Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stone Soup

The best part about teaching first grade is that you read these nostalgic stories and then get to make the food that is in them. We just finished one such story and decided to make Stone Soup.

Let me refresh your memory. Stone Soup is about the hungry soldier who comes into town and no one will share their food with him. So he tells them that he is going to make stone soup. They are intrigued. First he put in the stone and then adds water. But do you know what would make this soup really good would be some carrots, well, wouldn't you know someone has some carrots. And potatoes would really make it taste better, oh, wouldn't you know someone has potatoes. And so the story goes until they have a full pot of delicious vegtable soup and oh yeah, there is a stone inside it too!

So each student brought in veggies and we made Stone Soup - but you could probably guess some of the responses we got - "I don't like it" (with fingers pinching his nose) "You've never had it before, so there is no way you can know!" Each child got a small helping and all but one tried it - some had 3 helpings!

So you can draw the moral - sharing is better than hoarding!

But what does that look like in real life! We used to live in townhouses that were connected. On summer nights we would decide on a menu and everyone would bring something. One would bring salad, another pasta, and another meatballs. The kids would play and the adults would sit around and "visit". One night my neighbor was commenting on how good the chilli was. She asked what the  recipe was. The cook told her that after every meal he would put the families leftovers into a tupperware container including whatever was left on his baby's high chair tray. Then he would add it to the chili. My neighbor just about threw up!  So maybe sharing isn't good!!

But you get the point, the Bible tells us if you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn't have any. Look around, what is it that you could be adding to the "pot"? Pray today and let the Holy Spirit tell you what it is you should do. Maybe it is sharing your time, your money, your food, your clothes, your cars, your house... If you have never done this before, it is fun. Get real quiet and real still and just, I mean really listen. And then act on what it is God is asking you to do. You probably already know what it is and you have been making excuses why you can't or that God must have you mixed up with someone else - no it's you (and me) that He is talking to.

Just the other day God was prompting me to call a friend who had shared with me a work struggle. Well, I put it off - doesn't God know that I work all day and then I have to make dinner, do the laundry, blah, blah, blah. Well, by Thursday, she called me - I guess God was tired of waiting on me and I missed out on obeying God and the blessings that brings- my bad! But other times I do listene - like the time I sent a note in the mail to a friend and was able to encourage her through some tough times.

It's pretty exciting to live this way - taking time to read the Bible, pray and then  listen to what God would have you to do. Try it - and just like Stone Soup you may like it! Sharing with others makes cents and sensibility!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy Birthday to You!

True confession - I am a sucker for reality shows! The other night I happened upon a show that  featured outrageous childrens' birthday parties. This mom was throwing a "circus" party for her 7 and 9 year old - cute I thought, we've done circus parties before with little carnival games in the basement - boy was I completely wrong! This was a full blown circus at a rented gymnasium, complete with acrobats, clowns and live animals. Cam has no patience for these shows. As he walked into the room he took one look and said, turn that off. I couldn't, it was like a car wreck that I couldn't look away from!

So he left the room and I continued to watch in disgust! By the end of the show this Mom had spent over $50,000, totally alienated her two children that were appalled at the fact that they had to share a birthday party, and bribed her son as he entered the gym riding a camel to "smile and wave and I will pay you a dollar" - the way she was shelling out money, he could have held out for a hundred!

Most of our birthday parties have been thrown at home, with food and entertainment provided by mom and dad. I loved planing those parties. I would start with what the birthday child was into that year - maybe trains, cowboys, Ernie and Bert or camping. Then I would think of how to make every detail of that party revolve around that theme.

The invitation would usually be handmade with the help of the kids maybe using a copy machine or a stencil  - the fun of it is making it match your theme so the kids you are inviting know what is coming.

Side note - I would take that invitation and save one for their baby book - on the back I would interview the child and record their answers -  as to what they were into that year, their accomplishments, likes, dislikes and then tuck it into their baby book - at a glance they can now look back and see what that year for them was all about.

Back to the party - after we have the invites, then we would work on games - any basic game can be tweaked to make it fit a theme. For example - pin the tail on the donkey can become pin the badge on the cowboy. Just be creative. I will tell you from teaching school - kids don't play games like they used to - meaning without electricity - so if you introduce some retro games they will think you are a genius. We played "Who stole the Cookie from the cookie jar" the other day in school and the kids were rolling with laughter!

Food - again make everything fit the theme - a little tip for cake making is to cut the cake into the shape you want and then place it into the freezer - once it is frozen go ahead and put on the icing - the raw edges are easier to ice when they are frozen. With the food, you don't need to buy expensive party themed food, again, just rename classic kids food - the Internet is a great resource for creating themed food with fruit roll ups, popcorn or fruit.

If the theme warranted it, we would have little costumes the kids could wear - at the "sheriff" party we had badges and vests made out of brown grocery bags. At a princess party we decorated crowns and strung fruit loop necklaces that the girls wore. It is great to have a little craft for the kids to do during the party. Plan what you will do during the party - just letting the kids play is a recipe for disaster!

Party bags - yes, we did this! - I would take a brown lunch bag and decorate it according to the theme - usually with a stencil and then fill it with little treats - sometimes from the dollar store or handmade treats.

Last but not least - the thank you note! When making the invitations I would make extra cards for thank yous. After the party they would write - When they were little, I'd write and they would sign their names. As they got older they wrote a basic thank you and now it is a full fledged gratuitous note - some of their letters bring tears to my eyes because of  their sincerity. I am not saying this step is easy but it is a lost art - a hand written note is a gift to those we love and who have taken the time to buy us a gift - don't lose it! Set a time limit for writing - within 1 week is acceptable and if necessary keep the gifts until the notes are written, this may sound harsh, but it is a great motivator!

So don't be afraid to throw a party at home - keep the kids active, have plenty of healthy food, don't over invite (2-3 more children than the b-day child's age is a good rule of thumb for the number of guests - for example if it is the 8th birthday party invite 10 children) and most important - set a time limit - 2 hours is plenty of time for a good party.

Having a home party makes cents and sensibility!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Not Good, It's Not Bad, It's Just Different!

Anne, Me and Sharon

Yesterday I was on a "Teen Parenting Panel" at our church. I was joining 2 other moms whose kids happen to be my kids best friends. As we prepared for this workshop it was interesting to hear how each of us has approached parenting. Between us we have 13 kids - 8 of them being teenagers, 3 are in college, 1 is getting married and 3 of our boys are graduating from high school. As I listened to each of them talk I couldn't help but think "why didn't I do it that way, that is such a good idea, I guess I screwed up"?? I love to have a plan - but it can give you a false hope that in 10 easy steps you will have the perfect child. Well, it doesn't work that way - God does tell us to "plan our path, but that God will determine our steps".

As I write my blog and share parenting ideas with you I don't want you to think that everything we did was right - that is only what I share with you. There were plenty of things that didn't work out so well - you just won't hear about them!

It's amazing how 4 kids with the same exact parents can be so different, what works with one, falls flat with the other. I needed to "learn" my kids and parent them according to "the way they should go" - meaning the way God created them.

It was fun to sit with these ladies and hear what each of us are doing to raise Godly men and women, but the bottom line is all of our children are doing well - they love the Lord, are seeking to serve him and make the right choices. And when they make mistakes, we are able to help them turn to God for forgiveness (just like their parents have to do). You see when you are parenting -  it's not good, it's not bad it's just different!

I loved what Anne said "if our kids never struggle, they will never have a reason to turn to God in prayer."

So instead of feeling bad that I didn't do this or that with my kids, I need to remember that God made Cam and I their parents and placed them right where they should be. I need to seek wisdom daily from the Bible, my husband and Godly resources.

Sharon was kind enough to put together a resource list for our workshop and I want to share it with all of you! Enjoy!

WFIL 560 AM Philadelphia’s Christian Radio
  Look for these shows:
Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, 9:00am and 8:00pm
Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, 7:00am and 8:30pm
New Life Live with Steve Arterburn, 1:00pm
Adventures in Odyssey, 7:30pm

STAR 99.1 FM Family Safe Music
K-LOVE 89.1 FM Christian Music

Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas
Love & Respect, Emerson Eggerich
The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman
The Love Dare, Stephen and Alex Kendrick
The Language of Love, Gary Smalley and John Trent

Created to Be His Help Meet, Debi Pearl
Lies Women Believe (and the truth that sets them free), Nancy Leigh DeMoss
The Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian
What’s Submission Got to Do with It? Cindy Easley
Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver

Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, Dennis Rainey
Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn
Wild at Heart, John Eldredge

Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
Growing Kids God’s Way: Biblical Ethics for Parenting,
  Gary Ezzo
The Smart Parent, Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo
Parenting Today’s Adolescent, Dennis and Barbara Rainey
Boundaries for Teens, John Townsend
How To Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk,   Adele Faber
Teen Proofing, John Rosemond
Raising a Child Conservatively in a Sexually Permissive World, Sol Gordon and Judith Gordon
Family Faith Walks, Kelly J. Haack
Teaching Kids about God, John Trent, Rick Osborne and Kurt Bruner
Different Children Different Needs, Charles F. Boyd
Your Family, Kenn and Betty Gangel
Spiritual Mentoring of Teens, Joe White and Jim Weidmann
God Sex and Your Child, John Nieder
Confident Parents, Exceptional Teens, Ted Haggard and John Bolin
Bringing up BOYS, James Dobson
The World’s Easiest Guide to Family Relationships. Gary Chapman with Randy Southern
Fathering a Son, Paul Heiderbrecht and Jerry Rohrbach
Going Public, David and Kelli Pritchard with Dean MerrillAge of Opportunity, Paul David Tripp
Got Teens?, Jill Savage and Pam Farrel
Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Parenting Adolescents, Kevin Huggins
The 10 Best Decisions Every Parent Can Make, Bill and Pam Farrel
Daughters and Dads, Chap and Dee Clark
Sacred Parenting, Gary L. Thomas
Family-Based Youth Ministry, Mark DeVries
A Boy’s Passage, Brian D. Molitor

Lies Young Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss and      Dannah Gresh (For girls)
The Truth about Guys, Chad Eastham (For girls)
Live Like a Jesus Freak, dc Talk
Every Young Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker (For boys)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey
Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low
  Expectations, Alex and Brett Harris
Crazy Love, Francis Chan
The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
The Holiness of God, R.C.Sproul
More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell
The Reason for God, Timothy Keller
God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew
Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot
The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson
Bruchko, Bruce Olson
Peace Child, Don Richardson

I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua Harris
Passport to Purity,;
  An excellent do-it-yourself, audio-guided weekend
  for parent and young teen
The 10 Commandments of Dating, Ben Young
Pure Excitement, Joe White
Boy Meets Girl, Say Hello to Courtship, Joshua Harris

Faith Alone, Martin Luther
Jesus Calling, Sarah Young
Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship, Kenneth Boa
Family Devotions, Josh McDowell
Moments With You; Daily Connections for Couples,
  Dennis and Barbara Rainey
The Love Dare Day by Day, Stephen Kendrick
The One Year Mother Daughter Devo, Dannah Gresh with Janet Mylin

No Greater Love
The Second Chance
Faith Like Potatoes
End of the Spear
Facing the Giants
Remember the Titans
The River Within
Gifted Hands
Last Flight Out
Come What May
The Climb
To Save a Life
The Lost and Found Family
Amazing Grace
The Nativity Story
Love Finds a Home
Set Apart
The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry
The Grace Card—new in theaters
Courage—coming September 2011 in theaters 

The Truth Project, Focus on the Family
Crazy Love, Francis Chan
Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby
The Holiness of God, R.C.Sproul

New Living Translation (NLT), Tyndale Publishers
  (Easier to understand)  
New International Version (NIV), Zondervan 
  Life Application Study Bible 
  (Very popular translation, great study Bible) 
New American Standard Bible (NASB), Zondervan 
  (Accurate to original text, Pastors use at BFC) 

The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey
Financial Peace Revisited, Dave Ramsey

God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew
Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot
The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson
Bruchko, Bruce Olson
Peace Child, Don Richardson

The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
Led by Faith, Immaculee Ilibagiza
Amish Grace, Donald Kraybill
Mother Teresa: A Complete Auth. Biography, Kathryn Spink
Into the Deep, Robert Rogers

Compassion International,

Share Jesus Without Fear, William Fay
Share Jesus Without Fear Students Reaching Students,
  William Fay

Sandy Cove Ministries, Maryland, 
Weekend to Remember, 

Ahhh....The Thrift Shop - Revisited

This is a rerun, but I have a funny story and an even funnier picture.
Colin called the other night to tell me about a project he was working on, he needed an empty whisky bottle to complete it. I asked him where he got a whisky bottle from. After teasing me that he took it from a homeless man, he said he got it from his "other" thrift shop.
Apparently he has two thrift shops down in Florida - one that he buys his clothes from and the "sketchy thrift shop" where he gets everything else. So I learned something new - I need to be on the lookout for my second thrift shop - a sketchy one - I have a few in mind.

 And make sure you check out the picture at the bottom of the page - enjoy!

Yes, my eyes are a little glazed over and I'm in my happy place! Remember when I assured you this wouldn't be a recipe blog - well, I can't guarantee that this won't turn into a thrift shop blog.

Until I got married I had no idea these stores existed. My mom's idea of a thrift shop was my older sister's box of out grown clothes. My husband grew up frequenting thrift shops and had acquired a bad taste for them.

So how did this happy union come about?

While living in Dallas while my husband attended seminary they had a shop for students You could go once a week and pick out 3 shirts, 3 pants, etc. For FREE! How wonderful, I was hooked into wearing other peoples cast offs - that happened to come from the wealthy, generous churches of North Dallas - tags included.

When we moved to PA (baby in tow) I was on a mission to locate these stores - not just for clothes, but baby toys, furniture, shoes and other household items - I draw the line at underwear - although hot water kills ALL germs!

There was one right in my town that wasn't free, but pretty close to it. Now the secret of the thrift shop is frequency. This store was conveniently located on my way home from anywhere so I could pop in, browse and leave. They also had a toy section so it guaranteed my little ones were busy and happy.

Now the Thrift Shop is not for the faint of heart:

1) Be prepared for some odd people (the crazy cat lady who sits her leashed cat on the counter to watch her try on clothes)
2) Go in with an open mind - if you are looking for pink snow boots, you might be disappointed but blue might be your color.
3) Not all deals are good - check the prices - a tank top for $3.50 is no bargain when I can get them at Old Navy for 2/$6.
4) Don't over buy - it's hard but just because something is a good price doesn't mean you should buy it. If it doesn't fit, is not your color, or in good shape, put it back. If it is in good shape at the thrift shop - it will hold up - it has already been washed numerous times and is still in good shape. How many times have you bought something new, washed it and been disappointed with the results.
5) It helps to know how to sew - hemming, taking in, letting out, sewing buttons - all these things help you get a better bargain - if it needs repairs you can ask for a discount. Point out the problem and be quiet - they usually will lower the price.
6) Stains aren't a deal breaker. Again, ask for a discount and boiling water, detergents and a scrub brush do wonders.
7) Resist the urge to buy too far in advance for your kids. When Megan was a baby I bought a dress - size 6 that hung in her closet for years.
8) Visit several thrift shops - I know one is good for furniture, another clothes. Ask at the shop if they know of others - people love to share their "success" stories.
9) If you are looking for something special - give yourself time to find it. When my son was going to prom he needed an outfit. We found a black suit, blue shirt, and shoes all on the same shopping day - the only thing that was missing was the tie - he wanted to match his date's dress. We ended up going to a "real" store and spent more on the tie than everything else combined - YES! And my teenage son continues to see the value in thrift shop shopping!
10) Ask about specials. One store has half prices on Friday night. Another is every Wednesday. At the end of the season most stores have bag sales. Another has a dollar rack. Just Ask! And if you are looking for something special it doesn't hurt to see if they might have it in the back - that's how we got a tuxedo shirt for another son.

While vacationing in Hawaii (yes, frugality does pay off!) instead of heading to the store to buy our souvenir Hawaiian shirts we found the Salvation Army. We outfitted the whole family in shirts and dresses for less than what one shirt would have cost.

                                                 Now that makes cents!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Me?

When people think about thriftiness it is usually synonymous with deprivation, cheap, or being in want. It doesn't have to be that way. I have chosen to be thrifty and might I say nifty too! My husband grew up having no choice but to be frugal - his dad was ill and his mom was only able to work low paying jobs so they did everything they could to save money which included public assistance, thrift shop clothing and basically doing without. He will always tease me that I was "rich" growing up but I like to remind him that he did have a pool - even if it was a blow up!

So at times we are at odds - Dave Ramsey likes to call it being a nerd and a free spirit. The nerd loves to save and the free spirit, well is a free spirit. We have had to come to a place of compromise in our marriage. We started out as poor seminary students and quickly became poor seminary students with a child! It was in those first years of marriage that we established how we were going to make money and more importantly how we were going to make the money we did have last longer.

Along the way we learned how to be frugal without feeling deprived. I think that is what makes it work. When you start feeling like you are missing out, or not getting what you "deserve" you give up on frugality! The trick is to scale back as far as you can and if you go too far, bring it back up a notch!

For example, if my kids would complain that there were no good "treats" in the house - I would step up my baking that week. If Cam was pushing to go out to dinner, I would make a special home-cooked meal. If child number 4 was complaining about hand-me-downs, I would ask what it was they were looking for in their wardrobe and see if we could find it (usually looking at the thrift shop first, and then moving up from there - or should I say down from there!)

If you read the directions on your dish washer detergent it will say " pour in 1 Tab." but how many times do we mindlessly fill the whole cap - equaling about 1/2 cup. The same goes for the washing machine - if 1/4 cup of detergent cleans my clothes as well as a full capful, why waste the rest. Look for ways you can cut back and make things last longer, do without or find an alternative.

We have 3 cars that are over 10 years old - if we can make them last as long as possible that is cheaper than replacing them every 5 years. That is a big ticket, but I do the same thing with plastic baggies - I will rinse and dry them and put them back in the drawer to be used again. I have the money to buy new ones, but being frugal is a lifestyle choice - and it also makes me look green!

Try scaling back until it is uncomfortable, ineffective or not worth your time. It might be cheaper for me to bake my own bread, but the time and effort it would take are not worth it to me.

If you are being thrifty to pay off debt - do everything you can to quickly dig out and get your finances in order - it will be hard and uncomfortable but it is well worth the effort. Dave Ramsey calls it "gazelle like intensity" - doing everything that possible to be debt free.

But if you are trying to make your money last longer, be a better steward of all God has given you and set a good example to your children, then thriftiness doesn't have to be about deprivation but about making better choices and for me that makes cents and sensibility!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two Ears and One Mouth

About 7 years ago an Artist in Residence came to our school and created a wall tile sculpture. Each of the students painted a tile and the teachers each molded an apple and wrote a saying on it. It was then hung on a clay tree. It is pretty magnificant. On my apple I wrote the verse "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry".

Sometimes I am "the enforcer". I am a teacher's assistant who works with Learning Support and Autistic Support students. As I am sitting on the carpet (yes, most of my day is spent sitting "like a pretzel on the carpet")  I sit there and watch. I make sure they have their eyes on the speaker, hands to themselves, and that they are understanding what is being taught. I will also say over and over - "look at your friends, is what you are doing making sense!?" Try that saying with your friends! Another good saying is - "I'm confused - what should you be doing?"

I also have a number of hand signals to redirect the students. I have the 2 fingers in the air which means I have to go to the bathroom, flat hand over my head means you are going "over the top" and a swipe down my face into a fist at my chest means - "get your self control". I love using the signals - they are quick and get the point across - with very little talking involved. And don't underestimate the power of the "evil eye"!

It strikes me as funny that I have become such a disciplinarian. When I had my own classroom in Dallas, that was my weakest trait. I loved to teach, interact with the kids, create bulletin boards, but I hated the discipline. I think because I didn't know how. But enter 4 children of my own and I became quite good at discipline. I had to! But I was sort of a "hammer" disciplinarian. I came down quick and hard - very little wiggle room. Something I have learned through teaching is to be more of a "screwdriver" - "Work" the discipline in, leaving room for it to sink in and hopefully stick. Nails are pretty easy to pull out, screws take a little more time!

The reason I put that verse on my apple is because I am "living" it everyday  - "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry." I love that verse! And I use it everyday in the classroom. So many times if I pause before I react, I see the whole picture and it is not always what I think it is - for example we have a rule in our class that you have to ask to go to the bathroom, but you can get up at anytime to get a tissue (we are trying to discourage nose picking and eating). So when a student gets up, my first reaction is to ask if they have permission, but if I pause for a minute, I might see them getting a tissue - no big deal.

A number of you have asked me for more parenting ideas - well here is one. When I think back on my parenting, I could have used this technique - instead of reacting immediately to the situation, take a minute to look and listen and then respond - it would have saved me a ton of apologies to my kids and taught them to take the time to hear the other person's side of the story. Now, don't get me wrong, we are the parents and I'm not a big advocate of talking a situation to death, but I do think we do our family and friends a disservice by immediately forming an opinion and issuing the punishment. I can name numerous situations with my kids that if I had paused to see the whole situation, my reaction would have been very different and I think it would have resulted in a better correction.

Yes, I also said friends, this doesn't just apply to those in our family - we should be doing this with our friends, too. How many times have I formed an opinion of why a friend did or said something without taking the time to talk with them about it. I think this is where the anger comes into this verse. If we take the time to listen and take our time to speak, it helps to slow down or even eliminate the anger that can creep into our hearts.

There is a reason God gives us two ears and just one mouth. I need to use my two ears to listen and observe the whole situation and then use my one mouth -choosing my words carefully. It will help me to be the person God intends me to be - And it doesn't hurt to ask myself -  "is what I'm doing making sense?" Now that makes sense!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Stroll Down Memory Lane

On Saturday we took a little drive. We only had Dylan with us but the day was beautiful and I had the desire to do something we had done a lot of when the kids were little - Drive.

My kids were great travelers. We would strap them into their car seats and we could drive and drive - usually we would have an "Adventure in Odyssey" CD in our radio (more on that at a later time!) We also live in a beautiful area to drive. We have mountains, farmland, rivers - Bucks County is really a pretty area!

Long ago friends took us down a little dirt road up in Buckingham. It was like driving into a Hobbit Village. The temperature dropped, the trees were enormous, the creek was flowing. It was so picturesque! And at the end was a fenced in yard with Miniature Baby Doll Sheep - complete with bells around their necks that told you their names. They had a little gumball machine filled with feed that you could buy to feed the sheep and chickens and ducks. It was so peaceful and serene. We just loved it and we went back often when the kids were little.

So on this day we took a drive - we probably hadn't been back in 8 years - Dylan barely remembered going and we made 2 wrong turns trying to find it, but alas, we did and it didn't disappoint - it was just as I remembered - actually eerily just as I remembered! Nothing had changed! The little mill was the same, the creek, the sheep (although they had just been sheered) the chickens chasing down the feed, even the little row boat propped up against the fence was the same. But as I looked at my husband and almost grown son, I realized how much our lives have changed! Gone was the day of little children with big dreams - replaced with big children, living out their dreams! I am glad we have these memories to look back on.

It was a little emotional, but good, I'm glad we aren't in the same place we were back then - don't get me wrong - I loved that time, but it is good to grow. When I am living in the change, I don't always realize it is happening - every time someone see Ryan they remark about how tall he is getting - I don't see it on a daily basis!

But it is good! I am working to embrace the growth - enjoying the moment of that day - not wishing for what was, or hoping for what will be, but appreciating what is right now. I have always said that I want to be only where God wants me to be - I also want this for my children, so if I say that I must be willing to accept whatever it is that God brings into my life - living in the present makes sense for me.

Copy Cat

I was reading a magazine article that toted the virtues of  "Woolly Wonders" - "these woolen balls look like cat toys, but they're actually terrific energy savers" (my ears perked up - wool, energy savers, you had me at wool)
"Toss a couple in the dryer and they'll reduce your drying time by up to 40%. The wool also removes static and helps soften fabrics so you don't need dryer sheets. Made from recycled sweaters."

BINGO! My copycat instincts kicked into high gear. The secret to being a good copycatter is to have a clear understanding of the product, a good visual of how it is constructed and being able to get the materials cheaper than what they are selling it for.

Since they were asking $20 for 2 Woolly Wonders I knew I could make it cheaper than that. I had tons of wool sweaters in my craft room (look back at the "I never knew you felt that way" or "Jorie's Sweatshirt" post if you are interested). Attached to the article was a picture so I could see how they constructed it, my only problem was what was inside these "balls". After brainstorming some ideas, I came up with the obvious conclusion it must be some type of tennis ball. I have used tennis balls in the "felting" process so I knew they would hold up well and I had a ton of them in our garage (last year at youth group we played a game that involved 1,000 tennis balls, so we were well stocked and if you want to try this craft, come to church and I will give you some!)

So I got to work, I shaped the wool around the tennis ball and hand sewed it, then I took all our bath towels since I figured that would be a good test of how well they cut down on the drying time as well as add fluffiness. Usually a full load of towels will take a good 40 minutes (actually I usually air dry my towels because they take so long in the dryer and it's no big deal to hang them up to dry) with 3 "woolly wonders" it took about 30 minutes - not the promised 40% reduction, but still not bad. Especially since it cost me nothing to make. So now we have a new novelty in our laundry room. We keep them on top of the dryer and each person throws them in when they dry their clothes.

Here is another way to save money - if you see something that you like - decided if you could make it cheaper. I will shamelessly take a picture of a product to duplicate at home.  Megan returned from the D.R. with a picture on her cell phone of a cell phone case made out of a recycled sweater - that will be my next project - always trying to make cents and sensibility!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mr. Clean Vs. Miss Tidy

Most days if you stopped by my house unexpectedly it would be somewhat tidy - I don't have little kids anymore with their little toys - I just have BIG sneakers and smelly socks! But if you looked closely you would see that my house isn't always clean. Not "the cockroach crawling out of my kitchen sink" dirty, just not "white glove" clean.

I learned a long time ago that my level of cleanliness wasn't hyper sensitive, but when clutter started to increase, it drove me crazy.

So when I am crunched for time, I do the jobs that will only build if they don't get done and postpone the ones that  would be the same amount of work whether I did it today or next week. Dishes, ironing, toys will only build like an avalanche if I put it off, but chores like dusting and sweeping will take me just as much time and effort even if I do it only twice a month.

This is one way that I have cut myself a break. I don't stress if we don't clean every week, and most times we do it every two weeks. But most days we make sure the house is picked up. We do this by making sure there is a place for everything. Backpacks have a place, coats have a place, kitchen supplies have a place. It makes it easier for everyone to "participate". You need to find the system that works for you - and if it doesn't, try something else. Baskets and bins are great at corralling clutter - we have 3 boxes on our top shelf in our coat closet - one with a picture of mittens, one for scarves and one for hats. Look at where your clutter is and find a system that works - or get rid of it! We also do something called a "10 minute cleanup" I call everyone together and set the timer - we divide and conquer and usually are able to accomplish a "picked up" house by the time the timer goes off.

I love to think about organizing - it's sick, I know - but it does make life easier. I just bought a shoe holder and hung it in our kids bathroom - I placed medicine, Q-tips, band aids in the pockets - at a glance we can find what we need - I'm so excited! I think this system will work and it's cute to look at.

So even though my house might not impress Mr. Clean, Miss Tidy is welcome anytime!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let's Go Dutch!

So Megan came home from the D.R. and Ryan left this morning for his high school Sr. class trip to Disney World.

I read in New York Times that it would cost a middle class family $222,360 to raise a child from birth to age 18 - yikes! Maybe they should start to use that as a birth control method with teenagers.

Our youth pastor told us that if a student participated in every single activity that is offered at youth group it would cost around $800 for the year - now that to me is a bargain at any price!!

It can be expensive to raise teenagers - but there are some ways to do it without going broke. We split the cost of some activities and items with our kids. This has worked really well for our family. Take for example the high school sr. trip - we told our kids up front that if they wanted to go, we would pay half and they would pay half. This makes them think long and hard if this is something they really want to spend their money on, not just something mommy and daddy will pay for. By giving value to something it makes your kids appreciate and respect it more. We have done this with sports camps, trips, and clothes.

Yes, we do buy our kids clothes - but you all know what my favorite store is!! If they are determined to get a certain brand or fashion item I will offer to go halves with them or tell them the amount I am willing to pay and they can make up the difference. Most times after they weigh the cost they decide it isn't really worth it. It's good for all of us to do that - they say if are thinking of making a purchase and you leave the store and sleep on it, you most likely won't return to buy it.

It also helps to give kids opportunities to work for what they want - I will come up with a list of jobs they can do to put credit towards their purchase.

When we took our first family missions trip to New Orleans, we came up with jobs the kids could do around the house to contribute towards the trip - if they could work at home, they could work on a trip.

By "going Dutch" with our teens we are teaching them that money doesn't grow on trees, to treat their possessions and experiences with care and the reality of growing up. Even if we had all the money in the world, we would still do this - cents and sensibility come when you share it with your kids!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cents and Sensibility

I'm back!! I was having all kinds of problems with my blog and posting it. So I guess that is what happens when you use electronics - they have glitches and you just have to wait for the glitches to work themselves out.

But as I waited I decided to change the name of the blog - when I first started I thought it would be all about saving money, but I noticed I liked to talk about life issues too, so I thought I would combine the two - Cents and Sensibility!

I love Jane Austin, but I am a "movie Jane Austin fan", not a "book Jane Austin fan". It started when I watched Pride and Prejudice with my sister in law and now I have rented all her movies including the BBC versions.

But as much as I like the romance, the era drives me crazy - why are they always sitting around doing nothing!! They could be out working, serving, contributing, instead they sit and talk and talk and talk. While their servants do all the work.

I like to work. Even when I was a stay at home mom, I had jobs. I think I liked that sense of accomplishment you don't always get when you are in the "thick of it". Dirty diapers and middle of the night cries don't stoke your ego! So I found things to do that satisfied me and put a few dollars in my pocket.

Here are a few examples of jobs I did: babysitting, private laundry for a nursing home patient, tutoring, crafts, birthday parties, ladies night out craft parties, mystery shopper. Most of the jobs I was able to bring my kids with me or have Cam watch them (we never called it babysitting, becasue technically they are his kids too!)

So if you feel the need to do more than just sit and talk, talk, talk - Jane Austin I love you, but I wanted to make some cents and still be sensible!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Be A Gracious Receiver

People give us things. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's the fact that my husband is a pastor, or that I have 4 kids? My friend used to send her daughter to her mom's house with shoes that were too small. When Grandmom would try to put her shoes on, she would exclaim "these shoes don't fit, let's go buy some new ones!"

That sounds a little manipulative to me! Cam calls it "pulling the poor mouth" when you act like you can't afford something and you really can - that's not what I'm talking about.

There are many reasons why people give us things, but I know why they continue to do so - we are gracious receivers. What do I mean by that... lets say I receive a bag of hand - me - downs (which is the majority of the things that are given to us) I thank that person profusely - sometimes with a written note. I also make it easy for them to give - offering to pick it up or transferring from their car, to ours. I also follow up, letting them know how much the kids liked the "Hoboken t-shirt" or pointing out when they are wearing it.

Thank you notes are a lost art! My mom was the queen of thank yous and we would sit at the table until all our notes were written. It stuck - I can't receive something without immediatly sending a note - it's just nice! And it is a great skill to pass on to your children.

Have an exit strategy - you don't have to keep everything people give you (and please don't keep everything!) I let people know I will use what I can and then pass the rest on or donate it to the thrift shop - and make sure you do it! Quickly go through the donation and then put the excess in your car. I usually gather the kids around so they can pick out what they want - that also helps them learn to be a gracious receiver. And when they bring something into the house, something has to go out - this is great to do with toys, but as the kids get older it works quite effectively with clothes. Easy in, easy out!

When we go on a missions trip we send out a prayer/support letter. At first I felt funny about that - why should people "pay" so I can travel. But a friend explained it this way - if you don't share your needs with people, you take away the opportunity for them to give. Who am I to "steal" someone's blessing. People have been more than gracious with us and it has been fun to partner with them on our trips.

And remember, what goes around comes around, if you are generous with people in your life, it will come back to you. And when it does, make sure you are gracious in your receiving - sharing with those around you makes cents!

My Bags Are Packed I'm Ready To Go!

My favorite daughter returns home tonight! Her student teaching in the Dominican Republic ends and her Council Rock experience begins!

As we were skyping the other night she was mentioning that she had bought vanilla and before I could get the words out of my mouth, she said "I know, I put them in a Ziploc!"

The following packing tips are not for the affluent traveler who can take as many bags as they want, wear multiple outfits, buy whatever they have forgotten to pack or has the luxury of unpacking into a walk in closet. This is for the parents who decide to take 3 children under age 5 on a 8 week trip to Europe and discover they are pregnant with their 4th the first week they are there! True! As we packed, we knew we were the only two people capable of carrying anything and on top of that we needed to bring a portacrib, stroller and 8 weeks worth of diapers. It was at that time I got serious about packing!

1. Less is more - lay out what you want to bring and then put half back in the closet. Unless you have the room to bring it, don't. Only bring things that can be used more than once (excluding underwear). We decided on 2 back packs and a large suitcase for all 5 of us - so space was limited.

2. Bag everything! I learned this trick on my first missions trip - we were given duffel bags to pack our stuff in. When we arrived we lived out of these bags for 10 days. Ever try to find a pair of socks at 5:30am with no lights? Now, I put everything in mesh bags (I found them at the dollar store) All the socks and undies go in one bag, t-shirts in another, shorts, etc. It makes finding your clothes so much easier. At first I put whole outfits in a bag, but I like a little more spontaneity in my life! If you are able to unpack and put your clothes in a dresser where you are going, this hint in unnecessary!

3. Ziploc bags - every liquid goes in - there is nothing worse than NyQuil all over your clothes! I also put together a baggie of band aids, ointment, etc. to travel with - in case of injuries. Each of us has our own toiletry bag - this was a present for when they went on their first missions trips. They keep it stocked with the items they need.

4. Leave a copy of your itinerary and passport at home with a friend - also copies of your credit cards - Ryan had his passport stolen in Africa and this came in very handy!

5. Have a going home outfit! Save one outfit, complete with undergarments to travel home in - it will make that trip all the more pleasant - for everyone! We also pack an outfit and toothbrush in our carry on in case we get laid over somewhere - this has happened more than once. And I must say taking 25 teenagers to the Walmart to buy "unmentionables" can be exciting!

6. That won't fit! - Just watch me! - I am notorious for closing bags - the trick is to sit on it and squeeze all the air out of it. Also, to shuffle the contents, I will lift up the bag and drop it, to let everything settle, it's amazing how it then zips. But make sure you weigh it - they don't mess around with weight at the airports and fines are pricey!

7. Let your kids pack! - I actually hate to pack, so this was easy - I would give them a list of what they needed and double check on them- now it is just the amount of days we will be gone and we  go through the checklist verbally - toothbrush, pj, extra shoes. You can buy most items you might have forgotten and if you forget your underwear once,  you'll never make that mistake again!

8. Air Bags - you know those bags that you suck all the air out of with a vacuum cleaner hose. We borrowed them when Colin was moving to CO for school. He was packing quilts, blankets, towels, snow gear - so I felt they were helpful, but for normal packing, I wouldn't invest in them - just lay on top and squeeze - works about the same and is much more fun!

This is kind of basic ideas, geared a little more towards missions trips, but wherever you go, it helps to pack efficiently - it will make your trip easier and if you don't have to buy forgotten items - it will give you extra cents to use on your trip!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Are You Spoiled Rotten?

Last week I had a massage - now wait, let me explain - every year I have to take 20 hours of continuing education. My district provides free workshops so I have no excuse not to get my hours. Last month I attended a workshop taught by a chiropracter who talked about the importance of overall health and how it effects your learning. If you answered a question correctly he gave you a gift certificate for a 1/2 hour massage - it was the best workshop EVER!

I said before that the first servant I would hire would be a masseuse so you can imagine how "special" this was to me. Actually, I just found out my brother owns a massage table - maybe I'll see if he is looking for work!

I thought it would be fun to talk about home spa ideas. It can get pricey to say the least to pamper yourself but it is nice to do, so if you can recreate the experience at home, why not? And better yet, invite a few friends over and make it a girls night out!

1. Hair - put a good conditioner on your hair and take a plastic bag and wrap your hair in it. The heat created will help the conditioner absorb better. While you wait - start your facial. Make sure your face is clean.

2. Facial - boil water and pour into a bowl - add a chamomile or mint tea bag and place a towel over your head making a tent over the bowl - be careful it isn't too hot. Relax breathing in and out through your nose (this is great for your sinuses). Splash ice cold water over your face to close your pores - you will be glowing for hours!! Rinse conditioner from hair.

3. Masks - there are so many good "make at home" masks out there -google it. Just be careful with the ingredients that they don't irritate your skin - there is nothing beautiful about a skin rash.

4. Pedicure - I love to paint my nails, but I don't do my fingers too often since it starts to chip so soon and my toes last forever - maybe because I don't wash dishes with my feet! Soak your feet in warm, sudsy water then if you can bribe someone to rub them, go for it! I paint my toes and then do some cute designs. I dip a toothpick in nailpolish and then carefully make dots - flowers, hearts, or polka dots. Finish with a top coat - I like a quick dry since I am so impatient!

5. Cream, cream, cream - Cam says you could sand wood with my feet, that's  how dry they are (he says the sweetest things) so I am constantly putting cream on and then putting socks on to keep it in. Also, the best time to put it on your body is after a shower - don't dry off, put the cream on right away, it seals in all the moisture. I also use Aqua Phor on my lips - it is the best lip cream I've ever used! You can find it in the baby aisle.

6. Tennis balls - they are great for massaging out the "kinks" Roll your feet on top of them, place one between your back and the wall or the floor and roll back and fourth. It relieves a lot of pressure.

7. Eye Pillow - Cucumbers and cold tea bags are great for your eyes, but another idea is an eye pillow. I made one out of 2 strips of material - one silky and one flannel and filled it with dried split peas. It has enough weight to feel really good on tired eyes and blocks out ALL light. I've taken this on youth group retreats - it really works!

8. Baths - There is nothing economical about a bath - just luxurious!! I love them with bubbles - I buy the 78 cents shampoo and use that - they have great scents and make good bubbles. I will also add tea bags to my bath - someone asked me if it stains your skin - I wish it did, but alas, it doesn't.

9. Know when to call in a proffessional - I am not naming names but someone I know decided to wax her own eyebrows. Now waxing is something I have never done, but apparantly you shouldn't do this on yourself and her remaining eyebrow would agree.

So go ahead - spoil yourself rotten - if you're doing it at home you can afford it, since you are saving all those cents!

Mass Production

                                       Obviously I like to mass produce!                                  
If you made kids as cute as these, you would too! But I also like to mass produce in my daily life. If I am going to put forth the effort to accomplish one task, why not get the most out of it.

Take for example food prep. When I cut up my veggies, carrots, celery, etc. I do all the veggies, not just the ones we will be eating for that meal.

Let's say I prep each time I want a carrot - get out carrots, cutting board, knife, cut, eat, clean up cutting board, knife, counter, put rest of carrots back in the fridge. Repeat when hungry.

Or I can mass produce -  take out carrots, cutting board, knife, cut up all the carrots, put away, clean up cutting board, knife, counter. When hungry - eat carrots.

Which is a better use of my time?

If I am heating the oven I will throw in anything that needs to be cooked so I don't waste the energy it takes to cook just one thing. If I cook chicken - I throw it all in the crock pot and then refrigerate the leftovers. When I am ready to use them in a meal, they are already cooked, all I have to do is reheat. If I can double a meal and freeze the other one, I do it. It takes the same amount of effort to prep and cook so doesn't it make sense to double or triple it. The clean up is basically the same - I've used the same utensils and pots.

I used to stencil slates for a living (actually I had a craft business). When I would do a pattern, I would do all the same slates at one time. I would go down the table in an assembly line fashion. It saved a ton on clean up and time by doing it this way.

When I see a gift that I like, I buy or make a number of them and put them away. Then if I need a last minute gift, I go to the "Gift Drawer" - not to Walmart.

When the kids were little and I made baby food for them, I never prepared just one meal - I would cook up all the sweet potatoes, carrots, chicken and beans and then grind them up and put them in ice cube trays. I would freeze them and then pop them out into a Ziploc. When it was time for a meal, I could pull out a variety of foods, defrost and serve.

When I do haircuts, I let the boys know this is it for the next 2 weeks - get it now! To pull out the kit and clean up is the same whether I cut 1 boys' hair or 4. And I would rather get it all done in one shot.

Now that gas is $25 a gallon - oh is that just in Newtown?? I try to make the most of my trips out - lumping all my errands together, not making unnecessary trips to the grocery store, etc. Not only will this save me gas, but also my time.

I've said it before - time is money - if you do things more efficiently and as cheaply as possible, you get it! So think about what you have to do each day - can you lump several activities together, can you double or triple your effort, it's all these small decisions that add up to make a lot of cents!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Let's Do Lunch!

When Megan was in high school she had a group of friends she ate lunch with. They decided to play a little game with their food. Beginning with the letter A -they would bring in food that started with a letter - avocados, artichokes, animal crackers. Next day it was B - bananas, bagels, butterfly shrimp. Now that's fun!

When my kids started school, the lunchbox was an important purchase - it would get used everyday. So they would choose carefully and then we would get to work. After dinner we would pull out the lunch supplies and they would make their lunches. I would check to see what they were putting in, but for the most part, they were responsible for making it and you know what - they ate it. There was very little wasted or returned food since they were deciding what to eat.

Along the way we learned a few things:

1. Nutrition - we talked a lot about what should be in their lunch and tried to model balanced meals at dinner but it was only one meal - if they brought 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday - who cares, they were getting fruits and veggies at home. I would also have them come up with ideas for the shopping list so the pantry would be well stocked for them. They rarely bought lunch since they could make a better tasting meal than the cafeteria and they said that standing in line wasted too much of their time.

2. Water only - I rarely bought juice boxes. They each had a water bottle that they would fill half way with water and then freeze. This also worked as an ice pack in their lunch - it tends to "sweat" so you could slip it in a clean sock to keep other things dry.

3. The "Snack Basket" - we were having "issues" with the snacks for the week  being eaten the first day I bought them, so I gave each kid a basket for their snacks. All their snacks for the week go in there and it has to last them - if they run out early - oh well - and there is no "stealing" from other basket, but there is plenty of trading!!

4. Family Meeting - before I go shopping, I'll ask what they want for that week (as long as it's on sale!) I used to always buy lunch meat, but now they are on a yogurt and salami kick. My sister-in-law Laurie told me a great idea. She buys whole cuts of meat - turkey, ham, roast beef - cooks it and then slices it for sandwiches. This is so much cheaper than buying it from the deli - I usually don't buy meat if it's over $4 a pound, but I was shelling out $7 a pound for lunch meat - what's wrong with this picture!

5. Reusable vs. Disposable - when the kids were in elementary school all their food was in Tupperware and they would bring it home to use the next day. They make a really neat sandwich wrap - it's a piece of material on one side and plastic on the other - you place your sandwich in the middle and fold in the sides - it stays shut with Velcro. They would be super easy to make. A place mat and cloth napkin are an added nice touch. By the time the kids got to jr. high the lunch box was out and paper bags were in. I can compromise - I buy the generic bags and single containers of yogurt and applesauce - it's a little more money, but cheaper than buying lunch.

6. Leftovers - that is what I usually bring for lunch - after dinner I spoon what's left into a Tupperware and my lunch is packed. If you have kids at home or are homeschooling - this is a great option. It's also a great time to let your kids try their hand at cooking - let them plan and make this meal - consider it home economics.

Packing your lunch can save you a lot of money - school lunches are up to $2.50 - $5 and eating out will cost you even more, let alone the time and gas you will spend getting there. Do a little preplanning and save some cents!
Jello - Yogurt Cups
1 package jello (I use sugar-free)
1 Cup boiling water
1 Cup yogurt (any flavor)
Blend in the blender, pour into cups and chill for 3 hours.
My kids LOVE these!