Think you’re stuck in life? Think again!


I’ve been slowly making my way through My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Preud’homme. (If you’ve seen  the movie Julie & Julia, you have a good idea of the book.)  Julia and her Alex, her nephew-in-law, went back through old letters and memories and then transcribed them into a pure delight of a book.

Did you know Julia didn’t move to Paris until she was 36 years old? She didn’t really find her love of cooking until she was 37! Raised in a wealthy Californian family, she grew up with cooks who turned out all sorts of bland American food, so the art of excellent cooking with fresh ingredients was foreign to her. Her love of these things caught her off guard.

She discovered them by taking risks, trying new things, and then working really hard until she perfected them.


Let’s all be more like Julia, shall we? Let’s try that new recipe or craft project. Let’s start writing that book or planning that trip or designing that new business. It’s never to late to find what we really love, what God has for the next season of our lives.

Don’t be discouraged if early attempts are pitiful and awful and a little bit humiliating. That’s part of the fun! Here’s proof:

The first meal I ever cooked for Paul was a bit more ambitious: brains simmered in red wine! I’m not quite sure why I picked that particular dish, other than that it sounded exotic and would be a fun way to impress my new husband. …In fact, the dinner was a disaster. Paul was unfailingly patient, but years later he’d admit to an interviewer, “Her first attempts were not altogether successful…I was brave because I wanted to marry Julia. I trust I did not betray my point of view.” (pg. 6)

Julia Child cooked brains simmered in wine for her first married meal. And it was ghastly.

If she can goof it up like this, so can we. She eventually became a world-famous chef and now her kitchen is on display in the National Museum of American History.

All because she didn’t give up after that brains-in-wine debacle. So let’s stop with the excuses and get to the next thing God has for us, shall we?


Saving Money Is Easy: Just Don’t Go to Places Where They Sell Things

Friends, I need help. I need to summon all my strength and willpower. All that is within me cries out– buy all the beautiful things!

In an hour we’re leaving for–wait for it– a date night. My husband and I are going out without the children. It’s been a long and stressful month and we need a night away to eat food the children hate and to go to stores they hate even more. You know, the things we used to do all the time before we had children.

This means that soon I will be in a Pottery Barn store with no short people to slow me down. No little eyeballs to squint at price tags and yell, “Mom, why are they charging $130 for a blanket? That’s almost three years of my allowance!” No little butts to plop down on sofas which cost more than my first two cars combined while sighing, “Can we go yet?”

Yes, everyone's salad should be cradled in a turkey. Here's the link:||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-
Yes, everyone’s salad should be cradled in a turkey. (Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn: “>||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_–_-

I’ll be able to thoughtfully tap my chin while I consider how beautiful my dining table would look for the holidays if I would purchase the assorted tablecloths, bowl holders shaped like turkeys, burlap table runners, pheasant feathers, and plates in autumn colors. This could take an hour or more by myself, but the children would last 13.4 seconds before they reminded me I don’t live in a Pottery Barn world anymore. They have become my willpower.

The frugal person within me who longs for a simple life knows I already have enough blankets. I don’t need any more candles or picture frames or couches. And for the love of all that is holy, what would I do with a turkey bowl holder for the other 364 days of the year?

The frugal person within me will remind myself of our friend Jeff’s Facebook post this morning, where he announced that he and his wife Lisa have finally paid off all their debt. They’re excited. They’re thrilled. They have only the mortgage and then they’ll be really, truly, financially free.

Financial freedom is not what happens when a person spends too much time browsing in stores designed to suck you in and show you every beautiful thing you never knew you needed.

I don't even know what this is, but I want it real bad.  (Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn:||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-)
I don’t even know what this is, but I want it real bad.
(Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn:||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_–_-)

Financial freedom comes when you stay out of the stores and choose to be content with the blankets you already own, the regular bowls that work all year round, and the couches you can buy for $100 at the local resale shop. It comes one dollar at a time, as each dollar is committed to good choices, not momentary pleasure.

I know this, but usually my kids get me out of there before I have to exercise my own willpower. Tonight it’s just me and the beloved, and he just shakes his head at me and lets me do what I want.

Let’s hope I remember what I already know, because I could stay out of the store and save myself some grief, but it’s all just too pretty. I think I want to try out my willpower and see how long I last.

saving money is easy

Mark and Becky Break Free: A Simple Living Case Study

What if, right now, you could make one decision that would catapult you right out of half your stress?

That’s right. One decision can make all the difference, my friends. You simply identify your greatest stressor and then boldly move to cut it out.

“That’s impossible,” you say. “It can’t possibly be that easy.”

Easy, no. Possible, yes. The real question is this– do you have the guts to make the decision and then follow through?

Because that’s where most of us actually run into trouble– we’re gutless. We know what needs to be changed, but we don’t have the strength to do it.

Today, for your encouragement and inspiration, I have a real, live case study. Mark and Becky just summoned all the guts they had in their bodies and climbed onto the catapult. Ziiiiiing! They launched themselves out of half their stress by selling their seven-year old house and buying an older one. A smaller house. A cheaper house. A house much, much closer to Mark’s job. A house that let Becky quit her stressful job and stay home with their boys, making daycare an obsolete item on the budget.


I couldn't be the mom I wanted to be and keep that houseOf course, if doing the right thing was easy, we wouldn’t need this blog post. We’d all be doing the right things and making nothing but good decisions. We’d be living on clouds and riding rainbow-colored unicorns, tra-la-la.

Mark and Becky aren’t riding unicorns or strumming harps. They’re bumping elbows in a kitchen that’s a tiny, inefficient box compared to their old kitchen. They’re getting used to an old basement that smells musty if the dehumidifier doesn’t run around the clock. They’re all sharing one bathroom and don’t have room for their beautiful dining room table. There have been snake sightings on the porch. Yikes.

Saturday we spent the afternoon at their house, and after the burgers were gobbled up I pulled out my interview questions. I asked about the blessings, and I asked about the challenges. Here’s what they had to say:

Q: Why? Why did you do this thing?
Becky: “Family was more important than stuff, and I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be and have that house. We were chasing our tails, trying to keep up with daycare and the other expenses.”
Mark: “I told her, ‘I’m not married to the house. I can let it go.'”

Q: So how much have you cut your mortgage?
Mark: “In half. We cut it in half.”
Grandpa (who was sitting at the table and listening in. Did I mention Mark is my brother-in-law? He is.): “And they’ve cut their taxes by a third!”

Q: You’ve not only cut the mortgage, but your driving costs as well. How much did you drive before?
Mark: “I was driving 30 miles each way to work, five days a week.”
Becky: “I drove about 25 miles each way, five days a week.”

Q: And how much do you drive now?
Mark: “It depends on if I take the short cut or not. If I do, it’s 1.3 miles to work. And I come home for lunch, so that doubles it. If I go the long way it’s 1.5 miles.” (Insert his snicker here.)
Becky: “I don’t have to drive to work anymore, but I do still drive the boys to school in Portage. But I take the little, gas efficient car.” (Blogger’s note: the boys go to a charter school and haven’t had to change schools.)

Q: How much money are you saving in gas alone?
Mark: “Almost $350 a month! I put gas in the van every two months, whether it needs it or not.”


Q: What other benefits are you finding?
Mark: “I’m eating healthier because I come home for lunch, where we actually have fruits and vegetables and stuff. No more Little Debbie treats from the vending machine. During the summer we eat lunch as a family, but now the boys are in school Becky and I have a little lunch date every day. Also, we love our new property. We have a lot more trees and shade.”
Becky: “Quitting my job means I don’t have to worry about finding day care all summer, which cost almost as much as I made working full-time. I have time to get organized now, so that’s what I’m working on now that the boys are back in school.”

Q: What about the challenges? 
Mark: “We cut our square footage from 1500 square feet to 800, and I really miss having an extra bathroom. This house is older and I’ve had to fix things already, like the faucets. The appliances are older, too.”
Becky: “Well, our pride has taken a hit.” (She smiled.) “But also, we have so little closet space here, and the kitchen really is a challenge.” (Blogger’s note: the kitchen really is a challenge. Designed by a someone who must not have cooked at all.) “And I had to get rid of my piano.”

So there you have the bare facts of their situation. They summoned their courage and made the hard decision, come good or bad. But reading their answers doesn’t give you the full experience of their story. You can’t see how much more relaxed they are, sitting on their small side porch grilling hamburgers and swinging on their porch swing. You can’t feel how Becky’s a totally different person now, much more like she was years ago when I first met her. You can’t hear the kids, running around and climbing trees and playing hide and seek all over their new property.

Yes, the hard decisions might mean four people have to share a bathroom and, quite frankly, that’s never fun. But peace of mind supersedes bathroom issues, right?

I hope you’re encouraged and inspired to sit down tonight and figure out what your stress is. Is there anything, and I mean anything, you can do about it? There might not be. You might be dealing with something far more difficult than a big house payment.

But if you do have the ability to make the hard decision for change, I hope you’ll do it! Then let me know and I’ll interview you next.


How to Hide Your Clothesline Under a Bushel

italian-underpantsI took this photo in Italy last fall. Yes, I had to sneak between fence posts and yes, I had to use my zoom lens. But how could I not take this photographic opportunity to observe culture at its most basic form?

Now we’re back home in America, where we love rules. And where there isn’t a rule we quickly make up a rule. Mostly people then ignore/break/bend said rule, but we can refer to the rule at any time it’s convenient, such as when a neighbor is doing something we find offensive. You can’t do that; we have a rule!

And specifically, our family lives in a  little neighborhood which is loosely governed by a Home Owners Association, which means we have a giant book of rules to ignore until a neighbor is being annoying and then we pull that giant book out of the file cabinet and prove our point. Look right here–here’s the rule!

I’m actually quite afraid of the rule book, because I don’t want to know what rules I’m breaking on a daily basis. I know our garbage can could fall under a technical default because we don’t hide it in the garage like we’re supposed to, but who wants a garage that smells like garbage? Yuck.

Lately I’ve been missing my old clothesline we had at the old house (until the supports tilted so far inward that the clothesline dipped deeply in the center, causing concern that a running child might be garroted by a plastic coated wire) for many years. I like the slow pace of hanging the clothes and the smaller electric bill. But I faced two problems:

1. I’m pretty sure the HOA rule book has a no clotheslines because they’re unsightly clause. Again, I assume. I’m afraid to check.
2. Ticks. The property behind our house is tick heaven, and I really don’t want to bring all the clothes in and then live in fear I’ve just made it very convenient for a tick to suck my blood. Here, Mr. Tick. Would you like to snuggle in this t-shirt, then attach to my armpit whenever you’re hungry? Super.

garage-clotheslineSo for a year and a half I’ve made peace with my clothes dryer, until just this weekend I’d had enough. I rearranged the garage and voila! A hidden clothesline.

Now, we do have a few problems:

1. No sun actually shines in the garage, and the wind only blows in from certain angles. This means that on a day with 90% humidity like yesterday, nothing actually dries. Bummer. But on most days the garage heats up like the sun and there are convenient vents at the top. It’s like a giant dryer without the tumble feature!
2. The cat’s litter box. Clean laundry isn’t supposed to smell like cat, probably. But I just kept rearranging the garage until the box was far away, next to the big door. Problem solved!
3. I don’t want the neighbors to think we’re hillbillies. I mean, we are hillbillies, but we’re pretending to be reformed hillbillies. I was afraid they’d see our clothesline and worry about their home values plummeting. But good news–it turns out Gertie the Minivan is big enough that she blocks almost every view of the hanging clothes! That van just keeps on giving, I tell you.

Now we have a lovely retractable clothesline for the warm months. I’m going to move it inside for the winter months, when the garage is cold and damp but the furnace room is warm and perfect.

What about you? Any clothesline lovers out there?

How to Pray for an Anxious Person. A Worrywart. A Nervous Nelly. You Get the Picture.

Some of us know and love worrywarts. And some of us are worrywarts. And some of us are worrywarts married to worrywarts who gave birth to baby worrywarts, thereby ensuring generations of people who have mastered stewing, fretting, and agonizing.

Not that I have any personal experience in this matter, of course.

I have simply no idea of what I’m talking about.

Delusions aside, there’s a better way. There’s a way to take those anxious thoughts, stop them in their tracks, and focus on something better. Jesus came to bring us life, and bring it to the full (John 10:10). That full, abundant life does not include waking up in a cold sweat at 3:00 a.m. because another worry is attacking you. (Or me.) That full and abundant life does include prayer and Bible reading. And, even better, we can combine prayer and Bible reading by praying Scripture directly.  

We discussed this a few months ago when I wrote How to Pray for a Crazy Person, but since then I’ve had more time to put Scriptural prayer into practice. I’ve had more time to see God work miracles on my behalf.

This works, my friends! We can turn away from our anxiety and focus on something better! We know that prayers work when they glorify God and seek his will. Praying according to passages of the Bible does exactly that. What could be more in-line with God’s will and glory than his written Word?

There’s a passage of Scripture that couldn’t be more perfect for exactly what we’re talking about here. These verses lay out a perfect plan for handling our fretting and edginess. Here they are:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me–everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)

Let us take a moment to summarize, lest we have glazed over at the familiar verses of Scripture:

  1. Do not worry. (Stop yourself as soon as you recognize the fretting. If you can’t do anything about it other than run it through your negative mental processes, it’s worry.)
  2. Instead, pray over the matter. Take it right to God’s throne.
  3. Then, fix your mind on good things–true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things. (Seriously, just pick something better and think about that instead! Don’t let your brain create negative ruts.)
  4. Practice peace by actively doing the loving, serving, humble things that Jesus did and Paul taught. (Wash some feet! Go chat with your 95 year old neighbor! Spend time with your kids! (Okay, technically neither Jesus nor Paul had children. But you see what I mean, here.))

Perhaps you are praying for a loved one who is choking with anxiety, or perhaps you yourself are the one choking. It doesn’t matter; we can pray this for someone else or ourselves. We can pray it for the whole family at the same time.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I hope it blesses you, and I hope you give this a try. Really. There is nothing more powerful than taking God’s Word to God’s throne. The next time anxiety grabs the steering wheel of your mind, take it right back over. It will fight you back. It will try again. Don’t let it win, my dears. Just take your thoughts right back to prayer and start all over again.

Philippians 4:6-9
Philippians 4:6-9


How to Discuss Modesty with Pre-Teen Daughters. (If you’re brave enough…)

modesty-with-pre-teen-daughtersIs the battle over modesty raging in your family? Moms, take heart. We can help our daughters feel beautiful AND help them learn about modesty.

You may have noticed a firestorm of controversy recently over pants, and tights, and whether or not tights are pants. And even if you haven’t noticed the controversy, surely you’ve noticed women wandering around town without proper pants applied to their persons. Wal-Mart, the bank, church–all these places are now frequented by women who have forgotten to put something over their very tight leg coverings. Things like a very long and blousy shirt, or a skirt, or something. Something!

Other far wiser and wittier women have written blog posts about modesty (I’ve included a link at the bottom), so I won’t recreate the whole argument for pants. I would, however, like to address it from the perspective of a mother of a ten year old girl. A ten year-old who loves fashion. Naturally attracted to anything fashionable, Audrey can go to her closet and pull out individual pieces to assemble an entirely adorable outfit.

But recently we’ve had several rounds of “No way, Jose. Go back and find something else to put over those leggings.” And she huffs at me and then claims she has nothing to wear and I hold up a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and her eyes roll back in her head like I asked her to wear a Pilgrim outfit.

Pray for me.

Monday she came home from school with big, serious eyes and informed me that the middle school has a new rule: Tights are not pants. Yoga pants aren’t even pants. Anyone caught wearing them (without an appropriate bottom-covering) will go to the office, call a parent, and have proper clothing delivered to school.

I’d like to give a small clap of recognition to the staff members that laid down this little law about modesty. (Clap clap clap clap.) ((That is not sarcasm. I am truly overjoyed.))

I love it when other adults enforce sensible rules. Because, let’s face it, ten year old girls aren’t exactly ready to understand all the reasons we have rules for modesty. Am I ready to traverse through the male mind to explain what a tightly wrapped set of legs will do to a boy’s thoughts?

Just typing that sentence gave me the woozies. I have no idea of how to explain this to a girl. What little I know of men’s minds is vague and fuzzy for a very good reason. It’s scary in there, my sisters.


Not only do I not want to wander around in the wild world of what men find attractive, I don’t really have any basis for understanding this personally. For example, when I was a teenager my friend’s mother took us both to a professional ballet that came to Kalamazoo. I was nearly scarred for life at seeing that famous Russian ballet dancer in his tights. Baryshnicov? Gorbachev? I can’t remember which is which.

(I’m fairly certain one of those men was a dancer and one of them was the leader of the Soviet Union. I’m quite certain all history teachers are banging their foreheads on their desks right now and deploring the American educational system.)

Back to our point–as women, we don’t generally find it attractive when men wrap themselves in lycra. We tend to gravitate towards things like steady incomes, deep voices, and the ability to grow a decent beard. Because of this, I’m having an even harder time explaining why we have to be very careful when we dress.

At this point, I’m leaving it at that. We just have to be very careful when we dress. As she gets older we’ll start adding in the why’s and wherefore’s. Hopefully by then the foundation will be set and firm and we’ll be able to have some honest, age-appropriate discussions about sexual attraction and why it has no place in math class. Or the bank. Or WalMart. And the very specific ideas about where God does think it’s appropriate.

Until then, tights are not pants. Not here, not at school, not at church. Modesty is a thing that this family will teach, and I will die trying.

And here’s the link I promised you from Tights Are Not Pants, Ya Hear? It’s worth it for the flow chart alone, I promise.

Have a great day, and thanks for wearing pants, dear readers.

The woman approached him, seductively dressed and sly of heart. She was the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home. She is often in the streets and markets, soliciting at every corner…He followed her at once, like an ox going to the slaughter…

So listen to me, my sons…don’t let your hearts stray toward her…Her house is on the road to the grave, Her bedroom is the den of death. (Proverbs 7:10-12, 22, 24, 27.)


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