Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year in Review: What's Realy Important?

Every time I've hopped on the internet this week, I'm inundated with headlines like: "Best and Worst of Reality TV in 2011," "Worst Celebrity Break Ups of 2011," "Most Beautiful Celebrity Weddings of 2011," "Most Influential Celebrity of 2011," "Celebrities Who Had Ingrown Toenails in 2011" . . . okay, maybe not the ingrown toenail article, but you get the idea.

As January 1 approaches, everybody everywhere has some list we're supposed to read to about people who are more important than us. Personally, I think we'd be a lot better to evaluating our own lives rather than some celebrity's. So as you approach the new year, I encourage you to make your own 2011-2012 lists and ask yourself several things to improve your life:

1. What's most important to me?
Go ahead. List out the top five or ten things that are, or should be, most important. For me, the list would look something like:

a. My relationship with God
b. My relationship with my husband
c. Raising my two little boys to love and honor God
d. Growing my writing career
e. Ministering to others

2. What did these aspects of my life look like twelve months ago?
Go ahead, ask yourself the question and spend some time analyzing the list. Can you see how your relationship with God has grown over the past year. Is your relationship with your husband in a better place than it was one year ago today? The answers to these questions should be yes, but far to often, if I honestly evaluate my own life, I have to answer "No" or "not as much as I'd like."

3. Where do I want to be in another 12 months?
Now look at your list and ask yourself this last question. Write down some tangible goals in every area, save the piece of paper, and work toward those goals in the coming year. When you feel yourself loosing sight of what's most important (and we all do this) take the list out and remind yourself of your goals. Then next year at this time, pull that paper back out and evaluate your life. See if your New Year's Resolutions really stuck.

If we're really interested in changing, growing, and becoming better people, then we need to take a clear, honest look at our own goals and priorities, rather than be concerned with what happened to a bunch of celebrities, whom most of us will never even meet.

Now that you know what my goals and priorities are for 2012, why don't you share some of yours? Leave a comment below, and thanks for stopping by. I'll be back on Monday, announcing some changes for 2012 to Making Home Work. And in the meantime, Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homemade Christmas Gifts

If you were anything like my mother, when it came time to give gifts to friends and acquaintances like teachers, pastors, and neighbors, you filled baskets with homemade jam and fruit bread. If you were anything like my grandmother, you spent the year knitting scarves and hats and gloves and even homemade Christmas stockings with each person's name spelled out across the top to give to your children and grandchildren. (That Christmas stocking is probably my favorite ever homemade gift.)

While I'm not "Mrs. Crafty Homemaker," I still manage to make homemade gifts. So what did I make this year? Chocolate covered pretzels and nuts, and caramel corn (you can find the pretzel recipe here and the caramel corn recipe here). I handed them out to church members and friends and even managed to save some for around the house. Next year I'm hoping to find something my five year old will be able to help make.

And guess what? I even received a homemade gift from my husband. A homemade toilet paper holder. Yes really. You may wonder why my husband didn't simply buy me a toilet paper holder. Well, first because he's really handy and enjoys woodworking, and second because this one looks great with the custom cedar trim in our bathroom.

So what about you? Do you have a favorite ever homemade gift? Or do you have an example of a really great gift that you've made? I'd love to hear about some new ideas.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Creating Memories: Holiday Traditions

Hey Everyone,

Naomi here, and happy day after Christmas. I trust you had a fabulous time on Christmas and Christmas Eve, sharing food and fun with families, opening presents, and remembering Christ's birth.

Every Christmas, not only do I enjoy the typical delights of food and presents, but I also enjoy thinking back to those Christmases long ago and reflecting on the special memories that surface. For example, when I was growing up, we always piled onto my parents bed and read the Christmas story before we opened presents. That's a memory I cherish, not just the reading of Scripture, but the "piling on the bed" part could get rather interesting. And it's a tradition me and my family still uphold.

I'd wager that most of you have memories from past Christmases that you still cherish today. So my question is, What holiday traditions are you creating for your kids? They will grow up one day. They will leave the nostalgic Christmas atmosphere you've maintained and make their own.

This year I started--or attempted to start--a new tradition with my son. We made a ginger bread house for a local competition. Did I enjoy making the gingerbread? No. Did I enjoy making the frosting? Nope. Putting the house together? Nada.

So before I sound like a complete Scrooge, let me tell you why I did it. MY SON.

I knew he would love to decorate the house. And he did. His face lit with delight each time he placed a gumdrop on the roof or a candy cane over the door. And I hope he will look back on it one day as a fond Christmas memory. Will we do it every year? I have no idea. I think it will make a good tradition, and so I might be willing to put up with the mess in the kitchen and frustration of getting the walls to stand up straight.

But my point is this: Creating memories takes effort and time. So we might need to set aside an afternoon to take the kids skating or build a snowman or make a gingerbread house. But the memories one day will be worth it.

What special traditions do you have in your family? Have you carried any over from when you were a child? Did you establish something new? And if you haven't found time to do something special with your children yet this holiday season, you still have one week left! Block out an afternoon on your calendar and go make some memories.

Wishing you all blessed holiday season,

P. S. For those of you wondering how my son fared in the gingerbread competition, he didn't. His toddler brother scooted a chair up to the counter, climbed up, and pulled half the gumdrops off before I caught him. Maybe next year the house will actually make it to the competition. :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

You Need A Budget Software Review

My first year of marriage, I was still in school and we made a total of $21,000/yr. and every month I worked to keep the check register above zero. Then I got a job teaching and made $34,000/yr by myself and STILL had to keep the check register above zero. When I noted that after a few months I knew something was wrong.

I first used Larry Burkett's Crown Financial Envelope system and photocopied pages, but that got cumbersome and complicated when I was trying to keep track of small temporary things I was saving for. And just last year, I did Dave Ramsey--good information--but the budget system was similar to Burkett's and I'd never change from my budget software (YNAB or You Need A Budget) which I've been using for over 5 years.

It practices one tenet that neither Larry Burkett or Dave Ramsey seem to advocate--living on last month's money. If you don't make a set amount of money, I believe it is a must! And even though my income doesn't change much anymore, I still wouldn't change back to living on the money I'm making today.

Here's a video on the 4 rules YNAB teaches, including living on last month's income:

This software does cost $60 but it is very worth it. If you do a paper copied budget, it will save you paper and ink cost, and that alone becomes worth it after a year or two, but it makes working with your budget so much easier and takes less time and time is money, right? When I've counseled people about their finances and realize they have no money, I still recommend that they find the $60, because if they use this system, they'll save that money easily.

If your budget is frustrating or not working well or you don't have one--You Need A Budget!

The only con I have with this software is its reports. I hardly have a need for the reports, but the few times I've wanted to use it, it's not that great, it has set reports for you to look at and isn't very customizable. Also, I'd like to print my transactions for an entire year, but you have to print them all which when you've used this for several years, that's annoying. But, that said, the reports being as they are, I still recommend it highly, plus the guy behind it always takes suggestions and one of these days he'll take mine, right?

So, how has the budget software helped me? Staying home, we now make less than when I was a teacher, but we adjusted easily with the help of this software. Instead of having to be careful to keep my check register above zero, I normally have heart flutters if it's below one month's budget which is a little over a couple thousand dollars, however with the third rule, the heart flutters are minimal because I know even if I messed up, I can easily recover without worrying about incurring fees or bouncing checks or anything of that sort. But I rarely have those heart flutters because I normally have much more money than that since I now save for my auto tags instead of letting those "surprise" and bankrupt me, and I know exactly how much money I can spend on clothing if I go shopping on a whim without hurting my ability to pay the bills.

Seriously, you should get it unless you have a good, easy-to-track budget system in place that is helping you meet your money goals.

(You can watch more than one account with the software, so I run my business budget and home budget with the same software.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Family Meetings

With the holidays swirling everyone into a flurry of expectations and some anxiety, our family time has been severely distracted with talk of presents and programs, giving and returning!!! Life is racing full speed ahead, and with all the “stuff” that is thrown at us this time of year, it makes it difficult to see straight! So, when I began to brainstorm for this post (later than I would have liked!) the words “Family meetings” kept popping into my head.

Family meetings have become a most important tool in our family. They usually occur when the kids have broken through boundaries and dance around like they are in the Lord of the Flies, and Mama is stressed out and focused on everything else besides the kids. It is at these moments, that we finally freeze and my husband and I throw together a quick outline for a family meeting...and then hold it with a fresh breath of order.

Whether it is implementing a responsibility chart, tweaking our discipline strategy, hashing out our schedules of sports, or Mama's writing time, Family meetings center us again, and provide us with:

  • Unity: Obviously, a family meeting brings a family together. But it also gives the family a chance to work out the kinks and move forward as one unit...many parts that work together for the same goals. If everyone knows their role and what is expected, then unity can be achieved.

  • Respect: You may think I am talking about children respecting their parents, and I am, but I also mean the other way around too. When you sit down with your kids, and listen to them, and give them a chance to help form a plan, they feel a part of something and feel respected. This may not be a big deal when they are young, but when you have teenagers to raise, laying a foundation of respect may be vital to open communication with your kids.

  • Fresh Start: Everyone goes through stages-- especially the kids. Sometimes our strategies to handle behavior or routine are outgrown. And, we aren't always perfect at implementing them anyway (uh, for me, hardly ever!) So a family meeting gives us a chance to start over. Take a deep breath and no that there is hope for “making home work!”

Have you had successful family meetings? Are there any other things you do to keep chaos from consuming the way your family functions?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

This has been one of those weeks, when no matter what I feed my kids, in 10 minutes they are "starving" and need something to eat. I feel like I'm playing a giant game of hungry, hungry hippos on my dining room table whenever I sit food in front of them. And when all the marbles are gone, instead of a winner, I have three whiners, who all want more food! (spoken tongue in cheek of course.) Add to this my EBF (extended breast feeding) toddler thinks that she needs to nurse around the clock again, we were down to only before nap/bedtime, and I'm hungry all the time. She must be ready for a growth spurt or something.

I usually offer them carrot sticks, apples or bananas. Sometimes crackers, pretzels or cheddar bunnies. I recently purchased 20# of apples through our buying club, so they've had all the apples they care to eat fresh. And the bananas are usually all gone by this late in the pay cycle. Once the fresh 'naners are gone, I usually have a reserve of frozen ones for making smoothies with, but alas, those are depleted as well! I really need to do some stocking up!

So I'm down to the last resort~bake something. I do like to bake, I really do, it's the cleaning up part that I loathe. So after I put the kids down for nap time, I flip through my cookbook looking for some sort of drop, no-bake cookie that I can make more "healthier" and hope that it works out! And hopefully something that doesn't take an hour to do. Here's what I ended up with:

Puffed Rice & Peanut Butter No-Bakes
1/3 cup Honey (instead of nasty corn syrup)
2 Tbsp Sucanat, Rapadura  (natural, dried can juice with no refining/bleaching)
Bring to a good roiling boil.
Then add:
1/2 cup Peanut butter, raw/unsweetened
1/4 tsp Vanilla
2 cups Puffed Rice Cereal (our local stores carry a 'whole grain' brand that's only $1 per bag.) or you could use a crisp rice cereal as well.
Stir together, then drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper to set up.
makes apx 16 cookies.
Small batch? Yep, on purpose. If I make it any larger, then I tend to eat way more than I should! So I try to keep the batch sizes small to compensate for my lack of willpower.
Slightly sweet with the rich taste of peanut butter. Yummy!

Once in a while we have a purely decadent 'treat' that has no nutritional value what so ever, but those are pretty rare here! We strive to eat healthier at home, and limit our eating out, so our treats need to be extra special and healthy too. Our main reason for our diet is health, we want the best health possible of course! But also we limit our "junk food" and eating out for financial reasons.

Eating out is one of those areas where money just vanishes, quickly. We usually budget eating out 2 times per month, or once per pay period. Sometimes we go over, sometime we don't go at all. Being the stay at home mom that I am, I'm always looking for ways to cut back on expenses while still providing delicious foods for our family. Eating out is a real temptation to me. Not having to clean up that mess! As you all are aware, the prices at the grocery store just keep going up. I'm finding that my regular purchases are costing more and thus need to cut back on those comfort food meals and stick to more "beans and cornbread" meals. Cutting back on the expensive foods, like meats, and offering more fillers, like veggies and starches. Also trimming portions = more 'snacking' in between meals. So I struggle to find healthy, inexpensive snacks to help the kids make it dinner.

I would love to hear your healthy snack ideas and how you cope with your"Hungry, Hungry Hippos"!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Attack of the Messy House!

There are many things I would rather do than clean my house. If it weren’t for hosting a weekly women’s Bible study on Wednesday mornings, my house would probably not get cleaned on a regular basis. A few times a year, I treat myself to hiring a cleaning service (usually through a Groupon or Living Social deal) and the spectacular results make my heart sing in gratitude.

However, with four kids, a husband and two cats, I have to clean on a regular basis. I’m fortunate in that my husband cleans the bathrooms at least twice a month and my kids can do the wipe-down method with those cleaning cloths in between times. (Yes, he does a great job, but no, it’s not how I would do it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly a dozen years of marriage—if your husband is willing to clean the bathrooms and the results are clean enough, then step back, let go and enjoy!)

Being a left-brained, organized (at times, overly so) person, I approach cleaning systematically and orderly. At times, though, the clutter and messiness of my house can be overwhelming, and that’s when I employ the Kamikaze Cleaning method, developed by my friend, Stephanie Buckwalter.

The Kamikaze method is designed to be easy, keep the decision-making to a minimum, and start the long-term project of getting your whole house livable again. “This is really about getting your house presentable so you can let people in the front door again. A side bonus is that you will be able to function in your space again. You might even get a few kudos from your family,” she writes in her e-book, Kamikaze Cleaning.

With Christmas around the corner, there’s time to get your house in order before the big day. “Basically, the method involves putting everything into boxes that you don’t use right now in your life,” says Stephanie. “You can do a whole room in three passes and have it ready in time for the holidays.”

This month, Stephanie’s giving away a copy of her ebook Preparing Your Home for the Holidays, which tells you how to clean the high visibility areas for the greatest impact. Sign up for her free e-newsletter at by Dec. 12 to get your copy of Preparing Your Home for the Holidays.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Interview ~ Teresa LaForte-Scott

Teresa LaForte-Scott wears many hats. I was fortunate to spend some time talking to her one afternoon, about life.

Teresa is a mother and wife, living in Southeast Kansas, where she was born and raised with ten siblings. She and her husband have three daughters and four grandchildren, along with two special needs sons, who were foster children and have since been adopted.

Teresa and her husband have a thrift store and furniture-type business called The Treasure Hunt in downtown Neodesha, Kansas. Opening the store was a way to be available to their special needs children.

Their sons are both in high school and their needs are great.

Teresa and her husband also have rental properties as a form of income and are working on opening a transitional facility for special needs individuals they will call Stepping Stones, in a vacant hospital building they already own. Their home is also still a foster home, where they may be called on at any time.

I can’t express how Teresa and her husband are always tapped in to the needs of their family and community.

One of their events is The Christmas Giveaway…

This is the fourth year, when children have been welcomed to come shop for free at their store, for gifts for their friends and family. The first year, they let parents shop, but some took advantage. The second year, children shop with parents for family, but there were still some issues. The third year, kids shop alone with a Treasure Hunt volunteer, parents drop them off with a list and it works great.

This fun time is usually attended by about a hundred kids. No one is turned away. Their gifts are also wrapped or they are helped in wrapping them and filling out Christmas cards for the recipients. They always need volunteers to walk around with the kids. It is held every year, the last weekend before Christmas, this year, Sat & Sunday… 17th/18th. Wrappers are always needed as well.

When I asked Teresa what advice she had for mothers compelled to find a way to stay home, she said, “We have to be creative. We have to juggle our lifestyles, much more than conventional parents. Being very flexible, with ‘other’ family, etc. Sometimes they have to come second.”

My daughter and I will be volunteering this year and anyone in Southeast Kansas is welcome to contact me to see about doing the same.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review of Love Finds You in Annapolis Maryland by Roseanna White

Looking for a fun holiday read? Try Love Finds You in Annapolis Maryland by Roseanna White. The book releases today, and I love telling you about Roseanna's book because she is a young work-from-home mom who manages to home school her daughter, edit for her husband's publishing company, and write fiction. (You'd think the woman would have a live-in maid in order to accomplish all her other responsibilities, but no, I'm told she cleans her toilets on her own. How does she find the time?)

Anyway, before I start rambling, here's a brief review.

This book entranced me from the first page. I found myself feeling so bad for Lark and hoping she could do better than marry a rich man who wouldn't care if the earth opened and swallowed her whole. I was rooting for her the entire story, as she leaves the protection of her family in rural Virginia and heads to the nation's capitol in 1783 to put some space between her and her scoundrel of a fiance.

Lark is bold and daring and unwilling to accept what life conveniently tries to hand her, and I loved her for fighting for happiness instead. And though I wanted to be angry at her fiance for the way he ignores her at the beginning of the book, I couldn't stay angry for long, as he has some haunting scars from the Revolutionary War that hold him back from loving Lark the way he should.

All in all, this is a great story of love and redemption, happiness and second chances. The author made me feel like I was in 1783 Annapolis, with all these important founders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington walking around, and treaties with England being ratified, and hatred toward the Tories. It's a book I plan to keep on my shelf. And trust me, I don't keep everything I read.