Things We Gained in the Recession

There is a movie that runs the HBO circuit occasionally, entitled “Things We Lost in the Fire.”    Though I’ve never watched the movie, my take from the previews is that the plot details the intangibles that people lose when tragedy occurs.   Sometimes it’s not the material things that matter so much as those items that money can’t buy.   In any case, as I was thinking through this blog post, the movie’s author should consider his/her title revamped and stolen.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately praying for friends to gain employment, to come into finances that help keep cars from being repossessed, and for supernatural turn-arounds that keep water and lights turned on.    Those in power call this extended downturn a recession, but I think that depends upon who you talk to.   I know that, for the few months in 2009 that my husband was laid off, I don’t care what anyone says–it was a depression around here.   Truth be told, until a couple of months ago, we still felt the stress of current events even though we’ve both been gainfully employed minus that brief stint.   When you work in a sales job and drive ~100 miles a day, with gas at almost $4, the nearby gas station owners know you by your first name.   The salt in the open wound of the whole gas increase predicament is that it’s not just your personal gas; every utility company has trucks that need your help, too.   

The other factor that has nearly killed us locally is the extended drought.    The weatherman says that, with the exception of 1-2 days, we have now been almost 200 days with less than 1/2 inch of rain.   Translation: we’re trying to keep our plants somewhere close to green with no help whatsoever from the Lord.    The grass is on its own.   The ground has been too hard to try our luck at another vegetable garden.   I just throw up my hands and think, oh well, next year.     

As my mind often travels to books, I reflect upon the double whammy of the Great Depression and the plight of the mid-western farmers during the Dust Bowl years.  Stories like Dust for Dinner and Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp come to mind.    The Lord was doing something back then, and trying to get peoples’ attention.   I believe He is also doing something now, and calling us back.   Back to what?   I believe, in part, back to our mother wit and the ingenuity of our ancestors, and away from the materialistic, wasteful lives that many of us in this generation have engaged in for far too long.   Our parents and grandparents knew how to take a little and make a lot of it.    Somehow, in all of our education and corporate jobs and suburban lifestyles, we’ve lost that same resourcefulness.    This season under God is teaching us to go after it and get it back.     I know personally I’ve had to make adjustments, and as hard as the transitions have been for those around me, I can’t help but believe that we will come out better for them if we hang in there and faint not, as Paul says in Galatians 6:9.

One of the adjustments I’ve made is to begin sewing again.    Unfortunately, I have no pictures immediately available, but that’s a post for another time.    My task right now is to finish a shirt for our son before he grows out of it!   

Though it wasn’t a necessary adjustment, homemade laundry detergent has been a tremendous savings.

 

I love to do things like this, and I’d seen several homeschooling moms brag about the increased effectiveness, and the ridiculous savings, of making their own detergent.   But I had no idea where to buy products, and terms like “fels naptha” intimidated me, so I originally blew it off.   Yet, when I ran across a site that gave a recipe and told where to buy the products, I decided to give it a go, and I even got a bit of help.  

This recipe is popular across the Internet and among a few of my homeschooling friends, so with some encouragement and inspiration, I’ve finally begun to like my egg drop soup-like laundry detergent, and I LOVE the fact that I’ve been able to take that ~$10 Tide off my grocery list for a couple of months now.

Another of the adjustments I’ve had to make is in food preparation, and learning to think more about foods that give more bank-for-the-buck, so to speak.   Pastas stretch.   Potatoes stretch.   Beans are also quite versatile.

 

Last year when we had our garden, I quickly saw the value of raw foods, both in our pocketbooks and in our health.   This year, as I stated earlier, we couldn’t get the garden going, but I’ve stuck  with my passion for raw foods, learning new ways to prepare familiar vegetables, and trying some varieties with which I’m not as familiar.   As a purposeful digression, I was reading a devotional in the last couple of days from Sheila Gregoire on marriage, and being made for each other.  You can find it here.     By the way, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Sheila’s blog, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, she is well worth a “follow,” or at least a frequent visit.   She blogs candidly, yet graciously, about marital issues that most won’t touch: the impact of porn addictions, what happens when there is unresolved conflict, and of course, keeping the romance in relationships.    Anyhow, as I read this devotional, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own marriage, and how my life has changed–for the better–in our almost 20 years of marriage.   One of those changes has been in my eating habits.   As a southern girl, I came to the marriage not knowing much about cooking anything that wasn’t fried, buttered, or dipped in gravy.   My husband was health-conscious long before it was stylish; his family simply thought of him as picky and strange.   Though I’d never be called petite, I know for sure that without him role modeling a healthier diet, I would probably be twice the size that I am and tumbling down a vegetable oil slick to an early grave.   I should also mention that somehow we managed to produce a vegetarian in our son; between the two of them, I now have a repertoire of dishes that take me from tilapia to tofu,  and from honeydews to jicama (pronounced HIC-uh-muh, so that you don’t miss the alliteration–smile).

I see God honoring my faithfulness in small things, and it makes me smile.    Last night, I was preparing dinner and thinking about my husband’s impact on our diet (and admittedly thinking about this blog post).   I was preparing oven-fried chicken and sweet potatoes, and I didn’t want my usual sweet potato casserole, made southern-girl style.   I decided upon a low-fat, orange-juice based glaze that I once used years ago.   All of that role-modeling sounded really good until I realized that I didn’t have enough flour to coat the chicken, nor enough orange juice to spread across all of my sweet potato slices.  (Had plenty of butter, though–tee hee!)  Rather than make an unplanned dash to the store while everyone’s stomachs were rumbling,  I prayed for the Lord to stretch what I had, and I witnessed a widow of Zarapheth-like blessing with the flour and orange juice.   Plenty to cook dinner, with some to spare.    I even found an avocado to add to our dinner salads.   It was a great meal, made tastier by the fact that I knew of its humble beginnings.

  

If we will not grow bitter or weary, there is such a testimony awaiting each of us on the other side of this recession.   I invite you to embrace your hardships for what they are–love from up above, and lessons from way back.   God bless you, friends.

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Weekly Homeschool Wrap-Up, August 22, 2010

   

  

 It’s weekly wrap-up time!   If you want to join in, we’d love to see what is going on with you, so please visit Mary.    The post that has been in me for close to three weeks has finally decided to come out.    Ready for some serious rambling? 

 

 From where I sat this past week, 

As an individual, I… 

am ever mindful of how life gives you the opportunity to revisit your thinking and really solidify where you are in some areas.   I shared months ago after my brief in-home survey that our homeschool is as elementary school-unfriendly as it is high school-friendly.     I spent some time over the summer planning field trips, etc., to make sure that our youngest gets to have fun and enjoy all that school can be rather than look upon it as a drudgery.    Then I reconsidered an opportunity that we took great advantage of in our earlier homeschooling years, but have since all but abandoned: homeschooling groups. 

I think it was the opening line of the intro of a group that I was invited to join that struck me.  The words were that ‘it is imperative that we socialize…’    Hearkening to the feel of hairs on the back of my neck standing up, I meditated on that one for a while.   Imperative…is it really?    In reading it, I immediately thought of the general group make-up: parents who are relatively new to homeschooling with young children.     But there is a not-so-subtle arrogance in thinking that way, as if I have mastered the science and art of homeschooling and know how to do it the “right way.”    The Lord knows how many times I’ve bumped my head against a wall on all things homeschooling, so I took a more humble approach to thinking about this. 

I think that groups can and do have a place within the homeschooling community, and the ladies I met when we began homeschooling are probably a significant reason as to why we continued to homeschool when life might have dictated otherwise.    I am also a huge fan of an extended support system.    In truth, it’s one of the reasons I remain at HSB rather than switch over to a more popular blogging platform—here, there is community, which is exactly what groups attempt to do.     Coming from a family (on both sides) of public school educators, we needed to see success stories such that we could defend our position long before we had success stories of our own.   Having said that, what I’ve come to appreciate much more in the years we’ve journeyed this road is what homeschooling has done for our family.    I’ve said before that anyone who sticks with homeschooling long enough finds that it is the home that is the operative part of that compound word; schooling is simply one arm of many as what is happening in the home manifests itself.     

I love the fact that our kids are each other’s best friends.  Yes, they fight, and yes, they are sometimes self-absorbed, but at the end of the day, our teen can hang out with the youngest; our pre-teen can enjoy playing with his sisters—one who is three years older, one who is five years younger.    As they enjoyed the premiere of  “Camp Rock 2: the Final Jam” the other night, I couldn’t help but smile as the kids laughed and talked together, then got on each other’s nerves, then laughed some more over store-bought pizza and a movie.    When I hear other families talk about the issues that exist among siblings, I know that God is doing something special here, and I believe that homeschooling has a lot to do with that. 

More than liking (on most days) to be with each other, our kids also still like to be around us.    At an age when most teens and pre-teens find their parents embarrassing, or at minimum, uncool, our kids actually enjoy having us as an active part of their lives.   As just one example, the dance center hosts two Parent Watch Weeks during the year.   This is the one time that parents can come into the class room and watch their children rather than take in the class from the limited view of a wall window.    In the older kids’ classes, we are often the only parents who attend.    The students consider it humiliating to have their moms and dads come to watch them dance.   Our children get upset if for any reason one of us cannot be there! 

Several years ago, a more seasoned homeschooling mom shared with me that if there was one thing she’d focus more on during her homeschooling years, it would be to keep her children’s hearts at home.   I don’t think that she meant it such that your kids would literally never want to leave home; I took it to mean that my best work might be to teach our children to cherish family, and to hold dear what is within these four walls.    I know that is counter-culture to what is popular, but I have come to see true wisdom in it over the years. 

As a related digression, not too long ago I was wearing an old t-shirt from our church’s women’s retreat.    Our youngest asked me what is a retreat, and after hearing my explanation, she concluded that retreats were bad.   “Family comes first, and most important is the Lord,” she said.   Sure, her logic could use some work, but I think she hit upon the essence of what we’re trying to create here, with the Lord’s help.   

Could a group do any of that for us?   Not at all.   But it took really thinking through this aspect of what we do and why for me to understand why that intro statement, and the accompanying statements describing the group, for me to decide how we might fit, if at all, into this group.   So the long and short of it is that we joined the group for the sole purpose of seeing the calendar, and if a field trip or two coincides with something we’re doing, we’ll join in.    Otherwise, we will continue to move in the 5-person unit that has worked so well for us in the past years. 

As a wife and homemaker, I… 

am enjoying this season of being able to focus on home and setting of an environment.   Charlotte Mason speaks of education as being an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.    This has been my year to focus in on the atmosphere, it seems.    We’ve always made excellent use of the produce market in town, but starting a new garden has really heightened my awareness of ministry through just basic care of those around you.    It doesn’t help that our not-so-little son is growing peach fuzz over his top lip, or that the oldest has a chronic cough that seems to be aggravated by milk.   I keep remembering all the new data surrounding homogenized milk, early development, and mucous production—oh, my!    I still have a lot to learn and to do in this area, but life is affording me the opportunity to step back and look at how I manage the household in its totality, and then make the necessary adjustments to make it even more of a home. 

This isn’t solely about cooking; it is also about teaching our oldest the value of modesty as her sewing proficiencies take off and she wants to purchase her own patterns.   It is about talking to our children about our values, and about ministering to them regarding what the Lord expects of them. 

One of the challenges I have is that there are at least three distinctly different diets in our home, and without careful planning, meal preparation can soak up a huge part of my day.     So I’m trying to look at having a common food that we all can enjoy, and then build around it.   In most cases, this is a starchy food because no one complains.    Labor Day’s staple was homemade oven fries.   This picture is from allrecipes.com, since my cell phone shot didn’t do justice to my hard work. 

   

  

   

Our vegetarian son added vegetables to the fries and enjoyed them thoroughly; for the oldest, chicken nuggets complimented the fries.    The youngest, my hubby and I had burgers with the fries, and vegetables (different veggies than our son).    More importantly, Mom didn’t have to stay in the kitchen and make three distinct meals.    I felt so good about that until I tried it again tonight.   When everyone returned from the first night of dance, I started with bread—for sandwiches, that is.   The two older kids enjoyed pita pockets stuffed with pepperoni and cheese (vegetarian pepperoni for our son—HA HA!)    The youngest, the hubby and I enjoyed burgers left over from yesterday, and the most work I had to do was to chop fruit.    I could get used to this.   I’ve already thought through tomorrow’s staple—either corn or pasta.

 

As a mom and homeschooling parent, I…

am loving the year we’re having thus far.   As I’ve mentioned before, the oldest has her routine in semi-order (smile), so I am focusing on our son and the youngest.   I’ve made a point of having one field trip per month with her in mind.   We’re revisiting all of those standard homeschooling trips that every Texan takes, but our last stop through was when the youngest was in a carrier.   It’s hilarious to me that everyone in the house is excited about these “kiddy” trips, regardless of age; I guess the idea of getting out is appealing to all three kids, no matter where we go.    In the meantime, the youngest is getting more in touch with her imagination, and thankfully, her curriculum comes in with a fun project or two on occasion.    Here’s the result of a phonics lesson on how to follow directions.

 

  

 

Our son and I are having the discussions that I dreamed of when I put together their curriculum.   He began reading Treasure Island today, and launched into a conversation regarding the unique rhyme scheme of the poem.    He then discovered that the movie Treasure Planet is a takeoff of this classic, and he was curious regarding the comparison of the two.   Later, as our daughter read the Aeneid, he stuck close by to help us with the Roman equivalent of the various Greek gods (Juno is Hera, Neptune is Poseidon, etc.).   Wow.   I’m already thinking about how to modify the high school curriculum to adjust for books that he’s already heard because of his interests.

As I mentioned, the oldest and I are reading the Aeneid after enjoying “Julius Caesar” together.   The Aeneid’s language is much more simplistic than Homer’s works, and I am always thrilled when we are able to come at a period of history in more than one way.   So this evening, the oldest read from Antony and Cleopatra, and the youngest did her best to educate her sister on Egyptian mummification processes, which she notebooked and completed a science project on a month or so ago.   Earlier during the day, our son covered a brief history on Augustine, a North African bishop, and the oldest used this moment to talk about the city of Carthage, a city that was critical to the telling of both Augustine and Aeneus’ tale.     It’s one of those neat places in learning where everything you cover just seems to meld into everything else, and it’s the handiwork of the master curriculum planner—our God almighty.

As a business owner, I…

have unintentionally extended the summer sale by not doing maintenance on the site—YIKES!   Seriously, though, I was blessed to be a blessing, and it feels good to offer this sale price to a few customers who may have just found me.

I started on the high school curriculum and am at a bit of a quandary as to how to marry the ideas in my head into something that looks doable and meaningful on paper.  It will come.   In the meantime, I continue to work on a couple or three other writing projects that are not business-related, but I like to believe that when I am faithful to the work of the Lord and the inspiration of my husband, the Lord will honor me for it.

My Word count is now at 5 pages, with 2000+ words.  Geesh!!!!! This is probably 2-3 posts worth of rambling, but it’s out, and I can move forward.    May the Lord bless your week as well.

Yummy Monday: Easy Peach Cobbler

 

 

A couple of followers had asked me to send a recipe for a very easy cobbler recipe I bragged about some weeks ago on Twitter.   Even though I cook often, I’ve never been one to post recipes.   My family enjoys my cooking, and I’m able to give each person’s peculiarities a unique and flavorful twist, but I’m not one of those cooks that people run to and ask to make something.   I’m sure that’s partly because meeting everyone’s tastes means that anything might show up on our table–from tilapia to tofu to turkey.    However, this recipe is so simple and so delicious until it makes me look like an excellent cook, and since I promised to share it, I thought that adding it to Jenny’s Yummy Monday links would be a fun way to introduce it to Blogland.   

One of the reasons that I love this recipe so much is that it is originally made to be used with canned peaches, so you don’t have to wait until peaches are in season.   It is also versatile enough that you can use fresh fruit and still have a perfect cobbler with a simple substitution of fruit.    In my pictures, I use two pints of fresh blueberries, but I will type the recipe as it is originally written–for canned peaches.   Finally, the ingredients and size of the cassarole dish don’t make the largest of desserts–for the three of us who eat this dish, we have two medium-sized helpings (of course, that depends upon your portion sizes).    If your family is large, you’d have to double this recipe in order for all to enjoy without feeling cheated 🙂

Ingredients:

1 pkg. Pillsbury Ready-made Pie Crusts (there are two in this box)

1 large can (28 oz.) of sliced peaches, drained

1 medium can (15 oz.) of sliced peaches, drained

1/2 cup of squeeze margarine

1/2 cup of firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup of granulated white sugar

2 tsp. of apple pie spice

1 tsp. of nutmeg

pinch of salt

2 tsp. of lemon juice

2 heaping Tablespoons of flour

Heat oven to 375 degrees.   Follow directions on refrigerated pie crusts.    In mixing bowl, add drained peaches and coarsely chop into bite-sized pieces.    Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.   Here, I simply rinsed the blueberries, picked off any remaining stems, and dumped them in with the other ingredients.  

Spray an 8x8x2 glass dish with cooking spray.   Unroll 1 pie crust and place it in the bottom of the dish.   Pour in filling.

 

Put the other crust on top to cover filling.   Fold under the edges of crust that hang over the dish.   Slit steam holes in the crust and lightly brush the top of the crust with squeeze margarine.  (The recipe also says here, “Sprinkle the top of the crust with sugar,” but I never do).

 

 

 

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until top is brown and filling is bubbling.   Cool slightly and serve warm.

 

Enjoy, and God bless!

What I did this summer

Given that we’re starting school on next week, I suppose this is an appropriate title.   During the week that I wrote my last post, there was also Vacation Bible School (VBS).   

 

This picture doesn’t fully capture the work that was put into transforming our church gymnasium into a high seas adventure—ocean-like wallpaper and all.   The backdrop to the kids’ final performance is a pirate’s ship.    This was a tremendous effort on all parts; this year, we had 60+ volunteers and approximately 200 kids!

The day after VBS ended was our littlest one’s 7th birthday.   It was a quiet, intimate celebration with our immediate family as I had work-related meetings that day, and I think the kids were happy to relax for a change.  We’ve had so many events this summer until I’ve intentionally tried to pare down the daily running around.   With that in mind, going somewhere, even to church, every day, can be draining for the kids, and especially for me.   

 

We’ve also cooked up a storm, or at least, I’ve taken more photos of my cooking.    Here’s my seafood kabobs (shrimp, scallops, peppers, red onion, and mushrooms),

 

 

my four-bean enchiladas,

 

 

and my vegetarian chili with tofu and beans.

 

 

 

I am trying to consider our growing son’s dietary needs as a forethought and not an afterthought, so I’m deliberately incorporating more vegetarian dishes into our regular diet.    He shot up 6 inches and counting in the last 10 months.   Yesterday, I cooked a 13-bean soup, and I’ll experiment for the first time with grilled tofu later this week.   Uh, oh!

What I’ve done this week is finalize the plans for the school year beginning next week, and come to the revelation that there will never be enough hours to fit in every book and make use of all the neat tools that are now available to us.    In fact, Internet Café Devotions contained a wonderful devotion entitled “MommIdentity” on yesterday, and I could readily identify with who I am.   I also recognized the tendency to always look at who others are and what they do well rather than realizing that each of us has places of brilliance amidst an otherwise perhaps hum-drum home education model.    This was the crux of my conversation with Karen on last night—the darker side of homeschooling, where comparisons between children can leave us feeling defeated, inadequate, and insecure.    I appreciated the chance to pray with her as she makes decisions about home education in the midst of a fight with breast cancer; it is amazing how the Lord can speak into you when you think you are speaking into others.

In all this activity, I have yet to do something that is totally self-indulgent, and for right or wrong, I want that time.   My plan is to blow the dust off my scrapbooking tools, and to finally put together the kids’ dance photos of more than 1 year ago.   I might have a window this weekend while our youngest spends the night with her grandparents and 5-yr old cousin.    The house should be quieter 🙂 and I’ll have a day to get pages completed.   That is, unless we have to drive to pick up a new hound dog.    I’ll pick up on that story the next time.   God bless.