Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January Giving Update

It's the end of the month, and time for a giving update. (Yes, I know there's one more day in January, but my Thursday is quite busy.) As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've decided to raise money to pay for 1/4 of a well in Africa through the Mission: Water for Life program, and I have a personal goal of $100 per month. The thing to note is that I personally don't normally generate an income. I'm a stay-at-home mom and a student, and I don't make things for an Etsy store. Personally coming up with $100 a month strictly to give away is honestly a stretch of my faith and abilities, and that is part of what makes this process so exciting for me.

Though I got a late start in my giving plan this month (I didn't even hear about this project until about two weeks ago), the money came together quite quickly. For January, I reached and exceeded my $100 goal. I sold a few books and baby things on eBay. That accounts for about $53 worth of what I raised.

Then, we went to an estate sale last weekend where they were selling everything for $4.00 a bag. I'm not talking about a puny plastic Wal-Mart bag, but a big heavy-duty paper sack. I crammed that thing full with wrapping paper, craft supplies, serving dishes, little toys, and kitchen utensils, but one more thing on the table caught my eye. I didn't know what it was and the family was ready to go, so I popped it into my bag for later inspection. When I had a chance to look at it more closely, it turns out to be a wine opener that retails for $129.00. It was missing a couple of parts, so I sold it as-is on eBay for another $20. (Now, if I could only come across another prosthetic leg to list. Legs -- that's where the big bucks are.)

Additionally, I participate in taste test studies every once in a while that I get paid small sums to complete. I haven't done one in maybe a year because I only like to do the studies I can take home. (I don't want to sit in a room slurping soup with strangers when I can be home slurping soup with my loved ones.) Anyway, it's been ages since the company asked me to do one because of my at-home policy, but as soon as I became available to giving to this project whatever income I could generate, the call came within two days. I was given this really delicious cheese and spice blend to try and critique. (It mixes in with ground beef to make really yummy burgers.) So, not only did I get the foundation for a couple of meals for free, I also got paid $35.00. All of that rounds out the month.

At this point, what I've decided to do is apply $100 (or thereabouts) every month to this cause, leaving the rest of what I make or save in our general budget for other things. I waivered between that and giving everything I can generate to this giving project, stopping only once I reached the $1200 goal. I don't know... I'm still on the fence, actually.

I don't think there's one right way to complete this personal challenge, and I may find myself vascilating between the two options. I know what my ultimate hope and expectation is, and I have to say I'm extraordinarily excited about how easily it's coming together. I'm surprised at how quickly I've been able to generate funds without pulling from our personal budget, and I think if I focus, I may be able to reach the $1200 goal quite quickly. With a little application, I believe it could be attainable before December. (I've not even begun to apply what I've saved from my grocery budget! It's just stayed in the general fund because I met this month's goal in other ways.)

Anyway, I just love how God is showing up in a big way already. Once I decided to step out here, God made ready the places for my foot to fall.

"...from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor."
Psalm 68:10b

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Little Boxes

I remember as a child, there was nothing more interesting (or more unattainable) in a grocery store than that eight-pack of miniature cereal boxes. "Too overpriced," my dad would say, clutching his coupon for the Malt-O-Meal brand. I hated that my dad used a coupon for everything. I really thought he was cheap.

Fast forward many years. Now I'm the grown-up grocery shopper, and boy, little miniature boxes of cereal really ARE overpriced. What a rip off! Those incredibly expensive grains, however, have really played a part in how I approach the topic of frugality with my children. You see, my dad approached frugality more from a poverty standpoint, though he wasn't impoverished. It seems to me as I look back my dad's attitude and approach, frugality was more about doing without than it was about being financially responsible. (That may not have been his mindset, but that often was his presentation.)

With my own children, I find that I am more prone to spoiling and I struggle to really help them understand that money does not grow on trees. I want them respect money: neither to take it for granted, nor to live with a deep fear about there not being enough. I find with my kids, maintaining a happy balance with regards to frugality can be a challenge. What I've been doing lately is making sure that I explain to Gracie and Bub that we do what we do to save money (use coupons, do with less, do without, or whatever) because we want to be wise and responsible, and will perhaps follow up with an example. I intentionally try to not snap back with comments like "too overpriced" or to imply that there's not enough (even if there's not enough). Additionally, we focus on our many blessings and discuss them frequently. I'm hoping that by implementing these small measures, my children will embrace an attitude of gratitude, living with that as their focus instead of just seeing me as cheap.

Though there have been regrettable times of overspending in our family, for the most part, implementing the practices of frugality has been instrumental to our way of life. As a general practice, we would save money in one category so that we may do more in others. In the past, we may have eliminated an entertainment budget so that we could apply the savings towards making a large purchase. Right now, I'm working hard to cut various household budgets more dramatically so that I can increase our giving budget and provide clean water to some thirsty folks. You get the idea.

Gayle at The Grocery Cart Challenge recently posted her discovery of the dollar store, and I couldn't help but chime in that dollar stores have been part of my savings repertoire for some time.

When we lived in Oklahoma, I would shop at Dollar Tree from time to time, but the local franchise really didn't have a great selection. There was a privately-owned dollar store in our hometown that offered name brand products for the same $1.00, and I found myself shopping there more than at Dollar Tree.


When we moved to Texas a few years ago, I promptly discovered the 99 Cents Only Store, which is a frugal mama's mecca. The first time I went into a 99 Cents Only store, I thought I was just going into another chain dollar store full of obscure products and hand towels. I was surprised to discover that the 99 Cents Only store is different from Dollar Tree and other dollar stores in so many ways.

In addition to the various items found in your average dollar store, the 99 Cents Only store has a refrigerated and frozen section, a produce section, a diet foods section, and a gourmet foods section. They have live plants, lovely stationary, and some home goods worth having in your home. The 99 Cents Only store has seen our family through a interstate move, a new job, an unexpected layoff, another new job, a looooooooong time before commissions kicked in, and unexpected medical expenses. The savings we've experienced by shopping there has truly saved us time and again. The 99 Cents Only Store is also where I inexpensively spoil my inner child as I occasionally pick up that eight pack of little cereal boxes for, you guessed it, 99 cents.

Hey you, wanna play?

Hello to you, my friend in real life, my faithful blog stalker. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm participating in a great big blog giveaway carnival where I will be giving away FREE CHOCOLATE. I've noticed that you, my friend, have grown eerily quiet. You who stumble over my other friends to comment about things found on my backside have yet to play along. My friend, won't you please reconsider and join in on the fun? (Do you think I've said my friend enough? I feel like I'm writing an scam e-mail like the ones from Mrs. Rev. Oobo Mombasa from Maputo, Mozambique. You know the ones that promise millions and millions of tax-free dollars to you, my friend?)

Standard, widely known contest rules do not apply here. Only one rule applies to my contest: James cannot play (because he will probably win, and then he will probably give the gift card back to me for Valentine's Day, and then he will probably be very confused about why I'm just not as happy as can be about that). So, if you are not James, and if you can type and leave a comment, you have equal opportunity to free chocolate. Just go here and leave a comment before Friday at Noon. On Friday, I will close the comments, let the random number generator monkeys do their thing, and name a winner here post haste.

Wayward Birds

I've come to the conclusion that the Metroplex is the unofficial respite for disoriented seagulls. I wondered before about some very confused birds who made their home on a nearby lake, but today I discovered a flock with a far worse place to rest their wings. Nestled between a Chase Bank and a Target, this flock of gulls made their home in a puddle.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Walk Like a Murderer

Sunday was the completion of the House of Blues series at church. Brandon wasn't at church to preach because he and his wife just had their fourth baby on Tuesday -- a little cutie named Georgia. (Don't you love that name?) Instead, Trey (one of the other pastors) shared the message. A message on regret.

I've talked a lot about regret, primarily my struggle with regret over losing Zachary, as well as my fear of the regret I will feel in the future. If I'm honest, no matter how upbeat I attempt to be, not one day -- not even one hour -- passes where I'm not tortured by "if only."

If only I had done this.
If only God had done that.
If only the enemy hadn't done the other thing.


Fill in the blank as you like, and I've likely said it or thought it.

Sunday morning, Trey talked about regret and the fact there are two primary causes of regret: (1) regret over past sins in our lives, and (2) regret over past mistakes and missed opportunities.

Often, the words sin and mistake are used in interchangeable ways. In this case, the term mistake was not meant to imply a moral failure, but rather a poor decision, a wrong call, an incorrect move. With regard to my losses, there has not been a time that I've looked back and felt guilt about an inappropriate moral decision that led to my losses. For example, I didn't suddenly take to smoking crack which in turn led to my dead baby.

However, there are plenty of things on which I look back and feel regret: things I could have done differently, or times I could have sought medical help but didn't because I thought I was being too worrisome. There are two or three specific mistakes or missed opportunities where I've realized that if I would have made a different decision right there, perhaps my baby would be alive today. It is that regret that haunts me near constantly.

With regard to regret like this, and the effect it has on a person, Trey had some comments. Here are my scribbled notes verbatim, though my notes are not an exact quote of what he said. You'll get the general idea.

In these past mistakes, we can't blame sin (because we didn't).
We can't blame ourselves (because we generally don't do that,
at least not for too long).
And so, we blame God ("Why did you allow this to happen,
why didn't you intervene?" Sound familiar?).
In blaming God, a root of bitterness begins to form.
We begin to doubt God,
question his goodness,
lose faith and trust...


A scripture I've grown increasingly familiar with through this grief process is John 10:10 (NLT), which reads, "The thief's purpose is steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." Even during the process of delivering my dying child -- in those dark moments growing progressively darker -- I knew without question that the theft of baby's life and potential was without question the work of the wicked one. I never once cried out to God, asking "Why are you doing this to me?" I knew who instigated all the pain. Acknowledging that knowledge sort of became something I could tick off my spiritual checklist.

That knowledge having been managed -- that instigator awareness -- caused me to leave it behind and completely ignore the fact that the theft was not a singular event. Our experience wasn't just an experience. A door wasn't just opened and then shut. Instead, the robbery continues, and I am still held captive. Daily, we are robbed of something, of many things. As a family, we struggle to celebrate with those around us. The things we were once good at have become incapabilities. Even sleep can be torturous, as beautiful, unattainable dreams come one night, followed by gory, horrible dreams on another. Additionally, we are left without choices, meaning it's impossible for us when people dismissively say, "Eh, you're young. Just try again." We've tried for years with heartbreak and torment as our offspring.

Today, I was reminded that the enemy still lingers, picking the pockets of my heart. He lingers because I let him, holds me captive because I won't stand up for myself and move forward in a positive way. But what's a tortured girl to do? Follow along the course of a murderer, that's what.

The Apostle Paul, while he was Saul of Tarsus, was a very religious Jew who made practice of murdering Christians because he thought what they preached was heretical. Then, along a road to Damascus, he had a vision of a resurrected Jesus and experienced both an external and internal transformation. According to Wikipedia, "Paul's influence on Christian thinking arguably has been more significant than any other New Testament author... [as] fourteen epistles in the New Testament are traditionally attributed to [him]." Paul had a tremendous Christian ministry as he walked the earth, but frequently alluded to his own personal struggles (thorns and whatnot). Paul was very aware of what it meant to live a tortured life, and experienced more torment than I ever want to personally know. This is what he had to say:

"No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,
but I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
I press on to reach the end of the race
and receive the heavenly prize for which God,
through Christ Jesus, is calling us."
Phil. 3:13-14

I've thought about this, wondering how in the world could I be expected to forget my child and the whole of that experience of losing him? How could I not remember him nearly constantly? That entire experience was indelible, incapable of being erased. I conceived in a miraculous way against all hope, I carried a baby through physical struggles and emotional stresses, and in the end, I was robbed of his life, my happiness, our hopes and dreams, and even more than I am capable of communicating. I could never forget all of that.

But to consider the word forget a little more, it doesn't just mean "be unable to recall," but rather, it also means "to neglect willfully; disregard or slight." Additionally, Paul mentioned having to "press on to reach the end of the race," meaning to push beyond the physical or emotional obstacles that would hold him back. The implication of a decision is clear in both regards. You know, I'm sure Paul could recall some poor decisions. Having participated in murderous behavior, I'm sure he was tortured with bad dreams. Experiencing persecution and imprisonment, I'm sure he struggled with emotions that could have easily overtaken the sensibilities. But Paul decided to deliberately forget and press on.

I don't think Paul at all suggested that he suddenly had a memory lapse and couldn't remember the sins or mistakes of his past. In fact, proof that Paul remembered his own experiences and "chains" is proved in his call for the church at Colossae to remember. "Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul. Remember my chains. May God’s grace be with you." (Colossians 4:18) You see, it's not that he couldn't recall those issues of his past, but rather he chose to not let those things halt the call on his life. Paul decided, come what may, there was a race to be run, and nothing would hold him back.

I don't want anything to hold me back. I want to "press on," so maybe I too should "forget." Maybe I should choose to willfully neglect my losses and experiences so that they don't bind me in any one place, and so that they don't disable me further.

In saying that, I should be clear that I cannot and will not just deny the babies I carried. I do not intend to disregard, or not make note of, our dates. I will count the days of births and deaths, and I will recall my losses in that way. Additionally, I'm not proposing that I should pretend like nothing ever happened, because it has. I struggle with infertility, I have an incompetent cervix, and I struggle with some other issues that cause me to have a propensity to miscarriage. I have lost four babies. Regardless of whatever may come in our future, these experiences are a big part of who I am.

I think for me, the forgetting is the willful disregard of the everyday things and the struggle associated with those mundane moments. I'm referring to the "he should be crawling now, but he's not because he died" sort of constant recall, the ache within that bubbles to the surface at tax time, the tears that come when others complain that their babies are such inconveniences. It's that day-to-day sense of what's missing that I feel needs to be "forgotten" in the hopes of pressing on.

But I'm the mommy. If I don't remember, who will?
I know who will.

We had been originally told at one of many ultrasounds that Zachary was a girl. For weeks, we labored over the choice of a girl's name. When we finally decided on one (Keaton Rebecca), another ultrasound revealed an extra little part that meant our girl was a boy. For two weeks, we literally discussed every single boy's name known to the human race. We even tried on for size a couple we made up, all to no avail. As tragedy was upon us, we were still without a name.

James and I knew that the loss of our son would impact us greatly for the rest of our time on the Earth, but realistically, we knew those around us would move on, and maybe even forget he had ever lived. It broke our heart even more deeply to perceive that the day would come where our baby would be lucky to be a memory. In the delivery room, we knew we had to have something, and all of a sudden, there it was: a name we loved deliberately chosen based on its meaning. Zachary means, "Remembered by God," and regardless of what I do, it is He who will never forget.



"What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins?
Yet God does not forget a single one of them.
And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.
So don’t be afraid;
you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."
Luke 12:6-7

"And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep [or a sparrow]!"
Matthew 12:12a

"Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!"
Isaiah 49:15

Bloggy Giveaway: $10 Godiva Gift Card

I'm so excited to be participating in my very first Bloggy Giveaway Carnival, which is go graciously hosted by Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer. As I thought about what to give away, I considered a number of very tempting ideas, but seriously, is there anything more tempting than chocolate? Uh, no. Not to my knowledge.

That is why I dedided that for my premiere on the giveaway circuit, I will be giving away a $10 Godiva Chocolatier Gift Card, which is good both online or in the Godiva Boutique.

No purchase is necessary to either participate or win, though nothing is for sale around here anyway. I give it all away, and aren't you the lucky one for it? Just leave a comment to let me know you're interested, including a way to contact you (either by e-mail or blog). Friday at Noon I will stop taking comments and will dump everyone into the mixer over at Random.org. The winner and a link to their blog (if applicable) will be posted back here right after. Thanks for playing, and feel free to drop in anytime!

For more fun giveaways, head on over to the Bloggy Giveaways Carnival currently in progress.


** IT'S NOON ON FRIDAY, SO COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED. THANK YOU FOR PLAYING! **

The Last Thing

James and I began the process of filing our taxes this weekend. Because Zachary lived for a time, though it was short, we were given a social security card and instructed to include him as we filed our return for 2007. The card came in the mail about ten days after he died and has sat unpunched from its perforation all these nine months. It's been tucked away in a memory box in the scrapbooking room with a blanket and a wristband, but this weekend, it surfaced for its first and final purpose.

We cried as we entered his name.
We cried as we entered his number.
We cried as we clicked submit and recognized this is the very last thing that we have to do for our child.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Her Solution

Gracie has had terrible chapped lips this season. Even at this young age, it's clear she's inherited her mommy's winter skin. In addition to that, she's taken to lip-licking. The combination of those two things, coupled with whipping winter winds, lead to crusty lips that burn with meals and kisses.

When we saw the pediatrician last, she noticed Gracie's chapped lips. I explained that we'd tried nearly every product under the sun, and the one we really loved (a liquidy Chapstick product that had some exfoliating beads) had been discontinued. Everything else was too "spicy" for Gracie, or so she said. The pediatrician suggested Eucerin. It was easy to apply (as in no one had to be wrestled to the ground), it was not "spicy" at all, and Gracie's crusty lips were supple once again after only a couple of applications.

Unfortunately, we've run out of Eucerin, and I've not been to the drugstore this week. Gracie's lips have grown progressively worse over the last couple of days, and she was driven to tears earlier when I applied one of the old standbys. Ever the resourceful girl, tonight Gracie came up with her own solution -- purple lipstick from her make-up kit.

Here's hoping it doesn't stain!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Frugal Recipe: Taco Soup

I think one of the key things about practicing frugality, particularly when it comes to meal preparation, is creativity. To be able to understand a recipe by recognizing its most basic components, and to be able to be prepare it in an inexpensive way is a true gift indeed. We keep our grocery budget down by using coupons (even better if coupled with sales), and our meals inexpensive by substituting what is called for with what we have on hand.

One of my family's favorite frugal recipes is Taco Soup. For those who like to follow a recipe verbatim, here it is:


Taco Soup

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
2 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chile peppers
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15 ounce) can sweet kernel corn or hominy, drained
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (1 ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 1/2 cups water, as needed
Dash salt, pepper, and/or chili powder, to taste

Optional Toppings/Sides:
(Generally served buffet style here)

Shredded Cheddar or Mexican Cheese Blend
Sour Cream
Chopped Green Onion
Corn Chips or Tortilla Chips
Tortillas
Cornbread

Directions
In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef or turkey with chopped onion, stirring frequently. Once beef is browned drain grease from pan.

Add canned tomatoes, kidney beans, corn, taco seasoning and ranch salad dressing mix (and whatever else you're tossing in). Add the optional water, as needed. (Without the added water the soup will be more of a chili like consistency, which works well if serving over chips. Add 1 to 2 cups of water if necessary to make soup the desired consistency, though when I want it soupier, I just don't drain the corn and beans. That fluid takes the place of most of the water.)

Mix well and let simmer over low to medium heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle into soup bowls (over chips, if you wish) and garnish with shredded Cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream (optional). Serves 8 plus.


That's the recipe, but here's what I have in my pantry and refrigerator today, and what I'll be using to make our Taco Soup for dinner tonight. I will modify the recipe below to point out the substitutions* I made, and total up my cost.


What we have on hand...


Our Topping Options



Today's Taco Soup
($4.45 to serve 8 plus, approximate total cost)

1 pound lean ground turkey ($1.50, after coupon)
1 onion, chopped (15 cents)
1 chopped Roma Tomato (25 cents)
1 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chile peppers (50 cents)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce (25 cents)
1 (15 ounce) can sweet kernel corn, drained (50 cents)
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained (50 cents, on sale)
1 can Ranch Style Beans (30 cents, on sale + coupon)
1/2 c. Ranch Salad Dressing (portion, 25 cents)
1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix (25 cents)

(Instead of thinning with water, I had some leftover beans from earlier in the week. Most of the beans had been eaten from the pot, so I stored the remaining beans and broth in a plastic bowl. I just added the whole of the leftover bowl (about 1 1/2 cups of liquid) into the mix instead of water.)

Today's Optional Toppings/Sides:
($1.45, approximate total cost)

1 c. Shredded Cheddar Cheese (I bought an 8c. bag on sale for $3.49, so 45 cents)
Sour Cream (portion, 25 cents)
Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (1/2 of $1.50 bag, so 75 cents)
Hot Sauce (no calculable cost, whole bottle 30 cents)


The Finished Product: So Good!



Our Total Meal Cost: $5.90 for eight generous servings. (I measured the soup out, and it alone is 10-12 hearty cups, without toppings/sides.) As you can see, I utilized sales, coupons, and substitutions to feed our family for little money. Even better, our family of 4 will only eat half of this soup tonight, and can freeze the other half for another day. The average cost, then, for what will be consumed today is between $3-4, as we'll use all the toppings/sides today.

I'm looking forward to sharing more recipes in the future, but in the meantime, check out this week's Thrifty Recipe list at The Grocery Cart Challenge.



* Note: all varieties of subsitutions can be made, but in my opinion, there are some basic ingredients that should always remain. Those ingredients are some sort of meat, beans, corn (or hominy), taco seasoning, and Ranch Dressing/Seasoning.

Western Wear

This is the month of the rodeo here in the Metroplex, so understandably, the rodeo is the focus of learning in school. Yeehaw! (Well, really just in Gracie's kindergarten class, but yeehaw anyhow.) To end the unit, the kids were to dress in western wear and come in for a day of cow-person fun.

Though we do live in Texas, and though James was an Ag major at an Ag college, and is a die hard Aggie to this day, not one person in our home owns a pair of cowboy boots. So, yesterday afternoon when the note came home from school, we haunted our bargain-hunting haunts and found some cute wardrobe additions that would convince people my kids could get their cowpoke on.

On our way to the store, I asked Bub if today was western day for him also, and though he really wasn't sure, he thought it probably was. He'd not gotten any notes home about it, whereas Gracie had gotten several, but that's not unusual. Because of a lack of communication, more than once I've had to take his word on a matter despite the fact that his primary struggle in school is paying attention and/or remembering things. Anyway, once at the store, we found just enough western wear to be convincing and participatory without going over the top. For Bub, a checked cowboy shirt and a sheriff's hat. For Gracie, a cowgirl shirt complete with sparkly pink thread (because that's so practical to wear while roping) and some cute black boots with flowers stitched up the sides (because who says you can't be fashionable on the range).

Everything was laid out and set to go, but over breakfast, Bub said, "I hope this is Cowboy day." Now, Bub has an extreme aversion to being embarrassed. I can't think of anyone who enjoys embarrassment, but it really distresses him deeply. When I heard the uncertainty in his statement, I decided he wouldn't be wearing his hat -- a decision which led to an immediate broken heart. He thought I was being incredibly mean to him, and it took some time and several tears before I could convince him I was looking out for his best interests. I reminded him of the embarrassment thing and said the shirt was enough that if it was western day for him, he would look like a cowboy. If it wasn't western day, he would look like a regular kid with a checked shirt on. He finally understood and allowed Gracie to wear his beloved hat instead of him.

Mere moments after our struggle, we were both so relieved I'd stood my ground. We have a covered porch in view of the bus stop, so our house is a haven for huddles of neighbor children waiting to go to school. As we were bustling out the door this morning, they commented on Gracie's western wear. When I asked them if today was western day at school, they were all puzzled and insisted that it wasn't. It was then that Bub and I exchanged glances, and I think he knew (at least for that moment) that I'm not so horrid after all.


Cowkids
(Forgive the bags under their eyes --
they're not morning people either.)



Gracie's depiction of cowgirl responsibilities:
Feeding Cows.

Hot Dog Bush


Check out the Hot Dog Watchdog -- YIKES!

As I laid in bed tonight, I couldn't help but think about my last post. Seriously, probably 20% of the blog visitors who stumble in here do so by using the search term Hamburger Bush. For such a high percentage, I was really concerned that title must be code for something I'm too naïve to understand, so I got up to do a little internet searcharoo. I came up with nothing but my own blog and some links to some not-so-smart comments that President Bush made to the Prime Minister of Hamburg. Nothing grotesque, so I guess I'm okay*.

During my search, though, I stumbled across this game called Hot Dog Bush. For a few minutes I helped Dubya run his little hot dog stand, but then I realized working for fun is no fun at all.


*Please, please let me know if you find information to the contrary. This is a family show, y'all.

Though they're helpful, cerclages are gross.

Tonight I was stalking my stalkers on www.statcounter.com, and found that the two most common searches that lead people here are the title Hamburger Bush (really?) and Transabdominal Cervicoisthmic Cerclage (that which lives in my uterus).

The latter search allowed me to track back to an informative site about the T.A.C., and since I am still often contacted about the procedure I underwent in May to resolve the issue of my incompetent cervix*, I will be sharing this site with others. (The only information I found before my own surgery was a bunch of clinical reports of case studies and a pencil sketch of the abdominal cerclage. Not a great deal of help at all.)

Along with a sampling of gynecological surgeries, this site includes the case study of a woman who had the T.A.C. placed. (Please note that the terms "abortion" and "spontaneous abortion" are interchangeable with the terms "miscarriage" and "preterm delivery." I think the use of the term "abortion" in this context unfairly infers a choice, but that's just my opinion. If it hasn't already been made clear, the terminology of medicine is quite unconcerned with the heart and how it may be pained -- that is, unless it needs medicine.)

The photographs on this site are graphic and absolutely disgusting, but it includes has the best (rather, the only) photo I've ever seen of a T.A.C. being placed. Don't look if you're squeamish. The photographs come from K.J.K. Hospital, which, according to their website, is situated in T.rivandrum, the capital city of Keral.a, in a very quiet and relaxing atmosphere at Nala.nchira, sufficiently away from the heart of the city and 3 miles from the railway station.

If you have cervical incompetency and are considering an abdominal cerclage for yourself, you should know that there is a Yahoo group called Abbyloopers (here) where you can find a database of doctors worldwide who perform the procedure. From what I understand, there aren't many doctors who perform the procedure -- 97 on this compiled list, which I understand to be the only one of its kind -- but many people travel for the opportunity to have a T.A.C. placed.

Additionally in the group, you will find support and answers from many women who've had the procedure done and who have carried to term (or very near) after repeated losses or premature deliveries, some of whom are now carrying their second or third pregnancy. There's a lot of hope to be found after what often is frequent devastation.


*I had a pre-conception (pre-pregnancy) transabdominal cervicoisthmus cerclage placed in May 2007 after I tore through two transvaginal cerclages, one of which was a rescue (Feb. 2002), the other, prophylactic (Feb 2007).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Don't Cheat Me

Saving money requires awareness, a certain savvy, if you will. Here's an article entitled, "6 Ways Stores Trick You Into Spending More." While many of these thoughts are common sense to the frugal shopper, the information is all good and bears repeating.

Northanger Abbey

Yesterday I watched Northanger Abbey from the Masterpiece series that my TiVO so lovingly recorded for me. Was it just me, or did William Beck (the guy who played John Thorpe) totally look like Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords? I swear I thought they were one in the same!

Everytime John Thorpe/William Beck would speak to Catherine, I waited for him to burst into Business Time (see here), internally laughing all the while. I've been all over Yahoo.com and Yahoo.co.uk and I can't find a picture of William Beck anywhere, but here is a picture of Jemaine. Think tophat and speeding buggy and tell me I'm not right.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bumper Dimples: Good Luck Gone

Today I was in a wreck, if I could be ever so bold as to call it that. I'd just dropped Gracie at ballet and was on my way to the store with Bub when I bumped into the car ahead of me. We were on a right-turn yield lane to enter the frontage road. She was stopped, so I was stopped. She began ahead onto the frontage road, so I began ahead while looking left into oncoming traffic to see if I needed to yield. She stomped on her brakes, so I bumped her bumper. Literally, bumped her bumper.

She pulled over, and I followed. She opened her door and stood to scowl at me while furiously texting someone on her phone, and I got out to examine the damage. As I approached her car, I saw nothing, no damage at all. I asked her if she was OK, but that made her only scowl more furiously and text faster. I bent down and dusted off the dirt transfer from my car, and still saw no damage. But then, there it was -- I felt it as I dusted off the dirt. The little bolt from my front licence plate dimpled her bumper. That was it. No cracks, no scratches -- a circular indention and nothing more.

I stood to her furious texting to ask if she wanted to come see the damage, but she still would not reply to my queries and she had the most terrible look on her face that I had ever seen, literally. I know that people make fun of an inappropriate use of the word "literally," but I mean it. This was actually, and without exaggeration or inaccuracy, the worst look I'd ever seen on anyone's face in person. (I saw a movie once where this little girl made the most horrible face over and over again, and was threatened that if someone smacked her on the back while she made the face, it would stick like that. She was smacked and her horrible little face stuck, but this woman's face was far worse. Maybe because she was a grown woman, not a nasty little child.)

When she continued to avoid answering me, and continued with such a nasty scowl, I thought maybe something was terribly wrong with her, like maybe she was having a stroke or something. I asked her again, this time with more force, "Ma'am, are you okay?" My concern seemed to perturb her further. She huffed a bit and puffed a bit and snorted back, "Yes, I'm fine." The scowl never let up. At that point, I realized this dimple on her car was quite possible the worst thing that had ever happened in her life. It took all I had to not sit her down for a lesson in life and to introduce a wee bit of perspective.

I restrained myself and didn't even share one moment of woe, but instead told her all the damage I could see was the little dimple. She insisted there was damage to the sides of her car also, but I reminded her that I bumped the back of her car and got no where near the sides. She said she was calling the police. "That's fine," I said, "or I could just give you my insurance information." She insisted she wanted this whole incident on record. She dialed 911, and I turned to get my insurance verification out of the car. It was then that I realized my car suffered an extensive amount of damage with paint flaking off the entire front bumper. I guess the impact somehow bent my bumper and a good bit of the paint across the front will not be sticking to the car for too long. The whole thing will have to be replaced. (Randi, weren't you commenting Monday on our long run of good car luck? Yeah, well apparently, that's over.)

When the policeman arrived, he looked her car over and then advised her she could (1) just take my insurance information and handle things privately, or (2) he could file a report. Though he's mid sentence, she jumped at that -- "Absolutely, I want a report!" He continued by explaining to her that Texas is a no-fault state, which means any accident report filed by the police goes on driving record of everyone involved in the accident. As she looked blankly at him and again stated that she wanted a report, I asked if she understood that could affect her insurance rates in the future.

"Well, that's fine," she says, "I still want a report. I don't want to get screwed." I explain to her, this time in front of the officer, that I have no intention of screwing her and that I would be willing to get on the phone with my insurance company and admit fault there on the street if she wanted to begin filing the claim right that moment. Nope, she was still insistant upon that report. The officer twice repeated the fact that the accident will go on her record (essentially making her as much at fault as me), but she's stuck to her guns, so he went back to his car to call the accident investigator to the scene.

That guy showed up, looked over the damage, and started again from square one with her. He once again explained the no-fault rule and the fact that her driving record would be blemished if she filed a report. He tried to get her to understand (without telling her what to do) that it would be better to process this privately, but she told him as she'd told everyone else -- that she wanted a police report filed regarding the dimple on her bumper. I then mentioned that both I and the other officer tried to explain it to her before and that I'd already offered to begin the claim with my insurance company there on the side of the road, but she'd not been interested.

Seriously, there was no getting through to her. I can understand her not wanting to take my word for it -- I'm a stranger who dimpled her bumper, so I must be wicked and conniving, and worthy of the very scowliest face and most unusually poor manners a human being can muster up. Beyond that, I guess I could maybe even understand her not wanting to take the advice of the first officer of the law who is sworn to serve and protect her on account of the fact that maybe he just didn't want the paperwork. But I would think by the second officer and third person in less than a half hour to say this is really not the best move for you, I personally would listen. Maybe ask a question or two. But that's just me apparently.

When the officer realized she was so determined, he got out his notepad, wrote down our licence and insurance information, made certain we had no warrants, and essentially sent her on her way. (He suggested she get my insurance information for herself, but I'd given her that between policemen.) She left with a report number and a damaged driving record. As she pulled away, the officer just shook his head and remarked that had we been in either big city just down the road, the police would have laughed at her for even requesting a report for such miniscule damage. I just feel bad because I don't think it connected within her brain that filing that report was not her best move, and will likely be something she'll regret for a long time to come.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

10 things

My friend Amy posted this meme on her blog, and followed it with a general tag. Since I cannot pass up a challenge, be prepared to be enthralled by all the things that bring me joy... or rather, just ten things that make me happy. When you're done reading, you should list your ten things.

1. Having an "A-Ha!" moment when reading some archaic piece of literature. Sometimes I'll read something and wonder what in the world the author is trying to say, but then suddenly, I'll have a moment where it's like I got to peek under the sheet -- all that was hidden is suddenly revealed, all the pieces fall into place, the whole world becomes entirely new. I love those moments.
2. Having one of those "A-Ha" moments when reading the Bible. This actually takes precedence over point one, but it's explained there. So there.
3. Babies -- my own, my friends', those that belong to complete strangers. (I don't like weird posters with babies out of context. Posters à la Anne Geddes, not as in people who post on blogs.)
4. Having someone else do the laundry.
5. Hanging out with Friends
6. Antique Malls
7. Bargains
8. Being Right (So wrong, I know, but I can't help but love it!)
9. When I'm hanging out in the morning in my fuzzy pink robe with unbrushed teeth and uncombed hair, basking in the light of the laptop while becoming current on my blog stalking, and my husband says, "Wow, babe -- you're looking really hot this morning." I love that because (1) he either really loves me just as I am, or (2) he's going blind and will no longer notice (sic, complain about) the piles of laundry that pop up from time to time (sic, constantly).
10. Being a part of something that matters: saying something on this blog that brings someone comfort or makes someone think, supporting someone as they leave behind their addiction, bringing beverages to those who thirst, etcetera, etcetera.

The Spoils of Mediocrity

Another most non-conventional way to keep a budget ever so trim is to go play Bunko with some friends, have a completely average game, and bring home the spoils of mediocrity: a bunch of free toilet paper! (The group I belong to awards the most intermediate player -- equal wins, equal losses -- with a prize like bulk toilet paper or baking mixes. Every player brings a contribution to the prize, and the most average player takes it home. Hooray for mediocrity!)


For those who would say, "What in the world is Bunko," here's a very informative site for explanation. For those who know Bunko, love Bunko, and need to get into a game as in pronto, go here.

On a more personal note, it was so fun to go play last night. I hadn't realized how I'd missed it! I belonged to this particular league of church friends a couple of years ago, but due to conflicts in scheduling, I had to stop playing when we launched Celebrate Recovery. When we stepped down as ministry leaders at the beginning of this year, one of my first non-CR responsibilities was to secure my position as a permanent Bunko player once again, and last night was the season opener.

As for last night, I was the first to arrive and one of the last to leave, gaining an extra 45 minutes on either side of the game. (Sorry, Randi!) My early arrival was on accident -- I met James for the great kid-switch and thought I would be ten, maybe fifteen, minutes early. After helping with some last minute details and sitting down for a chat with the hostess, I asked, "Don't we start at 7:00?" You can imagine my embarrassment when I discovered 7:30 was the time to show up, and 8:00 was the time to start playing. At game's end, I was immersed in conversation, and didn't leave until 9:45 or so. Next month, I'm wearing a watch with a timer.

One of the disadvantages to moving to a further-away town and going to a closer-to-home church is leaving behind people you love. It's so nice to know that once a month, I'll meet many of them and catch up over dice and desserts.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Breaking News: Online Coupons

Since many Americans are resolving to save money in 2008, Yahoo News featured an article today on the top sites for online coupons. It was even in the Personal Finance section, which makes couponing seem very important, very Wall Street. Perhaps we couponers can band together and ring the Market's opening bell. Yeah, right.

Online coupons function in the same way as the ones clipped from newspaper inserts, with a few exceptions:

1.) On the upside, these coupons are found in a convenient format that many Internet-savvy folks prefer -- a check list. (Now, who doesn't love a list?) You choose the coupons that interest you or that meet the needs of your family without having to page through porcelain doll and orthopedic shoe offers. The ones you choose are the only coupons that print, then you clip them and use them at the store like any other.

2.) On the downside, when I've used Internet coupons in the past, a single coupon would print per page along with a full-page color ad. I was unable to get the coupons to print to grey scale or more than one per page, and while it may have been some conspiracy of the product manufacturer, it was more likely my lack of computer skills that kept me in a frequent state of frustration. A 35-cent coupon for "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" became less valuable as it used up a full color ink cartridge on my printer. (If you use Internet coupons and can tell me how to overcome my woes, please share. If you've never used Internet coupons before, please be aware of this potential problem before you click to print. Try one first, then add more.)

Another downside is the fact that some stores limit the number of Internet coupons they will accept. I've seen both Albertsons and Kroger post a sign limiting the number of Internet coupons per transaction, but those limitations come and go. (Apparently there have been some abuses.) Be aware of this, and check around the cash register for a posting before you get down to some serious shopping. If it's not posted, you could (A) ask at customer service, or (b) take your chances. Regardless, do be courteous and clip the coupon out of the full sheet of paper. You laugh, but I've seen people show up with a whole sheet and expect the cashier to deal with it, and that is just not nice.

Have you used Internet coupons and have tips to offer, either good or bad?

A couple of other coupon tips: You can buy large stocks of clipped coupons for very little money on eBay. I guess some people enjoy clipping them but not using them. This is good resource if you'd like to get started on the business of saving, but haven't been buying the Sunday Double Deal in bulk.

Additionally, did you know you can use many Health and Beauty coupons in the trial-sized/travel product section? Unless a coupon specifically states a smallest size or says "Not Valid on Trial Size," the coupon will often work, and many times the coupon will make the product free or very inexpensive. This has been helpful in our home because it allows us to get some trial-products for James' travel without it affecting our budget. (Oh, the airlines and their pesky new regulations!) Wal-Mart has a decent trial-size section, but I've found more coupon friendly products at Target. Happy couponing!

S'more Fun


Friday night, we made indoor s'mores. That may not be a big deal to many, but to my kids, it was a deal indeed. We're not particularly outdoorsy people, so Gracie and Bub had never made s'mores before. It is because we're not particluarly outdoorsy people that we opted for indoor s'mores as opposed to in-the-bitter-cold-huddled-together-over-a-smoky-campfire s'mores, as many prefer. (Now, if only I could figure out how to make a telescoping marshmallow roasting stick so I could roast from the comfort of the couch...)

In addition to the whole not being outdoorsy thing, our household mantra is "Don't put things in the fireplace!" When that changed to an encouragement of putting metal sticks and marshmallows in the fireplace, the children were beside themselves with glee. They were so excited, they were actually nice to one another (but only long enough for a photo op).



Oh the GLEE!



Bub made more s'mores than anyone could eat
so he could have an excuse to keep putting things in the fire.
Should I be afraid?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Welcome Home, Old Friend


After a week at the cyber spa, my laptop has come home again and I could not be more pleased. It's amazing how quickly one gets spoiled when all homework and blog stalking is done among the deep cushions of a comfy couch. To be relegated to the bill-laden computer armoire with its harder-than-hard straight-backed wooden chair is more than torture. That alone has made me completely unmotivated to consider completing any homework at all this week. (Well, maybe not only that. Sheer laziness and an in-born drive to procrastination could be factors, as well.) Regardless, the computer came home again, completely repaired without costing me anything. Hallelujah!

On Wednesday, Compaq sent an e-mail saying it was on its way, but it missed its flight at FedEx. It was delivered a day late (on Friday instead of Thursday, as originally planned), and by then, James was certain it had been lost forever. (He can be quite the pessimist.) When it was delivered, it would not power on, which is why it was sent out in the first place. James did some [insert computer-nerd jargon along with a bit of nonsensical mumbo jumbo here] when he came home from work, and voilà -- I'm comfortably reconnected to those who are connected.

By the way, my couch says hello.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's up, you Cheapo?

I'm sure it's evident that my last couple of posts have been about frugality. Perhaps I should explain.

There have been times through the course of my life that a frugal lifestyle was the only option besides absolute destitution. Well, death -- I guess that could have been a third option.

Since destitution and death aren't the best of options, I have learned over time how to save a buck or to legally stretch it into six or seven bucks. Many of those days were in my youth while living with a single mom on a worker's compensation stipend and paying bills with money earned at my after-school job. We saved up to go to the dollar movie, and that's all that needs to be said about that.

When I got married, I thought those days were behind me, but they were not. At first they were, but then we had kids (two in diapers) and I left my job. Things were slightly more snug financially, but still fine -- until 9/11. James was in radio selling advertising when the world went nuts. If you remember, businesses began failing, the economy went a little crazy, and people weren't buying radio spots as they once were. Because of my past, I was able to stretch our budget to such a degree that we continued to (mostly) live in the manner to which we had become accustomed. During that time, a couple of resources (in addition to the Internet) became invaluable to me:

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn: I have the three book set, but there's a "complete" version that's just as good, and cheaper. Mrs. Dacyczyn is like the terrorist bomber of frugality. There are some extreme ideas in here, but it's chock full of money-saving tips like you cannot even imagine.

Miserly Moms and Frugal Families by Jonni McCoy: McCoy shares her own venture into frugality and some excellent tips. What I liked best about these books is that they're full of resources to other people's work. She'll explain a matter, and then connect you to five or six other resources. Good stuff.

(Both of these resources can be purchased inexpensively online at eBay or Amazon. I think the library also offers Jonni McCoy's books if you wanted to check them out before buying them for yourself.)

As the economy and our finances improved, continuing with a frugal lifestyle became more of a game. Just how many things/groceries/whatever could I get with this set dollar amount? We moved to the Metroplex, and it just intensified, what with the coupon sale at Albertsons and all. (I did The Grocery Game for a time, but when I went shopping to find everything always sold out to other players, I went on my own way once again.)

Over the last year or so, though, I have become incredibly lax. James has been a physician recruiter now for nearly three years, and in that time, our income has grown tremendously. But instead of being responsible and generous with the surplus (as suggested in Luke 12:48), I developed this sense of entitlement. Blowing through money was payback for all the work I had done to make every $50 seem like $150. My frugal ways went to the wayside: I would shop with coupons only from time to time, I would reuse and repurpose things only occasionally, I began to eat out way more than I ever have before. To be totally honest, 2007 was the year of wasted money, and a good bit (maybe like 88%) of that was my fault.

"Bring on the excuses," you say?

Well, there was that whole dead-baby grief thing, and that hardly being able to get out of bed and breathe in and out for a good long while thing. There was the whole "I eat for comfort" thing, and it's much easier to eat for comfort when it's not you cooking it -- thank you, Taco Bell. In addition to that, I was a full-time student with a very full course load. In addition to that, James began travelling a lot, and I decided it was cheaper (i.e., accommodating to my laziness) to split a restaurant meal with the kids. All of that, and I am embarrassed -- nay, ashamed -- to admit how much we spent in 2007 on food costs alone. It's disgusting.

Already we've discussed it and resolved to improve for the New Year. I've been cooking at home as often as I once did, and now that it's becoming habit again, I'm really enjoying it. But things could continue to improve, and should. Here's why:

This morning, after the kids were on the bus bound for school, I got back into bed to watch Beth Moore on Life Today. After her time, an advertisement began about an outreach that James and Betty Robison coordinate through their ministry, Life Outreach International.

It's called Mission: Water for Life, and is a ministry where fresh water wells are placed throughout Africa to provide clean drinking water for up to 1000 people. I don't remember what the specific stats were, but I remember being stunned by the number of babies and children they said died every year from water-borne illnesses. It was heartbreaking to watch a couple of little kids no older than my two drinking water too dirty for my kids to even stomp around in. Additionally, I know how devastating losing my own babies has been over these last many months, but the circumstances were totally beyond my control -- a fact that brings comfort from time to time. I cannot imagine losing Bub or Gracie because all I can give them to drink is more like mud than water.

I watched the advertisement and jumped out of bed to tell James I wanted to contribute. "To what?" he asked, as he did his part and packed leftovers for his lunch. I rattled off all the details and waited for him to get as pumped up as I was. And he did, kindof, but then he made me responsible for making more giving work with the budget for 2008.

Honestly, I was a little irritated that he didn't just throw caution to the wind and commit every last cent of our disposable income to this cause. But he didn't, and that's fine. The thing is, he's ok with me generating the money (through garage sales or something), or finding it (by cutting back elsewhere), or whatever. The more I considered that through the progressing day, I couldn't have agreed with his approach more.

$144 dollars will help provide fresh, clean drinking water for 30 people for a lifetime, which is nearly what I saved by using coupons this week. I should say that I don't buy so many groceries every week, so I won't have that kind of savings every week. And what I save may not have been money that I would have actually spent in a week. (For example, I got six total containers of free peanut butter this week, and though I saved $6 by using coupons, I wouldn't have necessarily spent that this week at all. Particularly not on peanut butter, as we already had a jar or two in the pantry.)

Regardless, My personal 2008 giving goal is this: through coupon savings and general practices of frugality, I would like to generate $100 per month* to contribute to this cause. That's $1200, and 1/4 of a well. That's like 250 people who can kick back in the sweltering African heat with a cool glass of agua -- who can drink up, and you know, not die.


"From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded;
and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked."
Luke 12:48



(* That may not sound like a lot, but bear in mind, I'm an at-home mom and full-time student. I don't generate an income. I merely manipulate an income.)

Another Blogger and the Master Muffin Mix

I've been reading after this other Blogger tonight. She started a thread called The Grocery Cart Challenge to bounce around some ideas as she implements frugal ideas in her day to day life. She is a woman after my own heart!

I found this recipe link from a friend of hers buried back in her blog, and wanted to share it here. It's a master muffin mix, and looks really good and easy to make. If you want to have something inexpensive and easy on hand for those busy mornings, you should absolutely make this stuff. Also, it's a great mix to have on hand for produce sales or markdowns. Blueberries on clearance at Kroger? You've got yourself breakfast for three days.

On Shopping with The Queen of Payne

I love to shop with coupons. I come by it naturally. Daddy, many years ago, would drag us children to the Warehouse Market with his stack of clippings and make us hunt for things on sale. It embarrassed me enormously, and I would do little but roll my eyes when he would recap the entire experience in the car while he perused the receipt. "Look at this, they PAID me to take this," he would say, gloating in his frugality. (This was still during the time that coupons were manually entered and not adjusted by a computer to prevent exceeding product value.)

I am now my father. My children use the words "sale" and "savings" and "bargain" all in the correct context. They improved their scissor skills while simultaneously saving money on peanut butter.

I absolutely love going to the store and leaving with a basket or two full of items for $25 or less. I swear, it's happened, and my friend Amy will vouch for me. A couple of years ago, Albertsons began offering triple-value coupon sales once a month. They would triple every coupon up to 75 cents (which means a $2.25 reduction per coupon per item), and double coupons valued at $1.00. Amy and I would prepare in our own homes, clipping and organizing our coupons in labeled binders. Then we would meet at the store to tag team on the bargains. Those excursions afforded both of us the financial opportunity to do more with our family, while at the same time, bless others in their times of need. Since then, several Albertsons stores have been permenantly closed, and the triple-value coupon sale ceases to be, but there are still deals to be had now and again.

Today's post is dedicated to my friend Amy, and our many shopping trips together. This week, I stocked both my freezer and my pantry, and though I spent $140, I saved $116 -- about 46% of my grocery bill! And yesterday afternoon, I remembered my dad when Albertons nearly paid me to take home some Peter Pan Creamy Peanut Butter and the clerk was stumped by the fact that my purchase was to me completely free.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ringing

Since the school bus arrived at 3:15, my doorbell hasn't stopped ringing. Bub has a little neighbor friend who seems to like me as much as she likes him. I'm upstairs trying to get some work done while simultaneously blog lurking, and she has rung the bell ask for fruit snacks, to show me some pennies she found, and to tell me how her dad misused her toothbrush once. A few minutes ago, she rang the bell with this complaint:

"Um, Mom -- Your son just told me he was in love with me."

"Well, that's OK, isn't it?" I asked, "You guys are friends." Despite my reassurance, she seemed genuinely upset. What in the world should I do? I wanted to make her understand that though you're seven now and a little boy saying he's in love with you makes you feel weird, you'll feel equally weird in a few years when he doesn't say it. I wanted to point out that he wasn't waiting for an acceptance to a marriage proposal -- he was trying to pop wheelies on his scooter, so no harm done. I wanted to praise him for communicating his emotions.

What I ended up doing is telling her he loves her because she's his friend, and that's ok. I told him it was good of him to tell her how he feels, but saying that he was "in love" with her made her feel uncomfortable, so maybe not say it again soon. I swear, there should be a handbook for this child rearing business.

Undercover Hippo

James and I used to watch Alias. Everytime Jennifer Garner would karate kick some bad guy in the throat, I would think how cool it would be to be an Undercover Agent. As of today, Jennifer Garner has been dethroned by an undercover encounter of a different sort.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Being Met

As I mentioned before, the current series at church is called "The House of Blues." I'm being met, just as I asked to be. There's so much going on in my heart right now, that I'm confident I can't quite put it into words, yet. Soon. In the meantime, know that God is faithful.


"Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak.
Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
I am sick at heart.
How long, O Lord, until you restore me?
Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
Save me because of your unfailing love."
Psalm 6:2-4

"So let us come boldly
to the throne of our gracious God.
There we will receive his mercy,
and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."
Hebrews 4:16

"I will restore David's house that has fallen to pieces.
I'll repair the holes in the roof,
replace the broken windows, fix it up like new."
Amos 9:11 MSG



The precious blood of Jesus Christ redeems,
Forgiven I'm alive, restored set free.
Your Majesty resides inside of me,
Forever I believe, forever I believe.

Arrested by your truth and righteousness,
Your grace has overwhelmed my brokenness.
Convicted by your spirit, led by your word,
Your love will never fail, your love will never fail.

To know you gave the world
Your only son for us
To know your name
To live within the Savior's love
And He took my place
Knowing He'd be crucified
And You loved, You loved
For people undeserving!

-- Hillsong, To Know Your Name

Join the Club

I found this blogger today. She hates the laundry, which makes me love her deeply. Plus, she has a tendency to be humorous, so read up.

In the spirit of Our Gang and the He-man Woman Hater's Club, I'm forming a club of my own. Henceforth, it shall be known that I am the founder and a proud member of the She-Woman Laundry Hater's Club.

Thank you.
Thank you all so much.

On Being a Building

When we moved to the Metroplex a few years ago, we four lived in a little apartment for two years. We lived there so long partly because we didn't know Frisco from Flower Mound from the back of our hand, and partly because as we approached the end of our first year and a lease renewal, a job transfer opportunity became available that would have sent us to Atlanta. After pondering and praying until we felt peace in declining that opportunity, there was no longer enough time to find a house, buy a house, give notice to the apartment complex, and move, all before the lease renewal deadline and the imposition of very lofty penalties. And there you have a second year.

From the middle of the first year in the apartment, we'd been casually looking at model homes in various neighborhoods throughout the Metroplex and had a favorite floor plan with a highly regarded local builder. Midway through that second year, we began discussing in earnest buying a house. We had our bearings, we knew we were settled in the area, and we both felt it was time to put down some roots. Not long after, we found out we were expecting, so we really knew it was time. (James briefly pondered how to turn the apartment dining room into a baby nursery, but when I reminded him that we were contractually limited to no more than four people in that particular dwelling, he was ready to move forward. See, it wasn't about necessary space for James -- it was about contractual obligations.)

Though we had the time constraint of an impending birth, we had been house hunting sort of half-heartedly when James flew to visit with a client in Minneapolis. I couldn't sleep while he was gone, so late into the night, I browsed around Real.tor.com. I found a listing for a house that I wanted to see, but we had no buyer's agent officially. Plus, it was three in the morning. I couldn't see anything or call anyone about anything, and I was pretty frustrated.

The next morning, I was up very early to call the listing agent. The house, it turned out, was in foreclosure. At that time, the home market was pretty good and was more of a seller's market, but for some reason, this house had been for sale for something like 177 days with no offers. The price had just been reduced, the house was in a great neighborhood, it was just the right size -- everything seemed perfect. I called a church friend who was a realtor, telling her that I was not signing a contract today, but that I need to get into this house. She met me that day, no strings attached.

When I saw the house, it was indeed the perfect size, a nice layout, and in a great neighborhood. There were some obvious problems -- it was very dirty, all the flooring needed to be replaced immediately, and the entire interior of the house needed to be repainted. All of the issues were cosmetic, much of which we could do ourselves, so I called James (who was still in Minneapolis) to urge him to let me put an offer on the house. I promised him I could do all the work myself, despite the fact that I was fourteen weeks along in a high-risk pregnancy. Fortunately, James is wise and not as impulsive as I am, so he insisted that we wait to submit anything until he returned from Minneapolis the next day. From Minneapolis, though, he secured our financing and hired our friend to represent us, and the next afternoon, we toured the house again.

James is more of a left-brained guy -- "Just the facts, ma'am" -- whereas, I am more right-brained, having to describe every little detail in as detailed a way as detailed could possibly be. (Which you've probably guessed because I've not even made my point here yet, not even close.) Because of his left-brainedness, I was very worried that all James would see would be the time and cost involved with a renovation instead of all of the amazing potential this house had to offer. I was worried he wouldn't see the assets for all the faults. But, to my great surprise, for once in our lives together, James could see things just as I described them. He saw the perfect layout, the great price, the awesome location, the fact that all of the changes were cosmetic, and he didn't once complain or comment that I was crazy. He agreed with me (gasp!), and told the agent to submit the paperwork. Fortunately, our agent is wise and not as impulsive as we are, so she insisted that we wait to submit anything until we pray specifically for this house and this opportunity.

And so we did. In the middle of that empty living room, we took hands and asked God to open wide the doors of opportunity associated with his will, and to close doors to opportunities that weren't in line with his will. Our realtor friend prayed for some specific things that stemmed from her years of home-selling experience, which was invaluable, and something we continue to appreciate. I prayed earnestly with her, trusting that God cared about where we lived and how we committed our resources, but inside I thought, "How could this not be God's will? It's such a great deal!"

We submitted our offer and went home again, confident we would be hearing good news very soon. The next day, the realtor called to say that on that 178th day of listing, on the day we prayed and trusted God to hear us, on the day we submitted our offer, two other offers came in and the bank opted to take one of the others. (We fell in the middle of the three, though we had submitted a full asking-price offer.) Door closed.

That next week was full of viewings in four towns, but no matter what we saw, we kept thinking about the one that got away and about the floor plan that we loved that was built by the builder of high regard. The next weekend, we toured our favorite model home again and our realtor talked to the property agent about inventory homes. The market was still so good that even the inventory homes were still under construction with several months before completion. But we didn't have "several months" of time according to a builder's calendar. We had an ending lease and a baby on the way.

We knew about months in builder-speak. When we lived in Oklahoma, we had several friends who built homes and not one of them was completed on schedule. One home that should have taken six months to complete was still only at the foundation five months after ground breaking. All told, it took around a year to build the house from start to finish. (Permit issues and whatnot.) Every single build we witnessed was wrought with struggle and anguish, disappointment and frustration. We wanted no part of that, so we continued to look.

A couple of days later, again on Real.tor.com, a house popped up that had not been there before. It was the floor plan of the model home we loved! It was two years old and cost several thousand dollars less than an inventory home or a new one we would put under contract. The first owners had to move to Houston and needed to unload their property in the Metroplex, hence the really good deal. The very next day, we came to tour it and found it clean, already painted, and with great flooring already in place. It was move-in ready and available for to purchase with a short contract term. Door previously unseen flung wide open.

We've lived here now for ten months. From time to time in those ten months, we've toured the parts of the neighborhood still under construction. We watched the inventory homes we considered come to completion and some new ones begin. When Zachary died and our lives changed so dramatically, we sort of forgot about the fact there was building still going on. (We live at the front of the neighborhood, and all of the new construction was going up in the back.) That is, until a couple of weeks ago.

For the last two-and-a-half years (the whole time we looked, plus the time we've lived here), there has been a big empty space along the main entry road into the neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, though, we saw a band of workers decend on the fields to begin clearing the land. Within a couple of days of their appearance, plumbing was laid, foundations were poured, and walls began to be erected. What was two weeks ago a field where our son mastered his bike, a neighborhood now comes to completion.

The street where we exit our part of the neighborhood goes between houses at various stages of completion. The houses to the left are just going up. Sheetrock still to be slung, windows still to be hung, framing and roofing to be completed. The parcels are plenteous with laborers, and the on-going job is evident even to the untrained eye.

To the right of the road, the houses are standing with Tyvek on the walls, sheetrock installed, doors and windows in place, and shingles on the roof. They look complete, save for the missing masonry. To look at them, though, they appear to be ignored. They certainly don't get as much attention as the houses not quite standing. It seems like nothing is going on with the building. Oh, but it is.

Deep inside the building, behind closed doors, that which is most important is happening. The detail work is underway. Bolts and nuts are being tightened. Organizational systems are being installed. Walls are being painted, surfaces scrubbed. This part of the process is slow, the labor requires skill, but without this tedious portion, the entire building would be nothing but a useless, empty structure -- an eyesore, a fire hazard, a haven for vandals. The house in this stage is being readied and transformed into its most beautiful and useful condition. As a result of this detail work, the building is being brought to it's full potential, completely fulfilling the plans the builder had in mind.

As I've watched these houses going up,
I've thought alot about my own spiritual transformation.

So often I feel frustrated because I should be complete. I look complete, save for the missing masonry. From one day to the next, it looks like very little in me has changed -- today's issue is the same as yesterday's issue, maybe only slightly improved. The structure is standing. Why am I not more useful? Why has no one moved in?

But I am like the houses on the right -- I'm in the process of the detail work. Though it may look like or feel like I'm being ignored, though it may be hard to see anything changing, the Master Builder is deep inside this building tightening all the bolts and nuts, organizing, beautifying, and cleaning up real good. Like the house, I am being readied and transformed into my most beautiful and useful condition. As a result of this detail work, I am like the building, being brought to my full potential, and as I yield to this laborious process, hopefully I will completely fulfill the plans the Builder had in mind.


"For we are God's fellow workers;
you are God's field, God's building."
I Corinthians 3:9

"I will show you what he is like
who comes to me and hears my words
and puts them into practice.
He is like a man building a house,
who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.
When a flood came, the torrent struck that house
but could not shake it,
because it was well built."
Luke 6:47-48

"The day for building your walls will come,
the day for extending your boundaries."
Micah 7:11

"Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain..."
Psalm 127:1a NIV

In which I will be getting my head above water.

The time has come to breathe again. The season of the inhale, that's what this is. I made my prevention decision on Saturday, and today I offered my large stock of cloth diapers to my eco-conscious cousin. Though there is little in this physical world that I would love more than a successful pregnancy, I actually feel relieved to have the option removed for a time.

I have a lot to learn.

Friday, January 11, 2008

So, How's it going?

I believe I'm done sorting through the baby things, and I'm still alive. Shocker, I know, but it's true. There were a couple of moments of heavy tears, but once the intense sorting got underway, it was quite liberating to process through all of the stuff.

These things have been such a integral part of my journey. With the progression of each pregnancy, I would add a little more and a little more, with the absolute climax being the day when we discovered Zachary was a boy and not a girl. (That was the day my friend Jenny blessed us with about 1/10 of the inventory of Babies R'Us. I exaggerate, but only slightly.) I cannot even count the number of people to whom I have said, "But we have all this stuff. We don't need a single thing to bring a baby home." Having all the stuff just intensified the injustice of it all.

But now I've gone through the stuff, and somehow, by going through it all, it no longer has power over me. I no longer feel the guilt of not having a baby to make use of everything. At this point, it's no more than just a big bunch of baby clutter. Quite honestly, the majority of what I've been storing is nothing more than a pastel-colored pile of laundry, and we all know how I feel about that. I'm really glad to have it sorted, and to at least have the "what goes where" organized in my mind.

On an interesting note, when I sorted the very last bin -- "Baby Boy Clothes, 0-6 mo." -- I noticed that I had taken everything neatly out of the closet and packed it away neat and flat and still on hangers. Firstly, I do not remember doing that. I have tried and tried to recall the day that I packed that bin, but I cannot. Secondly, WHY would I pack everything still on hangers? I know I had just freshly prepared everything, but still -- did I think someone would call and inform me that it had all been a really bad joke, to go ahead and hang everything back up?

It's amazing what sort of peculiar things one does while flailing about in the middle of a black hole of despair.

I finished sorting last night, and this morning, I called my doctor for a prescription of birth control pills. I'm thinking it's time to begin taking them -- at least for a season. I have seven days to think about it before the pharmacy mafia starts calling with the threats of "Pick up your prescription or else." Here's what I'm thinking about:

With regards to taking birth control, having a span of time to just recover and clear my mind would be helpful to my overall functioning on the Earth. It would be nice to not live in two week increments, at least for this moment. (Whether actively trying to get pregnant or not, we've been on this path for so long that it is impossible for me not to count days. Zachary was, after all, the result of me losing track. You lose alot of valuable, irreplacable time when your mind is overwhelmed by the 2ww.) I would like to plan a summer vacation. I would like to begin considering fall classes. I would like to make any plan without the thought of "But, what if I get pregnant?"

I know already even before taking it that birth control would only be a short-term option. I know I would not take it for years and years -- I am not that disciplined or that interested. What I'm thinking right now is that I would take it for as long as I need to finish what I'm working on educationally. I've been frustrated by the fact that my family feels complete when I'm just now at that age many people are before they start their families, but it really dawned on me last night that I'm just now at an age where many people start. It is not unreasonable that I could take a lengthy break from even having the option of conceiving, finish up with school, and then, in a couple of years, reproductively jump in again with both feet. I don't know why it took me until then to see it, but for some reason last night, my glass-half-empty suddenly flipped over.

I have seven days to think about this decision, or longer if I choose, but I think birth control is a likely option for me. Opportunities come and go. Plans change, like it or not. I am intimately familiar with that fact. But for the right here, right now, I actually feel a slight sense of relief for maybe, possibly, having a plan and the ability to move forward in it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Quiet

I can generally fight with strangers. I can stand up for what's right and true without quibbling. James laughs at how many free meals or watch repairs I've gotten in my life because if something's not right, I'm not too shy to speak up. But if have a disagreement with someone I love and trust, I generally get really, really quiet. I'm prone to giving the silent treatment, not out of malice, but out of necessary contemplation. When trust is on the line, it takes me a long time to think through a response and to draw myself back to the surface for a reply. Needless to say, arguments around here can take a really long time.

I've been very quiet lately not because of any argument with a person, but rather that continuing internal argument with why things are the way they are. This journey is one of ebbs and flows. I feel like I begin to make real progress, but life, as it is, comes with setbacks.

This week, I've been handling all of the baby things -- as in, the material things. We have so much baby stuff, and the time has come to let it all go. It's hard to truly move forward when you trip over a stroller every time you go to the freezer for some chicken. Already, I've given some away, thrown some out, and have plans for what is left.

What's insane is this stuff is just that -- stuff. This stuff is not my baby. Even more notable is the fact that this stuff was never worn or used by my baby. I remind myself of that, of the lack of a direct connection to baby, but still find myself burying my face the Dreft-scented pile of receiving blankets, remembering how excited I was and how deeply blessed I felt when I bought them, and washed them, and readied them for baby to come home.

I think the sadness in this process is less about the loss of the baby, and more about the loss of the plans and the dreams. I think it's about the fact that I'm at an age where some people are just beginning their families, and mine is complete without my consent.

The children are up and down with all the things strewn about the house. Overall, Bub seems to be fine emotionally, but wanted to know just how many babies all that stuff was for. "Just for Zachary," I said, but then reminded him that all the bins of pink things were there because the doctor told us our son was a daughter for a good many weeks filled with shopping. Bub was then so in tune to little boy things. He saw a commercial with two brothers and spent the evening making comments about what his little brother may have said to him.

Gracie, on the other hand, is not handling it as well. She's enjoying having all of the furniture and equipment out for her "babies" to use, but seeing all of the stuff again is bringing back the questions and the comments and the general neediness she exhibited with death was new. She insisted on reading books to me that had been packed away, such as "I'm a Big Sister" and "What to Expect when Mommy's Having a Baby." She needed all kinds of reassurances that I would let her hold/feed/rock our baby "if we ever got to have one". She's been extra whiny, and has needed lots of extra cuddle time and physical comfort. (That's actually better for me, because meeting her emotional needs in a physical way prevents me from quieting my own emotional turmoil with handfuls of chocolate.)

It's sad enough that I get this lesson, but it's so heartbreaking that they get it too. I guess I get why I have to do without, but I don't understand why they have to when having a baby is clearly so important to them. I mean, really, if I think about it, I get why they do without also -- perhaps it's better to learn early that things don't always turn out as they seem. It's just that their struggle in learning to do without makes this whole situation even that much more unfair.

Gracie and Bub, April 2007 --
both hoping she gets a baby kick in the face




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