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Friday, February 27, 2015

Becoming Balanced

B Daddy and I do this thing each week where we go sit in a circle and 'do life' with six other couples. It probably sounds strange if you've never done it, but we've consistently put ourselves in these (sometimes uncomfortable but always enlightening) circles since we first got married. I think it's one of our healthiest married people habits. We talk about our life, our faith, our families and currently, our finances. We're going through Northpoint's Balanced curriculum right now and the timing couldn't be better.

I am and have always been the one who manages our day-to-day finances. B Daddy does bill-paying and spreadsheet-analyzing at his 9-5 and he leaves it to me to take care of things at home. It's a pretty decent division of labor. Unfortunately when things get a little lackadaisical it means I bear the brunt of the blame.

Things have been a little lackadaisical lately.

We are not on a cash budget anymore and I haven't actualized our monthly budget in several months.

First on my list of excuses is that we use a cyber-bank that doesn't have physical locations. USAA, I am your biggest fan, but I need to throw someone under the bus, sorry.  Pulling cash out each month  means going to an ATM to get a bunch of 20s. And sometimes our little budget categories require $70...which creates overly complicated scenarios involving cash back from the Publix cashier...which makes me think it's too much trouble to even try.

Additionally, when I was working and even when we had just one, then just two littles, I had lots of down time to make budgets and actualize expenses and control pursestrings. Nowadays - what with the four children and the homeschooling and the trying to keep us fed and in clean clothes- I get very very little downtime during the day. During the moments I do have, I like to write or catch up with Brandi, Lisa and Yolanda. Sorry budget.

While "lackadaisical" hasn't meant we're in the red, we could definitely tighten things up.

A big issue for me is our lack of motivating achievable goals. We are Dave Ramsey groupies, which means we follow the "Baby Steps" program and we're currently on Baby Step 5. Still. Have been for y  e  a  r  s. The last time I posted about money we were on this step (back in 2013) and I was frustrated we couldn't put away the recommended amount each month to put our three kids through college. Well now we have FOUR kids to put through college and consequently we're STILL hanging out on Step 5.

We're at last at the point where we are putting away a set amount for each child for college (and/or trade school and/or post-high school career expenses) that we can live with. It won't cover Ivy League (or out-of-state) tuition, but it means we can ensure the college-bound toddlers arrive at age 18 clothed and fed.

Does this mean we are ready to tackle #6? Paying off our home early? Having a bonafide paid-for home?! No mortgage, no 4-figure check going to Wells Fargo each month. It's kind of an exciting thought.

But if we want to get there anytime soon, I think we're going to have to get back to the basics budget-wise. Which for us means little white envelopes and trips to the ATM.

Anyone care to join us???

For your reading pleasure - links to some other posts about moola, finances, budgeting and money money money.

2009 - Financial Freedom
2010 - Tightening our Belts
2010 - Am I Glad I Quit My Day Job? (not exaaaactly on finances, but kinda on topic)
2011 - Confessions of a Self-Righteous Budgeter
2013 - Money Money Money Maaaaahnaaaay

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Things I Really Enjoy about My Kids Right Now

This week I have been completely out of sorts. The kids are taxing my patience, the weather is terrible and I'm fairly certain my "lady" emotions are raging. Suffice it to say, I've not been a prime example of motherhood lately.

I'm determined to turn things around and maybe some positive kid-talk will do the trick.

Still into costumes and superheroes, this one leads the way with make-believe around here. He imagines plots of bravery and subterfuge, and when it's good and all the kids are involved, it is AMAZING to watch.

Girl loves to read. Last night she paid her usual 2am visit to my side of the bed (note: this would be on a "things I severely dislike about my kids" list) and when I told her to go back to bed she said, "If I just had my library books in my bed I wouldn't be scared." Swoon.

The boy ate two bananas before breakfast. Two bananas! Does he even have the stomach capacity for such tomfoolery? Also - he runs like Juggernaut. Watch this (warning: a tiny bit of language) if you're unfamiliar with the reference.

The New Kid has had me worried for the better part of a week. He was labelled, "failure to thrive" at his 6 month check-up last week because he hasn't gained weight for 2 months now. The doctor might as well have pinned a ribbon on me that said, "failure to mother." We've been shoveling avocados and bananas to him as fast as he'll take them and the kid put on almost a pound this week! Which made the doc happy and made me feel like less of a failure. I do understand and would counsel any of my friends that it's always a bad idea to base your self-worth on another human being's performance... clearly I'm still working on that.
Back to the list: this guy is starting to babble and of course, "dada da da dada da" were the first sweet little words he's uttered.

How has your week been? Anyone else OVER the weather in their neck of the woods? Any of y'all ever been given the "failure to thrive" label? And most importantly how many bananas is too many bananas for a 2 year old?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Brain Dump & Weekend Reading

It is so. freaking. cold. I realize you know this because the entire US is under a blanket of ice this morning. My car thermostat said 16 degrees on the way to the YMCA this morning, which I'm pretty sure is a first.

The kids and I have cabin fever as I absolutely refuse to take them outdoors in this weather. Additionally the Squirt is off school so we have all been together 24/7 all week long. And lastly, I gave up social media for Lent. (This post was auto-scheduled.) A stay-at-home-mom giving up social media on a week like this is pretty much like a marooned sailor turning his nose up at a cruise ship sailing by. No thanks, I'll be just fine by myself in the middle of this vast ocean. Man - I am ready for B Daddy to come relieve my isolation.

I have lots of things upcoming blog-wise, a post on our finances (always a big hit) some recipes from our Master Meal list and thoughts on this first year of homeschooling....but all that will have to wait because the cold has seeped into my head and is slowly killing brain cells. I can hardly put two thoughts together.

I'll leave you with a few favorites from around the web this week for your weekend reading:

My new favorite blogger on Why Life Balance Won't Work

This laundry room renovation? Brilliant. Now I'm looking for things to paint.

"And I had to ask myself: Am I living the life I want to live? Or am I just buying things that represent that life?" Great food for thought, and from a style blogger too.

I posted this on Twitter already, but so good. The 26 Worst Things That Can Happen to a Booklover. Especially #17!

Are you pursuing your gifts during the "fringe hours" of your day? Love this perspective.

Wish I could just carry around a copy of this to hand out to strangers. Ha!

If you tend to overthink things like I do this is a lovely read: Sometimes it really is as simple as cake.

And last but not least, if you need a belly laugh.

Stay warm and have a lovely weekend friends!

Monday, February 16, 2015

RE/PROM (and giveaway winner!)

We had such a great time this weekend y'all! I'm normally right there with any haters who call Valentine's a Hallmark holiday, but this year it provided the perfect excuse for us party with a purpose at the RE/PROM event benefitting Care for Aids.

My sister and brother-in-law have gotten together with an extraordinarily gifted group of friends to support a Care for Aids center in Kariobangi, Kenya. Last year they dreamed up RE/PROM as an additional way to fund their efforts and when Anna told me about the concept I got super psyched.

Dancing is basically my middle name.

B Daddy dusted off his suit and I finally had a reason to try out Rent the Runway. (LOVED my dress, loved the service level, will definitely use them again. Let me know if you have more questions about RTR and maybe I'll do a whole post.) My father-in-law generously donated childcare services and at 8:30pm we put on our dancing shoes and headed out. 

Time out for a funny story: So my sister called me last week to see if I was available to help she and some other girls assemble paper castles for the event. She explained that they needed 300 of them and it was taking a lot longer than they thought it would to assemble each one. I pictured a crafty gathering of girls clinking wine glasses as they carefully constructed small origami castles. I figured they'd be centerpieces or used in some other creative fashion. Needless to say I was bummed that B Daddy was out for the evening and I couldn't get away. 

Just this morning I remembered that I never saw all those castles they had worked so hard on and the following interaction took place: 


Bwahahahaha! Funny, no? You can see said tassels hanging all over in the pictures above. 


The evening combined all the best parts of a wedding: great music, an excuse to get dolled up, free food and drinks + all the best parts of prom: picture party with your girl friends, seeing your man all dressed up and an excuse to dance like a fool. (See how much fun my friend Bonnie is having?!)

Oh! And a total bonus? B Daddy and I won the social media contest for this pic:

Which means we get to enjoy an overnight at The Serenbe Inn!! Woohoo!! I have always wanted to go there

Fun is definitely an understatement. Thanks to the amazing hosts for putting it on and to the friends who took a chance on an unknown party and came with us! Looking forward to making this our annual Valentine's Day tradition. Although next year I think they really ought to put up some paper castles.

And last but not least.....drumroll please....

Kristi Miller wins the SOAR conference giveaway!! Yay Kristi! Thanks for reading and for spreading the word about SOAR. And thanks to everyone else who spread the word, that post got a ton of traffic and SOAR is about to be SOLD OUT. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Time to SOAR - A BIG Giveaway

Almost exactly 4 years ago I overheard some friends talking one night about a local Bible study they attended on weekday mornings that offered childcare. I was instantly offended and didn't understand why these girls had been holding out on me.  As we all know, "childcare provided" is a magical phrase that makes me sign up for things.

A few mornings later I was sitting beside them in a circle of other new-ish moms listening to this woman talk about her husband's career path and how it affected her as a young mom with four little kids at home. She was mid-sentence when she caught my eye, stopped and said, "What?!" (I can only assume my face was the picture of understanding and empathy).

Now please understand: At this point in my life on an average weekday morning I was either crying over my lot in life (yes, literally crying) or barking in frustration at my toddler and/or infant. By "barking in frustration" I actually mean yelling. I'm not proud of where I was; I was stuck and it was not pretty. When my husband left for work each morning I would FREAK out internally over how the next 12 hours would be spent. Someone was always crying, needing a diaper change or wanting to sit in my lap. Nothing was easy. No one understood. I had no clue how on earth I was going to survive the next 18 years.

Enter Karen Stubbs. In response to her, "what?!" I replied, "but that's not FAIR!" (spoken just like a petulant teenager.)  At this point in my life I felt like my husband had it way better than I did. He got to leave the house, do something other people respected him for, get paid, eat a lunch he didn't have to make and do other super glamorous things EVERY STINKING DAY. I got screaming kids, no freedom and stretch marks.

As a young child my father drilled into my head that, "life was not fair," but I think I believed that only in a very global sense. Not in the intensely personal sense that your husband will have a job he loves and be well-respected and you will get to nurse the baby and do lots of laundry.

Karen popped that bubble. She was the first person to confirm that it might not be fair and that frankly it didn't matter. I had an amazing opportunity in front of me and I could take it for what it was or I could spend my days crying about it. It was precisely what I needed at that moment.

Since having this big a-ha moment I've become a Karen stalker devotee. This woman is amazing. She is a fount of wisdom and funny and relatable to boot. Her little Bible studies have turned into a full-time ministry serving thousands of moms across the country and this Spring she is putting on a  conference just for moms in the ATL area.

On Friday evening (March 20th) and on Saturday (March 21st) Karen will be speaking. During the day on Saturday you can sign up for two break-out sessions led by veteran moms that will be incredible as well. Anyone familiar with Sandra Stanley?? There will be break-out sessions for blended families, moms of kids with special needs, one on discipline and another on time management, one on boundaries and one on marriage. Sounds amazing right? Because Karen understands #momlife so incredibly well, the conference goes from 8pm-10pm on Friday evening and from 8am-5pm on Saturday. It's only one night out! Only one day away from the family!

I'm considering it an investment in my job that I know will pay huge dividends.

If you've ever read anything here that made you think I enjoyed my children or might have an admirable insight into motherhood to offer, Karen Stubbs is the reason. I desperately want every mother who reads this blog to check out Karen's ministry and group studies. If you're local (or want a purposeful weekend away) sign up for SOAR and come get away from your people with me.

And now here's the exciting bit: I want someone who needs it to come along to this conference for free. Do you need to be encouraged in your role as a mom? Do you have a friend who is struggling as a single mom? Know someone who feels overwhelmed with a new baby and a toddler? Who feels alone in their experience as a mom of a special needs child? If you're already signed up, which amazing friend do you want to come with you FOR FREE???

Share this post and nominate yourself or a friend for this amazing experience! Tell us why you want to go to SOAR or share why your friend is an amazing mama! Encourage her, love on her, celebrate the beauty of what she's doing everyday.

 How to enter: 
1. Nominate yourself or a friend by sharing this post on your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter feed and tagging up to two friends. Leave a comment letting me know how you shared it! (1 entry for each feed shared and each friend tagged.)
2. Become an email subscriber and leave a comment with your name or your friend's. (1 entry)

Giveaway closes at midnight on 02/15/15. Either you or your friend will be contacted shortly thereafter. Giveaway does not include travel expenses to and from conference. This post was not sponsored by Birds on a Wire Moms. Conference value sponsored by me, all opinions in the above post are mine.  YOU will be contacted on behalf of your friend if I can't figure technology out well enough to contact her directly. It's gonna be amazing people. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Get Dinner on the Table with a Baby on Your Hip

Learning how to cook in general and then learning how to cook on a budget, consistently and with rug rats in the kitchen are two entirely different beasts.

My mother is a GREAT home cook and also incredibly thoughtful. As such she sent me off to college with a small laminated booklet of tried and true family recipes. They were simple recipes for lasagna, chicken pot pie and banana bread among others. Classics that I saw on the dinner table frequently growing up. I looked at it exactly once in my four years at UGA.

As a college student I ate Chick-fil-A and turkey sandwiches. Every once in a while I made tacos. I was very busy taking 12 hours of classes a week and loitering at the Georgia Theatre, so I didn't learn to cook until I got married and even then, it wasn't cooking as I now know it. As a newly-wed with no kids, I didn't HAVE to cook all that much, and when I did it tended to be a recipe from a magazine that "looked fun."  If I didn't feel like cooking, we went out to eat, no problem. Cooking isn't my husband's thing either, so if I wasn't doing it, it didn't get done.

Then one day we had a baby. And I realized sadly that all my years of making random recipes from Southern Living had added up to a girl who had no clue how to roast vegetables or prepare a whole chicken. I needed recipes that were healthy, affordable and that could be prepared with a baby on my hip or during nap time. I was totally out of my depth and quickly overwhelmed. This post from 5 years ago proves it.  All those years ago my mom had tried to pass on something truly valuable: When you're short on time and money, simple cooking is better than no cooking.

By the time I had two kids underfoot, I knew I had to figure this dinner thing out and got back to basics. I read a few books on eating (and cooking) well. I picked out about 2 dozen meals that were simple and that both B Daddy and I enjoyed. I started making them consistently and learning how to put them together without recipes. I learned how to roast a chicken and how to bake bread. I figured out my favorite ways to cook seasonal veggies. And now, after 4 years of practice, I get a homemade meal on the table 5 to 6 nights a week. We usually come in close (enough) to our grocery budget. And truthfully? I usually enjoy the process.

You guys have asked how I manage the dinner process nowadays - so here it is.

Analyze this chart y'all. Recognize when you're not in the mommy zone and get the heck outta there. 
The Mommy Zone is life-giving. Stay in the zone friends, stay in the zone. 

*Create a Master Meal List*
Dinner does not need to be re-invented every week! All those years I spent pulling recipes out of magazines were close to wasted as far as developing decent kitchen skills went. Write down a list of staple dinners that your people love to eat. My list has 23 meals on it and I use it weekly. Hypothetically I could make dinner off this list all month long and never repeat a meal.

Sidenote: if you haven't already, take a look at the graphic above. If a meal isn't in the "Mommy Zone" does NOT make your Master Meal List. I put all meals through this mental rubric before serving them. Things that are simple but not delicious (hot dogs and mac n cheese) are served when daddy is out of town or when we (the adults) have a date night, small group, etc. Anything complicated but not delicious will never be made again. Things that are somewhat complicated but super yummy will re-appear in my arsenal once my little people are old enough to appreciate good food and say thank you. Things that are divine but time-consuming are special occasion only around here. 

The other thing I did was assemble my "Master Recipes" all in one binder. This took a while, but every time I used to start dinner, I was either pulling out a cookbook, grabbing my computer or flipping through old magazines (clearly I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants chef). Once I started making these Master Meals, I re-wrote them on index cards and slid them into a photo album. Now they are all in one place and it cuts down the time I spend meal planning.

*Meal Plan* 
Meal planning is kind of a 'thing' these days and you can spend a lot of money using someone else's system to do this very simple thing. At it's heart meal planning is a list y'all. Once you know your Master Meals you're 75% of the way there. Pick a time that works for you -  for me it's in the car right before we walk into the grocery store, because my children are strapped into place and any crying/wailing/screaming that ensued upon entry into the car has usually subsided after the 5 minute drive to the store.

I think specifically about the week ahead of me, note anything that will disrupt dinner or mean a specific meal is needed and then pick out meals to fit the upcoming week. On the night we have small group we usually have pizza, frozen or homemade. If I know I have a really busy day, I choose a slow cooker meal or something that I can start in the morning and let sit most of the day, like soup. One day is usually given to leftovers.

I created this grocery checklist to make my shopping trip simpler. All of the ingredients I use over and over again are on it. I keep a copy in my junk drawer in the kitchen and check a box if I run out of something during the week. Come grocery shopping day, I pull it out, check off the items I need for the meals I've planned to make and it's off I go. Feel free to download and print it off, or use it as an example and create your own checklist.

*Practice the List*
Plan the work, work the plan. If you stick to your Master List for a while and make the same dishes over and over again, you figure some things out. Your family likes your chili spicier. Your kids won't eat the fancy dinner salad, but they will eat it deconstructed (this was a mind-blowing discovery for me) I tweak ingredients and try different versions of recipes for the same dishes until we land on a version that is a crowd-pleaser (or at least an adult pleaser). Now I can confidently pull off a lasagna or a stir-fry when it's requested because I've made it dozens of times. And even though I'm not making a huge variety of food, my husband and I are happy having a solid dish that I've 'perfected' once a month. Professional chefs generally specialize in one type of cuisine, shouldn't home cooks do the same thing?

 I would love to know how you manage to get food on the dinner table and what works for you!

A few of our Master Meals that I've featured on the blog before:

Crowd Pleaser Pasta
Pioneer Woman's Chili
One Rotisserie Chicken, Three Dinners
Korean Beef

And here's the grocery checklist I use each week if you'd like to download it! Grocery Checklist

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