Friday, January 30, 2009

Taco Soup

I'm in the process of concocting taco soup while I type. It's not hard. It's actually super, super easy. Easier than tacos themselves if such a thing were possible. Here's the scoop.

How I Do It:
1. Rinse around 1.5 to 2 cups of dried beans in a colander.
2. Dump the beans in the crock pot, salt them (like 1.5 tsp.), and cover them by an inch or so in water.
3. Cook them on low if you need them to take a while or high if you're in a hurry. It makes almost no difference.
4. Check periodically to make sure the water isn't all absorbed. If it is, add more.
5. Once the beans are done, add these things--
a. A pound of browned ground beef
b. A couple cans of diced tomatoes, undrained
c. A can of Rotel tomatoes or tomatoes with chilies, undrained (if I've got this)
d. 2 cans of undrained corn
e. A pack of taco seasoning
6. Stir it all together, and cook it for like 4 hours on high or all day on low. I mean, you guys know crock pots. No one sets a timer.
7. Serve with grated cheese on top and tortilla chips on the side. I personally use my spoon only for directing the soup to the chip.

"Suggestions" The Original Recipe Calls For That I Ignore:
1. They say to use 2 cans of kidney beans and 2 cans of pinto beans in lieu of cooking your own beans.
2. They say to add a pack of ranch dressing mix. I had bought a pack before I made this the first time, but once I started putting things together, I noticed the pack was open or something, so I did without, and we liked it. So I've decided not to mess with a good thing. I don't like ranch dressing anyway, so I'm just as happy.

There you have it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Well, maybe he's not ready yet.

I didn't marry my husband for his vast theological library. I really didn't. But I do love reading. I get really absorbed in whatever I'm reading. That statement is true almost without exception. I've been known to get fascinated with the back of a cereal box if it's got a catchy introduction. I plow through books, determined to get to the end, wrap it up in my mind, and move on to the next one.

Enter Baby. Enough said.

So, now I've got a new favorite thing. My MP3 player. I gave up trying to get a good picture of it, but you all know what one looks like. I load stuff on there, hook it up to these cheap speakers we bought at Ross, put the whole get-up on top of the fridge, and I've got a home audio system that fills the entire kitchen with the sound of educational literature . . . if the dishwasher isn't making too much noise.

I've listened to sermon series my pastor preached before I began attending. (His sermons are available here, by the way.) I've listened to some seminary courses available for free download at various evangelical schools. And I've gotten several things from What a great idea. Someday, when I'm not planning my day's activities around naps, I'm going to volunteer for this organization. These people volunteer to record public-domain books and upload them to this site. So people like me can pick what we'd like to "read" and hear it broadcast on our refrigerators.

It's a great set-up. I used to think it would somehow have an educational effect on my 17-month-old, but those delusions were shot down yesterday. I was multitasking in the kitchen--figuring out how to cut up a chicken while getting caught up on the Battle of Sedgemoor from The History of England from the Accession of James II. Wouldn't it be great, thought I, if British history becomes a passion for this little guy as a result of hearing this entire multi-volume work read by dedicated Libravox volunteers? Then reality struck, as I looked up to see whether he was taking notes, and discovered, to my dismay, the following sight.

Ah well. Maybe we'll try something more on his age level next. I wonder if Libravox does Dr. Seuss.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Poverty

Throughout history, let's face it, every period has had its "haves" and its "have nots." Sometimes some "haves" let the "have nots" have it. I'm not saying that being a "have" makes a person rude, cruel, arrogant, elitist, or whatever scathing epithets economic philosophers have hurled at them for generations. But if a rude, arrogant, cruel elitist happened to be a "have" in most historical epochs, woe be to the "have nots" under his control. Scorn and ridicule toward the "have nots" peppered the conversation of the "haves" if they discussed them at all.

Well, times have changed. They have improved for the most part. If you live in this country, you're a "have." No questions asked. But if you isolate the US, you'll find "haves" and "have nots" here to.

Where am I going with this? Here's my thesis: Frugal "have nots" must take care not to think and behave with the snobbishness so detested in the worst of the "haves."

Huh? Okay, here's the background. Yesterday, my husband comes home from his job holding a printout of his W-2. It's tax time, and it turns out that the government isn't going to keep any of the money they had withheld from his paycheck throughout the year. That must mean we fall below some line they've set.

I started thinking that this isn't exactly what I think of when I picture poverty. Granted, we don't have cable, but we've got high speed internet, 2 vehicles, a house, a kid, a stay-at-home mom, 7 bags of Hersheys Bliss in the cabinet, and a box of this expensive Barbour Foods frozen chicken Parmesan in the freezer.

How do I respond to this? I experienced a moment of gratitude for all the Lord has blessed us with. We don't feel impoverished by any means. And I realized that part of what He has used to make our income accomplish so much is the generosity of our wonderful family.

But then, I lapsed into snobbishness. I began thinking of the calls that are broadcast on the Dave Ramsey radio show. "Hi, I only make $4,000 a month, and my wife brings in like $2,500, and we'd love for her to stay home with the baby that's on the way, but I don't know if we can make it happen." I feel like calling myself and saying, "Let me introduce you to a coupon." But that's kind of sarcastic, isn't it?

I've spent some time on money-saving blogs, and one thing that kind of nebulously made me uncomfortable in the comments and occasionally the posts I finally put my finger on. The "have nots" can sometimes look with condescending haughtiness on the "haves" who don't carefully save and economize. "Look how much stuff I have on such a small income!" And the inference is, "What's your problem?"

The bottom line is we don't know other people's situations. We do better to thank God for His faithfulness in providing our needs. And should He choose to send prosperity above and beyond what we can use ourselves, let's look for ways to share with "have less-es" in our lives . . . or maybe even with "haves mores" who may just need some kindness rather than condescension.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Publix Keeps Me Coming Back for More. . . Cookies

Deborah suggested I join the Publix cookie club. Well, I'm not technically in the club, I guess. That would be Paul. Believe me, he's the one who eats the cookies. But having him in the club makes Publix a happier place for me. If your little Cookie Monster is not in the club, initiation is easy. Just pull a hungry little kid up (in a vroom-vroom cart if you can find one) to the bakery and ask for a cookie card. They'll dole out a cookie and punch the card. Once the card is all punched, you can enter it in a drawing for a big cookie. So your little one munches while you shop. Or at least until you get out of the produce section.

After we picked up our, that is his, cookie, we found the following groceries:
3 toaster strudels
1 Coffee Mate creamer
a pack of .59 a pound chicken legs
2 cans of Rotel tomatoes
2 boxes of Keebler cookies or "Teetees! Teetees!" (this is where the cookie club loot came in especially handy)
and the penny item was a big roll of paper towels

All for the low, low price of $7.89.
Which, they tell me, is a savings of $17.15. That would mean that I "saved" 69% by getting sale stuff and using coupons. And if I had to recommend one thing, I would say to get the tomatoes. They work great for taco soup, and you make money if you use the coupon from the Advantage flier in conjuction with the .30/1 manufacturer coupon from last week's (I think) insert.

That's my super savings. I've never been so attached to a grocery store. I love this place.

Oh. You want to know how to make taco soup? Okay, we'll see what we can do. Stay tuned.

Routine Take 2

Now, about the green marker. As you can see, "Write a blog post" has not been markered lately. But for those of you still hanging in, here's the promised Green Marker System detailed for your edification.

I have this small white board with magnets stuck to my fridge. On top of the fridge (among other things, ahee) is a green dry erase marker we got when Office either Depot or Max was offering a full rebate on a pack of dry erase markers. The others are still in a drawer. For some reason we started with green.

So anyhow, here's the innovative plan. I take a couple of minutes at the beginning of the day listing on the white board the stuff I want to do that day. The official rule is "You have to finish it that day if it's on the board." The real rule is "You may not erase it until it's done, even it takes all week to get to it." Either way, the stuff usually gets done, because who wants a green testimony to her procrastination staring her in the face every time she goes to get the milk?

That's what I do. And I find that just having a basic idea of where I'd like the house and life in general to be at the end of the day contributes significantly to accomplishing more and staying on task. And erasing stuff is way fun.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Can't live with it; can't live without it. When I coast, I long for it; when I'm in a rut, I seek to cast it off. It's what we strive for until we actually attain it. How many more pithy cliches can I use?

I got to thinking about my routine when I read this post yesterday. [Side note] I know people don't mean it this way, but when someone says, "I'm a little unconventional," I hear, "I'm more innovative than you." So, I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say that no one will write a book about the way I structure my days. It's probably very conventional, actually. It's just that no one talks about it because it's not the way in which organized people recommend the rest of us live.

So, maybe you're the "Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday" type. I thought I was until I became a stay-at-homer. Then it's like, "But I washed last Monday. . . and Thursday and Saturday. There's not enough to wash today. But I never did iron on Tuesday. But the baby will pull the cord and kill himself by dragging a heavy piece of searing hot metal on his head. I have to wait until he's asleep. I've been here all day. Can't we get out of the house and take a walk or something? I feel like the little guy is all trapped. Besides, there's that stuff at CVS that would be free after extra bucks. My day would go so much smoother if I had a routine. But if I had a routine, stuff would be monotonous." I sound like Charlie Brown.

So, the best routine for me is more like this:
Get up
Have a time in the Word while drinking a hot beverage
Take a shower
Prepare breakfast/pack a lunch
Do anything that requires Paul be asleep
Get Paul up, changed, dressed
Feed him breakfast
Go from there

Now, it's the "go from there" that's flexible. That's where the green marker (free after rebate) comes in. But I've got to have material for later, so that's when we'll explain the green marker system of organization.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stepping Heavenward

I have just finished reading the biography of Elizabeth Prentiss, author of the hymn, "More Love to Thee." It is a well written book by Sharon James that gives an honest account of the life of this godly woman. It praises her duly while providing helpful analysis of her writings as well as some of her viewpoints.

Elizabeth Prentiss sought in her life to grow in her love for her Savior as her most famous hymn describes. A friend of hers wrote of her:
Believing in Christ was to her not so much a duty as the deepest joy of her life, heightening all other joys, and she was not satisfied until her friends shared with her in this experience. She believed it to be attainable by all, founded on a complete submitting of the human to the Divine will in all things, great and small (Elizabeth Prentiss, 'More Love to Thee', by Sharon James pp. 208-9).
I would definitely commend the biography to you, but if you are limited to one Prentiss book, I would suggest her own work, Stepping Heavenward. I have read this book three times through, and each time I found more to identify with. Though it is written and set in the 19th century, the emotions and reactions displayed and experienced by the heroine are so characteristic of the way women think, that I believe any Christian woman would benefit from the godly, practical wisdom in it.

If reading more good literature was a resolution for 2009, I would like to try to convince you to add Prentiss's Stepping Heavenward to your list.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Conserving the Necessary

"Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching . . . has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" Luke 10:39, 42.

One of the things we are eager to conserve is time. This was a topic for our retreat. But what do we do with all that time we save? What gets left out? Too often, we concluded, the one necessary thing is neglected. Sitting at Jesus's feet is either cut short, hurried through, or skipped altogether.

Why does this happen? We discussed a number of motivations that drive our decisions. Ultimately, people do what is important to them. Claiming to value doing something is empty unless the thing is done. These heart issues must be confronted and corrected if the one needful thing is to be done in our day.

Practically, though, why do we fail to spend time in communion with our God every day? A very simple, obvious, but talked-around reason is that we don't get up early enough in the morning to do all that must be done. No one at work will ask my husband, "So, did you pray this morning?" But if he's not wearing a tie or his hair isn't combed, people will know. There are days that, quite frankly, no one would know the difference if I stayed in my PJs until I went to bed again, but there are pressing things to be done, and I've got to make the most of this time of sleeping crib confinement.

So, readership. I'll let you in on our decision. We've decided to try out for membership in the 5:15 club. We made it up (Well, actually, we just renamed it; the idea is heavily plagiarized from this blog.), so you wouldn't think it would be hard to gain charter membership. Well, it is. You can't be a member unless you actually get up at 5:15. We're still auditioning.

The encouraging news is that 1) though it's a little sporadic, we've not slipped backward every day, 2) though we've not yet hit the 5:15 mark, we've been able to have a time in the Word and in prayer in the mornings (but we'd like to do some more other stuff too).

It seems like everyone agrees--the first few hours of the day are the most strategic. They contain the best time for personal devotion as well as some key crib time. By God's grace we plan to keep striving to reclaim some more early morning hours for profitable use.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Morning Marathon

All right, so it wasn't really that long of a thing, but I did go to four stores in a row. Okay, fine. I just wanted all the words to start with "m." Once I had "My Morning" up there, it would have been disappointing to say something like, "My Morning of Shopping at Four Stores."

But, you'd like me to get on with it?

First we went to Walgreens. All we did there was buy a paper. Perhaps I'll tell you about the paper delivery woes later if I think it's interesting enough. I'd hate to bore you. Paul was fine. He didn't even need a cart.

Next we went to Publix. That was also fun since they had a "vroom, vroom" cart available. Those deals are here, and Publix is cool.

Then we hit Aldi. All these places are like 3 feet from each other, by the way. (Okay. I hope you noticed the exaggeration. But they are really close together and close to my house. I could actually walk to all of them, but the frozen stuff would melt on the way home.) Aldi was still Aldi. Same guy who reminds me of this guy I know from California rang me up. He's my favorite cashier, I think, because, like James in California, he really knows his stuff. He exudes confidence in his realm--which in his case is groceries, inventory, and cash registers. Someone asks him a "backroom" question every single time I see him there, and he fires off the answer the way my mother-in-law would rattle off the Tarheels' starting line-up. Unlike James, he probably doesn't make like half a million dollars a year. I guess that's the difference in being an expert in groceries versus computer programming. But I really like the guy. I'd pick his line even if it's got the most people. At Aldi, it really doesn't matter how long the line is. By the time you get your stuff on the conveyor belt, you're racing to shove your cart next to the card keypad so the ringer-upper might be talked into putting the groceries in your cart instead of the one in front of you so you don't have to transfer your toddler in order to haul stuff to your car. But I digress. By the way, the other ringer-uppers are very nice too. I wouldn't want to give the wrong impression. I just feel like I know "James." But I still digress.

Bi-Lo was the last stop. They advertised ground beef for $1.99 a pound. We haven't had ground beef in the house for weeks because I was waiting for a sale, so I decided I really owed it to my husband to make spaghetti this week. "I'll get one pound." I told myself. "I'm sure it will go on a better sale later." But after seeing that Publix and Aldi were both a whole dollar more, I started to look forward to getting "just one pound." Well, duh. They don't sell one pound of meat for $1.99. The one-pounds were $2.49. You had to get like five-ish all packaged together to get the $1.99 price. But I was well under what I was planning to spend for the week, and ground beef was all I had come to Bi-Lo for, so I got it. And boy was I glad. Paul had been good in all the stores, and when we checked out at this last one, the Bi-Lo lady gave him four stickers and a balloon. I was ever-so-grateful. Paul loves stickers and balloons.
Bi-Lo: $8.97
Paul's refusal to let go of the balloon string in the van: Priceless.

Grocery Total for the (hopefully) week (that is to say, not counting the newspaper, which was on the gift card anyway): $33.19

I'm nowhere near Keren's mad skills, but I'll content myself with the knowledge that I did not forget the coffee filters at Aldi.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Publix has outdone itself.

So we all know I like Publix. I go on Mondays because I like surprises. I get it from my mom. So, I waited for Monday to get my Barber Foods chicken, 2 boxes of Special K, and 2 Pepperidge Farm Texas Toasts.

Now, to be fair, I never would have paid regular price for any of that. I would have probably suppressed a chuckle if I saw someone actually plunk down five bucks for one of those boxes of TWO tiny stuffed chicken breasts. But they are really good, and for $1.50, I'll spring. So, when I say I saved whatever, I didn't really. Okay? Let's just be honest. Take the cereal, for example. I didn't save $2.99. I would eat Cream of Wheat every day before I'd pay four bucks for a box of cereal. I saved like 89 cents. If Special K hadn't been a dollar a box at Publix, I would have gotten Happy Harvest or Special Sunshine or whatever Aldi calls their cereal. But savings are much higher if you take the receipt's word for it, so I'll tell you what it said.

Reguar Price for my stuff: $27.29
My Price for my stuff: $5.67
Savings! 79%

But when I say they outdid themselves, I mean this. I ask the clerk, "Do you have the penny item here, or should I go to customer service?" She's got it there. What does she grab? A box a hot chocolate packs. I think, "Oh cool. This is way better than Saltines. . ." But I don't get to finish my thought before she grabs another box of hot chocolate packs. Let me get this straight. I just lowered my bill by $6 in manufacturer coupons, and you are selling me hot chocolate for half a cent a box? You are so nice! Like I said, I love surprises. The penny deal will keep me coming.

That's my Publix super savings.

His Record for Mine

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We had our usual singing and prayer and giving. The first song was "No Other Plea" translated into Spanish. A re-translation is:
My faith rests in Jesus and in His redemption.
Believing only in Him, I have salvation.
I need not do any work, nor observe any rite.
It is enough for me that Jesus died--died in my place.

It may have been that song, but the Lord used something in that service to stir my husband's heart. Before the message, I was blessed by the testimony of our friend. He has left for his country by now--that was his last Sunday. He was baptized last night and left immediately after. This man heard last week of the death of his sister and his nephew. His mother is critically injured, and he must go to be with her. His first words of testimony were, "I want to thank the Lord for what is happening in my life."

Then the sermon. Jon approached the front with usual seriousness. Then he said, "I'm struggling in my heart. I have prepared a sermon, but the Lord has brought to my mind this verse, and I can't ignore the fact that God wants me to urge you to consider the seriousness of what we've been talking about this morning. Please turn to 2 Corinthians 5:21."

I began praying. It's an unusual thing (rightly so) for someone to do in his native language. But Jon had never before preached in Spanish without a manuscript. He was now about to preach without an outline. But I knew he knew and loved this verse well, and I had heard him eloquently urge Spanish-speakers to accept the Gospel. This verse is Gospel. Good news for any sinner. Still. I prayed, and I knew he was praying, and God answered.

Picture a record stained and dirty, full of infractions of God's law. That's all you've got to present to a righteous Judge. It will never work. Nothing that filthy will be accepted. God demands better than that. All right. How about a record that looks fine? A smudge here or there, but it is covered in good things too? What is that going to look like to God? Actually, it's not up for debate. The answer is "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10). The answer is, they look the same. You can't hold it up to God and say, "This is what I've got," and expect an entrance. It's got to be perfect.

So without Christ, we need to stop there. We really do. We need to stop there for a minute and think about the utter despair we should feel on our own.

Now the Scripture. There is Someone with a perfect record. But He was already in heaven. He didn't need an entrance. He never knew sin. But He left. And He lived. And He died. And He never knew sin. And for those moments on the cross when the Father abandoned Him, my record was right there. On Him. Being dealt the full weight of God's wrath. He never knew sin, but He was made to be sin right then. He was made to be my sin. He had my record right then. And He paid for it in full.

So what happens to me? I do know sin. I know it every day. Before Christ, it's all I knew. If you're still before Christ, it's all you know. Your record before Christ intervenes is unacceptable. But His is perfect. And I've got it.

And you can have it. God will make you "IN HIM the righteousness of God." In the sight of God, will you trade records with Christ?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pausing to Savor What is Lasting

On a blog dedicated to conserving what is valuable, I believe this post about a most precious resource is fitting. But first some background.

Last weekend we spent away, just the two of us, in Galax, VA. What is there to see in Galax? Well, with no offense at all intended to the Galaxians, I can confidently say that we didn't go there to see the Galaxical sights, and we were not disappointed. We got a book at a nice little shop on Main Street, and we enjoyed the local Applebee's, but, despite the fact that Galax can boast of being the "World Capital of Old Time Gospel Music," the town's major source of revenue is likely not tourism. . . unless we missed something. Which is possible, because we didn't venture out of our cabin much. The point of our getaway was not to drink in local flavor.

We mapped out our own version of a couple retreat. I've seen this kind of thing promoted some since we've come back, but until then I thought it was an original idea. We came up with our own program.

It was a very refreshing time to cherish what we love most on earth--God's Word and each other. We blocked out an hour at a time to talk through our goals for this year and assess our past progress in several areas of life. We even had a session on finances and were amazed really at the way the Lord has provided for us. It was amusing (and encouraging) to see how drastically our grocery bills had been reduced since I started looking at "my blogs." But most of all, we were eager to begin 2009 as more aggressive givers after seeing the abundance with which the Lord has blessed us.

As fun as the financial session was--that one was my job, and I indulged myself by providing a brief PowerPoint show replete with charts and pictures--we both greatly needed and greatly benefited from the times of intense spiritual discussion. "Let's do this for a while every week," was a unanimous decision. While for most of life it is profitable to savor fleeting moments and make the most of conserving the valuable "as you go," it is also profitable, at times, to devote yourself to intentionally savoring what will last forever.

*Special thanks to my in-laws. This whole thing really must be attributed to their consistent and urgent injunctions dating all the way back to before Paul had stopped nursing to "Go someplace and let us keep Paul." But seriously, Paul had a great time drinking all his milk with chocolate and being dragged around in his new waggon every time he so much as looked its direction. Thanks, guys! We couldn't have done it without you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What $1.16 Buys

Good afternoon. My New Year's Resolution was not to post more often on this blog, but maybe my resolve in other areas will spill over and you'll hear from me a little more.

But no use dwelling on the past. I got:

a box of tissues
a bottle of dish soap
a bottle of shampoo
and a pint of Ben and Jerry's

for $1.16.

I even got confused at the register, so I'm not sure I could explain it. But the ice cream was free. I wish you could have seen my husband's face when I said, "Would you rather have cookies or ice cream for dessert?" at lunch today. (Now this was in code--a mixture of Spanglish and spelling--since the 17-month-old wasn't granted suffrage on Wednesday's dessert vote. Soon the Spanglish will be useless, but we'll talk about that later.)

So anyway, then he said, "What kind of ice cream?"
"Ben and Jerry's peanut butter cup," I replied to the king of all peanut butter lovers.

That's when I wish you could have seen his face.

So, I'll tell you what coupons I used, but there was too much ringing and re-ringing for me to be sure what was going on. But it was $1.16, and that was about what I expected, so hey.

Okay, $3 Ben and Jerry's coupon (I'm sure you've seen this one floating around. I'd link to it, but I've heard it's gone. I'm learning to be selective in my coupon printing as well as learning to jump on the one's I want. I didn't realize at first that the printables run out.)
$1 Garnier coupon
$2 Garnier ESQ
2 in-ad Qs for Puff and Palmolive.

Happy day.