Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Weekend Fun and a Birthday Boy

On Saturday we headed down the road to Onion Fest. The kids were excited that it was in a park, and had fun swinging while watching the precision kite flying demo. They each colored a bit of the giant wall and played with dry ice foam as part of the local college's science club demo. There were a variety of mascots for photo opps (including the waste management company's giant stuffed trashcan named "Dumpy." I can't make this stuff up!) Unfortunately, we discovered that our daughter still has an irrational fear of these giant characters, so while our son was happily hamming it up for pics, she was hiding behind my legs and whimpering. Sigh. It was nearly 90 degrees and there wasn't much shade, so we all wore out pretty quickly... and to be honest, there really wasn't much else to do! There were LOTS of Winter Texans attending, some live music, an onion eating contest, long lines for food vendors, a tiny tent of arts & crafts (disappointing), and some carnival rides for the bargain price of $6 a ride. Yikes!! As we were leaving, we encountered a trailer with a single cow and a promise of a LIVE milking demonstration. I think a few people were wondering about my personal mental health as I was laughing hysterically when I saw that!

After we finished up at the festival, we went to Red Robin for lunch (our son's favorite, and I must admit I'm a big fan of their guac burger) and then checked out a few things at a couple different stores... didn't buy anything, but wanted to compare brands and prices. We then headed home and briefly went in the pool (that water is still rather cold as our nights are still in the 50s/60s, but I have a feeling that in a few more weeks we'll be spending a LOT of time in the water). Overall, another great family day.

Sunday was our son's 7th birthday, and he was quite happy to receive a skateboard and a scooter! Yes, we are trying very hard to find an outlet for his seemingly boundless energy ;) When he received the skateboard, there was a clue taped to the bottom and he had a little 8 step scavenger hunt to find the scooter - that was a huge hit, and I think it will become a traditional part of birthdays around here. He had requested pizza for his birthday dinner, and we invited another family over to join in the fun. We munched down, then got the kids hopped up on sugary icing (guess what color it was?!) and made funky jungle masks then had an impromptu jam session. So much fun!

Book Winner!

And the winner of the Living With Less giveaway is..... Jeff & Meg

Congrats ~ I'll get it out to you by the end of the week!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Living with Less - and a giveaway!

Today I'll be sharing a bit about the newly released book Living with Less so your Family has More by Jill and Mark Savage. I think we all struggle to balance the many aspects of life, and obviously finances play a huge role in that. Read on for more info - and a chance to win a copy for yourself!!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

We have been married for 27 years…17 of them happily. After finding ourselves in a marriage counselor’s office around year 8 or so, we realized that we really didn’t know how to be married. We worked hard to turn things around and now we like to share that hope with other couples.

We have five children ranging from 13 to 25. Our oldest three are married. Anne (25) and her husband, Matt, live in Zion, IL, and are expecting our first grandchild in April. (We are very excited!) Evan (22) and his wife, Julie, have been married a year and a half and they live just a few miles from us. Erica (19) married her husband Kendall last September. They live in Augusta, GA, and wherever else the Army takes them.

We have two teenagers still at home. Kolya just turned 16. He’s learning to drive and we’ve nearly worn a hole in the carpet on the floor in the passenger seat trying to find that non-existent brake pedal. Kolya is the newest member of the Savage family. We adopted him at the age of nine from Russia.

Austin is 13 and in the 8th grade. He wants us to make sure and tell the world that this “living with less” life is a real bummer because he’s the ONLY kid in 8th grade who doesn’t have a cell phone.

Tell us about your newest book Living With Less So Your Family Has More?

The world screams the message that bigger is always better, but we have found that is not often true. When it comes to raising a family, less materially can actually result in more relationally. Children don’t need the best houses, the best lessons, the best cars, or the best clothes. What they really need is the best home life and the best family relationships we can give them.

Why did you want to write this book?

We didn’t start out with the “less is more” mindset. We started as a double income family wanting to have the “best” of everything. Then Mark decided to pursue ministry. We went from the “high life” to the “frugal life” very quickly as we moved to another state for him to go to Bible College full-time.

That experience introduced us to the concept that less is more. We definitely had less money, but we had more time. We had less stress and more peace. We had less activities and more fun.

Since that experience, we’ve continued to live primarily on one income for the past twenty years. We’ve had to battle cultural peer pressure and make different decisions for our family than many other families in our neighborhood have made. But we’ve never felt that we were materially depriving ourselves or our kids…instead we’ve focused on what we’ve actually been able to provide for them emotionally and relationally.

What do you hope your readers will gain from this book?

We hope the reader is encouraged to evaluate how they are living their life, spending their money, and thinking about family matters. Our goal is to introduce families to the “less is more” concept and then equip them with the attitudes and actions to actually make that happen.

For families that are already committed to less is more, we hope to bolster their resolve and help them stay focused on the long-term goal of providing relationally for their kids.

In today’s economy, there are many families being forced to live with less. We want to help them see the opportunity they have with this unexpected downsizing they’ve been forced to do.

And for those who have just been a little discontent with their life and saying things like, “I’m tired of the rat race of life,” or “Is there more to life than drive-thru meals for dinner?” we hope to help them see other choices they have and how they can lead their family in a different direction.

What unique elements will the reader find in Living With Less So Your Family Has More?

For couples who want to read the book together, we’ve included discussion questions at the end of every chapter. This helps move the readers to discussion and eventually actions. Even a single parent can use the discussion questions for personal evaluation.

Readers will find this book a practical guide to changing your attitude and your actions to live a successful “less is more” life. They’ll find our writing style to be a warm, casual, honest discussion where we not only share our victories but our mistakes along the way. We are an average couple living successfully on an average income who want to help others to see the possibilities before them.

This is a Hearts at Home book. What is Hearts at Home?

Hearts at Home is an organization that encourages, educates, and equips women in the profession of motherhood. Hearts at Home encourages moms through annual conferences, our extensive website (www.hearts-at-home.org), a free electronic newsletter, a radio program, and an entire line of books designed to meet the needs of moms all over the world!

Any closing thoughts?

It’s healthy for parents to occasionally pause and evaluate their vision for their family and the choices they are making. We hope this resource will help them do that together and that it will lead them to live a life of little regret.

- - - -

Would you like to win a copy for yourself? Please leave a comment (include your email addy, please) by Monday 3/29 (1:00 PM central) and I'll have my daughter draw a name. Sorry, but US addresses only since I'm paying for shipping :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Break Recap

It's official. Our son is back in school this morning - and yes, I am enjoying the lack of bickering sounds in the background, thankyouverymuch ;) In all seriousness, though, it was fabulous. Our niece came down for a visit with three friends and we had a great time with much food and laughter involved. Some things never change, and her uncle managed to throw her in the pool (even if it meant he went in, too) The temps were cooler than normal, so more time was spent in the hot tub than the pool.
Pool Trip Hot Tub Time Cousins
The kids and I visited the zoo with some friends. We watched hippos yawning, big cats sunning themselves, peacocks strutting, and monkeys playing around. We took "Flat Juan" along for some fun pictures, too. When we got to the petting zoo section, they not only had the usual goats and pigs, but also a baby camel... and boy oh boy, did he like Juan! I think it's safe to say he'll be the only adventurer covered in camel slobber :)
Peacock Camel Chow
I ran some errands on Thursday night, and I couldn't believe the hordes of birds around the mall area. I snapped this picture while I was sitting at a red light, but there were soooooo many more than this picture shows - and the noise was crazy! I slept in a bit the following morning, and when I got up I found the kids playing Lego Star Wars. Working together. Awwww...
Birds Lego Star Wars
We managed a family expedition on Friday night. As soon as Daddy got home from work, we packed up the little grill, some hot dogs and marshmallows and drove to a small county park for a bit of fishing. Our son was super excited to catch his first fish (unfortunately it was an inch below the legal limit, so we didn't get to keep it) and hubby snagged some bait! Our daughter wasn't very interested in fishing, but she was quite content to play in the dirt (and even roped big brother into the endeavor for a few moments). Good times, good times...
Fishin First Catch More Bait Dirt Pile

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WFMW - Sharpie Power!

I carry a Sharpie marker in my purse. At all times. I cannot begin to tell you handy it is ~ most often it's used to label water bottles or soda cups (you know, because we simply can't cross-contaminate with boy & girl germs! :) but it seriously has made many little tasks easier. I've even been known to cover scuff marks on my black dress shoes... but what else are you supposed to do when you notice the offense right as you pull into the church parking lot?!

More WFMW tips here!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Growing Grateful Kids

Today I have the honor of introducing the new book from Susie Larson - Growing Grateful Kids. This is something that's really been on my heart lately, and I'm so excited to find this resource. Please read on to learn more about Susie and this great book --

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

My husband and I have been married 25 years and have three grown sons (all in their early twenties). Our oldest son Jake works on the business side of the Christian music industry. Our middle son Luke is married to his beautiful wife Kristen; he works full time at a bank and part time as a worship pastor. Our youngest son Jordan is studying to become a surgical nurse. My husband Kevin is a commercial construction manager by day and manages my ministry by night (and weekends). Bless his heart! I am an author, speaker, and an on-call radio host for Christian talk radio. Together, Kevin and I serve as advocates for justice on behalf of modern day slaves and human trafficking victims.

Tell us about your new book, Growing Grateful Kids: Teaching Them to Appreciate an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Places.

Even when economic times are tight, our children enjoy an abundance of material possessions. Yet, amidst all this wealth, discontentment and competition seem to be on the rise. Instead of teaching children virtues such as gratefulness and patience, many parents are bending over backwards to get their children the latest and greatest item - or feeling guilty when they can't. In spite of the currents of materialism and entitlement that flow so strong, it is possible to raise children who are simply grateful. Though teaching perspective and gratitude to our children is critical, it is not difficult.

Why did you want to write this book?

To be completely honest, I never wanted to write a book on parenting. I wanted to protect my kids’ privacy and give them time and space to become the men God wants them to be. But in the last few years, I have been especially burdened with the level of selfishness, entitlement and disrespect I see among children today. Furthermore, moms seem more stressed than ever. When I asked my sons their thoughts on writing this book, without pausing they all said, “Do it, mom; that book needs to be written!” I think I wrote a book that not only equips young moms to raise humble, grateful world-changers, but also one that nourishes the soul of the reader and encourages her personally.

Throughout the book you remind the reader that we cannot impart what we do not possess. Can you explain?

If we never deal with our own fears, insecurities, and hang ups, but we try to teach our children to believe in their divine value, over time, our words will not ring true to them. First God wants to do His work in us before He does it through us. They say that lessons are more often caught than taught. If we parent from a place of conviction and real freedom, our children will be affected by what we teach them.

One of your chapters is titled, “Take Time to Play.” How does taking time to play teach our kids to be grateful?

To me, taking time to play says a lot about the level of faith we possess.

If our children hear us confess that we love and serve a BIG God and yet they see us striving and straining through life, they will come to believe that more is on our shoulders than on God’s. If we can trust God enough to step away from our busy-important lives, to make a fort in the basement, or play a game with our children – even in the most desperate of economic situations – we will give our children a sense of much needed security and that all is well in their world.

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

To answer this question (I hope you don’t mind), I would like to share an endorsement from one of my sample readers. She expressed my deepest desire for my reader:

Growing Grateful Kids is such a great source of conviction, encouragement, and inspiration to spur me on to finishing this parenting race well and not sputter out along the way. This book compels me to submit my own character to the refining of the Holy Spirit that I may be equipped to impart those lessons onto my children. Thank you, Susie, for taking the time, for submitting in obedience, and writing this down for a generation in desperate need of this kind of parenting book!” –Gail Miller

This is a Hearts at Home book. What is Hearts at Home?

Hearts at Home is an organization that encourages, educates, and equips women in the profession of motherhood. Hearts at Home encourages moms through annual conferences, our extensive website (www.hearts-at-home.org), a free bi-weekly electronic newsletter, a radio program, and an entire line of books designed to meet the needs of moms all over the world!

Any closing thoughts?

I am very excited about the message in this book. It is my prayer that every one who reads it will be nourished, encouraged, and equipped to parent from a place of fullness, conviction, and confidence. Raising grateful, confident kids will be one of the most heroic, important things you do in your lifetime. God’s blessings to you!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Glimpses of Home

Saw this fun little linky party going on, and decided to play along!

Moving from Philly suburbia to South Texas last year meant h-u-g-e changes. On a positive note, the money that we made selling our house in PA (even in a "down" market) went much further in TX, so we now have more space for our family. That's certainly a blessing, but that also meant that we needed to actually do something with those spaces...

Today I'm showing you what we've dubbed the front room. The former owners used it as a formal dining room. We have no need for such a space, and the plan is to open up a wall in a couple years and create a large kitchen/dining area. In the meantime, I'm trying to make the room work for us. And seeing as how it's the very first room you see when you enter our home, I want it to make a decent impression.

This little corner is definitely my favorite spot. A place to curl up with a cup of coffee and my Bible.

This piece is from the bedroom furniture that we purchased from IKEA in 1997. We have a lot more closet space in this house so didn't need the dresser... I decided to use it here to store linens and other seasonal stuff. I pulled the wooden knobs off of it and replaced them with white knobs (which I took off of built-in cabinets in another room) I really would like to paint it, but hubby isn't going for that idea :) I covered it with white burlap, added some family pics, and finished it off with a garage sale lamp - spray painted of course! To the side you see an ottoman (Target clearance find!). We have 2, and they get moved from room to room as needed for extra seating.

On the other wall you see my piano (Christmas gift from my hubby), a chair family portrait, and shelves holding music, photo albums, and a few knick knacks. The chair was another garage sale find, and hubby cringed when he saw that I was painting it purple, but I love the pop of color it provides - and he actually conceded that it "wasn't bad."

Oh, and can I comment on the room color? I hate yellow. I don't think sunshine - I think urine. Ugh. I've already purchased paint (a bluish gray) and it's on next month's project list. I also have some white sheer curtains to hang on that window by the chair. Baby steps, but it's slowly feeling more like OUR HOME.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WFMW - Sugary Cereals

Ah, those delightful cereals loaded with sugar & artificial colors. I know of several families that do not allow them at all, and while I do try to avoid most processed junk, this is one area where we bend the rules a bit. So here's how it works in our family.

Friday is fun cereal day. After a busy week, I love that when Friday rolls around the first meal is a no-brainer :) The kids are each allowed one bowl of scrumptiousness -- but of course I can't give it to them "as is." No, it gets the mommy treatment first. I mix the super sugary stuff with other varieties - here you see fruity pebbles and rice krispies. Other popular blends are cocoa or peanut butter puffs with kix, and cinnamon toast krunch with Special K (my personal favorite!). And let me add that I combine the 2 cereals as soon as they come home from the grocery store - I dump 'em out into a big bowl, mix, and pour into rubbermaid containers so that the kids can get it themselves.
So what works for you? Lots more good stuff over here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Checking in

So what's up? I'm working on getting taxes done - we generally try to have them done by the end of February, but obviously that didn't happen this year. I installed TurboTax, but was unable to actually open the program - and when I restarted the computer, I got a lovely variety of greetings, included "This system has recovered from a serious error." Delightful. This is the same computer that had been giving us fits but hubby was able to clean things up and get it running again... but then in the past 2 weeks it's started doing wonky stuff again. Anyway, I installed it on the laptop and starting punching numbers in; I'm thinking some of the refund will be going toward a computer!

Hubby was away last week, and that always leaves me feeling drained. Thankfully it was a brief trip, but I still hate it when he's away... We're busy getting ready for an invasion of teens next week, as our niece (who's attending CFI in Dallas) is coming down for a visit. Along with 4 other friends. I've stocked up on soda and chips, and we'll be firing up the pool heater on Sunday afternoon. Anyone else wanna come down? We still have a bit more floor space available :)

Oh, wait - we had another visitor arrive yesterday: Flat Juan! A friend of ours is a teacher and she was looking for host families for a school project. The kids are really getting into it. I think we're going to have a keep an eye on this guy, though, as he has already tried jumping into the pool...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Funny

Tim Hawkins is pretty much guaranteed to make me laugh until I cry.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Works for me Wednesday - Displaying Kids' Artwork

Our son & daughter both manage to crank out a lot of art projects. They, of course, are proud of their creations and want them on display... I want to encourage them, but also have a hard time getting excited about accessorizing every room in our house with construction paper.

My solution: the art wall! This space is in our dining area, right by the back door. We spend a lot of our time here, but it's not the very first thing you see when you walk in our house. The kids know that this is where stuff has to fit - and if they have a new masterpiece to share, then we need to decide what will be coming down. All it took to create was six nails, a few feet of jute twine, and some clothespins. I considered decorating the clothespins with paint, ribbon, or patterned paper, but in the end decided to leave them plain because I didn't want to detract from the kids' creations.

Click over to get some other great "works for me" tips!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sometimes God has purple fingernails

How's that for a post title?! First off some background: I'm still fighting off whatever viral thingee has taken up residence in my body and the kiddos, daughter in particular, have been whiny... probably due in part to the fact that Daddy left on Saturday morning for a week-long business trip. Blechs all around. And as I've whined about mentioned we have yet to find a church home in our new locale.

Sunday morning we were off to visit another church, this time in an adjacent town. The kids were a bit grumpy about the prospect, and frankly I was tempted to just take the "easy" way out and laze on the couch, but we loaded up and some good music on the little trek got us in a better mindset. We arrived, walked in, were warmly greeted and given a bulletin*. I walked the kids to their classes (they have a separate praise and worship time as well) and headed back. I had a moment of confusion, though, when I exited the kids' section and came to the common area where there were more doorways than I remembered... Yet another reason I miss having hubby around - he's much more observant and has a better sense of direction than I do! Anyway, a couple ladies were there chatting - they noticed my confusion and asked if I was looking for the bathroom :) I said I was just trying to get back to the sanctuary, and then noticed the "Worship Center" plaque mounted on the door. I made a little joke about reading signs, and then headed in to take a seat.

As I was sitting, I looked up to see that one of the ladies had followed me in, and came over to introduce herself. Jean is approximately my grandmother's age, and her accent indicated that she's a "Southern belle" transplant to the Valley. She had short, permed hair, was lugging an enormous purse, and had a warm smile. And I couldn't help but notice her long, purple nails. She hugged me and invited me to come sit with her - then proceeded to stop and introduce me to every person in between my original seat and her pew. We didn't get a chance to talk further as the service was starting. The music began - neither a pounding "performance" nor a stilted dirge - but a worshipful chorus with meaningful lyrics. Ahhhh. I could already feel the weight being lifted from my soul. The pastor is currently working through Acts, and he spoke on chapter 10. Another good thing - expository preaching!

The service finished, and Jean continued to introduce me around, generally with one arthritic hand resting on my arm as she reached out for the other person, purple nails flashing. I got several more hugs, and when I picked the kids up they were both excited to tell me about the songs they'd sung and the verse they were all going to memorize during the week. More good stuff. As we were driving home, I couldn't help but offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Jean... and also wondered if she would have latched onto me so firmly if I'd had my hubby with me. Probably not! Just another example of the way God works with our circumstances.

We'll be going back on Sunday. As a complete family. Continuing to pray!

*Already better than the previous week, when the only thing we were given was an offering envelope. Now that's a great first impression! I left that church service with a severe headache from the crazy loudness, and didn't feel at all challenged in my Christian walk. Our son wanted to know why the girl up front was screaming instead of singing. Couldn't have summed it up better myself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Psalm 103 - Amplified

BLESS (AFFECTIONATELY, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul; and all that is [deepest] within me, bless His holy name!
Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul, and forget not [one of] all His benefits--
Who forgives [every one of] all your iniquities, Who heals [each one of] all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit and corruption, Who beautifies, dignifies, and crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercy;
Who satisfies your mouth [your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation] with good so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagle's [strong, overcoming, soaring]!
The Lord executes righteousness and justice [not for me only, but] for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways [of righteousness and justice] to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy and loving-kindness.
He will not always chide or be contending, neither will He keep His anger forever or hold a grudge.
He has not dealt with us after our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great are His mercy and loving-kindness toward those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father loves and pities his children, so the Lord loves and pities those who fear Him [with reverence, worship, and awe].
For He knows our frame, He [earnestly] remembers and imprints [on His heart] that we are dust.
As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.
But the mercy and loving-kindness of the Lord are from everlasting to everlasting upon those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, and His righteousness is to children's children--
To such as keep His covenant [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it] and to those who [earnestly] remember His commandments to do them [imprinting them on their hearts].
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.
Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, you His angels, you mighty ones who do His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word.
Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, all you His hosts, you His ministers who do His pleasure.
Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His dominion; bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul!

What a great reminder on a Monday.