this is how we do it: SUMMER

First – ground rules.

Second – #summertothrive workbook (emailed to you when you sign up). Also, #powersheets.

You cannot, will not, get good rhythms going if you can’t clear your head and produce organized thoughts and goals. You don’t have to BE an organized person; just fake it with a brain dump. Sort it all out for thirty minutes, and share with your roommate or husband or mom or kids. I promise, it’ll make a difference.

What is a rhythm? It’s like a routine, for the heart and the soul. It’s that feeling when you wake up and breathe easier because you have a general idea of how the day is going to go, and how you’re going to treat people, and what’s expected of you, and what you expect from others. It’s that sense of being connected to the Father, because you’ve already cast your cares upon him and his burden is light.

What do our summers look like? I continue to work full time out of the home. Chris continues to work full time in the home. The big kids kind of do their own teenage thing and the little kids are in as many vacation Bible schools as possible. Chris and I wake up at the same time every morning and do the Bible thing together. We still go to the gym, because the free hour of childcare gets a facelift in the summer. They turn it into a mini camp with extra activities and staff. At home, the kids play outside a lot. We try to hold off on screen time until the afternoons (they do use their tablets early in the morning if they wake up before our alarm). We still eat dinner at the same time, and the bedtime routine stays the same. All of the kids sleep wherever they want in the summer, typically in a pile on the floor of their room or in each other’s beds. Everyone’s chores and household expectations stay the same. Nobody is assigned anything specific or additional, but we expect everyone who lives here to help out at the bare minimum. My motto for a healthy work environment (or school, or government or household) has always been that if everyone would just do the bare minimum, systems would work.

We don’t take long vacations; just a few day trips and short vacations spread throughout the summer. Everyone agrees it’s more fun that way, and it’s easier to pay for and take time off of work. Some of our greatest memories have been crammed into a car for a quick getaway and a yummy meal somewhere.

Last year, I focused on three words to infuse throughout the summer – contentment, peace, and joy. I wanted these words to be dripping out of my heart and family and work and play all summer long.

This year, I wrote down more specific goals for the summer – a vibrant and powerful family prayer life, a sense of fun and adventure incorporated into everything we do, and to get prepared for grad school (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually).

I also selected a verse to memorize and spout off to my family and write into the nooks and crannies of my life. “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” Psalm 113:3

One new rhythm we’re adding in this year is the family time we named “Summer Sabbath.” Every Saturday morning that we’re able, we’ll make time to have fun and reconnect. Sometimes two or three days go by where we don’t see each other during the week, because some of us are coming and going while others are sleeping. Instead of trying to force a family dinner every night, we’ve decided to focus on Saturday mornings. The rules are as follows: it’s just the family, no phones allowed, the activity is only one hour long, and breakfast always follows. This can look like anything from tennis to a family walk around the park to a historic site tour. I’m really excited for this one.

The prep work only takes a little effort and time, but it’s so worth it. If I know I want to get to the end of the summer with a stronger prayer life and adventures with family under my belt, then I know how to make daily decisions that will help get us there. If I know the next three years are going to be challenging with grad school, then I know how to spend the next few months getting ready with help from others. Everything in life just feels easier and more purposeful if I have vision for it. And isn’t that what life is supposed to look like anyway? As a follower of Jesus, I believe everything SHOULD have purpose and vision. Every move I make should be one that shares the Light and Life I carry. Everything means something. Otherwise, what else am I here for?

this is how we do it: FOOD

Alright alright, let’s talk meal planning and grocery and all of the food things! First, read the ground rules. All set? Great!

We’ve been following the same food rhythms for nearly four years now. It works great for us, and you guys have asked lots of questions regarding. I’ll try to hit all of the main points but as always, but feel free to email!

The planning.

I meal plan on Saturdays. I use Pinterest and a pretty notebook. The hope is that someday, my very-grown kids will stumble upon the notebook and flip through their childhood menus in weekly chronological order, remembering me fondly as they recognize my slightly-awkward-but-very-neat handwriting.

No, but seriously, I use a new page for each week and date it at the top. I write down the menu for dinner each night, and list the ingredients below. I loosely stick to a goal of one easy meal per week, one meat-free meal per week, and one new meal per week. Ever since we did Whole30 a few years ago, I feel zero pressure to serve carbs (or even three items) with each meal. Sometimes, it’s just a meat and a green. There is always at least one vegetable.

The planning process takes only an hour tops, but sometimes I drag it out. I may start it Saturday morning, and pick it back up during an afternoon on the couch or before bed. I regularly ask the kids and Chris for feedback. I like Pinterest because I can search using ingredients I already have, or even a vibe or category of food I’m in the mood to try. I write the menu on a chalkboard in the kitchen and the whole family really thrives with the routine. The goal for planning is to know exactly what we’re going to eat every night of the week, which should complement our family’s schedule.

The shopping.

I make the official list on Sunday afternoons using Wunderlist. Chris and I run through the fridge and the pantries one more time, adding any staples to the list that are running low. We shop as a family on Sunday evenings, just before bedtime. This is when stores seem the least crowded and we’re most likely to be struck with the Sunday blues.

We shop at three places around town, which allows us to get everything we need for the entire week. Our main spots are Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and a typical regional grocery store (Harris Teeter). Our weekly household budget is $300, but this includes things like toilet paper and soap or a random school supply and my crazy-expensive probiotics. We typically spend right around $200 each week on food. This covers six dinners per week, and then a general supply of breakfast and lunch and snack food. Our budget allows us to eat out once per week, but you can read more about that here. The goal for shopping on Sunday nights is to prevent random stop-ins at stores throughout the week.

The eating.

Both Chris and I cook, depending on who’s home during the two hours leading up to dinner. We eat around the dining room table most nights, but sometimes in a pile on the floor in the kitchen. We try to eat every night at 6pm. This is the only time throughout the week that we slow down and connect, and it’s very important to us. We protect it fiercely. Whoever is in the house is expected to join. Guests are always allowed, even with little or no heads-up. For some reason, there’s always enough to go around. Phones are not allowed at the table.

We do not offer anything outside of what’s on the menu for dinner. If the kids don’t eat it, they go straight to bed after we’re done. They don’t have to eat seconds, but they have to finish what we serve them. If it’s questionable, we give them a very small serving. Nobody leaves the table until everyone is done, and everyone helps clear the table. All of our children help with dishes and wiping down the table. We don’t own a dishwasher, and Chris won’t let us get one. He says he’s had the best conversations of his life with his kids over a soapy sink.

The nitty-gritty.

We’ve gone all organic before, and we’ve also bought a ton of cheap and processed foods to save money. Right now, we focus on whole foods and healthy options but we aren’t going to go broke in the name of organic. If it come from the ground, we’re happy to eat it. We try to restrict the amount of refined sugar and dairy that we consume. We drink almond milk and coconut creamer, but you can find yogurt squeezers and cheese in our fridge. Our meat is the highest-quality we can get, but we also eat a lot of tofu and beans.

There is one section of our kitchen that is fair game for the kids to eat at any time, the corner that holds the fruit basket and the jars full of Trader Joe’s bars. The little ones need to ask beforehand, but we typically say yes. Both are great options for growing children to grab a quick snack without a battle. This area is also where we keep their water bottles. We only buy juice for special occasions.

Meals we frequently make: tofu/rice/broccoli/seaweed snacks, taco salad, spaghetti/salad, beans/rice bar, neat combinations with wanton cups, zuppa toscana, BBQ sammies/broccoli, grilled chicken/anything, beef/veggie stew, sweet potato chili, and a wide variety of salads.

For breakfast, we do a lot of eggs. The chickens keep us well stocked! We also keep basic cereal and oatmeal in the house. For lunch, we eat a lot of finger foods like turkey roll-ups, pickles, plantain chips, and fruits and veggies. Dessert isn’t every night, but we typically serve the little kids a small cookie treat and the big folks like popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. We get all of our sweets from Trader Joe’s.

It may sound silly, but we take this stuff seriously. As a follower of Jesus, we feel called to steward everything we’ve been given –  our bodies, our time, our money, and our habits. This means that quite frankly, I ain’t got time to stress about what’s for dinner. I want to make as much room as possible in my brain and heart for the Spirit’s leading and the work of the Kingdom of God. It’s incredible how much more margin we have when we already know what we’re eating, when we’re shopping, and how much we’re spending.

Hope this helps. Happy meal planning, food shopping, and eating to you!

this is how we do it: BUDGET

SPOILER ALERT: You will not find nitty gritty stuff in this post. You will find no discussion of numbers, income, or expenses. Below is simply a collection of thoughts that has brought my husband and I together on a hot topic issue. Carry on!

Chris and I put our money together right around the time we got engaged, I think. The details are fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure we decided it made sense to learn how to manage our money together from the get-go. He had a little debt from his divorce and was in the process of getting out from underneath his house before it foreclosed. I was in nursing school and nannying for cash on the side. Since there wasn’t a lot of money to go around anyway, we just threw it all into one bank account. We had no savings. We had no credit cards. I hadn’t yet learned how to go into debt, nor had I learned the secret of being content. We were just a little bit broke and a whole lot in love.

Over the next several years, I managed the finances. I did so very, very poorly. I am great with details and schedules, but I was neck-deep in fear and panic. Chris is a peace-keeper by nature, but he had a hard time saying no and he avoided conflict at the time. So we struggled along for years before things came to a head. I dropped the ball at least once a month, and he gave me far too much grace. During a particularly rough season, we agreed that Chris should take over the finances and also that he should keep things to himself for a few months while he found his footing. Three years later, we are in a much better place. While both of our names are on everything, he handles the day-to-day details as well as an overall vision for where we’re headed. We connect at least once a week and touch base about the future, both goals and anticipated needs.

As a married couple, we’ve gotten into and out of debt several times. We’ve always had a mortgage. We’ve opened credit cards and paid them off. We’ve switched banks. We built a house, bought another house, used the first house for rental income, and then eventually sold it. We bought land adjacent to our current house.

We’ve taken out small cash loans for old cars and paid them off as fast as we could. We’ve learned how to save. We’ve learned how to get out of and stay out of debt, though I’m not sure we’ll ever be completely free of it. We’ve never filed for bankruptcy. We’ve wept over medical bills. We’ve contributed the maximum allowed to retirement funds. We’ve given a lot of money away. We’ve been on food stamps and Medicaid. We’ve enjoyed family vacations.

I get asked about money more than any other question I receive on the internet, which is understandable but difficult since neither of us are experts. However, I want to honor the questions by giving y’all a little glimpse of how we handle money around here. The ground rules will be particularly helpful for you on this one! There’s no way we all have the same amounts of money and income, or the same type of bills and expenses, or even the same beliefs about how to handle it all. Okay? Okay! Let’s get started.

Because my husband manages our money, it only felt right to ask him to contribute to this post. So recently I asked him, “If you were going to tell someone three things you do with finances that make you feel both secure and freed up, what would they be?” He answered fairly quickly, which is actually quite unusual for him. This must mean these are important nuggets. So listen up, and grab ’em while they’re hot.

Thoughts from Christopher:

Balance your checkbook. “This relieves stress because it leaves me with no surprises.”

He keeps a Microsoft Excel spread sheet (color-coded, of course) with all of our income and bills and expenses, divided up into categories that work for us. There are sections for regular monthly bills, budgeted areas like food and automotive and self-care, money coming in, giving and saving, etc. He says this took him about six months to nail down, and he works on it every day for about five minutes. During the months where he lets a week or two go by, he says it takes him several hours to catch up. Every morning, he pulls up the spreadsheet and compares it against our bank account. Sometimes he texts me or yells down the hall to talk about it, but most of the time it’s just a quick check-in that he handles by himself.

Prepare ahead of time. “I try to make arrangements when I see something coming down the pipe.”

Now that we don’t live in fear about what’s coming next and whether or not we’ll have enough, we’re able to look at the future with clear eyes. Now that we’ve learned how to say no and how to save, we don’t stress about the random school fees and unexpected car repairs. At the same time, though, we’re able to tighten things up if we know we’re headed into an expensive season. For example, we won’t eat out for two weeks if we know we’re traveling at the end of the month.

Get on the same team. “My no doesn’t crush you because it’s our no.”

We used to try to talk about finances, but it felt too hard and awkward and overwhelming and embarrassing and so we’d avoid it for months. Once we forged ahead and got through the hardest conversations, we got on the same page. We committed to staying on the same team, and we unified our goals and our language. To jump start, we did a spending freeze for one month while Chris learned how to track everything and got a rough version of a budget set up. We agreed on what felt most important, and how we wanted to attack things together. Things have been smooth(ish) sailing ever since. This means I might not ever get a new kitchen, but it also means that someday we might have enough cash to pay for three new kitchens, and that is just as powerful.

Thoughts from Rach:

We loosely follow the Dave Ramsey program. We attended Financial Peace University several years ago and we used his cash flow budget sheet as a starting place for our budget. I agree with his wisdom and cheer on the folks I know who subscribe to it explicitly, but we’ve found a better fit in taking some parts and leaving others.

I use cash for “blow money” and it’s literally changed my life. Every Sunday night, I get cash back from the store when we pay for our groceries. It’s mine to use on food, coffee, skincare, whatever I want for the week. It makes me feel empowered and not policed, and it keeps the swipe count down on our bank account so Chris doesn’t have to muddle through it all each day. Outside of that cash, I check in with him before I swipe the check card for anything. It felt awkward at first, but now it just feels right and honoring and freeing.

We recently quit my employer-sponsored health insurance plan and picked up a policy with Medishare. It has been an adjustment, but so far so good! And we’re saving money in premium costs, so that’s helpful.

I contribute the maximum allowed toward my retirement fund.

As Jesus followers, we believe that it’s important to resist. We resist what culture tells us to care about in regards to money. We refuse to idolize the American Dream, but we take it a step further. We also refuse to idolize financial freedom. We believe our salvation is secure regardless, and we want to focus more on the Kingdom of God than on anything else. This means we practice financial responsibility, but we do not give into that late-night, sleep-deprived obsession and worry that pretends like there isn’t a God out there who cares about his kids.

We have life insurance.

We recently decided to spend a certain amount of money of groceries and household items (like soap and toilet paper) per week, which leaves enough room for us to eat out once per week. This means we have to choose – either a date night or a meal out as a family or a couple of quick takeout runs. This has been a particularly helpful and fun part of the process.

We tithe. No matter what. Every month. As of right now, we tithe to our church every time we get paid, and then we give a little extra to other various charities and ministries. We are currently supporting Preemptive Love and Shama Women with a monthly subscription. Sometimes Chris hands a server our check card and tells them to pay for another person’s meal, or we’ll write a check to a friend’s church plant. It’s been so cool to watch him lead us in radical generosity.

We do not have it figured out. Some of this information will be outdated by next week. We are not experts in anything other than being needy children of God, trying to learn stewardship as we grow old together. I hope it helps a little! Hit me up with any life-changing tips you’ve got regarding finances!