There's Mail From Mom!

Wouldn't it be nice to have a letter from mom in the mailbox each time you checked it? Here's a place to check your mailbox for a heart-to-heart talk with mom...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving is almost here...

  I love the entire holiday season and my husband loves the holiday that is coming up next week-Thanksgiving.   Because he loves it so I love to make Thanksgiving extra special for him.  This Thanksgiving we're going to have our oldest daughter Niki, her husband Brian and their two little ones with us, my dad and  Lela and her daughter Esther and Uncle Mike (Shockley) with us.  I'll love every moment of it.  (Though I wish I could blink and have every child and grandchild gathered into my kitchen.)
   We have the old faithful recipes that we cannot imagine a holiday dinner without---Turkey and dressing, Swiss Medley, Sweet Potato Casserole, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Cheeseball and crackers, hot rolls, pecan pie and some kind of cheesecake for dessert. (This year is a toss up trying to decide between Pumpkin Praline and Reese Cup Cheesecake.) 
  I also like to try something new each year.  This year I'm trying two new recipes.  My pecan pie is going to be a chocolate pecan pie.  Esther brought me some really, really nice Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips and I decided to use one bag for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas.  So they're going to find their way into a chocolate pecan pie.  Then I found a recipe for some Cranberry Crumb Bars that sounds wonderful and very Thanksgiving-ish so I'm trying them.  Have to make lots of desserts so I can share!
  So how about an old recipe and a new recipe?  For the old I'm going to give you the Sweet Potato Casserole.  I'm sure many of you have had it since it's a Southern recipe, but till I moved south I had only had the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top and I took just enough to be polite.  But when I tasted this one I was hooked, begged for the recipe shamelessly and made everyone that came to my house try it if it was on the table.  I've had more than one person that swore they hated sweet potatoes decide they hated sweet potatoes and loved this casserole and had one person tell me that if it wasn't bad manners they'd lick the pan when it was gone!  So here's my sweet potato casserole recipe given to me back in 1987!

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup margarine
Mix well.  Pour into shallow buttered casserole. (I use a 9x13 pan.)
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup margarine
  Blend flour and sugar well and sprinkle on top.  Mix nuts and butter and sprinkle on top.
  (I mix all of the ingredients into one bowl instead of doing it separately like the recipe says.)  Bake at 350
degrees for 30 minutes.
I usually make this the day ahead and store it in the fridge so all I have to do is pop it in the oven.  I usually set it out in the morning and let it get to room temperature.  If not you have to give it a little extra baking time!

Now for my new recipe this year:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup cold margarine
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 can (14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 T. corn starch
1 T. brown sugar
1 can (16 oz.) whole berry cranberry sauce
1/3 cup flour
2 T. brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter or margarine
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (I'm going to use pecans.)
  In bowl, combine flour and powdered sugar, cut in the butter until crumbly..  Press in a 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until light brown.  Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees.
   In bowl, beat cream cheese till smooth.  Add milk and lemon juice; mix well. Pour over crust.
   In bowl, combine corn starch and brown sugar.  Stir in cranberry sauce till combined.  Spoon over cream cheese layer.
   For topping, combine flour and brown sugar.  Cut in butter.  Fold in nuts.  Sprinkle over filling.
  Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes till topping is golden brown.  Cool on wire rack.  Cover and chill for 3 hours before cutting.  Yield: 12-15 servings. 
  I think they sound (and they looked) yummy!  If my 55 year old brain can retain this thought, I'll try to post pictures of both of these after Thanksgiving! 
  I am so thankful for the Lord's tender care of me all these years, I'm thankful for the wonderful, wonderful marriage He's given me, the children He gave us and then the bonus children He gave us, for giving me faith to believe Him and to trust His word, for the new truths He gives me every day in His word.
  I've been thinking of other things this last couple weeks...I've thought so much of my children and all they've taught me, for the blessing of seeing my grown children in church and serving the Lord with all their hearts, for the blessing of seeing my grandchildren receive Christ as their Saviour, I've thought of my brother and sisters and how precious they are to me and what wonderful memories I have of my life with them, of my nieces and nephews and just little snippets of memories have come floating back, (like MaryBeth staying with me after my foot surgery to help me), I've thought of so many people that have been used of the Lord to refresh Gary and I spiritually at just the right time, of my parents and my in-laws, of friends who have remained faithful to us through the years and the list could go on and on and on....
  I read aloud to our children at breakfast this week Abraham Lincoln's proclamation   concerning Thanksgiving.  In it he makes sure the people know it is God who they had to thank for their blessings and God who they should fear for His judgment on our nation (the Civil War) for their unfaithfulness to Him. He recommended thanksgiving and repentance as a nation.  My, can you imagine what would happen today if a president made a proclamation like that? 
  It made me want to search my own heart for any idols or any lack of fear and reverence for a very real Almighty God. 
  As we enter Thanksgiving week, I pray that we all will recount our blessings before God and give Him thanks and that we all will search our hearts and ask Him to grant us repentance where we lack giving Him credit and thanks where they are due.  May each and every one of you have a wonderful Christ-honoring Thankgiving Day!
With love,

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Fall Season in the Interim of Our Lives...

  Well, here we are living in a "between" home during the holidays.  My husband is between pastorates and so we're living in a rented home.  It's absolutely perfect for us and I thank the Lord every day for giving us such a wonderful home to live in during this interim of our lives. 
  We have always lived in a parsonage and so we've never owned a home.  In our early days of ministry that bothered me a little but as I grew in years and in my spiritual life I began to see it as a blessing in our lives.  Then the Lord gave me a wonderful verse about being a "parsonage dweller".
" And they lodged round about the house of God, because the charge was upon them, and the opening thereof every morning pertained to them. " (I Chron. 9:27)
  Since the Lord gave me that verse I have been very content with my home wherever the Lord might put me.  At this point He has us in a holding pattern in our lives until He gives us new and clear direction.  Needless to say this has altered our life and that includes the holiday period of our lives.
  I'm a true traditionalist.  I love things to be the same so my children and family look back and can say, "Do you remember how mom (Grandma, Aunt Tami, or whatever name fits) always made this or did this during the holidays?
  I also know that flexibility is good too.  This year I couldn't have found all my fall decorations if I tried so I decided to use nature and whatever else the Lord sent my way.  I won a little engraved pumpkin and a candle as prizes at the Wings Conference and the kids and I gathered acorns and pinecones from our yard.   I have a beautiful fireplace mantel and I wanted to decorate it for fall and little by little it was filled with beautiful fall decor. 
  Since I took this picture the Lord even added a beautiful fall vine with berries and leaves and a sign that says "Give Thanks".  My husband and children have all mentioned how pretty the mantel looks.  Thank You Lord!
   This time of year I feel an excitement building up in me.  It's time for the holidays.  I can't resist getting the cookbooks out and while we sit in the living room watching a movie I'm marking the ones I want to try to make.  This year for Thanksgiving I decided we'd have to have the pumpkin cake I made at Jennibeth's house when we spent Thanksgiving with them.
  It was after Thanksgiving and she and I were wanting to make a dessert but we'd about emptied the pantry out for Thanksgiving.  We went scavengering and found a can of pumpkin.  I'd gone through some of her cookbooks and found a recipe that called for just flour, sugar, eggs, pumpkin and spices so that was the choice.  It called for cream cheese frosting and we didn't have cream cheese so I made cooked caramel (I call it penuche but nobody knows what that is) frosting on it.  Oh, my goodness!  It was SO good and became a Thanksgiving keeper at the Neals!
    Here's the recipe:
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin
2 cups flour, sifted
2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
4 tsp. cinnamon
   Combine sugar and oil.  Add eggs separately, beating well to combine.  Add flour, soda, salt and cinnamon to sugar mixture.  Blend thoroughly.  Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes in pans which have been greased and floured.  Makes three (3) 9" round layers.

Now for the frosting.
(For this cake I use a double recipe.  You can double it if you want, but you'll need a strong arm or a helper in the beating stage! :)

1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/4 cup milk
2 cups powdered sugar

Melt butter or margarine in saucepan.  Stir in brown sugar.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir over low heat for 2 minutes.  Stir in milk; heat to boiling.  Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm.
Gradually stir in powdered sugar.  Place pan of frosting in bowl of ice and water; beat until its of spreading consistency.  If frosting becomes too stiff just heat slightly stirring constantly.

  This is a wonderful three layer cake!  The one in the picture has an extra batch of icing on it.  (I do one batch for the layers and 1 1/2 batches for the outside because our family likes lots of the icing! )
  I have a little recipe holder with all my very favorite holiday recipes in it.  Our Christmas punch recipe, cheeseball recipes, spinach dip, sausage bites, baked macaroni and cheese, Swiss medley (a wonderful full-of-cheese side  dish with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushroom soup, sour cream and Durkees onions), sweet potato casserole that a died-in-the-wool sweet potato hater will love, all my specialty cheesecake recipes, peanut butter pie, every truffle and fudge recipe you can imagine and the list goes on and on and on in it.  My head is already dancing with new ideas to try this year.  Can't wait to see what the Lord has in store.  I have a new cake ball truffle recipe I wanted to try and someone already brought me some dark chocolate chips they found on clearance.  They're tucked back to become truffles!
  Because of my love of cooking I like to use fall/holiday baking as an excuse to stop by the neighbors with a pie pan full of goodies and a chance to talk to them.  We have a couple near us with failing health and I so want the Lord to use us in their lives.  I love it when you knock on a neighbor's door and you can see genuine happiness in their eyes when they open the door and see you standing there.  It's also an opportunity to teach our children to help others around us. 
  John asked me the other day when I was going to be taking the neighbors some goodies and I told him probably this week.  He said, "Can we take some to the neighbors with the new kittens, because maybe they'll let me see them when we go!"  That struck my funny bone!
  We're going to have Brian and Niki with Halle and Evan for Thanksgiving this year and I'm so excited about that.  I like a FULL dining room table.  The more I have at the table the happier I am!  Niki and I are already talking about what we want to have.  She's planning on bringing a new pie recipe she found and I'm planning on--well, I can't make up my mind!  Too many good things to choose from!
  I also am working on Christmas projects this year.  The main one that I'm working on is making little nurse's costumes for the little girls in my life.  When Niki and Alicia were little my mom made them a nurse's apron and then I made them little hats out of paper.  Every time someone got sick at our house we made the couch up into a hospital bed, stuck the humidifier next to the couch (sometimes complete with tent) and the girls became nurses.
  Mike Shockley says his first memory of my girls was coming into the house to visit us and one of the boys was sick.  He said he remember Niki and Alicia running around in their little nurses costumes and bringing them their needs on a cookie sheet with a tea towel over it.  (All meals were served in the hospital bed when you were sick.)  They loved being nurses! 
  So maybe it's memory lane for me but I wanted to make the granddaughters their own nurses costume.  My pattern is a really old one but it's so cute.  On the cover the little girl has a white turtleneck on and white tights so she looks like the old-fashioned nurse of my childhood that's dressed in all white.  I have Halle's all done but getting the waist and hat fit to her perfect size.  They're quick to sew and take very little fabric.  That's good for the budget!


So tonight I'm listening to Old Fashioned Christian Radio, and thinking about the wonderful blessings of a sweet Christian home, good food, the wonder of fall sunsets, leaves crunching under your feet, having the blessing of grown children, grandchildren and children still around me to fellowship with each and every day, the joy of being a woman, wife, mother and grandmother and so many, many other blessings.  How can we begin to thank the Lord for his daily benefits! 
  I pray you're having a wonderful fall season and that your walk with the Lord is real and personal.  May God bless you all!

With love,



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stretching the Budget Dollars....

   It seems everyone is feeling the crunch financially these days.  We have always lived on a reasonably tight budget simply because we have made a choice to live debt-free.  However, right now my husband is between pastorates and only working a part time job and so we've had to tighten up the belt several notches.
  Let me say right here how thankful I am for parents who raised me with a different set of values than most people live by.  We learned early in life that eternal values were those that were the most important.  We also learned that relationships (beginning with our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour) were far more important than anything tangible in our lives.   The older I get the more grateful I am for these important truths that were ingrained into my heart and life.  It allows me to see that those things with eternal values are what really, really matters.
   I also am thankful for learning that some of the most enjoyable things in life are free!  I love watching children play, I love sitting and watching the rain come down while I sit on my porch and drink coffee.  My mom taught me to enjoy watching people.  I can have a wonderful time sitting in a vehicle waiting on my husband and mentally sketching people or guessing their names, occupations or guessing their personality type.  I love bathing babies, telling stories, listening to stories or simply reading a book.  I love nature.  I love....and the list could go on and on with things that cost nothing!
  So with all that said, life still goes on.  We have to wash clothes, buy groceries, clothe our families, and pay the bills!  When the belt does needed tightened what are some ways we can help our families to make it with the least amount of pain?
   One of the major expenses is food so I want to talk about that first.  Years ago I heard a radio program where they talked about how much food is wasted in America.  I was astounded by the statistics.  The current amount of food that is wasted in America is estimated to be 100 billion pounds of food per year.  Is is estimated that 14% of the food Americans purchase is wasted.  The average American family throws out $590 worth of food each year.  This is just food in the homes and doesn't include grocery store waste or restaurant waste.  I stood in my living room after hearing that program and prayed to the Lord telling Him that if He would send us food that was going to be wasted we would use it.  He has never failed to answer that prayer to this day.  Much of our food is from what others planned on throwing away or from a grocery store like UGO that deals with what is about to go out of date or is the overflow of other stores.
  So, first make it a matter of prayer. 
  Second, cook from scratch.  When you buy anything precooked or premade you are wasting money.  It only takes minutes to put together food from scratch.  I read a book once and she gave price comparisons of pre-made food and food from scratch in price and time.  I assure you people who don't cook from scratch are spending a lot of money and not gaining much in time.
  Third, make more casseroles, soups and foods that have meat in them but the entree isn't made entirely of meat.  When we have been the tightest financially I have doubled the non-meat part of a casserole and reduced the meat part.  My family didn't notice.
This includes soups, etc.  You can even make one non-meat meal per week and save.  Meat is one of the major expenses in the food budget and we in the Western world eat too much meat.  You can make baked beans with hot dogs in them along with corn bread and a green veggie and voila!-- a meal.  You can make chicken and noodles, au gratin potatoes with ham pieces in them, pinto beans, green beans with potatoes and sliced link sausage, pot pies, stir fry and Chicken A La King,  and make a little meat go a long, long way.  Need recipes?   Find your basic recipe and then learn to stretch it!
  I have even made some really good dinners just scavengering my fridge and mixing them together and ending up with a good meal from leftovers in the fridge.  I call them "Desperation Dinners".  Twice I've been asked for my recipe and told the person "I couldn't give it to you if I tried". 
  Fourth, reduce waste in your own kitchen.  If you have a few vegetables left and don't think they'll get eaten throw them into a quart jar and freeze them.  Later you can put them in your homemade vegetable soup.  Learn to eat up your leftovers.  Take bread heels and leftover rolls and put them in a freezer bag.  Use them later for overnight breakfast casserole or the stuffing for Thanksgiving Day.  I even have a really good crockpot recipe for chicken and stuffing where those old bread scraps come in mighty handy.  Some of the recipes that have been glorified today by Food Network are really recipes that came from our grandmothers depression days.  My mother said Bread Pudding and Rice Pudding were both recipes to use up the leftover day old bread and leftover rice. 
  If you haven't canned or frozen food before you might want to learn in case someone gives you their extra bumper crop of zucchini or even corn.  I've actually canned an entire freezer of food someone gave me.  Their freezer had broken down and the food had thawed.  They planned to throw it away.  I canned fish and beef both from that freezer load of food!
  Reuse your storage bags (unless meat was stored in them) by giving them a scrub in hot dish water and drying them over glasses on your counter.  Give up paper plates and paper towels for a while.  I promise it won't kill you.  You can memorize scripture or pray while you wash the extra dishes.  No one will bother you as you do it!
  Fifth,  learn who has the best prices.  I keep a small notebook in my purse where I keep the prices of things we commonly  buy.  WalMart used to have a corner on the market in many areas.  I now buy more things at Kroger as they have become cheaper than WalMart on many, many items.  We buy much of our milk at Save-A-Lot because the first gallon is much cheaper there.  We make a weekly trip to UGO and find prices on canned goods that can't be beat.  I check the ads each week.  We buy only Scott toilet paper when it's on sale at KMart or Dollar General Store. (Try it one time and compare how long it lasts next to any other brand and you'll be sold.)   I now make my own laundry detergent at such a savings that I couldn't begin to compare it with the cheapest laundry detergent out there!
  If I have to I can feed our family for a week on a very, very small amount of money.  I'm thankful for the help the Lord has given me in doing this.
Next, ask yourself where the leak is in your budget.  How many times do you go to town each week?  How much are you spending on eating out or entertainment?  Have a family night at home and get out those old-fashioned board games and make homemade pizza versus expensive delivered or freezer section pizza.  Just making the pizza can be half of the fun! 
  We have never owned more than one vehicle as a family.  (unless my children owned one--I'm talking about one for hubby and one for me.)  This has saved us an enormous amount of money.  Just the license, insurance, maintenance, gas cost, etc. is a large chunk of change.  Some people can't even imagine this but I've asked my husband to make sure there isn't an extra car out there to tempt me to run around when I'm supposed to be at home!  I've never felt cheated--I've got too much to do here anyway!
   Now to clothing.  Years ago I was very embarrassed by my clothing and my shoes.  My husband was in the early years of ministry and we had four children under the age of five.  Most of our budget paid the bills and when I had clothing money it went on the children's needs.  Then I learned to give my wardrobe to the Lord and let Him supply it.  Didn't He say to seek Him and His righteousness first and all these things would be added to us? (Matt. 6)  Well, it works!
  I can't begin to tell all the wonderful treats He has given me.  If He can clothe the grass of the field and make beautiful flowers He can take care of me!  The other day I was looking at my wardrobe and realizing that much of it had been given to me in what others would call rag bags.  I also had found wonderful deals on some of my favorite clothes. 
  Now I'm not what you'd call "into" clothes.  My husband actually picks out more of my clothes than I do or insists I buy them when I want to go to JoAnn's fabric and buy another piece of fabric to make a grandchild something new however, I'm not ashamed of what the Lord has given me.
  I am a seamstress but in the last few years I've found you can get as much into sewing adult clothing as buying it on sale or finding a gently used piece at a thrift store.  With that said, I believe you should learn to sew.  Basics if nothing else so you can "refashion" something you found at Goodwill. 
  Learn to shop thrift stores, learn to look at an article of clothing and ask if just a small alteration would make it something you'd love.  Learn to shop at the end of the season in the store--you usually have plenty of season left when they're trying to get rid of them.  Learn to shop in stores like Ross where you can get brand name clothing for a fraction of the full price.  Learn what to invest in financially and what to only buy the cheap line.
   I love having lined skirts (pencil skirts) for dress up.  I have paid more for them because a good lined skirt will last years and years.  If something is more of a fad and is going to be out of style shortly I would be looking at a cheap department store for what I'm wanting.
  We live in a town with probably six to seven thrift stores.  I recently found Cierra three camisole tops to wear under her long sleeved tops for 50 cents each!  They look brand new but they were considered summer. 
  There are many wonderful blogs on refashioning clothes and I know from experience some of the best pieces of fabric I got to use on children's clothings were from larger ready made outfits given to us.  Cierra's first dress I made her was darling.  It was from a piece of leftover fabric with a built in slip made from an old bedsheet! 
   One of my favorite tips I've used for years was to take my old hose that had one leg with a runner and save it.  I tie a knot in the leg that has the runner and put it in my underclothing drawer.  Then when the next pair gets a runner in just one leg I take out both pair and cut off the bad leg leaving the panty part on both pair of hose.  I put them together (it has two pair of panties to it) and I have a new pair of hose.  Make your hose last twice as long!
   These are just a few of the things I've learned through the years but they've sure come in handy when times were tough.  Something interesting is that our children never have really known when we were having a tough time.  Now we've had a few times they knew because of what was on the table. 
 On the whole, however,  they didn't know that when we were pretending we were living in the Great Depression and I was hanging all my clothes on clothes lines in the basement and we used oil lamps I really was pinching my household pennies till they cried with the pain!  We made the most wonderful memories and saved money all at the same time.
    My grandma wasted nothing.  She washed her plastic wrap and reused it.  She saved every tiny piece of thread from sewing and put it on a spool for mending.  She counted how many times the toilet was flushed and knew how much water was being used.  She used a timer with every long distance phone call.  I asked her why she was so careful with all she had and she said, "I lived through the depression with small children to care for."
  I remember my Grandmother Mettler talking to Niki about the Great Depression when Niki had to write a report about it.  She made the comment that the entire time she never saw money exchange hands.  She said you learned to trade your goods and services for what you needed.  She also said that people became very creative during hard times.  She would talk of the beautiful little toys her mother-in-law made for the children from cardboard, pieces of scrap wood and even corn cobs!  She said that going through tough times together would make your relationship stronger when you got through them and that you would look back to those times as some of the best times in your life.  A-men Grandma.   With the right attitude and some Yankee ingenuity (even if your a Southerner:)
it can be a time when you learn to appreciate what you have and make some sweet memories. 
  Have any tips?  I'd love to hear them!  Tough times don't have to be sad times!  I pray you'll turn to your Heavenly Father and ask for wisdom and help and then use what He's given you as a wise steward.  Let's all bring Him glory in whatever state we are in!