Tuesday, March 3, 2015

No More Hamster Wheel!

I have the joy today of getting to review How to Get Out of Debt Living Paycheck to Paycheck by Camilla Kragius from No More Hamster Wheel

When it comes to financial books, in my mind, Dave Ramsey is the untouchable guru, Casey Lewis is the personal/relatable mentor, and Camilla Kragius is the neighbor who's been-there-done-that and wants to share how with you. While a lot of financial books are full of facts and stats, HTGOODLPTP is more conversational and encouraging.

This book is a very quick read. The short chapters give you the down and dirty details of how to become debt free, save for the future, and live your life. The first chapter, which also happens to be the longest, walks you step by step through creating (and sticking with!) a budget- even if you live paycheck to irregular paycheck.

One thing I really appreciated was Camilla's acknowledgement that you have to actually live while getting out of debt, even if that means not following her plan to the t so you can have a little fun. Instead, she stresses the importance of balance, even though it goes against the conventional advice from most gurus.

Along with the book, I also got to review the companion course: Financial Freedom. I LOVED this course. If you're going to buy the book, spend the extra money and go for the whole course- and you get the book included! 

In 27 lessons, Camilla walks you through all the principles in her book so you come out with a complete and personalized financial plan. It further explains some parts of the book that can get confusing, and even gives you rest days so you don't get too overwhelmed! I'd estimate that the lessons take anywhere from 15-60 minutes, depending on your debt, work-ethic, and math skills ;) 

As a whole, I think I may have liked the course more than the actual book, if that's possible? The book had some parts that seemed a little jumbled and required me to read a few times to understand, but overall was a good start for people beginning their financial journey. The book gets 3 stars from me. The course, however, gets 5 stars, as the walkthroughs and narratives were fantastic and easy to follow.

So as a whole package, this product gets 4/5 stars. I'd recommend it for anyone who needs a step-by-step walkthrough to start their budget and financial life. 

I received access to this course from the author in exchange for a review.

Update: Camilla has generously offered a discount to readers of AspiringAshley! Use the coupon code "Ashley" to receive the course for only $10! What a great start to becoming debt free. Thanks Camilla!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mr Grey Attacked My Dog

Last night, I went to bed early. I've been exhausted lately, and the past week or so has been crazy at work. So it was lights out just after 9:30p and I was on my way to dream land...except at 9:45 I heard something. 

Our dog Jack barked, but it wasn't his usual bark. Then I heard banging, and yelling, and Jack yelping, and squealing. I ran upstairs to see what was going on and found the kitchen in chaos. My dad was looking around for something, my mom was trying to close the sliding door, and they were both yelling. I looked down and saw a raccoon IN the door, my mom pinning it in place, trying to keep it from getting into the house. My mom yells at me, "This isn't Jack! It's a raccoon!" (because I obviously couldn't tell that) and is yelling at my dad to get a bucket, but he's trying to deal with Jack. 

So I grab the recycling bucket next to the door and put it over the raccoon, who is half way in the house, while my mom keeps holding the door. My dad finally caught the dog, who had been attacked and bit by this raccoon while he was outside for his last pee break before bed, and ran upstairs to put him in his crate and get my brothers. (By the way, Sam, I've taken to calling you my brother lately instead of "the guy who lives in our attic." It's basically true anyways, and easier than explaining.)

So the boys and Leah all come down, I'm holding a bucket over a raccoon who has half his body in our house and is squealing and scratching and thrashing. My mom is too nervous to open the door to get him out of the house, thinking he might flip himself around into the house and bite or scratch us. My brothers are offering to kill it with a giant stick they just happened to have with them. 

Being the voice of reason, I sent my brother (blood brother, Miah) to put on boots, then he took over holding the door for my mom. Mom went to examine the dog, while Miah and I took a few seconds to regroup and plan (while everyone behind us is yelling "helpful" things).

We took a three count, Miah slid open the door, I threw the raccoon and barrel up, out, and to the right (to make sure it wouldn't get caught on the lip of the door), and Miah slammed the door closed again. And locked it, per our mother's request. Just in case the raccoon knows how to open slider doors, I guess. Then the raccoon earned his new name: Mr Grey. We nearly killed him in the door, and he came right back trying to get in for more. And he was definitely injured, because he was limping around, and there was blood on our door where we had pinned him. This is how far into our house his front half was:

We called Animal Control, but they were closed, so we called the police who sent two squad cars. Called the vet and my mom took him over to the emergency clinic to get checked out. We spent the next hour watching Mr Grey root through the trash on our porch, crawl into the barrel to chew on his tail, go wander in the snow, and come back to try to break into the house and start all over. 

The police just stood around for a few minutes, then got back into the cars and one waited for the on call Animal Control guy to show. I guess raccoons have been a big problem lately, even attacking a police officer recently who had just stepped out of his squad car.

All the trash is because it was in the recycling bucket when I trapped him in it. I just tossed the whole thing out the door to get him out.

For an HOUR this animal limped around our yard, making circles around the porch. Then we watched him shimmy up a pole, attack the bird feeder, play with the bell, climb down the railing, hide under Sam's car, and disappear. The Animal Control guy showed up minutes later, and Mr Grey wasn't found. He was on our porch for an hour, and then he disappeared less than five minutes before the AC guy showed up. 

Jack went to the vet, got his injuries checked out and cleaned. He's got a bite on each hind leg, and a little scratch on his nose. He's a drugged little guy this morning, since they had to sedate him last night to clean him up, and now he's on pain meds. He's back at the vet right now getting a rabies booster, and he has to be on quarantine for 45 days, since the raccoon wasn't caught so we don't know if it had rabies. 

Mr Grey may look cute, but don't be fooled. He's a monster.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Let's Be Spies

For 2015 we are re-resolving the "Do New Things" resolution, like we had in 2013. Today we took our first adventure of 2015: We became spies. (We also posted it all over the internet. We're not the best spies.)

5 Wits at Patriots Place in Foxboro is this really cool place. They've got two adventures: Espionage and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We, of course, did the Espionage option where, essentially, you spend an hour being a spy.

You go into a "shop" that turns out to be a front for the CDA, your agency. After exchanging code words and destroying the hidden bugs, you are briefed by the senior agent (we had the fantastic James). We learned that COBAL had stolen valuable blueprints which, if built, would put an end to all electronic communications on the planet. No phones, internet...NO NETFLIX!

And of course, it was highly probably that there was a mole in our agency. After making it through the laser security system, you and your group (of twelve or so) as you are led by your senior agent through the Disney-quality sets of enemy headquarters as you try to find the blueprints and stop the bad guys. We even had to (try to) dismantle a bomb! (We survived, but barely.)

Here's where our senior agent encouraged some "Satellite Selfies" so we could prove to our higher ups that COBAL did, in fact, steal the blueprints and begin a prototype of Project Gridlock.

The lighting in the lab wasn't the best for selfies, but I still like this. I don't have other photos. I was too busy having a blast being a spy and trying not to blow up from the bomb. 

This was SO. MUCH. FUN! I would highly recommend it, and would totally go back! Everything is interactive and high quality. Our senior agent was great. Did I mention this was really fun? Because it was. You should go do it. Where else can you, an adult, go run around like a spy for less than $20?

And finally, because Gillette was right outside the door....GO PATS!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wayfinding Bible GIVEAWAY!

Okay, this isn't so good. Tyndale was generous enough to send me a Wayfinding Bible over a year ago when they came out, and I never shared! I found it on my shelf this afternoon while deciding which Bible I should bring to my first Bible College class (I'm taking Bible College classes!!) so it seems like the perfect time to finally blog about it.

The Wayfinding Bible is an NLT version of Scripture that offers three built-in reading plans designed to give the reader an overview of the entire Bible and how the major themes, characters, and stories relate to each other. This Bible also features full colored pictures, notes, and maps to help bring the Bible to life and make it easier to understand, along with a concordance of "Points of Interest". Each book features a timeline of major events from the book and the world at large during that time.

This would be a great Bible for new believers, or Christian teens ready for more. The NLT is an easy-to-understand version, perfect for those who are new to the faith. Combined with the three reading plans, it's a great opportunity to dig into the Word.

So I'm giving away this copy! If you are interested in this Bible, or know someone who could benefit from it, leave a comment below and I will randomly choose a winner on Sunday night, 9pm EST.

(Contest has closed. Congratulations Meredith McLendon! Random.org has declared you the winner!)

Check out this video if you'd like more info about the Bible:

I received this from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Let's All Be Brave

If you read my Favorite Reads of 2014 post, you know that I have a love affair going on with the book Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs. So much so, that I bought three of "my girls" a copy for Christmas. But I wanted to do something a little more, something extra special. So I created Brave Boxes for them (and one for myself because it was too cute).

First, I found these awesome boxes one sale at Michaels, along with some milk bottles and glitter spray paint (did you know they make glitter spray paint?!)

So I used the glitter spray paint to paint the bottles and caps. But I didn't like the look of the gold on gold, so I covered the caps with a light layer of black paint. When it dried, the glitter kind of came through, making them PERFECT! Some glittery stickers and a few coats of sealant later, and the most difficult part was done. The bottles were finished!

So flittery :)

Before I put the boxes all together, I cut some strips of colorful paper (100+ strips per box - plenty to last the year), and wrote out the directions on some library cards I had hanging around. Finally, I underlined some of my most favorite passages in the book and brought it all together.

Here's an up-close of the direction cards:

One of my words for 2015 is Brave, so I'm using this, too, as I hope my girls are! 

How have you been brave this week?
Have you read Let's All Be Brave? How did you like it?
Share in the comments!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My 7 Favorite Reads of 2014

Well, it's that time of year again. Everyone is reminiscing about the past year, making their best whatever lists. I've got my fair share of lists happening, too, but this is my favorite one to share. My favorite reads of 2014! This year the selection is a bit diverse, and not too long. I didn't read as much as usual this year. In fact, I don't even think I'll make it to 40 books, never mind my goal of 50 :( But it was such a fun year of adventures and fun that I can't complain. I'll just have to try harder next year :) So let's talk books now.

Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

This list isn't in much of an order, but this book is definitely my favorite book of the year. So much so, that I bought copies for a few of my girls to make them read it. It is SO. GOOD. I just, I can't even explain to you what this book means to me. Annie writes in a way that is simple and inspiring and makes me want to be her best friend. Her manner, her thoughts, her subject matter are something that I related to so much, even while thinking "she's so much braver than me", but that just made me braver in my day-to-day life, all at the same time. I finished reading this book in early September and it hasn't left my coffee table. I can't bear to put it away yet. Just seeing it on my table every day, thumbing through the highlighted passages every so often, inspires me to be my best self, my bravest self. I could go on and on about how much I love this book, but just go out and buy this book. Now.

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

I kept seeing this one floating around the interwebs and in my DnB groups, so I finally broke down and bought it. And I am so glad I did! This is a great companion to Let's All Be Brave. Chris shares the stories of people who have undertaken quests of all shapes and sizes to find their purpose in life and breaks down the common traits to inspire the reader to find their own Quest. I still have no idea what mine really is, but I'm inspired and searching. This book flew by and was so interesting and encouraging. 

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

This is the most fun and creative autobiography ever. I love NPH, and when I learned he had a book out, I immediately headed to the bookstore to get it. I was already in my pajamas for the night, but I changed to jeans and went to buy it, then read it in a day. He wrote the whole story in second person narrative like the choose your own adventure books of old. You choose how the book plays out, which stories you read in which order. It was fantastic! It was such an entertaining read from an entertaining man and made me love him even more.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Okay, quick little disclaimer: this book is not a clean read. Kristin's lifestyle and my own are very different. But we do share the travel addiction, and that made me absolutely love this book. The way she describes her relationship with travel finally gave me a way to put my own into words. She understood the feelings I get when I travel, and when I don't travel, in a way I haven't been able to describe or find someone else who relates. Her search for herself was absolutely relatable. Take out the massive drinking and crazy sexcapades, and I think we're the same person. Right down to travel injuries.

Impact by Casey Lewis

I read two finance books this year: this one and Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. And as I said in my review, I like Casey's better. I found him to be more relatable and down to earth, even while they both shared the same info and similar methods. Great tips and advice in a non-threatening manner. If you need to get your finances in order, check it out!

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

I read the whole series this year, including Four just yesterday (thanks Chrissy!)! I loved this series! In case you don't know what it's about (have you been living in a cave?), the Divergent series follows Tris Prior in a dystopian future where society is divided into five factions based on the personal traits they most value. At 16, she must choose what faction she wants to be part of, even if it means abandoning her family. But, of course, nothing is as it seems and soon the world they've come to know is falling apart and Tris is at the center. This series is great! There is plenty of action and drama, romance, humor, you name it. And it fit in with the apparent theme of bravery my reading took this year. My biggest complaint is with Allegiant, and not for the reason most readers dislike it. I just found the Tobias sections super whiney, and he was never like that before! It made me really angry that he was being so whiney and made it tough to get through the book. So I try to pretend it didn't happen, because I really like Four. The rest of the series I love, especially getting to see into Tobias's past in Four.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Ohmygosh, this book, ohmygosh. You guys, I LOVE this book. I think this should be up at the top, but I wanted to bookend this post with my top two favorites. Everything else is a random order, but this....this is definitely my favorite fiction read of the year. Fangirl is about an introverted uber-fangirl named Cath who is starting college with her twin sister- who seems to want nothing to do with her now that they're in college. So Cath sticks to herself, mainly writing popular fanfiction in her dorm room and avoiding the real world. Her roommate Reagan and the over-friendly Levi refuse to let her hole up completely, pulling her out of her shell and becoming an unlikely trio. Okay, that's not a great description. But let me just say, that if you fangirl over anything, you'll probably relate to this book. I loved that the main character was so introverted and socially awkward and slightly neurotic, because it was so so so relatable! I was laughing, I was crying, I was and am Cath. I flew through this book, too, reading it in less than 24 hours because I just couldn't stop. I NEEDED to know what happened. There was just so much to this book! So many turns and stories woven in. I didn't love the ending, mainly because it ended. I just wanted more! It left off at a very sweet moment, but I just wanted a little more...something. But ohmygosh, I just want to read it again, and I just finished it last week. If you fangirl or geek out about books, you need this in your life.

So that's it! My top 7 favorite books of 2014! What were your favorite books of the year?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Intro to Iceland, and Gorgeous Gullfoss

One year ago, I went to Iceland for an awesome whirlwind of a long weekend. And for some reason, I never shared it here on the blog! So here's my first post about the gorgeous country of Iceland! There's not a whole lot of information in this post. But there's a bunch of pretty pictures. The adventures and stories will be coming in future posts.

This first photo is right around the corner from our hotel (Icelandair Reykjavik Natura).

Obligatory money shot (Icelandic Krona):

Picturesque random street downtown Reykjavik:

Our giraffe friend:

The Hallgrimskirkja. This church holds the record as the tallest building in Iceland, at 244 feet.

The interior is pretty sparse and basic, but houses a beautiful pipe organ. It's rumored that the bell tower has the best views in the city, but we were too late in the day to find out.

This may seem like a random photo, but it's the one that best captures the strange feeling I had the whole time. Unlike any other place I've been, the sky in Iceland seemed so close, the clouds so low, like I could reach out and touch them if I wanted to. Like the sky loved Iceland too, and was giving it a big hug.

After this little walk our first day in town, we were exhausted, but it was too early to go to bed. The hotel TV only had 5 channels (only 2 in English), so we were going to crowd around the Kindle except...

Sad day!  We wasted away the hours flipping the channels and trying to figure out how to order a pizza. That was our first adventure in Iceland. The website was only in Icelandic, so we called, and the man who answered the phone didn't know our hotel by name. So he asked for the address....which we couldn't pronounce and I attempted to spell....until: "umm, I don't have that letter in my language. It's like a curvy 'd' with a cross?" Thankfully, someone there knew where we were and we got our pizza!

Our first excursion was to the Gullfoss waterfall. But even before we got there, we had beautiful sights! Like these random hot springs seen from the bus:

The tour made a quick bathroom and coffee stop at this little strip mall that happened to be the victim of an earthquake several years back. The powers that be made the best of it by lighting the crack, laying some thick glass, and making it a tourist attraction. I felt super brave standing over this 6-foot-deep crack!

Then it was onto Gullfoss!

Fun story: see the first group of people in the above photo? That's approximately the spot where I slipped on the ice and slid downhill a good 10 feet, briefly wondering how Chrissy and Kathryn would explain my death-by-icy-Icelandic-waterfall to everyone back home (this would not be the last time this trip I had that thought...but those stories are for another post).

It's easy to see why this place is one of the top tourist destinations in Iceland. It's stunning.

So. Stinkin. Beautiful.

So I leave you with a group shot.

Have you been to Gullfoss (or Iceland in general)? What did you think?

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