Snowy Day Projects

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For us, this has been a long, cold, isolated winter.

It started while we were still visiting Abby in the NICU. Over her first weeks home and Christmas break we stayed cooped up in our apartment to avoid germs. In January we all caught and conquered our first colds of the year, consequently cancelling a trip up North to visit our families. In February we remained in our cozy apartment while storms raged, temperatures dropped, and family members fell ill. We planned and cancelled six Carlson Christmas Celebrations and have yet to get together since before Abby came home from the hospital. (And we still haven’t wrapped the Christmas presents!)

So what have we been doing cooped up all winter?

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Well, remember Abby’s quilt? I’ve been steadily working on it since Abby was born. Well, maybe not all that steadily. I decided to start with the most time consuming portion of the quilt: embroidering Psalm 23, in it’s entirety, around the border. While Abby was still in the NICU, I worked on it during all of our drives. (Just a note, as I filed our taxes this year I calculated the miles we traveled back and forth to the hospital to visit Abby: over 4500!) During good weeks I made good progress. When Abby wasn’t doing so well and after she was transferred to Mott’s, I was discouraged and didn’t work on it as much. I took a break when Abby came home, but since I had to hold her upright after night feedings to fight her reflux, I got back to embroidering then.

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Right now I try to embroider four characters a day. At that rate I will finish this portion by March 23. Then I get to move on to step two!

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Meanwhile I’ve been reserving half an hour on Tuesdays to organize from our move six months ago. Why Tuesdays, you ask? Well, that’s just the way it worked out. Why half an hour? Well, that’s about all the time I can spare during the girls naps! However, for the past three or four weeks I’ve been setting aside that time to organize our laundry room. Every single week something happens to throw me off my plan. Abby refuses to nap, Lydia wakes up early and needs some attention, I’m exhausted and can’t get to my own nap any earlier…who knows what will happen next. Someday I WILL get to that laundry room even if it is the week before we move out!

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I’ve also been on a home schooling research kick. I have long wanted to explore home school options and now am taking some time to tackle The Three R’s, and The Well-Trained Mind. I’ve been having fun with Lydia and Abigail going through Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, which is full of fun weekly activities that take you from birth up to age five. This week Abby gets to play peek-a-boo with Mommy and a mirror, and Lydia gets to work on patterns and counting with some homemade whole wheat biscuits. She loved helping me make the biscuits, enjoys playing with them, and really likes when we get to eat them. Lydia also gets a “buncha books” from the library each week. I’ve been working my way through some recommended picture books and frequently when Dan goes to pick up the books I put on hold the Librarians ask if we are elementary school teachers. Teachers or not, Lydia loves the books and will sit on the floor eagerly looking through her new “buncha books” each week.

Meanwhile Dan and I have been prone to making spontaneous decisions lately, our common side-effect to feeling deprived in any way (from getting out, in this case). A couple of nights ago we switched meal plans at 5:30 because Dan was reading Lydia Pancakes, Pancakes and, well, pancakes sounded good. We also spent half an hour singing Abigail ridiculous silly songs from Camp days because it was the easiest way to get her to stop crying. This week we’ve been spending a little time after the girls go to bed watching a debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye on the age of the earth.

We’ve been staying busy and productive, but are, nevertheless, eager for warmer days. Not long, we hope, not long.

“The Story of Abigail” World Premiere

You are officially invited to the world premiere of…

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Friday, February 21, 2014
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Plymouth First United Methodist Church Building
45201 North Territorial, Plymouth, MI

That’s right. This Friday is our Church’s annual Fur Rendezvous Talent Show. There will be a whole host of skits, songs, and other acts that will be fun for the whole family. A light supper will be provided, starting at 6:00. Coffee and desserts to follow.

For those who remember, “The Story of Lydia” was a big hit two years ago. Now it’s Abby’s turn. We hope you can come.
For those aren’t aware, enjoy Lydia’s Movie now and come on Friday to watch an exciting sequel.

Break My Plans

I mentioned a little while ago that God has been teaching me not to depend on my own plans. He’s still teaching me. As I think back over the past year, it seems like we’ve been struck by blow after blow of changed plans with only a couple of months in between each new change. I’m naturally a reflective sort of person, but over the past week I’ve found myself reflecting more than normal.

During one such reflecting time a song burst into my mind that I hadn’t heard or thought of in years. It’s called “Break My Plans” and, while the story it tells is much more serious than our own lately, the chorus hit home.

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

Since popping into my head last week it has continued to repeat. Over and over. It has become my prayer.

During church this Sunday more stories, verses and quotes filled my mind in a sequential order that we now joke of as my own special conference featuring guest speakers: Darlene Deibler Rose, Job, and Hudson Taylor. Later, C.S. Lewis shared his two cents as well.

I was struggling to sing songs of worship when things down here were feeling hard and God felt so far away. That God knows and cares didn’t feel true.

The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen – that was what I put my trust in – not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace,
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:15). Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord.

(Darlene Deibler Rose)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.”
(Job 1:20)

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
(John 4:1)

“To know that ‘shall’ means shall, that ‘never’ means never, and that ‘thirst’ means any unsatisfied need, may be one of the greatest revelations God every made to our souls.”
(Hudson Taylor)

“We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
(C.S. Lewis)


Break My Plans
by This Hope

The praise songs of a nation flowed from his hand
And in a world of dark oppression he made a stand
They told him to be silent, and led him away
Ten years was the sentence, a prisoner of faith

As he waited for God’s timing
Another winter chilled the air
And when he thought of his own family
He was filled with despair
So he cried out for justice, was there any other way
But then he gave it all to Jesus, as he began to pray

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

I know I’m called to suffer and take up my cross
But sometimes I grow so fearful when I count the cost
Still my heart wants to follow, and walk in Your ways
To be counted with the faithful, Lord guide me today

With all my heart, my strength, and my soul
I will love You, God
So use my life and take complete control.

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

When Mom Snapped

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Sunday afternoon when we were all tired and sick
Mom suddenly snapped when she let out a, “That’s it!”
She was tired, then sniffly, then suddenly mad
And then she would get all frustrated then sad.

She slumped off to the couch and curled up in a ball
Then earnestly, silently for help she did call,
Sincerely she asked, “Oh what shall I do?”
“I know, Lord, I am not being pleasing to You.”

And so patiently, faithfully, the voice from above
Came to her aid with some words full of love,
“Clean the kitchen”, He told her, that well-known voice said
So she made her resolution and lifted her head.

Then off to the kitchen she headed quite quickly
Still flustered, still tired, and still very sickly.
She turned on the faucet, water poured out
And she washed all those dishes stuck under the spout.

Then on to the counter, then on to the ledge
So set in her mission, so set in her pledge
Every crumb, every splatter, she cleaned them all up
She cleaned every platter, she cleaned every cup.

Still flustered and sickly, on to the next room
When she’d straightened that up she brought in the broom
She swept and she vacuumed, she tackled that floor
Then she looked around, ready for more.

Her husband and daughters looked on in alarm
They snatched up their belongings to keep then from harm
“Mom’s lost it!” Dan said. He warned Lydia too,
“Better watch out, she might throw away you!”

“The TRASH!” she remembered was crowding the floor
She hauled it all out to the hall by the door.
She piled the books, she threw away paper
And when all looked neat her frenzy, it started to taper.

And just as she finished her straightening huff
Her husband announced, “I think that’s enough”
Mom stopped her mission and looked at everyone
With a soft happy smile she said, “I’m done.”

Half a week has now passed since Mom got so mean
but clues from her snapping can still be seen.
And the lesson to be learned from Mom’s flustered huff
It that when Mom gets overwhelmed, hang on to your stuff.

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Abby Update: 5 Months Old

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Weight: 10 pounds, 2 ounces

Eat, sleep, and smile have been Abby’s main activities this month. She often sleeps eight hours at night, but she makes up for that by eating every one and a half to two hours during the day. One night in January Abby suddenly stopped having her evening fussy time (from 7ish to 10 every night) and she hasn’t gone back. She also outgrew her newborn hold-me-all-the-time desires and sometimes she’ll even squirm and cry until you put her down.

Abby spends a lot of time in her bouncy seat. She hates being on her tummy. Recently, while laying in her jungle, she learned that she can make the hanging toys rattle by swinging her arms at them, so that’s been an exciting development for her. She also loves bath time. Her whale-of-a-tale bathtub came with a goldfish “strainer” toy that we use to drizzle water on her and that always gets her to smile. Lately Abby has been trying to fit her whole fist into her mouth. She hasn’t been able to succeed, so she usually gets pretty frustrated.

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More than anything, Abby loves to bounce. When she’s tired and won’t fall asleep, she needs to be bounced lightly. Whether it’s in her bouncy seat, or in Mommy or Daddy’s arms, Abby just loves bouncing. We’ve dubbed this BBS for bouncing baby syndrome, because it always gets her to fall into a contented sleep.

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Abby’s nicknames continue to be numerous, but the most commonly used ones are: Abby, Abs, and Abster. We don’t really think about it when we use them, but then it’s adorable to hear Lydia tell Abby goodnight, “I love you Abs!”.

How We Ate Off of $35 a Week

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The title for this post should really be, “How we ate off of $35 a week while feeding teenage boys once a week, but while also cheating a little…and why we could never go back.” But that seemed a little long. Now, I know there are plenty of people who have eaten more frugally, more strategically, and more healthfully. But this is just a post to share what we did, how it worked, and why we couldn’t do it now.

The Tricks and the Changes

There were no tricks. I didn’t coupon. I didn’t even really shop sales. We just cut back and ate cheaply. No desert, no beverages, no condiments, no recipes with lots of ingredients. The simpler the meals, the cheaper they seemed to be. We continued to eat on this budget, and these types of meals, until shortly after Lydia came home from the hospital. Due to some health issues, we started to cut out dairy. We had already cut back on meat to save money. At that point, we were given a book by Dr. Fuhrman. After reading the book (Disease Proof Your Child), we changed our diet pretty significantly. We eliminated dairy completely, cut out refined grains and sugar, and increased fruits, veggies, beans, seeds/nuts, and whole grains. After this change we found that we just couldn’t go back to eating the way we had before because we would literally get sick: stomach pain, sluggishness, vomiting, and increased colds were the result during our “backslides”. Since that change we have continued to totter back and forth between more healthful and less healthful, more expensive and less, trying to find the right balance for our family.

The Cheating

One way this meal plan worked is that we didn’t have to pay for lunches. At the time I was helping a family during the mornings and they fed me lunch. They probably never knew (until now) how significant those lunches were to us at the time. (Shoutout to Kelly! She has a blog too. You can read it here.) Dan skipped lunch entirely. So lunches were just out of the picture.

We also started shopping at a wonderful store called Joe Randazzo’s. It’s an indoor produce market with ridiculously low prices. I don’t know what we would do without good old Randazzo’s.


Breakfasts were very simple. Either we ate oatmeal with brown sugar, homemade bread with peanut butter, or eggs occasionally. And usually we added in a banana apiece.

Our breakfasts haven’t changed much since then. We often eat oatmeal, but now it’s topped with either honey, maple syrup, dates, fruit, or almond milk. And we still usually add in a banana each.

Mac and Cheese

Dan absolutely refused to stoop so low as to eat Ramen noodles. We did, however, enjoy mac and cheese (whole wheat, Kroger brand) once a week. It was our favorite and most expensive meal. Two boxes with two slices of American cheese melted on top, topped with garlic pepper. Served with a glass of milk and salad on the side.

Mac and cheese was the first meal that had to go when we changed our diet. I added up the saturated fat from that one meal and was horrified. When we have wanted to enjoy something reminiscent of this meal I have occasionally made Hurry Up Alfredo.

Hambuger Helper

Dan and I spotted a deal for Hamburger Helper one week. Combined with coupons, I think we got 10 boxes for $8 or something like that. Realizing what a steal it was, we went back and bought ten more boxes with the same deal. Then I bought beef on sale and would cook half the suggested amount to go with the box meal.

Later I read the ingredient labels: tons of salt in a variety of forms, MSG, transfat, and (of course) plenty of dairy. So the hamburger helper had to go. I have learned, though, that many Hamburger Helper inspired meals can be sort of duplicated from scratch and even using lentils instead of meat for a cheaper and healthier meal, like lentil sloppy joes, and lentil tacos.


Whole wheat noodles. Store bought spaghetti sauce. A can of green beans. Oh, and don’t forget the Parmesan cheese. Dinner for under $3.

We still eat spaghetti, but now we add more nutritious ingredients: vegetables and sometimes beans. We replaced canned veggies with fresh or frozen and always serve a salad along side. And when we threw dairy out, the Parmesan had to go with it.

Beans and Rice

Bean and rice doesn’t have to be boring and it wasn’t for us. We topped our slow cooker refried beans with brown rice, sour cream, cheese (bought in bulk from GFS), salsa and tortilla chips. And we ate it twice a week, plus leftovers when we didn’t have anything else.

We still eat beans and rice, but without all the cheese and sour cream. We’ve added guacamole, lettuce and occasionally some tomatoes or sauteed bell peppers and onions.

What about those Teenage Boys?

We hosted a Bible study every Friday night and usually had 6-8 teenage to young twenty-something guys come over for dinner and discussion. This was often another meat night, but not always. Sometimes we had breakfast for dinner, sometimes soup, and sometimes a new casserole recipe. I just looked for recipes without many ingredients and that only had meat or cheese, but not both. Since the rest of the week was cheap, I usually got about $10 for this meal, which felt like a lot at the time.


I never planned meals for Saturday or Sunday. We scrounged. We ate leftovers. We once had to go to the store because there was nothing to eat. Often we were invited to a family’s house from church and they fed us. Weekends were the hardest, least predictable, and most disappointing days. I eventually learned that planning a meal for Sunday made coming home from church much more appealing, but at the time we just didn’t have any money left.

The Lord Provides

It is true that eating healthy costs more. Even when you do cut out meat and dairy, condiments and dessert. But we have observed that with each step toward healthier (and more expensive) eating, the Lord has provided additional income, a gift, gift card, or pay raise to provide everything we need to be good stewards with our time, health, finances, and nutrition.

Many Are the Plans

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During the past few days I have been reminded of Proverbs 19:21, which says:

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

I had been pretty excited to begin my 5K training on the treadmill at the gym of our apartment complex. Saturday was the final run in Week Two of my nine week training program. It was a wet, slushy, cold, and snowy evening as I headed out to the gym, sloshing through puddles and trudging through freshly fallen snow. This time I even stretched before I ran, but four minutes into my workout my knee started hurting. For about thirty seconds I tried to keep running before I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. So now I’m off my training schedule and on the elliptical to give my knee a rest and learn a little more about how to run, stretch, and not injure myself.

The very same night we gave up potty training…again…for now. After a week of accidents and messes, Lydia has successfully learned to go to the potty immediately after she wets her pants. She loves it. She hasn’t gone in the toilet once. I talked to some other moms, prayed about it, solicited Dan’s opinion, and made a mental list of pros and cons. Since we recently invested in some quality cloth diapers, the only thing we lose by waiting to potty train is the extra cost of washing those diapers, which I calculated to be about three cents a day.

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I didn’t really want to write about that in a post. I didn’t really want to “give up” again. But it’s the best decision for our family right now.

After giving up the endless trips to the toilet and all the time spent reading to Lydia while she did nothing on the potty, I was excited to get some more done yesterday. Clean up the living room, wash that pile of leftover dishes from Sunday, tackle a project or two, play with the munchkins. Abby decided she wanted to be held all day instead and by eleven o’clock I had only tackled some of the dishes and Dan had thrown everything littering our living room into piles. So much for my plans to catch up.

Our list of plans goes on and on, but I have been reminded of that ever-true Proverb. The Lord’s purpose will prevail. And after a nice, quiet prayer time while the girls were sleeping, I surrendered my plans and came out feeling happy. God’s plans are much better than my own.