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Mike and I are getting ready to review our 2008 goals and set new ones for 2009. We realized that our system in 2008 wasn’t ideal because we only followed our progress on a few of our goals, so we’re revamping our strategy this year.

To begin with, we’ve been talking about our goal-setting plan for a week already. I love thinking through stuff like this with Mike – we each have different ways of looking at things that augment one another and make each of us better. I’ve learned this: if something you’re currently trying to do isn’t working, do it differently.

At Catalyst 2008, Andy Stanley asked pastors to think about an outside consultant coming into their churches. What would that consultant tell you to stop doing? What would he question? What are you doing that, to an outsider, doesn’t make any sense?

We’ve decided that we aren’t going to set goals for all of 2009 in January. We’re setting one round now, but we’re going to set goals for the summer in May, then we’ll set fall goals sometime in early September. Consistently, our year looks completely different in the fall than it looked in January, so it just makes sense to set new goals then rather than decreeing in January what I’m going to do in November.

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Watch this if you’re a GT fan or you’re a UGA fan and can take a joke.

I’ll save you the suspense:

Home.

No matter where I am, I eventually want to go home. I crave home. It’s where I’m most comfortable. It truly is, and please pardon the cliche, where my heart is. The thought of it can sometimes take me to tears. It is deeply, deeply good. front-door

It’s an ethereal thing, home. On one level, it’s wherever Mike is. But then, after about eight days in Italy, even having him with me, I was ready to come home. It’s not just my house, though. Right now, I’m about five hours beyond leaving my parents’ house, which I also consider home. On the comfortableness scale, my own house and that of my parents rate equally. Carroll County is home to me in a way that I’m not sure anywhere else will ever be.

Like all things that are deeply good, the root of this lies in my eternal home. I think of my grandmother, who spent the last part of her life in a nursing home telling my mom that she wanted to go “home.” Knowing she couldn’t live by herself anymore, mom realized she wanted to go where my grandfather was – home – Heaven. That’s the heart of home.

This family was on the Today Show last week and, while I admire their frugality, I was left wondering why their story is news. The big gig idebtfreefamilys that they have five kids and no debt and live debt free on very little. It’s impressive that they live on $44K each year, but I feel like most of us could if we really tried. When you work hard to find good deals – I mean really, really, really good deals – you can get a lot of stuff for very little money.

  • For a very close friend or family member: Buy a blank journal with 25-30 pages at a craft store, along with some fun pens and scrapbooking stickers. On each page, write abougiftt a memory you have with the person you’re making the book for. Decorate with doodles, stickers, or photos if you have them. Estimated cost: $10-12
  • For your mom or dad: Find old photos of yourself and your siblings and put them in a collage frame with a large white mat (these are always on sale at discount stores). On the mat, write a favorite Bible verse, a poem, or a quote about family or home. Estimated cost: $15-20
  • For your spouse: Plan a close-to-home weekend trip doing something your spouse loves like hiking, camping, playing a sport, visiting historic sites, or touring a free museum or art gallery. Atlanta has a great website for searching for free and cheap events; look for a similar site in your city. Estimated cost: $20-30
  • For anyone: Buy a set of white canvas place mats and fabric paint and create custom table linens. You don’t even have to be artistic – find an image or design you like and trace it onto the place mat, or paint basic stripes or circles, or print the person’s name or monogram. Estimated cost: $10-15

I have the two most precious girls alive as nieces. I adore them and would do just about anything to please them, so you’ll understand if I’m tempted to buy every piece of Disney princess paraphernalia in existence to gift-wrap for them on Christmas. toomanypresents

The problem, however, is that they have parents, two sets of grandparents, and great-grandparents. And we all want to make them happy. So when we all buy three or four gifts for each girl, they end up with no less than fifteen gifts each. Thirty total.

Thirty Christmas presents.

I’m not sure I’ve gotten thirty Christmas presents in the past five years. What’s more, it often takes them several days to open all their gifts.

So, as much as it pains us to do so, Mike and I limit ourselves to buying them one gift each. Once we have kids, we’re thinking of imposing a limit on the number of gifts each of our parents contributes, so as to combat the excess that marks Christmas for us rich Americans.

I’ll let you know how that turns out …

I’m not afraid to admit it – I kind of like being a cheapskate.

I have a relatively small budget for buying Christmas presents for this guy (at least, compared to what I see some other people spending at Christmas), so it’s vitally important to me that I get the maximum amount of gifts with the money I have to spend. And you know what? It actually makes gift giving more fun to me when I research and plan and compare prices via an intricate system of spreadsheets.

If I put this kind of effort into maximizing all the rest of the money I spent, I’d be in Italy right now.cinqueterre

I felt like I beat the system at the grocery store the other day. I went to buy ice cream (yum … ice cream) and saw that Breyers was on sale, two for $5. Score! That’s a huge discount on some tasty, tasty cream. But, in a icecreamdouble-take kind of moment, I noticed that the Breyers packages were noticeably smaller than the Publix brand packages. Upon further examination, Breyers sells ice cream in 1.5 quart cartons, while Publix offers a 2 quarts, which translates to one-third more ice cream. Doing some quick math (meaning I grabbed my cell phone and pulled up the calculator), I realized the Publix ice cream was cheaper per ounce than the on-sale Breyers.

That’s how they get you at the grocery store.

By screaming about sales, the stores take your mind off the fact that another brand might be cheaper. Or it might give you more for your money.

Don’t fall for it when a product is advertised, for instance, as “3 for the price of 2!” In most cases, that just means that the product is on sale for one-third off the regular price. You don’t actually have to buy 3. Buy only one and save even more.

If you’ve read this week’s posts wondering, “Do Beth and Mike have something they need to tell me?”, the answer is no. I’ve just been on a parenting kick this week after finding out about the existence of a baby spa near my house. A baby spa. Like where three-year-olds get pedicures. A baby spa. Good gravy.

These are all names of actual ancestors, either mine or Mike‘s.

  • Lunie – pronounced “looney”
  • Estelle – I wouldn’t be able to get past the image of Sophia from The Golden Girls
  • Cicero – as much as I love Italy …
  • Azarah – was that Gargamel’s cat on The Smurfs?
  • Gertrude – that one might be a little close to home, but can you imagine calling a two-year-old Gertie?

One thing I love most about Mike is his hands. They’re big. We can’t hold hands while interlocking fingers because it makes my hands hurt after a few minutes. They’re strong. I never have and never will win a tickle fight. They’re also covered with tons of little scars.

After we had dated for several months, I asked him about that. What’s with all the scars? His response: I was a good kid. He didn’t mean he ate all his peas and said yes ma’am and went to youth group every week. He meant he was good at being a kid.

He played. He ran. He fell down. He got cut and scratched and scraped. His mom didn’t keep him inside, safe on the couch, reading a book. His dad didn’t tell him he couldn’t play baseball because he might mess up his shoulder.

I dig that. I want to raise kids who are good at being kids.