Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Toddler Art: Seashore Inspired Paintings

Last weekend, Zoom, Sean and I headed up to The Sea Ranch. It's on the north coast of California. It's one of my favorite places, ever. For this project we used white paper, finger paint, and some shells, wood, and other beach finds to make patterns.

The Coast

We went to the beach, and Zoom looked for art supplies. It was very serious business.

Looking for art supplies

He found a bunch of great beachy things to use!


And when we got back to our beach house, he got right to work with the paint.
Toddler Sea Art

After a flurry of painting, Zoom made two pieces to give to his Grandparents as a thank you for letting us stay with them.

sea inspired art 2

sea inspired art

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happiness Project: Finance Month: Little Splurges

Today I met up with my friend Summer, and we went to lunch. It was really nice catching up with her; we are both project managers and have worked in advertising together, as well as at different agencies. She's a good friend, and the kind of friend who is honest, funny, and always a great sounding board.

After lunch we went window shopping and stopped in a cute boutique called Francesca's Collections. We saw a ton of adorable stuff, but I knew I needed to be careful with my cash. So, I bought this little bling-covered key chain. At $8 it was reasonably priced, and each time I look at it, I find that it reminds me to treat myself to little treasures, make time for good friends, and see the beauty in everything. Not bad for $8.

How was your weekend?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finance Month: How to Save Money by Cutting Grocery Costs

As part of the Happiness Project, I decided to tackle our finances this month. As you may know, we are also faced with being a one income family as of a couple of weeks ago. So, we've been looking like crazy people for ways to save moolah. This week we looked at ways to save money by cutting our grocery bill.

One thing I discovered in going over our expenses of the past few months is that our grocery bill seems to be quite high. Admittedly, by buying much of our food at Target (along with other stuff, of course), it was hard to tease out what money went to food and what went to other things. But, drum roll please, it seemed that we were spending about $480 on groceries a month.

I started doing some research on how to save money on our groceries, and discovered a site that does $50 a week food menus. It's called Grocery Budget 101. Their basic premise is that by buying what's on sale, and what is seasonally available, you can likely get your weekly groceries down to $50 a week for a family of four. I read it over and picked a weekly menu, and looked over the ingredients for each item.

Then I went to our Safeway ad, and wrote out what I needed to buy, keeping an eye on prices. I wrote out a shopping list. I also opened up my coupons and double checked to see if I had any coupons that matched what I needed and put those in a little ziploc bag.

grocery and list

Tonight we went shopping. The site says Saturday night is not the best night to go, but it's the time we had. We left having spent $75 on our weekly bill. We saved over $30 by shopping the sale items, and $2.45 by using coupons. I feel like this was a great first try. If we are able to keep to about $75 a week, we will save $180 a month on groceries, or $2160 a year!!

What have you been doing to save money?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Live by Grace, a Quote from Brennan Manning

Live by grace

"To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God's grace means." - Brennan Manning

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday Kid's Crafts Linky Party #2: Crafts for Kids and by Kids

Last week was the first Kid's Crafts Linky Party here at Welcoming Spirit. We had some super duper crafts and here are three of the stand outs :)

The most clicked craft was the dollhouse posted by "Caught My Fancy." I'm blown away by the fact that this adorable dollhouse started as an entertainment center. Please check out "Caught My Fancy" for all the awesome photos!

I personally fell in love with the photos on Topsy Turvy's Crochet Newborn Hats. These little hats are so delightful, and the baby in the pictures has stolen my heart.

And, for a Kid's Craft Award ... Two Sasters wins for their Fish Sun catcher. This is a great craft for little ones, and is so precious. Be sure and check out their post for the details :)

If you were featured, please grab your button! And thank you to everyone for your entries!!


Now for this week's linky party :)

A few rules for the linky party:
1. Link to your specific post, not the main page of your blog.
2. Grab the party button and post it on your blog or post so other people know about the party.

3. Please become a follower of Welcoming Spirit :) when you join the party.
4. Please do not add links that promote other giveaways, link parties or online shops.

The link party will start at 12:01am Thursday and end on Wednesday at 11:59pm (Pacific Time). By entering your link, you are giving me permission to use any part of your post including pictures in a spotlight on Welcoming Spirit. (I can't wait to highlight your work and give you credit and links back :)! )

It's that time of the week again to link up! What have you all been working on this week?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Lenten Study Circle: Wilderness, and My Journey Therein

My friend Kathleen and I have just started a Lenten Study Circle on Facebook. We were room mates at Yale. We have been friends now for a long time. I have to say,  I'm super excited about this group, the format, the wow! 46 people we have signed up.

We're starting our first week with a welcome, and with a discussion of "Wilderness." I love the topic of wilderness, and it often comes up in retreat work. I find that people often like to talk about times of hardship, loneliness, of trials as time in the wilderness. There's a solace in the fact that we all go through these hard times, lonely times, that we all are faced with tough issues.

Sunny spot
"Sunny Spot" by Garry on Flickr - a bit of Wilderness
Right now, Sean and I are trying to figure out how to make ends meet. He lost his job last week. We are trying to hold tight to faith that we will be alright, that we will make it to the better times, that we will hold on to love as tight as we can and that it will carry us through to the "other side," to a land of "milk and honey." Each step is one towards that goal, to a promised land. And yet, each step for now is still in this desert, and there is the sense that we just left the proverbial Egypt and have a long haul ahead of us.

I get the feeling that maybe this week, I understand a little better how the Israelites and Jesus felt as they began their time in Ha Midbar (the wilderness). Thrown there, possibly without planning for their time, without the appropriate provisions or road map. A project manager such as I dislikes this feeling immensely. I want to KNOW where we are headed, what the tasks and "deliverables" we need to work on. And yet these things are hidden from view.

The stories of wilderness in the Bible also show that there is a patience required when one is on the journey. Yes, we may be "out here" awhile. There is likely a lesson to learn, either planned or that will make itself known once we have lived off of manna long enough and are ready to move along. This theme of lessons and patience (in both Old and New Testaments) is not lost on me.

I'll lean in to faith and keep hanging on in to Lent.

Linking up to:

Monday, February 20, 2012

And...We Are Now a One Income Family

Sean lost his job. This news came on Thursday, unexpectedly, devastatingly, on Thursday. Things have been tight with both of us working. Ends won't quite meet with one salary.

We already knew our monthly finances, since I'd designated this month to be "Finance Month" in the Happiness Project. I had dug in to our water and electric bills, begun turning off the heat when no one is home. We'd already concocted a plan to do just four loads of laundry a week, and running the dishwasher every two or three days. These were small ways to save.

Instead of launching in to panic mode, we are marching towards a plan. This is something we are doing together, instead of letting it tear us apart. We've already calmly discussed groceries, shopping the other things we can do to make a difference.

It's just crazy that this has occurred during a month that I had decided I would focus on Finances. Just as we'd started making strides, we have to change our direction. Needless to say, we will be looking at some big changes. I'm relieved in some ways that we'd already started the hard work, the conversations about what we spend and why, before the stress of NEEDING to talk about these things was so very real.

Cute wallet via Tip Junkie :)

The sappy side of me got sucked in to Taylor Swift's "Love Song" tonight... as it's raining and we played cards with my parents and our baby slept soundly, safely, warm in the other room. We'll be fine. And this all feels so very, very real.

This love is difficult but it's real.
Don't be afraid, we'll make it out of this mess.
It's a love story, baby, just say, "Yes".

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday Kid's Crafts Linky Party! A New Feature and a Give Away

Now that little Zoom is a bit older, we're doing more crafts. I'm addicted to paper crafts, and to photography. I love to sew. And I LOVE checking out art projects that other bloggers post because I get inspired by all of new craft ideas to try out.

Soooo, I'm excited to announce that on Tuesdays I'll be hosting a "Kid's Crafts Linky Party!" This is our first week, and if you're new to Linky Parties, here's how it works :)

Golf Ball 5

Below you will see a "Linky Tool," which lets you post the URL (direct link) to a kid's craft that you (with your child) or your child has done. You can link to your blog, or your Flickr stream, or wherever you've posted photos of the finished craft :)

You'll want to enter your site name and project description to the "name" space on the form.

A few rules for the linky party:
1. Link to your specific post, not the main page of your blog.
2. Grab the party button and post it on your blog or post so other people know about the party.

3. Please become a follower of Welcoming Spirit :) when you join the party.
4. Please do not add links that promote other giveaways, link parties or online shops.

The link party will start at 12:01am Thursday and end on Tuesday at 11:59pm (Pacific Time). By entering your link, you are giving me permission to use any part of your post including pictures in a spotlight on Welcoming Spirit. (I can't wait to highlight your work and give you credit and links back :)! )

And here's the BEST part about this first linky party ... I'm also hosting a give away!! :)  One winner will receive a coupon for a FREE Shutterfly calendar*, good through 12/31/12. 

Here are the rules for the give away. I will pick one winner using random.org. The give away will be open from noon on 2/16/12 to 11:59pm on Tuesday, 2/21/12. You can get an entry by doing each of the following things and posting a comment below - for a total of 4 points + the number of crafts you link to:
1. Participate in the linky party. Each linked craft will get you a single entry!
2. Comment below. One comment per person counts for an entry.
3. Follow Welcoming Spirit on Facebook (please comment and tell me you are following me!)
4. Tweet about this Linky Party on Twitter and post your @twitter below.
5. Blog about the Linky Party and post a link to your blog post below.

This give away is now closed. A winner will be announced soon :)

*The coupon is directly from Shutterfly, and you will need to use the code on that card to order your calendar. There is no "cash" value to this prize.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happiness Project: Reflecting on Energy Month

In looking back over January, my pursuit of working on "Energy" taught me some interesting things. Part of my objective was to find ways to make the most of the time I have each day. And, to find ways to feel more peaceful and rested.

A big "a ha!" moment for me came in the realization that the more I scheduled things, created order around our days, got groceries for the week ahead, and finished laundry, well the more time I seemed to have for other things. When we weren't constantly in "reaction mode" (ie "we don't have any food in the house so what are we going to run out and get tonight?"), things were easier. We actually sat down and had dinner together because we could make it quickly. There was no mad dash to find clothes in the morning because all of my clothes were clean, and put out for the next day, setting a peaceful tone for the day.

I'm going to admit that it used to be a regular occurrence for Sean to forget to tell me his work schedule, and then spring on me that he needed for me to drop off Zoom at day care at midnight the day before. This left me no time to move meetings or send emails, or do anything, to prepare for being in a little later the next day. But when we moved to having a Sunday night discussion about the upcoming week, these last minute "emergencies" all but disappeared. We used to have to remind ourselves that we did a Sunday check in for the week ahead, but now it just happens.

And, once things got scheduled, and we found a little bit more order, it simply became easier to say "yes" to having to do emergency type things when they came up. And, when I'm better rested (from having gone to bed by about 11pm each night, and from getting a new bed! it's amazing!), it also became easier to have meaningful conversations, instead of being tired and cranky.

Energy also let me look at a couple of places to optimize. My commute takes a lot of time (26 miles, but it averages an hour, sometimes 90 minutes.) One way I've found to have patience around the drive is to use "Waze" which is a social GPS app. I can see how long the commute will take, and it offers alternate routes if my usual way appears to take too long. I like that I get points for reporting incidents (stalled cars, traffic slow downs, etc.) For some reason, the commute is more bearable now that it's kind of a game ... how quickly can I get there? How many points can I get? (All while being a very careful driver :) )

I really like what these basic changes have made in our lives. Things feel more peaceful. I feel like there is "me time" in my days. I like that having more Energy makes me feel that I'm more connected with Sean and Zoom. And that's what's important.

Happiness Party
More Energized after January? Check. Me at the company party in January.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Toddler Art: Valentine's Day Cards

This page has been moved to my new website. You can find it by clicking here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Zoom Friday: A Photo Book for a Toddler

Over Christmas, I made calendars as gifts for some of the grandparents and family. Zoom loved looking at the pictures, and would pull the copy we kept for ourselves out all the time. He would point to family, and I'd tell him who each person was.

The calendar was a bit hard for him to hold and look through, so I decided to make him a little photo book. I waited until Shutterfly sent me one of their discounts for a book, and set to work making a bright, fun, retro style book for him.

Zoom likes to peek under the stairs, and I used one of those photos for the cover:

Book cover

He loves looking at his grandparents, so we put together pages for both sets. Here are my parents, who we call Nola and DuWa:

Grandparents page

Last summer we went to the Oakland Zoo with Zoom's cousins, Ralphie and Arabella. Here they are on the carousel, along with my sister and her husband. On the left page are some photos of Zoom at the beach from last fall:

cousins page

At our Christmas cookie decorating party, we had a whole pack of little ones at our house. These are the children of my closest friends, and it was sheer joy getting them all together in one spot. We also included photos from Zoom's birthday weekend, when the grandparents (minus one grandpa) were all in town:

Now that Zoom has his own book, he likes to bring it over, and sit in my lap while we talk about his friends and family. I love those little moments with him!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sunset on the Way Home

A couple of photos from my drive home. I was stuck in traffic, but the sunset and hills gave me plenty to look at and enjoy. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Living Up to The Spirit in Me

This is my commitment.
from workisnotajob on Flickr
Over the past two days, I've been thinking a lot about my "work." Not really so much my day to day job, but my life's work. I've got to admit that when I have time, a moment here or there, my mind always drifts off to the Spiritual, the religious, the other worldly. I can't help it, this is how I'm wired. I have this deep sense that somehow, someday, I am very much supposed to do more with this "calling" than I do now.

I don't know what that path looks like. My journey has included studying religion, but now, well, I think I want to LIVE that. And I get to, some days, some times, when I lead retreats. I get to lose myself in that world, in that thinking. Seriously, I can lose hours as I study, research, brainstorm, for retreats.

The irony of this is not lost on me. At each retreat, I tell people to follow their passion, their dreams, to look for ways to make the things they love the thing the do with their days. But now I'm finding that I need to do that, too.

How do you live up to the Spirit in YOU?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Puccini's Last Opera and 'Rent': A Testament to Hope and Friendship

At my most recent visit with Father Rusty, we were speaking about the inter-connectedness of all of humanity. About how all things come full circle, how many times the unexpected makes people see things with new eyes. And, how we all have friends in this life who are so integral and intertwined in our own lives that it's hard to tell where one of us ends and the other begins.

Father Rusty told me a story about Giacomo Puccini, the famous Italian composer who wrote "La Boheme," and "Madame Butterfly." Both of those operas inspired two of this generation's (OK, so I'm obsessed with both, having seen them both many times!) favorite musicals, "Rent, " and "Miss Saigon," respectively. I was riveted as Father Rusty told me about the story of Turandot, Puccini's last opera.

Puccini had been a chain smoker of cigars, and in 1923 developed throat cancer. He went for a highly experimental radiation therapy in Brussels, and died in 1924 after from complications in the therapy, suffering a fatal heart attack.

Turandot was left unfinished when Puccini died. He'd left several sketches depicting the last two scenes, and these were left to his friends and colleagues to study and review. His friend Franco Alfano finished the opera with the help of transcripts and sketches.

Miraculously, Turandot debuted in April of 1926. Conductor Arturo Toscianni led the performance that night and they performed Turandot up to the point where Puccini had passed away. And then the orchestra stopped, with Toscianni saying simply, "Here the Maestro laid down his pen. But his friends finished his work."

Amongst thunderous applause, the opera was finished, playing the final two scenes that had been written by Puccini's friends.

Wow, just wow. For some reason, this tribute, this finale, this amazing work ... well, it seems so inline with the message of "Rent." We do our best work here in the time we have, and it is our friends, our love, our story that continues on. Wow.
photo by Anette Johnson, www.ajworld.blogg.no

Isn't this true and representative of how real love works? We put our hearts in to something, it becomes our true passion, and yet without the support, the love, the understanding of others, it's hard to realize our full potential. Operas could go unfinished, our own stories cut short even while living, without a friend to bolster us, to carry us on, to help us spread our wings and finish what we've started.

Even facing a terrible disease, Pucinni kept writing, kept working. I think of  the similarities of the life stories of Pucinni and Jonathan Larson (the writer of Rent, who died the night before Rent was first performed on Broadway) and get the goose-bumps. Neither knew of the extent of their disease. Pucinni's son was aware his cancer was fatal, Larson did not know he was ill. Both musicals were performed with the blessing of friends and family, to the amazement, the delight, of others after the original artist had passed on.

Rent was performed for the first time on Broadway, the day after Larson's death, with his parents in the audience, with the cast first doing the show in a subdued manner, without costumes. They sang at prop tables until they reached "La Vie Boheme." Unable to contain their energy for the song, the cast got up during that song and acted out the rest of the musical.

Again, the goosebumps. With a whole community behind them, the message of these two artists continues. They both truly lived out their "One Song, one last refrain," and left a lasting gift of inspiration for all to cherish.

No day but today,

Friday, February 3, 2012

Happiness Project: Some Thoughts on Energy

January's Happiness Project topic around these parts was "Energy." About a month ago, I announced that I'd be tackling this list of items ... so how did I do?

Sleep, and getting a new bed - check! We got our new bed set up last night and it's like a little bit of heaven. I felt a little lift of happiness when Sean texted me this photo just moments ago; not only do we have a brand new bed but the old mattress, box spring, and frame was carted away by someone who needed a bed for her new apartment! Thanks for the years of good sleep!

Bye bye bed

Eating Right - check! mostly, at least. This month I tackled the weight gain I'd had over the holidays, and now I'm back at my 12/15 weight, so I lost a couple of pounds. Here's the graph from Weight Watchers showing my overall progress :) I started back on September 15, 2011:


Exercising - well, no. I mean, I run around after Zoom, but I did not add exercise to my routine. I will try to bring my walking to shoes to work sometime soon.

Speaking my mind - check! I may need to be more direct in some scenarios, and be clear about boundaries. I think "communication" is something that is a life long topic to tackle.

Lists - check! I set up a family list over at Cozi and I love that it tracks things I need to do, and it also provides a family calendar so we can do a Sunday night check-in each week. This has helped us a lot.

Decluttering - check! I have 3 big bags of items that need to go to Goodwill. Fingers crossed I can do that drop off this weekend. And! The old bed is gone. I was worried it would linger around the house and garage for weeks. I'm also committed to continuing to declutter throughout the month of February since it's Flylady's habit of the month :)

Tackling tasks that have been dragging on far too long - check! I went to the dermatologist yesterday. I moved one of my 401(k) accounts last week, I sent off some baby gifts to a friend and ordered a gift for another friend, I've got a hair cut scheduled for next week. There are still some other items to do, but I admittedly feel good about making a dent in the overall list.

Scheduling a vacation - check! we are going to be going to Kauai, and we have the accomodations and air fare all arranged. I need to get us a rental car.

I'm pretty pleased with of the things I completed in January. I can't wait to dig in to the finances in February!

Next week I'm planning on doing a recap of what I learned during Energy month. Definitely some good lessons learned in my search to find ways to feel more energized.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happiness Project: February Topic! Finances

Welcome to February, friends!

I'd been mulling over what my "Happiness Project" topic would be for February. I'm going to admit, I was completely set on "Body" until about two days ago. With taxes coming due, and with the constant money discussions at our house, I changed my mind. Finances are top of mind for me ("top of mind," is that an ad agency term? Does anyone use that phrase in real life?).

I'm going to admit up front that my finance situation would probably be considered pretty good. I have no debt, other than the car I bought two years ago. I made the decision to take on a loan at that time because 1) the rates were so low that it made sense (we locked in at .5%) and 2) we had a baby on the way and I had a hunch that we'd want to keep some of our money available for unexpected costs. It was the right decision, for sure, as that year alone we paid (are you sitting down?!?) $14,000 in health-related expenses AND we had decent health insurance.

For the month, I have a few upfront goals:
- move my multiple 401(k) rollovers to a single location. finally.
- check out the investment options for the 401(k) accounts  and make a decision already
- look at our spending and try to identify if we can save in a couple of key areas. Right now I know our water bill and electric bill seem really high.
- assess the feasibility of .... buying a house this year. whoa. (Um, and how uncanny is it that a friend sent me a recommendation for a good realtor AS I am writing this post? synchronicity, people!)
- do more research on coupons. Is there a way to make couponing work without having to buy a ton of stuff or buy stuff I don't usually use?

I'm also really hoping to learn more, share more, and get a better sense of how I spend and why I spend.

Will you come along for the ride? What tasks are you going to tackle this month to help straighten out your finances? Big virtual high fives for turning your attention to a few financial issues with me!