The Perfect Gift

The week was filled with wrapping paper and shiny bows. Warm meals shared with family filled our bellies, as carols by candlelight filled our souls.  Rich cups of hot cocoa graced our Christmas morning and decadent desserts our Christmas meal–our children never feared a lack of sugar.  Smiles and laughter echoed throughout our homes as children ripped into presents, and the cries accompanying meltdowns reverberated against the walls as the night beckoned children to bed.  The week was beautiful and exhilarating and tiring, and I still haven’t recovered.

Yet of all the moments of Christmas, my favorite arrived Christmas night as little white flakes filled the ebony sky, giving us one more gift together.

Crazy hats and mis-matched gloves served as testimony to a family who hasn’t seen much snow, and snow delivered the perfect excuse to extend family time a little longer…

And as the cold bit my face and my fingers went numb, I couldn’t help but think that this winter wonderland was the perfect end to the holiday–the holiday where we remembered the gift that didn’t cost us anything but made us white as snow.

What was your favorite gift this Christmas?

A Post Regarding Sleep Etiquette

I know I have written about different sleep issues before, but I feel a pressing need to compile a list of rules regarding sleep in one post.  Here goes:

10. Dear child, if your bedtime is 7:30, you should not be awake at 11:30, especially when your mother’s bedtime is 10.

9. Children, your beds are for you.  Daddy and Mommy’s bed is for us (as in the two of us). Barring a nightmare or sickness, please stay out of our bed.  If one of the three of you feel the need to break this rule, please, please, please, no one else join that sibling.

8. Sweet child, if you feel the need to break the previous rule, please do not drink the glass of water on my nightstand.  I was very disappointed when I awoke thirsty and found my drink stolen.

7. Big boy, if you decide to get in our bed, please do not step on my head.

6. My precious children, please learn to sleep in the vertical position.  By the vertical position, I mean that you need to sleep with your head on a pillow.  That pillow needs to remain at the head of the bed.  The top part.  The part against the wall.  Near the windows in our room.  Your feet should not touch me.  At all.  Ever.  Your legs should not cross over my body in any way.  Your body should make a straight or slightly curvy line so that your feet are in the direction of the foot of the bed. If you remain in your own bed, I do not care if you sleep sideways or upside down like you did last night .

5.  My dear children, the previous rule is very important if two or more of you are in our bed.  However, if you break that rule, please refrain from pushing off of my back with the balls of your feet.  This rule also applies to my hip bone or any other part of my body.

4. Baby girl, stop snoring.

3. Kiddos, leave the covers alone!

2. Precious ones, please refrain from grinding your teeth.  The Bible says that in hell people gnash their teeth, so when I hear whatever sound you’re making coupled with the agony that my body feels because of the strange positions in which you sleep, I start to get a little freaked out.

1. And finally, dear husband, do not hit snooze more than twice. After that point, I might throw your alarm out the window. (I know that point didn’t apply to this morning, but I thought it worth mentioning)

Linking up to Oh Amanda’s Top Ten Tuesday today.  I hope to write a more thoughtful post about Christmas tomorrow. That is, if I get some sleep.

Top Ten {Tuesday}

The Christmas Newsletter

This weekend, I mailed the majority of our Christmas cards with only a few local relatives still left on the list.  Shutterfly did a beautiful job creating a card with a big picture of our kids on the outside and a small one of each of them on the inside.  I had room to write a private message, and the cards looked both professional and personal.  The only thing that was missing was the Christmas newsletter.  I ran out of time, but below is the newsletter that I had intended to send:

Wow!  Another year has flown by right before our eyes.  We definitely have stayed busy and learned a lot about our family in the course of this year.

Caleb had an interesting opportunity this year.  After his teachers saw his amazing ability in putting together puzzles and building towers, he was entered in a ‘Future Architects of the World’ contest and won.  His design for a building was selected and was to be built in Tokyo, Japan.  Unfortunately, when Caleb consulted with the real architects, he became enraged at the changes he observed on the blueprints and shouted, “That’s not how I made it!’ ripping them to shreds.  He was immediately fired from any future consultations.

Hannah Grace has also made us proud with the use of her talents.  She tested off the charts for her ‘strong will’ and was recruited by the C.I.A. for one of their spy programs.  They needed someone who was able to do what she wanted to do without a fear of consequences, and that description fit Hannah Grace perfectly.  I can’t go into all of the details of her work, as I do not know them myself, but I know she was picked because the C.I.A said she couldn’t be worn down.  Ain’t that the truth!

Chloe is doing well and growing and progressing as she should.  In the last year, she has learned to walk and run and say many words.  In fact, she has perfected one word so well that Webster’s online dictionary hired Chloe for the audio pronunciation part of their entries.  If you look up the word ‘no’ online and click on the audio link, you will hear Chloe’s voice coming in loud and clear.

Matt and I have stayed busy with the day-to-day, and for the most part, we don’t have anything exciting to report.  However, Matt was a finalist for the Guinness Book of World Records for saying an instruction to his kids the most times without the desired result.  I, also, had my own mini claim to fame when a talent agent spotted me at IKEA making a flying leap to grab Hannah Grace off of one of the suspended in mid-air couches.  I am now the face of Hanes stretch underwear ‘for women on the move.’

We hope this newsletter finds you and your family well and that you have a prosperous and joyous 2011!

What?  Did I not do it right?

When Your Efforts Feel Like a Waste

Sometimes your efforts feel like a waste.

Maybe your plans for productivity after waking up early were thwarted by a child who woke up even earlier…

Maybe your sacrifice of leaving work two hours early for your spouse was met by two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic…

Maybe the hours you spent in the kitchen, swatting away children who kept appearing at your ankles, were for nothing when you left one of the bags with your accomplishment on the kitchen floor…

And maybe the time and love you put into a giant cookie cake was met with the disappointing news of school closing for the day…

and all of your plans and good intentions instead felt like a giant waste.

But in that moment, you had a choice because there’s always a choice.

Maybe you griped and complained how you’re never cut a break and don’t get the help that you need…

Maybe you pounded your fists on the steering wheel, and your body tensed as your mind anticipated the chaos awaiting you at home…

Or maybe you took a deep breath and savored the smell of the garlic you chopped and the lemons you squeezed in a friend’s kitchen, enjoying more the company of friends than the improvised dish you were making…

And maybe you looked in two very disappointed eyes and knew that there was only one course of action to take…

so you had cookie cake for breakfast.

Because even though the change of plans seemed a little strange at first,

it wasn’t long before you realized that sometimes a change in plans

represents a chance for new memories that taste oh-so-sweet.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19, New International Version, 2010).


When was a time that your improvisations made for a sweet memory? How do you cope when you feel like your efforts have been wasted?  Share below for this ‘Focus On It Friday.’

The Christmas Card Revealed

I wrote the blog that got us 50 free Christmas cards.

I picked out the coordinating outfits for our picture.

I stood out in the cold the same as everyone else during the one day of November that the temperature was not above 60 degrees.

I will stamp and address every Christmas card envelope that is to be mailed.

Yet I did not make the final cut for the picture.

But neither did Matt, so I guess it’s okay. 

 

Frosted Glass Snowflakes Christmas 5×7 folded card
Click here to browse hundreds of Christmas card designs.
View the entire collection of cards.

Ten Great Ideas for Giving

After writing my post Rethinking Christmas, I was contacted by an individual who works for one of the charities below, and he asked if I had any ideas for spreading the word about the charity he represents and other great organizations, as well.  I thought there’s no better way to spread the word than to write a blog and link to Oh Amanda’s Top Ten Tuesday!  The list below represents ten great charities that I either have personal experience with or want to and offers great places for those wanting to make a donation as a Christmas gift or to begin giving or volunteering this coming year.

Top Ten {Tuesday}

1. Charity: Water builds wells in order to provide clean water to individuals in developing nations.   A gift of $20 can provide one individual clean water for 20 years!

2.  Blood: Water Mission works within the communities in Africa to fight the HIV/AIDs battle and the water crisis.  This organization recently reached its goal of building 1,000 wells–that’s 1,000 communities that now have clean drinking water!

3. Compassion International helps release children from the grip of poverty while spreading the Gospel through sponsors’ gifts of $38 per month.  In addition to sending money, a sponsor gets the chance to build an invaluable relationship with a child through the letters that he or she sends.

4. World Vision is another great organization that, by offering individuals the chance to sponsor a child, tackles the evils of poverty and injustice throughout the world while spreading God’s love.

5. The Make A Wish Foundation brings hope to children with life-threatening illnesses through their wish-granting program.

6. Cross International is a Catholic organization whose mission is to provide for the poorest of the poor through various relief projects.  One such project is lifting orphans off the streets of Mozambique into homes of families willing to adopt these children with help from donations.  Currently, they offer a Christmas catalog to give families life-changing gifts.

7. Partners International is another great Christian organization reaching out to communities around the world.  Their Harvest of Hope catalog offers a great chance to buy a gift for those who truly need one this Christmas.  Individuals can browse through their catalog and choose buy gifts ranging from a house for a family in Bangladesh to a bull with plow in seeds for a family in Ghana to cereal and milk for a child in Senegal.

8. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society works to raise money to fight blood cancers.  A few years ago, my husband trained and raised money to participate in a Team-In-Training Triathlon.  Team-In-Training provides a great opportunity not only to raise money for a worthy cause, but to challenge individuals to do something they may have never thought they could do.

9. Livestrong is dedicated to cancer research and improving the lives of those affected by this horrible disease.  Cancer has touched too many of my friends and relatives, and I pray for the day when we find a cure.

10. Second Life is an upscale thrift store in the Atlanta area dedicated to giving second chances to homeless pets by using the cash they earn to support various rescue organizations.  I recently learned of this organization through a friend and immediately thought of my own dad who has a soft spot in his heart for all animals.

What organizations would you add to this list?  Leave a link in the comment section below!

The Wake-up Call

In the quest for greater productivity, I decided to start waking up at 5 a.m., a time I swore to never see again after my last round of teaching in a high school.  However, I’ve tried this time for a week, and I have to admit, I don’t think I can go back to waking up an hour later.  Getting the chance to read my Bible without rushing, writing a full blog post, putting on clothes and make-up, and possibly throwing in a load of laundry or making a warm breakfast all before the kids wake up make this hideous start time completely worth it.  But for all the positives to this new routine, there were definitely some downsides, too:

– Realizing there was quite a bit more day left when I was ready to crash at 4 p.m.

– Having to adopt the bedtime of an 8 year old.

– Becoming that person who fell asleep at the church’s Christmas dinner while the speaker was pouring out her heart–hey, cut me some slack!  She didn’t start talking until after 8:30!

– Contemplating giving my son the keys to drive us home.  He is 4.

– Acknowledging that procreation is over for my husband and me because I will be sleeping (wait a minute–that one might fit in the positive category for now….)

– Welcoming the Mrs. Hyde version of myself who is scheduled to appear every Friday afternoon.

 

I may wake up early now, but I’ll never be a morning person.

Finding Financial Peace

When Matt and I went through premarital counseling, our pastor and almost every book we read warned us of the power of money in a marriage.  Money is blamed as one of the leading causes of divorce.  And while I hate to think that something material plays such a significant part in a marriage, I can testify to its power.

We need money.  The grocery store is not going to accept one of my blog posts as payment, and the mortgage company wouldn’t find one of my kids’ drawings cute.  Money pays the bills, and the paid bills ensure we’re warm at night with clothes on our back.  So when money is hard to find, and financial problems begin to mount, so does the stress and tension.

Matt and I took steps together to try to overcome the difficulties of having a house in another state that wouldn’t sell while only having one income to cover the bills and needs of a family of five.  We tried to set up an emergency savings fund, but Mr. Murphy would show up every month or so to lay claim to his share.  We were facing an endless cycle of putting money in the bank to then have to take it out.  Any bad financial decisions that we made previously were magnified 10,000 fold because we couldn’t make any headway.

Matt and I decided to enroll in a small group in our church that was teaching Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I knew I wanted to join this group, but I was honestly a little apprehensive at the same time.  Every month Matt and I would fight as we worked on the budget, and I was afraid that those monthly fights would now become weekly!  Thankfully, my fears were for naught.

One of the benefits of the course is that we were taking advice and instruction from an outside third party.  When we were doing our monthly budgets, the guidelines weren’t coming from Matt or from me but from Mr. Ramsey, and he wasn’t taking sides.  The arguments stopped.

For the first time we had a game plan where we could feel we were gaining momentum. We now were in agreement as to the way we wanted to attack our debt and save for the future, and at the beginning of each month, every dollar we owned was assigned a place.

For the first time in about five years I can breathe.

I am so thankful for a hardworking husband who has always done whatever it takes so that I could stay home with our children.  He is an amazing provider, and I am glad that we now have a game plan to ensure we make the most of his hard work.  And I am thankful that we are on the path to finding financial peace.

I look forward to the day when money won’t control us, but we will control our money completely.  One day, maybe many years away, but one day we will be able to use our money as a means to bless other people and not just a necessity to pay the bills.

I know this post isn’t poetic or maybe even interesting, but I don’t want to forget the relief and gratitude I feel right now.  This past Wednesday we completed our last class, and I know we are graduating with the tools to make wise financial decisions.  At the beginning of each month, I get a little excited knowing that we have another chance to knock out some debt.

We’re getting there.  It will take time. And sacrifice.  But it’s so worth it.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I typically don’t use it to endorse products, but I am going to today. I would highly recommend that anyone who isn’t set for retirement with a paid-off house and money ready to give to those in need take this course.  If a person has debt, he should take this course.  If a person doesn’t have debt but doesn’t have a clear vision on how to save, she should take this course.  If a couple needs to know the best way to save for their kids’ college or their own retirement, they should take this course–no matter their age.

Everything we have is a gift. God has entrusted us with His money, and we will be held accountable for how we used it.  I hope that one day when I face my Maker, He will be able to say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21, New International Version, 2010).

For this ‘Focus On It Friday,’ for what can you be thankful?  Leave a comment below, and share your thanks!

*I was not compensated in any way by Dave Ramsey or his organization, The Lampo Group.  I wrote this blog post simply because I am thankful.  However, if Dave Ramsey wanted to compensate me for it, we would be able to take care of our debt faster. 😉

Simple

I used to think ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ were synonymous–that test was ‘simple,’ a back-handspring is ‘simple’ for a gymnast–but I realize now that to attain simple, hard is required.

I look at my life filled with gadgets and ‘stuff’ meant to make my life easier, and yet, it’s never been more complicated.  On more than one occasion, I’ve felt stranded in my own home.  The printer was out of ink, the Microcell meant to give enough signal so that I could make a phone call from my house wasn’t working, the Internet was out, or I had dropped and killed my cell phone for the third time.

I don’t know anyone’s phone number anymore because they’re all stored in my cell, and I rely on the Internet for every bit of information I want to uncover.  I need the reminder to flash on my phone so that I know when to take my kids to their doctor appointments, and I feel strange calling on a neighbor for help because most of them work, immediately entering their garages upon arriving at home, insulating themselves from the outside world.

I watch my husband work and am amazed how easily he can e-mail or fax or schedule meetings or set up conference calls all with a phone and laptop, and yet I bemoan the fact that his customers and employers think that they can reach him at any time.  Work hours are not confined to the time in a building anymore, and our family has to find a way to set our own boundaries.

Having a simple life is hard, and all the gadgets and gizmos meant to make life easier tend to just complicate it.  I now realize that ‘simple’ is synonymous with ‘peace’ and want desperately to find it.  I read Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy with the kids, and I was impressed with the hard work they all do day in and day out, but every bit of their work has purpose and meaning, and they have peace.

They aren’t rendered helpless as I when a lightning storm knocks out the Internet, and they aren’t brainstorming ideas for quality family time. Their days aren’t filled with running back and forth to the school or deciding how many extra-curricular activities are too much.  They work hard to survive, and at the end of the day, they sleep soundly.

Perhaps getting rid of some of the ‘necessities’ meant to make life easier is the key.  Perhaps walking  down the road filled with hard is the path to lead me to simple.

This post is linked to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop.

Mama's Losin' It

The Shoes

Had I seen them on display in the store, I probably would have walked right past.  Zebra-striped shoes that sparkled?  Yeah, not my type.  However, I saw these shoes on a friend, and I thought she looked sharp.  I asked where she got them, and she replied from Target for $12 or $13–even better.  So when I went into Target, and I came face-to-face with these shoes (should I have said soul-to-sole?), I bit my lip and doubted this decision.

They didn’t look navy on her.  Do I really want shoes that sparkle?  I’ve never been into animal print.  Maybe I’ll just get these plain black ones instead….

I deliberated for a ridiculously long time in the shoe aisle of Target.  I decided on the black shoes, walked away, and then came back.  For all of my insecurities, I was drawn to these shoes.

I’m not very fashionable.  I never know what’s in style until it’s been in style for months, maybe longer, and I tend to play it safe.  I’ve always acted this way.  My prom dresses were beautiful but standard colors, nothing trendy.  The clothes in my closet hang in shades of brown, black, gray, with a few splashes of bright color that worked their way in as gifts from others.

I’m afraid to take risks. I don’t want to find out I was wrong.

But I bought the shoes.  Even though I immediately had buyer’s remorse, I bought the sparkly, navy blue, zebra-striped shoes, and I got a compliment the first time I wore them. In fact, I get a compliment almost every time I wear them. My sister, the fashion expert, bought the exact pair after seeing them on me.  The risk paid off with high dividends, especially since I really like them, too.

And I like this feeling of adding a little color, a little pizazz to my life.  Perhaps this 31-year-old woman is learning a little late what others have known since they were five–that it’s okay to let my hair down a little, to run my fingers through paints, and roll down hills into piles of crunchy leaves.

I want to take a deep breath and relax.  I want to open my eyes and see past the browns and blacks and grays and notice the beautiful colors.  I want to worry less about whether every decision is practical and relish the moments we create.

I want to see more crazy zebra-striped shoes.

But I’m not ever getting a tattoo.