Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Last Day of School

To celebrate the last day of school, we went with our neighbors to the next town over to a yummy soft serve ice cream shop! The boys all got cherry dip cones (one got vanilla ice cream, one chocolate and the 3rd got pineapple sherbet). I got a caramel sundae! YUM! We love our neighbors, so it was really fun to go get ice cream with them.
Ethan & Amber... me & Kate!
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cleaning out!

We are spending this Memorial Day weekend cleaning & organizing our belongings in preparation for the move. We are downsizing, so we need to get rid of a lot of stuff. Our house is already fairly organized (a product of moving so many times), but it's amazing how fast things get out of hand and how much easier it is to pack an organized house. We have been very successful so far... We have accomplished:

* Cleaning out Harrison & Truman's closets (F's was already done a few weeks ago) - resulting in lots of items for the garage sale and 2 bags of trash
* Sorting through all of the photos/scrapbook stuff... HUGE amount of stuff (photos/memorabilia from each of our births until we went digital in 2004)
* Listed mass quanitities of furniture/electronics on Craigslist & Cheapcycle
* Sold several items already - $231 worth so far!! This is better than a garage sale!

Yippee!! Three cheers for cleaning up and cleaning out!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Date Night!

We went on a double date with some good friends of ours from church/small group. We went to Rockfish for a nice dinner, walked along the riverfront, then went to an Irish Pub for dessert & live music (except we ate outside & couldn't hear the live music!). We really enjoyed our evening and hope to do it again soon!

John & Natalie

Tommie & Amy

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

YMCA Camp Carson

Last Sunday, our "local" YMCA residential camp hosted a free afternoon of fun for YMCA members. Because our family LOVES the YMCA and LOVES camps, we decided to go check it out! Camp Carson is a lot smaller than the other Y camps that we have been involved with, but it is in a beautiful location and has a lot to offer. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for taking a walk outside, but it was a bit chilly for the water activities (which were the majority of the planned events). So, we enjoyed a canoe trip around the lake, a hay ride tour of the camp and the indoor game room & climbing wall. They have a really cool zip line that starts at 3 stories high and ends up in the lake. A few kids braved the cold water to try the zip line, but our boys decided it was too high and too cold! Hopefully, with me working for the Y and our recent budget expense reduction, one day we can afford to send the boys to overnight camp at Camp Carson. It was a nice family outing, though short & sweet!

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Japanese Dinner Party

A week ago on Friday, I had my Japanese friend, Sayako (who speaks almost no English), and her friend, Mari (who speaks a tiny bit more English than Sayako), over for coffee. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures. We spent about 2 hours together, getting to know each other - sort-of! In about 2 hours, we exchanged as much information as I could have exchanged in 15 minutes with someone who speaks the same language as I do. This friendship is very slow moving! During our time together, Sayako invited our family over to their house for BBQ. After extending the invitation, I learned that Sayako does not actually own a grill. When I asked what we could bring to dinner, she said a grill!

Tonight, we walked one block over to their house with a grill and a huge bowl of watermelon or "each-go". (I cannot speak Japanese, but this is how they pronounced it!) We had prepped the boys ahead of time regarding the language barrier, expected behaviors and the fact that we had no idea what food would be served and that they were expected to eat it and be polite about it! I had never met Sayako's husband and did not know if he spoke English or not. Thankfully, Tommie & the boys were up for the adventure!

We had a GREAT time together! Mari came to dinner also, though her husband had to work late. Sayako's husband (whose Japanese name I cannot pronounce, but goes by "Randy" in the U.S.) spoke a little bit more English, so that made conversation easier - but not much! We definitely spoke very slowly, using simple words, re-worded sentences sometimes and got out the translator frequently. It was slow-going, but very fun & entertaining. We ate meat - lots and lots of meat. Deep fried shrimp, large shrimp on the grill, corn on the cob, steaks, giant cuts of meat grilled and cut into strips, salad... then, after we'd cleaned up from dinner - she served cut fruit & coffee. Then, she made rice balls and served Tommie and I a dish that was similar to roast with potatoes & carrots. We were STUFFED! I don't know how many of the items were designed to be familiar to us and what were more traditional Japanese dishes. We had a really yummy mushroom sauce with the strips of meat and a delicious sesame/soy salad dressing. They tried to teach us how to eat with chopsticks, which they found pretty amusing for some reason. The rice balls reminded me of California spring rolls. All in all, we enjoyed one another's company and plan to get together for dinner again soon.

Sayako and I...

Me and Mari... (they like to give the peace sign while having a photo taken... not sure why!)
Sayako's husband with Tommie - grilling lots & lots of meat! (Thanks, honey!)
Rice balls with seaweed (yes, those green flecks are kelp!). These actually tasted pretty good!
Sayako has three boys that are almost the same ages as our boys. (Mari does not have children.) Fuma is in 4th grade (Franklin is in 3rd), Taiki is in 2nd grade with Harrison (but in a different class) and Truman and Ryuki are in the same Kindergarten class. They have only been in the United States since January, so none of their boys speak English. They know a few words, like colors or numbers - but no conversational sentences. Amazingly - all six boys got along really well, played together for hours and had a great time! They didn't seem to notice that they couldn't even speak the same language!! Apparently burp & fart sounds translate well in any language...
They have a Wii also! Thankfully, our boys have played Mario Kart enough to know how to navigate the menus - because everything on their Wii was in Japanese! :)
Normally, when Ryuki sees Truman, he leaps into Truman's arms and gives him a big kiss on the cheek! Hysterical!

Correction: I remembered Sayako's husband's name and realized that "each-go" means strawberry - which we did eat, but it does not mean watermelon!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Deliberate Simplicity

(I'm stealing the title of this post from a friend's blog.)

Most of you who will read this know me as a thrifty individual - someone who is a bit spoiled, but finagles, seeks and manipulates money into getting her what she wants at a good price. Some of you may have heard my crazy $3 fair ride story (if you haven't, that's a story for another day). What we are about to do may seem even crazier...

Let me share with you a bit of history first... When we left Illinois in the summer of 2003, we were one step away from unemployment and welfare. We took a leap of faith to move all the way to Texas for a pay increase and a stable job. Long story short, we thrived in Texas. Our income went up by leaps & bounds and we enjoyed the spoils of our success. We continued to live a somewhat frugal lifestyle and to make wise decisions with our money, but we lived in a high end area and some of the high end lifestyle seeped in. I, like every girl I know, love manicures, pedicures and stopping at Sonic & Starbucks whenever I feel like it. I love that lifestyle and if I can afford it, fine. However, I have always felt the challenge that we should spend our money on the things of God and not petty luxuries to feed my selfishness. We got a huge house in Texas (that we could afford, but was not as nice as most of my other friends' houses) and I loved it, but I was willing to give it up. When my husband's job was in peril, we made a choice. One that some people don't understand... but a good choice, in my opinion. We chose to deliberately simplify.

He accepted a new job in a small town in the Midwest for a big pay cut. I was working full-time in Texas, but wanted to stay home in Indiana... so our new income would be about half of the old. We had to figure out what was more important to us - living the high life in the big city or moving to a smaller town that is closer to family and make less money. We downsized our lifestyle and our house. We purchased a home that was plenty big for our family, was newer so there would be less maintenance and cut out all luxuries from our lifestyle. What we have come to recognize is that the size that we downsized to was not enough. Our budget has been tight. We can afford to pay all of our bills and eat out on Sundays after church (except during January's challenge), but what we cannot afford is to be generous - to take mission trips - to pay cash for our next car - to put sizable amounts into savings - etc. The financial goals that we could accomplish in Texas while I was drinking Starbucks are no longer accomplishable in our downsized budget. After pouring over our budget time and again, the only solution we came to is that we are spending too much of our budget money on our mortgage and utilities.

To a normal person, selling a house approximately 9 months after you buy it (and moving again) is financially CRAZY. Well, I think I've already proven that I'm willing to do crazy things to get results! Friends of ours had been looking at a house one block over from us that was the exact floor plan of our house. The very same day their house sold, the house they wanted was sold to someone else. So, crazy Amy offers up this idea - hey, do you want to buy my house?!? After lots of prayers, serious discussions and quite a bit of finagling later and they are actually buying our house. [YIKES! What have I done?!?] We are going to "lose" money on the sale, in the sense that we will not be getting back all of the money we put down, paid in closing costs and upgrades, etc. Plus, it's so much easier to stay put. However, in our minds, we were in a lose-lose situation (paying too much for a house and no way to recoup the cost by selling). By selling it ourselves, we would save money and selling the house became a viable option. We are "downsizing" again - only this time to a much smaller house with a much smaller house payment that will allow us the financial freedom we want to have - and without me being forced to work full-time.

In all of this insanity, I really feel God's hand in this. I know that He wants us to get out of debt (all the way - including our house... thanks a lot, Dave Ramsey!) and that He wants to give us the desire of our hearts. The cry of my heart is that we be financially wise, live below our means (ever read "The Millionaire Next Door"?) and that I would be able to be a better mom to my kids by not working full-time. Selling our house and buying a much smaller one will help us accomplish those goals. (Now, I will have to continue to remind myself of those goals when I feel the urge to return to my spoiled ways.) Another of my desires is to not uproot the kids again by putting them in a new school. All I can say is that God answers prayer and responds to the cries of our hearts. We found a new house for a good price in the same schools that is closer to work & church. So... we are selling THIS:

and buying THIS:

The post entitled "Deliberate Simplicity" on my friend's blog included a question that I hope to never stop asking and re-evaluating in my life.

What is God asking you to do today to follow after Him?

"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple." (Psalm 19:7)

We just had a sermon series at church regarding money. The main point of the series was that the way to financial freedom is to: GAIN WISDOM. I pray that the decisions we are making are God's wisdom, not man's. One of the ways we can discern that is through studying God's Word.

God promised us life through His son, Jesus Christ. (John 10:9-11) He promised us that He would always take care of us. He never promised us it would be easy. He never promised that we would make lots of money or be able to drink Starbucks every day. He never promised us that it would make sense when we look through the eyes of our culture. He did promise us that if we obey Him, we will be blessed.

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:24-34

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

BIG news... coming soon!

My life has been consumed for the past 7 days... and soon, I'll be able to share with the world. Until then...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Teacher Appreciation Week: Day 5

Today is the final day of Teacher Appreciation, though we all need to express our appreciation for teachers way more often. My family has a lot of teachers, especially on my mom's side of the family... both of my grandparents were, my mom was, my aunt, my uncle & his wife run a private Christian school, plus lots of my great aunts & uncles/cousins/2nd cousins etc. were or are teachers. I think it is a noble profession and that teachers are highly underpaid for what they do. None of us would be where we are today without the influence of a teacher. The only teachers more underpaid than Christian school teachers (like my mom was) are homeschool moms. Kudos to all of my blog readers that homeschool. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to be the educator of your children - especially those who have children of all different ages and grade levels. I admire you!
Today's gift is a flower pot, a bag of dirt and a packet of Forget Me Not flowers. I added another ink pen with floral tape around it and a butterfly on top - just for good measure!

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Teacher Appreciation Week: Day 4

This was supposed to be for Day 5... the grand finale... however, as much as I appreciate our teachers - I was slacking today! I was supposed to buy dirt (see tomorrow's post) and finish a few other details of today's gift. Well, that didn't get done. So, I skipped to the grand finale. These were already done, so off they go...
A popcorn bucket (love Target's dollar spot!), a box of theater candy, a bag of microwave popcorn and a gift card to Family Video for $2.77 (the price of one new release, plus tax!). I love Family Video prices!! Hope they like it...

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Teacher Appreciation Week: Day 3

Today, our teachers will receive a lovely bouquet of flower pens. We took regular Bic pens and hot glued the flower into the end, then wrapped the barrel of the pen with floral tape. I was trying to figure out how to keep all 4 pens together with a ribbon and decided to put them into bags. I attached a circular tag and ribbon. When I finished, we realized it looked just like the wrapper a floral bouquet comes in! So cute! For the principal, art & music teachers and librarian, we put a ribbon and tag around a single flower pen.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Japanese Friend - update...

My Japanese friend, Sayako, gave me her e-mail address, so we have been communicating via e-mail. She writes to me in basic English and I write to her in English, with the Japanese translation. It is difficult for me to speak or write English without using idioms, slang or quotes from famous movies! (ie. "You can't handle the truth!" or "Fish are friends, not food.") ha, ha I feel like I'm being condescending, because I'm trying to write such basic English so that it will not translate into "Your chicken is eating my roof." or some other nonsense!

This Friday morning, Sayako is coming over to my house to have coffee. I'm excited and nervous. Will we have to keep the Yahoo Babelfish translator handy? Will there be an excessive amount of smiling and nodding without much real conversation? She asked if she can bring a friend. Yes! Hopefully, between the three of us - we can figure out how to communicate. Please pray for us!

Teacher Appreciation Week: Day 2

Today, our teachers will be receiving a handwritten note and an adorable monogram button. The boys helped pick out each design. A local women's clothing boutique is going out of business and everything is clearanced. We got these super cute buttons for only $1.25 each!

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Teacher Appreciation Week: Day 1

Today marks the beginning of teacher appreciation week at our school. Normally, I try to do small, but sweet things for the boys' teachers for holidays and appreciation week... but I feel like I've been slacking this year! So, in the spirit of my friend, Julie - I'm going to do something nice for our teachers each day this week. Here is today's gift ("borrowed" straight from Julie's blog!):

Water bottle, a packet of single use drink mix and a note that reads...
Mrs. _____: Thank you for "quenching" ______'s thirst for knowledge.

Music Monday: "This is Our God" by Hillsong

This is a new song that we are singing at church... it has really meant a lot to me lately. I am so grateful for what God is teaching me lately. Between trials & hardships, parenting, activities & events and the mundane... God has gotten my attention and reminded me of some very powerful basic truths. When I consider the cross and the ultimate eternal plan of God, I have no choice but to fall to my knees to worship. This song captures my feelings about that. Very powerful stuff.

This is Our God

Your grace is enough
More than I need
And Your Word I will believe
I wait for You
Draw near again
Let Your Spirit make me new
And I will fall at your feet
I will fall at your feet
And I will worship you here

Your presence in me
Jesus light the way
By the power of your Word
I am restored
I am redeemed
By your Spirit I am free
And I will fall at your feet
I will will fall at your feet
And I will worship you here

Freely You gave it all for us
Surrendered Your life upon that cross
Great is Your love poured out for all
This is our God
Lifted on high from death to life
Forever our God is glorified
Servant and King who rescued the world
This is our God
And I will fall at your feet
I will fall at your feet
And I will worship You here

And I will fall at your feet
I will fall at your feet
And I will worship You here

Freely You gave it all for us
Surrendered Your life upon that cross
Great is Your love poured out for all
This is our God

Lifted on high from death to life
Forever our God is glorified
Servant and King who rescued the world
This is our God