Wednesday, September 30, 2009

E-Mealz Questions

Can you freeze Whipping Cream?
That was the question a week or so ago, when I ended up with more than half of a carton left after making the creamy bacon tortellini.

As a friend stated – you can freeze everything, you just might not be able to thaw and use it again.
According to a Google search, you can freeze and use whipping cream again, but only in a “cooked” way. Apparently, it won’t “whip” again after it’s frozen. So we'll see if it thaws well.

So why do they call them French green beans?
Uncle. I can’t find the answer. Does anyone know why “French cut” green beans are given the “French” name? I assume it’s because they are cut in a “fancy” way.
I’m also wondering why those flat green beans are called “Italian” cut beans.

How long does a carton of eggs last?
How long can you keep a dozen eggs in your refrigerator? Do they expire by the date on the carton, or is that just the “sell by” date. How do you know when eggs are “expired” especially if they aren’t “rotten?”

I’m sure I’ll have more questions, but these are just some of the things I’ve run across in the first two-1/2  weeks of cooking.

Week 3: Back on the Wagon: Getting back to the meal plan

After a week of house/dog sitting – and eating leftovers supplemented by a couple of meals out – I’m getting “back on the wagon” and re-committing to the meal plan.

Sunday, after a long day filled with church stuff and a children’s ministry trip to the corn maze, I drug myself to Walmart to go grocery shopping.

I thought about just purchasing enough for one or two meals, but I was afraid that if I didn’t take advantage of my window of opportunity (it would be Friday before I could go shopping again), I would have excuses to eat out.

Technically, I’ve been doing this new meal plan for a month, but this is only my third week of cooking.

Observations about the bottom line
This week’s grocery bill rang in at roughly $55 – $10 more than the anticipated price on the grocery list (I purchased a half gallon of milk and some extra cheese).

Initially, I anticipated the groceries would come well under the estimated $45, because I was able to forgo purchasing the needed hamburger, chicken and steak thanks to meat stocked in my freezer.

However, Walmart has definitely raised its prizes on most food items – it may only be a few cents here, and a few cents there, but eventually, those few cents added up to a significant amount.

I know specifically, grapes have gone up from $1 per pound to more than $2 per pound. Other items rang in with a .10 to .50 cent difference. In several cases, I had to purchase a “larger” more expensive product, because Walmart has stopped carrying smaller items.

A friend suggested I purchase my next round of groceries at another Walmart, because even Walmart’s prices seem to vary from store to store, depending upon the amount of “traffic” it sees on a daily basis. I’m not sure if it will make a difference, but we’ll see after next week’s purchases.

This week’s meals
So, it’s the middle of the week and I’ve already experimented with a pesto pepperoni pizza and chicken tender fettuccini alfredo.

The pizza was unexpectedly tasty – the first time around – but not so great as a leftover. Instead of using a pre-made pizza dough – a convenience item that definitely helped make this an easy meal -  I could have spent a bit more time, and mixed together a box (or two) of the Jiffy Pizza Crust mix. 

The chicken fettuccini was a bit “heavy,” but tasted all right. I think it was the first time I’ve ever cooked fettuccini noodles. I did “cut” a corner with the alfredo sauce, using a 15-oz. jar of “shelf” alfredo sauce, rather than the 10-oz. container of fresh sauce. I’m not sure if the original sauce would have made this dish better. I’m not sure I’m a “huge” alfredo fan, regardless of the style or type of sauce. - A friend suggested "thinning" the sauce with milk might make it less "heavy."

What’s next
Other meals waiting in the wings include cheddar bacon quiche, salsa sirloin salad and Mexican casserole. 

The quiche sounds really good, and will probably be the next meal I make, although I’ve already browned the hamburger for the Mexican casserole – I used the first half on Monday in a hamburger/mac and cheese experiment.

The salsa sirloin salad intrigues me. I’m using a round steak pulled from the freezer for this meal, so we’ll see if the “results” live up to the anticipation caused by reading the recipe.

A few successes….
I’ve realized with my schedule that meals I can make in the crock pot make life easier on Mondays and Tuesdays – so I don’t have to cook or do a lot of prep when I get home.

Two of my favorite recipes so far include crock-pot beef stew and roast gravy chicken. The crock-pot beef stew, basically a chopped up roast cooked with veggies in a beef gravy. It was really good, and stretched into several meals.

The roast gravy chicken, served over rice, turned out quite well as well. I may try doubling the liquid the next time I make it, and try cooking the rice with the chicken, rather than fixing it on the side.

One other recipe – easy beans and rice – turned out quite well. While it called for hamburger mixed with the beans and rice, I think you could leave the meat out and turn the dish into a vegetarian meal.

Not terrible, but…
The creamy bacon tortellini was ok, but seemed a bit greasy from the bacon – I was supposed to save 1-1/2 Tablespoons of bacon “drippings” for the meal. I’m pretty sure I mixed in too much. This recipe marked the first time I’ve cooked with whipping cream and real parmesan cheese. Ultimately, it was a bunch of great ingredients, that didn’t exactly combine into a terrific completed dish.

The “negative” recipe column also includes the baked spaghetti pie. It was descent, but it was definitely light on sauce (it called for one, 8-oz., can of tomato sauce with Italian spices. Additionally, the olive oil, parmesan cheese and scrambled egg, which played a key role in the “pie” portion of the recipe, clumped with the cooked spaghetti and gave the entire dish a “funky” aftertaste.(A friend said it probably needed more sauce to taste better.)

So we’ll see what happens next, in the quest to “re-learn” how to cook. Ultimately, the plan continues to make it easier to avoid the temptation to hit the drive thru.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Blog Tour: Amish Peace (includes an interview with the Author)


Peace.

It almost seems like a foreign concept in today’s hectic and frenzied world.  It may be an impossible concept for most individuals to grasp or obtain – a way to find peace in the midst of life’s chaos.

Suzanne Woods Fisher knows people have an innate desire for peace.  She also understands that most have a tendency to confuse peace with happiness, personal achievements or the accumulation of wealth.

However, unlike the regular world, members of the Amish or “Plain” community find peace not in achievements or wealth, but rather, in one, singular source – God.

It’s that peace that Fisher explores in her newest release, Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World.

“They [the Amish] have a deep regard for the sovereignty of God, coupled with humility,” Fisher explained. “Rather than fight or control their circumstances, they yield to them. They believe that God will right the wrongs, that forgiving others is imperative. To their way of thinking, how can we possibly ask God to forgive us if we don’t forgive others?”

At the urging of a book editor, Fisher dug into her family “roots” to discover what she could learn about this form of peace. She began her manuscript by pulling together sample stories based upon the lives of her extended family.

Her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, was one of 13 children born into an Old Order German Baptist Brethren family. Raised in the “Plain” tradition, Benedict later left the Old Order to pursue an education. He eventually became the founding editor and publisher for Christianity Today.

Throughout her childhood, Fisher grew up with numerous family members who were “Plain.” This sparked a sparked a “keen interest” in their lifestyles.

“I started with a great respect for the Amish,” explained Fisher. “I ended with a tremendous admiration for them and a desire to be more like them.

“I think by living a life less cluttered with materialism and distractions (both tangible ones, like “too much stuff” and intangible ones, like “pride”) they are able to remain closer to the heart of Christ.”

In addition to interviewing her family, Fisher found herself meeting a variety of other individuals, often through unexpected meetings.

“Writing Amish Peace was an amazing experience – a blessing by God,” she said. “I started with a handful of contacts within the Amish community. One [contact] led to another, to another, to another.”

Fisher said many of the relationships came as she made stops throughout the Pennsylvania and Ohio areas.

“I’m a believer in ‘full disclosure,’ so whenever I met with the Amish, I was upfront about wanting to write a story about them,” Fisher said. “Afterwards, I sent them the completed essay and asked for permission plus corrections. There were times when I was asked to change the names or identifying details about the subject, but everyone gave permission.

“I also interviewed experts-in-the-field, so that I felt sure I understood theological issues correctly. All in all, I have developed some lovely friendships with many Amish families, of whom I feel very protective.”

Five Elements of Peace
In Amish Peace, Fisher focused on five areas of peace: simplicity, time, community, forgiveness and trust in God’s sovereignty.

“I tried to find areas of major emphasis in the Amish life that could provide ‘takeaway value’ for non-Amish readers,” Fisher explained. “The point of Amish Peace was just that…you don’t have to ‘go Amish’ to incorporate some of their principles.”

In addition to the five main areas, Fisher said the Amish has another value known as “Gelassenheit,” which is foundational to their way of thinking.

“It’s a word that has no direct English translation. It combines humility, yielding, meekness, calmness, a gentle spirit, caring for the good of the community,” she explained. “Gelassenheit is a challenge for our non-Amish minds to grasp.

“ ‘We are people who value ‘being special.’  Independent. Self-sufficient. The Amish are people who value being ordinary. Dependent on God. Dependent on their community. It’s like putting on a pair of eyeglasses! They view life in a completely different way.”

What it means to be Amish
In a nutshell, members of the Amish faith trace their roots back to the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland in 1525, during the Protestant Reformation, when the Anabaptists emphasized voluntary adult baptism over infant baptism.

“It seems like a minor thing to us, but it was a ‘deal breaker’ for them,” Fisher explained. “They were considered to be radicals and martyred for their beliefs. In 1693, the Amish formed their own group under leader Jakob Ammann. He held more conservative views than other Anabaptists.”

Most know descendents of this Anabaptist movement today as the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, Hutterites, Church of the Brethren and Brethren in Christ.

“The roots of all Protestant faiths, including Anabaptists, originate at the same point in history: The Reformation,” Fisher said. “From that taproot has come many forms of expressing one’s faith—including your denomination and mine.”

For most people, continued Fisher, “being Amish” means they are born into the tradition, as very few individuals convert and become Old Order Amish. It is both a Christian religion and a way of life that affirms the beliefs.

An Amish belief, most known to the public, revolves around a form of simple, non-materialistic living.
This lifestyle includes a rejection of electricity from public utility lines, a distinctive form of dress, a prohibition against television and computers, using a horse and buggy as a primary means of transportation, ending education at the eighth grade and meeting in homes for church.

“But there’s so much more to the Amish than the buggies and the beards,” Fisher said. “[The Amish] truly believe they are living the life God wants them to live. The Amish place a special emphasis on values such as simplicity, community, separation from the world and pacifism. They place a great deal of emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 5-7.”

One of the biggest misconceptions people have concerning the Amish is that they live an “old-fashioned” life.

“They do live ‘off the grid’ – they are not dependent on public utility lines—and they eschew television, radio, computers -- but they are very resourceful people,” Fisher said. “Their homes are powered with all kinds of energy sources: diesel generators, propane tanks, kerosene lamps, solar cells, battery packs. Sometimes, I think we will all be living like the Amish—using multiple sources of energy, such as solar cells, windmills, battery packs, and clotheslines.”

Amish Wisdom
At the start of each chapter, Fisher intersperses a variety of Amish proverbs or “wit,” many of which she grew up hearing at family gatherings.

She found the other sayings while researching Amish Peace, through her subscriptions to a variety of Amish newspapers and magazines.

Fisher said much of her collection will be released in August 2010, in “Amish Wisdom: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life,” by Revell.


More about Fisher
Suzanne Woods Fisher is an author, a wife, a mother and a “raiser of puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind,” as well as a cook and a gardener – although she admits, the latter two things take place with sporadic results.

“I’ve written for magazines for many years and was a former contributing editor to Christian Parenting Today magazine,” Fisher said. “I took the plunge into book writing a few years ago. Soon to follow Amish Peace are three novels about the Amish, starting with The Choice on Jan. 1, 2010. I am grateful for the opportunity to write!”


A Review of Amish Peace
I’ll admit, I’ve grown a bit tired of all of the Christian novels which seem fixated on the Amish.

It seems like every “big” author on the Christian circuit has come out with a book focusing on the anguish, betrayal and upheaval within the Amish community – all with a happy ending of course.

Fortunately, Suzanne Woods Fisher’s book is different and stands out among the crowd.

With her family deeply “rooted” in that Amish tradition, Fisher has gathered numerous real-life stories from a variety of sources highlighting the inner peace found among many members of the Amish community in her newest book – Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World.

Fisher’s manuscript focuses on five areas of peace – simplicity, time, community, forgiveness and their faith. These areas lead to one common trait – an inner tranquility, centered in a faith in God.

These are lessons everyone, regardless of tradition, can take to heart – especially those concerning community, which is a vital part of the Amish faith and lifestyle.


Valuing Community
The Amish value and nurture relationships, particularly when it comes to their passion for visiting family and friends.

“For the modern church, this is what small groups are all about,” Fisher said. “Their [the Amish] believe in face-to-face visits rather than telephone. Their calendar is filled with fellowships, quilting or canning ‘frolics’ (work parties), barn raisings, youth singings.”

Those twice-a-month church services are all-day affairs – with three hours of worship followed by a fellowship meal.

“To a typical American, the individual comes first,” she said. “To the Amish, the community comes first.’ For the modern church, this is what small groups are all about.”


Forgiveness Beyond Face Value
Another section of Fisher’s book focuses on an issue, unfortunately, which is too familiar to everyone, regardless of location or faith tradition.

It was a story that shocked the nation – a lone gunman holds Amish children hostage in a one-room schoolhouse. Before the event is over, numerous children are hurt or killed.

Could you forgive the person who killed, injured or traumatized your child and community?

For members of the West Nickel Mines School community, forgiveness was not only necessary; it was a vital part of the healing process.

Through her Amish contacts, Fisher’s includes several stories from this tragedy, all containing a central theme – finding calm in the midst of tragedy by trusting in God’s sovereignty.

“We just have to keep going on,” remarked one Amish woman whose family members were among the victims. “People think we’re perfect, but we’re not. Yet we can’t dwell on what happened. We have to leave it in God’s hands.”

Fisher said that fundamental belief also enabled the Amish community to extend incredible, almost immediate forgiveness to the gunman and his family.

Going Amish
You don’t have to ‘go Amish’ to find true peace – that’s a message Fisher weaves throughout the book. Instead, she said, people can learn from their examples and incorporate some of the lessons within their lives.

“That’s what Amish Peace is all about—being inspired by the best of the Amish way of life,” she said.

I’m glad I didn’t let the title or the subject matter stop me from reading this devotional. I would have missed a treat – a true oasis in the midst of a chaotic world.

This book truly stands out among other books highlighting the Amish faith.


Others are discovering Fisher’s book. It’s been chosen as a book selection for Doubleday, Crossings, Book of the Month 2 and Bookspan.

Want to learn more about Fisher and her books, visit www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.

Enabling alert - her first Amish novel, The Choice, will be released in December....

Don't forget about the "Book Bomb"
Buy a copy of Amish Peace, either online or at your local bookstore, on Monday, Oct. 5, and enter to win a basket of books published by Revell.

Once you buy the book send Suzanne an email (suzanne@suzannewoodsfisher.com) or leave a comment on her blog (http://suzannewoodsfisher.blogspot.com) or Facebok page or email Amy (amy@litfusegroup.com) stating where you bought the book and how many copies you purchased.

Questions? Email Amy at amy@litfusegroup.com

*Note: Amish Peace will be available in October 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group/Baker Books. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book Tour: The Great Christmas Bowl

Warning...this post may make you long for the Christmas season and spark memories of family gatherings...


Marianne Wallace never expected that her passion (er obsession) for planning the greatest family Christmas AND cheering on her son's football team towards a state championship would ultimately go down in infamy as "The Great Christmas Bowl."

In just 157 words, Susan May Warren has crafted a sweet, humorous story filled with holiday planning, football and of course, trout in her newest release "The Great Christmas Bowl."

Trout and Christmas toghether in one book? Keep reading to find out more....


It was a hot and muggy summer day when I sat down to read The Great Christmas Bowl. Let's face it, at that point in life, Christmas was the farthest holiday from my thoughts.

Quickly I was drawn into a story filled to the brim with humor and a family's love for each other.

I loved the idea of a mother, willing to do anything for her son - including dressing up in an unflattering trout mascot costume "for the good of the team."


I also empathized with Marianne's desire to make everyone "happy" and not say no - especially when it came to planning the Christmas tea at church.


I think, woven among the humor, Warren has crafted a few "life" lessons for readers. Life isn't perfect. You can't make everyone happy all of the time.


Marianne tries to be perfect - a perfect mother, hostess and volunteer. She doesn't like saying no or disappointing people - especially the ones she deeply cares about..


As she tries to do more and more, her life starts to unravel.


Through her exploits - and an unexpected twist at the end - Marianne discovers the true meaning of the holidays and Christmas. The ultimate truth.

I thoroughly enjoyed this simple book. But fair warning...if you pick up this book, you may not want to stop reading until you reach page 157 - it's very addicting.


A Bit More About the Great Christmas Bowl
Marianne Wallace is focused on two things this holiday season: planning the greatest family Christmas ever and cheering on her youngest son’s team in their bid for the state championship.

Disaster strikes when the team loses their mascot-the Trout. Is it going too far to ask her to don the costume?

So what if her husband has also volunteered her to organize the church Christmas tea.

When football playoffs start ramping up, the Christmas tea starts falling apart. Then, one by one her children tell her they can’t come home for Christmas.

As life starts to unravel, will Marianne remember the true meaning of the holidays?


About Susan May Warren

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill.

A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year.

Her larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences
around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!.

She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!) A full listing of her
titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com.

Before You Go....
Ready to jump into the "bowl" and check it out? Click here to purchase the book 

The Great Christmas Bowl website features a note from the author, fun updates from Big Lake Gazette, info on how to host your own Great Christmas Bowl Tea to benefit a local ministry or charity and a fun Recipe Exchange contest!

It's a Contest: Be a part of the Great Christmas Bowl recipe exchange! Susan loves getting recipes from friends, and sharing the delicious cookies, soups, breads and other fun fixings that go with celebrating
the Christmas season. More than that, she loves the crazy stories about favorite Christmases – serious, touching, funny…whatever. Find the recipe contest here: http://thegreatchristmasbowl.blogspot.com/2009/07/recipe-exchange.html

Will you share your story and recipe with Susan and the readers of the Great Christmas Bowl? She will post your story and recipe on the FRONT PAGE of the Great Christmas Bowl website, and send you a link when it goes up so you can tell all your friends. Then, at the Great Christmas Bowl party (December 5th, 10am, online! Details TBA) she’ll make the entire cookbook available for download!

For every recipe/story you submit (up to 3), you will be entered in a drawing to receive one of SMW’s collections (Noble Legacy, Team Hope, Heirs of Anton, Deep Haven Series, Josey series, or THE ADVANCED COPY of Sons of Thunder – Susie’s brand new epic World War 2 novel, due out
in January 2010!)

Pst...enabling alert...click here to read more about one of Warren's newest heroine, PJ Sugar.

Go – run, get your recipe, then come back here and click on the link below to share your Christmas memories!

One last thing....
Want to see what other readers thought about the "Great Christmas Bowl?" Visit the blog tour for additional details.

As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunflower Photos

A few photos from a recent "outing" in a Sunflower patch....
Yes, I asked permission before I "trespassed."







It's a book launch

Come back next week....I'll have a review AND an interview with Suzanne Woods Fisher....

It's a Facebook Party
Come celebrate the release of Amish Peace, kick off the blog tour and meet Suzanne Woods Fisher LIVE on Facebook from 5 to 7 p.m. PDT, Monday, Sept. 28 (8-10 pm EDT or 7 to 9 CST).

Here are some of the party highlights …
Listen to Suzanne share what inspired her to write Amish Peace and some of what she learned while researching the book and living in the Amish community.
• Participate in live question and answer sessions with Suzanne.
• Try your hand at a Fact or Fiction Contest … How well do you really know the Amish?
• Get a sneak preview of The Choice, the first book in Suzanne’s new Amish fiction series releasing in the spring of 2010.

They'll be giving way some great prizes including advanced copies of The Choice, and an Amish gift basket.

Don’t miss this special opportunity! To participate you will need an active account on Facebook and you will need to be a friend of Suzanne Woods Fisher. Follow the link below for more information:
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=128455158281

Feature Article: Neighbor2Neighbor

Neighbor2Neighbor campaign goes into community
Editor's Note: This article ran in the Wednesday, Sept. 24, issue of the Siloam Springs Herald Leader.
 

By Kaylea Hutson
SILOAM SPRINGS — Despite rain and unseasonably cool temperatures, more than 30 children, youth and adults stepped out of their normal Sunday routine to complete four service projects in the Siloam Springs community.

For two hours, volunteers from First United Methodist Church in Siloam Springs undertook a variety of projects on Sept. 13, including completing a brick side walk, helpingwith some yard work, passing out water bottles to motorists and picking up trash along Sager Creek.

It was all part of the Neighbor2Neighbor campaign, a multi-generational service project designed to help volunteers become "the hands of Jesus" to those living within their own community.

"We wanted to do some practical help, for people in our community to show them the love of Christ in a tangible way," explained Peter Banks, minister to families with youth. "Itwas a joy to see some needed projects completed."

Banks organized the projects through a variety of sources including the Manna Center and Siloam Springs Senior Center.

Those helped, he said, seemed full of gratitude for the assistance they received, and were often surprised that the effort was not a fund-raiser for the church.

"People who stopped for the water were especially surprised that the volunteers were not collecting money," Banks said. "It may seemsimple, passing out water, but it satisfied an immediate thirst.

"Team members wanted to find a tangible way to show people that they cared about things, even as simple as a cup of cold water."

Because of the success, several volunteers have requested to do this project again. Banks said plans are being considered for future outreach efforts.

For more information about First United Methodist Church, call 524-6111 or visit www.fumcss.com.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blog Tour: A Laugh-Out-Loud Book: Boy-Sterous Living


I picked up this book, hoping to learn some tips for working with boys - there's a plethora of boys in my children's ministry and often, I'm left scratching my head at their antics.

From the start, I could barely put this book down. The book, filled with tons of humor and personal stories from Jean Blackmer's life, was simply hysterical. It’s filled with a variety of true-life stories – all from the point of view of a mom.

I think it takes a special person to raise boys. I often find myself trying to understand the plight of a friend, who is raising four boys – ages 5, 6, 8, and 9 – laughing or crying with her when it comes to their crazy stories and actions.

Blackmer’s book was almost like reading a “field guide” to little boys. It opened my eyes to some of their actions – especially those that seem to involve loud or breakable things.

I laughed out loud as I read the chapter, where Blackmer talks about finding her son jumping on a trampoline with a hammer. (Note: he was trying to fix a basketball goal hanging above the trampoline.) She never guessed that she would have to say "don't jump on a trampoline with a hammer." After a visit to the hospital, she learned.

It’s kind of like the lesson I learned the night a group of the kids at church played a game of “hide and seek.”

I never imagined, as I gave the ground rules for the game, that one of the boys would decide to hide in one of the oversized refrigerators. Fortunately, it was too full, so he didn’t get stuck in it - and just smashed a few desserts. But now, thanks to the book and experience, I’ve learned to give pretty specific instructions to the kids – especially the boys!

Blackmer said she chose to write a book, focusing on boys, in order to provide a book from a mom's point of view.

"There are some great books on raising boys but they are mostly written from a psychologist or male point of view and I noticed not many written from a mom's perspective," she said. "It's not so much a book on how to raise boys as it is on what raising boys is like - the adventure, passion, humor and energy boys bring into our world.

"I also saw a need for mothers of boys to feel they are not alone and that their boy's behaviors, although completely unexplainable to a mom, are very normal for boys. I knew I could share some of our stories and other stories from parents raising boys to help moms (and dads) to have a sense of humor, to feel they are not alone, to give them something to laugh and smile about, and to provide practical tips and ideas for raising boys."

She hopes moms reading her book will be inspired to embrace the adventure of raising boys - and maybe even find themselves engaging in a variety of things, all while learning to laugh and trust in God.

Writing the book was hard work, but worth it in the end, explained Blackmer. It  even had some unexpected benefits for her family.

"This brought our family even closer as we shared stories and I asked my husband and the boys if it was ok to write about them and our family life," she said. "I also learned that I do have a pretty good sense of humor, and that my boys bring out a part of me I would never have known without their influence in my life."

A sense of humor is key to raising boys. Blackmer said she has learned that sometimes, you simply have to laugh at what boys will do.

In fact, Blackmer includes some of her favorite stories in the book: one, featuring her youngest son, Jake’s decision to shave off his eyebrows – he wanted to try shaving like his father, and that was the only “hair” on his face.

Another story included in the book featured a son, a firecracker, a toilet and summer camp.
“When my oldest son, Josh, blew up a toilet with a firecracker at summer camp, I came to the conclusion that boys really are a blast,” Blackmer said.

Blackmer said she learned to let go of her fear and trust God with the lives of  her sons, through her middle son, Jordan’s numerous trips to the emergency room.

“I guess I don't have one favorite story, in fact, since writing the book I have even more stories....life with boys is never boring,” she added.

What's next for Blackmer? As the publishing manager for MOPS International she is working on several new books for moms with some incredible authors. She is also writing a new book for moms about dealing with the unplanned moments of mothering.

Blackmer opened my eyes to several things, including communication - related to the boys and their dads. In all, I think moms (and those who love boys) will find that this book is informative, humorous, and well, quite fabulous!

About the book

Raising boys isn't easy. Life with them is loud. If it's quiet, they're probably up to something. Boys are messy, competitive, fearless, and proud. Living with them pretty much guarantees that you're in for an adventure.

In Boy-sterous Living, Jean shares a few of the priceless stories and laugh-out-loud lessons that she and her boys have experienced over the years. With humorous insight and practical advice, she offers encouragement and ideas to help both mothers and fathers impact and shape the lives of their sons. From understanding their love of sports to overcoming the superman complex, Jean shows moms how to find joy and contentment in everyday life by celebrating the laughter, passion, noise, and endless energy boys bring to our lives.

About the author

Jean is currently the Publishing Manager for MOPS International and she's been free-lance writing for 16 years. She has been published in a variety of local and national publications, including: Guideposts, MomSense, Today's Christian Woman, Christian Parenting Today, American Girl, Proverbs 31 Woman, Chicken Soup for the Mother and Son Soul, Chicken Soup Cookbook for the Busy Mom's Soul, Focus on the Family's Teen Phases, Guideposts Miracle Series, and others.

She also co-authored her first book, Where Women Walked: Powerful True Stories of Women's Perseverance and God's Provision. (Tyndale/Focus on the Family, 2004) This book was nominated for a Gold Medallion Award.

Jean graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a Bachelor's (1987) and a Master's (1992) degree in Journalism. She lives in Boulder with her husband Zane; three boys, Josh, Jordan, and Jake.

Visit Jean's Website
Learn more about Jean and her writing - click here.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Food Journey Continues

Well, I've been doing the "new" food plan since Monday. Some days, the meals are a bit "sparse" but other days - like last night's meal of chicken & rice tacos made three servings.

Today, I explored the Allen Canning company store and picked up 24 cans (a case) of mixed vegetables. I plan to go grocery shopping for next week's meals tomorrow - once I triple check what ingredients I have and don't have at home.

I realize that I use food as a emotional thing, and find myself eating when things get stressful. I'm having to find new ways to deal with stress....duh right?

The other thing I'm having to get used to, is to eating "healthy" portions....and reminding myself that I'm not "hungry" I'm simply wanting to eat to deal with stress.

So, it's Friday, and I haven't eaten "out" since Monday, lunch (I treated Gigi to lunch for her birthday).

One thing I've found is that it's easier to eat at home with a plan. We'll see how this continues.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A new food journey?

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. - Luciano Pavarotti

I’ve  bitten the bullet. After talking with numerous friends about needing to find a way to eat healthy, I’ve decided to try a “planned” meal system known as e-mealz (www.e-mealz.com).

My friend Rachel told me about the system. You pay $15 every quarter (three months) and in turn, the website generates a new set of menus – five meals – each week.Pst...yes, this is the "budget" meal system recommended by Dave Ramsey.

It’s pretty simple. You sign up for a plan. Each week you can download a two-page plan - in pdf form. One page outlines the five main entrees (and two to three side dishes per meal), along with the recipes and preparation instructions. The second page outlines the groceries needed, with ingredients listed by section. Because I chose a plan designed for a specific store (yes, Walmart), it lists the typical price for each item. In all, e-mealz.com said that a typical week’s meals on this plan will cost between $35 and $40.

I chose to try a plan like this, for two reasons: first, I want to cut down on the number of times I eat out; second, I need a system that it easy to follow.

First reason
As a single person - or “singleton” to steal a descriptor from Bridget Jones’ Diary - cooking is a chore.

Honestly, I’ve fallen out of the habit of cooking in the last few years. For the most part, I end up either  cooking something, and eat (or freeze) tons of leftovers (one can only eat so many bowls of chili or veggie soup before loathing the sight of it sitting in your bowl), or I find myself warming up a can of soup or fixing a box of Mac and Cheese.

When I have tried to cook in the last few months, I’ve discovered that my skills are “quite” rusty. Let’s just say, I can botch something as simple as mashed potatoes and gravy or vegetable soup.My friend Maribeth says when it comes to cooking, you either "use it or lose it." Well, I think I've lost it!

Often though, I find myself heading to the nearest drive thru to “grab” a quick bite. After numerous burgers, salads, burritos and tacos, I’m quite ready to try something else. I’m tired of eating out. I’m tired of fast food. I decided God might be trying to get my attention, when the last burger and fries combo I purchased rang up $6.66. - At least God has a sense of humor!

I’ll admit that grabbing a burger is the “easy” way out. A few bucks here, a few bucks there, well, it all adds up. But somehow, I’ve mentally convinced myself that it’s easier (and cheaper) to grab something on the run.

While I want to change, sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing the “known” because you can do it without a lot of mental thought.

Second reason
I work a lot. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I also tend to do things for others, putting myself in second, or even third place. It’s not a conscious decision, but rather a fact of life. I like doing things for others.

But as I've started to make changes in my life, I’ve come to realize, I crave consistency and structure - just take a look at my Myers-Briggs personality results! ENFJ all the way baby!

In the past, the only time I truly ate healthy (and lost weight in the process) was when I “had a plan.” In that case, I obsessively followed the Weight Watcher’s plan. But that took lots of time and effort. I knew this time, I needed something that would be a bit easier to follow.

So, when Rachel said “I really think you should give this a try,” I decided that I could either keep talking (and whining) about wanting to get healthy and eat better, or I could do something.

Somehow, knowing in my brain what I want to do, and actually doing it seems to be two different things.

Week One
After talking about doing this meal plan for more than two weeks, I finally signed up for the “Meal Plan for Two: Walmart.”

E-mealz.com has numerous options – including several for two people. The plan I chose is the closest thing to an “individual” meal plan I could purchase.

My goal for this project is to make a meal in the evening, and have the next day’s lunch prepared at the same time. This means that the five meals will be stretched into 10. Hopefully, this will help cut down on the “quick” trips to the drive thru, and ultimately, help my budget.

I chose the Walmart plan for ease and because I knew I’d be able to find the ingredients with out much effort in my small town.I also knew that for the most part, if I couldn't make it to Walmart, I could also shop without too much trouble at our local IGA.

So, with grocery (and meal plan) in hand, I set off for the store. One thing I liked from the start about e-mealz.com is that the grocery list is divided into sections like “produce,” “bakery & bread,” “dairy/refrig,” and more, making it easy to find similar items.

I also like the fact that the ingredients are marked so you know which meal you’ll use it in. This way, I was able to substitute a head of cabbage for “1 bag angel hair cole slaw” and a head of lettuce for “1 bag of shredded lettuce” because the cheaper alternative could be used without impacting the meal. I also swapped out a fruit used a side dish for something in season and on sale.

The grocery list also indicates, recipe by recipe, what “staples” will be needed to complete the meal.

After a few moments of panic – did I mention I really don’t like to go grocery shopping – and an hour of searching the aisles at Walmart (it just underwent a major renovation), a call to my mom to double check an ingredient, and saying hi to a few people (note to self: it does pay to do your hair before going to Walmart),  I found everything on the grocery list.

The prices listed for many of the ingredients were exactly on target. A few were a bit more expensive (but not by much), however, several were on sale. In the end, the grocery list for the five meals was almost on target – approximately $39.40.

Because my pantry was a bit bare, I needed to purchase several of the staples for the menus. I also purchased some storage containers and a few “basics” like milk, cheese and eggs.

In all, including the bottle of coke – it was a necessary item, thank you very much – I spent a grand total of $63.97. Because some friends gave me a $25 gift card to Walmart as a thank you, the initial week’s total was a bit easier to swallow. That paid for the “extras” this week.

Yes, I know, when you average $6 to 8 every time you eat out, $39.40 isn’t that much. Let’s face it, it represents less than six meals eaten out.Again, I'm trying to re-train my brain!

Trying the recipes
After I got home from the store and put away ingredients, I began to make the first meal: Grilled Honey Chicken with hickory (a.k.a. baked beans), corn and Italian slaw.

The chicken called for simple marinade – which was easy to make. While it was on the grill, I warmed up the corn and beans. The Italian slaw was simply cabbage tossed with Italian salad dressing. I had to chop up the cabbage, since I decided to skip the pre-shredded version.

When everything was finished, I divided everything up, saving half of everything for the following day’s lunch.

My initial reaction
Instead of sitting down for a bowl of mac & cheese or grits (my standby when there’s nothing else to fix), I actually sat down to a filling meal, with adequate and satisfying portions.

The chicken turned out to be quite tasty. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first, and unsure how it would turn out, based upon the marinade's ingredients. The beans and corn were easy to warm up. In all, in a bit more than 30 minutes, I had a balanced, healthy meal.

So, I’m off to an interesting start with this new game plan. The rest of the meals this week include “French Dip Sandwiches,” “Chicken and Rice Tacos,” “Hearty Hodge Podge Soup,” and “Cooker Chops.”

Two of the meals are considered “crock pot” dishes, so I’ll start those meals before leaving for work on those mornings.

I also have a game plan for breakfast. I’ll either scramble some eggs with cheese, or have a bowl of oatmeal. If I have lots of time, I’ll make a “mini-quiche,” thanks to my aunt’s favorite recipe.

In all, Monday, Sept. 7, marks the first day of a new plan: a way to take control of my eating habits, and maybe become a bit healthier in the process.

Why journal or blog about this? Well, I’m trying to be open about my struggles, asking friends to hold me accountable as I travel this new journey. I also think a recipe plan like this is a bit more realistic than other food blogs that try out exotic recipes. Lots of us want to try new things, but can’t afford (or find) the ingredients necessary for those unusual recipes. The e-mealz seems to be something the “average” person can follow. We'll see if the recipes remain realistic, or if they get a bit "outrageous."

So we’ll see what happens. I’ll try to update my journey at least a couple of times each week. I can’t promise a post every day, but I’ll let you know how things go. So stay tuned…..
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