Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Refiner's Fire - Contentment

One of the things that I've struggled with my whole adult (and probably teen) life is contentment.

I always thought I would "arrive" somewhere, with something (or things) and be perfectly content and happy.

I guess that's the professional equivalent of riding off into the sunset with prince charming and living happily ever after.

I married my prince charming at 23 and we've been married for 13 1/2 years.  I've spent much of that time lamenting that my life wasn't what I wanted it to be.  Earlier completion of my PhD, an MD for my husband, a big, fancy house, a full handful of children, exotic vacations.  All of those things were on the "want" list.  I wanted to be superwoman and show my children that they could be too.

My life certainly isn't that.

I took 6 years off school - and worked instead - after my Master's Degree instead of perusing that PhD. And went back for it at the age of 32.
My husband was rejected from medical school, not one but three times.  He's now enrolled in Seminary to become a Lutheran Pastor.
My big, fancy house is a 1950's ranch with a 900 square foot footprint and 1100 square feet of livable space (divided up very unevenly too!).
I have two beautiful children and may not have any more.
Our "exotic" vacations have included Omaha, NE, and Duluth, MN. :)  No sight of the overseas destinations and sights that I had originally had in mind.

The discontent had built until I couldn't stand it anymore.  It made me a very unhappy person to live with.

Over the last couple of years John and I have really taken stock of what we really and truly want out of life.

We wrote a family mission statement.
We set some individual and family goals to complete and pursue some things that had been hanging over our heads for a while.
We actually put together and followed (most of the time!) a budget.
We cleaned out our house and were able to bless others in the process.

Something funny happened along the way.

We stopped wishing for many of the things on our "list."

We both know and understand that Seminary and Ministry is where the Lord wants us to be and it is a perfect fit for John, in ways I can't even describe.

I am slowly (sometimes too slowly) pursuing this PhD and know that I will finish it in God's good time.

We decided that we really don't want or need that big house - and house with a better floor plan at some point would be nice, but not necessary - and now that we've re-arranged  our house to fit us, we're just fine.

We are focusing on loving our children and praying about adding to our family. In the meantime, we are committed to being the best parents we can be to the children we are blessed with.

Travel is nice, and someday we will travel.  Right now we aren't in the right place to do that - and that's perfectly okay with us.

We also discovered that blessing others with material, spiritual and emotional gifts is much more rewarding than buying things that we don't need, striving for professional recognition or hoarding money or possessions.

St. Paul wrote:

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

I think I'm finally learning this.
After much refining and many tears and many years.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Work Home and Family - What Happens When You Clean Out

I already wrote on Friday last week that cleaning out my house has taken away a lot of my desire to spend money on things.  We are so very richly blessed matierally and are finally able to enjoy what we have.

This last year we cleaned out our house. 
Okay, this last year and one week of this year. :)

We knew we had a lot of extra "junk".  We knew we needed to come up with a different way to handle the paper that comes into our house.  We knew we had furniture and rooms that weren't working. 

What happens when all of that is gone?

A lot.

Room to work.
Room to play.
Room to grow.

A place to cuddle up and read a book.
A TV that doesn't take "center stage" in the room.
A table to leave out an un-finished game of chess or a half-finished puzzle.
A space to pin patterns and cut quilt squares.
A bedroom for each of our 2 children and a comfortable space for guests.
Organized craft and sewing supplies.
Plenty of working markers and crayons - and they're easy to find and put away too.
Space in the clothes closets and under the stairs and beds.
A file system where we can actually find things.
Overflowing recycle bins each week (and 2 extra pick-ups from our recycling company since we had so much stuff!)
A very nice receipt from the local thrift store - more than one actually.
Being able to bless the children's ministry at our home church with "new" office furniture (our old furniture)
Being able to bless friends with some furniture for their newly purchased cabin
Having the kids learn that it's okay to say "I don't need this anymore."
Getting rid of things that we "might need someday" because we realize that we probably never will actually need them someday.

Now there's space.
And light.
And time.
And peace.

Over the next few weeks, I'll share some photos of our transformation.  Sometimes I can hardly believe how far we've come. 

Are you doing any cleaning out? What are you learning?  I love to hear!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Healthy Habits in 2012 - Snack Attack

Snacking is the bane of my existence.

Or at least my battle to loose weight.

Meals I do fine with, snacking is what sets me back. A lot.

One of my goals for this year is to figure this monster out once and for all.

Some things I have come up with that fill me up, are relatively low in calories (around or under 200), and I think are yummy are:

* Sliced Apple dipped in 1 tbsp Creamy Peanut Butter
* A single-serving container of Greek Yogurt with 1 tbsp of homemade granola
* 2 Wasa Crackers spread with one wedge Laughing Cow Cheese
* An Orange and 3 Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzels
* A Single Serving Packet of Oat Revolution instant Oatmeal with Raisins Added
* 1/2 c Homemade Trail Mix and an Orange
* A Grapefruit with 8 Cinnamon Almonds
* A Homemade Breakfast "Cookie" (think the store-bought breakfast cookies here, only better!)
* Small 2% Chai Latte and 5 Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzels
* Three mini-scones (I love the Archer Farms Cranberry Orange Scones!)

Honestly, I hate the low-fat stuff - it doesn't fill me up so half an hour after I eat, my stomach is growling.  Talking with my registered dietitian, I don't necessarily have to cut out fat and I don't eat much refined sugar (I've actually had white sugar go rancid on me before I could use it!) so going low-sugar or sugar substitutes is not recommended for me, but I do need to watch my calorie intake.  I tend to eat way more than I should - like the trail mix. I'd eat the whole container in one sitting (15 servings!) if I am not paying attention.  Or I'll combine 2 or 3 or 4 of the things listed above and then feel sluggish because I now have too much food in my tummy for the time being.

What do you enjoy as a low-calorie, filling snack?  I'd love to add to my list!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Goals - Week of January 8, 2012

One of the things that I've learned about myself this last year, is that my eyes are bigger than my energy and time.  I like to think I can accomplish way more than I have time for.  And that really stressed me out.  And that definitely wasn't worth it!

Part of it is that I'm still trying to get caught up after being sick for 2 years.  Part of it is that I'm really impatient.  Part of it is that I like to think that I can be superwoman, even though my head knows that it's really not possible or even desirable.

So, fewer goals for each week, each day, each month, each year. 

Inspired by Crystal, here are my goals for this week:

* Return my contact for this semester (it's due this week)
* Take some items I have in my house that should be at work back to work
* Organize my paperwork, notes, etc. from this last semester
* Outline my first unit for this semester

* Finish two research proposals that have been half-finished for a while
* Send 5 emails that I've been putting off (I'd rather talk to people in person!)
* Schedule a meeting with my committee for some time in the next two weeks

* Learn 5 new routines (I have a list!)
* Put together a new set for my first class this week
* Put together a new set for my second class this week
* Organize my paperwork

* 3 hours of cleaning out total
* Finish sewing a table runner Christmas gift for a friend (I'm going to see her this weekend!)
* Catch up my ironing
* Take down the rest of the Christmas decorations (we usually leave ours up until Epiphany, which was last Friday)

* Pick up the kids from school Monday through Wednesday this week (John usually does this)
* Beginning embroidery lesson for my daughter for Thursday Night
* Help Buddy pick out and wrap a gift a for a friend's birthday this week
* Sew Buddy's Bobcat badge on his Cub Scout shirt for Thursday Night this week

* Drop off the load of items in the trunk of my car at local thrift store
* Buy toys for disadvantaged children with Missy while Buddy is at the birthday party (her choice for an activity!)
* Practice reading the lesson for this next Sunday's service

* Floss Nightly
* Refine my morning devotional routine
* Get my hair trimmed
* Paint my toenails

Yes, I know that looks like a lot.  Many of these things take only a few minutes - dropping things off, for instance, or picking up the kids - and many of the others are half-done (like learning the new routines or the proposals for school).

I'm hoping that I can get most or all of these things done this week.  With a lot of prayer and does of diligence, I'm hoping that it can happen!

What do you have planned for this week?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of January 8, 2012

Mmmm - Salmon!  I love fish - most seafood actually - and salmon is one of those things that we try to have on  hand at all times because it's good for us - all those omega 3's - and we just love it (all 4 of us!).   We are fortunate enough to have a neighbor who telecommutes to Alaska for work, and she supplies us with fresh salmon a couple of times a year.  I also have a cousin who lives there and sends us freezer-packed salmon when her freezer gets too full.  Yes, I am totally spoiled!

We're working on eating from the pantry this month and a $50 for the month grocery budget.  Not too shabby this last week - I spent $17 and change on milk, fruit, chicken noodle soup, diced tomatoes and salad greens.  The fruit should last us into next week and the salad might too, but I will need to buy more milk.  The chicken noodle soup and tomatoes are for the pantry, so it should last us a while.   There's a couple of good things on quite a sale this week, so we'll see how far I can stretch the budget this week. I'm hoping to keep it to about $10 - including 2 gallons of milk.

Anyway, here's what we're eating from the pantry this week:

Sunday, January 8:
    Breakfast: Cold Cereal and Milk
    Lunch:  At Church
    Snack: Popcorn
    Dinner:  Chicken Noodle Soup (from the Freezer), Corn Muffins, Apple and Pear Slices

Monday, January 9:
   Breakfast: Cinnamon and Raisin Oatmeal
   Lunch:  Apples with Peanut Butter, Yogurt, and Cheerios
   Snack:  Popcorn
   Dinner: Spaghetti with Ground Beef Tomato Sauce, Tossed Salad, Pineapple-Apple-Pear Salad

Tuesday, January 10:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Bananas
   Lunch: Hot for the Kids, Leftovers for Mom and Dad
   Snack:  Animal Crackers
   Dinner: Pan Fried Tilapia, Rice, Tossed Salad, Apple-Pear-Orange Salad

Wednesday, January 11:
   Breakfast: Chai Spiced Oatmeal
   Lunch: Hot for Kids, Leftovers for Mom and Dad
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner: Homemade Pizza and Bread sticks, Tossed Salad, Apple and Pear Slices

Thursday, January 12:
   Breakfast:  Pancakes with Apple Sauce
   Lunch:  Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, Oranges, Pretzels
   Snack:  Animal Crackers
   Dinner: Pork Loin, Rice, Tossed Salad, Baked Apples

Friday, January 13:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Apples
   Lunch: Hot for Kids, Leftovers for Mom and Dad
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner:  Baked Veggie Couscous with Homemade Tortilla Chips, Orange Wedges

Saturday, January 14:
    Breakfast: Buttermilk Coffee Cake, Bananas
    Lunch:  Tossed Salad with Chicken, Cranberries and Mandarin Oranges
    Snack: Popcorn
    Dinner:  Easy Black Bean Soup, Baking Powder Biscuits, Tossed Salad, Orange Wedges and Apple Slices
    At-Home Date Night Desert: Rhubarb Crisp and Vanilla Ice Cream

What are you eating this week?  Check Out I'm an Organizing Junkie! to share and be inspired.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Frugal Friday - Cleaning Out

When I heard about Crystal's new book, I knew I needed to buy it. Out came the Swagbucks cards and I pre-ordered.  After reading the reviews, I had to really laugh.  Cleaning out? Setting Goals?  Both things I know we need to work on.

We did a lot of cleaning out in 2011.
A lot of cleaning out.

And one of the surprising things that happened along with that was realizing that we really don't need anything much.

We have plenty of clothes.
We have plenty of household items.
We have plenty (or more than plenty!) of toys and games and books.

We didn't ask for much for Christmas this year as a result.

Missy needed some new tights.
Buddy needed a new pair of black pants for school.
John needed some new workout wear.
I asked for a recipe box to better organize my motly collection of recipes.

Really good chocolate, body wash, a new Barbie and a Lego set rounded things out.

Even though I haven't read Crystal's book yet, I will agree with her that cleaning out certainly helped us with the frugality aspect.  I realize how very blessed I am and really have very little desire to buy anything other than food right now. 

I'm hoping to keep that momentum going and put the money toward our mortgage and our emergency fund.

Not shopping - can't get much more frugal than that!  Not spending money is probably as frugal as it gets.

Anyway, that's my 2-cents for the New Year!

Check out Life As Mom for more Frugal Friday. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In the Refiner's Fire - Enough Already!

As I said in a couple of posts earlier this week, it was a very difficult year for us in 2011.

Not because of any one particular thing, but because of all the little things.

We had a number of friends go through some really terrible things - I think watching is sometimes harder than experiencing it yourself.  These events included deaths, illnesses (mostly cancers, though a couple of strokes were in there too), divorces, and the huge transitions of moving elderly or ill family into care facilities or taking on that care themselves. 

We had a huge upheaval at our home church starting about 2 years ago that continues to fester and grow and not be resolved.  This is especially hard since we need the support of our faith community for our seminary journey.  The bishop and his office have been terrific through all this and John's mentor pastor has been terrific too.  We had a lot of "sniping" from the members of our church community - criticism about where we send our children to school, about where we live, how we dress, how I wear (or don't wear) my hair, how we spend our money, and that we drive very old, second hand cars.  Feeling that ridicule (even when we know where it comes from!) is very hard.  We feel like we've lost our family.

One of my husband's siblings became a single mom and we had to have a talk with our children about how you can be a mom without being married to a dad.  (Uh, thanks SIL!)  We did not want to have that conversation yet, but it was a necessity. 

My dissertation seems to be moving at the rate of a dying turtle and John's program is ramping up, which means I need to get done and get done quick.  We simply won't be able to afford tuition for two on the reduced income we'll have when John moves into his internship.  This last semester John took four classes - two of which were clinicals and involved 10-12 hours of work in addition to his "normal" classwork and his "day job".  We are most definitely not doing that again!

There were so many times this year when we thew up our hands and said "Enough Already! We're done with this!"  But we kept plugging along.  What else can we do?

Needless to say, this year has been difficult in a lot of ways.  Yet, I feel so silly for thinking it's difficult when we have so much to be grateful for:

* Our health
* The health of our extended family members
* A good, sturdy home that's mostly in good repair.
* The ability to buy what we need and some of what we want
* Employment for both of us adults
* The ability to send our children to private school
* Medical insurance
* A funded retirement account
* An emergency fund
* Plenty to eat
* Plenty to wear
* School going well (or at least progressing!) for each of us
* Plenty of friends and fellowship
* 4 faith communities to be part of
* Two cars to drive that run mostly well and are safe

And most important of all:

We have the love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

If there is one thing that I learned in 2011, it's that that love and guidance is really all that we need.
Really and truly.
And it really is Enough.
Really and truly.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Healthy Habits in 2012 - 2011 in Review

Well, it's a new year and that means it's time to sit back, take stock and set goals for this new year.

Or something like that!
In 2011, let's see:

* I got certified as a Jazzercise instructor.
* I lost about 10 lbs. (I gained about 5lbs somewhere along the process as I gained muscle mass, so I'm only down 5lbs from my original weight.)
* I gained enough muscle that I can do things like planks, balance on one leg for long time and the like - which I couldn't do before.
* Lost 5 inches off the widest part of my hips
* Lost 2 inches off my waist
* Lost 3 inches off 1" below my waist
* Lost 4 inches off each of my thighs! (Whoo hoo!)
* I've been working out at least 30 minutes each day of the week - mostly learning new routines and teaching classes.

It's been amazing and I'm seeing defined ab muscles (well on my way to a 6-pack here!) and better definition in my upper arms and thighs.  I'm also feeling  better, having fewer flare ups of my chronic infection (whoo hoo!), and sleep better.

In 2012 I hope to:

* Loose another roughly 10lbs - this would put in the "healthy" BMI range for the first time in probably 15 years and would basically get rid of all the "extra stuff" on my rear end - which I don't like!
* Be able to get through an entire routine that requires lifting my pelvis off the floor and not have both feet on the floor at the same time (not sure if that makes sense to anyone else.)
* Have 4 full and different sets in place for each month of classes - each set consists of 15-17 songs/routines.
* Receive a good evaluation when I get evaluated in May by the Jazzercise quality control people - this involves working on my cueing and my form in addition to learning new routines.

Starting in November 2011 I started using MyFitnessPal to track my food and exercise intake.  I'm loving it and it's been really helpful in getting reasonable estimate of how many calories I'm actually eating.  I've known for a long time that snacking is my downfall - my meal calories are well within my daily allotment, but the snacks seem to put me over.  I never thought I'd acutally enjoy recording everything that I eat each day but it's actually been fun and it's been very helpful in actually dropping that weight that I "couldn't" loose.

So, my goals for January are:

* Attend a movement workshop to work on my form (3 hours one Saturday AM).
* Find 4 healthy snacks that are easy to have on hand and actually fill me up.
* Have learned enough new songs for my 4 sets.
* Log into MyFitnessPal each day and enter my exercise and eating.

What are your fitness goals for 2011?  I'd love to hear!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goals - 2011 In Review

Boy, 2011 has come and gone.

How did that happen?

This year was a very strange year for us.  It was very, very difficult emotionally - and we aren't really sure why other than that we were definitely doing way too much.  But it was very difficult before the amount of things on our schedules exploded too. 

I think for me, part of it is uncertainty. I don't do well with that. I'm a planner.  And I like to know what's going to happen.

A lot of my 2011 goals ended up flying right out the window.

Here's what got done:
* I got certified as a Jazzercise instructor.
* We got the house almost all the way cleaned out (close enough that I should be able to finish it this week - which I have off.)  Close enough that I'm calling that goal met!
* I met my price goal in filling Operation Christmas Child Boxes.

Here's what didn't get done:
* My dissertation (though I'm almost there!)
* Reaching my target weight (though I'm close there too!)
* The front flower beds
* The financial goals of having the garage repaired, the floors refinished, and buying a new vehicle.
* Catching up my kids' scrapbooks

We ended up rearranging things:
* We had to pay for major repairs for both cars - there went the new car fund!
* We decided to make our house fit our needs (it really didn't) rather than refinishing the floors, etc. and that meant buying new furniture and getting rid of a LOT of stuff.
* We decided to beef up our emergency fund, which we'll need in a year or two for sure when John has to quit his current day job for full-time school.
* We took our first "real" family vacation (other than camping), which is probably our last "real" family vacation for several years.
* We had some unexpected medical expenses.
* John ended up taking 4 (yes, 4) classes this fall, on top of working full time.
* My dissertation adviser's wife had a heart attack and he ended up having to take the whole fall semester off.
* Our daycare lady quit daycare (after 32 years - sniff) and I wasn't able to work this summer as we'd planned because, well, we can't leave the kids home alone! (And I really enjoyed spending the time with the kids so it was worth it!)

I learned a lot about goal setting this year and I'm changing the way I set my goals.  I also learned for once and for all that a crazy-paced lifestyle does not suit us at all - and John finally agrees with me, something that hasn't happened before.

I'm breaking my 2012 goals down by category (12 categories) and listing one thing to work on per category per month.  That sounds like a lot, it really isn't.  Many of the categories goals overlap, so I end up with 8-10 things to get done each month - some of them are even one-offs, like baking french bread for the first time or attending a class/seminar/workshop.  I'll update my side bar accordingly here, and cross things off as I go - mostly for myself.

We're really hoping that 2012 will be less stressful, less busy and more productive than 2011.

How did your 2011 go?
Care to share?

Menu Plan Monday - Week of January 1, 2012

Another New Year!  Wow! 

We're looking at making some changes to our cooking plan in this new year, but in the meantime, we have our menu plan for this week!  I did a quick run to the grocery to pick up milk and some fruit after being out of town over the holidays and we made our 3x/year run to Sam's Club to stock up on things like snacks for the kids to have at snack time at school (they have to bring their own - no homemade allowed) and vanilla, yeast and other things like that.  We're planning on doing another $50 grocery budget this month - kick start the year's savings again.  So, we're eating mostly from the freezer and pantry this month.  We did buy frozen crab legs on sale this weekend for John's birthday dinner this week - that price comes out of our gift budget and is one of his main birthday gifts.  We're so fortunate that crab legs are on sale this time of year!

Okay, after all that - here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday, January 1:
     Breakfast: Cold Cereal and Milk
     Lunch: Chicken Noodle Soup, French Bread, Blackberry-Orange-Banana Salad
     Snack: Popcorn
     Dinner:  Baked Salmon, Couscous, Green Beans, Blackberry-Orange-Pineapple Salad

Monday, January 2:
    Breakfast/Lunch: Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Oranges, Pears, Blackberries
    Snack:  Popcorn
    Dinner: Ground Beef Tacos, Tossed Salad, Orange Wedges

Tuesday, January 3, John's Birthday:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Raisins
   Lunch: Hot for Kids, Leftovers for Mom and Dad
   Snack: Chex Mix
   Dinner: Crab Legs, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Blackberries-Pineapple-Banana Salad
   Birthday Desert: Cupcakes

Wednesday, January 4:
   Breakfast: Pancakes with Strawberry Jam and Walnuts
   Lunch: PB&J Sandwiches, Oranges, Carrots or Tomatoes, Cookie
   Snack: Animal Crackers
   Dinner: Roasted Chicken, Rice,  Broccoli, Orange-Pear-Blackberry Salad

Thursday, January 5:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Apples
   Lunch: Apples with Peanut Butter, Carrots or Tomatoes, Cookie
   Snack: Pretzels
   Dinner: Fish Chowder (from freezer), Tossed Salad, Oranges

Friday, January 6:
   Breakfast: Oatmeal Muffins and Peanut Butter-Banana Smoothies
   Lunch: Hot for Kids, Leftovers for Mom and Dad
   Snack: Animal Crackers
   Dinner: Out for Mom and Dad; Macaroni and Cheese with Pineapple and Pears for the Kids

Saturday, January 7:
   Breakfast: Cinnamon Breakfast Biscuits, Oranges
   Lunch: Tuna Wrap Sandwiches, Carrot and Celery Sticks, Orange Wedges and Pear Slices
   Snack: Popcorn
   Dinner:  Homemade Pizza and Breadsticks, Tossed Salad, Oranges

What are you eating this week?

Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie! to share and be inspired.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things - A New Year!

Can you believe it? 

Where did 2011 go?

Didn't we just get started?

Whether we're ready or not, 2012 is actually here.

This last year has been a big challenge for us - and there wasn't really a single reason why.  It was difficult in so many ways and I often felt very silly thinking that things were difficult, since we didn't have the huge financial, medical, educational or social difficulties that so many others face. For us, it was a classic case of too many straws on the proverbial camel's back.  Some straws were chosen, others handed to us without our consent, and some were things that were entirely God's doing.

This coming week, I'll review this past year and post my hopes for the coming year.

I love a fresh start and I am fortunate enough to get two of them - right now at the beginning of the calendar year, and again in September when the school year starts over again. 

I am so very grateful for everything that has happened in 2011.

And I am even more grateful for the new start I have in 2012.

So to all of you...

Happy New Year and wishing you God's many Blessings in 2012!