Shameless Plug for Green Plastic Monkey

Part of being an author is that I need to promote myself and the book. This makes me terribly, terribly uncomfortable. If you could see me right now, my teeth are clenched and my neck is all tight and my shoulders are hunched up around my ears with the strain of it all. No, wait. We can do better than that. Here’s a picture; don’t I look strained?

I will probably regret posting this picture for years and years and years.
I will probably regret posting this picture for years and years and years.

Well, part of being a grown-up is putting on your big girl pantaloons and getting the job done, so here we go. This is one of the first of many shameless plugs for There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse. But here’s the exciting thing–if you go to the publisher’s website to order it, I have a super secret little code that will give you 25% off (assuming you live in the US or Canada). Wow-wee! I do love a bargain.

Here’s what you do: click this link to Discovery House Publishers, and use the promo code AUTH002 when you go to checkout. Click that little arrow next to the promo code box, and 25% comes a’flying off like butter on a hot skillet. Isn’t that easy and wonderful? Voila! A book at a discount! Or 100 books at a discount, if you’d like to get your Christmas shopping done early this year. (I told you this was going to be a shameless plug.)

Wait, wait, wait. I can see that some of you are reluctant to plunk down your hard-earned money to buy a book that might not suit your fancy. Well, we’re in luck. Here’s another link to a sample of the book. There. That should set your mind at ease. This sample even includes the quiz, which is one of my favorite parts of the book. You can take the quiz and determine if the book is for you before you buy it–handy, right?

In all seriousness, I appreciate you all more than I can say. Your comments and encouragement and readership are a blessing to me, and I do not take any of you for granted even one day. Thank you! I hope the book will be a blessing to you, just like you have been to me.

In Christ,

Jessie

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

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A Box of Joy

Yesterday I went up to Grand Rapids and spent the morning at Discovery House Publishers, which is publishing There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse. I chatted with a lot of people, I recorded a quick little ad, and I got a tour of the whole joint. It was a lot of fun. But the funnest of all? I came home with a box.20130214-110453.jpg

And in the box was…20130214-110446.jpg

And under the packaging we find…20130214-110439.jpg

Books! I came home with copies of my book! Oh, the joy. Oh, the rapture. It’s almost as exciting as holding a baby for the first time. All that work, all that labor, and then all of a sudden you’re holding something precious in your hands.

As exciting as this is, I know there are times in life when we work really hard for something, and it feels like it will never bear any fruit. It feels like we’re never going to see that box of books. Some of us are parenting children that we fear may never learn to make the right decisions. Some of us are slaving away at careers that don’t seem to be making progress. Some of us are stuck in relationships that never find peace, or we battle financial problems for years.

I’ve been there, too. I’ve faced several situations that felt like they would never, ever come to a happy end. But holding that box of books yesterday, I felt God’s plan and peace over my life. When I was stuck in the never-ending exhaustion of early motherhood, I certainly didn’t think to myself, “Hey, I bet God is going to use this very difficult time so that I can write a book to encourage other mothers! I bet I can fill 200 pages with my wacky stories to make them feel better!”

But God knew. And He walked with me through the difficult years and now I can see some of the fruit that He wanted those challenges to bear. And whatever your situation is right now, please be encouraged that He can bring the same blessing out of your life. He is working, bringing everything together for your good, for His glory. He asks only that we seek Him, we trust Him, and we obey Him. He can handle the rest.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:26-28, NLT)

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Green Plastic Monkeys Are Everywhere

This weekend our family went on a little vacation with some good friends. We packed up our cars and all five of our accumulated children and headed to a hotel with a water park. The children were delighted to have hours and hours together in the water. We adults were delighted to have other adults for company while we spent hours and hours in the water.

Nothing will get a child focused and moving like the promise of a water park after a two-hour drive, so our kids were in their suits and on a water slide within minutes of arrival. We adults, needing to warm up slowly, found a table and sat for a few minutes. If we’re going to be honest, one of the chief grown-up entertainments at such an establishment is people watching. And this is just what we did. We watched babies and children and their parents and ogled tattoos. So many tattoos!

“Psssst. Jess. Jesssss,” our friend Jon hissed at me, in that loud whisper one must use when having a private conversation in a loud place.

“What?” I loud-hissed back at him.

“That table over there–see that stuff? The guy who’s sitting there has a green plastic monkey tattooed on his back,” Jon reply-hissed at me.

I scrunched up my face at him, because surely I had heard wrong. He repeated himself, and then told me to wait. Sure enough, the man came back. And he had a barrel of monkeys tattooed all down his back, green ones included. It was like I had died and gone to heaven. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

And then (this is the part that might shock you slightly) we started to follow him around to get a picture of his tattoo. Yes, it would have been more appropriate to stop the man and say, “Hey, you know, I just wrote a book called There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse, and you have that monkey tattoo. Can I have a picture for the blog?” But it was way more fun to sneak behind him and get a picture.

Here’s my first attempt. Not so hot. But it’s really hard to get a decent picture in a water park when the subject is not aware that he should stop to pose.tattoo-blurry

Here’s the second attempt. Better, but the inner tube is sort of interrupting a good thing there.monkey-innertube

And finally, here’s the final shot. I don’t know exactly how we got this close for the picture, but there it is. Perfection.tatto-clearSo there we go, folks. Green Plastic Monkeys are the new craze. Get your own tattoo at a parlor near you, and send me a picture. I’ll put it on the blog, assuming that it’s in a place appropriate enough for everyone to see. If you want to make me really happy, get a Bible verse and some parenting advice tattooed right next to it, and it would be a perfect marketing tool for the book.

 

The Stuff in Our Purses

Dear Fellow Mothers,

Do you remember the days when you had a little tiny purse because you didn’t need that much? My purses used to be about five inches tall and eight inches wide. I had a little wallet, some keys, my trusty hair-pick from the 1980s, and some Chapstick. And somehow, mysteriously, I survived.

20130204-103154.jpgNot any more, baby. I have this big old leather thing that could maim someone if I lobbed it at their skull. I know that I could easily survive with a small purse again, but it turns out that I am now a mother, which means my purse is no longer my own. Now my purse is full of things that help other people survive, and I get to carry it. I’m like a mule for my children’s survival. I’ve got Band-Aids in case they bleed. Tic Tacs in case they get bored in church. Children’s Tylenol in case they spike a sudden fever. And this doesn’t even cover the non-emergency stuff they hand to me to keep, like the green plastic monkey that Caleb got at a restaurant. That poor little thing lived in the bottom of my purse for months until I found it by accident and let it see the light one day.

20130204-103209.jpgAnd then I named a book after it. So I guess being my kids’ mule isn’t the worst surprise about motherhood. There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in my Purse will be coming out in a month, and the book is full of all sorts of surprises that motherhood hands us. Our wee little purses turn into mammoth bags that take up entire portions of the car. Our bodies sag in ways we didn’t realize were possible. We find we have no patience. We are shocked to find out we don’t know how the answers to most of their questions. We are surprised to find we need God’s grace and wisdom from morning till night.

20130204-103202.jpgSo, my friends, what’s in your bag? What surprises has parenthood handed you? I want to know. I want to know if they’re tactile things floating around in your purse, or emotional surprises that have left you feeling vulnerable.

In Matthew a story is recorded where Jesus sent out His disciples on a little ministry trip. He gave them the following directions before they left:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:…”Do  not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff…” (Matthew 10:5, 9,10)

I would like to note that Jesus was sending twelve men, not twelve mothers. I’d like to see how that would have worked out differently if they had been mothers! But His point is still valid for us today–He provides for our needs. He wants us to be dependent on Him, not on the stuff we carry in our bags. Are we trusting Him, or our own provisions? Now there’s something I’m going to have to think about all day long. Where am I putting my trust? What about you?

 

P.S. I realize this would be a logical place for a photo of the green plastic monkey in my purse. But once Caleb saw the trinket again, it was gone. The last time I saw it, it was in two pieces under the seat of my car. So my next book might have to be titled There’s a Green Plastic Monkey Broken to Bits in the Buick. Nice alliteration, don’t you think?

Excitement and Panic

Things are exciting around this joint, I tell you. The new walls are finally getting some paint, and the kids are back in school with a full social schedule, and my book’s publication date is finally growing near. It has been so far off, forever, that it seemed probable that it would never actually arrive.

But just like any huge event that lurks in the distance, the date eventually arrives. There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in my Purse will be published in the beginning of March. Just this week I got an email from the publicity department asking me for all sorts of details that they will use to publicize the book far and wide. This caused me some mixed emotions. On one hand I feel excitement from the top of my little red-head to the tips of my tiny little toes. (All the parts in the middle are much larger, I’m afraid. I just have a little head and little toes. Genetics are such a beast.)

Here I present my tiny little toes. Just for you. Because I love you all.
Here I present my tiny little toes. Just for you. Because I love you all.

On the other hand, sheer panic stung right through me when I sat down to fully comprehend what is about to happen. You know that feeling when someone drags you on a roller coaster, and you finally reach the top of the first hill? You look down and you think, “Oh, dear. Dearie, dearie, dear.” You aren’t sure you’re ready, but you know you’re strapped in to a moving cart someplace near the clouds. Getting out is not an option. So you sit tight and hope that no one dies.

No one is going to die, here. I’m quite certain. But I am wrestling with a similar sort of panic. And to top it off, I’ve started a new book proposal. Since the first book is about parenting, I thought it might be a nice complement for the second book to be about marriage. I have an outline, and Scripture chosen, and a few good reference books waiting. But the more I write, the less this book is about marriage. So far I have 4,500 words written on how not to be a selfish idiot. Anyone who has ever been married or in any other human relationship knows that this is a good place to start a book, but still. The more I write the more confused I become.

I take comfort in knowing this has happened before, and it will happen again. Life is confusing. We struggle. We wrestle. And by and large, if we do not give up, that struggling and wrestling works some sort of magic and the process moves along. Things become clear again. We see the end result.

We aren’t the only ones who wrestle, either. Jacob wrestled with God. John the Baptist struggled with doubt. Jesus struggled in prayer before He died. If these godly men had to work out their faith and get through a difficult process, I can do the same.

But what do you all think—should I go for the marriage book, or the do-not-be-a-selfish-idiot book?

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” (Genesis 32:24-28, NLT)

The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Money vs. Time

Welcome back to our series on the Complete Tightwad Gazette!  Today we’re going to discuss the delicate balance between saving time and saving money.  Most families find it impossible to save both and simultaneously keep their sanity.  Yes, we could work full-time jobs while growing all our own food, but most people need to sleep.  This is why we invented grocery stores, thank you very much.

In her book, Amy Dacyczyn wrote about this very problem.  She and her husband solved the problem by coming up with a formula and a chart to determine if a chore was worth the time and money it saved.  I will let her explain in her own words:

I often time how many minutes a job requires to determine how many times I could, in theory, complete the job in an hour.  I then calculate how much money a job saves.  I multiply the times per hour by the savings per job to determine the hourly value.  For example:  A 10-minute task saves $2.  The task could be done six times an hour.  The hourly worth is $12 per hour (page 103).

She then took that hourly wage and added two other factors:  1) other values that add to the chore, like environmental impact or family time, and 2) personal enjoyment.  For example, I could keep a cow, and then make my own yogurt from the milk.  My daughter eats a ton of yogurt, so this could save me $4 a week.  Also, I’d be saving the environment by not buying yogurt in those plastic containers.

However, I have no idea of how long it takes to make yogurt when you start with an udder and a pail.  Days, I’m guessing.  And we can’t ignore the cost of keeping the cow; that’s not cheap.  And then we have to add in the fact that I hate taking care of animals, so my enjoyment factor would be about -10.  Added all up, that $4 a week for yogurt is becoming a bargain.

On the other hand, I do bake my own bread.  I love to do this, Eric loves to eat it, and I can churn out gourmet loaves of bread for about 50 cents each.  It takes a bit of time, but it’s totally worth it.

I rarely find it worth my time to run around town finding all the best deals.  I know other people who do this, coupons in hand, and make out like bandits.  This whole experience usually makes me so crabby that I am unfit company for the rest of the day, so I have given up.  But I do keep my eyes peeled for good deals, and I snap them up when I see them.  Today I found nuts on clearance at Wal-Mart for $1 a canister, so I grabbed four.  It took me about twenty seconds to save $12, and I think that was well worth my time.

If I use Amy’s formula, this gives me an hourly wage of $2,160.  And as I sit here typing this post with cashew-breath, my enjoyment of the experience is about a 10.  Win, win, win!

What are your favorite ways to save money, and how much time does it take each time you do it?

The Tightwad Gazette: Best Money Book Ever

Let’s do a quick show of hands–who out there is a huge fan of The Complete Tightwad Gazette?

Anyone?

Well, my friends, you will be after this post.  Welcome to the best money book ever written. Back in the day when our kids were small, our income was small, and our debts were huge, this book was my financial lifeline.  Written by Amy Dacyczyn about twenty years ago, the book is actually a compilation of six years of her very successful newsletter.  Yesterday I realized the obvious–this is an early version of a blog!  She wrote quick, simple articles from a personal point of view.  Except the poor woman didn’t have a smart phone to upload her pictures in a flash–she actually had to draw them all.  And then she had to print the whole thing out on real paper and mail it out each month.  I promise this blog wouldn’t exist if I had to mail it out.  I am that lazy.

As you can imagine, some of the ideas Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced “decision”) printed have fallen out of circulation since 1990.  For example, page 342 contains a reference to Breck shampoo, which I don’t think even Wal-Mart sells anymore.  And of course the internet and technology have moved past what anyone could have anticipated 22 years ago.

I will also admit, and Amy admitted herself, that some of the ideas are a little far out.  Not every money-saving idea will fit every family.  In one article she discussed how her family bought a large amount of canned goods with no labels; then they spent the next few months guessing at what the cans contained and making up meals once they opened them.  Think ongoing “Dinner Surprise” and you are on the right track.  There is no way on earth my husband would agree to that, and it takes a lot for him to put his foot down.

But when you get past the twenty year old time gap and some unusual approaches, the woman and her contributors had the right idea.  Amy’s basic desire was to have a large family, a large old farmhouse, and to stay at home with her children.  She then arranged her finances to fit until she and her husband could manage those dreams.

I’d like to share some of her principles that changed our family finances, so off and on I’ll be sharing some ideas from the book.  Today we’ll start with a foundational article called “Seeking the Minimum Level” (pg. 87).  Amy challenged her readers to think about what they were doing and buying, and why.  Do we really need all those shoes?  Do we really need the pre-packaged snacks?

Find one small thing to cut back.  Use less dish soap.  Don’t buy the new shoes yet. Go one extra day before you wash the towels.  Then continue to cut down your use until you find a level that is uncomfortable for your family.  When you’ve hit an uncomfortable point, then go back up one notch.  Just one.  Not back to the way it used to be.  Repeat this over and over with various expenses, and soon you’ll have trimmed your family’s finances with little stress.

How simple, and how beneficial!  Thinking differently will have you spending money more wisely.  What are your financial dreams?  Are you willing to try anything new to reach them? Let me know what you think!

Counting the Cost

This week money is flowing out of our checking account like lava out of an exploding volcano.  Kaboom!  There go hundreds of dollars for new tires.  Pow!  There’s the birthday gift for a kid we barely know.  Sizzle!  There go two extra tanks of gas for trips to Grand Rapids.  And finally-plop!  That last bit of lava is the steaming hot vacation money, falling out of our pockets as we head north for the weekend.

The volcano is eating us alive!  Well, sort of.  Lucky for us, we’re kind of budgeting nuts around here.  And by budgeting nuts, I mean we have color-coded spreadsheets, a computer program that tracks our spending to the penny, and stacks of books from Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial Ministries on our bedside tables.  We’ve spent almost eleven years getting our finances in order.

As you can imagine, sometimes this is not fun.  Many times it is terribly not fun.  For example, today it is well over 95 degrees outside, and we refuse to pay for air conditioning in this house.  We are sweaty.  We are grumpy.  We are about to go to Wal-Mart and enjoy their air conditioning for an hour.

However, there are times that Eric and I grin at each other, knowing full well that all that stinky financial self-control is paying off.  We’ve already counted the cost (as much as we are able) so when the volcano explodes on us, we are prepared.  We have new tires for the trip up north, where we will cheerfully support the local economy by paying $6 for a gallon of milk and some bread.  Bring it on, Tourist Traps!  We are prepared for your outrageous prices.

Jesus advocated the concept of counting the cost before committing to a project.  In Luke 14 He discussed the sacrifices neccessary if we want to carry our crosses, build a large project, or even go off to war.  Anything we do has a cost associated with it.  Are we prepared to pay it?  Have we considered the sacrifices we must make in one area to fully fund a higher goal?  Jesus said:

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish…’33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.  (Luke 14:28-30 & 33, NIV, biblegateway.com)

It’s my prayer for you today that you are also fully counting the cost of your choices (financial or otherwise).  It can feel like a huge bummer at first, but the pay off is completely worth it!

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