Archive for the ‘Works for me’ Category

I’m not embracing a single word to focus on for 2017, but if I was, it would probably be GRATITUDE. Even in my darkest nights of the soul, my life is filled with people and things I am so grateful for. I know there are many tools available to help me focus on those things. I was even gifted a gratitude journal. There’s only one teensy weensy problem…I hate journaling. Really. I hate it.

I love writing, but journaling and writing are completely different beasts! I fill my blank books with lists and story ideas and writing “Niki loves Benny” in my best penmanship. I don’t journal.


On a melancholy, wintry day in 2015, I sought solace in a cup of chai at Starbucks. While I was chatting up the barista, I grabbed one of those little freebie cards for iTunes apps they used to give out. My eyes were drawn to the big number 5 on it. If I had looked close enough to see the word “journal” I probably would have left it on the counter. When I finally checked it out, I was impressed, and it was FREE. Bonus! Thank you, Starbucks! *bats eyelashes*


I love this app so much, I had my kids download it on their phones too. The simple format is appealing – I’m not sitting down to a blank page wondering what to write, I just follow the prompt, answering the same questions every day in the morning and evening. It helps me think through my goals for the day and reflect on the little amazing moments that add up to my life.

You can add daily pictures, set up notifications, and share their inspirational quotes to social media. It takes less than 5 minutes yet it’s had a profound impact on my attitude over the past year. Even on my bad days, it helps to focus on what went well and who I am. The daily affirmation might be my favorite part. It gave me a new perspective and I’m happier for it.

As for my kids, I’m helping them form habits that will serve them (and others) well and I get the added bonus of happier, healthier kids. We’re usually together when our phones light up with our journal prompts, which is fun.


Need a celebrity endorsement? Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, is a big fan.

The Five Minute Journal is one of the simplest ways that I have found to consistently ensure improving my well being and happiness. Both in terms of achievement and actual measurable, quantifiable results.

Tim Ferriss, NY Times Best Selling Author

Sadly, the app is not free anymore, it’s $4.99 in the app store for my fellow IOS users. It is worth every penny!

Android users: I’ve read you can use the same principles with a journaling app like Dario, or 5 Minute Journal is also available in book form from the makers at Intelligent Change and on Amazon.

Try it risk-free! If you subscribe to the newsletter at Intelligent Change, they will send you a free quick start pdf for you to try 5 Minute Journal for five days. You can always unsubscribe to the newsletter if it’s just not your thing, but why not give it a try?

Do you journal? How do you motivate yourself and stay focused on positivity? 

Update: If the video isn’t working, here’s the YouTube link: 5 Minute Journal on YouTube

I’m kicking off 2017 by sharing some of my life hacks! Next up: LastPass!

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It’s Sunday night on the first day of the first month of 2017, and the eve of the first Monday of the year. I’m doing what I do most Sunday nights, planning for the week.

I’m snuggled in my bed, sipping something sweet, and poring over my calendars. Plural. I love my phone’s Google Calendar that syncs up with those of the rest of my family, but I can’t live without a paper version too.

Though my own brain and habits haven’t been studied and tracked, I know there is Scientific evidence that suggests by physically writing things down, we process the information better by creating spatial connections in our brains and we have an easier time remembering the important stuff.

I’ve always been a writer-downer. It is one of the tools that allows me to be a high-capacity woman. I’m a big fan of lists and I create them for everything: Grocery shopping, names I might like to use in the stories I’m writing, funny things my kids say, special information about friends I don’t want to forget, books I want to read, etc. All of this gets jotted down in the different sections of my paper planner, then some of it gets entered into my phone, and on the big family calendar on the side of our refrigerator.


I prefer to see the whole month-at-a-glance, so I like the large flexi-planner. Mine is dated August 2016 – December 2017. My phone calendar is set to see the day-at-a-glance. Do what works for you!


Each month I begin by filling in the squares with standing commitments like meeting times, food bank days, fieldtrips, and my kids’ work schedules and babysitting dates.

I use the extra blank squares on the calendar to record notes about the kids and that month’s book releases I’m excitedly awaiting. This month they’re on the bottom. My teenagers pay for their own phones, so this is where I record what they owe us and I cross it off when they pay it. Any other loans and notes about the kids get recorded here as well.

I use the side column to list birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends, and section off the bottom for our list of bills so I have a visual of what we need to pay for the month.

The top margin gets filled in with quotes, questions, observations, and other notes.

The circled dates are my paydays for my part-time jobs.


The week-at-a-glance section in my planner is where I record notes as I think of them. Kind of like a daily sticky note of what happened or things I want to remember.

What I’m adding this year:

  • Book List – Books I’ve read will be recorded on the day I finish them.
  • Movie List – Movies watched will be recorded on the day I watch them.
  • Moving List – Daily recording of the steps I take. I plan to add a lot more of them.

Do you use a planner or calendar? More than one? How do you stay organized? 

I’m kicking off 2017 by sharing some of my life hacks! Next up: The 5 Minute Journal!

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For Christmas in 2013, Karen gave me a copy of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. She had already read most of it and was sure I’d love it, and she was right! I’ve been reading it and incorporating it into my life ever since.


Brene Brown is a research professor and storyteller who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, worthiness, and shame. She’s written three #1 New York Times Bestsellers, her 2010 TEDx talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the five most viewed Ted talks in the world. She inspires millions of readers like me through her websites, interviews, and public appearances. I post her quotes on Facebook a lot.

From The Gifts of Imperfection:

“People may call what happens at mid-life “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling – a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed to live.”

As I’ve been working my way through the book for the second time, reading all of my underlined passages again, I am painfully aware of the places I’ve been digging deep, being brave, and making difficult choices that are making me a more wholehearted person. The word “No” isn’t as scary as it used to be, and I’ve increased the frequency of its use. Friends, it is SO much better than saying “yes” and being pissed off later because I knew I should have said no in the first place. I’m doing hard heart work, and the results are beautiful!

Some other lessons I’ve learned:

  • Our stories aren’t meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege and we should ask ourselves who has earned the right to hear them. (p. 47)
  • Incongruent living is exhausting. (p. 28)
  • Cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional. (p. 28)
  • Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness. (p.7)
  • Courage is contagious. (p.54)
  • Here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is. (p.24)

I own the other two books and will read them soon. Check out Brene Brown. She’s one of my courage-boosters and currently on my list of Top Ten Most Inspiring People.

These people inspire me too:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/


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homeless bags(Updated 10/21/2015)

This picture has been floating around Facebook for a while now. It resurfaces every fall with the shift of the cooler weather. Whoever made this bag had good intentions and a generous heart, and there are many versions of these bags being handed out all across the country. Over the past 9 years of running a homeless ministry, we’ve learned a few things about the needs of our street friends. We know what’s practical and what isn’t, so I’d like to help you improve on these goodie bags.

We call our version of these, SEVENS Packs. Ours include our contact information, a bottle of water, assorted snacks, a pair of new socks, and when we’ve received enough through donations, a gift card for a fast food meal and/or a $10 gift card to a grocery store.

Here are some tips for making your own goodie bags, no matter where you live:


If you don’t know what would be helpful to the people in your area, ask someone who does. The organizations who walk beside the homeless and hurting can tell you what the needs are, and what they have in surplus. This will save you time and money.


NEVER, EVER mix toiletries in with food items. The smell/taste of things like soap, deodorant, and toothpaste permeate everything else in the bag, and the food will not be edible. We once received a large donation of bags similar to this one and had to throw all of the food items away. Such a waste.

Bars of soap are cheap, but they’re bulky and messy. Baby wipes are a better option for a quick clean up. Any place our street friends can access a shower will have soap, shampoo, etc. for them to use. Any toiletries should be put in a separate bag, and we suggest freezer bags instead of storage bags because of the thicker plastic. Suggested items:

  • Baby wipes/wet wipes
  • Lip balm
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss (which doubles as sewing thread for mending clothing and backpacks)
  • Maxi pads (Mark the bag with a pink star or some way to tell at quick glance that it’s meant for a female.)


In general, our street friends do not have access to dental care other than teeth extraction, so we try to stick with easy to chew snacks instead of crunchy ones, though a variety is nice. They trade what they don’t like for items they do.

  • Fruit /applesauce/pudding cups (with or without a plastic spoon)
  • Chewy granola bars (Cereal bars tend to get crushed into mush)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Assorted crackers or cookies
  • Fruit snacks
  • Beef Jerky (this is a favorite even though it’s hard to chew, and protein is good.)
  • Small bags of nuts or trail mix
  • Hard candy like peppermints or butterscotch
  • Bottled water

Misc. Gifts

It doesn’t have to be a holiday to give gifts. Some of the things on this list aren’t really gifts as much as possible needed items when you call the streets your home.

  • Travel coffee mugs from local gas stations that get them discounted coffee refills. Closed handles are best so they can hang from a backpack strap.
  • New socks – When you travel everywhere by foot, clean, dry socks are a must!
  • $5-$10 gift cards to nearby restaurants or grocery stores. This is a great option for those who aren’t comfortable giving out cash.
  • Wal-Mart/Target gift cards are great for needed items that are cheaper than a grocery store or aren’t available in one – feminine products, ibuprofen and other over-the-counter meds, shoes and replacement shoelaces, and underwear, to name a few.
  • Travel size first-aid kits

Winter Items

  • Hand warmers
  • Warm gloves (NOT the little knit ones that don’t keep anyone warm)
  • Beanies


  • Used/worn out items. If you’re giving stuff with the attitude that the receiver needs to be grateful for whatever they get, perhaps you need to rethink your motives for giving in the first place.
  • Hotel shampoos & soaps (donate these to shelters that have shower access)
  • Religious Literature*

*A Note for my Christian Friends:

Homelessness does not equal Godlessness. PLEASE do not include religious literature. Your intentions are good, and your motivation sharing the love of Jesus, but don’t assume anything. Unless you have the time to build a relationship with someone, you don’t know what their story is and what role religion has played in it, both good and bad. Trust that God was on the streets long before you came into the picture, and faith conversations happen within the context of relationship. Trust me, they do happen.


Presentation is important! Look people in the eye. Smile. Ask them their name then use it while talking with them. Offer your gift in love and without agenda. You’re giving hope and help to someone who is walking through a dark time in their life. That matters, and it tells them that they matter too.

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I haven’t couponed since April. The shakes went away after a few weeks. 😉 After not feeling well and spending three days in pajamas, I needed to get out of the house today. The kids and I went shopping to grab some loss leaders and begin to replenish our school supply stock. Loss leaders are the special deals usually listed on the front page of a store’s weekly sale ad, and they have quantity limits. They get you in the store so you’ll spend more money than you planned. I didn’t. Ha!

For all of you non-couponing types, these deals are good until this Saturday, and I didn’t use a single coupon. Here’s what we picked up:

Office Depot (2 different stores – both close to my house):

(6) Vinyl zipper pouches – Retail 1.99/ Paid .01 each

(6) Acrylic Rulers – Retail .99/ Paid .01 each

(6) 1 subject notebooks – Retail .99/ Paid .01 each

(3) 2 ct. Dry Erase Markers  – Retail 2.99/ Paid .50 each

(20) Foray Rollerball Pens (My favorite pens!) – Retail 1.99/ Paid .50 each

Total Retail $72.59/Paid: $11.68   84% Savings


(6) Crayola Markers – .99 each

(11) 5 ct. mechanical pencils – .29 each

(4) 10 ct. pens – .29 each

(4) 6 ct. highlighter – .49 each

Total Retail $66.65/Paid $12.25   82% Savings

Office Max:

(5) 4 pocket folders – Retail 1.00/ Paid .25 each

(3) 12 ct. pencils –Retail 1.00/ Paid .25 each

(2) 12 ct. Colored Pencils Retail 2.00/ Paid .25 each

(3) Sharpie Singles Pens – Retail 1.79/ Paid.25 each

(5) 100 sheet filler paper –Retail 1.00/ Paid 0 (free)

Total Retail $22.37/Paid $3.25   85% Savings

Total Retail $161.61     Total Paid $27.18      84% Savings

These totals were before sales tax. I could have done even better if I were couponing, but summer was way too busy! Because I was a smart shopper and couponer for the 6 months leading up to summer, we were able to live off our stockpile with a few runs to the store here and there. Sadly, my coupon binder is fairly empty, so Zoe and I are working on filling it again this week. My pile of inserts is about a foot tall.

If you have these stores near you and a little extra change this week, there are A LOT of families that are struggling to buy the supplies their kids need for school this year. Buy some stuff and GIVE IT AWAY! Be a good neighbor. I know you want to. 🙂

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  1. I am the mom. In our house it is my job to select the food my family eats, buy it, cook it, and make them eat it. Yes, I said make them; two of our family members are not veggie fans. Couponing helps me feed my family for significantly less money, and I’m not talking junk food either. BUT it’s not just for moms, it’s for everyone!
  2. Couponing allows me to maintain a small stockpile of food and supplies. I know what it’s like to be food insecure, so I’ve learned the lesson of planning ahead and storing up for the lean times that may come around again for my family or our friends. It happens.
  3. When I save more, I have more to give, and I LOVE to give. I find great deals and might buy 10 of an item instead of 1. Even if I keep 5 for my family to use and stockpile, I have 5 to give away to others who are in need. The same is true for the stuff I get for FREE. I never find myself with too much stuff and no one to share it with. That is just not my life.
  4. I love FREE STUFF! Who doesn’t? I get $50-$100 worth of stuff completely free each month by combining coupons with sales. What I don’t or won’t use gets gifted to friends or our church food bank which is always in need of supplies. I am not wasteful.
  5. Couponing is fun. It’s like a game I play with my friends. We should call it “How low can you go?” Like most games, it’s more fun with a group. It’s FUN to find great deals and watch my total drop as the checker scans my coupons. It’s FUN to share those deals or coupons with friends so they can take advantage of them too. It’s FUN being part of a couponing group that celebrates each other’s money-saving victories, and helps each other laugh off the flubs we all make from time to time. I’m not a crafty person of any sort, so getting together with these ladies is my modern version of a quilting bee. Did I mention that it’s fun?

Let’s recap, shall we? Couponing saves money on my grocery bill, helps me maintain a stockpile, give more to others, get free stuff, and it is fun. So what are you waiting for? An invitation?

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This trip was an exercise in tough decisions. Most of my deals this week did not meet my challenge criteria, BUT (see how I feel the need to defend my decisions?) we were out of toilet paper, I haven’t bought new makeup in almost a year, I needed pads – and wanted the gift cards, and I couldn’t pass up a sale on my favorite shampoos/conditioners even if they weren’t almost free. I’m still creating my stockpile and even though I did not meet my goal with this trip, I still feel pretty good about my purchases, and I didn’t pay full price for anything. Can I do better? YES! And I did on shopping trip #4.

I’m still learning and I know that as I slowly stockpile there will be less of a need to buy stuff when it’s not at its rock bottom price. I’ll get there, and so can you. Don’t give up on either of us, okay?

Once again, this was my non-food stuff because all of the food was put away already. Hey, my table is only so big. 😉 I did get some great deals on food by shopping Thanksgiving sales with coupons! This is a lot of work to list everything and I’m REALLY glad that I do not run one of the couponing sites I follow and have to do this every day! Here we go:

Cottonelle Toilet Paper Retail 5.00, on sale for 3.99, MQ -.75/1.

Final Price=3.24 (x4) Total Savings=35%

Charmin Toilet Paper Retail 4.29, on sale for 2.99, MQ -.25/1.

Final Price=2.74 (x3) Total Savings=37%

Always Maxi Pads Retail 5.99, MQ-.50/1, Target deal-Buy 3 get $5 gift card.

Final Price=3.82 each (x6) Total Savings=36%

Oral B Toothbrushes Retail 2.99, on sale 1.50, RR 1.50, MQ -.75/1.

Final Price=FREE after register rewards +.75 money maker (x4)

Scunci Hair Elastics Retail 2.99, on sale 2/$3, RR $3.

Final Price=Free after register rewards (x4)

Herbal Essence Shampoo/Conditioner Retail 3.49, on sale for 2.99, MQ -1.00/1.

Final Price=1.99 (x4) Total Savings 43%

Garnier Fructis Shampoo/Conditioner Retail 3.49, on sale 2.49, MQ 1.00/1,

Final Price=1.49 (x2) Total Savings 58%

Garnier Fructis Hairpsray Retail 3.59, on sale 2.99, MQ -2.50/1.

Final Price=.49 each (x2) Total Savings 86%

Dawn Dishwashing Liquid Retail 1.49, MQ -.50/1 doubled.

Final Price=.49 each (x2) Total Savings 67%

Schick Razors Same deal as the last post.

Final Price=FREE. Total Savings 100% (x2)

Command Adhesive Hooks Retail 2.99, Target Coupon -1.00/1, MQ -.50/1,

Final Price=1.49 (x1) Total Savings 50%

Energizer Batteries Retail 4.49, Target Coupon -1.00/1, MQ -.1.00,

Final Price=2.49 (x1) Total Savings 45%

Cover Girl Eye Shadow-4 color Retail 5.79, on sale 3.47, MQ-2.50/1,

Final Price=.97 (x4) Total Savings 83%

Cover Girl Eye Shadow-single color Retail 3.79, on sale 2.27, MQ -1.00/1,

Final Price=1.27 (x4) Total Savings 66%

Cover Girl Perfect Blend Pencils Retail 5.99, on sale 3.59, MQ -2.50/1,

Final Price=1.09 (x2) Total Savings 92%

Cover Girl Wet Slick Lip Gloss Retail 6.99, on sale 3.50,

Final Price=3.50 (x2) Total Savings 50%

Loreal Double Extend Mascara Retail 12.99, on sale 6.49, MQ -1.00/1,

Final Price 5.99 (x2) Total Savings 54%

Total Retail=$234.13

Total Spent=$88.10

Money Saved=$146.03

Average Savings = 62%

Not terrible. Not great. I’ll do better next time. 🙂

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