Thursday, January 28, 2010

Friendly Advice

I have been reading the book of Job.  At 5 in the morning, trying to understand it gives me a bit of a headache, but I am thankful for the Holy Spirit and the various commentaries that help me muddle through.

You know what else reading through Job's trails makes me thankful for?  My health (such as it is) yes, but right now it makes me enormously greatful for my FRIENDS.  The wise, Godly friends the Lord has brought into my life over the last few years.  Friends that will admonish me, encourage me, love me, uplift me and pray for me.  Friends whose wisdom and advice is steeped in the Word of God and whispered  to me with an outpouring of love.  Friends who care not only about my life here on earth, but for my everlasting soul.

"Thank you, Lord, for the friends you have sent to help me along my way.  They will tell me when my heart is in the wrong and point my thoughts and actions back to You.  They encourage and uplift me with Your words.  Their wisdom flows from You.  They will sit with me when there is nothing to say.  They will laugh with me and cry with me all while praising Your name and Your holiness.  They are my Godly gifts.  Thank you, Lord, for not sending me Job's friends."

If you have amazing, wonderful friends that you LOVE, repost this note with your own thankful thoughts.  If you don't do this in 3 minutes, ...wait, NO, just kidding--I hate those things!  They make me want to hurl my computer through the nearest window while screaming.

Praying that this day is beautiful and blessed for both you and me.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saving Money the Homemade Way

I love convenience.  Running to the store, picking up this or that; keeping it in my cupboard to grab when needed.  This is how I roll.  There are things I have learned to make from scratch, not because I've had to conserve, but because I wanted better tasting (think Alfredo Sauce).  Now that the price of food is steadily climbing higher and higher (not to mention my growing kiddos eating more and more), I am beginning to look for ways I can save a buck.  Making convenience foods from scratch is a great and TASTY way to do that. 

I do still buy things that could probably be made at home, because let's face it, I have a TON on my plate and I can only do so much.  I have found a couple of recipes that are super fast and super cheap.  Hillbilly Housewife is a great site to wander around if you are looking for lots of ways to eat cheaper.  Another place that you can look for ANY recipe, not just knock-offs is Recipe Zaar.  Can I just say, "I LOVE RECIPE ZAAR!"?

I made homemade Bisquick the other night for our dinner biscuits.  I found the recipe at Recipe Zaar.  I would TOTALLY recommend this.  It went together super fast-I did not sift the dry ingredients, I just used my small wisk to break up the lumps and make sure it was nice and fluffy. 

We used it to make Cheesy Garlic Drop Biscuits.  Turned out BEAUTIFULLY!  Light and fluffy and o-so-tasty.  Here is the recipe for you to try.

Cheesy Garlic Drop Biscuits
4 1/2 c. Bisquick Mix
1 1/3 c. milk
1/2 tsp. (or more) granulated garlic
1 1/4 c. cheese, grated (we like colby jack or cheddar)

(We no longer measure the cheese or the garlic.  We just kinda guess.)

Mix Bisquick, water and garlic together with a wooden spoon.  Stir in the cheese until incorporated.  Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.  Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Brush tops of cooked biscuits with a little melted butter seasoned with a bit more garlic.  This makes ABOUT 18 biscuits.

This morning, Jeff and I made homemade Pancake Syrup.  I was leary--to say the least.  I LOVE Mrs. Butterworth syrup.  It's what I grew up with.  Jeff loves REAL Maple Syrup--that stuff is spen-dy!  This recipe worked  WONDERFULLY for us.  It's sort of a mix between real maple and Mrs. Butterworth.  I loved it, Jeff loved it, the kids loved it.  It's a WINNER and I'm a ROCKSTAR!

I may never BUY syrup again.

Here is the recipe that started it all.  When Jeff and I started making it, I asked him if we were going to follow the recipe EXACTLY as it was, and he replied (in a VERY nasty, sarcastic little voice) "No, it's a recipe.  Why would we follow THAT?" 

So, because I can rarely follow a recipe as it is written, here is the recipe as I changed it.

Pancake Syrup
2 c. warm water
2 c. white sugar
2 c. brown sugar-packed
2 TBSP molasses
1 tsp. maple flavor (only because that's ALL we had in the bottle)
1TBSP butter

We followed the cooking directions from the link above, but I will rewrite them for you so you don't have to go back to the link again.

Combine the water, sugars and molasses in a good size pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Watch the pot because if it's too small and you're not looking it may bubble up and pour over onto your stove top. Can you say "sticky, nasty mess"?  After it comes to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes-DO NOT STIR during this 10 minutes. Then remove from heat and take the lid off. Stir in the maple (ok, honestly, Jeff didn't read the directions carefully, and he added the maple at the beginning with the sugar. The world did not end and the syrup still tasted like maple-go figure) and the butter. Let cool for 15 minutes.

When first made and still warm, this recipe has the consistency of real maple syrup. I have been told that after storing it in the fridge overnight, it thickens up to a consistency similar to store bought syrup.

Are there things you love to make from scratch that also save you a bit of money?  Please share!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Birthday Traditions

Today, my son turns 7, and my husband turns 39. It's a big day for us. Nate has been asking since before Christmas how many more days until his birthday. Now it's here. It's hard to believe that just 8 years ago we were without this little ball of fire. He has come and left a huge imprint on our lives.

Jeff just keeps saying, "Next year I'll be 40!" I don't think the idea excites him. It does me. He gets better and better with age--(can I just say that he was already pretty awesome to start with?). And I am SO glad he was born!

We don't do large "friend" parties every year for our kids, instead, we save the big parties for big birthdays, you know...5, 10, 13, 16, 18...

We do have two small traditions that we do each year. The first is that the birthday child gets to choose what they will have for dinner on their day. Anything they want. Last year, Nate chose Manwiches (YUCK!). I begrudgingly made them and we all ate them, but Nate hated them and never asked for THAT again. This year he chose Personal Pizzas. These are fun and super simple, so I am looking forward to dinner. I will be trying my hand at making homemade pizza dough for the first time. I'll let you know how it turns out.

The other tradition is one the kids look forward to almost as much as presents. On the morning of their birthday, Jeff takes each child out to breakfast, just the two of them. They begin choosing their restaurant weeks before the actual date, weighing food choices and locations. On years when birthdays fall on Sundays, Jeff takes them early, before church. Tomorrow, Jeff has an early job and so he will hustle to that and return to take Nate out between jobs-but it's too important to skip. Nate waits eagerly. I believe that Jeff waits, just as eager.

They will laugh and eat and grow closer. This will be what they remember when they are grown. Not the gifts or the parties, but the one-on-one time with a father that loves them deeply. They are so lucky, and so am I.

Aren't they great?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Scheduled Rituals

Lately, my husband and I have been trying to start our day at the MORNING! Now, if you don't know, I am NOT in any way a morning person. If I had my way, the fun would run until midnight and day wouldn't start until noon {or LATER}! So just let me say E-GHADS! As I type this I have already had my cup of coffee and read my Bible and it's 5 minutes to 6.

I'm not a huge fan of schedules. Making one makes me kind of cranky and having to follow one makes me even more cranky, but when it's all said and done, schedules do seem to make the day run more smoothly (or should that be 'days run smoother'?) and THAT makes me happy.

Having cleared that up, I do LOVE ritual and there is a difference. It's my morning ritual that makes struggling out of bed even possible for me. Well, that and a huge push from the Lord, because believe me, if the Lord weren't shoving my behind out of bed, I would still be there, sinking into my cushioned topper, burrowing under my pile of blankets.

My morning looks a little something like this-

"I tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition.
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life"...

WAIT, that's Dolly Parton's song Nine to Five, but it does REALLY resemble my morning.

My alarm goes off (for the first time) at 5:05, I hit snooze and five minutes later it goes off again. So I lay there for a minute and glare at my phone (which is what I use for an alarm) until I can feel my brain slowly solidifying from the mush of sleep. Then I slowly sit up and stay there for just a minute to make sure no body parts fall off and that the world is still spinning as it should.

Next, I fumble my way to the closet to grab a sweater and a pair of socks (because I HATE to be bare footed) while my husband mumbles, "You can turn the light on if you need to", which I don't do because light at 5 a.m. is ridiculously bright.

I really do stumble toward the kitchen (there is always something out of place for me to trip on. Hello-there are 7 of us living here!), where I turn the espresso machine to 'warm'. But before I begin brewing my lovely bit of Morning Joe, I must, must, must turn on the heat! My husband and I sleep with the house as cold as we can possibly get it so by the time I walk from my bedroom to the kitchen my teeth are chattering and I am covered in goose-bumps.

Ahh, now HERE is the part where the ritual starts to warm my bones and comfort me in my morning duress. I begin to brew my coffee. The small ritual of grinding beans, measuring and heating milk, tamping grounds and measuring scoops of white chocolate and shots of espresso calms my breathing and opens my eyes. The whiff of coffee and white chocolate mingling in the air makes me smile, just a bit, in the dark quiet.

My sister bought me a Heated Throw for Christmas and it's rarely off. I have it folded next to my rocking chair in the living room and this is where I cuddle up with God. The heat of the blanket seeps into my bones and the heat of God's word seeps into my heart. This is the reason I rise. I used to say that 5:00 a.m. was an ungodly hour, I must recant. He is there at 5, waiting patiently for me to get to Him. He waits as I wake and read and sip. And we chat.

My children begin wandering in at 6 so they can begin their morning routine. I think they are less comforted by their routines than I am. Maybe theirs are schedules. They throw on clothes and I watch as the four oldest and their father head out to feed the animals. I watch as they toss hay and pour water and dump food. They do it TOGETHER now, and this is more routine that warms my heart. By the time they return they are more awake and laughing. This is bonding time.

Now I am ready. It's been an hour and I've readied my heart. I have found that after my rituals, my words run more softly, more patiently. I am more inclined toward grace and mercy as opposed to the law.

I may not LOVE 5 a.m., but I do enjoy the RESULT.

This year, I have purposed to read through the Bible. It's the first time I have ever done this consciously. I found a web site called One Year Bible OnLine that lists out your daily readings. I have seen this before, but what got me excited about this site, is that here you can choose to read through the Bible in chronological order, and you can set your start date so that if you are not starting on Jan 1, you can still easily keep track of what to read and when.

The site also has the option of reading the scriptures right from the computer in whatever translation you choose. I prefer to read from my own Bible where I can make notes and such, but I am thinking about opening the one on the computer to a translation that I don't have and comparing the two. It's a lot of reading, so I haven't done that quite yet.

I haven't spent much time looking around the site, so I can't guarantee what they teach. I did see that they also have a link to Matthew Henry’s Commentary if you are interested.

Join me, if you'd like, in reading through God's Story this year, you don't have to get up at 5 to do it!  But contrary to popular belief, He is there at 5 a.m. and will help you meet Him there.

"Thank you, Lord, for Your Word.   For taking my weak self and enabling it to come to You, even when it's so early that noone should be awake.  Thank you for the few minutes of peace and quite that can be found at Your feet in the darkness.  Bless this day, Father, and the activities and goals I have for it.  Let me accomplish the things that will bring glory and honor to Your name.  Season my words with salt today, that I may be an encouragement to those I encounter.  ~Amen."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Year of Saturate & Cling

This morning, as I prepare to take Christmas down and return my house to a less bedazzled existance, I am a bit tired and worn down.  So, before I begin, I sit awhile with my coffee and my computer, wandering here and there and reading this and that.  It's on a blog brought to me by a friend that I stumble across this verse-

Lord, all my desire is before You;
And my sighing is not hidden from You.

Turning my Bible to Psalms 38:9-10, I read more

My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
And the light of my eyes, even that is gone from me.

These words, today, not only describe me, but fill my heart with hope.  When noone else may see or know my heart-God does.  When I no longer have the strength-God does.  He knows my desires, my pain, and my failings and He still loves me; has called me to be His own.

I turn to another beloved passage in Psalm 119.  Someday, I will memorize this entire chapter, but for now I will focus on these verses-

My soul cleaves to the dust;
Revive me according to Your word.
I have told of my ways, and You answered me;
Teach me Your statutes.
Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.
My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
Remove the false way from me,
And graciously grant me Your law.
I have chosen the faithful way;
I have placed Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!
I shall run the way of Your commandments,
For You will enlarge my heart.

Psalm 119:25-32 NASB

This is the year that I will meditate and cling and saturate myself in the Word.  I will breath the Word to my children and over my home.  I will digest the Word, I will bathe in the Word.  His Word will be at my fingertips and I will read it as I do my chores and as I sit to rest.  His Word will fill me until I overflow.