Overwhelmed, but it’s OK- I have pickles!

Goodness, I've been terrible at keeping up with this thing. For some reason, last week was incredibly tough- I have been scheduled to come into work an hour earlier than usual because our busy season is starting, and while it means more money in the bank, it cuts into my productive time that I spend working on my business. Add to that the fact that I am finally starting to feel pregnant- lower back aches, pinched sciatic nerve, and a full-blown belly that gets in the way of everything- and I come home from a measly five hour shift feeling quite exhausted. It's a double-edged sword, and I don't mean to complain. I'm thankful to have a job working with good people, but I can't help but be nervous that the clock is ticking LIKE MAD and I can't give 100% to getting No Strings up and running as quickly as possible, and that's the one thing that I will be doing to earn income once Elska (that's her nickname!) arrives. Working outside the home is not part of our plan. And it's getting harder and harder to be on my feet all day the more pregnant I become, but we need my paycheck.

More than that, I need clients! Send 'em my way, people. I can't wait to help small businesses get ahead in this tough economy.

I'm happy to say that I have generated some interest, and I'm doing some work for a friend that will help me nail down certain processes complete with constructive criticism. I am so excited to actually start working with paying clients and building a name for myself, so for now I'm working on marketing and networking- a full-time job all on its own. I have a lot of support and great ideas from friends and family that I'm sure will help me along the way.

But enough about No Strings. This is a mom blog, after all!

I am five days away from the start of my third trimester, and I cannot tell you how shocked I am at how quickly time has flown. We have been in consistent adjustment, covering all the bases including fear, elation, joy, amazement, and just feeling plain overwhelmed by all we have ahead of us. At the very end of September, there was a morning when I had the epiphany that, HOLD ON A SECOND, let me do some math, (October 10 through November 10) + (November 10 through December 10) + (December 10 through January 10) = THREE MONTHS UNTIL OUR DAUGHTER IS BORN. I then woke up Cody (it was before 6:00 a.m.), shared my startling revelation, and launched into full-blown panic mode complete with the urgent desire to jump out of bed and immediately start organizing EVERYTHING in our house, starting with the nursery-to-be. I suddenly realized that I have done very little to prepare for this huge change, and who on earth expects that she will just "wing it" when handed a newborn who is completely dependent on her? Yikes. Definitely have my work cut out for me.

In a nutshell, it's been hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed these days. I suppose last week was particularly hard because I was consistently robbed of precious time I needed by all these things that were totally out of my control- time I must devote to not only preparing for baby, but starting a business too. I don't like feeling like I'm spinning in a tornado, grasping on to anything I could that I would be able to cross off my to-do list. I'm sure that this isn't necessarily going to get better once I have a newborn in the house. Therefore, I can't help but wonder if I'm being groomed for this next stage of life by the presence of the unexpected. How I handle it now will prepare me for the juggling act I have ahead of me. I'm not gonna let it get me down!

For now, here are a couple of updated pictures:

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Hugs for Elska! 27 weeks!

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Yes, I am eating out of a jar of pickles. Yes, I know how cliche that is. They were my Amma's famous bread and butter pickles, made from Cody's grandma's cucumbers from her garden. Simply heavenly! You'd eat 'em by the jar too.

Belly update: My belly makes funny shapes, like triangles and squares, when Elska stretches out and punches her dad in the hand when he antagonizes her. Haha. I actually love that she responds to him- he's just going to an amazing dad. She's really quite active- especially right before bed and right before I wake up. She isn't big enough now (about 2 pounds and 15 inches long) for her movements to keep me up or wake me out of my slumber, so for now I'm just enjoying the sensation of feeling her moving around in there. That will be the biggest thing I will miss about being pregnant- it's just amazing to me. I also figured out that this rhythmic "tapping" sensation I get every once in a while must be her hiccuping- it's SO cute! I've felt it many times before but never made the connection, because it's a different type of movement than her usual kicks and somersaults. But I love it. I love her. She's just the sweetest thing ever.

My business venture.

I have been working tirelessly since last night to get a virtual assistant business up and running. Being less than four months away from the arrival of Baby Girl, I have determined that I absolutely MUST make this thing happen so I can get used to working from home as opposed to babying a business AND a newborn.

So far, I have loosely built a Web site (using Typepad– I love this blogging host with an everlasting love), set up an account with an awesome invoicing/time tracking/expense tracking company called Freshbooks (they offer their most basic service- which is still very extensive- for free!), written copy, established a Gmail e-mail and Twitter account, ensured the domain name availability, compiled a profile on 48days.net, and researched monthly expenses such as Internet access, a landline, and a P.O. Box.

Whew.

There is still so much to get done, but I have never been more determined in my life. I HAVE to make this work. I HAVE to market my services. I HAVE to supplement our income using the gifts I have been given and capitalizing on the experience I have built over the years. Right now, it's nearly 11:00 p.m., and both Cody and I are working furiously on our computers to get things up and running. I feel like I could keep going all night- I am THAT motivated- but I need some rest if I'm going to be productive tomorrow.

My first order of business is obtaining a copy of The 2-Second Commute: Join the Exploding Ranks of Freelance Virtual Assistants
and using that as my guide from start to finish. I read nearly the whole thing when I visited the bookstore on Tuesday and it covers everything from filing for a business name, to taxes, to legal forms, to agreements, and everything else in between. I am so glad there is a resource out there that walks newbies like me through the process without skipping the vitals.

So wish me luck! My baby girl deserves the best example we can provide for her. This is just a small step in that direction, but one I am excited to take.

p.s. If you want to critique the rough draft of my Web page, shoot me an e-mail at NoStringsVS@gmail.com and I'll send you the link. It needs some work (key word: ROUGH), but I'm happy to share with a willing set of eyes!

Much-needed creative inspiration.

I spent a lot of time researching ideas, recipes, and work opportunities over the past few days, and part of me gets a little overwhelmed by all the goals and projects I want to tackle with Baby Girl on the way. I spent all of last week getting distracted by various things instead of baking the zucchini bread I kept saying I would make, and finally I got around to it last night. We're talking like a week of procrastinating here, people. I'm kind of tired of living life that way- flying by the seat of my pants, somewhat organized but mostly not, with a hodgepodge of ideas and no concrete plan to implement them into anything tangible. What I am lacking is a plan. So here are a few of my findings to jump-start things:

Other than my desire for very pale pink walls, I haven't gotten very far with a nursery design. I'm the type of person who needs to see something concrete in order for the random ideas that are floating around in my head to take any sort of shape. On my blogging jaunts today, I stumbled across Project Nursery, a site FULL of design ideas, inspiration boards, real nursery designs, and DIY projects. LOVE IT. It's just what I needed to start really planning Baby Girl's nursery!

While on that site, I saw a button for a business that sounded vaguely familiar: TomKat Studio. When I clicked on the page, I remembered seeing this local mom's business featured in our town's magazine, Go Gilbert. Her blog is simply adorable- chock full of her designs, finds, and Cupcake Monday. I mean, who can beat that? Yes, please! I'll take Cupcake Monday!

A few other favorite blogs: luvinthemommyhood, Happy Together (especially the tutorials like this one), and My Mama Made It. Blogs are a dime a dozen these days, but well-designed, well-written blogs that are actually useful and teach you how to do something are priceless.

While at B+N the other day, I found this book
and knew that it was a must-have on my reading list. I discovered her site today, Work at Home Success, and it is a great resource for lost souls like me who have no idea where to begin or look for legitimate at-home work. Ideally, I would like to freelance as a virtual assistant or copy editor but I need some sort of direction in order to learn how to secure clients, file taxes, etc. so that I don't get overwhelmed by trying to figure out the ins and outs of running a business AND caring for a newborn. I only have about four months to figure this out, so if you know any other great resources out there, crafty or business-related, send them my way!

Baby-friendly cars.

After a crazy cash-for-clunkers weekend, Cody and I are now the proud owners of two very child-friendly, four-door sedans. Up to this point I was driving an Explorer with 150,000+ miles on it, a car in which I felt relatively unsafe because of the potential of the engine overheating, or the wheels flying off or tires popping and rolling me straight to my demise, and Cody was rocking the two-door Civic with a manual transmission and about 108,000 miles on it. Needless to say, with a bun in the oven, we were overdue for an overhaul in the auto department.

I found out that I was pregnant on May 13, a day that will live in infamy on the timeline of our lives, no doubt. Already financially frustrated because we just dropped more than $1600 on my car to repair the ball joints and get the radiator replaced, among other things, we also found out that the heads on the engine were warped, which in a nutshell means that if the engine overheats again, the car would be considered totaled. With summer fast approaching and a bleak prediction from our mechanic, this spazztastic news sent us into a bit of a panic. The last thing we wanted was a car payment, but on the flip side, we weren't going to get much out of my car in that condition, and we didn't have a few thousand extra dollars sitting around to spare.

Then the news came. Come January, we are going to have another mouth to feed, another body to clothe, and a two-door Civic to cart it around in. Well then.

Fast forward two days to May 15. While trying to decide how we were going to break the news to family and friends, we were processing through the shock and discouragement we faced as we started crunching numbers. As with most things related to our bank account, nothing was adding up. I was a hormonal mess, and then I got a phone call from my mom with some news about her mom, my Amma. I had decided not to tell my parents until we could tell them in person, so it took a lot for me to hold my tongue during this particular phone call. It was full of wonderful news, and a blessing so timely I could do nothing but thank God for providing the way only He can: perfectly. My Amma was planning to move here in the spring, and when she moved here, she was going to give me her car. I cried at the news, no doubt leaving my mom wondering, but all I could say is that she had no idea how timely this whole situation was. NO IDEA.

Well, plans changed a little and Amma moved here last weekend. She is in an independent living center with a great one-bedroom apartment, all the bells and whistles, surrounded by a sea of potential new friends, and only a few miles from my parents. With no plans to drive in her new city, she immediately passed down the keys to her car to me: a 2003 Buick Regal, with amazing upgrades, and less than 17,000 miles on it. It's gorgeous. I couldn't believe it.

At that point, we became the proud owners of three cars. We had no idea what to do with the Explorer- I mean, sell it, sure, but where would we keep it? Who's gonna want it? Does this mean I have to wash it?

Enter testament number two to just how amazing my family is. Seriously, I can only hope and pray that I have the means to be as supportive and generous as they have been with me when I needed it most. The cash-for-clunkers program was going on, and my dad, knowing that I was sitting on this SUV for who knew how long, started musing about his interest in a few different cars. He made several phone calls to several dealerships to find out who would be willing to work out the best deal with him, and we ended up at one in particular with a plan to not only turn in my Explorer for the C4C program, but also trade in Cody's Civic for a new car for my mom. The total of the trade-in value of our two cars would have equalled the trade-in value of my mom's car alone, so it was a win-win for all of us. Then, at the last minute, my brother came by to test drive Cody's car, and being the car junky that he is, he couldn't resist the zippy little stick-shift with the phenomenal gas mileage. In the end, my mom got a beautiful new car, Cody inherited her 2004 Altima with only 51,000 miles on it, and we kept the Civic in the family, in very good hands.

We are SO BLESSED. Thank you, Amma, Mom, Dad, and Greg. There are so many reasons we are where we are today, and you have played an enormous role in all of it.

I must admit, however, that I was very sad to see my Explorer go. When you've had a car for 11 years, and it's treated you well during that time, and it really is an otherwise good ride, it's hard when you have to let it go to anything other than a good owner who would take care of it. I had a lot of memories and good times with it and I will miss driving an SUV- even if the gas mileage sucked! When we left the dealership, they had written "C4C" all over the windows, and it was on its way to be sent to the crusher- literally. They had no use for it. RIP, Explorer!

All in all… I will never doubt God's provision, ever again. We have some scary times ahead of us, no doubt, but somehow, I think He'll carry us through just fine.

Coupons, coupons, coupons!

And more coupons! I am a huge fan of clipping coupons. There is nothing more satisfying than walking out of the grocery store after a long shopping trip and discovering on your receipt that you saved nearly half on your grocery bill. I wanted to share some of the best resources I have found that have helped me save no less than 40% on groceries for our growing family.

First off, when there are some things that you prefer not to buy generic, do your best to buy it using a coupon. One thing I have found, however, is that even with the coupons, sometimes the generic brand is still cheaper. At that point, you won't see the same percentage of savings on your receipt had you used the coupon for the more expensive item, but you won't have spent as much money on the value brand. The coupons are great, but they are cunning, but sometimes they will play mind tricks on you to their advantage. Don't be fooled by their craftiness.

I just spent some time on the Fry's Food Web site, and it was a wealth of coupons and tools designed to help shoppers save money. There are three different coupon sites where you can sign up to have coupons loaded directly on to your shopper's card: P&G Brand Saver, Cellfire, and Shortcuts.com. You simply upload the coupons of your choice, print out your list, and head to the store. Instead of handing the cashier paper coupons, the savings are automatically deducted when you swipe your card. The savings will appear on your receipt as coupons, so you will know where you saved money. Great stuff. Another thing I liked about the Fry's Food site is that the weekly circular is available online, important for me since we don't get it in the mail or in our paper. I always make it a point to match up the coupons I have with items that are already on sale at the store. My current shopping list already has several sale-coupon matches- score!

Another invaluable resource is the Coupon Mom, a great place to go if you want the headache taken out of matching up coupons with in-store sales. She is eager to teach others her secrets to saving money, and provides many, many more sites you can visit for savings galore. You can also download restaurant coupons, sign up for free samples, and find deals at online retailers like Amazon.

I'm so glad there are resources out there like this… especially since someone keeps stealing our Sunday paper right off our driveway! What are your favorite ways to save- at the grocery store and beyond?

To sell or not to sell…

…That is today's question. As I search for ways to generate an income from home, one of the most prevalent things that comes up is direct sales, a.k.a. network marketing. If you are not familiar with the title, think Mary Kay and Pampered Chef. Whether these bring up good or bad connotations in your mind, I'd like to know your opinion on this type of income source, especially for a stay-at-home mom. I dabbled briefly in a direct sales company called Petlane last year, and found it hard to branch out. It's a great company, and they sell fantastic pet products, but for me it honestly was hard to get past the cost of shipping when pet owners can go to their favorite pet supply store or boutique and get similar products for less AND not have to pay shipping. In this economy, how can you convince people that it's worth it? 

I will be the first to admit that I skimped on the effort required to make it lucrative because I let myself get discouraged too easily by things like this. One thing about direct sales is that if you believe in your products enough, you can convince anyone that it is worth it. Sales is nothing more than shared enthusiasm, no? But how do you keep up that enthusiasm past the initial contact with a client or potential team member?

In one of my random searches I came across a relatively new network marketing company that sells some of the cutest jewelry I've seen in a long time. They have a celebrity following and founders who are stay-at-home moms. I'm not necessarily planning on jumping on that bandwagon, but in my mind, in this economy, items like this may be easier to sell than something that fulfills an everyday need; the buyer isn't diverted because of extra costs like shipping, she is interested because it's unique and stylish and makes her feel beautiful. The ones who are even looking at the products are ready to splurge; those who cannot afford it simply won't look. I think most people these days are familiar enough with the home sales party concept to know what they're in for should they decide to partake in the festivities.

So, thoughts? Opinions? Advice? I would love to know how to sustain an income on this type of model. Most people I know, including myself, were part of the huge percentage of direct sellers who never got anywhere with it. I would never bash the concept. I have just learned that it is harder than most of the companies make it look to earn an income that outweighs the cost of maintaining the business over time.

The “New Normal.”

I'm seeing a lot of this "New Normal" business on the news shows on network TV lately. People living in tents, in motels, kids without shoes, etc. etc. "With the economy the way it is…" I'm really beginning to get tired of that statement. Yes, the economy sucks, and I am not one to deny its effects on many in our country, I promise. I've said it myself a time or two. But sometimes I think it's nothing more than a GIANT COP-OUT for anything that happens to a person these days. There comes a point when you have to take personal responsibility for the things that are or aren't happening to you. 

I've been a complainy, whiny mess lately. My hormones are off the charts and I don't handle feeling sick like a champ unlike some people. I try, but quite honestly, I fail. I am thankful for friends and family who let me vent, and understand, and have compassion, and am annoyed with the ones who do not. I am annoyed that my paychecks have been cut by more than half; in fact, I'm just annoyed with how that whole situation was handled, period. I am annoyed by things that are affecting us that are out of our hands.

I cannot, however, be annoyed by the things that I can control. And we can always control where the money that we do have goes. 

We live in a nation of absolute excess. My husband's income alone places us in the top 3.5% of earners in the world using that number. It feels so… ridiculous. That is an eye-opener, for sure. We both seek to be giving people, and giving should be a sacrificial and joyful thing. Nobody wants to receive something out of reluctance or obligation. It's scary to give when you aren't sure your own needs will be met. But it is what anyone with the title "Christian" is called to do, and God is faithful to provide when you show you trust Him to do so. 

My friend Amy posted a fantastic blog on this subject. I read it right after I woke up and it was such a timely read in the midst of all the stress and uncertainty we are living in now. Not because I believe in distribution of wealth (I'm not sure she necessarily does either, as she clarifies later in the comments); I believe that people who earn whatever they earn deserve to keep it and do with their income what they see fit. I also think giving and charity should be a huge part of what people do with their earnings, but it should not be forced on them. (OK, I'll spare you. I'm off my soapbox.) I enjoyed her post because it pointed out that we have to be responsible to the choices we made to get us to where we are now, and what can we ACTUALLY complain about? I can't complain about not being to pay for things if I'm out buying a new shirt at Anthropologie because I "deserve it" or even something as small as a $2.00 bag of Starbursts because I was craving them, as I did tonight, because every penny adds up these days. Never before has the reality of being really, and I mean REALLY, frugal hit me so squarely in the face. I realized that up until now, we were trying to be frugal, but we still allowed ourselves luxuries from time to time. Unless money starts magically appearing in our bank account, we simply cannot afford those luxuries anymore. 

And in a strange way, while still fearing it, I'm actually looking forward to it. 

There are things I've been missing out on in life. Laziness and fear have gotten the best of me. I don't feel like doing much RIGHT now, but once I start feeling better I don't want to miss out on life anymore. It's strange because I feel that in some way, by being forced to forego the little things we usually enjoy, like eating out, seeing a movie every now and then, or buying the latest book that gets our attention, we will find other, more meaningful ways to enjoy life. I can see how God would be teaching us and stretching us more than we ever thought possible during this time. I know that there will be times that I HATE going without; honestly, I always have. I would be lying if I said I didn't get pangs of envy when I serve some of these girls my age who come in with their friends and their giant diamond rings and cute outfits and fancy purses and Lexus key rings and order their salads and lattes without a care in the world. I've always had expensive taste- just ask my dad, or my husband 🙂 But going WITH those things makes a person lose perspective on the things that are really important. 

And I want more out of my life. And more for our new little life. I'll just be trusting God's provision along the way, more than ever before.