The Best Laid Plans...

Oh, what grand schemes were schemed at the end of 2021. Twelve blog posts, twelve big things to focus on, twelve ways to improve myself, our house, and our bank account in 2022. The only thing I can say at the quarter point of the year is that I have managed to write at least one blog post each month, and that's something, right? If you saw my post from March, then you know life threw some curveballs our way, and my pantry isn't cleaned out or organized. In fact, if anything, it has gotten worse and more overwhelming. And while we've had some good news in April, it has also been a month of stuggles, with one child in particular, and weekends spent cleaning at my parent's house while my mom continued to recover from her fall and resulting fracture. 

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. {Psalm 46:1}

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

Sometimes the view of the road ahead is clear, and other times you can't see around the next bend. At times you are steering in the dark, and then suddenly a ray of light will issue forth and provide some much-needed guidance for the journey. I think the image above pretty much sums up my life at this stage - can't see what's coming next, mostly dark, but with the occasional God rays to remind me that He's still the author of the journey. 

In my "best laid plans" I intended to read 12 books this month. With all that is going on, there are many nights I don't even get to read to the kids anymore, so reading 12 books, whether for myself or to others, seems like a dream at the moment. But since I still want to aim for something - because in the midst of the craziness, I still feel the need for some normalcy and goal setting - I'm revising the April goal to reading 12 minutes a day

Are you in a season of life when finding 12 minutes in a day to do something like read for pleasure feels like a luxuary? Let me tell you, you are not alone my friend. If the last three-and-a-half months have taught me anything, it has been the importance of making time to be still with the Lord - not running around trying to purge 12 things (even though that's a nice stress relief too) or read 12 books or spend 12 minutes cleaning out a pantry bin. I don't have time for any of those things, if I'm being honest. Between parenting five kids and working a few hours each week and juggling homeschooling and field trips and aging parents...the hours in my day are rapidly dwindling. 

At the end of the day, sandwiched between bedtime routines of the youngest and oldest, there is just a smidgen of time to "be still" and listen for the Lord to speak. But He does. He always does. And I'm always thankful for those stolen moments, and look forward to the day when they aren't quite so stolen. Maybe you are too.

“Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted over the earth.” {Psalm 46:10}

Hang in there, Mamas...or daughters, sisters, friends...this too, shall pass, but the Word of the Lord will remain forever. Whatever else you do this month, make sure you're making time for the most important of all.  


Surviving the Flood

When my phone rang at 11:45 PM on December 31st, I knew it wasn't a good sign before I ever answered it. Twenty twenty-two came in with a bang, and it often feels like it's taken up the challenge of 2020 and upped the ante. 

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

In February I found myself nursing a bruised tailbone after taking a tumble while proving to my kids that at 40 I could still rollerskate (I earned both street cred and the right to take ibuprofen like they were candy for a while). While worth it to receive their unchecked admiration, my coccyx did not rebound like it did when I was eight.

When I rolled over in our Florida hotel room bed a little over a week ago in the wee hours of the morning and saw multiple missed calls and then started reading the text messages, my heart sank as I realized we were not only right back where we had been on December 31st, but in for a much bigger ride this time. Poking the Hubs and waking the kids in the middle of the night was just the start of the next 18+ hours of driving, praying, and wishing I could wake up and it would all be a really bad dream. 

When my phone rang again a week ago, just a couple of days after our rude awakening in Florida, I knew as soon as I heard my mother's voice that things were not good. And not good turned into a fall resulting in a fractured femoral neck (connecting to the hip), buying walkers, dealing with doctors, and becoming the self-appointed communicator with siblings, Church family, friends, and more. 

Today I posted a notarized letter to a juvenile court in central Florida because they won't talk to me on the phone or over the internet. In 2022, the only way to communicate is through a letter. Bureaucracy at its finest. And even though we haven't arrived there yet, April is already wearing me out with what might be on the horizon. 

So when a friend saw me this weekend and told me about this book I should read, it was all I could do to keep from laughing. Read?? I'm doing good to get through my text messages, much less adding one more book to my stack. Most nights in the last week I didn't fall into bed before one or two o'clock in the morning. 

I am a counselor with no degree, a pastor with no formal training, a medical aid without going to medical school. I am a housekeeper, a personal assistant, a communications expert, and - apparently - I am Google, because I cannot tell you the number of times someone has asked me for the answer to something they could have Googled...which I then proceed to do and then give them the answer. 

This is all in addition to the unpaid gigs of math tutor, science teacher, geography expert, and guidance counselor for the four kids I'm actively homeschooling. And the "normal" stuff that comes with being a mom of five, and a wife... chauffeur, cook, laundry manager, keeper of the schedule, planner of meals, an expert at selecting Amazon Prime next-day shipping for that thing the kid needs that I forgot until now... and a self-employed writer, editor, and proofreader on top of that, just to keep things from becoming boring. And if all of that were not enough, the Hubs is about to leave his job of 20 years to work for himself, and all the changes that come with that transition. Plus, it's tax season. Because...why not?

Everyone needs something...and reading a book that you think might be "helpful" to me is not at all helpful...unless it comes with legs and arms and can drive a car and run errands and give worthwhile advice when one (or more) of my kids are in tears just when I'm ready to crawl under the covers for the day. 

And yet, I am surviving this deluge of busyness, this tsunami of trials. People have asked how I'm holding up...and my answer remains the same: God is sustaining. He always has and He always does. 

One day last week, as I was driving from my parent's house to the pharmacy (with a stop at the medical equipment store), I, the stoic INTJ, burst into tears. It was all just too much. And as I sobbed and snotted all over the steering wheel, I heard God say, "When you are weak, I am strong. Rejoice in your weakness so that My power may rest on you." Being the obedient daughter that I am, I immediately said (out loud), "REJOICE?? FATHER, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO REJOICE IN THIS?!?!" And again I heard, "In your weakness, my strength is shown. My power is made perfect in weakness." The tears dried up as I meditated on these truths, and then I pressed on, in my weakness, and in His strength. 

When long nights followed long days, He was there. When the clock ticked slowly past the midnight hour, and my brain had long since shut off, He gave wisdom. And best of all, this gift is not just mine alone - it is available to you, to all of us who believe in Him, who choose to trust Him, who take one step in faith and keep walking. 

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {Matthew 11:28-29}

The floods will keep coming. The waves will crash and the stormy gales will continue to blow, but, in the words of the song by Andrae Crouch, through it all, through it all...I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in God. I've learned to depend upon His Word. 

Happy March. I didn't organize my pantry (per my list of 12 for this year), but I learned a lot more about leaning into the Lord and taking what comes a day at a time. Whatever happens in April, may I still be found, in my weakness, resting in His power. See you next month...Lord willing! 


February: Let's Talk Money

When I originally decided to focus on 12 things this year (one per month), it made sense to me to make one month all about the money. I knew we had some big expenses coming up (some home improvements we'd been putting off for years that could no longer be put off, a possible family vacation, college for our eldest, on top of a huge job transition), and after focusing on the cleanout in January, it was time to spend some time focusing on how to curb the outflow of cash. Here's the short version...
  1. Save a Penny. I finally took our jar of coins to the local CoinStar machine and came home with an $83 gift card to Lowe's that we could use to purchase supplies for the home project.
  2. Holly Jolly Savings. I transferred the equivalent of saving $12/day for 28 days from our checking to our Christmas savings fund.
  3. Trade it Out. I took a stack of books and movies we no longer read or watched to our local used book store and came out with a bag of replacement books for free, plus credit to put towards a future purchase.
  4. Curb the Coffee. It's been 21 days since I last stopped at Starbucks, and there have definitely been days this month when nothing sounded better than a warm decaf caramel macchiato, but I've stayed strong!

When I decided to focus on ways to save for the second month of 2022, I wasn't sure what all this was going to entail, other than a general idea to set aside $12 a day into savings. But as the month progressed, new ideas came to mind and I started to think outside the saving box and get a little creative in our ways to save.

Let's talk about Save a Penny. I've kept a jar on my desk for years now, into which we dropped our change after using cash to pay for something. Although I use change to pay for things, I seem to be the only one in my family who likes using coins, so this has been adding up. As I was focusing on cleaning off my desk in January, I was reminded of the jar and decided that it was time to do something with it. My original plan was to take it to the bank for a straight cash exchange, but on the way there I decided to stop by the grocery and check out the CoinStar options. I was sorely tempted to change it all over to a Starbucks gift card, but since I was supposed to be giving up pricey coffees this month, and as we were at the beginning of starting a couple of large home improvement projects, I "sacrificed" and went for the no-fee Lowe's gift card instead. The Hubs was happy with the outcome, and the jar is on its way back to filling up again for the next time.

Although my original idea did include transferring money from our checking to savings all month long, when I went to make the first week's transfer, I realized I needed to decide if it would go in our general savings or our Christmas fund. It only took about half a second to opt for the Holly Jolly Savings route instead. I'm always a sucker for gifts, especially with the kids, but this last Christmas (and the ensuing purge of the house) made me realize I want to be more intentional this year, and that not only includes what I give but how much I spend. Much like the ongoing purge of the house, even after the official month ended, don't be surprised if I continue to intentionally add to this pot throughout the year.

When it comes to books and DVDs, I am a fan of saving through buying used. This is nothing new, nor are my treks to the local used book shop. However, I had gotten out of the habit during COVID (buying more through Amazon), and it was only as I was cleaning out last month that I realized I had a rather large stack that I should take in and see about Trading it Out. Although they have become decidedly picky (apparently I'm not the only one purging!), I was still able to trade several books and DVDs for other books and movies that had been on my list. And what they didn't take went straight to Goodwill, along with the rest of the donations.

And finally, as of the posting of this article, it's been 21 days since I last pulled into the drive-thru of my favorite coffee spot. And it's been a doozy of a month, with more sickness, stress, and time spent sitting in my car, waiting on kids, which are exactly the types of days when I feel that I "deserve" warmth and cheer in a Venti cup. However, Curbing the Coffee has not only helped nix the $5 and $10 trips but it's also helped me get a jump start on my summer goals of losing 12 lbs (4 lbs. a month) because even the "skinny" drinks are calories I don't need. I'm trying to view this as a win-win, but honestly, this has been the hardest thing to give up this month.

*   *   *   *

So here we are, month two. Blog post #3 of the year. My car is currently packed with another load to drop off at Goodwill, and my bank account is seeing both incoming and outgoing income, which some days wants to drive me to drink (coffee, people, COFFEE!), but overall I am thankful for the lessons that I've had the opportunity to learn and work on so far in 2022. How about you?


Moving On...

If you ask me how many items left our house during the past 31 days, I am afraid I cannot tell you a set number. If you ask me if it was more than 12 items a day - per the original plan - I would say without a doubt, yes. And if you're wondering if I have noticed a massive dent in the amount of stuff floating around our 2,000 sq. ft house, the answer would be, sadly, no. Oh sure, I might notice a slight difference in our closet or bedroom, where piles were purged and items relocated to their appropriate places, but what the last month showed me was that we not only have a lot of stuff, we are drowning in it and didn't even realize it. So was January's purge a success? Yes, in that it opened my eyes to the fact that this is only the beginning.  

As we walk into the second month of 2022, the goal (of 12) that was set for February was to move $12 a day into our savings account by cutting out Starbucks stops and other fluff expenditures. The timing of this is quite good as we just received word that the contractors are finally coming to replace our leaky roof. The bill for that will be painful enough (and probably make me want to flee to Starbucks for a little pain relief!), but it's also a good time to put a little back into the pot, even as we take out a chunk to handle this home repair. 

Like everything else in this life, it's all about choices. So even as I choose saving over a skinny decaf caramel macchiato, I must also choose the great over the good. As I did a final sweep through my closet this week, I pulled out several really good pieces. These are items that are in nice shape, that I paid good money for, that still fit my style (even if the size no longer fits), but that I know I either haven't worn in the last season (or two or three) or won't wear, because when I do I am constantly tugging or pulling or tucking because it's too short/long/small. They are good, but they are not great. 

At 40, I've decided that life is too short for good. 

So making the choice to choose great over good, to choose comfort over discomfort, to choose a healthier savings account over a month of mochas, feels less like a sacrifice and more like the smart thing to do. Maybe it comes with age or experience, or perhaps it's just more carryover from the last two years, a reminder of what's important and what's not. Whatever the case, the lessons of the last month have been good ones, and I'm looking forward to continuing "the purge," even it if comes without an overpriced beverage in hand. 

Here's to continued learning, simpler living, and money to pay the bills! Welcome, February.


January (Book Talk and Whole House Purge Update)

Here we are - the first month of 2022! And...it's the first post of the 12 (minimum) I've committed to writing this year. If you're short on time or there is too much, here's the "let me sum up" version:

BOOKS: Last year my one goal was to clean off/read through "The Stack" on my nightstand, but, despite reading 72 books in 2021, only a sliver of them came from The Stack, while the rest were re-reads, read aloud to the kids, or Kindle ebooks. I give myself grace with that though, and it just means that I will continue to give updates from The Stack this year as I work towards my 2022 Goodreads goal of 75 books! So far I've read (or re-read) A New Song (5 Stars), Mary Poppins in the Park (4 Stars), The Four-Story Mistake (4 Stars), and A Common Life: The Wedding Story (4.5 stars)...none of which came from The Stack. 😉

PURGE: If you've been following the Facebook page, then you've seen or read about our first two weeks of donation hauls heading out. I'm definitely meeting (and exceeding) my goal of 12 items a day. So far the most surprising purge has been the day I wore some Supergas that I just loved (so cute) and had worn for four years or so, but with recent back and foot pain (hello 40!), the heels of my feet were killing me by the end of the day, and so I came in, took them off, and put them straight into the donation bag. I am past the point in my life where I will sacrifice for cute shoes - especially when they're tennis shoes that are supposed to be comfortable. 

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

And now, for the "too much" version! Hello to those of you who want the full scoop on the purge. Let's dive right in! 

First off, can I just say that I cannot believe we are already halfway through the first month of 2022?? That's incredible to me. It also means that I need to get my rear in gear to get everyone through the second half of this school year, which means more lesson planning, more book reports, and more moments of panic when I realize how much remains. That being said, while the year was off to a challenging start, literally from minute #1 (long story, don't ask), it's also been a productive two weeks when it comes to the whole house purge.

I stopped counting how many items I was donating shortly after going through a kitchen cabinet early on and coming up with 75 items in one swipe. Needless to say, our home is just (embarrassingly) overly stuffed, and I'm tired of being overwhelmed by it. The plan was to work room by room, with an occasional pass through a cabinet or drawer if I happen to be there anyway, so I've pretty much been stuck in our bedroom for most of the month. And yes, I know it might be shocking to think that I could spend so much time in one room, but with seven people (five of them under the age of 17) in a 2,000 sq. ft. house, our bedroom (along with the laundry room) tends to become the catch-all for all the things that have no home, like medication for a hamster and broken doorstops. 

Some of the tips, tricks, and questions I've been using this time through include:
  • Touch it once. If I'm walking out of the room and I see something that has been sitting there for ages, do something with it - take it where it needs to go, throw it away, file it, or stick it in the donation bag. 
  • Give honest answers. I'm routinely asking myself now: 
    • Do I use/wear it?
    • When was the last time I used/wore it?
    • If I didn't have it, would I miss it?
    • Do I need it or just like it?
    • If I like it, would I miss it if it were gone?
  • Go with your gut. If I look at something and think, "that should go," don't second guess myself. I'm probably being more honest than if I took a lot of time to decide.
  • Using black bags. This is something I heard the Minimal Mom say, and it makes sense. If you use black trashbags, you can't see what's inside...once it's entered the portal, it's gone. This worked really well for the kids.
  • Donate quickly. I used to keep piles of donations in the basement or by the backdoor, like purgatory, just waiting to be donated. Instead, they just languished there for months (or sometimes years), collecting dust. This time, as soon as a bag or box is full, I put it in the back of my car. When the back is full (or once a week, whichever comes first), I drive to Goodwill and drop it off, which leaves little time for second guessing a donation.
If you're wondering what kind of things I'm ridding myself of, it's everything from pajamas I haven't worn in years (and probably never will again) to socks that I was keeping because the color is hard to find now (but I never wear, because the pants they matched no longer fit!). It's cute plates for various holidays that I've held onto so we could use them with the kids, only to realize that my life is too busy for cute plates and we use paper plates for the holidays. And Easter decorations, when I realized I don't like celebrating Easter with eggs and bunnies, because it means far more to me than that. It's movies I no longer find appropriate (or find time to watch), books I'll never read again, and returns I never got around to making. In short, nothing is safe. 

I'm happy with the progress, and, in full disclosure, don't expect the cleanout to be done by January 31st, but that's okay. The 12 in 22 Project, specifically the 12 items a day during this month, was the kick in the pants I needed to be a little more honest with myself, a little harder on the kids to purge, and a little less attached to the stuff that has been slowing taking over our home. And it feels good.

2022 started with a bang, and it feels like life has continued to throw one thing after another at us in the first 14 days of this year. From teenage drama to late night visits to not one, but two urgent care centers with two different family members - I told you it was crazy - having this steadiness of cleaning out has been therapeutic in many ways. I can't control much in this life (really nothing at all), but I can put things in a bag and make them go away, and some days that's just enough. 

What are you learning in 2022?


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