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Brewed Caramel Cacao with Torani

This post is sponsored by Torani, all thoughts and opinions are my own.  #AGuiltFreeHoliday #Torani

I'm not one to get too caught up in calories and counting macros and tracking what I eat. During the holiday season though when it's one party after another, and all the holiday treats are plentiful, I can see the value in wanting to eat something that is both tasty and indulging, while also being light on the calories and sugar when we're already consuming a lot of other things we normally wouldn't. It's all about balance right? 




Part of my morning routine lately has been drinking a nice warm up of hot cacao. Not to be confused with cocoa, cacao is a beverage that can easily be brewed in any coffee maker, is low in calories (15 per serving), and has been said to give an energy boosting effect similar to caffeine, without actually consuming caffeine. I've been loving this in the mornings with a serving of Sugar Free Torani Classic Caramel Syrup. 


I've been a long time fan of Torani because  of how easily their syrups mix in with other drinks, and they're made with simple and thoughtfully sourced ingredients. One flavor of Torani Syrup can make endless recipes and possibilities, and can turn your coffee, tea, cacao, etc... into an indulgent treat! I also love that I can grab the Torani Sugar Free Syrups in the coffee and tea isle of my local Walmart Grocery Store. 



This drink comes together really easily and can be as simple or elaborate as you'd like. On a typical morning I'll brew my cacao and add a splash of Sugar Free Torani Classic Caramel Syrup, but sometimes I like to take it to the next level with a bit of whipped cream, a couple chocolate chips, and a little dash of cacao powder on top! 
Ingredients:
2 tbsp ground cacao, brewed
8oz water
Optional toppings: cool whip, chocolate chips

Directions:
Pour 8oz of water into your coffee maker, and turn it on to brew your cacao. Once brewed, pour in two tbsp Sugar Free Torani Classic Caramel Syrup. Top with desired toppings. 

Getting Answers: Selective Mutism

"He'll grow out of it" or, "He's just shy, there's nothing wrong with that." Those are two common answers that we've been given time and time again over the last... basically seven years with Kyle. He's always been anxious, slow to talk, does not speak or interact with other adults almost always, it's something that we've struggled with for a long time.


Yesterday at school things kind of came to a tipping point which sparked research on our end, and led us to selective mutism. It's something that I'd heard of before, and the more and more I read, the more it sounded just like Kyle. 

Since making this video I've been in touch with his teacher, who has been incredibly supportive and agrees that it 100% sounds like Kyle. She's sent the information to the school psychologist and the school speech pathologist who will begin working with Kyle in January when we get back from Christmas break. It's been a long and exhausting 24 hours, but we're super grateful for a supportive team of people who are finally listening to our concerns as parents, and are ready to get him the help he needs. 



This video was originally filmed for IGTV, but the resolution wasn't working out, so I'm sharing here. Please feel free to share anything that might be helpful in regards to things you've done/experienced with your own child! 

Ethical Fashion and Why We're Slowly Converting

This post isn't intended to shame anyone for their clothing purchases, but to simply share how I got to the point that I'm at today. 


Growing up my dad complained to me numerous times that the clothes I was paying astronomical rates for at the mall were made by children in sweat shops in the Phillipeans. (Know how Grandmas talk about the starving children in Africa when you don't eat your food? That's my dad with sweat shops). I don't think his early introductions to child labor were based off of a moral stance, but rather trying to get me to stop overpaying for designer clothes. What he didn't know though was that the imagery of child labor was something that had stuck with me since. 

Fast forward to last year when my friend Molly was talking about ethical clothing on her instagram stories (which is a large part of her blog at this point), and was sharing an old news article from 2015 where a nine story building in Bangladesh that manufactured clothing for The Children's Place had collapsed, killing over 1,100 people. 

The imagery of the rubble and human suffering struck another cord with me, and it was this moment where I was finally able to make the connection, "This is what my dad was talking about." My mind was finally able to make a shift where I'd realized that my clothing wasn't some grand noble cause that was worth someone dying over. World peace? Cure to cancer? Sure, those are great causes, but making a shirt, or various pieces of clothing for my family doesn't seem like something that's worth dying over. 

I started looking into what it meant to purchase "ethical clothing" and found that it really meant purchasing clothing that isn't a byproduct of worker exploitation, sweat shops, and that boasts fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare. Basically, if no human, animal, or ecosystem were damaged in the making of the clothing, it is categorized as "sustainable", or "ethical" clothing. 

Know that moment though where you realize that eating organic food is better for you, but then you see how expensive organic food is so you go back to eating how you were before? That was me with ethical clothing. 

The thing is, to meet all these standards for our clothing, you have to pay a cost. We've been so accustomed to getting clothes for $5 a piece at Walmart or Target, that when you start to see what it actually costs to make clothing sans human suffering, it seems like such a huge jump. 

My first step into this world was through thrifted clothing. Buying second hand is amazing because you save a piece of clothing that would have otherwise gone to a landfill, and by purchasing from a thrift store rather than an unethical clothing company, you didn't add to any human suffering. It's not a perfect system since you're still likely purchasing used pieces of clothing from unethical businesses, but it's a step in the right direction, and a huge win for mother nature. 

My favorite place to purchase goods second hand is through ThredUp. I feel like I always have really good luck on there when I have a very specific piece of clothing in mind that I need. For instance, I only own one pair of jeans. I ripped the jeans I had, needed new ones, bought two new pair for less than $20 that fit me perfectly. Kinsley needed new long sleeve dresses for winter, found two awesome ones in great condition from brands I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford (purchased in the wrong size though so have to return #fail). 

Whenever we have a real need for something, our first try lately has always been logging onto ThredUp to see what they have. If we can't find what we need through them, then I've slowly been familiarizing myself with Molly's Ethical Clothing Directory. And shopping those brands when possible to fill the gaps in our wardrobes with pieces that are higher quality, can be passed down between kids (when possible), and didn't involve any amount of human suffering. 

I'm a firm believer that we have the power to vote with our dollars. When we purchase more and more organic foods at the grocery store, it makes more and more brands farm and produce organic goods, which lowers the prices for consumers because of the increased competition. I believe that we can see this same strategy play out to an extent with our clothing. If we turn away from the big name brands and vote with our dollars for more sustainable and ethical purchases, these big brands will start to notice, listen, and make the changes they need to earn consumers trust and business. 

10 Christmas Traditions We Love

The best part about having a young family is deciding what traditions you're going to do each holiday. Over the last seven years Derek and I have had fun meshing his family traditions with mine, and it's made for some pretty great Christmases in my opinion. It also means you get to make up random traditions that never happened in either of your families, which is pretty great too!


Christmas Pajamas- Derek's family does Christmas pajamas every year on Christmas Eve, and my family opens one random present every year on Christmas Eve... so we decided to do Christmas pajamas as the Christmas Eve gift! Some years we get matching ones for the kids, some years they each get their own, but it's something that I look forward to every year. 

A New Christmas Tree Ornament- Ornaments can get pretty expensive so we have some red and silver bulbs we purchased years ago, but then each year we get one new ornament. That paired with some family members gifting us a new ornament each year, we're slowly building a great collection. 

Neighbor Gifts- My family never did neighbor gifts growing up, but it's something that Derek's family does each year. I'm planning on making a huge batch of three ingredient fudge and storing it in containers in the fridge so that it's already to go when people stop at our house to drop off treats they've made. 

Cinnamon Rolls-  Growing up my family had cinnamon rolls for breakfast every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter... Derek hasn't hated this tradition one bit.

Limited Gifts for the Kids- Growing up I remember being super greedy and selfish about Christmas gifts (or is that every kid?) we've been implementing the something to wear, something to read, something they want, and something they need over the last few years and it's been going really well, and totally simplifies the Christmas gifts. 

The Pickle Ornament- When I was in high school my family and I found out we had Swedish heritage that we didn't know about, when we found out that one of my best friends was actually my cousin. They gifted our family a pickle ornament which was one of their holiday traditions, and we've been doing it ever since. You hide the pickle in the tree, and whoever finds it first gets an extra gift. This could be a bag of candy, a fast food gift card, something small and simple! 

Decorating Sugar Cookies- Everyone has to do this at least once per holiday season right?

Wrapping Paper- I'm pretty sure my OCD self just made this one up a couple years ago, but I like buying one wrapping paper per person. This is super helpful for kids who can't read their names on packages yet, and it's just a good way to know whose gifts are whose on Christmas morning. I love getting a bunch of different prints and making it fun for everyone! 

Opening Gifts One at a Time- growing up we each had our pile and tore through them all in 5 seconds and then Christmas was over. Derek's family opens each present one at a time so we can all see what everyone got and it makes the Christmas morning last longer. I think this is a fun and less chaotic way to do Christmas morning. 

Read Luke 2 on Christmas Eve- In middle school I remember suggesting to my family that we should read the Christmas story in the bible. My mom thought it was a great idea and we all got in the living room to do it and then we all realized that none of us knew where it was in the bible... Therefore it was A for effort but never happened. Luckily after taking the New Testament at BYU I know where it is and we've been reading it the last three years!

Lobster Tail and Pie Night: This is something we started last year in 2018 and I love it so much. We spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in our house, and then go see Derek's family Christmas evening for dinner. We started having a big dinner on Christmas Eve last year, and buy Lobster Tail since it's something we'd never eat any other time of year. That paired with some fun pies from Village Inn (because #lazy), and it's a dinner I look forward to all year! 

What fun traditions do you do with your family?

Why We Bought A New Car And What We Chose

Derek and I have been going back and forth on whether or not to get a new car for almost 18 months.
When Kinsley was about 3 1/2 we started having struggles with stacking her wheelchair and walker in the back of my car. We knew as she got older this equipment would only get bigger, and so we started looking into more accessible vehicles for our family.


Issues with the current car:
Over the last several months there were many instances where we realized our current vehicle was no longer working. Kinsley's walker and wheelchair are super huge and bulky. While they currently do fit in my old car, it wasn't without wrestling to get them stacked on one another, and it was ripping off some of the upholstery from my ceiling. Kinsley's mobility equipment is only going to get bigger from here on out, which means that the next time we upgrade either one of these pieces, they will no longer fit in the car. 

Another more serious issue is that when we bought the car in NC, they told us that it was an all wheel drive vehicle. I had gotten into a few sticky situations in the snowy weather where it definitely should have turned on, and it did not. We recently learned that's because we have a two wheel drive version of the Ford Escape and not the AWD that the dealership claimed it to be. We're currently in the process of figuring out what can be done in this situation to rectify the false advertising. 

Lastly, our hope is to move into the neighborhood where the kids go to school, and we would like to be able to carpool with other kids in the neighborhood, which we cannot currently do since we don't have a third row of seats. 

What we needed in a new car: 
The main thing we really needed was a third row of seats. One, so we could car pool if necessary, and two, a third row would mean we'd be able to fold down the seats and use the space for ever growing mobility equipment as well. 

That left us between an SUV or a minivan. I have a ton of friends who have and love their minivans, but there was a part of me that really wanted an SUV with four wheel drive to feel safer in the Utah winters. Especially since we travel to Idaho fairly regularly, and driving through northern Utah and SE Idaho in the snow is a nightmare. So we ultimately decided that we wanted an SUV and started seeing what our options were. 

Derek spent a couple weekends test driving SUVs and bringing the walker and wheelchair to various car lots to see which trunks they would and would not fit in. I really wanted to be able to have the third row of seats up, and still fit the walker and wheelchair in the trunk, but unless we were getting a Yukon XL we quickly learned that wasn't going to be an option. 

What we tested and looked at: 
Derek test drove a Kia Sorento, but with the third row folded down, you could barely fit the walker and wheelchair in there. We looked at Nissans, but Derek's truck is a Nissan and he said he didn't love it enough to buy another one.  We loved our Ford, butt the Explorer's were a lot more expensive than what we wanted to pay. A Subaru Tribeca would have solved all our problems, but it was also $50k so that was off the table too. Finally, we saw a picture of a Honda Pilot online and instantly felt good about it, and the amount of space that it had to offer. 

What pushed us to actually buy:
Derek's brother was going to be riding to Idaho with us from Salt Lake for Thanksgiving, and there was not going to be enough room for all of us and our stuff in my current car. I joked with Derek that he needed to get me a new car before Thanksgiving, but then we put it off for a few weeks and never did anything. 

The week of Thanksgiving came and we learned that there was going to be a ton of snow the day we were driving to Idaho, and so I literally sent Derek to a dealership that was a mile down the road from our house and told him to go buy a Honda Pilot that I had seen online that was way out of our price range. Who does that? I do not know but that was the legit situation.

What we actually bought:
Derek was crunching the numbers with the guy at the dealership and decided to ask if there were any other Honda Pilots on the lot. Derek was looking at a 2013 with 80k miles, and the guy told him that there was a 2010 with 90k miles for $3,000 less. Right in the price range we wanted. In the color we wanted. In the upgraded model with all the bells in whistles, which not to brag but, #HeatedSeats. 

The God Stuff and Silver Linings:
We typically wouldn't have bought a car that old since they usually have tons of miles on it by then, which is why we never saw it online because we were only looking at 2012 and up. Since it's the touring model it actually has some features that the model we were looking at didn't. One really awesome perk is that it has an extra step from the ground to the inside of the car, which Kinsley has been using to help her get into the car independently.




We've been working on her opening the door, climbing in, and getting into her seat on her own and she's actually getting really good at it. It wouldn't have happened had we gone with one of the models that we were looking at before. We can't fit her wheelchair and walker in the car with the entire third row up, but we can fold one seat down and get them both in that way, which is really nice to still be able to fit three extra people in the car if needed! 

What we're doing with our old cars: 
We are now a three car family and only need two, so one of them has to go. My Ford Escape is paid off all the way, and Derek's truck is not. Derek took his truck off the road and is currently in the process of selling it. Once that is all said and done, then he'll be driving the Escape, and I'll be driving the Honda Pilot. Now to come up with a sweet name for it... suggestions welcome but I'm really leaning towards Martha. 

Our Crazy Goal For 2020: No Excess Spending For 365 Days

Ever since Miranda Anderson wrote about her year of no spending two years ago. I've wanted to do that in our home too, but have never had enough drive or will power to actually do it, or implement it in my own life. 


Yes I try to be frugal, but like anyone else, I fall victim to the Target Dollar Spot, and unnecessary trips to fast food joints, or getting a few new shirts, or whatever it might be. I also have really bad judgement when it comes to impulse purchases, like signing up for a random race that cost $50, or a blogger comes out with a new meal plan that I just "got to have!" I get suckered into some of the most random things, and in 2020 I want to be super mindful of what we buy. I don't know what all of Miranda's rules were for her challenge, but this is what we're doing in our home:

If it doesn't sustain life, we won't buy it.
The gist of this is, if it isn't necessary, it's a no. We'll buy food for the table, and gas for our cars. We'll pay our rent and our utilities, and all the things that are a necessity. If it doesn't fall into that category though, too bad. 

But there's always a loop hole right?
Yes. Obviously there are household items that we'll have to purchase. Markers and crayons for the kids, construction paper and the occasional dollar store coloring book are fine, but will also be part of our $100/week grocery budget. Printer ink, toilet paper, cleaning supplies etc... are all welcome into the home, but if it can't fit into the normal grocery budget, then we either have to make room or go without. Also, I feel strongly about my kids participating in extracurriculars like Kyle and sports, and Kinsley and horse riding, because they provide a huge benefit to both of our kids. We will try our hardest to save when possible for these activities, but they are still something we will provide to them.  

What about when your kids need new clothes?
As things wear out, or get too small we will replace our kid's clothes. This is a big part of sustaining life ;) However, I do want to actually thrift a lot more in 2020 (as compared to the 0 times I've bought something from a thrift store in my entire life.... minus ThreadUP I love that place!). That means when the kids need something, I'll be heading into Goodwill first. If that's a fail then I'll try ThreadUp. If that's still a bust then I really want to start purchasing and replacing clothing with more ethical fashion brands, and will slowly incorporate pieces when needed. 

What is the point of this?
The major reason behind all of this is that I want to buy a house in 2020, or at least move out of our three story town house that we pay astronomical rent for and move into a single family house in the same neighborhood where the kids go to school. Shockingly, we can rent a house in that neighborhood for much cheaper than what we're currently paying in rent. However, moving, whether buying or renting takes money. After I tallied up all the money I made this year in 2019, I realized that if I could use a lot of self control and just tuck all that money away, that would be an awesome down payment, or at least way more than enough money to move into another home to rent, where we can still keep saving for that new house at some point. 




My Accountability:
This is something that I know for me is actually going to be really hard to do, so I know I'm going to need accountability somewhere. I know I'm not going to be 100% perfect and there will be moments I'm sure where I fall short, but I think doing a monthly update here on the blog on with where we spent money, and where we saved, and how much we've been able to put into savings that month would be a really fun thing to do in 2020, so that is my plan. 

This is our big crazy goal for 2020. It's not so much an experience in minimalism like Miranda Anderson did in 2018, but for us it's more about telling ourselves no now, in exchange for something that we want even more in our future. 

My 2019 Income Report + Ways to Work From Home

Something that I feel very strongly about is that anyone can be making money from home while raising their children and wanting to do all the other things in their lives. I started my blog eight years ago from nothing. I was a girl with a digital camera she didn't know how to use, and a free blogger hosted blog (still going strong BTW) and I just got gritty and made it happen. 


I don't share any of these numbers to brag, or say look at me, because I am so low on the rich blogger totem pole it's not even funny. But what I will say is that I made this money this year, while finishing my Bachelor's and taking 16 credits a semester, raising my children, and going to more doctors and therapy appointments than I can shake a stick at. So while this was actually one of my lowest earning years since making money on my blog, I'm actually really proud of what I've been able to do in 2019. 

That being said, the grand total for what I've made this year is $16,345. I did this while still being able to drive my kids to school each day. Taking college classes. Taking my kids to doctor appointments. Putting on a parenting conference for 50+ parents that I didn't make a single penny off of. If I can do it, I promise you can too. Here's the breakdown:

Sponsored Blog Posts: $12,046
Freelance Social Media Marketing: $3,246
Photography: $900
Affiliate Marketing: $153
Total: $16,345

And in case anyone is wondering if this is sitting in a fat savings account... unfortunately that is not the case. The freelance social media marketing work almost entirely went to paying for Kinsley's physical therapy. Without this work, I'd have to pay for it out of pocket with money that I don't have, and so I'm grateful to be able to basically exchange services for something that is so crucial in our lives. 

During the fall I broke one of my camera lenses and needed to replace it with a new lens. That was roughly about $700, and I did family photo sessions to offset the cost of purchasing a new lens. 

So where did all that sponsored blog money go? Well I wondered that too, so I dug through all of our credit cards, and bank statements and here's what we got: Derek tore his retina and had emergency eye surgery. We bought a dog and paid way more than I ever want to admit to have him neutered. We took our kids to California and Bear Lake (two experiences that are worth more than money.) Kyle played baseball, soccer, and ran cross country. We bought a sofa to replace the futon we'd been using for three years. I made a whirlwind trip to NY to say goodbye to my dying grandmother (and for anyone following that roller coaster, it's been almost a year since that trip and she's somehow still here...). 

But most importantly, the most amazing thing that this income has gone to this year is paying off my student loans. It's amazing to think that my college diploma will be arriving at our home in just a few weeks, and I will be completely free of my school debt. At the beginning of this year I still had $7,000+ left to pay on my loans, and finally this summer I'd had money saved in the bank for what would be the down payment for our next home, and decided that it was better to pay off this debt first. And I really can't tell you how good that feels. 

So if you're wondering if this is for you, read these three blog posts I wrote years ago about getting started:

And if you read through all of that and still have more questions, hit me up, I'm a literal open book about this stuff. 

And if you're thinking, "good for you but not for me, but I still need money..." 
1) Don't do Uber or Lyft. Derek tried it a few years ago and it's not worth the money you lose in gas and the wear and tear that goes on your car. And while I haven't done any of the others, I feel similar to Door Dash and Instacart. For what people pay for those services, I'm not convinced the delivery people are making enough money to make that worth it in the long run for the same above reasons.

2) Have a DSLR camera? Learn how to REALLY use it. You can find so many free tutorials online, and practice, practice, practice. You can start a photography business for basically zero start up costs. When we lived in NC I made a blogger hosted photography website (See here: http://flammphoto.blogspot.com/), contacted Living Social and Groupon, got them to host my photography deal on their site, and I made a couple thousand bucks in just a month or two. 

3) Teach english online with sites like VIPKID or Gogo KID These sites pay $20 an hour as long as you don't mind staying up late or waking up early! 

4) Can you make things? Knit scarves to sell on Etsy. Have a degree? Can you create a product or program using your degree that you can market and sell online? Like my parenting conference? (ps I haven't made money from that because all the online sales have gone to charity.) Can you draw and make beautiful digital downloads that people can hang as art in their homes, or huge coloring pages that are all the rage right now? Maybe you have a degree in nutrition and can make a digital e-cookbook to sell? 

5) I'm not going to bash MLMs, but I will say I used to be a part of one, and was chronically $1,000 in debt to the business at all times. When I left the company they did let me return my product and get 90% of my money back, but I was spending way more than I was ever making, and had to spend and sell at least $600/month to get whatever paycheck I did earn... Oh man... I'm being triggered by so many memories right now... maybe this is another post for another day? 

There are literally millions of ways that you can make money from home doing things you love. If you get a little creative, and a little gritty, you can totally make anything happen. Have a growth mindset, get out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself, and what you're doing, and you can make things happen. 

Ps. Come back tomorrow to see our wild plans for 2020.