December 5, 2011

DIY Advent Calendar -- The Most Wonderful Time of the Year PART 2

If you're tuning in from my last post, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year PART 1, you might be wondering how I am making this Advent season special for my three year old son.  My hope is for him to be able to celebrate the miracle of the Christ child's birth all the way through Advent.  It's much too big and too joyous of an occasion to celebrate for only one day.  So, what did I do?

My idea was spawned from a new addiction of mine.  Hi.  My name is Jenni, and I am a Pinterest-aholic.  Thank you Pinterest for showing me a way to use left-over Christmas scrap book paper and to re-purpose an old bulletin board into a beautiful and meaningful Advent Calendar!  Here's the finished product.

There are 25 boxes for my kiddo to open--one for each day from December 1st to Christmas Day, guaranteeing celebration all month long.  Each box houses a special message for him, and a few boxes hold prizes like Christmas pencils, candy, stickers, or whatever I was able to find at the Dollar Store or in the Target $1 bins.

Materials for Making an Advent Calendar:

*a large bulletin board (It's okay if it's old and beat up.  That's what paint is for!)
*painter's tape
*spray paint
*25 paper mache boxes of various sizes (50% off at Hobby Lobby!  Score.)
*acrylic paints
*pieces of scrap book paper (Left-over wrapping paper would also work.)
*Mod Podge
*paint brushes or paint sponges
*paint pens
*small wooden shapes (I used snow flakes, circles, and ovals)
*embellishments (I used stickers and buttons)
*hot glue gun
*thumb tacks
*strips of paper and markers to write messages

Instructions for Making an Advent Calendar:

1.  Arrange the boxes on the bulletin board to decide what arrangement looks best.  Take a picture so you don't forget where the boxes go later.

2.  Decide which scrap book pieces will go on which box lids.  Try to space out the colors evenly across the board.

3.  Use a pencil to trace around the box lids on the scrap book paper, and cut out.  The paper will cover only the tops.  Number the bottom of your boxes with a pencil, and number the back of the scrap book paper with the same number so you don't forget which paper goes with which box.

4.  Spray paint the bulletin board in a well-ventilated area.  If you are going to spray paint the cork of the bulletin board a different color than the frame, use painter's tape to mark off the sections.

5.  Paint your boxes inside and out with acrylic paint.  I used a deep red and an earthy green.  Make sure you think about the placement of the colors across the board.  You don't have to paint the entire bottoms of the boxes--just the edges will be fine.  They will be tacked to the bulletin board, so no one will see.

6.  Add stickers to the paper pieces if you want .  Then decide which wooden shapes will go on which boxes and where.  The number of the day will go on these wooden shapes.  Mark the box number on the back of the shape.  Take a picture so you can remember where you positioned the shape on the box lid.

Paint the tops and sides of the wooden shapes with acrylic paint.  I painted my snow flakes, circles, and ovals white.

7.  Attach the scrap book paper to the lids by applying a thin layer of Mod Podge to the top of the lid.  Place the scrap book paper on top and smooth out the bubbles.  Mod Podge the rest of the lid (inside and out), Mod Podging over the paper as well to create a nice, glossy seal.  Mod Podge the entire rest of the box inside and out.  Let dry.

8.  Once the wooden shapes are dry, use paint pens to write the numbers 1 - 25 on them.  I did some in red and some in green.

Once dry, Mod Podge the tops and sides.  Let dry.  Attach them to the box lids with hot glue.  Be careful!  I had an unfortunate incident during this step :)

9.  Now hot glue the embellishments to the lids.  I used buttons.

10.  Use flat thumb tacks to attach the boxes to the bulletin board from the inside of each box.  I needed to put several tacks per box to keep them from falling off.  The bigger the box, the more tacks needed.  Now add your messages, candy, and prizes!

Here are some examples of the messages that my son is getting this year.  Some days will have several things listed on the message:

*Put together a Nativity puzzle one piece and one day at a time (give a different puzzle piece each day).  Play with holiday stickers to celebrate putting together your nativity puzzle.

*Read Christmas in the Manger board book with Mommy.

*Follow clues to find a different character each day from a play or felt nativity set.  Eat a candy cane on the day you complete the set.

*Make fun Christmas crafts and ornaments.

*Make home made Christmas cards for family, and mail them at the post office.

*Make a home made nativity set. (You can get the directions and printables here.) 

*Read The First Christmas book.

*Watch the live nativity pageant at church.

*Light candles on the family Advent wreath.

*Decorate a ginger bread house.

*Go shopping for a Salvation Army Giving Tree angel using $3 of your own money.

*Unwrap a new Christmas book to read tonight at bed time.

*Go see Santa.

*Make home made pizza and have a family movie night, watching A Charlie Brown's Christmas and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

*Watch The Polar Express in your PJ's while you eat IHOP breakfast in the living room.

*Make home made wrapping paper.

*Go see a Christmas movie at the movie theater and eat popcorn.

*Bake something yummy for the fire fighters to eat, and bring it to the neighborhood fire station.

*Pick one of your old toys to give to a child in need at the women't shelter, and drop it off.

*Eat a special chocolate treat.

*Drink hot chocolate through a crazy straw.

*Deliver Christmas goodies to neighbors and tell them, "Merry Christmas!"

*Ride the North Pole Express.

*Have a picnic dinner by the Christmas tree while listening to Christmas music.

*Drive around and look at Christmas lights.

*Help pick out and shop for donations for the homeless shelter.

*Drop off the donations at the homeless shelter with Mommy and Daddy.
*Read the Christmas story in your Children's Bible.

*Make a birthday card for baby Jesus.

*Read Twas the Night Before Christmas.

*Go to the Christmas Eve Candlelight service at church.

*Give presents to family, and open some of your Christmas presents from family to celebrate baby Jesus being born.

*Sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and hang up the birthday card that you made.

*Open your gifts from Santa.

If I can do this, anyone can.  No go get your Christmas craft on and make this Advent season a special one, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ all month long!

November 28, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year PART 1

It's the most wonderful time of the year...the holiday music, decorating the Christmas tree, hot chocolate and hot apple cider, baking, crafts with my son, family, Christmas pageants, the twinklilng lights, wrapping gifts, and watching the best Christmas movies Hollywood has to offer.

From Clark W. Griswold willing his family to have the hap-hap-happiest old-fashioned family Christmas there ever was...

to Buddy the Elf denouncing Gimbell's Santa for sitting on a throne of lies...

to Kevin McAllister's great love for cheese pizza...

to the Italian "fra-gee-leh" leg lamp and Santa crushing Ralphie's hopes and dreams with one line, "You'll shoot you're eye out, kid"...

to Bing Crosby dancing and singing with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen at a quaint inn in Vermont at Christmas time...

What's not to love?  As much fun as all these things are, though, they don't come close to the #1 reason for loving this time of year:  celebrating Jesus Christ coming into this world!

I want my son to have fun with all the holiday cheer, but above all else, it's important that he knows the true meaning behind Christmas.  To quote one of his favorite holiday board books from last year, What is Christmas by Michelle Medlock Adams,
Okay, now I get it.
Santa Claus and Christmas trees and presents are okay.
But Jesus is the real reason we have a Christmas Day!
During the Advent season, we eagerly and expectantly wait for the hope and miracle of the Christ child being born, celebrating all along the way.  Our son is old enough to understand this now.  So, what did I decide to do?  You'll have to stick around for next time to find out!  Let's just say I got a little crafty...

November 16, 2011

It's Been Six Months...I'm Still Here

Well, it's been six months, but I'm still here!  Lots has happened in the last six months, and blogging has been one of those things that has just had to take a back seat.  It's been a very busy time for our family--probably the busiest time we've ever had.  So, what's been keeping me from blogging?

My amazing, wonderful husband has been working extremely hard in the last few months for our family.  Following a promotion, he's had the privilege of having several huge, very visible projects at work, which is great for him and our family!  It's taken a lot of his time, so I've been spending a lot more time taking care of the kiddo just me.  He has also taken on five to six hours of tutoring high school students a week in order to earn extra money so that our family can pay off our debt faster.  Isn't he the best?  This is on top of his already very demanding and busy full-time job.  (Speaking of debt...Financial Peace has helped our family so much so, that my husband has been teaching a Financial Peace class at our church during the week as well!  It's one more thing that has been added to our plate, but it is his joy to teach others what we have learned through Dave Ramsey.)  So, with things picking up at his work, his tutoring hours, and his teaching Financial Peace during the week and Sunday School at church, there are many days where it's just me with the kiddo all day long, which can be very trying and exhausting.  But, it will be worth it when we can cut that debt down faster!  He does such a wonderful job providing for our family.  I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have him.

Fall soccer has kept our family busy, too.  Our three year old son, L, played in a soccer league for the first time this September and October.  He L-O-V-E-D it.  It was just what my energized boy needed.  He can't wait for Spring soccer.  It kept us on our toes...weekly soccer practices, weekly soccer games, soccer parties, soccer get-togethers, oh my!
Last spring my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer.  After a surgery and weeks of radiation treatments, she thankfully went into remission.  It put us in a tail spin of worry, especially since she still battles skin cancer spots that keep re-occurring.  This fall, we had another scare concerning her breast cancer.  She had another surgery at the beginning of October, and thankfully, everything is going well now.  We're grateful that her doctor is so thorough and good at what she does.

Whoever said that being a stay-at-home mom was easy was vastly misinformed.  Or out of their right mind.  Or on drugs.  There have been many times in the last six months when my husband has come home to a house that looks like it has been hit by Hurricane Three Year Old Boy, takes one look at my discouraged and worn-out face, and quickly says, "I've got this, honey.  Why don't you go have some you time?"  My spunky little three year old son has been testing the waters the last few months more than he ever has.  Three is much harder than two ever was!  Saying that he is a strong-willed child doesn't do it justice.  He also has never-ending energy, which when coupled with the strong-willed side of him, can be enough to drive this full-time Momma crazy!  I've had to really step it up with the discipline and be very intentional and prayerful on how I handle a lot of situations.  But, the good news is that we're growing together through all this.  I'm teaching him about appropriate ways to act and deal with his emotions, and he's teaching me all about patience!  He's a handful, but I love that kid and wouldn't change his personality for anything.

Now, to add on top of all this...I'm 26 weeks pregnant!  It has been a wonderful blessing.  We didn't even know if it would be possible because of some previous health issues that I have, but God made it possible.  It has been no walk in the park, though.  The first twelve weeks were difficult as far as sustaining the pregnancy.  This baby had four sonograms by the time we were twelve weeks along and went public with our news.  We've had three more sonograms, a diagnosis of placenta previa, plus a fetal echo since the 12 week mark.  It's been an emotional roller coaster.  But, now, I am pleased to say that the previa is gone, the baby is growing and developing as she should, and her heart is healthy.  Praise the Lord!  Along with the usual tiredness that comes with pregnancy (compounded by running after my three year old ball of fire), I have been very sick from the get-go.  I'm six months pregnant, and I am still throwing up.  Morning, afternoon, evening--I don't discriminate.  This makes me not want to eat, which makes me feel weak and more tired.  This pregnancy has caused some new health problems for me to arise, too, so I've had doctor appointments to a variety of doctors at least three times a week, every week since September.  For the past month, it's been upped to four to five appointments a week.  Keeping my house running smoothly, holding onto my sanity, being a full-time Mommy, finding child care week after week for my appointments, while still keeping my commitments and responsibilities has been hard and sometimes impossible.  And, of course, let's not forget about the emotional side of pregnancy.  It can turn any well-adjusted, sane woman into a raging lunatic.  If you've ever been pregnant, you know about all those wacky hormones that make you a basket case.  And of course, God would pick this exact time to use as a teaching moment for me.  All the stress from everything else going on, plus trying to accept and be respectful of a dear friend wishing to cut off ties has been overwhelming.  Basically, I've been a busy, busy, busy emotional wreck!

But, there's been one thing that has been constant.  God is good.  I have learned a great deal from Him in the last six months:  Be thankful.  Be humble.  Rely on Him when I feel overwhelmed, sad, lonely, and unsure about the future.  Trust.  Believe.  Keep worshipping.  Keep praying.  Keep my identity in Him and Him alone.  Cling to my family and faith community.  And never forget what an incredibly awesome and supportive hubby and sweet, sweet son I have.  God is good!  I'm sure the woman of Proverbs 31 knew all about being busy and feeling overwhelmed, too.  She was in fact a woman, a wife, a mom, with lots of responsibilities!  It's nice to know that I'm not alone!

May 18, 2011

Fifty-Eight Quarters, a Two-Year Old, and Toys R Us

Recently, I wrote a post about how my son has been earning quarters from cleaning up his toys, how he takes his first earnings to his Sunday School class every week, and how he puts the rest in a savings jar.  You can read about it in The Giving Envelope and the Savings Jar post.

The question I've been waiting for finally came..."Mommy, can I buy a toy at the store?"  So, I decided to take him to this store:
I know.  I'm crazy.  But, it actually went very well.  Before we went, we counted his quarters in his savings jar.  Fifty-eight!  That's $14.50!  When I asked him if he wanted to buy a special toy with his commissions, he responded by saying, "Hahahaha!  THANK you!"  So, my husband, son, and I all set out for Toys R Us.

When we got there, there was only one question to ask:  Where is the Toy Story section?  My son's obsessed.  He was Sheriff Woody for Halloween, and he still wears his Sheriff Woody hat, holster, and boots around the house.  He constantly plays with his Buzz Lightyear action figure, Pizza Planet Lego truck, and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads.  And the Toy Story movies are his absolute favorites, which get played for many Family Movie Nights in our house.  He told me that he wanted a Jesse and a Sheriff Woody riding Bullseye, but they were sold out of the smaller versions that he wanted.  We went out of our way to go to THE toy store of all toy stores, and they were sold out?  They had bigger versions, but they were ridiculously too big.  Try breaking that news to a two-year old.  Just as I was preparing myself to comfort a very disappointed little boy whose cute little bottom lip started to quiver with tears quietly welling up in his eyes, he saw this and got really excited:
It was a garbage truck, like in Toy Story 3, that came with a small Pizza Planet alien and a tiny Sheriff Woody that can drive the truck.  Suddenly, all was well with the world again, he wiped his own little tears away, and beamed from ear to ear.  It wasn't five seconds before we heard him say, "Can I have that?"

When we went to the check-out line, I was sure that the cashier was going to hate us since we were paying with quarters.  But she was very patient and sweet with him.  When we walked out of the store, my son carried the bag with the toy that he bought.  He couldn't have been more happy or more proud!  Neither could his mommy or daddy!

April 27, 2011

Egg Map

I write about a variety of stuff on this blog-- my spiritual journey as a woman trying to live a more godly life, being a mom and organizing my home and life, teaching my son things, cooking, and sometimes just random thoughts that I've had.  This is one of those posts that is about a really random thought that also relates to spiritual things.  Fair warning:  it's kind of cheesy.

One of my favorite shows is Gilmore Girls.  It bit the dust when the WB channel became the CW a few years back, but you can catch re-runs on ABC Family.  It takes place in the make believe, picturesque, quirky little town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, where there is a town festival for just about everything.  Each episode revolves around a single mother and her relationship with her daughter, but there is always a sub-plot that involves something ridiculous and humorous happening in this unique, fun little New England town.

In one episode, the townspeople started to smell an awful stench all over town.  Come to find out, during the annual Stars Hollow Easter egg hunt in the town square, not all the eggs were found.  The ever rule-abiding, annoyingly strict, and  rule-enforcing person who was usually in charge of such town events, Taylor Dose, was not there to run the festival this year.  He chose his fumbling and odd sidekick, Kirk, to run the event in his absence.  The whole town was dumbstruck that Kirk had failed to make an egg map, which would show the precise locations of all the hidden eggs, to avoid such a disaster.  I have never heard of such a thing, but every character seemed baffled by Kirk's mistake.  The town stank to high heaven from the smell of old, rotting, rank hard-boiled eggs that had been baking in the sun for several weeks.  Kirk looked and looked for the missing eggs that were stinking up the town, but he could not find them.  He searched day and night to no avail, and the town kept getting stinkier and stinkier.  He worked himself into a panic.  Finally, after a little help from the local diner owner, Luke, who took pity on him, all the eggs were found.  Kirk vowed to never have an Easter egg hunt without first making an egg map ever again, and all was well in Stars Hollow again.

I'm a big t.v. and movie girl, so when I was hiding eggs in my yard on Easter Sunday this past week for my little boy, I thought about this episode.  But of course, lately, it seems like everything I think about has a parallel.  Nerdy, I know.  So, this is your warning.  Get ready for the corniness in 3, 2, 1...

Do I have an egg map for my life?  Or do I just randomly go throughout life with no map or guide?  Does my life sometimes give off a stench like those nasty, rotten eggs?  I hope not, but let's face it.  I'm sure that it does.  I think those stinky eggs can be compared to our sins.  Even when we try to hide them, they still give off a gross, powerful stench that cannot be ignored.  God can't stand the smell of them.  It should bother us as much as it bothers God, but sometimes we wait to find and throw away those putrid eggs until we absolutely can't take the smell anymore.  We let the stench get really bad before we address the problem.  Maybe if we just ignore the stench, the problem will go away.  Yeah, not likely.  We'd just rather walk in the stench. 

Thank goodness we have Jesus.  He helps us realize how much we need his help in finding those rotten eggs and disposing of them so that we can smell fresh and clean again.  If we just relied on the map--God's grace, the Holy spirit leading us, prayer, worship, our faith communities, and the scriptures, maybe we wouldn't veer off course so much and wonder around aimlessly in a panic.  If we used this map, then it seems like it would be easier to quickly find that one stinky egg in our lives and chunk it in the garbage.  Thank God for the egg maps.

Told you it was cheesy.

April 16, 2011

I'm Having a Martha Moment

Go, go, go.  Do, do more, you're still not doing enough.  Get it all done, and do it seamlessly.  Be organized in every aspect of your life.  Discipline your child to be the most well-mannered and well behaved kid on the block.   Your two year old is whining and not listening to you in public?  You poor dear.  It's a shame that means he won't succeed later on in life.  Get all the laundry done and put away.  Heaven forbid there's a few loads that sit in the basket for a while.  Keep the kitchen immaculate at all times, even when you're cooking.  Dirty dishes sitting in the sink?  (Gasp.)  The shame.  Always say yes when you're asked to do something, even if you do have to create an extra hour in the day to get it done.  I mean, if you say no, then what would people think?  Don't take time to do anything fun for yourself.  You really should be doing something productive instead.  Always.  Decide to take a break anyway?  Well, then you should at least feel guilty about it.  The house?  Well, it must always, always be clean.  After all, you never know when someone might drop by.  You don't want them thinking you do nothing all day when they see the dust and dog hair, do you?  Be everywhere at once.  Be everything to everyone.   C'mon, that's easy.  I mean, you are superwoman, right?

Okay moms, have you ever felt this way?  Maybe you're not even a mom at all, but you feel these pressures to be all things to all people at all times--and to be perfect at all of it.  For me, struggling with this is nothing new that started with the birth of my son.  Sheesh.  What is it with us women?  Why do we think this way?  Why do we set ourselves up for failure like this?  The immense pressures and expectations of being perfect women and the impossible to-do lists that we hold over our heads daily are eating away at us.  If we can't live up to these expectations and get it all done, then does that mean that we are failures?  If I'm not a shiny little, squeaky clean, always-smiling, never-stopping, go-til-I-drop super woman, then there must be something wrong with me.  Tell me, people, is this the truth?  Nope.  It's a big fat lie, and it's not from God.

I had a particularly hard week last week fighting against these feelings.  As a mom I was feeling (and am still struggling not to feel) like I was a big fat failure.  It was one of those weeks where my two year old son acted like the epitome of what you think of when you think of a two year old.  If there was ever any question about why they call it "the terrible two's", then all one would have had to do was to come to my house this past week and see it in action.  I love my son more than I could even express here in words.  But, some days, it is hard being a mom!  We dealt with everything that week--whining (oh, the whining), being aggressive towards other children, not sharing, not accepting no, throwing fits, an embarrassing grocery store incident (moms--you know what I'm talking about), and being disrespectful.  No matter what I did, nothing worked.  I was doubting my abilities and gifts as a mother.  I thought that it surely had something to do with what I was not doing.  Maybe if I just did this or that, then everything would be better.

Then God gave me a little grace.  God gave me exactly what I needed--my friend Marty.  An experienced Mom with two children in college, her first-born son and my son are like carbon copies of one another.  When she tells stories about her son when he was preschool-aged, it's like I'm listening to myself talk about my life.  I know she knows what it's like to raise a strong-willed but incredibly loving and amazing little boy.  She has come out of it on the other side, and her child who kept her constantly on her toes testing, testing, and testing some more is now a very responsible, caring, respectful, strong, level-headed, smart young man who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.  She had the perspective that I needed.  Sometimes God places people in my life at just the right moments.  Do you know what I mean?  What started out as just a quick conversation in the hallway of our church ended up to be a holy moment.  God was using her, and she probably didn't even know how much.  The thing that struck me the most was when she said, "Jenni, you're being too hard on yourself."  This statement brought tears to my eyes.  It was just what I needed to hear.  It felt freeing --like God was giving me permission to just relax and stop beating myself up so much.  Just stop.  Take a breath.  Calm down.

Through all this, my mind keeps coming back to another very busy woman I know named Martha.  She is a woman of good intentions.  She is known for being hospitable, productive, a loving sister, loyal to her friends, a woman of unwavering faith, a planner, and a do-er.  She seems like she has it all together.  Okay, I have to admit that I don't exactly know Martha personally, but I feel like I do.  She actually lived a very long time ago, way before my time--a little over 2000 years ago to be exact.  A couple of important guys named Luke and John wrote about her in a book called The Bible.

Let's be honest, Martha has gotten a bad wrap from the Church for the past 2000 plus years.  We lump her in there with Thomas, poor guy.  We have forgotten all her good qualities.  Or maybe we just overlook them completely.  How can we forget, after all, that she was one of Jesus' closest and most loyal friends.  When her beloved brother Lazarus died, Jesus came to visit and comfort her and her sister (John 11:17-20).  She told Jesus that she knew he could have healed her brother when he was sick if he had only arrived sooner.  She pushed her faith even further when she told him that he could still heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead if he wanted to (John 11:21-22).  Now that is some astounding faith!  When Jesus responded by asking her if she believed that he was the "resurrection and the life", she did not doubt and agreed whole heartedly that he was the Christ (John  11:23-37).  Jesus ended up granting her request, and afterwards, she hosted a dinner, in which Jesus was the guest of honor.  What a wonderful way to show her gratitude.  But even before all this happened, she had a good relationship with Jesus.  Before Lazarus fell ill, when he and his disciples were passing through Bethany, Luke says that "a woman named Martha opened her home to him" (Luke 10:38).  I don't know about you, but opening up my home to thirteen dirty, traveling strangers would not be high up on my list of things to do, but it was for Martha.  She had a true, loving servant's heart.

But, I must mention that there were qualities in Martha which got her in trouble.  She, like so many of us women, had a very hard time slowing down.  The way she saw it, there was always something to do to prepare for something else.  She had to have the cleanest house and the best cooked meal.  She had to be the hostess with the mostess, and she was just plain too hard on herself.  When she opened her home to Jesus and his disciples when they passed through her home town, she missed out on the special moments with Jesus.  While her sister Mary "sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said", "Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made" (Luke 10:39-40a).  In fact, Martha even gets frustrated that Mary isn't helping with the hostessing duties and tells Jesus to get her to start doing more (Luke 10:40b).  But, Jesus' response is golden...

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."  

He very well could have been saying, "Jenni, are worried and upset about many things..."  Or he could have been talking to any one of us women who are constantly doing and going...

What is that "one thing" that is needed that he talks about?  What was it that Mary chose that was better?  Jesus was Jewish, and he grew up learning and devoting himself to the Jewish scriptures.  He was referring to Psalm 27.  In verse 4 it says,

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.

Even after hearing this, Martha still struggled.  Just before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany again, and Martha planned a dinner in honor of him.  During the dinner she is described as the one who "served".  Her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary, on the other hand, chose to spend their time with Jesus that night.  Mary even anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair in the famous story that parallels him being prepared for his burial (John 12:1-3).  Martha missed out!

I truly believe that all of Martha's going and doing came from an absolute place of love and good intentions.  But, the message got lost in translation.  All Jesus wanted was for her to stop what she was doing and just sit and be with him.  That's all.  But, her anxiety got the best of her, and it's getting the best of me as well.  Martha, I think we're cut out of the same cloth.

What about the Proverbs 31 woman?  Was she a Martha or a Mary?  Well, I think she probably had the best qualities of both.  She was like Martha in that she provided a wonderful home for her family.  She took care of her family and friends and showed her love to them by her steadfast actions.  But instead of being too busy to soak in her Lord's presence, I think the Proverbs 31 woman was like Mary.  I picture her as a woman who had an incredible peace about her as she went along in her daily activities--a peace that only comes from spending time in prayer, devotion, and worship to her God.  Yes, Martha opened her home and heart to Jesus, but Mary let him fill her heart as well.

There is much to learn from Martha concerning having a servant's heart.  But when does having a servant's heart turn into being a slave to getting things done and trying to solve problems by doing more?  Maybe I should be a little more like Martha's sister, Mary. Sit at the feet of Christ.  Talk with God.  Just be still and listen.  Open that Bible on my nightstand that has been neglected lately because of all the time spent trying to be super wife and mom.  What's more important?  Nurturing my faith in Christ and spending time with my family or folding the clean laundry piled up on the guest bed, dealing with the stack of dishes in the sink, and plucking dog hair off my couch?  That should be a no brainer.

April 7, 2011

The Blog Guidebook

"Ahhhh, tiny grasshopper.  There is much to learn."  Who's the tiny grasshopper?  Me.  My beloved wise master and skilled elder teaching me all things bloggy?  That would be The Blog Guidebook.

I'm new to the blogging world, and when I look at all the super cute blogs out there in the blogosphere, I am in awe and feel like I'm in over my head a bit.  How do all these people make their blogs look so darn good, and how do they get those neat little button thingies and logos on the sidebars of their blogs?  My blog looks so basic and bare.

I found a great site called The Blog Guidebook that is quickly becoming a great resource for me.  I have a very long way to go, but I have begun to learn from them.  I used this blog to help me learn how to make a button for my blog.  A button is a graphic that also serves as a link back to your blog.  You can see it at the top of the right sidebar on my blog.  It looks like this:

I made one for my recipe blog, too, that's underneath my Proverbs 31 Project blog button on the sidebar.  If you click on this button here or on the sidebar of my blog, it will take you directly to my recipe blog.
Yes, they look pretty basic since I am a novice in designing digitally.  I hope to improve on the looks of them one day, but I made them and got them up on my blog successfully, nonetheless.  And if you only knew just how technologically challenged I am, you'd be impressed.

I also found a tutorial on this site that taught me how to publish the html codes underneath the buttons so that others can grab those codes and post my buttons on their blogs that will link back to my blog.  I made a page on my blog that can be seen under the "Button Up" tab at the top.  This page displays these buttons and html codes for others to copy and paste.

I look forward to learning much more from The Blog Guidebook!  If you're interested in blogging, it's worth checking their site out.  They have how-to categories for bloggers, blog listings by categories, featured blogs, lists of link parties and how to start one, and all sorts of cool bloggy stuff.  I signed up to have my blog listed on their site for free.  Right now they are running a promotional where they will put up your button for free if you blog about them, instead of just text linking to your site.  So, this is what I'm doing!

I'm linking this post to:

The Giving Envelope and the Savings Jar

As the name of this blog suggests, I've been on a journey to become more like the Proverbs 31 woman.  She was wise with her family's finances.

"She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."--Proverbs 31:16 (NIV)

"She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night."--Proverbs 31:18 (NIV)

"She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy."--Proverbs 31:20 (NIV)

"She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."--Proverbs 31:24 (NIV)

Learning to manage our family's finances wisely like the woman of noble character in Proverbs 31 is just one aspect that I have been working on lately.  As I blogged about in an earlier post called He Says, "Money". She Hears, "Glsnmickloqgtaypvx", I am trying to learn more about managing finances wisely through a course called Financial Peace University.

In Financial Peace University my husband and I have been learning that it is important to teach our son about spending money wisely while staying within a budget, the importance of saving money, and above all else, the value of giving money away.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was wise when he said to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.  We don't want our son to make the same mistakes we have made.  Not only that, but we want him to learn at an early age that money is tied to working, and work ethic is important.  We want him to learn how to exercise self-discipline and save.  And most importantly, we want to teach him about the sacrifice of giving his first earnings to God and the church with a grateful and happy heart.

Dave Ramsey, the founder of Financial Peace University, suggests that parents pick a few chores that could be considered "work" for their children starting at around age three--work that could have a monetary value assigned to it.  He suggests not calling it an "allowance".  Rather, he suggests calling it a "commission".  Someone who works on commission doesn't get paid if he or she doesn't do the work.  If our son doesn't do his work, then he does not earn his money.  It's as simple as that.  So, we've taken this idea and tweaked it a bit to fit our 2 1/2 year old and our little family.

There are some chores that our son is expected to do simply because he is a member of the family.  Such chores include feeding our dog Sadie daily, putting his dirty clothes in his hamper at the end of the day, putting his shoes away in his shoe drawer daily, loading his clothes into the washing machine and transferring his clothes from the washer to the dryer when we do his laundry together, helping prepare his meals (taking things out of the pantry or refrigerator and putting them on the counter for preparation, stirring things), throwing away trash, putting recyclables into the recycling bin, and putting his books away in his book baskets in his bedroom after story time at night.  We'll add more age-appropriate chores as he gets older.  We picked one specific chore that would become his "work" in which he could earn commissions.  We picked the one that he has the hardest time with:  clean up time.  Our son is all boy.  He loves his toys, and he plays hard.  By the end of the day, he's had adventures with them all over the house, and boy, does it ever look that way!

So, here's what we do on a normal day.  When we have company over, we haven't figured out how to work it yet since he gets so distracted, there are a lot more toys out and about, and he seems disinterested.  But on a normal day when it's just us, this is how it works.  He gets one quarter when he completes clean-up time.  We clean up twice a day:  before nap time in the afternoon and before bedtime at night.  So, he has the potential to earn 50 cents in a day.  He spends the night with his grandmother once a week and spends the next day with her until dinner time, so he does not get a chance to earn commissions on that night and during the afternoon of the next day.  So, in one week it is possible for him to earn a total of $3.00. 

How We Do It:
1.  He must clean up on his own.  He is the one doing the work--not Mommy and Daddy (on a normal day).
2.  We direct him.  He's a little too young to stay focused and on task by himself, and he sometimes gets overwhelmed by all the things on the floor that he has to clean up.  So my husband or I will tell him what to pick up.  For example, we'll tell him we see toy trains on the ground and that he needs to find all the toy trains and put them away before we clean up anything else.
3.  He needs to stay on task.  If he decides he wants to start playing with the things he is picking up, then we remind him that the consequence of that choice will be that he will not earn the quarter.  We show him the quarter so that he can see what he's working towards.  He knows that if he does not clean up, then Mommy or Daddy get to have that quarter instead of him.  He does not like it when we say this.  "No, that's my quarter!"
4.  As soon as he is done, we praise him, and give him the quarter immediately for him to put away.  He feels so proud.  Sometimes if he has made a big mess playing, he'll sigh deeply when he's done, like he's saying, "Whew.  That was hard work."

Where does his money go?

The first two clean-up times of the week (both on Sunday, assuming that he completes his work), the quarters go in the Giving Envelope.  Not only is this roughly about 15% of his earnings for the week, but it is also his very first earnings of the week--his first fruits.  This is just a small manila office envelope in which I wrote "Give" on the front as well as a few scriptures.

"Honor God with everything you own.  Give him the first and the best."--Proverbs 3:9-10 (from The Message Bible)

"God loves it when the giver delights in the giving."--2 Corinthians 9:7b (from The Message Bible)

I drew a picture of a church on the back, and I wrote a scripture on it as well:

"Bring the finest of the first fruits of your produce to the house of your God."--Exodus 34:26 (from The Message Bible)

On Sunday mornings when we go to church, he takes his little Giving Envelope to his Sunday School class with him, and he puts his two quarters that he has worked hard for in the offering basket.  It teaches him nothing about giving and sacrifice if we give him the money for the offering.  By putting in his own money that he has worked very hard for, he is learning about faithfulness, sacrifice, integrity, and that giving is important and should be a priority before saving or spending.  His giving now has meaning to it.  God first.

After his first two times cleaning up in a week, the rest of his commissions get to go into the Savings Jar.  We have a piggy bank for him in his room, but Dave Ramsey suggests that you use something clear so that children can see how their earnings are growing.  I found an empty clear plastic canister with a plastic lid that was sitting in our laundry room unused.  I decorated it with the word "Save" on the front and drew pictures of toys, a scripture, and a picture of a little boy watering a plant that has dollar bills for branches.  I modge-podged the drawings onto the container and lid.  The scripture is "Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure out the cost so you'll know if you can complete it?"--Luke 14:28 (from The Message Bible)

Now this is not a savings jar for a car one day or his clothes or anything like that.  We'll start that when he is in his teen years.  This is just a savings jar for a special little toy that he sees at the store that he really wants.  We'll find out how much it is and work towards saving that amount of money in his jar so that he can use his money to buy it.  This is not to say that we won't buy him toys also.  This is just a great starting point in teaching him that we have to work hard and plan for things we would like to have.  It's more about the teachable moment than anything else at this point.

It is working out so far.  We've been doing it for several weeks now.  Today we counted his quarters, and he has 36.  Most days when we tell him that it is clean-up time, he gets excited and says, "It's time to earn commissions!"  He likes seeing how there are more and more quarters adding up in his jar.  The first Sunday to take his Giving Envelope to church, he was actually the one that remembered it.  He told my husband that he needed to get his commissions to take to the church.  I love that he has a joyful and grateful heart when giving.

There have been a few bumps in the road.  One evening he thought it would be fun to dump tons and tons of toys in his play tent--every single little car he owns, all the mega blocks, all the Jenga blocks, all the trio blocks, all the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head parts, every ball in the house, puzzle pieces...I'll just stop there.  You get the picture.  There were lots of tiny little toys everywhere in one big heap.  He did not like cleaning that up one bit.  But, I tried to turn that into a teachable moment:  the bigger mess you make, the harder it is to clean up, and if you don't clean up as you go, then you'll have to spend a lot of time cleaning up later.  Hopefully, he learned his lesson.  It was painful and tiring for both him and me.  I got so frustrated that I almost just told him to stop, but I didn't.  The end result was that he earned his quarter for his Giving Envelope and hopefully (Puh-leeeeeaaaase, God) learned not to make that big of a mess again.

March 28, 2011

Operation Regaining My Sanity...Ur, I Mean Operation Toy Organization

Boy, oh, boy if you could have seen my house before I created a toy organization system for my two year old son's toys, you would have looked at me like I was a crazy person.  Or you would have gone into sensory overload.  For those of you who did see it, I am sorry.  I'm glad that you didn't trip, fall, or have an anxiety attack from all the clutter closing in on you.  I swear, sometimes I felt like Sid from Toy Story when the toys were coming alive, closing in on him, and talking to him.

A few weekends ago, I just about had it with my son's toys being strewn everywhere around the house.  Our dog, Sadie, couldn't even run through the living room.  When I saw her slowly navigating her way through the maze of toys, I knew it was bad.  It was mad chaos, and my son was acting like it was mad chaos.  (Picture the kid from Home Alone aimlessly running through his house with his hands up in the air screaming, "Ahhhhhhhhh!")  

Proverbs 31:12 says regarding the wife of noble character's husband, "She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life."  Well, I also think this can be applied to the Proverbs 31 Woman's entire family as well, not just her husband.  The mad chaos of complete disorganization in our house was definitely not bringing good to our family.  Instead of bringing peace to our home, it was bringing a sense of chaos, stress, and anxiety--to everyone, even the dog for goodness sake!  I knew that if I was going to tackle this project of organizing the chaos, then I was going to need to do it well, with a grateful heart, and finish.  Proverbs 31:17 says about the wife of noble character, "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."  As a stay-at-home mom, maintaining a peaceful home IS my job.

So, I set out to tackle the chaos with vigor and strength!  I started an organization project, and I finished it.  The result?  A much happier little boy who has lots of different places to play in the house, a more creative little boy, a much calmer little boy while he's playing inside, a little boy who plays with a wider variety of toys because he can actually see what he has, a little boy who takes care of his toys better, and a house that doesn't look like a tornado went through it, which naturally leads to a MUCH happier and more sane mommy.

When I taught first grade, I had containers and organization boxes galore due to my obsession with having organized, neat, and functional learning centers for all my kiddos.  It was so much easier for them to learn and explore in functional and organized centers, and they seemed to enjoy learning when the learning centers were set up this way.  At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, which was my last year before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I packed up all my teaching stuff and just chunked it into the attic.  Well, the old saying is true:  out of sight, out of mind.  I started reading blogs about toy organization ideas, but I became easily frustrated because I didn't have the extra money to spend on organization tools.  Then I remembered I had organizational tools from my classroom already just sitting in my attic collecting dust!  They are all different colors, and they don't go with my house decor, but who cares.  The toys are organized now, clean-up time is going much better, my son plays better inside now, I got my house back, there is less stress in our house, and I have regained my sanity as a mom.

This is just a small glimpse of what my house looked like before Operation Regaining My Sanity began.  Oh, I meant to say Operation Toy Organization:

First I organized the toys that I wanted him to be able to get to on his own without permission into piles on the floor according to the following groups:

cars/trucks/air plane (smaller versions)
big cars/trucks/air plane (big enough to put action figures inside)
action figures
musical instruments
grocery store pretend play (cash register, play money, play groceries)
tools and toolbox
stacking train & parts
toy trains
train tracks
big train track items (signal house, bridges, etc.)
stuffed animals
Mr. & Mrs. Potato Heads and parts
magna doodles/leapfrog tablets
play technology (play computer/phone/flash light)
books that make noise or music
board games (memory cards, matching games, etc.)
tiny random toys (tops, small squishy baseballs, bouncy balls, etc.)
mega blocks and trio-blocks
math manipulatives (dominoes, counters, sorting items, dice)
literacy manipulatives (letter tiles, magnetic letters/cookie sheet)
empty containers and boxes to play with (my son loves to put things in and out of things)
pretend dress-up
race car ramps

Then I organized them into organization boxes/buckets/containers/bins, etc. that I got down from the attic.  For most of the bins, I took pictures of the toys that go inside in front of a white poster board.  I may print them out and tape them to the bins with clear packing tape.  I haven't decided yet.  My son already knows where the toys go, but this will help when we have other kids playing at our house, when we have a babysitter, or when any of the grandparents are here helping with clean-up time and my husband and I aren't around. We'll see.

I put some bins on the shelves in our living room.  There is a bin for:  books that make noise or music, cars, pretend grocery store stuff, action figures, stacking train and parts, and musical instruments overflow (the other instruments are in the big drum in front of the shelves).  His tool box is also on these shelves.  I put the bigger vehicles on their own shelf above those.  He can reach them all by himself.  My son calls this shelf "the parking lot".
I put some bins/baskets on the hearth of the fireplace in the living room.  There is one for magnadoodles/leapfrog tablet, trains, train tracks, and big train track items.  It looks like this:

I put some bins on the shelves in the sun room that is connected to our living room like this.  There are bins for math manipulatives, jenga blocks, legos, magnetic letters, and trio blocks.  His bag of megs blocks and his cookie sheet for playing with magnetic letters are also on these shelves.  I organized other toys in the sun room like this so that he can pull them in and out so that they are not in the walk way:

His play tent is also in the sunroom.

I put some toys in the dining room area as well.  Our dining room is not separate from our living room.  It's open, but there are definite areas.  The teacher in me just couldn't resist making a reading center or reading nook here.  My son always has had books in the living room and books in his room.  He loves, loves, loves to read (looking at the pictures and calling out the letters and sounds that he identifies, and saying the words by memory--not actually reading yet).  He has two book baskets by his dresser in his room that are full.  And he has always had the bottom bookshelf in the living room full of books.  But, the shelf in the living room was always a mess because it was hard for him to put the books back in the shelf once he got them off.  For example, this is what it used to look like when the books were on the shelf and before I put the books in baskets:

                   Books lined up on
                   the bottom shelf =
                   disaster ------------->

Since the book baskets work so well for him in his room, I found two old plastic crates that I used in my classroom to serve as book baskets for the dining room area to make it easier for him.  They're not attractive by any means, but they get the job done.  I moved the books to the backside of the couch (which is the divider to the living room and dining room area) and put his anywhere chair in between them (that he can pull out by himself and move to other places for other functions such as movie nights if he wants).  When he sits in the chair, he faces the big glass storm door to the front door and the windows in the dining room, so he gets lots of natural light.  He sits here and just reads and reads.  He loves it.  This is the reading center:

I made a puzzle center in the entry way near the dining room by the glass storm door.  Before organizing, we used to keep the puzzles stacked on the shelves in the living room, but they were not deep enough to hold them.  They fell a lot, and the pieces were always in different places because of this.  The result was that he just never played with his puzzles.  What a waste!

                       stacked  ------>
                       on shelf

When giving Operation Toy Organization a go, I first had the puzzles on their sides in a long wicker basket.   This did not work for us because every time my son tried to get a puzzle out of the basket, the pieces would tumble out.  Then he would have to take out every single puzzle to get to the pieces in the bottom of the basket, which meant even more pieces were tumbling out.  I decided he needed to be able to slide the puzzles in and out easily so that the pieces would stay in tact while getting to the puzzle that he wanted.  This has worked beautifully.  It has also made clean up time much easier since tiny puzzle pieces aren't all over the floor or loose in a basket.  Next to the puzzle center is a small drawer unit that holds small balls, spinning tops, garanimal chain links, and the pieces to a plastic puzzle.  Here's the puzzle center and small drawer unit for tiny things:

In February I visited my old college roommate, Sara, for the weekend.  I got the idea of an activity table from her.  She's also an elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom, so I'm always looking to her to see how she's organizing her home.  She told me that she got hers at IKEA, and I was able to find one with her at IKEA just like it for only $7.99!  It's actually called a side table, but it works great as a kid's activity table.  It's the perfect size and height.  I have a couple of folding camp chairs that are kid-sized from my reading center in my old classroom, and I keep one at the activity table.  When we have friends over to play, we pull out the second chair and put it at the table.
My son builds Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head here, works puzzles, reads books, colors, plays with play-dough, plays with his magna doodles, lines up his cars, stacks dominoes, sorts items, and much more at this activity table.  Basically, however he can think of to use it, he does.  I put some stacking bins from my old classroom next to it to hold his Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head parts and his play technology toys.

Operation Toy Organization complete!  AND it only cost me $7.99!

March 27, 2011

Meal Plans 2/7 Through 3/25/11

It's been a while since I've posted my family's home-cooked meals.  There is a week gap in between the last meal plan post and this one because I went out of town for a week. I'm still doing well in cooking 4 to 5 dinners a week for my family.  In February, I started preparing one dinner a week that was some sort of hot sandwich, wrap, or burger.  I have continued to do so since.  This has helped keep the cost down.  I'm always on the look out for new interesting hot sandwich recipes.

Here's a run down of what we've been eating.  You can click on the dishes, and it will take you to my recipe page if you want to try making any of these dishes. 

1.  BBQ chicken baked potatoes and a green salad

When I make BBQ chicken baked potatoes, I buy shredded BBQ chicken in a container from the grocery store that you just microwave (i.e. Loyd's brand).  They have chicken, pork, and beef that you can choose from.  Super easy weeknight meal?  Check.

2.  Crock pot Italian beef sandwiches and grilled eggplant

I'm not including a recipe for the eggplant.  Basically, you just cut up the eggplant into thin slices, sprinkle salt and pepper on it, drizzle it with olive oil, and then grill it on an indoor grill or grill pan.

3.  Indonesian chicken, Asian green beans, and quick Asian salad

4.  Poblano Florentine casserole and a green salad

5.  Fish tacos and cheesy polenta stuffed red bell peppers

The peppers were delicious, but by the end, I was starting to get tired of the red bell pepper.  My husband and I decided that we will adapt this recipe to a casserole the next time, using the same ingredients and measurements, but just less red bell pepper.

6.  Liz's Chili (and Frito pie for left-overs) and a green salad

I think I accidentally deleted this picture from my camera.  I'll upload a picture when I make it again.

I've tried many chili recipes, but none beat Liz's recipe.

7.  Grilled Ranch chicken & veggie sandwiches, easy potato pancake with sneaky vegetables, and a green salad

The grilled Ranch chicken can also be a dish on its own

8.  Smoky shrimp with creamy grits and a green salad

9.  Greek quesadillas and roasted winter vegetables

I am not posting the recipe for the Greek quesadillas on my recipe page.  They were not good, so I am going to spare you all.

10.  Mexican pizzas and home made easy mexicorn

11.  Italian burgers on wheat buns, roasted veggies, and a green salad

12.  Grilled sweet chili chicken, crispy Caribbean veggie wraps with salsa for dipping, and a green salad

13.  Grilled Cajun catfish fillets, sauteed spinach, and mashed cauliflower

14.  Breakfast tacos for dinner and a fresh fruit salad

15.  Crock pot chicken pot pie and a green salad

16.  Spicy chuck wagon soup and a green salad

We had an extra beef chuck roast in the freezer from a buy-one-get-one-free sale a couple of months ago.  Meats like roasts are great to have on hand in the freezer when you can buy them at a great price.

17.  Spaghetti with home made spaghetti sauce, garlic toast, and a green salad

Making my own spaghetti sauce is healthier than processed jarred spaghetti sauce.  It's also cheaper in the long run because it makes several batches, so I freeze what I don't use, and then pull it out a few months later for another spaghetti or lasagna meal.  My husband and I make this spaghetti sauce on the Senior High Mission trip with our church every year, and it's a hit.

18.  Salmon patty sandwiches and baked sweet potato fries

19.   Lentil-barley vegetable skillet and Germany-style salad

20.  Hamburger corn bread casserole and zucchini Santa Fe

21.  Pesto shrimp pasta toss and Germany-style salad

22.  Asian lettuce wraps (like Pei Wei's or P.F. Chang's) and spiced glazed carrots

I probably won't make the spiced glazed carrots again.  They were good, but the flavors were a bit bold for us to have a second time.

23.  Jalapeno-apricot pork tenderloin and roasted root vegetables

24.   BBQ sausage link sandwiches on toasted wheat bread, sweet potato fries, and a chef's salad

25.  Round steak with potatoes, German cauliflower, and a green salad

I love one pot dishes because of their simplicity.  My mother-in-law who is from Germany came over for dinner this night and brought her delicious German cauliflower.  She makes a rue and uses German seasonings.  It is crazy good.  It's actually the dish that got me to start eating cauliflower years ago.  Now, I love cauliflower lots of different ways thanks to her!

26.  Texan Ranch Chicken Casserole and a green salad

This has a Texan twist on the traditional King Ranch Chicken Casserole.

27.  Ground beef zucchini skillet and a green salad

28.  Mr. Roark's Beef and Sausage Jambalaya, cheddar biscuits, and a green salad

29.  Ham, egg, and cheese croissants for a Saturday breakfast

I love it when my husband makes us breakfast on the weekends!

30.  Grilled cheese sandwiches on wheat bread and ABC Vegetarian soup (from a can)