Monday, March 31, 2014

Budget Cuts and...Onions!

Our week was kick-started with some gorgeous weather today! It was 63 and sunny.....until about 2:30pm when the sun disappeared for another week or so. C'est la vie, around here! I was able to get out twice today and soak up some rays. I'm hoping I got some extra vitamin D to make up for the upcoming rainy days:)

I have been doing lots of research this weekend for my new budget cuts. I am very determined to slim down the grocery fund, if you will (haha), and have been coming up with lots of new ideas. It's going to take some hard work sometimes and I'm feeling anxious and excited all at the same time! Anxiously excited, anyone?

Ready for my goal? I am attempting to cut down our grocery budget by $100-150 a month. We have been budgeting around $600 a month for our groceries, toiletries and household needs for awhile now. And as the prices (and appetites have risen),  we have started to go over that by at least $50. It has been SO incredibly frustrating not to be able to stick within the budget. So WHY am I doing something crazy like this??

It makes no sense! It's crazy! But it's a challenge and we are going to need to make some serious cuts and changes to pay off loans and whatnot (for the next 20+ years...) groan. If we can ever get our life situation figured out, we may be setting some serious goals for paying off the loans as quickly as possible.  (But that's another story for another time in our life.) Hence the budgeting changes....follow me?

Anyhoo. My new goal is $500 a month for groceries and household needs. That includes pull-ups, toilet paper, toothpaste, you name it! I am going to attempt to spend $100 per week on food for our meals and $100 total per month for the other goods. (Attempt is the key word!!) I am really nervous! With tomorrow being the first day of April, I am making my first week's shopping trip. I have been working hard to plan a menu for the week that is simple, healthy and inexpensive. I'll even share some of my meals sometimes! I am absolutely determined not to hate menu planning just because I want to cut expenses. We don't have to be bored with rice and beans every single night. I refuse! (I jazzed up some rice tonight with this recipe and it was SO good. Ben says it's the best rice I've ever made! I didn't exactly have all of the spices so it may be even better with those...)

Some tips for cutting expenses that I have been employing and will continue to are:

*Vinegar, vinegar, vinegar! Within this past year, I quit buying cleaning supplies and we clean almost completely with vinegar, baking soda and lemons. (I still have a bottle of Clorox Anywhere spray that I occasionally use:) Vinegar is WAY cheaper than cleaning products and safer, too. I have 3 biggish to little ones, baby sit an even littler one and have a husband with asthma. I don't want harsh chemicals all over my house for everyone to breath in! Not to mention, those 3 ingredients are killer and do an amazing job cleaning. I can share some of those tips, too:)

*Cutting down meats. Meat is expensive! I often half the meat portions required in a recipe and fill in more veggies instead. I also try to plan a lot more meals without meat! We probably only eat meals with meat 2-3 times a week, if that.

* We will be eating lots of beans! Bean, beans, the magical fruit.....nevermind:) (I live with lots of boys, please excuse me.) I am going to be buying dried beans instead of canned and learning to cook them well and freeze the extra portions.

* Buying things in bulk. Not everything, just things that will be cheaper in the long run and that we will actually use! For instance, rice. We have a huge bag of rice down in our basement. Like 20 lbs, huge. I cut an opening, keep it clipped shut with a chip clip and run down with a bowl and a measuring cup whenever I need some rice. It is SOOOO much cheaper. To buy Jasmine rice, which we really like, for instance, runs at least $6 for a small container. Maybe 2-3 lbs? Our ginormous Sam's Club bag costs about double that. For more 6-7 times the amount of rice. Definitely worth it!

* I am trying to use up everything we have on the shelves instead of letting things go to waste. I'm really bad about purposefully ignoring certain ingredients on my shelves or in my freezer because either I am not crazy about them, aren't sure what to do with them or aren't sure how long they've been there! Example: Found some brown rice that I so cleverly stored in a see-through container and realized it has been expired since 2012.....I definitely can't let that kind of stuff happen anymore!

* I am going to be doing a lot of extra preparation and stocking the freezer! Example:

I asked Ben to buy me an onion last week and he bought a whole bag! Normal people probably buy a bag of onions but not me. Who said I was normal?? Onions and I don't share a very long history. I honestly only cooked with dried minced onion for the first 5-6 years of our marriage. I hated onions! I still do not love big chunks of onions but I have learned how to really appreciate how much better recipes are with them! I hate cutting them up, though, hence the one onion at a time rule. So, tonight I spent 20 minutes or so and diced up 5 onions and divided them into baggies for meals. Now I have 9 bags stocked in the freezer and NO onions will go to waste!
* I'm also planning on making a LOT more things homemade. I've always loved to make things from scratch; a love I got from watching my mom growing up. But I am going to need to take it to a whole new level to make this budget cut thing work. I am going to try to make all of our bread, tortillas included, and freeze a bunch. I'm going back to homemade laundry detergent (that took a little hiatus since I broke my food processor 6 months ago doing it! I guess I'll be grating soap by hand!), homemade snacks and I still have to do some research but I may attempt other things like lotions, etc. Think I'm crazy yet?? (um, I do...)
* Let's talk cereal. My 3 bambinos and their daddy are cereal mongers. I can barely keep cereal stocked in the house! I'm not as big of a fan and prefer to eat other things so this won't be so much of a loss for me. I wonder how they will all fair though when I break the news that cereal won't be so easily accessible in our house......We're going to go the route of oatmeal (whether fresh in the morning, in the crockpot or baked), cream of wheat, muffins (which I LOVE to make!), eggs, smoothies, etc.
The reason I'm writing this all out is a) to keep me accountable! This is really important to me and will hopefully help our family eventually get out from under the looming mountain of school loans someday. Not to mention, I'll feel so much better if I know I'm being careful with what we have and feeding my family in a healthy way!
b) I am hoping my journey through this might help others! I've been reading many, many different blogs, websites, stories about people's tips and ideas for this and I'm pooling a lot of it together. I can't do it all. Like I said, no chickens, no garden and I'm not knitting my kids matching outfits. But maybe I can take the dirtiness out of the word "budget" for someone and inspire them to try, too!
c) This is a little bit fun, venturing into a more challenging territory that will require me to quit making excuses and making impulse buys. I need to learn to have better self-discipline and also build up some confidence in myself. I think I can, I think I can....
d) I'll probably need your encouragement (whatever you can muster up!) sometimes when this is really hard or we are existing on rice and beans only at the end of each month or something. Or I am missing that impulse buy I really wanted to make....
I will write a post at the end of the first month, and hopefully each month after, about how the budgeting is going: failures AND successes. Because there will be both! And I am allowing myself some grace. (gasp!) If this is too unattainable, then I'll give myself a little wiggle room and up the budget by a tiny bit, if I need to. But I am really hoping not to.
I don't have all of the little details and organization worked out but I am in the process and Ben is behind me 100%. We will probably have to buy a bread machine because I really don't have the time to knead bread every single day. I so miss my wonderful bread machine that happily churned our delicious loaves and dough for 10 years.....sniff. Any recommendations??
Bottom line. I'm not a crazy hippy person. Just trying to be a better steward, if you will, and trying to help ease burdens and be a little more responsible. I still want to have fun and eat well and love chocolate. Just a little more carefully!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I've blogged about this oh-so-delightful subject before. And I am again! Budget seems to be a more and more common word among Americans since the collapse of the economy. I have seen many people close to me affected by more financial challenges than ever before. And usually, when you are financially challenged (sounds like a disorder!), you find yourself budgeting. Dirty word.

We first started budgeting back in 2006. Our first 3 years of marriage, we just bought what we wanted, when we needed it. Of course, that was back when we ate frozen pizza and ice cream 3 times a week. True story.

We slowly changed our eating habits and in 2006, after completing our first year of school here, we realized that we desperately needed to change our ways and stop making so many last minute trips to our very expensive neighborhood grocery store!

Well, here we are 8 years later....still budgeting! I'm for seeing this being a lifetime habit of ours. The only problem is that budgeting needs to be changed from year to year with ever-growing prices and budgeting can often evoke feelings of guilt!

Go do a little research on the web and you'll find some really ambitious people out there in the world of blogging who feed their families of 4 or more on $250 a month. Crazy! Read the finer print and you will come to find that they also grow gardens, have their own chickens who lay eggs and can a bunch of produce for the winter.

So what do you do when you don't have your own yard for a garden, don't want to own dirty chickens and live in a higher cost area?

I tend to feel a lot of guilt when I read about these women who achieve the impossible! But then again, if I examine our finances closely, there really isn't too much to feel guilty about.

If you read over the top ideas for budgeting, we hit them all, pretty much, which leaves me with little help!

Cut down on buying processed foods? Check. And I'm really trying to do it more and more.

Cut down on eating out? Check. We have an eating out budget of $35 a month. That equals one eating out experience a month for our whole family. Or two smaller outings of a treat or something. Compared to most American standards, I don't think that's much....

Cut out excess expenses like cable? Check. We've never ever had cable until now. (more on that in a sec.) I know, right? How do we survive???? We absolutely loathe reality TV and current TV shows so we do a lot of movie renting from the library! We are very blessed to have really great libraries all around us with great movie collections! We occasionally do a Redbox movie, if there is something good out. And whenever I get offered a free month of Netflix, we take it. Now, about the cable. You can't miss what you never had! Actually, I call our local internet provider periodically and fight to get lower promotions for our internet. They have new promotions ALL THE TIME! If they say they don't, they are lying! I actually got our internet bill lowered this week by $7 a month, by adding basic cable. It just happened to be one of their newest promotions. It's basically all the channels we had with our antennae plus a few extras. The promotion lasts for six months. So guess what I'll do then? Call:)

Cut down on extra spending like haircuts, manicures, pedicures, lattes? Um. Check. I get my haircut once a year....if that.  And the rest of the time, I trim it myself. Okay, that might be why I look a little on the frumpy side......:) I totally get that people have different hair and need cuts more often! (no judgements here!) I just really hate to spend the money on something like that and plus where we lived the first 5 years here in Chicago, no one cut white hair (true) so I had to wait until trips home to OH to find a good hair stylist. Guess I just got in the habit of not going!! I never get manicures and pedicures and lattes. Maybe I'm boring but when you don't have the money, you don't even think about things like this!!

Menu Plan? Check! I started doing this several years ago and have tried to improve on it ever since. It most DEFINITELY cuts down on spending by helping you avoid those pesky "last minute" trips to the store.  And it saves me from standing in the kitchen for endless minutes at dinner time saying to myself, "What should I make tonight??" Now, I have been worse about menu planning lately for a few reasons and I often find myself dreading dinnertime. I think the reason I have been dreading the whole process is a vicious cycle for me. I have been feeling a lot of guilt for not being able to stick completely within our grocery/household budget because things are so much more expensive and our growing children are eating more! So when I feel guilty, I don't want to buy things and then I don't buy enough, then we don't have enough to make full meals, then I dread making meals, etc. See the vicious cycle? Something needs to change!!

Coupons? Now here is something I rarely do! I think most coupons are for junk food or processed food and the stores where I shop don't accept coupons anyways. Oh well!

Trust me, none of this is to brag about my awesome budgeting skills. The opposite is true!! I am mostly resigned to it but sometimes I do find it frustrating not to just be able to splurge every once in awhile and be free! I struggle with guilt over not being a perfect budget-er and struggle with the whole comparison thing when I hear about these thrifty people eating for like .47 cents a week. I'm not planning on living on a farm anytime soon and raising chickens!

I am going to try really hard though to curb in the budget some more, especially in our grocery/household area. I am going to set a new goal and probably blog about that soon so reader, beware! We are going to have to be more careful than ever now that we have debt payments to add into our life and no dream job looming. Ah, the joys of life! Ever wish money grew on trees?!

This afternoon, the kiddos and I finally got to do something fun! We've had a pretty quiet week. First we were hanging around letting Zakkai recover and we haven't had the car a couple of days either. So this afternoon, after Baby C went home for his nap, we piled in the car and headed to Ikea to browse:) It doesn't take much to entertain us!

We spent some time sitting on the different couches and dreaming of buying a new one and picking out our future new table and chairs and then we headed to the kid's section to hang out for a little while.

Funny guy:)

Eliana had fun playing in the play kitchen and rocking on this red moose!

And then she and Samuel climbed through the tunnels...

Eliana spotted some cute little toddler beds across the way and before I knew it, had climbed in one to show me she fit in it! Ha:) Ben called me while we were winding our way to the end and we sat in the outdoor furniture section for a few minutes so I could say hi to him. The boys were taking turns rocking in a hammock and Samuel had just put the extra material material over himself (not sure what he was doing!) when a lady strolled by casually with her cart and stopped to check the hammock out. She reached out to unfold the flap at the same time Samuel was opening it and he scared the heck out of her! She yelped and then laughed so hard she could hardly stand up. It was SO funny! Samuel sat up and had the funniest look on his face! He told me later he was going to tell her he was sorry because he didn't know she was there and hadn't meant to scare her but she walked away before he could. It gave us a good laugh!

And of course Miss "I never sleep" fell sound asleep within 10 minutes and snoozed peacefully all the way home! It was a nice way to spend our afternoon!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring Break

 Spring is fighting to make it's presence known here in the good old Midwest! It hasn't been too warm for spring break but today we finally reached 40 and that was good enough for all the neighborhood kids to come out and play!

Monday it was sunny and we spent a little time outside, too.

Eliana begs to go outside like a puppy! I really wish we had a nice backyard so it would be easier than hanging out on the sidewalk!

She was so happy with her bike and can peddle very well now:)

Samuel was "helping" her for a few minutes. Good old big brother torture:)

The boss giving me directions!

Little Miss Boss also organized some races:) She saw the big kid races and she wanted to take part, too! She waited until everyone was lined up...

Then she would take off and they would pretend they couldn't catch her! So cute..

Poor Z just wasn't feeling up to racing. It's taken him a long time to get over this virus. He is doing much better today and played outside for a long time, which I was happy to see!

But not so much on Monday. He still needed some rest and early bedtimes.

He also does NOT cooperate with pictures these days. Grrr!

Finally got a little shot of that cute face! His cough kept Samuel awake the past few nights so he would go to sleep in our room and then we'd carry him back into his room when we went to bed. Tonight's the first night we haven't had to do that!

Missy Magician!

She doesn't know any tricks but she's pretty cute:)

She saw I was taking pictures and ripped off the hat but I snuck in a picture just in time! I hope she doesn't start taking after her brothers and refuse to take pictures!

The boys have really been into Legos this week, especially Samuel! I've barely been able to get S to come down for dinner because he is so involved in building his creations. Samuel is a stick to the directions kind of builder 90% of the time and Zakkai is the opposite, mostly an inventive builder! Today Samuel said, "Mommy, I think that Legos are even better toys than matchbox cars." I said, "Yeah, you're right, Samuel. They are actually some of my very favorite toys!" He then wanted to know if I played with them when I was little, too:) He was a little surprised to find out there weren't pink Legos back then!

Things have changed a lot since I was little, that's for sure!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


As I am writing, the aroma of baking pizza is filling the air. Not a bad smell! We have been trying to branch out with our tastes and try new things now that we have our awesome pizza stone, which Ben adores. It improved our crust so much! Tonight we are trying Roasted Garlic Chicken Pizza with a white sauce and spinach. It is as delicious as it looks! mmmm. Definitely a keeper.

Zakkai is doing much better, except for a worsening cough. He was still pretty sick yesterday morning and threw up 2 more times but after sleeping for awhile, his fever broke around mid-morning. Yea! He perked up a lot and was able to eat a little soup by lunchtime.

He woke up with a ton more energy today but still has a sore throat and his cough sounds absolutely terrible right now. I really hope he won't go into bronchitis or something:( So far, everyone else is holding strong!

Samuel just told Zakkai that he sounds like barking seal. I nipped that one in the bud because it brought back bad memories of my family (okay, my sisters) making fun of me for my terrible cough when I had pneumonia in middle school. It was a horrible cough and took forever to go away. I really hated being told it was a "man cough." It makes me shudder in sympathy to hear my poor boy!


I am listening to Ben share his heart with our boys. They read a Bible story together while the pizza was cooking and talked about "real food." Not just pizza or food for the body but food for the soul. With all of these things we have been through and struggled through (and are struggling through), we will have so much to teach our children. We will have real ways to prepare them for life at our finger tips. How to hang on, how to cling to Jesus when everything else is falling part.

When YOU are falling apart. Because chances are, it will happen. Sometimes God chooses to allow us to be brought to the brink. The place where you have absolutely nothing to depend on, nowhere to turn, no one to call out to...but Him. It's an absolutely horrible place to be, especially when you're in it. But at the same time, I reluctantly suppose, there is a raw, painful beauty in your desperate need to cry out to your Savior. Your saving grace.

There is thirst. And thirst makes you search for water; living water. So, I guess that's where we are now. Thirsty. There are some verses that I found about a year ago that really spoke to us.
Jeremiah 13:7-8
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. 8"For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes. It's leaves will be green; it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit."

That's what we would really like to be. And haven't been. We haven't been able not to fear or be anxious or yield fruit in our year(s) of drought. And we recognize that and long to change. We are thirsty. Thirsty for life again. And God is answering those prayers little by little and we believe He will continue to. Even though it doesn't look anything like we hoped it would.

We will trust that it will be better than we hoped for because our Father knows what is best for us. And He sees the whole picture, not just the little 2 dimensional slice that we have in front of us. We just have to be thirsty enough to run to Him and cling to Him while we wait.


Friday, March 21, 2014

A few sweet moments and sickness

Eliana is our little snuggle bug! She rarely refuses an opportunity to sit next to us or get picked up and receive hugs and kisses. The other day I caught this cute picture of her watching Curious George so intently after she climbed up next to me:) Love that sweet, soft face!

We had a couple of days of nice, sunny weather this week! Eliana begs to go outside like a puppy, starved with spring fever! She found our neighbors' skateboard and decided to go for a little ride:)

Smauel got out his skateboard and both boys had their scooters. I told Z, soon it will be time for rollerblades! We just needed some of the mud and puddles to dry up.

The other day, Samuel did a funny little trick that my uncle taught me in childhood: he "cleaned" his eyeball! He showed Eliana and then she tried to do it herself. It was SO funny! I had her do it again for the video. It was funnier the first time but still, so cute!

Our poor little Z-man is one sick little dude:( He must've been susceptible to germs since he was just sick a couple of weeks ago. He woke up yesterday with a low-grade fever, sore throat, headache and stomach ache. He was pretty tired and even took a nap, which is weird! He started to really droop in the late afternoon/evening and was in bed and asleep by 6:45pm. I made him a dr's appointment since he was recently exposed to strep at school and he had a white spot in his throat.

I woke him up this morning around 7:15am and could tell he wasn't doing very well. He couldn't talk for awhile (no voice) and his face was flushed from fever. He let me try to see into his throat and then fell back asleep for about a half an hour. He made it downstairs before I took S to school and watched about 15 minutes of a cartoon, drank some OJ and promptly fell asleep. He slept ALL morning and got hotter and hotter. He finally woke up a little at 11am and felt so bad, all he could do was cry:(

I got some Tylenol in him and then he rested awhile before it was time to take him to the Dr. He threw up on the way to the car. His fever was almost 102 even on meds:( They tested him for strep and it was surprisingly negative so I guess he just has a nasty old virus! I was so sure it was going to be strep because it is rampant in the school right now. The school nurse told me that she has sent the strep notice ("Your child has been exposed...") to every single class in the school except one in the past month or so.

The only time he was awake today was for the dr's appt and about an hour and a half this afternoon when he watched a little basketball. Later he woke up crying and told me he had a bad dream. I asked him what it was about and he said, "Basketball!" I asked how it was a bad dream and he said through his feverish tears, "I dreamed Tennessee was losing instead of winning." Kind of funny! You can guess which game he was watching before he fell asleep...

We were supposed to go on a date tonight, our first in a year (I know, right?), but we felt increasingly uncomfortable with leaving him over the course of the day and it turns out our instincts were right since he was still throwing up a couple hours ago and feels miserable enough to just sleep and cry. Poor little guy!

I am really praying no one else gets this! Looks like we're in for a quiet weekend.....

Monday, March 17, 2014

Clean Teeth and Ken?

Monday comes again! It was an unusually busy weekend for us with a birthday party and our anniversary and also we hosted a small group at our house yesterday, which involved a lot of cleaning!

It was a big step for us to take; to branch out of our isolation and open up to new people. Thankfully, they were all very nice and seem excited to be a part of a Bible study. It will be good for us, I think.

Today, Eliana once again accompanied me to the dentist. We are trying to fit in all of our appointments before Ben's insurance ends with his job at the end of the month. We put off going to the dentist until the last minute. Because who likes going to the dentist? Not me!

I have to say, though, that this was the most thorough dentist office I have ever been to in my life! They divide your appointment into 2. The first one is for x-rays and checking your bones and gum recession and for cavities, chatting with the dentist and such. The second is the torturous cleaning session.

Ben got to do his all in one 2 1/2 hour swoop, thanks to a cancellation but I had to break mine up. The good news? No cavities for me, continuing my lifelong streak! But apparently, I will wish for cavities by the end says Mr Dentist because I have other issues. More painful issues. I have "delicate gum tissue."

Know what that means? That means more gum grafting in my future. Boo. That was truly a terrible surgery. The part on the roof of my mouth where they harvested my gum for the grafting still doesn't have all of the feeling back. And it's been 4 years!

So I have gums like "the skin on a grandma's hands" (and I quote!) and I have to brush with an extra soft toothbrush and be super careful. Bummer. Ben may get a few cavities  here and there but he has great gums. Like a rhinoceros or something, darn it!

At least our teeth are clean though! A little battered fand sore rom the torturous cleaning, perhaps, but clean.

I had to take Samuel to the store to get a little birthday gift for his friend and I came across Barbie in the toy department and decided to have a personal flash-back moment. But wait. Wait just a second! What happened to Ken with his awesome plastic hair and shining white teeth? Who the heck is this??

Is this Ken now? He has Justin Beiber hair! Ick! Seriously. Yuck. Why do all the men have to be so feminine these days? Ew. When it comes time for Eliana to play with her Barbie's more, I just may be searching ebay for the old 80's cool Ken. I'm not sure I could handle playing with this doll....

 Thanks for the anniversary wishes! I feel very strongly about what I wrote and I ask, if you know anyone getting married or just starting out, please feel free to share that post with them. I may not be the greatest writer but that post meant a lot to me and I would be thrilled if I thought it could help or touch someone.

Next up? Me trying to figure out how to survive spring break next week with many children at home.....Yikes!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

11 Years.

Today we have been married for 11 years! As I think about what marriage entails and what it looks like now as opposed to 11 years ago, I have some things I'd like to say.

To the young couple, newly married or about to enter into marriage:

I used to feel a little disappointed when older married couples, veterans if you will, would say that the newness would wear off and we wouldn't always be in the young puppy love stage. It was so hard to believe. I thought we would feel "twitter-pated" like the young animals in Bambi forever!

The truth is, those married veterans were right. The giddiness fades and the newness loses it's shininess. Your wedding ring might get some little scratches or nicks in it. You will begin to get wrinkles around your eyes and some gray hairs on your head. Your spouse's lips will become familiar, their hands warm and comforting. Your "I Love You's" will slip into the routine of the day.

But you know what? It doesn't have to be disappointing. There is a steadiness in a tried and true love. It is familiar and safe. It is strong and beautiful. As long as you put hard work into it and fight for it!

Young Lovers, I would say to you, fight. Fight for your marriage. Fight with everything in you to keep it strong and healthy. You will not fully understand what commitment means when you say "I Do" (even though you think you do!) but you will understand what it means 11 years later. Or 20 years later. Or 60 years later.

It means that there will be days where you are sick or tired; there will be days where there isn't enough money to cover the bills or maybe the "extras" ; there will be seasons where you won't have money or babysitters to go on dates; there will be times when you're angry or disappointed with each other; there will be days when you have to make the choice to love. There maybe times when your spouse is depressed and you have to carry the load. There may be seasons where you can't see beyond the day you are struggling through. There will be times when you cry tears of grief together. Or even alone.

There will also be days where your eyes meet and no words are needed to express the love you have for each other. There will be inside jokes that only make the two of you laugh. There will be that warm body to snuggle up to on the cold nights or in the morning that makes it hard to get up. There will be cards with written words of love on special occasions or just because. There will be a smile on your face when you see each other at the end of the day. There will be quiet nights where you snuggle and watch movies and just enjoy each other's presence.

Your very own, custom-made, built-in best friend.

Friends, I know now, 11 years later, what commitment means. And I know what it doesn't mean. I have watched people close to me give up the fight and walk away, not even realizing all that they have lost or given up. Or people who thought their own happiness and desires were more important than the other person's. And they chose themselves over selfless love. It's something we all have to fight against.

I told Ben the other day that one of the most precious gifts we can give our 3 little ones, is a healthy, thriving marriage for them to watch, to learn from and hopefully to want to emulate.

And so, on this day, 11 years after we spoke our solemn vows before our Lord and Savior and wonderful family and friends, I say to you, my dearest Husband,

I promise to spend how many ever years we have left together on this earth fighting for our marriage. I will fight to love you each and every day. To forgive you when you hurt me.  To ask for forgiveness when I hurt you. To lift you up when you fall down. To continue to learn to speak words of peace instead of words that hurt. To keep learning how to think of you over myself. To keep falling in love with you over and over again. I promise to learn from our mistakes and to always be fighting for a future. Our future together. Our legacy that we are even now making and will leave behind for Samuel, Zakkai and Eliana.

I promise to stay true to you. To keep making my Lord first in my heart so I can know how to love you better and better with each passing year. I promise to keep laughing with you.

We have so many precious memories together. We are now fighting through one of the hardest times we have ever been through and yet, here we are. We made it through something that causes many marriages to fail, due to the heavy weight of sacrifice. And we are still holding hands and kissing hello and goodbye, saying "I love you" so many times a day and knowing we really mean it. We have proven ourselves best friends o'er and o'er and will continue to every day for the rest of our lives.

I thank God for each day we've had together and the character we've built through the perseverance of fighting through life together. And I pray that He will heal our wounds and be our foundation and help us cling to Him and each other for all the rest of our days.

I love you so very much, Ben. Happy Anniversary.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Not So Spring Concert!

Remember those frosted trees I told you about the other day? Here's a snapshot of a winter wonderland! Well, except none of us think it's a winter wonderland anymore:) Today was warmer so a lot of snow melted. The sidewalks are a nasty messy mix of mud and huge puddles. The grass that is now showing is also muddy and beyond saturated. The parts of grass that are not exposed yet are covered in snow piles that are a few inches deep to 3-4 feet deep. It will be a LONG time before we dry out!

Eliana got herself all prettied up as a ballerina the other afternoon, with dressy shoes and all:) Amazing how she can prance around in so little clothing on such a cold day!

Last night was the boys' spring concert! They have been SO excited all week and were practically bouncing off the walls all afternoon. The music teacher said that originally they were hoping that the snow would be gone and our days would be spring-like in time for the concert. Unfortunately, we all know it's not-so-spring like around here yet! At least it was springy inside. This was the first grade singing. Each grade had a spring theme. First grade's song themes were "Everything Grows."

Z is in the left middle. Hard to see in a sea of green!

The second grade theme was "Seasons Change" and third grade was "I Must Do My Part." The last songs were sung by the 4th and 5th grade chorus and their theme was "You Always Reap What You Sow." The songs had great messages and all the music and words were written by the music teacher!

This is 3rd grade and Samuel is in the front row, far left.

Starting in 3rd grade, they get to learn the recorder:) We have heard a lot of squeaky notes around here all year! Those are the recorders hanging around their necks:)
Here are a few really short clips of the concert. Eliana kept bumping my arm, trying to watch what I was recording so sorry about the lack of steadiness. And the lady's head in the way:) Only so much you can do from far away with a camera phone!
The first clip are the first graders (with Z), the second is the recorder song by the third graders and the 3rd clip are the 3rd graders singing. Cute!

It was a fun little concert. Eliana said they should do it again tonight:) Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Looking for the bright side..

I heard it was 80 in Texas today.....Here? It was 30 and we got MORE snow! Even Eliana is officially through with winter. I told her yesterday that we were going to get more snow and she said, "But I don't want anymore snow!" No kidding, girlie.

But we try to look at the bright side when we can and the bright side today was that the trees were actually beautiful. The mix of rain and wind helped the snow stick to all of the trees so when you drove down the tree-lined street, it looked like you were driving under a canopy of frosting-covered trees. Really pretty.

However, bright side or not, go away winter!

Eliana and I went to MOPS today and I got to hear some advice from some more well-seasoned mamas. We have a "mentor" mother for each table, who is there to share her motherly wisdom and insights. Some of them seem so nice and grandmotherly:) We had to leave a little early to take Ben to get his license renewed. Somebody accidentally didn't know his license expired until he went to buy me Sudafed this weekend. Oops! (shhh! don't tell!)

Amazingly, we found a little express driver's license place a half hour away and B was in and out in less than 15 min! Unheard of around here. The people inside were apparently decently friendly, too. Also amazing. Let's just say that the majority of government run businesses in Chicago are not employing the happiest and softest of people. Actually, not just gov't but a lot of retail. I think they get so hardened by the people that they see day in and day out and the situations they have to deal with.

I was so amazed when we moved out to the 'burbs and started experiencing nice customer service on a regular basis! Something I do not take for granted.

*Samuel presented his poster today. His project got him so interested in space that he checked out a book about comets and asteroids from his school library:) I love when they get interested in different subjects!

*We are working out a few little bugs with our sticks system. It really has been wonderful; we've just had to tweak a few things. The weekends are run differently than the weekdays so we are adjusting to that and trying to figure out how discipline/punishments fit into the system and timing of our day.

Here is the chart I made. They earn an extra chore for each sign they have to take down and if they lose 3 in one day, they lose a colored stick. boo. Unfortunately, we had that happen for the first time today. Just really trying to crack down on not listening, arguing and talking back. It honestly hurts me as much as it does them. I know kids probably don't believe that but it is so true. Hopefully, it will only take a couple of times and it won't happen again.

*Zakkai got a couple of gift cards and a little $ for his birthday and bought some rollerblades!! He is SOOOO excited.

As you can see from his face:) The first night (in these pics) he couldn't stand up on his own and needed a lot of help but by the next afternoon of some basement practicing, he was doing great! He cannot wait for the ground and sidewalks to dry up so he can get outside and get roller blading! I have a feeling the boys will be roller blading and skateboarding alllll summer long:)

*I made a delicious dinner tonight called, "Coconut Curry Chicken." It's a crockpot meal and so easy. I will have to share the recipe next time, as I am way too lazy to get up right now:) It is different from things I normally make but it has such a good flavor between the coconut milk and curry. I serve it over rice and everyone gobbles it up!

*B and I are holding strong with giving up our sweets for Lent. It really is good for us on so many levels. Anytime I get really tempted and think I can't stand another minute without a little sweet, I say a prayer instead. The first few days were really tough but it's getting so much easier now. That doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to our one little treat on Fridays;)

My mom had a good suggestion since she and my stepdad are doing "clean eating." She said to make a smoothie in the evening if we are craving something. I have done it twice and just throw fresh and frozen fruit, some milk and spinach in the blender! I must've put in more spinach tonight though because Zakkai was like, "Um, why is the smoothie green??" But no one complained when they tasted it! I figure we are killing two birds with one stone: satisfying the sweet tooth and getting a good dose of extra fruits and veggies. Win win:)

Too bad chocolate isn't a fruit. That would be a dream come true and I know I'm not the only one that would think so! Chocolate addictions run in my family and I don't think anyone's ashamed to admit it....

I should probably stop writing about chocolate. It's not helping me:)

*Tomorrow night is the boys' spring concert at school and they are so excited. They've been humming and singing little snippets of songs for weeks now. I know Eliana will really enjoy seeing her big brothers up on the stage!

Hopefully I will have a few pictures to share......Have a great night!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ballerinas, Crazy Boys and Mars!

What do Ballerinas, Crazy Boys and Mars have to do with each other? A lot in this family! They are all related:)

Today Eliana and I went to Kohls on the hunt for some brown pants for the boys, who have a spring concert this week. Apparently, they have to wear green shirts and brown pants. You know....spring....trees....something like that;) Anyways, there is a lot of winter clearancing going on at Kohl's right now and I randomly came across this adorable ballerina leotard!

How cute is this? Eliana wanted to put it on over her pants and be a ballerina for the afternoon. Here she is trying to do a ballerina pose that I was showing her:)

Here is her on-command "happy grin" that she insists on. She's a cutie, this one! She and Baby Anna also scored a set of matching nightgowns on clearance for only a few dollars. They are both happily sleeping in them tonight:)

I see this look a lot from this kid. I think he's practicing for the teenage years. I have a few more years to prepare, right?

He also gives us a lot of these smiles! He's such a funny boy and has such a good sense of humor. does this one! He was nuts after school today and absolutely refused to hold still for a picture...

Our crazy Z-man!

Samuel has been working hard on a school project that's due tomorrow. Thankfully, Ben is very helpful when it comes to these things because it overwhelms me to add one more thing into the mix! Samuel worked hard on it and it looks great!

He's very proud:) He presented it to Zakkai and I tonight at bedtime and we applauded him and called him "Dr Mars," which he thought was funny!

We had a really busy weekend, which is very unusual for us home-bodies:) I went to a baby shower on Saturday with a friend and came home to a frazzled Daddy and an over-tired napless 3 year old who had a terrible time going to sleep. And yesterday after church we were invited to some friends' house to have lunch and meet another family. It was really nice, although exhausting since our social muscles are a little weak, ha. The boys played really well with the other boys and Eliana followed their 13 year old son around like a puppy! He's very sweet and gentle with the little ones and would actually make a great babysitter.

Today we enjoyed a beautiful spring-like day! The sun was out and we made it just over 50 degrees, which felt amazing! It would've been a great walk to school this afternoon, if it wasn't for the puddles and nasty muddy messes all over the sidewalks and street corners. It will be a good long while before the snow is melted and everything is dry. We are just starting to see grass again and I hear a terrible rumor that it is going to snow another few inches tomorrow night. Sigh.

Ah, well, if we have to be cozy inside, at least I have my ballerina, crazy boy and Dr Mars to keep me company:)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sticks, Forts and Lent!

I meant to come back and update on the sticks earlier but a certain adorable 3 year old someone so kindly shared her cold with me and I have been just plain miserable!!

Thankfully, today my head doesn't completely feel like exploding and despite not sleeping well, I am functioning a little better:) I suppose I was due for one last good old cold before spring finally pries winter's clutches off of us!

As for the sticks, they.are.awesome. Seriously, absolutely best plan we have implemented yet! The boys LOVE them and eagerly set them up each night in order for the next day. We have had no complaints so far and all 3 kiddos have earned their colored sticks every day this week!

And the best part? I have a lot more free time now that I'm not nagging so much!!! Really, this is amazing. I wake up everyday to the boys' beds made and their pjs put away instead of tossed on the ground. They eat breakfast, clean up their dishes and have extra time usually to spend time with a sibling or do their quiet time.

A couple of times I've had to stop myself (or Ben has reminded me) to step back and let them fail if they need to. It's hard to let go of micromanaging when you are so good at it! But I bite my tongue and let them do what they need to do and somehow they are getting it all done! If you have children, DO THIS!! You won't regret it!

Eliana may have a moment or two everyday in ridiculous toddler-fashion where she swears off sticks forever but she is right back to proudly dropping her next stick in the cup an hour later:) I am so happy we have tried this!

Last week, E and I stopped by Panera for their Tuesday bagel deal (a baker's dozen for only $6.99!) and we heard this little guy peeping above us so cheerily. Like a sign that spring really will come someday!

Daddy and the boys were playing Mario Kart this weekend and Eliana decided to make a little house. Can you guess where she is?

Peek a boo! She got the boys into it and next thing you know, all three of them were collecting blankets and building little personal-sized forts all over the living room:) I do love when something simple like that entertains them for hours, just the way it used to for us when we were little.

Lent really sprung upon us this year. Probably because we have been preoccupied with minor things like figuring out what to do with our life:) This is only our second year ever taking part in Lent and appreciating the traditions and beauty of what it represents. Our sugar consumption has crept back upon us with the comfort of ice cream and what-not so we have decided to cut it out completely, except for Fridays. So....I guess not completely. Almost completely:)  I think it will be hard, as my chocolate cravings have been speaking lovingly to me lately but I think it will be good for both of us.

Ben told me that besides chocolate and alcohol, the next top two things people are giving up this season are Twitter and Social Media. Boy, our culture has changed! I would give up FB in a heartbeat, if it weren't for the fact that my family has a private family page and I love seeing the updates and posts from my family. It makes me feel more connected to my loved ones who are dispersed all over the country.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to blow my nose, unplug my ears and pray for spring.....