January 31, 2012

My 10 Favorite Books Read in 2011

Looking for books to put on your reading list? These are my top picks out of the books I read last year. All of these titles are nonfiction, which is generally all I read, even though I'm reading The Hobbit right now. I've listed the books in the order in which I read them.

1. Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides
This is a great book on saving money since the entire book is dedicated to one category. Some books do not provide much detail because they try to cover too many different aspects, however this is a good, exhaustive resource on saving money on food. Read my full review here.

2. Unplanned, by Abby Johnson
Abby Johnson started working at Planned Parenthood as a volunteer in college and worked her way up in the organization to becoming the director of a clinic. This is the story of why she was passionate about Planned Parenthood and why she is now passionately pro life. While written with a pro life bias, this book gave me a better understanding of both sides.
3. Committed: A Love Story, by Elizabeth Gilbert
In this sequel of sorts to the popular Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Glibert tries to make peace with the idea of marriage after finding herself "sentenced to wed" after her Brazilian boyfriend gets in trouble with Homeland Security. Although this may seem like an odd choice for a happy newlywed, I enjoyed Gilbert's look at the idea of marriage throughout history and across cultures, even though sometimes I wanted to yell at her as I listened to the audiobook.
4. The Other 8 Hours, by Robert Pagliarini
If you work full time and need help managing your time, this is the book to read, whether you want to start a side business or just spend more time with your family. Read my full review here.

5. Organized Simplicity, by Tsh Oxenreider
Even though I'm not ranking this list, I can safely say this was the best book I read last year. I checked it out twice from the library, and when the Kindle version was free last month, I downloaded it on my phone and started reading it again. I was inspired to declutter and organize and think about what really matters.

6. Eat This, Not That! 2012
I had no idea how many unhealthy foods are masquerading as healthy ones, and vice versa. No one has time to read the labels on every box of crackers or the nutrition facts on every dish at every restaurant, but this book gives a good overview. Read more of what I learned here.

7. Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans grew up thinking she had all the answers about her Christian faith, but than she began asking questions. I don't entirely agree that faith needs to evolve to fit the postmodern world, but I still appreciate how though-provoking this book is, which is why it's in my top ten. 

8. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
This was another book that challenged my thinking, this time in the area of nutrition. How is it that with all of this nutrition "advice" of the last few decades we don't seem to be getting healthier? A lot of the information in this book seems like common sense, but clearly it's not so common anymore.

9. Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman's Guide to Finding Contentment, by Linda Dillow
I was expecting this to be about dealing with anxiety (a struggle for me), but the broader "finding contentment" of the subtitle is really what it's about. The different chapters focus on finding contentment with your circumstances, yourself, your role, etc. Linda Dillow gives practical advice and encouragement, not just a "pray and get over it" kind of message.

10. The Money Saving Mom's Budget, by Crystal Paine
While I wouldn't call this book life changing for me, I learned a lot about saving money and goal setting, even after reading MoneySavingMom.com for quite a while. Read my full review here.

What are some of the best books you've ready lately? Any books you look forward to reading this year?

Shared at Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda.

January 27, 2012

12 to Tackle in 2012

For 2011, the goals I set were really habits that I wanted to develop and sustain. This year, my goals are much more measurable. They're "bucket list" type items that I can check off (although some I hope to do more than once).  I started making a list a couple months ago, and I've finally decided on the 12 things I most want to accomplish.

Financial Goal (a.k.a. the BHAG)
1. Pay off half the student loans
This is by far the most ambitious goal, but we're now at the point where this is our only focus financially. A financial adviser Nathan met with even said we shouldn't worry about investing now since we can pay off the loans so quickly.

Business/Career Goals
2. Update my physical portfolio (I haven't touched it since I started my job 2.5 years ago.)
3. Create an online portfolio
4. Decide on a freelance business name and create a business website
5. Complete at least one paid freelance job (That extra money has to come from somewhere!)

Homemaking Goals
6. Bake with yeast
7. Switch to using homemade or natural cleaning supplies
8. Decorate our bedroom (Mainly putting something above our headboard)

Personal Goals
9. Complete a 5K race
10. Figure out my blog purpose (I started this as a wedding blog. What is it now?)
11. Make something with a sewing machine (I haven't used one since 8th grade)
12. Visit a place I've never been before (if not a new state, at least a new part of a state)

What do you hope to achieve this year?

January 23, 2012

First World Problems We Encountered While Moving

Oh, the first world problems. When you consider that one-sixth of the world's population does not have access to safe drinking water, can we really look at our own lives and say we have a lot of  problems? Of course it's natural to get used to luxuries we've had our entire lives, but it's important to keep things in perspective and remember that they are just that: luxuries. I'm not the first to write a Top Ten Tuesday post of first world problems (here's a good one), but to remind myself how good I have it, I wanted to make a list of the "problems" we faced after moving into a house at the beginning of this month. 

  1. Our garage isn't big enough to easily park both cars in it.
  2. The water company doesn't have online bill pay. We have to mail a check.
  3. Since we only have one extra bedroom, my desk has to go in the living room.
  4. It took two weeks to get internet hooked up.
  5. We discovered our refrigerator was blowing hot air, so for the five days until a new one was delivered, we had to eat what was in our pantry or get fast food.
  6. The living room had so many boxes the first couple days that we had to go through a maze to get to our table.
  7. I didn't buy enough shelf liner for all my kitchen cabinets, so I had to go back to Meijer for more.
  8. The cable outlet is on the opposite side of the living room from our TV.
  9. It costs more to have the newspaper delivered here, so I canceled my subscription. Now I have to go to a store to buy a Sunday paper. (Edit: Just hours after writing this, the paper company sent me an e-mail saying they "want me back" and offering the rate I was previously paying.)
  10. The landlord didn't give us a remote to open the garage door automatically.

I think we'll make it through...

Check out more Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda.

    January 19, 2012

    Winner of The Money Saving Mom's Budget

    The winner of my giveaway for a copy of The Money Saving Mom's Budget was Tony and Heather Snyder! Thanks to all those who entered.

    January 17, 2012

    My Thoughts on Couch to 5K

    At the beginning of 2011, I set the goal to exercise on a regular basis. Month after month after month, I got nowhere. Finally, I started the Couch to 5K program, which was just what I needed to get serious about getting fit. At first I wasn't sure if I was capable of becoming a runner, but after finishing the program last week, I actually want to keep running.

    What is Couch to 5K?
    As the name implies, Couch to 5K is a progressive running program designed for those who are not physically active. For the first week, you alternate walking 90 seconds and jogging 60 seconds. By the end of the ninth week, you should be able to run for thirty minutes. The only downside with this program is that you have to keep track of how long you've been running or walking and how many times you've done each. That is, unless you download the app for Android or iPhone. Honestly, I'm not sure how anyone could complete this program without using the C25K app. You can run with headphones plugged into your phone, and it will tell you when to switch from walking to running and give you a one minute warning. If you listen to music on your phone, the voice alerts will just pause the music temporarily.

    How my running improved
    When I first started, a minute of running was about all I could handle. I was gasping for air by the end and didn't know how I was going to handle 2 minutes the following week. Each week I thought the same thing: How will I make it through next week? The most I'd ever run at once was a mile, and I hadn't done that since high school. I honestly didn't know if I could make it through all 9 weeks. But guess what? I did. Your body can do a lot more than you think. I've only run three miles once so far, and I did it in 33:10, while running over snow and ice for part of that time.

    How I changed physically
    It was never my goal to lose weight. For me, starting exercise now is being proactive. I want to try to prevent heart disease and other health problems. That being said, I still wasn't too happy when four weeks into the program, I had gained 4 pounds. A weight gain of a pound a week when I'm more physically active than I've ever been? How is that possible? I had never seen that number on the scale before. So, I had Nathan hide the scale, and I kept running. After that, I lost 7 pounds, making me 3 pounds below my starting weight. I'm sure I was just gaining muscle before losing fat, but it was still discouraging to see that I had gained. I would recommend hiding the scales before you even start running. I felt like I was in better shape, even though I was heavier.

    How long it took me to complete
    Although Couch to 5K is supposed to be a nine week program, between the holidays, vacation, and moving, I wasn't running three times a week every week. In fact, I didn't run at all for two and a half weeks. I started the program on October 10 and finished on January 10, more than thirteen weeks later. If you miss a day, just run again when you can. I was shuffling around menu plans and plans in general the whole time. Don't give up!

    While Couch to 5K may not be the ideal workout plan for everyone, if it worked for someone as unathletic as me, I think it could work for a lot of people. Nathan ran most days with me to help him get back into running, and our dog Nenya ran every day.

    For another opinion on Couch to 5K, check out this review from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures.

    Have you tried Couch to 5K? Have you found a different way to exercise? I'd love to hear about it.

    Note: I'm a graphic designer, not a doctor, Jim! The information above is strictly my personal experience and should not be considered health advice. Also, I was not compensated in any way for writing this post. I'm just sharing what has worked for me.

    Shared at Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

    January 12, 2012

    Review: The Money Saving Mom's Budget

    With all the books and blogs out there about financial management and saving money, it’s difficult to know which ones are worth reading. When I first started trying to figure out couponing in the spring of 2010, I was reading at least six blogs on the topic. It wasn’t long before I’d unsubscribed from all of them except for one local blog and Money Saving Mom, written by blogger Crystal Paine. What set this blog apart? I began reading during the middle of a series on how Crystal and her husband paid cash for their first home. And she wasn’t even 30 yet! She knows her stuff.

    I was excited to read Crystal’s book The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, and even more excited to have the privilege of receiving an advance copy. By the end of the first chapter, I knew I would not be disappointed. This isn’t just a book of money saving tips that you’ve already heard; it’s a book that helps you discover what you want to achieve and then shows you the steps you can take to achieve it. At first glance, the second chapter, “Streamline Your Life and Cut the Clutter,” isn’t even about money at all, but it’s possibly the most important one.

    Although some of the concepts will seem a little basic to those who are a little more financially stable, such as the “secret formula” of creating a budget and saving $60 a year, unless you have met all the financial goals you ever hope to achieve, you will learn something from this book. My husband and I have had a written budget since the beginning of our marriage, but I still enjoyed reading through the chapter on budgeting since our system is far from perfect. And if you’re worried this book will tell you that you have to live on beans and rice and never have any fun until you’ve achieved your financial goals, you will be happy to see chapter eight: “Going out on the Town Without Going Broke.” It’s a book for real people.

    What I love most is that Crystal shares this wealth of information in a way that is like a friend cheering you on, leaving you inspired rather than discouraged. Most of the time when a book I’m reading gives some “exercise” to do, I brush it off and just keep reading. But when Crystal talks about setting financial goals, I actually thought about what financial goal we could achieve in the next six months to a year. There’s a lot of passion in this book.

    Crystal Paine’s passion for helping others is truly evident in her reason for publishing this book. While originally hesitant to accept the book deal, she realized what an impact it could have if she gave all the proceeds away. And that’s what she is doing: all of her proceeds will support Compassion International. When you buy a copy of The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, you will be giving money to a Child Survival Program in the Dominican Republic that offers life-saving health and medical care to expectant moms, young moms, and at-risk babies and young children.

    Want to win a copy of The Money Saving Mom's Budget? Just leave a comment!

    For additional entries (leave a separate comment for each entry):
    1. Like Newlywed Trek on Facebook and leave a comment telling me you liked the page.
    2. Follow Newlywed Trek on Twitter and leave a comment telling me you followed.

    Be sure to leave a link to your blog or your e-mail address so I can contact you!

    The giveaway will end January 18, 2012. Winner will be announced January 19.

    January 4, 2012

    5 Goals for 2011: How I Did

    One important thing I learned through setting goals for this past year was that goals need to be measurable. I can't just say I want to "improve" something. How will I really know if I've improved enough? What will prove that? After setting my initial goals for the year, I revised them in September. Did I achieve them? Well...sort of...some of the time. My goal setting clearly still needs work.

    1. Exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week. 
    In October, we started Couch to 5K, and I loved it. Had we stuck with the program consistently, we would have finished December 9. However, we didn't make it to week 9 of the plan until December 15, and we haven't tun since then. The trip to California, Christmas, sick husband, and moving kind of threw me off. I really am serious about becoming a runner though, and I hope to finish out the program and continue to run 30 minutes at a time. I had never run more than a mile prior to last year, so I'm still really happy with my progress.

    2. Go to bed at 10:00 each night and wake up at 6:00 each morning.
    I kind of revised this one to 10:30 and 6:30 after I gave up on running in the morning. Sometimes I achieved this, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes we went to bed on time but talked for a half hour or more. This year Nathan's the one with the long commute, so I'm not sure what bedtime is anymore.

    3. Complete my daily chores and leave no dishes in the sink at the end of the day. 
    I did terrible on this one for December with all we had going on. I just didn't care about my apartment anymore since I knew we'd be moving. But for the most part, I did develop good habits in this area. Thanks to my new shorter commute and the six-quart programmable crockpot Nathan got me for Christmas, I should have much more time in the evenings to focus on cleaning this year.

    4. Spend less than $200 a budget period on food (groceries and eating out). 
    We actually achieved this one in December, but of course we also spent money on vacation and Christmas. This isn't a goal I plan on keeping in 2012, but it's good to know that we can cut back when necessary.

    5. Write at least 2 blog posts a week.
    Had I achieved this one, I would have published 104 blog posts. I only made it to 88, or about 1.7 posts a week. At least there weren't any huge gaps between posts. Blogging is a funny thing. I thought maybe I was spending too much time on each post and that I should try just writing without a lot of editing. When I wrote a post that way, it became my first post in months with no comments. I guess I still have a lot too learn.

    I'm still trying to figure out what I want to achieve in 2012. We moved everything into our new rental house on January 2, so I'm just taking it one goal at a time for now

    How did you do with your goals for 2011?