Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blessed are you, autumn

It is Autumn, that season of magical colors, crisp weather, ripening nights, and harvest. Autumn resonates so deeply with my spirit-- it is the time of year I feel most present, alive, and joyful. I love the drawing inward that the season invites. I love the juxtaposition of warm hearth to cool air. Autumn and spring are, in my imagination, the most liminal seasons-- they are the magical and mysterious "in between" times that occupy the space between the extremes of winter and summer. But Autumn really seems to top even spring. And magical things seem to be in the air-- costumes, and fires, and landscapes that are wilder than any artists imagination. It certainly doesn't hurt that we live in Virginia, where fall is as stately and drawn out as a formal dinner.

It is the last hurrah of the year, the time to gather the summer's excess and prepare for the winter's scarcity. And around here we have been preparing by cleaning out the house, planting flowers and bulbs, and enjoying the deep rest that such exertion invites.

Blessed are you, autumn,
chalice of transformation,
you lift a cup of death to our lips
and we taste new life.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of the heart's yearning,
you usher us into paces of mystery
and, like the leaves, we fall trustingly
into eternal, unseen hands.

Blessed are you, autumn,
feast of thanksgiving.
You change our hearts into fountains of gratitude
as we receive your gracious gifts.

-From The Circle of Life: The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not the books!

We have completed the built-in bookshelf in our office (aka: Ben has completed it), which has meant something wonderful: we have unpacked (almost) all of our books from storage. Anyone else who loves books knows what it means to have all of your beloved books at hand. It feels like being reunited with wonderful old friends.

However, as I picked up each book, remembered it, and placed it on a shelf, I realized that some of these books don't quite fit me anymore. Not just in a temporary sort of way, but possibly in a permanent sort of way-- I've changed, my life has changed, and I can't ever imagine reading them again. Which has put me, the book hoarder, in a difficult situation, because I really have no justification in keeping these (once beloved to me) books, especially since they could really be treasured by someone else. Even though they are books, and somehow it feels so wrong giving them away (and here is where I start to develop compassion for clothes hoarders, or even those people who hoard junk in their back yard, because it's hard to part with something that you love).

So I have started a couple of boxes-- one for books to donate to the public library, one for books to donate to our church library, and one for books that have been borrowed and need to be returned to their original owners. And as I pull those books off the shelf, it does feel somewhat cleansing, especially as I look at the precious books that are left behind. Books that are wise, funny, sacred, yet unread, or read many times.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quotable Sunday

"Laura had only a corncob wrapped in a handkerchief, but it was a good doll. It was named Susan. It wasn't Susan's fault that she was only a corncob." -Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House in the Big Woods

Friday, September 25, 2009

Frugal Friday: No Spend Month Confessions and Wrap-Up

We're coming to the end of our No-Spend Month, our family's challenge to live off of $350 for the month. Our hope for the month was to become more mindful about our spending habits, not to live in a drastic or ascetic way-- we have two little kiddos in the house, so we wanted to keep things healthy and normal.

We bought in bulk at the beginning of the month, meaning our first week was a bit heavy, coming in at $222.93

Our second week we reigned in the spending, coming in at $64.43

And this week we continued our trend of tight spending with..... (drum roll, please!)..... $64.69

Bringing our grand total to: $352.05, just a few bucks over our goal. If I were a perfectionist, I would probably be upset, but I'm quite happy with the whole thing. It was a great month of examining our spending habits, making do without, and living intentionally. I really feel it has impacted our lifestyle for the better, and I feel that we'll continue to live in a much more intentional way. One lesson I learned was that even if I really wanted something in the moment, I rarely regretted not buying it in retrospect. And, for our family, a great way of sticking to a meal budget is finding simple meals that everyone likes (burritos, pizza, stir-fry, roasted chicken) and making them regularly.

But, I do have a slight confession, and I just wouldn't feel right keeping this from you. One impact of No-Spend Month has been that we have become much more industrious-- imagining ways to make do, thinking of ways to bring in more income. And, along those lines, we started cleaning out some of the junk in our basement through selling it on craigslist. We started posting things we never used (Ben's old speakers), and things we never imagined anyone would actually pay for (an old backpack), and surprisingly started selling them, which created a little "slush fund" of extra money. We started setting the money aside for little projects around the house that remain unfinished-- specifically, an unfinished built-in bookcase that I hope to be blogging about (in its completion) on Monday.

Well, we dipped into the money a little early. I wish I could say that we spent it in something amazingly sexy and extravagant, but here's where it went: A box of Ben and jerry's ice cream, and some mouse traps. And some frozen custard on our way to our Mini-Vacation. Apparently our (ahem... my) weakness lies in the ice cream.

It just wouldn't be a good month without a little drama, don't you think?

And, I'm happy to report, that all our savings allowed us to pay down $500 of credit card debt we're still carrying around from finishing our basement this winter. Not bad.

To all the no-spenders out there: how has your month ended up?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


We've been hemming and hawing about taking a true vacation this year. To go or not to go? Where? When? Obviously, this has resulted in us procrastinating with the whole thing. As those of you with small kids know, a vacation just can't be quite as spontaneous with kids as it is en seule. There are the preparations, the schlepping of stuff, the car trip, and then the issue of sleep while traveling (does it happen? how do those kiddos know so innately that they're in a new place?).

We're still sort of toying with the idea of getting away for a long weekend before the truly cold weather sets in. But in the mean time, Ben and I have committed to taking lots of mini-vacations. The truth is, we live in an amazing place. There are mountains, farms, parks, lakes, not to mention (free) museums and zoos, all within a short little drive. And these mini-vacations have been surprisingly smooth and restful for us all-- including the little kiddos in tow.

Here are some pictures from the mini-vacation we look yesterday evening (mid-week! Can you believe it?)

Where have you been traveling?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Autumnal Equinox in Pictures

An autumn wreath on the front door...

The season's first batch of chili...

A bowl of pears from a neighbor's pear tree (we're allowed to pick them as long as we share our baked goods, which last night happened to be upside-down pear gingerbread).

I hope everyone had a wonderful Autumnal Equinox. We are welcoming the cooler weather, changing colors, and increased introspection of the season.

How did you mark the equinox?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zosia Montessori-Style

We use a veritable hodge-podge of learning philosophies around here. In part, I am still learning, still figuring out what works for our kid(s), what works for me. But I also feel like each philosophy has something unique to offer. One aspect of Montessori that I like is the idea that when you prepare your child's environment, they engage in it in a meaningful way. I picked up these "nesting blocks," (a Montessori tool) at Target for Z's birthday, and adores playing with them-- both nesting them in one another, and stacking them to create a tower. Notice how they're "self correcting"-- she doesn't need an adult to tell her when she's made a mistake, because the blocks do that in and of themselves. Man, I love that kid.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Working Towards Stroller Free

We got our primer in parenthood while living in a city, and we're a huge walking family. Which has meant that we definitely use a stroller. When you're in a crowd, it's a great way to keep track of your little one, and it's just easy. Strap them in, push them where you want them to go. We sling/carry our babies for as long as we can (which is still the case for Lily), but since we have big kiddos we can't really physically continue that into toddlerhood-- especially with two sensitive backs in the family. So we use strollers, which is a great tool to use from time to time.

But, especially as Zosia has become a very able bodied toddler, we have started taking steps towards freeing her from the stroller. We love it when she's walking on her own, because not only is it great exercise, but she loves doing things "all my self." This journey towards independence has been both amazingly fun and difficult.

Zosia loves stopping to look at things. She notices things that I would never, in a million years take the time to look at: a bug, an acorn, a branch, a cat, a patch of grass. She is the most amazing naturalist I know. It's amazing to see the world through her eyes and start to cultivate a wonder for all of these beautiful details in the world.

But then there are the challenges. Like when we're on a schedule to get somewhere and Zosia is stopping to hug a tree (happens all the time). Or when Lily is hungry and we need to get somewhere to give her a snack. One lesson we have learned is that we must allocate at least twice as much time for coming back from a destination as for getting there. Sometimes more. Somehow the need to get back home is never quite as pressing as the need to get somewhere new and exciting.

And we have learned to go to places where we can let Zosia explore her environment a little more freely-- parks with minimal bike/ car traffic, natural places like streams. That way we can let her go without constantly having to remind her to stay on the sidewalk or on the side of the road. We can relax, which is wonderful.

Sometimes we still load up the family-- Zosia in a stroller, Lily in a carrier, Selma on a leash-- and go for a nice long walk that is exercise for both adults in the family. That feels wonderful and lets us clear our mind and is one of the things we love doing as a couple-- as a family. But then other times we have learned to let go, go slow, and enjoy the little things along the way.

(And no, Lily's not walking yet... that's Zosia last fall!)

How does your family get around? How do you negotiate the needs of each member of the family?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Quotable Sunday

"They shall all sit under their own vines and their own fig trees, and they shall live in peace and unafraid." (Micah 4:4)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lessons from Lily

It's okay to be happy for no particular reason
There is no hurry to reach the milestones
Big sisters are very interesting
There is joy in living spontaneously
This world has so many fascinating things
There is no better place than in the arms of a loved one

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Frugal Friday: Our No Spend Month Week Two Roundup

Alright guys, things are looking tight, but pretty good with our no spend month. Last week I gave you the update on the first week (well, actually first week and a half) of no spend month. Here's how we're doing this week.

As of last week, we had spent: $222.93
leaving: $127.07

Here's this week:

Groceries: $42.64
Gas: $20.00 (there's Ben again, getting gas in whole dollars)

Wow. Can that be it? Yes, I think that is it. And my thrifty husband even remembered a pasta bake that I had prepared during my birth preparation frenzy that was sitting in the back of the freezer, which means that we have one leftover dinner from this week going into next week.

And we have: $64.43 remaining for the next week and a half.

I feel like I'm coming to the realization that absolutely no discretionary spending is hard after the initial honeymoon period of a couple of weeks. Whew! It's hard not to splurge here and there (a cup of coffee out with friends, a treat for the toddler at the grocery store). But you know what? There hasn't been a single item that I have refrained from buying that I have later regretted not buying. It's all water under the bridge.

But, I must admit, I have a secret list of things I am looking forward to buying once this month is over. Is that cheating?

Picnic Table Invention

We've had this little stepstool from Ikea for almost a year now, and it is a fixture in our household. It's sturdy, and just the right hight for climbing up to the kitchen counter to help out with cooking. And, I must admit, I have used it a time or two myself to get to the top shelf in the pantry.

We've used it hundreds of times, always as a step stool, but just to show you how children always have eyes for new things, I walked in the other day to find Zosia using it as none other than a picnic table. Perfect! I can't believe I hadn't thought of that. It looks exactly like a little toddler picnic table.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting Comfy in the Liminal

One of my favorite concepts is one called liminality, which was developed by Victor Turner, a cultural anthropologist. Liminality (coming from the word "limen", which means threshold), is described as a time when individuals are "betwixt and between": not belonging to society in the way that they once belonged, and not yet being reintegrated to society in a new way. Wikipedia writes, "Liminality is a limbo, an ambiguous period characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity, and communitas." Turner explored liminality during religious rituals like pilgrimmages and trances. According to Turner and the many theorists who have followed, there is something especially auspicious, especially sacred about the liminal. During those "in between" times, magical things happen that would never happen during ordinary day-to-day life. And interestingly, it is often during these magical periods of transition throughout history that women have flourished and risen to positions of power-- somehow, women seem especially comfortable during these periods of change and journey.

One thing I can say quite absolutely about motherhood is that it is one of the most liminal experiences that exist. From pregnancy, in which the body becomes a vessel for flourishing life, to childbirth, when the bodies of mother and child separate in an experience that is like no other, motherhood is marked by thresholds and transitions. And even now, with two small children in the household, it often feels like there is nothing I can quite grab hold of-- just as soon as I feel like I have figured my child out, she transforms, expands, recreates. Just as soon as I feel like I can name my relationship to my children, it changes. Just as soon as I feel like I have my feet firmly situated on something concrete, the earth beneath me shifts.

Mothers are guardians of their children from birth to adulthood, and in many ways that entire span is one huge threshold-- from small to big, from pathetically dependent to capable, from suckling to weaned. We live in the liminal, and that is where we learn to flourish, because for us that ambiguity is where we find the sacred. There is no joy greater than observing discovery, creativity, transformation. And for mothers, for me, that is a place that I can call home.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A weekend adventure

A stroll down a path...
The discovery of a creek...
followed by exploration of the creek (can you spot both family members?)...
And then a siesta on a field...

It was a beautiful weekend.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quotable Sunday: Meditation on Eating

"We eat to live, it is true. But we also eat to remember where we came from, or to experience a connection with those who first fed us, or to find a place within a new culture, or to celebrate one that has been passed to us from hand to hand, cook by cook. We ask the food we eat to meet many hungers: the hungers of our body and the hungers of our memory, our hunger for community, and our hunger for home."

-Stephanie Paulsell in Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frugal Friday: Our No Spend Month Week One Roundup

We are eleven days into No Spend Month, our attempt at living off of $350 bucks for the whole month. You can read about some of the things that we've been trying to cut down on costs here, as well as our rational behind embarking on this endeavor. And, I'm quite happy to report, so far so good-- although we definitely have our work cut out for us these next couple of weeks.

Here's what our tally is looking like so far:

Costco run for the whole month: $127.85
Gas: $20.00 (I am learning that Ben is one of those people who fills to the dollar, not the tank. How cute!)
Groceries for week one: $53.10
Paper Goods: $21.98

That brings our running total to..... (drum roll, please).....$222.93

Which means that for the next three weeks we have $127.07.

This is going to be close, guys! But I think we can do it... especially if, as I'm hoping, all we have to buy is groceries for those three weeks. Can it be done? Are we stubborn enough to make it happen? I think so, but only time will tell.


We woke up this morning not to a loud noise, but to the absence of one. One of our little parenting tricks is using white noise machines (an actual one for Lily, and just a noisy fan for Zosia), which does wonders in helping the kiddos sleep well at night by blocking all of the noise we make. But sometimes our little home starts to sound like an airplane engine or a wind turbine or something. This morning, I woke and thought, "Hm. The house is so... quiet." And then I heard the trash truck, which I normally sleep right through. And then the rain. And realized that the power was out, right before I heard my toddler waking up-- way too early (I think we're addicted to those machines).

Thankfully, Ben snuggled Zosia right back to sleep, and we just finished a lovely little morning without any electricity. We read books, played with stuffed animals, dressed up in Halloween costumes (Zosia a mouse, Lily a frog). We lit candles around the house, and I was almost sad when the electricity came back on (but then I remembered those wonderful electronic appliances that will help me get all the housework done today). But for a couple of hours, it was perfect!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Milky Crime

I have done something I'm not necessarily proud of. I slipped something in my toddler's sippy cup this morning. It wasn't anything bad, really! But it could have been arsenic, given the amount of guilt I'm feeling.

So we all know that it's that time of year-- change of seasons, back to school, whatever triggers it, everyone is getting sick. And we have had lots of sickies in these parts. I definitely tend towards germophobia, although we all know that it's an uphill battle. Even if you seclude yourself from all of civilization, there are always grocery carts, family members that work, and then people who aren't even feeling sick yet but already contagious. It feels like it's only a matter of time before everyone starts getting sick, and there are few things less fun than a home with sick babies.

None of the "nuclears," as we call them (me, Ben, Lily, Zosia), have gotten sick yet, praise God. We have been taking all the precautions: frequent hand washing, lots of liquids and vitamin C, staying clear of kids with symptoms. I know that Lily has special protection because, as all the breastfeeding moms out there know, breastmilk passes on all of your adult antibodies. But what about Zosia? She's the one who's down and playing with lots of other kids, the one who doesn't wash her hands quite as often or quite as carefully. She's the one who needs the extra protection even more than Lily, who's resting comfortably in a sling most of the time. Which is where my crime comes in.

Often in the morning I have a little extra milk, so I feel like I need to pump. But honestly, Lily doesn't really drink milk out of a bottle. Who would, when mama's always near by? So there's definitely extra milk hanging around, that special milk with all the adult antibodies. I'm guessing you know where this is going. Mix it up with a little regular milk, a little brown sugar, and viola! A toddler health cocktail. She didn't even notice. She loved the stuff! But somehow, I'm still feeling like a really sneaky parent.

There have to be limits to this sort of thing. My sister has a friend whose mother used to slip breastmilk in her breakfast cereal when she was an older child-- old enough to know what was going on and remember. I can't become that mother! Don't worry, Ben, your cereal is safe for now. But no promises when flu season is in full swing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Six Minute Chocolate Cake

Have I ever posted this 6-Minute Chocolate Cake Recipe? Because I feel like I should have, given the fact that this is the go-to chocolate cake in our household. Zosia requested chocolate cake for her birthday, so Ben made this for her (pictured above), and I just made another one today for my big sister/ dads' birthdays. So easy (it really does take 6 minutes to prepare! Not bake... unfortunately), only uses one bowl, and vegan, as long as you use the vegan glaze option.


1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or brewed coffee (cold water for us these days, since there are kiddos partaking)
2 t vanilla extract
2 T vinegar

1/2 lb (8 oz) bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup hot water, milk, or half-and-half
1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375
Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure and mix oil, water, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl and mix the batter with a fork. When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter where the baking soda and the vinegar are reacting. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter, place in a 8-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan (I generally line mine with paper and grease/ flour them to make taking the cake out easier). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

For glaze, melt chocolate in a skillet. Stir the liquid and vanilla into the chocolate until smooth. Refrigerate the glaze for a little while until it starts to firm up, and then frost the cake with it.

Happy baking!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Moving Towards a Sabbath

Sometimes at the end of the weekend, Ben and I look at one another, and can just exclaim, "That was perfect." We feel rested, rejuvenated, connected. We do not feel hurried or anxious or stressed. We feel ready for the week, and the home is in working order.

And then there are the weekends that are not like that. When we end the weekend feeling more stressed than when we began, when the weekend flew by without what felt like true relaxation, when the week has not even started and already we feel overwhelmed and tired and ready for another weekend.

So lately I've been trying to be more mindful during the weekend to try to figure out: why are some weekends pure bliss while others are chaos? What's the recipe for the perfect weekend?

I certainly haven't "figured it out." With five sentient beings in our household (more if you count the ants), there are just too many variables to pin anything down. But, I have come to the conclusions that weekends when we have one "sabbath" day seem to go more smoothly. We are much more likely to feel joyful and rested at the end of them than weekends when we are "go go go."

Like some other mothers out there
, I don't feel like our family functions very well on strict schedules. There are rhythms to our life, but they can't be written out on a chart because they are natural and irregular and varying. So I don't think our family will ever observe a hard and fast Sabbath where the electricity is out and we do no work at all and we have twenty four hours of peace. But, if we can carve out some semblance of Sabbath, it works just as well.

When we set aside a day without any social engagements, without any entertaining, without any trips (once restful but now with two kids anything but) and without any errands, it is like balm to the soul. On days like this we might bake at home, go for a walk and visit with neighbors, read together, take a nap, sit outside, work in the garden. Not strict "sabbath" rules, but what qualifies as rest for us. We might watch a video or just be silly together.

I love the book Miriam's Kitchen, which is the story of one contemporary woman who journeyed into orthodox sabbath keeping. Her description of Friday night, when her whole family would sit around a table in a clean home and enjoy an intentional meal by candlelight, is absolutely beautiful. There are no chores to worry about (because by some miracle she finished them on Friday), there are no sleepovers or playdates. There is simply a single family spending sacred time in one another's presence and in the presence of divine. This is what I'm dreaming of, the destination of my pilgrimage.

How do you keep Sabbath? What are the rests that give you strength and energy?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Quotable Sunday

"Rites and symbols use the ordinary and earthy elements of our existence and, by encircling them, ratify, sanctify, complete. The ordinary becomes the container for the divine and safely holds what is uncontainable. The transcendent is disclosed in what is wonderfully familiar: bread, wine, fire, ash, earth, water, oil, tears, seeds, songs, feastings and fastings, pains ad joys, bodies and thoughts, regressions and transformations." --Gertrud Mueller Nelson in To Dance With God

Bonus points if anyone who was at this ritual can identify when it took place, and who owns the boot in the corner.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Getting Started

We've been experimenting with using a sourdough starter for our bread (because there are sourdough lovers among us, and also because it would cut the cost of yeast out of our no spend month). It's actually surprisingly straightforward. My favorite part of these instructions is, "If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia." Essentially, you mix flour with water and allow it to sit, "feeding" it with a bit of fresh flour and water each day. That's it!

I'm a little curious to see what types of baked goods can be made out of said starter. Can we make a milder, sweeter, whole wheat bread? Or will all of our bread have a strong sourdough taste-- loved by some, but not by others (ahem... me).

On the second day we "fed" the starter, and it looked nice and bubbly. This morning, after having fed it again, the bubbles are gone. We may be back to the drawing board, but I'm remaining optimistic. The nice thing about this is that there's essentially no startup cost, so if it takes a couple of tries, that's okay.

And with any luck, we'll have our own Virginia sourdough baking in our oven in no time! Yum.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Frugal Friday: Tips From A Cheapskate

I'm always on the hunt for finding ways to live more cheaply. It has come in handy-- especially as a one-income family living in several expensive cities over the years. I have previously posted my top ten ways to live cheaply, but I'm always living and learning, so here are a few of the newest tricks we've found-- tricks that I hope will help make our No Spend Month successful.

* Make stuff at home. I have made bread and granola at home for a while, but have recently expanded to some items that I never dreamed I would be making at home. We have started making tortillas at home-- which are pricey at the store, but super easy to make and gratifying at home. We have also started making our own popcorn (I never even KNEW you could just pop it in a pot with a lid! Just as easy as the microwave, but over half as cheap). And then there's our recent experiment of making our own bread starter (more on this soon), which will hopefully eliminate the cost of yeast from our budget.

* Find ways to have a treat on a budget. Sometimes it's nice to spice things up on the weekend and do something different or special. We often will have picnics in the yard or on a nearby field with a simple homemade dish. Or, another special treat is taking some fast food-style burgers (cheap as possible!) and doctoring them up at home. If you take a plain burger and add arugula, your favorite cheese, and red onion, it transforms the burger experience. And with this tip our whole family can eat dinner for under 5 bucks.

* Troll websites for items that you are going to have to buy anyway. I bought this adorable wooden toy (along with a set of dozens of wooden zoo animals, cars, and 'people' off of craigslist for a few bucks). But, as with all things, do this in moderation. For this month, I am disallowed from looking for stuff on craigslist because sometimes it just feels like a deal is too good to pass up... which is dangerous.

* Eat vegetarian several times a week. I was a vegetarian for years, which comes in handy, because we're used to cooking/eating without meat. This makes a huge impact on the cost of week's groceries. And when we do eat meat, we choose economic options.

* Don't use recipes, or use recipes that are flexible. I love Cook's Illustrated, but I only cook from one of their recipes once in a blue moon because they require some little ingredient I am missing, which they guilt me into buying (like arrowroot? Who's heard of arrowroot?). Instead, I do simple meals that only use a few ingredients from my head, or recipes that have lots of flex room (which is why I live by More With Less and Simply in Season, both of which use simple recipes that can be switched up in dozens of ways).

Those are our most recent "tips" for cheap living. What are your tricks? How do you live on the cheap? Please do tell!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

No, We Won't Eat Rocks and Sticks

Part of the reason I loved Small Notebook's No Spend Month was that it wasn't totally crazy and out there. I liked that Annie suggested that the amount be expanded to $350 from $250. First, we live in one of the most expensive areas of the country. But that aside, for me, this month is not about asceticism or extremity. I have done the whole "living off of the extreme minimum" thing. I have lived off of Ramen (my low came when I stopped even caring if I cooked it, and would just eat it raw... ah, college). I know people who live off of canned soup and bagels, or obtain all of their food from dumpster diving. Both very cost efficient, but just not where I'm at right now. I'm not foraging for food this month: I just want to become more mindful of the ways that I spend money. And I still want my family to live comfortably, with occasional treats.

As Ben and I sat down to think about the ways that we spend money, one of the big realizations was that we pour money into our house. There are *lots* of unfinished little projects that seem like they will be fairly inexpensive, but then once you rip the sink out of the wall, or whatever it is, end up costing an arm and a leg. Part of this month will mean just waiting on all of that stuff. I do plan on mulching my garden. And possibly planting a few bulbs for spring. But all of that will have to fit into our $350.

Here's what our pantry looks like right now. It's fairly well stocked after my mom's run to Costco: we have a 25 lb bag of flour, oats for bread and granola, raisins (one of our special treats), honey, and other things we have found are worth it to buy in bulk. We have diapers for the month (no, we're not currently using cloth diapers, here's one reason why, paired with the fact that our laundry machine is on its last legs... for more on cloth diapers see everything I have to say about cloth diapers). Our whole Costco run came in at $127.85. I'm feeling good about the month! Join me tomorrow for crafty ways we have found (or learned) to save money around here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No Spend Month

We're introducing our own no spend month-- an idea that I got from Small Notebook that is absolutely wonderful! Which is exciting, because it has been a long time since I have really cracked down on our spending habits. And, Ben and I are truly trying to live off of the bare minimum these days.

Here's the plan. All month, we are only going to spend $350.

Here's what's included in that budget (borrowed from Small Notebook)

* Groceries & eating out
* Gas
* Clothing
* Household items
* Entertainment

Not included:

* Rent, insurance, and bills
* Gifts

I'm excited to get started. My mom just did a Costco run for us (one of the many ways she regularly helps our family out), and so I'm curious to know what that totaled. And, there are many family get-togethers and celebrations in the works, so I'm going to have to do some creative entertaining. I'll get back to you tomorrow to let you know what we're starting the month with, why we're doing this, and some cost cutting ideas that are in the works. Ready, set, go!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pass the Compliments, Please

I have developed a simple rule about criticism in my family. Do it as rarely as possible (hopefully never!). When necessary, do it privately, quickly, and specifically. Make a habit of heaping on the compliments, always trying to emphasize things that are positive (and there are always so many to choose from).

Ben and I used to talk openly about things that the kids were doing that were difficult, mistakes that they had made, etc-- in their presence, in the presence of friends and strangers. And then one day, out of the blue, I realized that Zosia was listening to every word. Sadly. And understanding everything.

And then I noticed that often when I shared something that we were working through in our household with friends or acquaintances, they often held on to it and then brought it back up, or made generalizations based on it. Not maliciously. They just didn't quite understand the context in which I brought the issue up (which is generally the context of a lot of love, understanding, and joy, not complaining, blaming, or insulting).

I have eagerly accepted the lesson to be learned. Just as I don't criticize friends or Ben in public (or at all, when I'm at my best), I have stopped criticizing my children. Because the truth is, they are such a joy to me. I delight in them every second of the day. They have beautiful spirits and they are both precious gifts to the world. And it is my job to remind them of that.