Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Small Changes that Save Big Money


Does anyone else ever feel like money just vanishes out of your bank account when you aren't looking?  The hubby and I have always been really good about saving money, and we have also always tried to reduce our spending.  But a recent look at our bank statement opened our eyes to a few more ways we can tighten the belt even further.

The following is a list of common money-wasting areas for most of us, and ways to stop the leak.  Some of these might not apply to you, but I have a feeling many will.  Even if you just choose a few of these areas to change, your pocket change will grow!

The Things We Eat
We waste so much food in this country.  We buy more food than we can eat, and throw it out because it goes bad.  And we often let pretty packaging, marketing, and branding convince us to buy name brand instead of generic.  Not to mention paying a premium for convenience in the way of individual packaging or premade/processed foods.

What to do instead:
  • Meal Plan:  Before you hit the grocery store, sit down and plan out the meals for your family for at least a week (I do two weeks at a time).  Write a list!!!  Include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts on your meal plan.  Yes, it takes time.  But if you're thorough, you'll only need to go to the store once in that time period, which will prevent those trips in for "one thing" that end up costing us because we leave with a basketful.  Not a good list maker?  Use my method of grocery list cards so that you're list for your meals is already written for you each week.
  • Buy Generic:  For most items, the generic version of an item is a significant savings...well past the value of the brand name plus a coupon.  While couponing is another way to save money, especially if you can shop in a store that doubles and/or price matches, it is time consuming and a little intimidating if you're not proficient at it.  Plus, many times a good coupon encourages you to buy something off of your list...something that might get wasted...something you probably don't need...something that is probably cheaper full-priced in the generic brand.  Be smart when couponing...compare price per unit, and only buy the item if you would've bought it without the coupon to entice you!
  • Buy Bulk:  Some things are better bought in huge quantities, such as paper products, soap, cleaning products, etc.  You know, stuff that doesn't spoil if it sits on the shelf for awhile.  And items that you have to buy multiple packages of on your regular trips...for us, it's granola bars, canned soups & broths, juice, school snacks, cereal...you get the picture.  Buy those items in bulk at wholesale clubs like Sam's or Costco.  Beware...the first few trips to stock up on basic items is going to give you a coronary.  But, when you don't have to buy those items on your regular grocery shopping trips, you'll see significant savings.  
  • Stop Buying Convenience:  Now, I'm a mom, so please understand that I realize what a jerk-o-potamus I just sounded like.  But seriously.  Why buy the little individual packs of goldfish for $5 when you can buy the huge box that is twice the quantity for $4 and just make your own individual servings with a little snack container?  Yes, it takes more time and effort, but you will save money!  Don't forget those kid drinks...find a few little reusable bottles and stop paying a fortune for juice boxes!  I love the Sistema brand bottles because they're the perfect size...their whole line of lunch containers is so child-friendly, I highly recommend them, too.  Also, consider not buying premade snacks and meals.  Again, more time and effort, but cooking from scratch is so much healthier anyway, and you'll save a fortune by not paying for the convenience.  If you want to start small, trade out only a meal or two a week.  Mommy Hates Cooking is one of my favorite places for quick, easy recipes, and she even has money-saving links to coupons on her site!
  • For crying out loud, STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER:  Invest in a nice filtered water bottle or two, and use the tap water you're paying for already.  Not only will you not be wasting money, but you'll be keeping all of that plastic out of our landfills. 
  • Eat at Home or Take Your Lunch:  This is probably the biggest siphon of money from your pockets...eating out.  Not only that, but you're likely not getting the healthiest meals or portions at restaurants.  In fact, that's almost a guarantee.  If you cook and eat at home, you are in control of what ingredients you're eating.  And what would cost you $10-15 per person at a restaurant will cost you $1-3 each instead.  
  • Make Your Own Coffee:  Coffee makers have timers, you know.  So if you're like me and are practically comatose before 9am, you can set that puppy to start brewing your cup 'o joe when your alarm goes off by prepping the night before.  Or, you could be one of those cool kids with a Keurig...and save even more by buying a reusable filter cup so you don't have to splurge on the Kcups.  
The Fees/Bills We Pay
So much money is thrown into the trash every month in interest on balances we carry on cards, or by paying for things we don't even use.

What to do instead:
  • Pay off Credit Cards/Debt:  I am aware of how difficult this is.  My hubby and I spent almost a decade accomplishing this particular feat.  Every spare penny went towards paying off debt.  But I can tell you, nothing is quite as satisfying as saying goodbye to monthly interest and becoming cash-only people.  We still have a card, but it is a low-interest card that we pay off IN FULL every month (therefore, NO INTEREST), and earn cash back rewards with it.  As we paid off each debt, we began applying the money that we were putting towards each bill monthly to the next debt we wished to be rid of.  And so on and so forth until it was all gone.  We'd already been living without that expendable income, so it didn't take away from anything.  Once the credit cards were gone, we split all of that money between a growing savings account and our mortgage principal.  By adding to our principal every month, we're on target to pay off our mortgage in less than half of the loan term.  Again, I want to say that this has not been easy.  It has taken loads of discipline and sacrifice, but we have never regretted it.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Fees:  Don't use ATMs that are out of your network.  Why pay $3-5 to get your own money?  That is insanity!  And pay your bills on time to avoid late fees and penalties.  Get organized...get a calendar or another organizing tool to help you if you need to, but don't throw money into the trash on late fees just because you forgot to pay a bill.  If you're going to be late because you can't make your payment, call and see if you can get an extension...it doesn't hurt to ask.
  • Cut Expenses for Things You Don't Use:  Be real.  Do you read the newspaper every day?  Do you need five magazine subscriptions on basically the same subject?  Do you watch all 50 million channels to which you subscribe?  Do those Netflix envelopes sit in the stack of mail all month, not getting watched?  Are you in the gym regularly that you're paying for monthly?  Really track your usage of all of those little things you pay for each month.  Can you eliminate some things totally?  Can you cut back to the more basic cable packages?  Can you exercise at home instead of paying to go to the gym?  Also, did you know that the public library has a giant collection of music and movies that you can borrow FOR FREE?  Books, too...and e-books.  
  • Buy Used:  This pretty much goes for everything, but if you at least buy some stuff used, you can afford to buy new when it's a non-negotiable....like underwear.  Cars are one of the biggest losses when bought new...unless you plan to drive it for 15-20 years.  Buying a car that's only a year or two old, then keeping it for 10 years, will save you a fortune!  Don't forget appliances and other big home remodeling items such as cabinetry.  And what about that closet full of clothes?  And those shelves full of knick knacks?  Go to thrift stores and garage sales!  First of all, it's fun, but you'll find things you've never seen before, and paying $1 for a pair of jeans instead of $60+ should make your heart sing.  
  • Shipping:  When ordering online, if you don't need the item immediately, go with the most economical shipping.  Sometimes opting for the slower shipping can save you over half!
  • Memberships:  If your family frequents the zoo or another such place that offers memberships, consider whether buying a membership would save you money in the long run.  Be realistic about how many times you visit per year, and whether other discounts associated with the membership will also save you money (sometimes a membership is reciprocal at other attractions, too!).  Check with your local bowling alleys, theaters, stores, etc. to see if there are clubs or programs you can join that will save you money if you frequently use them.   Beware of store credit cards, though...while they may be enticing with their giant up-front discounts, they often carry enormous interest rates, and you usually spend more with them than if you just pay cash.  If you get one, never carry a balance...if it is possible, pay off the balance in the store immediately after your purchase with cash...most stores are offering this option now.
  • Find FREE Entertainment: There's this really big thing called "Outside."  You should check it out sometime.
  • Do for Yourself:  Can you paint your own fingernails?  Could you cut your kids' hair (especially boys with shaved heads!)?  Can you wash your own car in your driveway?  Mow your own lawn?  Paint your own house?  Trade babysitting with a friend?  There are so, so many services that we pay for all of the time that in all honesty we could do for ourselves.  Granted, some things are worth the splurge, and some things are just easier to delegate.  But really contemplate whether every one of those hired out services is totally necessary! 
Not Being Efficient
So much of our money is wasted via inefficiency.  Second or third trips to the grocery store.  Leaving the television on while no one is watching.  Not coordinating certain household tasks to save electricity.  Not taking advantage of simple household improvements that will save electricity.  Not consolidating trips into town, thereby wasting gasoline.

What to do instead:
  • Seek Out Energy Saving Methods for Your Home:  Could you use better insulation in the attic to keep the heat/cold from escaping out of your roof?  Do your doors and windows leak air through gaps that could be sealed?  Would a UV film on your windows help keep out the heat during summer?  How about using drapes to keep the cold/heat from escaping?  Plant shrubs or trees around your home for insulation and shade, too.  Do you need every light in the house on..?  Do you unplug chargers and electronics when they're not in use?  Could you coordinate the laundry and dishwasher so that the water heater only has to refill and reheat once?  How about taking the laundry out of the dryer promptly so you don't have to run it longer than necessary?  And not using the dryer as an iron...oh my goodness, so much wasted electricity!  Also, check and change your air filter often to maximize the efficiency of your HVAC system.  Close off vents to closets or rooms that never get used if possible.  Get a programmable thermostat and use it to coordinate the comfiest temps for when you're actually home to enjoy it.  Don't open the fridge door a million times.  Coordinate cooking to maximize the oven (if you're using the oven for dinner, could you bake a dessert immediately thereafter to keep from having to reheat the oven later?).  Get more efficient light bulbs...they're a splurge, but the LED ones last forever and use almost no energy!  You could always replace one at a time.  Turn off the television if you're not deliberately watching it....HUGE energy sucker!   
  • Keep a List of Errands:  Coordinating trips will not only keep you from wasting gas, but will also save you time.  And money.  Keeping a list will keep you on track and will help you to not forget anything.

Well, now that I've written a novel, I'd love to know if any of this sounds helpful to you!  Do you have a money-saving method that you'd like to share?  Comment below!  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Oxley Nature Center

It has been a horribly bitter cold winter.  Too many days with Pooky in recent months have been spent indoors.  Way too many.  We are the "let's go outside and explore" type.  Yesterday's weather was absolutely perfect...slightly cloudy, but nearly 70 degrees with a nice, easy breeze.  So Wyatt, my mom, and I decided to head over to the Oxley Nature Center, which is located in Mohawk Park near the Tulsa Zoo.

There are more than 11 combined miles of trails to explore, wandering over 800+ acres of forest, field, and wetland.  Several naturalists are on staff and available to answer questions and suggest hikes, or to teach classes.

Our first stop was the Interpretive Building, which houses a wonderful interactive museum of all-things-nature for children to dive into! 

Counting tree rings and discovering how big the tree was at specific points in state history.  Then listening to different animal sounds!
Really beautifully done displays of the natural habitats of animals, and amazing plant and animal artifacts that the children are invited to handle!

Drawers full of butterflies, bugs, fungi, bones, etc.

Even specimens of birds!

Pretending to be a beaver...examples of the traces animals leave behind!
A whole collection of Oklahoma fur-bearing animals.  Seriously impressive...in some cases they had skulls, too.

It's amazing how many furry little critters were on display.  Let's all assume they died of natural causes, won't we.  ;)
Unique skeleton displays, too.
Touch and discovery are highly encouraged.  At the front desk is a basket full of natural artifacts, along with a handful of exploration tools with which to pore over the treasures.  Wyatt parked here for quite awhile.

They even had a wonderful bee hive that attaches to the outside world via a pipe through the wall.  Visitors can open the door to the hive to view the busy bees humming behind the glass. 
He spent some time trying to find the queen...try as we might, we couldn't spot her. 

There were so many bees!  The flow of them from inside to outside, then in again was nonstop!
After thoroughly exploring the Interpretive Building, we headed out of doors.  Our first stop on the way was the little fish food vending machine...you know, so we could feed the fish.
Something tells me the fish like this spot.  No fishing is allowed here...for obvious reasons.   






On the deck from which you can feed the fish, there was an Insect Hotel. 

 After plumping up some perch, we set off for a hike through the woods.  We weren't in a hurry, so we decided to just meander over whichever paths we crossed.

I really appreciated how well maintained the trails were.  Even though it was obvious that the Oklahoma wind and recent ice storms, along with a brush fire, have done considerable damage to the forest, the trails were level and well-cleared.  Many of them were even wheel-chair accessible.

I think he was enjoying himself.



We even saw an armadillo!  He wasn't too keen on me trying to move in for a better shot.  On a related note, they run funny.

Everywhere you look there are feeders and other attractions for wildlife.

Such fun had by all on a wonderful almost-spring day.  We took our time and turned over not every, but a lot of leaves.


 I highly recommend The Oxley Nature Center to families and nature lovers alike!  The best thing of all...the entire experience was absolutely FREE.  For more information, a map, or hours, go to www.oxleynaturecenter.org.






Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chicken Noodle Skillet-Casserole



This is another really quick and easy recipe that we have often.  Totally comfort food.

2 cups thin egg noodles
1 chicken bullion cube
Olive oil
Skinless, boneless frozen chicken thighs...about a pound (I cover bottom of skillet)
1 tsp rotisserie chicken seasoning
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
2-3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas (optional...I didn't use them this time, but usually do)
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup, plus about 1/3 can water
Salt & Pepper to taste

In one pot, boil egg noodles until tender according to package directions.  For flavor, I add a bullion cube to the water.
In skillet, cook oil (about 1-2 tbsp), chicken, onion, carrots, garlic, seasoning and celery on medium heat, covered, until chicken is cooked through and veggies start to tenderize.  Stir occasionally.  This usually takes about 10 minutes.  At this point, I chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Add soup, water, and peas (if using).  Bring to simmer, and continue to simmer until the veggies are fork-tender and peas are heated through.  Stir in egg noodles, add salt and pepper to taste.

This makes two heaping servings.  I think I calculated them to be about 60 carbs each, so definitely not a low-carb meal, but delicious anyway. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spicy Lentil Curry Stew

I know that I say this often, but this recipe was totally made up on the fly one day when I desperately wanted something other than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.  That day, I made a single serving size with the random stuff I had in the pantry and fridge.  I liked it so much, that I made it a couple of times a week for quite awhile.  Several months later, we didn't have any other meals to make, so I made a giant pot of this, and Jason loved it.  So, now it's on the rotation.

Not only is this really good as a soup, but I love draining the broth from the lentils and veggies and adding it to some rice on a tortilla as a wrap.  Or serving it over a bed of saffron rice.  And it'd be ridiculously awesome in a bread bowl.

Two other reasons I love it:  it's CHEAP, and it's FAST.  Okay, three reasons: it only dirties up one dish.

1 32oz box chicken broth (I recommend low-sodium)
skinless, boneless frozen chicken thigh strips...as much as you want...I *think* I use about a pound
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup dried lentils
1 cup chopped carrots
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium potato, cubed
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
2-3 ribs celery, chopped
1 tub Knorr concentrated low-sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp red curry powder
a dash, like seriously, a tiny sprinkle, of ground red pepper.  Unless you want to burn your esophagus, then add more to taste.

Okay, are you ready for this...?  Just put it ALL in the pot, bring to a boil, then lower heat to keep at a steady simmer for about 15 minutes until chicken is cooked through and veggies and lentils are tender.  I cover the pot while it's simmering, and stir it occasionally.  If your chicken is in big chunks, you can fish them out and chop them into bite-sized pieces.  

This makes about four big bowls full, and they end up being around 25-30 carbs per bowl.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Wy Guy's Eyes

Ever have one of those moments in which the light pouring into a room is exquisite, and time seems to stand still?  I was sitting in my little reading corner today, and Wyatt had just finished up his homework and curled up on my lap.  The soft light bounced off of his little eyes so beautifully that it made my heart ache.  He was in an unusually cooperative spirit, so I grabbed my camera for a tiny little series of his gorgeous emerald eyes.  Typically a total goober in front of my lens, today, he subdued a few big grins for these mellow, sweet shots, allowing his eyes to tell their tales.  And in case you're wondering, yes, he is that porcelain. 

Below each shot I will share the settings.  All were taken with natural window light and my Canon 60d and Sigma 35mm 1.4.  I only did minor edits in photoshop...I adjusted output levels to add haze, bumped up contrast, sharpened, and added a brown solid color layer with a blending mode of linear dodge at about 20% to make his freckles pop.

f/1.8      1/500 sec     ISO 640

f/1.8    1/800 sec    ISO 640

f/1.8    1/800 sec    ISO 640

f/1.8    1/800 sec    ISO 640

Sunday, February 9, 2014

House Cleaning Schedule and Checklists

I know I'm in the minority, but I actually love cleaning.  I love a good before and after.  I like the sense of satisfaction I get when I start with a total mess and end with organized, sparkly bliss.  I do not, however, like spending every single day of my life in the pursuit of order and perfection.

Back in the days before motherhood, I would tackle my house once every couple of weeks or so, scrubbing from top to bottom, front to back.  And it stayed that way for the most part with little to no maintenance necessary.  Um, now that I have Pooh Bear, I can completely tackle the entire house and two hours later it looks like a bomb went off.   I think that a pin on pinterest said it best: "cleaning your house while your kids are home is like brushing your teeth while eating an Oreo."

I cannot live in perpetual maid-dom.  So, a couple of years ago, I came up with a weekly schedule that breaks the deep cleaning into reasonable chunks that I can accomplish in about an hour or less each day.  And so long as I am disciplined and stick to the schedule, my house stays in good shape, and I don't get burnt out on housework.  Bonus: it makes the 15-minute dash when someone's coming over unexpectedly so much more convincing!

The following chart is my schedule that works for me.  Everyone's homes and families are different, so this may not be even remotely helpful to some of you, but at least it's a starting point to create your own schedule.  Also, it should be noted that this schedule is for deep cleaning, and that not included on this chart are the menial little tasks that get done every single day....emptying full trash cans, cleaning up after meals, doing a load of dishes, picking up toys and clutter from around the house, wiping down counters, etc.

Also, I understand that some of you don't just have one child...you have two or three...or nine.  So use the lists that are coming up below to dole out smaller jobs that they can handle!  There's nothing that says that YOU have to do it all by yourself!

For consistency's sake, I've created a checklist for each of these five major areas so that I can feel super awesome about myself when I tick off each individual item of tediousness.  I know this might look like a super OCD thing to do, but seriously, I love checking items off of the lists as they're completed.  I think that being a stay-at-home mom can sometimes make one feel like you've worked all day but you have no idea what you've actually done...so a totally crossed-off list is deeply rewarding...and offers proof of "what you did all day."  You're more than welcome to copy and print any of these lists for yourself!

And lest anyone think I'm a lunatic, some of the items on these checklists are only done once a week or as needed.  For example, though I clean my bedroom twice a week, I only change my sheets on Mondays.  






 

So, there it is.  My compulsive habits on display for all of the world to see.  But, hey, it works for me.  And if it helps someone else to break the daunting task of housework into smaller, more manageable chunks, then it was worth sharing.  I'd love to hear any of your best practices that help you to maintain your homes!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mini-Hoarder

Oh my goodness gracious, my child is a hoarder.  And my mother reinforces this sickness on a weekly basis by smuggling into my home more and more junk.  Sigh. 

After all of the Christmas decor went back up into the attic, I redecorated my living room using stuff I already owned, and in the process, moved everything of Wyatt's into his own room.  The only problem:  he has so much stuff that it wouldn't all fit.  And he's not the best little housekeeper, either, so the space he does have was crammed full of what-nots in the most inefficient manner.  Mother Nature provided us with two snow days this week, so we used one of them to assess the damage and get it under control. 

In case you're wondering why on earth I am sharing this mess with anyone, it's because every year I get asked dozens of times what my method for spring cleaning/purging is, and the following is essentially it:  take every single thing out of a space, clean the space, then edit what goes back into the space (harshly edit!).  Then, sell what is left over.  Spend the next year going to thrift stores and garage sales, then repeat next spring.

Please excuse the horrendous quality of these photos.  I just wasn't that into them. 



Toys bins at capacity, and in utter chaos. 

Add to that the four bins of toys and two shelves worth of books from the living room.

Not to mention the collection of every scrap of paper ever to cross our threshold.

Step 1:  Make a giant pile of every single thing in the middle of the floor.  This method is especially good for toys.  If you're purging a room with several categories of stuff, make separate piles for each.  And if this makes you hyperventilate, do one tiny area at a time (i.e. the toy bin, the closet, the hutch, the desk). 

He enjoyed this a little too much. 

We made several discoveries under the bed.  Long lost toys.  And sippy cups...really gross sippy cups. 
Step 2:  Sort everything out by kind.  Within each category, eliminate 30-60% of what is there.  For instance, he had twelve spiders.  I told him to choose seven to keep, and didn't emphasize the number he was discarding.  We did that for every toy group, almost cutting his collection in half!  A good rule of thumb for toys: any duplicates go, anything broken goes, and anything missing parts goes.


Step 3: Clean/dust shelves and then put everything back where it goes, rearranging things if necessary so that the most played with/used items are easily reached.    

Everything he plays with often is down low, as are his uniform clothes and play clothes...self-serve.

It's amazing how much neater things can be once you've eliminated the clutter!
I almost forgot he had a desk.
When all was said and done, I had two large boxes full of toys to sell or donate, and four Wal-Mart bags full of trash.  TRASH!  Broken toys, paper, toilet paper tubes, candy wrappers, popsicle sticks, ribbon scraps, mint tins, sticks, pine cones, leaves, you name it.  I'm just glad that he was so willing to get rid of so much stuff, and that he had a hand in the process.  Hopefully he'll take some pride in his work and try to keep it tidy in there!  But I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Epiphany

For anyone who's ever been through a particularly trying season of life during which you're seeking counsel from the Lord, there is almost always a very poignant moment in which God more or less hits you over the head with an epiphany.  Sometimes, those epiphanies are weight-lifting, and other times, they hit you like a ton of bricks.  I had one of the latter yesterday...and it's worth sharing if anyone else wants to open their hearts and spare themselves some heartache.

I'm a photographer.  Of children and families.  Which means I have to be really good at convincing tiny people that even though I am a complete and total stranger with a giant, scary contraption shoved in their face, they are free to act natural and be their silly little selves so that I can capture beautiful portraits of them.  I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent expressed their amazement at my ability to win over their very shy child in a such a short amount of time, eliciting true smiles and genuine ease.  Seriously, I could retire.  There's really no magic to it...I just recognize that before I can ask anything from a small child, I need to show them that I am trustworthy.  I do this by getting down onto their level, showing a sincere interest in them, and showing them absolute love and joy...never admonishing them for their natural apprehensiveness or behaviors that are normal for their age.  A few minutes of this, and I can almost always get them to do anything that I ask without any hesitation or fear. 

Over the past two days, I hosted a Valentine's Day mini-session in my home.  Forty-eight kiddos, from newborn up to tweens, came into my living room for their portraits.  I was in love-overdrive, cuddling and tickling and joking non-stop.  I got beautiful smiles and loads of laughs.  At the end of day two, I was plumb worn through...carpet burns on my knees and the tops of my feet from crawling around, and a backache to end all backaches.  When the last of my clients wrapped up and went home, my precious boy meekly came to me and asked if he could have his pictures taken, too.  "Of course you can!" was my response, and I was eager to get some photos of my little Valentine.

So we ran to fix his hair, which was standing on end like a rooster's comb all day, and wiped the chocolate from Mema's cookies off of his face.  Still in pro-togger mode, I grabbed a few props and positioned him.  He wanted to be silly and make faces (the curse of a photographer is that your child gets so used to the camera that they either over- or under-emote for the camera...mine always acts insane).  He didn't want to cooperate with anything I was asking him to do. 
 
So how do I respond...?  By rolling my eyes, getting a temper, acting huffy, telling him I won't take his picture if he doesn't act right.  Basically, the complete and total opposite of how he saw I had been with every other child over the past two days.  With no love or silliness.  And while he did began to comply, the sparkle in his eyes vanished.

Yes, he's smiling, but I might as well have been the yearbook photographer for all anyone could tell by looking at this.  There is no joy behind this smile.  Just doing as he was told.

Again.  God, my heart breaks when I see this.  My baby is so eager to please me, yet I am breaking his spirit.

And that my friends, overwhelmed me in an instant and broke my heart.  I stopped what I was doing, calmed down, and gave him a big hug and kiss, and I apologized. Then, I played with him.  I let him be silly.  I gave him permission to be a seven-year-old boy, and I stopped scolding him for it.  And I captured the real Wyatt. 
There he is.  Oh, I love him.

I set him free, and he came out of his shell.

My favorite.  I cannot look at this without grinning ear to ear. 

For the rest of the day, I looked at every interaction with him with a new mindset.  He is a child.  He craves love and attention and silliness and security.  All he wants is reassurance that I love him no matter what.  And I do.  But I haven't been showing him that.  I can say, "I love you," until I'm blue in the face, but if my actions don't back up my words, it's all for naught.  How much more effective would my parenting be if I just lived out the love I profess?!  He deserves it.  He didn't ask to be here; I pleaded with God for him.  And now, because it's ridiculously harder than I could've imagined, I am throwing fits and acting ungrateful.  No more.  NO MORE!  I know I'm only twelve hours into what seems like the most common-sense change of heart, but when I've approached him with love first, his response is immediate and complicit.  No arguing.  No defiance.  Just love returned, in abundance.  Praise you, O Lord, for opening my eyes, and for protecting Wyatt's sweet little heart while I have been broken.


What does the bible say about all of this...?  Here is but a tiny glimpse:
In John 13:34-35, Christ commands us to "love one another as I have loved you...by this all men will know that you are my disciples."  This is not a suggestion.  It is a command.  From God Himself.  So that we, as His followers, are set apart and discernible from the world.  And how did He show His love for us..?  Through sacrifice.  1 John 3:16 says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us."  Jesus literally died on a cross to cover our sins so that we may have eternal life with Him and the Father in heaven.  While the reality of martyrdom exists, the majority of us aren't going to die for our faith, but each of us can die to our selves to demonstrate our love for others.  Giving up the selfish desires of our flesh to bless others is how we do that.  True love is action, not words.  Reading further in 1 John 3:18, this is confirmed: "Let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth."  Anything we do without love, up to and including moving mountains, is pointless and without merit.  It's so simple that it hurts, but our sinful nature and the whisperings of the enemy are at war with our good intentions.  We must be deliberate in our choice and attitude daily...sometimes hourly.  Just because it's hard most of the time doesn't excuse anything.  We are accountable for ourselves.  The great news...?  Jesus has already overcome this world and all of the evil in it!  If you're struggling (who isn't?), lay yourself at His feet and hand over to Him the burdens you can no longer carry.  He will never forsake you or leave you.  And praise God, His mercies are new every single morning.