December 9, 2014

Stitch Fix #3

I'm not exactly one to follow trends, so I feel a little bit sheepish admitting that I'm kind of enjoying using Stitch Fix. And maybe Stitch Fix doesn't even count as a trend. But the whole order-something-online-try-it-and-send-it-back-if-you-don't-like-it thing definitely IS a trend. I've even seen companies doing this with dog treats now. Personally I think if your dog needs to taste-test custom ordered treats, you need a different dog. I wouldn't even do that for my kids!

But custom-chosen clothes for a tired and busy mama with not a lot of time to shop? Yes, please.

Shopping is a pastime I used to thoroughly enjoy, and still do on occasion. But some of these weird trends are making it more tempting for me to utilize services like Stitch Fix. For example, what is with the wide, short sweaters and skinny pants? I thought it was a teenager thing, but now it's crept into my favorite store too. Yes, even Athleta has decided this is a trend worth grabbing onto.


Of course that woman makes them both look great. But in my experience, boxy, short sweaters do not look good on tall people (recall goal #5 from my first fix). Or maybe they just don't look good on me. Most normal length clothing is too short for me, so a sweater made short by design comes halfway up my torso, and that's not a look I'm going for. And those pants?? I got brave and tried a pair of those on once - I felt like MC Hammer. Maybe therein lies the problem...I might be getting too old for this stuff...

Anyway.....

Stitch Fix is well aware of my height problem and they're doing a pretty good job of figuring it out. I had a pretty decent amount of credit so thought I'd let them take another shot at finding some things to fit me. 

(bear with me and my pathetic 'selfies'. my ever-so-talented camera-man husband was unavailable)

The first two items were a printed bib tab-sleeved blouse and a fairly simple necklace:


LOVED the blouse. It was long enough and the print was fun, plus it's navy and orange, which I love together.  The necklace was cute, but I have a similar one so no need to spend money on this one.

Next was a pair of trouser jeans, which are a welcome break from the weird Hammer-esque pant trend.


Cute, comfy and they fit well. I decided to reserve judgement on these until I tried on the other pieces. It was my hope that I could keep all five pieces and take advantage of the 25% discount, use my credit and sort of get everything for "free."


#4 was a simple hoodie. The sleeves on this were so lusciously long!! I love it when I can find full-long sleeves that are long enough, since I usually have to resort to 3/4 length or just pulling long ones up. It was really, really comfy too. I wasn't a huge fan of ripped neckline, but figured a scarf would cover that up anyway. The price was WAY too high at $78 though, if I decided to not keep all 5 pieces and use all my credit.

Last but not least was a really fun outerwear piece.


Amazingly, the sleeves on this were long enough too. But just barely. I loved the longer length and that it was something fun and different from anything else I own. My only beef with this that the gray piece that covered the zipper kept flapping open and exposing the zipper. Not a huge deal, but it looked so much cuter when it was closed.

The verdict?
I decided that while I liked and could have kept everything in this fix, the only piece I really loved was the printed bib blouse. And it was one of the more reasonable pieces at $38. Instead of keeping everything just for the sake of getting the discount, I thought it would be more fun to just keep the piece that I loved, and use the rest of my credit on future fixes. Trying on 4 things that actually fit is kind of fun and the Stitch Fix stylists get better the more feedback you give, so I'm thinking they've got me somewhat figured out. Hoping that means I'll get a couple more "love" pieces the next time!

Ready to try Stitch Fix?
https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/3372263

PS - wonder what happened to Fix #2? I requested some layering pieces, and they sent an array of drapey front cardigans, sweaters and a blazer. Apparently those are "in" now too and also look terrible on really tall people! (or just me). I hated them all, so noted that I wanted "NO MORE DRAPEY FRONT ITEMS". They figured it out and did much better with Fix #3.

November 17, 2014

How to afford an international adoption: Part 2

We are not the Jones's.
The elusive Jone's that everyone is always trying to "keep up with" - you know, the ones who have the new car, the perfectly manicured lawn, the Pottery Barn furnishings, the boat for the weekends...

We are not them

The Jones's probably couldn't afford an adoption.

Yesterday I mentioned the real reason we were able to afford adopting from China (Part 1 is HERE). But the truth of the matter is that although God did provide for us in a totally miraculous way, we did our best to set ourselves up for Him to work.

Let me just clarify that when it comes to income, we are totally average people. Jon has a good job that provides a fair wage and I work just enough outside the home to basically pay for our food. We are not super-earners and have not been the beneficiaries of some huge inheritance or anything. We are just average.

Shortly after we got married (like two months) we found out we were expecting our first child. This was roughly 7 years earlier than we planned, so it threw it a little kink in our perfectly-laid-out-life. We had always planned that I would stay home with our children, but that seemed pretty impossible now that we were actually having one and I wasn't even done with college.

We always believed that everything we had really belonged to the Lord anyway, we were just the managers. We just had never had very much to manage! But with a baby on the horizon, you start looking at things differently. Our mentor couple invited us to a Dave Ramsey class they were teaching, but halfway through the 13 week event they unexpectedly had to bow out and asked us to take over. That was definitely the blind leading the blind! But it was probably also the best thing that could have happened to us. We were thrown into teaching something that we knew only a little about and had to hold ourselves accountable to everyone else in that class. It was the beginning of learning  three very important lessons:

1. YOU NEED A PLAN
Have you ever stepped into Wal-Mart for a few things and walked out wondering how in the world you spent $200? Or realized when you flip the calendar to December that you have absolutely no money for Christmas gifts? I am going to use the "B-word" - you need a budget. If you don't like the word "budget" we can call it a money management plan. Whatever you want to call it, you need one. All it does is tell your money where it should go, so you don't end up wondering where it went. It's a tool for you take control of your spending and the first step in making smart financial decisions.

Five years of Sprang family budgets!


2. DEBT WILL KILL YOU
Since teaching that first class, we've taught 8 others and can say with absolute certainty that debt is the number one reason people aren't able to meet their financial goals. It's not lack of income, it's too much debt. Three types are the biggest culprits: car loans, student loans and credit card debt.

3. YOU DON'T NEED __________.
A new riding lawnmower. A pair of $300 boots. To have your kids play that expensive sport. A stainless steel fridge. There's nothing wrong with any of those, but there is a huge difference between needs and wants and living in the affluent culture that we do, we often get those seriously, seriously mixed up.

I realize that all of these things go against the grain in our "I-want-it-now-and-I-deserve-it" culture. But here's the thing - we don't deserve it. We do not deserve a thing our God has not graciously given us.  It's HIS. It is ALL His. And if we don't manage what He gives us in a way that is honoring to Him, it's like telling him "I can do better" and closing the door on him in that area of our lives.

All we did to afford adoption was live within our means.

This is the house we lived in for 9 years and through our adoption process. It did not have an attached garage. It wasn't huge. It needed new windows and some TLC. It was perfect, and we loved it, and we could afford it.


This was the kitchen in that house. It didn't have new cupboards. Or granite, or even matching appliances. But I cooked a great many delicious meals in this kitchen, and it got the job done.


We drove this car (behind the cute girl on the bike) for over ten years. We paid $4000 cash for it. That comes out to be about $33/month. It got us where we needed to go and it kept our kids safe. Because you don't need a $30,000 car to get through the snow and keep your kids safe. You just don't. This one did both for a savings of $26,000. And what do you do when you don't have a car payment? You pay yourself that payment so that you can replace your car if you need to, fund your savings account and never have a car payment again.


When we eat out with our kids, we use coupons or go on two-for-one day. We buy most of our kids clothes (and a fair amount of our own) from consignment stores or clearance racks. Coffee comes from our pot and not from Starbucks. We choose activities for our kids that are affordable and worth the cost, and even then sometimes the fees for those things are their birthday gifts.

Don't get me wrong - we aren't crazy, ultra-frugal money nazis. We took our kids to Disney World, went to Costa Rica for our anniversary and put a jacuzzi tub in our bathroom. And we recently bought a slightly larger house (with matching appliances!). Thanks to my number-crunching hubby, all of those things were planned and budgeted for.

Living debt-free instead of paycheck to paycheck put us in a place where we could say "yes" when God asked us to move. If He had said "sell some stuff and use your savings to pay for this adoption" we could have done that. Honestly I'm glad he didn't, but if we had had to do that to give a child a home, we could have.

And it would have been worth it.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  - Matthew 6:19-21


November 16, 2014

How to afford an international adoption: Part 1

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, I decided it would be fitting to finally put together a series of posts that I've been thinking about for a long time. I don't think it's any secret that adoption is expensive or that the perceived cost is a hinderance to many families who are interested in adoption, and I certainly do not claim to have all the answers. But we, and a great many other families have managed to make it work, so I'll share my two cents anyway.

First and foremost:
Affording an adoption is not all about the money.

I realize that there are many people who successfully adopt who are not Christians. But in my experience, a very significant number of them are. And they aren't just ones who label themselves as "Christian" for lack of a better choice, they're ones who are adopting because that's what the Lord has called them to and they're prayerfully and intentionally following Him. This was the case for us, and this is why we were able to afford our adoption.

Meili's finding ad from the Chinese newspaper (and Google's translation, which is fairly accurate, on the right)
We knew for a long time that adopting was something the Lord wanted to do (read HERE to learn more about that). We also had no idea how on earth we would ever afford that, but trusted that if it was something we were supposed to do, our God was big enough to find a way to make it happen. Honestly, I think almost every Christian adoptive family starts out this way. I only know of a handful who have been blessed with such abundant resources that they can pay for the whole thing upfront. Several months ago, someone posted a question on one (of the many) adoption forums I follow. It went something like this:

"We really believe God is calling us to start this adoption now. We have a little bit of money to start with but absolutely nowhere near enough to finish. Looking for advice from those who've been there - what should we do?"

It was amazing to watch the answers pour in. Time after time after time, the answer was the same. No one started with enough. Most people started with hardly anything. They trusted God and took it one day at a time. "We prayed and God provided a __________" - a grant, an anonymous donor, a raise at work, a fee reduction, an unexpected tax return, etc.


Relying on God to provide in such a huge way is sort of like sky diving. It's a crazy, amazing, nerve-wracking adventure where you put total faith in something other than yourself. You risk it all clinging to the hope that that parachute is going to open, that God is going to meet those needs. And when He does, it's so absolutely amazing, that you just can't do anything but give him the glory. Our loving and gracious Father did this for us time and time again (you can read about two times HERE and HERE). Not that we didn't need a few reminders along the way. We humans are so fickle - or at least I am - we can go from fully trusting to mostly doubting in a manner of minutes. But He even had that covered. In June of 2012 I was struggling with how it was all going to work. That Sunday our pastor gave a sermon titled "God Equips." The main point he drove home that day?
"What God calls us to do, he equips us to accomplish."




It was the reminder we needed. You see, when we started journey, we had nothing set aside for an adoption. Nothing. Yes, we had some savings, and we figured we would benefit from the adoption tax credit, but we had absolutely zero funds solely available for adoption. Not only that, but as we were praying about if this really was the right time to start, I felt the Lord asking me to trust him even more. (Obviously He knows I have control issues and wasn't going to let me get away with thinking I had anything to do with this) He was asking us to not only start the process with nothing, but never to ask for anything.

And so we didn't. Not once. Now, we did have fundraisers - we had a garage sale and clearly stated all proceeds would go toward our adoption. Jon offered photo sessions for this same purpose, but we never outright said, "please donate to this cause." There were people who did, because they wanted to, but never because we asked.  When we had a payment due, the money was always there. Sometimes, that payment took our fund within a dollar or two of zero. But it was always there. We joked that our adoption fund was like loaves and fish - it just kept coming and we couldn't figure how it worked, but it always did.


I realize it doesn't always work exactly this way for every single Christian adoptive family. Everyone's story is different. Ours involved me finally getting into a place of total surrender and reliance on the Father; something I struggle with DAILY. He was setting me up for the future when I would (and will) doubt, so that He can point me back to that time and say "Remember how I provided for you then? Surely, you can trust me now."

This is why the most important part of affording an adoption is not saving or scrimping, or investing or giving in a certain way (though that is important -see Part 2, coming soon!). The most important thing, is following the leading of the Holy Spirit with a life that is fully committed to Jesus Christ and the will of the our heavenly Father.





October 20, 2014

First time for everything

I envy the people who can move into a new house and plop their stuff down and call it "home." Unfortunately, I feel the need personalize a space before it really feels comfortable. People have been asking us if we feel "settled" yet, and the answer is "no." But we're working on it, slowly making the new place ours.

But, since we bought this house for the space, we decided the space needed to be used, whether we felt settled in it, or not. We currently have multiple paint colors in multiple swatches all over the house (gotta see the paint in different lights, you know!), boxes and piles in some of the rooms, a couple of half-painted projects and a serious lack of curtains (thank goodness most of the windows had blinds!). It's clearly going to take us a significant amount of time to get everything the way we want it, so instead of wasting all that time, we've adopted a "come-on-in-to-our-work-in-progress" mentality.

Having the extra space in this home has given us the chance to do something we've never been able to do before: entertain a large group of people!

Maybe not that exciting for some, but we are thrilled! I mentioned in this post that I feel like we've really lost the art of building real relationships, taking time for people and living way too much of our lives online. Online is easier, it's safer. But it's not as real. You can't see facial expressions, hear a quiver in a friends voice or see joy in someone's eyes. Yes, it takes a little time and effort. But it's so much better!

We have some great friends, but busy lives still make it difficult to get together so we need to make a purposeful effort. And I've had some amazing vintage dishes that have just been begging to be put to use. So we decided a dinner party was in order!


Everyone who knows me knows I'm crazy about all things 50's. I love the music, love the clothes, love the color palettes, love, love the patterns and graphics, and even the culture of that era. Clearly, I had to do a 50's party. But not the "rock-n-roll" type, definitely the "classic family life" type.


That is my authentic Fransiscan Starburst dinnerware. I'm in love with it. A little. (I mean, as much as you should really care about dinnerware...)



I don't have any matching glassware, but luckily have a friend with a similar affinity for all things vintage so she graciously let me borrow hers.




Yes, if you come to my 50's party, I will make you wear vintage cat-eye glasses.


Several years ago I snagged some Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens magazines from the 50's and 60's at a garage sale for 25 cents each. They are so much fun to look at! Things have changed so much since then. There are no Facebook or Twitter icons to be found, but on the bottom of every ad is a little cut-out coupon that you can fill out and "mail in for more information."


Some of them are so politically incorrect it's almost unbelievable!


We laughed hysterically about this ad, titled "Why you need a kitchen extension phone." Reasons included things like: "so you won't burn dinner while you're talking on the phone outside the kitchen" and "so you can answer important calls and still stir your soup!"


Not everything has changed - Reynolds wrap is pretty much the same!



Menu items included my Grandmother's fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade dinner rolls, corn casserole, and of course, a Jello mold.


Clearly I'm out of practice with Jello molds. But despite it's looks, it actually tasted pretty decent.
My grandma informed me that shredded carrots and pineapple in the Jello was very authentic 50's, so we had to do it. We finished with homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh apple pie, so we made up for it.

We also had some vintage "inspired" sodas. I only chose ones made with REAL sugar, since of course no one used high fructose corn syrup back then.


It was a fun time. We managed to have 8 adults and 9 kids in our house without it feeling crowded at all!



Best of all, we got to spend an evening with great friends, just enjoying a meal and each other's company.


Jello, anyone? ;)

October 12, 2014

Wasn't it just Summer?

You know how on the first day of school everybody takes a picture of their kids in front of their house before they head off for the monumental day? We did that too. But we didn't post the pictures because I thought it would be much more fun to include it in a post about our crazy summer.

Then we blinked and our kids have been in school for nearly two months.

Oops. 

This is more evidence here of how I'm not nearly as organized as people sometimes think I am. It always floors me when people make comments about how I'm "so organized" or "have it together." 

Nope. Not even a little.

This is why I am doing a summer update post in OCTOBER.

To be fair, we did actually have a really, really crazy last few months. But things are starting to settle down now, so I'm hoping this is the beginning of a new era. (One where I write a post more than once every three months!)

June

Honestly the whole month of June was pretty non-eventful. For the life of me I can't figure out why we don't go to school through June in South Dakota, and then start again in October. June is almost always rainy and miserable and September is always gorgeous. But I don't make the rules so we began the summer picking out days here and there that were warm and dry enough to do something besides hang out in the house.

We did manage to get a few pool days in (but not many!) and a few strawberries picked.



Meili loves, loves, LOVES strawberries. She has been known to eat over a pound at a time.




Tyler loves pie about as much as Meili loves strawberries, so we managed to get a few of those in too.




Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't think there are too many things that taste much better than a homemade fresh strawberry pie.

July 

Enter the chaos! It was a welcome chaos because we were finally able to escape to some warm weather! We were fortunate to be able to take a trip to see my brother and sister-in-law in the beginning of July. They live on a lovely little island off the Southern coast of Georgia; Saint Simons Island. 

St. Simons has four things I like very, very much: Sun, Ocean, Beach, Family. 


Jenna and I are alike in a lot of ways, so I'm not surprised that she agreed with me that a day at the beach is pretty much about the best way to spend a day. Ever.
She and I did a little research before we left. We decided this midwestern family was going to build a real, legit sandcastle.



I think we pulled it off pretty darn well!




We were so relaxed on this trip, Jon didn't even take his camera most of the time. We don't even have any pics of the other great things we did: fishing with my sister-in-law's father, jumping off the dock with Uncle Cam, eating pork poppers at Sweet Mama's, finding sea stars and sand dollars, having the best.fried.shrimp.ever at B&J's, fun nights out with one of my favorite couples...


As sad as I am that I my brother doesn't live closer to us, I'm so thankful that they are close to his wife's family. They took us in like their own and invited us to their fabulous Southern-style July 4th backyard barbeque. We had an amazing meal, complete with hand-cranked homemade fresh peach ice cream, had a few fireworks there and later watched a display from right on the beach at nearby Sea Island.




I think I left a little piece of my heart on St. Simons. I even made Jon call a realtor about a cute little house a block away from my brother! I mean, he can always work remotely, right?!? Too bad the sale was already pending, because if he had been up for it, I would have been perfectly OK with becoming and islander.

About a week after we returned home from St. Simons we had scheduled a trip to the Black Hills with my parents. Somehow we failed to get any pictures of this! We took an extra day and spent a long weekend in the Hills, which is always fun. We did some serious hiking (how did that 2 mile hike turn into a 7 mile hike?!?), had lots of campfire food and enjoyed the outdoors.

The next weekend, we had scheduled a trip to see Jon's cousins in Northern Minnesota. They had recently added a pool and we thought this would be a great opportunity for us all to spend some time together.








Thankfully it was heated, so the 70 degree weather did not deter us!



Traveling every weekend made July feel like a little bit of a rat race, but we enjoyed all of the trips and spending so much time with our extended family. 

In additional to all of this, we had been trying to make some updates to our home. Things that would need to be done if we sold it, or just things we would enjoy if we stayed in it. Ever since bringing Meili home, our house had felt a bit cramped. As tiny as she is, adding that extra person made it nearly impossible to all eat around our table in our dining room or for me to cook a meal in our small kitchen without bumping into a kid who was running through on their way out the back door.

We had been "keeping our eyes open" for other houses for about 18 months. We loved, I mean really loved our little 50's ranch home. Everything about it worked wonderfully for us, except that kitchen and dining space. A very talented architect friend of ours even put together some plans for how we could improve our space, but the city ordinances prevented us from doing every single thing we wanted to do. Aside from reconfiguring the space to make it more efficient (which carried a hefty price tag and gained us no square footage) there was really nothing we could do.

After looking for 18 months, we knew what we wanted. We didn't want to be in one of the new developments on the edge of town; we liked the middle. We didn't want a house similar to everyone else's (which here is a split foyer with a strikingly similar floor plan to the neighbors). We wanted it to be large enough for us to grow into as the kids get older and have more friends over. We did not want to do lots of updating. And we had a budget. After searching for so long, we determined this house did not exist in our town. We decided to go ahead with the pricey renovation to make our existing home more efficient. 

About a day after we decided this, a friend called. "I'm selling and I hear you're looking," he said. We decided to see the home, assuming it would be yet another house we didn't like. After we finished, we both sat in the car quietly. Jon looked at me and finally said, "That was AWESOME." 

It was large, it was custom built, unlike any we'd seen, it was built WELL, it was in a wonderful part of town and we already knew some of the neighbors. And the price was do-able. 

We spent several weeks praying and talking about it and ended up making an offer and listing our home in the middle of July. We listed it ourselves because we wanted to get a certain dollar amount out of it for the down payment on the new one. We were prepared to walk away if we didn't get what we needed. Thankfully, we had multiple offers and our house sold in the first 24 hours.

So August became "moving month."


We took one last photo with our cute little mid-century home. It was a very bittersweet day. I still avoid driving by it because it makes me tear up. This home was good to us. We were so grateful for this house and so blessed during the time we lived here. We left behind some wonderful, wonderful neighbors and a great location a block from our kids' school. A good friend told me the first home is the hardest to let go of and I think she's right! I'm having a terrible time! To avoid getting all emotional, I try to pray for the young couple that bought it - that they would be as blessed in this home as we were.

We were set to close on the first day of school, but were able to push it forward a few days fearing that that might be a bit "much" for our kiddos (and us!). They'd stayed here two nights before school started. 

Without further ado - the obligatory first day of school/new house picture (roughly 47 days after school started)!


We've decided not to show a lot of pictures because although we love the space, it does not feel like "ours" yet. We don't plan to do many projects, but we do need some paint, and a few other little things here and there. Instead, we'll do before & after shots when we make progress! The part you see in this picture already looks different :)

With traveling, packing and moving, our summer totally disappeared. No more lazy days by the pool or sleeping in. No more beautiful island beaches (sniff sniff). Those have been replaced with lots of scheduling, unpacking, organizing, paint sampling, homework doing and lunch packing.

And so, on to a new chapter! One where we can not only ALL fit around our dining room table, but where there is room for others as well! We've already been able to entertain more people in this home than we had in the last several years combined in our previous home. We are looking forward to making this house into a place where we can raise our family and build many more relationships. And maybe, maybe, if I get my act together, even do a little more blogging ;)