Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hiatus

I am sad to say that I am putting this blog on a hiatus. The holidays are always super busy around our house. In the next couple of months I will have some new responsibilities in our community as an advocate for children with food allergies. I like to think I am Superwoman but I know I need to give up a few things up to make sure I keep all of my priorities in order.

I will continue to maintain my other blog. Tyler and the rest of the family will pop up over there from time to time. I also plan to do some writing for another website I used to write for when time permits. I hope to write on frugal living, health-related articles, as well as other Christian living pieces. You can view those articles here.

Thanks to all of my faithful readers over the last year or so! I hope we will bump into each other other places online in the months to come...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Organizing Christmas: The Christmas Planner

Christmas is coming...are you ready? Would you believe it if I told you Christmas is only 47 days away? I know, it sends chills down my spine, too!

For the last several years I have vowed to get more organized so I stress less and enjoy the holiday more. This year, believe it or not, I started Christmas shopping in August! My goal was to be done by November 1. Well, I was about 1/3 done but thats 2/3 of the way there!

I found a wonderful website called organizedchristmas.com. In late October, the author, Cynthia, started counting down. Each day she offers a tip to get ready and a recipe! I love it!

One suggestion she makes that I love is a "Christmas Planner." This can be your brain during the holidays. You can keep anything and everything you need to keep you sane as the holidays approach. I am in the process of making mine right now. (Note: she suggested doing it on October 27 so I'm already behind!) This year it will be a little more work to get it started, but I can reuse it each year so the labor right now will be worth it.

Cynthia offers several suggestions for sections of the planner but here are the ones I have settled on:

1. Calendars
2. Meals & Menus
3. Budget
4. Gift Lists
5. Christmas letter
6. Recipes
7. Traditions
8. Lessons for my kids (teaching what Christmas is all about)
9. Birthdays (we have one 12/24 & 1/6 so this is a part of the holidays, too!)
10. Lessons Learned (to be completed after Christmas to help me be better organized next year)

To make a notebook, just use any 3 ring binder (I bought a bright red one!!). Get some dividers and visit Organized Christmas to see what sections work best for you. Then, get to work! The few steps now will save you a ton of time later (not to mention headaches!).

The key to this system is spend a few days each each day planning so the holidays don't sneak up on you!

My goal in all of this is to have the time and energy during the holidays to be able to pause and reflect what the season is all about. Its not about gifts, meals, and anything else stressful. Its about Jesus!

To hold myself accountable (and help anyone that wants to join me), I will be posting an update on my own Christmas planning each Friday until Christmas. Hopefully, we can sneak up on the holiday rather than the other way around!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Warning: Sales and Coupons Can Be Harmful to Your Budget


When someone wants to live a more frugal lifestyle, one mistake they make is to think shopping sales is what this is all about. I know this may sound contradictory but shopping sales can actually hurt your budget if you are not careful.

A few things to keep in mind to keep your budget from being derailed by those slick sale ads:

*Only buy products you would normally buy. Many people buy things they would never buy if it weren't feature in the store's ad. This is a mistake. It means you are actually spending more money than if you had skipped the sale.

*In most cases, the name brand featured in the ad is still not as cheap as the generic alternative. Always, always double check this fact. If the you usually buy is cheaper, you are not doing yourself a favor by buying off the sales ad.

*For the above mentioned reason, I almost never buy sale items. My exceptions to that fact are meat and produce. On rare occasions I find a deal on one of these items and will buy it.

*One of my weekly tasks is to check the sales ads online of my two favorite stores who actually have ads.My regular shopping places are Super-Wal-Mart and Sam's Warehouse and they don't have sales. But Meijer (a Midwest store similar to a Super Target) and Kroger (a grocery store) get my vote for having the best sales in my area. I recently added CVS drug store to that list because they actually have good sales and give you a bit of rebate on purchases.

*When you do find a good sale that is worth going to, buy A LOT. Sometimes I will buy several of whatever I am buying if possible. If needed, I will freeze it.

A word about coupons:

*The same rule applies about them as shopping sales: only use them on products you don't already buy generics on AND on products you already use. Its OK to try new things but a coupon is not a gift certificate. You still end up paying for it and sometimes spend more overall than if you had never clipped a single coupon.

*Last week I discovered www.coupons.com. Since most coupons I find don't apply to what I am buying, I was amazed last week when I saw stuff we actually use on a regular basis. And the savings are significant. I got $1.00 of a 12 pack of Pepsi! Since the coupons are different this week than last, I am guessing they change each week. You just select the ones you want and print them out. There is no fee or even registration...just savings!


Join me next week when I will discuss how early planning for just about everything you can imagine saves you money (not to mention stress!).


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wanted: A Simple Life

Something has really been bothering me lately. I look around our house and my life and see entirely too much clutter. There are often papers strewn about and toys littering the floor. I often feel like trying to clean is like trying to stop a waterfall with a paper towel.

In the last couple of months, I have been on a rampage around the house trying to get things more organized. Its strange that this impulse has such a strong hold on me. As I sat yesterday afternoon, wondering why I am so obsessed with this, the answer was so clear to me.

I want a simple life.

This is not to say that my life is extremely complicated. Its really not. But my conviction has become that it is more complicated than it should be. God did not mean for me to be stressing out over so many little things. I waste too much time and energy focused on trivial things related to "stuff."

My feeling about this aren't completely foreign. After my call to ministry in 1997, I felt a need to purge myself of too many things. I felt called to the mission field and I knew I definitely couldn't take it all with me. My attitude became that I might as well part with stuff gradually rather than all at once.

I remember after we were married and received so many wedding gifts, I stood in our little apartment looking around and thinking, "We have too much stuff." I reminded myself, however, that it was no longer just about me. I was a wife and things like several casserole dishes and Tupperware containers were necessary to serve in my role as a wife.

Over three years later, we added a baby to the mix. Talk about stuff! I had no idea such a small human being could require so many things. I thought we had too many sleepers but soon discovered that my little guy went through six or seven a night. Sometimes a lot a particular item can be good, I suppose.

But my conviction has become that the stuff is starting to rule me rather than the other way around. My children have way too many toys. Many of them have been gifts over the years from members of our congregations. I felt it would be wrong to get rid of gifts.

But it concerns me that my boys will become too comfortable with all of this stuff. They will think it holds some key to happiness. It doesn't. The Giver of the stuff is where our joy should lie.

So, this whole "decluttering" issue is not just a phase as my husband has so dearly wished. (Sorry, honey!). It has become a spiritual matter for me. I want simplicity so I can focus on the things that really matter: Jesus and my family.

The whole "decluttering" issue is not just about stuff around the house. There are areas of my life that I need to tidy up. How can I raise my boys to be men of God if I am struggling to be the simple woman He wants me to be?

I don't have all the answers to simplifying life. This is a journey for me. I'll be back in a few days with more thoughts. I would love to hear from others on leading a simple life.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grace in Marriage


Welcome to Marriage Monday!! I am so excited to be hosting it this month. When the topic "grace" was chosen as this month's topic I was thrilled because many days that is what keeps me hanging on, if only by a thread.

As I prepared to write this post on "Grace in Marriage," I thought it would be appropriate to include an example of how I have extended grace to my husband. I mean, he really is "near perfect" but he is only human.

As I thought about it, I couldn't remember a specific circumstance where I had overlooked an issue purely out of love for him. Trust me, I really do it. He just doesn't require it as often as someone like me. Plus, my memory disappeared when my first child was born.


As I started to reprimand myself, it dawned on me. That is what grace is all about! By extending true grace, we erase it completely from our memory. (I'm thankful my poor memory is useful for something!)

That is exactly how God views grace towards us:

...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us...
Psalm 103:12

As a wife that is usually in the "In Need of Grace" category more than my husband, how could I not overlook my husband's faults? I get the same loving action in return.

We use the word "grace" frequently in Christian circles but what exactly does it mean? Dictionary.com gives a couple of beautiful word pictures. A few of them were:

1. the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.

2. the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.

3. a virtue or excellence of divine origin: the Christian graces.
When I looked at these and thought about my own marriage, I couldn't help but see a little of all three of them. Our marriage certainly is a gift from God that we do not deserve. The love and grace we give each other is allowing Christ to work through us. We cannot take any credit for it. If we were left to our own merits, I shudder to think of what a mess we would make.

A year or two into our marriage we attended a marriage retreat with the leadership of the church my husband served in. While there, we studied Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. We were each given a test to determine what our "love language" was. I admit I was a little skeptical of how useful this would be. I knew this man so well. There wasn't anything new I could learn. Or was there?


I was surprised to learn his love language is "words of affirmation." This meant he felt the most love from me by the words that I used than anything else. This was eye-opening to me. I was amazed at just how important the words that flowed out of my mouth were to him. He needs to hear that he is valued and important to me.

This also meant that the words that I used during the more difficult times of our marriage could have devastating effects. Even an unintentional misplaced word could harm him on a very deep level. That spoke volumes to me and remains on my mind to this day. I try to choose my words deliberately during the tough times. Even when I am upset with him, there are lines I will not cross. My love and grace for him goes too deep to wound him.

Some days I find myself giving my husband more grace than other days. But most days, I see my husband, in fact, giving me more grace than I deserve. When I stop to think about it, these are not only actions we offer each other out of love, they are also something we do out of love for Someone who gave up His very life for ours. In that light, no amount of grace is too big in a marriage.


What do you think about this topic? We would love to read your thoughts!



Thursday, October 30, 2008

Marriage Monday is Coming

This coming Monday, I will be hosting "Marriage Monday." The topic will be "grace" as it relates to marriage. If you have a blog, I encourage you to write something on this and link up here on Monday. It doesn't have to be a long post, just something heartfelt about how grace affects your own marriage.

"Marriage Monday" is one of my favorite group writing projects that I participate in. Even though I don't consider myself an expert in this area, I enjoy talking about my own experiences that hopefully will benefit others. I hope you'll join us on Monday!



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wearing "Recycled" Clothes


I used the term "recycled" in the title of this post because it will appeal to the effort of many (myself included) to go more green. (By the way, when did the issue of being a good steward of God's planet become a political issue, anyway?!?) Really, "recycled" and "used" are interchangeable, we just don't like to think about it that way usually, do we?

When I talk others about how to live a frugal life, one thing many people turn their noses up at is wearing used clothes. There is a stigma that goes along with this that I don't entirely understand.

Remember hand-me-downs as a kid? They were used. And they saved our parents a ton of money. What changes when we become adults in our perception of this?

Does wearing used clothes mean you will like like you do? Absolutely not! If you are running around looking like you dug through someone's garbage to find something to wear, you are doing something wrong! There is a way to look great and save a ton of money at the same time.

Here are a few of the rules that I follow to find great clothes that don't look like I'm not their first owner.

1. Find a nice "go to" thrift store. Look in the nicer areas of your town. It only makes sense that the more affluent areas would have nicer donations. Sometimes they are a little pricier ($6 for a shirt instead of $3, for example) but the time I save not having to look through unappealing clothes makes it well worth the few extra bucks. I have 2 stores that I frequent for most of my clothing needs. They even occasionally have new things with the tags still on them for a fraction of the original price!

2. Shop garage sales. This is great for kids clothes. For some reason, I have much better luck here for my boys than I do at thrift stores. Also, I don't often find something for myself. I'm not sure what the contradiction is but I just adapt my buying. I once found a garage sale last year that had kids clothes for 25 cents each. I bought a ton of stuff for my kids. Garage sales are also a great place to findBold great toys and games and really just about anything you can imagine.

3. Ebay, baby! If you have never done ebay, crawl out from under that rock you have been living under and try it!! You can find anything and everything over there. It's awesome for kid's clothes, too. I have already started Christmas shopping on it and found some really unique stuff. I have bought my boys clothes on ebay and have always been very happy.

I have not bought myself many clothes since I can't try them on but recently I have considered buying brands when I already know what size I wear. Even if I make a mistake and buy something that doesn't fit, I'm not out much. Plus I can sell it and recoup my money!

You will be amazed what you can get on ebay. Search for a few of your favorite products (including makeup, food, etc) and see what they have to offer. The other great thing is you never have to leave your home!

4. Accept hand-me-downs. I know many of us do this with kids but have you considered doing it for yourself? Let friends know you want to dig through their stuff before they donate it. They would much rather give something to someone they know than someone they don't. You can return the favor on your next "closet clean out" day.

Since I am married to a pastor, I find many women in my church that like to do things for our family. Some have approached me timidly and asked if I would like to go through their old clothes. My eyes always light up and I can tell they are thrilled to be able share and make me so giddy!

These are the four ways our family uses recycled clothes. I'm sure there are many others some of you have tried. I would love to hear other ideas~

I have converted others to buying pre-owned clothes. My mother never thought she would do this. Now, her closet is filled with her thrift store gems. Her inspiration, I think, was seeing all the great things I found. My mother-in-law has also started venturing into this life-style a little.

If you have never stepped foot in a thrift store (or garage sale or even ebay), I encourage to give it a try. You will be amazed at what you will find! If you hate it, don't worry, you'll only be out a few bucks anyway!

That's what works for me!!


Next Wednesday in the "Frugal Living Tips" series, I'll give frugal tips on shopping sales.