Archive for May 31, 2012

How I Planned a Teacher Appreciation Banquet and What I Cooked

A few months ago, I had an idea to honor the teach­ers at our church. Our teach­ers sac­ri­fice so much of their time, not just on Sun­day morn­ing, Sun­day after­noon, Wednes­day morn­ing, or Wednes­day night when they actu­ally teach, but also in the time they spend out­side of class plan­ning and prepar­ing and pray­ing. I wanted them to know that I—as a par­ent of three chil­dren and as a stu­dent in sev­eral adult Bible classes—appreciate them.

I thus decided to host a Teacher Appre­ci­a­tion Ban­quet for all the teach­ers in our church—from cra­dle roll to youth to adults to men’s and women’s classes. I had been to one of these din­ners before at a dif­fer­ent church when my hus­band was invited to be the guest speaker, and I thought it was a great idea then. Noth­ing like this had been done in the almost three years I have been at this church, so now was the right time.

With­out talk­ing to any­one except Shane, I put together a pro­posal for the elders at our church (yes, I teach tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional writ­ing and must prac­tice what I preach when it comes to ideas and sug­ges­tions). This pro­posal was com­plete with a ratio­nale, bud­get, and agenda. I then dis­trib­uted it to the elders who dis­cussed it, thought it was a great idea, and approved it. They even told me they would like to help serve the food. Great!

One thing that sur­prised me through this process was when I learned that noth­ing like this had ever been done before at this church (at least accord­ing to the peo­ple I talked to). I’m not sure why, but I can only guess that it didn’t hap­pen because the peo­ple who would have done this are all teach­ers them­selves. Most (not all) of the really involved peo­ple at our church teach and would not have planned this for themselves.

I began tak­ing pic­tures and shoot­ing video footage of all the chil­dren and youth. I decided on music for the video (it’s hard to beat Ray Boltz’s “Thank You”), and then our youth min­is­ter put the video together. I mailed invi­ta­tions to all of our teach­ers, planned the menu, bought the food, ordered gifts, and bought lovely rose bou­quets for the tables.

The day of the event comes. I had orig­i­nally intended to ask par­ents of chil­dren and youth whose kids are blessed through these teach­ers to help me pre­pare the meal. I thought that was a great idea, but the din­ner ended up falling on Memo­r­ial Day when many of our young fam­i­lies were busy or out-of-town. So, it was just me and two other people.

Ter­rie, a sweet woman who is always quick to vol­un­teer to help out.

And Terrie’s daugh­ter Hol­lie. I did not know Hol­lie very well before­hand because she cur­rently lives in another town a few hours away, but she just took a teach­ing posi­tion here and will soon be mov­ing back and wanted to help out.

My Helper!

Hol­lie, and I had a great time prepar­ing the meal. We blabbed the whole time and the six hours we were there went by very quickly (The only way I knew how long I had truly been up there cook­ing was by how badly my feet hurt!). Here’s Hol­lies blog post about the event.

Here was the menu:

Straw­berry Pecan Salad

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Apple­wood Smoked Bacon Pork Ten­der­loin and Din­ner Rolls

Applewood Bacon Pork Loin Roast

Twice-Baked Pota­toes
I used the Pio­neer Woman’s recipe. It is def­i­nitely the best recipe I’ve ever tried. A healthy-minded per­son can­not have these

Twice-Baked Potatoes by Pioneer Woman

Green Bean Bun­dles
Hol­lie wrapped at least 200 of these! The Green Bean Bun­dles I make have but­ter, soy sauce, Worces­ter­shire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pep­per. Yum.

Green Bean Bundles

Green Bean Bundles and Twice-Baked Potatoes--Yum!

Daz­zle Berry Pie (a light and tart rasp­berry dish that my sis­ter gave me and I have adapted somewhat)

Dazzle Berry Pie

Here I am hold­ing one of these yummy pies (notice my Sonic drink in the background!).

Holding one of the TEN Dazzle Berry Pies I made.

The tables with the flow­ers (beau­ti­fully arranged by Terrie)

Teacher Appreciation Banquet Tables

Each teacher also received this pitcher as a gift. (I got a great deal on the pitch­ers, thanks to Jes­sica Turner at The Mom Cre­ative).

Simple Graces Pitcher Given to All Teachers

I end this post in the same way our video did: In the words of 3-year-old Mal­lory, “I love you, teachers.”

I hope you have been blessed by a teacher.

How I Created a Budget: A Story Involving a Church Plant, a Spreadsheet, Cash, and Envelopes

Yes­ter­day, my post on 12 Tips for Sav­ing Money res­onated with you. Within 4 hours, this blog post quickly moved to fourth on my list of most-read blog posts. The three posts receiv­ing more hits than that one are these:

#1: Run­ning around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More
#2: Up In the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Mar­riage Is Dif­fi­cult
#3: Why I’m Uncom­fort­able with Mother’s Day

Since you seem some­what inter­ested in money and how to save it, I decided to fol­low yesterday’s post with another post on this topic. Today, I’m writ­ing about how (and why) I cre­ated a bud­get and what it has done for me and my fam­ily. This process involves a story, a spread­sheet, cash, and envelopes.

Cash System

First, the story. In 2006, Shane and I lived in Gatesville, Texas. We had been mar­ried for four years, and Shane was a preacher at a church there. I had just fin­ished my Ph.D. in May of that year and began work­ing at Bay­lor in August of the same year. I was finally mak­ing a salary after so many years liv­ing off of Shane’s salary and a mea­ger grad­u­ate school stipend. We were excited about almost dou­bling our income and begin­ning the process of pay­ing off school loans and other debt we had accrued, includ­ing our car loan, loans on some appli­ances, and our mort­gage. Luck­ily, we did not have credit card debt. We only had one kid. We didn’t really need a budget.

Shane liked his job, and we loved that church (our first child was born there and those peo­ple and that church will always hold spe­cial places in our hearts), but we felt a desire to reach out to “non-church” peo­ple. Peo­ple who didn’t know about Jesus. Peo­ple who hated the church or who had been burned by “church peo­ple.” We wanted to reach out to, meet, and befriend the so-called “unchurched” or “dechurched.” We had heard about Mis­sion Alive, a church-planting orga­ni­za­tion, and became inter­ested in this thing called“church plant­ing. After many months of pray­ing and plan­ning and prepar­ing, we decided to move to Waco at the end of 2007 to plant The Grove Church.

Dur­ing the tran­si­tion time (or the “in-between” time as Shane called it in one of his blog posts at the time), from the time we decided to plant until we moved (which was about one year), I began to think seri­ously about our money. Like I said before, I’ve always been a saver, but now we were about to have to raise money for Shane’s salary and the church’s oper­at­ing expenses. This was not a part of the church plant­ing process that we liked. So much was unknown. We didn’t know how much money we could raise or how much money we would need to live on in Waco where we would soon be mov­ing to a new, big­ger, and more expen­sive house. We did not want to rely on the gen­eros­ity of oth­ers for very long (less than three years). In the worst-case sce­nario, I wanted to be pre­pared to live off my salary alone if we had to.

So, in late 2005 at the very begin­ning of our dream­ing and con­ver­sa­tions on church plant­ing (years before we took any action), I cre­ated a bud­get in an Excel spread­sheet. I looked online to deter­mine what cat­e­gories I needed for my bud­get. I decided on 18 cat­e­gories, rang­ing from House­hold Pur­chases, Sav­ing, and Gro­ceries, to Giv­ing Stu­dent Loans, and indi­vid­ual bills (cable, inter­net, phone, water, elec­tric­ity, etc.). I then input Shane’s salary (I was writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion and bring­ing home zero dol­lars) and divvied up the money accord­ing to his pay­check. I fol­lowed the bud­get for three months, all the while adjust­ing it accord­ing to what I really spent.

After I started work­ing and bring­ing money home a few years later, I decided to imple­ment a cash enve­lope sys­tem. Here’s what this sys­tem entailed: I wrote out all the cat­e­gories in our bud­get on var­i­ous envelopes (see pic­ture), which had been extended to about 35 dif­fer­ent items.

Some of the Budget Categories I Use

When we got our monthly pay­checks, I went to the bank and took out the amount of cash I needed for that month’s envelopes. I then put the right amount of cash in each of the envelopes. We used the cash until it ran out, and we were very dili­gent about not steal­ing from one enve­lope if we had run out in another one.

I took the envelopes with me when I shopped. I even found a nifty checkbook-size orga­nizer that had eight dif­fer­ent sec­tions in it to carry around the cash I needed when I shopped. The sys­tem worked great. It did take me a while to get “caught up.” What I mean by this is that before begin­ning the cash sys­tem, I paid my bills based on the pay­checks for that month. With the cash sys­tem, how­ever, I had to have enough money in the envelopes before I spent the money. This meant that I had to have money in the envelopes and the bank. It was a process to be able to save enough money for this to hap­pen, but it did.

Around this same time, I also decided to read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. I found many of his prin­ci­ples help­ful, espe­cially the ones about reduc­ing debt, namely pay­ing off the loans with the least amount of debt (which we did with my stu­dent loan, our freezer pur­chase, and two of our car pay­ments). I also liked his sug­ges­tion to have a $1,000 emer­gency fund for use in, well, emer­gen­cies. If you had to use the money, then your imme­di­ate goal was to replace it.

One note about the book: I did not imple­ment Ramsey’s prin­ci­ple of abstain­ing from giv­ing (or “tithing”, as he called it) until you are com­pletely out of debt. No mat­ter how much money you make or have or how much debt you are in, I think it’s impor­tant to give some of it away through­out the process of get­ting out of debt. If we all wait until we are com­pletely debt-free, we will NEVER give any­thing. Remem­ber the widow in the Book of Luke? She gave all she had, even in her poverty. One of my friends did recently tell me, how­ever, that he has since revised his stance on this issue (good!), but I’m not sure what he advo­cates now.

For sev­eral years, I car­ried around a lot of cash. Cash for gro­ceries, house­hold pur­chases, baby, hair­cuts, med­ical expenses, and a few other cat­e­gories. How­ever, this all changed two years ago when my hus­band and I went to see Wicked at Faire Park in Dal­las. While we were eat­ing lunch, some­one stole my big orga­nizer with all my cash right out of my purse (my driver’s license, social secu­rity card, and credit cards were also inside–ugh). I lost thou­sands of dollars.

I thus dis­cov­ered a flaw in the sys­tem. A HUGE FLAW.

I began look­ing for other ways to uti­lize this sys­tem. I decided to still uti­lize the cash sys­tem but to do so with­out hav­ing to take out so much cash each month. I decided to orga­nize it all in a spread­sheet and to just keep track of it elec­tron­i­cally. It has worked even better.

Today, our bud­get con­tains 57 items in the list. Shane thinks I’m crazy for how detailed it is, but it works for me (and him, I think). I am con­stantly adjust­ing the items and the amount des­ig­nated to each item because dif­fer­ent expenses come up as your sit­u­a­tion changes.

And what have been the results? We have a bal­anced bud­get. I don’t stress over money. I adjust the bud­get when nec­es­sary. We have paid off or got­ten rid of at least seven loans (2 school loans, 2 car loans, 1 fur­ni­ture loan, and 2 large appli­ances). We have not accrued any more debt. We now save in advance for cars rather than pay­ing for them after we buy them. We only spend what we have. We have gained finan­cial peace.

I want to leave you with a list of five bud­get cat­e­gories that have helped me in one way or another. These may not be the typ­i­cal items you will include in your bud­get, but they have been help­ful to me so I’ll share them with you.

1. “School Fees”, one enve­lope for each child you have (this includes teacher gifts, school sup­plies, school pic­tures, field trip money, t-shirt money, and all those other expenses that come up once kids start school).

2. “Extracur­ric­u­lar Activ­i­ties.” Includes tee-ball and other sports for your kids, as well as piano lessons, swim lessons, or art lessons. It can also include art, cook­ing, or ten­nis lessons for your­self (This cat­e­gory could also include the gym, but I typ­i­cally have a sep­a­rate item for it when I have been a mem­ber of the gym since it’s a recur­ring fee). You could also include going to the movies or other fam­ily activities.

3. “Babysit­ting.” If you want to have a Date Night with your sig­nif­i­cant other, or if you are a sin­gle mom/dad and want to go out at night, this enve­lope is a MUST. Sav­ing for a babysit­ter is also good incen­tive to actu­ally go on the date. You already have the money saved, so go spend it.

4. “Christ­mas.” I have a “Gift” enve­lope for birth­day par­ties, hol­i­days, and other spe­cial occa­sions, but I have found that I am more con­scious about how much I spend on Christ­mas and what I buy when I have a spe­cial enve­lope des­ig­nated for Christ­mas. Begin­ning in Jan­u­ary, I start putting money in this enve­lope. By the time Christ­mas comes around, I know exactly how much I have to spend, and it is there before I spend it. No wor­ries. No fuss. I have also noticed that I spend much less than I did before. It’s not because we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the money to spend; it’s just that I became aware of how much money I spent on Christ­mas and real­ized that it was way too much…and not even what Christ­mas is about for me any­way. If you don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas (or if you don’t spend enough to war­rant a sep­a­rate enveloped), then maybe you can think of a dif­fer­ent occasion.

5. “Work Expenses.” I have two sep­a­rate Work envelopes–one for Shane and one for me. We both have expenses for our jobs (most of them are for books we need to buy). It’s impor­tant to item­ize all of these small items so that you don’t mess up the budget.

Thanks for reading.

Twelve Tips for Saving Money

I am a saver. I like to save money. I like a bargain.

When I was grow­ing up, my dad required my three sib­lings and I to keep three jars: one labeled Sav­ing, one labeled Spend­ing, and the third labeled God. When we received money of any kind, Three Money Jarswhether it be our mea­ger allowance ($1.00-$3.00) or birth­day or Christ­mas money, we were required to divide the money evenly between the three jars. He wanted us to know how impor­tant it was to save, only spend what was avail­able, and give away a large por­tion of our money as well (33%).

Two of my jars were always full. Can you guess which ones? If you guessed Sav­ing and Spend­ing, you would be cor­rect. I even saved my spend­ing money.

I guess my dad dis­cov­ered I was a saver early on because by the time I was eight, he put me in charge of bal­anc­ing the fam­ily check­book (some of you young peo­ple don’t even know what that means!). This was a big respon­si­bil­ity and I took it seri­ously. My hus­band thinks it is hilar­i­ous that I bal­anced the check­book because of how poor my math skills are. Bal­anc­ing the check­book taught me some things about money. I learned the true value of a buck. I learned how impor­tant it is to only spend what you have. I learned the impor­tance of organization.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become even more of a saver. I espe­cially like it when I can save money in one place (elec­tric­ity, gas, hous­ing, gro­ceries, etc.) so I can either save it or spend it on some­thing I really like spend­ing my money on, such as trav­el­ing with my hus­band or kids.

For today’s 12 Series, I give you twelve tips for sav­ing money.

1. Cook (and eat) at home. Buy­ing food, cook­ing it, and eat­ing it–at home–is much cheaper than eat­ing out, espe­cially when you have more than two peo­ple to feed. Eat­ing out drains the bud­get and you will save money if you eat at home. The more peo­ple you have to feed, the more expen­sive it gets to eat out.

Eat­ing at home may not save a sin­gle per­son much money (I can’t speak to this any­more). But I do know that it can be quite cheap (even for one). If you’re scared by cook­ing, just try it. Begin with a recipe that takes 15 min­utes. You’ll be amazed how quick you pick it up. After ten years, I now like to cook and feel con­fi­dent in my skills. Plus, the food I make at home is much health­ier than the food in restau­rants around here. There are many rea­sons to eat at home.

Peo­ple often say it’s more expen­sive to cook healthy food. I don’t really agree with this assump­tion, espe­cially when you com­pare how full you get when you eat healthy food ver­sus how much more you eat when you eat junk food. But, even if you think healthy food is more expen­sive (which I don’t), I think it’s one area worth spend­ing the extra money on. Good food equals good health, and pay­ing extra for things that are good for my body and my spirit and my fam­ily is fine with me.

2. Don’t be enticed by mar­ket­ing ploys that promise “the best sale ever.” Seri­ously, don’t. Resist the temp­ta­tion to sign up for emails from Pot­tery Barn, Ann Tay­lor Loft, Pier One, Children’s Place, Old Navy, and all those other stores that offer big sales and discounts.

The goal of these emails is not to save you money, con­trary to the sub­ject line in the email. Their goal is to get you in their store so you will spend money.

If you hadn’t got­ten that email say­ing, “Every­thing at the store is 40% off!!”, you wouldn’t have gone to the store any­way! Unsub­scribe from these email alerts. Even when places offer coupons through email (like Bealls or Tar­get), you can often find them on their web­sites, or, when you are at the counter check­ing out, just ask if they have any coupons you can use and they will most likely give it to you or just apply the dis­count to your purchase.

Emails aren’t the only place retail­ers get you, though. TV com­mer­cials are another way they do it, espe­cially with our chil­dren. If you have DVR, skip through the com­mer­cials. If you don’t, tell your chil­dren to get up and go do some­thing dur­ing the com­mer­cials so they aren’t manip­u­lated into want­ing more “stuff” that just clut­ters your house and your life.

Do not be enticed. Resist temp­ta­tion. Flee from it…quickly. When we give in, we always end up spend­ing more money than we would have had we not known about these “sales” in the first place. Less is more.

3. Buy from Ama­zon. I have a lot of friends who refuse to buy from Ama­zon (or Wal-Mart) for moral rea­sons or for fear these big com­pa­nies will destroy small, local busi­nesses. I respect those posi­tions. I have thought them at one time or another.

But, ever since mov­ing to a small coun­try town, I have become Amazon-obsessed. Here’s why. Their stuff is com­pet­i­tively priced. I can get new and used stuff for low prices, prob­a­bly the cheap­est on the planet. I also live in a small town that doesn’t always have what I need, which means that I would have to drive 45 min­utes to one hour to get what I need. Gas is expen­sive and dri­ving that far takes up a lot of my time. So, I use Ama­zon. They deliver right to my door.

I also have a Prime mem­ber­ship, which one of my col­lege room­mates con­vinced me to get, and I’m so glad I lis­tened to her advice. Prime offers free two-day ship­ping on almost every­thing (even big, expen­sive things like play­ground equip­ment and fur­ni­ture), free returns, and free stream­ing on thou­sands of movies and TV shows (saves rental fees). I encour­age you to check it out.

I also shop at Ama­zon because of “Ama­zon Mom” (they also have Ama­zon stu­dent for col­lege stu­dents) and “Sub­scribe and Save.” I use Sub­scribe and Save to buy dia­pers, wipes, oat­meal, paper tow­els, and many other house­hold items. With the Ama­zon Mom dis­count added to the Sub­scribe and Save dis­count, you end up sav­ing a lot of money.

One last rea­son I use Ama­zon is because they are tax-free in Texas. I feel a bit guilty admit­ting this as a rea­son because I think we all have a respon­si­bil­ity to pay taxes to live here, but I also want to save money, so I still buy from them. This will all be chang­ing soon, though, because start­ing July 1, Ama­zon will no longer be tax-free in Texas. We can thank the Lone Star State for that! (Note the sar­casm.) They sued Ama­zon over back-taxes and reached a set­tle­ment, so now we all have to pay taxes. I guess I’ll be buy­ing a lot of items at our state’s annual tax-free week­end.

4. Buy in bulk. I try to avoid eat­ing a lot of non-perishable food items (see #2 above), and I eat food that is fresh, refrig­er­ated, or frozen as much as pos­si­ble (food located in the U-shape of the gro­cery store). How­ever, there are some items located in the cen­ter aisles that I do buy, and I try to buy in bulk when­ever pos­si­ble. I buy big­ger bags of cere­als, canned goods, snack foods, pasta, beans, and house­hold items like tooth­paste, sham­poo, and paper tow­els. We don’t have a Costco nearby, but there is a Sam’s Club in Waco where I buy most of my bulk items. I also buy a lot of these bulk goods at Ama­zon through Sub­scribe and Save.

5. Con­serve in your home. Turn out the lights in rooms you are not using (bet­ter yet, use nat­ural light). Adjust the ther­mo­stat accord­ing to your com­ings and goings (and don’t for­get to do it!). Buy a pro­gram­ma­ble ther­mo­stat that won’t let you for­get. Weath­er­proof your home. Don’t use as much water. Wash dishes by hand. Use more cold water.

6. Set a bud­get. Set­ting a bud­get and stick­ing to it has helped our fam­ily immensely. It also keeps me sane and lets me know where our money is going.

7. Don’t pur­chase books (printed or dig­i­tal) unless absolutely nec­es­sary and, if nec­es­sary, buy used. I’m sure this advice seems odd, given I’m an Eng­lish pro­fes­sor, but I believe spend­ing less on books is an impor­tant way to save, and it’s an easy expense to drop when you want to save money. Instead, check out books from the library. Most libraries now offer dig­i­tal lend­ing ser­vices where you can down­load books to your Kin­dle. And all of this is free. LibraryIf you have an Ama­zon Prime account (and a Kin­dle), you can check out Amazon’s Lend­ing Library where you can check out a vari­ety of books. They also have a vari­ety of free Kin­dle books for purchases–new ones are added all the time.

You can also ask your local library if they have an Inter­li­brary Loan (ILL) department.

If you live near a uni­ver­sity, see if you can get a library card there. You’ll have an even greater selec­tion to choose from and most of them have won­der­ful ILL Depart­ments where you can order any book you want from other libraries (and it’s free!). You can also bor­row books from friends or buy used books.

I am some­what hyp­o­crit­i­cal when it comes to children’s books and schol­arly books for my work. Although I use the library exten­sively in both of these cases, there are some books that I must own.

8. Shop con­sign­ment stores. I buy my chil­dren clothes from con­sign­ment stores (The only new clothes they get is given to them by their grand­par­ents.). I’m not at all ashamed of this because not only does it save money but it is also good for the envi­ron­ment. I also shop in the off-season when every­thing is on clear­ance. It’s get­ting a bit harder to find used clothes for Eliz­a­beth. She’s in a size 7/Medium and most clothes in her size are worn out because of how long chil­dren stay in one size. I can still find dresses and jeans, but t-shirts and shorts are much more difficult.

There are places that sell cheap kids’ clothes (i.e., Tar­get, Wal-Mart, Kohls, Ross, Mar­shalls), but I am some­what hes­i­tant to buy from these places because if it is THAT cheap to con­sumers, then most likely the per­son who made it was not paid a fair wage and that both­ers me (but that’s for a dif­fer­ent post).

9. Spend less. Spend­ing less doesn’t seem like it should be an entry on ways to save money because it’s so obvi­ous, but I think it’s an impor­tant one. If you spend less, you will save money. We live in a mate­ri­al­is­tic, com­pet­i­tive cul­ture that tells us to find our iden­tity in mate­r­ial things and stuff, but this doesn’t bring true ful­fill­ment or hap­pi­ness. Spend less. Just do it.

10. Gar­den. Our gar­den is begin­ning to pro­duce veg­eta­bles, and we are so excited. We’ve already eaten cucum­bers, zuc­chini, squash, and pep­pers from the gar­den and toma­toes, onions, and water­melon are almost ready. Last year, our gar­den pro­duced so many toma­toes that I was able to make mari­nara and pasta sauce for the entire year. We just ran out in March. That saved us a lot of money.

11. Pay bills online. I was a late­comer to online bill pay, but I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now, and I find it fast, con­ve­nient, cheap, and easy. No stamps. No envelopes. And it’s free (if you’re pay­ing for it, find a dif­fer­ent bank).

12. Spend only what you have. Here at Casa de Alexan­der, we use the Cash Sys­tem to help us spend only what we have. We take cash out each month (it’s all elec­tronic, so we don’t have all that cash lying around in our house, but it’s the the­ory). We have been able to get out of almost all of our debt by spend­ing only what we have in the bank.

These are just a few of my tips. I know there are hun­dreds of other ways to save money. I’d love to hear ideas of how you save money or spend less.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

When Shane and I first moved back to Texas from Ken­tucky, we lived in Gatesville, a small town about 45 min­utes west of Waco. Shane was the preacher at a church there. I became good friends with Amy, a girl who lived with her hus­band about 5 miles out­side of the town. When we talked at church or on the phone about what we would be doing the next day, she often told me, “I have to make a trip to town tomor­row.” The first time she used this phrase, I thought she meant that she would be dri­ving to Waco. That’s what I meant when I said I was dri­ving to town. Cool! Let’s go together. To me, dri­ving into town meant a long drive to the “big city.”

Living in the Country

Image cour­tesy of

But I soon learned that she did not mean that at all. Instead, when she said she would be dri­ving into town, she meant that she would be dri­ving the five miles into our town, not to Waco. She lived in the coun­try and “town” for her was Gatesville. I lived inside the city lim­its (and also came from the big city), so, to me, “town” was the big­ger city of Waco.

It was a mat­ter of perspective.

Last week I posted 12 rea­sons I like liv­ing in the coun­try. A lot of peo­ple read that post, and, since then, at least five peo­ple have told me, “You know you don’t really live in the coun­try.”* They have pointed out to me that since I have city water and city sewage, I do not live in the coun­try. They also used as evi­dence the fact that I do not have well water. No, I do not live in the coun­try, they say; I live in a “rural com­mu­nity,” “a small town.” One friend at my church even com­mented that she must have me out to their house so that I can see what liv­ing in the coun­try truly means.

In some sense, I agree with them. Yes, I do live in a city. It is rural and small, but it’s still a city. We have about 7,000 peo­ple liv­ing here. I do not have to “drive into town” for gro­ceries. I have neigh­bors. I have a city address. I live on a paved street. I do not have a well. I do not have a stock tank. I do not have cows or horses or pigs. I have inter­net access and it is fast. I have good cell ser­vice. We have 4G.

No, I do not live in the coun­try in the same sense my great-grandmother Meme did while she was alive. She lived in a single-wide trailer with noth­ing else around her for miles. No gro­cery stores, gas sta­tions, or schools. Not even a Wal-Mart. She used well water. She had cats run­ning all over the place. She had a big tank in her yard that we liked to climb all over. Skunks lived under her trailer and made a major mess of things. She lived in the country.

Shane’s grand­mother also lives in the coun­try. I love going out there to the ranch. She lives in the coun­try in a way that I do not.

But, in another sense, I do live in the coun­try. Although it may not be the coun­try in the tech­ni­cal sense of the word or in the same way my great-grandmother did, I still live in the coun­try in com­par­i­son to my expe­ri­ences of city life.

As I men­tioned before on this blog, I grew up in Hous­ton. For those of you who live in or have lived in big cities, this doesn’t need much expla­na­tion. For those of you who were part of my life in Hous­ton and knew what life was like for your­self and for me, you know what a state­ment like this means. Images of city life imme­di­ately take hold, and you can imag­ine what big city life is like.

But for oth­ers who have not lived in a city or a big­ger city, say­ing that may not mean very much.

When I grad­u­ated high school and first moved to Abi­lene for col­lege, I thought I had moved to the mid­dle of nowhere. Abi­lene was con­sid­ered a “small town” to those of us who came from big­ger cities. It was. About 150,000 peo­ple. Fast for­ward sev­eral years later to Gatesville: 10,000 people.

My def­i­n­i­tion of “small town” soon shifted. Gatesville was a small town; Waco was the “big city.”

How we regard life is a mat­ter of per­spec­tive. Where we’ve come from. Where we’ve been.

Our per­spec­tive shapes what we see. Our per­spec­tive lim­its what we see.

Only when we inter­act with oth­ers who come from dif­fer­ent places than we do, who have dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences, who believe dif­fer­ent things, can we truly under­stand how lim­ited, sit­u­ated, and incom­plete our per­spec­tive is.

Only when we get to know oth­ers can we truly grow in our own per­spec­tives.

*My hus­band was one of the peo­ple who told me that I am wrong, that, no, we do not live in the coun­try. I think this is inter­est­ing because, like me, he lived in big cities for most of his life. I think it’s even more inter­est­ing because he has  referred to where we live as the wilder­ness.

Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent arti­cle in Time mag­a­zine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blo­gos­phere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image cour­tesy of

Some authors have addressed the title of the arti­cle and all that it implies (com­pe­ti­tion, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sex­ism, iden­tity issues, etc.). Oth­ers have com­mented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is suck­ing on his mother’s bare breast while look­ing at the cam­era (how it is going to scar him for­ever, how pub­lic breast­feed­ing is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a heli­copter par­ent, etc., etc.). Most dis­cus­sions have addressed the topic of the arti­cle, attach­ment par­ent­ing.

I’ve read many com­men­taries on and responses to this arti­cle. (I par­tic­u­larly liked what my col­lege room­mate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provoca­tive post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Moth­er­less Child?”.

I have my own opin­ions on all of these mat­ters. I obvi­ously do not choose to do attach­ment par­ent­ing. I stopped nurs­ing my chil­dren when they were between 8–10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any cir­cum­stance, allow my chil­dren to sleep with me and my hus­band in our bed. I also work out­side the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the move­ment, dis­cour­ages women who want to incor­po­rate attach­ment par­ent­ing philoso­phies from doing.

I don’t love my chil­dren any less. I love them a lot, actu­ally. I believe it’s impor­tant help my chil­dren feel loved, safe, con­fi­dent, self-assured, and inde­pen­dent. I let my chil­dren play for long peri­ods of time with­out get­ting involved or inter­ject­ing my own agenda. I let them work out prob­lems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be cre­ative. I chal­lenge them.

Most moth­ers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many dif­fer­ent ways to mother. There are dif­fer­ent ways to be a mother. And there are dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of moth­ers and moth­er­hood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expec­ta­tions. Our cul­ture and the media (and some­times reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple) send the mes­sage that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pin­ter­est images attests to the per­va­sive­ness of soci­etal expec­ta­tions and norms.

But who are we to judge other moth­ers? Aren’t we all just try­ing our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the chil­dren in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.


My Favorite Children’s Books

One of our favorite things to do dur­ing the long sum­mer days at home is to read. We like to read through­out the year, but we des­ig­nate more time dur­ing the sum­mer for read­ing because we are home almost every day, we like it, and it’s a good skill to prac­tice and learn. It also fos­ters bond­ing, con­fi­dence, and independence.

One thing we did for the first time last year was par­tic­i­pate in a cou­ple of sum­mer read­ing pro­grams. Our local library always has a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram. They par­tic­i­pate in the State of Texas’ Library Association’s read­ing pro­gram. This year, the theme is “Get a Clue…at the Library.” Last year the theme was “Dig Up a Good Book.” Both Pey­ton and Eliz­a­beth, with my help, read 100 books dur­ing the month of July. I don’t know about you, but that is A LOT of books to read for one month (25 per week), and since I was help­ing both of them read, that was dou­ble for me! But, we all per­se­vered, (some­what begrudg­ingly by the end), and the kids felt so much pride in hav­ing read so many books and com­pleted the pro­gram. They espe­cially liked the cel­e­bra­tion at the end where they earned cer­tifi­cates and prizes. They were suc­cess­ful con­sumers of lit­er­acy, or “lit­er­acy win­ners” as I call it in a recent arti­cle pub­lished by CCC.

Other com­pa­nies like Barnes and Noble and Scholas­tic also have sum­mer read­ing pro­grams that often offer free books or incen­tives for kids who par­tic­i­pate. All in all, these pro­grams can moti­vate kids to read, encour­age par­ents to read with their kids and older sib­lings to read to younger sib­lings, and get you through the “I’m bored” talk of the long sum­mer days.

For today’s 12 series, I am going to list my favorite children’s books. Children’s books are both visual and ver­bal, beau­ti­ful in words and in art, and I really, really like them, espe­cially as a teacher of writ­ing and mul­ti­modal com­po­si­tion (using words and images and other modes together to make mean­ing). I have a lot of favorites, but these are the ones that top my list right now.

1. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You by Jane Yolen. This book is silly and fun to read. It’s also poetic and clever, espe­cially for ram­bunc­tious chil­dren. My son Pey­ton had it mem­o­rized after the 4th or 5th read­ing and loves read­ing it as we go to bed. (Also, check out How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and other titles int he series)

2. There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. I dis­cov­ered Mo Willems last sum­mer dur­ing our read­ing extrav­a­ganza, and I enjoy many of his books. My kids laughed out loud at this book and most of the oth­ers we read. This spe­cific title is part of the Ele­phant and Pig­gie series about two friends expe­ri­enc­ing life together. He has another series about a pigeon, and the kids liked those, too. I highly rec­om­mend this witty author. Both the words and pic­tures will crack you up.

3. The Pen­cil by Allan Ahlberg. Cre­ative, sus­pense­ful, and fun to read. It will keep your kids atten­tion and keep them guess­ing through­out the entire book about what would hap­pen next.

4. The Beren­stain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Beren­stain. We like so many of the Beren­stain Bears books, but I listed this one because of our recent empha­sis on sim­pli­fy­ing and de-cluttering and “less is more”. Last sum­mer, Eliz­a­beth only wanted to check out these books.

5. Ox-Cart Man by Don­ald Hall. I had the joy of hear­ing Don­ald Hall give a won­der­ful pre­sen­ta­tion a few years ago when he came to Bay­lor as part of the Beall Poetry Fes­ti­val, which the Eng­lish Depart­ment here puts on every Spring. My chil­dren love this book. It’s a sweet story about a hard-working fam­ily who lives on a farm and makes their liv­ing by work­ing with their hands. It’s sim­plic­ity at its best. The images are evoca­tive and the mes­sage is sim­ple, yet pro­found. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

6. The Run­away Gar­den: A Deli­cious Story That’s Good for You, Too! by Jef­frey Schatzer. This book is about a gar­den that runs away and what hap­pens to the indi­vid­ual veg­eta­bles as a result. This book con­tains a lot of lit­er­ary devices, includ­ing homonyms and puns, which make it fun for older chil­dren as well as adults. And I always like books about food.

7. Sir Cum­fer­ence and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwan­der. What a fas­ci­nat­ing, orig­i­nal book. The author has sev­eral books in the series and I rec­om­mend them all. This book teaches math terms (radius, pi, cir­cum­fer­ence, diam­e­ter) in a very cre­ative way. You def­i­nitely should check it out (my daugh­ter didn’t like it as much as my son because “it’s a boy book”, but I dis­agree with her!).

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Mau­rice Sendak. Clas­sic book about imag­i­na­tion and dream­ing. I didn’t read this book as a child (prob­a­bly because I was almost a teenager), but I highly rec­om­mend it. Beau­ti­ful pic­tures.

9. The Curi­ous Gar­den by Peter Brown. My sweet mother-in-law gave this book to Pey­ton recently, and it’s a won­der­ful book about tak­ing care of the planet and being good stew­ards with our resources. Big change starts small, and this book empha­sizes this through­out. The art­work is amaz­ing.

10. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Vio­lin by Mar­jorie Price­man. When I give some­one a book, this is the book I give them, espe­cially younger chil­dren because it empha­sizes count­ing and music. But older kids like it, too. You must read this at least once. Great story about an opera.

11. If I Ran the Zoo (and many more…) by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is, by far, the most often read author in our house. Between The Lorax, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Cat in the Hat, we feel like Dr. Seuss is a mem­ber of our fam­ily. What an amaz­ing tal­ent he was. His legacy lives on in kids and adults all over the world.

12. Aliens Love Under­pants by Claire Freed­man. I tend to be a lit­tle bit of a prude (I was raised that way), but hav­ing sons has changed me. Boys like to talk about pee and poop and under­wear and penises and all other sorts of things that used to make me very uncom­fort­able (the fact that I even wrote the word penis shows how far I’ve come!). This book is won­der­fully hilar­i­ous and great fun for boys (at least for my son) who like to talk about these things at the din­ner table.

Well, there’s twelve of my faves. But I do have one more, so here it is, just because…

13. Alexan­der and the Ter­ri­ble, Hor­ri­ble, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This book is a clas­sic. I always liked it, but as an adult and a par­ent, I like it even more. I under­stand the story dif­fer­ently, and I think it teaches a lot of good lessons for children.

What children’s books would you add to this list? What were your favorites as a kid? What are your favorites as an adult? A par­ent? Will your kids be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram? I look for­ward to see­ing what you come up with.

What I Really Do in the Summer

Col­lege stu­dents and pro­fes­sors all over the coun­try are begin­ning their sum­mer breaks. Courses are com­plete. Finals are taken. Seniors have grad­u­ated and moved away (hope­fully find­ing jobs). Cur­rent stu­dents are enjoy­ing the break from the daily grind of read­ing, writ­ing, and study­ing for courses, while pro­fes­sors are appre­ci­at­ing not hav­ing to go into the office every day, tak­ing a break from plan­ning for classes and grad­ing, and hav­ing more time allot­ted to non-teaching aspects of our jobs.

Grad­u­a­tion was a lit­tle over a week ago and since then, I have heard the fol­low­ing com­ments from friends, fam­ily, and acquaintances:

“You’re so lucky to have the entire sum­mer off!“
“Aren’t you glad to be out for three whole months?“
“I wish I had as much time off as you.“

“Are you enjoy­ing your break from work?“
“It must be nice to only work 32 weeks out of a year.”

These comments—while well-intentioned and most likely just meant to start a con­ver­sa­tion about my sum­mer plans—point to some faulty assump­tions about aca­d­e­mic life, espe­cially life on the tenure-track.

Such a per­spec­tive isn’t sur­pris­ing. Most of these well-meaning peo­ple have jobs with clear-cut work hours (8–5, Monday-Friday), vaca­tion time (2 weeks), and sick time (a cer­tain num­ber of hours).* Oth­ers are K-12 teach­ers who actu­ally do have a true break dur­ing the sum­mer, so, they assume, I must have a break, too. My mom, for instance, was a 3rd and 1st grade teacher most of my life (she retired last year), and except for a week or two of pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment in which she was required to par­tic­i­pate, she was “off”. She was not required or expected to do any work dur­ing her sum­mer vaca­tion. Of course, it wasn’t a true “vaca­tion” for her; she was home with four kids dur­ing the sum­mer. But she didn’t have to “work”.

*This doesn’t always apply to many peo­ple I know who own their own busi­ness and do not get any time off (per­haps they don’t have any employ­ees or only have one or two peo­ple or just can’t afford to take off). If they take time off, they don’t make any money or their busi­ness might suf­fer from being closed for so long.

When pro­fes­sors are “off” (i.e., not teach­ing), how­ever, they are *not* on vaca­tion. Instead, we are busy doing the stuff we are unable to do dur­ing the aca­d­e­mic school year. For today’s post, I’m going to debunk this assump­tion that pro­fes­sors are “off” all sum­mer by explain­ing what I will be doing over the sum­mer in terms of my work. My sum­mer plans are specif­i­cally sit­u­ated in my own con­text as a a tenure-track aca­d­e­mic prepar­ing to go up for tenure in the fall. Sum­mer plans and activ­i­ties may not be the same for other aca­d­e­mics, pro­fes­sors, or instruc­tors, espe­cially ones whose pri­mary respon­si­bil­ity is teach­ing (although they prob­a­bly feel pres­sure to write and pub­lish as well dur­ing the break).

1. Read. A lot. I have devel­oped a list of about 30 (aca­d­e­mic) books I would like to read over the sum­mer, which equals out to about 2–3 books a week. I’ve already read three books since school ended, but I have a large stack wait­ing for me. Some of the books are for my research; oth­ers are for my teach­ing. Either way, I have a lot to read. It’s impor­tant to note that this read­ing does not include all the fic­tion and non-fiction I want to read.

2. Write. A lot. If I were rank­ing this list, writ­ing would be at num­ber 1. It is expected that aca­d­e­mics write over the sum­mer, even when we are not paid for our sum­mer work through a sab­bat­i­cal or grant. I hope to send out at least one arti­cle over the sum­mer.

3. Revise an arti­cle that has been rejected. Last week, I received (bad) news that an arti­cle I wrote was rejected to the jour­nal to which I sub­mit­ted it. Rejec­tion is no fun. It can be extremely dis­cour­ag­ing and dis­heart­en­ing to receive such news. You can only send an arti­cle to one jour­nal at a time and they hold on to it between 4–6 months (at best) before noti­fy­ing you of the deci­sion. When you receive neg­a­tive news, it can depress me for days. But it’s the real­ity of aca­d­e­mic life. There’s even a jour­nal called The Jour­nal of Uni­ver­sal Rejec­tion that rejects every sin­gle arti­cle they receive. I don’t plan on sub­mit­ting there, but I find the premise delight­fully ironic.

4. Plan the courses I will be teach­ing in the Fall (and even the Spring). This activ­ity involves sev­eral components:

a. Com­pose a syl­labus. Decide on course objec­tives, assign­ments, grad­ing cri­te­ria, rules and guide­lines for the course. This needs to be done at least one week in advance of the semes­ter and takes a lot of planning.

b. Draft a course sched­ule. Cre­at­ing a course sched­ule for the entire semes­ter before you ever teach a course is prob­a­bly the hard­est part of plan­ning for a course. I begin work on this early and make changes all the way up to the start of class.

5. Plan for next year’s research project. I received a Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity Research Com­mit­tee (URC) grant for a project I’m work­ing on that exam­ines how stu­dents write about the writ­ing they will com­plete in their jobs. I will have a Research Assis­tant and I need to make plans for the aca­d­e­mic year.

6. Com­pose a Research Leave appli­ca­tion. I plan on apply­ing for a Research Leave for Fall 2013 or Spring 2014. This appli­ca­tion is detailed and time-consuming, and I plan to do much of it over the summer.

7. Com­pose an appli­ca­tion for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal. I would like to have sum­mer fund­ing next sum­mer, so I will also apply for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal through my university.

8. Update my tech­no­log­i­cal skills. I teach writ­ing and design courses, and my stu­dents and I use tech­nol­ogy every day. I am quite adept at Word, Excel, Pub­lisher, and Word­Press, but I need to enhance my skills in the Adobe suite, par­tic­u­larly InDe­sign and Pho­to­shop. I plan on learn­ing these bet­ter over the sum­mer.

9. Get orga­nized. Shred paper­work. Clean out my office. Orga­nize and delete com­puter files. Go through my email Inbox and delete, delete, delete.

10. Attend pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment sem­i­nars or work­shops. In June, I will be attend­ing a one-week sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity.

11. Begin think­ing about and plan­ning for the grad­u­ate course I will teach next Spring. Book orders will be due in Octo­ber, and I need to know early what I will be doing in the course, ten­ta­tively titled “Teach­ing Dig­i­tal Rhetoric.” I will do a lot of research for the course in terms of texts, assign­ments, and require­ments. And, since there isn’t much time in Decem­ber to plan for Spring course, I need to do most plan­ning over the sum­mer and dur­ing the Fall semester.

12. Put together my tenure note­book. More on this in the future.

As you can see, my sum­mer is filled with things I must get done before school resumes in August. Yes, I appre­ci­ate that I have a break from teach­ing and com­mut­ing to the office every day, but it’s not a true break that the word “vaca­tion” entails. I will take a vacation–two actu­ally. One with my hus­band for my 10th anniver­sary and another with my fam­ily to the beach. But, the pres­sure to read, write, pub­lish, and get caught up is ever present in my sum­mer life, even when I’m play­ing with my chil­dren, watch­ing a movie, or hik­ing in the park. That’s just the way it is.

We Were Swinging

Some fam­ily vis­ited us this week­end. City folks. My mom and younger sis­ter Kellee and her adorable daugh­ter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Hous­ton and my sis­ter is from Dal­las. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the mid­dle at my house for the week­end. We enjoyed our­selves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sis­ter Kim’s house in Austin. There, we prob­a­bly would have taken the kids some­where to do some activ­ity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restau­rant, the movies, shop­ping). The activ­ity would have been a lot of fun, but it would prob­a­bly have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of expe­ri­ences. Sure, we could have dri­ven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fif­teen min­utes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some entic­ing places to eat as well as a won­der­ful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here know­ing we prob­a­bly wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the sim­plic­ity of our week­end that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot com­ing from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is con­stantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this week­end. She was the one who kept insist­ing that we just take things slow.

Fri­day night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Sat­ur­day morn­ing, we watched the kids swim in the kid­die pool and play on the jun­gle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drink­ing our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sis­ter Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) play­ing in the pool

Swinging awaySat­ur­day after­noon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be hon­est, we were a bit skep­ti­cal of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some peo­ple from my church are read­ing my blog because one woman was very sur­prised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a coun­try thing; it’s a lake thing.” My fam­ily went camp­ing two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and cat­fish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch some­thing worth eat­ing, my dad didn’t have the sup­plies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just some­thing about fresh fish. It is scrump­tious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a deli­cious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hush­pup­pies (which Pey­ton kept call­ing “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the mid­dle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the coun­try (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy some­one else cook­ing for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the back­yard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rus­tled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a light­weight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, know­ing it would not last much longer. Sum­mer heat and humid­ity would be com­ing soon.

And we kept swing­ing. Even long after it got dark. We were swing­ing, back and forth. Enjoy­ing the quiet of the country.

This was a relax­ing week­end for us all. It was peace­ful, rest­ful, and sim­ple. If you were to ask us what we did all week­end, I would say, “We were swing­ing.” I was glad that my fam­ily got to expe­ri­ence a lit­tle bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the coun­try.