"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for November, 2014

Ode to Thanksgiving Home Improvements

Erin with sledgehammer

We have a weird Thanksgiving tradition in our home. We tend to start extensive home improvement projects just as the holiday season is kicking off. Sometimes they’re not very huge undertakings—one year we just replaced the dining room chandelier the night before company came for Thanksgiving. (When we bought our first house, the chandelier there had been held up in part with toothpicks. Really.) Other projects are much more intense—like the year we ripped out our master bathroom the Friday after Thanksgiving and used the kids’ bathroom for almost a year while Darrell re-built it pretty much from scratch. (On HGTV they do entire houses in an hour!)

The first year we were married, we wallpapered the kitchen of our condo the night before Thanksgiving. We were hosting my family for the first time; so excited to have our own place to have the holiday as a newly-married couple. When we came downstairs to the kitchen the next morning, we found that the wallpaper had all peeled off the wall (we’d wallpapered over paneling) in long, curled-up sheets. We had prepped it properly, but it was such a long sheet that the weight of it caused it to fall off the wall. Frantically we managed to get it put back up before company (family) arrived, finishing it just in the nick of time.

One would think after that episode, we would have learned a lesson, but gluttons for punishment that we are, we didn’t. I’m not sure if it’s because the weather changes and we find ourselves inside more or what, but it seems like we’re always doing some kind of construction when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. While other people are trimming the tree with gusto, we’re trying to figure out where to put it where there will be minimal dust for the lights and ornaments.

This year, Darrell got super-industrious. He took out the wall between our kitchen and the living room. We’ve talked about doing this for years, but I never dreamed we’d do it this week. Erin’s been watching a lot of HGTV, especially Property Brothers, and had been begging to get to take the first whack at the wall with a sledgehammer. We all did get a few licks in, but Dad, being the Project Manager Extraordinaire, put the kibosh on it and took the rest of it down “neatly”. Ahem.

I hope to have some after-photos to share with you by the end of this weekend. Yes, I’m hosting Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, so it’s going to be interesting to see exactly how finished this wall is by mealtime tomorrow. At least all the dusty stuff will behind us by the time tonight’s done. I hope.

Progress

Progress!

 

 

Until then, here’s a little poem in honor of this wonderful family tradition:

Sawblades are buzzing
Dust is everywhere
We took the kitchen wall out and
We haven’t time to spare
 
The Home Improvement Monster
Reared ambitiously this week
A project this size before Thanksgiving
Is not for the weary or the meek
 
Somehow this time of year
Is when we get the bug to change
From installing chandeliers and flooring
We get the itch to re-arrange
 
Most likely our week’s timeline
Isn’t quite enough to git ‘er done
We’ll face our guests on Turkey Day
Hoping they won’t turn around and run
 
We wish to beg your pardon
As we‘ve made our home a wreck
We promise that, when you return
Of dust you’ll see no speck
 
It wouldn’t be the holidays
Without some project underway
Happy Thanksgiving, friends and family
Please enjoy the holiday

 

 

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Financial Peace

This past Tuesday, Darrell and I attended our final Financial Peace University (FPU) class. If you’re unfamiliar with FPU, you may recognize the name Dave Ramsey, the man behind the class. He is a nationally-known financial advisor, who teaches finances from a Biblical perspective emphasizing living debt-free and saving. He breaks the plan into seven steps with regards to saving and spending. You can find out more about these steps and Dave Ramsey at the website www.DaveRamsey.com. One of his mantras is to live like no one else, so later, you can live and give like no one else. I wish we would have taken this class twenty years ago.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Dave Ramsey other than we took his course, but it has made such an impact on us, I feel like I have to share it with other people. In fact, when we started this class nine weeks ago, Darrell was pretty reluctant. What was it that this guy could teach us? We already know we’re supposed to spend less and save more. What else was there to learn? Turns out, there was quite a bit to learn, and more importantly, discuss as a couple.

Darrell and I had never had many conversations about money. We earned it, we spent it, we always wished there were more of it to go around. We grumbled when the bills piled on and life had its unexpected expenses. We rejoiced in (and spent) any bonuses. We never had arguments about how we spent it, but we never really had a plan, either. Consequently, while we didn’t have problems paying our bills, we were generating a lot of them and were not big on sitting down to crunch the numbers to come up with a real life budget we could live within. As Dave says, we thought we could out-earn being stupid about money. The first few weeks, we certainly cleared the air with how we felt about our spending habits. I have to tell you, it was a little uncomfortable. But necessary for us to be open and honest about how we were living, and more importantly, what we were teaching our kids about money.

What Dave Ramsey teaches is not anything new or unique—spend less than you make and save the most you can as early as you can. One of the things that is so beneficial about his program is he addresses the emotional side of budgeting and saving money as a married couple, as well as to singles. Similar to dieting, it’s easy to know what you’re supposed to be doing to accomplish your goals, but our emotional responses seem to get us into trouble. He especially focuses on getting rid of all debt by living within your means and saving towards those big purchases. In the lesson focusing on debt (especially credit cards), he really opened my eyes to how much we, as a society, are comfortable with taking on debt. I’ve started paying more attention to how things are marketed, especially the financing of large purchases. Yikes!

Nine weeks later, we are diligent about working together on where our money goes. Officially, one would call that a budget, but the “b” word sounds so harsh. Whatever you want to call it, it involves the two of us sitting down together and looking at numbers and making it so we’re not doling out more than what’s coming in. We’re putting money aside for the big expenses—planned and unplanned—so that we don’t use credit cards for them. Basic Money 101 sorts of things.

In addition, we’ve completely changed our insurance coverage on our home and cars so that it matches what we need. In doing so, we’re paying less than we were before and we’re getting the amount of coverage we needed. The lesson on insurance was another one I wish we’d known twenty years ago! It was so valuable to hear an honest explanation on various insurances and their benefits from someone who was not going to be earning a commission.

If you ask our kids about it, you may see some eye rolling, but they “get” it. In fact, Tyler had to give a persuasive speech for his class at school, and he touted why starting to save money while you’re young makes sense. He spoke of compound interest and making sacrifices in order to save. It remains to be seen if he will practice what he’s preaching. I know he’s doing everything he can to not take out any student loans for college and will not be getting a credit card, which is a very good start.

While I can’t predict if we’ll be this purposeful about money in another nine weeks, I will tell you this: We will never go back to how we viewed money before. It sounds like an exaggeration to say something like a class was life changing, but that’s really the truth. I have much more confidence in the way we’re handing our finances—together—than I ever have before. I think we benefitted by attending an actual class (we took one offered through our church), but you can find out a lot on the website or by reading his book. You can also search for Financial Peace University classes offered near you. Many local churches offer these. Take it from a former spend-a-holic—your wallet will thank you, even if your credit card company doesn’t!

Home is Where Your Story Begins

Dear Tyler, Emily and Erin,

In the entryway, we have a sign that says “Home Is Where Your Story Begins”. As your Mom, I hope you know that’s true, and I hope you live what that means as your life story unfolds.

At dinner last night, Dad, who is not overly sentimental like me, told you that he realized that life would be changing over the next few years, as each of you pursues his and her dreams post-high school. What surprised me more was that he said he hoped that your memories here at home would be filled with all the good times that we’ve shared as a family. The way he said this declaration made me smile, mostly because it’s usually me that says things like that.

I barely remember married life before you came into the world, but the only life you know up to this point is in this family, in this home, with these people you call Dad, Mom and brother or sister. Even though Tyler’s four years older than Erin, I’m sure his memories before she was his little sister are vague. The romantic in me loves the fact that when you all are old and gray (or at least early 40s), the stories you will tell YOUR children about growing up started right here, in our home, with our little bunch. Dog stories. Lake stories. Funny stories. Sad stories. Lesson-learned stories. They all started here, with us. And I hope you tell them.

These stories are part of your make up, so you will always remember them. Maybe not every detail, but the general feel of an experience or how you felt in the moment. Which may or may not be the same as what your siblings or Dad or I remember about the same exact event. The shaving cream war in the backyard. The first year we put up a real Christmas tree (I forget what you named it…was it Chloe?). The day we got our dog, Grendel. When you read that first Harry Potter book. Sometimes what you tell me you remember about something we did surprises me. Usually it’s a detail I’ve forgotten until you mention it, so it makes me happy to know that you remember those little things. I hope you always remember the little things.

The three of you have so much potential to take out into that big world out there, and I know you will bless it with your individual talents and skillsets. Dad and I look forward to seeing just how you make your unique mark on this world, though we hope you don’t grow up too fast. Even if you don’t realize it yet, we hope we’re preparing you for life outside this home by giving you a firm foundation built out of love.

Home is where your story begins. Let’s make some great stories.

Love, Mom

Happy Veteran’s Day

 

I started to write a post for Veteran’s Day, but in truth, the world would not have been blessed by any additional sentimental mushy stuff from me. No, sometimes the best things to say are the simplest:

 Thank you to all who have served. You are a blessing to me (and all Americans).

 

Enjoy a day in your honor!

Amy’s Favorite Things

This past week Oprah Winfrey announced seventy-two items that she absolutely loves on her 2014 Favorite Things list. As only Oprah can get away with (and still be seen as the woman who can relate so well to her fans) many of the items are beyond the reach of the average person’s budget. Like dog beds that are in the price range of $445-$710 (hypoallergenic, of course—in case it’s your dog with the allergy problem instead of you). She does have some less expensive items on her list, like her book What I Know For Sure; it’s only $25.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. I’d put my own book, if I had one, on my Favorite Things list, too! I actually admire Oprah Winfrey and find her to be a classy gal who has had to endure, among other things, the media’s morbid fascination with her weight. Still, I couldn’t help but see her favorite things and think that I had at least ten favorite things that everyday, practical people could actually buy for themselves or a loved one without having to finance them through a two-years-same-as-cash deal. Besides, I always wanted to write my own version of Rodgers and Hammersteins’ My Favorite Things from the Sound of Music. I even invite you to sing my list if it puts you in a cheerful mood.

In no particular order:

 Costco Chocolate Chip Cookies. For the record, I can’t remember a cookie I didn’t like, but chocolate chip has to be my favorite. Emily and Erin do a great job whipping up homemade cookies from scratch, as does my mother-in-law, but if it’s going to be store bought I love the chocolate chip cookies from Costco. For one, they’re big, so I can get away with saying I only ate one cookie. They are soft and have those big, chunky chocolate chips in them. They never last very long at our house.

Holiday Printed Paper Towels. Simple? Yes. But some reason I love to pick up a roll of Bounty at Halloween or Christmas with the cute little holiday designs on them. Sometimes I have to settle for just getting the printed napkins, but either way they both make wiping countertop messes more fun somehow. It’s the little things…

 60-Second Instant Nail Color. I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to painting my nails. This product lets me paint my nails and get on with life sooner without the risk of smudged polish. Of course, a gel manicure from the salon is even easier, but when I’m going to do them myself, quick-dry is the way to go. Plus, it’s a bargain compared to Oprah’s nail colors on her list—a set of nine polishes for $144. Although hers are vegan. (Why does nail polish need to be vegan? Who eats nail polish?)

Speaking of non-vegan…

Wurstmarkt. Wait, you say…a sausage supper made the list? Let me tell you, this is no ordinary church dinner. Held the first Saturday in November at Immanuel Church for over 70 years now, this meal is one you can write home about. As I’ve mentioned before, my home church is located in Ferguson, Missouri, where a lot of unrest has taken place. There was talk of cancelling the event this year due to the protests, but they ended up holding it anyway. Attendance was down from years past, but the important thing was that they carried on. The sausage, the mashed potatoes, the pie…yes, Wurstmarkt definitely makes the list.

My Nike Running hat. I bought this hat several years ago and it makes running in the cold possible for me. It’s just a plain, black hat made from lightweight, moisture wicking material—definitely not sexy, but it keeps my ears warm and holds the heat in by my noggin. Last December we ran the Hot Chocolate 5K run in a “feels like” temperature in the single digits. Between the little hand warmer packets I stuck in my gloves and my hat, I stayed warm the whole time. Can’t run without my hat in these Missouri winters.

My Keurig K-Cup Brewer. For years I saw these at Bed, Bath and Beyond and thought they were ridiculously wasteful. Then I got one for Christmas two years ago. As the only coffee drinker in the house, it’s perfect for me, because generally I only drink a cup in the morning and sometimes one in the afternoon. I love that there are tons of flavors to pick from. My favorite seasonal one is the Pumpkin Spice. When I top the coffee with some whipped cream, a squirt of caramel sundae sauce and cinnamon sugar I can close my eyes and actually pretend I’m at a Starbucks. Blissful!

Nike Structure 16 running shoes. I discovered these little gems about two years ago after coming off a foot injury that sidelined me almost two years. I am an over-pronator with a high arch, but thanks to these shoes, I was able to run and train for four half-marathons without re-injuring myself. This is coming from the person who tried cortisone shots, as well as prescription and non-prescription orthotics. They’ve since retired the Nike Structure 16, and have moved on to the newer generation, the Nike Structure 17; I give both these models the credit for allowing me to continue running. These are probably one of my more expensive “favs”, but in the long run are definitely cheaper than doctor office visits and being in pain.

My crockpot. Insert your brand/size crockpot here, but I think crockpots are God’s gift to busy families. There’s nothing like the feeling of putting your roast and veggies together in the morning and being greeted with its delicious aroma when you get home from work. All you have to do is take out the cooked food and it’s chow time. It’s like a little magic genie makes dinner for me when I’m not home. Also good for cooking up chili and soups, the crockpot is the absentee chef’s best friend. What’s not to love?

My tablet. I have a middle-of-the-road Samsung Galaxy. It is awesome. Before that, I had one of the first generations of the Nook offered by Barnes & Noble, which is an unfair comparison. I liked reading on that device, although the screen was not lit and you could only read BN book formats on it, but on my newer tablet I have apps for both Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble, so I can read either format on it. Plus it’s color. And I can play Candy Crush on it and actually see the little candies on the screen, which is much harder to do on my phone (an LG Optimus that I also enjoy).

Air Wick/Glade room freshening candles. Oprah’s list had a four-pack of holiday candles for $240. Let me offer you a more affordable option. Go to the air freshener aisle at Target or Wal-Mart and pick up either Air Wick or Glade candles. Offered in seasonal scents, they burn cleanly, last for hours and are quite the bargain at a couple bucks apiece. If you’re like me and love the scent of lemon no matter what time of year it is, you can get them on clearance after the season is over and have scented candles on the cheap. Get a little crazy and mix it up—burn pumpkin candles in April and cranberry ones in August.

So that’s it, ten of my favorite things. My list may never be printed in my own magazine or talked about on the radio, but I won’t go broke enjoying these finer things in life. There were several other favorites I had to cut, like gel pens and office supplies to narrow it down to only ten items, but I humbly realized that I’m not Oprah, so I don’t get to have 72. I also don’t have Oprah’s clout to save you 10% when you use the “DRAGONFLY” discount code. If money remains an obstacle, remember there’s always the free favorite things in which we can all agree, beginning with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

 

Happy NaNoWriMo!

 

Another first for me this year is participating in NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month, where writers commit to writing 50,000 words during the month of November in an attempt to have a rough draft by month’s end. On the website, www.nanowrimo.org, participants create a log-in where they can share some info about themselves and their novel (there’s even a place for a novel cover art). More importantly, it’s where aspiring novelists can log their word count for each day and get motivation from authors like Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent series.

For me, NaNoWriMo serves as the kick in the seat I need to actually sit down and put my ideas in some sort of coherent document. I am always on the lookout for inspiration.

The funny thing is, I read a book about NaNoWriMo a few years ago and was fascinated with the whole approach simply because it made writing a novel seem actually doable. Apparently that’s a problem for some critics of the concept, who complain it is just a bunch of amateurs cranking out crap. I agree that is true if all that a writer is concerned with is word count, but I think the idea behind it is more important than just putting some number in a website. For us aspiring writers, who like to tinker with words, but haven’t set a definite goal, NaNoWriMo can be what it takes to get our ideas written out in some fashion. Most of us realize that a great, polished piece takes much more time than a month to work out from beginning to end. And those who don’t know that, who think writing is easy peasy, well, they learn pretty quickly that it does take effort, thought and time.

At the end of November, I hope to have a lot of words written in my story, Adelaide. The idea of it has bounced around in my head for a time now, but I didn’t really have motivation to put it down on paper, let alone turn it into a novel. I’d love it if I could actually make it 50,000 words! But I am also realistic enough to believe that even if my word count reflects a “win”, it doesn’t mean I’m going to have a piece ready for submission on December 1. What I’ll have, though, is many hours practicing the craft of writing and disciplining myself to devote time to “butt in chair”. Time that I may have spent in October vegging in front of the TV, I’ll be spending in front of the computer instead this November.

The other cool thing about NaNoWriMo is, similar to what happens in the blogging community, a bunch of people rally together to support one another. Who can find fault in that? Writing can get kind of lonely, so for extroverts like me, having a group of people to reach out to makes the solitary act of writing a teeny bit more social. In fact, I can thank two of the girls on our robotics team for getting me to participate in NaNoWriMo this time around. Olivia, who also loves writing and words, asked me if I was doing it and asked me if I was going to participate. At that point I had been on the fence with the idea, but her enthusiasm was contagious. It was fun talking to her and her sister, Cecilia, last night about our word counts and what we’re doing to get rolling with our stories. Later, when we were driving home Erin asked me if she could try to write something for NaNoWriMo. Of course I said yes, because who knows if this first taste of writing gives her the writing bug. Anything that can inspire young people to try something new with their writing is definitely a positive.

If the website traffic from over the weekend is any indication, NaNoWriMo at least still knows how to generate a buzz. The website gave me an error or two and was a little slow; I’m sure it was due to people setting up their accounts and checking out the great resources. A week into this month of intense writing, I’m guessing it may die down a bit as the newness wears off—like how people are when they first start a diet or exercise program. The first days are exciting and full of promise, but when the hard work part kicks in, it’s awfully easy to get discouraged. Yes, I do include myself in that category!

So three cheers for NaNoWriMo! One cheer for being a motivating tool, another for giving writers a sense of community and a third for promoting writing to our youth. If any Dragonfly readers are participating, I’d love to hear how your story is progressing. Message me on their site. My user name is Lighthearteddragonfly.

Happy Writing!

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