In the Spirit of Giving During the Holidays

I had no idea how blessed I was when Handsome entered my life. He brought out the best in me from the moment I met him. He loved and accepted my four daughters – 2 teens, 1 preteen and a toddler; he made sure broken things were fixed in my home (like when he replaced my dryer while we were still dating); he even got down on his knee and serenaded my mother at her work! What was not to love about this man!?

Over the years, more goodness has been revealed. I simply love his heart and how he desires to serve others and be a great provider. Good men are not made by some cosmic happenstance, rather they are built… by good parents… and good parents do not raise just one great child but all are usually pretty great kids. That is definitely true for my in-law family. I am thankful and tremendously blessed with a wonderful mother in law. My father in law is pretty special too but Mom really fills that mother in law void that I had. My two sisters and brother in law are also spectacular people that have accepted me from the very beginning nine years ago.

One of the greatest treasures about this family is their love of people and their desire to reach out and bless others. Although they have done this in many ways, one of my favorites is their Christmas giving spirit! That first Christmas I had with them while Handsome and I were engaged, they invited my girls to participate in their 3rd Annual Christmas Dinner Theater. They had all of their kids, 9 under the age of 9 at the time, put on a simple Christmas production in the living room while serving a spaghetti dinner to friends and family that attended. They took up a donation and blessed a local family in need with the proceeds.

It was simple. It was precious. It taught the children to do something to give to others.

The following year we realized that we had outgrown the humble living room and would need a larger area to serve and perform for the regular attendees so we used Mom’s church. Our numbers grew as a result and we continued to perform an annual Christmas Dinner Theater for seven more years. Every year we chose a different recipient of our proceeds and our humble performances allowed us to bless others with several thousand dollars over those years.

Two years ago, three of the four siblings moved away, each in different directions. We suddenly found the Christmas Dinner Theater a larger feat to accomplish. 2015 we held our 10th Annual and final event. It was magnificent. The attendees shared their sadness over our finality as they had watched the children literally grow up on the stage over the years.

This year, knowing that we would not be hosting the Christmas Dinner Theater, we needed to find another way to give back to others. It was not the performing that brought so much joy to us all (although it was a joy to perform) it was the ability to give to others.

We decided to find another way.

We all met at Mom’s/Grandma’s on Sunday night so that the kiddos (which are not so little anymore) could bake sugar cookies. The following morning we took those cookies and the supplies needed to decorate them to the local nursing home. We gathered together and sang a beautiful lineup of Christmas carols and the kids gathered around the residents and helped them decorate their cookies.

It’s another chapter for us as a family to continue to find ways to bless others during the Christmas season. Although it blesses others, we are the ones left with the greatest blessing. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this family and their desire to teach their children that Christmas is not about ourselves… its about the gift of Jesus… His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection as the greatest gift to us all. Our giving to others could not even begin to compare to His gift but it is a way to share His love for others through us.

How do you give to others during this season? We need ideas of other things we can do for the years to come.

Hardworking Kids

https://img.clipartfest.com/0c2d4ca175d2d427edb5a53556a1d6f3_education-family-chore-clipart-family-doing-household-chores-clipart_2000-2000.pngI have heard many debates over the years about kids doing chores. Should they be given chores? Should they not be given chores? Should they be paid? Should they be chores or just expectations?

Having raised kids for almost a quarter century, I have had strong opinions on this very subject and I have not swayed much over the years. I think there should be definite expectations for kids around the house – that are not chores. I think kids should have chores. I also think they should get some sort of compensation based on their age, the chore and the household finances.

I am not one to think that my way is the best way, it is just what works for us.

First off, I believe kids need expectations. When should that start? At about a year. A year!? Yes, a year. If a child is old enough to take a toy or book off of a shelf or out of a basket, then that child is old enough to put it away. If a child can undress herself, then she is old enough to put the dirty clothes in the laundry basket. My children had a lot of small expectations when they were very young. I taught them to pull their blankets up to “make the bed” in the morning and after naps. I expected them to bring their dirty dishes to the sink or counter once they were walking. They put their dirty clothes in the hamper and helped me put their clean clothes away. They are capable of many things at that age and still so eager to help.

Once they were a little older, around 2, I began to give them jobs. They could bring the bathroom garbage to the kitchen and dump it into the kitchen garbage can (with minimal help). They were able to feed the dog. They could even change the toilet paper roll.

As they grew, their chores grew. It was not until around age 5 that I actually gave the kids any sort of weekly chore expectations. At first they were simple chores and as they grew they began to take on bigger chores. Any time a new chore was given, it often felt that it was harder for me to give them the chore than it was to just do it myself. I realized that there was a definite learning curve with all of the individual jobs and it was important to endure the 1-2 weeks of teaching and monitoring the job being done before expecting it to be done right. There were many times that I just wanted to do the job myself or have one of the older kids do it, but it was always worth it to hang in there and let the next child learn the task.

When the children were fairly young, I did not give any financial compensation for their hard work. Sometimes I’d give them a candy or even just a high five. At times I would take a minute when we passed by a Dollar Store and talk to the child about how well she has been helping out at home and let her pick out a toy. But I did not actually give money for chores until around 5 years old. This was my magic age and partly because school had started by then and it gave me an opportunity to teach the children how to count coins.

To be fair, there have been many times over the years that our finances were pretty humble. We simply did not have the ability to give the kids several dollars per week for their chores. This was particularly the case when we had three teenage daughters and three kids under the age of 5 at the same time. Because things were so tight, we did not pay the kids for their chores, instead we allowed them the opportunity to earn money for going above and beyond. This made it possible for them to do additional jobs to earn money to go to the movies or something with their friends.

http://www.kars4kids.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/shutterstock_177925643.jpgRegardless of what we were doing at any point in time, I have often found that it all hinges on me. I am the one that needs to decide who is expected to what and then police the expectations. And this is my downfall… I have had almost 25 years of having children and I have had many different ways of managing chores. Some have been effective. Some have been ineffective. Some have been way too confusing. Once again, I am rethinking the chore charts… I think this is the third time this year. What better time to start a new chart than the new year?

I am on the way to creating another chart. This will be a hybrid of our favorite chart to date that I created a few months ago. The only significant change is that I am going to a monthly system instead of weekly. I believe it will make my job policing the chores a little easier.

While on the search for monthly chore chart ideas I came upon this fantastic website – https://www.chorecharts.net –   with several free chore chart templates as well as chore bucks. I’m kind of excited because I have not really thought about doing chore bucks before… hmmmm… now the wheels are really turning.

Cash Christmas on a Budget

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or so we sing… yet many people approach Christmas with nothing but stress. I know, I have been there.

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From stressed Christmas…

Everywhere I go I hear people talk about how Christmas does not need to be all about presents and spending money but let’s face the facts… most of us do at least some of that. And more often than not, people would like to be able to do even more than their budget allows. For years, December rolled around and my bank account had nothing more than enough money for a tank of gas. We always made the most of it… making gifts… finding creative ways to spend time together. Those were humble Christmas’s and although filled with wonderful memories, I was always sad that I could not do more.

… to stress-free Christmas!

Then along came Handsome… who swept me and my four daughters off of our feet!

Marrying a wonderful man did not automatically bring better Christmas’s… we still had a tight budget… but he had a plan. I just have to take this opportunity to publicly praise Handsome and  thank him for literally making my Christmas’s stress free so that I can better focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

I am hoping that by sharing this, there just may be someone else that will experience less stressful Christmas’s for years to come.

His plan is simple… yet makes a tremendous difference and enables us to approach Christmas without going into debt. There is always the opportunity to set up a separate savings account, but when times are difficult through the year it is easy to make those funds accessible. Instead, Handsome pays a little bit extra each month on all of our bills throughout the year so that  when December rolls around, there is nothing due. He basically takes all of our on-going basic monthly bills… cell phone, internet, utilities, insurance… and divides their average annual costs by 11 and then begins paying that amount each month.

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Giving to others makes Christmas even better!

It is simple. It is only a little bit more each month but it adds up. It is always fun beginning in March to see the amount due is less than the usage for the month and then watching that grow. When December arrives, there is nothing due… and less bills for the month=less stress!

There does not appear to be a way to apply this plan to revolving accounts or loans such as our car and house payments, so those bills still roll in for the month, but all of the other bills add up quite a bit.

We are able to plan our Christmas to not only bless our children with some gifts under the tree, but also be able to do some special things for families in need around us. Doing something for others is what makes our Christmas even more blessed.

Thank you Handsome!

 

The 2016 Great Road Field Trip – Day 1

We had the great idea of having all of the girls sleep over at Melissa’s to make our departure time of 5 a.m. a true possibility. We made sure that the girls were all bathed because we really did not know how long it could be before they got a real bath again. As they settled in and actually fell asleep, Melissa and I were busy assembling breakfast burritos and packing the coolers… at 10 pm!

It was after midnight before we were done in the kitchen and began to seriously assess the plethora of back packs, pillows and sleeping bags, amongst the other necessary items to be packed. Wow… time to go to work… after midnight.

We organized as we loaded the van. Everyone had their own backpack under their seat as well as their pillow in preparation for the hopeful hours of quiet nap times. Our snack box – which literally looked like the honor system vending boxes you see in commercial offices- was purposefully placed up front where it could receive adult monitoring.

and the journey begins…

We were so wound up from the packing and loading, that we seriously considered just leaving when we were loaded… at 3 a.m. I had to convince Melissa that it would be best to get at least 3 hours of sleep before our journey which meant we would be leaving later than planned. Breathe… it’s ok to start this journey off-schedule… this is a vacation field trip…

Bright and early, the girls were cheerfully climbing into the van and settling in. We made our way down to Debra’s place to pick up her and Katrina. Ohhh myyy, there are more bags… I had to laugh at the thought of forgetting that we needed to deliver some left behind belongings to her college son… at the end of the trip! We found room. We settled in. We began pulling out of the driveway. Then we quickly had to turn around… we needed pencils… we are going on a homeschooling field trip and we forgot pencils…?

It is always funny to me that kids are eager to dive into their “to-do” bag immediately upon starting a road trip. All five of the girls were busily working on their Pioneer Field Trip education packets before we were even off of the dirt road.

The sun was rising as our journey finally began. This is going to be fun…. or at least a test of friendships… six days… five girls (7-11)… one infant… three women. We can do this… we can do this.

Our schedule for the day was to leave early enough to drive almost across Kansas and then head north into Beatrice, Nebraska to arrive at the National Homestead Monument. 483 miles… just under 8 hours. We would be there by 3 pm and be able to spend an hour or so at the monument, then head to Grand Island and set up camp late in the evening. This was our longest scheduled day with the most miles planned. We can do it… just focus... the rest of the trip will be a breeze.

Kansas welcomes us!

The breeze came. Shortly after crossing into Kansas, our beautiful sunny sky turned into a wall of darkness. Traveling speeds slowed a bit as the wipers sped up. Toes began tapping as the minutes seemed to pass by like seconds on a wall clock.

Debra was at the wheel during the heavy rainfall when suddenly a large work truck veered right into our lane as if our large 12-passenger van didn’t exist. We were immediately praising the Lord for her quick reflexes as she carefully swerved out of the way. It is unsettling to be faced with the reality of how quickly and easily our lives could be altered. The driver, completely unaware that he put anyone’s life in danger, swerved back into his own lane and continued his texting. Little did we know at the time that this was only the first example of God’s hand during our trip.

With senses heightened, I made the call to the KOA campground that was prepaid to inform them that we would not be making it there tonight as we have spent hours in dusk-like darkness as we traveled through Kansas. Thoughts of the whole Midwest being under a blanket of rain were put to ease as she informed me of the beautiful clear skies there just outside of Grand Island, Nebraska.

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Welcome to Nebraska- the good life!

We debated on a plan B as the miles slowly passed. It was evident that we could make it to the Homestead National Monument before they closed but we would have mere minutes for our visit. This simply was not going to be acceptable as the whole trip was centered on our first stop. We would need to search for a place to stay but unfortunately – we were still in Kansas – and neither of us seemed to have decent cell coverage while we were traveling. If only I could click my heels… there’s no place like home…

We stopped at a McD’s for a bathroom break and free wi-fi and made the decision to attempt a hotel room… hoping we could sneak the kids in…?

Plan B fell into place better than expected. Within a couple of hours we were in Beatrice and quickly settling into a nice-sized hotel room (we didn’t have to sneak the kids in as the clerk felt sorry for the three ladies with all of those girls in tow). We were happily enjoying dinner when we began to pay attention to the eeriness of the hotel that we were staying at. As the sun descended into the horizon the hotel guests residents began to come out… literally. Grills and beer coolers were being rolled out of rooms and the outdoor party began. We began sensing several eerie eyes watching our moves… counting the girls… uhmmmm, I think it’s time we come inside… and pray.

Us mommas exchanged the knowingly-yet unsaid-looks as the happy-go-lucky girls settled in for the night. I couldn’t help but have flashbacks of Children of the Corn flow through my mind. I know… I know… but I’m from Nebraska, I can say that…

As the morning came and the party ceased we loaded up and made our five mile journey to the monument. We eagerly greeted the day with absolutely no clue of what obstacles we may face… and you’ll have to wait for the next posts to hear all about the hand of God and His protection on our trip…