Friday, December 27, 2013

Our Christmas

For the past few decades, Christmas around our home always begins with practices and performances for school and church Christmas programs.  When the big boys were young they exercised the same grueling practice schedules OG & EJ currently go through every year.  The work always seems to pay off as the children are consistently proud of their accomplishments.  Our children have always eagerly signed up for performances despite the hectic schedules and hard work.  They seem to genuinely enjoy entertaining others with their talents.
This year, in addition to the children's choir, EJ had a speaking part in our home school group's Christmas program.  He also had a speaking part in the Children's program at our local church AND he played "Jingle Bells" on his harmonica during our church's Christmas music specials.  We have not been able to find a harmonica teacher, so EJ has been using the internet to teach himself.  He is so proud he learned "Jingle Bells" in only 3 weeks.
OG was especially busy with speaking, singing and as a guitarist in our home school group's program, our church program & music specials and our community Christmas Cantata.

Until this year, OG was the only youth who participated in our community Christmas Cantata.  This year she was joined by another very vocally talented high school student.  Both girls are hoping more youths will participate next Christmas season.

Just before bedtime on Christmas Eve one will find us gathered 'round mugs of hot apple cider, hot cocoa or glasses of eggnog with a plate of cookies for the reading of Luke 1:5 - 2:21. 

Christmas morning begins nice, neat and tidy.  But always turns ...

... Excitedly messy!!

AND our Christmas breakfast always includes
Karbach Haus Bread Pudding 

Step 1:

     1 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese
     1 cup sugar
     1/2 teaspoon vanilla
     1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a mixing bowl, cream above ingredients together.  Spread mixture on 6 slices of day old bread or sourdough sandwich bread.  Cover with 6 more slices of bread, making sandwiches.  Cut or tear the sandwiches into bite sized squares.  Pile the squares into a 9 x 13 inch greased casserole pan.

Step 2:

     12 eggs
     2 cups milk
     4 ounces softened cream cheese
     1/2 cup sugar
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled

Beat eggs until light and fluffy.  Add remaining ingredients and blend well.  Pour over bread and cream cheese mixture.  Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3:

Next morning,  pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove foil and sprinkle with 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Bake at 375 degrees fro 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out with out raw egg.  Serve with whipped cream, syrup or any other favorite French toast topping.

10 - 12 servings

Note:  When our big boys and extended family are not home, I half the recipe and bake it in an 8 x 8 inch casserole.  This recipe also doubles well for very large gatherings of 12 -24.  When doubling the recipe I bake it in two 9 x 13 inch casseroles.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Making a List & Checking it Twice: Update #4 Ready for Christmas!!

Christmas Gifts Purchased:

Out of Town Gifts Wrapped & Mailed:

Christmas Décor:
     TODAY (If I didn't have children in the house and since no other family will be home for Christmas this year, I'd skip the décor - Last year I was Home Alone during Christmas & I skipped the décor.  Does that make me a scrooge?)
      CHECK (I might add red velveteen bows to the porch and deck railings tomorrow ...)

The children have been pestering me trying to talk me into purchasing a new Christmas tree
for years.  We found this little "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree at an after
Christmas sale for $5 fourteen years ago.  I am too cheap frugal to even consider a new tree.

Many of our Christmas décor items have been homemade gifts from one of
Mr.B's aunts.  She is so very talented and is a blessing and inspiration.
 Thirty years ago, I made paper bag stocking patterns and as family members have
been added, I sew each a stocking specific to their personality.  Since our grown boys and
extended family will not be joining us this Christmas, I've only hung 4 stockings on the mantle this year.

15 Homemade Gifts:
      13 completed, 2 left

Christmas Cards Addressed & Mailed:

Local Christmas Gifts Wrapped:

The  packing paper from mail ordered supplies is saved and re-cycled into wrapping paper.
Ribbon, bows, string are also re-cycled or purchased from re-sale shops.
Our annual gift wrap budget is less than $10.

Christmas Dinner Planned:
A Work in progress:
               Pastry Wrapped Brie
               Honey Glazed Ham
               Macaroni & Cheese
               Buttered Broccoli
               Southern Green Beans
               Chocolate Pie
               Pecan Pie
              Iced Tea
              Warm Apple Cider

     YES!! - so far, $106.00 under budget

There is progress, but I've still a long way to go.
Just need to finalize Christmas dinner plans and we'll be ready for Christmas!
HooRay!  We are ready for Christmas !!!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pot Luck Etiquette

Those of you who know me personally or who have been following my blog for a while know that we live in a VERY rural and VERY sparsely populated area.  Our entire county has fewer than 1,000 residents.  Consequently, we drive long distances for recreation activities, restaurants, shopping, etc.  One of our community's most popular local activity is pot lucks.  We have pot lucks for homeschool socials, sports socials, church socials, volunteer socials, and just about every other reason one could think of.  They are most often held in church basements, the court house court room, the senior citizen center, the volunteer fire station and individual homes. 

Usually the guests / participants observe proper manners at these pot luck functions.  However, we will occasionally observe someone who is simply unaware of certain social graces.  Those who are guilty of failure to exercise certain manners are usually younger or from large cities where pot lucks are not quite so common.  For families who maintain a tight grocery budget regular pot luck socials are a great budget saver and inexpensive family entertainment.

 As fun and entertaining as pot lucks can be, there are certain social graces that must always be maintained.  Young children should be reminded of these social graces before every pot luck gathering, especially those concerning hygiene.

1.  If the organizer has provided a list of specified dishes, such as last names beginning with A-F bring main courses, G-L bring salads, M-R bring side dishes, S-Z bring breads OR desserts, PLEASE always bring a dish from the specified category.  Example:  Even if your broccoli, rice and cheese casserole is the best dish you make and the best in the community, do not bring it unless your last name begins with M-R for side dishes.  NOTE:   If a list of specified food items is not provided or mentioned then, by all means, bring one of your best or a family favorite.

2.  If financial or time management obligations prevents you from being able to contribute a food item, ALWAYS assist with set-up AND clean-up.  The concept of pot lucks is to prevent the expenses and labor of social gatherings from falling on one or two individuals.  As they say, "Many hands make light work".  Quite frankly failing to contribute by bringing a food item or contributing to the labor will earn you and your family the very unflattering title of "mooch".

3.  ALWAYS wash your hands before set-up, progressing through the food line or after you cough, sneeze, etc.

4.  Want seconds?  ALWAYS obtain a clean plate.  No one wants to come behind you and eat from a food item in which the serving spoon was tapped onto your dirty, germ filled plate.  Using a dirty plate for seconds - HORRINDOUSLY poor manners.

5.  Aside from basic table manners, which I've personally realized can vary significantly from family to family, ALWAYS clear your and your young children's place settings when you are finished.  Disposable dinnerware should be placed in the trash, other dinnerware should be placed in it's specified area for washing.  If you don't know where the wash area is, ASK.

Our family enjoys our community pot lucks.  They give us an opportunity to visit and catch up with friends and neighbors.  They solidify community spirit and cooperation.  They offer fellowship and celebration for various community or holiday events.  Observing the most basic of pot luck etiquette makes the experience most enjoyable for all in attendance.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gift Basket's How To's

As our family's Chief Financial Officer (CFO), [yes, I am also the Chief Operations Officer, (COO) .. a person as multi-talented as I am wears many hats ...]  I am always searching for frugal avenues to bless others.  Birthdays and holidays can reek havoc on any family's budget.   Through the years I've learned that frugal doesn't have to mean cheep.  There are several penny pinching ideas that allow frugal gifts to be presented in a special and professional manner.  I  have a relative who is sugar sensitive and this year's Christmas candies and cookies just will not due.  Therefore, I decided to build a non-sugary gift basket.  My cost savings for doing this myself was more than 40%.  Here's my frugal attempt to mimic fancy gift basket companies.
Step 1:  Select an appropriate sized basket and place filler in the bottom.  I purchased the basket from our local re-sale shop for 50 cents and used a crumpled paper sack as filler.

Step 2:  Spread a small amount of raffia across the filler.  My red raffia was FREE because I had saved it in a plastic bag from the packaging of a previous gift.

Step 3:  Attractively arrange your gift items.  I used glue dots from my scrapbooking supplies to affix the items together and prevent them from shifting.  These gift items were purchased on sale from our grocer.

Step 4:  Set the gift basket in the center of cellophane wrap and gather the ends together securing them with a twist tie.  Trim the excess cellophane.  Add ribbon or a bow.  My velveteen bow was purchased in an unopened package of 4 for 25 cents from our local resale shop.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Nap Time? ...

... No, I think it's pull my socks off time ..."

I began babysitting this precious little guy, ET, a few months ago.  Although he has his own ideas about nap time, I think he is still the one of the cutest and sweetest little people I've ever met.
Because of him, I am, for the first time in my life, looking forward to becoming a grandmother someday.

Monday, December 9, 2013

WARNING: The National Weather Service ...

... has issued a BLIZZARD warning for the following counties ..."

Yup! we are officially experiencing our first blizzard of the season.

 "Lord, we come to you with prayers of thanksgiving for the winter moisture that will help grow our crops next spring.  Lord, we thank you for getting us home safely before the blizzard.  Lord, we humbly ask that you protect our community and families during this storm.  Lord, we ask that you divinely keep our electricity connected and in normal working condition.  Lord, we thank you for providing us with the wisdom and resources to store winter preps .  Lord, we trust your wisdom in all thingsIn Jesus name we pray"

Current outdoor temperature is 17 degrees Fahrenheit w/ a wind chill factor of 2 below zero; current wind speed approximately 43 mph.
 (as bad as that may sound to my southern friends and family, 17 degrees is 30 degrees warmer than Thursday morning - ha! who would have ever thought a heat wave would include a blizzard?)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Poverty, More Than a Lack of Income

I suppose many would wonder why I would choose to post about poverty during the Christmas season.  Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy, expectation, and peace.  Thoughts of poverty often bring vastly different feelings.  Feelings of despair, hopelessness, and conflict.  Many often feel conflicted with the expectations of providing material gifts that one's household budget can not afford.  Many feel hopeless that their situations will never change.  Many feel despair over a perceived lack of opportunities to change their situations.

Living on the eastern Montana prairie places us "next door" to the North Dakota oil boom, often referred to as the Bakken.  The oil is flowing, the unemployment rate is around 2% and the middle class is growing.  In a area where the average McDonald's and Wal-Mart employees earn over $15.00 an hour and some oil field hands are earning over $100K a year, it seems everyone should have a very comfortable lifestyle.

Don't pack up or rent a moving van just yet.  The reality of the Bakken is vastly different from the perception.  $15.00 an hour is not a "living wage" when the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,100 per month and childcare is as much as $1,700 per month per child.  The net take-home pay of a $15.00 per hour employee is not enough to live in a one bedroom apartment, in the Bakken.  $2,100 a month rent is roughly 1/3 of the net take-home pay of an oilfield hand.  If you need a home for a family, that will cost you a 30 year mortgage of about $2,800 per month.  A gallon of milk is nearly $5 and there aren't any $1 value menus at the McDonald's or Taco Bell in this region of our nation.  $15 a pair wool socks are a necessity in this area's cold winter climate.  (This morning I awoke to an outdoor temperature of 27 degrees below zero).  Need a vehicle?  There is a reason my Mr. B flew to southeast Texas to purchase a farm truck.  Even after the expense of a one-way plane ticket and fuel costs to drive it home, he saved THOUSANDS of dollars.

Economically, poverty is relative to the cost of living for a region, not the national average hourly or annual wages.  But poverty is also a mindset.  It is an attitude of despair, a lack of expectations, the absence of hope.  When looking at poverty from a socioeconomic perspective we see many working poor with a lower standard of living than our nation's well-fare class, but they don't live with an impoverished outlook.  They are grateful for employment even though they may have to work a second job to pay the rent, they expect that through hard work their futures will improve and they hope higher earning job opportunities will come their way.  On the other hand, the well-fare class often resents those with a higher standard of living, they have no hope for a better future because they are not working, or can not work, toward that goal, and there is no expectation of opportunities, because there are no opportunities in well-fare; creating an environment of despair.  During our years of living below the poverty line working hard, learning to be a good steward of our resources, and being grateful for our opportunities helped to us maintain the positive and hopeful outlook on life that I continue to see in many of today's working poor.

When I lived below the poverty line, there were times when I felt impoverished and times when I didn't.  I felt impoverished when I visited my middle-class maternal grandmother and she served me a slice of bread smothered in gravy while she ate roast beef, mashed potatoes, and vegetables in front of me.  I felt as wealthy as a king when I lived with my paternal impoverished grandmother and she shared her only bowl of soup and crackers with me; she shared her all.  I felt impoverished when my middle-class maternal grandmother gave me a used coloring book and crayons for Christmas.  I felt as wealthy as a king when my impoverished paternal grandmother made me a blouse and skirt from the fabric of a large dress found in a bag of dirty, stained old clothes an unknown stranger had left on her doorstep; she gave me the best she was able to give.   I felt impoverished when my middle-class extended family told me to lie about the birth of our oldest child because of the embarrassing circumstances of his birth.  I felt as wealthy as a king when a co-worker told me that although I couldn't change my past I held the power to change my future; she offered words of encouragement and hope.  I felt impoverished when a food stamp coordinator told me I was stupid and foolish to work for minimum wage, as she denied my application.  I felt as wealthy as king when I found a brown paper grocery bag of Christmas presents for our children on our door step with a note telling me how respected I was for working two full-time jobs to support our family; someone had taken notice of my hard work.  I felt impoverished when a school counselor told our son that poverty begets poverty and despite his extremely high I.Q. he would most likely continue the cycle of poverty.  Watching that same boy enlist in the Air Force, attend college, work hard and begin planting his own business makes me feel as wealthy as a king; he is exercising diligence in overcoming his childhood circumstances.

In my world wealth is not bottled up in a paycheck.  Wealth is contingent upon our attitudes and our outlook on life.  Going into debt to rescue the poor will not shatter the mindset of poverty.  Blowing our household budgets and purchasing a boat load of Christmas gifts for our children will not prevent the mindset of poverty.  From the view out my window, if poverty is to be abolished every person, regardless of his socioeconomic status, must offer his very best.  For some the best will include working 2 full-time jobs, offering a word of encouragement, recognizing a neighbor's efforts, recycling the old into something new and useful, refusing to give up when everyone else says all is hopeless, etc..  Putting forth our best evokes an attitude of gratefulness, the hope of better things to come, and expectations of opportunities. Gratefulness, hope and expectations are what pulls people out of poverty.  I pray this Christmas season will be the season you either choose to put forth your best or find the strength to continue in your best.  After all, God gave us His best so that we could be rescued from eternal death and redeemed unto Him.  John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved."  Let us follow God's generous example and give our best to our families, friends, neighbors and communities.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's Time For ...

Wool Socks
Long Handles
Hats, Scarfs & Mittens
Flannel Bed Linens & PJ's
Blazing Fires in the Fireplace
Steaming Bowls of Soup
Fresh Loaves of Warm Bread
Mugs of Hot Tea and Cocoa
Board Games
Movie Nights
Arts & Crafts

Everything else will have to wait until spring.