Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Real Repentence is Hard February 26, 2010

The thing about change is that it requires you to give yourself over to God’s intent for you and forces you to let go of some things you might feel entirely entitled to otherwise.  Giving yourself over and loving like God requires, in fact, that you give up many of what society tells you are your rights. This morning when I woke up — again in a funk and with the last vestiges of anger clinging on when I rolled out of bed — I happened to run accross this article when I opened my email:  Anyway Love.

I’ll take you to the heart of it:

In Luke 6:32-36, Jesus says we shouldn’t love because. We should love anyway. If we love someone because that person is good to us, or gives back to us, or is kind to us, we’re acting no better than anyone else. In essence, Jesus is saying you don’t need the Holy Spirit to love a man who remembers every anniversary – not just the anniversary of your marriage, but the anniversary of your first date and your first kiss. Any woman could love a man like that. Or if you love a wife who lavishes you with sports gifts, who goes out of her way to make you comfortable when you get home from work and who wants sex anytime you do – well, you’re doing what any man would do. There’s no special credit in that!

But if you love a spouse who disappoints you, who can be a little self-absorbed – now you’re loving anyway. In doing that, you’re following the model of the heavenly Father, who loves the ungrateful and the wicked.

This is so true. It is perfectly right. There is no arguing it. And yet, it is so, so hard to take from your head to your heart.  And this is where I find much of my walk falls down.  Sitting and reading this article my whole being resonates with the rightness of loving as God has loved me.  As the article puts it:

Christians are called to anyway love. That’s what makes us different. That’s what gives glory to God. That’s what helps us appreciate God’s love for us, because God loves us anyway. He gives and gives and gives – and we take Him for granted. He is eager to meet with us, and we get too busy to notice Him. He is good to us, and we accuse Him mercilessly when something doesn’t go just the way we planned it.

But God loves us anyway. To love anyway is to love like God – and to learn about God’s love for us.

Every fiber of my being knows this is true. But when I stand up, when I walk through my home, past messes, through rooms that overwhelm me, and listen to requests from the people I love, I sometimes want to stop and cry or scream. Sometimes I DO stop and cry or scream. And I know in my head that this flies in the face of how I should love and how I should respond. But getting from knowing to doing is hard. Right now I feel trapped between “SO HELP ME…!” and “Oh, Jesus help me.”

And I need Jesus’ help. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul talks about “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ,” which means to me that our thoughts can be disobedient to Christ when we do not work to bring them into line with what we know to be true in God’s word.  Right now my thoughts and my heart are very undisciplined.  Can you think, for any of you who are perhaps struggling in a place of resentment and anger as I am, of the last time you felt at the end of your rope?  Can you track back your thoughts and their course?  I can because I’m in them right now.  I won’t detail through them again — it’s the last thing I need.  But I can tell you the general course:  I begin to fume and fester over whatever has made me upset that time and then, like a magnet attracting metal shavings, every other resentment comes to the fore and I find myself attaching the worst intentions, the greatest wrongs, remembering old hurts and seething until the entire situation is blown completely out of proportion.

I used to think that some of Paul’s language was a bit overblown in passages like these but here, thinking and asking for God’s help in understanding, I begin to see that facing my own undisciplined thoughts really IS like facing an army arrayed against the truths of Godly love seeking to make their way from my head into my heart and out of me into the way I deal with my family and my home. I’ll be honest, if that were the only hope I had, my ability to overcome my own sinful heart and desires and actions, I’d throw up my hands in despair and I’d have no reason to hope that this will change.

But I don’t only have myself to rely on.  I have the Holy Spirit, and I have the faithfulness of my Savior to trust in.  My hope is not in my ability to get up, let it all go and move on by the power of my own strength.  Rather, I am reminded of my real hope, the hope the author of Hebrews wrote about in chapter 10:

19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

He who promised is faithful.

I don’t sit here needing to find the perfect exercise on my own. Rather, by His grace, I’m reminded of God’s grace and that changes something in my heart, even now as I write this. It doesn’t mean I get to just sit. But it does mean that as I look toward some of the things I need to accomplish today, and am reminded of who it is I really serve in serving those I love, and whose love causes me to love…it all seems less onerous. And that means something has changed for me today.

The end of that passage from Hebrews says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” So as I get up to make my way into my day, my responsibilities and relating with my family, I urge any of you with whom this resonates to plead with God to touch your heart and remind you of all he’s done for you. He did it while we were undeserving. He did it while we were lost in sin. He did it while we resembled nothing good, nothing worthy, nothing beautiful. Ask him to make that the starting point for your heart change.

Nothing around me looks different. But that isn’t the point. The point is Jesus. I have dishes to do.


Grocery Spending Challenge — $75.00 a Week! September 3, 2009

All right!  Here we go with my first big update for the Grocery Spending Challenge from Mary at Owlhaven.  If you haven’t come here because you’re a part of the challenge, too, then click on the image and join in!  Each participant is stating her goal and then we’re getting down to business.  I’m ashamed that my goal is almost the same as Mary’s given that she’s feeding ten kids and I’m only feeding one and a ravenous husband, but I’ve come to terms with it.  Honest.  Mostly.  Sort of…

Here are the terms of my challenge this month:

— Spend no more than $300.00 on all household items

— This includes personal care and cleaning supplies

— Rather than breaking up my costs over weeks, I’m just totalling for the whole 30-day period of September

–Not cut my husband’s snacking, but find ways to accommodate what he likes to eat within the means of the challenge

To put this into the terms of my usual budgeting, we’re cutting back by about $140 for the month and throwing in a few days and a few items I’d normally not total in my food bill.

Some considerations for me are:

— we do not have a garden that’s producing yet, so no produce from there until further notice (Lord willing, my new plot will start producing soon!)

— we have an apartment with almost no storage.  I have two small pantry cupboards of two shelves each and a standard sized fridge and freezer.  So I’m working on creative storage of things we use a lot and could buy more cheaply in bulk.

— did I mention my husband?  🙂  (sorry ladies — in spite of his eating habits I’ve detrmined to keep him.  but MAN can he put away food!)

SO there you have me and my goals!  I’m so excited to see how everyone in the challenge does this month!


Snacks — The Budget Buster August 31, 2009

I once wept to my husband, “Could you PLEASE keep your cravings to something that DOESN’T cost us $11.00 a lb.??” when thwarted in the process of making pesto one night. I reached for my bag of pine nuts only to find 8 or 10 measly little kernels remaining in the bottom of what had been a huge, full Costco-sized bag the week before.

This is one of the biggest problems for me with frugal cooking and household budgeting: My husband is a rabid snacker. He willingly and appreciatively takes leftovers to work for his lunches (I only occassionally get them back uneaten and that’s usually when a hankering for rolled tacos just cannot be avoided…totally understandable!) But he is a big man, an extremely active surfer, and has a big appetite. When Ry comes home from work or surfing and when he’s up late doing freelance or 3-D modeling, he wants handy snacks that are easily accessible and he wants them in huge proportions. If I don’t have them around then things like this happen:

An entire box of granola bars disappears in one night
An entire 1.2 lbs bag of pine nuts goes missing
A large box of cereal disappears in one night
Half a bag of string cheese vaporizes when I’ve left the house for an hour

To put this in perspective, he’s about 6ft 3 or 4, wears a 3X wet suit to accommodate the breadth of his shoulders and chest, and will surf for 6 or 7 hours in the course of a day quite easily when the swell is good. He burns through calories like other people burn through….uh…well, I can’t come up with a good comparison — but something that burns quickly and people use a lot of! Anything else I can think of falls short when it comes to his appetite when it hits.

So, here are some things I already do:
Buy whatever fruit he likes that’s on sale and keep it handy as consistently as I can
To cut cost on cereal I use coupons and combine them with sales to keep cereal costs low
I also make homemade granola (TY to Mary at Owlhaven’s Granola Recipe in Family Feasts for $75 a Week) to lighten the cereal costs
Buy block cheese on sale and slice it myself so it’s easily accessible for snacks
Keep cookie dough on hand so I can easily bake up a batch of cookies on a whim

Two things that Ryan LOVES and I haven’t figured out are:
Spiced nuts

Microwave popcorn is expensive and not all that healthy. I make popcorn in a pot but sometimes I’m asleep when the craving hits or I’m just exhausted. Does anyone know of a way to keep popcorn fresh? Does anyone make seasoned popcorn? How does it keep?

Spiced nuts I’m going to look in to today at the store. I’d like to see about finding recipes for spiced nuts so that, when raw nuts are on sale in bulk I can buy them, season them and roast them myself, and then keep them handy to fulfill some of his needs for protein.

So what do you do for easy snacks? Do any of you have men/sons like mine with big appetites and for whom meals or leftovers won’t always do? I’d love to hear suggestions!


Shelter is Not a Place, It’s a Relationship August 16, 2009

I had not heard of Raising Five until tonight but I’m so glad I found it (HT Owlhaven).  Katherine wrote awhile back about sheltering our children vs. giving them freedom as they grow and uses her own growing up as an example.  I hope you find the article as encouraging and insightful as I did.


Rocking the Grocery Store July 25, 2009

I wanted to mention something that has been happening over the last few continued weeks since reviewing Mary Ostyn’s book, “Family Feasts for $75 a Week” and that is that it has just gotten more useful.  This week in reviewing my pantry (HA!  Really, it’s two cupboards because our apartment is wonderful but small), I found that I had nearly every ingredient for everything I wanted to make this week.  Aside from a few things we’d run out of and a couple of special fresh things (more salsa, for one) I wanted to make for a special occasion, we were set.  This meant that, even though I’d cut such a drastic amount off my budget the first month, it’s gone even lower this second month without my really trying simply because Mary’s way of thinking about feeding a family is just really practical and smart.

In saying this I want to assure everyone that I get NO monetary gain or gain of any other kind (save the savings from reading it) out of this book.  I know that such a whole-hearted and completely one-sided review might start to sound suspicious.  I’ve started to even feel a little self conscious about my excitement over it.  But it’s genuine and I think for really good reason.

That being said, today at the grocery store on my weekly run I saved over 50% total on my groceries between two stores: 58% at the first and 46% at the second.  Though I did use a couple of coupons that I had on hand, the bulk of this was due to a little bit of pre-planning before we left for the store so that I had a strategy for exactly what I needed from where when I got out there.

Hmm…perhaps breathing out, “Ohhh SNAP!” at the checkout when I heard how much I’d actually saved was a bit much.  But come on.  Let a girl celebrate.  You know what I mean?!


The Art of Hospitality July 10, 2009

Over at the Girl Talk blog by the Mahaney ladies, there is a new series running on hospitality.

As many times as I’ve read the book of 1 Peter (and I’ve read it a LOT because I got assigned to read it every day for a month because I needed to understand what was in there a LOT but that’s a whole other post that my ego will have to retreat a bit more for me to write!) I never really stopped to consider that very clear little directive in 4:9, “show hospitality to one another.”  In other words, not “if your house happens to be clean and you don’t need a nap…” or, “if you feel called in this way,” or “if you’re particularly gifted in this way…”  Nope.  You need to do it.

The list of women and families who have shown me hospitality and blessed me through it is endless.  I honestly don’t think I could go back through and write out a list of all the people who have reached out to me over the years and shown me love not just in though but in deed, out of their resources and time.  The list, on the other hand, of people to whom I’ve reached out in the same manner is sadly short.  I want to change this!

So, when I read the first post in the series on hospitality, I was delighted.  I mean, how could a girl like me NOT love an opening like this:

“I used to think that hospitality was for certain, uniquely gifted women who “got into that sort of thing.” You know the type: she has three lasagnas in the freezer, a roast and potatoes in the crockpot, cookies in the oven and coffee just brewed. Her table is always graced with fresh-cut hydrangeas from her garden—even in the dead of winter (or so it seems). She’s never happier than when a few strays show up unannounced for dinner, except of course, when a family of seven comes to stay for the week.

Me, well I panic when an extra guest shows up for dinner. My hydrangeas barely bloom in spring, and I think the chicken in my freezer has a frosty coat. Oh, and the coffee? I drank that already.”


I think this is going to be an infinitely helpful and inspiring series and I’m really looking forward to the rest of it.  If you’ve never come across this blog before, check them out.  They are constantly practical, insightful, godly and inspiringly feminine.


Family Feasts for $75 a Week – A Review July 8, 2009

Author: Mary Ostyn

Release Date: September 2009

Price: $17.95 US

I was all set last night to sit down and write my thorough praises of Mary Ostyn’s new book, Family Feasts for $75 a Week, when my husband blithely reviewed the book better than I could have in pages with one sentence:

As I sat cackling over the money I’ve saved since reading a pre-publication copy of this book a month ago I said to Ryan, “I can’t believe how much money we’ve saved this month!  I’ve cut our budget by 50% and I think I could easily go lower if we needed to.” To which he replied, “That’s insane, because we have been eating really well recently, too!”  High praise coming from a man whose own mother (an amazing cook) dubbed him The Food Diva several years back when he commented on the amount of carrots she’d used in a favorite dish of his when we were home visiting for Christmas.

In case you aren’t already heading out to pre-order a copy of the book based just on that, let me elaborate just a little.  Because if you’re anything like me you might be thinking, “Come on, seriously.  Do we really need another book on how to save money on groceries and inexpensive recipes to feed our families?  How many tater-tot casseroles with cheese whiz and Ritz cracker toppings can a girl try?”

If that’s you, I’m with yah sister.  But let me just mention a couple of things.

  1. Delicious Recipes Suited to Any Skill Level: While Mary DOES mention tater tots once in her book it is only to tell you how much better homemade fries are.  Not only that, but she upgrades the oven fries with her own homemade Ethiopian seasoning mix (and provides several other easy suggestions for seasonings if a mouth on fire is not your particular version of tasty).  And all joking about those spuds aside, her recipes are seriously good, seriously easy and seriously cost effective.
    In particular I must recommend her Thai chicken curry dish for which you can make your own curry paste and even your own coconut milk if you don’t have a can on hand but do have some shaved coconut in the freezer.  Another favorite already is her suggested recipe for making your own granola cereal.  (As I stood at the counter breaking up my first batch, chest swelled with pride, my husband gave me a smooch and seriously appreciative squeeze and raved about how amazing it was that I could make something like that all on my own.  Sorry, Mary, I took that compliment for my own and didn’t re-mention the fact that I’d learned it from the book.)
  2. Flexible Ideas on Cost Cutting that Allow You to Create Your Own Plan: One of the frustrating things about many books like these is that, in order for the system to work, you have to change a million things all at once and after about two weeks (for the very strong and enduring, perhaps three), the whole thing goes out the window because it’s just too hard to maintain so much change all at once.  Mary, however, is very clear about her desire for readers not to make this mistake.  Instead you’re given four areas in which you can assess your strengths and weaknesses and then a ton of ideas to choose from in each of those areas to begin the process.  This book’s plan is laid out like an a la carte menu of great ideas that you can tailor fit to your needs and your money-saving goals.
    I hate to admit it but I’m the queen of starting strong, getting over my head, and fizzling out completely on things.  This is something I dislike about myself and have been working hard to overcome.  But ladies, this process has been seriously painless so far and the benefits have far outweighed the effort.  Oh and another thing?  You don’t have to use coupons!  (But you can if you need to do penance or something.)
  3. An Easy and Interesting Read that Gets Right Down to the Issues and Lets You Start Saving Almost Immediately: I got this book on a Sunday.  Inspired, I refused to go to the grocery store until Wednesday because I could see in my own kitchen several different great meals I could already make with things I had in the house.  During that time I was able to use small portions of my time each day to figure out what changes I could make, lay out my plan, and embark.  Holding on to just a few of the ideas I’d found in the book I set out my first week and was delighted with every grocery receipt I collected because I knew I was making wiser decisions already.

I am torn between a desire to be completely honest about improvements to our grocery budget because it’s so amazing and wanting to hide from shame about how easily I have saved so much in my first month of using Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  I have literally saved several hundred dollars this month.  I thought at first that I was unique in how much waste was happening in our home but a few conversations with friends let me know that I am certainly not alone.  Some of my joking, if I’m honest, is to distract from the fact that it was painful to realize just how much room for improvement there was.  I found myself in tears at one point as I worked through my new budgeting plan and list of easy changes – it was a mixture of regret over the waste I could now see over the last 5 years of my marriage and relief to have found in Mary’s advice a workable, helpful and thorough means by which to improve so drastically.

In Titus 2, Paul admonishes older women to come alongside younger women and, among many other important things, train them in the ways of their home. Mary has shared the resulting wisdom of years of experience, trial, error and success in this new book and it’s a fantastic boon to those of us who still have a lot of learning to do. In future I plan on giving this book for wedding shower presents so that my friends can start out ahead of the game in feeding their families well on a frugal but flexible budget.

I could not recommend Family Feasts for $75 a Week more highly.  


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