emotional topic. It’s not a joking matter. There were times I wanted to burst into tears when someone asked me about having kids. There were times I flat-out lied and said we weren’t trying when we were. Let’s support one another and value each other as people regardless of our decisions to parent or not. Not everyone is able to have kids. Not everyone feels called to a traditional family model. It’s not our job as strangers, as friends, as relatives, to pressure anyone into parenthood. Unless someone opens up and tells you their story, never assume to know their reasons.

 

Looking back, I know God was in control when I wasn’t. The timing wasn’t my own, but it was still perfect.

It happened at just the right time.

It happened to draw me and my husband closer.

It happened so I could share my story.

I was in Guatemala when I found out.

I had a whole week to relish in my secret with anticipation and thankfulness.

I came home and told Josh in person.

It was one of those great moments.

 I now have two beautiful, healthy boys. We got pregnant without any waiting the second time, so I now know the joy of a surprise baby too!

This is just my story.

I realize there’s other stories out there.

I realize some people have to battle infertility for much longer than 12 months.

I realize some people have to wait years and years, undergoing invasive and expensive treatments.

I realize for some people there isn’t a happy ending.

I realize the inability to have children comes in many forms, such as waiting to find a spouse, waiting to finish school, or waiting to adopt. These can be just as frustrating as infertility to someone who feels called to be a parent.

If any of this applies to you, my heart goes out to you and I hope you can find peace and acceptance. Feel free to share your stories with me. I’d love to listen.

Much love.