Sunday, January 30, 2011

88 cents, actually 82 cents!

At the start of our $50 grocery challenge, I never anticipated God would leave many touchstones for me this early. Our decision to attend Financial Peace University isn't a mistake.

Since my birthday was last week (Thursday), admittedly I was worried that the day would fall flat. I mean we only had $12 left for food and that was Tuesday, how could MY birthday be properly celebrated?

As I mentioned previously, we are now using the "b" word regularly. Not the foul word bantered about without a care. And we are also using the "f" word. Not the offensive word that used to flow from my lips prior to knowing Christ. These new words are "budget" and "finances." I wouldn't say they are rolling off my tongue but they are slowly becoming part of our family lexicon.

We went to Trader Joe's night after Ike's basketball game. The team experienced a win against a formidable opponent. My orange hair, freckle face OS scored FIVE points and upon making one sah-weet basket, Ike looked my way and through his bright orange mouth guard, gave me the biggest grin. Melted my heart as I jumped from my seat.

As you get older, you worry less about how you look and you just go for it! 

With $12 remaining in last week's $50 challenge, I chided the Hubs. We must stay on task even if it was the most notable day on the family calendar. Nervously we approached the check-out line at Trader Joe's. A cart was barely necessary for our meager groceries. I pulled $10 out of my homemade tomato wallet (which I recently made and love!) and listened as the cashier announced the total.

We had 88 cents remaining on our food budget! Cha-ching! Resentment because we didn't buy everything I would have liked was replaced with joy. I did not feel destitute, why I even recall spontaneous moments of smiling!

Tomato wallet in action
I do not want this to be some quixotic, fleeting adventure. I want our family to change and for God to be pleased with our efforts.

With the items purchased and the food we already had at home, the Hubs made a tasty dinner of rice, roasted asparagus and shrimp with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and Trader Joe limes. Yum.

Birthday dinner = wonderful!
This is the right thing for us to do. The time is right.

And just like those commercials for Ginzu knives, let me end with "but wait, there's more!" In my next post, I will share the rest of this ridiculously memorable day! 

Oh and thank you so much for your ideas about eating healthy on a budget and couponing. I'm listening, give me more, people!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Grocery Challenge

On average, our family spends over $1100 a month on groceries. I learned this last week upon beginning Financial Peace Univeristy. Throughout our nearly 24 year marriage, I have made it a point to stay mostly ignorant on all things related to money. "Blah, blah, blah, blah..." is the script which ran through my head whenever the Hubs would want to have "the talk." 

But now, for some reason, the Lord is giving me courage to open my eyes and share the responsibility with the Hubs. I feel both empowered by knowing our finances and encumbered because I now need to seriously participate in the process. We are not in financial straits at all yet the time seems right. 

We discussed our food budget. Aside from our mortage, it is the place where we spend the most. Although we narrowly averted a verbal altercation about lettuce right after attending church (!), we had a pleasant conversation about finances that night. My spirit was  challenged to consider ways we could cut back. 

I like to cook, it is my gift to my family. Cooking for others, entertaining, making new recipes; all these things are my passion. Coupons don't work because we eat mostly fresh food or unprocessed items. I just see junky food in coupons. (Enlighten me if you feel otherwise!) For me, a cupboard full of food means stability. Bringing home groceries feels like I'm carting in Christmas presents for all to enjoy.

Yet as we were driving home from this week's FPU lesson, I said something unexpected to the Hubs. When he told me that we had already spent $1100 on groceries this month, I blurted out the most preposterous thing.

"Let's spend only $50 this week."

HUH? I couldn't take it back. The Hubs heard me and albeit he was shocked to hear those words coming out of MY mouth, he agreed. Here is a dramatic re-enactment of his facial expression. 

My husband. My muse. 
We announced the budget cut to the OS and a look of panic swept over their faces. Fear of starvation and famine, eating gruel and mush filled their adolescent minds and appetites.

So here we sit on Wednesday. According to my records, we only have $12 left until Sunday. 

For some time now, God has reminded me of this verse...

It's Wednesday and everyone has a belly full of food. No one has gone hungry. Nutrition is plentiful. We even have shrimp in the freezer! Strangely, I feel a measure of peace. I have already prepared another meal for a family who has a wife battling breast cancer. I am in charge of snacks for my orange hair, freckle face OS's basketball team tomorrow. I brought food to share during my women's Bible Study. 

My daily longing for purchasing a large, unsweet iced tea is being satisfied at home with Trader Joe's Mango Tea. The warm smell of turkey tacos, Guatemalan rice and seasoned tortilla chips permeates the house at this very moment. 

"Be content with what you have."

I have spoken to the Lord and questioned Him about the timing though. "Um, Lord, I'm not sure if you realize this but it's MY BIRTHDAY tomorrow (Thursday)! We only have 12 bucks, what are we going to do about that, hmmmmmm?" 

"Be content with what you have."

I have requested homemade angel food cake (Ike's specialty) for tomorrow. I'd love some fresh blackberries and homemade whipping cream if we can squeak the remaining $12 out to do so. I'm not sure what is on the menu for tomorrow's birthday meal but as I assess my possessions, both earthly and those set on things above...

a sewing machine :)
a loving family
the blessings of treasured friends
stable finances and 
an enduring faith in the Lord,
and so much more

This will be my desire

to be content with all that I have

my bountiful life

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cooking in a Restaurant

a pupuseria in El Salvador, doesn't that look pretty? 
It was Saturday afternoon and Nate and I were on a mission. Much like the special training missions he goes on at West Point, my OS and I were focused and ready, steely-eyed and single-minded. Our task was significant. Nothing was going to stop us.

Our task - to procure ingredients and learn how to make a traditional Central American dish worthy of the fine country from which it hails. (Proclaimed in a loud, official voice with great gesticulation) A country whose name is on our lips more than I ever expected. A country I visited on a true mission trip from the Lord and while there serendipitously met a beautiful girl with whom my OS is now in love. The girl is Lu. The country is El Salvador, the dish, mi amigos...(cue dramatic music)

a pupusa
a real pupuseria in El Salvador

the adorable couple in El Salvador during Christmas

Nate had announced his desire to make pupusas for the family prior to arriving home for a brief visit. With two trips to San Salvador under his belt, he has embraced both his girlfriend and these thick, hand-made tortillas with gusto. A few months ago, Aaron and I happened upon a local Mexican restaurant that makes pupusas. A coincidence? I think not. Aaron was getting his driver's permit and this restaurant is literally next door to the DMV! How convenient that it is only ten minutes from our house!

So my Soldier/OS and I drove to Tarascos Restaurant and went inside. 
Good salsa, great pupusas, lovely people!

Without hesitation, we each ordered a pupusa. A casual conversation began between us and the employees. Nate practiced his Spanish per my prodding. I think it's so important to speak another language! As a French major, I actually understood some of the conversation. These people were warm and friendly especially when Nate explained that his girlfriend was Salvadoran. It appeared that they weren't used to Americanos coming in and ordering pupusas.

Nate making his first pupusa

We inquired about how to make the perfect pupusa and before we knew it, the cook had invited us back to the kitchen. We had personalized instruction from Lillia who showed us how to make pupusas! Honored that she was taking the time to demonstrate the technique, Lillia invited Nate to try to make a pupusa himself. Pupusas aren't hard to make at all but seeing her skilled hand prepare them was invaluable.
I predict that one day this guy's gonna open up his own
pupuseria in the States! 

My little cutie-patooty and his pupusas!
So how did OUR pupusas taste? Aaron and Ike were rather unimpressed. Nate felt as if he was tasting play-dough. I didn't think they were that bad. They were definitely better than the pupusas the Hubs tried to make a few weeks ago. Can you say "blech!" 

We did everything according to her instructions. I was a keen observer and despite the lack of flavor when we tried to make pupusas at home, we need to not give up. There wasn't a secret ingredient mixed into the corn flour but maybe it was the seasoned griddle Lillia used, I'm still trying to figure it out.  I'm not giving up on mastering this dish though, I assure you! I just finished the book The Art of Eating In and feel more compelled than ever to master tasty, interesting, economical meals for my family. 

We are praying that one day, Lord willing, Lu and her family will come here for a very special cooking demonstration.  

Even though our pupusas weren't as good as the ones in El Salvador and at Tarasco's, we remain blessed and optimistic about the future of cooking and of love. When the world feels so close and people get along, it is cause to rejoice!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ring, ring!

If the cliche wasn't so true, I wouldn't use it but where has the time gone? Nate is now ring shopping!

Nate and Lu in El Salvador
If your heart skipped a beat, and you're like "Wha?????"settle down there! If you imagined our OS searching for a shiny bauble for a Salvadorena beauty, I'm sorry to disappoint you. We're not there yet.
Nate is ring shopping for himself and deciding about the type of ring he wants as a 2012 graduate of the United States Military Academy.

During an impromptu visit home (which aside from Ike's flu, made it the best MLK weekend I've ever had!) Nate showed us the brochure featuring his ring options. What a huge accomplishment for our OS to be on the other side of the 48 month experience known as West Point. I sat beside him on Sunday pondering that the eager, determined teenager who entered West Point on that most notable day is now a competent, strong leader and man.
R-Day - June 2008, my boy walked by us in the parade and oh how I wanted to run and grab him take him away from all these people yelling!  Nate had made his mind up, he was going to West Point and I couldn't stand in the way. 
I like this figurative place as a WP mom.  You see, I'm strategically positioned to be content about all that he has done while not giving too much worry to what he's going to do AFTER graduation. I can celebrate the cool stuff like my OS getting a ring and block out the "other things" like when and where he will be deployed. Not.going.there.

Let's just concentrate on jewelry, shall we?
What makes a West Point ring especially significant is the symbolism literally melted in the ring. Following the death of a West Point grad, some families, upon the bequest of the departed grad or simply to pass on tradition, donate the ring back to West Point. It's called the Ring Memorial Program. The ring is then melted and the shavings are used to help create a new ring. When West Point grads receives their ring, they have a part of the men and women of the Long Gray Line with them.
Another impressive point about a West Point ring is that each class has a slogan. During Beast, the new cadets, not yet lowly plebes of the class of 2012, all selected a class slogan and a drawing which best represented their collective spirit. This is the slogan for the class of 2012. When we heard about the slogan they picked, knowing Nate, it sounded so fitting for our OS. We just loved it.

The design of the 2012 crest features two swords symbolizing the graduates going from a cadet to an officer. I will stuff my purse with Kleenex as I see this ring on my boy's finger. Partially because it will be no small feat to get a ring over his  gi-normous knuckle and also because I will be bursting with pride.

March back from Buckner where Beast was held - a momentous event!
Next year, the Hubs and I will attend the Ring Weekend. Nate will be on the receiving end of Ring Poop which thankfully has nothing to do with #2! I will buy an expensive new dress and possibly several new outfits for the event. The Hubs and I are attending Financial Peace University so I guess I'll need to start saving up right now because this girl is gonna bring it! ;)

I won't be wearing anything like this.

Personally I like matching shoes
But perhaps something like this? Hmmm...

This might be a little over the top but then again, maybe not!
As the mama of three sons, it's rare for me to talk bling in this household so I'm going to cherish this moment and not hurry to the next!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Bible in the kitchen

I awoke one morning recently and found, for the SECOND DAY STRAIGHT!!!!,  that my OS had failed to empty the dishwasher. To put it mildly, I very much dislike emptying the dishwasher. I'll clean a bathroom, scrub a toilet, even mop a floor but DON'T and I repeat DON'T go to school and leave me a dishwasher full of clean kitchenware. Consider yourself warned.

I didn't go berserk because I didn't have time. And that's because of the next thing I saw in the kitchen. 

Check it out. 

I observed a Bible and a pair of glasses on the kitchen table both belonging to my middle OS. Let me tell you, it is really hard to stay angry about a full dishwasher when you behold this sight.

Aaron has a faithful morning ritual. At 16 years old, he wakes himself up early, brews a cup of French press coffee and reads Scripture. Specifically he awakes at 5:45 every school day and reads two chapters from the Old Testament and two chapters from the New Testament. Donned in a homemade robe I made him years ago, sipping java, Aaron and the Lord spend time together. 

When I was his age, I didn't even own a Bible. I had a book of prayers used in the religion we half-heartedly practiced. But as a teenager, I would never had considered owning, let alone reading the Bible. It would have felt "too holy" which I know sounds completely stupid but I'm being honest. Vaguely I recall that my mom had a Bible which she kept under the bed. My dad would have teased her if he found her reading it. When he died, my mom got the Bible out from under the bed and we searched for some Bible verses to use in his funeral. 

At last count, we own at least 22 Bibles. Many of them have a sweet story about how one of us acquired a particular Bible. 
A Soldier's Bible was given to Nate during Beast

For example, during Beast, Nate got a small, pocket-size Soldier's Bible which helped him survive those dreadful days. 

Lu, Nate's gf, gave him a Spanish Bible during his first trip to El Salvador. 
Lu and Nate in El Salvador
The Hubs offered one of his many Bibles to an owner of a local coffee house who said he didn't own one. 

When my father-in-law moved locally, he blessed us with this Bible heirloom.

I love that we don't just possess The Word. We claim it as truth. We read it, talk about it, study it. 

Things have changed in our family, the family the Hubs and I have created and our extended family too. There is no longer any shame in reading The Word. There is no awkward hush if you mention something you learned during a Bible Study. There isn't a judgmental whisper because you believe every word to be true.

Here's Ike holding one of his Bibles

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

As much I want Aaron to faithfully do his morning chores, I think he has successfully mastered a much more noble task. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Morning Glory

If you gave up on me, I don't blame you. I nearly gave up too. The long lapse in posts is because I had to prioritize things in my life and finding time to write was nearly impossible. I'm going to limit this post just so I can make sure I publish it. Thanks for coming back and encouraging me!

A brief summary, life is good. The burning question is what's going on with the "romance"? Answer: as indicated in the picture, Nate's still in love and Lu's still very fond of him.  I'll blog more about this as I get those posts "approved."

Two people who like each other...a lot

But Thursday morning, I awoke to the sweet bristle of whiskers on my face. Wearing my customary and oh so attractive sleep eye mask and two, yes two bite guards, Sleeping Beauty would have been jealous. With all my nocturnal regalia, I wasn't sure who was giving me affection but I liked it. Then I heard these words, "Sorry, Mama for talking rudely to you last night. It was disrespectful and I shouldn't have done it. Will you please forgive me?" Of course, I knew exactly whom it was and my heart smiled as I accepted his apology.
Please don't be jealous

You see, on Wednesday evening, my orange-haired, freckle face 14 year old OS had committed several "transgressions" just before going to bed. Why does it happen that one minute everything is going swimmingly then it careens into the abyss? With very little warning, our family is prone to go from peace to war in record time! 

One of our family's fave books of all time
Ike went to bed still angry and completely certain HE was right as usual. William Steig's adorable book Spinky Sulks is hilarious and pretty much a biography of my boy! This stubborn recalcitrance is not the way we prefer for our OS to enter Dreamland but Ike wasn't going to budge. I believe the technical words for this condition are SIN and PRIDE! Definitely from the Hubs' side of the family. The Hubs still tucked him into bed that night and though I shall never grow tired to hearing the cadence of "good nights and I love you's" nary a peep echoed from his bedroom. I'm certain he bitterly muttered to himself, "Just remember THEY are wrong. YOU are right!" over and over again.

It is mere coincidence that I am holding something with Attitude. I never have an Attitude! Hrmph!

In addition, our oldest OS called from West Point shortly afterward informing us that he was heading to the hospital. The unpleasant and quite gross remnants of his Christmas trip to El Salvador were lingering FARRRRR too long. Thus our night ended with a resounding thud.
But I knew something or rather Someone would speak to Isaac in a way I could not. In the quiet of his room, a still, small voice, one pure and 100% reliable, would nudge my orange-haired, freckle face OS to make it right with those he loved. Ike wanted nothing to do with my reasons why an apology was warranted but I was certain Ike would never win a round arguing with the Lord.  

I also knew the same Source who would chasten Isaac would also be with my oldest OS at the hospital in New York. I prayed with Nate before he left for the hospital, I can't even imagine how a mom, let alone the mama of a Soldier does this whole mothering thing without Jesus. Seriously. 

When situations are such that a mama can't be with her children in difficult times, it is comforting to know that God is perfectly equipped to be there. I need to remember this as my OS navigate life...Nate will one day be serving his country elsewhere probably far away, Aaron has a heart for ministry and graduates high school next year, Ike eagerly talks about adopting children one day AND being in the NBA.
Despite our family's imperfections (and they are numerous!) and our ugliness (simply envision me with the sleeping mask and two, yes two mouth guards!), God cared, healed and repaired. Amen

Thanks for listening! Would love your comments