Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Friends

The first time I saw them, it was a cold and blistery day. November was closing its chapter and the truest of winter months was just hours away. But no one should be walking on a highway service road unless carrying a gas can. They were dressed appropriately, donning warm scarves and knit hats, backpacks looking full and heavy.

And pushing a stroller.

My heart sank as I passed them at 60 mph and I stared at them in my rearview mirror. Where are they going? Where did they come from? And most importantly: why do they have a small child with them? My mind raced to answer the questions and I decided, with much hesitation, that they must live in a nearby apartment and were headed to the mall for Christmas shopping. After all, the intersection was full of the most popular places to buy holiday gifts and restaurants to fill hungry tummies. Little did I know they had only eaten peanut butter & crackers that day. With a blink of an eye and a blinking turn signal, they were gone and I continued on to my errands.

On a quick impulse after dinner that evening, Zoe and I headed out for a girl's night, needing the ever-essential Bath & Body Works (I had a coupon!) and was reminded to pick up dog food for Sadie. We drove through Starbucks to get our appropriate sized cups of hot chocolate and were listening to Christmas music when I nearly drove off the road.

The bundled trio was timidly preparing to cross the street as I passed them in the even bleaker darkness of night. I swerved to the turning lane, pulled a quick u-turn, and frantically searched for them as I stuffed my purse under my legs and pulled out my cell phone, in case things went wrong.

Travis. Kristen. and little Rachel Elizabeth.

Travis is already homeless, and has been on and off the streets since he was 12. He is most recently finding shelter at night inside the unlocked fitness rooms of area apartment complexes. Kristen & Rachel are living with a family of five, in a two bedroom apartment, all on the verge of being evicted., with no place to go.

Zoe and I bought them dinner at Potbellys as they shared their stories. Kristen is just a year younger than I am and Rachel turns three in January. They ate at Whataburger for Thanksgiving because they had no electricity. Kristen was the first to ask if I went to church - God's power is bright and clear when the needs of the oppressed are met by His people - and I gushed over our community and how much we love our church. I told them we meet on Sunday nights for a big meal and talk about Christ-centered community.

Kristen called our meeting "divine intervention" and I agreed, my casual response tame compared to the surge of Kingdom Coming that was beating in my heart. After putting a few dollars in each of their hands, a drive to Kroger to use food stamps, we drove them to the apartment with more a sense of something beginning than something about to end. Never once did I feel unsafe or unwise for putting my daughter in such a situation. My God challenges that we serve and love and provide for the least of these and Zoe was able to witness first hand the Gospel.

I told her we wanted to have a play date in a couple of days (after all, she's a mom before she's a nearly-homeless woman) and insisted that we would pick them up on Sunday and take them to church with us. I can already see their hearts warming towards our friends, being loved by a people most made to love, and realizing there are no strings attached to our kindness.

Please pray for them. Pray for Brad and I to show them the most beautiful love...crazy love. Bold love. Love that washes their fears away like melted snow and love that believes for the impossible to be made right in their hearts.

If you are interested in helping us help them, there are practical needs. Rachel needs clothes and diapers. Travis needs a place to sleep. They both need jobs immediately and have already set their sights on a very affordable one-bedroom apartment. Please email me or call me if you would like to help. There is no better time to remember how very fortunate we are and how very much we have.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mom Essentials #3

Essential: Cheap Haircuts
Type: Mom Essential: health & beauty
Cost: starting at $15.95

When I had long hair, I could get away with haircuts every 4-6 months. Since it's been much shorter, I have to cut it more often and was forced to find a cheaper place. I had been getting it cut at Ulta (I've always liked their stylists) but I was paying no less than $45 plus tip each time. Yikes!

Let me introduce you to Mastercuts and more specifically, a great stylist at the Hulen Mall Mastercuts, whose name is Kimberly. I went on a whim, she happened to be working, and come to find out, she was trained by Toni & Guy.

Hair cuts start at just $15.95 for adults, a shampoo is $2-3 more, and style is additional. I went last week, washed my hair a couple hours before leaving, she sprayed it before cutting ($2 savings), and I pass on the styling, which saves another $6.

And, right now, you can print off a coupon for $2.00 so I paid just $13.95 plus tip. That's a savings of over 60%.

Now you have no excuse for a boring haircut!!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bits of Revelation

I realized something quite extraordinary a couple days ago. Here is my attempt to put into writing the pieces of fresh understanding.

Being a mom occupies about 90% of my time. And probably 96% of my efforts. If doing loads of little people laundry, changing diapers, training, correcting, disciplining, preparing kid-friendly meals, finding creative ways to help my kids play, trips to the library, mall, & playground, checking mouths for crayon bits, flushing unflushed toilets, hoping stains come out of newly purchased clothing, reorganizing my wallet again because it fell into the wrong hands, explaining why watching television all day is not an option, telling my 21-month old again to take his hand out of his diaper(!), laughing when my kids find a box of tampons and use them as "tools," making sure everyone has shoes when we leave the house...


As much as I love (or have come to accept) all of these things, God has designed me to do things that don't just fall under the mom (or wife) category. I realized that my discontent with life lately has not been because of the things I'm doing, it's because of things I'm not doing. Brad and I had a great conversation where I articulated this and I'm resolved to make some changes. I have to choose to make room for the things that God has placed within me as a woman, not because I'm a mom or a wife. I think it's important that we, as women, find motivation in life that isn't related to parenting, house-keeping, or serving a husband.

We've long heard women in our secular culture encouraging others to "make time for themselves" in the way of make-overs, pedicures, manicures, and massages. Join a fitness center. Enjoy Starbucks once a week. But what I'm talking about is finding the treasures, gifts, and talents God has placed within us - long before motherhood or marriage took the stage. Maybe you have been created to mentor younger women or perhaps you've always longed to lead worship and just need to take steps to learn an instrument. Do you love hosting dinner parties or organizing ladies night out? Perhaps it's making a meal for an elderly neighbor or designing a flyer for an upcoming church event.

For me, it's writing. I've talked about writing a book for a long time and have gone through seasons where the burden ebbs and flows, where time makes it difficult, and where my self-confidence lags. But guess what?! I wrote the first chapter yesterday! I sat at my computer for 30 minutes and it flowed off my fingertips like honey. I have not often felt the power and presence of the Holy Spirit as strong as I did while writing.

God is empowering me to live the life that He desires - and I have come to see that not expressing this passion diminishes my ability to give God glory which in turn diminished my happiness. Malachi 3:8 says that we rob God in the way of our offerings (defined as something offered in worship or devotion). You have been created to offer yourself as a living sacrifice in this Great Story and without your talents fully-functional, we are missing letters, sentences, and paragraphs.

Go ahead, write your chapter.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mom Essentials #2

Essential: Target Diapers
Type: Baby essential
Cost: $13.99 for 96 size 3 diapers
I've been doing the math lately on lots of things it takes to run a home with small children. For example, how much does a load of laundry cost (laundry detergent, fabric softener, electricity for drying one load), and more than ANYthing: the lovely little thing we call DIAPERS!! Here's my math:

Let's say your child wears diapers until they are 2.5 years old. That's 912 days of diapers. Now, let's just say you average 6 diapers a day...more when they're newborns and fewer as they get older. That's 5472 diapers in 2.5 years. Holy moly, that's a lot! (Multiply if you have more than one kid and...yikes!)

Simple breakdown:
If you buy Huggies diapers wholesale (like Costco or Sam's Club), you get 224 size 3 diapers for $49.99. That's approximately 22.3¢ per diaper. That's nearly a quarter a diaper! Over the course of diaper-time(2.5 years), that's a grand spending of $1220.26. Or think of it as $40.67 each month!

Target diapers (newly renamed Up & Up), which I have found to be as leak proof as Huggies, can be bought (size 3) in a large box of 96 diapers for $13.99. At only 14.6¢ per diaper, I will spend only $798.91 by the time Colby is 2.5...with a grand savings of $421.35. Monthly, it's $26.63...a savings of 34%.

Moreover, the boxes lately have featured $2.00 off coupons, reducing my spending by an additional 14%!

BONUS: If you purchase online and buy three or more boxes, you save an additional 20%. Click to visit Target's website.

I also like to think that if we have a total of 4 kids, I will have saved us $1685.40, which is an amazing weekend trip with my husband when our last child gets potty-trained!!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mom Essentials #1

I've decided to start a new series that requires much less intensity and vulnerability than "Confessions of a Real Mom." Over the past several months, I have come to realize that there are things in a mom's arsenal that are "musts" for every mom. Each week, I'll post a new product, website, discipline or "whatever" that I think will help you be a better mom. Some weeks, I might feel more generous and post a couple of essentials. ;-)

Since this is the first of the series, let me define what I believe to be Mom-Essentials.
1. The item must be easily accessible and preferably free.
2. The item can be as much for the child as it is for the mother and vice versa. For example, you might not make your child an appointment for a massage but for you, its effects will ripple through your family!

Welcome to the Essential Aisle!!

Essential: ScreenIt.com
Type of Product: Website
Cost: Free (although you can subscribe for just $24.95 for the entire year)

I have been more than disgusted in recent months at the children I've seen in movie theaters showing an R-rated movie. Brad and I saw a movie on Saturday night that was chock-full of violence and oh, the language! Before the movie started, two families walked in with children under the age of 7 and it was all I could do to stay in my seat. It infuriates me that parents would expose their children to the elements that come with an R-rating.

You might not be taking your children to these movies, but even PG and PG-13 movies are laden with sexual innuendoes, "mild" cussing, and violence that Hollywood deems appropriate for certain ages. Even PG rated movies can (and do) contain sexual content! Come on, Moms! We have the responsibility to protect and preserve our children's innocence by NOT exposing them to EVIL. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to preview an entire movie before showing it to my kids so I've found a website that does it for me.

Screen-It is an online site that rates movies in 15 (yep, that's fifteen) categories, with ratings that include: None, Mild, Moderate, Heavy, and Extreme. It then explains the rating(why), the plot, gives a word to parents, and describes in full detail every time a cuss word is used, every sexual anything, and more. Not only will this give you a complete list of everything your children will see and hear, it will help you determine what movies to see yourself. (Brad and I have often changed our mind about what movie to go see after reading the online review at ScreenIt.com.)

Here's a idea of how they rated the newly released "Julie and Julia" which is rated PG-13. All this content is directly from ScreenIt.com. (I haven't seen the movie...)

Alcohol/Drugs: Heavy
Blood/Gore: Mild
Disrespectful/Bad Attitude: Moderate
Frightening/Tense Scenes: Minor
Guns/Weapons: Minor
Imitative Behavior: Mild
Jump Scenes: None
Music(Scary/Tense): None
Music(Inappropriate): None
Profanity: Heavy
Sex/Nudity: Heavy
Smoking: Heavy
Tense Family Scenes: Heavy
Topics to Talk About: Moderate
Violence: Minor

It sometimes makes me laugh when they describe some of the detail under each category. For example, for this movie, one of the "Sex/Nudity" scenes is described as: "Julie and Eric passionately kiss while clothed." It's seemingly mild but the reviewers & raters find it completely necessary to include it to better educate parents!

Please visit this site regularly and commit to protecting your children. Guard your home against the evil that will enter through the movies we play on screens. Their eyes are the windows to our children's souls so let's let the Light shine more brightly than the darkness.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Confession of a Real Mom #2

I had such a sweet morning with one of my besties & felt inspired to write another blog today. Consider it a follow-up from the more-than-recent confession of difficulty in motherhood.

My moments of deep, deep darkness seem to press further behind me as I search, quite desperately at times, for Light. I love following Jesus. I love His leadership and His tender tenacity in making me more like Him and less like myself. Yet, oddly, I become more like Myself as the transformation goes deeper and hits the darker and uglier roots.

My blog-fession (confession) left me surprisingly free as so many moms (and yet-to-be-moms) found encouragement in relating to another Christian mom who has hard times. My heart swells at the future I believe awaits us as our toddlers turn into teenagers and diapers morph into diplomas.

Thank you, Jesus, for these moments of struggle and sin. Thank you that YOU lead me to these places so that Your character is glorified in the horrific comparison to my sinful nature. Keep my heart from ever loving my sin. Keep my mind from justifying my position before you as anything but humble. Keep my kids innocent in their childhood but open-eyed aware of their sin, just like Mommy & Daddy.

My prayer for my children has been Psalm 23 and as I meditate on verse 6, it reminds me that I must deliver God’s promises to my kids:

“Surely God’s goodness and unfailing love will pursue Zoë all the days of her life and she will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

“Surely God’s goodness and unfailing love will pursue Colby all the days of his life and he will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

I’m enjoying motherhood today. And I’m pretty sure I will again tomorrow.

“I look up to the mountains – does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”

Psalm 121

Monday, August 3, 2009

Best Potato Salad Ever!

A couple weeks ago, I had a night to myself so I indulged in two of my favorite things: beauty products & potato salad. Yep, that's right: I would rather have a plate of Red Hot & Blue's Potato Salad than a bowl of ice cream or bar of chocolate. Determined to have it more frequently, I learned how to make it at home. Here's my version of the treasured recipe:

"Wanna-Be Potato Salad"

  • 10 red-skinned potatoes
  • 7 hard-boiled eggs, yolks discarded
  • 1/2 cup green onions, diced (more or less to your taste)
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery seed (I opted to do a little more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Cut each potato into 16th's (down the middle and then each half into 8 cubes). Boil potatoes until soft.
2. In a large bowl, combine the mayo, celery seed and salt.
3. Chop the hard-boiled egg whites into large chunks and add to mayo mixture.
4. When potatoes are fully cooked (soft but not mushy), drain and rinse with water. Cubes/pieces should hold their shape.
5. Add potatoes and green onions to mayo mixture.

Can be served warm (like RH&B) or stick it in the fridge for a cold version.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Of Late...

The blog world is crying for a new post, so I'll just put some random ramblings of my life lately.

1. I have discovered a local coffee company that sells organic, free-trade beans & grounds. Makes a delightful cup of coffee - specifically, I'm enjoying "Nutty Blonde" - and it's just $10.50 per pound. Aduro Bean is the name and coffee is their game. They were at the Farmer's Market hosted by TCU last week (and perhaps monthly...). Please join me in supporting our locals with your business. I'm enjoying a hot cup now...

2. I have a renewed love for literature...fiction & non-fiction. I just finished reading Crichton's Jurassic Park and thoroughly enjoyed it. Last month, I read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown, who is the author of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, two of my favorite novels & movies. I'm also learning to utilize the FW Library's audio book service and just checked out The Curious Case of Benjamin Button & Other Jazz Age Tale by Fitzgerald. This will surely come in handy while working on #3...

3. I have decided to learn how to knit! I want more hobbies than diaper changing & dishwasher loading so I'm looking for activities that are productive. I checked out a heap of books from our library and, next stop: JenningStreet Yarns. I haven't bought a single item (i.e. needles or yarn) but that will be happening promptly. I'm excited to start with scarves & hats for the family and follow up with some baby blankets...

4. Brad and I are pretty big fans of ABC series...Grey's Anatomy, Brother's & Sisters mostly - but we have just become fans of NBC's The Office. We have seen bits & pieces of the show over the past couple of years but didn't see the humor for two reasons. 1. We didn't know the characters or history well enough to get most jokes, and 2. Steve Carell's character, Michael Scott, is so inappropriate, disillusioned, and shocking that we found ourselves too irritated to be entertained. BUT, after watching the first season...and second, third, and fourth...we are laughing out loud every episode. We made it through the first four seasons in just a few weeks. I commented to Brad the other night that the show is surprisingly clean - the language is tame followed by even tamer sexual innuendos. Definitely refreshing.

4. And, finally, I am helping to plan my ten-year high school reunion. I graduated in 1999 and this past May marked a full decade of adulthood. Whatever that means. The reunion weekend will take place in October, with events including evening cocktails, a family picnic, and the big reunion on Lake Lewisville. Check out the website if you'd like!

That's all for now, folks!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Confession of a Real Mom

I’ve had a really hard time being a mom lately.

There are all kinds of moments and reasons that have added up to a really frustrated woman who has two kids. It’s even more difficult, however, because there isn’t a wealth of discussion (or admission) from other moms who have more than just “moments” and venture into seasons of struggling in motherhood. I guess that’s why I’m writing this blog.

Anger has usually been a very comfortable thing for me. Put two toddlers in my life who are learning to obey, respect, love, etc. and it becomes more common. I’m not writing this because I’m proud of that weakness, but more to encourage other moms who might have struggles like mine. And confession is like cool rain on blistering embers. I need a thunderstorm.

Zoë and I hit some hard times just before she turned two, and our anger & attitudes fueled our developing relationship. She and I are both strong-willed, first-born girls who tend to think that everything in the universe must cater to our wants, ideas, and especially our emotions. Put two women like that together, add transition of life, other stresses and out emerges a very volatile situation. God, however, in His great mercy and divine providence, landed us in a “Love & Logic” class on parenting. The senior pastor of McKinney Bible Church was willing to share his struggle in anger and then gave some practical advice that allowed Zoë and I to turn a corner. But the past few months, I find myself in a whole new season with Zoë approaching her fourth birthday and frustrated that this issue is resurfacing.

Of late I have come to realize something quite overwhelming. One can want to have children while not wanting to become a mother. There is a big difference between the two. “Wanting to have children” feeds on the cuteness, the newness, and the basic thrill of babies, toddlers, etc. Have you noticed that we ask newly married couples “When are you guys going to have kids?” and not “When are you guys going to become parents?” Probably because it’s easier think of sweet babies then question the preparedness of someone’s heart. Newsflash! Both questions are important.

Motherhood is controlling fury while spanking a flailing child. Motherhood is engaging in floor games & play-dough when email & Facebook provide a better escape. Motherhood is restraining tongue when the most blasphemous statements emerge from a three-year-old’s mouth. Motherhood is realizing that this job is not glamorous, is only occasionally “fun,” and most of the time – when really displaying itself – pushes in the opposite direction of our nature. It’s downright exhausting, draining, and demanding.

I started sobbing the other night in bed, deep & heavy tears. I was shaking and can’t remember another time I’ve been so upset. A sentence started circling my thoughts and it took every ounce of capacity to utter the words: I hate being a mother. I said it twice and I meant it both times. The weight was so unbearable that even in a pitch-black room, the darkness seemed darker. After a box of Kleenex, glass of water, and husband-comfort, I could breath again and started saying this, over and over:

“And the Truth shall set you free. And the Truth shall set you free. And the Truth shall set you free."

Jesus is setting me free as a mother, something I never knew I needed. He’s revealing the very ugly places in my heart that battle against this reality. He’s aligning my thoughts, attitudes, and emotions towards my children. And He is gently reminding me that my life is not my own. It belongs to my King, my husband and my children.

I repented to Zoë tonight for all the anger I’ve been carrying around. She seemed mostly oblivious to the weight of confession but she professed her love for me, kissed me wet on the lips, and insisted on painting the rest of her nails watermelon pink. I like to believe that we were able to hit reset tonight in a lot of ways.

I’m praying that the Lord would change my heart and allow me to love being a mother. I’m closer today than last week and I believe there will be a million steps before the journey turns into an empty nest. I hope these words don’t put fear in your heart or cause concern for my mental health. But if you can relate in anyway, or if there comes a day when you find yourself in similar tar, please know you are not alone. My prayer for you is that you would have a great measure of faith – not just for your children’s lives – but for the life of your mothering heart.

Friday, July 10, 2009

100 Things I Love About My Husband!

Today marks exactly five years of marriage to the most amazing man I know! On July 10th, 2004, I got to marry my best friend, my hero, and the greatest leader I could have asked for. In honor of the past five years, here is a list of 100 Things I Love About Brad Thompson:

1. 1. 1. He fixes our car problems by himself, saving us hundreds.
2. He doesn’t mind changing dirty diapers.
3. His hazel green eyes.
4. The way he teaches our kids about nature.
5. His willingness to lay in bed and listen to me talk at night.
6. How he often sends me text messages of his love for me.
7. His bravery at trying new things.
8. His love for Chinese food.
9. The way he holds my hand.
10. He can’t get enough of snuggling with our kids.
11. His crazy desire for a lot…and I mean a lot…of kids.
12. He insists I never mow the grass.
13. He loves home improvement.
14. How much he’s grown in communication since we met.
15. His deep and irrational love for people.
16. His commitment to the Lord, especially when things are tough.
17. He quit his job when the future was totally unknown.
18. He excels at his job.
19. His obsession with music.
20. He doesn’t mind driving the whole time on road trips.
21. The random bouquets of flowers “just because”
22. He protects me when our kids show any disrespect.
23. How he trusts me with spending money.
24. His brilliant ideas.
25. He has our “month-iversary” set on his calendar every month.
26. His huge dreams for our future.
27. He plays “tiger” every night with our kids after dinner.
28. He spills coffee on himself EVERY time he drinks it.
29. He talks in his sleep.
30. How he’s willing to take advice from my dad.
31. His wisdom in purchasing cars.
32. His ability to forgive people who don’t deserve to be forgiven.
33. He eats ice cream with a plastic spoon.
34. How he holds me when I cry.
35. The way he puts his hand on my knee when he drives.
36. His laugh. OH, he has the best laugh!
37. His commitment to me when I don’t deserve it.
38. His relationship with his mom – he really loves her.
39. His addiction to candy.
40. He sings really loud when he worships.
41. He drives a really old car so I can have a great minivan.
42. He pays our bills on time.
43. *password protected*
44. His favorite shows – Brothers & Sisters and 30Rock.
45. He takes amazing pictures of our kids.
46. He dances when listening to rock music in the car.
47. He rarely complains about being sick.
48. He always gets frozen vanilla yogurt.
49. He’s a really good friend.
50. He’s always looking for an opportunity to serve.
51. He likes to watch The Bachelorette.
52. He is an undercover ninja.
53. He wants to collect VW Beetles when he gets old.
54. He loves starting new things…AND,
55. He is so good at finishing the things he starts.
56. He has all necessary characteristics for being a dad:
57. His tender but firm love for our kids.
58. He disciplines when it’s not convenient or easy.
59. He’s willing to wear princess crowns when playing with Zoë.
60. And gets on all fours when teaching Colby how to push cars.
61. He makes Zoë scrambled eggs for breakfast.
62. He snuggles with Zoë before she gets out of bed.
63. He frequently verbally affirms Colby!
64. He knows a LOT about the Bible but always wants to know more.
65. He would give me anything I ask for.
66. He’s not given up on ministry.
67. *password protected*
68. He finishes my food at restaurants.
69. He doesn’t mind being wrong about stuff. ;-)
70. He picked out the engagement ring of my dreams.
71. He drinks boxed wine…in a plastic tumbler…with ice…and a straw.
72. His long-term plan involves living on the coast.
73. He insists on me pursuing my dreams.
74. He has super hot athletic legs.
75. He lets me have a mommy’s night out anytime I need it.
76. He takes the trash out every week.
77. His nickname is B-Rad Shizzle.
78. He has a burden for the sex-slaves around the world.
79. He believes in the impossible and hopes for it.
80. He eats anything I put in front of him. And I mean anything.
81. He’s obsessed with vacuuming & bought an Oreck to prove it.
82. He has never yelled at me or our kids.
83. He is really good at back rubs.
84. He’s willing to take risks with our lives.
85. He was so serene during our at-home childbirths.
86. He asks good questions when I’m processing something.
87. He has never had to replace his wedding band.
88. He grooms his fingernails (no buffing) on the front porch. Ha.
89. I love him because we’ll both be in the same place for eternity.
90. He likes supporting independent movies & musicians.
91. He’s been a better friend to me than I could imagine in a husband.
92. He likes Macs instead of PCs.
93. I think he’s going to look cute with grey hair.
94. He’s really good at picking out baby names for our kids.
95. He is super skilled at making posters & other advertisements.
96. He reads the Drudge Report instead of CNN.com
97. He would prefer a salad over a bacon cheeseburger.
98. *password protected*
99. He’s usually the first one to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
100. And the thing I love most about him: he loves me extravagantly.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I just LOVE saving money!

After a couple recommendations from friends, I signed up for a trial of Grocery Game for $1. I realized quickly, after just four weeks, that I could easily do this myself. The time I spend clipping coupons and browsing on-line grocery ads and circulars is well worth the money we save at the grocery store. Let me share a few tips & my experience from today:

1. The Sunday paper is available for *free* at TCU every week. We stop by campus on the way home from church or Brad brings one home on Monday so we don't spend the $2.00 it would cost each week.

2. Making sure I'm not hungry, I pull out the advertisement section of the paper along with coupons and discard the extra paper to feel more organized & calm. Find a large table or desk. Start by setting aside each coupon page you think you'll use (not cutting with scissors yet) and go through all coupons, relatively quickly.

3. After discarding unnecessary coupons, I tackle the coupon pile once more, cutting out each one with scissors AND doing two things:
  1. Re-evaluate its usefulness. HINT: Just because it's a good coupon, does not mean it's a good deal. Are you already planning on buying this product? Maybe hot dogs are already on your list so a coupon for Ballpark Franks is perfect!
  2. Read the fine print. For example, today, I found myself re-reading a 75¢ coupon for brownie mix. Great, right? Here's the catch: you have to buy two (like a lot of coupons) but you also had to buy two boxes of Supreme brownie mix. We don't like the Supreme styles so this would have actually wasted a few dollars, rather than save us money!!
4. Organize coupons by categories like: frozen, meats, sauces/condiments, home (paper towel, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc), health & beauty, etc. This will help you in step number 5.

5. Go through each weekly ad/grocery story ad. These include: Kroger, Albertsons, Tom Thumb, CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Target. HINT: Make sure the ad is current. Also, visit each website where the most current weekly ad is available. I would highly suggest reading the text and not looking at the pictures, as you will specifically identify what you need, and not what you WANT. Advertisers score when you make a decision based on packaging & presentation, not actual necessity.

6. Make a list, by grocery stores, of items to purchase. I like to type it in an email to myself so it prints off easily. I also like to include the advertised price and if I have coupons. It also helps me remember in case I'm at one store and see a good deal but want to compare to another location. Here's what my list looked like this morning:

Tom Thumb - you can see the list above of the three items I needed. First of all, Ballpark Franks are normally $3.99 per package but were on sale for 99¢ each. That's a great deal alone BUT there was a coupon for $1.00 off two packages. So I saved a total of $7.00 on two packages of hot dogs and spent just $0.99!!! Then, 75 feet of Reynolds aluminum foil was on special for $3.00, marked down from $4.49. With a $1.00 off coupon, I saved another $2.49. With two other items (tea bags & hot dog buns), my grand total, including tax was $6.93. I saved $10.79 in just ONE trip to a store to buy just five items!! That's a savings of 61%.

And, finally, we took a trip to Wal-Mart, where prices are lowest but coupons don't double or triple so I save all my coupons that are more than 50¢. I used eight coupons to save a grand total of $10.46. Check the prices of other stores on your list while you're in Wal-Mart because they're often lower than sale prices. Like today, I had cereal & ice cream on my CVS list, but at Wal-Mart each item was actually cheaper - I could compare because I had the prices written down - so it saved me a trip to another store with two kids in tow!!

Grand Savings: $21.25 in just two hours, two stores!! Wooohooo!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Facebook, I rebuke thee!

Do you find yourself ever thinking in Facebook?  

I had just pulled clean bed sheets out of the dryer and was walking back to our room with an armful of warm linens, giving off that fresh aroma we all know & love.  Something about it reminds me of Home.  Instead of actually enjoying the moment, I found myself thinking how I could word my thoughts as a Facebook status.  Utterly ridiculous.  

Then I realize that a lot of my thoughts, reflections, epiphanies, and whatevers often make their way through my head as a status.  Or a blog idea.  Somehow, I started believing that communication involved online networks and websites.  I can pride myself in the number of views to my blog or how many people I connect with through Facebook but it's alarming to me how these things are replacing community.  Friendships.  Heartbeats and tears as we share life with our closest bff's.  

We've convinced ourselves as a Facebook community that we are connected to people based on their profiles.  We check off our "I'm a good friend" box when we write on someone's wall, view their posts, or peruse their photo albums.  

I currently have 463 "friends" on Facebook.  Out of those 463:

I have 27 of those friends' phone numbers stored in my cell phone.  That's only 5.8%
There are at least 150 people I haven't talked to in more than 10 years.  (Two high schools.)

I would be completely embarrassed to tell you how much time I spend on Facebook each day.  I've been deeply convicted about ignoring my children to check my notifications.  I've wasted time flipping through photo albums of people I've never met just because one friend was tagged in one picture.  This could seriously be addiction.  Hello, my name is Heather and I'm a Facebook-aholic.  Anyone want to be my sponsor? 

We like to downplay this atrocity by laughing and making jokes about its pull.  I had a friend recently post a status that said he was "bored with Facebook." I often see statuses reflecting guilt for not "doing something" because they were consumed with FB.  Isn't this something deep inside of us crying out to get away from our computers or phones (whatever your medium) and hit REALITY with our lives?!  When did we become okay with wasting our time?  When did I become okay with wasting my life - my children's life - my home life - so that Facebook could get an extra minute (or hour) of my time?

Now, there are definitely things I appreciate about FB: I have lots of friends who have moved to other states and countries and their profiles give me the opportunity to stay connected to their lives.  I miss them all and appreciate seeing their kids, their homes, and updates.  However, the album will still be there, I can see all statuses in a few day's time, and they will still be my friends if a week goes by without seeing their profile.
I've been contemplating breaking away from Facebook in order to gain perspective.  Let's consider it a FB Cleanse.  Time to get the bad stuff out so the good stuff can take hold.  Time to realize that words on a screen are not friendships.  And time to give the best of my day without logging in or signing in.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our Anniversary Trip

We just came back from a 4-day trip to Austin for our 5th anniversary.  We had an incredible time and to help remind us of our time away, here are a few highlights!

First, a big thanks to Brad's mom, Janet, for watching our kids.  We have never left both of them for more than one night so this was a big deal for everyone.  Janet did a great job at keeping them laughing and covering them with love and affection.  And she let the kids pick out a new fish - Jonah - a blue betta that adds some color to our kitchen.  We miss Gigi already!

Day 1:  Thursday morning we headed down to Austin and checked in to the newly renovated Courtyard by Marriott.  We had an expanded king-size room and the travel size shampoo & conditioner were the best - one of my top ways of rating a hotel.  Definitely two thumbs up from the Thompsons.

We had dinner at P.F. Changs and then headed to see "Angels & Demons," the latest Dan Brown novel to hit the big screen.  Some of my favorite books and definitely one of my favorite movies.  Again, two thumbs up from the Thompsons.  

Day 2:  After breakfast at the local Whole Foods market, we headed to Ikea, where we roamed and picked out some items for our newly renovated bathrooms.  Two mirrors, framed art, and a shower curtain were loaded into the back of our van as we made our way to the Premium Outlets.  Being disappointed by the selection of stores, we spontaneously went to another movie - Land of the Lost - where we laughed like kids and drank Coke out of a collectors cup.  It only cost $4.50 and came with a free refill!!

Thanks to a suggestion from our pastor's wife, Lisa Young, we headed to the Hula Hut on Lake Austin for a late lunch/early dinner (lunner? dinch?).  We ate enormous tacos & enchiladas, enjoyed the best queso ever, and drank some kind of rum punch for two.  Dee-lish.

There was a Marie Callender restaurant & bakery across from the hotel so we headed over there for late-night dessert.  We bought a WHOLE blueberry pie and took it back to the hotel room.  I'd like to say we killed it, but that would be embarrasing.  

Day 3:  Saturday morning lunch at the hotel was free so we ate some yummy food, drank really good coffee, and then headed down to the SoCo, a stretch on South Congress that's populated with vintage boutiques, quirky shops, and an empty lot full of hand-made jewelry booths and recycled clothes for both adults & kids.  I found a cute bohemian-style skirt for just $10 and love it already.  So cool.

Hey Cupcake! serves amazing cupcakes out of trailer so we picked some up for a "some time later" treat.  We felt like we were on a food tour of the city, eating every three hours in amounts suitable for big foot.  We joked all weekend about needing a barf bag.  Sorry if that's too much information but it gives you an idea how much we ate.

Lunch at the Olive Garden made me ready for a nap so we snoozed back at the hotel.  For our last night in Austin, we celebrated at The Cheesecake Factory.  Brad ate his signature order, Steak Diane, and I tried something new: Herb Crusted Salmon with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.  I had a Bikini Martini and we took two slices of cheesecake back to the hotel: chocolate chip cookie dough and white chocolate raspberry.  Divine, if you ask me.

We splurged on a pay-per-view movie that night and watched "Sunshine Cleaning" which made us happy and love films that sport a good ending and great acting.  It should be out on DVD soon, and we would both highly recommend it.

Day 4:  We checked out of the hotel and headed back towards UT where Guadalupe Street lead us to a bakery called Texas French Bread.  We got some loaves as gifts and prided ourselves in finding another whole-in-the-wall place.  We were a little sad to leave behind the city but were eager to see our kiddos.  

This is a very long description and really, more for me & Brad, than for your reading pleasure.  Some people might think how we spent our trip was lame & boring but let me share with you a little secret:  when you have two children, the best vacation means sleeping in & staying up late, eating at nice restaurants without leaving crumbs on the floor, going to a movie in a theater, and being spontaneous.  No seat belts to buckle, diaper bags to remember, or attitudes to adjust.  Just a husband and a wife, two best friends remembering why we got married and how insanely lucky we both are.

Love you, B-Rad.  You are my favorite thing EVER.