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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent: Homes

This past week’s calendar focused on refugees --- its amazing to me that over 26 million people have had to flee their homes because of violence and unrest in their countries.  These are the people living in tent shelters that we occasionally glimpse on the television. 
I vividly remember a song by one of my favorite composers, Michael Kelly Blanchard, called Ethiopia.  He wrote it after watching a late night telethon for starving children in --- Ethiopia.  Its poignant and heartbreaking.  You can download and listen to it here.  And you can listen to some of Mike's other music for free here.  (YouTube is a wonderful thing sometimes --- but Ethiopia isn't on youtube)
These are people without a home.  That’s the part that is most disturbing to me.  Especially since I am so focused on home and making our home a nicer place to be. 
So, my challenge this week is to really appreciate my home.  I want to be thankful for all of the aspects of my home (especially when I’m sweeping or vacuuming or doing some other chore that I find to be drudgery)  I need to remember that somewhere in the world there is a woman who would LOVE to be sweeping a floor in her own home. 
This is especially important as I begin to decorate the house for spring and for Easter.  Its so easy to get caught up in the decorations and the frou-frou of it all.  I do all of that because I have a home.  My work decorating for Easter is a reflection of my gratitude for that home --- more so this year.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lent: Water

This entire week on the “Get Ready- Get Set calendar” is all about water.  Its so easy to forget how much of the world cannot simply turn on the tap and get fresh clean water.  I remember living in China and craving a glass of ice cold water.  It simply was not a possibility.  All of our water had to be boiled for safety reasons.  The only way to be sure that water had been boiled was to drink it “boiling hot”.  I drank more cups of hot water than I care to remember.  Ice cold water just wasn’t safe. 
I think of that every time I read one of those fitness tips about drinking more water.  Or when Weight Watchers tells me I need to drink eight glasses of water every day.  I have a lot of nerve complaining about that.  There was a day (a very hot day, back in China) when I would have gladly downed all eight glasses as once --- as long as they were icy cold, clean, fresh water. 
So the challenge today is to drink more water --- and not complain about it!!  Make it a ceremony of sorts.  Find a fabulous glass and maybe a pitcher.  Slice some lemon or some cucumber.  Get some ice and some fresh, clean water.  Think of this as similar to a Japanese tea ceremony.  Its all about presence and mindfulness.  Pour the water, sip the water.  Feel it on your tongue.  Swirl it around your mouth like some snooty wine connoisseur.  Swallow and feel it slide down your throat.  Be thankful. 
Now --- no more swigging water mindlessly from Poland Springs bottles left on the counter over night.  After all, this blog IS about making life more beautiful and elegant.  Repeat that little water ceremony over and over and over again.  Water can be its own little elegant part of your life.  And you’ll be more thankful for it, too.  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent: Enough

So how are you coming with joining me in “get ready, get set”?  Are you feeling a bit more ready for Easter than last week at this time?  Is the thankfulness and preparation for celebrating seeping into your life yet??  Its starting to kick in around here. 
We’re cleaning up the Valentine’s Day decorations, changing over the mantle to something more springy (green – that will carry us through St. Patrick’s Day and Easter without a major change again) and putting away the Valentine’s dishes, glasses, napkins and other stuff.  The wreath on the door will change today too (stop by and see it, if you like)
I’m starting to think about my plans for Easter --- how I’ll make it special for all of us here, what I’ll do to celebrate and remember.  But I’m very struck by today’s calendar challenge for Lent:  40-50% of  all food ready for harvest NEVER gets eaten.  Now, some of that has to do with harvesting problems, industrial issues with planning and efficiency etc.  But some of that has to do with not finishing what’s on my plate and not eating leftovers before they go bad in my fridge.  Some of that 40-50% is my personal responsibility (and yours --- although probably you’re better about this than I am)  And, frankly, I’m worse when it comes to celebrations. 
At celebrations I always want there to be a feeling of plenty.  I usually can add a few people to the celebration at the last minute without over-stretching the food.  That says something about my planning for the celebration.  Yes, it makes it joyous – but wouldn’t it be joyous without so much wastefulness?  What if I didn’t over-do the food?  Would we still celebrate just as much?? I think yes. 
So my personal challenge this year is to plan Easter a little more carefully.  I’m trying to take into account “how much is enough?” and stay within that boundary.  That will still be “plenty” – but it won’t be “too much” and we won’t contribute to that 40-50% of food that never gets eaten in our world.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent and Celebrations

So for those of you who “observe”, Lent officially begins today.  For those of us simply doing the “get ready, get set” (should we call this Lent-Lite??? – although spiritually, its not lite, is it??) we’ve already begun. 
Today’s challenge from the Lenten Calendar (wish I knew where Cindy gets this thing from??)  is:  The cost of a night on the town for a couple can provide emergency food supplies for a family of five for a month.  Wow --- think about that.  What we “blow” on a celebration (like Valentine’s Day this past weekend) can provide food for five people for a MONTH!!   Now, I know you and I are more frugal than most…. But still…… not that much more frugal!!  Even if my celebrations could only feed that family for 2 weeks or so.  I begin to feel my own decadence. 
But this is a season to “get ready” to celebrate Easter, not a season to beat myself up about my own decadence.  It’s a season to remember, be thankful, and demonstrate my gratitude with giving.  That’s why we do this project. 
The challenge in the calendar is to give according to the number of celebrations you’ve had in the past month.  My challenge to you is a little bit different:  estimate the cost of your last couple of celebrations (Valentine’s Day, birthdays etc)  Pick a number that fairly represents a “celebration cost”.  Divide by 14 (“even if my celebrations could only feed that family for two weeks or so…) and see if you can plan a day’s worth of food for that cost (sounds like an eat from the pantry challenge for the day, doesn’t it?)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Showing Love with Food

I know, I know --- You’re expecting a Valentine’s Day post including the mushy stuff about how we celebrate here without spending a ton of money.  Nope, sorry --- that ‘s not what you’re gonna get today (and yes we do celebrate --- and no, we don’t spend a ton of money!)
This is the time of year that our church begins thinking seriously about Easter --- sort of the “get ready, get set” for Easter.  We’re not huge into Lent, per se – most of the traditions that people associate with Lent just pass us by.  But, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we take some time to “get ready”.  It just makes Easter that much more meaningful for all of us (especially in this household, where Easter gets really, really hectic)
We participate in an ecumenical effort known as “One Great Hour of Sharing” and we use that offering as a way to ready our spirits and our minds to celebrate Easter.  So I thought that this month (okay, 40 days), I’d do my usual “Countdown” to a holiday (with all of the household getting ready stuff) AND share with you some of the more meaningful days of our countdown offering as well. 
Today the offering calendar asks us to think about a time someone showed us love using food – and then add our offering of thanksgiving for that person and their love. 
For me, the instantaneous thought was Mom.  I’ve shared before that we grew up poor.  My mother knew how to pinch a penny so tight that Abe Lincoln tried to run every time he saw her coming.  Food was one way she demonstrated love --- she cooked, canned, froze, baked and kept our family not only fed, but well fed every day of the week.  Holidays, she really went overboard, using frugal ingredients to make something special. 
But the time that first comes to my mind was about 12 years ago.  I had a very serious case of pneumonia and a collapsed lung.  I was stuck at home, in bed, and alone.  Mom dropped by every day with a bottle of juice, some soup, bread or other food fit for an invalid.  She quietly left it between my storm door and the front door for me to find whenever I awakened.  The cold weather kept everything naturally “refrigerated” for me.   It was such a quiet, gentle act of kindness and love.  And I am profoundly grateful for it to this day.  

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Saving Money on Ginger (the dog)

We’re coming up on Ginger’s “Gotcha Day” so I thought  I’d post a little bit about pets.  For those of you who are scratching your head, Miss Hurricane Ginger arrived at our household 2 years ago this coming week.  And yes, she landed like a Category 4 Hurricane.  We’ve come a long way since then --- she’s not the perfect dog (yet) but she’s well on her way to AWESOME. 
Ginger is a happy, healthy dog who LOVES the vet.  Fortunately for us, the vet loves her too.  When we were getting ready to adopt, we dealt with a number of  rescue organizations who wanted to know what we thought it cost to own a dog.  We were shocked at how low most people estimate the cost to be.  Owning a dog can be downright expensive.  They need food, vet care, toys, grooming, leashes, beds and a host of other things. 
We’ve gotten pretty good at saving on vet costs with our little Hurricane.  For starters, we didn’t assume that we had the best price with the vet we had and loved.  We did some shopping around and finding out what different vets cost.  Once we had some information, we were ready to make decisions.  Our vet was quite competitive and we think she’s terrific so we really wanted to stay with her.  We were up front about the cost differences – and she made some adjustments.  Some of the fees are still a tiny bit higher, but the level of service and quality of care are well worth the tiny difference for us. 
We take Ginger to the vet regularly.  She gets regular check-ups, immunizations and other health care.  We’ve had dogs in the past and we know --- the same as people, healthy animals have longer and better lives.  We keep Ginger trim and in good shape (she loves to go jogging!!)  She’s spayed (that reduces her risk for a number of cancers).  And she eats quality food.  Keeping her healthy keeps our costs down. 
There are times when she needs some medication.  We used to simply accept the pill bottle from the vet.  But now we’ve realized that we can shop around and take her prescription to CVS, Walgreens, Walmart or Target and often get some very inexpensive medication.  We also use and to price check all of the medications.  Our vet price matches those websites, so I don’t actually have to order online.  That makes everything very convenient. 
We also have insurance on Ginger.  The Humane Society has a pet health care insurance plan that isn’t expensive and will cover any emergencies (Hurricanes are prone to emergencies, so we’re holding our breath)