Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holly Jolly Christmas

This year we were surprised that Santa showed up at our house a few days before Christmas. Not only did the jolly man show up, but he brought us a huge Christmas dinner, a present for each of us and a bit of cash that we quickly put into our Culligan water jug. The kids were excited, to say the least. I guess a few friends (ahem!) thought our family could use a little help this year and we appreciate Santa & all our friends tremendously! We are truly blessed.

Next year, we will be helping another family in need. Pay It Forward. Right?

And, as some of you may be wondering...

We did follow through with our plan of not spending money on Christmas presents. It was hard. Very hard. However, I am happy that we didn't cave. We felt a tinge of guilt the past couple days and when Rob or I wanted to buy something, we helped each other refocus. It was hard not having any presents for the children and family, but we pulled through. Most importantly, we did not spend our "bill money" on last minute Christmas gifts and we survived the day.

My mom, Nana & Rob's family came over to our house for a Christmas brunch. The food was amazing and I enjoyed having everyone here. After the family left, we met my mom at the movie theatre (our Christmas Tradition) to see a movie. I was surprised at how full each showing was (why don't I remember how full it usually is?) and ended up stuck with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Let's just say that I'm hoping Rob will take me to see a different movie one of these nights...soon. (Honey, are you listening?)

This next week will be full of family time, so I am taking a break from blogging until January 1, 2010. I'm hoping to have a wonderful give-away and a list of 2010 goals to tell you about, too.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Foggy Frost

What a glorious day! Glorious because we all were able to sleep in. No work, no school, the holidays are almost here. Laying in my husbands warm arms as we slowly awoke was magical. For months it seems as if we've been speeding away from each other. We needed a moment to relax, to enjoy one another.

When I finally willed myself to slip out from under our down comforter, I peeked through the blinds to see a foggy morning. There's something about fog that is so mysterious and I love it.

Soon the kids were buzzing around getting ready for church, but before we left, my 13 year old came running in the house begging to use my camera. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to witness something important, I grabbed it and headed outside to see what all the fuss was about.

Everything was covered in.......





Friday, December 18, 2009

It will be okay.

St. Patrick's Day 2002 (Do you see Caleb in the back?)

This photo made me laugh today, so I figured I would show it to you all. It's a reminder that "It will be okay." Sometimes that is all I want to hear. It's comforting even when you want it to be okay now, not later.

So, that's what I am going to keep telling myself. Over and over. And over. Until I believe it. This may take awhile. *sigh*

I've been busy working, cleaning, and decorating for Christmas. Rob and I have been arguing alot and the kids are actually doing okay. Why are the holidays so stressful on parents?

I'm trying so very hard to keep my mind off of our finances, or lack thereof. I'm trying to stick to the plan we (as a family) decided on. Not that it would be any different without the plan, but it's nice to know that we have a future goal to help us forget about this Christmas (as in gifts). Then reality strikes, as it always does, (darn reality) and I realize that after paying for 2-3 implants (in March/April), braces payments, and trying to get things back on track (or better!) with our finances that we may not even reach that goal. We may not get to Florida.

How devestating would that be to our children? To us? I can't even think about it right now. It makes me cry. I've been crying alot lately.

Through many tears I am constantly having to revisit a recent post to remind myself it's okay that Christmas will be different this year. Part of me doesn't even want to decorate. I feel like only decorating the bare minimum and then I feel like a horrible mom and decide to go the opposite extreme. Can you guess how many times I've gone into Michael's without buying anything or driven by my favorite stores thinking that I could justify my decoration expense because well, "We aren't celebrating Christmas with gifts this year, so I should make my house all beautiful and such."

My often dwelling thought is that adding more decorations will only help improve the festiveness and joy around us. Uh, more like, it will help find the festiveness and joy.

I've had several people want to help us with Christmas, but really...there are people much worse off than we are. Our kids do not go without throughout the year and just because there isn't something under the Christmas tree, it isn't going to kill them. If anything, it will help build character. Right?

Am I completely fooling myself?

I need strength.

You will never know how much your comments mean to me. Your comments on my blog (which I love!), Facebook, and Twittter are helpful and inspiring. They help me to not feel like a scrooge.

The younger three kids are off school after today and my older boys are out the middle of next week. Rob is taking a couple weeks vacation from his main job (he has lots of time, but will still work his 2nd job.) and we are going to spend days having fun. I am also taking a couple days off from my part-time schedule to be at home with the kids and Rob, so it will be nice doing things as a family.

Maybe my amazing husband and I can pawn off the kids and spend a day just being together here, at home. That would be nice! We really need some time away (or here...alone) to just focus on each other and our marriage.

We'll see.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter's Artwork

Some time ago, as I was reading through a fellow bloggers archive, I came across this one.

Fractals? What are fractals?

Renee, of A Baker's Dozen, has a great definition, so I'll just share hers as to not confuse ya'll.

"First, I explained what a fractal was: a geometric shape that repeats itself, often in more and more complicated patterns. A fractal has the same basic shape at a large scale, as a small (and often microscopic) scale." - A Baker's Dozen

She taught me a new word and a little more about fractals. They are very interesting and when in the form of ice, beautiful! I bet Renee doesn't know that she actually homeschools me, too. I'm kinda sneaky like that.

She homeschools me so much that last winter I was able to share my newfound knowledge with my teenage son, Braden. He was to write a short report on ice or snow or something like that. I really don't remember what the report was about, but I do remember as soon as he mentioned it my eyes became big and I ran to the computer to show him Renee's fractals. In case you were wondering, Braden received an A on that report.

And the learning continues.....

Last week, after a huge snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures, we opened our front door to this beautiful sight (and the photos above).

I immediately called my children to the front door, scooped up my camera and shot these photographs before the heat from the house began melting natures artwork. Braden remembered exactly what they were. As I was stuttering to come up with the name, "Fra...Froc....?" Braden piped up, "They're called fractals, mom."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Little Shop of Horrors

My sad, unresponsive and defiant house plant.

I don't think I have a horrible green thumb, but my plants have never thrived. I can bring them to the brink of death and then back to life, which is sort of psychopathic, if you ask me.

Sometimes I teeter with the thought of just chucking all of my green living things in the trash, but I can't bring myself to do it. It's against my religion. I think. They are alive, even if momentarily.

A little over eight years ago, I embarked on a new adventure. I've blogged about it here . Awhile back, I was given an opportunity to offer a give-away where a lucky reader won a gift certificate so she could get some of her own. She was thrilled. Speaking of that winner, I just ran across her blog awhile back and found out that she has suffered a great tragedy in the last year or so. Please head over to her blog and offer her some sweet hugs.

So, back to my dying-a-slow-death plants. Ahem.

For the past several months I've been thinking about why my plants hate me. Do I give them too much water? Not enough? Should I talk to them more? Am I supposed to feed them some sort of plant food in addition to water? Can't I just open up the blinds so they can eat the sun? Are plants really that complicated?

I've repotted this particular plant (above photo) with new potting soil and moved it around the house so many times trying to find the perfect spot. It's a rather difficult plant to please. In fact, one day, when I had it sitting by the open front door, I swear it tried to reach up and open the door so it could run away. It hates me with as much passion as a plant can have.

So, two months ago I decided to try a new feeding method. I've heard that plants like nitrogen. Like, alot. Then it dawned on me that there is uber amounts of nitrogen in blood and where could I get blood on a regular basis?

This isn't rocket science, people. Without cutting myself and dripping blood onto the leaves of my dying plant, where can I (a woman) get the red stuff?

My menstrual pads, that's where. You aren't shocked, are you?

For those of you still reading, I'll have you know that it's not gross at all. I've lived with my own blood since I was eleven. You would assume I would be used to be it now. I am. I'd also assume that other women should be used to it by now, too. However, I will not jump on my soap box and preach the greatness of thy wonderful cloth menstural pads. No I will not. If you want to stick to paper then so be it. Personally, I prefer to have soft cotton against my girly bits. Cotton velour, sherpa and silky soft micro-fleece beat out sticky, smelly, chemical filled paper at least 100, 000, 000 to 1. Or something like that.

I have never tried the soaking method for my cloth menstrual pads because I wasn't really into saving the water or, you know, dealing with it more than I needed to. Normally, I would just rinse them out as I used them and then throw them in the wash.

This time, instead of doing the whole rinse & wash thing, I grabbed a cute watering can (because cute matters!) and began stuffing my pads into the opening. Then I filled it just enough to cover the pads. The next morning, I poured the murky water onto the unsuspecting plant and then refilled the watering can with fresh agua.

I almost felt a little naughty for doing such a thing. I've heard about it before, but actually trying it wasn't on my "To Do" list. Over the next few days, I watched as my once sad plant, perked up. I figured it was just because I watered it. Plants like water, you know. A week or so later, I noticed my other plants wilting again. Typical. However, I noticed something magical, almost unreal. It would seem that while the naughty plants needed to be refreshed my blood-fed plant was thriving. Boldly standing high, it's leaves deep green and absolutely no dead, dried or yellowing limbs.

Seymour sitting next to my husbands plant (the naughty one). They were once the same size.

I decided to water it a little anyway and within a day my plant looked even more healthy.

Healthier than ever!

Whoa! Did I make that happen? Serious? Not only can I feed my babies "liquid gold" and watch them chunk up before my eyes, but I can also nourish a plant? Amazing!

"Hmm..", I said aloud. Could this be because I fed it my soak water? Should I name this plant Seymour? Was I imagining this bold change or was it for real?

That's when I decided to do a little science project. You know, because I'm all about science projects and doing them for my kids helping my kids with theirs.

Sitting in the same bay window as "Seymour" is another plant, a smaller one, that was given to my husband when his father died in 2005. This plant has struggled greatly, which is why it's still so small, and I've done more than enough to try and keep it alive. I have seriously wanted to throw it out numerous times because it makes me feel like an utter failure. However, knowing my own connection to "Seymour" aka "My dad's plant", I can not bring myself to throw it away.

"I must try and save it, no matter the sacrifice. I will find a way."
::said in thick Scottish accent for effect::

Over the past two menstrual cycle's I have fed each of my plants using only the water from my soaking pot. I have noticed that Seymour really loves my stuff. The other plants are still fighting my love, but it looks as though they are starting to give in and accept their place in my home. I do not have to water as often (though that is most likely due to the weather), but they are more green and seem to be more perky. They just seem more healthy.

My conclusion is that feeding blood meal (or menstrual blood) to house plants really does work. I don't think you get the same result for each plant, but the results are better than just plain H2O. You can purchase blood meal in a bag and I think it's about $6-8 per bag. Most people would use it on their gardens (flower or food) and I've heard that fruit trees like them, too. I'm not much of a gardener (tried and failed several times), so do your research before using blood meal on trees and veggie gardens. Or, you know, save the money and just use what God gave you. Talk about living frugally. Ha!

However, the one thing I got out of this whole experiment is that my body is awesome! God is amazing and He created wonderous people. What a smart God to make it so that we can nourish our own children (for years!!!) and that, as women, we have the ability to feed plants and help them grow healthy and strong.

Are you amazed? You should be!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas will be different this year.

Over the past couple years our family has scaled back on Christmas giving. This year we're scaling back even more and you know what? It's okay. Really, it is.

This was my post from last year.

Last year we told the kids "There will not be much under the Christmas tree." and there wasn't. Aside from the 20" iMac that was given to our family for Christmas (though we opened it right after Thanksgiving!) there wasn't much under the tree. What money we had went to bills and food. In hindsight we should have waited until Christmas to break out the computer, but we were so excited. We were able to talk our family members into helping with the computer instead of buying other gifts, so (for the kids) it was a bit difficult for them to watch everyone else open gifts while they watched. We had to constantly remind them that they got the computer. If it weren't for my mom, the kids wouldn't have had that Wii under our home Christmas tree. That's about all they received "from us" (which is more than we ever imagined), except for a new pair of pajamas and a few small items. The Wii was a hit, of course, so Christmas Day was a success in that sense. Still, I couldn't help but feel guilt as I scanned my children's faces. Sometimes I wonder if Caleb (in the picture below) is feeling sad because he didn't get what he wanted. "Lots of Star War's Legos!"

Christmas will be different this year.

This year, I am on a mission to make Christmas the best one yet! I really feel that we can do without Christmas presents this year. We don't need presents in order to have a great time. I don't need to stress out because there is nothing to wrap. I don't need to feel like a failure because my kids don't have the latest gadgets. Nor do I have to feel guilty that they don't have anything under the tree.

For years we would pile gifts atop gifts under the tree. We were trapped in the commercialism and social views of modern day Christmas. Instead of my husband and I working hard to develop Christmas Traditions that would form lasting memories, we worried about who was getting what and did we have enough money to pay for it all. Juggling checks and hoping gifts of money from family would come in at the right time so we could buy what we knew the children wanted. Then, when we thought we were done shopping, we would remember that we still needed to buy for families and friends. The constant trips to various stores to "find the right gift" was overwhelming and tiring. Over the past several years, we've dropped the family and friends (out of necessity) and only focused on our children and mothers. And still, this year, we're narrowing it down even more.

Each and every year I dreaded the holidays. There was always a feeling of not being good enough. The guilt and shame ruined our Joy. Some years not one ounce of Joy would be felt and on those years where I tried really hard, I failed that much more. My husband and I fought every year because of all the stress. This is not how Christmas is supposed to be. It's just not good! I don't want this to be our children's memories of the Christmas holiday. I don't want them to remember that during their Christmas break from school, mom was out shopping every day, tired, angry, bitter and frustrated.

Instead, I want the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven to greet them as they walk in from playing in the snow. I want their friends to come in and sit and laugh at our kitchen table while warming up with a cup of hot cocoa. I want to drive around the city looking at the lights and counting all the ones on your side of the car (no cheating!!) to see who wins, like my brother and I used to do every winter. By the way, nobody wins anything, it's just all in fun.

This year I say, NO MORE!

Christmas will be different this year.

This year it will be hard work for Rob and I to keep on this path. We will need to remind each other it's going to be okay. When we're feeling down or the kids say something and we start to feel the teensiest bit of guilt, we'll have to just keep moving forward. Christmas isn't about gifts whether you can afford them or not. Children will not usually remember what was under the tree, they'll remember the yearly traditions that were so much fun.

In order to help our children with the new Christmas idea, we decided to put all our extra money into a family vacation. If you've read this post, you know that we have a very strong desire to go to Orlando, Florida in July 2010. We've already had our family meeting and, at first, Casey and Caleb weren't on board. At all. They wanted gifts that we couldn't afford and gifts that would only be fun for the first day or two. If we were lucky, a week. Then I had a bright idea. I urged them to check out DisneyWorld and all the other things we could possibly see while in Florida on the web. They researched a few places and then came to us with an emphatic "Yes!". We were all on board and everyone is excited. So excited that we currently have some $31 dollars in the jug. *We have a long way to go, but we really do hope to get there!

It's a good thing, too, because this Christmas it doesn't mean that we'll be able to stick what money we would have normally spent on Christmas gifts into our "Orlando Fund" Culligan water jug, though I'm sure we'll stick a few dollars in there. It just means that we've transferred our thoughts from gifts on Christmas to a future goal. It's no longer about an individual, but about our family. That's the first step. We have a future goal that is (with lots of work and sacrifice) going to take us on a family vacation.

*As for how we will get enough money to actually take the trip to watch Chloe compete in the North American Championships, well, I can only pray, be disciplined, fundraise and hope for corporate sponsors and donations.

Most everyone is struggling finacially this year. It doesn't matter if you make the same amount as you did last year, have a second job, or a third job. Things are tight. You've felt it at the gas pump, in the grocery store and even in your day to day spending. We've had to tighten things significantly and change our spending habits. I am no longer an impluse shopper. I've broken the habit of "nickel and diming" and we rarely eat out as a family. If we do eat out, it's for lunch and it's just Rob and I. It's a nice way to cut back and still have that "date". The menu is cheaper and we're more likely to choose Chick-Fil-A than we are Chili's. We also share meals and we've found a local Mexican restaurant where the daily special of Chili Verde is just $4.99. We've even had to come to the hard realization that we were not careful with our finances before and now we have to do things MUCH different. That includes Christmas.

Which is why....

Christmas will be different this year.

Are you struggling with finances this year and would like some ideas on how to spend less for Christmas or totally change the social traditions and start making your own? Here are some of my own ideas and even a link where I found some great ideas, too.

1. Spend time teaching your children how to bake. It's a great skill, plus it teaches them simple math problems. Bake cookies, cakes and breads for your neighbors, family and friends. You don't have to give them the whole loaf or batch. Count how many are in the family and give them a plate with enough to give each of them one to two treats.

2. Write a letter to your loved one (friend, neighbor, family) and tell them how much they mean to you. You don't have to buy pretty stationary, just write (or type) it out, roll it up and tie it with ribbon. They'll appreciate it more than you will ever know.

3. While the kids are off of school, get them in on making menu's for the next two weeks. Not only will it teach them what goes in to all the meals they eat, but they'll begin to see just how much work it is for mom when they don't help. Can you tell that's my struggle? Let them make the menus, grocery list and let them shop. It doesn't end there. They help put the groceries away, maybe reorganize the fridge and pantry while they're at it (that's what Chloe would do) and even make the meals, too. Even the young ones can make pb&j with a plastic knife or a mini spatula.

4. Watch Christmas movies, eat popcorn, make pizza's and laugh yourself silly. That's what we'll be doing.

Elf is my favorite.

"Call me elf one more time!"
"He's an angry elf."

Haha! I love that movie!

"I like smiling. Smiling's my favorite!"

See? I just can't stop!

The part where he gets hit by the taxi and goes up the escalator are classic.

Okay, enough about Elf. Watch many different movies. If you don't have many or would rather not rent them, just ask your friends what they have in thier collection. Send an email out and see how many responses you get. List the movies you have in your collection in the email and maybe you'll be able to trade with a few friends over the holidays. Sharing is always good! Just remember to give them back and handle the DVD's properly and return them as soon as you can. Which, reminds me....

Anyway, while I search for that one movie I keep forgetting to return to a friend (sorry!), why don't you take a few moments to check out these links. If you have some of your own to share, please leave them in a comment!