"Scrape the bowl, and start again."

Some seasons of life are busier than others and this past year has been especially busy for our family. Somehow even when my schedule is tight, I often seem to take on even more, sometimes at the expense of things in my life that are important.

This morning, I woke up with a picture in my mind of a hand mixer twirling in a mixing bowl filled with ingredients becoming cookie dough, and these words came to mind: 

Scrape the bowl, and start again. 

Turn off the hand mixer. Choose to unplug, slow down, and be present in every situation. I created you to enjoy this life I’ve given you.

Scrape the bowl, and start again.

When you mix ingredients, chunks fly to the sides of the bowl. You can look at those disconnected pieces and see failure or weakness because you could not keep everything together, but I do not judge you. Leave the past in the past. Every day is an opportunity for a new beginning.

Scrape the bowl, and start again.

Those pieces of dough are necessary if you want a tasty outcome or a balanced life. Take time to gather all of the pieces on the sides of the bowl and gently fold them back into the mix. Take your time. Don’t let the process become a burden, but find joy in the small things.

Scrape the bowl, and start again. 

I am grateful for a God who cares about the concerns on my mind and gently restores my anxious heart. Today, I’m going to scrape the bowl, and start again. 

Searching for Treasure: Saving with Coupons

Until last month, I WAS a coupon clipper.  Twenty years ago when I was a new mom, I had time to clip coupons weekly and maintain an organized coupon wallet. Time passed, more babies were born, I started homeschooling and suddenly there was no time for couponing.  With less time, I discontinued couponing, consolidated my food shopping to one store and bought as many generic brand products as possible.  Fast forward twenty years and now our economy is struggling and we have two daughters in college.  If there was ever a time that I need to save my pennies, it’s now!  I’m certainly learning as I go, but here are some things I’ve learned over the past two months:

General Principles for Couponing
Look for ways to save money on the groceries you regularly buy.  You aren’t saving money if you use coupons for items you don’t usually purchase!

  • Be adventurous and try new brands of items that you have coupons for, if the coupons make the item cheaper than your old brand.  You may find a new favorite.
  • Think ahead and stock up on deeply discounted items.  Stock up on discounted toothpaste or toilet paper—after all, you know you’ll use it!  Purchase discounted baking items in the fall so you’ll be ready for holiday baking.
  • Know how much you are spending .  Save your register receipts and write down the cost of the products you most often buy.  Use this as a guide to compare at other stores or for future discounts.

Where Are the Coupons?
Newspapers We cancelled our newspaper subscription many years ago; however, I’ve recently learned that I can subscribe to my local paper for Sunday and Wednesday delivery for 75 cents per week.  Another friend recommended purchasing a paper at a dollar store.

Mailers Even though we don’t get the paper, we still receive a weekly Red Plum mailer that includes grocery store advertisements and coupons.  You can sign up to receive the Red Plum mailer at:  www.redplum.com.

Printable Coupons There are several sites that allow you to print coupons.  These are not the same coupons that come in the newspaper, even if they have the same company name.  Most sites require you to download the coupon printer before you can print a coupon, but you need only download it once.

Weekly Advertisements Check out the front page specials of the grocery store circulars, usually featuring the deepest discounts called “loss leaders” that are designed to get you into the store to spend more money.  Don’t forget the bogo specials (buy 1, get 1) and discounts on meat.  Meat can always be frozen for future use.

Friends If you have friends that get the paper, ask them if they’ll keep the coupons for you.  Ask for pet coupons from friends who don’t have pets.  There are also organizations that facilitate trading coupons, but I haven’t explored that yet.

What’s the strategy?
Organize Your Coupons When I first started clipping coupons, an envelope worked just fine.  Sometimes I’d see other moms with fancy binders, but I had no idea how to set up one myself.  I just found this link for a binder you can make on your own:  Make a coupon binder.

Know the Coupon Policy for Each Store Each store has its own coupon policy which states how many coupons are accepted per day or per transaction, the maximum coupon amount accepted, and which coupons, if any, can be doubled or even tripled.

Use your Coupons Wisely Avoid using coupons at high-priced grocery stores.  Instead, save your coupons for shopping trips at stores that already have lower prices.

Shop on Double Coupon Day We have a local grocery store that offers double coupons each Wednesday and super doubles once a month or so.  Though this store generally has higher prices, I collect my l amount coupons, which will be doubled, and purchase just those items.  Again, you need to know how much you usually spend so you know if you are truly saving money.

Research the Blogs There are so many websites/blogs devoted to helping people save money.  Let them do all the work!  Here are a few of my favorite sites that have deals on groceries, restaurants, and other products.  Sometimes there are even free samples if you sign up for a mailing list.  Keep a look out for posts about match up items and dates for double coupon days. Here is a list of some of my favorite blogs: moneysavingmom.com southernsavers.com thecouponconsultant.com couponchallenge.com passionforsavings.com

Purchase Matchup Items Most blogs have a weekly post of match up items for a specific store—discounted items purchased with a coupon at a significant discount or even free.  The best blog for you to follow is the one that includes your local grocery stores.  Posted matchups can save a lot of money, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  I don’t always have the coupons.  Also, the matchup items are not always available at my particular store and when they are available, often the items are already out of stock by the time I arrive in the afternoon.  The early bird definitely gets the worm!

Sign Up for Group Discounts Some organizations offer discounts to their members.  One such company is Groupon.  I signed up to receive a daily email featuring a discount to a local business or service.  Most offers are available for purchase for just 24 hours and a new offer will arrive in your inbox the next day.  Generally, the discount is usually 40-50% and the coupon may expire anywhere from 3-12 months.  There is a minimum number which must be purchased by the group before the discount takes effect—hence the name “Groupon.”  After you pay by credit or debit card, you print the Groupon and present it as a coupon at the place of business.  There is no membership or handling fee.  My favorite Groupon purchase was 50% off a flying lesson at our regional airport—a Father’s Day gift for my hubby.  Groupons are a great deal for gifts or things that you regularly purchase.

One such group discount is available through Homeschool Buyers Coop.  Members sign up to receive a free newsletter which communicates all available discounts on various homeschool curricula.  Each discount is available for purchase for several weeks.  There are three levels of discounts, based on how many orders are placed—more orders equals a deeper discount.  If you purchase early at a lower discount and more people purchase later, you receive price based on the number sold at the close of the deal.  You may pay by debit or credit card and the product ships after the deal has expired—which may be several weeks after you made the actual purchase.  I was able to save about $50 on a music curriculum for the fall.

 

Be Ready to Learn
Really, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much to learn--and it takes time to master the art of major savings.  If you are an “Extreme Coupon Queen,” please post a comment to this article and share your favorite secrets for saving money with coupons.

Note: Groupon compensates me for new referrals; however I posted about it because it has saved my family money, not because I'm trying to make money.

September Organization Challenge: Finances

Getting a handle on your finances takes some time, but is an inexpensive way to cut down on household expenses.  When bills are accessible, it is easier to pay them on time and save money in late fees or rush shipping.  When receipts are organized, broken items can be returned or serviced for free under a warranty—if you can find it!  The savings can really add up.

Set up a system As soon as you get the mail, put the bills and bank statements in their place—preferably somewhere above arms reach of little ones.  Don’t lay your bills down anywhere else, lest they get lost or moved by another family member.  I use a letter sorter which has enough space for a few blank business envelopes, stamps, rolls for coins, and a pen.  You could also use an expandable file folder with a sufficient number of pockets for your filing system.

Keep  debit and credit receipts Collect your debit and credit receipts in your wallet or in your filing system.  Enter them regularly in your checkbook, Quickbooks, or whatever system you use.  Keeping an accurate balance of your finances will help you avoid overspending.  Clearly mark the receipts that have been entered.  File receipts necessary for warranties, stapling them to the user’s guide or other warranty information.  We file all other receipts by month in business envelopes, in case something needs to be returned.

Print receipts for internet transactions Internet purchases can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of daily and weekly expenditures.  Print out receipts from internet purchases and file them with your bills and bank statements.  Record them regularly so there are no surprises at the end of the month.

Pay bills regularly  This seems like such a simple idea, but it is so easy to put off paying the bills until next week and then you realize that you have a bill due tomorrow!  Paying bills regularly saves money in late fees and overnight shipping.  If you need to keep a record of a paid bill, record the date and check number on the stub before filing it in your filing system.  (I’ll save that one for another article…)

Keep a file for warranties and manuals Create file folders for warranties and manuals of products that you purchase.  Staple the receipt to the manual so you have all the information for the warranty.  You can even mark your receipt if it was paid by credit card because some credit cards double the manufacturer’s warranty.  Also, record the serial number, especially for electronics.   When some of our personal items were stolen, he mentioned that he would be able to trace items if he had a serial number.  Now I record those on the cover of the item’s manual.

Technically, I have more than one warranty file: one for outdoor items such as the lawnmower and tools, one for kitchen tools and appliances (toasters to stoves), one for electronics (stereos to phones), one for everything else luggage), one for jewelry and one for kids furniture and toys.  My girls have their own file folders for items that they own.  A little bit of time could save a lot of money down the road.

Monitor bank statements Be sure to balance your checkbook, double checking all expenditures, automatic withdrawals, and deposits. Banks sometimes make mistakes.  Once out bank direct deposited my husband’s paycheck TWICE.  We were only looking at the bottom line and didn’t catch the error for two months.  It was a blow to our budget when the bank withdrew the second deposit from our account!  More importantly many banks are changing their fee structure and charging for various services.  Know if you’re being charged, what for, and how much.  Shop around and see if you can find comparable services for less.

Use cash Whenever possible, use a cash system.  Withdraw money weekly or biweekly for gas, groceries, entertainment, or clothing and store them in separate envelopes.  Before you make a purchase, consult your envelope to see how much money is available for your purchase.  This does require an amount of self-control not to spend over the limit or spend on items other than the designated categories.  You may also find it helpful to save receipts for cash purchases so that you can accurately budget for the future.

Whether you use cash, check or credit, be sure to keep receipts you might need for returns or warranty purposes.  When I purchase clothing or shoes, I keep the receipts for at least one month in case there is a defect in the product.

Make a budget—and follow it I saved this one for last because it is a little intimidating.  Making a budget does take some time and sticking to it takes a lot of self-control, but spending only what is budgeted is guaranteed to save you money.  There is no need for me to detail the process of making a budget since there are so many other organizations that specialize in budgets and finances.  Years ago we used Larry Burkett’s budget system to get out of debt.  (It’s now called Crown Financial Ministries.)  Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is another successful system for eliminating debt and living within your means.  Which one is best?  Well, it’s like a famous body builder once said when someone asked him which exercise equipment was the best.  His reply was, “The one you use.”

Sometimes life passes by so quickly that we easily fill our days meeting the urgent needs without giving thought or attention to looking ahead.  Take some time to organize your finances, evaluate where you are and set some goals for where you want to be.  Not only will it improve your bottom line, it will be time well spent.

A Secure Investment: Investing in Your Children

(Note:  This article is by no means intended to criticize working moms or moms who don’t homeschool.  God calls families to different ways to raise their children:  there is certainly more than one way to raise a godly child.  My heart is to encourage moms who have chosen motherhood as a career.  It is a wise investment.)

After investing diligently for twenty years, my retirement account still stands at zero.  It has nothing to do with my broker or with the economy, but it is a direct result of how I invested.  For more than 20 years I have been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for our four daughters.  I have invested money, time, and energy into teaching, training, and mentoring these young women and it is an investment that has paid high dividends.  (Of course my husband has also played a significant role in their development, but this article is not for the Daddies.)

Before our children were born, I was a public school music teacher who also taught several classes of hearing-impaired students.  Most of the 750 students I saw each week knew my name and some even regularly visited my classroom for extra time together.  I had a decent income, a retirement account, and summers off.  My career afforded me the opportunity to make great dinner conversation as I described how I taught music to hearing-impaired children.  I taught for two years and loved my job.  In the eyes of our culture, I was successful.

God blessed my husband and I and three days after the last day of school, I found myself at home with a newborn baby girl who wasn’t interested in my teaching success!  My ultimate career choice was to be a wife and mother, but somehow this wasn’t what I thought I had signed up for.  Everything was new to both of us and it took some time for us to learn.  Even more disappointing was the reaction of friends and acquaintances when I told them I was a stay-at-home mom.  Some of them questioned what I did all day and others politely smiled and found someone else to talk to.  It was painfully clear that society did not approve of my

No matter what the view of others, I stayed true to God’s call for me and our family.  There were joyful days and there were difficult days (when wanted to quit or resign!).  Most every day was full—full of laundry, cooking, cleaning, straightening, counseling, teaching, repeating, training, undoing, redoing, correcting, repeating, disciplining, discipling, and did I mention repeating?  We read the Bible together, prayed together, talked together, dreamed together, and cried together.  Sometimes the progress was infinitesimal and my dream of God-fearing daughters seemed elusive, but still my husband and I prayed and stayed the course.

As with any investment, there was risk.  Would it be better if we had a second income so we could provide better?  Would a one-income household limit what they could do?  Should we send them to school so they can be taught by the “experts” instead of an inexperienced mom?  What if I ruin them?  The enemy of my soul tried to discourage me and cause me to doubt our choices and my value, but I held to the truth that I am a precious daughter of the Most High God.

Today, our investment continues to yield a high rate of return.  We have four daughters who are lovely, inside and out.  They aren’t perfect, but they know the Savior who is and they’ve been saved by grace.  They know the Word, and they obey the Word.  They are carriers of His presence who sow seeds of Jesus’ love everywhere they go.  My time as a stay-at-home mom has been the best investment I’ve ever made.

September Newsletter: Saving and Investing

The articles this month focus on saving and investing.  Our economy has certainly changed over the past few years, but we have no need to fear.  God’s word has promised that “Our God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory.” (Phil 4:19) Our part is to be good stewards and wisely use what God has given us. On a personal note, I wrote about my mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease in March.  (Read the article…

On August 26, 2011, my 69-year-old mother was called home by her loving Savior and best friend and on September 3, we celebrated the life of a woman who had invested in family and in His Kingdom.  She had no 401-K or retirement account, but she had been a full-time, stay-at-home mom an invested generously in her five children.  Her legacy lives on in her 5 children, 11 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.  If your parents are still living, call them or visit them--or better yet, give ‘em a hug.

Because every day matters,

Joy

Reflections on Letting Go and Launching a Daughter

Five weeks from today, our oldest daughter will begin a new season.  She will be furthering her education in the areas of Bible and worship.  For the first 17 years of her life, I had envisioned my sweet daughter finishing her high school education, maybe attending college from home, and finding a wonderful husband so that they could pursue a life together serving God.  But God challenged my ideas for her future while the two of us were serving on a missions trip to China just before her senior year. Close to the end of our time in China, we had the opportunity to take a short hike to an overlook in a remote village.  As I stood gazing at the expanse of the incredibly beautiful mountains piercing the sky, I heard in my spirit, “This is your Mount Moriah.”  Immediately my mind flashed to a picture of Abraham with his son Isaac, standing before an altar.  His heart may have been filled with pain and grief, but through his surrender came great blessing to him and the world.

God:  Are you willing to give me your daughter? Me: I did that years ago during a baby dedication service at church.  Of course she’s yours. God: But this is different.  Will you surrender her to Me—and to China? Me:  But she can’t go to China.  She’s not married yet.  Certainly you don’t want her to be here alone (God had clearly called her to China during a Kindergarten geography lesson in our homeschool, but we had imagined that would be after she was married.) God: Must she wait until I send her a husband?  What if she never marries?  Can she not return to China?  Do you trust me to take care of her? Silence. Me: (through tears) Yes.  I trust You.  She’s yours.

This whole conversation was a surprise to me.  When our children were babies we understood that it was important to commit them to God’s care and follow His direction for them.  It was no surprise that our children belonged to Him, but I had imagined that our girls would stay at home, learn a skill that could bring in money from home and then they would be married.    I had not considered the possibility that our creative God might have other plans.  When we returned from China, I shared the revelation with my husband and with Victoria.  Together my husband and I released her to follow God’s direction for her life—whatever that looked like.  She continued to pursue her love for China and training for worship while she studied graphic design at the community college.

Fast forward two years.  Victoria was about to finish her studies at the community college.  Clearly God was growing Victoria’s passion for worship and expanding her gifting.  Leaders in the church confirmed her gifts and gave her opportunities to grow.  Victoria sensed she needed further training beyond what she could receive in our area, but she was reluctant to even dream about what might be beyond our community.  We could see God’s hand guiding her and knew He was expanding her vision.  After prayer, long discussions, divine appointments, confirmations, and our blessing, she applied and was accepted to a program to study Bible and worship.  I knew it was God’s will but my heart held a seed of fear that I was losing my daughter—and my friend.

One day in my quiet time as I was praying about this situation, God showed me that my daughter was like a bird.  “She’s a bird made to fly and it isn’t good if she was allowed only to sit in your nest and sing.  She has a gift and she will bless many ‘nests’ with her voice.  A captured bird becomes unhappy and unfulfilled.  As she fulfills her call, joy will overflow—both in her life and in yours.  There will be some who prefer birds in cages and they may not understand.  But I created birds to fly.  Some fear the birds will never return, but I created migratory birds to fly away for a season and then return to the same location, a safe place.  She will always treasure the safe place of your home.”  I realize that only outside the cage can she fulfill the purpose of her Creator.  First and foremost she belongs to God and I know He loves her so much more than I ever could.  I trust that He is guiding her and that she is following His voice.

The next five weeks will pass all too quickly.  We’ll spend time together, sharing quiet moments, shopping for necessities and making more memories.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the day Victoria checks in at school is three years to the day we departed on our life-changing missions trip to China.  She may be thinking of her new adventure, but I’ll be thinking of the mountains of China and Mount Moriah.  I know that through surrender will come great blessing.

 Note:  Victoria is currently recording her first CD.  It will be available in the Daughters 4 God Shoppe in early August.       

July Organization Challenge: Bedrooms

Organization—Bedrooms Summer is the perfect time to organize, switch, or spruce up bedrooms.  During the school year, we try not to make major changes and try to keep everything as orderly as possible.  (I don’t have proof, but my personal experience says that an ordered world promotes better concentration and learning.)  Organizing a bedroom can be one gargantuan task that may take many hours or even many days.  Sometimes moms try to accomplish this job alone because it takes less time.  Instead, think of this as a teaching opportunity so that someday they can do it without you!  Younger ones can be part of the process so that they learn how to be organized and how to prioritize what items should be kept and share in the joy of giving to others.  For the teens, I communicate my expectations and set up a time for us to work together to accomplish the task.  Though I’m mostly moving things to appropriate piles, this is a teaching moment for them and I believe the job moves much faster with my supervision.

Last month we took 2 weeks to organize and update one daughter’s bedroom, 2 days to organize another, and I’m currently in the midst of purging another bedroom for an imminent move to college.  There is no right way to do this, but here is our plan for those who are interested.

Assess the situation before you do anything. Too often I've started a project before I counted the cost or made a plan.  An assessment is like “bedroom triage.”  (Please don’t quote me on that!)

Is the furniture suitable?  Have they outgrown it?  Are we adding or removing a sibling to the room? Does the furniture need to be cleaned, repaired, painted, etc.?  Is there adequate drawer space for storing clothing?  Do we need all the furniture in the room?  Do we need to purchase something else, such as a desk or bookshelf?

How are the linens (sheets, pillows, mattress pad, comforter, curtains)?  Do some need to be replaced or mended?  What does the budget allow me to replace?

Does everything have a home?  When I ask something to be put away, does my daughter have a place to put it?  Can she find what she needs when she needs it?  Does she need more storage containers for items she has recently acquired?

Should everything currently in the room stay in the room?  Is it time to shift some items/toys to the attic, to another room, or another home?  If we need to move things, do I have a place to move them or can they live in the garage until I find a good home?  **This may be one of the most important questions you answer.  Make sure you have a plan for what will be leaving the room.  You don’t want to organize one room only to find that all of the “stuff” is merely piled in the hallway, garage, or worse yet the master bedroom!  This may determine your time frame.  If you know a friend wants the extra desk in about a month, you may want to store it in the garage temporarily or maybe wait on your project.

Make a plan. Decide how long you think it will take you to make the necessary changes.  My guess:  a whole day for a full closet and full desk, half a day each for bookshelves, dresser, under the bed, redecorating.  You may think you can go through things more quickly, but remember the goal is to organize and find a home for everything that doesn’t belong.  I also find that if we stay focused on one mini project until completion, we can stop in the middle of the whole project and still live in the room!

Organize the closet. I always start with the closet first so that we make room to store other things that may be elsewhere in the room.  Be sure to have some paper nearby to start a shopping list for things you need.

Go through hanging clothes and put them in four piles: Keep:  It fits and the child wears it.  LAY THE CLOTHES ON THE BED Mend:  It fits, the child wears it, but it needs to be mended--hemmed, button replaced, etc.) FOLD THE CLOTHES IN A PILE AND SET THEM ASIDE. Put Away/Give Away/Sell: doesn’t fit, child doesn’t wear, still in good shape.  You may choose to store it for younger siblings, give it away to friends or a charity, or sell it on consignment—or some of each!  PUT AWAY CLOTHES IN A PLASTIC TOTE, GIVE AWAY CLOTHES IN A GARBAGE BAG, SELL CLOTHES KEEP ON HANGERS AND WASH OR DRYCLEAN BEFORE SELLING. Throw Away:  Not in good shape. PUT THE CLOTHES IN A GARBAGE BAG Vacuum the closet and the baseboards before you put things back in.  All “Keep” clothes should be returned to the closet (opposite season to the back of the closet) and all other piles should be taken care of appropriately.  Be sure you have enough hangers so that there are no excuses for clothes that aren’t hung up!  Add them to the shopping list if you need more.

Sort shoes and other accessories (belts, scarves, scrunchies, etc.) Use the same four piles system, as above.  Be sure there is a home for everything.  We use boxes or hanging organizers for shoes, a hanging organizer for jewelry, a special hanger for belts, and a special hanger for scrunchies/scarves.  Add anything you need to your shopping list.  Be sure that only “Keep” shoes and accessories remain in the room before you move on.

Organize shelves in the closet. Take down one item at a time.  If you take everything down, you are stuck with reorganizing it all in one sitting—or your child has to live with stuff piled around.  (Can you hear the voice of experience?!)  Go through one box/bag/item at a time using the same four pile system that you used for clothes.  Sort all items on the shelves and wipe off the shelf before you return items to the closet.  Use the storage in the closet for things that your children don’t need access to: breakable items, or keepsakes, games with small pieces, or seasonal clothing.   All other piles should be taken care of appropriately.

Work your way around the room. I organize rooms like I clean them—starting at the light switch and working my way around clockwise.  Vacuum or wipe down the baseboards as you go.  Here are some suggestions for the remainder of the room, as you encounter each situation.

Organize the dresser. Using the same four pile system, sort through one drawer at a time.  Wipe out the insides of drawers before you replace the items.  Our drawer system looks like this:  one drawer for socks, undies, camis, and slips/hose (organized with one shoes box for each item type), another drawer for swimsuits (in a shoe box) and pjs, another drawer for seasonal everyday pants, another drawer for seasonal shirts.  Everything else gets hung up.  During the summer, we keep winter clothes--sweaters, corduroys, turtlenecks--in a clear plastic tub in the closet or under the bed. In the winter, the same plastic tub is filled with shorts, capris, sleeveless shirts.   Note:  In lieu of a dresser, we've also used a plastic drawer “cart” in the bottom of the closet, just above the hanging shirts.

Organize under the bed. Using the same four pile system, sort through all of the items under the bed.  Use storage under the bed for bins of toys, seasonal clothes or other things that your children may need access to without your assistance.

Organize the desk. Using the same four pile system, sort through the items on/in the desk.  Start with the desk drawers, one at a time.  Again, keep only what your child needs and be sure that there is a system for organization—a home for everything.  Also, if your child is using the desk for homework or school, be sure that they have all the necessary supplies (pencils, erasers, calculators, etc.)  Next, clean off the top of the desk and decide what should stay.  Discard or put away all other items.

Organize the bookshelves.Using the same four pile system, sort through the items on the shelves.  Wipe off every shelf before you replace the items.  On our shelves:  top shelf for trinkets, middle shelves for books, bottom shelf for fabric bin with stuffed animals.

Organize the nightstand. Using the same four pile system, sort through the drawers.  I call them “treasure drawers.”  Each drawer has a shoe box for the little things and space for papers/books on the other side of the drawer.  When the girls were younger, this is they kept their “treasures” that would've been destroyed by the toy box—bouncy balls, fast food toys, book marks, and other little gifts and items that I probably would've thrown away!  We periodically sorted through the treasures since affections change—and wisdom comes with age. J  Don’t forget to wipe out drawers before you refill them.

Repair, rearrange or replace furniture, as necessary. Repair or refresh furniture, as needed.  Remove and replace furniture, as needed.

Redecorate. Wash or replace linens, as needed.  Wash the windows when you replace the curtains.  Evaluate what is currently hanging on the walls using the same four pile system.  Purchase any needed items such as picture frames or mirrors.  Hang items.

Switch Rooms or Paint. That may seem like the opposite way to do things, but it’s much easier to switch rooms or paint a room with less stuff!

 

This may seem like a long process, but so worth it.  I try to do this for every bedroom during the summer.  Yes, it does take a lot of time, but much less time if we aren’t switching rooms or furniture.  In the long run, it helps our home stay neater and more organized if there is space for everything and if everything has a home.  Happy organizing!

13th Birthday Celebration

Some families celebrate birthdays in a big way and others barely acknowledge the day aside from any other.  Our family has chosen to honor and celebrate each child, on each birthday, as a confirmation of their uniqueness and identity.  Since no child is the same, no celebration is the same; however, each celebration must have the elements of honor and surprise. Recently, our youngest turned 13.  Since we’ve chosen not to use the term “teenager,” the age 13 is not so special to our family but in the mind of our youngest daughter it represented a milestone.  It was shaping up to be a pretty uneventful day since I had nothing special planned and no precious gift to give.  (A month earlier we had helped her purchase an upgrade to her violin—an early birthday present—so she would have time to get used to it before her spring recital.) Since she was already aware of her gift, we were searching for some sort of surprise that would also show her honor.

With only two weeks to spare, God inspired me to honor Abigail by inviting 13 friends—ages 5 to mid 30’s-- to celebrate with her.  (Abigail loves her family, but she is an encourager and has quite a collection of friends and pen pals!)  I chose Dad as her first friend and sent emails to the parents of 12 of Abigail’s close friends explaining my plan.  (I would’ve sent invitations, but I didn’t really consider it a party and the idea came to me kid of last minute.)  I would purchase 13 pink roses.  Each guest would arrive between 7 and 8 pm bringing one rose and a card or letter of blessing.  Cake and ice cream would be served promptly at 8 pm.  I knew that some friends had prior commitments for that evening and may not be able to participate so I asked for RSVPS’s to make sure all 12 would be present.  Amazingly, every friend but one was able to make adjustments to the schedule and participate in honoring Abigail.

On Abigail’s special day, we celebrated as we celebrate each birthday--donuts in bed.  Along with the donuts, Abigail found a small gift on her tray—a fancy green key to our home on a cool key chain.  This has become a traditional gift for 13th birthdays.  It is more symbolic than practical, but as the girls get older they sometimes have need of a key after a babysitting job.  It’s our way of saying, “You are responsible.”

In the afternoon, Abigail and I went to Starbucks for a surprise meeting with Miss Kelly, a young woman who sings on the worship team with Abigail and the one of the 13 special friends who was unable to attend our evening celebration. She presented Abigail with a pink rose tied with a ribbon and bought her a Passion Fruit Tea Lemonade.  The three of us chatted together for about 20 minutes and then Miss Kelly had to go back to work.

While Abigail and I were at Starbucks, two of my older daughters baked and frosted a cake, shined the bathroom, and delivered the roses to Abigail’s friends.  Some of the roses were delivered to the church, a central location for others to pick them up, and some to friends in the neighborhood and surrounding area.  When we arrived home, the house was completely ready for a surprise celebration.

Dad came home from work and presented Abigail with a pink rose—tied with the same ribbon.  Abigail remarked how it was the same ribbon as Miss Kelly’s, but didn’t catch on.  Dinner was Abigail’s choice, taco salad, and then she opened her presents from the family.  Just as we were finishing, the first guest arrived, followed quickly by the next friend.  By the third rose presented by the third friend, Abigail had caught on.  For the next hour, friends, siblings and parents arrived, one family at a time, until at 8 pm we all sang and she blew out the candles on the traditional Moore Family Birthday Cake.  (Recipe)

The celebration was a success.  Our sweet daughter enjoyed our special time together as a family.  She was also quite surprised and honored by her friends’ presence and their sweet words of life to her.  Daughter honored and surprised.  Mission accomplished.

 

Post a comment and tell us about a special birthday celebration in your family

The Blessing of Teen Daughters

Our parenting goal has always been to raise children who love God with all their heart, mind, and soul; however, each phase of a child’s life is unique and requires different parenting skills to achieve that goal.  Whether or not you choose to use the label of “teenager,” the ages with the word “teen” are years of enormous change, growth and development.  In our home, it has been a joyous time of great blessing and precious memories.  Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past seven years, but most apply to any age: Parenting Daughters Find joy in who she is. Focus on her good traits. Pray for her weaknesses. Make memories. Mentally record her laugh. Do it her way, sometimes. Ask if she wants help. Declare your love. Always respond with kindness. Spend quality time together. Compliment her often. Expect the best. Drink in her smile. Kiss her goodnight. Listen. Gently guide her. Share her excitement. Try something new. Be silly. Hug her tightly. Value her opinions. Enjoy her company. Tackle a challenge together. Encourage her attempts. Listen more. Take lots of pictures. Correct her privately. Think outside of the box. Speak respectfully. Dream together. Treasure the beauty of today. Trust God with the future.

By:  Joy Moore, Copyright 2011

Modest Swimsuits: 2011 Edition

The spring swim wear search is on and I can tell that I’m not alone.  The stats on my website show that there is a lot of interest in the article on modest swim wear that I posted in May of 2010.  Here is an update on what is available for the summer of 2011: There are many more modest swimwear choices available online than there were just two years ago.  In fact, some sites offer suits that cover everything but your face—a little too modest for my taste.  My search is for suits that match our standards for daily living in regards to neckline, tightness and length; though I admit some swim skirts are slightly shorter than than I would allow for a daily wardrobe.

Stitchin’ Times This is still my first choice for modest swim wear.  Last May I posted our experience with suits we’ve purchased over the years.   Last spring we ordered two of the new two piece design—tank dress over swim panties.  The dress sizes ran pretty true, but the swim panties ran about a size larger.  Next time I’ll order a size smaller than the dress I order.  The dress was fully lined, as I requested, and the quality of the sewing was even better than previous years.  Of the two swim dresses, one was made of fabric that seemed to have more nylon in it and it has certainly worn well.  The other dress seemed to be made of lighter-weight fabric and only made it through the end of last season.  I really wish there was some way to gauge the durability of the fabric before ordering.  Overall, the dress is the most practical pattern for fun swimming or a day at the beach; however it is not practical for serious swimming.

Land’s End I’ve purchased suits from Land’s End for more than 15 years.  Unfortunately, Land’s End quality is not what it used to be.  This year you’ll find some new swim dresses which give more coverage on the bottom, but not nearly enough on top, in my opinion.  I did notice a high waist swim mini, a swim skort and low-cut board shorts as options for bottoms, but there were no tops that I felt offered enough coverage.  I suppose you could purchase a one-piece tank and then put the bottoms over top—while you swim or even after you swim.  This may be the best modest suit option for the active swimmer.

Swim Modest I mentioned last year that we had enjoyed the Swim Modest suits we’ve ordered in the past.  Although the suits are available in girls’ or women’s sizes, I think these suits are best suited to younger girls who are frequently in and out of the pool or ocean or young women who aren’t self-conscious about their thighs.  I was able to use most suits for two years.

Here are some other off-the-beaten-path websites that I discovered this year.  I haven’t ordered from these sites, but they offer alternative styles and a variety of fabrics for reasonable prices.

CL Swim Designs (Christian Living Swim Designs) Some very cute designs for girls!  I particularly like the tank top and cap sleeve options with the swim bikini with the skirt cover up.  (I think I would request the skirt be made slightly longer.)  Unfortunately, they do not offer adult sizes.

Hydrochic Stylish women’s swim wear–for a price.  Their swim shirts—short sleeves or ¾ sleeves  only—are all quite unique.  For bottoms, they offer both long and short skirts as well as swim pants.  Sizes range from XS adult to 3X adult.

Sewn By Di For a more economical option, try these custom suits for girls, teens, and women up to 5X, including nursing and maternity suits.  Customers can choose the type of sleeves and length of both skirt and leggings as well as fabric.  Though there is no online store for purchase, you can place an order by email.

Dressing for His Glory These patterns are a little more traditional than the other sites I mentioned.  Separates include jumpers, shirts, t-shirts, culottes and swim skorts for girls and women (petite, tall, and women’s sizes).  All available fabrics are solid colors.

Meant to be Modest Another choice for a modest swim dress!  They only have one pattern, but so many choices of fabrics.  Seller will adjust skirt and legging length by request but requires that knees be covered by either skirt or leggings.  Sizes range from 2T to women’s XL.

Some of the suppliers above have ready-made inventory, but most custom make suits to your specifications.  Be sure to order soon so your suit will be ready when the pool opens!

NOTE: The companies listed above are not relationally or financially connected in any way to Daughters4God.

Special Mother's Day Gift: "Circle of Love Bracelet"

One of my favorite things to do for fun is to design and make jewelry.  I enjoy the process of choosing colors, beads and findings to design the perfect gift for a family member or friend.  One of my favorite designs is the "Circle of Love Bracelet." As my mom's memory was fading, I wanted her to have a tangible way to remember that she had a big family who loved her very much.  I created a bracelet of birthstones of my dad and each of her children and her grandchildren.  She loved it and wore it every day for many years.  Since then, I've made bracelets for my mother-in-law and for other dear friends. If you are looking for a creative gift to give your mom this Mother's Day, look no further.  I am now taking orders for the "Circle of Love Bracelet."  Each bracelet is made of 6mm bicone Swarovski crystal birthstones with a simple sterling silver toggle clasp.  If there are fewer family members, I use each birthstone twice in the design or I alternate a single birthstone with white Swarovski pearls, depending on the requested size of the bracelet.

I am also able to customize the size for the recipient--Medium is about 7 inches for the average wrist, Small is approximately 1/4 in. smaller and Large is approximately 1/4 in. larger.  You may also send the wrist measurement if the gift isn't a surprise.

The cost of each bracelet is $30.  Orders will ship 2 business days after the order has been placed.  All orders must be placed by midnight May 4 for delivery by Mother's Day. Order here...

March Organization Challenge: Living Area

We’re on a roll, now!  In January we set goals, made a plan, and assembled a planner.  In February we brought order to meals and menus and cleaned the kitchen.  (If you missed any of these articles, you can find them on the “Articles” tab at Daughters 4 God.) March is the month for bringing order to our main living area—living room, family room, great room, or whatever you call it.  (If you have two such rooms, you have double duty this month!) It is difficult to give specific instructions for cleaning and ordering a living area, since each family is so unique.  This month, I’m giving you some general suggestions and recommendations to help you bring order and organization to your specific living area.

I recommend you print this page and post it on your frig so you can keep up with the weekly assignments.

Week 1:  Declutter and Downsize Keep only what you need and regularly use. It’s most challenging to be organized when you’re pressed for space.  I remember having two girls in a tiny two-bedroom condo with no basement or garage.   I survived by regularly discarding toys and clothing we didn’t need.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I’d need in the future, but that’s where I trusted God to provide.  If He provided it the first time, He could certainly provide again if I needed it.  We aren’t as cramped for space in our current home, but we still regularly evaluate closets, bookshelves, and other possessions.  We try to find others who may be blessed by our gently used items.  It brings me great joy to go to church and see young girls wearing dresses my sweeties have outgrown.

Start the process with items you need and regularly use.  Those items can stay where they are for now.  Next, get two trash bags and make three piles:  Trash bag #1 is Throw Away, Trash bag #2 is Give Away, Pile #3 is Need but Use Infrequently.  Evaluate decorations, knick knacks, furniture, and any other possessions—things you can see and things in drawers and under furniture.  Throw the trash away, find a good home for your gently used items, and find a temporary home for the things you “Need but Use Infrequently.”

Week 2:  Pack and Put Away Use it or pack it. If you’ve determined you need an item but don’t often use it, pack it away and make room for other necessities.  For example, you don’t need daily access to suitcases, seasonal decorations, keepsake items, old bank statements, tax returns, treasures made by children, etc.  Move the items to the attic or a top shelf of a closet.

Hit the spot. Also this week, remove any spots in your carpet and on your furniture.  I recently saw this recipe for treating spots: “Use hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and thoroughly wet the area.  Come back and blot it up; then sprinkle iodized salt on the damp part.  As it dries, the salt will soak up the stain.”  I haven’t tried it yet, but a friend told me it worked great for a blood stain.

Week 3:  Order and Organize A place for everything and everything in its place. Everything needs a home.  My mom had a saying when we were cleaning the house: “Don’t put it down until it’s home.”  Most everything in our house had a home.  All our toys belonged in the basement where we had a special closet for the games, an area for the dolls and another area for matchbox race tracks.  In my home, I chose to use plastic bins for many of the girls’ toys—one for musical instruments, one for blocks, one for dress up clothes.  (Baskets work well, too, but I wanted something with a lid.)  Yes, there is an initial investment, but the return is a system for an ordered home that allows children to help.  When you ask your children to put things away, they know exactly where things belong.

Two are better than one. Look for storage options that meet two needs—a dresser that doubles as a changing table, an entertainment unit that has storage for DVD’s, a bookshelf with baskets to hold other trinkets, a higher bed frame that allows under-the-bed storage.  All of these options double your space.

Allow space for future growth. I’ve heard it said that you fill whatever space you have.  The same rings true for storage.  If you need 4 shelves for books, buy a bookshelf with at least 2 extra shelves.  (I’m not advocating materialism or collecting things but if you are a young homeschooling family or a family of readers, those empty shelves won’t stay that way for long!)  If you need storage for toys, make sure the lid fits on easily.  If the toys in the box fit like a tight puzzle, it’s unlikely your young children will be able to fit everything in.

Week 4: Bust the Dust Clean your living area, top to bottom. Cover a broom with an old t-shirt and remove cobwebs around the crown molding and down the corners.  Starting at one of the light switches in the room, continue around the room until you return to the light switch, accomplishing the following:  clean the glass and tops of the picture frames (Update pictures, if necessary.); remove all knick knacks and dust furniture; dust all knick knacks and replace them on the furniture, clean the windows—glass, sills, and sashes; clean light switches; clean door frames, removing all fingerprints.  Clean and organize other furniture in the room, such as an entertainment center, bookshelves, baskets, etc.  Start again at the same light switch and clean the baseboards, continuing around the room until you get back to the light switch.  Sit back and admire the fruits of your labor.

 

The Cleaning Game

When I was growing up, spring was the signal for an all-out war on dust and dirt at our house.  Mom removed and cleaned the curtains and drapes, got on her hands and knees to strip and wax the kitchen and dining room floors, and cleaned out every inch of the kitchen cabinets and every closet.  Taking care of her family was her full time job—and she did it well.  Most days we could’ve eaten off the kitchen floor because it was so clean.  (Some days you can eat off my kitchen floor because there are enough crumbs to feed a small country.)  When my brothers and sisters and I were at school, my mom had many uninterrupted hours to order her home. As a homeschool mom, my time is divided between home and school so I had to find an alternative. “Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood) When daughter #4 arrived, I knew I could no longer do everything around the house on my own.  The oldest was only 6 and the next was 4, but I immediately enlisted their help.  My solution was based in three principles:  1.The girls couldn’t do everything I did, but they could certainly do some things.  2. If their hands were busy working with me, it would be more difficult for them to undo what I was trying to do.  3. Working together as a family, no matter what the project, would build teamwork.  And so I invented The Cleaning Game--a fun way for our family to work as a team to clean our home.  When the house is clean, everyone wins!

How to eat an elephant You’ve probably heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  The same principle works for the overwhelming task of cleaning a home—take one bite at a time.  The Cleaning Game (TCG) is played with 100+ task cards that each list one bite-sized task, brief instructions for how to accomplish the task and a list of supplies needed.  Cards include chores for two vehicles and houses with 6 bedrooms and four baths.  Blank cards are included so you can customize the game to meet the needs of your family.  Three diligent, expert players over the age of 6 are able to clean a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in under 3 hours—not including floors.

“You can expect what you inspect.” (Anonymous) Remove any cards from the deck that don’t apply to your family.  Begin by dealing the cards to each player.  (TCG comes with instruction cards explaining several different ways to play with the same deck of cards, but our family plays once a week.)  I recommend that you introduce a few tasks each week, instructing and demonstrating how the task would be completed to your satisfaction.  Add tasks each week until all cards have been introduced.  Ideally, players who can read can work independently, however it is critical that work is inspected and that players receive both positive and negative feedback—especially in the start-up phase.  Parents can choose cards, remain only an “Inspector”, or complete the jobs that children are unable to do.  Players seem to be best motivated when a parent is involved in some part of the process.

“A family that plays together, stays together.” (Joy Moore) If you are interested in playing with your family, you have two options:  purchase a CD with the pdf file of The Cleaning Game for $7.99 and free shipping OR purchase and download the pdf file of The Cleaning Game for the introductory rate of $3.99 during the month of March.  Both forms of The Cleaning Game are available only at the Daughters 4 God Shoppe.

She May Have Alzheimer's but She's Still My Mom

My mom and I celebrated her 69th birthday on Sunday, but today she probably doesn’t remember.  Dementia has been slowly stealing my mother.  Just four days before her birthday my dad moved her to a full time nursing facility in a town near his PA home.  I had already planned to make the five-hour trip from VA to celebrate Mom’s birthday, and her change of residence didn’t change my plans. On Saturday night, I got my first glimpse of mom since Christmas.   Her eyes were still vacant, her mobility nearly gone, yet she still wore a smile.  Dad, one of my brothers, both of my sisters, and I sat around the table exchanging conversation and trying to piece together a conversation from her short, sometimes nonsense responses.  She stayed awake the entire time and enjoyed the cake we brought.  It was an unusual but sweet birthday celebration.

On Sunday, I returned to have some alone time with Mom and “to have church”.  She never missed a Sunday and most were spent serving the body of Christ with her exceptional musical gifts.  Her face showed surprise and a big smile when I found her sitting in the dining area with the other residents.  I greeted her with a hug and a kiss and then pulled up a chair to sit beside her.

Words cannot adequately communicate the reality of our time together.  On paper, her words are neatly strung together, one after the other.  In reality, there were many stops and starts and pauses.  Though the paragraphs here flow together swiftly, there was actually much silence and hand-holding during the course of my 45-minute visit, with little more conversation than what I recorded.  This woman was surely not the intelligent, vivacious, creative mother who raised me, but I saw glimpses of her.

I made some small talk with Mom about her birthday, how old she was, and what she had for breakfast. (She couldn’t answer, but the nurse had told me).  We sat quietly together observing the surroundings—a TV blared in the corner, a nurse was taking a resident’s blood pressure, and several residents walked aimlessly through the room.  It was hardly a setting for church, but I opened the service with some hymns.  I started with, “Heavenly Sunlight,” her favorite hymn and one she and her sisters had recorded on a CD about a decade earlier.  I repeated the chorus very slowly.  She knew many of the words, but she watched my mouth intently to help her keep up. She still loves to praise her Lord.

Next, I read from Psalm 34:  "I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.  I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together."  Then I read the first few verses from Isaiah 61, her life chapter.  All the while I read, she nodded her head and said “uh-huh” at appropriate She still loves the Word of the Lord.

Next, I gave her the updates of my girls.  When I told her that Victoria’s graphic design work had won a contest and that she was excited, mom replied, “That makes me happy, too.” She still rejoices with those who rejoice.

When I told her that Elisabeth had her own piano studio and was giving lessons to young children, she remarked, “I know she’s good at that.” She’s still an encourager.

I mentioned that Anna still wants to be a nurse and go to Africa.  Africa holds a special place in her heart since her sister had been a missionary there for 15 years and mom had traveled there on a mission trip in 2000.  She responded, “Oh, I hope she can make that happen.” She still has a heart for the nations.

Lastly, I told Mom that my musically gifted Abigail was still playing violin and that her talent must’ve come from her (Mom).  Mom played piano by ear with only 3 months of lessons and had a beautiful singing voice.  Mom’s response was that she got it from me.  (I have a degree in Music Education.)  When I disagreed, she said, “She got it from both of us.” She’s still humble.

There was a lot of activity in the community room where we were sitting.  When someone walked close to the stool where her swollen feet were propped, she moved her feet.  “Every time they walk this way I have to move my feet,” and she flexed her foot slightly to demonstrate. She still thinks of others.

Later, one of the patients knocked over a chair and she remarked, “Some of them don’t know how to act.”  When I mentioned that the staff thought she was pleasant, she said, “I’m glad you told me that.” She still brings peace in chaos.

Before I left, I asked her if she wanted me to pray for anything.  She said, “No, I try not to hold onto anything,” and proceeded to hand me the wet washcloth she had been holding in her hands.  Maybe she was talking about the washcloth, but it really is how she has lived her life. She’s still teaching me how to grow in Christ.

I prayed with her and she agreed throughout the prayer at appropriate moments.  She was clearly in her element with her Savior.  For years her days began around 4 am as she spent time with her Savior in my old bedroom turned prayer room. She’s still in love with her Jesus.

After the prayer, I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  Through tears I told her how special she is, how I glad I am to be her daughter, and how much I love her.  She responded, “I love you, too—well, you oughtta know that.”  As I stood to go, she kept repeating, “I love you. I love you so much.” She’s still my mom.

 My mom and I before she was diagnosed.

My mom and I before she was diagnosed.

February Organization Challenge

The 2011 Organization Challenge is in full swing at my house!  I think I did pretty well in January. I am happy to say that I have completed a major project and have begun two new ones.  (I was never good at math…)  I am grateful for your comments of support and I’ve decided to post personal updates more frequently (I’m hoping for weekly updates, but not promising…) for those of you who may be interested in how things are progressing in my neck of the woods.  I won’t be sending those updates by email, but they will appear on the “Articles” page of the website.  Any comments or helpful hints you would like to post  will be greatly appreciated!  So here is my January update… During Week 1, I cleaned out my old planner and organized it so it was ready for use.  I also set some goals, but we had an out-of-town guest so I wasn't able to finish the list.  I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but I’m hoping to have some time this weekend.  Week 2 was easy because I already had a schedule that needed only minor adjustments.  Actually, I plan to make a few more minor adjustments for next week.  I spent Week 3 recording birthdays and other events in my calendar.  It’s been great to have them all in one place.  And Week 4, well it was a challenge.  I tried to use one to-do list for the entire week, but I found that didn’t work so well.  I am now trying a daily list with a 5 item per day limit—besides my daily work.  Overall I was more productive, but not as focused as I would  like.

The February Challenge It’s been said, “The kitchen is the heart of the home.”  The focus this month is bringing order to the kitchen and our food responsibilities including planning meals, making a grocery list, and preparing meals.  Food requires us to make so many decisions throughout the week—what to buy, which brand, what size, where to store it, how to fix it, when to have it.  My goal this month is to organize and clean my kitchen and to simplify my experiences with food—aggressive goals, I’ll admit.  Let’s get started!

Week 1:  Collect Recipes and Organize the Pantry Collect Recipes Begin this week by gathering all of your unbound recipes—magazine and newspaper clippings, 3x5 cards, or typed pages.  Gathering recipes may seem like a waste of time, but truly it will save time in the long run.  When you need a recipe it will be at your fingertips.   Here are two options for storing your recipe collection, listed from simple to more time-consuming: OPTION #1:  Purchase a three-ring binder (with an inside pocket) and 3-ring pocket folders or dividers.  Sort your recipes into piles based on regular cookbook divisions.  Label the folders and put the proper recipes in each folder.  Be sure to return the recipes to the proper folder after each use. OPTION #2:  Make your own family cookbook.  Purchase a 3-ring binder, page protectors, and dividers—I think the plastic pocket dividers work best.  (I keep all published recipes in the folder pockets or print them directly from the website.)  Make a recipe template and enter each recipe on a separate page; combine two shorter recipes that are in the same division.  Print the recipes on cardstock and slide them into the page protectors.  I suppose you could hole-punch the recipe pages, but the page protector protects the recipe from food drippings.

Four years ago I started our family cookbook as a present for our oldest daughter.  I’ve made several cookbooks for family and friends, adding new recipes each time.  And since I have digital copies of my favorite recipes, I am able to print them or email them to friends.   Yes, it does take time, but it is worth it.

NOTE:  Be sure to copy only recipes that are not already published.  Electronic storage of copyrighted recipes is illegal.

Organize the Pantry Next, we tackle the pantry or the cabinets where you store your food.  I feel very blessed to have a pantry, but the process is the same for those who don’t.  First, take everything out of the pantry and wash each shelf.  Then, start by grouping like things together.  Here’s a tour of my pantry just after I organized it in January.  A little personal, but maybe it will spark some organizational ideas.

The top left shelf is for my coffee maker and the large stock pot to make my Grandma’s Chicken Corn Soup.  The top right shelf is for paper products.  I discovered that sometimes Styrofoam rained down on my head, so I put my disposable plates, cups, napkins, and silverware in a box.  I don’t have to worry about reaching to the very back of the shelf, either.

The second shelf on the left is for my vinegars, molasses, and a few things don’t use very often, in addition to “extras” that I buy for something that is just about to run out.  It’s much easier to make a grocery list when you know what you have.   The second shelf on the right is for pasta and rice.  Since the bags sometimes got lost in between things, I put the rice in plastic storage containers and taped the instructions on the back of the container.  You can't really see them, but they are behind the large bag of noodles.

The third shelf on the left is for larger containers of oil and honey.  The third shelf on the right is for all of my canned goods organized so I can find them easily:  starting at the far right, tomatoes and tomato products, then beans and other veggies, then canned meats in the back and fruits in the front, and finally soups and pumpkin when it’s in season.

The fourth shelf on the left and right is for my baking supplies:  oatmeal, shortening, and on one side and sucanat, honey crystals, lecithin, and gluten on the other.  (Yeah, I’m trying to get away from using shortening, but the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies just don’t turn out the same.)

The fifth and bottom shelf on the left is for cereal.  We kept the cereal on the lower shelf so the kids could get out and put away the cereal when they were younger.  Notice we have a large container to store cereal that we purchase in bulk in bags.  It’s so much easier for storage and for the kids to use.  On the right side I have some canisters that previously held white sugar and white flour--we still use them sometimes, but not every month.  I'm planning to make some changes to that shelf this week.

The drawers under the shelves give extra room for smaller things that don’t store neatly.  The set on the left is for coffee and baking supplies such as nuts, chocolate chips, and sugars.  The set on the right is for envelope mixes, potatoes, onions, tea bags, and grocery bags to recycle.

The shelves on the door were an idea I borrowed from a friend.  The left side door has large spice containers on the top two shelves and the bottom two are for smaller boxes or bags of whatever we have—raisins, craisins, croutons, cornbread mix, The right side door has more baking supplies like salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, on the top shelves and pudding on the bottom shelf.

In case you’re wondering, the rest of my spices are in a cabinet near my stove and my plastic wrap and foil are in a drawer.

Take a good look at your space (and your budget) and decide if you could make better use of your space by investing in some shelving or other organization tool.  I find that I save money when my pantry is more organized.  I don’t buy duplicates of food I already have, I am able to see and use what's available, and I’m more content to cook and eat at home because I haven’t spent a lot of time searching for the ingredients.

Week 2:  Planning a Weekly Menu and Making a Weekly Grocery List Planning a Weekly Menu Planning a weekly menu may seem unnecessary, but it will save you time and money.  It will save time spent standing in front of the panty or refrigerator hoping that meals will throw themselves together like Ezekiel’s dry bones.  It will save money because you will purchase ingredients for specific recipes and not merely items that look good.  Yes, it still takes time to make a weekly menu, but the time is well spent.

Make a divider in your planner/household notebook for Menu Planning.  Make your own form or use this combo form for menu planning and as a grocery list.

Here are some suggestions to help you make a weekly menu plan. OPTION #1: Pre-Planned Menu When I was making a gift purchase at Dave Ramsey’s website, I noticed an advertisement for E-Mealz, a business founded by two moms who create a weekly budget-friendly dinner menu and the accompanying grocery lists for regular, low fat, low carb, and gluten free menus based on the grocery store where you shop. The cost is $15 for 3 month subscription, billed quarterly.

A few weeks ago I took the plunge and subscribed for the next three months.  I logged into my account and printed the menu and the grocery list.  Menu done.  Grocery list done.  That was nice.  So far our family has really liked most of the recipes—an amazing feat for girls who are more “selective.”I can’t recommend it yet, since I've used it for only two weeks.  I’ll let you know how it works after I’ve used it for at least a month.  For those who might be interested, you can check it out here: E-MEALZ Easy Meals for Busy and Frugal Families.  To be fair, I want you to know that if you sign up from the link, I’ll receive some sort of credit.  I’m not even sure how that works.  Like I said before, I haven’t used it long enough to strongly recommend it but it is an option.

OPTION #2:  Freezer Cooking About 10 years ago, I was a desperate homeschool mom.  With two toddlers and two in elementary school, I found it difficult to get a decent meal on the table.  While shopping at a homeschool curriculum fair I purchased a freezer cookbook from 30 Day Gourmet, a combination recipe and instruction book of how to cook once a month and freeze all the meals.  I knew I could never do the “once-a-month” cooking, but the thought of having meals in the freezer was very intriguing. (I do not have a freezer, but I do have an extra frig in the garage.)  The recipes were simple, didn’t include too many or exotic ingredients, and seemed family-friendly.  True enough, the family did like the recipes and I liked the idea of having a homecooked meal on even the busiest of day.  Today my freezer cooking goes in spurts.  Here are two ways I’ve used the cookbook.

Big Cooking Day

  1. Purchase a cookbook or peruse some recipes from 30 Day Gourmet.
  2. Choose 3-4 recipes and choose how many of each you plan to make.
  3. Make a grocery list based on your recipes and the number of dishes.  Don’t forget to include metal pans or Ziploc bags to other containers you’ll need for freezing.  I think about the large roll of ground beef and figure out how much I can make using the entire roll or I consider how many dishes I can make from the large bag of frozen chicken.
  4. Choose a cooking day—at least 6 hours.  I find it easiest to have a “beef day” and a “chicken day”.  For instance, I brown a lot of meat at one time or I may make several meat loaves.   It’s similar on chicken day when I boil and shred a huge quantity of chicken.
  5. Assemble your meals in the proper container.  Whenever possible, I use Ziploc freezer bags.  They’re easy to label and I can fit many flat bags in my regular freezer.
  6. Be sure to label your meal—what it is and when you made it.  If you’re like me, you think you’ll remember, but then several dishes have tomato sauce and chicken and you’re not certain how long that bag has been in the freezer…
  7. Enjoy your frozen meals.  Most meals can be taken out of the freezer in the morning or be baked from the frozen stage.

Slow Start Up

  1. Purchase a cookbook or peruse some recipes from 30 Day Gourmet
  2. Plan your meals for the week.  Choose 2 frozen meal recipes for each week and  make 2 batches of each.
  3. Make a grocery list based on your recipes and the number of dishes.  Don’t forget to include metal pans or Ziploc bags to other containers you’ll need for freezing.
  4. On the day you plan to have your frozen meal, make two batches of the meals—one to eat for dinner and one to freeze.
  5. Assemble your meal in the proper container.  Whenever possible, I use Ziploc freezer bags.  They’re easy to label and I can fit many flat bags in my regular freezer.
  6. Be sure to label your meal—what it is and when you made it.
  7. After several weeks, you’ll have a collection of several frozen meals that you can choose from on the days you are unable to cook.

OPTION #3:  Consider the Crockpot My crock pot is my friend.  My mother never used a crock pot for her family of 5, but I’m not sure why.  It is  a convenient way to have a warm meal ready when you don’t have time to cook.   My biggest issue is that I only have a few good crock pot recipes that our family likes, but those few regularly find their way into our winter menu plan.

Planning a Weekly Grocery List Once you have a weekly menu, it is simple to review each recipe for ingredients you’ll need.  Record what you need on the grocery list portion of the menu planning form.  Also, when you run out of something during the week, add it to the grocery list.  I’ve taught my kids to do this, too.

Shop once a week for groceries.  When you start with a list and stick with the list, you save the money you would've spent on snacks and ingredients for recipes you think you might make.  Once-a-week shopping  also keeps you out of the grocery store for the rest of the week, which saves even more.

Week 3:  Clean the Appliances Appliances work so hard for us and they get little thanks or attention.  This week, choose to spruce up one appliance each day.  I realize that many of you may not need specific instructions, but I included them for those who haven’t been taught.  There may be a better way; I’m only relaying what I’ve been taught.  I am also planning for my daughters to help so I can pass on the knowledge.

The order you clean the appliances doesn’t matter, but it would be logical to save the bigger jobs for the days that you aren’t as busy—if there is one of those days in your week.  Since you’re inspecting these work-horses so closely, you may also want to make a page in your notebook for a “to do” list of things that need to be repaired or parts that need to be replaced.

Monday—Clean the stove Remove the drip pans and soak them in a sink of hot water.  Raise the cook top and clean under the burners.  Use water and vinegar or some other grease-cutting cleaner for the cook top and back splash of traditional stoves.   Use an approved non-abrasive cleaner for ceramic cook top surfaces.  For years I didn't realize that the knobs on the back of the stove could be removed for easier cleaning.  Remove all knobs, clean the surface and the knobs, and then replace the knobs.  Use steel wool to make the soaking drip pans sparkle like new or purchase new ones if they’re too far gone.  Lastly, replace the drip pans.

Tuesday—Clean the dishwasher Start on the inside and empty any food from the trap.  Wipe down the inside walls and the inside of the door, giving special attention to the sides that tend to collect food as the dishes are loaded.  Protect your dishes from rusted racks.  Consider replacing the rack or purchasing small caps to put on the tips of the rack.  (BTW, white duct tape doesn’t work.)  We searched online and found a new rack for a reasonable price.  Lastly, finish by shining the outside of the door and all knobs.

If you don’t have a dishwasher and you ARE the dishwasher, take a bubble bath and clean the dishwasher.

Wednesday—Clean the sink and garbage disposal For a porcelain sink, use a non-abrasive stovetop cleaner or an abrasive cleaner with bleach for an older sink.  To clean a stainless steel sink, use aluminum cleaner or a non-abrasive cleaner.  Clean the garbage disposal with frozen lemon juice ice cubes or disposal a lemon cut into fourths.

Thursday—Clean the microwave and any appliances on your counters Fill a mug with water and bring to a boil—about 2 mins. on high.  This will loosen any baked on dirt.  Remove the glass bottom; wash and dry.  Using a dish detergent solution, wipe down the top, both sides and the bottom.  For grease, use a solution of vinegar, water and a little ammonia.  Replace the glass bottom.  Clean every outside panel of the microwave.

Clean the appliances on your counters such as toaster, toaster oven, coffee maker, food processor, bread machine etc.  Wash the components and then wipe down the outsides of the appliances.

Friday—Clean the refrigerator and freezer Prepare a bowl of warm water and a small amount of dish detergent.  (Most manufacturers recommend NOT using a stronger cleaner.)  Starting with the top shelf, take everything off the shelf and use a wash cloth to wash the shelf with the warm water mixture.  Replace the items that are still good and move to the next shelf down.  Continue the same process with each shelf, working your way down to the drawers.  Remove the drawers and wash them in the sink with dish detergent, and rinse well.  Clean the space under the drawers and then replace the drawers.

Next, clean the door.  Open the door and start with the seal on the top of the door, removing crumbs and dirt.  Remove everything from the top shelf and wipe down the door and shelf like you would a chalkboard.  Check expiration dates before you replace the items.  Use the same process for remaining shelves.

For the freezer, use a bowl of warm water and a small amount of dish detergent.  Take everything out of the freezer.  Remove the grate, if you can, and clean it with the dish detergent solution.  Wipe down the top of the freezer, each side, and the bottom, rinsing your dish cloth often.   Restock only those frozen foods that are still edible.

Next, clean the freezer door.  Start with the seal on the top of the door, removing crumbs and dirt.  Remove everything from the top shelf and wipe down the door and shelves like you would a chalkboard.

Finally, clean every panel of the outside of the frig, including the top.  For textured handles, use a nylon scrubber to remove dirt in the cracks.  Remove the grate/vent from the bottom; wash with dish detergent solution.  Replace the grate and smile at the shining piece of beauty.

Saturday—Clean the oven Clean your oven according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Be sure to remove the racks and clean them separately.

Sunday—Rest! Even God rested on the seventh day!

Week 4:  Clean Cabinets and Drawers Each day this week, clean 2 cabinets and 1 drawer (or clean them all in an afternoon and get it over with!).  Take everything out of the cabinets or drawers.  Clean the bottom of the cabinet, the shelves, and the inside of the door using your cleaner of choice.  Replace only the items that you need.  (See the checklist below to help you decide.)  Clean the outside door of the cabinet or drawer and the handle.

Helpful Hints: Group similar items in the same cabinet or drawer. Don’t be afraid to move contents of drawers or cabinets to a more convenient location. Consider moving dishes to lower cabinets so children can unload the dishwasher. Store Christmas and other holiday dishes in a high or hard to reach cabinet to make better use of the reachable cabinets. Eliminate any gadgets, dishes, pots or pans that you don’t use. Eliminate mismatched dishes. Match plastic storage containers—discard  orphan containers or lids Donate gently used dishes to a newlywed couple or your church kitchen.

Sweet Words from Abba Father

February is the month our culture has designated to celebrate love.  I am so glad that Jesus showers His love on us throughout all 12 months of the year.  He sends us love notes nearly every day, whether we recognize them or not.  He calls us to Himself and longs to spend time with us.  What more could we ask for! During the past two years, I’ve been on a journey with God.  I’ve learned so much, but I’m still learning about His unconditional love for me and for you.  I’m learning how to balance, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21 KJV)  and "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  (John 15:15 NIV)   Ultimately, I want to be so close to my Lord that He would call me His friend.

Recently during one of my quiet times, I confessed to God I didn’t feel close to Him and asked Him what that meant.  These sweet words came from my Abba Father.  Though I was the receiver, I believe He would like me to share these words with all of His daughters.

Being in My presence goes beyond feeling.  Quiet yourself and focus on Me—on who I am, on My faithfulness, on My never-ending mercy.  Sit in My lap and be at peace.  Nothing else is required; nothing else is expected.

Lean back.  That posture is not one of warfare, but of intimacy.  It is easy to whisper in your ear what others cannot hear.  When you lean back, you can feel the warmth of My breath; you can hear the beat of My heart.

I didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you STRENGTH.”  No, I said, " I will give you REST". (Matt. 11:28 NIV, emphasis mine)  Even in the midst of so much to do, I ask you to rest and trust in Me.

Why must you go at breakneck speed?  I didn’t set that example.  The spirit of the knowledge of good and evil enforces the need to earn your value and title of being exceptional.  You are exceptional!  I created you.  There is no one else just like you in all of creation.  I made you in my image.  You need not do anything more than breathe and smile.

It is my prayer that you’ll join me as I learn how to be a human being and not a human “doing”.  Make time to sit in the lap of the Creator of the universe who just happens to be the Lover of your soul.

Cooking Birthday Party for Girls

Every birthday is special, but our older two girls especially looked forward to their tenth birthday-- the first time they were able to have a sleepover.  For various reasons, Harold and I chose to discontinue sleepovers altogether and start a new tradition for our third daughter's tenth birthday party.  (We don’t do parties every year, so this was a big deal.)  I asked God for creativity, and He gave me the idea to have a Cooking Birthday Party.  We invited ten girls, ages 9-11, for the party that started at 11 am and ended about 3 pm. Invitations

Option 1:  Use recipe cards with the following handwritten information:  the title “Cooking Birthday” as well as who it’s for, date, time, location, address and RSVP.  The recipe card should easily fit into an envelope for personal correspondence.  Purchase extra cards and envelopes and use them for thank you notes.

Option 2:  If you have some computer skills you can design your own invitation by importing a photo of the birthday girl or some still life reflecting cooking.  Be sure to include the same information I mentioned above.  Print the invitation on cardstock to give it a little weight.  (You can buy individual sheets at an office supply store.)  I recommend designing two to a sheet, cutting the page in half (either direction) and folding the invitation in half.  Send them in invitation-sized envelopes.

Preparations

Preparations for each activity are listed below.  I set up “stations” in the locations listed, including all the supplies and instructions I needed.  If I planned more than one activity at the same location, I had a basket with instructions and supplies for each activity, including an empty basket to hold the supplies from the first activity.  I also set the table in the dining room where we’d be eating.  Careful, advanced preparations will make for smooth transitions during the party.

Decorations

I kept it simple since most of the budget went to the party activities.  We chose blue paper plates and napkins that coordinated with the invitation.  The activities for the party kept us in different rooms, but we decorated the dining room with blue and white helium balloons.  Fresh flowers would be a nice touch.

Activities

As guests arrive, each girl put on an apron with her name written on the tag and made a chef’s hat. Make a chef’s hat at the kitchen table (15 mins.) Before the party:  I cut the white posterboard into strips, according to the directions, and collected the white tissue paper.  I had the tape and paper clips available.  I also had a stapler, just in case. During the party:  As the girls arrived, I explained to each one how to make the hat.  Anna helped the others, since she had already made her hat.  The girls can chat while you put the supplies in an empty basket and wipe off the table.

Prepare lasagna at the kitchen counter (30 mins)

Before the party:  Gather all the supplies you’ll need, including ingredients, measuring utensils, a large bowl, and a lasagna recipe using no-bake noodles.  Be sure leave enough time to defrost frozen hamburger.  Purchase aluminum foil loaf pans, one for each girl’s lasagna.  Use a permanent marker to label each pan with a guest’s name. During the party:  Of course you’ll want the girls to start by washing their hands.  Explain to them that preparing a meal is an important responsibility for a wife and mother and that today we’re going to practice.  I had the girls take turns measuring, preparing and adding ingredients to make both the meat and the cheese portions.  I allowed each girl to assemble their own lasagna.  (Make sure they have the pan with their name on it.)  The lasagnas baked on a cookie sheet while we did the next activity.

Blindfold the Cook at the kitchen table(30 mins.) Before the party:  Locate a blindfold, sleeping mask or bandana.  Also have available a large spoon, a timer (you can use the stove timer) and two bowls, one with a bag of large marshmallows.  (Save some for consumption.) During the party: We followed the directions, however we opted not to eat the marshmallows that had been used in the game since many hands had touched them!  I suppose you could set a rule that you can’t touch the marshmallows, but scooping them is harder than it looks.

Eat Lunch in the dining room (30 mins) Before the party:  Set the table.  Prepare a simple salad and slice some bread. During the party:  Serve the individual lasagna on each girl’s plate.  Serve the salad and bread family style.   I also had a pitcher of water on the table.  The girls can toss their paper plates, forks, knives, and the foil containers when they’re finished, but have them keep their cups for dessert.  While the girls are eating, prepare the kitchen table and other surfaces for decorating the aprons.

Decorate the Apron kitchen table (45 mins.) Before the party:  I purchased aprons in bulk from a warehouse club.  Then, I purchase several colors of fabric paint.  I think I had 3 or 4 at the most.  Mixing paints is not recommended with that many girls.  I collected my shaped sponges, paint brushes, and pencils to draw designs.  I collected some old t-shirts and had enough newspaper to cover the table.  (I removed the kitchen chairs with fabric seats.  I needed them in the dining room any way!) During the party:  I reminded the girls that the paint was NOT washable, asked them to wear a t-shirt and then let them be creative.  Since it’s been five years since I did this party, I’m a little fuzzy on how we fit all the girls and their aprons in my kitchen!   You may need to work in shifts.

Open Gifts (30 mins.) This is the easiest part!  No preparation!

Decorate Cupcakes on the kitchen counter (30 mins.) Before the party:  I baked cupcakes the day before the party so they would be completely cool. During the party:  I bought one color of frosting, some sprinkles, and a few small bags of candies like Skittles.  When the girls were finished, they took their cupcake to the dining room.

Cake time in the dining room (30 mins.) During the party: While the girls were decorating, I cleared the table, set clean paper plates, and poured waters in their cups.   When everyone was at the table, the girls ate their cupcakes together.

Party Favors

Of course, the apron is the party favor.  (Remind them to be careful because the paint will probably still be a little wet when they transport it home.)  My budget was spent, but you could also include a wooden spoon, utensils from a dollar store or a cookie cutter.  If I remember correctly, we sent a recipe card with the lasagna recipe in our thank you note.

Best of All

I believe this is a way to remind our daughters to be keepers at home.  It’s good to teach our daughters that cooking healthy meals is an important part of their responsibility as a wife and mother.  Practicing their skills in the kitchen helps them to feel more confident and having the apron somehow makes them feel a little more “official.”

2011 Organization Challenge

Are you ready for a challenge?  One of my goals for 2011 is to create a more organized life and home.  I’d love some company on this journey!   Join me as I organize my home, one room at a time, one project at a time.   I’ve heard it said:  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  The only way to tackle the challenge of being more organized is to make small changes and take one bite at a time.  There is one suggested assignment for each week, allowing enough time to complete the plan and to encourage a new habit.  Of course, you can work at your own pace.  I’ll be using some printable forms from the site:  www.organizedhome.com, more specifically, the printable pages for a household notebook.  Those of you who border on obsessive/compulsive behavior will immediately want to print every form and read every article.  Not a bad idea, but when I’ve tried that approach in the past, I have become discouraged because I can’t do it all.  This year, I’m taking a new approach:  slow and steady wins the race.  If I can make one change each week  I can make a big change, and hopefully a permanent change, by the end of the year. You may want to include your son or daughter in this project.  Help them set up their own organizational system for activities and school work.  It will give them necessary organizational skills to run a home or a business in the future.

During this journey, I would love to hear your stories.  Post a comment to this article and let me know how you’re doing, what suggestions have worked for you, or ideas that you have for other readers.  So, if you’re ready, let’s go!

WEEK #1-Buy or Make Your Own Planner, Set Goals

Ok, so it does seem like two goals in one week but since it’s the beginning of the year, you’re probably more motivated and won’t have any problem finishing both projects.  Let's start by managing information.  I just can’t keep everything in my brain anymore, and gratefully I don’t have to!  Einstein said he never memorized anything he could look up.  I agree, so I write things down—on tiny scraps of paper that seem to disappear from my home.  This year, my goal is to write down phone numbers, addresses and important notes in a planner so they will be accessible when I need them.  If don't already own a planner, then purchase or make one.

What you will need:

Three-ring binder with pockets

Dividers  (Plain dividers are sufficient, but office supply stores carry heavy duty plastic dividers that have pockets.  The number of dividers depends on what you prefer.  You will need at least 8   dividers.  Also, you’ll need 11 more dividers if you would like one divider for each month.

Pack of Notebook Paper

Page Protectors, optional (a small pack should be plenty)

Cover (Design your own or print one from organized home.com)

A pencil (I write everything in pencil because you never know when you might need to make adjustments.  I particularly like the mechanical pencils because they always have a sharp point.)

Divider #1-“Goals”

Set Some Goals

Ask God what His goals are for your year ahead and write them down.  Sure, there are lots of things you could do, but what does God want you to do?  And yes, you have to write them down.  Somehow they’re more official that way and you’ll probably be more committed.  You may want to use the link from the December 2010 Newsletter to access  Remembrances and Revelations tool that can help you evaluate the past year and plan for the year ahead.  Listen to God carefully as you choose your larger goals.  No one knows better than I that if you choose too many goals for the stage of life you are in, you will feel discouraged when you aren’t able to accomplish them.

Establish smaller goals to achieve the larger goal.

Set smaller goals for each month or even each week.  For example, maybe your larger goal is to get into shape.  If you are currently NOT exercising at all, set a goal to exercise 2-3 days a week for a month or so and maybe increase it to four days for another couple months.  Keep adding days until you reach your goal.  For each larger goal you have already established, write numbered smaller steps below that will help you achieve that goal.  This is your game plan for the year.  Put it in a page protector in the goals section of your planner.

Stay focused on your goals.

In my life, there are always more opportunities and activities than I have time for.  When the girls were little, God gave us a system to make decisions about family activities.  Here is a very simplified version of some of the questions we asked: Is this something God wants us to do?  (That answer isn’t always easy.)  How much free time do we have available this week/month?  Do we already have a commitment? (Don’t abandon one commitment if you get a better offer!) Does this activity conflict with God’s word or any principle in it?  Is it good for the family or just one of the members?  Is this activity part of the calling for our family or one of our children?  Will this activity help us reach our goals?  Is this something we want to do?

Don’t give up.

Sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back.  But that’s still more steps forward!  Using that same goal of getting into shape, exercise today, even if you haven’t exercised in a few days or even a few weeks.  Don’t wait until Monday to start or to change your eating habits.  Start today.  Maybe you’re working hard and meeting your smaller goals but things are happening as fast as you’d like.  Don’t give up.  Ask and expert or experienced friend for advice and look for ways to make adjustments.  Above all, ask for help from God.  He hears and answers the cries of His children.

Week #2:  Make a daily schedule.

Divider #2 “Schedule”

A daily schedule is budget for time, a guide to help make the most of each minute of the day.  However, unexpected situations arise and require flexibility.  Use the schedule as a guide to help you, not as something to control your day.  You may want to put this page in a page protector or post it on the refrigerator.

While a yearly calendar includes special activities or events, a daily schedule should include activities that happen every day:  Wake time, devotions or quiet time, exercise, bath/shower time, school time divided by specific classes, daily chores weekly activities such as church activities, sports, music lessons and dance lessons--including travel time, nap time, family worship, bed time.  Don’t forget to include time to accomplish your 2011 goals.

There are several ways to make a schedule:

Weekly schedule by the hour or half-hour:  This schedule is best for families who have many activities scheduled on different days.

Daily schedule by the hour or half-hour:  For those who have days that look exactly the same, this schedule is for you.  For the past 10 years or so, I’ve used this type of schedule for our family.  Each girl had her own column reflecting her schedule fr that day.  I usually posted the schedule on the frig.  As the girls grew, I copied their schedule so each could post the schedule in their room.  The template has remained the same, but the schedule has been created and recreated, adjusted and readjusted based on our growing family and their changing needs.

Daily Schedule by blocks:  This schedule works best for those who prefer a little more flexibility.  Divide your day into one, two or three hour blocks such as early morning, late morning, lunch, early afternoon, late afternoon, dinner, etc.  Then fill the blocks with activities such as school, nap time, family time, lunch, chores, etc.  I don’t have a form for this one, but you could print the above form and use a highlighter or marker to draw around the boxes of time you want to make into a block.  If you make a template using a dark colored marker, you could photo copy your template for future use.

A schedule should not be set in stone; it is most effective when adjusted based on changing needs.  Don’t be afraid to add or take away activities or to adjust the time allotted to an activity.

Week #3:  Make a Monthly/Yearly Schedule

Divider #3-“Calendar” or dividers for each month

One of the most important tools to stay organized is a yearly calendar.  A calendar allows us to intentionally choose how to spend our time.  With a month-at-a-glance calendar I’m able to see what activities are already planned so that I don’t double-book.  I can also monitor how many nights of the week we ’re together as a family before I commit to dinner at a friend’s home.  Without a calendar, I’m sure I would be running from one thing to another without any time to think or reflect.

Buy or print a calendar.

The size of the calendar doesn’t matter, but the more events you have on a given day, the larger the block you’ll need.  I have kept a DayPlanner system for years, so I buy calendar refills each year.  If you don't have one, you can print a calendar for free.

Record all birthdays or anniversaries of family members and close friends.

There is a separate form for birthdays, but I find myself forgetful and I don’t look at the separate calendar.  I choose to transfer the birthdays each year.  I record the person’s name in all caps at the top of the date square just beside the number.

Here’s how to record the following items:

A morning event goes at the top of the square, an evening event at the bottom.  Be sure to include the time and address or other necessary notes.  For an event with lots of notes, write the notes in the side margin or back of the calendar.  Keep the invitation in the inside pocket of your notebook/planner.

Record any doctor, dentist, or orthodontist appointments.

I always schedule mine on Tuesdays around lunch time.  I know that the day is free since we have no other activities planned on that day

Record any family events, vacation, birthday parties, or other events.

At our house, nothing goes on the schedule until I confirm it with my husband.

Record any church events.

Again, nothing goes on the schedule until I confirm it with my husband.

Week #4:  Make a Weekly or Daily To-Do List, Add Blank Pages

Divider #4 “To Do”

There are several form options for your to-do list.  You may want a “master to-do list” and prioritize the entries with numbers or by the date they need to be accomplished.  You could even write immediate needs on the top and tasks to be completed later at the bottom.

You could also use the "Daily Planner" page.  The page is divided into four sections:  to do, to go, to call, to buy.  This is my favorite because I generally organize what I have to do by those categories.  I can make several calls at once or I might run errands on one afternoon.  Personally, I would use it as a weekly to-do list, since I try not to put more than 5 things on my list—outside of the normal requirements of cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling.

Lastly, you could try “Weekly Planner” pages that have various lines for each day.  There are two options:  a one-page spread with all seven days and no lines, and a two-page spread that divides half the week on each page with lines in each box.

If you haven’t used any of these systems, you may want to experiment to see which one works best for you.  Chances are, you’ll have to adjust one of them to make it perfectly meet your needs.

Divider #5-Notes

Add some notebook paper in this section.  Whenever you need to make a note of something from a phone conversation or plan a birthday celebration or remember directions somewhere, write the date in the left margin and write your notes beside it.  This is not a to-do list, but a place to keep information you will need to recall at a later date.  It will save hours of searching for the ripped corner of the bulletin that holds priceless information.

You’re well on your way to putting systems in place to order your world.  Next month we’ll tackle recipes, menu planning, grocery lists and the kitchen.

Wisdom for a New Year

This year I want to make a difference.  I want this year to count more than all the others that I’ve lived thus far.  I don’t want to leave a word unsaid, a deed undone.  Life is short.  Yes, it sounds cliché, but the statement is true nonetheless.   I realize more than ever before that every day is a gift and it is our choice what we do with it. My Auntie Eleanor put my thoughts into words.  Though she was confined to her home and sometimes even bedridden, she regularly sent friends and family words of encouragement.  Titled “Love More in ’94”, this poem was sent to a friend just months before she passed away.

Mend a quarrel

Seek out a forgotten friend

Write a love letter

Share some treasure

Give a soft answer

Encourage youth

Keep a promise

Find the time

Forgive an enemy

Listen

Apologize if you are wrong

Think first of someone else

Be kind and gentle

Laugh a little

Laugh a little more

Express your gratitude

Be honest in pain

Grieve without embarrassment

Gladden the heart of a child

Take pleasure in the beauty

And wonder of the earth

Speak your love

Speak it again

Speak it still once again

By:  Eleanor Ginder

Reflections on Purity Weekend

It’s over and I survived.   All of my girls know about “the birds and the bees” and I lived to tell the tale.  A few weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter on “Purity Weekend”--my fourth and last.  You’d think I’d have felt relieved, but I found my feelings to be different. When we started the tradition of Purity Weekend with our oldest daughter, I was insecure, uncertain, and fearful.  How will I know when she’s ready?  How will I know when I’m ready?  What if I say something wrong?  What if I forget something?  I recognized the need to inform my daughter about the creation of new life, but I felt completely unprepared.  Since I was raised in a very modest home, this topic wasn’t discussed and the thought of having such personal discussions made me quite uncomfortable.  After much research, I collected some resources and planned the special event.  It was a great success.

As I prepared for our third daughter’s Purity Weekend, God impressed me to write a collection of information and object lessons to help parents inform their daughter about purity, sexuality and courtship.  The Gift of Purity:  Letters to a Daughter About Guarding Her Heart was released in April, 2009.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this resource, here is a short diary of how we used The Gift of Purity for Abigail’s Purity Weekend.

The week before the event I made an invitation for Abigail, telling her of the dates of her Purity Weekend and time we would be leaving.  I kept the location, the topics, and my planned activities a surprise.  Although it would’ve been great to mail the invitation, I ended up sliding it under her door.  With tears running down her cheeks she ran down the stairs and hugged me, hardly believing that the day had finally come.

When the big day arrived, Abigail and I loaded the van, said our good-byes.  As we drove, I hinted around a bit and then asked her if she wanted to get her ears pierced—something she had been anxiously awaiting for several years.  She was ecstatic and a little nervous, but so excited when she saw the results.  After dinner we checked into our oceanfront hotel at the beach (a great deal on Expedia).  She was overwhelmed by the ocean view.  We got settled in and then sat outside on the balcony as we completed the first section entitled, “Purity,” defining purity using biblical standards.  Abigail enjoyed the “Purity Point” object lesson demonstrating that you can’t identify pure water by sight alone.  We closed in prayer as together we dedicated each part of our body to our Lord and Savior.

Our Father gave us the beautiful gift of a clear morning and a glorious sunrise.  We completed the second section of letters about God’s creation of intimacy in marriage and the object lesson demonstrating the power of sexual intimacy to tie two people together.  We finished with some warnings of how Satan tries to pervert God’s precious gift.  The sunny day beckoned us out of the hotel room and we walked several blocks to a little restaurant serving a great breakfast buffet and some gigantic chocolate chip pancakes.  As we walked back to the restaurant, we visited a few shops and crossed a few things off our Christmas shopping list.

Back at the hotel, we began the last section of The Gift of Purity, entitled "Courtship."  Abigail was sad when she realized it was the last section.  We talked about the difference between courtship and dating and why her dad and I had chosen courtship as the process to discover her spouse.  The "Purity Point" object lesson reminded her that giving away a kiss is giving away a little of her purity.  When we concluded, she joyfully agreed to abide by the process of courtship and signed the Commitment to Courtship.

Now it was time for some fun!  We drove to a local spa where I had scheduled an appointment for a manicure.  The spa was lovely and her technician made her feel like a pampered princess.  Her first professional manicure, it was a memorable experience for one who wants to study cosmetology.  We returned to our hotel just in time to change our clothes and freshen up before dinner.

Abigail and I decided to take pictures on the boardwalk before going to dinner.  Actually, I decided that because it was a set up for Abigail.  I told her we'd ask someone to take our picture together, so I called to a man nearby, "Sir, could you please take our picture?"  Abigail immediately recognized her father, the would-be photographer.  Surprise and joy in her heart brought tears to her eyes.  For several moments, she was completely still in her daddy’s embrace and then together we drove to our dinner destination.

Over dinner we talked of courtship and the commitment Abigail and I had just signed.  Harold reminded her of her preciousness and presented her with a lovely purity ring.  Again, tears swelled in her eyes as Dad slipped it on her finger.  The three of us continued our celebration.  Abigail repeatedly looked at her manicure and the lovely ring on her finger—I’m not sure which one she liked more!  Dad returned home after dinner while Abigail and I stayed at the hotel one more night.  Neither of us wanted it to end.  Following a relaxing night of sleep, we gathered our belongings, checked out of the hotel, and arrived at home in time for our Saturday morning pancake breakfast.

Purity Weekend is over, but every one of the girls has mentioned that they want to go again.  I’ve told them that there isn’t anything else I have to tell them, but they insist it doesn’t matter.  According to my four delightful daughters, the best part is just being together.  I enjoyed the time as much as they did.  Maybe I’ll start another tradition.