Category Archives: Homemaking

Budget Cuts: How to Go from 2 Incomes to 1

cropped 34I’m excited to introduce my first guest blogger!  A former missionary kid, Joy grew up in Swaziland and Fontainebleau, France.  She worked as a teacher, preschool director, and programs coordinator for an adoption agency, before becoming a stay at home mom.  Though the rewards are great, the pay sure isn’t!  After checking out Joy’s tips for budget trimming, we’d love to hear YOUR tips in the comment section below.

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Last summer, I left the job that I loved and embraced a higher calling: motherhood.  Besides gaining a beautiful baby boy, we also lost one income.  My husband and I live in an expensive city in the US so our budget took a hit.  How were we going to pay all of our bills, tithe and save?  We had to take a serious look at our budget and make some difficult adjustments.  And so, our lifestyle changed.

Here’s a few of the most helpful changes we’ve made to help stretch our budget along the way:

1. We decided to use cloth diapers.  We had been tossing around the idea of using cloth IMG_2762 editeddiapers for a while but when our son arrived and we realized how much we spent on diapers monthly, we decided to go for it.  And we love it!  We started when my son was 3 months old.  We use the Grovia hybrid system and we spent about $350 to purchase everything.  We have 8 shells and 24 inserts.  Our son wears cloth all day, but at night he wears Pampers Stay Dry.  Because we use cloth diapers, a box of 56 disposables lasts us about a month and a half.

Now that my son is eating solids, we use Grovia’s bioliners.  If his diaper is just wet, then I wash the bioliner with the rest of the diapers and use it again.  When the liner gets holes in it, I throw it away.  If he has a messy diaper, the cleanup is easy.  Just throw the liner with the poop away and put the cloth diaper and shell in the wet bag to wash later.  It’s less hassle and less mess.

2. I make a meal plan every week.  I shop in my pantry first to see what ingredients I have so I can plan my meals around them.  Then, I figure out what meals we are going to have that week, and I make my grocery list.  Some weeks, I only need to replenish our fresh food supply and I can keep the meals planned the previous week.

I have found that making as much as you can from scratch is the cheapest way to go.  Frozen veggies are another money saving idea.  I still buy fresh ones, but I also have a stock of frozen ones because they last longer and can make a good supplement to a meal.  I can always throw together a stir fry easily too.  Finally, don’t be afraid to make breakfast food for dinner.  Omelets, waffles, pancakes, french toast or crepes with fruit and yogurt make cheap, filling meals and often only require ingredients that you already have in your cupboards.  We usually have breakfast for dinner once a week.

3. We track our spending each week.  This way, throughout the month, we see how we are doing budget-wise and how much we have left.  There is a lot of software out there to help families track their spending.  My husband created our spreadsheet but Mint.com has come highly recommended.

Groceries are one of the major items in our budget each month, so I have a post-it note on my fridge with the dollar amount that reflects what we have budgeted.  At the beginning of each month, I get a new post-it and write the amount that I have available to spend that month on groceries.  Every time I come home from the store, I subtract the amount I spent from the amount on the post-it.  This way, I know exactly how much I have to spend for the rest of the month.  I’m very visual and it’s a good reminder for me.

4. I shop with my grocery list and my calculator.  I know, I know.  How embarrassing to walk through the grocery store and add up each and every item!  But it really helps me to see how much I am spending so that I am not surprised when I get to the cash register.  Because I know how much I can spend from the post-it on the fridge, I stay in budget and still get what’s on my list.  I may just need to choose the cheaper option instead of the name brand or the organic one for a few things.  Plus, I use the calculator on my phone so it looks a little less embarrassing (hopefully!).

This month, I am trying to cut our grocery budget in half.  I want to stay within $250 for all of our groceries.  Ambitious?  I know.  Because I am a stay at home mom, I can go to different grocery stores and shop the deals, within reason of course.  When I was working, this was not possible because of my schedule and desire to spend time with my husband after work.  We are also blessed with an Asian supermarket within walking distance.  It is the cheapest and best place for me to get fresh produce, especially since my son just started eating solids and I am making his baby food.  Last week, I bought 2 acorn squash, 3 zucchini, 5 apples, 2 lbs of clementines, 3 large sweet potatoes, 1lb of celery and 2 onions for just $18. So far this month, I have been spending $60/week on groceries and now, I am at the end of the month with $13 to spare.  My goal from now on is to spend $240-$280 a month.

These budget stretching ideas may or may not work for your family, but my family has found it extremely helpful to make a plan, track our progress, and experiment with new ideas (cloth diapers, home-made baby food, and Asian markets have been much easier to adopt than we ever expected).

And yet, my family can budget and plan as much as we want but I need to remember Who ultimately provides for us.  I need to embrace Matthew 6:33 and seek first the kingdom of God without worrying about how He will provide for us.  Growing up as a missionary kid, I saw how God provided for our family in times when we thought it impossible for Him to do so.  And now as an adult, with a husband and baby, He is still showing me how important I am to Him, and how He will provide for my every need.  It may not be my every want, although He does provide for those too, but He has always provided for my every need.

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Making Peace with Family Systems (or Why Everybody Fights So Much Over the Holidays)

family
Years ago in a Marriage and Family class, my professor drew big circles on the whiteboard to represent family systems.  He talked about “closed” systems and “open” systems, and all sorts of other terms that eventually filled his circles with arrows and scribbles and a general sense of disorder.  This holiday season I found myself thinking a lot about those circles.

Every day I live in my own circle.  It’s the “Me and Husband Family System.”  It has its own set of priorities, entertainment preferences, conflicts, and agreements.  This Thanksgiving we loaded up the minivan, drove four hours, rang my parents’ doorbell, and stepped back into the “circle” that raised me.  Mom and Dad’s family system.  It was as familiar as my mom’s fried rice, and yet it fit like skinny jeans after a pregnancy.  How can something that made you who you are, no longer fit who you’ve become?  

My answer came three weeks later when Christmas rolled around and we spent a week living in another “circle,” the one that raised my husband.  I realized that marriage is a little like tossing two family systems into a bag and shaking it until they smooth each other out.  In the end what you take out of the bag is entirely new.

Sometimes it’s beautiful, like a stone polished with friction.  And sometimes it’s broken.  Sometimes we realize the pieces we were given were never whole to begin with, and trying to build something healthy is like assembling a bicycle with broken parts.  Even if we can make it look normal on the outside, it will never race down a road.  So how do we make peace with family systems?  Here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

Recognize that every family system is flawed.  From the moment sin entered the world, nobody had a shot at doing this “family” thing perfectly.  So, what if we just admitted it?  What if we gave our parents, and our in-laws, and our parents’ parents the freedom to be human?  To have made mistakes that impact us and yet to be treated with dignity, love, and forgiveness–the same way Christ has treated us?

Acknowledge the specific failings of the family system.  I think there are two unhealthy tendencies for dealing with the failures of a family system.  We either want to sweep them under the rug, or we want to frame them on the mantel.  Neither is beneficial.  Think about your own children.  Would you really want them to pretend they haven’t been hurt or negatively impacted by the mistakes you’ve made?  To quietly grow bitter toward you?  Or worse yet, to repeat those mistakes?  As terrifying as exposing the failures of a family system can be, when it’s done with a commitment to love one another, it can be liberating.  Messy as a bachelor pad, but liberating.

Lay the past to rest.  None of us own a time machine.  Which is why framing past failures on the mantel is so devastating.  Nobody wants to be defined by their mistakes, nor made to pay for them again and again.  At some point we have to deal with the ugly under the rug, then forgive and lay the past to rest.  Throw it in the trash with the turkey carcass and all the other things we’re officially “done” with.  That is grace.  And we all need it.

Accept personal responsibility for the family system you’re creating.  Believe me, I know how comforting it can be to blame someone else for all the things you dislike about yourself.  Your inability to trust.  Your penchant for shutting people out.  That anger problem you have.  But the hard truth is nobody will be held accountable for our lives except us.  The beautiful side to that truth is we’re not slaves to the past.  In Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pe 1:3), everything we need to grow, to change, and to overcome.

As I move into this new year, I’m reminded again that Jesus is the essence and the fullness of Hope, one of my favorite things about Him.  There is no hurt He can’t heal, no relationship He can’t restore, and no failure He can’t redeem.  His presence within us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Our only hope of glory.

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The Home as a Holy Place

child-praying

After meditating on the home as a place of rest and learning, I’m on to purpose #3: the home as a holy place.  *exhale*  I already feel convicted and I’ve barely started typing yet.  I suppose it’s because I know our home isn’t always very holy.  I think I delude myself into believing I can contain the unholiness, like a visitor I can relegate to just one room.  Hand her a glass of iced tea, lock the door, and only come in for a visit now and then.  Like when the kids are in bed and I want to watch something entertaining.  Or when I’m really mad and I “deserve” to let off some steam.  Or when things get tough and I want to slip into her room and daydream about an easier life.

But the truth about unholiness is she will not be contained.  She’s not the kind of visitor who makes her bed in the morning and only emerges for breakfast.  She’s the kind who overtakes the house.  Who leaves her socks in the den and her thoughts in your heart and her perfume in the air.  She’s the visitor who grows to define the home, until one day you realize she’s become the tenant and you’ve become the guest.

And yet, the concept of a holy home is such a beautiful one to me.  I long for our home to be set apart for Christ, a sacred place where He is pleased to reign.  But how?  How do I kick unholiness out of my house and lock the door behind her?

Recognize that for unholiness to enter the home it must first enter our hearts.  Unholiness can’t sneak into our homes of its own volition.  We are the ones who track it in like mud on the bottom of our shoes.  What makes it so deceptive is it takes many forms.  A stray thought that becomes a companion, a bitter resentment watered daily, a quiet addiction kept under wraps.  Before long these things determine the mood and atmosphere of a home.  But what if we got on our knees and kept short accounts with God, regularly repenting of the unholiness in our hearts?  Surely this would be the primary way to purge our homes of such an unwelcome guest.

Consider the vulnerabilities of every member of the household.  When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God warned them: “Do not bring any detestable objects (idols) into your home, for then you will be destroyed just like them.  You must utterly detest such things, for they are set apart for destruction” (Deut. 7:26).  The point is our homes should be a refuge from the things God hates.  They should be places of protection from temptation for every member of the household.  Which means when I rent a movie I don’t just need to consider the things that make me stumble, but the things that make my husband stumble as well.  The detestable idols that easily ensnare me may not be the same idols that easily ensnare members of my family.

Give Christ preeminence in the home.  “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).  Not only must I dethrone ungodly idols in our home, I must enthrone Jesus Christ as the true King.  As a child, whenever we moved to a new home my parents would pray their way through the whole house.  Living in foreign countries where idol worship was common, they literally dethroned any false gods who had been worshipped within the walls and exalted Christ as Lord of the home.  They prayed for the people we would serve and the ministry that would take place within our home.  They gave each room to God, for His glory, asking Him to grant us sleep in our bedrooms, harmony in our family room, fellowship in our kitchen.

It’s a small start, but these are the things I’ve been mulling over.  So often I am the fool who not only fails to lock her door, but swings it wide open and invites unholiness in for a cup of tea…only to wonder why she leaves the china in shambles.  What about you?  How do you cultivate a holy home?  How do you protect it from the influences of an ungodly world?  One of my favorite things about this series on the purposes of the home has been your feedback.  I loved all the suggestions for teaching and resting in the home, so if you’ve got a second (and some insight to spare!) I’d love to hear it.
(photo credit)

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Teaching God’s Truth in the Home

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I’ve referenced Passionate Homemaking’s article about the 7 purposes of the home a few times now because I’m on a mission to meditate on each purpose, prayerfully applying them to our home.  After thinking through ways to cultivate a more restful home, I’m on to purpose #2: The Home as a Place of Learning God’s Truth.  So how can I more intentionally teach my kids?  I’ve started by recognizing that there are two different forms of teaching.

PROACTIVE TEACHING
Sometimes the role of homemaker feels like a bad episode of Survivor.  Live through the day, make whatever alliances are necessary to maintain the peace, and if push comes to shove close one eye when somebody’s eating a bug.  But deep down I know I’m called to more than just “surviving” the little years.  I’m called to faithfully shepherd my children in the Truth of Jesus Christ.  This won’t happen accidentally.  So here’s what I’ve been brainstorming:

  1. Pick a Weekly Bible Story to Study–Rather than reading one new Bible story every day, a wise friend suggested focusing on one Bible story per week with my toddler and preschooler.  Not only do kids love repetition, but this approach takes less prep time and allows us to slow down and go deeper.
  2. Have Questions Ready & Waiting–At the start of each week when you pick a Bible story, write a list of age-appropriate questions that are related to the gospel theme of the story.  Then utilize all those natural talking times during the day (bedtime, lunchtime, craft time…etc.) to discuss some of the questions.
  3. Memorize Scripture–I always underestimate my kids’ ability to retain information.  But even a 2-year-old (and some 18 month olds!) can repeat a simple Bible verse, especially if you practice it with hand motions.
  4. Recite Catechisms–Say what?  I know.  I’d never heard of a catechism until recently.  Catechisms are just statements that express the foundations of Christianity, usually posed in question and answer form.  (“Who made you?”  “God made me.”)  Catechisms for Young Children is based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and is a great place to start.  The moment your child begins to speak, you can start teaching him these simple statements.  The goal is not for him to understand it all right away, but to plant seeds of Truth within his heart that he will grow to understand in time.

REACTIVE TEACHING
Do you remember that annoying boy in gym class who would throw a dodgeball at your head and yell, “Think fast!”  This is how I picture reactive teaching.  It’s teaching in the context of the moment.  “They said I can’t play with them.”  (Think fast!)  “Why did you argue with Daddy?”  (Think fast!)  “I will NEVER share my toys again!”  (Think fast!)  Sometimes I don’t know what to say, and  sometimes I’m so depleted I honestly don’t care.  In both instances, it’s tempting to use worldly wisdom to solve the problem (“Their game looks boring anyway.”  “Sometimes people just argue.”  “Be nice or you will never have friends!”)  

But to do this is to miss a MASSIVE opportunity!  Where proactive teaching presents the gospel, reactive teaching applies the gospel to the reality of your child’s life.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 talks about this kind of teaching: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Clearly this is an all day, every day, lifestyle kind of teaching.  And as always, the ability to undertake such a task comes only by walking with God in His ever sufficient grace.

Final Thoughts
Are you ready for my true confession time?  My kids eat lunch in front of the TV on busy days, we haven’t read a Bible story all week, and right now one of my kids is banging on my door begging me to hurry up so we can play.  Have I ever mentioned that I blog as much for myself as for others?  That being said, I welcome your great ideas for intentionally teaching your children God’s Truth.  What routines have you put into practice in your home?  What books have been helpful?  What practices have been fruitful?

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8 Ways to Cultivate a More Restful Home

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Like many things I blog about, this topic has been on my mind not because I’m so good at it, but because I’m quite the opposite. In my September favorites I linked up to an article about seven purposes for the home. I found the article so convicting that I decided to spend some prolonged time meditating on each purpose, the first being “the home as a place of rest.” I asked myself how I could make our home more restful. Here are some thoughts from someone who still has a long way to go.

1. Make rest and refreshment a personal priority. Nobody wants an anemic for a blood donor. Sure, I could wake up running and not pause for breath until bedtime, but I’d probably look more like Medusa than Martha Stewart. And honestly, the first to suffer would be my family. So how do I make time for rest? I’ve found 3 times in the day that I can use for different forms of personal rest. The first is before the kids wake up (normally I’m unconscious during this time, but I’m working on it). The second is in the afternoon when the baby naps, and the third is after the kids go to bed. Look at your schedule. Where could you allot some time for personal rest?

2. Recognize that there’s a hierarchy to rest. Not all restful activities are created equal. Watching thirteen movies in a row may be restful, but not rejuvenating or nourishing. If we want lasting rest, the Bible says it only comes in a Person (Matt. 11:29). I don’t think that means there’s no room for personal hobbies, it just means those forms of rest shouldn’t trump the most important form. Ideally, I’d like to spend time with the Lord first thing in the morning, have an hour in the afternoon to blog or read, and spend time with Clint in the evening. How are you using your free time? Is it providing lasting rest?

3. Enforce a consistent bedtime for the kids. From the moment our kids exited the womb, we started putting them to bed at 7pm. Of course it took time to get them used to the routine, and it’s always necessary to deviate now and then, but on a typical day at 7pm it’s Daddy & Mommy time. Good night, kiddos, we’ll see you in the morning! It’s healthy for their little bodies, my sanity, and our marriage. If your kids don’t have a consistent bedtime, what sort of nightly routine could you create to help them develop one?

4. Work to maintain an efficient home. Isn’t it ironic that we have to work hard in order to rest well? But if the house is a wreck with no clean clothes and no food for dinner, how restful will it really feel? I’m finding that the more I invest into the home, the more my family enjoys being in it. But there’s a fine balance! As I’m doing my best to manage the home diligently, I must remember to…

5. Love the people in the home more than the tasks of the home. Of all the items on my list, this is the hardest for me. Isn’t that a sad confession? It is to me, too. And yet the #1 reason our home isn’t more restful is because I can be a drill sergeant about maintaining it. Slowly, I’m beginning to realize that this is idolatry–it’s loving “order” more than God’s mandate to be kind and gracious with my family. Is your approach to maintaining the home balanced? Do you need to become more diligent, or more gracious?

6. Have a daily “down time” for the kids. Once my pre-schooler outgrew nap time she started having an afternoon “quiet time.” She picks a few sets of boxed toys out of the closet and plays in her room for 1-2 hours. There are so many benefits to this–Aubrey learns to play independently and be imaginative, Heidi gets a quiet nap time, and I have an afternoon break. Depending on the ages of your kids, how could you establish a designated “down time” for them every day?

7. Find opportunities to bless your husband with alone time. I know my husband often feels guilty taking any time to himself. Because he works all day, he feels like every other moment should be spent with the kids. But if he’s going to serve and lead our family well, he needs time to rest and rejuvenate. What does your husband find restful? How can you give him some down-time this week?

8. Be at peace with those within the home. Nothing transforms a restful home into a war zone faster than discord. Colossians 3:12-17 urges believers to bear with one another, to forgive one another, to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, and to let the Word of God dwell so richly within us that we admonish one another in wisdom and gratitude. Let me ask you two last questions that I’m also asking myself: Am I at peace with every member of my household? If not, what steps can I take today, to restore the peace?

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The House That Cleans Itself

housecleans[1]The first time I saw these five words on the cover of a book they looked as tantalizing as a cream-filled doughnut.  If there’s one idol I’ve battled for years, it’s the idol of wanting a perfectly tidy home.  For some reason my mom has always had this innate Mary Poppins-like ability to create order out of chaos.  As a result I grew up in a beautifully organized home that ran like a well-oiled machine.  And then I got married, moved into my own little house, and made two startling realizations: Keeping an entire house clean is crazy hard, and I have no idea how my mother did it.  Suffice to say it didn’t get any easier when I added two children and 85,000 articles of doll clothing.  Plus accessories.

Over the years I’ve felt all sorts of things when it comes to housekeeping—guilt, frustration, and at times the ungodly desire to morph into a barking drill-sergeant.  Which is why I was so taken aback to read this statement in Clark’s book:  “The startling truth is that cleaning really shouldn’t have any emotional component at all.  It’s not an emotional subject.  It’s just a necessary set of tasks.  If the thought of cleaning house evokes any [strong] emotion…it’s time to unpack that baggage and see what’s in there.  It’s making housekeeping, which is just a necessary part of life, much more difficult than it needs to be.”

Right off the bat this helped me make it through the rest of Clark’s book, because let me just warn you, the woman is detailed.   But if you can let go of the emotional component, you’re free to apply the principles you like and not feel guilty for ignoring the ones that are beyond your stamina.  That being said, here are my 3 favorite principles from her book (re-phrased in my own words):

1. Don’t just tidy, figure out what’s causing the mess and problem-solve.  To do this, you have to analyze the way mess accumulates in your particular home.  For instance, there’s always a pile of books on the end table in our den, usually dirty socks on the floor, and a huge {amazingly comfortable} blue chair that’s crusted over with sticky handprints.  Normally I ignore the books, take the socks to the laundry room, and wash the blue slip cover every few weeks.  After thinking like a problem-solver, I designated a basket for the books we’re currently reading, stowed a hamper discreetly in the den, and made a new rule—no one under twenty-five gets to eat in the blue chair!  By the time I problem-solved my way through the whole house, the mess had begun to reduce itself rapidly.

For your inspiration--a shot of all the things I was ready to part with after my HTCI makeover.

For your inspiration–a shot of all the things I was ready to part with after my HTCI makeover.

2. Get rid of as MUCH as possible.  Clark taught me to view every single object in my house as owning a piece of my time.  Furniture, paper clips, Barbie shoes, that monogrammed bridesmaid gift in the attic—everything. The question you have to ask is: Is this object worth the time it takes to clean it, dust it, straighten it, pick it up, pack and move it?  The simple truth is, the less you have the easier it is to maintain order.

3. Create a “launching pad” and eliminate “rabbit trails.”  Two of the most common ways mess accumulates is in the entryway of your home and in the pursuit of what Clark calls “rabbit trails.”  A rabbit trail is any activity you frequently embark upon that requires supplies from around the house.  For instance, I store wrapping paper in the upstairs guest bedroom closet, simply because there’s room for it there.  But of course, the tape and scissors are downstairs in the study, and I actually wrap gifts on the dining room table.  Once I’ve gathered all the supplies and wrapped my gifts, what’s the likelihood that I will put them all back where they belong before next Christmas?  Moderate to low.  Clark’s solution is to set up “stations” wherever the task is accomplished.  In my case, there should be a large container with all the supplies necessary to wrap presents stored out of sight somewhere in the dining room.

To help out your entryway, Clark suggests a “launching pad”–a cabinet, bookcase, closet, or shelving unit somewhere near the main entryway that holds all the items you enter and exit with on a regular basis (wallet, purse, sunglasses…etc.)  If your kids are school-aged, they can each have their own bin in the launching pad to hold things like backpacks and library books.  This is a fast way to stop the clutter as it comes in the door, and to keep from losing important items.

All in all, I loved the improvements Clark’s book brought to our home.  If you have the time and energy, I’d recommend buying it and giving her system a shot.  Take it with a BIG grain of salt, use what you like, ignore what you don’t, and thank God for the gift of a home—messy, clean, calm, and crazy.

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Decorating Kids’ Rooms on a Budget

I’m no Martha Stewart, but there’s something really fun about decorating a kid’s room.  I still remember the first bedspread I picked out for my own room.  I remember decorating my first college dorm room, and I remember ordering my first baby quilt when I was pregnant with Aubrey.

Decorating seals memories into paper and fabric, pictures and paint.  It turns a house into a home, and a room into a haven.  And thankfully, it doesn’t have to break the budget!  Below are five easy ideas I’ve enjoyed in decorating my kids’ rooms, all of them budget-friendly!

1. Storybook Lanterns

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I saw this Pottery Barn original idea at a friend’s baby shower, and LOVED it!  The lanterns are charming, whimsical, and a celebration of reading!  You can use baby books if you’re decorating a nursery, or brighter Dr. Seuss-style books for a kid’s room.  I also used several free Chick-fila kids’ meal books to cut back on cost.  I got the lanterns at Michaels–6 for $14.99 (use the weekly 40% off coupon, and they’ll be under $10).

2. Canvas Paintings
In both my kids’ rooms I started with a favorite quilt and coordinated everything around it.  When it came to buying the pricey owl artwork to match Heidi’s owl quilt, my artsy mother-in-law took one look at it and said, “You can paint that yourself!”  (gulp!)  Turns out I loved it!  Not only was it cheaper, I got to choose the size and shape of my canvases to fit my wall space.  I will definitely use this idea again!  (See the final product below!)

3. Personalized Letters
For some reason, I just love seeing my kids’ names on their bedroom walls.  (Maybe it’s because we took so ridiculously long to choose them!)   You can design your own adorable letters, or you can pay my talented friend Jaclyn Anderson to do it for you!

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Another budget-friendly perk is that the letters can change with the room.  When Aubrey transitioned into a bed, we got a new quilt and I scraped off her letters then repainted and redecorated them.

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4. Framed Artwork

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P1060037Decorating with kids’ artwork is cheap, easy, and an extra-special compliment to the artist!  To make the Bible verse, we started by making Eric Carle prints, following directions from the imagination tree blog.  I cut the words out of the finished prints.

5.  Chalkboard Paint
This is a picture of our garage-turned-playroom.  It cost $9 to turn the entire lower portion of that wall into a chalkboard, and boy has it been worth it!  When kids come over, everybody can find a spot and go to town.  I’ve also seen people paint their kids’ closet doors with chalkboard paint, a really cute idea.  Just remember, chalk dust runs rampant, so it’s best if the room is not carpeted.

P1060026

Running a Home While Running on Empty

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Several months ago Clint came home from work with a surprise.  He pulled a tiny princess coloring book out of his pocket and handed it to Aubrey.  Sheer ecstasy erupted.  She danced in circles, hugged him at least ten times, and profusely thanked him.  Then she sat down and colored every single page.

While she was occupied, I turned to him and asked, “Where did you get it?”

“The trashcan,” he replied.

It still makes me laugh.  I can picture her intently bent over each picture, carefully coloring, while Clint and I crack up in the kitchen.

Sometimes when I feel truly depleted, I think about Aubrey and her coloring book, and I wonder how much of what I treasure in my life is actually garbage.  I’ve never been physically anorexic, but there are spells when I feel spiritually anorexic.  I feast on all sorts of garbage—entertainment, distractions, rigid scheduling, my own ability to perform—everything but Jesus.  As a result, I’m crammed to the gills and starving just the same.  And somehow in this state, I manage to keep going for a really long time.  After all, the dishes always need washing, the kids always need feeding, and the floors always need sweeping.  So I truck along like the Energizer Bunny, ignoring all the signs of spiritual starvation, until one day the battery of my own effort finally runs dry.  Something touches this raw, cavernous hunger in my soul for Jesus, and before I know it, I’m crying and I’m not even sure why.

It’s ironic isn’t it?  God is ever present—the feast of His presence lies before me, and I pass the days munching on cocktail peanuts.  And I wonder why I’m so hungry.  The first blessed assurance God has given me in this journey, is that the food is there.  It is possible for all the longings of my heart to be satisfied in Jesus.  But how?  How do I find fulfillment in Christ amid the daily drudgery?  These two principles are helping me more than any other:

Practicing the Presence of Christ
Running a home is incredibly monotonous.  Not only are the tasks menial, few ever remain “finished,” which can make you feel a little like Sisyphus endlessly rolling the rock (or laundry basket) uphill.  But what if we changed our perspective to recognize the vast reward in the “doing” rather than the “accomplishing”?  Unlike the world, Christ does not ask us to achieve.  He asks us to be faithful.  Thus, as Oswald Chambers writes, “drudgery is the touchstone of character.”  Look at Jesus Himself, who washed the disciples’ feet.  Can’t you picture Him changing diapers with great joy and love?  I can, because no calling from the Father was ever too menial for Jesus.  He came to serve, to love the least of these, and to do it with or without the praise of men.  How then, can I refuse to do the same for Him?  Brother Lawrence, who lived out his days as a kitchen aide in a monastery, wrote, “I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”  Like Brother Lawrence, you and I can practice the presence of Christ every time we wipe Desitin on a rash-y bottom, and rise happier than a king!  And therein lies the secret to running a home with joy and purpose.  We are doing all things as an act of love and worship for Him (I Corinthians 10:31).

Resting in the Presence of Christ
I find that practicing the presence of Christ in the hectic chores of the day is always easier when I spend quiet moments resting in Him.  Sometimes these moments come first thing in the morning, sometimes during nap time, and sometimes last in the day.  Either way, they are crucial because these are the moments when I feast.  I lay all my longings before Him, and I am overcome by His intense love for me in spite of my unworthiness.  To quote the Jesus Storybook Bible, His love makes me lovely.  His love makes my life lovely.

At times I’m tempted to skip these moments with God for love of a lesser idol, and at times I’m tempted to fulfill them dutifully and rigidly like a slave.  I know both attitudes must break His heart.  Yet graciously, every time I come to Him—whether for love of Him or love of myself—He meets me.  At the height of my joy, He meets me.  In the pit of my sorrow, He meets me.  In the thick of my drudgery, He meets me.

Surely, you and I don’t have to run on empty!  Not with a God like this.  We can run on His power and by His grace.  We can run through the happiness, through the failure, and through the ten million dirty diapers ahead.  We can run in the very presence of Jesus.

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Confessions of a Housewife

Clint once asked me if I felt like I lost some of myself when I married him.  I told him no.  I have never felt like being his wife cost me a piece of myself.  I did, however, feel like I lost part of myself when we had kids.  Maybe ‘lost’ is the wrong word.  I guess I still have this part of myself—I just don’t know what to do with it.  I’ve polled many mothers about this, usually beginning the conversation by casually asking if they have any passions outside of their family.  What I found surprised me.  Some women truly do not have ambitions or dreams that wage war with homemaking.  There is no balancing act necessary in their lives because there’s only one side to their scale: family.  Do I think there’s anything wrong with this?  Not at all.  In some ways, I envy them.  But I cannot relate.

I have many dreams that have absolutely nothing to do with my children, or my husband for that matter.  Mostly they are dreams that awoke in my childhood when I first discovered I had one life and I could do absolutely anything with it.  Let me give you an example.  I have always wanted to be a writer…not a blogger, but a novelist.  As soon as I could string sentences together, I created worlds with my words—some of them ridiculous, some of them sacred, all of them amateur.

So, this Christmas I asked for a book—On Writing by Stephen King.  Like any aspiring author, I have lost myself in it, inadvertently peppering my husband with more Stephen King trivia than he ever cared to know.  The book is the Holy Grail of writing, with all the secrets your English teacher never told you.  But there is just one problem—I can’t do it.  The regimen King advises to become a truly successful author is impossible to uphold with my lot in life.  I would have to sacrifice my family, a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.  And so I sit here, on the eve of the New Year, trying to put it all together in my mind.  As a busy wife and mom, how do you maintain godly priorities and not lose personal ambitions?

In the end, I think it comes down to choices.  Nobody lies on her death bed regretting all the choices someone else made.  The choices that impact our lives the most are the ones we make for ourselves.  They are a direct reflection of our values.  So I have to ask myself, what do I truly value?  I love it when I’m writing and I start to smile because it usually means I’m arriving at a conclusion.  I know what I value.  And honestly, I value it more than all the accolades of the finest author in America.

Now is not the time to become the next Stephen King.  Now is the time to raise my kids.  Now is the time to snuggle on the sofa and laugh with my husband.  And when I have some free moments, I’ll probably spend them writing.  Maybe I’ll squirrel away a novel, although I’ll never do it in three months as King suggests, and my characters will likely grow stale as they sit forgotten in my laptop.  But I know this—I won’t be lying on my death bed regretting the characters I neglected.

Do I think it’s wrong to have ambitions outside of your family?  No!  I think it’s wonderful.  I think it reminds you that God made you a unique individual.  I think having passions and thoughts and feelings of your own helps you bring a lot to the table for your family.  Do I think these independent ambitions should be central?  No.  I think they should be surrendered, sometimes even sacrificed when push comes to shove.  Why?  Because none of us is superwoman.  We can’t have it all in every season of life.  We have to make choices.  And the more intentional you are when it comes to making choices, the better they’ll be.

So that woman inside of you that longs to grab an espresso, lock the door, and write til your eyeballs burn…or run a marathon, or become a doctor, or create your own line of homemade doggie treats–be at peace with her.  Don’t pack her up and kick her to the curb.  Pray about her.  Find ways to explore her.  But don’t let her run the show.  And when necessary, remind her how richly God has blessed you.  Then tell her to be quiet so you can do the dishes.

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De-Clutter in a Day

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De-Clutter in a Day

Nothing is more fun than leaving a house with 86,000 disorganized toys only to return with 86,000 new Christmas toys.  With this in mind, I set out to de-clutter our house before the Christmas aftermath re-cluttered it up.  Along the way I discovered that it’s possible to take a giant leap toward a more organized home in a single day.  If you’re brave, here’s how to do it.

STEP ONE: TACKLE THE TOYS
Plan ahead–gather a variety of storage containers (I mostly use empty household containers).  Then start bright and early–immediately after breakfast, gather all your cluttered toy boxes and dump them into one giant pile.  The kids love this!  They will find toys they forgot even existed.  While they’re occupied reuniting, get busy sorting. The goal is simple: categorize as many toys as possible into the various containers, particularly small toys.  At the end, there will always be a collection of rather large, miscellaneous toys that can go in a big, open container.  But put the smaller containers up high and only let kids play with one or two at a time.  This will keep the toys fresh and the play room organized.

before_after

STEP TWO: SORT THE CLOTHES
Because kids grow so rapidly, if you’re like me, every six months you need to sort through their clothes.  So once the toys were tidy downstairs, I tackled the dressers in the very same fashion–dump and sort.  The goal is to have a tidy, up-to-date dresser for each child, as well as a few organized storage containers of clothes in off-sizes.  In our house there are four places you will find kids’ clothing: the largest clothes are in Aubrey’s dresser.  When she outgrows something, it goes into a storage container for Heidi.  When Heidi is able to wear it, it goes into Heidi’s dresser.  When Heidi outgrows it, it’s relegated to the final storage container, either to give away or save for baby #3.  It would be worthwhile to note that if you don’t sort your own clothes seasonally, now might be a good time to start.  Get rid of the clothes you never wear, and put off-season clothes in storage (unless you’re blessed with a massive closet!)

clothing_before-after

For me, this was as far as I went with the kids.  By the time steps one and two were complete, they were ready for a nap.  And so was I.  But I tucked them into bed, put on my big-girl panties, and kept on trucking!

STEP THREE: CONQUER THE KITCHEN
P1050854Close your eyes, Mom.  Every time she visits, my mother sorts out my pantry, and for some reason, about ten minutes after she leaves, it always looks like this again.  When I absolutely cannot stand it a second longer, I know it’s time to organize.    So, a couple tips I learned from my mom:
1.  Consolidate!  Get rid of all the gigantic boxes with 2 granola bars left in them.  Delegate a large tupperware to be the “snack spot” and throw all those bulky boxes away.
2.  Strategize: if you have small kids who will likely disobey you and sneak into the pantry, which items would you most HATE to see sprinkled all over the floor?  Put these up high!  Also, think logically about how often you use various items, and as my mother would say, “Make it functional.”
3.  Don’t be a pack rat in the name of frugality–nobody likes crusty hot chocolate mix.  If in doubt–throw it away!
4.  Have a wet rag handy, and wipe down surfaces as you go.  Trust me, they need it.  The same goes for a broom when you can finally see the floor again.

Once your pantry is organized, (ahhhhh…), it’s time to take on the fridge–my least favorite duty.  A true deep clean would necessitate throwing out all the junk, organizing what’s left, and wiping everything down.  P1050862When you’re done, if you have any gumption left, consider what else may be a problem area in your kitchen–overflowing tupperware drawer with no matching lids?  Mile deep junk drawer?  Stuffed-to-the-gills recipe box disaster?  Choose the worst area, and get busy.  For me it was the junk drawer, and let me just tell you, it was truly mortifying.  If the very thought of undertaking such a task depresses you (as it did me), try popping in a movie while you work–if the kids are still napping it’ll feel like a treat!

STEP FOUR: CATER TO YOUR FAMILY
I know you’re losing stamina, so am I.  Here is the final step–take stock of the possible improvements you could make in the rest of your home.  If you’re really gutsy, make a list.  Disarrayed Christmas decorations in the attic?  Disheveled laundry room?  Engorged filing cabinet?  Now before you burst into tears, consider which one project would bless your family the most.  Does the study desk, piled to the ceiling with papers, discourage your husband every single day?  Is there a particular room your family spends significant time in?  Choose the one task that will give you the most bang for your buck…or joy for your labor, and get to it.  (You will likely find yourself more excited about completing this task as you envision the way it will bless your family!)  Save the other items on your list for another day.  You can complete one project each week for the next month, and find yourself in a thoroughly organized home in the new year.

STEP FIVE: CELEBRATE!
Growing up, whenever spring-cleaning-day rolled around, my mom would promise us ice-cream when everything was done.  Now that I’m an adult, I realize the sheer joy of having an organized home is more rewarding than all the Haagen-Daz in the world!  But go ahead and treat your kids.  Go to the park (if it’s still light out!), bake some brownies, pop in a special movie…do something fun.  It’s a great message to send them: as a family we work together and we enjoy the benefits together.

FINAL TIPS:

  1. Be ready to troubleshoot.  At some point or another you will discover that as you have been neatly packing storage containers of clothes, the baby has been unpacking them behind you.  Wince, grimace, squeeze your eyes shut, and then release the big breath you’ve been holding. Everything is going to be okay. Put the clothes back in their categories and this time stash them up high.
  2. Be realistic.  Guaranteed your kids will wake up from their nap bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around the time you’re ready to fall into a coma.  At this juncture, edit your ambitions.  Aim to arrive at step five as quickly as possible, and consider making the “reward” going out for dinner when Daddy gets home.
  3. Be prepared for it to get worse before it gets better.  Inevitably, at some point you will glance around your kitchen, and it will look something like this:

P1050858

Resist the urge to cry.  Instead, fuel your overwhelming disillusionment into staunch resolve to throw away as much as possible.  Then, when your kitchen looks like this…

P1050863

…snap a picture and blog about it  ;)