How a four hour glucose test changed my life

Sitting in the waiting room of the local lab, I wasn’t as worried this time. During my first pregnancy I had been freaked out when I had failed the initial one hour glucose test and had to take the long-form version. This time I knew the drill. In some ways, it was kind of a mini vacation. Four hours to myself! To read! I’d been doing some research into investments recently and had come across Your Money or Your Life.

It’s main revelation was the idea that a typical middle class person in the United States (i.e., one who has not inherited wealth or started an internet company at 15) could retire early. And it laid out the math pretty clearly: when the income of your investments (you work hard to build savings) exceeds the amount you need to cover your (as low as possible) expenses, you are financially independent and can make choices without worrying about a 9-5 job.

In the original book written in the 1970s, the authors invested in Treasury Bonds yielding a secure and reliable 7% rate of return. Can you imagine? While trying to figure out contemporary investments that could be used to the same end, I found Mr. Money Mustache, and read through All the Posts From the Beginning of Time®.

Paula Pant taught me how to afford anything, and what to look for in a worthwhile, positive cash-flowing investment property.

Dividend Mantra had another strategy for covering living expenses through investments, albeit one I ultimately rejected because of how very much money you have to invest upfront in order to have enough dividends to live on.

Here’s where I feel like I’m different from many folks in the FIRE* community and the Mustachians in Practice community: I don’t have an exact FIRE date. There are too many unknown variables for me to figure out the number of days until we can “retire.” I know our overarching strategy is FIRE through buy and hold rental rental real estate, because it’s a good fit for our talents and situation. But what is the exact amount these properties will cash flow? How much cash up front will we need to purchase and fix them up? How quickly or slowly we can gather that cash? What will life throw at us in the meantime? Part of the beauty and salve of life is not knowing ahead of time.


*Financially Independent Retire Early



people who fight angels

fight abstract

An ideal childhood can really mess you up. You spend a decade of your most impressionable years with people that take care of you in every conceivable way. They anticipate your needs and wants, they take you to amazing places, they love you and teach you all the things. The following ten years are a pituitary-driven haze, and the next thing you know you are standing in a grocery store two thousand miles from any blood relative realizing that if you don’t buy your own food, you won’t have any. It only gets worse from there.

I’ve looked up, now, at 35 and I have one remaining grandparent. My parent’s parents have mostly died. They were the people *my* parents relied on. And they are almost gone. I am very close to my parents. I still rely on them so, so much. We talk on the phone, we visit, and we have this amazing relationship where love, support, and advice flow both ways. And that is disorienting. Because part of our wonderful relationship includes my parents telling me that they don’t have all the answers, and that they are faced regularly with situations that are beyond their ability to repair. And if they don’t have the answers, then no one does. And that means I live in a world with un-fixable problems and unbearable heartache.

There is an Old Testament story where Jacob spends the whole night long wrestling with an angel. And that picture expresses really well how I feel. On the one hand, I believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God that loves people individually and collectively—everyone, in fact. And on the other hand, here is the world. Such a mess. No one gets out alive. We have the hope of heaven but it comes shackled with the knowledge that so many won’t get there. Trying to hold all of this in my head and heart at once feels exactly like Jacob wrestling the angel. I’m confused, it’s really dark, I feel the danger, and I’m struggling with a force I can’t truly understand.

In the middle of this mess and heartbreak, in the middle of all my questions and doubt, I have a gleaming beacon of certainty about my place in this world. I am broken and whole. I am a light in the darkness, not because of my own merit, but because I am a channel by which the love of God can pierce the darkness and enter the world, one pinprick of light at a time. Sometimes God shines the brightest through my cracks and flaws, which means I have to be honest about them instead of trying to cover them up. That’s my job. One compliment, one hug, one honest conversation at a time. Show up. Do the work. Be there. Show people your cracks. God will do the rest.

Not Ours


We tell our kids that life isn’t fair and then watch as our best friends and relatives are wounded by levels of loss and pain that we can’t even imagine. I’ve stepped into a new church or turned on the TV and been suddenly swept away in a tide of second-hand grief.

I hesitate to share my small story of disappointment in a world where the unthinkable is also routine. But it insists on being told, so here it is.

Last week we put an offer in on a foreclosure. It needed several major projects just to make it livable, but the location was good and the asking price attractive. We weren’t quite looking for a house yet, but it seemed too good of an opportunity to not pursue.

I think what can make buying a house difficult is that part of the process of looking at a property requires you to decide if it will fit your needs. And this process includes imagining your life inside those walls. Where will you sleep? Where will you eat? Where will hide away and curl up? Where will you watch movies with your kids and put away your clothes? Some folks can evaluate properties with a dry-eyed gaze. But I don’t know how to go through this process without getting at least a little attached.

As you probably guessed from the post title, it didn’t happen. In a particularly frustrating closed-bid process, we were outbid. With one phone call, all of that imagining was rendered completely pointless, and I was left feeling really bummed and a little foolish. I’d gotten so caught up (again!) in plans for a future life that only ever existed in my head and not at all in the real world.

In August of this year, I read a phenomenal book by Jerusalem Greer called, At Home In This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Broken Dreams and Beautiful Surprises. In this book, Jerusalem posits that, “our longings and disappointments can become the soil in which our faith is brought further to life.” She talks about how the mundane rituals of our lives can become infused with sacred meaning as we choose to live for God, not in a perfect imagined future, but in our imperfect and holy present.

We still get to be human, of course. We get to mope around a bit and feel the frustration. We get to hold a funeral in our hearts for dashed hopes, even if they were silly or covered in lead-based paint to begin with.

When Lifestyle Inflation is Just Fine.

Image result for blackish money

If you spend any time in the FIRE (Financial Independance/Retire Early) corners of the internet, you will constantly hear folks telling you to avoid lifestyle inflation. And in general, it’s good advice. If you were meeting all your needs before you got a raise, then saving any new income instead of buying a better car/bigger house can be a great way to hit your savings/investing/FIRE goals. But I started thinking late tonight about how that advice–in specific situations for specific people–falls short and leaves responsible people* feeling guilty for no reason. Let’s talk about some of those situations.

1. You really do need a better car.

My first car was a glorious heap of garbage on wheels. To begin with, there was that dingblasted clatter coming from under the hood any time it was on. Then it left me stranded on the way to work. And then the starter wire started falling off any time the car was in motion. Once I was making more money? I bought a car that I was 100% sure would accelerate when I was pulling into traffic and got me to work every. time.

2. You have a problem that money can fix.

To borrow a phrase from Captain Awkward, sometimes you can “throw money at a problem” and it can make your life better in real ways. In my case, that problem is being a Highly Sensitive Person with beautiful, beloved kiddos. My life is made markedly better by paying for quality childcare when I need it. And that need is for regular breaks as well as for paid work. We are all better off for it. Which brings me to my next situation…

3. When you have more people to take care of

Say all you want about how kids don’t have to cost $233k to raise (and I have plenty to say about it), the truth is that more people cost more money. There are more showers, baths, clothes, meals, entry fees, educational costs, bottoms to transport, library overdue fees, beds to buy, and rooms to put them in. The $300/month one bedroom apartment that we had when we were first married does not feel as spacious once the number of people has doubled. And the two bedroom, one bathroom unit that felt perfectly adequate with one kid is going to be mighty crowded once puberty hits and we have two kids of opposite genders and four people total who all need to use the bathroom all at the same time. The toddler clothes that fit nicely in our tiny house experiment are all over the floors of multiple rooms now that the kids and their clothes are bigger, longer, and require more space.

4.  When someone is diagnosed with a chronic illness.

The chronic illness in our particular family is a pretty straightforward one that we have no right to complain about, so I won’t. But the truth is that it will cost us in actual dollars and time for the rest of our lives. DH has Celiac’s disease. Again, I’m not complaining. There are plenty of ways to save money, even with that specific dietary restriction. But the truth is that we will probably never spend less at the grocery store than we did before he was diagnosed.

5. When spending more aligns with your values.

When you are broke, your own survival is paramount. Tunnel vision, sometimes manifested in seeing only the price per unit and nothing else, is a useful strategy when you have limited options. Once you start making more money, however, you might find that you want to spend a little more money because of your core values. This could look like buying more expensive clothes that are of higher quality and will last longer. It could be spending more for free range eggs and free range chicken because you believe that animals should not spend their whole life in a cage with amputated body parts. It could mean that you buy fair trade chocolate because you refuse to treat yourself at the expense of children on the other side of the world working in dangerous conditions.


The beauty and the pain of personal finance is that it is so personal. Our budgets *should* look different, because they should reflect our actual expenses. As appealing as FIRE is, we should not sacrifice our morals or our sanity at its alter. Align your spending with your values, and things will line up the way they should.



* I want to be clear. In this post, I am talking about personal finance from a particularly privileged point of view and I am responding to a widespread sentiment in a niche community.  These are truly first world problems, and do not address the real lived experiences of the majority of the world, either now or throughout history.


What comes after broken

broken bowl

The short version
My own cracks emerged when my overly high expectations, perfectionism, and need to control things crashed into the real world where I had a house, a hubby, and two precious, treasured babies that needed me for everything all the time. I splintered into pieces of panic, anxiety, and depression.

And here’s the funny thing. The gales of personality, of being too much…that force that drove me apart cemented me back together too. It drove me to therapy, reading, medication, and self care. I learned how to fix the cracks with a flexible substance (rubber cement? glitter glue?). Now I can bend instead of breaking.


The long version
If you know me, you know I have a lot of theories about things. One of my theories about why I developed PPD and anxiety is that every human has cracks/ weak spots in their personality/makeup. And when you put someone in a place where they are severely sleep deprived, exhausted from enormous responsibility, in charge of keeping helpless and stubborn human creatures alive, taxed and burdened in every way, the cracks in anyone will manifest. My cracks lay along the lines of generational OCD, a predisposition for depression, perfectionism, unhelpful ideas about self-sacrifice, and the drive to control everything.

When I had my second kid, I broke. Panic attacks, freaking out at the grocery store, staying home too much, anger, feeling worse after a getting a break instead of better. I couldn’t sleep no matter how tired I was, even in a quiet house completely alone. If I cleaned, all I could see was everything that still needed cleaned. A lot of the time, I was just paralyzed in bed or on the couch.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about all the befores and afters in one go. But I want to provide at least one detailed example.

Then: The house is a mess! All I can see is the piles in the corner that need taken care of. If I was a good housekeeper, less lazy, my house would be perfect. All the papers would be filed perfectly, the laundry and dishes would be done, and there would be no clutter anywhere.

Therapy: PERFECT ISN’T REAL. You might always prefer a tidy house, but you *can* live in a messy one. Have one clean area you can retreat to.
Book: “Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”*
Medication: Here is more serotonin!
Older Kids: I’m sleeping more and can have them work on cleaning up their own messes a little.
School/Preschool: Sometimes the kids are gone during the day and I can clean without them trashing it at the same time.

Now: The house is a mess! Right now, I’m prioritizing laying around, getting the apartment ready for turnover, writing a blog post, watching TV, or surfing the net. I’ll get to it when I have an energy burst, which I know will come. I’ll clean when they are at school. I’ll clean on Saturday. I have done enough for now. I’m choosing to spend time doing something that feeds me, and that is worthwhile just because I enjoy it.

Getting more help, getting more sleep, backing up off myself and learning how to breathe = gold.


*The Gifts of Imperfection by Brenee Brown

We could become ordinary

It’s hard to admit this out loud and in public, but I’ve realized that many of my decisions (and especially my aspirations) as an adult have been fed by vanity. I want to be different and better. I don’t want to just exercise. I want to run marathons and amaze people with my endurance and determination. I don’t want to just live in a house and pay off a mortgage…I want to own multiple rental properties that help to cover our living expenses. Perhaps we aren’t meant to live in a medium-sized American city. Maybe we could go dig wells in Africa instead. “Institutionalized learning” is for suckers! Let’s homeschool roadschool worldschool instead!!!  It seems so unremarkable to go to work, pay the bills, put the kid on the bus, take her off, and bake cupcakes for her class on her birthday. No jaws will drop when you tell people that for family night you went for a walk in the park and then came home and watched The Princess Bride. Nobody hands out medals for walking 35 minutes on the treadmill at your gym. No one interviews you for podcasts when your accomplishments that day were to take you medications, pack lunches, get the kids home, and crash in a depressed state while your husband cooks dinner. I’m not aware of any “regular-sized house” movements. I’d like to think of myself as a minimalist, but the amount of junk all over my floors would seem to negate that. I’d like to think of myself as an ambitious professional. I work part-time.

My twenties seemed to be the time that I learned that I was not going to make my mark on the world at large. The graduation greeting cards lied. And in my thirties, it seems like my best efforts and all of my energy is barely enough to keep a regular life afloat.

I was taught from a young age that our lives are not about ourselves. They are about serving God. And I thought I was going to do that, but in a big way that brought (humble) glory to myself as well.

Ya’ll, I have been brought down to the basement floor. I thought I knew about being a good parent. And then I birthed all the willpower in the world, in the form of a tiny human, born with both fists raised–for real. It took two and and a half hours just of pushing to get her out. She could have put down her fists, dagnabit. Despite that, after a while I thought I had things kind of figured out, so I had another one. And I got knocked out and dragged down by post partum depression. Which after three years has lost the soft mantle of post-partum and revealed itself to be the ugly treatment resistant kind instead. I lost control of my breath in panic attacks. While pregnant I injured my back and lost running. Two days ago I tried to lift something heavy and lost any movement at all for a couple of hours of spasmodic pain. This morning I had recovered enough to walk for fifteen minutes at the speed of 2 mph while my preschooler watched TV in the gym daycare. I’ve enrolled my kid in school.

And I’ve read the blogs and listened to the podcasts about extraordinary lives. Tim Ferris will tell you exactly which tea and what brand of hanging-upside down machine will put you in top-shelf highly productive mode. Paula Pant can tell you how to afford anything. Mr. Money Moustache, Go Curry Cracker, and the Mad Fientist will tell you how they retired in their thirties. A key element? Bicycles. And saving half your income. For a while, I was so inspired and determied to follow them. And then I realized–one everlasting excruciating day after another–that their path is not my path. Ya’ll, I am not meant to be around my kids 24/7. Everyone in this house is a happier, better person with lots of school and very expensive childcare. Even though that means taking a huge financial hit, we have to do it. For my literal sanity. Which also, by the way, rules out living in a bus or on a boat or a tiny house. It means not RVing the country or Air Bnbing the world as a lifestyle. I need to be alone to retain my personhood and right now that means also remaining stationary. And not saving half our income. It means we go to a church with a nursery, and live near a preschool with flexible hours. That I work a job that works around when the kids are in school. That we hire babysitters and pay for camps. That I have lots of unstructured time and feel like I get nothing done in it. Only the same clothes washed and the same floors cleaned.

People tell us that it will get easier (or “different”) when the kids get older. Which I suppose is true. But having just gone through the last seven years, I am leery. You can get everything you ever wanted out of life, and not be able to handle it. The best parts of life–your blessings of every kind, things you looked forward to and love–can beat you down until you can’t breathe or stand. That’s not hyperbole. That was two years ago and last Saturday. All my best efforts do not result in extraordinary anything, in living internationally, or heroic self-sacrifice. We’ve scrabbled our way to ordinary and are hanging on for dear life.

That is not to say that we are unable to build for the future. We own two duplexes (one of which we live in), work two jobs, save in our assorted retirement funds, and seek to build a frugal and hard-working life, run through and through with the love of Jesus in action. Which is good for the world, but bad for vanity. Maybe that’s the higher calling I’m supposed to answer in this season? To let go of vanity, of the idea of  having an extraordinary life (or even a clean house) and just bring honor to God and satisfaction to my soul by living an ordinary one.

Home Base

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of life that we might be able to have someday. This life would involve a lot of travel, so I have been sitting in on a lot of online conversations about nomadic lives of one kind or another. Folks who are traveling around the world with their three kids, living with only the belongings they can each carry in a backpack. Singles and couples who take it further, carrying their food, water, and shelter with them while trecking the Pacific Crest Trail. A former co-worker who completes one adventure after another, teaching ESL to folks in Boulder and Tokyo, hiking the AT, and training for marathons in Wyoming. Families that live all over the country in RVs with their 5 kids, fleeing cold weather and hurricanes, rallying in Las Vegas and Legoland, swapping tips on how to cook, store, and live within that unique set of challenges. I’ve devoured books by women who have built tiny houses and yurts with their own hands. Left their office jobs in London to literally set sail. I have learned so much from these people, and their stories make me actually ache to be on the move.

And yet.

There is something to be said for Home Base. And here are some of those things.

Staying put makes the most mundane tasks of living much easier. You get to keep your doctor. Your health insurance. You know how you are going to wash the dishes and your clothes. There are lots of systems in place that make feeding, clothing, and sheltering yourself and your kids a lot easier. Let’s hear it for warm running water and a dryer!

You get to keep your friends. It is true that we can keep in touch with people much more easily and frequently than before. But it is also true that a huge amount of friendship and fellowship is based on proximity. When we worship together, watch each other’s kids, and bring each other meals, we weave gently and honestly into each other’s lives. When you stay put, and the weaving happens for years on end, the result is a stunning and sustaining thing of glory.

The money thing. I hate bringing this up, because so many people have made nomadic lifestyles work by building online businesses, teaching abroad, or taking sabbaticals. It can be done. But for many/most people, it’s just easier to stay in place and work a steady, in-person job. For now, we own rental properties in a specific spot and work at specific jobs.

Maybe the best reason to stay put right now? Spring is just around the corner. Stay tuned.

Real Estate is Real

for blog

Two things got me thinking.

1. I’ve been reading more and more about real estate lately. I’ve found The Bigger Pockets Podcast, and I’ve started reading things like Building Wealth One House at a Time and Buy It, Rent It, Profit. I have been learning, but I’ve also been encountering some of the hype and read-my-other-book and come-to-my-workshop nonsense that comes with the territory.

2. I was listening to this week’s episode (#543) of This American Life this morning. They spent quite a bit of time talking about a new get-money-from-your-friends scam called Wake Up Now.

These things got me wondering if, by buying this investment property, we hadn’t bought in to some kind of scam. We are still at the stage where we are pouring money into this property and is not fully rented. What if it has all been some kind of mistake?

Well, tonight I was having a glorious couple hours of productive solitude, painting and cleaning at the new property when I heard someone knock on the door. It was the next door neighbor with a friend who wanted to see the place because she is in the market for a new apartment. So I showed it to her, despite the fact that it is knee-deep in construction debris and tools from one end to the other. It made me realize again that real estate *is* real. It’s a real product, with real customers who have a real need you are filling. And because it is a real business and not a multi-level marketing scheme, you don’t have to sell the product or the system to your friends. Complete strangers will agree to hand you money on a regular basis. And sometimes, they will even come knock down on your door to do it.

Believe the Numbers

Some people would think that the idea of “believing the numbers” is silly. What else is there to believe? Even those that put their faith in the supernatural, if they are numbers people, will talk about the number of ancient scrolls corroborating each other and our modern Bible. They will share with you the dates of various Biblical kingdoms, will quantify–in percentages–the likelihood of special creation vs. the unlikelihood of evolution. Numbers are a language by which the heavens and the earth can be understood.

For others, numbers are inherently untrustworthy. They say figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Statistics are manipulated every day. And how much can you trust cold, hard numbers to quantify the essence of life, anyway? How, really, can you trust the math of aerodynamics? What is to stop a ton of steel from falling straight out of the sky? Numbers are slippery creatures that can take hours to nail down in the right formulas, rows, and columns. And if you’ve forgotten a small decimal point? All is lost.

For much of my life, I have been the person in the second paragraph. And I’m writing this post in case any of you are like me. In case any of you have had to sit there in front of a spreadsheet and bet your future on the accuracy of the numbers in front of you. I’ve had to convince myself to trust the numbers. My gut would be much happier if we were that much closer to paying off our primary residence. But instead, we have taken out a HELOC and taken a chance on our future because of what the spreadsheet says. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Track And Face the Numbers

The first step towards Better Living Through Math is to track and face the numbers. It’s closely related to the notion of First, Admit You Have a Problem. Since this is my fourth post and we now know each other so well, I’ll dive right in and use a personal example: my weight.

Let me start by saying that I am sensitive to the issues surrounding fat shaming, unrealistic social expectations, body image, etc. So I am going to tread carefully and I am only going to speak for myself. I currently weigh more than is medically advised. With the help of my doctor, a nutritionist, and the people at the gym, I am changing that because I’d like to move through this world in a body that is strong and healthy and capable of enduring the crazy adventures I have planned, with minimal pain and maximum enjoyment.

How am I going about this? By tracking and facing the numbers. Specifically, the numbers on the scale and the numbers on my food-logging app. They represent the truth about how much progress I’ve made towards my goal, how much ground I’ve lost, and how far I still have to go.

To be financially healthy, you also have to track and face the numbers. Numbers like your bank balances, debt, credit scores, net worth, etc. Just like hopping on the scale, financial reckoning is very often painful. But if you are going to build the life you want, there is no way around it. So rip off the Band-Aid and figure it out NOW. Quantify your position. Take responsibility for it. Hookup your accounts to (easiest). Track every single expense into self-made categories in Quicken (detailed and thorough). Use a spreadsheet (cheap, but harder to get the full picture long-term). Get a pencil and a scrap of paper and a stack of your bills (if that’s what you have, work with it). Just do something. And do it now. There are few guarantees in life. But self-made behavioral issues do NOT fix themselves. It’s your life. What are you going to do with it?