Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Living Better Now: Mexican Style!

Well, at least, this snack will be coming to the home of the future Clintons very soon! Especially while avocados are in season! :) They are seriously my favorite "vegetable" (?) that exists. Typical, considering how fatty and creamy and delicious it is. But it's a way healthier fat than most and was the God-intended way for us to have our silky hair and good skin. Yes, avocados! Thanks for everything you do!

I was craving guacamole but discovered when I came home that we did not have any tortilla chips. Bummer. Yet, there was something even better: regular flour tortillas!

I am becoming more and more a fan of making your own snack foods. You control what goes in and reduce some of the preservatives, fat, or other junk that sneaks its way into prepackaged food. Now, don't get me wrong. I only care to an extent. I cannot recreate the divinity of ranch Doritos, and thus eat them from their original source, which is Seven Eleven. However, I am trying to cut out more of this stuff when possible and go with making something fresh and tasty instead!

I used this recipe to make my own baked tortilla chips instead. Olive oil Pam worked fantastically, and I sprinkled a good bit of salt, fresh pepper, garlic powder, and some paprika for fun, and baked exactly as directed. The verdict is that they turned out super good!

Mobile device photo quality. But they browned and the edges curled up a little and they were definitely done! You'll notice they're a bit thicker and probably a tiny bit chewier than store-bought or restaurant tortilla chips. Those are usually fried, which makes them so delightfully crispy but quite a bit less healthy. And these were stinking good, so I'm not complaining.

I mashed up half an avocado with a squirt of lemon juice, a shake of salt and pepper, and a tiny bit of garlic again. Best lunch I've had in a while. I'll be doing it again!

Love, Lara

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Money, Honey

I am currently on a crash course about running a frugal home. While I've never been a huge spender -- I do a lot of Publix BOGO-ing and scavenge sale racks like it's going out of style (heh heh) -- I am liable to arrive home with three bottles of nail polish and the ingredients to make homemade sushi on a whim. How'd that stuff get in there?

But a lot of expenses are coming my way that I am not accustomed to. I've never had to budget for another person, for one thing. That will be totally different! We're going to have to buy a lot more food! But also things like insurance, home repair emergency money, cable/internet, and all that other stuff are newer to me. I'm glad that I got my feet wet moving out and managing my rent, gas, and food away at USF, but I am doing tons of research and preparation for budgeting at the billionth level of what I already do.

It can be overwhelming. I know that I am overly worried compared to a lot of people my age, who've been working already. Something that Darin and I are set on, though, is having the best financial start we can possibly make for ourselves. We want to scratch debt, keep our luxury purchases way down, and have a really good savings base for emergencies squared away before buying new cars or computers. We are lucky that we both have parents who are helping us a lot, from taking care of the wedding to donating furniture they don't want anymore, and I am so excited to learn how to be a good steward of all the blessings we are receiving!

There are some tricks and tips that I am learning about that I want to be held accountable to do:

  1. Plan our menus like crazy. Basing our meals off store deals and getting some coupons (without going to the extreme) instead of just making up what we want on the spot is cheaper and just as good.
  2. Buy meat in bulk when it's super-duper on sale and prepare it to freeze, to save money and make it easy to thaw out and cook when the time comes.
  3. Make more cleaning products from vinegar than purchasing all the different kinds out there for every room in the house. I believe that it works just fine. I am not into disinfecting every last thing, so I think this will be a bargain way to make the house clean if we can handle the smell until it dries!
  4. Create a cleaning schedule to take care of one or two smaller chores a day, so that things stay in good shape and last longer. All our appliances, furniture, and other fixtures will probably keep in tip top shape!
  5. Grow some herbs & veggies outside. My dad found some planters at a garage sale and said I could have them if I promise to use them. Apparently mint, basil, and tomatoes aren't horribly difficult to grow. That could be a great saver for money and health! Just gotta keep the bunnies away :)
  6. Use Groupon or find deals for eating out or doing date nights. One thing I love is that my Discover card has rewards that I can put towards restaurant gift cards and such if I'd like. I'm luckily well-trained and disciplined with credit card use, and so reaping those rewards isn't bad!
  7. Working out and eating healthy as much as possible. Aren't I lucky I'm marrying a guy who sells memberships to a gym, for crying out loud?! These are the best long-term investments you can make with your money, because you are likely saving yourself medical bills down the line. Same with flossing and brushing your teeth well. All that cuts down the co-pays we could be shelling out for cholesterol medicine or root canals.
These are the lucky 7 I have been doing the most reading about. I hope that we can stick to our goals and be diligent now to enjoy other things in the future! There is one last thing, though, that we are both taking seriously in our budgeting of our money: tithing.

We both have struggled to treat this important component of faith and participating in Christ's body as important. It's a huge blessing to us and our brothers and sisters when we give what we have to support reaching others with the gospel and meeting both their practical and spiritual needs. Darin and I combined know probably thirty people whose entire living is made from the generosity of other believers who support their full-time devotion to ministry. So, one of the most important parts of our budget that isn't really negotiable is setting aside money to give away, since we can't really create our own wealth anyways -- it's given to us!

I am really loving learning how to grow up. There are plenty of challenges ahead in this area, I'm sure, but I'm so glad to be doing it alongside someone with the same goals and ideas that I have! (Minus how much I want to buy a pug, and Darin thinks they're ugly. We're working through that...)

Love, Lara

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Humility of "I Do"

Weddings have a lot to do with humility. Ironic, given all the psycho brides on TLC today; weddings provide a great opportunity for women (and also men, a lot of the time) to run away with their pride and make several months increasingly about them until one day is over. But for the average, mostly sane woman getting married, a lot of humility comes into play as well.

Humility tends to be forced on you, but that's just how it goes!

I see more and more how much I am a scatterbrained, forgetful, and accidentally inconsiderate mess as the weeks go on. I had a horrific time trying to figure out bridesmaids, which makes it seem like it's great that I have so many good friends, but really just made me feel bad and mess some things up. Trying to keep the budget in tact has involved a lot of research, hair pulling, and hunching over a table for hours on end tying ribbons and punching corners of card stock for invitations I made on Photoshop by myself. (If you like how they turned out, hire me!!! Hahaha) Little changes in the plans and difficulties communicating what is going on with planning has led to some little snaps at Darin for not reading my mind.

And I've somehow missed sending a few invitations. A "few" isn't very many unless it describes people you know and love and want to make feel welcome and important! How in the world could I have done that?! I cross-checked my list SO MANY FREAKING TIMES THAT I CAN'T EVEN. And yet I get texts every week or so that say, "Hey babe, don't worry, but somehow __________ didn't get an invitation yet." Did I make one in the first place? I thought so! I CHECKED THAT DAGGUM LIST! IT HAS COLOR CODES AND SO MANY HELPFUL FEATURES. But alas, there are people wondering what happened to their invite.

My stress levels make my inner psycho come alive sometimes. I get so worried. Did they think I forgot? Or that I wouldn't invite them at all? Do they think I'm too stupid to stay organized and take care of everything? Do they think I didn't read millions of Martha Stewart wedding etiquette articles on her blog!? I must not even seem high-functioning enough to be married to another human being. (Panicked voice, not snarky voice.)

Humility time!

  1. I am a speck of the universe.
  2. I can't ruin people's lives or self-esteem with pieces of paper.
  3. I am a flawed human being.
  4. I am not likely to be the master of my fiance's guest list... full of people I've only met a few times. And with tons of similar names. (Families are like that I guess, haha.)
  5. My wedding will be a real life event, not a glamor shoot for a magazine.
  6. It's not all about me... it's about glorifying God's way of unifying two people to represent Christ's unity with the church!
BOOM! Can't argue with that! (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Everything in life has a way of pointing back to the gospel. Our goal in everything. And our identities are tied in the Lord, not our ability to keep UPS-worthy records of invitations.

Even if you literally have no earthly clue how it is possible that any could not make their destination.

This wedding will happen and it will be GOOD! I am thankful for humbling experiences to continue reminding me of what the purpose of this wedding is... actually getting married!

Love, Lara

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Put a Ring On It

Hanging up the phone with Darin tonight, I just laid on my bed and sighed for a minute. The thought of getting married in a little over two months really struck me as so exciting and thrilling that I just couldn't stand it. I am just so nuts about that guy! I enjoy our time spent chatting on the phone, and am so ready to do that in person. (Or even just spend a few hours sitting around watching TV. Ahh, a relationship luxury that is to come. Haha!)

We are so in the stages still of little butterflies over everything. There's so much new territory with one another in our relationship, having only just met a bit over a year ago. It's so hard to imagine a time where we will be used to each other. Right now I feel like when we're married, I will wake up every morning shocked that there is someone else in my room! Is there really a time where that feels normal?

I just read a really interesting bit from C.S. Lewis that I think sheds some light on this topic of the slowing down of the crazy stages of love:

"People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on 'being in love' forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time…. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy."

Should we really be afraid of those sparks dimming just a little bit, and turning into a steady fire in the fireplace rather than an explosion? Is there not some comfort and pleasure in a routine walk around the block or spending breakfast reading the newspaper?

I loved C.S. Lewis' comparison of moving to a place you once visited on vacation. If you fell in love with Paris over a week trip and decided to relocate there permanently, of course the Eiffel Tower would seem more commonplace in your line of sight as you did your daily business. The bustling fun of the Champs-Élysées would not invigorate you as much as it did the first time. But no one would imagine talking you out of moving to Paris just because the novelty would wear off. They'd talk about the joys of becoming a regular cafe patron, a fluent French speaker, an appreciator of fashion or food or art, or whatever you like.

So why do people see marriage as the death of fun and excitement? It's the same thing, making a permanent choice to reside with what you delight in -- although instead of a city, it's a person. It's okay to grow used to waking up and seeing that someone still there, and bearing through normal life with them.

My plan is to embrace and ride out all the early excitement and passionate fun of marrying Darin; in no way do I want to talk myself out of that in favor of what is inevitable. It will be a blast while it happens naturally! And after that, we can practice what it's like to cultivate love rather than let it carry us like a raging rapid. I will be as proud and excited as can be for us to become old farts together, and have our usual coffee times and fold our laundry on Saturdays. I wouldn't trade a love like that for 80 years of crazy exciting passion; it'd probably take a new guy every year for that to be remotely possible. Never in a billion years! You have to be the world's biggest dope to trade anything for Darin. No one else could be as much fun to make up horrible future Clinton baby names with, dance like a goober with at weddings, invent recipes with, drink beer with, lay out at the pool with, or go bowling with, ever in your life.

Cheers to sealing the deal and letting true love grow!

Love, Lara

Grad Party

Well... the big news of the day is that I am an official USF GRADUATE! WOOHOO!!!!!!! Oh, praise the Lord for giving me this education and the ability to do what I did.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. My family (Dad, Mom, brother Robbie) drove from Orlando and attended. I have to say, USF has graduation commencement ceremonies down to a science and an art. I got there and was handed my card with my name, and could sit wherever I wanted. They ran it like clockwork. I guess you really have to economize when you have about 6,000-8,000 students graduating each spring. My particular commencement had about 780 students (USF puts on several each semester divided by degree). Lo and behold, despite writing my name phonetically on the card as instructed, it was still read wrong -- Lay-ruh, my patooty -- and made no mention of being in the Honors College. Oh well. I was Summa Cum Laude which I did not realize until I looked in the program. Nothing to complain about! I am finished, and that is that. :)

Tomorrow we are throwing a little graduation party at our apartment for friends still in Tampa to come hang out. Since I've got nothing better to do today, I'm getting started on our menu of snacks. Here is our delightful lineup:

  • Mint Chocolate Chip Cake -- I wanted something green in honor of USF and this sounds to die for. Almost all our recipes we can thank Pinterest for.
  • Tortellini Skewers with Pesto Dipping Sauce -- ummm, yum. And not hard! Inspired by a wedding appetizer.
  • Chips & Salsa -- you know, always a good party food.
  • Shrimp & Cocktail Sauce -- usually I don't bother with things like meat at parties because it's so expensive, but there's a bag of shrimp in the freezer I bought a few months ago and completely forgot I had. Time to use it up before I go!
  • Peanut Butter Yogurt Dip -- easy peasy, I have everything on hand for this! Perhaps I can get some friends to bring apple wedges or graham crackers? I will also whip some coconut milk and add cinnamon for another nice fruit topping.
  • Ginger Lime Iced Tea -- this one is so easy and so good, an idea thanks to my daddio. Make a gallon of unsweetened tea and throw in some sliced ginger while it's hot to infuse the flavor. Then add limeade concentrate a bit at a time until you like the sweetness and flavor. Tadaa! It's amazing.
  • "Girl Scout Punch" -- at least, that's what I associate it with. Putting scoops of sherbet into ginger ale in a punchbowl is what I remember from Girl Scout ceremonies as our drink. Still love the sugary wonderfulness.
There might be more if we think of it, but not a bad spread for some college girls, right? My two roomies and I each paid about $13.00 and used stuff we had in our kitchen for ages to make this snazzy menu.

This afternoon I've been making tons of tea and cooked the tortellini so it can be ready to skewer up tomorrow. As soon as I discover the fate of my round cake pan, the mint chocolate chip cake can be on its way! MAN, it sounds so good I can't stand it. Tomorrow is not a day people should miss.

Congratulations to everybody who is finishing up school this year, and for the rest of you, press on!

Love, Lara