6/26/2011

Mixed Messages

Growing too fast. 
Nathan: Dad, when I get bigger am I gonna go to college?

Dad: Well if you want to.

Mom: Yes! You are going to college.

Dad: Well it helps to go to college. Then you can get a better job and make more money.

Nathan: Yay! More money!!

Mom: Oh dear.

6/17/2011

Amazing Little Blessings

It's funny how life works, and how God works when you have a little faith.

Yesterday was kind of a down day for me. I've been working my tail off and starting to feel like my superwoman abilities to balance everything and encourage everybody and follow through on promises in a timely manner are slipping. Not that big a deal really, but I had been enjoying feeling very on top of things for awhile.

So anyway just when I'm sulking and wishing I could vent online about something that I can't, I got a crazy unexpected email that I won an iPod Nano and a $25 iTunes gift card. If you know me well you know how much an iTunes gift card of any size means to me. Music is my sanity, my inspiration, my saving grace (besides of course THE saving grace of Jesus...but who do you think gives me music?) I was just sitting there wanting to buy some more music and feeling the pinch of a summer budget with crazy expensive camps and soaring electric bills from the AC running hard 24/7. This gift was something I didn't even ask for, an unexpected blessing.

Later that night Mike and I had a budget meeting that really didn't go very well. As part of Financial Peace U. we learned that these meetings should take place at the beginning of each month, should be short and sweet and should result in a zero dollar, completely balanced budget for the month. For various reasons this month's review didn't take place till halfway through the month and now things have already been spent that could have been skipped. Plus Mike's budget was showing a fat deficit, suggesting we dip into savings this month to cover the big extra costs like summer childcare. That's not how it's supposed to be, common sense tells you not to plan to be in the red at the end of the month...only the federal government consistently runs like that and we all know how well that works.

The long and short of it is that expenses needed to be trimmed. I had an online shopping cart at Gymboree full of awesome deals like $3.00 shirts that I decided to just ignore. Sadly. I had also put a book I've been wanting into a cart at Amazon. It was the Jesus Storybook Bible, a book I have heard lots of friends rave about for sharing the wonderful story of the gospel with kids. I really wanted it, but decided it could wait too.

Then yesterday I happened to be checking Twitter at the right time and noticed the weekly WiseBread webchat had just started. My friend Kelly is the community manager for WiseBread, a great practical personal finance site, and she runs these weekly webchats about ways to save money. This week's chat was on couponing, something I have recently started doing more of and am excited about. So I joined it, because these chats are just fun.

To my complete surprise, I won a giftcard to Amazon in the webchat! It was just enough to cover the Jesus Storybook Bible that was still sitting in my Amazon shopping cart. Completely unexpected. I got the giftcard code immediately and finished placing the order, totally grateful and knowing exactly where that blessing came from too.

Now I'm no follower of the prosperity gospel, but I know where my blessings come from. Blessings don't always come in the form of money or good things, but sometimes they do. Believing and living like everything you have is God's anyway and being faithful with a little sometimes gets rewarded in tangible ways with a little more.

6/14/2011

My Summer Reading List

365.4Did I mention here that I got a Kindle? Yep, my wonderful husband surprised me with one for Mother's Day. Over at his sports blog for at least the second year in a row there is a post where lots of people list what books they plan to read this summer. It's interesting to me since the community there is mostly guys with a few sports minded gals. A surprisingly huge number of lawyers are super active in that community too, and they like to read.

So with my new Kindle they assure me I will do a lot more reading and I believe them. So I've created a rather ambitious (for me) list of books I'd like to read before the summer is over. You'll notice I prefer non-fiction. I also have a penchant for business and marketing books, and books on Christian living. Here goes:


1. Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Our Life Group is reading this so I've already started.

2. 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I started this but never finished. It is SO good.

3. Quitter by Jon Acuff. Just finished another of his books and it was awesome.

4. Bossypants by Tina Fey. I have heard great things about this one.

5. The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. Although I have read sections of this, I've never read the whole thing.

6. Linchpin by Seth Godin. Seth is the master.

7. Ignore Everyone by Hugh MacLeod. Notice a trend here?

8. Don't Make Me Come Up There by Kristen Welch. Already bought my friend's book, just haven't read it yet.

9. Content Rules by C. C. Chapman. Cuz he rocks.

10. Today We Are Rich by Tim Sanders. I heard Tim talk a few times and I'm totally buying whatever he is selling.

So now I want to hear what YOU are planning to read this summer. Tell me in the comments. And if there are any fiction titles you think I would really LOVE, please let me know.

This post is linked up over at Amanda's Top Ten Tuesdays!  52D7ADH2XJT8

6/13/2011

Big Savings on Cover Girl at Kroger

Thank you to Kroger and CoverGirl for sponsoring this review. While CoverGirl provided me with a $30 gift card to purchase CoverGirl products at Kroger stores, the opinions I've expressed here are solely my own, represent my honest viewpoint, and not that of CoverGirl, Kroger, or Proctor & Gamble. I am making no claims about the products, just expressing my thoughtful opinion. Clever Girls Collective supports Blog With Integrity.

Regular readers here will probably remember that about six weeks ago I made a lot of big changes in my shopping habits, especially when it came to using coupons and where I shopped. Up until then I have not been an avid Kroger shopper but thanks to some encouragement from my friends I have seen then light, and now I pour over the weekly Kroger circular and make at least one trip there a week. My Kroger card has been a huge help in saving me a lot of money recently. 


So I was thrilled when I got the chance to check out Kroger's fabulous selection of beauty products from CoverGirl, a brand I know and love. I've been using CoverGirl products since I was a teenager and have never stopped, always having at least a few of their products in my routine makeup arsenal. For this review I was provided with a $30 gift card to purchase a few CoverGirl products of my choosing at Kroger. What really surprised me was how far I was able to stretch that $30! 

What I discovered when I headed to my recently upgraded Kroger store in Katy was huge signs in front of the CoverGirl makeup display that declared all of the CoverGirl products would be 25% off with the use of a Kroger card. That's a huge instant savings! I was able to put together one entire cosmetic look with just that $30, purchasing ALL the essentials for a complete beauty routine. Here's what I picked up: 

Foundation: Aqua CG Smoothers in Creamy Natural $6.13 
Blush: CG Cheekers in Natural Shimmer $3.22
Eyeliner: Perfect Point Plus in Charcoal $3.90
Eye Shadow (with brush!) CoverGirl Exact Eyelights in Radiant Blues $5.99
Mascara: Lash Blast Volume in Very Black $5.99
Lips: CoverGirl Lipslicks in Cutie $3.74 

The total for all that was only $28.97! That's without using any coupons either, the Kroger club card alone saved me $9.67!

That's a full face of makeup. I might normally also add my CoverGirl translucent powder to set everything and keep the shine away as well. I wish I could show you my finished look with these products, but for legal reasons I can't. If you run into me in real life or view my shopping haul videos after this post though, you will certainly see all these wonderful makeup products in action. I'm a big fan of CoverGirl products and you already know I'm a huge fan of saving money being fiscally responsible. 


What about you, have you ever shopped at Kroger for CoverGirl or other makeup products? Which is your favorite product by CoverGirl? 

6/10/2011

Review of the New iPhone App, Cube Dog


As you probably know if you're a regular reader I very recently switched from a Blackberry to the Verizon iPhone4. One of the main reasons I switched was the ability to make use of the extensive number of iPhone apps available in the iTunes app store. So far my favorite apps are social media and camera apps, but I was recently given the opportunity to review a unique new game called Cube Dog.

Cube Dog is reminiscent of a video game I got decades ago that allowed you to adopt a virtual pet, name it and take care of it. After than came the big Webkinz craze which I never knew much about since my kids were too young to care. Now my boys, at 3 and 6, are video game masters. Their dad has showed them how to play Angry Birds on his iPhone, so I figured I'd check out Cube Dog and let them play around with it.

What a fun game this is! We are big dog fans in the first place and my boys have vivid imaginations. I started with my 3 year old one afternoon while I was killing time enjoying a latte at my local coffee shop. Cube Dog is remarkably easy to download and get started with, creating up to three different and completely unique dogs to play with. With colorful and striking 3D graphics you can custom make your dog with different bodies, heads, eyes, ears and faces. Not to mention colors and names, my son's favorite part.

After we created three dogs together, so easy and fun a 3 year old can do it, he named them Pepper (our real dog), Cocoa (no idea where that came from), and Alex (his name). Then you can pet them, tickle them, spin them around...all kinds of things. They react differently each time depending on your finger motions on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Then there are also buttons for specific tricks that your pet can do, which are downright hilarious.

Except for the one where the Cube Dog breaks out his iPhone and makes a phonecall. I have to say, when I had the volume cranked and my Alex was playing with it, all of the sudden I heard the loud sound of a phone speed dialing someone. I had a heart attack and flipped out, pouncing on the phone and hollering with everyone in the coffee shop watching. I seriously thought he had accidentally called someone. Turns out it was just the game making that sound. Then when I was driving somewhere and my older child was playing with it in the backseat I heard the sound again and AGAIN I flipped out, thinking it was dialing. I swear to you I have heard it now four times and each time it is quite startling.

The best trick is the Cube Dog ninja, who is adept with flying stars and nun-chucks. You can purchase extra parts and tricks for your Cube Dog within the app, but we haven't done that yet.

Check out this introductory video.



You should know that Cube Dog is going to be running a fun contest on their Facebook page between June 13-17th! Just head over there and "Like" the page to see details.

While Cube Dog provided me with the app to review, the opinions I've expressed here are solely my own and represent my honest viewpoint. Cube Dog, Clever Girls Collective and I promote Blog With Integrity.

6/07/2011

How You Can Help The Poor (Hint: It's Not Buying a Pair of Shoes)

*disclaimer: This post is not intended to be comprehensive or even well organized. I simply want to get some things off my chest and possibly start a useful dialog about poverty and what we can and should do about it. 


**Also if you own a pair of TOMS, please do not feel like I am attacking you personally. I'm not, I just want to share why I'm not on board this train. 

Today the CEO of TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie, did a big reveal about how the company is moving beyond just making, selling and giving shoes. I really think by now everyone has heard of TOMS shoes, the company that promises they will donate one pair of shoes to someone in the third world for every one pair that you buy. Now they will begin making sunglasses, promising to "give sight" to one person for every pair of eyewear you buy.

I've been amazed lately by how many of my friends, especially Christian leaders and advocates for the marginalized, are seemingly big supporters of TOMS. I've also noticed how trendy they have become, appearing in hip boutiques and on the feet of teenagers everywhere. Well these recent events have only increased my skepticism about the company, its founder, and their business model for giving.

Let's start with the fact that by all acounts, Blake Mycoskie has the heart of a Texas entrepreneur in him. I admit to knowing very little about him other than what's been published in the news and interviews he's given, but I understand the mind and drive of someone who has started at least two successful businesses before he founded TOMS...after appearing on reality television. Charity is obviously a hugely powerful marketing tool. I've seen it in action many times and it works well to get people to help you succeed by convincing them they are doing a good deed. Sure, a lot of good DOES get accomplished that way, but I will always question the motives. Blake Mycoskie is now reportedly worth about $5 million. I just don't buy his story that starting a for-profit business was simply a way to make giving more sustainable than founding a non-profit. Don't. Buy. It.

Next I want to look at the good that TOMS actually does. They say they are giving shoes to people who could not otherwise afford them in order to prevent the spread of disease and allow kids to develop normally and go to school. But I've done a lot of research on poverty and injustice and economics in the developing world and I believe at minimum they are not using their money where it is needed most and at worst they are actually doing more harm than good.

It's impossible for me to outline all the details of what I've read, but one thing I am convinced of is that we have an extremely Americanized perspective on how we can help. I strongly question whether they are truly able to determine who needs these shoes based on what I've read. Americans love the idea of giving shoes because we see them as essential to life.

What if they really aren't that essential? What if stopping the spread of disease is far better addressed by working with a community to build latrines, provide clean water, and educate people on hygiene. I was floored to read this comment on a blog post about TOMS,
As to sanitation... I have to wonder how hard it is to dig a ditch, and then use that to poop, and then NOT walk in it. Maybe I'm too ignorant in the ways of the ultra-poor, but basic sanitation seems like a prerequisite to civilization to me.
Yes, you ARE too ignorant in the ways of the ultra-poor. Staggering to me that people do not have any concept of the fact that 2.5 billion (with a B) people lack adequate sanitation. 884 million still lack access to clean safe water and are dying rapidly from preventable diseases because of it.

What if these people can actually buy locally sold shoes for pennies but chose not too? What happens to the people who import or manufacture shoes or shirts locally when the white people swoop in and flood their market with an abundance of donated goods? Why doesn't TOMS set up sustainable manufacturing operations IN these local communities, providing people with not just shoes for a year but jobs for a lifetime? Why do TOMS make their shoes in China?

Some links that I beg you to read if you doubt what I'm talking about.


Now this last part is going to sound harsh, but I have to say it. America is all about consumerism. I'm just as guilty of that as everyone else. People love the idea of being able to feed their love of comfy hip fashion  while in theory doing something more altruistic. It assuages their guilt. It is entirely self-motivated. Americans want the easy way out of really getting their hands dirty, spending time researching the hard ugly truth of poverty and doing something about it. Studies have shown that cause marketing actually lowers charitable giving.

How about just buying a $30 pair of shoes and writing a check for the other $30 you saved on TOMS to a legit international aid organization...maybe consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International? Or send the money to organizations like Water for People or Living Water International who are doing far more towards ensuring survival, public health and economic development. Or if you REALLY care that much, consider actually giving your time to go with one of these organizations to rehabilitate an orphanage or educate kids about hand-washing. Heck, even building a house with Habitat for Humanity is a better use of your time and money.

For a lot more great information about poverty, addressing the root causes and how we can  help, I recommend the following books:





Don't take the easy way out. That's my challenge for you. 

6/06/2011

Don't Forget to Vote for the YMCA!

Today is the last day for you to log onto Facebook, click over to the Houston Cadillac Dealers page and vote for the YMCA of Greater Houston to win $50,000!!!!!  Every vote counts, you don't have to register, and it's super easy.

Right now my 6 year old son is experiencing his first day at the YMCA's summer daycamp, Camp Cinco. On Friday we went to an open house there and took a little tour to see what he would be experiencing this summer.

First of all, it's amazing that this camp exists in the middle of the suburbs. It's convenient but remote, a wooded world of its own! One turn off a busy road I travel every day and down a long driveway that eventually turned into a long dirt and gravel path led me right into the big campground.

I was blown away by the energy and attitudes of all the counselors there. They were doing little cheers as we drove up and ran to the car to greet us. Much to our surprise, Nathan's best friend from school pulled in at the same time as we did, so he will have his best buddy there with him all summer too. A counselor took us on a tour of the rock wall and ropes course (scary stuff that I hope Nathan will try and help build his confidence). Then we hit the archery area where Nathan got help in learning how to let an arrow fly. We met some ladies from a local doctor's office who told us about nutritious lunches and snacks to pack for camp. Then we saw the ranch house where they will play board game, read books, and do arts and crafts.

I'm positive it will be a big growing experience for my Nathan, but from everything I saw and heard I am confident he is in great hands with the YMCA of Greater Houston!

So go vote for them now!

6/05/2011

Questions About Running In Extreme Heat

So here in Texas it was 101 degrees today. Humidity is consistently close to 100% too. This presents a real problem for me when it comes to maintaining all the progress I made with the Couch to 5k program. First of all, without the peer pressure I had on me from my friends and race organizers, my discipline slacks off. I have still been running but I no longer have a serious tangible goal and a real action plan that requires dedication to get there.

So a couple of weeks ago I stepped outside at somewhere around 9am to run and I felt like I had to chew up the air to swallow it. I was instantaneously more wet than if I'd taken a shower. I simply could not suck in the air fast enough and I barely made it two miles before I just had to walk a bit.

After that I decided I should move to running indoors at the YMCA. Unfortunately there I realized once again that treadmills just don't do it for me. Without a horizon ahead of me to aim for, my stamina just is not there. With stupid TV on twelve inches from my face I get super annoyed no matter how great the music I'm listening to is, but it's better than staring at a wall I think.

So then I tried just getting up earlier to head out for my run. This weekend I hit the pavement of my 'hood at 6:30am. The sun was already up but it felt bearable, that is until the sun reached over the houses around me and started beating down on me during the second mile.

Why do I keep running at all? First of all when I was really running three times a week during the Couch to 5K and pushing my body I felt fantastic and my clothes fit much better. I like to eat so anything that can offset that is highly useful. Secondly when it's not oppressively hot outside the first half of my run is mentally freeing and super relaxing. You have to be a runner to understand that.

So if you're a runner or if you even play tennis or soccer or some other activity in the dead of summer...how do you do it? Do I have to get up at 5:30 am to keep at this without passing out from heat exhaustion three miles away from home? If I keep going at it but just do shorter runs will I eventually get conditioned to running in the heat, or is that just stupid and asking for trouble?

Give me your best advice. 

6/02/2011

An Old Navy Accessories Party!

Once again Old Navy has provided me with an awesome opportunity as part of the Crowdtap Old Navy Style Council! Last time, as you may recall, it was a free spring dress and three free dresses for my friends. This time they sent me supplies to host a little accessories sample party! (Don't forget, you can get in on this too! Join Crowdtap now.)

You KNOW I am all about the accessories, baby. Right?

After scheduling the party on my Facebook page through Crowdtap, I found out that several of my friends would be unable to attend. So I changed the date. That messed things up for some other friends. So I changed the date again. It's tough trying to get five moms together! I decided to give up trying to have the party at my house, since my husband and kids were always around and needing the house for things.

So I decided to bring my party to the Cheesecake Factory and have a girl's night out! I had dinner with three women from my Houston Blogging Chicks group who are just a blast, Stephanie Click of That One Click, Lisa Stauber of Milehimama, and Cammie Moise of Moms Materials and Cyber Safe Familes. After enjoying some fantastic guacamole and delectable blue cheese and bacon burgers (we ALL ordered the same meal!) we broke out the accessories and had a little photo booth party!


Check out the awesome Old Navy scarf Stephanie is wearing. We all thought that was super cute. I'm wearing the purple dress I got from my last Old Navy Style Council assignment! 


 Here I'm wearing one of the super cute scarves Old Navy sent along. You can also see the stylish fedora they sent sitting on the table.


I'm telling you, I have got some seriously stylish friends. Check out Lisa's gorgeous necklace and Cammie's adorable tunic! So we played a game and everyone got to choose an accessory to take home with them. Lisa picked that handbag and Cammie chose the red sunglasses which she tells me now her tweenage daughter absolutely loves.


Stephanie chose one of the two scarves and I got to keep the other scarf and that super cute hat. I have seen women all over wearing fedoras like that with long braided hair and I can't wait to try out that look myself.

Our Old Navy accessories party was a blast and I'm looking forward to an upcoming in store style event featuring their summer shorts with a few other friends. Crowdtap's Old Navy Style Council seriously rocks. Also did you happen to catch yesterday's Old Navy Groupon? I hope you did, you could get $20 of Old Navy credit for only $10! I bought it and can't wait to use it.

So have you ever shopped Old Navy for accessories? Tell me about it! Then hop on over to the other Fashion Friday blogs!
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