Archives for : February2017

Live it Up!

Live it UP!

By Sharon Sheppard

A scary thing happened the other day.  My daughter and her two sons were at my house, and before one of them was going to leave, he said, “I wonder if it’s snowing?”

All three of them whipped out smart phones and started checking their weather apps.  Then before any of them had found an answer to the question, the younger son said, “I suppose we could look out the window.”

He walked over to the window, opened the blinds, and said, “Yep.  It’s snowing.”

It’s scary because we’ve become a culture that tends to put more stock in technology than in reality.

This is not going to be a technology-dissing essay, just a reminder to you and to myself that life is precious.  Lately I’ve been asking myself how I want to spend the rest of it.

Okay, maybe I’ll indulge in just a teeny bit of tech dissing.

David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah, observed that “Through Twitter or Facebook or email, someone in your social network is contacting you in some way all of the time.”

Do I really want to spend a good share of my time checking and responding to messages? Or are there some personal relationships that could benefit from more focused, face-to-face time?

This quote might seem like stating the obvious, but Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

So my point is this: How will you and I wish we’d spent our days when we come to the end of life?  Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself:

  • Am I living life to the fullest? If, at the end of my time here on earth, someone were to hand me a tally of the number of hours I’d spent doing various activities, would I have some regrets?
  • Will I have spent time doing what I love?
  • Am I devoting my life to things that matter?
  • Am I living in a way that reflects my values and goals?

Admittedly, we all have to do some things we don’t love doing.  It’s one of the facts of life.  But there are things we can do to enhance our life experiences–even those that we’re not crazy about.

Here are a few suggestions I’ve gleaned from others (and am trying to put into practice) for living more mindfully and meaningfully:


Slow down!  Sharpen your 5 senses.

Take time to eat slowly, savoring the taste and texture and aroma of your food.

Treat yourself to wonderful music that lifts your spirits.

Inhale the wonders of God’s creation, savoring the magnificent sights and sounds and smells, enjoying them to the full.

Treat your body with care, eating well and relieving tension by stretching and exercising.

Treat your mind with respect, focusing on positive, wholesome, inspiring thoughts and stimulating ideas.

Practice gratitude.  It does wonders for the disposition.

Annie Dillard says, “Spend the afternoon.  You can’t take it with you.”


From the wisdom of the Bible, here are some verses that have been helpful to me:

For those times when I’ve had to do hard things, like picking out my husband’s tombstone, I’ve repeated my favorite verse:  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:13

And for those times when life seems difficult, like when I left the home my husband and I had shared for most of our marriage so I could be closer to my children, I kept reminding myself of these verses:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…” 

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

REMEMBER:  God is good.  Life is short.  Live it fully!


On the Lighter Side

On the Lighter Side

With heavy snow falling and temperatures dropping, soup sure sounds good!  I dug through some of my favorite soup recipes that are quick to make and comforting for the soul. Add Popovers (see recipe below) and jam…and the life of a Minnesota winter is not all bad!


Hearty Vegetable Soup

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups peeled butternut squash in ½-inch cubes
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Pinch smoked paprika or cayenne pepper
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 (14.5) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups lightly packed kale-ribs removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas

Heat oil, add the onion and carrots, cook and stir about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add squash, spices, broth and tomatoes, bring to a boil then reduce heat cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add kale and chickpeas and cook another 10 minutes or until squash is tender and kale wilted. Pick out the thyme sprigs and discard before serving.


Yield: 4 servings


Per serving: (2 cups) 260 calories


Never Fail Popovers

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup milk


Beat eggs slightly. Sift flour and salt directly into bowl. Add water and milk and beat until mixed. Allow mixture to rest for one hour. Preheat the tin in a 425 degree oven about 10 minutes. Pour batter into a greased muffin tin with a liberal amount of butter Fill preheated cups ¾ full. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees for 30 minutes.



Mary Z.

Show Commitment, Build Trust and Intimacy with Combined Finances

A great way to come together in budgeting is to combine your finances with your spouse and make all of your money decisions as a team. When my wife and I were planning our wedding, we made the decision to combine all of our finances, giving equal access to all of our bank accounts. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons we are so successful with our money. Not only have we had financial success, but we have seen many other advantages in our marriage, so for us, combining finances just makes sense. (If you are not yet married or are single, this post might not relate to your current situation, but I think there is still value that can help you prepare for when you are thinking about getting married)

Financial Successes

My wife and I will celebrate our third anniversary in May of this year and have had many financial successes in our young marriage. I attribute a lot of our success to combining our finances when we got married. Even during our dating and engagement we shared all of our financial information with each other in preparation for working together as a team. Although our bank accounts were still separate, we pooled our money together to pay off student loans, credit card debt, and our vehicles. We are very goal oriented, so it only made sense to get a head start on our intense goals. Then once we tied the knot, we officially joined our finances. In order to show the power of combined finances, I want to share our financial goals when we started dating, and also the progress we have made. Here are a few of the big goals we had at the time in 2013:

  •  Pay off $90,000 of student loan debt in 5 years
  •  Pay off approximately $2,000 credit card debt
  •  Finish paying off a car, approximately $1,000
  •  Save for our honeymoon to Mexico
  •  Save for our five year anniversary trip to Ireland
  •  Start investing and saving for retirement
  •  Save money to buy a house
  •  Get life insurance (this felt very adult)

Looking back on these goals, holy cow do they seem lofty, especially on two teacher salaries. (During this process we both got a second job serving at a restaurant, which has also helped make our goals possible) Being a unified team has helped us tremendously to accomplish our goals. It is now 2017 and we have actually crossed several of these items off our list. Check out where we currently stand on each of these.

  •  Student loans: $30,000 left, of which we only need to repay $13,000 because the rest qualifies for loan forgiveness. It will be paid off by April 2017.
  • Credit Card Debt: $0
  •  Vehicles Payments: $0
  •  Honeymoon: Paid for with cash
  •  Trip to Ireland: $2,000 saved
  •  Investing: Opened two Roth IRAs and contribute every month
  •  Bought a house
  •  Have life insurance

As you can see, we have kicked some serious butt on our financial goals and I attribute a lot of that success to our team approach. I don’t say any of this to boast, but simply to demonstrate the power in combining finances with your spouse.

Combined Finances Increases Trust

Research and studies point to money as a leading point of conflict in marriage. In fact, most sources will place fights about money in the top five reasons why couples fight. If you choose not to combine finances, I actually think it creates more opportunities to fight. Also, it has the potential to create distrust. For example, if my wife isn’t willing to give me access to her financial information, including her income, debt, and expenses, it would make me wonder if she is hiding something. Also it would be tough for us to pursue financial goals together. When I think of my wife, she is someone I can trust with my entire heart and know that she wants the best for me. One element of that trust is knowing that I can share my finances with her, even when they are a complete disaster. By choosing to combine our finances, we are demonstrating that we trust each other completely. When Jenna and I made this decision, we went all in. We have all joint accounts at the same bank. Both of us can withdraw money, deposit money, and have access to pay any bills we have, including student loans. In the end, I am responsible for actually managing our income and expenses, but there is full communication during the entire process. There is complete transparency and we discuss any major purchases ahead of time.

I believe combined finances also comes back to your budget. If you are on the same page with your budget, it is much easier to trust each other with your money. I never have to wonder how Jenna spends her money, or vice versa, because it is OUR money. When we said, “I do,” we agreed to share every part of your lives with each other, so all of our income, debt, and expenses became a package deal. Another advantage I love about marrying our finances is that we can plan for our future together. Each month we talk about our budget, upcoming expenses, and remind each other of our financial goals (like paying off student loans). Neither one of us is has to worry if the budget is being blown by unnecessary spending. There is complete trust and accountability, and I believe that deepens our relationship.

An Act of Commitment

I think it goes without saying, marriage takes a lot of commitment. In sickness, health, wealth, poverty, good times, or bad, you are vowing to work through conflict, have your spouse’s best interest at heart, and that takes an incredible pledge. When you join your bank accounts and give each other equal access, it is a physical display of your commitment to do life together. It is a symbolic representation of the vow you make to join your lives together, to truly become one. I don’t think you can fully weave your family together without also doing the same with your finances.

Building Intimacy

I believe joint finances also adds a deeper layer of intimacy in your relationship. This may sound strange, but stick with me here. It is not uncommon for people to have pride issues when it comes to money. Whether it is conscious or subconscious, it is easy to be sensitive when it comes to money, and it is rare for people to actually share financial details with even close friends and family. Things as simple as income, expenses, and budgets can be very intimate parts of our lives and easily judged and ridiculed by others. I think judgement and ridicule is a big reason people are hesitant to open up their financial lives. In order to share your financial story with your spouse, you need to be vulnerable, which is down right hard and even intimidating. It is a little like telling someone ‘I love you’ for the first time. You are opening yourself up with the possibility of being totally crushed by rejection, embarrassment, disappointment. Sharing your finances can create the same situations! Nobody wants to feel all that junk, but being vulnerable with your spouse creates a beautiful opportunity to build a deeper intimacy. Yes, it is a risk, but I think it is worth taking. Be vulnerable and build intimacy.

Wrapping it up

In the end, marriage is a team sport, so working together and pooling all of your resources is incredibly important. If you choose to combine finances, I believe your marriage will flourish and your goals will fall one by one like a row of dominoes. Choose to trust your spouse, be vulnerable, build intimacy, and deepen your relationship one financial decision at a time.

Final Questions

Why do you combine finances? How has it strengthened your relationship?

If you want to hear more about how my family handles finances, budgets for expenses big and small, and for tips on how to get out of debt, follow the link to my official blog at

Welcome to February

Adventures in PHOTOGRAPHY . . .

This month we’d like to introduce our Blogmaster, Brad Tombers, who patiently puts up with us and also shares samples of his extraordinary photography from time to time.  In addition to being tech savvy, he has his own photography business and teaches high school in Alaska.

He has agreed to share some of his photos with us, along with a brief commentary during the next few months.

To get remarkable photos, it’s often necessary to put yourself in remarkable circumstances.  Whether it involves climbing a mountain in subzero temperatures or getting up hours before everyone else to get a sunrise shot, the pictures are amazing because they let people experience the world in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.

This particular photo/experience comes from Eklutna Lake, a glacier fed lake about 20 miles north of Anchorage.  The water that melts off of the glaciers into this lake will ultimately be used by the 300,000 residents of the area for drinking.  It tastes good.

I’ll be posting a different picture every month accompanied by a tip or thought.  If at any time you want to see more of my work, visit



Welcome to February, a month for Presidents, lovers, groundhogs,

& so much more!

Did you know that February also designates special days for:


Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (It’s the first Saturday of the month, but if you’ve missed it, you have our permission to make up for it next Saturday.)

Thank a Mailman Day (4th)

National Weatherman’s Day (5th)

Do a Grouch a Favor Day (16th)

Random Acts of Kindness Day (17th)

Love Your Pet Day (20th)

Oscar Night and Superbowl Sunday are also coming up this month!