Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Food Budget Update (Final)

This is the last week of our "super low" food budget because we officially got paid today! Getting used to once per month paychecks instead of every two weeks is quite a change.

Here's our breakdown for the week.

Kroger
Total: $43.61
Purchased: two loaves of bread, 8 2-liter diet sodas, cereal, mini muffins, Cheez Its, goldfish, mac & cheese (2), fruit snack (2 boxes), cookies, hot pockets (2 boxes), 2 lbs apples, hot dogs, tortillas, 2 avocados, lunch meat, sausage pancake sticks, Kroger brand mac and beef in a can.

Aldi's
Total: $19.51
Purchased: orange juice, mini muffins (these are for the soccer team I coach), baby carrots, vanilla yogurt, navel oranges (also for soccer team), baked beans (for a pot luck), salad dressing x 2 (for book club salad bar), juice boxes (soccer team), gum, peanut butter cheese crackers (soccer team), and brown sugar. I'm thinking i overbought for the soccer team, but it's a Friday night game at 6pm, so I thought they might be hungry. The oranges are for halftime, and after the game I have the PB cheese crackers, muffins, and juice boxes.

I also spent about $25 on various sunscreens and bug spray for the summer. I will roll this into our grocery budget as well, but we should still be on track.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Poetry Friday: Taking Me Away


Time goes by too fast baby
When you’re in my arms
And I feel so slow lately
With you so far away
And there’s nothing left to do
And I’ve nothing left to say
Cause you’ve already got
Everything there is to take

You’ve got my heart, you’ve got my mind
I’ve given you everything I could find
You’ve got my dreams, you’ve got my cares
And there’s something about the way you wear
Your heart on your sleeve and I can’t compare
Anyone else with the way you are with me. 

In my dreams today I see
Something new to learn
The way you looked tonight to me
And the way I feel inside
And I can’t hold my breath
Cause you’ve taken it away
And I can’t think without you
And everything you say  

Racking my brain, I find it empty
Testing my heart, the water’s deep
Searching my thoughts, I find you and me
And inside my heart, there’s nothing but we.
Cause you’ve done what you came to do
Opened my heart brought me closer to you
You’ve done what I knew you would
And you’re taking me away.  

I can’t compare you
I’m so aware of you

And you are
Here with me.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why I Calculate My Net Worth

So, here's the thing. This life is temporary, and what I have is not "mine". I need to hold onto it with hand wide open. So, why do I measure our net worth?

First, net worth is completely arbitrary. On the whims of the stock market, certain necessary but painful purchases, and many other factors, our net worth could change drastically at any moment. So, why bother at all? Why not just trust that God can provide for us, or bury my head in the sand and ignore the current financial situation?

Yes, God will provide. Which is why, when I see our net worth, I don't pat myself on the back or relax that I have big, new, full barns (because this very night my life could be taken). However, I also don't want to be the person that literally buries money in the ground either. If you're not up on your Bible references, check out Luke 12:13-34 and Matthew 25:14-30.

So, if you don't want to bury your head in the sand, and you also don't want to be greedy, what should you do?

First, make sure that you are giving. If there is anyone in this country (even if you are on food stamps or make minimum wage) and you don't give SOMETHING away, then you are being greedy. I don't care if it's a $5 or a $50,000 donation, every single person in this country is rich. Sometimes, the less we have, the tighter we want to hold onto what is "ours". But God says that nothing is ours, He has provided everything.

Other times, the wealthier we are, the harder we try to hold on to what "we've earned". I'm pretty sure that I haven't earned anything. I've not earned my salvation. I've not earned my education. I've not earned my amazing kids. Can we really earn money? What is money after all, but a few pieces of paper and non-precious metal at best. Most of the time it's just plastic or our online stock quotes.

Now, back to why I track our net worth. It gives me a quick snapshot of where our trajectory is. On those days, when I feel footloose and fancy free in my spending, I can take a reality check and see what I really have and where I've been and how far I still have to go. It also can show me what the market is doing compared to what my "savings" are.

How do I track our net worth?

I've set up a really simple excel spreadsheet. I try to go in at least every couple of months to update the figures. Since I don't often re-balance any of the retirement portfolios, this can be an opportunity to double check that things are working well together at their current percentages (our largest balances are automatically re-balanced). Basically, I include the retirement accounts in their own category (we really should try to rollover my husband's old 401(k) when we have the time). Then I include all cash (checking net of credit cards + savings). Then I include some basic number for car value and equity. Usually I just use the subtotals, because that big "net worth" with the home equity and cars isn't really very liquid. But the big "net worth" is needed, because otherwise two years later I might not recognize that when our net worth changed drastically it was because we bought a new car that month.

So, what does my net worth tell me? It tells me I need to work harder at being a diligent steward (I did finally transfer over our HSA balance from a former employer, so I may start including that on the spreadsheet). It tells me I need to work harder to make sure that our home investments are spent wisely, as we've "lost" some money in the house transactions (our break even point on this home is about 6 years due to home repairs that are needed). I need to ensure that our giving continues and pray for God to show us other areas in our budget that we can give from. We have our "usual" tithe, sponsored children, and Christmas giving (i.e. Operation Christmas Child, etcetera). Is there another area that we're being called to give? And it also tells me that I need to continue to trust God. By worrying, I can't add a single hour to my life. So, I plug in our new net worth numbers, and thank God for what He's given. Then I close my eyes, and rest in His wisdom and peace.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Judge and Jury

While I was binge watching Continuum on Netflix the other night, one of the main characters, Carlos, said, "social media is actually rooting for Liber8". What struck me by that was how sadly true that comment was for the real world. "Social media" is no longer just people's opinions but it has become it's own entity. Because almost everyone has access to social media, the "trending" topics and ideas make us feel as if our opinions are powerful enough to be judge and jury.

I won't pick a particular situation to talk about this today, but let's think about what we are actually doing when we make "social media" the litmus test of public opinion.

  • We're making ourselves feel that our personal beliefs and opinions are the only correct opinions and should be powerful enough to influence the rest of society. In all honesty, most of us need a reality check. Who cares what you think about X or Y situation? Is Connie Chung calling you to ask your opinion? Are you a government advisor or judge and jury on a high profile case? In all honesty, our opinions are extremely personal and generally "wrong" about 90% of the time (because there are at least 10 different opinions and we can't all be right).
  • We're making people "stars" who should really not be in the media at all. When we jump on the bandwagon and make something "trend" we're drawing attention to something. The question is, are we drawing attention to the right things. For example, when Kim Kardashian "broke the Internet" was that really a good thing to be promoting? Why don't we focus on trending the good instead of the bad? Why don't we get to the root of racial issues rather than trending about who's right and who's wrong and who's protesting and who's rioting? 
  • We become judge and jury in our own hearts. "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you..." Matthew 7:1-2 (NASB). This is definitely the scariest one for me. Every time I'm tempted to pass judgement on a situation on social media, I try to keep in mind that I don't know all the facts. I'm definitely sure that I don't want the same standard of measure on my life as that on social media. I'm not saying that I've never posted my opinion in this blog or on Facebook, but I do try to keep judgment to a minimum, especially in my own heart. It's one thing to have an opinion, but when we become judge and jury in a situation over which we have limited information, we are playing a very dangerous game.
Here are some things you can do rather than blast people with different opinions that you on social media.
  1. "You must be the change you want to see in the world." ~Ghandi. If a situation is truly making your heart break, do something about it. Volunteer in a poor community to help fix the education system. Make friends with someone from another culture or color. Give to or volunteer at a center that supports the cause you care about. Volunteer as a crisis counselor or advocate for laws supporting those who have been abused.
  2. Pay attention to the plank in your own eye. Luke 6:41-42 and Matthew 7:3-4. Maybe you feel strongly about a situation because of sin in your own heart. Whether you are the popular or unpopular opinion on social media should not matter. Analyze your opinion of the situation based on God's perspective and spend time in His Word. If what you find doesn't line up with your opinion (again irregardless of what other people's opinion might be) or if you have some other underlying sin (pride, envy, dishonesty) take care of that before you do anything else.
  3. Tell about the good, bad, and honest struggles in your everyday life. Rather than sharing how you feel about someone else's situation, explain your background and your own experiences in something similar.
  4. Unplug. I'm just as guilty of needing to this as anyone else. When we get caught up by being connected all the time, we can neglect the goodness right in front of us. Take a long walk on a nice day, enjoy a hot bubble bath, spend time snuggling and reading books with your kids. Suddenly, the situation you felt so passionately about, may not be that big of a deal after all.
  5. Pray. If the situation in the news or social media is something that is still on your heart, then pray. Pray for God's direction on your life. Pray for him to open your eyes and your heart. Pray honestly for what He wants your next steps to be. Maybe you do have an opinion that needs to be shared with someone. And if that's the case, prayer is the best way to ferment that opinion, and God will open the door if that opinion needs to be heard.
If none of those work, then definitely continue to blast social media with your opinion and make sure you tell how all of your friends opinions are not as good as yours, but they can continue to think differently and you won't really be that mad at them, but they better not post comments on your wall anymore, because man they are wrong...


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Make Money Staying at Home

When I was a debt counselor, I was always frustrated by the people who seemed to have a privileged life, but weren't willing to work hard to fix their problems. Believe it or not, the poor "working" class was often more willing to do what they needed to in order to make their budget work. Probably because they never had the luxury of credit cards or wealthy relatives to fall back on.

I remember clearly the day I was talking with one stay at home wife. Her kids were all at least 16 years old, and she was hoping I would have advice because her mother-in-law had finally "cut them off" after she paid off their last multi-thousand dollar debt and she wanted to make sure they wouldn't get in that situation again.

After reviewing her budget, I told her that it looked like they could make it work if they kept to their basic expenses, but if they were still having trouble, she should probably look at getting a job. She told me she couldn't do that because she drove her son to the virtual high school and back every day. I tried bringing up the possibility of at least a part-time job and got shut down again. Honestly, I'm pretty sure that this particular person had never worked in their life,

Here's the thing, I may be somewhat spoiled, and I may be a "stay at home" mom right now, but I do know the value of hard work, and if circumstances changed, I would be back in "at work" in a heartbeat rather than go into debt. Right now I'm enjoying the luxury of only having one part-time job (most of the time). Although, apparently that was not enough for me, since I just started another part-time gig selling Norwex products.

Many years ago, before kids, I felt bad being a 20-something non-parent and judging this mom (and others in two-income families), so I decided to put my own advice to the test and got a part-time job during the Christmas season in addition to my full-time work. I enjoyed the pleasantries of working in retail the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Saturdays and Sundays leading up to Christmas. I even worked a few weeknights from 6-10pm when I had to get up and go to my "real job" in the morning, While it's not something sustainable long-term, it can be a good way to get income for the holidays or get out of debt more quickly.

So how do you make money staying at home? Many people post online work at home jobs, which can be a great option (I work for tutor.com and bring home about $200 a month before taxes for 5-6 hours a week). There are other options many people don't consider.


  • Retail or food service jobs. Many of these jobs, because of the extended hours, can work around a 9-5 schedule (if your husband can provide childcare for example). If you prefer to work evenings, weekends, and holidays this can be a great option.
  • Any job that you can bring children with you. From what I have seen, you may be able to bring my children to part-time jobs at the YMCA, church (preschool, childcare), gyms that offer childcare, and many daycares also offer reduced childcare for employees and are often looking for "floaters".
  • Your own business. If you own your own business, whether you work from home or not, you may be able to bring your children with you. Most direct sales business can be done during evenings or even during the day and bringing your children with you. I have also seen children helping their parents in the vending machine business. And older children often help in the landscaping business with easier jobs. You could also start your own in home childcare, tutoring, or after school business.
  • Working during school hours. If your children are school age, consider working for the school system. While the jobs don't pay well they do have great benefits. You can often get "full time" benefits and work just during school hours. Some of these jobs could include substitute teaching, assistant teaching, working in the lunchroom, working as a bookkeeper or secretary or attendance monitor. Even if your child is not in school yet, a bus monitor or driver could be a good part-time schedule as well, although the afternoon schedule may be difficult for some people if they need to arrange childcare. Another option for homeschooling parents, would be to consider working in an after-school program. Generally these program provide free or steeply discounted childcare for their workers, and your kids would get access to "homework help" and "socialization" if you are worried about those things.
  • Working overnight hours. While I don't recommend this option for most people, if you really need the income there are plenty of jobs with overnight hours. Most office cleaning staff work at night. There are thousands of healthcare jobs at night. There are probably even some customer service jobs at night, depending on your area (someone has to be "on call" for those 24-hour toll free numbers, and not every company has gone overseas). 
These are just some of many ideas about how to make money staying at home. Really, the options are limitless, you just have to be willing to be creative, work hard, and think positively about your future.





Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day - Furniture Shopping

I'm not entirely sure what remembering fallen troops has to do with furniture sales, but I guess they use every holiday they can. Needless to say, we went furniture shopping this Memorial Day weekend.

We had gotten rid of a futon and a sleeper sofa when we were "staging" our house to sell, and didn't have anywhere to put it. So, we are looking to replace the sleeper sofa.

We found two good options and both were on sale this weekend. Of course, by the time we called to order the one we liked best, it was no longer in stock, so now we run the risk of sleeping on an air mattress for a few days if it happens not to come in on time.

In other Memorial Day news, our flag is out, our house in being cleaned, and the pool is being put to good use.

My husband had a brief conversation with our oldest son about what Memorial Day means, and the truly American hot dogs will be consumed for lunch.

Have a safe and satisfying Memorial Day weekend, and as you drive by cemeteries or churches that are having true Memorial Day services, say a prayer for the families and friends of those who have fallen while serving our country.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Food Budget Review

Only two shopping trips this week, so the budget should be pretty easy. I did go a little over budget this week, but shouldn't be by much more than I "saved" the past couple of weeks.

Kroger

Spent: $84.61

Bought: Stouffer's Lasagna (2 person size), Banquet pot pie (2), ice cream sandwiches (12), Yoplait yogurt (2), Kroger cheese (16 oz x 2), Breyer's ice cream, Private selection coffee K-cups (12 ct), goldfish (2), 1 avocado, 18 ct eggs (1.77), Red Leaf lettuce, Belvita biscuits (2 boxes, 1 box used for snacks for soccer team), peanuts, 2 free candy items from Free Fridays, yellow bell pepper, chicken nuggets (refrigerated on clearance for $1.59 for enough for the whole family), bottle of wine, 2 bananas, generic brand cereal (x 2), canned peas, 3 gallons of milk, 1/2 gallon of orange juice, 4 diet 2-liter sodas, 18-pack of beer, 4 x 12-pack cans of soda (if my husband doesn't bring cans of soda to work he ends up buying bottles for $1.35 each from the vending machine) and they happened to be on sale this week when he was running out!

In general, we bought a lot of frivolous things at Kroger. I think something like 35% of our spending was on beverages, yikes! But, the beer should last at least a month, and the cans of soda as well.

Aldi's

Spent: $10.47

Bought: one package of kiwi (7 whole pieces of fruit), mini marshmallows, cheese curls (store brand cheeto's), whole grain white bread, Fruit Gushers (name brand), oyster crackers, juice pouches (store brand Capri Sun), pack of tomatoes (3 large slicer tomatoes), and peanut butter wafers.

Total weekly spending: $95.08

Friday, May 22, 2015

Emergency

So, this is an extra post to make up for not posting on Thursday.

Why did I not post on Thursday?

Well, let me see...

Usually I set up my posts by the night before at the latest. However, this Wednesday night, shortly after my husband got home, our 4-year old started complaining of sudden and severe shoulder pain. He had been sitting on the couch watching TV, so I couldn't think of anything that could have caused it. I had noticed that his cough had been lasting for awhile (about 5 days).

When the pain didn't go away after about an hour (including him trying to lay down and rest and watching TV), my husband volunteered to take him to the urgent care. While there, his pain did get suddenly better, but an X-ray showed possible pneumonia.

So, we spend most of Thursday at the doctor's office. Our toddler already had an appointment at 9:15 for his 2-year old well checkup. That took about an hour and a half including driving (my father-in-law was fortunately able to watch our 4-year old). Then, they were able to see my oldest at 1:50pm to check on the possible pneumonia. By the time we confirmed pneumonia AND added a severe ear infection to the diagnosis AND picked up the SECOND antibiotic to treat the ear infection, it was about 3:15 and I put the kids down for a late nap. When I had to wake them up at 5:30, the toddler had a rough time adjusting (they normally nap between 2-4 or 4:30 at the latest).

Needless to say, I had other priorities Wednesday night and Thursday, and blogging was not one of them!

And, this is the reason we budget. Because we have a high deductible health plan, this bout of sickness has already cost us at least $200, possibly more once all the bills come in. We do have an HSA, but for some reason we don't have the debit card for it yet, so we've paid for all of it out of our regular spending and will get reimbursed. If we were living paycheck to paycheck, this could be the difference between food and gas in the car, or medical care.

Poetry Friday - March 22nd

I can feel Jesus' arms around me now
And my fears all rush away
Like the dark and scary night does
At the start of every day

So turn my eyes from things that cause
Fear and lust, like princely frogs
And turn my feet, so when I run
I will end up at Your throne

I can feel Jesus' eyes upon me now
And the hate is gone today
Like the chaff within the wheat
That the wind just blows away

So turn my lips towards Your own
Let Your love, like a river flow
And turn Your hands, so I can see
What my sins have done to thee

I can hear the angels songs right now
And the love has reached me here
Like a wild catapulting wind
Blowing me to heaven where

You'll turn my eyes from things that cause
Fear and lust, like princely frogs
And turn my feet, so when I run
I'll end up at heaven's throne
Turn my lips towards Your own
Let Your love, like a river flow
And turn Your hands so I can see
What my sins have done to thee.

So open up my black and dirty heart
Wash me 'til I'm white as snow
And I will do my every part
To let other people know

You'll turn our eyes from things that cause
Fear and lust, like princely frogs
And turn our feet, so we will run
And we will end up at Your throne
You turn our lips towards Your own
Love fills us like the river's flow
And turns our hearts towards Your Son
So we can see what grace has won

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Imagination

I've been thinking lately about my oldest son's imagination.

He will turn 5 in August this summer. He would technically start Kindergarten in the fall. He's been in a year and a half of preschool when we lived in Louisville, KY. He also has had a younger brother for 2 years. He is just now starting to verbalize his pretend play, and he hasn't been "in school" for over 4 months. I wonder sometimes if our "school" environments do the opposite of what we want them to do.

Around here, there are a few people who take their preschool very seriously. You have to prepare these kids for Kindergarten. They have to write and test and read and do multiplication by age 6. But what about creativity and musicality and imagination? We have special STEM schools (science, technology, engineering and math). But what if all they really needed were Lego's and Minecraft?

We have Early College programs, but what if what we really need is getting back to a true Kindergarten. Rather than push our kids to do more than they are ready for, why not let them be kids for a little bit longer?

I can't tell you how gratifying it is to listen to my 4 year old son playacting with his cars (he is a boy so he has to have wheels). This morning, he was pretending that one of the cars was a mommy and a daddy and they were inviting some of their friends kids over for a sleepover. He's working through things he hasn't even experienced yet (sleepovers) and gaining miles of knowledge that he may never have experienced in a classroom.

I don't think that all organized instruction is wrong. Actually, I love the reading programs at our local library (they sing songs, play finger games, and read 2-3 stories). I try to take them at least once a week. I do plan on signing him up for either a music class or a sport over the summer. And we are signed up for a homeschool co-op in the fall. The problem is when the busyness of "being at school" takes away from the business of childhood. Maybe all this money being spent to "fix the school system" should be better put to use fixing the American family.

Because how can you fix a system if you want it to do something it was never intended for? The reason school is only 9 months is because kids used to experience LIFE the other 3 months. They would work in the fields, and help in the family business, and watch their younger siblings. They would hike in the forest, and fish in the streams, and sew their own clothes. They would learn to cook and paint, and read and write for pure pleasure.

I don't want to go back to those days, because I know they truly aren't the "good old days" but I do wonder what we are missing in today's world. I spend lots of money on occupational therapy to try to get my oldest son to eat some "real food" and the biggest thing they had them do was "heavy work". Basically it was exercises intended to work the whole body. They came up with all these creative exercises, and really what I was thinking the whole time was: pushing your brother uphill on a sled, swinging on a tire swing, carrying firewood into the house, tilling the garden. What if the only thing broken is that we are trying to live in a "brave new world' and our bodies and minds just haven't adopted to this new environment yet?

So we plan on homeschooling next year. I can tell you that our curriculum is meant to take only an hour or slightly more per day, and I'm okay with spending less time than that. I can tell you that we only plan to do "school" 3 days a week. I can tell you that if he fights me on the writing or math, that I won't push him too hard, but I'll try to find a more creative way to teach. I'm not quite an "unschooler" but I think I might be getting closer everyday.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Are free samples worth it?

One of my favorite blogs posted an article called Is it really worth it to sign up for free samples?

Although I generally like the blog, I did want to point out one caveat she may not have thought of. If you tend to have sensitive skin or allergies to certain chemicals, please stick with what you know regarding products you put on your hair, face, or skin.

For instance, I am the queen of free samples and trials. Usually, my skin doesn't react to anything other than occasional hormonal acne. However, this winter, I experienced the worst back acne I have ever had. Want to guess what the culprit was? A trial deodorant (full-size free sample). I used it for over a month (because it was free, so why not?) until I finally realized that the only thing I had changed about my skin care regimen was the deodorant, and I had never had back acne before.

Well, now my skin has finally cleared up, but I have some lovely scars to show off this pool season.

So, was it worth it? Nope. And I will definitely not be using free samples of deodorant again. I will stick with my 99 cent Lady Speed Stick and call it good.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Water Babies

I definitely think my kids are going to be water babies this summer. Our pool opened this weekend, and we tried it out on Sunday after we got back from the air show. I think the pool was a much bigger hit than the air show.

My oldest is the more hesitant swimmer, and he hadn't eaten or drunk much all day. He ate one peanut butter cheese cracker during his "swim break" and then said he wanted to get back in. We wouldn't let him since he really needed to get back to the house and eat supper, but he was having so much fun playing with his friends.

It's priceless to have a neighborhood like this, with friends his own age, and a pool he can swim at all summer.

My just turned 2 year old was almost too brave, so I'm not sure that I'll be able to take them by myself to the pool. He was "swimming" all over the pool. Specifically towards the deep end. He's not "drown proofed" and I don't particularly believe in drown proofing children, but I do need to start teaching him to stay in the shallow end at least.

They both woke up this morning asking to go swimming again.

This is an old picture, but I thought it perfectly captured the joy of a child's face with a cool stream of water on a hot summer day.


Diet

Just so you know, diet is not a bad word to me. I've never gone "on a diet". Diet literally just means what you eat on a daily basis. So you can have a healthy diet, or an unhealthy diet.

Lately, I have a couple more pounds than I normally do, which hasn't bothered me too much. I'm at a healthy weight, although not at my "ideal" weight, but I have been wondering why it hasn't gone anywhere. Another caveat, usually I lose weight without really trying, if I exercise or try to eat healthier I often gain weight. However, I have been buying and trying to eat more produce lately, so as I was sitting down to a pre-lunch cup of homemade hot chocolate (milk, cocoa powder, and sugar) with marshmallows, I wondered if maybe there is something in my diet that I need to cut back on.

Hehehehe, I know you are all thinking it's the pre-lunch hot chocolate. In actuality, that was just the one time, and I'm not really sure if it's anything specific. I tend to want to snack in the late afternoon, which is probably part of the problem. I also tend to reach for something quick during those snacks (generally it's because my 2-year old is crying after he wakes up from his nap and I want a snack we both will eat).

OK, so I guess I know what the problem is, but it's really hard to find a healthy snack that will pacify a crying baby and calm a cranky momma.

I also could probably try to exercise more than standing in the shade watching my kids ride their bikes around the circle.

Just sayin'...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Weekly Grocery Budget Review

So, we were out of town the weekend of this week's food budget update, so we actually have several shopping trips that we made in the evenings after we got back. Obviously we are much more disorganized when we don't go on the weekend.

Our first shopping trip was for our "main" food items.

Food Lion # 1: $62.10 total for: 2 packs of Hot Pockets, 4 Yoplait yogurts, 1 gallon of milk, Jimmy Dean's maple sausage biscuits, ice cream sandwiches, 2 packs of Goldfish, 2 packs of Cheez Its, peanut butter cheese crackers, cookies, Little Bite muffins, store brand cheerios, canned peas, crunchy peanut butter, lunch meat, Neese's sausage, BBQ, and my husband's soda. So, reviewing this list, hardly anything was for me....

Then, we stopped at Little Caesar's on the way home because our evenings were so crazy this week (I had one evening I was busy and my husband had two busy evenings and had to mow the yard). $5.39 with tax. I include this in our food budget as it was just a regular meal at home we didn't take the time to cook.

The next day I made a trip to Kroger as we realized we were out of a couple other things.

Kroger: $10.49 total for another Goldfish (my kids can't live without vanilla cupcake Goldfish and Food Lion was out), plastic wrap, Muller yogurt (free coupon), Horizon brand graham crackers (free coupon), Kroger simple truth yogurt, and Cheetos.

Then, the day after that, my husband ran out to Food Lion because they had given us some great coupons that were about to expire that he forgot about Monday.

Food Lion # 2: $2.04 total for a bag of Lays chips and 2 packs of PopTarts.

Total food spending for the week (Friday to Friday): $80.02.

Between last week and this week, we have a couple dollars extra, but since we bought dinner for my whole family when we were out of town, I may use some of the extra to cover part of that. The remainder of that meal will come from our "gift" budget as it was for my mom's early birthday/Mother's Day.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Poetry Friday - May 15th

Is there anything more I can do
Than cry myself to sleep at night
Is there anything more I can ask
As I pray and hold my body tight
As the tremors fill my hands
And my legs can barely stand
And I scream

Is the sky bleeding purple now
Like my heart bleeding crystal clear
With the tears screaming silent threats
At angry enemies
Is the wind blowing men astray
While I stand stagnant in the heat
And my fears gather round my neck
You whisper, "I am here"

So why am I waiting still
Why can't you answer me
I've shouted all my life
Why can't You see

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Budgeting 101

From time to time, co-workers, friends or family, have asked my husband and I for advice on budgeting. Since I do my budgeting on a spreadsheet, I have a template lined up that I can send without sending our actual numbers.

Since it's been awhile from my last budgeting post, I decided to pass along my budget, along with some useful budgeting advice. The template includes my actual budgeting categories and then are color coded to sample budget categories. The "actual" percentages I use are based on our previous income, so I should probably work on updating that to our new income and new expenses (my guess will be that food will be a lower percentage and housing will be a higher percentage).


Basic budgeting 101 advice:
  • Before you even start budgeting, take some time to think and write down what you want your priorities to be spending-wise. Do you value clothing spending over food? Do you just want to increase your savings by $50 a month? Do you hate to spend money on your car? Do you love to spend money on trips? Write down your priorities so you have a plan to work towards.
  • Use your actual spending numbers for your first budget. This is actually somewhat easier if you use only credit cards or debit cards for your spending. Track down where every dollar went (credit cards, cash, debit cards, checks, online bill pay) and allocate into your categories. Feel free to add sub-categories, but I suggest starting with no more than 10 categories in the beginning. Once you have those expenses in the categories, add up your total monthly spending in each category, then compare it to the sample categories.
  • Pick a category to "whittle down" first. You may find, that even though you think you prioritize clothing over food, you've eaten out 10 times in the last month, and your food expenses are double what you thought they were. You may also find that your car expenses are way over the "sample" percentages, and you hate spending that much money on a car you only drive to work and back. Whichever category you are unhappy with (in other words it's over the sample percentage AND it's not a priority spending area for you) look at it more carefully to see if you can reduce any of the expenses within that category.
  • After you pick your first "whittle down" category, see if there are any obvious problems in your budget. If your housing is 50% of your income, it will be nearly impossible to get your budget to balance. If your car expenses are 30% of your income, you are going to have to make some big changes to other categories. Decide if it's worth the sacrifices. If not, see if there are any changes you can make. These big ticket items are truly the only way to get "on a budget" and stop spending more than you earn. When I was a debt counselor, I can't tell you how many times that my clients "couldn't" get on a budget because of huge car or house expenses. They certainly "could" but they weren't willing to trade in their fancy cars or sell their house (even if they were a single woman living in a $300,000 McMansion). Sometimes, big sacrifices have to be made, and the sooner you make these big changes, the better.
  • If you truly can't make your budget work, and you aren't spending big in any particular area, and don't see any way to whittle down any category, your other option is to earn more income. Some short term ideas include holding a garage sale, selling items on ebay or craigslist, mowing your neighbors lawns, babysitting, or tutoring. Longer-term solutions include asking for a pay raise, overtime (if available), a second or third job, or looking for a higher paying job. In some instances, it may actually save more money if someone stays home to take care of children for a few years rather than paying for private daycare or private school ($10,000 or so per kid in my area for either option).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Community

I've found myself wondering lately about what makes community.

I worried that I wouldn't be able to find a close community in our new town, because it took 4 years in our old house before we were starting to feel like we had close community.

Now, we've been moved in for just over a month, and I feel close to my new neighbors already. We are involved in our church, I see people I know at the library or the grocery store. It is a really nice feeling to have.

So what makes a place have community? Is it the size of the town? Is it the location of nearby amenities or other factors such as limited transportation? Or is just the people in that community?

The one thing we were hesitant about in leaving our old neighborhood was missing the neighbors who we knew looked out for each other. In our new neighborhood, we hang out in the cul de sac with our kids when the weather is nice, and the neighbors know which car goes with which house, and keep track of anything strange or unusual happening in the neighborhood.

They genuinely care when one of my kids get sick, or we have a repair truck at our house, or even when we are just leaving for a couple days to visit family.

Hopefully, I am adding to the community of the area. I've become a volunteer at the church and as a soccer coach. My oldest son likes to introduce himself to everyone everywhere he goes (a few of our neighbors said that they didn't know some of the other neighbors very well and we met just about everyone in two weeks). I have signed up for the community homeschool co-op for next year. The pool will be open soon, and I may teach swim lessons if anyone asks me to, although I don't plan on starting my own business officially.

Spending time with people in my neighborhood and learning more about their lives as they learn more about mine. That's a good enough definition of community for me right now.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ADHD or Diversity

First, let me preface this by saying that I don't believe in evolution on a general (millions and billions of years away from single-cell living). However, I do believe in natural selection (to some extent) and humans being able to effect their own environment. I also do not see myself as a "crunchy" mom, or a medical expert in any way. These are just my own thoughts on a difficult subject.

Have you ever wondered whether we could bottle up the energy of a 5 year old boy? Guess what, this magical elixir does exist! For people with ADHD, every day they deal with this over-abundance of energy.

So, why exactly is that a problem? I understand that it does cause difficulty when it comes to sitting still and listening to a lecture or working an "office job", but people with ADHD are often very intelligent. Our world full of billions of people has so much diversity and beauty, so why do we feel the need to medicate such a huge percentage of that diversity?

What causes one person to treat a mental "condition" and others to embrace it?

I can absolutely understand parents and teachers not having the energy or patience to deal with their children, whether from ADHD, autism or other special needs. However, just because a medication does exist for a condition, doesn't mean that your child needs it.

There are a ton of resources for ADHD other than medication. Lifestyle and diet changes, coping techniques, and educational changes. If we can bottle this energy from childhood and give our children the ability to handle things better as they grow, why wouldn't we want to? Maybe that energy will be what inspires an adult to stay up all night and discover the cure for cancer one day. Maybe that energy fuels the overnight mechanical operator at a local utility or plant. Maybe that energy will calm or keep up with future 3 and 4 year old boys. Not every deviation from normal is a bad thing. We should value the diversity of our population and not necessarily treat all mental conditions as "problems".

Now, any condition that causes potential harm to oneself or others (such as depression, bi-polar, paranoid schizophrenia) does need some combination of either medication or close supervision. But in most mild cases, medication isn't necessary and can even exacerbate some symptoms. People with some of these conditions are also the creative, free-thinkers of our world. Why do we want to limit their potential.

For instance, my husband is an outgoing introvert, and I'm a reserved extrovert. We balance each other out and make each other more well-rounded. He is a spender and I am a saver. He's helped me be more giving and I've helped him spend more wisely. If we lived in closer community with larger families (3 generations, more than 1 or 2 kids per generation) we would have less need to medicate and more opportunity to help them cope by providing one-on-one assistance.

Just because something is "not normal" doesn't mean that it's always going to be "wrong". Just my opinion...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Being a Mom

So, there was a "tear-jerker" video at the church we went to on Mother's Day about "being a mom". It was pretty well done, but it did get me thinking about what being a mom meant. Of course, the video had some humorous spots like dealing with the stomach bug and kids walking in the house after curfew, but it did get me thinking about what being a mom is like.

Being a mom is when you get bad news at the ultrasound, but can't imagine yet how much your life will change. Being a mom is wiping noses and holding out your hand for your child to spit out half-chewed fruit snacks or pieces of grass. Being a mom is listening to your child scream in the car when you have another hour of driving to go and you can't fix anything.

Being a mom is letting go and holding tight. It's tears in the darkness and laughing through them the next day. Being a mom is praying for that plus sign for years, and then praying at the lawyer's office that the adoption goes through. Being a mom is changing your mind at the clinic and giving a chance at life. Being a mom is heart-wrenching and heart-opening. Being a mom is having the ultimate responsibility and nowhere near enough maturity to handle things. And sometimes, being a mom is harder than you thought, but you can't ever imagine being anything else.

You become a mom the moment you know you are pregnant, whether your baby comes to full term or not. You never stop being a mom, no matter what heartbreak you go through, there is no way to fully break that cord. No matter how hard your days or nights are, you would never trade the few minutes or decades you spend with your children for anything. And that's being a mom.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

Weekly Food Budget - Week Two

We had a much better week from a budget stand point with our groceries. Mainly because we are going out of town for a long weekend, so we are trying to avoid buying anything that would go bad while we're gone. The total budget (one trip to Kroger) this week ended up coming in at $47.62 including tax. Technically, I returned the peanut butter because I got too big of a size to fit in our pantry and didn't realize until I got to the car, but the refund I got went to a stranger in the parking lot who asked for $2 or $3 so he could buy enough gas to get him to work in North Raleigh. Since he asked for only $2 or $3 and I had just gotten $2 as a refund, I handed it straight over. Who am I to argue with a divine appointment, even if he doesn't use it for what he said, my job is not to judge the intentions of his heart.

So what did we buy for less than $50 for our family of 4? Bananas (2 for about 50 cents), strawberries ($1.50), whole wheat buns (0.49), eggs ($1.79), Bird's Eye skillet meal ($2.99 after $1 coupon), 10 ounces of lunch meat ($2.45 after e-coupon), store brand cheerios and raisin bran ($1.88 each), Horizon snack crackers (free coupon from BzzAgent), Hershey hazelnut spread $2.99 (it was the same price as store brand and we were almost out), peanut butter, Ritz crackers (bought 2 packs since we were out and I had an e-coupon, $2.27 each after e-coupon), organic store brand vanilla yogurt ($2.69 for 32 ounces), vinegar, 2 gallons of milk, orange juice, free Muller yogurt (BzzAgent), 2 Yoplait yogurts @ 0.60 each, clearance yogurt @ .35, and my husband's soda ($6).

We had a lot of produce left over that we were finishing up eating after 2 Aldi's trips last week. We also have plenty of our "staples" of clearance bread (in the freezer) and meat (pork, chicken, and ground beef). We are also stocked up on diapers and paper products. So, overall, it was a very "light" week for groceries. Next week we will probably have a lot of purchases, either things we forgot to pack on our trip or re-stocking the kids food. We may also have some "eating out" expenses, so it is good to know that we have about $30-$40 available for eating out on our trip or groceries while we're gone.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Poetry Friday

I wish I could paint that
In the sky there
With the trees in the fog and the sun shining down on it all
I wish I could say things
Make You smile
And be happy and carefree and know everything is all right

I know that the sun's made by You
I know that my heart's been made true
But I don't always know the right things to do

So wake me with Your love
Stir me with Your touch
Show me with Your eyes what you want for me
Touch me with Your soul
Heal me with Your scars
Help me to always do the things You want me to

I wish I could fill up
All the hollows
Of the hearts that I see, the empty souls all around
I know that You say that
In my heart You
Have given me power to do what You want me to do

I know that the sun's made by You
I know that my heart's been made true
But I don't always know the right things to do

So wake me with Your love
Stir me with Your touch
Show me with Your eyes what you want for me
Touch me with Your soul
Heal me with Your scars
Help me to always do the things You want me to




Thursday, May 07, 2015

What is preschool?

First, let me say that my mother-in-law is a preschool teacher, and my son has been through 1.5 years of preschool. So, my intention is not to discourage mom's who take advantage of preschool, mommies day out, or daycare programs. Now, the answer to the question, what is preschool: "Kindergarten!"

I was at a homeschool co-op meeting the other day, and chatting with a mom who was there trying to figure out what to do with her 2.5 year old. Here's the thing though, you don't have to "do" anything with a 2.5 year old.

After spending several years teaching 0-3 year olds basic introduction to water/swimming skills, the one thing I can truly say to parents is that it doesn't matter how much they learn "in class" because if it's not reinforced at home they will forget within a time span of 3-6 months.

Why do they forget so easily? Isn't this "preschool" time one of the most rapid times of brain growth development and we all need to send our kids to fancy "academies" so they don't get left behind?

Yes, and no. The reason this is the time of most rapid brain growth is because of what they are learning. They aren't learning to read or perform addition and subtraction (and if they are you are probably wasting their brain cells). They are learning to talk, and walk, run and jump. They are learning to interact with the world around them. They are forming their most basic personality traits. I would argue that any preschool program (or even mommy and me program) is actually a detriment to children unless it addresses an otherwise deficient area among one of the following categories:

  • Access to new and stimulating environments. For a 1 year old, this might just be a blanket on the grass. A 3-5 year old can visit the kids museum, zoo, park, library, bookstore, toy store, grocery store (you get the idea). 
  • Access to new and stimulating people. For a 1 or 2 year old, consider just visiting one or two close friend or neighbors, or going to the park and letting them "play beside other kids". For a 3-5 year old (depending on personality) all ages should work. Visit a nursing home, attend story time or a playgroup, let him loose at a park (within reason). 
  • Access to new and stimulating ideas. Talk about the bugs you see outside, talk about the vehicles you drive past in the car, talk about the number of objects and people around you. Read new stories and answer all the "why" questions you can handle. I find my limit is usually about a couple dozen per day, but my son will ask infinitely more. The "Why stage" is not just a phase or a stage, but an integral way of learning that we so often discourage from children due to our own lack of attention span or "formal education".
  • Access to new and stimulating activity. You don't need a baby yoga class, but find out what is age appropriate for your child, and then challenge him by going one level above to see what he can do. Play Simon Says, or build an obstacle course out of pillows. Find toys that encourage her to bend, move, and twist. Work on those fine motor skills with toys that encourage them to focus (or just have them practice picking up different colored small objects such as fruit loops or M&Ms). Encourage lacing, drawing, rolling trucks or trains with small wheels around a track.
Now, I did send my son to preschool, mainly because I needed a break. However, I specifically chose a 2 day a week preschool that included music and outside time (or gym) every day. It was still more of a mommy break than a "learning time" and I am totally okay with some "wasted" time in my child's life if it keeps us both from going crazy.

So, why did I say that Kindergarten is preschool? It was the original preschool! No one used to go to school before age 6 or 7. They were at home, learning through gardening and sewing and cooking. In my state, I'm not allowed to register my homeschool until my oldest child turns 7. Kindergarten should not be a place where children ever take "tests". They should never have anything "wrong" or be told what or when or how to play with something. That's not to say that I won't be "encouraging" my child to work at his curriculum next year, but I certainly won't be grading anything. He told me the other day, that he would be sad if I died, because I wouldn't be around to teach him. Parents and caregivers are their children's original teachers, and no one can replace that.

When I teach 0-3 year olds "swimming" I make sure to tell the parents during the first class, that they are their child's instructor. If their child doesn't like something, they as the parent can do something different. If they feel that their child needs to be pushed (gently) in an area, I encourage them to continue working on that skill. I put in place some suggestions to maintain safety, but if I have one parent that chooses to dunk their child (despite my discouragement) and one that plays fetch with a float belt the whole class, I consider both of those a success. Rather than relying on an "instructor" to teach their child to swim, I'm giving them the tools and basics needed to encourage a lifelong love for swimming. And if they mess up their child too badly, it's on them, not me (I'll mess up my own children in my own ways).

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Organization

My life can get very hectic, and I tend to do things at the last minute. Organization is definitely not my strong suit. So, today, I have a few things hanging over my head that haven't been done yet since we've moved. Some of them are rather important things. And I have to sort through the immeasurable amount of "junk" and paper to find a few important things that I need in order to complete those tasks.

I have to look for things like immunization records and medical files. Things like car registration and the calendar which has gotten buried under a paper pile yet again. I am dreading the process, because what I really need to do is get rid of all these papers and start subscribing to the "touch it once" philosophy, but that's really hard for me to do.

I am definitely a procrastinator, although usually not when it comes to my kids medical appointments. However, it is really hard moving to a new city and we weren't even sure what area of town we would be living in. I had found a pediatrician once we found a house, but they wouldn't set up an appointment until they received the medical records. So, once I unbury the medical records that were mailed in the middle of all the craziness of moving, I can drive by to drop them off and try to set up appointments.

I also have to call the car insurance company and then try to contact our HSA from my husband's prior job, because we need to rollover the HSA from his old company to the new HSA.

Nothing like a busy, stressful day with two preschoolers running around the house. I might have to let them watch 2 episodes of Blues Clues...

Fortunately, when my kids have gotten sick, the Target Clinic was great for diagnosing "flu-like symptoms" and "double ear infection" so we haven't missed a traditional doctor's office too much. And they are up to date on immunizations through at least August.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Stranger Danger

Just the past few weeks, my 4.5 year old has unofficially declared himself one of the "big boys". Although he does still want an adult around and comes to check in frequently, he wants to go off and play with the "big boys". Sometimes that means eating outside at the church potluck, while Mom and Dad are inside. Sometimes it means playing in the "fort" in the woods with the older boys, while Mom is a few dozen yards away chatting with the adults.

I am equal parts incredibly proud of him, and absolutely terrified that he's not old enough for this new freedom yet.

I'm generally not much of a worrier when it comes to my kids. I don't have a baby gate on my stairs (although I'm pretty sure my two year old would just climb over it), we haven't really put many plug protectors in our new house, I let them play in the backyard by themselves as long as I'm outside, or play in the cul de sac or road as long as I'm keeping a watch out. In some ways, maybe I am a bit too much of a helicopter parent, though.

Either way, I'm trying to let my oldest be a "big kid" while still keeping him safe. As I was talking with one of the other "big kid" parents. She said that she worries about her son because he doesn't meet any strangers. I can totally agree with this sentiment, but I hadn't yet worried about it, because he was always supervised. My oldest will walk through a store and introduce himself to everyone on the way through. He'll tell everyone his name, his brothers name, how old they are, what color house we have. At the park last week he tried to follow a "dad" who was probably not even a dad, but was trying to get a workout near the playground (shadowboxing and then jogging the trails). I had to holler several times for him to come back.

Then, when he was "playing with the big boys" at the church potluck, we checked on him, and he had gone through the church building to the other side towards the woods and the fence. While I know that the older boys are big enough and mature enough to keep an eye out, I also think that if someone on the sidewalk or busy road nearby asked him to get in a car or walk home with them, he probably would without thinking much of it, and the boys at church might not realize that he wasn't related to the stranger. He treats strangers as if they are close friends or family.

How do I get him to realize stranger danger without scaring him or closing off his open and outgoing personality? I love that he doesn't see danger or fear in his everyday life, but I don't want him doing anything foolish. We've had some conversations since then about Mom and Dad needing to know where he is and that he can't change locations without telling us.  We've had the conversations about coming to Mom and Dad if anyone touches a "private area". Honestly, I know that most abuse takes place at the hands of people within a circle of trust, but I also worry that my child would be the one taken advantage of by a stranger, simply because his circle of trust includes everyone.

He knows not to keep secrets from us, and I still try to keep a close eye on him. I do everything that I can to avoid a bad situation. I have a feeling that this new-found freedom will be good for both of us. I just have to keep the worry off my plate and trust God's plan for us.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Education

After talking with a local school teacher and neighbor of mine, I've been thinking more and more about what the best solution is for our education system. I think charter schools are a great step in the right direction. The problem is, whether it's a charter school, public school, private school, or homeschool, there are children that get left behind.

So, what's the solution? How do we ensure children aren't left behind? Obviously testing is not the answer. The "failing" schools are now making even less of an effort to give kids a well-rounded education and instead spend all their time teaching to the test or dumbing down the work.

I think the real solution is to create communities again. People who want to go back to the "one room schoolhouse" philosophy forget that school used to me more than just something teachers did 5 days a week. Families would take turns hosting the teacher at their house for dinner (imagine how many cases of child abuse could be prevented and how many teachers would realize that what most of the children really need isn't more homework). Children would work in the classroom as teachers, custodians, and they had recess! They had a responsibility for their own education.

Since we probably can't honestly re-create the one room schoolhouse for most children, what can we do for them?


  • Monthly or weekly in-home visits by a professional (teacher, counselor, nurse, etcetera) for at-risk children, starting at or before birth
  • Weekly one-on-one peer mentor reading groups (i.e. pair up all 3rd graders

    with Kindergartners, etcetera)
  • Hands on group learning
  • Reinstate recess and physical education for all children
  • Give kids real world work (in-school gardens, beehives, shop class, home ec class)
  • Encourage churches or social groups to "adopt a class" or "adopt a school" and give the teachers whatever community support is needed whether it's redoing a bulletin board or sitting with a few students who need individual attention.
  • Get rid of desks or make them easily portable so students can lounge, move, sit, or stand in class as needed.
  • Sponsor field trips for kids, and encourage involvement in extracurricular activities
  • Reduce homework and test time.
These are just a few of my ideas, feel free to share your own!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Weekly Food Budget

So, to keep up with the more strict food budget we have for the next few weeks, I'm committing to a weekly "wrap up" of my food spending over the last 7 days (Friday to Friday). I actually have two Aldi's trips this week, although one primarily to purchase a $9 garden hose (with a 10 year warranty) than for food. Also, we didn't do a "regular" grocery trip this week. Rather, I had one trip to Kroger mainly for baking supplies for my father-in-law's birthday, and one Food Lion trip. We rarely buy all our groceries at Food Lion, but it was easier to make just one trip and my husband went while the kids were napping. Here's a quick breakdown of what we spent...

Kroger - $19.76 total. $10.61 for baking supplies and a gift for my father-in-law. $1 for some laundry detergent that I plan to give to charity, and the rest was typical food purchases. I bought hamburger buns for 0.49, microwave popcorn for $2.49 for an 8 pack, $3,89 for raisins (turns out I should have waited to get these at Aldi's for $2.79, but my 2 year old had been asking for them), and Poptarts for $1.99.

Food Lion - $30.41 total for grocery purchases. We bought a pound of cheese, Food Lion brand Bagel Bites (generic prices, but taste like the real thing), used a free coupon for a Totinos Party Pizza, 2 gallons of milk, 2 bags of Goldfish (my kids eat regular and vanilla cupcake every day for snack), Tortillas, 2 packs of Lance peanut butter cheese crackers (my oldest son has sensory issues and this is one a very few ways to get protein in him and the only brand of it he will eat), and then my husband bought soda for himself, since it's about the only thing he drinks.

Aldi's trip # 1- $2.31 with tax for food items including organic baby carrots for 0.69, wide pan whole wheat bread for 0.90, Gardetto's snack mix for 0.67, and then the garden hose which I don't count as a food purchase.

Aldi's trip # 2 - white tortilla chips, 3 pounds of fuji apples, baking soda, 20 ounces of Roma tomatoes, 2 pounds of red onions, 3 heads of garlic, 6 ounces of blueberries, peanut butter wafer bars, 1 pound of margarine, and 4 avocados for $13.70 including tax. Most of these items were purchased specifically for making guacamole for a church gathering.

I also generally include diapers in our weekly grocery budget, and we spent $24.55 on diapers at Amazon (although this should last us 6-8 weeks). We also spent $7.89 on a small one week pack of diapers last Saturday to make it until our Amazon order came in. If I include all the diapers, but take out the baking supplies and gift for my father-in-law, it comes out to $88.01 for the week for groceries. Definitely an atypical week with my father-in-law's birthday, a bulk diaper purchase, and planning for a church gathering this week, but still pretty close to the current (smaller) budget.


Friday, May 01, 2015

Paid Maternity Leave

Every so often, I get on a political kick. As a forewarning, I'm generally a free-market libertarian. Mainly, I feel that the church and community should be the one providing most "government" services and that our (federal) government should keep their nose out of most everything other than protecting our country from war (i.e. they should not be legislating marriage, abortion, protected classes, education) and should allow the states freedom to choose on those topics.

So, although I have my opinions on things like gay marriage, welfare, abortion, and so forth, I try not to force those opinions on others. I strongly believe that the Word of God does not return void, and I also believe that those who don't claim to be Christians should not be forced into morality. If we want to change the way things are in our community, we need to take physical action and not political action. For example, the First Choice Pregnancy Solutions organization, which rather than picketing abortion centers, offers women the ability to make the choice without pressure by offering solutions to many of the crises that women face with an unwanted pregnancy (they set women up with housing, food, job assistance, education assistance, medical assistance, counseling, and more).

However, there are occasionally a few topics I feel strongly about that are more political than physical. One of those topics is maternity leave. The United States is one of the only first-world nations that does not have a national program of maternity leave. Why is this something the Federal government needs to take charge of?

Benefits of paid maternity leave

  • Encourage breastfeeding. Everyone is on board with the pro-breastfeeding campaign. However, I cannot tell you how difficult it is, especially for a first-time mom, to learn how to use a breast pump effectively and to do so during working hours. As an example, I had to pump with my second son who was in the NICU for a week. I pumped every 2 hours for 15-20 minutes, then went to bottle feed him, then cleaned all the pump supplies, then cleaned the bottles, and about 30 minutes later had to pump again. It was exhausting, there was literally nothing else I could do, and it was my full-time job. Hopefully, by 6 weeks, women are only pumping right before work, 3 times during work, and right after work. So that's only an hour and a half or two out of their work day, I'm sure that they will be able to keep that up for 6 months or so with no problem. The other issue with pumping breastmilk is that it becomes very difficult unless you have an extremely calm, restful environment where you can picture (or smell, hear) your child. I used to have to close the door to my bedroom, since a specific song that helped me visualize him, and rock back and forth while closing my eyes. Many women have jobs that are too stressful to effectively pump.
  • Encourage physical health. For moms who are forced to return to work after 6-8 weeks, their body has barely recovered from the ordeal of giving birth. By "recovered", I mean that they can walk and sit for 15-20 minutes at a time without pain. The human body doesn't fully recover from the ordeal until 3-6 months (or more) following birth. So, we have a lot of women in physical pain, that have no choice but to return to work.
  • Reduce cost of daycare. I'm sure some of you are wondering how this would reduce the cost of anything. I can tell you from experience, that the most expensive type of childcare for a daycare to provide is that of "infant" care. Because infants are so needy (feeding, changing, cleaning bottles, rocking to sleep) they require a much lower teacher to child ratio. If we remove 50% of these infants from the daycare system, the cost of daycare should reduce because of a lower overall teacher to child ratio. 
  • Encourage women to work. Now, I'm not 100% sure if that's something that I want as a benefit, but it is a benefit. If you are worried about paying women who will not go back into the work force anyway, you can allocate funds based on whether they return to work after the time frame. For example, if you receive 6 months of paid maternity leave, and don't return to work within 1 year (unless you become disabled) you have to repay 50% of the funds. I can say that if I were offered the choice of 6 months paid maternity leave, I probably would have returned to work when my first child was 6 months. I still likely would have quit after my second child, but having just one child at home (or to put in daycare) and being somewhat isolated was very difficult for me that first year.
  • Empower women to make their choice. I didn't have much of a choice to make when I first had a child. I was in a low-paying job, so I would only net $500 a month after childcare. My husband wanted me to stay home, and I wanted to stay home. I didn't have any family in the area as a support system. So, even though I had what I "thought" I wanted, I felt like I didn't have a choice. For women already at risk for post-partum depression, adding any more risk factors such as huge life change, and feeling forced into a decision, is always a bad idea. Give us the space and freedom to make our choices, rather than forcing a choice on us. Many women feel forced to continue working, because they only get six weeks at a partial payment and then have to return to work or continue with unpaid leave (if it's even available to them).
All that being said, I'm not arguing for or against women in general being in the work force. There are plenty of women who do not make good stay-at-home moms, and plenty of women in the work force who probably shouldn't be. I am all about allowing women the freedom to make that decision. Freedom from financial pressure, freedom from religious pressure, freedom from the pressure of other moms. However, in general, moms (or dads) do need to be home with their kids the first 6 months of their lives. That's a time that you can't get back with your children, and they can't get it back with you.