Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I am not content.  I am not satisfied.  I want more.  I realized a couple nights ago, that I am not happy with myself right now.  I feel like I am status quo, and that is unacceptable.  I have found myself stressed, impatient and unhappy.  I have no reason for these things.  God has poured out His blessings in amazing ways over the past year.  So why do I feel like this?

I laid there the other night thinking about the kind of woman I am and the kind of woman I want to be.  I want to be patient, gentle and consistent with my children.  I want to be a constant source of encouragement and support for my husband.  I want my home to be open to those in need.  I want to utilize my spiritual gifts in the way God desires.  I want to be the Proverbs 31 woman.  And I try to do all of that.  So where is the disconnect?  Because I try.  The passage in Proverbs 31 is not a "to-do" list.  That passage is simply a list of characteristics that are an outgrowth of a godly woman.  It is similar to another famous passage found in Galatians 5:23-23.  The fruit of the Spirit passage.  Neither of these passages are meant to be a list that we try to check off each day.  It should be natural.  A simple out pouring of what is happening in our own hearts.  In my heart.

I got caught up in trying to "do" the Christian life.  Partially because of all the blessings God has poured out on me, I felt as though I needed to then live up to a certain ideal.  If God was going to bless me with a wonderful husband, I, of course, needed to be a perfect wife.  Since God had given the opportunity to stay home with my children and homeschool them, then I had to be the best, most efficient and most creative teacher/mom ever!  Because God had blessed me with a home in which and from which I could minister, then my home must be kept ready for ministry at all times.  I translated that as in keeping it perfectly clean.  Trying to be everything that I felt I was supposed to be absolutely exhausted me.  I was trying to do what I thought was expected of me.  I was trying to please everyone and to be everything I "should" be.  How did that work out for me?  Stress, exhaustion, overwhelming anxiety and so on and so on.  When things started to crack, I kept that smile on my face and just tried harder.  I wanted to have the appearance of a perfect life.  A perfect marriage, perfect children, and a perfect home.  Was I more concerned about how my children looked and behaved at church than what they were gleaning from the Word?  Was I more concerned about keeping a perfect home to minister to others that I neglected to minister to my own family?  Was I so anxious about appearing to have a perfect marriage that I listened to others more than my own husband?

As I laid there in bed contemplating how I saw myself falling short, I started talking it through with my husband.  Saying it all out loud made me realize how many times I said "I, me and my".  I was trying to do it all on my own strength.  I had turned Proverbs 31 into a "to-do" list.  I realized that the reason I was unable to please everyone all the time (besides the utter impossibility of that) was that I was working to please the wrong person.  My eyes were on all those around me.  I watched and listened to all the people in my life and I tried to conform to what I felt they wanted me to be.  But what does Romans 12:2 say?  Does it say to conform to a certain mold that I make for myself or that others make for me?  Not at all.  I love the way the NLT puts it.  It says, "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I needed to stop trying to "do" the Christian life.  I needed to simply focus my eyes on Christ alone.  I had put all the focus on myself.  What foolishness!  When I focus on Him, He will teach me to walk in His ways.  He will guide me as I try to train my children.  He will open my eyes to new ways I can serve and help my husband.  He will give me the opportunities to minister.  Does this mean that I need to keep my house perfectly clean?  No.  Does it mean that as an outgrowth of my desire to honor God with my time that I will try to run my house efficiently?  Yes.  But in His strength.  Not mine.  Does it mean that I ignore the day to day dealings of life in some holier-than-thou pursuit?  Not at all.  But I can allow Him to guide me in the little day to day things.

I will never be perfect, no matter how hard I try.  I can serve a perfect God, though.  He will lead me and direct me.  Psalm 37:4 says, "Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust Him, and He will help you."  Psalm 119:37 states, "Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your Word."  I need to let Him set my priorities.  I need to allow Him to lead me through each day.  If He is my focus, He will not let me miss the important things.  If He fills my heart, His love, patience, joy and strength will naturally flow from it.  After all, Psalm 46:10a says, "Cease striving and know that I am God."

January Challenge conclusion

Well our January Challenge is coming to an end.  Out of the $150 I started the month with I have a whopping $0.33 left.  But, I made it!  I will wait for the applause . . . okay, thank you!  :-)

This challenge has been very good for me.  It forced me to break some bad habits I was making (running to the store every couple days, shopping where it was convenient and not always cheapest, etc).  All in all it made me a responsible shopper again.  I will give an example.  I went to the store last week to buy some produce.  I had pared down my list as much as possible and I was only buying the bare bones necessities.  One of the things on my list was tomatoes.  I was making a tomato cucumber salad and I needed nice plump, juicy tomatoes (side note: just thinking about perfect tomatoes makes me seriously wish for summer when I can just eat them straight from the garden.  Yum!).  I strongly prefer stem ripened tomatoes as they have a much better taste to them since they have had time to ripen properly.  Well, at the store I picked up a little bunch of stem tomatoes and started to put them in the bag.  Then I looked at the price.  $4.69 per pound!  I do believe that my jaw actually dropped!  I couldn't believe it!  I was guessing that my little bunch of tomatoes probably was close to 2 pounds, so that would have been around $9.00 just for tomatoes!  Ugh!!  I looked over at the Roma tomatoes on sale and they were only $.98 per pound.  I put my lovely stem tomatoes back and grabbed up the Roma tomatoes.  My fear is that if I had not been watching as closely as I was, I would have unwittingly paid $9.00 or more for a handful of tomatoes.

It is so easy to just get caught up in what is on the list and what I know that I need, and then to not cautiously check the price.  I had gotten out of the habit of keeping a running total in my head as to how much I was spending as I went through the store.  Doing that forces you to check every single price.  If you haven't done that lately, I encourage you to do it.  Maybe you haven't noticed how some of the staples in your own home have increased in cost.  Take a calculator with you if need be.  I have my son with me most of the time and he acts as my calculator.  :-)  Just round up the price of each item and keep a running total in your head.  You may be amazed and shocked at what certain items cost.

Now, how did we end out the month of January?  Our shelves are a bit bare, but we have made it through.
All I ended up purchasing for the last 3 days were a dozen eggs (store bought ~ my niece didn't have any available) and a package of frozen peas.  On Sunday we had a surprise birthday party for my mom so there was no food prep for dinner there.  However, I did make the cake, but with supplies that I had on hand.  So here is the menu for the last three days of January:
Sunday ~ Mom's party - butter pecan cake
Monday ~ breakfast burritos (scrambled eggs, sausage, green pepper, onion & potato scramble) and mandarin oranges
Tuesday ~ Spaghetti and meatballs (made from scratch you know!), frozen peas and canned pears

I now head into February with a bit of a new perspective.  Although, I will say that I have never planned out our menu so very quickly.  There have been a couple of things that I have been craving (Lasagna Soup!), that I promptly added into the menu.  I am still resolved to do the majority of my shopping at ALDI the way I have this past month.  I am determined to be flexible with my menu planning and to be on the lookout for good sales.  I will continue to "punt" when needed without relying on convenience food. (Disclaimer here:  Last week I was having a bit of a rough day and my mom showed up with one of the rotisserie style chickens from the store.  It made my day!  We had the chicken in place of our "scheduled" entree that night.  I used the leftover chicken for lunches a couple days later when we had run out of leftovers.  I made a wonderful fettuccine alfredo and mixed the leftover chicken with it.  It was fabulous!  My mom also brought me some eggs too, that she refused to let me pay for.  Yup, moms are the greatest!)  I am also determined to make up and freeze some of those convenient type foods to keep on hand such as the frozen meatballs.  Hopefully, I will be able to post soon about making and freezing said meatballs with recipes!

All in all this has been a great reminder to me to curb our grocery budget and to be much more cautious about where our money goes.  This has also given me more motivation to make sure I have a bountiful garden this summer.  When I grow weary of weeding, I will just picture my perfectly stocked pantry filled with the blessings of harvest.  I long for those days!

I will say that this January Challenge has given me some inspiration for another little project that may be coming soon.  Stay posted!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Apple Pie Pork Chops

Yesterday was a long day.  It started with me waking up at 1am and unable to go back to sleep.  It ended with us finally getting in bed at 10:00pm only to get a phone call that the cows were out.  My husband took off to the farm (only a mile down the road) and I went and woke some sleepy kids and jumped in the van and went to try and help.  Thankfully, they were able to round the cows up quickly and we were back to bed by 11pm.  Still, I was exhausted going into today.
All that to say that although I simply love to cook, there are days when I want things done as simply as possible. Enter tonight's tweak (and experiment) on dinner.  I was planning on doing parmesan sage pork chops tonight, but the later it got in the day, the more I realized I wanted to do something easier.  The pork chops were already thawed, so on my way out the door to take my daughter to ballet, I threw this together.  It's four ingredients and I only dirtied two dishes.  Yup, that is simple and that is what I needed today!  Thankfully I had my camera there in the kitchen so I grabbed a few quick photos.  Here it is!
Apple Pie Pork Chops
1.  Grab all your ingredients
          1 apple (I used red delicious because that is what was on hand!)
          4 boneless thin sliced pork chops
          Sparkling apple cider
          Apple pie spice (If you don't happen to have this don't fret.  All it is is cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.)

2.  Put you pork chops in the bottom of your crockpot in a single layer (if doing more than four they could be layered, just be sure to add liberal spice to each layer).  Liberally pour on the apple pie spice.  I'm not one for measuring, so I can't tell you how much exactly to use.  Just coat those babies well!

3.  Pour in the sparkling apple cider.  Again, no measurements, I just poured it over the pork chops until they were almost covered.

4.  Slice up your apple in fairly thin slices and layer over top of the pork chops.

5.  Close the lid and walk away!  I cooked these on high for 3 hours.  You could do low for 5-6 hours as well.  Whatever works better for you.

When I walked back in the house not only was our main dish ready, the entire house smelled amazing!  I am all about utilizing several senses to enjoy food.  The look and smell of the food is about as important as the taste.  Well, sometimes.  I have made things that smell amazing and taste amazing, but they have been affectionately called "goo" or "glop" or some other endearing name.  It is what it is!

The pork chops were absolutely delicious!  My family just gobbled them up.  They were super tender.  No knife needed!  I might add a dash of ground ginger next time.  I don't know yet.  The apples had a fabulous light sweetness to them as well.  We ended up having these pork chops, homemade applesauce, tomato cucumber salad and left over Caramel Apple Sticky Buns (from our prayer meeting the night before) for dessert.  It all went together so well and my family just loved them!  That always thrills my soul!

So there you have it.  A super simple recipe and next to no cleanup!  All I had to wash from the pork chops were the knife I used to slice up the apple and my crockpot.
*Side note on the cleaning of the crockpot ~ I am a big believer in crockpot liners.  They are just like oven bags, but made to fit a slow cooker.  They are amazing little things.  Instead of having to scrub out your crockpot after dinner, you simply lift out the bag, toss it, and wipe out your crockpot.  So very simple!  The liners can be pricey, but I find that I can get coupons for them all the time.  I just picked some up last week at Giant Eagle and they had rebate for them so I ended up getting them for free!  WooHoo!  They make crockpot cooking even easier on tired mamas!

Well, since my dishes are done and the kiddos are in bed, I am off to bed with my sweet hubby!  Good night, y'all!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Challenge ~ almost there!

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!  Yes, that is what I am chanting to myself over and over right about now as we near the end of our January Challenge.  I had a whopping $27.00 going into this week to purchase groceries for the rest of the month.  On Monday I went to the store and stared at prices, weighed every piece of produce and hemmed and hawwed about what was absolutely necessary.  My son was in charge of adding up the items as we went, always rounding up a bit.  When I got to the check out, instead of placing the items how they should be bagged, I placed them on their necessity level.  I carefully watched the total and decided if the last couple items could be purchased or not.  I was left with $2.37.  And I still have to get eggs from my niece.  So that means that for the three days next week I will have $1.37 to spend.  Honestly, I'm not that worried though.  We will simply have to do canned fruit and veggies (the store bought canned stuff ~ remember, I don't have that beautiful pantry filled with jars upon jars of summer produce yet!) and rely on ground beef.
I had to make choices on this last grocery trip that I had not faced before.  One thing that I determined we could do without was milk.  Thankfully, my husband is a dairy farmer and every other morning he brings home fresh, raw milk.  The benefits of this are amazing.  It is better for us to drink and it makes everything I cook/bake creamier (& yummier) when I use it.  The only issue is that this girl grew up on skim milk alone.  I can't take the thicker consistency.  It is about 3.6% milkfat.  I'm working on it though.  I have worked myself up to drinking 1% milk and am in the process of trying to get used to 2% milk.  So when I say that I didn't get milk, that just means that I probably won't be drinking any milk until February.  The kids will be fine and the baking will be done.  Just mama has to do without!
I also really had to study and do a lot of price comparison.  I looked at the list and had to make choices as to what I absolutely needed to have now, versus putting off for another week or so.  I usually buy 2 or 3 loaves of bread at a time and that will last us a couple weeks.  Monday I just bought one loaf.  Every dollar counts!  I also nixed the snack foods altogether.  I was just working on the main meals.  Everything else was cut.
I will say that one thing that has helped out considerably this month was that earlier in the month I made our own instant oatmeal.  My children will go through 2 or 3 bowls of cereal EACH and every morning just about and that gets expensive in a hurry.  It took me about 10 minutes to make a month's worth of instant oatmeal and they now prefer that over cereal.  It is just as fast in the morning and that is important when trying to stay on schedule!  All I do is heat water in the tea kettle and pour it over the mix in their bowls.  I let it sit for a couple minutes and then stir it together.  Waalaa!  Yummy, filling breakfast ready to be "personalized"!  The kids add fruit or brown sugar or cinnamon and eat it up.  It is so much better for them than cereal or store bought instant oatmeal packets.  There is no sugar or MSG in it.  I just love the stuff and it is a fraction of the cost of their typical breakfast.  If I still had to buy boxes and boxes of cereal every week, we never would have made the budget stretch this far.  This has been a lifesaver!
Tonight is our last night of hosting our weekly prayer meeting at our house.  For snacks tonight I am using all items I have on hand.  I am making Pioneer Woman's scrumptious Caramel Apple Sticky Buns, Cranberry White Chocolate bread, and gluten free raspberry coffee cake.  I doubt anyone tonight will realize that I am on my last legs with my grocery budget!  I was going to make some of these items last week, but my cousin called earlier in the day last Wednesday and delightfully informed me that she was making her fabulous cilantro bread with butter and garlic and fresh tomatoes and fresh cilantro topped with melted cheese.  Yes.  Fabulous is the proper word to describe this little taste of heaven!  Along with scrumptious, delicious and all other sorts of yummy type words!  All I did was slice up some apples and cube some cheese to have on the side.  That allowed me to save the baked goodies for this week!
I will say that my little pantry is showing the abuse it has taken, along with my freezer.  My pantry now has two and half completely bare shelves.  Oh does this make me sad when I walk in there!  Oh well.  February is coming and past that, it will be summer!  Oh the dreams I have of a pantry filled with jars upon jars of the blessings of the Lord and the work of my hands.  What sweet, sweet dreams!  But for now, I trudge through to the end of this month anxiously looking forward to working my own garden.
I leave you with a picture of some of those dreams in my head.  Ahhh . . . . so pretty!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What I've been working on

I finally finished a couple of projects that I have been working on and I thought I would share!  The first thing is a new yarn ball wreath.  This has to be my favorite one thus far!  I love the colors.  I was thrilled to find some vase filler at Target that perfectly matched the yarn I had picked out over a week before.  I love it!  This has been sitting in my living room since two days after Christmas and I would do a little here and a little there.  I finally finished it up today!  Take a look!  If you want the directions as to how to make these little gems, I posted the step by step instructions here.
The second thing I have been working on involves my daughter's birthday that is quickly coming up!  She decided that she wanted an ice cream themed birthday party.  I got to work figuring out what cake to make (the most important part, you know!) and we decided on having a sundae bar with the cake.  I then needed to plan out the invitations.  I also needed to do invitations for her "friends" birthday party.  In lieu of a gift, one of her grandmas offered to pay for a "friends" party.  We decided that Isabella would have a balloon theme and that each of the guests would be able to make some jewelry.  This was another easy theme.
Now on to the guest list and invitations!  I wanted something simple so my daughter could be involved with the making of the invites.  This is what we ended up with.  On the left is the invitation for her ice cream party.  She was able to help cut out the ice cream cone pieces.  Below is her "friends" party with balloons.  She helped to cut out each of the balloons and then we added a simple red ribbon to each.

We included the note at the bottom of the balloon invitation that says, "No gifts please.  We prefer your presence over presents!"  I do prefer that for a friends-type birthday party the guests are able to simply come and celebrate with the birthday child instead of feeling the need to shell out money for a gift.  It just makes sense to me!

So there are the latest projects from our home.  I have also been working on the corn heating bags, but I'm not quite done.  Once I get those finished, I will post pics and how-to for those!  Time for coffee!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January Challenge update ~ phew, this is getting tight!

I did my grocery shopping last night and it wasn't pretty.  Two of the items I had on my list ALDI did not have in stock.  The one item was frozen meatballs.  I know, I know, that is essentially a convenience food, but it is one I hesitate to give up.  I have never really found a recipe that I truly love for meatballs.  However, frozen meatballs were not in the budget and I do have ground beef, so I will be searching for a recipe and making them from scratch this time!
The other item was turkey kielbasa and I had to go to Giant Eagle to get it.  Thankfully it was on sale.  While I was there though, I discovered that they had a bunch of meat (mainly pork) on sale for buy one get one free!  Although there is definitely not room in the January Challenge budget for it, I decided that it would be foolish of me to pass up such a rare and great deal!  I went ahead and purchased some of the meat, but I didn't go crazy with it either.  I did not count it towards my January Challenge budget (is that cheating?).
I also struggled with what to do for prayer meeting this week.  I already have the ingredients for the muffins, but I don't know what to put with them.  I was originally thinking some fresh fruit and there was some on sale at ALDI, but if I purchased enough for everyone it was going to add $7.00.  At that point I knew that I was already pushing my budget limit with the basics for my family.  I nixed the idea of fruit, but I'm still searching for what to put with the muffins.  It may be simply muffins and nothing else.  We shall see.
All in all I ended up spending $44.04.  Seven dollars over budget for the week and I'm already running low for the month.  Thankfully, this is the majority of the food needed for the next two weeks.  I only have a few perishable items to purchase for next week, so hopefully it all works out.  I am thinking that the last three days of January will be a lot of cheap-o meals.  Things like breakfast foods (eggs, pancakes, etc.), spaghetti with meat sauce (unless I find that I really like the meatballs I make for next Tuesday) and such things.  It is certainly TBA!
Well, back to school.  The kiddos are finishing up their Bible lessons and it's time to move onto Spelling!

Monday, January 16, 2012

January Challenge ~ second two week meal plan

As I wrote before, the last half of this month in the January Challenge is going to be a little harder.   I was able to switch out some of the fruit salads from the last menu plan thanks to some great deals on cantelope and cherries.  Because of that I can utilize some of the supplies that I purchased last week for this week.  Also, we started purchasing eggs from a neighbor (and relative), so that saves us a bit.  I took stock of my freezer again and this time I spent some time in my pantry figuring out what I had.  My cash is running low heading into the next two and a half weeks and I will have to purchase some meat to get through the month, but I am determined to still make this work. Here is the menu plan for the next two weeks:
Sunday, Jan 15th ~ Chilli, Cornbread, Salad, leftover fruit salad
Monday, Jan 16th ~ Grilled Chicken Strawberry Spinach Salad, Homemade bread
Tuesday, Jan 17th ~ Meatloaf, Garlic red-skin mashed potatoes, spiced pears
Wednesday, Jan 18th ~ Chicken Crescent Wreath, Triple berry yogurt parfait
Thursay, Jan 19th ~ Turkey kielbasa with green beans and potatoes, Homemade applesauce
Friday, Jan 20th ~ Date Night! *Side note, gift cards are fabulous things!  Don't be afraid to request gift cards for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas gifts, etc . . .  It gives you the opportunity to eat out and enjoy something special without busting the budget!  We were able to use a gift card for our last date night and we only paid 99 cents for our meal!  Love that!
Saturday, Jan. 21st ~ Takeout and foreign movie night with my wonderful sister-in-law!
Sunday, Jan 22nd ~ Curried Coconut Chicken, mixed veggie blend, mandarin oranges
Monday, Jan 23rd ~ Amy's soup (yummy gift from Christmas), cornbread, pistachio fruit salad
Tuesday, Jan 24th ~ Sweet & Sour Meatballs, Botan rice, Pineapple
Wednesday, Jan 25th ~  Tilapia, Honey-roasted red potatoes,  sliced peaches
Thursday, Jan 26th ~ Parmesan-sage baked pork chops, Mama's fruit salad, Cucumber-tomato salad
Friday, Jan 27th ~ Family night (We could use yet another gift card, do leftovers, make our own pizzas, etc. It's kind of up to the kiddos.  We usually do a very laid back dinner and either watch a movie or do board games until bed time.  Good times for all!)
Saturday, Jan 28th ~ Pizza party with our small group from church

Phew!  So there it is!  I'll make it through the next two weeks and then there are only 3 days left in January.  We will make it after all!  I can say though, that on this restricted budget I have no option but to stick to ALDI for just about everything.  I have also had to be more cautious about what I plan to make for dinner.  I have really been craving Lasagna Soup, but it has some ingredients that I don't have on hand that can get expensive.  So, no soup for us (forgive me, I am a child of the nineties!)!  It has been good to get out of the habit of picking up ingredients at the closest store even if it is more expensive.  I got used to convenience shopping versus economical, planned shopping.  It has also made me shop my own home, too.  For our weekly prayer meeting at our house last week, I used all stuff I had in my pantry.  I made two different kinds of Chex Mix and made a fruit bake with canned fruit.  The fruit bake called for almonds, which I didn't have, so I simply made it without it.  No one seemed to mind!  This week I am making a couple different kinds of muffins and maybe whatever fruit I can find on sale. We will see!
On to the Walmart part of the challenge, that has gone well, too.  Now, I have to confess I have been to Walmart twice.  Both times though I needed things that I could not get at any other local store (and yes, I tried and searched!).  My only other option was heading about 20 minutes away to the closest Target.  Now, in the interest of saving money, I decided to just head to Walmart.  Gas isn't exactly cheap and it makes no sense at all to spend the extra money on gas just to prove a point.  Both times that I went to Walmart though, I was in and out and ONLY purchased exactly what I needed.  So I still consider it a success.
Now, on to the rest of my to-do list now!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January Challenge week two

Week two has definitely been harder for my January Challenge.  There are a handful of items that I am a bit of a stickler on for name brands.  Not many, but just a few.  I find that sometimes when baking, there can be a difference in some recipes.  I get picky.  I want things to turn out just so.  I ran out of a couple of those items by the end of last week and when I went to the store to get them, I was a bit shocked at the prices.  I guess I had not really been paying attention to the price, because I knew that I was going to get that particular brand even if something else was cheaper.  Ugh.  That set me back a bit.
Then I also wanted to get some fresh herbs for the recipe I was making today.  Now fresh vs. dry herbs decidedly make a difference.  I wanted to proper flavor for our dinner so I went to pick up some fresh herbs at the store.  Yuck.  Again, I must not have really been paying attention to the price.  I have resolved that I need to start an indoor herb garden with some of the herbs I use the most.
So here I am not even halfway through the month but I have already spent about 60% of our monthly budget.  I will need to do some tweaking.  One thing I have found though is that if I watch the sales, the fruit costs can work itself out a bit.  Twice this past week I was able to pick up fresh fruit that was on sale that worked out to be cheaper than what I had planned in our menu.  It was great!
At the end of this week I will plan out the menus for the next two weeks and I may have to get creative with what I have left of my original $150.  I am determined to make it work!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fighting my Jonah

Something happened on Tuesday and it is still haunting me.  After going through our RACK experience, I was determined that I would always look for ways to help random strangers when given the chance.  Tuesday I blew it.  And it is still bothering me.  Greatly. 
Tuesday I had an appointment with my doctor (new year, new check-ups!).  There seems to be this new law that when you arrive for an appointment you need to show your current insurance card and your driver's license.  I have run into this over the past year in a couple different situations so I'm guessing someone passed a law.  Anyway, I signed in at my doctor's office, fiddled through the magazine rack to find something (that was not from 16 years ago and would hold my interest and yet not be offensive) and then settled into my chair.  I buried my head into some random home magazine and I tried not to be annoyed with the rather loud cell phone conversation a woman was having across the typically quiet waiting room.  Then a rather weary looking older woman came into the office and began the process of signing in.  She signed some paperwork and was trying to tell the lady at the desk something about being horribly sick, but she kept being interrupted with more instructions and paperwork.  She stepped to the side, went through the paperwork and then went back up to the window.  At this point the office worker requested her ID and her insurance card.  The woman answered that she had been so sick and so out of it, she had forgotten them at home.  I could hear the desperation in her voice.  She sounded so very weary.  Exhausted really.  The office worker politely, but matter-of-factly stated their policy and suggested that the woman have someone bring her information to the office for her.  The woman replied that her husband could not drive and there was no one else.  The office worker then informed her that her appointment would have to be rescheduled.  I heard in the woman's voice tears as she responded that she had waited weeks to get this appointment.  By now the rest of the workers in the office had their attention on the woman.  She just kept saying how very sick she was.  My heart started to break for this woman.  
Now, I understand the policy, I do, but I think all of us have had those days when we just don't feel like we can handle any more.  It is rare that I get horribly sick (beyond the typical chest cold and stomach flu stuff), but I know the utter exhaustion that comes from being that sick, but still having to continue on.  I also understand the frustration of having to wait for an appointment for far too long and feeling like nothing should stand in your way of having that appointment.  I understood her disappointment.
The woman's shoulders sunk as she rescheduled her appointment.  She quickly gathered her belongings and walked out of the office and down the hall.  Thanks to the glass front of this particular office, I could still see her down the hall.  She dropped her things into a chair and although still standing, hunched over with her hands covering her face.  She was crying.  Really crying.  At that moment, something in me said, "Go to her.  Reach out to her."  I started arguing with myself.  What if I left the office and they called my name?  I could miss my appointment.  What could I really do for her anyway?  I couldn't get her licence and insurance card for her.  What good could I be?  "You could simply go and pray with her.  Reach out to her.  Let her know that someone cares.  That she is not alone."  I continued to argue with myself.  No really, I was arguing with the Holy Spirit, and I knew it.  
I watched as the woman tried to compose herself, wipe her face with her hands and gather her things.  She walked towards the elevator.  She pushed the button and as she waited, her composure briefly slipped and a few sobs came out.  I felt glued to my chair.  She was leaving, there was nothing I could do now.  "You could take the stairs and meet her at the elevator downstairs."  True, the stairs were right next to the office and I had taken them up.  It would be very quick and easy to meet her.  But that would be weird.  She would think that I was creepy, coming after her like that, right?  I did nothing.  I watched as she stepped on the elevator and as the elevator doors closed.  She was gone.
I knew, I knew, that I had missed an opportunity.  I knew that my pride, my comfort, my potential embarrassment, kept me from doing something that I should have done.  I knew that the Holy Spirit was leading me to reach out to that woman for whatever reason and I clearly said no.  I was wrong and she was gone.  I lost that opportunity and I will never get a chance to reach out to that woman again.  I said a prayer for her.  I could do that.  I prayed that God would somehow encourage her.  Oh.  Yeah.  He tried to encourage her, through me.
That was Tuesday.  I kept thinking of her throughout the day and into the next day.  Then Wednesday night at our mid-week prayer meeting our pastor gave a little devotional out of Acts 8.  He spoke about how when God leads us to do something, we can either say no, hesitate and argue (another way of saying no) or we can say yes.  In verse 26 an angel directs Philip to "go south".  The first words of first 27?  "So he did".  Philip didn't question, he went.  No doubts, no hesitation, no "Why?".  He just went.  He went and he ended up ministering to one person.  One person that God directed Philip to meet.  
On Tuesday, I was far from being Philip.  I was much more of a Jonah.  Now, I don't know what happened to that woman.  Maybe God led someone else (someone more Philip-like) to this woman.  Maybe someone was even there in the parking lot for all I know.  But I missed an opportunity that God gave me.  God is capable of using anyone (and anything for that matter) to do His work.  It is a privilege that God would consider using me to encourage another.  I thought I learned that.  Wasn't that the whole RACK thing?  I had this stuff down, right?  No.  When it was not something I had planned, that I had purposed to do, I failed.
That was Tuesday.  This is Friday and I am still haunted by my missed opportunity.  I am still rehashing what I should have done.  Not that I am beating myself up over it, but I am convicted.  Convicted that not only did I clearly say "No", but that I didn't seem to value the privilege it is to be used by God in even "minor" ways.  If I can't say an emphatic "Yes!" every time the Lord asks something small of me, how do I expect to say yes in the bigger things?
I cannot go back and fix Tuesday.  That moment, that opportunity, that privilege, is gone.  However, I can determine to fight my Jonah tendencies and try to embrace more of the Philip that God desires for me.  He will never give me more than I can handle.  He will present the opportunities and He will give me everything I need to follow His will.  I just have to say yes.  No hesitation.  No arguing.  Just yes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January Challenge ~ first two week menu plan

I said that I would post the menu for our first two weeks into our January Challenge.  So here it is:
Jan 1st ~ Meatloaf, Peas, Homemade bread, fresh applesauce
Jan 2nd ~ Roast Beef with red potatoes and carrots, Triple Berry Yogurt parfait with granola (the granola was a gift from my S-I-L.  Yup, she's amazing!)
Jan 3rd ~ Honey & Spice Pork Chops, Garlic Red-Skin Mashed Potatoes, Home For Christmas Fruit Bake
Jan 4th ~ Chicken Fajitas w/ green pepper and onion, salsa and cheese, Homemade applesauce
Jan 5th ~Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Botan Rice, Pineapple
Jan 6th ~ Hopeful Date Night!
Jan 7th ~ BLT sandwiches, Tomato Basil Soup, Mama's fruit salad
Jan 8th ~ Company coming over!  BBQ ribs, Broccoli Raisin Salad, Homemade Bread, Gluten-Free Bread, Macaroni Salad (some GF mac), Strawberry Shortcake, Gluten-Free Brownie Torte
Jan 9th ~ Pinto beans, Corn Bread, Spinach salad, Pistachio Fruit Salad
Jan 10th ~ Lemon Pepper Steak, Cheesy Broccoli Bake, Festive Fruit Salad
Jan 11th ~ Apple Orchard Pork Roast, Spinach salad, Homemade applesauce
Jan 12th ~ Calico Bean Soup and Sweet Corn Bread (compliments of my fabulous niece who gave us the mixes for Christmas!) and Ambrosia Fruit Salad.
Jan 13th ~ Flank Steak, Honey Roasted Red Potatoes, Strawberry/Banana Fruit salad
Jan 14th ~ Wedding!  No meal prep for me!

Now you may note that there is no mention of lunch or breakfast.  For lunch we always have leftovers from the night before or earlier in the week.  So simple and the food doesn't turn to science experiments in the back of your fridge.  No waste!  For breakfast we usually just have cereal or oatmeal and fruit, or something of the sort.  My husband doesn't have a lot of time when he comes home for breakfast.  It has to be something super quick.  We will have cinnamon rolls throughout the month this month, too!
That is the plan for now, anyway.  It is definitely open to change!  I was able to do my grocery shopping for $32 for the first week.  Keep in mind though, that the only meat I had to purchase was some ham for the Calico Bean Soup on the 13th.  I still do need to get some broccoli and cucumber, too.  What they had there at ALDI was not looking too good.  I was able to get some snacks that I will work on serving for prayer meeting.  It took me back though, going to ALDI with my cash in hand carefully adding up what each thing costs, knowing that I had no room for error or any extras.
The Walmart part of the challenge is already challenging me.  There are things on my list (that I couldn't get at ALDI) that I need to get, but I am forcing myself to wait till later in the week when I will be in town and can hit up the Dollar General.
All in all, though, it's so far so good!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Simple Woman's Daybook January 2, 2012

Outside my window... there is snow falling softly.  It's just now beginning to look like Christmas!

I am thinking... of all the things I hope to learn ~ canning, sewing, more gluten free cooking/baking techniques, etc.

I am thankful... that I have a husband that supports my desire to learn the above mentioned things!

In the kitchen... there are fresh cinnamon rolls ready for devouring and a roast cooking in the crockpot.  I LOVE my crockpot!

I am wearing... jeans and a turtleneck sweater.  We just got home from grocery shopping.

I am creating... ummm . . . I don't know that I'm creating anything right now.  Except maybe hunger pangs in my children.  This roast smells soooo good!

I am going... to throw my sewing machine out the window!  It has been giving me fits today and for a novice, it is rather discouraging!

I am wondering... how my hubby is doing and if he is staying warm enough.  His sciatic nerve is creating problems for him again, yet he's still out milking cows.

I am reading... Gluten-Free Baking Classics and looking for inspiration for my extended family.

I am hoping... to grow in patience and in knowledge when it comes to the "blessing" of my sewing machine.

I am looking forward to... Wednesday when we get to host our church's mid-week prayer service at our home.

I am learning... that when my son asks for help, he doesn't really want me to help, he just wants me to watch him figure it out.

Around the house... it is quiet and surprisingly calm.  I am very tempted to curl up and read a bit.

I am pondering... the many blessings God has poured out on me.  I have a beautiful, simple home, a husband that is better than I could have imagined, an extended family from whom I have so much to learn and that I adore greatly, two children that are the light of my life and a wonderful church family that truly is family.

A favorite quote for today..."He's a beagle.  It will take many years for him to stop being a puppy." Speaking of our dog Shiloh as we discussed his latest adventure.

One of my favorite things... my husband's voice.  He loves to sing and there is nothing sweeter to my ears.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Still going to work on those corn heating bags if I ever get my sewing machine back in operation; preparing to host prayer meeting; starting up homeschool again after Christmas break; planning the details for January birthday presents; and possibly a very long-awaited date night with my husband!

A peek into my day... I fought with my infamous sewing machine for a couple hours, my dad helped to install a headboard on my daughter's bed, I managed to stay within budget on my first shopping trip in our January Challenge and I made scrumptious cinnamon rolls of which I froze most to use throughout the month.  The downer of the day was my husband coming home in pain from his sciatic nerve.  I'm always glad when he gets some extra rest, but I hate seeing him struggle this way.  The man is ridiculously stubborn!

Here is a pic of my stubborn bobbin that has caused me so much grief!  I actually emailed this to a friend to see if she could tell me what was wrong.  Nope.  We were both left scratching our heads!

To create your own Simple Woman's Daybook click below.

The January Challenge

For the month of January I am imposing a reality check on our grocery budget.  Lately it has gotten way out of hand.  I thought back to my budget as a single mom and quickly realized that there was a dramatic difference.  I used to pride myself on how low I could keep my food budget.  I shopped almost solely at ALDI and like stores.  Presently, I find myself shopping more at our local grocery stores and even Walmart more than ALDI.  That is a quick way to add extra $$ to the budget.  Now, I will say, that I do feel that we eat better now than we have in the past.  Due to my son's health issues, I have always had to be very cautious about getting enough fruit in his system.  He needs to have 4-6 full servings a day of fruit and only one of those servings should come from juice.  I used to depend more on canned fruit and applesauce and such, but now we indulge in a lot more fresh fruit.  That is a big change.  When I was a single mom, fresh fruit was a rare and oh so special item.  Even now fruit is still pretty much considered dessert at our home.  Most of the time I make some sort of a fruit salad with dinner and that is the last thing the kiddos get to put on their plates.  That being said, our food budget was still way over the top.  I knew that I had to pare down.
That brings us to my January challenge to myself.  I am determined to feed our family of four for the month of January on $150.  That breaks down to about $37 a week.  Phew, even typing that overwhelms me a bit.  I have done it on less though, so I know it is possible.  Now in full disclosure, I have a freezer with quite a variety of meat.  That will dramatically help in keeping costs down.  I spent some time taking inventory of our freezer last week in preparation for this.  It took about 2 hours and some good gloves.  I also usually have a well-stocked pantry, but with the holidays, it has really taken a hit.  Some of my staples are running low heading into this month, but that's okay.  I do have 6 quarts of fresh homemade applesauce that my mom and I canned on Saturday, so that helps (it was seven quarts, but we already demolished one whole quart!).  I must say that I long for the day when I walk into my pantry and I see jar after jar of fresh fruits and veggies all nicely canned.  There is something so special about hearing that pop when you open up a jar.  It is as though you are releasing summertime into your kitchen.  Until that day of a beautifully stock pantry arrives, I must rely on what my grocery store offers.  I spoke with a friend of mine yesterday about this little challenge and she (being a wonderfully frugal mom) suggested that I simply buy the fruit that is on sale at ALDI.  Now, being a gal that feels the need to plan out her menus two weeks in advance, it can be difficult to wait and see what is on sale once I get to the store to figure out what I am going to feed my family.  I have determined that I will still plan out my menus, but with a big asterisk for the fruit part of the dinners.  If I see a great deal on fruit, I can scoop it up and simply substitute it for the fruit that was planned.  Plus, I can go online (they don't mail out their ads) and check out the ALDI ad before I head out so I have an idea what to look for when I'm there.  So, can I do this?  Can I feed the four of us well balanced meals, 3 meals a day and snacks on $37 a week?  I am going to give it my darndest!
The little unexpected kink that has been thrown into all of this is that Sunday morning (after I had already determined to do this challenge) one of our pastors approached us about hosting our mid-week prayer service at our home again for (wait for it!) the month of January!  (If you remember, we are out of our church building and we are currently a "gypsy" church!)That might not seem like it is related at all, but please realize that I am a girl that feels the need to offer some sort of food to any potential visitor to my home.  I don't know why, but it just doesn't seem right to have people in my home and not have them munching on something.  The last time we hosted prayer meeting I provided freshly baked cookies, clementines, pretzels and other little goodies.  With this challenge, I am either going to have to set aside my desire to play hostess, or I'm going to have to get very creative as to how I am going to make this work.  We shall see how this all works out!!
Now there is a part two to this challenge as well.  Although I am not enforcing a strict toiletry budget (that hasn't been blown out of whack like the grocery budget), I am banning myself from Walmart.  It is simply too convenient as it is right around the corner and has pretty much anything I could want or need.  The problem is that it is also too easy to go there for three items and walk out with ten.  So for the month of January there will be no Walmart for this lady.  The only exception is their pharmacy as that is where I go for the children's prescriptions.  This will not be easy.  This will take some planning on my part.  I can't wait until I am out of something and then run up to Walmart to get it.  I will be relying on stores that are in town, so I will need to make good use of my trips to town.  There was a day that I lived by the thought that if I couldn't find it at ALDI or Dollar General, then I didn't really need it after all.  For the month of January, we will be pretty close to that!
So I start off today on this challenge.  I will finish planning out my menus for the next two weeks with my freezer inventory in hand.  I will learn to be more flexible with our fruit choices and I will put aside my fear of serving a vegetarian meal every once in a while.  If I can get enough time, I will even post our menu plan for the next two weeks.  This morning I am starting off with a bang though and I will be making a big batch of cinnamon rolls to freeze.  This is a new recipe and I am so anxious to try it.  It won't seem like we are really cutting back when I get to greet my hubby home for breakfast with freshly baked cinnamon rolls throughout the month!

~I would love to hear thoughts and tips from any readers.  Am I crazy to try to make this work?  Do you think I can still cut back more?  Let me know!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Dough of 2011

I forgot it was the new year.  I jumped out of bed this morning (after my alarm went off for the 3rd time) once I realized all I needed to get done in the first few hours I was out of bed.  I had to start my husband's work laundry (being from the farm it all soaks in the washer for at least 10 hours), get the meat out to thaw for today's dinner, wrap two presents (hubby's family is celebrating Christmas today), wash dishes (I was exhausted last night and we somehow ran out of hot, even warm, water last night!) and prepare the dough to make 3 loaves of bread.  The bread was the most critical one.  With all the rising and falling and rising again that it needs to go through, I had to have that dough made by 5am.  I got it done by 5:02.  Close enough!
As you can tell, I had no time to waste when I got up.  I got crackin' on my list and was bustling around the kitchen for almost an hour when all of a sudden it hit me that it was now 2012!  I felt like I should be very contemplative at that moment, but my mind just jumped on to the next thing.
Now that I have a moment in between my "to-dos" I can think back.  It has been a year of tremendous joys, but there has been great heartache mixed in as well.  As I look at it all now, I can't help but compare it to the bread dough I made this morning.  The dough that is rising on the dining table right now is mainly composed of flour.  That's just the day to day moments that fill the majority of our time.  There is also a smidge of salt.  Now, I don't know that too many people would want to just dig into a bowl of salt.  It would horribly dry up your mouth and could even feel like it was burning your throat going down.  The salt I could say, would be the heartaches of this past year.  On it's own it may not be pleasant or something we desire, but God allows those heartaches to season our year.  The yeast is an easy one.  That would be the great joys of this year.  There were only a few events (our wedding, the birth of two babies, etc . . .) that would be considered great joys, but it greatly changes the rest of the year.  As just a little yeast permeates the entire loaf of bread and makes it all rise, so even a few great joys sprinkled throughout the year creates joy in our day to day to make it a joy-filled year.  The last thing I add is water.  Without the water there is just a bowl up of differing ingredients that although they are mixed together, they create absolutely nothing useful or of beauty.  The water works all things together to create something good.  Remind you of anything?  "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28.  God is the water.  God through His Holy Spirit and His Holy Word, work in our lives to take all the events and moments to create something good.  When we rely on Him, when we allow Him to work in us and to shape our perspectives, wants and desires, He alone can make it all work.  He gets us through the heartaches.  He brings tremendous moments of joy to our lives.  He sustains us in our day to day with the very air we breath.  Without Him, this past year would be a useless bowl of dry mix good for nothing at all.  With Him, this year has been a great creation of blessing that when it goes down, is warm and soothing to the soul.  Only God can mix just the right amount of each ingredient and give it just the right amount of "rises and falls" to make something useful out of our lives.  And every loaf of bread is a little different.  They all have different seasonings and can be made into a variety of shapes.  But He knows what we need when we need it.  If we allow Him, He will make us good, whether it's a light french bread or a hearty sourdough.
As I head into 2012, I pray that I continue to let God be the creator of all things beautiful, good and useful in my life.  I pray that while I relish the joy He brings, I also allow Him to add the salt when needed, knowing that He will never add too much, and that He will work it all together for good.