Archive for January, 2011

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.  How long will you lie there, you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” – Proverbs 6:6-11

You gotta love Proverbs for telling it like it is!  Much of the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, but the book of Proverbs is still full of straightforward wisdom for today.  I’m so glad my daily Bible reading schedule includes it, because it keeps me grounded when I might otherwise be tempted to dwell in lofty places, focused on abstract concepts like grace and faith.  Proverbs is the drill sergeant throwing a bucket of water in my face and saying, “Wake up, private.  Get back to work!”  And speaking of work, Proverbs talks about that, too.

When my kids were really little (preschooler and toddler), I hosted a summer Bible study in my home using a video series called, “A Woman After God’s Own Heart,” by Elizabeth George.  It was during this study that I first encountered the verses above, when they were mentioned during a lesson on being good stewards of our homes.  For some reason, they stuck with me.  When I would wake up in the morning and desperately want to go back to sleep, I’d hear the words, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit.”  So I’d get up and start my day.  It was probably at this time when I realized that in order for me to be the mom I wanted to be, I needed to be able to wake up earlier and discipline myself to take care of some household responsibilities.  I recognized that this was impossible for me to do on my own, and began to pray that God would make me a morning person.  And now, here I am at 7 a.m., typing this post before the kids wake up.  God still performs miracles today!

So what’s the difference between prioritizing, like I mentioned in my post on housework, or just procrastinating?  For me, prioritizing is necessary when we have lots of needs competing for our attention.  For instance, this week I’m preparing to go out of town for a much needed winter getaway with friends – and no kids!!  I’ve volunteered to gather the food and do some meal prep in advance, and I also told my parents I’d provide 3 dinners for them so they don’t have to worry about fixing my kids gluten free meals.  These are all things that are important to me, so cooking will be a priority this week.  Housework will not, because we’re going to have company the following week, so I know I’ll be cleaning when we get back anyway.  I will most likely not blog much this week either, since my time will be focused on my kids and preparing for this trip.  That’s prioritizing.

Procrastinating is when we have the time to do something, but choose “a little folding of the hands to rest” instead.  Now, I’m not talking about resting when you need it.  Last weekend I was flat out exhausted, and desperately needed to fold my hands and rest so that I could be an enjoyable wife and mom, instead of punishing my family by dragging them through the mud with me on my road to martyrdom.  But when God first laid these verses on my heart, it was when I had the time to take care of my home and invest in my kids, but I felt entitled to pursue my selfish desires instead.  Part of it could have been the backlash from how exhausting my kids were at that age, so I felt like I deserved to hoard every moment of peace I had.  But God was saying, “Come to ME, all you who are weary and burdened, 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” (Matthew 11:28-30).

God was – and is – calling me to find my rest in him; to trust him to give me strength.  When we share a yoke with Christ, he is the stronger of the pair, and does the heavy lifting.  That’s why his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  He’s calling us to work alongside him on God’s priorities for our lives, and he promises to help us and give us rest.  When we choose to trust God to meet our needs, and continue to do the work he’s called us to do instead of procrastinating, he gives us energy and renewal even on the longest, busiest days. At least, that has been my experience.  And now, I need to get going on my day so I’m not using this blog to procrastinate!

(For more great verses from Proverbs and Matthew, join me in daily Bible reading.  The current week’s schedule is always posted on the Faith tab above, and you can even read them online in different translations by typing the scripture reference at www.biblegateway.com.  I’d love to hear what God is saying to you through these verses!)

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(Click here for this week’s Daily Bible Reading Schedule, or check out the faith tab above.)

“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NLT)

It’s time to print out the budget for next month, which is not an activity you typically associate with “joy” – at least not when your income is below the poverty level.  This month, like every month before it (including the last time my husband was unemployed 9 years ago), the first item in our budget is our tithe.  Ten percent of our pathetic unemployment check goes to the church, because I have yet to find a clause in the Bible that excuses poor people from tithing.  What I do find in the Bible are lots of verses, like the ones above, that tell me God wants me to trust him with everything I have so that he can give me so much more than my pathetic dollar store treasures.

In 1 Cor. 9:7, Paul first addresses the issue of giving cheerfully to God and others, not out of guilt.  So let me say right now, I’m not out to guilt anyone into tithing.  How you spend your money is between you and God.  But I can testify to the truth of these verses.  When I feel prompted by God to give, I do it joyfully because I am confident that God knows our needs and is every bit as capable of feeding and clothing us as he does the birds and flowers of the field (Matt. 6:25-33).  I believe God can’t wait to generously provide all we need when we “seek first his kingdom and righteousness,” and give cheerfully to others (v. 33).  Not only does Paul say that God will provide all we need, in 1 Cor. 9:8 he says we’ll also have “plenty left over to share with others.”  That’s why I give generously, even in when money is tight, because God has blessed us with so much.

One of God’s names in the Bible is “Jehovah Jireh,” which means “God our Provider.”  I love watching God provide for our needs in the most miraculous ways.  Like when we received an escrow surplus check for the exact amount of our tithe.  Or when a check comes from some random place for the same amount I gave to someone else.  The fingerprints of God are all over our finances. My favorite story is when I was on my way to the store to replace my worn out shoes, and God told me to use that money to meet a need for someone else.  What you need to understand is that I have ridiculously impossible feet to find shoes for because they spread during my pregnancies, leaving me with one size 8 foot, and the other foot a 71/2 wide.  I’ve found ONE type of shoe that is comfortable, and had planned that day to replace it with another pair like it because I’d given up on ever finding shoes again.  Oh, and the shoes were incredibly expensive.  But I obeyed God anyway, joyfully giving to my friend and doing my best to repair my old shoes.  Nine months later, my kids were in swimming lessons and there was another mom there who desperately needed to be told that she’s okay and her son’s okay.  God appointed me to that task, and so I sat during swimming lessons and listened to her pour out her heart, then told her the words God gave me to say.  On the last day of swimming lessons, she casually gave me 2 pairs of shoes she’d bought at a garage sale for $1 and didn’t care for.  They were brand new Sketchers, in dark brown and khaki (the colors I wear), that look nice enough to even wear on Sunday, and they fit my impossibly weird feet!  I’ve worn them through winters for a year and a half, and they still look brand new.  This is the gift of poverty – seeing Jehovah Jireh directly meet our needs.

Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” I have NEVER out-given God!


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It’s the end of the month and the end of the grocery budget, so I’m mostly going to be using ingredients from my freezer and pantry that need to be used up this week.  However, there are a few deals that were just too good to pass up, so I’ll be incorporating some of those items into this week’s menu.  One recipe on my menu below, we actually had last night (remember, last week I mentioned that I don’t usually adhere to my own schedule).  I had some leftover uncooked chicken breasts and heavy cream that was past its expiration date, so I decided to make our absolute favorite dinner – Chicken Scallopini with Roasted Potatoes.  If you try only one recipe from this week’s menu, it should be this one! My husband posted on Facebook, “It’s almost TOO good. I confess, I just scraped out a tiny bit of the cold sauce in the pan before rinsing it.”

I’ve incorporated a few gluten free convenience foods this week since I know it’s not practical for everyone to cook everything from scratch.  I’m also planning to make a lasagna for the freezer since ground beef is on sale and I want to provide some meals for my parents when they take our kids for the weekend next month.  You can make it for dinner or freeze it  – or both!  It’s wonderful to have something like a homemade lasagna in the freezer for company or special occasions (like a Saturday when your entertainment budget is gone).  There are only 6 meals listed, but a few of them will provide leftovers for lunch or another dinner.  There’s one more recipe on my menu, but it’s a secret – I want to test the recipe first, and make sure it works before I share it.  But if I’m successful, I will have found a way to make one of my husband’s all-time favorite meals gluten free.  Wish me luck!

This week’s menu:

  • Chicken Scallopini with Roasted Potatoes – my attempt at duplicating Carino’s GF Chicken Scallopini
  • Crock Pot Spicy Hamburger Soup – An inexpensive, easy recipe that is a nice change of pace from chili and provides plenty of leftovers
  • Herb Crusted Pork (our favorite way of preparing any cut of pork) with Lundberg Creamy Parmesan Risotto (GF boxed mix with no weird ingredients) or rice
  • Trident Salmon Burger (Costco) or Jennie-O Turkey Burger on a GF Kinnickinnick hamburger bun (Whole Foods) or English muffin (Fred Meyer, frozen GF section).  The salmon patties taste great without a bun, topped with a little lemon juice and mayo mixed with ketchup, and served with potato chips or fries.  You can also make a loaded turkey burger and use a lettuce wrap instead of a bun.  We stocked up on GF buns last time we made a pilgrimage to Whole Foods, so this is our weekend treat instead of pizza this week.
  • Lasagna with brown rice noodles (or regular noodles) for the freezer – you could also bake one and freeze one
  • Easy Rosemary Herb Chicken (stove top method) with Cranberry Orange Baked Yams – if you’ve only ever had yams with marshmallows on top, you’re missing out!  The orange juice and cranberries add just the right amount of sweetness and lots of flavor.  (If you’re cutting out sugar and not having this meal as a weekend treat, you can substitute a baked yam/sweet potato.  Wash, dry, and pierce a medium sized yam.  Place on a paper towel in the microwave and cook up to 3 yams for 5 minutes.  Turn over and cook another 5 minutes or until sides yield to gentle pressure.  Top with butter, salt and pepper, as you would a russet baked potato.)

Buying Fresh Fruit in Winter
Each dinner is always accompanied by a salad or vegetable and fresh fruit.  I am aware that it is the middle of winter, when fresh fruit is most expensive, but since I hate to consume all the added sugar from canned fruit, we limit ourselves to the fresh fruits that are in season right now.  For instance, did you know that pineapple is pretty much in season all year round?  It’s also about the same price year round, too.  I pick up a pineapple most weeks, when I can find it for $3.  A third of a pineapple is about the same amount in a can of pineapple.  So at $1/serving, it’s actually priced about the same as a can – and fresh pineapple tastes way better!  If it happens to be a small one, I’ll cut up a kiwi and mix that in.  Kiwis are cheap right now, and my kids enjoy eating them with a spoon when they’re cut in half and left in their skin.  Also in season are pears, apples, oranges and bananas.  For variety, I like to pick up unsweetened applesauce with fruit puree at Honks dollar store on $.88 Tuesday.  My daughter loves this as a treat.  We also eat dried apricots (because they have no sugar added) occasionally, and thaw frozen unsweetened berries to top yogurt or bake in a fruit crisp (see the recipe for this at the bottom of Breaking Free from the Sugar Addiction).  Winter doesn’t have to be boring!

If you don’t live in the Treasure Valley, my grocery deals below won’t benefit you much.  But it does show healthy products we like and how I match recipes to what is on sale or a good price in our area.  So if you see these prices or items on sale where you live, you can pull up the recipes above and make delicious, low sugar, “real” food on a budget!

Brenda’s Best Buys –  * means it’s a great price for stocking up

  • Kiwi – $.25/each (look for ones that yield slightly to gentle pressure)
  • Tinkyada Brown Rice Lasagna noodles (GF aisle, by the rice) – $3
  • Lundberg Creamy Parmesan Risotto (GF aisle, by the rice) – $2.32
  • *Fresh yams – $.54/lb. (I store these in a paper bag in my pantry and they last quite a while)
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts – always $1.79/lb. (this week I’m using some frozen chicken)

Fred Meyer (prices good through Saturday, the 29th):

  • Pineapple – $2.98
  • Grapes – $1.99/lb. (these are a splurge, just to add a little variety)
  • Broccoli – $.68/lb. (pick some up if you haven’t made the Spicy Sausage & Veggie Pasta yet)
  • 85% Lean ground beef – $1.99/lb. for 3 lb. package (enough for lasagna and soup or chili)
  • *28 oz. Canned crushed tomatoes – $1 (for homemade pasta sauce or chili)
  • Fred Meyer Butter – $1.67 with coupon from ad (pick up in entry way)
  • *Medium cheddar cheese – $3.50/2 lb. block with coupon from ad
  • *Frozen Fred Meyer orange juice – $.79 with coupon from ad
  • *Fred Meyer toilet paper – $3.99 for 24 single-rolls or 12 double-rolls
  • Vita-Bee bread (not gluten free) – $1.25 with coupon from ad (this high fiber, wheat bread is low in sugar and contains no high fructose corn syrup or other funky ingredients)

Albertsons (prices good through Tuesday, Feb. 1, with coupons from ad in entry way):

  • *Ragu Pasta Sauce – $2/2 (we like the Roasted Garlic variety for lasagna, and Low Sugar Sweet Basil)
  • *Skippy Peanut Butter – $2/2 (Skippy Natural peanut butter has no hydrogenated oil)
  • *Breyers Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream – $2/5 (The ONLY ice cream we’ve found with no weird artificial ingredients.  The Light Breyers does not fall into this category, only the Natural Vanilla.)

If knowing about these deals is helpful to you, please leave a comment so I’ll know to continue doing this.

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I came up with this recipe while trying to duplicate our favorite gluten free restaurant meal – Carino’s Chicken Scallopini with roasted potatoes (substituted for pasta).  While our family agrees that it’s not exactly the same, we don’t care because it’s so incredibly good!  You can serve pasta instead of potatoes, but the potatoes taste great and are much cheaper than pasta.  Plus, they bake alongside the chicken, and are easy to make.  Trust me, this is what you want to make for dinner tonight!  (DO IT.  Your family will thank you.)

Roasted Potatoes:
1 small to med. size potato per person (we use the ones from a 10 lb. bag)
Olive oil or canola oil for drizzling
Seasoned salt (Lowry’s is GF)
Garlic salt, pepper, and dried parsley for sprinkling

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place unpeeled potato on its side and slice lengthwise (so you have 2 flat ovals).  Depending on size (we use smallish potatoes), cut each half lengthwise in thirds, then into 1/2-in. chunks – you want chunks that will be smaller than red potato chunks, but larger than cubed hash browns.  Place in a greased 9″X13″ pan and drizzle generously with olive oil.  Sprinkle evenly with a dusting of seasoned salt and garlic salt.  Stir potatoes and season again.  Sprinkle with pepper and dried parsley.  Set aside.

Baked Chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 8-10 tenders
Olive oil for drizzling
Coarse sea salt (or regular salt), pepper, and dried basil for sprinkling

Place chicken in a greased baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Generously sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and dried basil.  Cover (with a lid or foil) and bake alongside potatoes for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Uncover and bake for 5 more minutes.

Creamy Parmesan Sauce:
2 T. butter
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
Half of a 4 oz. can of mushrooms or 4-5 fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 T. chicken broth (or T. hot water + 1/8 tsp. Better Than Bouillon)
10 grape tomatoes, quartered or 1 large roma tomato, chopped
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c. heavy cream (or 1/2 c. milk plus 1 to 2 oz. cubed cream cheese)
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp. salt
Dash pepper
Milk or rice milk to thin sauce to desired consistency
2-3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled or 2-3 T. real bacon bits (not Bacos)

While potatoes and chicken bake, chop onions and tomatoes (and mushrooms, if using fresh), cook bacon and set out ingredients with their measuring cups/spoons.  (Since you’ll be adding most of the ingredients all at once, you want everything ready to go.)  About 10-15 minutes before chicken is done, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium nonstick skillet.  Add onions and fresh mushrooms (but only if using fresh mushrooms because the canned mushrooms will jump out of the pan – ask me how I know this), and cook until onions are softened.  Add garlic (and canned mushrooms) and stir for 1 minute, being careful not to brown garlic.  Add broth and cook until reduced slightly. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, cream, Parmesan, and remaining seasonings.  Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.  If desired, add 1 or 2 T. milk to thin the sauce a little.  Stir in half of bacon.

When potatoes and chicken are done, divide among 4 plates and pour sauce over chicken.  Pour any remaining sauce over potatoes – trust me, this makes these delicious potatoes even better!  Sprinkle remaining bacon on top of chicken.  Sit down and enjoy a restaurant-quality meal for a fraction of the cost!

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I can thank $.88 Tuesday at our local dollar store for getting me to try this recipe, since it calls for V8 juice and I happened to find the Kroger brand vegetable juice there.  It’s a great change of pace from chili, and has a nice kick – but follow the amounts listed for the jalapeno pepper slices carefully.  I nonchalantly tossed in an extra one when I first made it, and my family – who likes food with some heat – all had steam coming out of their ears!  If you are sensitive to hot spices, reduce or omit the jalapenos (although they do provide a lot of the flavor).

1 lb. ground beef
4-6 medium red potatoes, cubed (the smaller the cubes, the faster it cooks)
2 c. frozen corn
2 c. sliced celery
1 c. chopped onion
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 10-oz. cans diced tomatoes with green chilis
4 c. V8 (or generic brand) juice
4 pickled jalapeno slices – JUST 4! (I found pickled jalapenos at the dollar store, and the jar lasts a long time in the fridge)

Cook ground beef.  Drain grease.  (If using high fat beef, rinse in hot water and drain a couple times to remove excess fat.  Pat dry with paper towels.)  Add all ingredients to a *5-quart crock pot.  Cover and cook on low 7-8 hrs. or on high 4-5 hrs. (or until potatoes are tender).

Quick, Stove Top Method:
If you don’t want to wait for hours to eat, you can make this in a Dutch oven on the stove.  Cook the beef, onion, and celery until meat is no longer pink.  Drain.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

*To cut down on clean up, I love to use the Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners.  While holding the center down inside the crock pot with one hand, I gently stretch it around the edges of my 5-quart oval crock pot.  It also works in my 4-quart round crock pot.  These are a must for messy, tomato-based foods like soup and chili!

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This cheap, easy, fabulous recipe is a nice change of pace from chicken.  I usually use boneless pork, but bone-in works too.  I’ve even sliced a pork shoulder roast into thin slices for making this (because I’m just that cheap).  It’s best grilled, but too yummy to limit to summertime, so I’ve adapted it for the stove top.  When I made this at our family reunion last summer it was a hit!

2 tsp. fennel seed
2 tsp. dried rosemary
2 tsp. garlic powder
1-1/2 tsp. onion powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
4 tsp. olive oil
4 pork chops

Combine first 6 ingredients in a food processor or blender (my little magic bullet works great for this).  Process until fine.  Stir in oil.  Spread the mixture on both sides of pork chops.

Grill or Broil:
Broil or grill 4-6 inches from heat for 7 minutes on each side, or until done according to a meat thermometer.

Stove Top Method:
Since broiling anything in my oven sets off our smoke alarm and sends our dog racing around the house like his tail’s on fire (which is great fun when you’re about to sit down to dinner), I decided to try cooking this on the stove.  Spray a little nonstick spray in a frying pan, and cook pork chops over medium heat 5-7 minutes per side (depending on how thick the chops are).  For cooking these on the stove, I’d suggest using thin or small cuts of meat so it doesn’t get too brown on the outside.

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A great way to give yourself a gift is by making one lasagna for dinner and one for the freezer.  Or, if you have a small family, break the noodles in half and make half of the recipe for dinner and the other half for the freezer.  When I make a lasagna to freeze, I prefer to buy a disposable foil pan (from the dollar store) and freeze it in that.  Not only does it keep me from having to use my baking dishes, it makes for quick clean up since I will likely serve it to company or give it away.

9 lasagna noodles (Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles are gluten free)
1 lb. ground beef or sausage, cooked
Chopped pepperoni slices, optional (adds more flavor if you’re using beef)
32 oz. spaghetti sauce or 4 c. homemade sauce (we like Ragu Roasted Garlic)
8 oz. (2 c.) mozzarella or Italian cheese blend, divided
1/2 c. cheddar cheese
12 oz. cottage cheese
1 egg
1 t. onion powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 T. dried parsley
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. chopped red or yellow bell pepper, optional
1/2 c. grated zucchini, optional (if cooking immediately, fresh spinach can also be used)
Parmesan for sprinkling on top

In a large bowl, mix 1 c. mozzarella, cottage cheese, egg, onion powder, basil, parsley and pepper; set aside.  Pour a thin layer of spaghetti sauce (about 1/2 – 3/4 c.) on the bottom of a lasagna pan or 9″x12″ baking dish.  Add remaining spaghetti sauce to ground beef or sausage, and stir in grated zucchini, if desired.

Layer 3 noodles and spread with half of cheese mixture.  (Don’t worry if the noodles are broken – it’s sort of like putting together a puzzle.)  If desired, sprinkle with pepperoni, bell pepper, and fresh spinach (but only use spinach if baking immediately).  Carefully spread 1 1/4 c. sauce over top.  Layer 3 more noodles and repeat with cheese, veggies, and sauce.  Top with 3 remaining noodles and remaining sauce.  Pour 3/4 c. water (or 1/2 c. if you like your pasta to be firm) into sauce jar and shake.  Pour around edges.

If Baking Immediately:
Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 45 minutes.  Uncover and poke down into the sauce any noodles that are sticking up (otherwise, they’ll be crunchy instead of soft).  Sprinkle remaining 1 c. mozzarella and 1/2 c. cheddar cheese on top.  Bake an additional 15 minutes or until pasta is done.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

To Freeze:
Wrap tightly with foil.  (I like to write the baking instructions on the foil with a marker so I don’t have to dig out my cookbook when I’m ready to bake it.)  Place remaining cheese for topping in a freezer bag and attach to lasagna.  Freeze.

To Serve:
Thaw and bake 1 hr. at 375 degrees.  Uncover, poke down noodles according to directions above, and sprinkle with mozzarella and cheddar.  Bake an additional 15 min. or until pasta is done.  (If baking from the frozen stage, add an additional 15-30 minutes to the total baking time.)  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

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The beauty of this recipe is its versatility.  You can cook this on the stove, grill, or bake in the oven.  You can also vary the herbs for variety.  I tried a fancy pants Herbes de Provence blend once, but was totally unimpressed.  However, you can pick up dried herbs for pennies in the bulk section, and experiment with different combinations.  Even plain old basil tastes great, especially when covered in the Chicken Scallopini sauce!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (save the tenders for other recipes)
1 T. oil (or enough to cover the bottom of a large sauce pan)
1-2 T. lemon juice
Dried rosemary, crushed (crush with thumb in the palm of your hand)
Dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Stove Top Method:
Flatten chicken to 1/4-in. thickness (to help it cook quickly and evenly).  Pour enough oil in a large skillet to coat the bottom.  Cook chicken in oil over medium-high heat for 4 minutes on each side or until juices run clear.  Sprinkle with lemon juice (and lemon pepper, if you want even more of a lemon kick), salt, pepper, rosemary and oregano.

Heat grill to medium.  Brush chicken breasts with oil and sprinkle with seasonings.  (Or you could double the oil and lemon juice to make a marinade for the chicken a few hours before grilling.)  Grill 7 minutes on each side.  If chicken is starting to get blackened on the outside but not cooked through on the inside (I check this with a meat thermometer), put it on a microwave-safe plate and finish cooking it on high for a minute or two in the microwave.  If it’s only a few thick pieces that aren’t cooked all the way, I put just those pieces in the microwave, and sometimes cut them in half through the thickest part so they can cook for the least amount of time.  (Finishing almost-done grilled chicken in the microwave keeps it moist, I’ve discovered.  I actually prefer to grill chicken this way.)

Oven Method:
Cut chicken so the pieces are relatively the same size (to ensure even cooking).  Place in a greased baking dish.  Drizzle with oil and lemon juice.  Sprinkle with seasonings.  Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  Uncover, so it can brown a little, and cook an additional 5 minutes or until the thickest piece is done when checked with a meat thermometer.  Covering the chicken produces a nice, moist chicken breast.

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If you’ve only ever eaten yams with marshmallows on top, you’re missing out!  This is one of our favorite side dishes, and you just have to try it to discover how well orange juice and cranberries complement fresh yams.  Be careful when slicing fresh yams, however, because they are hard to cut.  Use your best knife (and husband) to cut these – the skinny ones (yams, not husbands) are easier to slice.  (I bought a mandolin slicing thingy for Christmas, and I still ask my husband to cut the yams.)  But trust me, they’re worth it!

2 lbs. (about 3 skinny ones) fresh yams, peeled and cut into 1-in. chunks
1/4 c. + 2 T. orange juice, divided
2 T. butter
2 T. oil
2 T. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. dried cranberries (Craisins)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine potatoes with 1/4 c. orange juice, butter, oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Distribute evenly in a greased 9″x13″ baking dish.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, pour remaining 2 T. orange juice over dried cranberries in measuring cup to plump them up.  Stir cranberries and push down into juice occasionally.

Remove potatoes from oven and add cranberries.  Stir.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender (watch to make sure cranberries don’t burn).

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First of all, there is no “Joyful Housework” topic on this blog because I think housework is a soul-sucking exercise in futility.  It’s like building a sand castle on the beach at low tide.  It may look pretty for a moment, but then all your hard work gets washed away.  However, cleaning is a necessary evil (I’m pretty sure it was in God’s curse somewhere at the Fall of Adam).  If you’ve been to my house, you know that I tend to keep it fairly clean.  I won’t win any housekeeping awards, but that is intentional.  The tabs on this blog represent my priorities: God, family, good stewardship of our resources, and eating healthy (which for us, means gluten free).  So while I recognize that it’s important to keep a home running smoothly and teach our kids how to clean, it is way below the other priorities in my life.  Our attitudes and approach to cleaning have also changed as our kids have gone through different stages of development.

That Little Bundle of Joy Comes with a Lot of Stuff
If you are a mother who’s expecting a grandchild soon, you have a special gift you can give to your daughter or daughter-in-law.  When you come to visit during those first few weeks, don’t just offer to sit and hold the baby – your daughter needs to do that in order to bond with the baby and cope with the loss of sleep.  Instead, offer to clean and help prepare meals.  By doing this, you can send her the message that her most important job is to love her child, not cook and clean.  We all need to be more understanding and relieve new moms from the burden of cleaning for us, because each child magically adds about 2 tons of furniture, toys, safety devices, kitchen utensils, clothing/dirty laundry, and waste products to a home.  Adjusting to life with a baby is hard enough, without trying to keep up with cleaning.  Dust bunnies can wait, babies can’t.  So when I’m bringing a meal or visiting a mother of young children, I try to call ahead and beg her NOT to clean for me.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if we moms all gave this gift to each other?

Life With Toddlers – a.k.a. “The Cyclone Years”
When a child takes those first few steps, it is a thrilling milestone.  Unfortunately, we soon discover that those steps allow the child to take a toy from one place and deposit it in another, like the VCR.  For me, this was the most exhausting stage in my children’s development.  So when our kids were babies and toddlers, we tackled housework with the “zone defense.” Since it is practically impossible to keep a home picked up – much less actually clean – with toddlers, my husband and I decided which zones in our home needed to stay clean in order for us to keep our sanity.  Everything else would be dealt with when we had time (i.e. when our kids go to college).  We decided that the living room and our bedroom needed to be places of tranquility, so those were the zones we focused on keeping regularly clean.  I trained myself to make my bed as soon as I got out of it, which goes a long way toward feeling like my house is clean.  We kept toy baskets out of the living room, and tried to train the kids to play elsewhere (they don’t always cooperate), which cut down on the amount of mess to be cleaned up. Even now, these two areas are always picked up at the end of the day because they are where I start each day.  Since I have my Bible reading time in the living room, it’s important to me that this room is picked up so I’m not distracted by a mess while I’m trying to focus on God.  Make sure that the room in which you do your devotions is one of your cleaning zones.  If your time with God is while your children are napping in the middle of the day, don’t try to clean beforehand, just move a chair to face out a window with a pretty view and turn your back on the mess.  God comes before cleaning.  When we honor him, he returns the favor by giving us the energy and patience we need to wrangle our little mess-makers.

Preschool – Boot Camp for The Training Years
When my oldest was in preschool (and my youngest was a toddler), we decided it was time to train them to clean up after themselves.  We did this not only because we were tired of cleaning up after them, but because we recognized that this is an important part of their development.  One way we teach our children responsibility is by giving them opportunities to help out around the house and take care of themselves.  We also do this as a future gift to their college roommate and spouse.  We want our kids to be a joy to live with, so we are training them to pick up after themselves and contribute to the household.  This is not easy.  It involves training yourself not to pick up after your child, as much as it involves the actual training of the child. Beginning when my son was in preschool, I had to consciously stop myself from picking up something he’d left out and instead, tell him to come and put it where it belonged.  The other important part of training, is making sure your child knows where things belong and helping him learn how to clean.  So when I would call my son to come and pick up something, I’d show him where it goes and often help him get started.  If the mess was huge, I’d break it down into smaller tasks to do one at a time (i.e. put cars away first, then stuffed animals, then books).  He needed lots of encouragement, so I typically needed to stay close by while he worked and prompt him to the next step.  We continued this process for – I’m sorry to say – 3 years, but it has paid off.  My kids now know that whatever they get out, they are expected to put away.  They (most of the time) clean up their messes without whining because they know it’s their responsibility.

Training Kids Not to Whine
One of the reasons why our kids don’t dare whine about cleaning is that they know (from years of doing this) that our response will be, “Then I guess you have too much stuff to take care of.  Here, let me help you get rid of some of it.”  This statement is followed by Mom or Dad getting a trash bag and cleaning out whatever is left on the floor.  It then goes to the garage until the child has earned it back through other chores or demonstrating responsible behavior.  This strategy is not punishment, but actually reflects our values – if we can’t take care of our stuff, then we have too much stuff.  Sometimes it is a relief to the kids when we purge their excess toys, and we all need to evaluate whether or not the stuff in our home is meeting a need or simply just taking up space.  My favorite blog author from Simple Mom often makes this statement: Everything in your home should either be beautiful to you or serve a purpose.  Likewise, if our kids have outgrown a toy or are not playing with it, it’s time for that toy to find a new home.

To Pay or Not to Pay
We give our kids an allowance, but it is not directly tied to their chores.  The purpose of their allowance is to give them an opportunity to learn how to manage money and live on a monthly budget.  They are expected to clean up after themselves because that is part of being a responsible person.  In short, if I don’t get paid for it, neither do they.  If they make a mess, they are expected to clean it up.  So regular responsibilities of my kids include:

  • Putting away their pajamas and dirty clothes. To facilitate this, they each have a hamper in their room.
  • Clearing their dishes from the table. They do this at home and when they are guests elsewhere.
  • Cleaning up any toys brought into the main living area before watching TV (which is typically in late afternoon, when PBS has some great educational shows for kids their age).  They each have a basket on the stairs to collect items to be returned to their rooms.  When the basket is full, it goes upstairs.
  • Putting away their clean laundry on laundry day.
  • Cleaning their room to a reasonable extent before bed.  We don’t insist on a whole lot of picking up in their rooms, other than clothes, because we want this area to be their responsibility.  My son has an enormous Lego collection, and has a dozen ongoing projects at any one time, so our compromise with him is that we need to be able to get to his closet and bed without stepping on loose Legos.  To help define this boundary, we put a rug on his floor and ask him to confine loose Legos to the rug.  We also put a shelf in his room so he can display his creations.  Since my daughter’s favorite activity is filling bags/purses with all manner of odds and ends (just like Mommy’s purse), our focus with her is on identifying a place for everything and labeling it so she knows where to put things away.
  • Cleaning their bathroom when company comes or when it’s starting to get really dirty.  I don’t obsess about rings in the toilet or toothpaste on the counter, but bathrooms do need to be cleaned from time to time.  Since the kids are the ones to make the mess, they clean it.  One child cleans the toilet, and the other cleans the sink area.  We’re still in the process of training right now, so they don’t do it entirely by themselves, yet.  In order for them to safely clean, we use only vinegar and baking soda, which makes for a fun science experiment when cleaning the toilet! To clean the toilet, flush and use a toilet brush to lower the water level a little.  Sprinkle baking soda around the inside, as close to the rim as possible (I filled an empty Parmesan cheese container with baking soda to facilitate easier sprinkling).  Fill a spray bottle with vinegar and have the child spray the baking soda-covered toilet bowl with vinegar.  If done correctly, it should bubble and fizz.  Allow it to sit while you spray the rim and seat with vinegar, and wipe down with a wet rag or paper towel.  Then use a toilet brush to scrub the inside of the toilet, and flush.  For hard to remove stains, use a pumice stone (I do this part).  To clean the sink and counter, spray with the vinegar spray bottle and wipe down with a wet sponge (be careful not to get the vinegar on any grout, since it will destroy the grout).  The vinegar smell doesn’t last long, if properly wiped off with enough water, but if you can’t stand the smell you can add a couple drops of essential oil to mask the smell (which isn’t any worse than the smell of most cleaning products, in my opinion).  The best way to clean a mirror is to flick some water on it and use a clean hand towel to wipe it down.  A little elbow grease actually works better than Windex – no streaks!

When it comes to other cleaning tasks that aren’t a direct result of their actions – like dusting – they are expected to contribute from time to time.  Some activities that help make my life easier, like pulling weeds and putting away dishes from the dishwasher, are used as opportunities for them to make extra money.  I would rather pay them to pull weeds than do this myself, so when they get to make extra money by doing everyone’s least favorite task, everybody wins!

We don’t have an immaculate house, and that’s intentional.  Whenever possible, we keep it straightened up and reasonably clean.  But if my husband and son are in the middle of a science project or there’s a mess on the craft table because the kids are in the middle of creating, we don’t fret over the mess because it is a reflection of where we are in our lives – an active, creative family.  If we need to invite someone over and the house isn’t as tidy as we’d like, we do it anyway – without freaking out over the mess – because relationships are more important than my reputation as a housewife.  If we’re all exhausted after a trip and the luggage is still unpacked, we sit down and relax together anyway because it’s more important to listen to our bodies’ need for rest than be a slave to our home.  So while we continue to train our children to be responsible stewards of their stuff, we also hope to teach them how to balance work with rest, and place people as a priority over cleaning.  When my children are grown, I want them to look back and say, “Mom taught us how to clean up after ourselves, but we always knew we were more important to her than taking care of our stuff.”  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play with my kids.

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