1/31/2011

10 Don't Miss Tax Breaks

It's tax time! I know it's weird but I'm a math geek and I love thinking about and working on filing our taxes every year. Mike and I have been using Turbo Tax to file our taxes for more than a decade now, and it's a really cool and easy program. It asks you all kinds of seemingly crazy questions to make sure you don't miss any deductions. Our taxes are fairly complicated between investments and freelance jobs and my home office, but we feel confident doing it ourselves with the help of the annually updated Turbo Tax program.

So if you are like us and want to tackle filing your taxes yourselves, here are few commonly overlooked deductions and credits that shouldn't be missed.

1. Energy saving home improvements. For example, over the holidays my father-in-law helped us install some kind of new door-jam-thingy on our front and back doors. We had pretty substantial gaps that were obviously letting a ton of energy through, and since we pay and arm and a leg for air conditioning, that's a big deal to us.

2. Start-up business expenses. Even if you haven't yet fully formed your business, you can deduct expenses towards getting it going, like office equipment and legal paperwork.

3. Job hunting costs. This doesn't apply to finding your first job, but if you are in between jobs you can deduct travel expenses for interviews, costs for printing and mailing resumes, etc.

4. Travel to and from your volunteer job. You can't deduct the hours, but you can deduct fourteen cents per mile for driving to and from that soup kitchen you work at. This includes your time serving at your church too!

5. Ingredients for that casserole you made for that church pot-luck. Don't forget out of pocket expenses like the meat for the lasagna you brought to the missions dinner.

6. State sales tax. This is really only useful for those of us who live in states with no income tax (yeehaw, Texas!)

7. Stuff dropped off at Goodwill. Don't forget to make a list of what you're donating, because programs like Turbo Tax will assign each of these items a value and it can be more of a deduction than you'd guess. When I told my grandmother we use Turbo Tax to do this every year she couldn't believe it. I was just trying to get her to clean out her closet.

8. Child care credit. Up to $6000. This is huge if you pay someone to watch your kids while you work, even if it's just for a few hours a week. It's becoming more and more common for SAHM's to hire a babysitter a few hours a week so they can spend time on their blogging, freelance writing, or other home based business. Don't forget to claim that valuable credit!

9. Home office maintenance. The catch is you have to use this room in your home exclusively for business. My company doesn't pay for me to rent office space, so Turbo Tax allows us to enter the size of the room and deduct that percentage of all our house expenses...utilities, mortgage, cleaning and pest control to name a few.

Top Ten {Tuesday}10. Dry cleaning for a business trip. Yes, seriously. This is if you travel a lot and wear business-y clothes, like I used to. You have to keep your receipts and there are minimums and limits but it's worth looking at.



Believe it or not, this post is NOT sponsored by Turbo Tax or anyone else. That's just how much I love the product. But be on the lookout, because another post on family budgeting this week WILL be sponsored by them...because they are awesome.

Unknown Germs Have Invaded My House

Today is the sixth straight day that my three year old has woken up with a fever. I'm am exhibiting my weak humanity in a selfish lack of patience with whatever stupid bug has taken over his body. It began with him tossing his cookies (occasionally on me) every fifteen minutes last Wednesday, and then progressed to a sore throat the following day. The throat soreness appears to be gone but he can't shake the fever that has ranged from 100 to 104 degrees for a solid six days. This has meant not getting out of his PJs, not eating much, and whining a whole heck of a lot. The first three days he never left my lap. Now at least he only wakes us up a couple times a night.

My experience with these kids is that they get these fevers, I take them to the doctor (whose office I can't stand...two hour waits are routine) and they get tested for strep and flu. The tests cost us about $50 out of pocket plus an extra half hour of time in the exam room, and always always always come back negative. Both kids almost never get ear infections. Usually the doc tells me "It's viral, nothing you can do, fever can last up to five days." and sends me on my way. Which is why I did not call the doctor on Friday, and of course the office isn't open on weekends.

Fortunately no one else in the house has gotten sick at all yet, a miracle of sorts. A friend's daughter woke up with a fever yesterday and it's possible, but unlikely, she caught it from Alex last Monday before he was sick, or from some germs maybe I was carrying on Saturday.

Work deadlines have come and gone. I missed several awesome opportunities this weekend, including an exclusive blogger brunch at a fancy restaurant and a trip to the Houston Auto Show, courtesy of Chevy. To say I'm bummed out about it would be an understatement. So now it's off to the doctor we go, hopefully to get a remedy.

This is all just God's way of letting me know I'm not in control. Thanks God, I get it. I just keep praying and trying to remember that it's not all about me and my plans, but I admit it's hard.

So how do you deal when something totally sidelines your plans for awhile?

1/28/2011

Fashion Friday; My Stylin' Little Boys

I've said so many times before that finding clothes I like for my little boys is not easy. The vast majority of boys I see their age wear cartoon character graphic t-shirts every day. Those are not for me. I am here to show you how stylin' you can dress your boys, assuming they are like mine and don't mind...too much. 


Cute, right? Yeah, yeah I know, I'm biased. Ok so anyway, this is about as cold weather clothing as we get here in Texas. I picked the coldest Sunday of the year to put them in these lovely chocolate textured duds. 

Let's start with the shoes. I found this awesome Kenneth Cole Reaction boys shoes at Nordstrom Rack for less than $20 each. They are similar to these, available at Piperlime. 


Alex's sweater was bought at a kids consignment sale, but still had the brand new tags on it from Gymboree. So I paid $3 for a thirty-something buck sweater. You can find a similar one on sale at Gymboree now. His corduroy cargo pants are from Old Navy. I always look for brands with adjustable waist pants since my boys are super long and lean. 


Nathan's dark jeans are from The Children's Place, just like these that are now only $14 each! His shirt and blazer are Gymboree as well and not available anymore, but this chocolate velveteen jacket is pretty awesome. 

Ok so tell me where else BESIDES Gymboree and The Children's Place you have found cute clothes for boys, because I'm always on the hunt. 




1/27/2011

How To Take Great Newborn Photos

Newborn babies are so awesome, especially when they aren't yours and you can hold them and smell their heads but give them back. Which is why I love to photograph them so much. So today that's what I'm going to talk about. I'll give you just a few tips for how to bring out the best in your newborn photos.

But FIRST! I must introduce to you my new niece, who inspired this post, born on Sunday morning. My mom's husband's daughter Jenny gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Kayla, born at 7 lbs 9 oz and with the cutest cheeks and blonde hair ever. Here she is!


Unfortunately she's way up north and I live way down south, so I won't be able to meet her until maybe this summer. She'll look much different by them I'm sure. 

Ok so now a bit about photographing newborns. The best time to capture them in all their new, sleepy, cuddliness is within the first two weeks. After that they become less sleepy and easily curled up into a tiny ball, and they start to get that baby acne and cradle cap that moms hate to see in their photos. The exception to this is with preemies, like this little one who was five weeks or so early.
Another tip of mine is to make sure baby has a full belly before you start the shoot. That definitely helps him sleep. Also he is used to the warmth of the womb so it's a great idea to crank up the heat in the room, so high that you may start sweating. I've even used heating pads or hot water bottles underneath a blanket. 


Speaking of blankets, make sure you have extras on hand, because naked newborns WILL pee on them. I have several colors, blue for boys, pink for girls, cream and chocolate brown. More than that actually. All very big, solid colors and with fuzzy texture. I will either wrap them around a pillow and stuff them in a basket, as seen above, or drape them over a bean bag chair, which is how I got this shot below. 


With newborns, I go very easy on the props and backgrounds. Simplicity is my M.O. I like naked babies, with the except of the occasional tutu or bow on baby girls like this one. 


Also don't forget to focus in on the details of these newborns, because they grow SO fast and you will want to remember every little thing about their tiny fingers and toes. I do a slight amount of skin smoothing in my post-processing with Lightroom but I don't go overboard because it's the realness of their delicate skin that makes these photos great. I don't like photos that are so retouched they look like plastic dolls. 


One more very important tip! Use natural light. Window light is the best, so pick a time of day that the sun shines brightly into a big window...french doors even. Then make sure the flash is off, use a prime lens if you can, like a 50mm at f-1.8 and as low an ISO as possible, ideally 200. Play around with the aperture to find the shot with exactly what you want in focus and the rest out of focus. Sometimes if you want the whole baby in focus, or in the case below...both babies...you will need to make sure the aperture isn't TOO low. I've made this mistake before with portraits of multiple people and been disappointed with the results. Don't trust your LCD screen either, it's nearly impossible to tell what's tack sharp and what's not on that tiny screen. 


If you're like me, you will beg people to let you take photos of their brand new babies. Go for it, practice, practice, practice! Oh and if you can, bring a baby handler along with you to help rock and pose the baby while you get ready, aim, and shoot. 

I hope this post is helpful to someone, even if it is just an excuse for me to show off some of my favorite photos. There are tons more where these came from!

I highly recommend using Lightroom 3 for your photo editing. It's my go-to software for making that baby skin look perfect. 


1/25/2011

Introducing All Things Chic

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have very exciting news! Well, exciting for me anyway. You all know I love fashion. I love shopping. I like nice stuff, although I am also very fiscally conservative. (I'm watching the State of the Union while I type this, so that political descriptor popped into my head.) I have never done a whole lot of reviewing particular products on my site, but on occasion I love to rave about a great find. Well now I have a new place to do just that.

My dear friends Jo-Lynne and Melissa are launching a brand new site today called All Things Chic, and I am a contributor. The site will feature all kinds of fashion, style, beauty, home decor, design, and family products. Lots of really cool stuff. We have a team of ladies who know what they love and are just dying to share it with you. Collectively we've got serious style and taste. We have a bit of diversity too as far as age, stage of life and ethnicity...and undoubtedly personal styles.

My posts will cover the gamut of products and looks, but of course I will likely write about some of my weaknesses like jewelry, shoes, and keeping our little boys stylish. Right now I'm slated for posts on Fridays, so those will be in addition to my Fashion Friday posts here.

I'm very excited about this new venture and I hope you will check it out. I've known Jo-Lynne for well over a decade and I know she's got style and what it takes to run a successful blog. Bringing together a team of great bloggers is a great way to create a beautiful resource for all women. Because as I said earlier this week, blogging is all about community.  And that totally works for me.

Update: I realize the new site is not live yet. It was supposed to go up last night but there must be some glitch, so I'm just going to keep this post here anyway. Also, don't miss the big launch party on All Things Chic next week, with tons of giveaways!

1/24/2011

Ten Songs in My Running Playlist

Top Ten {Tuesday} Unfortunately my Couch to 5k training program has been suddenly sidelined by major knee pain. I thought if I just rested it for an extra day I'd be fine. Apparently when you are semi-old, it takes quite awhile to recover from  the onset of a repetitive use injury like runners knee (patella-femoral syndrome). I got new shoes and I've been icing and taking advil for a week now, just praying for one day of no pain so I can get back out there and try again. I am so determined to get to the point where I can run the whole four mile Run 4 The Children in March.

In the meantime I have been listening to a lot more hip hop and dance music, because that's just what motivates me when I'm getting the heartrate pumping. So I will share with you ten of my new favorite songs from my running playlist.

1. Dynamite - Taio Cruz. I think you have to have been living under a rock somewhere to have not heard this song. It's a good one. Gets me dancing.

2. Double Vision - 3OH!3. The premise of this song is a little...off, but it's not really vulgar and it definitely makes me want to shake my booty. (Yeah, I said it.)

3. The Show Goes On - Lupe Fiasco. I loved this song the minute I heard it. It wasn't until recently that I realized part of why I love it is probably that is samples Modest Mouse's Float On, another song I love. I hadn't even made that connection till I read about it.

4. Wavin' Flag - K'naan. First heard this song in the trailer for an upcoming Disney movie about baby orphan animals and immediately went home and downloaded it. Inspirational.

5. Don't Waste Your Life - Lecrae.  Ok so this isn't really a dance song but it's lyrically awesome rap that gets me fired up.

6. Raise Your Glass - P!nk. She's just so fun and hardcore.

7. DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love - Usher. Very dance-able. One of Usher's better songs, IMHO.

8. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars. This guy writes some great music. Lotsa major hooks.

9. Down - Jay Sean. I hated seeing this guy sing on The Ellen Show, but this song is seriously catchy. I find myself singing it a lot.

10. Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) - Shakira. The official song of last year's World Cup. I'm a sucker for all things South African, including music.

Ok hit me up in the comments with some of your favorite songs to workout to...any genre! How about your favorite songs to dance to?

1/23/2011

Weekend of Blogger Goodness

As I approach the sixth anniversary of this blog (I know, can you believe it?!) I often find myself reflecting on how very much has changed in a seemingly short time. One of the awesome things that has changed is how connected "in real life" serious bloggers have become. No longer are we hidden behind our computer screens, we have meetups and bootcamps and conferences every week of the year to choose from. We relish the opportunity to meet and hug each other and talk blogging face to face. We work hard and invest our time and our own money sometimes to learn more, share what we've learned, and just support one another.

This weekend I had the chance to do that twice in one day. It was a busy Saturday, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. My awesome friend Stacey arranged to teach a free beginners class on blogging using the meeting room of our local library. She wisely promoted it via Facebook as a Blog 'N Brunch where people brought their laptops and some food to share. My friend Kristi is relatively new to blogging with a great blog about her family's journey of discovery in the world of food and other allergies. I mentioned the class to her and she jumped at it, so I came along to support both her and Stacey.

Almost twenty people arrived with tons of ideas and questions for Stacey and each other. I was able to help a woman who had no laptop or blogging experience at all by letting her look over my shoulder and showing her the various dashboards and resources Stacey covered. I even learned a few things along the way, and got some important reminders. Stacey did an excellent job.

Then Saturday evening I headed to my good friend Pam's house for a dinner party for a few Houston bloggers and their spouses. It ended up being Pam and her husband, Ellie and her better half, Ron Mattocks and his lovely wife and Mike and I. Really really great mix of smart and funny people. With great food and libations, I might add. I left there smiling and looking forward to Mom 2.0 Summit in New Orleans when the four of us (Pam, Ellie, Ron and I) will be able to hang out again.

And that is what blogging and social media are really about...community. It's as simple as that.

1/21/2011

Fashion Friday! Cute Boys Clothes at Great Prices

I'm lucky, because my two boys are not picky about what they wear. My 3 and 6 year olds occasionally announce that they prefer the cartoon character shirts that someone other than me has bought them, but most of the time they put up with my prepster style. For baby boys, cute clothes are easy to find but the older they get the harder it is to find really great looking outfits at reasonable prices. Gymboree is my top pick for boys clothes because of their color coordinated lines. Their full prices are high for my taste, but they have pretty good sales and I love earning and redeeming Gymbucks, which are like getting 50% off full or sale prices. I also get some great deals at The Children's Place once in awhile, including last week when I was able to order online and use a code for 20% off my order and free shipping.

So here's a video of my latest purchases from Gymboree and The Children's Place, including a glimpse at Gymboree's awesome new spring line.



Be sure and check out the other chic fashionistas on this cold Fashion Friday!

1/19/2011

Just Because I Like These

I haven't posted a lot of photography lately, and this morning I just felt like I wanted to. These images are apropos of nothing, I just like them.

Sunrise over my backyard

Christmas eve bokeh

Monkeying around

Up on daddy's shoulders

1/18/2011

Enjoy Salad Dressing Without All the Fat and Calories

Today's Works for Me Wednesday tip is a truly simple one that I learned from my Weight Watcher's leader many years ago when I actually went to weekly meetings. In March of 1998 while I was home from college, my dad sat me down and gently suggested that he and I could both stand to lose a few pounds and exercise more. Neither of us was obese by any standard, but he was right. I cheerfully agreed and then returned to college without giving it another thought, since I was focused on finishing my honors thesis, graduating, and getting married all in the next couple of months. Then he died, suddenly of a heart attack in December. I think it was the following March that I signed up for Weight Watchers, followed the program faithfully and lost over 30 pounds.

Eating healthfully almost necessarily involves a lot of salad. I am not a fan of salad without a really tasty salad dressing, and most super low fat dressings are disgusting. So here's the tip that rocked my world. Especially at restaurants where dressings are delicious and especially fattening.

Ask for the dressing on the side. Then take your fork and dip it in the dressing first, then stab some veggies and eat. 

You will be amazed at the result. You get all the taste of the dressing, but a teeny tiny fraction of the calories compared to pouring the dressing over the lettuce. Try it sometime and see how much is leftover in your dressing cup when you're done.

So tell me what your favorite salad dress is. Mine? Is the Tangy Tomato at Outback Steakhouse. Yum!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Ten Reasons I Haven't Yet Packed Up My Preschooler and Shipped Him to His Grandparents

Alex imagines being a public works director
At least once a day for the past couple of months I have contemplated buying a plane ticket, or maybe just a big box, and shipping my 3 year old off to his grandparents far away. Because that's the only barely legal way I could think of to get him off my last nerve. My once perfect child (I swear, 2 years old was a breeze) is now a bundle of defiance more often than not. Bedtime has been the worst, sometimes being two hours of standing outside his room, putting him back to bed over and over while he screams. He's also learned how to lock me out of rooms. I'm sure if you knew him you would say I was exaggerating, but this developmental phase is the pits.

Aside: What amuses me most though, is that when I see him constantly testing my limits, giving me attitude and doing exactly the opposite of what I ask for? I am reminded only of how we act towards God. Which is why he refers to us as children all the time. 

Much sweeter when he's asleep
Because I do not like complainers and I certainly do not want to become one myself, I always try to remind myself of the good stuff about a given situation...or in this case, little person. We tell him all the time that he's lucky he's so cute. So today I give you ten reasons I am keeping him around. Starting with the obvious. 

1. He's cute. I know I'm partial, but really...he's got the most adorable gap-toothed smile you'll ever see. My grandfather comments on it all the time, Alex definitely has him charmed. 

2. He breaks out into song spontaneously. Sometimes it's Chris Tomlin's Our God, sometimes it's a made up melody with nonsensical lyrics. 

3. He still fits into my lap. His big brother does not, really. Though he is often on the move, sometimes he will still come and crawl up into my lap with a big hug. 

4. He doesn't do risky things that cause injury. Usually. So far no trips to the ER for broken bones or stitches. 

5. But he's all boy, tackling and wrestling with his dad and brother and loving to dig in the dirt with his trucks. 

6. He learns and remembers Bible verses in church. He can tell them to me later. My older one has never done this. 

Helping make cookies
7. He asks to say the blessing at dinner most nights, and freely prays to Jesus when he's sorry for misbehaving after a time out. Sometimes the dinner blessing involves thanking God for the cookies he's gonna get if he tries a new food.  

8. He usually plays well with his big brother, usually shares his toys, and often goes along with what Nathan wants to do. Not always, but more than most siblings I've heard about.

9. His best friend at school is a girl named Bella, and I've never gotten a bad report about him from school. His teachers all love him. 

10. He is very affectionate, free with hugs and kisses for all family members. And lately he has learned the power of the random "I love you, Mommy." How can I get mad at him when he says that?

So today is officially brag on your kids day, because while I feel like venting, that's not usually very helpful. Feel free to share your favorite thing about your kids in the comments! 


Top Ten {Tuesday}

1/17/2011

Golden Globes Fashion Recap

Because I don't think I've ever done this before, and I'm nothing if not a lover of celebrity fashion, I decided to start off the blogging week with a recap of the best and worst fashions of the Golden Globes! If you happened to be on Twitter last night, you couldn't avoid the awards show. You would think everyone in the world was watching based on the nonstop snarky tweeting. I have said before how much I love watching big awards shows like this via Twitter. It's almost like having a group of girlfriends in your living room...except there are guys too! And people of such diversity sharing opinions and jokes and random thoughts with you.

Moving on. Watching the red carpet shows I really, honestly thought that there was a dress code going on this year...like everyone was told they could only wear black, nude, or green. Thankfully a select few chose other colors, but not many and not always with good results (Julianne Moore? C'mon)

So my favorite dress of the night was SO EASY to choose. Especially because it was complimented by the most incredible Christian Louboutin shoes. Because the shoes are far more important than the dress...in all cases.  (shoe obsessed much?)  Olivia Wilde was perfection, in my opinion.


And while it seemed like every third actress was wearing green, the standout dress in my opinion belonged to Mila Kunis. It is doubtful that I will ever watch her movie Black Swan, much too screwed up for my taste. 


My third favorite dress of the night was a surprise, from Glee actress Jenna Ushkowitz. Love the dazzling blue, shaped perfectly for her body with just the right amount of ruffles and bling. 


Honorable mention for their gorgeous frocks goes to Milla Jovovich, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sofia Vergara, Carrie Underwood, Dianna Agron, and Piper Pearbo.       

Now for the worst. Halle Berry looked like she was dressed for the Victoria's Secret Runway Show, not the red carpet of the Golden Globes. 


It does not matter WHAT Tilda Swinton wears to an awards show...I always hate it. I mean hate. I am not in favor of her kind of fashion risks. Nope, no way. What is this?


But the worst of the worst is clearly Helena Bonham Carter. The only words for her are...hot mess. Oh whatever happened to the girl in A Room With A View?

This Golden Globes fashion recap brought to you by Beringer Chardonnay. I promise to write something more inspiring and useful...tomorrow. 


1/14/2011

Fashion Friday, Jacket Edition

The weather has finally dipped down below freezing here in Houston and I can't go anywhere without my favorite wardrobe builders. No, not sweaters! I don't own or wear many sweaters any more since I made the move from Philly to the land of eternal sunshine. I'm talking about jackets! I have a strong affinity for great jackets and I've been building my collection of various colors, textures and weights recently.

One of my favorite fabrics for a jacket is corduroy. I happen to have stumbled across an amazing find at Macy's years ago, a purple cord jack with sparkly buttons for less than $20. I wear it A LOT. Purple happens to be my favorite color, and this is my go-to jacket when I'm in a pinch for something cute and it's brisk outside.


Also check out my friend Alexis in her beige cord jacket, when she came to visit me in H-town one February. I firmly believe that every woman should own a jacket in a color similar to this. I happen to have at least three; one in beige denim and one in a microfiber that looks and feels a lot like suede. The suede one is gorgeous and really pulls together an outfit but I'm slightly paranoid about ruining it so I don't wear it out a ton. 


I also think every girl needs a black jacket. Again, I have a couple. One is a sateen black boyfriend blazer I got at J. Crew, the other is a 3/4 sleeve twill cropped jacket that I have worn the heck out of. I found it at New York and Co. for $15! Here is a photo of me wearing said jacket at the Mom 2.0 Summit with the lovely Stephanie Click and Heloise. 



Here is a really cute, very structured but flirty jacket that my friend Gabrielle wore during a photoshoot I did for her. Again I love the 3/4 sleeves, the buttons and the ruffle detailing.  


I also found a great deal on a navy blue twill jacket from LOFT recently, but I have no photos of that one. I do think a navy jacket is a great wardrobe basic. Of course don't forget the basic dark-wash denim jacket, that can look good over just about anything as well. Except of course maybe jeans, because well...that's not a good look no matter what the fashion experts say. 

So I encourage you to look for basic jackets in neutral colors but also play around with pops of color sometimes and definitely experiment with textures. A jacket adds so much polish to an outfit, not to mention warmth when needed. Don't be too cheap with jackets, I've bought some cheap ones that just weren't worth it, but don't think you have to spend a fortune either because I have found some awesome bargains. I never spend more than $100 on any single item of clothing anyway, in fact I rarely spend more than $40. The basic blazer I wore in last week's jeggings post was considered a splurge for me at $50, but I knew that was a great deal at GAP on a wardrobe staple that is made well and will last. 

Here's a jacket I found that you could buy right now for only $15 at Old Navy. I like the feminine styling and of course gray is not only THE hot color of the year, it goes with everything. Ok, I just might buy this myself right now!

So tell me about YOUR favorite jacket! And be sure to check out the other Fashion Friday bloggers this week. 

1/13/2011

Of Life and Loss

I haven't felt especially inspired to write at this here blog lately, but that's not because I haven't had lots of amazing thoughts and discoveries lately. I sometimes just feel like I don't have the adequate words to describe them. I read a lot, and I am quite often humbled by the magnificent writing of great storytellers. That's one thing I have never been very good at, storytelling. I can talk up a storm, but the ability to weave a compelling story is a special gift I don't have.

But leave it to hormones to make me all emotive. Yesterday I heard a lot of bad news. A blogger I read who contributes at this awesome site for moms of boys called The Mob Society lost her entire house and dog in a fire. Her family is thankfully not harmed. Another blogger who is a member of Beth Moore's Siestas community and a wife and mother of two girls had a massive stroke and is currently fighting for her life. I can't even imagine what they are going through right now.

My thoughts also turned to Haiti as we remember the anniversary of the devastating earthquake that took hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions homeless even still. I watched some incredible videos, one of a tent city that is functioning fairly well without aid, and one of the Ivey family the day they were finally able to bring their adopted son Amos home from Haiti right after the earthquake. Moving stuff.

For some reason yesterday, and this is unusual for me, I thought of the baby I lost before Alex was born. Someone on Mike's blog had said that 2006 was the best year ever (I guess for PSU sports and college kids it was) which made me remember my miscarriage that year. Sometimes I still grieve that child, but without that event we wouldn't have had Alex, who is adorable and precious and funny and feisty. God is sovereign. That photo of me and Nathan was taken at the height of my grief, the weekend after our fateful ultrasound but before my D&E. I love that photo, it is a strong reminder of the unique life that I never got to hold.

Oddly enough later in the day yesterday I stumbled across a review on Amazon for a new bestselling book called Heaven is For Real, by Todd Burpo. I've never been into that kind of book, but since it's going to be the NYTimes #1 best seller this week I was curious.

It's a supposedly true story about a 4 year old son of a Nebraska pastor who during surgery goes to heaven and comes back, telling amazing details in the way only a child could, including meeting details about a great-grandfather he never knew and meeting his miscarried sister he didn't even know about. Of course I'm highly skeptical of stuff like that, but the first review I read was also by a Christian skeptic, and he seemed to find it remarkably believable. What caught my attention was he specifically recommended the book for mothers who had lost a child to miscarriage. It kind of startled me. So I'll be picking up that book now. I'll let you know what I think.

1/11/2011

Getting from the Couch to Running a 5k Race

A runner in Valley Forge
I promised I would share a little bit here about my newest adventure, training to run a 5k. I realize this is a common thing, and something I actually tried once before. The first attempt was after Nathan was born and it led to debilitating knee pain and a year of twice weekly physical therapy. I actually got so that I like going to PT, it was like an extra workout that I could do during work hours and I liked the ladies and other customers there. Plus I think all that work has hopefully had some residual effects, because my knees feel pretty good even now that I'm running again.

The reason I'm running is simple. Our adoption ministry, 1:17, is hosting a fundraiser run on March 26th, called Run 4 The Children. It's a four mile run. The idea came about because one of our members, Scott Balin, an adoptive father himself, is the organizer of a very large running club here called Katy Fit. He says these runs are simple and highly lucrative, and all you have to do is pick the right date an hundreds will come. His group alone has nearly 1000 members.

So I was going to volunteer to do photography or some other organizational thing, but Scott insisted that I should run it. In fact he challenged all of us to run. I knew all I needed was a challenge like that and some peer pressure to get me motivated. So January 1st I began. This time I resolved to find and stick to a good 5k training program and not push and not get injured. So I did what I always do...I crowdsourced my options on Twitter.

Someone I didn't even know followed me said she loved a podcast called Running Into Shape which is a Couch to 5K program with music and verbal prompts for run/walk intervals. The idea of not looking at a watch was highly appealing, so I checked it out. Three runs per week with rest days in between, for a total of 9 weeks. I downloaded the first one and set out...turns out I LOVE her choice of upbeat hip hop tunes and her voice is so encouraging.

What's funny is that when I asked on Twitter if resting between runs is really important, I got the most responses of any question I've ever posted. Overwhelmingly everyone urged me to not run, but to maybe bike or weight train on rest days. So I go to a yoga class or hit the bike on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and run on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays. I'm encouraged by how it's going. On Saturday I wanted to see how much distance I could cover in the 30 minute podcast so I ran straight out to the lake by our house...1.8 miles.  Then of course I had to walk back so the total was 3.2 miles...5K! It felt really great, weather was perfect and I was on top of the world.

Yesterday though it was 40 degrees and totally overcast, but I bundled up and went out anyway. It was totally worth it, and after the first 10 minutes it wasn't cold at all. I can't wait till I can run out to the lake and all the way around it without walking. This training program is teaching me patience as well, because I want to push myself but I know that will only lead to injury.

So if you are thinking about trying something like this, I highly recommend Carli's Couch to 5k podcasts, she has a rock and roll version if you don't like the hip hop. Her whole website is pretty inspirational too, she's a big girl who has been working hard to get in shape. She has now run four 5k's.

I love that I feel like I'm joining a whole community...or cult?...of avid runners. The encouragement on my FB page has been great. It helps that our neighborhood is flat and lined with gorgeous sidewalks and scenery. But anyone can do this, so I encourage you to give it a try.

1/07/2011

Fashion Friday Myth: Jeggings Are Only For Skinny Girls

Giving credit where credit is due, it was my friend Colleen who first tipped me off that denim leggings, or jeggings, were going to be a hot trend for 2010. I was certainly skeptical, since I still had not even gotten on board with the skinny jean movement. Boot cut jeans are a curvy woman's best friend.

So when I got together with my favorite blogger girlfriends at an Ann Taylor LOFT store on the Main Line of Philadelphia, the last thing I planned to try on were skin tight jeans. One by one I watched in the dressing room as my friends tried on the brand new pants and raved over how they fit. Finally they talked me into trying them on myself, despite my being several dress sizes bigger than nearly everyone there. I am no skinny mini. I'm just happy that LOFT sells clothes big enough for me, unlike some stores. 

If you've been following me on Twitter very long or reading my fashion friday posts, you almost certainly have heard me rave about the jeggings I bought rather tentatively that day. They are beyond comfortable, yet not sloppy at all. Here is the blouse that I bought with the jeggings that same day, the one that convinced me to buy them. 

The store associate encouraged wearing this outfit with a wide belt around the blouse, but I didn't love that look, so I just wear it like this. 

I even converted my much skinnier neighbor from a jeggings skeptic to an adopter when she saw me wearing mine. She actually went to LOFT the very next day and bought them. I think this is the outfit I was wearing when she noticed them. 



Yet I still run into those women who are less than stick thin, some even fairly curvy and pear shaped like me, who refuse to believe they can wear them. I'm here to hopefully dispel that as a myth. 

Aside: I swear I'm not a narcissist, but I needed to model the clothes myself to prove my point. I don't know why the picture quality is so poor, my husband shot these late last night. 

The key to dressing well on anybody, but especially a curvy body, is balance. This is why boots are ideal for wearing with jeggings, they are a bit bulkier and create some balance so you don't always look like an inverted triangle from the hips to the ankles. The length of the top is also key when wearing jeggings, because nobody really wants to see unattractive bulges around the middle. For most people that means finding a tunic or mini-dress that covers the butt completely. Here's an example of a summer dress that I've turned into a winter outfit just by wearing it over jeggings and boots. 


Another aside: Those brown boots are my latest super awesome bargain find. I had been searching for knee-high, high-heeled brown boots for literally weeks, but I really didn't want to spend more than $100. I kept coming up with boots in the $200 range that I loved, or really ugly fake leather cheapos. So when I saw these in the window at my Nine West Outlet store with a big fat $59.99 sale sign on them, I ran in. Of course they were sold out of everything except size 10, but the manager said she would search other stores and ship them to my house for nothing. Sold! They arrived this week and I lurve them.

Other ways of pulling off the jeggings look without looking like a stuffed sausage include wearing oversized sweaters, sweater dresses, jackets and even a well placed scarf. I like wearing long fitted lightweight sweaters over the jeggings with a longer scrarf tied around my neck to bring the eye up and away from the mid-section.  I personally don't like very chunky sweaters or sweater dresses because I think the added thickness just makes you look even bigger, but that's my preference. I do love jackets of all kinds, but especially classic blazers like this one.


Heels are always good for lengthening the whole body and giving the illusion of being taller and more slender. This blazer was less than $50 at the GAP...yes, really. 

Ok in going through my wardrobe to dispel the myth that only toothpick women can wear jeggings, I had discovered that I could use a darker pair of Uggs, like maybe charcoal gray. So we'll see if I can fit that into the budget this month or maybe next. This month's clothing budget is pretty much spent on those brown leather boots and new running shoes and bras I need in my attempt to be a little less curvy. More on that in another post. 

Hope I've convinced you! Happy Fashion Friday!








1/01/2011

Hope for a New Year

New Year's Day has a way of reminding everyone that there are opportunities for a fresh start, a do-over, a clean slate. We set resolutions and try our hardest to make ourselves better human beings. The reality is that we can try and try and appear to make progress through growth, but we can never truly be good people in the eyes of the Lord on our own. It's just not possible to live up to God's standard of perfection. Lucky for us, He knows that, and cares enough about us to give us a chance for a clean slate in His eyes through Jesus. So for me, New Year's Day is a reminder that God is reconciling us to Himself, giving us a fresh start, a do-over, through the sacrifice of His only son.

This year I chose to bring in 2011 with worship and prayer. Everyone in my house was asleep by 10pm, since my husband's parents had to catch a very early flight home the next morning. I sat in the dark and watched fireworks going off for hours all around my house through my huge two story windows, by the glow of the Christmas tree. My church has a practice of asking its members to choose an hour to pray on either New Year's Eve or Day, and though I had not signed up for this, I used their excellent prayer guide to commune with God for an hour as midnight approached. I listened to some worship music with my headphones on and just spoke to Him with adoration, confession, thanks and supplication (A.C.T.S.) casting all my anxieties of 2010 before Him and basking fully in the hope Jesus provides for the coming year.

I highly recommend this experience, and you can still take an hour to pray sometime today or tonight when your house is quiet. Even though the prayer guide is designed for our church, it contains tons of awesome scripture that can and should be prayed back to God. Try it, you'll be amazed how you feel.
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