Monday, October 21, 2013

"Somewhere In The Bible"

So, I have not been on to post in awhile because I was too busy.  Besides the everyday business of working, housekeeping, and raising children, I am back in school again for my Masters degree and a new set of food allergies has me having to totally re-vamp the way I cook (again).  I said I would never make 2 separate dinners to please everyone in my family, but now I am forced to, because frankly, I wouldn't make my family eat some of the things I eat simply because my choices are so limited.  But anyways, my allergies are not what this post is about.  It's about my being too busy, or so I thought!  God was about to show me other things!  Sometimes when my pastor is preaching a sermon on something I'm very familiar with, I find myself wandering around in my Bible reading the nearby scripture passages and accompanying devotionals.  Almost always, I find something very applicable to what's going on in my life.  Yesterday, that was definitely the case.

The devotional on the following page was entitled "Somewhere In The Bible".  It was the story of a  young man witnessing to his lawyer friend about Jesus.  Throughout his attempt to explain salvation, the Christian young man kept saying "Somewhere in the Bible it says....."  His lawyer friend asked him to go to his office with him and showed him his expansive collection of law books.  The lawyer said to the Christian, "If you came to me with a legal problem, I would know exactly what book to look in for your situation.  You, as a Christian, have one book to master, to learn, to memorize and to handle to correctly, yet you do not know where anything is found.  You tell me the central person of this book is the most important thing in your life, but I find that hard to believe."  

This really struck a cord with me because at the beginning of the year (when everyone is making those New Years resolutions), I was thinking about doing a 52 verses in 52 weeks challenge.  However, I got too busy and never got around to getting started.  It has popped into my head a few times but then quickly was removed by other pressing thoughts.  I stumbled across the blog that gave me the idea again last week and thought, "Oh, I really still feel like I should be doing that, but I'll wait until November to start and then it will be a nice even number of weeks".  Of course, this was my perfectionism mindset taking over.  There is no reason I can only memorize scripture in designated months or years, and I needed to change my way of thinking.  The closing for the devotional said this: "If God is to speak to me in everyday situations, I need to study, memorize and know how to apply his words.  Then the insights that hit me are the ones I can share with others.  After all, I can't share what I don't know".  How true is that!  If God is going to use me to reach others, I have to be able to speak to their current situations, and how am I going to be able to do that without seeking God through diligent prayer and memorizing scripture to be able to share with and encourage others?

Therefore, I am NOT going to way until next week to get the "equal 2 months worth" of scripture memory.  I am starting now!  My first verse is going to be Ephesians 2:10 and I already have a list of the rest of them.  My goal is to memorize 1 verse a week from now on.

"For we are God's masterpiece.  
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, 
so we can do the good things He planned 
for us long ago".  (Ephesians 2:10)

How about you?  Are you committed to memorizing scripture?  If so, how do you go about actually doing it?  Any practical tips for me as I start out on this journey?  (I hate to admit it, but I haven't actually memorized any scripture since my freshman year of college, so I could really use some practical ideas.)  Whatever you are doing to keep God's word fresh in your minds, keep it up!  You can't go wrong when God is involved!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"They said we'd never make it, but look how far we've come now, baby..."

Tomorrow marks our 10th wedding anniversary.  Our friend who sang at our reception (since we eloped) sang "You're Still The One" and it couldn't have been more fitting.  Family and friends alike tried talking us out of getting married.  We have had a very rocky road getting to this point, but I am so grateful that we didn't listen to everyone and stuck it out even when it seemed impossible to stay together.  Life hasn't always been good and we separated a few times earlier in our marriage, but we both knew that we didn't want to become another divorce statistic or to leave that legacy for our children, so here we are.  The past 2 years have been the best years of our marriage yet and I can truly say that we work as a team now to overcome whatever life hands us, rather than everything becoming a constant struggle against the world and eachother.  A friend and I were talking the other day about people who just out of the blue walk away from their marriages and/or families and how we don't understand how smeone can do that (except in extenuating circumstances, of course).  We were talking about how we just depend on our spouses so much, but not in an unhealthy way, more of a "our lives are so very intertwined with eachother" sort of way.  We work together with our spouses to encourage eachother, raise our children, meet our financial goals, and keep the day-to-day household tasks from overwhelming us.  Marriage can be such a blessing when you begin to look at our spouse as your partner, not as someone to meet all of your needs or as someone else who is placing demands on you.

I truly believe that many of our struggles early in our marriage were simply due to immaturity.  I was only 20 when we got married, and looking at the person I am now versus then seems like a different lifetime ago.  I have grown up and changed so much and things that used to be an issue to me seem so silly now.  I think a lot of it stemmed from me still trying to find who I was during that time.  Since Jeremy was also young, I feel that he was dealing with a lot of the same things that I was.  The closer I got to 25, the easier things seemed to become.  I am in no way against young marriages.  I just try to talk to young people I know that are getting married that you both will still do some changing as people, and you have to be willing to allow your spouse to do that and to encourage them to become the person God is calling them to be.  My husband will sometimes joke that I married a totally different person than I am married to now, and he is right in a lot of ways, but the thing is that the core things I loved about him are still there even though he dresses differently, listens to different music, has different hobbies, and wants different things out of life.  He is still one of the funniest people I know.  He still holds my hand when we're out and about and calls just to say hi.  He still loves to sing along to all of our favorite songs when we're in the car or even just sitting around at home.  He still loves to play cards with me before bed and to cuddle up and watch movies on the couch.  He isn't perfect (and neither am I!), but we are perfectly suited for eachother.  There are days when the kids are napping and we are doing something together and I think "I can't imagine being this comfortable doing this with anyone else"!  I can't wait to see what the future has in store for us!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Camping Season

Our family loves all sorts of outdoor activities, and camping encompasses a lot of them, so it goes without saying that camping is one of our favorite things to do together.  My husband and I have spent weekends camping since we have been dating.  Our son went camping for the first time when he was 6-months-old and our daughter was only 6-weeks-old on her first trip.  Last year, we even went so far as to buy a lifetime camping membership to a group of campgrounds near our home so it is very convenient for us to camp whenever possible.  There is something about waking up to the sunrise with the sounds of nature around you and spending the day outside enjoying God's creation that just puts you in a better mood.  Oh sure, "disasters" happen when we are camping all the time (like the time we got 2 hours from home and realized the crank for our pop-up was locked in the garage at home), but it's all part of the experience and just like anything else, it doesn't have to ruin the time if you don't let it.

While camping can be an enjoyable and relaxing time, it does require a bit more work than some other vacations.  However, much like I am always saying, as long as your plan ahead, it can significantly ease the amount of work you have to do at the actual campsite.  Before I share my best tips for a successful family camping trip, I should let you know that we camp in a pop-up camper.  I enjoy tenting, but my husband hates how everything tends to get "moist" from the ground, so this was our compromise (and that's what marriage is all about, right?).

Tip #1:  Use a list to make sure you have all of the necessary supplies.
     While I had always used a list before the missing crank incident (because I am a list-maker by nature, in case you haven't noticed), after that trip, I sat down at our computer to make a master list of everything we have ever needed for camping.  Now, before every trip I simply print one off, cross off anything we don't need for where we are going, and add grocery items and any other miscellaneous items on the back.  As everyone chips in to pack, items can only be crossed off once they have been placed in the camper or vehicle to avoid items getting left at home.

Tip #2: Plan a menu and pre-cook/prep as much as possible at home.
     Camping food for our family is always easy to prepare with minimal prep and clean-up so that everyone can enjoy the trip without being busy with extra work.  Veggies and fruit can be chopped ahead of time.  Pasta salads can be made at home.  Meat can be cut or formed and marinated and shredded or ground meat can be cooked.  Noodles can be pre-cooked so they are al dente and only needed reheated without dealing with draining at the campsite.  Rather than hauling a lot of equipment with us to cook meals, we try to either do all one-pot meals cooked in our electric skillet or things that can be cooked over the fire. Some of our family's favorite camping meals include hot dogs cooked over the fire, spaghetti reheated in a jar of sauce, nachos/tacos/walking tacos, breakfast burritos, chili, goulash, pizza sandwiches (cooked like grilled cheese but with a thin layer of sauce spread on one side with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni), sausage gravy with pre-cooked biscuits, and foil pack dinners consisting of burgers or sliced smoked sausage with potatoes and veggies.

Tip #3:  Pack more clothes than you think you need (especially for your children).
     Camping, by nature, is messy.  Clothes get dirty, muddy, and wet quicker than you may realize.  Even children who don't go through extra clothes on a regular basis at home very likely will when they are outside all day.  On this same note, don't forget to pack clothes for different weather such as rain and a few warm items such as jeans and sweatshirts in case it is cold at night around the fire or in the morning cooking breakfast.  Speaking of clothes, always have somewhere to put your wet/dirty clothes in so they don't ruin the rest of your clothes.  We use one of those lawn/leaf heavy duty paper sacks to save space, but a small tote would probably be even better.
Tip #4:  No matter what the weather forecast, always have a few rainy day activities on hand.
     We have one small cupboard in the camper designated for these types of things that my children know they can't play with otherwise.  This includes travel board games, small craft kits I've found at the dollar store, and coloring/activity books and crayons.  If rain is forecast, I also pack the portable DVD player in the glovebox and a few of their favorite movies.  If the rain persists for multiple days of our trip, we will often leave the campground and take the kids to a movie or to a restaurant for appetizers/desserts for a break.

Tip #5:  Make it a point to enjoy yourself no matter what happens!
     When you are out in the great outdoors, anything is bound to happen.  Just go with it!  Forgot your camper crank? (lol) Drive home, get it, set up later than planned, but then relax around the campfire with your husband and play a game of cards once the kids go to bed.  Rain ruining your plans?  Make new ones. If you're in a new town, go exploring.  Use those rainy day activities.  Make friends with the neighboring campsite and go to the lodge to have some sort of family competition with them.  Camping is no different than real-life in this respect...  Attitude is everything!  And remember, your attitude can affect the attitude of the rest of your family, so if you make it an adventure instead of a burden, they will likely follow suit.    

So what about all of you?  What are your best tips for a successful camping trip?  
Happy Camping Everyone!  :)

Friday, May 24, 2013

How do you handle disappointments?

I have been planning our family annual Memorial Day camping trip for this weekend for at least a few weeks now.  We used to go every year for 4 to 5 days.  However, with our daughter being born on Memorial Day weekend 2 years ago, we haven't been able to go the last few years, and I was so glad that we were finally getting back to our normal routine.  I have been working quite a bit of overtime to pay for the extra hospital bills from my surgery in January, so I couldn't think of anything better than having some uninterrupted time with my family to reconnect.  Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we have not been able to get the camper out until this morning for me to clean and pack for the trip, and we're supposed to be leaving this afternoon.  When we finally got it out and opened at 6 am today, the mice had gotten into the camper again for the 2nd year in a row, despite my attempts to pack it with things that are supposed to keep them out.  They have chewed through many more spots in the canvas and also through all the new curtains I made last year to replace the ruined ones.

What I really wanted to do when my husband started cranking it up and I could see what had happened, was scream, cry, and throw a temper tantrum like my soon-to-be 2-year-old!  But instead, I chose to stand and enjoy the sunshine for a minute, figure out a plan of how I could get things done today so we can hopefully still go this weekend (but probably not until tomorrow), and read my bible/devotional and pray about it.  While I am still disappointed about the time I won't be getting to spend relaxing with my family, I feel so much better than if I would have lost it and made myself feel even worse.  

How we react when we are disappointed says a lot about us, in my opinion.  If we choose to dwell on the negative feelings, it will just make things bigger than they really are.  Something that happened today will still be bothering us next week or next month.  Instead, I have been intentionally trying to create an action plan of something I can do to make myself feel better about the situation and been trying to let things go.  "It is what it is" has become one of my most-used phrases.  Why waste precious energy being upset over something that can't be changed anyways?

I hope you all have a blessed weekend and remember that Memorial Day is about remembering all of those people who have sacrificed so we can live in this country and be free to speak our minds and enjoy all of our other freedoms.  Take a moment to thank a soldier or a soldier's family for all that they do!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


This week I had to give one of my students a failing grade in my clinical.  I really hate when I have to do that, but their behavior in my class warranted the grade, and after speaking with the two other instructors who also have this particular student, we all seemed to be in agreement about the situation.  When I was returning their final evaluation and discussing the grade and my many requests to meet with them about their work, they said to me, "I knew that I was failing the past few weeks so I had pretty much just given up".

This got me thinking about our lives, and how we relate to God.  As Christians, we can't fail in this life.  Sure we will make mistakes, but God is always there with grace and mercy to forgive us and pick us back up if we are willing to repent and run back to Him.  We don't need to give up, like this student did, because there is always a chance to start over again right now.

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." 
Psalms 103:11-12

God longs to see us succeed.  He wants what is best for us.  There will be testing of our faith and correction when needed, but He is still our biggest fan, cheering us on until His work is complete in us.  He has given each of us unique talents and gifts so that we may be a blessing to Him and those around us.  When we are seeking His purpose for our lives, and doing what we are called to do, we will find a sense of joy and fulfillment unlike anything else we have ever experienced before.  

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you 
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."          
Jeremiah 29:11

What is God asking you today?  It may seem scary, but if we are willing to step out in faith, He will provide us with the strength, courage, encouragement, and whatever else we may need to succeed.  He will also be there to catch us if we fall.  What one thing can you do today to begin working towards what you are feeling called to do?  If you feel like you aren't sure where God is leading you right now, try starting today with prayer that you would see clearly what God is wanting you to do in this season of your life.

I'd love to join in praying for you to find God's purpose for your life right now!  While I pray that any woman reading this is blessed and encouraged to follow where she feels she is being called to serve, I would love to pray for you specifically.  Feel free to leave me a comment or send me a message and let me know what I can be praying about.  I hope that you have a week blessed with a strong sense of God's presence!

Monday, February 11, 2013

How My Children See Me

Last night, as I was trying to find a recipe for something on my laptop, my 21-month-old daughter walked over and shut the computer not once but twice.  The first time, I told her no, and then went back to what I was trying to finish up.  The second time, I was starting to get frustrated with her, but as she lifted up her arms and said "up", a realization came over me.  My son had made a comment the day before about how I'm "always on my computer".  What do they think of me?  What kind of legacy am I leaving for them of what their mom spent her time on?  From my children's point-of-view, who already seem to show signs of my "love language", quality time, the computer probably seems like the enemy.  

While I do spend a lot of time on my computer, it's because many of my work and home management tasks have now been moved to the computer.  I pay bills on the computer and use online banking, have to keep up-to-date with the class website for the section I teach, do my daily devotionals online, respond to emails for my job, complete  my self-scheduling at the hospital, and use it to look up recipes that are safe for me to eat.   I do spend some time on Facebook catching up with friends and family or reading other blogs too.  However, from the perspective of my children, it probably really doesn't matter much what I am doing, but simply that it is taking time away from them.  Children have little capacity to understand all of the "behind the scenes" things that it takes to keep a household functioning and orderly.  And if you haven't already noticed, I like organized.  If I were super-woman, my house would be completely spotless at all times and everything would be organized just so, because that's what I am able to be most relaxed and function my best.  As it is though, I'm just a regular mom trying to do the best that she can.  

The take way lesson is this, whatever I am working on at that moment can probably wait for at least a few minutes when my children ask me to stop and pay attention to them.  Perhaps my daughter wants held, or my son wants me to play a quick game with him or catch up on an episode of his favorite tv show.  It doesn't matter what it is.  What matters it that they want to spend time with me, and I want them to really know that they are the most important things in the world to me.  Before I know it, they will be in the stage where it isn't cool to hang out with your mom anymore and then even more quickly they will be out of the house.

So far this year, I had a hard time figuring out what it was that was going to be my main goal.  Last year it was to put my family first, and I have made big strides in that.  I have gotten much better at spending one-on-one time with my children and prioritizing my work and family time.  My husband commented recently that this has been the best year of marriage yet, so I must be doing something right in that area too.  So, while I have made great improvements in planning time with my family, I am still not great at spontaneous things.  My desire for this year is to not only plan time with my family, but be actively engaged with them whenever possible.  This seems simple, but for the crazy inner organizer in me, it will prove to be quite a challenge.  So here it is... wish me luck!

My 2013 Goal:
Live in the moment!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Showing Love To Your Husband

It's almost February 1st, which means that Valentine's Day is quickly approaching.  While my husband and I both feel that it is overly commercialized, we do enjoy doing something small for each other in the spirit of the day.  This year I am working on a box with 100 reasons that I love him written out on slips of paper tucked inside.  I also read a cute idea on a different idea blog that I may have to do too.  You spread a bag of Hershey's kisses on the floor with a note that says, "I've kissed the ground you walk on.  Will you be my Valentine?".  (If I do this, it will have to be before he gets up for work in the morning in our bedroom, because otherwise our daughter will have the candies hiding all over our house within a few minutes, and a scavenger hunt for them is not what I had in mind.)  He will probably get me a movie, since that is our go-to gift for each other.  We both love movies, and you will frequently find us cuddled up on the couch watching one together after the kids are in bed for the night.  He also always used to get me some sort of chocolate (since I am a chocoholic by self-admission) but now that I have to buy special chocolates at the health food store (and I'm not even sure he knows where it is), I'm not counting on that this year.  Also, it's rare that we are able to go out to dinner on Valentine's Day due to our hectic schedules, so we typically make some sort of special treat to enjoy later that night.  

While Valentine's Day can be a lot of fun, who says you need a designated day to express your love for your significant other?  Throughout the last almost 10 years, my husband and I have endured all of those standard vows you say to each other on your wedding day.  We have seen for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or health, and came out even stronger on the other side of it all, and three years ago we received a wake-up call that reminded us that we need to cherish those we love the most because we never know when they will be taken from us.  Sometimes it's way sooner that we ever thought.  For this reason, we try to show each other on a regular basis how much the we mean to the other.  Here are just a few of the ways that we do this.
  • On my days off, I try to have the house picked up from the daily clutter before he comes home.  I know that means a lot to him and also he doesn't feel like he needs to chip in and help and is instead able to relax for a few minutes after work.  If the baby is down for a nap, I will also brew a fresh pot of coffee and sit down to visit with him until our son gets off the bus because it allows us some nice, uninterrupted time for conversation (which is a rare treat).  
  • On the same note, I also try to always be sure I look nice when he comes home from work.  I'm not saying I am dressed in anything fancy, but I make it a point to be showered and out of my pajamas (even if it's yoga pants and a cute top I have on), put on at least some lip gloss, and have tried to put my hair in a neat-looking ponytail if I didn't have time to do it that day.  While I had always attempted to do this (and succeeded most days), one day at Bible study a friend of mine really put it into perspective.  She said that our husbands our designed to be very visual, and with all the women that our men come in contact with on a daily basis, we should seek to be something beautiful for them to look at.  It's true! 
  • We don't make decisions without consulting the other person and considering how it will affect them.  We often jokingly refer to ourselves as "Team O" (Yes, we are a bit sports-obsessed and competitive!) and strive to work as a team to problem solve, whether it is in regards to getting the housework done, how to manage our schedules, or even bigger problems that come our way. 
  • As previously stated in this post, we love to hang out together after the kids go to bed.  You will often find us cuddled up on the couch watching a movie or catching up on some of our favorite shows that are DVR'd, playing games, or just hanging out and talking about our day.  It is rare that we are each doing "our own thing" after the kids' bedtime, but instead use that time to enjoy eachother's company.  
  • A few of the ways that my husband shows that I am important to him is always taking the trash out (my most hated chore), sending me short and sweet texts throughout the day that say things like "Miss you", "Love you", or "Hope you're having a good day" to let me know he's thinking of me, taking the kids upstairs to play if I'm struggling to get some work or household chores done in the evening, and on Sunday mornings he always make sure the diaper bag is full, that the kids are ready and gets them in the car, and fills my coffee cup for me so that I can have a few extra minutes myself to get ready.

A "love note" from my husband.  
Last summer I was slicing cucumbers for a salad and then had to take a quick bathroom break.  When I came back, he had wrote "I Love Jen The Great" with the peels, so I had to capture something so random on photo.  Yes, I know we are dorks, but are loving dorks!

I could go on, and on, and on, but I will spare you that.  The point is this: We should chose to show our spouses love and respect every day of our lives together because that is what builds a strong marriage. 

What about you and your significant other?  Any special plans for Valentine's Day or any fun ideas you want to share?  What about the rest of year?  How do you choose to show your love for each other on a regular basis?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Meals From The Pantry (and Freezer too)

There has been a  lot of talk since the start of the new year about "Cleaning Out The Pantry Challenges" going on with many of the homemaking blogs I read.  I have never purposefully done one of these, but I do believe that it can save you money, eliminate wasted food, and help you organize your pantry and/or freezer better once you have gotten rid of the majority of the items that cause the clutter.  With that being said, our cupboards currently look like we have been doing something like this, because I have not shopped since before my surgery 3 weeks ago.  We did receive some meals from our church family the first weeks, my mom brought over some food for us to eat, and my two aunts and my mother-in-law have all picked up a few needed items for me when they were doing their own shopping, but our cupboards are getting very bare.  Luckily, we stock up on meat whenever we find an amazing sale, so we still have quite a big of meat, a little frozen veggies, and some convenience foods my husband bought for him and kids in the freezer,  However, we are out of tons of staples that I need to be able to make foods that are safe for me to eat, and we are out of coffee!  That may be the worst at the moment!  I am actually going back to work next week, so I have a meeting to attend with my lead faculty member this afternoon.  Luckily, there is a discount grocery store nearby so I should be able to stock up on some staples and make some foods for my lunches before then.   

Here are some of the easy meals I suggest if you are just trying to keep cooking and menu planning low-key for whatever reason.  To make them complete meals, I usually just heat up a bag of frozen veggies and open up a can of fruit (juice packed).
  • Spaghetti
  • Cheese Quesadillas
  • Rice & Beans
  • Eggs & Toast
So, what about all of you?  Have any of you done one of these challenges?  What were the results?  Did you make it the entire time without grocery shopping?  What did you think of it?  Also, if you have any really good pantry meals, I'd love for you to share them!

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Surgery - Physical and Emotional Healing

Last week, I was so busy dealing with the physical pain and recovery that I didn't have time to think about the emotional aspects.  This week, since my pain is under control and I'm getting around better, I have had to deal with what this surgery actually means.  I cannot have any more children.  When I scheduled my surgery 3 weeks ago, I knew that.  Sure I had a few moments where I was very upset about it prior to surgery, but now that it is over and done with it has hit me like a ton of bricks.  

The surgery was necessary due to all of the complications I was having, and being a nurse, I could foresee even more problems that would happen if I put it off for too long or tried to have another baby before having it done.  My husband and I had considered both of those options briefly, but both rationally knew that neither was for the best and could produce even worse results, causing harm to both me and baby.  Besides, we already have children.  I kept telling myself I would be okay with not getting to have a big family, because there are people out there who can't have any and I can't even imagine what that would be like.  Infertility must be torture for a woman.  If anyone reading this has dealt with or is currently dealing with infertility, please know that I am not trying to be insensitive in any way.  While I can't say that I know what you are going through, please know that my heart goes out to you as another woman who's dreams of what her family would be like have been shattered.

Growing up with only one sister, I always wished that I came from a bigger family.  Sure there were perks to their only being 2 of us, and our home basically had an open door policy for all of our friends so there was always activity in the house, but my sister and I were never that close.  I had always thought that if there were more siblings we would all have somebody in the family to connect with.  My mom is one of 4 daughters, and getting together with her family is so much fun.  There are tons of people around talking and laughing and it always feels so comforting when we are all together.  My dad, on the other hand, is an only-child, so our entire family can fit around one normal sized table when we all get together and it's completely different.  I always imagined big family get togethers with our kids and then eventually their own families some day.  Now, God willing, we will have those family get-togethers, but they will just be much smaller than I had always hoped.  

I guess the hardest part of all of this is we are at an age where I shouldn't have to be facing this already.  Therefore, a lot of our friends are still having children, as well as our siblings both expecting babies within the year.  Actually, my brother-in-laws girlfriend is due next month.  The day I came home from the hospital, one of my dearest friends had a baby.  I texted her rather than call, because I knew that I would probably end up crying and I didn't want to ruin the moment.  Another friend had her baby within the week and in fact, there are countless other friends and family members who are all pregnant right now.  Actually, one just announced on Facebook today she is pregnant which set in motion me writing this blog tonight.  While I am happy for her and her husband, because they are such a great family, I couldn't even pick up the phone and call to tell her congratulations because I knew that I would end up crying and didn't want to upset her in any way. 

While I usually try to wrap up my blogs with something encouraging or thought-provoking, I quite frankly just don't have it in me tonight.  So instead, I'm going to close in prayer.  While many of you probably will not relate to this prayer, please know that if there is something you would like me to pray about for you, please send me an email and I would be glad to join in prayer on whatever you are currently struggling with.

Dear God,  You knew my life story before I was even born and I trust that you have a plan for all of this that I can't see right now beyond my hurt.  I pray that you would comfort me as I learn to deal with this, and show me what I can do to move past all of this when I am continually confronted with it.  Give me the right words to say to my friends and family when they announce their pregnancies or births of their babies.  Help me in those moments to be able to control my reactions so I don't come across as cold because hurting them is something I would never want to intentionally do.  God, thank you for my two precious children you have already given me.  Without them, I don't know what I would do.  I feel like they make me a better person and make those dreary moments in my day worthwhile.  Please watch over us and help us to continue to grow together as a family rather than to grow apart.  Thank you for all of the blessings you have given us!  Open our eyes to those who are hurting around us, and who us what we can do to show them Your love.  All of these I pray in Jesus' name.  Amen!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thoughtful Gifts On A Limited Budget

With the nature of my job, if I don't work, I don't get paid.  Therefore, I am home without any real source of income for the next 6 weeks.  Thankfully, there are a few things that will help out financially while I am off on leave.  Because I get paid every 2 weeks, I will still be receiving some paychecks during this time.  Also, my pay for teaching will start about the same time that I actually am able to work again since we are on a set pay schedule for the semester, regardless of the weeks we actually work.  We do have some money in our savings to help cover expenses as well.  However, on top of our main household expenses, we actually will have our son's 8th birthday next week, plus birthdays for my brother-in-law and his girlfriend in the month of February.  This got me thinking about gift-giving and gift-giving budgets.

Throughout the course of our marraige, we have had a wide variety of incomes, which dictates how much we spend on gifts for our children, eachother, and our extended families, as well as a few select friends that we enjoy exchanging gifts with when funds allow.  At times, we have had as little as $5 to spend on gifts for people outside of our immediate families, and while it was very challenging at times, some of the tricks I learned then to stretch that amount into a thoughtful gift, I still use today.  This allows us to get very nice gifts within our price range (which is a bit bigger now), and the money we save on these gifts allows us to have more money to spend when other needs arise.  

Whatever your gift budget may be, I hope that at least a few of my ideas will inspire you to give thoughtful gifts without thinking that you have to spend more money that you can afford.  Following are my best ideas for thoughtful gifts on a limited budget.

Photo gifts always seem to be well received.  At times when our gift budget was particularly small, a framed photo was my go-to gift.  I could pick up a nice frame for $1-3 at the discount store and then pay to have the photo printed.  (If you were really limited, you could even print your own photo at home.)  It could be a photo of you with the recipient, a very flattering photo of the recipient by themselves or with their significant other, or a photo of a special event they were a part of.  You could also use a larger print (such as a 5x7, 8x10 or even larger) and print one of those collage pictures from Walmart or Walgreens for less than $3.  

Another great way to get photo gifts inexpensively is to sign up for many different online printing websites.  Within the past year, I have gotten free personalized cards (some with photos and some without) from Shutterfly, Treat, Ink Garden, and York Photos, often times with free shipping.  These are great anniversary cards for my husband or sometimes just because he is so great.  :)  I would imagine they would also make great grandparent gifts as well.  

Speaking of grandparents, my in-laws look forward to the annual photo calendar we get them for Christmas each year.  What they don't know, is that I wait until Shutterfly or VistaPrint (I do prefer Shutterfly if possible) offers their free calendar coupon code (usually in November) and order it then, only paying around $5 shipping cost.  Now that we are able to spend more on gifts, this is just one of their gifts among others, but at times, this was their only gift and they still request one each year because they liked it so much.  I have also received coupon codes in my email for free photo books or simply $5, $10 or $20 off to use on any purchase, as long as I pay the shipping.

Want a few more ideas of how to use these deals to give gifts?  Recently, from the Walgreens online photo center, I was also able to order free personalized photo address labels with free shipping included.  These are ordered and will make a great gift for my best friend who recently got married.  I also previously mentioned the birthdays coming up.  On Shutterfly, using a $20 off coupon code, I was able to order my brother-in-law's girlfriend a 20x30 photo cling with pictures of them that look like they are in frames and their names on it for $3.99 after using the coupon plus $4.99 shipping.  So, for only $9, I was able to purchase a gift for her that is a very nice personal gift while still spending only a limited amount of money. 

If even $5 seems like a lot of money to spend on a gift, what about a food gift made by you.  Banana bread is fairly inexpensive to make if you have browning bananas that need to be used up, as long as you have basic baking supplies on hand.  To dress it up, take it out of the pan, wrap in plastic wrap and/or foil and put a bow on it.  If you have a few more dollars to spend, why not wrap a pretty-patterned dish towel around it  in a holiday theme or something you know would match their kitchen.  Those can also be bought at the discount store for only a few dollars.  Another idea would be cake mix cookies.  A batch usually makes about 2 dozen cookies.  This would be very inexpensive if you bought the cake mix when it was on sale for $1 and made the frosting yourself (or bought it on sale for a coupon).  You could also use leftover holiday candy bars to make them more like chocolate-chip cookies and then you wouldn't even need the frosting.  If you have a few extra dollars to spend, why not put them on a nice holiday or other serving platter also bought at the discount store or on clearance.

Speaking of clearance shopping, another way to save a lot of money on gifts, is to shop the clearance sections of your favorite stores.  Even better than that, is going to a store that sells items on discount already (like Marshalls or TJ Maxx, or even Target which has some nice items reasonably priced), and then shopping their clearance sections.  By doing this, I have been able to pick up some very nice clothes, accessories, pretty baking dishes, and candle sets for $10 or less.  The recipient receives a very nice item, and has no idea how little you actually spent.  

Another idea is personal care items.  This idea seems to work best for high-school graduation gifts when the students are planning to go off to college, for bachelors, or truly any time you need a last minute gift.  Use coupons to get a bunch of personal care items for very discounted prices.  Place as many of these items as you can afford to give into a gift bag.  While this is a nice gift no matter what, it works even better if you happen to know their preferred brands.  Also, if you know they are going off to college with a shared bathroom, you could also include some sort of bathroom tote to haul the items back and forth to the shower.  A similar idea for newlyweds is to fill a box, bag, or tote (you can often find good deals on these after holidays in seasonal colors) with many of the items they will need to set up a household for the first time, all bought with coupons of course.  This could include toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, napkins, cleaning supplies, or basic first aid supplies (such as bandaids or antibiotic ointment), and basic medicines (Tylenol, Aspirin, Motrin, Tums).  These can all add up when you have to buy them all for the first time in a relatively short period of time and is often well-received.

While there aren't as many ways to save on gifts for our children, I have found a few things that help keep the cost down.  One of the reasons I don't have as many ideas to offer here is that each child is different, and if there is a particular toy or game they really want, and we can afford to give it to them at the time, then we will.  One way that my husband and I are very counter-cultural is that we don't spend a lot of money on Christmas presents and make a big deal about it because we prefer to celebrate the true nature of Christmas.  However, we look at birthdays as a chance to celebrate each individual in our family and how special they are to us, so we try to make it as enjoyable for them as possible.  This is not only in gift-giving, but in how we approach the day, letting them choose the activities, foods, etc.  But anyways, one of the ways we save on gifts for our children is to shop online at Amazon.  Like previously stated, many times there is a particular item the child wants.  Before purchasing the item, I will look for it on Amazon.  I have saved as much as 50% off the list price by using this simple idea.  One other strategy for buying these things cheaper is to shop at Target if they have a current coupon available that gives you a gift card (a rebate of sorts) if you spend over $50.  Kohls offers similar promotions throughout the year, but they do not have the same toy selection as most other stores.  

Lastly, the most important thing you can do to keep your gift-giving expenses to a minimum is to plan ahead.  We have a gift tote in our storage room, which allows me to buy gifts throughout the year and place them in one central location.  If I see an item at any time that would make a good gift for a certain person, I buy it right then.  This saves me money, while also saving me time searching out the right gift when it is time to give them a gift.  This tote also allows me to grab items during after-holiday sales and clearance, such as bath or make-up gift sets and candles, to give throughout the year if a last-minute gift-giving occasion arises.

I was glad to share my best ideas with all of you, but am always looking for new ideas myself.  So, what are your best ideas for thoughtful budget gifts?  I'd love for you to share them.  Also, what do you most struggle with when it comes to gift giving?  Is it trying to stay on budget, trying to find something thoughtful instead of something that seems generic, or something else all together?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Lesson In Being Humble

It is now two days after my surgery.  Thankfully, my initial recovery time in the hospital went well and I was able to be discharged yesterday in the late afternoon.  While I am enjoying being home to recover, it is definitely a different experience when I have to force myself to take it easy.  It is very unlike me to relax, but this is forcing me to learn the art of resting and relaxing.  

While I am taking a break, our friends and family are not.  We have had so many offers for help of all kinds, it can seem overwhelming at times.  We are so blessed to be surrounded by people that are so willing to help, but my husband and I are not used to being on the receiving end of help.  While we are quick to jump in and help others whenever we see a need arise, we have always been pretty self-sufficient and we actually prefer it that way. 

 It is very humbling when you realize that what someone is offering is just what you need, and you agree to the help.  It is so much easier to let our own pride stand in the way sometimes.  When our pastor offered for people within the church to provide some meals for us for the first week or so, neither my husband or I were very agreeable.  Finally, Jeremy answered him with a straight-forward answer.  "We aren't one's to ask for help.  We just figure out a way to do it ourselves.  That's why Jenna bought a lot of easy meals and freezer foods for me to make while she was recovering."  Our pastor, who's wive had recently had surgery also, replied that they did it after her surgery and it made things much easier for him so maybe we could consider even a few meals being delivered.  We finally agreed and realized that the ladies at the church would be more than willing to do this for us, so we shouldn't feel like we are burdening them.

As I sat alone in the hospital yesterday for a bit, I thought back to a speaker I had heard once at a women's conference.  She had to have an emergency operation that left her unable to do much around her home for quite some time.  She spoke about similar feelings towards asking for help, or even accepting the help that was offered to her.  She then continued on with some insight she had.  One day during her devotional time, she was reading a passage about God's blessings in our lives for being obedient to what he is commanding us to do.  She said in those few moments, she realized that those offers for help were other women following God's leading in their lives and she didn't want her pride to stand in the way of them receiving blessings from God for their obedience.  She said that was the day that she finally was open to having other's come into her home and help her, whether it was with meals, cleaning, child-care, or any other random needs that came up.  She was amazed once she opened herself up to allowing others to do things for her, how much easier her recovery time went from that point on.

I, like her, don't want to stand in the way of other's being blessed by God for doing what he is calling them to do.  Therefore, it is time for me to swallow my pride, and start accepting offers for help.  The next time someone calls to ask if there is anything they can do for me, I will try to be honest with anything I need done at that time.  Even if there isn't anything I need at the time, I have to be open to the idea of calling them later if something doesn't come up since they have already shown their willingness to help.

Will you join me in praying for me to learn to be more humble through this experience?  Do you have any personal experiences with this you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear about your own journey to becoming more humble and how you overcame your prideful nature.