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Monday, April 29, 2013

2nd Biggest Frugal Tip EVER!!!

Just over a year ago I did a post called Biggest Frugal Tip Ever and so far it has been my most popular one yet.  Which got me to thinking...what would be my 2nd Biggest Frugal Tip?

Being frugal usually means I'm looking to spend less, save more, re-create and re-purpose things... I'm trying to stretch the dollar and other resources and make do with less - that sort of thing.  And I thought of certain recipes I do and how I go meatless often and extend ground beef with this and that and use cloth diapers and such.  And how I budget for groceries and make it work somehow and stick to it and sometimes have enough to splurge on things like juice on occasion.

And suddenly it dawned on me.  My SECOND biggest frugal tip ever.  We learned that the first biggest frugal tip is really summed up in one word: contentment.  With a foundation of contentment and rejoicing in the providence of God for all that I need I am then able to go on to implement the next step of frugality.

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GENEROSITY.

Wait a minute (I hear you say).  I thought this was about being frugal.  What does generosity have to do with saving money?  EVERYTHING.  Because I find that being frugal can lend itself to being stingy.  To being penny-pinching when it comes to the outflow of resources.  In being frugal I can become almost TOO aware of the limits of my resources.  In being too aware I can forget that God is liberal in His grace and lavish in His blessings.  I can forget that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth and everything in it (including me, by the way).  People who are frugal are often conservative - somehow thinking that conserving things is so wonderful.  I suppose it is, but when it comes to generosity I'd like to err on the side of liberality.  Because in being generous I somehow become more frugal.

How does that work?  For me it works in that as generosity flows out I learn greater disciplines of frugality - I learn how to stretch things to make it work for us.  And if I run out of what I think I need I am challenged to either rely on God's provision of our needs or to re-evaluate what I deemed was a 'need' in the first place.

Frugality is good.  By all means, stretch your dollar.  But not so that you can hoard your stuff.  Stretch yourself so you can give more.  I guarantee that in increasing your generosity you will grow in leaps and bounds in frugality in ways you never knew was possible.

In generosity you discover more of the heart of God Who lavishes blessing upon blessing upon us in abundance.  He came that we might have life - and life more abundant.  Not life more stingy.  Not life more fearful of looming disaster and, 'will we have enough canned goods and bottled water?'  He came to bring life free from fear and worry.  Look at the lillies of the field and birds of the air - aren't they better dressed than we are?  And He feeds and clothes them.  And we think we need to scrimp, scrounge and save because He can't handle our day-to-day needs? Really?

Try a little generosity and then get back to me with the results.  I'd like to see how your frugality grows when you become more generous.  Because for me - generosity opens my heart to receive from God His abundance, not just materially but spiritually as well - as I discover what a good, kind, loving, gracious Father He is.  He gives to me without withholding. Oh to be more like Him.

Channels only blessed Master but with all Your wondrous power -
Flowing through us You can use us, every day and every hour!

Emptied that You should now fill me - a clean vessel in Your hand!
With no power but as You give me - perfectly with each command!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How I told Sam about #5

I was just reading someone else's blog about how they found out they were pregnant.  And since I've had five experiences of this sort I thought I should make a record of them.

So it was January of 2011.  Andrew was just shy of 2 years old and we were feeling the exhaustion of being parents of 4.  Sam and I were just beginning to discuss if we were a) believers in birth control b) willing to act on that belief c) ready to act immediately and declare ourselves through with childbearing.  We were unsettled on all three.  But we prayed...and discussed.

Did we want another baby?

Well, I secretly did.  But I couldn't say that directly.  I really wanted another girl.  I'd look at other families and if there were just two kids - two girls, I'd think, 'She has something I don't have!'  Is that coveting?  I didn't feel it was.  It was a matter of laying my heart bare before God and letting Him know my longing and trusting Him with that.

I do know that you can get pregnant with umpteen babies and they all turn out boys.  I am also well aware that my heavenly Father knows my heart and desires and chooses what is best for us.

Though I did want another baby, I wasn't sure my body could take it.  Gestational diabetes was worsening with each pregnancy.  I wasn't sure it was wise to embark on another pregnancy.  So I wasn't sure we would have anymore.  I knew I could be content with the children God had already blessed us with.

Sam and I discussed in bed many evenings - should we?  Shouldn't we?  Why?  Why not?  Sam would talk of being old and frail when going to our kids high school graduations.  He talked of them shooting hoops and us having arthritic knees.  I talked of never regretting it.  I talked of the benefits of large families.  We gently laid out the pros and cons carefully.

I had some mild bleeding which I chalked up to a regular cycle.  But it stopped short - only a day or two.  A week later I got a bad headache.  An ice-cream headache, very reminiscent of pregnancy for me.  I thought, 'I just had a period.  There's no way...'

But the headache didn't let up.  'I know, I'll just grab one of those dollar store pregnancy tests out of the back of the closet from three years ago.  Then at least I'll have peace of mind.'

Well, what was supposed to give me peace of mind - it didn't.

I really only took the test to make sure life was still on the 'normal chaotic' setting.  Though we were discussing the matter, we had not come to any decision and we weren't in the market for an immediate answer to our debate.

The two lines appeared almost immediately.  My thoughts whirled.  This is crazy.  Who has five kids?  People who don't know any better, right?  Four is scary, five would be overwhelming.  What will we do now?  How will I ever tell Sam?  Andrew was a surprise too - do you get to have two surprises?!
Guess it's too late now.  But wait, I had bleeding.  Maybe something is up.  I don't know how to tell him...  I'll wait and pray.

And wait I did.

Two.

Whole.

WEEKS.

Yup, I kept it a secret that long - longest time I've ever kept a secret.  (I'm terrible at secrets, just so you know).

But the two weeks were well spent.  Knowing what I knew I was able to carry on in the discussion throwing in my nonchalant two-cents in favor of more babies.

Yes, this is manipulative.  This is not what I would recommend.  It's better to be open and honest always.  It is probably terribly mean of me to have kept it from him.  But I was just more than a little freaked out.  I hate being pregnant (other than when people ask when the baby is due, there really is a baby due - that part I don't mind).

I get sick.  Tired.  Irritable.  Temporarily and dangerously diabetic.  I have to diet.  Scrupulous carb counting.  Stair running after meals to keep sugars in check.  Oodles of Dr. visits.

I finally couldn't hold out any longer.  I was gaining a very guilty conscience about my deception (my omission of telling Sam the reality of the situation).  I thought I should figure some special way to tell him or who knows... but the urgency was building.  The longer I kept the secret, the more urgent it became.  Then, how would I tell him how long I'd known?  This is why it's a bad idea.  It just was not good.  Don't do it if you're in this situation!

We were again talking about, 'should we have more?' and we had always talked about what God might want for us.  Would God have anything to say on the matter?  And that night, two weeks after I found out I said, 'Sam, I think God has given us His answer.'

And that was all it took for me to tell Sam that baby #5 was on the way.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Steel Cut Oats for Breakfast [recipe]

This morning as part of our discussion on nutrition I showed Priscilla 4 forms of oats: a whole oat grain (represented by a barley grain since I didn't have a whole oat laying around), steel cut oats, old fashioned rolled oats and quick oats.  I demonstrated how the body breaks these down and the larger the particle the slower the process and the less impact it will have on energy surges and crashes (sugar highs and lows).  I showed how the fat grain of a whole oat takes longer to reach the middle and completely break down into sugar/starch than the quick oat - or even if it were ground to a pulp as oat flour.  We talked about fiber, fat and protein as beneficial to maintaining steady blood sugar levels.  Neither of us is diabetic, but it runs in the family so I figured an introduction to the subject matter was warranted.  In order to steady blood sugar levels I said, 'Add some fat, fiber and protein.'  So we made steel cut oats for breakfast.  With butter-sauteed pecans for pizzazz.

3 cups water
1/2 cup steel cut oats
2 T brown sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. vanilla
2 T half & half

Let that all simmer for about 20 mins - less for a bit of crunch, longer for a smoother texture

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, put about 1/2 c. broken pecan pieces (chop a few times or just bang on a counter inside a baggie), 1 T brown sugar and slowly raise the heat.  Watch it or it burns quickly!  As soon as the sugar is melty and bit brown, drop in 1/2 T. butter.  Let it melt and stir quickly.  (Should sizzle a bit).  Don't let it burn!  As soon as butter is melted, stir it into the oatmeal or just spread on top.

Serve immediately with a nice hot cup of tea.

(We had strawberries, blackberries and grapes as a side).

Happy Homeschooling!!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I take that back...about guilt...

Here I am eating humble pie.  If only it would truly make me humble.

So much for not having Mommy-guilt.

I spoke too soon.

Because at supper tonight Timothy was reluctant to eat his refried beans and cilantro rice.  Never mind the leftover salmon crepes.  All he wanted was applesauce and PB&J, which clearly was not on the menu.

So then I urged him to eat just one bite.  He would have none of it.  Then the crisis comes.  Is this a battle I want to wage?  Do I really care if he eats the beans and rice?  Is it worth it?  Am I a bad Mom if I back off?

The debate goes on in my head: should I make an issue of this?  My instinct says NO.  I wouldn't want to be forced to eat when I don't want to, nor would I want to be forced to eat something I don't particularly care for.  But I am not a child and have developed a wide range of appetites for varied consumables.  Don't I want my kid to be as versatile in epicurean delights as my highly developed self?!  At this point in the evening I didn't really care.  Then I feel like a whimpy Mom.

This is the kind of fake guilt I'm talking about.  I imagined a friend of mine with a healthy sense of boundaries over herself and her kids.  I thought surely she would get her kid to eat the beans.  (Here begins fallacy no. 2: comparing).  Maybe I should be as firm and consistent as she is.  Then I thought of her child.  Poor child.  Having such a force to reckon with.  (Begin fallacy #Ilostcount: criticism of the Mom you're secretly jealous of).

I mean, if I want to eat applesauce over rice and beans, I simply help myself to the applesauce.  Why should I expect different from my child.  Because he's a child, not an adult - that's why.  I go round and round.  I play silly games in my head.  This is a waste of time.

Because ultimately kids grow up even if they didn't get forced into eating their beans and rice.  Mommy-guilt tries to pull us into focussing on the non-essentials of motherhood.  These are valid issues, for sure.  Just do they need to consume us?  I think not.

So, from one not-generally-guilty Mom to another: I do  know what it means to have Mommy guilt.

Now, do you have any suggestions for me as to the matter of the rice and beans?  I'm all ears.


Mommy Guilt...or Not

I hear about this concept of Mommy guilt.  Here's a guilty confession for you:  I rarely - and I mean very RARELY ever feel guilt.  Now that I have alienated my audience thoroughly, let me clarify.

When I feel guilt - a healthy, 'I should do better, be better, change in this area...' type of guilt - I feel great joy and hope abounds in my soul.  I thank the Lord that I am alive and well and that there is some sense within me of a common bond with all mankind.  It happens so rarely that I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't feel more of it.  But I so very much want any guilt I feel to be rooted in a true sense of God's ideal for me as His child.  Don't get me wrong - there is probably so much more guilt I should feel (relatives: no need to chime in here with all the things you'd like me to feel guilty for!)  I just rejoice when God reveals to me clearly how He wants me to change and gives me hope and courage to take steps in the right direction.

So I hear about Mommy guilt and I think, 'Oh no, I won't take that on!'  Unless the voice of God's Holy Spirit whispers, full of grace and truth, 'You should sense some guilt and seek to change in this area...' then I am not about to take the bait.  Guilt is just a waste of time, unless it is Spirit-driven.  I'm sure God wants us to feel guilt when we sin.  And that should drive us all the more to Him to seek His grace and mercy to help in our time of need.  But Mommy-guilt?

Usually Mommy-guilt is laden with fear, worry and comparing.  None of these are things Scripture seems to condone for us as a moral compass.  Usually it is a waste of time and energy because (and hear me now!)

BECAUSE...

IT DISTRACTS US FROM OUR TRUE CALLING.

If I can spend hours, moments, and emotional energies worrying if I gave my kid enough organic baby-food or saved the planet from too many synthetic materials, or fear for my child's safety because of the mysterious microscopic elements trace-laden in our foods, or compare my child's progress endlessly to the Tiger-Mom's super-kid who is a piano virtuoso by the age of 3, I can while away my days accomplishing nothing more than engendering a snobby, 'I-have-the-world-handed-to-me', fear/worry laden attitude in my child.  Does my child hear me say, 'If only...' or 'I hope we don't get cancer from that...' or 'So-and-so has the new organic non-plastic, non-hazardous toothbrush - maybe we should get one?'?  Now, am I beginning to impose Mommy-guilt here?!  NO!!! Nooooooooooooo.....


God gave your children to you and in His wisdom He wants you to nurture and raise them according to His wisdom and truth.  This will look different because He uniquely created you with your personality and style and amazingly, kids seem to do okay with a great variety of parenting styles.  Kids who eat non-organic tend to do fine!  (The vast majority of the world's kids do!)  Kids who skip the music lessons still have soul, gift, and beautiful personhood to contribute to the world!

My style just happens to be a no-guilt style.  I cherish guilt.  The right kind.  I easily and quickly discard lame, others-inspired, comparison, imposed guilt.

Now, that said, you're welcome to hang onto your Mommy-guilt if it really makes you feel better.  I just have enough to do with the day-to-day than to take on an added burden of worry and fear.  Be my guest in that department.  Just don't invite me to join your party.



Monday, April 8, 2013

Day to Day in our Family

Here's a letter I just wrote to my parents in Hong Kong.  I try to keep them updated on stuff since whenever I get on the phone with them I draw a blank and kids pester me and I can't think straight.  This is a snapshot of our kids' world these days...

(I found a wooden toy-workbench on the side of the road and cleaned it up for a play kitchen for Hannah and Andrew)


Hi Mom and Dad,

I'll write this quick before priscilla needs it for her math and history.  

Yesterday we had a nice turkey dinner with Stoddards.  They just got a chihuahua puppy -teacup size - for free off of Craigslist.  The kids had so much fun with it!  His name is Santo.  The cat isn't thrilled with him.

They had a lot of fun out in their yard which backs up to the train tracks - don't worry - it is completely fenced.  Every train that went by they would wave at and the driver would honk.  

Steven's foot is healing - he doesn't need a wheelchair anymore.  Gene (the dad) makes little crochet cell-phone pouches - because crocheting is cathartic and fun, not cuz he has any use for cell-phone pouches.  Timo desperately wants to sell things.  I keep putting him off cuz I know what that means (he wants me to bake cookies or make stuff for him to sell).  I tell him to work and do chores for me and I'll pay him.  But he doesn't want to do that.  He wants to sell.  Yesterday he wrote me a note in big letters: 'If I dont sel I won't ever get rich.'  Spelled like that.  Guess he's right!  But I'm not about to encourage him to get rich off of my labours!  So maybe I'll talk Gene into letting Timo sell his cell-phone pouches.  Then at least he'll have inventory.

Caleb is doing well.  Whenever I see a Calvin and Hobbes book in the thrift store I get it and he thanks me profusely.  On Friday night we gave them their Easter baskets.  They were so surprised and thrilled.  It was completely unexpected.  Timo thanked me over and over.  I told them that it wasn't just from me but also from Aunt Lydia who sent the money for the stuff.  I just got your cheque in the mail.  Now we'll have to do something else fun with that.  What do you think we should do?  There is a new bakery in Winfield called Vanilla Sugar Bakery.  It is very high-end but worth it.  The treats are all homemade and delicious.  Sometimes I get them a treat there.  I told Caleb I know you could get a lot at McDonalds for the cost of one cupcake there but that you will enjoy that cupcake a whole lot more!  He agreed.  'Good thinking Mom' he said.



(This weekend they made spaghetti marshmallow towers)


Andrew is almost fully potty-trained.  He got to 9 days with no messes but then had to go back to day 1 when he pooped his pants.  When he gets to 10 days he gets to go on a date alone with Daddy.  Also, he is doing well at night - dry each night and goes with only undies on.  He very much likes stories read to him.  He wants more and more and is really upset when I say no more, it's bed time.






Hannah is finally showing interest in words and talking.  She has signed 'please' for some time now and 'more' but that's it.  Sporadically she would use 'ma-ee' or 'da-ee'.  But not consistently.  Yesterday she tried to say 'cracker' and 'cereal' and 'bowl'.  She also tries to say 'nose' like 'noh' and mouth like 'mou'


(Janet gave us a little table that her father had made for her when she was little.  Hannah and Andrew love it!)

Timo is doing well.  He is finally getting up for school in time, which has been a struggle.  Hope it continues.  he gets bent out of shape so easily and we're trying to help him learn to let things go.  He shows a lot of interest in spiritual things.  He is eager to read straight from the Bible and especially in Timothy where he pencilled in 'Logan' right after the book title.  He prays very honest great prayers.  He asks questions about God and Jesus.  He is thinking a lot about spiritual things.  Especially after Easter and the resurrection.  He wonders where Jesus is and since He's in heaven aren't we sure He's dead?  No, he rose up to heaven.  Timo thinks to be in heaven you have to be dead.  Makes logical sense I suppose.





Priscilla is doing well.  She folds laundry with me and says someday I'll be a Mommy like you.  So I told her she'd better enjoy folding laundry if that's the case.





This weekend we visited a lady from Church who is in a rehab facility.  She had a stroke.  The kids had fun going and meeting interesting people in the common area.  Then they went to get some firewood from a family who offered it.  Later Sam was going to take them bowling but it wasn't the right time and Timo had a melt-down and couldn't go so he took the rest of them to McD's for a treat.  I made Salmon crepes with sauce for supper.  They all liked it pretty much.  

Earlier this week I met with a girl I know about playing piano for her wedding in May.  It will be May 5th - a Sunday and hour away from here.

On Friday I had lunch with a friend from Church.  She has grown kids - college age - and I hear some of the stuff she deals with with them and I remember those days and know it probably wasn't the best/easiest time for you!  

Any more details you want to know?  Oh yes, we're still looking for a house.  End of this month we'll have to change our criteria since this is dragging on. All we need is a sizable home in West Chicago or Winfield with taxes under 8,000.  If you see something let me know.  Otherwise we'll have to go for less sizable and add on.  Or move somewhere where they don't tax up the wazoo.

Here is my supper schedule for your reference:
Mondays: Beans meal (lentils, split pea, Cuban black beans - whatever)
Tuesdays: Pasta meal
Wednesdays: Soup meal
Thursdays: Sandwich meal
Fridays: Pizza (salad if we're lucky)
Saturday: Huge salad meal (or leftovers or whatever I find in the fridge)
Sundays: Meat and Potatoes



What excitement is going on in your world?!