Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cash vs. Credit Cards

In January, David and I decided to go on a budget. 

We set up a simple spreadsheet and allocated numbers to different categories.  It's super novice, but it was a start.

For the first three months of the year, I've been paying with cash.  Grocery store?  Cash.  Target?  Cash.  Out to dinner?  Cash.  My wallet made room for wrinkled envelopes as I pulled a 30-something Michelle Dong (my beloved mama) and paid in cash.  She taught me well.  It's true-- it's certainly hard to part with cash!

David was supportive, although after two weeks he said it felt like we'd been on a budget all year.  "We have," I said.  "2011 just started!"  He didn't think that was very funny. 

He's been on board with me paying with paper rather than pulling out plastic, but he kept saying how we miss out on all these great rebates by not using credit cards.  For example, he uses credit cards for all his work travel, hotels and meals when he's on the road.  We get a rebate on that card-- and I get free starbucks because of it!  He'd have to spend that money anyway (or at least his company would), so we might as well get a rebate on it, right?  There's a point to his logic I guess.

Everyone says paying with cash is mentally more "intentional" and painful (yikes!).  No one likes to pull out three twenties to buy a pair of shoes-- they litterally watch the money leave their pockets!  But plastic- credit cards- painless.  Swipe, sign, smile.  Much easier to swipe a card then to count a bunch of ones to see if you have enough.  At least you know if you have enough.

We decided for the next three months we'd go back to credit cards and see how we do.  We've always paid off our credit cards in full every month, but will it be easier or harder to track if we're on budget?  Will saving receipts work?  Will we spend more?  Less?  The same?  We were under budget every month while using cash.  Can we do it with credit cards too?

I guess we'll see.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Friday Night Cheesecake

"That cheesecake you made last weekend was sooooo good," He smiles at me while he's blurring up his protein shake in the blender.  Home from a long week in Alaska and grateful for weather above freezing temperatures, my husband and I have our ritual debrief of the week while we each make our own Friday night meal.

"I'm glad you liked it!  I love making cheesecake!"  I reply.  After a successful turnout for Krista's birthday, cheesecake has been a treat I'm no longer fearful to take on.

"I think we should make another one." Bluuurrrrrhhhhh, chuuuuuuug, slurrrrrrp goes the blender.

"I don't have anymore cream cheese.  I can get some this weekend if you want though," I comment as I microwave my peas and pasta sauce.  David begins pouring his creation into a huge big gulp 7-11 cup. He takes a long gulp through his straw and I notice he's got protein shake sprayed on his eyelid.  I laugh and tell him to close his eyes while I try to gently scrape it off his eye.  Then his cheeks.  Oh, one more spot-- his nose.

"Let's go to Winco tonight at come home and make one!"  he says with his eyes still closed as I'm  seriously trying to scrape the small dots of sprayed protein shake off his eyelid.  How the heck did this protein shake spray all over?  Why did it dry so fast-- on his face?!  I think this to myself and then realize he is serious, he really wants me to make a cheesecake.  Tonight.  And it's already 8 o'clock and we just started eating dinner!  Cheesecake takes at least 45 minutes to bake after you make it and we haven't even gone to the store yet.

At this moment I had a choice.  Okay, so it wasn't that big of a deal, it's a cheesecake for goodness sake.  He probably wouldn't have really cared either way.   But I still had a choice: honor my man by going with him to the store so we make his indulgence-- or whine about how by the time we come home from shopping and make it then bake it...  Blah blah blah.

So, we went to the store.

We made a cheesecake... Together.  David make an awesome walnut crust with bran.  Okay, so he likes to experiment with food.  :)  It turned out and it was lovely.

Sometimes there is joy in going to Winco on a Friday night at 9:00.  It took a character check on my part, though.  Be here, present for the small things like making a cheesecake.  I'm so glad I didn't let that pass me by.

One of my goals for 2011 is to find joy in something-- every day.  Joy in a cheesecake. 

Yum. :)

Monday, March 21, 2011


Photo by Adamina

This is inspiration.  I mean look at that cute door handle!  Inspriation.  I need it right now.

I'm knee deep in a crazy project at work where I am managing the launch of our company's website which is changing web hosts.  I never thought in a million years I'd be doing this.  I'm a customer service manager for goodness sake.  I make people happy; I don't write HTML.

I've learned a few things.  Did you know that you can type certain characters and it will essentiall hide all the text of everything in between those certain characters?  I had no idea.  Seriously, I'm learning a few things!

I'm tired of staring at raw HTML and figuring out what text to edit.  I'm bored of testing out orders and creating fake customer accounts (my entire extended family now has an account at my company for my own testing purposes!) while trying to find broken links and tag pages appropriately.  What I really want to do is go hide behind that door and its gorgeous handle in all of its cuteness.  I want to cover my ears and close my eyes and hope that the website will just coordinate itself.  I wish I could get myself out of this mess.  How did I get here in the first place?!  Coordinating a website?  If you want it to look like my blog, maybe... And then I remember....  I will say it again, rejoice.


I need inspiration, Lord.  Hold my head up so I can finish strong, with class-- even if I fail.

Thank goodness He taught me two years ago that my job does not define who I am.  If I hadn't learned that lesson I would probably still be at the office pouring over the entire international portion of the site I have to edit tomorrow.

My work is something that I do during the day, and God has placed me there for this moment in time for which I know I am called.  For that very reason I will rejoice.  I will rejoice in the fact that I am certain I am where He wants me.  I will rejoice because at the end of the day I can feel good about the days work and what I've accomplished.  I will rejoice because I'm making a difference (hopefully a positive one).  I will rejoice in the people I have the honor of interacting with and the responsibilities entrusted to me.  I will rejoice because I know this season is purposeful in my life and God has a plan.  I will rejoice!

People in Japan are without food and water.  I have to coordinate a website.

Does that ever put it in perspective.

Puh-lease, Rachel.  Balls up and finish strong!

What are you working through that makes it hard to rejoice?  What joy can you find in the middle of everything going on?  What are some things you can rejoice in through this season?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Project Management 101

Recently, I've been the "project manager" on two significant projects at the company I work for.

Can I just say I'm glad they are basically over!  We launched one of them today and while it wasn't perfect (what is?!) overall it was pretty smooth.  I can finally sleep without dreaming about our products and our website crashing!  Even though I was mentally prepared for the long hours and the challenges ahead... I was one stressed out chica for two weeks straight!

I see project management as a blank canvas.  Choosing the colors, paint brush, inspiration-- they all have to work together to make it a beautiful masterpiece.  Okay, so that was a lame analogy.  I know.  But in theory coordinating multiple pieces of an end result takes faith and trust in other people.  There's no way I could implement a new phone system or website on my own.  There's no way my wedding would have come together on my own!  Heck, even planning a birthday party sometimes takes skill and coordination!

Disclaimer:  I don't claim to be an expert at managing projects.  These are just some of the tips I've learned over time, especially recently with the things I've dealt with at my job.

Never assume...  EVER.  Did I say never assume?  I meant NEVER.  EVER.  ASSUME...!!!

One of the projects I knitted together recently was coordinating the switch of one web host to another.  This meant copying every single URL, image, landing page, blah blah blah from our current host to our new web host.  I wasn't the one copying over any of it, I was simply managing the moving pieces.  Work with one vendor, then our corporate team, then our new web team...  The thing is I don't speak web lingo.  Drop that file where?  HTML code whaaaaat?  Link this source to fdalkfdsalfmjdk is what it all meant to me.  I assumed one group knew what the other group knew because I sure as heck didn't know.  Wrong.  Don't ever assume someone knows what's going on.  Keep people informed and ask questions about the things you're unsure of.  Get everyone in a room so there's no "I thought... He said... She said..."  

Clearly communicate roles.

Who is ultimately in charge?  Who approves things?  Who is the liaison with vendors, who is the one implementing?  Defining roles from the beginning ensures there's no confusion on who is accountable to what.  This has proven to be a huge success factor to getting the people involved in the project on board and supportive as they understand their role and commitment level.

Establish a budget and a schedule.

Knowing how much the project should cost and what the implementation/planning schedule is critical to a successful launch.  To some companies, if you implemented flawlessly and on time but were over budget it's a failure.  To others, the timeline is more critical.  Make sure you understand what the costs are going to be and plan accordingly when creating your budget.  Picking a number out of thin air won't do you any good; do your research and figure out a number that makes sense for the schedule and the pieces that need to be knit together.  Also, understand your schedule and when you are ahead or behind.  You won't understand the impact of your decisions unless you can tie them to how they will affect the schedule of the project.

Keep an up-to-date issues list.

Many projects require testing prior to implementation.  Keeping an issues list will help you keep track of what you've already looked at and the result, and therefore aid you in knowing what action to take next.  Keep your vendors, team and management aware of any significant issues and the progress you're making.  Designate one team member to update it so you don't have multiple people duplicating issues or adding or deleting things.  This also helps to eliminate millions of little emails flying back and forth. 

"Can I give you some advice?"  When your boss asks you this, say yes. :) "Of course," I told him.

"If you keep sending our web developers one off emails it may be difficult for them to keep track of everything you're asking them to do.  It may be hard for you to keep track as well.  You might want to think about consolidating and making a more defined list that you can check off."  He grins.  "But it's your project, it's just advice!"

Um, yeah.  I consolidated.  Keeping the issues list up-to-date with the current status of the project will be key as you move forward in each stage of your impelementation.

Establish an implementation strategy.

As you are moving closer to the date you go live with your project (or event, or product for that matter) understand how you are going to implement it.  Write it down.  Collaborate with your team and management (keeping in mind to maintain clear roles and responsibilities!) to define how you are going to get this done.  This part of project management goes hand in hand with laying out an appropriate schedule.  Are you going to have a daily conference call to track the progress?  Or are you going to manage it by email or spreadsheets?  However you decide, be certain you and your team understand how the implementation should go which means planning way ahead before the actual live date.  What testing needs to be completed, at what point can you expose part of the project to management or others within your organization to gain feedback, etc...  Define a strategy for how you plan to get your product, event and/or project on the road with smooth sailing.  On implementation day the last thing you need is for someone to say "I can't..."  You should be thinking of those things now and also preparing to ensure everyone can.

Debrief, then move on.

After you've finished the project, take some time to sit down with your team and debrief.  Talk about what went well, what could have gone smoother, some ideas for next time and evaluate each piece.  Without a legitimate debrief it's hard to go back and remember what exactly was done successfully.  The next time you go to plan a launch of an event, product or project (mine was a phone system and a website) you'll have a clear idea of what was completed before, the victories as well as the pain points to avoid for next time.

All in all, project management is fun.  I enjoy knitting together moving pieces to create something better than what was there before.  But it is stressful.  I think it was the only time I wished the week would go by slower.  I wanted more time to get it right.  It doesn't have to be perfect though.  Or maybe it does.  Thankfully I work with a very forgiving team!  Distinguishing between what's critical to going live and what are pleasantries that would be nice to have is important.  Don't aim for perfection.  Someone will always find a flaw in your work!  Have fun, drink lots of starbucks and breathe.  If you've followed the steps above, you'll be on your way to a successful project!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dreaming of the Present

A few stories in our bookshelves

Stories.  They're fun to tell and interesting to hear.  The tales of loss and love and adventure. 

We all have a story.

What is mine?  I've asked myself this a few times recently and paused at my reluctant internal response.  Where are we going?  What are we doing?  What's to come?  I'm often too caught up in dreaming to sit and just be present in my life and acknowledge the story I'm living right now.

Be present and experience it.  Enjoy it.  Relish this time.

I have always been a dreamer.  When I was 12, I dreamed of making it to the Olympic Trials.  I never made it; I missed it by 1/10 of a second in the 100 breastroke.  I was bummed, but I moved on.  I dreamed of meeting a wonderful man, marrying him and starting a family.  I dreamed of having a job where I'd get to dress up and wear a suit and heels.  I dreamed of travelling to Paris, of cooking a rack of lamb, of touring South Africa, of pouring my life into a job that doesn't feel like work.  I dreamed... I dreamed...  I dream.

God put something in all of us that craves something more.  I think that's why we dream-- we're made for so much more than what this life on earth can give us.  Even so, we are here-- and I need to remember to be fully present in my day, my marriage, my life.

This past weekend David was in extreme pain due to an abscessed tooth.  He was on vicodin and antibiotics and was actually a little loopy.  He's so cute when he's loopy.  Anyway, because of his tooth situation we laid low and stayed home most of the weekend.  We painted cabinets, watched movies, cooked lemon soup and cauliflower casserole (easy things on his tooth), cleaned out the closet...  We just spent time together without distractions.  As we curled up in covers before we drifted off to sleep, we commented on how nice it is to just be sometimes.  To stay home.  To clean closets. :)  To be fully present for each other.  I think his quote was "staying home is so underrated."  Point taken!

I'm in a resting season of life currently.  As I rest, I want to be awake and fully aware of what I'm enjoying.  I have an opportunity right now to teach myself to be present for the people and purpose my life envelopes rather than busy-ing myself with more, more, and more.  I think this is why I'm drawn to Project Simplify.  Less. Is. More.

I have a story.  And I am going to be present and enjoy experiencing it.

What story are you living now?  How will you simplify your life so you can enjoy and experience the present part of your story?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Project Simplify Week 1 After: Clean Closet!

Look at that messy closet.  I think we had 40+ coats between the two of us. 

Now look at it!

Clean, calm, collected.

Well, maybe not all of those things but definitely clean.

Don't need these anymore.  I'm giving away what they used to hang.

Here's one of the piles Goodwill will see later this week.

And another. 

David even has some shoes in there.  He's worse than me when it comes to parting with stuff.  I had a Toyota motorsports hat in the pile. 
"What are you doing with this hat?" He asks. 
 "Giving it away," I replied.
He proceeds to try it on.  "But I like it."
"You haven't worn it since we moved into this house," I tell him.
"But I like it."
"Okay, then keep it."  I smile.

Getting rid of something is not worth an argument, right girls? 

There is so much more room for more shoes!

It was fun, cleaning out the closet.  It wasn't that hard.  I've parted with things that didn't need to take up the space anyway.  Less stuff.  More room for more stuff creating a space that screams PURPOSE and PLACE!  It has to have a purpose, and yes, it must have a place.

Want to challenge yourself to clean house this month?  Visit simplemom to get all the details on Project Simplify, the project I'm participating in to declutter, organize and create a more peaceful dwelling in my home.  I am not paid or anything to endorse Simplemom.  I just really enjoy reading the blog and appreciate what Tsh has to say and what she stands for.  I bet you will too. :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Project Simplify Week 1: Cleaning out the Closet

Simplemom revealed the "Hot Spot" for Project Simplify yesterday.

Let me tell you, I was not excited!  What is it you ask?

The closet. 

Before I get into my deepest dark feelings about my closet, let's review what Project Simplify consists of:
  1. Each Week, Simplemom will reveal the weeks "Hot Spot".  The "Hot Spot" is an area that tends to attract clutter, usually.
  2. Take a before picture of thehot spot in your home.
  3. You have a week to organize it, make it beautiful, functional, or de-cluttered!
  4. Take an after picture.
  5. Go to simplemom and link it to your blog if you want a chance to win in her give-aways.

Now, back to how I feel about my closet. :)

I love my closet, or rather, what it consists of.  I love all the shoes, scarves, purses and other garments that live there.  They're like old friends.  I'm someone who reminisces... "Hello, I remember you from the first day at ___ job.", or "Oooooh I was in New York when I fell in love you, my very favorite pair of heels.", or even "There you are!  I've missed you, how'd I misplace such a gorgeous camisole like you?!"

Yes, I love my closet.  And yes, I do need to simplify.

I get made fun of at work because of my heels.  Probably because I have a gazillion and I wear them in the rain.  Yeah, I get made fun of mostly because of my shoes, but sometimes because of my coats or the fact I wore a skirt so I must be really dressed up (I work for a really cool company who's extremely laid back.  We don't have a dress code, can I just say YAY to that).  I am a secret fashionista; I stare at lovely clothes when I window shop and then go to Target and try to duplicate the look but I don't really ever succeed.  I've always wished I was one of those girls who could boldly wear the newly in season bright {insert color} rain boots with an ever so delicate little black dress-- but then I get insecure and revert back to my basics.  Oh but I love clothes.  This is going to be a challenge for me.

I decided to do the coat closet as the closet of choice to simplify.  This closet, as you can see, also houses about half of my shoes.  The other half live in our bedroom closet, the laundry room and the trunk of my car. :)  This closet houses my favorite heels, the red wool poncho/coat I've worn only twice but tell myself I'll wear, the pink blazer that got wrinkled in the wash so I may not have even worn it since we moved.... Lots of coats and jackets.  That closet is stuffed.  We are only two people...  And only one when the man is travelling!

So here's to simplifying down the items I love most.  Cheers!  I figure if I can do that, the rest of this project should be gravy. :)

Will you join me?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Transition of Rest

Photo by Michelle Marie
Transition(s).  Bridging the gap between experience and what we don't know yet.

It's a verb I know all too well.  It's a noun I actually welcome.  It's a lifestyle I've lived for over 10 years. 

And now I am resting.

I went to WCC's Adorn Event tonight where the recently retired Dean of Students at Multnomah Seminary spoke to us about transitions throughout the seasons of life.  She's been a counselor, a pastor's wife, a professor, a dean, a mom, a wife, you name it!  She's recently retired, so she's going through her own transition currently.  Can I just say what wise, Godly, simple advice she bestowed on all us gals.  I am so blessed to call WCC my home. :)

There were single, married, divorced, remarried, retired, unemployed, working, mothers, wives-- every kind of woman there could be-- was present.  There weren't a gazillion of us either.  Maybe 40 total or so.  All at different stages of life, all navigating through or resting from some kind of transition in one way or another. 

The only thing we can be certain of (besides our heavenly father) is that life. Will. Change.

As we were nibbling on cheesecake and sipping tea (us girls just never do get away from tea parties, do we?!) our small table of girls shared and chatted about our own transitions throughout the past few years.  Our table happened to be mostly gals in their mid 20's, and it was interesting to see how normal change was for all of us.  Maybe it's a generational thing, maybe not, but interesting to say the least.  As I reflected on my own transitions, I was kind of surprised to think about how much change I have experienced over the last decade, especially how many times I've moved!

  • Went to college in Washington (1)
  • Moved to Florida to finish out school (2)
  • Graduated from college which brought about a move from Florida back home to California (3)
  • Got a graduate degree.
  • Got my own apartment, first time living by myself (4)
  • Got a new job.
  • Fell in love and got married.  Moved in with my new husband (5)
  • Got a new job.
  • Moved to Washington (6)
  • Got another new job.
  • Moved to Oregon (7)
In the past 10 years I have moved 7 times.  Yikes!  I don't know about you, but I feel like that's a lot of transitioning, just in changing where you lay your head at night!  Not to mention starting new jobs and getting married.  And sometimes I think I want to have a baby soon?! 

Rest.  Just rest.  In Me. 

I hear God's voice tugging at my heart.  No, I've never heard it in an audible tone.  But I hear him just the same. 

Rest, Rachel.  Rest in Me.  In My timing.  In My plan.  In My sequence.  Root yourself in ME.

So how can us gals navigate through the transitions we face and rest in God's purpose?  I am by no means an expert on this.  These were just a few things I learned by listening to this woman's "wow" advice.

Your circumstances may be changing, but you are still YOU.

The toughest transition I've endured was moving to Oregon.  Leaving behind my friends, family, sunshine, and work weren't easy.  I was thrilled at the adventure ahead of us, but as soon as I was cooped up in the dim walls of our apartment I began romanticizing about our life in California and missing it.  I dwelled on my unemployment and my lack of network, friends and church.  I missed my mom and sister.  I missed my bestie Michelle.  I missed going for runs in the sun.  What I failed to realize was I hadn't changed one bit- my circumstances and scenery certainly had, but not me.  I got off my butt and went out for coffee with new friends.  I interviewed for work.  I learned that I love to cook.  I looked through the litteral rain and spotted blue sky.  It's true there is blue sky in Oregon every day- but you have to look for it!

Recognize what's normal and anticipate what's coming.

It's normal to feel homesick during  a transition, but are you making yourself ready to grab onto the new opportunities ahead of you?!  If you see a change coming, what can you do to make yourself prepared?  In my own experience, being aware that I was walking into a Field Traveler's Wife situation made it easier to know what to expect.  The other FTW's told me it would be hard.  They advised I would miss my husband with him being gone so much.  I would be desperate to go out when he got home but he'd probably want to stay in.  I'd love house hunting.  I'd love him coming home.  When these things actually did happen, it was normal for me to feel the way I did.  Even though it was sometimes sticky mitigating through those feelings, I was aware I was not alone.  That in and of itself was a blessing!

Decide what and who you need to say good-bye to and do it intentionally.  Then-- let go.

Saying good-bye doesn't mean you have to forget.  It doesn't have to mean the friendship is over or the memory is gone.   I hate good-byes.  My freshman year in college my mom wrote me a letter and put it in my hand as she hugged me before she left me at the Regents dorm at WSU.  My eyes welled with tears as I read the first line, "Today is the first of a lifetime of good-byes..."  It is so true.  We will constantly say good-bye to people, things and places and hello to new friends, keepsakes and experiences.  Give yourself intentional time to grieve and process, to say good-bye.  Then chin up and let go to allow yourself to let in what God has made room in your life for.

I am in a season of life where I don't expect much change in the very near future (well, at least for another year).  I am in a season of rest.  It is odd to be at this place and know I am here.  Indefinitely.  It's hard for me to rest.  I'm just like my mother; I want a new horizon or a project or an exciting transition.  Yet God is allowing me rest, because the next transition we'll walk through will be one that will change our lives forever.  Kids will do that to you, so I better enjoy this rest before that time is upon us. :)

How do you navigate the transitions throughout the seasons of your life?
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