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!

“Good Enough” is Good Enough

For many of us, school is about to start. If you are a teacher, you might start weeping and gnashing your teeth when you read that statement! No matter how much you enjoy it, teaching school has a way of sucking the life out of you — and I’m sure other jobs are the same way.

Sometimes my job gets out of control– I stay too late; bring work home; and even when I’m away it’s on my mind. But I’m better than I used to be! I’m always optimistic that I can manage my work time and tasks better so I won’t be a blob on the couch when I get home. How bout you? I’ve put together some ideas specifically aimed at perfectionists and overachievers– the Marthas of the world. In a job like mine (high school choir teacher), I get a salary and I have some expected outside activities, but I could find or make things to do at school every day till 6:00. But only if SCHOOL (or my program, or looking good in my region, or others’ admiration) were my first priority! I have to find the right balance.

1. Start with some quiet time to think. You’re going to brainstorm, so tell Martha to be quiet while Mary uses her imagination. Don’t let “It won’t work” or “How can I do that?” come in the picture.

2. List your priorities. Then put them in order. Don’t worry about what they SHOULD be– or what your schedule says they are– just what YOU think they are. Here are mine: God, husband, my children, church/service, job. (Don’t overanalyze. Just write down what your first thought is. You can change it later if you want!) If you have been frazzled, what areas do you feel like were neglected?

The next few steps are to be done in layers. First build the skeleton, then come back and add some muscle.

3. Now to the nitty gritty: What activities does your employer REQUIRE of you outside regular hours?

This might be vague, especially if you’ve been a Martha . Ask yourself if your boss would reprimand you if you didn’t do it. (Tell Martha to shut it; she is not welcome in this exercise!) These are the tasks that you MUST do if you want to keep your job. An example in my case is that  I prepare my students for All-Region Choir competitions , UIL Concert and Sight-Reading, a Christmas concert and Pop Show in May.

4. What is required for you to do your job during regular hours?

I have to teach our repertoire to performance or competition level. By doing this the students learn music theory, music history, and vocal and ensemble skills required by the state.

5. Now draw your “yellow lines” around your priorities. (I just read Body by God by Dr. Ben Lerner and he used that concept– You don’t cross yellow lines in traffic, and you don’t cross yellow lines in your schedule. If it’s family time, GO HOME from work!) If work infringes on your family time, I would recommend starting with family time. In a perfect world, I would leave work at ….? Don’t start listing reasons why it won’t work. Just say what time you need to leave in order to make your family time your priority. For me it’s 4:30, an hour after school gets out.

Now remember, Martha, you’re still not making any decisions, just brainstorming!

Now to flesh out your “skeleton.”

1. How can you make your outside expectations fit in your priorities? Remember my All-Region Choir requirement. That could take up all my waking hours if I let it. Here’s how I cut it down to size:

We work on the music in class; we bring in paid voice teachers one afternoon a week, and I offer morning sectional rehearsals. I cheer, encourage, and make online resources available, I’m also available for individual help upon request. What I DON’T do is require everybody to come in for sectionals, or set up times for private lessons for me to work with all of them after school. I would be at school all hours if I did, and my philosophy is it’s THEIR responsibility to practice and get help. If they can do it only with my pushing and holding their hand, they don’t need to do it. They are in high school. And besides, my kids are some of the busiest ones on campus- advanced classes, band, drama, church, sports, etc… They have lots of demands on their time too. I try to make my class time very productive so they will need little outside time.

Brainstorm options to lessen the demands of your requirements.

2. What about your work-hours expectations? I have to teach repertoire, including the theory, history, and technique needed to perform it.

I love making videos and powerpoints or slide shows. However, they are very time consuming. But they engage the kids more than plain old paper or projector do! Yes, but how much more is learned? My very wise mentor asked me one time early in my career (when I was practically living at school), “For the extra 2 hours you put in that project, how many kids honestly benefited more than if you had taught it another way?” And the answer was, “Maybe none.” It was just prettier, flashier, and more fun for me.

If you are a teacher who is trying to scale back work time, and have lesson plans that have worked well, use them again! For heaven’s sake why reinvent the wheel? My wise daughter Sis reminded one of our overachiever perfectionist students who was way too stressed for a high school student that “Good enough is good enough!”

  • Make 1 or 2 projects/units each summer.
  • Collaborate with colleagues. Dropbox or other online resources make this so easy!
  • Google something before you make it! Chances are, somebody else has done it already.
  • Delegate! For me, the obvious thing would be to have students make the videos. More learning for them, less time for me.

If you have an activity you love that is not required, balance the time it takes and the benefits gained. We always sing at our Veterans’ Day programs, For me, the benefits gained are easily worth the time involved: giving my kids the opportunity to learn about the sacrifices made for our country, honoring the Vets, and serving in our community. Easy win, well worth the time involved. But we have sung the National Anthem at events in Houston that end up taking 8-10 hours out of a Saturday. It’s fun for the kids, and a cool experience, but that’s about all. Way too “expensive.” Maybe we could do that every other year, and alternate with singing at a sporting event at our local university.

Be creative and play devil’s advocate. If you have only a certain number of hours– and you do– how can you adapt this activity to make it fit? If you can’t, ditch it.

Let me address the elephant in the room now.

If you have been running and doing and giving much more than is required, and you decide to make your actions match what you say your priorities are, some people will not be happy with you. Anticipate this. You might want to give them a heads-up if you are not going to do some things you’ve been doing. You might want to phase out some activities gradually. But they probably will still be unhappy. You ultimately have to ask yourself who is higher on your priority list, those people or your family? (or whatever other priority you are moving up on your list) The apostle Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Once you’ve brainstormed, leave your list a while. Pray. Think. Get counsel from one of your Board of Directors. Then go back to it and see how you can change your world.

"Good enough" is good enough


Real Food Challenge– What Do I Eat?

As you know if you’ve been reading this week, Auntie Em has taken on The 7-Day Real Food Challenge presented by Mary’s Kitchen. As I said in my “What Do You Mean, Real Food Challenge?” post, that may mean different things to different people. A very strict Real Food diet would include ONLY fresh, whole food in its original form. That’s more restrictive than fits my lifestyle, so rather than toss it out completely, I’m doing a modified one. (You can read my guidelines on the “What Do You Mean?” post.)

(Obviously) Eat Fresh or Frozen Fruits and Veggies.

Limit your fruits if you are trying to lose weight or keep your sugar down, as they are higher in natural sugars. Real butter is a real food– flavor with that or with olive oil. Don’t use margarine or “lite” stuff. This kind of cooking/eating is time consuming, so be smart about it: Cook larger quantities and then just reheat them for subsequent meals. Here are just a few Auntie Em recipes:

Auntie Em’s Country Squash

Tropical Fruit Salad

“Complicated” Fruit Salad (It’s really effortless!)

Garden Fresh Broccoli

Broccoli Salad

Green Beans

For several months I’ve been starting my day with a packet of oatmeal. *bangs head on table* Compare the ingredients in the first picture (pre-packaged) and the canister (1-minute rolled oats).

I don't know what these are. Do you?  ingredients only rolled oats

These still wouldn’t pass muster on a strict Real Food diet, but they are a lot closer than the boxed, packaged stuff. Rule of thumb: The more steps between original food and your mouth, the less “real” it is. Mr. Quaker Oats had to do something to make those oats cook in 1 minute. (For a simple explanation of the journey from oats from the field to steel cut oats, to rolled oats, to quick oats, check here.)   I made up a “2-serving” batch (1 cup of oats, 2 cups water) and added a chipped-up apple, a tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 TBS maple syrup. Good! 2/3 cup was plenty. I added a TBS of vanilla almond milk for a little extra and it was quite tasty. A little more trouble up front, but now for several days I will be able to just microwave it like the little package.

From packaged oatmeal to quick oats: Progress!

I used to take 4 packets of Splenda in my large mug of coffee. (Don’t judge) Now, I pour my half and half and sip. Not terrible. Then I add ONE Splenda and it tastes quite sweet enough!

4 Splenda packets to 1: Progress!

I’ve used spaghetti squash in place of pasta– a lot of trouble but okay taste and texture. Today I julienned zucchini and sautéed it, then topped with spaghetti sauce. Just as good, and much less trouble!

Pasta to vegetable: Progress!

Main dishes

A salad is great! Add chicken or any other meat you grilled last night. Be wary of croutons and salad dressing. Those are often very processed. Make your own salad dressing– cheaper, healthier, and you get exactly what you want. Soups and stews are another great way to eat clean. Add homemade broth and fresh or frozen veggies to meat and you’ve got it.


I made this paleo strawberry shortcake that was pretty good. I used real whipped cream, not Cool Whip.

{Guiltless} Paleo Strawberry Shortcake | Fitcupcaker

I haven’t fixed many desserts– if anything, we are mostly eating fruit — because we are trying to cut calories too. And as my wise son said, “If it’s superfluous, why eat it?”

I hope I’ve given you a bit to “chew on” in your Real Food journey!

Mary's Kitchen: Real Food Challenge day 3


Real Food Challenge- Here’s Help

When I start something new, especially if it’s very far outside my “box,” I need a lot of information and encouragement! Fortunately for me, there are many sources available.

I mentioned Mark’s Daily Apple and Balanced Bites in my Paleo 101 post.

For Real Food/clean eating, I like Mary’s Kitchen (the 7-Day Challenge host) and Just Eat Real Food.  (I sometimes have trouble accessing her site, but I can get to her Facebook  and Pinterest pages.)

For the whole fitness thing, including exercise, my IRL friend Aimee has a wonderful FB page called Aimee’s Corner. You will find tons of encouragement, along with humor and grace here.

Cover Photo

Another is Scooby’s Workshop. My son started on a healthy journey in January and has lost *80* pounds! He says he’s learned everything from Scooby.

Scooby's Workshop

I have to share before and after pictures. Handsome, huh?

Before After

He took shirtless pics too, that really show the dramatic change. You can see the before and after if you want. (I didn’t want to shock anyone with pictures of a shirtless man!) He has completely changed his eating– mostly fish, brown rice or quinoa, and a green veg; and only water to drink. He’s also become an athlete! He began by walking, then intervals of running/walking, and now is running 2 or more miles at a time, plus bicycling. He uses an app called Runtastic to track his miles.

There are a world of websites and apps to help you in your journey to good health. Just be careful that you don’t get stuck in researching them to death, trying to make the PERFECT decision, and neglect to actually DO anything! (I’m preaching to myself lol!)

7 day real food challenge Mary's healthy meals


Real Food Challenge/Paleo 101

I’m taking the 7-Day Real Food Challenge with Mary’s Kitchen. (If you’d like to catch up, start here.) To tell the truth, I had overhauled my eating already, beginning around mid-June, and some posts had been floating around in my head; I thought the Challenge was the perfect time to pin me down! I’ve found some good resources that have helped.


A strict paleo diet doesn’t include any dairy or grains, and though I’m not quite willing to go that far, I am using a modified paleo diet. (I love my rice and beans and half-and-half in my coffee!) With my wheat allergy, their no-grain philosophy has given me some good alternatives, and I’ve learned a lot about nutrition by reading up on this diet. The resources I’ve used have talked at length about the connection between what they’ve termed the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) and many, many of the health problems that plague our country: obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, lupus, ADD, etc. I understood enough to see that most nutrition absorption occurs in our small intestine, and when we try to process foods that we were not designed to process, (especially all the added chemicals!) inflammation results– and that inflammation affects our immune system and wreaks havoc. Paleo also stresses blood sugar regulation and the dangers of huge spikes resulting from processed carbs and sugars.
Practical Paleo

by Diane Sanfilippo

This book was recommended by my friend who has lost a lot of weight by changing what she was eating. Like me, she does more of a Real Food diet than strict paleo. What I liked about the book was that the author took all her scientific knowledge and put it in easy-to-follow, practical applications. She has a good website, too, called Balanced Bites. In addition to teaching about how paleo diets work in your body, she has 30-day menu plans designed to address particular health needs like high blood pressure and cholesterol, autoimmune diseases, cancer recovery, and others.

Mark’s Daily Apple website Blackboard grok2

Read his “Primal Blueprint” in a nutshell on his website. To put it in an even smaller shell, it’s this:

  • Diet–Eat things that occur in nature and avoid poisons.
  • Exercise– Move around a lot at a slow pace (Think hunter-gatherer); run really fast once in a while (Think being chased by lions); and lift heavy things.
  • Lifestyle– Play, get plenty of sleep, get sunshine every day, avoid trauma, and use your mind.

After bingeing a couple of days reading everything I could find about Paleo diets, I found this TED talk on “Debunking the paleo myth!” Dr. Warinner, an archeological scientist, basically says that they are not based on science. However, she says there are a lot of good things about the diet: (If you can’t watch the whole video, please at least watch the 3-point wrap up beginning at 17:00.)

  • Dietary diversity: Vary your food types as much as possible– the SAD is headed toward fewer, not more foods: wheat, corn, and soy.
  • Fresh, natural foods: We don’t really know the effect chemical additives and preservatives on our bodies, but we are inundating them with chemicals that we were not designed to ingest.
  • Whole foods: Consume foods in as close to their natural state as possible, including “their fiber and roughage, and everything.” When we eat processed foods, we get far too many calories in a very compact form, and miss the other important parts that tell us we’re full, slow down the absorption of nutrients in our gut, and regulate our blood sugar. This contributes to obesity and other health problems.

For me the game changer from this whole video was the information about sugar and how our bodies are designed to absorb it. To get the equivalent amount of sugar in a 32 ounce soda, can you guess how much sugar cane you’d have to eat? Anyone? EIGHT AND A HALF FEET! As Dr. Warinner says, there is no possible way you could eat that much sugar cane– even if you really, really wanted to! And now we can get the equivalent amount of sugar in about 20 minutes.

If you want to improve your diet, but all this real food/paleo diet information is overwhelming, simply make a few simple changes.

  • Begin reading labels and if there are more than 5 ingredients, don’t buy it.
  • If you don’t know what some of the ingredients are, don’t buy it. (They are probably highly processed additives to cheaply add or enhance flavor, or else preservatives.) Instead of buying frozen veggies in sauce, buy plain frozen veggies and make your own. Or eat them plain, with some natural, full-fat butter!
  • Avoid foods that are no-fat or “lite.” These usually have other things added to make up for what’s taken out, and they are worse for you than the real stuff. If you are limiting calories, just skip them altogether or limit them.

7 day real food challenge Mary's healthy meals


What Do You Mean, Real Food Challenge?

I’ve decided to join Mary’s Kitchen’s 7-Day Real Food Challenge beginning today. In her Details and Recipes post, Mary asks the question, What IS Real Food? She explains that it might mean different things to different people.

You know me, and know I believe in the “Every little helps” philosophy. So I’m not going to set forth a long list of strict rules for myself. Here  are the guiding principles of my particular Real Food Diet:

  1. If God made it, it’s okay. If man made it, be careful.
  2. If it has more than 5 ingredients, be careful.
  3. If it has added sugar, MSG, or unpronounceable chemicals, be careful.
  4. Get organic or the closest to organic possible.
  5. Avoid or at least limit food allergens.

“Be careful” means knowing that it might not be best for me but I might eat it anyway. For example, I have seriously reduced the Splenda in my coffee– from 4 packets to 1. But I just can’t quite lose that last one!

Fortunately, Mr X has always liked what he calls “farm food” — plain vegetables and meat without sauces or being mixed together, and they are the perfect Real Food, especially if you can get organic.

My diet is further complicated by food allergies. I’m mildly allergic to milk, corn, yeast, and eggs. I’m ALMOST allergic to wheat, soy, and coconut. Have you ever tried to plan meals without using wheat, milk, corn, or eggs? Complicated! These allergies affect my sinuses, mostly in my ear area, and are cumulative, so a little doesn’t really hurt, but the more I eat the worse it gets. If it’s spring or fall, when my grass/tree/mold/dust allergies are on overload, I have to be especially careful!

And a further complication is that besides getting healthy nutrition, I’m striving to reach a healthy weight. I’m using the “Lose It” app and when I say I’d like to lose 1 1/2 pounds a week, it says I should eat 1,055 calories, then screams a warning that nobody should eat less than 1200. So I have to choose foods that will give me the most nutrition for the calories I eat.

Real Food Diet Goals:

  1. Overall good health via nutrition
  2. Avoidance of added chemicals
  3. Weight loss
  4. Lowered cholesterol

What changes do you need to make in your diet? What are some EASY baby steps you can start with today? Join me the rest of the week and let’s figure this out together!

Mary's Kitchen


Thugs in the Garden

THUG– a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. (NOTE for word nerds: The etymological roots and history of this word is fascinating– the followers of a cult in India from before 1356 till supposed eradication around 1840. They were estimated to have murdered a million people during those centuries!)

Modern day thugs are a bit different: They lie in wait till someone comes along, then attack. They look innocent enough.
green bean tendril thug
But look a bit closer and you’ll see sharp spines. The same things that enable those green beans to climb up a trellis will scratch whatever part of your body happens to rub against them! I also had a pretty good scratch on my face, right below my eye. It was fun saying I got attacked by a green bean tendril!attacked by green bean thugs
Even if thugs aren’t violent, they are so inconsiderate. They breed indiscriminately. They propagate way too many offspring, with no thought of how to provide for them, or who will have to do without in order to support them.
This year the thug tree is the sweet gum. I’m finding seedlings EVERYWHERE!


Boston ivy is one of the few Southeast Texas plants that actually changes color in the fall and give us some pretty yellows and reds. (Most of our plants are evergreen, or go straight from green to dead.) I had a large vine climbing an oak out my back door, but last fall you could see the seeds falling like rain. Baby ivies have taken over. The parent plant is now cut! But I have a lot of cleanup to do- pulling up babies (that sounds so cruel) and pulling up established plants. This Boston ivy has almost completely covered the azalea underneath; it’s struggling to get nutrients and light.


In the picture above, you can see a few of the biggest garden thug at my house, alstromeria! They make an unusual, pretty flower in the late spring, but then they begin their life of thuggery… spreading underground by runners… making seed heads and blowing seeds all around, taking root in any little space they find, whether it’s a flower bed, crack in the driveway, or potted plant. You can see where they almost took over a whole bed.

alstromeria thugs

They killed the mock orange on the right. I moved the strangled cannas struggling for life, and dug out as many alstromeria tubers as I could. The hydrangeas have never looked better!hydrangea

But look a little closer and you’ll see an alstromeria bloom that evaded arrest, just waiting to start spitting her seeds out and starting all over again! (It’s gone now!)alstromeria thug

There’s a little thug-ette that’s been making herself at home for a few years, and she’s getting a bit too bold all along my sidewalks: I never knew her name till I researched it today. I found out it’s Commelina, or asiatic dayflower. A beautiful blue flower with a name that pretty ought to be welcome, but she’s worn hers out! Each of the nodes (joints) along the stems can take root, making it very difficult to pull up and control.



Then there’s the American Beautyberry… a nice well-behaved, low-maintenance bush. Bright green foliage all season, pretty little light pink flowers in the spring and summer, and almost neon purple berries in the winter. It’s attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, being one of the few berry plants to provide food for the birds through the winter. However. Those birds then fly around and… well you know… they leave beautyberry seeds all over the yard, then I have to fight the seedlings!


Last but certainly not least in my garden thug tour is black and blue salvia. It has the most spectacular deep blue flowers! But, put it in loose rich soil and it will spread like wildfire. This behemoth started life as a 4″ pot about 4 or 5 years ago, and has been pulled up and shared a lot already. Definitely a thug.


When you are choosing plants for your garden, check out Dave’s Garden to find out if it is an invasive plant or there are any other bad qualities. Remember too, if it’s low-maintenance on the front side (as in being a perennial, and not having to replant every year), there will be at least SOME maintenance on the back side, in trimming back or thinning and separating. Only you can decide if it’s worth it to you!


Auntie Em’s Savory Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are a great thing to take to a dinner or serve at home as an appetizer. I had a request from Rejoycin, so Denise, this is for you!

Start with Perfect Boiled Eggs. You’ll cut them in half, so do the math lol! (I always cook 1 or 2 more than I’ll actually need in case one falls apart, and I like to use the extra yolks for more filling.)


Cut them in half longways and remove the yolks.

Auntie Em's Savory Deviled Eggs

Mash the yolks coarsely with a fork,

Auntie Em's Savory Deviled Eggsthen add what you want to get the flavor you want. Your options are limitless! Today I used 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of Auntie Ems Honey Mustard dressing,  1/2 tsp salt and about 1/4 tsp pepper, a dash of onion and garlic powders, and 1 tablespoon of sweet relish.

Mix it all up and spoon it into your egg half.

Auntie Em's Savory Deviled Eggs

Auntie Em’s Savory Deviled Eggs

1. Cook and peel eggs.

2. Cut in half longways and remove yolks.

3. Mash yolks coarsely and add a binder, crunchies if you like, and seasoning.

Binders: mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, Greek yogurt, any flavor salad dressing, sour cream, etc.

Crunchies: sweet or dill pickle relish, onion, celery, apple, etc.

Seasoning: salt and pepper, onion or garlic powder, taco seasoning, Ranch or Italian dressing mix, etc.

This is truly a recipe where you can experiment and see what fits your mood! (Just be sure to write down what you do so you will remember!)


Time: The Elusive Necessity in Marriage

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

24 hour clock courtesy of digitalmama824 via Flickr

Have you accepted the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day? And that even though you can borrow money (bad idea), you can’t get any more time? If your too-busy schedule is causing stress in your marriage, it’s time to take an honest look at it, assess it, and make some changes. In “No Vacuum,” I talked about 2 extremely important things in a successful marriage: knowing what we need as well as what our spouses need; and once we figure that out, having realistic expectations of ourselves and our spouses. Today I’m looking at where these 2 ideas intersect: TIME.

“Free” Time

Do you feel like you’re running from can to can’t? (That’s one of my favorite old-time Southern sayings.) Or in the words of the country singer, “always running, but always running behind”? If you’re not sure where your time flies away to, keep a time diary for a few days– in 15-30 minute increments, see where your minutes go. OUCH… It might show what I call the “Starbucks effect” (spending a small amount of money very often– it adds up!) But instead of being shocked at how much money you spent, you might realize that you’ve wasted a lot of time in small chunks, on things that aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of your life, like Facebook, playing games on your phone, watching TV reruns, etc. Don’t get me wrong; you do need recreation and leisure activities. But you need to CHOOSE what you do, not just fritter away your time on meaningless activities, then wonder why your marriage is suffering. How we spend our time should reflect what we say our priorities are.


And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Is your career killing your marriage? In his sermon series “Breathing Room,” Andy Stanley shares a story from a book written by a hospice nurse who spends much of her time with people in the last few weeks of their lives. She began asking them, “What do you regret most in your life?” She said, without exception, every. single. man. wished he hadn’t spent so much time and energy on work.

“This came from every male patient that I had nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.” Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

(Thanks to Joel at Friendly Thoughts for documenting what I only listened to!)

Mr X and I both have salaried jobs, and we probably could both work another 4 hours every day and still find things to do. In our cut-to-the-bone economy, many employers expect more than any one person to do, and sometimes we are our own slave-drivers. But you’ve got to be honest– if you consistently work many hours beyond what you signed up for, is it worth it? That salary that looked great when you divided it by 40 hours a week might not look so good spread out over 60-80 hours. And is it worth it to you? Only you can decide. But again– be honest. Count the whole cost (not just in terms of money) to your marriage, children, your health, etc.  How much money does your family need? It’s a sad thing when a parent realizes he’s lost his window of opportunity to build a close relationship with his children while he was working to provide THINGS that were not as  important as a relationship with him.

This is tough, I know. You’ve got to find the balance. To help you think, I have to throw in this classic song from the late Harry Chapin. There is a bit of commentary from his wife and son that I think are quite relevant.

Caring for Yourself

… vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases.  But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:15-16

Have you ever had “vast crowds” clamoring for you? Like at the bathroom door? We women are notorious for taking care of everything and everybody else before we take care of ourselves. But you know what? You’ve got to take care of yourself or you’ll either be sick or be a grouch who has nothing left for your poor spouse. I learned the hard way that my job could move on just fine without me, and it reminded me that I’m the only wife my husband has and the only mom my kids have. Consider these things when you’re looking at your weekly schedule:

  • How much margin do you need for mental peace? I need lots, and when I forget to figure it into my schedule, my nerves frazzle. Rushing from one activity to the next drives me crazy!
  • How much sleep and rest does your body need? If you cheat, it will catch up with you.
  • What rejuvenates you? This is different for everyone.

Jesus modeled taking time away for re-creation. (I rather doubt He needed it– but He knew we would!) And remember that in Exodus 20, God Himself suggested commanded that we should rest. How prideful are we when we think the world will fall apart without us?

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…

How are you using your time today? Do you need to make any changes?


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?


Take Care of Your Pennies

take care of your penniesA wise man once told Mr X, “Take care of your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves.” Mr X worked for this man all through high school and held him in high esteem all his life, so that line has always been a guiding principle for us. You can save money on your home purchase a couple of times in your life, on your cars once every few years, but you can take care of your pennies every day. We have spent a lifetime taking care of our pennies, and it has always paid off!

Let me tell you a little about our financial journey, and what I’ve learned. If you have trouble in this area, I think I can help you!

When we got married, at ages 19 and 21, Mr X was working in a machine shop making $5/hour (but with unlimited overtime!) and I had 12 piano students at $25/month. Not a lot of money, even in 1980 dollars! We had no long-term plan. (Dumb) Our expenses were low, though, and thank You, God, my parents were paying for my college. He had dropped out after 3 semesters. We had already dated 5 years and very quickly I was desperate to have a baby. Mr X said we had to buy a house first, so we began saving as much money as we could. In about 16 months of marriage, we saved $7000! I can’t tell you how, except to say we had a goal that was very important to us.

I laid out of school about a year after Sis was born, until my FIL asked when I was going to go back; that it would be a shame to be so close and not finish. I started back immediately. (Note to self: The words you speak have great power; you never know how much impact they might have on somebody!) I graduated 3 months before the Boy was born, then had Sunshine 16 1/2 months later.

During that period I continued to teach piano lessons and play an occasional wedding. Mr X began working as a carpenter and eventually started his own contracting business, but money was very tight for many years! Here are some things we did that I would advise anybody to do:

  • Tithe to your church before you pay anything else.
  • Buy less house than you can afford, and do repair and decorating work yourselves.
    We bought a small, older, frame house for $25,000. Our down payment was almost 30%. (Dave Ramsey says don’t buy a house unless you can pay at least 10% down.) Do you remember the interest rates in 1982? 17%!!! I’m pretty sure Dave would have said wait a while lol! We refinanced when the rates went down, and paid extra when we could. We gradually painted and wallpapered, replaced flooring, and in a large project expanded the original 900 or so square feet to 1200, replaced the siding and put insulation (there was none), replaced the roof and windows. We did almost all the work ourselves and didn’t borrow any money.
  • Take anything free that anyone offers you. If your pride rears up, remind yourself that you are being so environmentally responsible! Don’t be picky– just take it! You can pass it on if it won’t work for you, but if you say no, they might quit offering.
    I probably didn’t buy any new clothes for my kids! My sister’s 2 girls are right ahead of mine, and friends had kids older and younger. Then I passed them on to friends with smaller children. We just passed them around.
    When we had a church dinner and there was food left, the kitchen helpers would often ask if we wanted it–and of course we did! Even if its more than you can use now, freeze some for later. Grow some yourselves– a great activity for the kids, too!
  • Don’t be picky about gifted furniture and big stuff.
    We were given a table and hutch, a living room set, and a 1/2 ton truck from non-family members! Relatives passed on vacuums, a dining room set, and bedroom furniture, plus some family heirlooms from grandparents: a roll-top desk, a cedar chest, and 2 rocking chairs.
  • Buy as good quality as you can afford in things that will last.
    Mr X was in the construction business, and he relied on his tools. He learned quickly that it was smarter to spend more for better quality, and he has kept that philosophy forever, whether its kitchen equipment, cameras, or tools. Clothes are an area where you have to decide what you want— if you enjoy shopping, or being trendy is important to you, then it makes sense to buy inexpensive clothes. I hate to shop, so when I find a pair of black pants that fit my short body, I snatch them up and almost don’t care what they cost. Almost. A good rule of thumb is $1 a wearing. If you’ll wear those $50 pants 50 times, that’s okay. And when you’re like me and have clothes older than your students, you are in good shape! Mr X encourages me to get clothes or shoes in more than one color when I find a style and size that works.
  • Borrow or rent what you can if you don’t really need or want to own something. Netflix gives you innumerable movies for the price that one might cost. Your library is free, and many libraries offer inter-library loans so they can get books even if they don’t have them on their shelves. If you are tiling your kitchen, using a tile cutter is a good idea. If that’s all you will do, buying one is not.
  • Share the cost of high priced items. Mr X and his dad have a mutual-mooching agreement whereby they can use each other’s tools and equipment. *NOTE I understand that the “bro-code” is very particular about sharing tools, and please be extremely careful if you go in together with someone else to purchase something. Be clear about storage, maintenance, loaning, usage, etc. Saving money is not worth losing a friendship.

If you’ve never read any of the Tightwad Gazette books, let me recommend them! They helped me figure out my philosophy.


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