Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My Favorite Non-Toy Gifts for Toddlers

My son's Christmas haul. Lots of great non-toy gifts!

Are you like me and have buckets, and buckets of toys, that no matter how many times you organize it always seems to be messy? Little man was born in September, so less than 3 months later was Christmas. For his birthday, he got so many toys! So many in fact, that I put many of them back, and got them out a little at a time. When Christmas started getting closer, I started thinking about ways to not get so many toys. I wondered if my family would be offended if I asked for them to not give toys as gifts, but it wound up that they all respected and followed what I asked. Something I did do, was give suggestions, and created a wish list on Amazon of things they could get. I let them know it didn't have to be that specific thing I put on the wish list, but perhaps something similar. As I said before, my wishes were respected, and Little man had a wonderful Christmas with 5 toys total, and lots of puzzles, art supplies, clothes, etc. Here are some of my favorite non-toy gifts that my son got, or that perhaps I would like to have.

Melissa and Doug Puzzles

There are so many great Melissa and Doug Puzzles, but I have pictured here a couple of my favorites. My son loves these, and asks for them often. Melissa and Doug have a great selection of play activities that for the most part, don't have loud annoying tech, but instead feel educational.


If you are like our family, you can never get too many books. The book pictured here is one of my son's favorites right now. He loves making all the animal and truck sounds. Books are a great inexpensive option for family members, and there are so many to choose from. You might give some options of some you've been wanting. 

Mess-Free Art

Toddlers are messy. Period. However, painting with water is pretty much a mess free activity. I normally get one of my son's bowls, and put just about a tablespoon of water in it. If it spills, it's not a big deal, and at least it's water!
Another great mess free option is mess-free markers and coloring pages. I will say though, my son is 18 months, and because the markers take a second to 'see' the color, he gets bored quickly. I feel like he will enjoy it more in the future. He does have fun putting the markers in and out of the box though. Whatever keeps him entertained! 

Messy Art

Little Man doesn't have a lot of this, but for Easter, we are doing an art themed basket with finger paints, paper, and sidewalk chalk (which I'll talk about in a minute). I am excited to see his artistic juices flow, all over my kitchen table most likely!

Outside Activities

Chalk, bubbles, cars, balls, the options are endless! My son loves to play outside, and it's nice to have things to keep him busy. However, my son finds just as much enjoyment playing with rocks and sticks as he does the things I buy for him. I think that's how it's supposed to be though. 

Other Options

Some other things that aren't toys but make great gifts are passes. Passes to the zoo, museum, aquarium, water park, etc. Experience coupons are also great gifts that the grandparent might want to give. They take them somewhere, and maybe you can get a date night on top of it. Win-win situation!

As you can see, however much I've tried to keep this gender neutral, I'm sure I'm missing some girl centered things. What are your suggestions for girly non-toy gifts?

Hope this helps for the next birthday, Christmas, whatever. Just give this link to family and friends, and maybe you'll end up with less noisy, space-taking toys!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It's all His

Over the past month, our Wednesday night study has been on managing life, and so far we've covered money and time. In our study we've learned that the key to managing these things is balance, to not go extreme in any area, but to find balance between it all. In managing time you are not to be a sloth or a workaholic, in money to not be a chronic spender, or a miser. In all this, the way to achieve balance is to remember this one thing:

It's all His

Psalm 24:1 "A psalm of David. The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him." 

We must remember that everything we have is on loan from God. Not just the tithe you put in the offering plate every week, but everything. Every penny, every breath, everything. Jesus tells a parable about a master giving talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The master was angry at the servant that just held on to his money. Why? He didn't invest. What does God want us to do with the money (and time) He's given? He wants us to invest in the Kingdom of God. That may look different for different people. Here is how it might look for a Saver and a Spender:


If you are head over heals in debt, can't go to a sale without loading your cart, or must constantly have the newest thing, you may be a spender! Perhaps you think you're in the clear here. You give generously to the church, and basically to anyone who asks! What does investing in the Kindgdom look like for you? If you are in a great amount of debt, would you be able to go to a new mission field if God called you? Since God has given you this money, are you being the kind of steward that He would want you to be? Part of being a child of God is being ready to answer His call, whatever that may be. Would your finances allow you to do that?


I know someone who is what I would call an extreme saver. He literally thought of the cost of everything. He never accumilated debt, and if he loaned you money, he made you regret ever asking in the first place.  If he didn't say anything to you personally, behind your back he would talk about how much it cost him. For instance, one time the pastor's wife called and asked if she could borrow 10 boiled eggs for a 'Minute to Win It' game they were doing at the church. He said yes, but as soon as he hung up, and went on and on at how much those eggs cost him and how he would now have to pay for more eggs for himself! (They were about a dollar!!) This guy is a very extreme case, but there are those of us who do have a hard time letting go of what we feel like is 'ours'. But the thing is, it's not ours to begin with, but only on loan from the Lord to invest in his work. Doesn't mean we can have vacations and nice things, but means that our hearts are in a giving mode. For a saver this means changing your mindset and giving God a tithe of what is already his anyway. This means proactively looking for chances to give to others, and when you do so to not stress over how much it cost you. 

For most of us, we may fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Whatever the case may be, let's look at our mindset of money and view it from the standpoint that it never was ours. It's always been His. How are we investing what He has given us? 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Saving When There is Nothing in the Budget to Save

My husband and I were newly married, living off of one income (teacher's aid and small youth pastor's salary combined to equal about $1200 a month), using one vehicle, and just trying to survive. We were both familiar with Dave Ramsey's approach to money, and although we had no debt, we also had no savings. Wanting to remedy that, we both started thinking of ways to build a savings, when we really didn't have means to do so. It was a blown tire that caused us to have to borrow money, that helped us really start putting money into savings. We wound up building a $1000 emergency savings before my husband ever moved to a more profitable job. Here is how we did it:

We Put Money in a Savings Account

'Duh!' you might say, but its funny how hard it is to put money back even when you've decided you are going to save. Be it $15 or $150, to start feels like an accomplishment in and of itself! Once you put that first amount in, determine how often you are going to add money into savings. It can be weekly or monthly, but it needs to be somewhat consistent. Build a habit while you build a savings! 

We Found Ways of Making Money on the Side

For us it was me teaching piano. I loved teaching, so turning my piano playing skills into something profitable was easy for me. I mention some ideas in my blog post 'How I Can Afford to be a Stay-at-Home Mom' that you can go check out. If you believe you have no talents, or no time for your talents, then perhaps it's time to declutter your home! Find things you don't need anymore, and turn it into profit. It might not make a whole lot, but it's money that you didn't have before that can help you build a savings. 

It's easy to want to put that side money into checking right away, or buy that pair of shoes that you've been eyeing. Remember your goals, and put the money into savings without a second thought! Ten dollars here and there does add up, and you'll feel better and more secure for having an emergency fund set aside. 

We Changed Parts of our Lifestyle 

Fewer movies, less expensive meals, thermostat set on a lower/higher temperature (according to the season), all to cut costs. When we noticed we had more money at the end of the month because of it, we put it into savings. Some things seemed easier to give up than others, but because we knew it was a short term deal to have a long(er) term savings, it felt doable. 

We Didn't Spend out of Savings Unless it was an Emergency

This is a very hard one, and sometimes there are circumstances that seem like emergencies at the time, but later you feel like you could have done without. Sudden vehicle trouble, health emergencies, etc, are why you have a savings. Don't second guess those circumstances, however, there are less important things that come up that may leave you wondering if you should dip into savings. Pray about it. See if you can move around your main budget to fit the 'emergency' (don't eat out that week, avoid the dollar bin at Target, etc.). If you feel like you need to use it, go ahead, but have a plan on how you will build your savings back to where it was before, and don't let getting money out of savings be an easy decision.

Hope this helps you build an emergency savings, and perhaps beyond! It's also nice to have put back enough to live on for a month, or so on, just in case you lose your job. However, an emergency savings is a good place to start, and will help you build habits to save for other things. What are some ways you build your savings?

Happy Saving!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Uncertain Season

Everything in my life seems to be changing right now. Okay, so that sounds extremely dramatic, and it is, but that is how it feels. Things at my church, our youth group, people I know, etc. are taking a wide turn out of what has always been, and onto a path that I am very unsure of the outcome. I am sure there has been a time in your life when 'normal' is no longer that, but this scary place that you are unsure where to go. At times like this, What do you do?

You pray

God always seems to be our last resort, instead of being constantly acknowledged throughout the process. I believe part of the reason I don't have as much peace in the situation, is because I haven't fully bathed it in prayer. My prayer these days seems to be 'why', instead of just asking for his will to be done. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Have Faith

It seems God has been talking to me a lot about faith. Faith to trust that he is handling the situation, faith that he will provide for the ones I am worrying about, faith that He will show both me and my husband the way to go. Trust and faith is always followed by action. Ask God what that means for you. Maybe that means: obedience, ministry, moving, or perhaps simply having a closer relationship with Him. 

Connect with Your Spouse 

Obviously this applies if you are married. However, I'm adding this here, because communication with my husband, has helped both of us, I feel. If you are both communicating regularly (which is something you should do!) then you can offer each other Godly advice and encouragement. The situation might look a little less dramatic when you share what's going on with someone close that you trust. 

Hope this helps the next time you find yourself going through an uncertain time. Know that you have a Heavenly Father, that not only knows what you are going through, but has a purpose and plan for that season. He wants to commune with you, whether the going is easy or hard. Don't wait until the last resort, but stay close throughout the process!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Being a Supportive Wife

I was sitting at the piano on Sunday Morning, like I always do, and saw my husband coming towards me. 'Today's Sunday School lesson was on having respect for God's Word, and I feel like I need to stand up when the pastor reads from it.'
I wrinkled my nose and thought about all the people sitting, silently listening to The Word while my husband, by himself, would be standing. It would be weird. It would be awkward. It would have been different if the church did that (I know many churches do), but we didn't and I tried to explain to my husband just how 'different' it would be for him to stand. He did it anyway.

After church I felt bad that I hadn't shown support for something my husband was feeling led to do. Perhaps you've been there too. Perhaps your husband's ideas are much wackier or much less spiritual than my husband's. However, you would like to be less condescending and more supportive. What does that look like, and what are some ways that we can be more supportive of our husbands?

Listen to His Ideas/Goals/Dreams

No matter how silly! Just listening goes a long ways to show how much you care about your husband as a person, and friend. If every time your husband comes up with a plan or idea, you knock it down mid sentence, not only will your husband feel discouraged (and less likely to come talk to you!) but to him it's a show of disrespect. Which brings me to my next point.

Be Respectful in Your Response

I'm not saying you have to agree with everything he says! I am just saying that when we respond we do it out of grace and love.  Respect and submitting to our husbands is one of those things that goes against the modern way of thinking "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Ephesians 5:33). The way we respond to the things our husband says can really have an impact on our marriage. Think of it this way: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29). We are to respond with encouragement to whomever we talk to. Since that is the case, how much more our husbands. Sometimes a heartfelt, verbal 'I support you' can go a long way!

Pray for the Ideas your Husband has

This applies more to the major ideas your husband may have. Perhaps a major spiritual or ministry decision. You may or may not agree, but I am sure that deep in your heart that you want God's will in the situation. Pray for just that! 

So, I know I've applied this to wives, but it can easily be the other way around! I've done it from a woman's perspective, since I can relate more. A man who has to control every situation, and belittles the wife's ideas, is not only disrespecting his wife, but also shows a lack of love. Apply listening (this one for sure!), respecting, and praying, and you will be on your way to showing support for your wife!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

How I 'Try' to Keep the House Clean

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:" Ecclesiastes 3:1

This was a scrapbooked chore chart I made for myself, shortly after I started teaching piano. It worked beautifully with my schedule, and allowed me to know at the end of the week that my house was clean and tidy. Then came along little man and this chore chart stayed up on my refrigerator as a reminder of how much I could get done in a day. I struggled to get one load of laundry done, and to keep the amount of dirty dishes to a minimum. Things like clean bathrooms and mopped kitchen was a luxury that I got to do on the weekend (most of the time!) while my husband watched our newborn. 

But you know, that was okay. For those first few months, as I discovered motherhood and a new skill of multitasking, it was okay that things were a bit dirty. Little man grew and I grew in my ability to clean while he napped, set up activities, and again, to multitask. My chart and schedule was so consistent before, but now looks something like this:


Clean the Kitchen: There is no schedule for this, however, I try for the earlier the better. When Little Man is happily playing in his room, or taking an extra long time eating his breakfast, I load the dishwasher and wash the dishes. Little man loves to help me unload the dishwasher when it's time, and I make it into a game. 
One load of laundry: I load up a basket before my shower, since the hamper is in our bathroom. After my shower I then take the basket into the laundry room, and start the wash. I take yesterday's finished load on to the couch to be folded that afternoon. Technically I'm always one day behind, but I find this is working the best for me right now. 
Straiten Living room, and pick up toys: I do this about 30 minutes before my piano student comes in, since doing it any earlier would mean more time for my son to get all his toys back where they were before. Even if all else fails during my day, I try for this one thing. I never want my students complaining that they have to practice in a messy house!
Do one chore in my bathroom: Little Man still plays in his activity bouncer while I shower, so I have a very short window to gather a load of laundry, clean my bathroom, and shower. I choose to do one thing, the counter, toilet, shower, etc. so that everything gets done at least once a week. I know for some this isn't often enough, but it works for us. 
15 Minutes of De-cluttering: I follow this lady's de-cluttering calendar. Right now it is in the Kitchen, so I do it while I'm cleaning my kitchen. 

Not so Daily:

Front Bathroom:While Little man plays in the bathtub, wipe down that bathroom's sink and toilet (while keeping a sharp eye on Little Man!).  Since Little Man bathes every other day, the bathroom gets cleaned that much. I like for it to be done often since it's the bathroom my students and guests use. 
Sweep and Mop Floors: This, unfortunately , gets done sporadically. While I try to sweep often, my mopping goal is once a week. This chore, I wait for a golden opportunity, and go for it. It's getting easier to work in, because Little Man loves the broom and mop! He loves to 'help' mommy.
Organize and clean Little Man's Room: I am not as consistent as I should be with this. I do it when it gets too chaotic for my liking. This should probably be on my daily list!
Vacuum: Little Man hates the vacuum cleaner! 


I am trying to be honest here, so I am doing just that. I am a bit embarrassed that both of these are on this list. 
Dusting: This used to be my household chore when I was a kid, so maybe that it why it's so hard for me get motivation to do!
Guest Bedroom: I have my in-laws in about once a month, so I take one week out of the month, and try to focus on it. Sheets, bathroom, and straightening. I should probably do the bathroom more often, but it hardly gets used, and so far has worked for our family. 

I still haven't gotten in to an extra deep clean, once-a-month regimen. I try to take a couple of weeks in the spring and fall and do some of that. Now that Little Man is older, it's easier to add something like that.

Schedules can change overnight. The key is to step back every once in a while (I normally do this when I get too overwhelmed. It's probably best to step back a bit before then.) and see what needs to be tweaked and changed. Don't worry that you don't feel as productive as you used to, just figure out what works best for you and your family. 

Do you keep a chore 'schedule'? What does it look like?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Homemade Cleaners in the Bathroom

Once Little Man arrived, I started thinking about cleaning with homemade cleaners-both for the price, and for being gentler chemically wise. I still use disinfectant wipes to clean bathroom counters and to wipe the toilet, but I use a homemade cleaner for the tub and the toilet bowl. Here is what you'll need

  • Vinegar
  • Dawn (I use Walmart brand with the same results)
  • Baking soda
  • Sponge wand
That's it! and you can use these same ingredients for other purposes in the house as well, for example: I clean the sink with baking soda, vinegar, and a sponge that I use for only that purpose. 

Another tip: I use baking soda that has been sitting in the fridge for a while (as an odor blocker), and thus, is getting close to being replaced. This way, I get double duty out of it before it gets thrown away!

To clean the Tub/Shower:

Pour a half and half solution of Vinegar and Dawn into the sponge wand. Shake to mix, and start scrubbing! Note: It helps if you let it sit for a bit in the applied soap, and then scrub again after 5-10 minutes. Rinse and enjoy your clean shower!

To clean the Toilet Bowl:

Sprinkle baking soda around the bowl, and pour an already half and half solution (I put it in a spray bottle without the lid) around the bowl. Scrub right away if you have a pretty clean bowl, let it sit if it's not. Repeat process if your bowl is exceptionally dirty!

And there you go! What homemade cleaners do you use? Do you make your own cleaning wipes/solutions? I would love to hear about it! If you have a lot of cleaners you make yourself, and would like to pass your knowledge on, I would love to feature you in a blog post! Just comment your email or if you are Facebook friends, then just private message me.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February Goals

I didn't quite reach my goal of posting 4 days a week, last month, but I posted more than I have in the past, so that's a start! This month, my goals are: Week 1 talk about household tips, Week 2 talk about Biblical Marriage and Relationships (since it's valentines day week!), Week 3 talk about money, recipes, etc., and Week 4 talk about parenting and toddlerhood. By the end of the month, check back here, and I'll have links to where you can look at all the posts from your favorite topic from the past month. If you have ideas you would like me to talk about, or something helpful you would like to share, just let me know!

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