Christmas Giving {Sacrifice, Love and Spending Less}

Lately I’ve been re-hashing my past gift-giving practices trying to figure out what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong over the years.  I’m kind of annoyed with myself for the years when we went overboard on toys and stuff for our kids.  We didn’t do it every year but the years we did do it it was probably overkill.   I love my kids and I have loved buying them things but when it becomes pile after pile of toys and stuff that rarely get played with or appreciated like I had intended, it’s just a waste.  And I can’t stand waste.

So this year I’m repurposing on a whole new level.  I’m actually repurposing things we already have into new gifts for friends and family as well as finding creative ways to give to my own kids and others that don’t cost a lot of money, have big bang for the buck and still show that I care.  And even though this isn’t a new concept or even new to me, I think it’s important to focus on why we give and the time spent in finding that “perfect” gift or MAKING that “perfect” gift that says “I love you” more than what the actual gift is.  When I give to someone, I want their reaction to be “oh, she really thought of me and who I am” .   I don’t want the focus to be on the cost , the value or the  popularity.   iPads, iPods, iPhones…they’re great but they’re not personal.  If you want a TV, a new computer, a stereo or 2 tickets to the next Justin Bieber concert, you’re not likely to get them from me.

The next thing I want to focus on in my gift-giving is keeping the economy going.  I know, WHAT??  And it’s not by buying Sony, Apple , or Toshiba products.  Those items are made and shipped from Asia.  And as much as I love the Asian people, right now I need to focus my efforts on keeping our North American economy going. Did you know that the American postal service lost a couple billion dollars last year? They did.  People are not mailing like they used to.  People are using UPS, FedEx and local couriers.  We need to keep our postal workers working.  This may seem like an odd thing to focus on for Christmas but I think it’s one small way we can all help our neighbours and our economy.  Consider actually making a Christmas letter this year and NOT sending it via e-mail.  Send cards; they’re so much cheaper than they used to be.  And who doesn’t love to get Christmas cards in the mail?? I love it but the last few years I’ve gone from getting more than 40 a year to less than 20.  This is something we can all do and it shows our friends and family that we’re thinking of them while supporting our economy.  Also, mail your packages. There’s tons of time to get stuff in the mail. I’ve mailed items right up until Dec. 22 and it still reaches its destination by the 24th!  It isn’t hard to put a little something into the mail.

Next comes the actual items I’m thinking of sending.  I used to bake a lot prior to Christmas.  Like A LOT.  Mountains of cookies, squares, tarts and goodies.  I have not done that for a few years.  Busy schedules and lack of motivation have stymied my creative juices.  I made a commitment this year to revive my passion of baking for family and friends.  There are so many young moms who don’t have the time or ability to bake a lot.  There are older folks who can’t justify spending the time  and money on baking for just themselves.  There are neighbours and friends who need to know you’re there.  Baking is a simple, yet sacrificial way to show you care and think of those in your life.

And beyond the baking , I’m making.  Making gifts, crafting, reviving the art of creating.  I know there’s a lot of people who think it’s lame and you can’t really get quality out of homemade item.  But I beg to differ.  With a little ingenuity and a lot of Google searches you can find so many wonderful ways to make gifts.  A homemade gift says that you cared enough to take the time.  Time is something no one wants to SPEND.  We’d rather spend our money than our time. But which one speaks more?  Money is easy to find , easy to get and easy to spend.  Time is a commodity in short supply.  Time requires sacrifice.  Time requires thought and intentionality.  Time requires us to slow down and think.

Over the next few weeks I will post some of the items that I’m going to be giving.  Hopefully I can inspire others to do the same.  If we all scale back the monetary spending but ramp up the time spending, I think we’ll make an impact on what Christmas is really about: sacrifice and love.

Back to School Lists Rant

You know those commercials from Staples about “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? The ones with dads and moms gleefully piling supplies into their carts, dancing down the aisles while dumb-founded children can only hang their heads in dismay?  Well, the only thing that really rings true in those commercials is the part about being happy to see routine return to our homes.  I used to love shopping for crayons and notebooks and so on.  But I have come to loathe this ritual.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m counting my pennies once again, or maybe it’s just the over-commercialization of yet another sacred institution.

There once was a time~ a long time ago~ when a school list was memorized by parents.  Memorized because it was the same every year: pencils, pens, erasers, “scribblers” (as they were called) and a pencil case.  Geometry sets came later in higher grades but other than that, you could pretty much get the entire contents of one child’s school needs for under $20, maybe even under$10.  Sadly, those days are long over.  I just counted how many back to school lists I’ve had to check off, review, stew over and argue about.  41.  Yes, FORTY-ONE!  I have 4 kids  and counting out every year from kindergarten through grade 12, this is what I have come to.

I have met all manner of teachers~ the ones who could care less about the list set out by the school and the ones who have their own list to ADD to “the list”.  And those teachers are the worst perpetrators of parent stress in September.   They are the ones who send home notes the first 3 days of class outlining exactly what colour, type, brand and quantity of each item they expect…in no uncertain terms.  They send out reminders and reminders about the reminders.  They call, they e-mail and they write notes.  “Lauryn seems to be missing one of her required 12 notebooks, could you please forward that with her tomorrow so that I can clear her off the delinquent list?” ………..uhhh….ya….it has happened. I am so sick of these lists.  First of all, WHY do they need 5 red pens the first day?  Why do they need them the first month?? Who cares if their thesaurus is a Collins instead of a Websters!  Why do you need 3 boxes of Kleenex sent to school right away?  And what of those 12 notebooks that barely got used and thrown into a box at the end of June?? Why? I’m so done with these lists!!

One year, not that long ago, I spent nearly $1000 on school supplies for my 4 kids.   There were scientific calculators needed, non-marking white soled runners, new backpacks, zip up binders, lunch bags, locker accessories and more…..what a rip off! What a joke!! What a WASTE of money! This year I had a chat with my kids.  “Do you have binders left over from last year? If you do and they are not completely broken and falling apart, you will use them again.”

“Do you realize that stores market to children?” I asked my kids why they picked out certain backpacks and binders.  With the girls, it’s always about the design, logo, colour and pictures.  Of course it is! We picked up one of these very colourful binders.  I showed them the quality of it compared to a plain one.  Then I showed them the price difference~ double the difference. Ouch.  I asked what would happen come November when the pretty one was broken and in need of replacement. Well, it didn’t take long for all of them to realize that they were being duped. In fact, the light bulbs came on about all sorts of supplies from pencil cases and lunch bags to markers and looseleaf.  Do I really care if the looseleaf is recycled paper? Do I?? NO!!!!!!!!

3 weeks ago, Walmart had 150 packs of looseleaf for $.25/pack.  The exact same packages were over $3 each on Friday. The EXACT same ones.  We went to Superstore and got them for $.15 each….na na-na-na na WALMART! Take that!

“Jr. Kleenex” boxes with all of 67 tissues are being sold at Walmart for $1.77 each. They have cute cartoon characters and fun colours.  Parents will buy them. In fact ,the shelf they were on was nearly empty.  Right beside them were the Scotties brand with 127 tissues for $1.33.  Right below that was the store brand for $.98 each.  My friends; mothers, parents~  we are being hosed. And we’re falling for it year after year.

Your child does NOT need a new backpack every year if you will buy on sale at the end of September , the really good quality black ones that are regularly $60.  Wait, buy on sale and keep them for 3-5 years.  Your kids do NOT need 30 sharpened HB pencils the first day of school, 5 packs of looseleaf and most of the other 20 things on your list.  If you would just stand up to the teachers and the school and say , “my child will have what he/she needs to get started and we will have the rest by October”.  Stand up for yourself and your kids.  This back-to-school market is absolutely robbing us blind and they don’t even need most of it!

I decided several weeks ago that we would only buy the necessities.  My kids have paper and pens, pencils and erasers~ the binders are going to come from our collection at home~ pretty or not.  No new backpacks or lunch bags. New gym shoes but no new outfits(we’ll wait for the sales too).  I spent $150 and even that seemed too much.   Maybe I should have learned this a long time ago, maybe I just got smart, or maybe I’m just tired after 37 previous lists, but I’m saying “no” this year.  “No” to the 12 duo-tangs, 40 blue pens, 10 erasers , 50 sheet protectors, rulers, scissors, glue sticks and safety glasses.  Until my kid comes home and says “I need _____ for tomorrow”, the answer is “no”. I’ve seen too many supplies go unused or sent back for being the “wrong kind” or the “wrong size” or the “wrong brand”…like give me a break already.

My kids are starting at 3 different schools this fall.  Each one has their own version of what is needed for each grade. I find it rather interesting that one school’s list for grade 6 is half the size of the other school’s.  It makes you wonder what is being taught to our kids about conserving, sharing, being responsible for something that their parents have paid for.  Unfortunately I have seen our hard earned dollars go towards paying for someone else’s supplies.  I have no problem helping out families in need~ but I would like to know ahead of time instead of checking off what I think is my ONE child’s supply list only to find out that it is partly to “beef up ” the classroom stash.  Sorry teachers, I don’t have that kind of cash on me this year~ you’ll have to find another well to draw from~ this tank has run dry.

 

Incidentally~ every time I go by the aisle with the pencil crayon packs for $1.25 and the “scribblers” for $.88 each……….I really want to buy them. :)

THOSE napkins~ nerdy and practical!

Okay, so last night I had a slight accident in the yard.  Well, I guess it wasn’t slight.  I really dinged up my shin pretty good.  A piece of iron fell and scraped a few layers of skin off. At first I though it was just a nasty scrape but the pain got worse and the blood began to pour and I was hastily making my way inside.  I’m a bit squeamish with things like that~ I really don’t want to look at all.  I cleaned it up and quickly opened up the first aid drawer for a dressing.  Unfortunately the size of this gash was more than my selection of bandaids could handle.  I had gauze and first aid tape but I know all too well that putting gauze on a wound like that is a recipe for disaster when it dries.  I was running out of options while the blood ran down my leg.  And there, in the same drawer were neatly wrapped little blue packages. Bingo!  I opened up one of those puppies and it was a perfect fit! A few wraps of tape to secure it and I was pretty darn proud of myself.  Well, that is until I looked down and realized that I had a panty-liner on my leg.  Oh well, off I went back out to help with yard clean-up.  My husband had the strangest look on his face when he saw me.  I wonder why? I mean, they SAY “Sanitary Napkins”.  Isn’t that what we’re going for when dressing a wound? Sanitary?   And suddenly, I knew.  I am a nerd.  Not just any nerd but a soon-to-be 40 year old nerd. The kind you see in grocery stores and at the post office.  The mothers who have been embarrassed SO many times by screaming toddlers, puking babies, poopy infants at the Sears photographer studio(yes, it happened), lippy pre-schoolers,  and hormonal pre-teens that they have long since dropped their pride in the doorway and sailed on the good ship: “I don’t care”.  *Sigh*  It happened so fast.  I didn’t see it coming.  The sweat pants with yesterday’s spaghetti stains and the t-shirt with a couple stains~ whatever. I can wear that out for a quick errand or two? Right? Why can’t I?

I suddenly feel for those poor women on What Not to Wear.  The ones where they are secretly video taped wearing all manner of hideous outfits in all kinds of routine situations.  I mean, they’re not hurting anyone, are they?  You just…sort of….let go.  Ahh yes….I’ve let myself go.  Somewhere between c-section number 1 and 4 I realized that you can’t be pretty all the time.  And certainly not with a group of 1st year residents looking at your ……umm…….”incision”.  Ya, I learned after the first time to just turn my head, avoid eye contact and pretend they were looking at my darling baby.  Ha!

Ya, well, back to good ole maxi-pads.  Here’s the thing~ my mom was a single mother with a very limited income. AND she had 3 teenage daughters! oh the inhumanity!  Shopping was a lesson in frugality and pathetically inferior products all in the name of saving money. We only ever bought the bulk pack of maxis.  Yes, in the 80′s that meant the big blue box of 72 LARGE, fluffy pads at Safeway. With the very bold yellow text that said 72 Sanitary Napkins.  Oh how I wished we could buy the much smaller Kotex pack.  But no, there were 4 of us and we needed as many as that box supplied.  The poor check-out bagger boys…there was no way for that to fit in a bag.  I so wish it would have.  We lived down the street from our local grocery store and that meant pushing the cart home.  Yes , the cart with all of the groceries and the big blue box announcing to all the neighbours that Aunt Flo had come to visit. Humbling, to say the least.

In my early years, I didn’t understand the label: Sanitary napkins.  I didn’t get why we had them, what they were for and why we needed so many.  Years later, upon hearing the story of the little girl who carefully laid one at each place setting for Sunday dinner, as everyone else laughed I secretly pondered how that could have easily been me.  Why else call them a napkin?

Our big blue box was not discreet~ it could barely be stored in our bathroom cabinet. Each “pad” was not wrapped and folded as we have today. They were simply carefully stacked and packed in a cardboard box like SOS or Scouring Pads.  Yes, utility pads they were and along with that, the stigma of something less than glamourous.

When I became a mother, these utilitarian essentials took on many new uses.  For example, did you know that if you run out of diapers one or two maxis will do the trick for a couple hours?  And if you have little boys who are potty training, a carefully placed pad will suffice and save tons of moola on the pull-ups! :)  I know, it’s pretty dorky….but how much more practical a use for a SANITARY NAPKIN?

And then there was the dreaded c-section incisions.  Some were good, some not so good.  The more babies I had , the more active I was and desperate times really did call for desperate measures.  I often wore one or two LONGs  straight across my lower abdomen to protect my clothes.  Well, it worked and once again…..nerd meets practicality!

I’m sure there are many of you reading right now who have stumbled on to other uses:  a fluffy Barbie mattress perhaps? , rip one apart and you have cotton balls in a pinch!, or in case of a spill on your carpet do you know that the extra-absorbency power is JUST the ticket? It really is!  I’m telling you, buy bulk and you’re set for all manner of emergencies…and first aid too.  Just, uh, don’t go pick up your daughter in front of her friends while wearing shorts to expose your um…”bandage”…..hee hee….oops.(Okay, well, good thing she came out to the van and I didn’t have to go to the door!)

So, here I am, a large slice on my leg and nothing more appropriate than a sanitary, full-coverage pad to do the job of several bandages.

In these hard times, is it okay to ask for money?

This could well turn into one of those blogs that is far too confuddled to post.  And no, confuddled is not a real world but yes, I am using it anyways. (In case you were wondering)

I’ve been thinking about faith and how if we don’t go through hard times we fail to see how God can really show up and do a work in our lives~ tangibly and spiritually. It’s come up in light of some recent situations that I’ve witnessed and some involving family and friends.  I may jump around here~ forgive me.

8 years ago my husband was in a serious accident while playing hockey.  In the first few hours I was more annoyed that he was hurt than actually worried for him.  That may sound cruel and heartless but I will give you the backdrop to the story.

We have always been a middle income family, but in the city of Calgary, middle doesn’t cut it.  At least, not if you want to get ahead or even just keep from sinking. And that’s exactly where we were~ sinking….and fast.  We lived in a starter home~ the kind that gets you into home ownership but with no frills, no extras and a big enough mortgage to scare you from ever wanting to default on a payment.  One thing we’ve always done well is keep up with the mortgage payments.  But after that it was “bill-bingo” every month to see who would get paid and what groceries we would buy.  I had a strict food budget and we simply did not have room to veer from that path. We “went out to eat” once every couple weeks~ a $25 meal at McDonald’s was about all we could afford.  I don’t really call that eating out but that’s what we had.

My husband had a really good job, a good position.  But if he missed even one day of work on a 2 week paycheque it was hard times for us.  I had our budget planned out long before payday and very often we were 3-4 days till payday with no money.   We made it work but it was tough and there were no holidays, no nice vehicles in the driveway, no sports for the kids, no trips to the mall, no stops at Timmies.  We paid the bills, we bought our frugal, no-name groceries and we just lived.  Thankfully, the kids were still pretty young then.  They don’t remember how hard it was.  They don’t remember eating Ichiban noodles for lunch everyday or Kraft Dinner(when it was on sale).

So, Jan.26 , 2003 arrives and my first question to the trauma surgeon was “how long till he can go back to work?”.  Terrible.  My husband was knocking on death’s door and all I cared about was the paycheque.   Reality took hold and the gravity of the situation took me to a new level.  Once I grasped the current state of his health, it didn’t really matter anymore.  Faith took over and we were going to be okay….I prayed.

About 2 weeks in to his 7 weeks of no work, the bills began to pile.  His last full paycheque was spent(it was always pre-spent).  Disability pay is a joke…worked out to be about 1/3 of his usual pay.  That was about enough to cover the mortgage. We had a couple of people drop off $25 or $50 in food gift cards, a couple of meals and some cash for gas in the van. By week 4 I was worrying.  I had not paid power, gas or phone. And I couldn’t .  By week 6 we were fast approaching a point of not being able to pay the next mortgage payment.  I didn’t want to worry my husband but we prayed together and vocally admitted that only God could get us out of this mess.

We have never been ones to borrow money because the thought of paying it back on a fixed income is almost worse than going without.  Our parents aren’t rich people and we just felt so uncomfortable asking anyone for help.  We had to trust that God would provide. And he did.  From recognizing our woefully dire situation on a Monday morning and not telling anyone, this is how our week played out:

Monday~ a friend came by with $100 for groceries(absolutely desperately needed).  In the mail was a cheque from my sister for $150.

Tuesday- a lady from church called and asked if she could bring some groceries. As I was on the phone with her, another lady brought some food.  What’s cool about this is that Lady #2 brought only fresh fruit, veggies and meat and felt bad but felt that that is what God told her to do.  When Lady #1 showed up she apologized for not having fruits, veggies and fresh meat but felt that God was telling her just to bring canned, boxed and dairy only.  YES GOD!  In total I’m sure all of that amounted to way more than $500 which was over and above what I even spent in a month!

Thursday- still no money for bills and the worry was heavy.  I rec’d a call from our church board later that night. One of the ladies who brought groceries had told her husband that we needed help(she asked me but I didn’t say much). He was on the board.  They asked us if they could help and I knew by now that God had a plan.  They said they had prayed about an amount but they wanted me to tell them how much our bills added up to.

I told them that we were behind $1140 including that week’s mortgage payment. He said, “good, we have a cheque for $1200″ and with that he hung up and 2 hours later there was a cheque in my hands.

Now, I tell you this story(and there’s much more) because I think there’s a point here for all of us(and I still need to get it too).  We were not wealthy people.  We were 2 days away from being bankrupt.  We had no assets other than our house (which we sold later that year for $200,000).  God showed us his provision and His Love.  He poured out blessing after blessing.  But He didn’t do it the first day of the accident or the first week.  When the need was great, God was greater.    He showed up in a big way….just in time.  And it meant more than than it would have 4 weeks earlier.

So, here we are in 2011.  It’s 8 years later.  These years have tested us but we’ve been blessed.  We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give to others in need but we’ve had to ask for help as well.  It is the hardest thing in the world to ask your friends for $500 to make it through the week. But we’ve had to.   And we’ve been able to give $500 or more to people that we know in need.  People who have worked their whole lives harder than anyone we know, who live in humble conditions and barely are able to make ends meet but always find a way to help someone else out.

My dilemma now is when I see someone who is wealthier(by appearances) than we are.  I see people who live grand lifestyles with Hummers in the driveway, several tropical vacations per year, eating out several times a week and so on.  I have no problem with people living lavish lifestyles or making tons of money.  I love that we live in a country where you can make as much money as you want.  The problem lies when the wealthy go through hard times. Recently, the stock markets were not so kind to some of our friends.  Couple that with a lay off from work and you have the makings of some pretty tough situations.  But in all likelihood, made worse by the fact that these people live well beyond their means most of the time.  So, do you give to them?  Do I go buy them groceries on day 2 of the layoff or do I wait?  Does the church step in and make their mortgage payment or wait to see if she can get another corporate job?   After all, wouldn’t they have money in the bank?  Couldn’t they sell an SUV if it was really that bad longterm?

I’m just not sure.

You see, I’m not against helping people in need.  I’m really not.  And I believe that the rich have needs just as much as the poor.  But I also think that “need” is subjective.   Sometimes we have to go through those hard times to know what a need really is.   In our case, we needed to feed our kids.  Something, anything.  We didn’t NEED to go out to eat.  We needed to pay our mortgage but I can tell you right now, we were fully prepared to downsize if we NEEDED to.  Even though we were in a small house, we knew that we could live on less.

Somewhere along the way Christians have told themselves that if they help someone out it will come back to them.  They’ve said that if they give money to a “less fortunate” soul when they themselves are in need that poor person will give to them or others will pick up the slack.  I think that’s bad theology.  Yes, I believe in sowing and reaping.  But God never promised us that our bank accounts would always be in the positive territory or that our house would be brick , not wood.   He never said we could have 3 cars in the driveway all the time.  He said he would provide our daily bread and the clothes on our back.  To me, that’s saying that we have to trust Him for today and not worry about a week from now, a month from now or a year from now. If we truly trust Him as we preach and quote verses on the subject, then we have to literally be willing to put our bank account where our mouth is.

I’m behind on bills.  Do I go ask my friends to help me out? No.

I have a friend who’s been laid off…just this past week, do I go offer to pay their mortgage or vehicle payment?  I don’t think so.  However, if you feel called to do that, be my guest.

Meanwhile, this person is fully capable of going and getting a job.  So is his wife.  3 months down the road circumstances may have changed but as it is now there is no fatal diagnosis of cancer, there is not catastrophic  accident leaving him lame and limp.  We all go through the ups and downs and we all have to learn to find the balance between what we need and what we want.  We all need to weed out the things in our lives that are unnecessary expenses.

And then there’s the ones who need our help….they really do.  I have some in my family, unable to work, unable to pay bills, barely able to put food on the table……this is need.  And that’s where I am called to be….it is where we all are called to be.

School lunches are the worst!

If I were a 10 year old girl, gone from home all day, what would I want in my lunch?  Well, not the crap I put in my daughter’s bag today, that’s for sure!!  Oh why, oh why does making school lunches have to be this hard??

I’ll tell you why~ kids are too picky these days.  And yes, it’s our fault as parents.  And yes, I blame the media(after all, we blame them for everything else!).

You wanna know what I had for lunch when I was a kid?  Here’s the basic rotation:

Klik luncheon meat sandwiches(on fresh homemade buns or bread)

Peanut Butter and Jam(homemade) sandwiches(on homemade buns or bread AGAIN!)

A hard boiled egg(which I hated but I ate because I was hungry) with salt and pepper folded up into  a piece of wax paper to dip the egg into~ my mom was so creative and frivolous.

Tomato soup in a thermos.

 

We carried these really swanky(Louise’s word) black metal lunch boxes.  They were like industrial strength.  Actually, before those I had a square metal one~ red plaid.  It was suh-weet!

I can't believe I found the EXACT one on E-bay!!!

Anyhoo…..for “snacks” it would be a piece of cake or homemade cookies, Laura Secord pudding(can you buy that anymore?) or Magic Moments pudding…in a METAL tin….oh the environmentalists would have hated that!

Sometimes we were fortunate enough to have a small apple or tomato juice put in.(also in tin cans)  This was pre-juice box era.  Pre-granola bar era.  There was very little pre-packaged anything.

I ate everything because I was hungry and my mom taught us to be thankful for what we had and eat it all. And so I did.

Nowadays, our lazy culture(my laziness) and the onslaught of packaged anything and everything has actually made us LESS creative with lunches.   My kids often come home with almost the same stuff in their lunch bag as they left with.  Because they’re picky, it’s not flavourful, they’re bored with it or it’s just plain terrible. :(

When I was in Grade 3 we moved to the city and bought a house 4 doors down from the school.  For the first time in my life I got to go home for lunch! In fact, from that time until I graduated high school I never ate lunch at school again.  The only times I would eat at school would be special SRC(Student Resource Council) lunches or field trips.   My lunches weren’t big on the nutritional scale but they were WAY more relaxing and hot.  Hot is good.  KD Mac and Cheese(or the more inferior NO NAME version~ ick), Ichiban noodles(or its more inferior NO NAME counterparts), soups, eggs or salads.  Life was good.

And then….I became a mother.

No peanuts or peanut butter~ allergies in the school.

No soups~ kids might get burned.

No chocolate covered granola bars~ they’re unhealthy.

No gummies, fruit roll-ups, chips, etc~ junk food.

Seriously people!!! Are these my kids or yours? I am so fed up with school boards and school administrations telling me what I can and cannot feed my own kids!!

My kids don’t eat peanut butter ….ever.  Actually, I’ve managed to get my youngest to eat it occasionally but no one else even tries it.  They’ve never been able to.  Even when they were toddlers I couldn’t give it to them because someone at church, at a play group, at a friends’ house, or any other public place had an allergy and it was banned.   So, my kids have grown up without the best source of protein for kids in the world!  Sad.

I used to be good at cutting up veggies and adding dip.  Assorted fruits and pieces of meats and cheese for snacks.  But somewhere along the way I stopped, they weren’t eating~ food was being wasted.  Now we have a school snack cupboard~ juice boxes, assorted granola bars, pre-packaged cookies, crackers, puddings, fruit cups..it’s all pretty lame. I fully admit that.  But when you’re given such a short list for what is “allowed” and when you live in a climate where 1/2 the year your fruit and veggie choices are knocked down to 3 items all of which are at over $3 per pound, you sort of give up. I surrendered long ago to the bureaucratic nightmare. I’m a loser~ the school wins.  **sigh**

Most recently the dilemma has come up where if I send food to heat(because of the prevalence of microwaves in the school) it has to be heated in less than 1 minute.  Tell me what food can be heated in that amount of time?  I send pizza pops or  ravioli and they eat it cold.  And then they tell me(my children) that they only have 15 minutes to eat and then they have to go outside for recess.  Ya, so?  Well, here’s the NEW rule~ no food on the playground.   Seriously!! Are you trying to starve these children into submission?? So now I have to send a nutritional, fully labeled with ingredients, non-caloric, non-offensive, Kosher, peanut-free, politically correct lunch that can be heated and/or eaten in 10 minutes or less ANDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD   there will be no eating of snacks during other recess or break times.  Sorry kids…them’s the rules!!!!

Yes, I’m serious.  No, I’m not exaggerating(okay, well maybe about the Kosher part…but I’m not far off!).

This, my friends, is the hyper 0verly-intrusive, bureaucratic world of school lunches.  And I hate it.

 

Things that take time..

I recently visited a Value Village store.  Don’t get there very often and I really had very little time. I was looking for a specific piece of clothing and never did find it but I did quickly pass through the bedding section.  I was shocked by what I saw~ hanger after hanger of afgahns hung and waiting to be purchased. I don’t know if people see the value in them and so they may stay there a long time.  There were the brown/orange/yellow combination colours from the 60′s and 70′s, there were peach, green, pinks and blues reminiscent of the 80′s.  There were even baby afgahns, barely used, perfectly crafted, soft and ready for cuddling a new infant.   Why would people toss these out?
I have so few afgahns but each one I have I know the source.  I also know the time involved in making one.   I’m working on one right now and I have no intention of ever getting rid of it~ if I made it , it is worthy to be kept and passed down to my kids and their kids if need be.  Do people no longer appreciate the value of time and the care taken by the person creating this gift?  I don’t understand it.

Then there’s meals.  I am so guilty of falling into the bad habits of buying pre-made, pre-packaged, preserved foods and snacks.  I used to bake and cook everything from scratch but busy days and on-the-run schedules have caused me to settle for inferior foods.  I am trying to reverse the trend in our house but I admit it is so hard.   But even worse than saving time is the fact that the food is just not as good, especially baked goods.  What could be better than a fresh cinnamon bun , warm from the oven, smothered in melting butter?  You can’t buy that sort of thing.  And yes, start to finish, it probably does take several hours to make .

Last week there was a radio talk show host talking about how Generation                 ” Y”ers(born after 1977) know very little about cooking, baking, sewing and ironing.  One woman called in and made a flippant comment about how these things take too much time and when she can pay someone else to do them, why would she do it herself.  I thought of how sad that statement is.  We have lost the value of well-spent time.

We justify hours of TV watching as “down time”.  We spend loads of money on take-out , dining out and coffee times~ all of which take time out of our schedules whether we admit it or not.  Yes, it is definitely a priority issue.  And sure enough, some people will agree that it simply isn’t worth it.  But I would like to make the case for learning to do these seemingly mundane tasks once again.  If for no other reason than to appreciate the fact that quality takes time.

And when you stop and take the time to make something from scratch you will also stop time from passing by so quickly.  Consider  being so busy that you pick up clothes from the cleaner, rush to pick up some supper, rush to take the kids to their clubs and sports and rush to get homework done…..and then what?  What is gained by the rushing?  Fatigue, crankiness, ungratefulness, and the thought of doing it all over again tomorrow?  When you stop to make a meal from scratch, bread from scratch and perhaps even a quilt or afgahn, nothing else will get done in those moments, hours, days.  This is true.  Once you get past that fact though, you will see that because nothing else is getting done, you have the time to focus on one thing.  One very important thing for you or for your family.  In those moments, you suspend time.  You cannot drive and run and play and rush while crocheting.  It simply can’t be done.  And so, if it takes you 40 hours to complete your masterpiece, it is 40 hours well spent~ sitting, listening, soaking in the moments.    40 hours to think, to relax, to focus, to meditate.    Some things take time~ growing a baby, growing a garden, raising a child, perfecting a marriage, memorizing scripture, writing a book, learning a language, painting a house, refinishing an antique, rebuilding a car…………sounds like some pretty good things to take time for.

If your household income dropped by 50%…

…what would you give up?

Here’s the reality:  Let’s get hypothetical.  (How’s that for a paradox?)

I would like to start a discussion on what you would do if your income was drastically slashed.  This is not as far fetched as one might believe. It’s happening all over the world as we speak.  So what would you give up?  You’re currently living in your own house(I assume).  Would you downsize?   What about your utilities? Would you become more vigilant about turning off lights and spending more than 5 minutes in the shower?

Or what about the luxuries?  Would you get rid of cell-phones, internet, cable/satellite?

Then there’s holidays.  We don’t spend a lot on vacations but we’ve certainly spent more in the past 2 years than we ever have.  Would you give up your annual Cuba or Mexico vacation?  Would you look for discount hotels instead of the 4 or 5 star you’ve been used to?

What about eating out? How often a week do you eat out and what amount do you spend?  Would you get rid of that luxury all together?

So, let’s get real. What are you willing to give up?

Charities: To give or not to give, that is the question.

So, here we are with only 35 days left in 2010!   It is usually around this time of year when savvy financial planning people(unlike myself) look at their total giving for the year and decide if they should throw more money in the pool just to bump up their charitable tax receipts for the year.  While this may be financially smart, it’s probably not out of a “generous attitude”.    Don’t get me wrong.  I figure if the government is willing to give us tax receipts for what we give away then by all means we should be smart about it and good stewards of the money that God has given us.   But that argument about when to give and how often is not my reason for posting today.  Rather, I’d like to make you all aware that WHO you give your money to is as important if not THE MOST important part of your charity giving plan.

There are many that may argue that the biggest and best known charities in the country are the only ones to support as they’ve been around the longest, have great track records and obviously with more money can do more work.  Not necessarily so, though, is what I have discovered.  It appears that size does not matter in this case.  More often it comes down to the cause, the people running the charity and your own personal belief in that cause.

I believe that for myself and my family, helping the less fortunate in our town, city, province and world trump all other charities.  I believe in missions minded people and serving ministries that tend to disasters.  But that is me.  You may have a completely different opinion that centers around the MS Society, Breast Cancer Awareness and The Heart and Stroke Foundation.  All are worthy causes and thank God we all feel led to give in all of these areas.

But it is still important to know how your money is being spent and if you can justify it.  After all, God expects us to budget our own family’s income wisely and therefore the money we give away needs to be just as justified.   We have left churches over the mis-management of funds.  Churches where a lot of money was coming in weekly and no ministries were happening, no homeless being served, fed or helped.  No children’s or youth ministries and the list went on. We simply were so convicted  that our money was being mishandled that we had to quit tithing and ultimately leave.

But we’ve also been part of churches who had an abundance of ministries even if their congregation sizes were small.  A strong volunteer force, an awesome work ethic, great planners and people who gave above and beyond helped these congregations to be able to serve literally thousands of people in their surrounding communities.

And then there’s the “luxury” lotteries for charity….

I don’t buy STARS air ambulance lottery tickets or any other “lottery for charity” tickets.  Why? Because the focus is on what I could get and that’s not charity.  We are to give out of the abundance that we’ve been given~ generously.  And I’ve also found out that very often those lotteries , though they do well, have about 80- 90% of money raised paying for the prizes and the company who actually facilitates the lottery.  These charities argue that any money that they receive is more than what they were getting before but if I , as a donor, am buying a $100 ticket, I want at LEAST $80 going to the charity when in reality it is often only $8-12.    This sort of thing is often repeated when any charity does a major fundraising drive.

So, what can you do? Research, research, research.   It is your money, so spend it wisely.  Check out their website, Canada Revenue Agency or any other charity ranking site like this one: http://list.moneysense.ca/rankings/charities/2010/aid/Default.aspx?sp2=1&d1=a&sc1=0

You can also call the charity and ask what percentage of their donations actually go to the cause.  If they fumble or change the subject, hang up.   Any charity that does not want to share that information is not worthy of your hard-earned cash.

When you feel comfortable with a charity or two, or three,  give generously and give often. Don’t be cheap and don’t wait till December.  They need your help all year.  Haiti still needs all sorts of help.  And when the call came in, Canadians more than any other nation stepped up to the plate the fastest and with the most cash.

Show your kids that being generous does not always mean getting a tax receipt.  When you enter the Walmart store this weekend to spend WAY too much money on Christmas gifts, don’t just walk by the Salvation Army bucket. Do you realize how many people that charity helps every year?  Those bell ringers are volunteers who believe in serving and helping their fellow man/woman in need.   Give your kids each a $5 or $10 bill to put in.  Not just the nickels and pennies jingling around in your pockets.

Our family has had the same charities for a few years.  Their records are impeccable and they are the kinds of charities that don’t pay their CEO’s multi-million dollar salaries.   I don’t mind sharing them with you.

Samaritan’s Purse

Compassion Canada

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

Focus on the Family Canada

Power to Change Canada(Campus Crusade for Christ)

Whatever charity you decide to give to, give generously.  Don’t be greedy hoarding all your money for yourself or your kids who you think you need to spoil and buy more and more stuff for.  We are blessed so much in this country and we need to be sharing that with the world around us.

Bless and be blessed.

Don’t worry

Worry is sadly a part of life.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  We’re human after all and sometimes we just can’t trust SOMEONE else to “worry” for us so we hoard the worrying and do it all on our own. I’m trying not to be this way.  I’m really trying to let God look after the details: appraisals, banking, realtors.   It’s hard because it looks like nothing is getting done but I know that behind the scenes God is at work even though I don’t really understand his methods.

Matthew 6:25″Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28″And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Lord, help me to trust in you.  Look after our needs and our worries; show us that you have it all under control.

Amen.

Pinching pennies

Years ago, when we were a young family starting out, we struggled.  Most families do but I don’t think any of our friends and probably most of our family knew how bad it really was.   We found ourselves very often 5 days from payday with absolutely no money.  If I found a quarter it was like finding a $20 bill.  I knew where every dollar was; I knew if a jacket pocket had change and how much it was.  I had a penny jar and I would roll them to gather enough change to buy diapers, milk or eggs.   We were seriously that poor.  

The past few years have been much easier financially.  Owning a business has its perks especially when the “boss” is your husband and his work ethic is above and beyond the norm.   We’ve been able to relax and even though we’re not rolling in the dough like some would believe, I haven’t had to count the pennies.  In fact, I have penny, dime, and quarter jars all over the place and I have no idea how much they contain! What a concept for me!  But that’s all about to change.

Sacrifice is something that we take seriously.   And sacrifice is what we are doing right now for the safety, sanity and future of our family.  I can’t get into all of the details but suffice it to say that we HAD to move for various reasons and leave behind a thriving business.   Leroy is in mourning.  He is lamenting his work and all that it afforded him.  It makes us think, and doubt.  Sacrifice is our new way of life.   All of the sudden I find myself back to my old habits, which thankfully I haven’t forgotten.  Habits like dividing a package of ground beef into more than one meal, maximizing a grocery bill to last longer than a few days, and conserving trips to town for the sake of the gas bill.  We’re in Saskatchewan now and the money isn’t flowing here like it is in Alberta.  Now some Albertans may not care for that statement, but it’s true.  There is a modesty in spending here that doesn’t happen in most places of Alberta.  Even the people in Alberta who say they don’t have money but still run to 7-Eleven every afternoon or eat out more than once a week don’t realize how good they have it.  A service call for a tradesman in Alberta could run you easily over $150 in an hour but out here, it’s more like $80.   To the homeowner it’s great, but for the tradesperson putting gas in his tank and trying to feed a family on a couple service calls a day you can imagine that that is not terribly profitable.

I foresee less trips to the city, less entertainment and social events and definitely trimmer grocery bills.  It’s a little depressing but there is a flip side.  We’ve complicated our lives with money.  When you have money to spend, you spend it.  When there’s money on the credit card and you’re bored, you take off.  There’s nothing wrong with spending but there is something wrong when the spending becomes expected and demanded.   There’s also something wrong with buying things we don’t need just because we can. I actually look forward to the challenges of budgeting and penny-pinching.  It’s my job.  I am the homemaker, the housewife and the money manager in our home.  Some women think that is so old-fashioned but it is my job.   If my husband can work hard to bring in the money then I can work hard to make his money last the longest that it can. Bring it on. I’m up for the task.

Today is baking day.  No more Oreos and Chips Ahoy; it’s time to get some REAL food into this house.  I will keep you posted on what creations I have made and how far a buck can go.