Tag Archives: green living

Don’t Give Up; Give Away

We knew we wanted to end the trip on this note: our kids, grinning ear to ear, dressed in aprons and hairnets while clutching their bags filled with “custom-made” candy bars and commemorative “Hershey Chocolate World” tins.

We had accomplished more in two days than any family should be able in our long weekend trip to Pennsylvania: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bill, Ben Franklin’s Print Shop, Philadelphia Museum of Art (complete with running up the steps while playing the Rocky theme song), Philly Cheesesteak, Lancaster County, Hershey PA.

Problem was, it was only 6pm Saturday evening, and knew that the trip had come to its natural conclusion.  We had planned to get a hotel room and putz around for another day, but my husband had another plan: drive home now.  Save the hotel money.

We were all for it.

Getting the kids excited about spending another 3 ½ hours in the car would have been impossible but for a new game we’d recently installed in our family: The Savings Jar (pictured above with our “Bean Jar” from earlier posts).  Every time we decide not to spend money on something already in the budget, we write down the cause and the savings, and put it in a glass jar: “No hotel 3/2/12: $150”, “Ate ice cream at home instead of Cold Stone Creamery: $14” (yes, it’s that much for 5 people!); “Found same shoes at thrift store: $35 saved”.

Now it’s nice to save money and keep track of your progress, but what’s so fun and meaningful about the Savings Jar isn’t the pieces of paper that go into it, but what we DO with them: once the total has built up enough, half of the savings go toward a meaningful, intentional fun family purchase (TBD) and the other half to a meaningful, intentionally chosen cause.

What I love about this game is that it not only motivates us to save, but it makes sure that when we do, we have something to show for it- not just an abbreviated vacation and a fatter bank account.

Having a POINT to any sacrifice we make is key- otherwise, we fail to fully use what we have gained, or even worse…sacrifice for nothing.  Finding a way to recognize, appreciate, and use the savings in our lives can guide us to making intentional choices that will ensure nothing goes to waste.

What if we can do this kind of thing with ALL of our savings?

So often, we work so hard to save time and money, only to have them disappear into oblivion…never felt, used, enjoyed, or shared.  We work so hard to finish a job quickly, only so we can finish another job quickly.  What if we used the time saved to relax? Meditate? Reach out to a co-worker? Stretch?

We work hard to save money at the grocery store.  Where do those savings go? What if every time we saved $5 in coupons, $2.50 went to the Food Bank?

Sometimes “savings” are thrust upon us against our will.  The concert is cancelled.  Our date stood us up.  We broke our leg so can’t do the ski trip. What do we do with our new-found extra time, money, and opportunities?  Seeing the abundance in these situations is life-changing. Every time we can’t do one thing, it means we can do something else.  Don’t waste that something else.

And sometimes we sacrifice for no purpose.  I do this all the time- refrain from doing something I really want to, or purchasing something I can easily afford, just so I can feel good about myself for “doing without.”  This is stupid.  Unless we can see the good in it, don’t do it.  Period. Money and time are precious resources- they are meant to be used and enjoyed.

In this season of Lent, when many of us are giving up something, let’s make sure it goes somewhere.  Let’s not just give up, let’s get and give away.

Right now my favorite verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”  I see its application everywhere, but this week, let’s apply it to the things we are giving up-

This week:

1)      Inventory the things in your life that you are giving up, and ask yourself “Why?”  Examine your answer, and find ways you can quantifiably enjoy and share the results.  If you can’t answer “why?” then re-examine the point of your sacrifice!

2)      Look for new places in your life where you can painlessly “lean up” your spending of time, energy, or money…then find a place for the savings that both benefits you and your world.

3)      Consider starting a Savings Jar of your own, if it appeals.  If you already have another method of doing this, share with us!

4)      Meditate on Romans 8:28 in relation to the things under our stewardship.  What “things” could “work together for good” that we could give away? What “purpose” could they,  be “called” to?

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Add To, Don’t Take Away

Christopher Lowell

During the few brief years I watched daytime television while staying home with babies, I became obsessed with home decorating shows.  My favorite designer was Christopher Lowell, whose flamboyant mannerisms partnered with a very practical, affordable style that made everyone feel like they were just “this close” to having the house of their dreams.  I loved him. My husband hated him because I often tried to create that house of my dreams during children’s naptimes or whenever he went out of town, thinly disguising my rogue behavior as a “SURPRISE!!!”  He never bought it.

Anyway, one bit of advice Christopher Lowell gave me is something I’ve held onto and applied to more than he ever intended: when trying to improve something, “Add To, Don’t Take Away.”
Examples: Don’t tear out your old kitchen cabinets; paint them.  Don’t throw out your couch; recover it.  Don’t replace the carpet; top it with a throw rug. Don’t insist on new tile to update a bathroom, paint the walls a hip contrasting color.

By simply adding a “finishing touch” to what you already have, you can easily make it more attractive, updated, and usable.

Now, I could stop this blog post right here, and we’d all have plenty to work with for the next week.  Just walking around our houses with a new eye to “what could I add?” rather than “what needs replacing?” can save us thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. Look at our furniture, our wardrobe, our yard.  What little touches could we ADD that would give life to what we already have?  Chances are, we even already have most of these finishing touches- they’re just in the wrong place.

But I want to take it a step further.  What about other aspects of our lives that don’t seem to be working for us?  Our career? Our bodies? Our marriage?  Our temperament? Our past?

Just because we don’t like what we see doesn’t mean we need to start over- it means we just need to take the next step.  Somewhere, within our grasp, is the key to making it more attractive, more usable, more enjoyable.

And let me take it one last step further.  Why don’t we all see just how little it takes to take everything to the next level? What’s the absolute least we can add to something to make it enough?

We will go into more detail about all the ways we can apply this concept to almost every aspect of our lives in upcoming posts.  For now, let’s take the following week to stop ourselves every time we hear ourselves saying, “I need a new…”, “I wish I didn’t have…”, or “If only I’d…” and replace the thought with, “All I have to do is…”

Viewing everything you own, have, and are in a positive light, ready to be used and appreciated, is exactly how we are meant to live.  Philippians 4: 8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.” I believe this verse doesn’t mean to keep your head in the clouds and ignore the pain, suffering, and evil around you, but rather to recognize and appreciate “anything that is excellent or praiseworthy” and stop obsessing about all its faults.

Please take some time this week to do this.  Since I finally started looking at the world this way, I have saved myself from so much unnecessary pain and expense from everything from remodeling to even surgery and grad school.  See the good in what you already have…then perhaps do that one thing you know you need to do to make it right…but don’t tear down what you’ve already done, even if it’s not perfect.

When God made the world, He saw that it was good.  I believe He still feels that way about it, and us, despite the flaws.  We can do the same.

This week:

  1. Create a list with three columns.
  2. Every time you hear yourself saying an “I need/I wish/If Only”, write down exactly what’s bothering you in the first column.  Don’t go out LOOKING for things to get bothered about, just empower yourself IF it happens.
  3. In column 2, write down something positive, noble, true, useful, pure, lovely, or admirable about the offending object/trait/person/entity.
  4. In column 3, brainstorm a few easy/free/cheap/obvious things you could contribute to the situation that could possibly change your mind about it.
  5. Pick the absolute easiest thought from column 3 for at least one item and go do it.  Now.

Efficient Giving

I can still see the look of hurt and disappointment on my mom’s face after I opened my “big” Christmas gift.  “What IS it?” was not the reaction she was expecting. At the same time, I remember my own disappointment, because it wasn’t what I asked for, and wasn’t anything I needed.

See, that year, what I’d asked for had been pretty boring and simple.  Gifts that, honestly, weren’t that fun to give, and Mom worried wouldn’t seem that special.  So Mom went maverick.

Flash forward 25 years, and the exact thing repeated itself, only this time with me on the other end.  My son asked for a few friends to sleep over for his birthday, so I geared myself up for an elaborate event, complete with games, prizes, decorations, and crafts.  Of course, these efforts resulted in a pretty hectic day and short temper by me, and to make it even worse, I realized halfway through the party that my son didn’t appreciate any of it!

When I pulled him aside for the obligatory lecture on gratitude, he stopped me short by saying, “But Mom…I didn’t ASK for ANY of this! I just wanted my friends to come sleep over!!”

As we gear up for this holiday season, how many of us may be spending time and energy on things that are not being asked for?

The loads and loads of gifts under the tree?  The elaborate stocking for Him filled with hard-to-find Man Things (while ours is thinly filled with whatever was handy in the checkout aisle)? The beautiful clothes and toys given to hungry children?  Are these really the things being called for by those receiving them?

So, how do we know?

ASK.

Before doing anything, ask what is needed, or valued by the recipient.  We need to sit down with our families and ask them “What are your favorite things about the holidays?”  If our hand-made bows around the yard don’t appear on that list, it’s time to reevaluate.  What’s more, we will probably find that in our effort to make everything *special* we could be neglecting the simple things that hold more meaning to our loved ones than anything else.

The same goes for our charitable works and donations.  Many of us are so eager to help out during the holidays, so volunteer our services by calling up a charity and saying, “I’d like to help with XYZ….”  Problem is, they may not need our help that way.  Maybe they need us in a few months, or not at all.  Maybe they need money instead of toys.  Just ask.

Matthew 7:7-12 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.  Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Even God waits to be asked, and gives in accordance!

But wait…there’s something missing from this equation.  What if we, or our children, ask for something stupid?

God has an answer for that too.  He gives us instead something we NEED.

We can take these two principles to heart this Christmas, and give nothing less, and nothing more.  Instead of giving a bunch of things we THINK our loved ones, or those in need, will like, we can give them what they ask for, then only add what they need.

My son wants a football; he needs an alarm clock.  I’m going to give him both.  I am not going to give him the $150 Lego set I think looks cool but he’s never mentioned.  My husband wants a specific book for which he’s left the ISBN number on my desk (boring!), but hasn’t realized he needs a new jacket.  I’m going to give him both, but not the Delux Grille Set from Lowe’s I think he’d enjoy but he hasn’t noticed every time he’s in there.

And God’s gifts are the same- He knows what we want, and also what we need but don’t realize.  Everything He asks us to do is for our benefit, even His own son’s birthday! And we can be assured that we will get everything we need, plus everything that will authentically and sustainably make us happy, and able to pass on that abundance and joy to others:

And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Sustaining Christmas Joy and Gratitude

After more than a month of decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, and entertaining, the moment arrives: Christmas morning.  The sheer number of hours put into this moment, not to mention the balance on my credit card, already set the tone in my mind:

They had better appreciate all of this.

I still make my kids wait in agony at the top of the stairs while my husband and I  leisurely walk down to make sure Santa has come, make a cup of coffee, and fiddle with the video camera while they writhe in psychological pain upstairs. (This is one family tradition I won’t give up- my own parents made us wait one Christmas morning for my grandparents to drive in from 2 hours away.)

Then we open the floodgates.  We await the squeals of delight we recall from our own childhood and hugs of gratitude as our thoughtfulness, personal sacrifice, and insight into their deepest hidden desires is revealed.

It comes, and it’s beautiful, but it fades.  Quickly.  And it’s not as loud as we heard it in our minds last night at 2am while we were putting together that !@#$% toy.  In fact, we see that fabulous gift tossed aside as we notice greedy eyes cutting over to sibling’s hands and potential hidden crevices under trees, and see the joy slowly get replaced by disappointment and entitlement.

And then it’s over.  Time for breakfast.  I’ll get the bill in the mail.

Then I hear the words that nearly make me go ballistic: “Mom, what can we doooooooo now?”

Ladies and gentlemen, I vowed that day never to repeat this scene, and we are all going to help each other avoid this fate this Christmas season.

n the past few weeks, we have already discussed preemptive strikes against this mentality by first cutting out what we already know doesn’t work for us during the holidays, then stretching out the parts of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Advent that are in line with our values and give us sustainable joy.  Last week, we covered some practical ways on how to do this using inexpensive, environmentally sensitive, and authentic methods that are meant to help us and our loved ones slow down and appreciate the gifts of contentment, love, and gratitude.

Now let’s figure out how to make Christmas last beyond 8am, December 25th.  Here are my ideas- would love to hear more from all of you:

  1. Involve our children more in the process of preparing and giving: We all need to stop doing so much FOR our kids at Christmas and start doing things WITH them.  Have them earn and purchase, or make, gifts for each other, extended family, and you, and wrap themselves.  Their decorations should be decking the halls, not just ours.  And they should be waiting just as much as we for squeals of delight and gratitude upon unwrapping their gifts.
  1. Schedule time, and ways, to use the gifts we will receive.  Making time to celebrate each gift you know someone will receive is a wonderful way to foster appreciation and gratitude.  After allowing everyone to play with the gift of their choosing, plan over the following days ways of giving each gift the attention it deserves.  Play the board game.  Don’t make your child beg for you to find time to extract the action figure from its wrapping – tell him exactly when you’re going to do it, and then play with it with him. Plan a family outing to use the binoculars and flashlights found in the stocking.
  1. Use, celebrate, and share our gifts for 12 Days.  The bulk of the school holiday occurs after Christmas, and even those of us who have to work know that very little usually happens this week.  The number 12 is holy- think about what was accomplished with just 12 disciples, or in 12 months last year.  For the 12 days following Christmas, we can plan ways to celebrate and share our abundance:
    1. Have a “Boxing Day” party either Christmas night (make it “Boxing Day Eve”) or December 26th in which everyone brings a gift to donate, either as a “White Elephant” from that morning (a little sensitivity caution here!), an old toy, or a truly meaningful, themed drive for those less fortunate.  Ask everyone to bring leftovers from their abundance of food, too.  No new spending and cooking needed.
    2. Plan play dates and coffees to share toys, sweets, and gifts.
    3. Schedule a family service project now that you have time.
    4. Put together a family scrapbook and journal of everything you did last year, and look at pictures and video together.
    5. ????? What else could you do with the gifts of time, treasure, talent, and togetherness in these 12 days?

Have fun with all of this- there are so many more wonderful ideas I’m sure you could all share.  The holidays are to be fun, and as today’s Psalm lectionary reading states, we are to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4). Anything we can do to spread this attitude in ourselves, our families, and each other will truly make this season abundant.

Eating Fruit in Season

I am a planner.  Ridiculously so.  I interviewed potential schools for my children when they were still in baby bjorns.  I’ve had a “bucket list” since I was 15.  I enjoy making lists to the extent that others enjoy eating chocolate, playing video games, or sleeping.

 

Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that I’m already considering where my children, ages 6, 8, and 10, may go to college.

 

This past beautiful weekend, we decided to drive to Charlottesville for a day to supposedly spend apple picking, but once we saw the RIDICULOUS line of cars, we decided to do something we considered a great use a time: show the kids the University of Virginia campus, and hope they fall in love with it (go, instate tuition!!!)

 

We never made it more than 50 feet onto the front lawn.  The kids never saw the Rotunda, never glanced at the stunning architecture, never asked a single question about UVA or campus life or even sports.

 

We made it to the Magnolia tree, where we spent the next hour climbing and playing before getting back in the car and heading for pizza and ice cream.

 

And as my daughter ran to me in the middle of the UVA campus, hugged me, and asked me to lift her into a branch, it hit me: Thank you God that these children are still with me and not going off to school yet.  Thank you Lord for this time, and for making me slow down enough to appreciate it.

 

I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude…and they all stemmed from recognizing the gift being given to me at that time.

 

My mother has always told me that women CAN have it all…just not all at once.  Each season in our lives bears a different fruits, and they are meant to be enjoyed when they are ripe….not prematurely…and fresh….not put away and canned.

 

Other fruits are great, too, but if they’re not in season, they will be imported, probably sprayed with something to make it artificially “keep”, and will lack the abundance of flavor and nutrients of ones meant to be enjoyed right here, right now.

 

So no…we never made it apple picking, but we did enjoy an abundant harvest, completely local and in season!

 

  1. This week, concentrate on what fruit is in season for your life, right here, right now?  Make a list of the gifts you have right now that will not be around forever.  How can you more fully appreciate and use them?

 

  1. What “fruits” are you craving that may not be in season at the moment? What things in your life do you feel you may be “forcing” or “importing”?  What’s not yet ripe? What is past its prime or requiring you to “spray with preservatives” to keep it artificially going?

 

  1. Within your day, are there better “harvest times” than others for certain activities? What about when your kids are home? Your evenings? Your early mornings? Your weekends? Your holidays? Are you fully matching your activity to the best time in which it would yield the most joy, productivity, love, abundance?

 

  1. Read the following verses in the Bible, and jot down what they mean to you, at this time in your life:

 

    1. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
    2. Psalm 90:12
    3. Acts 6:1-7
    4. Psalm 62:1-12
    5. Romans 13:11-14
    6. Galatians 6:9-10
    7. 2 Corinthians 6:2

 

Don’t skip this final step…it’s time well spent!!!