Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Summer of Light

I just wanted to recommend a book we are reading right now. For those of you that don't know this little fact, my husband LOVES being read to....which is a nice little fit because I LOVE to read. It has proven to be a great activity for us through our marriage (we read 3 on our honeymoon). We climb in bed and he listens with rapt attention (what girl does not love this?!) and at the end of each chapter, he begs for more. This book, Summer of Light by W. Dale Cramer is Christian fiction and is wonderful. We read laughing OUT LOUD at the author's plots and well described characters. Last night, we read a paragraph that caught my admiration both as a reader and as a wannabe writer. I love the written word. I love one that can write creating such beautiful imagery. I love an author that uses run-on sentences....as if they cannot get it out fast enough. Like a teenager describing her day. Agh...love it. The main character is a self described redneck poet. Here is his beautiful paragraph...
"He liked landscapes. He'd always had a soft spot for old barns and dilapidated houses leaning a few degrees out of plumb, with holes in the roof, gray wood curling up and peeling off--maybe with an old rusty truck parked up against one end, forgotten, tires flat and weeds growing out from under it. There were ghosts in places like that--stories hidden in the shadows and deep in the grain of old boards that real people with callused hands once measured and sawed and nailed together on purpose to make a home, boards that they sat on and leaned against every day for so long that now they were full of memory of laughing and crying, the murmurs of lovers and barking of dogs. Old barns and empty houses, they remembered."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yes, another!

I know, you are shocked to see so many posts within such a short period of time! I am usually pretty good at staying on top of Abby Kate's blog...she is just fun to photograph! But lately, there have been so many nonsensical subjects that have leaped to my mind and I stored them away thinking, "I must blog about that later." So here they are, a random assortment of subjects that may or may not interest you.
First of all, I have working friends ask me all the time if I enjoy staying home with Abby Kate. I reply almost every time (depending on how hard the day has been), every job has its up and downs. However, I feel SO blessed to be able to catch the little moments with her throughout the day. Sure it is a test in patience, sure it is a stretch in my selfishness and I am sorry to admit, it is a pull on my pride. Here I am with a Masters degree, a lifetime full of ambition and confidence and a love of people and good conversation and I am staying at home with a little girl that cannot talk or thank me and making nothing monetarily. However, I always end it saying, "I wouldn't change a thing." The next question and/or statement I get is "how to you all do it financially?" I will talk about that in a second.
I had a friend comment the other day that "they would love to be able to stay home"...and another friend bluntly commented, "you are able, but do you want to? It takes sacrifice." I know many people are in positions of debt before they have children that make it impossible to stay home. I also have many single parent friends that do not have the opportunity either. But if you can, I am the first to advocate it. That is why I am sharing this....
I will say, it has been hard financially. We have made some sacrifices and thankfully, we have family that can help occasionally. But recently, we listened to Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Cd's and were extremely challenged to get our budget in order. I cannot recommend these Cd's highly enough. You may borrow mine if you are struggling with extra money as we are. I have a college friend who stays home with her 3 girls and was disciplined enough financially that they are debt free (including their house being paid off) at 28! It so inspired me. If they can do it, we can do it! Even on one income. We started making significant cuts...slower Internet, no extras on our phone (no caller id!)(and we are still considering cutting phone altogether saving $30 and just using our cell phones), no more allowance, etc...I have a few friends that also do this and it has become a bit of a game to find deals. For it is only temporary and in the end, our family will have financial peace and wealth. I contacted one insurance agency and saved $400/yr on home insurance thus lowering our mortgage payment each month and saved $375 on car insurance every 6 months. I also invested our extra money in a ING account which was recommended by a friend in the investment industry. It has a much higher interest rate than traditional savings accounts and each time you refer someone, they put $25 in your account. Not bad. In a cliff notes version, Dave recommends putting together a budget with NO MONEY unaccounted for at the end of the month...basically as he says, "tell your money what to do." That is what got us in trouble...having a vague sense of where our money was going but not knowing entirely. He recommends using the envelope system for non-billed items such as groceries, gas, medical co-pays, car repairs, etc...he says it may take 3-5 months to get this budget to work. With items like neighborhood dues, medical deductibles, etc...that you would pay once a year, take the total and divide by 12 and put that total in your monthly budget. Do the same if you have purchases coming up such as furniture or a car. Divide the total the amount of months you want to purchase it by the price and place that in your budget as well (we are a LONG way off from having enough for those things) but paying cash for these items will also gain you savings. Then he recommends having a $1000 emergency fund and then paying off debt (unless the loan interest is less than what you would make in an investment account...ie: school loan). After debt is paid, then save 6 months of living expenses in case of emergency. I am by no means an expert but I love getting good advice and wanted to pass on that which has blessed us. If you are interested in the ING account or our insurance, let me know. I am by no means plugging companies but every cent counts...many of these savings were passed on to me.
I found that Braums milk is almost $1 cheaper than the Walmart off brand. For families such as ours that goes through a gallon every 4 days, that savings adds up.
For those of you buying diapers, www.1800diapers.com is one of the cheapest places I have heard of and they ship to you for free.
For gifts, we are giving of our time instead of gifts. Homemade gift certificates for things like free organization of pantry, closet, etc...lawn work, ironing (gasp, I hate this!). Also, wedding gifts can pile up and are expensive and I made a recipe album of my favorite recipes through shutterfly.com and change the picture on the front for each couple and it is around $18 with shipping. Great personalized gift. Let me know if you want to see it.
I also try to cut coupons, though I have found it they are mostly for name brand items and the off brand is usually cheaper without the coupon.
We also do the traditional savers...no lights if not necessary, cooler in winter, warmer in summer on thermostats, turned down hot water tank unless we have company, cooking in crock pot when I can to save on gas...
Perhaps one of the hardest things as a stay at home Mom is finding inexpensive activities to get us out of the house (and not far away from home as a result of $2.50 gas prices!). We do things like the library, the pool in the summer, some communities have stay and plays for toddlers through the school system, discounted memberships to local attractions (ours is an aquarium), our community has free matinee movies for kids in the summer. Also, ask for things from family for birthdays and Christmas. How many more toys to they need, really? We go to Little Gym once a week from a gift, and it is a blessing to AK and to me!
Finally, I am enclosing a recipe that is cheap and will go a LONG way. We all love it! My Nannie always has these and has batter in the freezer. It reminds me so much of my childhood! Hope this hasn't been too boring. Love you all!
Raisin Bran Muffins
15 oz box raisin bran (can use 17 or 20 oz)
3 cups sugar
5 cups flour
5 tsp. soda
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. each of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon
4 eggs beaten
1 cup oil
1 quart buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla
Mix bran, sugar, flour, soda, salt, spices in extra large bowl. Add eggs, oil, milk and vanilla. Mix well. Store in refrigerator in tightly covered container. Grease muffin tins. Bake 15 minutes at 400. Will keep for weeks in refrigerator and are ready to bake and serve warm. Makes approx. 3 quarts.
*My Nannie wrote on this recipe card
"This is a favorite of mine. We heat 1 or 2 for breakfast. I like to keep batter on hand. They are great to take quickly to a friend (illness, death, new neighbor or b-day). I have taken plates of them to friends at Christmas."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Welcome back Old Friend....

I was out playing with Abby Kate today when I noticed the first bloom on my rose bushes. I planted them as babies and they have grown more than I could have imagined. I realized this year that I have fallen in love with perennials. It is the same feeling I got as a child when a friend I wanted to play with was taking a nap and I was told to patiently wait until they woke up so we could play. This year, when I saw the new growth on my hydrangeas, I almost squealed with delight! They take a long nap through the winter and then come forth more beautiful each year. They bring me such pleasure!
My hydrangeas are my favorite. I adore the flower and cut them all summer to put in vases throughout my house. My Mom tells me they were my Grand Mumpies favorite flower and from the stories I hear of her, I want to love what she loves.
Both my Nannie and my Mom have incredible green thumbs. They can grow anything and everything flourishes in their gardens. I usually kill things. I realized this year that I love hearty plants because, lets face it, I still have pockets of irresponsibility and they play out with my flowers. But I so WANT to be a gardener. I listen to my Nannie talk lovingly about her gardens. She knows each flower by name and can tell me its likes and dislikes. My Mom even loves them. She was heartsick last year when one of my pots died and said "they are babies! You must give them water!" Ouch. I admire gardeners mostly because they are excellent caregivers. As a young mother, I still question everything I do as a parent and I so want to see her bloom. I am DETERMINED this year to watch my gardens and pots flourish!

"Like a rose, trampled on the ground, He took the fall, and thought of me, above all..."
Happy Easter...