Friday, July 31, 2009

Front Porch Friday: A Cheerful Mind Works Healing

I want to take a moment to say thanks again to everyone who sent me encouraging notes or called over the past week. Today I am in a much better place. It is amazing what a little time, caring friends, work to keep your hands busy, and one cute little girl can do to heal a broken heart! (And a good talk from an awesome pediatrician!) Here is a cute and adorable picture of my precious little angel who has made her mommy smile all week!

Jessica once again all dressed up with no place to go! (Complete with Mrs. Potato Head earrings!)

Next week I hope to be able to share more of our latest projects!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mourning Our Loss

You may have noticed that I have not posted much in the last couple weeks. Our family has been on a bit of a roller coaster for the past few weeks. Three weeks ago we found out I was pregnant. We were very excited about welcoming a new little life into our family. Two weeks ago I started going to the doctor because we were concerned about all of the spotting I was having. After a couple visits and several days on bed rest, we were relieved to discover that is normal for my body, partly because I carry so low. Unfortunately, this past weekend I got a stomach bug, and this morning I lost the baby. We were about 6 weeks along and are understandably disappointed. David came home from work and took me to the doctor. The doctor believes my body will be able to take care of everything on its own and that if we like, we will be able to try again soon. As disappointed as I am, I must say I have several things I am particularly thankful for. I have mentioned on a previous Front Porch Friday that my parents emphasized being thankful for what you have so you don't get so hung up on what you don't have. Today especially I need to be reminded of that lesson, so I am going to list some of the things I am particularly thankful for today.

1. I am thankful for my husband, David. We have had many stressful events to deal with over the past two years, and I can honestly say that I would rather relive that two years with him than not go through any of it at all. I have relied on his strength and calm more times than I can count.

2. I am thankful for my precious baby girl, Jessica. She is a sweet, well-behaved, and happy child with lots of energy! She gives me something to smile about every day, and I am looking forward to being able to spend more of my energy on her over the next several weeks as she had to take a backseat the last several weeks.

3. I am thankful that I still have all of my "support network" intact. I saw a man as I was going into the hospital today sitting on a bench at the duck pond with his head in his hands. He had a stroller with a baby in it to his right and a toddler running around behind him. I don't know what was wrong, but I know he was hurting. I can only assume that he lost a part of his "support network" today.

4. I am thankful that my baby did not have to suffer and consequently our family. I read a lot of blogs related to cloth diapering, baby wearing, crafting, etc., and one of them, MckMama has been watching her poor 9 month old at death's door all weekend because he was born with a heart defect.

5. I am thankful for friends who have had the same experience to give me "big sisters" to look at and say "See they came through it just fine and so will you."

6. I am thankful for yet another life experience and hope. I am one of those people who likes to ask the "big questions." How did we get here? Why are we here? We can never answer all of the questions completely, but each life experience teaches us more about those questions and helps us better understand the Creator.

Finally I am closing with two hymns that have meant a lot to me.

When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say
It is well. It is well with my soul.

That song was written by a man when he was sailing over the same spot where his children had been lost at sea due to a terrible storm. I have often wondered if I could have written those same words under such trying circumstances.

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

That is a song my mother used to sing to us when we were little. There have been many challenging situations that have come up over the past two years. Each time I thought, I can't make it, and each time when I looked back, I realized just how much God had blessed us despite adverse situations because we were able to experience more of him.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

10 Things that Cut Costs

With the economy on everyone's mind, many people are searching for yet one more way to cut household expenses. These are 10 things we have done to cut costs over the years at our house. Feel free to post any ways you have been able to cut costs around your house.

1. Cut out Cable TV
2. Use cloth diapers
3. Grocery shop once a month (saves on gas and fewer impulse buys)
4. Learn to cook using cheap cuts of meat
5. Ration expensive foods like milk and meat but so you still meet your dietary needs
6. Use homemade wipes
7. Do repairs yourself
8. Don't go shopping unless you really need something and only with a list
9. Stay home
10. Limit expenses to: food, shelter, electricity, gas, maintenance, insurance, and phone/internet (personal preference)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Front Porch Friday: Money, Money, Money!

I thought this Front Porch Friday I might reflect back on the experiences in my life that have shaped the way I view and manage money. I have given this topic more thought recently as David and I have discussed what and how we will teach our children about money, particularly considering the current state of the economy.

I was born at a time when my parents did not have a lot of money. There were points where my mother says we were almost eligible for food stamps, which I have heard it was a little harder to qualify for food stamps at that time. My mother could make a pound of ground beef last five meals! She and her grandmother made a lot of me and my sister's clothes. As a child, I remember going out to eat was really something special, and buying brand new store bought clothes was a real occasion! I also learned that no matter how little you have, there is always someone else who has less than you that you could share what you have with. I remember one night picking out some of our toys with my sister to give to a man we had met at church so his children would get something for Christmas. Another thing I have noticed when looking back is that we were truly happy. We learned to be happy and thankful for what we had and not worry about the stuff we didn't have.

Over the early years of my childhood, my parents had more children (I have 4 siblings.), and our financial situation also slowly improved. However, our lifestyle only improved marginally. My parents had several goals such as educating their children in a Christian environment, and in order to achieve those goals, it meant continuing to live a somewhat frugal lifestyle. During much of my childhood I thought we were poor because the other kids at school received video games and other expensive toys for Christmas. My mother finally explained to me that we were not poor but that they chose to give us a lot of brothers and sisters instead. It was at that moment that I realized that you will never have enough money to buy everything you want and that it comes down to choosing the things that are most important to you and being happy with what you have. I think I received the better gift (my siblings) in comparison to many of my classmates who received nice clothes and toys every year.

As I became an adult, my parents situation continued to improve, and my youngest siblings have not been raised with quite as much emphasis on frugality. I have come to realize that my parents taught me three great lessons: 1) How to make the most of what you have 2) How to be happy with what you have and 3) I learned to be comfortable rubbing shoulders with people from a variety of financial backgrounds. All of these lessons have proved to be exceptionally useful in my adult life.

The first year my husband and I were married we made a collective income of $11,000 for the year! We chose not to seek any government assistance because my husband is a pull yourself up by your own boot straps sort of person. He felt that if we chose to get married even though we knew we would have a hard time financially the first year that we should suffer the consequences of that decision. I have to say it makes me feel good to look back at that year because I know now that no matter what happens we can make it. I do think that year was easier for me because of the lessons I had learned about money as a child. I also believe that very few of our friends were aware of just how little we made that first year because we were able to make the most of what we had.

Today we make significantly more than $11,000 a year, but we still choose to live frugally because of the goals we have: paying off student loans, paying off mortgages, and me staying home with our children. We also hope that our children will grow up learning some of the same lessons I learned growing up by watching the choices we make concerning our money and listening to our prayers. I have concluded that one of the great benefits of prayer is the time of reflection on all of the things you have been blessed with. If we don't have a time where we reflect on all that we have, we will get caught up in all that we want but don't have. I will leave you with a song my mother used to sing to us as children:

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Our Rope Bed - Part 2

Last year, David and I decided to build ourselves a rope bed as a more economical option to buying a new mattress, frame, sheets, etc. See Our Rope Bed - Part 1
for the details. We have just completed phase two: the mattress, down feather topper, and sheets.

This is the frame David built during Part 1. Total cost of materials was $150, and it should last a lifetime.

We started making the mattress with one layer of polyester batting and 10 layers of cotton batting.

Next we took the cotton batting and foam out of the old full sized futon mattress my mother gave us and layered it on top. We also took some of my polyester fiberfill and fabric scraps to add to the mix.

Then we put another layer of the polyester batting on top. The polyester batting came from my mother-in-law. It was leftover from some school projects.

Lastly we placed 10 more layers of cotton batting on top of all the other layers. The cotton batting I bought online 50% off for $150.

This is a side view of the layers. You will notice that the cotton batting from the old mattress is not compressed like the new batting I bought. It seems to make for a bit firmer mattress. I think it will last longer with the addition of the compressed batting.

Then we stuffed it into a pillowcase like mattress cover.

I chose to safety pin the opening closed so that I could open it later and add more fabric scraps as they are available. I was going to make stitches in the mattress to hold it all together, but the needles I bought bent when I tried. Thankfully it does not seem to be necessary. If I were to go back and make the mattress again, the only thing I would change would be to safety pin the top and bottom layers of batting together to help old the structure a little better and to safety pin at least two sides closed so it would be easier to get access to the entire inside of the mattress. However, it seems to work just fine as is!

I tried to sew the old full sized feather topper and my sister's old twin feather topper together, but it proved too much for my sewing machine so I just stapled it together. (My sister gave us the old twin feather topper that she no longer uses.) The feather topper really makes a poly/cotton/foam futon mattress much more comfortable.

The stapling seemed to work out just fine! Below are the sheets I made on the final product. I spent a total of $100 on fabric for the sheets and the mattress. I ordered it from an online wholesale fabric store that specialized in wide fabrics so I would not have a seam down the middle of the sheets.

And there you have it! Our California King Sized Rope Bed with new mattress and sheets for a total investment of about $400!

We have already started working on Part 3: the quilt and down comforter for winter. When we got married, we sent out quilt squares with the wedding invitations for people to decorate and bring to the wedding. I am really enjoying going through all of them and putting them together! I will post pictures once I am finished. We are also still planning to had a headboard and a footboard, but that will probably have to wait until next year. There are too many other projects to work on right now!

Making a House a Home: Kiddie Room

At last the long awaited second post in our Making a House a Home series! The room featured this time is the Kiddie Room! Overall, we estimate that we spent a total of $50 on this room. These are pictures of the room before we moved in.

Once we bought the house, I immediately started figuring out where we were going to put the furniture. We decided to put the furniture that had been in my husband's room as a child in the Kiddie Room. Once my mom found out we were pregnant, she gave us the rocking chair that she had used to rock me and a used crib. The next thing I started thinking about was what other items I wanted to go in the Kiddie Room. I had a Noah's Ark collection as a child that I decided would be the perfect addition to this room, especially since it was gender neutral, and I do not plan on redoing this room for a very long time!

The first thing we did upon moving in was repaint the room. The previous paint job was very sloppy, and I like to use variants of the primary colors in my house because just about every color will go with them! We chose a light blue because it is gender neutral and would hopefully enlarge the room. We also decided to put up crown molding as it is hard to avoid painting the ceiling when you have a popcorn celing! David did a very nice job on that! We also decided to put up a border. I had a hard time finding a Noah's Ark border that did not look inappropriate for a boy or small child, but I finally found a vibrant looking border at Lowe's!

Now it was time to start getting the room ready for the arrival of our precious little bundle! We were given everything and more that we would need for the baby. As it turns out, we did not buy a single thing except for a few posters for her room. My mom bought us fabric for a curtain, crib bedding, and a dust ruffle for the bunk bed. (I plan to put a toddler trundle under there eventually so that the room could accommodate a maximum of 4 small children. It would also leave a little spare room under the bed for storage!) Going along with our Noah's Ark theme, I decided to decorate her crib bumper with Hebrew letters. (Infants can only see high contrast when they are born, and I thought she might enjoy looking at the letters.) I also framed our names in Hebrew and English with the meaning. The posters I selected also had Hebrew on them. (My husband is a quarter Jewish, and I am a big fan of teaching children about family history.) And now for a brief tour around the room of the wall hangings!

Finally, we were down to the finishing touches. My dad wrote Jessica's name on a white board for the door. I can use it now to remind myself of when she needs to take medicine, etc, and later she can use it to keep track of her own activities. We also took apart her ceiling fan and spray painted the brass parts. It turned out great and very economical!

I should also note that although this was not included in the price to redo the room, we have been replacing all of the blinds and door knobs in the house because the builder had selected very cheap ones that were not in great condition after being used by a family of 5 before us. However, even if you included those expenses, we only spent a total of $80 preparing a place in our new home for our first child! Not bad if you ask me! Amazing what you can do with a little fabric, paint, posters, effort, and creativity!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Frugal Computer Option

My husband recently gave our computers a much needed upgrade. For the most part I let him do whatever he wants as long as he is buying the parts at a good price and doing the work himself. However, one decision I was involved with was which operating system we would be using. Windows is pretty much the standard, but it is pretty expensive. Also with Windows Vista, Microsoft gave themselves the ability to "spy" on your computer. This can be a very useful feature; however, that does not jive very well with our self-sufficient mentality! After much discussion, it was decided that I would switch completely over to Linux.

Linux is what is called "Open Software." In other words, computer, math, and science geeks from around the world program software, and then make it available to everyone for free!! It looks very similar to Windows, and there are thousands of programs you can download for free to use on a Linux computer!! I have the basics: internet, calculator, word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, as well as a bunch of games! We just finished downloading a lot of educational games for children! The only down side is that since these games were all created by computer, math, and science geeks, there are lots of math and science games and very few English and foreign language games! I do have a few computer programs that are for use in Windows that I am hoping to use in Linux with a program called Wine. Supposedly, Wine translates programs created for Windows so that you can use them in Linux. We have not experimented with this yet so we are not sure how well it will work. However, I only have a couple programs that do not have a Linux equivalent so most of the time this is not a problem.

There is some troubleshooting involved, and there is no hotline to call for help. However, there are plenty of computer, science, and math geeks online posting information about how they fixed whatever problem they had. Linux appears to be a great option for us thus far. It is not for everyone, but definitely something worth looking into!