Monday, August 31, 2015

What is Socialization?

I've posted about this before, especially regarding homeschool versus public school. However, with the advent of my son's 5 year old check up (including the doctor's comments on our choice of school) and the back-to-school adventures of friends and acquaintances, I thought another post was due.

First, socialization should be a concern of every parent, whether their children are in public school or homeschool. However, the concerns a parent may have in either case, are very different, and I would argue that neither option automatically "solves" the problem of socialization.

What type of socialization are we talking about?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Five

            After a somewhat restless night’s sleep, Karen determined on a course of action to the best of her ability. Her curiosity wouldn’t let her completely trust the Wellbrooke’s, despite Miles’ specific instructions. But she also knew she would need their help in order to do whatever it was that she was supposed to do here in Kentucky. The smell of coffee floated upstairs at around 6:00am, and because she wasn’t sleeping anyway, she headed down to try to get some energy for the day ahead. She had decided that she wouldn’t need to change the locks or worry about the Kentucky property, but she was still wondering why Miles had sent her all this way.
            Over steaming cups of black coffee, she chatted with Marybelle, but couldn’t determine much from her. She could tell Marybelle was very positive and friendly, but there were times when the conversation would repeat itself, or something strange would come out of her mouth and Karen wondered about dementia. When she had eaten as many bites of the plain oatmeal as she could stand, she headed out to the barn to see if she could find Eli.
            At the door of the barn, she stopped in her tracks when she heard two distinct male voices, with very strident tones.
            “I don’t know that I like strangers on this property. I told you already that I don’t feel like you two need to be staying here for very long and I mean that. Now you’re coming around poking in my business, and all you are is a friend of a stranger. She may have a right to be on this property, but you don’t!”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New Friends

Theoretically, Facebook should make it easier to make new friends. And sometimes it does. But you can't even truly consider someone your friend until you've met them in person. Why? Because you can't know who they really are.

I can assume that I will like or dislike someone based on their Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest accounts (I'm getting old, so forgive me if I've left anything truly important out). Maybe you even read their blog or follow their podcast, and you think, "I'm really getting to know this person and like what I see". The thing is, that no matter how honest or emotional or verbose they may be online, they may be a completely different person in real life.

Even the first few times meeting a new potential friend can feel a little awkward One or both of you may put on a facade and not be your true self (just as many people do when they are dating). I can feel strange and you still don't truly know that person.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


This is a double post, about self-discipline and discipline for kids.

I have very little self-discipline. I've been trying this whole "no added sugar" thing, and completely polished off the leftover cookies from Daniel's birthday party. I start things (exercise programs, flossing my teeth, reading my Bible) and never get into a good enough habit that I continue them. It's frustrating to say the least, but even more so when my husband has the self-discipline of 10 men.

So, I keep chugging along and "try hard" and nothing changes. Here's the real kicker, though: as Christians we are to live as new creations. So my old self will pass away and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. So what's my excuse now? Obviously, I'm human, as we all are, and I have my failings and sin in my life, but maybe instead of "working harder" to improve an area of my life, I just need to love harder, pray harder, and let God do the work He wants to do in me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Getting a Toddler to Sleep

It seems really cute when someone puts a comment on a new baby post that says, "here come the sleepless nights". But then, the sleepless nights really do come. And what they don't tell you, is that they don't ever stop! I only have two kids, so I can't imagine people that have more than that ever get any sleep.

Why am I not sleeping? Well, the first is just the random factor. Odds are, at least once or twice a week, each child will be up in the early am (5am or so) and not be able to get back to sleep. Or they will have a nightmare or hear a noise and come snuggle with mom and dad. This part I don't mind as much.

Why else am I not sleeping? Because my toddler is trying to drive me insane with sleep deprivation! When we first moved to our new house, I was so proud of how well he slept, because he's always been a bit of a difficult sleeper. Well, that was a mistake - the pride. Somehow, he's gotten it in his head that bedtime is now 11:00pm. Nothing we do or say helps.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Post-Modern Theology and Morals

For the purposes of this post, I'm using the Merriam-Webster definition of post-modern "of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history or language."

First, I want to say that there is truly nothing new under the sun. We seem to think that we are the only "post-modern" society, when anyone who has actually studied theology, philosophy or history, knows the cyclical nature of the world we live in.

Second, I want to point out a few fallacies of a post-modern theology or moral stand.

For the first part, if you are familiar with your Bible, you may associate "nothing new under the sun" with Ecclesiastes. If you have read Ecclesiastes or Job, you will see several examples of "post-modern" thinking from approximately 950 years before Christ.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Four

Chapter Four

After almost six hours in the car, even Karen was starting to feel a little stir-crazy. Justin had taken a turn at the wheel, and Karen was trying to figure out the directions. “How many miles did you say we started at on the odometer for this road?” She asked.
“It said 150.6 when we turned on this road. We haven’t even seen a gas station in thirty minutes, where do these people fill-up?” Justin glanced from green hills to an  old farmhouse with a dirt driveway and then back at his odometer. “So we’ve gone about 32 miles on this road. What did your directions say again?”
“Well, the directions said 25 miles, but I didn’t see the correct road number. When we passed through the main town the street numbers started going up again, so I think the address should be a little further down the road. Scott pulled up the directions and he said he saw a west highway 70 and an east highway 70. He thought the farm was at East highway 70, but he wasn’t sure.”
“Well thanks for waiting to tell me that until now. I wouldn’t want to think I was lost or anything.” Justin smiled.
“Wait, I think we’re getting close. That was number 2802 and we’re looking for 2882.” Justin slowed down and started looking on both sides of the road.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Moms (Parents) and Stress

The other night, I took a bath in the evening without my kids screaming and banging on the door. My husband is a saint. And I'm not one of those people who call time spent with Dad, babysitting. I believe fathers should play a very active role in their child's growth and development. However, it does take a special hand to keep young kids away from their Mom, when they know she's in the house.

The bath was part of my new attempt at handling my stress. Since I'm currently trying to deal with my sugar addiction (and maybe sometime soon, my smart phone addiction), I was not handling the stress of our second week of homeschool plus a sick 2-year old very well.

Our second week of homeschool had a few more hiccups, mainly due to my youngest child's illness and me not getting to the library. However, I feel like I saved the day a couple times with some fun "couch time" activities such as guess and spell the word (Hangman + I Spy + phonics) and some good old-fashioned sticker bribery. My oldest son also saved my sanity a few times by being an excellent helper, getting things I needed when I was holding the sick boy, touching him gently and using a sweet gently voice to try to calm him down when there wasn't anything I could do. It's amazing that they do actually start growing up.

But when they are still little, it can be really difficult being a full-time parent. Working parents certainly have times that it's difficult too, and they have the stress of balancing and juggling schedules, but they also have the ability to get out of the house more frequently. Since we've been stuck inside, even though I'm not 100% sure it's a virus (no one else is sick), it's been really difficult.

I think the main difficulty for me, during the course of a normal day, is that there are a few times of not doing anything, so I try to do a little de-stressing (or even get something done around the house), but then there's a sudden interruption (kids screaming, getting sick, getting hurt, wanting something else to eat or drink or spilling food or drink). I think it's that constant ebb and flow, and the fact that, as mom's, we feel completely responsible for our children at all times. I've heard people call it hyper-vigilance before, but I don't think that's entirely true. Although, I do usually have my kids in the back of my mind, I think the real problem is what I call 24-7 syndrome.

Most people, when faced with a stress, are able to leave the situation for a few hours everyday (whether that's leaving a stressful job to return to a calm home or at least a calm car ride home or leaving a stressful home to go to a calm job). Certain people don't have that luxury - two prime examples are stay-at-home parents and deployed military personnel. I'm sure everyone is thrilled with that comparison, but I think it's true, at least to a small extent. Yes, stay-at-home parents aren't dealing with the same threats to our own life (depending on the child) but we have that same inability to leave if the situation gets stressful.

I was shopping for school supplies the other day, with my two small kids, and the checkout clerk was seriously concerned for my well-being (or at least my sanity). He asked multiple times if I was doing okay or needed any help (probably because I couldn't answer the first time, because the 2-year old was about to get into the permanent markers near the checkout). I could tell from his expression that he truly cared, but honestly, unless he wanted to babysit my kids for an hour so I could decompress somewhere else, it wasn't going to help.

What's the point of all this, then? If we all know that parents of young kids are stressed, then how can we help relieve this stress?

  1. Free wine for all parents! Actually, I'm totally kidding on this one. While an occasional glass of wine (no more than 1-2 per week for women) can be a great stress relief, there are a lot of people for whom it can become an addiction. Feeding or fueling your addictions is not the answer.
  2. Free babysitting! There should be a requirement that every town or city should have a quality, drop-off childcare location with short-term babysitting offered. I cannot wait until our new YMCA opens up in town. They do have some classes available already, with child-care, but I'm just not comfortable with the current set-up, and most of the local gyms in the area don't have childcare. My point is, whether you are a working parent or not, you need some time to decompress. If you don't already have that time, find it!
  3. Meditation/bubble baths/massage. I used to get a monthly massage, and my family could definitely tell you when I was overdue for one. Lately, I haven't found a great massage therapist that's close to where we live. I did, however, find an amazing machine called a HydroMassage bed. They have them at the local Planet Fitness, so I'm very tempted to join, but there's no childcare (see # 2).
  4. Adjust your schedule. This is probably the most difficult, but if you are truly stressed out all the time, you may need to make some adjustments to your schedule. Change your work hours (especially if you work from home and your kids schedule has changed), change your errands (try not to bring the kids with you, if possible), and make sure that you're taking care of yourself by eating right, exercising, and making time for stress-relieving activities.
  5. Eat right, exercise, sleep. These three are probably the most important, and also the most difficult for me personally. The sleep I would normally do okay with, but my 2-year old has taken to staying up until 10:30 or later every night, so if my husband and I need some "us" time, it has to wait until 11 or 11:30. I normally deal with my stress by eating lots of sugar, but since my doctor said that was an awful idea, I've been trying to change my habits. I made some energy bites to get my chocolate fix in a marginally healthy way, and have been trying to buy more fresh produce and eat more fish. The exercise I would normally do okay with, but with my ankle injury, I'm trying to take it easy for a little while. I have been meaning to try out my new yoga video, but we'll see how that goes.
  6. Know that you don't control your child's future. No matter how much we worry, prepare, plan, and stress over our kids and whether we are harming them or helping them, God's plans will prevail. We will all have a part to play in that future, but we also will all have good and bad in our parenting experience. We are not experts, we are not perfect, we are all just doing the best we can everyday for our kids and ourselves. And it's enough.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Used Clothing and the Environment

A lot of people lately have been taking a big stand for the environment, which I think is great. One of the side effects, is that buying used clothing no longer has such a stigma attached to it. Which, I personally think is a great thing. I came from a household where I very rarely had any new clothing (and it wasn't because we were hippies). I remember one big shopping trip for new clothes before 7th grade since I would be going to public school for the first time (boy was that exhausting).

My point is, that you can get by just fine without having a ton of "new" clothes. I've found a couple great deals lately that have helped me manage to avoid buying new clothes that my active preschool boys would soon outgrow or tear to pieces. And I've also gifted some gently used clothes (it was at a baby shower, and other than not having tags, I'm not sure anyone could tell that they were used, I did get prior permission from the baby shower host).

So, how have I found decent quality used clothing for my active boys?

  1. Retail locations. A local consignment store in our area was changing businesses (to more of a drop in play area rather than consignment) and was having a huge discount. We bought several items of clothing and a game of twister for only $9! Yes, even consignment stores have clearance sections. If consignment is too pricey, your local thrift store may have better prices (although the quality can be hit or miss).
  2. Friends or family. A friend of ours is moving out of the area soon, and her son is exactly one year older than our youngest. So she happily donated a box of used clothing (and a bunk bed, oh my goodness, the kids are so excited) so that they don't have to cart it across the country with them. Although our kids don't have cousins, anyone you meet could be a possible donation source, just don't be afraid to put the notion out there. And also, don't beg or harass your friends, I mean it is free stuff, right?
  3. Garage sales. I personally have not had many free Saturday mornings (before we moved, it was always swim lessons, after moving it's been coaching soccer, and now attending T-ball practice for my oldest) but I've heard good things. The one or two times I have gone garage sale-ing, I did find some amazing deals in the wealthier areas (a huge, slightly worn wooden baby toy for $1, and a Thomas the train set of track in the package for $1) so it doesn't hurt to ask. I personally don't always have the time to stop at each sale to find one with the right sizes and sort through all that's available.
  4. Semi-annual consignment sales. This has been where most of our used clothing comes from for our kids. I have had decent success going on the first and/or last day of the big consignment sales. There is usually at least one big sale location in each major metropolitan area. They will generally have two sales, one for "winter" clothes and one for "summer" clothes. Make a list before you shop, try not to bring your kids with you, and read over their "FAQ" to find out when the discount days are, where to park, how to pay, and what their hours are.
  5. Church sales. These are generally similar to the semi-annual consignment sale, with a bit of garage sale thrown in the mix. You'll have to do some work, but the prices may be a bit better. They are often not as well advertised, so be sure to ask about them if you are new to the area.
  6. Clothing swap. This is an idea I would love to try out at our local homeschool co-op or would be a great idea for a preschool class. Have everyone in a large group bring together their un-needed or un-wanted items in good condition and sort everything by gender and size. Everyone comes with 15-20 items and leaves with either the same (or fewer, and donate the remainder to charity).
  7. Online. There are several online used clothing companies. One that's offering some great deals right now is Schoola. There's a $15 credit if you use click on the link to sign up, and then a $10 credit for creating a collection (that's $25). Free shipping starts at $25, so I only spent $0.82 on 2 pairs of pants, two jackets, and a long sleeve shirt! You can also check Craigslist for postings, ThredUP is another online used clothing retailer ($20 credit for using this link).
How does this help the environment?

Well, for one, since you aren't personally buying new clothing and throwing away the old items, you are saving the landfill. Secondly, you are saving the cotton (or polyester) and labor of manufacturing the new items. Third, with the money you save, you can make sure that all your new purchases are quality items that will last a long time and hopefully are made in the USA, or hopefully at least made using fair-trade practices. 

Of course, someone has to buy new clothing occasionally, or the cycle gets broken, but even if all you're doing is saving the landfill a few bags of clothing, I think it's a great idea. 

***Links listed are my referral links, thanks for your support!***

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Public School

When certain people hear that I'm planning on homeschooling my kids, they automatically assume that I must hate public education. I'm actually a big believer in the power of public education. However, I've also seen it's failures.

When I was a public school teacher, I saw things that the news would have written a segment about calling for the school to be closed. At least they would have, if that school were in a different neighborhood. There are certain schools that people don't want to send their kids too, and teachers don't want to teach at, and principals don't want to be in charge of for very long.

How do we change these failures of the public education system? It's not always the neighborhood, sometimes it's just the reputation a school has. I think the No Child Left Behind Act was correct to some extent, in trying to identify these failing schools and get them shut down. But instead of being shut down, they are simply being "re-branded".

Here's a somewhat radical idea that I think could actually work. Ask local organizations (including churches) in the same geographic area of the failing schools to submit a 5-year plan to turn the school around. Let them change the name to reflect the neighborhood, let the local businesses sponsor sports and technology and cleaning the grounds (if we can sponsor our local highways, surely we can sponsor our local schools). Make these schools back into what they used to be, what they should be. Open the doors to volunteers instead of making them jump through quite so many hoops. Yes, it's important to protect our kids, but what better protection than to have 3-4 parents, adults, and neighbors helping a group of children to read rather than just "leaving it up to the teachers".

I remember when I was eating lunch with my 6th grade boys in my only semester of public school teaching. I loved those little boys with all my heart. When one of them looked around at the yelling, screaming, noisy chaos of the lunchroom, he turned to me and said, "This is what 5th grade was like all the time." How can we expect them to learn to read in a chaotic environment? How can we expect them to behave themselves if they aren't adequately supervised? How can we expect the school to magically turn around years of regressive behavior and attitudes?

I didn't leave teaching because of the boys I taught. I didn't leave because of the fights I had to break up, and the kids I never saw because they were always in in-school suspension. I didn't leave because of the kids that couldn't read, or the kids that couldn't speak English, or the "honors" kids who still needed basic math facts. I left because the principal poisoned the entire school. She let illegal things happen and ruled by intimidation rather than truly caring for the students (or teachers).

It broke my heart when I had to leave those kids. So, for every back to school comment or post you see about how wonderful and fabulous teachers are and how much they care about their students and work before and after school to try to make their classrooms and teaching motivating to their children, keep in mind the schools that you don't see. The schools that aren't on the news because no one cares. The schools that are missing teachers, and missing supplies, and missing parents and volunteers. If you know about a school like that in your neighborhood, don't just ignore it, put it on your calendar, put it in your wallet, and put it in your prayers. Because the one thing that those schools need that they don't have, is a community that cares about them.

Since we've just moved, I'm not yet entirely familiar with the local schools. So, to keep things simple, the school supplies that I'm collecting at my son's upcoming birthday party will go to the school my son would be assigned to, if he were attending a public school. As well as some of the "extra" school supplies I've been picking up at the back to school sales. Let's get back to the community feeling we should have. We can say all we want that it takes a village to raise a child, but what do we do when the village goes dark?

Monday, August 17, 2015

New You

I haven't been perfect in my goal to cut down on sugar. With my 2-year old suffering from the stomach bug, I gave in and ate a couple pieces of chocolate to help deal with the stress. I made some energy bites, which have been taking the edge off of the chocolate cravings, but my stress levels just got to be too much.

I've been thinking lately about how to truly change yourself, and I've come to realize a few things. First, everyone wants to change something about themselves, even if they look perfect. There's a reason that self-help books are always best-sellers. Yet, we haven't quite figured out how to truly help ourselves yet.

Second, you have to know yourself. My husband and I were talking through some things, and he said that he thought some of it might just take time. As we grow older and have more time and experience under our belts we should have a better knowledge of ourselves and a better framework from which to act.

Third, you can't truly change yourself. You can see yourself, and lament yourself, and manipulate yourself, but you can't change your inner being. You can be more truly yourself, but that's not always a good thing. To truly change, an outside force must be acting upon you. So rather than seeking a self-help book, seek outside a book to find some actual help.

After asking all my friends whether an ankle wrap would help my ankle that has been sore for 3 months, I mentioned it in my regularly scheduled doctor's visit last week. My doctor said that it might be a good idea, because if we're not supported well, we can continuously stress and tweak and re-strain the same injured ankle.

Metaphorically speaking, I can't break this sugar addiction on my own. I need a support system in place. So, rather than going around complaining about the pain or the change in your life that you can't seem to make, go find the support you need. The best support, I've found, has been the people around me, and the God who can truly change lives.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Three

Karen filled Christine in with the background on Miles, but obviously hadn’t prepared her for the kicker. “Miles was killed recently, and I’m now in charge of his estate.”
            Christine almost choked on an ice chip. “What? I thought you were going to tell me he asked you out. The guy is dead? I’m glad I was sitting down!”
            “Sorry, I thought I’d mentioned that part earlier this week. I guess we haven’t had a chance to talk much with everything else that’s been going on.”
            “You mean with me being out late four out of five nights this week. I guess you could say we haven’t. I can’t believe you didn’t wake me up that first morning though. That’s huge news. Why would you want to go through that all alone?”
            Karen shrugged. At this point she didn’t think about going anything alone anymore, it just seemed normal. “Anyway, I think I have to go to Kentucky to figure part of this out. Apparently that’s where he grew up. Do you have enough vacation for a road trip?”
            “I wish. The store will probably be up and running by Tuesday at the latest. It’s not as bad as it looks. I would be on the road in a heartbeat if I could. I’ve always loved Kentucky: the rolling green hills and the beautiful horses.”
            “Well, I’m not sure what part of Kentucky it’s in, actually. I haven’t even had time to let it sink in yet. I wish you could come with me. This is a hard enough job as it is. The only other person helping out is my boss, and it would be a little weird to ask him to take a trip to Kentucky. Looks like it’ll just be me.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Health and Fitness

This one is personal for me, but I'll try not to over share too much. I'm sure most people assume I'm healthy because I'm at a healthy weight, and I generally have been healthy in the past. However, I don't exercise a lot (I know, hate me now). The truth is, that someone who's at a healthy weight, but doesn't exercise or eat right is not as healthy as someone who exercises and eats right, but is overweight. And that's what I learned at my doctor appointment this week.

Now, I'm not unhealthy either, but I had a lot of "borderline" numbers on my latest blood work. The only one that was technically "bad" was my HDL or good cholesterol. The two biggest takeaways my doctor left me with were to eat fewer processed foods, especially sugar, and to exercise more.

The problem is that I do have an addictive personality. One of my addictions is to sugar. It's a way I handle stress. It's a way I cope with boredom. And it's also probably the reason why I had an 11 pound baby the last time around.

I thought I was doing better lately, because I've given up putting sugar in my coffee. But I also moved closer to the in-laws (easy access to sweet tea and orange kool-aid) and I've been stress eating when my kids aren't sleeping (the 2 year old) or wearing me out (both of them). So the few grams of sugar in my coffee were replaced with dozens of grams in various treats, like delicious ice cream sandwiches.

I'm normally a big proponent of everything in moderation. But I also understand that with addictions, sometimes you just have to go cold turkey. I'm not going to avoid everything processed or everything that has a few extra grams of sugar. But I will try a few easy replacements to the very high sugar items and try to add in some high good fat items as well.

Here's a few of my "easy fixes".

Drinks - water, milk, coffee, up to 2 glasses of wine per week (this is supposed to help with HDL and replaces the delicious and I'm sure full of sugar alcoholic root beer that I had been drinking)
Snacks - almonds, whole fruit, whole wheat bread with peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, tuna fish, cheese, and Fiber One bars.

Big No No's - candy, sugary drinks, ice cream, cookies.

I don't think I'll need to make any big changes to my main meals, just maybe skipping dessert for now.

Hopefully this combined with an exercise program once my ankle heals completely will cause next year's numbers to come out a lot better!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Are You Raising Your Kids?

I remember being angry when I read an article (about raising children) that said that pretty much no matter what path you chose, your kids would grow up okay, so you shouldn't worry about it too much. That was the gist of the comment, but in context it felt like a slap in the face to those of us who try so hard to raise our children.

Here's the thing, kids do grow up. One day they will figure out how to live in society and get along with others. But what a horrible childhood and adolescence if they have no one to help them out along the way!

I was talking with my husband the other day about this, and he said there's a difference between growing up and being raised. That hit me pretty hard.

Now, I'm not saying I'm a parenting expert, or that I'm doing a better job of raising my kids than another parent with their kids. I'm only saying that we shouldn't let it take a back seat to everything else that is going on in our life.

I know that some parents have a lot going on (single parents, two-income families, lack of extended family support, special needs etc.). But rather than give these parents an "out" by saying just let them grow up and they'll be fine, let's try to give them a hand up. Offer the single parent some time off so they can deal with their kids a little less stressed. Give the two-income family a hand up by offering to cook dinner or fold some laundry, or mow the lawn. Give the family with no extended family some free babysitting or outgrown clothes or books. We need to live together as a community, not stay in our own little castles keeping our princes (or princesses) safe from the outside world.

Now, how do you raise your own children? I will agree that the method isn't as important as people make it. Here are a few simple steps to consider.

  1. Mission Statement. Take some time with your spouse or by yourself and make a mission statement for your family. I know a family that relates most of their "child-rearing" to getting along with others and competition. That's fine, as long as it's cohesive in their mind what they are raising their children for. Again, I do agree that to some extent the how doesn't matter, as long as you are okay with where you are leading your children. Our personal mission statement will be much different than yours.
  2. Family Statement. Especially if you have older children, let them in on the fun! Have them come up with some ideas of what they want their family to be. Their heart and passion may surprise you!
  3. Family Rules. These should not just be rules for the kids. Depending on your kids they won't let it be. Keep the number of rules according to average ages of your children. For pre-school children, keep the rules to 3-5. Early elementary may be able to handle 4-6 rules. Later elementary and early middle school could handle 5-7 rules. Once your kids are teenagers, start dropping the rules back. Your teenager (hopefully) does not need a rule to keep hands and feet to themselves, and also needs to start developing a personal moral code rather than solely a family code.
  4. Consistency. Here's the big thing that should result from all of the above. Your corrections, your enforcement, your consequences, your daily schedule should all wrap around your personal and family mission statement and family rules. Whatever you do with your thoughts, your time, your finances, should reflect your mission statement. If not, you may need to make more changes than just in raising your children. Raising your children is not just discipline, but a lifestyle. If you are only disciplining your children, but they see you living something completely different, then your discipline is ineffective. If you don't have faith and passion regarding your family rules, then your discipline will not be enforced consistently, and your discipline will be ineffective. 
  5. KISS. Put the KISS principle in play (keep it simple, silly). If you're talking all the time to your kids about the same thing, they will stop listening. If you are having to constantly enforce a rule (past the age of 3 or 4) then it may be either a rule you need to get rid of, or you've not been enforcing it the right way. Any needed discipline should be simple with a short explanation and a swift and rational consequence.
Seeing yourself reflected in your kids can either be a disheartening prospect or an encouraging one. If you're feeling disheartened on a regular basis, consider making some changes in how you raise your kids. It's hard work, but it's definitely worth it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gluten Free Budget Meal Plan

Personally, my family does not follow a gluten free diet. However, I know many people that do. Rather than get into a disagreement about whether or not it's a good plan for a specific person to be on, since I'm not a doctor, I thought I would list a "budget" meal plan for gluten free, since it seems that most foods that claim to be gluten free are more expensive.

I will briefly say, that if a gluten-free diet is something that you're trying because of behavior issues with your children, or anything other than a diagnosed gluten allergy or sensitivity, that you may want to consider other options first, such as reduced screen time, fewer processed foods, and eliminating food dye. Gluten is in many very healthy foods, so please don't avoid gluten just because it worked for someone else.

As a basic run-down, gluten is a part of the grain and is especially found in wheat (including durum, spelt, farina, and farro), rye, and barley. So, the easiest answer is to avoid those grains. The more difficult answer, because many processed foods also contain traces of wheat or gluten, is that you should be avoiding those grains and making all your own food. The great news is that making your own food is generally cheaper.

Other than making your own foods rather than buying processed, what are some other easy and cheap gluten free options? Let's focus mainly on replacing those carbohydrates

Budget Gluten Free options:
  • Oats
  • Rice (make your own rice flour)
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Buckwheat seeds (if you grow your own)
More expensive gluten-free options include:
  • Amaranth
  • Chia seed
  • Peanut flour
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
I know oats, rice, potatoes and corn don't sound very exciting, but in many regions of the world, this is their main form of grain or carbohydrate. So, the issue is not that you can't eat it as a main part of your diet, it's just that in America we've grown accustomed to so many processed foods. Try to replace one food at a time with something that is prepared at home, even if it's just a bowl of oatmeal instead of processed cereal. Your health and your wallet will thank you.

Bread is not "necessary". However, if you truly must have bread, you can definitely make your own. There are a ton of websites out there with recipes for various flour mixes to approximate an "all-purpose" flour. But again, my suggestion is to just avoid bread altogether and focus on easy to make bread alternatives such as cornbread (substitute rice flour for all-purpose) potatoes of every variety, oats, corn, and whatever other delicious fruits and vegetables you can eat.

My biggest budget saver for people is to avoid the most expensive three items on their grocery list. So, if you're not gluten-free, or already make all your own gluten-free products, then you need to look at your own budget to see what your biggest offenders are and work on reducing those costs. It's not about a bare-bones budget, just making wise choices with what we have been given.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Baseball Practice

My almost five year old participated in his entire baseball practice on Saturday. I was pleasantly surprised, because it has definitely been "hit or miss" previously. However, when they were practicing without hitting the ball, he instinctively stopped when they told him to run the bases. They had him swing with an imaginary bat at an imaginary ball and then told him to run to first base.

His response, "Why?"

I can understand what he was thinking. If I didn't actually hit the ball, why should I run to first base?

Sometimes kids can ask some pretty perceptive questions.

If we truly think about our lives, do we really deserve to be where we're at? If we haven't hit it out of the ballpark at our jobs, do we deserve this big house or nice car? If we haven't worked out our own personal failings, do we deserve this responsibility of bringing up these kids and their entire future resting in our hands?

Today's society seems to be telling us that we do deserve it, not matter what, but on what basis? The Christian worldview puts it into perspective a little differently. You absolutely do not deserve it. You are absolutely a sinner. a failure, a roadblock for someone else. Yet, it was given freely. Forgiveness, grace, a man's life, God's Son. All given and all forgiven so you could have a different perspective. A perspective that even though you didn't deserve and continue to be unable to live up to what you've received, you will still see a hope and future.

So, instead of trying to convince yourself that you do deserve what you've been given, take some time today to think about what you really deserved and give thanks for what you received instead. Give thanks that you've been given so much more than you deserved. Rather than "treating" yourself by spending money on something temporary, try to thank God by spending some time on something eternal.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Two

            On a Saturday morning, only a few days after her official appointment as personal representative, Karen sat down with a thick accordion file. Scott had offered to take care of some of the paperwork for her, but Karen felt like this was something Miles had wanted her to do on her own. She still wasn’t sure why, but there must be something more than their casual acquaintance connecting her to Miles. Although finding a link to Miles in this dry, dusty legal file seemed a little far-fetched, she knew she had to start somewhere. She definitely did not want to go into his bloodstained house. Scott had told her that the crime scene team had changed the locks when they completed their job and she now had the only key. With everything secured, she could put off the house for another day.
            She settled back into her cozy recliner. Not one to splurge much, she was glad she had purchased this chair. Karen was an avid reader, and this chair was perfect for curling up on a rainy day.
            As she glanced out the window to the small park across the street, she saw that today was far from rainy despite her mental state. Her thoughts traveled back, however, to the stormy day when she first met Miles. It was hard to believe that six years had passed. Yet, she didn’t know Miles any better now than she had that day. Maybe she didn’t even know him as well, she thought as she reread the will.
            After a few small gifts to distant aunts, uncles and cousins, and any debts or expenses were paid, all of the rest of Miles estate was to be given to Karen Audersfelt. She was shocked that he even remembered her last name. Yet, he even spelled it correctly. She flipped to the last page, his signature and the date. He had signed this will only a year ago. She was surprised that he had thought to update his estate plan. At his age, with no family to care for, most men felt invincible and didn’t bother with wills or estate plans. As a matter of fact, she thought, It’s not just men, I don’t even have an estate plan or a will.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Marriage, Committment, & Love

I know I have the dreaded M word in a blog post again. Here's the thing, though. That which we ignore or avoid we kill.

I try to be a gardener, but inevitably, time slips away. My basil plant is looking pretty wilted since it hasn't rained in awhile, and it's too hot. It should probably be watered daily right now since it's in a pot on the deck. Or maybe should find a shady spot for a few days in the heat of the afternoon. There's also a large flower on one of the basil stems, which means it will die even sooner now. The annuals I planted near my mailbox look very wilted, I'm not sure if they have a disease or just need water too.

The tomato plants need better staking, the sunflowers are about to tip over, and I already pulled up the bean plants because I didn't have time to keep harvesting (but I do have a nice gallon size bag of fresh green beans in the freezer).

But wait, this is supposed to be a marriage post, not a gardening post, what's up with that?

Marriage can be compared to a lot of things. I'm not directly comparing it to a garden, because that's not exactly right. But, just as your garden will wilt, falter, fill with weeds, and get diseased if you ignore it, so will your heart and your marriage.

Time is one factor in keeping a marriage healthy. Time to talk through mutual decisions, time to rediscover one another's passions (even if you don't have the same passion), time to do for one other, give to one another, honor one another with your body, soul, and mind. Time to grow together in your faith, time to discuss the future, time to pray together and laugh together and cry together.

But what if you just don't feel like you have the time? I have two young kids, I have several part-time jobs, I have volunteer committments, housework, and KIDS (oh and I have a garden too). So many times, when my husband gets home and cooks me dinner and plays with the kids, I don't take the time to say "Thank you" or "I love you". But what I'm doing is slowly killing that love and respect we've nurtured. Not through anything I'm doing, but through what I'm not doing.

The great news is, that if both people in a marriage are committed to each other, that wilt and disease and dryness can be overcome. It just takes a little time and an understanding of what true love is.

True love is not the fluffy feeling of attraction. It's not the hot feeling of lust. It's not the romantic feeling of an idealized version of reality. True love is being committed to that person no matter what, giving a little bit of yourself up (not your identity, but your desires) to build something new. We can read our romance novels or plan our perfect human being that we might one day meet, or we can build something beautiful together in the real world. Making real sacrifices, real change, and real love a part of our everyday life, not just an afterthought.

It's one thing to let a few green beans go to waste, but if you're wasting someone's heart, that's a much bigger responsibility. You don't have to change the garden or get an easier plant to raise, you just have to make the time to cultivate what you already have.

How does your garden grow?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Budgeting Personalities

When I was a financial counselor, I saw quite a few people who had big budgets, small budgets, no budgets, and everything in between. I've come across quite a few budgeting personalities, although this is by no means an exhaustive list.

  1. Rollercoaster. This is the person who lives on rice and beans for 3 months only to blow it all on a luxury car and expensive apartment. I was going to use the heading bi-polar, but then I realized that was offensive, and many of my clients actually were diagnosed as bi-polar. If you truly cannot control these impulses, please seek the care of a psychiatrist or mental health professional. For those of us who just do it out of habit, try not going quite so far into rice and beans territory. During your "cheap" phase, save up a small sum of money each week as your "blow money" or as we call it in our house the adult allowance. This way, when you want to spend again, you have something available and don't go into debt. Also, if you have any major purchase (set a hard dollar limit) you are considering wait at least 3-30 days before making the purchase.
  2. What budget? - I have a ton of money. These were by far the most difficult clients as a debt management counselor. They usually made really good money and had easy access to credit. They were usually smart, professional, and easy to get along with. However, they could not see the problem even when it was right in front of their noses. I'm sure we can afford the private school, we've never had a problem before (even though our budget is $2,000 a month in the red). I'm not giving up my house, boat, car, toys because it's our ONLY entertainment (even though they cost $1,200 a month). I've always made it work before, so I don't see why I can't keep doing so (even with $50,000 of credit card debt and a salary of $70,000). This was so difficult because I wanted to just slap them in the face with the truth, you are GOING BROKE, and THERE IS NO CHAPTER 7 because you make too much money. Get your head out of the sand! But obviously that would be rude and unacceptable, so I'll just put it out there for the Internet. If that's you, please seek help. There is no easy answer, but if you take the advice of a trained credit counselor, you may be able to crawl out of the hole you've dug. The first step is recognizing the hole. Try not to wait until you hit rock bottom.
  3. What budget? - I have no money. Actually, these customers were pretty easy. They didn't have access to credit, so they couldn't overspend. There problems were more along the line of, my windows are broken so I can't afford the heat bill and have moved in with my uncle. Or, a door-to-door salesman sold us a water filtration system and we were unaware of the costs and now there's a lien on our house. Or, what do we do when the unemployment or food stamps run out. Or when the car is repossessed or the house is foreclosed. Here's the thing, education is your main tool. Go to the library, go to local food banks, contact your local church, call your local 2-1-1 number. There are resources for almost every need. If you've been taken advantage of financially because of your age, income, or mental status, contact your attorney general's office. Then, when your emergency needs have been met, sit down and create not only a budget, but a plan to get back on your feet. Consider career options, side-jobs, and all the available benefits. If you don't want to be a charity case, take the charity and pay it back when you've improved your life. 
  4. We have a budget - but I can't tell you what it is. There are a lot of people who think they live on a budget (or could live on a budget) but they just don't. It's too complicated, they don't track their spending, and they really don't want to. Here's the thing, you have a budget, you just aren't in control of it right now. Getting your spending plan on track is putting yourself back in the driver's seat. So create your own budget and then follow one of two plans to track your spending. Plan A is for the people who struggle with cards and receipts, use cash only and put it in an envelope. Anytime you take money out of an envelope for any reason put what you think you are going to spend it on and/or what you actually spend it on. Write it on the envelope. Plan B is for people who hate pen and paper - track every receipt using either an app, online tool, or excel spreadsheet. This can be a bit more cumbersome at first (and I actually don't use receipts much anymore since most of our spending is on cards) but it gives you a clear picture and history of where your money is going and makes for easier adjustments.
  5. Nitpicky McScrooge. OK, this is probably me most days, but I'm working on it. This is the person who not only tracks every expense to the penny and saves at least 10% for retirement and has an adult allowance for her husband, and balances each and every account at least monthly (except the checkbook, I hate that one for some reason). What's the problem? Without some checks and balances in place, this person will become a scrooge and hate giving money away or making money errors or having an emergency. How to solve that problem? Well, it's all about balance. Fortunately, my husband is the opposite, and the Holy Spirit is a great motivator. So, I try to give with open hands, plan for the unexpected, and relax about retirement, because I really can't calculate my expected annual income at 65 when I'm only 30. Plus, it's all God's anyway. We came into this world with nothing, and we leave this world with nothing. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Sorry to wax philisophical, but this is a heart problem, not a budgeting problem. Although for some practical motivation, if you live in the United States and make at least the median income, you should be supporting (education, healthcare, basic needs) at least one person in a 3rd world country for every person in your family (just my humble opinion).
  6. Generous McGiving. This is the George Washington Carver. The person who makes a bunch of money and gives it all away before he gets to the bank. Maybe we could use a few more of these in our world today. The problem, if you give away the rent money you might get kicked out of your apartment! Set up a basic needs budget first and put the money for those bills in a place that's hard to access so you don't give all your money away (hide your checkbook until bill-paying day, if you must). If you are very wealthy, look into the best ways to donate money such as a charitable needs trust. Make sure you have enough income for now and the future, and set up your will accordingly. Make sure no one in your family or church has a need, and then keep on giving!
  7. Fluctuating income and/or expenses. Many people have income that fluctuates. Some only get income 10 months out of the year. Some have paychecks that vary with commission or bonuses. Some get paid weekly, and others once a month. Figure out the best budgeting system for yourself and stick to it. Use your minimum income (and/or minimum expenses) to set up your budget and then stock any extra for those days when you don't have the higher income.
  8. I follow someone else's plan. Here's the thing, your budget won't work unless it works for you. If you want to follow Dave Ramsey, that's great. If you try to follow Dave because your neighbor did and paid off all their debt, then I don't think that's the right solution. Figure out what your personality is and work with it. Pay of your debt, certainly, but Dave (and all the other financial gurus out there) are not necessarily right all the time, so go with your gut and make your own plan. Focus on your goals, not someone else's.
I'm sure there are more budgeting personalities out there, but hopefully the advice I gave will help some of you who may be struggling with which direction to go.

Save for my future, or buy me pretty things? You decide!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Field Trips Galore

I know that this is two "homeschool" type posts in a row. However, this is also a moving/personal commentary as well. I'm sure everyone runs a cost/benefit analysis before moving, right? Well, I was thinking that with a higher house payment and potentially higher utility costs (according to the online surveys, but really I haven't seen higher utilities yet) our cost of living would increase slightly. However, I've found that I have actually been spending less on gas and transportation than I forecast (although that has the small potential to increase depending on which location my husband moves to permanently).

The other benefit that I didn't really factor in, and that is hard to put a value on, is cultural opportunity. The greater Raleigh area has such a vast wealth of free or low-cost educational and/or cultural opportunities that I'm honestly a bit overwhelmed right now. I knew of several (the free state museums downtown), but I wanted to get together an official list, since part of my homeschool curriculum is to take weekly field trips.

Imagine my surprise when after about 30 minutes and a few searches on my smart phone while the kids played somewhat nicely together in destroying the living room (although they did clean up, not sure how I managed that one) and I have a list of over 20 possible field trips with no repeats. Almost all are within a 20 minute drive and almost all (90%) are free (other than potentially parking for some of the downtown options). I'm positive this is not an exhaustive list, and almost every item on the list is something I know my kids will be excited about even at their young ages.

There are so many local parks with educational opportunities and a few other ideas that I haven't even researched yet. So far, our homeschool plans are much more exciting than public school, and much of it is thanks to the many cultural and educational opportunities in this area. I'm not sure if Louisville had as many and maybe I just wasn't as aware, or if it was just that most of them were too far from the part of town I lived in. Either way, I'm excited to live in a part of town that's close to so much without being the "desirable" part of town (i.e. expensive and full of traffic) so I can actually get to everything quickly and cheaply. Gotta love free!

Also, I'm not trying to knock public schools. I've been a teacher in one and they have the capacity to be great. However, if you're not working full-time, then your kids being gone until 4pm doesn't sound like all that great of a deal. At least not most days...

Monday, August 03, 2015

Homeschool Room

A lot of people have been posting lately on Facebook about getting their homeschool rooms finished. I have a couple empty shelves waiting to see what I want to do, but for now, I think I'm pretty well set, so I figured I would share. Also, I know there are many of you who have asked for new house pictures. Well, I will have to do those one room at a time. With two young kids, it is extremely difficult for more than one room of my house to be photo ready at any given moment.

Here's the picture of our sunroom/guest room/homeschool room! There are actually a few shelves that still have more room, and we're down to about 1/2 a box left to unpack in the house, so I feel pretty proud of our moving expertise.

Our "Weather Center" and "Work Station"

Notice the empty shelf and globes/maps