Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What a Week!

Well, actually two weeks. Last week I had the privilege of attending the greatest conference for Christian writers at Mt. Hermon, CA. Once I got past my awe of the massive redwood trees and the incredible number of authors who I admire, I learned new things almost every minute of the day! Days started at 7:15 with worship in the woods and could have ended around midnight it I attended the night owl sessions that started at 9:30. My internal clock shuts down around 9:00 central time...I just couldn't make myself stay up that late.

The most amazing thing about the conference was the care that each attendee and faculty member had for others. I've been to a writers conference in the past where I felt that I had to continually prove that I was good enough to be there. At Mt. Hermon everyone just assumed we were all writers and they wanted to encourage others to improve their craft (no matter how many books they had or hadn't published). I was excited the woman who critiqued my Bible study proposal (who is only one of the best writers about Christian writing there is....)liked it and thought it was important to share! Yeah God! He's put this one on my heart for several years and any value in it is definitely his doing. Then, on top of that, a publisher wanted to see it!

While I was gone, Sammi went through a tough time. She was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst the size of an egg -- Doug had to take her to four different doctor appointments! Our good friend Tammy Balu stepped in to take Sammi to her first OB/GYN appointment -- thank you Tammy! It was hard to be so far away and not to be able to be with Sammi. When all was said and done, Sammi is having surgery on Thursday to drain the cyst. The doctor promises she can play full contact soccer within a week (however the doctor who reset her broken nose and her parents disagree)!

She and I have a great opportunity for bonding over the next week, because I'm having surgery on my shoulder tomorrow. We plan to have a chick flick marathon while we are foggy with drugs...sounds fun, huh?

I finished revising the Bible study for the publisher and I hit the 'send' button a little earlier this morning -- YEAH! Now I get to hold my breath until I hear back from them -- in about six months (ugh). I'm not really nervous about this -- I understand that what will be will be, and if they don't want it there are other places to try for publication. I am also excited about a new series of studies that Alicia and I are going to work on together! Maybe if I keep busy I'll forget all about the study I just submitted until I receive that acceptance letter (ok...I'm dreaming about it a little)!

Life is such an adventure and God is so good!

Monday, March 10, 2008

And the Results are In!

Well, after all is said and done, we saved $334 on our food bill in February! That means we spent a total of $66!!!

And our freezer is still at least 1/3rd full...so we may be able to save some of our food money in March, too. But if we do, I think we'll save it for those times when really good sales come along (so I can refill that freezer and do this all over again!).

In the process, we didn't spend all of the eating out money we had allocated for the month, either, so we didn't cheat by eating out.

What did we eat this month? In 29 days we didn't repeat one thing! We had Baked chicken, meat loaf, turkey pot pie, steak, spaghetti, orange roughhy, tilapia, parmesan chicken legs, pot roast, and lots of similar things. We really had good stuff in the freezer!

So, what did we learn with this experiment?

1. I store up way too much stuff. I need to decide a reasonable amount to keep around on a regular basis (maybe 3 cans or boxes of any one thing)and a maximum amount in case there is a really good sale (maybe a two month supply).

2. If you plan your menu in advance based on things you already have or items that are on sale, it's pretty easy to spend less.

3. I MUST have a list and a calculator when I go to the store! And it helps if I'm not hungry. And I have to stay away from things that might be on sale if they aren't on my list!

4. It is really helpful to have a menu for the week...I remember to get things out of the freezer to thaw more naturally in the fridge instead of trying to cook them while still frozen. And I don't have that panic of 'what are we going to eat tonight' every night at 4:00.

5. There are very few meals that every member of our household likes! (Ok, I knew this one, but it was validated). AND at least two people liked any particular meal I made this month...unless we switch to only pizza, tacos, and hamburgers I will not be able to change this one. I learned not to post the daily menu or people would magically disappear (especially on fish night). However, that, too, can reduce our food bill!

6. I can't fill up every night with a menu item...we need down time for leftovers and those nights when everyone wants something light like grilled cheese or soup. And I have to be flexible enough to rearrange the menu items based on what I or others feel like cooking/eating.

7. Things in the freezer really do expire...I had to throw away several bags of frozen veggies (and a cheer went up in our household) because they were freezer burned.

The only things we ran out of during the month were soda (I was REALLY craving a Mountain Dew during that last week), cereal, instant oatmeal (I'm the only one who eats that), bottled water, and canned veggies. And I was able to replace almost all items we had to have for our first week of March within the regular weekly budget.

I declare this experiment a success!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The One That Got Away

Have you ever seen or heard something that caused you to look back at the choices you've made in your life? I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about Charlene Binder, the new senior vice president and chief people officer of the Hershey company. She will oversee global human resources, corporate communications, and facilities management.

Ms. Binder is 47 years old.

I turned 47 just a few days ago, and my last job was as a human resources executive.

Our lives are very different...but a few subtle changes in the decisions each of us had made could have resulted in a sort of 'Trading Places' scenario.

Please don't misunderstand what I am writing. I'm not saying that I could take her job or that her choices are in any way wrong. Nor are mine. They are just different, and a series of small choices can end up in very different outcomes.

I don't know anything about her personal life...if she's married or has children. I do know that she has changed companies at least three times. She worked for Unilever from 2001 - 2006, and for Group Danone (Dannon Yogurt) recently. Her new job will include the benefit of unlimited chocolate.

So is this typical midlife evaluation and comparison? Maybe, but the result of this particular review is relief and peace. As I got ready this morning I thought about the things she must be going through this morning. She doesn't start her new job for a few weeks, but I imagine she's a bundle of nerves and energy. She faces saying goodbye to friends and collegues at her current company. She may be packing up her life and her family as she heads to a new location, and soon she will have to jump on a steep learning curve to understand a new company, new people, and new challenges in her job.

Today I face a quite different scenario. After we all get ready, I'll drop the boys off at school and Sammi will run some errands with me (her school is closed today due to power outages). We'll hit the bank, the grocery store, Target, and a few other places. This afternoon I'll struggle some more with my book proposal as I prepare to submit it for critique and I'll do some house cleaning. My near future includes a trip to Jackson Tennessee with my folks and Doug's parents to see our oldest, Alicia, perform her senior recital...one of the final requirements for her college graduation. Next week I'll travel to California to attend what has been billed to be an amazing Christian Writer's conference. I expect to be overwhelmed with my lack of ability and to develop a plan for improving my skills so I can do what I believe I'm being called to. My job includes increasingly limited hugs.

I wouldn't trade my life for anything. Not even all the chocolate I can eat!

Charlene, I pray that you, too, are right where you want to be in life. I wish you the best in your new position.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Shocking Truth

I like to consider myself a good grocery shopper...well, actually I like to think that I'm a better shopper than most. How quickly we fall from the pedestals we build!

Ok, like I said in my last blog, I went to the store for milk, eggs, bananas, and lettuce. It's raining, so I dug around for a dry cart and headed merrily on my way to the produce department. Bananas - $.59/lb. Hmm...they used to be $.50 -- bummer, everything is going up. But today I don't need to weigh my purchase because I'm only buying four things -- I should stay well under my budget of $20. (Key ominous music)

Right across the aisle -- grapes on sale for $1.88. Yum, we haven't had grapes for a long time, and that's a lot cheaper than last time I looked. I picked up a bag and set them in the cart. Off to the lettuce. I picked one out, shook off the extra water (that adds weight), bagged it and moved on without my usual stop at the scale to price it.

I drooled a little at the blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries (are you detecting a trend?). Nope...don't need them and they are expensive this time of year. I slowly walked away...toward the bags of lemons. Oh, yeah, the recipe for tomorrow calls for lemon juice. I know I could make it without, but I have extra money today so why don't I follow the recipe (for once...no comments by those who have to EAT my cooking)? I picked one up and remembered that Wednesday's dinner requires two limes. I got them and wrapped them proudly in the nice green plastic bags that preserve food for longer (just like the expensive ones on tv).

I glanced at the asparagus and corn on the cob (we're basically out of veggies), but they were pretty expensive so I passed them by. As I was leaving the produce department I remembered that we only have two potatoes so I grabbed a 10 pound bag (SO much less expensive per pound that a 5 lb bag).

Walking down the bread aisle I remembered that we have hamburgers that could to be cooked (it was one of the preplanned menu items). I was going to bake them in gravy with mushrooms, but the kids (including Doug) would probably prefer real burgers, so I grabbed a bag of hamburger buns.

Next I rushed past the meat, straining to see if there were any orange "manager's special" tags showing that it's a great deal for someone who wants to freeze it or eat it right away. I talked myself in to moving on...I CAN do this!

I picked up my eggs and a gallon of milk and rushed past all the slow shoppers to the express check out lane. I mentally listed all the things that I wanted to buy but passed up, proud that I could stick to the things that we really needed. I talked with the cashier about the impending weather as she rang up my purchases.

Guess what...$19.77!!!! I couldn't believe it! How in the world did I spend that much money...I thought I'd get out of there for less than $15! Bummer...

On the way home I thought about my trip. I broke FIVE of my most important shopping rules:

1. Don't shop when you are hungry (it was 11:30 -- I planned to eat when I got home).
2. Have a menu (then I would have known that the potatoes and the hamburger buns could wait until Thursday -- or even NEXT week)
3. Check the fridge and pantry before you leave and make a list (I had my mental list of four things)
4. Bring your calculator and USE it! I could have even mentally totalled things up to know that I was getting myself in trouble.
5. Follow the list!!!!!

My shopping gremlin (I call her Greta) beat me again. She knows exactly how much money I have and will fill the cart so that all is spent. Her favorite store is Target, but obviously she likes the grocery store, too.

So, even though I've gotten pretty good at this thrifty shopping gig, I obviously MUST stick to the rules or my years of training go down the drain!

The Home Stretch

I know it's already March, but we are in the final days of our 'Frugal February' experiment. Since I shop on Thursdays, I can't go back to our 'regularly budgeted shopping' until this Thursday, three days away.

I didn't make it to the store last Thursday due to sick children (don't enter our house these days without a can of Lysol!). I planned on going this morning because we are almost out of milk and we only have two more eggs...not enough to last us until Thursday! I also want to pick up a head of lettuce (we are out of all veggies except frozen brocolli...I can't serve that EVERY night!) and some bananas. I guess I'll do that later when Doug or one of the girls gets home (although I'm dreading it because we are supposed to get an ice storm with 4 - 6 inches of snow accumulation tonight so the place will be a madhouse).

Based on my 'rebellion' nights, I still have several menu options available from my original list. AND the freezer still isn't empty! I think I'll try to spend only half of my allotted budget in March...although that will be harder since the kids will be home for Spring Break and I'll be out of town during a lot of that time.

Later this week I'll post our final results and my lessons learned. This has actually been a fun challenge for me!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

They Are Still Little Boys...

One of my favorite things about being a mom is snuggling with my kids. As they grow, the snuggles last about 10 seconds...a quick hug is all I can expect. The boys are growing quickly, and I can see that hugging is not nearly as 'cool' as it was when they were four. But both boys still need their 'mommy time', and it plays out in fun ways!

Kevin will come see me at least two times per day. He'll ask "Whatchya doin, Mom?" and he'll just stand there for a minute. If I turn around and slightly put my arms out, he'll quickly climb on my lap or let me pick him up (which gets more challenging every day as he grows!). He'll let me cuddle him (with little response, of course) for a couple of minutes and he tries hard not to let me see him smile. When his 'cuddle bucket' is full, he climbs down and goes on his way.

Chris, on the other hand, would never want to be seen on my lap or in my arms. Instead, he'll ask me to watch a movie with him. I used to turn down this request because I seldom feel like I have an hour and a half to 'just sit', but I quickly realized this is his request for cuddles. We'll curl up under a blanket and he'll snuggle really close while we watch the show. He's happy to let me stroke his hair or hug him tighter, but of course he pretends not to notice. He doesn't want me to watch tv shows with him...only long movies. I like taking the time to focus on him even if it feels like I'm being lazy. And it doesn't take long before Kevin joins in and sits on my other side...a Mom sandwich!

The girls will still give me hugs, which I love, but as I watch our brood grow I know the days of hugs will reduce significantly when Sammi heads off to college in two years. By that time I expect the boys will deny that they even have a cuddle bucket. Tough...I'll still give them hugs!