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Thank You, God, for a few of my Favorite Things

At a time when complaining is rampant, I choose to be thankful, By Sharon Sheppard

Psst…One of the Secrets to Happiness is Gratitude

 

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Thanks, God, For a Few of My Favorite Things…

A       Apple pie (the taste and aroma trigger warm memories of home)

B       Books (I just finished reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale:  It’s excellent!)

C       Chocolate (dark or light, gooey or chunky; brownies and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups)

D       Daydreaming . . .

E       Excellence in the art, music, and literature of creative artists past and present

F       Family & Friends: what a gift!

G       Grandsons!

H       Husband: sweet memories of the one who was my all-time best friend

I        Imagination

J        Joy…the everyday kind

K       Kisses: chocolate, or otherwise

L       Love: God’s unfailing love, and the love of others

M      Mother:  My sensitive, caring role model

N       Nature:  God’s creation: lapping lakes, flaming autumn leaves, stars against an inky sky

O       Offspring: Jonathan and Caroline, who bring me so much joy

P       Piano: from a childhood of yearning to an adulthood with time to play whenever I please

Q       Quietness: I lap it up and savor it

R       Rice Pudding (City Cousin Mary’s is the ultimate)

S       Sonnets, symphonies, and Scrabble

T       Thanksgiving Day: an annual reminder of what we should do every day

U       Unscheduled time

V       Variety

W      Writing, words

X       Xylophone:  a whimsical gift from my husband–and time to play!

Y       Yelp: The lively online opinions of customers who help me make shopping decisions

Z       Zest for life that nips in the bud any inklings of depression

 

Butterscotch Cheescake

As I write (Mary) we are almost into November. Hard to believe how time marches on. When I think November, I think of my daughter and my father who were born on the same date. Their birthdays on the 25th often fall on Thanksgiving Day. I also think more of being thankful. I think of warm fires and a good Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. If your family is like mine, we don’t think pumpkin pie that day, it isn’t even on the menu. Typically, it is apple pie or pecan pie. If you are up for trying something new, this recipe at first glance may look complicated, but it is not. Compliments of Betty Crocker, this Butterscotch-Maple Torte is a knockout. Enjoy!

Butterscotch-Maple Cheesecake Torte

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened

¼ cup sugar

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)

1 package (11 to 12 oz.) butterscotch chips (2 cups), melted

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

Maple Cake

1 box Betty Crocker™ SuperMoist™ butter recipe yellow cake mix

Water, butter, and eggs called for on cake mix box

2 teaspoons maple flavoring

Maple Frosting

2 containers Betty Crocker™ Rich & Creamy vanilla frosting

2 teaspoons maple flavoring

Butterscotch-Maple Drizzle

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)

½ teaspoon maple flavoring

¼ cup butterscotch chips

 

Preparation Steps

Heat oven to 300°F. Grease 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a circle of  parchment baking paper.

In large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add 1 can condensed milk, and beat again until well combined. Add melted butterscotch chips, and mix well. Add 4 eggs and the vanilla; pour into pan.

Bake 60 to 70 minutes or until puffed around edge and center still jiggles slightly when moved. Cheesecake will puff up around the edges and then sink when taken out of the oven. Allow cheesecake to cool 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate 4 to 6 hours or until chilled. Level top of cheesecake with large serrated knife.

Meanwhile, increase oven temperature to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pans). Generously spray bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray with flour. In large bowl, beat Maple Cake ingredients with electric mixer on medium-high speed until well combined. Pour into pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then turn out on cooling racks to cool completely, about 1 hour.

In large bowl, place contents of both frosting containers. Beat in 2 teaspoons maple flavor with electric mixer on low speed. Remove 1/3 cup of the frosting, and place in decorating bag fitted with large star tip; set aside. Place 1 cake layer on serving platter or cake stand; frost top with thin layer of frosting. Top with cheesecake layer, and frost top with thin layer of frosting. Top with final cake layer, and frost entire side and top with remaining frosting. Pipe icing stars around top edge of cake.

In 1-quart saucepan, heat Butterscotch-Maple Drizzle ingredients over medium-high heat until melted and mixture can be stirred smooth with whisk. Let cool until barely warm but still pourable. Drizzle mixture over cake.

Enjoy! If there are any leftovers…cover and refrigerate them.

 

We’re Having a Baby

We’re Having a Baby!

What we’re doing to prepare (and who knows what we’re doing wrong!)

By Jamie Griffin, who runs a personal finance blog www.mrjamiegriffin.com to help families get out of debt.

 

The title says it all, We’re having a Baby!!!! I can’t even describe how excited I am to be a Dad. My wife and I get giddy just thinking about being parents, and learning about all the amazing ways our tiny baby is growing. In case you’re wondering, at 19 weeks, the baby is the size of a tomato and weighs half a pound!

For the most part, we don’t feel too freaked out or terrified that we’ll soon be responsible for an entire human life. I mean, there’s a good healthy fear, but we’re not anxious or overwhelmed.

We Want to Be as Prepared as Possible

It’s our first, and so as you’d expect (especially if you have kids), we have no idea what we’re really getting into! We’d like to think “we’ve got this” and we’ll be amazing parents and our kid will always listen to us. I can almost hear all of the parents out there laughing and rolling their eyes, haha.

We’re also pretty realistic and know there’s no way we’ll ever be fully prepared. We’ve definitely got a plan of attack, but I’m sure there’s so many things we have no clue about.

What We Are Doing to Plan for Baby #1: Saving for Medical Expenses

It’s a no brainer that babies are expensive. That’s why we’ve waited so long to have kids. We started trying to have kids after about two and a half years of marriage, instead of right away like we wanted. Having $90,000 of student loan debt was a big deterrent.

Based off our income to debt ratio, it seemed irresponsible to have kids with that much debt. Of course we could’ve figured it out, but we didn’t want to be in over our heads. Now that we’re debt free though, we can plan and save the way we want to.

Related Posts: Goodbye Student Loans: We Are 10 Days From Being Debt FreeHow We Paid Off $29,500 of Debt in 2016

Our first big priority was to stash some money away to cover medical costs. In September, we were lucky enough to have an extra paycheck month. First off, extra paycheck months rock! Secondly, all of our monthly bills are covered with the typical two paychecks, we put the entire 3rd paycheck toward future baby costs.

Going forward, we plan to add $100 a month to our baby fund. When baby comes, we don’t want to worry about paying for unexpected costs. Also, if we need to buy stuff for baby, like a stroller, or diapers, or a car seat, it doesn’t need to affect our monthly budget.

Still need a stroller. So excited to push our little soybean around!

We Have Free Baby Stuff

Now that I’m pretty immersed in the world of all things Baby, I’m learning that I went into the wrong career. It’s like the wedding industry. If you attach the word “wedding” or “baby” to the name of something, the price increases by roughly 8,000%. I might be exaggerating, but baby stuff is crazy expensive and I really don’t want to pay full price for anything in general, especially when it’s hyper inflated.

Here’s a list of free items we’ve gotten so far:

  • Crib: our friends don’t need it anymore and our payment is, “please never give it back”
  • Baby Gate: we’re a long way from needing it, but we can dual use it for our dogs
  • Baby Rockers/Swings: our friend got them for free and is paying it forward
  • Baby Outfits: I’m convinced everything tiny is adorable, especially shoes.

Seriously. Baby shoes are the cutest thing ever!

We’ve already saved so much money by not needing to pay for these necessities. New cribs are hundreds of dollars, a baby rocker is $100, a baby gate is $35, and new baby clothes are way overpriced for how short a time the kid actually fits into it! Long story longer, we are really stoked we got a few freebies.

Of course, we are nowhere near done preparing our house and getting all the necessities. But it sure feels good to take a few off the list.

Planning Ahead for Day Care Costs

In our city, finding a good day care is ridiculous! We started calling at 10 weeks and one day care center had a wait list until 2019. 2019!!!! That means families who aren’t even close to pregnant are getting in line and taking all the good spots!

When my wife heard that, she put down the phone and immediately freaked out! Safe to say we didn’t call anyone else that day.

Luckily we found a family day care a few blocks from our house run by the parent of one of our students. It fits our price range, we trust her, and it’s on our way to work. No waiting until 2019 for the Griffins!

Day care costs are basically the same amount as our student loans were. So sadly, our debt free lifestyle will only last for about 10 more months. Thank goodness we paid those buggers off!

Maternity Leave Will Force My Wife to Take a Pay Cut

The perfect timing for a teacher to have a baby is in the spring. If it happens just right, maternity leave will end right as summer vacation starts. Unfortunately we missed by a few weeks, so Jenna will need to go back to finish off the school year. During her maternity leave, she will get six weeks off, but it’s at 70% pay.

Part of our growing baby fund will got to offset the difference in pay. Like I said before, we want to avoid tampering with our regular budget.

What We Don’t Know: We Still Don’t Have “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”

I think we’ve done a lot right in preparing for our little soybean. One thing we haven’t done is, be prepared for shock and awe, read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. It’s basically a right of passage for all new parents, but we just haven’t gotten around to buying it. I’m sure there’s 10 copies sitting on the shelf at Goodwill, so I’m not sure why we haven’t grabbed one yet.

Last week we browsed a few pages at Barnes & Noble, a favorite date night spot. It was really interesting, and would be an awesome resource. For some strange reason though, we still didn’t buy it. We’re only halfway through so there’s still time for us to come around. We’ll see what happens.

What the Heck is an HSA Account and When Should I Start One

Confession, I know an HSA is a Health Savings Account, and I mostly know how they work. A bunch of my coworkers have HSAs and they love them. What I don’t know is when we should open one, or how much to contribute to it.

We’ll also need to research and talk with our HR director to see what benefits an HSA provides. When the time gets a little closer, we’ll need to elect new health benefits, and this is a top priority.

How Do We Introduce Our Baby to Our Dogs

We have two wonderful dogs that we love. Since we don’t have a baby in the house yet, our dogs don’t have much exposure to little kids. They definitely seem to be more protective over my wife and are extra affectionate lately. We hope this means they will lovingly accept our new baby into the house.

Look at these snuggle bugs! All loving, most of the time!

The advice varies depending on which article you read, but we’re doing everything we can to learn how to do this safely and smartly. Is smartly a word? I’m going with it anyway. We don’t plan on leaving our baby alone with the pups under any circumstance, or let the baby sit on the floor without direct supervision. Our dogs are good, but we don’t want to take any chances.

Wrapping It Up

We’re having a baby! We’re prepared for some things and clueless about others. In the end, we’ll figure it out and hopefully be really awesome parents!

Let Me Know in the Comments

What did you do to prepare for your first baby? Any tips or suggestions of big things we’re missing?

Want more advice on achieving financial freedom and getting your family out of debt? Subscribe to be the first to get new posts and get a Free Budget Spreadsheet and Debt Log!

 

Corn Bread Muffins

As I write, there is falling rain and a chill in the air. Perfect autumn weather. The Minestrone Soup is on the stove (see recipe archived from October 2015) and I am about to make the Corn Bread muffins that go so well with this soup. I am including the recipe here, so that you may also enjoy this comfort food.              ~ Mary Zigan

 

 

 

Corn Bread Muffins                                                                                       Bake at 400◦

1 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

2/3 cup sugar

1 teas. Salt

3 1/2 teas. Baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk

1/3 cup oil

Pepper-Jack cheese (handful)

 

Combine dry ingredients, stir in the egg, oil and milk.  And toss in a handful of grated pepper-jack cheese. Divide in a 12 portion muffin pan and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Letting Go

Letting Go

The action of trust is letting go.

The act of trust is faith.

The result of faith is hope.

That is what gives me courage to let go and trust again.

Letting go is hard.

The how of letting go; goes something like this:

-turning over my worries to God and asking for peace

-waiting

-owning the feelings I am experiencing and talking about them.

-mostly it is not acting out in self-will, manipulation, justifications, excuses or control.

 

Kindness to myself and others is the hallmark of recovery!

 

Terri Johnson

Professional Life Coach

 

 

 

There are all Kinds of Surprises

There are all kinds of SURPRISES, and some of them look a little different from a kid’s perspective…Here’s One of Those Childhood Memories by Sharon Sheppard

One thing I figured out when I was still pretty little was that life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Just before my fourth birthday I ended up in the Pine River Hospital nine miles from home with whooping cough and pneumonia. I whooped and wheezed until my chest ached and my throat felt raw. I suppose it gave my folks quite a scare, because there wasn’t a whole lot anybody could do about it.

The doctor drilled a hole in my back and stuck a tube into the hole to drain some fluid off my lungs. I didn’t even know what lungs were until then, though I would just as soon have waited and found out some other way.

Anyway, right down the hall Johnny Russell was yelling his head off. He’s a kid I knew from my hometown who had whooping cough too, only he made a lot bigger fuss about it than I did. Maybe boys aren’t as tough as girls. Or maybe he was sicker than I was.

It would have been nice if Mama or Daddy could have stayed with me at the hospital, but Daddy had to work and Mama had enough problems of her own. She was about to have a baby, which nobody had bothered to tell me, and she also had to take care of my brothers. And to top it all off, she wasn’t feeling very well.

So every day after work, Daddy drove down to the hospital to see me. There was a pretty little pine tree outside my window, and Daddy and I adopted it. We called it “our tree,” and we checked on it each time he came. He read me stories, and every night before he left, he prayed and asked God to make me well.

I stayed in the hospital 40 days and 40 nights, and I didn’t like it one little bit. About half way through my stay, Mama came to the hospital to get the new baby. It turned out to be a girl! Finally some good news. I had a sister!

Her name was Dorothy Mae. I asked if Mama and the baby and I could all share a room, but the hospital wouldn’t let us. Mama had yellow jaundice, and I didn’t even get to see her and the new baby.

Mama and the baby got to go home before I did, and I cried with disappointment about having to stay. Finally, on the fortieth day, almost like Noah sitting in the ark with all those smelly animals waiting for the 40 days of rain to stop, I got to go home from the hospital. The doctor told Mama and Daddy that it was a Higher Power than his that pulled me through, because he didn’t think I was going to make it.

By that time our new baby was a couple weeks old, and I finally got to see what she looked like. She was skinny with no hair, unless you could count a little blond fuzz. I sure hoped she would get a lot cuter than that, but as it turned out, she never had the chance.

A few weeks after I got home from the hospital, Baby Dorothy started wheezing, and before I even got used to having a sister, something terrible happened. Our baby died and went to heaven. Going to heaven wasn’t terrible, but not being able to keep her with us was the disappointing part. I didn’t know exactly what it meant to be dead, I just knew I had never seen Mama so sad. I sure hoped it wasn’t my fault, the baby getting whooping cough and all.

Our Mama kept crying. I hugged her and tried to get her to stop, but she couldn’t. She went upstairs, maybe thinking we couldn’t hear her cry up there, but we could. I climbed the creaky wooden steps to give her a hug, and there she was slumped in a heap, sobbing her heart out.

“Mama, why are you crying?” I asked.

“Dorothy Mae is dead,” she said.

When I went back downstairs, I found my brothers standing in the dining room staring at our baby, who was sleeping on the table, wrapped in a blue flannel blanket in a bundle no bigger than a doll. She looked beautiful now, and she wasn’t wheezing any more. She looked like she was taking a nice, long nap.

Just then the doctor drove into our driveway in his big black car, picked up our baby, and took her away. And that was the last I ever saw of her.

After a while our mother didn’t spend so much time crying, at least when we were around. Then a year later, when I was five, we had another unexpected surprise. I guess our Mama and Daddy knew this was going to happen, but Ronnie and Paul and I didn’t.

We thought it was a little unusual that they sent us to the other church for Daily Vacation Bible School, since we had already gone to DVBS time at our own church. We grumbled a little about going to “The Cong”—our nickname for the Congregational Church down by the lake. And I can’t say we were thrilled when we finally figured out why Mama and Daddy were so anxious to get rid of the three of us that week either.

But one afternoon when we came home clutching construction paper drawings with pasted-on cotton balls for clouds, Daddy met us on the back porch. He was grinning.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” he said.

With all my heart I hoped that it would be strawberries and cream, but it was just another brother. That made the score three boys to one girl. Not a good ratio.

 

The Journey from There

“The Journey from There” by Rev. Edwin Hollen, Guest Blogger

The “there” could be anywhere, but for me it was a little hamlet in the mountains. An older gentleman was once asked why he hadn’t gotten married. His answer: “In life, there are so many turns in the road.” How true that is for each of us earth travelers. Life reminds me of the mountain roads where I lived the young years of my life. There were no straight roads. If you weren’t careful, you found yourself back where you started after continually twisting and turning. To me, those roads well represented the adventures of life. I was born into a Dutch family of 10 living children in a small village where people made their meager existence by mining coal. We well knew the reality of the song “Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” The mining companies owned the houses and the stores along with the places of employment. Perhaps we were the poor the poor talked about. That could well be true pertaining to this earth’s goods, but our home was rich in faith and love. My early years were spent with ragged jeans, bare feet, freckled face, red hair and a fishing rod. We spent nights camping along mountain streams; frog legs and trout waiting to go into the frying pan. I imagine we looked like orphans to the more sophisticated campers, but we fished the same mountain streams that U.S. presidents came to fish. Being very shy, lacking self-confidence, and having a speech impediment would not enhance the possibility that would take one to end up in public speaking. Unmerited favor is the only answer. There was one inborn trait that was favorable for the road ahead: of the ten children, I was always interested in what was over the next hill. That is still a part of my DNA. I humbly acknowledge God’s providence. He has used that trait through many years making it possible to follow the roads that have reached to all but two continents preaching the gospel. In this journey of many turns, a Dutch boy meets a Swedish/Danish blonde a thousand miles from his while attending college. Boy notices girl’s beauty and charm; however, it was not easy to make an entrance into a tight Scandinavian cultured family. Time and patience prevailed; the Dutch are known for that! Their road together begins leading into the field of Christian ministry. These past 62 years of marriage have resulted in great blessings: three children of deeply committed faith; three pastorates in Minnesota; missionary evangelism overseas; college teaching; the journey goes on. So from the back hills and roads of almost nowhere, the journey has unfolded. There is a lesson to be learned by all. The road that seems to go nowhere may be the one that leads you to the highest mountain in the world. May all of us be inspired to take the road that leads upward until we get to the end of the way.

Edwin Hollen, husband of another city cousin, Phyllis, who is proud of her heritage and kin.

Raise your hand if…

Raise your hand if you can’t wait for fall to begin. It’s my favorite time of year! I, Mary, love the way Minnesota shows off its beauty in autumn’s short season. I also love the snuggling in feel one has before our bitter winters begin. Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to be alive, and many others feel the same as these quotes suggest:

  • Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons. ~ Jim Bishop

 

 

  • Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dancing on a windy day. ~ Shira Tamir

 

  • The heat of autumn is different than the heat of summer. One ripens apples, the other turns them into cider. ~ Jane Hirshfield

 

  • Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~ Stanley Horowitz

 

  • William Cullent Bryant, sums up his sentiments the most succinct and I concur:

 

                                Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile!

 

 

 

Hygge: Nesting in…

One of autumn’s coziest aspects is nesting–and what could be more inviting than a crackling fire on the beach, a Thermos of steaming hot chocolate, and the sound of loons on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes?   by Sharon Sheppard

The Danes have a special word for it that’s become trendy in the U.S. in recent months.  And since my blog partner Mary (the City Cousin) and I (the Country Cousin) are both Minnesotans and half Danish by birth, we decided that fall is a perfect time to feature Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga or HUEgah, depending on whom you ask.

Though Hygge defies a tidy definition, it involves the art of savoring coziness—getting comfortable, being present in the moment, taking pleasure in simple things–soothing things.   Scandinavians are big on candlelight, sweets, music, board games, hot drinks, comfy sweaters, and wool socks, and more…

*Cooking food the slow way, often doing it with others, and enjoying the process.

*Savoring hot homemade soups and pastries, especially as the days grow shorter and temperatures begin to sink.

*Adjusting the lighting to a soft glow.  (Though Americans immediately think: fire hazard! Danes have lit candles in offices, school classrooms, and places of business.)

*Spending carefree evenings with family or friends, talking or playing board games.

*Nurturing a sense of feeling safe and shielded from the world.

In a survey among Danes, a team of researchers asked what things they associated with the word hygge.  Hot drinks topped the list, and candles came in second.

The Danes love tea, hot chocolate, or mulled wine, but their favorite hot drink is coffee.  They are the world’s fourth biggest coffee drinkers, consuming around 33 percent more per capita than Americans.

I come from a family of coffee-drinkers. My mother’s parents emigrated from Denmark, and I remember asking her one time, “Mama, on what day of the week was I born?”

She said, “You were born on a Saturday, just in time for afternoon coffee.”

With hygge as a defining feature of their culture, it’s no accident that Denmark consistently ranks as one of the top three happiest countries worldwide, according to the Happiness Research Institute, an independent think tank focusing on well-being, happiness, and quality of life in countries throughout the world.

Similarly, there seems to be a growing hunger in the U.S. for nurturing a love of simple joys.  And in a world of growing turmoil, it strikes me as a healthy trend.

Autumn is a great time to start.

 

Perspectives on Patience

PERSPECTIVES on PATIENCE… by Lacey, age 18, this month’s guest writer

As I live through my short life here on earth, I am constantly learning and experimenting with myself through trial and error, as we all do. Lately, I have become more aware of my recurring struggle with patience. Those who know me well know that patience is not something that comes easy to me.

While on a trip to Montana this summer I had the spontaneous urge to try stone balancing. This not only takes a tremendous amount of patience, it also forces the body to give all its attention to the feel of the stones and their placement. As I experimented with stone balancing, I noticed that the process made me go into a sort of meditative state, and to my surprise, I didn’t lose my temper when the whole stack fell down.

I found something that I enjoy and that also takes an incredible amount of patience. This may not seem like a big deal to some people on my friends list, but to me I see this as a success story. I am beyond proud of my little discovery and excited to move forward with this art form. This photo shows one of my stacks from today.