Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coffee Talk Thursday: Where to Begin?

After thinking through whether a more structured approach to your day is the right approach for your family or not, depending on how new you are to all of this, you may need some help getting started. I'm here for you! Let's have coffee and talk away :)
So the first step is to think hard about what you want to accomplish each day. What things do you have to do? What do you want to do? What would you like to do but never seem to have time to do? Just write it all down. No one is going to critique you for wanting to watch old Smurf cartoons (well, that's a little weird, but ok, let's go with it anyway).

Now, I know what it feels like when you want to make some changes to start chomping at the bit and just want everything to be the way you want it to be, right now.  While it's hard, we just need to rein ourselves in and be patient. Change will come and things will be better, but we need to work hard to get to that goal.

Think about getting out of debt. It doesn't happen overnight but is a slow and steady process. (Even if we use that "gazelle intensity" that Dave Ramsey talks about, our home won't magically be perfectly tidy and running smoothly hour after hour immediately. It will take some time. Sigh).

As we look toward implementing a routine, first get the skeleton of your day down:
  • Think about rhythms and patterns--what goes well with what?
  • What set things do you have to work around? What groups well with those?
  • Don't get hung up on finding the "perfect" thing for a time slot. Just pick something and make it perfect!

 After a good week of thinking about this and praying about it, I developed this little routine sheet, which I illustrated so my kids could easily refer to it as well. Structuring our morning this way really helped my right-brain as well. (In case you're wondering, I was not an art major)



(torn courtesy my 2 year old, as well as additional scribbles)
(Disclaimer: I did not draw the red "hammer" over the bed, and I do not wake my children up using a hammer) :)
So I will now translate my hieroglyphics for you:) We read from left to right, top row to second row.
  1. Wake up (this is usually around 7)
  2. Get dressed
  3. Breakfast
  4. Mom cleans up breakfast
  5. Bible time
  6. Mom nurses baby (notice floating baby above "Bible")
  7. Boys go up to brush teeth/make beds/get dressed if they didn't earlier
  8. Chore #1 (usually throw in a load of laundry; maybe do something else quick)
  9. Activity #1 (right now we are working through Sonlight's PreK curriculum)
  10. (not featured) Boys outside around 11 am to play
  11. Lunch
  12. Lunch clean-up
  13. Nap
  14. Stories
  15. Additional scribbles yet to be interpreted (a penguin on an iceberg?)

 That is about as far as I got, which on our clock brings us to about 3:30 pm. Do we follow this everyday? No. But having it as a guide is nice. Takes the guesswork out of what to be doing next. Now if we want to get all fancy with it, we could begin to assign some times to our activities which is what I am in the process of doing. I am also trying to figure out what our afternoons should look like past 3:30. Lately we've been having snack time, then maybe outside for a walk around 4, boys free time while I make dinner. I would do well to plan a few half-hour chunks after dinner as well (chunks and dinner don't sound good together, do they?!), so I am intentional about getting a few things done, instead of just taking the night off (which sounds really good right about now!).

I'd love to hear what works for you. Do you have a time schedule or a routine? Please share your's! I'd also love to hear how you arrived at it. Do you find it makes a difference in your family's life? Tell me about it!
If nothing else, what was your favorite part of my drawing? :) Hope you enjoyed your coffee!







Time: What's It To You

Time is a wheel.
Time is a wheel in constant motion
rolling us along.
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder…
--FROM I Hope You Dance by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers

Defining your philosophy on time is the first step in deciding whether a detailed schedule (or a more flexible routine) is right for you. Should time tell you where to go (time in control over you)? Or should you tell time how it will go (you in control of your time)? In the first approach, you are free to follow your fancy all day long (of course, there will be still be some hard breaks such as appointments and pre-planned activities). With the latter approach, you can still follow your fancy—when you plan to. You are leading the clock. Time is not spinning you in various directions all day long.

Prior to having children, I loved scheduling my day in my planner. After having children, and all the demands of three, ages four and under, seemed so urgent and pressing it felt as though I could not get off the treadmill, so to speak, long enough to take time to plan (and when I did, interruption after interruption threw my well-intentioned plan down the tube—and my mood with it). So we have gotten in the habit of a loose morning routine with the rest of the day pretty wide open. And I am beginning to think that is not the best way for my family. (Let’s just say I am in need of more mercy than I would like to be) :) For one, it really does take a lot of energy deciding what to do with that white space. Two, I waste time deciding as I explained in this post. Three, while I believe kids do need large amounts of unstructured time to let their creativity come to life, I am starting to see that too much unstructured time hampers creativity in my boys. As the saying goes, idleness is the devil’s playground. Part of my job as their mother is lovingly guiding them in all things, and this may mean helping them decide what to play with and when (to a greater degree than I already do).

Recently, I sat down with a friend for tea, and she showed me something both awe-inspiring and convicting. Small chubby notebooks (the kind that are about 5”x4” and available at the dollar store) detailed her days, dating back to 1996. While her lists did not include housework, they chronicled all she had taught her children, beginning with what Bible stories they read each day, what character traits they were working on, what hands-on activities she did with them, and more. When the Bible talks about giving an account of what we have done in this life, she’ll be ready! She doesn’t have to remember; her notebooks tell the story of her days well spent.

So is it better to follow your whims most of the day (follow where the Spirit leads), or is it superior to plan your day in advance as much as possible (remaining open to where the Spirit leads)? This is largely an individual decision, to be arrived at through much prayer and discussion with your husband. Either approach carried to the extreme is probably not healthy; balance is most likely achieved somewhere in the middle. For me, this is starting to look like a flexible schedule—one not dictated so much by the clock but rather the regular routine.

As I have been seeking the Lord’s direction in this area of my life, He recently led me to Haggai, where the people are called to build the house of the Lord. May these words minister to you as they did me:

“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.’”

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.’

“ ‘From this day on I will bless you.’”
–Haggai 1:4-819b
In my next post, I will offer some ideas for getting a routine or schedule going if you, too, are a mom in need of mercy in this area!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Disastrous Pairing of Disorganization and Perfectionism

(Disclaimer: this is not me! Internet guru Esther Dyson, named one of America’s most influential women by Forbes Magazine. Photo by Tom Puchniak)

I readily admit I fall in the disorganized end of the spectrum, and I am almost always trying to paddle upstream toward the organized current of life. I also admit that I tend to be a perfectionist. Together these two ingredients cook up chaos on the home front. Why? Let me explain.

Recently, author Sandra Felton gave voice to what I’ve long known but never articulated:

Creative people love spending their time finding creative projects so that they can enjoy using their time to the fullest. Many times, they also happen to be “messies” as Felton describes in her book, The Messies Manual: A Complete Guide to Bringing Order & Beauty to Your Home. This makes sense, since it takes excellent organizational skills to regularly clean up creative projects fully, and it takes discipline—especially if the project will continue the next day. (It’s just so much easier to leave everything spread out, isn’t it?)

While there are exceptions, we right-brainers are also perfectionists. Why this causes us unique struggles with homemaking is because we always want to find the perfect thing to do (and we want to do it at the perfect time). When we can’t figure out what the perfect thing is, we get stuck. We can’t decide what to do, and it puts us in such a tizzy that we either wander around idling while wondering, or we come to a complete standstill because we just don’t know how we should be using our time.

The blank slate of each new day can be overwhelming, even paralyzing to some extent, for perfectionist right-brained types. Should we start with laundry after breakfast, or read books to the children? Or what about baking that new muffin recipe? But wait! It’s such a nice day for a walk. Maybe we should head outdoors first. Since we really don’t know what to decide, we spin in circles, picking around here and there, waiting for the heavens to open and the voice of God to descend with a clear set of instructions.

Yet God has made us stewards over His creation, which makes us stewards over our daily time. Just as Adam was given authority to name each animal, we, too, are given autonomy to make decisions about how to spend each day, and each segment of the day. Certainly we should seek the Lord’s blessing and direction, and He will guide us in the plans He has for us. Then after seeking His guidance, we need to work out our own time-clocks, knowing we are under His loving watch.

In closing, can I share a secret I finally figured out? It’s not so much about choosing the perfect thing to do as it is making the thing you choose to do perfect. So whether it’s reading more books to the kids, or baking, or heading out for that walk—don’t get hung up on whether or not that was the best choice for the time, but rather make it the best experience for the time being.

(All this talk about time and how to best use it brings me to my next post, scheduling for beginners. We’ll explore that next time!)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Messy Monday: Finish It!

If we’re struggling with home management, thinking about the ways of the working world can give us the push we need to more effectively manage our work at home. Prior to having children, I produced and anchored the morning and noon news for our local NBC station. Can you imagine if I stopped halfway through the broadcast and told viewers “That’s all we have for you today. I just didn’t feel like finishing the newscast.” Viewers would be dumbfounded.

Or let’s say you go to the dentist for a filling. What if the dentist stopped halfway through and said, “You know, I’m just kind of tired today. I don’t really feel like finishing this filling right now.” Outrageous.

In the working world, each day’s work is largely definable and measurable. I either produced and anchored a full newscast or I did not. The dentist either gets the job done or he doesn’t. Professionals are expected to finish the job. Not finishing, for whatever reason, is out of the question. It is not an option if you hope to keep a job.

At home with no external pressures (bosses, pay checks, job security), the lines become much more blurred. Who really cares if you don’t finish your dishes after dinner or put the laundry away all the way? Your husband might; you might. Not finishing a task may cause some conflict, but it does not result in you losing your job or being sued (imagine a doctor finishing a surgery half-way and calling it good).

Reflecting on this did me some serious good. Saturdays I set out with good intentions: I’ll dust and vacuum, scrub my counters and my bathrooms, tidy up, change sheets and whatever else needs attention; and I’ll finish early enough to enjoy the rest of the day. I can see it playing out in my mind, but it never seems to happen in real life where it counts. Sure I pick around here and there, doing this and that. But I never finish anything. Why? Because the honest truth is—I just don’t feel like it. Maybe I think it’s acceptable to do the job halfway, maybe I get tired in the process, maybe I start a task and think about things I’d rather be doing and go do them instead. Whatever the reasons (and there are many), I fail to finish.

That being said, I am pleased to report that this Saturday, after realizing my problem, I did set out to finish my jobs, and I worked hard to fulfill my goals early enough in the afternoon to be free to enjoy the rest of the day. You know what? It worked! My husband was so amazed. When I told him about my revelations, he looked at me with a glint in his eye: his wife of seven years just might be finally onto something, and his hopes for a relatively tidy home most of the time might be in the horizon. And you know how those cowboys like to see their horizons!

So my tip for this Messy Monday is, as the title of this post suggests, finish it! You may get sidetracked several times in the process, but as I wrote about here, keep your focus. When you get called away by children or whatever else, tend to what you need to, and then return to what you were doing, and…you guessed it… finish it!

I’d love to hear ways you accomplish your tasks consistently, or if you’re struggling too (like I was), what are your biggest roadblocks to finishing well? Or just share something else on your mind! I’d love to hear from you!

In my next post, we will be looking at how perfectionism can play into disorganization. Hugh? Come back tomorrow and find out!

(This post is linked here)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Homemade Furniture Polish

When I couldn't find my furniture polish today, I googled how to make your own. This is probably not anything new to anyone but me:) but just in case (for finished wood)--
  • 2 parts olive (or vegetable) oil
  • 1 part lemon juice
I used 1/4 c. olive oil that I bought in a 3 L jug at Sam's Club for about $12. I used 1/8c. (or a half) of a large lemon.

Apply in the direction of the grain with a cloth and then buff with another cloth until it no longer looks oily.
Impressive results! My wood is shining!

(And I am saving lots of money! I estimate my 3L of olive oil will yield about 67 one-fourth cup servings. That is about .18 cents per use, plus the cost of the lemon...usually about .50 in our area. The lemon does make the homemade polish more expensive, but it is all natural and smells great. Plus, the kids can drink this stuff--probably wouldn't want to, but if they do, at least they're getting their omega-3's from the olive oil and vitamin C from the lemon!) :)

Do you use homemade natural cleaners? If so, what are some of your favorite "recipes"? Do you notice better results with natural as opposed to commercial? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall Fashion on a Budget: Interview with Shari Braendel (and a Giveaway!)

Last year, I won a giveaway on Lysa TerKeurst's blog and got a chance to chat with fashion and beauty expert Shari Braendel. Joining with Proverbs 31 Ministries, Shari is a sought-after speaker for Christian women's retreats, conferences, and youth events all over the nation. A fabulous, fun, and refreshing fashionista, she regularly hosts workshops for women to help them appreciate their beauty, discover their natural assets, and learn what to wear so they can look and feel their best.
She also sent me a copy of her wonderfully informative book, If Clothes Could Talk...AND...she's so generously agreed to give away a signed copy to one lucky reader here today.
Read what she has to say, then leave me a comment about any fall fashion trends you might try to follow, how you balance looking trendy and being frugal (or how you don't balance it!), or anything else you want to share. I will close the contest next Thursday night at 7pm Mountain Time and post the winner. (Be sure to leave me a way to contact you if you're the winner).
Without further ado, here's Shari!

What are the fall trends you recommend we follow?

RED: This is the pop color of the season! Wear red shoes, carry a red purse or don a red jacket.

LEOPARD PRINT: This goes without saying…leopard never seems to go out of style but this year it’s bigger than ever! Find a pair of leopard ballet flats you can wear with everything. Depending on your budget, pick up a pair by Merona at Target or pay big bucks for Coach.
LEGGINGS: Ranging in price from $15 an up, these fashion come-backs must be worn with long tops and jackets. Bright patterns, denim, lace, leather and of course, black, will have you looking quite fashionable.
BIG TOPS OVER SKINNY BOTTOMS: (Skinny jeans or leggings, not skinny bodies, silly!) Big tops are everywhere and this look can be quite casual and laid back with flats or you can glam it up with lots of accessories for a night on the town.
BRIGHT LIPS: ‘Tis the season for a new lip color. Maybe this is where you should add RED to your wardrobe!
RUFFLES: Gracious, ruffles are everywhere! You’ll find them adorned on sweaters, tops, skirts, boots and purses.
MENSWEAR: Vests, blazers and menswear inspired trousers will help you look the fashion expert! Go plaid, herringbone, or stripes for authentic style.
VINGTAGE JEWELRY: Pull out your old charm bracelets from high school or grab one from your mother’s jewelry box and wear it with high style. Ribbons, brass, chain link necklaces, crystals and silk should beautify your wrists and neckline.
SPARKLY SHOES: This fall trend is an easy way to spruce up your outfit when it’s looking a little drab. Worn with jeans or your fanciest dress, these beauties will put a little spring in your step!
EMBELLISHED TEES: Let’s face it, since most of us live a rather casual lifestyle and would opt for a t-shirt most days anyway, why not add one with built in accessories? A little glam or a lot of glam, this is one way to be a bit more dressed up than usual, yet still have the casual factor going on.

You don’t have to wear every single trend listed here, but trends always update your wardrobe and make you look fresh and new. Try a few that strike your fancy!

How can moms be fashionable and frugal? Please share your advice for looking cute and trendy on tight budgets.

Have some basics that work. If you mostly wear jeans, then have 2 pair, but have at least 4 different tops or sweaters to wear with them. Have one pair of boots and a casual pair of flats so you can change up your look and finally have some great accessories to wear with these basics. If you only own one pair of boots or shoes, they should coordinate with your hair color so you can wear with most everything you own. The same goes for your purse!

If we're short on time, what "go-to" stores do you recommend (places you're sure to find cute things at fairly low prices?)

H&N, Target, New York and Company are sure to please every-time!

[Cheryl here: of course you can adapt Shari's suggestions and scour yard sales, your favorite second-hand store or thrift store to take those prices even lower!]
For moms short on time, what are the basics you would say are non-negotiable each day for taking care of ourselves?
Please, please, please wash and moisturize your face every night before you go to bed. Did you know that for every day you don’t take your makeup off, your skin will age 7 days? Yikes!!!!! Someone told me that when I first started in the fashion business and it has scared me to the sink EVERY single night since! It doesn’t have to be expensive skincare, but make sure it suits your skintype. Personally, I love Mary Kay’s Timewise products, but Neutrogena and Avon have good products, too, along with the department store brands. As for everyday makeup, try a mineral powder in a natural shade in place of liquid foundation because it’s fast, apply a coat of mascara and add a dab of tinted lip gloss and GO!
How can moms who are in a rut of wearing "comfy stuff" around the house break out of that habit, and should they (if they think it's no big deal)?

Oh girl, I have some stories about that but we don’t have time here…but come one gals, it IS a big deal. When you look good, you feel better about yourself, it’s as simple as that. I know that comfy is important, but why not get a comfy sweat suit in a color that is flattering to you, and wear this when at home. I have a beautiful orange one I wear and even though I know I’m wearing it because it’s comfortable, others (like my hubby and son) think I Dressed up for them! Also gals, remember that your husband is most likely at work with well dressed women all day…when he gets home, you shouldn’t look like the wash lady, got it? At least comb your hair and smile!
Anything else you would want to add?

Remember it doesn’t take any extra time to pull on a pair of nice fitting jeans and a pretty sweater or v-neck tee than it does to pull on a pair of gray ugly sweats. Really. And, buy a full length mirror. I’m amazed at how many women don’t own one. Look at yourself from all angles before you head out the door.

Finally, remember you are beautiful, no matter your size or shape. Buy clothes that fit well, and that don’t cling. Clothes one size larger will make you look thinner. Try it!

Beautiful Blessings,

Shari Braendel
inspiring girls and women to embrace their self-worth by connecting fashion and faith

(This post is linked to Frugal Fridays)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coffee Talk Thursday: What are You Wearing?

That sounds more like what a creepy caller would ask in a raspy voice on the other end of the telephone, doesn't it? Well after getting past that initial reaction, let's now have coffee since it's Coffee Talk Thursday!

And you probably guessed, let's talk about what we're wearing around the house each day.

If your doorbell rang right now, would you:
a) answer it cheerfully (you feel confident about your appearance)
b) run and hide
c) quick change/slap on some makeup and then hope the person's still there

Well before we get to your answer....I have a story to share.

When my second son was about seven months old, I still hadn't lost all my baby weight and was in the habit of wearing my comfy velour sweatsuit everyday most days. One fine fall day, my mom was visiting, and on this particular day we didn't have any plans to go anywhere (I actually planned to get my floor mopped), so like any other day, I reached for my trusty sweats. No one's going to see me anyway, right?

Well, later in the afternoon, nice day that it was, we decided to take a little walk. Problem was, we walked right past the pumpkin patch at the church up our street. And of course, with Grandma visiting and the cute little pumpkins beckoning "Come take a picture by me!", we had to go in. Now mind you, I didn't have my hair done, I didn't have any makeup on, and to top it all off, under my sweatshirt, I had put on a "Jim Beam Rodeo" t-shirt. It was a particularly hot fall day, so here I was in the pumpkin patch of the little Christian church wearing a "Jim Beam Rodeo" shirt!

But it gets better (worse, depending on perspective). While at the pumpkin patch, I saw not one, not two, but several of my friends, including people I used to know when I worked in news (for those who don't know me in real life, I anchored the morning and noon news for our NBC station in pre-mommyhood). I really wanted to stick my head in the center of a pumpkin and not come out until dark! (I did try to find a picture of this day for your viewing pleasure, but I burned it couldn't find it).

When I saw that picture awhile back, I could not help but think, "What was I thinking?" In my mother's terms, it looked like I had "let myself go." Yes, I had recently had a baby and wasn't back to my usual size, and being frugal, I didn't want to spend a lot of money on clothes that I hoped I wouldn't have to wear too long. But really. It was a turning point for me.

While the sweatsuit is now in the back of my closet, I still struggle with finding the balance between being comfy and looking trendy. It's even harder if I know I'll just be home all day. Usually I feel like I want to "save" my good clothes; why, I do not know. Plus, there's the factor that being dressed too nicely makes it hard to get housework done, because I don't want to ruin my clothes, and good clothes just don't feel "worky" (yes I made up a word!).

What it boils down to for me is: if I would never want the outside world to see me looking the way I do somedays, then why in the world is it ok for me to present that picture to the world within my walls--my most important world, my family? If I'm too embarrassed to answer the door or go anywhere without changing first, I should probably not have been wearing what I was wearing in the first place. Please don't think I'm trying to criticize anyone; I'm just sharing my reflections that apply to me while we share coffee this Thursday. So I challenged myself to dress each day in a way that is both comfortable and reasonably fashionable. My litmus test? If an unexpected visitor was at the door, and I could answer without secretly inwardly cringing, I pass my own test!

Now, I realize I'm getting a little long-winded here:), but I am super excited to tell you that Shari Braendel, fashion expert, Christian speaker and author on fashion and beauty, and part of the Proverbs 31 team of women, will join us tomorrow to tell us all about fall fashion trends and how we can be fashionable and frugal at the same time. PLUS...she agreed to give away a copy of her newest book, If Clothes Could Talk. I've read it; I love it! Tons of helpful information--dressing for your body type, the best colors for you, handbag rules, and much more! So leave me a comment--what do you think about all of this? How do you balance comfort and style? Have a great day, and let's visit again tomorrow!

The Ministry of Hospitality

"Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality."-Romans 12:13
This morning I had the pleasure of watching my friend's little boy while she took her daughter to the doctor. I think originally she didn't want to inconvenience anyone, and I've felt the same way in the past when I needed a similar favor. But it was really no trouble at all! Just an extra little person for breakfast, and then I'd say the next hour was actually easier than usual because the boys were so excited to have a new playmate.

This got me thinking about those people in my life whom have stepped in to offer hospitality when I really needed it. Perhaps it was watching my boys in a similar situation (thanks Jodi!) or knowing that I needed their advice and they made time for us. What a blessing they have been!

On the flip side, I also recall times when I've practically begged for help to no avail. I can think of times when I desperately needed mentoring advice and hesitantly (because it is hard) called a few of the women I tend to turn to for this, only to hear they were too busy. "We have school" is a common reason for the no. While that's completely understandable (after all, our ministries our to our own families first), it often leaves me feeling deflated and isolated when I need encouragement from someone the most.
The point I am trying to make is that even when you have school (or whatever else fills your schedule), when you invite someone in despite all of that, it becomes such a ministry of hospitality. I will never forget the time a friend told me indeed she had school, but she would still make time for me and my questions because she said, "These things are important. We make time for them." A ministry of hospitality. Like the title of Karen Ehman's book, let's be the kind of people whose lives say "Welcome, we're glad you're here!"

Can you think of times you've sought hospitality only to be turned down? How did that make you feel? What about when someone said yes? Why or why not should we say yes to others (or no)? Let's talk!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mercy for Unfinished Tasks at Day's End

(not the right picture for the story, but as close as I could find!)

So how is everyone doing with finding our focus each day? I still have laundry to put away, but it will get done sometime! (Have you ever had to buy a new basket just to hold the new laundry coming out of the dryer since all your old ones were full? I have!) Anyway, it's mid-week, and I found this the other day and thought it was such a heartwarming thought, I just had to share!

"There is an old picture which represents a woman who has fallen asleep at her wheel, in very weariness, as she toils to fulfill her household duties, and the angels have come and are softly finishing her task while she sleeps. Let parents be faithful; let them do their best. The work may seem too great for them, and they may faint under its burdens and seem to fail. But what they cannot do the angels will come and finish while they sleep. Night by night they will come and correct the day's mistakes, and if need be do all the poor, faulty word over again." --The Family, p. 109

Isn't it great that God's mercy gives us a new start every morning! May you seize your bright new dawn--I'm hoping (and going to try to plan a bit) for a great one tomorrow!

Monday, September 21, 2009

And We Have a Winner!

I soooo wish I had enough copies of Karen Ehman's book, A Life That Says Welcome: Simple Ways to Open Your Heart and Home to Others to give one away to each of you. But I only have one, which Karen has very generously agreed to sign and send to one of you! Thank you again, Karen.

So I wrote a number corresponding with everyone's comment number, put them in a basket, shook them around, closed my eyes and drew one out....and....

I think we may have had two Suzi's, posting one after another (or just one posting twice??). Not sure, but the winner is--

Suzi, who wrote this (for clarification if there are two!):
Suzi said...
I love your blog! I was visiting from Karens,If you like sea creatures,.....
So Suzi, please send me your mailing address. You can email me at

Now for the rest of you, I highly recommend Karen's book. You can see if your library has a copy (or another library in the state that your library can order for you). You can also purchase it directly from Proverbs 31 Ministries or Amazon, or any other retailer you like.

I am also excited to announce that we have another great giveaway coming this Friday! Shari Braendel, who is a fashion expert, author, and Proverbs 31 speaker/ministry leader will join us to give us an update on fall fashions and fashion tips, especially on a budget. We'll be giving away a copy of her book "If Clothes Could Talk." Who knew your shoes should complement your hair color and your hand bag should coordinate with your body size? It's all in there, plus:

Learn to identify your body type, which styles suit you best, and read about Shari's Quick Tips for Dressing Thinner.
Discover the 16 Point Accessory Rules
The Power of Color, Essential Wardrobe Pieces, and more!

A wonderful resource! Coming Friday. Stay Tuned!

Parenting the "Hard" Way

The other day someone very close to me commented that my style of parenting (quite involved) is what's responsible for most of the difficulties I face day-to-day. This person holds somewhat to the Victorian view that children should be in the background; that toys should be sequestered in bedrooms and never come out; that children should not be allowed in the kitchen; that parents shouldn't have to remove nice things from low places where little hands can (and do) reach; and that parents should never give reasons why they demand or disallow what they do.

I will admit that several of the struggles I face daily would be solved by following this person's suggestions (whom I love and respect dearly). Toys only and ever in the bedroom would do wonders for the overall appearance of my house. Never having my kids in the kitchen would indeed help it stay cleaner. I would definitely have more time for leisure pursuits.
Yet I believe my greatest calling, aside from being the best wife I can, is to be a great mother. That, to me, means a hands-on mom. So yes, I am parenting the "hard" way, but who said the "easy" way is better?
After reflecting on what this person said and running it through my critical thinking lens, here are some conclusions I reached about why parenting the "hard" way is the right way for our family:
  1. A close parent-child relationship creates a strong family identity, which is less likely to lead to rebellion through the teen years and later in life (as Ted Tripp wrote about in Shepherding a Child's Heart)
  2.  Personally, who does not wish their parents would have spent more one-on-one time with them in    early (or later) childhood? I know my husband and I both wish this, and we don't want our kids growing up wishing the same thing.
  3. How can we follow God's command to train up our children in the way they should go when we are doing our thing and they are doing their thing all day, everyday?
  4. If like my grandpa said, these are the years I'll want to go back to someday, I want to live with as few regrets as possible. That means making lots of memories with my kids each day.
  5. Molding clay into a masterpiece is very hands-on and labor intensive.
So yes, the toys may be all over my house and little hands have left tell-tale traces throughout the kitchen, and I really don't have much time to myself (but I'm blogging right?!), but I am so grateful I have this time to be with--really be with--my best blessings in life!

"O mothers of young children, I bow before you in reverence. Your work is most holy. You are fashioning the destinies of immortal souls. The powers folded up in the little ones that you hushed to sleep in your bosoms last night are powers that shall exist for ever. You are preparing them for their immortal destiny and influence. Be faithful. Take up your sacred burden reverently. Be sure that your heart is pure and that your life is sweet and clean." --J.R. Miller, The Family

(Read more of what people are grateful for at Heavenly Homemakers)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Messy Monday: Choose a Focus and Keep Your Focus

 So I think that in addition to Coffee Talk Thursdays, I'll also start a regular feature (at least for the time being) called Messy Monday, where I share tips I've learned about homemaking and how they can help keep the mess somewhat under control. (I don't think I'll be running out of material anytime soon!) :)
One of the keys to success in our homemaking efforts is having a clear focus as we go about each day's never-ending work. Maybe you, like me, remember stay-at-home moms you knew while growing up who would sit down in the afternoon and read a book, cross-stitch or do another leisure project while their kids played. Was their work truly done, or just done for that day? It is easy to look within our own homes and think "I could never sit down and read a book in the afternoon because there is so much more to do. I'm just not done. How can I relax?" But I think in hindsight, these moms weren't fully "done" either (we never are!), but they worked hard and then decided to be done for that day. I think that's the key.


In the old-fashioned housekeeping system, the tasks of maintaining a relatively clean home were divided up throughout the week. Here's the way Cheryl Mendelson describes the system in her thorough book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House:
  • Monday--laundry
  • Tuesday--ironing
  • Wednesday--sewing
  • Thursday--marketing (grocery shopping)
  • Friday--cleaning
  • Saturday--baking
  • Sunday--rest


If you don't need a day for ironing or sewing (as few people do nowadays) just substitute chores of your choice on those days. It doesn't matter what day you do what. There is probably no perfect day to mop...just get it done! Do the designated work you've designated for the day, and then you're done...for that day. Voila!

Now, here's the second key, on your day of focus, keep your focus! That sounds simple, doesn't it? But it never is that simple. In a household with children and other responsibilities, there are a million distractions each day. I can get so sidetracked so many times a day, that by the end of the day, it looks like a tornado blew through. For example, just yesterday, I opened the drawer to get out my address book, opened the address book, and then had to run into the other room to deal with some issue with my boys (don't remember what it was now). Then I got sidetracked again and again, and a while later when I finally returned to the kitchen, there was the drawer still open, with my address book open on top of the open drawer. (This was just one of the things like that in the room). Psseesh! 

So even in the little things, keep your focus. If you get called away, return to what you were doing. As a mom, you will get called away many times. As a homemaker, try your best to return to what you were doing, as often as you have to, until that job is done. Keep the focus. (And especially with little ones, keep the workload light each day). I think that will really help.



How does this translate into real life? Let's say you're following the system I described above, and you're setting out to do laundry on Monday. In addition to your routine daily tasks (sweep floor, wash dishes, whatever else is important to you each day), you're only going to do your laundry (unless your kids crush Goldfish crackers all over the floor. Then you're going to vacuum!). Try to do as little of the other chores as necessary so you can devote fully to your focus area for the day. That way, you have a much better chance of succeeding at getting your laundry washed, folded, and put away than if you're trying to do laundry and several other chores. That's a sure way to end up with baskets washed and folded but not put away. Or some baskets washed and dried but not folded. You get the point. Have a focus, keep your focus, and finish your focus. Just for the day. Then go relax like those moms we remember! You earned it!

(Oh, and don't's the last day for the signed copy of A Life That Says Welcome:Simple Ways to Open Your Heart & Home to Others. Enter here. Winner will be announced in the morning!)

A Modern-Day Sabbath Rest Revisited

"Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy." (Ezekiel 20:12)
This week I was reading in Ezekiel 20 about God's anger against the Israelites because they "utterly desecrated my Sabbaths," (v. 13). Over and over again, God tells Ezekiel to tell Israel that one of the reasons He was not bringing them into the "most beautiful of all lands" (flowing with milk and honey) was "because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths.  For their hearts were devoted to their idols (v. 16)."

Later, verse 32 says, "You say, 'We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.'"

While in Christ, we are no longer under the law, how we observe (or don't observe) the Sabbath still says a lot about what our hearts are devoted to. Are we still living like the Israelites--wanting to be like the people of the world who reject God's laws, do not follow His decrees, and desecrate His Sabbaths? This was all because their hearts were devoted to their idols. 

A study note in my Bible on this passage says:
"The Sabbath, instituted by God at creation, was entrusted to Israel as a sign that God had created and redeemed them. This day of rest was a gift from a loving God, not a difficult obligation. But the people repeatedly desecrated the Sabbath and ignored their God. It was meant to be a memory device but they ignored it. Today, many Christians celebrate the Lord's Day, Sunday, as their Sabbath. Whatever the day, we must be careful to fulfill God's purpose for the Sabbath. He wants us to rest, to refocus, and to remember Him."
Taking time out for the Sabbath sets a beautiful tone for the week ahead if we let it.

So how are you spending this Sunday? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Romance Your Spouse Without Spending A Dime: How to Have Successful Dates at Home

photo by Christine Zalewski

After the birth of their second child, my friends Damon and Sarah were—like many couples raising young children—drained and exhausted. They were tired, and it was taking a toll on their marriage. “It wasn’t the way I wanted it to look,” Sarah says. So she decided to make some changes. First, she tried to do a better job of meeting her own emotional needs through prayer, Bible study, and regular exercise, instead of expecting her husband to be her knight-in-shining armor at the end of his grueling work day. Second, she and Damon began making a weekly date night a priority in their relationship. With young children and a strained budget, an at-home date was more feasible for them than going out and paying for a sitter each week. But with the children around, how did they make their date night a success instead of a stress? Here are some tips Sarah shared with me that I hope will help you too:

  •  Plan on it and stick to it.
Much like hosting dinner guests, you commit to a date and
then follow-through—even if you’re tired after a day’s work, even if you’re having a bad day, even if the kids are crabby or hyper or otherwise uncooperative. Make keeping your date “a date” a priority—don’t just bow out and opt for the same old, same old, when you’re both drained at the end of the day. You do whatever you need to do to enjoy a pleasant experience. (By the way, preparing the house as if you were cleaning for company can often help set the stage for an enjoyable evening.)

  • Occupy the kids, involve them, or exhaust them.

Sarah’s children (now there are three, going on four) look forward to Mom and Dad’s date-nights, because they know that for them, it’s movie night. They trek to the local library and pick out some children’s movies, which they watch while their parents enjoy some quiet time to themselves. They know not to interrupt their parents unless it’s an extreme emergency. Extreme.

Sarah’s children, however, are older than mine. For us, we've chosen to have our boys in our midst during our dates. For instance, one night we rented the Disney movie Ratatouille. On his Blockbuster run, my husband also picked up some French bread, grapes, semi-expensive cheese, and an inexpensive-but-still-very-tasty bottle of wine. We made dipping oil (olive oil and balsamic vinegar), sliced the bread and cheese, and had a picnic in the living room while watching the movie. It was fun and special, because it was different from the ordinary; and we were all upbeat because we found a way to have a date even with the boys running around the living room like crazy little monkeys.

However, if your children are too young to occupy themselves safely and independently like Sarah’s, and you don’t want to involve them in your date like we do, another option is to simply tire them out through the day in whatever ways you know will send your children off to dream-land easily and quickly, and then put them to bed early. Very early, hopefully with very little fuss!

  • Think outside the box.
If having a date night at night really just does not work for you for whatever reason (and let’s face it, moms would often rather prefer a date with the bathtub and a good book at the end of a long day!), find another time that works well for you as a couple. The important thing is not that the date is held at night, but that you and your husband are spending quality time together, focusing on each other and on your most important relationship.

One of my friends, for example, wakes up early once in a while to share a special morning with her husband before he goes to work. They talk over coffee while their little boys are still asleep.

Another option is to set a lunch date. You could have a trusted friend watch your children for an hour or two and enjoy a mid-day date (and then return the favor), or follow the ideas in tip #2 if your kids will be home with you and your husband.

  • Keep it consistent.
When you and your husband were dating before you were married, you probably did not just go out once a month, or once every other month, or once a year. You wanted to spend time together in a special setting, regularly. Just because you are choosing to not leave the house for your date does not mean you should let the demands of home and children rob you from investing in your most important asset—your marriage.

Damon and Sarah look forward to their planned time as a special escape from the rigors of the week. Sarah says that her husband comes home from work in a much lighter mood knowing that he has a fun night awaiting him. The date gives them both a much needed break from monotony, and it’s nice (especially on the wallet) to be in the comfort of your own home.
  • Twist the ordinary.
What is ordinary? That’s for you and your spouse to figure out. However, the important thing is to do something out of the usual that feels memorable. Sarah has found that whatever you chose to do, it’s important to “twist it”—make it more special, more meaningful, more fun. So, for example, you need to eat dinner. Don’t just make tuna casserole (although if that’s what you really want, go ahead! Just add something else to the experience that makes it feel like a real treat). If your budget affords, you could splurge on steak and shrimp, or something out of the ordinary that appeals to you. Maybe you’re going to watch a movie. Add an element or two that make that experience feel different from your usual movie-watching times. Whatever you choose to do, add elements that make the ordinary seem extraordinary.

Sarah says following these steps consistently has made a huge difference in their relationship. She and her husband are much closer because of the commitment they’ve made to investing in their marriage. And because they’ve held their dates at home, they’ve also saved money in the process. Frugal and fun!

(This post is my contribution to Frugal Fridays, hosted by

Coffee Talk Thursday: More on Being His Girlfriend

Well, I haven't gotten around to designing a fancy little button yet. But button or no button, I would like to begin a regular feature here on Thursdays called "Coffee Talk Thursday," where we sit down and talk about stuff as if we were having coffee together (or another hot beverage of your choice) face to face.

So today's topic is being our husbands' girlfriends. I had a little bit more I wanted to share with you over that second cup of coffee!

I would like to introduce a good friend of mine, Mary, who I admire so much! Together she and her husband Kris have eight wonderful children, six boys, two girls. Don't they look adorable?

Here's what Mary shared with me about the secret to their success:
We are going to be married 21 years this Sept 23. I don't know why we are such good friends I have never thought about it. Maybe it's because he lets me. I have made my marriage my priority. I consider it my vocation in life to be a good wife and mother. It is also my greatest joy. We like to be around each other. I never get tired of being with him. I like hearing about his day. I love when he walks through that door. He has no expectations, he just loves who I am and always praises me. Not that he has ever said anything to require me to dress up, but I like to have my hair done and makeup on by the time he gets home. I like to do my best to look good for him, probably because he has never pressured me and always said he loves me just the way I am. We pray together a lot. We strive to know and love God which one of the fruits is we fall more in love with each other. If you want to love your spouse, then love God. You cannot love your spouse like he/she deserves to be loved unless you love God. That makes sense since God is Love.

Thanks, Mary! We'll have to have a cup in person soon!

If you haven't yet, I'd love for you to enter to win an autographed copy of a great book on hospitality by Karen Ehman called A Life That Says Welcome: Simple Ways to Open Your Heart & Home to Others. Just leave a comment after this post, and I'll be posting the winner Tuesday. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

His Wife? Or His Girlfriend?

Probably raised a few eyebrows at that one, hugh?! As I have mentioned before, I'm a Dr. Laura listener (don't always agree with everything she says, but do enjoy her show when I can listen). One thing she is big on is BEING YOUR HUSBAND'S GIRLFRIEND (does that clarify the post title now?). In fact, she's so big on it, she's written a whole book about it.

A strong, vibrant marriage colors all of life more positively and is certainly a special one of God's mercies. A close marriage even helps our parenting, because we feel tightly connected with our closest support person. The business of maintaining a home and raising children can start to feel like, well, just that--a business. When it does, the wind sails out of that sweet thing called love and our marriage suffers. Sure there's business to discuss with our husbands, but let's not lose sight of the fact that we were their girlfriends first. We were their girlfriends when they fell in love with us; we were their girlfriends when they proposed to us; and now that we are their wives (even better), we should strive to always find ways to remind our men of why they wanted to capture us as their girl.

So what are some practical ways we can show our husbands we're still their girlfriends?
  •  Call him at work (if it's ok) not to tell him about things at the house or with the kids, but just to flirt/say hi/tell him what you love about him 
  • Dress nicely when he gets home so that he knows you made an effort to look good just for him (this usually means "non-around-the-house" clothes, hair done, some makeup on, maybe perfume; but if you don't wear makeup or perfume, just do what you can to send him the message that you still want him to remember everyday why he thought you were the most beautiful woman in the world and wanted desperately to marry you. (A clean shirt is usually a good place to start!)
  • Write him little notes and/or occassionally pick up small trinkets (as your budget allows) as a special treat
  • Pamper him. My husband said he really appreciates the times when he gets home from work and I say, "Honey, why don't you just take a break and do something fun for yourself for awhile?" (only a non-bitter tone will be effective here!).
  • (The husband's perspective): Initiate (you can email me if you need clarification) 
  • Make sure you take time to visit each day. This can be sharing a cup of coffee together or wine at night (water/tea/hot chocolate/juice would also be acceptable alternatives) :) or lay in bed talking at day's end (this could tie in nicely with the previous suggestion)
  • And I would be remiss if I did not add the most important way to be the best girlfriend to your husband: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and time spent soaking up God's Word will make your spirit and countenance sweet to your husband's soul
That's my list for now. What are some of your ideas on ways we can show our husbands that we're still their girlfriends?

Tomorrow I will post on how to romance your spouse without spending a dime--how to have a successful date night without leaving the house or farming out the kids. 'Til next time! Now, as Dr. Laura would say--"Go make your marriage delicious!"
(This post is linked to Works for Me Wednesday)

The Golden Years

While we were in Michigan visiting my family, we spent some time visiting my 93-year old grandfather in the assisted living center. What wisdom the most seasoned citizens can offer us! As my grandpa was sharing stories of days gone by, I asked him what he would say was the best time of his life--if he could go back to any time period, what would it be and why? At nearly 100, he had lots of years to choose from. Do you know what he said were his favorite? "When the kids were little. Those were really the golden years, the best of times."

Here I am in the thick of it with three extremely energetic boys--4, 2, and 11 months, just trying to make it through each day and get a few things done around the house while simultaneously breaking up fights, cleaning up messy bursts of creativity (who knew dry milk powder could form a sandbox on the kitchen floor? Leave it to my 2 year old to figure out!), and of course--the big stuff, teaching them about the Lord and training them in righteous character while trying to keep my own character somewhat in tact! But I'll admit, most days leave me quite frazzled. And you know what? The wisdom of my grandpa's perspective really challenged me to savor even the really hard days. Because someday if I make it to 93 and can reflect on my favorite years of life, I bet that I--like my Grandpa--won't choose to go back to my childhood, or the days of early marriage with no kids, or when the kids are old enough to help more with chores, or when they're grown and out of the house--I will choose to travel back to "the best of times": when the kids were LITTLE. Where I am now. The Golden Years. 

Sure there's weariness and frustration, but also so much joy and wonder. No other time in all of life is marked by such great discoveries occurring so rapidly. A baby learning to smile, clap, and laugh to his core; a toddler learning new words and putting new phrases and then sentences together everyday; the emerging personalities and antics of our preschoolers. I know that years from now, I will long for the days of baby shampoo and baby smiles, toddler tales, and preschooler projects that always seem to spill over throughout the house. The messes that happen today won't seem like such a big deal tomorrow. They may even make us smile. Since we can't get this time back, let's enjoy--even savor--each day. Like a teeter totter, let's aim to go light on the weariness and exasperation of parenting and heavy on the joy and wonder.

I hope this perspective from my Grandpa encourages you as it did me!

"God wants to fill our homes with happiness. He made childhood joyous, full of life, bubbling over with laughter, playful, bright and sunny...We should put into their childhood days just as much sunshine and gladness, just as much cheerful pleasure as possible. Besides the way also to make them strong and noble in character when they grow up to manhood and womanhood is to make their childhood and youth both bright and happy...Pour the sunshine about them in youth; let them be happy; encourage all innocent joy; provide pleasant games for them; romp and play with them; be a child among them. Then God's blessing will come upon your home, and your children will grow up sunny-hearted, gentle, affectionate, joyous themselves and joy-bearers to the world." (The Family by J.R. Miller)
*The Family is a beautiful book, full of much encouragement and great insights, that I
will share more about in days to come!

(And don't forget to enter yesterday's drawing for a free autographed copy of "A Life that Says Welcome: Simple Ways to Open your Heart & Home to Others!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Offering (and Accepting) Hospitality...(and a Giveaway!)

**Update 9/24/09--the winner of the Karen Ehman book was comment number 23: Suzi.
Suzi, I have no way to contact you. I need you to send me an email at by Monday, Sept. 28, or I will draw another winner.

"Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others..." -- 1 Peter 4:9

Over the weekend, my husband, children and I were blessed to spend some time visiting with Laura of Heavenly Homemakers and her family on our way back home from our cross-country trip. Through our correspondence, she had generously invited us to her home as we traveled through their area. A really rough day of traveling, however, looked like it would prevent the visit from taking place. All the series of unfortunate events gave new meaning to me of the verse, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). The bad day left us discouraged and about ready to throw in the towel on accepting their offer of hospitality. Almost, but not quite. Despite the circumstances, we went anyway.

When we arrived, Laura joked that we were about to "quench the Spirit by not accepting their offer of hospitality."  She couldn't have said it better. Fellowshipping with her family was such a blessing to our family; a short visit shone redeeming light through the entire day. God's mercyAnd I was a mom in need of it.

(left to right, Laura's son Elias, my sons Gannet and Xavier, me, my baby Jack, Laura's son Asa, Justus, Malachi and Laura)
Laura's exuberant hospitality inspired me to be better about offering hospitality to others. Yet too often it's easy to "grumble" about it, as 1 Peter chides us against. We can grumble about the inconveniences of having guests over--cooking for more people, cleaning a little a lot more than usual, and the like.  I tend to grumble not so much about the practice of hospitality as I do about the condition of my home. For one, it's often messier than I would like. Two, many parts of our 100-year old home need repair. Three, our furniture is quite old and worn. Four, our kitchen table lacks adequate chairs (they don't match, some are broken, and there are not enough for company). I can be embarrassed about all these things, or I can follow God's command to practice hospitality despite my misgivings about my home and what people will think. With the former, I "quench the Spirit" and miss out on sweet fellowship; with the latter, God can use my hospitality--as He did Laura's--to richly encourage others. We are not asked, or even expected, to have perfect homes; but rather, to use what we do have to welcome others into our lives and into our homes.

On the flip side, there can also be reasons why we don't accept hospitality. Perhaps we are too shy, or feel awkward going to someone's home that we don't know that well; maybe we don't want to inconvenience the hosts; or we hesitate because caring for our children, especially when they're small, is enough work at our own house, much less anyone else's! Yet, when we forget all those "grumblings" and accept an offer of hospitality, the hosts are blessed in the offering, and we are blessed in the receiving, so it's a win-win for everyone!

In honor of Laura's (and others) heavenly hospitality, I would like to offer a free autographed copy of A Life that Says Welcome: Simple Ways to Open Your Heart & Home to Others by Karen Ehman (which Karen has generously donated to one lucky reader). I loved this book and found it offered many practical suggestions to step up the practice of hospitality. To enter, just leave a comment, and I will draw a winner next Tuesday!