Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Beloved Hope Chest, a review

This title is the fourth and final book of Amy Clipston's An Amish Heirloom series which also includes The Courtship Basket, The Cherished Quilt, and The Forgotten Recipe.  Although each book is part of a series, each could easily be read as a stand alone novel.

In The Beloved Hope Chest, Mattie calls her daughters together to tell them the painful secret she has been hiding from them and the story behind the three objects her daughters found in her hope chest. 

As with the other books, the writing is so well done that I was drawn into the story from the first chapter.  I love this series as Amy Clipston describes the Amish family's faith when each woman goes through a trial.  Although we know obviously that Mattie and the girl's father are happily married in the present, one still can't wait to find out what happens next.

This is a story which will have you laughing and crying.  I had to get up once to find some tissues.  However, it is heartwarming and a really good read.  If you haven't read the series, it would make for wonderful Summer reading as each book is easy to read while at the same time having a story of great depth.  I highly recommend The Beloved Hope Chest.

This book was provided by the publisher for the sake of review but the opinions are my own.

Further information can be found at here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Does God Give Us More than We Can Handle

I have written about the year we lived in a house by the pond.  The year of unemployment and great trials.  The year I had to remind myself to breath.  I can't tell you how many times I went to sleep at night telling God that if He wanted to take me before the morning that was just fine with me.

I have heard for years, no decades, that God does not give us anything more than we can handle.  To be honest, that saying always made me think I must not be a very good Christian for there were many trials which were far more demanding than I could handle.  Those which felt like heavy burdens crushing my faith to the floor.

Not a trial such as I had last week when I went on a local journey to have insulin after taking my last shot.  No, I'm talking about the trials which run on for weeks and months and even years.  When we understand why God tells us to "faint not" so many times in Scripture.

I have now been a Christian since oh, 1970-ish, and I'm learning that some truisms we hear are Truth and others may as well be from a book by Benjamin Franklin.  We have heard them so many times we think they must be true and after all, teachers are quoting Scripture.  However, have we looked closely at the context?

A few years ago I heard a teaching which set me free from the burden of it all.  Why I didn't realize it before was beyond my comprehension.  When a message came... whether on television or in a book, I can't recall... that what was most often preached about 1 Corinthians 10:13 was not necessarily God's Truth.

For you see, if you look at the verse in context what Paul is saying is actually this... God does not give you anything you cannot handle with HimWe whom God calls "but dust" really do fall apart and shatter under enormous burdens of trials and temptations if we tried to walk through them in our own strength.

I thought back to that year by the pond and recalled the hours upon hours spent sitting on the small cement stairs in the front of the house.  With a view to the man made pond.  Surrounded mostly by forest.  That year was the reason my Bible opens to Psalms without trying.  To this day.  Well over a decade later.

As each day seemed to bring a trial that I could not handle, I ran to His presence.  I waited upon Him each day... Bible open and ready to listen.  He met me there on those stairs and as I walked the beach of Lake Michigan and as I hiked the forest trails with my (then) young son.  I absorbed Him as if my very life depended upon it.  For it did.

I had gone through trials previously but this was the first time I felt so alone, away from friends and extended family, with no sense whatsoever of where we would end up and how we would get there from here. I was completely unteathered to everything and everyone except my husband, son, and two old kitties.

That was the year of great pain but also amazing miracles.  When I will "tell the old, old Story" in Eternity... the story will definitely include that year.  When people tell me there is no God, I can say that I have a Story that proves He indeed does exist and that He cares about me and mine.

For that Bible verse does not say He never gives us anything we cannot handle.  Indeed it is inferring He allows everything we cannot handle.  Not without Him giving us a means of escaping each fiery dart the evil one sends our way.  The joy of the Lord is my strength!

Of course, He knows we cannot handle very much adversity in this earthly vessel which He describes as everyday pottery.  We are becoming fine china and that is only accomplished in the hottest of kilns... with an Artist watching closely that the carefully designed piece of art does not shatter with too much heat amidst the fire.

I often say to family and friends... perhaps more than they care to hear... that I cannot possibly imagine living in today's world without knowing the Lord.  Without the presence of the Holy Spirit not just around me but in me.  I have learned through experience to give Him the "what ifs" of life.  For the Word tells me that no matter what happens, He is not off in another galaxy with no thought of this planet.  On the contrary, he notices when a sparrow falls to the ground.

This is why in the Book of James, we are told to rejoice in trials for they are proving our faith.  I can't say I have learned to rejoice in them, yet.  However, I do know when God is allowing something extremely uncomfortable and frustrating in my life... to pay attention for He is looking for my response.  Will I tremble in fear or trust Him?

I've done both.  I've lost sleep at night worrying but thankfully those times have become less and less through the years.  I visually see myself taking the trial and setting it at His feet in the Throne Room and then try not to take it back.

There is an old saying that is Truth... "If you can't trust His works then trust His character".   For He is Love and He does love you.

As you draw near to Him and listen for what He wants you to learn in these trials, you will find that peace that passes all understanding as the very Creator of the universe makes you to be strong enough to run your race and reach the end of your journey hearing those longed for words, "Well done good and faithful servant".  Not with your own human strength but with His.

Image:  Nostalgia-Mini by Clement Micarelli

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Stop Procrastinating!

Okay, I'm not late writing a post today because I procrastinated.  When I went to the pharmacy yesterday in the midst of pouring rain and storms, I was told (unfortunately) that they had not heard back from my insurance company.  Since I had taken my last shot of long term insulin before leaving, they suggested I go to the clinic to see if I could get help.

Once again in very bad weather, I drove to the clinic and thank God (literally!), they got me in to see the Nurse on Call for the the day.  Another answer to prayer was that my long time doctor was there, having recently returned from his leave of absence, so she could consult with him.  Their decision was to change my insulin to a "cousin" of what I have been taking and give me two sample pens to get me through as we find out if the insurance covered it.

I'm happy to say the prescription did go through and it was at my new pharmacy this morning, again getting out in the midst of storms and pouring rain.  If you remember, this chaos began when my long time pharmacy went out of business and all prescriptions had to be transferred to another pharmacy.  Why my insurance company decided in that transfer to stop paying for Levamir is a mystery to all of us.  I ended up in Intensive Care for two days before we moved to the house where we now live because I missed just one shot.  One. Shot.

I'm late because I took a chill yesterday morning in that cold rain and wasn't feeling well the rest of the day so I went to bed at 9:30.  Which caused me to wake up at 4:30.  Getting out in heavy rain again didn't help so I had to lay down when I arrived home and slept most of the day.  Here it is dinnertime and I'm just now feeling alert enough to write.  But the good news is that there appears to be no permanent illness caused by getting very wet and chilled.

So why that blog post title?  Well, I have found that God allows me to go through something to share with others so He can tell you all what to do.  Just in case.  I was praying about all of this when I wasn't stomping my feet and whining to Him about the state of health care in America.  That still small Voice seemed to be asking what I learned from all of this. 

That was easy.  Do not procrastinate.  I usually do not go to the pharmacy for a new box of insulin until I have one pen left because the insurance company doesn't allow it until two pens are left.  But this time I felt I should check if the transfer of prescriptions went as planned with two pens left.  Good thing I did.

For the pharmacy where all the prescriptions had been transferred informed me that they did not take my insurance.  Fortunately, they were very nice and looked up for me pharmacies which did.  Which ended up being everyone but them.  So I chose the one closest to me and had my prescriptions transferred.  There was a glitch in that transfer so my new pharmacy had to request new prescriptions from my doctor's office and that took an additional day.  That transfer went just fine except for the Levimer and you know that story.

I'm sharing this very long and drawn out story as a lesson that we have to learn to hear from God.  If I waited until the time I normally do, it may have ended with me going to the Emergency Room for insulin.  Instead everything fell into place, even if it took a lot of running around each day, and I had sample pens last night when my insulin alarm went off at 8:00 (this is the only shot I take not associated with a meal time so the alarm is set on my cell phone).

Oh, I was asked how much one box of the Levimer cost.  The box of pens that lasts me only thirteen days?  $460.00.  Which means that only one my insulins costs over $1,000 a month.  I know the HumaLog isn't that much but it isn't cheap.   This new insulin I'm taking is "kind of" a generic.  For there aren't suppose to be any generic insulin. (Insert rolled eyes happy face.)

When I was first diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic, both vials of insulin were in the $20.00 to $30.00 range.  A lot has changed since then.

I did procrastinate somewhat about finding a new eye doctor when mine moved away.  There were only a few places in town that took my insurance.  However, even though my prescription changed a few years ago, you are really not suppose to get new glasses when your blood sugar is way too high like mine was for a year or two.

So now that my blood sugar is stable, I chose a new eye doctor and I was able to get an appointment quickly.  My insurance covers a limited number of styles but they assured me I could pay out of pocket for something fancier.  I told him at my age, one realizes good is good enough!  I think the new frames look just fine even if they are not inscribed with a designer's name.

My reading glasses breaking was the reason I decided it was time to stop putting off going to a new eye doctor, for the reading part of my bifocals hadn't been all that clear for years.  No backup there.  It had been obvious for awhile that I needed new driving glasses, too.  Sometimes God has to practically hit me in the head (think Gibbs on NCIS) to get me to call for an appointment.  How like Him to know if I couldn't READ, that was all it took.

I think God is reminding us that we live in a time when one doesn't know what an insurance company will do next.  So if you have been procrastinating a much needed doctor's appointment, or getting new glasses, or seeing a dentist... call for an appointment Monday morning!

Trust me.  You will be very glad you did.  I now have to put "find new dentist" on next week's planner. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Best Laid Plans...

I had planned to write another book review mid-week but my reading glasses broke and I cannot ummmm...  read.  Not books, anyway.  It did force the issue on me finally finding a new eye doctor that accepts my insurance.  That went quickly and I had an appointment today with new glasses expected in two weeks.  I will buy an inexpensive pair of reading glasses in a couple of days.

It was wise, even if I was forced into being wise by circumstances, to get a checkup and new glasses while I have insurance that covers them.  After they arrive, I will make an appointment with my retinal specialist to get some laser surgery done (which I know will be needed).  The eye doctor found more spots that will need zapped.  A challenge of having Juvenile Diabetes.

You know how it seems challenges come one right after another?

The pharmacy I've used for years went out of business recently, giving us only a week's notice.  All prescriptions were transferred to another pharmacy in the area and when I went in to get my long term insulin, I was informed they were the only pharmacy in town that did not accept my insurance.

So... I then found a pharmacy close to me that did take the insurance.  When I went over today to pick up my insulin... now on my very last pen... I was informed my insurance has decided it will not pay for Levimer, anymore.  Even though they have been paying for it at my former pharmacy.

Which requires an emergency call to my doctor's office in the morning.  The pharmacist thinks the insurance company is going to force the doctor into switching me to a newer long term insulin, which should work and is less expensive.  But one would think again there would be advanced warning.  All prayers welcome.  Did I mention I have one day's worth of that insulin left?

Just like my glasses breaking, it could be good for me in the long run as the doctor tries a newer long term insulin that the pharmacist says is even better than what I'm using now.  However, I can't miss even one shot so prayers are welcome that this gets fixed tomorrow.  Even if I get the old insulin temporarily.

It shows me again how precarious our health care and insurance system is! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Learning from Lark Rise

There is a scene in the final episode of Lark Rise to Candleford when Queenie is looking out upon the horizon and sees, not her beloved Lark Rise as she knows it... but smoke stacks and factories covering the land.  She understands that she has been shown what is coming in the not too distant future.  She knows there is no stopping it.

I thought of the Lark Rise series this past week and the nonfiction books upon which it was based.  For there came a knock at our front door one day and my husband walked out to talk to the visitor.  (We must do so with a house cat who thinks it would be lovely to escape to the forest.)  He came back inside after about five minutes and said I should talk to our neighbor, for he didn't have the answer she needed.

As it turned out, the woman lived on the road that leads to the Bypass and was looking for the owners of a cat which was allowed to run free and causing problems in her yard.  Thankfully, I could assure her our very petite cat not only stayed inside but would run from any threat to her furry person. There were also no kitties by that description who made their way through my backyard recently.

Somehow, the conversation drifted from cats to the land around us.  She had returned permanently to the area about the same time we came back.  We talked about the changes and how each would visit "back home" and not recognize the place.  Where there were fields and family farms, now there were subdivisions and traffic.

She grew up in the house where she now lives so she knew the history of the area. At one time this was a very small town, no bigger than Lark Rise.  Just down the road, where a new house sits, there once was a blacksmith shop for the town. For even in a very small place, one needed a blacksmith when horses were the main form of transportation. Not all that long ago, really.

I lived my early childhood years in such a very small rural "town" that consisted of some houses and a grain elevator where the train would stop to pick up train cars filled with corn on its' way to the City.  The last time I drove through the area, it was still mainly a grain elevator and a few houses.  Although the old farm we lived in was no longer there. However, unlike the neighborhood where I currently live, it still retains its' name and a minuscule place on the map. 

It makes me wonder how a place existed and then it didn't. How a town on a map can just disappear? Although... maybe I do understand.  For my front porch guest also found out, quite by accident, that in the area's 10-20 Plan (of which I had no idea it existed), our land is scheduled to become part of a new highway. Someday.  Most likely after I'm gone but within the reach of her lifetime.

Like Queenie, I can see what is coming.  Not from some sort of supernatural vision but from the front pages of our newspaper.  It is all about progress and transportation and getting people from one place to another as fast as possible.  But what about the farms and the forests and the wetlands where the sandhill cranes stop on their migration?  Already I miss the Canadian geese flying over as they migrate.  One hardly hears them these past few years and at one time they were the sounds of Autumn.

I wonder if we are a people on the verge of a national nervous breakdown because we have lost our connection to the way God intended us to live?  In our rush to the large cities... and in trying to become one... we no longer hear the echoes of Eden. 

I know we live in a most fallen of worlds.  I am aware of the imperfections of life.  For also on this land, before the tiny town existed, this was the home of a great Native American nation.  I also grew up playing on the very ground where great battles took place.  One of the "Trail of Tears" goes through this land.  We have been far from Eden for millenia. 

But is it truly progress to live in our cars and spend our days looking at a screen?  Are we moving so fast as a society that our soul can no longer keep up with the speed of life?  I don't think it can be stopped for what we are seeing is a symptom rather than the cause.  But I can slow down my life and make choices to step back... a little here and a little there.

I slow down when I sip that first cup of coffee in the morning.  I slow down when I chop vegetables and make soup from scratch instead of opening a can.  I slow down when I must wash dishes by hand so I enjoy the aroma as Mrs. Meyer's Peony scent fills the sink as the hot water hits the soap.  I slow down when I polish the thrift store silver service or rub lemon oil into the antique furniture.

I slow down when I plant a flower or herbs on the deck. I slow down when I choose to read a book instead of turning on the television.  I slow down when I sweep the kitchen floor.  I slow down when I open the window to the Study and actually listen to the birdsong coming through from the forest.  How long has it been since you have enjoyed a free concert?

There will be no perfect days or perfect place until this world has been restored.  However, we can accept what is good and hold it to us each day.  Not longing for the good old days but instead grasping to us what is precious about today.  Taking the time to really slow down and notice our journey on earth.  This is not a dress rehearsal.  This is life.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Always Learning

I was at the grocery store recently when I saw something that made me smile and think of our Pantry Lifestyle (for it does encompass more than stocking up).  There was a display for baby potatoes which had seasoning on them selling for 2 for $6.00.  Next to them were (larger) packages of plain old baby potatoes selling for 2 for $3.00. 

The difference in the price?  You have to add your own herbs to the second package of potatoes.  Which is easy if you know to toss the baby potatoes in your favorite oil and then toss in some dried herbs.  Since I usually use a blend of Herbs de Provence or Italian blend it is easy and cheap.

You may remember a few years back when I had a minor rant about seeing a package of hard boiled eggs selling for $17.00 a dozen when a carton of eggs was selling for an Easter sale of 99 cents a dozen.  Granted the shells had been removed and I must admit that my boiled eggs do not always look that pretty on the deviled egg platter (I have tried all the supposed tricks and still have egg shells stick at times).  However, no one really notices the difference when they are scarfing them down at the table and the savings of $16.01 is not worth perfection.

Don't get me wrong, I do use healthy convenience goods that save me time.  I keep packages of cooked brown rice in the freezer that comes in a steam-able package.  I used to cook a pot of brown rice at the beginning of the week to use when needed but with just two of us now, it is much better to use precooked frozen.  Especially when I'm usually feeling the fatigue by dinner time.  Last night I mixed the precooked brown rice with a leftover chicken breast and a half a package of frozen organic corn for a delicious (and thrifty) main dish.

I also understand when we work outside the home that quite often paying for something to be done or cooked ahead of time buys us precious family time we otherwise would not have.  As much as I believe in baking items myself, I still love the occasional bakery cake for it reminds me of the cakes my mother purchased for my birthday each year.  Good memories are priceless.

However, I'm talking about learning to do things like our great grandparents did them (or grandparents if you are my age).  Unless they were wealthy, they rarely paid people to do something they could easily do, or make, or fix, or plant, or cook at home.  These things were all part of their days. I suppose it could be because both my husband and I were born of older Depression era parents that we grew up with this way of thinking.

I got away from that thinking when I worked outside the home as a young wife and mother, juggling a family with a demanding job and attending church a couple times a week.  Since we only had one child at the time, I managed well by us eating out a few times a week for dinner and breakfast out every Saturday morning.  I admit that many favorite memories are of summer Saturdays in Saugatuck, Michigan as we walked the boardwalk and perused the quaint shops after breakfast.  It was my Happy Place.

So when I became a full time homemaker, my skills were not top notch.  I knew how to cook and to bake but only a few favorite recipes.  I wasn't very creative as a homemaker because I honestly didn't know how to be.  My mother had always worked outside the home (because she had to) and that was my hardworking role model.

I looked for homemaking skills role models and found them mostly in books and a few in real life.  I took formal classes in subjects as diverse as gourmet cooking and flower arranging.  I set up homemaking files and cut out magazine articles, some of which I still have today.  I learned to learn... and I still love to learn new things.

For instance, I mentioned last week about the tube of tomato paste (shown above), learning about using it from an article about a famous chef saying it was his favorite pantry item.  I learned it adds a deep tomato flavor which enables me to use only one can of tomatoes when I used to use two... and it tastes better!  It also makes tomato sauce when adding water for it is tomato sauce which has been boiled down (think apple butter from apple sauce).  It has been a brilliant addition to some main dishes and the tube lasts in the refrigerator for a long time.

I also, at one time, learned to use salsa as a condiment.  The organic brand above is less than $2.00 a jar at Aldi's so I usually buy at least four each month and stock even more than that in my pantry when possible.  I used to just add it to tacos but after reading how others used it, I now always serve it along side a quiche, mix it in brown rice for a quick Spanish rice, and add it to other dishes when I want added flavor.  It took learning how others used it to realize it was valuable for far more than tacos.

I was watching a show about Julia Child recently and it was said she was still learning about cooking in her 90s.  That made me feel better!  There are some things I've mastered but others... like gardening... I still have a whole lot to learn.  Then there are those skills I realized I wasn't all that ummm... skilled.  Like sewing and knitting... somehow that gene is definitely missing.

There are other skills we can learn that in the long run save us a great deal of money over the years.  My husband can fix a lot of things although he knows when to call in a plumber or electrician.  He doesn't even try to fix modern cars.  But he is very handy at building and repairing most things and quite the do-it-your-selfer.

I was fortunate that we bought our first computer, a fabulous work horse of a Gateway model, back when there was such a thing as really good customer service.  People who knew what they were dong and seemed to enjoy teaching others. I was told that there were only a couple things I could to ruin the computer (and they told me what not to do) so to play around with the computer to learn how to solve a problem.  So that is exactly what happened.

By learning a little here and a little there instead of taking the computer into the shop (unless there was a crash or it was hacked as it was last year), I've saved us a lot of money.  Just recently we were having trouble with the computer printing in color and when Christopher stopped by one evening, I talked to him about it. 

I had already played around enough to realize the problem was not the printer and seemed to be in Excel.  He thought for a moment and said the program may have done a "factory reset" when we had the new modem installed and that I should look even deeper than I have for that reset.  So the next day, I brought up Excel (which I don't actually use but my husband uses it constantly) and went through what I had already looked at and did as he suggested... went deeper into the Advanced section. 

Eventually, I saw the problem.  There it was, one line in the midst of a column of commands that simply said... greyscale-on.  I switched the "on" to "off" and clicked on DONE and printed out a sample and wallah... we had color!  Savings... both Hewlett-Packard and The Geek Squad wanted to charge us $99.00 to fix it. 

It reminded me of Annabel* when she talks about the Vicky Challenge.  Which is keeping track of how much money she saved from doing something herself.  She now has encouraged me to make my own naan bread!

I like to imagine Heaven as being a place not only of great Beauty but also as being an Eternity of learning new things... in a perfect environment.  I will be able to carry a tune there!  I can sing with the angels there!  Hallelujah!  Oh, excuse me.  Just a little excited at the thought.

In the meantime, I will continue learning new skills on those things I can do.  Not singing.

*Annabel's The Bluebirds are Nesting blog... here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Outlaw and a Lady, a review

The subtitle of this book by Jessi Colter with David Ritz says it all, A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith That Brought Me Home.  Although I am a fan of of the music, especially the Highwaymen years, it was the interest in Colter's spiritual journey that was of interest.

How could a woman who grew up with a Pentecostal pastor mother end up marrying one of the original "outlaws" of country music?  Well, the story is absolutely fascinating and her return to her childhood faith should be a hope to any parent with a prodigal.

I loved this book, the stories about her music (I'm Not Lisa was stuck in my mind the entire time I was reading the book), the music of Waylon Jennings and his well known friends, and an insight into the recording industry through the years will please every country music fan.  However, as interesting as they were, the story of her journey back to the Lord is why I couldn't put the book down. It is just that good.

The book is well written and enjoyable to read.  I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the music but also to those who have left their childhood faith and who wonder if they can still return.  Spoiler alert... yes you can.  The road was not easy for Jessi Colter but God worked in her and through her.

An Outlaw and a Lady was provided by the publisher for the sake of review but the opinions are my own.

Further information can be found... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Chamberlain Key, a review

This book, subtitled Unlocking the God Code to Reveal Divine Messages Hidden in the Bible, is one people will either love or dismiss as "hard to believe".  Mainly depending on how you respond to the genre which includes prophetic dreams, coincidences too difficult to dismiss, and the original research on the Bible codes. 

It tells the story of Timothy P. Smith, part of a family well known for construction, renovation of historic buildings, and researching antiquities.  Through a series of circumstances, Timothy is led to a section of Scripture in the Torah and much to his surprise, finds embedded information about himself and his family.  Which leads him to some exciting experiences.

I should say that the Bible codes found in this book are determined by the original research and not as in the book, The Bible Codes.  Which the authors believe under mind the original research about Bible codes in the Torah.

The journey is divided into Parts I through IV:
  • Part 1:   The Unfolding
  • Part II:   Under Scrutiny
  • Part III:  Mysterious Madonna
  • Part IV:  Signs and Warnings

I couldn't put the first part of the book down, it read like an Indiana Jones novel.  However, the farther I went along, the more difficult it was to follow the book.  It gets bogged down in information at times and then elsewhere there is not enough of the continued story.  It is almost like two different books in the style of writing.

Having said that, I give it five stars, for those who like this genre of books will find the story fascinating and readers can come to their own conclusions.  

The Chamberlain Key was provided by Blogging For Books but the opinions are my own.

Further information can be found.. here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon are Associate Links.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Tea - A Life in Books

These past few weeks, coinciding with what appears to be an unexpected Midwestern monsoon season, I've been spending my free reading time submerged in the England of post WW1 to post WW2, in the midst of the Eliot family.  I've lived at Damerosehay, The Herb of Grace, and the drafty old Vicarage... and I'm the better person for it.

You have heard the old adage that "you are what you eat", well I believe just as true is the statement, "you are what you read".  Especially the kind of books you feed on the earliest and the most over the years.  I am convinced my love of detective and murder mysteries has nothing to do with a dark side of my personality (although some may wonder) but instead that the first book love I can remember were the Nancy Drew books I read over and over until each plot was memorized.

I understood this even as a young mother and when most educators were telling me that it didn't matter what my child read... as long as they were reading... I didn't agree at all.  While not a helicopter mother in reality (much), I was when it came to the books my children read.  I understood how they formed your thinking when young so what came into our home to be read had to have my approval... with the child having more freedom to choose their own books as they grew older.

This proved a challenge with my very prolific reading daughter who, like her mother, thought an hour in a bookstore or the library to be just the best of time spent.  However, I was happy to keep my literary ear to the ground, always in search of the best of books for her. She introduced me to the Anne books.

It was easier with my son who, as a young boy, preferred nonfiction books with lots of pictures of machines, animals, and tornadoes (no, really... he went through a weather stage).  They instilled a love of books as much as my daughter's chapter books she read.  When he was older, he came to love great French literature that I had only heard of when I saw the movies.

The books my children read and we enjoyed as a family became part of our vocabulary and I think even our heritage.  For instance, Dad will always be known as Puddleglum (by his own admission) and if we say "Aslan is on the move", we all know the meaning.

My daughter and I searched for Pooh sticks when living in Holland, Michigan. We want our hospitality to be equal to Mole or Mrs. Beaver.  I think my husband can still recite the entire book of Good Night Moon from memory, as I could (at one time) I Am A Bunny.  Baby books.  Children's books.  Classics read at bedtime.  Memories of an entire lifetime.

I didn't read carefully in my twenties.  Oh, I'm not talking about smutty books for I didn't read them.  But I did belong to the Harlequin Book Club where I received a box of paperbacks each month.  They were just silly romances that I could go through like potato chips but I began to feel God's tugging that they were not the best books for me to read.  I don't know how they are now but in the 70s, they were the equivalent of literary junk food.

I wasn't raised in a home of readers so I didn't have much information growing up about great literature.  I remember hearing of Jane Austen the first time in my Junior year of high school, taking an English Lit class.  We read Pride & Prejudice and it was definitely love at first read.

I noticed what my Christian mentors were reading... both in real life and in their books... and began reading what they did. Some theology books may have been beyond my grasp but I read what I could and learned what Bible teachers I could understand.  I also devoured books about books by authors whose taste I could trust. 

I'm thankful that there were very good books that came my way in my teens such as The Robe and The Silver Chalice from which popular movies had been made.  They helped give me a mental picture of Bible days in the way Exodus by Leon Uris helped me understand the relationship between the Holocaust and the founding of Israel just a few years later.

Good books make us feel like we are actually living in the pages.

As a working mother, most of the reading was nonfiction books by my favorite authors such as Edith Schaeffer, Emily Barnes, and Anne Ortlund.  I also loved books about corporations and corporate life.  Loved them!  So when I stood in Muir Woods one Saturday afternoon on a business trip to San Francisco and I knew God was telling me it was time to leave my job... it had to be a God thing to do it (albeit it took a year and a change of circumstances in my corporation).

I say that as a reminder that we can often tell our passion, our gifting so to speak, by what we are drawn to read.  On my book shelves already were books about homemaking, decorating, early childhood development, cooking (that may be considered an obsession rather than an interest), and being a godly woman in the current society.  However, I held on to my books about corporations for a good ten years.  Especially my favorites.  For the way organizations worked was an interest even if I didn't get paid for it, anymore.

Then there were the years when we chose to homeschool our son.  Any bibliophile homeschooler (and most are by default) will tell you that while you value your child's education, it is also a really good excuse to buy books.  Some of my all time favorite books were written by other homeschooling mothers and fathers and the books we read for learning were interesting.  That was when I first read many childhood classics.

I eventually developed more of an affection for good fiction.  From the James Herriot books to the Jan Karon Mitford books to the Miss Read books to Elizabeth Goudge and D. E. Stevenson.  All authors recommended by bookish friends.  A lesson learned over the years is if I find one book by an author I thoroughly enjoyed, then I'll read more by the same author.

Some of the fiction books are classics while others are light fiction, meant to take me away to a more innocent place or time.  Some are old friends that have been read many times while others are sitting on the shelf just waiting for their turn to be enjoyed.

For I have found over the years that quite often I am drawn to a book and when I have the opportunity to purchase it, I do so and then give it a home on my bookshelves.  Then... quite often... there comes a time when I'm looking through my books and there it is... at just the exact time I need that particular book.

I needed to reread The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim's Inn (titled The Herb of Grace in England), and The Heart of the Family these past few weeks.  Finally reading them in the order they were published, not only did I enjoy spending time again with the Eliot family but the lessons they were learning were much what I needed in the 21st Century.

That is what great books do you know.  They invite us in and then while we are enjoying their story, we are learning about character and integrity and courage and patience and often how to live life with faith.  That is why I am careful about the authors I choose to read for their worldview comes through their stories and when well done... they tell a tale that makes me a better person for reading their work.

Image: Time For Reading by Judy Gibson

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Simple Stocking Up

This has been such a rainy spring!  I'm not sure if the farmers were able to get corn and soybeans planted in time but even if they did, I'm sure some crops are under water.  I took the long way home from having coffee with a good friend yesterday, the road leading to my home that takes one past farmland and horses nibbling grass.  The fields that are the first to flood in such weather are indeed under water.

This past week, I also read that at least half (if not more) of the Kansas wheat crop has failed due to late season blizzards.  It has not only been wet here but very cold.  It feels more like early March than May and I wasn't too fond of March weather when we went though that month at the appropriate time.  So many people are late getting out spring veggies in their gardens.

This week it was also announced that a major employer was shutting their doors over the next few years.  It came as a shock for it has been here for a very long time and I don't recall the business even having layoffs in years of economic turbulence.

All of this to say... it doesn't take war breaking out anywhere to make it practical to deepen one's pantry.  The most likely reason you will be glad you did is if a breadwinner in the family, for one reason or another, cannot bring in the income the family has been used to receiving.

In a comment recently, I was asked how one begins to build up a pantry if they are just starting out and on a budget.  It made me smile for it is the very same way I have to try to deepen my own pantry.  It has been a very long time since I lived in a larger house with the pantry having its' own room in the basement and enough of a budget to stock it as I wish.  Ironically, I learned most of my "what not to do" lessons in those years.

The easiest way to begin deepening your pantry is to keep it simple!  

That is the lesson I've experienced through the years and what I've found those who prepared ahead of WWII learned.  If you try to prepare for the worst possible scenarios, you will live in fear and anxiety because it just can't be done.  Even if you have ten years of survival food stored and every object any website has said you should have on hand... all it takes is one big tornado to wipe you out or an earthquake or a zombie apocalypse.

No matter how deep you can make your pantry, your faith should never be in stuff but in Jesus!  Having a pantry is good but if you have peace only because you have a pantry, then your peace will not be very deep.

So here are some lessons I've learned to pass along and you will find them very similar to what our forefathers (and foremothers) did in the past. 

1)  Pay attention to what and how you cook.
If you have a small space and a small budget, then the food you use the most is a priority of what to concentrate on stocking up in your pantry (and by pantry, I include your refrigerator and freezer).  Think of the five menus you make most often and look for the items that can easily be stocked in your pantry.  Don't try to buy a lot of everything you use in a year!

It is far better to have stocked the pantry to make five main dishes, than to have a lot of just a few items but not be able to make a meal from any of themThen think of ways you may extend the food you have by adding rice, pasta, etc. in a true emergency. 

People who stocked up a deep pantry before WWII stocked only basic foods to get them through.  I know I usually say that I only stock what I actually eat but I have a few exceptions.  One of them is that I keep a couple very large bags of converted rice in a Rubbermaid style container on a shelf in the garage... just in case.  I don't eat much rice and when I do, I eat brown rice.

However, should there be a major emergency, then I will be very happy I have converted rice on hand.  My friend has a very small house so she stores rice and certain cans of soup that, when heated and poured over cooked rice, make a meal! At the end of a year, I will give those two large bags to the church's food pantry and replace them to have on hand another year.

2) Stock the basics you use the most often first and consolidate items when possible
For instance, if you notice you use a lot of pasta, then that is a priority and it stores well when kept in a protected container (such as in their original boxes stored in a Rubbermaid style container).  I've used dried pasta that was two years old and still in perfect condition.

Types of pasta is another area where I have consolidated.  Instead of having a large variety of pastas, I now stock a few boxes of spaghetti, a few boxes of penne, macaroni (in a half gallon Ball jar) and orzo (in a half gallon Ball jar).  I make lasagna so rarely that those noodles are not a priority to stock and are purchased the week I'm going to make the dish.

I use a lot of canned tomatoes so they are a priority.  Acidic veggies do not last as long as say... green beans... in a can so you do need to rotate the cans if you buy in bulk.  But you should be rotating everything anyway, in a deep pantry (using the oldest "Use By" date first and adding the most recent to the back of the shelf or bottom of the flats).

I used to stock a variety of canned tomatoes for various recipes.  It took up a ridiculous amount of space on my pantry shelves.  Then I decided to stock only a couple types of cans (whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes) with the occasional fire roasted can of tomatoes added.  Just a few, though, for specific recipes where the fire roasting makes a difference in the taste.

Instead, I always have the herbs and spices on hand to add specific flavors to recipes instead of say... Italian style tomatoes or Chili style tomatoes.  An exception is a few jars of good quality pasta sauce, the epitome of good pantry food.  Just warm up and serve with cooked pasta and wallah... a main dish.

Something I learned recently... instead of cans of tomato paste, I now buy tomato paste in a tube and try to have one extra tube on hand at all times.  I learned that tomato paste in a tube was the "pantry essential" of a well known chef so I tried it and he was right.  Just a couple squirts adds a depth of tomato flavor and it stores easily inside the door of the refrigerator once opened. 

3) Add simple meals to your menu
I have been making a game of preparing inexpensive vegetarian dishes based on easy to store items by adding one or more recipes to my menu each month. I have been doing this for a few years as I use less of my grocery budget on meat and stretch it with vegetarian dishes that are quite tasty.  It has not only helped my budget but my cholesterol was reduced.

Since I'm a rather old Juvenile Diabetic, I have to be careful with carbs and I've learned through experience about how many I can have (and if you take insulin, you need a balance of carbs or your blood sugar will go too low).  So I can't depend on inexpensive pasta dishes as much as I once did.  I have learned to substitute orzo for rice in my chicken soup recipes and I actually like it better.  I now use orzo for pasta salads, too.  It offers less carbs as the larger pastas.

I started making more meals with beans (canned and dried), lentils, and such.  I'm finding we like them very much.  Hummus was already a favorite at the Middle Eastern restaurant and it is easy to prepare, especially with a food processor.  In the summer, I have a good lentil salad recipe that I love and my husband ummm... tolerates.  But there are vegetarian recipes he likes and he was the poster child for a Midwestern meat and potato man!

Experiment with vegetarian recipes (made with items easy to stock in your pantry) before an emergency where you would need them.  Especially if you have kids... and a husband.  For people will not eat what they don't like even if they are hungry.  Research has proven it as has my family.  Been there... didn't work.  Maybe if they were absolutely starving but why make a situation worse by forcing foods they are not used to eating.

4) Make baking items at home a priority
First, learn to bake if you don't know how to make your own items at home, yet.  (More about that next week.)  I found having the basics I needed on hand when we were experiencing a long period of unemployment made it possible to put together comfort food when it was most needed.

Now, I'm not talking about having the cookie jar full every day (for there is such a thing as too much of a good thing) but I made something at least once or twice a week.  When the rest of the menu had to be quite simple, my family thoroughly enjoyed a treat and I am a good baker.  (I have the spiritual gift of cookies.)  I love to bake and I don't do it much these days.

5) There are some items you can purchase once or twice a year!
For instance, I use both course kosher sea salt (kept in a half pint Ball jar for cooking) and fine sea salt (for the salt shaker).  I can purchase a few boxes of kosher salt at one time and then a few boxes of the fine sea salt another time.  An easy annual stock up.  If you do any canning or pickling, you want to be certain to have the non-iodized salt you need on hand before you need it.

I don't do nearly the baking I once did so one large bag of white sugar purchased in bulk at Sam's Club will last a year.  Should I decide to make jams or jellies, I would add at least one other large bag of sugar. A large box of baking soda lasts a year and is easily stored in a Ball jar.  I buy only small containers of non-aluminum baking powder but I always like to have at least one or two extra in the pantry in addition to what I'm using at the moment.

Some of my spices, I've actually had for a few years and they are fine.  The closer they are to their whole state, the longer they last.  For instance, I'm just now using the last of cumin seeds I've had for years and they smell and taste almost as fresh as they were when purchased.  Herbs need to be replaced at least once a year.

I purchase the peppercorns for my pepper grinder about once a year, adding a backup container when the one I'm using presently is about half full.  Once again, if you are alert to your pantry then it is fairly easy to keep it stocked with essentials.

6) Make your pantry a priority in the budget!
When we were paid weekly or biweekly, I always spent the money allotted for the pantry each grocery shopping trip.  Even if I didn't absolutely need anything that week.  Sometimes I would tuck it back if I knew there was a sale coming up on an essential item.

However, most of the time I used that money to add to the pantry and deepen it further with a most used item. That is the real secret to deepening your pantry to have enough on hand to make at least five menus for weeks and even months.  Once I have stocked the pantry shelves with the basics, I add items that would be very good to have on hand that we use often such as granola bars, mixed nuts, etc. that make good "no need to cook" snacks.

I can't comprehend the advice the government gives of having a few days or a week's worth of food and water on hand in an emergency.  It doesn't take long to have the ingredients for five recipes stocked and other essentials stocked for even a month.  Not to mention if you are only keeping what you need for a week at a time in your kitchen, you are probably not saving money by stocking up when items are on sale.

My budget these days is a monthly Social Security check (due to circumstances of my husband's having to go on Disability and take an early retirement ten years ago, the amount is even less than what it would have been otherwise).  If I can stock a little extra back, anyone can stock more than a week's worth of food.

7) Stocking up prices
One of the ways I stock a few essentials (such as canned tomatoes) is by keeping an eye on stock up prices.  Most grocery stores rotate their sales.  I know Kroger does on their cans of organic tomatoes and their canned beans.

Shopping more than one store and getting to know their prices helps to deepen the pantry.  It is easy for me to do since the three grocery stores I shop are fairly close to each other.  Some people keep a written notebook of prices but since I have simplified our menu so much these days, I pretty much know what to purchase where.  It is surprising that the regular price of some items is twice as much in some stores as they are at another.

Stores such as Aldis's make it much easier to stock up on a budget, too.  I buy a few packages a month of their organic grass-fed ground beef for $5.99 a pound.  Far less than most other stores and when I brown it the first time for a recipe, I take about half of it out after browning and let it cool in a bowl, then freeze it in a Ziploc bag for another recipe.  Thus, stretching that price even further.

There are some items I mainly buy at Sam's Club (which is the warehouse store closest to where I live) to save money.  Knowing that not everything is cheaper in bulk but some items certainly are less expensive.  I usually buy the large package of toilet paper one month and then the large package of paper towels another month.  It is cheaper to purchase my chocolate chips there in bulk (stored in a half gallon Ball jar) and often I purchase my granola bars in bulk there (my doctor okayed a good quality granola bar as a snack or lunch item).

I used to save a lot on some items by belonging to a food co-op.  However, it wasn't as feasible for us once we bought a smaller house and were on a fixed income.  Not to mention there were only three of us (and now two!).  It certainly can save money for a larger family IF you do not add to your purchases items you don't need.  Ask me how I know.  ;)

These suggestions are just very basic and simple but they are how I keep at least a small pantry with limited income and space.  Next week, we will add that other way of saving money... Doing It Yourself!  ;)

Some Great Links
100 Items that Will Disappear First in a Disaster... here.  This list has been around since pre-Y2K days but it still speaks a lot of truth.  Few people can purchase everything and neither would I suggest it!  However, it might spark an idea.  I perused it again his week and realized I needed oil for my lanterns.  Ummm... maybe I shouldn't have used the term "sparked" here.

Should You, Could You, Prepare for World War 3... here.  This popped up in my Facebook feed last week so I had to read it.  Practical advice from a true Prepper site.  Once again, I wouldn't attempt to do everything to prepare for such an event but there are good suggestions here you may not have thought of before.

Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth: Frugal Homemaking From the Great Depression Inspired by Janette Oke... Part 1 of 2 is here.  Part 2 of 2 is here.  These two posts are fun to read and have a lot of good advice.