on budgeting (the right way)

as i mentioned in my last post, my “nesting” this time around has taken on a different form: it’s about financial planning, budgeting, and preparing to buy a new home. i’ve been thinking a lot about money and working a lot with numbers (filing taxes, gathering financial documents for mortgage applications). in some ways, i’m thinking, “who AM i? doing all this work with numbers… weird!” but i have so much energy for it right now, and it feels so much more important to get right at this point in my life than it ever has before.

i’m working with self-employment income (read: lots of expenses to keep track of + nasty taxes), but also a husband who is about to become a certified minister and will then qualify for the mysterious and complicated manse allowance and some other odd tax statuses that are totally over my head. and i’m working with the soon-to-be reality of owning two homes and renting one of them out (we’ll be landlords(!) and we hope to do that with integrity). so, there’s a learning curve here. a steep one.

we’ve been technically budgeting for our entire marriage. but the budget has been an excel spreadsheet that tentatively maps out the costs of all living expenses and bills and things to keep money on hand for (e.g., unexpected car or home maintenance stuff). but, that spreadsheet — while it does give us a ball park estimate of how much money we can afford to spend on groceries or entertainment in a month/season while still managing to pay the bills — has had no power to track where the money is actually going. consequentially, there was so much falling through the cracks, and all those “save-up-in-case-of-emergency-or-for-a-vacation” sections of the budget were basically not happening because of that. still, i liked the system because there wasn’t much accountability (well, that’s honest). if i felt like we had a little extra money, i was excited to be able to buy a few more cloth diapers or stock up on some other useful but ultimately unnecessary item for our home or family. and i could get away with it. but then a week later i’d find we didn’t quite have enough to pay the gas bill because i forgot it was coming up and instead went thrift store shopping.

and, by God’s grace, we’ve gotten by this way. we’ve never missed a payment on a bill and when the emergencies have arisen — like having to replace a water heater and a furnace within about a year of each other — somehow we have always been able to pay cash to replace it. we haven’t even been relying on credit cards. and i have to tell you that this really is purely grace and the kind provision of a Father who is really patient with His daughter’s misguided budgeting efforts. i can’t explain how it has always all worked out.

still, it seemed time to get serious about getting a handle on our finances, to steward well what we’ve been given, and to be mentally freed up from keeping track of so many moving parts in my little brain. tim saw the need first and suggested a system called You Need a Budget (YNAB). i was reluctant (remember how i loved that lack of accountability), but after a few friends — quite independently of tim — joined in on the chorus of praise for YNAB, i read up on it a bit and realized i was ready to surrender. 🙂

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and now i am SO. EXCITED. about the budget. it might be ridiculous. but this system makes so much sense and it makes me giddy. here, just a few days into it, i have this sort of peace from knowing exactly how much i can spend on what. and knowing that every bill is accounted for. i will almost never have to look at my checking account balance again. and this system will even help us navigate the next few months of changes that come with moving, paying two mortgages, receiving rent, having a baby, and switching jobs (tim) and tax statuses.. AND it’s going to help me stay focused in our goal of saving up enough money to pay the [ginormous, rather depressing] taxes we owe this year [because i didn’t fully know what i was doing when i was trying to put aside money for self-employment taxes, apparently].

i have been looking at my YNAB budget spreadsheet several times a day and just appreciating its elegance, and the fact that it does so much math for me (hehe). and though i know that right at this moment i have zero money to spend just for funsies, at least i know WHY: i know that the money i might otherwise have felt free to spend here and there is assigned to a few really good and worthy jobs, jobs that i wouldn’t want to take them away from.

this isn’t supposed to be an advertisement for YNAB, though i wouldn’t mind if you took it that way. this is supposed to be more of an honest conversation about the untouchable subject of personal finances. i wanted to share my journey, along with my shortcomings and sinful attitudes, surrounding money…and to share the way that we’re stumbling into the light in these areas. feels real good, folks.

how about you? what has your journey/struggle/triumph with personal finances/budgeting been like? i’d sincerely love to hear about it.


project : white slipcover

alright. i love white couches. i love white linens generally. so crisp and clean and fresh. i love the blankness of white, too: the opportunities they afford to change your color palette at a moment’s notice by simply switching up the throw pillows, the wall color, the art on the walls, the dishes. mmmm. white. 

i actually had a little flashback remembrance today to a time in my early adolescence in which i was distinctly focused on the dream of one day having my own house that would be all sorts of white on white, with splashes of color here and there. though i departed from that dream for most of the college and grad school years — preferring during that time to use bold wall colors and lots of rich colors — i am apparently coming full circle. 

but white slip covers (and yes, they DO need to be slipcovers because they MUST be washable!) are expensive, it turns out. like, over $300 for ONE custom-made one like the  two-piece, custom-made beauty that would have been my first choice. in the end, however, i realized that the day would probably never come when i would feel at liberty with my conscience to spend that much money on a slipcover, even if i did ever find myself suddenly with $600 of expendable income. and so i began to look into other ways to accomplish my vision. 

one day recently i found a sale at Surefit.net. SureFit sells ready-made slipcovers and lots of them are ugly. and they are cheap as far as slipcovers go. and they had one for T-cushion sofas (that’s what we have, and they are harder to find slipcovers for) in a “natural” color, 100% cotton. i ordered one for the sofa and one for the loveseat, since they sale was Buy One, Get One 30% off, and reasoned that i could probably bleach them to white with minimal effort. total cost: $129, including shipping. that’s more like it!

enter a season of lots of trial and error on test swatches of fabric. the result was some sort of yellow-ish tone that really wasn’t at all what i had in mind. 

however, i ended up going for it on the entire love seat cover, modifying the plan a bit from my test runs, based on logic and some reading. and i crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. 

here is the final color comparison. original “natural” on the left, new “white[-ish]” on the right. 


and here, for those who are interested in the nitty gritty, is the exact process of how i accomplished it:


1. i prewashed the slipcover in natural detergent, warm wash. i reasoned the a pre-wash might soften and prepare the fibers for the bleach treatment. 

2. i set the washing machine for a warm, medium-size load and poured in a large container of concentrated Clorox. this ended up creating a roughly mixture of 4 parts water to 1 part bleach. then I put the slipcover (still damp from the wash) into the mixture.

3. i left the lid of the machine open so as let the slipcover soak. I left it to soak for 10 hours, occasionally putting the machine into agitate mode again to stir things up.

4. after 10 hours, i close the machine lid so that the wash cycle would proceed to drain and rinse and spin. then i ran another light water-only wash cycle on it. 

5. i dried the slipcover almost entirely in the dryer. 

6. i repeated step 2, but this time i used the Gentle Clorox, Free-and-Clear variety, and i had to use two smaller-size jugs because it doesn’t seem to be available in a larger jug. 

7. i left the machine open again and allowed the slipcover to soak for 7 hours. this time it got really frothy and foamy in there. very interesting, and i’m not sure why. 

8. after 7 hours, i close the lid and allowed the wash cycle to complete itself. then i ran another water-only warm wash. 

9. did a full, warm wash cycle with the natural detergent and rinsed it twice. 

10. i put the slipcover (now twice bleached and twice washed) into the drier to dry. 

11. next i set up a normal, warm-water wash using Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing Agent, because i was hoping to get the yellow tones out. i followed the instructions on the bottle for this, which meant putting in about 1/4 tsp of Mrs. Stewarts, plus the usual amount of the same natural detergent i’d been using through the same process. no soaking this time, just a normal wash cycle. 

12. i dried the slipcover.

after all of this, it looks good enough to me, so i tried it on the love seat. the cover definitely has shrunk a bit, but that is sorta good, because now it’s a tighter fit. the color is not TRUE white, but it is close enough that i can still work with it, if i drop my perfectionism. 🙂

because i went this route, i saved probably a few hundred dollars. i guess i’d say it’s worth it!

now onward to do the sofa cover… 

now two weeks in…

it’s been just over two weeks since i made that decision to finally step back from all official responsibilities and roles with the Stockbridge Boiler Room. oh, that decision, though so hard to come to and so slow to be acted upon, it was a long time coming. i just found a draft of a blog entry from almost exactly a year ago that i can now see was a very bold arrow pointing in the direction of this decision. interesting.

but now, being officially mother and home-maker, here is what the days are looking like. they are never dull or boring.

  • my first act as Official Full-Time Mama/Homemaker/Wife was to create a family binder. i probably could write an entire post about all the nitty gritty details of this, but for now i’ll just summarize. a family binder is a place to keep track of all those things that make managing your time and your home and nurturing your family run smoothly. mine contains a weekly glance, daily sheets for recording priorities and to-dos and appointments, a bill payment tracker, weekly and monthly cleaning schedules, menu-planning tools, expense trackers, etc. i refer to it multiple times each day. so far, so good.
  • we get ourselves out of bed around 7 a.m. each day and get hazel her green juice and kefir mix to drink. we eat breakfast first thing: eggs with toast or steel cut oats with berries. all three of us together usually. i’ve been reading the day’s entry from Jesus Calling each morning, as well as looking up the scriptures that go with it. i read them outloud to myself and hazel (and tim, if he’s still around) as i drink my coffee. though simple and quick, this is the most habitual scripture-reading and devotional time i’ve had for a while. since it works, i think i’ll keep running with it. it’s been good to start the day by reading some truth out loud over us!
  • i’ve just started showering while hazel hangs out either in the bathroom or across the hall in her bedroom. then she and i both get dressed. we’re ready for the day by 8:30 or 9 a.m.
  • i’ve carved out office hours for myself to do photography work. it appears that God keeps providing that work for me to do and so i’m trying to be faithful. He has provided two people who take hazel for me each week, allowing me a total of 5-6 hours of uninterrupted time to edit photos, upload photos, communicate with clients, update website/facebook, etc. this has been amazing for me and for hazel. on monday mornings she goes down the street to play with landon under his mama Marcy’s watchful care. and on wednesday afternoons our 12-year-old neighbor kaitlin comes to entertain hazel in and around our house while i hole up in our home office and work. additionally, if it’s needed, i’m spending 1 or two evenings each week working for a few hours after hazel goes to bed for the night. it’s been good to put value on making time to do photo work, and not to feel like i have to cram it into random crevices as whenever i can seize a moment.
  • on tuesday morning or mid-day hazel and i are still spending a couple of hours with our friends alicia (the mama) and lilia (baby 3 months younger than hazel). we rotate between her house and mine. we’re reading a book together called Loving The Little Years, which is all about mothering toddlers and seeing it as God-given mission. we usually share a meal together, too. and the girls play together happily.
  • on thursday morning landon comes to our house while marcy goes to work. i try to load ’em both up in the double stroller for a walk around the neighborhood, and otherwise they play happily around the house together, me just resolving disputes and retrieving toys that have slipped into hard-to-reach places.
  • we’re keeping wednesday mornings open for the option of outings to visit friends or fun places together, or to run errands.
  • i’ve begun cleaning up after breakfast and lunch and doing all the dishes associated with each meal right after that meal ends. this has put an end to the sink and counter stacked with a zillion dishes at the end of each day. it makes me feel like i WANT to go into the kitchen and prepare food for the next meal, instead of feeling overwhelmed and disgusted by the mess every time i walk in. simple change with great fruit for me. and less work for tim at day’s end (since his chore is the do the dinner clean-up).
  • in the afternoons while hazel naps, i try to immediately do my chores for that day. each day of the week i have a two or three household chores to do, all determined by the schedules i’ve created in my family binder. that takes 30 minutes to an hour. this is really new for me!!! i generally avoid cleaning as much as possible, just doing it when the situation becomes almost an emergency. so staying on top of it by doing small bits each day feels empowering. it also makes our house feel more restful because it’s uncluttered, tidy, and clean. mmmm. so nice. it’s been hard to push through and do the chores, however, because often by the time hazel goes down for her nap, i feel pretty ready to crash out myself. but once the chores are finished, i can do more photo work if needed, or just give myself permission to zone out a little bit.
  • saturdays are still family sabbath days. no chores. as little cooking as possible. homemade pancakes for dinner. naps for everyone. no commitments, only spontaneity.
  • the after-nap period each day is tricky for me. it seems to be one of the harder times for hazel, when she’s most clingy, so making dinner has been challenging. i’m looking for creative activities to keep her engaged while i prep and cook dinner for us. and i think we need to move our dinner hour UP a bit so that hunger pangs don’t intensify her discontent. also, i’ve noticed that if immediately after her nap i give her 30 minutes of undivided attention that includes lots of physical contact (carrying her around, snuggling on the bed, tickling), she seems to do better from then until dinner time.
  • when i have a photography session to shoot, i do it on a monday or tuesday evening, or on a sunday evening. usually. tim can stay back and be on point with hazel at those times.
  • we still go to Love Feast on wednesday nights to fellowship with our neighbors and the boiler room family.
  • on sundays we head to Stockbridge Mission Church, where alicia and i have finally created our own “nursery” for hazel and lilia. we are simply taking turns staying with the two little girls at alicia’s house, which is right across the street from mission church, while the other goes to the service. this has been great, since both of us have been missing church gatherings more often than not for the better part of a year. starting soon, the boiler room core team will also be sharing a meal together at the Tenderos house each sunday afternoon, which feels like a perfect way to remain a part of this family even though i’m no longer working for family business these days.

well, that was a lot of really practical, nitty-gritty detail of how we’re ordering our days around here. but it’s good for me to record it here. 🙂 thanks for listening.

and now my babe is waking from her nap, so i will go give my undivided attention to that sweet girl.

5 (backyard garden, year two)

i ordered the seeds this week. lots of them.

chard, kale of two kinds, spinach, lettuce, golden tomatoes, zucchini, patty pan squash, watermelon, green beans, yellow beans, carrots, purple carrots, basil, cilantro, marigolds, red cabbage, green cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, garlic, beets, bell peppers, and more.

i don’t know what i’m doing. but this year i’m determined to learn as i go.  i am confident that SOMETHING will grow, and probably quite a bit. last year’s negligence showed me that God is the one who grows things, not me. 🙂

we have 8 8′ x 4′ raised beds in the back yard. i suppose the soil needs some prepping, but then they’ll be ready to receive seeds and seedlings. i have territorial seed’s garden planning software to help me know when to plant each thing indoors or out, and to help me determine spacing. and i have a gardening book about companion planting that’s helping me know what to put together in each of the beds.

we’ll transplant some raspberry bushes from the boiler room yard, and some strawberry plants from another lead. and we’ll get the tomato and pepper plants from a friend of the boiler room who works at a nursery.

and we’ll start composting at last, i hope.

i am looking forward to this. i am looking forward to showing hazel, right from the beginning, how food grows. i picture her chubby little, dirt-smudged hands carrying a fistful of peas or basil. ah. i love it.

2 (projects occupying my mind)

a million projects running through my mind. all the to-do lists are mingling together. it’s no wonder i sometimes have trouble falling alseep. this also explains why it took me fully half of the rosie thomas concert last week to quiet my mind enough to be present to the music and the husband seated beside me.

  • the community garden in our yard. how can we steward it better this year, and share it more fully? should i start the seeds indoors, and if so, how? i need to order the seeds soon, which means i first have to decide what to plant.
  • the boiler room website, which i suddenly have a major itch to improve upon. i hope to solicit the help of friends much more adept at web design and logo/branding than i am. but my mind is running with ideas about content and how we can communicate our identity to the designers so that it comes through clearly. i want it to be attractive and clear and to be a place where the stories of God’s activities here are told beautifully and in such a way that others feel connected to it, and know how to plug into it.
  • my own log for brookecollierphoto.com, which i have gorgeous raw material for thanks to the very talented emilie of leif designs. but now i need to get some things back to her so we can do phase 2.
  • city of GR taxes that i still need to pay. but first i need to be sure that the filing is done accurately and fully, because turbo tax appears to have done only a draft version of it. i was mad at first about having to pay city taxes, but then i remembered that scripture that talks about “seeking the peace of the city where you are in exhile.” God promised His people that if they seek and pursue the peace of the city whe


oh blast. time up.

a new creative project

a sample of what's involved in this creative project: daily diptychs of beauty in the midst of gritty

jointly undertaken with my dear jenn, who lives 0.4 miles from me.

it’s another year of mornings with a heart of gratitude for what’s beautiful in the midst of grit.

you can see us here. (don’t forget to subscribe).

making space for her

six more weeks until her estimated due date.

in the nursery, the walls are painted the softest gray, and the it now houses its furniture: crib, dresser, changing table. it also still houses the book-case and sewing cabinet that will NOT remain there (they’ll be moved to another room a bit later on). but even with the extra furniture all stuffed in that tiny room, i can begin to see what the space will be like, and it’s a serene and sunny spot that i think she and i will both love to linger in. the closet and dresser are filled with wee little clothes, some cloth diapers, soft toys, stuffed animals, blankets, burp cloths, art to hang on walls, booties, boppies, pack ‘n play, high chair, car seat… we’re pretty well set, minus a few remaining necessities.

last weekend we had two baby showers. i think that showers have gotten a bit silly and i often dread them because of things like games in which one creates a “poopy” diaper out of various chocolate foods. but mine were lovely, both. in each case, the room was filled with good, godly, loving women who love me, and who love my daughter already. and as if the presence and emotional support and wisdom and prayers aren’t enough, there were lots of gifts, too. wonderful gifts of every sort. many hands reached out to caress my belly, many voices spoke to her little ears, telling her of their excitement to meet her soon. ah, ’twas very sweet indeed.

and i have been nesting, just a bit. i was so impatient to get that furniture in the nursery. of course, i couldn’t do it myself because it violates all sorts of things-pregnant-women-ought-not-do rules, which meant that i had to wait on tim and friends to do the job for me. it’s really hard for me to wait on others sometimes, which is why in so many cases i end up just saying, “ah, forget it, i’ll do it myself!” but that wasn’t a possibility here, so i resolved to try to glean the rewards of that spiritual discipline we call waiting. anyway, the furniture is in now. and as i was waiting for it to come, i got out all the myriad stacks of baby clothing we’ve acquired and began to sort it into stacks by size. now the dresser and closest just contain clothes for size newborn through six months, and the six months through twelve month sizes are in a rubbermaid container in the basement, awaiting their day to shine. stacking all those tiny clothes into the drawers of my antique dresser was such a special thing.

and then i sewed. yes, i sewed. you may recall that i attempted to foster this hobby over a year ago, but that it sorta sputtered out. however, it seems that while i will not sew for myself, i will get motivated to sew for our baby. so i had a couple women friends over (you know who you are) and we set up our machines in the dining room, and gave each other pointers and encouragement and a helping hand while sipping tea and eating carrot dip on rice crackers. and that was enough to jump-start me. that day i finished a portable changing pad, and later velcro pouches for storing smaller items within the diaper bag, and a tiny pillow case for a tiny pillow. a few days later i used a tutorial for making crib sheets (thanks, jess, for pointing me that direction) and sewed two of ’em, both from vintage bed sheets. that seemed easy enough so i found another tutorial for making a changing pad cover and sewed that up, too. yes, i’m unstoppable. later this week two other friends are coming by to have a sewing party (i think sewing is better in circles of other women), and then i’ll tackle the snuggler/swaddler pattern that i’ve been so eager to make, because kristen, who is an incredible seamstress, will be able to help me navigate those slightly more complicated waters. it makes me really happy to have some handmade things for our little one, and besides that, that things i’m making are more unique (one of a kind!) than anything i’d get in a store, and cheaper, too.

furthermore, i cannot contain my joy over the recent discovery that using reusable baby wipes — in addition to cloth diapers — will save us HUNDREDS of dollars over the course of the years our baby will be in diapers. seriously, it’s sick. you should take a look at this article that calculates it all out. i hadn’t seriously considered reusable wipes because, like all unknowns, it felt like a vaguely daunting task. but after reading this guide to creating your own reusable wipes system, and finding all the things i’d need for only $92, i totally sprang for it. and i got so excited about it all on the night i discovered this that i had trouble falling asleep.

i’m signing off now,

the mother-to-be who is in a flurry of happy nesting activity


762: more thoughts and photos

my last post about working on our house was filled with reflections about the spiritual significance of redeeming a house. and still i’m meditating on these things as i work over there, and praying small prayers in my heart when i see neighbors pass by the front windows or through the alley. but this week has been a lot of task-orientation, too. we’ve been busy. hard to believe that we haven’t even had access to the house for 2 weeks yet, but SO MUCH has been accomplished. without all the help of friends and family and neighbors, all of what has been finished would not be finished for 2 more weeks yet. seriously. work parties and friends helping with projects has made the hugest difference. it’s been the “barn raising” that i wrote about in my last post. i’m unspeakably grateful.

today, as i write this, tim is over at the house with a couple of our friends, sanding the floors down. he’s working over there all day, with friends coming by in shifts to help out, and by the end of tomorrow we hope to have the last coat of polyurethane on the floors. then, once it’s all dried, we’ll move in.

can’t believe that day is right around the corner.

and the house looks now like a place where i’d like to live. i can begin to envision our things filling the rooms, our people filling the space with their laughter and their voices, my cooking creating homey smells… yes, i can see it now.

we still don’t own the house. sometimes this makes me nervous. sometimes i have horrible thoughts about the owners changing their mind, refusing to sell to us, and renting it out to someone else, even after we have invested so much energy and time and money into improving it. i don’t think that’s rational, nor fair to the owners. and the fact is that we do have an accepted offer on the house. just waiting — still — on the bank. i thought we would have heard from them by now. i’m trying not to let this bother me.

is this crazy-ness or faith? sometimes the line is blurry, isn’t it?

well, i want to throw some photos up here for ya’ll…

first, our room:

the carpet was emerald green and the walls and trim were all the same pale sea-foam green color.

next we painted the trim white and the walls a quirky greenish-yellowish color.

finally, we painted the floors white!

now, here is crystal’s room:

when we got the house, the carpet was bright crimson and the walls mauve.

we painted the walls vintage yellow (still need to do the trim)

then, we painted the floors white. and we still need to do the trim. (we’ll do that just before crystal moves in, i think)

here’s the kitchen:

when we got the house, the drawers were all pulled out for extermination of roaches, and everything was dirty. no fridge. green-ish colored walls. grime on walls.

after our first work party, things look CLEANER at least.

during the paint party, we got the walls covered in a gorgeous tidewater blue.

today we have our “new” appliances installed. the kitchen is almost ready for use.

well, i’ll leave it at that for now. i’ll post a string of photos from the living/dining room soon, once those wood floors are refinished!

i wrote a book

well, sorta. it’s a wee little cookbook, thrown together rather quickly as a parting gift to Big Oak. i wanted to leave them with all the recipes the kiddos there have gotten to be so fond of.

and, i made a home edition. meaning, with the recipes scaled down for a family of 4-6 rather than massive quantities to feed 38 small children and a handful of adults.

you can get a copy, if you like. 🙂

Brooke Cooks for Big Oak: Home Edition (click on this one to buy it)

By Brooke Collier, MA

ps: as you may have guessed, my commitment to whole real foods pervades this book.