Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Two Quick Things- a Gift and a Request

First, a gift for you– A Biblical Marriage, a blog I contribute to, launched an e-book today called Glorifying God in your Finances. If you enjoyed my “Take Care of your Pennies” post, it’s in there, along with articles from many of the regular contributors. And the best news is that it’s FREE for a limited time! (I’m not sure how long, so don’t wait.) Click the picture to reach the article and instructions for downloading.
Glorifying God in your Finances ~ FREE Resource from ABiblicalMarriage.com

Next, I need something from you. I have never been able to get into a “groove” with a quiet time and prayer. Mostly prayer. I figured the best way to learn is to research and teach, so I want to write some posts about the process of prayer. I’m asking for any kind of suggestions you have, from the smallest sentence to possibly a guest post. I want specifics… logistics… what time? How long? A certain amount of chapters, pages, time, etc?? Do you read the Bible only, or do book studies?

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. If it’s come easy for you, or if it has been difficult and you’ve found something that has helped, please share with us! (And if, like me, you’re still struggling, share that too… we’ll muddle through together.)

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Use It Up…

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

In keeping with my “Enough” and “Keepin’ it Real” posts, I’ve bought a little less than usual, making a point to look in my pantry, freezer, and deep in the closets of extra bedrooms first! I’m reminded of the slogan featured in the WWII poster, which I first heard long ago from my mother-in-law. She also says, “It’s foolish to throw something out the back door if you will have to go out the front door and buy another one!”

Early in January Sheila Gregoire wrote a good post called “Use What you Have.” The new year is a great time to think about this kind of thing, but we need to be careful to stay in the mindset. I’m still using food out of my freezer. I tend to buy multiple large cuts of meat when they are on sale– like large enough for my whole extended family– but since we more often get together in bits and pieces, I don’t pull the 6-pound pork loin out! But I did just that last week and made it down to a Third Generation meal before it became leftovers. It’s still good, though today I will see how much is left and maybe put the rest back in the freezer in its cooked form.

Now if you bought something and discovered that you hate it, and you can afford to buy something you like better, by all means, do! But get rid of the other– giving it to Goodwill is my standard way to recycle things. Having lots of partially-used products cluttering up your home is not conducive to a peaceful life.

How much money can you save by using what you have instead of buying something new?

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Enough

Enough

In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content– whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. Philippians 4:12

This post has been rattling around my brain for a long time now. Talks about the “fiscal cliff,” trying to choose Christmas presents, finding homes for the new Christmas presents, and New Year’s resolution planning have brought it to the front of my mind again.

In my First World Problem post, I touched on the problem that Mr X and I have trying to store all our stuff in our 4 bedroom, 3 bath house. You probably have a similar problem, no matter the size of your house. We tend to accumulate more and more stuff until it’s packed so tight that nothing else will fit.

How much is enough?

How many pairs of shoes do I need? Costume jewelry earrings and necklaces? Blouses, dresses, and pants? Sets of dishes? Pots and pans? Christmas decorations?

Around Christmas and birthdays, my mother-in-law (Granny) sometimes opens up her cabinet doors and lets us pick some glassware treasures. This year I got some pieces of pineapple floral depression glass. The creamer and sugar belonged to one of Mr X’s great grandmothers and the bowl to another. I have several dishes that belonged to his ancestors (mine too) and I treasure them. But what will my great grandchildren have from me? Of all the stuff I have, what is special enough to become heirlooms? When you have so much, all of it can lose its special-ness. I’ve been to so many estate sales and wondered how the family could let some of the things go, but there’s just not room to keep everything. So they keep the things that are inherently valuable and expensive, or else the things that meant a lot to their loved one, or evokes some memory of that person.

I feel the need to begin to accumulate less and treasure more.

I never knew any of my grandparents, but from what I’ve read, I’ve gathered that back in the day, ladies oftentimes had *A* church dress and *A* pair of dress shoes. They were probably relatively more expensive than the ones I buy on sale at Cato or Dress Barn, and great care was taken to make them last.

Does having all that stuff make us any happier than our grandmothers were? And what price are we paying for it? Are you unable to do money-saving activities because your job saps too much of your time and energy? I am. Do you feed your family fast food meals because you are too tired to shop and cook? I do. Are we working so we can eat out, pay for child care, and pay for our work clothes?

What would happen to our nation’s economy if we bought only as much as we needed? I’m not saying don’t buy anything but necessities; I’m stressing the QUANTITY, not whether something is a want or a need.  Could we be satisfied with, say, 10 pairs of shoes instead of 20? Five pairs of really good, well-fitting slacks, and a couple of pairs of jeans instead of twice that? Instead of buying (and storing) books and movies, rent or borrow them?  If we find something we like better than what we have, and decide it’s worth the cost, fine! Buy it, but then give the replaced item away. I think our need to accumulate new and reluctance to let go of the old is a symptom of some sort of spiritual problem, maybe a lack of trust that God will take care of us.

What if we decided that we have enough? Less would need to be produced and sold. People would require less money for consumable purchases, freeing up money for savings, giving, or building. We could pay off our debts. Maybe we could quit our jobs and stay home!

What a lifestyle change!

  • I will have to reign in my tendency to buy something that’s on sale and only “okay,” and instead buy only what I love.
  • Shopping can’t be a pastime, because I know when I go I’ll see something that I never knew I needed till I saw it!
  • I’ll have to recognize advertising for what it is, and pay attention to the items advertised (is this something I’ve been looking for?) instead of the message behind it- I’m not good enough, happy enough, pretty enough without this item, but once I get it– and I DESERVE it!– my every need will be met.

I’m in the process of cleaning out closets, drawers and cabinets. A local lady is sponsoring a garage sale to benefit the families of the Sandy Hook shooting, and I’m donating. And then I’m going to be very selective about what else I bring in my world.

What the Bible says about the accumulation of stuff and finding “enough”:

Those who love money [possessions] will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! Ecclesiastes 5:10

If you find honey, eat just enough–too much of it, and you will vomit. Proverbs 25:16 [I realize this is not about material goods but I think the concept probably applies-- be satisfied with enough.]

Better to have little, with fear for the LORD, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil. Proverbs 15:16

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Ah, November…

If you’ve read Sunshine’s “substitute” post, or my Facebook page, you know we had a little too much excitement last weekend– my husband, Mr X, was in a serious motorcycle accident while riding with a friend. He’s going to be okay; he spent 3 days in the hospital and has a broken nose and 3 broken ribs. He also had a small pneumothorax (air between the lungs and lining that can lead to a collapsed lung; fortunately his dissipated before we left the hospital) and internal bleeding leading to a large hematoma inside his pelvis. It quit bleeding and will eventually absorb. In the meantime, he’s stiff and sore, and moving slowly, but thank God, he’s moving! His friend was also injured but able to walk– stiffly– away.

I went back to work Thursday and Friday, and haven’t had a minute to write anything, or any spare brain cells that are really working that well– so I decided to do a month-end statistics report. As non-mathematical as I am, somehow I love studying statistics!

Top 5 Posts for November

lazy housekeeping                                             Cornbread dressing

1. Auntie Em’s Guide to Lazy Girl Housekeeping      2. Auntie Em’s Cornbread Dressing

Give me a man                         stormy sea

3. Give Me a Man                                                      4.    Stormy Weather?

5. He Wasn’t Always My BFF

Top 5 posts since the beginning (August 31, 2012)

1. He Wasn’t Always My BFF

                            

2. Actually, It’s NOT All About You         3.  Three Little Changes

4. Be Anxious for Nothing

5. Auntie Em’s Guide to Lazy Girl Housekeeping

The most shared posts since the beginning

1. Actually, It’s NOT All About You

2. Auntie Em’s Grilled Pork Loin, AKA The Truth Will Set You Free

           

3. Granny’s Cornbread                             4.  A First-World Problem

5. Thank You, Dave Ramsey

Check out some of these posts if you haven’t yet, and hopefully this week I will get some new words down. In the meantime, I appreciate all your prayers, and please keep them up! As I said on my Facebook page, the fellowship of believers (All over the world!!) is a sweet and powerful thing!

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An Explosive Combination

The past few weeks I’ve written several posts at A Biblical Marriage, trying to negotiate the dangerous “minefield” of holiday stresses– finances and  traditions, and unrealistic expectations so far, overcommitment and exhaustion to come. But I realized I had more to say, because when you mix it all together it can really cause explosions!

Traditions provide continuity and a fun staple of family memories, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to remain the same forever. Sandy Coughlin wrote a great post about when it’s time to change, and included this profound statement:

“Tradition is a beautiful thing if it doesn’t overwhelm you. But with traditions come a lot of expectations. And with failed expectations come a lot of stress and guilt.”                                       The Reluctant Entertainer

I was seriously upset the year my kids decided to ditch a tradition that I loved. Our first house was a small frame house on piers. We had a large gas space heater that normally kept us plenty warm in our temperate southeast Texas winters. However one year it was freakishly cold, dipping into the teens, so we left the heater on that Christmas eve, shut off Sis’s bedroom, and moved her to a pallet on the floor where Sunshine and the Boy had bunk beds. Well of course they all ended up on the floor and had a big slumber party. It was an accidental start to a tradition that lasted several years, and I just *LOVED* it. It seemed so like the Waltons!

Fast forward to 1995. We moved to a larger brick house with central heating. All the kids — ages 10, 11, and 14–had their own rooms. When I started talking about getting the music room ready for them to sleep there they all let me know really quick that they wanted no part of that lame idea! Sweet and fun as it was, its time had passed, but Mom wasn’t ready for it to go. (I did let it go, but pouted about it.)

Any time something changes– it could be the ages of your children, the height of your ceilings (We had to stop having a 9′ tree.); the time your Sunday School starts (this was a killer; we had to stop having pancakes on Sunday morning!); or family members’ jobs, you might have to change and adapt your expectations. We don’t “do our tree” with the kids on Christmas morning after breakfast anymore, but I still fix our “Christmas morning casserole” and Mr X’s parents come eat with us.

Another area we can have a lot of unrealistic expectations is in the area of finances. If you are living on a shoestring and barely making ends meet through the year, it’s silly to expect a huge haul of gifts for the children (or ourselves) at Christmas, but we still do it sometimes. Those insecurities about our parenting slip in and we can feel like parenting failures if we can’t get our kids the latest big thing. Be careful about this!

Now let’s get personal. We all have “rules,” ideas that we think should be carried out. They are the cause of many upsets in marriages. Back at A Biblical Marriage, LeRoy and Gina wrote a great post about figuring out their vacation rules in Tips for Successful Travel with a New Spouse. Scott wrote a hilarious one about choosing our battles. Sometimes we don’t realize what our rules are until they are broken; we are furious, and our spouse is bewildered! Know your rules, and figure out if they are worth keeping. Here’s a true story of my best friend:

The first year she and her husband were married, she thought they should make and decorate Christmas cookies. She mixed them up, rolled them out, and they were ready to go. He was watching football or something and wasn’t interested. She was furious and dumped them all in the trash! He was flabbergasted and didn’t have a clue what he had done wrong.

The holidays seem to magnify any weakness we have or that we see, and they make for some of the most stubborn ideas about what the rules are. Have you seen family misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and fights over these issues? I’ve seen several.

  • I have to cook ALL the food, from scratch. (Result: I’m exhausted, and if you don’t eat it all I take it as a personal affront and am mad at you.)
  • My sister got a diamond necklace for Christmas and I want one too. (Oops… didn’t budget for that, so I guess we go into debt, or have a resentful wife and a husband who feels inadequate because he can’t get his wife what she wants, which can both spiral into bigger problems.)
  • You stayed with your in-laws LAST Christmas.. it’s our turn! (Keeping score is a sure way to result in family strife.)
  • I’ve got so many parties to go to, programs to decorate for, rehearse, and perform in, that when I finally get home, I’m too exhausted to give my husband and children the attention they need. (What is my first priority supposed to be?)
  • We have to eat Thanksgiving dinner ON Thanksgiving Day at noon. (Oh well. The Boy works in a Country Club restaurant and holidays are some of their biggest days. If we stuck to that rule, we would miss out on him.)
  • We have to have a whole turkey and Grandma’s dressing. None of that new-fangled Food Network stuff!

You get the idea. Avoid Holiday Explosions! Examine yourself and figure out your rules. See how they measure up to THE rules. Adjust yours if necessary. Be flexible and understanding. Extend grace! Remember the Reason we are celebrating, after all, and pray that everything you say and do will point people TO Him and not AWAY from Him.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

2 Corinthians 9:15

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Always use real butter

Along with the reigning Queen of Butter, the Crown Princess Auntie Em is a believer in real butter!

Not only real butter in the literal sense, but the figurative sense too: You should consider its intended use, and buy the best quality that you can afford. A mattress and your tires come to mind. You use them every day. Your back comfort and your very life depend on them, so don’t pinch pennies there! Mr X used to be a carpenter/contractor, and he taught me this principal that ties nicely into my “Be frugal” rule. Now at first sight, the idea of spending more money might not seem like a frugal thing to do, but Auntie Em says look at the whole picture, not just the price tag. In the case of Mr X, he was making our living with his tools. They had to be dependable and long-lasting, so it was smart to spend the extra money on heavy-duty tools for his everyday jobs.

When I cook, I want it to taste GOOD! Many times you can get good food for less money– store brand milk and canned veggies are normally just as good as name brand– but Velveeta and Little Debbie are the only brands I’ve been happy with for cheesy goodness and snacks, so no off-brand for me there!

For clothes, you can apply this principle by considering how much wear a garment is going to get. One of Sis’s friends said she gives it the $1 rule. She can buy a $50 pair of pants if she will wear them at least 50 times. (I’ve had black pants that I’ve worn at least that many times!) Staples, like solid pants and skirts, especially ones that fit really well and are well-made, are good investment pieces. For trendy pieces and accessories, get them on sale for a little of nothing.

Now shoes are in a category all by themselves! I find that the older I get, the more crucial it is to have comfortable shoes. Gone are the days of buying inexpensive, trendy shoes to match an outfit; I’ve got to have some serious support, so I buy more expensive shoes less often.

If you need something NOW, like a dining table or car, and can’t wait till you can save up your money to buy a higher quality one, I suggest buying the CHEAPEST dependable one you can find. Ask around! Sunshine got a dining table and matching chairs from a friend who works for Bill Clark, when one of his customers was getting a new set and wanted to give away the old one! Or… swallow your pride… and drive the Mawmaw car with 10,000 miles on it but is definitely not cool! Then save your money till you can get exactly what you want.

Where you are willing to cut corners will be determined by you, and everyone might not understand your reasoning. That’s okay. Figure it out for yourself, what’s important to you! As always, I recommend visiting Dave Ramsey’s website and reading his books to help you formulate a financial plan.

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Thank you, Dave Ramsey

Auntie Em had a flat tire last week, and didn’t see it until after driving to TeeKay‘s down the block, and ruining it. Her sweet husband changed it while we took her car and went swimming! It turned out to be a good thing (Romans 8:28 again!) because when Mr X took it to the tire shop, they found wire showing through on another tire, and we realized it was time to replace them all. The good news was that we had the money saved, so I didn’t have to worry about driving on bald tires, or decide what I could do without while I paid for tires, or put them on a credit card and pay exorbitant interest!

You will recall that one of Auntie Em’s rules is BE FRUGAL. I believe this is a Biblical principle, as well as one that just makes sense. There are so many things we can fritter our money away on, and advertisers work tirelessly to convince us of our need for their products. When Mr X and I got married, at 21 and 19, he was making a whopping $5/hour (but with unlimited overtime!) and I had 12 piano students at $25/month. We had no financial plan. We had never talked about our goals. But you know that old saying that “God protects children and fools”? I guess we were both of those, and it worked out well, mostly because of his parents’ example of frugality and good stewardship. (Just a note, though- in the year and a half before we bought our first house we saved $7,000!)

We have taught 2 sessions of Dave’s Financial Peace University at our church, and we are believers! It has made a significant difference in the lives of several of our church families. In a nutshell, he has 7 “Baby Steps”:

       1. $1000 emergency fund

       2. Debt snowball (pay off all debt except home mortgage)

       3. 3-6 months’ living expense emergency fund

       4. retirement

       5. college fund for your kids

       6. Pay off your house early.

       7. Give like crazy!

He has a great website, with lots of free resources. If you are stressed out about your finances, you don’t have to be! Dave will tell you, he doesn’t have any new ideas. These are all things your grandmother told you! But with a plan to get your money under YOUR control, instead of the other way around, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

More to come about frugality and finances. In the meantime, meditate on what Solomon said. (Richest man in the world- think maybe he knew some things about money management?)
Proverbs 22:7 — “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
Proverbs 21:20 — “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”
Proverbs 21:5 — “The plan of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”
Proverbs 27:23 — “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds.”
For a more complete list, on Dave’s website, click here.
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Auntie Em’s guide to life

Hello Dearies; I’m so glad you are here! Auntie Em has learned a thing or two along the way and is happy to share them with you, so you don’t have to learn the hard way! (And now I’ll switch to first person!)

BE HONEST

Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” Surely everyone knows your life will be easier if you are honest with other people. (Who can remember what they told to whom? Not me!) The trick is to be honest with yourself. People were fooling themselves back in Jeremiah’s day and we are still doing it. Have you seen women of a certain age wearing Spandex when they shouldn’t? Singers on American Idol who thought they were good? What about teachers who make a big to-do list at the beginning of summer, and when school starts, it’s still undone? (OUCH!) Deceiving ourselves can go from the frivolous (like Spandex or size 6) to much more important issues, like our weight’s effect on our health, or addictions, or bad relationships. Once you uncover your warts– a painful process– you can deal with them honestly. You might decide to still eat the brownies. But you’ll do it with open eyes.

EXAMINE YOURSELF

As long as we’re talking about honesty, this is a good time to say- examine yourself. Have you thought about why your dad’s not telling you about his out-patient surgery hurt your feelings? (My “rules” say you must share health concerns.) Have you been cranky and not known why? (I’m cranky when I’m cold. I get colder than a lot of people, so I know to bring a jacket, or if I’m on a car trip with Mr X, a blanket too.)

KNOW YOUR RULES; KNOW THE RULES; KNOW THE DIFFERENCE

My rule: My girls had to have dresses that I made at Easter when they were little. (This caused some stress for me!) THE rule: They need to be in church on Easter (and regularly) and it really didn’t matter even if it’s a new dress or not! Don’t get too hung up on YOUR rules.

BE FRUGAL

The “Tightwad Gazette” (Amy Dacyczyn) has had a significant influence on my financial life. In our world, “frugal” means getting the value that YOU determine is valuable. You save where you can, intentionally, so that you can decide what you want to do with your money. (We did piano lessons for 2 children from grades   1-12 but didn’t have cable TV until the youngest was 9 or 10.) We are also Dave Ramsey followers- don’t borrow money except for a house.

DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT (Don’t fall for advertising.)

Contrary to what TV ads say, every woman does not need professionally colored hair, salon nails, a tattoo, a fake tan, and the latest shade of the color-du-jour shoes. And it really IS possible to live on one income while caring for preschool children. Now I have a very fashionable friend who likes to buy inexpensive, trendy accessories, but she saves her bigger money for wardrobe staples. And I have some friends who don’t want to put a hold on their careers and feel like their career/child situation is in balance (usually with the help of a lucky grandma!). But your money (or time, or energy) can do only one thing. YOU get the facts and decide.

LET THINGS GO

You have control over one thing. You.

EXTEND GRACE

I love 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter.  “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (v 7) So very often, my students get all upset because of something a friend did or didn’t do, or say, only to find out later that their friend was preoccupied, or didn’t see them because they didn’t have their contacts, or were upset because their parents just announced a divorce. If we can jump FIRST to the conclusion that some offense is not about us, we will be much happier.

BE KIND

I don’t know why I’m still surprised when I find out that somebody who appears to be fine is actually dying inside. I’ve seen it so many times. Be kind to people and give them a break. You never know what’s going on in their lives.

USE REAL BUTTER (and the best ingredients possible)

Self-explanatory. Except it holds in all other areas. I have Wusthof knives and will never need to buy any again.

PLANT THINGS IN PLACES THEY WILL BE HAPPY

Azaleas will get big, and they have a natural shape. Don’t try to make them small hedges. You’ll work yourself to death and they won’t reach their potential. (This theory works with children too.)

AMEND YOUR SOIL AND USE MULCH

Fertilizer won’t help too-sandy soil. And the Texas sun will dry up your beds in a day if you don’t mulch. Weeds will spring up too. (Good relationship rule too, with kindness and love being both the amendment and the mulch!)

ASK YOUR HUSBAND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MAKE HIM FEEL LOVED, AND DO IT

Guys are weird different and sometimes hard to understand. Reading books like John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Gary Smalley’s The Five Love Languages will give you lots of insight, but you still need to be a student of your husband and ASK him.

MAKE YOUR HUSBAND YOUR FIRST EARTHLY PRIORITY (not your kids)

They will leave. He will not. (hopefully both) They will also be set up for good relationships when Mom and Dad have a good one.

GET A BOARD OF ADVISORS

Swallow your pride and pick some people you admire. Let them mentor you. HINT: They don’t even have to know they are doing it; in fact they might not even be alive! Look at different areas and see who you admire- fashion, decorating, spirituality, marriage, child-rearing, etc.

READ YOUR BIBLE

You will find many mentors in the Bible. Even if you are not a believer, you can’t go wrong! Love one another- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you– The borrower is slave to the lender– Don’t let the sun go down on your anger– etc. You’ll see lots of guidance on what to do, but also plenty of “what not to do” (David did what?), and how God will forgive ANY sin and still use you in marvelous ways.

So there you have it. Auntie Em’s guide to life.

I’m linking with The Alabaster Jar

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