Saturday, December 31, 2016

Screen-Free Week

Have you ever done all the work to get together with friends or family just to have this happen?? 

More and more we are distracted by and obsessed with our smart devices.  Our family consists of three young children (8, 6, and 4), so they only have LeapPad devices on which they can play games, draw, and watch videos.  But between the LeapPads, TV, and the grow-ups' cell phones and computers, it is SUPER easy to get wrapped up in individual activities for long periods of time without interacting with another human (who, by the way, may or may not be sharing the couch with you). 

In December, as school was wrapping up for the holidays, we were feeling the crunch of running between school, basketball practices and games, swim lessons twice a week, Bible studies and started realizing that we were so exhausted all the time, when we actually WERE all at home together, we were too tired to spend good, quality time together.

So I started contemplating how we could squeeze more time out of our days and realized that we spend more time in front of our screens than we should.  I started googling the idea of having a screen-free week, and surprisingly, I didn't really find much in the way of information, ideas, or stories of personal experience.  HAS NOBODY EVER ATTEMPTED THIS??

What I determined is that the families that steer clear of an overabundance of screen time probably aren't blogging about it BECAUSE IT'S THEIR NORMAL.  It was not for us, so Hubs and I discussed the idea of doing a screen-free week.  SEVEN. DAYS.  I have to be honest here....We were scared. How can I go a week without knowing what's happening on Grey's Anatomy??? How would Hubs survive a week without late-night video games??  I just didn't think it could happen.  

But, we presented the idea to the kids and they were ON BOARD IMMEDIATELY!  We quickly came up with a list of things we could do together with all of our found time. Most would cost $0 but a few would take a few bucks to pull off.  We made a super long list - here's what it said:

  • Play a family board game
  • Take a trip to the library - our library has toys and puzzles you can play with in the children's section and my kids love spending time there.
  • Make salt dough ornaments
  • Bake cookies for someone else
  • Paint/make homemade Christmas cards
  • Make a no-sew pillow/blanket
  • Write a book report and present to family
  • Paint plates at pottery place - I have this idea I'm really excited about that would involve us painting one dinner plate each, in our own design, so that we could each have our own plate at home that we created!! I think this would be really cool!
  • Workbook activities (letters, math, etc...)
  • Organize mom & dad's room
  • Clean out garage
  • Write a story together
  • Draw coloring pages
  • Take a walk/treasure hunt at the mall
  • Snowball fight/sledding
We started our screen-free week on a Saturday, about two weeks before Christmas. We were going to do it for seven days.  No screens with the exception of needing to pay bills or text someone if it was really necessary, but no games, no social media, no web browsing, no TV or movies for seven days.

Saturday, we went to Benji's basketball game at his school and then we came home to play outside and then warm up with grilled cheese and tomato soup, our new favorite wintertime lunch meal.  We took a trip to Target and picked up Phase 10 and a new-to-us game, Pandemic that we learned with some friends a couple of weeks before.  That night, we played some games together as a family and then Hubs and I played about six games of Pandemic once the kids went to bed!


Sunday, we went to church and then came home to watch the Bears game (the ONLY TV exception because we're a football family and we watch together). That afternoon, the kids played and read some books and we had family clean-up time (basically we clean up together for one hour and try to cross off as many items as possible in that time).

Monday, everyone was back at school or at work, then after school, our cousin's three-year-old who goes to school with Calah was over for a couple hours until her mom came home from work.  Then we ran off to swim lessons and by the time we came home, it was bedtime!  Hubs and I played Pandemic after the kids were in bed again, trying to build our way up to the highest level of difficulty there is in the game. 

Tuesday, our boys had their Christmas program at school. Josiah, 1st grade, sang Winter Wiggles.  Follow that link - it's a cute song and you'll be singing it for the rest of the day. You're welcome.  Benji's class wasn't until that afternoon, with a two-and-a-half hour break in between the two, so Hubs and I took the opportunity to use our gift card from our extremely generous friend that we've had since the end of the school year for Ted's Montana Grill. (THANK YOU MANDY!!) It's SOOOO good!! They serve beef AND bison there. MMMmmmm!!  We had some good conversation and juicy bison burgers! We even saved room for dessert.  Then we hurried back to the school to watch Benji's class sing the theme song from The Polar Express.  They did a great job with all the lyrics and were so cute in their PJs and robes!  

Our trip to Ted's Montana Grill - Bolingbrook


Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, we were back at school, work, homework, and activities, then bed.
That's how we spent our screen-free week! It went by in a flash and we were so busy most days, that having no screens just meant we focused more on behavior, played a few games, and the kids read a little more than usual.  I cleaned a little more than usual and Hubs and I spent more time after the kids went to bed each night.

My Takeaways

It's nice to reconnect with my husband once the kids are in bed.  We have spent so many years doing our separate things between the hours of 8pm and 12am because that felt like the only time we had to either get things done or relax (by playing video games and watching TV).  It turned into a few arguments but overall, SO worth it!

I'm not reaching for the remote anymore. Since the screen-free week, which was about two weeks ago, I have watched Hulu maybe a handful of times.  In fact, the other day, I went to turn on a show and found myself to not be interested in any of them at all!  This is a major shift for me and I feel like it will be a long-lasting one.

So, that's it! It was not as hard as I thought it would be and there was nothing super magical about it.  We just spent a little more time paying attention to each other!  I want to do this again maybe for a day at a time so we can actually get to the other things on our want-list.

What does screen time look like in your house?  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Living on $30 for over a week

Our family has been following Dave Ramsey's get-out-of-debt plan since the beginning of 2009.  Hubs and I took the class at our then-church, using the DVDs and workbooks to learn the Baby Steps to get out of debt and build wealth.  At that time, we had been married almost four years and our oldest son was about to turn 1.

We had approximately $41,000 in debt on mostly student loans but about $5,000 of that was on credit cards.  In addition to this overwhelming debt, we also had a mortgage on a house that dropped in value with the economic downturn the previous year.  After the second week of the class (Financial Peace University, or FPU), Hubs lost his job.

At times, in previous years of our marriage, we survived with only my income and other times, Hubs worked on commission or jobs that did not merit long-lasting loyalty.  But God provided and at those times, we lived in a cheap apartment, did not eat out very often and had no kids! But in 2009, we had a mortgage of $1400/month (not even including taxes because our original loan was SO sub-prime that they didn't even escrow our property taxes!) a soon-to-be one-year-old, mounting debt, and only one full-time income.  I am SO SO thankful how God worked all of this out though!

During the time we experienced the job loss, we were in the process of re-financing our home as part of a special program to help out underwater home-owners such as ourselves.  We were still able to close on the new loan, cutting our interest rate in HALF before Hubs received his last check.  That saved us almost $300/month!  While looking for jobs, Hubs worked part-time as a consultant to the employer that had just laid him off and receiving unemployment benefits to tide us over.  (The company was slowly downsizing and later filed bankruptcy.)  Since this all happened in 2009, jobs were NOT abundant.  People with masters degrees were taking clerical jobs for which they were well over-qualified!

Anyway, back to the story, because of FPU, we had saved our baby emergency fund of $1,000 and developed our get-out-of-debt plan and set about working the debt snowball.  So when Hubs lost his job unexpectedly, instead of freaking out, we felt a sense of peace because we had a plan!

Our actual debt snowball from 2009

Minimum Payment
New Payment
Paid Off
Capital One
NCC Debt
Student Loans

Fast forward almost eight years later, we have had several years of unemployment or underemployment, some poor financial choices, but also many victories including paying off all of our student loans and credit cards!  However, because of some of the poor choices more recently, we now have a car payment for the first time in a long time and a small credit card balance.  

Hubs and I have struggled for years in sticking to our plan, we've been impulsive, we've eaten out so many more times than I'd like to count and it has brought us to this I'VE HAD IT moment where we are renewing our commitment to work together and really get serious about our debt snowball.  It's much smaller than the original one, so it should not take nearly as long this time around!  

Our goal is to move sometime next summer and it is a lofty goal because we'd like to be out of debt completely and have a certain amount of money saved before we even entertain the idea.  For the first time in almost 10 years of home-ownership, our house is finally CLOSE to having some equity!!!! After feeling "stuck" here for many years, it is so relieving to finally be here, the light at the end of the tunnel almost within our reach! 

So are you wondering what this post's title is all about??

Well, this week was such a game-changer for us, in my opinion! It was a non-paycheck week, we had some extra expenses come up and that left us with $30.49 in our bank account.  Normally, we'd use the one credit card we have to still spend what we needed and pay it off later, but it was maxed out.  Alternatively, we could transfer money from our savings account, but it was empty.  So, we had $30.49 available to us for eleven days.  It seemed like an eternity!  That wasn't enough for a full tank of gas or to eat out even ONCE for our family.  

How would you survive on $30 for eleven days?? 

Typically, our family life is a bit overwhelming, chaotic, and hectic.  We have the feeling of chasing time to catch back up after all of our various activities are complete for the day.  Well, NOT THIS WEEK!  Hubs was on a work trip for four days and I knew I had to get organized to survive, so I wrote down the dinner plan for the rest of the month and stuck it on the fridge.  The kids loved knowing what was going to be for dinner which held me to the plan.  Typically, I'd make a plan and then in a moment of sheer exhaustion, decide to grab fast food on the way instead. After each planned dinner, we crossed it off the list and looked forward to the next day's meal.  It was so eye-opening for me - such a simple thing to get the kids involved and hold myself accountable! It's like when you have a goal and you're afraid to say it out loud because then you actually have to do it.  Oh, you've never done that?? Yeah, me neither.

The week BEFORE Thanksgiving, I started to get sick, probably picking it up from kids at the public schools where I had substitute taught.  The week OF Thanksgiving, I was still coughing and just feeling exhausted.  Two of the kids ended up getting sick over Thanksgiving.  Hubs and our oldest son, Benji went off to Thanksgiving dinner without us on Thursday.  Benji had a basketball game Friday afternoon and we all went to cheer him on.  Besides those two occasions, we locked ourselves in the house from Wednesday evening until we went to church on Sunday!  IT WAS AWESOME.

Hubs made us all amazing lunches and dinners each day with food we had in the house already, with the exception of two trips to the grocery store, totaling $15.15 for things like eggs, garlic bread, and some other fillers for our meals.  Sunday night, I spent $10 to get enough gas to hold me over until payday (just a few days away now!), so we're left with $5.  

During this process, Hubs and I were able to communicate and come to an easy agreement on how to proceed.  It's such a simple, simple thing to do.  Yet it can really change the trajectory of your life.  I'm looking forward to 2017 because this past week has really taught me some good lessons on how conducting myself like an adult instead of a petulant child can really help me with my goals.  In other words, obedience to God's ways means He will trust me with more to manage for His glory.  After all, the Bible tells us, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." - Luke 16:10

Here's to working towards being trustworthy in God's eyes!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Family Times

Since December, I have been at home, trying to carve out my new path, and I have been keeping pretty busy!

I decided to become a substitute teacher since it is a great, flexible way to earn some money.  I began the process over Christmas break and finally completed my final step last week, just before spring break.  I am looking forward to finally getting into a classroom; hopefully I'll be able to get over my nerves after I sub the first couple of times.  

Also, as I've mentioned in my previous posts, I'm also starting a small business.  I have been working a lot on developing the foundation of the business and am ready to just start working, but I know I have to slow down and start if off right so it can have a chance to succeed.

I've also been doing some babysitting before and after school, which has been a lot of fun.  And as an added bonus, my kids love having their friends over all the time.

I have been slacking on my organizational projects around the house but I think I've been bitten by the spring cleaning bug because I'm ramping up and getting my supplies and my lists ready to do some serious purging and deep cleaning.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably saw my post on the Garage Embarrassment - I had to temporarily take down that post because of some missing images that I need to fix.  Well, we clean out our garage twice per year and it always ends up looking like it did before.  Last fall, we did some more purging and reorganizing of the garage and it started to look really good but since then, things have just been dumped in there again.  So, my goal for this spring is to finish that purge that we started last fall and start using all of the tool storage units that we have.  Tools have always been a big issue in our garage so hopefully once that's under control, it will be a little easier to keep it organized.  (Pray for us on this - it's been a struggle in such a tight space; the garage is our only storage and we don't like just getting rid of stuff but keeping it all hasn't been beneficial for our sanity, either.)

Also, I have felt the HUGE RELIEF of stress since I haven't been working and we've actually been able to spend more quality family time over the past few months.  Our kids are at a great age right now because we can finally all play a game together, take a walk around our neighborhood, or participate in an activity like mini golf.  Here are some images of our family fun over the past few months:

This final picture of the five of us was taken for the website of the new church where Greg has just been hired to be the Children's Ministry Director! We are so thankful and excited for this new chapter and acknowledge that God's hand has been directing us and guiding us throughout the past two years, the hardest time of our lives to this point.  God is faithful and His love for us never quits!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Goals - End of 1st Qtr Update

Time for a GOALS update!

So, my first goal for 2016 is....Start a small business.   Do much more reading and research on the subject.  Test out some ideas on friends and family.  Drive down to a more specific niche and market.  Meet set financial goals for business. 3/31 Update: I've registered my business and started work on my website and materials, so I need to finish these so I can launch.  I'm so excited to share more with you guys soon!

Second goal....Read two non-fiction books per month, one of which should be either a biography or about a time in history.  This is not an ambitious goal for most of you, but I need to start somewhere.  I don't tend to make reading a priority, mostly because of the normally-crazy pace that we keep with careers and running after three kids.  I feel this goal is attainable and I don't want to set a crazy high bar for myself that I know I won't meet. 3/31 Update:  I haven't read any biographies at all but have read a couple more personal development books in relation to my business.  I don't see me having the time to stay faithful to this goal at this point, but I will try to make a list and start working on it.

Third goal...Pay off last debt in Baby Step 2, our minivan.  We have been on this journey of paying off our debt since 2009, way longer than I thought it would be, but we have made a lot of progress with varying incomes over the years and this is our last one finally! 3/31 Update: This is still a work in progress and will probably be for a while.

Fourth goal...Spiritual growth in discipline.  This one is not as measurable, obviously, but I have been praying over and working on my discipline for the past few months.  More specifically, with food choices and money spent on bad food choices.  Mostly fast food and eating out with my family.  Since I have been at home for the past three weeks, I have had a few temptations of impulse but have not given in!! That alone is a victory in itself.  Because I know that we won't be going out to eat much this year, I've allowed myself to buy treats at the grocery store that I never bought before.  I feel like it's still a better option to buy some less-than-superfood food from the store in lieu of fast food any day.  3/31 Update: This one has actually seen some progress.  Hubs and I are following a new food lifestyle that has helped with my temptations but recently we have allowed ourselves to eat out more than I would really like to admit.  Starting in April, we're getting back on track.  But, the LORD has identified some more specific growth areas to delve into and has blessed me with many opportunities to rest in His truth and see some improvement.

As we start the 2nd quarter of the year, is it time for you to review and re-evaluate your goals?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Smoothie Recipe & New Workout routine

I have a habit of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into my smoothies with no advanced planning.  It always seems like a good idea at the time but I have gone wrong so many times with this method (but you'd better believe I still drank those smoothies.  I hate wasting food; I may or may not have been known to turn myself into a human garbage can if my kids leave food on their plate on occasion).  The past several days have been nutritional failures.  This morning, I was ready to get back on track, so after I took the kids to school, I decided it was time to torture myself with a Jillian Michaels' workout.  

In January, I started working out 3-4 days per week at home with Jillian's 30-day Shred, Level 1 of course.  Ho-ly Mo-ly was that tough!! The first week, I just felt like dying, puking, and passing out!! I knew I was out of shape but this was quite pathetic!  But don't let that scare you because after the first week or so, it did get easier.  I started off only completing about 80% of the workout and by the end of January, I could do the whole workout and finally, at the end of last week, I moved up to Level 2.  Moving up to Level 2 made me feel like I was starting all over again because Level 2 was much more challenging for me.  But the great thing to keep in mind here is that Level 1 got easier after a couple of weeks, so Level 2 will probably feel the same in that way.  And BTW, these are only 20 minute workouts; you can do just about anything for 20 minutes!  

This past week, I switched to Jillian's Ripped in 30 video.  This one includes a 30 day meal plan and the workouts are broken up into four weeks/levels.  In this video, Jillian recommends working out 5-6 days per week, so I'm upping my game!  Again, Level 1 is tough, but has gotten easier to complete with each new day.  I have one more day of Level 1 and then I'll be moving up to Level 2.  I feel like I'm getting stronger already from this past month of working out. 

After these high intensity workouts, I felt like I needed a super-nutrient packed smoothie afterwards.  So, I looked through my pantry and again just started dumping fruits and fillers into my Ninja blender and some were better than others.  I like that I can play around with different healthy foods for different tastes and textures.  

Last week, I discovered a new smoothie recipe using my dumping method and thought I would share it with you because it really was tasty and super-packed with good stuff.  I like this because it has a significant amount of protein and fiber, but the sugar content, albeit all natural, is probably higher than the ideal amount.  (Warning: If you don't like texture to your smoothie, you may want to change it up slightly.)

I'd love to hear what you guys think of this smoothie. I'm also curious if you have a favorite smoothie recipe, particularly a post-workout smoothie.  I'm always looking for new, yummy mixtures!



This recipe is for a single serving.  It can easily be doubled or tripled as desired.


1 c


1/2 c



1/4 c

1 tbsp

2 tbsp

Baby spinach leaves

Gala apple, small

Avocado slice, small

Almond Milk, Unsweetened

Chia Seeds


1.     Cut the fruits into quarters or smaller.
2.     Blend all of the fruits together in a blender until liquid.
3.     Pour in the almond milk, spinach leaves, chia seeds, and gelatin. Blend until desired texture.

NOTE: The chia seeds and small bits of spinach will add a texture to this smoothie.  Halve them if a smoother consistency is preferable.

Also, you can add ice if you prefer smoothies more chilled.

+ All of the links used in this post are affiliate links.  This means that if you buy the product using this link, I earn a tiny commission for referring you.

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