March Recap/April Goal-Setting

Goodbye, March… Hello, April!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged in here. With two months left in the school year, things have been super hectic and I guess I should have predicted that. TELPAS testing, the state assessment I played a big role in executing at my campus, is officially over. I’m hoping with one less responsibility, I can dedicate more time to blogging during the month of April. I might have been too ambitious last month.

With that said, let’s take a look at the goals set in March:

1. Work on the landscaping around my house – Check. Justin and I planted corn, squash, cucumber, and green beans, and they are really taking off! I also replaced the mulch in our front and back yards.

2. Continue improving my Spanish language skills by dedicating at least six hours a week to language learning – Check. I slacked off near the end of March, but overall my studying has remained fairly consistent.

3. Work out at least 4x a week. Fail… huge, epic fail!

4. Write 8 blog posts –Another fail… not even close!

5. Plan for summer travels. Unfortunately, we found out during Spring Break that one of our furbabies, Theon, is positive for heartworms. We adopted him during Thanksgiving break, and at the time, he tested negative. The veterinarian informed us, however, that simply because an animal tests negative doesn’t mean they don’t have larvae in their system. We made the mistake of not putting him on heartworm prevention as soon as we adopted him, but… lesson learned. We are undergoing expensive treatment for him, which may prevent us from traveling during the summer.


And now, for April goal setting:

1. Write 4 blog posts – I think this is a realistic goal. I set my goal too high last month and wasn’t able to keep up, but I think 1 post per week is totally doable and may even be exceeded this month if I am smart with my free time. 🙂

2. Continue improving my Spanish – 6 hours/week is what I shoot for, but if I am over or under that,  it’s fine. The key is to remain consistent until I have more dedicated free time over the summer.

3. Limit eating out to once per week or less – I am trying to be more conscious of how much we eat out. It’s hard to tell what you’re putting in your body and the costs add up over time.

4. Work out 3x per week – I set the goal of 4x per week last month and failed miserably. 3x a week is more realistic and not restricted to just gym work outs. This includes landscaping, dog runs, etc.

What’s on your goal list for this month?

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Super Easy, Healthy Crockpot Gumbo

This healthy gumbo has been a staple crockpot meal in my home for a couple years now. It’s tasty, low calorie, high protein, and only takes about 10 minutes to put together in the crockpot. It’s so easy, it hardly even requires a recipe. Below is a step by step picture guide to put it together.

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First, assemble your ingredients! Sometimes I will dice up some bell pepper, but didn’t have any on hand yesterday. These are the basic ingredients.

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4 cups of frozen okra, check. Two cans of organic diced tomatoes, check.

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Frozen shrimp, check. I prefer the medium, deveined variety. This was a $5 bag from my grocery store of choice.

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I cut up chunks of the spicy lean turkey sausage and stir the mixture with my hands. If the chunks of turkey sausage are altogether, they will clump up and not create the desired effect. You must mix!

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Season lightly with some Tony Chachere’s or your desired Cajun seasoning. Since it’s better to make it less salty than too salty, I sprinked a conservative amount. The other ingredients generate a nice flavor on their own, but a little seasoning goes a long way.

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Pour enough chicken stock into the crockpot so that there is liquid about half way up the crockpot. I honestly never measure out how much I’m using, but I estimate it may be the range of 3 cups.

Set the crockpot to High for 4 hours OR Low for 8 hours. I use the former option for weekends, such as yesterday, and the latter option for working weekdays.

When the crockpot is done cooking, add as much rice as you like to the mixture. Normally I use one entire “boil in the bag.” I do not recommend adding the rice to the crockpot with the other ingredients, because it will become mush by the end of the cooking process.

healthy crockpot gumbo

Enjoy! Approximate calories per serving: 25g protein, 300 calories.

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March 2017: What’s in your Ipsy bag?

A few months ago, I joined Ipsy after months (maybe even years) of listening to people talk about it. Before April of 2015, I only dabbled with make-up and went every where bare faced 99% of the time.

Now, a couple years later, I absolutely love Ipsy and it has actually saved me quite a bit of money, as I am no longer spending as much money on cosmetics. I do my best to start using the products as soon as I receive them, but sometimes it can be even a little much make up to keep up with!

With that said, here is what I received in my $10 glam bag this month:

Ipsy Bag March 2017

Eyeko Fat Brow Liquid Liner: Right now, I have about 4 different brow pencils/liners, so it may be a few weeks before I even get a chance to use it. The shade is a little dark, but overall this is a high quality product. I received a liquid eyeliner from them a few months ago and was very pleased with its performance.

Milk to Foam Coconut Milk Cleanser: Smells great, and will serve as a good change of pace from my Walmart face cleanser! Haha. You can never get enough face cleanser.

City Color Dark Spot Corrector: The reddish hue is effective for covering dark eye circles and eye bags, if applied in a triangular shape under each eye. I used to a apply these correctors in gobs under each eye and sometimes it made my eye bags look worse!

Tarte Quick Dry Matte Liquid Lipstick: I’m not a lipstick fan, but this is probably my favorite product I received in this bag. It really does dry quickly and doesn’t rub off on anything! I’ve been eating and drinking quite a bit this morning, and the color has stayed put quite nicely.

 

Ipsy Lipstick

Chella Tweezers: Just like the cleansers, I can never get enough tweezers. I tend to lose mine very easily, so it’s nice to keep one in every room of the house. These tweezers are definitely on par with the Tweezerman tweezers I received as a gift a few years ago.

 

If you’re not already an Ipsy member and want to try it out, go for it! Use my special link and get me some bonus points! I wouldn’t recommend this service if I didn’t feel that it was a very good deal for the money spent.

What was in your Ipsy bag this month?

 

 

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Hello, AT&T… Goodbye, Sprint!

Hola y buenos tardes, mis amigos– spring break has finally arrived! I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday and I am so overdue for a post. So much for March goal-setting, right? Hah! Just kidding. I’m definitely killing it on a couple goals but seriously slacking in others. Spring break is still young!

Here’s what I have been up to lately, in list format:

  1. Celebrated Justin’s Birthday! Yesterday, he turned 35 and we traded in his iPhone 4S for a beautiful iPhone 7. I can hardly believe that 4S lasted him as long as it did, without even a screen cracking. That phone was nearly as old as our relationship!

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I also got a new phone and officially switched over cell phone carriers. I had been a long-time customer of Spring and their service just wasn’t making the cut anymore.

2. Practiced plenty of Spanish. This weekend I downloaded the 3rd grade Spanish STAAR test for reading. For those of you not in Texas, STAAR is the official state assessment here. Reading the different kinds of passages (informational, fiction, poetry, etc) and answering the accompanying questions was a great comprehension exercise. I plan to complete the rest of the 3rd grade tests, then work my way up to 4th and 5th grade.

3. Deep cleaned the house. Bathrooms, living room, kitchen, master bedroom, etc… now I need to work on the mess that is my make-up desk:

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4. Played with my doggies, Sansa and Theon. They have been loving this spring break most of all. Plenty of time to run, play, and cuddle with these two furbabies!

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Later today I am off for my first language exchange date with a Mexican woman I met through Houston Language Exchange. I plan to work with her on her English in exchange for her helping me wish Spanish… wish me luck!

Besos,

Eva

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March Goals / February Revisited

Ah, hello March! It’s hard to believe Spring is practically here. This school year has been passing quickly. February came and went in a blink of an eye. So, how did I do with my goals for the month of February?

1. Complete my first course for principal certification with an A – Check! I’m officially six weeks into my program at this point.

2. Rollover my retirement savings into a traditional IRA – Check – sort of! I definitely got the ball rolling, and it’s about 90% taken care of.

3. Post at least twice a week and grow this blog – Epic fail, but my expectations were not very realistic in the first pace. For March, I will set monthly goals instead of focusing on weekly ones.

4. Dedicate at least six hours a week to language learning – Check!


Well, we live and learn, right? Here go my goals for the month of March!

1. Work on the landscaping around my house – Spring is almost here, which calls for plenty of outdoor plant maintenance! Last Spring we planted many tropical plants in our back yard, and the year before that, we completely revamped our front garden beds. I’m looking to improve on what we already have and add some more awesome plants over Spring Break!

2. Continue improving my Spanish language skills by dedicating at least six hours a week to language learning – I’ve completed the Duolingo Tree, so I’m continuing to use the “Practice” function for additional practice. This month I want to finish the Destinos series, and get some talking practice in through Italki.com

3. Work out at least 4x a week. This used to be so easy for me, but with so many commitments, exercise has truly taken a backseat. Well, not any more… this is a healthy lifestyle blog, for crying out loud. I should be setting a better example!

4. Write 8 blog posts – Instead of setting a goal of posting twice a week, I’m going to set the goal of at least 8 posts for the month of March. That seems much more doable with Spring Break coming up, and some weeks being busier than others.

5. Plan for summer travels. Justin (my husband and I) are undecided on exactly how much traveling we will be doing over the summer, due to our graduate school schedules and the demands of keeping up with our house. At the very least, I would like to spend 1-2 weeks in Mexico participating in a language immersion program. If we can make it to a couple camping trips in some National Parks, that would be even better, but who knows? It is going to be a busy summer.


Wish me luck with these! What are your goals for March?

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10 Free or Low Cost Ways to Create Language Immersion at Home

¡Buenos días a todos!

When we hear the words “language immersion,” we typically think of living in a foreign country for a period of time and being completely surrounded with the target language one is trying to learn. Over the past 2 months, however, I’ve made giant strides in my Spanish listening and speaking capabilities, without ever setting foot in a Spanish-speaking country! 

Thankfully, gaining conversational fluency doesn’t require extensive travel or a lot of money. The suggestions I’m listing below can apply to any language, although all of my language-learning experiences at the moment involve Spanish.

1. Label household items in target language

This was one of the first things I did when I started getting aggressive with my Spanish learning goals two months ago. I even made big anchor charts to hang up in my living room, so I would be able to conjugate verbs on the fly. It’s important to not only label these every day items, but to be cognizant of actually using these words when you speak… even if it’s something as simple as, “Quiero un cafe” or “Dame mi bolsa”

2. Build a strong foundation through free apps

Two words: Duolingo and Memrise. Memrise is a bit slow and focuses more on memorizing individual words or phrases, while Duolingo follows a series of lessons that are strategically designed to build your foundation. It is an AWESOME app and one of the best resources you will find for free!

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3. Change your phone settings to target language

While it can sometimes be frustrating to get a notification you don’t totally understand, it has forced me to get more familiar with certain words. This setting also puts my Google Maps directions into Spanish, and will automatically translate people’s posts from Instagram and Facebook into Spanish. Like most people, I use my phone a lot, so I am constantly learning Spanish this way.

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4. Listen to free podcasts while working out or driving to work

I recently discovered Coffee Break Spanish through Spotify, and I love it! The episodes feature Mark, an experienced language teacher, and Kara, his student. The podcast is recorded in Scotland, but Mark’s Castillian Spanish accent sounds very authentic. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and very easy to follow along with during your commute to and from work, or during exercise!

5. Speak to native speakers

I’m fortunate to work very closely with three lovely native Spanish speakers. I attempt to speak to them and ask them to correct my grammar when I say something incorrectly. I ask a lot of questions and actively listen when they converse with each other.

However, a lot of people trying to learn a language do not have that same advantage. If you are one of these people, I highly recommend you check out Italki. You can pair yourself up with a language partner for a free language exchange. You would help them out with their English while they help you out with your target language. Another feature I will soon try out is the private tutor feature… it’s not free, but the first three lessons come at a significant discount. Even at full price, the half hour and hour long lessons are reasonably priced and completely catered to your level of proficiency.

 

6.Watch a TV show and/or news every day

Remember watching Destinos during your high school or college Spanish courses? I do. I recently started watching these again with a more critical ear, and it really helps you get better adapted to understanding spoken Spanish. The language is pretty basic and best for beginners.

A woman who works as a Spanish interpreter at my school gave me this piece of advice: “Watch a telenovela and a news broadcast every day! Telenovelas (soap operas) will teach you conversational Spanish and the news will teach you more educated Spanish.”

7. MUSICA, MUSICA, MUSICA

I wrote about this earlier this month because it is undoubtedly my favorite way to learn Spanish. As I become better versed in the different genres of Spanish music, I become increasingly passionate about the language. To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time I listened to music in English for longer than 10 minutes or so! I actually prefer Spanish music now. Mariachi, bolero, salsa, traditional rock, even bachata… I’ve been listening to all of it and completing lyric studies with every song.

8. Read in target language everyday

Books, news articles, blogs… there is no shortage of free material online or in your public library. I purchased a slew of children’s books through Amazon earlier this month, but I also try to read from Ventimundos and El Pais as often as I can. Pretty soon I hope to graduate to novels for more extended reading.

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9. Seek out restaurants and stores of that language

For Spanish this is easy– just go to an authentic Mexican (or Colombian, Salvadorian, etc) restaurant and start speaking! “Estamos lista para pedir” – “We are ready to order,” etc. Even if I butcher a sentence, the person I’m speaking to understands what I’m trying to say… waiting until you have perfect grammar before you speak is the biggest mistake most people make when learning a language. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to try to speak first and the correct grammar will come in time.

As I said before, this doesn’t just apply to Spanish. If you’re trying to learn French, German, Mandarin Chinese… there are restaurants and businesses out there chock full of Native speakers. Tons of potential for you to converse.

10. Keep a journal in target language

Translating from Spanish to English is significantly easier than translating English into Spanish. Keeping a journal completely in Spanish is hard and something I’m still not doing 100% consistently, but when I do it, I always see the benefit. If you’re a beginner, your journal entry for the day could be just a simple list of things to do:

Wash the clothes – lava la ropa

Clean the kitchen – limpia la cocina

Walk the dogs – caminar con los perros

You get the idea!

One word of caution about these suggestions: while I have found all of these to be effective, what you get out of language learning has everything to do with what you put in. Everything requires work on your part, and the will to learn and improve! Passively listening to podcasts, music, or TV shows will not do much for you. I’ve been working diligently for the past two months, but I’m still no where near fluency. With more time and hard work, though, I will get there– and so can you!

Con amor y amistad,

Eva

Immersion

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Meal Prep Monday: Skinny Chipotle Burrito Bowls

Despite Chipotle’s bad rep from its contamination crisis over a year ago, I have always loved this chain for its tasty combination of simple, hearty ingredients. My go-to is the chicken burrito bowl, which I frequently copy for my weekly meal prep. As much as I love Chipotle, this version is cheaper and healthier. It costs less than $2-3 a serving and can be prepared as “clean” as you want it. It also takes only 30 minutes or so to prep a week’s worth of these lunches.

Ingredients

4-5 chicken breasts, seasoned with cayenne and garlic salt – grilled or cooked by stove top

2 cans of black beans or pinto beans – I prefer organic, low sodium

4-5 servings of brown rice

Four bell peppers for fajita veggies – onion optional

Lettuce or spinach

Shredded cheese – optional, if you’re really trying to cut down on calories

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This is the brown rice from Costco I’m currently using, although I prefer the generic boil-in-a-bag versions from Walmart and HEB
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These are my go-to black beans from… Costco! No extra salt added, organic.

Begin by cooking the chicken and fajita veggies. I had these going simultaneously in order to save time. Normally I would recommend grilling the chicken, but the weather is crap today!

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This is a fairly simple process. I cut up bite-size pieces of chicken and seasoned with garlic salt and cayenne pepper, then topped with a couple tablespoons of hot sauce for color and a spicy kick. I cut-up the bell pepper and cooked over medium high heat, drizzled with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt/pepper to taste. This step takes about 15 minutes.

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As the chicken and veggies cook, I drained the black beans and microwaved the brown rice — then mixed and placed into a separate bowl.

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Since I didn’t have lettuce on hand, I covered the bottom of my meal-prep containers with spinach, then topped with the beans & rice mixture.

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Finally, top with as much chicken and fajita veggies as your heart desires. If you’re on a strict diet, you can stop there. The shredded cheese really does make it taste better, though:

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Other ways to jazz it up:

-Add some salsa verde or red sauce

-Add lime juice

-Use a combination of black and pinto beans

-Top with some healthy guacamole

-Add pico de gallo (it’s not many calories and tastes delicious!)

-Add corn salsa

Approximate nutritional values: 350 calories, 35g protein, 35g carbohydrates, 16g fiber

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February Goals Update and Progress

I hope every one had a great Valentine’s Day this past week! Ours was pretty low-key, since every day is Valentine’s Day at the Love Nest. It’s hard to believe we only have 9 days left in February!

Unfortunately, I’m already not doing too well on two of my February goals. One of the goals was to post twice a week (epic fail for this past week– I didn’t even get to 1 post!) and the other was to get started on rolling over my old 403b from my first job to a traditional IRA (another epic fail– I haven’t even gotten the ball rolling).

On a positive note, I am making progress with my 6-hour weekly Spanish learning commitment, yesterday I watched about 12 episodes of Destinos, and I went back on Duolingo and practiced on some of my weaker skills throughout the week. I’m also poised to complete my first principal certification course with an A. So far, I’m making good on 50% of my goals for this month.

But 50% is not 100%, and when I set a goal, I aim to achieve it… especially since I openly shared these goals on my blog. 0 blog posts last week mean that I’m on the hook for more posts this week.

This month has been a complete whirlwind. With testing season upon us in the public school world, my duties at work have completely dominated my life. I coordinate placement and testing decisions for all ESL students at my campus (and we have the highest number in the district), which means this is an extremely hectic time of year– and it doesn’t help that this is my first year in this job! March will only become busier.

I could go on and on about how busy and stressful work is, but that doesn’t change anything. I set goals earlier this month, and damn it, I’m going to achieve them! More on this at the end of the month.

Love,
Eva

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5 Steps to Paying Off Debt / How We Paid Off $30k in 1 year

In November 2015, my husband and I purchased a brand new SUV that was well over $30k in value. All things considered, the vehicle was a pretty good deal and were able to shave off some of the cost by trading in an old car. Purchasing a brand new SUV was not a wise financial choice, per se– brand new cars lose a majority of its value in the first couple years of owning it. I learned this from Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover after the fact, and in all likelihood, our next car purchase will most likely be used.

Regardless, we suddenly had about 30k of debt to pay off. Just some background: My husband and I are not fans of debt. We were both fortunate enough to not have student loans or credit card debt when we met each other, and managed to pay for our wedding out of our own pockets. I learned from my childhood experiences that credit cards are a bad idea until you have the self-control and ability to pay off your balances every month.

So how did we do it?

5 steps to paying off debt - pinterest photo

Step #1: Write down your total monthly income and necessary expenses each month

How much money is coming in each month? If you are not on a predictable salary schedule, look at the last few months of bank statements and make your best estimate. Once you have figured that out, make a list of all necessary expenses you have each month: rent or mortgage, utilities, cell phone, home/car insurance, groceries, internet, child care, any loans you are paying off, etc. These are things that don’t automatically come out of your paycheck.

Step #2: Figure out where else your money is going

This can be a hard pill to swallow. Look at your past bank/credit card statements and calculate how much money is being spent on unnecessary things. How much money are you spending on eating out and entertainment? Impulse purchases? When we made the decision to save money more aggressively, we discovered that we were spending upwards of $300 some months on things that were not as important as paying off our debt.One of the biggest problems with people who are not able to pay off debt is that they spend more than they take in. They live beyond their means and wonder why they don’t have the money when an emergency pops up. Figuring out your biggest money-sucks is absolutely critical to your financial health.

Step #3: Set a monthly savings goal

How much money are you trying to pay off? Is there something like a wedding or down payment on a house that you are working towards? Maybe both? Calculate how much you need to save on a monthly basis in order to get there. It’s also important to be realistic. If your house is living on one income and you have 10k in debt to pay off, it’s going to be hard to reach that goal in 3-4 months without gaining another income.

In our case, we had a $30,000 car loan and a two-income household. We knew anything under 1 year would be nearly impossible to pay off with our incomes, but if we started to pretend as though we were living under one income, we could reach our goal in about a year and still have money for vacationing and high quality of living. Keep your goal written on the fridge or bathroom mirror so it’s always visible and easy to remember!

Step #4: Create a budget and plan each month before it begins

Now that you know your monthly income, necessary/unnecessary expenses, and savings goal, it is time to create your budget. Tools like Every Dollar and You Need a Budget make it very easy to create an online budget that automatically links to your bank and credit card accounts. Of course, you could always do it the old fashioned way and create a paper budget or an Excel spreadsheet, but in my opinion, non-electronic methods require more work and are therefore harder to follow.

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EveryDollar.com

All these steps are important, but this step requires the most work on your part and is most critical you follow — particularly if you are the type who easily forgets where their money is coming and going from. Revisit your budget throughout the month, and more importantly, at the end of the month. Get in the habit of monitoring where your hard-earned dollars are going and hold yourself accountable when you don’t stick to your budget!

Step 5: Get creative!

It’s possible to pay off debt quickly simply by religiously sticking to the steps I talked about above, but what if you live in a one-income household where it’s already hard enough to make ends meet? Get creative! There are tons of amazing Frugal Living blogs such as Frugal Florida Mom that provide tons of helpful information in budgeting and saving money. Aside from staying away from unnecessary expenses, you can also…

  1. Sell things you no longer use or need – host a garage sale or sell online!
  2. Create DIY projects and sell them on Etsy or Facebook Marketplace
  3. Teach yourself a skill, such as graphics and web design, and charge for your services
  4. Teach or tutor online if you have a skill, language, or subject you know a lot about (I did this when I was scrapping by during my 1st year as a poor teacher)
  5. Buy more expensive items, such as meat and certain produce, when prices are lowest and freeze
  6. My favorite: CROCK POT MEALS. Make these in bulk and thaw/cook as needed!

I’m just scratching the surface here. Financial wellness and literacy is a huge source of interest for me, and I can’t wait to share more information with you as I become better versed in the world of investments, retirement accounts, and next-level saving and budgeting! Tune in for more!

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February: Goal-Setting

February so far has been absolutely nuts for me. I know it makes much more sense to make a goal-setting post at the beginning of the month, instead of 10 days into it, but what can I say? This idea presented itself to me a couple days ago, and I’m just now able to write about it. I’m sick at home with what might actually be the beginnings of a flu… fingers crossed that it is not!

I’ve always been big on lists and goal-setting. It keeps me organized and gives me a clear vision on how to properly allocate my time and energy. It was creating lists of goals that allowed me to graduate college with honors a year early, earn scholarships to pay for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, pay for our wedding, down payment on our house, lose 40 lbs, etc. Goal setting = good. So here are my goals for the rest of this month:

1. Complete my first course for principal certification with an A – I’m at the tail end of my first course for my administrative certification program. So far, I have an A, but there is a lot that still needs to be completed and graded. This program is way more demanding than I initially gave it credit for.

2. Rollover my retirement savings into a traditional IRA – Several years ago, I opened up a retirement account with my first school district. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I figured at some point I would need to save for retirement. Going with this particular type of investment strategy and company ended up being a mistake, so I’m finally trying to get the ball rolling on putting this money into an IRA without all the ridiculous fees I was paying before!

3. Post at least twice a week and grow this blog – With so much going on, it’s easy to ignore this blog. I’m going to make every effort to not let that happen. I enjoy blogging and meeting new people/blogs on WordPress; it’s fun and relaxing. I’m interested in learning from more seasoned bloggers how to improve this one.

4. Dedicate at least six hours a week to language learning – I’ve written about my quest to improve my Spanish twice in this blog so far. Six hours a week is much more realistic than 1 hour a day, since my schedule doesn’t always allow that kind of time for explicit language learning. Typically I use the weekend as my catch-up time!


Those are some pretty big goals for the next 17.5 days, so I’m going to leave it at that. I will follow up on this blog at the end of the month to check my progress and set new goals for March!

Love,

Eva

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