Thursday, January 8, 2015

Year in Review: 2014

I obviously fell off the blog-posting bandwagon, so here's a quick look at our 2014:

January - After a busy 2013 holiday season (once again, a 10-day trip to SD ending with a ski trip in the black hills), January was quiet for us. We hung out with friends, played board games, and things amped up at work for me. Jordan continued into his 2nd semester of his computer engineering master's program.

February - I did my last-ever Pampered Chef party for a friend of mine. I didn't know it would be the last at the time, but it was, and that's okay. I flew to Nashville, spent time with my college bestie and my cousin, and had a fab time. I started on a new account at work and prepared to work insane hours. Jordan continued studying, and hanging out with friends as our schedules allowed. We looked at 2 houses and decided we needed to raise our budget.

March - The WHOLE FAMILY visited for a weekend and we had a FAB time. We can't wait to do a repeat. Dad, mom, and Kay came a day early to check some houses out with us and we saw one that we really liked. Two-three weeks after looking at it we'd come to an agreement with the sellers! Yay! Jordan and I celebrated our 4th anniversary with a road trip through Missouri and stayed at a couple bed & breakfasts, checked out some MO small towns, and tried a bunch of wineries and breweries. We finished out the month with our annual weekend with college friends (7 couples) - this was the 3rd year we'd all gotten together.

The fam.

April - Compared to March, this month was relatively quiet (at least in our personal lives). (Read: we were exhausted from March. Let's not do a repeat of that month.) We celebrated Jordan's 28th birthday by playing board games all night with some friends. Jordan's mom came to visit us at the end of the month for her birthday. Life at the agency started being insane, and I worked 50-60hr weeks, and flew to San Diego for an entire week of planning meetings with one of my clients. We also went to the San Diego Zoo on the hottest day of the year! Despite almost melting, it was really fun. Jordan interviewed for and was accepted as an apprentice at Cerner (HUGE healthcare software engineering company). This paid position works full-time in the summer and part-time during the school year. We BOTH get amazing healthcare benefits through his job.

May - We took possession of our home in early May! Jordan wrapped up his semester and I traveled to SD for Lucas's high school graduation. I'm pretty sure I was just doing that a few years ago...but he's 10 years younger than me! Time flies. The rest of the month looks quiet from my review of the calendar, but that's because I was working morning, noon, and night and packing the apartment with any free time. (Thank you to all my friends who helped me pack!!) Agency life continued to require crazy-long hours and Jordan started working full-time at Cerner. He says it's his dream job and that he loves it there. We went back to SD at the end of the month for dad's birthday and enjoyed a quick weekend with family (and good thing we went b/c my brother and his wife told just our family that they were pregnant!). I spent a lot of time researching and coordinating contractors who were working on our home.

June - I continued to work crazy hours and had clients in the office quite a few days, which included dinners out and a suite at the Royal's stadium. Jordan and I volunteered to pour beer at Boulevardia (a beer-tasting festival) and we became members at our church - but those two things didn't happen at the same time. I helped host a friend's baby shower with some of my friends. Dad, mom, and Kay came back to MO and helped us move. We had a horrible experience with our movers, and if they hadn't been there Jordan would have probably had to check me into the loony bin due to mental breakdown. Needless to say, I survived and our stuff survived. (And I refused to pay them and they didn't fight me on it.)

July - We went home for the 4th of July (b/c we just didn't get enough of dad and mom on moving weekend) and saw family that was also home from NC and TX. Mom and dad had their typical huge party and my brother and his wife announced to EVERYONE they were pregnant! I continued to work like a crazy person, Jordan continued to love his new job, and I traveled to SD for a work trip for one of my clients (and stayed at my parents' house - woohoo!).

Family 4th of July!

August - We went to Lake Okoboji in Iowa with some SD friends for a quick weekend and had a good time catching up. I crazily signed up to run a 5k Women's Mud Run with some coworkers and started training for that (2 weeks before the event). Jordan's mom, stepdad, and brother visited us in KC and we enjoyed sharing our new home with them. My cousin and her mom stayed overnight at our house on their way through to Nashville to visit my cousin who lives there (their sister/daughter) and my cousin and I went on a quick run together - first time EVER running 12mins in a row! I ran the mud run/obstacle course and had a great time! I also went to a photography and video shoot for one of my clients - here and here are the final commercials. My only claim to fame in them is that I am the liaison between the client and the creative team - they did all the amazing work.

Love water-skiing!

Anyone that knows me is not surprised that I screamed my head off while on this thing.
(Not in terror, but b/c I was having such a good time.)

Mud Run with co-workers!

September - Happy 29th birthday me! My dear friend from SD and her hubby visited us over Labor Day weekend and had a fabulous time, we so enjoyed their company. We're hoping they can make the trip again in 2015. Mom spoiled us by coming for a whole week and painting our bathroom. She is just the best. (And now our bathroom is, too.) I had a work conference in Chicago, so Jordan and I flew out a few days early to spend time with a friend (thank you, Andrew, for sacrificing your bed to us the 4 days we were there!), enjoy good beer, go to some theatre, and eat good food. Back in KC, Jordan and I went to another beer-tasting festival, and I apparently hadn't gotten enough of SD yet, so I went back for my twin-name-friend Betsy's bachlorette party and for my TEN YEAR high school reunion.

This isn't Andrew, but it's another good friend who we got to see while in Chicago!
TVHS Class of '04

October - My 3 former co-workers/now good friends came to KC to see my house and spend a weekend doing girl stuff! This included antiquing, going to the movies, eating out, and getting facials (which are amazing). It was much colder than expected, but we had a great time catching up. I experienced my first Cindy Moment when I put a wedding on the calendar for the wrong date and we woke up one Saturday morning to discover it was the night before. OOPS. :( We went back to SD for Betsy and Josh's beautiful wedding where I had a fabulous weekend as Betsy's maid of honor (Josh has some serious interior decorating skills and vision!) and my sister and her hubby came to visit us the next weekend. I still haven't convinced them to move here, but I keep trying.

November - Mom came back to KC (yes, again) to visit and we enjoyed going to a Crafts & Drafts craft show, general "Cindy and Betsy productiveness" (as Jordan refers to it) and just hanging out. We stayed in KC for Thanksgiving, my 2 cousins and my cousin's bf stayed overnight on their way home to Nashville (so good to see them!), and I ran my first 5k and finished with a personal best in time!
  • All finishers - 538 out of 1177
  • Female finishers - 195 out of 612 
  • Females 25-29 - 19 out of 50
  • Average time - 31:20; my time - 29:41 (pace 9:34/mile)


December - I traveled to SD for my bestie's mom's funeral, mourned for her family's loss of her in their lives, and praised Jesus that she loved Him and was now Home. Jordan and I traveled to Columbia, MO (2hrs from KC) for my company Christmas party (Read: delicious food, open bar, WILD) and had a fab time. I flew to Chicago for a one-day client meeting. We couldn't wait to leave on the 24th and celebrate with family over the holidays. We went to both SD and ND (braving the -15 degree temperature before windchill) and came back to KC on the 2nd relaxed, full of peace, love, and joy, and ready to start 2015!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Home! Before & After

As most of you have probably gathered by my lack of has been insane: crazy work schedule and work travel for me, Jordan wrapping up his first year at UMKC and starting his job at Cerner (which he LOVES), packing, doing all the stuff you need to do to prepare for a move, and working with contractors on getting home updates made. Here's the house in pics and video!

Before pics 
(from Zillow, when the previous owners had it posted to sell)

Before video 
(after we ripped out the carpet)

Floor refinishing
Choosing our finish
 Finished floors! 
(and one before pic for comparison)



Also replaced gold door knobs and hinges with brushed nickel.



We are so excited to be moved in and start the next "chapter of life" as homeowners :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

March Madness :: Larson Style

March was the most stressful/busy/"bad" month of my life professionally, to date.

March was the most stressful/busy/exciting month of my life personally, to date.

Hence the silence on the ol' blog. Here's a snapshot of what we've been up to:

Weekend 1: Feb. 27-March 3
The weekend of flying to Nashville and having my flight home cancelled b/c of snow and seeing these 2 fabulous ladies. Wish we lived in the same city.

With college bestie, Amanda, during the Nash Trash bus tour, owned by my friend Jess's aunts! So hilarious. Put this on your list if you go to Nashville.

 With cousin, Lara, at The Stage enjoying live music...can't wait to see you again!!

Weekend 2: March 6-9
The weekend of our seven wonderful family members visiting and going antiquing (girls) and to the car show (guys) and everyone staying AT our apartment except mom and dad.
Family selfie. Had so much fun. Hope we can do yearly family trips.

Weekend 3: March 14-16
The weekend of wife falling apart and husband dealing with wife being stressed because we were negotiating on BUYING A HOUSE.

Favorite part of our new home...huge kitchen!! 
Ownership: May 10. Move in: June 30 (after our lease is up)


The weekend of Jordan getting a job at Cerner! Part-time during the school year, full-time during the summer, and he gets insurance benefits!!! My sugar-momma days are over.

This has nothing to do with his new job (this was taken at a brewery tour) but he looks pretty darn excited, and that's how we feel about this job!

Weekend 4: March 21-24
The weekend of driving around Missouri, celebrating 4 years of marriage, reflecting how we've grown and shaped each other both individually and as a couple, and how thankful and happy we are to be together. And also sampling lots of beer and wine.

Love you, babe! So thankful to be sharing my life with you!

Weekend 5: March 28-30
The weekend of the annual H* reunion (6 couples) and lots of board games and food and good times.

Ticket to ride!!

Let's hope that April is at a more reasonable pace than March...but equally fun. What's been occupying your time lately? 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Freezer Meals: Chicken Fajita Casserole

Chicken Fajita Casserole
Makes 4 8x8 freezer meals.

1 4-lb whole chicken
6 cups cooked Minute Rice (3 cups dry rice + 3 cups water)
1 Knorr Rice Sides Fajita flavor
2 can of Rotel tomatoes
2 packs of fajita seasoning
1 quart-bag of frozen corn
2 cans of black beans (undrained)
1 6oz can of black olives, sliced
4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese

Crockpot your chicken overnight. Then debone it and shred all your chicken into one bowl.
As an aside, here's how to make Easy Chicken Stock  
Put all the scraps (bones, skin, etc) back in the crockpot with the chicken broth. Fill with water and turn on high for 5-10hrs. Strain the chicken stock into a container and put in fridge overnight for the fat to harden on the top. Toss fat, then divide chicken stock into 2-cup freezer safe bags and freeze for later. Delicious homemade chicken broth. 
Now, back to our reguarly scheduled program:
Mix all ingredients (except cheese), then top with cheese. Freeze for an easy meal later! Bake at 350 until heated thoroughly and cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream, salsa, and tortilla chips.

Affordable shopping tips:
I had everything on hand for this except the chicken and the olives, so my shopping trip didn't cost me much. Many of these items are things that I watch for sales on and keep on hand for later. 

  • 1 4-lb whole chicken - I watched for whole chicken to go on sale for $0.99/lb; so it cost me $4
  • 6 cups cooked Minute Rice - I don't think I've seen Minute Rice on sale, but I buy the off-brand to save some money on rice
  • 1 Knorr Rice Sides Fajita flavor - Watch for the 10 for $10 sale, then these are only $1 each
  • 2 can of Rotel tomatoes - Occasionally, these will be on sale for $0.99; usually around a big game b/c people use them in Rotel dip
  • 2 packs of fajita seasoning - HyVee seasoning packets go on sale for 3/$1, so when they do, I stock up
  • 1 quart-bag of frozen corn - I used fresh corn that we did ourselves over the summer, but HyVee frequently has bags of frozen veggies on sale for $1
  • 2 cans of black beans (undrained) - These are usually $0.88 each, and it's even cheaper (and there's less sodium) if you opt to buy the dry black beans and cook them yourself
  • 4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese - Watch for the cheese sale. $1.67/bag is what we've been keeping our eye out for.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Marriage

Jordan and I aren't much for Valentine's Day...not much in the chocolates-cards-flowers kind of way. I had an extra vacation day that I needed to use up, he doesn't have class on Fridays, and we spent Valentine's morning just laying in bed and talking about everything and nothing for an hour. It wasn't planned, it was just a rare occasion that we both happened to wake at the same time, and one of us didn't have to rush off to work/school. My heart was warmed for the rest of the day from that one hour of words passing between our pillows.

Later that morning, I read something from Relevant magazine - I used to read this magazine cover-to-cover when I was a teenager, and every time I read something in it now, I wish I still got it in the mail. It has some solid things in it, people - the article was titled, "The Promise You Can't Keep in Marriage" and I was surprised when I read the exact reason I married Jordan:
" get married when you see who God is making somebody to be, and it lights you up. When you want to be a part of that story of transformation, that journey to the future. When you are well aware it will be a long and bumpy ride, but you don’t want to miss one mile. Because you believe in God’s calling on them, and you want in."
I'd never really been able to put my finger on it, although I remember telling someone something similar to that while he and I were broke up during my senior year of college. That I didn't want to miss out on the rest of his story. That God had already done such a great work in him, and I wanted to be there for the rest of it.

Like that quote says, there have been times where the ride has just been long and bumpy, and you wonder when you're ever going to get back to smooth interstates...and then there are quiet mornings, with no responsibilities, when you can just lay together in bed and talk as the sun filters through the window and across the bed. Those are the moments when you're reminded why the bumpy stretches are worth it. And, hopefully, like us, as the years go on in marriage (and I know ours is just a short [almost] 4 years) that those moments will continue to grow and outnumber the bumpy stretches.

I'm sure it's not all smooth sailing ahead, and I'm sure no marriage ever reaches the point where it's all easy peasy, but I know that no matter what God sends our way, we're ready. We're rooted in Him, and look forward to growing closer to Him and closer to each other through each long and bumpy stretch of the ride. Happy trails.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

15 Tips to Pay Down Debt

When we first got married, I told Jordan that I was the Nazi of his wallet. Always spoiling his (spending) fun. These are a few mentalities that helped us pay off $90,000 worth of debt in about 2.5 years:
  1. Think of the money you're earning as not your money...b/c it's really not your money. You spent your money, and now you're in debt to someone else (either student loans, mortgage, credit cards, etc). Get out of debt as fast as you can.
  2. If you don't follow a budget, make one. 
  3. If you have "extra" money at the end of the month, that doesn't mean you should go shopping or go out to dinner...put that money towards your debt. The more "extra" money you pay on your debt, the more money you're putting towards the principle amount (which is really how you get out of debt - by paying off the principle and not just the interest).
  4. It's not your money. Pay off debt as fast as you can.
  5. Always ask yourself, is this a want or a need?
  6. Choose free entertainment.
  7. It's not your money. Pay off debt as fast as you can.
  8. Drive your car till it dies. You don't need that new car right now. 
  9. It's not your money. Pay off debt as fast as you can.
  10. At the grocery store, shop (and cook from) the sales ads. You don't need to eat out all the time.
  11. It's not your money. Pay off debt as fast as you can.
  12. You don't need to be like everyone else. Just because your friends can afford x, y, z, doesn't mean you can. 
  13. Every dollar counts. Yes, the $10 frozen pizza probably tastes better than the $2 one...but does it taste that much better? If you buy 10 frozen pizzas, that's either $100 or $20. How would you rather spend your money? (After you're out of debt, eat as many $10 pizzas you want.)
  14. It's not your money. Pay off debt as fast as you can.
  15. Keep your eye on the prize. Paying off debt isn't easy, and it's not fun. But it is worth it. You will be able to do so much more when you're out of debt. 
We're not out of debt yet, either, and so the battle continues for us. Take control of your debt. Don't let your debt control you. If we can do it, you can do it, too.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How I Paid off $20,000 in Student Loans in 14 Months

My generation is one of the most burdened by student loans. Here's a few recent statistics, courtesy of the American Student Assistance:

  • Of students pursuing education, 60% borrow to help cover the costs
  • There are approx 37 million student loan borrowers with outstanding student loans today
  • 14 million of those 37 million are under 30
  • In 2010‑11, about 57% of public four‑year college students graduated with debt, borrowing an average of $23,800 (in 2011 dollars). 66% of those earned bachelor's degrees from private schools - they had debt averaging $29,900.
You already know that I paid off $20,000, which is right around the average amount of student debt that a person in my generation has. What's not average is that I paid it off between May 2008 and July 2009. 14 months. 

Much to my chagrin, I haven't been able to re-access my student loan account and find the exact dollar amount I paid off. I know it was right at or slightly above $20,000.

I know people who take years to pay off their student loans - along they way, they get a new car, maybe a house, great clothes, and the list goes on. I didn't pursue any of that until after my loans were paid off (and even not now - I'm still driving my car from high school, we're still renting, etc). 

So how did I do it? I must have be making a ton of money, right?

My Situation: 2008 stats
  • In May 2008, I started working full-time 3 days after graduating from college. 
  • I was an hourly employee, earning $15/hr ($30,000/yr). 
  • As I remember it, my bi-weekly paychecks were around $700. 
  • Looking back at my taxes from 2008, my adjusted gross income was $20,038 (from 4 jobs: my full-time job, Coldstone Creamery, Pampered Chef, and cleaning my dad's shop). Keep in mind that's BEFORE taxes. I couldn't tell from looking at my taxes what my net income was...does anybody know if it's listed on there somewhere? (I read that the average taken out for taxes is then my net income would have been $17,032.30.)
  • I paid $1,748.43 in interest on my loans. 
  • I lived in a 2bed/2bath apartment with a friend. My rent was around $400/month. 
  • Anything fun, had to be free. 
  • I lived off cereal for breakfast, the worst ham & cheese sandwiches money could buy for lunch (aka, cheapest meat, cheese and bread), and dinner would have been anything I could buy off the grocery store sale ad, or more cereal, or fruit.

My Situation: 2009 stats - keep in mind, I had my loans paid off by July 2009
  • My 2009 adjusted gross income was $36,198 - I worked 3 jobs: my full-time job, at my dad's shop and Pampered Chef. Again, this is BEFORE taxes...anyone know where to (easily) find what my net income was? (Taking out 15% for taxes, my net income may have been around $30,768.30, which seems high for what I was making.) 
  • I think my bi-weekly paychecks were around $800. (Now I'm wishing I'd tracked all of this closer!)
  • I'd paid off enough of my student loans in 2008 that I only paid $160.68 in interest in 2009. 
  • My living situation was the same, same car, same everything. I rarely bought new things (clothes, etc) unless it was considered a "need". And my wants vs. needs requirements were extremely strict. 

My Payment Philosophy
Now, this isn't for everyone, and it's certainly risky but every time I was paid, I paid my bills, brought a few very cheap groceries and then put everything else on my student loans. Meaning, at any given time, I had $100-$200 to my name. 

And it was worth it.

I would go back again and do it all over. That feel of freedom, knowing that I didn't own the government anymore, knowing that I was now working for myself and not just to pay back the freeing. 

College graduates, don't be deceived by that first paycheck. I always kept in mind that that money wasn't mine - I owed someone else to be where I was and earning what I was. Until I paid that back, the money wasn't mine. And those 14 months of sacrifice were totally worth it. 

Don't give in to trying to keep up with all your friends, or trying to be where your parents are at. Keep your eye focused on the prize: on being debt free. You won't regret it. You can do it. I believe in you.