7 Everythings I Learned from My Mom

For this “7 Everythings I’ve Learned” post, I wanted to honor my momma for Mother’s Day and share what she has taught me through the years.   Everyone says that their mom is the best.  Well, that is not even a thing—there are no perfect mothers.  There are, however, some dang good ones, and I will argue that mine is one of them.


With my mother and my daughter.

I’ve been in public education for the past 12 years, and I’ve witnessed some down-right crappy parenting.  Every year I am more and more appreciative of how my mom raised me.  A decade ago, I became a mother myself and realized how challenging this thing called mothering actually is; that has deepened my appreciation for my mom.  As a parent, I have consciously attempted to mirror the positive experiences and lessons I had with my mother with my own children.  

When thinking of what all she has taught me, it was extremely difficult to narrow this down to only seven areas, but I guess that leaves me with more material for the future {wink}.  Here are the 7 everythings I’ve learned from my momma and what I strive teach my own kids.

  1. Talk Openly with Your Kids
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Circa 1989.

My mom talked to me about all the tough topics: sex, drugs, rock + roll . . . {okay, not so much the latter}.  Studies show that children whose parents talk to them regularly about these uncomfortable topics are more likely to make better decisions in life.  My 13-year-old-self may have rather had math homework every night for the rest of my life instead of enduring these awkward conversations, but seeing that I was mildly rebellious in both high school and even college . . . it must have paid off.

She also didn’t just tell me not to engage in certain activities; she explained WHY I shouldn’t.

There’s a huge difference.

In addition to discussing these topics.  My mom simply talked to me.

A lot.

There are still times I call her up and we have a two-hour conversation.  I know she is a safe person to vent to, to gain advice from, and to bounce ideas off of.  That has been invaluable to me.

2. Do Something Nice for Yourself

Being a mom is exhausting and requires copious amounts of sacrifices.  I am incredibly frugal, so it is difficult for me to splurge or to pay for something I can do myself. Sometimes, you just need to take a break and pamper yourself before you go stark raving mad.  So, every once in awhile, hire a cleaning lady, have pizza delivered, or get a massage.

Oh, and for heaven’s sake, never highlight your hair with a store-bought kit.  Pay good money to go to a professional at a salon.  {I may, or may not, have been traumatized by such an attempt when in the 8th grade . . . }.

3. Go Above and Beyond for Your Kids


With my mom after I graduated with my master’s degree.

First, let me be clear that I think it’s important for moms to have their own life and identity other than just “mom.”  With that said, for the first 18 years of your child’s life, a large part of your life should be focused to them.  Each child should have at least one person in their life who is dedicated to their well being, who loves them something fierce, and who constantly makes them feel important.  If you have a child, that person should be YOU.  If it’s not, they will most likely seek love and attention from the wrong people and places.

My mom never missed a sporting event or a parent-teacher conference.  She was always a working mom so that my parents could afford to send me to college.  She helped me study and sought out resources when I struggled as a student.  She made a point to know my friends and my friends’ parents so she knew who was involved in my life.  

Having a parent who went above and beyond gave me a deep sense of self-worth, and it greatly enriched my upbringing.

4. Choose Your Friends Wisely

Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” and if there is one piece of advice that I continually remember my mom giving me, it was that I needed to choose my friends wisely.

Are your friends kind?  Are they bullies?  Do they have strong morals?  Are they loyal?  Are they going to peer-pressure you?  Can they keep a secret?  Are they going to challenge you to be a better person?  Are they catty?  

These questions were always on my mind.  When I was in high school, some of my friends started making not-so-awesome choices.  Because she had instilled this advice in me, I knew I needed to start distancing myself—and I did.  My life was better because of it.  As an adult, the above questions became second nature as I started meeting new people from college and work.  I can say that I for sure have some life-long friends who have been wisely chosen.

Oh, and one of the most important questions to ask when choosing a friend: Are they fun?

My mom has the greatest friends {one of whom has become my mother-in-law}. She and her girlfriends from high school still keep in touch almost 45 years later.  She also still has slumber parties and most of her friends are in their 60s or 70s.  

Now, that’s fun.


My mom {front, center} with her friends in high school. Circa 1971.

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My mom with her high school friends over 40 years later.

5. Live the Example

“Do as I say, not as I do” is one of the worst parental philosophies.  


Rachel Cruz coined the phrase that more is caught than taught.  My mom raised me to have strong morals and to live a Christian lifestyle.  She also lived it out herself.  Many-a-mornings I have walked in on her while she was praying or doing devotions.  She has been faithfully married for over 40  years.  She has helped those in need.  I’ve never witnessed her cheat, steal, or lie.  I’ve never seen her drunk.  I’ve never heard her tell someone off. In fact, I’ve never even heard her cuss.  

Well, maybe I did hear her once.

Okay.  Twice.  

She is by no means perfect, but she knew the kind of character she wanted me to have, which was set pretty high.  She lived the life herself by example and taught me through my observations.

6. Let Your Kids Spread Their Wings

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Momma and me.

I am my mother’s only child, so she was always overly protective of me; however, she never held me back from being my own person or crippled my ambitions.  I ended up going to a college that was two hours away.  That may not seem very far, but I know it was difficult on her.  She never asked me to change my mind and attend a closer university for her sake; she let me go.  

When I turned 20, I had one of those “Oh-My-Goodness-I-Don’t-Even-Know-Who-I-Am-I-Need-to-Find-Myself” moments.  I decided to live in Texas with a friend for the entire summer of 2002 to get away from everything.  I drove the whole 15 hours by myself from Ohio to the Longhorn State for the three-month adventure. The next year my mom encouraged me to pursue student teaching assignments on a Navajo Reservation in Chinle, AZ and later an inner-city school in Charleston, SC. Then I was gone for good when I married and moved 700 miles away from home.

All of these experiences were vital in shaping my independence. While I’m sure many of these decisions of mine scared the crud out of her, she sat back as I spread my wings.  

And without my wings, I would have never been able to fly.

7) Grammar is Important

Since I can remember, my mom has corrected my grammar for fear that one day I would grow up to sound like an imbecile and shame the family.  All the nagging paid off since I now make a living off of having proper grammar {AKA – English teacher}.



Thank you for your wisdom and love.  I owe so much of who I am to you, and I hope to raise my kids as well as you raised me.   Happy Mother’s Day.


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7 Reasons to Join a CSA {Community Supported Agriculture}

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and has become more and more popular in the United States within the last 25 years.  You’re sure to have one in your community—you can click here to see. 

I seriously don’t know the slightest about planting or growing food.  If you’re one of those who can maintain your own strawberry﹘um﹘tree? . . . or potato﹘er﹘bush? then I have mad respect for your skills.  For people with a black thumb like me, a CSA is the better way to go.  This summer will be my family’s fourth year participating in one and we absolutely love it.  


How it Works:

This process allows you to purchase a “share” of organic seasonal fruits and veggies straight from a local farmer–eliminating a “middleman.”  You can select and pay for {in advance} the season in which you wish to participate so you’re not locked in year-round.  My family only buys a half share in the summer.  Throughout the season, you usually have the option to buy additional individual items such as eggs, honey, jams, flowers, or any surplus of produce.

Shareholders receive their goods on a regular basis.  It could be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly depending on your organizer.  Some CSAs deliver directly to you, to a particular central location for all shareholders to pick up, or require you to pick it up from them.  

I was living in cloud of ignorance and had never even heard of a CSA before I read Jen Hatmaker’s book 7 {a book that totally changed my life, btw}.  I decided to hop on the CSA train and here’s 7 reasons why my family continues to use it each summer, and why you should start:



Remember that ad during the Super Bowl a few years ago?  The one that didn’t leave a dry eye in the room?  So God Made a Farmer.


Here I am.  All I do is teach teenagers about nonessential information like dangling participles while farmers are out doing back breaking work for 90+ hours/week so we can like . . . eat and stuff.


God. Bless. All. The. Farmers.


When you participate in a CSA, your money goes directly to the farmer.  You also pay up front, so this helps the farmers be more financially secure.  The downside for you is that they could have a poor crop for whatever reason and you could be out some of that money.

But since we’ve already established that farmers are the worthy human beings, I’m willing to take the chance to give them support.



Most farmers who participate in CSA’s grow their produce organically.  Our CSA farmer writes:

We have been providing wholesome foods to our customers using chemical-free, biologically sound methods for over 35 years. We follow organic and sustainable principles in all aspects of the farm.”

I love it.

I’m also about to sound like an ignorant city girl . . . but that’s what I am, K?  Before going all CSA, I really didn’t pay attention to the fact that fruits and vegetables had certain seasons because my grocery store ALWAYS has strawberries, and squash, and cantaloupe, and tomatoes {and you KNOW I wasn’t growing any myself}.  If I want to sink my teeth into a juicy nectarine in the dead of winter, HyVee can make that possible.

When you buy produce that is out of season, most likely it has been imported from somewhere hundreds of miles away, picked before it was ripe, and spent several days traveling on a truck.  The quality, nutrition, and freshness are now significantly reduced. More on this in #4.

Not only do CSAs give you what is in season, there’s a good chance it was harvested within hours of you picking it up from your farmer.

Have you ever eaten something so fresh?

Nothing compares.




Example of how much comes in half a share.

Organic food can be expensive, but using a CSA definitely reduces the cost.  My family buys a half share during the summer, which runs the entire months of June-August.  A half share {which is more than enough for my family of four} costs $325 {plus tax}.  Divide that by 14 weeks and the cost is only $25/week.  That price is hard to beat at a grocery store.  If that price is a bit steep for you, some CSAs  let you work or give a discount if you pick it up.

The picture on the right shows everything we received from one of our summer half shares.  Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less.  This one included cabbage, red potatoes, an onion, a green pepper, smaller onions, rainbow chard, kale, kohlrabi, and a pepper.

As mentioned in my second point, when food is purchased at a grocery store, there is a good chance it is not local.  In fact, there’s a really good chance it has traveled hundreds . . . even thousands of miles!  No joke.

According to CUESA {Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture} all the food on your dinner plate traveled an average of 1,500 miles!!!

Say what?  

For example, here’s a breakdown showing the average of how far some foods travel to get to a terminal market {more popular in large cities} vs. a farmer’s market:

Produce Terminal Market Farmer’s Market
Apples 1,500 miles 105 miles
Tomatoes 1,369 miles 117 miles
Grapes 2,143 miles 151 miles
Beans 766 miles 101 miles
Peaches 1,674 miles 184 miles
Winter Squash 781 miles 98 miles
Greens 889 miles 99 miles
Lettuce 2,055 miles 102 miles

Um . . . that’s a major difference.  Buying some produce from the grocery store could not only means it’s not fresh, but it takes a significant amount of travel time﹘sending harmful emissions in the air and causing an even bigger carbon footprint on this precious earth.  

My farmer only lives about 50 miles from me.  He comes up to my hometown every Wednesday to sell produce and other goods at a farmer’s market, which is only about 10 miles from my home.  

I can sleep easy with those numbers.  

To read up on more information regarding the severity of buying produce long distance, click here.  

P.S.—I realize that some grocery stores {like my beloved Dillons} do attempt to purchase some of their produce locally.  I’m speaking in general terms here. 



When you participate in a CSA, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a lot of produce around your house that will rot soon.  If you don’t incorporate it, all into your meals each week, then you’re sadly wasting your money {which is not an option for my frugal self!} We plan our meals around our food each week, which actually ends up saving us money.

When you don’t have a meal plan, you tend to aimlessly wander around a grocery store, throw whatever looks good into your cart, and then end up with more than you need {and most likely food that goes bad if you never planned to incorporate it}.

While you’re at the mercy of whatever is in season and whatever your farmer chooses to grow, it is actually kind of nice giving up that control and letting your meals for the week be based on that instead of whatever you choose.  It’s comfortingly structured.



This may be one of my favorite reasons.  As I mentioned in #5, you’re at the mercy of whatever food happens to be in your CSA share each week.  It’s not always food you would normally buy.  In fact, it’s not always food you’ve even heard of before!



Take kohlrabi for example.  

What the heck even is that?  

This little gem {which turned out to be a “cousin” to the turnup} showed up in our first few shares.  We didn’t even know how to pronounce it, let alone know how to cook it.  

My husband ended up throwing it on the grill with some butter, salt, and garlic, and it was delicious.  Now kohlrabi is honestly one of our favorite veggies we receive all season.

Using a CSA forces you to get creative, look up a lot of recipes, and stretch yourself.  We’ve created so many new dishes we would have never encountered before.  It’s a fun experience for our family.



Depending on how your CSA is set up, you will have a chance to meet new people.  As I mentioned in #4, our farmer brings our shares to a local farmer’s market every Wednesday and we pick up our food from him.

Before this model, everyone who had a share took turns driving to the farm and bringing it back to our hometown.  We would meet at a local park every Saturday between 1:30 and 2:00 PM to pick up our food.  You got to meet other people and swap recipe ideas between CSA vets and newbies.


My daughter loving on a farm kitty.

Our kids loved it when it was our turn to drive to the farm to pick up the food.  We are a suburban family with zero pets {I know . . . }, so seeing such things as litters of kittens running around and a turkey coop is better than going to the zoo.  Our farmers always offer a tour and some extra produce to the picker-upper as well.  It’s a unique relationship that would never be developed otherwise.  



My kids checking out the baby turkeys on the farm.

If you’re in the northeast Kansas area and are interested in participating, please check out our CSA provider: Shepherd’s Valley

If you decide to use our CSA provider, please tell them I referred you. 🙂  

Have questions?  Let me know!

Here’s to fresh eating in the future.


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Paying Down Debt – March 2016

I usually try to come up with something funny, thoughtful, or inspirational to share at the beginning of these posts, but I just don’t have it in me this month for our debt update.

Sorry, kids.

Nothing particularly interesting happened this month, but we were still able to pay off $2,973 in March.


Click here to see our latest balance.

We’ve done the same old same old this past March:

  • I have continued tutoring a home bound student
  • I have subbed as much as possible during my plan period
  • Randy and his crew have done a lot of painting
  • We sold some stuff around the house through Facebook
  • I’ve supervised detentions
  • I had a successful month with Bondbons
  • I have done some committee work through school
  • We’ve made a point to be exceptionally frugal

I am happy to report that we have now paid off 70% of our debt.  Eek!

This March we celebrated both our son and daughter’s birthdays.  Birthdays can get expensive, but since we budget for birthdays, Christmas, and other gifts throughout the whole year, this was not an added financial stress this month.  Do you know how much more enjoyable it is to celebrate your child’s special day when you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for everything?

Well, it’s glorious.

Stay tuned for our next update.


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Paying Down Debt – Jan/Feb 2016

Life is busy.  It’s even busier when you’re on the fast track to paying off debt.  I did not have a chance to write at the end of January, and I’m just now writing at the end of February {AKA—the middle of March . . . don’t hate}.

The past two months have been hard.  My main avenue for making extra money to throw at our debt is through my Bondbons business, but I knew January was going to be a slow month.

Side Note: Doesn’t January just flat out suck?  If I could get rid of one month, it would be January. Everyone is broke, fat, and cold.  That’s it.  It’s good for nothin’.

Anyway . . . January wasn’t just slow.  It was Puh-Thet-Ic.  I had hardly any orders, but  I was optimistic about making up for it in February with Valentine’s Day.  Unfortunately, I only ended up with about 35% of the orders I was expecting.

It was Bummer-ville at the Bonds.

But we have a goal to reach—and that is to be completely debt-free {other than our home} by the end of this year, so we had to utilize other avenues to make this happen. Despite some set backs, we were still able to pay off $3,649 in January and $4,132 in February.  Those numbers are huge for us.  You can see our current balance by clicking here.

Here’s how we did it:

  • Randy majorly downgraded his wheels . . . he sold his cute little car and has started driving the van that he uses for his painting business.  It’s not cute, but it’s worth it.
  • I started using the ibotta app.  In a nutshell, I get rebates on groceries.  You can also make money on referrals.  In just two weeks I racked up $130 that I was able to transfer to my PayPal and pay off debt.  If you sign up using my code {fjovarx} you will receive $10 and I’ll get $5.  Try it.  It’s fun.
  • Randy’s painting business was profitable.  PTL!
  • I have tried to sub during my plan period at work as much as possible {I make $20 each time I do it}
  • Randy bought, fixed up, and sold another car and made a nice profit.
  • I have been fortunate to work as a home bound teacher for most of the school year. The sweet girl who I’ve worked with since August finally got to return to school in February. Fortunately I was given another student to work with the very next week. I work with him about four hours/week.
  • Randy switched his business account to another bank that requires a much smaller minimum balance {something I did with my business account back in December}.  This was a difference $700!
  • I have supervised Saturday morning detentions and worked on a curriculum committee at school {both offer extra duty pay}
  • Our gas bill was $80 lower than usual–so $80 went straight to the debt
  • I taught a cake pop class at Sweet! Baking Supply in Lawrence.
  • We’ve saved a ton of money with fuel prices being so low. We’ve saved even more money by using our Kroger Fuel Points.  In February, we were able to fill up 35 gallons for only $11.52!!!  35 gallons would have cost us about $135.00 just a few years ago.  The money we’ve saved has gone straight to debt.
  • I sold cake pops at Trails Market and Gallery for Topeka’s First Friday Art Walk in February.
  • We’ve also been incredibly frugal.  We rarely dine out, spend money on entertainment, and refrain from shopping for anything that’s not a necessity.

I want to touch on something before I close.

Do I think college is ridiculously too expensive?


Are interest rates too high on student loans?


Does paying student loans make life difficult and strain finances?


However, these student loans are OUR responsibility. We are the ones who went to college and took out the loans.  No one forced us to enroll at a university or tricked us into being in debt.  That was our choice.  It was also our foolish decision not to pay on them for years and to live in denial as the balance accrued over $25,000 in interest.

Randy and I are not sitting back and whining about our debt situation—hoping that the government will swoop in and fix our problems, and our decisions and mistakes certainly are not the fault of the wealthy in this country.

We are taking action for our choices.  After several years of sacrifice, it will all pay off.



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7 Everythings I’ve Learned from a Traumatic Event

Happy Valentine’s Day!  On this day I wanted to share a story from one of the most inspirational young couples I’ve ever met.


Cameron and Bailey before the accident

Meet Cameron and Bailey.

Even though I’ve known Cameron’s mom for several years, and have known of Cameron, I didn’t meet this engaged couple until this past summer when we started attending the same Sunday School class at church.  They were instantly intriguing to me, and I knew I’d want to know more about their story.

Cameron was in a life-threatening car accident a little over a year ago in which he lost his left arm {along with many other injuries that Bailey will explain below}.  He fought for his life for many months in the hospital afterwards.

What I adore about this couple is how they’ve allowed God to take this hellish event to transform their entire lives with such maturity.  As soon as he was healthy enough, Cameron and Bailey started attending church on the regular.  Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for himself, Cameron has decided to give back to his community and is a contributing member of the community.  For example, he helps adults and children with workouts four nights a week, and he regularly volunteers with the kids at our church.

It also seems to me that God specifically hand-picked Bailey just for Cameron. I find it fascinating that she has worked with amputees and knew exactly how to help him adjust {coincidence? um. no.} She has been faithful to her commitment to him through this entire situation {talk about “for better or for worse”}.  While many would be scared to face such a tragic event, Bailey has embraced it.  I asked her one time if she ever felt insecure about Cameron’s physical condition after the accident, and she immediately said, “Absolutely not!”

Even though she is about a decade younger than me, she exudes wisdom, I knew I had to have them share their story for my 7 Everythings I’ve Learned series.  This one is specifically from Bailey and what she has learned through this traumatic event.



My name is Bailey and I am 23 years old. I have a wonderful fiancé whom I’ve been dating for eight years, and eventually I will become Mrs. Cameron Renfro. People used to give me a questioning look when I told them the fun fact that I’ve dated someone for that long and I’m only 23 years old; now I often see a jaw drop when I tell them my fiancé was in a terrible car accident with multiple traumatic injuries, and now lives as an amputee . . . that word still doesn’t roll off the tongue, but I’m not sure it ever will. Then again, at one point in my life prayers didn’t “roll off the tongue” either, and now they come easily.


Cameron’s car after the wreck

Just over a year ago Cameron was in a car accident and suffered multiple life threatening injuries. The doctors told us he had a 10% chance of survival and then followed with not expecting him to “make it.” His life was saved at Stormont-Vail Hospital where the first of his miracles were performed. His liver had been severed, he lost his left arm at the scene, broke his femur, hip, and several facial bones. Stormont-Vail stopped the bleeding in his liver which initially saved his life. God placed several amazing surgeons and nurses in the right place at the right time, and we are forever grateful. They were able to get him stable enough to fly to KU Medical where he spent 30 days in the ICU—followed by a month on different floors of the hospital and inpatient rehab before returning home 64 days later. Once home we continued to travel to Kansas City three times a week for outpatient therapy until April, at which point he continued therapy closer to home.

So where are we today? Cam is healthy and well and working his tail off to make the most of the life God has gifted him. If you haven’t been through a totally life changing event that flipped you upside down and sideways—changing everything you know about life, I am so happy for you. If you have, I hope you have learned from that experience and been able to grow from it. I pray that when hardship hits, you find the energy to look for the positives, strength to carry on, and your love for God, your family, and friends grows tremendously.

When Courtney asked me to write about “7 Everything’s I’ve Learned” I started making a list. And that is what is wonderful about all of this—I have learned SO MUCH through this experience that I actually have to narrow it down. I want you to know this is from my perspective, and what I have learned is from my own two eyes, heart, and soul. I’m not saying Cam wouldn’t feel the same way I do, but I have a feeling his blog entry would be a tad different 😉

Now I’m going to seem a little contradictory here, but that’s because it’s not a smooth journey. Learning life lessons and learning about yourself are very difficult things to do. You don’t see the process while it’s ongoing. You only see the current hardship, the obstacles, the world turning its back against you, flipping and spinning you round and round . . . until it stops and you can breathe for a second before the next whirlwind of events. But it’s rounds 3, 4, 9, 10, 20 that you realize you learned something. After a while you are able to look back at where you were and recognize your growth. You develop a new understanding of obstacles, challenges, and adversity and know that in the end, you will survive.

And with that lengthy yet vague introduction I would like to share with you the 7 {most important} Everything’s I have learned.

1. Breaking down actually builds you back up. At the time you feel the weakest, like you can’t hold onto your emotions any longer or you will explode – do! Let it go. Ugly cry, smear your make-up, let your nose run, and let it all out. Also, I suggest you pray. Talk to God and get whatever you need off your chest. You will feel incredibly relieved once this moment has past. The tears will eventually stop, make-up wipes off, and when you are somewhat presentable to the world again, you will most likely feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. The hard part is that it takes a while to get to this point – days, weeks, maybe even months. But once you let go without holding back, it’s like it all washes away.

2. You are stronger than you know. It’s true. You see other people go through all kinds of experiences and wonder how they do it. When it’s your turn, you probably won’t see it in yourself, but odds are someone is admiring how you are handling the situation. Strength is a funny concept; there are so many ways to be strong and everyone is in their own unique way.

3. There is no room for “what if’s.” When going through the loops and swoops and chaos of life, don’t get caught up in these questions:  “What if ____ had happened?” “What if I had done_____ instead?” When things get scary and you don’t know what is going on, turn to God, but try not to ask such questions. It can tear you apart. God has a plan for everything and while we might not understand or even agree with it, you cannot change what has happened in the past. You can hope to influence the future in one way or another, you have a choice of how to deal with your cards, but there is no answer to the question, “what if?” While that might seem frustrating, just trust in God and know He will take care of you because that is really all you can do about the past.

4. Plant your own green grass. Making the best of a situation doesn’t come easily. Complaining does. But how far does that get you? You cannot compare your life experience to others’, or be resentful of what they have NOT had to deal with. That kind of attitude gets you nowhere. Some people would love to have your green grass, so take care of it, love it, and grow with it.


Bailey with Cameron during physical therapy after the accident.


5. The bad days are going to happen. It’s all a part of the healing process. Being as strong as a superhero is hard to do 100% of the time and that is okay. Bad days are going to drag on, things might get worse before they get better, and occasionally your attitude makes you compatible to a walking grenade that could explode at any second. Unfortunately, stress creates more of these days than we would like, but they make you appreciate the good days . . . and how much better a good attitude feels than a bad one. Go to bed at night, say your prayers, and get ready for a better day ahead.

6. Tragedy only lasts as long as you allow it. I am not saying the heartbreaks will stop completely or as long as you have a positive attitude things will go your way. But I am saying that when reflecting there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for. I never would have guessed the positives that would follow our “tragedy,” but once I look for them, I lose count of all the blessings we’ve received.


Embracing the change

7. Prayer works. I saved the best for last. I mentioned earlier that I haven’t always prayed a lot, and I still don’t pray as often as I should, but what I have learned is that prayer works. God heals in many ways, and when it feels like there is no hope left, pray about it. There is always hope. God is always there for you when it feels no one else understands. He listens, He forgives, He answers, and He is always present. A woman we met when Cam was at KU Med said over and over again, “The more prayers that go up, the more blessings come down,” and that is one of my very favorite sayings. I have witnessed and received physical, emotional, and spiritual healing – sometimes all in one day. I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to witness the power of prayer, and I am excited to keep learning more about it.


You might be able to gather that our journey has been a long one; but I also hope you recognize the positive tone that goes along with it. These were not easy lessons to learn, but I am thankful that I have. A positive mindset, support of loved ones, and trusting in God will get you through anything . . . and that now means everything to me.


Our culture is obsessed with “love,” but what is depicted in various forms of media is based on warm fuzzies and lust.  True love stands firm when the storms of adversity try to knock you down.  I hope on this Valentine’s Day that you can see what love should look like through Cameron and Bailey and her life lessons will be of encouragement to you no matter what you’re going through.


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2015 – Paying Down Debt

Whoa.  Happy New Year!

I’m going to be honest.  I’m a little nervous about it being 2016 because Randy and I set a goal that by December 31st of this year, we would be completely out of debt {except for our home}.  We still have a long way to go, but I don’t want to focus on that for this post.  I want to focus on how far we’ve come.

If you haven’t read about how we got on this kick to pay off debt, read this.

My husband and I started this journey in September of 2013.  In 2014, we mainly just cut parts of our lives {like cable and dining out} and reallocated our money so that we could dump more into our debt.  By simply doing that, we paid off $14,200 in just one year.

Not bad, eh?

But by the end of 2014, I was so beyond sick of our debt.  If we just paid off $14,200/year, it was going to take us over four more years.  I wanted to be done in like . . . well . . . way less time than that. A fire was lit under me, and I had this desire to go crazy gazelle intense on our student loans.  I wanted to rid of it as soon as possible. I told Randy that we had to do whatever it took to be complete out of debt by the end of 2016.

Any chance I could get, I was listening to the Debt-Free Screams on the Dave Ramsey Show.   You can click on the link below to watch a continuous stream of over 500 videos of people who go on the show to describe their journey and celebrate their victory—their new found freedom. It’s crazy inspiring to hear the stories of people who have walked in our shoes.

I am proud to say that since we really kicked it into gear in 2015, Randy and I paid off $24,923.


That’s over $10,000 more than the year before.  

Just over two years ago we were $82,000 in debt.  That number was so scary.  It was paralyzing.  It caused us to just crawl into a hole and live in denial.  After taking control, our balance has gone from $82,000 to $36,000 in just 28 months.   See details by clicking here.

This didn’t just happen.   We didn’t inherit money.  No one else has helped us.  We are two teachers with kids—surely you know we’re not raking in the big bucks.   This has required many sacrifices and hours of extra work each week.  We’ve been intentional with every single minute of the day and every single dime that has come our way.

So what exactly did we do?

  • We got on a very tight budget and decided where every dollar needed to go.  If you need help setting up a budget, I recommend http://www.everydollar.com.
  • We started paying with cash way more.  Even though we paid off our credit card bill each month, research shows you’re likely to spend 18% more with plastic-–that was definitely true for us.
  • We changed things around with our home security system, cell phones, etc. and put the money we saved toward debt.
  • We also worked our tails off.


  • worked construction and painting jobs full time during the summer and nights/weekends during the school year
  • worked on cars for people {he used to be a mechanic}
  • got his local minister’s license and performed a wedding in the fall
  • helped organize our family garage sale where we sold tons of stuff
  • even won $20 playing a friendly poker game . . . not how I would recommend making money, but, HEY—it went straight to the debt. Every dollar counts, right?

In addition, I: 

  • sold lots and lots of bondbons, and thanks to a local bakery who started referring us, I had marketrecord-breaking profits from September – December
  • taught about eight different cake pop classes
  • started selling cake pops at vendor events
  • supervised detentions on Saturday mornings at my school
  • started tutoring a girl with Cystic Fibrosis who is home bound from school
  • line-judged for volleyball meets
  • taught summer school
  • served on a curriculum committee for my school district
  • supervised several ACT tests on Saturday mornings

I always hesitate to post this for fear of sounding like we’re bragging. Dear readers, please know that is not the case at all.  I list all of those things to show you that it’s possible!  If we can do it as two teachers with kids, you can do it, too.   Sometimes people just don’t know where to start.  And I’ve talked to so many people who just feel hopefully and that they’ll always be in debt.  If you are intentional, you have the power to change your future.

2015 has been exhausting, but when I look back and see that we paid off almost $25,000 in debt this year alone . . . it is all worth it.

Here’s to 2016 and the high hopes that it will be our last exhausting year like this because we really really want that balance to be $0.00 in the next 366 days {good thing it’s a Leap Year to give us extra time . . . wink}.

Next update will be in February.  Stay tuned.


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Paying Down Debt – October 2015

When I was a sophomore in college, I had the bright idea to start running to stay in shape {this is going somewhere . . . I promise}.  The problem with said idea is that I am a horrible long distance runner.

Like, seriously.  It’s pathetic.

My good friend Rachel {a runner} offered to be my mentor for the Turn-Courtney-Into-a-Runner Project and offered to go with me on my first few treks.

Bless her heart.  She’s a sweet one, that Rachel.

For our first jog, we decided to only do a mile.  Piece of cake, right?

Yeah.  I think I died.

I had honestly never run that far before in my life.

Sweet Rachel {left} and me at our junior formal in college.

Sweet Rachel {left} and me at our junior formal in college.

As we were running this 1-mile course she had mapped out, I’ll never forget when I realized we were approaching a small hill.  It seemed impossible to tackle.  At that moment Rachel said, “Okay, Courtney.  We’re going over the hump . . . literally and metaphorically.  Not only are we going up a hill, but this is the halfway point.  Get past this and it will be smooth sailing.”

She was right.  Once we got past the half way point—once we got over that hill—it seemed so much easier.   It wasn’t as daunting.  I had this.

What a metaphor for life.  When we start a task, it can seem so intimidating, but if we can just get over that “hump,” the rest of the journey seems doable.

I am proud to say that this past month we were finally able to get over the “hump” in our debt-free journey.  We are now over half way there!!!!

Click here to see our new balance.

You have no idea how refreshing it feels to see the “amount paid” be a higher number than the “amount owed.”

During the month of October, we were able to pay off $3,012.  Here is what we did this past month to make extra money to put toward the student loans:

  • I was a line judge for several volleyball games
  • I was a home bound teacher for a student with cystic fibrosis for over a month
  • Randy has continued working with his Promise Painting & Contracting business in addition to teaching
  • I supervised the ACT test on a Saturday morning
  • We were under budget in several other categories of our finances, so that extra money went to the debt
  • I supervised several detentions on Saturday mornings
  • Bondbons had a record-breaking month in sales—thanks to a local bakery who has started referring us when their customers ask for cake pops.  That has been a major blessing.

October was exhausting, and there were many times I wanted to give up, but seeing that balance drop below the half-way point recharged me again.  What’s really exciting is that with every payment, more and more is going to principle while less and less wastes away with the interest.  Two years ago, $358 was going just to interest every month.  Now only $176 is going to interest each month.  That’s a difference of $179/month!  Getting over “the hump” has allowed us to gain more and more momentum.

Our next goal is to get under $40,000.  Stay tuned for December to see if we’re able to hit it.

Oh, and as for running . . . I’m still horrible.  I think for now I will stick to just paying off debt.  😉


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7 Everythings I Learned from Participating in Judgment House

Low quality picture, high quality person.  My friend Ari.

Low quality picture, high quality person. My friend Ari.

My friend Ari {isn’t she super cute?} is the author of this guest post for 7 Everythings I’ve Learned.  

Ari and I attend the same church.  I actually knew her mom for several years before I ever met Ari herself.  The first time we were introduced was when she came to a speaking engagement of mine about three years ago.  After that, we have become friends and discovered many similarities between us, including:

  • We were both raised Nazarene
  • We are both passionate about writing
  • Both our husbands are significantly older than us
  • We are both stepmoms to {now} adult stepdaughters
  • We are both a little sassy
  • We are both avid runners {HA! Yeah right.  Only Ari does that}. 

Our church, Wanamaker Woods Church of the Nazarene {also known as The Woods at Wanamaker}, is going into their 18th year participating in a community outreach ministry called “Judgment House.” It is a live theatrical production depicting the opportunity for salvation, set in present day and honing in on current issues that plague our youth.  It is tradition for “Judgment House” to be performed during the Halloween season in order to provide alternative entertainment to the haunted houses.

Ari has been involved in Judgment House for most of those 18 years, and this year she has a major leadership role. In fact, she actually wrote the entire script.  Whoa.  This is such a unique production that not only changes the lives of the audience, but its own performers.  I asked her if she would be willing to share the 7 Everythings she has learned from participating in Judgment House after all these years. 

If you are in the Topeka area, we would love to see you there.  Details about performances are at the bottom of this post if interested. 

Here’s Ari:

For Judgment House this year, we have adopted the motto “Only He will judge me” because that is the ultimate truth. The purpose of “Judgment House” is not to project personal judgment onto others—that right only belongs to God. Rather, our purpose is to bring awareness about the afterlife and offer hope to the hurting and lost.

 In year’s past we have purchased the script written by the staff at the home office for “Judgment House,” but this year our pastor, L.D. Holmes, felt called for us to write an original script. Our ministry focus for 2015 is cutting, also know as self-harm. Our church congregation bands together from Children’s and Youth Ministries, to pastoral staff, to prayer teams, in order to reach the hurting and lost souls in the Topeka and surrounding communities. The following are “7 Everythings” God is teaching me, our cast, and our crew through our participation in this extraordinary ministry.

1. Nothing Will Go as Planned

Although many things were done differently this year we are still scheduling a last minute rehearsal, completing sets two days before production, and crossing every finger, toe, and eyeball that the cast will have their lines down come opening night. That being said, I have watched the Holy Spirit weave throughout our preparation in what I can only describe as beautiful chaos. If my type-A self could learn to relinquish control to God in other areas of my life the way He is teaching me in this ministry, I can only imagine what He could do. {Actually, I can’t imagine it . . . but that’s kind of the point}.

2. It is a Great Social Equalizer

Our team members vary in age, ethnicity, school districts, social stature and personal interests. Some of us have been members of our church for only a few months, and then there are others who have been attending WWCN since they were in diapers. We are an amusing melting pot of disciples working together with a common goal and my cup overflows.

3. No One is a Lost Cause

We have recovered addicts depicting Jesus and the scarred arm of a woman reborn in Christ splayed across the posters promoting this year’s production. Our team members are living testimonies of the miracle Jesus can work in anyone’s life who is willing to accept Him as Savior.

4. It Will Get Uncomfortable

Did you get a little fidgety reading that last one? It’s okay if you did; you would be in the majority. Society not only encourages, they sometimes indignantly demand that we keep our shameful secrets carefully tucked away and refrain from openly speaking about our faith to avoid making others uncomfortable. The members of our team are willing to take that risk to bring a message of hope.

5. Satan Will Get Angry

Nothing ticks off the Devil more than shedding light on the lies he has fed us about our worth in this world. His number one goal is to separate you from God’s love by any means necessary. When you’ve got recovered addicts and self-harm victims speaking out about their healing, and proclaiming that others may have it too, the names of lost souls are dropping like flies off his list. He will fight back, but we have warriors lifting our ministry up in fervent prayer everyday. Satan can throw all the temper tantrums he wants; we will not back down and we will not be afraid.

6. A LOT of Duct Tape Will Be Used

I mean A LOT. I have never seen someone burn through 60 yards of duct tape in a matter of two hours, but apparently it is humanly possible. That’s what it takes to bring a ministry like this together. It requires a willingness on the type-A director’s part to accept a set whose structure is supported by 80% duct tape, 10% staples, and 10% blind faith. In reality, it takes 100% blind faith in a God who has worked miracles far greater than structurally sound duct tape contraptions. If I was forced to choose between this and unlimited resources to hire a professional construction crew, my God would have the winning bid every time.

7. Lives Will be Changed.

Lives have already been changed. Perhaps the cast and crew don’t realize it yet, but when they agreed to participate they took a step forward in their faith walk. Their path shifted, even if only slightly, to move them a little closer to Jesus. He said “Follow me,” and they said, “Okay!” The changes don’t stop there. Every person who makes the decision to attend will have their lives touched in some way; whether it’s to bring awareness, give them a new perspective, or completely flip their world upside down. I cannot describe the sense of blessing and humility I feel about God choosing me to be a part of it, and I cannot WAIT to see His hand work in these lives.

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Performance dates and times are: October 14, 17, 18, 21, 24, 25, 28, and 30. 6 – 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, 6 – 10 p.m. on Saturdays. For questions or reservations call (785) 220-8885

In addition to the performances, we offer a plethora of delectable concession stand treats to enjoy before and after the productions. New to the list of menu items are cake pops from Bondbons! Also new this year, we will be offering mobile laser tag by Laser Trooper to those who have purchased a ticket for the show.

Paying Down Debt – September 2015

It was almost exactly two years ago when Randy and I took our first Financial Peace University class.  We entered into that room as a hopeless married couple who was $82,000 in debt {and that number doesn’t even include our mortgage!}.  Two years later, we have paid off almost half of those awful student loans.

Click here to see our new balance.

I was so so hoping that this would have been the month we hit the halfway mark, but we didn’t quite make it.  We should, hopefully, get to that point next month.  I’m still proud to say that we were able to pay off $2,637 in September.   

Here is what we did this month to go above and beyond our regular payments:

  • I had an above average month in profits from selling Bondbons {if you placed an order, thank you!}
  • I supervised a detention on Saturday morning {no, it’s not like the Breakfast Club}
  • Randy did a few side jobs of auto and house repair
  • Our gas bill was $60 less than usual {every little bit helps}
  • We {kind of} refinanced on our house {it’s a long story . . .}, and we were able to use money we did not have to pay for the month and apply it to the debt
  • There are several other odd jobs we did {such as line judging, teaching cake pop classes supervising the ACT, and being a home bound teacher}, but we haven’t been paid for them yet.  An update on those next month.

My sweet husband has worked like a dog this month, but unfortunately his construction business has not been profitable for us due to many factors out of his control. Luckily he has a steady income with teaching and the construction is just supplemental. This has obviously been quite frustrating to us, but I have faith that October will be a better month.

I want to mention that if we just worked our teaching jobs, we would be able to pay off about $1,000 a month.  That’s not good enough. To pay our debt off faster, we have to do some major overtime. We have to be intentional.  We have to cut a lot of luxuries out of our life.  We have to watch every penny.

I don’t share what we do and how we pay extra to brag.  I share this each month to show the masses that this is possible.  Hopefully this is an encouragement and inspiration.  If you look for opportunities, are willing to work, and live below your means, you will be surprised at what you’re able to accomplish.  Between teaching full time, being a mom, a wife, a small business owner, a volunteer, and working extra jobs, I get about 5 hours of sleep a night.

I love my sleep, but right now, I love seeing the balance of our debt go down more.

Stay tuned for our next update on November 1st.


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Paying Down Debt – August 2015

August is hard, friends.

That’s when school starts back up, and since everyone in our house is either a teacher or a student, August means we have to readjust to a life of packing lunches, lesson plans, homework, carpooling, grading, learning new names, and actually showering on a regular basis (I speak the truth, people).  All that sucks up a majority of our time, which doesn’t allow for much money-making to throw at our debt (or for me to blog, which is why it’s been awhile, sorry).

Our required minimum payment for the student loans is $400/month.  With what we budget, we typically pay down at least $1,000/month.  In the midst of going back to school, this month we were still able to pay off:


You can check out our current balance here.

Not bad.  I will be honest, though.  Even though that is a lot, it’s hard to see those numbers compared to last month.  Those numbers are also not going to get us to our goal to be debt free by January 1, 2017.  That means we’re going to have to kill it going forward.

Here is what we did in August to pay down our debt:

  • I made a decent profit through my Bondbons business.
  • My husband put in many hours with his Promise Painting and Contracting Business.
  • I was paid for a few cake pop classes I taught at Sweet! in July.
  • We discovered an issue with our home security system and received a credit.
  • I was paid for working on a curriculum committee through my school district over the summer.
  • We budgeted earlier in the summer to visit my parents in Ohio.  We ended up spending way less than what we allotted, so the leftover money went toward the debt.

I also wanted to touch on our compound interest.  It’s the devil when it’s working against you. When we got serious about paying off our student loans nearly two years ago, we were paying $10.93 just in interest PER DAY.  Today, our daily interest is $6.61.  In two years that is a difference of:

$4.30 PER DAY

$129.60 PER MONTH

$1,576.80 PER YEAR

I delight in the fact that less and less of our hard-earned money is going toward interest and more and more is paying down that principal.

Stay tuned for our next update on October 1st.


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