Archive for Twelve Tuesdays

Reflections on Eating Vegetarian: A Week in Review

I recently embarked on a crazy jour­ney. My goal was to eat veg­e­tar­ian for one whole week. I was out of town at a pro­fes­sional Sum­mer Sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity and was able to eat five days worth of meals at a five-star cafe­te­ria (see this arti­cle for more), and the other two days in air­ports. The food in the cafe­te­ria was espe­cially good. Not what I had in The World Famous Bean at ACU back in the day (over 15 years ago–wow!). The stu­dents donned chef coats and cooked the food right in front of you. Amazing!

Many of you fol­lowed along dur­ing the jour­ney, but if you did not (or if you just want to re-visit some of the pages), you might be inter­ested to see with your eyes the vari­ety of food I ate and the many dif­fer­ent options of eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian. It isn’t all steamed cau­li­flower and roasted pep­pers (although those are good!). The pic­tures are also really pretty! I have included links to each day’s food, includ­ing ver­bal descrip­tions and visual pho­tos of what I ate at break­fast, lunch, and dinner.

Back­ground of Exper­i­ment, Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day Seven

Phyllo and Zucchini Strudel with Summer Squash Saute

Though short, this jour­ney opened my eyes to a vari­ety of issues about food, eat­ing, meal­time, fel­low­ship, and myself. I share some of these with you in today’s post. Since it’s Tues­day, let’s just make it part of the Tues­day 12 Series.

1. Eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian reduces the num­ber of food options avail­able, which sim­pli­fies the process of order­ing food.

When I go to a restau­rant, I scour the menu look­ing for some­thing to eat. I am not one who orders the same thing each time. I actu­ally order a dif­fer­ent meal each time. Even when I cook at home, I rarely make the same thing twice. I like to cook and eat a vari­ety of foods. Some­times, it takes me at least 15 min­utes to decide on some­thing to eat.

But eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian meant that I was typ­i­cally given two main meal choices along with soup, salad, and veg­gies. I didn’t even look what else was being served. I saw the veg­e­tar­ian options and decided what I wanted. It was so sim­ple. And since I’m try­ing to sim­ply my life and my mantra is becom­ing “less is more,” I think sim­pli­fi­ca­tion is a good thing.

2.    Eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian does not equal healthy eating.

This may not come as a sur­prise to veg­e­tar­i­ans, but I guess it did to me. I assumed that a veg­e­tar­ian diet meant a healthy diet of fruits and veg­eta­bles and legumes. And it does. But it also includes the oh-so-yummy dairy food group of but­ter, cheese, and milk, oils (even healthy ones still are high in fat), and desserts. I do think, though, that eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian means that you can enjoy these foods more often since you aren’t eat­ing high-fat meats and maybe fewer calo­ries. Although I can’t point to any “real” data to back these points up, I can say that I didn’t gain any weight this week–even though I had more dessert than I have had in a very long time.

3.    Meat sub­sti­tutes taste good (at least most of the ones I ate).

The vegan hot dog wasn’t my favorite, but the ground meat sub­sti­tutes and the tofu were both tasty and served their respec­tive pur­poses in the dish.

4.    When you don’t eat meat, peo­ple assume you are a vegetarian.

The peo­ple at the Sem­i­nar assumed I was a veg­e­tar­ian. I never ate any meat, so, of course, I was a veg­e­tar­ian (really, this makes log­i­cal sense). But what’s inter­est­ing is that I never told any­one I was a veg­e­tar­ian. They just inferred, after look­ing at my plate, that I was a veg­e­tar­ian. My suit­e­m­ate, Karen, knew about my “exper­i­ment,” but I didn’t tell any­one else until much later in the week, and only if they asked. I found it really inter­est­ing that after the first or sec­ond day, many of these col­leagues even pointed out veg­e­tar­ian dishes that they thought tasted (or looked) good. They often directed me to a cer­tain sta­tion to make sure I tried one of the veg­e­tar­ian dishes being served there. I found this quite endearing.

I also noticed that the cafe­te­ria staff made assump­tions about me when I ordered the veg­e­tar­ian option from their sta­tion. These assump­tions weren’t bad; I just noticed it, that’s all. Veg­e­tar­i­ans are typ­i­cally a cer­tain type of per­son (more health-conscious, more environmentally-friendly, more lib­eral, etc.). I could tell this in the ques­tions they asked me and in their friendly smiles and eye con­tact. This gen­er­a­tion of col­lege stu­dents (the peo­ple work­ing the food sta­tions) seems very aware of the impact, the dif­fer­ence, one person’s per­sonal choices can have on the larger soci­ety. To me, they seem more socially aware than my gen­er­a­tion, which, I think, is a good shift.

5.    Indi­vid­u­als and restau­rants can be very accom­mo­dat­ing to veg­e­tar­i­ans, veg­ans, gluten-freers, or oth­ers with dietary food requests and restrictions.

Many restau­rants these days are con­scious of the wide vari­ety of eaters com­ing in their doors. Many now have a wide vari­ety of options for all kinds of peo­ple, and the food is quite com­pa­ra­ble. Even when we went over to one person’s house for din­ner (who is not a veg­e­tar­ian or vegan and has no known food aller­gies), she thought in advance and made vegan hot dogs, gluten-free dishes, dairy-free dips, and many other dishes that peo­ple with spe­cialty requests could eat. I find this to be extremely thoughtful.

6.    Eat­ing a veg­e­tar­ian diet can cause mas­sive prob­lems on your intestines.

Not eat­ing meat can con­sti­pate you. It hap­pened to me on Day 2 and lasted until Day 6 (Fri­day). One col­league at the con­fer­ence told me to eat more fruits, so that’s what I did. I don’t know if the relief on Fri­day was the result of eat­ing more fruits or if my body adjusted to a plant-based diet. Either way, I was thankful.

In the same vein, I did notice that bowel move­ments are not the same (If this topic grosses you out, embar­rasses you, or makes you uncom­fort­able, pro­ceed to #7. If you read on, remem­ber that YOU WERE WARNED!).  Instead of the long, S-shaped pieces of poop Dr. Oz once told Oprah were ideal, my poops were shaped like small round pel­lets. This hap­pened the entire week, every time.

One inter­est­ing benefit/side effect of not eat­ing meat is that your poop smells dif­fer­ent; it doesn’t stink quite so bad. I hadn’t really con­sid­ered this point–that not eat­ing meat would impact the smell of my poop–which is odd con­sid­er­ing I have a 9-month baby who doesn’t eat meat yet and whose dia­per does not smell near as bad as it will in a few months when we intro­duce meat into his diet. I’m won­der­ing if this rings true for any veg­e­tar­i­ans out there??

7.    Eat­ing less meat is a really good idea.

Eat­ing less meat can be good for your health, as much research on eat­ing a plant-based diet sug­gests, even if you pri­mar­ily eat low-fat meats. It can also be good for the envi­ron­ment. I’ve heard it can be more cost-effective and cheaper (Have you noticed how expen­sive meat is?). It can make you think more reflec­tively about food and eat­ing and meal­time. It can get you to change nor­mal rou­tines and be more thank­ful for what you do eat. I could go on and on here, but I firmly believe that eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian, even if it’s only once in a while–is a good idea.

8.    Eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian encour­aged me to slow down, talk more, lis­ten more, and really pay atten­tion to each and every bite, to savor the fla­vor and pon­der the taste.

I was shocked to see how my eat­ing habits changed when eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian food. Granted, I was not eat­ing these meals with small chil­dren, where the words slow, savor, and pon­der don’t often show up. How­ever, I do think it was more than the fact that I was eat­ing with adults. The food I was eat­ing was on my mind the entire time. I stud­ied it. I pon­dered the food com­bi­na­tions in a dish. I ana­lyzed how I thought the dish was cooked. I ques­tioned what spice was used. I tasted the food, I mean, really tasted the food. I didn’t just eat with my eyes, but I also ate with my mouth…in a deep way that I often miss when eat­ing before. This habit could have been because I was doing an exper­i­ment about food. I’ll grant that. But even at other times, I think about food all the time–what I’ll cook, what I need from the gro­cery store, which food is the health­i­est, etc. This time, how­ever, I thought about food while I was eat­ing it. This is a new thing for me–to be con­scious of every sin­gle bite that goes in my mouth. It was a neat dis­cov­ery, and I thank this veg­e­tar­ian exper­i­ment for it.

9.    I had more energy through­out the day.

Usu­ally after lunch, I expe­ri­ence what I like to call–“the after­noon crash.” Right after lunch, I sud­denly become so sleepy that I can do noth­ing but think about get­ting in bed and going to sleep. This feel­ing of exhaus­tion is over­whelm­ing. If I am home, I may go take a nap. If not, I just try to make it through the next cou­ple of hours. Either way, this sen­sa­tion comes almost every day (depend­ing on what I ate at lunch).

Inter­est­ingly, I did not expe­ri­ence “the after­noon crash” one time dur­ing the entire week, even though we went imme­di­ately back into the Sem­i­nar for another half day of work. I didn’t get sleepy. I didn’t get tired. I was able to concentrate.

What’s more is that after the Sem­i­nar ended for the day, between 5:15 and 5:30, I exer­cised. I either went to the gym or jogged around cam­pus (all but one of these days when we went over to a colleague’s house for din­ner one evening). One might think I would have wanted to lie in bed and read or just rest (this was actu­ally my plan), but I had more than enough energy to work out for well over 45 min­utes each day I was there. THIS IS HUGE. And it felt great. My energy level was amaz­ing, and this alone is mak­ing me con­sider being a veg­e­tar­ian, at least for break­fast and lunch.

10.   I slept bet­ter at night.

I am a per­son who gets up at least twice a night to go to the bath­room. Dur­ing my time eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian, I did not get up ONE SINGLE TIME to use the bath­room. I drank just as much and drank it just as late. But I never had to go dur­ing the mid­dle of the night. I don’t know if it’s con­nected or not, but it was an obser­va­tion so I put this here. I have decided that I prob­a­bly still needed to go (I had to go badly when I woke up in the morn­ing), but I was sleep­ing bet­ter and was not awak­ened by the need to go. I’m inter­ested to hear from oth­ers: Does this ring true to your experiences?

11.   I felt full and was always sat­is­fied after fin­ish­ing a meal.

Eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian can be quite fill­ing. You’re not just eat­ing “rab­bit food.” Rather, the meals were sat­is­fy­ing and delight­ful. And because I ate slower, I was full faster, often­times, before I had even fin­ished my plate. It’s inter­est­ing how all this works together. I even noticed that I was focus­ing on what I could eat, rather than what I couldn’t eat. I didn’t even glance at the meat dishes served. I didn’t even miss them–in looks and desire or in taste.

12.   Eat­ing veg­e­tar­i­an­ism brought me closer to God, the cre­ator of all things.

I have been taught my whole life that, “in the begin­ning,” humans and ani­mals were veg­e­tar­i­ans (Gen­e­sis 1:29–30). Even though meat was avail­able, only a plant-based diet was ordained by God. It wasn’t until the flood that God told peo­ple they could eat meat (Gen­e­sis 9:1–3).

This week reminded me that God is the cre­ator of all food, meat, grains, fruit, veg­eta­bles, and other won­der­ful del­i­ca­cies. And I thank God for all the food sup­plied to me. As an Amer­i­can, I rec­og­nized how blessed (some would say cursed) I am (we are) to even have the choice to do some­thing like this. Oth­ers in the world–too many people–are starv­ing, lit­er­ally, and here I am able to eat with so much to choose from. I have learned that food is a gift. Eat­ing food is a a git. And being thank­ful for it should be part of our daily lives…whatever you con­sider yourself.


Over­all, this was an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence. I learned a lot and I’m left with even more ques­tions than with which I began this jour­ney. I hope my expe­ri­ences have shown you that it isn’t too hard to eat veg­e­tar­ian once in a while. Even if you would never eat veg­e­tar­ian for an entire week, I do encour­age you to chal­lenge your­self for one meal, prob­a­bly din­ner. I think it’s worth it. Maybe it will make you appre­ci­ate where you food comes from. Maybe you already appre­ci­ate that. Per­haps you want to see how it impacts your bud­get, or what a com­plete veg­e­tar­ian meal tastes like. Or maybe you just want to pull an April Fool’s Joke on your loved one. Going veg­e­tar­ian just might be for you.

If you’re inter­ested in this topic or in try­ing it out for your­self (even one day a week), check out these sources for more information:


One final note, this exper­i­ment did not involve me cook­ing veg­e­tar­ian food, which would be a dif­fer­ent thing entirely. I am so used to cook­ing food with meat, and I have become quite good at it, and cook­ing veg­e­tar­ian “main” meals seems like it would be a chal­lenge. Although I cook veg­eta­bles with almost every meal, they are the “side,” the appendage to the meal, the part that my hus­band could do with­out. It seems to me that cook­ing veg­e­tar­ian would take this chal­lenge to the next level. Maybe that’s what’s next.

Here are some ques­tions I’m con­sid­er­ing now:

  • What would “going veg­e­tar­ian” look like if I actu­ally had to cook all the food? How would the food taste? How would I feel prepar­ing it? What would the food taste like? Would I like it? Is it more dif­fi­cult to pre­pare veg­e­tar­ian foods?
  • How does eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian impact a food budget?
  • How does eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian impact my chil­dren? Would they go for it? Would they express “not feel­ing full” or “still being hun­gry”? How does one move a fam­ily toward a veg­e­tar­ian diet?
  • What would my church fam­ily say if I brought a veg­e­tar­ian dish to the weekly potluck, espe­cially some­thing more “exotic,” like edamame, lentils, and quinoa (yes, these are exotic around here)? Would any­one but me even try it?


Thanks for jour­ney­ing with me. As always, I love hear­ing from you (even if you disagree—just be con­struc­tive, not rude, demean­ing, or mean).

What is your response to this exper­i­ment? Would you ever try to eat veg­e­tar­ian? Why or why not? What are you favorite veg­e­tar­ian recipes? What is some­thing you have learned about eat­ing veg­e­tar­ian? What have you noticed? What resources (doc­u­men­taries, movies, books, cook­books, etc.) do you rec­om­mend that I (or my read­ers) take a look at? What assump­tions do you have about veg­e­tar­i­ans?

12 Tips for Air Travel

TSA: We Feel For You" Cartoon

In this week’s 12 Series post, I give you tips for air­port travel. If you have never flown before, you should def­i­nitely read on; you will learn more about air­port cul­ture and how to travel suc­cess­fully. If you travel reg­u­larly, you might iden­tify with these tips (and even be able to offer your own recommendations).

1.    Do not, under any cir­cum­stance, be early to the air­port. Arriv­ing at least 2 hours before your flight will decrease your stress and anx­i­ety lev­els, but why is that impor­tant? It’s bet­ter to be stressed and anx­ious. Arrive early enough to be able to use your tar­di­ness as an excuse to get to the front of the check-in and secu­rity lines.

2.    You will have to wait in at least four lines (park­ing, check-in, bag drop-off, secu­rity, buy­ing food, restroom, board­ing the plane, putting things in over­head bins, etc.). In one of these places, cut in line. Put your head down and act ignorant.

3.    You MUST be on your cell phone at all times. If you are not talk­ing loudly to your best friend, then make prank calls.

4.    As you are wait­ing in line (your choice which one), put your head phones on and play Pan­dora or iTunes really loudly. But do not plug in the head phones. Sing along loudly, and act like you do not notice that every­one else can hear your music as well.

5.    Make sure your bags weigh more than 50 pounds. When the staff tells you that you can either move some­thing to another suit­case or pay a fee for your bags being too heavy, choose Option A—moving items to a suit­case that weighs less. Open up the suit­case on the floor and begin trans­fer­ring items to the other suit­case. Every­one will be watch­ing you. Make sure to take out your under­gar­ments and other items that will make them as uncom­fort­able as pos­si­ble. They are the ones choos­ing to stare.

6.    When going through TSA’s air­port secu­rity, mis­place your driver’s license or pass­port and your board­ing passes. Dig through your purse, your back­pack, your lap­top bag, your suit­case. Find them in your jacket pocket. Put them away in a safe place when you are finished.

Airport Security Full Body Scan Cartoon

Image cour­tesy of The Atlantic (

7.    When putting your stuff in the bins, for­get to take your lap­top out of its bag, your shoes off, and your jacket off. Leave some change in your pocket.

8.    You are next in line to go through the body scan­ners. Mis­place your board­ing pass again. When it’s your turn to go through the full body scan­ner and they ask you to stand there for three sec­onds with your hands above your head, start dancing.

9.    When they call Group 1 to board the flight and you are in Group 7, go ahead and get in line. If the flight atten­dant stares at you or gives you a con­de­scend­ing look, smile.

10.    When you board the plane with your one carry-on and one per­sonal item, attempt to put your purse over­head and your carry-on lug­gage under the seat in front of you. When the flight atten­dant tells you not to do that, tell them that it didn’t fit over­head. Then, make them tag the too-large suit­case and take it off the plane to be picked up at the gate when you arrive. Smile for win­ning a small bat­tle: you didn’t have to pay $30.00 to check the bag.

11.    You are now fly­ing in the air. You’ve decided you want a Diet Coke to drink. When the flight atten­dant comes by your aisle with the drink cart, tell him or her that you would like “Geico” to drink. See what she says.

12.    Fall asleep on the nice man seated next to you. Rest peace­fully. You will be at your des­ti­na­tion soon.

Dis­claimer: Approach­ing air­ports and air travel with a sense of humor and a wide eye for irony makes fly­ing the “friendly skies” much more enjoy­able.

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.

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.

12 Reasons I Like Living in the Country

I did not choose to live in the country.

My hus­band took a min­istry job in a small town out­side of Waco, and I fol­lowed him here (just as he fol­lowed me when I went to grad­u­ate school). I was skep­ti­cal of mov­ing to the coun­try. I grew up in Hous­ton, the 4th largest city in the United States. And I liked it.

When I left Hous­ton for col­lege, I moved to Abi­lene, a small West Texas town. I thought it was a small town (about 150,000 peo­ple). It was small. And, when I moved to Cen­tral Texas to work at Bay­lor, I thought Waco was a small town.

But my def­i­n­i­tion of “small” has changed since liv­ing where I live now.

I live in a town of about 7,500. I still con­sider myself a “city girl,” but I do like some things about the coun­try. For today’s Twelve Series, I’m going to write about rea­sons I like the country.

1. The wide, open spaces. I love the Dixie Chicks song, “Wide Open Spaces,” but this has new mean­ing to me liv­ing here. Most peo­ple here, even those who live in town, have large yards (front and back) and quite a bit of space between homes. Many peo­ple own acres and acres of land.  I like hav­ing my own space; it doesn’t feel like peo­ple always know when I’m com­ing and going or what I’m doing (I do live in a par­son­age, though, but that’s a dif­fer­ent story). If I ever do move back to the city, I would like to have some land, if pos­si­ble. Not much, just some. 

Even the idea that things are slower here really appeals to me. Even though I still run around like a crazy woman, I also slow down. Sit on the front porch, watch my chil­dren play in the back­ground, and enjoy life.

2. We don’t need a Farmer’s Mar­ket; we have the farms! I love going to the Farmer’s Mar­ket, and one con­cern I had mov­ing to a small town was that I would no longer have access to the Farmer’s Mar­ket I had vis­ited for years. Come to find out, one of the farms rep­re­sented at this Farmer’s Mar­ket was from the town I now live in! So, I can now drive 3 miles to the farm and pick out all the pro­duce I want. And, unlike the Farmer’s Mar­ket I vis­ited before, which was only open from May through Sep­tem­ber, this one had a year-round farm stand. Buy­ing my food from them makes me happy. I also like that my chil­dren are learn­ing where food comes from, how it’s grown, and what it means to buy local produce.

3. The close-knit com­mu­nity. In some ways it feels like the bar in Cheers where every­body knows your name. Shane and I have got­ten to know so many peo­ple, far more than run in our “typ­i­cal” cir­cles. Peo­ple who (in some ways) are dif­fer­ent from us but who are liv­ing life and try­ing to do the best they can. We love this com­mu­nity. No, it’s not per­fect, but the peo­ple here will always be very close to our hearts.

4. The stars. The wide open spaces allow for us to see so many stars at night. “The stars at night. Are big and bright. [clap, clap, clap, clap]. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

5. No traf­fic. I grew up in traf­fic. I went through 32 (red) lights on my daily com­mute to school. Traf­fic was a part of life. Some­times it took an hour to go to a friend’s house. When we trav­eled for junior high and high school sports, the trip could take an hour and a half, each way. My dad worked Down­town, 19 miles from our house. It took him well over an hour each way. Dri­ving long dis­tances and and wait­ing in traf­fic was a part of life. I didn’t know any different.

Even though sev­eral major high­ways (both state and national) go through our town, traf­fic is not much of an issue. It’s easy to get around and there isn’t much wait­ing. Now, when I go back to Hous­ton to visit my par­ents or to Austin to visit my sis­ter or Shane’s par­ents, I dread the traf­fic. It takes 20 min­utes to go two miles (and that’s good!). Shane and I com­ment each time we go that we are glad we don’t have to expe­ri­ence traf­fic like this on a reg­u­lar basis. It’s a perk.

6. The oppor­tu­ni­ties to be involved in many aspects of the com­mu­nity. Get­ting involved is easy. There are so many ways to help this com­mu­nity, and we like get­ting involved, serv­ing oth­ers, and mak­ing our com­mu­nity a bet­ter place. I like to feel like my life mat­ters, that there is a pur­pose greater than myself, that I can use my gifts to help others.

7. My big back­yard. Hav­ing a huge gar­den and still enough space to run around and play games with the kids is amaz­ing. We don’t have neigh­bors beside us (on either side) or behind us. It’s quiet (when the neigh­bor down the street isn’t play­ing the drums!) and relaxing.My Backyard

8. The ecu­meni­cal nature of the churches here. We have a great diver­sity of churches here–all types of denom­i­na­tions. We even have a Mor­mon church. In large cities, peo­ple often get together with other churches from their same tribe (Bap­tists with Bap­tists; Pres­by­te­ri­ans with Pres­by­te­ri­ans; etc.). Here, though, since there is typ­i­cally only one church for each denom­i­na­tion, the churches work together, play together, and serve together. Recently, we had an ecu­meni­cal prayer walk. It was so neat to see all these peo­ple com­ing together to pray to our one God.

We do have peo­ple from other reli­gions liv­ing here, but I do not know of syn­a­gogues or mosques in the area; the great major­ity of peo­ple here are His­panic, and most of them are Catholic. 

9. The diver­sity. Even though I come from a big city where peo­ple from all walks of life live, I also live in a town that is extremely diverse. Approx­i­mately 80% of the pop­u­la­tion are racial minori­ties (45% His­panic, 30% African-American; 25% White). This is a very, very poor town, and my kids go to schools with other chil­dren they never would have been exposed to in the sub­urbs or in pri­vate schools (at least not at the same percentage–Elizabeth is one of 3 White kids in her entire class). The rate of peo­ple with col­lege degrees is very low, but it does allow for us all to learn from each other and to see how to live together even though we come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and places.

10. Our church. I love the church com­mu­nity of which we are a part. Our church is at the top of our list on things I like best about this town. Great peo­ple with ser­vant hearts. I’m glad to be a mem­ber here. 

11. The teach­ers and prin­ci­pals and coun­selors and nurses and admin­is­tra­tors and para­pro­fes­sion­als and jan­i­tors at my daughter’s school who know our chil­dren and us very well. Attend­ing a small school has its perks, espe­cially how “every­one knows your name.” These peo­ple care for the chil­dren and know where they come from, which, I think, makes a dif­fer­ence in being able to meet (and exceed) each indi­vid­ual child’s needs.

12. The numer­ous small busi­nesses in the area. Many peo­ple who live here decide to open small busi­nesses. Retail stores. Quaint bou­tiques. Deli­cious restau­rants. Con­sign­ment shops. And other unique places. This entre­pre­neur men­tal­ity helps our com­mu­nity in many ways.

If you live in the coun­try, what do you like about it?
If you don’t live in the coun­try, what do you think you would like the most? The least?

Tuesday Twelves: All About Me

For today’s Tues­day 12 series, I’m going to give you a list of traits about me, at least as I see them.

1. I am competitive.

2. I am loyal.

3. I am deter­mined, dili­gent, and a hard worker.

4. I am a perfectionist.

5. I am a planner.

6. I am a reader and a writer.

7. I am shy and some­times insecure.

8. I am a good listener.

9. I am serious.

10. I am open-minded.

11. I am flawed and imper­fect and scarred and wounded.

12. I am a child of God who is con­stantly chang­ing, grow­ing, learn­ing, and trying.

Do any of these items sur­prise you about me? If you could list some­thing about you, what would you say?

Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about sim­pli­fy­ing your home by clear­ing out the clutter–physical clut­ter, such as toys, books, and decor; envi­ron­men­tal clut­ter that increases anx­i­ety; and emo­tional clut­ter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clut­ter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work out­side of the home, but my won­der­ful uni­ver­sity gave me a semester-long mater­nity leave when I had my baby at the begin­ning of the term. Dur­ing this time at home–almost every sin­gle day–I came to real­ize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this rev­e­la­tion. I really thought I would like stay­ing at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I dis­liked being at home because of the con­stant mess. I didn’t like look­ing at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do some­thing about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to sim­plify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emo­tional san­ity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most impor­tant, but I chose to num­ber them to make it eas­ier to skim the list.

1. Con­sign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seri­ously, do it. Over the past sev­eral months, I have been clean­ing out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have out­grown. If we don’t need it any­more, I’ve got­ten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit cre­ativ­ity or orig­i­nal­ity, toys that come in such a pre-form pack­age that they do not allow chil­dren to use their imag­i­na­tion. My daughter’s Bar­bie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s decid­ing which ones and then they are gone.

The hard­est part for me has been to dwin­dle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been free­ing for my chil­dren. Their rooms are neater. Clean­ing up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or over­whelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are play­ing more. They aren’t com­ing to me say­ing their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was sep­a­rat­ing the toys into con­sign­ment or dona­tion piles, I also added one more pile–a rotat­ing pile. I put the rotat­ing pile into one stor­age bin and moved it to our garage. Even­tu­ally, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoy­ing their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoy­ing their bet­ter atti­tudes and their renewed inter­est in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cook­ing shows and dis­cover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still try­ing to put this one into prac­tice. We have sim­pli­fied our weekly menu by insti­tut­ing Pizza Night, a tra­di­tion going strong for sev­eral years now. The prob­lem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and hav­ing one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping eas­ier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learn­ing, how­ever, that chil­dren need to expe­ri­ence antic­i­pa­tion, so I plan on com­mu­ni­cat­ing meals like “Pizza Night” to my chil­dren. Over the sum­mer, I plan to insti­tute “Meat­less Mon­day,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mys­tery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step fur­ther, you might even des­ig­nate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken ten­ders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are sim­pli­fied even fur­ther. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own inter­ests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to sim­plify meal-planning, cook­ing, and eat­ing and for all to expe­ri­ence joy at the din­ner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cook­books on the shelf. Admit it, you prob­a­bly don’t use half the cook­books you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cook­books. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still work­ing on the oth­ers!). I prob­a­bly only use 8 of them. But the oth­ers are spe­cial to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the book­shelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or out­door. As a fam­ily. With your child. By your­self. Play a pick-up game of bas­ket­ball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many mem­o­ries of play­ing these games in mid­dle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a base­ball game where the trees in your back­yard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monop­oly, or Check­ers. Play Dou­ble 9 domi­noes, Uno, Spades, or Mem­ory. Any­thing your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, com­plete with mate­ri­als and rules.

5. Try to fil­ter out the adult world from your chil­dren. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No neg­a­tive com­ments about other adults (friends, teach­ers, church peo­ple, the pres­i­dent, politi­cians, rel­a­tives, in-laws). No inap­pro­pri­ate con­tent com­ing to your chil­dren through the TV (espe­cially the morn­ing and evening news or cer­tain video games that can desen­si­tize us to vio­lence). Instead, be present with your chil­dren. Talk to them at the din­ner table or when they come inside from the back­yard. Lis­ten to them. Learn about their world, their inter­ests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your book­shelf to your library. My hus­band and I both went to grad­u­ate school, where we were required to buy hun­dreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respec­tive offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But grad­u­ate school books are the least of our wor­ries when it comes to books in the home. Nov­els, Chris­t­ian books, self-help books, biogra­phies, and children’s books are of much greater con­cern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s inter­li­brary loan ser­vice (which is awe­some). That being said, I still have a lot of books. Peo­ple give books to me because I am an Eng­lish teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clut­ter my shelves. I used to think hav­ing books in your home was a sign of intel­li­gence and bril­liance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich peo­ple have these amaz­ing libraries with the mov­able lad­der. But now I don’t really care to live up to that stan­dard. Books and book­shelves lead to clut­ter. So, get rid of your books. Get­ting rid of the children’s books has been the hard­est part for me. I put some of them in the rotat­ing pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Con­sign or donate your unworn clothes. Seri­ously, do it. It is lib­er­at­ing. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Con­sign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the dif­fer­ent size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel bet­ter when you are get­ting dressed each day not to be star­ing at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amaz­ing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much bet­ter about your­self than watch­ing 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrap­book, exer­cise. Find a pas­sion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel your­self get­ting over­whelmed at the mess, take 15 min­utes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be over­whelm­ing for adults, too, and set­ting a limit on how much time you spend pick­ing up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and pro­vided an incre­men­tal count­down of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept com­ing back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that moun­tain of books on your night­stand. You will have more to con­tribute to dis­cus­sions with your hus­band or your friends. You will learn some­thing. You will feel good about your­self. You will grow as a per­son.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstruc­tured time at home. Noth­ing planned. Noth­ing sched­uled. Except being with your fam­ily and let­ting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, some­thing amaz­ing is about to hap­pen.” Just be. Your kids will appre­ci­ate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the pres­ence of the Lord as often as pos­si­ble. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that per­sonal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morn­ing. But with young chil­dren, such a goal is ide­al­is­tic rather than real­is­tic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peace­ful time the same way I did as a sin­gle woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gen­tle love of some older, wiser women–how to inte­grate prayer and God into my day rather than save a sin­gle time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am try­ing, though.

This list is far from com­pre­hen­sive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our fam­ily closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anx­i­ety and have helped me deal with the feel­ings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peace­ful place?

Top 12: A New Series

I’m begin­ning a new series on this blog called “Top 12.” I like lists. They keep me orga­nized. They work the way my mind works, and they fit with my per­son­al­ity. They also show me when I have accom­plished some­thing (or not!).

So, I’m begin­ning a Top 12 series of lists here. These series are going to be about ran­dom top­ics of inter­est to me. I thought about post­ing them on Tues­day and call­ing the series “Top 12 Tues­day.” I like allit­er­a­tion (I am an Eng­lish teacher after all.), and that way read­ers will know when they are com­ing. I’m not sure, though. I don’t want to be lim­ited by “Tues­day” as the only day to post them. We’ll see.

I chose the num­ber 12 rather than 10 because, well, 10 is so passe. But 12, it’s less bor­ing. Also, when I was an ath­lete, back in those glory days of the past, I was #12. It’s my favorite number.

So, next week, I’ll write my first Top 12 post in what I hope to be one of many in this series.