Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hair bow giveaway

There is a really fun giveaway carnival going on at Bloggy Giveaways.

I make hair bows for my girl's hair, and I would love to give away two hair bows (styled like the bows pictured above) to a reader.

All you need to do is leave a comment with contact information.  Please let me know what ribbons you would like. (See below for three more choices.)  The hair bows are on alligator clips.  I will draw numbers to choose the winner. (U.S. only, please!)  

Have fun checking out the other great giveaways!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

OK, mommy friends, help me out!

I'd like to ask for a little feedback:

How do you as a mom handle your time with the Lord?  Do you count devotion time with the kids as your personal devotion time?  Do you get up earlier than everybody else so you can read your Bible and pray?  When everybody goes to bed at night?  Or maybe during afternoon quiet time?

Have your Bible study/quiet time habits changed since you had children?  If so, how?

I've been giving this topic a bit of thought lately and I'd love to hear what works for my friends.  Thanks!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Come with me to a place called Fort Green

I am from the South, Florida to be exact.  When most people think of Florida, they think of beaches and Mickey Mouse.  My family lived on the west coast, and our town boasts some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.  But about an hour from our house, in central Florida is a whole nother Florida that doesn't make it onto the tourist brochures.  Here there are miles of orange groves, cattle ranches and folks as country as anywhere else south of the Mason Dixon line.

This isn't the south as in Junior League and pedicured toenails. This is the south as in collard greens, homemade lye soap and galvanized bath tubs.  Although those two worlds sometimes collide, this is not the case in Fort Green.  

This is where my grandfather was born and raised.  He left and made a successful living in the 'big city' (St. Petersburg, FL), but the rest of his family stayed right in Fort Green, as the community is called.  If you have driven straight across Florida south of Orlando, there is a good chance you have gone right through Fort Green, but you would never  know it.  There are no traffic lights, no post office, and one gas station.

Even though my grandfather left the place of his birth, he stayed very close to his family, visiting every Sunday afternoon.  My mother tells stories of visiting Granny and Grandaddy's house before there was indoor plumbing, being terrified of late night 'bathroom' visits.  She also tells of so many incredible memories, including seeing her dad with her aunts and uncles gathered around the piano singing gospel songs, her aunts and uncles spending backbreaking hours planting miles of orange trees, and country drives with her cousins.

I would have a hard time sufficiently explaining the impact my Fort Green family had on me.  Even though I grew up in the city, on the beach, I spent several weeks in Fort Green every summer and even some Christmas vacations.  I loved my time there.  Fort Green was where I learned how to shell peas, recognize four-part harmony (Aunt Zula sang the baritone part, and I still can't hear the old gospel songs without hearing her voice), and to eat fried cornbread.  

It was in Fort Green that I learned what 'yonder' meant, how to properly fry okra (don't stir it unless you have to), and the secret to the perfect glass of sweet tea (stir in about twice as much sugar as you think is reasonable).  I also learned the value of the front porch visit.  I would sit outside with my great aunt and uncle, my aunt usually had some type of vegetable in an enamel bowl (you know, the white bowl with the red rim), shelling or husking or seeding it, and truck after truck would stop by as the the hours passed.  If they didn't stop, there was at least a horn honk and a wave over the steering wheel.  Of course, back on the porch there would be plenty of discussion as to where the passing-by person was headed and why.

The conversation would sound something like this:  "There goes Jimmy Rawls carrying (in the south, you don't drive someone somewhere, you carry them) his mother up to Frostproof to see the doctor."  "Yeah,  I heard she has the shingles."  "Yes, bless her heart, this is the third bout she's had."  "Mercy, that's bad."

If the passer-by stopped, they would usually acknowledge me with, "Patti Jo's daughter here visiting?"  Then the adults would commence talking about anything and everything- who had died, who bought a new bass boat for fishing at the lake, and what they were fixing for dinner (which was lunch- the evening meal was supper).

Nothing special was planned on my behalf- no trips to an amusement park, or even a city park.  It was just assumed that I would join in with whatever my aunts were already doing, including washing dishes, hanging clothes out to dry or attending revival services at church.

I remember during one two-week visit declaring to my Aunt Mildred that I was bored.  She said in her high pitched exclamation-voice, "Bored?!  Well, I declare," and promptly set me up with scissors and an old Sears catalogue so I could cut out homemade paper dolls.  She also tried to teach me some basic handwork, but unfortunately her efforts on that front were in vain.

I feel tremendously blessed to have had a place like Fort Green to help form me into who I am today.  I understand an entirely different group of people due to my time there, and I am a different person because of my time there.  God's good providence placed me just where I needed to be, and gave me the experiences he wanted me to have.   

I look back with gratefulness to God for the rich experience a simple place like Fort Green gave me.  My aunts Zula, Mildred, Mae, Betty and uncles Tom, Clarence, Merle and Junior and so many cousins (Little John, Rufus, Bud, I could go on) all played an invaluable role in God's plan for my life.   They never knew it at the time, but today I reap the benefits from my time spent in that special place.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let's try that again

So we turned our internet back on.  I thought I'd write a few thoughts about life with and without the internet:

It was really nice to be rid of the distraction of the computer.  I think the "I'll just check my email" thing was the best effect, because that email check often turns into a quick click on Safari and then before I know it, 20 minutes is gone and I'm asking the kids to wait just a minute more.

It's funny, though, because even though the internet was no longer a time-wasting temptation, I still found plenty to be distracted with.  I checked more books out from the library, and could get lost in a book instead of on a website.  

This is why, when it comes to specifics not mentioned in Scripture, it is important to follow the leading of the Lord and not only the specific ways he is leading other people.  That pesky heart of mine and the sin that still dwells there- those things were not turned off with our internet connection.  Internet, cable, books, crafting (and I could go on) are not the problem with our time management.  Just like with money, our hearts and motives are at play, so that is where we need to start if we see a change is in order.  Otherwise we'll just be trading one bad habit in for another one.  

Ok, so back to the effects of our time sans internet:  We also got to know our coffee shop employees.  Our little town just opened up a great coffee shop and that is where we would use the internet.  We really enjoyed our time there.  My mom was here for a visit, so Scott and I got to go together a couple of times, which was fun.  

So why did we turn the internet back on?  Scott needs the internet for work a good bit and was soon driving to the coffee shop every day, sometimes twice a day.  We looked at what we were spending on coffee (even though we just get plain coffee or iced coffee), called our internet provider and got some quotes, and saw that we could save money by getting a slower internet connection here at home.  (We haven't noticed any difference with the speed change, so that was an easy money saver.)

So here we are.  I saw such good fruit from my time without the internet that I am going to try and stay off until after the kids are in bed or having their rest time.  But we are both so glad to have it turned back on!  

Friday, July 18, 2008

Money and our hearts

Wouldn't it be great if we could just talk about money objectively with our husbands, if making spending changes was as easy as crossing through the numbers with our red pens, if the balance in our checkbooks and savings accounts (and credit cards) didn't carry any more weight in our lives than the weight of the paper envelope the mail man brings us that tells us the good or bad news about our financial state of being?

But it is not so.  Because these matters are not only money matters, they are heart issues.  The proof that this is true is not hard to find.  I quickly get discouraged and even depressed when there is something I want to do or buy and then I find out whatever it is would not be a wise use of our money.  What I also find out is that my hopes are easily in the wrong place.  

I place my emotional well being in what I can do or buy.  You know, taking the kids bowling, buying them new summer clothes, preparing a certain meal, or stopping for ice cream on the way home from the beach.  All great things, but when I can't do them, my heart rears it's ugly head!  

This is why we find ourselves in debt while our savings accounts barely linger around- we need what we see now, it has to be ours or we feel depressed or sad.  In contrast, our spirits our lifted when we can dress our little girl in the cute dress at Gap Kids or take the kids to Disney World.  Our delight is in the things of the world, and not in God.

Let's strive to be more like the Psalmist who said, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God... Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!  Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God." (Psalm 42 &43)

Let's pray that God will expose the sin in our hearts that leads us to put our hope in our plans, in our way, and in that new pair of shoes.  For his grace knows no limit, and his love is more satisfying than anything offered in the nearby antique store or car lot.  Instead of drinking from those fountains, let's beg for the grace to again echo the Psalmist, who prayed, "As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." 

This is why unless you have redecorating in your budget it might be helpful to throw your Pottery Barn catalogue away.  You don't need inspiration when you are seeking to cultivate contentment for what you currently have.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Baby steps- saving money

I'm no financial genius, and I don't spend money as well as I would like to, but we have lived on one income for seven years, and along the way I've learned a few small things that have saved us a lot of money over the years.  

Have the stuff to make a few easy meals on hand.  Cheese and tortillas for quesadillas, noodles and jarred spaghetti sauce, frozen pancakes or waffles (when I make these, I put the extras in the freezer)- you get the idea.  Sandwich meat and cheese are also great.
Easy, kid-friendly is the key .  Scott and I can make do with whatever, but if we don't have anything to throw together for the kids, it's out to the fast food line for us.  I find this especially helpful on nights when we have other things going on, like Wednesday or Sunday nights, or t-ball nights.

Cut the extra cable and cell phone minutes.  This can be done with minimal pain. Before you change your cell phone plan make sure you won't be penalized with a longer evil contract. 

Stick to the sales at the grocery store.  Plan your menu around what is on sale.  Be more loyal to saving money that you are to your favorite cookie, the Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake.  

Stay home.  We went to one car after our first child was born, and have only had one car for most of the past seven years.  This was a big adjustment for me at first.  I could no longer go whenever an idea popped in my head.  But I immediately noticed that this put spending to a halt.  I only went out when Scott was with me, and we just didn't have time to shop a lot.  

Now we only go out for the basics like grocery shopping, church and to see friends.  The library, beach, and park are also frequently on our list of destinations.  What is missing is window shopping, long drives just to pass time (although I miss those), and walking the mall just to get out.

Staying home is not the same as being trapped at home.  Our home is our favorite place to be.  If you find this is not the case for you, take the time to figure out what makes other places better than home.  We get restless sometimes, and we used to automatically jump in the car and go out.  That didn't always cure the restlessness (I remember pulling back into the driveway after one of those trips out thinking, 'what now?'), so it really is a worthy use of time to think about what is at the root of your wandering spirit.

Stop looking at Pottery Barn catalogues if you need to.  (I'm using Pottery Barn just as an example, but you could fill in the blank- Gap Kids, Williams Sonoma, Restoration Hardware) I know, you pick them up 'just to look', and maybe you have never purchased anything from one of those pricey merchants.  But that's not the point.  

Pottery Barn is not just selling the world's cutest $500.00 fire truck and butterfly bedding.  They are also selling a lifestyle.  You know what I mean- "Her house looks like Pottery Barn..."  And you are thinking, "I want mine to, as well!"

I for one am a big Pottery Barn fan.  But I do not at this time have a Pottery Barn budget.  Like my grandma used to say, "Tami has champagne taste and a beer pocketbook."   Of course, we can find create the Pottery Barn look for a lot less (like at Target), and shop their clearance section and find good deals.  But don't even do that if you are not prepared financially to do so.  So guard your heart!

These are just a few simple things that have helped us. What has helped you to save money?  

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ode to Publix

I just want to take a few minutes and write a few words about my love for Publix. Yes, Publix the grocery store.  As the main food-finder and preparer for a family of six, my grocery store is a very important place to me. 

Here's some things I seriously love and miss about Publix.  I thought I would list them in the order they were found in the Publix closer to my house in Florida.  Let's go on an imaginary trip through the world's best grocery store.

1. Fresh flowers. Cheap, beautiful. Scott would stop by Publix on his way home from work and buy me a dozen beautiful roses for under $10.00. They would come in lots of colors. Publix also carries lots of other fresh flowers at great prices.

Now we are moving onto the bakery, but before we get there, we'll stop by:

2. the organic foods section. The prices and variety here are impressive. Let's grab a bag of blue corn chips. Yum.

3. The bakery. Oh my- fresh baguettes for $1.20. If you stop by around 5:00 in the afternoon, they were still hot. And for your breakfast needs, grab some Breakfast Bread (only if it's buy one get one free, though, which it will be at least once a month), full of raisens, dates, nuts and other goodies. And don't forget the carrot muffins and zuccini muffins. One of each, please. Get your free cookie for the kids and if you have a birthday coming up order the best birthday cake in the South.

4. Now we are about to hit the deli. Yes, ma'am. You'll find roast pork, salami, and turkey for cubans (go run back to the bakery for some fresh cuban bread. We'll wait). Now check out whatever the sale meat and cheese are- you're going to like them. Publix sells Boar's Head brand, which is pricey but is so worth it because BH doesn't contain nitrates and other nasties found in other deli meat. Just stick with whatever is on sale and you'll be fine. And don't forget to ask for a sample or two- the kids are done with their cookies and are ready for their second course.

If this shopping trip is going to run into dinner, you can order a freshly made sub sandwich for $5.99 or less (get the special, I'm telling you!) and the deli will have it waiting for you when you are done with your shopping. My third child was fed these subs at an alarming rate during my pregnancy.

5. Now that we've gotten the deli taken care of, we are headed to the World's Freshest Produce Department. Again, I always stuck with whatever was on sale. Crimini mushrooms, 2/$3?, thank you very much. Salad, 2/$4? I'll take 4. You can also choose from fresh chesnuts at holiday time, pineapple in the summer, and squash of every size and shape in the fall.

6. Here we come up to the cheese/dairy case. What you'll notice first is the prices. Much less than you expected at such a great, clean store. Yes, that is a wedge of fresh parmesan cheese for less than $3.00.  Get one, then head on over to the

7. fresh fish counter. Buy some salmon for $4.99/lb. This is how our family had fresh fish once a week. There was always something on sale, cut to order by the friendly fish guy. He'll even tell you how to cook it. I love this place.

Don't even get me started on the meat department (ok, just a few things: the prices are great, the butcher will cut and package whatever you need and make recommendations, and once again you'll be thrilled with how clean this store is)  because after your cart is loaded and you've made your way to the check out, a very friendly bag boy-person will bag your groceries, bet your children a balloon, and walk you out to load your car.  He'll also insist on not accepting a tip- this is a courtesy provided free of charge.  (My husband's very first job was as a Publix bag boy.  A Florida tradition for many fifteen-year-old youths anxious to start earning a pay check.)

So when I think of things I miss about Florida, I think in this order:  my family, the Gulf beaches, and Publix.  

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How it's going...

Ok, this 'no internet' thing is harder than I thought it would be!  I didn't realize how much I depend on being connected with the 'outside' world, but this past week, I have walked over to the desk to check the weather, of course my email, and just to pass a few minutes.  Last night I almost panicked when I realized halfway through dinner preparations my recipe was stored away on an internet file.  

Thankfully, dinner turned out just fine.  And so has everything else.  I find myself wanting to connect more with 'real people', reading real books on paper pages, and enjoying pleasures like reading a magazine on the front porch.

We have had guests more than once since we went crazy and disconnected our home from the internet, so I haven't had as much time to run out and check my inbox.  But I still think about it all the time.

I feel a little bit silly writing this, but the adjustment has been harder than I expected.  That old internet is great, and I really love using it to keep in touch with my friends.  We are new to where we live, so most of my deep relationships are long distance.  Email helps my keep in touch with my friends and family.  Maybe I'll have to really change my ways and write letters on paper and use stamps.  Now that would be drastic.

So, I guess I would have to say the best benefit so far has been that I have been forced to look at where my time goes, what my priorities are, and to realize that I don't have to have everything right at my fingertips right now.  It's ok to wait, ok to say no to myself, ok to let some things that are important to me go.  It's not only ok, but it can be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Painting, panelling, and patience

Before we moved into our house, I thought I would redo and repaint the main living areas, the kitchen, mud/laundry room, and girl's room.  I thought I would buy new curtains for our bedroom, the boy's room, the kitchen, mud/laundry room, play room, and extra bathroom.  Big plans for new comforters, area rugs and wall decor filled my mind.

As of right now, the living room and girl's room have new curtains.  That's about it.  I still desire all the rest, but am learning to make do with the way things are.  This is a big departure for me.  We have moved a lot and this is the first time we have not gone full force into our (very scaled back) version of Extreme Home Makeover (with the exception of our farmhouse, which was redone right before we moved in).

There are a couple of reasons we have delayed our sprucing.  We are tired!  Scott started preaching at our church before we had moved, so the transition did not include settling in time.  We went full force into ministry.  We don't regret that at all, but our busyness has definitely caused us to slow down a bit.

Also, we homeschool and moved in the middle of the school year.  So school trumped decorating and painting. 

Our house has panelling in the main living area, dining area, and hallway.  Painting the panelling has been on the top of our list of what we would like to work on.  In fact, I didn't think I would even want to move in until we had painted it.  But when we had unpacked our stuff, the panelling became strangely pleasant.  I still think we will paint it the moment we have the time and energy, but for now it keeps growing on me.  Good thing, because extra time and energy are pretty elusive.

I firmly believe in making your house a home, and in making it a beautiful place to be.  I think we reflect the glory and character of God when we use our creativity and energy to make our surroundings beautiful and functional.  But I also believe that the Lord wants us to be content with and thankful for what He has given us if we are hindered from making changes.  This is the attitude I am praying He will graciously cultivate in my heart as I wait for the right circumstances to make the changes I would like.  Because a home is more than new comforters and the right paint color.