Friday, October 31, 2008

I feel naked

Some of you have noted my absence online (lame-o at returning emails, no blog comments). I have a good excuse. My computer is in the shop and like any good addict, I feel like someone stole my dope.

It's been a real awakening to find out how much time I really spend on the internet everyday. Not just email and blogging, but checking the weather, looking up prices for stuff, finding a phone number, paying bills. I'm a total internet junky. Since we don't have a TV, it's really my only source for media induced brain-rotting. And it's not just the internet I've been missing. It seems like I do everything on the computer. All my pictures are on there, so even though I've gotten back into scrapbooking, I can't do anything. I balance my checkbook and spend a neurotic amount of time in Microsoft Money pouring over the budget and scheming on our debt snowball. I don't even own a calculator because I always just use the one on the computer. How is it that I'm posting on my blog then? I've been invading Becca's house everyday to do a quick email check and pay some bills, but since today is Friday (which is basically like a Saturday in Cokeville because there's no school) I'm splurging and catching up on everyone's blogs. And mine.

Imagine all the useful things I got done this week! I cleaned my kitchen, including mopping, and even hung a couple of pictures. I did 6 or 7 loads of laundry. I hauled in my own wood since Dan was down in Salt Lake working all week (I'm such a rural goddess!) I took the girls to the park 3 times (we've had a great week of Indian Summer.) I showered before noon most days.

The computer should be done next week and I have a lot of catching up to do. The womenfolk in my family had our annual Girls' Weekend in Park City last weekend. I didn't take a single picture! It's so nice having other photo freaks in the family so I can just mooch off of them! To see some pics of the weekend, check out my cousin Katy's blog. I made a cool little mini-scrapbook about my everyday life. I'll be sure to post some pics.

Wish me luck through the weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Must Read

If you've ever had to endure (I mean, had the pleasure of attending) a Mormon Fast & Testimony meeting, you MUST read this blog post from one of Dan's biking buddies. The comments are the best part! (Dan is Botched.)

open mic day

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Future Songwriter?

With all the snow this past weekend, Lily got VERY excited about Christmas. She sat down and started writing a song and I was so impressed with her rhyming skills! She did the first verse all by herself and had just a little help from Mama on the second verse.

video

Christmas, Christmas-time you're here!

Time for presents, time for cheer.

Time for snow and snowmen, too.

Happy, happy Christmas from me to you.

Time for cocoa, time for treats,

Just for Santa Clause to eat.

Time for treats to give to you,

Happy, happy Christmas from me to you.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Baby, it's COLD outside!

Cokeville was blessed with a really long and unseasonably warm Fall this year. But that's all over now. We had our first snowfall on Friday and it snowed light but steady through Saturday until it got serious overnight and we woke up to this:

As I'm writing this post at 11:00pm, it's 17 degrees outside. It's October 12th, people!

Dan got our wood burning stove all set up about three weeks ago and we've been using it sporadically. But now, it's going full force!

Amazingly, it keeps us pretty warm in our bedrooms at night, and if you time things just right, it doesn't bake you during the day (although it has gotten up to 94 degrees in the living room when we've had it loaded with wood.) I'm still trying to perfect my fire starting skills, when to add more logs, when to open and close the damper, etc. I'm often so distracted by the kids or my other chores that I forget and have to start the fire again. Other times I forget to turn the fan on to circulate the air into the rest of the house and we start melting in the living room and I have to open the front door. Nothing quite like a fire blazing with the front door wide open! I'll get it figured out eventually.

This is our current setup. It's kind of an eyesore, a huge jail in our living room, but it keeps the girls from tripping and falling into the stove. We've been loving the ambiance and the warm, natural heat that the stove gives off.

By popular demand, here's a picture of me in my rainboots as the girls and I were heading to church this morning. It was quickly made clear that while these boots are waterproof, they are in no way warm. Looks like I have some more online shopping in my future! (Notice how Amelia is jabbing Mystery Boy, trying to put him in his place and remind him that SHE's still the baby.)

Amelia loves to tag along with Daddy when he goes to the wood pile. She didn't last 2 minutes tonight before she showed up shivering and begging to come back inside.

Thoughts on worshipping God

I've been thinking a lot lately about the different ways that people worship God. We all interact with God in different ways, and none is superior to another. I'm grateful for a Father in Heaven who knows and understands each of our individual personalities. Only He knows the true intent of our hearts and how our minds process ideas, so I have learned to stop judging and start recognizing and respecting the many ways people manifest their love for God.

Here are a few of my observations:

The Spiritually Inclined
These are the people who respond to God on a very emotional level. They "feel" things, they react to the Spirit easily and openly, they get the "warm fuzzies" when talking about God and Jesus Christ. These people thrive on hearing how God has helped other people in their lives, they are uplifted and inspired by others' experiences.

The Intellectuals
Other people get excited about God and the scriptures by immersing themselves in study. Just reading a chapter from the scriptures daily doesn't really get them jazzed about Christ's gospel. By reading others' words, comparing ideas, discussing doctrine with others, thinking of God outside the box of the typical Sunday School answers, this is how they draw closer to God and feel His influence in their lives.

Those who worship God by worshipping the land
I see this a lot in my new community and my Grandad Cox was definitely this type of person. These people are generally quiet, not necessarily real "churchy", but they see the evidence of God in nature. They love the beauty and challenges of the land. They love God's creatures and have respect for them. By working the land, they feel the goodness of all that God created and that is their religion.

The Dutiful/Those who worship God by serving
These are the practical, "get it done" kind of people who don't say too much about religion, but when someone needs something, they're the first ones on the doorstep. They value hard work above all else and measure their success by their effort, not necessarily by the traditional results that much of the world values. They are the "doers" that God needs so much to help care for His children here on Earth. I came across this quote from Heber J. Grant (president of the LDS Church from 1918 to 1945) and it really struck me:

There is but one path of safety to the Latter-day Saints, and that is the
path of duty. It is not testimony, it is not marvelous manifestations, it is not
knowing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, . . . it is not actually
knowing that the Savior is the Redeemer, and that Joseph Smith was His prophet,
that will save you and me, but it is the keeping of the commandments of God, the
living the life of a Latter-day Saint. [Heber J. Grant, Improvement Era, November 1936, p.
659]

Sometimes we get so caught up in worrying about whether we're "feelin' it" with the whole gospel thing, that we let that interfere with what really matters. Maybe you're frustrated because you don't understand exactly how God works in your life, maybe you feel inferior because you haven't had a "great spiritual experience" in a long time, maybe you just find church tedious and boring. But guess what, those things aren't critical. What matters most to God is that we are obedient. He doesn't expect that all of us will have a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ's atonement or Joseph Smith's divine calling, or that we will be masters of the scriptures. Sure, He would love those things for us, but that's not what's going to save us. What's going to save us is learning what God expects of us, what our duties are, and then DOING IT. God knows what is in our mind and He has compassion for our weaknesses. He knows the things that challenge us. That IS why He gave us a Savior, after all.

What kind of worshipper am I? A combination, really. I'm kind of the first one, emotionally responsive to the gospel, but that's usually driven by the second one. I have a hard time really "feeling" excited about Jesus Christ until I really immerse myself in some study. I am most lackadaisical in my relationship to God when I'm not praying with sincerity and humility or if I'm just skimming the scriptures without devoting some time and attention to thinking about them. I love to talk about religious things. Some of my favorite talks about the gospel have been with my friend Lori who belongs to another faith. And yet, being a spiritually driven person, I still value duty and obedience above all else. I wasn't always this way. I used to think that you had to show all the outward signs of being a believer in order to have a "real" testimony. This was a great source of contention early in my marriage. But as you mature you realize that being on a constant spiritual high is just not a realistic expectation. We all go through phases in our spirituality, things ebb and flow, and you have to be realistic enough to know that sometimes the best you can do is just as President Grant said: keep the commandments and live the life of a saint. God respects that effort even if we're not feeling particularly close to Him.

Dan falls squarely in the Dutiful category. He has always been loyal to me, treated his children well, worked hard, taken on challenges and served with his hands (I can't tell you how many ways he helped my Mom when we lived with her.) I have loved that more and more about him as the years go by. He's also an Intellectual. Church can be a real drag, more aggravating than inspiring, if you just hear the same platitudes spouted over and over again. Dan loved teaching Elder's Quorum because he could take the discussion in a different direction and really get people thinking different ideas. He loved to research things and ask hard questions. For several years of our marriage, I wondered and worried about how deep his testimony was, but I can finally see the evidence that he loves and honors God and Jesus Christ by working hard, being willing to serve, and sticking to his commitments.

I also used to think you had to be pretty pious to be a true disciple of Christ. But, again, God respects our individual personalities. Some of us thrive on humor, some of us struggle with our tempers, some of us are just quiet so no one really knows what we think. I can guarantee there are many men in this community who have cussed at cows more times than they can count, but they still know and love God and know where their blessings come from. You can go to church and worship God in your cowboy boots (as long as you clean the manure off first) or a sweater just as easily as you can in a suit. God looks upon the heart, not on the outer appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). God gives us commandments because He knows those are the tried and true things that bring happiness. But He is patient with our weaknesses and is always inviting us to repent and do better. I guess I'm just saying that you don't have to be Molly Mormon or Peter Priesthood to worship and love God.

What kind of worshipper are you? Surely there are other categories that I didn't even touch on. What makes you feel close to God? Are there things you wish you could change about your relationship with God and how do you think you could accomplish it? I'd love to hear comments, even if they're anonymous, but mostly I hope this will get you thinking about your own relationship to God.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Every girl needs a cute pair of rainboots

Now that I live in the boonies, I have been initiated into the world of online shopping. A couple weeks ago I placed my first order at Target.com. It was a few days after a big rain storm and I knew that we needed some good rainboots for sloshing around in the mud (especially since the path between our house and the Nates' is a dirt road.)

Here are the rainboots Lily chose:

Lily couldn't wait for a good rainstorm to blow through so she could wear her boots.

I didn't buy any boots for Amelia because we have some hand-me-down snowboots from Lily (remember, I'm a tight-wad) but Amelia didn't seem to mind too much. She sure had a lot of fun wearing Biggie's boots around the house!

In true 6-year-old fashion, Lily preferred to make funny faces at the camera instead of modeling her new boots.

I also got a great pair of rainboots:

They're actually pretty comfortable, easy to slip on and off, and they make me smile. Who says little girls should have all the fun?

I also purchased some slippers for the girls since our house is almost all hardwood floors or tile. Lily wears her "Indian slippers" around all the time, but I'm still trying to convince Amelia that her Hello Kitty slippers are great for keeping your feet warm, not just trying on, commenting on the cuteness of the "keee", then taking them off.

Playing the Credit Card game

You know the credit card companies are NOT your friend, right? They're not there to make your life easier or more fulfilled or to make all of your dreams come true. They're in business to make as much money off you as they can. And they will take every opportunity to stick it to you so they can increase their profit margin.

We've learned this lesson the hard way as we've had interest rates skyrocket with one late payment or just because they reviewed our credit report and saw the total amount of debt we had. Two examples: one card had a 3.99% fixed-until-paid-off rate, but we had one late payment and they changed our rate to 34.99%. Holy crap! Needless to say, we moved that bad boy to the top of our debt snowball and used our tax return to pay it off completely. Another example was a card that had a 9.99% interest rate, but when the company did their periodic review of our credit report, they decided to ream us because we had a high debt balance. The rate jumped to 28.99%. These rate increases have increased our debt balance by several hundred dollars every month because of the higher finance charges.

How do you begin to dig yourself out of the credit card hole? There is no other solution than to start by cutting up the cards. You will never get anywhere if you keep the card for "emergencies" or you'll end up buying that pair of jeans you "just have to have." You MUST learn to live only on what you make. Only spend cash or what's in your checking account. For a society that treats credit cards as a part of life, something everyone has and uses, it's takes a couple of months of anxiety to get used to this new system. It's hard to let that go of what feels like a security blanket, but now, a year after acquiring no new debt, I feel SO much more financially secure.

Another thing I had to do to start getting a grip on our debt was to make a Bill Due Date list. I can't tell you how many times I accidentally overlooked a payment by a day, or I planned to pay it on the due date, but didn't make the 1:00pm cutoff for online payments. On my Bill Due Date list I put the due date for credit cards (or any other bill that will punish me for a late payment) 2 days before they're actually due, that way if I forget to check the list for a day or two, I have a little cushion. This simple Word document has really kept me on track. I used to just keep the bills in a stack with the due date written on the front of the envelope, but I'd forget to check the stack for several days or I wouldn't even open my mail for a week. Now, with my list, I love the satisfaction of putting a check mark next to each bill. Cheesy, but it works for me.

Lastly, I cannot stress the importance of making a budget every month and actually sticking to it. The easiest way for us to accomplish this has been to use cash envelopes for everything that is not a payment to be made to someone. So rent, credit card payments, utilities, doctor bills, etc. we pay out of our checking account. But everything else like groceries, entertainment, gas, clothes, babysitting, toiletries, etc. comes from cash envelopes that we get out of the bank at the beginning of the month. I can testify that this definitely cuts your spending because you can visually see when funds are getting low and you have to control yourself and not buy things you don't have money for. We got off our cash envelopes during August and September because of the move (lots of new household expenses) and Dan's accident (we didn't know how much income we'd have so we decided to just use our debit card and transfer from savings as needed.) Well, that definitely reflected in the bottom line. We went way over budget on some things. So for October, we're going back to cash envelopes as soon as Dan's check comes in a couple of days.

I've kinda gone off on a tangent. The reason I originally started this post was to tell you how negotiating and persistence can pay off in the credit card game. You'll often hear people encourage you to do balance transfers to get lower interest rates. Get a 0% interest promotional rate, and when the rate goes up, just switch to another card. We did this for awhile, but there comes a point when you have so much debt that the credit card companies stop even offering this to you. Or if they do, it's only for a small credit limit of $1500.00 or something. And when you have as much debt as we do, that just doesn't even begin to make a dent in it.

You know the card I told you about that went from 3.99% to 34.99% and we paid it off? Dan wanted me to close it, but I decided to keep it open to see if they would make us some great balance transfer offer. Since the card was cut up, I didn't worry about accumulating more debt just by keeping the account active. Citicards made a few attempts to get us to put something on the card, but none of the offers were that great. Then finally, 6 months after the account having a $0 balance, they offered us a 4.99% fixed-until-paid-in-full rate on balance transfers, up to our full credit limit. I got excited, thinking I'd like to get rid of that 28.99% card that was killing us on finance charges.

But, drat! That card was also through Citicards and you can't transfer a balance from the same institution. I almost just forgot about the balance transfer, but then realized maybe I could strike up a deal. I had been calling on that 28.99% card every couple of months to see if they would lower the interest rate, but they wouldn't. So I called today and told them I was interested in doing a large balance transfer with the 4.99% fixed offer, but only if they would lower the interest rate on the other card to 12% or lower. Wouldn't you know, they reviewed my high interest rate account and found that I "qualified" for a 12.99% interest rate. Funny how acquiring more of my money in new debt made me suddenly "eligible" for a lower interest rate on the other card. Just goes to show you that they're not there to help you out, they're there to make money.

The bottom line is that the change will save us at least a couple hundred dollars a month in finance charges and will decrease our payments remaining by about 18 months. It's so easy to get frustrated with credit card companies, but if you start doing the smart thing (cut up the cards and hammer away on the payments) you can start negotiating much better terms.

Mostly I just wanted to brag that I finally won one with the credit card companies today. Yay me!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I think (hope) I've been bitten by the Creativity Bug

It's been quite some time since I've done any scrapbooking. I've been so busy and never have the energy to drag out all the supplies and try to be creative. I've been a little stressed about the fact that I'm having a new baby in 3 months and I'm not anywhere near being done with Amelia's baby book. For Lily I did a 12x12 album of her first year and admitted defeat after that, agreeing with myself that if I could just do a book of each child's first year, that would just have to be good enough.

Occasionally I get emails from Creating Keepsakes and Simple Scrapbooks magazines telling about new products and such. I usually just delete them, knowing I'm not going to do any scrapbooking until I have the rest of my client photo work done and off my conscience (still designing 3 albums.) A few nights ago I was up at about 3:00am with some wicked heartburn, so I stopped to browse the email announcing the Kit of the Month.

For the first time in a long time, I got excited about scrapbooking. There might just be hope for Mystery Boy to have a baby book. Check this puppy out:


It's everything you need to create a 12x12 baby album and everything is reversible so you can use it for a boy or girl. What really sold me on the kit was watching this video of Becky Higgins showing off the kit. I love the journaling cards and the cool skinny sections for writing details about each month. I also like the family tree section, the time capsule section, and the sections for mom and dad to write something. The kit also includes several memorabilia pockets and divided sheet protectors so you don't have to do a full-on layout on every page. When I found out the whole thing only cost $44.95, I knew I had to have it.

Here's hoping I'll be creative during the long cold winter in Cokeville!