Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dance of Hope (and a note on journaling)

Dear friends,

I went to the library last Thursday to pick up a copy of the classic novel Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, since we enjoyed the movie. I've decided, though, that I'm not even going to open it because it's way too thick for me to even hope to finish! However, on my way back to the children's section with Ben, I passed through the religion aisle, and paused for a moment to see if anything looked interesting. First I picked out The Eyes of the Heart, a memoir of Frederick Buechner, a noted novelist and retired Presbyterian minister. I have wanted to read Buechner's book because I like some of of his poignant quotes that I've collected over the years. Unfortunately, after reading it, I am keenly disappointed with his theological outlook, which is laced with both universalism and tinges of occultism. Sigh.

The other book I chose, and heartily enjoyed, was The Dance of Hope: Finding Ourselves in the Rhythm of God's Great Story by William Frey (a retired Episcopal bishop). Frey evidently has a dynamic relationship with God, and I easily related to his stories of crises of faith in realizing that his outward image did not match his inward reality. (People often tell me how I must be so organized or patient or whatever other noble character quality they are thinking of at the moment. I must come across as perfect when I try to share what works and what encourages me in life, whereas I am not at liberty to air much dirty laundry in public. I trust you can understand the need for reserve and discretion there!)

I thought you might appreciate some quotes from The Dance of Hope, which is a reminder of how Jesus brings about the new creation in history and in our lives. These are just snippets and snapshots of a very full book. I actually took 10 handwritten pages of notes in my journal, and I'm going to photocopy a few page spreads as well. A note about journals while I am on the subject... I have kept journals since I was a teenager, usually in a compact hardbound format. During my younger motherhood years, there would be months and months when I wrote nothing at all in them. About two years ago, that changed. I experienced my own midlife crisis of faith (and subsequent renewal), and suddenly I could not go more than a day or so without writing in it. If I received a letter or an e-mail, I would fold it up and tape it in. Several months ago, I hesitantly decided to switch my journal format. I now keep a scrapbook journal of sorts so I could just hole-punch my extra stuff. Yes, I print out and save just about everything that is meaningful to me! This has been such a "means of grace" in my life. My only problem is that my notebooks get really fat really fast. Such is life. I highly recommend journaling, especially in the notebook format!

On to the book quotes...

"They knew the words, but they hadn't heard the music." (This is speaking of the Sadducees questioning the reality of resurrection, but how many of us are like this? Do we know something mentally that hasn't yet hit our hearts?)

"Hope is the ability to hear the melody of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to it today." (Author unknown)

"The grace of God does not rewrite history -- what's done is done. But that grace is able to begin to heal the wounds of our history and to offer us a foretaste of the promised future shalom, where all will be reconciled."

"Rebirth is not simply a change of religious parties, but a radical reordering of our whole understanding of life, the world, and our place in it."

"The Christian community is the new Ark, constantly expanding as more and more folk come aboard... And they'll discover that this Ark isn't a cruise ship, but a fishing boat."

Of conquering an addiction: "I attributed it to a quiet exercise of God's grace, an unexpected gift of strength, and for the first time in years, I was able to make a truly free decision about what I put into my body."

Quoting a woman speaking of God's presence: "I try to carry this tiny, smudged understanding with me, to polish it and make it a window, to focus the world in its frame."

"The fullness of the Christian life is not produced by information and learning alone, but by an infusion of power that converts the learning into glorious expectation."

"Story is the universal tongue. Everybody loves a story. All of us seem to be descended from that fabled king in The Thousand and One Nights, who night after night, begged Scheherazade to finish the story she'd begun the night beofre.... Stories not only entertain us, they have the power, for good or for ill, to shape our universe, to teach us our values, to tell us who we are, and to enable us to dream about who we might become."

"A sword that remains in its sheath is nothing more than an ornament or an artifact. Something to be appraised on Antiques Road Show. But released from its scabbard and placed in the hands of a skillful warrior, it has great power."

"If I can use a sports analogy, Jesus is like a player-coach who invites others to the big game, not by handing out tickets, but uniforms."

Quoting Peter Kreeft: "If life on earth is not a road to heaven, then it is a treadmill, a merry-go-round minus the merry."

"But we'll be careful to be peacemakers and not peacekeepers. Peacekeepers are likely to overlook the causes of pain and suffering, to avoid dealing with it in order to maintain some kind of equilibrium regardless of what it may be based on. Peacekeepers prefer the status quo and are apt to tell the hungry to quiet down lest they disturb the sleep of the overfed."

This last quote is not mere rhetoric for the author. When he was bishop of Guatemala in the early 1970s, he and a handful of other clerics sought to bring about peace in a nation during a bloody civil war. He was falsely accused of being a communist by the right-wing government and immediately expelled from the country. Bishop Frey's life is marked by a deep concern for both justice and peace, which he always refers to as "shalom."

That's all for now. I need to go do other things in my life today!


P.S. Christian Book Distributors does not carry this book, which was published in 2003 by Waterbrook Press. Here is the link to buy it used on Amazon! You can get it for as low as a penny plus shipping.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A birthday tribute to my mother-in-law, Ann Knowles

This is a post for those who like family history and want to find ways to capture it in your own families. I originally sent it out earlier today. I have since updated it with an abundance of new (and more correct) information gleaned from a video Ann made in 2003, about a month before she died. I am so glad that Thad's sister Chris spent the time doing this with her. She spoke from notes she made, and had a whole pile of vintage photographs to hold up for the camera. After Thad read the post I wrote this afternoon, he suggested inviting his sister Sue over for a birthday party. He picked up chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream and raspberry sherbet, which was Ann's favorite. And afterwards, we watched the aforementioned video. I was scribbling notes as fast as I could, which was challenging since we had the lights off! OK, on to the updated post!


Today is the birthday of my dear mother-in-law, Ann Lillian Scerra Knowles. Ann was born in Rome, New York in 1935. Her father Cesare (Joseph) Scerra was the son of recent Italian immigrants, Albert (who had worked in the marble quarries in Catrone, Italy), and Raphaela. (I always wanted to name one of our babies Raphaela, but never got away with it!) At age 16, Joseph had to take care of his mother and seven brothers and sisters when Albert died in a car accident. Joseph eventually owned two restaurants, including the the very popular Greenbriar, which featured a soda fountain and jukeboxes. Her mother, Madeline Morgan Scerra, was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Madeline, a true entrepreneur, started a business making exquisite dolls and other hand-finished gifts which were marketed all up and down the east coast. One of her dolls was presented to Mrs. Harry S Truman and her daughter Margaret, for which they received a thank you note. Madeline also ran a gift shop downtown, later moving it to the brownstone townhouse next door to theirs and employing seamstresses to sew the doll dresses. Ann worked for her during her teen years. Madeline also made many beautiful things with her sewing machine, which we now own though it doesn't work anymore. (It's folded down into a cabinet.) I had thought that the lace doilies and lace-edged bed linens that we have were her creations, but Ann's sister Janet says they were most likely made by Raphaela. (One was so badly stained that I dyed it brown with tea to camouflage the spots.)

During her childhood, Ann remembers a cat whom she and her younger sister Janet dressed up in doll clothes and wheeled around in a baby carriage. She also remembers watching the robins outside the window and thinking they were chirping, "Sweet Ann! Sweet Ann!" Her Grandpa Morgan smoked cigars, and would blow smoke in their ears when they had an earache. Grandpa Morgan would walk to the corner market with his white wicker basket, and once walked all the way back again when he discovered he'd been given an extra nickle of change. Ann said that it was examples like this that instilled a strong sense of honesty in her as a child. She says she never cheated at games. She loved sports, such as tennis, softball, basketball, roller skating and ice skating. (Thad remembers playing tennis with her when she was four months pregnant with Sarah.) She remembers World War II because of the rations and blackouts, and that two of her uncles were drafted into the military. She loved to listen to the radio -- "a great tool for the imagination" -- her favorites being Jack Benny, the "Let's Pretend Show", the Metropolitan Opera, the Italian Hour and the Polish Hour. She also loved to read the Bobbsey Twins books and the Cherry Ames series about nurses. (We have many of her books now, too.)

Ann graduated from St. Aloysius School a year early (at age 16), and then worked as a nurses' aide at Rome Hospital where she was on duty in the nursery the night her younger brother Joey was born. The next year, she was admitted to the nursing school at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, which was operated by Franciscan nuns. She met Ted (I think at graduation in September?) and married him on May 25, 1957. They took their honeymoon in Europe, then immediately traveled on to Iraq, where Ted worked with the Army Corps of Engineers. Thad's sister Sue was born in Iraq in April 1958, before the little family moved to Iran (I am pretty sure about this), where Thad was conceived. Not wanting to have another baby in the Middle East, Ann flew back home to New York when she was six months pregnant -- and promptly got a severe case of appendicitis! If she hadn't been in the U.S., my dear hubby may not have survived that pregnancy! He was born in August 1959, and his next younger sister Elizabeth was born 21 months later in May 1961. Chris came along in August 1968, and finally Sarah in December 1974.
One interesting thing about Ann is that she didn't get her driver's license until she was 40. She also didn't like to fly because it bothered her ears, so she took the train for long distance trips. They did move around a lot, though. After Thad was born, the family moved briefly to Miami, then to the Bahamas for several years, then to a Massachusetts ski lodge for several more years, then briefly back to New York before moving on to Lawrence, Kansas, where Thad went to high school and college. They finally moved to Orlando in the early 1980s.

Here are two photos I found when I raided Thad's album. The little blonde haired girl is Sarah, who just had her second baby, Lyndsey, last week. (Her first little sweetie, Lauren, is just turning two!) And yes, that is an ostrich in the backround of the first picture. I hadn't noticed it but Thad pointed it out. I actually thought it was a horse at first glance!

This picture, from our wedding in November 1985, shows Thad and I with Ted, Ann, and Ann's parents Madeline and Joseph Scerra.

Ted passed away from a heart attack very suddenly in March 1997. The Downtown Orlando YMCA, where he had been an active board member, dedicated a small park area and monument to him a few months later. Ann and Thad are standing behind it in this picture.

Ann was first diagnosed with lung cancer just a few months after Ted's death. She had half of her lung removed. This was about the time of her 62nd birthday pictured here. (I think I have the year right, based on the photo album where I found it.)

Ann spent several years in remission until the cancer came back in late 2002. Fortunately, she was still in pretty decent shape when her youngest daughter Sarah got married in May. In June, she took a serious turn for the worse, and finally passed away at home in September 2003, just a few weeks after this picture was taken with Micah, Mary, Naomi and Lydia.

Ann was always very cordial, hospitable and generous to me, but she tended to be rather reserved in her affections. However, in the final few months of her life, she suddenly blossomed! She talked and talked and talked, and even apologized for not opening her heart wider to me in the nearly 20 years that I had known her. I distinctly remember her hopeful voice when, as she lay dying, she declared, "God has had MERCY on me!" And she meant it! He had become much more real to her on the threshhold of eternity. I have often said that even without her hair or dentures (which wouldn't fit anymore) she was more beautiful than I had ever seen her. Though difficult, those were precious months for us. Thad took care of her most of the last year before she died, working from her home, and I helped out when I could. It was a privilege.

In the video that Ann made about a month before she died, she said, "God has not forgotten me! What a wonderful gift I've been given!" She exclaimed, "I'm the happiest I've been in my life!" She said that she was totally at peace, and that she accepted whatever God's plan was for her. She was so grateful for the time she got to spend with her children. Her daughters traveled from various parts of the country to come for weeks at a time and lovingly care for her.

On my 40th birthday, just a few weeks before she died, she handwrote the most beautiful note on a card for me. I read it again this morning and cried. I am so grateful that for the last decade of her life, we lived only 7 blocks away. She was a treasure.

So Ann, Happy 73rd Birthday, and we'll see you in Heaven!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Saving Money on Groceries

So many tips on stretching the food budget focus only on using coupons. These can work for many families, but I personally haven't used them often because we don’t usually buy name brands. I prefer to focus on planning ahead, choosing wisely, and stretching what I have. To succeed at this, we need to pay close attention to what we are doing, research our options, and be willing to adjust our habits! You can find some great tips from other ladies in the comment section of one of my earlier blog posts. I gleaned some of these ideas on-line (I read over dozens of articles on the topic, many of them at, but most of them are just from nearly 30 years of grocery shopping experience -- many of these for a very large family!

Meal Planning

Plan your meals ahead of time, but be flexible. If you find a good deal in the store that you know you will use, go ahead and buy it, even if it is not on your list. Your list is your guide, not your master. If you do buy something that wasn’t planned, make sure you have whatever else needs to go with it – such as salsa and refried beans if you buy taco shells, etc.

Make a list of several meals that you might use in a typical week or month. Plan which recipes you want to use most often and find ways to economize on them. For example, you can estimate the cost of fixing a certain recipe by adding the prices of the ingredients. You may wish to factor in the energy costs of baking in the oven versus the stovetop, microwave or crock pot. You might be surprised to see which of your recipes are better deals! There are some “sneaky” ingredients like bottled alfredo sauce and cheese that can really jack up the price. Plan to make each of your cheapest meals every week, and save the "gourmet" ones for occasional use.

Think about what you regularly eat and analyze whether there are any thriftier options, either by substituting another similar food (chicken thighs instead of breasts), buying a cheaper brand (store brand instead of Cheerios), buying in another form or packaging (oatmeal in a large canister instead of small packets) or mixing foods (such as store brand corn flakes with Honey Bunches of Oats, which also cuts the sugar content). You don’t have to analyze all of your food purchases at once. You can do a group of foods each week or month, such as meats, baked products, breakfast foods, etc.

Set up your grocery list on the computer, in order by aisle. This will help prevent backtracking in the store. Print a list and post it on the fridge so family members can mark off what is needed, especially if they use the last of something. Check your cupboards, fridge, and freezer as you make your list so you get everything you need and not what you already have. If it will help, let your spouse check your list to make sure everything looks reasonable.

Learn not to be too picky about what you eat. Be content with a cheaper brand or a different kind of food! We are already so blessed with choices that others in the world don’t even have. If your kids insist on a certain kind of food that is more expensive, let them pay for their own stash of it. (If it must go in the family fridge, they can label it.)

Eggs are a very inexpensive source of protein, and they are great for dinner as well as breakfast. You can buy them in cartons of 18. Make quiche, scrambled eggs, French toast, eggs in a basket (a slice of bread with a hole cut in the middle for the egg, then fried) and strata (slices of bread, ham, and cheese covered with whipped up egg and baked).

Ground turkey is usually cheaper and less fatty than beef, and you won't notice the taste difference in most recipes. I buy it frozen in plastic tubes for $1 a pound at Wal-Mart or fresh for $2 a pound at Sam’s Club.

Switch to fat free (skim) milk. It’s cheaper and not as many fat calories. You will get used to it, I promise!

If there is an ingredient that must be saved for a certain recipe, mark it clearly so no one will use it for anything else. This will save you from running to the store to replace it, during which trip you would probably grab five more things.

Buy an extra freezer if you have space for it. We have a compact chest freezer in our storage room where we store extra fruit, bread, meat and juice. This enables us to stock up on good deals when we find them.

Choosing Where to Shop

Keep a small notebook in your purse so you can jot down the best prices for the foods you normally buy. Then choose where you want to buy that item on a regular basis. Only buy it somewhere else if you can get a better price. Pretty soon you will know the prices well enough that you won't have to look at your notebook.

Get used to shopping at more than one store to get better prices. You can check the newspaper or your store’s web site to get current prices and figure where you can get the better deals. Pretty soon you will get a feel for where the better prices are for weekly shopping, and you can go to the other stores periodically to get “loss leader” items. Though Winn-Dixie generally has higher prices, if I am driving by there and need something quick, I stock up on their Buy One Get One Free stuff while I’m there.

Decide where you want to buy each kind of item regularly. For example, I buy meat, milk, cheese, butter, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and other items at Sam’s Club, which is only 1.5 miles from our house. We go there twice a week. However, Sam’s Club doesn’t have everything we want, and some prices are higher there, so I do a “full run” at Super Wal-Mart once a week. I also shop at the Entenmann’s bread outlet every other week, buying enough to freeze until I go again. I can usually get Arnold’s whole wheat bread for $1 (or even 50 cents) even though it costs over $2 at Sam’s and Wal-Mart. We also buy bagels, English muffins, potato bread and donuts here. I often buy fruit and vegetables at the Family Produce Market near our house. There are certain things I usually buy at the Dollar General across the street from church, too. I just know what things are cheaper there, and what isn’t. My friends tell me that CVS has great deals with their Extra Care savings program. "Discount" grocery stores can be a good option, but not always. A new Save a Lot store just opened up close to us, and I went in there by myself one night just to jot down prices to compare. For most of the things we usually buy, prices were about the same or higher than Wal-Mart, and the selection was poor. But, compared to some of the higher priced stores, there were some good deals.

To save gas, stop by a store where you might not usually shop when you are running other errands, especially if it is for non-perishable items. You could leave a small ice chest in your car trunk or the back of your van for the times when you buy something cold and you aren’t going right home.

Some grocery stores accept store coupons from other chains. One year I got a coupon book that had a dozen $5 off coupons for Albertsons (among hundreds of other coupons for restaurants, etc.) and the person who sold it to me said that Wal-Mart takes Albertson's coupons, too. I saved a bunch of money that year. If I had seen the books for sale this year, I would have bought three or four of them and used one coupon every week!

Drug store chains like Walgreens sometimes advertise cheap milk to get you in the store. This might be a good way to grab a gallon or two when you don't need to buy other grocery items. Sales like this are usually advertised on their outdoor electronic signs.

At the Store
Go shopping in the early morning, which is when stores like Sam’s Club usually sell discounted meat. Your brain will also be fresher then. Don’t go shopping when you are hungry or stressed out, which is when people tend to make impulse and convenience purchases.

When possible, shop without any kids who might encourage you to buy junk. Responsible teenagers can be a real help with shopping, though.

Psych yourself up like a mad woman (or man, if you are of the male gender) for saving money before you walk into the store, and make a game out of how much money you can save, particularly by not buying what you don’t need. Treat it like a business venture, and think of your "profit and loss." You've got to pay attention! Use all of your brain cells here! Every dollar adds up.

Think of what restaurants and other businesses buy when you are looking at what is available. You can get 4,500 dispenser sized napkins for under $18 at Sam's Club, which is way cheaper than regular square napkins anywhere else! We have used these for years, and keep them in a basket on the table. We don't feel at all guilty using 2 or 3 napkins during one meal for a messy child.

If you are using coupons, be sure that they are for items you will actually use and that the price savings on the name brand are better than what you can get from buying an equivalent store brand. Some of my friends use The Grocery Game web site, a service which matches local grocery store sales (like buy one get one free deals) with manufacturers’ coupons in local papers. Here are my friend Brandi’s blog posts about the Grocery Game. There are also a lot of money savings tips on the Grocery Game web site. CouponMom is a free web site where you can get coupons. Keep your coupons organized by category or store aisle. You can usually use a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon on the same item. Some stores double coupons, too.

If you haven't already seen it, pick up the sale flyer when you walk in the store and check out what the best deals are. Then add what you want to your list before you go any further.

Check the clearance bin for items that you usually buy, or items that you buy if the price is right. Don’t buy it if you won’t use it.

Look for the lower priced items on the bottom shelves. More expensive (profitable) items are right at eye level! Check your unit pricing! You can also compare prices using a calculator. (My cell phone has one, so I don't carry a separate one.)

Buy store brands whenever possible! They are almost always significantly cheaper and the quality is usually just as good.

Check expiration dates on foods and medicines so they won’t spoil before you use them.

Buy bulk or at least in larger containers if you can use it before it spoils, and if the price per unit is lower. Do check your unit pricing on the shelf. At our Wal-Mart store, the larger size of the store brand if peanut butter is actually a higher cost per ounce than the medium size. We always buy taco seasoning, cinnamon, and other spices in larger containers at Sam’s Club because the tiny jars at most grocery stores are outrageously expensive per ounce. This might not work for smaller families. If you bake a lot of bread, buy your yeast in one pound packages at Sam’s Club – it costs so much less for what you get!

Avoid convenience foods unless the price difference isn’t much and the time savings are very substantial. (I occasionally buy frozen lasagna in 96 ounce packages because it is expensive to make it fresh, and sometimes I need something to pop in the oven without prep time. I also buy frozen burritos for about 35 cents each because they are quick for lunch.) Just get in the habit of spending a little extra time preparing meals!

Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. I buy strawberries only when I can get them for less than $2 per pound, usually in the spring. When the prices go back up, I quit getting them. One of my teenage daughters went strawberry picking with friends this past spring and came back with a huge ice chest full for only $6. We ate some fresh, froze some, and made freezer jam with the rest. That’s the way to buy the berries if you can!

Check the contents of your cart before you go to the checkout. Do you really need everything in it? I have been known to change my mind on something right in the checkout line. I often save my "in doubt" items for the end of checkout, and keep tabs on how the other prices are adding up before I make my final decision. If I decide against it, I hand the item to the clerk and say, "I don't think I want this after all," and she cheerfully plops it right into her "return to shelf" basket. No sweat!

Pay attention to the display at the cash register when the clerk is ringing up your order to make sure the prices (especially on clearance items) are correct and that your coupons work. At the very least, check your receipt before you leave the parking lot. This one tip has saved me a whole lot of money! Don't be afraid to go back in and get the amount adjusted. Ask for the store manager if the clerk has a problem with this.

If you can get by with this, consider doing your main grocery shopping every other week or once a month, then stop in just for perishable, high use items like milk as needed. We still shop at least weekly and often more frequently because our family is so large that we buy huge amounts already.

Meal Preparation

Cook a lot of meat at once and freeze for later in zip bags. You also don’t have to use as much meat for one meal – stretch it! You can use two baking pans in your oven, which saves energy because you are getting more cooked at the same time. You can also use two large frying pans side by side on your stove top. It is as easy to tend two pans as one. (I routinely make dinner for 10-12 people. If you have six people, this would be a double batch for you, and you have an extra meal for later.) For example, recently my 13 year old daughter was making roast for a special meal for my married daughter, who was visiting for the evening. My husband sliced up onions and green peppers to add to a roaster pan full of boneless chicken thighs and baked them at the same time. The next night, I simmered the cooked chicken with fresh broccoli florets and baby carrots, while fixing a large pot of rice on the other burner. I took out some of the chicken mixture to make two potpies for the next day, using up some about-to-expire sour cream and ranch dip from the refrigerator and some canned potatoes from the cupboard. Then I took most of the broth, along with some of the chicken and vegetables, some of the cream sauce from the potpie mixture, and some rice from the pot to make soup for another night. Finally, I used the rest of the chicken, vegetables, and rice, along with bulk-purchased oriental sauce for stir fry that night. We used the potpies for lunch the next day, which was good for a spur-of-the-moment invitation to have friends over after church. When I made Mexican casserole that night (layering torn up tortillas with beans, seasoned ground turkey, cheese, sour cream, etc.), I saved some of the meat for a small batch of chili. Between this chili and the chicken soup I had made the night before, as well as buttered toast, we were able to feed all of us the next night without even heating up the oven.

Learn to cook from scratch. It will save you money or improve nutrition. We really have it pretty easy in this country. We don’t have to butcher our own meat or grow our own wheat! So what if we have to mix up several ingredients or dice some vegetables? If you know you are using the same kind of vegetables tomorrow, go ahead and slice them now while you do some for tonight.

Get your children involved in meal preparation so you don’t have to spend as much time in the kitchen. This will cut down on the I-don’t-have-time-to-cook-let’s-go-through-the-drive-through syndrome. A teenager can easily cook an entire dinner at least one night per week, as well as plan it and let you know what ingredients are needed.

Stretching Food

Drink a lot of water! It’s cheap and very good for you, and it will reduce your appetite for food and other beverages. You can make this more appealing and convenient by keeping a pitcher or dispenser of cold water in your refrigerator. (Bottled water can get really expensive, and we would often find it lying around the house with only a few sips taken. If you go to the gym, bring along your own reusable water bottle.)

Serve juice and other beverages in smaller cups, the way restaurants do. If you use frozen juice concentrate (which is cheaper than fresh), add four or more cans of water instead of three. If you notice any taste difference at all, you will soon get used to it. Most kids drink way too much juice every day anyway. You can also dilute powdered drink mixes.

Substitute more economical ingredients in recipes, such as cottage cheese instead of at least part of the ricotta cheese in lasagna. When baking with chocolate, 3 tablespoons cocoa with 2 ½ teaspoons butter is equal to one unsweetened chocolate baking square.

Find a few good meatless recipes and serve one at least once a week. My daughter Joanna doesn't like to handle raw meat at all, so on her dinner night she usually cooks eggs, quesa dias (grilled tortillas with cheese, beans, etc.), or pasta with sauce. Boxed or homemade macaroni and cheese makes a very economical lunch. You can also use much smaller amounts of meat, especially in spaghetti and chili. Many nutritionists recommend viewing meat as a condiment to add flavor to the other food, rather than as the main ingredient. If you use high fat meats like sausage, cut it into very small pieces and add it to another recipe. We have also done baked potato buffets, setting out toppings like sour cream, butter, shredded cheese, onions, peppers, little bits of meat. For my daughter Mary's wedding reception, we did a Mexican buffet with ingredients like tortilla chips, tortilla shells, different kinds of beans, cheese, sauces, guacamole, ground beef, etc. It turned out to be much more reasonably priced than the meat-intense Italian buffet that we had originally planned, and everyone loved it! Mary is trying to cook with very little meat to save money and preserve their health, which is fine with her new husband, who grew up in a vegetarian home.

Don’t serve as much food! Dish out a reasonable portion for each person at the stove and then put the plates on the table. Consider putting the leftovers away in the fridge immediately so no one will go back for seconds.

Eliminate waste! Use up food before it goes bad. Have a plan for food that is "on the edge" of usefulness. You can use mushy bananas in banana bread, bruised fruits (with the bad parts cut off) for fruit salad, stale bread for French toast or strata or croutons, sour milk for baking, wilted vegetables for soup, slightly old meat for chili, etc. Eat leftovers for lunch or gather up enough leftovers for a smorgasbord dinner. Use extra veggies in soup or a casserole the next day. Recycle a casserole by adding more sauce or cheese before reheating. Plan to use up your fresh lettuce within a few days before it wilts quickly, and save your frozen vegetables for later in the week.

Keep your leftovers in clear storage containers and label them with the date so you can see what's there and use it up before it's too late. Also, keep leftovers in a special section of the fridge so folks can look there first for lunch food.

Keep your baking ingredients in sealed plastic storage containers rather than ceramic canisters with loosely fitting lids. It keeps them from going buggy or stale.

Hide food or at least put it out of sight in a storage area away from the kitchen! Food that is out in the open is more likely to be devoured. If your snack foods must last for a certain time period, put each package in a separate plastic grocery bag, tie it up, and label it with the date it will be available for consumption.

Keep tempting foods out of reach of small children. We keep our containers of cereal up on top of our refrigerator, because otherwise our preschooler would always be sticking her little paws in for a handful! We keep all baked goodies in the freezer, above her eye level.

Don't allow your children (or the adults!) to eat while watching TV. It's amazing how much more food is snarfed down without even being aware of it, not to mention the mess it leaves behind in a carpeted room with upholstered furniture. We try to confine eating to the kitchen and dining room.

If you are low on groceries and it isn't time for a grocery trip, just check your cupboards and fridge and see if you can come up with something using what is already there. For example, if you stocked up on bagels or English muffins at the bread outlet, use these for mini-pizzas. These are fun and easy for little kids to eat anyway! They could even make them by themselves! You can even invent your own recipes. Just think: a basic casserole has a protein (meat, cheese, eggs, etc.), a starch (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, etc.), and some sort of sauce (tomato sauce, gravy, cream sauce, etc.). You can mix and match using what you have on hand!


I hope that all of this has been helpful to you!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Two Dozen Years and Counting

July 20 is a date etched in my memory. In July 1984, I had just started attending a new church, Northland, which met in a the English Estates elementary school cafeteria. My first Sunday there, I recognized a guy named Larry, who used to be in my Basic programming class at UCF. Shortly thereafter, Larry, wanting to help a newcomer like me get "plugged in", invited me to a singles potluck dinner at Dee Cather's house. I went, I met Larry's roommate Thad, and noticed how sweet he was.

Larry also invited me to Thad's 25th birthday party a few weeks later, which is where Thad really noticed me. He says it was my bubbly personality and joyful spirit. The rest is history. A few weeks after that, he and his sister Sue baked me a birthday cake for my 21st and brought it to my apartment, but I was out to dinner with friends, so they came back the next day. (Persistent fellow, isn't he?)

On October 11 of that year, Thad took me to St. Luke's Cathedral in downtown Orlando for the Bach's Lunch program (please catch that pun) which is a concert in the sanctuary followed by soup and sandwiches (box lunch, get it?) in the parish hall. So romantic, and it wasn't the last time we would go down a church aisle together either.

In early November, he took me for a stroll around Leu Gardens and gave me a ceramic bell set he had picked out on a trip to Venezuela that he had just taken with this dad. He made some comment about the fact that if he ever really started dating anyone, he would have marriage as the goal. Hmmm. Our wedding came a year later, 10 kids ago. There are more stories I could tell, but I'll save them for another day.

I saw Larry today and thanked him profusely. I'm glad he cared enough to want to welcome me into the church and introduce me to others. I'm glad also that Dee Cather (now Mrs. Jeff Vida) opened her home for a potluck. Did she know that a couple would meet there and later marry? I guess that doesn't matter. The point is that hospitality is so important. We never know how our small welcomings will impact eternity. We never even know when we are "entertaining angels unawares."

This morning in church, Jesse Phillips preached about being servants to one another, citing the verse in James that "faith without works is dead." I think hospitality is a wonderful way to show servanthood. And I'm not surprised that Thad leaned over during the break in our service (even before Jesse's sermon) and said, "How about if we have Tim and Heather over for lunch after church?" (Heather had e-mailed me a few days ago asking for help in keeping their food budget under control.) And I'm not surprised that Thad left right after the service to go home and heat up the food for lunch and get everything ready to serve. That's just Thad. He pitches in wherever he is needed. He notices what is needed without being asked. Dishes, laundry, diapers, scrubbing the floor, whatever it takes. That's a good character quality for a father of 10, don't you think?

Thad and I gathered the kids in the living room this evening for a little Bible time so we could talk about how we could apply the sermon. (We don't do this nearly as often as we should. I'm glad we did tonight anyway.) Some of the younger children wanted to recite their memory verses, too. Melody, not wanting to be left out, had a "memory verse" of sorts: "Jesus made the alphabet!" OK... Well, God did give us the gift of language, and the alphabet is a vital part of that, isn't it? We also sang some songs -- "Jesus Loves the Little Children" with gusto for Melody, plus "My God is So Big" (with hand motions) and "Only a Boy Named David" (at the end of which they all fall down like Goliath and I pick out who looks most dead -- which is hard when a fit of giggles takes over). Then Naomi wanted "Amazing Grace" and we finally ended out with "When We All Get to Heaven." Julia remembers how we used to sing that one so jubilantly nearly every morning when she was young, and I would let the kids bang on the Tupperware like drums. Jesus served on earth by his perfect life and his sacrificial death. And he serves us still, preparing a glorious eternal home for us. Here's the song...

"Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, sing his mercy and his grace.
In the mansions, bright and blessed, he'll prepare for us a place!
When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all get to Heaven, we'll sing and shout the victory!"
Virginia Knowles

Friday, July 18, 2008

Grocery savings: Share your tips!

Hello friends!

I know that rising grocery bills have been a common concern for many of you recently. This post is a place for you to share your best tips on saving money on food and other items. Just hit the comment button below and type away! I'll try to post some of my own tips later, but I'm in a hurry right now.


(Note on July 23: So far four ladies added their tips, which you can see by clicking here or on the "comment" link below. I have also posted my own article here: Saving Money on Groceries.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Five things that make me happy....

Dear friends,

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but this one's pretty cheerful, so I'll bite. I've been "tagged" by my friend Ann Rannebarger to list five things that make me happy. Ironically, I just wrote down "A Few of My Favorite Things" in my journal, so this should be easy.
  1. My relationship with the Lord, through the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. This has deepened and sweetened in the past 32 years! I guess it's no wonder that my very favorite T-shirt says, "God is good all the time! All the time God is good!"
  2. People! Yes, I am a people person. First, my wonderful, servant-hearted husband Thad and our ten children! Then all of our family and friends who keep us encouraged and laughing. And my English students, because I love teaching them. (I can't wait for home school co-op to start next month! Providence rocks!)
  3. My cozy rocking chair next to a fully-stocked bookcase, which is where I read my Bible and books, and write in my journal.
  4. Music, usually piped through my beloved Sansa Rhapsody MP3 player, which was the gift from a dear friend. Sara Groves is my current favorite.
  5. Dark chocolate. Anything chocolate!

Oh, I would list so many more things that make me happy, but the instructions said five. Sigh... I guess I did manage to pack several things into each item, though! What is the penalty for cheating like this? Are you going to force feed me M & Ms or Reese's peanut butter cups, huh?

You are welcome to list your own 5 happy things in a comment to this post!



Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Micah's 9th Birthday Party

Today, my son Micah celebrated his 9th birthday with a party at Maitland Park. This is the first birthday party he has ever had, and it truly could not have gone better. The weather was absolutely beautiful, not a cloud in the sky despite a forecast of thunderstorms. We had plenty of food: hamburgers, hotdogs, lots of chips (the sweet spicy chili Doritos were a big hit!), drinks (including red and blue Powerade to go with our patriotic decor), and cakes that Micah and I had decorated. All of the invited guests were able to come and are extremely pleasant and well-behaved. Micah loved all of his presents. We had just enough activities, including the play ground, a table full of Legos, some whizzy rocket balloons, a pinata, lunch, cake, and presents. We kept it simple, and it paid off.

Thad did a great job of cooking the meats ahead of time. He's an awesome guy, always finding ways to serve our family and make our days easier and more productive. I'm so thankful that I married him. At lunch time just before he asked the blessing on our food, Thad shared with all the kids why we chose Micah as a name. Our older children had just finished singing in the "Prophet Speak" musical at Northland Church, and one of the pieces was the "Song of Micah." The words of the chorus were taken from Micah 6:8 in the Bible: "He has shown thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?" Good stuff! I have always loved those verses and I hope that I live by them at least a little bit. Anyway, back to Micah: I was actually in labor with him before Thad suggested this name (we hadn't yet found one that was just right), and it sounded like a great pick to the rest of us! And it still fits! (When he was a little tot, I called him my "happy chappy" because he was always smiling and laughing -- and he's still a pretty cheerful kid!)

I won't write much more than this, because a picture is worth a thousand words!

I was trying to find a red, white, and blue T-shirt to wear, but lacking that, I settled on my tie dye one -- it reminds me of fireworks!

(There weren't any candles, but he blew anyway!)

Before we burst the pinata, we took pictures of all the guys underneath it. Here are the ones of Thad, Micah and Andrew.

I hope you enjoyed my photo blog of Micah's birthday!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Dear friends,

I've written before about how much of a picky eater little Melody is. She loves juice, bread, cereal, meats and cheeses, but she has always squealed and sealed her lips tightly against fresh fruits and veggies. We decided last week that since she's almost three (a month from tomorrow), it's high time to change that.

Our "battlefield" was fresh broccoli since I had just bought a big bag of florets at Sam's Club. I took one floret and picked off three little pieces, each about the size of a marble. We sat down at the table, plunked the plate down, and an hour later, after much kicking and screaming (that is an understatement, and yes, she was the one doing the kicking and screaming, not me!), she finally managed to choke them down.

We figured we 'd better follow up on this the next day to start a continual habit. She yelled, "I NEED Micah!" I replied, "No, you NEED to eat your broccoli!" Then it was, "I NEED Naomi." Again, "No, you NEED to eat your brocolli." I think she plead for every one of her siblings to come rescue her from Mean Mommy! However, this time it only took about 15 minutes for her to eat the tiny portion. Then, to our absolute amazement, she asked for more! And more! And more! And she wasn't even bothering to dip it in the honey dijon dressing. I think she ate about half of a dinner plate of broccoli that night. She wasn't as pleased with cooked broccoli in a casserole the next night, but I don't blame her. She did eat it, though.

Sunday night I hadn't even intended to serve broccoli, but as we sat down for dinner, she cried, "Broccoli! I want broccoli! I NEED broccoli!" Well then, let's have broccoli! She ate a whole dinner plate full!

Go figure! I guess Dad and Mom really do know what's best -- and that kids really do need firm, pro-active training! What took me so long? Who's afraid of the Big Bad Two Year Old?

Next stop, sliced apples! (Never lima beans!)


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