Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Change One Thing: Getting Proper Rest

I can't believe how fast this summer is flying by, but it has already been a month since my last change. It has been okay. I'll be completely honest and let you know I have not fully given up soda. Rather, I have cut back on the amount consumed and am still working on reducing that amount further.

For the month of August, and beyond really, I really want to focus on getting proper rest. I am a night owl by nature but that isn't really working for me in this stage of life with young kiddos who like to rise early. So many mornings, okay, almost every morning I am just getting up when they do and that is making me feel two steps behind all day long. Without rising early I don't have the jumpstart I need by getting time with the Lord in his Word and also don't have a time to mentally prepare for what lies ahead that day. The only way to begin rising early for me is going to be retiring early in the evening. (The fact that I'm writing this at 10:25 pm is a sign I haven't implemented this change yet.) To go to bed at a reasonable hour I will have to stay disciplined throughout the day to get everything done while everyone else is awake. When I was in high school our track coach was really insistent on not staying up late. He said that each hour before midnight provides better rest than the hours after midnight. While I know there is likely no scientific evidence for this, it seems to hold true in my case.

Anyone else out there working on small changes that have big impacts on your life? Let me know.

Good night!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Slipping Away

This past month has been an emotionally intense time for my extended family as my grandma has battled with kidney failure among other conditions. She was hospitalized for over a month and decided on Friday she would just like to go home. Thankfully that was arranged quite quickly and she arrived back home on Saturday afternoon. Late Saturday I got a call from my mom that if we wanted to come, now would be the time as the hospice nurse mentioned she may have slipped into a coma by midweek. We arrived Sunday afternoon and my husband and I were able to visit with her. She was alert and conversant and relatively comfortable. Sunday night was a rough night for her and by Monday she was markedly worse. I visited again on Monday afternoon and a couple hours after our visit ended she was called Home. She was ready and so much at peace to meet the Lord. Her last words to me were, "I'll see you in Heaven." This will be a precious memory to me for a long time. Letting go was somewhat easier because we knew she was ready for Heaven, ready to leave the pain of this world and the pain she felt within her body and at such peace in her last couple days on this earth. I'm thankful for the Lord's mercy in ending her suffering so quickly, but still in shock of just how fast that happened.

Seeing her in such a frail state reminded me that we are but dust, that life is fragile and that each of our days is numbered by the One who created us.

We are home now, but will travel again to be with my family at her memorial service on Friday. I was richly blessed by her influence in my life and continue to be blessed by the legacy and family she leaves behind.

Monday, July 21, 2008

If only.....

....all my days could be this productive!

I've been feeling worn-down lately with the responsibility of life and yet so much minutia, too. Because of this, I've let myself justify slacking off in the homemaking and cooking categories which has not helped my state of being or my family's. Meanwhile, we have been on an uphill journey of attitude work with one of our children. I often tell this child when the child's poor attitude has given way to disobedience, unkindness, or destruction, "You can do better." Last night I was thinking about my own attitude and lack of attention to homekeeping and realized, "Rachel, you can do better." So today much has been accomplished.

- laundry: 5 or more loads, most line-dried

- bedding: all beds remade with fresh linens

- 5 jars of freezer jam made

- baking: 2 loaves of bread, 1 apple strudel, 2 dozen Runzas (bread wrapped meat & cabbage pockets)

- shopping: a quick trip to the grocery for the best blueberry sale of the year, and milk to get us to the end of the week

- cooking: breakfast, lunch and dinner - on time and mostly balanced and enjoyed

- gardening: watered all my flowers and vegetables, made plans for tomorrow's plantings

- clearing: kitchen counters and main level floors

- vacuuming: main level

- menu planning: to make the most of what we have on hand to avoid more grocery runs this week

- planning: for another full day tomorrow...hopefully with a little more fun thrown in, too!

My attitude made all the difference! I am not saying my identity comes in what I do, but sometimes seeing progress and feeling productive gives me a needed boost.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Budget Backyard Improvements

Over the 4th of July weekend my husband was able to take off an extra day making it our first 4-day weekend in a LONG time in which we haven't been traveling or been adjusting to a new baby. We had some very nice family times in the area, attended a neighbor's BBQ and worked on the project below. I wanted to title this post "Budget Backyard Beautiful" but then thought better of it since the dead grass remains. We are under rather drastic outdoor watering restrictions and no sod permits are being issued this year. When you combine that factor with us trying to sell this summer and not wanting to invest much, monetarily, in the yard, the result has been that we haven't done any improvements to the yard. Looking out at the yard didn't have a very pleasing effect so I set about using lots of what we had on hand to make it better.

Here is an in-process picture. I took leftover bricks from our patio project, some weather treated boards, newspapers from our recycling bin to use in lieu of landscaping fabric, a bag of mulch and dianthus, petunias and volunteer squash plants from our garden and some failing planters to put into the area. The black tub you see actually did stay...that's our budget compost bin, which we usually have a metal lid on and usually isn't visible from most areas of the yard or house.

And here is the finished project with about an additional 5 bags of mulch, 10 bricks and a can of spray paint to revive the kids' bench. Total cost: about $25.

As so often happens with me, one thing leads to another and then I wanted to work on this area by the patio. Unfortunately, I had pretty much run out of leftover materials so needed to start from scratch on this one. I bought smaller bricks for the edging, the cheapest landscaping fabric I could find, about 9 bags of pea gravel, 5 stepping stones and one bush and spent about $50-60. We still need a couple more bags of pea gravel to provide better coverage, but of course, Lowe's had run out of it by the time we discovered we needed more. We always seem to underestimate our needs with rock, mulch, etc.

The market umbrella was a free find on CraigsList, which seems to complete the patio a bit more. And look how much the sunflowers have shot up in the few days from start to finish!

Although these projects are far from perfect, they were a reminder to me of the concept of "do what you can with what you have where you are". Sometimes it just does my soul good to just do something, even if that something is low budget and imperfect. I am delighted that my little 4'x8' garden behind the patio is doing so well this summer. We have 5 tomato plants there, along with 3 huge squash plants, 3 sunflowers (Thanks for the seeds, Gigi!) and a couple other flowers, just for the fun of it. From that area I also removed the 5 dianthus, and 8 volunteer squash plants (I think we must have gotten some seeds in our compost in the fall) which were transplanted to the new planting area.

Now if only I could do something about that dead grass....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Logistics for Baby

I sent a version of this to some dear first-time expectant mamas today and just thought I would make a random post of it.

Not that anyone has been clamouring for advice, but I thought I would just throw out my two cents on all the stuff about welcoming a new baby into your family. I remember as an expectant mom lots of decisions about what to buy and register for were a little overwhelming, so if anyone can benefit from our experience, that's great. If not, no problem. This list is also for me, should the Lord bless us with a fourth child.

Baby Stuff We Have Really Appreciated:
- Graco Pack N Play with bassinet - Ours also came with a changing station, but we honestly didn't use that part that much. The bassinet, though, lasted through 6 months for each of our first two children. We also took it to the homes of friends frequently with our firstborn so he could go to bed while we visited. Now Smiley uses it for naptime. Well worth the $80 or so we paid for it. Also handy to have around when children are not babies anymore for when little guests visit.

- The Fisher Price Healthy Chair Booster has dishwasher safe trays and folds up compactly to take to restaurants or on road trips and is SO much less bulky that a full size high chair in your kitchen at home. Your baby needs full head control and be mostly able to sit up before using it, around 6 months. We have also had the First Years Four Stage Feeding Seat and like that, though it doesn't fold up. Both of these options are cheaper than a full size highchair, too.

- Baby Bjorn or some kind of carrier or wrap - These are great in public, for shopping, and for fussy times of the day when you still want to get some housework done. They keep baby close and discourage strangers from poking and prodding your baby so much since they are attached to you which may help your baby not pick up so many germs from random folks.

- A small diaper bag has saved us from lugging tons of stuff around the grocery, store or to church. We have mostly just used a small bag for all outings packed with one outfit, a few diapers and a pouch of wipes, with more supplies in the car if you really need them. Depending on the size of your purse, we have also just used a fabric pouch big enough for two diapers and some wipes. With a caribiner clip, a small bag easily clips to the handle of the stroller, too.

- NOT having a Diaper Genie - We didn't get one because I was too cheap to buy the refills, but I am glad I never had to take out the stinky sausage of diapers out to the trash, either. We just used a small trash can and took it out whenever there was a poo, or bagged the poopy diapers in newspaper or grocery bags which contain the smell as much as a Diaper Genie does.

- For nursing a Boppy pillow (preferably with at least 2 slipcovers), a glider rocker with ottoman, and a good pump were essentials. I've liked the Medela Pump in Style and the Medela hand pump..I think it is called the Harmony. An MP3 player with speakers was a bonus the last time around since you're sitting down for feeding so many hours of the day. Oh, and of course if nursing does not get off to a great start, seek help from a lactation consultant or experienced friend early and often.

- A dresser with a changing pad instead of an open shelf changing table will last long beyond the diapering season when you remove the pad.

- When we have cloth-diapered, our favorite was the MotherEase brand. The covers never leaked, they have snaps for no-pins, adjustable sizing for 8-35 lb babies and are soft. (I'd like to get back to that while potty training Smiley, but it doesn't seem to be a great time to have stinky diapers in the bathroom when we are trying to sell our house. :) Cut up pieces of fleece or old t-shirts work well as wipes when you have a spray bottle of super mild baby soap or plain water at hand. An inexpensive 5 gallon pail with a lid from Walmart or a hardware store has been a our bucket for cloth diapers and the handle makes it easy to bring to the laundry. We prefer the dry method.

What we might have done differently, knowing what we know now:
- Started out with a jogger stroller from the beginning, or one that folds up like an umbrella stroller but has more features. Bulky strollers that are not all-terrain haven't worked that well for us, especially since they take up so much space in the back of the car and leave not much room for the groceries. I would have paid more, looking back, for one all purpose stroller rather than ending up with a fleet of them that all work well in different situations.

- Bought a travel swing or baby papasan instead of full size one, since you gotta store the stuff somewhere after that phase is over.

-See about borrowing and lending equipment that is stage specific. You don't need to have it all and store it all when you aren't using it. We were the first of our friends to have babies so this wasn't as much of an option for us.

- Skipped the full bedding set. Some cute sheets and a bed skirt are all you need. I found the bumpers, while cute, tend to be a pain to work around when changing sheets and were just one more thing to launder when messes happened. I also wonder about how safe they are for newborns and have no doubt if ours weren't removed when our babies could stand would have become a step to help them climb out of the crib.

- Skipped the expensive Dreft detergent with our firstborn and just used All Free & Clear or other dye free, fragrance free detergent which works well for everyone's clothes. Do have OxiClean on hand for those blowouts and spit up accidents.

- Have had more of "Less is More" approach. Laundry will need to be done daily anyway, so no need to have so much in the way of clothes and blankets. Though I do recommend 3 crib sheets and 2 waterproof mattress pads, since leaks and spit-up seem to happen a lot in the night and you don't want to keep the baby up because you are waiting for laundry to cycle through. They grow so quickly so then you have the storage issue to deal with again. We could have also used more gender neutral pieces of clothing for home use and just had a few cute outfits which were gender specific to simplify dressing, laundry and storage.

- Skipped baby food and made more of our own and started them on finger or food suitable for babies. There are some great books out there on making your baby great healthful baby food.

- Been more eco-consious when we began,. Lots of time the "greener" options are also the most frugal, too.

- I would have loved to have had one of those cool nursing covers that are widely available now, though I guess I got by with a receiving blanket. Sometimes a clothespin comes in handy to keep the blanket attached to your shirt, instead of falling down for the world to see your chest.

Well, that is all I can think of today. Happy Weekend! And remember, this is just my two cents. Do what works for your situation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Moving Forward...But Maybe Staying Put

Late last fall, after many months of living in a very financially vulnerable position we enrolled in Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University Online. (It would have been great to be part of a small group doing the course, but with childcare and limited time, the online version was our best bet.) We were living very close to the $0 mark and although sometimes we were paying our mortgage off faster than required, we had almost no emergency savings. We had some bigger expenses last summer to improve our front and back yards and repair our van which brought us to this point.

As a background, we have been married now 9 years and have never carried any credit card debt and only had a car loan for a short amount of time, though we did seem to be living some months about one month ahead of our means, meaning payday would come and we would have enough to pay off the visa charges for the month and not much left over after the mortgage. While we have been financially okay and have always been very aware of our bank account balances, we have not had a real "on paper, on purpose" budget until we started FPU Online. Now 7 months later we are loving the budget (most of the time) and telling our money where it is going, getting out of the discouraging Visa cycle (i.e. we rarely use it except for travel bookings and online purchases) and feel like we have a plan of action for the months and years ahead. Looking back now and seeing the current state of the economy, I am so glad we started budgeting when we did!

By God's grace and provision, we have been able to:
- Achieve Dave's "baby step #1" - save $1000 in the bank.

- Skip step #2 since we did not have any debt beyond the mortgage to contend with.

- Complete our will, finally! It was in the works a very long time and not because it is a complicated situation, just because we didn't take the time to finish off the process.

- Move on to "baby step #3" - save the equivalent of 6 months of expenses. For us, this fully funded emergency fund was also doubling as a van replacement savings fund. Living on one non-profit income did not allow us to save quickly for both the van and the emergency fund simultaneously, so we needed to accept that after the van purchase we would be starting over to fund the full emergency fund. Even so, thanks to my hard-working husband taking any available extra project at work, me trying to shrink our household expenses as much as possible and our tax return, we were able to buy a van with cash at the end of April, just 5 months after beginning our "gazelle intensity". We were able to get a good deal on a 2002 Honda Odyssey with higher miles, but we like Hondas and plan to keep it for a long time. Buying this nice of a vehicle outright was a true victory for us and something we could not have imagined just 6 months earlier.

- Continue on with funding my husband's work-sponsored and matched retirement fund which he has had for the last 7+ years. Continue on with our kids' educational investment accounts. Though the education accounts are small per month/per child amounts, something is better than nothing and halting those would not make sense with the fees and penalties involved at this point. (So, yes, we are deviating from Dave's program at this point, but feel this is the right decision for our family.)

- Continue with charitable giving to our church and other individuals and organizations.

- Begin again on funding the full emergency fund. This is slower going now. Although our consumption of goods and services in not being upgraded or increasing, the same amount is costing a lot more (gasoline, food, etc.). We have also been able to purchase tickets for our Christmas travel to visit family. With five tickets now to buy and the need to get our own rental car, this is not an inexpensive affair, but this is the joy of financial planning, namely to do what matters. We are often speaking with our children about the two most important things in life: God and people. These visits are very important to our immediate and extended family and are worth every penny to spend time with the people we love.

As a result of living on a budget these past several months we are realizing how our housing cost is really disproportional to our earnings and we are looking for ways to reduce that cost. Which brought us to the decision to put our home on the market in the middle of May after lots of effort in staging and decluttering. The goal would be to move to a lower cost property that would be nearer to my husband's work, thus saving on commuting costs as well as the mortgage. This would/will likely mean a substantial downsizing or downgrading in the size or quality of home we are able to purchase. But, after nearly 60 days on the market, one price decrease and only a handful of showings, we are looking for ways to make staying put a good option, too. Since we are not in a desperate situation to sell, we are not resorting to desperation pricing, either. So although it feels like we are moving forward with our financial stability, there is some uncertainly about life in general in our home right now. We are really feeling the effects of the rising costs of essentials, or at least the things that are the essential expectations of life in North America.

So in the meantime, we continue on with working faithfully on our budget, being very careful about how we spend our money and trusting the Lord for His provision and timing for our family.

P.S. - Over the past several months I have greatly benefited from the Money Saving Mom blog with tons of frugal tips, articles on personal finance and coupon links which have helped me stretch our household dollars. Check out how others are working on their financial situations here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wonderful Giveaway!

Monica over at The Homespun Heart is doing an amazing Lands' End giveaway. They have great modest swimwear that works for real bodies (not just models) and THE BEST customer service I have ever experienced. While I usually shop the Overstocks and get good deals that way, winning this gift card would be so much fun. Head on over there to get yourself entered!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Change 1 Thing: Bye-Bye Soda

I've been thinking in recent months that although life is going well, I could certainly stand to be more disciplined and intentional with time, relationships, homemaking, money and the stuff I put into my body. With the birth of our son two years ago and mothering then three children all age three and under I sort of went into survival mode and unfortunately got stuck there. Things have normalized, as much as they ever will, many months ago and it is time to get back to looking at the big picture and not just the day to day. When I think of all the changes I want to make I do get overwhelmed so I've decided that I'll add one thing per month that I really want to work on and go from there. Maybe by blogging about it I will feel more accountability to myself and to others.

So, without further adieu (ado? which is it?), I say goodbye to my daily relationship with soda. It's been a long time coming, but I've got to stop pretending I am a teenager and that this is okay for a thirty-something woman to be drinking this on such a frequent basis. Since I stopped nursing I've really not been taking care of my hydration needs (i.e. pure water), but instead making sure I've had plenty of sugar water. Well, I've had enough!

Wish me luck! Is there anything you'd like to change during the month of July? Join me!