Friday, December 26, 2014

We Saved $16,000 in Less Than 7 Months to Purchase Our First Home

In mid-November, we saved up $16,000 to purchase our first home after seven months of saving. You probably already know that I'm a huge fan, and sing their praises any chance I get. I know some people have much more student debt than we did and probably have saved up more than $16,000 in the same time frame that we did, but I still feel it's a huge accomplishment and am proud to share our story.

If you think it's impossible to pay down debt (any amount), I'm sure you'd learn at least something from our story, or be inspired to tackle the debt head on. I know it's not easy, and we certainly had a unique living situation during our time of savings for the house, but overall, we feel pretty good about being able to call this house our home.416

Note: The following post first appeared on the blog the day that we closed on our home. Check out my related links below for more info on how I used Mint to pay off our student debt and save up for the house.

How to Create a Monthly Budget—and Stick With it!
How To Pay Off $17,000 of Student Loan Debt in Less Than 18 Months
Finance 101: 7 Reasons Why I Love
Sell your crap. Pay off your debt. Do what you love.

I never thought I’d be days away from becoming a homeowner just one year after our move out of Austin, Texas. Last November, we decided to move to Houston, Texas in hopes of better jobs with higher salaries. We had struggled for years, yet always somehow managed to stay above the water in the financial sea that we found ourselves drifting in.

Below is my story on how my husband and I paid off over $17,000 of debt in less than 18 months, and saved-up to purchase our first home with the help of Mint.

With the help of our new salaries, we paid off my husband’s student loans ($17,000 in 18 months) in April of this year and I was then able to set my eyes on yet another goal: saving up for a house. I had no idea how much it would actually cost to buy our first home, but with the help of Mint, we started saving within a week or two of paying down the student debt. I took the payments I was making on the student loans and instead sent them directly to the savings account, upwards of $1,500 a month!

We had been living with my husband’s cousin since moving to Houston and we were paying him rent for a room in his three-bedroom home, saving hundreds each month in rent alone. As we continued to live frugally and save what we could afford, we began to discuss the possibility of expanding our family. I knew it wasn’t the ideal time (where would we even put the baby?!), but we announced over the summer that we’d be expecting our first child, due in February 2015.

That’s when things started to get real. I soon became obsessed with saving, slashing our budgets even further to accommodate the growing savings account upwards of $2,700 a month. Every purchase was up for discussion between my husband and I. We now had a true deadline that even nature would not allow us to miss. I called our realtor and mortgage lender to find out just how much we’d need to save to purchase a home, and was shocked to find out it was nearly $15,000 for the price range we were looking in.

Our pennies were pinched even further and we continued to save, as I knew we had to move out by the end of December to allow us time to unpack the towers of boxes stacked in my parent’s garage and “nest” before the baby arrived in February. Following my strict guidelines I had created for how we handled our money, we continued to stay the course and adjust budgets as necessary. By mid-November, we had reached our goal and then some. We saved $16,000 to purchase our first home in seven months, which would cover closing costs and the down payment. We had cut it so close, but we did it!

During the first day of house hunting, and the seventh home we viewed, we put in an offer on a 1,650 square foot home (perfect for our minimalist lifestyle) and short commutes to our jobs. We can’t wait to make our new house a home for our baby, Eleanor Jane, to grow up and make memories in.

I credit my success to a lot of self-discipline as well as technology like Mint. So if you’re feeling the burden of student loans or other bills like I was, I would encourage you to sign-up for Mint, and get on the path to living a debt-free life. It’s truly life-changing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Holidays Should Be About Presence. Not Presents.

I used to love gift giving. That was before we had a strict budget and financial goals to pay down our student debt and purchase our first home. And don't get me wrong, I do love to shop, too. However, my purchases now involve much more scrutiny and a longer thought process.

Do I really need this? 
Can I find it somewhere else cheaper?
Will this last long enough for me to get my money's worth out of it?
How long do I plan to keep this? 
Can these be used for multiple tasks?
Is it on sale?

I know, I sound crazy. But as you can see, I clearly overanalyze everything when it comes to spending my money. Something else I noticed was that I found myself dreading the holidays. I used to feel obligated to reciprocate gift-giving and receiving. I had to be fair. If I got something for so-and-so, I couldn't leave out this other person. How much would they spend on me, and what should I spend on them?

I quickly resolved all of these issues by declaring we wouldn't be participating in the holiday gift-giving before Thanksgiving had rolled around in November 2012. You see, this was the same month we decided to overhaul our budget and pay down our student loan debts. I just decided we would take the minimalist approach to the holidays. I was called a scrooge, but I didn't care! We had goals and I think it's more important to be near loved ones during the holidays,

So, this holiday season, or any season, for that matter, give your family your presence, not presents. I recently read that the number one regret on the top five regrets of the dying is that they wished they lived a life true to themselves instead of living the life someone else expected of them.Not one of the top five listed "I wish I had given a more perfect or expensive present!" So keep that in the back of your mind if you need some comfort or if anyone questions why you're being a scrooge. The latest gadget isn't going to be remembered by someone else when they reflect on their life. I'm sure they would be cherishing the moments you shared instead.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Living Rich—Saving More, Spending Less

I know, I know. It doesn't sound fun. AT ALL. Save more?! Spend Less? What is she talking about? Well, by doing just that, my husband and I paid down $17,000 in less than 18 months on his student loans. So, we don't have those to worry about any more. And the following week after becoming "student debt free", guess what we did? We started saving for a house. And seven months later, we had saved $16,000 for a down payment on our first home.

Gary Turk inspired me to permanently delete my Facebook. I did, and I haven't looked back since. And then I saw his other video: Live Rich (below).

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Seek Respect, Not Attention. It Lasts Longer.

Photo credit | Kush and Wizdom

For some reason, when I read the quote above, it made me think of Facebook. My husband recently deactivated his account. I haven't been shy about the fact that I also permanently deleted my account in late August 2014. Why? Because I was tired of updating everyone on the really not important things in my life. Like what I was eating. Or what I thought of the latest movie I had seen or vegan dish I had eaten. People were probably tired of hearing about my veganism (that was so 2012, Kelsey!) and I was sick of crafting carefully worded status updates.

I also spent a significant amount of time scrolling. I swear my right thumb was probably tired of the upward flicking motion I was make as I scrolled through hours worth of news feed. And why? I had pared down my "friends" list to only 96 people, which only included close family members, a handful of coworkers, and a dozen or so close friends. That's still a lot of people to impress daily. Hell, some people even update a few times a day.

So what were they posting? About their kids, what they ate for dinner, or the random, "Oh. My. God! I can't believe that just happened," without further detailing what the hell just happened! This will cause a cascade of "OMG, what happened? Text me!" responses. Attention. Pure attention. It's what we all crave, right? I decided to hop off the attention bandwagon and pay attention to the latest development in my life: baby Eleanor Jane, who I had conceived over the past summer.

I had just shared the news of my big announcement maybe two weeks prior on Facebook. But, guess what? Half already knew because I told friends and family in person or on the phone as soon as we found out we were pregnant. And what did I learn since cutting myself off from the digital world? That I only really need to pay attention to the important things in my life, like say, my pregnancy, my husband, and my career. It was time to stop looking for attention and start earning the respect that I strived for.

Just because I think it's that important, I'm going to share the original video that inspired me to disconnect, along with the instructions for how to free yourself from the never-ending and unsatisfying cycle that seeking attention will cause.

So, I ask: When will you begin to look up?

Have you been thinking about permanently deleting your Facebook? Here how:
1. Download a copy of your photos, videos, and more before switching off.
2. Disconnect all third-party apps so you won't be auto-logged and therefore null and void your deactivation. Note: Be sure to manually click the "x" to the right of each app to remove your data.
3. Permanently delete.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Kolaches (Dough + Filling) Recipes

I had been begging my mother for two and a half years to make me some vegan kolaches. My family heritage is Czech, and I grew up watching my grandmother and now my own mother bake large batches of kolaches in the kitchen. I'm Texan and this is a big deal down where I'm from. I finally planned a full day to attempt a batch of vegan kolaches, and these have been given the stamp of approval by my Czech grandmother (who still speaks Czech!). She gobbled them up and when I said they were vegan, all she said was, "Ain't it?"

Special thanks goes out to Helen Pitlik of for giving me permission to share her own dough recipe that I slightly modified. Thanks again for a wonderful recipe!

Vegan Kolache Dough
yields 4 dozen small kolaches

2 cups lukewarm non-dairy milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups flour, divided
4 Tbsp. vegan butter

1. Add sugar to lukewarm milk and stir in yeast in a large bowl. Let sit for a few minutes until foamy.
2. Stir in oil, 3 cups flour, and salt and mix until combined. Stir in remaining 3 cups of flour.
3. Shape into ping pong–sized balls and place on a greased baking pan about 1 inch apart. Let rise until more or less doubled in size (about two hours).
4. Press down centers on "wet" side that was facing down on your pan with your thumb and fill with desired filling.
5. Let rise again for another hour.
6. Brush the tops with melted vegan butter and bake at 350° for 15–18 minutes.

Filling options
1 can poppyseed filling
1 package Beyond Meat Grilled Chick'n
1 package Tofurkey Roast Beef
1 package Daiya Cheddar or Swiss cheese
Cream cheese with popsika (instructions below)
1/2 can cherry pie filling

Cream Cheese Filling
yields filling for 20 kolaches

1 package Tofutti Better Than Cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1. Soften cream cheese in microwave for 30 seconds.
2. Blend together cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla.
3. After following steps 1–3 for the kolache dough, press down centers of the risen dough with a spoon to create a small "bowl".
4. Add filling mixture and top with popsika (directions below).

Now onto the topping for the fruit kolaches. This was always something my grandmother let me do, and I honestly have no idea what popsika even translates to. My cousin calls it "The Crumble", so whatever works!

Popsika (The "Crumble") for Fruit-Filled Kolaches
yields topping for 3 dozen fruit kolaches

1/4 cup vegan butter
1/8 cup sugar
1/8 cup flour

1. Blend ingredients together with a fork until it begins to crumble. Continue to add equal amount of sugar and flour until crumble is achieved
2. Sprinkle over the top of the fruit-filled kolaches.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vegan Protein-Packed Crockpot Bean Chili

After visiting with my midwife at my six-month checkup, I asked her about the growth of my baby. I had noticed she was slightly below average in size and I had gained a whopping seven pounds since my last checkup. The midwife suggested I upped my protein and bean intake, so the next morning, I set out to grab some ingredients to make a protein-packed bean chili that could satisfy my hunger and also provide some great nutrition for the baby. We tossed together the recipe below and it couldn't have been easier.

Vegan Protein-Packed Bean Chili
Yields 8 servings

1 onion, chopped
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can petite diced tomatoes
4 cups water
1-1/2 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP)
1-1/2 cup 365 Everyday Organics rice and lentil medley (sold at Whole Foods)
2 Tbl. chili powder
1 Tbl. cumin
1/2 tsp. cilantro leaves (dried) or 1/2 cup fresh
1 tsp. cinnamon
dash vanilla
dash cayenne
less than 1/4 cup brown sugar

1. Turn crockpot on at low setting.
2. Carmelize onions in pan and add to crockpot with chopped celery and diced tomatoes.
3. Microwave 1 cup water for three minutes.
4. Place TVP into a bowl. Pour microwaved cup of water over stir together until well combined. Add to crockpot.
5. Add rice and lentil medley to crockpot and stir well.
6. Add in spices and remaining water.
7. Cook for 4 hours at low setting.
8. Add the pinto beans and black beans to the pot and stir together.
9. Cook for an additional one hour and then serve with crackers.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vegaprocity Interview + Intro to a New Vegan Community

When I first went vegan, I certainly wasn't the most tolerant. I would even say most people weren't tolerant of my choice. That's why I love the idea of Vegaprocity, an online vegan community which offers news, recipes, discussions, and the latest vegan product announcements for vegans and veg-curious readers. This worldwide community offers a place to shed some light on the vegan lifestyle and fosters open-mindedness and the willingness to learn and explore new perspectives. It's a place that will allow an open, nonjudgmental platform to practice Vegaprocity (see definition below).

Check it out and see how the site is aiming to create a healthier, more beautiful, and more compassionate world!

Did I mention they have started a great inventory of vegan recipes for those who are looking for some yummy meals? Keep an eye out for new content as the community grows or join in on a discussion!

veg·a·proc·i·ty [veeg-uh-pros-i-tee] noun

1.   A reciprocal state or relation between health-, environmental-, and/or animal-conscious vegans and/or the vegan-curious.

2.   Vegaprocation: mutual, reciprocal exchange between vegans, eager to work together to create a sustainable, cooperative, and more compassionate world.

3.   The relation or policy in commercial and/or personal dealings between vegans, both from the same and from differing cultures, by which opportunities, information, news, recipes and mutual support are granted by each vegan to other vegans, and/or to the vegan-curious.

2014: English vegan (1940s) + Latin reciprocity (1760s)

Check them out online! | LinkedIn | Google+ | Twitter | Facebook

The Little Red Journal (LRJ): What made you want to create this site?

Vegaprocity (VP): After going to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and meeting farm animals up close for the first time, I started to do more research on how my lifestyle was impacting animals— both human and nonhuman—and our environment. After watching tons of videos and reading lots of articles, I was truly shocked at how much I didn’t know about the food I was raised on and continued to eat.

After making the decision to become vegan, I wanted to help the movement to bring veganism mainstream. I wasn’t sure exactly how I could do that because my work takes up a lot of time and energy and I had a lot of other responsibilities. I also feel that I am more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. All of these things made me decide to start a website to educate people in a nonjudgmental environment, as I had witnessed the damage that vegans who harshly criticized others did for the cause. I am not saying criticism isn’t sometimes warranted, but in many cases, it made the situation worse. I can empathize with people who act that way, but I try my best not to because it has been proven in human psychology that this strategy is highly ineffective and repels people even further away from your viewpoint.

LRJ: How long have you been vegan? 

VP: I have been vegan since the beginning of this year (around January–February 2014).

LRJ: What are some of the challenges that the vegan community faces? 

VP: I think the vegan community has a bad stigma because one of the first things people think of is PETA. PETA tends to stand out because of their high publicity and sometimes controversial tactics. I personally think PETA as a whole is a great organization and has arguably been the most impactful in fighting for animal rights.

I also think that there is a lack of information and a lot of misinformation out there. The dairy and meat industry did a very good job of marketing their products to us from a very young age. This holds true for our parents, as well. It can be very hard for people to accept that they have been lied to or have been misinformed their entire lives. With something as intimate as food, I think that multiplies the complexity of the conundrum. 

LRJ: What do you hope to see with the Vegaprocity community? 

VP: I hope to see a community where people can learn about the vegan lifestyle and also learn why people choose to become vegan. I think a lot of people really don’t understand the extensive list of negative impacts their diet creates. I am hopeful that when they do learn the truth, many will start to make positive lifestyle changes, or become fully vegan. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not Your Average Smoothie: Pumpkin Pie Smoothie Recipe

It's fall and I'm pregnant. That means I have weird cravings for all things pumpkin. I was recently contacted by Williams-Sonoma with a challenge to create "Not Your Average Smoothie". My response? Challenge accepted.

I wanted to incorporate an unexpected ingredient and thought of the pie crust in a pumpkin pie. A graham cracker is blended into the smoothie and the spices meld together perfectly for a quick ode to my favorite Thanksgiving dessert. Since I am plant-based, I opted for almond milk and vegan cream cheese (yet another unexpected ingredient). The banana gives the smoothie a creamy texture and can hardly be tasted amongst the pumpkin puree.

Fun fact: Since it was so late at night when I wrote this recipe, I didn't want to disturb my roomies. I ended up using an immersion blender instead of my standard blender. It was much quieter and I was surprised at how quickly it blended the bananas into the smoothie!

Try out this recipe the next time you crave this fall favorite. If you have a variation, I'd love to hear it! For now, enjoy this early Thanksgiving treat.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
yields 2 cups

1 frozen banana
3/4 c, pumpkin puree
2/3 c. unsweetened almond milk
1 Tbsp. vegan cream cheese
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
1 large graham cracker
1/8 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of cloves
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of allspice

1. Cut the banana into smaller pieces and add pumpkin, milk, cream cheese, and agave nectar.
2. Crumble the graham cracker into the smoothie and blend in spices.
3. Serve chilled with topping options below.

Topping Options
Soyatoo soy whip cream
Crumbled graham cracker
Cherry (Because, why not?)

Tried this recipe and realize you have extra pumpkin? Double up on your desserts and make a batch of Pumpkin Spice Oat cookies.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

We're Having A Baby Girl! [Weeks 19-22.5]

I've known now for more than two weeks that we're having a little girl. I won't lie, y'all... I was in complete shock to find out this news! For whatever reason, my husband and I were sure it was a boy. Maybe it was the 70% change the ultrasound tech mentioned at our 12-week (yep, I now know that's way too early to make a call like that!) ultrasound. But alas, it's a baby girl.

I was beyond excited to schedule our 20-week ultrasound, and it just so happens that I hit my 20-week mark just five days before my fourth wedding anniversary. While scheduling the ultrasound, I knew I could either find out two days later (on October 13th) or wait until the day of my anniversary (October 16th). I felt this occasion would be the best way to spend our anniversary, so we booked it for the afternoon and I took a half day off from work!

I had never imagined in my mind that it would be a girl, so up until that point, I was only daydreaming about baseball games and what sort of fun I'd be having with my son. So to hear, "It's a girl!" during the ultrasound was like, "Wait, wut?!" moment for me. After about two minutes of sheer shock (and admittedly a little denial), I looked at my husband and said, "a little girl!".

Since I knew it was a boy from the beginning, I told my husband he could choose the girl name (haha). We're naming our daughter Eleanor Jane. I was so excited once it finally set in. It all became so real. We even saw her yawn during the ultrasound. After the hour and half we spent at the ultrasound, I headed straight for Target to update my registry. I had a sudden urge to add a few hairbows to the list.

I was surprised to see they offered us 3D photos at no extra cost, and I hope you all can handle seeing them! My husband personally finds them a little strange looking, but when it's your own child, you think they are gorgeous. Ha, enjoy or scroll past!

I have a baby shower coming up in the next week and a half, so I purchased some pink gift bags for the ladies who are hosting the shower. It consists of a Hello Kitty bag (what else would be more appropriate or girlie than that?!), a reusable plastic clear cup with none other than pink dots, a $10 Starbucks gift card, and a bottle of pink wild berry shower gel.

I also had some work events to attend recently at NASA Space Center Houston and I snapped a selfie and posed while my coworker captured me standing in front of the "shuttle". Fun times, but I realized how BIG I look from the side! These pictures were both taken at 21.5 weeks.

For Halloween, we decided to dress up as a 50s housewife and the milkman. Get it?!

You can also see my herbie tattoo pretty well through my thin shirt, and I'm happy to report both of my tattoos still look great (fingers cross they will stay that way).

And for the lesson of the day, don't ever, ever, ever trust what they tell you at 12 weeks. Also, it's a good idea to wait until they KNOW FOR SURE what you're having before you do something crazy like write in your baby's book about how you chose their name. Learn from me, people.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vegan Texas Veggie Bowl Recipe

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but I've finally had a chance to jot down the recipe and snap some quick photos (apologies for the quality!). This has recently been featured on the HappyCow blog, where I do some guest blogging every once in a while.

When it comes to lunch, I would rather bring something into the office than leave for an hour and spend more money. Since I'm frugal and plant-based, there are only so many options within a five-mile radius of my office. If I'm really in a pinch for time during my rush of leaving the house in the morning, I'll take a quick five minutes to toss together this recipe. This yields enough food for at least three to four days, and is a healthy alternative to the quick lunches I would otherwise be taking.

I've also included a few quick variations at the end to change it up if you become tired of the same old recipe. You can always switch out the veggies or play around with the spices, but this is a quick recipe that will not fail you when time is not on your side! Of course, it wouldn't be a true Texan dish if it didn't include BBQ sauce, so be sure to use this as a "dressing".

Vegan Texas Veggie Bowl Recipe
Yields 4 large servings

1/2 bag frozen corn
1/2 bag frozen green beans
1 bag microwavable whole gain rice (Uncle Ben's)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilis
1 tbsp. Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. all-purpose seasoning

1. Microwave bag of rice per instructions on package.
2. Toss all ingredients together on large bowl.

3. Serve warm with BBQ sauce "dressing".

2 links of Tofurky Italian Sausages, chopped
6 strips of Beyond Meat's Beyond Chicken Grilled Strips, chopped
BBQ sauce topping
Substitute 1 large bag of mixed veggies
1 bag chopped spinach

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Interview with Tofurky Founder Seth Tibbott: Living 7 Years in a Treehouse

A couple of years ago, I reached out to Tofurky confessing my love for their products and asked if anyone would be willing to give me an interview for my blog. I never imagined that I would receive such a positive response, and certainly didn't expect the company's founder, Seth Tibbott, to respond. He was a sweet, down-to-earth guy who shared his story with me and told me how he went from making tempeh to building one of the top vegan companies that come to my mind when I think of plant-based options!

He shared his story openly, and I was so excited to interview him. Then he mentioned he had lived in a treehouse. Say what?! I was intrigued and quickly asked him another set of questions that I hoped to one day share here as my interest in minimalism and financial savviness grew. I've been meaning to post this for nearly a full year now, and I finally have sat down and finished this post! Better late than never, and you'll love his story.

To read the full interview about Tofurky's company history that I had previously posted, click here.

The Little Red Journal (LRJ): How did you go about renting a tree to build your treehouse?

Seth Tibbott (ST): In 1985 I was making tempeh as a cottage industry in the small town of Husum, WA. My take home pay was $300/month and I needed a place to stay. I proposed a deal with a neighbor to rent three trees for $25/month, build a treehouse, and when I moved out, the treehouse became part of their property. I spent about $2,000 on the house and lived in it for seven years.

LRJ: What gave you the idea to build a treehouse?

ST: My friend Kirk Hoessele had built a really cool treehouse in a nearby town. I admired his house and thought, "This could work for me." Unbeknownst to me, another friend was building a treehouse in Husum (population 80) at the same time. We didn't find out about each other's treehouses until they were well underway.

LRJ: Did you gradually update as the years passed, or did you build out the treehouse completely in the beginning?

ST: The thing about a treehouse is you always keep building onto it. I added the third story coupola about two years after moving in. Just before moving out, I started building a cool pathway through the forest canopy but never finished it. The "treehouse peehouse" was added rather soon after moving in.

LRJ: Did you ever have guests in your home, and if so, where did they sleep?

ST: I had room to sleep two to four visitors. Downstairs there was a window seat that folded out into a double bed that you screwed legs onto (I had learned this trick from my father) and upstairs in the coupola I added another fold out bed.

LRJ: What do you miss about living in the treehouse?

ST: I miss the nightly visits from the flying squirrels who would land on the side of the house and poke their heads up to my bedroom window. That and gentle swaying of the house in the wind at night.

LRJ: Where do you currently reside? Are you still living in a small space?

ST: Currently, my wife and I live in a relatively small house of about 1,600 square feet, which is a lot bigger than the 264 square feet of the treehouse. There is a creek on one side of the house and a 12,000-foot mountain on the other side, so it's not a bad alternative to the treehouse at all. There is a small cottage about the size of my treehouse that my son stays in when he comes home from college.

Note from The Little Red Journal: Thank you Seth for taking the time to chat with me about the experience of living in a treehouse! It's so inspiring to hear a story of simple living.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Smoothie King's New Vegan Dark Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Smoothie King to take a survey as they were gearing up to make some vegan additions to their menu this fall. I was overjoyed to be contacted by them, and couldn't wait to voice my opinion and help contribute to their line of smoothies. I had seen Smoothie King for years but never had the opportunity to stop by, and I definitely couldn't after going plant-based in February 2012. The possibility of grabbing a healthy smoothie on the go was something I was excited about, especially since I had one located only a few miles away from my home.

It was several months before I heard back after completing the survey, but I had been anxiously awaiting any more news about these new smoothie options. Eager to try them, I ran out to the nearest Smoothie King the same day I received an email that they were officially adding a vegan Kale Mango and Dark Chocolate Banana smoothie to their menu using Sunwarrior plant-based protein. It just so happened to be the first day of our childbirthing class, so it was the perfect option for me to grab a quick dinner while I prepared myself for the three-hour course. 

I ordered the 32 oz. because I'm pregnant and super hungry. It lasted halfway through the class as I happily sipped it every so often, The taste is a perfect combination of chocolate, banana, and I was surprised to learn that it included an acai sorbet blend. It only took a few moments for them to whip up the creation, and the smoothie kept me full for the rest of the night. (As a pregnant woman, I can attest to how tough that is!)

The smoothie was so good that I bought five more before reaching out and requesting a gift card to review it. So even though I did receive a "free" smoothie, I drank five of these completely unprompted before receiving a freebie. And I've been racking up some Smoothie King rewards points in the meantime, which happens to be a nice bonus. For an added kick of protein (important for me as a vegan as I'm in the middle of my second trimester!), I could go on and on about the cocoa and the bananas, but you'll just have to trust me on this one! It's so good that you'll be going back for seconds and thirds in a month. 

The local Smoothie King guy smiled when he saw me buy my seventh smoothie today. He knows who I am and happily prepares my Dark Chocolate Banana smoothie (yep, make that a 32 oz.,,sir!) and I feel great knowing that it's a healthy, on-the-go option.

Have you tried it yet? Comment below to let me know what you think of these new smoothie options!

Smoothie King's Dark Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Ultimate Productivity Tool: Get Stuff Done With Todoist—Tutorial

I had taken a course earlier in the year from Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was completely sold on the idea of becoming more productive and doing what I loved: sharing information with readers like you about how to enhance your life whether it be through financial freedom, veganism, minimalism, or achieving the pregnancy and birth you want. My mission statement from this course was actually just that! After my exciting course to develop some great habits, a friend recommended the Get Stuff Done Like a Boss seminar by Tiago Forte on Skillshare, which is where I was first introduced to the Todoist app.

Before you read further, I want you to know that Todoist is FREE. They do have a premium option, and I did pay for it, but my boss was so impressed with my productivity because of this app, that he reimbursed the $29/year fee. I didn't expect that and would still recommend paying more if you decided to use the notes feature and labeling features. Nonetheless, you can still use this app for FREE and be just as productive.

So what is Todoist? I'm a visual learner, so I've added ALL of the videos below that will clearly describe how to use this powerful tool to get more stuff done. Check them below, and let me know what you think if you decide to try it out. For me, Todoist is about emptying my head of all the clutter. I'm a minimalist, right? So I don't like to keep too much up there that doesn't need ot be cluttering up my precious memory. I've got too much to do! (Like writing this blog post for example, which, surprise, was on my Todoist list!)

Wait, Kelsey, you're telling me this is a glorified to-do list? Nope. It's a way of living. It's a way to be more productive and FOLLOW THROUGH on your commitments, ideas, and goals. So before we delve in too deep and into the specifics, check out the video below that the Todoist team created the app and why they've worked for seven years on perfecting this software. As a minimalist, I lost the simplistic design and its incredibly easy-to-use interface.that they've created.

OK, so that's cool. They've worked hard for seven years to create a tool that will completely revolutionize your way of living. So how can you use this to be more productive in your own life? At work? At home? To make sure your husband grabs a half gallon of almond milk and two avocados when he goes to the grocery store? Check out the video below to see how you can actually collaborate and share tasks. (My husband and I are currently trying this out and it makes it incredibly easy rather than sending a text. Best of all—our lists are automatically synced and updated, so I won't miss an ingredient the next time I hit up the grocery store!)

You're on board. This is exciting. You want to collaborate with your colleagues or partner, improve your productivity, or get more stuff done. That's great. Guess what? Todoist makes it fun to track how many things you've done and reinforce the best productivity habits. They call it karma. And I can't get enough of it.

Todoist is offered on 13 different platforms. I'll quickly list them just in case you're curious.
  • Web
  • Android Phone
  • Android Tablet
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Windows
  • Mac OS
  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Outlook
  • Thunderbird
  • Gmail
  • Postbox
Oh, you see every device you own is compatible with this app? Yep, that's how easy it is to sync it across everything to keep your lists portable and handy when you need it. Whether it's jotting down a task, tackling a quick email when you have a free minute, or organizing your emails into tasks, there's absolutely NO excuse to be unproductive anymore. Below is the one I use most: Microsoft Outlook. It's what we use at work, and it's incredibly easy to tie an email to a task. So following up with someone on a project is amazingly easy.

I also use it for my personal emails and even The Little Red Journal. All of the recent blog posts you've read (since June of this year) have originated as ideas in the form of a Todoist task. I keep it simple:
Write blog post on Todoist.
Write blog post on saving up for a house.
Email so-and-so about an interview.

You get the idea. Keep it easy. Keep in uncomplicated. And you'll see that Todoist can be as granular as you want or as simple as you want. Here's how to make it work for you in Gmail.

Alright, so are you completely convinced that you want to start using Todoist? Awesome! Here's the site to get started on your FREE account. I say use the free one for a while, and if you want to amp it up for the premium version, which includes the ability to add notes to tasks, send reminders via test or push, creating tasks with emails, and more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

We Nearly Have Enough to Begin Our Househunting Adventure

After we paid off the student loan debt, we began to start saving up for a down payment on a house and the closing costs with it. I was stunned to learn that I would need to save at least $14,000 to purchase a home listed for $150,000, and only $7,500 of that would be going towards the list price. The other $6,500 would we used for "closing costs". So, as you can imagine, this is a huge amount of money to save up. especially if you have a short time frame.

We decided to "try" to begin our family during the summer and were very much shocked to find out we were extremely efficient in this venture. We went from "trying" to "expecting" in just three weeks time. If you know anything about me or my blog, you'll then know that I promptly began rearranging my budgets and punching numbers into a calculator to figure out how we would be able to make this all work. Due to a little snag with insurance, we paid for the birth of our child up front and needed to build our savings back up as we prepared to move out of the home we were renting and sharing with a family member.

I quickly began socking away more than 90% of my paycheck (while also being sure to invest in retirement, company stocks, and paying for insurance coverage), and we soon began to grow our savings slowly but surely. We're nearly ready to begin our house search with a fistful of cash, and will continue to save up after we've signed our 30-year mortgage to prepare for any little surprises that will inevitably come along with a newborn baby.

So, how did we do it? We budgeted so that we lived on an fine line of nearly being "broke" according to our savings while still maintaining a monthly savings of $2,600 each month, We lived ONLY on my husband's checks and still had to pay rent, bills, and two car payments each month with the occasional semi-annual bills like car insurance. And what tool did we use to accomplish this task, might you ask? My favorite budgeting tool that I've written about NUMEROUS times on this blog: MINT.COM.

Check out my older posts on how to use to accomplish your savings goals or debt offs!

Why I Had to Trade in The Stratus for Kia Rio
Progress on Our Student Loans & How We'll be Debt-Free in 2014
Knocking Out Our Student Loans One at a Time
The Chair That Almost Blew Our Budget For The Month
Keeping Our Eyes on the [Financial] Prize
Finance 101: 7 Reasons Why I Love
Sell your crap. Pay off your debt. Do what you love.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life—Part I: The Miracle of Birth

So for a bit of a laugh today, I wanted to share this older clip that still makes me smile. Before I was pregnant, I didn't even consider an alternative to a hospital birth, but this completely pokes fun at the experience. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why We Paid For The Birth of Our Child Up Front

Even before we planned on having children, I knew I wanted to have a more "natural" birth. Some may have been surprised just HOW natural (midwives, birth center, hypnobirthing, and a water birth!), but none the same, it's been something I've wanted for a very long time. When we moved to Houston, Texas in January from Austin, Texas, one of the FIRST things I researched were birth centers and midwives in Houston. We were financially unstable in those first few months, had little savings due to our intense student debt payoff, and we were still both contractors in our new careers. But even with all of that happening, it didn't deter me from wanting to start a family. SOON.

I found the West Houston Birth Center early on, even before I found my job, and it just so happens to be less than a mile away from my office. I received my first positive pregnancy test one week after my official hire date. Yeah, I planned that. We were lucky/fertile/whatever you want to call it, and we had NO trouble at all conceiving.

Once I received my first positive pregnancy test (at only a few weeks pregnant, no less!), I decided that I needed to call the insurance company to find out what was covered with my brand, spankin' new benefits. But first, I called the birth center first and asked them how much it would be with insurance. They told me $5,000 with insurance, or $4,000 without. No problemo. I had insurance–I was totally covered... right?! Welp, as you can imagine, insurance wasn't too pleased when I asked about midwives.

"This isn't the 1800s! Midwives don't deliver babies anymore," exclaimed the woman on the phone from the insurance company. "Excuse me?" I asked. WTF was she talking about?! I already had a midwife and birthing center picked out where they would physically be delivering my baby. The insurance company provided me with a list of 19 midwives who WERE actually covered, but upon calling every single one of them, I learned that yes, they would handle my prenatal care. When it came time for the big show, however, a doctor would then swoop in and deliver. What?!?!?

Why would I want to build a relationship with a midwife or group of midwives throughout my pregnancy only to have a doctor that I didn't know swoop in and take all of the glory at the end? That didn't make sense to me. They told me they would only cover a midwife under the direct supervision of a doctor. OK. So, I decided to say, thanks, but no thanks! And I signed a contract with the birth center instead. Without insurance. Now, luckily, we had saved up money that was designated for a down payment/closing costs on a house, but this was obviously an immediate necessity that I needed. So we paid the contract in full up front and received a gracious 10% discount for doing so.

And you know what? Insurance magically started sending my birth center a check for the claims they were dutifully submitting. Stunned, they contacted me, (and I almost fell out of a chair!), but I was appreciative. I have absolutely NO idea why, but they are covering my birth and delivery as "out of network" at 60% instead of the 80% they would pay if I was delivering in an "in-network" hospital. So that's awesome! Since insurance is paying, I am obligated to the $4,500 contract (since I saved the 10% by paying in full). I'm totally cool with that, because you know what? We saved up for this and paid it in full. And we'll probably get a reimbursement once all is said and done.

I write this post because I want you to know that you should NEVER give up on WHATEVER birth that you want. Be it at home in a birthing pool or in a hospital bed. Fight for what you feel is comfortable to you and the best birth you can imagine. Ask questions and challenge anyone who says you don't have the right to your own birth story.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Second Trimester Update: 19 Weeks and Counting! [Weeks 12-19]

So it's been several weeks since I've last updated my "bump" (nearly eight weeks!), so I thought I'd add in some new photos and new notes on what I've been experiencing. I last wrote about the pregnancy at 11 weeks, and I'm now at 19 weeks. Let's just jump straight into the photos because those are fun!

The first set are from my ultrasound that we had at 12 weeks and 2 days at Texas Children's Maternal Fetal Medicine in Sugar Land on August 18, 2014. We were beyond excited to see the baby moving around, doing somersaults, and giving us quite a show. It was incredible and Kendan and I watched in amazement while we soaked in our impending parenthood.

Arm resting on cheek.
Little baby foot.
Arm above head and foot above bottom.
Top view of head and arms to the side.
We had a great time and the ultrasound tech was extremely sweet and described everything we were seeing throughout the hour and a half that we were there. We're looking forward to our next ultrasound, which will be held on our fourth wedding anniversary, Thursday, October 16, 2014, where we'll be finding out the gender. So you're either looking at Eleanor Jane or Oliver James!

Here's the baby bump photos with guestimates on my dates. I'm hoping this serves as a documentation for many years to come.

12 weeks 4 days.
13 weeks 5 days.
13 weeks 2 days.
15 weeks.
16 weeks 3 days.
17 weeks 2 days.
18 weeks 5 days.
Some notes that I'd like to jot down so I don't forget:

  • The "bump" tends to vary day-to-day. Sometimes I look huge and then the next day, I look like I've regressed one week. It's really strange, but I think it depends on what I'm eating that day, how much water I'm holding, and the angle I shoot the photo at.
  • For the last several weeks, I wake up at least 1-4 times each night. I finally had to go buy a new nightlight for the bathroom so I can keep the bright light off during my zombie-like walk to the bathroom. Yay! I hear it only gets worse from here...
  • The said bathroom breaks can become an hour of no sleep if I'm not careful. During those times where I lie awake, I usually just try to relax and soak it all in. You're only pregnant with your first child once, so I'm trying not to complain about things like this.
  • We bought a body pillow earlier on, and Kendan said, "Let's put it in the middle of the bed!" I woke up the next morning with him hogging the pillow and snuggling with it. NOPE. Since then, he's not allowed to put his legs on it, unless it's below mine. Haha!
  • At around 16 weeks or so, my back started to ache. I made a heating pad and used this on and off for 20 minutes several times a day, which seemed to help. Otherwise, I am hobbling around at work and home. I went for a prenatal massage, which felt awesome at the time, but as I walked out of the office, I quickly realized she had somehow managed to SPREAD the pain from one isolated spot on my lower right back to the entire lower back. Yeah, I couldn't walk upright for a couple of days. 
  • I still have had no urges of morning sickness, so I sailed right through that! 
  • I don't have any weird cravings, but I have been eating lots of chimichangas and BBQ Pringles.
  • Kendan seems to be totally calm about the whole thing, and only sometimes does he look at me and say, "Wow, I never thought about what you'd like when you were pregnant."
  • We celebrated 10 years together as a couple on August 26, 2014, and I never thought I'd be pregnant with our first child when we met 10 years ago! It's been pretty cool. I'm also excited that we'll find out the gender on our 4-year anniversary.
  • I'm only weighing myself when I go to the midwife. For a while there, I was worried about the weight gain, but I'm eating pretty healthy during the pregnancy, and try to opt for more fruits and veggies even if I'm still eating some "vegan junk food". You only live once, amirite?
 Missed my first trimester update? See the bump from the beginning!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pregnant in America: Importance of Natural Hormone Production During Birth

I watched Pregnant in America a few years ago on Netflix and was entranced by the message. One couple travels to different countries in search of answers to how the world faces birth and maternal care. They have a midwife and deliver at home, but check out the clip below at 5:09.

Robbie Davis-Floyd, PhD, is a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, and I was stunned with what she said about the empowerment women feel at birth! Dr, Mardsen Warner with the World Health Organization is also a strong voice in the natural childbirth community. They both describe a women in "full power" and the uninterrupted flow of hormones to the body from mother to child. I still get goosebumps and become teary when Dr. Davis-Floyd describes what women are missing.

Note: The couple in this video do have a home birth that is beautiful, but they have a moment where they decide to be transferred after the birth to a hospital. You'll see that in this cllip, but don't be alarmed! Spoiler alert: everything is fine in the end, but they were able to experience both sides of the spectrum—a home birth and a hospital birth, in a sense.

If you'd like to watch all of the movie (available on YouTube), start here and follow the "parts". Below is the clip where Dr. Davis-Floyd and Dr. Warner discuss the aforementioned below.

I've included the trailer below if you're interested in watching the full movie. Again, start here and follow the parts on YouTube. Highly recommended!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dr. Dolittle - Like Animals!

I must confess that I've never seen Dr. Dolittle, but I do remember reading the book in elementary school. I ran across this video a couple of years ago, and it does make a good point. Check out this scene from the movie, filmed in 1967. All of it is still applicable even today, and the message is clear: Why do we treat animals like animals?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Business of Being Born

Even before I was ready to start a family, I stumbled across this movie and was convinced that I'd one day use a midwife throughout my pregnancy. If you have Netflix, you can view this movie and the extended More Business of Being Born series with four more episodes. After researching for hours and hours, I had made up my mind. When we moved to the Houston area, one of the first things I looked up were birth centers. I found one in West Houston and it ended being only a mile away from my new job. 

In the last several visits, it's been a pleasure to work with such loving, caring midwives, and I couldn't imagine any other experience. I know I have absolutely nothing to compare my experience with, as this is my first child. But this feels right. I feel well-cared for, the midwives are personal, and the office feels much more like a home than a white-walled doctor's office. I trust the knowledge they've acquired and the head midwife has delivered nearly 600 babies (including 16 breeched babies).

When I happily announced my pregnancy to friends and family a few months ago, I was met with fear and concern from some. Was it safe? Would they know what to do during an emergency? What is the baby was breeched? What if I needed to be immediately transferred? Why did I choose NOT to get an epidural?! What the hell was wrong with me?!

So, without further ado, if you're remotely interested in an alternative to hospital births, check out the trailer below. It's one of my favorites, and I watch it every so often just because it's that interesting...

Ready to watch the full movie? Here it is below!

Monday, September 22, 2014

My First Trimester Lifesaver: The Bellaband

I remember the day I stepped into my jeans and realized that they weren't going to button. I also remember panicking. I had yet to tell my boss or coworkers that I was pregnant, and i was only 7 weeks along. That evening, I drove straight to Babies R' Us, and purchased a Bellaband. This thing was a miracle for me. As most of you know, I'm a minimalist, so I only owned one pair of jeans, two pairs of khakis for work, and a pair of brown slacks. I used it so religiously during weeks 7 through 14 and it allowed me hold off on buying maternity pants.

I really didn't want to have to purchase maternity pants, but for whatever reason, my belly was growing fast and my comfort level was beginning to go down. I highly recommend the Bellaband for anyone with a growing belly out there, and will definitely use it postpartum as I transition back into my prepregnancy jeans. Check out the video below for how it's used.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Work Like a Captain. Play Like a Pirate.

I've chosen a nautical theme for our baby's non-existent nursery. I say non-existent because we're currently saving up to buy a house and don't have anywhere to put a baby as of now. Alas, I have another five months before I pop, so it's not a problem right now. I've been on the look out for nautical-themed items and found this tin sign below on the Hobby Lobby website.

Cute, right?! I loved it and thought about going by there this week to snag one for $15.99. Most of their stuff is usually 50% off, so it would be about $8 if I bought it on sale. Then I remembered that our budget is really, really tight since we're saving $2,700 a month for the aforementioned house. So I set to work in my free Paint.NET program to design one for myself. 

I was able to completely customize it with my own spin on it. I found some great inspiration while Googling things like "pirate vector", "pirate eye patch", and yes, even "duck dynasty beard". I'll head to Office Depot or Office Max this week to print off the 8 in. × 10 in. image and pop it into a frame. Heck, I may even spray paint a cheap frame white just to set it all off. I'm planning on designing some more custom artwork before the baby arrives so I'll have plenty of items to decorate with once we move in to our first home.