Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Last year my middle school girls' group studied this awesome book on the fruits of the Spirit, and I was really struck by the chapter on faithfulness. The author, Elizabeth George, talked about the many excuses we make for not doing certain things, and then listed the attitude represented by each excuse--attitudes that are the opposite of faithfulness:

Tiredness--I can't do it.

Laziness-I don't want to do it.

Hopelessness--It doesn't matter if I do it.

Procrastination--I'll do it later.

Rationalization--Someone else will do it.

Apathy--I don't care if I do it.

Rebellion--I won't do it.

Yikes--so convicting! Which one(s) do you most struggle with? My downfalls are not wanting to do something (laziness) and putting certain things off until later (procrastination).

(If you know me in real life, you may be laughing at my admission of procrastination since I tend to be a go-getter--however, I assure you I can be quite adept at avoiding tasks I find less than enjoyable!)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Calm My Anxious Heart

I remember thinking when this book came out (more than a decade ago!) that it would be a good one for me to read. But for whatever reason, it never made it to the top of my list. Thus, I was thrilled when my small group chose it for our most recent study.

As someone who has a tendency towards worry and anxiety, this book was full of helpful insights for me. Author Linda Dillow offers wonderful challenges and encouragement both from Scripture and from her own journey.

I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes from the book, so they'd be recorded in one place, and I hope you'll be blessed as well!

In talking about contentment, Dillow writes:

"Most of us can categorize our lives in both positive and negative ways. You could write a glowing list of the positives in your life, and you could then write a list of sobering negatives. Both lists are true, but the focus of each list is different . . . Which list do you spend the majority of your time dwelling on?"

"Our part in the process of learning to be content is a heart choice--a choice to pray rather than to be anxious."

"You will never really enjoy other people, you will never have stable emotions, you will never lead a life of godly contentment, you will never conquer jealousy and love others as you should until you thank God for making you the way He did." --quoting an article by Rev. James Hufstetler entitled "On Knowing Oneself"

"Too often in our lives, accomplishment and doing overshadow growth and becoming."

"Much of our discontent and lack of peace comes from our expectations in our relationships."

The chapter called "A Faulty Focus" was eye-opening for me. Dillow writes, "We get so caught up with our kids' schedules, our car-pools, our careers, our fears, our problems that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We've forgotten who we are and that we're here for a reason. We don't stop to think about what we do; and worse, we don't even pray about it." Yikes! Dillow goes on to share the examples of four of her friends who have learned to live their lives with focus and purpose. Each friend had a unique approach in discovering her life's purpose, thereby inspiring the reader to consider her own style in pursuing such a pivotal piece of our identity. I spent some time with the study questions in the back of the book, and through some reflection, drafted a purpose statement of my own. I think doing this does help offer us some perspective when we're caught up in day-to-day details!

Some thoughts on the subject of worry:

"When we spend precious time worrying about what might happen, anxiety becomes negative baggage that weighs us down, saps our energy, and leaves us ineffective."

"Worry never changes a single thing except the worrier."

Loved this paragraph about faith: "My problem is that I like light better than darkness. But if I can see what God is doing--how He is working everything together for good--then I don't need faith. But still I want to see. I think we all have this problem. We say we want more faith, but really what we want is sight. Sight says, 'I see that it is good for me, so God must have sent it,' but faith says, 'God sent it, so it must be good for me.' God asks us to walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is walking in the dark with God, holding His hand."

There are many other pieces of this book I could have shared, as this post includes just a fraction of the statements I underlined! I'll close with the Psalm 23 paraphrase that Dillow ends the book with, written by her friend, Judy Booth.

"The Lord is my peace. I shall not live in anxiety. He puts me under His wing of comfort and calms my spirit within me. He takes all my anxieties on Himself and helps me to focus on Him. Yes, though I walk through a time of grace uncertainties and fierce anxieties, I will not fret--for You are my peace. Your Word and Your presence calm me now. You hold my uncertainties in the palm of Your hand. You soothe my anxious mind--You smooth my wrinkled brow. Surely serenity and trust in You shall fill me all the days of my life. And I shall keep my mind stayed on You forever." Amen!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birthday recap

The kids and I drove to Kansas City last week and enjoyed several days with my parents, two aunts and grandma. It was especially fun to celebrate Natalie's first birthday together. (Thanks, by the way, to all who sent greetings!) Here she is in her darling "birthday girl" t-shirt--thanks, Grammie!
Our little party was in the evening (invites pictured at top of post), with a dinner of flower-shaped foods. We used flower-shaped cookie cutters (thanks, Katie!) to make turkey and cheese sandwiches, and through an on-line search, I discovered that Barilla makes flower-shaped pasta, which was perfect for homemade mac and cheese.
I also knew I wanted to make a flower cake using cupcakes. Once again, I found some inspiration on the Internet and here is our simple but tasty result:
Natalie grabbed her cupcake and devoured it immediately! She especially loved the frosting. =)
In addition to the birthday festivities, we enjoyed lots of hanging out. Here are the kids snuggling with my parents:
I'm so bummed Nathan's not smiling in this pic, but wanted to share a photo of my aunt who will be moving to South America next month. Her upcoming departure was the main reason for us gathering at this time, so it was even more special to be together. We love you, Mary!

Finally, we posed for a picture (nice smiles, kids!) with Grandma/Nana before we parted ways. Saying goodbye is never easy, but we are grateful for the time we had together!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy birthday, precious Natalie!

I can hardly believe it's been a year since we welcomed Natalie Dell into our lives. (Her actual birthday is Thursday, but we'll be visiting family out of town, and I wanted to post this before we leave.)
Here is Natalie with two of her current favorite things: her constant companion,"Rosie," and the walking toy, which she plays with multiple times a day.
And to commemorate her birth, here is one of my favorite pictures from her first week:
Natalie, we are thankful for you and love you very much!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Energy audit

A long time ago I mentioned that we'd signed up for an energy audit of our home. The audit was conducted back in November, and I wanted to finally share some of the things we learned from it.

The auditors used a special fan to measure all of the small leak areas in our house, and then estimated the size of the hole as if all the leaks were combined in one spot. From this number (17 x 17 square inches), they estimated the cost of air leakage in our home as $502 per year for heating, and $22 per year for cooling. Yikes!

The above numbers were definitely a motivation to apply some of their recommended projects. To stop the air infiltration, Eric added weatherstripping to our attic door and caulked the areas around several other doors, including the garage entry and bedroom closets. We also added foam inserts behind outlet covers and used child safety plugs to block air holes. (This task struck me as a bit silly until I noticed how cold the air was that was seeping in through those tiny holes!) The major tasks the auditors suggested that we haven't completed yet: sealing the opening of our fireplace with decorated foamboard or an inflatable damper seal, adding more insulation to our attic, and replacing our ancient boiler.

It was really helpful to have this assessment, especially since it was accompanied by a long list of things we could do to improve the energy efficiency of our century-old home. Some other projects we completed were pulling furniture away from the walls to allow our floor radiators to heat more effectively, insulating the hot water pipes in our basement, and adding foamboard insulation to the garage walls (which are adjacent to our house).

The total cost for these completed projects is right around $100, so you can see that making a positive impact doesn't have to be expensive! (The tasks we've not completed were by far the most expensive upgrades.) Also, my finance-savvy husband informed me that the improvements we made qualified for a 30% tax credit. The audit itself cost $200, but since we made arrangements with our local utility company, the city generously paid for $150 of that amount!

This is more general, but another interesting thing we learned from the auditors is that ceiling fans are one of the most inefficient home appliances. The auditors said ceiling fans cool skin, not air, so they should never be running when a room is not occupied. Who knew?!

The audit was certainly eye-opening for us, and we hope to continue making our home more energy efficient. Have any of you had an energy audit conducted in your home?

Special thanks to Eric for his help in writing this post, as well as all his work (alongside my Dad) on the projects mentioned herein! Photo credit: Flickr

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

10 on the 10th: spices!

It's time for 10 on the 10th again!

A couple of years ago I posted about my favorite spices, and I thought it would be fun to recycle the topic for 10 on the 10th. My list has changed slightly, but this is a current list of my ten most frequently used spices:

  1. basil
  2. cayenne pepper
  3. chicken bouillon
  4. cinnamon
  5. cumin
  6. curry powder
  7. garlic powder
  8. ginger
  9. onion powder
  10. oregano

On this same topic, I'm intrigued by the recent ads I've seen regarding the 7 Super Spices. I rarely use thyme and I just bought my first jar of rosemary, so I'd like to start incorporating these into our menu. I've heard rosemary is great on potatoes, so I'll have to give that a try soon.

I'm curious how your top 10 list compares to mine, so please share in the comments. And if you want to read more random lists, head over to Mer's.

(Also, I want to acknowledge all who left comments of encouragement on my post from Monday. They meant a lot to me--thanks.)

Photo from Flickr

Monday, March 8, 2010

In the valley

There's so much on my heart and mind right now, and yet as I sit down to type out some thoughts, the words are coming slowly . . .

We all know life is a journey, and along the way are high points and low points--mountains and valleys. And lately, friends, I've been in a valley. Tired, drained, lacking joy and peace.

This past Saturday morning I was planning to make a trek to a nearby town to browse their consignment shop. But as the time to leave approached, I felt unsettled in my spirit. I knew that what I really needed was to have a retreat--to get away and process some things I've been struggling with, to pour out my heart to my Father. And so instead of taking a couple hours to run an errand, I took a couple hours to sit with my journal and Bible. Taking a retreat was definitely the right decision, but it wasn't an easy one. As someone who prizes productivity and efficiency, getting things done can too often become my main focus. But I don't want to be driven by tasks--I want to have a gentle and quiet spirit, to be growing more like Christ each day.

If my spirit is unsettled, as it was on Saturday, I have to be willing to take the time and effort to dig into that, instead of trying to cover it up with busyness or anything else. I definitely identify with this quote from St. Augustine: "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." My heart has been restless lately, and I am convicted to continue drawing closer to God, as He is the only One who can bring me the peace I've been lacking.

During my retreat on Saturday, I came across Psalm 116:7, "Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." This verse is really calming to me. I wrote it down and posted it in my kitchen because I want to keep reminding myself of God's faithfulness, of all that He has done for me, and I want to find rest in that. Another favorite verse of mine comes from Isaiah 26:3 "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You." May my soul find rest in You alone, God. (Psalm 62:1) Help me seek after You at all the points in my life, whether they are mountains or valleys.

If you could use some encouragement today, here are a few songs that have been meaningful to me lately: By His Wounds (wow--so powerful!), If You Want Me To, and Breathe. The lyrics to these songs help me speak the words that are on my heart: "By Your grace we are saved," "I'm clinging to the promise You're not done with me yet," and "I'm desperate for You."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Apples to apples

Thanks to all who commented with some grocery prices for your general area. I found the comparisons fascinating!

Here are the prices at my local grocery, followed by the average price calculated from the comments:

a gallon of generic skim non-organic milk $2.65 ($2.60)
The highest milk price in the survey was $3.61 (New Jersey); the lowest price represented was $1.99 (Southeast).

a dozen large non-organic eggs $1.29 ($1.64)
The highest price of eggs was a whopping $2.99 in Southern CA (though my sister-in-law said they're usually on sale for $1.99); the lowest price was $1.08 in a Midwest suburb.

a loaf of generic white/wheat bread $1.29 ($1.70)
These prices were the most varied: the highest was $2.50 (again New Jersey, but a different commenter, so likely a different area) and the lowest price was 79 cents in the eastern Midwest.

bananas per pound: $ 0.49 ($ 0.62)
Banana prices ranged from 79 cents/pound (a Midwest suburb and once again, New Jersey!) to 49 cents in quite a few places.

Personally, I was intrigued to see that my local prices for milk and eggs were higher than a lot of other places, especially considering we are a very agricultural region and have a major dairy just down the road. However, my local prices are still below the averages calculated here so I can't complain. I have to give a shout-out to all the New Jersey-ites (New Jersians?!) for having high prices across the board!
I know this wasn't a very scientific survey, but it was interesting to me nonetheless and I appreciate all who participated. I hope you also enjoyed reading these comparisons!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Price comparisons

Recently a single friend of ours made a comment that she spends the same amount on groceries for herself as we do for our family of four. This person, a resident of a mid-size Midwestern city, indicated that grocery prices are higher where she lives, and it made me curious. Just for fun, I'd like to compare the cost of a few grocery staples based on where you live.

If you're willing, sometime in the next few days, leave a comment with the regular (non-sale) price of the following:
  • a gallon of generic skim milk
  • one dozen large non-organic eggs
  • a loaf of generic white/wheat bread
  • bananas per pound
Even if you buy a different version of these products, such as soy milk, it will be most consistent if you post according to this list. As for your location, there's no need to give your city and state--just give a label that indicates region and/or community type. (For example, I would say "Midwestern small town.") I'll post my own local prices along with a compilation of the responses later this week. Thanks for participating in my little study!
*Also, totally unrelated, but while I'm surveying you, could anyone recommend a compelling biography? I'm looking for a little inspiration, and welcome your suggestions. Thanks!
Photo from Flickr