Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Weekend








We had the unexpected treat of a visit with Meredith a couple of weekends ago. Her visa was delayed so Stephen had to return to England without her.

During her wait, she was able to fly to Virginia to spend a long weekend with us. We enjoyed our time with her so much. It was so nice to talk about the wedding, the excitement of her first few weeks as a wife, and the happiness that awaited her in England with Stephen.

Our family had become severely "dessert-deprived" since Meredith left so she baked us some treats.


It was like old times as Meredith joined us for our weekly trip to Denny's to eat the free meals we won last summer. Whereas the rest of us are really burning out on the Denny's menu, Meredith had just enough of a break to actually be excited about the pancake feast.


A visit wouldn't be complete without the snacks, candy, and laughter that family game time brings.

While Meredith was in town, Elliott offered to take us out to eat in appreciation for all the help we gave him last year during chicken processing season. We'll sure miss Meredith on chicken processing days. Although hard to imagine, those days are some of our funnest here on the farm as we tell jokes, listen to great music, and work together happily as a family in the processing area.
Before we knew it, our fun weekend was over and it was time to say goodbye.

Saying goodbye was much easier this time for all of us....



except sweet little sister Sheridan, who sobbed like the last time Meredith left. She loves Meredith so much and misses her terribly. How blessed she is to have a house full of sweet brothers who love her!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Last Journal Entry

Dear Meredith,

It's that time of year when I write in all the children's books. I hope you don't mind just printing and pasting this last entry into your journal since I gave the book to you already. It was just too hard to write the final entry before you left.

My life-long dream for you came true just one month ago as you became a wife. What joy awaits you in this new season of your life! A husband to love, a place of your own, maybe children one day - this is the beginning of the finest years ever.

As we continue to be amazed at the wonderful husband God gave you, Daddy and I are at complete peace saying good bye as we have assurance beyond a shadow of doubt that Stephen is God's choice for you. Stephen's desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord is surely his greatest defining characteristic and the one that brings us, as your parents, the greatest joy.

Remember how we used to wonder how and when and if God would send a husband for you? You were so focused on allowing God to write your story in His own way while you watched others around you marry and begin families. I admire the way you remained cheerful and busied yourself in serving your family during those waiting years.

I'll never forget the Sunday when you first told me about Stephen as we were driving together to deliver milk. Like a silly school girl I remember saying that you really needed Daddy's guidance because in my mind's eye, I could already visualize the wedding with you in your beautiful dress and "this Stephen guy" in his military uniform! I never imagined that my ramblings would one day become a reality.

Remember how exciting it was when he came to meet us and spend several days with our family? We wondered if Stephen would end up just being a new friend or if possibly he was "the one." I recently came across the pictures I was secretly taking from the upstairs windows of you two walking around the farm, talking to each other in person for the first time.


After Daddy and Stephen returned from one of several lengthy discussions during that first visit, and Daddy began telling me some of Stephen's answers to the 16 or 17 page typed questionnaire that Daddy had been using to guide their conversations, I could tell that a peace was settling over Daddy.

Eventually Daddy gave his blessing for Stephen to pursue courtship and marriage. I admire you for your humble attitude in asking another man - your dad - to assess a potential spouse. In the same way you would ask for Dad's opinion on real estate purchases, you did not hesitate to seek his wisdom in the area of choosing a mate. Only the strong subject themselves to the counsel of others. You, Meredith, are very strong indeed to have cut completely across the grain of society and defer to the wisdom of an older man in making such an important decision as to whom you might marry.

I am equally impressed by the way both you and Stephen began your relationship. I remember you had a list of the things that you wanted in a husband. Stephen shared with you what he wanted in a wife. Only once you were both sure those requirements would be met mutually did you allow yourselves to consider moving forward. How mature! How sensible. What an incredible foundation for your marriage.

A courtship turned into an engagement that quickly became a wedding date which turned the farm upside down!

This last year seemed to be almost completely focused on preparing for the wedding. Pages of projects needing to be completed were part of all our lives. What fun we had as we spent countless hours planning and dreaming and working to pull it all together!

A friend drew this picture of the farm as we dreamed it would look for the wedding.

We talked often about wanting the wedding day to be a blessing to others. I hope it was. It all felt like a such a flurry of activity that I barely remember any of the details. Once it was over and Oma and I began cleaning the house while Dad and the boys went out for milking, I missed you being here to talk about the memories that were made on the big wedding day that we had been planning for almost a year.



Even though we worked late into the night and were as tired as we've ever been, we sure were looking forward to you and Stephen stopping by Sunday afternoon on your way to your honeymoon destination. Although no one could have prepared us for how sad that short visit would be. It was as if Sheridan finally understood that you were really leaving and her little heart broke. When she held out her hands to you, begging you not to leave her, like a little child being left at a daycare center, we all cried.

Although Sheridan never comes downstairs after being tucked in at night, we weren't surprised when she tiptoed down the steps to our room at 1am. Rather than worry about fostering what might become a bad habit, Daddy and I just pulled her up in bed between us, knowing that she was missing you sleeping next to her.

Poor Dad missed you so badly that he went around the house choked up and with red eyes the Monday after the wedding and only muttered phrases like, "Meredith lived with us more than half of my life," or "She was with us for almost our entire marriage."

God was so gracious to hold off the snow until the day after the wedding.

Harrison said that he heard one of your favorite Christmas songs playing in the barn as he was going to feed the calves and thought he'd have to stop riding his bike for a minute because he felt so sad.

You'd be glad to know that as much trouble as he always gave you as his chore supervisor, he now is singing your praises and wishing you'd return to your position instead of his new demanding chore captain (me)!

I suppose everyone is shifting into their new positions to fill the gap you left behind. Elliott, knowing how much it means to me to see our friends' Christmas photos on the fridge, put them up as they arrived in the mail, just like you used to do. On a recent drive to Denny's for the free weekly meals we won, I asked everyone what they missed most about you being gone as our drive-time topic of discussion. Elliott quickly said, "Meredith's bread!" I'm sure you'd be as surprised as I was when Daddy and I were gone for a while the other day and returned home to find two freshly baked loaves of bread that Elliott made!


Filling your position has been a real challenge for me as the demands of the farm remain constant. The last day of chicken processing for the season was the worst as I rushed around the house trying to prepare lunch before heading outside to help that morning with the chickens - knowing we'd be coming in late, tired, and hungry hours later. On the kitchen counters were still bags of the non-perishable groceries from the late night trip to the store the night before. Then, as if it were some type of endurance test, the boys brought in four cases of milk jars needing washing and several weeks' worth of dirty cow towels. Whew! Somehow it all got done though.

Christmas was, of course, very different without you here but we were filled with joy as we began hearing about the fun, new life you were living as a newlywed. Stephen's family was so very kind to you over Christmas that we could only be happy for you to be loved by a whole new family.


Friends from all over, who knew what a treasure you were in our home, have sent us the kindest notes and have said they were praying for us during the transition time.

Alison Wilson so thoughtfully gave this to me to remember the love that a mother and daughter share.

Sheridan is slowly adjusting to sleeping alone and has found many new friends to surround her at bedtime. You can't imagine how long it takes us to get all these babies tucked in. Only Sheridan knows where each one prefers to sleep each night.


Sheridan would be disappointed to know that one of her baby's covers (far right) has come off during the night.


I suppose the transition of you being gone has been harder than we imagined because you were such a good friend to all of us. You've cheered us on when we were discouraged and you've chosen to see the better side in each of us. Rather than pursuing ventures that would have enabled greater self-advancement and independence like outside employment, on-campus college courses, and social networking, you chose to serve your family instead. You prepared meals, taught Bible verses to little ones, washed laundry, delivered milk, bushhogged lots, and countless other tasks. What a gift you were to our family!

So now I write the last page of the journal that was started for you when I was but a teenager hoping to one day be a wife and a mother. What a wonderful journey this has been. How blessed I am to have had you to spend my days with. How incredibly content I am to see you securely placed into the hands of such a fine man as Stephen. What joy I have as your mother to know that you will be cared for by a man with such outstanding character and with a strong desire to follow God. The two of you, who you are and who you're becoming, represent hope for a brighter world. May God do mighty things in your life as a couple surrendered and committed to doing His will. We, as your family, will enjoy seeing you both
live happily ever after.

I love you, Meredith!

Your happy Mama

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Family Economics Conference 2011

We invite you to join our family at this incredible conference on Family Economics in Raleigh, NC, March 11-12th. Last year this event was held in Colorado and sold out quickly with 800 in attendance. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Wedding Budget

When we first began planning the wedding, we didn't really know what to expect in the way of expenses.

The first shock was when Meredith and I (Joy) toured some potential venues for the wedding and reception. We saw churches that cost $2000 for a few hours of use and reception venues that were $7000 or $8000 - not including any food!

How can a family who is committed to no new debt provide a decent wedding and reception for a daughter in today's economy?

The endeavor would prove to be one of our greatest challenges yet.

Meredith had always dreamed of a traditional ceremony in an ornate church. For the reception, she hoped for a relaxed, fun setting in which the guests could do something more than just sit around.

As Meredith and I researched and visited various reception venues that we thought would be suitable, we realized that the ones able to accommodate our anticipated group of approximately 400 weren't any nicer than our farm.

We wondered if it were possible to transform our farm, which had been abandoned for years only nine months earlier, into a wedding reception venue.

Extensive lists containing pages of projects soon were discussed and distributed and the family took on the huge project with great enthusiasm. (Well, we weren't enthusiastic all the time. We were mostly exhausted and overwhelmed!)

As we appear to have been among the first of our friends with daughters approaching marrying age, we hope that our expense list will be an encouragement to them. God surely provided for us in miraculous ways and we're confident He will do the same for any family who relies on Him for help.


Wedding Attire for the Alexander Family

Bride:

Meredith Gown $ 30 Meredith purchased her dress second-hand. No cost to the budget!
$100 Dry Clean dress
Veil $ 0 Bartered


Groomsmen:

Elliott Tuxedo $ 35 Purchased second-hand
$ 4 Dry Clean ($2 each piece)
$ 20 Shirt, Cumberbund, Bow Tie (On sale at JCPenney's)

Oliver Tuxedo $ 35 Purchased second-hand
$ 4 Dry Clean ($2 each piece)
$ 20 Shirt, Cumberbund, Bow Tie (On sale at JCPenney's)

Sullivan Tuxedo $ 30 Complete outfit, New on Ebay (Price includes shipping)


Ring Bearer:

Harrison Tuxedo $ 30 Complete outfit, New on Ebay (Price includes shipping)


Flower Girl:

Sheridan $ 35 Purchased second-hand (Machine washable/no dry cleaning cost)


Father of the Bride:

Tim Tuxedo $ 0 Already owned
$ 4 Dry Clean ($2 each piece)

Mother of the Bride:

Joy Blouse $ 15 Holiday Blouse from Ross/TJ Maxx
Skirt $ 3 Floor Length satin skirt purchased second-hand

Total Wedding Attire Cost: $335


Stationery

Save the Dates $170
Invitations $950 (Meredith paid - No expense to budget *See note)
Postage $310
Wedding Programs $120

Total Stationery Cost: $600

*Note: Because Meredith wanted really nice invitations but always had her family's limited resources in mind, she baked and sold cheesecakes to the farm's customers to offset the cost of the invitations.


Ceremony

Church $250
Soloist $150
Organist $200
Coordinator $225 (Church staff required at events)
Janitors $225
Parking Garage $180 (Parking for guests)

Total Ceremony Cost: $1230

Photography, Videography, and Simulcasting

$1500 Many services bartered

Total Photography, Videography, and Simulcasting Cost: $1500

Flowers

Bride's Bouquet, Bridesmaid Bouquets, Groomsmen Boutonnieres, Corsages and Boutonnieres for family of bride and groom, Church Arrangements, and Reception Decorations

$500 Supply cost (All labor either bartered or generously donated by friends)

Total Flower Cost: $500


Reception

Dance Caller $ 375 Dance in barn loft

Live Band $ 0 Music in event tent (Bartered and/or generously provided by friends)

Rental Tents,
Tables, Chairs $1600 Main Event Tent (40x80), Outdoor kitchen tent (10x20), Tables and
Chairs for 100 guests

Rental Coffee Maker and (5) Insulated Beverage
Servers $ 100

Plates, Cups,
Forks, etc. $ 200 (Disposable)

Serving Utensils, Platters, Bowls, and Wedding Cake
Display Plates $ 125

Servers' Aprons $ 40 (Meredith monogrammed)

Wedding Cake $ 200 (Meredith made the wedding cake from her delicious cheesecakes)

Food & Beverage for
400+ Guests $1000 (Includes cost of raising pork, and menu consisting of Barbeque,
Pulled Pork, Green Beans, Fried Apples, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw,
Rolls, Appetizer of Cheese - made on the farm - and Crackers,
Hot Apple Cider, Tea, Coffee, and Cherries for the
Wedding Cheesecake)

Total Reception Cost: $3640


Miscellaneous Expenses

Pre-Wedding
Snack $ 100 (The wedding pictures were all taken at 10:30am prior to the wedding
at 1pm. A light snack was served at noon for approximately 70
people in the wedding party.)

Dessert Buffet $ 330 (A "Meet and Greet" was held at the Marriott Friday night prior
to the wedding day for the out-of-town guests. Desserts and coffee
were catered by the Marriott or generously prepared by friends for
approximately 75 guests.)

Gift Baskets $ 425 (Meredith prepared gift baskets for approximately 30 out-of-town
hotel guests.)

Directional
Signs $ 50 (Directing guests from church to farm for the reception)

Flower Girl Basket, Ring Bearer Pillow, Wedding Cake Knife and
Server $ 8 (Included shipping on Ebay)

Wedding
Guestbook $ 25

Reception Chafing Dish Fuel, Tent Heater Propane, Pig Cooker/Smoker
Propane $177

Bell Ringers'
Bells $ 27 (Found pretty porcelain bells at the Dollar Tree for each of the 27
Bell Ringers)

Beef
Processing $400 (Cost to process cow for bartered help)

Total Miscellaneous Cost: $1542

TOTAL WEDDING COSTS: $9347

One of the greatest resources that God gave us in planning an affordable wedding was a tremendous network of friends that sacrificially helped us in every way imaginable. We will never be able to thank them enough. Although a wedding threatens certain financial poverty, we've never felt so rich as we have when considering the great treasure in the friends God has given us.

From the wonderful crew of over a dozen who arrived several days before the wedding, to the great folks who helped on the wedding day, what an indescribable blessing they were to us!

One last thought regarding expenses... we tried to keep track of costs that were prioritized because of the wedding but were really in the category of farm infrastructure. These costs are related to projects or inventory that will help us with future events so we did not include them with the wedding budget.

Bathrooms built $2000
Heaters purchased $400
Upgraded lighting in or around barn $280
Trash Cans $178
Chairs $100
Chafing Dishes $160
Tablecloths $60
Misc. Decorative Items $200

With Sheridan, our only other daughter, being just 3 years old, we figure we have about 20 years before we need to worry about wedding expenses again!