Tuesday, February 26, 2013

snow-day skincare

I know it isn't very feminist of me (of course, I've never claimed to be very feminist), but I like to look nice for my husband.  It's very rare that I don't do any makeup at all, even on a day that I'm not leaving the house.  For the purpose of practicality, I'm not above wearing a ponytail and kicks, but I like my face to show some effort.

Last week, a good chunk of the Midwest was hit with a pretty decent storm.  (Some might say I'm underestimating that... but I know that 10 inches of accumulation is just a few light flurries in some parts of the country.)  Pretty much everything was closed/canceled on Thursday, and I was excited to not go ANYWHERE.  Baby and I tend to find ourselves out of the house three to four mornings a week, and that means I spend his naptime doing chores, catching up on household things, and taking a bit of downtime that rarely recharges me enough for the rest of the day.

So on Thursday... I was excited!  I was a bit behind on my monthly schedule because I'd had family in town for my dear grandmother's funeral.  It was driving me crazy, and I was desperately hoping that Baby would be amenable to a good housecleaning party.

We had an absolute BLAST!!  Over the course of the day, we dusted and vacuumed the entire house, washed the windows (more fun because opening all the blinds and curtains allowed us a better view of our winter wonderland), caught up on the dishes, cleaned the microwave, shined the front of the oven, polished the stainless steel fridge, cycled through several loads of laundry, and swept and mopped the kitchen/powder room/laundry room/entryway/front hall.  During naptime, I got a chance to practice piano for a bit and then folded all seven loads of laundry.

He wanted to help ("this clean!") -- who am I to say no to that??
 I was exhausted.

After I got Baby down for his nap, I went to brush my hair and cringed.  I looked awful.  I had skipped my shower because I knew I would be working up a sweat with all the house cleaning, and my face was not only bare but red and splotchy from the exertion.  So I gave it a quick wash and decided that today was as good a day as any to do a side-by-side comparison of my "regular" skin care routine vs. what I've been using for the past month as a SheSpeaks blogger.

I really hesitate to put these photos up... I look awful, even in the "after" photos.  It was not a "pretty" day for me all-around -- but I certainly felt better after I put on some color!

before -- on a bad everything day!!

Olay Regenerist moisturizer
+SMM Cosmetics powder foundation
scrubbed clean again, then
L'Oreal Paris Magic BB Cream
Look! I can wear makeup!!
This is my "finished" look, with the L'Oreal BB cream as my base

I really do love my "usual": the Olay Regenerist is a wonderfully rich moisturizer that doesn't feel heavy or greasy.  I would buy it all the time if I could afford it.  (It was part of my Best Coupon Trip Ever, wherein CVS and Proctor & Gamble paid me $4.38 to take home over $200 worth of merchandise.)  And I found SMM Cosmetics via Moolala and am now a huge fan of mineral makeup.

But I have to say this: the L'Oreal Paris Magic BB Cream is much more of a one-step product.  It's a lovely lightweight, tinted cream that I use as a combination moisturizer and foundation.  It comes in a pretty small tube (1 oz.), but a little bit goes a long way.  I think it makes my skin tone look really even and blended and is a great base.

Unfortunately, I requested the Light color, which turned out to be just a tad too deep for my winter skin.  I'm pretty sure that, if I'd had the Fair formulation, I would have been really happy with it.  With the Light, I have to be really careful to not over-apply, or it looks painted on.  Yuck.  As a result, I'm not able to use as much as I would like for the moisturizing effects.

In the end, I think I will buy this in the proper color to give it a chance.  It's pretty reasonably priced for what it does.  If I were having a dry-skin day, I definitely would use a more moisturizing cream.  But for everyday use, I love the convenience of the BB cream.  The tube says it "primes, perfects, hydrates, corrects" -- and having all of that in one little squeeze is hard to pass up.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary from SheSpeaks/L'Oreal to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions shared on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

tears and snuggles

I had a fight with my 2-year-old tonight.  I know it's silly to argue with a toddler, but it was late and I was desperate to get him to eat so we could get to bed.  So we quibbled over vegetables and noodles and how many bites and..... I won.  I always win; I don't change my mind once I've set a rule.  But it ended in "eat or go to bed?" and when he chose bed, I don't think he realized it meant NOW.  Serious sadness and real tears ensued all the way upstairs, and by the time I was about to change his diaper, he was crying hard enough that he threw up all those precious vitamins and nutrients I'd just worked so hard to get into him.

Thankful that my husband's fever and aches had subsided enough for him to take over while I went to our room and hit things and cried for a minute, I looked into my heart and hated what this had come to.  It was late.  Baby has been fighting a cold.  I'm recovering from surgery and am still not feeling like myself.  The day has been far from ideal.  So why did I push a new dish?  Why couldn't I have given him other (also healthy but more favored) things instead?  Why did I have to set such an immovable rule on this day, at this time of night?

I returned to baby's room to help clean things up and then scooped my little one up and rocked him, and we both slowly stopped crying.

I asked if he wanted "5 more minutes to play" (his traditional post-dinner request), and of course the answer was yes.  But he didn't really play.  He got down and brought me his teddy bear, his Stitch doll, his pillow, and his foam toy.  And he snuggled against the pillow in my lap, smiling and giggling.

And that is forgiveness.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

soda & syrup

Last month, I was lucky enough to come into possession of two kind of amazing products: a SodaStream machine and Torani syrups.  The SodaStream was the result of a House Party that I got to host, and it's a pretty cool invention.  We're kind of still getting the hang of how much carbonation to add, but I'm impressed on the whole.

The Torani syrups arrived in the mail courtesy of the SheSpeaks blogger program. I had requested a sugar-free sampling, so the two syrups that I received were sweetened with Splenda.  I have to admit... I was not crazy about the flavors: Hazelnut and Pumpkin Pie.  I added the Hazelnut to my Saturday morning coffee, and it tasted almost alcoholic.  Too strong without much actual hazelnut flavor.  The Pumpkin Pie flavor -- well, I'm just discovering that I'm not a huge fan of Pumpkin Pie/Pumpkin Pie Spice flavoring.  Or maybe even pumpkin pie itself... I don't know.  I feel like that might be a pretty big character flaw if that's the case.

But I digress.

Having been a pretty big fan of Torani syrups in the past, I was pretty disappointed in these two new flavors.  I sent the Pumpkin Pie to work with husband and tucked the Hazelnut away -- I'm planning to use it in the event that I get around to making Brown Eyed Baker's Nutella-Hazelnut Cookies.  Or maybe I'll try it in hot cocoa or even in a "Hazelnut Melt" -- a recipe I found here when searching for information on Italian sodas one day.

Included in my package from SheSpeaks were five $1 coupons for Torani syrups, which I set aside and hoped I got around to using in all the holiday madness.  And the next day... World Market sent me a fantastic email: 3-hour flash sale on all Torani syrups!  I called the store (like I do) to ask if they take manufacturer coupons (yes) and if they can be combined with such a sale (yes).  That night, I walked out of World Market carrying six bottles of Torani syrups for $20.  Win!  I was determined to like Torani again.

Over the next two weeks, experiments ensued.  Remembering the amazing white chocolate raspberry mochas I used to get (courtesy of the monthly company-provided coffee bar), I brewed a fairly strong cup of non-flavored coffee and added a bit of milk, a drizzle of chocolate syrup, and Torani White Chocolate and Raspberry syrups (both sugar-free).  It wasn't quite as good as when I used to have a barista-frothed foamy mocha, but it was pretty comforting for a make-it-yourself coffee.

Red Velvet syrup went into hot cocoa, Peppermint with French vanilla creamer gave coffee a wonderfully smooth brightness, and caramel was drizzled into a cup of Chocolate Caramel Brownie coffee, along with a shot of chocolate syrup.

But the real magic happened when I discovered (the aforementioned) Italian sodas.  I've had them a few times over the years, but I'd never considered making them myself.  I made a nice dinner for husband one night, and drinks to accompany: ice in a glass, two ounces of Torani syrup, and sparkling water (thank you, SodaStream!) to fill the glass.  In one glass, I used two ounces of sugar-free Raspberry, and in the other one ounce each of Cherry and Vanilla.  Fantastic!!!  I loved the lightness of the flavor and the special feel that the drinks lent to our dinner.

Since then, I've made Italian sodas several times.  I'm enjoying experimenting with the flavors (Red Velvet Cake was not the best -- that's going to be much better in cocoa!).  My favorite was probably the Cherry Vanilla.

And today, I took the marriage of these two products to a new level at my son's second birthday party.  We had an indoor picnic theme, and I coupled the SodaStream's Country Time lemonade with Torani's Raspberry syrup.  Loved it!!  That pitcher certainly disappeared faster than the pitcher of plain lemonade.

I certainly wish the Torani syrups came in smaller bottles: it's my experience that they last FOREVER, and I'd rather have a large variety than have a lot of just a few flavors.  I especially want to try flavors like Toasted Marshmallow, Salted Caramel, Cookie Dough, and Blackberry.  (I do not particularly want to try Bacon, Chicken 'N Waffles, or Creme de Banana.)

All told, I'm glad I didn't give up after the two flavors that bummed me out.  I once again love Torani!  It's great stuff to have around.  My coffee is never boring, and Italian sodas are just a few moments away.  One of these days, I'm going to try cooking some down to make flavored pancake/waffle syrups.  Chocolate chip pancakes with white chocolate red velvet syrup, anyone?

Try Torani syrups for less!  There's a $1 off coupon for my readers here.

Disclosure: As part of the Torani Holiday Cheers program, I received two 750ml bottles of Torani syrups and five $1 off coupons from Torani/SheSpeaks.  As always, all opinions shared on this blog are my own.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

(mostly) slow cooker (greek) yogurt

Last week, I made the Best Yogurt Ever.  I can say so with certainty because of this note, left on my shopping list by my sweet husband after he had tasted it:

I'm guessing the note was so vehement because of several ... well, not failed attempts exactly, but certainly ones that could have gone better.  I'll spare you the details for now and get straight to the details of this amazing batch.

Here are the basics; I outline how it went for me below.
  1. The first time you make yogurt, fill the crock of your slow cooker with milk so you know how much to use for future batches.  Then pour that into a large pot (and wash the crock -- you don't want any traces of the unheated milk remaining in your crock).  It so happens that my crock and my smaller pot hold about the same amount of milk, so I don't ever measure now.
  2. Place the pot on the stove on medium heat.  Turn down after about 10 minutes to avoid scalding the milk on the bottom.  Heat to 180F.  Check often, and do not forget about your stovetop project!!  It would be sad to waste all that milk.  Stir occasionally for even heat distribution.  Note: you can use your slow cooker to heat your milk to 180F... but that takes a LONG time.
  3. After milk reaches 180F, remove from stove and transfer to crock of slow cooker.  Let cool to 105F-115F.  Transfer to crock of slow cooker.
  4. When cooled, remove about 1 cup of milk and stir in 2-3 T. of plain yogurt with live, active cultures -- the more the better!!
  5. Add the yogurt mixture to the crock of milk.  Allow to sit for 6-8 hours, keeping temperature between 105F and 115F.  Do not overheat.  Higher temperatures will kill your yogurt cultures and result in ... well, warm milk.  You can try cooling it down and adding more plain yogurt, but you'll end up with a grainy, super-tangy end product.  Ask me how I know.
It sounds so easy!!!  But the truth is, it's a pretty long, semi-involved process.  I don't make yogurt on days when I know I'll be very distracted or have to be away all day.  Eventually, I'm sure I'll be confident enough that I won't feel the need to keep one eye on it all the time.  But here's how the day went with my Best Yogurt Ever:

12:00 noon
Begin!  I filled my pot with milk and put it on the stove on medium heat.  After maybe 10 minutes, I turned the stove down to medium-low.

12:20 p.m.
Milk at 110F.  I know this because I use a candy thermometer.  Yes, you need a candy thermometer.  You can't make yogurt by feel.

12:30 p.m.
Milk at 130F.  Remembered I am super-smart and covered the pot so the milk would heat more quickly.

12:40 p.m.
Milk at 160F.

12:50 p.m.
Milk at 185F.  Heating took close to 1 hour.  Removed pot from burner and started to wait......... I usually transfer the milk to the slow cooker at this point.  The crock has no retained heat, and its oval shape allows for quicker cooling.  Today, my mind was apparently elsewhere, so the cooling process took a bit longer.

1:05 p.m.
Milk at 160F.

1:30 p.m.
Milk at 135F. 

1:45 p.m.
Milk at 125F.

1:55 p.m.
Milk at 120F.

2:15 p.m.
Milk at 110F.  Finally!!  Cooling took close to 1.5 hours.

(Sometimes there's a skin on top of the cooled milk.  I skim that off before adding the yogurt.)

Visible skin on top -- you don't want that in your final product!

Don't skim too much -- this is all I got, maybe a few tablespoons

I stirred about a cup of the heated milk into 2-3 T. of yogurt.

Spoonful of yogurt in slightly-cooled milk

Let all those live active cultures get nice and cozy...

I started off with Greek yogurt just for fun... husband pointed out that the brand I bought (Aldi off-brand, for the record!) boasted more live active cultures than the Belfonte we'd bought previously.  That may have contributed to the enormous success; I don't know.  Anyway, then I stirred the yogurt/milk into the pot and poured the whole thing into the slow cooker.

And for the rest of the day, I just kept one eye on the developing yogurt!  The temperature did vary between 105F and 115F, which was fine.  It happens slowly enough that there's plenty of time to make adjustments.  I find that I can leave the slow cooker off for a couple of hours before I start getting antsy about the temp.  So then I'll just turn it on "warm" until it creeps back up... and then I can turn it off again.  If making yogurt overnight, I put the lid on and then wrap the whole thing in a couple of bath towels for insulation and turn it OFF.

Yogurt overnight!

10:30 p.m.
Done!  It definitely looks like yogurt... but it's warm, which is gross.  I put the entire crock, covered, into the fridge overnight.

8:30 a.m., next day
Good morning!  It's time to Greek this yogurt.  (Yep... that's turned into a verb in my house.)  I do always chill the yogurt before Greeking it.  It's far easier and yields much better results when cold.  Of course, if you like thinner yogurt, then please, by all means, eat it now.  It's yogurt!!

Oh, but first, skim off the top.  Even if it doesn't look like there's a skin, there usually is.  Just to be safe, I skim off a bit all the way around.  Then I'm not getting gross little grainy bits in my velvety smooth bowl of delicious.

I have two strainers of decent size, so I lined each of them with a paper towel and set them over large bowls.  Then I spooned yogurt into each strainer.  I filled the strainers pretty full; the yogurt is set enough that you can kind of pile it onto itself and push the boundaries of the strainer a bit.  Then I transferred the strainers to the fridge and (again) waited.

I don't know what time it was "done," but I let my yogurt strain for several hours.  I like it pretty thick -- and, because there's too much yogurt to Greek all of it at once in my meager strainers, I can mix in the thinner stuff if I've over-strained.  However, I usually end up straining most or all of it... so I'm straining in two batches.  Another process that takes a good part of the day.

WHAT IS ALL THIS WATERY STUFF COMING OUT OF MY YOGURT???!  Oh, that's whey!  As in, what Little Miss Muffet was eating.  (Really, Miss Muffet?  Did they not have chocolate ice cream in your day?  Or at least string cheese?  Because this is pretty gross.)

But don't throw it out.  Oh my goodness, do NOT throw out your whey.  It's like getting free product with purchase of yogurt!!!  Use it in any recipe that calls for buttermilk.  I've made the most fantastic biscuits and pancakes and a cake subbing whey for buttermilk... and it's free.  Apparently you can use it in bread in place of the water for your recipe, although I've not been able to try that yet.  Whey lasts a couple weeks in the fridge.  Be sure to date it, and smell it now so you'll recognize when it's gone bad.  It smells a bit off from the beginning, so it's important to know what fresh whey vs. fermented whey smells like.

If you want to, you can whip your yogurt with an electric mixer.  I've done it and not done it... and I think it's a bit of a time waster.  It doesn't get all mousse-y like those awesome Yoplait things; it just maybe makes it a bit smoother.  Not noticeably, though.  So after I'm strained my yogurt, I just transfer it to Mason jars.  I've found I like it best with a handful of granola mixed in.  Or drizzled with honey, oh my.  A little taste of heaven, right there.........

Final product! Usually about 1.5 quarts, plus a quart or more of whey.

I just got a new slow cooker yesterday, YAY!!!!!!!!  And this one has a probe feature that will measure the internal temperature.  I'll update you when I know how it works!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

girl stuff

A while back, at the prompting of my friend Caroline over at The Modest Mom, I checked out a book called Good Girls Don't Have to Dress Bad.

It was phenomenal.

This is not my usual type of book; I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Exactly How I Look All the Time... but I'd gotten pretty bored with my mommy routine: straighten hair at night, run a brush through in the morning, throw on jeans and a tee before leaving the house, do makeup at stoplights.  So I picked up this book from the library.  And then I bought it.  (I don't buy books... ever.  My tax dollars pay for the library, so I use it judiciously.)  I suggest you do the same.  It addresses ALL outer-beauty issues, from jeans to color palette to sunglasses to swimsuits to........ you get the picture.  I learned a lot!  And I started implementing what I'd learned into my daily routine.  Shari Braendel writes from the perspective of a Christian woman striving to make her temple the best it can be.  But the book doesn't feel overtly Christian; it's for anybody!

And then I was turned on to the StyleUnited beta site by my affiliation with SheSpeaks (a program designed to allow women to discover, influence, and share products).  StyleUnited has been a nice complement to what I learned in the book above.  I started off by taking some quizzes to determine my style profile, which resulted in a variety of suggestions of products and tips that were relevant to me (hair, makeup, fashion, and skincare).  Browsing around the site, I came across lots of good articles as well as a place to add suggested clothing items to a "Collection" -- like Pinterest style boards, but with more structure and targeted to me!

Perhaps the most useful part of the site is the "My StyleFile" area, which contains links to suggested products and tips based on my style profile.

The fact that StyleUnited is owned and operated by P&G might be a pro or a con, depending on how you want to look at it.  I was initially annoyed by all the PRODUCTS PRODUCTS PRODUCTS... but then I stopped to consider that this meant that I could go out (often to the same stores I frequent anyway -- the recommended products aren't just specialty department store buys) and purchase these things that had been hand-picked for me.  (I especially thought it a bit amusing that a lot of the hair products recommended for me were Pantene -- already the only shampoo/conditioner I'll use on my hair!)

So what are you waiting for?  Give this a shot!  Best of all, if you join StyleUnited, you could win the StyleUnited: New View, New You Giveaway: a $500 gift card for a shopping spree at Macy's or Nordstrom, courtesy of StyleUnited.  Join me... in style!

Disclosure: As part of the StyleUnited promotion, I will receive a complimentary gift from P&G/SheSpeaks.  As always, all opinions shared on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

granola bar recipe update

I've been making these amazing granola bars for something like nine months now, and it's time to do an updated post as I feel I've now perfected them.  I'm completely in love with them.  They're a pretty important staple around my house, and they even contributed to some pretty significant weight loss this year.  In fact, I gained back a few pounds after running out of them.  So I made another batch yesterday!!  I'm going to strive to NOT run out again.

big container of mandatory granola bars!!

So here are the improvements I've made to my original recipe:
  1. Instead of pecans, I prefer sliced almonds.  Not only are they lower in calories/fat/saturated fat and higher in fiber/protein/calcium/iron, they're also cheaper and pre-sliced (how I buy them at Sam's, anyway).  When toasted with the oatmeal and coconut, the almonds impart the most wonderful caramel-y flavor to the bar.  Heavenly.  I love pecans, but I won't go back to them in this recipe.
  2. In step 1, when adding the sunflower seeds, I also add the raisins.  No need to add raisins after the sticky mixture.  Save a step!!
  3. I exclusively use butter.  No Crisco, no margarine.  I've made this change in my household in general in order to put less fake food into our bodies, and this bar benefits from that as well.
  4. A 9x13 pan just doesn't cut it for me.  The 11x15 size yields more bars -- thinner bars, yes, but perfect for our preference.  They are by no means thin bars!!  Still very hearty and chewy.
  5. Definitely turn the oven down to 300F after toasting the coconut/oatmeal/nut mixture!!  Baking the bars at the lower temperature gives them a wonderful chewiness and dries them out less... meaning they won't fall apart as much during cutting and eating.
  6. ALWAYS refrigerate before cutting, and use the biggest knife you have.  The firmer the bar, the cleaner the slice.  The longer the knife, the easier to press.
Above all... make these!  Make them today!!  And don't let yourself run out.  If you're anything like me, that will only make you cranky.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


April 14, 2012 marks the day we've been waiting for for over three years: WE'RE DEBT-FREE!!!!

To celebrate, I wanted to outline our story statistics as a testimony that living without consumer debt is possible.  Husband has been asking about these numbers, and I figured I would immortalize them here.

October 2006
My parents gave us Dave Ramsey's book, Total Money Makeover, and told us that they wished they'd read it and followed his plan back when they were our age.  Unfortunately, we had just closed on our first house a few months earlier and were in the process of finishing it: blinds, furniture, electronics, and landscaping were just some of the things we were starting to finance.  I read TMM and was pretty impressed with it, but I certainly wasn't adamant, and Husband wasn't ready to give up our rewards credits cards and go strictly to cash.  We also hadn't been good about being on a budget and were just kind of lazy about making ourselves start one.

December 2008
It makes me soooooooooooo sad that it took us so long to get serious about getting our finances under control.  I can't imagine where we could be today had we not... well, I can actually imagine.  Husband has started running the numbers, but I've stopped him. It makes me sick to consider it.

I don't remember what finally prompted us to make the decision, but we did a lot of discussing as we drove to and from Missouri/Colorado for Christmas 2008.  We were sick of being slave to our creditors and knew that there was no excuse, especially on a healthy combined income, for being nearly $63,000 in debt.  By the time we'd spent around 30 hours in the car, we had a plan.

January 2009
The beginning of our Total Money Makeover!

We immediately paid off our three smallest debts, which totaled $2617.

We stopped using our credit cards (yes, I know, you pay them off immediately and never carry a balance -- us, too... believe me, no matter how great your rewards program is, borrowing money still doesn't make sense) and went exclusively to cash starting with January's first paycheck.  Our first month of budgeting was tricky (as Dave says it will be), but by February, we knew more certainly what our needs were and made the adjustments.

July 2009
We paid enough down on the balance of our car loan to refinance it at a lower rate, resulting in a significantly lower monthly payment ($160 less per month).  But this was the last snowball we could accomplish for now.  We had made the decision to move back to Missouri as soon as possible, pending job offers... so, as Dave advises, we started putting every spare dollar into our savings account.  I talk more about that here.

It was very difficult, especially for me, to stop our debt snowball that seemed to be gaining such momentum.  But over the following 22 months, it proved to be necessary and infinitely wise.  Pausing our debt snowball and piling up cash kept us afloat until our situation stabilized.

Meanwhile, we job hunted and eventually both ended up with the same job offer: teaching SharePoint classes through a small consulting firm.  The fact that neither of us held a full-time, permanent position further enforced our decision to build a healthy savings account.

December 2009-April 2011
This time period saw a move, two job changes (plus my becoming a SAHM), a tenant turnover in our Colorado home, and a baby (self-paid, as we did not have maternity insurance).  Twice, we weathered periods of earth-shaking financial uncertainty.  We had to dip into our (thankfully healthy) savings account at least half a dozen times just to get the bills paid.

February 2011
This was one period of serious financial uncertainty.  Husband's consulting work had dwindled, and there were increasingly fewer opportunities to teach classes for his client.  We were coming to terms with having an anti-sleep, high-needs baby, and for a while, it was a blessing that we were double-teaming the baby.  But my wonderful husband was ever more aware of his smaller paychecks, and he began pounding the pavement to try to find more work.

Dave often talks about people who are intense about getting out of debt finding better incomes and job situations.  For us, when it rained, it poured -- in the best way.  Husband's hard work resulted in more job offers than he could handle.  He had his choice of firms and was eventually working jobs for three clients, plus a few other contracts scattered here and there.

June 2011
By summer, things were looking up!  Baby was healthy, and Husband was about to start a long-term contract with promise of an extension.  Calculating from the time that we were both working full-time jobs in Colorado, our household income had increased by 40% on a single salary.  Making just the minimum payments, our debt had gone down by about $11,000.  And now, it was time to start the snowball again!

August 2011
We paid off my car!  We also filled our emergency fund out to three months of expenses.  (Since Husband is a contractor, Dave advises having an emergency fund of 3-6 months.)  We were feeling so much more secure, and that car just drives better now that it's no longer dragging a loan behind it.  I talk about this step in detail (and photos!) here.

December 2011
We paid off our vacation ownership!  I have to say that I love our program, but it was NOT worth going into debt over.  We used our points to have a lovely, relaxing week in Branson with my in-laws over New Year's, and we enjoyed that quite a bit more than we'd enjoyed the previous vacations we'd taken with our club.  It's a liberating feeling to come back from a vacation and not have to make any payments on the great time you had.

Now, just Husband's student loans (from his Master's degree) remained.  We were looking at over $20,000 in debt by this point, and I can't tell you how eager I was for the end of each month when I could apply a large chunk of money to that loan.

March 2012
My car was due for some serious work.  We had put off some of the routine maintenance while we were struggling to stay above water, and we couldn't ignore it any longer.  I can't tell you what a great feeling it was to pay our auto guys for $1100 worth of work that was only half in the budget.  Did I hate spending that much on something so mundane?  Sure.  Would I have hated it all the more if I'd had to think about it again when I got a credit card statement in the mail weeks later?  Ohhhhhhhhh yes.  As it was, though, I forked it over without having to worry about what other area of our finances might suffer as a result.

April 2012
Taxes, right?  I know everyone hates tax time (except for those who have given the government a nice, interest-free loan over the previous year and now get it back), but it's especially trying for non-standard wage earners.  Being self-employed means........ well, it's just complicated.  Taxes take us forever to figure out, and I'm always on pins and needles, hoping we've done our quarterly estimated payments properly and set aside enough for April's return.  We have to figure out whether to itemize, and we hope that we've calculated our charitable contributions correctly so they cancel out our state taxes and BLAH BLAH BLAH.  This year, we made judicious use of IRA tax laws and sheltered a good bit of money that way.

And THAT made all the difference.  On Saturday, April 14, Husband double-checked our return and sent it in.  Minutes later, I made the last payment on the student loans.  We are DEBT-FREE!

Yes, we still have a mortgage.  But Dave is okay with that, and for the time being, so are we.  We also have a tenant in that house for another two years, at which time we should be able to sell (the market didn't allow us to do so when we moved in 2009).  Husband has been offered a full-time position with his consulting firm, and our emergency fund is healthy.

It took us three years and four months to get out of debt.  Over that period, only 16 months were actively dedicated to paying off debt.  (The rest of the time, we were either piling up cash or having to dip into that piled up cash for living expenses.)  During those gazelle-intense 16 months alone, we paid off $52,000.

We sacrificed.  We seriously budgeted.  We got weird looks and were occasionally judged for our strict adherence to cash and our budget.  We lived like no one else.

Proverbs 22:7 says, "the borrower is slave to the lender."  We're finished borrowing, and we're free.