House Updates

We’ve been working on this fixer upper of ours for 4 years! This is the year we might get it finished.

I pulled the red sculpted carpeting on the second floor last year even though we didn’t have money to replace flooring.  The carpet was 40 years old and the allergens were really built up in it. As soon as we figured out it was part of why I was sick all the time we pulled it out. I painted the subfloor with porch paint and even though it was rough, it was ok.   As soon as I could save up the money, I bought the same flooring (TrafficMASTER Handscraped Seratoga Hickory) we put down in Heather’s room. (I still need to paint the walls, add trim and wainscoting and art. And move the mattress, ha ha–but baby steps.)

It’s a little darker than the trend is going right now, but it matches our vintage doors perfectly and is only $.99 a square foot.  Their lighter colorway in Lakeshore Pecan is only $.79 a square foot!  It has been in Heather’s room for almost 4 years now and it has worn perfectly.  No scratches or chunks out of it.  It has held up better than the real hardwood we installed on the main floor.

Next step is to replace the paneling in the office.  I was going to paint it white, but it has water damage that caused the panels to warp and fail at the seams, which could mean mold issues above. As much as I’m afraid to look behind the paneling, I can’t risk leaving mold up there.  With fresh white paneling up, the office will become the temporary master bedroom.  I’ll miss my closet, but I won’t miss running past the glass front door wearing nothing but a towel as I head to the working bathroom while hoping the glare of the sun off the glass blinds the neighbors before the sight of me in a towel does.  I’m imagining this kind of cottage feel:


After that, we start removing the pine planked basement ceiling which is covered with 100 florescent lights.  I love the look of a painted pine ceiling, but the lights created 100 large holes that can’t be easily fixed.  The plan is to drywall the ceiling with a modest amount of LED recessed lights, and hope to leave the pine walls for painting.   Heidi and I have plans for the ruined pine planks.  We are hoping there will be long enough scraps to build some furniture.

The ceiling is coming down before we’re ready to finish the basement to give access to electrical and plumbing for the new master bedroom.  The master has been raw studs and exposed pipes and wires for 4 years.  I got tired of looking at it and thumbtacked twin flat sheets to the ceiling awhile ago.  It really did make waiting easier.

Under the plywood on the floor is a giant hole where the sunken bathtub with no surrounding walls used to live.  It was a big tripping hazard, so we had the tub hauled off by a metal recycler and plunked some plywood down so no one would fall to their death to the basement.  This is RIGHT in front of the entrance to the bedroom.  You could sit in the former bathtub in the master and watch the TV in the family room and hold a conversation with everyone, convenient :).   Plus, the kids liked using it as a slide.  They were pretty upset they day it left.

We are moving the door in the master bedroom from the family room to the foyer.  This will give us enough space to build an ensuite bathroom, and allow faster middle of the night access to the 2nd floor where the children sleep.  The doors are right on the other side of the staircase from each other.  The new door is to the left of the old one and makes good sense inside the bedroom also.  There’s just enough space for the new door to make it 36 inches wide with room for proper trim.

Here are the current plans for the ensuite:

Also on the list:  finish the basement, build organizers in the garage, replace the driveway, build a lower patio under the upper deck, cut a back door and add stairs to go to the yard, build a swing set and finish the landscaping.  We’re about $16,000 short on the budget for ALL of this, so some projects will have to wait while we save up money.   I’m also hoping that I over budgeted on some projects and we will find money as we go along.  Bwa ha ha!  Like that EVER happens in remodeling.

We refinanced our home in January.  My parents hold the mortgage to the house.  It’s a rare situation I know, but they are very frugal and built a nice savings that my mom was afraid to invest in the stock market.  It was sitting in the bank making %0.005 interest driving my Dad crazy.  He was interested in loaning it to us where it could safely grow.  We were getting a mortgage anyway and would have to pay the interest somewhere, and it feels really good paying it to them.  We have the mortgage on direct deposit, so every month they automatically get paid.  We’re never late and everyone has peace of mind.  That simple piece of organization keeps the family relationship good.  I know this is something that Dave Ramsey says to never do, but it works for us.  This January, my folks gave us back all the principal+interest that we had paid them over the last 4 years and started our loan over.  If we are super careful, it should be enough to finish the house modestly.


How I’m Knocking My Husband’s Socks off this Valentine’s Day

I’m normally not the romantic one in our relationship.  That’s what makes this surprise so good. He’s not going to expect it and he’s going to love it at the same time.  Not only is it romantic and relationship building, but it’s good for his health.  That might be my favorite part.

Last year I took an online course called, Melt, by professional massage therapist Denis Merkas. He has had famous clients like Peirce Brosnan come through his clinic.  Normally I wouldn’t’ have access to learn from someone of his skill level, but through the Melt course I got to learn his technique.  When I was a newlywed, I read an article that said men usually don’t live as long as their wives because of stress.  I told my husband that I would give him a massage every night so he would release stress and live longer.   It was a great idea, except my tiny little lady hands were no match for his boulder shoulders.  I would give up after a few minutes, and he would wonder why his massage was so short.   I wasn’t very interested in trying again, because of the pain and his massages were further and further apart until I stopped trying.

Denis’s course changed all that for me.  I learned the secrets that allow professional massage therapists give a 60 minute massage without wearing out, even on super strong bodies.   Darren felt the difference the first time.  He didn’t know why it was so good, he just knew it was.  When it was all over, he wanted to know how I learned the technique and if he could learn it too.   I’m all for that!

So this Valentine’s Day I’m paying attention to all the romantic details.

  1. Refresh my technique by watching the video course again.
  2. Tidy up the bedroom room, not perfection just better than normal, so he NOTICES something is different.
  3. Rose petals on the bed.
  4. Wooden tray with candles, Valentine chocolates, and massage oil on the bench at the foot of our bed.  It’s a great place for a lying down massage.
  5. Fur rug and blankets in front of the tall leaning mirror with more candles and chocolates.  It’s the perfect place for a sitting massage so he can watch me massage him wearing something flirtatious.
  6. Youtube playlist of relaxing music.  I like this one and this one.

I can’t wait to see his face when he comes home from work next Tuesday :).

Valentine’s Day Special…

Melt is bundling up its foot massage videos for FREE with the Melt video series. Total value of $171 for only $99. So many tutorials, you’ll be sharing massages for years to come! 

Offer ends Feb 14th, 2017

Click here 

This special promo is for our Grocery Shrink readers. You’ll get lifetime unlimited access to the ENTIRE melt video series and the foot rub videos. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  

Includes a 60 day money back guarantee + a Valentine’s Day gift voucher.

These are not only great for cheap stay home date nights (works out at around $29 a date night if you split it over three nights!) even less $7.41 if you set up a massage date idea once a month!

Why I’m Bubbling Over With Excitement

This month I’ve been hosting a spending freeze challenge for the Grocery Shrink Plus members.  It was an extra perk of their meal plan membership and they got some extra stuff, like printable worksheets and the super frugal $50 week meal plan to help them get the most out of the the challenge.  The best part is how the members encourage each other.

Here’s one comment from a member who gave permission for me to share her story but asked to remain anonymous:

This “no spending freeze” has been an inspiration to me. 
I finally talked with my husband about our budget. He is on board, and I am holding myself more accountable on our grocery budget. I am one of THESE people with overblown grocery budget, but can’t afford it. I am working hard on not stock piling, holding out for the true sales, and only buying what is needed right now (fruit for most part, along with paper products and toiletries). So far, we have only spent about 15% of our regular budget. I intend on keeping the same for February, and then keep our new budget to 2/3 of what we spent last year.
Our other budget items have remained at 0 for this month, except of course for what we spend our animals and pets, some homeschooling expenses and regular bills. When we had to eat out, due to lack of planning and time, it made my family more aware, and gave more tools to discuss with our kids why we are not going out every Sunday for dinner with our friends after church.
Is it hard? Yes, as I am trying not to obsess over the budget, but at the same time enjoy almost too much seeing our expenses going way down this month.
And from another member:
We were able to pay off the balance of a credit card that I didn’t expect to pay off for another 3 months! Getting this debt snowball rolling…. 
And we still have a week left!!!!
We wrap up the spending freeze, January 31st, but I’m keeping the group open for several ladies who want to continue freezing for a few more months and kick their debt to the curb.
But this isn’t the only reason I’m excited.  Have you ever noticed how much sticking to a budget is similar to sticking to a healthy eating plan?
That’s why the next official GSP challenge is a fitness challenge.  It starts February 6th and comes with special bonuses including fat shredding prep ahead meal plans, so you can have your meals and snacks all ready to go for each week, a private group where you can check in and get a pat on the back, and extra coaching.  If you’d like to join us, here’s a secret link for 50% off the membership.  It expires February 6th or whenever we fill up.

Our Adventure with Irlen Syndrome

It’s important that everyone knows about Irlen Syndrome, because it is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether and leads to other health problems.  It can be the result of genetics or head trauma including whiplash, concussion or combat.   50% of children with learning disabilities have Irlen Syndrome, and 40% of children diagnosed with dyslexia have Irlen’s syndrome instead.  Irlens is very common for veterans and can cause enhanced PTSD symptoms.

Irlen Syndrome is a sensitivity to light, which sounds simple enough, but the affects are anything but.  In an Irlen patient when certain wave lengths of light hit the eye, confusing messages are sent to the brain.  This usually leads to visual misperceptions.  Words can dissolve into the white page, tremor, or tumble down the page.  It might look sharp and clear in the very center but distorted away from the center.  Items might look like they are glowing, colors might appear that aren’t really there.  Things may look closer or further away than they really are.  Depth perception may be off.   Round letters like o, e, a, and u might look identical to an Irlen child learning to read, making phonics quite confusing.  Square things might look round, including home windows and doors. A genetically triggered Irlen patient may not recognize that they are seeing anything abnormal.  It’s all they’ve seen or experienced and will naturally assume everyone else sees that way too.

Since Irlen Syndrome is a neurological disorder, both optometrists and special education teachers in the United States are largely unaware of it. I’d like to see this change. While it’s true that an Irlen patient’s eyes are not causing the problem, the pathway of the SOLUTION is through the eyes. Often the first intervention for a child with a reading problem is to take them to the eye doctor. How much better could we find and help these kids if eye doctors knew what to watch for? It would benefit every eye practice financially to offer this service and benefit the families who currently have to travel quite far to reach a practitioner. In addition, since around 50% of all children with learning difficulties have Irlen Syndrome it only makes sense to add it’s study to the course work for all Special Education teachers. Since Irlen syndrome is barely touched upon in optical school in the United States, and rarely mentioned in teacher education, many children are misdiagnosed.  My oldest daughter was diagnosed dyslexic with visual processing and processing speed disorders and we didn’t discover she had Irlen syndrome for 8 more years.

This is a tragedy because Irlen Syndrome is easily treated with colored filters.  When left untreated it causes other health conditions such as Adrenal Fatigue and Tachycardia (too fast heartbeat.)  Studies have shown for every beat per minute you can lower your resting heart rate, you extend your life by 1 year. Take a look at the typical brain activity of an Irlen patient with and without filters.

Untreated Irlen patients are stressed out all the time!  It’s common to find them grinding their teeth, clenching their jaws (with permanent joint damage), tight shoulders and neck muscles, headaches–often migranes.  This amount of stress can lead to OCD behaviors, whole body inflammation, hyperactivity, memory loss and language processing disorders (poor access to words when writing or talking,) new or worsening allergies, temper eruptions, sensory integrative disorder (sensitivity to touch, sounds, smells, tastes and textures visual clutter, etc.), depression, and social anxiety (fear of crowds or leaving home.)

I had common adrenal fatigue symptoms at an early age such as exercise intolerance, heat and cold sensitivity, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, depression, exhaustion, amenorrhea (after age 13), food sensitivities and fear of crowds. When I became a mother these symptoms increased to the point that I was bedfast for months at a time on several occasions.

I never would have considered Irlen syndrome as the root cause of my trouble, if it weren’t for my daughters.  I never struggled in school.  I learned to read spontaneously when I was 4 and went through school in the gifted and talented program, earning straight As and a full ride scholarship through college.  9% of Irlen patients are just like me.  Their visual disturbances don’t disrupt normal function.  When I was sitting in the clinic with Heather watching her 3 hour long test process, I would say things like—ooh, that color makes the whole room feel calm.  The doctor looked at me and said, “Mama, you’re next.”

“Oh no!  Not me! I read just fine.”

“I’m sure you do. You’ll get a chance to prove it in a minute.”

I sat at the testing desk and the doctor asked me a few questions:  Do you have TMJ? Are you considered clumsy?  Do you ever have trouble thinking of the right word? Do sounds, smells, and lights irritate you?  Have you struggled with Adrenal Fatigue?  Do you have night blindness? Do you grind your teeth?  Have you ever worn glasses?

I answered yes to everything.  Then I remembered when I was 12, school and social pressures and hormone changes added to the stress that my brain had already been under for years.  The visual disturbances worsened until I was blending lines together in reading, skipping and re-reading lines.  Homework was impossible.  My mom took me to the eye doctor. He said, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with her eyes, but I’m going to write her this little prescription and see if we can relax her eye muscles a little.”  That should have been my first clue that I had a neurological problem, but we just didn’t know.

The doctor gave me a medical textbook to read.  It took all my concentration to focus on the words and pronounce the complex vocabulary properly.  But I did it, really well. I beamed at her….”I proved it.”

Then she said, “What was that about?”  I couldn’t remember much from the text I read.   She turned the page and we spent several minutes looking at the page through different colored filters.  I found 2 that cut down on trembling of the text and she asked me to read again.  My speed and accuracy was pronouncedly improved and I could remember more of the text. she asked me to go home and make an appointment with the local screener. I said I’d consider it.

In the meantime, my youngest daughter’s glasses arrived in the mail.  She was at school so I tried them on.  I didn’t expect much, but a strong feeling of peace and well-being flooded over me.  I was experiencing a calm brain for the first time in my life and it was overwhelming.  I burst into tears.  I looked across the room and things far away were in focus that weren’t before. When I took the glasses off and put them back on, and off and on…. (you would too!)  I realized the room had been vibrating…my whole life.

A few days later, my oldest daughter was in the living room doing her homework in the dark…again.  “Don’t you want me to turn on some more light?”  I asked.

“No! Please, No!”  Then she burst into tears.  “Could you read my text book to me?  I’ve been staring at it forever and I can’t make sense of it.”  In the past I would have said something like, “If you’d work in adequate light, you’d be able to read it.”  But this time, I put everything together.  The headaches.  The dyslexic and processing diagnosis.  The emotional outbursts and sensitivity to sound and light.  I read her the book, then called Ken Schmidt our local Irlen screener and got her in the next day.  My suspicions were confirmed. She had a severe case of Irlens.

Heidi’s case is interesting because her verbal communication is partially locked due to Irlens.  She learned to talk late even though everything else was developmentally early.  I’ve always known to take what she says with a grain of salt.  It’s not that she’s untruthful, she just perceives things unusually. Heidi was unable to verbalize which filters helped her.  Her Irlens was so severe that she still saw visual disturbances through every combination of filters.

At our extended visit to the specialist 3 hours away, I mentioned to the doctor that I wished we could hook Heidi up to a biofeedback machine so we could test the stress on her brain through the different filters. That would help us figure out what she needed since she couldn’t tell us.  The doctor snapped her fingers.  “I can’t do that, but I can do this….”  She went to a drawer and pulled out an ear lobe pulse monitor.

She hooked it up to Heidi’s ear and measured her pulse at 84 beats per minute.  That’s pretty fast for an athletic teenage girl who has been sitting in a chair for 2 hours. Heidi held different combinations of filters up to her eyes and the doctor kept watch on the pulse monitor.  When we found the combination of filters we ordered for her, her heart rate came down to 50 beats per minute in a matter of seconds.  Heidi still had visual disturbances through those filters, but it was the best we could do.  She will wear them for a few months and then we will go back and try again, hoping that her brain will have calmed enough so she can help guide us to the correct filters better.

The doctor looked at me and said, “Mom, you need to consider this more deeply. No family has 2 daughters this severely affected without history of traumatic injury unless both parents are genetic carriers.”

Both Parents? I made an appointment for myself with the local screener.  Ken showed me several sheets of paper designed to trigger visual disturbances in an Irlen patient.  He asked me what I could see.  I would say, “This is what I see, but I know this to be true about what I’m seeing.”  He said, “I’m not testing your ability to adapt for yourself.  No one is disputing that you do that very well.  I just want to know what you see.”  Then it occurred to me that I had spent my whole life adapting, working hard to perceive, ignoring what my mind was telling me and looking for context clues to find the truth.  I saw blue and yellow auras and rivers of white running through the print. When I was counting a row of black Xs, the white swallowed them up and left me with a row of white dots.  A picture of a black box appeared to have a gray side and the lines would disappear and reappear at random intervals, sometimes doubling.  I told him everything, and said, “But doesn’t everyone see it the way I’m seeing it? Aren’t these optical illusions?”  I looked at his face and saw the answer clearly, “No.”

Trying on frames at Costco

So off I went to the specialist.  I’ll spare you the details, but when I finally found the filters I ordered, she had me hold them up to my face and walk outside.  I looked out over the horizon and everything was clear as far as I could see. Crisp, fresh.  The lenses had no curve to them, only color. How could this be?  The pavement seemed farther away than it used to be.  I walked cautiously, slowly.  Lifting my feet too high at times, and leaning on Darren’s arm for balance.  My depth perception had been this wrong?  I am going to need to learn to walk all over again.  No wonder I trip up the stairs, crash into door-frames, and knock my hips on furniture.

I have two more children that need to be tested. Their little quirks and sensitivities finally make sense in the big picture of what we’re learning. I want to run out and help them right away, but every person that gets treated costs around $1100, and I need some time to save.

Here are the steps for treatment.  Insurance won’t cover it, but most HSA plans will allow you to use pre-tax funds from your HSA account or cafeteria plan.

  1.  Take the self-test
  2. Make an appointment with a screener.  This costs $80 in my town, but saves $150 off the  Diagnostician appointment.  This is usually a 2 hour session and concludes with a set of colored overlays to read with if you are diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome. Colored overlays are helpful but are just a bandaid.  Irlens affects more than just reading and only glasses or contacts worn constantly are a real solution.
  3. Make sure to have a current eye exam.  And carry a copy of your prescription.
  4. Buy frames that are large enough to block light from reaching your eyes from the top.  Just frames, don’t fill the prescription. You shouldn’t be able to see much ceiling if you roll your eyes up with the your frames on. (We found Costco to be the best combo of style, quality and price.)
  5. Make an appointment with an Irlen Diagnostician.  Do call around.  We have 3 diagnosticians all within 3 hours of our home.  I didn’t check other states and went to one based on a friend’s recommendation.  She charges $930 for an appointment, the other one that I found out about later charges $450.  This is significant because we have so many family members affected, but now we have a history and relationship with the expensive doctor.  (The diagnostician will have advice on whether your prescription is necessary or whether the filters will be enough correction.  Ultimately it’s up to you whether you do both or not.)
  6. Follow up in 2-3 months.  If at any time the lenses don’t appear to be working, go back and have them checked.  Our doctor doesn’t charge for a check within 3 months of the last one.  If the child stops wearing them all the time, complains of headaches, or has increased emotional outbursts, it’s time to get them checked.
  7. Once you have a good set of lenses, go back annually for a follow up.  The color can fade over time and may need to be retinted.  Contacts can also be tinted, but only certain kinds.  Once your prescription is good, ask your diagnostician about your contact options.

If you made it this far and have questions or comments, I’m all ears :).

What I’m Into this Week

Ashley Black Fascia Blasting.  The tools aren’t cheap (and I haven’t purchased yet) but I joined the facebook group and have been lurking for awhile.  The success stories and before and after pictures are inspiring.  I’m interested in the process to gain more range of motion and reduce body pain, especially in my jaw, neck and shoulders. When my husband heard the testimonies, he said, “Will you buy me one for my back?”  He had a painful back injury 3 years ago that hasn’t healed even after months of physical therapy.  We can totally share one. I also plan to convince my mom to try it on her knee.  She has had horrible pain for more than 6 months that even surgery and steroid shots haven’t helped. I think this could be really helpful to her. If you decide to lurk in the group, search #storytimewithjoanna to hear how the business began. It’s inspirational.  (PS side affects include loss of cellulite, increased hair growth, increased collagen production, and some temporary bruising.)  If you are a physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist–this isn’t optional.  You should at least look it over.

Irlen Syndrome.  I alluded to this briefly in this post, but we have had even more experience with it since.  My daughters have struggled with learning disabilities from a very young age and I’ve spent a lot of hours and money researching and trying different things to help them reach their potential.  Both girls are extremely bright, but process slowly and have visual misperceptions.   The younger one was diagnosed with Irlen syndrome in August.   Since then we have discovered 2 more members of the family who also have it, and are screening the rest to rule it out.  This is a fascinating subject for parents of special needs kids, educators, and optometrists.  If you’d like to hear more about our experience with it, I can write more–just let me know in the comments.  I don’t want to bore you with the details if you aren’t really interested.  (This is likely the main trigger for my adrenal issues and I’m hoping with proper treatment, I will finally be able to heal.)

The Young House Love podcast. I’ve loved this blogging duo for years now. Their topic of expertise is home decor and I couldn’t figure out how that would translate to a radio show, but it totally does. I look forward to listening weekly as I do my kitchen chores.  I love the way the couple interacts with a big dose of humor.

Do you listen to podcasts?  Leave your favorites in the comments below.  (Also…let me know about the Irlen thing.)

The Year of Curating

I didn’t make any resolutions this year.  It’s not that I actively rebelled against the idea.  Instead I made a smallish goal for each of the next two months.  After that I will evaluate how it worked out and what the next step should be.

For example, I’m having a spending freeze this month and invited the Grocery Shrink Plus members to join. In a private area of the site we have a support group with extra coaching and downloads related to the challenge.  But just that one thing. Yes, I want to lose weight, wish my house were more organized, and need to spend more time in quiet devotions.  I need to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, and exercise.  But shoof all of that at once is overwhelming.

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve realized the value of preventing overwhelm and curating a restful life for my family.  It is carefully selecting and then taking care of what I have chosen. It applies to home decor, after school activities, music, clothing, thoughts, budget categories, food, garden plants, relationships, jobs, entertainment.  It’s about not letting life “happen” and grumbling about the hodgepodge I find myself in, but being purposeful and thoughtful when there are choices to be made.

I can’t curate everything all at once.  A valuable museum collection doesn’t come together in one day.  It takes small steps, small decisions, to make the big picture. Sometimes that means leaving an empty spot while I wait for the right thing or the right time.

It also means re-evalutaing things that were purposeful choices in the past.  There are only a few things that are life long commitments:  My relationship with Christ, my marriage, and my family.   Everything else may be a calling just for a time.  There have been times when I’ve felt a distinct calling to serve in a specific job.  It was so strong that I thought it might be “forever” or for many many years.  I spent long hours in preparation and research to do the best job possible, then a few years later knew clearly that role was to end. Oh how I mourned! In this way I grieved my loss of homeschooling, my loss of teaching choir, and giving up my Mary Kay and Pattern Drafting businesses and yet I knew I was walking in the path God had set for me.  All too readily I looked around for something to fill the empty space when God’s plan was to leave a space.  Space to heal, space to grow, space to appreciate life.

So this is the year I curate space, beauty, rest.  It feels lovely to write that.

How about you? Do you have big plans for the new year?

One thing to do Before the New Year

The Christmas tree is still up and sparkling a cheerful greeting today.  My organized friends are already put away for the New Year, but I’m letting the 12 days of Christmas linger on.  It’s not our usual thing, but we’ve been working in extra doctor visits this week which included a 6 hour trip to see a specialist in the next state over.  Times like these call for grace.

I know you’ll understand, when I say it was an accomplishment to just get the dishes washed and find clean underwear.

This week between Christmas and New Year’s, when you still have some lingering memories of Christmas and how you felt about everything, is the perfect time to make your life better next year. Were you joyful? Disappointed? Super Organized? Stressed?  While you can still remember what went right and what went wrong, write a note.  I have an excel document that I add a new tab to every year for gift budget planning.  That way I can easily reflect on past year’s happenings and improve my plans for the next year.

At the end of the year, I write a few lines under the budget about things that I want to remember.  (And trust me, we won’t remember if we don’t write it down.)  For example, one year my daughter had a meltdown about not having a cute outfit to wear to our family gathering where her really trendy cousin would be. It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it sure disrupted the happiness at our house. I made a note to work with her at the beginning of the season so that she’ll have a good option and then this year she surprised me by not caring anymore.

One time, I was surprised by “family gifts” that were passed around at our white elephant gift exchange party.  I had thought we were doing the white elephant to avoid individual gifting and save budgets and stress on family members….but then I was handed a gift and had nothing to give in return, and I was the ONLY one who didn’t bring family gifts.  That felt awful.

There are a myriad of possible ways to give charitably during the season. Our church sponsors families and we have the opportunity to buy gifts for those less fortunate.  I also belong to a charitable giving group of local friends and we sponsored our local foster care system and women’s shelter this year.  It was an awesome way to show my kids the joy of helping others, except I failed to plan for it in our budget.  At the time of year when things are already tight, this had me scrambling.  I wrote a new budget line just for that for next year’s budget.

Our grandmother passed away a year ago, and several of the grandchildren gave her daughter the grandmother’s favorite Christmas candy to remember her.  It was really meaningful and I didn’t think of it, so it went into my notes.

One year I made several homemade gifts to help with our budget and improve the quality of the gifts I was able to give.  The only problem was I got both kinds of flu 2 weeks before Christmas and had to wrap unfinished gifts to take back and finish at home later.  Now I give myself a calendar notification in September to start choosing projects and a before Thanksgiving deadline to have them all done.

You see where this is going?  It could be a good thing too, like wrapping my gifts as they came (with a code number on it so I can remember what’s in it!) and putting them under the tree and there was no last minute scramble or danger of the gift being found and the surprised ruined.

While I have the excel file open, I go ahead and copy my old budget over for the new year, then tweak it.  If I have gift ideas, I add them in as well.  In 2017 I’m doubling my gift budget for my own kids.  It has been so small since they were born, that if we wanted to give them anything big, it had to be a family gift and use all the budget for all the kids–no individual gifts.  I’m ready to change that and breathe a little.  When we started out, we budgeted $20 per kid for Christmas. Then when we were debt free, doubled it to $40. For the last 4 years we raised it to $50.  Next year I’m budgeting $100.  I also raised the birthday budget to $100 per child. Since Darren’s salary didn’t go up, that means I’ll need to make up the difference. I kept the amount the same that comes from our regular household budget, and the rest I will earn extra each month to make it a reality.

This is also a great time to update the addresses in your Christmas card list.  I almost forgot about that, because we haven’t managed to mail any out for the last 3 years or even take an updated family photo.  I’ve set the bar low to improve next year, bwa ha ha.

DIY Pompom Trim Blanket

We have a bonus room over our garage that I’m using for my office/craft room/guest room.  It has a high vaulted ceiling and the previous home owners used every inch of floor space by not putting in knee walls.  The wall shown here with the window in it, is the only wall in the room that you can put furniture against and even that contains the tall laundry chute.  (I’m tempted to rip this out and just have a hatch in the floor.) Also the thread cabinet on the wall and the sewing table are going to new homes.

The whole room is paneled in 1970’s press board. It would look darling painted white, except for where the roof leaked many years ago, and warped the boards. I’m not sure what to do about that….so I’ve left it natural while we worked on other rooms. I used to have bright blue and white chevron curtains on the rods but am ready for a change.  I’m living with nothing while I decide what will be next.  There are outlets everywhere in the room, on the ceiling and on the floor.  It’s a crafter’s dream and strange all at the same time.  It’s going to be tricky to lay the floor in here, which I hope will happen December 26th.

After subjecting our guests to sleeping on an air mattress with a lumpy hide-a-bed mattress thrown over the top, I decided to invest in a more substantial guest bed.  I found this bed frame for a queen bed that folds up into a small square, yet the reviews said it was sturdy enough to use as an every day bed frame.  When folded, the bed frame perfectly fits in a triangle shaped cubby hole in the corner of the room by the furnace utility closet and tucks out of the way when not in use.

The bed frame didn’t require a box spring. I went to Ikea and tried out all their mattresses and came home with this one.  I had first thought to get an all foam mattress, but this one was surprisingly more comfortable.  It came vacuum sealed and rolled up in a cylinder shape, which made getting it home really easy.  I could imagine it sliding into the cubby beside the bed frame when not in use.  When I cut the plastic and the mattress fully expanded in the room, it was clear it wasn’t tucking behind anything.  SOOOO, my brilliant idea left me with a folded up bed frame in the corner of my office and a mattress on the floor.   Then I saw this blog post from ZevyJoy.  She explains how she used a $50 Ektorp slip cover to turn a queen bed into a daybed for their family room.  Since queen daybed frames were running $300-$1200 online, I thought this was a fabulously frugal alternative.

I made one more trip to Ikea for an Ektorp slipcover, some pillow forms and pillow covers to make my own version at home. (The shopping trip that inspired this post.) The effect is limited with the paneled walls and bare plywood floor (except for the well loved rug I threw down for feet safety, but it still beats the mattress on the floor vibe.  I used as much of what I had as possible.  The ektorp cover is stuffed with my spare feather pillows that I had been collecting for a few dollars at a time at second hand and salvage shops.  The chenile bedspread was in a free bin at my neighbor’s garage sale, because her new puppy had chewed a few holes in it.  (After mending it’s hard to find the damaged spots in all the texture.)

I love the texture of a chunky pompom throw and wanted one to cozy up the guest bed, but they are crazy expensive. The thought of wrapping a thousand homemade pompoms to sew to a blanket wasn’t very appealing, and I’m not a fan of finding strings all over the house that fell out of said homemade pompoms.  Crocheted pomopms are FAST and cannot lose strings.  I started with an Ikea Polarvide throw for $3.99.

The scalloped edge is adorable, but not great for this application.  I just grabbed my good fabric scissors and cut them off, ending up with a pile of petal shapes that I saved in a baggie waiting for inspiration for another project.

I chose Lion Brand Homespun Thick and Quick in Dove for the poms.  I wanted a chunky boucle yarn, to make it go faster and give the poms a furry texture.   It took almost all of 2 skeins to get around the blanket. At $8.99 a skein that would have upped the price of the throw quite a bit, but you probably guessed I used a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby for each skein.  (The final project cost was $14.79.)

I used a P hook from this set, but you can use any size and any type of yarn you prefer.  Start by chaining long enough to go all the way around the blanket.  After I had a fairly long chain, I started pinning it to the blanket as I went so I’d know as soon as my chain was long enough.  It also kept that huge chain from twisting.  Join with a slip stitch to close and single crochet in each chain around.

To form the pom: chain 6 and form a 3 double crochet cluster in the 3rd chain from the hook.  *Chain 3, then form another 3 double crochet cluster in the 3rd chain from the hook.  Slip stitch to fold those two clusters in half and form a ball.  Then chain 3, skip the next 3 single crochet stitches from your foundation row and single crochet in the next stitch.* Continue from * around.  Finish off and weave in the ends.

When you get to the end, if you don’t have a exactly 3 chains to skip, it’s ok to skip 2 or 4 or whatever is left.  It won’t show in the final blanket.

Here’s a video from Bella Coco that gives a nice visual:

When the edging was all finished, I used a long zigzag stitch on my machine to attach it to the blanket, using cream thread on the top and gray in the bottom so the threads would blend away.  The only problem was the chunky boucle kept getting caught in my presser foot.  Several times I wondered if hand stitching would have been the better plan.

How to Know if It’s an Ear Infection

She’s crying…again.  She seemed fine during the day, but now that it’s time for bed, she’s screaming.  Is she just overtired?  Being naughty about bedtime?  Or is there something seriously wrong?

As a new mom, I felt a lot of stress over knowing when to call the doctor or run to the emergency room.  It was even harder when they were too young to really tell me what was wrong.   Is it just a cold?  Or a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics?

One of my babies was a real screamer.  At his 6 week checkup, he screamed royally for the doctor. The doctor looked at me and said, “Does he do this often?”

“All the time,” I responded, exhausted.   I couldn’t just stay up with him at night holding him. We would have to leave the house, because his screaming would keep everyone awake.  There was nothing I could do, except put him in the jogger and run. If the breeze stopped cooling his face, he would scream.  2am.  3am.  I ran, so the family could sleep.  (You would think I would lose weight quickly that way…but nope.  Not a pound.)

“Take him to Children’s Mercy, Now.”  He said.  “I’m calling ahead, so they will expect you.”

I called my husband enroute to the hospital, who left work and met me there.  They asked me his symptoms.  “He screams,” I said.  They looked confused.  They ran a huge battery of tests.  They found NOTHING wrong.  We received a hefty bill to have our child diagnosed as “fussy.”

It made me cautious.  When do I call?  When is it just nothing?  I don’t have all the answers to that and it’s good to err on the side of being cautious.  But you can get a tool that will help you with your decision making.

There are more expensive versions for sure, but we have this one and for $15 it does the job well.  It comes with a little card showing what a healthy ear drum looks like and an infected one.  I don’t exactly self-diagnose with this, but If I look in there and see the angry red ear drum, we call the doctor.

As a novice, I would call the doctor and say, “He has an ear infection.”  They don’t like that.  Doctors went to school for 8 years to have the right to say, “he has an ear infection.”  I did not.  So now I call up and say, “He has an earache, a fever of 101, and when I looked inside with my otoscope I saw a red inflamed ear drum.”   Just facts, no diagnosis.  That goes a lot better.

P.S. The links are not affiliate links.  Just a product I personally have and hope will make your life easier.

P.P.S. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.  This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease.