Archive | November 2012

a real Christmas story

I admit I’m the grinch of all seasons. Peeps are gross, Halloween is freakish, and, sorry, but Christmas music is just awful. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen chestnuts, or silver bells, or, for that matter, SNOW 😦 😦 . I like music that’s real, and Christmas music isn’t!!!

Because Christmas just isn’t all those glittery moments. For one thing, that putting up the Christmas tree is the seasonal equivalent of getting ready for church on Sundays…it should be calm and wonderful, but there’s just always a fight. or two. or five.

I had visions of us snuggling under the tree while we reminisce with Sam and Ty about each ornament. The boys would play happily with the nativity scene, Sam tenderly explaining to Ty the Christmas story. Todd and I would share a laugh and a wink as we hold hands and put up our anniversary ornament.

And this year, to be honest, it started great. We spent the weekend with my family in the mountains; the highlight of the trip was to choose and cut our own tree. We had a blast at the Christmas tree farm. Which was also, still, a pumpkin patch.

It was like a two-for-one.

When time came to pick a tree, we threw caution to the wind. My dad generously provides us all with Christmas trees, so we thought, what the heck. Let’s get a mammoth tree. Our ceiling is huge. Our kids are little…Let’s go crazy. Cause we’re like that – crazy.

Everything went fine until Sam and Todd were in the garage a suspiciously long time “putting the tree in the stand.”

When I walked out to the garage, there was sawdust everywhere, and a chainsaw running, and the end of the tree was whittled down like a pencil point. only still huge.

Shocker: our huge tree had an even huger stump. I had never, until that moment, spent more than eight seconds thinking about the importance of a good Christmas tree stand. And how your tree should fit in it. Whoops.

To make a long, three-day story short(er), here are a few of the things that happened:

  • We decide, in the interest of our new financial policy, we are not buying a new tree stand.
  • Todd goes to Lowe’s to buy a piece of PVC pipe in an attempt to improve the old tree stand.
  • We (Todd) put the tree back in the stand.
  • It’s crooked.
  • It falls over if you touch it.
  • We (Todd) take out the tree and saw more plastic off the pipe.
  • Todd puts the tree back in.
  • Less crooked, but still sways back and forth when you wiggle its branches. Todd and I debate for a little before eventually deciding that, yes, an extremely unstable mammoth tree is in fact a hazard for two small boys.

leaning tower of Christmas

  • Todd saws the tree down so it’s smaller and replaces it in the stand, again.
  • Luck! It stays up. Until my Aunt Jamee comes over, and we briefly remark how beautiful it is. It falls over before our eyes.
  • Todd puts it back up.
  • Todd goes to Lowe’s and buys hooks to screw into our windows, to stabilize the tree with strings.
  • It’s a good thing I don’t use words like “ghetto,” because if I did, that might have been what I used to describe this proposed set-up in a brief discussion with Todd.
  • Todd secures the tree with thick, black, camping rope.
  • Todd and I have a brief discussion about how the tree looks…well, you know… the word I don’t use.
  • Todd puts the lights on.
  • Sam and Ty dump out all of the Christmas ornaments.
  • Ty throws, and breaks, a vintage airplane ornament.
  • Sam yells at Ty.
  • Sam tells me that the reason God put a giant star in the sky is to tell everyone to decorate their trees. Good thing at least he understands the reason for the season.
  • Todd finishes putting up the lights. I come a little closer, and we have a brief discussion about whether or not those are icicle lights on the bottom half of the tree, and whether or not icicle lights belong on a tree. (In case you’re curious, they don’t. Ever.)
  • I take off the lights and put them back on, sans icicle lights. Sam and Ty step on cardboard boxes, play tug of war with strings of lights, fight over a mini-Christmas tree, try to plug in mini-Christmas tree, bang on the door where Todd is going to the bathroom, pull out all 25 verses in the Advent calendar, and “help” me take off more lights on the tree.
  • I realize that the pandora Christmas music station I’m listening to is, for some reason, making my blood pressure go higher, as this night is not silent, and there is no fa-la-la-ing happening at the current time.
  • Todd comes back and sits down, wearing his, “I give up” face.

  • We decide it’s time to put the boys in their special Christmas pajamas.
  • We realize that Ty can unzip and take off his special Christmas pajamas. Cool trick.

  • We manage to get the boys in bed. I ask Todd what we should do next about our crooked, redneck, wobbly Christmas tree and the mess all over the place. “Cry,” he says.
  • After a few brief moments of individual decompression (I check facebook, he watches football), we regroup. Eight fittings, three saw-ings, two hooks, and one PVC pipe later, Todd goes to Lowe’s to get a new Christmas tree stand. (We are really at good decision-making.)

Which is why, again, I don’t like Christmas songs.

Because life is messy. And Christmas is messy. And humans are messy. And as wonderful as little kids, and Christmas, and marriage, and life in your cozy home is, there are just moments where you think, what is that strand of Christmas lights doing under the refrigerator? And you have no idea.

That’s why, although I hate Christmas music, I love this song. It’s real.

I love that He knew our messes, and came to our messes, and (dare I hope it?!) still loves grumpy moms who yell at their kids and husbands while “Silent Night” rings in the background. Thank you, Jesus, for gifts I don’t deserve.

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ways to save money you haven’t thought of

I don’t know what these leaves have to do with the post, but aren’t they pretty? 🙂

I know this is going to shock you. But in our family, I am the one who has mini-panic attacks about handles the finances. I’m the one that says, at least every two months, “Honey, this is it. I just did the budget, and it looks really bad this time. We can’t spend any money. None. We’re done.”

Fortunately, everyone in our household is on the same page. However, Todd does sometimes accuse me of exaggerating (weird?!?!), and acting like the world is going to fall in once a week. (How is it my fault that almost does?!?!)

We just bought a van. Every time I have to write a check that large, I kind of hyperventilate, and then for a couple days I am on high financial alert. I start obsessively turning off lights when I leave a room, I scrape the very bottom of the ketchup in the name of frugality, and I (gasp) cut off that deliciously hot shower a few minutes early, fantasizing of the dollars I’m saving in for my sacrifice.

It usually wears off, unfortunately.

But this go-round I’ve actually discovered some really interesting ways to save money, and been reminded of some good ones I knew a while ago.

I’d like to think I’m not the only one who gets a sick feeling in my stomach when I think about how much (more) I need for retirement, and the unfathomable amount of food that must be needed to satisfy two teenage boys. Gulp.

So here are some ways to save some moo-lah. First, the FUN ones. I say that in the “teacher sense” of the word “fun.” Remember when your teacher said she had a “fun” worksheet? Think of it that way.

Fun ways:

  1. Have a yard sale. Serve hot chocolate, put out good signs, advertise on Craig’s List. Spend a few weeks going through each room in the house. Let your eyes fall on every object you own, and ask yourself: “Self, would I rather have (this object), or $1?” The only sticky part comes when one half of you would like to hang onto a rusting, corroding key chain collection, and one half of you unfathomably feels an emotional connection to said key chains.
  2. Use coupons. Oh, don’t roll those eyes. I use this link to see what coupons align with my local store, Harris Teeter. You don’t even have to do it every week! If you got your Sunday local paper, set aside the coupons, and drug them out for “Double Coupons” or “Triple Coupons” weeks at your grocery store, you’d be amazed how much free or next-to-free items you’d rack up.
  3. Set a reasonable but strict grocery budget, and get out cash for the month to put in an envelope. I was skeptical of this system. By biggest fear, aside from realizing I actually spend 4  times the amount I think I spend, was losing the envelope. So far, so good. It makes me so proud to know I’m staying in my budget! I plan to reward myself with a nice cold frappachino with part of my surplus. Ahhh, the many, many perks of being a stay-at-home mom. It’s a crazy life I live.
  4. Subscribe to the blog Money Saving Mom. I used to think she was only coupons and freebies. I have recently discovered that she is full of genuinely practical and helpful ways to make money from home and creatively budget. Everyday she has at least 20 different deals and tips. Truly amazing! So far (and it’s only been three weeks) I’ve won two giveaways, about 30 free ebooks, gotten a gift card, and made some blogging connections. Success, I’d say!
  5. Also subscribe to Free Homeschool Deals. It is far more than “homeschool deals.” Just today, I ordered about 10 free ebooks, about everything from homemade Christmas gifts to sharks and donkeys to everyday desserts.
  6. Use Swagbucks. If you use swagbucks to search the web (instead of google or whatever), you earn points to redeem for giftcards. I have friends who earn  over $100 a year in gift cards by doing nothing more than search the web. When you install swagbucks, send me an email so that I can get a referral! Their referral prizes are terrific. It’s been a month and I have a $5 gift card to Amazon, just by doing business as usual online!
  7. Sell books, etc on Amazon trade-in services. If you are like me and have old textbooks lying around, you can sell them for cash on amazon. Amazon even pays the shipping!

Now, the not-fun ways:

First, a story. {Isn’t it funny how you remember weird snippets from your childhood? I’ll never get out of my mind the time we were at an amusement park during closing time and the french-fry vendor gave us his leftover fries for free. Ah, what a wonderful memory.}

Also, one time my dad and I were cleaning out our car. He said something like, “You know, people don’t think it’s important to do maintenance on things. It’s the tyranny of the urgent – they only fix what’s broken. And it comes back to bite them.”

I’ve never forgotten that.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m horrible at it. But I know he’s right.

Here are the ways to save money, not but making money, but by not spending it. Gee whiz that sentence was deep.

  1. Keep anti-virus on your computer.
  2. Speaking of your computer, don’t let your kids play with the power adapter, don’t set drinks near your computer, and never set it on the floor. Where you will step on it. Or your kids will sit on it. Or drive a bulldozer over it. Etc. Etc.
  3. #2 above, for the cell phone. Add to not make phone calls on the toilet. (Who does that??)
  4. Keep the change. Literally, keep all the change you have/find/have been ignoring under the couch cushions. Get piggy bank.
  5. Keep your car in the garage.
  6. Change the oil regularly.
  7. Don’t grind up spoons in the garbage disposal.
  8. Don’t suck up paper clips and other plastic gunk in the vacuum.
  9. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth. And don’t (gasp, ahem, looking over at husband) run the shower for five minutes while you brush your teeth, go the bathroom, search for that perfect pair of boxers, clean out your ears, etc. etc. etc.!!!!!!! Wow. I guess that’s been bothering me. 🙂
  10. Only use HE detergent in your machine if it calls for it.
  11. Clean out the dryer vent.
  12. Replace the vacuum filter every six months, or whatever the manufacturer calls for. (Look, I warned you these were going to be boring!)
  13. Don’t let your kids “ride” your vacuum while you use it, even if seems like it is the highlight of their existence, because otherwise the “motherboard” gets damaged. (Who even knew non-spaceship items had “motherboards”?)
  14. Don’t drive places you don’t need to drive.
  15. Pay your bills on time.
  16. Repeat: pay your bills on time.
  17. When you’re buying something, look twice at the size/item #/thing you thought you were getting, to make sure.
  18. Brush your kids’ teeth after eating raisins. (I know, random. But they’re the worst, says a dentist I know. raisins = cavities = money.)
  19. Use a drying rack/clothesline instead of dryer sometimes. The dryer is your the biggest use of electricity.
  20. Keep your termite pest control treatments up-to-date.

I think I’ll stop there, because I’m starting to fall asleep. Did I just say “termite pest control?” I did. Anyways, you get the point. I realize this list is not going to become an overnight sensation on Pinterest or anything. But I thought we could all use a reminder to take care of the things we have! Listen to my dad!! Go change your oil!!! 🙂

8 Ways to Update Your Fall Mom Wardrobe

This post is “the blind leading the blind.”  As I tell my uber-stylish sister-in-law Morgan, “I used to be in style. I really did.” (I’m not sure she completely believes me.)

Morgan and me. Even her dog is stylish. Just don’t mind our pasty white faces or the decrepit forest behind us.

Honest to goodness, I really don’t mind being off the style treadmill. It’s ridiculous how much money (not to mention time) you have to spend to keep being in style. It’s a relief that I do nothing, and Sam still complements me highly on my beautiful jeans (aka the ones I wear everyday), and “that nice stuff on your lips” (Burt’s Bee’s gloss.) Honestly, I’m surprisingly content without shopping.

But about once a year (usually in the fall when my tan starts leaving), it starts to really bother me that I have no clue what is in style. And then I do what I always do when I’m frustrated. I research.

I asked around, and went on my go-to fashion website (great ideas, lovely sense of humor, HORRIBLY expensive taste) and came up with this list of items to upgrade my fashion into 2012. Just in time for 2013. Anyways, keep in mind that these pictures and ideas can be done very inexpensively. Think Target, clothing swaps, and J.C. Penney (which is my new favorite store. Don’t tell Morgan.)

Now look. If you are a mom and still stylish, I hate you. don’t just read this to make fun of me. This is not intended for your amusement. This is for the rest of us who genuinely want to know what the cool kids are wearing, because, as is painfully obvious, we are not cool (anymore?), nor are we not kids (anymore).

Here are a few things you could add to your Christmas list to easily look like you know what is in style.

  1. cute sweatshirt. Key word here is “cute.” If you wore it in college, it doesn’t count. Here is one suggestion:

    image from gap.com

    Ideally, it would have full-length sleeves. I found one that’s a really cute pink color. Stylish, yet I could wear it outside in the garage to find a wrench. Not that I go outside to get wrenches, but the point is, I could.

  2. cute sneakers

This is not to be underestimated. Last year, heeding the advice from the aforementioned fashion site, Ain’t No Mom Jeans, I found some Sketchers that were along these lines. Cute sneakers dress up anything. Instantly, yoga pants, workout shorts, even jeans go up a few notches.

3. striped long sleeved ts – Good news here is, any store you go in, you will find 827 striped shirts. Who knew? Here is an example, in case you missed kindergarten and forgot what stripes looked like. Don’t feel obligated to buy this $350 from J. Crew. It’s inconceivable to me that I would spend a year of HOA payments on a t-shirt.

4. flannel shirt. I always think of my Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Tommy when I wear flannel shirts. They wear REAL flannel shirts. Like while they brush horses’ teeth, and move chicken coops, and build real fires outside. I have one, and I wore it to make rice crispie treats.

photo from jcrew.com

5. shoes this style:

photo from jcrew.com

I’m still not exactly sure what one would call these shoes. Ship shoes? Boat shoes? Something like that. You can find them at Target and they look a heck of a lot like these from J. Crew. But what do I know.
6. cowboy boots. I think everyone knows what they look like. In the winter, you can wear them with jeans, or leggings and a dress. As those girls mentioned on Ain’t No Mom Jeans, please don’t do that thing where you wear leggings and a shirt, and it looks like you forgot your pants.

7. colored skinnies

photo from jcrew.com

Now, look. You wish skinny jeans would go out of style forever. I’m with you. But we’ve just got to ride this horse while it’s in town. I have had the best luck with Gap. Disclaimer – my husband does not like skinny jeans. I just wear them to impress my girl friends. So there you have it.

8. trendy nail polish


This color is very similar to the one Morgan and John gave me for my birthday. Also, I asked the cute teenage girl at my church, and she said that gray tones are in style. This is a really easy $2.99 way to pump up your style.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed my tips to de-momify your wardrobe this fall. Any other suggestions?

Giveaway Winner!

I’m excited to announce the winner of the ebook Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmas…Kathy from Kangaroo Mama! Congratulations! I’ll be emailing you with your code to enter at checkout!

I have been devouring my copy of Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmas. This is an extremely helpful, well-written little book. It is just jam-packed with tips, websites, recipes, crafts, gift ideas, etc. etc.  For the next three days it is on sale for $.99 at Amazon! I’m quite sure you would make that back with the money-saving tips that Crystal provides. Click here to purchase!

Thanks for all the cookie suggestions! I was surprised how many I hadn’t even heard of! Stay tuned here for next week’s Wednesday giveaway!

just a bunch of funny things from today

Some days are funnier in retrospect. Here’s what happens on some of these days, like today, for instance.

  • Someone’s up at 4:50. In the morning. For the day. Hint: This person is not a parent or guardian. Second hint: This person did NOT want socks on, was NOT thirsty, most definitely did not want his diaper changed, but oddly, was pacified by clunking a box of blocks in the dark. Guess he woke up with an architectural vision.
  • Consequently, everyone is dressed and eating oatmeal by 6:30, eating lunch at 11, having meltdowns at 10:30 in the morning, dinner at five, and in bed at 6:30. Thank you, daylight savings time.
  •  Good news = you made cookies. Bad news = afternoon snack was globs of cookie dough for everyone. Whoops.
  •  It was the best idea you had all day to lug a fifty-pound muddy outdoor basketball hoop into the living room.
  •  You make a doctor appointment because you think your son has MERSA, only to realize the skin disease in question were ant bites. Oh, wait, that doesn’t ever happen to you? Oh.
  •  Somehow the idea of making a plate of seconds is really tiring, and a better idea is to eat bite-sized chunks of BBQ pork right off of a one-year-old’s high chair. Look, he wasn’t going to eat them anyway.
  •  By the time the sun sets, you will have broken up six fights over a plastic lug nut-remover. At least the time that blood was drawn, the perpetrator promised he would never, ever scratch anyone again, “unless it was a really bad person who came into our house with a sword.” Mark that one down in the “win” category, I guess.
  •  Sweeping the floor is like a bittersweet trip down memory lane. Ahhh, I remember the raisins. That was a good snack. Oh, THERE’S marker lid. When did we use cue tips??? Oh, yeah, when Ty got cookie dough in his belly button…
  •  You realize while cleaning up the day’s wreckage that someone apparently occupied himself for solid amount of time with half a bag of rubber bands and a log of metal staples. Mother of year, right here.
  •  You find wooden spoons all over and honestly cannot remember if someone was making soup or got a spanking.
  •  You hear ferocious dinosaur jumps and various other “cool tricks” coming from the bedroom of the one who was “too tired” to carry his water bottle to bed. (?!?)
  • And, lastly, at the end of said day, you fish through the freezer to reheat a freezer-burnt peanut-butter brownie from six months ago. {Update: this was one of the sub-par ideas of the day. Just as a word of advice.}

But overall I’d say today was absolutely a success, wouldn’t you?!? 🙂

Today-Only Giveaway! preparing for Christmas ebook!

I have one copy of “Celebrating and Savoring a Simple Christmas” ebook to give away free today!

I have recently become a fan of the author, Crystal Paine, from the blog Money Making Mom. She has daily info on freebies, hot deals, coupons, etc. But she’s also full of practical, sound wisdom about how to be a good homemaker on a budget. I’m curious to hear her tips for Christmas, including:

  • freezer cooking for the holidays
  • making a December budget
  • simple, homemade gifts
  • fun family activities, and more!

If you want to enter:

  1. Comment below, or via facebook. What’s your favorite Christmas cookie? (Gearing up for my sister’s cookie contest!)
  2. “Like” Smartter Each Day on facebook, OR subscribe to the blog (see link on the right!)

I’ll randomly select a winner and announce tomorrow!

Why Quiet Times are Difficult…Contest Winners!

First, a little story. Tonight, I made a hearty pot of local kale and white bean soup for dinner. About an hour later, I was starting to get grumpy because my stomach was growling. As if on cue, Todd turned to me mid-football commercial and said (with all the passion and sincerity he is capable of), “Honey, I’m hungry.” He was looking at me with the most pitiful eyes.

So what could I do?

He is at Burger King getting us whoppers. (Don’t worry! We had a coupon. buy one, get one.)

Because, sometimes you have kale soup, and sometimes, you have kale soup and then a whopper. That is just life, folks.

Anyways.

Speaking of lack of discipline, I lamented recently that I was struggling to have productive quiet times. Although I very specifically requested no mercy, Grace shines on the Mother With Sporadic Quiet Times, as it turns out.

I got lots of grace.

Lots of you understanding, agreeing, suggesting. A few people reminding that sleep is gift. (Bless you.) The biggest practical application I made was to immediately purchase a copy of Jesus Calling. Where have I been that I haven’t had of this wonderful book?

My kind Aunt Sharon even offered to buy me one herself (as well as the other girls in my family). She is too sweet.

I found it interesting that all of the older (ahem…wiser? more seasoned?) adults must have convened across various states and time zones, because if I were a teacher and their answers were tests, I’d have said they had cheated.

Oddly, these wise and godly adults understood the struggle. Bless you all for responding.

I’d like to copy below a few words from my Aunt Jamee:

You are hungering for more spiritual discipline as a busy mom… but being an at-home mom of small children is a spiritual discipline… So I would suggest that a woman whose day is filled with hard, time consuming work should practice the discipline of looking for, and becoming aware of, God’s presence.  How does that happen?  First ask God to help you be attentive to him in the midst of the mundane and distracting.  When the warm sunlight hits your arm be aware of the warmth of his love.  When the clean clothes come out of the washer be aware of his cleansing forgiveness.  When you place food on the table be aware of his provision.  Do you see how it works?  You discipline yourself to be aware of his presence at all times… What really impacts my life is the spiritual discipline of attentiveness to God’s presence.  Its even harder than finding time for “quiet time.”

Even harder than finding quiet time.

Yes. If carving out thirty minutes for exegesis seems difficult, then inviting him into every moment is near impossible.

That said, here are my resolutions from here forward.

  • Get my hands on that Jesus Calling book.
  • Find a verse to meditate on every week. If all I get is one verse, eat it, mull over it, devour it as life-giving food. If I get to hear a snippet of a sermon on Sunday, focus, and close my eyes, and hear every single word of the truth.
  • Worship with my children. Sing songs with them. Pray out loud in front of them. Listen to their little Jesus CDs and praise the Lord that He’s got the whole world in his hands.
  • When I sleep, thank the Lord that I can, and tell him I trust Him.