Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Good Deal

My grandmothers taught me to be a thrifty shopper. This skill was invaluable when I got married, though I don't claim to be the best. I often miss good deals or spend too much money and realize it later. I rarely clip coupons, though I do grab what I can at the grocery store and stock up on sales of items that we use frequently. Early in our marriage Mitch and I made mistakes and within a few years found ourselves under a burden of debt that we didn't have the means to escape. We took Dave Ramsey's course, Mitch changed jobs to increase our income, but we were still unable to fix the mess ourselves. I tell people, "We flunked Financial Peace University."

It's true. Some lessons are hard-learned. We learned slowly, but we learned. We have lived under a budget for years now, carefully managing and spending our income. It isn't always easy. We are not an example for others to follow. Even though we follow a budget, and we have hard evidence of God's goodness and providence, I still fight anxiety each month. Questions like this plague me: "We don't have enough money in our emergency fund, what if _____?"

I sometimes imagine how life would be easier if we had more income. One day while driving between grocery stores, I started a mental calculation of just what amount would help me feel secure. I began to name all the things that could go wrong, and how much they would cost to fix or replace. It didn't take long for me to realize that the number was much higher than I imagined. It was much higher than Dave Ramsey suggested. Later I came across Psalm 49:5-9 in my Bible and wrote in the margin, "No amount of money in my savings account is enough!" So I fight anxiety with truth.

"Why should I fear in times of trouble, 
when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth 
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly 
and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
and never see the pit."

If I had enough money to ransom my own life, it wouldn't be enough. Eternity looms. I must put my trust in the sufficiency of Christ! I must not fear times of trouble in this world. Wealth blinds me to the true condition of my soul. Trouble reminds me exactly who I am and what I need.

I buy used whenever I can, and I rarely pay full price if a discount can be had, even if it means waiting longer to make the purchase. The cars we drive are 15 years old and older. Of course, owning older or used items means that sometimes they break more quickly than newer items. The fiasco with our van coming back from Canada is one example. These events (or anticipation of them) cause anxiety! Remembering God's provision and protection can help me fight anxiety and trust in His future grace. This morning I'm reflecting on the most recent event, which took place in the tightest month yet this year.

Sometime last year our microwave quit working. A few days without a microwave taught us how much we take it for granted. It sure is convenient! I scanned Craig's List and found a used one for $50. Mitch and I picked it up, and he installed it. The "new" one didn't have all the features of our old one, but for the price, we were happy. I learned that the microwave was manufactured the year I graduated from high school. Ha! Sometime after that we were shopping at one of our favorite thrift stores (Habitat for Humanity's ReStore) and noticed that they have microwaves there for even cheaper. I was bummed about missing a better deal, but let go of that. Flash forward to this past week...our microwave suddenly lost power, never to rise again. We headed to ReStore as soon as we could, of course. We chose the only black microwave, which cost a whopping $15. A preference for black certainly drove our decision, but that wasn't all. It has all the bells and whistles. (Not to mention it works). I noted that it was made in 2012. It is newer than our other kitchen appliances (which still feel pretty darn new).  This morning I noticed that it's even the same brand. Wow!

Is it "just" a microwave? Is it a small thing? Yes. We could have lived without a microwave (and some people would say that we would be healthier for it).

But no. God's goodness is never a small thing. It isn't just a microwave that God has done for me. Later in Psalm 49:15, the sons of Korah proclaim,

"But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me."

It is amazing how good God is to us! I can't believe I give in to my flesh and worry, when He has proven to be faithful time and time again. Whatever I thought I needed in my emergency fund, we had enough to fix our van in July. We had enough to get a microwave in this month when grocery money is short. Enough!! No--when we started this month, I funded all the budget categories I could. My grocery budget was short $250. I carefully divided up the money we did have, and tightened up where we had to. Then this. We had some surprise inflows of cash here and there and it has been exactly what we needed. I can't believe that I let my anxieties and worries scare me and affect my relationships with my husband and my children. I can't believe I let it affect my generosity. When I have been given so much, I am still selfish. I can't believe how quickly I forget that my life now is but a moment. I forget what is most important about life and my eyes focus on the flesh instead of on eternity. Remembering God's goodness is another way to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

P.S. I highly recommend "Financial Peace University." Our church, Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud, is beginning a class Sunday mornings this fall. I also recommend You Need a Budget. We use YNAB 4, the "classic" version. But perhaps before you deal with symptoms, you should do a heart check. I recommend Randy Alcorn's book Managing God's Money. You can read my review here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Family Pictures 2016 edition!

Micah warned us a couple months ago that come September, he was leaving. He has changed his direction a few times since then, but the date of departure has only varied by a few days. I finally got serious about trying to find a time to take family pictures before he left, but it seemed to elude us. He was planning to leave today, so my time was pretty much up. Last night we got it done. I didn't take individual shots, but I got the family ones. Here they are, along with some extras!

Zeke was a (grumpy) model for me to test the lighting and background as I moved everyone around the park to find the best spot. Ha! This spot turned out better than I thought.

When we got Micah's cap and gown pictures back from the day of graduation (they were taken by a hired photographer), I was unsatisfied with them. He dutifully posed for some retakes.  

 Now Josh got to be the lighting model...

 And Obi just because he's so darn photogenic.

 Getting a good family shot is so hard for me now. Getting Zeke to smile is even harder! And in the ones where he actually smiled, several other kids were goofing off. Oh well.
One of these will make the final cut to put on our wall. I really need to bring along a friend to help pose us and keep everyone looking at the camera next time! 

 The obligatory silly photos...

When I was growing up, I heard a story about my dad and his older brother. There were a lot of years between them (I don't remember now how many). But when Uncle Fudge got married, my dad was so sad. The story goes (as I remember it...I'm sure someone else can help me get it right) that my dad stood in the middle of road and watched as his best friend drove away. ::cry:: When Obi was born, I knew that the gap in ages between him and Micah was similar. He and Micah were close buddies. He would fall asleep on Micah's shoulder in church every Sunday. Since Micah moved out last November, Obi was already used to him being gone somewhat. But Micah has been staying here for the past month since he got home from Nicaragua. And unlike before when Micah would stop by frequently, Obi won't see him for a long time now. ::cry again::

 First thing Obi did this morning was call Micah, who left in the middle of the night and was already most of the way across North Dakota.

I asked Eden to take pictures of me and Mitch since we haven't done that for the last few years.

 Yes, Genna ate a little sand. Uggggghhhhhhh.

Mitch holding my stuff. He looks so cute!

I begged the kids to take one more photo. 
They are so hard to get organized!
So I was not allowed to be choosy about the background or the location.
Oh well, with some effort, we got it.

 Eden swears she is the same height as Caleb. I wish she would have proved it. It would have been nice to have a "stair step" picture. I'm sure it won't be long before she is the shortest among the oldest 6!

I'm outta here...

Monday, September 05, 2016

Bee Keeping

Mitch has been bee-keeping with his dad this summer. It has been quite a journey! It has been something that he has taken the kids along to do. He has read books, watched videos, and gone to meetings. He has been through a range of emotions too--giddy in love with his bees, to having terrifying nightmares of being attacked. :) He has spent many, many hours this summer taking care of them, and he is sure that he has been in trouble with me because of it. (There may be a little bit of truth to that.)

Here are some incredibly beautiful pictures Kathi took when she was here this summer...

Mitch said his bees were being "naughty" and built this strange comb.

This was one of his bee yards back in July. We live on the edge of the city, right up to where the farmlands begin. Mitch simply drove around talking to people until he found two perfect spots for bee yards. So his bee yards are on borrowed land. The bees will stay there all winter long.

This weekend Mitch and his dad were out checking on some of his dad's hives, which are also on borrowed land. They talked with the land owner, who mentioned he was trying to get rid of some wasps that had a nest in a shed on his property. Mitch and his dad went to check it out and found a wild honey bee hive. It was incredible!

They worked to remove the bees, but it was a difficult process. There are so many bees!! Nightmares? I might have nightmares and I wasn't even there! ::shudder::

Today Mitch wanted to go out to feed his bees and I decided to go along. He said that the "nectar is no longer flowing". Therefore he is giving the bees sugar water, so they can save up their honey stores for winter, especially the smaller hives that didn't collect as much. He had a couple hives that got robbed, too.

See how his yard has grown!

Obi went with us. Doesn't he look adorable? I didn't put on a bee suit, because I wanted to be unencumbered so I could take pictures. Unfortunately, even though I stayed a "safe" distance away, an angry bee was still head butting me. So I hid in the car and tried to take pictures through the window. I didn't get very many good ones. Next time I guess I will dress in the bee suit. ;)

First Mitch and Obi removed the lids off all the boxes. He already had a sugar-water delivery system installed (designed from recycled Powerade bottles).

 Mitch refilled each bottle and replaced it in the hive.

I wish I could have captured a picture of all the dragonflies that were hovering above the bee yard. I counted nearly a dozen. A monarch butterfly fluttered by and a dragonfly dive-bombed it. It stumbled mid-flight, corrected itself, and flew off.

Obi wandered slowly back towards the car and this bee followed him the whole way. He stopped and waited patiently for her to get bored and fly away. She did.

Mitch got Obi back into the car, and we made a "get away" plan before he stopped to check on the hive where the new wild bees are residing. They don't think they successfully got the queen, so this hive may die out, make a new queen, or go join another hive. We are pretty sure there's not enough honey to support the hive all winter long. It was crazy busy full of bees. Boy were they mad when Mitch uncovered it!

After he was done, I drove a few yards away. Mitch walked away, laid down on the grass for a minute or two, then got up and ran down the road after me. Once he was sure the last pursuer had given up, he climbed in the car and we sped away. :) Ok, it wasn't quite so dramatic that I had to speed, but it was pretty exciting.

You know, I'm not sure that I'm all that crazy about working with the bees. I don't even really like honey, but I do have a couple recipes that I like to use it in. The kids are really enjoying going out with Dad, and almost all of them do like to eat honey. I love to see Mitch happy with a hobby. I feel sad when he is sad (when a queen dies, or a hive doesn't do as well as he expected, or when a hive is robbed, etc). Whatever happens next, I am happy that he got to share a bit of it with me. I pray that God will bless him in all the work of his hands, even bee keeping.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Genna at 19 months

Genna is 19 months old today and I thought I would write a little update.

Genna was just in to the doctor for her 18 month checkup. She weighs 24 lbs 6 oz and is 31.7" tall.

She is so full of personality. She's very shy and gives us all "the look"--she bends her head to the side and down, and looks up at us glowering. She will even stick out her hand as if to say, "Don't come any closer." She has picked up the bad habits of screaming at her siblings and, when that doesn't work, biting them. She loves taking pictures and will smile for the camera.

Genna loves to be moving all the time and into whatever the big kids are doing. She copies everything they do. She also doesn't like to stray too far from my arms.

Mitch bought a couple of these step stools at Ikea this summer. When they are within reach, Genna will move them to get into anything her heart desires. She loves them. Oh the messes she makes!

Genna has been very gradually trying more foods and eating more. She is still nursing, but I try to distract her from nursing as often as I can. We can make it through most days with only nursing at nap time and maybe one other time. She nurses several times a night, though.

She currently is on her 4th ear infection since the beginning of May. :( We are waiting for a call to schedule an appointment with an ENT. Our doctor doesn't think that nursing is contributing to the ear infections, but it is a question that I will ask the ENT. She does still reflux some, and I just wonder if that could be causing problems... At any rate, I am undecided about weaning in the immediate future, but expect that it will be happening one way or another before too long.

 I'm sure that eating more during the day will also help the process.

Genna doesn't say much, but here are some of the words she says (or tries to say): momma, dada, puppy, baby, stop, apple, cheese, bye, hi, happy birthday. Edited to add: shoes, teeth

She is learning some signs too: more, please, dog, kitty

She does a lot of squealing and pointing. Oh my poor ears!

She loves to sing songs, even if she can't sing the words clearly. She sings along to "Happy Birthday to You" and "Bye-bye Baby Bunting." When we sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" she does her own version of hand motions.

She loves to play with dolls and anything that Mercy is doing. She enjoys coloring with crayons or on the sidewalk with chalk. She seems to enjoy anything that is messy or dirty. She wants to feel and taste everything.

She wants to walk up and down the stairs, never crawl. That's hard. She also tries to jump and it's pretty darn cute.

We often laugh at her antics, but she's like a little tornado wherever she goes--leaving a trail of destruction to clean up. So sometimes I'm too tired to laugh. Still when she looks up and grins, it's hard to ignore.