{Site currently under construction. Grace for my mess?}

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What I Could Have Missed


I'm still in my clothes.  Pajamas from yesterday, now stained with iodine and blood from the nurse's first IV attempt, when my vein blew out and stoic me welled with tears and my arm burned hot and blood rolled down.  Three nights without sleep, not even a minute, and the lights and blips and beeps of the hospital room are exhausting while I'm trying to suck thick air into these dysfunctional lungs.  

It's the same rigmarole as always -- I get sick, then I dehydrate, then my systems begin to fail, but today I'm home again and my jaw isn't locked any longer and I am full of intravenous saline solution to give my weary blood a boost. 



But the coughs keep coming violent, and my head is rattled and my throat is raw and my body hasn't made it out of bed yet.  Between doses, a break in the codeine-haze, so I pad slippered feet to the kitchen and remember what happens to homes when moms are paralyzed to bed.  Twenty-four hours without sweeping or straightening, rinsing or fussing, and this habitat is worse for the wear.  This is what life looks like when Mom goes out of order.







But I am restless in this bed and I will cough prone or I will cough prostrate so I put my weary self in the shower and rinse off the yuck.  I putz and straighten and put on purple gloves at the sink because the house smells rotten now and I marvel at how quickly all my daily work gets undone.  I dig beneath the weariness and find the joy here, while suds multiply in a stinking sink, and recall a time when the work of this home-life didn't feel like much of a gift.  When dishes and diapers and puddles on the floor felt oppressive, when I longed for success of a different variety, when childhood friends would look sideways at the grown-up and domesticated me, and they'd click their tongues and say, sadly, "You could have been so much." 


 But today, I smile, because I am out of bed despite the war my lungs are waging, and I have traded pearls and cocktail parties, briefcases and penthouses for purple dish gloves and sticky faces and I got the better end of things.  And when I glimpse, briefly, into the me they think I could have been, I don't recognize her at all and there is nothing bigger that I could have done than look into these creamy faces with tangled hairdos, click-clacking away at the work that provides with a child on my knee, sneaking a peak every so often at the man on the other side of the bed but on the same side of this life.  I can't imagine living without this daily chaos, this happy bedlam with its do-it-all-again-tomorrow comforts and too many Band-Aids and erupting fits of laughter because without them, with my pearls and my parties… 

I could have missed so much. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Choosing Not to Love

I was at the drug store yesterday, in line for a prescription, and a woman in a purple jacket melted down…. just… went to pieces right there in the prescription line.
“I can’t DO THIS ANYMORE!”
She screamed at the stunned cashier, who blinked quickly while everyone stood there staring, watching Purple Jacket Lady hurtle her backpack into a shelf full of laxatives and antihistamines.
“I can’t wait for OVER AN HOUR HERE ANYMORE!”
She screamed guttural and clawed at her blotching cheeks.
“I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS! I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS WITH YOU PEOPLE ANYMORE!”
...Read the rest here.

Today? I'm honored to be featured over at BibleDude.net.  Join me there, will you?

(Also, linking this to Walk with Him Wednesdays at Ann's place, on the topic:  The Practice of Love.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Year of No

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I'm a striver.

You know, a climb-the-ladder, always reaching, trying, working, moving, going, onwards-and-upwards sort of girl.

{This is, I'm sorry to admit, mostly motivated by guilt or a feeling of not-good-enough-ness.)

It's always gotta be more.  Not to have more but to be more, to be better, nicer, prettier, sweeter, more attentive and organized and disciplined and perfect.

And in my traipses around blog-land, I see that many of you have deemed 2012 a year of yes.  A year to grow… to "feel the fear and do it anyway"… a year to take the reins and face your life headlong as you lean into the wind.  This is beautiful.  And for a minute, I nodded in agreement.  Yes, yes!  I want a year of yes!  I want to embrace my fears and get ahead.  I want to be better, be more, be everything to everyone all the time!  YES!  

And therein lies the problem.

I am yes.  All the time.  I am always embracing and accepting and reaching out to take the next rung in the ladder, convinced my efforts should be stepped up, just a little… bit… more.

And so.

I'm declaring a year of no.

A year of learning to be instead of to go.  Of sitting down and watching the fog roll in just to marvel at the beauty, just to live right where I am for awhile.  To experience my year of home for all the precious moments I usually miss.  Because it isn't turning out to be what I thought -- this home thing.  I figured I could ride the theme for all its decorating glory, an excuse to fluff and primp and hang and paint… a satisfaction for what my home could become.

Instead, I am finding the joy in mediocre.  I am finding that sometimes, just okay is enough.  And that when friends fly far and long to visit and I lament that my house isn't done, they couldn't care less because they came to see me and they see me in what I've managed to get on my walls, and they see me in the creative touches I've made around my home.  And while I thought I wanted a home whose corners were posted around the Internet, I've learned that I only want a home whose corners are piled with the makings of a life that is all and only gift, a place where we are us and life is love and the messy and the graceful and the ugly and the beautiful all blend together to resemble a life that fits.

I've lived here a month now and I only just discovered that there is a creek at the foot of our property.  It's a creek you cannot see, but only when I get silent, when I sit on the back deck and listen, I hear the waters rushing through the hills and valleys of this land.  I've discovered, by slowing down and paying attention, that there is a dirt trail on a hillside in the distance, and people ride horses up and down this road on a regular basis.  There's an osprey nest in the tallest tree and a white speckled horse that runs circles on the ranch-land below.  We have a miniature waterfall, only 6 inches high, a fairy ravine made of rocks and sticks in the side yard, and the deer sneak in our gate at night to graze.  There is so much quiet beauty here, and I wonder what else I've been too busy to miss.


Numberless still, I count with Ann, the gifts:

- A birthday surprise, friends from afar.
- Loads of familiar, long-missed laughter that feels like a different kind of home.
- My children forming bonds with people that matter to me.
- Snowmobiling on Sunday, a different kind of worship in a different kind of sanctuary.
- A confirmation of my calling as a mom and wife -- a realization that I am exactly where I should be in this big wide life.
- Time, and how it slows deliberate.
- Patterned paper, in high supply and versatility.
- Lunch with mom yesterday.
- Grace to change our minds.
- Surprise toddler kisses.
- A heart stirring, a question on my mind - our family incomplete?
- Quiet love, reaching out in the night with tangled arms and hearts.
- Water… clean and drinkable and so easily taken for granted.
- Mail delivery.
- Soft pillows; deep sleep.
- Strawberries in January -- summer sweetness in the dead of winter. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Five Minute Friday: Vivid. -or- When the Cat Gets Out of the Bag

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Five minute Friday.  Today's prompt?  VIVID.


{GO}.

Husband has a surprise.  A big one.

But he delights in my delight and is no good at keeping things from me.  He wrestles with the secret; his mouth corners turn up in excitement.

A friend spills a few words, innocent, and oops… the cat is out of the bag.

I know that within hours, I'll throw my arms around my dear, dear friend, taking to the skies to make this a memorable birthday.  I try and count… how long has it been?  How many years? 

I can't remember.

But I think of him and hear his laughter, our laughter, and it feels as if he's in my living room already.  I see our faces, lit in hysterics and the kind of joy that knew me before I even knew myself.  I giggle at my son's antics and I know that soon he'll be laughing along with me, and the sounds of my friend's laughter echoes in my ears -- so very vividly.  His eyes dance vivid, too, and my kids throw arms around their "uncle", because we are the kind of friends that morph into family and he might as well be a brother, an uncle, a permanent fixture in the story of my life.  He loves my family because I love them, and he adores the children and oh, man, he hasn't even met my youngest, yet, the one I secretly carried within me the last time I saw my friend.  I can't wait to hear that laugh again.  Excitement tears through me even while I wonder how badly I'll miss the others -- the rest of the group that made up our little crew of friends, those hearts that leaned on one another while we inched into adulthood, while we helped each other become.

{STOP}

Linking to: 



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In which I curse at God and call you a hopeless murderer.


Disclaimer:  This post is not for the faint of heart.  Not everyone will agree with me, here, and that's totally okay.  But the post below contains some raw and honest language, so don't say I didn't warn you. 

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Sometimes, my faith confuses me.

God only knows what the people around me think of my beliefs, at least those who know me well enough to know that I sing worship songs to Jesus with my hands lifted and also say 'shit' with some regularity.

And if we're being honest here, it feels a little strange sometimes to call myself that -- a Christian.  I mean, I am one, in the raw and realest way you can be.  My heart is wholely and solely in the arms of Jesus, but the word Christian can be so… icky… sometimes, and it makes me think of Jesus as a slimy Pat Robertson with a southern accent, banging His Holy Gavel on a condemning platform, calling out "sinner!," "sinner!" and glaring down his nose at gays and alcoholics and potty-mouthed soccer moms while he listens to Focus on the Family on K-LOVE and denounces public school children for their wayward education. 

But that really isn't Jesus at all… not even a little bit, and I still haven't figured out how to reconcile my faith with the weirdness of the body of believers and all our little idiosyncrasies and why we can't just get on with it and agree that we're all royally screwed up and in need of heaps and loads of grace and love on each other and cry together and sometimes look at one another and then up to the heavens and say, "Well shit, God, what am I supposed to do now?"  (Because we're all saying it, really, in one way or another, and if you aren't, then you might want to stop reading because I'm probably no one you want sitting at your lunch table, anyway).

It's harder, too, in ministry, because when you wear that badge, that label, you're supposed to be a representative of Jesus all of a sudden, like you weren't already just by acknowledging his deism in the first place.  But when you're in ministry, this weird little game happens in your head where these rules lay down upon you and, if you're me, you suddenly look around and realize that none of this really looks anything like the God you know, and the ministry lifestyle starts to look like a competition for some kind of consecrated brownie points and you wonder what you're really after anyway, and the whole thing starts feeling like a spiritual ride on the carnival ride The Scrambler, only with more prayer and (a little) less vomit.

It may have been why I had to leave Texas… because I couldn't bring myself to get over the layers and layers of extra crap that somehow gets added to faith when it begins to cross into religion, and I couldn't keep my big mouth shut when pointless religious rules overshadowed the ministry we were trying to accomplish (which was supposed to be love, pure and simple, but started to become a war over proper church clothes and acceptable reading material and who got the award for memorizing more Bible verses).

And while we're on the subject, let me just bow right out of that competition now.  I'm not a better Christian than anyone.  I might just be the worst, even -- the most wretched and helpless and confused of us all.  And wrong or right, I can sleep better at night when I'm just keeping it real here.  I connect with the real nitty-gritty of my faith only when I'm honest about that, when I sit in my mess and say I'm a mess, and opt out of the game of having arrived in the faith and think I've got any right to tell anyone else how they're supposed do it.  My feet are dirty, too, and the only way Christ can redeem me is if I haven't already achieved holiness for myself (but I try... ohhhh, do I try like a damn fool). 

I am learning that being a bad Christian is better than being a good one.  Because if you think you're a good Christian… well, that's a problem already.

And I'm not saying we all should throw up our whiskey bottles in the air while we rip up the Ten Commandments and crank up our gangsta rap, but I just wish us, as a church, would get off it already with the big act we're putting on -- the one where we think representing Jesus means pretending we know how to be Him on this fallen earth and we see each other's petty efforts at goodness and give one another a hand, because love might be the only good thing we really can do in this world, but none of us will really ever understand the depth or height or breadth of love as long as we're breathing. 

I'll take a mud-streaked, tear-stained Bible full of parts I don't understand over the leather-bonded edition that says only what I want it to any day of the week.  The real Christian life, the one Christ led, is full of prostitutes and cuss words and dirt and shame and poverty, and the only way I know how to connect to any of it is to see my shiny white Sketchers for the dirt that's on their soles… to wrestle with the disgusting reality  I don't want to believe but I can't make go away -- that I am as wretched and sinful as a murderous pedophile, that he is as good as me, that our feet are equally dirty, and that grace… extravagant grace… covers this whole hot mess, and that until we've really grasped that and let it change everything about us, we don't really understand faith at all, and no amount of holy water can clean our dirty soles and dirty souls.  It's all grace, friends, and the day I get to be a good Christian... the day I'm holy enough to bow down and wash my own feet, is the day I'm really in trouble on this journey of faith.  

So, you wash my feet and I'll wash yours and we'll ruminate on this love thing together while we try and fail and laugh at ourselves and finally admit that we can never save the world... we can't even save ourselves.

----
Linking to:

Monday, January 16, 2012

What the Calendar Remembers




Snow has dusted our little cottage on the hill and, though I am (sorry) not a big fan of snow, it sure looks cozy around here today.  And the beauty pulls me from my funk a bit, even if I'm tender-hearted, tired, and a little full-headed today.



While MLK day is historically of course a very important, impactful day to observe, in my heart's own little personal world, it tends to be a day of tragic anniversaries.  Californians may recall it as Northridge Quake day, an ominous one for my family because of our proximity to the epicenter that day, decades ago… the way our hotel buckled and shook while walls imploded and concrete bridges collapsed within earshot and we sat, only children, barefoot in a dark broken parking lot with hands over ears from the car alarms blasting, watching gas tanks firework in the distance and drinking beer from dented cans to combat the shock because it’s the only thing we knew to do when the world was crumbling beneath our feet.  But this earthquake-shy girl is tender, too, today remembering beautiful, full-of-life young friends lost to the world on this day, a few years apart, and other small slivers from MLK-Mondays past that have wedged their way inside.  I am sobered to remember how tragedy strikes hard on promise-filled days and always without warning, and deliberate to remember, too, that it's all redemptive, even the hardest parts, and that the day reflects, too, a man's Dream of a better world. 


So the sky is expansive this Monday for the snow and the way a calendar reminds.  But I aim to see today more for what it is than what it represents in a head that catalogues joys and sorrows and assigns arbitrary meaning when I am too small, really, to see what He sees here, by each thread that weaves together the whole big story, snowflake by snowflake. 



 My thoughts have lingered on small sorrows from days past and I breathe deep and break through it, snapped back to the present like the close of a flashback scene in a television drama.  Today there are no death-tears, no broken windows or broken hearts or earthquake rubble.  There is only love, and snow, and a house in the process of becoming home.



Under blankets, we nurse coughs and sniffles around the cottage, and kids in jammies look wistfully toward the thinning snow, but mom shakes her head and serves up cherry-flavored syrup that protects little throats and twists little faces into grimace.  This is what mothers do, even when my heart would rather soak up fits of snowball-fight laughter than read temperature gauges and dosing instructions, today, but love is love all the same and I'll take it as a fevered head upon my lap when that's the way it comes.


 Friday will be housewarming around here, and I will focus on what needs doing now until then, when friends and laughter fill this place because, after all, no amount of paint or picture-hanging can make a home, can it?  Only the footprints of loved ones in the carpet and the love that leaks out of mouths and brings the odd combination of plaster and wood and food and joy and fabric and words and tears and memories together to make a place home.  




First, my gratitudes today…. with Ann… and always compiling, stockpiling, yet still without numbers, since I stick them always in journals and lists, phone apps and scrap papers and have lost the composure to keep a system of numbering in place.  It is possible to count without numbers, I've discovered, and so, I do:

- Gentle snow that is tangible peace, falling like manna.
- Cough syrup, and a hacky toddler willing to drink it.
- Kids visiting grandma's yesterday, some quiet to work on my creative space.
- Kids back home now, where they belong.
- My desk space set-up, inviting and so "me".
- My laundry room to crafty space conversion, progress made.
- A husband who encourages me, some days, to leave the dishes in the sink because he sees me for who I am and not only what I do.
- The quiet cacophony of the life I wished for and got in abundant measure.
- My children that love and even like each other, most days.
- A few unexpected work transitions that have me enjoying my day job much more lately.
- A compassionate boss.
- Winter sniffles that slow our pace a bit.
- Our Compassion International sponsored child, Muhayimpundu, in Rwanda.
- My husband's old land cruiser project, a creative outlet for the man who puts us all before himself so often.
- My children having health insurance and a doctor we trust.
- Words With Friends - a tiny bit of intellectual stimulation in the midst of my brain-mush days.
- Being asked to collaborate on a totally foreign-to-me writing project that inspires creativity in new ways.
- My daughter's love and compassionate heart for cultures different than her own.
- A working vacuum cleaner.


And, as if this post isn't long enough, and because I value the accountability I find here (since it lights a fire under my butt to get things moving):  A list of things I'd like to accomplish around the house pre-housewarming/late birthday party (items in italics are things I need Mr. Smitten's help with): 

January House to Home Project List
- Whole house clean - kitchen, bedrooms, living areas, bathrooms
- Break down and repurpose or burn remaining moving boxes
- Finish setting up desk area.
- Make vinyl quote for desk/office wall
- Make/hang misc. wall art for desk/office wall.
- Hang curtains behind bed.
- Buy curtain rod and hang curtains across slider in master bedroom
- Buy curtain rod for master bathroom and hang curtains
- Hang 'love' banner in master bedroom
- Bring white chair in from garage for master bathroom dressing area
- Bring extension cords into master bath for heater
- Hang towels that match master bath (label)
- Empty hall closet, set up mail/bill pay/filing area inside
- Move desk from boys' room into master; move mirror from garage onto desk in master
- Clean/unpack entry way boxes/misc., mop tile floor
- Empty black hutch
- Bring vintage stove into dining room; move black computer hutch into boys' room.
- Bring big filing cabinet into garage
- Bring smaller filing cabinet inside and swap out files from big one
- Clean K's room and consolidate stuffed animals/toys, take box to garage or donate.
- Bring remaining books in from garage, put away in hallway bookshelves.
- Find/replace missing knobs on coffee table drawers.
- Take legs (and doors?) off sideboard and make entry table by back door
- Hang hooks over sideboard for coat hanger
- Bring in antique radio
- Hang some wall d├ęcor in master bathroom.
- Unpack boxes in hallway
- Hang hallway photo gallery
- Empty laundry room, bring black dresser and cubby bookshelf inside
- Decorate laundry space
- Set-up and organize craft supplies/creative space
- Wrap cardboard boxes & label them for decorative craft storage
- Clean living room and entry hall overflow piles

May love find you today, dear friend.  Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thirty two.


I am an intensely right-brained person.

Sometimes more intensely than others.

And though I'm probably more organized and methodical about my life now than I ever have been, I'm also aware that it's a coping mechanism I've learned over time -- how to corral the chaos into labeled bins and systems -- but not, ever, because its second-nature for me to do so.

I turned 32 today, and while writing something was on the top of things I wanted to do on my birthday (translation: the one day a year where I can guiltlessly do whatever I want), I didn't have anything pressing I wanted to say.  Instead, I thought I'd make a list of 32 things I wanted to do this year.




Yeah.  Epic fail on that one, I'm afraid.

This proved more difficult than it sounds, because as the list unfolded, my conscience ran off with my imagination, and I found it hard to reign myself in from creating a to-do list of responsibilities like "get that box of papers filed" and "clean out the garage."

Can I confess to you that filing papers and cleaning the garage are not actually things I ever want to do?  (Who does though, really?)  And thus began a war with myself about what the point of the 32 Things list was really about.

I scrapped the "should do" list and created a "want to do" list, but that wasn't working out so hot either, because a lot of my "want to's" are "shoulds" that I only "want to" wipe out for the sake of clearing space in my brain.  My "plan to" list didn't fare well either.  And I realize now, how badly I have to clear myself of the straight-jacket of "supposed to" so that I can experience the real meat of this life -- things that never appear on anyone's to-do list -- things like "love extravagantly", "laugh hysterically", "listen deliberately", and "internalize the sheer beauty of God's grace until it changes everything."


Aren't those the things that matter?





Ultimately, I discovered something about myself that I probably knew to be true but connected with in a very real way today.

Nearly everything that drives passion inside me, that makes my heart skip a beat and feels extravagant and beautiful and refreshing to me, when I let myself go there, is about creativity.  I am closest to God when I am communing with the creative process, when I am delighting in that which makes my heart soar.  

Of course, I've always considered myself a creative person, but trying to catalog the things I crave, those I cherish close to my heart, the things that would really nourish my spirit as an individual and a woman were creative actions - setting up a craft space, taking long stretches of time to write, connecting with nature, painting, decorating, baking, and finding encouragement in those activities.  I've been daydreaming, lately, of working toward a goal of making a living by creative endeavor, something I've been on track for many times in the past but have always sabotaged my efforts for fear of failure, for doubt in my own abilities and talents. I'd love to reach the goal in a few years... and more planning and prayer to come in that regard.

See?  My right-y brain is taking me off track already.

The point?  I think I'd like 32 to be an age of creative nourishment for me.  I think this works nicely for my 2012 word for the year ("HOME"), too, since home, to me, is mostly about a place where one can be most safely and comfortably their authentic self... where I grow and spend the hours trying to squeeze as much living as possible out of this one life.

I'm pretty excited about a few recent developments that will make creative time fit easier into my full-time-work-at-home-mom-of-3 lifestyle.  One is that I was able to re-work my day job hours to arrange another day off during the week, giving me 3 "weekend" days off work each week..  This is huge to my stifled brain, not to mention my tired (of sitting in an office chair all day) butt.  Another is that my mom is gifting me 24 kid-free hours to enjoy as I please this upcoming weekend.  Hubby works the night they'll be gone, so I'm deeming this my Create-Space Bonanza.  Everyone's heard of the sentiment that every woman should have a room of her own, and I'm inclined to agree.  Being that we don't have an abundance of bedrooms in this house, I'm happy to expand the purpose of our laundry room and looking forward to the overhaul.  Stay tuned for this decorative kickoff to my year of creative nourishment. (And trust me, 24 hours isn't nearly enough to contain the amount of crafty/sewing/artistic crap supplies that this tiny space will house.  I do feel a challenge coming on.  Squeeee!!)

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Anyway, there's a bottle of Cupcake Prosecco chilling in the fridge just waiting to be guiltlessly enjoyed tonight.  Happy birthday to me!  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I'm a MoneySavingMom. Are you?


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You can't toss a squirrel over a tree these days without hearing someone talking about extreme couponing.

Wait, what?

Anyway.  As I was saying… these days, we're all interested in saving money.  More than that, lately, I've realized that we have such an abundance of stuff and our share of financial stressors, and I've really been taking drastic steps to reduce the financial impact our lifestyle has.  Small changes have helped. 

I've never been a coupon clipper, but naturally, with all the buzz about it these days, I've watched from afar.  A few months ago, MoneySavingMom.com shared a phenomenal Target coupon deal that I jumped on, resulting in my getting 4 pairs of my favorite jeans (Excessive?  Maybe.  Maybe not.) AND two t-shirts and a sweater shipped to my door for around $6.  Total.  Yeah.  I was so excited about that, I told anyone who would listen and started to reconsider my position on the whole couponing thing.

A few weeks later, I was blessed to attend the Relevant Conference in Pennsylvania, where I gleaned some in-person wisdom from Crystal Paine, the brains behind MoneySavingMom.com, and received a sneak preview copy of her soon-to-be-released book:  The Money Saving Mom's Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year


This book is chock-full of savings ideas, couponing wisdom, budgeting techniques, and EASY ways to save money and improve your financial health without having to become a financial advisor.  I can't stress enough, my favorite part of this text was Crystal's easy, practical advise for real families with real budgets.  So many financial books I've read assume everyone has stockpiles of assets, thousands of dollars in savings, and a desire to live successfully on credit.  This book met me where I am (a bit taxed financially,  living paycheck to paycheck, wanting to eliminate our reliance on credit), and it gave me some simple steps that left me feeling hopeful and not discouraged or defeated.

Another amazing thing?  All proceeds from the book are going to Compassion International, and well… I love to support the work of Compassion however/whenever I can.  The book releases on Jan 9, but you can preorder it now through the link above.  Highly recommended!  And, while you're at it, if you don't already follow MoneySavingMom.com… what the heck are you waiting for?!

I'm happy to say that the last month has been a very encouraging month financially, and this book certainly had a hand in that.  I even bought about 75% of my groceries with coupons last week!  Although I'm not sure I'll be turning into a coupon queen anytime soon, I have started some financial habits I'm sure to stick with.

1)      Meal Planning: The biggest bang for my grocery buck (and, let's face it, with 5 people in the house, lots of our budget is wasted spent on groceries each month), is meal planning.  I purchased Household Menu and Coupon Organizer, The and used it to help plan affordable meals for the month.  This allowed me to plan for some new recipes I'd found on Pinterest and wanted to try (success!) AND make sure my grocery budget wasn't going in the trash on fridge-cleaning day, nawutImean?  I discovered we could eat much more affordably than I'd thought because I was so used to going to the store and buying a variety of items that we'd combine into meals later.  Being more deliberate, a few hours a month, means our meals are less stressful and best of all, it saved me HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS this month.  We should come in at the end of the month for less than $300 for all groceries (including toiletries, etc.) for a family of 5.  Not shabby, and we're not eating like paupers either.
2)      Meal Remix:  Re-thinking our typical "meal" and ingredients made menu planning easier and more affordable.  Often, I'll use a bit less meat in a dish than usual and add some extra veggies… healthier and makes our meat budget stretch.  Also, finding other sources of protein besides eating meat with every meal.  Did you know corn, beans, and rice are a complete protein when eaten together?  Now you do.  Other affordable alternatives:  Baked potato bar, pasta with fresh tomatoes, basil and parmesan, taco salad, etc.  Plan a leftover night once a week to make the most of the hard work you've already done.
3)      Coupon stacking:  Since I shop at a discount grocery store (Food4Less) and buy generic, my usual purchases are already at bottom-line prices.  (In fact, my husband works for a mainstream grocery store where we get 15% off most items, but we typically pay such low prices at the discount chain that it doesn't make sense to shop where he works, even with the discount).  During my couponing experiment, I discovered that I could still buy generic at the discount store for less than the value of the coupon I had for a name brand product.  This happened so frequently that it took the wind out of my coupon sails, but I did score a few tremendous deals by "stacking" coupons – combining a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon to maximize the discount.  Our Safeway had a huge buy one, get one free sale the week I went shopping, and though I normally don't shop there, it was worth an extra trip to stock up on meat and snack foods at B1G1 prices.  Adding coupons to the deal meant pennies on the dollar, and I walked out with a few items for nothing or next to nothing.  Paying attention to inserts and big store sales may do just as much for your grocery budget at clipping coupons, so keep that in mind if you don't want to go through the hassle.  
4)      Money talks:  Once upon a time, we had a cash-only budget and the results were incredible.  Over time, the lure of the swipe-with-ease debit card suckered us back in, and along with it, lots of our hard earned moolah seemed to disintegrate into the atmosphere.  Now, we're transitioning back to cash-only and loving the concrete reality of not being able to overspend in certain areas.  IMO, the number one way to keep your budget on track is to use cash and tell your money where to go.

Ultimately, I don't think you'll be seeing me on an episode of Extreme Couponers anytime soon.  But you might be seeing me around here a lot more often, with the time and stress I'm saving with the few financial changes we've made (with very little effort, I might add). 

It's good.  Really good.

Don't forget to order your copy of The Money Saving Mom's Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year today!  (If you tweet/blog/Facebook about it, you can even pick up a free copy of Crystal Paine's new e-Book, 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life while you're at it.  See MoneySavingMom.com for details).  How's that for killing two birds with one stone?

Frugally yours,

WhimsySmitten

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sticky Sleeves, A Timely Word

It is blue dawn now, and a layer of ice glistens from atop the deck railing, wispy fog streaking the landscape like pulled-apart cotton balls.  Quiet settles out there and in here, and I lay my arm in a drizzle of pancake syrup and pronounce it good.  After all, this is home.

So that seems to be my word, this year, having never done the word-for-a-year trend before, but heavy on my heart this January that life, this go 'round, needs a bit of definition, some pronouncement upon it for the next few hundred days.  I asked Him for a word, to settle something into my heart, and he gave me one.

Home.


Source

And yet, I fought it.  It wasn't very profound.  Shouldn't this be the year of Giving or of Grace or Faith?  The year of Prayer or Simplify or Grow or Fly?  I wanted to Dream, to Create, to experience the depth of Peace this year.

You can, He said.

At Home.

So even as my friends erase my address book entry for the 21st time in 15 years, I settle into a season of home.  Of learning that of all the things I strive to be, the who I am at home is the who I was most created to be. 


And while this sounds so warm and fuzzy, it's more of a difficult concept for me than for most, I suspect.  I am rather domestically disabled, at times, but heap upon the expectation that my home be perfect…warm and inviting and filled with creativity and love and delicately hung window treatments that perfectly frame the world beyond.  The world where I can be somebody and I want to make a difference for all those people out there, in the world, and my sights can grow long and distant and far too grand, sometimes, with the idea that if I could only be good and perfect, I might earn peace and grace. 

But I am somebody already, nearly everything to a few little hearts and a big one here and there are walls that contain all I really need to do or be in this wide world, and it starts, I know, right here, at home.

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