Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On the fence

Ah, pinterest, I knew I was bound to get sucked in eventually.

Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily. Well, yeah, it is a bad thing.

Last night, I literally spent all night scrolling and scrolling through pinned ideas: crafts, recipes, home school organization tips, clothes, hair styles, and the list goes on. You name it, I probably read about it. ......And then....... I saw a picture of a piece of wall art made out of a fence board and that's when things really kicked up a notch! We have had a stack of wooden fence boards sitting in the back yard ever since we moved in. They were left there by the previous owners and we have just never been bothered enough by them to move them. So right away I ran out, grabbed a fence board and immediately began tearing apart the cabinets trying to find everything I needed to create my own.

Believe it or not, I had all the necessary supplies to make this cute table top or hanging welcome sign. I'm thinking of whether or not I want to drill a couple of holes in it and add some thick twine to hang it from or to get an easel to put it on. What do you think?

Not too shabby for a late night project after putting the kids to bed. Of course, I had to let the paint dry before I sanded and applied the vinyl so it was not finished until today. Totally worth the wait. And now, I'm no longer "on the fence" about pinterest. No, my friends, I'm hooked!

Thanks for stopping by! Y'all have a great night!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Things bored people do

This may be hard to believe, but i promise it is a true story:

Several days ago, I logged in to my computer to find the results of a google search for "what to do when bored" displayed on the screen. I will admit, a teensy, tinsy bit of my heart was saddened at the thought that I was boring someone in my pack to the point of googling a solution. Wow!

Before I decided to investigate further to find out which one of my babies is bored to the point of internet research, I decided to go ahead and read through a few of the top hits on the search. Some of the articles were quite interesting, but really offered no practical advice. However, one of the blog posts really caught my attention mainly because it was written by a mother who decided recently to homeschool her children so that they would be bored. I promise I could not make this stuff up. Go ahead! Google it! Anyhow, after I read the article I noticed that she had something like 50 comments and I thought, "Who in the world would have something to say about a mom who has chosen to school her own children so that they would be able to experience boredom?" My curiosity got the best of me and I ended up spending quite some time on her blog reading through the comments and one of the comments recommended she check out Kelly Kits for her kids on days they did not welcome the boredom.

Kelly Kits? I had never heard of Kelly Kits. So when I visited their website I was quite impressed with what I saw! So much so, that I was just about to sign myself up for a membership when I came to my senses and thought: "We can't afford this!" Don't get me wrong, I think Kelly has come up with a brilliant, unique idea to market, and if we had the expendable income that we could spend $20 a month so that each child could do an art project I very well might do that. The fact is that we simply cannot.

What I can afford to do is put together a few little kits myself for my children, which is exactly what I did this past Thursday. I gave each of the kids a piece of construction paper that was pre-cut into the shape of a face and several different crafting supplies that we had on hand here at our boring ol' house along with and a stick of glue. Their instructions were to make a face using only the paper they had and the supplies they were given. The only restriction was that they could not use any drawing tools (crayons, pencils, pens, markers, etc.) They strictly had to collage the supplies they had onto the face.

The project went remarkably well! The kids were very creative with their faces, kind with sharing their supplies with one another and thankful when it was finished that they had the opportunity to do something different in class that day.

Bryan even told me "That was really fun Mommy!" which restored me to a sense of ease, because well, who really wants the "Boring Mom of the Year" award?

Here is a picture of each of the kids with their finished faces:

I think they turned out great as did this rubber band ball made my by sweet firstborn. Who, I might add, is no longer bored. :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Debt, Sow, Reap, Repay!

I'm not sure if Solomon is actually referring to debt and repayment, but in Ecclesiastes 11:4, he is definitely referring to reaping what you sow when it comes to putting all your faith in God and taking a risk. Actually the first 6 verses of Chapter 11 refer to risks and rewards, but it was verse 4 that really jumped off the page at me tonight: "He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap." 

 Tonight while I was looking through commentaries on this verse, I stumbled upon a sermon by a Pastor and fellow homeschooler, Keith Krell who described the meaning of this verse as:
This proverb criticizes those who are overly cautious. The farmer who waits for the most opportune moment to plant, when there is no wind to blow away the seed, and to reap, when there is no rain to ruin a ripe harvest, will never do anything but sit around waiting for the right moment. And so, the seed stays in the barn. Solomon exhorts us not to be like this farmer. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, because that will never happen. It is true that the wind and rain might come and destroy the harvest. Today’s work might be ruined and you might have to do it over again tomorrow. But that’s okay. Today’s work might succeed as well as tomorrow’s. And if so, then you will be able to reap the rewards for both. Don’t play it safe—take risks. There is no time better than the present to step out in faith.
And that is exactly where David and I stood 6 weeks ago when I walked away from my full time career where I worked for 10 years and 9 months, with a little over 14 years left of service before I could retire and draw a nice little government pension at the ripe old age of 46. But we were forced with a decision: put the kids back in government-run public institutions and continue to work or give up the job for the opportunity to invest in the lives of my children. Obviously, we chose the latter with the confidence that God would provide. He has provided so many times for us before it would have been foolish not to rely on His provisions in this matter as well. It would have been counter to our testimony of His goodness.

One week ago today, I posted on facebook: "It's time to sink or swim! This is our first week without a paycheck. ::takes in slow, deep breath:: This is truly gonna be a test of faith! :)" That was on a Thursday (Oct. 11). To which, many responded with very encouraging comments of support. We knew we would be getting a small severance check, basically a refund of what I had put into my pension account, taxed and fined for early withdrawal. We knew that without that money not only would paying monthly bills be impossible, but with all that debt still piled on top of us I would be forced to go back to work most likely at a job paying a fraction of the pay at hours that were no where near as flexible. And we also knew that the time it took to process that refund was 6-8 weeks. We had braced ourselves to rough out the storm for a few paychecks. We had a little savings in place and we had planned to make some phone calls to debtors to ask for some grace periods while we waited for that check. We discussed our plans Saturday morning since David was off and we were pretty sure of our next courses of action so we decided to take a break to eat lunch. We had corndogs. Did I mention that we were braced for the storm? lol! 

After lunch I asked David to check the mail because I was really hoping that some curriculum that I had ordered would arrive so that we could start using it on Monday which was to be our first day back to school since fall break. David came back in but no books. I was bummed, but he was thrilled. There in the stack of mail was an envelope from the "Department of Finance" of my former employer. It was one of those envelopes that you can just tell contains a check. He opened it, I winced at what I thought was going to be painful. And then he announced the amount of the check and immediately I started running the numbers in my head. Then talking with David, who had a pencil and was writing numbers on the back of the envelope it came in. We had not planned for what was about to happen. We had planned for ordinary but what God provided was nothing less than extraordinary! We received more than expected, sooner than expected and as a result, we now get to sit down and re-write our entire monthly budget all over again because we weren't planning for this!

This is where that check left us:
Bank of America: Paid in full. Gone. Forever.
Toyota Sienna: 100% ours.
Loan to Credit Union: Nothing but a memory.
Student Loan 3: History.
Student Loan 2: Total of $2,275 remaining

We also tucked aside just enough into a savings account to pay off that loan, but we didn't want to stretch ourselves that thin, and because we think we may be smacked with having to pay more taxes at the end of the year as a result of having received such a HUGE blessing right here at the end of the year. But we're resting in God's sovereignty in that area as well. 

We've been Dave Ramsey-ing our way through this mess since December 2008, when I got so fed up with working 40 hours a week to earn a check that belonged to someone else that I asked for Financial Peace University for Christmas. It has taken us FOUR years just to make our way through the first and second baby step, but we can see the finish line now and it feels AMAZING!

Scripture tells us "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."  (Proverbs 22:7) and as a slave to these lenders I can not emphasize how true this is! But tonight, I felt like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders. God is Good. He alone is worthy to be praised. He's the one that orchestrated all the minor details that brings things like this together! He has done great things for us and we are filled with JOY!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Square Peg, Round Hole: A Classic Tale of the Seemingly Impossible

If you, hypothetically speaking, you were to see me sit down to pay bills recently, you might actually have seen me looking around the room for the hidden camera.  That's because sometimes the insanity of it all just sends my head spinning, or throws me into belly fits of laughter which, oddly enough, has become the norm for me nowadays. Stress over this impossible task is met with inexplainable yet genuine bouts of laughter. A laughter that comes with a peace that all will be ok in the end no matter how impossible the challenge appears on paper.

So, how exactly does that challenge look on paper? Well, because I know that God is still in the business of performing miracles, I will show you exactly what we are dealing with. And, it is my hope, that once every 6 months or so we can revisit this post to see how far we've come and how mighty our God is and Worthy to be praised! Basically I am undressing our finances, leaving nothing off limits, not though, for the sake of gasping and making much of this mess, but more for the sake of setting the stage so that when we are victorious in this area of finances, every single person who reads this blog can also marvel in God's goodness and love.

It took us years to get here, so in order to spare you our life story, we'll just use bullet format to kinda highlight a few items that concern us now that we have decided to cut our income in half. We've been working on knocking out our debt for a while (read: when we also had a second income) so in some areas I might, as a side note, show you how far we've made it on that bill or something. But anyhow, here we go:

  • $8,175 - Bank of America credit card. I cannot remember a time in my adult life when I wasn't paying money on this card. When David and I got married, it was maxed out at $32,800! 
  • $7,097 -  Toyota Sienna.  Original loan was $8.900.
  • $5,661 - Loan to the Credit Union. Originally $7,300. 
  • $9,500 - Student Loan 3. Original value of loan was 12,100.
  • $6,700 - Student Loan 2. I don't even know how much this one started out at, but overall, we owed over $35,000 in student loans in the beginning. (We have thankfully already paid off one of the 3 student loans.)
So, as far as debt goes, this is what we owe (minus the house). When this gets paid off we can call Dave Ramsey and scream "We're debt freeeee!" But in the meantime, we need to come up with a plan to knock our some of this debt while stretching our dollar to cover day-to-day living costs. Again, I am sharing all of this with you because I know God provides, I can tell you story after story of how He has provided, but I thought how much more thrilling would it be for my readers to see God's handiwork for themselves. And believe me, for us to make it on our new income, we're relying heavily on our faith in Him to get us through the tough times.


OCT. 15, 2012 UPDATE: This post was originally typed up on October 10th, 2012 but was never posted because my husband wasn't sure he was okay with my financially "undressing" ourselves on the world wide web, so it has sat untouched since then. However, I wanted to go ahead and post the original version of the post (above) because before I could even really psych myself up to post our financial nastiness for all the world to see, GOD PROVIDED IN AN AMAZING WAY! Something I will share in another post. We are still working out the particulars on a few things so I can't really share all the details just yet, but trust me, this is worth coming back to read about!

Just another manic Monday

Today was our first day back to school after a 12 day temporary hiatus that we'll call "Fall Break" for the sake of keeping things simple. Today, however, was anything but simple. I feel like we had 12 days worth of work to catch up on! Really, we did not. We are completely on schedule and rockin' this school year. I suppose with 3 kids in 3 different grades and a pre-schooler who repeats the phrase "Mommy, what can I do?" every half hour, there's just gonna be days where the schoolwork just seems to go on, and on, and on. And on. We threw in the towel at 5 tonight without finishing. We lacked Science and Geography for the boys, but I suppose we can catch up on those subjects tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, have I ever mentioned that Tuesdays are my craziest day when it comes to school. Mondays are really my only "normal" days. But aside from drama class on Thursdays, basketball on Fridays, and wrapping things up in time to get everyone ready for church on time on Wednesday nights, Tuesdays are really probably my most crazy of days. Tuesdays are ballet day for the girls and due to our extreme perfection in timing the births of our children, none of our children are ever in the same age group when it comes to extra curricular activities which means that on Tuesdays, I get to sit with little quiver full for two hours while each of the girls take their turn in their hour-long ballet class. It is so worth it, though, because the girls absolutely love it. 

The tough part about Tuesdays is that not only do we lose 2 hours of instruction time, we also are unable to have our morning devotion and prayer time like we do every other school day because we have to begin getting ready much earlier than usual which throws our whole routine off. We do get to devotion and prayer, it is just normally in the afternoon, after ballet but before lunch, which sometimes causes the kids' attention span to shorten and the devotion time to feel rushed. Ah, Tuesdays. I could go on. But alas! I think I have found the answer to my Tuesday troubles. Enter my Pinterest inspired "Tuesday Folders":

Now, all of my school-aged babies have their own "Tuesday Folders" that they can take with them when we head out to ballet. They can see (in fun colors) all of their assignments laid out in their own folders and can work on their assignments (that do not require teacher instruction) at their own pace. Then, as they complete each assignment, they can move their post-it note for that assignment over to the "completed" column. I am hoping that this will 1 - encourage them to do their assignments in a timely manner by giving them a sense of accomplishment each time they are able to take one assignment and move it out of the way and 2 - make a more wise use of my time as I will be better able to give guidance to each student on their assignments rather than spending most of my time with a line of children waiting on me to get done teaching one child while the others are waiting to see what they need to do next.  

Then comes the really cool part. At the end of the day, when we are done with school, I will simply move the post it flags from their "completed" column into my planner so that I don't have to write in what we accomplished that day, because, well, it's already been done! I think I'm gonna liiiike it!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go finish cooking dinner. At 10:15pm. And to think,  5 minutes ago I referred to Mondays as my only truly "normal" day. What was I thinking! :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Post By Dylan

This post is about why I like home school better than regular school.....

                                                         Home School:
                          1. You get to wear p.j.s in the day....
                          2. We get 12 days off during fall break....
                          3. You get to wake up when ever you want....
                          4. You get done earlier with school....

                                                         Public School:
                           1. You have to wake up at 7:00....
                           2. You only get 5 days of in fall break....
                           3. You have to wake up at a certain time in the morning....
                           4. You have to stay in school for 8 hours...

I am thankful that my mom quit work to home school us....
I am thankful because we get to go outside and play at 5:00 and we get to play till dark and when you went to public school you could not go outside until you were done with your homework....

Friday, October 5, 2012

Life Lessons: Serving Others Over Self

If there's one thing I want to teach my children it's that there are always opportunities to serve others and that as Christians we need to have a heart of service. Now that I am at home with the kids during the day, it is much easier to find and pursue some of these opportunities to serve others. Today, for example, the kids and I had the opportunity to "tithe" some of our time to the church. We took a portion of the time that God has so graciously given us together and gave it back to Him in the form of service to His children. We spent an hour today at the church stuffing bulletins for this upcoming Sunday with the sermon note outlines and other leaflet inserts. While it may not seem like much, the kids and I took the opportunity to talk about how the Kingdom of God is most efficient not by having a few people doing lots of major things, but when everyone participates even if the task seems minor and unnoticed.
The kids and I stuffed 600 bulletins with inserts today and while the kids did have a few moments where they would have rather been doing something else, the overall experience was one that I know I will treasure forever in my heart. My only regret is that I did not sooner realize the blessings I was missing out on with my children while I was desperately chasing the American Dream, building a future of financial security for myself, and worshipping the idol of prosperity. Those are not the values I want to teach my children. 
I want my children and others to see that the most important thing I desire in life is not having a cushy retirement, a nice 401K, a vacation home, or retiring at the age of 46. I want the world to see that the joy of living a life for Christ and serving others is far more fulfilling and I want my children to learn that even without money in the bank, we have a lot to give and we should be able to cheerfully give what we do have whether it is time, money or talents. Today marked the beginning of a new journey for us as we aim to stay focused on being about the Lord's work. Without a doubt, it is through the commitment of others to that work that the Holy Spirit got my attention. I can only hope that the Holy Spirit would use me to reach other souls, my children included, for His glory!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The post where I tell you about my dirty laundry.

"A penny saved is a penny earned." Oh, how true this rings when you don't have a job. I have found that one of the easiest ways to make money when you don't have a steady source of income, is to simply spend less. Aside from the more obvious ways to streamline the budget like cutting cable and cell phones, another way we have started to spend less is by making our own laundry detergent.

Finding laundry detergent recipes online is as easy as a google search, but I will share with you the recipe we use, mainly because the girls helped me make it today and they are adorably cute, so I look for any opportunity to snap a few pics of them.

Anyhow, the great thing about homemade laundry detergent is that you can add and take away ingredients to your suit family's needs. You can experiment until you find the perfect "recipe" whether you need a little extra stain-fighting power, more fragrance, less scent. Homemade laundry detergent is not an exact science, there really is no "wrong" way to do it.

Initially, our main reason to try making our own detergent was to save a little extra money. And while it does indeed save us quite a bit, I am now determined to use only homemade detergent because it just seems like a fresher clean to me. I love the way my clothes smell when they come out of the dryer!

Basically we started with this recipe and adjusted the amounts to meet our washing preferences. In today's batch we used:

  • 1 large box of Borax (4lbs 12oz)
  • 1 large box of Super Washing Soda (4lb box)
  • 1 large box of Baking Soda (we buy this in bulk because we have a pool, so we use the same amount of Baking Soda as Washing Soda and we get it at a bulk discount rate making our total per batch less than the actual total I quite at the end of this post).
  • Oxy-clean as needed to clean tough stains (we usually use an entire 36 oz container of the store-brand that is available, I just happened to have a coupon on the real stuff this time).
  • Purex lavender scented crystals (I have only one container of these that I use each time I make the detergent, so the cost for this at the bottom of the post includes what I initially paid for them months ago when we made our first batch. I spent nothing out of pocket to scent today's recipe).
  • 2 bars of Fels Naptha soap. (I used 3 this time since I had a smaller container of Oxi-clean than I normally use. See what I mean about it not being an exact science?)

Choose a container large enough to hold all of the ingredients and pour everything together.
 Use a cheese grater to finely grate the Fels Naptha soap.
You can grate the soap as coarse or as finely as you want. It all melts in the washing machine, it just melts a little faster if it's grated more finely. I would grate it more finely if I did a lot of loads in cold water. But when it comes to doing laundry, I wash everything on warm and I don't waste any time in separating out loads, so this really isn't an issue for me. :P
Using your hands, mix all the ingredients until you can see that the soap is mixed throughout.
Store your finished product in a container until ready for use. To make my "batch" easier to handle, I package it into several different airtight containers so that the one I am using isn't as heavy to get into and out of the cabinets above the washer. Then, just for fun (kinda like setting the odometer after you fill your car up with gas), I put a piece of masking tape on each container with the date, so that I know how long it lasts.
The great thing about this detergent is that since there is no extra "filler" like in store-bought brands, we only use about 1-1.5 tablespoons per load. That's right, tablespoons! The last time we made detergent was nearly 4 months ago on June 12, 2012 and we have still not used everything we made. I would estimate that I wash at least 3 loads of laundry a day between bed sheets, towels, and laundry. All ingredients listed can be purchased from Wal-mart, without coupons and before taxes for only $22.35! So for about $23 we have been able to wash well over 300 loads of laundry and we still have not run out. Add in a few coupons and you seriously cannot get quality laundry detergent any cheaper!

Share your money-saving tips with me! Aside from streamlining the obvious monthly bills, what kinds of things do you do to save money?