Budget Living, Living Well

The little barren Christmas Tree farm is how we felt in Christmases past.

The little barren Christmas Tree farm is how we felt in Christmases past.

The Husband came home last night and announced we can not make any changes to our kitchen as planned because we will need all our money to pay off the damage he did Christmas shopping. This was an exaggeration of course, but we have had a bit of an indulgent season this year, as it is the first time in five years we have had anything substantial to spend on our kids, and the first time in over ten years where we could even imagine buying eachother more than under shirts and handkerchiefs.

So, we’ve been a little giddy with Santa Spending Power of late, and it’s all going to work out just fine. You know why? We planned it. It may feel, and look like we’re just going hog-wild with spending this season but in reality it is all very well thought out and based on a year long budget that made room for the freedom to give, give and give some more this year.

It won’t happen again, because if it did, we may never retire. But this one year, we are rewarding ourselves for five years of tight purse strings by giving anyone we want exactly what they want, and it is a glorious treat.

I can’t help but think though, if it weren’t for the bad times, this time wouldn’t feel quite as good. I do not want to live the way we had to in the past, but I do appreciate all we learned and how it forced us to change the core of who we are when it comes to money. It really was that; a total overhaul, a Reinvention if you will, of who we are and how we relate to money. It wasn’t easy and it sure wasn’t fast but it isn’t as scary or hard as you (and I) may have thought.

I’ve gotten some questions about how we did what we did recently. I’ve also gotten some requests to write about it more. I haven’t answered the questions or written about it all because I just had to take some time to breathe. The truth is, when you’re in the thick of it for as long as we were, you aren’t quite sure how to describe what you’re doing. Then, when  you’re out of the deep, you just need some time to take in the air above ground for a bit before you can formulate a summary of what happened down there.

But as the end of the year approaches and I start looking at what I want to do with this blog, as I’m apt to do when milestones pass, it occurs to me I just may be ready to answer questions and write about money.

I want to share what we did and how we did it. Because if I can help even one person avoid the traps, or even shine a light on those that may be at the bottom of the well like we were for so long, then all of our time spent down there won’t be in vain. Because, spending at Christmas feels good, but paying it forward feels better.

So, look out in the new year for more about living on a budget** and living well. I’ve learned it is possible to do both and feel good about each.


** If you have specific questions or just want to hear a word of hope, leave requests in the comments section. I have a lot to share but I would love to address concerns you have. All stories are different so mine might not be exactly yours but I’m happy to find answers you might need! Just ask.


The Boys Are Back: Captain Toad Review

They’re baaack. The Boys’ Eye View this week is for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for WiiU. I love this game as a mom because no one is beating anyone else up and they actually have to use some spatial awareness and logic skills to complete each level. So far, this one is my favorite and I’d recommend it for gift season. I’ll let the professionals tell you the rest though. In this review, we caught them in action, so never mind the lack of eye contact as they speak. They just couldn’t take their eyes off Captain Toad!

A Season of Giving Back

Some of the gifts we wrapped to give away.

Some of the gifts we wrapped to give away.

Last week, I was asked  how I am teaching my kids to give back this holiday season. At first, it was difficult because we don’t do anything that stands out as spectacular, so I had a hard time thinking what to write in response. When I sent off my answers to the person who asked, her reaction was something along the lines of “it’s so great how much you do.”

That is when I realized, we do try to teach our kids about giving back, but it has been so ingrained as part of our daily lives and routine that it doesn’t feel like fancy or sparkly instruction but rather just part of our everyday fabric.

Even when we were at our financial lowest, it was important to me to teach my kids (and myself) about how fortunate we still were. Of course, we didn’t get the fanciest gifts and Santa was a minimalist, but under our tree were piles of goodies from loving family and friends and we tried to focus on all that we had instead of all that we didn’t and we tried to pass that on to our kids.

In addition, every year, we would pull three “Angel Tree” ornaments off the tree at church and use some of our very limited funds to buy gifts for others even less fortunate than we. There is a lesson there and I hope my kids got it. I know I did. I want my kids to view these acts of giving as our responsibility as people of the world. I don’t want them to view it as charity that wreaks of us being on any higher plane than those we give to. We’re all in this thing together and sometimes it’s just dumb luck why we’re the ones who can give instead of needing to receive and we have a role to play that comes with that luck.

The Husband’s family started a beautiful tradition for our sibling gift giving. We make a donation in our Secret Santa’s name to a charity or organization that has meaning to them. With my kids, we’ve extended it to birthdays as well. For Christmas, they get giftcards from  Global Giving or Network for Good giftcards so they can go online and choose the charity they want to give their money to. They get so into it and I love watching them take ownership of their decisions because they really see the meaning behind it rather than just viewing it as another online purchase.

But, it’s not all about money it’s about time and being present in making change. We haven’t gotten brave enough to bring the whole crew to a food bank or soup kitchen, or go sing carols at a rehab facility, but we have helped wrap gifts for sponsored families and we do all we can to teach our brood gratitude in this season of glut.

As a matter of routine, we have a big house clean out before the holidays. We bag up old coats and winter gear to pass on to someone who needs them as well as toys and books and any other gear that our family has outgrown. In this way, I try to teach the kids that until you are grateful for what you already have, you can never truly have more and that if they’re asking for new, then they should share some of what they already have to make room for more.

My hope is that in cleaning out what they own, they will see how fortunate we all are and make room, not just on their bookshelves and in their toy bins, but also in their hearts for the abundance that is sure to come. Because, we are fortunate no matter how tight our budget. But unless my kids accept their great fortune with the the responsibility that comes with it, I will have failed at my job as a mom.

So, we’ll still trim the tree and open far too many presents, but hopefully, as a family, we’ll also spend some time being grateful for all we have and generous with all we are willing to give.

What are you doing to give back this holiday season? It’s not too late.

My Mother and The Virgin Mary


My memory stinks. I don’t mean it stinks in the way that I walk into rooms and forget why. Although, I do do that quite regularly. When I say my memory stinks what  I mean is that I don’t really have many. The Husband, he’ll tell stories of being a kid that are so full of detail, it is as if it just happened last week.

Me? I can’t think of a single thing from my childhood that I can describe in detail at any given time. My memory is more like those quick snapshot transitions on the show Scandal. You know, rapid fire images that may or may not make total sense together no matter how important they are individually.

This sounds terrible but actually, it can be quite lovely. Take this morning for instance. I went to morning Mass at work because it is a feast day and I figure if my office is 10 meters from the church it’s pretty pitiful if I don’t make it in for Mass on a feast day. Today happens to be in  honor of the Immaculate Conception. I won’t get into the religion of what that means, except to say that Mass was all about Mary today. The songs, the readings, the whole nine were focused on Jesus’s mom.

Well, wouldn’t you know the first song that was sung caused me to burst right into tears. Yep, full watery eyes right in front of the entire church where I am supposed to maintain some sort of professional demeanor. Awesome.

After my initial surprise and embarrassment, I dove into the feeling and tried to figure out why I was quietly sobbing so early on a Monday morning. That’s when the Scandal snapshots fired.  Sure enough I could almost feel myself bundled in a winter coat sitting next to mom on the hard wooden pew in our old church. It’s dark (it always was) but for the light right above the altar and the weird blue haze that comes from sun through endless miles of stained glass. I am snuggled up next to her side,  while she sings with strong lungs about the Gentle Woman and Peaceful Dove. It is warm where I’m sitting and I love being there, right next to her, even if it means sitting through Mass for an hour on a day off from school. She looks peaceful. It doesn’t happen often, but it always does in church.

Then I remember more times in that same church, her singing, me leaning in next to her or grabbing her hand to hold, any kind of physical touch I could muster because she allowed it in those pews. I used to think it was because it was our special time together, but it was probably just so I would stay quiet for an hour so she could enjoy Mass in peace.

My mom didn’t get much peace when I was a kid. She had work and five older kids to worry about. Then she came home to me and all my childish wants and needs. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time snuggling or hand-holding because there simply wasn’t any time to spend.

But once a week, and when school was out for feast days, I had unfettered access to her warmth and gentle touch for nearly 60 full minutes. I don’t know for sure, because she’s not here to ask, but I would bet part of the reason she went to Mass so often wasn’t just devotion to God, but  an opportunity to sit and be still for an hour. And man, am I glad I got to spend those hours with her.

Today in Mass when I cried over the Mary song, I quickly remembered why and it helped make my hour even more special, because it was if I was sharing it with her.

My memory stinks, but when it finally kicks in, I get all the details I need.