007 - Family Pictures With Style

I still do pictures once in a blue moon for good friends. This sessions was a blast! Seriously, the most fun I've had behind the lens for a long time! 

Ever Wonder What a Budget is, or How To Start One?

How to Start a Budget Today!

I know, budgeting, blah, blah, blah. Pretty boring topic, but oh so important!

Maybe you do have a budget, good for you! Great job! This post is for the people that say, I budget…sort of. Or, what’s a budget?

Here are the basic, easy-peasy steps to get you started on the right track!

Budgeting 101:

Step 1 – Sit down with your spouse/significant other and look at the numbers. This might actually be the hardest step. Managing finances as a couple is a big deal and can be tough to merge different personalities and beliefs about how money should and can be spent.

Also, some of us live in denial, we don’t want to examine the numbers because we are scared of what we will find and worry that life won’t be as exciting and lush; only focusing on what we might have to sacrifice or live without.

Step 2 - Figure out how much money is coming in every month.

Step 3 - Add up all your important bills (things like your mortgage, utilities, and insurances) and subtract that total from your monthly income.

Step 4 – Next, add in all living necessities (food, gas, and minimal clothing for example, and a small amount of savings). Now subtract this new total from your sum from step 3.

Step 5 – IF there is still money left you can now add in your wants (family activities, date nights, eating out, and extra clothes are some examples).

If, however, you ended step 3 or 4 with a big fat zero, you might need to look a little closer at your life style. Do you really need 100 cable TV channels, need to lease the newest car, or need a daily 32 oz soda? Can you live with basic cable or an antenna instead? Would you be willing to buy a used car that is a few years older? Could you buy a cheap case of soda instead, or slowly cut back on the amount of soda you drink? Your wallet and waistband will thank you!

Usually if you are totally out of money after step 3 or 4 it is because you are saddled with debt! Imagine using those payments towards something else! It’s possible, but you may have to eliminate a few luxuries, for a while, to climb out of the hole you’ve dug.

Like I said above, this is the barebones of how to start figuring out your budget, the first step in gaining control over your financial health.  I’ll go into more depth in future posts.

What financial issues do you struggle with or need help with?

A Family Discussion on Budgeting

Image Source: Death to the Stock Photo

We had a dinnertime discussion one Sunday about finances that was pretty entertaining…

My husband and I follow the advice from Dave Ramsey and do the envelope system, paying for everything possible with cash. The kids have watched and been a part of the monthly budgeting and envelope sorting here and there.

So we asked them, “What have you learned from watching us?”

Nicole jumped in first with, “saving!”

Kai looked confused. “uhhh, I don’t know.”

“Is this a guessing game? Because I’m not good at guessing games!” Leave it to Natalie to start the silliness.

“You put the money in envelopes so the robbers don’t know it’s there? That way if they try to rob you they don’t know where the money is.” Kai was pretty confident in this answer.

From there it went downhill and turned into displays of humorous robberies.
I shouted above all their laughter and charades some important basics, but I’m not sure they heard.  

Nicole wins the prize this round!

Divergent Book Series

Book 1:

Divergent, written by Veronica Roth is set in a dystopian future. What can I say? I loved the first book! It drew me in and left me wanting more.

Beatrice is the main character. Her dystopian world is divided into 6 separate groups of people (called factions) based on personality traits and character. The Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and the factionless.

  • ·      Candor are honest in all things.
  • ·      Dauntless are the wildest and bravest.
  • ·      Abnegation are selfless and help all the other factions.
  • ·      Erudite are the most intelligent.
  • ·      Amity are the peacemakers.
  • ·      Factionless are unfortunate souls who have been cast out of their faction.

The story opens just before Beatrice has her Faction test to tell her which faction she is best suited for. Despite the test results, citizens are able to choose for themselves which faction they join. Beatrice was born into abnegation.

It took a while to set up this story, introducing all the factions, helping the reader understand where Beatrice is coming from and her background.  Once this is laid out and Beatrice has made her choice, the action is non-stop.

I like how Veronica developed Beatrice’s character and illustrated her conflicting thoughts on who others think she should be, who she thinks should be. You can actually believe how hard her choice is when it comes time. The supporting characters in this book are great too, very alive.

Beatrice shocks her family when she chooses dauntless as her faction. “Faction before blood” is the rule so she must leave everything behind, including her family. She even changes her name to Tris to begin her new identity.

However, there were a few things I questioned as she made this radical transition. Such as, how a girl who has never been allowed to run can suddenly catch up with a moving train, jump on, and then jump off onto a roof? She seems to possess super human powers from the beginning of her new life as a dauntless. From that point on she practically becomes a ninja, as she gets stronger, faster, more confident and better at fighting.

There was a little too much violence for my taste in this faction and seemed a little twisted with the hand-to-hand combat partnering. But the overall storyline and action keeps things fast paced and interesting.

Divergent is definitely a page-turner. It could have easily been a single book ending where it did, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination.


Book 2:

Tris! What were you thinking?! This book sort of fell apart for me. It was still a good read and jumped in right where the first book ended. However, I was a little disappointed with the beginning. I would’ve liked to see their small group make it farther in their journey than they did. This story went a completely different direction than I thought it would.

Tris seems to lose her mind in this novel, making dumb choice after dumb choice. Even her pain and guilt don’t fully make up for her stupidity. And Four just turns himself in? What? Their relationship is so back and forth in this book it is annoying. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves, he loves me not….

I can appreciate that an author must make their characters make bad choices to further the plot, but usually they are within character. Tris is a completely different girl in this book

Yet, when I start a series I have to finish it. I have to say, Divergent was so much better than book two! If you can stand not finishing a series then I recommend you stop at book one.

The characters seemed much different in this book, and Tris and Four are boring in this book. However, the plot still moves along quickly.

Book 3:

I hated the ending, I’ll just say that right off the bat. I won’t give it away, but I prefer that a long book series have a happy ending. Tris really bugged me in this book; she turned into a whiny brat instead of the strong young woman she was painted to be in the first novel. She turned into a selfish, pitiful character.

Four Trilogy:

Veronica then wrote several short stories about Four after the main series, but knowing how the original series ended, I have no desire to read any of them. If I had read these between book one and two then they may have been of interest.

Divergent Series - Movie & Movie Soundtrack Review

You all are in for a treat today! A 2 for 1 review. 

I just barely finished reading the Divergent books, I'm a late adaptor to this series. I sometimes avoid books that are overly popular until all the hype is over. If people are still talking about them after that then I give them a try. This time however, I saw the movie before reading the books and that is what inspired me to read them. 

Divergent: The Movie
The previews for this movie did not do it justice and I had no desire to see it in theaters or rental, but after hearing over and over from friends how good it was I decided to give it a go. I loved it! 

Veronica Roth created a very unique dystopian world that translated to the screen perfectly. It was entertaining and thought-provoking and a good set-up for film number two. After seeing the movie I was dying to know what happened next so I rushed to read all three books. 

Divergent: The Movie Soundtrack
There were two artists that stood out to me from the film: Ellie Goulding and M83.

Ellie Goulding is really popular right now, especially her album Lights from 2011. I had no idea her album was that old since she has only recently been playing on the radio. I love the sound of her light voice, together with the electronic elements. She reminds me a bit of Natasha Bedingfield although Ellie seems a bit more restrained and soft in her vocals, but I'm certain she's capable of letting loose more than she does. Her song Lights caught me immediately. I think her popularity sparked from that single and her inclusion on the Hunger Games soundtrack with her song Mirror

Some of my favorites from her include:
The Writer
Explosions (from her 2013 Album)
And my new favorite - Beating Heart

M83 has been on my playlist for a while now, but I absolutley love their new single- I Need You!

Some of their songs bring back an 80's nostalgia, but in a good way. Funny enough, if you find the Couleurs album on itunes, it shows that "other listeners bought George Michael." Most of their songs though, like slowly for example, feel perfectly modern even though they came from 2001 and on. 

Some of my favorites from M83:

I Need You
Midnight City
We Own the Sky
Midnight City


Alice June

Our dear friends just had their second baby. I don't do much photography these days, but it was my privilege to photograph her and her family. 

Welcome to the world beautiful girl!You are so blessed with a loving family and the sweetest big brother anyone could ask for.

I couldn't resist adding this in. Newborn shoots are difficult anyway, but Alice just did not want any part of it! This was what we experienced most of the three hours we tried. Poor momma - Alice pooped through one swaddle cloth, spit up on multiple blankets and peed all over her. I guess that's life with a newborn though. I promise I did get some really cute photos though! ; )

Thanks for letting me share in the joy of your new baby! She is such a cutie!

Natalie's Getting Baptized

The official un-vailing of Natalie's Baptism Dress, handmade by yours truly! Really I owe all the success to my mother, who washed, ironed, cut out all the fabric, and then went over each pattern instruction until I understood all of it. Thank you mom!! For not having sewn in about 6 years I was relieved it turned out so well. Phew! Then as if that wasn't enough work, I promised I would make one for her doll too.

Natalie is so excited for her baptism and loves the dress, but possibly loves her doll's a little more because it's miniature. I can't believe she is 8 already! And it's killing me how much she looks like me at this age in these pictures with her hair all curled.

Silly girl!

She really wanted to be done. From this point on I had a hard time getting a face without pouting or tongue sticking out. Quite the jokester that one is. I'll pull out this picture when she whines about how long it takes to do bridals someday!

I told her to close her eyes, so she was trying to make her doll do it too. Stinker. Then she continued to have her "wink" at me. 

Afterwards I promised the kids that if they were good they could photobomb each other. I also bribed with candy. Overall it was a great success! 

Book review: Angel in the shadows by Lisa Grace

I posted below that there are 3 books in this series. That is untrue. There are really 5 books, but you can't buy the last 2 as an ebook. I had no idea until I had finished the 3rd and was very disappointed! The next two books in the series are much better than the first, with more action (all weather related, but still good). I don't know when or if the others will be available in ebook form, but I think by the time they are, I will have moved on and forgotten about this series. Sad, but true.

This book is a quick and entertaining read and has even been optioned for movie production.  I was drawn to this book because I have a similar, yet, not so similar book idea.  The short synopsis is that the main character, Megan, can see spirits, good and bad. Once she discovers this gift she is thrown into a mortal battle to save souls from an evil dark angel with the assistance of a few good angels and her faithful Christian friends.  She begins converting as many people as possible as she races against this evil spirit.

Although the main characters are all about standing up and fighting for Christian values, I can’t exactly label this as a “clean read.” The book contains a lot of talk about sex, drugs, suicide, and even abortion. I would say this book would be suitable for older teens unless you have discussed these topics with your child beforehand.

This was a very visually appealing book, but I feel the author could have fleshed out more scenes to describe the atmosphere in more detail.  She missed a lot of opportunity to engross the reader in the locations’ sights and sounds, etc. There are some that are very well described and others that she just sails over. It seemed as though she was rushing to get it finished.  Her dialogue was short, choppy and rushed in many spots throughout the novel, almost awkwardly abrupt in places. Here’s a few examples:

“I look at her legs. They are covered with scratch marks. I’ve never seen seaweed cause marks like that on anyone before. Whatever was down there was real. I shudder.
The other kids start talking. Seth takes charge of them. Jackson pulls up in the boat as I talk to her and try to calm her down.”


“When I stick my head in, I see a grayness hovering over Brody.  A demon. I walk in and say,” Hi Brody.” He opens his eyes to look at me.
I say, ”Sam is really worried about you.” Brody looks at me coldly.
I think I can help you,” I say.
“Get out. You can’t help me. Get out!” He screams. I leave just as a nurse enters to check on Brody. I go back into Sam’s room. I sit back down.”

That being said, it is a unique storyline that kept my attention during the plot twists and turns. Lisa does an excellent job with character development, introducing a wide range of believable teens and adults.  You can vividly picture most of them, especially Vania. The end is a cliff- hanger though, so be prepared to read the next book if you invest your time in this novel.  There are 3 books in this series and the first book is free if you go here. Or you can purchase the book from Amazon.

Overall I give this book a rating of 3.5 stars due to poor dialogue that interferes with the reading experience.

Funny Farm

Life is kinda nuts anyway, but throw in a bunch of animals and things can get downright loony. 

We welcomed a new animal into our home... a Great Dane! It's like having a small horse in our house. haha  

He has been a great addition so far though.

(bath time)

Right after he came home the kids were jumping on Jeremy and he shouted, "Dog Pile!" Nicole looked perplexed and said, "I don't think Gus would like that!"

(Natalie snuggling and feeding Gus grass ice cream cones)

 We were eating bread with dinner one night and Kai and Natalie were telling us how much they like bread. Nicole said, I really like bread!" Then she swung around in her chair, looked over at Gus and said, "How about you Gus?!"

(I can't forget Kai's pet snake named Ronald)

Kai's snake eats live mice. The first time we fed him we weren't sure we should tell Natalie, she is so sensitive about pets. I told her what would happen and she wanted to watch. She commentated the whole event and entertained all of us:

"What a cute mouse! I'll name her Mimi. Ahh she's sniffing around. Oh look they kissed! They are in love! Oooh he's hugging her! Oh wait... that's not love! Her eye is bleeding. Eww he's eating her. That's awesome!"
She was being silly, but she thought the whole thing was pretty cool. She loves to watch him eat now. 

 (The pet who thinks he runs the house - Sylvester. And in a way he does.)

One day I was kicking Sylvester out of the kitchen so we could eat lunch (literally. I was shooing him out with my feet since my hands were clean). Natalie watched me chase him for a few minutes and finally said matter- of- factly, "Mom, you didn't have a lot of pets growing up did you?"

"Actually I did! Lots. And I was just like you when I was your age."

"I feel sorry for them," she said glaring at me.

Some of Jeremy's loving nicknames for this feline include: wretched animal, horrible creature, dumb cat, etc. Deep down he does love him, but this thing has destroyed and torn off chunks of weatherstripping off the doors while whining to get back in at 3am. He really does rule the roost. 

What are your favorite kid/pet interactions? Share a story in the comments.

Finance Fiasco

We had a dinnertime discussion on Sunday about finances that was pretty entertaining…

My husband and I follow the advice from Dave Ramsey and do the envelope system, paying for everything possible with cash. The kids have watched and been a part of the monthly budgeting and envelope sorting here and there.

So we asked them, “What have you learned from watching us?”

Nicole jumped in first with, “saving!”

Kai looked confused. “uhhh, I don’t know.”

“Is this a guessing game? Because I’m not good at guessing games!” Leave it to Natalie to start the silliness.

“You put the money in envelopes so the robbers don’t know it’s there? That way if they try to rob you they don’t know where the money is.” Kai was pretty confident in this answer.

From there it went downhill and turned into displays of humorous robberies.
I shouted above all their laughter and charades some important basics, but I’m not sure they heard.  

Nicole wins the prize this round!