Merry Christmas

Tonight we attempted a funny family photo. There was some yelling, swearing, and a bunch of blurry photos. So instead, here is this adorbs photo of Norah from Thanksgiving in Iowa and our Christmas letter.

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Friends and Family,

As this year draws to a close, it seems appropriate to appreciatively reflect upon our experiences. This has been a good year for us. It has been a year of growth in all areas of our lives, and we are fortunate to say that the challenges and struggles of the past year have been relatively mild.

We moved into a new apartment at the beginning of the year and have enjoyed the new space quite a bit. Our place is centrally located with fairly short commute times for work, and in one of the better school districts that Omaha has to offer. The school aspect has been important to us since Norah began kindergarten in August. That she is now a school-aged little girl is all at once surreal, terrifying, exciting, and awe-inspiring. There are days when we’d prefer that she stay young and dependent on us in the ways that she used to be. Then there are also the times when she sits down and does something like reading an entire book (including the big words) without any help, and all we can do is grin like proud idiots at the seemingly endless ways she manifests her unique potential.

While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment for certain, it’s likely that it was in one of those moments of parental pride, intoxicated by the reward of having an utterly awesome kindergartner, that we decided this year to try to have another kid. I’ll spare you the totally-sexy-and-high-five-worthy details of that process, but suffice to say that it worked and we are expecting our second child in June 2015. We’ll find out what we’re having in mid-January. As we did with Norah, we do not plan to share that information with the rest of the world until the kid is actually born. That’s just how we roll.

Aside from creating the miracle of life, one of the highlights of the past year was a trip that Sarah and I took in June to New Hampshire. It was our first time being back east since we moved to Omaha, and we took advantage of our Midwestern family to leave Norah in Iowa while we made the trip. Seeing so many friends who welcomed us back so warmly made for an amazing week. Lunches were purchased. A wedding occurred. Late night conversations were routine. Tattoos were marked in our skin. And I peed in the ocean while standing on a rocky outcropping being barraged by waves. For as much as I can say about the Midwest being our home and essential foundation, New Hampshire will always be a place of comfort and belonging for our family.

I continue to enjoy my work at Creighton University where I am responsible for holding students accountable for their behavioral misconduct. Sarah recently switched jobs at the University of Nebraska Omaha. She went from working as the office administrator in University Communications to now working as the assignments coordinator in University Housing. Having worked in residence life in New Hampshire, she was excited to get back into that type of work at UNO. She has only been in the new position for a few weeks at this point, but all signs point to the change being a good one for her and our family.

We look forward to the coming year and everything it has to offer. Whatever lies in store for our family – whether good or bad, comfortable or difficult – we trust that 2015 will be every bit the blessing that 2014 has been. We are privileged by our Creator and by our circumstances to have very little need, but we ask that you pray for us anyway as we will continue to pray and wish well for you, our brothers and sisters in this life.

Merry Christmas.

Stay Gold,

Marshall, Sarah, Norah, and the Fetus

Trip to the Orchard

During our budget challenge month, I bought a Living Social deal to Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard in Council Bluffs, IA.  This was our first trip to the orchard, and I was pleasantly surprised.  We could not have asked for better weather.

Sorry New England, this place has THE best apple cider donuts I have ever tasted. We each had two, and then bought some more on our way out for breakfast tomorrow.
I don’t drool over donuts, much, but these? YUM.

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We brought our nice camera, and I decided to practice some of the material I learned in my first photography class. NRK loved the corn box.

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imageTractor ride out to the pumpkin patch. We came away with two nice pumpkins.

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A woman with our pumpkin patch group insisted on taking a family picture of us.

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Ended our morning with a walk through the corn maze.

Ditmars was a wonderful place to visit. Thankful I bought that deal, the warm sunshine, spending time together as a family, and definitely those apple cider donuts.  Note to self: plan a trip to this place next year during apple season.

Budget Challenge | Over!

I would describe the last week of our challenge was meh. Did we end the way I would have liked us to? Not really. We spent money on some things that do not fit into the challenge. I purchased a Groupon to a local art museum, and by doing so, was able to purchase a discounted photography class for the month of October. Did I need buy those things? Nope. Am I really looking forward to taking a photography class? Heck yes! Marshall purchased half a recliner. The other portion was an early Christmas gift from his mom. Did we need that recliner? That depends on who you ask. I say no, MK would probably say absolutely. And I have to admit, it came in handy this weekend when NRK fell asleep in it while she was sick.

But there is good news! While we spent more money this month than the goal amount we had set for ourselves, I’m happy to say, I AM SCHOOL LOAN DEBT FREE! Feels so good to be able to say that. Marshall has one school loan left. We are in no rush to pay off this loan as it will be forgiven in a few years (as long as we maintain our payments). Happy dance.

Now, on to building our savings back up for a car. The joys of adulthood. But really, I do count the ability to pay off our student loans so quickly a very big blessing!

Budget Challenge | Week 3

Week three was much better than week two. We spent the most money on groceries, and we made a big improvement on limiting our eating out.

Here is how week three breaks down:

  • $8.80 on a pumpkin candle (Cartwheel), hand soap (clearance), and a lunch bag for NRK (clearance).
  • $10.20 on a Living Social deal – two adults, two kid activity wristbands, half-dozen donuts, and two apple cider slushies at a nearby orchard/vineyard (had a discount code).
  • $14.88 on eating out. 75% on Dunkin Donuts and one lunch for MK. A big thanks to my parents who took us out for lunch on Saturday.
  • $17.24 on a cat leash and a bag of treats (sale and Cartwheel). I have zero regrets about the $14.99 cat harness/leash. Ha!
  • $33.85 on gas.
  • $140.76* on groceries ($15.58 of this was spent on items for sundaes; the items purchased at Target were on sale and on Cartwheel**).
  • TOTAL: $225.33; GRAND TOTAL: $788.93, about 99% of our budget.

So, clearly we will be over our budget challenge goal of $800.  But I’m still feeling pretty decent about our first crack at this.  Writing this blog and having the budget tracker app on my phone has really helped to keep me accountable.

*I wanted to note we do utilize the fuel savor program at Hy-Vee. While it’s not always smart to buy everything on fuel saver, I do believe it has helped us to save money on gas by buying items we would normally buy anyways. If you shop at Hy-Vee, and you haven’t signed up for fuel saver, I highly encourage you to do so. This month, we have purchased all of our gas from Costco.

**I also wanted to note how much I love Cartwheel.  While I do get suckered into buying items I don’t always need, it does save us money on groceries/clothes that we would normally buy. This week I was able to buy a carton of organic eggs for almost under $2 (on sale, plus coupon, plus Cartwheel).  Worth checking out, too!

On to our last week for this budget challenge! Can’t wait to say goodbye to you, student loan!

Budget Challenge | Week 2 – Finally done!

Ouch.  Week two was more difficult than week one.  Rule number three of the budget challenge states that medical expenses will not be included.  Good thing(!) as we’ve had some unexpected fees.  Regardless, I think we are doing okay.  We ate out a lot more this week.  Hoping we got that itch out of our system, and we can make it through this week without any eating out excursions.  The weather also drastically changed, and we realized NRK had one pair of pants.  Whoops.  So we spent a good chuck of money stocking up on some warmer clothing for her and a pair of boots for me.

Here’s how the second week breaks down:

  • $3.92 on a pair of clearance earrings and a nail polish for NRK.
  • $9.99 on a box of kitty litter (even cheaper than I found last week).
  • $28.65 on gas.
  • $32.95 on a pair of boots and a scarf for me (clearance).
  • $33.77 on the barbershop for MK and some hair product for me. I miss the days of cutting MK’s hair for free.
  • $39.65 on trash bags (bulk), body soap (bulk), and a sheet for our bed (sale + coupon).
  • $52.07 on groceries.
  • $60.47 on clothes for NRK.
  • $65.22 on eating out. Gulp – our biggest expense for week two. What a waste.
  • TOTAL: $326.62; GRAND TOTAL: $563.60, about 70% of our budget

Hoping this is a no spend week so we can come close to our goal at the close of this month.  Here we go week three!

Budget Challenge | Week 1 – done!

Our cousins just finished a “No Spend Month” challenge. This is the third time they have attempted the challenge. You can read more about the challenge on their blog here. Each time they do it, I think to myself, we should do that. But each time I focus my attention elsewhere. Not this month!

My reasons for wanting to do this budget challenge:

  •  We’ve been cooking less and eating out more. This is not the example I want to set for NRK. Eating out is generally more expensive and less healthy than if we were to eat at home. I’m hoping this helps to hold us accountable with our meal choices.
  • We are extremely close to paying off the last portion of my student loans. We have a goal to pay off the remaining balance by Halloween 2014. Hoping this challenge helps us reach that goal.
  • Our car is 11 years old. Yikes! Ron is still a decent [enough] car, but we know in the next year we will need to replace him. Hoping this challenge motivates us to start saving for a down payment. Not stoked about having a car payment again soon, but we are in our seventh year of only having one car, even after moving to Omaha and living off campus. Very thankful for that!
  • I do believe I am called to be a stewardess of our finances. I’m thankful our needs are met, but I want to make sure we aren’t wasting away the rest of our income each month.

So, there you have it. This is our first time keeping such a detailed report of our spending. Normally, I use the budget tools within our online banking. For this challenge, I downloaded a spending app to my phone and am saving receipts from EVERY purchase. This is a reminder to myself to be patient. I know this first challenge may reveal a lot about our spending.

The Rules

  • Our budget for the month: $800
  • This budget will go towards buying food, clothes, gas, household items, and entertainment.
  • This budget will not go towards tithing, gifts for others, medical expenses, work expenses, taxes, and monthly bills. Although, I am keeping track of those things, too. I just won’t be sharing that here.

So how did we do the first week?  Let’s see:

  • $11.37 on pets.  This was a box of kitty litter on clearance at Target.
  • $19.88 on health & beauty. This included some whitening trays for me – proof of too much coffee/soda.
  • $20.31 on eating out.
  • $28.60 on gas.
  • $64.73 on NRK.  This included new school sneakers and gear (cleats, shinguards, socks, and youth soccer ball)  for her first soccer league!
  • $92.08 on groceries. (Feeling pretty okay with this as we are anticipating about $100 a week.)
  • TOTAL: $236.97, about 33% of our budget

Let’s see if we can beat that this week!  On to week two!

Way to go NRK!

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Progress

Norah’s literacy is improving all the time thanks to sight words from school and our (not always consistent) emphasis on reading at home.

Check it out:

Christmas Concert

Norah’s class sang two songs in her school’s Christmas concert today. She’s five students in from the left in the front row (in a black dress, leggings, and pig tails).

A Thanksgiving to Remember

This is the first Thanksgiving in a long time that MK and I have spent with [blood] family.  When we lived in New Hampshire, the Thanksgiving break was too short to fly home.  And since we would plan to spend the winter breaks in Iowa, we just couldn’t afford two plane trips in such a small time period.  So, all the hall directors and partners would gather to have a Friendsgiving.  It was wonderful, and I will always cherish those times together.

This year, we took full advantage of being only 3 driving hours away from family we haven’t seen in a very long time.  In our 6 years of marriage, there were even some family members I hadn’t met yet!  Our time in South Dakota and Minnesota was fantastic.  A sincere thank you to Marshall’s grandma who hosted us – giving up her bed, making me coffee in the mornings, making sure we were fed, and just putting up with us in general.  And a big thank you to all the other family members who did nothing but show us hospitality and love.  While we miss New Hampshire, we know how blessed we are to be within driving distance to almost all of our family.  Love you, all!

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Cousin love.

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Nor rode on an ATV around the farm. I love this smile and her eagerness to enjoy the good things in life.

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TRACTOR RIDE!

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Nor loves her Cousin E… and also this iPad game.

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MAJOR cousin love.

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Nor loved(!) the chickens at Great Aunt R’s house.  Adorbs.

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The Sioux Falls!

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Selfie with Auntie.

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Love you, Great Grandma Kole!

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Great Grandma Kole sent us home with some very special gifts that she quilted for us.

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Obviously, the gifts required me to purchase our first floor tree (half off)! Thanks to Grandpa Wiley for the pinecone ornament.

Still feeling very thankful for the last couple of days.  Love you, family!

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