Spend Less. Save More. Pay It Forward.

Finance Book

I meant to post this on Thursday – here it is, better late than never!

This is the introduction to the last of four main focuses for this blog for 2015. I will also blog about other things, but I’m making these a priority in hopes of typing out the words for a few more books to publish in the coming years.

So let’s get started on this journey to debt-free living, working with a budget (or not!), planning for the future, and helping others with your resources.

Opening Thoughts…

How do your finances look these days? Have you taken a look at them recently? Or do you avoid that task at all costs? Literally, this could be costing you piles of money if you don’t know what’s coming in and going out of the bank account. And not just “now” piles of money, you could be cashing out on “later” piles of money too. Then there’s the dollars and cents with potential to make a difference in other’s lives – a little really does go a long way in many communities around the world.

Our Story

Josh and I started out our married life at 25 years old with much love in our hearts and little money in the bank accounts. He was a youth pastor, I was a volunteer with my sister’s new clothing business. He made $28,000 per year, I made $0. We paid for our wedding ourselves. We bought a used car.

One year into our marriage we wondered why we never seemed to get ahead of the bills. I had taken on part-time work, and we had cut back drastically on our expenses. Our financial advisor friend asked us to collect all the information for our loans and credit cards, and bring them with us for an appointment with him. After rounding up all the numbers, we watched the smoke clear on $22,000 in student loans between the two of us, $10,000 in credit card debt, and $6,500 in a car loan. That’s right – a grand total of $38,500! Wow, we had some changes to make!

We consolidated all our bills into one place, and set our sights on a debt-free life. We had many “conversations” about how to spend our money, and we found some common ground in learning to spend less. But we were 26 and we didn’t plan too far into the future. We were a couple who enjoyed living in the moments, and we found ourselves pregnant with Baby #1 less than two years after we were married. As parenthood drew nearer we made many more changes – we began to think about saving more and opened up a small RRSP account, we started to look for our first home, and we found a new job for Josh since I would be home with the baby very soon. We even had $5,000 in the savings account, and the debts were decreasing in wonderful ways.

The new job in the new city was not what we had hoped, but parenthood brought us more joy than we could imagine. Who needed to spend money on anything? We had this beautiful baby boy to fill our days with new life, constant entertainment, and fresh purpose. Houses were much more expensive in our new neighbourhood, so we continued to rent an apartment for the time being. We took another step into saving more for the future and opened an RESP for our first child. Then Baby #2 appeared on the pregnancy test, and more changes soon followed.

The next year of our lives was less than stellar (to put it mildly) in just about all areas – including finances. Baby #2 was stillborn at almost 37 weeks (read about that in my 1st book Discovering Hope), our savings were depleted from living in a more expensive city, Josh was let go from his new job due to budget constraints, and after many interviews both near and far there was no new job on the horizon. But we still had each other and Baby #1. And our debts had continued to decrease to $22,500 – down $16,000 in just over 2 years!

At the close of 2003, four years after we were married, we felt like we were starting fresh. We found a new city to live in, followed by a new job, and a few months later we purchased our first home. A better-suited job for Josh, once again a pastor in the church,  soon followed and Baby #3 was on the way as well. Things were definitely looking up!

From a financial point of view, debts were even higher than before from the years of loss and unemployment. And we needed a newer vehicle, so we took out a car loan again (the biggest one we’ve ever carried!). We were now at $40,000 in loans and credit, with another $70,000 in mortgage/closing costs/RRSP withdrawal for down payment. The good news was we were on the right track – we bought the most run-down house on a very nice street for $67,000. We knew we could fix it up when time and money allowed. And it was a duplex, so we lived mortgage-free for the first four years of home ownership!

We still live in that house, we spent 3 years and $80,000 tearing it apart and putting it back together into a single-family dwelling, and we are raising two wonderful boys. I have worked off and on through the years, but mostly stayed home with the children and volunteered with our church and the public school my boys attend. We have always aimed to live on one income, and consider anything else as “gravy”. I have gone on to finally finish my undergraduate degree, and Josh has completed a graduate degree. We have been able to take our boys on a couple of bigger vacations to Disney and an all-inclusive to Dominican Republic. Most of the time we hang out with family or go camping during our time off work.

An opportunity came our way a couple of years ago to become landlords once again, and we use that income for the extras like home repair and used vehicles when necessary. We are also able to give away a good sum every year to those who need it most around the world. And my love for writing has grown and developed into self-publishing and freelance work.

Our net worth has grown in amazing ways during the past decade, and we have been able to put away education savings for both our boys. This should give them a head start at a life that is debt-free. We have taught them what we know about personal finance and they seem to grasp the basics very well.

I can’t believe all the amazing things we’ve learned about finances during our 15 years of marriage. It has been an often-uphill battle, but we just keep fighting the good fight. Our focus is constantly on debt-free living and maintaining a simple life. Our strategies always include spending less, saving more, and paying it forward. This blog series is about sharing those strategies with you, in hopes we can come alongside you in your own financial journey. We hope to offer a hand up with useful information, ideas, and resources for you and your family.

Let’s make some sense of your cents, and put a perspective on your dollars for the present and for the future.

We’re excited to join with you on this journey!

Faith in the Family

faith family

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were younger?  I remember one of the things I wanted to be most was a teacher.  I dreamed of standing in front of a group of children and helping them learn all the basics of education.

A little while ago I realized I am living out my dream. Even though I don’t get a teacher’s salary or stand in front of a classroom full of children every weekday, I am still living out my dream of being a teacher.  The four walls of my home are my classroom, the two young faces most dear to my heart are the students that look to me for direction and wisdom.  My teaching aids are my Bible, my life and my heart.  My curriculum consists of the most ancient words on earth and how to live out those words in our lives today.

Teachers rarely just “wing it”. They learn the material before they teach it to their students.  And so I must make sure I am learning my material well, developing the faith in my own life that I hope to pass along to my sons.  I must plan and prepare for my role.  I must find resources and ideas and have a vision for what I want to teach my children.  I must gather around me others who are filling the same role, so we can support each other in that role.  And I must take my guidance from God, let Him help me with issues that may arise, trust Him to carry me through whatever comes.

I send my sons to school to learn the basics of education – math, English, science, art, music, geography, history, etc.  They will go to school 30 hours a week, for about 40 weeks a year, for at least 14 years of their lives – that’s almost 17,000 hours of school before they graduate high school.  They should be able to learn all the basics they need to know in that time frame.

But what about the most important lessons?  The ones that teach them about God’s love for them, about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, about the hope and wonder and freedom that comes from following Christ?  If I left it up to the Sunday school teachers and youth pastors at church, they would have about one hour a week, about 50 weeks a year, for about 15 years (let’s say ages 3-18) – that’s only about 750 hours.

Another thing is – I don’t want to miss all the fun! And what about those precious moments when kids share their perceptions of faith, and God, and how to relate it to the world around them? The conversations that arise from just chatting about faith with kids can range from hilarious to enlightening to refreshing to REALLY deep. Kids are GREAT at teaching adults about God! Jesus said it Himself – “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14. They seem to grasp so easily these great truths of the faith. It is amazing.

I have read over and over in books and magazines and articles and studies that parents are the greatest influencers in a child’s life.  Good and bad, Josh and I are shaping our sons into the men they will become.  This really scares me most of the time – the responsibility of it all – but instead of hiding under the covers and leaving all the shaping for someone else to do, I am peering out of my safe cocoon of procrastination and low confidence, and I’m realizing that God made me the mother of these boys – ME!  And that is one job I am so thankful for, it is the best job I could ever hope for, it is my best dream come true.

And with that job comes another dream come true – I get to be a teacher.  Through the years of raising my boys, I have slowly but surely become more excited about my role in sharing faith with them, and growing and learning with them.  All of us becoming more of who we were meant to be with each Bible story, each conversation about God, each fun activity that teaches a truth, each task we take on to bless another.

I always feel like I am only just beginning on this journey of teaching my boys about the One who loves them more than I ever could.  I think it’s because every time I learn something new about God, that one thing shows me ten more things, and I realize there will never be enough time in this life to learn all there is to learn.  So I will take what I can, show the boys what I can, never stop learning, never stop growing, and look forward to the day when I will see God face to face.

Watching all the Veggie Tales videos wasn’t enough, reading all the stories in the Toddler Bible wasn’t enough, taking them to church on Sundays isn’t enough – it’s not that I’m being self-defeating – quite the opposite – what I’m realizing is that it will never be the end.  I will never get to a place where I think, There, I’ve taught them all they need to know about God, the Bible, Jesus and the basics of christian living.  I will never get to that place because it doesn’t exist.  Neither can I sit back in my own life and think, I’ve finally arrived.  I finally know all I need to know about my faith.  Now I can move on to something else…

More and more I come back to a place of anticipation, of excitement, of pure joy at the thought of the very special role I have in my son’s lives to teach them about God.  I feel this growing sense of euphoria because it means something wonderful for my own life – it means I must learn and grow too.  Teach them what I’ve already learned – yes – but also teach them what I’m learning today, tomorrow, five years from now.  My faith will increase as I strive to show them how their faith can increase.  It is inevitable and it is awesome.

So I sit and type and put all these thoughts together into one most magnificent realization – that I do get to be a teacher after all, and I can teach about the best thing in life – my Saviour.  And I can teach it to the students who hold the dearest place in my heart – my two sons.

This blog series will encourage anyone who is discipling their kids in the christian faith – I’ll share the basics of discipling kids (based on Deuteronomy 6:5-9), the milestones of growing in faith, and ideas for making it practical in your family.

Let’s pray together before we start this journey, shall we?

Lord, please help the teachers in us to teach only what you want us to teach, when you want us to teach it.  Show us how to go about this wonderfully huge and important role you’ve given us of discipling our children.  Let our kids learn from us and grow with us as we always seek to know You more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Finding Contentment…

dandelion seeds

Another topic I’ll be blogging on quite a bit in the coming months is Contentment – how to find it while living in a world of plenty and a culture of more. Here’s the opening thoughts…

Contentment is a battle for me. Sometimes a daily battle. I have to choose to see the good in my life every day. Not because my life is void of good things or reasons to be content. Quite the contrary! It is possibly so full of good that it constantly feels too good to be true.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not wealthy by any North American standards. We are a one-income family raising two boys in Northern Ontario. My husband is a minister, and I am a writer. We have a couple of side jobs that bring in extra money as well.

We have a used car. Retirement savings were not on our radar much until we recently hit our 40th birthdays. Our boys have pretty good education savings and we hope they will start their adult lives debt-free. We vacation by spending time with family or using Aeroplan miles for free flights. We also love to go camping or help out at children’s summer camps. A friend offers us their cottage for free once a year as well.

There are no expensive habits or hobbies in our lives. Our boys play on local sports teams and spend lots of time at the outdoor skating rinks, skate parks, and public beaches in our area.

That’s our financial situation in a nutshell. Josh and I were able to pay for undergraduate degrees for both of us and a graduate degree for Josh. We carry car loans below 1% financing for no more than one year. Our boys have been on two big trips – Disney and an all-inclusive resort in Dominican Republic.

The average middle-class dream, right? Except there was always the nagging sense that I was missing something. Something big, important, crucial even. It was that first mission trip in April 2011, that first visit to the back village in Dominican Republic – that’s when I found what I was looking for. I wouldn’t recognize it for quite a while still, but eventually it would spill over into every part of my life – it was contentment.

It looked nothing like what my culture had told me it would look like. Two cars, two kids, two houses (a city house and a cottage), two jobs, 3 meals, annual vacations, retirement and education savings, nice clothes, even health and education were not on the “real” list of requirements for contentment.

I found contentment in a face I’ll never forget. She was a mother of seven, she had very few teeth, her clothes were torn and hanging loosely on her bone-thin frame. It was the sparkle in her eye that drew me to her as she welcomed me into her one-room cement home. Two dusty, dilapidated couches sat in the room, along with an old table and chairs. There was a curtain hanging in the corner to block off the sleeping area, and tattered posters lined the walls. There was no electricity or plumbing, and no windows in the house. Yet the smile on her face made me feel so welcome and at home. I could have stayed a long while with her in that place. She was happy, and her happiness shook my world to the core right then and there. I have never been the same since.

Contentment continues to look much different in my life than what would be considered “normal” for a North American woman. I feel it most when I share freely of my time, energy, and resources. Or when I educate other on the issues of global poverty and encourage them to make a difference. I especially love to equip the next generation to shape the world a little different as they grow. They are the future and they hold the hope of change. Contentment is with me as I care for a sick child of mine, or donate to the local food bank, or become more aware of the poverty issues in my region, or step into a stranger’s home in Dominican Republic.

The act of reaching out beyond my own life, of caring for my neighbours near and far – this is contentment for me. I figure the only way to be truly happy in all the often-unappreciated blessings of my life is to share them with those who lack them. I am blessed so that I can bless others. It’s simple, really. I am free to enjoy all the gifts I’ve been given – freedom, health, education, a family of my own, warm housing, clothes, nutritious food, clean water, and so much more. But I can only be truly content with them if I steer away from consumerism and materialism, and share the excess with others.

It’s the giving away of more that feels the best, not the taking in of more. Our culture would tell us the opposite. I have come to embrace a counter-cultural mindset, though it still, always, a daily choice to see the good. The good of living in a world of plenty is recognizing the plenty for what it truly is, knowing its purpose in my life…

I can give freely because I have been given freely.

This blog series will take you on a journey with me – from discontentment to contentment, from holding on tightly to giving away freely, from a culture of “more is happiness” to a counter-culture of “less is more”.

Blessings on the journey!

What IS a Simple Life?

simple life

When you read the words “Simple Life” what comes to mind? Do you picture the pioneer life – a cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity? Sparse furniture made from surrounding trees? Eating foraged berries and mushrooms, or vegetables from your cultivated garden, or meat you hunted and cleaned yourself?

Maybe simple means easier to you. Do you picture a contemporary, minimalistic home decorated in white and black with splashes of colour here and there? Electronic gadgets scattered around that bring ease of life? Possibly no car, no mortgage, no clutter of “stuff” to maintain?

A simple life could be one that is intentionally free of busyness, excess, stress… free of MORE. It could mean LESS worry, exhaustion, and sickness in your days. Doesn’t that sound nice?

I’ve been on a journey to simple for the last few years. I’ve read piles of books and followed scads of blogs and chatted with many people about the elusive idea of “simple”.

Getting to simple means getting to the basics of life – all areas of life. It’s not so much what you remove from your life. What’s important is what you add, or what you keep in your life.

There is some soul-searching to do, as well as a revisiting of the fundamentals. There are questions to ask yourself, most likely some twists and turns on the road ahead of you, and inevitably some obstacles to overcome.

Simplification may be a leisurely saunter for you that takes years to achieve, or you may grasp tightly to it and run like crazy with it. You may find yourself paring back a little too far, and needing to add a few things back into your life to get the balance that fits for you. No two journeys will be the same and comparison will get us nowhere. Simplicity is a very personal choice.

Every year, as January 1st approaches, I choose a word to focus on for the year. I pray about it first and reflect on what God might be leading me to focus on. What Bible verses seem to pop up repeatedly? What songs am I drawn to currently? What word or theme seems to resonate deeply with me just now? I ponder on these things and choose.

For 2015 my word was Simple. Funny thing was I had wanted that word for 2014, but felt a different focus was required first. So for 2014 my word was Change. And not just change, but Crazy Change. My life had been spiraling and crazy kinds of changes were needed to find my balance.

So I set to work, decluttering my life and my surroundings of all excess, hoping to get to the good stuff. I asked myself what was needed for a healthy life, family, and faith. What made me tick? What gifts and abilities did I have? Where did I find my purpose and my passion? There was much to sort through, and much change (of the crazy kind) required to get to simple.

One of the hardest lessons was learning that most of the change would come from me – from within. After setting out trying to change everyone and everything around me in my quest for simplicity, I realized this was only bringing about more discontentment and judgement on my part. This led to strained relationships, more stress, and more exhaustion. I didn’t want MORE of those things in my life, I wanted LESS of those!

And so more change was needed in my outlook and my focus. It is not always easy to take a good look at yourself, but it is absolutely worth it. Especially if it’s done through the looking glass of the grace and love of God.

Keep your gaze fixed on the positive things about yourself, while you work on the not-so-great issues that will crop up. Find the people in your life that will love you for who you are and encourage you on your journey to a simple life.

This blog series will help you take at least a few steps on your journey to a simple life. These may be your first steps or you may have already walked this road for a while. We’ll look at adding MORE of the positive, basic ingredients of a simple life, which will result in LESS of the negative clutter lying around.

Food and drink is our first focus, since this provides the fuel for the journey. Then we’ll look at Overall Health (sleep, exercise, relaxation, and purpose). And we’ll wrap up this Year of Simple with a vision for how you want to use your time and resources.

Blessings on the journey (and lots more to come)…

March Break Insomnia Has Its Perks

full moon

While we were away over March Break, my old friend Middle Insomnia paid me a visit quite a few nights. I’m learning to see the potential in these middle-of-the-night awakenings.

Like I’m learning to listen in those quiet hours of wakefulness. The world is asleep, and sometimes it is much easier to hear what God is trying to say to me, rather than during the busy hours of my days.

Last week I went old-school and grabbed my journal and a pen (instead of a laptop), and sat near the huge bay window of our friend’s cottage, under the glow of the moose lamp, and enjoyed the rare treat of watching deer eat the feed Elijah had strewn ALL OVER the ground outside in hopes of welcoming friendly forest visitors. His efforts really paid off!

And I’d sit and listen, and write, and go back to sleep after a couple of hours. It was magical. It was inspiring. It was encouraging.

I have a focus for this blog for the next little while.

There are a few areas of life I’d love to explore much more deeply, and share what’s been on my heart,  and compile and create and gain your feedback. Most likely a few more books will be written during the coming months of blogging.

I hope to focus on the areas of Simplicity, Household Finance, Faith at Home, and Helping Others. Quite a broad spectrum, isn’t it? But these are my heartbeats, they have been for a while, and I’d love to write much more about them in the coming months.

Follow along with me, won’t you? A different focus every day of the week? Skip over the ones you might not be particularly interested in? And watch as we write a few more books together? Let this blog be my accountability to see it through?

Two hours of focused writing a day should do it.

I’m very excited to share more with you – you are welcome to leave a comment and grant me some feedback anytime!

More to come soon…

Helping Others – Those Who Are Thirsty

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink – Matthew 25:35

Today is World Water Day! 4000 children die every day from lack of clean water. Just $34 (U.S.) gives one person clean water. Track your donation and receive updates about the specific project you support.

This would be great to do in a family or group.

Donate at https://thewaterproject.org/give-water.

Here is a video explaining the sustainable development of The Water Project.

One Big Shop Instead Of Many Smaller Shops

I’ve been leaning towards One Big Monthly Shop instead of many smaller shops. I really believe that if I cut down on the amount of visits to the stores each week, I will also cut down on the spending. AND if I only look at the flyers once a month, I think this will help curb the appetite to grab ALL the deals ALL the time.

Just because there are so many deals out there every week, does that mean I have cash in on all of them? I think not. I can run our household for quite some time on the stock-up deals I’ve gotten this past year for cleaning products, garbage/compost bags, dishwasher tabs, laundry detergent, facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and MORE!

So I can let go and stop the madness of trying to keep up with all the deals out there. And look forward to my monthly shopping trips where I can let loose with couponing, price matching, earning rewards points, and getting rock-bottom deals from reading through the flyers.

This makes me happy, and satisfies my frugal side quite nicely.

So here’s a snapshot of our most recent One-Big-Shop-For-The-Month trip.

This took about 1 hour of reading through the flyers and looking up coupon deals. Then another couple of hours at the stores (we went to Superstore, Food Basics, Shoppers Drug Mart, and a quick stop at Metro). And another 1/2 hour of unloading and putting purchases away at home.

We saved $146.15 & earned $5 in rewards points.

Not bad for less than four hours of work! That’s about $38/hour!

The Shopping Trip

Let’s break it down, shall we?

  • Raspberries 2.25 (saved 0.$75)
  • Frozen Fruit 3×2.99=8.97 (saved 2 each=$6)
  • Orange Juice 3×1.99=5.97 (saved 2 each=$6)
  • Cans Juice for Lunchbox 4 packs of 12×4.50 each=18 (saved 2 each=$8 & earned 0.80 PC rewards points)
  • Chocolate Bars 2 packs of 4=6.97 (saved $3.20 & earned 0.30 PC rewards points)
  • Case of 12 Coke=3.50 (Price Match saved $2.50)
  • Lactose-Free Cheese 5.98
  • Cheese 3×4.48=13.20 (saved $7.50)
  • Frozen Juice x2=2.17 (earned 0.20 PC rewards points)
  • Ice Cream 2×3.99=7.98 (saved $5)
  • Frozen Pizza 2×3.33=6.66 (saved $3.20)
  • Avacado 6 pack 2.50 (Price Match saved $2.50)
  • Grape Tomatoes 1.50 (saved $1.50 & earned 0.20 PC rewards points)
  • Romaine Hearts 2.98 (Price Match saved $2 & earned 0.60 PC rewards points)
  • Bacon 4×3.98=15.92 (saved $12)
  • Breakfast Sausages 2×4.99=9.98
  • Chicken Breast, Skinless, Bone-In 13.11 (saved $13 *1/2 price*)
  • Loaf of Bread x 2=4.66 (saved $1)
  • Natural Meat Slices 4×4.77=19.08 (saved $4 & got free movie rental)
  • Crazy Glue 4.99
  • Tea 2×2=4 (saved $4)
  • Chicken Wings 10
  • Carrots 2 lb 0.99 (saved $1)
  • Apples – Bag 3.99
  • Bananas 1.80
  • Broccoli 2×1.98 (saved $2)
  • Tomato 0.44
  • Milk 4 litre 3.97
  • Chocolate Milk 1 litre 8×0.99=7.9 (saved $2.40)
  • Yogurt Tubes 2×1.99=3.98 (saved $1.60)
  • Yogurt Tubes 2×1.49=2.98 (saved $2 with coupon)
  • Margarine 907g 2×3.98=7.96 (saved $3)
  • English Muffins 2×0.99=1.98 (saved $2)
  • All-Purpose Flour 20kg 12.99 (saved $19)
  • Whole Wheat Flour 10kg 7.50 (saved $8.50)
  • Hummus 2x565g 6.99
  • Organic Nacho Chips 5.79 for HUGE bag (saved at least $6)
  • Icing Sugar 1kg 1.59 (saved $1)
  • Brown Sugar 2kg 2.59 (saved $2.50)
  • Canola Oil 5 litre 6.39 (saved $3.50)
  • Fair-Trade Chocolate Chips 2 kg 11.99 (saved at least $2)
  • Eggs 2×1.49=3.98 (saved $2.60 with coupon)
  • Canned Soup 0.49 (saved $0.90 with coupon)
  • Toothpaste 1.99 (saved $0.50)
  • Q-Tips 2.99 (saved $3.50 with coupon)
  • Milk 3.97

——————————————————————————————

Spent So Far $276.56

Saved So Far $146.15

$ Earned in Rewards Points $5.10

Coupons Used $3

+ 1 Free Movie Rental from the Meat Slices

It Can Be So Easy To Help People

I was at the library with Elijah the other day. I had just picked him up from school, his brother had basketball practice, so it was just the two of us on the drive home today.

We headed over to the local library I frequent at least once a week to pick up free goodies in the form of books to read or movies to watch. Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE the library? I love the sight of shelves of books, I love the book displays, and I also love the smell the books… but that’s another post for another day…

After picking up our books and videos from the library clerks who have come to know us by name, we head back out into the freezing winter air. Our car was in sight, just a few more steps to at least a little more warmth!

I notice an elderly man with a  cane, chatting with someone outside the car parked next to mine. The car leaves, but the man is still there, looking slightly confused.

Hhmm, I wonder what that’s about?

I go to duck into my car, and I hear a voice.

“Excuse me!”

It’s the elderly man I just mentioned.

“Can you please give me a ride to the bus stop?”

Pause… mind racing… let a stranger in the car with me and my 9-year-old son?… well, he looks extremely harmless… I could put him in the front and Elijah in the back… it’s only a 2-minute drive to the bus stop downtown… it’s so cold outside…

“Sure!” I come around the other side of the car and help him in. He looks as surprised as I feel. He mumbles something about getting old and doing foolish things. I ask him if he missed the bus, or was lost. He says he just got confused and needs to get back to the bus station.

We drive and chat about the weather. We ponder on the ways the town is changing.  We arrive quickly at the bus station, but he asks me to drop him off across the street at the mall instead.

I stop on the busiest street imaginable, receive a honk from a frustrated tailgater, let out the man I just met 5 minutes ago, say a prayer for his safety, and drive on, back to “normal” life.

Sometimes it’s so easy to help people. They are literally right in your path, every day, asking for help in many different ways.

Do I always hear them? No.

Do I always want to help? No.

For me, it seems easier to help others half way around the globe than in my own neighbourhood.

But I am learning. There are so many to help. With as little as a ride to the bus station and 5 minutes of my time.

I was really blessed by the man with the cane outside the library.

Be on the lookout for unexpected blessings in your life today.

35 Ideas For Free Family Fun During March Break

My family is looking forward to having some fun next week during March Break 2015!

We have enjoyed many years of making memories with the boys during this school vacation.

This break is scheduled every year as winter is making its exit and spring is making its entrance.

Some years it is more spring than winter, or vice versa.

Here are some great ideas for free family fun (in no particular order) – grab hold of a few and enjoy!

  1. Visit your local library and bring home some books, movies, and magazines
  2. Spend time curled up with a good book and your family members
  3. Check with your local library to see if they have any special programs for March Break
  4. Movie marathons (Star Wars, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Madagascar – anything with 3 or more titles in the series – there are so many available for all ages!)
  5. Sit by the fire (or the fireplace channel, or this Youtube fireplace) and listen to the crackling wood – talk about your favourite memories by the campfire to remind you summer is coming!
  6. Bake treats or bread together (share with a neighbour or friend!)
  7. Ask everyone to share their current favourite song (and dance to the music!)
  8. Indoor Nerf gun or squishy ball or scrunched-up paper war
  9. Build a fort with blankets, fabric, pillows, chairs and couches (then read a book or have a snack in them!)
  10. Indoor picnic
  11. Puzzles
  12. Board Games
  13. Card Games
  14. Tell each other jokes
  15. Make a movie together – could be serious or silly
  16. Watch home movies
  17. Browse through photo albums
  18. Make a snowman
  19. Have a snowball fight
  20. Make tracks in the snow and ask family members to guess which animal belongs to the tracks
  21. Explore your neighbourhood – walk down a new street or path and see what you find!
  22. Check out the community calendar for your town or city – maybe you can find some free swim or skate time in your area
  23. Check out the What’s Happening page section in your local newspaper
  24. Bird watching
  25. Put on your rubber boots and splash in the puddles if the snow is melting
  26. No snow? The grassy ground may be wet, but the paved ground may be dry – check out the local basketball courts or skate parks
  27. Clean out the clutter from closets, basements, storage places, bedrooms – list items on Kijiji or donate them
  28. Try a new breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipe
  29. Tackle one household project together
  30. Watch the sunset
  31. Make paper airplanes
  32. Write an email or letter to relatives
  33. Volunteer together
  34. Plan your family summer vacation!
  35. Just… enjoy… the… moments… together