Budget Accounting Day

As is our newfound, month-end habit, Kathy and I braced ourselves for Budget Accounting Day (BAD).

“What do you think, shall we Do The Budget tonight?” Kathy asked, hoping I’d say “No”. (Doing the Budget is nothing like Doing the Hustle.)

Sadly, I recently reorganized my sock drawer, and my hard drive doesn’t need de-fragmenting. “I suppose we should … ?” I sighed mournfully.

Gone is our eagerness to see how much progress we made in reducing our debt. Gone is the novelty of gaining mastery over our expenditures. Both of us suspected that this was not a good month — we’ve been careless and inattentive, and our spending reflects this lack of discipline. Even worse, there wasn’t any extra income to save our bacon — this month would have to stand on its own.

Defend the budget to the death!

The budget must survive – we’ll fight to the bitter end.

I pulled up our debit card records while Kathy scrounged for receipts, and the litany began: “SOMEBODY went to Wal-Mart on the 12th and spent $60.28,” I recited in a sing-song voice, raising my eyebrows and looking at Kathy in what I hoped was a significant and portentous way.

“Yep, I’ve got it. That was split between Households and Groceries.” Kathy often feels defensive about how the money is spent, probably because of the accusatory way I read off the transactions.

This month there were a couple of debits that we couldn’t explain. “C’mon,” I insisted. “The receipt has to be somewhere. Try to remember — $35.08 at Target on the 15th … ?” I tried to restrain myself from self-righteousness, but failed. “Don’t you usually put receipts in that little blue coupon wallet,” I prompted, in a patronizing tone.

She still couldn’t find it. Then a flood of embarrassed realization swept over me: the 15th was the day before Kathy’s birthday. I had shopped that evening at Target with the kids, foraging for last-minute gifts. I couldn’t remember where I put the receipt.

“Um, OK, that was already recorded under Mystery Gifts in Tim’s Unaccountable,” I muttered, shamefaced. Kathy sweetly refrained from rubbing it in, and we moved on.

I love birthday presents!

Silly Daddy, how could you forget?

When the dust settled, we were over-budget in Groceries (no shock there, with a week at Camp behind us), Medical Expenses (Rachel’s contact lenses) and Clothing. As is our practice, we paid the overage even-Steven from the money in our individual accounts (we each get a small amount per month in ‘unaccountable’ money).

“Arrrrgghhh!” remarked my wife. “I’m nearly broke!”

“Me too,” I agreed, sadly. “We really need to watch our spending more closely, so this doesn’t happen again.” Suddenly that last $25 I spent at Costco on milk, eggs and fruit seemed much more painful, now that we were paying for it out of our treasured personal money.

To add insult to injury, this month we made only modest progress on our debt-reduction. Earlier months saw double-digit percentage reductions, but this month we were only able to pay off 4%, dropping from 51% to 47% of total debt remaining. It is enough to make a novice budgeter discouraged. At this rate, it would take us another year of penny-pinching to pay off our debt!

It's my money!  No, it's mine!

Whoever wins the tug-of-war gets the extra budget money!

As I write this, I am convicted of my ungratefulness, faith-lessness, and foolish bad attitude. What do I possibly have to complain about? We were able to live within our means, and to reduce our debt by 4% — how generously God continues to provide for us! We’ve been able to save some toward our roof that still hasn’t failed, and our aging cars keep starting. August looks to be a good month, with an extra paycheck and potentially lower expenses than usual.

I think I’m a lot like the Israelites, after they left Egypt and were wandering in the desert. Even though God provided food and water for them on a regular basis, it seems they had a very short memory, and were willing to complain and doubt His providence for their needs at the drop of a hat.

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah (meaning testing) and Meribah (meaning quarreling) because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” — Exodus 17:1-7

Debt Thermometer
47% of our debt remains, as of August first.

So let me re-gird my faith and praise our Lord and God for His graciousness in helping us to make progress in reducing our debt, even when we don’t pay strict attention to the principles that He has helped us to discover.

After all, I need to face this fact: if I plan to honor God with my finances, I’ll be subject to some kind of a budget for the rest of my life. I’m just not the kind of person who can ‘wing it’, and I doubt I’ll ever have enough money to enjoy that luxury. So this is a discipline that needs to take root in my heart, not just a quick-fix band-aid that I slap on my life.

Brothers to the end

Hopefully the children will learn from our budgeting struggles and victories.

Hooray for God, who gives us the strength we need to do hard things!

Tim :)

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Ultimate Banana Muffins

Now you all know I love muffins. I love the variety, the ease with which they can be made and the way they’re like a cookie, only healthy. At least that’s what I tell myself when I whip up a double batch and share them with the kiddies.

Of course, my Master Monster Muffin Mix is wonderful and definitely worth copying, printing, and maybe even laminating, but for plain ‘ole banana muffins, this is the absolute best recipe.

david loves him some muffins

“I’ll take two, Ma’am.”

When Tim and I were newlyweds (cue nostalgic music and dreamy fog) one of my college roommates gave me a muffin cookbook. It was a simple paperback with spiral bound edges. Nothing fancy, no illustrated photos or quaint anecdotes, just page after page of delicious muffin recipes.

I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the cookbook and it’s long been lost to the hazards of moves. I may have presented it (in all it’s well used and loved glory) to another newlywed. I did, however, have the foresight to jot down the banana recipe on a card and file it away.

Miss Painted Face herself

Every great chef has a cowboy hat.

Today I will share this recipe with you.

Banana Muffins

Preheat oven 375

3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg

1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup melted butter

Mix bananas, sugar and egg in one bowl – the dry ingredients in another. Combine the two bowls and add the melted butter. Substitute up to half applesauce for the butter, if desired. Fill muffin cups (makes approximately 12) and bake 20 minutes.

Picture this, Mom!

Mystery Photographer

There you have it – delicious, easy muffins. I have used up to half whole wheat pastry flour without any complaints from my greedy, I mean hungry, family members. They freeze beautifully are a welcome snack at almost any time.

Kathy

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I think I’m losing my touch. A week away at camp and I only took 500 or so pictures. Gasp! I’m so embarrassed. And among those photos there are only so many that are truly blog worthy. So not only are there only a handful of stellar pictures, but there are some serious gaps. For example, I spent time with several of my dear friends. Did I take a single picture of them? No. Did I hand my camera to one of the many budding photographers milling about and make sure they take a shot of me with these friends? No. Pathetic.

I went walking three nights with a friend. Is there a picture of the trail we took? Nope.
Our next door neighbor brought over a delicious dinner one night. Photo proof? Nada.
Sleepovers for Rachel and Daniel. Nothing.
A late night CIT (Counselors in Training) camp out. Don’t even think about it.

Goodness. This doesn’t look good. Well, what all did we do this week? Let’s see if I can’t round up a few pictures to document our time away.

Avery, Sarah and Ava

All of the children managed to spend quite a bit of time with their friends. Sarah is especially spoiled to have some special girlfriends out at the Duckabush. Since camp is within walking distance of our place we managed to sneak friends home with us several days during the week.

spotted owl

There were many exotic animals at camp this year. Frankly, you just never know what creatures are going to show up to surprise the kids. On Thursday we had a long, and very informative, visit with a rather large spotted owl.

games galore

Of course, it wouldn’t be camp week if we didn’t play games. We brought an entire laundry basket full of games with us. Talk about over-packing, we didn’t play a half of them. It is good to be prepared, though, as you never know when someone might stop by for a game.

buford is scary

Speaking of wild animals, Buford the Bear made an appearance at camp this week. It’s always good to see him, but some people are intimidated by his size and good looks.

tired campers

The camp week ended with a CIT sleepover. Although I didn’t get any pictures during the actual overnight, I did manage to snag a few shots on their return. Basic requirements for the night include: sleeping bag, pillow, goofy spirit and low need for sleep. Check, check and double check.

There’s always time for sleep later, right.

There you have it, a very small representation of our wonderful week away. I’m trying not to panic as the summer screams along at a dizzying pace. Repeat after me, “Summer is NOT over! It is NOT time for school (yet).”

Kathy

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tn_bookworm_header

Knighthood

Every now and then I am a little embarrassed at how I spend my time.

I’m a busy guy, most days. When I’m not working for my employer, or parenting, or involved in things with church, I sometimes work on side projects, most of them on a volunteer basis. Every now and then I take on some extra work that brings in additional cash, but even then it is hard to find the time, and projects languish.

Yet somehow I always seem to find time to play computer games. Lately, I’ve been playing Bookworm, a Boggle-like computer game that I bought for Kathy more than two years ago. Kathy (or maybe one of the kids) recently re-discovered it, and we’ve all been playing (even David and Sarah offer helpful suggestions). It is a very fun, and addictive single-player game. Significantly, we’ve not been requiring Computer Game Chips for this particular game, since it is, er, ‘educational’ in nature.

Bookworm Game
It is a very affirming game, announcing ‘Excellent!’ or ‘Astonishing!’ when you find a high-scoring word.

When I say it is a “single-player” game, I’m not being entirely accurate — Kathy and I have become the tiniest bit competitive as we vie for the highest score or level, or the longest word. “Hey, look at this!” Kathy chortles. “I’ve got ‘BLUDGEON’ — what a great word!” Joshua and Rachel rush over and nod approvingly.

“Hmmph,” I snort, miffed that the kids cheer Kathy. “That’s really not much better than my ‘ABANDON’. What’s one little letter, between family members?” Daniel smirks at my pathetic attempt to upstage Kathy’s word. “Fantastic!” the game crows, as she completes the word.

Not one to tolerate a slight, I switch gears to the other new game I’ve been playing: Knighthood. An application that runs within Facebook, it is a somewhat silly game in which you begin life as a Squire and work your way up the feudal ladder by constructing fortifications, recruiting vassals, and attacking your neighbors. I’m still in the ‘building’ stage, fearing to make the transition to ‘War Mode’, but I’ve happily recruited nearly all my ‘friends’ from Facebook to play. (Yep, all three of them.)

Some of them sidle up to Kathy at church. “I got this weird message from Tim — apparently I’m some sort of a … vassal?”

Kathy rolls her eyes, martyr to geekdom that she is. “Yes, he’s all in a tizzy about it. His cousin Kevin introduced him to the game, and it’s been nothing but ‘Knighthood this’ and ‘Knighthood that’, ever since. Just humor him, add the application, and he’ll be happy. I’d draw the line if he starts calling you a ‘varlet’ or a ‘wench’, though.”

Knighthood Logo
The Knighthood Logo

If my unsuspecting recruits accept my invitation, and add the Knighthood application to their profile, they become Knights (or Ladies) and are worth twice as much to me as when they were lowly Squires (or Handmaidens). Otherwise, after 14 days of servitude, they leave my court, and I have to recruit ‘em all over again. Presumably, if I keep bombarding all my ‘friends’ with Knighthood invitations, they’ll either add it to their profile or put me on permanent ‘ignore’.

Baron Tim
Wouldn’t you want to be a vassal to this Baron?

I’m currently a Baron, and serve as liege to seven or eight Knights and Ladies and a whole passel of Squires and Handmaidens. I’ve got to stay ahead of ‘em in rank, or they can win their freedom (and I’ll have no one to work in my castle buildings). It is a strange game, entirely virtual, played against strangers, yet (at least in ‘Peace Mode’) rather passive.

Two potential vassals
There’s nothing passive about these two potential vassals.

Days can go by with nothing really happening in your kingdom, if you’re in the middle of a large building or upgrading project. And yet the game has a certain charm. Many of us, who grew up reading stories of the middle ages, yearn for a time of Chivalry, Honor and Glory. Here in the game of Knighthood, I can arm my vassals with pikes and axes and make sure they all pray in church (to maximize their zeal). Once ready, I can raid the virtual castle of some poor, unsuspecting guy in Bangladesh, winning fame, gold, glory and (if I’m lucky) taking some captives. (Hmmm. Maybe I need to revisit that whole ‘Chivalry’ thing.)

Pemberly
My castle still needs some work, even if (in honor of Mr. Darcy) I named it “Pemberly”.

I’ll keep you posted if I ever go to war … I know several of you are on the edges of your seats. Drop me a line if you want to become my vassal. :)

Tim

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Home Again

It’s always hard to pack up and leave for a vacation, there are so many details to remember and things to do, but it’s almost equally as difficult returning home.

first day of camp

Joshua, Stuart, Tim, Bethany and cousin, Timothy, set off the first morning of camp.

walking off to camp

  • The children are grumpy as they come down off their camp/friends/sleepovers adrenaline rush.
  • The parents are tired and worn out from all the busy activities of the vacation.
  • There are suitcases to pack, but they’re usually filled with dirty clothes, well worn and dirtied.
  • All the cleaning and tidying up means saying goodbye. There is none of the excitement of heading off on a fun adventure.

sarah and david

This was Sarah’s first year as a camper. Such excitement! :)

All of that said, there’s something deliciously sweet about coming home, the familiar comforts (like high speed internet and a comfy computer chair) awaiting you. The answering machine has friendly messages (like requests for Sunday nursery duty) on it. The mailbox is full of credit card ads and grocery fliers.

Gilligan's Island

Gilligan’s Island was one of the themes this year. Don’t they make a believable bunch castaways.

And, depending on the work you did before you left, your bedroom is either a complete mess or a welcoming haven.

Thankfully we have a big family, full of capable workers. Joshua brought three friends from our homeschool co-op with him to camp this year. They served as CIT’s with him (Counselors In Training). With our five, plus the extra three around, we had 8 children available to clean, tidy and vacuum. Many hands make light work indeed.

it's the Band!

Several of the counselors play instruments. They had their own band this year and played several times for us.

Now feeding them all (three of whom are boys) is another story. That takes work!

We had a fabulous time and, after cleaning up the house, managed to get on home. Tim kept the boys and did the final work. It was an exhausting, satisfying, and thoroughly delightful week.

Kathy

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