Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What IF...

What IF: My life does not matter?

You don't need to call suicide prevention and I'm not in the middle of some pre-midlife crisis. Last weekend at the IF:Gathering I felt one of those shifts, a slight tremor in my soul, a movement of the Spirit. It may end with these thoughts pouring from my heart, but I hope not. I hope it is a tremor that becomes a shake that turns into an upheaval that will go on until the landscape of this world has been utterly changed. What IF?

What IF: My life does not matter? The truth is that my Father God is all powerful and in the end He will bring forth His kingdom, His plan will come to fruition, and the best part of the story is that we already know the ending: He WILL win. There is nothing that anyone will do that will change this truth. My life does not matter.

I am not here for this life. I am here as part of His ongoing plan: to bring as many of His children into His kingdom as possible. My God will not stop, will not give up, will not come again to make everything perfect eternally until His plan is complete. He is long-suffering. He is patience. The 32-100+ years of my life do not matter.

This world is full of brokenness. Things happen that "shouldn't"; the earth swells and overwhelms, carefully constructed edifices crumble; our bodies wear down, wear out, and give up; people hurt one another inside and out; we gain it, we loose it, and still we hold on so tight to it that we or it breaks. It does not matter.

Brokenness is our separation from God, visible as sin. It is the space the enemy uses to try to turn us from God and separate us forever. Sin is the only card the enemy has to play, the only thing he can do in the face of certain defeat. The enemy knows he will loose in the end and is trying to make the loss less bitter by taking what he can from God before it's over. The enemy is cunning and unflinching in his own depravity. He knows that turning us from God will not change the outcome, but he will not stop attacking while he has the chance. He grasps any hold he can find, pursuing our hearts with calculating accuracy. He attacks no matter the cost because he knows he can not win. Nothing is more dangerous than a bitter enemy who already knows he is defeated. He will go down fighting no matter what. The cost to my life does not matter.

The enemy knows my weaknesses, the distractions of this world that draw me into brokenness. These are chains he uses to bind me and hold me in bondage as real as any slavery in this world. I selfishly pursue health, wealth, success, security, happiness, and so on... as if they were in my power alone to ensure. As if my Father God would not provide them in proportion to my need. As if there was nothing worse than my failure to achieve them. As if there were nothing worth more pursing. I hold onto people, things, circumstances, and knowledge that I think will ensure my achievement in this life when really I am just fortifying the chains. I am held in chains by a life that does not matter.

And yet,

I Matter.

To my Father God, creator of the universe known and unknown, who is bigger than any box I can put Him in, who is the epitome of Love, and who IS GOOD, I matter. I am His beloved daughter. He moved mountains, defeated armies, waited eternities, gave up HIS SON because I matter. He will wait, will pursue, will fight for, will ALWAYS love me because I matter. It does not end here, I do not have to close the book at the end of this life. I have the promise of perfect eternity given to me by my Father God and paid for through the blood of His Son because...


What IF?
What IF: I lived this truth?

Instead of pursuing all those things I think I need to ensure in this life, what IF I lived in deep, abiding trust of the love and provision of my Father God? If I believed that in every area of my life God will provide perfectly according to His plan, that everything I truly need will be provided like manna from heaven. All I need is to walk daily in faith, pick it up, and put it in my mouth. I will not be left hungry or wanting, I will not be forsaken. I will not be here one minute more or one minute less than He intends and the purpose of it all was set long before my time began. I matter and I do not have to be bound by these constraints of the enemy. I am God's beloved daughter and through Him I have more power than the enemy could ever threaten. God will loose the chains that control me and change them to weapons He will use to fight the good fight in my life. What IF: I could be powerful, I could be free?

Could I walk in faith even when the path looks different, difficult, or even dangerous? Could I let go of control? What do I know about loosing control? I know that when I lost my mom, I experienced God, in big ways, small ways, miraculous ways, and difficult ways, but most importantly: in so many ways. I know that when we gave up our self-determined ways with money and followed God's path, it was tough at times, full of challenges and frustration, but He provided in ways my mind could not have imagined. In just these parts of my life, I have already experienced the very nature of my Father God and found Him more than enough. I feel it. He has so much more of Himself left to reveal to me and through me, more than all the steps I have left in front of me in this life.

What IF: I just took that first step?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lessons in Financial Peace

I recently shared our financial status on Facebook and realized quickly what it meant to share those details with the world. I realized it could be embarrassing to share with family, friends, people I went to high school with, people I've worked with, even our mortgage adviser that we had gotten ourselves into trouble. Instead, I decided that I would open up even more in the hopes of helping another family succeed. I have shared about our decision to live like no one else a couple times on my blog. I'll admit that at first I worried it would just be a "phase" we would go through and once our enthusiasm was gone, the plan would fizzle. I am happy to say now, 4 years and 10 months later, that we are still going strong and reached a major milestone. WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!!! (except for the house). To fully appreciate that, let me give you some numbers and tell you our story... 

I will start by introducing myself: I'm Katie and I am the "nerd". That means I like to make the spreadsheets and since I'm such a good nerd, I even did an extra spreadsheet to track our debt. So, here is our financial dirty laundry in black and white. In April of 2010 we had $90,577.07 in debt (not including our house). According to the payment plans we were on, we would not finish paying all those debts until March 2028, and that assumes we would not have added any other debt in those years which obviously was not our habit. By paying off these loans in just under 5 years, we saved an estimated $20,500 in interest. I also calculated that we paid an estimated total of $103,500 in principle and interest on those loans in just under 5 years. This means we paid over $20,000 a year to our loans on my husband's income while I've been hard at work as a mostly-stay-at home Mom. Life has also happened in these years, our car needing several thousand dollars in repairs, our house flooding and having hail damage, minor medical expenses, schools and activities to pay for our girls, building a business for me to work a little on the side, and even a couple of small trips. We have managed all of this on a plan. These numbers are big, they actually boggle my mind, but the lessons we learned in these years are more valuable than any of those numbers. Here is our whole story:

It happened six months after our second child was born. We were trying to balance everything going on with a new house and new child. We tried to have as frugal a Christmas as possible while still making it nice. At the beginning of  the next year we got a notice from our bank. We had overdrawn our account by $200. I was shocked. This meant that we had blown through the several thousand dollar "buffer" we had in our account from a tax return in less than a year, and an additional $200 we didn't have. I knew we had to do something different, I sat down at the computer and pulled up old budget spreadsheets and remember thinking “budgeting just doesnt work for us!

We got a phone call that month that would change everything. My sister-in-law had told me 2 years earlier about a program she and her husband were taking through his work called Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. She had gushed to me over the phone about all the things Dave says and how great it is. I remember her explanation that you add up what you will spend for the month and then put everything extra toward debt.  I also remember mentally rolling my eyes and thinking Well good for you, we dont have any extra so how is that going to work? Well, this sister-in-law called again at the right time. I dont know how it came up or what I said, but she told us that if everything continued as planned that they would be out of debt that coming summer. Wait, WHAT? I knew she had tens of thousands in student loans like I did, and I knew it had only been a couple of years. Alright, she got my attention. She offered to send us the CDs and workbooks, and we thought it was worth a shot.

I loaded those tracks onto an MP3 player I had, and went outside to weed our lawn. This being a several day process (gotta love a fixer-upper), I managed to listen to almost the entire 15 hour program while weeding. Once I got through the first section, I went into my husbands home office and instructed him to start listening RIGHT NOW. I remember little of what was actually said in those 15 hours, Ill admit, but what I do remember is how it made me feel. I remember at one point Dave earnestly stating You work TOO HARD to…” live paycheck to paycheck, feel like you are just treading water. I dont remember the exact words, but that was how I felt, so much so that there were tears streaming down my cheeks. Im sure I looked like a crazy lady weeding her yard wearing ear buds and crying rivers, ha ha! After just the first few hours listening to this program feelings began to grow in me, brand new feelings Id never experienced in regards to our financial situation: motivation and hope. I committed myself to try, to do the work on paper and see what would happen. I really had no idea.

I have that first FPU spreadsheet I made that month, copying (just for us) the worksheets in the workbook into a spreadsheet. I started filling out the forms Quickie Budget. That was pretty simple. I looked at our bank account and was able to estimate what our monthly necessities like food, shelter, transportation, and utilities cost us. That was relatively painless and seemed reasonable. For the first time I had a tool to take into account annual expenses like car registration and contact lenses. The nerd in me was singing. I put in our regular income, $3700, which was my husbands monthly income and it still looked okay, still a few hundred more a month then our expenses. And then. The bottom line.  For the first time, other than just my student loans, I added up our debt. I took a deep breath when I saw that total: $90,577.07 Wow, what a weight. I filled in the Monthly Cash Flow Plan with all the necessities and the annual expenses. Then I totaled the monthly payments for those debts: $1436.86. I was speechless. There wasn't any money left, there wasn't even enough to cover all of that. Big. Ugly. Cry.

I thought quickly. Fortunately, it was tax return time. We were able to put $1000 into savings for baby step 1 right away, and then we paid off a couple of the debts we’d been planning to take care of with that money anyway. I took the remainder of our return and divided it by 12 to add to our monthly income. I crunched all those numbers and we could just get by. I remember when I sat down that I was thinking “okay, so a movie would be like $20 a month and maybe $30 for a restaurant once a month”. I was sobered. With what little wiggle room we had, I could just squeak out $10 a month for entertainment. I realized quickly that I had not been realistic about spending money, ever. I couldn't imagine living this way for a whole year. Worse, what if it didn't get better that year? I think this is what made me commit to the next step: get OUT of debt. I realized that if we could just get rid of a couple hundred dollars in debt payments a month, we would at least break even without counting on the tax return. That became my goal, even though I wasn't sure if we could even stick to the budget yet.

Well, long story short found in tidbits on my blog here and here, we followed the plan, followed the rules, and watched it start working. We were blessed by support from our friends, especially our best friends who took the class the following month. We did our financial workbook every month, and after a year I was amazed. In March, almost a year exactly to the day we started we had paid off every debt except our student loans. $18,532.69 to be precise. I cried again, this time out of pure joy. We had lowered our monthly debt payments not by $200 a month but by $475. It was a just a small chunk of the total but it was better, and most importantly we were making it work. We could live on a budget AND enjoy our life, more in many ways than we had before. Sure, we had sold a lot of our fun stuff, and sure we couldn't do everything we done in life before, but we could still live and have fun. That was a wonderful lesson for us to learn in that process. That first year was also the success we needed to continue the long journey ahead.

We had paid off the $18,000 but we still had $71,694.61 in student loans. We also had not been budgeting realistically for the long term, we needed to budget at least a small amount for some trivial things, you know, like clothes that were literally wearing out ($20 a month goes a long way at a thrift store, FYI). There were a few other expenses we really felt were necessary including some work on our house and starting our oldest in preschool. I was happy with our ability to do all of this, but I also think I started to realize just what a long process this would be. It was exciting to watch $2000 debts disappear from our workbook, but I knew that those student loans wouldn't disappear so quickly. It took about 15 months to pay off the first student loan, the “little” one my husband had which was just $8100 when we started.  There was still $54,000 left of my loans and thoughts like at this rate it will take…” started to deflate my enthusiasm and threaten my resolve. This is a feeling I would grow to know well, extreme pride and happiness in our accomplishments, but impatience and even doubt about reaching the next goal.

I've always taken the phrase “let go and let God” with a bit of skepticism. I’m not good of letting go of control over even the smallest things in life, and I know that sometimes God needs me to DO the work. Another year of the journey went by and the balance was down to $39,500. At this point I was feeling drained and guilty. We had worked and were giving up so much, but that weight of mine still felt like it was holding us down. I was sitting in Bible study one Tuesday morning in October, dwelling on these thoughts and feelings rather than the lesson that day when all of a sudden I heard a stern voice “Stop watching the balances”. I got goosebumps and looked around to see if anyone noticed my discomposure. I kept this moment to myself at the time, but little shivers of excitement ran through me as I wondered what God was planning. I went home and told my husband about this experience. I can only imagine how it would have sounded “so I heard a voice today tell me to stop watching the balances”. It didn't have quite the impact on him as it had me, but he and my best friend both encouraged me saying “Well, I guess you’d better listen”. So I did.

I stopped tracking the exact balance of those loans and just kept putting in every bit we could squeeze from our budget and extra income. Six months later I couldn't believe it, we paid off one of those huge loans. I cried a few tears at God’s goodness and faithfulness. One loan left, just over $20,000, and I knew we would get there. There were chinks of lights around a space that had been so dark. I began to experience a feeling I had not realized was even needed, lightness. It was only at this point that I realized just how much guilt I had carried for so many years, guilt over ignoring decisions about college when I should have dealt with them, guilt over carrying so much financial burden into our marriage, guilt over staying home with my children. I was able to forgive myself and finally feel peace and pride in myself again.

That was just ten months ago, and again I was faithful to God’s instruction and did not track the balance until this month. I started to add up the money from this and that and started to realize we were probably getting close. I had to print tax documents for the loan so I logged into our account and there was the balance, $10,800. It was, of course, at this time that the car would start “acting funny”. Those selfish feelings of mine welled up again and I got so grouchy. I snapped at my husband, started looking at “newused” cars, and threw my version of a pity party. Thankfully, by now our financial habits are pretty well cemented and instead of snap decisions over the car we did the smart thing and had it repaired.

That brings us to today, February 23rd, 2015. I woke up this morning and it was almost like Christmas! I checked our account and that last paycheck we were waiting for had been deposited. I immediately ran to the computer and logged in to our loan account, selected “loan payoff” and click the buttons. It was done, we are debt free. I expected a torrent of emotions, but it doesn't feel quite real. My husband and I shared a couple of smiles and a little hug, and I messaged my best friend with the news. A few solitary tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks.  I’m sure all those emotions are still coming.

I truly think the time we saved and the changes in our behavior with money are the most valuable in this whole story. I am very proud of our accomplishments with this. I am proud of my diligence in doing the worksheets (almost) every month, for living on a cash envelope plan, and especially for finding in all of this that the joys of life are usually the ones that dont cost a thing. I am more in love with my husband than ever. He has provided for us consistently and without complaint, shared these financial goals, supported my dreams, and never held one bit of that burden against me. We also have not fought about money since we started, that makes almost 5 years of financial peace in our marriage. We've discussed finances (a lot) and had a few small disagreements, but we dont fight. At the beginning I would often say that we dont have any money so there is nothing to fight about! I can definitely say our marriage is exponentially better because of this journey, and I cannot wait to now build our future together. 

We also are deeply grateful. We have had the support of family and friends that counts for more than any of the dollar totals. Our best friends have been our companions, the ones who truly get it when we've said its not in the budget. We've done countless meals together, at each others homes instead of restaurants, and enjoying each others company just as much if not more. They have been shoulders to lean or cry on and companions to share a laugh with. Our family has never undermined our goals and have supported us in countless ways, from gifts to weekend trips, to free childcare. These people in our lives are true blessings, and I am so glad to be more grateful for them than ever before. We truly could not have done it without them.

Our future is one bright open door right now. Yes, the monthly worksheets and budget discussions with my husband will continue. Now, we get to give and save. Giving to others as God has called us to give, showing in one way the grace and faithfulness that he has shown to us. Save for our security, save for our retirement, save for the future of our daughters, and save for fun. We are already booked to go to Disney World this fall, what an amazing celebration that will be (all paid for in cash, of course)! I am looking forward to watching our goals change from numbers going down, to numbers building. We did this, now I know we can do anything we set our minds to. Its a great feeling, to be FREE!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blessingway- A Christian Approach

A "Blessingway" was an idea that I was first introduced to by a fellow birth worker who mentioned how wonderful the Blessingways she had been to were. I looked it up and became intrigued. I had a traditional baby shower with my first and really enjoyed it, it was a great party. There was something about this idea, though, that seemed deeper, and could potentially be more "Faith-ful" than the traditional baby shower. A couple years later my friend was pregnant with her third daughter. No one was planning a baby shower for this pregnancy because, well, it had already been done. I felt the opportunity immediately and offered (okay, to be fair I pretty much just told her I was going to do it) to host a Blessingway for this pregnancy. This turned out to be an amazing celebration, for the expecting Mom and all her friends and family who got to be a part of it. Now, I will mention that if you do search this word, you will find ideas that do not necessarily come from a Christian perspective. Sometimes Christian beliefs can be incorporated into these ideas, sometimes not. I have listed below some Christian appropriate ideas that for those who would like to incorporate these into their celebrations.

What is a Blessingway?
The practice of celebrating the pregnancy and birth of a new mother and child is common in many cultures around the world. While the traditional American baby shower is usually focused on the baby to come, a Blessingway is also about celebrating and praying for the pregnancy and the soon-to-be mother as she prepares for the birth and a new stage of motherhood.

The Party- The celebration itself can be set up in many different ways. You can use the term Blessingway or you can have a Baby Shower and incorporate some of these ideas. You could have a separate Blessingway for a mom who is having a Baby Shower also. You can invite only the women closest to her, or you can invite families. These choices will all just depend on what kind of celebration is best for the expecting mother and her preferences can be considered while maintaining an element of surprise.

Invitations- I got ideas for an invitation (and the party) from another blogI liked how they explained the Blessingway celebration in the invitation. I then created the invitation pictured below. I used the colors for this baby's nursery added a bible verse I felt was appropriate. You can include instructions for what to bring or what activities to expect. I did this on a separate insert so that the Mom could get the main invitation but still be surprised by some of the activities.

Decorations- Again, this can be done however you would like. Anything from general dinner party to baby shower themes or girls night themes would be appropriate. I could also imagine pretty amazing decor themed on The Red Tent, which is an incredible novel. 

Refreshments- You could serve anything that goes with the theme, or you could have it be a potluck style party where the guests contribute food also.

Gifts- This really depends on the family. The focus of the celebration is on Blessing the new family. For a first time mother, if she is not also have a Baby Shower, it would still be a HUGE blessing for her to receive those things she wants on her baby registry, so this would be very appropriate. You can also have guests bring a freezer meal (if the expecting family has freezer space) or sign up to bring a post-baby meal to bless the family with food in those early weeks of new parenting. One of the great parts of this celebration is that it is not about the "stuff", necessarily, but about blessing this family. Sometimes the greatest blessing is just time for Mom to focus on herself.

Activities- This is the other aspect of Blessingway celebrations that are unique and special. You can incorporate as many Blessing activities into the celebration as you would like or not. These activities are meant to honor the expecting Mother in her pregnancy, pray for and support her birth, and to bless the new life God has created.

Mother the Mother- Activities to relax and bless the expecting Mother:
Foot and Hand Washing
This act can be both a wonderful pampering and a spiritually meaningful experience. Read John 13: 1-17 about Jesus washing the disciples feet. To pamper Mom, maybe add epsom salts mixed with an essential oil such as lavendar, peppermint, or orange. You could also float flower petals on top. Be sure to have soft towels and creamy lotion available for her also. If you would like you could make this a full pedicure.
What pregnant woman doesn't like a massage? You could give this as a gift or have someone give the massage during the Blessingway. Make sure to hire someone who is familiar with prenatal massage techniques. Set up a space for the massage with candles and soft worship music playing.

For the Belly- Activities to honor and bless the life she carries
Belly Painting
This can be done in a variety of ways. You can have an artistic friend do the work, all the guests can contribute, or you can hire a professional artist. You can use safe, non-toxic body paints to create a design. You can get henna paint and create a design that will last a while longer (This does require a significant amount of time with Mom's belly wrapped in saran wrap after the paint is applied, so make sure it's okay with her first).
Belly Casts
This activity usually requires a fairly significant investment of time, at least 30min, and requires Mom to be mostly topless and messy so be prepared. You could do the belly casting at the Blessingway, or you could do it ahead of time and have those present help decorate the belly cast.

There are some pictures of belly painting, casts, and henna here.

For the Soul- Activities to pray for and bless the pregnancy, baby, mother, and birth
Prayer Beads
For this activity, you need to inform the quests of the preparation. The invitation I pictured above has this in the card insert. Basically, each guest will bring a bead or charm and then a card with a scripture, prayer, loving thought, poem, or quote to share with the Mom. With some sort of ceremony (again, think candles, soft background music, either in private or in the group) each guest presents there prayer and bead. Have a cord or ribbon available to then string them together. Mom can then wear this whenever she would like, including during her labor and birthing. When I did this, I made sure to ask her husband to provide a bead and blessing. This is a beautiful and extremely meaningful activity, my friend wrote about it here.
Prayer Candles
The guests can either choose, or you could even make candles during the Blessingway. When the Mom goes into labor, she will notify someone to contact this special group of people who will light the candle and then pray for the family through the birth.
Cord Ceremony
Ecclesiastes 4:12 says "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Make a cord of three strands out of ribbons or yarn. These strands can symbolize this strength, the trinity, the strength of a marriage which includes God, and the three lives intimately tied together in this new life. Have the guests stand in a circle with the Mom at the center. Tie the long strand first around Mom's wrist, and then around every guest's wrist around the circle. After everyone is tied together in prayer, cut the cords between the guests apart. During her labor, the guests can wear these cords and prayer for the family.

As you can see, there are many options for this celebration, you could even make a whole weekend out of it! One of the things I really love about this celebration is that it is appropriate to bless and celebrate every pregnancy, every birth, every miracle that God blesses us with. This can be a larger celebration, or an intimate affair. It offers whatever will bless this Mom, this baby, and this family. I hope these ideas inspire you to celebrate this incredible time in a deeper way and can see how we can walk this journey together in a Faith filled way. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Punkin" Pie...a Gardening Adventure

So, here is what I had for dessert last night:

YUMMY! I love Pumpkin Pie this time of year, and with freshly (real) whipped cream it was divine...but what the heck is so interesting about pumpkin pie that I would blog about it? Well, let me tell you!

This tale goes back to the spring time, see I have wonderful parents-in-law who love to help us with projects, play with our girlies, and just are generally all around awesome people. They don't like to stay still, though, and on a visit this spring they dug up the corner of our front yard, right next to our porch, because MIL (mother-in-law) was trying to grow some sproutling flowers and was going to give me some. Well, the flowers were a no go, they got hammered by some crazy early spring weather. My MIL felt bad,  though, about this big patch of turned up dirt in our front yard and asked if I might like to plant some veggies there.

Secretly (or not so much), I would love to be a green thumb, grow wonderful plants and vegetables in my yard and house to enjoy. But... I'm not. I've neither the time, nor money to really invest yet in "gardening". What we have around our yard is: hardy buffalo grass that my hubby maintains, some flowers that my MIL has helped plant in years past that keep on growing and blooming (see I don't even know the difference between perenial and annual, I just know these keep coming back), a sad little Lilac plant that I need to move and tend to (I love lilacs, and I want to keep this one), a crazy grape-vine that came with the house and we tried desperately to kill that I'm deciding I just need accept as part of our family, LOTS of wood chips, and...well...weeds. When we moved in, weeds were the landscaping, and on a 13000 square ft lot, well, it's taking time and persistence to deal with, sigh. Anyways, I have wanted a veggie garden since we bought the house, so when MIL offered to help with just a little one, I said "sure, why not"

So, she gave me seeds (yes, we sure did start from seeds), instructions, and a plan and we got to work. Adding nutrients to the soil, building little hillocks and rows for plants, and carefully planting our little seeds. Then, I said "alright, here's hoping". I can't believe I never took pictures of the progress of our little garden, but I can say that it far exceeded my expectations. We ended up with 2 zucchini bushes, 3 pole bean plants strung to the roof, 1 pat-a-pan squash plant, 4 butternut squash vines, and 1 head of spinach (I tried for some lettuce and more spinach...not super successful, but the spinach was the tastiest I've EVER had). We also grow tomatoes and basil in earth boxes on our front porch, but we get these as plants so not as super exciting...although the homemade spaghetti and pesto is! It was REALLY cool to see, and to show my kids "how does your garden grow", from tiny little seeds, some soil, water, and attention (thank you hubby) we had ALL of these plants growing FOOD for us, WOW!

The harvest from these plants was no less amazing. I have a picture of our final harvest:

In that basket were about 10 butternut and 7 pat-a-pan squashes AND this doesn't include 2 butternut or 4-5 zucchinis (yes, that same size) we'd already given away or eaten, another 3-4 harvests of beans earlier in the year, the spinach, or any of our tomatoes. Pretty much, our garden went NUTS.

Fortunately I REALLY REALLY like all of these veggies. I've also shredded and frozen some of the zucchini to use in breads, muffins, and chili throughout the winter. So, turns out I am a happy gardener! Lately, I've been hearing that it is hard to find canned pumpkin, and that it is expensive this year, so I was kind of bummed I didn't try growing pie pumpkins...which brings me to my pie story.

Monday being Halloween, and I being so on top of it, my girls had pumpkins that they really wanted to carve into Jack-O-Lanterns. They were small pumkins, reminded me of pumpkin pie pumkins and I though "mmmm pie". Would I really deprive my children of this festive activity just for pie, short answer- yes. Well, what I was thinking was "I could just have them paint these this year with washable paint, then wash them later and turn them into pie" See, not a heartless Mom. So, I hopped online and started looking at how to make pumpkin pie from actual pumpkin, a new experiment for me. This is where is got very interesting. At the end of the day, the pumkins looked like this:

So where did the pie come from? Well, my internet search led me to discover that canned pumpkin often comes from a form of butternut squash, so in a pinch you can use a butternut squash for pumpkin pie. WHAT!?!?! you mean I have like 10+ pies worth of squash sitting in a basket in my kitchen, this MUST be tried. So I did. Here's how is went:

The first step is just basic cooking squash technique: cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, cut into managable peices, place in baking dish with an inch or so of water face down, bake at 350 for 45min-1hr until soft. This is only half of the squash I cooked, I remember half way through scooping to take a picture for blog-land.

Here's this inside onces it is cookes, nice and orange. You can serve this in peices with butter, salt, and pepper as a yummy side if you want...but it gets better.

Scoop as much of the orange yummy-ness out into a blender or food processor (I recently "borrowed" my Mom's old Cuisinart from my Dad's house...this may be a permanent kind of borrow, unless they ask for it back, I LOVE this thing). Blend or mix until it is as very smooth as you can possibly get it. It looks something like this.

Now, with this mixture you could make one of my other yummy Butternut squash recipes: soup. Sautee some diced onions and garlic, add with some (1 can-ish) chicken broth to the squash during puree, put back in a pot on the stove, mix in some milk or cream until the right consitency for you, add some fresh grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Viola, Butternut squash soup. This is a favorite of mine, I'm not a fan of tomato soup, so this with grilled cheese is my idea of comfort food ;-)

The instructions I was reading said to strain the pureed pumkin, and since I have a metal strainer I decided I would go ahead and do this step. I'm not sure how essential this step is with butternut squash. It might have been a little smoother, and it did catch one little peice of unpureed squash, but I might try skipping this step next time. Here's what my puree looked like:

This was about 4 cups of squash puree from a decent size (not the biggest we have) squash. The pie recipe I had called for 3 cups of puree, so I stuck the extra in a baggie in the freezer ("pumpkin" muffins anyone?). I then made a crust (from scratch, big pat on the back, decided to try this in my processor too, and it worked like a charm, SUPER yummy too). Added 1 1/2 cans of evaporated milk, 2 cups sugar, 4 eggs, and all the usual spices, baked for an hour and viola, PIE!!!!

We tried it that night, while it was still slightly warm with some ice-cream and it was really good, but not quite the same as my idea of pumpkin pie. We had it last night after chilling with whipped cream and it was AMAZING, the best "pumpkin" pie I've had! Here's where I found recipes and such.

So, my kids got their jack-o-lanterns and I got my pie and everyone was happy. It is official, butternut is my favorite squash. I've always liked it as a side, just sweet and smooth enough to be yummy, then I discovered soup, and most recently I've had Butternut Squash Ravioli which was impressively good, and now PIE, it doesn't get any better in my mind. Now, I think I need another peice, just to make sure it's as good as I remember ;-)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Duct Tape Style Coupon Organizer

My friend Michelle is doing a blog series on saving money, couponing, and other sorts of fun things that us monetary challenged frugal Moms do for our families financially. On that note, I offered to do a few posts on this topic, and the first thing she asked for was a picture of my coupon holder...not really cause it's the do-all-end-all coupon holder, but more because I MADE IT and because its a nice simple one. So, I decided to go above and beyond and post more info on how I made it. First, here it is

 Now, I decided to make this for myself real quick one day during nap time, so instead of thinking ahead and taking pics along the way for a tutorial, I was simply focused on finished before all heck broke loose my kids got up. So, this isn't a step by step picture kind of thing, but more of an overview:

Here is what I used:

~ 2 Mac and cheese boxes- you can any similar sized box, or a cereal box if you want a larger organizer
~ Fun Duct Tape (I found houndstooth, LOVE IT, and bought at a craft store....with a coupon of course!) This was actually the only item I had to buy for this project, everything else I happened to have at home
~ Clear Packing Tape
~ Scissors (yes, for cutting)
~ Envelopes (I used 3 5/8inx6 1/2in size, you could use longer for a larger holder
~ Ribbon (not a necessity, but it made it prettier and easier to see the flap, I just raided old wrapping paper/craft supplies for a peice)
~  Sticky back velcro- This is just to hold your top flap closed. Again, I happen to be a craft nerd, so I have some but you can find little packages of this about anywear, very handy.

Here is how I cut the first macaroni box- cut off the top and bottom flaps, then cut out one of the skinny side pannels. Voila, you have the folder section for the coupon holder.

The second box for the flap, I patterned this after my billfold, actually, cause I like it. Just cut one of the large sides of the box about 2/3 of the width, then cut triangles off the sides to make the angles.

Okay, assembly. Now to not leave you hangin I am putting up the Youtube tutorial I found for the idea. Notable differences are the size of the holder (I wanted mine to fit in my purse) and the decorative ribbon, and the flap I just stuck the ribbon to the holder and covered it with a strip of packaging tape (which is also used to attach the inner envelopes, as you can see in the video) across the top for protection. For the flap, I made a section for the "hinged" top area out of just duct tape so it would be more flexible, and then have the flap. So, I covered the box folder...then had a strip of plain duct tape...then attached the flap. Hope that makes some sort of sense after you see the video.

A couple things to remember:

~ My duct tape was just slightly see through in the white part, so I made the bright side of the box the inside.
~ Start by taping the inside of the holder and finish on the outside, this way the tape overlap will be on the inside of the holder.
~ These are just ideas, make it your own! And if you have a question for me, just ask :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mei Tai It Up! (a 'tutorial')

Oh Michelle will be so happy, I finally got my booty in gear and posted these instructions. Background: Bff is having second baby and is a skinny minny on the slim side so Baby Bjorn style carriers just weren't cutting it for her (as they don't for most women in comparison to a better carrier I'm finding out, which is bologna for the $80-$100 price tags on those things!). So, she tells me about a carrier she is looking at, and I think (much to the pride of my frugal roots) "I wonder if I could make that". A quick internet search reveals that, yes, someone smarter than I has already laid the foundation of instructions and I figure I can alter the design slightly to be more like the carrier my friend would like. Oh, and did I mention I had a 4-ish month old and figured I'd make one for me as "practice"...I know, sacrifice. Anyways, here's what I did, with some pictures, in case any of you would like to design and make your own versatile kangaroo pouch.

I took inspiration from another blog online and these instructions combine the techniques:

From Strap fabric (the brown twill in the pic): “2.5 yards of strap fabric. When choosing your strap fabric - it is important to select a bottom-weight fabric like canvas, denim or twill with a minimum weight of 7 oz. Actually, 10 oz. is better. Baby cord is not strong enough for a baby carrier. NOTE: There has been a lot of recent discussion about the suitability of corduroy for mei tai straps. Cord is a compromised fabric because the pile inside the wales has been cut, thus weakening it. If you do intend to use cord for your mei tai, I can not stress enough how important it is to make sure that the cord is strong. Hold it up to the light before sewing with it. If you can see light through the fabric, it probably isn't strong enough. Cord carriers have ripped in several instances because the fabric used was not strong enough to support the weight of a baby. Please exercise utmost caution when using cord. For what it's worth, I now only make mei tais with heavy canvas (8-10 oz) or twill. In addition to being safer choices, sturdy, strong fabrics also offer the most support and comfort.”
Other fabric:
¾ yard outer design fabric. (Flower patterned cotton in the pic)
¾ yard lining fabric. (Pink Minky in the pic) Minky or Fleece works well and is snuggly soft, a friend of mine also used another design fabric and made it “reversible” (it will look a little different on the other side because of the way it is put together, but it works the same)

An 18" square of heavy canvas. (Cream colored piece you can just see under the designed fabric in the pic)
Some fleece or cotton batting for padding the waist and shoulder straps. (I used polar fleece, easy to work with and was cheap on sale/with coupon) This is where I cannot remember exactly how much you will need. You will need 2- 12x20 inch squares, 1- 12x17inch square, and another 2-4 layers for the padded upper piece. I think a yard is plenty, but check my math.
Thread: I used button/craft thread for sewing the straps on the canvas to make sure it is secure, but heads up, some sewing machines have a hard time sewing with this thread so check your manufacturer’s instructions for information. If it says it will be difficult to sew denim, it may be difficult to sew the canvas with this thread.
Coordinating, high-quality thread like Gutermann for the rest of the project.
Make sure you wash and press all of your fabric before beginning (I even washed the canvas and air dried to make sure I could wash and air dry the Mei Tai when it was finished).
I can tell you that I found twill on sale (40 or 50%) off, and spent about $45 total. You could get cheaper even if you really focused on shopping with coupons and for go the fancier fabric. It is well worth this price, to me, though as these carriers sell for $100 and up.

Step One- Straps:
Finished straps will be 4" wide by 74”-84" long, so measure 9" across the short end of your strap fabric (will give you a 1/2" seam allowance) and measure the length of your choice + 4” on the long end (add another 4” to the finished length for canvas attachment)
“Note: 84” are really long straps. You might want to make them up to 10" shorter. I like to tie Tibetan in a back carry, so I make them longer for me. If you decide to make the shoulder straps shorter, make sure you keep the waist strap around 80-84".”
If you desire, cut the straps at an angle on one end if you prefer a taper.

Next, sew the shoulder straps: with right sides together, stitch the straps from the point of the taper to the end. Turn right side out and press.
For the padding - I used a layer of polar fleece - cut 12"x20" Then, fold the long ends to meet in the center and then fold that in half (so raw ends are tucked inside). I always make a little tack stitch on the ends and the center so it stays together while I'm stuffing it into the straps.

Now, to stuff the straps- Fold the top 8-10 inches of the strap down like you're turning down the cuff of socks. Stuff one end of the batting inside and pull the strap material up over the batting. Use kitchen tongs or a yardstick to help in keeping it flat and even. Stuff it far enough inside so that you have at least four inches of strap material left at the top. (Yes, this takes a little effort to get done) Stitch three equally-spaced lines down the length of the padding in the straps. (I did the two outer lines first and then finished with the middle line to make it easier to get the spacing even)

Step Two- Cut Body and Attach Straps:

For the body of the Mei Tai, you'll need to cute the pattern from: one layer of your decorator fabric, one layer of the liner or reverse (minky, fleece, or another decorator fabric if you want it to be reversible to that), and one layer of heavy canvas for the inside.
Here is a pic of the pattern the blog had and here are her instructions: This pattern is “Cut on the FOLD. The body is 8" wide at the middle, 18" tall. The flat part at the top is 5" and the part where the shoulder straps attach is also 5". You may choose to make your pattern a few inches taller if you have an older baby. This pattern will yield a MT approximately 17"-17.5" tall.”

So, you can draw out and make your own pattern.
Now, my husband has this wonderful program called AutoCAD for his work, with which he so nicely designed a pattern for me. I can send this pattern to you if you ask for it, in PDF form, but I will warn you that it is in 11x17 format (because we conveniently have a printer this size, again for his work). The seam allowance (dotted line) for this pattern is 3/8”. This pattern is really only for the shape of the top edge and for the padded upper piece (more on that later). So, what I did was to trace the top edge p ortion (the smaller shape on the pattern that looks like the contour on the pic above) onto the top of a piece of tissue paper and then measured 18” down from the middle, marked my bottom line, and then drew a straight line from the bottom of the curve edge to this bottom line, viola, I had a reproducible pattern. The long, straight side is ON THE FOLD. We’ll get to the top piece later. Here are the 3 body pieces cut out with the pattern.

Next you prep canvas and attach straps. First, fold down the 3/8" seam allowance on the canvas body panel where the shoulder straps will attach and press.

Then, pin the straps centered on the body. Tip: roll up the straps and secure with a rubber band to keep things neat while you're stitching.

Stitch around the straps with a square and an X in the center. This is where I used the heavy duty button/craft thread. I also doubled this line (so stitched twice total). This is all because this area is what will carry the weight of baby, and I wanted it to be very secure. If you sew the lines in this order:
Then you can do it all in one shot without having to cut thread and move the needle.

Step Four- Make and attach the Padded Upper:
I traced the pattern for the upper (the larger shape that looks like the pieces below) onto tissue paper. This is CUT ON THE FOLD. Then, cut two pieces of your strap fabric (coordinates so well!) and 2-4 pieces out of your fleece or batting (I forgot to take pics of these pieces, same shape though) depending on the thickness you want, thick is nice for this padding and helps it stay up well. It helps to cut the padding layers at least 3/8” smaller than the  outer fabric pieces so they fit inside easily.

With right sides together, sew the top edges of the outer fabric pieces together leaving the bottom edge open, turn right side out, and press with the bottom edge seam allowance folded under. Fit the fleece/batting inside this cover piece and trim if you need so this lays nice a flat. You may want to tack the fleece/batting pieces together before placing them all inside the cover. (Sorry, again I forgot a picture of this part).

Prep your outer design carrier fabric by pressing under the seam allowance at the shoulder. Now, place your outer design fabric face up and lay the padded upper piece on top of it, lining up the curved edges and pin in place (again, I forgot to take a picture of this step, but it will look something like this, just without the sewn lines and finished edges).

Now sew the along bottom edge of the padded upper, the first horizontal line of the padding, and the edge between these two lines all to the design fabric for the Mei Tai Body. I know this is a little confusing… you can see the line I sewed in this pic (from the backside- it’s easier to see, although I sewed with it facing up):

Step Five- Assemble Body Pieces:
Pin the outer design fabric (with the padded upper) facing down on top of the liner (i.e. right sides together). It helps to fold and pin the padded upper piece down on top of itself at the horizontal line you sewed previously, so it will be tucked inside the pieces pinned together. You want to make sure that the padded upper is OUT OF THE WAY of sewing during this part.

Stitch with a 3/8" seam allowance SKIPPING OVER the part where the shoulder straps are attached. Don't worry about stitching the bottom closed. This will be sandwiched in the waist strap anyway.
Turn inside out, pull the straps through, unfold the padded upper, and press. The front will look something like this:

Now, at those shoulder straps, where you've folded under the canvas and liner fabrics, you'll see you now have neat layers. Fold the decorator fabric under and pin through the straps and all layers.

Topstitch around the entire body of the carrier, except the bottom, very close to the edge. You will be sewing through the padded upper in this stage. You can simply sew the edge and next horizontal line through the padding at the top edge of the Mei Tai body. Then, you can go ahead and stitch one more horizontal line through the padding to finish it. I’ve brightened up one of the pictures to show these lines a little better.

It can be tricky to catch all the layers while stitching around the padded upper, so take your time. I’ve also had to go back and sew another line at the places where the shoulder straps attach to catch all the layers and folds, and it looks fine when it’s all finished.  

This topstitching will close all the holes and give the carrier a nice, finished look.

Step Six- Waist Strap:
Take the last strap and cut a taper on both ends if desired. Stitch right sides together, leaving an 18" hole in the center. Turn right side out and press. (I went ahead and did this when I made the first two straps)
Measure a 12"x17" piece of polar fleece, fold it like you did for the shoulder straps, insert the bottom few inches of the body of the carrier inside the padding. Here’s a pic of a different Mei Tai with the polar fleece folded around the bottom:

Sandwich the fleece and the bottom of the Mei Tai body inside the hole in the waist strap, turn the raw ends of the strap under, and pin.

Top stitch to close the opening and then stitch horizontal lines through the padding for security and comfort.

Finished! Here’s a couple that I have made so far:

Step Seven- Wear Baby and Enjoy!:

I have found this too be a comfortable and EXTREMELY versatile carrier. I've used it for front carries, hip carries, and back carries (even hiking in Yellowstone). I've also carried my older daughter (when she was almost 3) in it through Costco when she had fallen asleep in the car and wouldn't easily wake up. Here is a site that has some directions for some carries in this type of carrier:

 Make sure you learn how to tie the Mei Tai safely and effectively, you are carrying precious cargo!