Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kid Funny

Saturday as we were driving back from running errands, the kids were singing away in the back seat.

It went something like this....


Missy: "One - Two -Three: Rock and ROLL!"

Both: "Hark! The herald angels sing,..."




Of course, at the top of their lungs!

What more can I ask for?

Work Home and Family - Two Neat Ways to Combat Toy Overload

I was talking to a Kindergarten teacher yesterday and she told me a really neat thing!

One of the little girls in her class had a birthday recently and instead of having a party at home, brought presents to school for the class to open. The presents were for the kindergarten room and teacher! There were Lego's (pink and purple ones of course!), books, more furniture for the doll house, a CD player and art supplies.

The parents thought their child would get enough presents from friends so they asked family to buy things for the classroom and they bought for the classroom also. Their child had fun opening gifts and bringing cupcakes. And the classroom got some things that were 'missing', that had been used up or broken or are just nice to have!

I also talked recently to a friend who celebrates 'half birthdays' (i.e. birth date + six months) and instead of having a party where people bring gifts, she has the kids clean out their toys, picking some to donate and throwing away the broken things. They then have a party asking the children's friends to bring toys (new or used) to donate. They serve half a cake and play all kinds of games regarding 'half' of things. The idea is that the kids get more than they need and need to learn how to clean out on their own (don't we all wish we'd learned this at a young age?!) and helps encourage giving.

I love both of these ideas! My children have their "half birthday" in November, so it would be a perfect time to clean out for Thanksgiving and Christmas donation drives! And I love the idea of using their birthday to bless someone else! What neat ways to give!

Got any other ideas to share? Leave a comment! I'd love to hear them!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Goals - Why Become Debt Free?

I've heard a lot of people questioning the wisdom of being debt free lately. At Bible Study this weekend I made a comment that John and I are planning on being debt free by the time he is done with seminary so we can just go wherever God calls us and not have to be encumbered with the mortgage we have on the house here. There were so many expressions of shock and dismay and even one woman who said something along the lines of "Never gonna happen!"

I want to make it perfectly clear from the beginning that we do currently have a mortgage, a very small amount of credit card debt (that, God willing, will be gone this month!), and several self-loans from our personal savings. We do not have student loans or a car payment. I am not in any way looking down my nose at people who have debt. Believe me we've been there! Over $10,000 in credit card debt, $12,000 in student loans, and two car loans in addition to the mortgage.

Would we keep the mortgage if we weren't planing on following God's call to wherever he wants John to minister? In other words, if John weren't in seminary and planning a career change, would we keep the mortgage? Probably.

You see, I've always - my whole life, literally - been taught that there are two kinds of debt that are acceptable: school loans and a mortgage on a single property. Two caveats with this: 1) the school loans should never total more than your first year's salary and 2) the mortgage should never have a payment worth more than 40% of your net income.

Need a car loan? Pay it off ASAP. Same with credit cards. Best case scenario, use the card, and pay it off in cash right away - completely.

When John and I married, he had about $12,000 in school loans. I had bought a car off my parents for blue book value and that was our only vehicle. We took the minimum payment on the student loans and then added our 'car payment', $300, per month. In two years we were able to shave off a pretty good chunk of the student loan. Right before I graduated with my Master's Degree, we took a chunk of money out of savings and paid off the rest of the loan and paid cash for a second car.

About 8 months after that, I was in a multi-car accident on the freeway here. The "new" car was totaled. We used the insurance for the down payment on the car I currently drive. We paid it off in 3 years. And traded in the car we bought from my parents and a little bit more for the down payment our minivan after we realized that that car was on it's last legs and that if we ever had a 3rd child, we'd need more room than a sedan could provide. We paid that off in 18 months. That car we own is 12 years old now and the van 8. They run fine and work well for what we need. Are they new, no. Do we care? Not really.

After having a car payment, I can't tell you what a relief it is not to have one! I hope we never have to have one again. One trick is to keep paying yourself (i.e. your savings account) the amount that you had been paying on your car loan. It adds up fast! Our current plan is to pay cash for a second van to replace my car in the next 18 months or so.

Unfortunately, the credit cards keep going up and down. We typically use them for travel and Internet purchases. And pay them off each month. Occasionally we have an expense - usually a trip for a family emergency - that gets on there and doesn't have the full amount in the 'emergency' category of our budget. Right now, due to a funeral a couple of months ago, we have a small balance that needs to be paid off. God willing it will happen this month! It's such a blessing when we don't have anything on the cards that we try to keep it that way and are working to build up our emergency funds and other cash reserves so we can pay off the cards immediately when we do need to use them.

We do have a mortgage and a bit of equity in a rather run-of-the-mill, 1950's post-WWII rambler. Our purpose for paying this off is two fold: 1) So we don't run into the danger of ending up with two mortgages at some point and 2) We can have the ability to buy, no matter where we go.

You see, our church typically doesn't have a parsonage for the pastors anymore, so we have to provide our own housing. We want to follow God's calling and not have to depend on the salary to make our decision. If we move to a higher priced housing market, we have a wonderful down payment. If we move to a lower priced or comparable housing market, we will be able to pay cash for a house (helpful in a tight market) or, again, have a sizable down payment. In either case, we won't be stuck with two mortgages if the housing market here tanks or slows way down or home values drop and we can't sell this house by the time we have to move. Yes, we'd still have to pay taxes and insurance, but those two add up to far less than a mortgage payment!

This new job that I got starting in August looks to help us along the way to this goal of being debt free. I'm excited about that. You see, we plan to keep living this lifestyle we currently live and throw my salary at the mortgage and savings until we're where we want to be. We've always lived on one salary even though much of the time we've had two, so it's not that much of a struggle for us. I'm just hoping I have the personal strength to not indulge a bit after I start.

What are your goals for your finances? Are you working to become debt free? Why or why not?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of April 25th

Okay, where on earth did April go? I can't believe that May will be here the end of the week. Uff da!

We did a stock up run this weekend for pantry staples since we were pretty much out of everything. I figure 4 months of mostly $20-30 (or less) per week for groceries is pretty darn good! And a little embarrassing, since I don't consider myself as having anything resembling a real stockpile of any kind. Sorry I didn't get that posted - it was a ridiculously busy weekend!

So this week I didn't really have to do a lot of figuring to decide what to make for dinner! Here's what we're having:

Sunday, April 25th:
Brunch: Waffles with strawberries and pecans
Dinner: Beef Roast with Carrots and Potatoes (leftovers from last week), Baking Powder Biscuits, Strawberry-Blackberry-Grape Salad

Monday, April 26th:
Breakfast: Cheerios
Dinner: Salmon, Rice, Lettuce Salad, Strawberry-Blackberry-Melon Salad

Tuesday, April 27th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Orange Wedges
Dinner: Salad with Chicken, Strawberries and Mandarin Oranges

Wednesday, April 28th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Pecans
Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks, Lettuce Salad, Melon

Thursday, April 29th:
Breakfast: Pancakes with Strawberries and Pecans
Dinner: Steak, Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus, Melon-Strawberry-Grape Salad

Friday, April 30th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans
Dinner: Pulled BBQ Chicken, Homemade Rolls, Lettuce Salad, Melon-Strawberry-Banana Salad

Saturday, May 1st:
Breakfast: Cinnamon Breakfast Biscuits with Orange Wedges
Lunch: Tuna Wrap Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Applesauce
Dinner: Vegetable Soup, Homemade Rolls, Orange-Strawberry-Banana Salad

What are you eating this week? Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! to share.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Just When You Think They Don't Get It....

Passing on our Christian faith to our children is something that is a continuing challenge. They have done a fabulous job of memorizing things like the Lord's Prayer, Bible verses (short ones), and a variety of other things, such as not taking the Lord's name in vain, praying before eating so we say thank you for the bounty God has given us, etc.

Buddy has even really impressed several random people at church by knowing the Apostle's Creed, the Confession of Sins and several songs by heart! It's really funny when we sit behind someone we don't usually sit by and he starts saying one of those or singing along. They have to turn around and see who is this little boy, with his little boy voice, that's got the whole thing down!

But do they really get it?

Most of the time I'm not really sure.

I do a morning devotional with the children every morning while we eat breakfast and then we read a story or two or three (depending on how much time we have) from their Children's Bible.

During Holy Week, I decided to read the story of Holy Week in all its parts on the appropriate days. So, on Good Friday, we read the about Jesus dying on the cross.

Missy started SOBBING and I mean SOBBING during the story.
"But MOM-EEEE! I didn't want Jesus to die!"

I was thrilled. She got it!

Then, Buddy reached over and patted her on the back and said completely matter-of-factly:

"It's okay. He comes back."

:)

Can I tell you how hard a time I had keeping a straight face?

But I think they both got it - each in their own way and in their own time.

Gotta love it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Work Home and Family - Doing what God Asks

These last few weeks have been seriously crazy busy. I have so many things that need to be done within the next 30 days, need to be done within this week, and should have been done a month ago! Not to mention all the things that we need to do on a daily basis like make meals, clean up messes, care for children, and routine cleaning in addition to personal care and sleep!

Whew!

No wonder I feel like I'm scaling a never-ending mountain!

Last Friday I had something else land on my plate - something that is important to me and that I can't ignore, but it left me feeling truly overwhelmed and completely intimidated.

After an impromptu lunch with my hubby at the cafeteria where he works, I went over to a pastor friend's office. I felt like my brain was playing pinball with all that I had to do, not to mention all the complexities of this new thing that had just landed in my lap.

Sometimes it just helps to be reminded of the basic thing:
Just do what God asks you to do and let go of the rest.

Um, duh.

But how do I do that? I happen to be the queen of taking on everything, whether I should or not!

It's so very easy to look at things and think we have to do it all or that we should do it all. That things appear urgent or important. And we forget what God really has called us to do right now. I remember reading a while back that you really can do everything, just not at the same time! I love that idea but I keep forgetting it. I want it all right now, darn it all anyway!

This friend very graciously helped me sort through a few things. Then I went home and wrote them down. If I start getting sidetracked it's been very helpful to look at my list and tell myself "not right now." It's also helpful to be able to tell other people that too!

My friend also suggested that I figure out what I can delegate and to ask for help with some things.

So what's on the list right now?
* My relationships with my husband and my children
* My schoolwork for my May 1 and May 21 deadlines (other schoolwork or work-related items can wait)
* Daily necessitates like meals, laundry, personal hygiene
* One very specific aspect of this thing from Friday

What got delegated?
* Several household chores (hubby and kids)
* Some of the planning things for the upcoming birthdays at our house (hubby, my mom and a friend)
* The spring yard work (hubby and kids)

What did I ask for help on?
* The birthdays (a friend and my mom)
* The last of the cleaning out things that I still need to do (a friend - though we've postponed this until June right now)
* Some minor household repairs (my dad and hubby)
* The new thing from Friday (several people)

Everything else? Nope. Not going to happen!

At least right now.

The Pastor friend I talked to on Friday asked me how I felt about several things regarding letting some things go and the outcomes of others and I realized that I was also doing two additional non-productive things:

1. Placing too much emphasis on how other people would respond and on the opinions of others. Specifically whether people were interpreting my actions the way I intended them. I can't control how they see me, just what I do and making sure it's in line with my intentions. So I need to focus on what I can do and make sure I'm true to my intentions and let God do the rest.

2. That I'm spending too much time worrying about the outcome of things and not working on them. Talk about a way to guarantee a poor outcome! This is the classic, fearing failure so not doing things to guarantee failure. Ugh.

So my goal for the rest of this week is to focus on my shortened list of things to focus on. And to quit paying attention to what other people may thing and just do what I can right now, not worrying about the future.

What has God asked you to do and what can you let go? Care to share?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Goal's Update - I Got the Job!

Remember last week, when I mentioned that I had been in for a job interview?

Well, I GOT THE JOB!

WHOO HOO!!!!

This fall I'll officially be university faculty!

Now I just have to graduate! :)

Seriously, I'm still coming down off the high from the interview, the following conversations and getting the confirmation. Not to mention the little fact that it's my dream job - exactly what I'm looking for, as in if I could write the job description this would be it! Just the right combination of teaching, research and course development. I'm ecstatic!

Now, I just have to finish everything for my dissertation. I have until May 2011 to actually complete the darn thing, but I really want to get it done in December so that I can concentrate on my teaching and everything else spring semester.

I also found out that most of my committee is going to be gone this summer so I have to get everything except the actual dissertation done by May 21. UGH. And I have 2 birthdays, mother's day, an anniversary, three or four rounds of out-of-town company, my vegetable garden to plant, my children's first dance recital and a family college graduation in there between now and then too. Fortunately, I have most of my ducks lined up to get things done by then (hopefully the rest of them will fall into place soon as well!).

I'm starting to realize that my life is a bit like a roller coaster - either nothing happens or everything happens at once. There's no nice medium time in there at all.

So, I think I've got my schedule sufficiently set so I can post here at least 3-4 times a week and still get everything else I need to work on done. No guarantees though.

And hopefully, you'll start to see things progressing on my side bar as well. I'm ready for some completion!

:)
Nothing like having your dream job waiting for you for a little motivation!
How are you doing on your goals? Care to share?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Week of April 18th

We're heading full into spring here and I'm getting antsy so get some fresh veggies from the garden into the menu. Unfortunately, since we live in Minnesota, that will have to wait at least a few more weeks. We did get our seeds started, so it's only a matter of time! In the meantime, we get to enjoy a slightly wider variety of fruit than we have for a while. Strawberries in particular are a favorite around here and they're getting to be inexpensive, or at least relatively so. I love having my kids' eyes light up when they see the strawberries on the table!

So what's for dinner this week (and you can bet it includes at least a few strawberries!)?

Sunday, April 18:
Breakfast: Cold Cereal
Lunch: Waffles with Raspberry Sauce and Walnuts
Dinner: Fundraiser at Church

Monday, April 19:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Dinner: Pork Stir Fry, Rice, Orange and Grapefruit Wedges
Desert for Guests: Strawberry-Yogurt Parfaits

Tuesday, April 20:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Applesauce
Dinner: Spaghetti, Bread sticks, Spinach Salad, Apple-Strawberry-Pineapple Salad

Wednesday, April 21:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Dinner: Pasta Salad with Chicken, Spinach Salad, Apple-Strawberry-Pineapple Salad

April 22, Thursday:
Breakfast: Pumpkin Bread or Muffins, Oranges
Dinner: Baked Chicken, Roasted Potatoes, Carrots, Citrus Salad

Friday, April 23:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Dinner: Pot Roast with Carrots and Potatoes, Apple Slices

Saturday, April 24:
Breakfast: Bible Study Special Breakfast
Lunch: Tuna Wrap Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Apple Slices
Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks, Strawberry Shortcake

For more menu inspiration, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

These are a Few of My Favorite Things - Spring Flowers


Isn't this lovely? This rhododendron is what I see out my kitchen window every morning right now. I love it! We recently got done with daffodils too.

I love spring.

And I especially love the flowers of spring. My irises that are in the protection of the house will be blooming soon, I have a lone tulip in my front flower bed waiting to bud (usually the bunnies get all of them, so this one has me pretty excited!) next to my Lily of the Valley, and then the lilacs will be out just in time for Mother's day.

Almost all of my plants are perennials and are gifts from others - friends, family - or they came with the house.

I have peonies from both sides of my family. The light pink and white grew originally on the farm that my great-great grandparents had when they immigrated from Switzerland in the 1860's. The bright pink one was brought to the farm my Dad grew up on by my Grandmother when she got married in 1929. The ruffle edge peach and yellow lilies belonged to my great grandmother after she came from Finland right around 1900. I also have irises, rhubarb, and Asiatic lilies with family connections. Later this summer, I will enjoy roses from my bushes - one for each of my children. A red one for my son and a pink one for my daughter. Both bloom all summer long and I so enjoy the reminder of how blessed I am with the love of 2 beautiful, healthy and energetic children.

Every year I love watching all of these bloom. I love knowing that my relatives enjoyed these same flowers so many years ago. I love thinking about my family and the connection we have had with the land and the Lord.

I love seeing the beauty that God created. Truly, they are arrayed more gloriously than Solomon.

What do you enjoy about spring? I hope you take the time to enjoy it even if it's something far simpler than roses or lilies or irises.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Super Savings Saturday - $18.50 Grocery Budget


Last week, I mentioned how I had $12 and change for groceries this week. Well, I had a pleasant surprise when I counted the change in my "groceries" envelope! I had enough change plus a wayward $1 that was floating around in my purse that I had $18.50 for groceries this week! Whoo hoo!
So, we got everything in the picture above (yes, I did find my camera last week - it was hiding in the car!).
Store #1:
Two Gallons of Store Brand Skim Milk: $1.98 each
5 lbs Russet Potatoes: $1.99
1 lb Strawberries: BOGO $3.49
Store #2:
4lb Navel Oranges: $2.50
Bananas: $0.39/lb = $1.01
Bagged Spinach: $2.49
1 Dozen large Store Brand Eggs: $1.58
1 Can Store Brand Diced Tomatoes: $0.55
Total Spent: $17.57
Not bad if I do say so myself!
Next week is stock up week through with our $40/wk budget! We're running out of a few higher priced items but for this week, we will get through with this just fine. Check back Monday to see what we're eating.
For more shopping deals, check out Money Saving Mom.

Super Savings Saturday - Garage Sale Gold!

I have always believed Jen over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam that garage sale bargains on clothes can be found - really, really good ones too.

However....

Around here garage sales typically run Thursday and Friday, which means I don't get to go scoop them out, since I'm usually at work. I've gone to a few on Saturday than ran Thursday through Saturday and found that going to 10 garage sales to find one pair of overpriced boots for my son's big feet was not worth the time and energy. Yes, there are screaming deals to be had on Saturday, but not on anything we typically need (and many times even want!).

BUT....

Yesterday, I did manage to stop at a mega-sale that was held at a church around the corner from our house and I found these two beauties (sorry about the crummy quality - my tiny bedroom light fixture doesn't quite cut it with my average camera):


Skirt #1: Talbots Brand, lined wool, ankle-length wrap skirt with leather side buckle. Retail Price: Between $150 and $200 (maybe more). I actually considered buying this skirt when it was on clearance sale for about $50. I didn't. Now I'm really glad! Size 12.


Skirt #2: Name Brand (I can't remember which off the top of my head), Silk, 6-panel gore skirt. Mid-calf length. Retail price: Over $100? Also Size 12.

I love, love, love Talbots - they're my favorite store! Their clothes are high quality, I can walk in pull something off the rack or order from the catalog and know it will fit me and look nice. But, I only shop their sales because their clothes are way expensive. I usually hit the "Additional 50% off all sale items" and I have snagged some bargains - $32 for a $180 wool crape dress, an $8 silk dress that retails for around $210, a wrinkle resistant cotton blouse for $6.95 (retail $78).

I have yet to beat the price I paid for these two skirts here!

Price each: $1.50

Yep, you did read that right.

I had been praying about how I needed a black skirt or two in my wardrobe. I don't have any at the moment (in any length) and was debating whether to buy a lovely one I found online for $40.

No need to buy the on-line one now! :)

Additional perk? These are size 12. I've been in size 14 for a while. Talk about an ego boost!

For more Super Savings Saturday check out Money Saving Mom.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Frugal Friday - One Thing That Makes Me Truly Rich

A few years ago, my job ended (the grant I was paid under ended and so did my job) and I went back to school.

I started during a summer session and that summer session and the fall were awesome. I didn't teach over the summer, just took one class and spent time in and on my home, and with my family and friends. I only taught one class in the fall, using my half tuition waver and my pay to pay the rest of that tuition. I took 3 classes, but I still had ample time to spend with my family and friends and get anything at home I wanted to done.

That spring semester was another story. I was teaching 3 classes and taking 3. I did have a full tuition waver, which allowed us to put my entire paycheck into savings for future tuition payments. John had plenty of overtime and that kind of thing but I started feeling 'poor.'

I had a conversation with John where I expressed how frustrated I was with the whole financial picture and how "poor" I felt we were. He asked if I really thought we were poor. My answer? "No." I knew we weren't. I couldn't figure out what the difference was.

So I thought about it for a while. I started to compare the two previous semesters with this one and realized that the only real difference was time.

I had had plenty of 'free' time to get done what I needed to.
I wasn't rushed.
I wasn't overloaded and overwhelmed.

So since then my goal has been to keep my schedule less overloaded. Oh, I have plenty of days when I feel like I'm rushed and overloaded and overwhelmed, but I try to keep things calmer.

Taking three classes? I better only take one.
Teacher three classes? I better take only one.
School obligations coming out of my ears? I better not volunteer for anything just now.
Sick kids? Anything more than basic housework and work deadline obligations gets put on hold.

Have I perfected this?

Not by a long shot.

But I'm working on it.

Try making sure you have for the things that are truly important to you and I guarantee that you will feel richer too.

For more Frugal Friday, Check out Life As Mom!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Financial Goals Update for March 2010

As I wrote in my menu post, where on earth has March gone? And where is April going? I'm not ready for this...I have way to much to do before May gets here!

Anyway, I posted our top financial goals for 2010 earlier and we did make some progress in March. I had a job interview last week for a new position starting in August, so we'll see how that goes too. I'm trying to keep myself from being too hopeful but I keep thinking about how quickly we'll knock off our financial goals if I get that job. Then I keep telling myself not to count my chickens before they hatch! Isn't that the way it always goes?

So where are we at now that April is half way gone?

Remember, I listed the top 5 goals here - we actually have more! But here are the top five:

  1. Memberships and Fees. 100% Funded! Whoo hoo!
  2. Dates Out. 60% Funded.
  3. Lea's Summer and Fall Tuition. 38% Funded
  4. Buddy and Missy's School Tuition. 0% Funded
  5. Buddy and Missy's School Uniforms. 0% Funded

Yep, we knocked off the Membership and Fee's category this last month!

Didn't do a dang thing in the others, but it's a start. I'm not too worried about finishing out the dates out category right now, getting the tuition's taken care of and school uniforms are of a higher priority than finishing the date category right now.

This month we're hoping to knock off either the rest of my summer tuition or the kids' uniforms. I'm not sure which at this point - it depends on how much extra money we have. So we'll see.

How are you doing with your financial goals this month? Care to share?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of April 11th

It seems like April is just flying by here! Wow! Where is that time going? And can I get some of it back please?

We had a busy weekend cleaning out the garage and working on schoolwork and with church activities. I did get a couple of hours in to spend outside doing some relaxing hand sewing and enjoying my children's laughter as they played on their new swing set (and yes, I did have to stop and push the swings a couple of times!). This week is just as busy as the weekend was, so John's going to be helping me out in the kitchen this week a bit.

We eat most of our meals outside in the spring, summer and fall so I'm enjoying the lovely weather we've been having.

So what will we be eating outside, weather permitting, this week?

Sunday, April 11:
Breakfast: Cheerios
Lunch: Pancakes with Strawberries and Blueberries
Dinner: Leftovers

Monday, April 12:
Breakfast: Cold Cereal
Dinner: Baked Chicken, Rice, Lettuce Salad, Apple-Banana-Melon Salad

Tuesday, April 13:
Breakfast: Waffles with Blackberries
Dinner: Pork Tenderloin, Sweet Potato Wedges, Steamed Carrots, Applesauce

Wednesday, April 14:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Dinner: Beef Stew, Whole Wheat Rolls, Orange Wedges

Thursday, April 15:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins
Dinner: Chicken or Pork and Veggie Fried Rice, Apple-Melon-Banana Salad

Friday, April 16:
Breakfast: Oatmeal or Cold Cereal
Dinner: Chili, Cornbread, Orange and Grapefruit Wedges

Saturday, April 17:
Breakfast: Out for All (Bible Studies)
Lunch: Strawberry Shortcake (since we'll all be stuffed from breakfast!)
Dinner: Steak, Roasted Potatoes, Steamed Carrots, Fruit

For more menu planning inspiration, see I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things - Spring Weather!

Spring has officially sprung here in the north country!

After several rather crisp, cool days that certainly felt more like fall than spring, we have landed in the realm of mid-to-upper 60's F for temperatures! It's wonderful!

I'm currently sitting at my patio table, typing on my computer and enjoying the warm sunshine and my children's laughter as they play on the new swing set. The kids are running barefoot and enjoying the soft new grass. They even picked a daffodil each for me! Next on the agenda, finding a vase of some sort for the flowers, bringing out some hand sewing and drinks for the children, and spending some time completing a project in the warm sunshine before making our noon meal for the day.

The bright yellow of the daffodils makes me happy.
The warm sunshine makes me happy.
My children really enjoying their new swing set makes me happy.

Our house is rather small, by US standards, and although it has many windows, I tend to feel rather couped up by the time spring comes each year. We eat most of our meals outside during the spring, summer and fall and I really enjoy my outdoor "living room" as we tend to call our large patio.

It's nothing special, certainly, but it's mine and I am privileged to share it with my family and the many friends that we invite into our home during the spring, summer and fall.

I love the spring. I love the bounty that God has provided for us in our own little piece of the world.

And I love being able to share our bounty with other!

Yes, spring is truly one of my favorite things!

What has God blessed you with on this fine spring day?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Super Savings Saturday - My $32 Budget

What a good week for deals!

Unfortunately, my camera is AWOL so I can't post a picture for you to admire.
Things are just so much more impressive when you have an accompanying photo.
*SIGH*

Anyway, I spent $32.31 and got a TON of stuff! Whoo hoo! I had $25 for this week's grocery budget and $20 for next week in the envelope, so that means I have $12.69 for this next week. Yes, I can do it! Here's what we got this week:

Store #1: Store Total: $4.08
2 64 oz Store Brand 100% Apple Juice

Store #2: Store Total: $11.79
2 lbs 93% lean ground beef: $4.99
2 20oz Gold-n-Plump Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts: $6.99 - $0.75 - $0.75 = $5.49
2.27 lbs Bananas at $0.48/lb = $1.31

Store #3: Store Total: $16.44
Quaker Yellow Corn Meal: $1.85
Store Brand Oyster Crackers: $0.99
Store Brand Diced Tomatoes: $0.55
Tide Original 32 loads: $4.97 - $1.00 - $1.00 = $2.97
1 Very Large Cantaloupe: $1.99
0.77 lbs Plum Tomatoes @ $1.39/lb = $1.07
3lbs Jonathan Apples: $1.99
4lbs Oranges: $2.00
Store Brand 1 Doz Large Eggs: $1.58
Smart Balance Spread: $2.79
1 Gallon Kemps Skim Milk: Free after Catalina
Also had a Catalina for $1.50 off next purchase total.

So we're set on meat again for a while along with what we have in our freezer and I think the fruit for this week is good too. I'm pretty happy with this week's haul!

For more shopping inspiration, check out Money Saving Mom!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Frugal Friday - How Much Do You Really Need?

One of the things with bargain shopping and couponing is that it's really easy to mass a HUGE stockpile really quickly. Deodorant for $1 or less a stick? Buy 6! Pasta for $0.16 a box? Buy 20! Toothpaste for free? Buy the whole shelf's worth!

I did a lot of this when I started couponing. Especially the Johnson's Buddies Soaps, Toothpaste, Deodorant, and Laundry Detergent. Pasta is pretty close behind (I currently have 8 boxes in my pantry waiting to be used!). While it's easy for me to run a load to the food shelf or bring a bag to the food shelf drop box at church, non-food items get to be more of a problem since our local food shelf only takes food, formula and baby food and diapers.

I was reading some one's blog (I forget who - thankfully!) who had 57 tubes of toothpaste (full size ones no less) for their family of 2! Then they had 40 bars of soap. And a few other things like that. They were talking about giving some canned goods away before they expired because there was no way they could use them in a month (about 4 cases worth of cans). I was shocked!

And I started to look at what we have....

Do we have too much?
Do I really need to take advantage of every single offer for free toothpaste, cheap deodorant, and the like?

The answer?

Probably not.

My husband and I go through about 6-8 sticks of deodorant each per year. (Wow. Talk about getting personal here!) We go through about 4 tubes of toothpaste per year. And 4-5 bottles of shampoo and body wash a year. We go through about 2 bars of soap a year (we use liquid soap mostly) and 4-6 bottles of laundry detergent a year depending on the brand and how old the kids are.

I don't need to have 6 bottles of laundry detergent in my cupboard. I don't need 16 bars of soap in my closet. I don't need 20 tubes of toothpaste there either. I don't need 18 deodorants.

Fortunately, there is another place I can donate those things we don't need. And it makes me think twice before I buy things. I've bought 2 tubes of toothpaste in the last year (both for free or free plus overage) and I've bought 1 bottle of laundry soap. That's how much I had in storage. I also put those Buddies Soaps in my Operation Christmas Child boxes along with free toothpaste and toothbrushes. This week I have a good sale and coupon combination for Tide detergent. I can buy a bottle cheaply and I still have 1/2 of another bottle left from the last sale.

I think twice before I buy food things now too. Good sale on pasta, rice, or oatmeal? How much do I have in my cupboard before I buy. Sometimes I can go 6 months without buying one of those staples.

It's allowed me to spend my money on other things. It's allowed me to use up what we already have. It's allowed me to be that good steward that God asks us to be.

So for Frugal Friday, I encourage you to look at how much you really use of things before over-stocking. You might just be surprised at how much more you can save by not spending money (however little) on something you already have.

For more Frugal Friday, Check out Life as Mom.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Week of April 4th

Wow, has Easter week gotten off to a bang at our house! More about that later, but for now, we spent $16 on groceries this week on Saturday, plus another $3 on a 4lb bag of sugar. I realized after the fact that they had 4lb bags of sugar at Target this week for around $1.50, but I didn't figure that out until after I'd spent the $3. Oops. Oh well, we had $20 this week so that was okay.

So what are we eating? Here goes:

Sunday, April 4th, Easter Sunday:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins, Fruit
Lunch: Strawberry Cream Braided Bread, Sausage, Pineapple and Oranges
Dinner: At a friend's house - bring whole wheat dinner rolls

Monday, April 5th:
Breakfast: Cereal
Dinner: Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Strawberry-Banana-Pineapple Salad

Tuesday, April 6th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Dinner: Pork Chops, Baked Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Strawberry-Banana-Pineapple Salad
Bible Study Snack: Oatmeal Cookies, Popcorn

Wednesday, April 7th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Dinner: Vegetable Soup, Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls, Orange Wedges

Thursday, April 8th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins, Fruit
Dinner: Hamburger Gravy, Noodles, Carrots, Orange Wedges and Pineapple Slices

Friday, April 9th:
Breakfast: Oatmeal or Cereal
Dinner: Steak, Homemade Chips and Homemade Salsa, Orange and Grapefruit Wedges

Saturday, April 10th:
Breakfast: Cinnamon Breakfast Biscuits, Fruit
Lunch: Tuna Salad Sandwiches, Orange Wedges, Carrot Sticks
Dinner: Chicken Pot Pie, Homemade Bread, Fruit

If you're looking for me dining inspiration this week, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things - The Grace of God

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!


Something so simple as a man dying on a cross over 2000 years ago changed my life.

I am still amazed that God would send his only son - his child - to die for me.
For me.

And for you too.

The knowledge that God's grace is sufficient - no matter what - is my comfort and my shelter. My refuge from the storm. My peace in troubled times. And the light that carries me on - no matter what.

I hope that you find the Lord if you haven't yet.
I hope that He carries you through the burdens and trials of your life.
I hope that you are in awe and wonder of the tremendous grace of our Heavenly Father.

Most of all, I hope that you have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope that you feel His unconditional and abounding love not only as something that you know, but something that is tangible - that you feel.
You are worth nothing less to Him.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Always.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!
Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Super Savings Saturday - $16 Budget

Nothing like stretching the budget to the edge! The approximately $16 I spent this week included scraping the bottom of my change purse! How about that?

We got deals too! I like that as well. Here's what we spent (subtracted amounts are coupons):

Store #1:
2 Cans Dole Pineapple Rings: $0.77x2 - $0.55 = $0.99
2 Cans Dole Mandarin Oranges: $0.77x2 - $0.55 = $0.99
1 Can S&W Black Beans: $0.79
1 lb Fresh Strawberries: $1.50

Total Spent Store #1: $4.27

Store #2:
2 Gallons Kemps Skim Milk: $3.99 x 2 = Free after catalinas from previous trip
1 12 ct Jimmy Dean Precooked Breakfast Sausage: $2.50 - $1.00 - $1.00 (double coupon) =
$0.50
4 lb Oranges: $3.49
2.2 lbs Bananas: 2.2 lbs x $0.48/lb = $1.06
2.15 lbs Sweet Potatoes: 2.15 lbs x $0.59/lb = $1.26
1 Can Value Choice Diced Tomatoes: $0.55
1 Bag Fresh Express Mixed Lettuce: $2.66
1 10pack Bic Disposable Ladies' Razors: $2.67 - $2.00 = $0.67
1 2pk Lint Traps: $1

Total Spent Store #2: $11.19

Total for both stores: $15.46

I look at that total and realize that 2 years ago we were spending $200+ per week on groceries for the four of us and finding ourselves lacking. Now, there are days when I wish I could go in and buy whatever we want, but in the long run we're healthier, wiser and better off. I didn't think it could be done, but it can!

Check out Money Saving Mom for more shopping inspiration.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Frugal Friday - Looking at the Big Picture

I've always loved shopping. For years we had 2 incomes and no children and no school expenses. It was easy to go out and mostly buy what we wanted. We ate dinner out regularly, treated my husband's younger siblings to new clothes and school supplies each fall, gave whenever our hearts thought we should, and picked up that CD, new clothes item or other treat here and there without thinking about it. Yes, we were truly blessed. Our expenses were low. Our incomes were good. And we even had automatic savings each month.

Then the kids came.

And so did daycare.

Then my job was eliminated.

Then I went back to school.

Then John went back to school.

Now we're sending the kids to school.

Finances keep getting tighter and tighter. And it's been harder and harder for us to just buy something. We have weigh the printer cartridge and kids shoes. We have to weigh light bulbs and car tires. We have to weigh a new screen door and the repairs on the clothes washer.

I really dislike it sometimes. I wish we were back where we were before some days.

But I know something else.

That we're better off financially than we were in those days too.

We don't need all the stuff that we would buy. We have more in savings than we did then. Our spending is more in tune with where our priorities are - giving, saving and education primarily. We aren't struggling with car repairs or home repairs or tuition payments.

Looking at the bigger picture is my boost on the days when I feel discouraged.

I remind myself that having a retirement account to supply us in our old age, being able to send the kids to college and being able to pay off our house before John gets his first call is more important than a CD that I'm going to sell to second hand store in 3 years anyway. Or that new blouse when I have 10 in my closet. Or another toy for the kids when they have a birthday coming up and will be getting a lot of things then. Or being able to go out to eat when I really don't care for the food anyway.

Yes, looking at the bigger picture is a huge help.

What do you do when you're discouraged out keeping on track with your finances?

For more Frugal Friday, check out Life As Mom!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In the Refiner's Fire - Living God's Love

It has been really difficult to continue writing my story. The last 10 years haven't been easy or fun though they have had moments of both. In particular, the last 2 years have been extremely difficult to put on paper - both in terms of articulating what happened and in terms of my personal emotions as I write them. I am currently writing them piece by piece off line and will post them in order when they're ready.

In the meantime, I'm going to write about some less tangible things I've learned - particularly in the last year - about God, my faith, and my life and relationships.

Today I'm writing about something that is far more incredible to do than to say - Living God's Love.

Oh, we all think we do. We go to worship, we 'forgive' people who have hurt us - at least we say the words, and perhaps we even give of our time, money and talents. But the thing I've realized lately is that we rarely show the unconditional love that Christ did.

So many times we put conditions on our relationships - you need to be nice, kind, successful, funny, smart, well-behaved, well-dresses, employed, or whatever for you to be our friend. You need to attend church and live as a Christian in a certain kind of way.

The church is incredibly hypocritical when it comes to extending God's love and grace. Oh, we love you - but only if you live the way we think you should! Too much debt? No thanks. Have an addiction to something? No thanks. Not 'nice' enough? No thanks. A bit lazy? No thanks. Don't meet our standards for dress, or hair, or employment, or housekeeping, or education, or...? No thanks.

The last few months it has been really difficult to feel God's love for me. Why? Or church is struggling. People are being nasty to each other - in some cases, it is really nasty. I have found myself trying to avoid certain people. I ignore emails. I try to rush out as fast as I can.

Forgiveness in particular is difficult to do at best. Impossible to do at worst. Many of us think we forgive and say the words, when in reality we carry a grudge. Sometimes for years. Or decades.

Yet, I know this is why people leave the church. People who have maybe been half-hearted Christians, people who are new to the church, or people who don't truly have a relationship with Jesus Christ, though they have been raised in the church. They don't have the relationships with God and with the other people to try to draw them into the communion with their Lord. They look at our behavior and say "What a crazy bunch of hypocrites? No thanks."

Really, God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He does expect us to love each other as he has loved us. Unconditionally. No holds barred. No strings attached. Regardless of all those things that we like to put conditions on.

God doesn't expect us to be perfect. But he does expect us to be honest about our imperfections. If we are, it's much easier to love and treat with respect all those other imperfect people around us.

More than that, I've found that if I feel the love of my husband unconditionally, it makes it easier to ignore the other people. This is the most important person to me on the earth, and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves me makes everything better.

How do you do that?

Really listen. Listen. Not talk. Listen. To each other. And to others.
Try to understand each other's feelings - asking questions until you really get it. It may take a while, but it's worth it.
Serve each other. Do something that is important to the other person, even if it's not important to you. John's on spring break this week and he's done the dishes for me each night. I love that! Make that time for each other, whether you feel like you have time or not.

Most importantly, let God do these things through you. God listens, and thus you do. God understands, and therefore, you can. Jesus served us, and we can serve too. Jesus made time along his way for others and so can we. I have trouble forgiving, but letting God do the heavy lifting and allowing Him to forgive through me is terribly freeing and something I can do.

It is worth it.

So, listen. Try to understand (which doesn't mean you have to agree). Serve each other. Make time for each other.

You'd be surprised at how much healing in the church can happen from this!