How Much Should I Give? vs. How Much Should I Keep?: Growing Toward Faithfully Frugal

I have supper in the Crock pot right now:  split pea soup. I am finally–FINALLY–using up the remainder of a bag of dried split peas we bought at a bulk store long ago. As in, almost two years ago. I know, I know…those peas are old.

boys on rocks in stream

But I have set my course to fix meals from the freezer and pantry, using up what we have and stewarding well what’s already been purchased (or, in some cases, given). Instead of allowing those split peas to languish for another year, I’m putting them to use.

I’ve been spurred on by a short little e-book I recently read…Faithfully Frugal:  Spend Less, Give More, Live More, by Kari Patterson.  You can find it at Amazon, which is where I bought it.

I’m so inspired by this book. The author delves into the teachings of Scripture in regards to our relationships to money and how we view it–and the Christian’s purpose of frugality:  Christian circles think of building wealth SO THAT we can be generous. But God says to be generous SO THAT you can build wealth. More and more, I find myself convinced that the way to store up treasure in heaven is to give it away on earth, to “give both mites,” as the author writes, referring to the poor widow in the New Testament who threw her final remaining coins into the Temple offering and was pointed out as an example by Jesus for her wholehearted giving.

money planted in dirt

Patterson doesn’t imply that we give away all our possessions or take a vow of poverty or allow our children to starve by “giving both mites.” She explains that our giving, when we give God our whole hearts and entrust all our money to him, can move from religious obligation to relational opportunity. We push the entire pile of our money over to the Lord, allowing him to call the shots and viewing it as HIS money. And this is worship.

“The joy is found when we give both mites,” she declares. She writes that our goal should not be MORE money–acquired by scoring a deal or saving a dime, getting all the stuff we want as long as we get it at a cheap price. Our goal, as Christ followers, is generosity.

open hands with money

“Our enemy,” Patterson states, “is not debt, high prices, inflation, or a recession. Our enemy is greed…” With her words, she compares the concepts of foolishly frugal and faithfully frugal, and she references the Biblical parable of the rich fool. From Luke chapter 12:

16 And he [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

The person Christ calls “fool” in this story likely scrimped and saved and worked hard in order to amass such an amount of earthly wealth. But his end-goal was for the here and now, seeking gains for self. Faithfully frugal, conversely, seeks gains in eternity, for others and not for self.

My heart for living simply and frugally has been refreshed; I’m renewed in a desire to ask of the Lord:  How much should I keep? instead of How much should I give? 

presents

Now cue the cooking from the already-bought foodstuffs in the pantry, trying to be faithful with what we have in order to free up more resources for giving. Patterson gives enormously helpful practical advice in her book, too, regarding taking steps like this.

So instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the store last week (which I find so much easier to use), I bought 2 whole chickens. I cooked one in the Crock pot and had Mike pick the meat from the bones. I frankly find that process disgusting, but he truly doesn’t mind and even wanted to do it. Then I took the “frame” (the foodie word for the bones/carcass), dunked it back into the Crock pot–which, by the way, is getting quite the work out–and made bone broth with it. I now have plenty of nearly free broth for use in dishes from chili mac & cheese to chicken pot pie (made last night) to the soup I’m making today.

There’s a deeper sense of purpose, a heightened awareness of the sacred nature of serving, when I labor long in the kitchen knowing I’m nourishing my family and increasing our capacity for generosity, too.

One question Patterson poses to her readers on the journey of becoming more faithfully frugal:  What one non-essential item could you go without this year? How might you answer?

“Giving is the only antidote to materialism.”–Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle 

 

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My First Very Own Clothesline

In May, I received the Mother’s Day present that I’d requested from my family:  a retractable clothesline.

We have a backyard now at our current home–as of 2 years ago–and I wanted a clothesline to go with it. There’s an old metal post that used to belong to a clothesline at one end of our yard; it’s fixed in concrete, so that precluded moving it to a sunnier spot for erecting a new clothesline.

The boys created a tree fort using the rusty old post as a base for the wooden pallets we picked up for free last year–with the vision of making some kind of tree house. The pallets languished in the yard for many months; then one day, I spotted the boys creating this in the backyard. Using ropes, strings, and a cord from a broken set of window blinds, this is what they created:  a two-story play place in the shade. So at least that old post is good for something.

boys tree fort

So, in the absence of an actual clothesline, for a while I hung laundry over the chain-link fences surrounding our yard–or at least big pieces such as towels and sheets. But invariably it would get blown off. After the second time in one day that I was forced to kick off my flip-flops and hop the neighbor’s fence to retrieve the rogue laundry, I gave up on that practice. And, yes, I know it sounds a bit tacky to hang one’s drying laundry over a fence (although portions of our backyard fence aren’t shared with the neighbors’ yards). That’s kind of par for the course in our neighborhood, but still:  It did provide a reason to skip fence-line drying of clothes. I returned to using our clothes dryer along with the dryer balls I made a couple years ago. 

Then we visited Travel Country Outdoors one afternoon, and I spotted the retractable clothesline option, primarily meant for camping. I asked for one for our family. I unwrapped this gift in May, then we left for the summer. In early August, Mike installed it using 2 trees in our yard. It’s affixed to one tree; I pull out the cord, stretch it across the yard, and hang it on a hook attached to another tree.

clothesline 2

I grew up with clotheslines in the backyard of our country homes; the featured picture at the top of every blog post is of my parents’ clothesline. And now I have my own! Solar power for the win.

clothesline 1

New Life for an Old Dress

At the end of this month, Mike and I will mark 15 years of being married. That’s longer than all of elementary and middle and high school combined. So much has happened in all these years.

colorful cogs

Eleven days before our wedding was to take place, our florist quit her job. She arranged floral displays at a theme park in central Florida, and there was no other florist employed there who could take over where she left off. I learned of this when one of her co-workers called me at work to break the news. This woman offered to meet me at a grocery store to pick out flowers, but I declined. She mailed back my check, plus the 2 tin buckets I’d brought to the florist for her to use for the flower arrangements I’d ordered.

We’d already planned for the bridesmaids to carry bouquets of artificial flowers, made by my mama and sister. Mama and Rachel also made boutonnieres for the groomsmen. I’d planned to have only Mike’s boutonniere, my bridal bouquet, and 2 arrangements of blue hydrangeas as actual flowers. Because:  budget. But after the original florist quit, I settled for using real flowers only for my bouquet. A neighbor of one of my co-workers worked with flowers, so I paid her $50 for a bouquet featuring a huge hydrangea bloom in a delicate pale blue. All in all, losing our original florist turned out to be only a minor setback.

For our wedding, I borrowed a veil (from my friend and bridesmaid Nicole); I also borrowed shoes from my sister. I wore my great-grandmother’s pearls. That covers “borrowed” and “old.” To represent the “blue,” I switched my regular nose ring out for a tiny stud with a blue stone in it. (I’ve had a nose ring since I was 25, in case you didn’t know.) The little blue stone fell out in a matter of weeks, but it did provide the traditional “blue” for the wedding ceremony.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…My “new” consisted of the wedding dress that my mama sewed for me, and she did it in the span of only a few days during a visit to Orlando.

allison wedding day (1)
That’s my Daddy in the background, which is probably where he prefers to be when a camera comes out.

Many years after we married, after our two boys were born, and I realized that we weren’t having any more children (and that I wouldn’t have a daughter), I decided to do something with my wedding dress apart from hanging it in our bedroom closet.

I sought out opportunities and came upon the Mary Madeline Project.  This group of volunteers sews wedding and bridesmaid dresses into burial gowns for babies who die in the neonatal period at hospitals, as well as for stillbirths.

I have a family member who lost a baby at around 18 weeks gestation; volunteer sewers provided him with a burial outfit, although it was not connected to the Mary Madeline Project. I’m so thankful for that gift to the grieving parents who lost their baby boy. I’ve never personally had to face such a loss, but I believe (if I found myself in those circumstances) I wouldn’t want to have to exert energy on selecting burial clothes for a newborn if I could simply receive those as a gift.

i will always love you lock

So that’s the route I took–I boxed up my wedding dress and mailed it to the Mary Madeline Project. Later, when I received their thank-you note detailing how the fabric of my dress would be used, I cried–not because I missed my dress nor because I experienced second thoughts about having given it away, but because I imagined myself in the place of those parents. And I felt gratified knowing my wedding dress would find new life in honoring the short but significant lives of premature or stillborn infants.

In all these 15 years of marriage, I remain grateful that I could pass along the wedding dress my mama made for her child so it could hopefully bless the parents of other children.

Wear It Well Wednesday: Striped Shirt + Scarf

The day I donned this outfit, the predicted high temp here in Fort Collins was only 68 degrees. To this Florida woman, that’s a genuinely cool temperature. When we left the apartment this morning (first to exchange a 23-pound bag of aluminum cans for cash at the recycling center), the temperature was only at 60 degrees, and Woodrow declared, “It’s like the coldest day in Orlando!” Not quite, but it was refreshing indeed.

This is not the outfit I necessarily would have selected to haul around aluminum cans that the boys (along with some parental assistance) have been collecting. But we had a few errands to run, and a birthday party later in the afternoon. So the clothes I put on this morning needed to last all day. Plus, I wore the same tank top and skirt 3 days last week, so it was time for a fresh outfit.

scarf striped shirt upper body

Let me break it down:  One of my sisters-in-law passed these jeans on to me {you’ve seen them in a WIWW post before}. The striped shirt came from the give-away table at Mike’s office. He picked it up just before we left for the summer, and I brought it along–hoping I’d have the opportunity to wear it in Colorado. Today I did! The scarf is one of our recent yard sale purchases, at only a quarter.

The neck wear is, I believe, called an infinity scarf. I wasn’t exactly sure how to arrange it on myself, so when a woman stopped me at the grocery store today to remark on how this goldenrod shade is her favorite color, I stopped her. “I don’t really know how to wear this kind of scarf. Is this right? Is this how it’s done?” I asked. She affirmed that it was and also explained another way she wore hers, although I didn’t quite follow the explanation. But I love getting compliments on cheap purchases and hand-me-down pieces!

striped shirt and scarf

And here’s a full-length shot, showing my nearly-ubiquitous cowboy boots, a gift from my parents that keeps on giving. You can’t see the hand-me-down barrette (from my mama–now that my short haircut from January is growing out, I need to have hair doo-dads to hold it back) and the hand-me-down socks inside the boots. The whole outfit:  just 25 cents, the price of the second-hand scarf.

I biked with the boys to and from the Colorado State University campus wearing this outfit today, and I give it thumbs up for bike-ability. P.S. Even my bike helmet is second-hand–an extra that my husband had years ago. But don’t expect to see a WIWW post featuring me with a helmet on my head. 

We bought a couple more scarves, each for a quarter, at the same yard sale where we got this one; maybe I’ll put together more outfits with some of those scarves soon!

 

Something New Saturday: Chocolate Sourdough Bread

I first discovered chocolate sourdough bread (also known as sourdough noir) in a novel my friend Meg gave me for my birthday this past January. I’d never heard of it until I read about it in the pages of Stones for BreadAnd I determined that I would bake it.

As the name implies, it’s bread (not cake) so it’s not as sweet as a typical dessert. The recipe included in the novel (and one that I found online) called for dried fruits as well as chocolate and baking cocoa, along with sugar. I used mixed dried berries for our loaf.

I’ve made sourdough bread for years–just the plain kind which I bake from scratch using a homemade sourdough starter. We use this bread for sandwiches, French toast, and everything in between. Even homemade croutons. I also brought my big jar of starter out here to Colorado with us–which took some amount of care, let me tell you. Sourdough noir, however, is anything but plain. It’s also a good deal more complicated in how it’s made, as compared to the regular sourdough bread that I bake by rote at this point.

sour dough noir
Finished product:  chocolate sourdough bread.

I liked the results, and the boys really enjoyed it, too–we toasted slices of it for breakfast and snacks. Smeared with some Kerrygold butter, it tasted delectable. I do plan to make it again. Next time, I’ll use semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of a bar of dark chocolate broken into bits.

chocolate sourdough with butter

Since we’ve been in Colorado, I’ve even used my sourdough starter to make pizza dough. It was moderately successful, but I’m keen to try again–just as I am with the sourdough noir. 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.

 

 

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.