Friday, November 28, 2008

Our family does not participate in the national tradition of mass spending on this lovely day after Thanksgiving. I hope you have found something better to do with your time and money.

Today the boys and I are taking the day off of school to make homemade Christmas gifts for our family. This year at least 90% of our gift giving will be homemade, and not store bought. I have been encouraging my friends and family to do the same. Hopefully, this year will mark the start of another cool tradition for our family.

For ideas on homemade Christmas gifts see my post from earlier this week titled, "Homespun Christmas". Enjoy spending today with family, and keep your pocketbook in your pocket!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What do you eat, then?

Although an Amish turkey will be at the center of our table this year, we do cater to vegetarians in our family as well. If you must keep with the traditional dinner, tofurky is a viable option. Tofurky is a vegetarian alternative that comes complete with stuffing and gravy. It is available in many local markets, health food stores, and Online at Turtle Island Foods, the creators of tofurky.

Also, if you think about it there is plenty of traditional fare that is not meat based that may satisfy your vegetarian appetite. Our family serves homemade mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, deviled eggs, a variety of desserts, and so on. Your options may be a little more limited from the traditional menu, however, if you are vegan. Even so, I think you will find it very easy to please your pallet, especially if you bring a dish to pass.

This year I plan to add two new items to our menu. I will be making Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup and Sweet Potato Balls. It's not like we need anymore food, but I really like to experiment with recipes. I spotted these two on Food Network and searched them out. They seem simple enough, and I'm pretty certain they will be big hits. Plus, I like to have plenty of extra food so that I can send some meals home with the kids. You remember what it's like to be young and on a very, very tight budget, right? Extra food is always appreciated.

On Christmas we always have Minestrone Soup. This tradition came about when the only vegetarian in the house was my youngest son, and we used to serve ham on Christmas. I asked him what he would like, and we've made it ever since. His thinking was that it is a very festive soup because it is red. We no longer eat pork, so the ham has gone by the wayside. Now we serve a venison roast if the hunt was successful. This year it was. The guys came back with two.

You see? We are not vegetarian per say. We have evolved over the years from our various states of food choices to become what I call conscious consumers. This started with food choices. We like to know where our food came from and how it was prepared. We do not eat any grocery store meat, as I call it. Rather the only meat consumed in our home comes from what we have procured and processed ourselves with the occasional variance at times like Thanksgiving. It is then that we visit our local Amish Market and order an Amish raised turkey. In the future I would like to take it a step further by visiting a local poultry farmer and getting it directly from the farm. We have made a pledge to grow what we can, redistribute what we don't need, and search the resale stores for what we do need.

With a little thought it is very easy to please your vegetarian and vegan guests. It seems that every meat eater asks the same question when they find out someone doesn't eat meat, "What do you eat?" To which I reply, "Everything else!" Once you realize that fact, the sky is the limit. Most vegetarians and vegans alike are used to eating many "sides". What better time than the holidays with the vast variety of options? So, if you are vegetarian or vegan, there's no need to make a show of it. Eat what you like, and don't eat what you don't like. For those of you that are serving vegetarians and vegans, be mindful, but there's no need to fret. There will be plenty of food for them to choose from. Not everyone eats turkey, and that is a-okay.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Homespun Christmas

Since the holidays are upon us, I decided to republish this post. I hope you benefit from the ideas here and reconsider what Christmas is really about.

Yes, I do know that it is merely June! Although, for those of us that would like to have a more simple Christmas including handmade gifts for all June is a late start. Planning Christmas had already been on my mind, but I kept knocking it down the priority list thinking it can wait. Well, in light of my previous post I've decided to give planning Christmas a higher priority.

With all the details involved in Christmas, decorating, cooking, shopping, gift giving, preparing can become rather expensive. Maybe now would be a good time to evaluate our current perception of how we celebrate Christmas. Is it possible that we have become just a little too commercially influenced? Do we celebrate in a manner that honors the true meaning of the holiday? According to Parent's Link, Volume 2, Issue 6, "The average American family will charge $1000 to the handy credit card for their Christmas shopping. If minimum payments are made toward that debt at 12% interest (this is low), it will take over 8 years to repay it with an additional $545 interest charge. Your fourth graders best Christmas ever won’t be paid off until they are graduating from high school."

The amount of debt that we can be willing to incur in the name of a good Christmas is rather disturbing. Would it be possible to have a good Christmas without all of the debt? With a little effort on our part I do believe that we can become memory makers instead of robbing ourselves of retirement or our children of college funds. I believe it is much more fun to create personal gifts to remind those we care about of our love for them than it is to spend hours at the mall looking for that ever so perfect, and co$tly, gift that will likely soon be forgotten.

When I think of Christmas, I think of Little House on the Prairie. Remember how much fun they had cooking, singing, playing music, dancing, and giving thoughtful, handmade gifts? I have slowly been progressing toward this idea of family and fun for our Christmas celebrations. With seven children, four grandchildren, and extended family members that we celebrate with every year things had gotten a little out of control. I was spending WAY too much money. See, my perspective was a little off, shall we say. I grew up poor. The only time we received ANYTHING was at Christmas, so we got a lot. My mom saved her change all year long to provide us with all the clothing and toys we would get for the year. It was the mother load of Christmas hauls! The problem became that I am no longer poor, but I was still living Christmas like I was. My children get what they need, when they need it. They don't have to wait until Christmas. Not keeping that in mind I was spending a ton of money on each child so that they would have A LOT of things to open on Christmas. I had a lot growing up, so my children should as well, right? WRONG! They already had a lot. What more did they need?

Now, our thinking has changed as a family. The Michigan economy further assists my efforts to tighten the belt on Christmas spending. Things are tough for everyone here. It's impossible to not be effected by rising gas prices. It seems that every visit to the grocery store delivers higher food prices. Times are tough, period. There is no reason to believe that everything will be miraculously better by Christmas, so here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Create a recipe box or cookbook with hand written recipes for a newlywed, college student, or someone just out on their own.

  • Cook a homemade meal for someone with a new baby, an illness, a single parent, or someone putting extra hours at work.

  • Offer to clean an elderly person's house once a month for a time, or even someone from the list above.

  • Give a themed gift basket that you put together yourself using items gathered from discount stores, flea markets, thrift stores, and even yard sales.

  • Host a cookie exchange to gain a variety of cookies. You can freeze them, give them as gifts, or serve them at gatherings.

  • Create a customized coupon book for a loved one offering to do things that they would appreciate upon the redemption of the coupon.

  • Offer to babysit for a few hours, a day, or a weekend so that a busy mom or a couple can get some alone time.

  • Start a simple tradition for grand kids by making a special ornament and pairing it with a quality book, or not. Then they will know what to look forward to each year, and you keep your expenses down as your family grows. (Think like this: $50/ea. x 10 grand kids = WAY TOO MUCH $$)

  • If you enjoy photography, frame a beautiful picture you have taken, and give as a gift.

  • What about canning? Did your tomato plants yield a bumper crop? Can you get a good deal on a bushel of anything? Get canning! Home canned foods are the greatest, and your benefactor will think of you every time they use your gift.

  • Make chocolate spoons for the coffee lover in your life.

  • Chocolate covered pretzel sticks are easy and can be embellished with any candy treat you can imagine.

  • Do you bead? Hand beaded jewelry and Christmas decorations are fun to make. I really enjoy making beaded snowflakes.

  • Make homemade bath salt or bath milk and pair with an homemade candle.

  • Make mixes for cocoa, cookies and dips. Include a recipe card.

  • For grand kids that live far away, you could record yourself reading them a story, and include the book for them to read "with" you.

  • If you have a canine friend homemade dog biscuits would be a great treat to share.

Another expense at Christmas time can be decorating. Here are some frugal solutions to beautify your home in the name of Christmas and create lasting family memories:

  • Cut old Christmas cards into strips and make an advent chain with your children or grandchildren to count down the days to Christmas.

  • String popcorn, cranberries, and/or beads to hang on the tree.

  • Gather nature's discards like pinecones, sticks, pine boughs, and use them to create decorations for the tree and house.

  • Gather the children in your family to create cookie cutter dough decorations.

  • Play Christmas music every time you are baking, creating, or decorating. Make it a family affair involving everyone in the planning and preparation.

  • Save dried baby's breath from flower arrangements to add to your Christmas tree as snow.

  • Put old bulbs in a bowl and display on table, piano, shelf, or mantel.

  • Make a rag wreath for the front door, or hang on interior door.

The possibilities are endless, so I plan to do a follow up post. I would also love it if you would post your ideas for a frugal Christmas. What have you done to trim back? Do you have a special tradition you would like to share? What about those creative gift giving ideas? Please, do tell!

Here are some added resources:

Get Rich Slowly

No Christmas Gift this Year

Buy Nothing Day

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Silver Lining of Sickness

Pat and the boys left this past Friday for their first-ever, week-long deer hunting trip. This means that I am pretty much on my own this whole entire week. My "girl", as the oldest grandbaby calls her, is the only one here. She's nineteen and in college, so that will tell you just how much she's around.

I have been looking forward to this special treat of a week for over two months. I had a girl's night planned with my two best friends. I was going to hang out with my mom for two days. I was going to shop for the supplies that I need to make my Christmas presents and spend time making them. I was going to enjoy the peace and quiet. As a mother of seven children, quiet is a new found joy since four of them are on their own. This is honestly the first time ever that I have been here with no one to cater to; no one to teach; no one to cook for; no one to pick up after; no one to cart around; no one to butt heads with.

As I mentioned, the guys left on Friday. Fate would have it that I got sick Saturday morning. I knew it was coming on, but I thought it was just your standard cold. No way! I felt so terrible by Saturday night that I was near ready to cancel the girl's night. I decided to wait to see how I felt in the morning after some rest, tea, and remedies. I felt a little better, so I went through with it despite the fact that I had none of the prep work done on the food. The girls didn't mind, and we still had a fine time.

All the way through today, however, I canceled my plans. No hanging out with mom as to not get her sick. No trip to Karmanos for my first ever appointment with the nurse practitioner and maybe a mammogram. No trip to Sandusky for my appointment I made over a month ago with my friend for some alternative therapy in relation to my Meniere's Disease. No trip to the antique mall with my mom. No browsing the cute, little shops in Lexinton with my mom. No overnights at her house or mine. No crazy cleaning and organizing and moving of furniture like I planned. Basically, nothing like I planned.

Then, it took my good friend to point out that there was indeed a blessing in the timing of my illness. I get to be sick by myself with no demands or expectations. I get to lay on the couch and watch movie after movie. I get to soak in the tub for two-and-half hours. I get to read a novel cover to cover without interruption. I get to go to bed and get up when I want. I do not have to do anything for anyone other than myself. For those of you that are mothers you certainly know that this is a RARE treat. It seems a little strange to say, but I am happy I was sick while they were gone, and I got to just be sick. Now, my goal is to be well by Thanksgiving so that my family can still come over for dinner.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Angel Food Ministries

With the focus being on penny pinching so much lately I thought it would be prudent for me to share a wonderful resource that is available in 35 states across the nation. This is an amazing food program that is open to anyone regardless of income. Angel Food Ministries was started in 1994 by Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo in Monroe, GA, and serves over 500,000 families monthly through their food distribution program.

Each month Angel Food Ministries offers a new menu to choose from. Orders are placed and paid for ahead of time and picked up at a local host site; usually a church, school, outreach center, or organization. Once you've determined your local host site, you simply contact them to place your order. They even accept Food Stamps (EBT).

With each order you will receive a copy of Servant Magazine. This magazine gives you up to date information about Angel Food Ministries, inspirational articles, the next month's menu, and reports from various host sites across the nation. You will also find useful recipes on their website for inspiration while using the food you purchase. For those of you that enjoy cooking and creating in the kitchen, you can even submit your favorite recipes to share with fellow participants or those simply visiting the website.

This is a wonderful resource for those on a fixed income, including senior citizens. There is a special menu designed especially for seniors which is comprised of complete meal choices. The menu includes 10 fully cooked meals that are nutritionally balanced, complete, and ready to heat and serve.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, this may not work for you since the main package always has meat in it. However, if you have a carnivorous friend you can benefit as well. Supplemental packages are available with the purchase of a main package. So, your friend could benefit from purchasing the main package, and you could pay for the addition of the produce package. You cannot beat the pricing!

Special holiday packages are available as well. They special design supplemental packages for the holidays. Traditional food items are included at a tremendously discounted price compared to local grocery store prices.

Just as Angel Food Ministries helps meet the needs of the general public, they have needs of their own. Volunteer opportunities abound. Maybe your church or organization would like to be a host site, or maybe your group is looking for a worth while cause to support via donations, fundraising, or actual volunteer time. Angel Food Ministries can benefit from your skills and talents. This is a wonderful organization and well worth exploring as a customer or a volunteer. You may even find a job opening!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Trauma in the Front Room

Do any of you have "irrational" fears? Today I was traumatized, "willingly". I have an uncontrollable fear of needles. To say I detest them is an understatement. I turn my head when one comes on television. The mere thought can bring me to tears.

Today we had an appointment with the nurse for a life insurance company. This is the first time in my 37 years that I have ever had to get weighed, measured, give urine, and, of course, blood. I argued and pleaded when I first found out. "I have never had to do this before. Why now?", I pleaded. You'd think I was the one giving out strange and shocking information. According to them it is standard practice. Why, pray tell, have I never had to have it done before, then? Why has my husband never had it done before? No explanation was known or offered.

So, as I mentioned, today was the day. My eyes are still swollen from crying. It is beyond my control. There is no such thing as mind over matter for me in this case. It doesn't matter how much I, "Try to relax!", as my husband's advice directed. There is nothing I can do; not even pray, and that gets me on another level. Why is it that I cannot cope with something like getting my blood drawn through relying on the strength of Christ? Does this mean that I am a weak Christian? Should I be able to stand in the face of any fear, even an irrational one, with my eyes on Jesus? Do I know him well enough, or am I slacking? Will my ability to deal with frightening situations increase as my relationship with God matures? Or, are there just some things that we never transcend?

You see? The way things are today, and where our world is headed in the keeping of prophecy, I cannot help but wonder. There are plenty of things I could be facing WAY worse than getting my blood drawn. What then? Is that different? I almost feel like I have to ask forgiveness for being such a wimp. Does that seem silly to you, or do you get where my thinking is coming from?

As I mentioned, I am a mere 37 years old. I have seen a lot in my life, and I have faced many challenges. God has carried me through tough times when I didn't even know Him. When the time comes again that I have to face something tremendous, painful, frightening, jaw dropping, will I be able to cope? Honestly, I believe that I will. That is, as long as it does not involve needles. Then I am not so confident.

Over the years I have thought long and hard about what it is that terrifies me so in regard to needles. There is nothing concrete. Therefore, the only conclusion I can draw is the surgeries that I had as a baby. Lord knows I do not remember them, and I am sure thankful. Although, I do have to believe that it left a terrible imprint on my brain. My mother, grandmother, and great aunt have all commented on the fact that I was terrified of the vacuum and other loud noises when I was little. When I asked my mom about it she said that it started after the surgeries. I was never afraid of them before. So, I believe my hypothesis to be true.

A little word of advice. There is nothing you can do when someone has an irrational fear except be supportive. No matter how much you tell them to think of something else, just relax, or get frustrated with them it will not help. You just need to be there and support them. Your frustration with them will only make the fear worse. Thankfully, my husband was there for me today. When he did things that were not helping I told him so, and he just held me after it was done and let me cry. That's all I needed, and it was greatly appreciated.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thankful Thursday

This may seem a strange post for a Thankful Thursday, but here goes.

Despite the support of family and the skill of doctors my father-in-law, Evin Thomas Smith, passed away at 7:25AM on Saturday, November 1, 2008. He would have celebrated his 80th birthday this coming February. Now, he lays in waiting for the Lord.

Amongst the sadness there are many blessings. Ervin was a special man. He was the father to seven successful children and grandfather to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was honest, kind, and had a strong work ethic unlike any I'd ever seen. Ervin was a fun-loving husband to my mother-in-law, Barbara Ann Smith. He loved a good practical joke, given or received and had a wonderful sense of humor!

I may not have been close to him, but it was a privilege to know him. I see him in his son, my husband, Pat, everyday. Sure, my husband has his idiosyncrasies, but those are also the things that make him special and unique. Those are the things that make me lovingly comment, "I swear I married your father!" or, "Okay, Ervin!" My husband loves to pick on me, just like his dad did his mom. My husband always gets up to open the door and look outside for every slammed car door, just like his dad. My husband always offers you something to eat or drink, or two, or three, just like his dad. My husband doesn't usually answer the phone, but he wants to know who you're talking to, just like his dad. My husband really loves me, just like his dad did his mom.

It can honestly be said that Ervin never did anyone wrong. He was trustworthy and dependable; someone you could really count on. It is a blessing that he knew the Lord. It is a blessing that he did not suffer. It is a blessing that he died in his sleep. It is a blessing that he was surrounded by family. It is a blessing that through his death his family has grown closer.

Death and dying are not things we are taught to deal with or how to process through in our culture. However, from my experience there is much to be gained through death. Life continues and those that once lived will forever impact those that knew and loved them, and through those people will impact the lives of countless others that never had the privilege of making their acquaintance. What legacy are you leaving those that go after you?


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