The other Baby J.

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In all my writings, somehow, I neglected to ever share about my Other Baby J. I am nowhere near his birthday or any sort of milestone; it’s just on my heart tonight to write about my youngest… so I shall. And yes, it’s long.

Baby J #2 was highly anticipated. Brother J was getting older and all of a sudden, I had this sudden urge for a newborn! While my dear husband was a little more reluctant, he finally agreed. We found out #3 was on the way Labor Day weekend, 2014.

I kept the news hidden from my family for awhile. Literally the week before I took the test, my mother had told me I had my plate full with two and should maybe consider not having a third. Little did she know… So, I was a little apprehensive of sharing the good news with them! Thankfully, they took it really well and were super excited for us.

As per usual, I was horrendously sick. The nausea was uncontrollable and I would hit the sack every evening feeling like I was floating on a ship – my world tipping and turning and unable to get the sea of my bed to calm down and just hold still for a moment! Brian spent countless nights on the couch since his every movement simply increased the nausea.

Within the first six weeks, I began to bleed. I immediately called my OB and they scheduled me for an appointment that afternoon. I called my mom and she dropped everything to come over for the day. I put my feet up and drank gallons of water while she chased the children and did my laundry. Finally, the time for our ultrasound came. My mom let me cry on her shoulder before Brian and I left; I was just certain we would return with the news of ‘no heartbeat.’

I remember lying on that hard bed, staring at the ultrasound monitor while the sweet tech talked our ears off. She explained every ounce of what we were looking at and what it all meant – something brand new for us. In Peru, we had lots of great ultrasounds, but for most of them, the techs were dead silent or gave us minimal information, whether because of the language barrier or cultural differences, I really do not know. But, this time – it was such exquisite bliss to understand what was on the screen. Then – finally – the blessed “blip-blip” of his little heart. I cried. She handed me tissues and rejoiced with us. I will forever remember this sweet ultrasound tech who was so loving in how she handled us! Baby was just fine, but I was to keep my feet up for a few more weeks.

During my “keep my feet up” stage, I got the usual massive blood work-up done and found out that my thyroid, which has forever plagued me, had gone way out of whack. I was informed by a specialist that my level was supposed to be between a 2-5 and I was at a 12. The higher the number, the less the thyroid is functioning. My friends with thyroid issues told me the highest they had ever gotten was a 7 and they were immobile. My 12 quickly helped me understand why I had zero desire to get off the couch and watched my two children run laps around the house while I dozed all. day. long. I was horribly sick. A year after I gave birth, I was still getting it under control. Not cool.

Shortly before Christmas, I took my mother with me to the BIG ultrasound – the one where we found out what we were having! I took my mom because she had never gotten to go to an ultrasound for any of the grandkids yet and I thought she might enjoy it. Brian wasn’t offended and was totally on board with it. It was a special moment and I’m so glad my mom was there. Afterwards, we ran to Target and I picked out a cute little onesie to surprise the rest of the family with the gender when I got home. So fun!

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We called him Peanut. I was shocked it was another boy – for some reason I had convinced myself it was a girl. But, God knows what each family needs and He knew we needed another crazy boy.

December also meant sickness for me. I was so sick with a nasty cough and congestion that seemed to go on forever! I couldn’t get over how sick I was! Once that finally ended, I had such horrid ligament pain I could barely walk. I kid you not, this entire pregnancy was one issue after another.

But, my little peanut was just fine. Healthy. And HUGE!

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I still had a month to go in this picture. I felt like a TANK by the time I was done. I hibernated the last few weeks and barely left the house, I was so embarrassed. That probably sounds dumb, but I was criticized so badly about my size during my previous two pregnancies, I just couldn’t do it again. This time, I was hearing it from people that mattered the most – family – and, emotionally, I was not stable enough to listen to criticism. There was nothing I could do about it; he just kept growing! But WOA. I was big.

My doctor was amazing. She never got any medical history from me. I was never able to get my records from Peru. So, she was going off of only what I could remember from my past pregnancies and trying to piece together what probably happened medically. Even with the info I gave her, she was still willing to let me try a VBAC! I was floored and SO excited! And horribly nervous. It felt like I was giving birth for the first time, which, in essence, I was. I had never had a real contraction, my water had never broken, I had never done any pre-labor anything! I had no CLUE what would happen.

She warned me I’d probably go past my due date and she was right. I did. Longest five days of my LIFE! Older Brother arrived the day I turned 37 weeks. E came during my 38th week. To go PAST 40 seemed inconceivable! I have been lied to! Pregnancy is SO NOT “9 months” like we have always been told. If you know, like I do, from Week #3 that you’re pregnant, pregnancy is ALL of 10 months. Trust me.

My neighbor had given birth to 4 children, all naturally, and so she had lots of ideas and tips. The day before baby arrived, she yanked me out of my house and made me walk. We began early in the morning and walked almost 2 miles while she wrangled my older children. After nap time, we did it again. The kids went home with Brian and she invited me over and fed me a huge, nutritional shake and gave me a pedicure. Then, around 7:30pm, she made me walk again. I was so sore I could barely move! But, before I left for that last walk, contractions had finally begun. By the time I got home, I knew this was the real deal.

We put a movie on and I puttered around, trying to relax and get some stuff ready. We texted my dad and put him on alert since the plan was for him to come watch the kids if something happened overnight. Around 11, Brian told me to go ahead and call the doctor. Of course, they asked me to come in. Arg. I had no desire to go in at midnight! But, we did what we were told – we knew no better or different. My dad showed up in record time and fairly pushed us out the door. We laughed in the car, talking about how my dad acted like the baby would just drop out with no warning at any second!

They did a full examine at the hospital, but I just had a gut feeling I was going to be sent home. When the on-call doctor found out I had two previous c-sections, but my OB was letting me try for a VBAC, he about flipped his lid. There was no way, on his watch, that I was going to do a VBAC if he could prevent it. He was obviously adamantly opposed. They did an ultrasound since baby was so late and decided he was doing fine, but needed to come soon. I was to have my final appointment at 7am in the regular office and that was to be when my OB would decide what happened next. We had just always assumed I wouldn’t need that appointment! I also knew, in the back of my mind, that she was on vacation, but assumed she had found a replacement for that particular appointment since it was kind of important. They discharged us at 5am (so. tired.) and told us to be sure to get to that appointment at 7.The doctor insinuated that I may need to wait until Wednesday to have a c-section when my regular doctor got home from my vacation. I lost it mentally, thinking about having those contractions all the way until Wednesday!! NO WAY!

We went home and crashed. My dad had no idea we ever came in and he left the house at 6:30 when my mom showed up since had had to be somewhere by 7. My mom was shocked when we came out of the bedroom, showered and ready for my appointment! We explained what had happened and she noticed my contractions were much harder and longer and told me she hoped the next time she saw me would be with a baby! I agreed! No way did I want to come home again – I wanted it over! At this point I knew I had never had a ‘real’ contraction with E. These were miles upon miles different than anything I had ever experienced before!

We went back to the office. It was closed. What?! I used the bathroom like twice. Paced. Held onto a chair in the lobby and tried not to cry while the contractions intensified. Waited. Finally, around 7:20, doors were unlocked and we went in. The receptionist informed us that my appointment had been canceled and none of the doctors in that day had any room for another patient. I was in tears. I held onto the counter and asked them to wait a second while I had another contraction, then demanded they help me figure out what to do since we had just spent all night in the hospital, I had a standing appointment that no one had told me was canceled, and I was in active labor! A nurse standing there said, “Go back to the hospital. They’ll keep you this time, I promise. Good luck.”

By the time we got back, it was shift-change time. A sweet night nurse we had seen the previous night encouraged me in the hallway to be an advocate for myself. She gave me tips on what to ask for and how in order to ensure a natural delivery and no c-section. Unfortunately, she was then done for the day and I never saw her again!

They did keep me. And strapped me to the bed, covered in monitors. I begged to be allowed to walk around and was met with a resounding ‘no.’ I was too high-risk with him being late and my previous sections. I was frustrated, but honestly, I was so sore from walking the day before and SO TIRED from being up all night that when a contraction hit while I was standing, the pain was so intense down my legs that they buckled and couldn’t hold me. Brian was amazing and helped me breathe through every contraction, letting me hold his arm and staring me in the face. He kept me going as they got more and more intense.

The day doctor was nicer, but still not a big fan of the idea of a VBAC. I was barely dilated and not effaced. However, my contractions were three minutes apart and strong enough that I should have been nearing delivery. But I wasn’t. It was as if my body began labor and then went, “What the?! You want me to do WHAT?! NO WAY! You’re on your own!”

My body never did prepare itself for delivery. Thanks to previous sections, there was nothing they could do without risk of rupture and we were not okay with that. By 1pm, it was obvious that even though my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and super intense, nothing else was going to happen. When he told me, “We’re going to go ahead and prep you for a c-section,” and then left, I lost it. I sobbed and sobbed. I could not control it. One sweet nurse came over and comforted me, letting me cry and listening to my reasonings behind why I was so scared.

The last thing in the world I wanted was another c-section. No epidural had gone well. Surgery scared the heck out of me. Recovery sucks. I couldn’t hold my baby. And I would be apart from Brian. No thank you.

This time was blessedly different. God is such a good Father, isn’t He?

He gave me an amazing anesthesiologist and a wonderful assistant who was SO comforting the whole time.

In this hospital, I didn’t get an epidural; I was given a spinal, which makes you completely numb from mid-chest down. I turned into a Pentecostal while they did the procedure, muttering out loud, “Oh Lord Jesus, help me. Oh Father God, please hold me. I do not have a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind” over and over and over until a nurse finally leaned in and whispered, “Are you okay?”

As soon as my back began to grow cold, they slammed my giant, pregnant body down as fast as they could move onto the tiny, cold, metal bed. I didn’t know I could be moved that fast! The spinal was great, except I had worked myself up into almost a panic-attack and couldn’t breathe. They continued to ‘up’ my meds until I was super loopy the whole time and I still complained I couldn’t breathe, even though they assured us that I was just fine.

Brian was brought in and sat by my head. Two minutes later, James Lee entered this world kicking and screaming!

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With the other two, I was allowed to “look, but don’t touch” as my hands were strapped down and they whisked the babies away moments after birth. This time, they opened up my robe and plopped him right on my chest moments after he was born. They let me hold him, but I was shaking so bad I thought I’d drop him, so someone supported him and someone else held the paper over my head since the lights were too bright for us. I got to kiss him and snuggle him and get skin-to-skin time right there in the operating room. I could’ve held him a lot longer if I hadn’t felt so horrid and miserable. Brian held him while they finished me up and then we all were taken to recovery.

My two days of recovery in the hospital were glorious. I felt awesome. I had wonderful visitors, my pain was manageable, I got rest, and I got to hold my boy as often as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

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Best of all, my parents got to see and hold one of my newborns. It was a moment I will never, ever forget seeing my dad cry tears of joy as he held his namesake (“Lee” is my dad’s middle name).

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And that, my friends, is how we became a family of 5. 

I can’t imagine life without our little stinker. He is LOUD, busy (began walking at 9 months!), and full of crazy energy. Sweet, smart, and musical. I love my 2nd little Baby J.

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7 months

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1 year

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1 1/2

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Christmas Day, 2016

Fresh Start. Again.

It’s a quiet start to 2017 on this frontier. Just me, my laptop on a nice little breakfast tray in bed, “A Year in the Life” of Gilmore Girls, my pj’s… and my thoughts.

I ended 2016 doing something that, for me, was hard and looked impossible. I was discouraged before I began, yet beyond surprised with the results. In fact, the results were so good, it’s inspired me to do something that looks intimidating and impossible this year just to see how it turns out!

What did I do? I lost weight.

With no back story, that statement is no big deal. If I went into the entire ugly ordeal, one might better understand why this is so huge for me. To summarize: since I was 19, I’ve had an awful thyroid, to the point where I actually had doctors tell me, “You won’t ever lose weight again. Just deal with it.” Two international moves and three kids later, I had convinced myself they were correct. I have watched the scale teeter but ultimately stay put for more than 10 years.

In September, I was depressed and annoyed with my metabolism. I vented to my sister and she told me about a book she thought I should read. I read it. It changed my life. Three months later, I’m down nearly 20 pounds and a crazy amount of inches that I wish I had documented!

I did what I thought was impossible. I lost weight. I look in the mirror and smile for the first time in about 12 years. I asked my daughter to take my picture this morning and – get this – I did not delete it! I’m telling you, if I can do this, I can now do anything.

It feels as if I’ve jumped a giant hurdle. It’s been inspiring. I was so adamantly opposed to dieting and I dreaded the idea of “healthy eating” because that has always equaled “vegetables,” “ew,” and way too much math. But, it’s not been like that – at all. It got me thinking: if that wasn’t so bad, maybe some of the other things that I’ve been wanting, needing, to do won’t be so bad either.

The biggest on my list has to do with my writing.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. Just this week, I pulled out the first book I ever wrote. I was 11. I wrote a mystery, in near-perfect cursive, in a pink, spiral-bound notebook, complete with an illustrated cover, a table of contents, and little pictures on the chapter headings. I even did a dedication and an “about the author” at the end. So embarrassing! Yet, my 6 year old adores it!

I would really like to do more than just blog and hang onto a “book” from my childhood. I write for our missions magazine, but that’s really about it. I have projects in my mind and unfinished works on my hard drive. I have an underlined, circled, and dog-eared copy of the Christian Writer’s Guide on my end table. And I have done nothing with any of it.

I’m terrified of rejection. Writing is so much a part of me, I get nauseous thinking of someone tearing my heart apart and analyzing it from their own point of view, which might differ from mine, not understanding my POV or writing style and slashing hours of work to pieces. It sounds more appalling than exhilarating! So, I stall. I don’t write. I make excuses and find other things to do with my time, all the while knowing that this is something God has asked me to do and I need to do it.

In February, I do something super hard for me. I get on a plane, alone, and fly to Houston for a one-day conference with Beth Moore specifically on writing, teaching, and speaking as a ministry. I get sick on planes. I miss my family. I’ve never been to Houston. Totally, completely, and utterly out of my comfort zone. I am sick to my stomach thinking about this trip, yet every time I re-read the description of the event, I float because I remember I got in. I’m going.

My immediate “hard things” of 2017, then, are: finishing losing this horrid weight and find the “me” that’s been literally buried for almost 15 years, fly to Houston and attend a crazy huge conference on my own, and begin writing more diligently and actually sending manuscripts off to… somebody.

I enter 2017 hopeful yet filled with total fear and trepidation. I know what God has asked of me in previous years and once again, I feel like I’m standing on a precipice. He’s pushing me towards the edge and I know that very soon, I’m going to be asked to leap, not knowing if I’m jumping to the other side or to a ledge I haven’t even seen yet. For now, I prep. And wait.

Celebrating Easter.

Growing up, Easter was a big deal in our house. It wasn’t because of the baskets, candy, dyed eggs, or Easter egg hunts, though. It was simply because my parents made a big deal about what happened that first Easter morning long ago. Christ arose! And that fact alone was cause enough for us to celebrate.

We would anxiously await Easter morning – my sister’s and my new dresses hanging up in the front of our closet, new shoes at the ready by the door, Easter hat hanging by my bed. We’d dress while it was still dark outside, shivering in the spring chill that would invade our Vermont home. The house would be dark and quiet; normally my father was already at church before we awoke. Each of us would receive one chocolate bunny that would be sitting on top of the TV stand, waiting for our return from church that afternoon.

Once we were dressed in our new Easter best … and then bundled up into winter coats (it was Vermont in the spring after all), we’d head off to church. In the chilly, still morning, we’d huddle with a small crowd out behind our church, overlooking beautiful mountains, the sun barely peeping its head out – and we’d sing, “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!”

The (short) sunrise service would end and we’d hurry inside, throwing the blankets aside once we hit the warmth of the church building. The church ladies would hastily set out the Easter breakfast – the special “Jesus” Easter breads, cinnamon rolls, dyed hard-boiled eggs, sausages, maple syrup (again, it was Vermont!), and fruit. We children would have free reign of the church building, helping ourselves to as much Easter food as we could stomach, enjoying every minute we had together as friends.

Sunday School would be full of laughter and fun as we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord. And then we’d be off to “big church.” I was a trumpet player when I was younger and my favorite Easter involved hiding in the balcony above the congregation with my trumpet teacher. When the chorus began, “Up from the grave He arose!”, we jumped up and joined in with our trumpets! I’m pretty sure the older crowd thought the rapture was finally happening!

After a glorious morning celebrating the resurrection, we’d head home, exhausted and starving. Mom would have a beautiful Easter meal ready – one year in particular we enjoyed lamb! – and then we’d crash.

No baskets. No egg hunts. No Easter bunny pictures. Yet, perfectly satisfied.

Now, I have children of my own and my husband and I are racking our brains trying to figure out how to “be in the world, but not of it.” We want to celebrate this holiday that truly is the pinnacle of our faith and the very reason we have a faith at all. But, we also understand that our children are heavily influenced by the world and the culture of today. So, do you neglect everything the world has to offer and solely focus on Christ? Or do you embrace the world and, in the process, get distracted from the purpose of this weekend? How do you balance? Can you balance?

My husband comes from a background of no religion. His family thrives on Easter bunnies and Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets and Easter candy… So, we know they will call Sunday with the questions for my daughter of, “Did you meet the Easter bunny? What’d he bring you in your basket?” This is mixed with my side of the family who will look at us like we’re insane if we let them hunt eggs or receive a basket. Balance seems like a pipe dream right now.

We are far from perfect and we have a long ways to go before we “perfect” our Easter family traditions. But, in our attempts to make Jesus central, yet live successfully in this world, here are some strategies we have come up with. They will be tailored as time goes on, I’m sure. I know better, more creative ideas are out there, but you’re reading a post from someone so creatively-challenged that glue and scissors is the extent of my arts ‘n’ crafts supplies. But, for what it’s worth, here are our Easter activities:

  • We begin talking about Easter weeks in advance. We don’t save the Easter story until the week of; we begin in advance with stories before bed from Jesus’ life and conversations throughout the day of what Jesus did for them.
  • In the evenings before bed, I read from their children’s Bible the stories beginning at Palm Sunday and ending with the ascension. I try to do this daily during Holy Week, with an emphasis on a different part of the story each day.
  • I have a few crafts we’re doing this year. We did one just now that involved making three crosses and putting them on a hill. Tomorrow, I’m going to do this one which is making a sunrise with food coloring and a coffee filter. I’d also like to try this one this weekend, if we have time – an egg that opens up to a cross.
  • Last year, I made resurrection rolls with E for the first time. It’s so simple, yet such a vivid, tactile activity to help them get a glimpse of what happened over Easter. We’re going to do that after lunch this afternoon, this year with baby brother.
  • We’re prioritizing church services – making it a lifestyle, not an extracurricular. Thursday evening was a worship/communion service at church and we found a sitter so both of us could go, but the children knew where we were going and we talked about it with them when we got home.
  • Sunday morning is the sunrise service and even if the kids are still in pj’s when we go, we’re going! We’re making it a priority for the entire family. Yes, they will be exhausted, hungry, and grumpy by the time church is over around noon, but it’ll be worth it to instill in them the importance of this holiday.
  • After naps on Sunday, we’re going to have an egg hunt, but just for a few specific eggs that will help tell the Easter story. This blog has a good plan for making this happen. After they find the eggs, we will gather them together and have them open the eggs and pull the item out so we can go through the Easter story with them. I might skip the last egg; that’ll depend on what my husband thinks we should do. I’m okay with the last egg being empty being the “big surprise” of Easter, but we’ll see what he thinks.
  • Sunday evening is our family meal with my parents who live close by.

I firmly believe the extraneous things the world has added to Easter are completely unnecessary. What God did for us so many years ago is sufficient for a giant celebration, year-round! We have hope for the future, a reason for living, and a Savior Who loves us. What more could you ask for? Seriously, how does a giant, creepy bunny with colored hard-boiled eggs even begin to compare with eternal life and completely forgiveness? Let’s change the next generation’s expectations of Easter. They certainly don’t need a reason to accumulate more “stuff”. Let’s teach them the true meaning and get them excited about Jesus! For without Him, Easter wouldn’t exist anyway.

Packing.

We just got back from a short trip and I’m already unpacked with just two loads of laundry to do – phew! I talk with a lot of people and many have asked how we do the packing and traveling frequently with young children. Here is our little “how to” on especially packing for a family of four for a trip of any length:

  • The first thing I do is make a list. A lengthy list. I detail everything out, even sometimes down to the outfits each person (except my husband – if he can’t pick out his own clothes by now we have a problem) will be wearing. My mom freaks out because I don’t normally pack until the night before, but the list really does center my thoughts and helps it go that much faster.
  • I find out what the weather will be like wherever we’re going during the time we’ll be gone (including if there are any stops along the way). This helps us make more informed decisions when it comes to clothing and outdoor gear.
  • I try to use the smallest bags possible for each of us. We have learned the hard way that large suitcases may feel more convenient, when you’re in a hotel or a small room in someone’s house, a large suitcase or two takes up precious room for much needier items – like a pack ‘n’ play and a mattress for E. So, we use carry-on sizes as much as possible.
  • If we’re going to be gone for a week or more, I find out about laundry facilities and only bring 3-4 changes of clothes for each of us. Yes, we repeat outfits. But, it’s easier to do laundry a few times than to try to pick out and pack a week’s (or more) worth of clothing. The most I will ever bring is six days of clothes – this normally will get us through travel to SD and a day there before needing to do wash. But, as a general rule, I try to stick to 3-4 days of clothing per person.
  • I pack in outfits, especially for the children. Each day has its own outfit, every item packed together. I’ve seen some put them in plastic baggies and that’s not a bad idea for when they’re a bit bigger and will dress themselves. This avoids the morning meltdown of my 3 year old picking out her own clothes, it helps us move faster when we’re getting ready, and it helps my husband not worry about “picking out the wrong thing” if he gets one of them dressed for me.
  • We invested in a good backpack with 3 zippered pockets years ago and it’s still working well. All of our shampoos, toothbrushes, deodorants, hair stuff, etc, goes on this bag. One pocket for toothbrushes/paste, etc, one pocket for medicines, and one for shampoos, body wash, etc. Everything is together; it can just sit in the hotel bathroom if need be; and it’s a backpack – if something breaks or spills, it’s easily washed out.
  • The kids get one extra outfit in the suitcase and one extra in the diaper bag. Baby J currently gets two extra outfits in the suitcase and extra jammies.
  • We take an extra bag that is specifically for dirty clothes. This helps the laundry issue when we get home. I just have to open and dump – I don’t have to wash everything that’s left over in the suitcases and I don’t have to wonder if something is dirty or not. And.. nothing else gets.. “contaminated.”
  • I also keep extra plastic bags in the car and in the diaper bag in case of emergencies (which was a lifesaver when the kids were newborns and they had unexpected blowouts in rest areas!!).
  • If we are staying a night or two in a hotel, I pack a backpack that is solely for the hotels. I take out just the clothes we need for the night and the day(s) we’ll be traveling and then cosmetics. We normally only need to bring in a diaper bag, two backpacks, and a pack ‘n’ play. This saves room in the cramped hotel rooms and allows us to just have to make one trip from the car to the room. It’s so much more convenient, I can’t even describe how much I prefer this method to the “Oh, we’ll just take everything in – it’s only one night” method we used to use!
  • Before leaving, I make sure the house is clean. I wash the bedding, do all the dishes, clean out the fridge, make sure all the laundry is done and put away. I will even clean the bathrooms, vacuum, and dust. I make sure there’s food in the freezer for our return. I love being able to walk into the house, set our bags down, and go right to bed if need be. I passionately hate walking into a messy home with rotten food in the fridge after a long trip. Worst thing on earth.

The key to a good, stress-free trip is all in the planning and packing. With a good list and a good plan of action, you will be able to actually enjoy your trip instead of just worrying about the packing details.

2014.

New Year’s Day is always a contemplative day for me, as I’m sure it is for most of the world. I wanted to fill out like a survey about 2013, but I couldn’t find one that I liked, so I’m just going to jot down some reflections on my own.

  • This year was not as eventful as I thought it would be. When we got back to PA from our month-long stint in SD in late January, we moved into our home here at the missionary housing property… and never moved again. Nope, not how I even remotely thought it would work out!
  • I was offered the children’s ministry director position… over and over and over again… until I said ‘yes.’ It has not been what I thought it would be and certainly has its ups and downs. But, over all, I’m glad I accepted.
  • My year has pretty much been consumed with the kids’ ministry since then. Looking back over the year, those are the events that, besides my family, stand out to me most. Writing and directing the summer program, trainings in August, start-up of the fall programs, organizing and leading the Fall Party, writing and rewriting lessons, filling in all over the place in different classes and programs, finding new volunteers and teachers…
  • Balance. Seriously, will I ever not struggle with that concept? It was the same struggle in Peru, yet manifested completely differently. Here, it’s the balance of three very different, very distinct ministries, two small children, my husband, and my home. Throw in friends and other relationships, alone time, and “hobbies” and my schedule is overloaded. Some things have been dropped (I never play the piano anymore and my scrapbook materials have collected layers of dust over the years) and some are neglected (coffee with friends? What is that again?) and some are needing a reboot this year (date nights with my man and workouts!). I would love for someone to just step in and show me the manual for how to balance your life because I still feel lost.
  • The kids grew up this year. Obviously. In all seriousness, though, this stage in their lives – 3 and 1 – is so full of changes. I look at how they were this time last year and it’s no wonder they nap a lot, eat like crazy, and have incredible mood swings. Their little bodies are changing faster than I can comprehend. We started this year with two kids in diapers, one nursing, one only speaking Spanish, and neither having ever lived in the States before. We have ended this year with a 100% potty trained little girl and a walking, jabbering, happily teething little boy. They have both finally lived through four seasons in America, been to the doctor, learned English, and are successfully sleeping in their own rooms (this was a big feat for us, trust me). E started the year with barely enough hair for pigtails and ended it with hair halfway down her back (but so curly you would never know that). She is hilarious, rebellious, strong-willed, independent, curious, and creative. Baby J started the year as a newborn and ended it as a fearless, daredevil of a boy – who is the cuddliest, cutest, sweetest little guy you will ever meet.
  • Brian and I ended the year on a high note. We had two very rocky years, just with stress and ministry and the strain of life overseas. But, isn’t it amazing what stability and relatively little stress do for a marriage? We are constantly growing and learning about each other, even eight and a half years in, and I am okay with that. He’s my best friend and that was exemplified again this year. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to do things that I probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been backing me the entire time.
  • I’ve learned a lot this year about forgiveness and moving on. I have learned how to drive and cook in America again. I have forced myself to do things completely alone – something I haven’t had to do in about five years – and it scared me to tears, but I did it! And I survived. I have grown in my faith. I have seen God supply for us over and over this year. I have felt His love and mercy and grace in tangible ways like never before.

As missionaries, we enter each year not having a single clue how it will end or where we will be when it ends. We fully plan on being here in PA this entire year, but when you’re following the Lord, you really have no idea what could happen. Which is part of the adventure! Our life has yet to be boring.

On the agenda, at the moment, for the year:

  • Representing BCM at one university and one church during the winter.
  • Teacher training in NJ in March
  • Brian leading two to three vision trips, two weeks each, to different countries
  • Revamping the children’s ministry in a couple of different ways
  • Annual trip to SD
  • Trip to VT and probably WI at some point

Quiet year! So far. 🙂

God is so good to us. We don’t deserve another day, much less a whole new year. Let’s not waste our time in 2014. The task at hand is simple: There’s a lost world out there who needs the Lord. We have that hope. Hold it up like a beacon, live for the Lord, and don’t waver from it. It’s the only thing that truly matters.

happy new year!

Merry & Bright.

In our home, we do not do “Elf on the Shelf.” I had never even heard of it before we lived in PA. Now, it’s all over Pinterest and almost everyone we know does it to some degree or another. I, however, am not going to do it in our home. I just have a problem with using Christmas and whether or not Santa will bring you presents as a way to bribe our children into being good. And then the whole deal of having your Elf be “naughty” or “mischievous” and yet, your kids are supposed to act like angels or Santa won’t bring them gifts? Doesn’t that seem a little backwards?! Besides, it’s one month out of the year. You’d think for it to be effective, you’d use the Elf year-round because doesn’t Santa watch you the entire year, not just December? Yeah. I am so opposed to the Elf idea. I want my children to be good because Jesus wants them to be good – not because some creepy Elf is going to tattle on them to Santa. I want them to be good year-round, not just in December. And I want Christmas to be about giving to others – not being super good so they can get loaded up with gifts. So, the Elf is not welcome in our home. *End of Rant.*

The things we are doing are the following:

  • “You’ve Been Socked” : We took a 99 cent stocking and filled it with goodies.

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I found the note from this blog on Pinterest, printed it off, and stapled it to the stocking. Brian was to deliver it this morning. We’ll see how it goes!

  • We are doing Advent this year with the children. Now, I am not creative – mainly because I can’t afford to be creative! I simply can’t afford lots of art supplies and I don’t have the time to get all crafty. So, instead, what we’re doing is that every night, Brian reads the portion of Scripture for Advent and then E gets to put a small Christmas ball on the tree with a name of Jesus written on it. We bought a couple boxes of inexpensive Christmas balls and I wrote on them with a simple Sharpie. The balls are numbered and in a vase on our dining room table. This also serves as a countdown to Christmas since, obviously, there will be fewer and fewer until Christmas Day. At the end of this post, I’ll include our list of Scripture with the corresponding name of Jesus that I chose.
  • E and I are making a variety of Christmas cookies, this week and next, all to give away. This week, the cookies go to our church for their annual Living Christmas Village and next week, they will go to each missionary currently living here at the property. The idea is that she will learn to give things away – we don’t always keep everything we make.
I got real industrious this year and made Peruvian "alfajores" - a vanilla-type cookie with dulce de leche filling. Turned out amazing and were surprisingly easy to do!

I got real industrious this year and made Peruvian “alfajores” – a vanilla-type cookie with dulce de leche filling. Turned out amazing and were surprisingly easy to do!

  • Then, the week before Christmas, E and I will go through her toys, books, and clothes and fill up some boxes and bags with items to give away. We have been noticing that there quite a few toys the kids simply don’t ever use. We’d like to clear their rooms out before they get new items and hopefully, it will teach E a little more about generosity.

The idea is that we do something together each week – our “project of the week” – before Christmas. They are things that will normally take more than a day to accomplish and will help to teach her that Christmas is about giving and showing love to others. She loved making chocolate covered pretzels yesterday and we already whipped up a batch of sugar cookie dough this morning that will get rolled and cut out in another hour or so.

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Hopefully, some of these things will become traditions. It’s fun to think that in a few years, they will be things she asks to do and looks forward to doing! Every family needs to make their own traditions, I think, and we’re looking forward to beginning ours with our kids.

Here’s the Advent Verse List with corresponding Names of God:

  1. Dec. 1: 1 John 1:1-5, Alpha & Omega
  2. Dec. 2: Isaiah 9:2-7, The Word
  3. Dec. 3: Isaiah 11:1-10, Lion of Judah
  4. Dec. 4: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Ancient of Days
  5. Dec. 5: Luke 1:5-10, High Priest
  6. Dec. 6: Luke 1:11-17, Savior
  7. Dec. 7: Luke 1:18-25, Yahweh
  8. Dec. 8: Luke 1:26-38, Son of God
  9. Dec. 9: Matthew 1:18-21, Light of the World
  10. Dec. 10: Matthew 1:22-26, Wonderful Counselor
  11. Dec. 11: Luke 1:39-45, Great Physician
  12. Dec. 12: Luke 1:46-56, Mighty God
  13. Dec. 13: Luke 2:1-5, King of Kings
  14. Dec. 14: Luke 2:6-7, Everlasting Father
  15. Dec. 15: Luke 2:8-12, Messiah
  16. Dec. 16: Luke 2:13-14, Lord of Glory
  17. Dec. 17: Luke 2:15-18, Good Shepherd
  18. Dec. 18: Luke 2:19-20, Redeemer
  19. Dec. 19: Micah 5:2-5, Prince of Peace
  20. Dec. 20: Matthew 2:1-2, Jehovah
  21. Dec. 21: Matthew 2:3-6, Rock of Ages
  22. Dec. 22: Matthew 2:7-8, I Am
  23. Dec. 23: Matthew 2:9-12, Lamb of God
  24. Dec. 24: John 1:14, Immanuel
Hanging up one of the first Advent balls.

Hanging up one of the first Advent balls.

Baby J’s Story.

So, apparently, it takes me just about a full year to process the births of each of my children. Baby J’s birth was much easier than E’s, but still, it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done. He turns one in less than a week (has time really gone that fast?) and so, in keeping with what I did with E two years ago, I thought I would write out his birth story. Although why I choose to do so at 10:30pm on a Thursday, I’m not really sure. Probably because the house is quiet and it seems… fitting.

30+ weeks

30+ weeks

My pregnancy with Baby J. was a lot easier than with E. Namely: no shingles at the end! No, but seriously, it went so much smoother. Of course, I also knew what to expect and my body was a little more used to this pregnancy thing. However, I did have serious pain right on my incision scar from E’s c-section. Many times, I was unable to get up or change position without severe pain.

I had wanted a VBAC so badly after my traumatic experience with E. I was not looking forward to any of the delivery process, especially the epidural and the recovery. With E, I could feel where they placed the epidural for the c-section for three months and it took me more than six to be able to move around with serious pain from the surgery. I was dreading all of that again.

My doctor was, at first, very positive about the possibility of a VBAC. She didn’t think I’d have to worry about it. And then, I had my 7 month check-up in July. And she thought my little girl I had been told I was expecting was actually:

twins1Twins! yup. Twins. There was absolutely no reason for us to think that he was NOT twins. We spent that night in complete shock, calling our families and informing our friends in Peru. Saturday, we shopped at a rare yardsale and purchased additional clothing for a baby boy since we had been planning on a baby girl this whole time and now, we were expecting one of each. Monday, we arrived an hour early to a 4-D ultrasound place (we were ANXIOUS!!) only to be informed by the doctor with the worst bedside manner on earth that no, we weren’t expecting twins, or even a little girl. We were expecting ONE little BOY.

I was devastated. Even as I write this, tears are in my eyes and I can’t get over the emotion of feeling like I lost a child… even though there was never a second child there to lose. I have no clue why God allowed this mess-up to happen, but happen it did. Thankfully, that “mess-up” gave us a baby boy, of which I’m incredibly thankful for.

But anyway —

When my doctor thought I was expecting twins, there was no choice but another c-section and I agreed. After the heartache of finding out there was just one after all, I didn’t have the energy to argue anymore and just went along with another c-section. I tried to convince her, but really, at that point, I just wanted the baby born. I didn’t particularly care HOW he arrived; I just wanted the process over with.

We used a better clinic than with E. From the moment you walk in, you know you’re in a nice place. It’s quiet. Clean. Organized. Polite. Modern. Ahhhh…. it was so peaceful!! Especially in comparison to the chaos of last time!! The day of the planned c-section, we arrived around 11am after dropping E off with a trusted friend and her family. I was a bundle of (very hungry) nerves and it felt completely surreal to be writing the name of the baby on the chart they would be placing on his bassinet in just a few short hours.

It was so nice to be escorted through the building and reassured of where we were going and why and what would be happening next (none of which happened last time). We were brought to a prep room, which had its own TV and restroom and was private. The prep was much more relaxed than E’s emergency two years before and the staff was much more polite and professional.

My surgery was to begin by 1pm, but my doctor ran late. Very late. It was after 1 before the anesthesiologist even showed up! But, he was so reassuring about the epidural process — I was so grateful for him.

When it finally (!!!!) came time, I was wheeled downstairs with the firm assurance that Brian would be following and that we would find our personal affects safely in our room when it was all over. I was brought right to the O.R., which was surprisingly clean and modern and even comfortable. E’s operating room was sterile, large, bright, and scary!! The epidural took probably close to half an hour to get in (at least it felt that long – could’ve been shorter) because apparently my back is “strange” and they had to go in and then sideways to get it in right. Can we all say, “Uh, ahhh!” I did not enjoy that process and, I found out later, I almost broke my doctor’s hand in the process. She had promised to hold my hand during the process since she knew I was terrified. But, I guess I literally almost broke her fingers, so she made me hold onto the bed and she disappeared for awhile to get feeling back in her fingers. Woops. Probably should’ve taken into account that she’s like 5’2″ with heels on…

Brian, meanwhile, was getting into his scrub gear and wandering lost in the hallway until someone finally grabbed the “handsome gringo” (my doctor’s description) so they could begin the surgery. He was in the room less than five minutes and they began. He was so nervous, his fingers kept slipping and taking accidental pictures, like this one (which happens to be one of my favorites from the day):

DSC00718Candid, yes. Beautiful? Absolutely.

When they got close to pulling out baby J, they had Brian come to the other side of the room. He was told, “Hurry! Just don’t trip on anything!” From what I’ve been told and seen on movies, in the States, when you get a c-section done, there’s a curtain that goes up rather high right in front of your face. You can’t like accidentally see over it and the spouse doesn’t normally move from his spot by your head. Not in Peru! The curtain was barely high enough to cover MY face, much less Brian’s, who was sitting. When he was brought to the other side of the table, he saw it all. He saw the entire process of getting J out of my tummy, including the little stinker moving further up inside of me whenever they’d get close because he didn’t like the light and didn’t want to come out! Again, Brian’s nervous finger went trigger happy and we got some funny, candid shots of the room (which I won’t scare you with, don’t worry).

Finally, out he came:

DSC00723I had forgotten to warn Brian that he may not cry right away. woops. Oh well, he learned.

DSC00730They even let me put on my glasses so I could see him!

Moments later, Brian took my glasses and followed the baby and the pediatrician out of the room. The entire room took the time to say, “Congratulations!” and then, they let me sleep. Ah, merciful sleep. Last time, I was awake for the entire hour plus they took to sew me up and it was miserable. This time, I woke up to, “You ready for recovery? You’ll see your baby soon, let’s go.”

Recovery took me something like three hours because my body temperature would not regulate. I just remember being bored out of my MIND and freezing, freezing cold regardless of the heater and layers of blankets. I bugged every nurse within ear shot, “Can I go yet? I feel fine! Can I go NOW? I feel GREAT!” haha!

Finally, I was brought up to my room. I was greeted by an anxious, happy hubby who had been asked to get out my own toothbrush, hairbrush, and clothes. The nurses were happy, cheerful, and talkative as they let me get dressed, brush my teeth, wash my face, and brush my hair. I felt somewhat human within 20 minutes! And then… they wheeled him in and put him in my arms. Por fin.

 

 

 

DSC00734He was so tiny in comparison to E. My handsome Joseph Christopher was a mere 6lbs, 8oz, 19″. My little blonde peanut.

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Recovery went much smoother with him. It was different since Brian couldn’t be with me at night – he went home each evening to be with E, so I had three nights in a strange clinic all alone. But, the staff was awesome, taking Baby J for me when I needed them to, helping me nurse, and getting me medicine as needed.

My doctor had a different policy: you were not allowed to get out of bed for a solid 24hrs after arriving in your room. So, that meant I was in bed from when they began prep at noon Thursday until 7pm Friday evening. However, they took my catheter out at 7am Friday. I’ll let you do the math on that one. Not cool. And then somehow, there was a mix-up, so even though I was supposed to have at least broth for lunch Friday, I had no food until late Friday afternoon, which actually meant I hadn’t eaten since Wednesday evening at 6:30. Or had anything to drink. ahhhh….

The only real issue I had with pain was that I had an allergic reaction to whatever pain meds they tried getting me onto after the epidural. In Peru, many believe that Tylenol is a very strong pain killer, so when I asked what I could take for pain, I was told one Tylenol, once a day. Idiot me, I followed that. I would be in so much pain by evening, I couldn’t do anything except sit in bed and cry. Which also hurt, come to think of it. I couldn’t move, I could barely walk because lifting my legs hurt, I couldn’t stand or sit because changing position hurt, and don’t even talk to me about nursing! It was miserable until a friend Stateside told me it was safe to up that dose! phew. I still didn’t take too much, so I still had more pain than probably necessary.

Unlike E, J took to nursing quite well. We had some latching issues, but with a good pediatrician, that was fixed within the first week and a week later, everything was great.

It took me quite awhile to get used to the fact that we had a BOY. He was different from E right from the beginning and we love every bit of it. He is all boy and just… wonderful. We are so blessed.

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Now, he turns one on the 27th! He walks four steps at a time by himself. He loves music and his big sister. He’s strong and tough – nothing makes him cry! He’s got the most beautiful smile and little blonde curls on the back of his head. He has killer blue eyes and has the sweetest, friendliest personality. He’s not one that’s prone to crying or fits; he’s pretty laid-back and relaxed. Except when it comes to food. He’s all business when it comes to food and wants ONLY table food, preferably whatever is on everybody’s plate but his! He’s started giving kisses – on your mouth, with his mouth wide open, eight teeth bared and all! He waves, especially when he’s excited. He growls when he’s trying to be funny, or when he’s not getting food fast enough! He squeals when he sees animals, especially dogs and cats, and is strong enough to basically fling himself out of your arms if he wants down to pet them! He’s a speed-crawler who crawls through the house with all manner of bags and purses wrapped around his arms – he thinks it’s hilarious. He’s my big, handsome boy and I love him to absolute pieces!

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Happy Birthday, little man! We love you!!

Next time, I’ll have to write about my sweepea, who turns 3 on the 29th! 

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Life These Days.

Life is C.R.A.Z.Y. busy these days and yet… so great. I have a bunch of different responsibilities – to which my multi-colored white board calendar can attest to! Keeping them all straight is a job in and of itself most of the time. And then, there’s kids on top of it! I’m forever scrounging the internet in my free time to find productive activities for E. that do not include the television. Here are some of the things we have been doing:

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Tea Party on the porch!

 

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Big ball – fun indoors and out!

Dropping colored vinegar onto a pan filled with baking soda to watch it fizzle

Dropping colored vinegar onto a pan filled with baking soda to watch it fizzle

BUBBLES!

BUBBLES!

We have definitely learned that if all else fails, break out the bubbles! For some reason, these have provided seemingly endless entertainment.

I tried my hand this past week at making our own playdoughfinally! A friend in Peru always made it for us and she raved about how simple it was. I knew she was probably right, I just never had the time to try it on my own. Elena’s now old enough to play with it and not just smoosh it and/or eat it, so now is a great time to give it a shot! It really WAS super easy and I love how pliable it is and that it truly is non-toxic which is super important with Baby J. crawling around and cramming everything into his mouth. All I needed was flour, salt, cream of tartar (which, by the way, is ridiculously expensive! Quite thankful my mom had some on hand!), water, food coloring, and oil. Less than ten minutes later, Elena was having fun “cooking” with her blue playdough.

 

This week, I found the idea of sidewalk “goo.” I’m going to give it a shot: sidewalk chalk, cornstarch, and water. Voila – washable goo (supposedly!). Can’t be that hard, right?? I think it’ll be fun. Best part? Found sidewalk chalk for 97 cents and someone gave us cornstarch awhile ago. Score!

One big issue lately has been the heat outside. Covering E. in sunscreen and force-feeding her liquids every few minutes works just fine, but Baby J. is whiter than I am (hard to believe, I know) and just too little to be outside in the heat for too long. So, it’s been tough finding activities that are outside, productive, keeps them both occupied, and doesn’t involve sitting in the heat. Our favorite activity is the kiddie pool. Baby J. will just sit and kick for HOURS! E. loves to water the grass with the hose and to play in the sprinkler, even though the water out of the hose is ice cold. Brian lets her drink out of the hose and she prefers that over a sippy. It keeps her hydrated; we’re not going to complain.

Activity books are a blast, but she has to have me coaching her through them every step of the way. I found a sticker book for this week where she has to put the right faces on the animal picture. We’ll see if that lasts more than five minutes. We also discovered that she’s just barely big enough for a few games on the Wii Toy Story game. That knocks out…. oh, a good 15 minutes

On the list of things to do this week:

::Sidewalk goo

::Obstacle course through the house around all her animals

::Playdough with cookie cutters and cooking utensils

::Bubbles

::Pool with buckets

::Sticker activity book

::Coloring

::New Veggietales DVD

::Wii “Toy Story” game

I have a pretty busy week with check-outs and check-ins here at the missionary housing (pretty much something happening each day of the week here!). I am preparing for my last summer children’s program in a local park, which means I should probably write my last lesson for the summer! There’s a Day Camp going on here at the property and I’ve been asked to be there for counseling purposes starting on Wednesday. I’ll be doing that again the first week of August. I have a meeting on Friday and I have to prep for two giant meetings in mid-August. Brian is going to the Brooklyn Tabernacle with a group on Tuesday so I’ll be home alone with the kids until basically Wednesday morning! And I have to write our mission board’s weekly prayer newsletter by Thursday. Finding activities E. can do on her own is so crucial!!

So, how do you keep your kids entertained, especially when it’s too hot or rainy outside? What kinds of young preschool activities do you do with your kids? 

Being mom.

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My oldest is at the fun age of almost 3, but not quite there yet. She is a beautiful, funny, smart (!!!) little girl – who has a very serious issue with anger. I have no idea if this is normal for her age or if this is a personality thing. It’s so interesting watching her grow, though, and seeing her getting closer to understanding her need for a Savior. I’ve taught kids for a long time and so you could never convince me that children are born perfect. Now that I have my own, I know for a fact that is not true! Everyone is born a sinner. Everyone needs a Savior.

A few weeks ago, E. threw a giant, over-the-top temper tantrum at bedtime. Brian and I were tag-teaming it, trying to get her to calm down. Brian finally came out of her room, completely exhausted, and said, “It’s your turn. I can’t go back in there.” A few minutes later, I went into her room and somehow managed to get her to calm down. I held her, whispered to her, and rocked her. I got her to start breathing calmly and then I asked her what happened. She got off my lap, looked at me and then, in a very loud, angry voice, told me all she had done. She started to shake and she kept repeating, “I was bad! So bad! I was naughty! I can’t stop! I can’t stop!” I held her and shushed her, all the while explaining that yes, she was naughty, and that it makes Mommy, Daddy, and Jesus very sad when she acts that way. We prayed and she asked Jesus to forgive her. And then we started over.

It struck me that even at this extraordinarily tender age, she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was bad and – more importantly – that it was out of her control to stop. And it scared her. I hope I never forget that look in her eye – that look of sheer hopelessness. She wanted me to fix it, but I can’t fix it either! Only Jesus can! Oh, that she comes to that realization soon!

We’ve been noticing lately that she’s just been plain mean to her baby brother. She’s out-of-control jealous and it just keeps escalating. She normally refuses to obey me; it’s like talking to a wall. Earlier this week, I sat her down and asked her straight-up, “Why are you so mad??” She looked at me and said, “I don’t like Joe-Joe.” I asked her why and she said, “He’s with Mommy.” My heart sank. I felt like such a failure as a mom. Baby J. is miles easier than E. these days and I had most definitely put him ahead of her more often than is correct. I have spent the rest of this week focusing much more on her, in lieu of some of my other responsibilities. Today, I took baby J. to Grandma’s and E. and I went shopping, just the two of us, all morning. She was amazingly good! Not one issue the whole time! She just needed mommy-time, I guess! I will be doing that more often, that’s for sure.

When I was a kid, I always dreamed of having four kids (including twins named Esther and Vashti. Hmm….). Now that I have two, I wonder how in the world would I manage with four?! I want so badly to be a good mom and so often, I feel like I’m such a big failure. Then, I have moments like two days ago — I was gone for a few hours over lunch and when I came home, I was greeted with E. running through the yard, arms wide open, yelling, “MOMMY!!!” and baby J. sitting on Brian’s lap, flapping his arms in excitement, and squealing with glee to see me. Maybe I’m not such a failure after all.

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Money-Saving.

We are back to living in the States officially now. We’re still missionaries and we’re still living on the same amount of support that we lived on in South America. I’ve had a few conversations lately about what our friends are doing to save money. We don’t have it all together, but we are doing just fine even living on a small income. So, I thought I’d just write down a few of the things we do to save money. I’ll start with:

GROCERIES.

The first week we had to buy groceries in the States, I went way over our budget, didn’t get everything we needed, and came home and cried. I didn’t know if the prices were good, if I’d been ripped off, or how in the world we would ever buy groceries on the limited budget we have to live on now. We decided that the next time we went shopping, we’d go to Aldi’s.

Aldi-logo

Yup, that’s all we needed to do. It was wonderful. I came out ecstatic because I got everything on my list and stayed under our measly budget of $80 for the entire week. Way under. Like, I think that bill was about $40. Our new strategy is:

  • Shop at Aldi’s weekly. We may not be able to get all the low-fat, exotic brands and the veggie/fruit selection may vary, but overall, we get everything we need.
  • Stop at Walmart once a month for the extras, like TP and vitamins.
  • Set a strict weekly/monthly grocery budget.
  • We found a great butcher down the road and that’s now where we get our meat – about every other week or once a month we fill our freezer with deals (last week, found a whole chicken, all doctored up for the barbecue, for $3.47!).
  • If we’re over budget or can’t find it on the weekly trip, we don’t need it.

EATING OUT.

I love eating out. I love restaurants, new food, being served, the smells, and the people watching. I love the whole shebang. I could eat out constantly. But, my waistline and my wallet don’t allow for that. So, even though we would love to eat out all the time, we don’t. Here’s our thoughts on eating out:

  • If there’s something we really love to eat in a restaurant, but can’t afford it, I try to duplicate it at home. It’s normally cheaper and then we can adapt it to our tastes – like all the sauce we want on the chicken. 
  • Limit eating out to special events, trips, or days when you honestly need a break (like the day we were unpacking our kitchen and it turned into basically a remodel job!).
  • Try to only order specials. I’m totally with Joey Tribbiani: “Lisa doesn’t share food!” Not even with my lovely husband. So, getting one big meal to share has never worked in our home. But, we do try to stick to just the specials menu.
  • Our expensive restaurant picks are saved for truly special occasions and only if we have the extra cash so it’s not coming out of our normal budget.
  • No “kids meals.”

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They are normally a rip-off! Check out the prices and compare to the rest of the menu. Order side dishes, like a side of mashed potatoes and a veggie instead of a large, fried kids dish. Or, sometimes we would just each donate parts of our meals to E – part of my chicken, a few of Brian’s fries, a sippy cup from home, and a few bites of our dessert. Voila, no extra money shelled out on a kids’ meal you’ll probably mostly just take home anyway.

  • In Peru, we ate out every Sunday afternoon at a cheapy Chinese place we loved. Well, we can’t all eat for $3 anymore, therefore, we can’t really afford that. But, I hate coming home from church and having to cook or figure out lunch or have big clean-up, so I use my crockpot, the grill, or save my pennies and get $5 subs from Subway. Regardless, the meal is planned in advance and normally fuss-free. Tomorrow, for example, is quick pancakes (using my bananas that are over-ripe in place of sugar) done on the griddle my sister returned (we haven’t used it in six years!!), sausage patties we bought last Sunday that are thawing in the fridge as I type, real syrup made by my bro-in-law, and eggs. Yum.

CLOTHING.

Saving on clothes for myself is pretty simple. I hate shopping. I hate trying on clothes. I hate looking in a mirror. I hate spending the money on something I don’t think looks good anyway. I hate the entire experience. Dread it. It reminds me of how badly I want to lose weight and how impossible it has been to do so for the last ten years. However, shopping for shoes, bags, or for my children are totally different stories. My strategy?

  • Before shopping, honestly evaluate the needs of the household. Do the kids need those shoes or are they just cute? Do I need a new bag or would it just be nice? 
  • Toss to make room for the new. I really do try to use everything in my wardrobe and to part regularly with the stuff that hasn’t been worn or used.
  • Start at the truly cheap places, like Goodwill, and move up from there. Thrift stores, hand-me-downs (especially for the babies!), and yardsales are God-sends. I truly believe that. From there, hit the places with the genuinely good prices and sales – Kohl’s, JC Penney, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, etc.
  • I only shop when I absolutely need a clothing item and I try to limit myself to only purchasing the needs, not all the wants I see along the way. In all honesty, actual clothes shopping happens maybe once or twice a year, if I’m lucky. At the moment, I could use a new wardrobe, but since I honestly can’t afford it, I’m restraining myself.
  • It’s super hard for me to go into stores that have clothing, shoes, whatever that I want when I know I don’t have the money and shouldn’t be shopping. Therefore, I avoid them. We live near a great mall, but we haven’t been since we got back from South America. Absolutely no reason to set foot in there. Just went to Kohl’s this week for the first time since we’ve been back and it was so hard to look and not try on or purchase, because even though I hate it, I hold out the hope that something will fit! It just isn’t worth it to me to enter into a store where I can’t shop. So, I wait until I have cash in hand.
  • No online shopping for anything. The only thing I purchase online are free Kindle books.

HOUSEHOLD GOODS.

  • Two words: Craig’s List. If it’s not there, we don’t need it. 
  • Two more words: Yard Sales. Same concept.

PHONE, INTERNET, ETC.

  • We use an antennae and pay for Hulu Plus and Netflix. We watch them on our TV through our Wii (which was a gift a few years ago). The only time I miss real cable is when we’re at my mom’s and I see the Food Network. sigh. Oh well. I can live without it. We only have both Hulu and Netflix because Netflix has oodles of cartoons for the kids and Hulu has all the current shows we’re interested in. 
  • Internet is paid for where we’re currently living.
  • Phone is through Vonage and we have a little trac phone. We cannot afford any cell phone service, so even though an iPhone sounds appealing, we can’t afford the monthly payments. Our money is much better used elsewhere… like for diapers. We rarely  truly need a cell phone, so the added expense is just not worth it to us.

KIDS.

  • We buy all our diapers and pull-ups on amazon. Best decision ever, especially for pull-ups! Those suckers are expensive! Thankfully, it looks like E is basically potty-trained finally, so that bill should go down soon!! 
  • The better decision would’ve been cloth. I would suggest that for those who can handle it.
  • I nurse as long as possible and then make all my baby food, except for the cereals. Saves a BUNDLE.
  • Never, ever buy special meals/foods for the kids.

P1000287

I feed them what we eat. It improves their palate and is quite helpful when we’re traveling to new homes and visiting friends and supporters. Picky eaters do not make for good missionary kids. Besides, special kids meals are super expensive – and it’s always healthier if you do it yourself anyway.

  • Basically all the kids’ clothes are hand-me-downs or from thrift stores.
alll hand-me-downs! right down to her new favorite cowboy boots!

alll hand-me-downs! right down to her new favorite cowboy boots!

Very, very, very few items for either child have been purchased at full price. And when I say “very”, I mean, I could count them on two hands. Literally.

  • Toys are also either gifts or from thrift stores/yard sales. We don’t just buy toys because we want to buy toys. I also keep some back so there are “new” things to pull out occasionally. For example, E got a beautiful play plastic tea set for Christmas
the tea set

the tea set

that is still unopened in her closet because she currently has plenty of stuff to play with and doesn’t need it. It’ll make its grand appearance in the coming months… when something else disappears and gets donated or saved for baby brother.

  • We don’t buy a lot of gender-specific toys. This will make it easier for when J gets big enough to play. They will learn to share and it will save us a bundle.
  • The kids also will share a room when J finally moves out of our room later this year. They won’t need to have separate rooms until they’re closer to their pre-teen years.

This list is super long – a lot longer than I’d planned on! But, I hope there’s some tips in there to help you out with frugal living. If we can live on a South America missionary salary in North America, you will be okay with your current salary! 🙂 Learn from us:

  1. The more you give away, the more the Lord will return it to you.. normally in triple-fold.

  2. Our God supplies our needs. Trust me.

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