When I was a new mom I had dreams of sitting around the table every morning, with Daddy leading devotions to smiling children memorizing Bible verses set on a backdrop of a hearty home cooked breakfast. I had no idea at the time that we would welcome one baby after another and that I’d have 12 years of rough mornings. We’d be up all night taking turns with a colicky baby and Darren would peel out of bed barely rested, just in time to throw on clothes and dash to work where he had a loaf of bread stashed for breakfast toast.
I’ve been a big dreamer my whole life, always reaching, never fully satisfied. Thinking of ways to improve our situation, make life more efficient. Thinking of ways to earn more money, and maybe enough that my husband and I could work together full time—finally earning the flexibility to do whatever we want. Professionally, my ultimate dream was to retire my husband from a traditional job. I imagined us working on the road as we showed our homeschooled kids the world.
I still want you to have a beautiful life. I want you to celebrate birthdays, have family vacations, reliable cars, and a beautiful home that reflects your personal style. I want you to have nice clothes, to eat healthy food, to give good gifts and invite people over. I want you to make memories with your family, to support missions and causes that tug at your heart and to be generous in unexpected moments. But most of all I want you to fall sleep quickly at night, knowing there are no bills coming in the mail that you won’t know how to pay.
Do you ever read social media posts and look at the beautiful pictures of vacations, new cars, remodel projects, and family outings and wonder, “How in the world are they doing that?” I do. I wonder and then remember, that I have a bigger than average family with bigger than average medical needs, and an aversion to debt that makes us weird. I can’t compare my life to theirs; it just doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes we need a voice to reassure us that, “Everyone’s not doing that.” And sometimes we need new ideas for ways that we can re-route our money so that more of the things that matter to us are possible. And when we’ve dug as deep as we can with our time and creativity, sometimes we need ideas to get more money.
I want to be that friend in your life, the one that tells you it’s more than ok to live simply. To help you remember that the most important things in this life aren’t things. To help you with ideas when the money just isn’t there this time. The one that smiles with you in solidarity over the clothing rack at the Goodwill. The other mom at the zoo with the packed lunch from home.
How can I be most helpful to you? Choose as many as you like.
Halfway through my first year teaching, we got married. As if being a new teacher wasn’t hard enough, my 2nd year about the same time we had our first baby. I had made a commitment early on to be an at home mom, so even though it was much sooner than we expected, I suspended my teaching career at the end of my 2nd year.
My mom was a professional homemaker, so the idea of thrift and economy wasn’t new to me. I penny-pinched and DIY’d myself to homemaker bliss and also brought in small amounts of income on the side: a little babysitting here, some music lessons there, a garage sale a few times a year, some custom sewing and craft sales….you get the idea. It was never a great deal of money at once. I put it in an envelope in my lingerie drawer and let it accumulate.**
If I got birthday money or had leftover in a budget category some month, it all went in there. I didn’t tell anyone about it. To be honest, I rarely thought about it myself. It’s what the farm wives of old used to call their “egg money” or “cookie jar money.”
One day my husband came home as low spirited as a man could get. His job had been suddenly terminated. He made a mistake and was terminated for cause so we were not eligable for unemployment. We had a small emergency fund, so we weren’t eligible for food stamps or medicaid either. I called every agency I could think of, and we fell through the cracks for all of them.* By the time we qualified for help, we would be homeless.
My husband sat on the sofa with his face in his hands thinking about his dismal job options when there was a termination for cause on his employment record. He had 8 mouths to feed and our small savings would last us 5 months IF we just paid for power, gasoline, mortgage and $200 a month for food and all other household needs. We immediately canceled everything extra including music lessons. Cobra insurance would have wiped us out completely in just a couple of months, so we had to let our health insurance go too. It wasn’t safe or recommended, but we were desperate.
Then I remembered my secret stash. I had been hoping to use it for a family vacation or a home update project. Instead, I grabbed the fat, worn envelope out of it’s lacy nest and brought it to my despondent husband. His eyes opened wide at this unexpected gift. We counted it together and it was enough to buy us an extra month of job hunting time.
It was a blessing at the time, but we have mixed opinions about the wisdom of a secret stash. My husband believes all income should be reported to the family and properly budgeted for, even if it is to go in the emergency fund. While I can see his side of things, I loved being able to surprise him with more than he hoped for, and having a little “mad money” that I could decide for alone. He agrees mad money is a great thing, but wants to budget for it.
What do you think? Do you have a secret stash?
*I have since learned about 20+ Harvester food drop locations in driving distance from my home. Most of them do not require enrollment or proof of need, which would have been a blessing to me at the time.
**There’s also the law that even small amounts of cash income are supposed to be reported to the government, excluding gifts and garage sales where items are sold at a loss. I didn’t know it at the time, but thankfully the largest bulk of my stash was from garage sales and birthday gifts.
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.
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.
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.
Make sure to have a current eye exam. And carry a copy of your prescription.
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.)
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.)
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.
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 :).
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?
When I was growing up, my mama did a lot of things around the house. She used power tools, repaired furniture, skim coated drywall, decorated cakes, sewed clothes, baked fresh bread, gardened and preserved the harvest, had a family dinner every night, and taught Sunday School.
As I grew up, all these activities were normal to me. It wasn’t a big deal for me to bake bread or sew clothes, it was just something that mamas do. Having a nightly family dinner was just something you DO, it never occurred to me to skip it. When we were done, we cleared the table, washed the dishes and wiped down the counters. We didn’t even think about it, we just did it.
We walked away from stuff when it cost too much even though my dad made good money. Mom’s willingness to walk away and do without, or wait for the right deal made sure they had savings. They paid off their house when I was 9 and never borrowed another dime after that. It built character in me to not have the latest trends and to wait for things. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the skill of waiting has served me well as an adult.
We went to church. Every time the doors were open. I never had to ask if we were going. We just did.
My babies came so soon after I married and so close together that I lost some of my good habits—like going to bed early, getting up early, working out consistently, and daily Bible study. Now that life has settled down a little (knock on wood) I’m figuring out how to build these habits back into my day. My first thought was to get up early and do them before my kids are up. That way I can have uninterrupted quiet time (sounds so good!) If I did that, they would never see me do them. And those are the important things that I want them to think are just part of being a mama. Mamas read their Bibles. Mama’s take care of their bodies. Mamas pray.
The habits that I want to be second nature for my kids, the ones I don’t want to be a big deal, just something they DO, those are the things I need to model for them now. They need to see it consistently, day in and day out. Not stressful, not a big deal, just accomplished.
I wonder what my kids will just do and not think about, because it was a normal part of their childhood. I hope using cash is one of them, along with saving up to pay for stuff, being ok with roughing it to pave the way for a bigger goal, and giving to people who are in need.
When I was thinking about the things I want my daughter to know before she leaves home, I made a mental list of the fastest way to clean X, how to make bread, how to fix a zipper etc…then I realized those are all things she could google. What she really needs to know is stuff that I’m still trying to grasp. Things like “everybody struggles.”
About 6 years ago, we drove a few hours north to go to a family reunion. My husband’s cousin invited us for an impromptu tour of her home that she had built with her husband. I offered to give her a head start and she looked at me like I had 3 heads. Her home was ALWAYS ready for company. When we walked in it looked like a show home. It was spotless and perfectly decorated, even the kid bedrooms. I left my shoes outside.
As the tour progressed I made a mental note of the things I could change in my routine to make my home always ready for company. When I got home, I chunked all those ideas in the trash. Honestly, we could barely make sure we had clean underwear with the size of our family and the number of commitments we were involved with. I felt like a failure.
The next year, our cousin left her family and filed for divorce. Her daughter was in jail on drug charges. Everybody struggles. The truth is life is hard. What our home looks like is not a barometer on our overall success and happiness with life. It’s a tiny part of the big picture.
All we can do is our best, with margin for appropriate rest and balance. God doesn’t expect us to run faster than we have strength. There are seasons in life that are harder than others and it’s so tempting to judge our performance in the hard season with someone else’s in their easy. It’s like a marathon runner, sweating and out of breath, looking at someone cheering from the sidelines and saying, “oh man, she’s not even sweating.” Then thinking of herself as a failure.
That said, there are habits and skills when formed in the easier seasons of life (childhood), that will make the hard seasons a tiny bit easier (3 kids under 3.) We’ll talk about them too in a future post.
I have roughly 21 months left with my oldest daughter living in my home. In that time she will graduate high school and head off to college; marriage and babies soon to follow. I lounged on her bed this weekend just talking about the things that matter to her, that give her hope, that stress her out, that make her excited. Breathing in the time with her, aware more than ever how precious and rare it is. Read more…
I’m excited about this easy little crafty post, because it has so much meaning to me. Along the journey of life a few years back, we chose to seek out help from a psychologist who said something very interesting: “The thoughts you think, control the chemicals your body releases. If you are able to change your thoughts, you can change your chemical balance. If you can’t change your thinking, then medication can help make it easier.”
Stress is my enemy. A little spurt of stress can put me in bed for a few days, too weak to even walk unassisted. I can’t control all my stress, like when someone cuts me off in traffic and nearly causes an accident; when a bat gets in my house and flaps around my bedroom; or when someone I love gets sick or dies. But there is a lot I can control.
This past week, a lot of stressful things were going on in my life. Here’s what I wrote in my Fit Yummy Mummy journal: Oh Girls, Life has kicked my tail… My grandma is on hospice and they don’t think she will live through the night. She is 90 and forgot who I was long ago, but I remember who she is. Her daughter, my Auntie, was on death watch for a short time last week, but miraculously recovered for a little while longer and has been moved to a rehab facility. …my mama hurt her leg mysteriously and can’t walk very well…. I tangled with some poison ivy last weekend and am COVERED. Plus the school district has denied to test Heather for learning disabilities even with all the private testing records I sent them and doctor reports. They said they don’t accept any outside of the district assessments and they haven’t observed her long enough to decide what to do about her. I’m so sad realizing that they are waiting for her to fail again before they intervene even though her records transferred from her old school show a clear pattern and need. I’m taking her to another clinic the next state over on Saturday to test her eye/brain connection. It’s so expensive, but if there’s a chance it will help her we’ll find a way to earn the money. I’m trying not to stress about everything, but I’m feeling all the feels anyway and it has zapped my strength. So that’s where I am. Not sure how to pick up the pieces from here while my body has checked out.
That wasn’t even all of it, but it started to feel ridiculous writing so much complaining down. What if instead of that, I had written down all the things that were going RIGHT? I can tell you THIS, I spend way more time thinking about the things going wrong than I do the things I have to be thankful for. I’m sure that has a lot to do with my health struggles.
It’s hard to admit that I am a negative person. Yuck. Just admitting that makes me not like myself very much, so I’m making steps to change. 4o years of consistent negative thinking isn’t going to change easy, but I’m choosing my hard.
I’m starting with this fifty cent notebook. It’s just a composition notebook from Wal-mart. I made a little cover for it by merging this and this. I printed it on regular paper, then trimmed it down slightly to fit the cover.
I placed a piece of wax paper inside the notebook, so I wouldn’t get modge podge all over the pages and stick them together.
Then I put a thin layer of modge podge ($1 in the Target spot bins) over the back of the picture, and stuck it to the cover, starting on one edge and smoothing it over to prevent air bubbles. Then I took my brush and put a thin layer of glossy modge podge over the top for durability.
Here’s the best part, the brush strokes in modge podge are visible after it dries, giving printed art a hand-painted affect. To take full advantage of this, I went back once more and added brush strokes to the water color flowers, following the natural curve so each flower would look hand-painted.
You GUYS! I’m feeling so clever right now. When it dried I trimmed the corners and added a matching cover to the back.
Before I thought of this little project, I looked on Amazon for a gratitude journal I could buy. There were several good ones like this, this, and this. They were each less than $10, but the DIY one was the more affordable option for sure. Karen at A House Full of Sunshine has a different idea for a DIY journal cover that is darling for all you washi tape lovers. She also had some good thoughts about gratefulness that are worth clicking over to read.
Here’s what I’ll write tonight:
Heather’s new Irlen filters that are helping her read better
Family cooperating for Grandma’s Funeral
A chance to sing with my daughter and my sister-in-law
Free flute lessons for Heather that make her so happy
Our cars are both repaired and running well
A supportive church family
I’m all about reducing stress, not adding to it, so I’m not writing in complete sentences, telling stories (unless I want to), or giving myself a quota. If I’m too stressed to think, I might just copy down a scripture verse or hymn that I’m grateful for, or tape in a coloring page. And if I need to skip a day, that’s A-OK, since none of the pages are pre-dated.
P.S. If you want to hear more about gratitude journals, Sherry talks about hers in the “We’re Digging Section” on episode #11 of the Young House Love Podcast.
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