I am so excited. Seriously excited. Jumping up and down excited! Why? Because I did it. I did the seemingly impossible. Well, the seemingly impossible for me!
I made it an ENTIRE month without a single non-necessary non-food purchase. Coralynn lost one of her flip-flops so I bought her a replacement pair. And she needed a pair of sandals. And that $5.35 was all I spent. Woohoo! Sweet victory for the budget.
And here's the coolest thing. Not spending money feels awesome. I'm well versed in the adrenaline feeling from shopping, but I had no idea how awesome the non-spending hormones feel. (Remember: I've always been thrifty.) And it gets better. Not shopping makes me want to not shop some more. And everyone can afford NOT shopping!
This month we had 2 doctor's appointments, an ER trip, and car work done, but we're still under budget. *clap clap* We said "no" to all kinds of little things that we didn't need. We even said "no" to lots of dining because I didn't want to have to find it in the budget. This means that we not only saved money, but we also ate healthier. Another victory!
I'm so excited I want to go celebrate! Think I'll celebrate with not spending money!
We got back from the beach later than I expected last night (yay for a wonderful time), so all we managed to do was make dinner, get showers, and collapse into bed.
Instead of doing a our weekly sorting sessions, we decided to catch up on one of our other goals for the year. We committed, as a family, to pray for every nation this year. We were a few days behind so Tony and Chloe took some of the countries, and the little kids and I did a few. We've now prayed for 29 countries. It's been really neat to watch the kids' interest in other nations grow while also learning to pray beyond themselves and their own needs. We'd love for you to join us in this goal. Check out Operation World for more information!
As for the coconut oil saga, I finished the next step. It required me to cut, blend, and puree the coconut. Then, I poured it into a sealed container to ferment until Tuesday afternoon. I'm going to be really honest, people. Buy coconut oil if you want it. I'm quickly losing my patience with this little project. If I had a coconut chopper or an actual blender, I might feel better about the whole thing. I'll update on Tuesday with more of the story.
I've been reading about the health benefits of coconut oil, so I wanted to give it a try. Unfortunately, coconut oil is not easily found here, and when I did find it, it was very expensive. (About twice the price of in the US).
Since I'm in Panama and can easily find coconuts, I decided I was going to make it from scratch using this recipe. It's a 5-day process, but we're going to give it a try!
(well actually yesterday, Day One Eve) I asked my language trainer, Melody, to pick up some coconuts for me because she has a produce vendor living near to her house.
Cost of 2 coconuts: $1
This morning's mission was to get the things open. I was a little concerned when Melody started laughing at the thought of me trying to open the fruit, but after a google search, I came up with my plan of attack.
It became very clear very quickly that power drill wasn't the way to go. Five more minutes of googling came up with plan B.
Hammer and Nail!
The new opening directions came with the tip to go through the eyes of the coconut. Yes, that made me feel badly for the little guy, but I convinced myself it wouldn't feel anything and hammered away. It took about 5 minutes, but I was able to break through the eyes to release the water.
Yay! It is draining!
I had NO idea how much coconut water was inside a coconut!
I need to get a shower, clean up the raisin mess Coralynn made while I was hammering coconuts, and get her to her doctor's appointment, BUT stay tuned because the next step is coming this afternoon: Whack the coconut into pieces!
Since January is coming to a close, it is time to start planning our summer vacation. What do you mean you haven't started planning yours? Slacker! This is the life of an ex-pat. You start planning your vacation because you have to figure out how long you can afford to go (in your husband's vacation days and in the budget). You try to figure out who you have to see and who will understand if you can't make it to them. You decide how long you can stand living with someone else.
And those are just the obvious questions.
We are looking at going to GA for two weeks and then to IL for 10 days. Tony figured out what days worked for him. I found out when VBS would be happening. The days seemed doable. This is going great!
Then, we started looking at rental cars. Has anyone rented a minivan recently? I'm thinking it would be cheaper to buy a used vehicle.
Then, we looked at airfare between ATL and the multiple Midwestern airports that would work. Has anyone flown recently? We're thinking we're just going to drive to IL. The 10-hour trip with 4 children including a very active toddler seems like a brilliant plan in light of the airfare.
Then, we looked at the cost of returning the rental car to a different location than where we got it. Has anyone done that before? I think it would be cheaper to hire a driver to take the car to ATL and fly them back to IL.
Then, I remembered that I don't hold any US car insurance which means I'd have to buy it for the rental car. And would we bring all of our carseats or rent them? Which reminds me that I need to look at the extra-baggage fees.
Then, I started making my list of the items we need to get in the States. School uniform bottoms are cheap, but take up a lot of space. Kindles are expensive, but don't take up any space. As I totalled up the list, I decided that we just didn't need anything. Cheaper that way.
Then it occurred to me that the kids and I all need medical, dental, and optical appointments. Have you paid, out of pocket, for American medical care lately? Something about paying $$$$ in airfare, rental cars, and hotels to spend $$$$ on medical care while on vacation strikes me as off. We'll just deal with Panama's medical care. It works for the Panamanians.
About 15 hours into the planning, my mind is overwhelmed by the options and decisions to be made. I don't want to give up so I beg Expedia for clarity, and I finally settle on a plan. I decide that it would be easier and cheaper just to fly everyone who wants to see us to Panama. And they can bring us the stuff we need from the States. Have you run that plan by Tony lately?
Back to Expedia I go.
Maybe I'll just move vacation planning to February.
(If you have any winner tips for multiple destination airfare, car rental deals, or the like, PLEASE let me know.)
~Kids started back to school this week, and the adjustment was relatively painless!
~The people came to fix our master bedroom's leaking air conditioner so we no longer have it dripping all night long!
~We were able to attend our first Panamanian wedding. It was gorgeous, and the kids behaved themselves!
~Coralynn is feeling better with an antibiotic for her ear infection!
~The beautiful blue skies and breezes during the dry season are making me feel like I'm on vacation! And we are not missing the blustery Midwestern winter- or the drab Georgia winters!
~I got to spend yesterday floating in the pool with a friend. It was nice to have grownup conversation!
~Tony gave me permission to stop using the crutches. They were/are two inches too short, and they were killing my shoulders. We decided to take the ankle injury over a shoulder injury. I'm thrilled to not use them- still have the aircast on!
It's said that pride goes before a fall. My series of events was a little different.
8 days ago, I sprained my ankle while getting out of the van snow skiing.
It felt better by the next day, so I didn't think much of it.
I went to the grocery store like normal on Thursday and did GREAT. I had only spent 65% of the grocery budget!
The girls and I decided to run a few errands on Saturday morning. We got everything we needed, and I was thrilled that I was able to buy Coralynn a new booster seat- one with straps- with the money I had left.
(She was less than thrilled with being unable to climb out of her seat)
By the time we got home from the errands, my ankle was huge and ugly.
We had a wedding to attend so on the way there, we stopped at the local CVS-esque store (Arrocha), and I bought an Ace-esque bandage to wrap the ankle.
By the next morning, it was clear that we needed to head to the ER.
$244.00 later, I had been to the ER, had x-rays, consulted with an orthopedic, gotten an aircast and crutches. (And for the record, people who are so uncoordinated as to hurt themselves getting out of the van snow skiing are going to struggle using crutches.)
My excellent budgetary week was gone.
Now, I get to find $244 in the budget. Yikes.
We run a zero budget which means that every dollar is budgeted. And $244 is a lot to have to find.
From hero to zero in one ER trip. So frustrating.
I've had to cut the month's dining budget in half. And cut the grocery budget by 25%.
That will cover the ER trip and the follow-up appointment I'm supposed to schedule. And leave some extra give room for a follow-up appointment Coralynn needs from her Christmastime illness.
There are still budgetary victories in this mess, and they are important to highlight.
1. I was able to go to the ER and all that jazz for ONLY $244. In the world of medical care, that's not outrageous.
2. We behaved this month so even though January is half over (January is HALF over???), we still had areas we could cut.
3. I'm choosing not to throw up my hands this month. To be super honest, by reaction to all of this is to go shopping and out to eat. Since the crutches put a serious dent in the appeal of shopping, I just wanna go out to eat. It's my toddler-throwing-a-fit reaction. At this point, I've been able to fight that off. (Although Tony did get dinner out for us last night.) I have easy meals planned for the rest of the week because adding to the budget issues isn't worth the temper tantrum of eating out!
4. Because of past responsiblity (mostly on Tony's part), this isn't a life changer for our financial goals. Even if we have to pull it from savings, nothing more than $244 is gone. Our goals are intact.
SO, how about you? How did you do last week? On track? Or did you fall, too?
Tony was concerned that we didn't have enough stuff to sort to be able to fill 30 minutes 3 times a week as part of the 30-minute give. I think this week proved to both of us that I could be busy for several months on this plan.
Here are the results:
Monday morning I set the timer for 30 minutes and told the girls to attack their closet. Chloe, who has very little clothing, had no problem getting through all of her things. She then helped Camilla. The two girls were unable to get through all of Camilla's wardrobe. This is the pile they were able to create in 30 minutes with no help from me! (and only 4 pieces were removed as ineligible for purging!)
Wednesday afternoon, the three oldest kids and I attacked the game closet. I wanted it all done in one sitting so it did take us more than 30 minutes. (I'm counting this one event as 2 "gives.") The kids did a great job and have happily played with the toys that are left. Toys that they never played with when we had so much stuff!
These are bags of clothing that I sorted right before Christmas. I'm including them because I want to have a picture of just how much stuff is leaving the apartment!
This is the pile that made me pause. These are the "boutique clothes" that I came across during the purge. Some of them will return to storage for Camilla and Coralynn to wear. With the exception of the green plaid shorts on the bottom left and the blue/green pants on the bottom right, none of these clothes were worn more than 5 times. Some, no more than once. The retail value of these pieces now sickens me.
5 Fun Facts About Me (just so you know what you're dealing with):
1. I hate bare feet.
And people touching bare feet, or talking about touching bare feet, makes me sick to my stomach. I sprained my ankle on Sunday, and normally, the huge bruise and swelling would be blog worthy, but there is no way a picture of a foot is going up!
Now I love some socky feet!
2. I cry when I watch Track and Field.
Live. Or on television. I cry. Sob like a baby. The Summer Olympics just about do me in. I have no explanation for this.
3. I love my SpinBrush.
Love it. I hate to floss, but the SpinBrush makes me feel like I'm doing ok without flossing. (Don't burst my bubble, people.) I love the fresh mouth feeling after using the SpinBrush. I had my Mom bring one for Tony and Chloe in December because I love mine so much. I would totally be the "Offical Blog of the SpinBrush"! Any of you work for Arm and Hammer? Contact me!
4. I can't fall asleep if I'm not holding onto something.
Over the years, I've held onto umbrellas and kleenex boxes to help me sleep while travelling. I can't not hold on to something and fall asleep. For the past 12 years, I've held onto the same thing while sleeping. Tony? No. He moves too much. My faithful companion...
5. I have specific guidelines for beverage consumption containers.
Milk- has to be out of a glass glass. Water- must have a straw. Soda- must have ice and be in a clear glass with a straw. Water for taking medicine- small plastic cup. Juice- small glass glass. What? Like everyone doesn't do that. Besides, that's why they are called "juice glass" and "water glass."
We were finally able to sit down and go through the December budget. It wasn't too bad at all.
We were able to save 100% on the old housing plan, and 73% on the new savings goal.
However, we are getting rid of the old and the new goals.
Confused? Me, too!
Tony and I have been doing a lot of praying, pondering, and talking (what's a p-word for talking? hmm) about how we want to use our income going forward.
I've never been overly comfortable with our savings plan. Although I am beyond thankful for the money, it seems too much to just save for us. On the other hand, I don't want to be in a position of purchasing a home and accumulating mortgage debt when we return to the States.
We went accountant on the issue!
We decided to get online and look at Coldwell Banker to see how home prices looked in our most-likely return location. It was eye-opening. The house bubble must not have burst too severely there! We decided on an amount that we feel will provide us a reasonable house that meets our needs. We have currently saved around 50% of that number. We then figured out the likely number of months remaining here and divided the remaining amount of money between those months. Tony also receives bonuses so we tried to factor those in to the mix. Then, we did the hokey pokey and turned ourselves around.
We had our savings number which is slightly higher (15%) than the original number, but considerably lower than our top goal. (I know this is hard to follow, but Tony won't let me just give you the actual numbers. Mr. Private, ya know!)
Our prayer is that all the rest will be given away. And, for all I know, some of the goal will be given, too! This is not tithe (that's for another post), but giving as the Lord leads us to do. The Christmas give was so amazing for us that we all look forward to an entire year devoted to giving!
In thirty minutes, I was able to go through my closet. And my purse collection. And take pictures. And text Tony. And upload pictures. And get more ice tea/lemonade. And check facebook. And check my email. And turn on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on FoodNetwork.
Although that isn't gobs of clothing, it is a fair amount. Especially since I purge my closet with some regularity. And it only took about 15 minutes.
Earlier in the week, Carson was getting very frustrated putting his clothes away because he didn't have enough room. We decided to go through his closets and drawers. Coralynn's things ended up getting a purge, too, because they share space. Again, it took less than 30 minutes.
We ended up with another healthy pile of stuff in just about 25 minutes.
I love looking at pictures of all the stuff people buy at the grocery store and all the money they save. It's a lot of fun, and I miss it, but the opportunities here for that are minimal.
So, I started thinking. (Cue my father saying, "did it hurt?")
This year is about giving for Tony and me. (Stay tuned to Money Monday for more info on that).
I've decided on a challenge for myself. I'm going to decrease my material life, too. And I need you to help keep me accountable. I want to post a picture every Saturday of the purging we've done the week previously. And I hope to spend 30 minutes 3 times a week purging our stuff. (If anyone local has any ideas where to donate it all, please let me know!)
I need you to hold me to it.
Then, Lord willing, at the end of the year, I'll have a post about not how much I saved, but how much I gave!
So excited to share the many blessings of the past holiday weeks!!
~Happy Birthday to my Brother! Yes, I know I've mentioned it before, but I happen to have the best big brother ever. When I was a little kid, I remember thinking that he was the smartest person ever. He graduated from high school as valedictorian, and then, I knew, for sure, he was the smartest person ever. Instead of becoming a lawyer or doctor or those other "smart kid" professions, he chose to go to USC to major in Filmic Writing. So the smartest person I knew became the bravest person I knew, too. What better lesson can a 14-year-old girl learn than the importance of following your dreams instead of the dreams that society might have for you? Happy Birthday, Tim! I love you, big bro!
~We had a wonderful warm-weather Christmas with my parents, brother, and his wife. Everyone enjoyed the resort feel of Panama, and we all truly relaxed and spent time together. It was a blessed time.
~Tony had 12 days off from work. I can't remember the last time he had that much time off. And I couldn't have enjoyed it more. The kids were thrilled to have so much time with Daddy. Tony was able to separate from work, and it was awesome to reconnect with my husband- with whom I celebrated 12 years of marriage on December 18th.
~Carson has been having some medical issues for several years. It seemed those issues were going to require more intervention. Three doctors appointments with two different specialists later, Carson will not be needing surgery. We are blessed to have access to excellent medical care!
~The kids don't have to return to school until the 16th. Although I believe that putting them in school was the best plan, I have missed them so much. It's been wonderful to spend time with them- and they've even been homeschooling! (Carson requested it!)
~Tony and I were able to watch our favorite preacher/teacher live via Internet during a large conference. His ministry has been lighting a fire in us, and I was so thankful for the opportunity to watch it with Tony!
~Did I mention yet that Tony had 12 days off? Ok. Just wanted to make sure!
That's how I blog. I ponder for hours. Or days. Sometimes it might be longer- weeks or months. Some of the posts come as a stream of consciousness, but, generally, the ones I like best are the ones I ponder. I have a series of blog posts waiting for me to hit "publish post." For whatever reason, I've been unwilling to publish them.
I knew this post had to be written and published. It defines me too much to ignore, but I'm not one to focus on these kinds of dates. I thought about quoting myself, but is that wrong? Too self-seeking? That is certainly not my heart's desire. I couldn't just ignore the time. But how? How do I make it all clear in a post when it isn't always clear in my heart. And then today, the Lord gave me a glimpse. A smile from eternity, and this post is now pouring out of my heart.
Photo credits to Mandy Daniel (First Moments Photography)
What do you see when you look at these pictures? I love pictures of my kids looking away from the camera. I'm not sure why. I know part of it is because I love that they are walking into life together. Recently, though, I've seen something else. I've seen the step I'm missing in my stair-step kids.
Three years ago tomorrow (and know that I'll never post this thread on the actual anniversary- that date is too important to me for another reason to forever saddle it with this), I miscarried our son. Just 30 hours previously- on a Saturday- I learned he had already been in eternity for some amount of time. I will never forget that weekend. The series of events that Sunday so completely prove to me the existence of a Loving God with a perfect plan that I will forever hold them close to my heart.
I'll share them with anyone who wants to hear, but I won't just throw them into cyberspace. They're too precious.
I think those who were with us during the following week will tell you that we "handled it well." That I wasn't "too emotional." And while that's not completely true, it is mostly accurate. I didn't fall apart, but not because I was strong, but because God was SO present. There are no words to describe His closeness during that time. That's why we are given eternity to discover Him. And praise Him.
And our life, now completely changed, continued.
Recently, however, I've been really missing my child. (And he has a name because he's my child, and children have names.) I'm not sure why the waves of pain have been a little stronger recently than they have been for years, but the last 6 months or so have been harder than I anticipated.
Today, we went to the swimming pool. The kids were all playing, and we were having a great time. A little boy whom we had met on Christmas was there. He is stinkin' cute and super spunky. Carson had brought a ball down to the pool so the two boys started playing. I didn't think anything of it, other than I was glad Carson was playing nicely with the little guy. I overheard Carson, the child, and the mom chatting. Again, I didn't give it much thought. To be within 5 feet of Carson means you will be in a conversation with him. Carson asked him how old he was. He said, in a thick British accent, 2. The little boy's mom told Carson that his birthday was in March. This, of course, made Carson quite pleased because his birthday is also in March.
They figured out that the little guy would be turning 3 just 6 days after Carson turns 8. I thought it was a neat thing. And then, as I was standing in the shallow end, it struck me. This little guy is just 2.5 months older than Carson's little brother would have been. I smiled. And sat down. And watched them play together. It felt like God allowed me a glimpse in "what might have been." I was overcome by the sweetness of the moment.
Just a few minutes later, Tony let me know our food had arrived. I told Carson to say good-bye and come have lunch. He did as I asked, came to the table, kissed Coralynn Mae, and started eating. No, I don't have two sons sharing a room and playing basketball games together. No, I wouldn't have picked for my second son's life to be a mere 15 gestational weeks. Yes, I would take my baby back in a heartbeat if the Lord chose to make that a miraculous possibility. But, I look at my Coralynn Mae and know that my family is whole. Complete. And I praise God for His perfect plan.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas season, and that you have survived reviewing the finances post Christmas! We actually haven't looked at the budget in weeks, something I don't recommend, but I'm fairly confident all has not been lost.
Our no-presents Christmas was definitely different. The kids each had a stocking with one candy item, one package of gum, and one can of soda. (Coralynn was thrilled with her own can of Fresca!) Then, they each had one present from the grandparents. The entire experience took about 15 minutes, and that was because Coralynn insisted on "reading" the gift bag before she opened it. I can remember one Christmas morning that baby Camilla had to take a nap during because it was so long!
(Carson in his Christmas present: John Reed shoes.
John Reed wears the high-tops,
but this is the Carson version of the John Reed shoes!)
After we opened presents, my brother and his wife had the kids choose something from Heifer International's catalog. They chose several different items to give to families in developing nations. It was super cute listening to Camilla explain that she had chosen a "gift basket" of chicks and rabbits.
The one, very minor, hiccup of the whole experience was me not taking Chloe's sentimental nature seriously enough. The past 4 or 5 Christmases I've gotten the kids a pair of Christmas PJ's that they open on Christmas Eve. It made for cute pictures on Christmas morning. I briefly considered giving them the pajamas but dismissed the idea. About noon on Christmas Eve, Chloe quietly asked me if the no-presents extended to the jammies. I told her it did, and she sadly said, "ok." I should have realized that tradition was important to her and not because she wanted new jammies. She, like Tony, is sentimental and enjoys the tradition of it. Oops. My bad. Next time, we will do the Christmas Eve pajamas.
Overall, the whole family agreed that the presents weren't missed, and everyone really enjoyed the amount of giving of this holiday season! I know that no-presents isn't going to work for everyone (and, obviously, we had a little bit of presents), but I highly recommend it. I'm not sure we will do it exactly the same way next year, but I think this is a Christmas the kids will always remember in a positive light.
(I also wanted to let you know that Tony and I are making some big budgetary changes this year. After we have a chance to sit down with budget, we'll have a more complete picture of the changes. Lord willing, I'll be able to share with you next week our new budget goals. The sneak peek: The house we're saving for just got a whole lot smaller.)
Not even a full day into 2012, and God's offered a challenge. Decrease. That's my word. Someone contacted me (in one of the 12 ways possible, lol!), and I'm already regretting "decrease." I'm thinking my word should have been self-absorbed. That would be easier! Or maybe it should have been 2012- have a phrase? Then I could have gone with, "I don't wanna so I'm not gonna." What do you think? Can we do a selfish restart? A New Year's Mulligan? Ugg. Here we go...
Lord, help grow me into the person You would have me be. And give me Your strength to become that person. And, if it's not too much, please send your Heavenly Duct Tape because I'm afraid I'm going to say something I shouldn't. I do want this, Lord. I want You to be glorified through me. I just need Your help!! Thanks, Lisa