The Strategic Homemaker

learning to follow the Father, care for the clan, and redeem the resources


The Advent Plan

I spent some time yesterday thinking about and reading ideas about Christmas presents and activities, to teach your kids about the real meaning of Christmas, and create some fun memories. Then last night TSH and I listened to a podcast where Phil Vischer was interviewed talking about celebrating St. Nick and Christmas as two different holidays. He also pointed out that for Christians, Easter should be the really big deal of the holidays, so I’ll need to come up with a plan for that when we get a bit closer. Anyway, I’ll share what we decided to do about Christmas gifts later, but today is advent calendar day. This is because December is only 1 day away, so I needed to get on the ball!

I saw a link to this DIY advent calendar, titled “DIY Advent Calendar for Broke People Who Line Dry Their Clothes.” I was like: “Hey! I am broke, and I line dry my clothes! This is the advent calendar for me!” and it really was. I had every single thing needed around my house. Basically, you cut out little trees from green paper, write numbers on them, and glue them to clothespins. Then you attach pieces of paper with activities to the clothespins, and every day you do the holiday activity that is on the paper. I put gold wrapping paper around the tree that represented Christmas, to set it apart. Here it is in all its glory:


And then I made my list of activities. Which needed to be 1. free  2. within 20 minutes of driving, and 3. appropriate for a 15 month old who doesn’t tolerate long books or more than 5 minutes of movies. The 3rd category got stretched a bit, but here is what we came up with (some ideas are taken from here and here):

Dec 1: Open gift with new ornament (I made PG one–will talk about in a later post) and put on tree.

Dec 2: Color Christmas cards.

Dec 3: Make Christmas cookies. (Try not to eat them all: need for next two days.)

Dec 4: Christmas song/dance party with two little girls

Dec 5: Take cookies to Daddy and co-workers at work.

Dec 6: Read Christmas story in Jesus Storybook Bible.

Dec 7: Town Lights Festival and Parade

Dec 8: Family Christmas pictures

Dec 9: Starbucks holiday drinks (free due to Bing rewards and birthday)

Dec 10: Go get food for food drive somewhere–still need to look into this.

Dec 11: Make Christmas cards with little girls.

Dec 12: Take Christmas cards to people.

Dec 13: Sing Christmas carols.

Dec 14: Drive-Through Live Nativity

Dec 15: Watch Muppets Christmas Carol.

Dec 16: Church Christmas Cantata (and free holiday pops concert earlier that day if we are really inspired)

Dec 17: Get Christmas book at the library and read it.

Dec 18: Act out Christmas story with Nativity set.

Dec 19: Listen to Christmas CDs,

Dec 20: Give Christmas cards to cousins.

Dec 21: Open Christmas presents with cousins.

Dec 22: Make sand angels.

Dec 23: Read “Piper the Hyper Mouse: Twas the night before Christmas.”

Dec 24: Go to Christmas Eve Service and Uncle Paul’s Storytime at Aunt and Uncle’s Church and to their house afterwards.

Dec 25: Christmas! Sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus.”

P.S. Our electric bill from mid-October through mid-November finally showed up, so TSH may be here Monday or Tuesday with a guest post letting you know the results on our electricity savings experiment.

P.P.S. This has been a sad day for our family. Pray for us this weekend and coming week please.



Gifts for the Christian life

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had fun with two of my brothers, and celebrated TWO birthdays. One, this cute little nephew who got to come home from the hospital on Thanksgiving (we had to see him via Facetime for now, but we’ll snuggle him at Christmas):

Here is my brother, the proud papa (This one did not come to visit–I have a lot of brothers):

The second birthday belonged to this big guy whose birthday was on Thanksgiving, so he got pumpkin pie! We took him “shopping” at Aunt Clara’s house (an empty house full of household items we may take if we don’t take anything with a high resale vaiue.) Anyway, we got him a bunch of kitchen stuff for his new life-on-his-own-with-a-job. I think he was pleased with his new loot. and hopefully he’ll be able to cook some more exciting food for himself.

Additionally, it cannot go unmentioned that a dear friend had a baby girl two days ago as well! so many sweet babies. I haven’t gotten to see this one yet, though. Not even on Skype. Soon.

I am always on the lookout for gifts that will encourage people spiritually, and that they will really like and use. So here are some ideas and some favorites around here:

Patch the Pirate CDs. Okay, nearly everyone knows about Adventures in Odyssey (except my college roommate–and being as it was a Christian college, my unit-mates and I were shocked! [I hope you have listened to Adventures in Odyssey by now, Katie :)]), but have you heard of Patch the Pirate? An hour-long piratey adventure with silly and spiritual songs–my parents always managed to have a new one of these before every road trip, and if it was a long trip, we might listen to the CD several times. You know it must be good when the parents don’t mind that. I would estimate these are best for age 4 and up.

The Jesus Storybook Bible. This is my mom’s new go-to baby shower gift. Basically, the writer, Sally Lloyd Jones, shows how every story that she uses in the book points to Jesus. This says for ages 4 and up, although the stories aren’t very long. A two or three-year-old who liked to be read to could handle it.

Rain for Roots. This is the CD that was sort of written to go with the Jesus Storybook Bible. The songs have some fun rhythm and tell a variety of Bible stories. Although I will issue a warning: each song asks the question “Who…?” in some form, and the answer is always God or Jesus–staying with the theme of the above book of everything pointing to Jesus. I think this annoyed the TSH a little bit, but the little girl, PG, loves these.
BSF preschool hymns. More songs on CD for Children from Bible Study Fellowship. Which I finally decided to get involved in, as soon as I get off the wait list for childcare.

Seeds Family worship CDs. These are all Scripture put to song. I actually haven’t heard these yet, but they come highly recommended by friends. And each pack gives you two CDs–one to share or swap or two gifts for the price one. Also, the word on the street is that Seeds of Purpose is the best.
Ok, some gift ideas for adults:

World Magazine. I mentioned in this post that I liked their podcasts, but the magazine is also good. If you have never received World before or are giving a subscription to someone who has, you can usually get some crazy deals. One year, I actually gave my brother an entire year’s subscription (26 issues) for $10. I quickly agreed to that one before the guy on the phone had time to tell me he made a mistake.

Getty’s music (or your favorite Christian artist). If you are encouraged by it, likely someone else will be too.

Logos Bible Software. Okay, this one is expensive (students do get a 30% discount though, and they have other discounts.), so you only want to give it to someone (or yourself) who you know would use it. but if somebody does faithfully read the Bible, then this tool is really cool. Basically, at the click of a button, you can view a commentary (or 4 or 5, if it is a particularly confusing passage), Bible handbook (tells about the history of the time), or Bible dictionary, etc. It turns just reading a passage into studying it in about the same amount of time. and if you’re like me and TSH, there are a lot of lines in the Bible that make you say “Huh? What does that mean?” You may still say that at the end, but you can at least compare what some major Bible scholars think.

Okay, that’s all I have for now. Do you have any other ideas or favorites? Please leave a comment and let me know!

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A Thanksgiving Week Poem

Before we dig into turkey (which this year is ham),

I must give public thanks to the Great I AM,

Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides,

Has been faithful again through the changing tides.

We haven’t bought laundry soap in over a year,

Thanks to college kids who don’t hold theirs so dear.

Except for socks, PG has clothes through next fall.

I didn’t buy those either, for free they were all.

Three years of caring for a widow allowed us to save,

This year I stay home, yet no loans o’er us wave.

Our house is so light, is so quiet, has closets galore,

has a yard and a dishwasher–It was quite a score!

I’m all done with school, and Tim’s almost done.

He’s gotten interviews for jobs we hope will be won.

PG’s a great sleeper, and a good eater too.

A sweeter girl you can’t find–believe it, it’s true!

Tim’s so good to me; he even does dishes.

I try not to take advantage– he’d do all of my wishes.

Our friends babysit free, to let us go on some dates.

I try to pay them in food, but you can’t beat their rates.*

We love our church, and our friends in this town!

They are a huge blessing– without them we’d wear down!

We’ve so much for which to be thankful this holiday feast

One more thing must be mentioned. It’s last but not least…

Our sins have been forgiven; Christ paid that debt,

so we have peace in the future, and no need to fret.

Happy Thanksgiving!

*Thanks so much, Hunter and Natalie, Christi, and Heather!

** These are just some highlights, of course. A couple other things of this week: I get to see brothers on Thursday, and I was able to redeem my Bing rewards points for a Starbucks card in time for the BOGO deal. Free date for the fam! (PG sampled the whipped cream.)

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Money Saver–Ways to cut 4 monthly bills

I just finished reading a book called Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. The subtitle is “a pattern for living with less and a wealth of practical suggestions from the worldwide experiences of Mennonites.” It’s basically random ideas from people on how they saved money. I would summarize a lot of the ideas as “share” and “don’t buy stuff” or at least not new stuff. It did have a lot of ideas for using things you already had to do other things, some of which I remember my Grandparents doing. Anyway, in the spirit of the book, here are some of my ideas for cutting your phone, internet, electric, and heating bills.

Phone: Get on a family plan. TSH and I used to pay $70/month for the both of us on a phone plan. The last two years we added a couple of our friends to our phone plan, and now we pay $98/ month for all four of us, and they send us a check for their half. So we are saving $240/year from what we used to pay. That is a hefty chunk of change! One good news here is that there is nothing (at least at Verizon) that says you need to actually be family to be on a family plan. It’s just a matter of one person paying the bill. The other good news is that you don’t need to change your phone number to join someone else on a family plan. You just all go in, and say,   “we’d like to go in together on a family plan,” and they transfer you over. I think 5 people is the max you can have on a plan. You do need to find someone who uses similar amounts of minutes/texts as you, as you’ll share these, unless you opt for an unlimited plan. Credit for this idea goes to my Asian friends, who are very frugal, and all join in family plans whenever they come to America.

Internet: This is similar to the phone advice, but if you can (based on your situation and trust in your neighbors), share an internet connection. We live in a house with 3 apartments. We pay $45/ month for 10Mbps, give our neighbors in our house (who we trust not to hack us) the password, and every month, they each pay us $15, so we are paying $15/month for fast speed internet. Now if we only got a speed of 1Mbps by ourselves, which makes it hard to stream separate things on different computers, and kind of annoying for shows/movies, we’d be paying $30/month (without a home phone line). So we are saving between $180 and $360 per year here, depending which speed internet we’d opt for on our own. Not too shabby.

Electric: We are still waiting on the bill that will be the follow-up to the electric bill guest post by the TSH, but in the meanwhile, the tip is to line dry your clothes sometimes. We actually have a coin-operated machine in the basement, so each dryer load is $1 for us. The loads add up quickly when you have a kid in cloth diapers, so if I line dry 75% of the loads, I probably save about $15/month, or $180/year. If you don’t pay for the dryer in coins, according to Tampa Electric’s website, a 14lb dryer costs 46 cents per load. That still adds up. (7lb dryers are only 24 cents/load). In the winter, the clothes actually dry pretty quickly (on a rack inside), because the humidity is so low. Anyway, especially if you dress casually for your job, this is not a bad option.

Heating: This tip came from my friend Katherine, who moved way up north this past summer, to my chagrin. Basically–insulate better. Shrink film for your windows (example: here). Caulk and weather stripping for your doors. If you own your house, add extra insulation in your attic (tip from my parents, which they say helped with both air conditioning and heating). One couple of our friends who had oil heat in their last apartment got the November’s oil bill for $500. They freaked out, of course. By using shrink film, and taking some drastic measures like only living in part of their house, they were able to cut it down to around $300. Still bad, but much better. Hopefully you have natural gas heat or something else efficient, but if you don’t, or if you live up north, maybe these tips can help.

I am feeling good right now about saving a minimum of $600/year on our monthly bills. Did any of these help you? Do you have any other ideas?


Strategic Entertainment– Two Favorite Podcasts

Later this week, I’ll post a few tips on saving money on monthly bills, like internet, but this post is about choosing the type of entertainment I enjoy.

I like watching or listening to shows while I sew, fold laundry, or do other menial tasks. Lately, however I’ve been convicted about the worldly values on several of the shows that I watch. If I am in the mindset of being in a spiritual battle, I want to minimize the enemy’s propaganda in my and my family’s lives. Maybe someday I will be able to just enjoy the silence, but for now I’m trying to substitute these shows with entertainment with God’s values. Here are a couple I enjoy. These are both podcasts, and also available from their websites, so you can play them whenever you want, play past episodes, and play as many as you want.

Revive our Hearts“—this radio show, hosted by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and targeted at women, has short segments each weekday. There are interviews and teaching from the Bible. This program is always reminding me about the Bible’s importance in my life, my need to prioritize it above other things, and my need to be in it every day. In early November, the series I just finished listening to, they interviewed Kate McCord, the author of “In the Land of Blue Burqas.”

She worked with an NGO for five years in Afghanistan and tells the stories of her friendships with the women there and how God worked. (Afghanistan is called the worst place in the world to be born a woman. If you have read A Thousand Splendid Suns, it sounded like it isn’t far off). I would definitely recommend listening to it.

A caveat: during lessons with more teaching, it does require that I focus a bit, but the interviews with people are pretty easy to listen to while doing something else.

Another podcast we really like is a news podcast, “The World and Everything in It.” This is a weekly news program that tries to approach the news with a Christian perspective. Honestly, when I find a lot of news discouraging, annoying, or just plain scary, it is encouraging to hear it balanced with World’s yearly Effective Compassion Contest—highlighting ministries that fight local poverty, sin, and sin’s effects with a personal and long-term method. It is also encouraging to hear interviews with people like Ben Carson, the Christian brain surgeon, and how God raised him up from an unsuspecting background.

Have you listened to these? Do you have any suggestions for podcasts or shows for me?


Decorating with Pearls

Since we moved out of the basement, I’ve been gradually figuring out how to decorate our house, and especially our walls. one thing I want to have is useful Scripture in places where we see it frequently. Just like Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says:

    6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The first place I decided on was opposite our bed. I scouted out some examples on Etsy (Here is one–the ones I looked at aren’t available any more), but I didn’t want to pay for them, so I set out to make my own.
I chose the verses in Matthew 13, where Jesus talks about the kingdom of Heaven being like the pearl of great price. 1. Jesus’ words have to be good. 2. It’s not too commonly used, and 3. I need a daily reminder that the kingdom of heaven is worth giving everything else up.

I had a 24″x 18″ canvas from a BOGO deal at Michaels once, and I bought 5 small bottles of acrylic paint at Michaels for 30 cents each.

I originally intended to put my letters in place as stickers, paint over them, and peel them off, leaving white letters (example:here), but I gave that idea up when I realized I’d have to buy more than one pack of letters if I wanted the whole verse in place at once, and I’d need to really plan ahead and figure out the exact right size of letter to fit this particular verse on this canvas. in short: too many words.

And then the materials sat in my closet for several months while I pondered what to do. Until finally, this week, I decided to just go for it, and paint the words myself.

so I smeared some red, orange, and yellow paint around the canvas with a foam brush I had on hand. I wanted the colors to add some interest, but I didn’t want them to have a pattern that took away from the words. Or that competed with our quilt. The paint didn’t really blend at the interface of the colors, and I ended up with kind of a weird, fiery football pattern. Whatever. TSH liked it, and the verses are the important part. I did go back and add a second coat to make it more opaque.

To get the words relatively straight and even without penciling them in (It is hard to erase off of the paint), I arranged them in a program like Ppt (Inkscape actually–TSH is into these opensource programs). I got the line breaks and centering where I wanted it on a background the same dimensions as my canvas, and then made graph lines (8 rows and 8 columns). I then taped thread to the outsides of my canvas, so it created the same graph on my canvas.

And I went at it with my paintbrush. The brush had a nice straight edge, so keeping it held at an angle created kind of a calligraphy effect. When I finished I removed the threads, touched up any letters that had been under the threads, and Voila! ready to hang. (Actually, TSH had to drill a hole in the wood on the back of the canvas, but the front was done.)

Here it is hanging in our room:

Eventually I have plans for curtains. And other things. All in good time, all in good time. For now, I will enjoy reading my verses when I wake up in the morning.
What do you think? Have you made any similar art? Do you have any ideas that could help me the next time?