Free Will and my Life Lessons

by Liz Lara

home-heart-is

Every day is filled with life lessons and it is time to share one of my many not-so-perfect life lessons. It is no mystery, I have not posted to my blog in quite some time.  And as you might guess, there is good reason for that.  The latter half of last year, I and my family experienced quite a lot of changes.

As I mentioned before, our kids are older than most other family blogs you read about.  The oldest of the five is 24, and the youngest is 16. As of summer last year, the three eldest boys lived with us, my daughter who is 19, decided she wanted to live with her father in New England for a while, and my 16 year old step-son lives with his mother about 350 miles away in Amarillo, Texas.

Upon returning from our summer vacation, my oldest step-son, who was 20, decided that he too, was going to withdraw from community college here in Fort Worth, move out and return to his hometown of Amarillo.  I’d like to say we were perplexed at this, but we know that our 20 year old son was making some questionable life choices, and even though we tried to advise him of the road he was going down, ultimately he is an adult and we could not stop him.

By mid -August of last year, it was now just I, my husband and my two eldest boys living in our large house.  I personally was starting to feel lost and did not know what to do with myself on a daily basis.  I could have blogged about my life on a regular basis, but because of what I call our “sudden exodus into empty nest syndrome”, I actually felt like a failure and I certainly did not feel like bragging about that.

teacup

I have always had tumultuous feelings about being a homemaker, (I feel this word describes me best. When I think about stay-at-home-moms, I think of those moms in their 20’s, who wear their daily uniform of tight yoga pants and tacky graphic tee shirts with what I can only assume are supposed to be words of wisdom while lugging their kids around to the store, the library or to the park all while having very loud conversations on their smart phones). 

So now I found myself at a crossroads of sort. While I thoroughly enjoy being a homemaker, I felt like the outside world was telling me that I needed to re-enter the working world. After all, what right did I have to not work outside the home when my wonderful, patient, bread – winner, supportive husband has carried the load when I had left corporate and its lucrative paycheck a few years back? Since leaving the work place, my husband will be the first to tell you that I beat myself up with this very subject several times a year, to the point where it stresses both of us out and drives a wedge between us.  The conclusion has always been the same for the past few years; I am happiest at home, taking care of my home and family, no matter how large or small.

However, along came a job offer that seemed to good to pass up.  The money was good, really good, the benefits including two weeks of vacation plus eleven company holidays per year, and the commute was only a mere twenty minutes a day on a piece of highway that rarely saw traffic.  As I scheduled my first interview for the position, I did actually make a list of pros and cons of going back to work, even though my cons outweighed my pros, I decided to move forward and go through the interview process anyway. The job was going to be with a religious, non-profit organization and the thought of working for and with likeminded Christians appealed to me. 

During the first week in September was when I had the first interview and it went well.  After a few days, I got a call back for a second interview, but due to the manager’s vacation, it was not going to be until the following week. 

I spent the next week imagining myself being back to work in a corporate, albeit, nonprofit environment.  I finally had the second interview, and that went really well too, all that was lacking was the CEO’s blessing on filling the open position.  Then began what felt like a long waiting period. What it looked like on their side: was a corporate retreat (three days long), a professional conference (one week long), and a CEO for whom filling the position was not a priority (another two weeks of him pushing it to the back burner). What it looked like on my end:  me going over my pros and cons list almost every day, lying in bed every night debating with myself should I or shouldn’t I go back to work, pacing the house everyday waiting for my phone to ring like a needy single woman waiting for last night’s date to call her to see if he was just as enamored by her as she was with him. I was starting to feel dejected and that I was no longer “hirable.”

On a daily basis, several times a day, I would pray on the conflict that I was undergoing.  About three weeks into this waiting period and watching me go through what can only be described as my “manic-feeling of I need to work” phase, my loving husband had this to say: “You are waiting for God to give you a sign or an answer to your dilemma, however, you have applied to a job, that literally is an institution for God and you have not been offered the position….honey, don’t you think God himself is trying to tell you something?” Those words stuck with me and I had just about resolved the fact that it was not to be, but a few days later, I received an email with an offer letter attached and I thought: “Glory, alleluia, here is my sign!  I got the job.” It only took a month, but I got the job!

So I started my new job, I would be doing payroll for this non-profit, religious organization. I may have not mentioned it before, but I am really not thrilled about my profession as it pertains to working outside the home although I am quite good at it and have my professional certification in it, it really is not my passion.  My work colleagues all seemed very nice, as they do with any job that anyone starts for the first week and for the most part that aspect of the job continued, but you know how it goes, there is always a few bad apples, no matter where you work or what kind of job you are doing.

hurry

I was once again trying to get on a work routine of getting up at 5:30 a.m., out the door by 7:00 and in my work chair by 7:30.  Like most jobs, there was an hour for lunch and my workday ended at 4:30 p.m. I was back at home by 5:00 p.m. each evening at which time I would switch into my panicked “get as much done before I go to bed” mode.  This included a 30 minute power walk (before the sun completely set), get a home cooked dinner on the table, fold a batch or two of laundry while dinner was cooking, package any leftovers, pack my breakfast and lunch for the following work day, clean and scrub the dinner dishes and depending on what I was going to make the following day for dinner, possibly start doing some prep work such as chopping veggies or setting up my slow cooker.  I would finally get to sit and relax each night around 8:30 p.m. and usually start to nod off while watching T.V. with my husband around 9:00, and definitely in bed snoring away by 9:30 p.m. every night.

Like most working couples, weekends of course, were just as busy, trying to check off those items on our to-do-list that could not get done during the week, such as grocery shopping, the house cleaning, taking a dog or two to the groomers, home improvement projects, errands, finding time to be social with friends and family and the most important, trying to find time alone together.

About a month back in the working world, I was exhausted and otherwise quite miserable.  Now that I was starting to become “seasoned” in my new position at work, more responsibility was starting to come my way and even though I was working for a Christian based organization, this atmosphere was not void of corporate politics and the back stabbing loathing that exists everywhere, apparently; and all of this was really disconcerting to me.  I was starting to remember why I had left my previous job a few years back even though I was at the height of my career. I was becoming just as miserable now, as I was years ago and just like back then; I would bring all that misery and unhappiness home when I walked through the door every day.  I was becoming unapproachable at home, as well as starting to feel resentful and anxious all of which was starting to drive a wedge between myself and my husband, and I was barely having any conversations with the kids anymore.

anxiety

After discussing it with my husband, who in the most loving way, gave me the “I told you so” speech, I sat down with my boss and told her that even though I felt like I was the right fit for this job; the job was not the right fit for me I proceeded to tell her that I thought it would be unfair to waste of both of our time to try to stick it out for months to see if we couldn’t make it work and maybe I might have a change of heart.  You can imagine my surprise when she told me that she was waiting for me to bring this up because, apparently, I wore my stress and unhappiness almost every day. I agreed to stay at the position until they found a replacement, which I did not mind, since I felt like I was leaving my boss in the lurch.

A few weeks later, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, they had found a replacement for me and I, once again returned home.  Once again, I had some conflicting feelings.  Although, deep within me, I felt like this was the right decision, and at home is where I belong and where I felt the most useful and content, I still suffered some contemplation:  “Did I give myself enough time to adjust to this job and schedule?”  “Was I just a quitter?” “Why couldn’t I just suck it up and stick it out like so many other people do?” 

Then during the holiday season, our family underwent some issues.  My eldest step-son who had decided to quit college and move back to Amarillo only a few short months ago, decided he and his now live-in-girlfriend were moving back to our area of Texas for better job opportunities, even though he had only found a part time job and his girlfriend was not working at all and they were living paycheck to paycheck, against our advice about moving in together and that they should put this plan on the back burner until they were both financially stable, they insisted that they could handle whatever life threw their way (young love is so ignorant…isn’t it?). So during this journey they resided with us for about three weeks (needless to say this was stressful for everyone in the house).  In addition to this, my eldest son had proclaimed that in the upcoming new year, he wanted to move out (finally) but buy his first house as opposed to renting somewhere, he also expressed that he was going to be looking to change jobs in the new year as well and try to go from a retail store associate (that is paid tremendously well) to finding a job in an office environment all while still trying to break into his real passion…voice over acting. 

My second eldest, was just finishing his trade school education of graphic design and he too would be seeking out a new career in the New Year.  This may seem uneventful to most, but my middle child, although extremely creative and talented, is a sensitive introvert with a slight learning disability. So to help him move into a career that showcases his passion, he will need a little hand holding.

Last but not least, my wonderful husband.  In addition to his long time career as a security network operations engineer, he has decided to continue his education and study for his master’s degree in his field, thereby, leaving him less time to be able to help manage our household, which I am not complaining about.  My husband and I support each other completely on our goals, parenting, and education and for the most part any other things we each set our minds to.

Even with all of this that happened to me re-entering the work force and all the issues that continue to unfold under our roof, I still could not help but reflect in prayer with my inner conflict of “should I work…shouldn’t I work?”  Then something happened that changed my way of thinking.

I met up with a very good friend of mine for lunch one day.  I hadn’t seen her since right before I had started working again, and I proceeded to tell her all of what had happened during that time frame, both at work and at home.  I explained to her my reflection and prayer during this time and what my husband had pointed out that during my “waiting process” hearing about the job offer.  Then my very dear friend put it into perspective for me.  She pointed out that even though, I was waiting for signs from God to put me on the path that I thought HE wanted for me, she reminded me that HE has given us his greatest gift of all…”free will”.  So even though HE was showing me signs and reasons I should have not taken the job offer in the first place, I went ahead and utilized my free will and ignored what God was telling me.  Needless to say, even though I had chosen the wrong path initially, the one that God did not want me to go down…I wound up on the right path that HE wanted me on anyway, via a short detour.cross

So now, here we are in the New Year.  I am back to being a full time HOMEMAKER, which I am slowly learning should not have negative connotations, because even though I am approaching middle age and the majority of our kids are young adults and are, for the most part self-sufficient, I am still very much needed and appreciated at home taking care of my house, my husband and family…revolving door and all. This life lesson has taught me, that I am following my true passion and the path that God wants me to be on, at least for now.

Saving $500 or More in One Month

 

shopping cart

By Liz

Living on one income, there are certain times throughout the year that make me anxious.  For one reason or another, we hit those irregular bills and I watch our account dwindle a little to the point it makes me start to wonder if leaving the work force was the right decision.  So much so, that I usually start dusting off my resume and start looking at the job boards again.

My husband will tell you that I over react during these times and that he could set his watch by them.  Looking at our books, I know we are fine, but when we hover around or we go below that “cushion” number in our account, it starts to make me lose sleep.  We have always rebounded, and brought that “cushion” back up, but there is always the looming question…what if we don’t?

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Summer time is one of those times of the year that make me feel financially uneasy.  I guess it stands to reason with payouts that include; increased electric bills with more people being home during the day watching T.V., playing video games, charging laptops, phones, etc…not to mention the A/C running to cool the house down in the Texas heat. Our water bill goes up, due to watering the lawn, the garden, extra showers, and laundry;  our food bill increases with hungry boys and one girl in and out of the house all summer; and then there is summer vacation and we all know how expensive that can be.

water

Now believe me when I tell you, I have done what I can to economize in ALL of these areas.  The A/C is on an automatic timer and is at a reasonable setting; laundry only gets washed when there are full loads to be done; showers are timed; and there are some years we don’t take a summer vacation, we didn’t last year, and I have to tell you, this year it is much needed. That leaves me with our food budget and while not completely out of control for a family of 7 and 4 dogs, it could still use some trimming.

Our average monthly food budget is approximately $600 for 7 people and 4 dogs, that breaks down to roughly $6.75 per person, per meal. Some would say this is to high, some will say that is low. Personally, I think it is too high and I want to start cutting back in this area in order to help reach some financial goals.



This past winter, I instituted “no spenduary” during the month of February.  After the holidays, I took inventory of our pantry, freezers and fridges and did a little bit of stocking up on staples that we plow through, things like potatoes, flour, sugar, coffee, pasta, rice, etc… Also, during the month of January if I saw rock bottom prices on meat, chicken or fish, I bought an extra pack or two then during the month of February, I did not do any grocery shopping.  We made do with what we already had in our inventory.  I did give myself a very small cash budget for the month to purchase some perishables such as milk, eggs and some fresh produce like lettuce, onions, bananas (since these things don’ t keep well for an entire month), but there were no large hauls, no overspending and in fact we wound up saving about $300 that month.

With summer just about to start, and having that “irky” feeling about our account again, I have decided to take the same action and I am instituting penny pinching June in our house. I have gone through our inventory, and have concluded that minus those perishables we have more than enough in our stash to make it through the month of June.  I am also giving myself a VERY strict, cash budget of only $80 to buy perishables for the month (crazy…right?).

beans

Now you might be thinking that, I will be feeding my family a steady stream of rice and beans, peanut butter and jelly, eggs made up, six ways to Sunday, but I want to be able to show that with a little creativity, we will have a variety of menu options by making do with what we already have on hand.  For the next 4 Mondays, my entries will be about my accountability and what we are eating and how far I can make that $80 stretch.

 

money

My goal is to be able to save $500 for the month of June.  This may not seem like a lot in today’s economy for a family of 7, but just like in February, I found myself and the rest of my family trying to save and economize in other ways as well, such as using the library more, car pooling with each other or friends, not buying that much “wanted” new video game (obviously, that one was for the kids), finding free or low cost entertainment, ditching the sodas for water, finding the locations for the lowest gas prices, etc.. It did my heart proud as the family followed my lead and took their own initiative to save some of their hard earned cash.

I know there are going to be times that myself or a family member will have a craving for some fast food or take out, or I will be tempted to pick up that amazing deal at the store when I walk in with my tiny amount of cash, earmarked for only the few perishables I will need and I will want to give in and take out my credit card, but I am hoping my resolve will be strong. In fact, I will be leaving the credit card at home. So follow me on my penny pinching June journey and see if my goal is truly reachable.