Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Money, Money, Money

Some of you may have noticed the absence of a post from me last week. I can only say that it was a very rough week for my family...... not because of anything that caused physical pain, but because of stress inflicted upon us by the good old...........

or more accurately....... the lack therof.

As you know, last week was Tax Day- that day we all dread each year. Well, this year, it hit us harder than normal. Due to various circumstances we were hit with a MAJOR payment, one that we really couldn't make right now. That required us to set up a payment plan with the IRS.

Just when we were wrapping our heads around that bill, we were hit with yet another.

Several weeks ago my car decided that it was time to take a break. I told you about that experience in This Post. Our local mechanic examined the car and told us that it would need a new motor, a major expense, but one that we knew we would have to pay. Flash forward to last week when we got the call from the garage that the car was repaired and ready for pickup and we found ourselves facing another bill of over $3000.

It really shouldn't have surprised me when I opened my copy of Happy Women Live Better last week and found that the happiness trigger for week 4 was "Financial Savvy".  After all, God always seems to send us a message just when we need it most.

Yes, money, or the lack of it, can cause stress, but it can also create happiness. Getting that unexpected windfall can trigger a euphoric feeling within us. Our mind starts making mental lists of things that we can purchase, we begin planning shopping expeditions, and ultimately, we make those purchases and bring home our items. But then what?.....

The money is gone.

We have the items we bought, but it isn't long before those things too lose their luster. The clothes fade, don't fit, or go out of style. That chair or rug that we bought gets a stain on it. That beautiful piece of jewelry loses a stone or is broken or misplaced.

Ecclesiastes 6:7 says

All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.

That is how it is with money. We tend to work and work and work, all the time trying to make money to buy something else that we think we need. Yet no matter how much we get, we always seem to want more. And then we are hit with circumstances such as those that my family experienced last week when we just need more money in order to deal with problems that are thrown at us.

So what do we do?

Do we cry and moan about our situation?

Do we just throw our hands in the air and give up?

No, I think we need to learn to be happy with what we have, accepting the fact that God will provide what we truly need. In her book, Valorie Burton offers some good advice about how we can actually use the money that we do have to make us happier. 

1. Live below your means- At the beginning of Lent I posted This Post about my personal spending freeze on craft supplies. I am happy to say that I made it! I did not purchase one scrapbooking or paper crafting supply though I was tempted. I have decided that, for now, that freeze is going to continue. I have a lot of paper and adhesive and I am sure that I can find what I need for the projects that I have time for. I am also trying to find other areas where I can cut back and make do with what I already have.

2. Buy experiences, not things- I can totally understand this one! When I look through my scrapbooks with my children it is not the THINGS that I remember. It is the time that we spent together that matters most: the trips to the zoo, the yard sale where my children kept dressing up in the clothes that we were trying to sell, or the family garden where they harvested their first green beans, planted and picked by their own tiny hands. Those moments and memories are worth more to me than any amount of money.

3. Buy time- BOY, do I need to do this one! I am always saying, "I wish I had more time for...." I am sure that you do the same thing. Sometimes there are actually some tiny little things that we can do that will GIVE us time by only spending a little money. 

Let me give you an example. 

I was raised in the "pre-dishwasher" era. My mother spent many hours with her hands fully immersed in sudsy water washing dishes. Once I was old enough to assist, she scooted a chair up to the sink and let me rinse the dishes in the other side of the sink and place them in the dish drainer. Once I was even older, I took the task over completely. 

When I married my hubby our trailer was not equipped with a dishwasher. Our first home had one, but it was so old that we only used it for storage. A few years ago we remodeled our kitchen and I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a brand spanking new dishwasher. The only problem was.... I refused to use it. Why would I? After all, it might use more water and that would increase the water bill, right? It also required electricity, so the electric bill would increase. 

The frugality in me kept resisting until one day my two teenagers finally convinced me to give it a try. It didn't take many sessions of loading the dishwasher, closing the door, and going on to do something else to convince me that it was OK to spend that little bit of money as long as it provided me with a return in the form of more time. Time that I can spend relaxing with my daughter in front of the television, reading the latest book for my Bible study, or going on a leisurely walk in the fresh air. 

I would love to hear from you. As I attempt to help my family find the money to deal with these unexpected debts that we face, do you have any advice for us? Have you faced a similar situation and, if so, how did you deal with it? I have faith that God will provide, but I also want to do my part. I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


This week I felt right at home reading about the next happiness "trigger" in Valorie Burton's book: service.

You see, I have always been one of those people who just couldn't say that simple two letter word: N-O. "Ms. Baker, we are starting a committee at school. Could you be a member?" "Stella, we are doing this event for the youth at church. Would you be willing to come and do crafts?" It finally got to the point where it was a personal joke between my husband and myself. It is usually a toss-up about which one of us will actually take on the one last task that will put us over the edge and, for a while, overwhelm us.

It came as no real surprise to me that "SERVICE" was one of the triggers that showed up on my list when I completed the online survey. I think that is why I got into teaching in the first place. I really like to teach a lesson or do an activity that is the incentive for personal growth within a student. When I see that light come on within one of my students I know that I have actually played a part in their growth- that knowledge gained.

The Bible, of course, is full of references about service. There is verse after verse about using your strengths to help those who are in need.

As I read through some of them this week, some of them really stuck out to me.....

Isaiah 58:10 says:

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 

Sometimes I really doubt whether I am doing anyone any good. Do the little things that I say or do REALLY matter? Is anyone REALLY affected by them? The answer is a resounding YES!!!

I think first of my students, as those are the people with whom I spend the most time during the week.

This is my twenty ninth year in the classroom and, over the course of those years, I have seen many changes within my students. There are more of them than ever who lack self-esteem. Just today, as my classes were working on poems about what made them unique, I had at least two students who told me that they could not think of anything positive about themselves: no personal strengths, no talents, no abilities. It made me so sad. Students such as these are definitely afflicted and hungry for attention and praise. 

When I see a student who is need of a little boost in confidence and I take the time to sit and talk with him or her about the weekend or about what they have planned for after school, I am affecting that child. When I give one of my students the 50 cents to pay a forgotten library fine, it may seem like a small thing to me, but to them it may be a big thing. 

As I get nearer and nearer to retirement I sometimes find myself asking, "Why should I go on?" It is because of the ones that I do reach that I stay. 

1 Peter 4:10 reads:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

This is another reason that I believe I am in the right place when I am in the classroom.  I can remember being in high school and sitting with the younger children on that long bus ride home, keeping them company and talking with them about their day. I can remember helping with 4H lessons, camp, and vbs at church. With each small task that I undertook, God was grooming me- grooming me for the role of teacher.

My mom kept a little keepsake book throughout my years in school. You probably have seen them- a pocket for each year to hold keepsakes, a place to record things like height, weight, favorite teacher, and favorite subject. One of the last lines at the bottom of that pocket was the one that read, "When I grow up, I want to be a _____________." As I flip through that book I notice that every single year, with the exception of 1, I had written "teacher". I think that I always knew that God had blessed me with the ability to teach others, whether it be teaching them to read those tiny little sight words that begin the journey toward reading, teaching them to simplify a basic algebraic equation, or teaching them about God's love and forgiveness.

As I near the end of my teaching career, I find myself looking for the next route, the next gift that God would have for me to share. I know that my real teaching days will never end, but I want to continue to be of service to him throughout my entire week. I am praying that God would help me find whatever that service might be in the years after I leave the classroom. 

A while back, I heard the following song by Sidewalk Prophets and I immediately felt an affinity for it. I know that it is not entirely about service to God, but I took the words to mean that I need to do everything I can to help others see God within me, and that includes serving him, never witholding of the talents that he has given me. Listen to the words and I hope they can be a blessing to you as well. Please leave a comment telling me what their message is for you!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Evolving Update

Back in January I posted about my One Little Word for the year "evolve".

If you haven't read the post that started me on my journey for the year, you can check it out HERE

I thought it was time for me to give you a bit of an update. It is also my way of making myself accountable for actually making some progress.

  1. I have decided to embrace my hair color--- not the one that I have been using to cover the ever-growing amount of gray. I am talking about my own personal hair color, INCLUDING the gray. I have not colored my hair since January 21. I have been growing it out and haven't had a trim either. (I really do need to schedule one, but I am kind of liking having a bit more length.)
  2. I am reading a book about finding happiness and I am trying to make a definitive effort to find and keep my happiness and my smile more evident on a daily basis. You can read more about that in THIS POST. You can also follow along with my weekly posts about the "triggers" that we can all use to help increase our happiness level.
  3. In my effort to give to others I have been trying to do more "little things" to help others: paying library fines for students, dropping off goodies at the local traffic department to thank them for their hard work this winter, opening more doors for others, and just making time to be there when people need me.
  4. I have also kept a promise that I made to my children a VERY LONG time ago. Before my husband and I married I made a cross stitch stocking for him. I had been promising my children that I would also make one for them. I actually started them several years ago, but I had never found the time to actually finish the stitching and assemble them. I promised myself that THIS would be the year. I am happy to say that I have kept that promise!

Now we just have to wait until Christmas to hang them!

I wish I had some good news to report about my weight loss, but it is holding pretty steady. I just can't seem to give up some of the foods that I really enjoy and I haven't found time to add exercise into my daily routine. I am NOT giving up though!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Trigger number 2 in Valorie Burton's book is a smile. Now we're not talking the little "lift the corners of your mouth" grin. We are talking about the full out "open your mouth, show your teeth, and maybe even laugh" type smile.

I always thought of a smile as a symbol to the world that I WAS happy; I had somehow forgotten that my smile could also BRING happiness to someone else and cause it to be reflected back on me, thus helping actually make ME happy.

Now, I have to be honest here. I am normally a fairly happy person, but I must admit that there are days when I allow the dreariness of life, the negativity of others, and the circumstances of my daily experience to rule my mood. There are days at school when I am trying too hard to be the firm taskmaster, keeping my students under control, and ruling the classroom. It is hard for me to do that while smiling.

Sometimes a small group of students will act out and do something that is totally immature and I will feel that "look" coming to my face. You know the one I am talking about.... the one where the brow crinkles, the mouth is pinched, and sometimes the head is even tilted down so I can peer at the guilty culprit over the top rim of my glasses.

Then there are those days when I have a really great activity planned and the students really get into it: learning, enjoying it, and (unbelievable to some) being happy! At those times I have noticed that I smile- one of those great big smiles that even has a laugh with it. When that happens I am definitely happier!

Proverbs 17:22 says:

 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. 

Dried up bones? The imagery packed within that phrase is mighty! I certainly don't want to have dried up bones! I would much rather have a joyful heart, displayed within the smile on my face.  

On most days I can muster a little grin at least, a "Good morning," when I meet a student in the hall, and sometimes even a full out smile when one of those same students utters something they did not intend to be funny. 

But..... what about those times when we find it difficult to smile, difficult to be joyful and happy? Valorie suggests that we do the following: take a breath, smile, and then...... pray. Pray to God that he will help us remember that there is joy in life, that even from our stress and affliction we can grow and experience even more of God's love. Pray to God thanking him for blessings that he has given us. It really can work!

I am reminded of the evenings when I leave school after a particularly difficult day- I may feel beaten and bruised, I may not have been able to reach the students, I may even have received word of yet another meeting or duty that I needed to fulfill. Just when I feel at my worst- God can send me the comfort and strength that I need.

You see, I keep my car radio tuned to KLove. It never fails that on one of those "tough days", when I am at my very lowest, the perfect song will come on the radio and God will send me a reminder of his strength and love. When that music fills the air and God's love warms my heart, a smile will burst out on my face and I utter a, "Thank you Lord!" or even an "Amen."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blessings in the Midst of Burden

The devil certainly did his very best this weekend to ZAP my happiness, but he did not succeed!

Here is a brief rundown of the obstacles that were placed in the way of my happiness-

  • I was all ready to leave right after school on Friday to go to a gathering of reading teachers, where I would make a presentation, when I got word that my daughter had come home early from school with a stomach virus. I made a pit stop at home to check on her and a quick run to the grocery store to pick up Sprite and good old fashioned chicken noodle soup. After making her comfortable and getting her reassurance that she would be OK, I headed out.
  • About halfway to my destination, 3 lights flashed on the car's dashboard. A quick call was made home and the mechanic was notified.
  • When I arrived at the hotel I learned that I did NOT have a room reserved. After looking in every list possible, the clerk called the lead director of the program and she came down to work it out and get me into a room.
  • Later that night I headed down to the first workshop only to learn that I was not registered there either. Thankfully, I was able to just sign in and enter anyway.
  • As I headed home Saturday afternoon I made a quick pit-stop at Dick's sporting goods to pick up replacement track spikes for my daughter, when my car quit in the middle of the parking lot. I was able to get it started again and eased it into a parking space. After I made my purchase I came back through the cold rain that was falling only to find that my car would not start. A quick call to my sweet hubby and he was on the road, ready to come to my rescue. When he arrived an hour and a half later, the car started! 
  • I exited the parking lot first, with hubby right behind me in his vehicle. About 15 miles down the road my car began to slow down and smoke. I eased it over to the shoulder and Hubby called a tow truck. I was still at least an hour from home.
As you can see, I was almost constantly bombarded with things that very easily could have put me into a depression, or at the very least, loaded me down with the pressure of stress. Yet, as I drove home in Hubby's car with him riding in the tow truck behind me I still found myself feeling grateful and happy. The rain had turned into snow by that point and I could see it flying in the light of the car's headlights. The tow truck driver had notified us that the charge for the tow would be at least $200. I still had no idea of how much the actual repairs would cost.

So, how could I still feel happy?

Well, I just kept smiling and thanking the Lord that he had sent such a wonderful, caring man as my husband into my life: he had not hesitated to come to my aid when I called, he did not complain when he got there and the car actually started, and he still has not blinked or uttered one word about how much the whole thing is likely to cost. At one point I told him, "I'm sorry." He said, "It's not your fault. These things happen." 

Don't get me wrong- I know that we will still need to find the money to pay for all of this..... but I have no doubt that God will help us with that! It will probably be difficult to go without my car until I get it back from the garage; we all have busy schedules which often send us in different directions, but spending the commuting time with family is sure to be a blessing.

Proverbs 31, one of my go-to places for inspiration, posted this picture a while back:

And that is SURELY what I have tried to do this weekend!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


When I think of anticipation, it immediately brings to mind an image of my daughter in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The lights, decorations, packages, and music are almost too much for her. As we get nearer and nearer to the actual holiday her anticipation builds so much that she is usually begging, "Can't we open just one package?"

The first happiness trigger discussed in Valorie Burton's book is anticipation.

As I read that first chapter I felt like someone had been gazing into my inner being. Valorie discussed how important it is to have events that you look forward to. Well, I haven't had a lot of anticipation lately. I have been too busy just mulling through my daily routines: get up, shower, fix my lunch, take a few minutes to read the morning devotional, then head off to school. Instead of anticipation, I find myself dreading a lot of things: meetings, paperwork, work duties, house cleaning, even cooking supper at night. I spend a great deal of my time just checking things off from my mental to-do list.

It wasn't always like this. I can remember in early marriage I would wait in the living room, anticipating my husband's arrival at home so he could tell me about his day and I could share my own happenings with him. I remember the smile on my face as my young children came bounding into the room, waving a paper that had been returned that day in school. I anticipated their joyful stories, their proud faces, and even the time spent sitting beside them, head to head, assisting with their homework.

Somewhere along the way, I became too settled.... too familiar with the same old day to day routines. The joy that anticipation should have brought was replaced with a need to just get through things, finishing them up, and putting them behind me.

I think back to Joshua, in the Bible. Before he and the Israelites crossed the river Jordan he told them in Joshua 3:5:

 “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

I think of the anticipation for that event- what joy the people must have felt! Surely there were murmurings of "Whatever will happen?" and "I can't wait to see what God will do." Their joy must have been even greater as the ark was carried into the waters the next day and the waters simply stopped flowing, allowing the priests to carry the ark through on dry ground.

I think again of Joshua, when later they marched around the city of Jericho for six days and then, on the seventh day the walls crumbled. Joshua had spoken with the Lord and had been told that....

 On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

I can only imagine what Joshua felt as he headed out that seventh day. He had faith in the Lord; he knew the victory was coming. Surely anticipation was pumping through his veins, along with his blood.

What can I do then, to reclaim that joy of anticipation for myself?

According to Valorie's book I need to start with the simple things, those little things that I can look forward to at the end of the day or the week. I can remember when a nice long bubble bath was my anticipated end of the work week, perhaps I need to allow myself that time and pleasure again. 

She also mentioned counting down to those milestone anticipated events. For me, that surely means the end of the school year, as well as my retirement in a few years. I think I have been doing those things, but I have not allowed myself to focus on the bright spots related to those. I have been counting down to the end-of-year testing rather than my last day of work for the year and I have been focused on the fact that there will be no more paperwork when I eventually retire. Instead, I think I need to begin focusing on what fun things I will have time to do. 

I think of that coffee commercial showing retired people enjoying a cup of coffee on their first day of actual retirement-- Perhaps I need to picture myself doing something like that. I need to allow that anticipation to build within me, bringing me happiness as I wait for the day.

Lastly I think I need to begin to build some anticipation for what God has planned for me. Yes, God still has plans for a 50 year old woman who is nearing retirement! I need to be in prayer that he would show me those plans and I need to allow the anticipation and joy to build and grow within me as I wait. 

Are you like me? Have you allowed yourself to fall into a rut of the regular, old, run-of-the-mill? Do you need to build anticipation so that you, too, can rediscover the happiness that it brings? If so, I would love to hear from you. (I forgot to mention that Valorie also mentioned that we NEED to talk about the things that we anticipate. That helps us to not only share our joy, but focus upon it. Won't you share your joy with me?)What little pleasures bring you joy? How do you plan to focus on that joy? Leave a comment and share. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy Women Live Better

Hallelujah! Winter is over!...... At least it is according to the calendar. I know that the weatherman has already uttered the dreaded 4 letter "s" word in the forecast for next week, but I am choosing to stay positive. The calendar says spring, so I am embracing it.

All of the cold temperatures, snow, ice, and our visitor "The Polar Vortex" have all combined to put me in a fairly decent sized winter funk. I decided that the beginning of the new season would be the perfect time to pick up a book from my bookshelf and jump into a new study.

In December I made a list for my sweet hubby of the new books that I had been hearing discussed online and requested one or two of them as part of my Christmas gift. Always going overboard, he had purchased all 4 that were on the list. Among them was THIS book by Valorie Burton.

I think it will be the PERFECT thing to "defunk" me.

I would love for you to join me. Each week I will read about one of the "triggers" and post my reflections on it. (There are 13 Triggers.) You can purchase a copy of the book, if you like, or you can just read my blog entries and join in on discussion by leaving comments.

The book focuses on two things really: determining what things trigger your own personal happiness and finding out which triggers you can use to help you be MORE happy.

The first step in the whole process is to take an online quiz to determine what triggers most affect your happiness. You can find the quiz at this website:

According to the quiz, my "personal triggers" are connection, service, and gratitude. These are the triggers that I most often use to create my own happiness and the ones that come easiest for me.

My "power triggers" were winning words, smiles, and relaxation. These are the triggers that I need to make a greater effort to activate and use.

I would love for you to take the quiz and join in this discussion about women and happiness. Take the quiz and post a comment telling me what your triggers are. Maybe we can all get happy together!