Finding Grace

I am a perfectionist. I always have been, and I probably always will be. I expect perfection from myself, and from those who surround me. The problem with having such high expectations is that it is impossible for anyone to ever meet them. And this is where anger comes in. Many people in my life don’t know this, but I have a horrible temper. I find myself wanting to shout at those dearest to me more often than I would like to admit.

I would love to try to justify my anger by claiming that it is righteous; that I only feel it when I witness a true injustice. But I would be lying. The majority of the time, I feel angry when people don’t do things the way that I would do them. The fact of the matter is, the majority of my anger is wrong.

My deepest desire is to love everyone unconditionally. And I mean everyone—from my own son to the person bagging my groceries. It’s easy to feel unconditional love for my family; there is nothing that my son or husband would do that would make me stop loving them, but to feel that toward strangers is more difficult, and probably impossible.

The only way for me to begin working toward loving unconditionally is for me to become a woman of grace. Every person I come across is a child of God. Who am I to think that I should ever have feelings of anger toward a person who my Creator put on this earth? Whether or not a person “deserves” my love is not up to me to decide. God didn’t create me so that I could wonder whether my fellow human beings are worthy of love.

So, this is my promise, to you guys and to myself, that I am going to be better. Instead of thinking of myself as a woman with an anger problem, I am going to remind myself that I am a woman of grace. I have been put on this earth to bring light to the lives of others, and I don’t want to let my Creator down.

 

Tragedy and Small Towns

A former classmate of mine passed away last night. The familiar feeling of a life taken too soon rests once more on the shoulders of my little hometown, and sometimes, the weight feels like it’s too much to bear.

As with every small town, everybody knows everybody in Hamilton, Illinois. They say that if you aren’t sure what you’re up to, your neighbor probably knows, and it’s true, gossip spreads quickly when it only has a couple miles to go before reaching the city limits. But what often goes unsaid about small towns is that there is a strong bond formed when you grow up together in a place so small it’s almost a secret.

Nobody but people from Hamilton knows how fun it was to play kickball on the City Park tennis courts when the weather started to get warm. Or how satisfying it was when your mom finally let you get a Little Hugs Fruit Barrel from Duck’s. We’re the only ones who know that our cemetery has the best walking paths in the whole town, and we’re sure to wave at every person that we walk past while there, because even if we can’t remember their name, we know they share in this little secret of a town right along with us.

And perhaps this is why tragedy hurts us so much. Because with every precious life lost, a sharer in the secret is lost with it. There are already so few people who know what we know that every single person lost feels like a critical blow to the continuation of the entire town. Because though the rest of the world keeps turning, little Hamilton will never be the same if it’s missing even just one citizen. That hole can never be filled by another.

But that hole can become another part of our secret. And thanks to the strength of the bonds between us, no member of our town will be forgotten. Nobody will have a memorial service that goes unattended, or a tombstone that isn’t cared for. No families will wonder if their son or daughter was ever loved by others. They will know by the casseroles and the flowers and the tears of those that bring them that this is a burden we’re going to bear together, and that is the true beauty of growing up in a small town.

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I love you, HHS Class of 2013.

A Letter to my Son on His 2nd Birthday

My son turned two a few days ago, and I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about the world that he’s growing up in and the type of man I hope he becomes. Tonight I thought I’d sit and write down my thoughts, and I figured you all might enjoy reading them.

My dear sweet Cale,

2017 is the year that your dad and I looked forward to from the time we graduated high school in 2013. It’s a year of such excitement for our little family. But 2017 has brought with it a lot of fear. I’m so sad to say that our country is more divided now than I can ever remember it being, and I worry that the man who will be our president in just a few short days is only going to increase that feeling of division. I worry that as you grow, you will see great injustices being done in the name of greatness. I worry that your dad will be put in danger by the dangerous politics of our leaders. But most of all I worry that the climate you grow up in will not lead you to see the importance of kindness above all.

I know that your dad and I are going to try our absolute best to help you grow into a compassionate man. We want you to see the beauty in the world, and we want you to know that you can be a part of that beauty. We never want you to lose hope. I’m afraid that the loss of hope is what has lead our great country to the place that it now finds itself. You need to understand that even though you might not always feel in control of your life, you do always have control over your actions. You always have the ability to be brave, to be kind, and to be the best person that you can be.

You will always be capable of loving others. Even when it’s hard, and even when they don’t deserve it. We have been put on this earth to spread unconditional love, and I desperately hope that you will never forget that. I fail at loving others unconditionally more often than I’d like to admit, but I never stop trying, and I hope you won’t either. I hope that the love you feel from your dad and myself and all of our family members will be a constant reminder of your purpose.

I could not be more proud to call myself your mother. Happy birthday, my little love.

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Photo taken by Canyon McCarty

New Year, New You, New Budget

Budgeting sounds horrible; you have to sit down with your bank account and your bills and take a serious look at both of them. I get it, there is nothing fun about numbers, especially when those numbers have to do with how much money you have and what you’re allowed to spend it on. But budgeting isn’t about limitation—it’s about freedom. When you budget, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can afford something, because you’ll already know.

If you’ve never tried to budget before, this is the perfect time to start. You’ll need to know just three things: your monthly take-home pay, your monthly bills, and your monthly expenses. If you don’t know any of these three numbers, you should find out as quickly as possible! Being ignorant of your money is the quickest way to lose it.

Now that you have the information you need, sit down at your kitchen table with a notebook and pen. If you have a spouse or partner, they should be included in the budgeting process as well. The only way to keep a household running smoothly is for everyone in the house to understand the money situation. Now that you’re all set, follow these simple steps:

  1. At the top of your piece of paper, write your monthly take-home pay.
  2. Next, write your monthly bills and subtract that number from your take-home pay.
  3. Follow that with your monthly expenses. Groceries and gas are two important items to take note of here.
  4. Once you have your bills and expenses out of the way, you have more options with what to do with the rest of your income. Set aside savings, money for eating out, “fun money” or whatever you like. I would recommend saving before anything else, but this step is ultimately up to you.
  5. Continue subtracting from your top number until you reach zero. Every single dollar should be accounted for, even down to vending machine money. This is the most crucial aspect of budgeting because this is what will keep you from wasting money on frivolous expenses.

Budgeting takes time, but it is time well spent. Knowing where every dollar goes will take away the anxiety of making sure that your money will make it to the end of the month, and you might even find that you have more money than you realize. If you’re interested in learning more about budgeting and personal finance, check out the book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. You have the power to take control of your finances, and adding budgeting to your monthly routine is the perfect first step.

Thanksgiving Dessert Recipe Round-up

It’s been a tough week, guys. Let’s console ourselves with dessert. Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I’ve compiled my most favorite dessert recipes.

1.) Salted Caramel Cheesecake

I made this cheesecake for Cody’s birthday, and it turned out great. Cody insists that it’s the best thing I’ve ever made, but he’s a cheesecake fanatic. I thought it was pretty delicious, but the crust did get a tad too dry. Although this doesn’t require a lot of skill to pull off, it does take time.

  • Flavor Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 5 (with 5 being most difficult)

2.) Gloria’s Perfect Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls have definitely received the most glowing reviews of anything I’ve baked, and I agree, they are delicious. They take a very long time to make and require the use of a stand mixer, but they are definitely worth it. My favorite part about them is that you can freeze them individually in little baggies and then pop them in the microwave for a “just came out of the oven” flavor.

  • Flavor Rating: 5 out of 5
  • Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 5

3.) Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes are my go-to dessert. They are definitely a crowd-pleaser! My most favorite part about them is that the base is a French vanilla cake mix, so they aren’t too difficult to create, but they have the look and flavor of gourmet cupcakes. My only warning is to be careful when mixing the icing. It’s very thick and I’ve broken two electric mixers while making this recipe.

  • Flavor Rating: 5 out of 5
  • Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 5

4.) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

Holy cow. These cupcakes are almost too much. They’re made with a thick peanut butter icing that is so good you could eat it plain. If you love chocolate and peanut butter together, you will absolutely love these cupcakes. To make it even easier on yourself, you can skip the cupcake part and just turn these into regular brownies.

  • Flavor Rating: 5 out of 5
  • Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 5

5.) No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie

I’m including this link but I’m not exactly recommending this specific recipe. My version of this recipe is very similar, but I think it turns out better. I don’t add milk or whipped cream to it. Instead, I just mix together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, and peanut butter and put it all in the crust (and I make sure to taste it and add more peanut butter or powdered sugar as needed). I also recommend simmering a cup of heavy whipping cream, then pouring that over a cup of chocolate chips to create a chocolate topping. Cover the entire pie in the chocolate and you end up with chocolate peanut butter heaven.

  • Flavor Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 5

 

What are your most favorite desserts? Link some recipes in the comments!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As many people know, the nerd world lost its collective mind when it was announced that there would be an eighth installment of the Harry Potter series. I, too, was overjoyed at the thought that I would get to revisit the world of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was not a return to the sparkling world of witchcraft and wizardry. Instead, it was more like going to your high school reunion only to discover that your old crush had peaked about halfway through sophomore year.

I’ll admit, I read Cursed Child in one day; it wasn’t that I found the story boring or bad. In fact, it has a great premise: Harry Potter’s second son goes off to Hogwarts and is sorted into Slytherin. To top it off, he becomes best friends with Draco Malfoy’s son. It’s a great idea, as it offers a complete perspective shift of Hogwarts. Sadly, the story-line is primarily driven along by the poor relationship between Harry and his son, which is a story that has been told many times over. The joy that readers felt when reading the initial seven books was primarily related to the sense of wonderment surrounding the wizarding world. I remember being nine years old and feeling completely enveloped by the magic of it all; Harry’s early adventures were deeply entertaining. Sadly, Cursed Child does nothing to recapture that wonderment and joy.

Ultimately, the problem with Cursed Child is that it reads like fan fiction. J.K. Rowling did a wonderful job of world-building in the first seven books. The plot grew in ways that felt preordained and never contrived. This was not so with Cursed Child. It was clear that this was a story that was created much later than the original story, and there was nothing in the original seven books that pointed toward the happenings of Cursed Child. As someone who has loved the world of Harry Potter for over half my life, I was sorely disappointed by everything that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child lacked. It could have been much, much better.

Image result for harry potter and the cursed child

 

 

October in Review

This month has gone by so quickly! It seems that every month that passes goes by faster than the last. Of course, the best part of October is Halloween, and we had a great time trying to figure out what we would be this year. Last year Cale was a spider, Cody his web, and I was a witch. (Sorry in advance for the grainy quality of these pictures, I need to start taking pictures of our costumes BEFORE it gets dark!)

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This year at the last minute we decided to be a lion and tiger and bear (oh my!) and I’m so glad that’s what we went with! Walmart had this crazy adorable lion costume in Cale’s size, and I could not stop laughing at how cute he looked. He wasn’t a fan of the mane at first, but once he realized that it was making everyone laugh he decided that he liked it.

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We got to wear our costumes to Mt. Pleasant’s Ghost Train. The weather was shockingly nice and Cale had a great time strolling around and looking at everyone. We were a bit worried that the Ghost Train might freak him out, but to everyone’s amusement he ended up waving at the people in costume as we passed them. The only thing he wasn’t a fan of were the other children’s screams.

Aside from Halloween activities, I’ve been busy with the English Society. Our number one goal this year is growth, and we have had several events that have been really successful. It’s so exciting to be involved with a group of people who are passionate about similar things. Our latest event was one where we were able to speak to a professor about his career, and it was truly inspiring. He had some amazing insights on what it is to be a teacher; after speaking to him, my desire to teach definitely grew.

It’s been a great month, and I’m excited to see what the remainder of the semester has to bring!

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Goals for November:

1) Write every day.

2) Blog once a week.

3) Take Cale to the park a few more times before it gets too cold.

4) Apply to three jobs.

5) Read ahead for at least one class.

Life Updates & Some Favorites

I have been horrible at keeping this blog up to date, so I figured I’d break the silence by writing a few lines on what we’ve been up to lately.

Cody and I are killing it this semester! We are halfway through, which is crazy since I’ll be graduating in December. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve been to three different universities, had a kid, and still managed to graduate a semester early. I really couldn’t have done it without my crazy supportive family. They’ve always been there for me, and it has definitely helped me stay focused on my goals.

Cale is killing it too. He still doesn’t talk much for a baby his age, but he understands everything. It’s a little creepy sometimes just how high his level of comprehension is. It definitely makes Cody and I feel like we should watch what we talk about in front of him!

We’ve been savoring every bit of this amazing weather! Cale loved going to the Sweet Corn Festival with his grandparents.

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A few current favorites:

Favorite Blog: freckled-fox.com

Favorite Song: “Like Real People Do” by Hozier

Favorite Lipstick: NYX Liquid Suede in Soft Spoken

Favorite Book: Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds

Let me know some of your current favorites in the comments!

 

NYC Honeymoon On A Budget (or the story of how my husband and I accidentally stayed in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York)

As many of you know, Cody and I got married this month! I am so excited to write a series of posts about the wedding and its many details, but I want to kick things off with the story of our wonderful honeymoon. We decided to go to the Big Apple for our honeymoon because neither of us had ever been there before, and because we knew that we would be able to explore the city without breaking the bank. It was important to us to save money without feeling like we were missing out on anything, and I think that we more than succeeded.

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I cannot stress enough the beauty that is AirBNB. Without AirBNB, our trip would not have been possible. We rented out a small one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with a full kitchen and great bathroom for only $50 a night! From the minimal research that I’ve done, the average cost of a hotel in the city is around $200 a night. AirBNB alone saved us about $1,000. If you are traveling anywhere, check AirBNB to see what is available. The only downside to our AirBNB rental was that we didn’t do a lot of research about the neighborhood it was in before we booked it. When we arrived and saw it in person, it seemed a little rough around the edges but for the most part okay. It wasn’t until Cody did a little more research that we discovered that the part of Brooklyn we were staying in is known for having a fairly high murder rate. After that we decided to avoid walking around at night, and we were just fine. I would go so far as to say that I would stay at that exact location again.

Our second money saver on our trip was buying two New York Passes. The New York Pass is a little card that for a one-time fee gets you entry into over 80 attractions around the city. We bought two five day passes for $240 each, and we ended up saving about $100 (basically we got to go to two attractions for free). The best part about the passes is how easy they are to use. You just show up at the attraction, show them your pass, and they give you a ticket. If you’re going to go to New York City and have a desire to do the traditional tourist attractions, you need to buy the New York Pass.

I think that our honeymoon was my favorite part of getting married. It was finally the time for us to just breathe and enjoy each other, and even though NYC isn’t exactly a relaxing city, the excitement of it was the perfect way to top off the excitement of getting married. We saw dozens of historic places and learned a lot about the city itself. Although we were glad to get back to Iowa (and Cale!) we are looking forward to taking another trip to New York someday.

The Things I Disliked About UCCS

Hello, all! It’s been way too long since my last post, but I am officially done with finals and getting Cody ready to go to Montana for his field class, so I will be back to the blogging-grind. This is the fourth post in my Colleges: Pros and Cons series, if you missed the first entries, check out 5 Things I Loved About Going to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs5 Things I Love About Being a Hawkeye, and The Things I Disliked About Saint Louis University. Coming soon, I’ll talk about what I dislike about Iowa, and Cody will eventually write up a few guest posts about the Air Force Academy.

dislike UCCS

When I moved to UCCS, I lived in the apartments on campus. I had three fantastic roommates and a gorgeous walk to class every day. And the best part: I got to see Cody every single weekend and some weekdays! I was very happy with UCCS, and it’s been tough for me to think of very many things that I didn’t enjoy about it, but if I had to critique the school, I think that I would critique two things: (1) the fact that it is overshadowed by UC Boulder, and (2) the difficulty level of most of my classes.

1.) I don’t know very much about UC Boulder other than the fact that during my time at UCCS, I met several people who transferred to Boulder. The general consensus was that Boulder was the larger school of the two, and that it was overall a better school. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I do know that UCCS didn’t do a lot to try to combat this opinion. I think that it is a difficult issue because the two are technically sister schools, but there could have been ways for UCCS to make sure that its students knew that it was the better school. This is of course completely speculation, so I’ll get to my next point.

2.) The classes I took at UCCS were easy as pie. For some people, this would be in the pros section, and I will say that I enjoyed the GPA bump that I received from UCCS, but I do wish that the classes would have been just a tiny bit more difficult. I am a big believer in the power of a name, and when it comes to what college is on your resume, I do think that it will tip things in your favor if your school was known for being rigorous and turning out great scholars. UCCS just wasn’t a rigorous school. Compared to both SLU and Iowa, UCCS was much easier.

Again, I really enjoyed my time at UCCS. The only reason that I transferred away was because Cody and I wanted to be closer to family once Cale was born. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have gladly received my diploma from UCCS, so I would recommend it to anyone who wants to move to Colorado Springs or who already lives there and wants to go to school close to home.