Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rejoicing When She Covers Her Ears

 I sat very still trying to listen and think and control my feelings all at the same time.  I am naturally a terrible listener; I have always been a better thinker and speaker, although unfortunately not always in that order.  But there I sat trying to understand what the graph on the piece of paper meant for my daughter, for her future.

"In the 4 categories, as you can see here, she did not hear the low tones in either ear.  She also did not hear the mid-low tones in either ear.  She did hear in one ear in the mid-high tones, and then she heard in both ears the high-tones."

I had sat in an observation room during the screening, and at first I was convinced that my daughter, Emersyn, had not understood the instructions of the test.  She was to raise her hand anytime she heard a sound, but I knew that sounds had gone off while her hand hadn't moved.  I was just about to voice my concern when she finally, without any reminder or redirection, did show that she heard a sound - apparently the mid-high tones that was being explained to me afterwards.

"Due to her medical history of constant ear infections, be prepared that there may be scar tissue.  It is common with that many infections to cause permanent damage to get these kinds of results of profound hearing loss."

I had already gone into teacher-mode, all those years of looking at test results for other people's children and asking about the areas tested and the methods used during testing.  And, of course, as a school teacher, I was always needing to look at the practical implications of test results for any needed change in my methods of instruction for each child.

So I started asking questions, "If she can only hear high-pitched tones, then why did she seem to only hear the last word of each sentence-story when she was looking at the cards and repeating the sentences back?  When people speak, most of the time, we end in low tones, not high tones."

The woman was nodding, but then she replied, "Perhaps she was reading lips."

And then I realized how many times I had had to repeat myself to Emersyn, only for her to finally hear me when I was facing her... what if my daughter really was deaf, at least partially?!  I had originally brought her to the clinic for a speech screening, I wasn't really worried about her hearing.  The thought hadn't occurred to me in a serious way at all.  Being a 3-year-old, she naturally is a terrible listener (and she's my child which is a strike against her listening as well).  Most kids her age speak loudly, don't know how to whisper, and don't follow directions well.  It was her speech that I had been concerned about, since most of her friends about the same age as her spoke much more clearly.  I was still playing "translator" a majority of the time for Emersyn when she spoke to others.  And now that made sense too, because her hearing could easily and directly determine this stagnant progress of her speech development.

As we left the clinic that day, I was no longer concerned about my daughter's lack of clarity in her speech, I was amazed she spoke as well as she did!  I had to mentally retrace her medical history to make sense of why she did have such a great vocabulary and how she coped so well in conversation... Yes, she had had many ear infections - basically she had one for an entire year from age 11 months.  But before all of that, she spoke very early and caught onto words very quickly as a baby and toddler.

It is interesting how perspective can change so  quickly.  I went into the clinic that morning convinced she was delayed in articulation, and I came out of the clinic amazed at my daughter's coping skills!  And I was scared of what the near future would might possibly look like - more doctors, more tests, hearing aids, cochlear implants, speech therapy?  My daughter might have to go through all of that, and as the adult I also feared the amount of money all of this was going to take.


I called my husband on our way home to tell him.  I had been so strong while we were at the clinic, and even as I was getting the kids back into their car seats.  I had been thinking of strategy - perhaps if we made sure we were always face-to-face with our daughter and tried to speak in higher tones, then that may help in communication.  And I was telling my husband my strategy after explaining the results and what the clinician had warned me to be prepared for...

My husband was quiet, and I could tell he was trying not to cry.  He started to speak of how many times we had disciplined our daughter for not listening, when he realized now it may have been she just didn't hear us.  I started to think about how stubborn I thought Emersyn was.  How she ignored us constantly, and how frustrating it had been.  We should have known, or guessed... we should have known it wasn't just typical 3-year-old stuff...


My husband reassured me that God was still in control.  That He knew about all of this long before we did, before we even knew Emersyn.  God provides all we need, whether it be forgiveness, understanding, patience, time, compassion, love, and money for whatever was headed our way.

The rest of the day went on normally, I started researching audiologists and hearing aids and hearing loss and deafness.  I sent out a text to a few close family members and dear friends explaining simply what we had found out, what we feared, and how we would like them to pray.  I should have called these people, but I honestly didn't want to talk about it out loud - and that is so strange for me.  I don't have secrets, and I don't have a problem sharing things, even if they are personal.  My usual philosophy is that honesty and being open is what Christians are called to do and be.  How can we live life together if we are closed off or only show the good while hiding the bad?  But for some reason, this was more difficult, at least in these first moments, to say it out loud and discuss.

The next day I had a staff meeting at church,  No one in the meeting knew anything about what Kyle and I had learned about Emersyn's hearing the day before, but the meeting did turn to discussing how hearing-impaired persons sitting in a room feel like they are not included in the group, in the conversation.  I stopped listening, because I was having an imaginary movie play in my mind - Emersyn was a teenager in class desperately trying to keep up with the discussion.  She was trying to listen and fill the gaps with reading lips, and trying to formulate her opinion on the subject, but didn't want to share it because she wasn't sure her teacher and classmates would understand her...

That image broke me.  I surprised myself with my tears.  I began to quietly cry.  I tried very hard to not let the tears fall, because we were in the middle of a meeting that had everything to do with church business, and not my personal fears.  So I tried to subtly wipe my eyes dry and continue with the meeting at-hand.  Toward the end of our meetings, we always go over prayer needs in our congregation and pray together, so I thought I should add ours to the list.  And of course, as I am talking about this for the first time out loud since telling Kyle, I cried again.  I used the word "deaf", and it surprised me when I said it.  Of course our church leaders prayed for Emersyn and for us, and I realized it is always better to talk about these things instead of just carrying them around on our own.  God created us to live in community, so sharing and bearing each other's burdens is always a part of that!

A few weeks went by, and we finally got an appointment with an audiologist.  They did several different tests during the evaluation that focused only on Emersyn's hearing.  At the end of the evaluation, the doctor explained that Emersyn could hear perfectly all of the sounds that were sent through the bones next to her hears, but that she did not hear any sounds that were sent through the ear canal.  She further explained that the results show that Emersyn does not have any problems with the mechanics of her ear structure for hearing.  So the problem is in the ear canal.  She said she was unable to see the ear drum to see if there is any permanent damage or scar tissue, due to impacted wax in both ears.


I, nervously defended myself, saying that I do clean her ears.  The doctor said that some people's ear wax just doesn't work it's way out of the ear like it should,  I had never heard of this before, and was relieved to hear that it wasn't my negligence that caused such a thing!  The doctor said that after the wax was removed, only then could she see the ear drum and do further testing.  She said to call the pediatrician for wax removal.

I called the pediatrician's office, and of course, they said they don't do that.  That I would have to see an ENT.  I said, "Do I have to come see you first in order to get a referral to an ENT?"  Thankfully, they said no and recommended an ENT in town!

I called that ENT's office, and we were given an appointment date and time a few weeks' away.

So about 2 weeks ago, Emersyn sat surprisingly calm and very still while the ENT shot warm water into her ears, while I held a cup and caught the water as it came back out... nothing much came out with the water.  So then, the doctor got a tiny metal tool that had a long needle-like part with the tiniest scissors-looking thing I had ever seen.  Again, Emersyn sat very still while the doctor pulled her ear back and put the tool into her straightened-out ear canal.  She pulled out the nastiest lump of wax, the shape of a watch battery, but obviously smaller.  She showed it to Emersyn.  Em's face was priceless, as you can imagine.  Then the other ear - this lump was even more disgusting because there was a bunch of blue in the center, which the doctor explained to be Emersyn's old ear tube stuck in the wax!

They tested her hearing again, but the results were the same.  I was very disappointed until the doctor examined the ears and said that she found NO SCAR TISSUE!  There was a ton of fluid, however, behind both ear drums, which was "probably the only cause of the hearing loss"!  She recommended having tubes put in her ears for the 2nd time, and that that really should take care of the problem!


This past Thursday, Emersyn and I had to be at the hospital at 6:45am to prep her for her procedure.  We were excited to see that my mom pulled in right behind our car in the parking lot!

Emersyn has told me several times that Mamoo is her favorite person in the whole world, and yes, the first time she said it, I made the mistake of asking, "More favorite than me?!"... she said yes.

This made Emersyn a lot less nervous, grumpy, and sleepy!  We checked in, and they almost immediately took us back to get dressed and ready for her procedure!

She wasn't always happy to do what the nurses asked her to do... but she always eventually complied!

We were in this tiny room for quite a while, and Emersyn had waited and been calm as long as her personality would allow.  She started joking around and getting a little delirious-acting.  They hadn't even given her any drugs, so I was getting worried how this was all going to go.

They did come get us and take us to the procedure area.  The nurses and doctors came to run us through what all was going to happen.  Emersyn got very weepy and wouldn't cooperate with them, reaching for me and crying.  I explained again to her about them putting a mask on her, blowing up a balloon through the mask, and then falling asleep while they fix her ears.  They started to wheel her away, and of course, she only cried more.  My throat was very thick-feeling, which could only mean that the moment I spoke or swallowed, my tears would fall as well.  I stood and went to walk back to the waiting area, but I wasn't sure where to put all my paper clothes or how to get out, so I had to speak.  "What do I do to go?", and my voice gave me away completely.  It quivered and my tears betrayed me as my voice stopped working.  The nurse answered me, and I got the heck out of there!

About 10 minutes later, the ENT who cleaned her ears and performed the procedure said that Emersyn fell asleep as she held her and then the procedure went beautifully, and ickily.  The fluid in Emersyn's ears was very thick, the doctor said it was like she had ear plugs in all this time.  She said she was very excited about the progress in Emersyn's communication that she expected to see in just weeks.  She warned me that she might be very sensitive and easily spooked by sounds now, or at least until she adjusted.

About another 10 minutes later, I was led to the recovery room.  There was another little girl's voice that sounded very alert and hyper, but the nurse was blocking, so I couldn't see how little the child was.  I walked closer, expecting them to wheel Emersyn around the corner or something, but the nurse moved, and I realized that the little girl I was hearing was Emersyn!  She was energetically talking about all sorts of things, and I was concerned because she was speaking very loudly.  This is typical of Emersyn, but I was hoping perhaps she would realize how loud she was already.  As I sat with her for a few minutes, I realized that she was very out of it - jibber-jabbering and a little dazed.

Within the next hour of waiting to see how she would come out of the anesthesia, she drank juice, ate crackers, and acted pretty normal, just maybe a little more hyper than usual.  It could have been the drugs or the fact she had been sitting pretty still now for the last 2 1/2 hours!

They finally told us we could go home, and Emersyn was very excited about putting her own pajama top back on and getting donuts on the way home!

We got donuts, went home and watched movies, and Emersyn taught Mamoo how to play CandyLand!  A friend of Emersyn's had left her a gift bag of goodies too on our front porch while we were at the hospital, and Emersyn was beside herself with excitement!  She got a new necklace, so she had to put on a fancy dress to match!

And then it started, she started jumping at loud noises.  When the baby cried, she would cover her ears and say "That's too loud!"  Something my child has never done.  When she ate sausage links at lunch, she asked me why it made that sound when she bit into it... she has had those links dozens of times before and had never asked this...


Yes, eventually I will have to teach her that plugging her ears can hurt someone else's feelings, and it could be disrespectful, depending on the case at-hand... but for now, my heart leaps and I thank my Lord for His blessings when she tells me, "Mama, you laugh too loud" and covers her ears!

Sometimes God doesn't bring happy-endings like this right away.  Sometimes the struggle is the gift that molds us and shapes us into someone more like His Son.  We all deserve much worse than what we have.  We are selfish, greedy, hateful, fickle, and ungrateful creatures.  None of us deserve our lives, let alone our sight, hearing, or speech.

I do not know why God protected Emersyn's ears from permanent damage.  The doctors all said they were surprised due to her intense ear infected history, but today she is already hearing sounds she hasn't heard in at least a year or more.  I can't wait to see how her speech improves as well as she hears what others around her are actually saying when they articulate words.

No matter His reason, I am thankful.  He would still be good if she was permanently deaf or anything else.  God isn't good because of our circumstances; He is good because of His character and how it affects this fallen world.  I can't imagine what it would be like without Him in it, around it, controlling it all.

“God's will is what we would choose if we knew what God knows.”― Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Monday, August 3, 2015

God - The Ultimate Lesson Planner

Just think about this:  I teach Sunday School and Children's Church on Sundays.  I use a curriculum that teaches scripture from Genesis to Revelation chronologically.  It has taken almost 2 years to get through the Old Testament and begin the New Testament.  And who knows when this curriculum was published, edited by the publisher, written, or planned out by the writers... and yet, the lesson I taught yesterday couldn't have been more timely!  Some would say that God orchestrated all things from before time... no matter anyone's belief on that statement, I know He at least orchestrated this lesson for yesterday long before "these days" were in sight!

So you might be wondering what it was that I taught, and what "these days" I am referring to...

Well anyone who has been alive the past couple of weeks has probably heard of, if not watched, the videos released that show secret recordings inside of Planned Parenthood's facilities.  National shock and disgust has come from both sides of the argument - some upset that babies are dissected and used for research after they have been aborted, while others were offended that these videos were even made and/or edited to come against the abortion giant PP (and do not argue with me about using the phrase "abortion giant"... do some research and then come talk to me).  I was not shocked by these videos.  I have been disgusted by abortion in general for a long time, but horrified in the past year.  But this topic has been everywhere, whether people are angry, sad, fearful, or apathetic...

I am an abolitionist.  That means I am in full support of the immediate end of abortion.  I don't believe in exceptions.  I don't agree with incrementally bringing it to an end either.  I want it to end.  Now.  I want laws to change.  I want people to change.  I want churches to get on-board with foster care and adoption.  I want people who support equal rights for all people to ACTUALLY support equal rights for ALL people... and yes, babies in the womb are people.  Don't even get me started on that one.

Source: Personhood USA

But you know what I really want?  I want people to meet and fall in love with Jesus.  I want His truth and His love to change people's thinking.  And not just on this issue, but all issues.

Why do I want this to happen?  Because I am a Christian.  Part of the definition of "Christian" is that we love Christ so much that we want others to experience His greatness as well!  Without that part of being a "Christian", well, sorry then you aren't a Christian.

But no matter what I believe, say, or write... I can't change the whole world.  I won't even see most of the world by the time I die, I'm sure. But maybe I can change the world around me.  And not because I am so great, passionate, skilled, or whatever.  I'm not.  I think God uses the messed up, the broken, and the desperate far more often than He does those who "have it together".  I mean, read through the Bible once and you'll see some crazy messed up people seeing the greatness of God and suddenly being empowered to do great things!

I can't change anything for anyone just doing my own thing on my own, that's for sure.  Christians who think they can just "be" - work, eat, play, be nice, sleep, and do it all again... you are living a lie.  A LIE.  A lazy lie.  One that is tempting and easy.  And we can polish it and say all the right things to make it seem good and true, but it is still a lie.  Love gives. Love hopes.  Love does!

So I had been asking God a long while what I could do.  Where can I do something?

And I received a phone call out of the blue asking me if I wanted to work with children at church.  And let me tell you, there was a part of me that didn't really want to.  I knew it would add more to my to-do list.  It would cause conflict in my life, because I would be dealing with kids and adults... people will always somehow screw up your life.  But they will also fill it with meaning.  Believe me, my new job of teaching Biblical truths and scheduling all the other teachers' curriculum and schedules has been work!  Preparing lessons, reminding people of their days to teach, communicating with many people each week, getting all the details lined out... it is work!

But last Monday, as I opened up the curriculum to plan for the next Sunday, I was encouraged greatly by what the topic was for me to teach... I could literally feel mental strain fade and my heart warmed.  After watching those secret videos on Planned Parenthood and reading articles and discussing with so many people the truth they don't want to hear... I saw this wonderful opportunity to share the amazing truth in God's Word about babies.

Now, don't go all crazy on me thinking that I told children about the horrific things abortionists do to babies - poisoning, crushing, sucking, stabbing, cutting, sorting... the topic of abortion never even came up!  But I was able to tell these kids a TRUE story from scripture about our Savior, our God, and themselves.

In Luke 1:39-56 we find the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, very young and recently told by an angel that she was to give birth to the Messiah that so many had been waiting for.  The angel, Gabriel also told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, who was much older than women who are able to have babies, was also pregnant.  Mary went to visit Elizabeth... which means baby Jesus went to visit Elizabeth.  Which really means Mary and baby Jesus went to visit Elizabeth and baby John.  The women probably wouldn't have thought of it that way under normal circumstances, and most of the time neither do we.  But in this story, it must be viewed that way, because the babies in the womb are active participants in the story!  Mary did not tell Elizabeth that she was pregnant.  When Mary (and baby Jesus in utero) arrive, baby John in utero moves greatly within Elizabeth!  Now, I'm sure Elizabeth had felt her baby move before.  She gives birth to John soon after this story, so she was far enough along in her pregnancy that she would be feeling John's movements often.  But this time, the Holy Spirit gives Elizabeth great understanding of the wonderful situation she had found herself in.  She says, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

And upon hearing this, Mary worships.  There is no other way to respond in the situation!  She is a young teenager who has just been told she will be the mother of the Messiah.  She makes a surprise visit to her cousin who already knows not only that she is pregnant, but is pregnant with the Savior!  And baby John was excited for his Savior to be present!

You see, I was able to share this story with the children in my class.  I never said the words pro-life, abortion, pro-choice, etc... I didn't even touch the topic, because I don't have to!  It would never occur to these kids that other women, maybe the same age as Mary was, would pay someone to kill the baby within them, after reading this story along with other scriptures we looked at.

I opened class by asking each of them to write down things they knew God had planned for them - either because they were things that already happened or because of promises in scripture.  Then I asked each of them to write down things they had planned for themselves, for their future.  Then we discussed that God had planned for us to either have dark hair, or green eyes, or a pointy chin, or to be a boy or a girl, to have certain parents, to have certain siblings, to live in a certain place in the world.  And then after they had shared what they planned for their futures, we discussed how those plans might change or may never be fulfilled, just because life happens and changes plans. 

Then we read Psalm 139 and talked about how God could see every baby in their mother's womb before we ever had the technology to see inside.  "For you formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother's womb... My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret... Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of... the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them."  We talked about how even though there is much about God that is a mystery to us, there is nothing that is a mystery about us to God.  And then we had some fun looking at how technology has advanced in helping us see babies in the womb.


Then we read Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."  Now, in that scripture God was speaking to Jeremiah.  But the application is for all of us, for every baby ever conceived!  That before they were formed in the womb, God had a plan, a purpose, for each person!  Even in John's story that I spoke of earlier, the angel Gabriel visited John's father and told him that John would be the one who prepared others' hearts for the soon-coming Messiah!  John's job was picked out before his mother ever carried him in her womb!  How amazing is that?!

I looked at each child and said, "You too have been created, formed, developed, born, and raised for a purpose.  A purpose that may be fun, maybe not.  But no matter the purpose, it is God-given and God-glorifying.  It is only your job to discover what purpose that is!"

So they might become the "famous painter", "ballerina", "veterinarian", or the "I.T. guy" that they said they wanted to become; they may not.  But at the end, when their lives have passed, they will see that God has purpose in it all.  In all of us.

And I pray that on the horrible day when their ignorance of abortion is ended (because eventually they will hear about it), they will see the truth as God sees it, how God defines it... that every person, born or unborn, is made in the image of God and given life for a God-given purpose.

May those of us blessed to have life outside the womb spend our lives pointing to the One who gives life and hopefully the hearts that would want to end life would be changed.

Ya know what was such a blessing on top of all this?  After Sunday School, when all the kids were back with their parents, and I was singing with my church family, I was surprised and amused when the worship leader started to quote from Psalm 139 and played a song based on that section of scripture.  He had no idea that there were kids from ages 3-12 scattered all around that sanctuary that had just spend some time thinking on this section of God's truth from His Word.

And I said a prayer that the seeds in their hearts would blossom into a garden of change... that they will be apart of generation who looks and thinks back on these past 42 years of legal abortion as the same as I see Hitler and slave owners... I pray it is common to have families in every neighborhood with foster kids, adopted kids, and effective pregnancy centers.  I pray their hearts are bigger than my parents' generation.  I pray their voices are louder than my generation's.  I pray love and truth reign in their lives.

And all I did was open the book to teach the next lesson in the curriculum book.  God will do the rest.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

An Attempt at Making Every Dollar and Minute Count

As most of my readers know (heehee, "readers", that is a fun thing to say), I do my best to try to spend as little time in the grocery store as possible.  I try to go only twice a month - the first time early in the month for everything my family and I need for said month, and the second time is at about mid-month to restock fresh produce.  When I go that first time each month, I usually can get in and out of the store in 2 hours or less, and usually with my kids in-tow.  I have blogged about how I try to accomplish most of this each month in a previous post ( ), but for about 6 months now I have been wanting to try different "tricks" to try to save even more time.  I finally got the courage to go outside my normal household stocking routine this month to try something new!

I usually shop at Walmart for groceries and household items, because in my smallish town, the choices aren't as varied as they are in larger cities.  I like that they have low prices and have pretty much everything my family needs to keep us fed, our house clean-ish, and our lives manageable and fun.  A friend told me back during Christmas about how if you spend $50 or more on, then they will give you free shipping. I started to roll this idea around in my mind for several months thinking that if I could order a lot of my non-perishable items on Walmart's website, then it may come down to only having to go into the store for fresh dairy, eggs, meat, and veggies!  And I knew I would have at least $50 for a month's worth of non-perishables.

Toward the end of May, I considered making my first attempt at this new shopping method, but I needed several non-perishable items that first week of June and wasn't sure how fast the items would be shipped to my home.  So I opted to wait until the end of June to purchase items for July.

So when the time came to start prepping for July, I went through my usual menu and shopping list making process. But the day before my planned shopping trip, I sat down at my laptop with my list to buy the non-perishables online.  Right away I was disappointed, because not all canned foods were available for purchase online.  So my dream of literally only shopping on the perimeter of the store in half an hour was shattered by the reality of the randomness of what was and was not available for online shopping.  I was able to purchase all the non-food items that I didn't need right away, which was nice!  My dream then became reborn, but altered as only shopping on one side of the store - the grocery side - and still saving some time!

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that while many food items were not available for purchase online, many times larger sizes of food and non-food items were available that were NOT available in-store!  So in some cases when I usually have to buy two or three of a food item for one recipe, I was able to order on the website an economy size!  I only use Walmart's brand for diapers and wipes to save money (and after 2 babies and now toddlers, in my opinion, they are quality products), but what was so exciting is that they sell a Super Saver Box of diapers online that is not offered in-store!  My son wears size 4 diapers, and the largest box in the store is 124 diapers for $20.  The Super Saver Box was available online only, giving me 180 diapers for $28!  It also means fewer boxes and plastic wrappings to open as well!

Also, I was able to find common items online that usually are all sold out at the store when I shop.  My hair gel, shampoo, and unscented baby wipes are almost always all gone when I go to the store!  By shopping online, I was guaranteed that I wouldn't have to smell a scent I hate or miss out of having just the right hold on my dried curly hair!  That feature alone might make it worth the online venture!

When I had gone through my entire shopping list and had purchased everything that was available from it online, I had managed to take care of about 20 items on my list.  But since I only shop once/twice a month for groceries, that was only about 1/4 of my total list.  I was a little let-down by that, but was hoping that I would really see the benefits in the time spent in the store.

So the next day, I went into Walmart with my list, my checkbook, an ink pen, and my two kids.  We shopped, checking things off the list, and totaling numbers as we went.  I realized about halfway through my shopping trip that I still had visited every aisle that I usually do, and I didn't feel like I was saving a lot of time.  We did our usual "good behavior at the store mechanical horse ride", this time for both kids since Keegan is such a big boy now (14 months, can you believe it?!)!  As we walked out the door, I looked at my phone and was greatly disappointed realizing that I spent almost the same amount of time as I usually do in the store.  Even though I did mark some things off my list before our store trip, I still had to visit both sides of the store and most of the aisles on the grocery side.

The great thing is that I only had to wait 2 days for most of the items to come in, even though the projected arrival date said 3 days!  The first shipment that arrived were 3 boxes, 2 of them being quite large... but when I opened them...

The boxes were practically empty!  The size of the boxes looked ridiculous compared to the minute amount of items in each one.  And there was a lot of packaging paper and bubble wrap-type pouches.  I was a little overwhelmed by all the trash now piled up in my kitchen and bewildered by the small cluster of items sitting on my counter!

I will say that I was impressed though with how well all the liquid items were packaged for shipping!  Each one was wrapped in these huge ziploc-type baggies and each lid was taped as well!

The rest of the items came a few days later, cutting it very close with the diapers!  I had 3 diapers left in our entire house when the 180-count box showed up!  I would have been very upset if I had to go back to the store just for an emergency pack of diapers!

So, I'm really not sure how I feel about the success or failure of this attempt.  I did not save time in the store, which was the entire point, but I did score some economy-sized items not available in-store and finally got my favorite scents and kinds of items usually scarce on the shelves!

Will I do this again?  Maybe one more time just to see if I could get better results next time, but I will be honest in saying that I'm not sure it will be better next time.  As a mother, though, sometimes it is good to get the opinion of the kids before making a final decision...

Well, it looks like they approve!  I'll take it into consideration :)

Monday, July 6, 2015

When That Pet Peeve Works In Your Favor

I love my husband more than anyone else in the world.  I do.  I absolutely do!  But, since he is different from me, and we live together, and we are both sinful (shocker, I know), he can also drive me insane!  He can infuriate me where I, the person who hates yelling, will raise my voice.  I have been known to also do the opposite and go into the "silent treatment" (and as you should know by now, I love to talk), all because I was annoyed to my maximum capacity by the one person that I cherish more than anyone or anything on this earth... how can I love someone so much and also want to hurt him so severely?!

I am mostly kidding, of course, mostly... and BELIEVE ME - I annoy him just as much as he annoys me.  We are imperfect people who share every room, vehicle, possession, dollar, and the same sarcastic sense of humor!  Things are bound to cross the line every now and then into the "that bothers me" territory!  It is unfortunate that we don't always share points-of-view, opinions, or habits, but that is impossible anyway.  Thankfully, for the most part we get along quite easily.  And we love each other enough to give grace when the other person needs it... most of the time.

I think most married people would say that the things you absolutely love about your spouse can also be the same things that sometimes get on your nerves about them... For example, I love that my husband is detail-oriented, because most of the time I am not.  I love that he is outdoorsy, and he likes to camp and fish and hunt and hike.  I love that he is creative and handy, and he can build shelves in the garage in an hour.  I love that he can teach himself to sew a hammock cover instead of buying one so that he can save us money.  BUT, I don't like how one of these hobbies or projects starts out as a little tiny thing he sees needs to be done, but it turns into a 3-week project with tools and materials spread out all over the dining table, on top of the piano, and on the kitchen counter.  It means many sessions of YouTube videos in the background noise in my home as he rewatches or researches further the steps to finish whatever the current project is...  like I said, the things that you can love most about a person can also sometimes be what makes you want to punch them in the throat (not that I would do that... though I am thoroughly human and find it tempting at times)!

But yesterday I experienced the opposite as a newly-discovered truth... I learned that the things that drive you crazy can sometimes be the things that make you love them more!

Case-in-point: Yesterday Keegan, our 14-month-old son, spilled and squished Goldfish crackers into the living room rug. My husband starts to jokingly say that "we can't have nice things because you let the kids snack in the living room".
My reply, with a smile to give him back what he's dishing out, "Oh, if it were up to you, we'd never do anything fun because it might make a mess."
He shoots right back, giving me a hard time about "if it weren't for me, we'd have mice and all sorts of mess around here", which might be partially true because I am not the tidiest person... neither of us are offended, because we both know that I do clean.
So I make the victorious remark - a question, really. "So, how many times in 6 years have you vacuumed this rug?"...
His answer was obvious in his humbled-head-hung-low in grinning "shame".
I win.
He gets the vacuum out of the closet.
I think he is going to vacuum the rug.

Instead my husband proceeds to the trash in the kitchen. He takes the vacuum apart, cleans out all the hair wrapped around the brushes, and then he proceeds to go get all the attachments out of the box! He lays them all out on the dining table, and starts to YouTube videos on these attachments.

I watch all of this from the couch astonished as the minutes go by... And I am starting to get annoyed by this, thinking 'So the vacuum gets cleaned, and now we know in-depth how to use each attachment, but the cracker crumbs that set all of this in-motion are still in the rug?!' So I started doing some things around the living room and kitchen to keep me from saying something I shouldn't.  He is still watching videos and holding each attachment as he learns about each one.

And just as I can't take it anymore, my husband gets up and cleans out the bag-less vacuum container and filter outside in the yard, puts on an attachment and cleans some webs inside the windows. Then he vacuumed around the fireplace. Then the whole rug, not just where the crackers were...

Then he cleans the windows with cleaner and newspapers. Then he goes upstairs and comes downstairs with laundry to go start a load...

So, usually when he sees one tiny need and it turns into a 3-week production, I get a little angry.  Sometimes I get a little concerned that he may be ADD and OCD... and it is all I can do just to make sure he is not DOA!!! But this time his downward spiral was with cleaning, and I have never loved this man more!  Thank you, Kyle, for being so thorough in your cleaning whirlwind.  It warmed my heart and sucked up the cracker crumbs!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Phrases You Should Never Say to a Mother" And Other Toe-Stepping Notions

We love lists, don't we?  I know I do!  When I spot an article that says "17 Ways to Keep Your Toddler Busy" or "5 Ways You Can Declutter Your Home", I don't even read the introduction.  I scroll down to the numbered items, and feast on quick information that probably won't change how I think or behave in any way... but I can't help but want to read them.  I will admit that I have become a lazy reader while online.  But let's face it, these lists are getting out of hand with "Things You Should Never Say to..." or what you must stop posting about online or whatever else someone has been offended by.  Let me explain that this isn't really what this post is, in spite of the title.  And I'm sorry that this won't be as succinct as a numbered list.  But, yes, we should watch what we say and write and post.  We should be cautious with our words, not only because it may offend someone (of course, these days everyone is offended by everything), but for deeper, more important reasons.

We need to make sure our thoughts, words, and actions line up with the things we say we believe.

Yes, I am going to tell some true stories and give phrases that people have actually said to mothers, but there is something deeper going on that must not be ignored...

A year ago, I was digging through the stack of mail that had been accumulating on the unused end of the dining table.  I saw a letter from my sister, and I was very puzzled because my sister and I rarely have time to talk on the phone, let alone write each other a letter.  I opened it, wondering if her daughter had sent a drawing or something for mine... but what I saw when I opened it made me stand silently in shock.

It was a card with the words "Martin Baby #3 coming October 2014!"

Baby #3?!  My sister is 5 years younger than me.  She was married 5 months after I was,  and we had our daughters 3 months apart.  Baby #3 by October 2014 would mean 3 kids ages 3 and under for her!  Poor Kaitlin!  Why would she do this to herself?!

Yes, that was my honest, instant reaction upon getting the news that I was getting another new niece or nephew.

I am ashamed that this was my first reaction, and I regretted it almost instantly.  But my second thought was just as bad.  I started to think 'Well if Kaitlin doesn't mind and is happy, what is it to me to have an opinion about it?'  Which sounds good, and I meant well, but now I see that that is the wrong perspective too.

For about 6 months before my sister mailed me this announcement, my heart had been pricked by the horrific truth of abortion.  I started to read anything and everything I could find about it.  I started to feel that I should be doing something more to end this abominable practice that is either celebrated or ignored in our modern society...

And then after developing such a passionate belief to honor life, no matter if a person is in the womb or deathbed, no matter their race, no matter their gender, socioeconomic status, or even if their beliefs differ from mine... all life matters.  But there I was judging my sister for having a 3rd child so soon?!  Or then thinking I should be okay with it if she is okay with it?!  That sounds very Pro-Choice to me!  But these were my natural thoughts, which made me question how consistent I am with my beliefs.  If I believe that "People have sex, but only God makes babies" and that " "He knits each person in his or her mother's womb", then why was I not celebrating?  Why was I not trying to find words of encouragement?

I realized within a few days that my attitude came from a place that I didn't even know existed within me.  All this time I was thinking that I wasn't a "know-it-all".  But the fact is, for most of the time, I like to think that I have it all together and am doing pretty well.  I am not humble, and if I was very honest, I would admit that I think I am wise.  I think I am smart.  I think I know better than others.

The problem with this situation was that I didn't think it was wise, in her best interest, or convenient for her to be having that many children so close together.  I had several reasons that came to mind very quickly.  But what I was ignoring was THE BABY WAS ALREADY CREATED AND IN MY SISTER'S WOMB.  What good is it to even think through why she shouldn't have another baby so soon - she already was having a baby so soon!

About a week after my sister made her announcement, a friend of mine (who has 7 children) who had no idea what I was struggling through, approached me about reading a book and discussing this certain topic with her.  The book told 10 married women's stories of how they used absolutely no birth control and attempted no interference with getting pregnant.  And pregnant they were - a lot!  As I was reading the book, I jokingly called it "Letting God have His way with your womb".  And while all these women had babies in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, sometimes up to 10 or more children, they tell of insensitive jokes or phrases people said to them.  But they also spoke of how God helped them meet the challenges of having so many pregnancies, children to feed, souls to guide, and how they managed to still enjoy life and marriage while parenting so many kids.

Just because you think it would be hard, doesn't mean it is insane.  Or wrong.

At first, I thought these women in the book were insane too.  But then I started to see what they were saying.  They weren't trying to get me to buy into their lifestyle for myself, but they were showing me how we can trust God no matter what.  That if God is truly in control and the Great Provider, Father, Savior, and Sustainer... then why would having more children be an issue that we pity or criticize people for?

I became so intrigued with this that I started watching "19 Kids & Counting' featuring the Duggar family.  And again, I never once heard these people tell their viewers "You should do this the way we do", but they do show their viewers how they make an effort to raise 19 kids to be kind and wise.  I have pretty much stopped watching the show, just because it is sort of dull to me, but I can't believe all the flack these people get because they have so many kids.  In fact, Josh Duggar, the oldest is expecting with his wife their 4th child... and here go the crazy comments online about how insane these people are for following in their parents' footsteps.  In an age where my generation's favorite verse is "Judge not, lest ye be judged"... we do a lot of judging and arguing and name-calling.

Now, don't get me wrong... I have not decided to have 12 kids.  I haven't really decided anything other than I want my beliefs to filter down from my thoughts into my words and actions.  And that goes for all of my beliefs, not just about personhood, motherhood, etc.  We have to be careful that if we believe a certain truth that we build our lives around that truth - consistently.  Across all compartments of our lives, they should align with our beliefs.

For me, I have found God to be irresistible.  He is holy.  He demands holiness from us, but we are fallen and broken people.  So He took on our flesh and sacrificed Himself to atone for all of our fallen-ness and brokenness.  Because I believe Him, I turn from choosing more guilt and shame, and I am free to enjoy Him forever.  I am still in the world, so I am tempted and fail.  I am still being made into who He intends for me to be.  I want to see the challenges others and myself are in the same way that God, in His wisdom, sees them.  And believe me, motherhood/parenthood is challenging whether you have 1 or 11 kids.  So we are all in this same boat, so why the put-downs and jokes?

I think if people who make such comments were honest, they would say things like, "Sometimes I just don't know what to say to people, so I end up saying the wrong thing."  "Sometimes I like to hear myself talk."  "Sometimes I go for the joke when I shouldn't, because I want others to think I am funny."  "Sometimes when I don't understand someone else's choice, I make fun of it or criticize it."  "Sometimes when I am around someone who I think is doing more than I am, or I feel is at least doing better at something than I am, I feel guilty or bad about myself, so I get defensive and mock that other person." Or "Sometimes I want to get to know someone better or want to understand them more, but I end up getting too personal too fast without thinking about how uncomfortable they are."

Many times we don't think through our words, because what is in our hearts is so deeply ingrained within us that it seeps out before we can cover it up with something more acceptable.  Have you ever said something you regretted and then later said, "That wasn't me."  Unfortunately, that IS the real you.  The selfish, angry, jealous, insecure, whatever horrible thing that came out of your mouth was the real you, and it just happened to get out when you weren't using your filter.  I do it, and so do you.  The Bible says that "Out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks."

So when we are tempted to criticize, poke into other's business, or give advice that probably wasn't asked for, ask yourself why.  What are your motives?  Is it to build someone else up?  Is it loving?  Or is it self-serving?  This can be applied to so many areas in life, but I really think Christians need to think through how they treat mothers - no matter how old or young they are, no matter how they gave birth, or if they adopted, or how many children they have, or how many children they plan of having...

I asked mothers of 3+ children to give me some quotes that have been said to them.  Sometimes it was a stranger at the store, a fellow church member, or a family member.  Most are meant to be jokes, while others seem so concerned for these mothers... but it makes me concerned for them.  Not just because they said the wrong thing, but because if that is what came out of their mouth then how much more is in their heart?  Have you ever said any of these?  Thought them?  Heard them?

Now, before you read these lines, imagine you are in the grocery store with 3 kids, ages 5, 3, and 1.  The one year old is either sitting in the front part of the cart, or you are wearing him.  The 3-year-old starts the trip at the front part of the cart, but has rolled underneath the cart twice now and just calmed down from crying for you accidentally rolling over his shoe (of course, if he would keep his feet where he is supposed to, then this wouldn't have happened).  The 5-year-old is helping most of the time by just strolling next to the cart, but also keeps asking for things that are way too sugary or expensive... and then here comes people full of... er, wisdom and comments to share with you:

Are all of these kids yours? (none of your business! and do you think I would just tell a complete stranger if
                                      these weren't mine?!)
You've got your hands full! (and you've got a mouthful!)
Don't you know what causes that? (I love one mother said she responded with, "Do I need to explain it to
Don't you guys have a TV? (oh, you are so clever!  and I guess you never have sex but watch a lot of tv)
You should've stopped a long time ago! (wow - thank you so much for saying that within earshot of my
                           children!  they have ears and brains and can hear you say that you wish they weren't alive -                             thanks!)
You're awfully young to have so many kids! (and you're awfully opinionated to be speaking so frankly with a                           stranger)
Well, you just turned into a baby factory, huh? (and I guess you have a word quota to meet every day)
How do you afford to feed all these kids? (do you have friends?  because that is a very personal and nosy
How do you do it? (this one MIGHT be encouraging, if the mom has the energy to reach for the compliment
                          that she is doing a lot... but you are also implying that her kids are too much of a problem)
Ya know, kids cost money and are a lot of work... (yes, so please let me get back to my work please)

I mean, you are there to get your grocery shopping done, and here are all these comments and staring eyes... how encouraged do you think this mom is when she hears this?  Which of these phrases lets her know she is doing the right thing?  Most of these were said by strangers - how absurd to think that a mother would want to hear any of this.

Or imagine you just had a beautiful baby that you can't get enough snuggles with, and your own mother-in-law says she thinks you are addicted to having children.  Yes, you have 7 kids, but instead of being a grandmother who considers herself to be incredibly blessed (because BELIEVE ME, there are so many people out there who cannot have children and desperately want to), she sees this as an appropriate time to suggest paying for counseling for you.  She fears you need professional help.


Or when the nurse at the hospital on the day you are in labor about to deliver is asking you if you want your tubes tied... and then another asks.  And then another asks.  And then another asks.  And you start to wonder if there is some government conspiracy where they require hospital staff to strongly suggest mothers tie it up so they can't have more than 3!

One I have personally heard a lot since having Keegan is "Oh, you've got your girl and your boy!  So you're done, right?"  Or if someone has all boys people say, "You don't have to try for a whole baseball team, ya know!"  Or "Please stop trying for girls, you might just end up with more boys." Again, what these statements imply, even if unintended, are rude and insensitive.  And the children are usually right there to hear that they are too much to handle or are only in existence because mommy and daddy want the other gender and got you instead.

Do these people realize that they are basically saying that they think that having one child of each gender should suffice, and then you should want to be done? Probably not, because they aren't making sure that what they truly believe is consistent in their words and actions.  Or they do believe it, and they are wrong.

When I take my two children and the baby girl I babysit to the library and someone asks, "You had another one already?!" It makes me wonder how they would react if I told them I had.  Or if I had adopted this baby.  Or if she were my foster child.  I would hope they would be kind, and even joyful that there are people who love to take in and care for children they did not give birth to.  A mother who adopted her daughter told me that she often hears, "Didn't you want to have any of your own?"  Do they realize what they are saying?  Is her daughter not hers?  Of course she is!  There are better ways to ask why someone chose to adopt rather than implying that adopted children don't really belong to their adoptive parents.

And there are the opposite situations too.  Perhaps you shouldn't ask the woman who has no children why she doesn't, because it is personal and possibly painful to discuss.  Perhaps one shouldn't expect because you have a lot of children that they should too.  God's plans for each of us are not cookie-cutters.  And we should appreciate that.

If you sat these nosy, opinionated people down and asked them, "Do you think you know everything? Do you think these women are terrible mothers? Do you think society would be better without these children in them?"  I would hope that they would say, "Of course not!"

Then why do they say them?  Think them?  Do they believe them?

I hope not.

My friend Janece, who has three little ones, said, "A few comments that feel like water to my weary soul" are phrases like "You'll get through this, mama", "This season will fly by, I promise,", and "You're doing a great job."  She explains, "They communicate understanding, empathy, and encouragement.  Rather than some comments that feel condescending, judgmental, and derogatory."

Will people keep saying things like this?  Probably.  Almost guaranteed.  As mothers, we need to check our hearts too.  Do these people deserve our forgiveness?  Or grace?  No.


But neither do we.  As mothers we know that our children are blessings, yes, even when they argue with you or have a diaper blowout all down your front in public... Don't hang onto comments from those who do not either care for you and your kids enough to be kind, or they just speak too flippantly.  Either way, they need the same grace that God has offered to us.  And our kids need to see us forgive.  They need to see that even when we are hurt, we forgive.  Because they are watching.  They are listening.  They will be hurt too.  And because God is worth it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Yesterday begot Today; Today begets Tomorrow

I was driving our mini van back from the library on a 5-minute, late evening, round-trip to return a movie in the drop box.  My daughter was wearing her father's t-shirt and barefeet while Keegan was drinking his evening bottle in his car seat.  My husband was out of town for work, and I was thinking about the upcoming bedtime routine: bathroom break, books to read, prayers, rocking, tucking in, kisses, hugs, etc.  And I began to wonder what the day had been about.  Why did God want me to experience this day?  A very long day, and most of it was quite miserable.

My mind started to replay the tossing and turning from the night before.  I hadn't slept well due to incredible congestion - my head felt like a bowling ball.  I overslept, barely getting breakfast for me and the kids finished by the time the little girl I babysit arrived.  The rest of the morning was peaceful.  The babies slept at the same time, leaving some one-on-one time with my daughter.  She wanted to play RISK, which I hadn't a clue how to play, let alone how to how to modify it for a toddler.  So I made the game up as we went, and we had a great time!  Lunch went well, and putting everyone down for naps was easy.

It took quite a few times of explaining for her to be convinced that the game piece didn't have to match the color of the country!

Afternoon nap time is when the day took a turn for the worse.  My daughter is usually a great napper, but today's nap time included several visits from me to her room to find an awful surprise each time.  Pictures taken off the walls and broken.  Her bed tent off the bed and broken.  Her climbing on her foot board to try to climb in her windows.  Her sprawled in the floor playing with her doctor kit.  Multiple times I had to discipline her and return her to her bed.  We would review the rules of nap/quiet time, and I would hug her, kiss her, and tell her that because I love her she should happily obey my rules.  We talked about how the rules are for her good.  We talked about how she has easily followed the rules for this time hundreds of times before.  And each time we spoke, my heart would soften.  I love this child.  I can't help but love this child.  Even when she is exhausting my patience at every turn, I love her more than she could ever know.

But I was tired.

And the disobedience did not end there. Being sneaky, defiant, disrespectful... and yet, I love her.  I guess if I didn't love her, she would exhaust me less.  I wouldn't care as much about her heart and motives and behavior.  Today, parenting her left me run ragged - emotionally and physically.

And of course, she is not the only child I love.  I have another who is teething.  The poor little boy cried and whined almost all day, unless he was asleep.  I tried several things, and they helped some.  But the poor boy was in so much pain.  Again, loving him is why this was so difficult.  I can't stand to see my child hurt.  I can't leave him to cry and scream when he is reaching for me and looking so terrible.

But it wore me down.

He loved teething on this cold, peeled piece of apple.  Poor baby! 

I remembered all of this as I was driving home, and I recalled something my father once told me when I was a teenager.  He and I had been discussing the "boring" parts in the Bible.  He, being a history teacher, explained that many things in the Old Testament are for historical context.  He explained to me that all those "begots" in the genealogies served a purpose, perhaps several purposes.  I remember him talking about how so many names on those lists of descendents of "so and so fathering so and so" were just that - lists of names... and yet, perhaps just a name represents an entire generation... an entire lifetime lived.  So we as modern readers have absolutely no idea who these persons were or what they did, but we know that their children's children's children fathered someone important, like Moses, King David, and eventually Jesus.  Perhaps these "so and so" persons wondered too why they were alive.  While I wonder why their name is mentioned once, they may find great satisfaction if they saw it, knowing that was why they lived... to bring up the next generation.  Why?  So that the next generation could bring up the next.

Reading books before bedtime
I found great comfort in this memory today as I wondered why God wanted me to live this day?  What did I learn?  What did my daughter learn?  Will tomorrow be the same?  Why do so many days seem to be purposeless?

Perhaps only because I cannot see the bigger picture that God is weaving, orchestrating.  I do not know what an exhausting day has to do with anything in God's plan for my family, but He does.  Perhaps it was another lesson in gratitude that so many days are much easier.  Maybe it is so I will have a deeper appreciation for my husband, who helps so much when he gets home from work each day.  It might also be so that I would be reminded that God sees me the same way I see my children.  I play, disobey, lie, hide, defy, hurt, whine, reach for Him, cry out to Him... and He loves me.  He can't help but love, because He is the definition of love - the essence of love.

So to all of you tired, exhausted, and wondering what is it all for?...

I don't know, really.  But whatever it is, it is for God.  If it is excellent, thank Him for it.  If it is difficult, give it to Him.  If it is meaningless, ask Him for His perspective.

Because today's meaningless happenings beget tomorrow's meaningful gifts.  None of it is wasted nothingness.  All of it has weight and matter, and it is all for His glory and your good.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Practical and Frugal New Year: Menu Planning

I have always loved to cook.  My mom showed me how to brown hamburger when I was 14, and ever since then I have liked to mix ingredients without a recipe and see what I come up with.  But when Kyle and I were first married, I started to dread making dinner each night.  It took me a while to realize why cooking for my new husband wasn't all I had dreamed.  It finally dawned on me that basing our nightly meals off of impulsive "what sounds good" choices and trying to impress Kyle with my domestic skill was leading to a lot of last minute trips to the store and late-evening meals.  By the time I finished work, decided on a recipe I wanted to use, bought the ingredients, and finally got it cooked... well, we were hungry!  It got to where I was hating that dreadful question each afternoon on my drive home - What's for dinner?  I decided that I needed to plan meals ahead of time, so that the guesswork would be taken out, and I could shop ahead of time and have things on-hand.

So I started planning a month of meals at a time.  I even created a menu board that hung in the kitchen so I would know what to throw in the sink to thaw every morning on my way out the door for work.  For a long time, this was enough of a solution, because I knew what we were going to eat and had everything available to me, thawed and fresh, when I got home from work each day!  But I noticed that even though the stress and wasted time were taken care of, wasted food and money increased.  We'd find ourselves eating out with friends last minute and fresh food I had purchased and put in the fridge would go to waste.  So over time, I added more steps in the process of my monthly menu planning.  And now that I am a stay-at-home mom but feeding more mouths than when I was a new bride, sticking to a budget by eating at home with minimal waste is essential.

I have had several friends ask me how I do this and how to get started for themselves.  A friend told me that I should blog about it; hence this post!  No matter your gender, age, marital/parental status you can use any or all of these steps in this process to save on your grocery bill, time spent at the store, and time spent wondering what you are going to eat each night for dinner.

Our menu went from being on a large marker board on the wall to a small magnetic memo pad on the side of the fridge!
Either way, it is visible and handy!
Toward the end of each month I do the same thing in this order:
1) I look at (or create) a blank calendar for the next month. I write down when we are going to be eating out that can't be avoided (like a birthday dinner or meeting friends, etc) or going to be gone (like eating at my parents' for dinner).
2) I also write down all events that will be close to mealtime (like every Wednesday is a rushed dinner because we have to get to church or to tumbling on Tuesdays) - these become leftover nights!
3) Then I make a list of every food item already in my freezer, fridge, and cabinets. I try to start my menu for the month with these items. So if I have a jar of a certain sauce or a lb of beef, I use meals that will use these items up first.
4) I also try to think of 2 cheap but good meals we like the most and make sure I make one of those each week. My family loves chicken spaghetti and regular spaghetti, so I try to make one each week.
5) Then I start planning the menu out a week at a time. Right now, Sundays and Mondays are easy open days, so I cook large meals. Then we eat leftovers from those meals on Tues and Wed, which are busy days that I don't have time to cook anyway. Thursday I cook another large meal for leftovers on Saturday. Fridays are either eat out or cook something special, like shrimp or steak that won't have leftovers. These are more expensive meals, but still cheaper than eating out.
6) Also, I try to make things back to back that use similar ingredients so nothing goes bad. For example, when I make chicken enchiladas, I use half of a can of black beans and half of a sour cream container. So a few days later, I plan tacos or taco soup that will use the rest of that up. Also, a big roast could make 3 meals - roast and potatoes/carrots one night, shred leftover meat for bbq sandwiches another night, and then use stock/broth to make homemade egg noodles!
7) I look at ads to see what meats, milk, cheeses, frozen meals are cheapest to help me pick meals I am going to make too. If something I make often (like bags of chicken breasts) are cheaper than usual, I buy several to stock up. We eat a lot of pasta, but I buy pasta made from vegetables so it is a little healthier.
8) Then once I have my menu made, I start my shopping list for those ingredients (again, hopefully some of it was already in my kitchen). Then I add foods we will eat for breakfast and lunch. I keep these very limited to inexpensive items that last a while. Mostly frozen fruit, bananas, applesauce, granola bars, pancake mix, and eggs are all I buy for breakfast - and I buy it in bulk or again stock up when they are on sale. For lunch we eat leftovers or sandwiches - pb and j or turkey and cheese on tortillas or bread - with some fruit. So I stock up on that stuff! I freeze lunch meat and buy a month's worth.
9) I keep sides very simple: green beans, broccoli, corn on the cob, carrots, or simple salad (lettuce and tomato). Again, buy large amounts and freeze what I can. Use what doesn't freeze (like salad) first.
10) I always buy 2 frozen meals for those nights I just don't feel like cooking or plans pop up and you don't have time for dinner. Even if it is a frozen chinese dinner for $8, it is cheaper than grabbing food out ( THANK YOU STEPH MARTIN FOR THIS TIP)!
11) IF THE STORE BRAND IS AVAILABLE, I ALWAYS BUY IT! That saves a ton of money right there! I usually shop at Walmart, so almost everything I buy is Great Value. There are a few items I allow us to have the fancier brand, but very few!
12) I also buy our whole month's worth of milk at the cheapest price in town and freeze it. I just thaw out the next gallon about a day before I need it.
13) While I am at the store, I calculate every item I put in the cart so I don't have any surprises at the register.
14) and then, since I shop at Walmart, I use their app to scan my receipt to compare local prices. If it finds something cheaper elsewhere, it refunds the difference to a Walmart gift card fund. Every little bit helps.

Some common meals I make:
Chicken Spaghetti (use only 2 chicken breasts and shred them)
Spaghetti (could be meatless)
Tacos (use less meat and more beans)
Veggie Soup (can be meatless)
Fritatta (can be meatless)
Sundried tomato alfredo sausage penne (known in our house as Tuscan Goulash)
Citrus shrimp penne
Turkey burgers
Homemade egg Noodles
Sloppy Joes/BBQ sandwiches

If you try this and at first you don't see much difference at the register or in your time spent, don't despair.  It took me several months before I did this process efficiently.  I now can get through the first 10 steps of this process in about half an hour, and then the trip to the store only takes about 2 hours from entering to exiting (but really the length of time depends upon how my kids behave while we are shopping).  That may sound like a lot of time at the store, but that is all the time I spend grocery shopping for the whole month!  I know women who spend at least an hour a week grocery shopping!

Some additional tips:
*NEVER shop while hungry!  I try to only head to the store after the kids and I have eaten a complete breakfast!  This way we are all pretty full and not tempted to throw yummy looking stuff in the cart we don't need.  Also, know what other temptations you have and avoid those when trying to stick to a budget.  I try not to go late at night either, even though I could go without kids, because I get sugar cravings between supper and bedtime - I'd spend half our budget on ice cream and cheesecake!
*This process can easily be modified to fit your schedule if you prefer to shop every week or every other week.  I know people who loathe the idea of freezing bread and milk, etc.  Do what works for you!  Depending on how you do your budget (we only get paid once a month, so we have a monthly budget) will determine your spending goal for each grocery trip.  If you only want to spend $600 a month, but will shop once a week, that doesn't necessarily mean you will only spend $150 each trip.  Keep receipts in an envelope or binder to keep a current tally in mind so you know your limit BEFORE you enter the store!
*If you don't have any idea of what meals you want to cook, or if you are in a rut where you are sick of eating the same things in your rotation, look in magazines that feature quick, inexpensive meals.  Usually magazines feature recipes that use seasonal produce (like apples and pumpkins in the Fall) so that your fresh produce is actually fresh and is less expensive.  I recently was able to subscribe to Rachel Ray and Better Homes & Gardens for $4 each and then received the same offer for 2 other foodie magazines!  I learned this tip from my friend Jamie Lynch who keeps favorite magazine recipes for seasonal cooking!
*Don't feel like you can't change things around if you aren't in the mood for Lasagna, but that is what you have written down on your calendar.  Switch it around with something that sounds better that night.
*Also, if you end up having to eat out on a certain night, you could do several things with the groceries you have already purchased.  For example, if you were planning to make Taco Salad tonight, but your husband gets promoted at work and wants to go out to celebrate, don't you dare say, "We can't, because the tomatoes will go bad"!  Instead, push your Taco Salad meal back to a soon-coming day on the calendar that originally had a meal that requires no fresh produce.  Then save that no-fresh-produce-required meal for the next month (like if you had Spaghetti planned, the frozen meat will still be good next month as will the jar of sauce and box of noodles).  Or you can go ahead and cook the meal but freeze it for later!  Just make sure your fresh produce doesn't go bad!  The health of your body and wallet depend on fresh produce!
*If you are caught off-guard by having to cook at home with limited groceries and limited time/money for shopping, go to websites like  Supercook will offer recipes based upon ingredients you already have!

Using this process and these tips, we are able to feed our family of 4 (yes, the baby eats food too and also drinks formula half the time) for $450 a month or less.  That includes household items and groceries!  As a person formerly addicted to paying for convenience, believe me, sticking to a budget can be done!  If I can do it, anyone can!

If you want to learn more about saving money on all things home, ask wise women in your life!  I learned so many of these things from unknowing mentors around me, and I made their tips my own!  Also, check out The Humbled Homemaker and MoneySavingMom blogs; they are some of my favorites!