Thursday, April 26, 2012

In my shoes (which happen to be from Target clearance racks).

Yes, my shoes are indeed from the Target clearance racks. I will spring "good money" for the sneakers I work out in, if you consider "good money", $100. But, otherwise, the majority of my clothes are hand-me-downs (thank you, kind sister-in-law!) or from Target, the thrift shop, or discount department stores like Marshalls.

Where I don't spend in clothing I do spend on food and health care. Some of my spending in this area of life comes from necessity. We were entrusted with the care of children with chronic medical needs. I, myself, have chronic medical needs, and that has forced our hand in where we spend a lot of our money. Nevertheless, there is room for me to be frugal and thoughtful about spending in this area and that's what I want to discuss in this post.

My husband and I are fortunate to have health insurance provided to us via LA's employer. I know health care is a hot topic and in the process of change and potential overhaul, but for now, we are still carried under my husband's employer. Is it the best plan out there? That's a rather difficult question to answer, and I would love to have some time to do some research on it. But, at the moment, I'm trying to teach my kids, get dinner on the table nightly and keep my home in some semblance of order and cleanliness.

This week was a difficult one because it involved several decisions for our family's health care.We found a great pediatric dentist when my children first started needing one. At that time, she was covered by our insurance. Three years ago, she stopped participating with our insurance; it was a sad day when we learned this fact. We LOVE our pediatric dentist. For locals, it's Dr. Diana Capobianco with Growing Smiles. Not only is the office super kid friendly, now with 5 IPads loaded with games, every employee from the hygenist to the billing clerk is friendly and helpful. To boot and most importantly, Dr. Diana knows about Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS), my sons' diagnosis, and how to deal with Port Wine stains (PWS) in the mouth, which my son also has.

I have opted to have my children remain patients at Growing Smiles, but I have had to be thoughtful about managing our health care costs. So, instead of going every 6 months, I have had two of my cavity-free children go for cleanings and check ups only once a year. I have one child who is prone to cavities, and now apparently after this week's visit, two children (sigh).

After this week's check up, it was discovered that one of my children needs a filling. Add to that life's curve balls; this week one of my sons chipped his adult tooth, and it needs repaired. Decision time.

Instead of having our pediatric dentist do the filling and repair, I decided I would have my husband and my dentist, who is 100% covered with our insurance, give it a try. He's a great dentist as well, just not specialized in pediatrics. Nevertheless, I have confidence that if my children cooperate well enough, he is a very capable dentist and will do a great job. He doesn't have the lovely air balloon murals on his walls or IPads in the waiting room, but he'll get the job done. Compromise is the name of the game when managing health care costs.

This was difficult for me because it meant that I had to tell our pediatric dentist that, "Hey, we can't afford the care we think is best for our children, so we're going to go with what we feel is second best." Ugh. That was humbling for me. For some, this might not be an issue. But, for me to tell a health care provider, "I can't afford your services" whether it is for my children or myself is very difficult for me.

At least in the United States and in particular, Maryland where I live, options for how to pursue optimal health are abundant. In my own journey toward good health, I have sought out professionals or services not covered 100%  by my insurance. I have made changes to our eating habits and lifestyle that are costly. And, I continue to face decisions on how much to spend and how far to take this pursuit of health.

How much is enough?

We have a heart to give as much as we possibly can to the advancement of God's Kingdom albeit through supporting the ministries of our local church or through organizations other than our local church. We want to support teenagers wanting to do summer missions' trips. We want to fund adoptions for those pursuing them. We want to support many of my friends doing campus ministry among college students, the "game changers" of our future. And, I recognize that the decisions I make for our health care directly affect how much is available to give to these and other important causes.

So, here are a few (humbling-at least for me) ways I've attempted to do the best I can in this area:

1. Ask for samples. I have had to regularly call my primary care provider (PCP) to ask him to set aside samples of a medication I take daily. Recently my dose was increased, and the way it works with insurance, I would be paying the price for two prescriptions in order to fill my dosage correctly. That may sound complicated; it is. So, my solution has been to call my PCP once a month or so and say, "HI, this is Briana again calling to see if you have any samples of ....that you could set aside for me?"  Thankfully, they have samples in stock and are kind enough to set them aside for me thus far saving me a ton of money!

2. Take time to think about the treatment plan. Unless one is facing an emergent situation, such as an asthma attack, TIME is on your side. I've been in numerous situations where we have a problem, the doctor has a solution but it's costly. Rather than cower to the pressure of the "expert" telling you what your best course of action is, ask for time to go home and think about it. Do research. Talk to your nurse/doctor friends if you have any. Especially with issues that affect children, in talking with other parents, you may find someone who's been down the same road and pursued a diffferent and less costly treatment plan. Facebook and other social media can work for you in this way! Use it. Remember that doctors, while most sincerely want only the best treatment for their patient, can still be driven the insurance companies who pay them, which are undoubtedly driven by the bottom line!

3. Say "No, we're going to wait and pray." This may raise an eyebrow or two, but I can attest to the faithfulness of God when I have trusted my "gut" and followed this course of action--no action. Thankfully, in our country we still have the freedom to go against medical advice, especially as it concerns our children. There are doctors advising all kinds of treatments for children these days--anti-anxiety medications (ask me how I know this!), other behavioral modification medications, and even flu shots. Now, I am certainly not opposed to pharmaceutical interventions when they are necessary, and at times they certainly are necessary and helpful. But, I do believe pharmaceutical medicines are quickly and  incredibly over prescribed before time has been given or other options considered.

As a believer in Jesus, I know the greatest Physician of all time. I know the very ONE who fashioned and formed my very being. I know the ONE who knit my children together in my womb and knew of them before I even did. I have access, FREE access, to the best, world famous, as my son would say, Physician of all time-GOD. There are times we need to manage our health care costs by managing our hearts to remember Who really is the One who heals us and sustains us.

Money doesn't grow on trees, at least not in our back yard. So, I've had to learn ways of managing an area of significant expenditure in our family. I have more to learn, I am sure. But, I hope what I have gained along this relatively short journey I have been on for the last 8 years may benefit someone else.

Monday, April 23, 2012

For Our Kids

It's 9:30 pm and I just put away the peanut butter and jelly for at least the 5th time today. The hubby wanted a late night pb&j, so out came the bread, peanut butter and jelly once again. The dishwasher door stands open, clean dishes waiting to be put away so that the dirty ones in the sink can be thrown in and washed for tomorrow's myriad of meals.

The living room is mostly titied from the various homeschool books read, blankets made into forts, and tea set enjoyed with a neighbor friend. Four loads of laundry have been washed, three dried, none folded or put away yet.

Dinner was ham and potato soup tonight. Should have had green beans in it, but alas no green beans in the house, so I made due with what I had.

Yet a few chores to do and shower to take, I will head to bed "early" so that I won't fall prey to the temptation to hide back under the covers after assembling my hubby's lunch in the morning because I must be at the dentist at 8:30 for my oldest's cleaning and check up.

This week, I'll load my three crazies, as I like to refer to them now-a-days, in our van a half a dozen times or more to shuttle them to various doctors' appointments, homeschool co op, friends' houses, and at the very end of the week, to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Is there any better way to end to the week than a trip to Grandma/Grandpa's house? My children think not.

If you're a momma reading this, you likely have a similar week to mine ahead of you. Maybe instead of doctors'  appointments, you will be transporting your gang to baseball practice or ballet. Instead of homeschool co op, you may be driving to after school day care. Regardless, you have dinner to prepare or pick up, laundry to do, floors to sweep (though this is always optional!).  And most, most importantly you have a child(ren) to love on and hug and read to and envision and train for life. 

It's all hard work, isn't it? Some days are harder than others. Some days are more rewarding than others. But, we go to bed every night with the faces and voices of our child(ren) impressed in our minds, and we wake up every morning motivated to live and serve and lay down our lives for their good, to see them experience the fullness of life and God and other people.

Grab a tissue or two, watch this amazingly inspiring video my hubby had me view the other night, and be freshly inspired to keep doing this "momma" thing. Ask every morning and many moments throughout your day for the strength, help, and wisdom from God to love your littles (or bigs) like HE loves them, and to serve them like HE has served us. And, then go finish with those dishes and laundry. or not.  ;)

Click here

Monday, April 16, 2012

After Tax Season Family Day 2012

My hubby has worked 8 busy seasons now, and we are all grateful to have them behind us. Each year, LA takes off work the business day after tax day to spend entirely with us. We are so blessed to have him with us for an entire day, and God has been kind to allow us special memories celebrating His provision for us.

This year, the weather was unusually warm but gorgeous for our After Busy Season Family Day. We started the day off as we do for many occasions, eating a tasty breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. I'm happy to say that at least one of my children has now moved on from a donut to the breakfast sandwich, signs that they are indeed growing up! ;)

We made a quick stop at home to pack some lunch and beach gear and headed to a lovely, local park in the Gunpowder State Park, Hammerman Beach. Rather than heading straight to the beach, we surprised the kids with a quick stop at Target where we treated the boys to new Lego sets and Bella to a new sun hat, just like mommy's, and snacks. Of course, we had to have our snacks.

More crowded than we've ever seen the beach this time of year, but still sparse enough to enjoy it, we waded in the water, built legos, read and rolled in the sand. I will never understand why my children like to roll in the sand. I cringe every time I see them do it. Ick.

Only half way done with our day but Bella conked out in the car on the way home from the beach. We made another "pit stop" at home for a potty break and more snacks (yes, we eat a lot all day long). Having the extra time to travel to the top of Harford County, we leisurely drove to another state park listening to an audiobook I recently reserved from the library, "Strawberry Girl." We love listening to audiobooks while driving. It's a great way to expose the kids and myself to vast amounts of good literature and to keep them quiet while on the road. ;)

Apart from the stinky dog poop, the hike to Kilgore Falls, a.k.a Falling Branch, was delightful. Weather was great. Trail was a blend of straight paths, some parts with roots sticking out, and a few rocky climbs. When I reached the falls, I couldn't help but to stop and take it all in: the cool spray of the falls, the steady flow of the water over rocks' edge, the spattering of folks sun bathing or playing fetch with their dogs, the varying textures of God's creation-rocks,trees,ferns and water. It was breathtaking.

I thoroughly enjoy being on a trail somewhere. It clears my mind and makes me feel the nearness of God. I love taking it all in. It is a simple pleasure for me and one I'm grateful my family enjoys, too.

After our hike, we headed to a local restaurant for dinner. That was a rather irritating experience, truthfully, so I won't mention the restaurant here. However, I will say that most of the irritation stemmed from trying to use a coupon. There were too many guidelines on using the coupon, and by the time all was said and done, it not only wasn't much of a deal, it was for food that was lackluster at best. To think that we spent $20 for a ramekin of crab dip which was really just spiced up cream cheese, and a small glass of wine that I chugged due to eating dinner with children (note to self--I will never order alcohol while out to dinner with my children again. I simply could not enjoy it.), rather spoiled the entire experience.

Nevertheless, good ol' Wegmans came to the rescue. We do love our local Wegmans and learned among all the other favorite treats of ours, they also sell soft serve icecream! Did you know that?
LA had his standard vanilla milkshake and the kids had a twist on a cone. I was too full at this point and surprisingly opted out of dessert.

After a long, delightful day we headed home for bath/showers and bed. We were all happily tired and fell into bed early, except for me who waited forever for our computer to upload the pictures from the day, all of which you can enjoy by clicking on the following picture.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

50 and cruising?

I heard on the radio today a woman talking about how great it is to be 50. She said, "I've traded in my to-do list for my bucket list." Expanding on her rather witty remark, she said that she is at the stage in life where she gets to do what she WANTS to do rather than what she HAS to do.

Today, I am 35 and head deep in the homeschooling, dish washing, laundry folding, child training, sibling referring, husband-career building years. Today, I cannot imagine being 50, a time in my life when homeschooling my children will be done (at least it better be). I will no longer be breaking up sibling conflicts or training them in proper table manners and how to share their 'toys' (at least I hope not). My husband's career will be well established and earning the benefits of today's long hours (at least it better be).

While my life today is full of things I have to do, I don't want to embrace an expectation that when 50 comes I will finally have reached the point in life where I get to do what I want to do. It's "me" time. It's time to cash in on all the years of me pouring out my life in service to my children, husband and others.

I'm not assuming that the woman on the radio station was living a life as I just described, but I will say that when I hear statements such as the one she made, it does make me stop and think. If I do not plan now to serve later and to my dying day, I will by default embrace such a mentality. I will get to 50 and think, "Ok, it's my turn to take."

If you were a fly on our walls, you'd hear me share a particular scripture with my children nearly everyday. And, frankly I need to be reminded myself everyday, too. It is Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

Because my Savior, Jesus, who is King of Kings and Creator of all, came to earth as a humble servant, I am compelled to follow in His steps. I am compelled to serve and keep on serving even at 50 and beyond.

In this season of my life, I feel sort of forced into serving many days. But, another season is coming...or so I've been told, when I will have more freedom to choose whether or not I serve, who I serve, how much I serve, etc. I pray that I will indeed choose to serve with much vigor and humility. I pray that I will not adopt an "it's my turn to do what I want to do" attitude toward life. As John Piper states it, I pray I will not "collect seashells" and "waste my life" in self indulgence and comfort in my older years.

**Anyone who happens to read this may remind me of this in 15-30 years...please do!**

For further, and much better articulated, thoughts on this topic, listen to one of the following two messages by John Piper:

Monday, April 09, 2012

From the Floor

Thanksgiving-a time when we give thanks for all the blessings, all the good, everything that’s gone well-is what marks the beginning for me. It was the beginning of a journey I never wanted to take, down a path with several twists and turns. It was the beginning of what has been the end for me of many things, and I wonder what more it will take from me. It was the beginning of chronic pain.
Only days after Thanksgiving, 2007, I found myself nearly immobilized by pain. I was floored, literally, by a pain that seized and controlled and left me out of control, on the floor desperate for relief. Not even the un-medicated childbirth of my third born compared to this pain.
Now four years later, after numerous scans, doctors and therapies, I still find myself at times bulldozed by gnawing, distracting, and even seizing pain. I’m grateful for respites, and I’m grateful for tolerable. I’m still learning to give thanks for the intolerable, crushing blows, though.
Sometimes the pain chains me to this earth--to the fallenness of this world and the brokenness of my body. It distracts me from being heavenly minded because so much concern and thought is devoted to relief .
But, sometimes the pain is a door of mercy, opening up to me mysteries I’d not understand otherwise, insights I’d not see, and beauty I’d not know. I had one such time recently as I lay face down on the floor with ice. It was there God lifted me and opened my eyes to see past the pain, to feel beyond the discomfort, to know Him while I shared in just a taste of His suffering.
From my journal that morning, I wrote, “Down on the floor, it's dirty and dusty, and I lay in the midst of it. I don't just see it; I'm in it. And I'm thinking this morning as I peer under my nightstand that this might be just a taste of what it was like for Jesus to come live among us--among our filth and sin.”
He left the brilliance of Heaven to live among the base.
He left the splendor of Heaven to live among the simple.
He left the grandeur of heaven to live among the ungrateful.
He left the virtue of Heaven to live among the vile.
Thank you, Lord, for your willing condescension.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:6-8

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Resurrection Cake

Inspired by Jessica Fisher at Life is Mom, I decided to try my hand at a Resurrection cake for our Easter celebration tomorrow. Here’s how I constructed mine.

I made my favorite chocolate cake which just happens to be a vegan cake, believe it or not. It truly is the most, moist chocolate cake I’ve tasted (other than Cracker Barrel’s coca-cola cake, which probably has a whole lot more calories).

Here’s the recipe in case you’re interested:

3 c. flour (I use a white whole wheat)
2 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa
2 tsp.baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp.instant decaf coffee grounds (*optional)
2 c.water
¾ c. oil (I used 3/8 c. coconut oil, melted and 3/8 c. canola oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Mix all dry ingredients together and then wet ones into the dry. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
**For this cake, I baked about 2/3rd of the batter in an 8X8 pan and 1/3rd in my Pampered Chef batter bowl (to make the mound on top of the square cake.)

Once cakes are cool, turn the square cake out onto your display platter.

Turn the cake in the batter bowl and trim the top so that it is flat. Place that on top of the corner of the square cake and ice with icing or your choice. (I used our favorite—peanut butter icing.)

For decoration, I used the following:

  • an oatmeal raisin cookie for its texture to illustrate the stone that was rolled away
  • chocolate “stones” I found at Wegmans. I was thrilled; I think they are the coolest.
  • I believe it is a Caspian figurine from the Narnia series for Peter peering into the tomb.
  • Lollipop stick cut in half with a banner wrapped around it declaring, “He is Risen"
I had a lot of fun making it; I think the kids are going to have a lot of fun eating it!

Friday, April 06, 2012

God became man
Offering up Himself
On the cross
Died for sin

Forgiving my debt
Righting my wrongs
Imbibing God’s wrath
Dying to save
Achieving the victory
Yours forevermore

Monday, April 02, 2012

How did I do? Update on March's 30 day challenge

March's challenge was to memorize a verse of scripture each day. For that I planned on memorizing Psalm 145 and Psalm 146.

I only memorized Psalm 145. When I reached the last verse in that Psalm, I petered out, not because I wasn't enjoying storing up scripture in my mind and heart. I was. I found this challenge to be so beneficial to my soul. I think I just grew lazy of the mental challenge, in all honesty. Nevertheless, at the end of this post, I would like to write as much from memory as I can from Psalm 145.

The 2nd challenge for March was not to drink soda which I am happy to say I successfully accomplished. It was most difficult the first 2-3 weeks. It then became much easier, and I only really wanted it when we'd be eating pizza on family night or out to eat at a restaurant. My ongoing plan with diet soda is to limit it to eating out or at special events. I let my hubby know today that I will only be buying it for the house when it's $2.00/case or if we are having folks over who we know will appreciate having it. Otherwise, I'd rather not pick the habit up again of having a diet soda every afternoon (or more often as some days I did).

Psalm 145--
I will extol you, my God and my King. I will bless you forever and ever.
Everyday I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another and shall declare your might acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all and his mercy is over all that He has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and your dominion shall endure throughout all generations.
The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and You give them their food in due season.
You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.
The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord preserves those who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

True confession: At best I need to re-memorize the last 3 verses and was needing some word prompts throughout. So, I will continue to work on Psalm 145.

In the meantime, my 30 day challenge for April is to write at least 15 minutes a day. It could be for the blog or not. I have always dreamed of writing a book but have never really invested time into the work of it. While I don't think I will write a book by giving my attention to it only 15 minutes a day, I will nevertheless sharpen up my skills for that potential. One can't eat an elephant all at once, but only one bite at a time.