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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Dogs in a Dog

I thought this was too cute not to share. I plan to use homemade dough, but the recipe calls for frozen bread dough.

Rhodes™ Dinner Rolls, thawed but still cold
hot dogs
sliced cheese
black beans


Combine two rolls and flatten into a 7 x 5-inch rectangle. Place on a sprayed baking sheet. Place a hot dog on the dough and roll the dough around the hot dog leaving excess dough on one end to make the head. Pinch a small tail on the other end of the dog. Pinch the dough together behind the head to form the neck. Cut another roll into three pieces. The first piece is slightly larger than ½ of the roll. The other two pieces are half of what is left. Roll the larger piece into a 6-inch rope that is very thin in the center. Lay the rope over the pinched neck and flatten the ends to make the ears. Roll the other two pieces into 4-inch ropes that are thin in the center but have small balls on the ends. Place these under the dog to make the feet. Repeat steps to make as many dogs as desired. Bake at 350°F 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Use cheese, black beans and olives for eyes and nose.

Watch the how-to video here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monthly Musings: Week 21

Here is this week’s spending report.

Week 21 Spending
Groceries /Food   
Basketball fee

Lots of graduation and wedding invitations are arriving in the mail, so I need to decide how we’re going to handle them. How do you determine to whom you send a graduation gift? Is a thoughtful card enough? If we send a gift card, what is the correct amount to send? Is it appropriate to send a charitable donation in honor of the couple or graduate? These are dilemmas I face each year. I would love to hear from you on how you handle this.

My phone is dying, and I’ll need to replace it very soon. Currently we have 5 lines of basic phones for $150 a month. Three of the phones are out of contract, and all 5 are eligible to upgrade. I could buy a phone on E-Bay and keep our current plan. Our kiddos that are on the plan really want smart phones, and they are willing to pay $40 each for them. (We pay for basic cell phones for them as long as they are in school.) To change any of the phones, we have to switch to a new plan since ours is no longer available.

So far, the best deal I’ve found for Smart Phones is for $65 per line with 2 GB data each. This is with a 2-year contract that includes the phones (iPhone 5c 32 GB). We are limited to Verizon or Straight Talk because of sketchy cellular service in our area. Straight talk is $50 per month, but you have to provide your own phone. $15/month for 24 months is $360. Can we get good smart phones for less than $360? The iPhone 5c 32 GB retails for $699 and the best price I found for an unlocked one on E-bay is $419. Please jump in here with your input. I know ours isn’t the only family trying to make sense of this.

Summer is almost upon us. Esther is playing summer basketball through the end of June. Piano lessons are done for the year. I usually use the budgeted piano money from summer to have any repairs or tuning done and to buy new lesson books for next year. Hopefully we’ll be able to take a trip over the summer, although I doubt we’ll be camping. Wondering why? Just take a look at my Mother’s Day Fail post from last week.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mother’s Day Fail

Aside from the Mother’s Days in the years of infertility testing and treatments, Mother’s Day, 2014, will likely go down as the worst one ever. Had I written about it last week, it would have been raw and painful, and I probably would have regretted some of my words. Instead, I decided to take the week off of blogging. A week later, I can laugh and share our adventures.

The morning of Mother’s Day started off nicely enough. We were camping in Abilene State Park. I awakened to chirping birds and a cool breeze blowing through the pop-up camper windows. Everyone was still asleep, and I spent several minutes enjoying the calmness and solitude.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” I said to myself as I lovingly gazed at my dear husband beside me and our four younger children who had accompanied us on this trip.

Then it started. Someone rolled over and took too much covers. The unhappily uncovered child deemed roll-over child an “idiot,” and there was a strategically placed punch followed by a kick. In less than 30 seconds, a full-scale fight erupted, and the entire camper was rocking back and forth. The commotion woke up children #3 and #4, one of whom grumpily started yelling, demanding the fight stop.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” I mumbled under my breath as I exited the camper and headed to the bathroom.

On the way back from the shower facilities, I was stared down by a seven year-old camper. As I passed him, he mustered his most menacing tone to tell me, “Gonna kick your butt, Old Lady. Gonna kick your butt.” This was in response to my previously asking his dad to observe park quiet hours by stopping his son and his friends from playing flashlight soccer at 3 a.m.

I looked at my little enemy and smiled. “Happy Mother’s Day,” I said cheerfully.

The rest of the morning was spent cleaning up the campsite and packing our things, interspersed with grumbling and complaining, heated discussions about appropriate vs. inappropriate clothing, and the occasional fight between siblings. By the time we left the campground, it was almost 1 p.m. We went down the highway to Lake Abilene, which is basically a 600-acre mudhole.

Josiah, Gideon, Esther, and Syd were exploring the lake bottom, when Gideon ventured out too far and sank knee-deep in the orange sandy mud. In the struggle to extract himself from the “quicksand,” Gideon lost his shoes and was so covered in mud that we had to return to the state park for him to shower and change.

“What a lovely Mother’s Day,” I sarcastically intoned for anyone who cared to listen…which was no one.

By 3:30, we were in Abilene. Everyone was hungry, and rather than have the picnic I had planned for the park which was three hours down the road, we decided to go to Long John Silver’s for lunch – because Long John Silver’s is EXACTLY my first choice for fine dining on Mother’s Day. A certain child was very irritated about being required to wear decent clothing, so that person gave Syd and I a verbal lashing, pointing out that we were the most ridiculous parents in the world, blah, blah, blah. This kiddo refused to eat lunch, and instead spent the entire time grousing about what lousy parents we were.

“Best Mother’s Day Ever,” I whispered to Syd.

An hour of driving later, our Honda van’s tachometer spiked beyond 7500 rpm, and I noticed an awful burning smell. Syd pulled over immediately, checked the transmission, replaced some fluid, and after about 45 minutes of deliberation in 98-degree weather, determined we could cautiously proceed home.
It seems our van’s transmission couldn’t handle the load of pulling our pop-up camper at high speeds on the west Texas hills with a full load of 6 passengers and our gear. Syd figured we could make it home if we kept our speed around 55 mph and didn’t use the air conditioning. Did I mention it was 98 degrees outside? So, looking like something out of Grapes of Wrath, we proceeded down the road, the wind doing awful things to the girls’ hair, and the heat making grumpy people even grumpier. The one plus side – all of the road noise drowned out the complaints and arguments.

"Happy Mother's Day," I groused as I descended into a full-fledged pity party. I piously tried to mask it by busily crocheting granny squares all the while complaining about not having a decent vehicle for traveling.

David and our friend, Joel, met us in Gainesville, hooked the camper to David’s truck, and hauled it the 90 remaining miles home. We arrived home about 10:30 pm -- wind-blown and road-weary. The van had done amazingly well, all things considered. Everyone grabbed their belongings and hauled them in the house. After baths, an exhausted group of travelers fell into their beds.

In the midnight hour, I crept into each room to check on the children. I felt my own anger and frustration melt away as I breathed a silent prayer over each one. “Happy Mother’s Day,” I whispered, thanking God for answering my desperate pleas of 25 years ago and giving me the opportunity to be a mom. I wouldn’t trade my messy life for any other – although I wouldn’t mind having a decent vehicle for traveling with the camper...and a day without arguing would be the best gift ever! J

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Crockpot Balsamic Chicken

Here is another Sunday favorite. Toss everything in the slow cooker before church and come home to a delicious dinner. We served this over twisty pasta with steamed broccoli and grilled garlic bread.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 3.5-4 Hours
Serves: 6-8

2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 onion, thinly sliced


Drizzle olive oil into the slow cooker. Place chicken breasts on top of oil and season each breast with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, mix together garlic, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and tomatoes. Pour over seasoned breasts and top with onion slices.

Cook in the slow cooker set to High until chicken is no longer pink in the center and the juices run clear, about 3.5 to 4 hours.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Musings: Weeks 19 & 20

Last week, I took a break from blogging, so these figures are for the past two weeks.

Weeks 19 & 20 Spending
Groceries /Food   
Piano Lessons
Cash for Trip
*Average weekly spending      $283

We began Esther's orthodontic treatment last week. Our initial records appointment was the $160 listed in the spending chart. After insurance, our total fee for Esther's braces will be $2998. Since beginning our spending challenge, I've saved nearly $2000 from my household budgeted expenses. With a $700 savings transfer, I can pay the entire remaining balance of Esther's bill, and receive a 5% bookkeeping credit of $142. My goal is to return the money to our savings account before the end of summer through additional savings on the household budget. 

It's a great feeling to know we've got the money on hand for this treatment. We won't have to worry about a "low monthly payment" of $115 every month for the next 20 months. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Yoke of Love

A few weeks ago I heard Jen Hatmaker teaching about the early training of rabbis and the meaning of the term yoke, in particular. It resonated with my spirit and was somewhat of an "ah-ha" moment. This may be a rough explanation because I am working from memory.

In the time of Jesus, each rabbi has his own "take" on the law -- consisting of the teaching he received from his mentor rabbi, his interpretations, etc. When that rabbi rose to the level of teaching others to be rabbis, the task of the student rabbis was to imitate their teacher in every way, up to and including the way he ate his food and did his other daily tasks -- like Paul and Gamaliel.

Here's where it gets interesting. Each rabbi's set of practices and teaching were referred to as his "yoke." Jesus called his apostles, and He calls us, saying in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Jesus was referring to His set of practices and teachings -- they weren't burdensome, like the other rabbis' teachings. They were easy and light because they involved being gentle and humble, and resting in Him. He was (is) calling those who are weary and heavy laden because they have been following a man-made set of rules.

The way I see it is that the true rest in Jesus isn't something I do; it is a gift that Jesus gives me as I abide in Him. An ox can only wear one yoke at a time. I must take Jesus' yoke alone and learn from Him. His teachings are centered on love -- loving Him and loving others with His love. When I stop trying to control things (and people) in my life by following a set of rules (i.e. another yoke) then I can focus on love. Then I can abide in Him, having faith that He has everything under His control, and I will experience a deep and abiding rest for my soul.

Isn't it funny how we gravitate to a set of rules? We'll even make up rules for avoiding rules! The life of faith, of abiding rest and trust in Jesus alone and His finished work, eludes us because we have such a hard time trusting that He is enough. He is, and always will be, our all in all -- our strength when we are weak, the treasure we seek, the One who lifts us up when we fall, the source of living water, the well that never runs dry. (Thank you very much for putting this in song, Dennis Jernigan!)

My prayer is that I will stop focusing on the circumstances surrounding me, and I will focus every ounce of my being on resting and trusting Jesus, knowing that HE controls the circumstances of my life.

Blessings today,

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Slow Cooker Swiss Steak

Last week, I found a couple of sirloin steaks in my deep freezer. It was grass-fed beef, which really benefits from slow cooking. It was also from 2008. Now that's still not as old as my youngest child, so it's fair game for family meals. 

I tossed this together Sunday morning before church, let it cook on High for 4 hours, and we came home to a delicious, savory meal that was fit for serving company. I used sirloin steak, but round steak would work just as well. I served this with slices of whole wheat bread, a salad, and a fruit salad for dessert.

Slow Cooker Swiss Steak
Serves 6-8 people


  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp. of each)
  • 2-3 pounds round steak or sirloin, cut into pieces (about 2" long and 1" wide)
  • 1 onion, cut into rings or chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, in 1/2" chunks
  • 3-6 carrots, in 1" chunks
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 can mushrooms, drained
  • 1-2 tsp. fresh minced garlic
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup


  1. Mix flour, salt and pepper together in crock pot. Toss in meat pieces. Stir to coat the meet with the flour mixture.
  2. Lay onion rings on top of meat. Layer in celery and carrot pieces. Pour tomatoes over carrots and celery. Place mushrooms on top of veggies. Sprinkle minced garlic over mushrooms.
  3. Pour or dollop mushroom soup over vegetables and steak.
  4. Cover and cook 8-10 hours on low or 4 hours on high, until the meat is very tender.
  5. Serve over egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or brown rice. You can also pour it over a slice of bread, if you run out of noodles.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday Musings, Week 18

Here is this week's spending report.

Week 18 Spending
Groceries /Food   
Piano Lessons

April Spending Report
Piano Lessons
Hair Care
Discretionary Cash
*Does not include 5/4/14 grocery shopping during week 18

Comparing percentages, this is my best month yet. All but $200 of my spending was for groceries, and I came in $254 under my grocery budget. I can definitely tell that we are using our supply of freezer items and canned goods. In the afternoons, some of the children wander around the kitchen moaning that there is nothing to eat. When I suggest that they make a sandwich or a burrito, or grab a boiled egg or some fruits or vegetables, they trudge off, mumbling about how there isn’t any “real food” in the house – you know the stuff – Cheese Nips and bags of chips and chicken nuggets and corn dogs and frozen pizza, etc., etc, ad nauseam. Literally.

Summer is time for the kiddos to pick up extra work, like mowing yards, moving hay, and helping neighbors with various projects. This should help cut down on the griping since they’ll have more pocket change. I’m hoping they’ll learn the value of money since they’ll have to spend their own.

Here is a common conversation at our house –
Child: Moooooooooom, I NEED you to buy me (fill in the blank).
Mom: Sorry, dearest child, but there’s not money in the budget for (fill in the blank). If you want it, you’ll have to save up and spend your own money.
Child: I don’t want to spend MY money. It costs too much. Can’t YOU buy it?

And so it goes and goes and goes. One thing I have noticed is that, as I have been consistent in requiring them to buy their own lego sets, fancy footwear, make-up, snacks-on-the-way-home-because-they-are starving-to-DEATH, etc., the requests are slowly, but surely, coming less often. When the kids are met with a denial, they accept it more readily, and we are able to have a sane discussion about needs and wants.

The same goes for the adults in this household. Instead of having an attitude of “’La-dee-da,’ I’ll just buy the stuff I want and hope everything works out at the end of the month,” we are much more intentional and conversational about our spending patterns and savings goals. This is a very good thing, as evidenced by the growing balance of our emergency fund and savings account.