A Naked Turkey and a Challenge

A wee bit less than 3 years ago we felt led to make the first of what would become a series of increasingly challenging steps…the first of which was a major downsize, but that is for a different post.

Challenges.

I used to think that there were certain things I could never tackle, handle or live through.  I used to live in a bubble of fear, motivated by convenience  and smothered by insecurity.  And while I sometimes teeter on those old pit ledges, I no longer live there.

If I could sum up this season of our life with just one question it would be this: Do we trust God?  The answer, regardless of what it may be for any of us, is a profound one, and one that shades every single area of our lives.  Do I trust him to handle every area? My deepest struggles? My children? My fragility? My money? And the list can go on and on.  It is a challenge.  I have grown so much, and know that I still have so very much more to learn and to change.

And so, the challenges have come—some harder then others—each ripe with the fruit that can only come through journeying through the hard instead of avoiding it.  This month will be no exception.  This month we are tackling ways to save money on the everyday household stuff.  So, I am exploring and challenging myself to find ways that we as a family can cut back.  Simply, how can we steward what we have been given in a better way, one that is reasonable and works for our family?  

The following are a few steps we are implementing to save money this month:

1.  Build a budget.  True confession:  we have always made a budget (my hubby is into that sort of fun), but only with rare exception have we ever hit the target.  This month, not only will we build that budget, but we are going to do a little happy dance when the month is over and we have hit our target.  (No, I will not post the videos of said dance.)  We need to know where we are heading if we ever want to get somewhere, and a budget is a great road map.  The goal of our budget:  give some, save some, and live on less then our income.

2.  Stop eating out.  That means no drinks, no fast food, no restaurants.  If we can’t buy the food at the grocery store then it will not be purchased at all.  (This one is by far the hardest for us as a family.  There are just some nights this mommy prefers to delegate to a local restaurant.  *deep sigh*  I may already be forming a twitch over this issue) *The one exception is date night. Nobody is messing with date night!

3.  Buy only clothes that are needed.  Notice I said needed, not wanted.  And I will add one more point to this.  If I can find it at the thrift store, then that is where I will buy it.  (Underwear is NOT included in the previous statement…I just can’t handle that.)

4.  Plan our menus weekly and/or monthly.  I am not one who can handle planning a month out, so I am starting with planning our  meals out for a week.  If I plan, we are more prone to stay on target monetarily, AND eat healthier, AND save money by shopping smarter instead of last minute.

5.  Save money on meals by shopping at sales.  Did you know that you can look up most grocery store sales ads directly online?  (Examples: Raley’s and Safeway.)  It took me all of 15 minutes to see what stores had what on sale, and who had the better sales.  Knowing what is on sale and where really helps save.  Buying local produce from farmers’ markets is also a great way to save.  Additionally, we try to plan meals around what is in season and/or on sale.  This week, grocery shopping took me 2 hours, and I went to 3 stores.

6.  Shop for the whole week.  Instead of going back and forth to stores numerous times, we sit down, make a list, and then plan out our shopping accordingly.  It saves time, gas, and a whole lot of energy.  (I may really suck at this. It seems I am always forgetting something and having to go back.  I guess it is time to start a running list.)  Additionally, if I actually take an inventory of all that we have already stock piled, I may stop buying it and can use up what we already have…like our 5 bottles of mustard.

7.  Use coupons.  Now, I know that there are some out there that take “couponing” to a whole new level.  I am not that person.  In fact, I think I have used coupons exactly once before this week.  However, if (as I learned this week) I can quickly and easily find coupons online for things I actually use and need, then I don’t mind saving a few bucks.  Coupons.com is one great resource I found this week that helped me find a few coupons.  *I see no point in buying something I would not typically buy even if there is a coupon for it.  So, I am sure to look for things that I will actually use, or I will buy a generic brand when possible.

8.  Buy larger cuts of meat.  Typically, larger cuts of meat are cheaper per pound.  Additionally, I can make several meals out of one piece, thereby giving me additional savings in both time and money.  For example:  this week I purchased an organic free range turkey on sale for less then $2 a lb.  The first meal is a baked turkey (I used apx. 1/4 of the meat to feed my family of 4).  Then, I stripped the turkey of most of its meat (NAKED turkey!), divided the meat in half, and put half in the freezer for later use (COLD naked turkey!).  I then threw the carcass in a stock pot (HOT naked turkey) along with a few veggies to make some seriously awesome homemade broth, which I froze.  I will use the left over meat to create an additional two meals.  So, a total of 3 meals, plus 2 gallons of stock, and tons of leftovers from just one awesome turkey purchase.  Total time to prep original meal: 20 minutes.

Chicken Broth

9.  Bake instead of buy.  Where I can, I carve out the time to make my own baked goods instead of buying their more expensive, heavily processed counterparts.  For example, this week I have returned to making our own bread.   It took me only about 20 minutes, and I really enjoyed the kneading, throwing, and possibly imagining certain faces in and the pounding of the dough.  The result was a loaf that was far less then $1, kids that thought I was awesome, and a moment of domestic bliss…until I realized that I try not to no longer eat bread.  Edie at LifeInGrace has an awesome Honey Wheat Bread recipe that is too good not to share.

Honey Wheat Bread

10.  Give myself grace.  As a mom, wife, and woman, this is probably what I struggle with the very most.  I am not going to be perfect at this. I am a work in progress, and that is ok.  I am moving forward, I am learning, and I need to stop being so hard on myself…and I have talked with enough women to know that I am not alone.  So, how does that help me save?  Well, I am less likely to do any emotional eating ($), spend time in a mental institution ($$$), have to continue therapy for an exorbitantly long time ($$), or pay for the therapy of my children ($$$).  But mostly, I will be better at giving grace, and that will save me from paying the extraordinarily high price of pride.

Ok, now it is your turn, dear beloved reader.  What are some of your money saving tips and tricks?  I wanna know!

Insanity and the Perfect Chai Tea

One evening this week I entered my kitchen to find the end of the world was upon us, and it was clearly starting in MY kitchen.  Normally, I am not one to freak out about bugs, spiders, snakes, etc.  but this had been a long, tiring, boundary pushing sort of week, and my sanity was already stretched to the breaking point.  The memo had been sent, God and I had chatted, and it was clear–nothing more was to happen this week, or I just might have what I commonly refer to as “a moment.” Those moments are not pretty. They may be filled with tears, the weeping and nashing of teeth, and the loss of any semblance of sanity.

I entered my kitchen to find it quite literally swarming and crawling with hundreds of little dark colored bugs.  Immediately I felt my skin start to itch as my mind raced.  WHAT WAS HAPPENING?  Quite literally just 15 minutes earlier I had seen no sign of bug life, and now it felt like I was living through an Old Testament plague (though small in scale).  I started stomping bugs while calling my husband and demanding that he come home immediately if he indeed loved me as he claimed.  Nothing was at all irrational about my screeching, panicked demands into the phone.  Nope, nothing at all.  The more I stomped, the quicker they seemed to multiply, and I could feel it coming…the complete loss of my remaining sanity.

Hubby came home in time to find me sitting on the floor crying, laptop in hand, updating my Facebook status.  Yeah, totally normal.  He may have asked why I should pick now to post to Facebook. Clearly, he did not understand my normalcy!  I may have not so calmly retorted through clenched teeth, “Vulnerability and transparency.  Have you forgotten that I am all about that?  And heaven forbid that I should show just how imperfect our life really can be?  Why do you question me, when clearly I am in deep need of prayer because I AM LOSING MY MIND over here.”  Yeah, like I said, totally normal.

My husband became my hero and killed all the big bad bugs, and I finished up my cry while I googled the bugs in question.  Termites!  Mating-looking-for-a-spot-for-a-new-termite-colony termites!  Oh, no, not in my kitchen you are not! After realizing what was happening, I decided to find the hole that they were using for entry.  And then my brilliance astounded even me—God bless my low income childhood. I decided that duck tape could indeed save the day.  Yeah. Duck tape.  Don’t judge me. And as my husband mocked me and questioned my sanity over such a choice, he humored me and patched the small hole with duck tape.  And, dear reader, much to my vindication, it worked!

Though my spouse has agreed never to question my brillance again—something I wish I could hold him to—I have been feeling the need for a victory in my domestic skills…the need for a little redemption in my otherwise less then stellar week.  And so, on my 5th attempt at making the perfectly spiced vanilla chai, I think I have achieved the greatest victory I dare hope for in this area—and a little normalcy—because, really, I am a budding Martha Stewart. (cue laughter) The bonus?  It costs far less then $1 a serving.  So, without further ado, if you like a sublimely flavored vanilla chai tea, then you have to try out this tasty recipe.

Vanilla Chai Tea Concentrate

Cheesecloth

8 bags of your favorite black tea

1 tsp. ground cloves

1½ tbsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 tsp. ground ginger

8 cardamon pods (cracked)

2 star anise pods (cracked)

¾ tsp. ground black pepper

2 tbsp. honey

½-¾ c. coconut sugar, to taste

4½ c. water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Method

First, measure out all of the spices into a large pot.  I found that using mostly ground spices really helped to enhance the flavor of the tea.

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Then, over medium-low heat gently message those tasty spices and warm them up for their adventure.  Not only will this make your house smell like an overly priced Yankee candle, but it will help make the concentrate taste even yummier.  (usually 2-3 minutes)

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Add water and stir.

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Throw in the tea bags, sugar, and honey.  Let them all mingle and become good friends until things get too heated (boiling).  Once it has started to boil, cover and turn off the burner.  Let steep for 10 minutes.

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Now pour the whole tasty mess into a strainer that you have lined with a cheese cloth.  This step removes the gritty taste that leaving all those ground spices in would give you…don’t ask how I know, just trust me. ;)  You can rinse out the cheese cloth, boil it in water for 15 minutes, (or you can totally forget it is boiling on the stove, boil all the water out and almost catch the remaining cheese cloth on fire) and reuse or you can just throw it away and buy a new one for the next time.

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Now gently stir in the crowning glory of this drink…the vanilla.

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Store in a glass container in the fridge for up to a week.  Mix concentrate with equal parts of your favorite milk (my favorite is half almond milk by Silk and half coconut milk).  Sprinkle with a bit o’ cinnamon and enjoy!

Betrayal, Love and the Easter Bunny

Easter.  Easily my favorite holiday.  And while I personally am not into the whole egg laying bunny or elaborate easter baskets, I hold nothing against them.  On a typical year we reread the story of Jesus’ resurrection, dress up in our spring best, dye eggs, cook yummy food, and enjoy family and friends.  This year, I am just not feeling any of the celebration.  This year, I am just still—face bowed, eyes full, hold me Jesus kinda still.  I have read the words so many times and never once stopped to pause at them:

Betrayal

He ate his last meal with the very one who would betray him.  I mean if you knew it was your last meal, as Jesus did, would you make sure to include your enemies?  I can only imagine the sorrow Jesus must have felt and the love that held him there.  The love.  Oh, the love!  I mean, this Jesus had been teaching this crazy concept of “loving your enemies,” and now here he is, in the last hours of his life, giving us such a powerful and vivid example of what that very idea can look like.  He even stooped to wash their feet.

“It was just before the Passover Feast.  Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.  The evening meal was being served…so he [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-2;4-5)

I am undone.  I am struggling to wrap my head around this sort of love.  It defies all earthly logic and wars against my flesh.  This is not simply a warm, fuzzy, feel good sort of love.  This is a totally selfless, I’m-willing-to-lay-my-life-down-and-hold-you-at-your-worst sort of love.  Agape love.  Simply, a only-God-can-do-it-in-you sort of love.  I will be quick to say that while I indeed want to be the recipient of this sort of love, I fear it would be all too easy to never learn how to truly give it.

I have known betrayal, heartache, and rejection…and my first response has never been to do what Jesus did.  And yet—the beauty of it—can you just picture it?  The incredible beauty of what Jesus did, and has done, and continues to do!  The one who loves us at our worst, just as we are.  The one who is the God of second chances, the forgiver.  The one who ultimately bore our crap so that one day we might know THIS sort of love.  A love that never fails.  This love, it takes me in, it lifts me up, and it changes me.  I want to love like Jesus did.  I want to love without first counting the cost; to be vulnerable, open, real and to not fear.  I want to love without putting up walls because of previous pain.  I want to love not just those who love me, but also the very ones that don’t.  That love is revolutionary, it changes everything, and it is the very heart of God.  Lord, please teach me to love like this.