So blessed

Sometimes in the midst of life, I forget. Three poopy diapers and a crazy day of deadlines and worrying about family photos turning out and cleaning my house frantically kind of rolled in a like a fog today.

It's days like these at a frenetic pace that I feel trapped, as if I need to take a step back and really see life. And then life comes into focus again when, for example, my little munchkin falls asleep on my lap, and I take a bit of time to reflect.

And I think: Really, what am I doing? How did I get here? All of a sudden, here I am, all grown up. I've had my dream wedding, complete with poofy white dress and antique car. I've spent years with the man who God designed to be my mate—laughing, talking, traveling down the journey of life. Now I have a little boy just shy of a year old. I have a flexible job with a gracious employer that lets me be a mom and still keep my brain in gear and my skills polished. My husband has a flexible job with an outstanding employer (himself), allowing him to be an even more wonderful daddy to Jack. We take family walks or go to the park in the afternoon sometimes, just because we can.

Really, my life is bursting with blessings. And that is what I want to keep in the forefront of my mind, especially when the days seem overwhelming.

Thank you, God!


Money-Saving Monday: The little stuff

My husband and I signed up for Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University at our church about a year ago. We were doing fine financially so we originally weren't planning to join the video-based course. But when a family member asked if we'd sign up to go with her, we said sure. We figured it would probably benefit us. And it did more than we imagined!

I highly recommend the course. It is a common-sense, plain-English approach to smart money management. It's helpful whether your finances are in line or you're completely disorganized and lost in an ocean of debt. Dave is funny, engaging, and has a lot of practical tips (and paid me to say none of this, I promise).

With a baby on the way, we might have been extra motivated to save, but the course was a little extra push to get us to save the amount Dave suggests. And maybe the biggest benefit was learning the importance of budgeting.

We've never been crazy with our money, but we hadn't kept track of every dollar either. So when we started a more disciplined process of budgeting (which still isn't in any danger of perfection), it really opened our eyes to ways we could save. Just cutting out little things here and there can make a huge difference.

Some people, for example, don't realize how much they spend at Starbucks. Those little cups of fancy-schmancy coffee are super expensive! We don't have this particular issue because we both hate coffee. However, we found that we could cut some other things.
  • We ate out way too much, and some of that had to go. We still enjoy eating out plenty, but now we have a limit that we try to stick to, instead of just going out whenever we feel like it. 
  • We also decided to cut cable (and not just for financial reasons). It's not much a month, but after 12 months, we could use our savings to purchase a plane ticket.  
  • We limited what Dave likes to call "blow money." A trip to the craft store here, and a book on Amazon.com there adds up, so now we just try to stick to some stricter limits. (OK, I admit that my trips to the craft store were probably more frequent than my husband's book purchases.)
How do you save on the little stuff?


Money-Saving Monday: Good gifts

I love giving gifts. It's quite fun to pick out presents for bridal showers and baby showers (really, what better excuse to look through teeny tiny clothes and find the cutest ones and ooh and ahh), discovering stuff for birthday gifts, and thinking about what I should get the person I randomly chose in the family Christmas gift exchange.

But let's face it: Gifts can add up.

As usual, I'd love to hear your ideas for saving on meaningful gifts. Here are some of mine:

  • Shop all year. As I find quality clearance items in online and brick-and-mortar stores, I purchase them. For example, I take advantage of Black Friday sales. In 2009, I only made it to a couple stores' sales, but I scooped up Christmas gifts for my son and gift exchange person, a birthday gift for my father-in-law, and a Father's Day gift for my dad—all great deals. My husband chuckles that I purchase gifts so early, but why not? It saves not only money but also later time and the stress of finding a suitable present.
    Some items that I purchase are more generic, which I use for prizes at parties or hostess gifts or something similar. Some are just perfect for a particular person, and I tuck them away for that individual's birthday or other special occasion, even if it's months away. If online, I purchase several gifts at once so I have the minimum purchase amount for free shipping (for stores that offer such deals).
  • Ship in a suitcase: I only visit my far-away family a couple of times a year, but when I do, I try to bring with me gifts for the next several months' birthdays and celebrations. This saves me shipping costs and no doubt the gifts are a little prettier since I bring wrapping supplies with me and put the presents together there.
  • Offer your talent: It's true that the most meaningful gifts come from the heart. Use your talent to offer a loving gift or a thoughtful act of service.
    I'm not too crafty, but it's fun to make my own greeting cards on occasion, which save a little and seem more personal. I've also made people small photo albums of memories and written and framed poems.
    A few years ago, I purchased a frame with three photo openings to give my dad for Father's Day. On one side, I inserted a picture of my little-girl self with my dad; on the opposite was a picture of the two of us walking down the aisle on my wedding day. The center photo opening held a poem of gratitude that described our close relationship through the years.
  • Recycle: You might think this is terribly tacky, but I know I am not alone: I re-use gift bags and tissue paper that are in good condition. I think I'm set for life for baby gift bags after many generous people gave me beautifully wrapped presents in anticipation of Jack's birth.
    I admit I have on occasion also recycled gift cards. If I receive a gift card I am not particularly excited about using for myself, I use it to purchase a gift for someone else.


Almost one!

Before I had my little boy, I was astounded at how sentimental moms seemed when their daughters and sons were approaching their first birthdays. Now I am standing in their cute mommy shoes and I know exactly what they mean.

The other night Jack fell asleep in my arms and I just sat and stared at him for a long time, watching his tiny eyelashes and perfectly round cheeks and listening to his soft breathing. I want to hold on to moments like that and tuck them away forever. I never want to forget Jack's first-year baby months as he goes through potty training and preschool plays and spelling words and school sports and (gasp!) college. It's hard to believe that here they are, drawing to a close.

Jack, however, is not waxing sentimental. He's giggly and fun and crawling and cruising like crazy. He still loves to put most things in his mouth but he's learning more and more how to actually play with toys and keep himself amused for a time. It would be his dream come true to crawl into the dishwasher, but we don't let him.

He likes to eat still, but some days he's pickier than others. However, he has rarely turned down cheese, applesauce, apple juice, or yogurt. Veggies are a whole different matter.

So here's to one more month of official babyhood before the barnyard birthday and a dive into his own piece of cake signal that toddlerhood has officially arrived.


Snip, snip, snip

The sentimental mommy within me procrastinated this haircut forever, but Jack's hair was growing over his ears and collar and getting rather unruly on top, and his first-year photo shoot is fast approaching.

I worried that he would wiggle like crazy or maybe even cry, but he kept reasonably still and took it all in for a time, and then got a little squirmy near the end. And my patient hairdresser took it all in stride.




Money-Saving Monday: Indoor Dates

Since Jack was born, it has become more of an ordeal to go on a date with my husband. No more hopping in the car and heading out to do something fun and romantic at the last minute. And less planned-ahead, more-elaborate dates. We have entered the world of babysitters, working around a baby's schedule, and making our little guy a priority as we do things as a family. 

We waited two years before becoming pregnant so we could enjoy just the two of us for a time, and then fully enjoy our children together, never needing to wish we could go back in time. Devoting time to diapers and cooing and crawling races full of giggles is truly a joy (except maybe a few particularly potent diapers!).

But at the same time, keeping our marriage relationship strong is important. So we have found time for indoor dates instead.

This type of dating comes with a perk: It's a money-saver. As it turns out, we can cook up a fancy dinner with appetizers and a quality cut of steak and a tasty dessert and still save over dining out. I tried a few tips from this The Motherload post and found them helpful and delectable.

We also do simpler indoor dates, such as renting a movie and making brownies together to munch during the film, or playing Scrabble and eating favorite snacks (have you noticed we love eating?).

I think this concept can apply whether you're single or married; before tying the knot I had fabulous times with my friends having potluck dinners and playing board games (and still do!).

What are your fun indoor/cheap date or entertainment ideas?


Money-Saving Monday: Stockpiling

Stockpiling is the art of finding free (or practically free) stuff and acquiring lots of it so that by the time you need more of that particular thing, you can find an excellent deal on it again. This works especially well for toiletries and for food items, such as cereal or pasta, that have a long shelf-life.

Recently, I've been stockpiling more things. Last week, for example, dental floss and shampoo were free at Walgreen's, so I got several of each. Cake mixes were on a great sale at my local grocery store, so I stocked up on those, too. I'm looking forward to using this strategy to really cut down on our grocery spending. (I've done this for a while with toiletries such as toothpaste and shaving cream.)     

The one little wrinkle in the stockpiling plan is storage. My husband cleaned out some cupboards in his office so we could keep some of our extras there. We also use cupboards in the laundry room and the linen closet for some items. It's amazing how motivating it is to create room for free stuff!

Do you have any stock-piling tips or creative storage solutions? Please share them!      


A very happy little Easter

Everything—especially Easter—becomes a bit more delightful with a little one in tow. Something about the beauty of the Resurrection and of new beginnings and of spring winds and blooming flowers makes the heart a little lighter.

Conveniently, Jack recently learned how to put items into a container, so that will be helpful when we have our own little Easter egg hunt tomorrow. He got some practice (below) at a playgroup Easter party.
Oh, the wonder of spring!

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