Good fortune

I had lunch with my parents yesterday; we celebrated my belated birthday and an early anniversary for them. Since the boys were meeting us later, and they don't eat Chinese food, we took advantage of the opportunity to indulge.

One thing you need to understand about my mom is that she knows scripture nearly as well as any seminary grad. She's one of the most biblically grounded, Godly women I've ever known. So when I opened my fortune cookie and she said, "God can even use a fortune cookie to deliver encouragement." I decided to accept it for the optimism it offered instead of downplaying it or thinking of it in the same light as a horoscope.

Here's hoping "that's the way the cookie crumbles!"

The Voices Inside my Head

No, they aren't the kind of voices that will find me committing an act that will land me on the evening news! If you were riding in my car or visiting my home you'd hear them too.

Two little voices and one bigger voice and I love hearing each one of them. Each of them. One. at. a. time.

I told Hubs the other day that I think men are lucky because they can pretty much only hear one thing at a time. Which explains why my dad never responded to anything anyone ever said while watching football or baseball.

I, on the other hand, have a hard time tuning any of them out. I think women are God-wired that way so we can fix dinner, direct one child to their lost favorite-toy-of-the-moment, listen to another spell p-r-e-c-i-p-i-c-e while catching the evening news and hearing about hubs' day at the office.

The problem for me is when I don't get enough sleep (does anyone ever get enough sleep?) or when life is stressful (is it ever not?), when those voices are all speaking at once they rattle around my head like the mirror-polished ball in a pinball game, bouncing off my problems, ricocheting off each other and colliding again in a cacophany of cerebreal chaos.

In other words, it's beginning to make me crazy!

One of my defenses of late is to find silence wherever I can. When The Voices are all out of the house I turn off all the other noisemakers. Sometimes I have a cup of tea and just sit with my thoughts, hoping maybe some of the mental clutter will clear itself out and when The Voices return there will be neat compartments in there for those sweet voices to land.

This afternoon I leave for our womens retreat. More than fine teaching, fellowship, food or other fun, what I am most looking forward to is some q u i e t!

The Shortest Season

It's officially autumn! I know it might not seem like it yet, seeing that it's going to be in the 90's today and there's barely a hint of any of the fall colors in the foliage around here.

I remember the bold autumns of my childhood in Michigan and the only slightly less impressive displays in the northwest where we spent nine of the last eleven Septembers.
I miss those days, but I appreciate the more subtle changes that take place here: the bright summer sunshine gives way to a deeper golden glow that casts a rich light over everything; the soft summer breeze picks up a cool edge that rattles across the pavement with the fallen leaves.

I once heard that a tree shows its true colors only once photosynthesis has stopped and the green of the chlorphyll gives way to the gold or crimson or russet specific to its variety. I find that so interesting--a tree spends most of the year growing and storing energy and only once it begins to rest can you see its "true colors." And it always seems a tad unfair that just when those colors start to show, a rain storm or brisk breeze strips the trees of their most authentic exhibition.
People are often described as being in a particular 'season of life.' If there are parallels, our prime years would be autumn, right? At about the point we've passed the summer season of youth, we've reached the place where we can live off the wisdom we've gained through our experiences. We aren't as worried with impressing anyone, even though we've developed some of our most impressive characteristics--a lack of self-consciousness, a new self-confidence, wisdom that overcomes insecurity, grace to let others make the mistakes we've already learned from--just to name a few.

I'm older than I look (at least, that's what I've been told, even though I change life insurance categories tomorrow!), and while I do have a young family, I also have the advantage of a number of years spent growing and learning and acquiring (I hope) a degree of wisdom that will serve as a foundation for these years.
Yes, part of me would love to look in the mirror and see unlined skin and hair that doesn't need "highlights' to mask the ever-increasing silver, while another side is glad that I'm not the person I was in the 'summer' of my 20's. I'll take the warm, brilliant colors that I've earned over that perpetual green of figuring things out any day.

It is my goal to glow in all seasons with the rich colors that God created me to exhibit. I hope my "autumn" lasts a good, long time. How about you?


Budgetary Considerations

With all the talk of the economy in the news this week, it's hard not to be looking for ways to cut back or save, even if you still have a decent job and don't need to sell your house (at a loss) any time soon. Our budget isn't what it once was because I haven't done any freelance work in nearly a year, so I've been looking for ways to stretch what we've got.

Of course we’ve already made the usual adjustments. I cook at home more. Our version of entertainment is cheap (around $10 for a family of four) or free. Treats such as Cold Stone ice cream only happen once in a while and only when we have a buy-one, get-one-free coupon. I only buy things—including groceries—that are on sale (preferably 50% or more off).

But I needed to find ways to do more.

And, (drumroll please) I saved us more than $300 a month this week, without giving up anything!

A couple weeks ago a man from the cable company was walking the neighborhood. Normally I wouldn't talk to a ‘door to door salesman,’ in fact, I wouldn't usually even open the door! But I was expecting Hubs when I heard the knock and the first thing he asked was I liked my service and if I had any problems with it, so I decided to have a conversation with him.

I told him I liked everything fine, but wasn’t happy that my bill had gone up another $40/month recently and that all of a sudden we had ‘premium’ channels that I’d never requested. He said he’d take care of cancelling the unwanted programming, but it was the next thing he said that was really interesting.

I learned that by switching away from my home phone provider and adding telephone service to the cable internet and TV we already get from them, I'd be saving $100 a month! Forty dollars of the savings would come from lowering my cable bill (it is actually cheaper to have all three services from them than just the two) and $60 savings from eliminating the separate phone service.

Usually I don't like messing with my phone service. I suppose I’m a little brand loyal and it seems someone is always hawking a ‘better deal’, but when you add it all up, it doesn't really add up. (At least that’s what I learned in college when my roommate pretended to be me and switched long distance carriers without my authorization. It wasn't a better deal at all!)

I also took a look at our mortgage numbers and called to see if there wasn't something we could do to make that work better for us. Because I wanted to be sure we could always make the payments, we'd chosen to have a fixed rate so we could count on the payment amount. It turns out though that the variable rate attached to the mortgage is dropping the fixed rate and taking on the variable rate, I saved 2 percentage points and around $200 a month!
If we keep making the same payment we were making before, that will go to principle and we'll increase our equity and pay down the debt quicker. We will need to watch the interest rates and adjust accordingly, but they’d have to go up by at least those two points before we’d be back where we started. And this was all done with one phone call; no refinance paperwork, no appraisal.

Those were just two small changes that don't impact us on a day to day basis at all--no sacrifice, nothing to give up--but we'll be seeing big gains. It feels good to be one tiny step closer to 'the virtuous woman,' "She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night." Proverbs 31:18

What have you come up with to make the money you already have last longer and go farther? Do you have creative ideas for entertainment, gift giving or some of those other budget categories that aren’t necessities but are hard to avoid altogether? Tell us about it!

Right of Way

There's a little town next door to ours that lays claim to "the highest per capita income" in the state. Now I'm not really sure of that statistic--I can think of a few other places with just as few "shoddy" neighborhoods and just as many chic inhabitants--but that's what they believe of themselves to some extent.

We like visiting the downtown area because there are cute shops and wide, tree-lined walks with lots of streetside dining. It's a relaxing place to spend an afternoon or get an ice cream after dinner.
One aspect I am less impressed with though, is the driving. Twice today I drove through one particular intersection that I've learned to watch very carefully. It's a 4-way stop but you'd never know it. There seems to be a "law of the land" that supercedes state driving regulations and somehow authorizes the person with the fanciest vehicle to barely stop (if at all) and cut off the more lowly driver. (Guess which car I was in?!) Ironically, the car I was driving is the nicest we've ever had; but when put up against the Land Rovers and Mercedes, we don't measure up.

The first time I was cut off today, I was annoyed but didn't respond in any particular way. The second time, I saw the fancy SUV coming to the stop to my left and just had a feeling they were going to blow by me. The law here is that if two cars pull to an intersection at the same time (we didn't) the car to the right has the right of way (umm...that would be me). I went ahead and began to pull into the intersection, looking at the other driver looking at me and pulling out anyway. Once again it seemed like the law of "bigger/fancier" won again over the actual highway regulations. (And I have to admit I did honk this time.)

The sense of entitlement reminded me of an encounter I had a few years ago.

I hardly noticed the man as hubs and I walked to a table in the cafe at our favorite bookstore. He stood at the back of the line, perusing the overhead menu before placing his order. I recognized him as a familiar homeless man--many of the homeless have adopted this bookstore as their new daytime hangout. Coffee is cheap, refills free and you can curl up in a comfortable chair and read all day without anyone really bothering you.

After a few minutes, I got up to take my place in line to order. The shabbily dressed, unkempt, slight man was still at the back of the line. As I approached to take my place behind him, he turned to me as though expecting me to go first. He had been standing there quite a long time, so I indicated that he should go ahead of me.

The look of surprise on the man's face startled me. I realized that the man must be used to people generally looking past him as though he isn't really there, cutting him off, preventing him from taking a place in line--or a place in society--that the rest of us take for granted.

It brought tears to my eyes to realize how often we can diminish the value of other people because they aren't dressed as nicely as we are, or they don't speak the language as well as we do, or they pay for their coffee with money they've collected by recycling soda cans.

Dear Abby once said, "The best index to a person's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good and how he treats people who can't fight back."

Now, I'll admit that I do struggle in situations like the intersection when I know I have "the right of way," but I hope that I don't create my own entitlement situations where I decide that I get to "go first" because I fancy myself somehow more important.

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." Phillipians 3:2

Poor Man Cookies

These unusual cookies can serve as a reminder to keep the proper perspective about our own importance and sense of entitlement.

3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

vegetable oil for frying
confectioner's sugar for dusting

In large bowl, beat eggs, milk, sugar and salt together. Gradually blend in flour to form soft dough.

Pour dough onto waxed paper, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When chilled, roll dough into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. With pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut into 3-inch squares.

Cut a slash diagonally across each square. Carefully pull one corner through the slash. Repeat until all dough is used.

In a deep-fat fryer or heavy, deep sided pan, heat about 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Fry dough twists a few at a time for one to two minutes, until golden colored. Turn once or twice to brown on both sides..

Place twists on double thicknesses of paper towels to drain. When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

"I had a lucky day!"

I'm not sure exactly where or when the concept of "luck" finds it's way into the childhood consciousness. "Luck" isn't something we intentionally teach, but our kids have an awareness of it nonetheless.

The little ones learn from the big ones. Train-loving Bug will frequently say "I'm lucky" if we encounter a freight train, or he gets an unexpected treat. It's becoming a common occurance to hear him recount all the "lucky" things that happened over the course of his day, "I saw two freight trains and an ACE train at the crossing and I got to run a model train and we had ice cream..."

The little ones learn from the big ones, and today younger brother Boo who is more interested in other types of vehicles such as monster trucks, fire engines and motorcyles chirped "I'm LUCKY!" as not one but two fire engines passed by the playground.

It makes me smile that their version of "luck" is so uncomplicated and not greedy. I mean, most of us would consider ourselves "lucky" if Ed McMahon showed up on our doorstep with a big check from Publishers Clearinghouse, but do we really take notice of all the small events over the course of a day that remind us of our own good fortune?

I'm going to try to take a cue from my little guys and find bigger joy in those little, everyday occurances. Simple things like:

  • A cup of tea that I get to finish while it's still hot.*
  • Finding an item that I've refrained from purchasing finally hit 75% off.
  • An uninterrupted phone call with a distant friend.
  • The unrestrained laughter of my boys when they create a new game (and the sense not to go see what they're doing because that will inevitably spoil the fun).

When I look back over my day, I want to be able to say with the same enthusiasm I hear from my five year old, "I had a lucky day!**"

* This one is especially memorable today as it's the first time in nearly 6 years that everyone else in the family is either at school (Boo started preschool today) or work and I have the house to myself!

**With proper credit, of course, to God "from whom all blessings flow." For purposes of this post, the word "luck" is used to represent "happy occurance" and isn't meant in any way to overlook or understate the role that God plays in bringing good things into our lives.

Love at first bite

Last night's bedtime conversation with Bug:

B-"What would happen if I bit Boo's arm off?"

M-"Well, that would hurt him a lot and then you'd have to help him with lots of stuff since he'd only have one arm to use." (Lame answer, but that's not one of the "talks to have with your children" answers that I already have planned out!)

B-"Could he die?"

M-"Yes, he could if he lost enough blood. I guess it would depend on how quick we got him to the hospital."

Keeping in mind this is my very sweet-tempered, gentle-natured, non-aggressive son (he's much more likely to be bitten than do the biting), after a few moments of silence I thought to continue, "Why do you ask?"

B-"Because I love him so much that sometimes I just want to bite his arm off!"

Hmm...didn't see that one coming!

I do often tell Bug "I love you to pieces." I wonder if this is what he pictures when I say that? I think I'm gonna have to find a new way of expressing myself!
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