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Friday, December 31, 2010

Keep the Laundry Basket Full

Sometimes I feel like all I do is wash clothes, fold clothes, sort clothes, put away clothes, empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher.  And repeat. Times a million and repeat again.  Really, it's kind of unreasonable that 3 people and a dog should have this much laundry and need to run the dishwasher all the time, but we do.  Between sheets, towels and the fact that eating out isn't regular around here the sink and the laundry basket are always in need of attention.

I made the comment recently on Facebook that sometimes I feel like all I do is the laundry and dishes.  Then someone who has grown children made the comment that in a few years I won't have all those things anymore but that will also mean that the hugs and kisses will be gone too.  

So it made me realize that as we go into a new year, I need to savor the moments more.  I need to focus on not letting the details get in the way.  No dust on my furniture (or fans) or dirt on the floor needs to take precedent over my family.  I need to savor my moments with my son and my husband.  One day the floor will be spotless and my boy will be gone.  I'd rather have dirty floors and laundry piled to the ceiling so I don't forget a moment or a day with my son.  So keep my laundry basket full, I've got a little boy to mother and love.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best Part of the Day

Today Austin and I woke up and on a whim took off to Disney.  We bought Annual Passes last spring, so we can go whenever we'd like.  I have a backpack cooler so we take our own lunch and go for the day on occasion.  We can get there in about an hour from our home.  

We chose to go to the Magic Kingdom.  To say it was packed is an understatement at the least.  There were rides that had wait times of up to 180 minutes.  Yikes.  Anyway, we didn't ride nearly what we could have on a day when the crowds aren't as large.  We did get to his favorites; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and The Haunted Mansion.  Neither scare him and he gets a thrill from both.  We made our first ever trek over to Tom Sawyer's Island.  I hadn't been over there since I was a kid and I had forgotten about the caves and the Fort.  Austin was able to shoot pretend guns in the fort and you would have thought he'd died and gone to heaven.  I thought I'd never get him off the Island and when I finally did he wasn't happy about it.  We rode the People Mover and we had Mickey Popsicles while sitting on the ground.  In one part of the park, they were having a dance party.  It was a lot of fun, and lots of folks were making pure fools of themselves and having a great time doing it.  Austin decided he wanted to join in.  I got it on video

video

Here he is after eating his Popsicle:

And this picture says enough:

On the longest tram ride back to the car in the history of the world, I took our picture, and this is what I got:



As we were driving home, I asked him what his favorite part of the day was.  He said "spending time with you Momma".  I nearly cried.  I may have if I weren't driving.  I told him that it was one of the sweetest things he'd ever told me.  What a sweet boy I've been blessed with. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Take on TLC's Extreme Couponing

This show aired and profiled four people who coupon.  The first woman coupons so much that it's overtaken her home and her husband has had to give up his own space for her.  She admitted it is an obsession and that she often sacrifices time with her husband and family to go shopping.  The second woman actually dives in recycling dumpsters just to get coupons.  The third woman collects coupons and helps others.  The final couponer was a man who has to pull a trailer behind his car just to bring his purchases home.

The thing that bothered me the most about this show is that it showed people who literally do nothing but coupon.  Their habits have resulted in a stockpile that has taken over their homes.  They spend tons of money on coupon clipping services and could probably be diagnosed as OCD.  But there are people who have lost their jobs and are not sure how they are going to eat their next meal.  There are people that are so overstretched because of the economy that buying groceries is nearly impossible.  These people need to know that they can truly coupon without getting to the point of needing to visit the mental ward of the nearest hospital.

So to debunk a few myths; couponing does not have to consume your life.  When you first get started, it does take some time to learn a system that works for you. You do not have to create such a stockpile that takes over your home.

The truth is that couponing can change your life.  You can free up room in your budget to help you get out of debt, save for the future or just have some wiggle room.  You can have a small stockpile that will allow your family to weather a crisis.  You can feed hungry children without having to worry about having enough on hand for them when they want to snack.

Don't let this show stop you from couponing if you haven't started. There are plenty of sane individuals like myself who help their families by couponing.  It can change your life for the positive if you just give it a try!

Out of our Abundance

I worry. I know, the Bible says not to worry. But in this case, I worry about my son.  You see, we are blessed.  My son doesn't have any idea what real hunger is.  He has no idea what it is to want for a meal or to be without clothes or toys.  He's never had to worry about having a roof over his head, and has been provided for well.

But there are kids in his own school who know all too well about those kinds of worries.  There are people all around us everywhere we go that struggle in some way or another.  I don't want my son to think that this is just how everyone has it.  I want him to understand that he needs to be grateful and realize that he's blessed.

So how do you teach a five year old that he'd better be thankful there's something to eat, a roof over his head and he doesn't have to worry about his needs?

One of the things we do to help our son realize this is at Christmas Time.  We intentionally set aside a certain amount of money based on what we feel we can sacrifice to go out and shop for presents for needy children.  We usually choose a child or two to sponsor from an angel tree or from a list of needy children somewhere.  We explain to Austin that these kids wouldn't have Christmas Presents if they weren't donated to them.  Austin is involved in the shopping, wrapping and delivery of the presents.

A second thing I do is donate out of my stockpile.  I could easily do this without Austin knowing.  But he watches me and I tell him that we are giving this to people in need.  We frequently remind him that not everyone has cabinets and shelves full of food like we do.

As my son gets older we will involve him more in helping others.  But it's so important to teach him that he needs to be thankful for all that we have been blessed with.  We may not have the fanciest house, or the nicest cars or go on lavish vacations, but we have a roof over our heads, a stockpile of groceries, he has more toys than I can physically count, he never misses a meal and he goes to the doctor when he needs to go.  God has been good to us and it is our goal to help our son realize and appreciate that goodness.

Extreme Couponing?

Tonight on TLC at 8PM, they are going to air a show called Extreme Couponing.  Some of these folks allow couponing to literally rule their lives.  But really, it's amazing to see some of the savings they are pulling off!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Truth (part two)

You can read the first part of this story here.

  So after a laparoscopy, I began to feel like a human being again.  The doctor did find some scar tissue and some endometriosis, and he removed it all.  After a few days, I began to feel alive again.  I began to feel like I could be a mom and play with my son without being in pain.  I felt like a participant in my marriage and like I could live and not just get through the day.
  I didn't tell Austin's birth story to the whole world so that I could garner support.  But the truth is that just because I call Jesus my Lord does not mean that life comes without trials.  I wanted nothing more than to have a few kids and be a mom.  But my body isn't so fond of the whole giving birth thing.  Does it mean that I'm not a good enough Christian or that I'm not thankful enough to the Lord.  I heard several comments from other Christians when I was enduring my difficult pregnancy "Oh, I loved being pregnant, I was so thankful to the Lord for my baby that all those little symptoms didn't bother me."  Okay, honestly folks... who in the world would want to revel in the fact that puking was a regular part of your day?  Really, do you think that I wanted to be that miserable?  Well, no, I didn't.  It was no fun.  I still have heartburn issues due to my little fella.  But you know what?  I am thankful that God allowed me to have my son.  I can't imagine my life without him.  What I went through was terrible, but I love my son and I am thankful for him.  No level of thankfulness to the Lord will help you avoid trials and tribulations.  God has a plan in it all, even if it's bad.
    Call it Christianese.  My husband and I often refer to them as Used Car Salesmen.  You can call it whatever you want.  But there are some REALLY fake people that grace the doors of churches every Sunday.  Why these folks never have any problems.  Why?  Well that's because they call the good Lord just that, Lord.  Why since they were saved they've never had problems.  The bills have always been paid with ease, nothing in the house has broken when they don't have the funds to fix it, everyone is healthy, and their job is sunshine and roses.  At least that's what they want you to think.
  But the truth?  Life is ugly.  People sin.  They act in ways they don't want to and they make stupid mistakes.  People are judgmental and rude.  Things don't work out the way we want them to.  You can make the grandest of plans, but God has another plan and it just might not fit in your little box.
  I recently read Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman, and it is an amazing book.  This book goes into detail about Mary Beth's own journey through life's struggles.  She talks about how those smaller struggles led up to the biggest struggle of her life; the death of her five year old daughter.  She is very clear in the book that God has a plan in the mess.  It might be a huge mess, but God has a plan in that huge mess.
   I think it's high time that Christians start being real.  Real about the truth of life. God sent His Son Jesus to die for us.  Because of that, we can have everlasting life when we accept Him as our Savior.  And God has a plan for each of us and orders our step according to His purpose.  But the truth?  Those steps aren't always wonderful, they aren't always rainbows and sunshine.  However, there are times that you see God's purpose in a trial and you come through a situation where you can see where God had you headed.  Bottom line, in the end God's plan is perfect, even if the details are messy and terrible.  And that's the truth.

The Truth (part one)

     This post isn't for the weak at heart or for those who only want to read about wonderful things.  This won't be about butterflies and rainbows, in fact it will be about the void of such things.
      My husband and I recently had a conversation about the difficulties of life.  I'm not going to divulge everything in our personal lives out in the open for all of the internet to see, but suffice it to say that in the ten and a half years we've been married, life hasn't always been full of happiness and it hasn't always been easy.  We've certainly made wrong choices or bad decisions.  But there have been times when we've been faced with choices that aren't pleasant or comfortable.  There have been difficult times in our marriage as well as good ones.  Isn't not all sunshine, rainbows and butterflies over here.
      When we found out we were expecting our son, it was against a doctor's predicted odds.  Just a few weeks prior to my getting a positive pregnancy test, my doctor told me it may be impossible for me to have a baby on my own.  I was so thankful that I was given this gift of my own child.  A few weeks later, the sickness hit and it didn't stop until delivery.  In fact, I was sick so often that there were several instances that my doctor talked about putting me in the hospital on IVs.  My back hurt so bad while I was pregnant (which could have been fixed, more on that later) that I was miserable and often in a lot of pain.  My blood pressure was high. I retained so much water that none of my shoes fit and I couldn't wear my wedding rings or my watch.  I couldn't stand the sight or smell of any chicken.  I couldn't take out the trash or I'd puke.  I went into labor and over 24 hours later after an epidural and pitocin, I pushed for over 2 hours.  Austin was so big that he just wouldn't come down.  He still has a slight scar between his eyes from my bone during delivery.  After a grueling labor and attempt at delivery, I ended up having a c-section.  If you saw a picture of me after delivery, you wouldn't believe it was me.  After they took me to my room, my blood pressure began to skyrocket.  I was so thirsty and felt horrible.  They wouldn't even let me have ice chips and I was so exhausted.  A doctor may tell you I'm wrong, but I really think that if they would have let me have something to drink and had left me alone to rest I would have been okay.  But they came in and turned me on my left side.  I was no longer numb from the epidural and I had a fresh incision.  When they began turning me I begged them not to.  It hurt so bad.  As they turned me they told me that they had to so they could get my blood pressure to drop.  I began SCREAMING.  I didn't scream like that when my epidural wore off during delivery.  I was worn out, but I can tell you that I remember thinking that my incision was going to bust open right there in that room.  My husband held a box of kleenex while I balled my eyes out in pain.  They finally came in with some morphine and put it in my IV.  I guess they gave me enough to knock me out because I remember falling asleep.  I guess you can't have a woman screaming in the recovery section of labor and delivery.  The turning did it's job.  To this day I remember it as one of the most traumatic events of my life.  I wouldn't wish that pain on the worst of criminals.  They put those pressure cuffs on my legs all night that night and I remember calling the nurse over and over again and begging for something to drink.  I just wanted something to drink.  They wouldn't even let me wash my mouth out.  I was dirty and covered in sweat and it was miserable.  They did let Austin stay in our room that night and I remember that between begging for something to drink, I was trying to nurse him.  The next morning they tried to get me out of the bed.  I hadn't drank anything for going on 72 hours now so I was limp like a rag.  The angel, also known as the Nurses Aide, that was trying to help me kindly asked me if I had eaten or drank anything.  When I explained that even though I had begged, I had in fact had nothing to eat or drink, she came to my aide.  I will never forget the four 8 ounce portions of grape juice I drank in about 2 minutes.  It was fabulous and felt so good.  She let me rest a bit so I wouldn't be lightheaded anymore and then she came back and helped me up.  God bless those women.  They helped me go to the restroom, they bathed me in the shower.  They washed my hair and helped me get dressed into fresh clothes.  It couldn't have been pleasant for them, but they were a Godsend.  I can still remember what they looked like. They helped me throughout the rest of my stay and I am forever grateful.
   After I took Austin home, recovery was difficult.  It was painful and I never really got over that pinching feeling from the incision.  My back still hurt and I just wasn't myself.  I struggled with depression and even ended up on anti-depressants when he was about 15 months old.  I had doctors blow me off about my pain and tell me that there wasn't anything wrong with me.  Finally, I had a doctor declare that I must have scar tissue.  She admitted it couldn't be seen on any kind of scan.  I started Therapy for women with my kind of issues.  That woman helped me fix my back and tailbone pain and told me that I could have seen her during my pregnancy to help with that pain.  My skin from my abdomen was so full of adhesions, that it felt like you were ripping it apart when you pulled it.  Finally, I decided I couldn't take it anymore.  My son was nearing his second birthday and I felt like I just got out of labor and delivery.  I told my husband I no longer wanted to feel like I had just had a baby and I couldn't deal with it anymore.  I made another appointment and went in and scheduled a laparoscopy.

To be continued.... 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Slow Cooker Recipes

Scroll down to my previous post to see more about my slow cooking ways...

Pre-made Frozen Meatballs
There are literally hundreds of meatball recipes out there. In fact, you may have one you love. When I buy that huge tube of lean ground beef at Sam's Club, I take a large portion of it and make meatballs. This is how I make mine:
Ground Beef
Salt and Pepper
Bread Crumbs
Egg(s)
Italian Seasoning
Garlic Powder
I mix it up and make meatballs. Then I put them on a plate so they aren't touching. I put them in my freezer and freeze them. Yes, I freeze them raw. Then after they are frozen I put them in freezer bags. Sometimes I have to do this a few times. It helps to put saran wrap on your plate before you put the meatballs down as it's easier to remove them.
You can put the meatballs in the crock pot and do whatever you'd like to them and let them cook on low all day. You can add spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, cream of mushroom soup, cream of cheese soup, etc. You can make sweet and sour meatballs, or any other meatball recipe you can google. You can serve them on hogie rolls or with pasta. Boiling pasta or rice when you get home makes the meal very simple. and the family will be pleased.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
This is a huge hit in my home. I rarely have time to make a lasagna. This makes it simple. Serve with a salad and garlic bread and you have dinner. This recipe is from the Kraft Foods website.
1 lb ground beef, cooked
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
15oz Ricotta Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese, grated (about 1 lb will do)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 egg
Lasagna Noodles

Brown the meat. Stir in spaghetti sauce and water. Seperately combine the ricotta, mozarella (reserve some for the top), egg and parmesan. Layer as follows: sauce--noodles--cheese--noodles--cheese--sauce. Cook on low 4-6 hours. When you get home put the remaining mozzarella on top and turn the crock on high just until the cheese is melted. Serve.

Slow Cooker Italian Beef Sandwiches
Beef Broth
Salt, Pepper, Italian Seasoning, Garlic Powder
Chuck Roast
1 package Dry Italian Dressing mix
Cheese of your choice
Good Sandwich Rolls

Combine everything above except the cheese and rolls. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred the beef when you get home. Put it on the rolls and then put your cheese on top of the meat. Melt under the broiler. Serve with veggies, salad, or chips. Yum.

Italian Sausage and Potatoes
5 or 6 Italian Sausage Links cut in chunks
Onion Soup Mix
1 can Beef Broth
2 small onions, quartered
3-4 potatoes cut in chunks
Water (about 1 can)
Dump everything in the crock pot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve.

There are several other resources you can use to find Crock Pot recipes that work for you. Here are a few:

I do have more ideas. More recipes coming soon!

The Tricks Up My Sleeves (Time Saving Recipes Inside)

I came to a stark realization this school year. I can't keep up with it all. A child in kindergarten, my own fifth grade class to teach, volunteering at church, a husband and marriage to tend to, a house to keep clean, grocery shopping, couponing, meal preparing and planning. It was all getting to me. I can't say that it still doesn't, but I decided I had to make some changes. I found myself coming home after work exhausted. Flat out body hurting tired. I didn't feel like standing at a stove or even thinking about dinner. Since a hungry five year old and husband come around every night around dinner time, I had to do something.

I wanted to do something that would please my family. You might find something that seems easy, but you have to prepare foods that actually work for you and your family. Every family has different tastes and preferences, and this is what is working for my family. I hope that sharing my ideas can help you. But remember that this is all null and void at the end of the day if your family doesn't like what you're making.

I thought about cooking for a month. This does work for some people. I've tried it before and some of the recipes were not a hit with my hubby. There are still some things that I sometimes make ahead and freeze (such as sauces), but the whole cooking for a month and freezing it thing just wasn't working for us.

Then I thought about my crock pot/slow cooker. I considered that many people frequently use their crock pots on a regular basis. The thought of coming home and dinner being done made my heart happy, so I began to do some research. There are some recipes that have not been a hit with my family, but I have found some that work for us. Some of my tips, tricks and recipes are as follows:

My Slowcooker
I have a slow cooker with a timer on it. After cooking for the time I told it to cook, it shuts off to warm and keeps my dinner warm until I get home. This is the model I have here. You don't have to go out and get a new slow cooker if you don't have one with a timer. Just cook everything on low if you are going to be gone all day. Then one day when your current slow cooker gives out, buy one with a timer.

Meat Purchasing and Stockpiling
Being the couponer that I am, stockpiling might as well be my middle name. Buying meat on sale is very important regardless of how you cook. Personally, I can't beat the prices at my local Sam's Club. Learning the best price to purchase meat at in your area will prevent over-spending and allow you to budget. I like to go to Sams Club about once a month and I usually only purchase meat at this trip. The meat I purchase is as follows:
-Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts ($1.99/lb at Sam's Club)
-Chuck Roast--these are huge and I usually get four roasts for our family out of it when I slice them in half ($2.88/lb at Sam's Club) This cut of roast turns out the most moist and is very versatile in the crock pot.
-90% Lean Ground Beef-this comes in a GIANT tube to get it at the lowest price, it usually lasts us 2 months after I slice it up and portion it out. ($2.39/lb at Sam's Club)
-Round Steak--because I am cooking in a crock pot, this cheaper cut of meat saves money and is tenderized by cooking slow all day ($2.98/lb at Sam's Club)
Sometimes I also purchase Italian Sausage or a large Pork Loin that I portion up. Lately the hubby is tired of pork, so we're taking a break from it.

Things to have on hand for Crock-Potting:
-Stock/broth: I often get cans or cartons of chicken, beef or vegetable broth/stock on sale. Usually one can is enough for whatever meal you're making, but the carton is nice to store in the fridge.
-Onion Soup Mix
-Beef Bullion Cubes
-Canned Tomatoes (also frequently on sale)
-Dry Beans of your choice
-Onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, frozen veggies, etc.
-Crock Pot Liners (sold where the foil and saran wrap are) these are a lifesaver. Just remove, rinse your crock pot and you're done.

Before you read my recipes, please know that this is NOT an exact science. The glory of slow cooker cooking is that there is a lot of room for variation. I don't measure anything. I eyeball it all.

Recipes:

Traditional Pot Roast (AKA Sunday Dinner)
I frequently put this in the crock pot on Sunday Mornings
1 Chuck Roast big enough for your family
1-2 cans or a carton of beef stock/broth
Carrots cut into chunks or the baby carrots are fine
2 small/medium onions cut into fourths
1 beef bullion cube
1 packet of onion soup mix (optional)
water

Coat the roast with salt and pepper. If you have time, sear it in a pan with hot oil. If you don't have time, don't fret. I've done it both ways and it's good. Put your crock pot liner in the crock pot. Put the roast in. Add the carrots, onions, beef bullion cube, onion soup mix, and any other seasoning you think looks good. Then add the beef stock and some water so the top of the roast will be covered.
Put your slow cooker on low for 8 hours or on high for four. When I'm making this on Sunday I put it on high and it's ready when we get home. I like to make mashed potatoes with my roast. However, you can also add potatoes to this roast if you really want them in there.

Beef and Noodles
1 small chuck roast
2-3 cans of cream of mushroom soup
Beef Stock
salt, pepper to taste
Egg Noodles or any noodle of your choice.

Line your slow cooker. Put the roast in the crock pot and dump the cream of mushroom soup over the top. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Shred the beef and then boil the noodles on your stovetop. Meanwhile, add beef stock to your shredded beef to thin it out a little. Drain the noodles when they are done and add to the beef. Stir together and then serve.

Totally Cheating Veggie Soup
1 bag of frozen veggies of your choice
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 can of chicken or veggie stock
a few handfuls of dry beans of your choice
1 can of tomato sauce (or cheat like me and take a can of those diced tomatoes and put them in your food chopper and you have sauce)
Salt, pepper, italian seasoning or what looks good to taste
Water (about a can full)
Pasta of your choice (optional)

Line the crock pot. Dump everything in. Stir. I know, this is so hard. Put the crock pot on low for 8 hours. If you want to add pasta then boil it when you get home and add it in. Serve with some warm rolls that you bought frozen and call it a day.

Beef Stew
1 small chuck roast cut into cubes
5 or 6 carrots chunked up or about 3 cups of small carrots
3-4 potatoes
2 small onions cut into fourths (or however you want)
2 garlic cloves, diced or minced
Beef Stock

Dump everything in the crock pot. Add enough beef stock to cover everything. Cook on low for 8 hours. Or high for 4. Yum.

Okay, that's a start for now. I will add more later. I would love to hear if this is helpful for you.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mary, an unlikely miracle

This morning on the way to church, I was listening to our local Christian radio station. They play mostly Christmas music this time of year and Austin enjoyed listening to some of his favorites.

As I rounded the corner to the road our church is on, the song by Amy Grant that we've all heard a million times came on; "Mary Did You Know". I've heard this song more times than I can imagine. In fact, when I was in high school and this song was all the rage, one of my really good friends sang it for a staff reunion at the summer camp I attended in those days.

But today was different. I was subbing in Austin's class and I was going to teach the traditional Christmas story. I was thinking that I wanted to get across to the five year olds that this coming Saturday isn't about all those presents under the tree, and is truly about our Savior being born.

As I listened to that song, I began to think about what it must have been like for Mary. I guess I've never thought deeply about this before, but today I did. I remember carrying my son. I remember holding my belly and feeling him kick and squirm and talking to the boy I hadn't yet met. I remember telling him then how much I loved him. I remember that in spite of the incessant heart burn, never-ending back aches, unending all-day sickness and swollen feet, I was desperately in love with this baby inside of me. But for Mary, it was different. I am sure that she too loved the baby she carried with a love only a mother can have. But rather than being in love with just a baby, she was carrying the Savior of the world. I can't imagine knowing that the baby I carried was prophesied for thousands of years before and that the same prophecies that were being fulfilled also carried the message that this baby would be crucified by the very ones he came to save. I can't call up Mary and find out what she was thinking, but I can imagine that she was beyond overwhelmed at the honor of bringing our Savior into the world.

This season I celebrate our Lord and Savior. It's not about all the gifts, lights, parties and cookies. It's about celebrating the fact that Jesus came to be born in a barn, was laid in a trough, was crucified by the very ones he came to save and rose again three days later. Praise God for His immeasurable gift, His Son.