Thursday, December 4, 2014

What are you anticipating?

I want to share a few blogs on some of the questions that I prayed through over the past month as part of my Facebook fast. I hope you’ll join me in praying through these questions in your life as well!

The first question I prayed through is What are you anticipating?

Some things are really easy (and exciting!) to anticipate eagerly. I know right now I’m eagerly anticipating Christmas. I KNOW Christmas will be amazing with my family. That’s something I experience year after year, and I always look forward to celebrating. For me though, anticipating is a struggle. I’m very grounded in my expectations, and I often temper them to avoid disappointment. Nate and I are polar opposites in this way! I really struggle, because I’ve conditioned myself “not to get my hopes up.”

Right now we are in the advent season, which is about anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth, but also the anticipation of Christ coming back some day. That’s worth getting your hopes up for!

As I look back over my life, there were absolutely moments where I thought “well, this is a terrible, pointless experience.” Not true! Almost all of those moments I can look back to as a moment that God used in a big way. Not getting my “dream job” completely changed our family’s trajectory – for the better. If you would have told me that four years ago when I was sobbing and begging Nate to just let me go work at Taco Bell because I’d never amount to anything professionally (yeah, that really happened), I would have laughed in your face. I actually remember saying the words, “Nothing good will ever come out of this!” I know imagine that moment with God saying after that, “Challenge accepted!” 

As I’ve grown in my faith, I have gotten better at eagerly anticipating God’s work in my heart and in my circumstances, but it’s still a big area of growth for me.

The picture below is one of my favorite pictures, ever taken. I know that probably seems ridiculous, but I’ll explain why. This picture was taken during the hardest month of my life. Right after Emmarie was born, it felt like everything I knew was being ripped from my hands with job changes, house changes, church changes, and more. And my instinct in that moment was to clench my fists and hold as tightly to everything that I could. To mourn losses. To permanently attach chips to my shoulder.

But as we put the For Sale sign up, we thought back to when we bought the house (only a year and half earlier), and I had excitedly posed with the “Sold!” sign. I don’t remember if I suggested it or Nate did, but we agreed we needed the same type of picture as we closed a chapter. I walked up to the sign, and Blakely followed. As Nate got ready to take the picture, he said, “GET EXCITED!”

And we did.

What if in the middle of all of our broken moments, we took a picture? Maybe not literally, but just paused in the moment to soak it in… and to eagerly anticipate how God will work through this, in our lives and the lives of others. A snapshot to say “look at where I was and look where God has brought me.” What if instead of crying and filling out Taco Bell applications, we pause and say,

“God, I know you’re with me in this. I anticipate that you’ll use ALL of my experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to bring glory to You, if I allow it.”

So as you and I pray through what we are anticipating and looking ahead towards, I have to quote Nate:


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Character Development: The problem with straight lines

Liz, one of my best friends, is the complete opposite of me. She’s the type of person who loves an adventure, has never met a stranger, and had seven different colored dresses for her bridesmaids. I hide from people I know in the grocery store, and everything in my wedding was black and white. Liz and I met through competitive cheerleading and I immediately loved her and her craziness. We became fast friends and hung out all the time.

One of the less memorable times hanging out with her (which isn’t hard – she once unknowingly convinced me to go with her to a haunted house with two complete strangers!), she offered to give me a shortcut back to her house. I was a relatively new driver and was unfamiliar with Peoria, so I agreed.
“Just tell me where to go!” I said.

As we wound back through neighborhoods and seemed to backtrack, I finally looked at her and said, “Liz, you realize that this isn’t shorter than the way I usually go, right?”
She said, “Oh, I know. I just like to go this way.”

We had a quick review of the meaning of “shortcut” as I emphasized that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Fast forward to this morning. As I pulled out of my driveway this morning, I flashed to this moment happening before… pulling out of this very driveway, going to a job at Caterpillar, and wearing this same sweater… four years ago. (I should probably at least buy a new sweater.)

A lot has happened in the past four years – a calling to ministry, three new jobs for me, two babies, buying a house, selling a house, a new church, an old church…
But this morning it felt like life had taken me in a circle. Like I was back towards the start of my adult life, circa four years ago. It bothered me for a moment, until I reminded myself that God is in the business of being effective, not efficient. And the Ali pulling out of my driveway this morning, though wearing the same sweater (seriously, why do I still own this sweater?), is not the Ali that pulled out of this driveway four years ago.

I’ll always love connecting dots with straight lines, because I’m me. In college I took a several literature classes, and I still remember a piece of assigned reading that I dragged myself through. When the professor asked me why I disliked it so much, I noted the large sections of the book with no plot advancement.
“Don’t you see?” She said incredulously, “That was where the character development was happening!”

Ah. The character development.
I think as humans, we have an innate tendency to demand plot advancement from God – the new job, the new calling, the new focus, the new location. We like linear – preferably upward trending. We imagine ourselves on the day we meet God with a line graph and a pointer, showing how well we progressed through this life (that’s only me? Okay).

The problem with straight lines, though, is that they are one dimensional. They don’t account for the character development. Every moment I have lived has led me to where I am today. God spares no expense when it comes to character development – he’s not in the straight line business. God’s paths (not to be confused with ‘shortcuts’, Liz) are purposeful and perfect. They give us experience today that we will need tomorrow.
So my reminder for today is focus on the PURPOSE, the PLAN, and the PERSON.

Don’t get hung up on the PATH, the PRESENT, or the PLOT.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What your ministry is not

I’ve learned a lot over the past few months – baptism by fire, if you will. Nate and I were talking yesterday again about all the insane changes we’ve been through (church, job, baby, move) and what we’ve learned. We talked about things like conflict resolution, taking nothing for granted, and other areas that we’ve grown in. I know for me though, the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is what your ministry is not.

Your ministry is not your lineage

I’ve met a lot of pastors who are “in the family business,” which is great. That’s a huge testament to their family’s legacy. But one of the things that I love about Nate’s story is how NOT even close to pastors his parents were, haha.

 People who break the cycle of hurt and dysfunction are a huge testament to God’s plan for and power in our lives when we surrender!

 Your ministry is not your church

This one was hard for me to accept for a long time. Nate and I invested so, so much into Innovate. It was a church where we invited friends and acquaintances that would never go to other churches – and they felt welcome there. We gave financially far beyond a usual 10% tithe. We spent hours and hours and hours helping, preparing, praying, serving. And many others did too.

But Innovate doesn’t exist anymore. And surprisingly, we haven’t stopped praying for our friends and hanging out with them and talking about God. We haven’t stopped giving of time and money. And God hasn’t stopped showing up in big ways. Being back at Bridgeway is an adjustment, to be totally honest. But I have no doubt that’s where God has us to be right now, among some of the most amazing Christians I’ve ever met.

Just tonight, Nate went to the driving range with an acquaintance and ended up talking to a total stranger when he over heard Nate talking about his faith. Nate left with his phone number because my husband is just blessed/weird like that. God loves the church, but the church and God are not the same thing. And neither are the church and your ministry.

Your ministry is not your position

Neither Nate nor I have ever had a title related to how we serve God. I did once jokingly nominate myself for the role of APGSD – Associate Pastor of Getting S*** Done – but my husband told me that’s actually offensive and not a real position, so I go back to never having a title.

 Real leaders don’t rely on titles to influence. I could go back to my Psych undergrad roots and talk French and Raven’s pyramid of influence, but I’ll just say this – some of the greatest ministry done is grass roots. If you see a need – MEET IT! Don’t wait until you’re a board member or a pastor or a volunteer director. If God’s called you to do it, then take action!

Your ministry, very simply, is your life.

Your everyday life is your ministry. The way you treat the cashier at Walmart. Your response when your child has drawn all over the walls. The choice you make when you have the option to write someone off or to accept their mess. The way you treat your spouse when the warm fuzzy butterflies aren’t there.

That’s your ministry. And every Christian has a ministry. It is your responsibility and your right as a follower of Christ. Now go – minister on!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Doing it with Joy

One of my biggest strengths in this life is my persistence and sense of accountability. Other than social events (which I’m working on), I am pretty rock steady to be counted on for most things. Related to that, one of my greatest weaknesses is doing things with joy. To be honest, there have been many occasions where I’ve resented being the “go-to” person and have frankly taken joy in letting others know basically how much they were asking of me and how inconvenienced I was by their requests or situations.

The same thing has happened in my faith life as I’ve frequently answered callings with, “I’ll do it, but I don’t have to like it.”

When things started to unravel with a church situation and it became clear that Nate and I would have to bear most of the burden, my prayer was not for God to fix everything or even for Him to give me strength – it was simply, “God, help me do this with joy.”

I wasn’t sure how well I was doing with the joy situation, but long story short, someone COMPLETELY misinterpreted what they thought was happening because… wait for it… we seemed so happy about what was going on. Yes, me. The person whose blood boils when Taco Bell forgets the Fire sauce. The person who huffs when someone inconveniences me.

So this is what I’m challenging myself (and you) to do…

Whatever you do, do it with joy.

Come with joy. (February 2013)

Leave with joy. (June 2014)

Nothing will be purely joy, and it’s up to you to make a conscious decision to approach everything as an honor and blessing. If you can’t give, serve, and praise with joy – you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” James 1:2

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's the end of the world as we know it...

As I checked out with my dad’s birthday gift at Bergner’s yesterday, Emmarie on my front, the diaper bag slung on my back, a middle aged woman came up and said, “Aw, how old is she?” When I responded that she’d be two weeks today, the woman chimed in, “And you’re already out of the house!”

I smiled and said, “Yes” because, “Lady, you have no idea” seemed a bit strong for the situation.

In the last month, I’ve celebrated the second Easter service of Innovate Church, worked past my due date, delivered a baby with no drugs, made life changing decisions while wearing those ridiculous giant mesh underwear that the hospital gives you when you have a baby, lost our lead pastor family, and closed a church that has been an insane chunk of our time, money, prayers, and tears over the last two years.

The world I’ve known is gone.

But I feel oddly at peace with everything.

Because along with those changes, these changes also happened –
Nate and I are praying like never before
Nate and I appreciate each other like never before
Nate and I love people like never before – Ok, fine, that one is just me. Nate always loves people.
Nate and I feel more confirmed than ever that God will call us to plant a church someday, though we’re not sure when or where
I’ve seen Nate step up in ways that I couldn’t have imagined even a few months ago

And here’s what hasn’t changed:

I asked Nate, “If you knew our church would fail, would you still be a part of it?”
He shook his head and said, “Our church didn’t fail. It closed. Innovate saw 27 people accept Jesus as their savior… 15 baptized… That’s no failure.”

There are going to be hard adjustments, but God already has the road set in front of us, even though we can’t see it.

So in the words of R.E.M., it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to us, loved us, and supported us. God has truly blessed us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Long-Time Christians Need to Stop Treating their Church like their Gym: A Parable

So Nate and I joined a gym. Don’t get too excited. Nate went once last week, then we all got sick and… well, maybe this week will be better. Anyway, it took a LONG TIME for us to join a gym here. It’s kind of a big commitment. There’s the money, the time you’re going to devote, wondering if you’re picking the right one… There are lots of factors.

It kind of made me think that maybe picking a gym is kind of like picking a church, in a way. But then, as I thought about it more, I realized that either a.) that’s a bad analogy or b.) that is a good analogy and it shouldn’t be. I offer up a parable:

You decide that maybe it’s time for a life change, so you start thinking about joining a gym. Maybe you visit one or a few or lots. You’re really serious about this, so you even meet the owners.

One gym clearly stands out. The owner is EXCITED about fitness and tells you that his gym exists for people that don’t even know the workouts their missing out on yet. He says he wants to do everything to help people start new health routines, even if they’ve failed before or never even gone to the gym before. You’re super excited, because THAT IS YOU! You immediately sign up.

Things are going great. There are trainers that help you, you love the equipment that is available, and you sign up for a bunch of classes that look fun. After a few months of loving your gym, making awesome gains to your personal fitness, and really feeling like it’s home, some troubling things start happening.

First, you show up one day and there is a sign that Jazzercise has been replaced with Zumba. You notice the gym owner walking by, so you innocently ask, “Why aren’t we going to have Jazzercise anymore? That’s my favorite class.”

To your annoyance, he doesn’t even hide his excitement. “Did you know that 25% more people will be willing to come improve their physical wellness if we offer Zumba!?”

That’s not the only problem though. You’ve noticed that your fellow gym goers are getting more and more… well… fat. They don’t look like gym goers, and sure, you were a little pudgy when you started, but surely these new people are not the face of what your gym wants to be. You bring this up with the gym owner, as delicately as possible.

A little wearily, the owner acknowledges your concern, and suggests maybe you could help with some new member classes that teach some nutrition facts and quick tips for starting a work out routine, now that you’re really getting in the groove of your own workouts. You decline though, of course, because you’re extremely busy, and with the new people it’s becoming harder and harder to find the trainers at the gym. You’re not sure if there are actually fewer, or if they’re just always busy with new people.

One day you walk in, and the usual radio station isn’t playing. It’s a new station. And you hate it. Fed up, you try to find the gym owner. But he’s nowhere. You even call his cell phone, but he’s not available. Unsure where he is and frustrated by your unmet needs, you cancel your membership… and leave.

Now, let’s change a few words around:

You decide that maybe it’s time for a life change, so you start thinking about joining a church. Maybe you visit one or a few or lots. You’re really serious about this, so you even meet the pastors.

One church clearly stands out. The owner is EXCITED about faith and tells you that his church exists for people that don’t even know the relationship with God their missing out on yet. He says he wants to do everything to help people start new relationships with Christ, even if they’ve failed before or never even gone to church before. You’re super excited, because THAT IS YOU! You immediately sign up.

Things are going great. There are pastors and volunteers that help you, you love the Sunday service that is available, and you sign up for a bunch of classes that look fun. After a few months of loving your church, making awesome gains to your spiritual life, and really feeling like it’s home, some troubling things start happening.

First, you show up one day and there is a sign that your life group has been replaced with a different life group topic. You notice the pastor walking by, so you innocently ask, “Why aren’t we going to have my current life group anymore? That’s my favorite class.”

To your annoyance, he doesn’t even hide his excitement. “Did you know that 25% more people will be willing to come learn about Jesus if we offer this new group!?”

That’s not the only problem though. You’ve noticed that your fellow gym goers are getting more and more… well… questionable. They don’t look like church goers, and sure, you were living a life with some sin issues when you started, but surely these new people are not the face of what your church wants to be. You bring this up with the pastor, as delicately as possible.

A little wearily, the pastor acknowledges your concern, and suggests maybe you could help with some new member classes that teach some Biblical basics and quick tips for starting a life in Christ, now that you’re really getting in the groove of your own spiritual growth. You decline though, of course, because you’re extremely busy, and with the new people it’s becoming harder and harder to find the volunteers and leaders at the church to help you. You’re not sure if there are actually fewer, or if they’re just always busy with new people.

One day you walk in, and the usual worship music isn’t playing. It’s a new band. And you hate it. Fed up, you try to find the pastor. But he’s nowhere. You even call his cell phone, but he’s not available. Unsure where he is and frustrated by your unmet needs, you cancel your membership… and leave.

So, I’m a little worried that this is a good analogy. But, there are several important reasons why it shouldn’t be… why it CAN’T be.

1.) Babies get fed, adults feed themselves.

Before you get defensive, I 100% own this as my biggest spiritual problem. And I’m improving now, but only because s*** got real for me several times (pardon my French). I mean, I’ve been ANGRY at different points over the last few years, because sometimes being involved in a church isn’t easy. I was spoiled by a loooong, slooooow journey to where I am now, with a TON of AMAZING Christians to help me, drag me, feed me, and basically do 70% of my Christian duties for me.

So then when I found myself serving more than I was being served, giving more than I was being given, praying more for others than I was being prayed for… It seemed like perhaps I was being cosmically cheated in some form. As the long-time pew-sitters like to say, “I’m not being fed.” That phrase needs to die in a deep, dark hole.

Can you imagine if Nate and I went to a restaurant with Blakely and halfway through the meal I just started sobbing and said, “I’ve spent this whole meal helping Blakely eat, and making sure she’s taken care of, but there’s no one to feed me!”

Uh, that would be pretty messed up. We are adults. We feed ourselves. And if we go hungry, we have to own that too. The bright side of feeding little ones? Or new Christians? They learn quickly. They start helping feed too.

2.) Church “membership” is a phrase we should outlaw

When you become really involved with a church, many churches have a “membership process,” that might involved a study or a written agreement or something else. But I hate the word membership. Because it brings us right back to the gym scenario.

Membership = privileges. Being deeply involved in a church or any organization that helps bring people closer to God is definitely a privilege, but not the kind where you get to pull “members only” rank.

Organizations with members typically exist to serve their members, and that should not and cannot be the purpose of any church.
3.) What about the people who need Zumba?

Referencing the gym example, what about the people who need Zumba? Why should the long-time Jazzercisers preferences trump what could result in a new fitness/faith journey for someone else?

The church exists for people who aren’t there yet. People who don’t know Jesus… need Jesus. As Barney Stinson from HIMYM would say, “New is always better.” Really though. If we put our preferences above the needs of people who don’t know Jesus, then we can’t call ourselves Christians. And that’s harsh, but it’s the fact.

So quit your gym if it’s not meeting your needs. But think twice before quitting your church for the same reasons.

Monday, January 27, 2014

You Gotta Eat - Extreme Couponing!

I'm very excited to have a guest blogger today! I won't lie - I'm not a devoted coupon-er. I've tried it a few times and ended up spending several hours in the grocery store trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong. So I'm super excited to have a coupon pro (and his awesome mom) to talk about couponing tips today - my second cousin (I think... the counting and "removal" of naming cousins escapes me a bit) Elliot and his mom, Kammy! As I've read through these, there are definitely some tips that I'm putting into place for our family this week.

Kammy is a way cooler blogger than me, so if you get a chance, check out Reflections from the Red Couch for her hilarious and thought-provoking views on life, autism (two of her three children are on the spectrum), and occasionally alcohol and controlled substances. ;-)

Elliot is a man of few words (which I can appreciate), so included with his awesome tips are commentary from Kammy in italics.

FYI – Elliott is a terrific guy who has an amazing memory for numbers & directions, never forgets a birthday, runs 10K races & has autism.  While autism makes some things challenging in his life, it also has provided him with some wonderful strengths that we do our best to encourage. When he struggled with leisure skills, we found that coupon matching was something he loved, and so he started to coupon for our family.When he is able to collect items through couponing above and beyond what we need, he is able to gift them to some local shelters, and thus has learned to help our community in his own way. He’s inspired all of us – as I don’t think I had ever used a coupon in my life until Elliott shared his knowledge with me!

My name is Elliott. I am an extreme couponer and I’m thirteen 13. I will try to help you learn how to use coupons and not get ripped off at paying the regular price.

Getting Coupons: I get coupons from the newspaper inserts and I get coupons online. I get most of my coupons from inserts and online.

Our biggest sources are inserts from the Sunday newspaper and on-line coupons that we print.  We have 2 major newspapers in the Twin Cities, and have found coupons for a 1-year-subscription for $2 for one and $4 for the other.  This way we usually get 3 sets of inserts each week for minimal cost.

Storing: I store my coupons in a binder in my office. I have four tabs in my coupon binder. They are FOOD, BEVERAGES, HOUSEHOLD, AND PERSONAL CARE. I keep my inserts in neat piles by date.

We have a ridiculous purple binder that we keep our coupons in. Elliott maintains it (with help), and if it is embarrassing to take to the store, just remove the coupons you think you will use and leave the beast at home.  That said, we have no shame, and have been able to switch gears by having the binder with us when a store is out of something, etc.  We got one like this, except that ours has crazy red and yellow stripes in addition to the purple.  Our binder has 4 tabs:  Food, Beverages, Household Supplies & Personal Care.  You can have many more tabs if that’s your deal – but we aim for ease so these work for us.

Additionally, we don’t cut coupons out of the newspaper inserts (again, this is a time saving measure).  We just keep them stacked in piles by date (usually about 3 months) and only cut them out when we need them.  Elliott does cut them.

Use Websites: Websites do the coupon matching for you to save time. I use COUPONMOM.COM, AND POCKET YOUR DOLLARS. I USE THOSE THE MOST.

This is key for us – as our lifestyle does not permit a great deal of time each week for these tasks.  We use websites that do all the matching of deals for us by store.  One of the best national websites is – you can look up stores based on your geographic area, click on the store, and it lists the deals by % savings so you know the best deals each week.  Additionally, it lists links to on-line coupons you may need and/or lists which coupon insert needed in order to get the best deal.  You can just check the items you need, print a list, gather the coupons you need, and head to the store.  Likely, you will have regional/local sites that may be even better.  We have – which is fabulous, but geared towards the Midwest.

Last, this is something that may work for some people and may irritate others.  We have signed up for a number of daily emails that compile the best bargains of the day (or week).  These may be grocery related, or often list huge deals on Amazon or let you know when Target puts items on clearance, etc.  Frankly, many days, we just delete them due to lack of time, so we don’t feel overwhelmed by them.  But, if Elliott or I have time to look through them, we have been able to take advantage of some great deals.  Here are our favorites – if any interest you, just visit their website and subscribe for email reminders.  If getting emails drives you nuts, don’t do it!  Most have Facebook pages as well (Elliott does not have FB yet, but I have “liked” some of these pages).

For The Mommas:

Couponing for 4:

Couponers United:

Couponing to Disney:

Addicted to Saving:

I hope that helped you learn how to coupon. If you have questions for me I can be reached at my email address My goal is to save fifty percent or more on the receipt.

Did you read that last line?! Elliot helps his family save FIFTY PERCENT... HALF... on their purchases!

Honestly, almost all of this, especially the websites that will do coupon-matching, is new to me! I will admit that I can be lazy-level frugal, but Kammy's hints and tips make me confident that most of these are things that I can put into place for our weekly grocery trips!

2014 'Do More With Less' Money Challenge #2:

Use at least two of Elliot's Extreme Coupon-er tips to save at the grocery store this week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

You Gotta Eat - Making a Meal Plan

The first 2014 'Do More With Less' Money Challenge topic is pretty dear to my heart. I LOVE food. And it's practical because, well, you'll probably never eliminate food from your budget or your life. I will be the first person to admit that food is almost always the area we go over our budget, when we do.

"Hey, do you want to go through the DQ drive-thru?" Hell to the yes I do. Always. So I've tried to learn a lot of tricks and tips to help keep the food budget under control.
Today we are going to talk about two ideas:

1. Eat at home more often. I'm not actually sure that there's much I can follow that up with. Eating out will almost always be more expensive and/or worse for you (health wise) than making something at home.

2. Make a meal plan and grocery list for every shopping trip. Don't worry, this point will be a little bit more robust than point one.

Have you ever gone grocery shopping without a list? How has that worked out for you. Because if I walk in to a grocery store without a list and plan, I usually leave with several boxes of TGI Friday's potato skins  or jalapeƱo poppers and some Ghiradelli chocolate. And then I have to come back the next day with a list and actually get legitimate food. Or, even if I'm in a very responsible mood and without a list, I get random meat cuts, too much bread, and random produce that spoils before I can figure out how to use it. Creating a meal plan and then a grocery list based on that plan is one of the easiest ways to avoid that, and I've found it to be more "bang for my buck" than coupon-cutting, deal-seeking, etc. (though I will talk about those too, later this month!)

Here is a real life example of my husband going to the store with a "general idea" of what we needed:

What WAS needed:                                       What was NOT needed, but still purchased:

Meal planning is something that's very unique for each family, based on their preferences and dietary restrictions. I will share some tricks and tips (and an example) below, but I'd love to hear other ideas or advice from any of you reading!

I like to plan meals a week at a time. This was a process of trial and error. I've done everything from a week to a month at a time, and a week just works better for me. I have a Costco membership, but even buying a month of groceries from there didn't amount to much savings. Plus I'm trying to do more fresh produce, and by week four of a month-long grocery trip, you're basically eating cereal and boxed pasta.

Here is our usual process:

1. Start the meal plan with something with the most worthy and simple leftovers. 
For example, this past week, Nate made a beef roast, and we had potatoes, frozen green beans, and cinnamon baked apples. After we were done with our roast, Nate cut the remaining roast into thin strips. We used that for beef stir-fry and beef stroganoff later in the week. They were just how I like my leftovers - well disguised. Next week we plan to do something similar, with a turkey breast, making turkey noodle casserole and turkey club sandwiches.

2. Make sure you have one or two no-brainers on there.

Inevitably, one or two days this week you'll have a "maybe we should just order Chinese" kind of day. Like maybe your toddler dunks your make-up brush in the toilet. This is all hypothetical of course. But on those days you'll push through that if you can say "Ah. Spaghetti. I can do that." instead of looking at a meal plan that calls for you to make beef wellington.

3. Use recipes that have similar ingredients.

Don't pick recipes that all use a different kind of meat - you'll end up wasting meat, or trying to figure out how to redeem yourself next week with the freezer full of randomness you have. Also, I avoid recipes with bizarre or obscure ingredients or spices. If you're not sure if you like curry powder, don't pick one recipe that uses a teaspoon of it and then buy a giant curry powder container that will sit in your pantry forever.

4. Find a few meal plans that work well for you and rotate them.

I keep a file of meal plans and grocery lists on my computer. Once you put the work into a meal plan and grocery list once, it's there forever for you to reuse. I also print the week's meal plan and put it on the refrigerator. If you're real Pinterest-y crafty-like you could probably make some kind of neat decorative chalkboard. But again, I just print mine off on computer paper, and it works just fine.

5. Start with just dinners and see what works best for you.

We usually meal plan just dinners and maybe a few lunches. Some people prefer to plan everything, but for us, it makes more sense just to do dinners. Then we can pick breakfasts and lunches based on what's easy, what's on sale, or what coupons we have. It may be a box of cereal, carton of eggs, and a bag of apples for a week of breakfasts, or something else.

Once your meal plan is done, start your grocery list. I usually copy and paste all of the recipes I plan to use into a word document and then combine like items... so if multiple recipes call for onions, I take it down to just one onion line item. Then I have a pretty standard list of items that we either need or might need weekly from the store - milk, toilet paper, juice, etc. I go through that list and add any items that are applicable. Lastly, I keep a running list on our whiteboard in the kitchen of items to be added to the weekly grocery list, as I realize we need them - Ziploc bags, dish soap, etc.

We can throw in coupons, ad hunting, etc. later, but this is the basic premise of meal planning! I have included an example of a meal plan and grocery list below. Feel free to use it or tweak it however you want!

Meal Plan:

  • Beef roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad
  • Tomato and basil pesto pizza, salad
    • Use this recipe for the crust (makes enough for both crusts - use half of all of the other ingredients purchased for the pizza). Add a layer of pesto as sauce, and thinly sliced tomatoes, drained mushrooms and slices of fresh mozzarella and garlic herb cheese. Top with shredded mozzarella as needed. Bake at 450 for about 12 minutes
  • Beef stir-fry
    • Use the leftover beef in this recipe! Start a pot of rice to serve with. Nate and I like our roast relatively rare-ish, so I start by cooking the leftover beef strips a little more in soy sauce, garlic salt, and a little bit of sriracha and peanut butter! I add the frozen veggie and let it all simmer together a little bit longer. So easy!
  • Spaghetti, salad
  • Tacos, chips and salsa
  • Beef stroganoff, green beans
    • Use the rest of the leftover beef in this! Heat up the beef strips, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of mushrooms (drained) and a package of cream cheese on the stove top. Make a package of egg noodles to serve it with.
  • Tomato and basil pesto pizza
Shopping list:

  • Medium beef roast (whatever cut you prefer) 
  • Potatoes
  • 1 bag frozen green beans 
  • 1 bag salad mix
  • 1 bottle salad dressing
  • 1 container (4) Roma tomatoes
  • 1 jar pesto: 
  • 1 bag of flour
  • 1 jar of yeast
  • 1 bottle olive oil
  • 3 cans of mushrooms
  • 1 block fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 block garlic herb goat cheese
  • 1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 bag frozen stir-fry veggies
  • Rice
  • Peanut butter
  • Soy sauce
  • Garlic salt
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Noodles
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • Salsa
  • Tortillas
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 bag of egg noodles
  • 1 block of cream cheese
Nate and I used this for our meal plan, and including some extras for breakfasts and lunches, it cost us just over $100.

Do you have a go-to meal plan? Do you think going to the grocery store with a list can really make a difference?

2014 'Do More With Less' Money Challenge #1: 

Make a meal plan and grocery list before you go to the grocery store next time!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 "Do More With Less" Money Challenge!

As I posted on Facebook earlier today, I have been trying to think of ways to give back in 2014... One idea that I had is this - I love blogging and love being a cheapskate. I mean, never paying full price for my Comcast. I mean... frugal. Anyway. I thought in 2014, I'd pick a theme for each month (the grocery store, around the house, insurance, investing, etc.) and write a weekly or bi-weekly blog on ways to be smarter with your money, related to that topic. Things I've learned from experience, reading on the topic, etc. I'd post meal plans, budget templates, examples... anything I think is relevant and helpful. You (as my Facebook friends) can have all of it for free. Here is the catch! If my tips help you save money in 2014, I ask that you give a portion of what you are able to save to your church or a charity of your choosing.

I'll be honest, a big part of this "challenge" is an accountability factor for me. 2013 was not what I'd call a "winning with money" year for the Morrisons. We had some really good moments - reaching new levels of tithing, purchasing a new home, never carrying a balance on our credit cards month to month... but we had a lot of "gas station soda" moments too. Those moments when you pick convenience over money sense, and your spending could have been easily avoided (i.e. buying a case of soda at the gas station for twice the price of the grocery store, because you're already at the gas station). And I'm okay with that - we had a BUSY year (new town, new job, new house, toddler), and sanity is important. But 2014 will be a year to get back on track and make our money work harder for us - and I hope you will join us!

I would love suggestions and ideas for what would help you - it might help me too! I'm going to do a theme for every month, and a few posts related to that topic, each with one or two "challenges" for you to do. Do it once, or do it through 2014. Not every tip will help you or make sense for your lifestyle, but hopefully they will all at least be worth thinking through!

Here is a proposed schedule for monthly topics for the first half of the year:

January - You gotta eat
February - The "B word" (budget)
March - Bills, bills, bills,
April - Random tips and tricks
May - The "D word" (debt)
June - Around the house

I hope this can be very interactive! Do you have better tips? Other tips? Share them with everyone! Hopefully this will help you... and subsequently, whatever charity or church you give a portion of your savings too! :-)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

To the parents of crappy kids

Being a parent is challenging. Sometimes your kids are crappy – probably figuratively, and depending on their age, maybe also literally. Blakely’s new favorite activity is putting our stuff in the toilet, and attempting to flush it. The toddler meltdowns are happening more and more often. But that's nothing compared to the fact that there’s a chance in the future that she might get pregnant outside a committed relationship or get arrested or steal from us. Even if we try to rock out being a parent. Even if we try to lead her in the ways of God.

But I haven’t been a parent for long enough to be any kind of authority on parenting, or the good, bad, sometimes crappy nature of kids, especially the crappiness of older kids or even grown kids. I don’t have that experience or authority. I’m writing this blog, instead, with the authority of a former crappy kid.

Yeah, you read that right. I was a pretty crappy kid. Yeah, I was a good student and involved in school… But…

  • I was also suicidal at multiple points in high school, and briefly hospitalized in a mental institution. 
  • I was influenced by peer pressure and did multiple things that could have gotten me arrested… like… real arrested. 
  • I had a pregnancy scare in high school only months into my first serious relationship. 

Did you know that? Here’s where my message actually begins.

My guess is, you didn’t know that. But even more likely than that, my guess is, that if you DID know that, you didn’t find that out from my parents. My parents LOVED me as a crappy kid. My parents DISCIPLINED me as a crappy kid. My parents SUPPORTED me as a crappy kid. My parents PRAYED for me as a crappy kid.

My parents didn’t passively aggressively address my crappiness on Facebook. They didn’t ask for prayers for me, really just wanting an outlet to complain about how difficult it was to have me as a kid. They didn’t confuse the fact that the pain they were caused by me was absolutely secondary to my own pain.

...said no one ever.

I’m tired of seeing parents shaming their children on Facebook, either directly or indirectly. Do they deserve it? Sure, probably. They are probably being grade A crappy. Like “me” level crappy. But say it with me. I. AM. THE. PARENT. If my parents treated me the way I deserved to be treated, today I would be dead, or struggling with constant shame and insecurity, or still on the path of crappiness well into adulthood, because I would know that what my parents expected from me.

Publicly and privately supporting your kid, crappy or not, will be what helps them through and ultimately motivates change.

This has been your public service announcement from a former crappy kid, who with her parents' support and discretion, is doing quite well now.