Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just to stir up a bit of controversy. . .

I could talk about something like birth control, politics, or religion, but I thought that would be tame, so I'm going to shoot for controversial and discuss my meanderings on essential oils brands. Now, you probably have one of 4 reactions to that:

(1) "Mwa-mwa-mwa-mwa. That sounds about as exciting as discussing brands of facial tissue. . . off to another blog. . . "
(2) "Hehe. She's joking. What a mundane, non-controversial topic."
(3) "She's a tad nuts, but I'll sit back and watch the sparks fly and fangs come out of usually-nice people."
(4) "Oh my goodness. I hope she has the sense to agree with me that ________ is the only safe and pure essential oils company!"

But seriously, for those who have "been around" in the essential oil world, you know that people really do produce fangs when it comes to defending their favorite and "only quality" essential oil company. Oh goodness. Especially certain brand "camps." Let me start by saying:

Essential oils are wonderful. I hope you find some great essential oils that work for you, even if you don't end up agreeing with me about brands. I'm trying to write this light-hearted and conversational. I'm writing with a smile, not a grimace or a rotten tomato. Please just hear me out (or politely click "x" in your browser). I'm not attacking: I'm discussing and raising concerns.

I've personally used Young Living and been pleased with the quality of their oils. The point of this post is NOT to claim that YL oils are sub-quality. We have used them to treat an air-borne mold problem, as well as for general health for a few things. In addition to several bottles of Thieves (awesome stuff) and lemongrass and a diffuser, I have also used their Premium Starter kit. I've tried to get a feel for their basic oils and I have been pleased with the quality.

I have many many friends who love doTERRA, including those that sell doTERRA. As far as I know, they seem to sell quality oils. (The remaining ? in my mind is the whole additive-in-the-peppermint controversy, but I can not for the life of me find the legal finality of that court case online, and therefore I take no side on that.) But other than that parentheses, based on my readings, I do believe that doTERRA *probably* has some very good quality oils, maybe even extremely good quality. I say *probably* because I've never used them. So I'm hardly a good judge. I would be open to trying out dT oils, but not if I had to foot the bill :-D, just because I've found some other companies that I really like that are slightly cheaper - more on that later. (And finally on that note, yes, I know that there is bad blood between dT and YL, and I'm just not going to take sides on that, k?)

So now that we've cleared the air and established that I am in no way attacking the *quality* of YL and dT oils in general, let's move on, shall we?

So I've kind of puttered around in essential oils for several years. I think my first bottle of oil was something along the lines of lavender or peppermint. Either NOW or Aura Cacia brand, though not sure. Within a few years, I probably had a total of 5 oils - lavender, peppermint, orange, eucalyptus, tea tree oil - if I had to guess. (Those are excellent starter oils, for the record.) All came straight from a grocery store shelf - either NOW, Aura Cacia, or Desert something-or-other (whatever tea tree oil that Trader Joe's sells).

After a few years of using those, I started doing some more online reading about oils and stumbled across a number of YL-only sort of blogs, that were huge into essential oils, but only if they were YL oils. Disclaimers about the danger of using other brands that might be diluted, adulterated, sub-quality, etc. Now, me being skeptical and stingy, I gasped when I saw the prices for YL oils compared to my Aura Cacia and NOW bottles, and was like "eh, whatever." (I've since also read and subscribed to plenty of blogs that take the "dT is the only uber-certified wonderful-quality oils" stance, so I'm not trying to single out YL. I honestly just didn't think the whole adulteration thing was a huge real issue when I first heard of it.

But over the last few years, I've "run into" dT and YL both a lot more online. Essential oils in the health world have really taken off, probably thanks to the efforts of both dT and YL. They've done a ton of great stuff to show people the benefits of essential oils. They raised my awareness of the care that needs to go into choosing essential oil companies. There is a lot of fraud that happens in adulteration and dilution in the essential oil business. I'm very thankful for how they helped me realize that all essential oils (and their corresponding companies) are not created equal and I really do need to research different brands, methods of distillation, sourcing, etc. (All topics for another post. . . ) Young Living and doTERRA have really helped me with inspiration, ideas, and information.

But they've also helped me with a lot of misinformation. And that's actually exactly why I just can't recommend YL or dT, in general.To put it really basic: "YL oils: great. dT oils: probably great. YL and dT information: dangerous!

Now, the companies themselves give some cautions about oils, etc. Some of the oils mention not giving to young children, etc. But a TON of their oils give dosage suggestions for taking as a supplement (internally). And both communities at large really push the idea that *their* oils are safe because they're 100% pure, natural, "therapeutic grade,"et cetera. On the blogs and forums I've surfed, I've seen a distinct hesitancy to mention basic caution when it comes to these very very concentrated potent substances. If suggestion for dilution is given, it's always couched with "because, you know, it's kind of a 'hot' oil, even though it's technically safe to use undiluted." They are honestly afraid to admit that caution is necessary. I've even seen people attack others for "daring" to suggest that a reaction was because an oil was undiluted, because "everyone who is a distributor of _____ (insert company of choice) KNOWS that the oils are 100% pure and therapeutic grade and safe for all uses." I've even seen users of these oils sometimes claim that all oils are safe in pregnancy because "they're 100% pure." Um, hello. Hemlock is 100% pure, all natural, et cetera. Would NOT suggest it, folks ;-).

One of the big claims made is that "other" companies say "not for internal use" (wheras dT and YL give suggestions for internal use) so that just shows that the "other" companies don't have pure oils. Otherwise they'd be confident enough to not caution against that. "After all, if I can eat thyme in my garden, why can't I consume the essential oil?" Et cetera. Um, well. Let's explain why this is a smoke screen and based on misinformation:

First, other companies don't claim they can be used internally because IT'S THE LAW. Because YL and dT sell through independent distributors and not in stores, they are able to market their product that way, but products sold in stores have much more stringent requirements with regard to labeling something as a supplement. Also, let's face it, your liability insurance goes through the roof when you make an internal usage claim like that. Maybe part of the price difference for YL and dT oils is their higher insurance rates :-).

Second, the whole "if I can eat thyme in my garden. . . " argument shows a lack of basic chemistry. A qualified herbalist who has studied the basic chemical structure of herbs and essential oils (I am not a qualified herbalist) could tell you that the chemical structure and the therapeutic qualities of a fresh or dried herb are NOT always the same as the essential oil from the same plant. It is sometimes the case, but not always. So never ever assume that an essential oil is safe, either for topical use or ingestion, based on the properties of the fresh or dried herb.

So on to dilution. Both YL and dT folks are huge into suggesting ways of using oils undiluted. "Because they're 100% safe and pure and natural." But historically, essential oils were usually diluted. There is even some research to show that oils are MORE effective when diluted. Essential oils are so concentrated that the body processes them better when properly diluted and not overloading the body. Essential oils also evaporate more quickly than carrier oils, so diluting allows the skin to soak in the essential oils more effectively. Most people don't realize just how powerful essential oils are. They contain the therapeutic properties of a LOT of plant material. I find it frustrating that on the one hand, companies can make a claim that "our oils are so potent and set the standard for potency and therapeutic properties," and on the other hand, suggest undiluted usage so freely. If the oils are really as potent as they claim, they should be *encouraging* dilutions. But hey, that doesn't sell nearly as many bottles. . .

(A side note: just because you don't notice adverse side effects from overdosing on essential oils doesn't mean it isn't happening. Those sorts of effects can build up over time.)

Finally, my biggest frustration right now. I am really really really tired of "detox" being used as the standard excuse for why an essential oil gave someone a reaction. In my experience on forums and blogs by YL/dT, if someone is using an oil and gets a reaction (whether it's a skin rash, a headache, etc.) that seems to come from using the oils, everyone immediately says, "Read up on detox. Oh definitely detox, just push through it." Well, they say that if the person was using the "right" brand of oil for that forum/blog. But if the person was using a "less exalted" oil from an "inferior" brand, the post comes across more as a repentance and confession: "Oh, I learned my lesson. I used such-and-such-a-non-YL/dT brand of oil on myself and it gave me a reaction! I've learned my lesson and will never use anything but YL/dT ever again!" So my question is why was the reaction a sign of "poor quality or adulteration" if the oil was NOT YL or dT, but if it IS the "approved" brand, it is definitely detox (a good thing) and NOT a reason to stop using the oils or even to stop using them in a certain way. AGH.

So summary: use some wisdom in choosing your essential oil brand. Many really are low quality, in either potency (how strong and "useful" they are) or purity (additives, etc.). Many of the tests for purity for oils are easy to "trick" by oil companies, so even if their oils test pure, they may not be. So really ask your company some hard questions about how they distill, where they source their plants, how they are grown and harvested, how they are distilled, etc. (Basically, a whole other topic that I can't possibly do justice to here.) Choose wisely.

If you choose Young Living or doTERRA, you're probably using some really great top-quality oils. Good for you! Enjoy! Just remember two things: (1) the essential oil industry has been around for a lot longer than those two companies and there is room at the top and select other companies are really doing well in the business, even if they haven't spent as much time scaring people into buying their oils, and (2) please please please please please use caution when using suggestions that come from YL and dT sources. Not the companies so much as all the people that use them. Some oils can be used undiluted and some can be used internally. But it's not nearly as many as some say, and it should never be on a regular basis. Do your research, and make sure that research includes a variety of sources. I personally really like Valerie Worwood's book The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. Very balanced.

Finally, check out Real Essential Oil Education for some really great quality information from a herbalist-in-training. She also has a Facebook page which is fabulous, and she periodically offers free online beginner courses in essential oils. So much great info!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In Which I Update and Clarify What We've REALLY Been Doing :-)

I realized recently just how long it's been since I wrote my last post on our homeschooling, and just what a false impression it might give the 2 people who actually read this blog. Ha! My homeschooling plans are always "this is ideal; let's see what actually happens," and boy how, has the ideal not happened very often at all in the last few months :-). We've had one family situation after another and have been very lax and "go with the flow"-esque as a result. That's what I think is great about homeschooling, is that it can be adapted to needs. Is it awesome to get to do a flannel Bible story with the kids once a week? And consistently do geography 3 times a week? Absolutely. It's a great goal. But it's not the end-all-be-all, and some things have to give sometimes.

We dealt with some lovely mold issues in our apartment this fall. This meant a lot of time spent dealing with treating it, plus health/behavioral issues that resulted, and the time and energy spent addressing that too! We also had guests twice, spent two weeks out of state ourselves, and somewhere in there packed up our whole apartment and moved to a new house, where we are now trying to "get our groove," as we unpack and care for our new place. We also had other significant challenges to our homeschooling, which I might touch on at a later time when the time is right and I have more insight, but suffice to say, homeschooling has not been as simple as "open a book, sit down and learn." Oh, and don't forget that any homeschooling we do also involves balancing a preschooler and a baby, in addition to kindergarten :-D. That's a lot on our plate, and I'm thankful we're "only" doing kindergarten this year. We're also thankful for God's grace, that Hans already knows how to read (makes for fewer "necessaries" for this year), and that for kindergarten, a lot of life is already sufficient learning :-).

So what are we "really" doing, since I've had to ditch a lot of our original plans?

Well, we're still doing math. A bit of a hodge-podge. Singapore 1 is still our "spine," but because of Hans' particular learning bent, we've been utilizing a lot of other math options too. Honestly, two icosahedral dice and a set of base 10 cubes have been the BEST tools for us lately. Easiest way to get Hans to practice addition and subtraction, and we're having fun with the base 10 system.

We're also still doing one penmanship lesson per day. Even when most of my other great plans had to be shelved towards the end of the year, we still kept up Spanish because my kids loved it and were really learning! But I have to admit that in the 2 weeks since we've restarted this semester, it's been spotty. I need to prep the next lessons and get going :-). - Now that most of the school books are finally unpacked! We've been doing geography - sometimes we use our textbook, sometimes we work on a U.S. puzzle, or just play with the globe or world/state maps. They are loving learning about different geographical features, the states, and the major countries.

We finished a very casual study of animals and a slightly-more structured study of the human body before Christmas, and just last week we opened our new botany textbook and are loving it! We are hoping to do some gardening this spring, which is by far and away the best way to teach botany to young kids :-), but I'm also really excited about the Apologia botany book we got. The straight-forward narration, simple activities that reinforce, and photos to illustrate make it a great read. I'll be interested to see how we continue to like it as we progress.

We memorized 2 poems last fall and also read through all of "A Child's Garden of Verses." I have some art appreciation options for this spring, but need to get them out and just USE them. The kids are fascinated by great artwork, thanks to the "Katie" books I found at the library. "Katie and the Mona Lisa" is one of the titles, if you want to look them up. Fun, and a good way to introduce basic artworks to kids.

So anyway, that's what "real school" has been for us lately :-) I'd love to hear what others are doing too!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Favorite School Resources Fall 2013

We started school a few weeks ago for the fall. Hans turned 5 in June, so he is Kindergarten age. LOVE this age! I'll explain what we're doing with him in a minute.

Gretchen is 2 (3 in one month!), which means she has absolutely no "assigned" school work. But she does love to feel "included," so she has some activities of her own that she gets to do if she is interested. I bought the Letter of the Week "curriculum" last fall, intending to use it for Hans, but realizing it was too "busy work" oriented for my sanity and for Hans' learning style. (Last year for Hans, we ended up using the same writer's K4 curriculum, with heavy modification and supplementation, with good results.) I am just not a busy work person. But Gretchen is. Ha! So we're getting some use out of Letter of the Week after all. I'm not going overboard with it, just printing up a few options each week, and when Gretchen asks me for "letterw at-tiv-tees," I show her what I have for her, and she gets to pick what she wants to do. She can not get enough of drawing, coloring, cutting, etc. She also has a stack of puzzles, unifix cubes, coloring books, and she gets included in whatever of Hans' school she wants to do (and is feasible). And we're doing one letter sound per week.

Martin is 2 months old, so he's kind of our controlling/limiting factor on schooling :-). Hehe. We have a proposed "schedule" for school hanging in our dining room each day, with what we hope to cover and in what order, but let's be honest, sometimes "recess" gets moved up a subject or two, based on when Martin is in need of a new diaper, nursing, etc. He's actually a really chill baby most of the time, unless Mommy eats food that he doesn't like :-P, and he's big enough for the Ergo now, which makes things even more possible :-). And it's nice that Hans is only 5, so I'm not concerned about getting a strict set of goals done for the year, especially since he can already read.

So back to Hans. We start each day with him filling in the day's date on his calendar. It's a simple way for him to get the flow of the days of the week, the months, etc. We did it last spring and all of a sudden he totally started "getting" the flow of the week, time spans, etc. He loved it so much that he asked to keep doing it. Right after filling in his calendar number, we work for a few minutes on a poem we're memorizing. Right now we're working on "My Shadow" from A Child's Garden of Verses. Total between the calendar and the poem, we're talking about 5 minutes. Just a quick way to start the day, and a little every day is all poetry memory needs. I haven't decided yet if we'll pick another poem to memorize after "My Shadow" is done, or if we'll take a break, or do something entirely different. Maybe some art appreciation? We'll see.

Two days a week, we try to read a few poems from A Child's Garden of Verses after we do poetry memory. Just 5 minutes worth, and Hans loves it. Sometimes I read them, sometimes he reads, depending on his preference. We have a beautifully-illustrated edition with drawings by Eric Kincaid (mercifully unrelated to Thomas Kinkade).

Next we do penmanship. This, quite honestly, is NOT a favorite, which is why we get it out of the way early :-D. Hans has never liked handwriting, though he has vastly improved in the past year. We are using Rod and Staff this year. I love how simple and straight forward the lessons are. They do give room for a LOT of repetition, which is great, unless you're Hans and shut down :-D. So after a rough first several days, I've started giving him a more reasonable "yes, he is still just 5 and he's also a boy, and he's Hans" number of repetitions for each assignment, rather than the full number provided. He's still getting good practice, but it's not like pulling teeth anymore. It doesn't mean he's leaping for joy when we pull out penmanship, but it's going MUCH better.

Next we do math. We're kind of doing a hodge podge for math. Our "official" text is Singapore Math 1. We're partway through this book, but actually haven't been doing it much this fall (we started it last spring). Before we press on more in Singapore, I wanted to work more on addition/subtraction facts with Hans. I found this site and cannot recommend it highly enough. Love, love, love it. So many options for activities, worksheets, and games for working on the different "families" of numbers. I love how the site helps draw the connection between the addition facts and corresponding subtraction facts, rather than focusing on memorizing them in isolation. (It ties in perfectly with Singapore, which also uses number bonds to link the concepts.) Hans loves the number family stuff and has his favorite options for practicing each set. The slider cards and ghost cards are the most requested. We've finished sets 5, 6, 7, and 8, and are currently on number family 9. My plan is to get through the number family 10 set and then resume doing the Singapore text as our primary, while slowly working on sets 11-18 for the number families. The Singapore text was utilizing many of the number family facts (especially pairs adding to 10) in the text for things like adding numbers to 20, and I felt like Hans would benefit more from the lessons after memorization so he was more familiar with the pairings, not just the initial cursory glance at them that the text did. (Singapore is not known for reinforcing facts, but instead doing a great job with word problems and getting mathematical reasoning across.)

Besides these two main math resources, I've found a lot of great activities online that we've enjoyed doing. Just a few:

Number bonds worksheet generator

Time activities. And more time (This website actually has lots of worksheet options, not just for time, and also for many grade levels. Some are lame, but most are great extra practice.).

Currency activities. More currency. And loved this library book on currency.

Also we've used a number of activities from this list.

Those are the "main" things we do each day. After math we take a lengthy break, usually an hour, sometimes less, and often more if we go for a walk and come back for showers/baths before continuing. When we get back we spend about 10 minutes for recitation - reviewing memorized facts like skip counting, addition/subtraction facts, Spanish vocabulary, life science terms. Eventually I'll throw in geography terms, but we're not at that stage in geography yet. After recitation what we do depends on the day. Sometimes we're done for the morning.

Two days a week we do geography after recitation. We're going through a Beginning Geography workbook, and Hans loves it, Simple and incremental. And honestly, the most important aspect of geography is the two maps we have hanging in our dining room - a states map and a world map. And also our world globe. Constant topic of conversation for the kids and they are both starting to learn the states and some of the countries without realizing it :-D. As we progress in the workbook, we'll spend more and more time with our maps and our world globe, instead of just worksheets, but meanwhile, Hans is always excited when I get out the geography worksheets! 

On Fridays after recitation we do a flannel Bible story. I have a set of Betty Luken flannel figures that my mom passed on to me from childhood. Love it! The kids always look forward to flannel Bible time. I'm trying to work incrementally through the Bible, hitting the main stories.

Afternoons sort of vary. Every day we do a bit of Spanish which is "technically" scheduled for afternoon post-naps, because I want to give Hans the option of having more free play time in the morning, in addition to the "recess" we take after math. But 90% of the time, we've been doing Spanish in the mornings because the kids ask to do it then. Spanish is very low-key and is video-based, which is the reason the kids ask for it ;-). Poor, video-deprived kids that they are. . . We're going through one 15-minute Salsa episode each week (free public show online! - 100% Spanish), watching it twice during the week for reinforcement. On the non-Salsa days we're doing videos that my sister recorded for the kids, to supplement the Salsa videos. She takes the basic new vocabulary from the episode and interacts with it more, all in 100% Spanish. The kids love it, and yes, my sister is amazing. And so is her husband, who is helping her with the videoing and uploading and such. And she made them flashcards and worksheets to go with each week! They. love. it. And it's been hilarious to see them use random Spanish words throughout each day.

The other afternoon school we have is life science, but once again, it sometimes happens in the morning, but only if Hans wants to do it in the morning rather than wait for the afternoon. I try to do life science 2-3 times a week. We're keeping it low key. I call it "feeding Hans books on animals." My plan (always up for revision) is to do about 16 weeks of animal study, 2 weeks on each of 8 animals or animal groups. Just hitting some of his favorites or other highlights that I think would be fun. This isn't supposed to be all-inclusive, just hitting highlights and piquing interest. I'm roughly following suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind. Basically, I get out a lot of juvenile science library books on whatever animal we're studying for a 2-week period and see which ones Hans wants to read. He's loving getting "new" library books to read each week and is fascinated by animals. I also bought Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals as a reference and he often pulls it out when he has a random question about an animal - where it lives, what it eats, etc. After about 16 weeks of zoology, I plan to do 10 weeks of human anatomy, using My Body to make life-size posters for Hans and Gretchen. Also I bought the First Human Body Encylopedia, planning to cover one body system a week. Then we'll probably finish out the school year with a study of plants. If we are in a house (as opposed to an apartment) by then, this study will probably take the form of a garden ;-). Otherwise. . . we'll see. Our apartment now doesn't even have a sunny spot for a potted plant, but we might do some basic plant identification. We'll see.

A few miscellaneous resources that aren't as formally scheduled:

Every few weeks I pull out Schoolhouse Rock and the kids love listening to it, especially the history songs.

For family devotions, besides reading through the Bible chapter-by-chapter, we are working through the Catechism for Young Children with both Hans and Gretchen. We are doing the questions and the accompanying verses provided by CMI.

And that's school for us so far this year. Hopefully some of the resources I've found can be helpful to others :-). Would love to hear what others are using. I love finding new resources :-).

ETA: I can't believe I forgot to also mention Lyrical Life Science! We have all three CD sets and love them! Most-requested CD's in this household, and light years better than just about any other school-facts-set-to-music we've heard. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Martin Wilhelm's birth story

Edited edition for male readers or others who want "just the facts, ma'am":

Martin Wilhelm was born on June 24th, 2013 at 7:29 a.m, weighing 7lb. 8oz. He's adorable and a voracious eater.


Longer version:

(If you just want the birth story and not pregnancy ramblings, start reading a few paragraphs further down.)

This pregnancy was SO different than previous ones. Beginning with not getting a strong positive pregnancy test until several days later in my cycle than normal for me, fluctuating hormones that had never "normalized" from my miscarriage 6 months previous, and a marked difference in morning sickness and exhaustion (much less debilitating than with Hans and Gretchen!).

An early ultrasound supported my intuition and observation that I had ovulated later than the "usual" 14 days post-LMP (explaining the delayed positive pregnancy test!) - approximately 6 days later, in fact - and I adjusted my due date mentally from June 7 to June 13th. (My care provider in CT wouldn't "officially" accept the due date change, despite the evidence, but said it would be "taken into account" - not sure what that means!) I then settled into the first trimester with all its wonders and worries, especially with my previous 2 miscarriages. Despite the hormonal fluctuations and the lighter morning sickness, we made it into the second trimester. In retrospect, I suspect at least part (if not all) of the lighter morning sickness and tiredness was due to eliminating wheat and sugar from my diet some months previous. I've found too many carbs to contribute to my own morning sickness, and eliminating wheat and sugar (both intolerances for me) probably kept my blood sugar more stable. Merely a theory, but I've read similar stories from others.

At the beginning of the second trimester we moved from CT to TX, and I began looking for a new care provider. The idea of a homebirth had always been in the back of my mind for a future birth, but I'd never pursued it previous to now for a few reasons. But when the birth center in TX that I'd planned to use announced its closing the month we moved there, and when we opted to join Samaritan Ministries rather than sign up for the group insurance offered by Adrian's new job, a homebirth sounded like a very viable option. Adrian was supportive of the idea if I found a qualified midwife who satisfactorily answered my long list of interview questions :-D. I ended up interviewing 3 midwives and chose one about 20 minutes from me who had a vast wealth of experience and knowledge. I told Adrian after interviewing all 3, "My birth could go smoothly, in which case any of the three would be fine," (they were all basically qualified, as well as nice people), "but if something went wrong, Alice is the one I'd want to be there!"

My midwife Alice ended up being a wonderful resource for this pregnancy. The debilitating hip and lower back pain I'd experienced in the third trimester of Hans' and Gretchen' pregnancy was almost non-existent this time! (If I did something dumb with my posture, over-exerted myself, or took a long car trip, I suffered some, but it was temporary, not pervasive like before.) I'd thought it had all stemmed from a tail bone injury I'd sustained when I was 12, and while I'm sure that injury contributed to my previous pain, Alice helped me pinpoint a calcium deficiency, and found me a highly-absorable supplement that absorbs like a food and doesn't carry the risks of calcification that many calcium supplements do. (I highly recommend Vita-Mist Cal-Mag!) I also was much more conscious to be more careful with my posture, opted to squat instead of bend to pick things up (good for birth prep anyway), etc. This pregnancy, when I groaned as I rolled over in bed, I told Adrian that unlike previous pregnancies, I'm not groaning because of pain; it's just difficult work to turn a beached whale :-D.

This was also the first pregnancy where I didn't have to use a chiropractor for alignment and relief. And Martin behaved and stayed head down, unlike transverse-Hans and breech-Gretchen, both whom flipped head down before delivery, but only after giving me some angst :-). I had had misalignment that seemed to contribute to my uterus hanging abnormally, and my chiropractor used the Webster Technique to balance it properly. Didn't need that this time!

Hans' birth was 4 days before his due date and Gretchen's was 4 days "late," so I'd anticipated not going really early for this birth, but also not having a super-late baby. Ha! My due date passed, then Hans' birthday 5 days later (he'd really hoped for a birthday-mate!), then the one-week mark. . . I was beginning to wonder when this baby would show up! And I was very grateful that my midwife here had accepted my ultrasound due date of June 13th as more accurate, instead of the original LMP-based June 7th date, and that she wasn't trigger-happy on induction unless there was good cause. I was also thankful that my energy levels remained manageable (once I started using Floravital + B12 at 36 weeks) and I wasn't in great discomfort - going so many days late with previous pregnancies would have been much harder!

I had a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions the week after my due date, the baby was very low, cervix thin, but no labor. I did several long walks in air-conditioned stores with either Adrian or my dad (my parents had driven from Georgia and waited. . . and waited. . . with us.)  Finally, 11 days after my due date (17, by LMP!), I woke up about 2:30 a.m. with some contractions that felt slightly more real than the Braxton Hicks I'd experienced. But they weren't strong or regular. so after using the bathroom I fell back asleep in bed for another hour, waking again at 3:30. A few more contractions, but still nothing definite. I slept and woke again at 4:30, after a strange dream in which I'd been in labor, the cord had prolapsed, but then I got hands-and-knees and the baby was out in one push, born in the caul. (An impossible scenario, for the record.)

This time when I woke up (at 4:30), I decided to stay up and see if these contractions got stronger or more regular. At 5am I woke Adrian and asked him to make me breakfast (scrambled eggs and green beans), so I'd have a good protein-rich meal behind me in case labor sped up. I sat down to start eating breakfast around 5:30, finishing around 6:00. By the end of the meal I was having to pause every few bites to breathe through contractions. They were coming at irregular intervals, but probably every 3 minutes was the average. Some lighter, some a bit more intense. Adrian had called Alice, who said she was going to grab coffee and head our way as she "didn't trust me" ;-).

After eating I headed to the bedroom and found to my surprise that the toilet was NOT the most comfortable place to labor for me this time around, unlike Hans' and Gretchen's labors :-). It was an okay position, but I really didn't want to be upright this time (didn't like the additional force of gravity while dealing with forces of contractions), instead preferring a side-lying position on the bed, which I HATED in active labor in times past. But I was actually able to relax with each contraction in this position this time. My parents started getting the kids ready to head out for breakfast and a mall walk. They left around 6:45 and Alice got to our place around 7:00.

Alice asked me some questions between contractions, checked Martin's heartrate during a contraction to make sure he was handling them well, and started getting out some birth supplies. I spent about 10 minutes making it through some contractions and a bathroom run, so she could finally check me. 7cm. Adrian started filling the pool, which didn't take long. I planned to move to the pool after my next contraction, but then I had three contractions right on top of each other without spacing between - no time to get out of bed between - then when I started to get out of bed after that string of three, I was caught by yet another contraction; my waters broke and I had that sudden urge to push, which I resisted. Um. Yeah, I did not waltz down the hall to the pool at that point ;-). Basically I had the option to be literally carried down the hall to the pool by Adrian and Alice, or birth in our bedroom, and while I have always appreciated the ease of positioning for pushing in the tub, I opted to stay put ;-). I could barely move, so I asked them to push me from my perched-on-edge-of-bed position backwards onto my back, then they rotated me onto the bed. It's not easy to move one's self when your baby's head is descending with every contraction :-D.

I did not have to exert one ounce of effort towards pushing Martin out. It was a strange experience. Basically I just tried NOT to exert any additional effort (but I didn't fight it), and my body pushed him with each contraction. A few contractions and his head was out, staring up at Alice and Adrian and looking around. Alice told me not to push for a second while she slipped a cord loop from around his neck (not that I was pushing anyway!), then his body slid out at 7:29 am. My land baby!

Adrian announced it was a boy (we hadn't known the gender during pregnancy) - Martin Wilhelm Keister - and Alice grabbed the nearest clean-looking towel (after checking with us to confirm) to wrap him in, as most of the birth supplies, including towels and blankets, were still down the hall :-). After delivering the placenta and nursing, and such, Alice took his measurements. 7lb. 8 oz., 20 3/4" long, 14 1/4" head. And a bundle of sweetness :-). He has been a good nurser and was drunk with happiness when my milk came in last night (about 36 hours after birth). Nothing like those contented newborn gurgles after eating :-).

I had tested positive for Group B Strep for this pregnancy, and had used Hibiclens washes thrice daily for over a month, which had reduced the growth but not eradicated it (this protocol eradicates it for the vast majority of my midwife's clients, but it didn't quite do that with me - probably due to a compromised gut/deeper issues). Because of my history of long-term digestive issues with antibiotics (still recuperating from the IV abx given me in Gretchen's labor in 2010 and Hans' in 2008) and also my relatively-short previous labors (general protocol is two rounds of antibiotics, 4 hours apart - didn't manage to make it to the second dose with either Hans or Gretchen), we did not opt for antibiotics. GBS is primarily a concern for preemies (my 11-day late baby was not that!), children of smokers (again, not a concern for us!) or in the case of prolonged rupture of membranes (18-24 hours). My waters broke at 10 cm and Martin was born 5-10 minutes later. Perfect scenario. If I'd planned a hospital birth, I might have barely made it to the hospital (or birthed on the way!), but there is no way one round of abx would have been delivered, let alone the "required" two doses. (With Gretchen, from time of ordering the first round to all of the round being delivered by IV through my bloodstream was about an hour.)

Hans and Gretchen LOVE their new brother ("my new baby," as Gretchen calls him) and are eager to hold him and verbally soothe him when he cries. He's a pretty calm baby so far, easy to soothe, and looks just like his older brother looked at birth. Hilariously similar, in fact! We are enjoying this fleeting time and soaking up the cuddles. We praise God for this blessing from Him.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Not a Dishwasher Fan

I'll admit I'm just not in the majority here. But I really don't like dishwashers. We moved to our current apartment 4 months ago, and for the first time in our marriage we have a dishwasher. I used the dishwasher for the first time a few days ago. We have guests for the week, and I decided that with 6 people in the house, it might be worth finally using that large machine in my kitchen that's taking up room. After a 2 1/2 day affair. . . nope. Can. not. stand. There's a reason I'd been avoiding it for 4 months.

Dishwashers always seem rather inconvenient to me, unless you're dealing with enough people to quickly fill up a dishwasher (i.e., more than 6, and definitely more than 4), and even then. . .

It is beyond annoying to have to wait 2 or 3 meals to run a dishwasher, meanwhile finding that you have run out of some types of dishes and need to hand wash them anyway, and then when you DO run the machine, you have to wait for the long wash cycle, the dry cycle, only to find that the dishes aren't actually DRY after all that heat generated (that steams up your kitchen). . . and if you run the load at night, you wake up to cold wet dishes in the machine, instead of dry dishes on your counter. I honestly spend more time drying dishes with a dishwasher than I do with hand-washed dishes. And with hand-washed dishes, they're available in a more timely fashion (whenever you want, especially if you keep on them, so they air dry between meals!), and generate a lot less heat.

And let's face it, every dishwasher I've ever used does a pretty pathetic job washing any dish with a remote amount of food caked on it, so I often spend as much time PRE-washing the dishes before placing them in the dishwasher as I would have if I'd just hand washed them. . . then some of them still don't get clean in the machine. This seems counter-productive and a waste of energy to me (energy in the electric and human-generated kind, both). The dishes that the dishwasher cleans well are the ones that are super-easy to hand wash already. . . the ones that I don't like doing and actually take effort? Well, those are the caked-on baking pans and pots that I'm going to have to hand wash anyway.

So there's my rant. Does anyone else feel as I do, or am I just the odd ball out?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In which my 4 year old earns Doritos. . .

Yep, I definitely compromise sometimes. And the occasional junk food reward for the kiddos for extra-notable achievements is one of them. This week is one of those times.

I started Hans on the Hooked on Phonics program in early October (easy to date, as we started the same day I had my first prenatal appointment for this pregnancy, but I digress with random memories. . . ) after he was showing readiness to sound out basic words like "cat" and "dog," and after he looked super-excited about the idea. Well of course enthusiasm goes through some ebbs and flows, but there was enough flow in enthusiasm the past 4 months that he finished the Kindergarten phonics set. . . and the 1st grade set. . . and the 2nd grade set. Yowzer! That means we're done with phonics as of today, and I have a reader! How did that happen???

A very proud little boy is going to be heading to the store up the street with Daddy in the next day or two, to pick out a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. He's been looking forward to those :-). He also got the same reward after finishing the K and 1st phonics sets. After he finished the Kindergarten box he proudly told me "Now I'm done with kindergarten"! Um, not really, Bub ;-). He also asked me a few months ago, "Mommy, when I finish phonics, will I be done with school?" Nope, plenty more to learn ;-). Ha!

I still stand by my "early reading is optional and young kids need activity and imaginative play more than formal instruction," but when your kid keeps asking for more phonics. . . it's a good idea to take the idea and run with it. One of the reasons I was interested in at least trying reading this year (besides that he seemed interested) was I was hoping it would make our Sunday worship services more meaningful to Hans, and easier to follow. The last month or so, as he's realized just how many of the bulletin words he can read (of course, he can't read all of them!), has supported that notion, and he is loving being able to read most of each hymn we sing. And he was pretty tickled to recognize the Lord's Prayer in the bulletin too, and read it in a whisper to himself with a grin. Too fun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Preschool at Our House


Warning: This is long and rambling. I wrote this up for my own fun, but I hope some of you fellow moms can find it useful. But mainly it was just fun for me to type it up. I always love reading what others are doing for preschool activities for their kids, but that doesn't mean this will hold deep interest for others.


I started to try to do some very low-key preschool activities with Hans last year, the fall he was 3. Nope. Epic fail. He saw right through my attempt to disguise any "book work" as fun. That kid is way too crafty (mind-wise, not folded-paper-and-glue-wise).

Hans' thought process: "Hmm, okay. I'll let Mom dictate the directions here, but let's see how she deals with my mad stalling skills. I can act clueless and in need of help with the best of them."

Um, no. Not cool. Not worth it. The kid was 3, after all. It's not like I had a stubborn 6 year old on my hand. The kid wanted fresh air! Exercise! Anything but pencil or crayon and paper (I'm an evil Mom and have banned kid markers in this house). Besides, although we plan to school our kids classically, which calls for academic rigor among other things, the fact is that classical education really isn't distinct until 2nd grade or so, and for early learners I have some mild leanings towards Montessori and Charlotte Mason, the former of which packages learning as play and the latter of which doesn't even believe in formal schooling until age 6. So meanwhile we hyper-disguised learning as play, working on number and letter concepts, patterns, etc. But mainly played and built a lot of things.

This summer Hans started talking about the starting sound of words all. the. time. "Mommy, tall starts with a 't'." And he was coming up on 4 years old, so I started thinking, hmm, maybe some "real" school this fall? He'd known all his letter sounds for a year and a half or so, but never showed the least aptitude to stringing those letter sounds into words.

Me: "Look, Hans! B-E-N. Buh, eh, nuh. Ben! Like Uncle Ben."
Hans, without skipping a beat: "Yeah! And Uncle Ben has a motorcycle!"

Then he would move right on to his next train of thought, never having a "click" moment that the letters actually spelled out the word. To him, the important thing he remembered from that encounter was a discussion of Uncle Ben having a motorcycle :-). So I decided to gingerly attempt some K-4 activities, but keep it low-key and short unless he showed interest.

I really had little clue what sorts of things a "typical" 4 year old preschooler needs to learn to prep for kindergarten, and decided it would be a fun and useful option to purchase this K4 curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooler. $10 for dozens of files and suggested weekly and daily lesson plans? Very helpful for this type-A mother. I know some moms would find it not helpful and like to just wing it, but I like having a nice base plan, and THEN winging it (and believe me - I wing a lot!). Then I at least have a starting point from which to wing.

I actually purchased her Letter of the Week curriculum first, since I hadn't done much formal work with Hans (Does counting while playing "Hide and Seek" count?) and didn't feel he was ready for a lesson set described as designed for 4-5 year olds that are "kindergarten ready". He was barely 4 and schoolwork-skeptical.

The Letter of the Week curriculum is. . . a lot of busy work. And a LOT of paper waste, in my opinion. I think a lot of my opinion just comes from my dislike of busy work and over-complicating early education. I think that it would be a great option for a mom who likes lots of activities for letters and for a kid who thrives on that sort of thing. Since I already have the curriculum, and since Gretchen does have a much higher tolerance for and in fact relish of seat work, I will probably use ideas from it for her for next year or the year after. There are some great ideas in it; it's just a bit overkill, in my opinion. For Hans, singing about letters and sounds, and using some basic letter manipulatives did the job just as well, perhaps better, because we could do it while playing blocks or riding his tricycle outside.

But her K4 curriculum is great! I think it was really well put together. I discovered, by the way, that "challenging preschool curriculum" and "kindergarten ready" has more to do with a kid's aptness for picking up things than it does any prerequisites a kid has covered. I mean, come on, pre-K4 and kindergarten really don't have prerequisites except shapes and basic letter/number recognition. We had those bases covered. So despite my initial hesitation, it did end up being a great fit for Hans' abilities. The K4 curriculum still has what many would consider to be "busy work," but a more focused busy work that I think works well for an active 4 year old mind :-). Kids like things that are fun so I'm all about fun! But 12 activities on "A is for Apple" is not something Hans is going to tolerate. . .

(Side note: most of the Letter of the Week and K4 activities are on her website for free download, but purchasing the curriculum does two things which I was more than willing to pay a small fee to obtain: (1) it organizes all the activities into weekly and daily lessons and sets a nice pace for the school work and also suggests additional supplementary activities, and (2) quite frankly, with all the work she's put into the stuff, I was more than happy to give her a small compensation to say "thank you." I'm all about getting things for free, but I also like giving credit where credit is due, and $10 for each gigantic set of files = totally worth it.)

Given our less than glamorous attempt at preschool the previous year and given Hans' continued skepticism/resistance of anything that looked like school, I determined a few things before embarking on school with him this fall:

(1) I will keep my voice a normal volume and pleasant tone. He WILL not be able to see that he is frustrating me if he dawdles or plays ignorant, no matter how much I want to scream. He will not win that battle! (I can't say this has been perfectly kept, but I have made significant effort to keep this, and was 100% successful during the first several key weeks, when the tone for our school time was set.)

(2) He is 4 years old. I will remember this. If he truly is not mature enough for school, big fat deal. We move on with life and try again at a much later date. He needs physical activity more than mental stretching right now.

(3) We will start "school" first thing after breakfast every. single. week day. He had to see it was a pattern. And he had to see it was a priority. And I had to recognize it was a priority and not think "I'll just do one more chore, and then we'll start," which could easily become 11:30am, with cranky hungry children. He is happy, fed, and alert after breakfast. Take advantage.

(4) We will make "school" extremely short until or unless we establish a pattern of fun and interest, and he latches onto the idea. Our first week was approximately 10-15 minutes each day, that's it. Enough to whet his appetite, give him a sense of accomplishment, and show him it really was fun, not just thinly-disguised work (more like thickly-disguised work).

And guess what? He loved it! It totally blew my socks off (proverbial, since I boycott socks from March-November every year, and we started school in August). Was he skeptical? Yes. Did he try to stall and act dumb? Yes. Did he quickly realize that this thing called school was actually fun and a great way to get undivided Mommy attention first thing every morning? Yes.

So what all are we doing? Well, we started out heavily following (with definite modifications) the K4 curriculum I purchased. It was a great start for us, but as the weeks progressed, I've deviated from it more and more, though we still use some activities from it. She has some really great ideas that supplement well with other activities we're doing.

At first I deviated because the beginning phonics moved way too quickly through concepts - on week 7, I think, they were sounding out words with -ain and then similar special letter groupings. I wanted Hans to get a solid grip on sounding out words before doing special digraphs like that. I had bought a K-2 set of Hooked on Phonics on clearance a year or two ago, and so we started that and he loves it! He sped through the kindergarten program in 5 weeks flat, so we're on the 1st grade program now. The Hooked on Phonics program is awesome, and it hasn't done -ain yet ;-). The K program is all about getting a solid grasp on basic sounding out of words, with a hefty number of sight words thrown in the mix. We're getting a lot more letter combos in the 1st grade book now.

The other reason I started deviating from the K4 curriculum is because the math was too easy for Hans. I do not think this is the fault of the curriculum. Every kid learns at different rates. But for Hans, after a few weeks of "missing numbers worksheets," I knew we had to move on before he stagnated and started to hate the repetition. Hans does not like doing things he already knows how to do - after a repetition or two, he starts to gets suspicious and bored. So I bought the Essential Mathematics Singapore Math books (their no-frills K math option - they have another more-exciting option) and he loves it. The first part is really easy (as is every K math book, since they start with no prerequisites) so we're flying through it right now (almost half-way done), but I know we'll slow down when we get past stuff he already knows.

We're still heavily depending on the K4 handwriting options, and they are great. I'm also supplementing by creating sheets from this site, which is fabulous.  And I'm still using her sight word activities, because they're fabulous and complement the Hooked on Phonics great, and Hans loves doing them. Also, some of the K4 math activities have been great to supplement Singapore. Those are the biggies for us right now - phonics, math, handwriting.

Handwriting is definitely Hans' weakness of the three, but he's coming along nicely and is finally starting to be willing to form letters without the dashes :-). I'm also supplementing with mazes, dot-to-dots, and other stealth-handwriting-development options ;-). Making cards for friends is a fabulous way to get him to practice handwriting without him realizing it :-). And we have a 100 chart that we're using to reinforce counting to 100 (which Hans can finally do!) And we're doing a lot of addition and subtraction with poker chips (don't judge). And counting during hide-and-seek, frontwards as well as backwards (only backwards from 20-0, mind you). I also found a few Kumon books at a rummage sale - Let's Cut Paper and Let's Sticker and Paste. The latter is really too easy for Hans (I'll save for Gretchen), but the Cut Paper one has been phenomenal for Hans, in getting him over his fear of cutting (his fear was not of the scissors, but in not cutting perfectly - he has a major perfection complex like his mom!). I can't say I would have spent the full price on the book ($6), but it was totally worth getting used.

We do some crafts also, but the problem with crafts is that Hans wants to save every one, and supplies can get pricey, in addition to the added clutter of keeping projects. So those are more like once-a-week, which works out great.

Our plans for the future? More of the same. We're doing approximately an hour of school each week day now, and often stop because *I* say it's time. I usually give Hans the option of stopping or continuing with a new activity when we get past 45 minutes, and he very often asks to continue. But if his attention span is wavering,  we stop. He's 4 and I don't expect him to act older. It also helps to start with the "tougher" stuff, and save the more palatable options for last, so he wants to keep going :-D. His attention span is also way better on weeks where we get outside to play more. . . which is harder with the recent cold weather :-P.

We will keep on keeping on with phonics and math and handwriting. We're leaning towards continuing with Singapore Math, but supplementing with more drill, as that is the weakness of Singapore. But we'll see what we choose. We're covered in phonics for a while, as he still has 3 more workbooks after he finishes the ones he's doing (5 total workbooks for the program). I've purchased Rod and Staff's 1st grade handwriting program, which we will start at some point, but not anytime soon. We're not there yet. And next fall we'll do some life science (I'm using a lot of Well Trained Mind's suggestions for science books - I had very mixed feelings about that book and loved some of it, strongly disagreed with other aspects, but her science suggestions have seemed good), but keeping it low-key. I'm also planning on doing basic geography with Hans next fall, using this resource, as well as the essential maps and globe - legally reproducible with worksheets? Yes, please! I might start Shurley Grammar 1 next fall, if I feel Hans is ready, but I'm leaning towards delaying a bit. I'm just not sure he will be ready from a cognition standpoint, though the only real prerequisite is "able to read very basic sentences," which he can already do. But comprehension v. basic reading are two very different things.

One other thing to note: doing school with Hans has really improved our relationship. Hans can be really stubborn. And he can try to get attention in the wrong ways :-P. Preschool together has done two wonderful things for our relationship: first, it has given him nearly-undivided (see below paragraph) Mommy-time first thing in the morning, and second, it gives him a sense of accomplishment as he sees very tangibly his accomplishments in learning. He is the kind of kid who hesitates to try anything because he's afraid of failure, but when he does try and succeed, it's a huge boost for him. So school has been great for him in this :-).

So what does Gretchen do while Hans and I do school? Don't hate me. She just sits there and pleasantly colors and cuts up paper or affixes stickers to paper scraps. Or looks at letter manipulatives (Confessions of a Homeschooler has some great ideas for creating letter manipulatives). Or other basic activities (puzzles, peg board, etc.). Sometimes she asks to sit on my lap. The end. I have it made. Yes I realize that. Easiestchildever.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


The Christian life is a life of trust, and pregnancy is no exception. Every woman is aware that loss is a possibility in pregnancy, but I don't think it really comes home until you've experienced it yourself. Hypothetical and real are two different things. And when loss becomes real instead of hypothetical - I've lost two babies in utero, including most recently this past spring - it makes each future pregnancy even more a matter of trust than it was before you experienced loss.

Trust that God has given this life for a reason.

Trust that all things work together for good for those who love Him.

Trust that the good each small life will work (however long or short our paths cross) will be the conforming of my sinful self into the image of His Son. No matter the outcome. Period.

Trust that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Trust that God holds the future in His hand.

Trust that God is all-good and all-powerful.

Notice I didn't say "trust that God will protect my baby's life," or "trust that God won't put me through that trial again." God doesn't promise a smooth passage, but He promises to be with us through life's storms and sunny sailing, both.

I've looked in the Bible for absolute promises to specific circumstances in my life, including pregnancy and the life of my children - they're not in there. It's not because He didn't get around to it. It's because part of the "being conformed to the image of His Son" happens when we have to hold loosely our desires, our expectations, our hopes, and dreams. It's when our hopes and dreams are reborn in His likeness that we find real peace and real joy. This is trust in God. This isn't hypothetical read-about-in-books type of thing; this is where the rubber hits the road.

So we begin this journey again. Welcoming a new life, thanking God for another baby to love and cherish, but holding our hopes and dreams loosely. Looking to eternity, not just to the temporal. Praying that God will let us meet this little one next June, but trusting that God is good, no matter His plan.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Unbloomed Rose

Silent bud in sheath of green,
Waits in dark for bloom of spring.
Early frost steals promised flow'r;
Early wilt, untimely hour.

Knitted life in vessel dark.
Tiny form with Maker's mark.
Frame in view from Him above.
Treasured here, welcomed in love.

Life's ev'ry day written, planned
By the Master's gentle hand.
What if days were short, life brief?
Early frost - a lifeless leaf.

Eyes are dimmed ere light has shone;
Silent cry, no time to tone.
Shepherd is no helpless man;
All is in His 'ternal plan.

He gently hugs weeping lambs,
Wipes the tears, comforts rams.
Whispers promises, holds close
His little child, grieving rose.

Time long-past, another place,
God's only Son, tears on face,
Pleads release from task ahead -
Nail-pierced hands, wounded head.

Willingly on lonely hill,
God in flesh is lifeless, still.
Death conquered through death toll chime;
Promise sealed for better time.

Perished Lamb lives in glory,
Happy end to saddest story.
Every tear is wiped away
On that joyful final day.

So now weeping, grieving one,
Recollect God's only Son.
For those of faith, light has dawned -
Eternal sun, life beyond.

- S.G.K. April 2012
In memory of two loves lost, 12/2009 and 3/2012

Monday, November 07, 2011

More Blessings

(Bear with my background info, before I dive into blessings. I'm not complaining, but laying the stage.)

Round 2 for major storms this fall in Hartford. (Round 1 was Irene a few months ago.) Last week we got hit with a weird and totally out-of-the-ordinary snowstorm in October (29th and 30th). Only about 6 inches "stuck" but more fell and melted before and after the main storm. The problem was the leaves still on the trees, the moist trees from previous rainfall, some winds, and a partridge in the pear tree. . . all combined to make heavy branches and therefore lots of limb falls.

Unreal amounts of tree limbs all around. Driving through parts of the area, it's like a forest curbside, with people piling all the fallen branches along the road for the city to pick up. Some of the trees in our apartment complex have more bulk on the ground than still on the tree. Results were widespread power outages, and lengthy ones at that. Most of our friends were out of power for close to a week - 6 days for us, longer for others.

Our basement has drainage issues, so heavy rains (or melting snow) always mean a small puddle in corners, but we have a basement sump pump which does its job. . . unless there's no power. *ahem* With Irene and heavy rainfall, we lost power for 2 days or so, and our neighbor got a hold of a generator after a day, to pump out water. This time around, no generators to be had, so our basement sat in 1" of water for 6 solid days. The humidity was amazing down there (in a bad way ;-D). The problem was that our snow quickly melted because of the fluctuating temperatures in the low-to-mid 30's throughout the week, and the melted snow congregated in our basement ;-).

So anyway, rotten week, right? Nah. Adrian and I truly felt uplifted and blessed by God's provision for us. Great is His faithfulness:

  • Dear friends from church took us into their home for 6 nights in a row, while we were without power. They truly have the gift of hospitality.
  • The above dear friends are empty-nesters and also grandparents - perfect combo, with extra space in their home and all the "gadgets" (high chair, toys, crib, etc.) to make hosting a young family easy.
  • I survived power outage #2 while staying on the GAPS diet.
  • A gracious hostess who allowed me to partake of food or decline, depending on my own dietary needs.
  • Most of our freezer/fridge food was saved, transferred in time to a friend's fridge/freezer.
  • My kefir grains and sourdough starter appear to have survived :-D.
  • Nothing of intrinsic value was lost in our basement water-log. Yes, we took some losses, but nothing we can't live without.
  • Grace to thank God for the losses and see them as freeing, not a bad thing. Forced purging can be good!
  • Outside of a handful of non-important books, the rest of the books all survived, without water damage.
  • Friends willing to watch the kiddos for a few hours while Adrian and I raced against the humidity to bring up the belongings we wanted to save, when the basement flooded.
  • A friend's large basement play area for expending 3 year old energy on cold days last week.
  • Warmth and heat at our host home!
  • Underground power lines that made electricity in our friends' home possible :-)
  • A week without internet. Yes, this was definitely a good thing.
  • The kiddos doing remarkably well with the upheaval of the past week. (Usually Hans' attitude rapidly digresses with major changes like visitors or vacation.)
  • Our church and Christian fellowship. It was so neat to see the body of Christ help each other, those who did have power (definitely the minority!) open their homes for bed, food, or laundry.
  • Warm days this week (to spend out doors!) while back home with no elbow room indoors yet (as we ready the basement for re-habitation of the items currently invading our living/dining room).
  • Friends who immediately and cheerfully drove 30 minutes south to pick up me + kiddos, when we got a flat tire the day we finally make it home. . . these the same friends who just hosted us for 6 days!
  • A dedicated hubby who spent most of Saturday hauling soggy items to the dumpster and then spent Sunday afternoon and evening "de-oxing" our ditch, scrubbing down the basement with an anti-mold solution.
  • DRY air in the basement this morning(!)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Counting Blessings

The past year (since mid-way in Gretchen's pregnancy) I've really been more keenly aware of God's day-to-day blessings. Not for a major life-changing reason (we weren't miraculously saved from a life-threatening situation a year ago, to my conscious knowledge), but God brought me out of a period of a few months of discontent, when I saw fault with everything and everyone. And since then I've been a bit more in tune to God's blessings in the little things.

A few of my friends have been blogging through 1000 gifts, and it's been fun to see them chronicle some of God's blessings in their own lives week-to-week. With Gretchen's birth and newborn-hood I mentally created a list of blessings (there were a lot of them!), but never got around to posting. Life can be very distracting with 2 littles ;-).

This past week Connecticut prepared for a visit from Hurricane Irene and we spent some time preparing, rearranging the basement, insuring adequate supply of shelf-stable foods, etc. The past few days I've been mentally composing a list of God's mercies related to Irene, and I thought I'd actually *gasp* post it, instead of just think it :-).

  • God's protection over our life and property.
  • Only 33 hours without power. The original prediction was close to 3 days, and many are still without power, possibly for a week or more.
  • The wind and rain was less than originally predicted. (Irene was a tropical storm rather than the original Category 2 they predicted.)
  • No damage of belongings in the basement, despite some standing water and some original problems with the pump.
  • A handyman husband who figured out how to get the pump up and running (the apartment complex had poorly installed it on multiple levels - it was pumping water INTO our washing machine).
  • The bulk of the rain happened before we lost power, so our pump could keep the water to a low level in the basement.
  • Our neighbor offering to let us use her generator the next day, to run our pump and shop vac for a while to drain the remaining water from our basement while we waited for power to return.
  • Beautiful weather - neither too hot or too cold.
  • Clean water, albeit not heated.
  • Still being able to stick 100% to my dietary restrictions, even without electricity and a means to cook.
  • Losing less than $10 worth of food due to loss of electricity (mainly condiments). On Thursday when the storm was predicted, we had 7 dozen eggs on hand and 3 gallons of cultured dairy (yogurt and kefir). None of that went to waste due to careful planning and a lot of egg consumption! And our deep freeze stayed frozen!
  • My kefir grains survived :-).
There are many who were hit by Irene much worse, so do please pray for those still without power, running water, or with injuries and deaths, etc. We are thankful that Irene was much milder than some of the more infamous hurricanes in recent history, but it still has a real effect right now in many people's lives.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Societal Conventions, Single Mothers, and Old Age

Societal conventions are weird. And it's even more bizarre and confusing when they change constantly in our modern society, as tradition is disdained or new conventions are put in place.

I'm not an Emily Post type, but I see the wisdom in certain social graces. I don't worry whether my napkins are correctly sculptured on the table for company (or if we use paper instead!). I believe that thank you notes are a wonderful gesture of gratitude, but my ability to procrastinate means they don't always arrive promptly. My house has a high probability of not being dusted when you visit, but if your visit is scheduled ahead, it will almost certainly be vacuumed. My point in this paragraph is that I feel I'm pretty relaxed in the area of Emily-Post-esque conventions.

That being said. . . the societal conventions regarding what to call people have always amused and confused me to no end. I've waxed eloquent(?) on similar things before, though today's ramble has a different thought process.

I've heard that it used to be a minor insult to call a lady who was a stranger "Miss," assuming she was unmarried. But now ladies prefer being assumed "Miss" over "Ma'am", because "Ma'am" apparently sounds ancient. This could be because of our culture's obsession with youth (very antithetical to the Biblical view of youth and age) or a result of the feminist revolution. Since the middle 1900's we've thoroughly confused "Miss," "Ms.," "Ma'am," and "Mrs.," to the point where people mispronounce and misuse them all the time. . . "Mrs." should have TWO syllables, people!

Now whatever. I don't care that much. But it amuses me when I go to stores and observe what the cashiers call me. "Ma'am" should be a "duh" option, but recently I've been called "Miss" a few times. I don't care except without fail, when I shop I have two children in tow who look remarkably like myself (ie, my PROGENY). So my question to our modern society is this? Is it less of an insult to assume I'm a single mother than *gasp* an old married woman??? Our society is weird.

Am I knocking single mothers? Of course not. I have friends who are single mothers. They do a fabulous job and have more guts than I ever will. Some of them are in that situation because of circumstances totally outside their control, while others are prodigals "come home" so to speak. May God bless their sacrifice, and may I focus more on the plank in my own eye. (I have many planks.)

But my point is that never, ever in a previous society (as far as I can tell) has single motherhood been considered less of a shame or less desirable than being considered "old." (Or even considered to be "normative" in society.) What is so alluring about youth? What's so wrong about growing old? Maybe it's because I'm naive and 27 or something, but good grief. It's not like I'm quaking about turning 30. And I'm really looking forward to 50. The only thing I'm not looking forward to regarding old age is deteriorating health. But increased wisdom and experience? That is worth some creaking joints.

With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. Job 12:12

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Gretchen's birth story

I should be sleeping because it's before 6:00 a.m. and my baby is passed out in the crib next to me, but the biological need for food is competing with my biological need for sleep, and the lure of the food service in the hospital opening in 10 minutes is definitely deciding the winner ;-). Hungry! Feeding another human being takes a lot of calories.


I woke up Thursday morning (October 7th) at 2:00 a.m. from dreams of having contractions to find that I was. . . having contractions ;-). I was 4 days "past due". The contractions were really mild, though, so I didn't get super-excited, but instead emptied my bladder to see if they would keep up. Yep, and pretty steadily 8 or 9 minutes apart.

I tried to go back to sleep, but yeah right. I gave up around 3:30 a.m. and headed downstairs to putter around, to see if movement would increase or decrease the intensity/duration/happening. Adrian came downstairs around 4:00 a.m. to see if I was in labor, to which I shrugged and said "I think maybe." He started timing them for me (he said there was no way he was going to be able to go back to sleep!), and they were now closer to 5 minutes apart, but very mild and only 20-30 seconds long, so I had no intention of rushing to the hospital right then. My labor with Hans didn't have a clearly established contraction pattern, but I was also worried this time about getting to the hospital in time, as Hans' labor was fast once it picked up, and with this pregnancy I was Group B strep positive, so I was supposed to get 2 doses of antibiotics by i.v. in me before giving birth. . . 4 hours apart, so I needed a 4 hour lead gap from when I got my first dose to when I delivered. But I also didn't want to get to the hospital prematurely :-P.

Finally around 6:00 a.m., with the contractions still around 5 minutes apart most times, they were starting to get slightly more intense, and I was having to pause during some of them, so we called our friends up the street, to heads-up them that we'd be dropping off Hans soon. We dropped him off around 7:00 and headed 1/2 hour north to our hospital, checking in a little before 8:00 a.m.

The contractions slowed down some on the drive, to about 7 or 8 minutes apart on the drive. . . ugh. Then first thing they wanted before I could labor freely was a 20 minute fetal monitor strip, which I was fine with, but after closer to 45 minutes (Gretchen wasn't performing for them with enough heart rate accelerations at first, until I downed some cranberry juice. . . bleh), I'd only had about 3 contractions, 5 total since getting out of the car at the hospital an hour+ before. Hmm. The midwife checked me at 9:00 a.m., when I got off the monitor, and I was between a 3 and 4 (90% effaced) and the few contractions I was now having were very mild. Dilemmas, dilemmas. I did not want to be stuck here forever with a putsy labor!

We opted to walk around the hospital campus to see if we could get my labor moving, and this definitely did the job. We came back to the room about an hour later when the contractions starting spiking in intensity and getting closer. . . but still no established pattern. Although I was hesitant to declare "yes, this is it," I did opt to order the antibiotics at that point, because I knew we were up against the 4-hour window, and I knew I went fast with Hans once contractions got established. It was 10:00 a.m. when I ordered the antibiotics, but it took a while for them to actually get there -around 11:00 when I actually got them in me. By this time the contractions were definitely more intense, but still doable. I wasn't quite ready for the tub, as I didn't want my labor to slow down, and I'd made it to 8 cm without needing it with Hans.

The next hour was rather a blur. The contractions escalated to very intense so quickly, and much quicker than I expected I started getting that light-headed "I'm going to faint" feel that I got just before transition with Hans, that was only relieved by the tub. Before I even had time to act on the desire for a tub I was now having a hard time talking even between contractions. Then I had a super-intense contraction, and gasped "I'm having a premature urge to push! Get Mary (the midwife). And I want the tub." So they started filling up the tub and Mary came in to check me, but it was a few more contractions (slightly milder, no urge to push) before she could check me, just because moving anywhere was slow work and a lot of effort with the very intense contractions. My water broke as I finally got on the bed to be checked, and I got another urge to push, which I fought. Mary said she couldn't feel any cervix, so I could push whenever I felt like it. I was a complete 10! I really wanted to make it to the tub, though!

Thankfully, the tub was right across the hall, but I still needed a wheelchair just to get there. Thankfully the contractions did slow at this point a tad, allowing me to get in the tub just fine. The warm water felt SO good. My only complaint with this tub versus the one I birthed Hans in was that the water was much more shallow (very different style tub!), but I also did like the seat in this one, which was good for positioning options.

I was totally in my own zone at this point, just focusing, and not terribly aware of who was around me most of the time. I was pretty out of it ;-). Just like with Hans, I really didn't have any desire to pop this baby out super-fast, so I went with urges to push, but didn't bear down super-hard, wanting to ease her out to minimize tearing. I've never understood when women say that pushing is almost a relief from the contractions, because they get to channel their anger/momentum into pushing. I just don't find pushing fun AT ALL. Gretchen was born at 12:29 p.m., screaming and hollering and NOT liking this whole outside-world thing ;-). She was 7 lb. 1 oz. with a very rounded head from such a quick delivery, golden fuzz for hair just like her brother. . . and in most other ways looking like a miniature Hans!

We snuggled in the tub wrapped in lots of towels until the cord stopped pulsing and was clamped, then we moved to the bed for placenta delivery and to repair a small tear. Then she latched right on and nursed like a champ (has barely stopped since!). SO much easier to establish breastfeeding with her than with Hans! She's such a good and determined little nurser that she had already brought my milk in by 30 hours postpartum, and at 36 hours after birth, she's already back 3 oz. above her birth weight(!).

With only 1 1/2 hours between the antibiotics (and only one dose, at that!) to delivery, we are held 48 hours at the hospital (just for precaution), rather then my original hope of an early discharge at 24 hours. But thankfully Gretchen's vitals have been great and her blood labs came back clear, with no signs of GBS complications, for which we are very thankful!

Adrian and I laughed after delivery that we didn't even have time to think about getting out all the birth music we'd brought. Ah well. Anonymous 4 (beautiful medieval chants!) still sounds nice post-delivery ;-).

Praise God for such a safe and quick delivery, and for a healthy little one!

There are many more pictures posted to my photo blog.

Monday, April 05, 2010


So, yep, I'm still alive. Just not getting around to blogging much. Let me see. . . the last year. How to summarize:

Hans is growing and SO much fun. He's busy trying to repeat lots and lots of words and catching on quickly to pronunciation. Still hasn't tried the novelty of sentences, though. He wants to spend every possible moment outside, and thinks it's downright cruel of me to say "no" on rainy days. He'll be 2 in 2 months. *sniff* My baby is growing up!

I spent most of last year trying to fix some health problems I was having, as I mentioned briefly in a post back last spring. I ended up on a restrictive diet for about 6 months, as I tested intolerant for about 40 food items. It turns out that the antibiotics I was flushed through with in labor with Hans (since my water broke early) had pretty much depleted my good bacteria from my intestines -very necessary for digestion! My intestinal problems were causing a psoriasis-like rash that wasn't itchy, but just annoying, because I didn't want it to get worse, and because I knew it signaled a deeper problem. After 2 naturopaths and a lot of reading, I finally cultured some sauerkraut and ate that 3x/day for a few months, and felt much better! Sauerkraut is awesome that way, even if I'm still not a taste fan :-P. I do have some deeper issues that I will have to eventually solve along the same lines, but my worst issues were fixed with the sauerkraut. So yay! I will definitely not be accepting more prophylactic antibiotics for a very weak reason next labor :-P. (It's not like I'd had my water broken for days or anything!)

We also became debt free last fall! Yay! We'd been working to paying off a student loan since we got married, and we finally were able to, by God's grace. Let me tell you, that is an awesome feeling. We are hoping to keep that status until we buy a house at some point down the road, but we'll take what the Lord throws our way :-). We probably won't buy a house for several more years, until Adrian goes into teaching (which is a while off), for various reasons that make good sense but I won't expend your time on here ;-). So now with no more debt, we're focusing more on saving for a hefty downpayment and such.

I had an early miscarriage in December, the week of Christmas. My hormones were not registering as strong to begin with, so I was prepared and was really fine with it, though of course with a little sadness. We had a fabulous time in Minnesota for a week following Christmas, and it was really a great time of family and celebration.

Then we got pregnant again in January! Everything is looking good so far with this pregnancy. I'm 14 weeks along now, and we've heard the heartbeat twice. I'm finally over the hump of nausea, just some occasional flare-ups, but mild. Actually my nausea/exhaustion this pregnancy has definitely been better than with Hans' pregnancy, for which I'm grateful. And Adrian was awesome and took over the cooking and dishes for me while I felt really bad :-). I'd prepared and frozen lots of cooked and cut-up meat, which helped a lot. We hardly had to look at raw meat for 2 solid months!

I have my mid-pregnancy ultrasound scheduled for 3 weeks from now, and we're hoping everything is moving along fine :-). I'm due the beginning of October, Lord willing. I'm actually going out-of-state for care this time. There is a CNM group just north of us in MA that is closer than my previous midwife group, so I'm going to try out their practice this time around. It would be so nice to someday be under the care of midwives less than half an hour away, but for now. . . ah well ;-). I'd rather drive and be comfortable with the care :-). I'm excited to be due within a few days of 3 other friends! Fun times :-)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Budget Tips for Newlyweds

I was pondering recently about the novelty of setting up a budget when we first got married (It's been over 2 years - hard to believe!), as I was talking with my sister, who has 2 close friends marrying soon. I remember not having a clue what to budget for each category, totally forgetting major regular purchases (like clothes!), and feeling like our small salary would never stretch far enough. Budgeting can be a lot to think about, when added to all the other newlywed things like. . . getting used to living with each other, working out schedules, meals, chores, etc.

I thought I would jot down some of the things I found along the way, that helped us with our budget. I can't promise anything amazingly innovative; these are just things that worked for me.

Important: I'm not saying that everyone has to follow all the things I suggest, or that you're somehow a wiser financial steward if you do them. These are suggestions, not ultimatums. You are responsible for your budget and I am not. I make purchases that some would consider frivolous, and I scrimp in areas where others would think I am crazy. That's okay.

Some background. When we first got married, I was staying at home throwing up all day and trying to stand for more than 3 minutes at a time (aka happily pregnant) and Adrian was working a low wage job. We were scraping to make ends meet. We had a student loan to pay off, a birth to save up for, an impending move, a job search, and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh yeah, and after we moved, we still had to pay rent for our previous apartment for a few months. Can you say tight? But God provided for every expense, and then some. Sometimes I didn't know how.

Adrian has a salaried job now, that uses his educational training more thoroughly. Now we're just tight because we can be, and because we realize that our financial goals will never be met unless we budget and cut expenses. Our initial major financial goal was to become debt free. By God's grace, we met that goal last fall. Our major financial goal while we are still living in Connecticut on an engineer salary (hopefully for 6-7 more years, but we'll see what God has in store for us) is to have 3-6 months living expenses in savings and save up at least 20% down for a future house purchase.

Our long-term goal is to be dirt poor while raising a zillion kids on a private schoolteacher's salary.
Everyone laugh now ;-). No, but seriously, that's our goal. And that goal is impossible from a realistic standpoint. But we see the vision we believe God has placed in our hearts (realizing that He may alter the plans we have) and we see how He provided for us when we were on a small wage salary. But we also know that such a crazy financial goal cannot be met unless we buckle down and get serious. We only have one kid now and Adrian makes a decent salary. So we pinch and save. We save for the day when we may have many more kids, private school tuition to think about, and very little salary to go around. So yep, we're weird :-).

Starting off with grocery budget suggestions, since that's what everyone seems to like:

See if you have a discount grocery store near you. I have a Price Rite next door to our apartment complex. I get 99% of our groceries there. For those in the South, a Price Rite is like an Aldi's, only with a much better selection. They are both discount, no-frills grocery stores, where you can get a lot of food for your money, if you don't mind things like bringing your own grocery bags and depositing a quarter for using their carts (given back on return of cart). When we moved from Virginia to Connecticut, our grocery bill actually *lowered* because of Price Rite. The cost of groceries in CT on average is much more expensive than VA, but shopping at a discount store offset this. Another discount store along the same vein is Dollar General Market. Not a really large selection, but they have really good prices, and I enjoyed shopping there in VA. If you can buy most of your staples at a discount store like this, the savings will really add up!

I don't like grocery shopping. I love saving money, but I'm not partial to store-hopping 5 different stores a week to save money. Especially now that I have to buckle and unbuckle a little guy from a carseat for each store I visit :-). One thing I started doing right away when we got married was to read grocery store ads (they come in our Thursday or Friday mail) and pinpoint good sales. Because I have a Price Rite near me, I already get pretty good prices for most items, so I almost exclusively read the ads to look at really good meat deals. The best grocery store sales usually beat Price Rite, plus they have more cuts of meat. I will make a separate grocery store trip maybe twice a month (usually not that often), and only if I can save a decent amount of money by doing it.

I have approximate target prices for meat. I look for ground beef under $2/pound, whole chickens under $1/pound, and chicken breasts under $2/pound as target sale prices. This would obviously vary some per area, but I found this to be a good target in GA and VA as well. I also look for pork picnics and ham (butt portions - shank is not enough meat for your money) for under $1/pound - usually around 80 cents/pound. My target price for boneless pork is under $2/pound.

If I find a good deal, I stock up! I don't go and buy just one pound of meat on sale (the good prices are for the larger packages anyway). What a waste of time, energy, and a good sale. I buy 2 5# packages of ground beef at once, divide the meat into 1# portions, and freeze. If you freeze a whole large package, it will probably sit in your freezer forever. Freeze it in meal size portions, and it will be easy to thaw and use. And it takes about 5 minutes of your time! Same with chicken. Freeze 2-4 chicken breasts together, splitting a larger package. This way you get the better deal of the larger meat packages, while still only cooking for 2 people. If I have the time and the inclination (I usually do), I also cook up some of the meat before freezing. So I might cook 5 of the 10 pounds of ground beef, so I would have 5 individual frozen pounds of cooked ground beef and 5 individual frozen pounds of uncooked ground beef.

I found very quickly after we got married that a whole lot of our grocery budget was eaten up by meat! I had no idea how that was happening until I started looking at the meals I was making. Most of them were meals that I now call "hunk 'o meat" meals. I love meat, and I think meat is very good for you (contrary to popular opinion). Animal protein = good and animal fat = really good. But it's expensive! And most of the meals I was cooking had large portions of meat off to the side. I'd make mashed potatoes and green beans with breaded chicken fingers, and watch piles of chicken fingers disappear before my very eyes. We would sometimes average over a pound of meat per person per meal that way! That's really expensive.

So I started saving "hunk 'o meat meals" (chicken breasts off to the side, roast, hamburgers, etc.) for once or twice a week or so, and focused on a lot of creative ways to stretch meat. This only works if your husband is not a must-have-large-quantities-of-meat-at-every-meal guy. My husband requested meat at every meal when we first married (he's now fine with an occasional complete protein, beans-and-rice type of dish), so I didn't argue the point. Submission, et al ;-). But he was just fine if his meat appeared in casseroles. I'd make sure we had enough protein in the meal, but without consuming large quantities of meat. Two cups of chopped up, cooked chicken is plenty for a good chicken and rice casserole that will yield 4-6 servings. A beef or chicken stir fry with lots of vegetables and good seasonings can make a tasty supper, while not requiring more than a pound or two of meat for 4-6 servings. This tip single-handedly lowered our grocery budget dramatically. I didn't announce "Honey, we're eating less meat." I just did it gradually, and Adrian didn't complain. I later pointed out the change to him, and he was fine with that. While pregnant, I still was able to average 75-100 grams of protein per day.

Don't buy lunches at work. Pack a lunch! If you are making food for 2 people (yourself and your husband, for example), make 4 servings for each dinner. Before you put your supper away in the fridge, portion the remaining two servings into single-size containers to quickly grab as you head out the door the next day for work or school. Plan ahead and you're not caught in the last-minute rush in the morning. They're ready to go. I found that not planning ahead is almost always what introduced unexpected items (like lunches at a fast food place) into our budget.

Don't be afraid to say "no" to meals out with friends. Be real and up-front about your budget limitations. Chances are, one of them will appreciate someone else taking the lead in encouraging fun-but-not-pricey get-togethers. Or save those meals out for very special occasions. It's okay to treat yourself, just budget it, and make it a rarity, not a regular occurrence. Invite your friends over to your house for a meal instead of going out!

Don't sacrifice health to save money. Ramen noodles is a very short-term savings plan - NOT WORTH IT. What you eat has direct consequences for your health, sometimes short term, sometimes long term. Make sure the food you eat provides nutrition, not just filling calories to pad your wallet. I keep a relatively strict grocery budget, but I have my no-compromise areas. We eat almost exclusively real food, not the fake yuck like margarine, fake cheese, spam, etc. Our health is worth it, and our medical budget thanks us.

Substitute more economical ingredients. You don't have to follow a recipe to a "T." If a recipe calls for a particular brand or flavor of a tomato sauce, and you have a cheap off-brand, put that in instead! See if you can approximate the flavorings from the original sauce with some of the spices you have on hand. If a cookie recipe calls for nuts, consider omitting them, if they aren't a vital part of the recipe.

Speaking of nuts, ingredients like nuts tend to go on sale at Christmas time. Consider setting aside a little extra grocery money to buy a pound or two of nuts, real vanilla extract, sugar and flour, and other things that are really cheap before Christmas, to last you through the rest of the year.

Anticipate large purchases. On weeks when you don't purchase meat (because you have enough saved up from a large purchase), make sure you save some of that week's grocery money in case meat is really cheap the following week, and you can then purchase a few week's worth at once.

Ditch or reduce the disposables. I was shocked at how many paper napkins I went through when we were first married. Sure, they're really cheap, but a few packages a month can really add up long-term. I would grab napkins or paper towels for just about any little chore. I finally stopped buying paper towels (they were so expensive!) and limited my paper napkin use by keeping the napkins in a not-so-immediately-convenient location. If you want to go hard-core, use cloth napkins ;-). They work way better, are no trouble to clean (I do not iron mine!), and save lots of money in the long run. And those old-fashioned rags work great in place of paper towels ;-). Just ask your grandmother if that was considered “hard-core” when she was growing up ;-).

Use Tupperware instead of Ziploc. Or reuse your Ziplocs. I freeze a lot of meat, and I can go through Ziplocs like nobody's business, so it's not economical for me to treat Ziplocs as one-use items. I either wash and reuse Ziplocs, or I try to use Tupperware-type plastic containers instead. I purchased several economical plastic containers from Wal-mart that I use to freeze meat in, and I can reuse these over and over again.

You don't need lots of specialized kitchen appliances, matching furniture, and lots of matching dishes. Seriously, start basic. You can build things up. Save up for that Kitchen Aid mixer or that nicer set of pots and pans, or buy some now and some when you can afford it. I remember having dinner with some newlyweds some years ago. They had a nice house and some nice things, but they knew where to set limits. Their dining room was empty. They simply couldn't afford to buy a nice dining room set at the time, so they waited. We had a total of 7 people at dinner that night in their kitchen, but their nicer dish set only accommodated 6 people, so one of us ate off another type of plate. That was okay. They've been married for a while now, and I bet they have a dining room set and more than 6 matching plates, with no permanent psychological damage from all that deprivation ;-).

Don't expect to have the same standard of living that you grew up with. Your parents spent years working to get where they are. They probably started with very little too. Ask them. They probably had less furniture and a lower paying job than you have as newlyweds. Ask them what they had to go without. You may be surprised. Our parents' generation thought budget sacrifices meant not owning a car; our generation thinks budget sacrifices mean not owning two cars or having to share a cell phone.

You don't need a large place to live for starters. Consider renting for a few years until you can afford to buy. Remember, you don't have the same standard of living as your parents. They probably started cramped, and they probably spent a while saving for a downpayment on a house. You know, back before banks handed out mortgages and caused major bank crises as a result (but I digress). Even if you "qualify" for a mortgage, it doesn't mean it's necessarily a wise option at the time. Building equity is not worth putting yourself in a house larger than you can afford or locking yourself into a really high interest rate because you have little-or-no down payment. We are currently living in a 2-bedroom townhouse with 3 people (me, hubby, and 18-month old son), and we do not regret this choice. We think it's well worth it to save up at least 20% down towards a house before buying. The interest rates drop dramatically at that point. Yes, it's cramped, but that's more because we have addictions to book buying and fabric buying :-). We figure we'll only end up with more stuff and more kids (we hope!) over the years, and now is the best time to live small and save big.

Along those lines. . . use the "Was this necessary 50 years ago?" rule. This helps me consider whether a budget item is necessary or a luxury. It's okay to have luxuries, if you can afford them. Most budgets, even tight ones, can squeeze in a few luxuries. You just have to decide which ones will go and which will stay. To do this you have to first decide which ones can go. Consider the possibility of eliminating: a second car (public transit an option?), a cell phone (or at least a second cell phone!), cable TV, magazine/newspaper subscriptions, eating out regularly, etc. These are luxuries! They were not considered necessities 50 years ago, but luxuries. Choose your luxuries wisely and savor them :-).

Piggybacking off the previous tip, enjoy your luxuries. That's right, pick a few luxuries and enjoy them. It's okay to enjoy that carefully-chosen magazine subscription, or that occasional night at a nice restaurant. Decide what you can afford, and then enjoy with abandon. This motivates you to stay on track with the rest of your budget.

Use the "How much will this cost me per year?" rule. A $4 cup of Starbuck's coffee isn't that expensive on occasion. But if you imbibe frequently, consider the long term costs. Twice a week works out to be $416/year. Once a day works out to be $1460/year. Ouch! That could make or break your budget. If you can't kick the habit, consider cutting back. We also work this for monthly expenses. $45/month for a cell phone isn't too bad (though my frugal heart still beats rapidly at the thought), but that works out to over $500/year! We downgraded to a basic, $25/month plan on cell phone, and that saves us $240/year!

Look into downgrading plans. We thought we were pretty serious budgeters and had squeezed unneeded services out of our budget (except “splurge” money), but then we started looking seriously at some of our monthly expenses. We were paying $100/month for combination internet and home phone service ($50 for each service). I called our service provider to see if they had any downgrade options (they often don't advertise them, but will tell you if you ask). It turns out that for half the price of the phone service, the only “damage” we incurred was no unlimited long distance calling and no voicemail (we added back in voicemail for $5/month). With a bit of long distance on our cell plan, this wasn't a problem. That was an easy $25/month less for phone service, working out to be $300/year at very little inconvenience. And for half the price of the internet, our upload speed could be lowered (our download speed remained the same). We haven't noticed a difference at all. Another $300/year at no pain, just because we thought to ask. That's $600 less we have to pay our phone provider per year!

Dave Ramsey (my favorite financial advisor) likes to say Act your wage. If you don't have the money, don't buy it. If you make $30,000 per year, don't act like you make $70,000. Realize that maybe that European vacation will have to wait several years, and your dream home, too. Gourmet food items or designer drapes may be beyond your standard of living (at least as a regular budget item). Work with what you've got, and don't be ashamed.

Dave Ramsey also says to spend every dollar. Nope, that doesn't mean to empty your bank account every pay cycle (stop getting excited!). It means to plan where each dollar will go. If you don't have a plan for each dollar, those extra dollars from each paycheck will get magically frittered away. Trust me! Budget, budget, budget! Create a budget and stick to it. Determine where any extra money for a paycheck will go. For us, we started right away to use any extra money (even if it's just $20) to put in savings. It starts building really fast!

And continuing with that train of thought. . . Save! Money problems usually happen because of either over-spending or because of poor planning, or both. Unexpected large expenses will come up. Your car will break down, you will break your arm, or your kitchen table will break on you. You need an action plan to deal with this. Have an emergency fund. $1000 will cover most unexpected expenses that aren't catastrophic. Build this up as soon as possible and work to keep it there.

Read Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps. Seriously. Having an emergency fund is step #1. But you need to read them all. They have been very useful in keeping us on track with our financial goals. We know we aren't just socking away money for no reason. We have outlined a list of our incremental financial goals, and we can work towards them systematically. Better yet, read some of Dave Ramsey's books, like Total Money Makeover (I've followed him casually online, but I hear his books are fabulous).

Don't forget major budget items! I was a bit naive in the budget department when we got married. I'd never been required to regularly pay a whole household of bills, or keeping track of major budget items. When we set out to create our first budget, we forgot some major columns. Like clothes. And gifts. You know, minor things ;-). Just as a general idea of the types of columns that are helpful, our main budget columns are rent, phone/internet, cell phone, gasoline, grocery, tithe, natural gas heating, electricity, AAA (a real money-saver with two used cars!), car insurance, life insurance, renter's insurance, World magazine, "splurge" money (for things like buying books or eating out or buying books or buying books), travel, household needs, car (repairs, maintenance, etc.), clothing, gifts, and ROTH account. After we set aside money for each of these, all other money gets put right into savings, so as not to tempt us.

Budget for yearly expenses by saving a little from each paycheck. Notice for our budget columns, I list several items that do not come due every month. AAA is a yearly expense and car insurance is twice-a-year. But we set aside money from each paycheck so it doesn't come as a surprise each time. So for AAA, we take the yearly fee and divide it by 26, since we get paid every two weeks (26x/year), and that's how much we set aside from each paycheck. It works beautifully, trust me. Then you don't have a last minute panic attack when you realize oh-my-goodness-the-several-hundred-dollar-car-insurance-is-due-in-two-weeks.

Budget for one-time purchases. It's okay to deviate from the standard budget on occasion for special, one-time purchases. After we paid off our student loan, we knew we really wanted to get a piano. After all, Adrian is a fabulous piano player and he'd been content to live without a piano for over 2 years! We want Hans to grow up with a piano available for listening and playing. A nice digital costs $1000 or a little more. We have that money in our savings, but we wanted to save up slowly, as we built up our 6 months expenses (once again, refer to Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps), so we've been setting aside a little from each paycheck. Delayed gratification is not a bad thing, and it makes the reward all the sweeter. After several months, we hope to finally purchase a piano in the next few months, and it has been worth the wait! We can make this purchase without jeopardizing our emergency savings or going into debt and while staying on a budget.

Oh, and another thing about budgeting. Remember how I said to save some? That means you don't create a budget that uses every last penny on anticipated expenses :-). Assume you will have unexpected needs like the hot water heater breaking (which would hopefully come out of your emergency fund, but expect the unexpected). And also remember, your gross income is not the amount you will receive. If your income is $40,000/year, do not expect to be able to actually spend all of that ;-). You will probably never see 10-20% of that. Pesky things like worker's compensation, unemployment, social security, health premiums, etc. will insure that your salary is shared with others ;-). Account for this when you budget. If you don't know what your take-home paycheck will be, assume 80% of your quoted salary, and you can always be happy if it's more than that :-).

Don't be ashamed of hand-outs. Don't go begging for them and mooching off other people, but if a kind couple approaches you because they remember how hard it was for them when they started out, gratefully except their old washer and dryer or that faded-but-still-usable coffee table or loveseat.

Oh, and speaking of hand-outs, sign up for Freecycle and haunt Craig's List. Seriously, you can get a lot of great stuff for free on Freecycle, if you're willing to sort through all the e-mails. And Craig's List can have some great bargains and a free section. Thrift stores can have some great tide-us-over-until-we-can-afford-nicer-stuff furniture.

Most importantly when you're creating that budget, remember that the money isn't yours in the first place. Thank God for giving you use of it, and remember to tithe off your gross salary (tithe is by definition 10% of your firstfruits) as an act of gratefulness, obedience, and trust. God does provide, and He can most definitely provide for you on 90% of your salary if you trust Him at His Word. Test Him and see if He does not open up the floodgates of heaven with blessings.

And remember, God blesses you that you might bless others. Don't be afraid to give. If you see someone in need, and you have the money, be willing to “splurge” a little for the sake of showing Christ's love to someone else. Perhaps that means helping out a friend who is unemployed, or an extra offering (above your regular tithe) to support a mission trip or a food pantry. Give with abandon because Christ gave with abandon.