Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I've not been feeling that great and have not been really productive with life in general, so unfortunately doing any posting has gone by the wayside entirely. But I just wanted to take a minute to wish you a Merry Christmas! May the season be filled with time to reflect on the reason we celebrate: the Christ-child coming for us! Revel in His grace! Enjoy your families! Take time to give thanks to God for this eternal gift and for all the countless ways He blesses us in the here-and-now, too!

Of the many things I'm thankful for, I give thanks for this family God has given me and for these growing children.

Photos taken by my mom in a "get-r-done for Christmas cards" photo session at their farm over Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Few, or 10, Gift Ideas (not that it's all about me)

Not that it's all about me or anything, but here are 10 things or experiences I would love for Christmas or an upcoming birthday. And perhaps this list will prove helpful for the one very near and dear to me. :)

1. In the category of "The-sky-is-the-limit-but-I'm-not-gonna-get-it": a trip to Scotland with my husband, or a trip to PEI. Considering we can't even manage a weekend away, these are "someday" dreams.

2. A new, or nicely used sewing machine. I think I want a basic model Bernina, but yikes! they are expensive. I actually just bought a new machine from Costco but can't decide if I am keeping it. It was a good deal for sure, but I'm torn between a good deal for today and wanting a machine that will last the rest of my life.

3. A winter coat with an attached, fleece-lined, non-pointy hood that is a solid color with a hip-length cut and a non-boxy fit. Even if I can't fully zip it this winter, with my expanding belly, these are top choices in my research so far, though I'm still not sure exactly what I want.

4. A pedicure.

5. A trendy sewing book such as one by Amy Butler or one on sewing aprons.

6. A cheese grater. Perhaps this one by KitchenAid.

7. Grain storage buckets and lids from Pleasant Hill Grain.

8. SmartWool socks.

9. A gift card to one of the following: Hobby Lobby, Panera Bread, Old Chicago, Chipotle, Einstein's, Spicy Pickle, Jason's Deli, Archivers or Pottery Barn.

10. Date nights with my husband which would need to be squeezed into the calendar before mid-February.

Okay, enough about me, I need to move on to tackling that Christmas gift list of things we want to buy for others.

For more 10 on the 10th, visit Life at 7000 Feet.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Good Day of Grocery Shopping

Last night I wrote about a few things we would do if we faced a loss of income and everything came together this morning for a great savings trip to the grocery store. Combining a big savings event, lots of coupons and careful planning, here is what I brought home.
6 big boxes Kleenex
1 pair cleaning gloves
2 multi-packs of kitchen scrubbers
4 scrub sponges
1 bag Halls
2 boxes hot cocoa mix
3 cans chili (food bank)
4 cans evaporated milk
4 bags frozen veggies (we'll cook these on the stovetop, not in the microwave bags)
1 frozen entree
1 bag chocolate chips
6 multi-packs of yogurt/yogurt smoothies
1 gallon organic milk
1 bottle Sunny D smoothie
1 bag pepperoni
1 tub spreadable butter
1 lb. Challenge butter
1 bag Ruffles
1 bottle salad dressing
2 boxes cheese crackers (will go in Chex Mix at Christmas)

All for the grand total of.....$21.30! My receipt says I saved $98.42. I know that is a relative number, though, since I would never have paid that much for the group of groceries. Keep in mind that this is not all we will be eating this week, but will add to our stockpile and be used over the next several weeks. And if you took the photo at face value you'd think we eat a lot of junk. But that is just part of the bargain method of grocery shopping, buying things at their lowest price and then using then over a longer period of time than if you just made a list of what you need for one week and then went out and bought everything off that list. The task of maximizing savings has been greatly lightened by the ad reviews I read each week on SpringsBargains.

It was a good day and I feel like the effort paid off. And I even had all three kids with me and it was a pretty good trip in that regard, too, which is not something I often say in regards to shopping with children.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where Would We Go From There?

With an uncertain economy surrounding and impacting us all, it certainly wouldn't hurt to give some careful thought to how one might respond if some major negative financial impacts became a family reality. (I was inspired by this post over at Frugal VegCafe.)

If my husband was laid off from his job and we found ourselves without an income, then we would be employing whatever methods we could to stay afloat and keep ourselves fed and the roof over our heads. I often feel that we are doing all we can to make ends meet, but in actuality, there are things I could change to better use the resources we have. In the short term, here is what that might look like. In the longer term matters of vocation, location, and education would certainly be addressed, though those things are beyond the scope of this blog....though my husband and I have talked extensively about possibilities if we felt the Lord leading us in any of those directions. Anyway, for the short term.

1. Stop buying ANYTHING beyond food unless it was an absolute need. Easier said than done, but I'm sure if we were pressed, there would be more motivation to just plain stop spending.

2. Menu plan and play the grocery game like never before. I have eased off of intensive coupon-clipping and grocery hunting this year, but I would be returning to those efforts. The goal would be to have no food go to waste while nourishing our family with the highest quality food we could afford. Only the most basic ingredients (like milk, cheese, eggs, grains, produce) would be purchased unless I get items for free or close to free with coupons. Our spice cupboard holds enough right now to provide variety to basic made-from-scratch foods for a long while. I would also be planting a garden again in the late spring.

3. Freeze that credit card in a block of ice or store it in a secure location off-site so on those tiring and discouraging days we would have the additional deterrent of not having easy access to spend without careful thought and planning. We have never carried a balance and have not used it lots in all the years we have had it, but we know that it is easier to use than if you had cold hard cash in your hand that you have to part with when you purchase something. Note: we have our reasons for continuing to have a credit card and my husband are in agreement about it.

4. Rally all our financial resources, and I don't just mean the bank account. Do we have stuff to sell? Sell it! Do we have points accumulated in consumer loyalty programs (airlines, diaper points, credit card points, etc.) that we could convert to gift cards for stores that sell essentials? Are there coins in the couch or money around the house that should be corralled? Do we have gift cards in our wallets or elsewhere that could be put toward meeting basic family needs? Are there rebates to send in to get money back? All of these things may be small, but would hopefully have a positive net effect on not having as much money leaving our savings fund, or at least slowing the rate at which that happens. And then we would go to a cash-basis system for everything except for our mortgage and monthly bills. We go back and forth between using cash well for most everything and then fall back into using debit more. This would be a time for cash only!

5. Utilize utilities more wisely. Time to get back to line or air-drying. Turn the thermostat down (some more) and put more blankets on the beds and wear sweaters or fleece. Shut off lights. Recaulk windows and doors. Unplug unused appliances big and small. Wash the windows to let more solar heat warm the house in the daytime. Consider if we can cut our phone and internet bills.

6. Halt or at least slow gasoline consumption by making more thorough lists and mapping out errands and outings to be combined.

7. Let the non-essentials and niceties go. For us this would include the YMCA membership (unless they could work with us on a reduced or free membership during the unemployed time), going out to eat even with coupons at cheaper places, and the small personal allowances my husband and I have come to enjoy and potentially even the evenings out alone that I enjoy from time to time. Though I rarely spend much while out, the gas for the outing may be a deciding factor.

8. Accept that this will be a season of limited giving, especially of presents for birthdays and Christmas and exchange homemade gifts or skip them altogether. The priority would be a Christmas or birthday gift to our own children during this time, even though it would be something that was inexpensively purchased or homemade. I can see that this would be one of the most humbling areas for us overall in a no-income situation. Hopefully we could still support those missionaries we have committed to and we would need to prayerfully consider that.

9. Consider whether I could supplement our resources by sewing and selling some items from materials I already have on hand. This could also provide some entertainment value since we would not be spending on entertainment at all during this period. My husband's entertainment comes largely in the form of books from the library which we would certainly continue to utilize. Entertainment currently comes in the form of dining out, though not often, so it is not like we have an "entertainment budget" that could be cut.

10. Count the daily blessings and watch God provide for every real need. Just in typing out some of these tactics that we could put into place I am reminded of how incredibly blessed we are, currently, but also even if a job loss did become a reality for us. He is good. He is faithful. He provides.

Even in putting some of the thoughts I have had about this onto paper I am energized to begin implementing a few of these things now, even though they are not in any way forced, just to be better stewards and work on my own character.

What are a few changes you would make to your lifestyle in the event of income loss?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Long Ago on Woodmen Road

Just remembering our first days in Colorado Springs, more than 9 years ago. :) If you are local and know what Woodmen Road looked like 9 years ago (MUCH less developed than today), you'll be able to envision this all the more.

Long ago on Woodmen Road
walked two young souls a bit forlorn.
New to the area, no knowing a soul,
boxes unloaded and without a car.
To Roscoe's Topsoil and Gravel the truck was returned,
We were at Black Forest Road, we very soon learned!
Six miles from town there arose no clatter,
and no one tell even what was the matter.
We had not a phone, but really who would we call?
We had no clue, no none at all!
Hot July day, eight ounces of water,
in hindsight, we could have been smarter.
So we set out on foot, no transit in sight,
sidewalk on the left, and then on the right.
The sidewalk did end and begin again
on the other side of 4 lanes a movin'.
We walked and we walked and thirsted some more,
feeling quite foolish and lonely for sure.
A mirage in the distance, a lovely gas station,
turned out to be still under construction.
Further along the Golden Arches did call
and we gladly did go into the cool and stall.
Replenished a bit from the heat and the thirst,
we wondered if now the move could go worse.
We finally returned "home" and wondered what was to come.

...and we soon discovered our neighbors had an addiction,
though this is no time to go into that situation.

Fresh Starts

Even though we are finishing up Week 9 of the school year, I wanted to document for grandmas and others we know who are far off the start of the year for our two students. We now have a kindergartener and a first grader and they are both doing well with their studies at home as well as at a charter school within our district that offers a 1-day-per-week program for home school students. We loved the program we were part of last year, but the distance was becoming an increasing obstacle as I am now trying to meaningfully teach two children and as we expect our fourth child during the school year. For this novice homeschooler, it is assuring to know that there are other teachers investing in my children's education and covering some of gaps I haven't filled in at home yet like music, art, and p.e. and supplementing the language arts and science we are doing here at home. Another benefit is that their primary teacher can provide me with insights into what may be beneficial to their 80% of school time spent at home. It seems like a good balance for us this year. Even though we are 1/4 of the way through the year, I feel I am still working on finding routine and consistency in managing the responsibilities of teaching, homekeeping, mothering, and managing our 3 year old while we are doing school. I have a lot to learn, but I'm thankful for the journey.

Little Boy

After a long blog silence, just wanted to share that last month we saw that this precious one is healthy. He is an answer to our prayers and our hurting hearts earlier this year. Praise be to God, the giver of life! If the Lord wills, we will welcome him into our arms around Valentine's Day, so I am 24 weeks along now.

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If you know us in real life and it is brought to your mind, please pray for this little boy and for our family during this time. Many thanks!

P.S. - The top picture was a bonus from the ultrasound technician as she needed to see more detail and we are happy to see his little features already.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Who knew what life would hold on that hot July day in the middle of the country 10 years (and a couple months) ago? I can't imagine how different life would be if God had seen fit to suit me for another. But I give many thanks for His will in our lives and the way He has knit us together in so many areas. And the dating years were just the beginning. We both think that our marriage, though not without its trials, keeps getting better with each passing year. Together we have experienced much.

The joy and stress of getting married and establishing our first home.
A first year in a cute little imperfect basement suite surrounded by many friends.
The loss of a grandparent.
A move to Colorado Springs, sight unseen, for a job transfer for my husband at a national coffee chain...we were young and carefree, and have gained a bit of wisdom since that time. :)
A new job for my husband at an organization where he remains today.
Living in a dark apartment under a couple of alcoholics who would fight many evenings into the morning which prompted...
..the purchase of our first home.
The birth of our firstborn and a transition to living on one income.
Joining the church body we have no intention of leaving for as long as we live in this city.
The purchase of our second home.
The birth of our second and third children.
Home and yard improvements.
The loss of another grandparent.
A miscarriage earlier this year.
And the joyful anticipation of another child, if the Lord wills.

While each of these life events are one-liners, they each represent entire seasons of our life together. I am so thankful to have all of this, and so much more with a husband who is faithful, provides for us, supports and loves me unconditionally and with whom I find wonderful friendship and intimacy. And with all that has gone behind us, I am confident that together we will be able to face whatever comes beyond this through the grace of God.

I am incredibly blessed and indeed, a happily married woman!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Budget vs. Life

We get paid for my husband's hard work.
We give what we feel is right to give.
We pay the mortgage.
We pay utilities and car insurance and budget for gasoline.
We budget a small sum for groceries and a little for dining out (to keep the cook of the house from feeling too deprived).
What little is left gets divided between all other needs and wants, from shoes for the kids to birthday gifts, to a part for a vehicle, to things we need to maintain our home properly.

And nothing is left. I guess that is the goal of zero-based budgeting, spending every dime on paper before you ever really spend it. But we're missing out on some important things. Things like family vacations with our kids, getaways as a couple, date nights, flowers that will fade away but add beauty for a time, day trips to mountains or local points of interest, church community events that would require us to afford childcare, and things of this nature. What we're lacking in one word: fun. Yes, I know there are a million ways to have fun without spending money, but so many experiences do come with a tangible price tag, be it ever so small. And sometimes when you take something free to do and then have to add all the work it takes to prepare one or more meals to take with you or a very long day to avoid paying for a night of lodging it suddenly loses some of the fun for me.

A budget is a tool to bring boundaries and freedom within those boundaries to use the resources you have. But what do you do when it just feels like that budget is covering the necessities only and nothing simply for the sake of enjoyment? If you know me, I'm not saying I want to throw lots of money away on temporary pleasures, just a little on some life-enriching, memory-making experiences.

And then, oh the guilt of even having this pity party in the first place! Don't you know you already live better than 90% of the world! Um, yeah, I remember that. Indeed, we are very blessed. But I still live in these United States and see what others around me are able to spend money on, and more importantly, experience. And I grow tired of saying "no" to our kids for even good and wholesome things they request whether something at the grocery store or a $2 carousel ride.

So maybe it is time to go back to the drawing board to find a better balance between financial responsibility and actually living life to the full.

Lord, give me a contented heart.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Family 4th of July

We traveled east to see my parents and my siblings and their families over July 4th. It has been been a roller coaster year for our family, but we had a great time nonetheless. The kids splashed in Nana & Papa's backyard, we went to a huge extended family picnic at a lake, we celebrated Smiley's birthday (again), we had a second memorial walk/run to honor my grandmother, we celebrated 10 years of marriage and a whole lot more! It was certainly a jam-packed few days.

A fun nephew joined us for a family picture

A full crowd ready to embark on the memorial walk/run. I'm so thankful for this big family!

10 year anniversary photo....yikes, we've aged! A lot!

Smiley pondering this oh-so-good gift. For some strange reason our kids love to watch our recycling and garbage being picked up and he loves this truck!

Huddling to stay warm while eating homemade ice cream on a chilly July 4th evening

Good times!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Garden Goodness!

zucchini bigger than a 5-year-old's arm

...or maybe just "Oh, goodness, what are we gonna do with all that zucchini?!"

It seems we are having a bumper crop of zucchini, even though some have fallen victim to what this novice thinks is blossom end rot. Regardless, we've had plenty to consume here and several rounds to share with friends and neighbors. I know I let the ones in the picture get waaay too big, but they were overlooked for a couple days under the huge leaves and the tangle of vines. I should be sending out my gardening assistant to pick any reasonable ones each day, which she would be game to do. Please do send ideas of what to do with it all!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Camping with Young Children - Craziness or Courage?

We recently went camping for a weekend at a state park nearby with some good friends and their two kids. It was great to get away into God's creation, but "roughing it" comes with some challenges for all of us...less sleep than normal, more fresh air and tiredness, the long process it is to cook anything for a meal. But we came away with some great memories and are hopefully training our kids to handle these situations with more grace each time we go. We especially enjoyed a great family-friendly hike and the kids loved the craft time made possible by my friend who had the foresight to bring along some craft supplies for the kids to enjoy. Oh, and of course the s'mores.

Some Things Just Make Life Brighter these huge sunflowers in our backyard. Some were planted on purpose and some were the work of children in unexpected places. Either way, they are welcome additions to the landscape.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Expanding My Suburban Garden

This spring with high hopes of a more bountiful garden, I set out to make an additional raised garden bed. I found easy to follow instructions here and my bed came together like this. The new bed measures 5 x 10'. The cost for materials was about $30, with the same amount needed for suitable fill. I set the new bed pretty much perpendicular to an existing which has made the chore of watering a whole lot easier.

The last two pictures, taken about 2 weeks ago, show the gardens with all their plants which include: zucchini, snap peas, spinach, sunflowers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. We have since enjoyed the spinach and are currently enjoying the snap peas. The tomatoes and sunflowers have grown rapidly in those 14 days and I now see some fruits setting on, so am hopeful we'll actually get some ripe red ones this year before temps cool with many green tomatoes on the vine. It is so satisfying to eat produce from your own garden and I am also glad that at least for now, the garden beds add an element of green to the backyard which is sorely lacking from what should be our lawn area. A lush green lawn in Colorado seems like such a luxury, but I'll just focus on the delight of productive garden this year.

Little Bathroom Project

This little project was for a little bathroom in our home. I've been on the hunt for over a year for an inexpensive, but good-looking, cabinet we could install over the toilet for the bare necessities, but had come up with nothing. So I needed to come up with Plan B. In this case, brackets and a shelf for non-concealed storage.

I didn't take a before picture because I think we can all envision just a blank wall. Here is the finished project.

2 IKEA brackets - $5
pre-cut finish grade board from Lowe's - $8
paint - on hand
hardware - on hand
installation - my good husband

I love projects like this that are finished quickly, cheap and yet provide lots of functionality with a little bit of style. I did resist the urge to first paint the whole bathroom before hanging the shelf. That is a project for another day. Who says beige can't be beautiful?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Because a Girl Just Needs to Accessorize

A few months a friend sent me a link to this doable Martha Stewart craft that held the promise of corralling all kinds of girlie things for my daughter. We modified to what we had available, but it turned out well and has helped (notice I didn't say "cured") the problem of having these items laying all about the house.

What we used:
unfinished 9 x 12" frame - free from an auction box stash my mom had
wood cutout - $.25
paints - on hand from previous projects
paint applicator - for such a small project, I found that facial foam rounds work well, we had some around but they would be inexpensive in the cosmetics section of Walmart/Target
ribbon - on hand
hot glue and gun to secure ribbon - on hand
good quality hooks - $2 at Walmart for way more than we needed for this

The only unfortunate thing is that she could really fill at least another full frame like this with all the stuff she has.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

BIG Summer Trip '09

a.k.a. 60 Hours Together Enjoying North America's Highways!

Tons of photos ahead, but actual text does follow the images.

In June we took our first ever road trip (with children) to visit my husband's family. The kids did great with most of those 60 hours in the van. We put in 4 long days, partly due to limited vacation time and partly to save lodging and on-the-road dining expenses. But every mile was worth it to be able to visit a few different parts of the family, in the places they call home, and to see old friends from university, too. We were away 2 weeks and logged over 3500 miles. And now the kids seem to really understand just how far it is to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Flying again is looking better and better.

The number of photos in this post could be likened to an infamous vacation slide show, but really, this is just a small sampling. We enjoyed beaches, splash parks, beautiful family gardens, finding ladybugs, reading books, celebrating Smiley's birthday on multiple occasions, going to a great indoor aquatic center, seeing extended family, attending a BBQ at the home of friends, getting out for a date with friends to The Keg, visiting a historic site in the vicinity, croquet, letting the kids run free in the big backyard and visiting friends at their homes, among many other things. Oh, and hauling home 200 lbs. of wheat berries from Wheat Montana in Three Forks, MT.

Some things that helped make this possible:
- Our van's DVD player. We were always the type that resisted them, but when it was included with the van, well, we put it to use. The kids watched 3 movies on the way out and 3 movies on the way home, so the movies weren't on all the time, but something they had to look forward to as the days were dragging on.
- Packing meals for the road on the way to our destination. We crossed the border into British Columbia after 2 days of driving with only $20 of dining out expenses...and that was only because ham sandwiches were getting a bit old. We did not do as well on the way home, but find it is just easier to have food with us and stop at a park or rest area during the time we are not moving forward to let the kids play and refresh all of us. And we had lots of snacks in the car along the way, too.
- Welcoming family who warmly host us in their homes.
- The summer season with lots of daylight to drive by. A trip of this length during the winter would take several more days.

After a shorter trip over a much shorter distance over the 4th of July, we are happily home for the rest of the summer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day!

We squeezed in a little Canadian festivity today in celebration of Canada Day. The kids are loving their new shirts and pinwheels from Grandma and seem to have a good affection toward Canada, as it should be.

The boy on the right cracks me up! He really does live life in a "full speed ahead" mode.
Happy Canada Day!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Already 3!

I can't believe our baby has already turned 3! The years just keep getting faster and faster it seems. We love this boy to pieces and are so thankful for his own unique personality. Smiley lives life fully and holds nothing back, seems to have no fear, shows lots of love and affection, is ready with a smile most of the time (and sometimes to save himself from a bad situation he has gotten himself into), laughs a lot, loves to sing songs at bedtime, holds his own with his big brother and sister, and is really a pleasant and happy child! We thank God for him and celebrate his 3 full years of life!

We had a party with friends the week before heading out on a big trip. It turned out to be a smaller group than we had planned for, but we enjoyed having time to really catch up with the parents while the kids played in the backyard. We had a lunch of hot dogs and sloppy joes and fixings to match. We sort of had a farm/John Deere theme so I had some green gingham, toy tractors, blue enamelware and fresh flowers to decorate and John Deere fruit snacks to send home with guests. For dessert we had green frosted cupcakes and dirt and worms, the latter being a huge hit, at least with our kids. Who can go wrong with a mixture of candy, cookies, pudding and cool whip? For entertainment, the kids played in the yard with bubbles, on the trampoline and with some outdoor toys. It was a low-key, but fun party.