Saturday, April 30, 2011

Five Question Friday ('s Saturday!)

1. If you could buy any car, money not an option, what would it be?
In High School, I would've said this....and I had it down pat: a candy apple red Mustang Convertible 5.0 GT

Honestly, I didn't even know what the 5.0 or GT parts meant, but it sounded cool.

Now days, my "dream" vehicle (if money & gas-guzzling didn't matter) would be either a new Suburban w/ all the bells & whistles or a Tahoe or a new Honda Odyssey. I'm sincerely all about having lots of metal around me to keep me safe. But cargo room & seating is important, too!

2. What was your worst first date ever?
Hmm....I had a few stinkers with one particular guy, but I don't feel like I should post about that on here. Sorry folks. No happy bad date stories to tell...only yucky ones. (But I will say this much: I was young & stupid & naive. He was young & stupid & pushy. 'Nuff said.)

3. How old were you when you fell in love for the first time?
That would be the guy in my answer to #2. Even though it didn't turn out all pretty & nice, he was my first love.

4. When was the last time you reconciled your checkbook?
Larry has done that for years. He checks the account daily with the bank's website.

5. If you were going to fashion a "Wanted" Ad for a best friend, how would you word it?
Wanted: Best friend for me
Must have a sense of humor (gross, warped, weird & sarcastic jokes appreciated) & love to laugh. Even better if we can laugh at each other.
Must have a deep faith, rooted in a love for Jesus --- or be willing to listen to me talk about mine all the time without complaint. :) A love of crazy, hand-raising, emotional, pentacostal-style worship a plus. {and if you can buy me tickets & take me to concerts where we can do all this now & then, even better!}
Must like to talk. Prefer not to talk on the phone very or text is better. (But will talk on the phone sometimes.)
Must cry at the drop of a hat like me....or at least not make fun of me when I do. :)
Must be honest & open, transparency is a big deal to me.
Must be a reader of my blog & comment often. (ha ha...just kidding....but you know, commenters do get brownie points on my friendship score card!)
Must not be a teller of jokes that would be considered racist or rude to physically or mentally challenged people....those really bother me--and they ought to bother you, too!
And hey, if you're a plus-sized lady, all the better....we can share cute clothes!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Heavy Heart

In 2009, a good friend went through the loss of a child, a baby girl with anencephaly. (Google it if you must, but are graphic.) Walking through that tragedy with her changed me. I had known a million other people who had lost babies over the years, but for some reason, her particular situation moved me on a different level than all those others. She was a coworker. The other teachers & I sat in my room one afternoon & prayed for our friend, begging God for a miracle. But His plan didn't include healing on earth for their little girl. She's whole & complete & perfect now, in Heaven. I know that I in no way can possibly grasp how painful that was for my friend, but I was so honored to be able to go through those days with her, in some small way.

Earlier this year, another friend heard of another mama in Texas whose baby had been diagnosed with the same thing. I got in touch with her and offered my prayers & support. I offered to drive to the hospital & take pictures for her after the baby arrived. I wanted to help in some way. It's such a helpless feeling to be on the outside in these situations, knowing there is NOTHING that can take away the reality of the situation, the pain mom & dad are feeling, the loss & emptiness afterward. Nothing. I think we all start searching, trying to find a way to fill in the gaps to give them a little room to breathe & worry about the situation at hand without having to worry about the other little details of life. Babysitting, bringing over meals, washing the car, mowing the yard, walking the dog....anything to remove the burden of regular day to day life from a hurting family.

I was so very blessed that this new mama allowed me into her life by way of her blog & befriending me on Facebook so I could keep up with her journey & "get to know" her family through pictures & the posts she wrote on her blog. Last week, she mentioned the delivery date & I asked when it would be. I promised to pray for her on the day her little one would arrive.

That day was today. At 7:30 this morning, she went in for a Csection. At 9:20, I got a text from her sister saying that he was here & that the doctor expected him to live for several hours. At 2-something, I checked in & he was still hanging in there, mama was doing ok. I haven't attempted to check back with her since then. I don't want to intrude on this private time for their family. But I still want to do something.

I've been praying for them all day long. It breaks my heart to see another family lose a little one to this ugly disease/disorder/malformation...whatever the right word for it is. These beautiful babies are perfect in every other way. Healthy chubby little legs & arms & tummies, sweet faces, pretty eyes. This mama's heart can hardly stand it.

Tonight, while my friend's family weighed heavily on my mind, I heard this song for the first time ever. I don't know how old it is, but very fitting. What beauty in the lyrics. Enjoy. (the lyrics are below the video)

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's wrong with Easter?

FYI: I'm about to step up onto my Easter soapbox. Feel free to move on to another blog or read your emails instead if you don't like what I'm saying. These are purely my convictions about Easter. You don't have to agree or share my issues. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.

What's wrong with Easter?

2 words: Nothing and Everything

I know that sounds so totally contradictory, but let me explain my conflict. I have such a hard time with the Easter holiday every year. Not with the holiday itself but with how it's celebrated. I realize I should only concern myself with how it is celebrated at my own house, but I still find myself conflicted about how to best do that. And I find myself comparing how we (in the Church) celebrate the 2 major Christian holidays of the year -- Christmas & Easter.

{Sidenote: I know plenty of people who feel that Christmas & Easter are pagan holidays, not Christian ones. That is a whole other story and I do understand where they're coming from, but I choose to see them as Christian holidays because the basis for why I celebrate the two is found in my Christian faith--the birth & resurrection of my Savior.}

You see, at Christmastime, our churches focus on the birth of Jesus. As they should. Our children's programs contain songs about adoring the Christ child, celebrating His birthday. The kids bring home a month long supply of crafts that all help them understand & focus on the holiday being about His birth. Manger scenes, shepherds, angels, babies wrapped in cloth. I would be concerned if the kids came out of Sunday School with pictures of Santa or reindeer. It would bother me to see Santa seated in the foyer taking children's Christmas lists at the Christmas Eve service. It just doesn't make sense for them to do that at church. Right?

So why do we handle Easter differently? Sure, churches still focus on the real meaning of the holiday -- Jesus's resurrection -- but 5 minutes later we host huge Easter egg hunts. We advertise for weeks in advance. We have a costumed person in a bunny suit on the church lawn to entertain the kids. We promise prizes galore if you can find the special golden egg. What do you think the kids go home remembering that day...the chocolate frenzy or the resurrection of Christ?

You see, the world has no problem wrapping their brains around a child's birth. We see babies born all the time. It happens every day. Most people can grasp a birth because it's happened to them or their family. But a resurrection? THAT is hard to understand & believe in. How many people do you know who've died & come back? How many gods from other religions have done it? It seems like a fairytale or fiction novel. But the resurrection is what makes my faith what it is.

I believe in a God who is not dead.
I believe in a God who was prophesied about for many, many generations before His earthly birth --including prophecy about His death & resurrection.
My trust is in a Savior who rose from the dead after paying a price I could never pay.
I have a personal relationship with a God who answers my prayers & communicates with me every single day.
My hope & faith & trust are in a God who is ALIVE.

Had He not resurrected, the Christian faith would not be what it is. His resurrection changed everything. And yet we confuse people with what this day is about. And I just don't 'get' that.

Don't misunderstand. My children get Easter baskets (although we've never told them that anyone but us brings them). My children hunt eggs. My children get candy. And they enjoy it. But they also read about the resurrection....and tell us about the resurrection eggs (a cool tool we use to help them grasp it all)....and make resurrection rolls....and take part in Good Friday services....and so on. I don't for one second believe that my family somehow has it all together or that we're doing it 'better' or 'right'. I don't think there is ONE 'right' way to do it. But I struggle with the screwed up emphasis we (the Church) put on Christmas, but not on Easter. What is that all about?

I wish there was a book out there that said 'Do holidays like this to insure that your children grow up strong in their faith with a clear picture of the balance between fun/worldly traditions & deep theological truth.' But there's not.


Being a parent is hard, folks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

A couple of months ago, while browsing through a local Christian bookstore, I found this book & was intrigued by the description on the cover. Heaven is for Real is about a little boy, barely 4 years old, who dies on the operating table & makes a 3 minute trip to Heaven before he wakes up from anesthesia. I decided not to buy it that day due to the cost of the book & the lack of funds in my bank account, but I was hoping to come home & find it on or amazon (used). No such luck. The book was new enough that no one had a cheaper copy available yet. I decided to wait it out & find a copy later. Soon after that, I started seeing posts on Facebook by friends who were reading it. Everyone raved about it. I decided a couple weeks ago to put my network of friends on Facebook to good use & see if anyone had a copy I could borrow! Bingo! Within a couple hours, I had found a copy! THANK YOU ANGIE!!

As predicted by all my friends, I sat down with the book last night & read it all within a few hours. I had to stop about halfway through to go to the grocery store, but then came home & got back to reading. And they were all right---the book is fabulous!

:::spoiler alert --- I'm about to give away details from throughout the whole book, so if you haven't read it & want to, don't read beyond this point!:::

In this book, Colton Burpo, a healthy little boy began complaining of stomach pain and spent a couple of days vomitting. Doctors ruled out anything serious & told his parents it was just a really bad stomach virus. After watching him throw up 'round the clock for nearly a week, they checked him out of the hospital & went to a larger children's hospital for a 2nd opinion. They found out he had a ruptured appendix, and it had been leaking poison into his system (by this time) for 5 days! The first doctor was wrong! The doctor took him in for emergency surgery, but couldn't give his parents any hope for their extremely sick little boy. (You find out later in the book that the doctor & nurses didn't expect Colton to survive. But he did!) After recovering from the surgery for a full week, Colton & his parents were in the elevator, leaving the hospital, when the doctor ran to the elevator doors & stopped them. Tests showed that Colton's white count was VERY high all of the sudden, which indicated that he had further infection in his tummy & they needed go back in to "clean out" what was in there. They found a large absess in surgery. Again, things got very bad, but Colton survived.

That's when things get interesting. In little bit & pieces, off & on for several YEARS, Colton tells his parents about things that at first strike them as very odd, then intrigue them. Initially they felt like Colton had an angelic visit during his surgery....then they realize that he knows things about thing that occurred while he was in surgery....then he tells them that he came up out of his body & watched the doctor working on him and saw where they were & what they were doing and begins relaying stories of Heaven. When he begins describing Heaven, they realize that he must've died on the surgical table, even though the doctor's reports don't state anything about any physical signs of him dying.

side note:
For many years, I thought people who related "near death experiences" were nuts! I felt like they were feeding off the other stories they'd heard & were just saying it all for money or fame. I still find it hard to reconcile logically, but I can't help but be amazed by their stories. Over the years, I've come to understand how many things about faith & trust in Christ require us to let go of LOGICAL explanations & just trust Him. I believe this is another one of those things.

Several years ago I read the book 90 Minutes in Heaven. I read it as my own personal way of proving to myself that these people were crazy! I felt like it would help me say "
Ha! See? You're a loon! That didn't really happen!" but what actually happened was that I was further convinced that it's real! And after reading Heaven is for Real, I find it very interesting that the main characters in these books describe so many things in the exact same way! If I was still doubting, it would be hard to deny that two people years apart in age could possibly describe the same things they saw on their trips to Heaven!

Colton relays stories to his parents about people he met while in Heaven....John the Baptist, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, a great-grandfather who died 25 years before Colton was born, a miscarried baby sister that his parents had never told him about....

It was after he relayed information he could've never known without having experiencing it himself that his parents finally began sharing his story with other people. The daughter of that great-grandfather relished hearing the story about her father's presence in Heaven...a question she had long worried about -- did her dad go to heaven? Now she knew!

It became a family 'game' of sorts to find pictures of Jesus (paintings, pictures in books, etc) and show Colton to see if they looked like the real Jesus. For several years after his trip to Heaven, they found them & showed them to him. In each one, he could point out something that wasn't too long, eyes, shape of the face, etc. Quite a few years later, another little girl became well known for the stories she was telling her mother about a trip to Heaven she'd made while very sick. When Colton's dad read about it & heard that she had created a painting of Jesus, he called Colton into the room to show it to him on his computer screen. He did not tell him anything about who painted it or what her story was. He simply pulled the picture up on the screen and said "What's wrong with this one?" and for the first time since everything had happened, Colton went silent & stared at the picture and said "That one's right, dad. That's Him."

I'm telling you folks, Heaven is for Real!

Check out the book HERE.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Money Saving Tips and Ideas Part 3

If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can find it HERE.
If you missed Part 2 of this series, you can find it HERE. I said in parts 1 and 2, please comment with your ideas & thoughts! I suspect with a title like "money saving tips and ideas" this blog may get lots of come back & read the other comments, too. You never know when something might inspire you!

Tip #3: Around the house.
In part 1, I discussed ways to save money on your groceries by creating a menu plan & writing out a very specific & organized list. In part 2, I explained how I use coupons to further save on my grocery bill. In today's installment of money saving tips & ideas, I wanted to share a few things I do around the house to save our family money. I'd love to hear your tips & ideas, too, so comment!

*Cook at home
I know this is a no-brainer for most of you, but there are still plenty of people out there who think that they can eat out on a budget. While there are certainly restaurants that are cheaper than others....and you can choose cheaper menu items sometimes, the reality is that eating at home is not only healthier for your family, but it is so much cheaper!

For example, if my family of 5 (2 adults, 3 kids) goes to eat at McDonald's, it will easily cost $20...actually, probably more. And that's just fast food! If we go to a "sit-down" restaurant, the price goes up. But let's stick with the $20 price tag for the moment. That $20 covers 5 burgers, 5 fries, 5 drinks, right? Let's just look at the prices of those same items if I cook them at home.

Burger patties (15 count, from Walmart): approx $7...but since I only need 5 of these for 1 meal, the cost for 1 meal is $2.35.
Burger buns (8 count): $2.25 (that's buying the good variety that is more can get cheap ones for $1.)
Mayo/mustard/ketchup/pickles: We keep these on hand all the time, so this is FREE.
Lettuce/tomato/onion: $5
Bag of frozen generic brand french fries: $2.50
One 2 Liter bottle of Coke: $1.25 (on sale this week!)
Total cost: $13.35

That's a savings of nearly $7 on one meal alone! Sure, sometimes it feels "worth it" to go out to eat, but if you're trying to save money, paying an extra $7 per meal will add up quickly, especially if you typically hit the fast food place several times a week!

*Homemade laundry soap
I know it sounds crazy, but I've done it. It works. It takes time & means putting in some elbow grease to make the soap, but again, if you're trying to cut expenses this may be something you want to consider. I did this for a while when our kids were babies & I was staying at home full time. I will be honest. It took a lot of time to make the soap & I got tired of bothering with it, so I quit doing it. But I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again if I felt like we were in a serious enough bind. I found this recipe online & it looks identical to what I used to make.

2 cups Fels Naptha Soap (finely grated – you could also try Ivory soap, Sunlight bar soap, Kirk’s Hardwater Castile or Zote)
1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda - it's on the laundry aisle)
1 cup Borax Laundry booster

Mix well and store in an airtight plastic container. Use 2 tablespoons per full load.

*Make your own baby wipes/cleaner wipes

Again, I know it sounds a little crazy, but I've done it and they work.

Baby wipes:
2 c. water
1 "squirt" of baby bath soap
1 "squirt" of baby oil
1/2 roll of Bounty paper towels

With a serrated knife, cut the roll of paper towels in half. Sit your 1/2 roll of towels in a sealable airtight container (tupperware, rubbermaid, etc). Pour in the wet ingredients & put the lid on the container. After about 10 minutes, flip the container over to make sure that both ends of the towels get soaked. After it soaks up the liquid, remove the center cardboard roll from the towels & pull up the wipes from the center. I found these wipes to work equally well as the commercial ones, but I felt like they were probably better for baby's skin because of the ingredients...all things that I was already using on my babies anyway! No alcohol, no chemicals or weird soaps. (Of course, they don't travel well in the diaper bag, so you might have to still get a box of commercial wipes to refill the travel container in your diaper bag....)

Cleaner wipes:
Use the same basic method as you would for baby wipes, but replace the baby bath soap & baby oil with a liquid cleaner you're comfortable with using in your home. (about 1/4 cup)

*No more liquid fabric softener!
I bought a Downy ball about 5-6 years ago & use it every time I do laundry. But I don't put Downy in it! Fill it to the same line with white vinegar. It works BETTER than commercial liquid fabric softener. And no, it does NOT leave a vinegary smell! I'd NEVER use this if it did! A bottle of vinegar costs about $1.50. A bottle of fabric softener costs about $5-6! And it's all chemicals!
*Dryer sheets
If you prefer dryer sheets to liquid fabric softener...or if you use both, use 1/2 a sheet. It does just as good a job as a full sheet and your box of dryer sheets lasts twice as long!

Don't buy books in bookstores. Go there to browse. Take a notepad & write down the titles you're interested in. Come home & check one of these websites. I can just about guarantee you that you'll get the book cheaper. WAYYY cheaper! I can't tell you how many times I've bought a used copy of a book for $.01 to $3.00 when the new copy at the store was close to $20! (look for used book prices!) (did you know Barnes & Noble sells used books too??)

Besides, by the time you get home & think about it some more, you may talk yourself out of buying a book altogether...saving you money on an impulse buy. many times have you bought a book in the store just because it looked good & you were in a book buying mood only to get home & figure out you hated it??

And here's another fun one that my husband & daughter use a lot. You can get FREE books with this site!

Goodwill & the Salvation Army and other thrift stores are also good sources for low-priced books!

Several years ago, I read an article in People magazine about a new website that had just been created called Freecycle. The idea behind it was to keep items out of the landfills by sharing it with people in your town. You post an item to give away & others let you know if they need it. You work out a location to meet & give them the item. And vice versa. If you need something, you post that need & if someone local has it, you meet & pick it up from them.

I loved the idea, so I went to the website & ended up being our town's first Freecycle group's creator! It grew VERY quickly & soon became very overwhelming, so I turned it over to a new group of moderators! I am proud to know that I started the group for our area. It has been such a great source of needed items for our household and a fabulous way for us to get rid of things over the years, too! Check it out HERE.

This post has gotten very long & I am getting very tired, so I'm going to stop here. I may continue this post later, but for now, WOW me with your own household tips & ideas to save money!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Oops....Five Question Friday (one day late)

1. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
Unless I can say "my sin nature", then I'd have to go with nothing. Because really...everything that I'd like to see disappear from my life (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually...) it all really just boils down to my sin nature. If I could live perfectly, all my problems would go away. But if all my problems went away & I was living perfectly, I wouldn't have to rely on God, family or friends....and that is no way to live! So....I'll have to go with "nothing".

2. Write about a time when you got lost.
Who me? Directionally challenged? ha ha ha ha ha!
Let's just say that if I hadn't done it 1 million times, I'd get lost leaving my driveway.

3. Camping or 5 star hotel?
97% of the time I'd say a hotel! I guess it's the small town girl in me, but I get as giddy as my kids do when Larry announces that we'll be staying in a hotel. It's like I've never seen one before...all silly & happy & smiling. And they have an indoor pool? Oh yeah...that makes it that much better!!

But once a year or so, we go on a family camping trip & it's fun. But it's definitely not how I'd choose to spend a "relaxing" vacation time. If I leave home only to have to cook & clean up after everyone, I may as well go home. The only redeeming factor is being outdoors. Ya know, as long as you're not talking about going in the Texas summer heat. Then it just stinks. No thank you! 900% humidity in 110 degree heat is NO FUN.

4. Have you donated blood?
No. Unfortunately I had a random weird blood disorder when I was 17 that prevents me from ever being able to give blood or blood products.

5. Do you have a budget or do you 'fly by' most months?

Money Saving Tips and Ideas Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of this series of posts, you can see it HERE.

Like I said in the beginning of Part 1, please comment with your ideas & thoughts! I suspect with a title like "money saving tips and ideas" this blog may get lots of come back & read the other comments, too. You never know when something might inspire you!

Tip #2: Coupons
With the show Extreme Couponing having premiered last week, I've had several conversations with people about it both in real life and online. I think I ought to clear up the confusion right off the bat before I begin discussing the use of coupons. If you watched the show, you'll know what I am talking about.

THOSE PEOPLE ARE CRAZY! Honestly people, who needs 75 bottles of mustard? I don't care if you only paid 1 cent for the whole batch of them, you don't need 75 bottles of mustard!! Especially when your husband is standing beside you saying "I don't even like mustard!!" Come on. Quit being selfish & emptying the store shelves just because you have a bunch of coupons. When you look at your child & say "We have a coupon to get some of these for free, but do you think the 40 boxes we have at home are enough?", you make me cringe. May I answer for your child and all the rest of the mentally healthy people in the world? YES! Your 40 boxes are enough!! If you're buying that much, I would hope that at least 1/2 of it is going to a food bank or soup kitchen or SOMEWHERE because if it's just going on the shelf in your basement, garage, closet....that's just hoarding, honey. Plain & simple. Get some psychological help. Quit being selfish. There is a HUGE difference between stocking up an extra couple rolls of paper towels and creating your own mini-mart in the basement. And still going back to the store to bring home MORE.

Ok, there. I said it. Whew. Glad to get that off my chest. Moving on now.

When I was a little girl, I remember watching my mom clip coupons & put them into a little organizer thing that she took to the grocery store with her. It was a little zippered pouch that held some dividers that broke her coupons into categories--dairy, drugs, frozen items, beverages, etc. I don't remember her ever coming home to rave about a gigantic savings, but I knew she was doing her part to help our family's budget in saving money on groceries.

When I got married, I bought a little coupon organizer thing myself & used it briefly. What I found was that I only clipped coupons for items I wanted to try or for items that were usually too expensive for me to buy. With a coupon, I could "justify" spending the extra money because I was going to save 50 cents. (as if 50 cents made a huge difference for my overall food bill) Over time I realized that I really wasn't saving our family any money using coupons because I could usually buy the generic version of the same product cheaper than I could buy the name brand with a coupon. And if I was only using coupons to get products I couldn't normally afford or to try new products, I wasn't really doing us any good. So I quit using coupons entirely.

At times, I would attempt to clip a few here & there when I knew that I could get a dollar off the diapers that we would most definitely use or $3 off the formula that I knew my child would drink. But even then, my use of a coupon was rare, partly because I was out of the habit of using them and partly because I would clip them & then forget to bring them to the store.

Even as recently as 3 months ago, I didn't use coupons. A friend of mine from high school (who is now a friend on facebook -- gotta love reconnecting with facebook!) began a couponing blog where she posts some of her recent frugal finds. I enjoyed reading about her savings, but could not fathom spending time driving all over town to different stores to get all these deals and I had already figured out that I couldn't successfully use coupons, so I just shrugged off the idea of following in her footsteps. One day when our finances were tight, I posted a question to my facebook page asking friends for their favorite money saving tips. Several ladies (including my friend with the couponing blog) mentioned using coupons. I laughed and pointed out to them all the reasons why I didn't use coupons at all. Several of them tried to convince me to think otherwise, but I still blew them off.

Sidenote: I found THIS blog this past week & have loved browsing all around the site. This particular article (link below) is about why the author thinks EVERYONE should use coupons. All her excuses for why not to use coupons were the very things I was thinking. She really hits the nail on the head & has some great advice if you have time or desire to read it.

A precious, amazing friend of mine emailed me one day about using coupons. She was not the least bit ugly or snippy about it (this was after I had blown everyone off on facebook), but offered me the things she had learned about couponing in the past few months & why she felt like it was helping her family's budget. Tara, have I told you lately that I love you? Seriously, you have a way with words on every topic (not just couponing!) that sounds like grace & love dripping with Jesus & holiness and a touch of sugar. I can't express how thankful I am that you're in my life. For SO many reasons. God is so good. So anyway, my sweet friend Tara told me about couponing in a way that got my curiosity up & made me want to give it a try again.

That week when my awesome mom handed down her Sunday paper (she's been doing this for years---gotta love a free Sunday paper. Thank you mom!), I grabbed the coupons & started clipping based on the advice Tara had given me.
  • Don't just clip coupons for things you need right now.
  • Don't just clip coupons for products you might want to try that are new to the market.
  • Don't just clip coupons that look like good savings.
  • Basically....clip *every* coupon for *every* product that you know your family will ever use.
Tara's words of wisdom that are still running through my mind? Everything goes on sale eventually and that's when you buy it with a coupon! The idea is that you clip tons of coupons & hang onto them. Then, every week when sale ads come in the mail, you pull out your stash of coupons & compare what's on sale. After you've been clipping for a while, there's a good chance you'll have a coupon for a sale item. When you stack the sale price plus the coupon, you're going to get some real savings!

I will likely never be one of those people who can claim to have saved 75%-90% of her grocery bill in coupons, but I do find it a fun challenge to see how much I can save every week. I never dreamed that I'd get geeked out when the sale ads come in the mail! We get them on Tuesday. By Wednesday, I've got things circled that I want to get the sale price on. By Thursday I've got our menu for the following week planned based on the sales/coupons. And by Friday night when I get to the grocery store, I've got a stack of coupons paperclipped to my list, ready to go!

I am still learning the couponing process myself, still finding new ways to save using coupons, still stretching what feels like "normal", but I know I've been bitten by the coupon bug. You know why? Last night in Walmart when I was buying my groceries, I happened to see that the people in line behind me were buy a bag of Pedigree dog food. I had one in my cart too. All I could think was "I bet you don't have the $3 off coupon for that dog food!"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Money Saving Tips and Ideas Part 1

Every now & then, I go through a phase of looking for new ways to save money (both on purchases and actually getting money into the savings account). To me, it's fun to create new habits, break old ones, learn new things to try out and work toward stretching our family's dollars a little further. And with the economy the way it is these days, I think we're all looking for new, better, stronger, penny-pinching ideas. Please comment with your ideas & thoughts! I suspect with a title like "money saving tips and ideas" this blog may get lots of come back & read the other comments, too. You never know when something might inspire you!

Tip #1: Menu Planning
I use the menu planning sheet on this site to create my family's weekly menu.

It looks like this.
There are plenty of other free printable menu planning forms you can use online. Google it & I'm sure you'll find one that suits your needs. Every few weeks, I go to the site & print a few copies to use in the coming weeks.

In the early years or our marriage, I went to the grocery store several times per week buying a handful of random ingredients each time. Larry & I wandered the aisles saying "Oh, that looks good!" and grabbing items, but we often got home & only had 4 of the 5 ingredients we needed to make dinner. Or we had a bunch of random things that didn't really go together. Inevitably it meant one of us would have to run back to the store just before dinnertime to get the missing frustrating, and pricey! Somewhere along the way as I became more & more OCD anal retentive organized in my grocery shopping skills, I realized that it was much easier to make a very detailed list so that I could buy EXACTLY what I needed & nothing more (but also...nothing less!).

In the early days of employing a menu plan, I did it on a legal pad or notebook paper, so you definitely don't have to have a "fancy" menu planning sheet like the one above. When I first began, I would pull out cookbooks and my recipe box & sort through them & decide which meals I wanted to cook in the coming week (that was step 1). Then I'd use those recipes to make a very detailed list of EVERY item needed to cook those meals, right down to the milk, spices, cooking spray to grease the pan, etc. (that's step 2) I would then go through the freezer & pantry and cross off the items we already had. (step 3) After I had my crossed off list, I'd make my 'final' grocery list of what we still needed (step 4). {Anybody else ever add things to your to-do list just for the sake of being able to cross them off? I think that's kind of what this was!} Eventually I learned to skip a few steps & only made 1 list--the ingredients we actually needed.

Later, the list evolved into dividing it up by aisles in the store. If you're like me, you shop in the same store week after week, and over time you come to know the store like the back of your hand. I began writing my list to match the layout of the store so that I would be most efficient in my shopping trip.

Now days, my menu planning & list making is a bit more refined & focused on money saving! (although my actual list still looks exactly like the one above) It has been helpful & well-organized and has saved us money for a long time, but now there is a real focus on utilizing the highest quality ingredients for the lowest price. It goes like this.

1. Look at last week's menu & determine whether or not there are meals I never cooked because we got busy & had sandwiches instead. (Sandwiches are our standard go-to meal when we have a busy night & no time to cook. Everyone is now old enough to make their own sandwich too! WooHoo!)
2. Look at the calendar for the upcoming week & make note of nights that there are band concerts, church events, soccer practice, football games, booster club meetings (and so on...) that will impede cooking time or that will involve eating a meal elsewhere.
3. Insert uncooked meals from last week on the meal planner sheet.
4. For the remaining nights, check the local sale ads & compare with coupons. See what I can get for a great price & create meals from those things. (More about that in another tip!)
5. Go shopping and buy ONLY what's on the list. By the end of the week, your fridge & pantry shelves will be bare, but you will not have wasted any money on unnecessary items that week and you will have saved on gas because you made just ONE trip to the store, not 10 trips!

One thing that a lot of people have told me over the years as a reason for not menu planning is that they never know from day to day what they will feel like eating each night. Maybe tonight doesn't feel like a chicken casserole night....or maybe they're not in the mood for tacos. While I do understand the point they're making (do I really have to cook the meals on the date I assigned them?), you've got to remember that you are the one making the menu. Select the foods that you know you & your family will enjoy. You don't have to stick to the menu day to day. You will just know that over the course of the entire week, these are the foods you have to choose from each night. And if it gets to the end of the week & you only have 1 meal left on the menu planner sheet and you're not in the mood for that meal, well....get over it & cook it anyway. ha ha! Seriously, quit fussing about not being in the 'mood' for the meal you planned. Food is fuel for your body. You will eat it & forget what you had within a couple hours anyway. Just eat it & shut up and be grateful that you saved money this week by planning your meals. Next week you can try to do better at your plan, but for now, hush up & eat the food!

I will be continuing this series with other tips & ideas in the coming week. Be on the lookout for part 2!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Random Thoughts with Liz

Random thoughts with Liz....the time when you get to hear all the random & assorted things that are running through my head. So here we go..............

*Today, I only had one kiddo at home. I decided to take Sarah to do something fun, so we went to see a cute new kid's movie. Here's the trailer for it. It turned out to be a pretty cute movie.

Disclaimer: Our family doesn't celebrate Easter in the typical way---our kids have never believed in the Easter bunny & until just a couple of years ago, they'd never taken part in an egg hunt. So while part of me wants to shriek & run from the theaters when another movie comes out to point people in the wrong direction for Easter (not toward the true meaning), at the same time, my kids are now old enough to understand the real reason & can balance the worldly vs. the spiritual stuff really well. I realize that plenty of people don't share my views regarding the Easter holiday, I know that there are several who read my blog that DO!

*This morning I go to watch one friend (who is a photographer) take pictures of another friend's baby. I loved it. One of my favorite moments of the morning was a random cell phone camera shot I snapped between "real" pictures. Mom had sat down to feed baby a bottle to ward off the fussies and this sweet moment occurred. I think the 2 photo pros ended up snapping some pictures of this, too. I can't wait to see the finished products of this & all the other pictures they got. Truly beautiful people--on both sides of the camera!

*Today, Savannah ended her first year of UIL (University Interscholastic League) competitions. In Texas, UIL governs all athletic & academic competition in public schools. This year was Savannah's first year to be a part of the academic UIL team. Our school district has academic competitions on the junior high & high school grade levels, but this was the first year she joined the team. She's competed in journalism events all year & has loved it! These are all her medals from the year of weekend events. She's quite proud of all she's accomplished. Today she placed 4th in Editorial writing. Only places 1-3 get to move on to the next level of competition, so today was her last meet for the year. She's spent the whole year beating kids from high schools all over the place, most of them older than her, so even getting 4th place today was still pretty huge!! Way to go, baby girl!!

*Today our community paid respects to a 19 year law enforcement officer. A week or so ago, Officer Robert Britton responded to a call of an injured animal in a roadway at about 2:00am. When he arrived on the scene, he discovered the animal to be a cow. He directed traffic around the injured cow for a short time. When other officers arrived on the scene, Officer Britton approached the animal and apparently frightened it. The cow stood up & charged at the officer, tossing him into the air. When he landed, the cow attacked him on the ground. The other officers were able to get the cow off of him, but he had already suffered head trauma & wounds that were severe enough to put him into the ICU for several days. Officer Britton passed away earlier this week.

Having a husband in law enforcement myself, we feel these losses perhaps a little more deeply than others might. In 2002, Larry was injured on duty & I still VIVIDLY remember getting "the phone call" from his chief. He called to tell me that Larry had been hurt in a fight and that he was in an ambulance being taken to the hospital & I needed to go there. He didn't have much information, so my heart raced in fear. Had he been shot? Stabbed? What happened??? Once of the most comforting & amazing things was arriving at the E.R. and seeing the line of police officers & sheriff's deputies lining the driveway & sitting in the waiting room. There is a real brotherhood among cops & firefighters & paramedics -- they take care of each other.

And so today, as Larry sat in the funeral he said it was awesome to see the many, many, many badges & uniform shirts in the audience. So many gathered to honor this fallen hero. Larry said that the 'final call' over the radio was overwhelming emotionally, as it always is. The dispatcher comes over the radio system (which is on the airwaves for all the local officers to hear and it is on a microphone for those at the funeral to hear) & makes a call for the fallen officer's badge number as if calling for a response from them. They wait a few moments & call them again. And then they call a third time. When no response comes back, they announce that the officer has answered their final call & will be missed. As I type this, tears are rolling down my cheeks. I am so very grateful that *my* officer has not answered his final call and that he has come home to me again & again. Thank you, God!

Tonight, lift up a prayer for Officer Britton's family. Rest in peace, brother. You will be missed.

Seeing Things Differently

Over the last couple of weeks, the class of teenagers I work with have been learning about segregation, specifically how that looked in the south in the 1950s & 60s. It's been eye-opening for them to learn how far our country has come and to see how different things were just a few generations ago. Hearing their discussions about the horrible treatment of minorities, specifically black people, has been awesome. They are seeing it with fresh eyes & hearing it with untainted ears. Their lifetime has not included prejudices. While it's foreign to me that they DON'T understand a lot of this, it's refreshing & I'm PROUD that our nation has begun to move beyond all that yuck to a better future.

Tonight I talked with a girlfriend about several situations involving friends of mine....things that changed my life, made me rethink the deep-seated black & white lines I had drawn in my mind about what I felt was right or wrong. There are so many things that I grew up believing or that I created my own standards for along the way that have been shattered & removed in the past several years. Among those things: divorce, abortion, addictions, rejection of people who aren't "good enough", extramarital affairs, financial crises, even whether to work or stay at home after having a baby....the list is lengthy. In living through hard, hard, hard life circumstances with friends, watching them handle emotions & grief & shame over things that had never even entered my scope has changed me. And I must say, it's changed me for the better. I've learned so much about redemption, forgiveness, and life. While I might or might not handle all those situations in exactly the same way, the truth is, I haven't lived those things so it's hard to say what I'd do if I were wearing their shoes. My eyes have been opened, though, enough to realize that not everything is quite as black & white as I thought.

In that same conversation with my friend, we talked about another scenario with a girl who's been 'burned' by the Church. Several times. She's pushed the boundaries of all the "norms" in such a way that many look at her as a little weird. She will tell you herself that she's a mess. She's lived some tough stuff but she's plugging ahead and taking care of business. Maybe she is a little weird, but I love this young lady more than she may ever realize! She, too, has changed me for the better. My eyes are opened and my heart has stretched to hold as much of her as she will allow me to hold. I am SO glad that our paths crossed.

The more years I live, the more I realize that I want my kids to see things differently than I do. Sure, I absolutely want to instill certain things in their lives -- morals, values, our faith in Christ, a strong foundation in family... but I also want them to have their eyes open, to be aware of things going on in the world around them. I want them to decide early on that God created ALL of us and that different doesn't mean bad....that His blood was shed for ALL of us and that different doesn't mean unworthy of grace....that the man who is crying into a bottle or holding a gun, or the woman who looks all crazy & smells stinky NEEDS JESUS JUST AS MUCH AS WE DO!

If we continue to push people out the back doors of the church buildings we go to on Sundays, they may not come back when they have their life together. Jesus went out seeking sinners and people whose lives were in shambles, but we in the Church today tend to run in the other direction from those people. Or we shun them & kick them & point them out the doors of our holy building. They may never learn how much they are loved by God. Just the way they are. Right now. Before they get it all together. Screwed up mess or not.

While talking to my girlfriend tonight, she was telling me about a song she heard this morning that basically speaks this same message....and it reminded me of Nichole Nordeman's "Wide Eyed". I can't find a youtube link that works & will play the song all the way through (the one I could find freezes up about 1/2 way through every time!) but these are the lyrics. Please read them. And if you are a Christian who thinks you have got everyone all figured out, I pray that reading these song lyrics will help to open your eyes. We just never know what's going on in someone's life, what their history is, etc....but we need to remember who created them and that HE is still madly in love with them.

Wide Eyed by Nichole Nordeman

When I met him on a sidewalk

He was preaching to a mailbox
Down on 16th Avenue
And he told me he was Jesus
Sent from Jupiter to free us
With a bottle of tequila and one shoe

He raged about repentance
He finished every sentence
With a promise that the end was close at hand
I didn't even try to understand


He left me wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion
I was tongue tied, drawn by my conclusions
So I turned and walked away
And laughed at what he had to say
Then casually dismissed him as a fraud
I forgot he was created in the image of my God.

When I met her in a bookstore
She was browsing on the first floor
Through a yoga magazine
And she told me in her past life
She was some plantation slave's wife
She had to figure out what that might mean
She believes the healing powers of her crystals
Can bring balance and new purpose to her life
Sounds nice

She left me wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion
I was tongue tied, drawn by my conclusions
So I turned and walked away
And laughed at what she had to say
Then casually dismissed her as a fraud
I forgot she was created in the image of my God

Not so long ago, a man from Galilee
Fed thousands with His bread and His theology
And the truth He spoke
Quickly became the joke
Of educated, self-inflated Pharisees like me

And they were wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion
They were tongue tied, drawn by their conclusions
Would I have turned and walked away?
And laughed at what He had to say?
And casually dismissed Him as a fraud?
Unaware that I was staring at the image of my God?