Monday, March 21, 2011

Time, and how it flies

Seven is six months old. Six months! Indulging in sustenance other than her Momma's milk. Sitting up without too much help. Laughing like a hyena when any of her brothers put on one of their amazing displays of boyishness. Grabbing big sister Jo's hair. Sizing up the dog and plotting how quickly she'll have to move to catch that swishing tail of his.

The first half of her first year is already over. The second half is dawning, bringing with it all of the amazing discoveries and milestones that clear the way to toddlerhood.

I can't believe how fast it's all going, but I can tell you this: I've never enjoyed mothering a baby more than I am at this very moment. Something about this magical mixture of teens and tweens and tots just feels right. Watching the interactions, being part of the daily chaos of learning, fielding the inquiries, directing the play ... there's a richness here that I can't deny, even in the moments when the busy of it all makes your head spin. No matter what's going on, I can look in my arms and see Seven, patiently waiting her turn to learn to read, to sing the Bible songs, to scribble with my special pens. And I feel my heart swell with joy every time, knowing that I get to keep traveling this road called motherhood.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Open hands

I didn't enter marriage with the aspiration of being debt-free. If anything, my mindset was something of the opposite. After all, how do you get that house, the car, the stuff, if you don't borrow money? In today's day and age, how does anyone expect to live without debt?

So Mr. Blandings and I went about Business As Usual. Four months after we said "I do," we bought a brand new car. It was a 1996 Saturn. Manual transmission. Red. Very cool back in the day. 

This was our very first taste of what it was like to purposefully choose to owe someone more money than we could easily pay off in say, a month.

Which is not to say that we weren't already swimming in debt. I had a single student loan that demanded to be paid each month, as well as credit cards that we were already in the process of loading up with really worthwhile things like Chinese take-out, new CDs ... you know, important stuff. But really, did any of it matter? After all, I was making good money, even if Mr. Blandings wasn't. We were able-bodied, highly educated, and upwardly mobile.

Then, of course, we found out that Jo was on the way. I've posted about my change of heart before, but suffice it to say that all of a sudden, I wasn't interested in having the option of buying anything. What I wanted was to stay home and stare at my sleeping baby. 

It wasn't possible, everyone assured us. No one manages on one paycheck anymore--especially not a check as paltry as Mr. Blanding's. His $14,000 a year salary was barely enough to feed us and put a roof over our heads, let alone keep the bill collectors off our backs. We struggled, now charging things like our phone bill to a credit card in place of theater tickets. The days of buying frivolous stuff were in the past, and we were sinking fast. At one point, we went to one of those non-profit financial assistance places designed to help keep people afloat. Tails between our legs, we begged for help. Their advice? Declare bankruptcy. We simply can not help you.

But we didn't. Call it pride, call it stubbornness, call it an inability to see things for what they really were. Mr. Blandings and I felt strongly that we had gotten ourselves into this mess. We owed it to the people (and companies) who had trusted us to return in kind what we had taken. So we dug in, buckled down, and started to shovel.

That was eleven years ago. Eleven years, people. Today, I am happy to announce that we are debt-free except for our mortgage.

Nearly everyone who has heard this--especially those who know our struggle--have asked how we did it. The assumption is that we grabbed on to one of the popular plans, enrolled in a course, or found a financial guru to hold our hand. The answer, however, is not so simple, but even more amazing. 

We did start out trying to conquer our debt by adhering to principles espoused by some of the prophets of financial freedom. We read some Dave Ramsey books, talked to people who were using the course, and figured that it made sense. We were already using cash for everything, had cut out all non-essential spending, and were whittling away at things quite nicely. It was working! We could taste success, and were enthralled.

But something wasn't quite right. While our bottom line was looking better and better, we noticed something about our hearts. It was summed up in this popular quote:

"If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else." 

Something niggled in the back of my mind every time I heard this. Why? What was it? What was wrong?

And then God showed me: Mr. Blandings and I were not living like no one else. In truth, we had started to live just like everyone else. Our singular pursuit of being debt-free had over-ridden our desire to be a blessing to those around us. No, we weren't selfishly indulging in new cars, fabulous toys, expensive distractions for ourselves and our kids. Instead, we were hoarding our resources and keeping our eyes so firmly fixed on our goal, our plan, our desire that we had gotten out of the habit of looking up and taking in what was happening around us. Everything revolved around single-mindedly reaching the goal of being debt-free. Every penny, every resource, went into paying down what we owed.

How was this any different than the way most people lived? Just because our goal was to pay off debt, did that justify clenching our fists and holding tight to what God had put on loan to us?

We assumed that the "later" was worth the present. God showed us that we were wrong.

It was a huge, scary step of faith to let go of the mentality that had, in fact, brought so much peace and yes, freedom, to those around us whose goals we shared. But we knew in our hearts that God was urging us to take a different path. So we did, reluctantly. 

We began making changes. We paid our monthly obligations, yes. But then we prayed and asked God how He would have us spend whatever was left in the pot. Some months He led us to make double payments on bills. Other months He laid it on our hearts to set some money aside and simply sit on it for a bit. Other months, He asked us to take the cash and buy food for a family in need, offer to pay for a child's fall wardrobe, off-set someone's car repair bill.

It was an up and down process. The dream of being debt-free seemed to be slipping from our fingers, but most days (most days, not all!) it felt worth it. We were living like no one else HERE, NOW. 

Which brings us to the present:

Remember that $14,000 income that Mr. Blandings, Jo and I scraped by on back in the early days of our family? The tax year that just ended marks a banner one for our family. For the first time ever, we gave away more than we once lived on. I say this not to brag, but to give glory to God. By God's grace and through His provision, our family lives in one of the most expensive parts of the country on one middle-class income ... and gave others more than $14,000 last year. Going through our tax receipts and the little notes we jotted to ourselves over the course of 2010 was absolutely amazing. To see how God had used what we once held with clenched fists to give others hope, to provide for felt needs, to spread His gospel ... well, it makes you want to do more, if you know what I mean.

But how, you ask, did you ever pay off your student loans, your van, your credit cards? How did giving money away pay your bills?

Are you ready for this? Through the adoption tax credit--which this year is issued as a refund check--we are able to pay off everything ... and have some left over.

In other words, God gave us the desire to live with open hands and bless others financially. We followed Him, and He used our meager offerings. God gave us the desire to love more children. We followed Him, and He blessed us with Oli and Mani.

And then God said, "I know that you'd really like to be out from under the weight of these mistakes you made. Don't worry. I've got that covered, too."

How very like God and His seemingly upside down ways that we spent money to get money. That we  gave to get. That we helped to be helped.

I can't say it any better than this:

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. --Psalm 37:4


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

And the winner is ...


Congrats! You've won the adorable Loved onesie from the Blissful Stitcher!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You still have five days ...

To enter the giveaway! Go to this post to find out more, and to leave your entry comments.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: GroVia AI2

Like a true fluff addict, I found these diapers while I was wandering around on the internet drooling over cute diapers exhaustively researching the best resources for my newborn baby. Somewhere--I can't remember where, sorry-- I stumbled on a photo of a baby girl wearing absolutely the cutest little red flowered diaper I had ever seen. Smitten, I started hunting down the facts on this dipe, the name of which was completely new to me: GroVia.

I soon found out why I hadn't heard of it. Unlike my usual stash, these diapers were not pockets. Nor were they AIOs. Not even fitteds or prefolds. Turns out, they were covers (GroVia calls them "shells") with organic inserts ("soakers"). I was intrigued. I had had very good luck with prefolds and covers with Oli, and was looking for something that fit that same no fail category with Seven. This time around though, I had a little more money to invest and frankly, I wanted cute. Not just, "Gee, that's a nice little diaper." Huh-uh. I wanted, "Ohmygoodness, I could just eat that baby, that diaper is so stinking cute!" cute.

Newborns will do that to you. Anyhow ...

I looked into the GroVia. I agonized over whether or not I should try it out. After all, it was a whole new system. How would it jive with the laundry system I've got going with the rest of my stash? What if I hated them? What if I regretted investing in the unknown quantity? What if the velcro was bad? What if they leaked?

Finally, Mr. Blandings told me that he was sick of hearing about diapers (He just doesn't get it. Does any man?) and to just please, order the things.

So I did. I bit the bullet and bought the GroVia experience pack, which gave me two shells and four soakers for $63. I figured that the only way to really figure out if I liked the system was to give it a full try, and one shell and one soaker was just not enough.

Almost instantly, these diapers became my go-to favorite. From the second I pulled them out of the package, I knew I was in love. The cute factor--PERFECT. The performance--PERFECT. Exactly what I was looking for, and then some. I now own 5 shells and a dozen soakers, if that tells you anything. I would add more but I really can't justify it. (Not that a diaper addiction needs justification, but you know what I mean ...)

After four months of daily use (I do not use these as nighttime diapers), I have had exactly one leak with a GroVia. Contrary to my initial fear that this system would hold less due to its design, it actually holds more. I can count on this diaper under just about any situation. The one leak in question came during a long ride in the Ergo that would have most likely resulted in any diaper failing. The GroVia fit my chunky-monkey daughter perfectly. The leg elastic is just right for her little thunder thighs (no red marks, no gapping), and the rise is not too high, nor too low on her pudgy little belly.

So what makes the GroVias my faves? 

First, I love the shells. The outside is by far the nicest I've felt on a cover. The aplix is super sticky and adheres anywhere on the front of the face panel, providing an amazing fit. In addition, GroVia has mastered the laundering issue by including an ingenious little loop of fabric that protects the aplix in the wash. No more diaper chains! No more picking random fluff from the tabs! It truly puts other brands to shame, I have to say. (I also have two of the snap styles, and am equally as in love with them.)

The brilliant laundry loop.

Next are the soakers themselves. This is the business end of the diaper, so no matter how fabulous the shells are, if they don't perform, well ... what's the point? Again, though, GroVia does not disappoint. The layered design of these organic cotton inserts ensures that they hold more than a traditional prefold, but maintain a much slimmer profile. Thanks to a neat snap feature, they also stay in place. And then there are these neat little "gutters" that gusset around the legs (yes, on the soaker!). You know how most "just change the insert and you can reuse the cover" systems fail miserably because every time the baby poops, you have to ditch the cover automatically? Well ... not the case with my GroVia. Yes, it does happen from time to time--especially with the softer newborn poops. But even in the earliest weeks, GroVia did the job beautifully. You really can make it through the day with just two covers, thanks to soakers that do what they're meant to do.

A view of the gusset on the snap-in soaker.

Did I mention that these diapers are one-size? Seven is now 20 lbs., and still on the second rise setting.
Seven in GroVia OS AI2 at 6 weeks.

Seven in the same GroVia at almost 6 months.

GroVia are hybrids, meaning that you can also use a disposable insert with your shells if you choose. I can't speak to that as I've no need for that particular function.

Laundering is easier than pockets. As I noted earlier, the laundry loops are a handy little bonus. I wash my covers separately from my soakers (one warm wash for shells, hang dry) out of personal preference, but it's not necessary.

So I'm blissfully happy with my perfect diaper. And so is Seven. 

This is an unsolicited review. I did not receive this product in exchange for my sharing about it. This is a review of an item I personally purchased, so take it for what it is.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


No, it isn't any easier the 6th time around ... because it's still the first time for the little one in question.

Seven is rarely unhappy. In fact, she cries so infrequently that the merest glimmer of a whimper stops everyone in the house--toddlers included--dead in their tracks.

"Momma! Momma! Baby crying!" Oli implored me this morning. Seven was strapped into the ergo, riding out the pain just inches below my chin. Yes, I knew the baby was crying. But how to tell well-meaning, soft-hearted Oli that there just wasn't anything I could do about it?

Later, Jo begged me to let her try and work her magic on her beloved baby sister. She rocked, cajoled, bounced... to no avail. Finally satisfied that she could do nothing else, she handed Seven back to me. and fled upstairs, where at least the sound of a whimpering baby was less obvious.

Teething gel. Cold wash cloths. Counter pressure with whatever is at hand. Tylenol.

"Theben ith thad," Mani nodded solemnly at lunch as I struggled to latch a sobbing, writhing baby to my breast. For those not blessed with a sweetly lisping two year-old, I'll translate, and let Mani sum it all up for you:

Seven is sad. And so are we.