Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Money Saving Mom's Budget

In case anyone missed it, you can pre-order the Money Saving Mom's Budget from Amazon.  Since I've long enjoyed her blog, I'm sure the book will be equally inspiring.  Even better is the fact that all proceeds from the book go toward Compassion International!

Due to revamping our budget, I've not yet reserved my own copy, but I hope to be able to do so soon.  I have no doubt that it will be worth the wait!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Something Sweet

Compared to many - perhaps even most - people, I lead a very vanilla life.  I've learned to be okay with the fact that I have few extreme likes and to appreciate that I'm not terribly adventurous.  That said, I do have a few things in which I genuinely take pleasure.

When my mom-in-law invited me to join her Sweet Adelines chorus this summer, I looked forward to trying it out.  This activity would combine two of my favorite subjects:  music and learning (learning, because I know relatively little about Barbershop singing...actually, I don't know much about singing of any kind, least of all Barbershop).  I also figured that joining would get me out of the house once a week for something other than schooling or teaching piano. 

To date, I've truly enjoyed myself at chorus rehearsal.  The ladies are amazing.  They gave me tons of literature on what, exactly, Barbershop singing is and made the qualifying process as painless as singing-a-capella-in-front-of-other-people-while-staying-on-pitch could possibly be.  (Okay, maybe that wasn't so vanilla, after all!)  I'm learning a lot about this form of music; I'm having fun while doing it; and hopefully I can help contribute to the group's performance at Nationals next October. 

While costuming and stage makeup aren't generally things that fall into my comfort zone, it's good for me to try something a little out of the range of vanilla.  At least I'll be colorful even if not comfortable!

Monday, November 7, 2011

No More CSF (For Now)!

It's hard to believe that Jon's surgery was two weeks ago!  Time seemed to drag as we anticipated the operation, and now that it's behind us, time seems to fly.  When we arrived at the hospital nice and early Monday morning, we were told that the surgery would take about 4 hours.  Since his previous surgery had gone longer than expected, I assumed the same would be true again and decided to return home once he was wheeled into the operating room.

His doctor called me about three hours later to let me know he was out of surgery and that all had gone smoothly.  While I had some questions for her, such as finding out whether or not she'd found another CSF leak, I figured I'd just ask her once I drove back to the hospital.  Since I knew Jon would be wanting me as soon as possible, I didn't want to spend too much time on the phone before leaving.  Once I got back to the recovery floor, though, I found out that she was already back in surgery with another patient. 

It took several hours for the anesthesia to wear off and for Jon to feel up to traveling home, but I was amazed at how much better he looked so soon after surgery.  By Wednesday morning, he felt up to returning to work - just 48 hours after his operation!  I was afraid he would overdo, but aside from some insomnia due to his medications, he made a full recovery without much setback. 

At his first post-op appointment, we were able to get many of our questions answered.  He did not seem to have another CSF leak - yay! - but there had been a lot of scarring from the prior surgery which was probably the root of much of his discomfort.  As long as no more scar tissue develops, he shouldn't need any future operations. 

The only problem he's currently dealing with is the headaches he gets right before the weather changes.  I'd really hoped that this surgery would eliminate those, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  Since I get heat headaches every summer, I can somewhat relate to this.  Hopefully over time these will lessen in intensity or even go away completely. 

For now, we're thrilled that he doesn't have any current leaks and that his doctor is pleased with his progress.  This surgery was so much simpler and easier to deal with than the first one, and we know it's because so many people were praying.  It was wonderful to have yet another very vivid reminder that the Lord truly does answer prayer!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turning Their Hearts

Several friends and I were lamenting over the hardships of rearing our spark plugs.  Some days, it feels as though we spend every waking moment dealing with attitude issues and poor behavior.  Days like these leave us parents exhausted, aggravated, and frustrated.

Today, I was encouraged by reading in 2nd Chronicles about Josiah - a king of Judah who rose to power at the tender age of eight after his wicked father was assassinated.  This child king had no Biblical training, or none that the Bible records, and presumably what short influence his father had on him would not have been in alignment with God's commands.

Even with such a rough start to life, the Lord turned the heart of this king to fully follow Him, and after humbling himself, Josiah led all of Judah in repenting of their sin and renewing the Temple sacrificial system.

It's my job as a mom to train up my children in a manner pleasing to the Lord (remembering to honor my husband as I do so), but I must also remember that it is His job to turn their hearts toward Him.  Raising children requires a blend of faith and trust as we seek to follow the Lord each step of the way.  I don't have that perfect balance figured out yet, but I love the Biblical reminders of God's greatness to intervene and turn hearts toward Himself.

Along the way, He will encourage and strengthen us so that we can find joy even in the midst of weariness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So, What's This CSF Stuff Really All About?

CSF, CSF, CSF...try saying (or typing, for that matter!) this three times in a row, and you'll probably find yourself switching the letters around.  I certainly do.

CSF stands for cerebro-spinal fluid, the liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.  It's some pretty awesome stuff.  When it's appropriately contained by the dura, the special membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, it cushions and protects this extremely vital organ.  Jon's CSF, however, isn't staying put.  For reasons unknown to us, a hole developed in his dura somewhere up in his sinuses, thus breaking the needed pressure seal and allowing CSF to leak away from the brain. This creates myriad problems, from something as simple as congested sinuses to as dangerous as having the brain collapse on itself.  Without the steady pressure that a completely sealed dura creates, havoc ensues.

Jon's surgeons believe that he developed his CSF leak around age 15, but he lived with it undiagnosed until age 30.  His symptoms mimicked those of severe allergies, although he'd known for years that allergy medications, even prescription-strength, did nothing to ward off his intense reactions.  He also noticed that there was no pattern for his splitting headaches and and bouts of nasal discomfort.  He wasn't any worse during allergy seasons, and he felt no better once offending pollens diminished.

After L was born and we'd reached our out-of-pocket health insurance maximum, Jon decided to find out what was irritating his sinuses.  After allergy tests proved that he was not allergic to any known substances, the allergist labeled him with "non-allergic rhinitis," meaning his reactions had no known cause.

Dissatisfied with this answer, Jon asked if I could get him in to see an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor.  The Lord completely worked out all the details; usually, a patient has to see a regular doctor and then be referred to an ENT.  Since Jon's doctor had already referred him to the allergist who had given him a diagnosis, the chances of that first doctor choosing to override the allergist's opinion were slim.  However, the phone receptionist with whom I spoke pulled some strings and got Jon the ENT appointment without a referral.  Were we ever grateful for that!

Toward the end of the consultation with the ENT, this new doctor asked Jon if his nose leak tasted salty.  This one question changed Jon's entire course of medical care. 

CSF can have a salty or even metallic taste, we later learned.  Had we known that years earlier, Jon might have gotten help much sooner.  CT scans and MRIs showed that Jon had not only a severe leak but also brain prolapse into his sinuses.  Even with the severity of his case, Jon was very blessed to have had only minor headaches (some CSF patients are completely disabled by pain); to have avoided any bouts of meningitis; and to have experienced no mental distress even with the prolapse.  The Lord was protecting him even in the absence of needed medical care.

One reason that diagnosing Jon was so difficult is that CSF leaks are rare.  An estimated 5 in 100,000 people have them.  Of that number, the vast majority of cases result from trauma, such as a car accident or surgery, and of those that are spontaneous (meaning the cause is unknown), most are middle-to-late aged women.  So when a 30-year-old male with no history of trauma walks in complaining of a runny nose and headaches, CSF isn't the first thing surgeons look for!

As soon as Jon was correctly diagnosed, his doctors treated him as an emergency case even though CSF itself is rarely fatal.  Since it can easily lead to extremely serious situations, such as meningitis, it is nothing to sniff at.

At the time of his surgery in August '09, we thought that would be the end of his treatment.  What we'd not realized is that in cases of spontaneous CSF, the repairs often do not hold.  We heard of one patient who has had 14 repairs to date!

Currently, it is not completely clear whether Jon has another CSF leak or whether he only has blocked sinuses.  No brain prolapse showed up on his most recent MRI.  His upcoming surgery on October 24th will be out-patient surgery to clear up his chronic sinusitis, which is the same as having a continuous sinus infection.  The doctor gives him a 70% chance of staying clear after this surgery, so it's possible he'll need to have this procedure repeated from time to time.  While he is undergoing the sinusitis surgery, the surgeon will also do a visual look for another CSF leak since he has all the symptoms of such.  The difficulty lies in the fact that sinus problems and CSF symptoms are so similar that separating the two is often impossible.

Additionally, CSF leak diagnosis is relatively new.  It wasn't until the 1950s-1960s that doctors discovered cerebro-spinal fluid leaks as the culprit for patients with splitting headaches and allergy-like symptoms.  We're thankful that there is medical help available to Jon; 40 years ago, this would have been unheard of.

Certainly, this is not the most fun experience we've ever dealt with.  Even with the unpleasantness, however, we can clearly see the Lord working.  He helped us to get a diagnosis at the time when we could incur no further medical bills; He provided Jon with excellent surgeons; and He's shown us that even though this could be very dangerous, He's spared Jon from the worst scenarios. 

It would be easy to get caught up in the "what ifs" and unknowns of CSF.  But there is a lot to keep us grounded and thankful.  A friend of ours is going through a kidney transplant process.  Compared to the dangers and worries of organ failure, CSF is much, much less distressing.  And while Jon went through the barrage of CT and MRI tests, he witnessed many gravely ill patients.  He said it was a great reminder to be thankful for the health that he does have.  His symptoms, while irritating, are not consistent, nor do they occur on a daily basis.  It could even be called one of those "unseen" illnesses, since most people would never look at Jon and realize that he is sick.

While it is inconvenient and at times very frustrating, there are many positives - too many to remember or list.  We can witness the graciousness of God, even in something as unpleasing as a CSF leak.  It all depends on our perspective.  We choose to see the glass completely full:  full of God's mercy and blessing.  Life just doesn't get better than living under the protection of the Almighty God!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Six-Month Hiatus is Over!

Imagine my shock when I looked at my poor blog and realized it'd been six months since my last post!  This is probably not the best way to keep anyone's interest, that's for sure.  Suffice it to say that we've had a wonderful but busy summer.

Now, however, I've had a bit of time to revamp my blog (a big thanks to my friend D for her help and encouragement as I fiddled with the design, layout, and tabs), and I'm looking forward to trying a few new things.  For example, many of you have asked for more details about Jon's cerebro-spinal fluid leak.  This coming week, I hope to put up a better explanation of what's happening and how we can see the Lord working through it all.

I also hope to write a few book reviews, and I want to share more of the humorous points of our lives.  My three spark plugs constantly lend themselves to hilarious situations and conversations, and it's important to remember that even in the midst of the tireless adventure of raising children, there is much joy along the way.

Enjoy the rain!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Song of the Lifeboat

"Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats." - Voltaire

Two things I've learned in life: Every trial is simply training ground for a harder trial down the road, and undoubtedly a storm is brewing during a lull in the weather. When Jon came home from work a week ago Wednesday and asked, "how good is our health insurance coverage?" I felt the first drops of rain.

For the past two or three months, he'd been experiencing headaches, unexplained fatigue, and a general feeling of ill, much like he did prior to his CSF leak surgery 18 months ago. Because he wasn't having actual leaking, however, we tried to pass off the symptoms as sinusitis, even though I really knew it wasn't. Last Wednesday, the leak returned, and with it, the horrible memories of his pre-op and surgery.

As much as I wish I could say that I trusted fully in the Lord's care and provision, the truth is that I panicked. Jon's current insurance plan is horrible - basically, it's only catastrophic coverage in the event of a huge emergency or disaster. And since it's a work policy, we can only change coverage during open enrollment, which we first thought wouldn't come around until October (far too long for a CSF patient to go without seeing a physician).

Thankfully, Jon was much more level-headed about it all, reminding me that the Lord knew from the beginning that Jon would have this condition, and that He would provide for and take care of us now just as He had every time previously.

The day after the start of this storm, I woke up with a nasty heat headache that I so often struggle with during the first few warm days of Spring. That evening, we discovered that Lauren has developed a hernia. Add to all of that the indigestion Tyler's been struggling with and top it off with extended family struggles, and I was really starting to feel overwhelmed by the waves.

And then I found my Lifeboat.

Isaiah 26:3 played over and over in my mind: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." I don't remember memorizing that verse, but somewhere along the way I must have committed it to memory, and it has steadied my fried nerves and realigned my wayward focus.

Almost instantly, things started falling into place, starting with Jon's health insurance (he's on a different plan than the rest of the family). Open enrollment is in June, not October, and for an identical monthly premium, we can transfer him to a Kaiser plan with a manageable deductible. Since his surgeon works at Kaiser, this is an additional blessing.

I also decided that I needed to learn as much as I could on CSF leaks. We had no idea that it could return after the surgical repair, and I realized that I knew very little about this. What I've discovered has been shocking: repairs are only permanent 90% of the time, and when someone has a spontaneous leak like Jon does, the statistics are much lower - one woman reported having 14 repairs. This is a much more life-threatening situation than we'd ever understood previously, too. Ironically, instead of worrying me more, all of this information has helped me to feel more confident simply because I better understand what we could be facing. I've also learned that many of Jon's seemingly-random symptoms are probably all related to the CSF leak. It's definitely sobering, but it reveals just how blessed we are that his first 15 years with a CSF leak didn't harm him any more than it did. The Lord has been truly gracious.

Additionally, Jon's not had any more leaking since the Wednesday incident- another huge praise, because this might mean that it really was just sinusitis or that the leak has resealed (which can happen when the leak is small). While both of those scenarios are unlikely, I still find it encouraging.

We also learned that the kids' health insurance will cover an annual well-child checkup, so both Tyler and Lauren can be seen for their issues. Tyler is already feeling better as we reduce his sugar intake and increase his veggie consumption, and all of my internet research indicates that Lauren will not need immediate surgery for her hernia. And the the sunshine through the clouds is that my headaches have abated so that I can think and respond to things more Biblically and rationally.

I highly doubt that this succession of storms is completely over, but I am thankful for the reminder to sing in the lifeboat. I'm alive, and that in itself is something to rejoice about! I've also been reminded how minuscule these little waves truly are. When compared to the wife and four children who just lost their 20-something husband/father to cancer; the friend awaiting an organ donation; the uncle who just lost his job after over 30 years of service; and others struggling under huge, impending thunderheads, I really have very little to complain about and so much for which to be thankful.

Will I sing in my lifeboat? Absolutely. And the louder I sing, the sooner I realize that the Rescue Ship has already pulled me aboard. After all, He's the one who taught me how to sing during the shipwreck.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Child Rearing: The Missing Manual

Over the past few years, I've read several child-rearing books. Okay, make that LOTS of child-rearing books. Some I've loved; others I've hated; but I've learned something from each. Authors give advice on training, discipline, education, health, safety, and myriad other kid-related topics. There is one aspect of training up little ones that is rarely, if ever, covered, though, and I find it a little disconcerting.

I cannot think of any book I've read that delves into the aspect of children as gifts, on loan from God. It's mentioned, oh yes, numerous times and by many authors, but I've not come across anyone who's actually stopped to dwell on the issue.

When I hear the term "loan," I think of a bank lending money. After securing a bank loan, I may have cash in a bank account, but it's not really mine. In most cases, I can do with it what I choose, but the end result is the same: I have to repay not only the principal, but also the interest. What would happen if I were to raise my children with this same mindset?

Whenever I've borrowed items from someone else, I usually give great attention and care to the borrowed item so that I can return it in as good of condition as possible. While I'm not careless with my own belongings, I'm not as careful with them since I don't have to return them to someone else.

All too often, I get caught up in thinking that these three spark plugs belong to me permanently, wholly, and completely - well, to me and my husband. Truthfully, this is a very selfish and unbiblical mindset. I am merely a steward into whose care these gifts have been placed by God. I love them as my own, and I try to be the best mom I can be. If I were to continually remember that they are loans, though, I think I would become a better mother than I currently am.

During the moments when I remember that my children are on loan, I act differently. I'm calmer, more collected; I'm gentler in voice and action; I have more patience with petty things. Some day, I will answer to God regarding my child-rearing attempts. I am not responsible for saving my children's souls - only the Lord can do that. But I am responsible to raise them in a manner that honors the Lord and is in keeping with His word.

While there may be a gap in parenting books, God's Word perfectly fills the void. I will continue reading other authors on the subject, but I will rely most fully on the Lord's infallible teaching, knowing that it's the answer to the "missing manual."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What If I'm Already Doing All of That?

I love to read blogs, books, and articles about saving money. I'm always hunting for new ideas to try and creative tips to incorporate in my spending and saving habits. More often than not, though, I'm disappointed by what I read. It's not that the information is poor; rather, I either find suggestions that I'm already following, or the ideas are just not practical for my specific situation. My guess is that I'm not the only one who encounters these difficulties.

Occasionally, though, I come across a recommendation that I'm not currently incorporating. I thought I'd share them in one concise email in the hopes of helping others find some not-so-obvious ways of stashing away a few more cents here and there. They certainly won't make you millionaires overnight. But, over time, each might generate a few spare dollars over time.

These ideas are certainly not new to me. Most come from online blogs, forwarded emails, or Amy Dacyczyn's book The Tightwad Gazette. So, in no apparent order or creative fashion, here we go:

1. Fill up your gas tank in the early mornings whenever possible. Gasoline expands as it heats up, and pumps do not account for this. Theoretically, you'll get richer, higher quality gas in the coolness of the morning.

2. Also fill up when your tank is only half empty. Since gasoline evaporates more quickly when the tank is emptier, you'll lose less gas to evaporation if you keep it filled up.

3. If time allows, you can do a Google search to find out which nearby gas station is offering the best prices at the time. I can't always do this, but when time allows, it's nice to know that I'm getting the best deal.

4. If you purchase bagged produce at a set price, weigh various bags and get the biggest one. Even if you're only getting one that's a few ounces heavier, you're still getting more for your money.

5. Mark the date on your shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, etc. when you open each one and see how long it takes to consume them. Record the length of time it took on the next bottle, and try to extend the life of the second one past the first.

6. Experiment with using less than the recommended portions of dish and laundry detergent. Many times, we just fill up the washers' cups without realizing that many machines are actually designed to use less. Just be sure you're really getting things clean; no one wants to eat off of a dirty dish! :)

7. Those who make their own bread know that homemade bread is horribly crumbly (if yours isn't, I need your recipe!). When you're ready to slice up your loaf, cut the entire loaf at once on a clean cutting board. Scrape all the crumbs into a jar and let them dry out. Voila! Instant, free breadcrumbs to use in meatloafs, casseroles, and other dishes.

8. Another drawback to homemade bread is the fact that the stuff goes stale in about 24 hours. Many households simply can't finish off an entire loaf in that time, so repurpose the remaining unappetizing portions. Breakfast casserole, bread pudding, French Toast, bread pizza, and homemade croutons are all ideas to try.

For what they're worth, those are some of the less popular suggestions that I really liked. I can't always get every coupon deal; I don't have the storage space to stock up on excess supplies; and I can only cut so much from our expenses. But these things are a bit novel and can be fun at the same time. I love not spending money on bread crumbs, and I love keeping more of my gas money in my envelope!

I'd also welcome any other remote money saving ideas. Feel free to comment and suggest away!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Frugal Flop

I thought I had a great, fiscally-savvy idea. Why not make the kids some play clothes/sleepwear? They really needed some, we needed to save money, and on top of that, it looked fun and easy (thanks to the tutorial at The result is pictured above (I haven't made Lauren's yet).

Truth be told, I think they're kinda cute. So how on earth was this a frugal flop? Let me count the ways!

1. I didn't end up saving much money.

2. They were NOT easy to make.

3. Foam stickers affixed to the fleece do NOT come off easily.

4. After just one day of use, the fleece showed significant wear, so I'm thinking they won't last very long.

5. The fleece is really warm, but the tee-shirt portion is really thin, so the kids are often uncomfortable temperature-wise.

6. Little boys don't keep white clothing very white.

As I said, these are cute, and the boys really like them. But those are about the only two positives. Live and learn, I guess!