The Christmas Story isn’t over yet (Spoiler: It’s a happy ending)

This year, I have both enjoyed and needed the Advent and Christmas season more than I expected.

I have never been a Christmas-crazy person; I don’t go all out with my decorations or start counting down to December 25th in October. Thanksgiving has always been my holiday of choice, with its low expectations and the focus on food. But these last few years I’ve found myself getting more into the Christmas spirit.

I expect that some of it has to do with age; as mine creeps up toward 30, I see more value in the traditions that bind the years and families together. Now Matt and I have been married long enough to have actual traditions of our own. It just happened to snow on the weekend we set aside for buying our tree this year (December snow is rare enough in NC, much less the kind that doesn’t turn the roads to sheets of ice), and I found myself nearly giddy as we sipped peppermint mochas, played Christmas music, decorated the tree, and watched the snowflakes fall out the windows.

There’s probably also the fact that I hate short days and cold weather (unless it’s snowing), so it’s nice to have something positive to distract me during the winter months. And there is value in fun and cheer for its own sake.

But there is definitely more to it than that. Continue reading

[LL+L] October 2017

This is the inaugural Life, Loves + Links – a (hopefully) monthly feature where I share what has been going on with the Joneses, things I’ve been loving or thinking about lately, including ALL THE LINKS to articles, podcasts, etc. I often have small ideas or things going on that don’t merit a whole post, so this is a place for them to all go. Like a junk drawer, but more fun and with no loose batteries.

  • Life // Manuscript: Done! – Last Thursday my advisor and I submitted the revisions for a manuscript I’ve been working on for the last two years. To say it’s a relief to have it out of my hands is the understatement of the year. The weeks leading up to that day were crazy, but they confirmed the value of the habits and routines I’ve been building this year – I didn’t feel nearly as overwhelmed as I have during previous busy seasons with school.
  • Love // Slow Cooker Sundays – As part of an attempt to create more space for Sabbath rest, I’ve dubbed Sundays slow cooker day in our house. It means we have a freshly cooked meal without much effort, and there are usually leftovers for our week ahead (or the freezer). I’ve been trying out a different recipe each week, and so far this enchilada orzo is my favorite (I used Trader Joe’s enchilada sauce, changed up the spices a bit, and used Daiya cream cheese, stirred in at the end).
  • Link // The Lazy Genius – I discovered Kendra after she was a guest for The Popcast Live in Raleigh. She was hilarious, and I decided to check out her podcast, The Lazy Genius Podcast [iTunes]. There, on her blog, and on Instagram, Kendra gives general life advice and her motto is: Be a genius about the things that matter, and lazy about the things that don’t. That’s a motto I can get behind. Her specific advice is often great, but what I love even more is her approach to life – we don’t have to do everything, we can choose to do a few things well, and let’s not run in circles unnecessarily.
    • I highly recommend her “home keeping” episodes (#21 – laundry, #32 – cleaning the kitchen, and #17 – cleaning the house).
    • Also, she has a holiday series that started two weeks ago, and you should get on it! I’m already feeling less stressed and more excited about the holidays this year thanks to her recommendations.
  • Life // Mr. Jones – This month, Matt started a new job as an EC (special education) teacher! He’s putting his education minor and his pediatric OT experience to use, and he’s doing what is called “lateral entry,” so he will earn his official teaching license in the next few years. He is loving it so far, and I know he’s going to be great at it!
  • Love // My (our) electric blanket – My mom recently gave me one of the electric blankets she had in her stash. I’m pretty sure it’s the same one I used in high school, and I had forgotten how magical this thing was. I’ve been using it to “preheat” the bed every night, and it is so much easier to talk myself out of my reading chair when I know I have a warm bed waiting on me. It has the added benefit of helping us save energy this time of year, since we don’t need to turn the heat up in the whole house at night!
  • Link // Other podcasts I’m loving lately:

Healing my skin without prescriptions + my vegan, low-waste skincare routine

Like many people, I struggled with acne starting in my early teens. I went to the dermatologist for the first time when I was thirteen, and thus began almost a decade of cycling through prescription creams, and eventually taking daily antibiotics, to try to cure my acne. The creams sometimes helped, but sometimes they also bleached my clothes and my pillowcases, and sometimes I felt like I was part of some extended clinical trial, as we tried the newest product on the market every six months or so. The antibiotics helped as long as I was taking them, but when I went off them for a few months every year to let my body reset, my face would be back to square one. Taking the antibiotics was also a major factor in the acid reflux I developed during college, which I took another drug to treat… Perhaps not surprisingly, I became disillusioned with them as a long term solution.*

So several years ago, I started looking for ways to heal my skin more holistically (i.e. actually fixing the underlying problems instead of just putting a bandaid on the visible symptom). These days, my face is still not “perfect” (I do have real pores), but I’m happier with it now than ever. Breakouts are rare and small, and my skin just feels good to be in. I credit several things with that, and today I’m sharing the top three, including my simple, low-maintenance, and low-waste skincare routine.

So how did I heal my skin without prescription drugs?

Continue reading

Anniversary thrifting + an entryway makeover!

At the end of May, Matt and I celebrated 2 years of marriage! Our anniversary fell the day after Memorial Day this year, so we took off Thursday through Monday and had a staycation! Staying home saved us a ton of money because MDW + hotels = EXPENSIVE, and we still had a lot of fun eating at our favorite vegan-friendly restaurants and visiting with friends.

We also spent some time working on our thrifty anniversary presents: furniture! I know, year two is supposed to be for cotton, but Matt has been jealous of my “reading chair” for some time, so we finally made time to go hunting for one. I wanted to try secondhand first, and our search took us to a consignment shop in Greensboro that I frequented in college. A great thing about consignment shops is that many of them will drop the price after an item has been sitting for a while, so check to see if they have a color-coding system or dates on the tags and you might find a great steal. We ended up in a room past the main showroom, where a bunch of chairs were packed in against a wall, and found this chair all the way in the back. Continue reading

Do the next thing

“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

– Calvin Coolidge

When I tell people that I’m vegan, a common response I hear is “That’s great, but, I could never do that.” They might agree with the tenants of veganism, they just don’t think they’re up for living that way. This can be a frustrating thing for me to hear, because I honestly feel like if I can do it, anyone can. But recently, I found myself on the other side of the metaphorical table.

Around Earth Day in April, I started seeing a huge number of posts about the zero waste movement.* I had heard of this idea before, and had even watched one of Lauren Singer’s videos. But I was highly intimidated by the idea of producing less than a pint worth of trash in two years, and decided I was not up for that sort of thing. I thought, “Oh, I could never do that.”

Where have I heard that before?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my attitude toward zero waste was similar to the attitude I’ve encountered toward veganism. I also came to feel that at the heart of this attitude is a comparison problem. It’s looking at someone else’s lifestyle and saying “that’s too different from how I live; I’ll never be able to get to that point.” For someone who eats meat or animal products every day, the difference between their diet and mine is enough to feel overwhelming. That’s understandable. Likewise, I was looking at my trash can and deciding that I was “too far gone” to make a change for the better.

The reality is that most people who live differently from how they used to didn’t make those changes overnight. Granted, some people do. I’ve read many stories of people who were meat-eaters one day, and vegans the very next. If that’s you, I admire your resolve. But when I looked back at my own vegan transition, I realized that it was really a series of small changes that added up over years to where I am now.

My (slow) vegan transition

My transition to vegetarianism in early 2010 was accidentally very quick. I originally gave up meat for 40 days as part of a fast. I decided the morning the fast started that I wouldn’t eat meat for this period, so I didn’t have time to work my way into it. Over the course of the 40 days, as I was doing research to make sure I was eating well, the resources that I found convinced me that I never wanted to eat meat again.

The transition to veganism was much slower. I knew early on that it was a direction I wanted to go, but living with roommates and sharing groceries made it difficult. I started with the “easy” things: I started buying my own non-dairy milk and butter. I experimented with vegan baking (my first attempt, brownies, were disastrous, but things improved from there).  I chose vegan meat alternatives when I bought them. I started shopping for vegan-friendly toiletries and cosmetics, and cut leather out of my wardrobe.

When I moved into a studio apartment in 2011, I decided to go “at home vegan,” meaning that I never bought anything at the grocery store that wasn’t vegan. I was less strict at restaurants or when others were cooking. The hardest part of the full vegan transition for me was getting comfortable with asking questions of servers to make sure I wasn’t going to be served eggs or dairy, and requesting that friends and family serve not just a vegetarian option, but a vegan option, or turning down food someone had made. So in the meantime, I ate vegan 90% of the time, and slowly got more comfortable and knowledgeable about vegan options when eating out. I finally went “fully vegan” in January of 2012.

Since then, there have been many micro-transitions, especially to a healthier, more whole-foods veganism. I don’t eat as many faux meats or cheeses as I used to. I can and will eat tofu straight from the package, especially in place of cheese on pasta or pizza (which I recognize is absolutely bizarre to the average person). I find avocado to be a perfectly acceptable alternative to sour cream and sometimes mayo. I love the darkest of dark chocolate, and will drink my coffee black if I have to (although my stomach doesn’t prefer it). I couldn’t have said any of these things five or even three years ago. Veganism is still a continuous journey for me.

So why should I expect that something like zero waste would be any different?

Small steps, over and over

The reality is that almost any serious, sustainable life change is probably going to happen in stages, not overnight. Healthier eating, ethical purchasing practices, living on a budget, working out, etc. all seem to work better for me if I make small changes over and over, rather than trying to do everything at once.

I realized that I was letting the enormity of my current waste output keep me from doing anything about it, and that’s a little crazy if you actually think about it.

So instead, I’m choosing to take those small steps. I’m identifying some areas where I can make small, fairly convenient changes and have an impact. I have recommitted to always, always using my reusable shopping bags (an area where I had gotten slack), and have started making an effort to carry other reusables such as to-go containers and mugs. I’m in the process of evaluating my shopping list, and seeing what fits within our budget to buy from bulk bins or buy in the most recyclable packaging (i.e. glass or cardboard over plastic). As I move forward, I’m sure other areas will become obvious to me, and I’ll find new ways to reduce our waste.

I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, especially because I feel like I’ve only started, but to make the point that baby steps are better than no steps. If you’re looking into a life change like veganism or zero waste, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by other people’s progress. But, take a deep breath, step back, and think, “What is one small step I can take to move in that direction?” Do it. And then?

Do the next thing.


*For those not familiar, the idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to reduce the amount of trash you send to landfill (ideally to zero – hence the name). This is accomplished by refusing single-use items such as to-go containers and grocery bags in favor of reusable items, by buying primarily un-packaged items or items in recyclable packaging, making items instead of buying them pre-packaged where possible, and by intentional reusing and recycling. The movement generally also prioritizes the reduction of plastic use altogether, even when items can be recycled, because plastics cannot be recycled indefinitely (as can glass and metal) and take a great deal of time to break down in landfills.

4 guidelines for eating vegan on $4/day

It’s a common misconception that eating vegan has to be expensive, but that’s definitely not the case. Today I thought I’d give you a glimpse into how Matt and I manage to keep our food budget low (without couponing or having unlimited time for meal prep) and still eat lots of healthy, plant-based food.

While we are paying down some student debt, our budget is pretty small. Right now, we average about $4 per person per day for groceries, or just around $240 per month for the two of us (I aim for $50/week, and sometimes make a mid-week run for something we ran out of or decided we wanted). According to a 2012 Gallup poll, that means we spend less than about 75-90% of the U.S., so I think that’s pretty reasonable!

4 principles I use to eat vegan on $4 per day:

1. Shop smart.

I go to the grocery stores that are going to give me the most food for my dollar! This is probably the most obvious suggestion, but one I didn’t do for a while because of convenience. But with just 10 extra minutes, I can drive to Aldi and get most of my staples for much less than other stores. There’s really no reason to pay more when I don’t have to. I go there for things like canned goods, fresh veggies, and tortilla chips (my husband’s snack of choice). I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at their selection of vegan products like almond milk and even veggie burgers! They have a decent number of organic products, if that’s a priority for you; at this point it’s not for us.

Continue reading

#PlannerAddict: Daily Planner Conversion and my 2017 Planner

We’re three weeks into 2017, which means if you’re a planner person, you probably already have a planner for the year. But if not, today I’ll tell you why you might want to try a daily planner layout, and which planner I’m loving this year.

I switched to a daily planner about six months ago. I had tried some daily printables in the past, and had a sneaking suspicion that I would love a daily planner. I wasn’t quite ready to pay $50 to try one, so when I found the Day Designer + Blue Sky planners for $10 at Target, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for a test drive.

My suspicion was right. I’m officially a daily planner convert.

If a weekly planner works for you, I say go for it, but a daily planner has turned out to work so much better for me. A couple reasons why:

  • Seeing a spatial representation of my daily schedule gives me a better grasp on my time, which helps me use it more efficiently.
  • I’m less likely to overestimate what I can get done  when I am making a to-do list on a daily basis rather than weekly.
  • I keep my planner open on my desk each day, and I love that I can see everything I need to for today (no flipping around to find a meal plan somewhere else), without getting distracted by yesterday or tomorrow.

I did really love the Day Designer layout. Their planners are great if you want a sleek and minimalist daily planner, and I had planned to buy one of their regular Mini Editions when my Blue Sky version was done.

However, before I got to that point, I learned about the Anchored Press Devotional Planner. Like the name implies, it has the features of a regular planner, plus daily devotionals. It comes in a daily and weekly edition.

I admit, when I first looked at the planners online, I wasn’t totally sold. Each devotional is pretty minimalist, with one or two verses and a short commentary (in the daily edition). My approach to Bible study in recent years has focused on the Biblical narrative as a whole, and what each book says within that narrative. I get concerned when we pick out just a few “encouraging” verses and use them as our only or primary exposure to scripture.

But as I read on the Anchored Press website and Instagram, I realized that Deana (the owner of Anchored Press) is on the same page with me. I don’t think it was her intention that her planner be someone’s only access to God’s word. In fact, her company also makes a quiet time journal for more expanded time studying the Bible. She also understands how crazy life is for many women, and wanted to create a planner that would help us focus on what is most important.*

I ended up buying my planner on the last day for December 31st delivery, and I’m glad I did! The way I’ve been using the devotionals is as an addition to my regular Bible study. The verse is on my desk all day long, so it helps me meditate on scripture, and the devotionals often prompt more personal reflection and prayer. The Wednesday devotions in particular ask you to pray over a specific attribute for yourself (this week was “kindness”). I find this helpful because I often have a hard time knowing how to pray for my own spiritual growth. I then typically write in the journaling space each night as I plan for the next day. I appreciate that on Saturdays, there is a place to write ways in which God has blessed you this week; this helps me maintain a thankful attitude, and I look forward to being able to flip through my planner at the end of the year to see how God has been at work.

If I have any complaints about the planner, it’s only that the to-do space is a little small, with only 8 lines. I like to write down everything I have to do, and I mean everything, like responding to emails and sub-tasks for projects. I’ve gotten around that somewhat by writing reminders in the schedule space, which usually has plenty of room. But, no planner is perfect (I’ve tried so many!), and it’s not enough of a problem to keep me from using it. Overall, I’m so looking forward to filling my planner with schedules and reflections all year long!

If you want to get your own Anchored Press planner, you’re in luck! The pink daily planner (like mine) is still in stock (I actually wanted aqua but just missed them!), along with both versions of the weekly planner.

Do you have a favorite planner you stick to? Or are you trying something new this year? How do you stay focused on God throughout the week?

*At least, this is the impression I get from her. I don’t claim to speak for or on behalf of someone else.