Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Prayer and Perspective

photo credit Ree Drummond

This week has been a very difficult week for me. I have found myself, at times, at complete loss as what to do as a parent. Every day is a new challenge when you are a mother, but this week has been especially hard, and I've had some difficult things I've had to face. God has been very faithful to comfort me and to remind me to turn to Him for my strength. And in my crying to the Lord for help, I pulled out one my absolute favorite books to read. It's called The Valley of Vision, and it is a compilation of Puritan prayers. I always love reading through what Puritans have written because it helps me put things in perspective. I think the Puritans had their view of man's relationship to God correct, and whenever I read their prayers, I am humbled. I think too often I start to complain about my circumstances and I start to feel like I am unfit for what God has called me to do. But then God gently reminds me that it is my pride that says that, and it is my pride that demands comfort on this earth.

I wanted to share part of one of the beautiful prayers with you. This has been a huge encouragement to me as I pray for my children and family. I pray it encourages you, as well. And if you can, I highly encourage you go out and buy this book. It is a great read!

Help me to hate and forsake every false way,
to be attentive to my condition and character,
to bridle my tongue,
to keep my heart with all diligence,
to watch and pray against temptation,
to mortify sin,
to be concerned for the salvation of others.
O God, I cannot endure to see the destruction of my kindred.
Let those that are united to me in tender ties be precious in thy sight and devoted to thy glory.
Sanctify and prosper my domestic devotion, instruction, discipline, example,
That my house may be a nursery for heaven,
My church the garden of the Lord,
Enriched with trees of righteousness of thy planting, for thy glory;
Let not those of my family who are amiable, moral, attractive, fall short of heaven at last.
Grant that the promising appearances of a tender conscience, soft heart, the alarms and delights of thy Word,
be not finally blotted out,
but bring forth judgment unto victory in all whom I love.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grocery Shopping In Your Own Kitchen

I'm having one of those weeks right now where I don't feel at all like going grocery shopping. My husband is out of town and it is the first time he's been gone since we adopted our three oldest kids. So, let's just say that their behavior has not been, um, up to par while Daddy is away. Anyway, it's on weeks like this one, or weeks when the budget is a bit tighter than usual that I employ a technique I call "shopping the pantry."

Before I had four kids, I regularly spent time with a wonderful, very wise woman from our church. She has grown kids and really exemplifies the Proverbs 31 woman. She taught me a lot of things, and the idea of "shopping my pantry" was one of them. I was so blown away by such a simple idea, and I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before. So, this post it to pass along what I learned just in case you, like me, have never heard about this before.

The idea of shopping your pantry is basically the idea of keeping inventory of everything you have in your pantry--and your freezer and refrigerator. I don't keep a written inventory of any of those things, but I generally have a fairly good mental inventory. But, sometimes things get pushed to the back of the fridge and get forgotten until they start to smell. And then other times, you end up with only 1/4 of a bag of frozen green beans, and 1/2 bag of blueberries, etc.

So, on weeks that you want to "shop your pantry," here is what you do:

First, go through your freezer, fridge, and pantry and make a detailed inventory of everything you have that is a food item--including condiments, oils, etc. Write down what it is and how much you have of it. This can be a bit time consuming, I admit. I think that's why some people choose to keep a running inventory of everything they have in their kitchen so they can skip that step.

After you've made your lists, look and see what recipes you can make with those items. Yes, we've all stared into our fridge and asked ourselves what we can make for dinner. But the idea of shopping your fridge is to figure out how many meals you can get out of the stuff in your freezer, fridge, and pantry. Can you feed your family until the next shopping trip? Now is the time to get the creative juices flowing! As you come up with recipes to make with what you have, cross off the items on your list as you use them. On a separate sheet of paper, write down the meals you have planned and the ingredients needed to prepare them. That way you won't forget what's on the menu.

You may find yourself with a lot of random ingredients that leave you wondering if there is anything you could possibly prepare with them. This is where the internet can be quite handy. You can search recipes to get some great ideas. There's also a website that is perfect for a situation like this. It's called, and you enter all the ingredients you have and it will bring up recipes that use those ingredients. So, esentially, it's kind of like a reverse recipe search.

After you have made your menu and have chosen your recipes, you may still need to go to the store, but your grocery list will be a lot smaller! So it's perfect for days when you need to keep the budget small, or you don't want to be walking up and down endless aisles at the store with a bunch of little ones in tow. <------ That's me!

This is such a simple and easy way to save money and cut down wasted and spoiled food. I would guess that a lot of my readers already know about this concept, but I just wanted to share this idea anyway because it has really been such a huge help for me. And it's a great way to be a better steward in the kitchen.

Do you like to shop your pantry? If so, what do you do to stay organized? Do any of my readers keep a running written inventory of their kitchen?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Wonders of Vodka

When you think about vodka, what comes to your mind? I can think of several things. But a few months ago, I started thinking about vodka in a whole new a wonderful household cleaner! It turns out that vodka makes a magnificent multipurpose cleaner.

I originally set out to buy vodka to clean my kids' bath toys. They had started to get that scummy build up on them, and I was looking for a good way to get it off and disinfect them. Most people told me to just soak them in a bath of bleach water, but since I don't even allow bleach in my house (that's a different story, though), I knew that wasn't going to work. Not to mention, bleach can leave an unsafe residue, and since a couple of my children are still in the put-everything-in-the-mouth phase of life, I didn't want any harmful residue.

Then one day I stumbled upon an article that suggested cleaning kids' toys with vodka. Afterall, it's non-staining, low odor, and the high alcohol level makes it a good disinfectant. Not to mention, it deoderizes well. And, any residue left on the toys would be harmless since ethyl alcohol is consumable by humans. Side note: I've had a lot of people ask me, "Why don't you just use rubbing alcohol to clean the toys?" Yes, rubbing/isopropyl alcohol is much cheaper, however, it not meant to be ingested, and since my kids still put things in their mouths, we're back to the same problem as bleach. Not to mention, the strength of the isopropyl alcohol can make it quite damaging to some surfaces.

So, I set out to clean my kids' bath toys with vodka. It did a very nice job, too. I had a ton of vodka leftover, so I decided to try cleaning other things with it. I didn't want to walk around the house with a bottle of Smirnoff in my cleaning kit, so I poured it into a new spray bottle. With the vodka, I can clean a lot of things at one time. In the bathroom, for example, I can clean the mirrors (because alcohol evaporates quickly and cuts the grime, it makes a great mirror cleaner!), then I can spray down the sink and faucet. We have corian countertops throughout our house, and this type of surface is notorious for streaking. So the vodka cleans them up without streaking, and does a great job of getting up the dried globs of toothpaste out of my kids' sinks. The faucets are shiny and germ free as well. Then you can wipe down the toilet with vodka, which kills germs and deoderizes as well.

I've used the vodka for some little, random jobs as well. We have a lot of windows in our house, and I've found that a little squirt of vodka on the windows does a great job at keeping them finger print free. I have also found that soaking toothbrush heads in the vodka (and then rinsing!) is a good way to keep them clean--especially after sickness in the house. If I get something hard or gooey on the tile floor, I will spray it with the vodka and let it sit, then it will come right up when I mop.

The best thing of all is that it is a very cheap way to clean. You don't have to worry about flavor if you're just using it to clean, so the cheapest kind will do. And I got a big bottle back in October, I believe, and I still have some left. A little goes a long way. I have really loved using other natural cleaners and homemade cleaners, but the thing I love about the vodka is that it is very simple--no mixing needed.

Have you ever tried cleaning with vodka? If not, is this something you'd try?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cowboy Casserole

I've always loved cooking with my crockpot because it's so quick and easy, and you get to actually sit down and enjoy dinner without wearing yourself out or dirtying every dish in the house! But my 3 qt. crockpot has just not been big enough to feed my family, so most crockpot meals have kind of been put aside lately. But my sweet hubby surprised me with a crockpot for Valentine's Day! (Before anyone gets upset that he didn't give me flowers or candies to celebrate, don't worry....I have always much preferred practical gifts! So I was super excited!) He bought me a big 6 qt. model, so now I have enough room to feed the family and have leftovers. In fact, I was just eating some of last night's leftovers, and I was thinking that I really needed to share the recipe since it was so good and nutritious!

I guess I would call this meal Cowboy Casserole, but it is modified from other recipes I've seen to pack more nutritional punch. Traditional Cowboy Casserole has white potatoes, but I made mine with sweet potatoes instead, and it was super yummy.

So, here's my easy, quick recipe for healthy crockpot Cowboy Casserole. This recipe makes about 8 servings.

1 lb. ground beef or buffalo (grass fed if available. We like to eat buffalo meat, too)
3 sweet potatoes, sliced
1 lb. black beans, cooked (or you could use a can)
1 lb. pinto beans, cooked (again, you could use canned)
1 can Rotel
1 onion, chopped (I actually used powdered onion because my husband and kids don't like onion texture)
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the ground beef, and salt and pepper. In crockpot, pile the sliced sweet potatoes and chopped onions on the bottom. Pour both kinds of beans (drained!) over the potatoes. Put the meat on top of the beans. Pour the Rotel over the top of everything. Cook on high for about 6 hours, until the potatoes and onions are tender.

And as I can personally attest to, this makes very yummy next day leftovers as well! :)

I hope you will enjoy this nutritious and very satisfying meal...perfect for a cold winter's dinner!