Archives for April 2010

On being a mensch

Mensch
To my 18 year old son, as you prepare to graduate from high school and head out into the world:  I’m so proud of you, and I’m confident that you’ve already learned most of what I’m writing here.  You already excel at many of these things!  But as a momma I find myself wanting just once more to summarize some of the core things I hope for you as a man.

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  • Be more of a gentleman than you need to be. Open doors for people. Smile at little children. Offer to carry things. And then carry them.
  • Say thanks to people who do things for you.  The guy with the broom at the movie theater. Your chemistry teacher. Anyone who cooks for you.  Don’t assume that because someone’s ‘just doing their job’ that you don’t need to thank them.  A thank you is always appropriate.
  • Remember that willingness to try a thing often becomes the ability to do a thing. The more you can learn to do yourself, the more money you’ll keep in your own pocket, and the less dependent you’ll be on the grace and schedules of others. Jump in and try things.
  • Better 5 minutes early than 30 seconds late. You show respect to people by being on time.   This is especially crucial with bosses and professors.  It doesn’t hurt with girls either.
  • If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, don’t say it behind his back.
  • Don’t complain.  It makes you look like a wimp, and bosses remember it.
  • Don’t endlessly hunt the newest and the greatest.  Purchase judiciously and infrequently.  And if you don’t have the bucks, don’t buy. Debt steals future freedom.
  • Always be willing to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.  And when you are, don’t make excuses or sweep it under the rug.   Take a deep breath and apologize.  Even if you weren’t the only one at fault, an apology makes it obvious you care about the people involved.
  • Be a person who notices what needs doing, and steps in without being asked. Especially if the job is an unpleasant one. Some days to be a hero all you have to do is pick up a plunger and go do battle.  People remember heroes.
  • Be willing to give that extra 10%.  Sometimes it is an extra dose of grace for a person who doesn’t deserve it. Sometimes it is an extra half an hour of polish put on a school essay or a work project.   People notice people who go above and beyond.  Nowhere is that more important than in relationships.
  • Speaking of relationships, look for a girl who loves her daddy, and whose family you genuinely like.  The more you have in common, the better.  Faith in God is essential. But cookie-cutter thinking isn’t.  A discerning woman who occasionally disagrees with you can be a blessing.   You’ll need someone wise enough and brave enough to gently speak up when you’re getting off-course in life.  Because you will sometimes.
  • You’ll stay on course best by loving God first, best, and always.  I’m so glad that you have already learned this well!  Look to God for guidance and power every day.  He’s going to teach you way more than I ever can.  May God bring you every blessing in life!

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I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Eph 3: 16-21)

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Family Feasts giveaway

This week I chatted with Coppelia from Air 1 radio about my cookbook Family Feasts for $75 a Week, and you can win a copy!  To enter the drawing, simply share your favorite affordable meal in comments.  (Get to comments by clicking on the title of this post, above.)  I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas!

In my book you’ll find step-by-step shopping strategies and 200 affordable, delicious recipes to make the most of your grocery money. For more info, check out the reviews on amazon.  Then tune into Air One Thursday at 1 pm PT, and Friday at 9 am PT to hear the interview. I’ll announce the winner of the book Saturday morning!

just a kiss

We stand in a crowd at a banquet, my husband and I.  Dinner is done and folk dancing is a-swirl in the center of the room.  We consider dancing, but given our lack of familiarity with folk dancing, we decide we’ll have more fun simply watching our son and his friends.  I take pictures of the action and we chat contentedly.  My husband flirts with me, letting me know that to him I’m the prettiest girl in the room, 18-year-old girls included.

I’m a lucky woman and I know it. I glow a smile his way and lean in for a quick kiss.  A young man walking past spots the smooch.  I expect him to glance quickly away thinking, 40-something lovebirds — yikes.  But instead his eyes linger, as if he’s seeing something sweet, unexpected. He smiles at us, and keeps smiling as he walks on.

I suddenly remember my parents. When I was growing up, my dad would come up behind my mom in the kitchen, wrap his arms around her and kiss her on the neck. She’d lean back into his embrace with a smile. I remember how safe and warm their embrace made me feel. I knew love lived in my world, and it made me hope for a romance like that someday.

I’ve thought about that young man several times since that dance. I hope we weren’t the first long-married couple he’s seen still in love. I hope his parents love each other, and I hope they kiss, warmly, right in front of his eyes. Because when we married folks show our love for each other, not only does it nurture us, it also gives the young people around us a hope for a happy future of their own.
– – – –
Related:
How did you learn to be married?
Can you increase your own kids’ chances at successful marriage?

Sunday

To the one whose dreams are falling all apart
And all you’re left with is a tired and broken heart
I can tell by your eyes you think you’re on your own
But you’re not all alone

Have you heard of the One who can calm the raging seas
Give sight to the blind, pull the lame up to their feet
With a love so strong and never let you go
Oh you’re not alone

You will be safe in His arms
You will be safe in His arms
‘Cause the hands that hold the world are holding your heart
This is the promise He made
He will be with You always
When everything is falling apart
You will be safe in His arms

Did you know that the voice that brings the dead to life
Is the very same voice that calls you to rise
So hear Him now, He’s calling you home
You will never be alone

These are the hands that built the mountains
The hands that calm the seas
These are the arms that hold the heavens
They are holding you and me

These are hands that healed the leper
Pulled the lame up to their feet
These are the arms that were nailed to a cross
To break our chains and set us free

Groceries, part two

Thanks for all your great comments on my grocery post. I wanted to talk just a bit more about getting past the challenges faced by working-class people living in true poverty.

Regarding choice in grocery shopping and lack of transportation, if I didn’t have a vehicle and had to only shop in my neighborhood, it would definitely limit my choice.   However, in recent visits to New York City, here’s what I saw:

fruit and veggie stands every few blocks, even in January.   I remember being concerned that their oranges would freeze.  Are these fruit stands also in the poorest neighborhoods?   I don’t know.

ethnic markets all over the place.   I have to drive 10 miles for my nearest Mexican grocery store, and 25 miles to get to the nearest Korean market.   In big cities they are much more common, and many of them even have reasonably priced produce.  I saw spices in NYC for cheaper than I can get them here.

–don’t forget about dollar stores.   We saw food very reasonably priced at a dollar store near our hotel in New York.   Again, I’m not sure what is available in poor neighborhoods, but to make the most of my grocery money, I’d probably take a bus and some big shopping bags to affordable stores once or twice a month.

—————–

Lack of time is definitely a barrier to people who aren’t used to cooking.  If I were working full time, and trying to feed people affordably, here’s what I’d do:

— make a huge pot of refried beans once a week and make sure I had tortillas around.  Freeze the refried beans in smaller containers and you can make burritos  in 5 minutes flat on any weeknight.  Grated cheese  and salsa on top is yummy but not essential.  Super easy for kids to do by themselves, if you have a microwave, that is.

— make a huge pot of soup on the weekend, enough for 3 meals.  Portions could be zapped in the microwave any time during the week.

–set up the rice cooker with oatmeal for an effortless breakfast.  You can cook a scrambled egg in the microwave or on a stove top in 5 minutes.   Super affordable protein.

— boil a couple dozen eggs on the weekend and stick them in the fridge for easy meals or snacks during the week.

– chop a bag full of carrots into sticks on the weekends for easy weeknight veggies.

–come home from work, start the rice cooker, and stir fry a couple pieces of chicken and a bag of Asian-style veggies.  Food can be so good and so very easy once you know how.  It is worth it to educate people.

— teach kids to make easy chicken noodle soup.   All my kids over the age of 8 can make this for themselves.

— keep peanut butter and bread available.  Doesn’t get easier.

———-

A big challenge in my mind would be to help people WANT to change their diets.   People can get used to eating easy junk, so changing tastes is probably something that would have to be done gradually.   But even adding one easy meal to your normal rotation each week is a huge step towards healthy, affordable food.

I don’t mean to sound know-it-all here. I am sure that many people face issues I am not even imagining.  I am just brain-storming ways to save money on food.   What ideas do you have that would address the food challenges faced by busy working families?

Only a few bucks for groceries?

The other night while giving haircuts to my 5 guys, I watched the documentary Food, Inc. Have you watched it yet?  Very interesting.  Several times during the movie I found myself riled up and talking back to the commentators.

A low-income family was shown walking through the grocery store surveying choices, and declaring that things like broccoli are more expensive than  potato chips and coke.  The claim was that people on a limited budget have no real choice but to skip healthy food and buy junk.

I was more than a little peeved to realize that plenty of people buy that argument.  Sure, fresh blackberries are going to set you back more than generic potato chips, and the chips will provide you with more calories.  But there are so *many* good affordable foods to be found at the grocery store.

If I was needing to REALLY maximize my grocery dollars, here’s what I’d pick up at the store:

  • carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes, garlic, spinach, apples and oranges– These produce items are versatile, vitamin-rich, and tend to be affordable year round
  • rice, beans, oatmeal, pasta– versatile, affordable, filling protein and carbs
  • flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, yeast, vanilla, cornmeal– basic baking supplies
  • a few basic seasonings such as chili powder, basil, cinnamon (most affordable in Mexican food section of the grocery store, or at dollar store)
  • tomato sauce, popcorn (not microwave), oil, vinegar
  • milk, butter or margarine, eggs
  • block cheddar, ground beef, peanut butter (use in small quantities)

Notice what these foods all have in common?  Except for the pasta they are almost all single-ingredient foods. The more items in your cart that consist of a single item, the more you’ll save (just don’t overdo the meat and cheese.)  Yes, that means you’ll need to cook a bit.   But you’ll also be saving money and eating well.

Here’s a partial list of what you could make with the above items:

BREAKFASTS:  oatmeal, scrambled eggs, french toast, pancakes, omelets

MAIN DISHES: pizza, spaghetti, mac and cheese, vegetable beef soup, potato chowder, biscuits and gravy, peanut butter sandwiches, spinach quiche

SIDE DISHES:  bread, rolls, biscuits, cabbage slaw, carrot sticks, spinach salad.

SNACKS: peanut butter cookies, yeast bread, cornbread, fruit, popcorn, pretzels, cinnamon rolls

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Good eating, eh?  What items do you think are frugal-kitchen essentials?  If you’re interested in a more detailed discussion of affordable food, plus recipes, check out FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK.

Twirly skirts

I look out the kitchen window at the clothes whipping on the line: sheets, towels, and three little gauzy dresses.  Dresses that the owners wore for only moments before tossing them into the laundry, still clean.  To the little girls who twirled in them, it seems easier to toss them into the laundry than to return them to the closet or the dress-up bin from which they came. I sigh, not even wanting to know how many items of clean clothing cycle through my hard working washing machine each week.  Kids….

But then I look — really look —  at the little dresses waving there, flipping gracefully as if dancing children still wear them.

I remember my line isn’t always going to bear testimony that little ones live inside. In a few more heart-beats, these little ones will be grown and gone,  and so will their gauzy little-girl dresses.

My throat catches and I pause to savor the sight.  And when one of my little girls comes tearing into the house with a hearty slam of the front door, I hold out my arms and she comes gladly into them. I hug her tight.  I smooth her hair.  I rejoice in the presence of her.

And her lovely, lively laundry.

Chicken Skillet Pie


The other night I wanted to make a pot pie for dinner, but started dinner a bit later than I originally intended. I decided to cook the veggies and chicken in my big cast iron skillet, dollop biscuit dough across the top, and then pop the whole thing, blazing hot, into the
oven.  At that point all that really needed cooking was the biscuits. This shortcut saved me about 30 minutes of baking time and it turned out absolutely wonderful.  So good, in fact, that I made the recipe again tonight. Here’s how I did it!

Chicken Skillet Pie

Preparation Time: 1 hour

Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 6 chicken thighs or 3 breasts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 6 potatoes,peeled and diced into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

 

Cube chicken. Chop vegetables. To a large cast iron skillet on medium-high, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the chicken.  Cook without stirring for 3-4 minutes, or until chicken has some browned bits.  Add garlic to skillet and cook 3-4 more minutes, or until chicken is done. Remove from skillet and set aside.  To the same skillet, add onion and
carrots, and cook, stirring  occasionally, until onion has some browned bits.  Add potatoes, turn heat down to medium, and cook a few more minutes, until vegetables start sticking hard to the bottom of the skillet.

While the veggies are cooking, combine chicken broth with cornstarch and all seasonings in a medium bowl.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.  Add the broth mixture to the veggies in the skillet.  Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just beginning to soften.  Liquid in the pan will gradually thicken.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  While the veggies are cooking in the skillet, mix up your biscuit dough (recipe here.)  Drop dough in dollops all over the top of the chicken and veggies in the skillet. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes, or until biscuits are starting to brown and get crusty on top.  Yum!

 

Book Review: Faith Path workbook

Awhile ago I was sent a copy of the book Faith Path Workbook: Helping Friends Find Their Way to Christ by Mark Mittelberg.   The book describes different ways that people think about faith.  Some people take a logical approach.  Some are very emotional.  Others are experiential.  You may be thinking of people right now who fit into these various categories.

The premise of the book is that sharing your faith using a person’s heart-language will help you reach them more effectively.  And knowing your own ‘language’ will help you identify the way that you tend to think, and the way you tend to approach people.  As a person who loves to figure people out, I found the book quite interesting, and spent much of the book mentally tagging people I know!

Essential to own?  Maybe not.

Worth reading?  Most definitely.

peace beyond understanding

It was 1993.  She was three years old, blonde-haired, brown-eyed.  Typically she went about her days with a cheerful, thoughtful energy.   But now she was sick, limp, pale-faced.  Everyone in the family had recovered from the flu except her.  We took her to the ER on Saturday afternoon, fear winning over my usual faith in the healing power of the body.

The doctor said she was dehydrated, and kept her in the ER for a couple hours for IV fluids and medicine.  He thought she would perk up over the weekend.  But she didn’t.   Two more days and she still could keep nothing down.   She stumbled when she walked, and by Monday morning she was white to the lips.

We called our pediatrician before the office opened.  He sent us to the lab for blood work, and promised to call us with results.  By that time our anxiety had bloomed to full blown terror.  She had not a speck of color in her face by then, and lay limply on the bed while I curled myself around her.

I opened my Bible randomly, heart hollow, eyes barely able to focus.   Psalm 20 wrapped its words, around me like an embrace.  And in that moment I claimed that psalm as Erika’s.

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.

I’d never clutched words so tightly to my heart in my life.  Surprisingly, scarily soon, the doctor called back. Our daughter had hemolytic uremia.  Her kidneys were failing due to an e. coli infection, and she was probably going to need kidney dialysis.  Come into the ER now, he said.  They’d start an IV there, and then take us to the tiny local airport via ambulance, where a Life Flight airplane would be flying us to Salt Lake City.

After many miserable moments getting the IV into her fragile veins, we were loaded into the ambulance.  The last face I saw as the doors shut was my mother’s, throwing me a lifeline with a steady smile, though worry lurked in her eyes.

The quiet growl of the ambulance (thankfully no lights, no sirens — that would have terrified me even more)  was soon replaced by the loud roar of the tiny airplane that in two hours would deliver us to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake.

Erika was given one blood transfusion that day, and another the next morning. I sat by her bedside snuggling her and reading Psalm 20 and willing her pale skin to turn pink again.  I didn’t even want to know what was involved in kidney dialysis.

I remember being surprised at how peaceful I felt, sitting there next to my gravely ill daughter.  Maybe it was because I knew we were in the best children’s hospital in three states, where every option for treatment was at the fingertips of attentive nurses.  More likely it was all the prayer.  Later I learned that dozens of people were praying for us.

Two days later Erika’s lab work was miraculously improved.  No dialysis needed. Three days after that we were on a commercial airplane flying back home to Boise.

But not before we’d met the little girl in the hospital room right next to ours. She’d had hemolytic uremia too.  Suffered a stroke.   Been on dialysis.  Had multiple blood transfusions.  Was on her way towards a full recovery but was still weak as a kitten after two months in the hospital.  I realized then how serious this could have been.  Felt breathlessly grateful that somehow we’d been spared.

My girl.  A precious gift.

Happy 20th birthday, dear Erika!

May He give you the desire of your heart, and make all your plans succeed.