Thursday, December 29, 2011


There are certain anticipated events in your life that you think will bring instant enlightenment. For example, I always imagined that as soon as I stepped foot into another country that a light would flash and it would be glorious. When I stepped off the plane in Taipei in 2000, no light, no instant enlightenment, just jet lag. But my month there did change me.

Paying off our last debt was something we had anticipated for 8.5 years of marriage. We had a general idea that we wanted to be debt free when we got married, but we had both made choices that found us in the red. So we started off our marriage by only spending what we had in cash on our honeymoon...and by the end we were eating bowl apetites from Target in our hotel room. But we were on the same page, but we didn't have a very good playbook. We were wanting to live debt free, but our teacher had been a culture obsessed with debt and credit.

In 2007 we read Dave Ramsey's My Total Money Makeover and something clicked. We knew of Dave's basic principles, but this was the playbook. This was how to make it happen. We were excited. We were on board. We were both working full time and had a plan to pay our debt off in two years.

A month later Andrew lost his job. That was the moment we cut up the last credit card we had been holding onto "in case of emergency". Luckily we saw quickly that in times of emergency, a credit card is the last way we needed to pay for things. Instead, we slashed our budget to one income and trusted God to provide, and He did. Two months later, Andrew had another job and we were on our way until...

We were expecting #2. Paying off debt was on hold. We moved to IL. I became a stay at home mom with two kids (never my plan). But we were committed and did not dig ourselves any further into debt. That even meant making the decision to trade in a newer paid for vehicle for an older mini van when we decided we needed the space. Once I started working some we did start to make some progress. All that time we had lived on a budget. We had lived within or below our means. And the biggest benefit is that we were so unified in what we were doing with our money that it made our marriage stronger.

Last December we set a goal. To pay off the last loan...Andrew's student loan. There was about 23K left. It felt impossible. But we wrote it down. We lived on as frugal of a budget as we could handle (I'm the spender, so it was toughest on me). Any extra money we got went to Iowa Student Loan. In August we decided I would be a mostly at home mama, so it looked like our debt payoff wouldn't happen in 2011.

But we stuck with it. God provided some extra hours just when we needed it, and on Dec. 28, 2011 we became debt free (except our some of you may not say truly debt free, but Dave lets us call ourselves that). It has meant driving older cars (both of ours will celebrate their 10th birthday in a few days), not letting Annika take dance, very few date nights, and no new computers for Andrew. But it has been worth it.

Unlike stepping into Taiwan, hitting the "submit payment" button brought instant tears of joy. The kids running around singing "we're dead free" (perhaps a fitting misunderstanding) was icing on the cake. They have no idea what it means, but its something we hope to teach them. The moment of the payoff was glorious, but the journey has made our family stronger and more unified.

In January, I'm going to do a series of posts on fitness...since many of you may have fitness/wellness goals and its an area I have a bit of knowledge in. But thinking ahead, I was thinking of doing Finances in February. I'm no expert, but I'd share some ways that we made budgeting and saving money work in our house.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Finding time

Oh busyness, how I have a love/hate relationship with thee! I really do like being busy, I feel more accomplished. But then there comes that point of diminishing return where I am so busy that nothing gets done well. And for most of us, the last month of the year becomes just that month. Food to prepare. Presents to wrap. Programs to attend. Family to visit. Exercise to do. Exercise? EXERCISE?

The number one reason most people give for not exercising is "I don't have the time." Now I'm the first to admit that different stages of life lend themselves to having more time (and energy) to engaging in exercise. The time I had when I was single or even newly married was more abundant than it is now with two small children. But for me, exercise takes a priority. How do I find the time? Well, to me, it's like "how do you find the time to shower?" Hygiene is important, so I always find time to shower. Exercise is important, so I always find time to exercise. It isn't always as much time as I would like, but my emphasis is on keeping it a habit so when more time does creep up, I am ready. The biggest key is to set time aside and keep it for yourself. Exercise time is me time...that's why I don't really like to exercise when the kids are around. Inevitably there is a fight that erupts, a toy that needs fixed, or an accident in the bathroom. So ideally I exercise in the morning (not often this time of year), in the evening, or when Andrew is home. But sometimes I do need to pop in an exercise DVD and hope the kids will either join me or need minimal assistance for 30 minutes.

If something is important to you, find the time and set it aside. Do a time budget. Find that block of 15-30 minutes you can have to yourself. Now caution: you cannot find time to do everything you would like to do. It is important to me to exercise, read, socialize, scrapbook...the list goes on. But I cannot be and do everything everyday. I have to place priority on what is most important. Sometimes exercise takes a back seat, but usually it is right up there.

Here's a quick full-body workout you can complete at home with as much (or little) time as you have. Repeat 3 x for just over a 20 minute workout. Add in 10 minutes of walking at another time during the day and you'll have 30 healthy minutes devoted to you!

March, Jog, or Jump in place (1 minute)
1 minute (wall, knees, or regular)
1 minute punches (keep feet jogging if you want to keep your heart rate up)
1 minute squats
1 minute front kicks (add alternating punches to keep heart rate up)
1 minute crunches
March, Jog, or Jump in place (1 minute)

Start by just getting in the habit of exercise. If it already is a habit but you are crunched for time, do this short (or find a similar) workout to get you through until more time opens up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy Holidays

Ah! That time of year. The time of year when we debate what we should call this time of year. Merry Christmas? Happy Holiday? Happy Holy Days? Oh-crud, winter-is-here? I know a lot of my friends fall into "it needs to be Merry Christmas" camp...and that's okay. And I don't mind throwing out the occasional Merry Christmas, it's even on our greeting cards this year, but I'm kinda more of a Happy Holidays kind of gal. Now before some of you get all upset with me, hear me out.

1. Let's be honest, from mid November until January 2, we are in a season of holidays. Even if you do just celebrate the "big three" (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's), that's a lot of celebrating. Especially if you throw in every family gathering, every work party, every church celebration, every...well, you get the idea. There's a lot of holiday to go around.

2. There's a lot of behavior associated with "Christmas" that really doesn't do anything to celebrate Christ. Pepper spraying people for an XBox? Kind of discouraged on the sermon on the mount (you know, that whole if a man asks you for your cloak deal). Giving people lavish gifts we can't (or shouldn't) afford...also shows a bit of where our treasure is (more earth than heaven).

3. Even though I try to embrace it, there is a bit of the historical cynic in me that just screams "Jesus wasn't even born on Dec 25! The angels bringing the message looked more like my husband and less like my daughter..." All kinds of inaccuracies that have become part of the Christian side of Christmas time. I do think the nativity story...Christ willingly becoming one of us to save us, is a story I want to teach my children. We even do a nativity scene and talk about it (Annika asked when we got done where the cross was...I was blessed that already she knows the cross is the ultimate reason we celebrate Christ). But I'm not really a "Jesus is the reason for the season" person. The holiday originally began as an alternative to a very secular, very immoral Roman holiday. Christmas isn't something the Bible calls us to observe, we've made it that way. I'm not opposed to the nativity story at Christmas, it's a great time when a lot of ears are open, but the message of Jesus needs to go far beyond one day. God ordained several different feasts and festivals, especially during Old Testament times, but He never instructed us to make sure we read the nativity story under a Christmas tree after digging into a plate of cookies. None of those bad things, we just don't need to make mandatory what wasn't made mandatory.

I do love Jesus. I do think our passion needs to be directed into sharing the message of hope He brings, not in assuming everyone who says Happy Holidays is trying to be Politically Correct or is a heathen. I'm not saying don't celebrate Christmas, not at all. I think it is a perfect time to take time to spend time with family, reflect on what a gift God did give (cliche, I know) even if it did occur historically at a different time of the year, and to use our resources to help the poor, needy, oppressed, orphaned, and widowed.

So embrace your favorite greeting. Relish in your favorite tradition. Spend time with family and friends. Embrace those around you who have lost a loved one and will struggle this time of year. And know that God is not changed by what we do or how we celebrate Him. He does not need us to use "correct terminology" to be glorified, He doesn't need us. We need Him.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What da heck?

With all of the serious stuff going on around me, I kinda feel bad writing a light hearted blog entry...but there are some questions that I feel like I need to answer. I've had the experience over the last several weeks of people that haven't seen me for a while saying "what da heck? I thought you weren't dieting. I thought you weren't using a scale" (due to my blog entry on October 18 called "I quit"). I had to go back to that blog post and reread (which I hate doing) to make sure I wasn't being a full out hypocrite. I'm pretty sure I'm only half of one.

So yes, if you haven't seen me in a bit I've lost a few pounds.  How many exactly doesn't really matter. Yes, I have been weighing myself, but I am not owned by the scale. It does not determine if I'm going to have a good day. At this point some of you may feel "hey, we were going to throw away our scales together." But because of a small health indicator that came up, I decided I needed to get to a healthier weight. Nothing big, but I knew that with my HDL's being low and the arthritis in my knees, losing a few would be beneficial. But I had tried and tried and was what to do?

Well, I did something I always said I would never do...I joined a commercial weight loss center. Ugh. Paying someone to tell me what I could tell someone else. But that in itself has been the motivating factor to keep me honest and eating healthier. It is much easier to stay on track because I'm paying someone else...I'm really frugal and hate "wasting" money, so I'm not going to pay someone for an eating plan and then go eat a cookie instead, whereas if I used my own knowledge and made an eating plan (I can make some great ones), there isn't as much incentive to stay away from the Halloween candy that is still here. I call in to the center 1 or 2 times a week...and I could totally lie about how I've been doing, but that wouldn't help.

I've always "wanted" to eat eat more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins. And I would do a fair job at it, but I'm realizing now how much I "cheated" even when I thought I was doing my best. And I haven't erased sweets from my life forever, just for a time while I'm learning some new things: like that I really like spinach but have a moral opposition to iceburg lettuce, that that there are some good vinaigrettes out there (did you know there was any dressing besides ranch? I didn't.) And no, I'm not eating just salad, but that's a dish that I didn't have in my life nearly enough so I am learning a lot.

So it's not that I've found a magic plan by any means. I kinda fell into it when I was researching some stuff for my parents and ended up being the first one to sign up (reminds me of when I got my tattoo in the summer of 99). But for me it has helped me learn new things. But ultimately I am the one in control.

And has it corrected my health concerns? I won't get another blood test for about 6 months, but I did go for a run Saturday night, and my knees were much happier.

So I have to eat crow a bit since I have engaged in a bit of the "diet industry's" antics. But it is helping my health. It isn't about looking great in a swimsuit (that's not a goal of mine by any means), its about improving my health to be around for my kids. Its about being able to run with some great friends without having my knees hate me. And its about making this a lifestyle change so that I can remain healthy.

I'm not gonna lie, it is nice that I finally fit back into my prebaby clothes, but you won't be finding me on the cover of a magazine anytime soon...and I'm okay with that.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Yesterday morning lots of thoughts raced through my mind, as I'm sure they did many of yours. "God, you can't take her! God, we need her! Please God keep her here with us. Please God." Lots of tears, hugs from friends, waiting, pleading, and one question that always lingers: Why?

I ask it in such situations not expecting an answer...and I often wonder if it is okay to ask. This morning I remembered something I learned at Hearts at Home from Rob Curry (preschool expert). Preschoolers will often as "why" over and over again to the same question. Even when we answer them, they still ask why. According to Curry, when preschoolers do this they are not asking for an explanation, they are looking for validation of their feelings. Maybe they are excited. Maybe they are scared. They just want validation from their parent that they are heard, understood, and cared for.

And that's really what I'm asking my Father God when I ask Why? I'm asking for validation, that God sees our pain and our fear. I don't really need to see the big picture, I need loving arms around me. I need to know that my time on my knees (both figuratively and literally) is being heard.

And thus far God has answered our prayers for healing for Dara. We don't know what the rest of her story will be...but we know thus far God had worked a miracle in her life. (And if you know how awesome Dara is, not only is the one of the most amazing people I've met, now she's got "miracle" under her belt too:) We don't know the end result, but we do know God has been at work in her life and so many that have been praying.

One of the scripture passages that comforts me in situations like this is John 9 and a man born blind. The disciples ask if it was the man's sin or the parents' sin that caused the blindness: "'Neither this man, nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'" Sometimes the work of God is healing here on earth. Sometimes the healing means a person is called home to be with Jesus.

So why does God heal some people here on earth while others are taken from us? My highly spiritual and theological answer is: I don't know. I don't know, but I trust in the goodness of God and the promise of eternal life through Christ Jesus.

So today I am thankful for the healing so far in Dara's life...and pray for continue healing and peace for her, David, and Isabelle. I pray for other friends who are awaiting answers and healing for their loved ones or who are dealing with lifelong illness. I pray for those families who have had to say good-bye to loved ones over the past year, especially as we enter the holiday season. Below are the lyrics from Steven Curtis Chapman's "Carry You to Jesus."

I will not pretend to feel the pain you're going through
I know I cannot comprehend the hurt you've known
And I used to think it mattered if I understood
But now I just don't know

Well, I'll admit sometimes I still wish I knew what to say
And I keep looking for a way to fix it all
But we know we're at the mercy of God's higher ways
And our ways are so small

But I will carry you to Jesus
He is everything you need
I will carry you to Jesus on my knees

It's such a privilege for me to give this gift to you
All I'd ever hope you'd give me in return
Is to know that you'll be there to do the same for me
When the tables turn

And if you need to cry go on and I, I will cry along with you, yeah
I've given you what I have but still I know the best thing I can do
Is just pray for you
I'll carry you
I'll take you to Jesus on my knees

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"Never confuse fashion and style. Fashion relies on unattainable looks on women with unrealistic bodies. Style is about utilizing the best aspects of you." -Stacy London

Uh oh. Some of you are already thinking SHE is going to write a blog on STYLE??? Rest assured you will not be getting any style (or fashion) tips from me. I'm pretty much nil in knowledge in this area. My first day of school picture from my senior year shows me in some mom-type jeans a size too small, an old t-shirt, and my dad's old red flannel shirt (probably about 4 sizes or so too big). Granted, grunge was "in" at that time, but definitely not the way I was trying to pull it off. To be honest, I never cared if what I wore was in style or even if it looked good on me.

Somewhere along the way I started caring...well, a little bit. In that post-college time when I became a "professional" I started caring about if a pair of pants fit and were flattering or if a color matched my skin tone. Note: I was not "good" at this, but it started to matter to me. But it seemed the harder I tried, I never quite pulled off what I thought I should look like. I could never pull off the latest styles. I mostly stayed safe and conservative, but its just not a knack I have...getting a polished look all together. And once I threw two kids into my getting ready routine, the ability was even less.

That's why I loved this quote from Stacy that was in Better Homes & Gardens. I used to love watching her on What Not To Wear (where I learned the value of a jacket). I did stop watching because it still left me feeling like my closet was never good enough, which is not a good place to be. We need to embrace our own personal style, wear it to the best of our ability (in the correct size, no matter what the size on the tag is), and that our own personal style is more than just the clothes we wear.

Some of you rock the "fashion" can really pull off the latest styles and can put an outfit together into some magical complete look. It's just part of how you are gifted. Some of you (like me) are bent toward casual/comfortable...and we can't allow ourselves to spend our lives in sweat pants, but have to feel confident that we can still wear clothes in that genre without looking frumpy. Some of you rock the black socks with sandals look (okay, maybe I don't have any middle-aged men reading my blog...)

So wear who you are...and remember above all that our beauty does not come from outward adornment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I want candy!!!!

I'm sure many households look like mine today...bags of candy from trick or treating. Bags and bags of deliciously-looking-but-not-good-for-you goodness just asking to sit on the couch with me and be eaten. Who thought of this holiday anyhow?

As you know, I'm not placing my self-worth in the size of my waist, but I've also committed to getting healthier on the nutrition front. So I chose a couple of goodies on the 31st and had them and now...I'm just not going to eat them. But I've realized in the past two days of self-denial, the internal phrasing I use can make me powerful or can make me a victim.

You've probably been around that meal eating fun killer that bemoans "I can't eat that" because of a diet or whatever. The tone borders on whiny and just asking for sympathy. I've been the whiny dieter. And guess what? No one wants to hear whiny "I can't" phrases. Is there really an unseen force keeping you or I from eating skittles or snickers or the whole bag? Like if I do I may just implode? No, it's a choice. It's a choice to eat it, it's a choice to not eat it.

So I've been trying to change my internal dialog. Instead of thinking "I can't have you" like I'm waiting for it to say "yes you can" back, I say "I'm not going to eat you. You are not helping me be healthy. Yes, I could have one...but for me, one leads to 10 so I'm not even going to start." Okay, so I don't say this out loud, I'm not a total nut. But it is helping. It is moving me from victim to being the one in position of power. I am making the choice. And if tomorrow I make the choice to eat a snickers, that doesn't make me a bad person...but I also can't whine about not meeting my goals if I am making choices that aren't healthy.

I'm doing my best to get the loot out of sight so it will be out of mind, but with the haul the kids brought in, I need a better storage space:)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Two words I would outlaw

If only...

Tell me I'm not the only one who has had an "if only" moment, or day, or week, or...

I often get caught up in the cycle of second guessing past decisions or not being happy with where I am in life. I think "if only I had chosen a different career path" or "if only we lived in a better neighborhood." Usually my "if only" statements are followed by a silent "then I'd be happy." And I know in my mind that those things wouldn't bring me happiness, just another "if only."

The "if only" I've struggled with all my life is my weight. If I had a dollar for every "if only I weighed less", I'd be in the 1%. It has been my own thinking and actions that have caused me to stumble in this area. I've often thought that people wouldn't want to talk to me because of my weight, so sometimes I come off as snotty. My freshman year when I didn't get elected to student council I was sure it was because of my weight, so I never tried again. I'm the one who has let it be a hindrance in lots of situations. Recently I've been doing so much better with accepting the blessings of my life, realizing that none of them have to do with the size of my waist, and pursuing living healthy rather than living thin.

But yesterday that old "if only" came back. It ruined my day and sucked my time away. I've actually been meeting my goals with exercise and nutrition, but for some reason yesterday was one of those days when I felt like the size of my thighs was inversely proportional to the content of my character. And I just couldn't shake it.

That's not to say if I am sitting in a pile of poo, that I don't need to move. (examples: poor health due to lifestyle choices, dead end job, unhealthy relationship). Recently I had blood work done and everything came back great, except my HDL cholesterol. I've never had a problem, but it was abnormally low. I know I need to improve some things in my eating to help raise this number back up to reduce my risk for heart disease. And I am making those changes, slowly so they are feeling like part of who I am and want to be. And I'm not going to just sit and think "if only my HDL was normal..." I'm going to do something about it.

It's that line between finding contentment in who we are and challenging ourselves to smooth out our rough spots.

Another "if only" I've always had has been "if only I could sing..." then I could inspire people with my music...or be a rock star. I used to pretend I was a singer/dancer with New Kids on the Block  (wow, lots of disclosure today!) It is one if only that I haven't lost too much sleep over. But today's workout is "Just Dance" if you'll excuse me, the Spice Girls need another member.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I quit!!!

Alright. That's it. I've had it. I'm not going to participate anymore. I'm taking my ball and going home.

I'm talking about dieting. For over the past year I've been on a quest to try to lose the last 10-15 pounds of baby weight (well, let's be honest and call it “too many doughnuts while I was pregnant” weight). I tried lots of stuff. Meeting with a friend weekly to set goals. She lost 25 pounds, I lost 5. I tracked calories. I worked out...lots. I ate healthy. I became obsessed and discouraged. I bought new workout equipment. I ate vegetables, lean protein, protein drinks, drank water, gave up pop...and still I stayed in the same 5 pound range. Every week (or day) I would get on the scale and weigh...and let the number dictate my day. I would spend hours researching on the internet...looking for true research, not just the latest advertising in a $55 billion a year industry that has a 95% failure rate. So why was I stuck? And why did I care?

I'm not sure about #1. Maybe I cheated too much. Maybe there's something off in my body chemistry. I am about 15 pounds lighter than I was through high school and college. Maybe my body likes it here.

#2...well, come to find out, I don't (much). I realized part of the reason I wasn't losing is I actually don't mind how I look. What really matters to me more is how I feel. Energetic. Healthy. Friendly (something I'm not always good at when I'm tormenting myself with a scale). A few weeks ago I realized that my husband likes me as I am, and the torment of an arbitrary number was doing me no good.

So I gave it up. No more stepping on the scale (well, not for a while anyhow). No more counting calories or trying to carry out crazy exercise programs.

Does that mean I just get to sit on the couch watching Glee and eating bon bons?

Absolutely not! First, I prefer oreos over bon bons. And second, that doesn't help me feel energetic, healthy, or friendly. I am choosing to eat in a healthy way, but in a way that I can maintain. I am choosing to participate in daily exercise, but not to the extent that I tear up my knees any more than they already are. I am setting weekly goals for exercise and eating healthy but my success is not determined by the number on a scale. Completing each daily goal that moves me to a healthier me is the success.

I'll be honest, it's tempting to step back on the scale. But I've been hitting my goals and I feel great. If I were to step on that machine, it may show no difference and make me totally throw my hands up and say “bring me the oreos!” I also catch myself reverting back to spending too much time looking up extreme exercise programs and eating plans, neither of which I will be able to maintain for a lifetime. I want to spend my days enjoying life and the people around me...not jumping from one diet to the next or erasing carbs from my diet only to gorge on a chocolate cake the next day.

So diet industry, I'll keep my money. Your success rate sucks anyhow. But cultivating habits that last a lifetime...that's worth investing in.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mom cleaning

Some people engage in spring cleaning. The Jewish people go through a process of deep cleaning in preparation for Passover. I am an adopter of "mom cleaning".

What is "mom cleaning?" It is my feeble attempt to thoroughly clean my house before my mom visits. I have already been cleaning for a month, and my mom doesn't arrive for 10 more days. I walk through my house, imagining what she would see that needed to be cleaned once she arrived. The first several times my mom came to visit out here she spent a good portion of her time cleaning things that I didn't really consider vital at that moment: light fixtures, air ducts, the thing under my fridge. Oh, I would clean them when I would notice them, but apparently not often enough. And my mom is a kind go-getter. When she gets in one of her cleaning whirlwinds we call her Edna after her grandmother that often had to be busy, too (and she lived to 96 in good health, so I guess it's not a bad thing). She won't comment that my vents need to be cleaned. She'll just find a screwdriver and the vacuum and go to it.

So her last couple visits I have done my best to preempt her. Alas, with two small children its hard to stay on top of the laundry and dishes, let alone to take down all my light fixtures and wash them. Yet I feel compelled to clean as much as possible. Its my way of saying "I love you." Every time I talk to her on the phone I let her know I'm cleaning in preparation. When we get ready to visit in December, she'll do the same (although I NEVER go around cleaning random areas of her house, but maybe...)

So in the spring time when the urge to clean my windows hits, it usually passes before I get the chance to knock much off my list. But rest assured when mom comes to town I'll do my best to rid the home of every last dust bunny.

Friday, October 7, 2011


There are times in your life when someone comes along when you realize they had been impacting you for a long time. Enter Steve Jobs.

(Okay, so I know in the 24 hour news cycle, my reflections are a little outdated. But they keep whirling in my head, and I really need that space for more important matters.)

I was in elementary school when I was first touched by Steve's brilliance. Who doesn't have fond memories that black screen with green writing. Oh, the Apple IIGS. You could make cards and banners with print shop (on an equally amazing printer that took forever and made lots of noise...but at the time it was Ah-mazing). We never had a computer ourselves, but I loved using the computer in the homes of my friends who were lucky enough to have such a modern marvel. I learned to type on his machine in 6th grade keyboarding. Nothing like practicing "quid pro quo" over and over again. That iconic piece of machinery was also the spotlight of a robotics documentary from my 7th grade year.

But I never gave a thought to who created it.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school. Fall 1996. MASH bash at my house (a little get together after our performance of M*A*S*H). We watched Toy Story. I wondered "why are we watching a kids show?" But it was funny. And good. Begin the Pixar age, which was being run by Jobs. Now 15 years later, my house is home to many Pixar movies and figurines. Not that the characters were Steve's creation, but the company itself (that Steve owned) revolutionized the animation world. And as the parent of two small children, I am thankful.

It wasn't until 2003 or 2004 while playing trivial pursuit that I was introduced to Steve Jobs the man. The question was about what guy in the computer field wore jeans and a black long sleeved t-shirt. I had no idea, but a few people in the room did (computer lovers mainly). This was also about the time the iPods started becoming popular. And more popular. And newer versions.

We've never been early adopters of Apple products, out of budget reasons more than anything else. But I do love my shuffle and 4th generation Nano (which is considered "old" by now). And right now I'm typing on the MacBook Pro Andrew bought after graduation. And I couldn't understand why he'd want to spend that much money on a computer, but I have to admit...I love it! It is beyond question that Apple puts out great products. We've sort of become numb to the technology. But just imagine showing the iPhone to your 1985 self.

Reflecting on Steve's life an influence, I can't help but be amazed at the amazing job he did at branding. One Apple commercial that I linked on my facebook page is "The Crazy Ones", and it ends with "Be Different." But deeper than that, it was really saying more. Apple's message seems largely to be "Be Different. (Like everyone else, buy an iPod (or iPad or iPhone)". Job's knew that we all want to be part of something bigger, so those who adopt mac products feel we are part of a group. I haven't read this elsewhere, but I also suspect he knew of our narcissistic nature...think of the name of the products. And the fact that the products are (for the most part) intuitive. In our consumer driven culture, it really is all about us. And Jobs tapped into that. It was also by design that most of the products, at least in perception, are "outdated" in a short period of time.

Business leadership teacher Ken Blanchard says: "Profit is the applause you get for taking care of customers and creating a motivating environment for your people." I gave my applause to Steve in his lifetime and with every running workout I am thankful for his innovative spirit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The amazing power of Windex

If you ever watched "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", you'll remember the bride's dad thought Windex was good for everything. At the time this totally perplexed me. At that stage in my life I can't say that I owned any Windex (or even the off brand, I'm a generic kinda girl). I did have one little mirror to clean in my apartment, so maybe I did. But I definitely had never cleaned any windows. When Andrew and I got married he owned like 4 or 5 bottles of Windex...why, I'm not sure. I still never washed windows until about a year ago when I realized our windows flipped in so I could easily wash them from the inside. It's a glorious job that doesn't have to be done five minutes my kitchen floor or the laundry.

But that is not why I like, no love, my generic window cleaner. About a year ago I was painting my nails for a date...and I dropped hot pink fingernail polish all over my carpet. Polish remover just resulted in a spreading of the product. So a quick internet search revealed a few options...I tried windex. Sprayed on the spot and then blotted. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And guess what? No pink floor. Since then I've used it to take pen and maker off the rug (I do have 2 little kids), and some blue yogurt.

It cleans windows (although my technique leaves a lot to be desired). It cleans mirrors. It gets some crazy products out of my carpet. Now if only it would do my laundry...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Pharisee in me

Friday night was a momentous occasion on our household; I took Anni to her first football game. I almost got teary eyed on the way to the field. So much of my life and happy times has centered around those 100 yards. It was a chilly evening, but we came armed with several blankets. Anni was nestled under a blanket with her friend eating popcorn. Suddenly her friend moved a bit and the blanket fell off. Someone sitting next to them said "oops, you stole her blanket." Immediately Anni says "Number 8 is 'do not steal'", referring to the 10 commandments. She just kept looking ahead, eating her popcorn, yet her words were spoken as if she herself had not fought with her brother over a toy or disobeyed her mother that day. We all got a chuckle, but at the same time it made me think of the times when I have been quick to judge someone's behavior without thinking about the things I had just done that were just as wrong.

Another time I was taking her to school and she said "mom, you have to learn how to not sin like I have learned not to sin." Wow, quite the feat for a four year old.

This morning our pastor preached on one of my favorite passages: John 9. It is where the Pharisees are asking Jesus if the man born blind had sinned or if his parents had sinned. It has always been an encouraging chapter in times when there has been sickness, hardship, or death and we may question "Who sinned? What did we do wrong." Jesus tells them, neither had sinned, but that the blindness was so the "work of God could be displayed in his life" (John 9:3). But today I read on. I mean I had read on before, but had never really linked them. After Jesus heals the man of his blindness, the Pharisees do some investigating to prove that the man was a faker, or for some way to prove Jesus false. As they question the man we see the following exchange starting with the man (formerly known as the blindman):
"'If this man [Jesus] were not from God, he could do nothing.' To this they replied, 'you were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!' And they threw him out." (John 9:33-34).

Today was the first time it struck me that this man who had been healed was later tossed out by the Pharisees. That no only were they trying to judge and trap Jesus, but they also condemned this man for his belief because it disagreed with theirs. Weren't those Pharisees always ready to cast stones...and they were none to happy when Jesus called them out on it.

I would like to think that I'm not like the Pharisees, that I let God be God and let Him be the judge. But I know that too often I am like the Pharisees. Sometimes on spiritual matters "I can't believe they call themselves a Christian and they (you fill in the blank)", and sometimes on matters that have no eternal consequence. My sister frequently reminds me that before I had children I swore my kids would not watch TV (hahahahahaha!)

I just pray that every time I pick up that stone to throw it that God would convict me to drop it and remember where I myself would be without Christ in my life...and to never say "my kids will never...."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Come and get it...

Oh friend and my nemesis. I really don't mind cooking, and I thought by being a mostly-at-home mom I'd have more time to prepare healthy, tasty meals for my family. But the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, I'm still just as tired and with little time to prepare something...and I hate cleaning up a messy kitchen. Pretty much since the start of our marriage I have made a weekly menu plan and generally stick to it. I've seldom had to wonder "what will we have for dinner?", but I often don't really want to make what is on the menu because of the time involved.

Recently a few friends were posting that they were making meals for a month. Whoa. I know my limitations and making that many meals in one block of time would surely not be good for the emotional health of my home. BUT, why can't I make the meals for the coming week? So I got out a month-long calendar and planned the meals for the first two weeks. Then I set out with the first day and made as many meals as I could handle in a 2 hour time block. The awesome thing? When I made spaghetti casserole I was able to split it into two dishes and put one in the freezer. Same with the veggie soup. Then I was able to write those meals in a later date in the month. So I got 5 days worth of meals done in about 90 minute time block, plus cooked up some chicken so it is ready for the next bulk cooking day.

So I started the week with three meals in the fridge and two in the freezer. Slowly I may get a freezer stash built up. Later this week we'll be picking up our deep freeze to help in the process. It will also house the pastured pork and grass-fed beef what we'll soon be getting from Meadow Oaks Farm Angus Grass Fed Beef (yum). All the better to be able to prepare a bunch of meals at one time. One block of time. Many meals. One clean up. Glorious.

Another tactic I just employed in my battle against the hungry mob I feed (okay, admittedly, it's a small mob, but they do get hungry) is to assign each day of the week a particular genre of food. It is really helping in my meal planning. When you look at 7 days a week and try to figure out 7 meals, sometimes it is overwhelming. But this time I assigned each day like this:

Monday: Pasta night
Tuesday: Soup night
Wednesday: Casserole night
Thursday: Crockpot night
Friday: Fast & fun night (grilling, tacos, pizza, wings)
Saturday noon: Brunch (this week was spiced peach french toast strata)
Saturday night: ???
Sunday noon: Leftovers
Sunday night: Cereal Sunday Night (a family fave with no prep and little clean up!)

So far it is working for me. My next step is to take all of the recipes my family likes and put them in one of the categories, then I can easily use my lists to help with meal planning. It will help remind me of "forgotten" recipes and give me a place to add new ones.

So you want the organization of meal plans but don't want to do the work? For a while I used, which not only gives you a menu plan, but gives you the weekly shopping list. Can we say time-saver? I loved it, and when I get bored with my current system I may try it again. They have menu plans for Aldi's, which is my new favorite grocery store.

It doesn't matter how you plan it or how you prepare it, family meal time can be one of the best times of the day...especially if the preparer isn't a frazzled mess when they sit down to dine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Former Things...

It's been almost 3 years and 3 months since we moved back to Watseka. For those of you who were with us during that journey you're thinking "wow, time flies." For those of you who weren't with us, well, you missed quite the adventurous time in our life. Just a quick recap: Andrew wanted to move back to Illinois to work for his dad's company. I had no desire to move back. I loved my life in Iowa: close to my family, job I loved, friends, a church that had cared for us through a difficult time...but I also felt that I needed to follow if he had strong feelings about moving. So we made a compromise. We would put our house on the market, and if it sold we would move. I thought the housing market was in my corner, so I felt confident we'd be able to stay in Orange City one more year and maybe by then Andrew would change his mind. God laughed at my plans. Two days after our house was on the market we had an offer for full asking price. Because I was 30 weeks pregnant with Aaron at that time we decided to move right away rather than move in my parents basement until after baby was born. So at 32 weeks pregnant, we loaded up the truck and moved to...well, not Beverly.

I have two verses marked in my Bible that really hit me in that week that we put our house on the market, Isaiah 43:18-19: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." 

I would like to say that as soon as we moved here I was able to let go of the past and praise God for the new thing He was doing, but I was far from being joyful about the situation. Aaron was born about 6 weeks after we moved there and I remember rocking him in a chair, reading those verses, and weeping that I felt like I was in the wasteland. I kept trusting that God was doing a new thing, but I didn't see it. And as time went on I continued to dwell on the past, holding on to the dreams I had wanted. 

But God is so good. He was doing a new thing, He does provide streams in the wasteland. Three years after moving I can see where He was working. He has provided in so many ways. But part of what I needed to do was forget the former things. Not a literal amnesia (although that might have been less painful), but to let go of what I had wanted. It was a process. It didn't happen overnight or with one prayer. It was a process of making a new life and relying on God even when I would have rather taken life in my own hands. Trust me, there were plenty of times I had thought about packing the van back up and moving back to Iowa.

Don't we all hold on to parts of our past that we really need to let go? Some things were good things, some not so good. We want to look how we did at 18, be the athlete we once were, have an old relationship back, have a chance at a do-over in our career, to have taken a different fork in the road at some point. There are some losses in our lives that we do need to grieve and allow time and God to heal that pain. But we also need to forget some former things and look to the new thing that God is doing. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The quest for a "better butter"

I frequently have little moral dilemmas with food. For example, iceberg lettuce lacks anything nutritional and has no taste, so on that basis I'm morally opposed. Oh, to be nice as a guest I will eat it and I'm not mad about it, I just feel that unless you need an excuse to ingest large amounts of ranch dressing, it's pretty much pointless. One of my other dilemmas with food comes with deciding on a spread for my bread.

So the world's most tasty spread, butter, has saturated fat which contributes to heart disease. So then, enter margarine, which had less calories/fat and spreads oh-so-nicely on your morning toast. But wait!! After years of downing the cheaper spread we find out that the hydrogenated oils that are used are actually worse than the saturated fat. So then we go back to butter. And for most things I love butter. But all you toast lovers out there can agree with me on this. There is nothing worse than trying to spread cold butter on toast and suddenly having a big hole in the middle of your toast and little chunks of butter in various places. I know there are people that use olive oil or flax, but I just can't figure out how to work that (or the fact that it just doesn't taste as good).

So that's my dilemma. Butter is my favorite choice because it is closest to the source. In my book, the more chemical processes have to go through to get to my mouth, the more likely it is that it won't be good for me. But it lacks the ability to spread (you can buy spreadable butter, but don't rain on my parade here). So enter a recipe for "better butter". I found it in "Healthy Foods" by Leanne Ely. And it's simple. Here's the recipe is it appears in the book:

1 stick butter
1/2 c. safflower oil (or other mild-tasting, cold pressed oil)

Let butter soften at room temperature. Mix oil and butter together. Refrigerate.

So I tried it...but I used canola oil instead. And you know what? Success. Next time I'll mix the two together a little better and probably double the recipe...but in my fridge is a good tasting spread made from natural ingredients that won't put a hole in my toast.

So if you'll excuse me, my morning toast is waiting.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Top 5 things I took for granted

After this past week of 2 kids with strep throat while hubby was out of town, I have a new appreciation for some things I take for granted...

1. Clorox wipes...even though I feel environmentally guilty, when trying to keep the house clean and (mostly) free of germs, they were a sanity saver. I already had enough laundry piling up...

2. My oldschool 2 cup coffeemaker...I'm not trendy enough and definitely too frugal to get a Keurig. But being able to make a small amount quickly and easily helped me make it through the days after the sleepless nights.

3. Netflix...say what you will about them upping their price or their lack of options on the instant viewing, for us watching endless episodes of Spiderman, Backyardigans, and Glee helped us make it through with sanity in check. And we didn't have to watch the same Dora DVD's over and over again!

4. Email...I know, now it's almost a dinosaur. My college students never seem to check theirs. But for a few mamas stuck in the house with sick kiddos, it was a lifeline. Sure, texting is great and was utilized by yours truly, but to truly express the exasperation of ANOTHER sleepless night, more than 160 characters are needed.

5. My husband...please say I'm not the only one guilty of this. When he was going to be gone this past week I figured it would be no big deal. I had cleared my work schedule and had visions of a field trip or evenings watching movies after the kids went to bed. Instead our field trips were to the doctor and the only reason I was up watching movies was to rock a feverish 3 year old. Life would have been a bit more bearable had my better half been home to give me an hour of respite to get to the store without sick kids...and he's just good company in general.

So here's to a week I never want to repeat and to the 5 things I hugged an extra time or two this weekend.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reason #1 I changed my career path...

Any working parent can relate to the problems that arise when your offspring are sick and you have to make decisions on who will stay with the sick child and the potential consequences at work. A year ago we went through a lot of that when my son was sick with respiratory issues. I have to say that my co-workers were always understanding and the kids' daycare provider was always extra helpful, but it was still a strain. So this spring when we were considering if I was going to keep working, this was one of the top issues that brought me home. Not the only one by far, but a big one.

So I am three weeks into my new role as "mostly at home" mom (has that term been coined yet?) and our first sickness hit...and it has been a doozy. It started about 5 days ago with my daughter's fever. Both kids have strep. It has been hard. The past 5 nights have been limited in sleeping and daytime hours are taken up with continually cleaning, doing laundry, handing out popsicles. rocking crying kids, and trying not to eat the oreo stuffed peanut butter cookies in the freezer (that's a topic for another day). And on top of it the better half of me is 13 hours away for business.

But you know what? I have been blessed. First and foremost by our decision that I be mostly at home. I didn't have to coordinate work and grandma and days off. I was just here. And I could stay in my sweats all day with no guilt (this isn't my normal attire, but justifiable in this case...ready for a nap at anytime). Especially with my husband gone, my availability for the kids has been so much less hectic. And each time that I am woken up in the middle of the night to rock a feverish or hurting child (8 times last night), I think of friends who have lost children and would give anything to have one of those sleepless nights back if it meant holding their kids.

For our family, at this time, bringing mama home more has been the best decision.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The pain of exercising??

So I have a confession to make...I love exercise. No really, I do. I love doing it, I love how it  makes me feel. I'll pretty much try anything and give 110%. But recently I fell into the trap of punishing myself with exercise. Not in an exercise bulimia sort of way, but in a "no pain, no gain" sort of way. Now I know that you need to push yourself outside of your current fitness level to see gains. But I was pushing way outside of the envelope. Partly due to exercising with videos by Jillian Michaels and in the spirit of P90x and similar programs. I have seen so many people end up with injuries from these, yet I had told myself if I wasn't killing myself with some crazy exercise, I wasn't doing myself any good.

So then it happened. About 3 weeks ago I had an 80 minute workout on the agenda to make up for a missed workout earlier in the week. So I went for a run, a hard run. I really enjoyed it. Then I decided I would try out my new Bob Harper kettlebell workout. By the time all was said and done I had exercised hard for over 90 minutes and had a hurting hip. When I looked back over my exercise log I hadn't taken a rest day in several weeks. But no bother, I figured I was tough and would exercise through it. I was sure it wasn't that bad. Until it got worse and worse. So after Tuesday's miserable walk (hello, a 20 minute walk killed me), I decided I needed time away from exercising. I gave myself a week off...I lasted 3 days. Last night I just had to do something, so I did pilates. Tonight I did yoga. Both felt good. Tonight as I was reflecting I thought back to a little less than 3 years ago...

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees (I was 30 at the time). The pain was so bad I couldn't sit down or stand up without significant pain. I could not walk (slowly) more than 5 minutes without pain. So I figured I had to do what I could. That's when I started doing pilates again as well as doing some gentle therapeutic yoga. I was about 25 pounds heavier than I am now, and just doing those two things, I started losing weight. I slowly added in walking, stopping as soon as my knee pain started. I started by walking 2.5 mph for 5 minutes and over a few months(!) built up to 20 minutes. But you know what, my knee pain decreased and my weight was coming off. Then once I was better I started doing crazy working out and do you know what I realized tonight...that's when my weight loss slowed.

I think what I do is allow myself to eat more when I'm exercising hard. So for the next week I'm only doing pilates and yoga...and focusing on my eating. Then I'll slowly add back in walking, jogging, biking, and strength training in healthy amounts. I'm seriously considering getting rid of the exercise DVD's that cause me to harm myself:) I really do want to be able to exercise for the long haul.

And to remind can't outwork a bad diet.