Monthly Archives: March 2011

Proof

I write this minutes after my sweet friend Marietta Wright exited my home.  We stood in the driveway and put one arm around each other and the other with its hand holding the proof copy of Brushed by God, her book on spontaneous prophetic art.  We prayed:  over the book, over each other, and just with thankfulness to God.

Thanks to Arnold at http://www.623creative.com for work on the cover

The book has been a long time in the making.  Well, I guess not that long, as far as books go, but it feels like forever.  She started working on it more than two years ago, after not being able to find a published book on the subject — because there isn’t one.  (Still, none exist, except hers, which is about to hit the market.)  She’s not a writer;  she was just trying to fill a need.  I chipped in, volunteering light editing work and suggestions.  I reached a place, though, in January 2010, where I realized that, in order to give the book what it needed, Marietta would have to hire me and pay me.  That way, I would be more accountable to her for my time (instead of just working on it in my nonexistent spare time).  Being hired would elevate my sense of responsibility for the book.  So, she did.  She hired me.

Now, in the normal scheme of a paid job, I didn’t do much — some weeks only 2-3 hours.  One week I think I worked 19 hours on it.  Most weeks were around 4-5 hours.  But… as a homeschooling mother of five, that was a lot of hours.  It was a big commitment.  It was so big, in fact, that some weeks, I couldn’t live up to it at all, and was unable to do any work, which severely tried Marietta’s patience.  As we spoke today, at my kitchen table, about that (one of many times we’ve discussed the topic of my unavailability), I told her my overriding sense in the whole thing is thankfulness that she did not give up on me, that she didn’t drop me, and that I was able to keep closely involved in the process until now.  She said, “God wouldn’t let me.”  I’m glad for that.  I’m glad she allowed God to expand her capacity for patience, rather than blowing up at me that I had not fulfilled my commitment to her.  Because, in the end, we both became more and did more than we could have, apart from each other.

The body of Christ is like that, truly.  Each sharpening each other, each supplying the other’s needs, each blessing each other, filling in the blanks… and, collectively, we achieve more than we ever could have on our own, both as individuals, and in the Kingdom of God — His rule and reign, both here on the earth, and in eternity.  It’s not always pleasant, being confronted about weakness, or having someone telling you that you let them down, or even just looking at them, and reading disappointment on their countenance.

HOWEVER.  Since some time in February 2010, I repeatedly begged Marietta not to give up on me, that in my heart, I so wanted to be a part of the project.

I felt strongly — and she confirmed it today — that I had the ability to not make the book “Karen’s Book” and fill it with my own language, but to take her voice, and just elevate it — bring it up.  And she said that, indeed, that’s what I did.

I also feel VERY, VERY STRONGLY in the need for the book to be out there, to be published, for people to read it.  It’s important to me that people “taste and see” that God is a speaking God, and that He can use art to bring His heart to His people.  Plus — though, admittedly, it is a small niche — there is growing interest in prophetic art and in its practice, and still there are no books on it, save Marietta’s.

The only bad news is this:  We have no publisher.  It will be self-published.  Marietta had a contract with a large, reputable publisher — our first choice, in fact!  However, after all the papers were signed, they revealed that a) the book would be published in black and white, and b) it would be in a smaller format than originally agreed-upon.  Understandably, Marietta balked at both, but especially the part about color.  How can you have a book which illustratively teaches about art, and have it be in black and white???  That just wouldn’t work.  So, after some conversation about it, the publisher released Marietta, gave her the choice to back out of the contract.  I guess that is a good thing, because they could have held her to it, and just done what they wanted, since neither point of contention was specified in the official, signed paperwork of the contract.

After that, rather than searching out another publisher, Marietta decided to look into self-publishing.  That has been a longish experience  — four or five months of hard lessons learned along a winding and complicated road.

I wasn’t thrilled about self-publishing, at first.  But, truly, there are so many outlets for a self-published book these days that it may be just fine, even though it’s a lot more work for the author (and those helping her).  And, perhaps the book will be picked up by a real publisher, sooner or later.  Sooner, one hopes.

After looking literally all around the world, Marietta found a great printer, people of their word who do good work at a good price, America’s Press.  (Not many printers fit all three of those criteria!)

This juncture where we find ourselves is both the completion of one portion of the journey, and the start of another:  getting the word out.  Even the bit that we have done so far — mostly just her blog, which I work on, as well — has resulted in invitations for Marietta to teach seminars/workshops in both the Netherlands (which will happen next month) and in New Zealand (which is under discussion).  I believe that’s just the tip of the iceberg!!

Soon, I’ll have a little button, there on the right, to purchase the book, for those who have been interested.  🙂  (Daja, you get one for free.)

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Frugal, healthy, (gluten-free — or not) groceries

A sweet friend of mine recently asked for frugal meal ideas.  Maybe she was asking for recipes, which I will list in a post later this week.  But to start out, I thought I’d post some general ideas — guidelines I use — to make it happen.  Feel free to add your own suggestions as a comment!

  • Nothing from a mix, nothing from a box.  With rare exception — like boxed breakfast cereal — I simply don’t buy anything boxed or pre-mixed or frozen-prepared.  Not only is this virtually always more expensive, but ready-made foods are almost always going to contain ingredients that aren’t healthy.
  • Stick to a budget. Don’t make excuses for yourself about why you’re not, or why you can’t.  YOU CAN.  Find a way!  Make it a game, a challenge.  First, if you don’t know how much you’re spending, figure that out by keeping track of receipts for a month.  Then, decrease that by 10% for a weekly or monthly budget and stick with it.  When you can easily shop at that decreased budget, decrease it by another 10%.  And so on.
  • This is rather an extension of the first tip, but start with whole food, single ingredients.  As a gluten-free (and nearly dairy-free) family, I find that the hardest thing to make is often the carb in the meal.  So, I figure that out first:  Corn, rice, potatoes, or beans, or a combination of those items.
    • Corn might be cornbread, corn tortillas (either ready-made, or homemade from masa flour), or simply prepared-from-frozen (organic!  From Costco!) kernels.
    • Rice may be rice noodles (from the Asian market — about $1 per 10-16 oz package), plain basmati rice (Royal King Sella is our fave — bought in 10 lb bags, $11.99 at the Asian market), basmati rice mix (with bits of dried veggies from Trader Joe’s – about $2 for a 1 lb bag, which for us, is enough for about 1½ meals)
    • Since I avoid russets, my favorite thing to do is chunk up red and yellow potatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and herbs (usually dried parsley and/or thyme, or fresh rosemary), seal in a heavy-duty aluminum foil packet, and place it on the grill.  Alternately, put it in a covered casserole dish in the oven.
    • Beans:  Refried beans, or beans from canned — check your ingredients to make sure you don’t have any junk in your canned beans.  Calcium chloride is OK, though not ideal.  Anything other than salt is not.  I often will sautee onion and garlic to add to canned beans, or get even fancier, adding various veggies, corn, and tomatoes.  Or, start with bulk, dried beans.  I need to do more of this, actually!!  In my pantry, I have probably 15 pounds of dried pintos, lentils, black beans, etc., but I often don’t plan ahead far-enough in advance to allow for that.
    • If I deviate from my list, it is ONLY for something that is at a fabulous price.  Even if it’s for a snack or treat, like chocolate bars, I’ll buy a 3-pack at Trader Joe’s for $1.79.  Or, recently, I found an organic chocolate bar for $0.50, on clearance.  Yum!  AND, I’ll only buy “extras” if they don’t make me go over-budget, even if it is a great price!
  • Know what a good price is for a grocery item, and don’t go over it.  Then, when that item goes on sale, buy in bulk.  Now, since I have limited pantry and freezer space, my “bulk” is typically not more than enough for a few weeks.  But, usually, when that “few weeks” is up, something else has gone on sale to replace it.
    • Meat:  I typically will not pay more than $2/lb for beef or boneless, skinless chicken breast.  I don’t pay more than $0.79/lb for other chicken.  I don’t pay more than $1.50/lb for pork.  Not more than $2/lb for any fish, and not more than $1.50/lb for turkey.  Accordingly, we never eat steaks.  Well, maybe once or twice a year.  I have to find more creative uses for more inexpensive cuts of meat, but I do!  I miss my rib eye, but it’s worth it.  Now, from what I understand, the Phoenix area — for some reason — is one of the least expensive places in the United States for groceries, so you may have to adjust yours up a bit.  But, still, be VERY choosy.  There are some weeks where I don’t buy any meat AT ALL, because it’s all too expensive, and we just live off of whatever I have in the freezer.
    • I don’t pay more than $2 for a box of “normal” cereal, and not more then $2.50 for gluten-free cereal.  This is accomplished through shopping the sales, using coupons, and buying in bulk.  For instance, this last shopping trip, I bought two “family size” boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats for $0.88 each.  I bought two big boxes of Rice Chex and Corn Chex for $1.50 each.  And, I bought a box of Gorilla Munch and a box of Koala Crisp for $2 each.
    • Do similarly for vegetables and fruit:  know what a good price is for canned, frozen, and fresh veggies and fruit.  We don’t eat a lot of canned veggies, but I do keep some on hand, and typically don’t pay more than $0.75 per can.  This winter, when so much of our nation’s fresh veggies were decimated by freakishly cold weather, we ate a lot of frozen peas, because those remained at a good price when fresh broccoli and zucchini shot up to $3+ per pound.  Much of this has to do with buying in season.  Don’t buy peaches in the winter when they are $3 a pound, even if they look good!  Wait until summertime!
  • Use coupons.  Our local paper, the Arizona Republic, has a delivery special where we ONLY receive the Wednesday and Sunday papers.  Wednesday contains the weekly food ads, and Sunday’s paper includes manufacturer’s coupons.  As a very particular family, there is a GREAT deal that we simply cannot or won’t eat.  But, when I’m cutting coupons, I ask myself, “Would I buy this item if it was on sale AND I had this coupon?”  If the answer is yes, I clip and file it.  Using this method, even with special diets, I typically save $8-20/week in coupons.  While that wouldn’t qualify for “extreme couponing”, it makes it worthwhile to spend $2.25/week on our newspaper subscription and the 30 minutes or so, weekly, that I spend on coupons.  I have a small expandable file, to which I weekly add the new coupons.  I also go through it thoroughly, once a month, discarding expired coupons and reacquainting myself with what coupons I have.
  • Use a list and stick to it.  I keep a running list which I update daily, as needed.  I just use a sheet of printer paper, folded over, which I keep on my countertop.  It is broken down by the store from which the needed items come:  General grocery, Sprouts (natural foods & produce market), Lee Lee (Asian market), Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target, and misc other stores (like Ross or the dollar store).
  • Then, when I make my weekly shopping list, I use the food ads.
    • First, I peruse an ad to find out what’s on sale (a true, good sale), and add that to my shopping list for that store (I also break down my shopping list, per store, to sections — general grocery, produce, meat, deli, dairy, natural foods, etc.).  During that time, I also match coupons according to what’s on sale.
    • After I have determined what is on sale at what store, I then look at my list of items I need, and see if I have coupons for them.  If not, I place that item on my shopping list for whichever store has the best price for that item.  OR, I delay its purchase for a week or two and just do without.
  • Plan your weekly menu based upon what is on sale!! Meal planning is a fabulous time-saver.  However, if you plan your menu not knowing what’s on sale, you’ll end up spending $5 per pound for that beef roast, thereby saving time, but spending a good $15+ more than you needed to.  Therefore, I decide what I will make that week after I see what is on sale.  I plan my menus a little more loosely:  “OK.  Chicken thighs are $0.49/lb.  We’ll have baked chicken thighs to go with the broccoli that’s on sale…  Pork shoulder is $0.99/lb.  We’ll have green chile pork in the Crockpot on Friday;  it can cook while we’re on errands and the library.  I can get ground pork for $1.29 and ground beef for $1.59/lb at Lee Lee;  we’ll have meat loaf, too.  That’s all the meat on sale… so I’ll take a package of boneless, skinless chicken breast from the freezer and make stir-fry on Monday…  I’ll need to pick up a few snow pea pods from Lee Lee, too.”  And so on.  That’s my “menu planning.”  Part of that is from cooking for my family for 16+ years;  I know what I can make, and cook almost exclusively from scratch.  When I use a recipe, it’s because I’m feeling a need for creativity, or I’ve found rutabagas on sale, and I need a rutabaga recipe.  🙂  I will seriously use recipes only about once every three weeks.  But, that’s not necessarily a budget-saver;  it’s because I have rough recipes already in my head, which I use to match what’s on sale with what I know I can make.
  • This is more of a time-saver than budget-saver, but for each dinner, pick ONE time-consuming item to make, and make everything else easy.  For instance, my family loves corn bread.  But, that takes a while to mix up and bake.  So, if I make corn bread, you can bet we’ll be having grilled chicken (easy!  Sprinkle with Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute and a little sea salt, grill until done), steamed veggies (plain), and canned (all-natural) chili beans.  And so on.
  • Make your own.  I make my own gluten-free baking mix.  I make my own trail mix.  I make my own gluten-free bread when I have time (which isn’t often, lately, so we just go without).  I bought a package of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Quick Oats and have plans to make my own g.f. instant oatmeal packs, though I haven’t done it yet, using dried cranberries, cinnamon, brown sugar, and stevia.  When I make veggie dip, I make my own:  Plain sour cream or plain yogurt with sea salt, white pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and herbs like thyme, dill, and parsley.  CHEAP.  EASY.  HEALTHY.  TASTY.  Don’t buy $2+/pack of “dip mix.”
  • Use portion control or go without.
    • We do eat a few chips:  I often buy ONE large bag of tortilla chips and ONE bag of Kettle Chips from Costco.  I enforce portion control during lunch time, and almost never use chips as a snack.  I never let anyone (except my husband, who loves chips & salsa) just sit down with an open bag of chips.
    • I almost never buy “fruit snacks” or even fruit leather any more.  Fruit snacks are nothing more than corn syrup and food color (yuck — we haven’t eaten those for years!).  Healthy dried fruit snacks, even when bought in bulk, are at least 25-50¢ per serving.  A handful of raisins or even dried cranberries — even at $2.50/lb — are a LOT more cost-effective.
    • Virtually all gluten-free crackers are ridiculously expensive so I just never buy them.  I do, though, buy rice cakes (plain — Lundberg Farms is my fave brand) and Corn Thins.
    • Snacks are really the death-knell of a grocery budget.  Don’t buy ready-packaged snacks. JUST DON’T DO IT!!  EVER!!!  Make cookies from scratch and freeze half of them, or just have cookies once a week.  Let your kids make a jam sandwich for a snack.  Voila!  Cheap and easy.  (For my g.f. kids, it’s often a rice cake with jam or Trader Joe’s brand sunflower seed butter.)  Or, give them a piece of fruit.  We eat POUNDS AND POUNDS of fruit.  And carrots.  And other veggies.  It may seem expensive to buy loads of fresh produce, but it’s healthy, and it really is so much cheaper than packaged snacks.  Bananas:  15-20¢ each.  My local farmer’s market/natural foods store, Sprouts, will have oranges for 19¢ a pound 5-6 times a year.  Those weeks, I will literally buy 20 pounds of oranges (for four bucks!) — sometimes more! —  and each kid may have as many oranges as they like that week.  🙂  “Want a snack?  Have an orange.”  That’s about 5-7¢ per snack.
  • Keep a well-organized, regularly cleaned-out pantry and fridge, both so you know what you have on hand, and so nothing goes to waste.
  • And… so that you’re not spending all your time in the kitchen:  MAKE YOUR KIDS DO CHORES.  I am in a continual search of how to divest myself of chores.  I used to plan my meals around what was going to dirty the fewest pans.  Now that my 13yo nightly does the evening dishes, I find that I’m more ready to dirty and extra mixing bowl or saucepan, which many times, when cooking from scratch, you need to do!!!
  • If you eat organic (which we try to), find the most cost-effective way to do so.  For instance, at Sprouts, you can purchase a 5-lb bag of carrots for $3.99.  I run through five pounds of carrots in 2-3 weeks, sometimes faster.  Put a kid to work peeling carrots, cut them into sticks, and put them in a container, covered with water.  They will keep, cut, for a week.  Voila!  A handful of organic carrot sticks for about 20¢ per serving — and a quarter pound of carrots is a LOT of carrots for a snack.
  • Of course, if you live in a temperate climate, keep a kitchen garden!  At the VERY least, keep fresh herbs growing.
  • Preserve food:  Learn to can!  (It’s not that hard.)  We always take homemade beef jerky on vacation (made in a borrowed dehydrator).  And, of course, freeze meat that you’ve found on sale.  (One note:  If you live in the desert, like we do, chest freezers — usually kept in the garage — such HUGE, HUGE, HUGE amounts of energy.  So, figure out what you’re spending on energy and don’t pat yourself on the back too hard if you save a few bucks on the food, then you go spend it, several times over, on energy costs.)
  • (Edited to add:) Think yearly. In other words, ask yourself, “How much do I spend on this each year?”  You may be horrified to find out how much one little convenience is costing you, each year.  This isn’t actually groceries, but the first time my husband and I did a real budget, which was before we had kids, we were horrified to find that we were spending more than $2,000, annually, stopping for coffee and pastries each morning.  This leads to the next point:
  • (Edited to add:) If perfection is not possible, settle for improvement, as a step toward your goal.  My husband is a coffee snob, and though we agreed that we couldn’t continue with our $7-8 morning trips to Hava Java, but neither could we make the downward leap to morning MJB, either.  So, we compromised by buying high-quality beans and real half & half, to prepare at home.  About 15 years later, I’m still in a continual search for inexpensive-yet-high-quality coffee beans (I don’t spend more than $6/lb for them!).  With the amount of coffee we drink, we still spend about $550 each year on coffee and cream.  This still seems like a huge amount of money to spend on coffee, which is really a non-essential.  However, this is at least an improvement.  Or perhaps you feel like you simply must have a steak.  Well, then, make sure you’re buying that New York strip on sale for $4-5 a pound.  If you must have it fresh, keep it down to one expensive home-cooked meal per week (or even one a month) and do that in lieu of eating out.  Or, stock up when your favorite cut of beef is on sale, and put it in the freezer.  Or, make yourself a trade-off:  “We currently eat out two meals a week.  It’s important for me to have healthy, convenient snacks for my kids which cost an arm and a leg.  So, instead of eating out twice per week, we’ll eat out once, and use that $30 to add to the grocery budget specifically for snacks.”  And so on.  Just always be aiming for improvement.

I’m sure many of you have additional tips.  Please leave them below!!

In which I cry over groceries

Perhaps this is commensurate with raising five children on pretty much one income, but my husband and I are constantly revamping our budget, which is akin to squeezing water from a rock.  We’ve been married for 16 years and we took this attitude, gratefully, into our marriage.  Both of us observed, pre-marriage, our parents getting into trouble with debt, and we had independently decided, “That will not be me.”  So, we’ve always been responsible, living debt-free and at or below our means.  However, there is always room for improvement.

But… a sore spot for me is the money we have allotted for groceries.  In other words, DON’T TOUCH MY GROCERY BUDGET, BUSTER!!

Part of me thinks we spend exorbitantly on groceries;  outside our mortgage, it is our single biggest expense.  But, I shop absolutely as responsibly as possible:  I keep an ongoing shopping list, and make my final list the day I go out, combining what we need with what is on sale, and what I have a coupon for.  I typically go to 3-5 stores each week, buying items at the spot where it’s available, and at the best price.  I am always looking for ways for us to eat CLEANER, as well.  On top that, most readers know that our family has multiple special diet needs:  Three of we seven have celiac disease, plus a smattering of food allergies, while my youngest has SEVERE food-related allergies and is on a highly restrictive diet (among other things, the only meat she can eat is lamb, and “cheap lamb” is an oxymoron).

No, I'm not paid by them. I just think it's a fabulous magazine.

I do all of that on $200 a week.  To me, and perhaps to you, that sounds like a lot of money.  But, look at it this way:  That’s $1.36 per meal, per person.  My favorite food magazine, Clean Eating, often runs sections on budget family eating, touting recipes that equate to $2 per person.  If I did that, I’d be spending $294/week.

My husband, who is the Budget Master (using Mvelopes), kept mentioning here and there that I have been going way over budget on the food, that it was constantly “in the red.”  This was a matter of consternation and confusion for me, as I knew, deep in my heart, that with very rare exception, I was sticking to $200/week.

So, about six weeks ago, I got extremely specific about it — using a calculator, keeping a running total on the back of receipts, carefully noting if anything I spent was non-food, etc.  I proudly deposited my receipts on to his desk with a comment or a note, “ONE DOLLAR over budget.”  “FIVE DOLLARS UNDER budget.”  Etc.  After a month of this, for which he was genuinely thankful, he approached me, gently dropping this bomb, “You know that our grocery budget is $800 a month, right?  Not $200 a week?”

Why, NO.  No, I didn’t realize that at all.  I’d been operating for more than a year with confidence that my budget was $200, weekly.  With a sinking heart, I quickly did a little math.  $800 a month equates to $184.61 weekly ($1.26 per person, per meal).  That’s a full FIFTEEN DOLLARS less than I have consistently been spending.  Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but that does amount to an extra $800, yearly, over what I was supposed to be spending.  No wonder I was in the red!!

Then, I panicked.  How in the world was I going to purchase everything I needed to with even less money??  Lower-quality food?  Less meat?  Less of our already virtually non-existent luxuries??  I already don’t purchase prepared foods.  No boxed or frozen ready-made foods for this family (partly due to cost, and partly due to health)!  We don’t even buy juice, let alone soda!  The “junkiest” we get is tortilla chips!  There really wasn’t a clear spot where I could trim.

I went out shopping a couple of weeks ago on my “new” budget of $185.  After the first store, I looked at my list of remaining items, and looked at what I had already spent.  I started to cry.  Perhaps that sounds ridiculous, but I felt the weight of responsibility for providing good food for my family, submitting to a budget (and my husband), feeling already over-stretched, and now saddled with an even smaller allotment.  I just didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I felt entirely overwhelmed.

Then… into my mind — likely from the Holy Spirit — popped the numerous missionary stories I’ve been reading to my children in the past month or two:  And the Word Came with Power, In Search of the Source, Catching Their Talk in a Box…  All of those books (while not being singular examples of fabulous writing and literature; my internal editor cringes too many times while reading all of them!) are simultaneously convicting and compelling:  True stories of deeply trusting in God’s provision and timing, and even rejoicing at the opportunity to see Him show up in seemingly impossible situations.

I stopped crying.

You must read this book.

I decided to pray over my grocery-shopping expedition.  There, out loud, in my car, in the parking lot of Costco, I prayed.  I poured out my heart to my God, in sincerity and need, tears again streaking down my cheeks, asking for His help:  for wisdom in what I choose to purchase, that I would find better-than-expected deals, that I would discover ways to trim excess from my list, that I could present my receipts to my husband and that he’d be pleased (as I had, in my tears, considered just going over-budget and telling my husband, “Oh, well.  It just can’t be done.”)…  Then, though it sounded a tad stilted, contrived, and even a wee bit Pentecostal, I continued in a true act of my will and in faith and obedience, as I certainly didn’t feel it, “And, Father, I absolutely rejoice now, beforehand, in this opportunity to see You provide, to see You show up, to see You enable me to do what I feel, right now, is impossible.”

Writing this out, it sounds so stupid, that I would cry over groceries, like don’t I have something better — more serious, deeper — over which to weep, especially in light of recent, world-wide catastrophes??  But really, I felt that what was being required from me was absolutely impossible, and I felt completely stuck, and I needed His help.

No more $6.49 jumbo bottles of Cholula for us. 😦

I am now happy to report that God has come through.  Other than me not getting my weekly 6-pack of Diet Hansen’s Tangerine Lime soda, $2.49 at Trader Joe’s (which really feels like a sacrifice — foregoing my much-looked-forward-to daily treat), and not buying our family’s favorite, really expensive hot sauce, I haven’t really cut back on anything.  I’m ultra-careful, shopping with the calculator on my phone, and delaying for a week or two a purchase that might not be at the best price on that particular shopping expedition…  But, in spite of me not changing much of anything, I have come in under-budget, both times:  About four dollars that first week, and almost ten dollars the next.

 

So, now, I’m about to sit down with my food ads, coupon file, and list of needed items, and come up with a plan of action for shopping tonight.  Part of me is yet tempted to panic, but I shut that down as soon as it rears its ugly head, and know that God cares about me and my family, even down to the “very hairs on [our heads]“: the grocery budget.

(Perhaps I could have avoided this whole scene by whipping out my Bible and reading Matthew 6:25-34, but sometimes you really have to LIVE something before God’s revelation sinks in…)

I forgot!

…and it passed without fanfare.

So, now, a little late:  OSC reached 600,000 hits recently.

Sincere thanks for reading, both those who are just passing through, and those who return.  🙂

~Karen

It has sprung, in the Sonoran Desert.

This last week, the acacias started blooming.  For me, that’s always the mark of springtime.

Here in the Sonoran Desert, the three major flowering trees are the sweet acacia, the palo verde, and the ironwood.  They bloom in that order:  sweet acacias in late February or early March, palo verdes in March-April or so, and ironwoods in late April or early May, usually.  Acacia blooms are dark orangey-yellow little ½” puffballs, and have a very distinct, cloying, powerful scent.  Palo verde blooms are usually (depending on the variety) bright, bright yellow, blanketing the entire tree with delicate flowers.  Ironwoods are more subtle, a very light lavender color, among the grey-green leaves.  Neither palo verdes nor ironwoods have much scent.

acacia farnesiana

acacia farnesiana, seed pod and bloom

I cannot stand the scent of the acacia.  Ugh.  When I was a kid, my mom took my sibs and I, weekly, to the Phoenix Library.  Each branch of the library is named after a native plant.  We usually went to the Acacia Library.  In the springtime, I remember taking a giant gulp of air while still in the car, then sprinting up the acacia-lined path to the entrance while holding my breath, to avoid smelling the nearly unavoidable fragrance.

The palo verdes to be found around the Phoenix area are typically either the Blue Palo Verde, parkinsonia florida (which is NOT native to Florida), or the Mexican Palo Verde, parkinsonia aculeata.

parkinsonia florida bloom, close-up (beautiful!)

parkinsonia florida

I didn’t know until now that the palo verde is an invasive species in many places, worldwide, especially Australia.  I was about to post something preachy about landscaping with only native species, but remembered that, while my front yard has only native plants, my backyard has several non-natives, including the Australian tipu tree.

Anyway.

My fave desert tree is, by far, the desert ironwood, olneya tesota.  Part of it is just because I like purple;  so many native plants around here bloom yellow and only yellow.  Part of its appeal is just because I like the shape of the tree.  And, I think it’s cool that the wood is so beautiful, often burled and two-toned,  not that I think one should go around chopping down ironwood trees.  The wood is so dense that it will sink in water.

A couple of years ago, I looked into visiting the Ironwood Forest National Monument, established by Clinton only days before he left office.  There wasn’t much info on it, especially on the hiking trails I sought, so I called the Tucson field office of the BLM, which administers it.  Well, it turns out that the Ironwood National Monument is a MAJOR illegal immigration corridor, and I was vehemently advised to stay away, especially as I had small children.  Golly.  The field officer blamed the situation Clinton, who had established the monument, but had given no funds for its development or protection.  Hm.  I still want to go, but maybe we’ll wait a few years.

Braces, blogging about teen children, writing, reading, worship, and the Arizona “beach”

  • My oldest, Ethan, just had a lunch that consisted of refried beans with cheese melted on them, and a glass of milk.  What the rest of us were eating (which included, among other things, baby carrots) didn’t work.  Duh.  I’ll have to get used to considering the Sore Mouth Factor when figuring out meals for him/us.  He got bands placed between his molars this morning, in preparation for the first of his braces, which will be put on in about two weeks.
  • Speaking of Ethan…  A few years ago, I was wondering why I wasn’t getting more great parenting stories, ideas, and tips from those of my bloggy friends who have children a few years older than mine.  “Why isn’t anyone writing about those tumultuous teen years??”  Well, I figured it out.  At nearly 14, my son is now a… sentient being.  The smaller a child is, the more freely you can talk about personal issues:  An 18 month old isn’t going to get her feelings hurt that you divulged mothering struggles to your friends.  (Or strangers, as the case may be, in a blog.)  Your 13 year old?  Definitely.  So, I’ve learned that I can say virtually nothing about my son online, because I want to honor his privacy.  He’s wonderful, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.  😉
  • And, where have I been the last month or so?  Working hard on ghostwriting.  More info on that, coming soon.  😀
  • In my head, I keep composing a post on how vastly different I look with makeup vs. without it, and various thoughts on painting the barn when it needs painting.  Maybe I’ll get around to it some day…
  • I’ve been reading a lot!  Lately, I’ve been working through Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, which is a curious mixture of historical fiction, literary mystery, Biblical scholarship, and feminism.  Very interesting.  When reading any series, I simply must go chronologically, so I’m on the 5th book in the series currently, O Jerusalem.
  • I have a job!  I mean, I’m re-employed!  Or, something…  I’m happy that, this week, I start leading small group worship again.  There was some shifting in small groups, and I was out of a “job” for about six or seven weeks.  It felt like a long time, but it was good to go to a small group and “just” be a participant.
  • Homeschooling 101:  You can take trips on a school day to just about anywhere and call it a field trip.  😉  I took my kids last Friday to the Santa Maria River.  My mother-in-law came with, which was great;  she’s a perfect road-trip partner.  The kids did so well for the eight hours we were gone, other than the first three miles of the trip.  After listening to about five minutes of continuous bickering, I risked my MIL’s esteem by pulling over to the side of the road to chew everyone out.  Chewing out the kids, that is.  Not her.  On the way out*, we took a scenic route, partially by (well-maintained) dirt road, which is probably my favorite or second-favorite Arizona drive**.  On the way back, we took all blacktops, which took two hours and saved us 30 minutes, even though, mileage-wise, it was slightly longer.  The river is NW of Wickenburg, and when there’s adequate water, it’s about as close as we get to the beach, here in Arizona.  The water does not run all the time, so I get USGS alerts for when the water is 10 cubic feet per second or greater.  The pics below were when the water was at about 60 cfps.  We played in an area just where the AZ 96 (my fave road in all of AZ) crosses the river, about 15 miles SE of Bagdad.  The temps were in the high 70s, with a strong sun and cool breezes.  It was perfect.

I have some better pics, too, but everything I post here needs to be 100% modest and fully-clad, so those are a no-go for the blogosphere.  🙂

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*The route we took OUT was Carefree Hwy (AZ 74) west to US 60.  US 60 northwest for only six miles to the point where it meets up with the US 93.  US 93 NW to AZ 89.  AZ 89 north-ish to Date Creek Road, which is 20+ miles of scenic and hilly dirt road.  Then, AZ 96 west to the point where it crosses the Santa Maria.  The route we took BACK was AZ 96 about 10 miles further west (bypassing, incidentally, my beloved Santa Maria River road, another extremely scenic dirt drive, because I was outvoted by my children).  Then, traveled SW sixteen miles on two-lane hilly, beautiful, remote blacktop of the AZ 97.  Then, SE on the US 93, which meets back up with the US 60, then back home.

**My all-time favorite Arizona drive is likely the long, -shaped drive to get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which follows the high desert and Navajo Reservation along the US 89 and US 89A (at the point north of where it intersects with the US 160), along the stunning Echo Cliffs and Vermilion Cliffs, then climbs rapidly up to the Kaibab Plateau and the AZ 69, which goes south along verdant, alpine meadow lush with wildlife (deer and bison).  Unparalleled, and remote enough to be sparsely populated, which is just how I like it.

My mother-in-law. Spring cleaning. Dog. Curriculum. Music. Celiac disease & fertility issues.

  • My mother-in-law is in town.  I wish she lived with us.  She is so easy to get along with, and we seem to balance well our personal desire to be together with personal need for space.  She comes in her RV and sleeps there at night, as well as retiring for an afternoon of reading or watching movies.  She helps with the little girls during school, and is liable to do everyone’s chores for them unless I speak up.  She likes my cooking.  Our dogs get along.  It’s a perfect fit.  She arrived last week when I was up to my elbows in spring cleaning…
  • Speaking of, I am SO HAPPY to have accomplished LOADS during my official spring cleaning week.  I used the shampooer to clean three fully upholstered chairs, eight dining chair seats, and one big couch.  I also scrubbed most walls in our home from eye-level down and vacuumed them from eye-level, up.  Vacuumed vents, cleaned baseboards, cleaned out the fridge…  With the kids and my MIL helping, we also cleaned all the wooden blinds in our home, all the ceiling fans, all the doors and doorjambs, some windows, most cabinet faces, dusted and polished most of the stuff in our home…  Though there are still things left to do on my list, I’m really pleased with how much we accomplished.
  • Have I ever posted anything about Virgil here?  He’s an Old English Bulldog, less than a year old, so ugly he’s cute.  We’re keeping him until his (second) owners get their own place.  The home where he was living, Virgil was having trouble with the alpha dog, so he needed to get out ASAP.  I loved Virgil.  Now, after having him almost 2½ months, I’m looking forward to his departure.  No matter how fabulous a dog is, I discovered quite quickly that my adoration for the creature decreases at the same rate as the number of times I have to clean up his poop in my bedroom.
  • GOD PROVIDES!!  My oldest son, Ethan, will be in 9th grade in the fall.  Even though I just purchased (used, smokin’ deal) Sonlight Core 5, I decided, upon scoping out the high school curricula Sonlight offers, that I would need to scrap that and just start one of the high school Cores, come the end of August.  I decided against starting with Core 100 (which is American History in Depth, because we just finished with American History) in favor of Core 200, the History of God’s Kingdom.  However, a whole new Core was NOT in the budget, and I just didn’t know what I was going to do.  Then, last week, a friend whose son will also be a freshman next school year, asked me what I planned on doing with Ethan.  I lamented, pouring out to her my plan and lack of funding for it.  She said, “Well, I had come today, planning on offering my Core 200 to you, if you wanted to borrow it.  It was a little over Jacob’s head for 8th grade, but should be perfect for Ethan in 9th.  I learned a whole lot, too!”  WOW!  And, it turns out she needs Core 3, which I am currently doing with my 9-year-old.  I’ll pass the stuff down to her as I complete it with Wesley.  Perfect!!  I cried, off and on, all week, just at the thought of how intimately God knows our needs, and how He is working on caring for them, well before we even have an inkling of His intentions.
  • Music:  Band of Horses.  A friend (more like a fond acquaintance) from high school, whose taste in music I respect, kept recommending Band of Horses.  I saw it at the library, and checked out the CD, Infinite Arms, ’cause I’m old school like that.  Although I really liked the instrumentation (banjos!  acoustic guitar!  lush string arrangements!), I wasn’t too keen on the late 70s/early 80s vocal vibe they have.  My son Ethan, though, loves it, saying, “This music makes me happy and sad at the same time.”  It’s growing on me, big time.  Very memorable melodies, wistful without being angsty.  (I’m so over angst in my music.)
  • Lastly, I thought this may be of interest to some.  I had read, long ago, that women with celiac disease frequently have infertility issues.  But, did you know that some studies have shown that pregnant women with undiagnosed celiac disease are up to NINE TIMES more likely to miscarry??  Other studies have shown more conservative numbers, but still, across the board, the risk is high. Men are not immune, either.  If I’m understanding the numbers correctly, about 12% of men with undiagnosed/untreated celiac disease are sterile, due to poor sperm motility and androgen resistance, both of which are healed/fixed on a gluten-free diet.  Wow.
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