Elevating Morning Breakfast Rituals with Balmuda

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

To say we value our mornings here at The Debtist household would be a vast understatement. We like to take it slow at the beginning of our day, giving to ourselves before we give to the world. Mornings are a source of inspiration. It sets the tone for the rest of theday. A few things we do is feed Theo (our toothless cat), meditate in bed (or on the couch), and get exercise in (such as yoga, running, or recently for me, a boxing class). We clear the dishwasher from the previous night’s load, throw open windows to let fresh air in, and occasionally do a bit of tidying up. Always, always, we make it a point to sit down at the kitchen island and eat breakfast together. It’s only natural that a bread baker and coffee aficionado gather around the kitchen in the early hours before work prioritizing the things we truly love. Spending our time making breakfast is a ritual that we cling to.

Just recently, we’ve made an addition to our kitchen and morning routine: a modern, minimalist toaster and electric kettle from Balmuda, a Japanese company promising better mornings and achieving world-wide recognition and hype about these two products. Balmuda has brought our breakfast game to another level, and as a bread baker, those words are neither said lightly, nor often. Balmuda’s products have amplified the simplicity of our mornings, while achieving the detail and complexity that we value in something as mundane as a slice of toast and a cup of joe.

First, let me wax poetic about the toaster. Their ground-breaking technology has paved the way for serving bread in its prime state. When I bake sourdough, both at the bakery and at home, I use cast-iron combo cookers to create steam, which makes the bread rise. I remove the lids five minutes before finishing to get a well-toasted, crunchy exterior while maintaining a soft, moist, inner crumb. Balmuda’s revolutionary toaster does just that by adding 5 ccs of water at the beginning of the process and steaming the bread. This keeps the center of the bread moist, while retaining its flavor. Have you ever eaten an over-toasted piece of bread? What does it taste like? Stale, dry, and honestly, like air. Real bread has flavor, and this little toaste- that-can makes sure of that.

Additionally, the toaster has precise temperature regulation, depending on the type of pastry or bread it is cooking. Special settings for sandwich bread, artisan bread, pastry, and pizza ensure that the second-by-second regulation of temperature is ideal for every baked item, whether it be english muffins, bagels, croissants, or day-old baguettes. There is also an oven mode that allows this toaster to cook more than just bread. Think gratins, cookies, and frozen food items. This toaster has the capability of bringing life back into week-old slices from the freezer. I would go so far as to say that Balmuda has reinvented the toaster, itself.

The sleek profile and matte finish of these toasters exude elegance in the most minimalist way. Interestingly enough, its shape also reminds me of toasters of yore, circa mid-century modern times. Smeg-like in style, it’s no wonder these toasters have gotten a lot of attention and are now carried by high-end department stores such as Williams Sonoma and Nordstrom. It looks great on a wood countertop as much as it does on a cement one. Unlike other toasters, it only has two dials and the feel of them is touch-responsive. The sound of the timer is like rain on a windowpane, and the chime at the end sounds like a gentle alarm clock – way better than your typical, earth-shattering “ding!”.

Balmuda has an electric kettle that is equally as impressive. I’ve written before about how we’ve owned Fellow’s stovetop Stagg kettle for many years, but we are making over the switch to Balmuda’s electric version for multiple reasons. Our Fellow kettle shows signs of wear from being heated on the stovetop day in and day out. The grates has scratched the bottom surface so that the matte black cover has peeled off and the metal underneath shows. I am hoping the electric Balmuda kettle will avoid this type of wear, since it sits on a nice heating pad rather than the stove.

The Balmuda kettle is lighter in while and has a smaller profile. An indicator for maximum volume located inside the kettle limits the kettle to about 500 grams of water, enough for a pour-over for two. Whereas the Fellow kettle can hold more water, limiting its size was a conscious decision by the company in order to keep the kettle compact. With the advent of tiny (and tinier) homes, both the kettle and the toaster can fit perfectly in the most millennial of tiny living situations.

As far as function goes, the pour itself is almost weightless, a result of tireless research from Balmuda for the perfect ergonomic proportions. The handle fits snugly in my hand, with a flat bevel to rest my thumb, resulting in better control. The spout can pour water painstakingly slow or insanely fast, it’s up to you. And like other electric kettles, it heats quite quickly at the push of a tiny lever at the base of the kettle stand. A neon light bulb indicates whether water is heating up or when it is finished. The only downside to the kettle is the missing thermometer on the lid of Fellow kettles, which indicates the temperature of the water inside. This is compensated by the fact that, unlike Fellow kettles, the Balmuda lid can be pushed down and sealed, keeping the contents of the kettle hot, for longer.

Honestly, both the toaster and the kettle have lended our mornings with that feel-good vibe. Balmuda has somehow used two common appliances to capture the essence of slow-living in a tangible form. The beauty of Balmuda’s products are best summarized in their mission statement.

“In the past, appliances were designed to eliminate inconvenience. Today, however, with our daily lives more convenient than ever, what people look for in appliances seems to be changing.

What people demand from tools and services today is, in a word, experiences, whether surprising, moving, or joyful. At BALMUDA, we create home appliances designed to deliver a thrilling, wonderful experience. “

Balmuda CEO Gen Teraro

I couldn’t agree more.

This post is sponsored by Balmuda, a Japanese company revolutionizing the way we experience mornings. They have kindly gifted me their famous toaster and electric kettle and it has really brought our breakfast routine to another level. This blog post is an honest review as to how my experience has been elevated by Balmuda. Right now, you can get both the Balmuda Toaster and the Balmuda Kettle at 15% OFF for Mother’s Day when purchased together. It is the perfect gift for any mom who loves to spend time in the kitchen. Balmuda also partnered with Jane the Baker’s founder, Amanda Michael, and shared a recipe for Baked French Toast, in case husbands and children around the world wish to make something special to commemorate mom’s hard work. Mother’s Day is on May 9, so order early!

Spring Forward with Parachute’s Brushed Cotton Sheets

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

About a year ago, we invested in the most laid-back, beautifully wrinkled, perfectly tossed linen sheets by Parachute Home. The color was a rich Terra Cotta that never faded despite frequent washing. The linen stayed intact in the face of a forever-kneading cat whose claws I may have forgotten to trim. And there was hardly any pilling involved. We loved our linen duvet cover, but since then I have turned over a new leaf.

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I know not why, but I go through phases like the ocean tide. I will be really into the easy look and low maintenance of linen, then get attracted to the crisp, coolness of cotton. We had switched to the latter for our duvet cover last Fall, trading in our cozy orange cover on Poshmark for a bit of cash that allowed us to buy Parachute’s clean-cut, double-sided brushed cotton duvet. It has been six months and I have yet to go back.

When they advertised the duvet cover as brushed cotton, I did not realize just how soft it would be. It feels buttery to the touch, and that’s not just baker-talk. It feels akin to sleeping in an old tee. I have slept soundly since making the switch, and my husband has commented that it keeps him quite cool in the evenings, even with a fluffy cat between our heads. Like Parachute’s other products, these are made in a 100% family-owned factory in Portugal. It is OEKO TEX certified which means it does not contain harmful chemicals or synthetics.

We were able to snag the double-sided duvet cover, which is ivory on one side and a dark, sage green on the other. It is low-key still available as a sheet set and duvet cover under the ever-so-secret Last Chance section of Parachute where you can find older products at up to 40% OFF. I had it on the dark side all winter and it really muted the room in a way that supported lattes in bed and hours of sleep. For Spring, I just recently gave it a good wash (which I recommend doing every other week) and flipped it over to it’s ivory side. It’s absolutely gorgeous, especially under this mood lighting that teases me with the possibility of rain.

The difference between the linen duvet cover and this one is that the linen cover looks good messy. This does not. Which isn’t so bad since it forces me to make my bed every morning, whereas the linen cover was left alone most of the time. The esthetics were improved after throwing a bright white quilt over it during the colder months. This quilt from Parachute looks like the ticket, although ours was purchased many moons ago when Mike and I had no dollars to our name and we were walking the aisles of Target in search of something to keep us from freezing in the garage we were calling a bedroom. Never mind that our quilt was meant for a Full/Queen bed instead of the California King we now sleep on. Either way, what the brushed duvet cover lacks in careless style, it makes up for in class and comfort.

For the best effect, I would recommend mixing and matching the two fabrics. I have seen photos of the terra linen sheets partnered with the ochre brushed cotton duvet on Parachute’s website, and it is heavenly. We actually kept these linen pillowcases that were gifted to me by my mom on my last birthday, and I find it keeps the room looking less stark. Coupled with the textures of our aforementioned quilt, and the marriage between textiles is pure unicorn magic. Any minimalist could agree that the secret to a barren room is texture.

In the end, it boils down to a matter of what vibe you want in your space. The trade happened around the same time we remodeled our couch with a white linen Bemz cover. It used to be a cotton navy blue color that the Soderhamn couch was sold with. At the same time, we sold our wooden West Elm Mid-Century modern media console on Offer Up and used the proceeds towards this minimalist Ikea one, which better suited our vibe (read also as: better fit our record player). The auburn linen duvet cover that sold out twice from Parachute perfectly matched the previous couch and console, but once we made both switches, the linen cover started to feel out of place.

To be honest, I knew nothing about my home style preferences prior to last-year’s stay-at-home mandate. Initially, I thought I was a bohemian, mid-century modern, Eichler-loving gal. I chose wood pieces in walnut, bright jewel tones for my textiles, and big leafy plants. But after having to actually stay at home for many months, I started to realize that both my space and myself were more aligned with clean lines and simple shapes in the neutral colors of white, beige, gray, and black. It isn’t what I envisioned a creative’s space would look like. But perhaps I need the blank walls to inspire my creations. I guess I feel more at peace when I have a structured space to live and work in.

The best thing I could have done last year to improve my lifestyle was to invest in my home. Little upgrades made big differences, both in my productivity, as well as the quality of my work. Add to that a sense of calm and serenity that helped me relax on my days off, and you’ve got the perfect equation for a well-balanced life. I truly enjoyed my quarantine life and that isn’t because I’m introverted. I believe it has something to do with finding my niche, and when one finds that perfect space where they are most themselves, well, that qualifies as finally being truly at home.

Preparing for the Resumption of Student Loan Payments

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

I don’t pretend to know what anyone’s financial situation is like. I know that our stories are different, and depending on where we lie on our path, the story changes with time. I have already written about what one should be doing with their federal student loans at this time, but the advice is not finite. I find that the best mode of action, historically, has been to share with others what I myself am personally doing with my student loans, and letting others walk away with what they’d like to keep for themselves. So here it is. A little update on me, preparing for the resumption of student loan repayment once the 0% interest resumes at the latter part of 2021.

WHAT WE’VE BEEN UP TO

For the past year, I have been holding onto my usually aggressive student loan repayment sums for multiple reasons. Firstly, the uncertainty of the economic and social situation due to the pandemic. Mike spent 10 out of the 12 months last year not working. I honed in on only working part-time at one of my offices so as not to spread disease among different population groups. Family members lost jobs and we didn’t know who would need our support. Siblings moved back into parent’s homes, parents themselves moved, and a majority of our immediate families went without work or school for most of 2020. So I paid my minimum payment (in order to avoid forbearance just in case it affected the terms of the loan in the long-run) and took the rest of the income and invested it into a High Yield Savings Account.

Meanwhile, to compensate for Mike not working, I maxed out my 401K for the first time ever, and dabbled into a brokerage account. But for the most part, we enjoyed the relaxed vibe of staying at home and doing nothing for the most part of 2020. I wasn’t as tight on finances as I should have been. I have financial independence to thank for that – and you can read how pursuing financial independence has actually benefitted us during times of COVID.

Regardless, I am starting to feel that the end of an era is near. With the available vaccinations increasing in Southern California, I am anticipating the reopening of most of our economy, which will also signal the end of the student loan forbearance (currently scheduled for September 2020). So, like any Spring bird preparing for what’s ahead, I am gathering my resources like figments of a bird’s nest, and preparing for the return of my aggressive student loan repayments.

THE GAME PLAN

Because my loan was huge ($575,000), we initially stayed with a student loan forgiveness program instead of refinancing back in 2017, in case something unexpected came our way (oh, sayyy COIVD?). However, now that the loan amount is dwindling, we are starting to see the light. The OG plan was always to refinance once the loan reached under $300,000. Why this number? I have found that this number is the threshhold for many student loan refinancers. Many of them won’t even consider a refinance if the loan amount is more than $300,000. It is also the threshold that transitions one from a high interest rate (ours is 6.8%!!) to a lower interest rate (around 3%).

Luckily, under the REPAYE plan, the interest rate was half-subsidized by REPAYE, which meant we were able to stay in the student loan forgiveness program while paying interest fees around what we would have paid if we had refinanced. This is why it is important to understand your loan repayment options, which you can definitely learn more about here. This subsidy ends after three years, and we reached that mark during COVID (November 2020). Luckily, due to the 0% interest rate in effect right now as part of the COVID relief program, we have not jumped into the 6.8% interest rate bracket. However, our goal is to be under $300k by the time the 0% ends and refinance to an interest rate that is hopefully lower than 3%. I do not recommend refinancing your loan before the deferment period ends, but I do recommend preparing for it by planning to pay off the largest chunk you possibly can and then refinancing to a better rate to make the going easier for you in the future. Think of it as a snowball method.

OUR PREPARATION

We are doing a few things to prepare for Fall. None of these things are out of the ordinary for us. They are actions that I’ve been advocating for years. Although I must say that we’ve loosened the reigns a bit recently. Our frugal muscles have become droopy, and it’s time to exercise. Here is what I plan to do in the upcoming months.

  • Tightening up the Master Budget. Since we eliminated a majority of our spending due to the lock-down, I have found that over the past year, I have loosened significantly the reigns on spending buckets that would usually have tightly closed lids. The savings we received from cancelling subscriptions, gym memberships, and most importantly, international travel trips has given me a lot of leeway with home and lifestyle improvements. Now, it is time to tighten the purse strings once more. If you need a refresher on mastering a budget, you can refer to my free course here. Don’t let any stone go unturned. You can create monthly frugal challenges to make the saving more fun. Here’s a few of mine.
  • Resume Side Hustles. In order to protect my family and my patients, I had decided to stop my dog-sitting and my bakery last March. I also decided that it would be best to only work at one dental office at a time. But now that things are opening up again, I have started to resume my side hustles. I have returned to the bakery where I once worked as an early morning baker and have started the position of Wholesale Director in March. I love being back with the Rye Goods crew, and truly enjoy my alternative work life. I also have continued to write for this blog, as well as guest write for Bogobrush. If you wish to grow your income, too, check out my ever growing list of ways to earn extra money here.
  • Research Refinance Options. If, like us, you plan to finagle your way down to the smallest loan amount possible with the hopes to refinance for the lowest rate possible in order to snowball your way to student debt freedom, then I highly suggest starting the research on refinance options today. There will be different companies vying for your attention. It would be best if, when the time comes, you are well-versed enough to be able to refinance in a jiff. The worst possible scenario is choosing a refinance company that won’t give you the best deal, or waiting so long that you will be stuck paying the high interest fees when loan repayments resume. A few things to note. Do not apply to them if they pull your credit. You want to maintain your good credit score for when the actual time comes. Also, the smaller your debt, the better your rate. So save, save, save! Lastly, make sure you have budgeted out enough emergency funds to cover your monthly payments after exiting from your student loan forgiveness program in case of job loss or an emergency. Preparation is key before pulling the trigger. Here are a few refinance options that I’ve been recommending to colleagues.
  • Speak to Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner. Still don’t know what to do? Speak to Travis and his team at Student Loan Planner. They are knowledgable and give great advice. I highly recommend their services for those who do not know what to do with their loans. I send all of my closest friends and family members to him because I trust his team and know that they are up to date with the finest details regarding student loans.

I feel like a warrior getting dressed for battle. It has been a long year of nothingness. I must admit that it was lovely and nice, but I am ready to get on my horse and face the challenges of loan repayment once again. Instead of our usual yearly update (because there is nothing to update you on), I hope that this post suffices. I will write a lengthy one as September draws near, as well as after our planned refinance.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

A New Ritual, with Ritual Vitamins

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

This blog post is sponsored by Ritual, a new multi-vitamin company dedicatedly supporting the metabolic processes of humans in all walks of life, transparently and simply.

I have come to learn that the successful completion of my goals are a direct result of doing the microsteps needed to, by a sliver of a percentage, get ahead each day. To the untrained eye, I am may not look like I am making progress. But what I’ve come to learn through slow living is that certain acts that our society deems as unproductive are actually beneficial to our being.

Take sleep, for example. Many of my colleagues look down on sleep, writing it off as a waste of their time. I, on the other hand, have started to schedule in 30 minute naps, five days a week. That’s on top of sleeping for 8-9 hours a night. Why? Because I know that my brain works better and I get more done after allowing myself to do nothing. I do the same with meditation, cleaning the home, saving a dollar here and there – little things that most would scoff at and call negligible. You can read, here, why I don’t believe in the word negligible.

So why is it that we refuse to do the things that get us to where we want to go?

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Two things.

Firstly, it has been ingrained in our culture that the measurability of progress is what matters, not the efficacy. We value the busy bees over the ones that put in little work, even if they reach the same end goal. We like to SEE differences, as proof to ourselves and to others that we are contributing to the group. We haven’t been taught to trust the process, trust each other, or trust ourselves.

Secondly, the daily microsteps require certain characteristics that we have not had much practice with in recent years; such as grit, patience, consistency, and hard-work. We live in an age of immediate gratification. “What do you mean I need to first limit my spending in order to grow my wealth?” Don’t we all dream of creating an invention that would eliminate the need to work altogether? Or, like my father, to win the lottery?

Both of these things contribute to the difficulty in doing the little things TODAY, that add up to achieving our end goals TOMORROW. However, this is exactly what has worked for me. I apply small wins to all aspects of my life, from finance to health. I call my microsteps habits, which I then use to create daily rituals. A habit is a task that I repeat every day to ingrain it into my life, thus making it easier to do. Rituals are habits that I cherish and complete with intention, with a purpose outside of the act itself. Rituals are the foundations of my greatest achievements.

Which brings me to Ritual, the new multi-vitamin that sets future Debtist up for success. Vitamins is one of those things that people know are good for you, but they don’t regularly take. My studies of the food industry coupled with my knowledge about human physiology has really turned me upon the importance of taking our vitamins. Mass production and irresponsible farming methods have left our soils depleted, and our produce nutrient deficient. Our WFH lifestyles prevent us from being exposed to sunlight or the natural healing contributions of trees and oceans. Likewise, our obsession with sanitation prevents us from being exposed to the microbiome that actually upkeeps our inflammatory response to infection and disease. Taking vitamins is the modern ritual we need.

Ritual has created a multi-vitamin whose purpose is clear. To provide traceable, vegan-friendly, gluten-free and major-allergy-free, non-GMO pills to groups of individuals depending on their needs. They have a multi-vitamin for men, women 18+, women 50+ kids, and post or pre-natal vitamins. I personally take this one. The engineering of delayed capsules meant to release the ingredients in the small intestine is great, because this is where the nutrients are better absorbed. And there are no artificial colorants or synthetic fillers. See for yourself!

They have transparency over where each ingredient comes from, as well as the pharmacy that provides each ingredient. Plant-based alternatives are included for animal lovers of the world. Most importantly, I love their communications regarding the functions of each component, written in lay man’s terms so that everyone can actually understand what it is they are taking and why.

Need extra motivation, or a discount? Bundle your order to buy vitamins for everyone in your home, or your friend group and save $10 when you buy in bulk. You get to save money, as well as create a supportive community that reminds each member to take their vitamins. My secret to getting the job done? Find a way to make vitamins fun! My motivation is through my Unbound planner, which has a daily check-box indicator for taking my vitamin, next to the 8 glasses of water and daily exercise. Since I get such glee from checking things off a to-do list, this system works for me. Hold yourself (or a buddy) accountable, and bundle up to save.

In an effort to help others create their own ritual around vitamin-taking, Ritual has made ordering a piece of cake. Set a start date and cancel whenever. Automatic shipping is available for replenishing your bottles, and it’s FREE. Bad with creating habits and worried you won’t keep up with shipping? The bottle has an indicator of where you should be if you follow the daily ritual to a tee. Tiny reminders make microsteps easier. Place the bottle somewhere you’ll see each day – next to a toothbrush maybe. On top of your toothpaste, behind the floss. (This is your reminder to floss today). Lastly, they provide a 30-day money back guarantee.

Let me know how you like it!

Play Pretend: Spring Refresh

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I view Springtime as a marker for starting anew. I rally my energy to refresh our home in preparation for the warm months ahead, and to shed behind the winter blues. Not that California has much of that to begin with. Like a sprightly elf, I tick away at my ultimate cleaning list with renewed fervor, even though the New Year was not too far gone. I lovingly make our home airy and light, which is to say, I declutter, shuffle, and rearrange to my heart’s content, and then some.

When I say Spring refresh, I do not mean shopping for a doozy of new decor, such as pastel wreaths and cheeky doormats. Rather, I perform a list of simple things using what I already have to spruce up the home and make it feel and look revitalized, without actually a fresh load of stuff. I throw away the unwanted things, tidy the clutter into hidden boxes, wipe down every surface, and fluff the cushions. I wash the pillows, flip the mattress, throw open the curtains (and the windows with it) and water all the plants I’ve already collected. I imagine that everything is new, by making them feel new. This is a play pretend series, after all. Of course, all of this with the help of some of my favorite things.

+My favorite cleaning appliance, zooming along.
+An eco-conscious all purpose cleaner, my reusable spray bottle and a pile of white rags.
+Our crisp and buttery duvet set in muted ivory, flipped over from the winter sage green.
+Pillows that take you straight to Dreamland, freshly washed once a year.
+A floral scent to set the mood, lit in the afternoon before meal preps.
+A fruit bowl to decorate the farm table with, piled high with citrus picked from the parent’s neighborhood.
+A natural jute rug for bare feet, and painted toe nails.
+Bringing the outdoors in, on a monthly basis.
+A purifier to clear the air, and allergies.
+A flower vase to accentuate a shelf, or something similar that also happens to hold fruit-infused water.

If you’d like to make your house feel anew, without spending money to do so, I would highly recommend rallying friends and family, or your inner gusto, and completing this ultimate cleaning list that I wrote for neatniks out there. It is seriously the best.

Care to see more play pretends? Right this way.

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How I Made $535.13 in March 2021 Blogging From Home

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

March was a very slow month for the blog. I spent the first week of March traveling and then worked many dentistry days plus built the bakery significantly. Despite creating only a handful of blog posts, I was still proud to earn over $500 via the blog. In March 2021, I earned $535.13 blogging from home. Before I go into the nitty gritty details of this month’s Extra Income Report, which you are always welcome to skip to below, here is a little summary as to how I make money blogging, as well as a few recommended posts if you want to increase your income.

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I started blogging right after graduating from dental school without ever thinking I’d earn money from it. At the time, I turned to this blog as a place to record my daily life. Ever since teenhood, I have kept some sort of journal or diary, which has evolved over time from paper to Xanga to Melodramatic, and now onto WordPress. For almost twenty years, I’ve processed information through writing, but never once did I think I would earn money from it.

It’s been three years since owning this site but I am happy to say that it is now getting a little bit of traction and has started to earn me a little income. If I wasn’t working as a dentist during the day, I could see how this could become a steady day job. Still, even with my day job, it had turned into a fun side-hustle for me. I decided to log my earnings for my own personal tracking but also to share publicly how much one can make blogging from home.

Now that remote work seems to be in the near future for many, I do think that blogging is a good option for people who wish to work from home. Likewise, it is an opportunity to be your own boss and have your own space. Since you are writing your own content, you have the flexibility to work whenever you want to, which I know can be a good or bad thing. Of course, you can always practice habits that will separate work from home. Lastly, this is a great hobby or job for creative people. You have autonomy over how to execute your ideas and thoughts, making this a very freeing experience for those who don’t quite fall neatly into a traditional work environment or big company hierarchy.

But first, how did I start to monetize the blog?

If you are new to blogging, you may not know that you can earn income from owning such a space. I certainly didn’t. But then I took this course called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketingand it changed my life.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate Marketing is working with brands that you love in order to spread the word about their products and in return receiving commissions for any referred patrons. Sometimes these are physical products from almost any company you can think of. Other times, they are intellectual products such as courses or services that help improve other people’s lives. The best part is that you don’t have to “sell out” to do affiliate marketing. You don’t have to scheme or cheat people. For me, it’s really just promoting companies that I believe in. For example, the companies I choose to partner with are those that promote sustainably sourced products using fair trade and ethical factory conditions. I like to promote small name businesses trying to create social or environmental impact. I try to keep it to an exclusive few even though I’ve been approved for over 2,000 different companies (so far).

There are a few nuances to affiliate marketing and I didn’t know much about it prior to the course. But the course helped me to learn A LOT and it’s just another case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” You could learn it all yourself, but it’s hard to without a guide to get you through the basics.

I highly recommend this course if you wish to monetize your blog but don’t know where to start.

Extra Income Report

Now, onto the numbers. In March 2021, I made $535.13 in extra income.

Of that, this is the breakdown:

  • $74 is from sponsored posts. I count the monetary value of products that I receive as “income”. I do not accept products for review without first learning about the company and product. As a minimalist, I also only look for products that we currently need. I am honest in all my product reviews and list both pros and cons because I want to be as helpful to the consumer and the company, both. Companies that have supported the blog this month include TushyMonk ManualLunettePact, and Everlasting Comfort.
  • The rest of the income ($161.13) was due to affiliate link commissions. These are links that I have posted throughout my blog prior which continually earn me commission for every successful sale.
  • For the first time ever, I also earned $300 writing for another blog.

So far, since March of 2020, I have earned $3,954!!

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but as something I do for fun, I think it’s a nice little additional income. Over time, I hope to continue posting more income reports. Maybe it will help others looking for a side-hustle get a feel for whether blogging could become an alternative for them.

As always, my goal with this blog is to promote intentional living. Writing is a way to create a lifestyle that is in tune with what you want to do. Sure, it may not be the perfect job, but if working from home and having flexibility help allow you to live your dream life (one that includes traveling the world or becoming a stay-at-home parent), then I hope this space brings you that value.

If you are interested in starting a blog, I use WordPress. Feel free to sign up using my affiliate link.

If you already have a blog, I want to refer you to the course that helped me monetize mine. It’s a really great starting point. It’s called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

Monthly Goals: April 2021

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Sometimes, I get in these moods wherein I question my productiveness. I worry about having done enough, and I focus on the change I have still yet to make. The first three months of the year was spent on tending to my mental health and creating space for all the living I have still yet to do. I spent many hours reconnecting with friends and family, meditating, and spending time outdoors. Now that we’ve come to the end of the first quarter of 2021, I suddenly started to semi-panic about what I have (or haven’t) accomplished in the year thus far.

I look ahead at the upcoming month and think to myself, “Where did March go?”, as well as, “Where will I find the time?”. I start to dwell on my lack of progress and avidly plan for the future. I franticly scribble down notes of things to do, places to be, people to call…. I know that this is a result of my up-bringing and the ingrained notion that in order to succeed, you need to always be in motion. My immediate reaction to sitting still for too long is to itch for change. I know it is reactionary, and also, subconscious, and I have to put in work to bring these thoughts into my conscious mind.

In most cases, my bouts of uncertainty are caused by asking the wrong questions.

The better questions would be:

  • What relationships have I fostered recently?
  • How is my health and mental state?
  • Where is my community?
  • How close am I to my purpose?
  • Am I receiving satisfaction?
  • Are these tasks necessary to my goals?
  • What can I delegate to others?
  • What can be omitted?

I’ve taken the liberty to postpone the posting of my April goals for a few days, because I was undergoing one of those mild, anxiety attacks about how much I’ve done, worrying about “enoughness” rather than reflecting on the being rather than the doing. Since then, I’ve set the compass straight. I feel relaxed again after answering the better questions, which I trust sets me up for productivity in the future. Often times, all it takes is a step back, a calm breath, and a thoughtful guide.


This month, I have had the absolute pleasure and joy to try out a new planner by Unbound. It is, by far, the most well-rounded planner I have ever tried. It combines productivity with mindfulness. They sell an undated version and a 2021 planner. Personally, I prefer the 2021 planner and even though it’s now April, I would still recommend the dated planner over the undated version. There are only a few differences between the two, but I think they make all the difference. Plus the 2021 dated planner is currently on sale for a better price. I love the Unbound planner so much. I would go so far as to say that it is the best planner I have ever tried. And I’m a planner addict, so I don’t say this lightly.

The Unbound planners start with self-reflection pages. These are crucial to anyone who wants to succeed with their goals. You need to know who you are first before making plans for the future. Knowing what motivates you, what challenges you, what your core values are, and what your talents and strengths are will help align your goals with where you truly want to go. It will also focus you towards the tasks that you would be good at, and perhaps the tasks that you can delegate to someone with a better suited personality. I like to integrate what I love to do into my work life, limit the things that deplete me, use my talents and strengths to move forward, and delegate the things that I struggle with to other people. The self-reflection pages also has the user rate where they currently are in certain aspects of life. This will give the person an idea on where they should focus their energy. All of this self-discovery should set you up nicely for making a 2021 vision board.

The next section is for writing down your goals for the year ahead – both big and small. You want to first identify your themes, such as family, health, or finance. Based on your themes, create goals and break them down into specific, actionable tasks. For example, “be healthy” is not a good goal. It is not specific enough and doesn’t give any information as to what you actually want to accomplish. Better goals would be “going to the gym 4 times a week” or “running up to a half-marathon by June 1, 2020”. Think SPECIFIC.

Once you have all your goals listed, you want to organize them into a timeline. The Goal Timeline breaks down goals into monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Now if the goal is very specific, such as “Organize digital photos by June 1, 2020”, then you can place it on the yearly goal chart and cross out the month you hope to accomplish that goal by. This section is important when you do your weekly and daily planning. Continually look back and reference this section to verify that you are hitting your goals. It’s also a great way to visualize which goals need to be written down on the weekly and daily pages.

There is also a 2021 overview wherein you can write down reminders for big events that are to happen in the months ahead. Ideas to write down would be doctor appointment reminders, birthdays, parties, weddings, and holidays to name a few. The year at a glance is great for habit tracking or mood tracking, since you have a designated space for each day of the year. I haven’t decided what to use the space for yet myself, but I was thinking of using it as a way to schedule time off for myself, since that seems to be what I need most in life.

Once goals are all set, you can start listing things to do. A pages contain checkable bullet points separated into the four seasons. There is also an entire page to keep a running list of tasks to do. I think this is great when a task pops into your mind without a goal category. Just jot it down in the season you wish to accomplish the task, or on the running to-do list. I would check these pages occasionally, and enter them into the appropriate days or weeks.

Onto my favorite pages: Project Planning and Goal Breakdown. I use project planning to break down my work and any creative endeavors I have. I have a diverse set of jobs. I am trying to grow a blog, trying to grow a bakery, and creating a dental home, all while learning new hobbies and skills. For example, my husband and I are working on building a robotic pour-over machine for fun. I am trying to learn piano while also trying to run farther and faster. These are all projects that I have and the pages in the planner help me to visualize as well as break down each project into steps that I can take to get to the end result. This type of planning is really how I get so much done. I will repeatedly re-assess if the tasks I’ve written are worth doing. Each task is prioritized based on its efficacy and importance.

So how does April look? Busy. With opportunity to practice creating space for rest.

This planner is really good about promoting balance in one’s life. At the beginning of the month, the planner prompts you to write your top 3 priorities. It have a space for monthly goals and tasks, as well as space for gifts and occasions of loved ones. There is space to list ideas that will help you be creative and learn, to be healthy, to take care of yourself, to give and help others, to be connected, and to have fun and relax. These boxes are gentle reminders for me to take care of myself. There is also opportunity to overcome challenges as well as to work on positive change.

On the weekly pages, there are reminders at the top of the page to review the goals and place them into the plan. I keep a running to do list as well as track my habits on the weekly pages. More importantly, I jot down acts of kindness and ways to self-care. I use the blank space to reflect on my previous week. I write down what drained my energy, where I can improve as a person, and what the highlights were.

On the daily pages, there is space to monitor water intake, exercise, and supplements. There’s a box for all the things I cannot afford to forget, as well as a meal prep section. It makes my week way easier when I already have my meals planned ahead of time. Prepping them ahead of time is another story.

At the bottom of the page there is a space for Gratitude Journaling. I write three things I am grateful for each morning. At the top of the page are my top 3 daily priorities. The calendar section is just used to time block my day. I don’t write my tasks in the middle section, but rather, reference my weekly pages and my weekly to-do list.

Now you’ve probably been reading this and thinking to yourself, “Goodness, how overwhelming.” But it actually is not. In fact, this planner takes a lot of stress out of my life. It organizes so well that I reduce the amount of decisions I need to make per day, which then saves my mental strength and avoids decision fatigue. It refocuses my mind on the important things in life, and isn’t only about the daily grind. At the same time, it keeps me productive.

I have tried many planners in my life, but this is the best one yet. I love it so much that I may stick with Unbound for the rest of the year and beyond!

Without further ado, my April Goals.

Personal:

  • Wake up early every morning and utilize the wee hours for my T.I.M.E. ritual: T- Thankfulness Practice by Gratitude Journaling, I- Insight by listening to podcasts, writing, or reading, M- Meditate using the TIDE app, and E – Exercise whether that’s running or hiking.
  • Put phone away one hour before bed and limit Instagram use to 30 minutes per day.
  • Create continuation between days by preparing the night before for the next morning’s most important tasks.
  • Have a digital sabbath one day per week.
  • Learn how to use my new Microsoft surface pen.
  • Let myself take an afternoon nap every weekday that I am off.
  • Start piano lessons and teach Mike what I learn.
  • Set aside time in the schedule to do something relaxing each day.
  • Volunteer once a week.
  • Spend one hour this month doing NOTHING.

Health:

  • Exercise 5 days a week. Go to boxing class 3 times a week, life weights 3 times a week, run 3 times a week, hike a trail once a week.
  • Get 30 minutes of outdoor time 5 days a week.
  • Use Magnesium Spray to boost energy, lift mood, calm the mind, and relax the muscles.
  • Take vitamins and collagen powder daily.
  • Clean eating for 30 days.

Work:

  • Grow the bakery by $3k this month.
  • Create genuine, meaningful relationships with patients by spending an extra five minutes each appointment learning one new thing about their social life.
  • Publish 20 blog posts.
  • Top last month’s 7.4K Pinterest views.
  • Top last month’s blogging income.
  • Learn how to self-publish a book by taking courses online.

Home:

  • Put away things daily.
  • Do a pantry clean out and organization.
  • Declutter paper and digital files and email.
  • Declutter the home and garage.
  • Complete the cleaning list.

Finance:

  • Save $7k next month to ramp up for whenever student loan repayment resumes – invest 20% of it and place 80% in our Marcus High Yield Saving’s Account.
  • Close on a second refinance of our home, hopefully sealing the interest rate at 2.875%.
  • Complete 5 CE courses.

Travel: Day Hike from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach

The first weekend of March, we did the 10-mile hike from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach. It was a Friday and the woods was absolutely empty. You have to reserve a parking spot ahead of time and pay for two entrance fees into Muir Woods. The entrance fees were $15 per person and the parking lot fee was another $8.50. You can absolutely do 90% of this hike if you start at Stinson Beach, but just know that you cannot enter Muir Woods without a pass (or well, you risk being stopped and checked for a ticket). To be honest, no one stopped us on the day that we went, but then again, no one was there. It was magical. If you ask me if the fee was worth it, I would give a resounding 100% YES, but only because we literally had the park to ourselves. We arrived at the parking lot and stopped by the restrooms before heading into the woods. The first part of the hike is easy. I recommend taking a left turn at the first bridge and hiking above the woods to begin. You can hike the bottom half of the woods when you return.

If you take my suggestion to start hiking up after the first bridge, you would be up in the treetops walking above the quiet trails below. You’ll reach a dead end eventually, at which point you make a left to continue onto the trail. If you chose to stick to the forest floor, make a left at the fourth bridge and you will end up on the same spot.

The first half of the hike takes you steadily along a wide dirt path underneath the shade of magnificent Redwood trees. The trail is well-maintained and well demarcated. There are some steps, but nothing stressful on the way to Stinson. I must warn you that the way back is much more difficult, as you’d have to climb many consecutive steps returning from the beach. If you aren’t an avid hiker, perhaps doing a one-way trip and catching a lift back to the parking lot is best. We were just fine, but my thighs were a bit sore the next day. Then again, they weren’t sore enough to stop us from going on a 7-mile hike. Enjoy the shade of the trees, the silence underneath the canopies, the soft Earth underneath your boots, the smell of sap and the occasional breeze. Eventually, you will pop up on the hillside and if you’re lucky, it’ll be a charmingly sunny afternoon with blades of green grass lining the hills.

The views from the top of the mountainside are beautiful on a clear day. You can see the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, as well as Marin County. You’ll see mountaintops peeking over the ocean. I saw a couple, far out in the distance, hand-in-hand frolicking quite literally down the hillside. I must say, I felt the same way.

Eventually, you will re-enter the trees again, but the second half is different. Less moist, less coverage, more sunlight. Plus, this portion is all down-hill. Don’t let that deceive you though, as the rough part lies in the return journey. But for now, enjoy the branches and tree trunks. They’re kind of fun to look at whether they be stick straight or wavy.

Eventually, you’ll come to a clearing which is the first time you’ll see Stinson Beach. You are almost there! Perhaps another mile to go at this point.

You can hear the cars on a nearby road passing by. It made us turn around and Mike spotted two deer. The next series of photographs shows the two deer looking at us as we were looking at them. They ambled over for a second, until the sounds of other walkers shooed them away. See if you can spot their curious selves trying to discreetly peer at us from the bushes.

Of course, the deer wasn’t the only cool wildlife present. We saw hawks circling above us in search of bunny rabbits, or so I gander. A banana slug or two made me jump in surprise. A few colorful mushrooms popped out of the forest floor, and even a beautiful lone flower said hello on our walk home.

Once in a while, do look back. This is a photograph I snatched after realizing that behind me lay a bundle of rocks hidden in the hills. We finally arrived at Stinson Beach after 2.5 hours of walking. To be frank, we were going at a relaxed pace, stopping every so often to snap photographs and observe the wildlife. At Stinson, we ate at Parkside Cafe, which I would highly recommend. We walked to the beach and stepped into a few tiny shops before heading back.

On the way back, I would cross the 4th bridge back into Muir Woods and walk the wooden boardwalks within the park. If your legs have it in them, I would recommend some of the side paths to the east of the park. Please do take note, if you are trying to catch the gift shop, they close earlier than the park does and I would recommend getting back by 3pm to check out the souvenirs by the entrance. We were hoping to snag one for Mike’s mom’s birthday but we returned to the entrance a little after 4pm, which is right when the gift shop closed. You can always return to the eastern trails (which are fairly short) until the park closes (around 5pm).

Overall, this was one of our top five day hikes that we have ever done. There’s a lot to see and experience, and the terrain had a good mixture of everything. Now that we’ve walked Muir Woods though, I would skip the entrance fees and the parking fees next time and start on the trails elsewhere. I feel like everything in the park can be seen in one day. There are many other trailheads that have free parking and that land you in similar areas. Just make sure to arrive early enough to snag a parking spot along scenic highway!

If you liked this post, you may like the other hikes I’ve written about.

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