Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I'm Pretty Sure We Have the Nicest Friends Ever

It's nothing personal, I'm sure your friends are very nice too. In fact, until yesterday I might not have been willing to make the claim that we, in fact, have the nicest friends out there, but where I was already pretty certain, I am now sure.

See, being our friend can be a bit risky. Our nearest family is at least 10 hours away so unless the inevitable crisis's of life happen to fall on one of the 4 weeks each year when we have family in town, one of our friends is probably going to get a phone call.

For instance, if I wake up in the middle of the night with the stomach flu when my husband is away for a week, you might get a phone call that goes something like this:

Me: "Can you keep your phone by your bed, that way, in case I'm too sick to care for my child I can call you, potentially expose you (and your whole family) to this bug and let you care for my child while I go to the doctor? Thanks." Friendship with us = risk. And if I really like you, you might get this call more than once (lucky you Lindsay!)

Other help our friends have heaped on us have included: A couple (Vince and Trudi!) who raked every leaf from our gigantic maple tree while we were in FL for six months (that's about 30 mega lawn bags full, btw), a neighbor (Jay!) who plowed our driveway that entire time (even if it was just an inch of snow because he wanted the house to look "lived in"), friends who rocked my colicky baby so I could get a break (Both Jen's and Lindsay again!), neighbors who loan their truck every time we need to haul something home from lowes, and men from church who helped us get our home ready (in a way that involved carpentry skills!) for a now-mobile baby when we returned from FL.

I'm sure I am missing some big things and that list doesn't even include all the random acts of kindness like bringing in our mail for us or taking our garbage cans up the driveway just in case we weren't home or handing us a hunk of salmon from a fishing recent fishing trip.

Many of these people volunteered to do these things, not because they are close friends, but because they want to be Christ's hands and feet in this world and over the past two years, our family has needed a lot of helping hands and people willing to step out. We could not be more thankful.

Yesterday though, I was once again overwhelmed by the willingness of others to give. Imagine this (if you can).

Friends of ours had offered to give us a load of manure from their farm to fill our recently built garden bed. We could even transport it in their farm truck, we just needed to load it, haul it and unload it. With my pain issues, I knew I wasn't going to be much help, but it was a big job and I felt like my husband could really use a helping hand. He couldn't bring himself to ask for help shoveling manure though, but was fine with me doing so : )

So I decided to call our friends Chris and Maureen. Chris will probably forever regret telling us he grew up on a farm. Here's a synopsis of the day:

Me: "Hey Maureen, so I know you and I have been wanting to catch up, so I was wondering if you were free this afternoon and *cough* couldChrishelpDavidshovelmanure *cough* while we hang out?
Maureen: "Sure we'll be right over."
Me: "Really? Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you."
Chris (to David, as they were on their way): "We were just trying to figure out what to do with our afternoon when you called! It's such a nice day, I wanted to spend some time outside."
David: "This is your idea of how to spend a nice day outdoors?"
Chris (after all the manure was shoveled): That was great, I feel so productive!"
Me: "Have a warm brownie...after you wash your hands..."

You read that correctly, not only did our friends come over, on short notice, to help up move poop, they got a brownie in return. Nicest. Friends. Ever. However, if you think you can beat that story, I'd love to hear it : )

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October's Goal: Re-taming the Beast

Some might remember that I was planning to work through a goal each month this year. I summarized them here. The last goal I wrote about was our garden, way back in May. That project was going fairly well until our little patch was discovered by a bunny with a large appetite. But that's another story. So where have my goals gone?

As usual, life has gotten busy. These past 1-2 months have been especially difficult with one illness after another. In between the stomach flu, the regular flu, and Caleb getting a Staph infection we've been schlepping to a pain clinic in Baltimore to try and deal with this pain I've had for over a year and David's been putting in lots of (required) overtime at work.

Amazingly, in all this, we've managed to draw closer to God and one another. Both David and I have noted that despite all the challenges we feel more connected and invested in our marriage than we have in a while. Not that it was dying or anything dramatic like that, we were just in a "care for Caleb and the house" rut. It's amazing how small gestures can go such a long way in making both of us feel loved. I've been trading my sweat pants for jeans and a cute top more often and David delighted me with a letter in the mail. We've also been taking time to read scripture and pray together each night before bed again. It's quickly become my favorite part of the day.

However, there is one aspect of our lives that has gotten totally out of control. It always seems to get worse the busier life gets. I bet some other home managers out there know what I'm about to say...

Our grocery bill is ridiculous.

I haven't so much been tiptoeing past our budgeted amount so much as sailing over it. To the tune of $150-$200/month (extra) for the past 5 months. That's a lot of overage. As I've talked about before, our budget is set to a number that challenges me, but is completely do-able. So how on earth did I end up going so far over so many months in a row? It's a question that has forced me look at food management habits honestly as I searched for the answer.

It's not like I totally gave up. Even in all the chaos, I was still clipping coupons, planning my meals based on the weekly sale paper, etc. I think that's why this went on so long. I reasoned that I was already doing the best I could. Maybe food prices had gone up? However when I was really really honest with myself, I could pretty clearly see the "leaks" in our food budget.

Leak #1- Waste

I'm ashamed to admit that I'm pretty sure I threw away around $50 worth of food each month just because it had gone bad. Left overs we hadn't eaten, produce that had withered away, things that migrated to the back of the fridge and got lost. Typically, I look through the fridge several times each week and adapt the meal plan as necessary to include left over night or use up an ingredient about to go bad. When I stopped doing that, the inevitable happened.

Leak #2- Lack of Organization

I always think I can skip this step and I am always wrong. Although I was still meal planning, often when I reached the store I discovered I'd forgotten my (insert one: grocery list, coupons, or cash envelope). This led to me purchasing things we didn't need, forgetting things we did need, paying more for the things I bought than I had planned and not knowing how I was doing in relation to the budget because all I did was swipe a card.

Leak #3- No freezer meals

Doubling meals and freezing the excess is such a sanity saver. They're a great for helping resist the call of pizza delivery on a busy night. However, until recently, I hardly ever remembered to double my recipe and keep the freezer stocked accordingly. This lack of foresight led to the following situation:

The scene: both David and I have the flu and have been lying on the couch 90% of the day, except to meet Caleb's basic needs. I haven't been grocery shopping this week. Now it's dinner time.

David: So what's for dinner tonight
Me: I don't have anything planned. There's nothing in the freezer or the pantry. We're too sick to go out to eat and Caleb needs to go to bed soon anyway. I'll have to go to the grocery store, but I'm so sick I wish I didn't have to cook!
David: Maybe we could get something from the Deli?
Me (whining): I just wish someone would show up at our house with food. Preferably my mom. I don't want to leave the house. I'm sick (in case he hadn't noticed).
David: So what do you want to do?
Me: Insert more whining, grumbling and other extremely unattractive behavior.

We ended up going to the store and getting a rotisserie chicken, which I turned into soup and loading up with some other (expensive) pre-packaged meals. This entire ugly situation could have been prevented had a I merely had a meal or two tucked away in the freezer.

This month, I am determined to come in under budget. In addition to correcting the 3 things I wrote about above, I've found a few other things quite helpful:

-Check out the bulk foods section. I've discovered even our very small one contains oats and nestle chocolate chips at about half the price of the bags on the shelf. Score!
- Sometimes organic is a better deal. I've started price checking the organic option before automatically assuming the conventional version is cheaper. I recently paid 1/4 the price for a spice shaker of curry powder this way.
-Keep a running grocery list on the fridge. So simple, but I'd never done it before! It's helped me forget fewer items, make fewer trips into town and stopped the "I have to go to the store and I haven't even made a list yet" scramble.
-Avoid the opportunity to spend. I wait to make a grocery trip until we're running low on a critical staple like bread. This means I often end up substituting ingredients or rearranging the menu plan to use up the things we do have. We have much less waste and I find myself crossing off things from my grocery list before I even had a chance to buy them.
-DIY. For now, all our sweets are home made. I have plenty of baking ingredients here and until I'm sure I can stay under budget, convenience treats like ice cream are off the list. I also started making yogurt from scratch again.

So far we are just under half way through the month and I am just over halfway through my allotted funds. Sadly, that's still a lot better than I've been doing. It may take some creativity, but I feel really confident I can come in at or under budget this month. October has a goal.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Little Shoes, Big Helper

Caleb changes every day, but once in a while there comes a poignant moment where I know my baby is growing up. The time he walked himself to the bath tub for the first time, the day he picked up his first meal worth of finger foods, little signs he no longer relies on me for every single thing. It's beautiful, but a little bittersweet at times.

This morning, it was the shoes. Caleb has been fascinated by helping with his shoes. Opening and shutting the velcro and handing them to me one at a time. Today, I asked him to bring me his shoes as I sat in the glider in his room. First he brought me the left one, and then the right. Then I patted my lap. He clamored up and handed me each shoe. From start to finish, I never left my chair. Those who are parents will appreciate the novelty of sitting still for 5 straight minutes with an active 15 month old in the house.

My eyes got a little misty as I realized that my "big helper" who usually makes more work for me with his helpfulness (like unloading all the clean laundry and cabinet contents onto the floor many times a day) is suddenly becoming a true help. I guess I didn't expect it to happen so soon. I'm so proud of my little guy!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Life Unplugged(ish)

As you can see, I'm back to one of my favorite past times- writing on the internet about how I spend too much time on the internet. Several people have asked me to share about my week-long internet fast, so here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Many of you may already know I've battled anxiety for several years now. For those that don't, the quick recap is: I started having terrible panic attacks my sophomore year of college, became afraid to leave my dorm room, and had difficulty even attending work or classes. I dropped 15lbs in 2 months because I was constantly sick to my stomach. My wonderful boss-at-the-time encouraged me to go to counseling and after 6 months of therapy and digging deep with God, I've been fortunate to never have had such an extreme cycle of anxiousness again.

As a side note, for those who've never been to counseling and only seen the hollywood version, it's a lot of work. They aren't there to solve your problems for you, but to help you learn how to approach them in a more healthy way. The counselor does more asking than telling and there is homework in between. I know not all counselors are created equal, but I was blessed to have a great experience.

However, to say I am cured would be kidding myself. I still go through more difficult cycles. I even have an occasional panic attack. So what does all this have to do with my internet addiction? The first thing I noticed in my week off of the internet is that I use the constant, easy access to new information to self-medicate my anxiety (I don't take actual medicine for it since other techniques have been just as effective in my case and have fewer side effects). If I can keep my brain constantly engaged in learning, pondering, etc., it doesn't leave room for the fearful thoughts to crowd in.

Not having blogs, news and facebook (all constantly updating with something new!) to use as a crutch, I found myself having to actually face the issues that were making me anxious and bring them before God in prayer (a novel thought for a believer, I know).

I also noticed a drastic improvement in my memory. I'd been blaming my constant forgetfulness on "mommy brain", but apparently, not being distracted by checking facebook 30 times a day and not filling my brain with a steady stream of new stories and facts leaves plenty of room for thoughts like, "switch laundry to the dryer" and "your keys are on the dining room table".

Apparently, all those interruptions were also cutting into my productivity around the house (this post is full of shockers!). Despite the fact that David ended up working crazy hours all week, the house stayed cleaner than ever. Now that my fast has ended I'm careful to ask myself, "Is there something else that I could be using this time for" before I sit down at the computer.

In the end, the fast was a lot easier than I expected. I didn't get the shakes or really even feel all that deprived. In fact, now that I'm "back" I'm sort of wondering how I ever spent so much time on facebook. I find it much easier to open, spend 10 minutes, and close the tab than I would have ever thought possible. That said, the fast wasn't as internet free as I was envisioning at the beginning.

I didn't read blogs or the news, I only used facebook to answer an invite to a playdate (I left my 24 notifications alone all week), but I still checked my email a lot. Partially because that's how David contacts me when he's at work and he was working crazy hours and updating me as needed, but I could also tell I was desiring the same "instant updates" from my inbox that I usually get from facebook.

I also ended up researching car seats since Caleb is about to finally outgrow his infant seat so that took up a lot of my time for 2 days. Overall, the greatest gift the fast gave me was a clearer picture of what is worth spending my time on and what is distracting me from prayer and living the life I have here in front of me. I wasn't sure if I'd be back this week, but I decided I didn't want to miss another week of sharing photos with the grandparents, sharing a special moment from our day in my status update or seeing photos of my best friend's newborn and my nephew. These are the things that are wonderful about the internet.

I still feel like I have a lot of growing to do, especially in the area of self-discipline to stick to my boundaries (like checking facebook once in the morning and once in the evening and not in between. Or having my laptop lid shut while Caleb is awake). Before the fast, I always felt like I needed to keep up with each website (facebook, blogs, news, etc.) to be sure I wasn't "missing something". This week has shown me that the only thing I was really missing was my life. So once again, no joyful proclamation that all my struggles are over, but now you know how this most recent step in my journey went.

And, right now, life is calling from the nursery : )