Monday, December 31, 2007

Almost Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year! Well, almost... I can't wait. As good as 2007 has been, I feel optimistic for 2008. I know it won't be as exciting as 2007, or at least I sure hope it won't be, but I know I'll see God's goodness in different ways. This morning was one of those mornings when I got excited about my mothering all over again. The sun was shining into the spare bedroom, and I waved clean, fresh sheets around Seth's head as he played on the floor. Nickel Creek played on the cd player, and Seth clapped his hands and smiled. After I remade the guest bed, I picked him up, and we waltzed to "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton." Ok, I waltzed. He grinned, and laughed and bounced on my shoulder. One day, the days of baby waltzing will be over. I hope to remember them well.

But I know you're dying to hear about this weekend. Since you're all enthralled by my life, yes, I know you are. You're still reading this. What does that say about you? Hmmm. =) I shall give some background. David has been out of college for 8 years, and I've been out for 6. During college, he became part of a special group of friends known affectionately as the Gang.

The curtain opens on his senior year... David, Chris, and Jason lived in what was known as the Little Brown House. It was not aesthetically pleasing. Except for Chris' puzzle of Dogs Playing Poker that he had framed in the living room, I think there were no other wall adornments. The kitchen, I remember, had an old, plastic topped table from the '50s, and a dusty kitchen curtain with geese on it. I shudder to think how many tenants that curtain had seen. For for all its lack of charm, it was very charming to those that were privileged to be a part of it's perpetual open house. You see, for those of us living in the dorms, this house provided one of the few ways to hang in out in large groups with members of the opposite sex. Gotta love Baptist colleges with their extremely limited open house rules...

People flowed in and out of the house that year. Us girls would go there occasionally to cook, since we couldn't in the dorm, knowing full well that we would have to share what we cooked with whoever happened to be there at the time. They had an extra fridge in their old garage, and it was usually filled with cheap Walmart soda. Chris had every kitchen gadget known to man. David remembers deep frying chuck wagon hamburgers and then eating them with a side of fries. I don't know why either of them haven't yet succumbed to heart disease.

I became a tentative member of the Gang after meeting David. Before we were more than friends, I would go over like everyone else, to play spades, eat brownies, and watch the X Files. I was truly cemented into the Gang after David and I married. Now, I consider myself a proud member. Wendy and Jon, both charter members, married each other last year.

And in this fraternity, we all still take some measure of comfort from the camaraderie of friendship of long association. I know this because most of us have made the effort to try and get together for New Years for the past several years. David flew up especially for New Years more than once, taking time off from his job in Birmingham. This weekend, a little early, but close enough to New Years, we had Jason and Amanda from Texas, and Perry and Amanda coming from Pennsylvania. Those of us who have been far away still try to come, and we often succeed. That says something.

I am thankful for a group of friends that conjures up happy college memories. I realize that in this day and age, lots of us look back on our college friendships and activities with some level of shame. We were a bunch of geeks, but we never did anything together that our mamas couldn't have participated in. And we had a blast.

We did what we've always done this weekend. We played spades and other games, ate too much food, though it was slightly lower fat than it has been, and we talked and talked. Jason and Amanda and Amanda and Perry stayed here. And we tripped over each other in this tiny house, and we utilized the porch since the weather was springlike. Thank the Lord for that porch. And I learned again that it only matters that you open your home and give what you have, not that it be something big and fancy that can actually hold 11 adults comfortably. I don't think these guys would be comfortable if I owned a McMansion anyway. =) God bless 'em.

But now on to more important things... baby updates. Seth has achieved a level of limited mobility, and no, he doesn't need something from the Scooter Store. He is rolling and squirming now. No crawling, but he can get where he wants to go, though it may take him awhile. He is also very excited about clapping, has just started bouncing and clapping when we sing to him or play him music, and he's discovered the buttons on the computer. He can imitate us and say things that sound a lot like "Daddy," "Hey," and "Mommy." Two weeks ago, he was saying "baby" all the time, and it was clear as a bell. I don't think he knew what he was referring to, but I'm not going to quibble over that. He likes to sit on the dryer and feel it vibrate when I push the big button. Can you tell? =) And he also likes the sound of the multivitamins rattling that David has been saying that he'll take for over a year now but hasn't yet. Ahem.

I hope you have a wonderful New Year! We'll be ringing it in on our own with sparkling cider in our goblets and a baby in bed. =) What more can you ask for? Enjoy!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ellen's Black Bean and Cheese Quesadillas...

How do you feed 10 adults lunch on the cheap? Black bean and cheese quesadillas, of course. I made this up today, and it turned out really good, shockingly enough, so I thought I'd share...

2 cans black beans, drained, rinsed, and then mashed up in the food processor
1 can Rotel or generic diced tomatos and green chiles
a dash of some kind of southwest seasoning (optional)
shredded cheese
flour tortillas

Heat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Mix beans, Rotel, and seasoning in a bowl. For each quesadilla, spread some of the bean mixture on one side of a flour tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, and then heat in skillet until melted. Voila! Everybody wanted more. Too bad I ran out of cheese, but everybody got at least one... Enjoy! Now back to my regularly scheduled spades game and conversation about nothing in particular...

Friday, December 28, 2007

She rambles...

Seth is down for his nap, and I should be folding the moutain of laundry covering the living room floor, but I'm not. I'm wasting time looking at the blogs I've missed over Christmas. My hands are all dry from the cleanser I just used to clean the bathroom. I know every woman in America knows that feeling. They smell, too, but at least they smell like lavendar. I love Method cleaners. =)

Tonight, we have lots of company coming in. We'll have two couples staying with us. I'm washing sheets at the moment. =). I'll post all about it later. Just now, I'm musing on nothing, I guess. I'm looking forward to being able to make a delicious, cheesy breakfast casserole since I have an excuse with company coming. Have I mentioned that my husband is extremely selective about his cheese comsumption? It's usually mozzarella or nothing for him...

Oh yeah, I made a taco rice mix yesterday, and it was really good! I had started buying those seasoned rice mixes that Lipton makes, since I have a new love affair with Mexican food, but they seemed a little salty and pricey, so I had the Hillbilly Housewife help me out. I made two baggies, so I have another sitting around in the pantry for later. I didn't use the tomato sauce, since I didn't have any, so I cut up a tomato instead. I also upped the spices a bit, and I lowered the salt a little. Go here for the directions.

She's here!

I finally get to post about this, now that they FINALLY have something up! I'm not complaining or anything, but I would've thought they would've found time in there, what with the newborn and the 2 year old and the company they're having and the birth thing, to put up some pics. Humph. =)

But my neice is here! She was born while we were flying home from Birmingham, and my little bro called the cell to tell us about all of it while we were picking up our baggage. He sounded so happy. I think somebody is gonna be daddy's girl.

So go here for all the news!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in the 'Ham...

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!!! This year, for the first time in many years, we spent it with David's family in Birmingham. Now, let me explain. I wasn't being blatantly partial; David's brother had a ministry job that meant that he only got Thanksgiving off, so we spent Thanksgivings with them 'cause of that. But this year, David's mom wanted us, even if the BFamilyClan couldn't be there, too, so Seth spent his first Christmas in B'ham. And what a whirlwind Christmas it was! David didn't have a ton of time off, seeing that he drew the short straw for being on-duty at his office since he is, literally, the lowest attorney on the totem pole. So we flew down on Saturday and got home the day after Christmas. But we made the most of our time there...

It was a packed house. This is my favorite pic from the visit, and it was taken on Bill and Diana's air bed. Everybody got a bedroom of sorts, but not everyone got one with a door that closed. =)And some of us did, but we also got to sleep with a restless, teething baby and would've preferred to put him in someone else's bedroom. Have I mentioned he finally has two tiny teeth poking through his bottom gums! That's enough of a gift for me to crank up the Hallelujah Chorus any day, not just Christmas!

Aunt Patty, Uncle Max, and their three boys, Andy, Chris, and Fred, spent the weekend with us. For any who know them, that means we played bridge. A lot of bridge. Because that's what ya do when the Kattners come to call. I am so bad at bridge that I attempt to stay out of the line of fire with this crowd, unless they're in desperate need of a 4th. And then, I'm quaking in my boots. Any of them can take you down in bridge. The boys learned to play in their cribs with cardboard playing cards and "The Sesame Street Bridge Primer for Preschoolers" as their guide. I'll leave it up to you to decide if I'm kidding or not. Beware...

David's Aunt Judy comes to every holiday gathering. After all, she's pretty much immediate family, since she lived with David's folks during a short span of his teenage years. I guess that initiation is all that you need. She is a very expressive storyteller. I call this Seth's "See, Aunt Judy is crazy" face. It was preceeded by this look.

"Ok, I'm looking at her, and I'm pretty sure she's nutso. I mean, Daddy doesn't even do the voices like this. Now I shall smirk." See above. We all adore Aunt Judy. She lives in Richmond, and we don't see her enough.

These are the fruits of the Annual Christmas Cookie Decorating Contest for People with No True Artistic Talent. Occasionally, an accident will occur, and a cookie will look like something you could sell in a bakery. And no one is more shocked than the person that painted that cookie. Of course, having painted that cookie doesn't guarantee you votes for Best Cookie, Cookie with Most Icing, or Cookie that Looks Least Like What the Cutter Was. David's stated goal in this contest is to cover his cookies with the most icing possible, since taste matters far more to him than looks. He also usually wins the contest. It's never because he's trying. Isn't that infuriating?

Seth has picked a "lovey." We've waited and observed, and we're calling it. We affectionately call him "Monkey." As in "See Monkey? Please stop crying and hug Monkey, Seth." He grins and reaches for him with a squeal. And this is the only animal or toy or whatever that he grabs for and holds while sucking his thumb. I think we have a winner. Now I just need to buy 3 more of Monkey in case Monkey 1 meets with any unforeseen accidents.

Ahh, yes, the aforementioned bridge players. That's Fred in the black Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt, and Andy is holding the baby on his lap. The baby is holding the black plastic tray that our airline sandwiches came on because we firmly believe that anything light, blunt, and unbreakable can be a toy. Considering that these guys don't see many babies, they were very good and very affectionate with him. What sweet boy cousins we have... And they managed to take David down in Risk during that late night game, and anyone that can do that will get a pat on the back from me and my undying respect. There are many, many things that this family did or said at Christmas, so many that all of them cannot be recorded on this blog, so if I've left something out, which I have, and you were there, and you're wanting to know where your part was, this is the best I can do before my morning shower. =) Merry Christmas to all...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Leaving for Christmas...

Hi, everyone! This may be my last post before Christmas. Sniff. =) This Thursday, we drove up to D.C. for an annual Christmas party at David's last place of employment. Seth was an angel! I was really worried because he hadn't enjoyed the 4 1/2 hour car ride much when we did it to look for housing in July. God answered my prayers, and I think he enjoyed the trip just as much as we did! =) He loved rolling around the floor and talking to all the people at the party. There were so many neat things for him to look at that he was happy most of the time.

After the party, (which we got a sweet parking space for, even in downtown D.C.!), we went back to Arlington to meet friends at one of my favorite restaurants in D.C., Noodles and Company. This place was right across the street for our building, it was cheap, and it was fast. I loved it. I'm a carb girl. So we went back for a nostalgia trip for me. I had the braised beef stroganoff. Sooo good.

We ate dinner with the friends that would be hosting us for the night, Seth and Catherine. They have a great townhouse in Arlington. And if you're wondering, Seth's name is where we got the inspiration for our son's name, though he really isn't named after him or anyone else but his daddy. We had just enough time to set up the baby tent and for me to nurse baby Seth, and then we were off to Washington again for our.... personal White House tour!

We have a good friend who is working there now, and he was able to give us a tour of the OMB and the West Wing. I'll post more about all the neat and fascinating things he told us. Hopefully, I won't forget anything major by waiting. It was a wonderful experience, and we're so thankful for the chance to do something like that.

We drove back on Friday, after making a quick stop at Ikea for the world's best breakfast on the cheap anywhere, and so I could pick up some of their amazingly good frozen Swedish meatballs. Ikea also deserves it's own post. I love that store! It's a unique shopping experience, especially when they're playing Swedish Christmas carols.

Seth was a darling about the car ride back again. He even napped for 2 hours! Shocker! He never does that in his car seat. I think he likes to travel. At least I'm crossing my fingers that he does, 'cause we're getting on a plane for Birmingham at 12:25 p.m. today. It's a short nonstop flight. Please pray for traveling mercies and a good visit with David's family. Merry Christmas to all! May you reflect on Jesus and His incredible love for you this season!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On friends...

Just thought I'd give all of y'all an update on my friends status. Since I did a good bit of whining and some pitiful posts on feeling rejected, it only seems fair to mention that things have improved significantly in the friends department. =)

I have met a girl who lives about 10 minutes from us that has become a good friend. She has twins who are about Seth's age, and it's been great to get to know her better. She's laid back, enjoys a good bargain as much as I do, likes talking about politics, and best of all, she loves to talk about the Lord. It's a great thing when you meet someone who loves to give God all the glory for whatever to whoever she meets. If you ask her, "How'd you get so and so, meet your husband, find such a wonderful church, etc.?," the answer will usually be, "Well, the Lord brought it to me!" I want to be more like that, so I really enjoy hanging out with someone who's farther along in that than I am. I was feeling discouraged about meeting and connecting with people, and on one of those days, she called to ask if I'd take a walk with her. We've been "playdating" ever since. =) What a blessing!

I just got back this morning from a play date with a new friend who has an infant son. She leads a small group at her church, and we had a great morning of hanging out at her house. She lives a little farther away, about 20 minutes, but it's really nothing compared to what I'd have to go through to get to any sort of playdate when we lived in Arlington. I'm hoping we can hang out more.

Both of these women I've met through MOPs. I highly recommend it to anyone who has young children and is searching for mommy friendships. MOPs is different wherever you live, but all the groups have the same goal of fellowship for moms of young children. Being a stay at home mom can be lonely, and we need all the girlfriends that we can get!

My days are becoming more full with people and not just to do lists, and that's how I like to live. I'm not a phone person; just ask my mom. =) It's hard for me to pick up the phone and just call someone, especially when I'm hoarding my nap time for doing devotions, having some stillness, or reading. Nap time goes by, and I haven't picked up the phone. But I love seeing people in person. Getting together for even an hour is a refreshment to me.

I know that moving has given me a great opportunity to reinvent myself each time I've moved. The people that know me now didn't know the selfish, arrogant little brat that I was growing up. They don't know the me of all my many faults of yesteryear. They know the me of today's faults, and I've learned to hide them a little better. =) Well, ok, hopefully I've learned to be more giving and loving and kind and open. At least I seem to have more friends than I did then, and hopefully that's because I'm not such a pill anymore. =)

But my point is that I want to be a woman of God to all the people I meet these days. I want my love of Christ to come across naturally in what I say and do. I don't want to be afraid to refer to Him in casual conversation like I used to be. I want to find the right balance of sensitivity and boldness so that I proclaim him without pushiness and with total ease. After all, He gives me life, and if I hide that, I hide who I really am. I'm trying to be less afraid to ask someone if I can pray with them if they share a concern. I'm trying to be more willing to share an answered prayer or how Christ has showed himself to me, even if I'm not exactly sure whether the person I'm talking to is a Christian or not. I meet so many people these days; I want those people to know that my identity is in Christ, and not assume that it's in my middle class, white, Anglo Saxon, stay at home mom ness. Sure, my conversation is full of talk about diaper brands and sleep routines and baby gear, but it shouldn't be only about that. He is real, He changes lives, and I do Him a disservice if the main thing someone got from a morning with me is that I like to cook, keep my house too clean, and I have a cute baby.

So what about you? How would you like your friendships to be different if you could reinvent yourself as a friend and start from scratch again? What would you like your old friends to see in you if you could take your amazing mind eraser taser thingy and erase some of their memories of you (like when you were 13 and wearing neon pink leg warmers)?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Blah, blah, blah...

This is one of those mornings when I just feel off. The baby whimpered once right on time, and I was hoping he'd sleep longer, 'cause I was really tired for some unexplained reason. So I lay there, hoping that he might consent to go back to sleep. I didn't hear another peep for a few minutes, but I felt guilty for my wish. Bad, bad mama.

So I got him up, and even though he was being all smiley and happy, I was looking around, wishing for my 24 hour babysitters that just left and their Dog, also known as Great Baby Entertainment. Slap my hand once again. I feel lazy and mushy and grumpy. I don't want to do anything I should do, like clean my filthy bathtub and dust.

We're leaving on Thursday, and we won't be back until the Wednesday after Christmas, and then we have a whole houseful of people descending on us that Friday. Gahhh! So I've gotta get it in gear, and I'm still slightly off kilter when I walk around, nothing really bad, just slightly annoying when I think about it, and I've prayed, but God isn't taking this thing away quickly. And I don't think that going to the doctor is going to do much (she mentioned an expensive CAT scan or a visit to the ENT as options, which seem like overkill) so I'm willing to wait longer, but I'm not too thrilled about it.

I wonder how many moms out there sometimes feel like they are just totally subpar. And I wonder how often they feel it. Most of the time I feel like I do a pretty good job, and most of the time I have a sneaking suspicion that that has more to do with the laid back temperament God gave my son than it has to do with me. But even with my successes, I feel less than sometimes. I don't enjoy playing with him enough. I get too impatient when he's cranky. I don't want him to wake me from a sound sleep before I'm good and ready. I want more time to myself, and I panic thinking about how much less of that I'll get when he's down to one nap a day.

And did I mention that my husband is one of the hardest workers on the planet? I'm a total sloth compared to him. He works hard all day, bringing home the bacon. I get more down time than he does right now 'cause I have nap time. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I should never ask him to do the dishes again... What should I be doing with that free time? I don't know. How long will it last? I don't know that either. I know that being a mother will get more demanding the older Seth gets. This is just a temporary phase. But I don't want to be squandering it. Maybe I'm restless to be used more for God in ways that I can quantify and calculate and don't just have to do with shopping and taking care of baby and getting dinner on the table.

I've always had a strong desire to work with crisis pregnancy centers. Back in our 1st year of marriage, I went through training, and I became a counselor at the Charlottesville Pregnancy Center. It was really difficult work, trying to walk the line between complete truthfulness and complete compassion. Trying to help hurting newly pregnant women make life giving choices for themselves and their children is a emotional minefield. But I felt like I was making a difference, even if only one baby was born and one woman was saved years of heartache and guilt, for all the dozens that I saw that turned the other way. I'd like to be involved with a CPC again. There is one about 10 minutes from my house. I've scoped it out online. Now I just have to take the hard step of walking in the door, baby on one hip, and asking them if there is anything I can do for them. Is there anything I could do here, during naptime? Would they want me bringing Seth there to sort donated items? I guess I'll never know 'til I ask. I'll put it on my to-do list for after Christmas, I guess.

Hopefully this day will get more inspiring, and the Lord will lift me out of my doldrums. Maybe He'll be in the Soft Scrub today. See ya.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Yard men...

It's a cold Saturday for us, high of 49, and slightly drizzily. But I have yard men raking my leaves, up on my roof cleaning out my gutters, and blowing leaves out of my shrubbery. One of them is wearing head to toe camoflauge coveralls, bright orange ear protectors, and has brought with him yard gloves, a leaf blower, and a tarp. There may be some other goodies in his car; I'm not sure. The other one has a willing heart, lost his yard gloves in a bag of leaves the last time we raked, and probably needs to be wearing a warmer coat. =) Any guesses which one is my husband and which one is my dad?

My parents are here for their last visit before we leave for Christmas. I'm learning that if more than a couple of weeks go by without us seeing them in some form or fashion, their tone of voice becomes increasingly dreary on the phone. "So, how are things?" "Well, we're still here... Nothing new going on... We're dying of boredom, yes sirree, but we're just fine... Don't worry about us, sweetie." "Un huh. Sure, we won't worry about you. Why don't you come for a visit? We need our yard done." I suppose some would call it a mutually beneficial relationship. Some might call it mooching.

Hey, at least I made Dad and David a big breakfast of waffles, eggs, and sausage before they went out to slave for me. And I'm very proud of the fact that I saved the leftover sausage patties from the last time they were here in the freezer. I remembered them last night and put them in the fridge to thaw. Dad was sooo pleased to have them this morning, nicely warmed up in the microwave. He's not allowed to clog his arteries at his own house. I'm glad I didn't just throw them out. Another victory for the Freezer Queen of Our Neighborhood! =)

And we learn all the time what great neighbors we have. I'm going to miss them when we leave this house. My dad decided he needed an extension ladder to get on the roof, and he needed it 5 minutes ago. Our next door neighbor didn't have one, but Dad spotted a work van in the driveway of another neighbor that we haven't met, and it had a bee-you-ti-ful ladder on top. Completely unfazed by the facts that we a) don't know this person at all, and b) it's 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday, he knocks on the door and asks to borrow it. Our neighbor put on his coat, got in his van, drove the ladder down here, took it off his truck, and put it right where Dad pointed (with great authority). And he was so cheerful about it. D, our new buddy with tools, is getting a plate of cookies very soon.

Our next door neighbor, Frank, sees a white van with a ladder pull up and a man on our roof with a leaf blower, and comes over, distressed that we've hired a professional to do our roof, all 'cause he didn't have an extension ladder for us to borrow. Nope, that's not a professional. That's just Dad, who could open his own yard service business in 5 minutes, if he felt like it. He already has most of the tools.

Tonight we're grilling steaks for my men, (courtesy of Dad, who told me to "put it on his tab" when he requested them via email without telling Mom), and David and I might even go out for donuts, courtesy of a gift card I won in a swap at MOPs. Yippee! I like when my parents come to my house and do work and babysit. Oh yeah, I like their company, too. =) Love you, Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Incredible Do-It-Yourself Cart Cushion Thingy

Behold, a cheap woman's inventive solution to the baby-falling-over-in-the-huge-grocery-cart problem! =) I polled a bunch of mommies on my local mommy forum website, and many suggestions included some kind of stuffing around the little man, be it paper towel rolls or travel pillows, etc. So I pulled out my trusty bungee cords and an old pillow and pillowcase and gave it a go. David and I had this pack of a few different sizes of bungee cords that we got from Target a while ago. The middle size worked like a charm. I just put my pillow down, hook a cord on each side, and arrange the pillow so it's between the cords. Voila! Then I cover it with my favorite Pottery Barn kids blanket, so it doesn't look completely tacky.

He loves it, can ya tell? He really does... He was just mad that I wouldn't let him hold the grocery list, and I wasn't going to stand in the Walmart parking lot all day with my camera, waiting for him to get happy with the sun in his eyes, so you'll just have to take my word for it. =) So if you're having the same problem with floppy baby syndrome, your only solution doesn't have to be carrying the baby or putting him in a Baby Bjorn the whole shopping trip. Take heart, my fellow mommies of the aching back!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quick fix dinner ideas...

Shannon over at Rocks in My Dryer does these cool "Works for Me Wednesday" posts. Well, recently she had one with this question:

"We've all had days like this (if you haven't, then really, I don't want to hear about it): The day has been crazy, kids have too much homework, you have a sinus headache, laundry is piled high, you've been too busy to get to the store, 5:15 rolls around, and your in-home cook hasn't shown up yet. That's when you remember that you don't have an in-home cook, and feeding that rag-tag bunch is somehow your responsibility.

I know, the obvious answer is "carryout", but lets imagine that you can't. Let's imagine that an asteroid struck your house yesterday and melted your car. And while we're at it, let's imagine that giant bread-loving aliens invaded earth and stole all our bread, so sandwiches are out. You have to fix a meal. What are the catch-all, quick-and-easy-dinners-that-still-manage-to-taste-decent that you keep on hand?"

Go here to find the answers. I went through a bunch of the responses and copied and pasted the ideas into a Word document called "Quick Suppers." A lot of them are pretty cheap, and some are pretty healthy as well. Happy hunting!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saving on groceries...

You asked for it, and now you're gonna get it... I don't think any of these ideas are revolutionary, and I'm sure many of you have already implemented some of them or all of them. They have helped me, though I often forget about them and have to go back from time to time as a refresher.

1. Set a weekly amount and stick to it. Figure out what you can really afford to spend that'll still feed your family, and don't deviate from it more than $5. If you think you have more food in your cart than that amount, stop, think, and put something back. Avoid the urge to spend more than your amount one week, thinking you'll spend less the next. It usually doesn't happen that way, at least to me it doesn't. Cut yourself some slack if you're feeding a lot of extra people or hosting a party, but for normal weekly meals, even with one company meal in there, try to stick tight to your set limit.

2. Buy generic, and don't buy many convenience foods. There aren't many brands that I buy. Most things in my grocery cart are going to be the generic brand. I admit that there are some things I can taste a difference in. I buy Kraft mac n' cheese for our Sunday night supper, (since that's one convenience food that's ridiculously cheap), but I won't buy the store brand because I've tried it, and it's awful. But most items are cheaper in the store brand, and most are just as good as the name brand. I don't buy name brand diapers, and they're just as good as Pampers, though they don't smell as good. =) When I say don't buy convenience food, I mean don't buy prepackaged meals or mixes very often. If you're going to eat out if you don't have one in the freezer, then buy them, but if you can make your own freezer convenience food instead, that'll save you money.

3. Don't let anything in your fridge go to waste that you can use for another meal. For instance, when I buy a loaf of bread lately, I immediately freeze it. That way we won't waste it if we don't use it right away. The same goes for leftover hot dog/hamburger buns. I freeze them, and then we can have hamburgers for dinner one night later on. The same goes for tortillas. They freeze well. Shredded cheese freezes well, too. I buy shredded mozzarella in big bags and freeze it in 2 c. servings for pizza.

If I make something, and it makes enough for another meal, I freeze the leftovers, and I put them in the meal rotation for a couple weeks down the road. That way they don't go bad. Some people send leftovers to their spouse for lunch. If you can avoid doing this, I'd advise it, unless you plan to serve yourself lunch for dinner one night later on. David and I eat sandwiches, a piece of fruit, carrots (cut in sticks and put in water in the fridge), and some cheese crackers or pretzels every day for lunch, or crackers and peanut butter or cheese, etc. This is the cheapest thing you can do for lunches.

Oh, yeah, don't just freeze odds and ends of things and forget they're in there. Go into your freezer and look around before you make your meal plan for the week. Use what you have, whether it's there or in your pantry.

4. Embrace Mexican food. Why, you may ask? Because our Latin friends to the south have perfected the art of stretching meat and using beans. Mexican food is cheap. You can stretch it by adding rice and beans. Tonight we're having black bean and cheese enchiladas for dinner. Dirt cheap. I have frozen beef and bean enchilada filling by the truckload. 'Nuf said.

5. Eat less meat, and buy some of it in bulk. I'm not too proud to buy my meat at Super Walmart, and if I freeze it as soon as I get it home, I think it's just fine. I buy gigantic packages of lean hamburger and split them into 1/2 lb. bags for freezing. I do the same with stew meat. I use less meat in my recipes, and I waste less by doing this. If we want to have hamburgers, I can thaw one 1/2 pound package, and that'll make 2 hamburgers for two people. If I thawed a pound, some would go to waste. We also don't have a wide variety of meats because kinds other than stew meat, hamburger, and chicken are more expensive. I try to plan a large meat purchase into my budget so that I don't have to go over that week.

6. Buy frozen vegetables instead of fresh. Frozen vegetables have all the nutrients of fresh, but they don't go bad as quickly, and they're cheaper. Canned tomatoes have the nutrients of fresh, sometimes even more, and they're cheap and healthy.

7. Love some soup this winter. I have several soup recipes I love. As long as you don't make them with potatoes, you can freeze them for later. I freeze my soup in one bowl portions so we have choices. David and I don't even have to have the same soup for dinner if we don't want to! Soup is cheap, healthy, and easy!

8. Eat less cereal. Cereal prices are rising all the time. It's really quite expensive when you think about what goes into it. David likes to eat two bowls of cereal for breakfast. We're working on breaking this habit, and him eating one small bowl of cereal and some toast with jelly. For the first couple of years of our marriage, David ate toast for breakfast exclusively. No cereal in our house.

9. Oh yeah, plan your menu for the week before you go shopping. If you go more than once, you're more likely to pick up "extra" items you don't need. I write out my menu for the week on Monday mornings. I try to put several freezer meals and at least one vegetarian meal on there. I also plan for one meal I wouldn't mind serving to company, so we can be hospitable in a pinch. We have something cheap and trashy on Sunday nights like mac n' cheese with cut up hot dog in it. =) I look at the menu and try to make sure I'm not buying more than one kind of meat in a week. That'll blow my budget right there. Spacing things out is important so you don't get discouraged and give up.

So there ya have it, my tips for saving money on groceries. I'm sure there are plenty of others out there that I haven't thought of, and there are plenty that I'm not willing to do just yet, like using powdered milk instead of real milk. Blech. Try for more ideas. She goes places that many women have not boldly gone before her. She's got some great stuff, though.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Can you help a poor inept decorator?

I'm looking for some help. I have this large wall and nothing to fill it. I like the pictures that are up, but as you can see, they are just too tiny for this long wall. Any good, cheap ideas? I have a couple of old patchwork quilts, but I wasn't sure how to arrange them so they'd look tasteful. I thought of maybe framing one in a large antique gold frame that I inherited that David hates the picture in. Any thoughts on that one? =) I know there are some creative people out there who can help me brainstorm.

The bottom picture is of this year's Christmas mantel display. I got some cheap 9 ft. garland from Michael's and a small sprig of fake cranberries. I cut the sprig up and stuck berries in random spots in the garland, and I put pine cones around the garland as well. Then I put a napkin on top of the box that held the nativity scene and tried to arrange it so the tiny Nativity wasn't dwarfed by the garland. A bigger Nativity scene is on the agenda for next year. =)

Getting somewhere...

This morning, David fired up Excel and Quicken and took a look at how we've done with cutting costs since we started in earnest a month ago. The figures for the month of November were very encouraging! Even with having to pay our car registration for the year, we still came out much better than in October!

I was afraid when he started up the program that we'd find out that we hadn't saved anything. You know how it is. You try so hard to make some change, losing weight, giving up your massive Dr. Pepper consumption, etc., and it seems like progress is incredibly slow or doesn't come at all. It would've been hard on me if this had been like that. It's nice to see improvement.

I was also encouraged by my response to the monthly report. Instead of thinking, "We're doing well. We can loosen up some," I thought, "Oooh, where I can I make more cuts?" Success led to renewed vigor for the task in this case. It isn't always like that with me, I'm afraid. I'm attributing God's grace in my life for all the contentment I feel in this area at the moment. I may fade in the stretch at any time, but right now, I'm enjoying any victories that come my way.

This week, a lot of thoughts have been rolling around in my head about the nature of contentment and enjoyment of little things and general thankfulness. It's easy to worry about our stability and security in this economy, even though we're probably more secure with David's job now than we have ever been. It's easy to be afraid that the massive upheaval in the housing market will hurt us somehow, despite everything that we do to try and be responsible.

I've also been thinking about how I come across in the area of finances and frugality. I really enjoy the hunt for a good deal, and I like talking about the ways I've saved money on particular items. It's on my mind, and I generally talk about whatever's on my mind at the moment, in case you hadn't noticed. =) But I don't want others to think that I'm obsessed with saving money. Coming across as a tightwad pennypincher is not what I'm going for.

This phrase has stuck in my head for years, and I don't remember where I heard it. "When you're being frugal with yourself, that's admirable. When you're being frugal with others, that's being cheap." My goal is to be frugal with myself so that I can be generous with others. If I save money by denying myself stuff that I don't really care about all that much in the long run, then I have more to give to others.

I also don't want money to ever come in the way of creating and nurturing relationships. David and I are far more likely to go out to dinner or lunch with other people than we are to go out on our own. For many people, hosting dinner or lunch in their homes isn't something they're comfortable doing. So we go to out dinner as a means of getting to know others better, and we don't think about it too much. It's a part of the our culture, and it's ok to do this some.

There's a fine line between enjoying a good bargain and complaining constantly about how much things cost. I don't want to be a person who seems to be always complaining about money. I have to check my tongue if I'm in a complaining mood, and I know I don't check it often enough. I worry more than I should that we won't be able to afford to buy a home in the part of town where we now live, but I need to bite my tongue and rest in God's provision for us. He'll provide something perfect in His time, and I know that. But anyway, I have friends and family members who often complain about their expenses, even to the point of complaining that they had to eat out with a friend at a place where they wouldn't have normally chosen to dine since it cost a bit more than they wanted to spend. I don't want to go there. Life is too short. It's too easy to complain, but it's not prudent. I don't want to be known as someone who speaks or thinks too much about pinching pennies. If you're noticing this about me, please tell me to stop. It's a bad habit of mine, I think.

I know this has been a ramble. David and Seth are napping, and we're in the midst of raking the fall leaves, and Wendy and Jon are coming to dinner. I'm still dizzy, but it's getting some better. I'm going to wait another week before I attempt to do anything else about it. Have a great Saturday!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Little blessings...

I've been hoarding Chick Fil A coupons. I got the free chicken sandwich and Coke coupons in the mail, so I've been sitting on those for a couple of months. Then my mom gave me a coupon she got for a free chicken sandwich. I figured tonight would be the Friday night that David and I and Munchkin would go for broke. Yes, we'd blow it all on one night of pleasure... =) We've really tightened up on eating out lately as part of the big Family Save More Spend Less Initiative of 2007-2008. I think this is the first time we've eaten out together (without being caught on the road with no food) in a couple of months. Oh yeah, except for that lunch date we had at Thanksgiving when my parents watched Seth. But the point is, we don't just go out, even for fast food, much anymore. It's a big deal not to eat at home.

Well, tonight, we walked into our local Chick Fil A, and there was a party going on! Yep, they heard we were coming to spend $1.75 on fries, so they blew up a bunch of balloons and put on their party hats... Actually, it was this location's 1st anniversary of being in business. They had free ice cream sundaes with all the fixin's, a birthday cake, and a wheel you could spin for prizes. Guess what the prizes were? More free food! Tonight, this little family cleaned up. I spun the wheel and won another chicken sandwich. David won a chicken wrap. Seth even got to spin, and though I was hoping he'd win Mommy some more chicken, he won himself a tiny stuffed cow. Already he's foiling my plans for free stuff for me based on his cuteness.

Seth was super fussy this afternoon and tonight for some reason, so it was a great night not to be at home. He's so much happier when he's out looking at things. He played with a drink lid, one of his favorite toys, and he sucked on a lovely plastic spoon (probably made for his pleasure in China, the Land of Lead). We stayed in Chick Fil A as long as we could. We milked those free refills to death, and we lingered over our free sundaes. It was a really nice Friday night event.

And I felt blessed. I feel like I've really been trying to cut our grocery budget and curb our eating out. I'm sure I have a long way to go in joyful frugal living, but it was nice to feel like God was giving me a pat on the back for my puny efforts. Tonight we ate practically for free, and we won two more meals for later! I am a happy girl. He is good, even in the little things. Like free chicken. =)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mrs. Grinch...

I went out and did some shopping for Christmas decorations today. Some who know me will be screaming out with shocks of joy, delight, or horror, depending on your persuasion. I grew up not celebrating Christmas because of its somewhat pagan roots (please don't make me debate this with you, just check out the History Channel on it and that should suffice), but I married into a family that does celebrate it. The past 6 years of my marriage have been filled with wrangling and debating and soul wrenching guilt and trying to find a middle ground where no one's conscience is seared and no one has to miss out on any beloved family tradition. Completely and utterly impossible, you say? You'd be right. =) There are moments when I hate, hate, hate this time of year because I know that I'm going to come across as Mrs. Grinch Who Stole Christmas. And I don't like coming across this way.

At this point, I celebrate Christmas, though I do it completely in my own way. I enjoy wishing others "Merry Christmas." I have always loved to sing songs about Jesus, so Christian Christmas carols have always been fun for me. I like going to Christmas services and reading the Christmas story and doing an Advent wreath and participating in a living nativity. I got to be the angel on the top of the stable once, and it was great! They put a black light on me to light me all up, and even though I froze my little tushy off, I would do it again. I felt like I got a glimpse of that first Christmas in a new way that night.

I am slowly but surely accumulating some things that make my husband feel like it's Christmas in our house, instead of say, still Thanksgiving. I got a wreath for the door a few years ago, and I bought a red bow for it today. I made a mantel display today with some garland and our nativity scene. I even got little candles for our windows. Hopefully, this will make David feel like the season has come to town.

And how do I feel about this decorating? Torn. And I probably will continue to feel torn for the rest of my life. This is just one area where I must learn to compromise in order to love my spouse. I know, I know, most of you think that my tornness is nuts. What's not to like about decorating, you say? Nothing really. I like decorating and silver bells and red bows and candles as much as the next person. And I want to enjoy them more and fit in better. But I really don't, because I have trouble connecting ribbons and wreaths with Jesus Christ and his birth.

I've heard all the arguments... "We give gifts at Christmas because the Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ Child." "The evergreen of the tree symbolizes eternal life." These arguments just aren't convincing to me. When it's someone's birthday, we don't give presents to everyone we know. We give presents to them. And Americans didn't tend to give presents at Christmas before the mid-1800's anyway... And the whole evergreen thing has multiple historical meanings, including many that have nothing to do with Christmas, so why do I have to sign on to that one? It's up for debate.

All I'm asking, I guess, is that it be ok for me not to want to have a Christmas tree or to give presents at Christmas time. I don't want to be villified as a horrible Grinch because I can't see how those two aspects of Christmas, which everyone, Christian or not, celebrate, have to be a part of my Christmas celebration. They distract me from Christ, so why isn't it ok for me to bow out of that part of Christmas?

It seems like most of the time, when I tell people about my background and the reasons for why I don't give gifts at Christmas, I get offended, defensive comments seeking to justify how they celebrate Christmas. Now, I never said that they shouldn't give gifts or have a tree. I'm tired of the assumption that I'm thinking negative thoughts about others because they participate and I don't. I'm really not. I grew up my entire life being different in this area than most of the other Christians around me. I learned how to live and let live then, and I really don't think much about how other people celebrate Christmas. Being around their trees and their gift giving doesn't offend me. I would give a lot some days not to care at all so I could celebrate just like everyone else and provoke no controversy with my presence. But I simply can't make that choice without feeling like I'm doing something that's taking me, personally, farther away from the only reason for Christmas, so that's my problem to deal with.

So please, please just let me be this Christmas. Don't tease me about spitting on Christmas trees, etc. I don't think it's funny. Can't we all just get along? =)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Celebrating Advent on a tilt a whirl...

Hey. I won't be writing much today because being dizzy makes me not want to read or write much, but I thought I'd put up my link to last year's Advent post. I put the wreath up on the table a few minutes ago. Granted, the candles are half used from last year until I find some more purple and pink ones, but it's there, and I have my scripture reading's list sitting neatly in the kitchen for later. We're going to read a scripture each night at dinner before lighting the candle.

It's been crazy times since we got back from Fake Thanksgiving. We drove back on Sunday morning and got home just in time for me to vacuum and straighten before company came in the door. David picked up Samie from the airport, and I took her back to the airport this morning. Samie is a friend from law school. Her husband, Nat, and David roomed together in law school before either of them got married. She was doing some residency interviewing in the area, and she stayed with us. We had a great time with her, but man, am I pooped! I'm working on Laundry Mountain, and Seth is napping, and I want a nap myself.

Please pray for me if you think of it. The medicince I was given to help with dizziness while this supposed virus goes away isn't doing anything at all. I think it's called Antivert, and it's been around forever. If anything, I'm more dizzy than I was yesterday. It's easy to me to worry that it's not a virus. It's tempting to worry that this is something worse that they won't be able to find the cause for, and that I'll be walking around like a drunken sailor for the rest of my life. Can you tell that I have a really hard time being sick? =) I hate feeling this way. It's already been a week. Come on, already! Why can't we just get colds like normal people? Instead, David and I seem to be plagued with obscure physical infirmities than aren't easy to diagnose and that don't have easy cures. Grrrr. Ok, the words are swimming. I'm going to lie down. Again...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fake Thanksgiving 2007

We're back from Fake Thanksgiving 2007! A blast was had by all, and as you can see from this picture, the boys are learning to play in the water together! Seth got a lot of hugs from Isaac, and Isaac was pretty thrilled to see him whenever he got up from his naps. Seth had a great time talking to everyone and kicking his legs and taking long walks over the family farm with Nana and Papa. He's currently crashing from all the over exertion. He's been a remarkably smiley, happy baby this morning. I think maybe all the excitement made him long for a quiet time with just Mommy. I am happy that he's happy with just me. Maybe I'll get a little more appreciation around here...

As you can tell, Terri is very great with child. Little Ethel Marie will be coming out of the oven in about 4 weeks. =) (Yes, Terri, until you tell me what her real name is, I will be putting the most hideous names I can think of up on the world wide web. ) I remember this stage of pregnancy distinctly. It's the time when rolling over at night makes you feel like a beached whale struggling desperately to get back in the water. Little Dorcas gave me some great kicks. She was much more forthcoming than Isaac was at that age. =)

Me and the baby bro. Isn't he adorable? I still love giving him noogies, and I still get the occasional comment that he looks like Brad Pitt. Anybody else see it? =) And don't our noses look ridiculously huge in this picture? Gotta love the family nose issue. Hey, at least Vance's looks bigger than mine for once. My poor brother was sick the whole time, and so was Terri. They both had some form of cold/sore throat. I felt so bad for them. One of the hardest things about being far apart is that the time you do get is so compressed that there's more pressure to be feeling great and at your best. To top it off, I was mildly dizzy the whole time. Looks like I have an inner ear infection, per the PA diagnosis I got this afternoon, but it has been no fun to be trying to focus hard on the spot in front of me while walking straight. Grrr. So we had three adult sickies this weekend. I'm praying that David, Seth, and I don't get their plague.

The whole clan, V, T, I, and Gertrude (in utero). =) Everybody left early on Sunday morning to go to their respective homes. Ok, highlights of the weekend, since you're all dying to know. Hmm, Terri and I got to go to McDonald's all by ourselves for two whole hours! David the Wonder Husband watched Zack and Seth, with a little help from Mom. We got to sit and sip beverages and talk and talk and talk about all the minute details of SAHM life. It would've been an intensely boring conversation to those of you without kids, but to us, it's a chat session about the career that we've both chosen, and we're excited and intimidated by it all at the same time. Hmm, another highlight was seeing Zack so intensely excited by all three tractors in his farm life. He played with Vance's toy tractor, got to ride on Vance's John Deere pedal tractor, and got a bunch of rides on the real green Oliver tractor. Dad even took him on a nighttime ride because he kept begging. Terri was a little worried about going back to MN where there are no tractors, except a pedal one the somebody left around that has no seat. I'm imagining a meltdown where Zack sees that one.
I called Mom and Dad this morning, and I realized afresh how much I'm going to miss these days when they're gone. They kept saying how quiet it was when we left. They kept thinking they heard babies waking up long after we'd left. Dad got on the phone for a minute and said, "We miss you. Come back." He never says stuff like that. When you love your children intensely, it must be so sad when they grow up and move out, even if you know they're happy and are doing what they are supposed to be doing. I have much more sympathy for their plight now than I did before I have Seth. I hope he comes to visit me often when he's all grown up. Love you, Mom and Dad. So y'all, hug your parents, and take the kids to see them more often. After all, that's what you want your munchkins to do for you one day.