Saturday, October 25, 2008

The return of the crazy grocery lady...(can you hear the suspense-filled music?)

It's that time again...the end of the month. Time for me to start dreaming. In my little world, my opportunity to let my mind soar comes in the form ready? Recipe shopping. Ah, it's sad but true and exciting to me at the same time. It's step number one in my process, and it goes a little something like this:
On days when I'm lucky, around 12:50 in the afternoon, the two youngest are down for a nap, Emily and Kaleb have had a successful morning with maybe one subject left apiece, and I have a precious 45 minutes to recoup. This means that I take ten minutes to tidy up the kitchen after lunch, remind Emily and Kaleb that it's "quiet time" and define what that means, and then head be alone. I turn on the Food Network and spend 30 minutes watching Rachael Ray prepare a meal that will likely be on next month's menu for us. At the end of that 30 minutes, I'm refreshed and (sort of) ready to head back into reality.

Okay, it may not be quite the etherial experience that I've made it out to be, but I appreciate those times all the same.

In addition to my afternoon TV inspirations, I am pretty well acquainted with the Food Network's search engine, in which you can search for a recipe that you've seen on a show by keywords or ingredients. You can then narrow the search based on the host/chef of the show.

Now, let me sidetrack for a second here to remind you of the kind of couple my husband and I have become. We live a modest life and are always inspired when we hear budget tips. If you don't have a monthly budget, I'd encourage you to GET ON ONE! I am assuming that with the economy in a sad state, most people are trying to be more and more frugal. For the past few years, Greg and I will schedule a "business meeting" in which we let the kids watch a 60-minute video while we have our appointed dark chocolate and coffee break and talk finances. There's something about dark chocolate that makes us both more agreeable!
I'm not going to get into the envelope system that we use, but if you haven't heard of it and would like to know more, get back to me and I'll share. But basically, to us, that means that we can plan for the entire month. At the beginning of the month, I have my grocery budget, and I can do with it as I please. I can spread it out and go to the grocery store weekly, I can go every day, or I can go on one giant grocery shopping spree at the beginning of the month. We've (almost) tried it all. But what works for our family is (with much planning) a big day or two at the beginning of the month, and then three or four trips throughout the month to get produce, etc.

This is why I spend so much time at the end of each month in front of the computer. I'm preparing for the following week, the big grocery day at the BEGINNING of the month. Since I'm barely working, I consider it part of my job to take a couple of hours a month to plan and stretch our dollar. Let's get back to the plan:

There are a couple of key things that I do to keep myself as wallet- and time-friendly as possible. First of all, probably 50 percent of the time, I double my recipe, pack up half of it, and either freeze or refrigerate it. I've found that you can freeze almost any dish, as long as you aren't depending on crisp-tender veggies or anything like that. If the flavor was good the first time around, it will be just as good when it thaws. Texture may change slightly, so if you're a big texture person, I'd encourage you to refrigerate it and eat it two or three days later instead of freezing. I like to think that my first week in the month will be spent doing a lot of cooking and prep work. That way all of my fresh veggies are used before they go bad. But if I freeze half of each of those dishes, I have 5-7 nights later in the month in which I don't have to cook! It saves a lot of time, and I promise, it saves money too.
Tip #1: Double and freeze.

Let's say I need to buy a jar of red curry paste to make an asian chicken dish. That jar costs nearly $4. If I use 1/2 of it to make a double batch of that chicken dish, then I freeze half of the dish, I'll search for a recipe that uses red curry paste (like a shrimp dish), and make a single batch of that recipe (otherwise we'll eat curry four times a month, and, while I'd like it, I'm not sure my family would). Now, at the end of the month, I've stretched that $4, and don't feel bad for buying an odd ingredient that I wouldn't otherwise have on hand.
Tip #2: By planning well, you can use up EVERYTHING you buy.

I'm sure it's no mystery that you can get greatly reduce your grocery bill by looking through your Sunday paper, so I'm not going to spend as much time as I could on this one. I usually buy two copies of mine, cut the coupons that I'll use, and read the ads over to see what I can really use (circling sale items that your family uses a lot helps). When I put the coupons in my coupon book, I have the ads in front of me. If I know that I will definitely use the coupon on a routine item or I see it in the ad (double savings!), I keep it out and stick it in my little basket that I take on my big trip to the stores. I'll go into greater detail on my store system in another blog, but wanted to mention my coupon resources.
Since we don't buy a lot of typical prepared grocery items (like flavored pasta dishes, etc.), it's a bit more challenging to find coupons for the things that we DO buy. We spend a lot of time in the natural foods section of our grocery store, so I use Mambo Sprouts coupons. Grocery stores often carry these little books near their natural foods department or up by customer service. I grab a handful of them at the beginning of the month. You can also go to the website of the product you like (Stonyfield Farms yogurt) and often print coupons.
Tip #3: Coupons, coupons, coupons...

Okay, so once I've found the items that I can get on sale and looked for recipes that can use them well, I open a Word document and copy and paste the recipes. I note after each recipe title if I am going to double the recipe. In the end, I have three to six pages of recipes, and it ends up to be 20-30 dinners (will you be out of town this month? Don't plan 30 dinners! Special events? Consider them so that you don't have too much food to make.)
I print out the Word document and stick it on my fridge. I don't plan which dinners I will make each day, I just have a nice big bunch to choose from everyday. (If I have a particularly busy day, I choose an easier recipe. Lots of time? I'm a cooking fool that day.) This gives more freedom. Then I check off which recipe's I've made and note if I stuck half in the freezer. If I deviate from a recipe and use extra of an item, I write it down so I can get it at the store next time. Otherwise I'm stuck when I need it again.

I also make my monthly grocery list from this document. I'll get into that next time...I've thrown a lot at you.
Do you all still love me now that you know what a dork I am?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Running on fumes

While this past month has been especially stressful, unlike any other time in my life, I feel there is no excuse for losing my mind. I feel like I am a character from a soap opera! There have been so many days when I have found inspiration in the most unlikely places. I'll look at my children and see all of my hopes and dreams for the next hour as well as the next twenty years laid out neatly. But all of a sudden, for the past day or two, I'm in this weird place that I hate...a place void of mental clarity. My range of emotions has crowded out my ability to hear myself think, let alone dream. Even now, I just can't find words...
I'm sure all moms experience this...these moments when you are overwhelmed by the number of emotions you can feel in a single evening. From some place and for some reason, over the course of the past few hours, I have gone from annoyed to angry to upset to crying to guilty to content. Now I sit here feeling like I've just stepped off of a tilt-a-whirl after drinking way too much caffeine...dizzied by my own insanity!
Maybe my plate is too full...maybe my expectations are too high...maybe my grace is running too thin...maybe my hormones are still out of wack since giving birth less than six months ago...
Whatever it is, I need it to pass. My children need it to pass. My husband needs it to pass.
Oh, how I love being a woman...

PS...let me vent...I promise the crazy grocery lady will return shortly...for now, I'm just the crazy lady...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Crazy grocery lady

Okay, I admit it...I have a problem. More of an obsession, really. While I was once a "fly by the seat of my pants" kind of girl, I have become a Nazi over several things. One in particular: meal planning.
I wouldn't say it's necessarily a bad thing. With a growing family that is already "eating me out of house and home," with lots of growing yet to come, I needed to get smart about my meal planning. First of all, we aren't millionaires, so I want to save money. Secondly, I want to be sure that I don't waste food (I threw SO much rotting food away when we were first married! I can just hear all mothers around the country..."there are starving children somewhere...")
Third, I don't have time to mess around. I needed to find a system that works, and I have! I've had a couple of people comment on what I do, and I think I need to share it. If it works for you, great! If not, maybe it will inspire you in some way. Over the course of the next couple of posts, I vow to let you in on my bizarre ways!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I have been changed forever

It has been one week since life started to change for me.
Last Wednesday, I received a call from my brother.
"Have you talked to Mom?" he said.
My heart sank. I knew by the tone of his voice that something was wrong. As you'll read below, my sister's new baby has had quite a struggle since his birth two months ago. I immediately thought of him, but prayed that I was wrong.
"They took Johnathan to the hospital, he's not breathing."
Oh no, I thought...I didn't want to be right.
Over the course of the night and the following morning, I sobbed more than I ever have, to the point that I made myself sick. I was so confused. I didn't understand how God could be watching what was going on. It became clear that Johnathan was going to die. How could this be happening?
Thursday afternoon, during the one o'clock hour, I was in the car driving to New York, praying that I would be there before he breathed his last, when my mom called and told me that he was gone. My sister's sweet baby was gone. She was living my worst nightmare.
I was only 30 minutes into the nine hour hike to NY. The rest of the ride was incredibly emotional. I can't believe I made it there. I cried the whole way. Emily and Levi were in the backseat, silent. Emily was sweet enough to understand. Greg was home with Avery and Kaleb. Not even his touch could soothe the ache inside of me this time, so it didn't matter that he wasn't there.
When I arrived at my mother's house, I clung to Dan, Cherie's husband, without any words that could help him. When my sister came out of the bathroom, I just held her and cried, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." over and over. She is my little sister and I'm supposed to help her. I'm supposed to make her pain lessen. But I couldn't. All I could do was cry.
Over the next four days, I saw God pour himself into Cherie and her husband Dan with an intensity that was nothing less than His grace and the answer to many prayers. Their pain wasn't gone, but they trusted that God hadn't forgotten them. They said goodbye to their own child, and amidst the pain, I saw them love my children just as much as ever, if not more. They were proof that God's grace is sufficient.
I have learned so much from my sister. I will never look at her the same way.
I will never look at my children the same way.
I will never look at God's sovereignty the same way.

At Johnathan's funeral, my brother Aaron read a letter that my sister wrote with her husband. I have included it in this post. Be ready to shed some tears...

I love you Johnathan. You have changed me...

Johnathan's Goodbye

Today we write this letter not only to say goodbye to our son, but to honor his memory. To truly understand the impact my son has had in our lives you must know his story from the beginning:
When I learned that I was pregnant with Johnathan we were overjoyed that God had chosen us to be the temporary keepers of a beautiful child. A sense of pride rushed over us like we had never known before.
Within one month God had begun to test our faith and teach us that we were going to have to trust Him. I began to see signs of a miscarriage at nine weeks and was ordered to stay on complete bed rest for an entire month. After many tests, and medications, we went into the doctor’s office to find that this tiny life was still fighting. We then had a few wonderful months with no other complications and got to watch our son grow bigger each week.
What a precious gift to witness God molding little ears, a nose, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. We were so grateful that our little baby was forming right before our eyes. At 18 weeks we went into the doctors for an ultrasound to find out the sex of our baby; it was a boy. A son! We were going to have a son!
Just as quickly as our joy came, the rain did as well. A dark cloud hovered over when our doctor told us there was a problem. She was concerned with some fluid she was seeing on his brain. She couldn’t tell us anything indefinitely, but I saw several specialists and had many tests done. I was bounced between three different hospitals trying to determine what was happening. After weeks of not knowing, we spoke to a Neurosurgeon at Vanderbuilt Hospital. He diagnosed our son with Congenital Hydrocephalus.
There was a connector in his brain that did not develop correctly and would not allow his spinal fluid to flow out of his brain cavities properly. He told us the cavities would keep getting bigger and bigger compressing his brain which could cause possible mental retardation or complete brain death. The outcome was very grim. The doctor also told us that if the baby survived at all it would be a miracle, and if he did survive he would most likely have severe genetic defects. There was another possibility that his brain could also be so severely damaged and that he may need machines to stay alive.
After about a month Dan and I decided that we needed family around to make it through what we were sure was going to be a very difficult time.
When we first came home and went to Women and Children’s Hospital the prognosis was still the same. However, the doctor’s were a little more optimistic. We knew he would need surgery right after birth to place a device called a shunt in one of his brain cavities so that the spinal fluid could be bypassed into his belly where it would be absorbed and discarded.
We had also consulted with the Neonatal Specialist about what we could expect in the delivery room. He said that he did not anticipate any additional problems but that there was a possibility Johnathan would never be able to start breathing on his own.
On August 7, 2008 our most precious gift was given to us. He was born via c-section at 2:50pm; weighing 8lbs, 13oz; measuring 20 inches long. When they first pulled him out, to our relief, he let out a big cry. When the doctor’s were done checking him, they wrapped him up and handed him to my husband where he was so content to finally be in Daddy’s arms.
The very next day, they took Johnathan into surgery to place his shunt. It took three hours and when the doctor came out; he told us everything had gone well. I let out five months worth of tears that had been building up from not knowing whether my son would live or die.
Johnathan was in the hospital for 13 days where he defied all odds and exceeded all expectations. Finally, they let us take him home.
Johnathan thrived being in his own home. He ate well and began growing. He was hitting all of his expected milestones. The most wonderful thing was that once his shunt was in place, my son was perfectly healthy. There was no retardation whatsoever; he was a normal two month old infant. He had shown the doctors and nurses that there is a great physician that can take better care of us that any earthly doctor ever could.
It was exactly eight wonderful weeks that we were given with our precious miracle. On October 1, 2008 my mother went to wake Johnathan up from his nap. When she found him he was not breathing. We rushed him to the hospital where they were able restart his heart; but it was too late.
After 12 hours and several tests Johnathan was declared brain dead. He was in a coma and only machines and medicine were keeping him alive.
We asked Pastor Sam to come and be us, and to also dedicate our son to the Lord. Then, we all said goodbye and took him off life support. They placed my beautiful son in my arms where he slowly took his last few breaths, and passed from my arms into the arms of Jesus. The last thing I whispered to Johnathan was that “I promise to tell your story for the rest of my life.” So that people may know Christ and His “beautiful grace”.
We were given 56 days with Johnathan before Jesus decided to take him home.
We do not dwell on the time we have lost, but are blessed for the time we were given. We loved our son more than anything in this world, but it was time for us to let him go. My husband and I would ask one thing of all of you here with us today: Please stop making excuses and open your hearts to the one who can heal them. Life is to short and you never know which day may be your last.
For us, even though God’s answer was no, Johnathan; whose name means “given by God”, had a life full of purpose and meaning. We may not understand why all of this had to happen, but if one person comes to know Christ through the testimony of Johnathan’s life…then that is enough for us to let him go.
Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, family and friends: go home today and hug your children, be grateful and never take advantage. Help them to fulfill the purpose of their lives, and more importantly, love them with every fiber of your being.
Every time you think of our Johnathan remember that his life stood for God’s beautiful grace.