Why This Mom Likes Football

In a day where there are so many things and people vying for the attention of our children, it has become vitally important to stay connected with them.  If we as parents do not create an environment where our children know that they are valued and loved, they will certainly look outside of the home to find the acceptance they crave.  If they sense that we as parents do not care about them and their interests, they will find someone else who does.  If we show that we have little time to be involved in their world, there will be others who will make the time…and I don’t mean that in a positive way.

This season of raising our children is a short one.  Before we know it they are toddlers, then pre-teens, then college bound, then off on their own.   We’ll wonder where the time went.  We’ll yearn for just a little more time.

Your children need you.  Your children want you…really, they do.  They want your love, attention, acceptance, and time.   One of the best ways to show them all of these things is to simply be involved in what they are interested in.  Nearly every child has something they gravitate to.  Sports?  Music?  Art?  The outdoors?  Find out what it is and jump on board!

For all three of my boys, that interest is football.

I have to admit that, in the past, football had always perplexed me.  Despite my husband’s best attempts to explain the game to me, I just couldn’t understand how it worked.  Yards, downs, conversions?  I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.  My husband has never been a sports follower so I really had no need to explore football any further…and I didn’t.

Then it happened.  I’m not sure how it happened or exactly when it happened, but my boys discovered football.

With each passing season the boys’ interest would grow.  They would have “their team”, each one different from his brother.  Talk at the dinner table would include highlights from Monday Night Football or talk of why so-and-so needed to be benched.  They’d design plays to use when their buds got together.  They, like so many other boys their age, had been bitten by the football bug!

I had to come to the point where I asked  myself these questions:  Is this football thing just an interest of my boys, for my boys?  Or could this be more?  Could it be a tool to connect with my boys on a different level?  A catalyst for a myriad of important real life conversations?  I soon realized that I had a choice:  I could embrace this football thing and become an active participant, or I could be an outsider, a clueless observer.

The choice was easy.  This mom would learn about football.

I first turned to my boys to explain the ins and outs of the game to me.  And, they did.  Why I had never understood the game is simply beyond me.  (Four tries to go ten yards…repeat…not so difficult).

I began to watch games with the boys.  I made sure that I knew what was going on in the world of football.   I would chime in on football related discussions.  I began to cheer for a team.  I learned how to throw a football properly courtesy of my youngest son.  I even went with the boys to our local team’s training camp.  I got to know the players and teams.  I shared in the excitement of a big win or the disappointment of a terrible loss.  I even have given a hearty “Woo-Hoo” with hands raised at a great play.

The result?  Lots of fun.  Great memories.  A tighter relationship with each of my boys.  Totally worth it!

I do want to make it clear that football is not a god in our home.  My husband and I have put parameters up.  Football never takes priority over church, school, or people.  It is not allowed to dominate our time, conversations, or interactions.   Also, football is just one way that we choose to connect with our children; it’s just one way we choose to spend time with them; it’s just one way that we show them that their interests are important to us.  Football is not the “end-all-be all”.

Football has also given my husband and I endless opportunities to talk about real life situations with our boys.  I have to admit that there is a great deal of frustration over how some of these players live their lives.  It’s seems like a never ending barrage of news reports about men behaving badly.  Yet, instead of pretending that those reports don’t exist, we talk openly about them.   We discuss how drugs and alcohol can ruin someone’s life.  We talk about the proper way to treat women.  We discuss poor sportsmanship.  We talk about the emptiness of living a self absorbed life.  Ultimately, it paints a picture of what life is like without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

I also want to make it clear that we as parents need to use common sense.  If our child’s interest is actually an obsession, we should not feed into that further.  If their hobby is troublesome, we should work to steer them in a different direction.

Being a parent is a privilege!  Take this season of your life and get more involved with your kids.  You’ll never, ever regret it!

So, I’m not sure what you will be doing this Sunday evening, but I know where I’ll be.  You guessed it!  In my livingroom with my family, watching the big game.  They’ll be good food, great fellowship, and likely opportunities for more heart-to-heart conversations.

 

 

 

 

How Costco Saved My Food Budget

Is it me or are food prices out of control?   It seems as if product quantities are continually shrinking, while their prices are steadily increasing.

There is no doubt that trying to feed a family on a budget is challenging.  If you are trying to feed your family healthy meals, the challenge is even greater.  Factor in homes where there are dietary restrictions due to food allergies and intolerances and you have what seems to be an impossible feat.

I feel your pain on all three levels.

I enjoy cooking, and while I do not need to feast on filet mignon and lobster tails, I do like to focus on good quality, whole foods while preparing my meals.  I’m not into processed foods, but when I do purchase them, I am very discriminating, avoiding artificial ingredients, preservatives, and as much garbage as possible.  I purchase organic items when I can, but have loosened my grip on that a bit in order to work around my food budget.  Some of my children and I have food allergies, making the purchase of special foods mandatory.  I am a stay at home mom; we’re living on a single blue collar salary.  Things are tight.

I have to be honest.  For several years my food budget was out of control.  While I tried my best to make every dollar stretch, it just never seemed to be enough.  I was not buying extravagantly either; I’m just talking about necessities.

About two years ago I really felt burdened to get this under control.  I was not being a good steward of what the Lord had given me.  He had already provided me with what I needed, and it was my responsibility to find ways to make it work.

I prayed a lot, and then sat down to try to identify specific problem areas.  Was I buying needless items?  Was I not planning meals?  Was I foregoing a shopping list?  Was I too set in my ways?  Was I wasting the food we had?  Was I not shopping the sales?

I answered yes to some of those questions, not all, but a few.  But then, it hit me.  The problem in our home was quantity.  For years my food budget reflected a home with younger children.  I now had two teenage boys and one preteen boy.  They ate like adults not little kids.  They were not gluttons; they were growing, active boys.  They ate more.  That was the simple reality.

For a time, I worked to ration our food.  I would portion food out into little snack bags.  I would refuse to make a second trip to the grocery store once food shopping was completed.  This helped a bit, but it didn’t solve the problem.

Then a friend popped over.  Her family situation was very similar to mine.  She focused on feeding her family wholesome food, organic when possible.  She had to navigate food allergies.  She also had teenagers to feed. We got to talking about the struggle we both had in making our dollar work for us.  She told me that she had been shopping more and more at big box stores like Costco.  I shopped at Costco…for water.  But Costco scared me…seriously.  Those big cases came with big price tags.  I didn’t see how this would help me.  I also had the notion that nothing wholesome could be found down the aisles of Costco.  I found our conversation interesting, but not something that I would consider.

However, I must admit that the Costco conversation kept coming to mind.  I couldn’t ignore it.  So, the next time I went to Costco for water I decided that I would walk the aisles and look around.

I did and discovered two things:  there were many organic items, some that I used regularly, filling nearly every aisle, and, their prices were reasonable, and in some cases, insanely good!

So, I decided to do a one month experiment.  I would take my food money and allot two-thirds of it to shopping at Costco, while leaving one-third of it for shopping at my regular grocery store.   I shop once every two weeks.  I would buy enough for two weeks at a time, splitting some of the items up and storing them in the basement for the second week.

Fast forward one year later.  I am still following the plan.  The experiment was a success.  Costco has provided us with the quantity we need and has allowed me to spend less money.  I still shop at the grocery store for meat and other items, but the bulk of my items come from Costco.

I do forewarn you that not everything is cheaper at Costco.  You certainly need to compare prices and make decisions accordingly.  If I know that I can make a wiser purchase at the grocery store or online, then I do.  I have to shop carefully, only with cash, to avoid picking up items that I do not need.  I also tend to shop alone; that keeps me focused on buying what is needed, not what someone else wants.  Like all other big box stores, there is a yearly fee, but I have figured out that I save a whole lot more money this way, even taking into account the membership charges.

To hammer home the point, the items below were purchased at Costco.  I also went to my grocery store to find out the price of the same item (or comparable).  The numbers say it all.

Silk Almond Milk:

Costco:                 $7.69 for three half gallons
Grocery Store:    $3.99 for one half gallon

Udi’s Gluten Free Bread:

Costco:                 $7.59 for a 30 oz. loaf
Grocery Store:    $4.99 for a 12oz. loaf

Organic Frozen Blueberries:

Costco:                    $11.99 for three pounds
Grocery Store:       $3.99 for 10 oz.

English (Hothouse) Cucumbers:

Costco:                  $3.99 for three
Grocery Store:     $2.99 for one

Kind Bars:

Costco:                   $12.99 for 24 bars (about $0.54 per bar)
Grocery Store:      $2.99 for one five bar box (about $0.60 per bar)

Classico Tomato Sauce:

Costco:                  $7.49 for three 32 oz. jars (about $0.07 per oz)
Grocery Store:     $2.50 for one 24 oz. jar (about $0.10 per oz.)

Organic Maple Syrup:
Costco – $11.99 for 32 oz.
Grocery Store – $19.99 for 32 oz.

Crest Mouthwash:
Costco – $6.99 for three liters
Grocery Store – $5.69 for one liter

Organic Eggs:
Costco – $6.99 for two dozen
Grocery Store – $4.49 for one dozen

This system works for our family.  This is not an advertisement for Costco (I do not receive any money or consideration from Costco or the brands above).  I have simply outlined what I have done to keep within my food budget.

There are other ways to trim down your food bill, but I will keep those tucked away for a post in the near future.

Remembering

I’m forty-three years old.   With each passing year it seems that I become more and more forgetful.  I bet some of you can relate to my plight.  I forget where I parked my car, what I had for dinner just last night, what I came to the store to buy, and I almost always call my children by the wrong name (good thing I have all boys and no dog!).

Please, tell me I am not alone!

A recent family trip to Washington, DC really got me thinking about remembering.

As we walked the streets of the city,  stared in awe at the magnificent monuments, and meandered the halls of some fabulous museums, I reminded myself the reason why these sites stand.  They were there to cause me to remember.

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The fact of the matter is that we are prone to forget.

This is not a new condition.

During our trip we made sure to take the quick ride over to Arlington National Cemetery.  As we watched the changing of the Guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the silence was moving.  The precise and stoic motions of the guards was captivating.  After the ceremony, we made the winding walk back to the car.  My son had picked up a pamphlet and was reading that the changing of the guard takes place everyday, twenty four hours per day.  Why?  Why do this if no one is there to see it?

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Honor.  Remembrance.

We are prone to forget.

What about holidays? We have them in place in order to remember.  Yet, as I look at how the majority of the populace views these special days, there is little reverence or remembering going on.  Thanksgiving shopping deals.  Veteran’s Day mattress sales.  President’s Day ski trips. Don’t even get me started with CHRISTmas and Easter.  I’ve noticed that nearly every holiday with meaning and significance has been minimized.  Their importance replaced with frivolous rituals void of any reflection.  I find it funny (in a not-so-funny kind of way)  how the “not-so-important” holidays are epic.  Have you noticed the fixation with Halloween?

Well, today is a day to remember.  It’s one that I hope will stay vivid in the minds of all Americans. Today is Patriot Day.  September 11th.  For many of us, this is a day that has been etched into our memories forever.  On that day, I was safely tucked into my New Jersey home, a short thirty minute drive from New York City.  Like many of you, I watched the events of that day unfold on the television.  At that time, I did not know anyone in the towers, a rare occurrence in this area for it seemed as if nearly everyone knew someone who was there.

I hope I never forget that day.  I hope that I can adequately express the stories of that day to my children.  There are stories to show us that evil does indeed exist.  There are stronger stories of bravery and courage, of men and women risking their lives, that must be told.  Stories of those who saw the smoke in the distance and ran toward it.  Stories of everyday people caught in extraordinary circumstances who knew what had to be done and chose to say “Let’s Roll.”

Those stories must be told, lest we forget, lest we revert back, lest we dishonor the heroes of that day.

Tonight we will head over to our county’s memorial.  Only the Hudson River will sit between us and the New York City skyline.  We will walk the paths and read the inscriptions.  We will recount the stories of that day to our children.

I hope September 11th never becomes just another day.

We remember…….

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The $20 Challenge: Shopping the Sales

Several months ago I challenged my three boys, ages 10-15, to plan, shop, and prepare a meal, for our family of five, for $20 or under. Each of them stepped up and did an awesome job!

At that time, I encouraged them to come up with a meal and create a shopping list in order to keep them on task while at the store. A plan and a list were helpful tools for the first round of our little challenge. The only drawback was that the boys’ plans were kind of set in stone, and they didn’t want to make adjustments. Some of the boys had a difficult time keeping within budget, and when we had to make substitutions and minor changes in order to come in under $20, they were not too happy!

The take away from round one was that the boys realized that food was far more expensive than they had originally imagined. They also realized that in order to fit dessert into the budget, they would have to handle things differently.

For this round of the challenge, I told the boys that there would be no planning permitted. No lists. No meal idea set in stone. They were going to shop the sales. Let’s face it, don’t many of us do that nearly every time we head off to the food store? I’d love to have salmon, shrimp, lobster, and bison (my favorite) on the menu every week, but a little thing called my budget, simply won’t allow it! In order to feed a family of five (which often feels like a family of ten due to teenagers) I have to see what is on sale and make it work.

Aaron, who is the most flexible of the crew, was more than a little excited to take on the challenge. I handed him $20, and we were off to the store. As we were driving I asked him if he had any particular meals in mind. He was thinking of chicken parmesan, chicken paninis, or meatloaf but was flexible. Our game plan was to head to the meat department first. Chicken breasts were on sale for $1.99 a pound. I told him that that was a good price that he may want to consider. He then went over to see how much ground turkey was. It was about $4.25 for a 1 1/3 pound package (we would need two). He said that he really wanted to make meatloaf and potatoes. He then noticed the family size package of ground turkey. He ran over to the price checker and found that a three pound package was $7.99. Into the basket it went.

We went off to the produce section where he picked up a bag of potatoes for $2.50 and three cucumbers for $1.99. He planned on making our favorite cucumber salad.

After calculating his items he realized that he may just be able to make dessert. His original plan was to make blueberry crisp (oh, yes!), however, the berries were too expensive. He discovered that organic apples were on sale for $1.49 per pound. He decided that apple crisp would be equally delicious and weighed out 2 1/2 pounds. Next he grabbed a 1/2 pound of butter and exclaimed, “I think I am under budget! How?”

After a quick calculation, I told him, “Yes, you are.” A big smile stretched across his face. I then explained that in order to stretch a dollar, you have to be willing to make adjustments and be willing to use sale items. You can make something incredibly delicious with just about anything in any department. Personally, I always feel like a meal tastes far better when I know I was able to create it on a humble budget. I think Aaron felt the same.

So, Aaron and I spent about an hour peeling, cutting, mixing, and laughing. He did the majority of the work; I was just on peeling duty. The result, a humble, yet delicious dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, and apple crisp!  And, I’d like to think there were some new lessons learned as well!  Good job, bud!

Oh, and there were leftovers!  No leftover apple crisp, though!

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Miss Betty – Opening Your Eyes and Heart to Those Around You

We would see her often, on the way home from church, as we drove to the market, whenever we were simply around town. A woman, older, likely in her sixties, neat, simply dressed, hair done, pushing a shopping cart filled to the brim with black garbage bags. Homeless, I supposed. Not a common sight in our community. Yet, there she was, day in and day out, making a morning pilgrimage down the main street, her cart taking up residence in a local park’s gazebo, and an evening pilgrimage back up the same street to an unknown address.

Each day the cart in the gazebo served as a reminder that there were others less fortunate, that although our family had little, we had much. I suppose it would have become easy to simply drive by that gazebo each day, allowing that cart just to become part of the landscape, not paying mind to it, not remembering that there was a person behind that cart, a person whose life was wrapped up in those bags. Yet, the Lord kept bringing “her” to mind, this nameless woman.

One night I confessed to my husband that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wondered where she came from in the morning and where she went to in the evening. Did she need help? Was she all right? Why was the Lord continually filling my mind with her? My husband reminded me that the Lord does not fill our minds with worthless things. I began to pray.

Then one day it happened. One of my sons asked, “Who is that woman, Mom? And why is she always pushing that cart full of bags?”

“I’m not sure, honey. I believe she may be homeless, and those bags likely hold her belongings,” was my simple reply.

There was silence after that, the kind of silence that comes when one is deep in thought. I knew the wheels inside my son’s head where spinning, as were those of my two other sons who were in the van as well. I didn’t feel compelled to have a heavy conversation like this from the rearview mirror, so I waited until we arrived home and sat down with my boys to talk.

And talk we did. They were full of questions. Why might she be homeless? Where does she get food from? Clothes from? Where does she stay when it’s cold? Or snowing? All thoughtful questions, none of which I had an answer for. However, at that very moment, the Lord laid something on my tongue, “She is no different than you and I. Some of her needs may be different than ours, but not all. She needs a Savior, just like we did. She needs someone to show her the love of God, just like we did. She is precious in His sight. Her life is valuable, maybe a bit broken, yet beautiful.”

So as our family made our way through our town’s main street, we always kept a lookout for “her.” With time, we decided that we needed to give our nameless friend an identity. A name. Dignity. No longer a point of the finger or “her” but Miss Betty. Yes, Miss Betty she would be.

Although we had never met her, Miss Betty was having an impact on our family. The boys would ask about her. “Had I seen her today?” They remembered her in their prayers. “Keep her safe, warm, cool, sheltered.” If they did not see her cart in the gazebo for a few days, they would wonder if she was all right. The Lord was using her to open my boys’ hearts to those in need. He was giving them a different set of eyes through which to see the world.

The Lord continued to lay Miss Betty on my heart as well. I couldn’t just sit back any longer and watch or simply let her become an object lesson; I needed to attempt to make contact. On a few occasions I went up to the main street to watch where she went at night. I discovered that she simply kept walking and walking. Not wanting to scare her, I stopped. Another time my husband and I stopped to see if we could help her push her cart up a snow covered sidewalk. As we approached her, we heard her muttering to herself, and when she saw us, she repeatedly told us that she didn’t need help. We backed off. Obviously, our methods were not going to work. The Lord was going to need to pull the pieces together.

And He did. While my boys were at a friend’s house, I began to talk to one of the local moms about Miss Betty. I expressed how we were curious as to where she came from and what she did during the day. I was told that each morning and evening she not only made the long walk along our town’s main street but continued on to the next town as well. Wow! That was several hilly miles, each way, everyday. Then, I was told that she spends her days at the local library reading and doing puzzles. Bingo! Puzzle pieces together. Thank you, Lord.

I excitedly told the boys what the Lord had revealed to us. They were excited, yet somewhat apprehensive.

“Now what?” they asked.

“Well, let’s pray about it and see how the Lord directs,” I replied.

We did just that. I had also been privately praying that the Lord would stir the hearts of the individuals He wanted to move to action. Neither my husband nor I felt led to force any one of our children to make contact with Miss Betty. We wanted this to be a personal thing between them and the Lord.

We formulated a plan. One day we would go to the local library and deliver a small bag of some of our favorite treats to Miss Betty. If all we did was hand her the bag, then so be it. If she spoke with us, that would be a bonus.

The day arrived. I told the boys that I would be heading down to the library if anyone was interested in joining me. The volunteer that arose? My youngest, nine year old son. The Lord has given him a most tender, loving heart. He is always the first one to help those who are hurting, to pray when you need it most, or drop a note simply to encourage. So, that afternoon we picked out some of our favorite treats: granola bars, nuts, cheese sticks, raisins, and a few other items. We tucked them neatly into a clear, sealable bag and then slid in a 3×5 index card that my son had decorated with some colorful flowers, inside.

We drove down to the library and walked through the door to find Miss Betty sitting at the front table working diligently on a puzzle. Knowing that she was a regular visitor to the library, I approached the librarian to inquire. She told me that no one really knew her story. She came to the library everyday. She went by different names at different times and often conversed by herself. The librarian continued to tell me that many people had offered her assistance, be it rides, food, housing, or the like. She had turned them all down. She doesn’t accept help or talk to people. I then explained that my son and I wanted to give her a little something. “I doubt she’ll take it,” was the response.

So, I walked back over to my son and gently explained that Miss Betty may not accept our gift, and should that be the case, the Lord would be smiling down on him for his attempt to reach out to her. I was reminded of Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
As I began to walk, I noticed that my son lagged behind. I walked back to him. “Mom, I just want to watch you,” he said.

“That’s fine.”

I slowly approached the front table, lowered myself on one knee to be at eye level, and introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Kim. My son (pointing to him) and I were getting ready for Thanksgiving and we were thinking of you. We put together a few of our favorite snacks and were hoping that you would accept our little gift. My son drew you a little picture as well.”

And with that, her eyes met mine and she replied, “Okay, yes, I will take it. Thank you.”

I motioned for my son to come over; he did. I introduced him. Miss Betty looked at him and offered her thanks and set back to the task of completing her puzzle. We walked back to the van, and I embraced my son. I let him know how proud I was of him, and, more importantly, how pleased God was. God had put the pieces of the puzzle together so we could reach out to Miss Betty, actually so He could reach out to her.

In the weeks that followed, my son and I attempted another visit to the library only to find it closed. As Christmas approached and our family prepared small bags of homemade treats, we were sure to set one aside for Miss Betty. On Christmas Eve morning I drove to the closed library to see if I could locate Betty’s cart, which I did in the neighboring park’s gazebo. On top of the cart I left a simple bag of cookies with a note:

“We want you to know that we are thinking of you today. You are special and God loves you.”

Lessons from Dad

Father’s Day comes and goes each year.  It’s one of those bittersweet days.  I love to celebrate my husband and the wonderful dad that he is to our boys.  Yet, inevitably, at some point during the day, I reflect on my own dad.  Our journey as father and daughter was an interesting one.  I learned some of life’s greatest lessons from my dad.  Our story is marked by a sad beginning, a turbulent middle, and redemptive ending.  I hope you’ll stick with me.

It was Thanksgiving evening.  Dinner was done, guests had said their goodbyes, and the house was in a bit of disarray.  I was only five years old, my younger brother a year and a half.  I obviously don’t remember the specifics of the day, but nonetheless, that Thanksgiving would be a momentous one.  For on that day my dad left.  Simply took his belonging and walked away.  Our lives were changed in an instant.

My father returned to the Bronx where he took up residence in his mother’s spare bedroom.  To my father’s credit he remained involved with my brother and me.  We regularly spent time with my dad and grandmother.  He helped my mother out financially and maintained the house.  And while I was too young to fully understand our new family arrangement, it all just seemed odd to me.  However, I looked forward to those weekend trips.

I remember one specific visit where my father introduced my brother and me to a new “friend”.  She was apparently someone that my father had known for quite some time.  It was then that my young mind began to put the sordid pieces together.  My mother would fill in the gaps for me.

Within two years my parents’ divorce was finalized, and soon after, my father would remarry.  His new wife, the woman with whom he had been involved with while married, was young, and I frankly never gave her a chance.  I would not allow myself to like her.  I would not allow my heart to be open to her.  My mind was made up.

Future visits with my dad were marked by tears, unhappiness, and loneliness.  And as my father and wife began their new lives together, my sadness would turn to anger.  While my mom struggled to put food on the table, when there were times when the electricity was shut off, when birthdays went by without a gift, my father seemingly basked in the glow of his new home, new car, new toys, and new children.  Our twice monthly visits would become monthly visits, then every other month visits, then holiday and birthday visits, then would simply fade away.  Our visits were replaced with phone calls that were more obligatory than anything else.  My anger was slowly turning to hatred.

I entered high school seemingly happy on the outside but longing for love and acceptance on the inside.  I am fully aware that many young people in similar situations can get themselves into trouble, can wander down the wrong path, can look for love in all the wrong places.  I was fortunate, for the Lord put a father figure in my life in high school.  I was in the band, and the band was my life.  Our band director really became my dad during those vital years. He took a genuine interest in my life.  He went so far as to having me over to his house for dinner with his family.  I imagine that there were plenty of fellow classmates who envisioned a “Mr. Holland’s Opus” storyline, but no, that was the farthest thing from the truth.  To me, this man was the closest thing I had to a father.

While high school graduation was a happy time for most, it was terrifying to me.  All of the stability, acceptance, and love I received from friends and others would dissipate as we all went in our separate directions.  I remained local and commuted to a nearby university. It was there that I realized how easy it was to find love and acceptance in the arms of all the wrong people. I was desperately looking to fill the void. I look back on that time now and see how the hand of the Lord protected me. I put myself into some precarious situations, some, downright dangerous. Yet, amazingly I was kept safe. I should have been an 11:00 news story.

By this time in my life, I was a strong, independent, self-reliant young woman, but on the inside, there was that little girl, immature, vulnerable, naive, and hurt. The gap between my father and me was now a wide chasm. I hated him. I vowed that he would never earn my forgiveness for he was too undeserving. I would never allow all the years of pain and hurt to be erased. I would never give him a pass. He would never walk me down the aisle. I remember making a statement once that I wouldn’t even care if he died.

Those feelings don’t just happen overnight. There is a progression. Hurt – Sadness – Anger – Hatred – Bitterness. Each one building off the last; each one defining more of who I was. I realize now what I couldn’t see then: hatred and bitterness did more to harm me, than my dad. I carried around a backpack full of burdens everywhere I went. It dragged me down into the muck and the mire. My deliberate attempt to hurt my father, resulted in only one person being hurt…me.

For those of you who know me, you may have picked up on the fact that there is something missing from the above story: the Lord. I was saved early and grew up in the church, however, the older I got, the more I simply ran through the motions of religion. There was no relationship with the Lord, and that was obvious. It was during those turbulent college years that the Lord would grab hold of me. In reality, He had never let go of me, but He had to shake me pretty hard in order to get my attention.

Through accidents, sickness, and heartbreak, the Lord would bring me to my knees. He would open my eyes to the self destructive path I was on. One night after returning home from class, I sat on the hood of my car and stared out into the starry sky. I broke down in tears and cried out to the Lord. Life wasn’t good; I had no joy, no peace, and no hope. It was then that I realized that the love I had been searching for all of those years was always there. It wasn’t to be found in my earthly father but in my Heavenly Father. I took a vow that night, a rededication of sorts, to simply stop what I was doing. I was going to let the Lord direct my path.

Not surprisingly, our faithful God did direct my path. Within a few months he ordered my life and brought stability to it. I met my future husband, graduated college, and got into the workforce. In due time I would become engaged, and as I began to plan for my new life, the Lord reminded me that I still needed to deal with my old one. He impressed upon me that if I didn’t deal with my dad and my feelings, I would bring a lot of baggage into my marriage. After much prayer I decided to write a letter to my father. It was a long one. It was respectful but honest and blunt. I intended to mail it to him, but the letter never made it to the post office. This would be something I needed to do face to face.

I called my dad and told him that I needed to talk with him. I warned him that I needed to get some things off of my chest. So we set a date and my fiance and I sat down at my father’s kitchen table with my dad and his wife. I read my letter to them. Twenty years of hurt and anger were laid out on the table. There wasn’t much conversation to be had, just a lot of listening. He didn’t dispute anything I had to say. At the end, I told my dad that I forgave him, words I never thought I would utter. With that, we left. As the door closed behind me, I felt the weight of that burdensome pack fall off. I hadn’t realized how the weight of hatred had been holding me down. I felt free…literally.

Soon after, I was married. My father attended the wedding with his wife. My mother and brother walked me down the aisle, not out of spite, but out of love. I danced with my brother, not my father, again not out of spite, but out of love for my brother.

With time, my husband and I would reach out to my dad. It was a bit awkward at first for everyone, but new beginnings have to start somewhere. We had occasional phone conversations and a visit here and there. We didn’t focus on the past but on the present.

Within a few years I would give birth to my first child. This event would really test my heart. I remember calling my dad when my son was born. He and his wife came down to our house within a few days. They brought dinner and a shower of gifts. They were exuberant, like grandparents should be. However, this new found excitement did not sit well with me. Phone calls from my dad would become more frequent. Requests to visit were common. Random gifts were commonplace. What was up? Then the dark part of my heart spoke up. I told my husband, “So my dad thinks that he can just waltz into my life and be grandpa. What about all the times I needed a dad. What? Am I supposed to just forget about those times?”

Yep. That’s exactly what I was called to do. I had forgiven my dad….or so I thought I had.

“I, even I, am He who wipes out your transgressions, for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25

That verse hit me right between the eyes. What does true forgiveness look like? It is choosing not to remember the past. It is putting it away, far away from our minds. I don’t believe that we can truly forgive and forget. Our minds are not set up in a way to completely forget. All of our life experiences make us who we are. We just can’t pretend they aren’t there. But, we can choose to not remember them. When I looked at my dad, I still saw a little bit of the hurt. I hadn’t let that all go.

So how do I really accomplish this forgiveness thing? Well, I didn’t need to look far to find the perfect example in God himself. I surely was not (and am not) without sin. I had done some downright ugly things. I turned my back on the Lord. I was in need of forgiveness. I sought forgiveness and it was granted to me. How did the Lord view me?

“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature. The old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17”

Once forgiven, the Lord doesn’t look at me the same. He doesn’t look at me and see my sin; He sees me as new. He chooses not to remember my sins. If the Lord did that for me, how could I do anything less for my dad?

And from that day on, I chose not to remember. I chose to see my dad for who he was now, not who he was then. And as a result, the Lord blessed me with a good relationship with my dad. I looked forward to visits with my dad. I found joy in seeing him be a grandpa. I enjoyed our conversations. I would chuckle as he would call me from Target to find out what size the boys were wearing or ask me if the boys would like a certain toy. And with time I heard something from my dad that I never heard before, “I love you.” And for the first time in my life, I knew he meant it. Priceless.

The Lord would grant me only but a few years to enjoy this new found relationship with my dad. Oh, but how thankful I am for those years no matter how short they were.

So, today I remember my dad for the good dad he was, for the great grandpa he was, for the changed man he became, and for the great lesson of forgiveness and love I learned through him.

Love and miss ya, Dad!

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Teens in the Kitchen: The $20 Challenge

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After the chicken incident from my previous post, I began to rack my brain, trying to think of a way to best help my boys understand the value of a dollar.  It was my goal to have them realize just how much money it takes to feed a family of five.  I also wanted them to realize that the Lord calls us to be good stewards of all that He has given us, whether that be money, resources, time, talents, or, in this case, food.  All of my guys enjoy being in the kitchen.  They are typically clamoring to help me cook.  Why not put them in charge of a dinner?  Why not give them a budget, hand them the cash, and take them to the store to shop for said meal?  Thus, the $20 Challenge was born.

I sat the boys down and explained the challenge:

  • They would be responsible for planning the menu for a weeknight dinner.
  • Their budget would be $20, not a cent more.
  • They would receive cash and a ride to one store to shop for their ingredients.
  • They would be permitted to use basic supplies from home such as spices, milk, eggs, and butter.  However, if a recipe called for an abundance of one of those, they would need to purchase that item using the money from their budget.
  • The meal that they plan would need to be nutritious and take into account everyone’s various food allergies.  They would not be permitted to purchase prepackaged meals.  No cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches allowed. There would be actual cooking involved, and it would be from scratch.
  • They should have fun!

“So, any volunteers?”  Without hesitation, my middle son, who never shies away from a challenge, volunteered.   Within no time he knew exactly what his menu would be: spaghetti and meatballs with salad and garlic bread.  He also noted that he wanted to learn how to make homemade tomato sauce; he didn’t want to use a can or a jar.  He was really up for the challenge!  This was going to be fun.

Before I continue, I need to explain a few things.  We deal with multiple food allergies in our home, the most severe of which is the gluten intolerance of my youngest son.  While most people can scoop up a box of pasta for $0.88 on sale, we can’t.  Our pasta rarely goes on sale and typically costs $3.00 or more.  Due to these food issues and the fact that we feel strongly about eating real food, free of chemicals, preservatives, and junk, we don’t buy a whole lot of convenience food, and if we do, it’s a clean variety, which always comes with a higher price tag.   The boys knew they would need to follow this eating plan.

Some of you may be thinking that $20 was a generous amount of money.  I thought it was doable.  I didn’t want the challenge to be impossible or frustrating.  I was hoping it would be a learning experience, one where the veil would be lifted from their eyes. I bet there are many of you who can whip up a delicious meal for just a few dollars.  I thought that $20 was a good starting point.  Who knows?  Maybe down the road we’ll tighten up the boys’ budgets and see what they can do!

So shopping day came.  As we entered the grocery store, I handed over the $20, and walked the aisles with my son.  He had his list in hand.  He picked up all the fixings for homemade tomato sauce, some gluten free pasta, the basics for a salad, a bit of Parmesan cheese, and even some bread (I told him I would handle a gluten free alternative for his brother).  Lastly, we headed over to the meat section.  He picked up two packages of turkey chopmeat and was stunned at the combined price.

“This is going to put me over my budget.”

“Yes, it will,” I replied.

“I don’t think one package of meat will be enough.  We really like meatballs.”

“You can make it enough,” I responded with a smile.

“OK.  I’ll just make really small meatballs so it looks like a lot.”

“Good idea!” said the proud mama!

With that, we meandered up to the register to pay.  With a small bit of change in his hand, my son lamented, “Wow, food is really expensive.  I didn’t even get everything I wanted to.  I had to put back the mozzarella (which he wanted to put on the garlic bread) and the extra package of meat.  I can’t believe it will cost almost $18 to make dinner for us tonight.”  And with that, I smiled a big smile inside.  The veil was lifted and my son now saw things with a new set of reality glasses.

That afternoon my son and I enjoyed a wonderful time together.  I was able to show him how to make homemade tomato sauce and meatballs.  But, more importantly, we were able to talk about the great responsibility we have to use what the Lord has entrusted us with wisely.  When we waste money, even on food, it prevents us from being in a position  to use that money in other areas that the Lord may direct us.  The Lord can use even a few extra dollars to provide for His work or provide a need for someone else.  When we are not able to do this because of our carelessness, wastefulness, or gluttony, we lose out on being used by the Lord for something bigger than ourselves.  We lose out on being part of His greater work.

That evening I sat down to enjoy the most delicious spaghetti and meatball dinner of all time.  Just the look on my son’s face made me swell.  He had worked hard to plan, shop, stay on budget, and cook.  He did a great job!  He stepped up to the challenge, learned a few lessons along the way, and, I believe, pleased the Lord in the process.  I have to seriously say that my son’s spaghetti sauce was better than mine.

Next up, my oldest son, who is determined to make dinner and dessert with his $20.  We may have watery potato soup for dinner, but I can guarantee that we will have a yummy dessert with him as chef.  I’ll keep you posted!

The Case of the Missing Chicken

Teenagers.

I believe that it is no coincidence that most parents begin to go gray at the very time their children become teenagers.

Teens have the reputation for being a challenging bunch, and no doubt, they can be at times. I’ll admit that my children can vouch for the fact that they have audibly heard me reminding myself, “Children are a gift from the Lord. Children are a gift from the Lord.” Raising teens, especially in today’s culture, is tough. They are bombarded with so much more than we ever were at the same age. I believe that it is important to remember that parenting is a privilege, not a chore. You’ve been hand selected to walk through life with your children. That journey will involve laughter and tears, triumphs and defeats, and, yes, some gray hair.  I am so thankful for my three boys, two of whom are teens.  Frankly, I love being their mom.

This past year has seen me make some startling discoveries about teens:  teenagers do indeed have bottomless pits, their hunger is never satisfied or quenched, and as soon as one meal is finished, they are ready for the next.   When my children were younger, I can remember overhearing other parents lamenting over the fact that their teens were eating them out of house and home.  Naively, I thought that that must be a gross exaggeration, hyperbole, a stretching of the truth.  Nope.  It’s spot on.  I’ve concluded that teens will in fact make you broke…if you allow it!

Case in point.  Chicken was on sale a few weeks ago.  I purchased three packages, for a total of twelve chicken breasts.  While making dinner one evening I decided that I would cook up all, I repeat, all of the chicken.  My plan was to make enough for dinner that evening with plenty to spare for lunches for the entire week.

You can see where this is going.

After making up everyone’s plates for dinner that evening, we ventured into the dining room to eat. Dinnertime is one of our favorite family times. We all take turns sharing the tidbits of our day. Laughter is a guarantee at dinner…and I like it that way! Well, on this evening, my husband and I remained at the table a bit longer than usual. The boys began to clear the table while we chatted. We were there for a good 20 minutes or so. When I finally made my way into the kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the baking sheet. There sat one lone chicken breast. One. You’ll remember that I began the evening with twelve pieces of chicken. I served six pieces at dinner. I looked at my two teens and asked them what had happened to the chicken. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt here; take the innocent until proven guilty approach.  Maybe the chicken fell?  Without skipping a beat one replied, “We ate them. We were hungry.”

Hungry? We just finished dinner.  How is that humanly possible?  My guys are fit and active; I know they need fuel, but five extra chicken breasts…in addition to what they ate at dinner?  I began to laugh; then I paused.  Suddenly, this was not funny anymore; it was gluttony…not to mention a supreme waste of money.  I lovingly sat them down to talk with them.  I wasn’t angry, but I did want to make it clear that we are living on a budget, and that obliterating the contents of the cupboard and refrigerator is just not an option.

The next morning, a plan came to mind.

Next up:  The Plan

A Fun Family Craft: 3D Snowflakes

With three boys ages ten through nearly fifteen in the house, craft time is, well, becoming a thing of the past (understandably). However, there is one craft that still gets them all, hubby included, to the table to join in: paper snowflakes. We’ve been making these little gems since the kids were toddlers. It’s a downright cheap craft with potentially spectacular results. I simply adore my wintertime windows bedecked with these handmade beauties.

Last year while shopping I encountered paper snowflakes like I had never seen before. These gigantic creations, roughly three feet high, were three dimensional and looked so intricate and complex that it left me stunned. How in the world were those made? Each time I entered that store, I admired their beauty but never gave a thought to investigating how to make them myself.

A few weeks ago as I was planning for a project for my co-op’s art class, those snowflakes came to mind. With a few spare minutes I hit Pinterest. I did a quick search for “3D Snowflakes”, and, voila!; there they were! After doing a bit of reading, what had initially seemed like an impossible task, now seemed doable. My art class is comprised of children ages eight through ten; I was confident that they would be able to complete this project with a little assistance. That evening I made one for myself. I was amazed at how easy it was. In the morning, when my ten year old came downstairs and took a look at the snowflake, he asked, “This is not the art project for today, is it? We’ll never be able to do that!” I assured him that it appeared much more difficult than it actually was. I kept reassuring him that he and his class could indeed do this!

My art class gasped when they saw the project of the day. They too, like my son, thought that I had gone off the deep end and presented them with an impossible task. I assured them that as long as they listened and followed instructions they would create this spectacular masterpiece with their own two hands. Listen and follow instructions they did. By the end of class, there was a flurry of gigantic snowflakes and great big smiles! Success.

What you’ll need:

  • 6 pieces of sturdy, white craft paper, each cut into an 8″ square
  • a stapler
  • clear tape

How to pull this off:

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Begin by folding one of the paper squares in half diagonally, creating a triangle.  Run your finger along the seam to secure.

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Fold the same triangle in half again, forming a smaller triangle.  Again run your finger along the seams to secure.

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Repeat these steps with the remaining pieces of square paper.  You should then have six identical, folded triangles.

Position one triangle in front of you with the single, folded seam in front of you horizontally ( as pictured below).

Starting at the bottom, left corner of the triangle, measure off four, one inch segments, marking each with a dot.

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Beginning with the outermost marking on the right side, draw a 5 1/2″ diagonal line.  The line should run parallel to the edge of the paper. (I used a dark pencil for demonstration purposes.  I suggest lightly drawing your lines with pencil.)

Moving to the next mark, draw a 4″ line, again running parallel to the paper and the previous line drawn.

Next, draw a 2 1/2″ diagonal line from the next mark.

Finally, from the last mark, draw a 1″ line.  All of the lines that you just drew should run parallel to one another, as well as parallel to the outer, right edge of the triangle.

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Beginning at the bottom seam, gently cut along each line, being sure to stop at the end and going no further.

Repeat this same process in steps 5-10 with the remaining five folded triangles.

Gently unfold and flatten one of the cut triangles.  Have the paper positioned with the tips of the paper facing up and down, in a diamond shape.

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Have a small 1″ piece of tape ready.

Working from the inside, bring the two center pieces together, tips overlapping a bit, forming a tube.  Secure the pieces together with tape.

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Flip the paper over.  Have another piece of tape ready. With the next two center pieces, bring them together, tips overlapping by about 1/4″-1/2″, forming a slightly larger tube than the last.  Secure with tape.

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Flip the paper over again and have another piece of tape ready.  Bring the tips of the next two pieces toward one another, and tape together.

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Flip and repeat this process twice more.  You will find that as you move outward and work with the larger sections of paper, the space needed to overlap becomes greater.

Upon completion, you will have joined all corners together into a series of alternating tubes.

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Repeat steps 12-18 with the remaining five cut triangles.

Take three of your completed pieces and join the bottom tips together.  Staple together.  Repeat this with the remaining three pieces.  This will leave you with 2 stapled sections.

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Bring the stapled portions together, overlapping by at least 1″.  Staple the two sections together to form one unit.

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Using a stapler or a bit of tape, work to secure the upper portion of each individual section to each other to prevent “flopping”.

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This is the snowflake made by my 10 year old son! He just needed a little help taping and stapling!

NOTES:  To create a smaller snowflake, you can simply begin with smaller size squares of 6″, 5″, or 4″.   Regardless of what size you decide on, remember that all six squares need to be identical in size.  Just keep in mind that the smaller in size that you go, the finer the work needs to be with your fingers.

The 47th Pillsbury Bake Off

“Life in the Van”  took on a whole new meaning this past week as my crew took a road trip to Tennessee.  After the completion of twenty-two hundred  miles of driving, we were left with some awesome memories, ones that I know we will not soon forget!

The reason for our trip?  The 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off rolled into Nashville, and I was fortunate to have been selected as a finalist.  This would be my second consecutive year as a finalist.  Last year’s trip to Las Vegas was a whirlwind of epic proportions!  I was incredibly nervous and so tired that I truly didn’t take in the whole Bake Off experience as  I should have.  This year I vowed to leave my nerves at home and to allow myself the time to absorb as much of this iconic event as I could.

How does one become a Bake Off finalist?  Well, I don’t believe in luck.  I believe in providence.  God has everything orchestrated.  He gives us all abilities and skills.  He puts us where He wants us to be, when He wants us there.  There are individuals who have entered their recipes into the Bake Off for years with no result.  Then there are those who enter one recipe, one time, and they are named to the final one hundred.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  It’s hard to say what the powers-that-be at Pillsbury are looking for, but it’s safe to say that a simple recipe with a creative twist gets their attention.  Pillsbury has always been vague about the number of recipes they receive for each Bake Off, however, a few finalists reported that they were told that nearly 60,000 recipes were submitted this year.  Whoa!  That’s insane!   When I heard that I was even more amazed that I was in Nashville.

My recipe for the 46th Bake Off was on the creative side, but not particularly quick and easy to put together.  It was delicious but possibly too labor intensive.  I walked away from last year’s experience thinking that future submissions should be simpler to prepare and a bit more straight-forward.  I put together twelve recipes for consideration this year.  All of them were simple and easy and a bit of a departure from how I normally cook at home.  I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the recipe they selected: a humble muffin.  This recipe featured Pillsbury’s new gluten free cookie dough.   The recipe utilized the cookie dough as both the base for the muffin, as well as the base for the crumb topping.  I was unsure if a gluten free recipe could win at the Bake Off.  I have to admit, in my gut, I knew that this year’s recipe would not be a contender for the big prize.  In a way, knowing that up front was a bit freeing.  I went into the Bake Off not expecting a single thing to happen.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still hoping and praying, but I wasn’t consumed with winning.  I had resigned myself to just go and have fun.

I was thrilled to have my family along for the ride this year.  While we didn’t purchase full access passes for them, I knew that they would be able to share in some of the excitement.  After checking into The Omni Hotel, we made our way to the second floor to check in with Pillsbury.   You could literally feel the excitement in the air.  Banners, various displays, and one smiling face after another decorated the halls.  I was handed my “goodie bag” and then proceeded to meander about embracing old friends and making new ones.

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The afternoon would be filled with interviews, appliance orientation, a question and answer session, and group photo.  It was busy, but somehow relaxed as well.  In between, I would check in with my family.  My youngest son was thrilled that he saw the Doughboy.  Before arriving at the hotel, he was quite persistent in asking me whether or not there would actually be a Doughboy there.  I assured him that the Doughboy wouldn’t miss this event.

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The night would end with a wonderful dinner reception featuring some delicious southern fare.

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I opted to cut the dinner reception a bit short and head back to my room.  I knew tomorrow would start early.  I put in my wake up call request for 5:00 a.m., then headed off to sleep.

Little did I know that a freight train rolls through Nashville at regular intervals through the wee hours of the morning.  The first blast woke us all up.  The second escaped the ears of my kids.  When I heard the train horn blast at 4:00 a.m., I knew the time for sleep had ended.  I got ready and met up with a new found friend for a few moments of prayer before breakfast.  But before heading out the door, I left one prayer request with my family: “Please pray that I can put out a good product for judging.”  For the first time, I felt the butterflies begin to flutter in my belly.  I knew I wasn’t alone because the majority of my breakfast mates commented on how they didn’t have much of an appetite.

The time was here.  All one hundred finalists congregated outside of the ballroom.  We were lined up according to our range number.  I would be at range ninety-two.  Again, there was a lot of energy and excitement to be felt.  Big, deep breaths!  Big, deep breaths!  In just moments we would wind our way around the ballroom as part of the traditional Grand March.  To add to the exuberant air, our host, Carla Hall, made an appearance.  She was so friendly and warm, and talk about energetic!  She was going to be a great host.  With that, it all began.  The fiddler started fiddling, and we began making our way around the ballroom.  You couldn’t help but smile and clap your hands.  High fives with Carla and the Doughboy for everyone.  Waves to the crowd.   I was smiling so much that my cheeks hurt…literally!  And when the last person made their way to their range, we were given the go ahead to get started.  We’d have the next three and half hours to make our recipe.

 Tennessee & Bake Off 278            Tennessee & Bake Off 295

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My recipe was quite straight forward.  No fancy techniques or finicky ingredients this year.  I used the first few minutes to inventory my equipment and ingredients.  I was missing one item.  Within a minute, someone from Pillsbury swooped up the missing liners and handed them right to me.

I loved my range location.  I was in the middle of the back row.  I had a great view of the entire ballroom.  I would be sure to occasionally lift my head up to simply look around, to see everyone else basking in the moment.  In the busyness, there was calmness, a sense of joy, like we all were keenly aware of just how cool this was.  My family was in the spectator area right behind me.  They weren’t supposed to be there; they were supposed to be at the nearby football stadium walking around.  That was the plan.  We had trouble with the purchase of spectator tickets, so we just decided to forgo any tickets.  I would find out later that my husband and boys were simply hanging out outside of the ballroom.  My husband, who talks to everyone, was shooting the breeze with someone who was monitoring the ballroom doorways.  That individual found out that I was in there competing.  My husband was told to go inside so the boys could see their mom compete.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to turn around and see their excited faces!

I very methodically worked on my recipe.  My first batch of muffins went into the oven, and I promptly began the next batch.  I was hoping to have enough time to bake all three batches, sample them, then decide which one I felt most comfortable sending off to the judges.  That’s exactly what happened.  By hour number two, I had muffins lined up all over my workstation.  They all looked and tasted just as they should.  I felt such a sense of relief to know that whichever batch I selected, the judges would receive a good representation of my original recipe.  That’s really all I had prayed for.

When Pillsbury assigns finalists to their ranges they group them according to the product they are using.  Roughly three-quarters of our row was comprised of finalists using Pillsbury’s Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.   All was relatively quiet on “Gluten Free Row”.  I had the opportunity to speak with a writer for a gluten free magazine.  I told her that I actually do cook gluten free at home due to my youngest son’s gluten intolerance.  There were other bloggers and Pillsbury personnel who casually made their way down our row as well.  Photographers came and snapped away, but the flurry of media and television cameras following the event host, Carla Hall,  never actually made it to our area.  At one point I remember chuckling to myself.  See last year’s experience was quite different.  Last year there was nonstop traffic at my station.  Something about those little meatball skewers caught everyone’s attention last year.  But this year, my humble muffin was not a show stopper.  I will say my range neighbor April, who had a simply delicious gluten free cake, had her fair share of interest.  There were plenty of cameras catching her every move.

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With about one hour left to the competition, I selected batch number two as the one.  I arranged the muffins on a platter and headed over to the table nearest the judging room.  After signing a legal document stating that I made my own recipe and did in fact turn it in for judging, I went back to my station, cut up the remaining muffins for samples, and exhaled.  My husband was trying to flag me down to bring him some samples.  I told him that I wasn’t allowed to do so.  No sharing samples with the crowd (which seems kind of cruel)!  I took some time and walked the Bake Off floor sampling a few other recipes, mostly from our gluten free zone.  They were all so good.  And soon there after came the announcement that the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off was finished.  That’s it, all done.

With a bit of free time before dinner, my family drove around Nashville passing by the Grand Ole Opry, visiting Antique Archaeology (from the show American Pickers), and walking around LP Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Titans.

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I was really taken back by how clean the city of Nashville was; I mean it was immaculate.  I was also impressed with how friendly everyone we met was.  I’m from the Northeast.  Things move quick here; people move quick here, but the pace here in Nashville was different.  People actually took the time to not only say “hi”, but to also talk to you.  I loved it!  With a fun afternoon behind us, it was back to the Omni.  At this point, I would head off to dinner on my own.

Dinner was a delicious sit down meal.  It was at that meal that I was reminded that the Lord directs our paths and allows those paths to cross with others providentially.  Sharon, a fellow finalist from Pennsylvania, sat next to me at dinner.  It was uncanny how much the two of us had in common: the same beliefs, the same sense of calling with regards to our family, even some of the same challenges.  Meetings like this are not coincidence or happenstance; they’re orchestrated!  I left dinner feeling very blessed!

After dinner we made our way to a dessert reception.  Then it was off to the Country Music Hall of Fame for the awards ceremony.  Carla Hall was the host, and she still seemed to be full of energy and excitement.  There were several special sponsor awards to be handed out before naming the four category winners.  Sadly, there were no awards to be found for my little muffin, but how wonderful it was to see the surprised faces of those who did walk away with prizes.  You can’t help but celebrate with each of them!  Each winner received a cash prize and a little golden Doughboy!

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Congratulations to each finalist!

This year there is a little twist to the Bake Off.  For the first time, the scores of the judges will be combined with the voting results from the public.   That means America has the opportunity to cast a vote for the recipe they feel deserves the million dollar prize.  You can head over to the Pillsbury website to find out how you can vote.

With that, I said my good-byes and headed off to my room to pack.  We’d be heading for home in the wee hours of the morning.  I walked into the hotel room and let my kiddos know that there was no win this year.  I made sure to remind them that in order to attempt to win,  you have to be willing to lose as well.  I also reminded them that the Lord has plans for us, maybe not plans for earthly riches or a healthy bank account, but plans that are far more valuable.

The morning would find us watching the sun rise from the van window, while the evening would find us watching the same sun set out the opposite window.  I was a little sad to see the last “Buckle Up Y’All, It’s the Law” sign pass by, but it was also so good to heading back home.

It was a long ride home but a fun ride home as we recounted our newest family adventure.