I was so strapped for time (and energy) before we left for vacation, this feature in my Everyday Food magazine was a life saver to me. It's called the "grocery list." The magazine provides five recipes for healthy week-night dinners, easy to prepare, with similar ingredients and a shopping list for what you need, right down to how many pounds of broccoli you need to buy. In essence, they do all the planning for you. You need only shop and check, shop and check the list... and as long as you like all the meals they plan (or are so busy, you don't even care), it works out really well. Note: The portion sizes are planned to be exactly how much you should be having. Therefore, we found them a little small. ;)
When we were doing our Christmas shopping last month, I stopped to get Norah a cookie (and to get myself some caffeine in the form of a diet soda). Norah picked one with colorful sprinkles because it was "pretty." She's had the same cookie before and there has never been a problem. It was just so much fun for her to eat a cookie with sprinkles, she never paid attention to the taste. This time, however, she took one bite of it and said, "Yuck! This isn't as good as the cookies you make. I don't want it." I was so flattered by the idea that I make better cookies than Mrs. Fields, I confess, I couldn't scold Norah for wasting the cookie. I took a bite of it, just to check, and sure enough, I think it was true. My cookies are better than Mrs. Field's (or, at least better than Mrs. Field's sprinkle sugar cookies). Norah also said, "Next time, I want to get a cookie like the ones you make." Awww... my baby is growing up! She's giving up sprinkles for substance. That's a big step for a little girl!
It's been about a month since I made my resolutions for 2010. I thought it would be a useful, though somewhat painful exercise to assess how well I am doing so far.
Let Norah play outside. Does a trip to and from the Jeep count as time spent outside? Sometimes Norah will drag her feet through the snow or straggle behind us and pick up a stick in the yard on her way back into the house... Does that count?
Keep a garden. I think I should get the Christmas trees back into the attic before I plant or even plan to plant anything that will actually rely on me to grow.
Listen to Scripture. I am often too busy getting the can of beans from the pantry and combining it with the chicken broth on the stove. It seems incredible, but I don't have the time to also grab the CD player from the dining room and the Bible CDs off the shelf in the living room to make it possible to listen to Scripture while I work in the kitchen... Norah often fetches ingredients for me, cans of this or a box of that... Maybe I will ask her to help me fetch what I need for this, too.
Pray. Both The Power of a Praying Wife and The Power of a Praying Parent are on my bedside table. So far, I've used them three time this month. And, even though one of my goals was to "be quiet" before God in prayer, my prayer time has been a bit too quiet, if you know what I mean... Zzzzz. Maybe I should move the books to another place in the house? But, I fear that if I do that, they will get even less attention than they do now, since I am always busy everywhere else in the house.
Sew. All the materials for my projects are still sitting right where they were when I first typed these resolutions. I usually have time enough to sit, turn the sewing machine on and consider where to start stitching, but that is when the baby starts crying or Norah calls to me from the bathroom, needing help wiping her butt. (She's five. She has a hard time getting it all... Can I get a witness from all the other moms out there who can't stand to see their five- year- olds scratching their rears later in the day because they can't seem get it all? Amen?)
Collect books and music. I downloaded two CDs from Power Music: 17 Again (for my senior class) and a Bootcamp mix (for my cardio sculpt class). No books so far. I haven't had time to search for them online and purchase them.
Call my friends. I haven't invested in my friends this month... Unless calling them to ask them to babysit counts?
Keep my room clean. I am trying to get the rest of the house clean before I organize my room, so that just means the extra crap from out here is piling up in there all the more. Attend more home school group activities. I took Norah to a play date at Andie's Bounce Barn and to a home schooled friend's birthday party. Teach Norah to swim. This vacation to Florida has given Norah intensive practice in the pool. We have been swimming for a few hours every day, so she is doing really well. She's "water walking" for longer lengths without goggles and swimming like a fish under water with goggles. She's even been diving for toys on the pool steps. When we get home, we will continue meeting with other home schooled kids at a local YMCA once a week to swim for an hour (and since other kids are there, our swim practice will count towards social time as well).
Lighten Dwayne's load around the house. I've stopped complaining... as much, but I haven't had extra time or energy to do any of the work for him. If I actually do start painting the trim in the downstairs bathroom, I will probably have to stop for the same reasons that I can't sew.
Read to Avril. Norah practices phonics while Avril's in the same room. Does that count?
Talk to Norah. I try not to have my laptop open during every breakfast and lunch we have together, though it is so tempting to use meal time to "play" on the computer. Rather, I will force myself to shut the laptop's lid and sit still and look at Norah and ask her questions about what she's been doing, watching, playing, etc. And, wonder of wonders, she actually answers those questions! ...Works like a charm!
I hoard picnic baskets. The picture above shows the three picnic baskets currently in my kitchen... and I have at least two more elsewhere. There's just something so romantic about them. Anytime I see one for sale in a store, I have to pull my spirit away from it kicking and screaming, else I'll buy it. I start to imagine all the memories that could be made around that basket, what crisp salads and sweet baked goods I could pack it full of... and then I can hardly help myself. These baskets embody the things most precious to me. These baskets actually exist because of them: quality time spent with loved ones over food close to nature. We use all the baskets we have for storage in the winter and we pack a picnic almost every weekend from May through the end August. But, still... I don't need this many. I've never filled more than two baskets at one time (but that's a record I think I will strive to break). I really should fill at least one of them with some baked goods and give it to someone who deserves a gift... Maybe our precious neighbors who are watching our house while we are away?
occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.
-Gertrude S. Wister
One of my favorite Norman Rockwell paintings shows a farmer in a bare, black, muddy field. It's dark outside and cold and very windy, but the man is huddled over a little, yellow crocus flower, shouting back to someone at the house, obviously excited about this first sign of Spring. I know exactly how he feels. Every year, when I see the crocus in our flower bed, before I can even help it, I shout to Norah, "Come and see!!!" After our color-starved winters, these lowly flowers are precious to New Englanders.
We've kept the feeder full through these winter months. And, every morning, as if by appointment, we see various feathered friends. The sparrows hop around the snow-covered ground, then flutter away when the blue jay comes fussing. But, sometimes, I wonder, who's watching who? A few of them seem to enjoy watching us pick, pick, pick at our breakfasts, too.
This picture represents two rites of passage; one for me, one for Norah.
First, Norah was old enough to help me put out the Christmas village earlier this winter. She's wanted to help me for years, but she was never tall enough and her hands were never steady enough.
The second, and perhaps the most noteworthy thing this picture represents is that I actually let her help me. I used to care about every little detail of this village. But, now, with two kids and so much going on, I don't have the time or the energy to worry where all the little people go anymore. There are always dishes to be done, clothes to be put away, butts to be wiped, so I yelled from where I was in the laundry room,
"Put the lady carrying the packages wherever you want, Norah!"
We're leaving today. We'll be gone for two weeks! Dwayne has to be in Orlando, Florida for the AHR Conference later this month, so we are tagging along with him, turning another one of his work trips into a mini vacation.
We are driving the whole way, leaving early enough to take the trip at a pleasant pace. We have planned to stop in South Carolina to see my family. My parents, brother and sister will meet Avril for the first time! Dwayne's parents live about an hour away from the resort where we will be staying in Florida, so we will see them on this trip, too... a lot of them, actually. They plan to split the cost of a two bedroom suite with us, so they can stay at the resort, too! Norah can't wait to see all her grandparents! She can't think of anything else!
I've set enough material to post while I am away, so keep checking in. There will be at least something new to see everyday. Enjoy!
My family loves good food. And, after eight, going on nine years of trying to budget for meals to feed them all, I have figured out that if I don't provide enough good food at home, we will, ultimately, go out to eat in order to find good food, even if we really "don't have the money."
Therefore, I am trying to make more and more things that will tempt us to stay home and eat. I have found that spending a little more on groceries in order to provide a restaurant-quality meal or two at home is well worth the higher grocery bill each month, since we stay home to eat and don't need any extra cash to cover those expensive restaurant tabs and tips. Even fancy entrees like steak and fresh fish are much cheaper when you prepare them yourselves.
Once or twice a month, prepare something "fancy," something that isn't made with ground beef or chicken breasts, something that doesn't have noodles or cream of mushroom as a main ingredient, something fresh, exciting, new and fun to you. You will feel less deprived, even while eating at the same old dinner table. You will find your appetitie satisfied and discover that your wallet or bank account is actually full of money you'd otherwise waste at restaurants.
Personally, I think many Klutz products are overpriced, but one exception to this is their book How to Make Pom Pom Animals. With this book, you receive everything you need to make several adorable pom pom animals: a turtle, a teddy bear, a butterfly, a bumble bee (shown above)... and many more. Kids don't need to be able to read to understand how to put these animals together. They need only follow the pictures numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. It's something even the youngest kids can do with or without you. And, best of all, when you have used up all the pom pom and google eyes they give you, you can keep the book and use it as a guide to purchase some of your own supplies and reuse the books' instructions to keep making more animals! I cut small pieces of magnetic strips (available in most craft sections or stores) and glued them to the back of some of our animals to make them magnets for our fridge. So adorable!
"When the system fails, it is my responsibility," Obama said.
Everywhere we look these days, we see "Obama." In news articles and reports, his name is almost synonymous with government itself.
Contrast that with the time Bush (or any other president for that matter) was in office. We may have questioned how much influence Bush had over anything at times, but at least, in our minds, we could separate the president's name from the government. We understood that though he caredabout everything, the president wasn't actually responsible for everything. At least then, there were other people at work in Washington for our good, other people who had a huge stake in the game, other people who needed to do their jobs well to make "change" happen. We realized that the president couldn't do it all. Or maybe, the president realized he couldn't. And, this wasn't just because he was Bush (ignorant, incompetent, impotent and all the other things the media said about him) so much as because he knew and we all knew that he was, in fact, only human.
Now, I didn't vote for him and I will be the first republican to sigh if a man (or woman) of worth from my party is able to be elected next term, but I wonder at Obama, Democrat and all. I worry for him. I realize he is so motivated and so capable (or the media, thus far, has eagerly painted him as such), but is it prudent for any president, any leader at all, to have his hands in so much, but to be takingfull responsibility for so much... from health care, to the war(s), to homeland security, to education, to the housing crisis, the economy, to unemployment, the list goes on? Doesn't he delegate? Doesn't anybody work for Obama anymore? Or, maybe more importantly, aren't there still people involved in our government who aren't doing his bidding?
I wonder, by literally chaining himself (politically speaking) to the success or failure of so many of his programs, his strategies, his initiatives, his plans, his systems... is it even possible that Obama won't fail?
For three years running, Dwayne has gotten me Christmas gifts that I didn't ask for, didn't want and wasn't the least bit excited about at first. But, for three years running, I have eventually had to humble myself and confess to him that I really do love the gifts he chose, that they are perfect for me and that they have ended up making my life much more pleasant.
Two Christmases ago it was my apple-peeler-corer-slicer from Williams-Sonoma. I felt jipped out of a decent present that year, until apple picking season rolled around the next fall and I peeled the apples for my first pie of the season with it. It makes the whole pie-making process so much easier and fun and pie-making is a very important tradition to me, so this, naturally, made perfect gift #1.
Last Christmas, perfect gift #2 was a set of gourmet kitchen knives from Ergo Chef. As I was opening them, Dwayne was telling the story of how he "happened by" the store and how they were having an "unbelievable sale" since the manufacturer was located "right here in Connecticut." It all sounded very last-minute to me and I was only thinking of all the things on my wish-list the money he spent on these knives could have purchased and how the fancy wooden knife holder that had to be used would junk-up my kitchen counters... that is, until I used the chef's knife to chop a pepper and an onion and the fillet knife to half a chicken breast... the experiences changed my life. I cook four times as often as I did before Dwayne purchased these knives and I have to believe it is because preparing food is so much easier with high quality knives. I just can't say how much I underestimated the importance of them. I used to think people who spent money on these types of things were just snobs, but it really does make a huge difference in how quickly you can prep fresh food, making it much more practical to cook at home.
This year, it was my Garmin. You may have guessed from the picture above. I was terribly disappointed because I thought this was just something "electronic" that Dwayne was forcing on me and I didn't want it cluttering up my dash board. Before I had this pleasant British woman's voice to guide me to unfamiliar places, I would have to print out Google maps and I'd always get turned around halfway to where I was going. That is when I'd call Dwayne at work and ask, "Where am I? Please help me! I'm lost!" He'd say something diplomatic like, "Umm... I don't know where you are. Can you tell me what street you are on?!" I never could tell him what street I was on, but somehow, from my hints about landmarks and buildings, he'd usually be able to Google a map and guide me back to where I needed to go. God bless him. But, with that in mind, I took two trips to new places this week, one to the Wallingford YMCA and the other to Andie's Bounce Barn. I found both places with ease and I will never have to call Dwayne at work for directions again... Perfect gift #3.
The man knows me better than I know myself! And, I give him credit for having the nerve to buy me something knowing that I am going to be disappointed with it until I can figure out for myself that it really was a perfect gift.
I felt vulnerable without her. It might have been my imagination, but men seemed to be more talkative to me this week. When I asked Dwayne if he thought that was possible, he said, "We look." I said, "You look!?" He said, "Umm.. No. I mean, I did.... Umm... A ring's a quick sign that says to single guys 'Move on." Humph! That said, we will see if things get "quiet" again now that I have it back on. If what Dwayne says is true, I expect it will.
My size went up from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2, so they had to add some platinum to the band to make it bigger. I had a hard time dropping it off at the jeweler's, a harder time than I ever had leaving my kids in any nursery... and I always had a really hard time with that. I am not sure what that says about me, but I think my feelings for this ring have more to do with how sentimental I am about it rather than how much material value it has.
I am so thankful Dwayne was willing to pay to have it re-sized right away. It kind of feels like he gave it to me for the first time all over again. It was a gift he was eager to give me in the first place. And his lack of hesitation helping me get it re-sized quickens my heart. I can see that he is still eager to see it on my finger. And, I always wear it with pride because of my pride in him, because of my pride in us.
On the last snow day, Norah exhausted herself trying to break large chunks of ice (that form when the plows pack the snow together along the edge of the street). She kicked the blocks, jumped on them with both feet, hit them with her gloved fists, threw onto the sidewalk, all while grunting and mumbling like she was angry at them. When they finally did crack, she would throw up her hands and yell, "Yes!"
Avril's old enough to watch the Baby Einstein DVDs now. We purchased one for Norah several years ago, then we were given another one a year or so ago. So, I had a lesson in contentment the other day... when I went to pull this DVD from it's case and let Avril watch it.
For a moment, I remembered how sad it used to make me that we only had one of these for Norah. These DVDs aren't that popular now, but back when Norah was Avril's age, you may remember, they were all the rage. They were everywhere you shopped, on every shelf in every store. Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam's even had a "special collection" that included every Baby Einstein DVD ever made.
At the time, it was really discouraging to me to go through birthdays and Christmases and paydays and more birthdays and more Christmases... without receiving them or having money left over at the end of a pay period to purchase another one. It seemed so important back then, for some reason, that we have them all or to at least be able to buy another one here and there until, maybe, we had them all eventually. I felt like we were being deprived of something Norah really needed or deserved... not that I thought they'd actually make her a genius or anything.
But, it occurred to me that the two DVDs we do have have just been sitting in the case for well over two years now anyway. I haven't thought of them once in that space of time, so, I realized it really wasn't that important after all. And, I was kind of shocked at how much greed had gotten such a hold on me over these silly little DVDs and I was mad at how much the evil one had once used this to make me feel discontent and prod me into thanklessness for that portion of Norah's childhood.
Then, I wondered... how many other things do I covet for Norah today, right this moment, that say... five years from now, won't matter a bit to me... just like those Baby Einstein DVDs?
I love "collecting" these things for her. But, I asked myself, "How much of this stuff does she really need anyway?" since she's only one kid, since she can only wear one shirt at a time (and only a few shirts in a season before she outgrows them), since she can only wear one hair bow at a time (and rarely tolerates bows to begin with), since she can only watch one movie so many times (a few hundred times or so, yes, but eventually every DVD does get old).
And that is when I was freed, so to speak, from the tyranny of greed that I didn't even realize existed in this area of my life. It was (and is) easy for me to justify, too, since it was all for Norah (and since we can "hand it down" to Avril). But, it was and is still greed, none the less.
Be on the guard against all forms of greed, for a man's life (and the richness of our childrens' memories) does not consist of the abundance of his possessions. -Luke 12:15
I have been obedient, painfully so. I have been seeking, almost relentlessly. So, I was expecting God to bless... me. Yet, He has been almost pouring Himself out on my husband lately, so much so that I got jealous over what God was doing in Dwayne's life.
Quietly then, God's Spirit rested a firm but gentle hand on my shoulder and asked me, "Is there any greater blessing you can think of, something that will bless you more... than a husband who is filled with my Spirit?"
"...the two shall become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one.
As Dwayne goes, I follow. As he leads, so goes our entire family. As he grows, I am blessed.
These cookies are very easy to throw together and very, very yummy. Using Devil's Food cake mix makes chewy, decadent chocolate cookies. The powdered sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness... and mess. Don't eat these cookies while wearing a nice shirt. It's hard to keep the sugar from sprinkling down as you take bites and when you go to brush the sugar off, it just makes a bigger mess. But, it's oh so worth it... Trust me.
Cool Whip Cookies
Cake mix of your choice. (We like to use Devil's Food chocolate). One 8 ounce container of whipped topping. Two Eggs 1 Cup Powdered Sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray your baking sheets. Beat together the whipped topping and the eggs. Add the cake mix of your choice and keep mixing. Dough will be thick and a little difficult to turn by hand. It's easier if you have an electric mixer. Drop the dough by spoonfuls into a bowl of confectioners sugar and roll them until they are coated with the sugar. Place the cookies on a prepared baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Cookies will expand as they cook and then fall as they cool. Let them sit on the baking sheet for a minute or two after you pull them out of the oven, then gently transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
The woman was a coworker of mine. I thought she was a friend. I knew she was troubled, that she had a past or rather, a present. She was a single lady, currently using and being used by a few different men in her life. She felt comfortable confiding in me about what was going on and I meant to help her. I knew that at least a portion of her suffering was of her own devices, since she enjoyed the night life, but I tried not to judge her too harshly for this. I thought her appetite was only natural since she wasn't following after the Lord.
I was building a friendship with her when, by chance, she met Dwayne. He'd come to visit me at work and she'd passed us in the hall. A day or so later, she and I were sitting and talking at length, like we did. She began with compliments about what a Godly husband I had and what a great match I had made in him, but somehow, perhaps by force of habit for her, her attitude changed towards me. She was challenging me all of a sudden, woman to woman. She smirked and taunted and asked boldly, directly, "What would you do if I came on to your husband?"
I didn't hesitate to answer her, in fact, the words just poured out. But, before I did, it was like time slowed down for me and I had the chance to look at her, to study her face and register that she was, in fact, being very serious, gravely serious. I had time to be disturbed, had time for my spirit to be rattled to the core because it was as if it wasn't just her speaking, but also some strong demonic force looking out from her eyes, asking me what I would do if someone attempted to break up my home.
I can't remember what it is that I said, exactly, but it may have started with the words "Get thee behind me." I know I looked her straight in the eyes and I quoted at least some of the last portion of Proverbs 6 and a large portion of Chapter 7 from memory, apparently, and with a finger pointed in her face. But, the funny thing is, I don't know Proverbs 6 and 7. I still don't know it. I've never memorized it. So... the words just came to me. At the time, I had no way of explaining what happened when I answered her question. It was against my character to be so forceful then, though I've changed a lot over the years... But, now, I would say that I must have been filled with the Holy Spirit and He must have given me the words I needed to rebuke her.
She didn't come back to work the next day. I wasn't surprised by that. But, after a few days, I asked where she'd been and I was told that she'd quit, given no notice and wouldn't be coming back.
Fast forward several years.
I see this video for the first time and hear the lyrics, "He is jealous for me. Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy..." And, thinking about them, the storm of emotions from that day hit me again. I made the connection that it is, at times, perfectly God-like to get angry, to be jealous, to insist on singularity, to fight for what is best for someone we love.
For example, I have cut a covenant with my Dwayne. When we married, the promises we made were binding and God cut a covenant with us. I love Dwayne better than any woman and because of that, I want what is best for him. I am confident that I am what is best for him, since I am his wife before God. I have a right to be jealous over him. In fact, it is only right that I am jealous for him and insist on singularity in our love. It wouldn't be loving if I didn't get angry and fight when some she-devil expressed a strong desire to ship wreck my husband's life, our life together, our family, our childrens' home, with her seduction.
And, just like that, God is jealous for us. He's made a covenant with us. He has made promises that He will not break. And, He loves us better than anyone, wants the best for us and knows that it is, in fact, He that is best for us. So, He has a right to be jealous. In fact, it is only right that He is jealous and gets angry when someone tries to ruin our lives or tries to divert us from His will. And, more than anything, because He loves us so much and has committed so much of Himself to us, He can insist on a singularity in our love for Him.
"I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God... You shall have no other Gods before me."
My resolutions for twenty-ten, in no specific order.
Let Norah play outside. I am realizing it doesn't have to be a picture-perfect day. That's what coats are for. And, it doesn't have to be a formal activity like an outing to the park or a hike in the state forest. Norah needs to be free to simply explore her own backyard. We have a great stretch of rocks and woods out back, grand enough to inspire any five year old's imagination. Keep a garden. I didn't get to do this in '09, since Avril was born right when I needed to plant my vegetables.
Listen to Scripture. I really don't have time to read it, especially since I blog incessantly. But, I have the Bible on CD and I think I will try and listen to it while I am in the kitchen. I may actually hear more Scripture this way, since I am in there all the time.
Pray. I plan to use two books as "guides." The Power of a Praying Wife is an all-time favorite with notes in the margins and pages well-worn. The other book, The Power of a Praying Parent, I've had for years, but it still looks brand new, to my shame. I'd also like to spend more time being quiet before God. I hear from Him often, but His spirit always has to break through the noise to say anything to me. I am beginning to wonder how much more He could impress upon my heart if I stopped using prayer as a time to ask for things and used at least some of the time to just sit and listen.
Sew. I have several projects planned, all the materials just sitting, waiting to be used. I'd like to make curtains for some of our windows, decorative pillow cases, quilts, etc.
Collect books and music. It may sound ridiculous, but I need to spend more money on these things. I am constant need of new music for work. I use the same old CDs again and again, so my fitness classes are starting to moan. I also never get around to buying the reading books I plan to collect for the girls. I usually wait until the end of a pay period to consider these purchases, when my discretionary funds are too low to justify the costs. I need to start purchasing these things right after I get paid so that I won't "waste" the money I want to spend on something else.
Call my friends. I'm so independent that I actually tend to be selfish. I need to be a better friend and call the people that I love more often.
Keep my room clean. It's one of the places in my house where stuff gets piled up. I'd like it to look nicer, remain neater, smell better, etc. so going in there would feel like more of a retreat.
Teach Norah to swim. She's always getting better, but I'd like it if she could swim well enough and with enough confidence for me to "leave" her in the water and just watch from the deck or hold her sister who really does need the one-on-one attention in the pool.
Attend more home school group activities. This way, both Norah and I can make new friends and continue building the friendships we've already got. Lighten Dwayne's load around the house. Stop complaining that he isn't doing the work and start doing some of the stuff myself, such as painting the new doors and base boards, maybe even cutting the grass... once.
Read to Avril. It's easy to spend all my free time reading to Norah, especially since her stories are new and more interesting to me and since we read as a part of her home school lessons. But, Avril deserves some of the same one-on-one, lap-time with her baby, board books that Norah got when she was little.
Talk to Norah. I'm with her all day. Almost everything I do is about her or for her or with her, but it still seems like she doesn't get to say all she needs to say to me. Without a doubt, she chooses the worst times to open up, but that is when I need to stop what I am doing, look in her eyes, listen, show real interest in what she is saying and talk back.