Monthly Archives: November 2011

Christmas with No Money

My heart really aches when I interact with society these days.  Sometimes I feel like the world isn’t really talking to me – it is talking to people who have money.  When I watch advertisements, news stories, or consumer reports, I tend to tune out.  The news seems to be all about when the best time is to Christmas shop, whether this item should be purchased now or closer to Christmas, or about strategies to getting your Christmas shopping done early – to me, it sounds like a foreign language.

We’ve never really had a lot of money.  It has always felt lean in our home, and we’ve always been on a budget.  But I must admit, we’ve gone overboard for our kids’ Christmas in years past, and we’ve made gift-receiving a big part of the celebration of the season.  Our stated limits have been one big present per kid (something that would truly thrill their hearts), and then other little presents as we see things that would make them smile.

But this year, we really don’t have money.  We are behind in our mortgage and are struggling to balance keeping bills paid and keeping food on the table.  My husband’s business is amazing and fruitful and satisfying, but as of now, isn’t profitable enough to generate a salary for us.  For months.  And months.  We are so buried that it takes a lot of mental energy not to fret all of the time.

It is under those circumstances that we approach the Christmas holidays.

I’ve been forced to stretch myself to think outside the realm of normal when it comes to honoring the traditions and joy of Christmas without money.  To me, the key is finding tangible ways to share the love that I feel…not by my money, not by the limited effort exerted from buying a present, nor by filling a gift card.

As I have racked my brain to come up with virtually free ways to make Christmas special for your family, I thought I’d share a few.  I’ve implemented most of these ideas over the years, and have found them to be really fun and festive.

Making Presents:  Almond bark covered pretzels, coupon books for services/time together, potato chips dipped in chocolate, taking your child’s art and cutting it to fit on blank notecards, etc., are all ways to be creative and frugal at the same time.

Making Service a Present:  Serving food at a shelter, sponsoring a Compassion International child as a family, choosing a neighbor and being their “secret Santa” for the month (or even the year).

Check out the free section of Craigslist or take advantage of Freecycle: There are a lot of great items that have served their purpose at one family but are ready to begin a new life in another family.

Redecorate your kids’ rooms with simple changes:  A new coat of paint, reorganizing a closet to make it a reading space, adding a new pillow or two can all really make a big difference and help the kids feel special and loved.

Buy a family gift instead of individual gifts:  One suggestion is a subscription to Netflix/Blockbuster.  For around $8/month you have access to a myriad of movies that you can instant stream into your home.  Other family gifts could be a board game that everyone could play, a family membership to a health club, movie tickets, or a read aloud book.

Make gift giving an event/activity:  Give everyone in your family a dollar and make a trip to a Dollar Store near you.  Tell your family members that the goal is to buy the biggest or smallest, or most outrageous or most thoughtful gift that can be purchased for a dollar.  When we did this, we made a night of it by making the goal to find a gift that represented the other person (either silly or serious), and then during the gift exchange time told the stories and explanations of why that gift was purchased.

Do a family activity together:  Sing Christmas carols or go caroling, drive around the city to look at lights, snuggle in for an evening of Christmas movies, or have a board game night.

Talk with your kids:  Letting everyone understand the “why” behind the minimalism gives them the tools to understand the choices being made.   Preparing them way ahead of time can reduce the amount of disappointment or complaining, and allows them to join in the creativity of present giving.

I don’t want to be in this position, at Christmas or at any time.  It isn’t comfortable or secure; however, I also know that being here is working great things in me:  Creativity, compassion, understanding, humility, etc.  Because of those benefits, I wouldn’t trade this season for the world.  If you find yourselves in the same place, I pray that your needs are met and that you are provided for.  If you aren’t in that position, I encourage you to find someone who is, and shower them with Christmas blessings.  We all need each other.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Family and faith, General thoughts

Serene Saturdays #31

My Thanksgiving in pictures…

A post-meal game of football in our local park…

This week of family, celebrating, thankfulness, food, football and playfulness has been so refreshing!  I hope it has been the same for you.

As we get ready to drive our eldest back to college and begin the new work week, I take with me a treasure chest full of amazing memories and a heart full of encouragement.

This week I am thankful for:

* The ability to create a great Thanksgiving dinner.

* Family traditions.

* Lots of laughter.

* A family that really enjoys each other.

* The smell of a pine tree in our home.

2 Comments

Filed under Weekends

Seasonal Wishes…

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I pray that this day of celebrating is refreshing and replenishing to your heart.  I am grateful for you!!!

2 Comments

Filed under General thoughts

10 Survival Tips for Introverted Parents

Being an introvert can make parenting a challenge.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I had a personality/giftings expert tell me that, based on my personality alone, I should never have kids.  I function best with plenty of solitude, being able to start and complete a task in one sitting, and to have my day structured and organized.  In short, I am an introvert.  In this expert’s opinion, child raising and introvertedness create a difficult pairing that is almost too great to overcome.

While I wholeheartedly agree that being an introvert and being a parent create unique challenges, I also believe that it is absolutely possible to do, all the while remaining sane.  There are a few strategies that I’ve found can be put in place to help the process go more smoothly.  I wanted to take a minute today to submit several ideas that I’ve found that make parenting as an introvert a bit easier.

#1  Require a no-unnecessary-noise zone.
One way for me to cope well is to keep noise to a minimum.  I recognize that having kids around intrinsically means there will be noise, and often times fun and noise go hand in hand.  I realize that I can’t have (and really don’t want) a completely noise-free zone.  However, we do have a rule that there will be no unnecessary noise.  Unnecessary noise means things like tapping, yelling, repetitive mouth sounds, loud singing, etc.  The phrase, “No unnecessary noise…” is heard often in our home.

#2 No two noisemakers going at the same time.
This relates closely to point #1; however, it zeros in specifically on things that make noise that might compete with one another, such as:   TV, computer game sounds, radio, toys that make noise, instruments, videos, singing, etc.  In our home, no two noise makers are run simultaneously.  And yes, there have been many fights discussions as to whose noise maker wins out – but in the end, it is better for me to wade through the dispute and have a relatively quiet place to reside.

#3 Mandatory nap/quiet time.
This suggestion incorporates creating emotional and physical moments of rest. When my four were little, we had mandatory nap time.  As they grew older, we shifted to enforcing a mandatory quiet time.  That time included reading books, resting in bed, or drawing.  Any activity that involved me or involved a potential fight between the siblings was nixed.

#4 Early bedtime.
Of course the time is negotiable, but having your kids go to bed early gives you space to rebuild your reserves for the coming day. My kids’ bedtime was always 7pm.  Even as they got older, we still maintained that time.  (Even until they were 10 or 11, they still went to bed at 7.) They could read in bed, listen to tapes in their rooms or play quietly, but they knew that I was “off duty” at 7pm. Since the time that my kids have barely been able to have real discussions, we have talked about how their early bedtime was much more about my need for replenishment than their need for rest.  I explained that it was motivated by my personality, and that I would be a better mommy if I had time in the evenings to recharge and refuel.

#5 Having kids stay in bed in the morning until an agreed upon time.
Even from the youngest of their ages, my kids have had a set time when they could get up.  When they were really little, they were to stay in their beds until we came to get them.  As they got older and could tell time, they knew to stay in their rooms until the designated time arrived.   That gave me a predictable beginning to my day, and allowed me to get mentally and physically prepared to handle the busyness that was to come.

#6 Have the day planned.
For me, having a structure/schedule is essential to my peace of mind.  Looking at the day as a blank slate is paralyzing; therefore, having a general agenda planned is so helpful.  Taking the few minutes that it takes to plan out events is well worth the mental energy saved throughout the day.

#7 Plan quiet activities for yourself (journaling, walking outside, etc).
Having activities that provide refilling, that fuel the introvert within you, are so key to being able to stay positive and pleasant throughout the day.  Find those things that restore your soul and regularly participate in them.  Plan your day with those elements included.

#8 Find activities to do with your kids that replenish you.
It is important that you recognize which activities throughout the day fill you or drain you.  The activities that both entertain my kids and replenish me are reading to them, playing board games, going on walks, etc.  I encourage you to think through the activities that you do with your kids and pinpoint which ones have a better chance of being replenishing to you.  When you plan your day, plan more activities that fall into that replenishing category.  Recognize which activities are draining, and if trying to creatively craft (or something like that) stresses you out, schedule it in very limited amounts.

#9 Use your introverted strengths.
As a whole, introverts are good with attention to detail and researching. Schedule your day so that most of your energy is spent moving in your strengths.  In one of my previous posts, I talked about how one of my daughters wanted Valentine’s Day cards handmade.  Not considering myself very creative, I realized that I could use my strengths of research to look up what handmade crafts might be available on the internet.  Instead of stressing over completing a task that took me out of my natural abilities (which is always draining), I found a way to use my strengths to see her project completed.

#10 Be intentional about face time with your kids.
If you spend quality time with kids – make eye contact and listen actively – they will feel really heard and connected to.  Parenting children who truly feel heard makes the parenting interaction so much easier.  Throughout the day when they get annoying, try to stop and intentionally listen to them (instead of brushing them off or making it clear how busy you are).  You might just see that the escalation of distress will cease.

Your unique personality, whether it be a demonstrative extrovert or a reserved introvert, is a gift from God.  As a parent, you have unique gifts that you pass on to your kids, and understanding your personality and working with the gifts that you have make you more effective in your role as a parent.

Let me know what other techniques you use to thrive as a parent!

 

34 Comments

Filed under Family and faith, Parenting

Serene Saturdays #30

Last night my husband pulled in from a very long day on the road (thanks to traffic in New York City), traveling to pick up my college daughter bringing her home for Thanksgiving.  I can’t tell you what a feeling of completion it is to have her in our home again.  The cheer that runs through my mind is that we are 6 again!

Today most of my family is going to attend the Yale-Harvard game – a big deal where we are.  Football on a cool Fall day is a great way to start off the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving in our home this year will be really quiet.  Over the past years, we have hosted 20+ people with several tables spread throughout our home.  That has come with piles and piles of food, great conversation and lots of energy.  That energy has become as much a part of the holiday as the decorations and place settings.  But with a huge chunk of our friends moving away, we find ourselves starting over.  This year, we will celebrate with two great friends.

We asked a lot of people to join us (we probably made 40 invites to various friends), but everyone is understandably committed to their friends and family. So maybe we’ll just open our front door and see who stumbles in!

As we look at a new landscape of seasonal celebrating, we find that we’re thankful for so much.

* My daughter is back home from college!!!!!!

* Our home is warm and lovely.

* All of us are healthy.

* We have a full refrigerator and the capacity to make amazing food.

* We have great friends spread throughout the country with whom we will be celebrating – even if long distance.

I pray that your Thanksgiving is energetic and peaceful at the same time, filled with family and friends, and a creator of amazing life-long memories.  As you prepare for the festivities, keep you focus on gratitude and love.  You are blessed!

1 Comment

Filed under Weekends

The Art of the Great Mentor

We all need guidance.  Our lives are complicated and challenging, and we are all asked to perform roles in which we have limited or no training. Whether that role be in our work, in marriage, as a parent, with our finances, culturally, with our cooking, etc., we all are in over our heads in some area.

When I got married, I knew that I needed guidance on how to create a great marriage.  To this day, we still are in contact with the pastor who performed our wedding ceremony, and he is a great source for accountability and counsel.

When I had kids, I definitely knew I was in over my head.  I knew what kind of kids I wanted to produce, but I wasn’t sure of how to accomplish that feat.  One of the first things that I did as a new mom was to set up a lunch date with an experienced mom who’s kids I greatly respected.  With my infant in hand, I asked this lady if we could create a relationship between us where I asked her my parenting questions.  She agreed, and I did.  Over and over and over.

For those of us who aren’t physically close to family (or for those who don’t have family that they want to emulate), we need to establish relationships that serve as family for us.  We need to have people from whom we draw for the various roles we fill in our lives.  We need to have people in our lives to guide us.  And because we play so many roles, we need to be open to having many mentors, or many people to whom we turn for advice and counsel.

The mentoring relationship won’t happen on its own.  It is important for you to have specific, measurable objectives and to find a mentor you will respect and trust to help you reach their goals. Once the partnership is under way and working, it is up to the partners to make the relationship thrive.  It takes time to find people who are both willing and able to help give advice.  It takes time to establish relationships based on trust and respect to whom you can go.  But believe me, it is worth it.

So how do you find a mentor?

* Take some time to think through the areas in your life in which you are struggling, or not performing the way you’d like to.

* Think of people who are doing that task well and who you respect in that area.

* If you already have a good relationship with that person, then make the ask. Be clear with them what you’re asking, and let them know why you’re asking specifically them.

* If you don’t have a strong relationship yet, then start making strides in that direction.

“I’ve learned… that the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.”  – the late Andy Rooney

1 Comment

Filed under Family and faith

Maneuvering Net-less Flight – The Beginning of our Homeschool Journey

It seems that in so many areas of my life, I am flying without a net.  What I mean by that is being in situations where you make a choice to go against the traditional route of society, often times resulting in no one to blame your failure on but yourself.  Some of those flying-without-a-net areas were chosen for me, and some of them I chose myself.

Educating my children at home is one of those areas.  While homeschooling is much more accepted these days, it is still an arena in which the success or failure of the children rests heavily on the shoulders of the parents.  And then there is the conversation about what success or failure really is…but that is a topic for another day.

When my oldest was 4/5 and getting ready to enter her educational journey, I could tell that she would have a little difficulty with learning if we chose a traditional education path.   She is an artist who gathers her information more from her senses than from linear, academic thought.  She is a really smart girl, but I had a hunch that she might struggle in a traditional setting where the main way to source information is visually.  I knew that I wanted to give her as much a head start as I could.  I didn’t intend to homeschool past the earliest of grades, but just long enough to make sure that she knew the basic math skills and knew how to read.

The first couple of years I spent as much time researching homeschooling as I did actually educating my daughter.  I interviewed everyone I knew that home schooled, and spent much time researching on the internet.  I answered some of the big questions of homeschooling (like socialization and salt/light), realized that I really loved teaching, and developed my philosophy around home education.  By the end of those first years, I was committed to home education, not only for the entirety of my daughter’s educational journey, but also for each of the kids that I would continue to have.

Along the way, I have collected scores of curriculum opinions, have tried many varieties of schedules, worked on various methods of chores, started and ended many subjects, had many character discussions with my kids, learned a ton about learning styles and methods, had many stellar moments, and had many collosal failures.

I have gone through the journey of helping my eldest graduate from high school, take SAT tests, and get accepted into colleges.  And presently I am continuing to educate my three remaining kids, as well as lend as much support as needed to my college daughter.

Flying without a net isn’t the most comfortable position to take.  There is risk, there is the fear of failure, and there is loneliness.  However, if it works, there is also great satisfaction and growth.

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” — David Lloyd George (Prime Minister of England 1916 – 1922)

1 Comment

Filed under Education at Home