Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feeding a Crowd

I love the holidays.  I love having people over for meals.  I love to share that time with others.  But, I was reminded yesterday in two conversations of times when I had to be extremely tight with our food budget.  It was very difficult to have people over at those times because I worried about having enough food and the cost.  It wasn't because I didn't want to have them over or because I didn't want to be generous--it was just hard for me.    

I found that there were a few meals that I served regularly and another way that I found I could be generous with my time and skills (which I had) rather than financially (which I didn't have).  

The meal I began making was a Meatball Soup from the More With Less Cookbook.  The premise of that cookbook is to make "more" with "less" of the world's food resources.  Most of the recipes are very inexpensive to make and flavorful.  

Here's my version of their meatball soup:

Combine 4-5 cups cubed potatoes (peel on)
1 lg or 2 small onions cut in quarters
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 1-2 Tbsp. dried
2-3 carrots peeled and chopped or sliced
4 cups water
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Bring to a boil, then add meatballs (see below).

I make the meatballs while the soup is coming to a boil because they're quick and easy to make.

In a mixing bowl, combine 
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper.  
Form into small meatballs and set aside.

Cover and Cook for 25-30 minutes in a pan at a simmer or low boil.  
Add 1 cup milk and 4 tsp. (1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.) white vinegar.
Skim fat off top--the higher fat content of the ground beef, the more fat there will be.  The last time I made this with 90% lean ground beef, I didn't need to skim off any fat.  

I will warn you that this soup has a strange smell (the vinegar) when it's leftovers.  But, then you heat it up, and eat with a piece of bread and it always tastes wonderful.

The other meal I make is tacos with refried beans.  I posted the refried bean recipe a while back and you can find it here:
Refried bean tacos and flautas are both inexpensive dishes.

One of the other ideas I discovered was to have people over for dessert and games rather than for dinner.  It is much less expensive to make part of the meal than the whole meal.  I also learned to take people up on their offers (and to offer myself) to bring a dish when having company or being company.  

I once ran into a lady at BJs who was lamenting having visitors come see them.  The reason?  Everyone who came to visit wanted to have crabs, which is a meal you order out to take home and eat rather than eating in--so the cost falls to the host more often than it is split with the guests.  Her guests had no idea how much crabs cost or what they were asking (when they came with large grown children who had big appetites) and she didn't to be rude or seem stingy.  I have found a way around this one and a way to get less expensive crabs, but I am very aware of what an expensive meal it can be to have crabs with guests.  It can be hard.

The way I found that I could help with meals at church, please forgive me if I've written this before, is to join with somebody to share making the meal.  We lived far away from most people in our church until recently so it was difficult to deliver food on a weekday.  So, I would make a batch of homemade rolls, some cookies, and some muffins (all of which could be frozen by the recipient) for when they needed them.  More than the cost of the food, I was giving my time.  Typically, I also make snickerdoodles.  They are quite yummy and less expensive than other cookies to make.  I recently discovered another positive aspect of them--they are food allergy friendly since they do not have chocolate (can trigger migraines and other things) and peanut butter (the most common food allergy I hear about).  

I love having people over and if you are my friends and I invite you over--please come!  I hope that you read this blog post and understand that this is something I've sorted out with the Lord.  I am thankful that I can be more generous right now in what I fix for company, but I am ever mindful of being wise with the resources we have so that we can be generous with them more frequently rather than infrequently.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Looking for an Area Rug

Area rugs are wonderful things.  They can help cover up spots instead of recarpeting an entire room.  We knew that one of the rooms in our new home had a lot of spots on the carpet.  But, we did not realize what bad shape it was in until we began preparing to move in!  I only took a picture of the piano because the carpet looked so bad I don't think I wanted to remember it down the road.  I cleaned the carpet and was able to get out a lot of the stains, but quite a few large stains remained.  I also did spot treat the stains with Resolve and scrub with a strong scrubbing brush before I used the carpet cleaner on it.  That helped a lot.  My husband and I realized that the room desperately needed an area rug.

To carpet a room can be quite expensive.  I estimated that this room would cost about $600.  But, you also have the hastle of moving everything out of the room and scheduling the installation.  In our case, we didn't even consider that because of all the other home repair projects we have to take care of right now.  So, we started looking for a rug.

We looked at Home Depot, Costco, BJs, Ollie's (a local store similar to Big Lots or Pic 'n Save), IKEA, Lowe's, and Target.  The rugs varied a lot.  The price range for an 8 x 10 rug was $100-$500.  I was very surprised at what I found.

One of the most surprising things was that many of the "rugs" at IKEA were really unbound pieces of carpet.  I thought $200 for a large piece of unbound carpet was quite high.  We did purchase a 5' x 7' blue rug from IKEA.  We tried it out in several rooms of our home, but then returned it.  We had a similar IKEA rug a few years ago, but the quality of the rug had been higher.  You could clearly see the white backing through the blue threads.  For $70, it was not a very good value.

Another thing that surprised me was the clear difference in quality as correlated to cost.  The rugs at Ollie's would be great floor coverings for rooms that you simply needed something on the floor.  Some of them were softer and thicker than others.  They were as nice as the IKEA rugs, but half the price.

Target had a nice selection of rugs.  They felt nice and had some great patterns.  They carried some 5' x 7' rugs in the store, but only 1 or 2  8' x 10' rugs.  They have many on their website, though.  The price range for rugs was similar at Home Depot, Lowe's, and at Target.  We found 8' x 10' rugs that varied between $225 (for very thin) to $400 for a much thicker rug.  Home Depot and Lowe's both had some 8' x 10' rugs in stock.  Target had 1.  That was a factor for us.  Christmas is almost here and we wanted our den to look presentable (the spots were that bad).

We settled on a rug from Lowe's.  The price listed at the aisle was $278.  It rang up for $288, but they will give it to you for the price listed if you ask.  I also had a 10% off coupon which brought the price down to $251.  We brought the rug home and it fit perfectly in the room.  We had wanted a rug that would hide the dirt and work with the couch and other furniture in the room.  I am so thankful that the rug has done just that!  

As for the design and color of the rug...  One of our friends explained to us that Persian style rugs are great for hiding dirt and spots.  I can see why!  I had never thought of them that way.  We chose this rug because we thought the color of it would also hide dirt well.  In the first day on our floor, it always has.  The carpet in this room is a magnet for dirt and leaves!  In this room, we have a red couch, tan walls, beige carpet underneath, our television console, and our homeschooling supplies and furniture.  I wanted a rug that would complement the red couch, but not seem too dark for the room.  The first picture shows how dark the paneling was before I painted it last week.  We wanted to keep the lightness of the room that the painting brought to it.  This rug has done a great job doing just that.  I chose a rug with a little red in it with colors that complemented the couch, but mostly contrasted with the red.

The other aspect of the rug I considered was the pile.  We have a dog and 3 children.  I didn't want a loop rug that was going to get easily snagged by Molly's nails.  I had a friend who carpeted her house in berber and then had to recarpet the whole house within a year because of how hard her 2 dogs were on the carpet.  Ever since I heard that story, I always try to think about what we're going to do on the carpet (sit, stand, walk) and who's going to be on it (pets and people)!  

So, that's our rug.  After all our shopping, it feels good to look at it and know how much of a difference it has made to how the room feels!  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chopping Boards and Butcher Blocks

Moving into a new house has had a lot of lessons for me and a lot of things to fix!

I realized very quickly that the previous owner made a lot of improvements to the house, but she didn't complete them all the way.  She covered up the finishing touches that needed to be taken care of.  

Yesterday, I started to take care of one of them.  In our new kitchen, there is a kitchen island.  It isn't a butcher block.  Butcher Blocks are made out of hardwood.  I don't believe this is hardwood.  But, whether it is an island with a butcher block or wood counter top, it needs to be taken care of.

There are 2 options for cooking surfaces.  One is to apply mineral oil to it.  You can get mineral oil at any pharmacy, Target, or Walmart.  You would sand down the surface lightly with 220 grit and then apply a coat of mineral oil with a rag by rubbing it in.  

The other option is raw Linseed oil or Tung Oil.  You can purchase Butcher Block oil at Home Depot, for about $10-$15 for a quart can.  IKEA has their own product called Behandla which is made of "Tung oil, linseed oil, methylcellulose, lead free drying agent, plant-based emulsifier, water".  It is only $5/can.  I've used it for the past 3 years with our wooden countertops and feel comfortable with it.  

For the kitchen island in our new kitchen, I sanded it down lightly with 220 grit sand paper and then applied Behandla finish from IKEA to it.  I used a disposable 1" brush and then wiped down the excess with a paper towel when I was done.  The liquid is flammable, so I don't use cloth rags with it.  When you use Behandla, you have to put several coats on it to begin with, but then afterwards apply a coat about every 6 months (or at least that's what I do).  

If you don't put some kind of finish on your wooden chopping blocks or butcher block, they will split.  

As for disinfecting wooden surfaces, they have natural germ repelling properties, but I spread a little plain white vinegar on the surface and wipe it all over with a rag to disinfect.  This also works for plastic cutting boards.  I don't like bleach and having it around kids, so white vinegar is a much safer option.

At camp, we labeled our vegetable and meat cutting boards so that they wouldn't get mixed up.  It's good to be careful.  I don't worry about this at home, but I am careful to never use a plastic cutting board that I've cut meat on until it's gone through the dishwasher.  

About 8 years ago, I had a friend who's baby got sick with salmonella when she was 3 weeks old.  The family never figured out how she got it.  When I mentioned it to friends, everyone would automatically assume that they weren't very clean.  That wasn't the case at all!  The mom's kitchen was very clean and well taken care of. Watching their daughter get so sick made a big impression on me.  Now, I'm very careful to wash my hands frequently while cooking when handling meat or eggs.  I don't want to accidentally get my family or friends sick.  So, I'm careful to clean my hands and with cooking surfaces.  

Wooden countertops and cutting boards are beautiful and I love them.  But, I try to take good care of them!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Right now, I am sitting down and writing down my homeschooling plans for the week.  Yesterday, I made a list of all the things I need "to do" for our move this week.  It's a big list.  I also have to keep up homeschooling in the midst of it.  So, I thought I'd write this post and say there's a ton of things running through my head that I wish I had time to write about.  But, I don't think much of it is going to get written before January between moving, unpacking, homeschooling, the refinance, my inlaws coming for a visit, my brother and his wife coming for a visit...  So, if you read my blog, please don't think I'm disappearing permanently.  It's just for a little while.  I'll be back in a few weeks.  

PS To whoever reads my blog:  Thank you...  I say very humbly...  Thank you for listening and reading my musings.  

PPS I'd really appreciate your prayers that I make it through all of this in one piece! ;)

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sweet and Sour Sauce and Egg Rolls

A while back a friend of mine asked for this recipe and it slipped my mind!  I like to make egg rolls once in a while.  I get the egg roll wrappers from the produce section and make a vegetable filling.  Sometimes I add tofu or shredded chicken to the vegetable filling.

Egg Rolls
I will chop a mixture of some of these vegetables:
green cabbage
green onions (to taste)
snow peas

I stir fry the mixture and then add this mixture:
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbsp. water
Heat the mixture.

When it's done, you can add in the shredded cooked chicken and/or some bean sprouts.  I used to add water chestnuts or bamboo shoots, but the last few times I've bought them they tasted funny from the can.  

Put about 1-2 Tbsp. filling in the center of the paper and roll.  I follow the directions on the package.  My mom likes to fry them in canola oil on the stove.  I have to admit this is the yummiest way to eat them.  But, if you still want egg rolls and can't handle the oil, I often bake them.  Put them on a cookie sheet with parchment and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes till they're crispy.

Here's the Sweet and Sour Sauce my mom and I've always made to go with them:

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. ketchup
2 Tbsp. sherry cooking wine or apple juice
Place in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil then add cornstarch mixture:
2 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup water
Heat and stir until sauce is thickened.

I like these much better than at restaurants, because I get to choose the filling I want.  I also don't like the filling to be too finely chopped.  I discovered that it is important that the filling is chopped into small pieces, but I don't want it to be mushy!

If you try them, I hope you like them!

Not Spending Money

I'm sure there's an old saying about this, but the truth is--if you don't want to spend money, then don't go shopping.  Don't go.

Every month I do our budget.  This past month I'd been so busy, I didn't make many extra grocery shopping trips.  I realized that I hadn't gone garage saling much or spent much time in stores at all.  I was quite surprised when I did our budget at the end of the month and realized that we'd spent as little as we did.

My mom has been living with us now for a month and she is probably the most frugal person I know.  She's always been a good influence on me in that way.  One of the blessings of who she is, though, is that she doesn't make me feel guilty for what I do spend money on for my family.  She simply makes me aware that I don't need to spend by her quiet presence and her contented heart.

It was funny because yesterday she brought up spending money on her grandchildren and I told her she didn't need to.  She commented that they are happy with anything--the littlest of gifts in fact.  I agreed and am very thankful for this.  I was not a contented child or young adult and I have deeply desired such a heart for my children.  I have taught them to say thank you whenever they receive a gift and write a thank you note.  When they had their first birthday parties, I made a big deal that everyone would sit down and the girls would open their cards first and then the presents.  When they are upset about something they don't have, I point out what they do have.  

One of the biggest reasons they probably are the way they are is also because we don't watch television, we don't regularly go through the toy aisle at stores, and they don't get to pick out a little thing each time we go to the store.  I have noticed that these practices (especially television) have started to lead us down the road to the "Gimmes" as the Berenstain Bear family would call them.  I'll have a weak moment and give in and go to the toy section two trips in a row--and then I later regret it.  I love the Berenstain Bear story about the "Gimmes".  I think it made a bigger impression on me than on the kids when we read it together a few years ago!

But, there is an even bigger reason than all of these that I see as the heart of the matter.  It is God and how we feel about money.  All that we have is really His.  What we believe shapes what we teach our children about money and things.  It also shapes how tightly we hold onto money.  We have to guard our own hearts when it comes to spending money on needs and wants and then protect our children's hearts in this matter as well.  I feel very responsible for this.  

It's rather ironic to me that I'm finally getting these thoughts posted on Black Friday.  A few years ago, I used to love to go shopping on Black Friday.  Even last year, I went and bought a shop-vac at Home Depot.  But, when I went, I found that I cringed.  As I heard stories about the crowds and saw the merchandise that was very cheap being sold even cheaper, I was sad.  I began to think that Black Friday has started to become a day in which we buy gifts for ourselves instead of gifts for others.  I do have friends that enjoy this day and do buy gifts for others.  But, as I've looked around the stores the past few years I've noticed that that just doesn't seem to be the case for a lot of folks.  So, today, I'm not going.  Part of me wishes I could and that it was like it used to be 15 years ago without the mobs and intense frenzy.  But, that's not the way it is today.  So, I'm going to go get a cup of coffee and sit down with a cookie instead!

Thoughts on Giving Gifts

Two weeks ago, I was a part of an interesting discussion among several husbands and wives about gift giving.  It's always one of those interesting things to find out how other couples have sorted out how they would handle Christmas together... who they would give gifts to...  how much they would spend...  which family traditions from their own families they would keep.

My husband and I have sorted all these things out over the years.  But, little things change every year.  I love to give gifts.  It's something I simply love to do.  I don't do it out of obligation or any feeling that I have to do it.  I simply want to.

This year is hard for me.  Normally I would be working on our Christmas cards right now.  I try to have them done before Thanksgiving because there's so much to do after Thanksgiving.  I usually have a special spot where I collect little gifts I want to give people.  But, this year we're going to send change of address/New Year's cards in January.  And I have no idea how fast I'm going to get things unpacked and sorted in our new house.  The plan is that we're going to move Dec. 10th.  There will be a lot to do just to get settled and enjoy as much as we can of the Christmas holiday.

I want to share a story with you about me and why giving gifts matters so much.  When I was a senior in college, I was living in an apartment and paying most of my bills--all except my car insurance.  I had taken extra credits all the way along so that I could graduate early and save my father some tuition.  I was living on $30/month for groceries.  I went home for Christmas.  My aunt had asked what I wanted for Christmas.  I don't remember what I said but I remember wanting a cookbook.   I opened a gift from my aunt.  It was a pair of trivets.  I had no idea what they were.  I behaved very poorly.  I cried.  It wasn't until years later that I was able to fully apologize to my aunt for my rude behavior.  You see, I had so little that Christmas.  I was working part-time, going to school full-time, scraping by.  It was like giving a homeless person a food processor when they longed for groceries.  My aunt didn't know this until years later because she thought I was well taken care of at the time and didn't know many details about my life then.

For a long time, my behavior that afternoon grieved me.  I realized how ungrateful I must have seemed to my family.  The fact that they didn't know or understand my financial situation didn't excuse me.  It also stuck with me and changed my heart.  I resolved to always be thankful for any gift that was given to me--even if I didn't need it or want it.  So, when I have received gifts I haven't needed I have always found another use for it or found another home for it where it was often needed and wanted.  I don't feel bad about regifting because I receive a gift in the process.  It gives me joy to give a gift to another that they want.

Several years later, I did have the opportunity to tell my aunt the full story and she forgave me and understood.   But, that event had forever changed me and changed how I view giving and receiving gifts.

Cynthia Heald wrote in one of her Bible studies that a gift isn't given unless it is received.  If we don't accept someone's offer to give us a gift--whether a tangible object or an act of service, then the giver doesn't truly get to "give".   It is not a gift until it is received.  Even before I read that, I had come to that conclusion.  Early in my marriage, we lived on very little.  God stretched everything we had in amazing ways.  I was the one who had little, so I searched for ways to give of what I had.  I made gifts and garage saled.  I wanted to thank others with a gift because they blessed me with their generosity.  That practice continued on even after we could afford more.  When the tables flipped, I wanted to be the one to give to others in the way that my friends had given to me.  Over that time, I found that I just love to give gifts. It's something I enjoy doing.

So, if you're one of my friends and you ever receive a gift from me, please know that I do not expect a gift in return.  I do simply love to give gifts to those in my life.  As for the trivets... they made it through about 12 moves before they were broken.  They were well loved and used.  I remember when one of them broke.  One of my daughters had dropped one of them.  I was sad, but also realized that my aunt knew how handy those trivets would be!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Family's Snickerdoodle Recipe

A friend of mine asked me this weekend if I was willing to part with my family's snickerdoodle recipe.  Since there is no likelihood that I will ever write a cookbook of my own ;)  I don't mind sharing it at all.  I am glad to share it actually and glad that my friend asked for the recipe!  It was a great compliment that her family likes them enough to ask for the recipe.  One woman who works with my husband once told me that they are like a drug!  

So, here's the recipe...


1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
Cream well.  No lumps.

Add 2 eggs and mix together well.

2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. cream of tarter
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Add and mix together to stir into above.

Chill dough for 2-3 hours.  Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts.  

Roll in a mixture of 
2 Tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon

Bake on ungreased (or parchment lined) cookie sheet for 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  
Play around with how long you bake them--less if you like chewy cookies, more if you like crispy ones.

Note:  The cookies puff up at first, then flatten out with crinkled tops.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Christmas Toys

There's a funny little thing I've noticed about Toys R Us and the months of November and December.  I've had a theory for a few years now and I've watched to see if it held true.  

Here's my theory:  The toy specials in November are better than the ones in December.  For a few years, I waited in November thinking there would be better sales in December.  But, I watched.  The sales seemed to consistently to be better in November.  So, if there's a special toy you're thinking of buying for your child for Christmas and you see it go on sale in November. It is probably be a good time to get it!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moments When God Overwhelms Me...

As I sit here typing these words, the tears threaten to fall.  There are a few times in my life when I have felt the overwhelming love and grace of God.  I have seen it in his mercy for me and in blessings he has given me that i don't deserve.  

Today I realize both His mercy and Grace.  Just this morning I posted about our house hunting journey that we are on.  I posted about the offer we'd made that I was almost sure would not be accepted.  I wrote about the woman who owns the house we love.  I mentioned how busy and stressful the past few weeks have been for us.  Well, it's going to get a little busier for a few weeks.

This morning we went to church and then had made plans to take her the check for the piano we are purchasing from her.  So, we arrived at her house.  I thought I'd check our voicemail at home to see if our realtor had left a message.  But, as I dialed, I realized the message would be on our answering machine--which I couldn't access! So, I got the kids out of the car, along with my mom, and we rang the door bell.

The woman opened her door and was glad to see us.  I came in with the kids and she looked at my mom.  She asked if we knew and she whispered back, "No."  Then she looked at me and said, "You got the house."  I gave her a big hug, with tears in my eyes.

She told me she couldn't sell it to anyone else.  When I came to see the house, she knew that I loved my husband because I discounted the house because it had no garage--no place for my husband's motorcycles.  When my husband came on Friday, she saw that my husband loved me enough to choose a house that didn't have a place yet for his motorcycles.  I will always remember that she saw this.

There was another thing that struck me this morning.  This house is not exactly what I thought I was looking for--and I have to admit my husband wasn't either when we met.  All the wishes were there, but the package looked different.  This house reminds me of my marriage and how God has worked in my life more than once.  What He wants is best--it's better than what we could wish for ourselves.  

We're going to hopefully close in a little over a month and have a new home.  My mom is excited.  And we have a new family friend.  And I am overwhelmed by God's grace and mercy.  We should be in our new home before Christmas!

Moments When God Overwhelms Me...

As I sit here typing these words, the tears threaten to fall.  There are a few times in my life when I have felt the overwhelming love and grace of God.  I have seen it in his mercy for me and in blessings he has given me that i don't deserve.  

Today I realize both His mercy and Grace.  Just this morning I posted about our house hunting journey that we are on.  I posted about the offer we'd made that I was almost sure would not be accepted.  I wrote about the woman who owns the house we love.  I mentioned how busy and stressful the past few weeks have been for us.  Well, it's going to get a little busier for a few weeks.

This morning we went to church and then had made plans to take her the check for the piano we are purchasing from her.  So, we arrived at her house.  I thought I'd check our voicemail at home to see if our realtor had left a message.  But, as I dialed, I realized the message would be on our answering machine--which I couldn't access! So, I got the kids out of the car, along with my mom, and we rang the door bell.

The woman opened her door and was glad to see us.  I came in with the kids and she looked at my mom.  She asked if we knew and she whispered back, "No."  Then she looked at me and said, "You got the house."  I gave her a big hug, with tears in my eyes.

She told me she couldn't sell it to anyone else.  When I came to see the house, she knew that I loved my husband because I discounted the house because it had no garage--no place for my husband's motorcycles.  When my husband came on Friday, she saw that my husband loved me enough to choose a house that didn't have a place yet for his motorcycles.  I will always remember that she saw this.

There was another thing that struck me this morning.  This house is not exactly what I thought I was looking for--and I have to admit my husband wasn't either when we met.  All the wishes were there, but the package looked different.  This house reminds me of my marriage and how God has worked in my life more than once.  What He wants is best--it's better than what we could wish for ourselves.  

We're going to hopefully close in a little over a month and have a new home.  My mom is excited.  And we have a new family friend.  And I am overwhelmed by God's grace and mercy.  We should be in our new home before Christmas!

House Hunting

Conventional advice is:  Sell your house, then go look for another one and put an offer in on it.  My mom told me that Dave Ramsey's advice about renting property is to pay off your primary home then purchase another for rental.

But, what do you do if you need to move and your house isn't selling?  I think most families choose to move and either rent their home for a time or split up their family and remain in the house until it sells while the wage earner goes on ahead and lives in a studio apartment or with friends/family until his or her family is able to move there as well.

We are in an interesting situation.  My mom moved to Maryland three weeks ago.  My husband and I both thought it would work out well, but we had no idea how well.  We all get along well.  My husband and I go in a closed room and fight when we need to sort something out.  My mom is able to help us as we go through this house hunting journey by watching the kids for us as we go see houses and put offers in.  I try very hard not to take advantage of her as a babysitter.  She also has been helping with the cooking, laundry, and dishes.  Amidst this very stressful time right now, she has made my load bearable.

Our current home doesn't have enough room for us and for my mom to live in.  So, we need to move.  We'd also like to move closer to our church family and where our church meets.

Our house has been on the market for two weeks, but no one--No one has called to see it.  It is priced right (we even lowered the price $10k) and it's in wonderful shape.  Every major system in the house has been replaced except the water heater because it's in great shape.  Still no one's even looked.  What is God doing here?

A lot of things, I think.   We are considering purchasing a new home while retaining this one.  We'll keep it on the market and my mom can live here until it sells.  Or there's several other possibilities.  God has provided so that we could cover both mortgages.  By purchasing another home before selling this one, we will have time to fix whatever needs to be done to the other house before we move in.  I know this goes against traditional logic, but it will decrease the stress on my family.  My husband has a very stressful job and very little time during the week to work on house projects.  So, I would be squeezing the work in amidst moving in and homeschooling--eek!  We are going to refinance this house and lower the interest rate.  It will lower the monthly payment a great deal.  This goes against all traditional financial wisdom, but we are trusting the Lord with all of this.  Really, it's his money, not ours.  We are seeking to be wise in these decisions and praying through out this process.

In the past week, we put an offer in on two different houses.  The first was an older home that was going to need a lot of modifications in the kitchen.  It was a great home, but it had an in ground pool (added yearly maintenance cost) and an acre of woods.  Our offer was not accepted.  It was countered.  We were surprised!  When the owner countered, we pulled back.  One friend pointed out that though the house came with an acre of woods, it couldn't be used.  Given the market, the house was also overpriced.  Another issue we didn't consider at the time was that the bedrooms were upstairs, so when anyone went to bed, the people downstairs would hear all the walking (which sounds like stomping) around upstairs.  We took our offer off the table after seeking counsel and decided to keep looking.

In the middle of the week, I went to a house that had no garage but had 4 bedrooms and 2 full baths (which we need!).  At first, I completely discounted it.  But, when I mentioned it to my husband, he wanted to see it.  On Friday we went to see it together.  He fell in love with it.  I loved it even more than I did the first time.  It has an amazing kitchen--perhaps not for everyone, but for us because of the kind of cooks we are.  It had character that we loved.  But, we got a call on Saturday afternoon that there was another offer.  So, we met with our realtor to put an offer in.  Later last night, she called to say that there were 3 offers in total, so did we want to increase our offer?

Did we?  No.  My husband and I both felt it was wise to offer what we simply felt we were willing to pay and trust it to the Lord.  It felt a bit like eBay.  And eBay often feels like gambling to me.  Even though we love the house it isn't wise to pay more than it is worth.  We can take the elements from this house that we love and add some of them to another home we find.  One thing we've realized is that we really want a rancher!

We won't hear back until later today.  My husband is at peace about the outcome and I am too.  I don't accept our offer to be accepted though.  I rejoice for the woman selling her home!  What a blessing all of this is to her!!  She has to move because of health reasons and I am so thankful that the Lord is providing for her.  God works through many ways--even house hunting--to bring people together.

You see, we're going to buy her piano from her.  She wants to meet our kids.  I want to help her.  So, today we're going to see her after church.  It doesn't matter if she doesn't accept her offer.  God brought someone into our lives that we can care about.  As always, God does unexpected things.

The other blessing of this situation is that my husband and I now have hope.  There will be another home out there for us.  We will look and wait until we find it.  Our house obviously isn't going anywhere!  We took a hard look at our finances and figured out our new price range and even realized that we want (and I'd say even need) a rancher.  In the long run, a ranch home truly is so much wiser with my mom living with us.

House hunting is very stressful.  It isn't easy.  These past three weeks have pushed my husband and I hard.  We've been very stressed out at times.  There is no perfect home.  But, there has also been joy in the adventure.  As we climb back up from the lows, I see God working and renewing our hearts and minds.  Our pastor preached on Psalm 23 last week.  His sermon was very different than any I'd heard before on Psalm 23.  The point that stuck out to me the most was that it says we will "walk" through the valley of the shadow of death.  It doesn't say "run", "fly", "hop", or even "skip" through it.  It will take time and we put one foot in front of the other.  We press on.

We're pressing on.  We'll see what this day holds.  At the very least, it holds a new friend for me as she meets my kids and my mom.  A new person to love with the love of Christ that He has put in my heart.

1 John 4:7,12

English Standard Version (ESV)
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Used Book Refunds... Again

Sorry, this post is basically me venting my frustration.

I tried... again!  There's always that enticement that a used book is going to be cheaper than a new book.  It's not just the price that beckons me to buy a used book, though.  There's also the reality that in purchasing a used book I'm recycling something that's already been produced.  Essentially, I'm wasting less by reusing a book someone else no longer wants.

I wrote a few months back about an issue I had trying to resolve the refund for a used book.  Today it happened again.  Amazon has a great rating system for the condition of used books--Like New, Very Good, Good, Acceptable.  
I expect that an acceptable book may be missing some pages and definitely will have writing, but a like new condition shouldn't have any writing and should be in almost new condition.

Last week, I ordered a "Like New" book for my husband.  When it arrived, I noticed the dirt and marks on the front and back cover.  I cleaned them off easily enough with a damp rag and a little baking soda.  But, then I opened the book up.  Over half of the book was written in and underlined in--pen.  Of course, I contacted the seller.  They agreed to give me a refund upon receipt of the book.  Tonight, I went to print off the return label--which required me to pay for the return postage.  I could understand this if I had made an error in my order.  But, I didn't.  

After trying to contact the seller again because of my surprise, I received an email back that said that he/she couldn't believe how petty I'm being and that I should be grateful they were willing to give me a refund at all.  But, it actually gets worse.  The seller accused me of trying to find a sucker and get free books.  I have contacted Amazon.  I'm curious what their response will be.  The refund was issued, but honestly I don't care.  My brother always tells me that I won't pay for good customer service.  He's wrong.  I will.  The experiences I have shopping will shape where I choose to spend the money I need to for the things we need and want.  I am often willing to buy less if it means I won't have someone insult me or be rude to me when there's a problem.  

I guess this is one more nail in the coffin, so to speak.  I want to buy used books!  But, not if I have bad experiences when I order them and take a risk every time that the book isn't going to be in the condition it was described in.  


Friday, October 7, 2011


My mom is moving here today.  I am very excited.  The kids are excited.  We are all excited!  But, there is a bit of overwhelming to the move as well.  Moving her things into storage, shipping her car cross country, changing Medicare supplements, changing doctors, changing auto information and documents...

One of the things about me is that I love to give gifts.  I am thankful that God has allowed me to garage sale and shop sales so that I can do this inexpensively and stretch our budget.  Garage saling in this part of the country is just about over for the year.  The cool weather is setting in and there isn't as many daylight hours each day.  Last Saturday we went to a 5k for a local crisis pregnancy center.  We had a great time.  Afterwards, we stopped by the local farmer's market and then the donut shop.  My husband was ready to go home.  I had heard about a garage sale at a church that might still be going on.  I wanted to go.  My husband said I could if I dropped him and the kids off at home.

I called my garage saling partner in crime and she was free, so we headed over.  I told my husband I'd only be gone 20 minutes.... 2 hours later I arrived home!

I was very thankful for his patience and for the treasures I arrived home with.  One of my mom's concerns has been having clothes for the cold weather that is coming.  She's going to need to layer and have some warmer fleeces/sweaters.  I was so thankful that I found a sweater for her for $2 and 2 fleece pullovers for $1.  I also found her 2 shirts for $1 each.  What a blessing!  I also found a brand new address book for 50 cents.

I wanted to be able to give my mom a welcome gift and these were perfect!  My mom is going to be making new friends and need a new address book.  God showed me how He provides even our hearts' little desires.

By the way, my husband was okay with my long jaunt when I brought home a few cds for him that I'd found in my treasure hunting!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rosemary Chicken Tacos

I have a lot of cookbooks on my shelves and often people ask me if I cook from every one of them.  I don't.  Some I use for just a few recipes that are really yummy.  One of my cookbooks has a recipe for chocolate chip cookies just like the ones you buy in Costco.  I keep it on my shelf just for that recipe.  Last month, I got a new Taco cookbook.  My husband's favorite foods are tacos and pasta with red sauce.  In our house, Tuesdays are taco night.  So, when I saw a cookbook all on tacos--300 best taco Recipes by Kelley Cleary Coffeen, I thought my husband would love it!

What I found with this cookbook is that it made my mouth water and it made me want to cook.  It also sparked my imagination.  In the beginning is a great description of all the different ways to warm or fry tortillas.  Her list of equipment and ingredients was very helpful.  As I read through the cookbook, I recognized my mom's beef taquito recipe.  She uses variations of this recipe for both chicken and beef taquitos or rolled tacos.  These were a family tradition in my house around Christmas time that I miss.  I highly recommend making some of these with some guacamole!  There are several great sections of appealing pictures--that will of course make you want to have some tacos very soon.  There is also a great variety of sauces and salsas in that section of the book.  It didn't have everything I've ever wanted to make when it comes to salsa, but it had some fun ideas and we enjoyed the Citrusy Lime Salsa I made.  

Now for some specific notes...
1) My family has been frying corn tortillas for years, so I read her description carefully.  I do not deep fry mine.  I use a nonstick skillet with a little oil.  Fry it until it starts to puff up a little and then use a wooden spoon.  Place it in the middle and use tongs to fold over the side of the tortilla (to fold it into a moon shape).  Fry it until both sides are as crispy as you would like them.  Place on a paper towel lined plate when cooked.

2) Last week, I made some great tacos on a non-designated taco night.  I think it was a Thursday.  I made some chicken tacos.  The chicken was seasoned with pepper, sea salt, and rosemary.  I served the tacos with chicken, sour cream, and carmelized onions. They were yummy!  

Here's the recipe for the chicken.  
Put 1 tsp. dried rosemary, 1 tsp. coarse sea salt, and 1/2 tsp. cracked pepper in a Mortar bowl.  Use a pestal to crush it.  Slice 1 lb. chicken breasts into strips.  Place in a bowl and toss with 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil.  Then, add in the spice mixture and toss to coat.  Saute chicken in pan until cooked through.

Carmelized onions:
I thinly slice an onion.  Add 1 tsp. brown sugar and 1 Tbsp. canola oil.  Saute for 30-40 minutes over med. low heat.  If the heat is too high--they won't cook faster, they'll just burn unfortunately.  I know this from experience of trying to rush them!

This recipe is not in the taco cookbook, but I took the idea from the book.  There is a great recipe for Rosemary Chicken Tacos in the book.  I used it as a springboard.  The recipe in the cookbook calls for grilling the chicken and a creamy garlic spread (which sounds wonderful).  

When I made my version of Rosemary chicken tacos, I realized that this is what made me like this cookbook--it started my brain going.  I had put tacos in a box and not thought of them as anything other than meat or refried bean tacos.  This cookbook helped me see that there's a lot more to tacos than meets the eye!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook from Robert Rose Publishing for review.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Peanut Butter Blossoms

I am 37 years old and last year was the first time I remember a friend giving me a cookie plate at Christmas time.  I think we even got two from two different friends--with the same name :)  It was such a treat!  I love to bake, one of the gals made some peanut butter blossoms that were so much better than mine!  I tasted one and I thought, "Mine aren't as good as these!  I need to find a better recipe!"  So, I set out to find one...

I did find one.  It was in my King Arthur's Cookie Companion Cookbook.  I love to make cookies--and eat them, of course.  I wanted a big cookie cookbook for a long time and found this one at a used book sale.  I've had really good luck with the cookies I've made from it.  

I searched online for a recipe identical to the one I made and found one HERE.  Of course, I don't use Reese's Peanut Butter in mind.  I use Simply Jif--the kind without hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.  I also use butter instead of shortening.  I use the exact same amount.  Some substitution books will say that there's a slight difference in how much shortening to replace with butter.  I found with recipe that I simply substituted the 1/2 cup shortening with 1/2 cup butter.

They're really yummy!

October Free Audio Book: Think

Every month has a free audio book.  This month, it is the book Think by John Piper.  

The description of the book says that it is a book about thinking.  Piper wants us to glorify God in our thinking.  Our faith is a combination of heart and mind.  Our mind is an important part of that--a very important part and that is what this book is about. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A funny thing happened at BJs a few weeks ago...

A few weeks ago, it was time for the monthly change of our air conditioning filter.  I'd run out, so I headed over to BJs.  There were 2 packages left but no price tag up on the rack.  I picked up both packages and headed to the checkout lane.  After checking out all of my other items, the checker called over the supervisor for help.  

It turns out that the 2 pk of filters rang up for 3 cents.  Really.  It rang up for 3 cents!  He thought it was a fluke as did the checkout supervisor, so they called the store manager.  Nope.  3 cents it was.  I went back to see if there were anymore.  There was--1 more package.  It was a little bent, but for 3 cents I was willing to try them. It was only the cardboard frame that was a little bent.  

So, that day I left BJs with 6 air conditioning filters for a 11 cents.  Normally, a 2 pk is $15.  So, instead of being $45 plus tax, it was only 11 cents.  

The lesson I learned that day...  it never hurts to ask how much something is!  You may just find an extra good deal!

Cooking for Special Diets

I think that cooking for someone with a special diet is often difficult.  We are so accustomed to cooking with a lot of dairy, meat, salt, and sugar in America.  I fall into this group wholeheartedly.  I try to be wise about all of these ingredients and eat them in moderation.  Two months ago, I wanted to decrease the sugar in my family's diet.  So, my answer was to look for some new recipes.  That's usually my first impulse when it comes to cooking.  When I have recipes I want to make and that sounds good, I'm much more likely to make them.  

Because I wanted to decrease the amount of sugar, I thought of cookbooks for diabetics, since they have to have diets low in sugar.  I requested two diabetic cookbooks for review.  I really enjoyed America's Best Cookbook for Kids with Diabetes.  I wrote a review here two months ago.  Since then, I've been sporadically cooking recipes from the second diabetes cookbook I have, 250 Essential Diabetes Recipes.

I've made a white sauce for my fish, the broccoli ranch salad, classic greek salad dressing, and an eggplant dip.  The white sauce needed spice.  The Broccoli salad was surprisingly good.  The Greek salad dressing was pretty salty, but good.  The eggplant dip was declined by my husband after a few bites.  He wasn't crazy about the strong celery taste to it.  

What I loved about the Kids cookbook was that the recipes had just enough spice for kids and enough to keep parents happy.  In contrast, the recipes from this cookbook were quite bland except for the broccoli salad.  I'm going to rabbit trail for just a second...

I have noticed that many cookbooks from the 1950s and 60s had recipes in them that were very basic and mild.  Usually the recipes didn't have a lot of spice in them or strong flavors.  Over the years, the number of cookbooks has greatly multiplied!  There are still those cookbooks with pretty mild dishes, but there are also many cookbooks that have plenty of spice in their recipes.  My tastes fall toward the more flavorful side.  So, with those random thoughts...

The recipes from this cookbook reminded me a lot of those blander recipes from days long ago.  They weren't bad recipes, but they simply weren't as packed as flavor as I'd like.  

But, there are many strengths of this cookbook.  1) The formatting, as with all Robert Rose cookbooks, is great.  The recipes are so easy to read and understand.  None of the recipes are very difficult to make.  There's a very helpful introduction at the front of the cookbook.  2) You can modify the recipes in this cookbook.  With special diets, food often needs to be bland so that it will settle with someone's stomach.  If that's what you're looking for, this cookbook will meet that need.  Also, if there's an ingredient (like my husband and celery), adjust the amount you add to the recipe.

If you're looking for a diabetes cookbook to check out of the library, look this one up.  The pictures are appealing and it's easy to use.  You may find that it's a good fit for you and it will give you a place to start.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook from Robert Rose for review.

Gluten-Free Brownies

Yesterday, I got a new cookbook, Taste of Home Baking, in the mail to try out.

My mom loves Taste of Home magazine so I was curious about this cookbook. I bake a lot so I do have many cookbooks on my shelves.  At one point I had 100 (my husband counted), but I've cut back to only the ones I use which has left me with about 80 or so.  I guess I cook a lot.

When this cookbook arrived, I was immediately pleased. Inside the front cover was an insert offer with a free 1 year subscription to Taste of Home magazine ($10 is the special rate usually) which makes the $18 price on Amazon for this cookbook a great value! When you open up, you'll see that there are two plastic pages protectors that you can use to protect the cookbook pages while you are cooking. I can't tell you how many spots my cookbooks have on them from my cooking! Once you get past those two features, you'll notice that there are many sections including one for cupcakes (the new craze), lighter recipes, and special diets. The formatting of this cookbook makes it very easy to read and use. There are plenty of pictures to give you an idea of what you're making--and make it appealing! The pages are thicker than the ones in America's Test Kitchen's family cookbooks (also binder-style) which makes the pages easier to turn and less likely to rip out.

I chose to make two recipes from this cookbook in the 24 hours that I've had it so far. Yesterday, I made the gluten-free brownies. They have... garbanzo beans in them. The recipe sounded so strange I had to try it. They turned out! Actually, my kids (3, 5, and 7) raved about them. They weren't as heavy as normal brownies since they didn't have any wheat or butter in them. They were really quite good!

I was able to find the recipe for the brownies online HERE.  

The second recipe I made was one for apple muffins. I do want to note that Taste of Home is not typically thought of as a "healthy" cooking magazine so I wouldn't say that most of the recipes in this cookbook are "healthy" type baking recipes. The muffins were quite good (and easy to make) and because there was butter in them, we didn't need to put butter on them when I served them.

This cookbook has significantly improved my opinion of Taste of Home recipes. I had a church supper cookbook by them last year that I finally gave away because the recipes I made didn't turn out that well. This cookbook, on the other hand, has already proven successful in our house! 

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

One of our favorite salsas over the past 10 years has been the green salsa verde at Trader Joe's.  But, with the rising cost of groceries, it is also one of the treats that I've cut from my grocery list.

I found a recipe last week that is just as good--if not better--than that salsa.  Green Salsa Verde is either made with peppers or tomatillos.  Trader Joe's salsa is made with tomatillos, so that's what I wanted to use.  The recipe came from America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.  But, I found this recipe online Here that is almost exactly the same.  The recipe I made did not have the cumin, though.  So, I'd try it the first time without the cumin and see how you like it.  Add the cumin the next time and see if you like it better or worse!  I will mention that I seeded the jalapenos and Did Not add the seeds back in to spice it up.  I'm a pretty mild salsa eater.  If you like it hot, add the seeds back in to taste when you're blending the salsa.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Funny Story About Clothes...

Last week, my daughters started taking an art class at our homeschool co-op.  They donned two shirts that were the same style but different colors.  I had just bought them the weekend before at a consignment sale and they loved them.

Yesterday was the second class day and they donned the same shirts.  Autumn told me they wanted to wear them every week.  I told her that the other kids might think they only have 1 outfit!  At the suggestion, my daughter just burst out laughing. 

And then she said some magical words, "I don't care, Mommy. I love this shirt."

A big smile spread across my face.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Many Clothes Do You Need?

I could have asked,
How many blankets do you need?
How many shoes do you need?
How many books do you need?
How much curriculum need?
How many toys do your kids need?

What do you need?
What do you not?

Do you think about this a lot?

I think about it from time to time.  I try to be mindful of it.

When my girls were little, I wanted to make sure they had enough clothes.  (They're still little to me.) Like most adults, I have baggage from my past.  And when I was a kid, there were a lot of kids that made comments about my clothes.  I didn't want my kids to have comments made about them.  So, they had plenty of clothes--brand names from garage sale clothes, but still great clothes.  Then, I had a little boy.  He would be our only little boy, so it made sense that I didn't need a lot of extra clothes for him.  I just needed him to have enough.  It made me step back with my girls.  Now when I'm tempted to buy my girls clothes (even at garage sales), I hold myself to a lower limit.  Do they really need it or do they have enough?  Because even if it's a great price, if they don't need it--well, then they don't need it and I shouldn't get it.

As often happens to my blog posts, a rabbit trail is about to sneak in...

I began this post yesterday and tonight I was reading about "needs" in a book I've meant to finish up.  There was only about a chapter or two left and I'd gotten derailed.  Tonight I read about "needs" in a different way that is challenging me.

"When I forget what my true and essential need really is, I will name things as needs that are not really needs and then invest my life in anxious pursuit of 
them.  Subtly, these things begin to exercise control over the way I think 
about myself and my life...Subtly, desire for these things begins to shape the way I invest my time, energy, and money.  Subtly these things become my 
reason for making the decisions I make.  Subtly, these things become the lens through which I evaluate my life.  Subtly, I begin to look to these things for my happiness and my inner sense of well-being.  Somewhere, somehow, I have 
forgotten who I am.  Somehow, I have let go of God's gift of grace.... You see 
life always involves worship.  Our lives revolve around the thing that has 
captured our attention and desire."  
quoted from pg. 182-184 of Broken-Down House by Paul David Tripp

This quote made me realize that it's okay to think about what my family 
needs, but I need to guard the time and energy that this "thinking" takes from me.  I need to be careful that whatever I think I "need" hasn't captured my 
heart and mind.