Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!



There I am, under the Christmas tree. Now, to a few people, me... under the Christmas tree.. is a great gift. Of course, those people consist of mushy, loving parents, sweet grandparents, giggly little Mommy-lover-munchkins, and a Cajun man who found a teenage wife in Texas seven years ago... and maybe a few others.

But the best gift was not placed under the tree, but in a little manger. He was fully man and fully God.... and fully capable of carrying our sin to the cross.

Please take the time to watch this little video. It's called, "Jesus turned it all upside down." It's really awesome and interesting. Just take the time to listen to it. You'll love it!

I hope you have had a wonderful Christmas filled with love and joy. I know I have.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lately....

It's hard to believe Christmas is almost here. In six days, we'll be celebrating the wonderful gift that is Christ with our family.

Remember all that cleaning did last week? Well, you can't tell at all. Since then, toothpaste has been smeared on the bathroom tile, toys are tucked all over the place like Easter eggs, and all kitchen and livingroom surfaces are littered with all sorts of items ranging from evangecubes and books to tulle and wrapping paper.

[Side note- First, my sleeping little fingers types: rapping paper, and instantly I had this picture pop into my mind of a roll of wrapping paper with crossed arms and a backwards hat saying,"Yo, yo, yo! I'm the paper that raps, and I'm not talking' 'bout gifts. I'm rolling out lines and pumpin' out hits."..... I know, I'm nerdy. Btw, did you know the actually sell wrapping paper with rap lyrics on it? I googled it! Unfortunately, I couldn't find any clip art of cartoon wrapping paper to go along with this post and am too lazy to make my own.]

Anyway, isn't that the cost of preparing for any holiday? (Messes.... not necessarily accompanied by corny (w)rapping paper, I mean.) At least it's an organized chaos, if you know what I mean, and not a complete wreck.

Organized chaos is when you can look through the mess and still see the base of a clean home, a home that would only take about an focused hour or two to restore back to it's grandness.

So, what is going on here in our household? Well, my poor hubby hasn't been feeling too hot (sinuses, bah!), and yesterday our van went kaplickityplat. However, instead of feeling frustrated and upset, I was actually..... glad. You see, our van needs a good tune up and new tires, but we haven't been able to afford that expense just yet, and my husband uses the van for work (so it is often loaded with all sorts of things from ceiling tiles to ladders). It started acting a little funky a month ago, but cleared up, but I knew it was bound to happen again. I'm thankful that it happened just a few miles from our home, and Brandon was able to pull into a parking lot before it died. I'm also thankful that there is a really good auto shop between there and our house, and they arranged to have it towed to the shop (after we unloaded all the things Brandon would need for work).

Most of all, I'm thankful that my husband is getting his bonus check today, so we can afford to take care of this issue, and that he'll be off for a week following Christmas (so he can use up his paid vacation before they expire at the end of the year), so if they should need to work on the van for longer than a few days, we won't have to worry about it should we both need a vehicle at the same time. I felt like God was watching over us and providing for us, as He always does.

Anyway, today my friend Crystal is coming over for lunch. I've known Crystal for a long, long time. We use to play together as kids at the annual church convention in Texarkana, although, at the time, she was just my good friend's little cousin who we had to allow to tag along every where. Now she and her husband Pierre live in the town I grew up in. We don't exactly live close to each other (I'm on the North outer parts of Houston and she's on the South outer parts of Houston which translates into more than an hour's drive), but she's going to be on this side of town anyway... so it works out.

She's a teacher and is really good with children.... so my kids have totally attached themselves to her. When she comes over, the kids have to tell her about everything that has happened since we last saw her and show them all the new toys and crafts they have. She's really sweet, and I'm not just saying that because she sometimes reads my blog. (Hehe!)

Today I'm going to test out a recipe to make petits fours. I always loved those growing up, and sometimes someone would send us a box from Swiss Colony for Christmas. Mine are more like cake pops, not as detailed as theirs which literally look like mini-cakes with iced layers and all.

I'll post pictures later... and I haven't forgotten the request to post the recipe for my cinnamon rolls either. :)

Now... as a reward for reading my super-long posts (I don't know why I've been writing such long posts lately.... I guess I'm a rambler)... here's a cute picture of my boys playing together. These are Keagan's favorite toys. He likes to knock over whatever Nolyn builds.



Monday, December 15, 2008

Adventures in grocery shopping


The Interior of an Edwardian Grocery available at Art.com



Whew, grocery shopping.... it's quite a task, y'know, especially when it's one woman and three children against a massive store (we shop at H-E-B, which is more of a Texas thing).

Usually, Hubby and I go grocery shopping together, but this time I decided to brave it on my own. I did it all the time before we moved here (in August), and back then, I was still breastfeeding a baby. Now grocery shopping is a little easier, since, if the baby (who is 15 months old now) gets a little fussy, he can have a little snack (like a mini-bagel) or a bottle. (I have to admit, I really like it when my babies are big enough to hold their own snacks without making a huge mess. This really helps me get stuff done.)

Grocery shopping use to be this huge event I had to prepare for. I'd find my wrap. I'd "pre-wrap it", meaning I'd go ahead and arrange it on my body so all I had to do was slip the baby in. Then I'd have to get the two oldest munchkins and have a little talk with them.

We're going to the grocery store, and I expect you to listen. Uh-huh. It is very important that you pay attention to Mommy and stay by my side. Okay. Now, I have a list of things we can buy, and we cannot buy anything that is not on my list. *Nod* Please do not grab anything off the shelves unless I ask you too, okay? Yes ma'am. So, what did I just say? Listen and obey and don't grab stuffs off da shelf unwess you say so. That's right. Now, both of you go potty so we don't have to make any bathroom stops on the road or in the store, okay? But I don't have to go! Try to go anyway, okay sweetie?

Then, while they were tinkling, I'd nurse the baby so he'd be content during our shopping trip. Of course, once we were in the grocery store, Nolyn would ask a million questions about everything and everyone he saw (which often caused some embarrassing moments). By the end of the trip, I barely had enough energy to unload the groceries from the car, much less actually put them away. I would end up just putting away the refrigerated goods, then we'd all go down for a nap (after I nursed the baby again), and I'd finish the job later.

It was EXHAUSTING.

Now, grocery shopping by myself (with three children, but without my husband) is still tiring, but not as exhausting as it once was. I no longer have to have a ten-minute talk with the kids before we leave. I also don't have to get all the children ready, because Merikalyn and Nolyn are prefectly capable of doing that themselves (I would like to thank the inventors of flipflops, velcro shoes, and imitation crocs....). Of course, sometimes, in the middle of the grocery store, I realize that my daughter's shirt is on inside out and my son's shorts are on backwards and his shoes are on the wrong feet... but for the most part, they've got it together. (And if they don't, then they're giving all the people in the grocery store a good laugh for the day.)

Now that they have the routine down and know what to expect, all I usually have to say is, We're going to the store today to buy groceries. Please pay attention and stay by my side, okay? I confess, I am a little paranoid. I fear that someone will snatch one of my children (I mean, they are super-duper cute), so when we go somewhere, I panic if I cannot see them even for a second (and sometimes I can't see them because they are standing right behind me... and I don't realize it).

Now the only one I really have to prepare is the baby... diaper changes, bottles, maybe a snack or two, but he's pretty well-behaved and actually enjoys sitting in the cart (unlike my older two who HATED the cart). He usually twists his torso around and rests his arms and head on top of the back rest so he can take account of everything I put in the cart.

The only thing I haven't mastered in the art of grocery shopping (it is an art you know) is not buying duplicates. I now have about a dozen cans of cream of mushroom which is matched by my dozen cans of diced tomatoes. But hey, at least they can be used in a million and one recipes, so it's not like they'll go to waste.

Speaking of groceries.... what are some of your kitchen staples? What are few things you always like to have on hand, besides the common goods (flour, salt, sugar, eggs, milk, bread etc).

Mine are, obviously.... cream of mushroom and diced tomatoes, as well as:
- Sausage. My husband is cajun, so we use this often in dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, and red beans and rice. Venison is my favorite. (Did I just hear a vegan cry?)
- Tortillas. I love Mexican and TexMex food. I usually keep two kinds of tortillas on hand- corn and flour. And of course we always have tortilla chips as well.
- Canned green beans. I will eat them straight from the can, if you give me a chance. :)
- Bagels. I love bagels, but now days, I just buy them for the baby. They're a perfect snack that is easy for him to hold and doesn't crumble all over the place.
- Onions, specifically red onions. I mean, you could never have enough! (And green onions/chives too.... yum!)
- Rice. It's true, I wasn't a big fan of rice AT ALL when I first married Brandon. Growing up, we ate potatoes with everything. Cajuns, well, they eat rice with everything. I've converted, and we eat rice several times a week. (Although I still love potatoes.) When funds (or groceries) are low, sometimes we make a gravy using cream of chicken and pour it over rice. Pretty tasty!

What is your favorite thing about grocery shopping, and your least favorite? I'm always curious to know how others feel about doing this chore. I wish we had a farm and were able to grow/raise our own food, but that just isn't possible right now (and my garden was left in Louisiana). My least favorite thing about grocery shopping is the crowds. I really like to grocery shop with my husband, but he's not available until evenings or weekends, when stores here are PACKED and CRAZY. My favorite? I like food.. so.. :) getting more food is always fun.

When Merikalyn was a baby and we were living in Indiana (and we were sharing a big apartment with my brother), Chip (my brother) said he was going to take over the grocery shopping, and I had a little postpartum breakdown. I seriously shed big, fat, juicy tears over it, which won my case, as I was still able to do the grocery shopping for all of us. Through my sobs, I managed to say, B-b-buuut... it's my... *sniff* only *gurgle*.... time... *sniff* out of the *sob* house! As a new mother, I really looked forward to that time grocery shopping because it was a change of scenery! Plus, back then, grocery shopping was the only time I was allowed to get in my "retail therapy" (even if I still had to stick to a list and a budget). Now I no longer need retail therapy. My therapy nowdays usually consists getting RID of stuff, not getting MORE stuff.

If you have any funny grocery shopping stories... share them, and give me a little laugh!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The allure of "stuff"



Since I'm feeling bah (see previous entry), baby and hubby are napping, and my other munchkins are happily playing together, I have time to write. Yes, by the end of the day, I might have written a novel in this blog.

It is hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away. We have been waiting patiently for my husband's bonus, which may not even come by Christmas, so therefore we have not purchased any gifts for anyone. While it would be nice to have them nicely wrapped and ready to be handed out when everyone is here fellowshipping together on Christmas day, it's not absolutely necessary, so my family may just have to wait until New Years to unwrap their presents.

The last few years have been very trying for us financially, and now it seems we are getting it "together", although I hesitate to even think the thought because, when I do, something often goes wrong.

God has certainly taught us many lessons and revealed so much to us through these financial difficulties. We learned about the hardships of running your own businesses (whether it be a restaurant, a landscaping company, or carpentry), and especially the hardship of scheduling things when you are running several businesses at one time.

We learned that, sometimes, those things you dream and yearn for are not as great as they once seemed once they become a reality. This has taught me to be careful what I wish for, pray for, and strive for.

The lesson I seem to learn over and over is to rely on God, not to push forth my own plans and agendas.

My mom tells a story about how, when I was younger, I asked if I could do something specific (neither of us can remember what is was, but it may have been something along the lines of attending a school dance or going to a coed party). I really, really wanted to go- and, at the time, I couldn't see anything wrong with my desire, so I begged and pleaded for permission.

Mom didn't give me an answer, instead she told this preteen to go pray about it. I sighed and wandered back to my room, plopped on my bed, and said, "God, I really wanna do this. Whadya say?"

A few minutes later, I returned to the kitchen, and replied, "God said yes."

Now, truth be told, I hadn't really sought God's direction. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted the answer to be yes. Even in adulthood, I have to watch that I do not transfer my own ideas and opinions onto what God is telling me to do.

At times it has been so difficult to translate the answer God is giving me. Sometimes it takes a while, and, well, I'm an impatient gal. Othertimes, the answer is right in front of my face, but I refuse to look or accept. And, there are those times when I want something so bad, I make it happen and claim it to be God's will for my life.

Of course, the devil is often standing by tempting me as he tempted Eve in the garden, or planting schemes and ideas in my head as he probably did with Sarah, Abraham's wife.

Even the best laid plans with the best intentions will go poorly when God has not approved them.

However, I am thankful that God has been able to use the messes I've made to teach me great lessons. Because of our financial mistakes, I learned how to be frugal. I truly learned the value of a dollar. I learned how to make meals stretch. I learned how to be content with what I have.... to appreciate the blessings I've already received, and to recognize little blessings here and there. In fact, God used our financial hardship to teach me how to better care for my family. Because we could no longer afford to eat out as often as we were, I had to really learn how to cook, and I learned that I enjoyed it. I had to learn how to plan meals and not be wasteful. I had to learn how to have good, clean, cheap (or free) fun. I learned that pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters are still very valuable... and there were (are) many times I save up change to buy groceries and treats (like Taco Bell!). I learned that most of the meals we eat are very luxurious. Some people have the same stuff, day after day, with not much taste at all. In short, I had to learn how to make do, and in making do, I found that I actually was more satisfied, more at peace, than I was chasing after "more stuff".

And now it's Christmas time, a time when the media greatly emphasises STUFF and how much we need it, deserve it, and absolutely must have it. In fact, I saw a commercial the other day for Discover (credit) card which promised to help you spend smarter. See, even the credit industry realizes that people are not spending smart (how can you miss that with all the bailouts and issues going on today). And Target realizes it too. They have been running a commercial to get you to buy things because it's "cheaper" or more "economical" when you cannot afford to do the stuff you really want to do. These businesses aren't really out there to HELP YOU save money, but they sure package it up that way. Businesses like Target and Discover are really out there to get your money, so they play up to your situation, your emotions, things you're dealing with... and appeal to you through all of that. And it works. (Oh, and don't even get me started on Wal-mart. We do not shop there, although I do get my hair trimmed in the style salon there.)

Christmas time is so costly because, not only do we have to buy the best gifts for everyone, but we also must, absolutely must, decorate our home for the season. It is appealing and beautiful, but hey, it's only for a season, and then it must all be packed away for eleven months until it's Christmas time again (and most people buy more and more decor every year). The other day I thought, "This year we'll put out some Christmas lights." They were on sale, so I loaded a few boxes into my cart, and then thought.... okay, even on sale, this is going to end up costing me around $15-$20. I was already buying things I NEEDED (like medicine), and I knew I didn't need to spend twenty more bucks on things that were not a necessity. Afterall, I could use that money for a good bit of groceries, or for a pair of pants for Nolyn (who only has one good pair of pants... a gift from my brother, and another pair which has holes in the knees). I began to think of all the things I could use that money on, and I realized that I could not buy those decorations and feel good about it.

Because of our financial hardship, even when we do have money to splurge, I find myself always contemplating and analyzing every dollar I spend. Of course, I do still splurge now and then (on crafts, on fast food treats, on a new blouse... etc), but I no longer just toss stuff into the shopping buggy without carefully considering it first.

I think that many of us have bought into the lie that if something is on sale, we should buy it. If it's ridiculously cheap, then we must have it. Therefore, we waste our money on stuff we don't need, probably won't ever use, stuff that will just crowd our shelves and take up space... because it was cheap.

I use to feel if I came across an outfit that was really cheap, then I should buy it. I ended up with a closet full of really cheap things that I didn't care to wear. I would have been better off paying full price for things I really loved and having just a few outfits I actually liked to wear.

Anyway, this has become a novel, indeed. My point being, in this season... and all seasons to come, watch what you spend. You will never be satisfied by materal things. Only God can satisfy. You will always be discontent with the way your home feels, the contents of your wardrobe, the things you have (or don't have), your lot in life... if you have not learned to rely on the Lord and be content with the blessings he has given you. You will never be satisfied by your own desires and dreams. God may not take you down the road you planned, but I promise, if you follow his direction, you will be much happier than if you had followed your own.

And that's just it- we need to recognize that God gives us ALOT. And, even those of us barely scraping by are extremely rich compared to most of the world who live on just a dollar a day.

Something to think about.