Straight from the Heart


Times they are a-changin’

A few months ago, I started cutting back on my personal expenses due to concerns about  the worsening economy (see Straight from the Heart blog Getting Back to the Basics, Jan. 16, 2009).  Because of a staff reorganization, I knew my position with CAPPER’S magazine might be phased out, and that day came near the end of April. I was sad to leave my full-time editing job at CAPPER’S, but happy to continue as a blogger.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to leave Ogden Publications. A position opened up in our circulation department about the same time our reorganization happened.  The new position is quite a change coming from an editorial position, but since I was in our marketing department prior to being with CAPPER’S, it wasn’t terribly foreign to me. 

As sad as I am to have left my editing position with  CAPPER’S, I’m happy to remain employed. I know of people at other publishing companies who lost their jobs without warning. They went to work as usual one day and were given a pink slip the next. I’ve talked to others who have had to take a pay cut in order to keep their job or take a job that’s beneath their qualifications just so they can pay their bills. Until the economy bounces back, we may all have to make changes and sacrifices we never dreamed we’d have to make.

 However, change can be a good thing. Many people have discovered how economical, not to mention eco-friendly, it is to raise their own vegetables, make household cleaning products and health and beauty aids. More people are walking, riding their bikes or carpooling to save on gas. A downturn in the economy can help us look at life differently, reveal what we’re really made of and discover what we can truly live without.   

 One thing we can’t live without is hope. It’s hard to have hope and see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, but that light will come. This country has survived hard economic times before and we’ll do it again. We just need to hold on and stand strong.

  I was glad I was asked to continue writing this blog because I enjoy it and I hope you enjoy reading it. I need a creative outlet in my life. Without it, I feel like I’m drying up. Catering to my creative spirit is a great stress-reliever.

 This is a stressful time for all of us, but it’s also an opportunity to make positive changes. Change is inevitable. It teaches us how to be flexible in order to survive the difficult times.

Going through changes, whether positive or negative, reminds me of a quote I saw on a poster when I was in college:

“The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.” – W.E.B. DuBois

Making changes as a result of the tough economy could very well provide an opportunity you might not have considered before or teach you something about yourself you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

How has the economy changed your lifestyle? Do you have some recession survival tips to share?

Dancing in the rain

I love to write, but like most writers, I sometimes struggle with ideas. Any writer can tell you that there’s nothing more terrifying than staring at a blank page or computer screen. I once took a writing class at our local university and there was a quote on the board that went something like this: Writing is easy. You just have to stare at a blank page until the beads of blood start to form on your forehead.  One of the columnist in our local newspaper actually wrote one of her columns about doing everything except writing because she couldn’t come up with an idea for her column. It’s nice to know I’m in good company.

Struggling is a part of life. Toddlers would never learn how to walk if they didn’t risk falling down. A mountaineer would never know the thrill of standing on the summit if he (or she) didn’t attempt to climb the mountain. By the same token, we would never know the joy of achievement if we didn’t first endure the process of trying and (more often than not) failing.

Sometimes our struggles can be tiring, frustrating, stressful and even painful, but we have to find a way to get through it. Sports icon Michael Jordan once said, "If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."

No one likes to struggle; it isn’t fun, but most of the time, the end result is worth the effort. Country music legend Dolly Parton said, “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." That quote is similar to a phrase in a song by one of my favorite groups, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: “If you ever want to see a rainbow, you gotta stand a little rain.” One of my college friends and I used to encourage each other by saying: “It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.”

rainbow

We may never enjoy our struggles, but we can certainly come to appreciate them as a learning process. I recently came across this quote that perfectly conveys how we should handle our struggles: "Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass... it's about learning how to dance in the rain."

Next time you see clouds on the horizon, don’t grumble about the coming storm. Look at it as an opportunity to learn how to dance!

How do you cope with your struggles? What advice do you have to give to others?

Photo: iStockphoto.com/lior2

A season for hope

Nothing clears the mind (and messes up the hair) like a ride in the back of a friend’s convertible. It was such a gorgeous spring day yesterday I couldn’t resist the invitation to “cruise” down the boulevard with three of my co-workers. We all needed to get away from our desks and clear our minds. It was the perfect antidote.

On the way back to work, my friend who was driving cranked up the radio and we hollered and laughed, enjoying the last few moments of our lunch hour.

Spring has a tendency to bring out the kid in all of us. There’s something about the rising temperatures after our confinement from the cold winter months that draws us outside and causes us to be a little giddy.

I’m not totally opposed to winter. I do like snow, the holidays, snuggling under a blanket and the frosty chill in the air. But when I feel the mercury starting to rise, see flowers poking through the ground and the trees starting to bud, I rejoice in the promise of warmer weather.

The other day, a pair of house finches checked out the light fixture on my front porch. It seems to be a popular place for them to make their nest. They’re also attracted to the wreath just outside my front door. The robins, however, seem to prefer the flower pots.  As long as the neighborhood cats stay away, my porch becomes a nursery for baby birds every spring.

baby robin

For weeks now, I’ve heard birds chattering joyfully, heralding the advent of spring. I get a little annoyed on Saturday mornings though when I’m trying to sleep late and the sparrows and starlings seem to be having an argument just outside my bedroom window.

I always feel sorry for the robins when they make their return on a warm day and then a cold snap comes along. When that happens, I’m sure they wonder if they took a wrong turn or didn’t look at the calendar correctly.

As soon as the spring shows its happy face, the gardener in me comes out. I love flowers and when I took over the yard work after my dad died, I discovered how therapeutic gardening can be. 

Iris

I just finished proofreading an article (that will be in an upcoming issue of our sister magazine, GRIT ) about kitchen gardens. Now I want to sprinkle herbs and vegetable seeds in with my flowers, so I can have a functional as well as an aesthetic garden. That’s my hope anyway.

Spring is a season of hope. It reminds us that the winter in our hearts won’t last forever. It’s a promise of a new beginning and renewed possibilities. It is a season in which we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, our Eternal Hope.

I hope I never stop appreciating a beautiful spring day and the uplifting feeling I get from observing the signs of the season.

How about you? Does spring bring out the child in you? What do you like to do when spring appears? Let me know.

Living in an instant society

Last night I was watching the news on a local station that I’ve watched ever since I can remember. On the night they were switching over from their analog signal to digital, they were also celebrating 55 years on the air. Practically the entire newscast was on the history of the station. It not only brought back memories, it made me realize just how far technology has come in the last 50 years.

Just today, someone sent me an e-mail with a humorous list describing how much we depend on technology. Here are some of the things on the list:

  • You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.
  • You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.
  • You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.
  • You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.
  • Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that
    they don't have e-mail addresses.
  • You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if
    anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.
  • Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the
    screen.
  • Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't have the
    first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and
    you turn around to go and get it.
  • You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your
    coffee.
  • You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )

 Have we gotten spoiled or what? When I was growing up, there were no cell phones, microwaves or personal computers. What makes me think I can’t survive without them now? Sometimes I think my life would be less complicated without these items ... or perhaps my life just seemed simpler in the days when these items didn’t exist.

I do think it’s conforting to have a cell phone at my disposal when I’m out and about and there’s not a phone in sight. I also think it’s great that I don’t have to wait two or three days for someone to get a message from me. However, I think cell phones can be overused and hand-written letters seem to be a thing of the past.

When I was in 9th grade, I signed up for a German pen pal. I would get so excited when I received a letter from her in the mail. Although our correspondence isn’t as regular as it used to be, my pen pal and I still keep in touch 38 years later.

For years I looked forward to the mail coming in hopes of getting a card or a letter from a friend. Now I can’t even get excited about going to the mailbox because most of my mail is either bills or junk. I still receive birthday and Christmas cards in the mail, but I don’t get as many as I used to.

There’s something very personal about a hand-written letter. I’m convinced the act of handwriting comes from a different part of the brain than typing. For me, writing something out by hand has more of a calming effect than typing (my typing, however, is easier to read).

We definitely live in an instant society where we don’t want to miss a phone call or wait for a letter to come in the mail, and I think it may have contributed to our inability to be patient with each other. Sometimes I would just like to retreat from the all the technology in my life and enjoy the simple life again.

But that will have to wait. I just got an email I need to answer … and my cell is ringing … oh, and I really should check my Facebook page!

How has technology changed your life? Do you wish for a simplier life or do you enjoy all the technological gizmos?

The most important ingredient is love

I love to cook and bake this time of year. There’s just something about cold winter days that makes the kitchen so inviting. I have cherished memories of my mother cooking special meals for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as everyday meals for the family.

Mom also loved to bake. She baked cookies, brownies and cakes. Usually the cake was for a family member’s birthday, but sometimes it was just for fun. The cookie jar always seemed to be full. Anytime my nieces and nephews came over, one of the first things they did was head for the cookie jar (my brother-in-law did, too). Mom loved sending cookies and brownies to me when I was in college and Alaska. She also sent cookies and brownies to my nieces and nephews when they were in college. Years ago, when I worked at a bookstore, Mom used to bring in goodies for the staff on Fridays (that was the day she got her hair done and the beauty salon was next door to the bookstore).

Mom is elderly now and can no longer stand long enough to cook or bake. In fact, she doesn’t even go into the kitchen anymore. Since I live with her, I prepare the meals and I use some of the same pans, dishes and utensils she used when I was growing up. Each item brings back pleasant memories.

I began doing all the cooking when my Dad was still alive. Even though sometimes the last thing I wanted to do was be on my feet in the kitchen, it brought me pleasure to make a meal for my parents. I came to understand why my mom put so much love into the meals she prepared. She was doing it for her family. I consider it an honor to prepare meals for the woman who made countless meals for me and the rest of the family.

My sister inherited my mother’s talent for cooking and baking. I consider myself a good cook and a mediocre baker, but my sister is great at both. She’s always trying something new and it seems like everything she makes turns out perfect. Mom always said my sister must have inherited her ability to make flaky pie crust from our paternal grandmother because she didn’t get it from her.

My sister and I used to swap recipes, but since we both have access to the Internet, we don’t do that much anymore. A lot of the recipes in my collection are from my sister. I can’t help but think of her when I make a recipe she gave me.

Being a creative person, I like to try new recipes and sometimes modify them to my liking. I have some tried and true recipes that I use frequently and keep handy for easy access.

One of my favorite recipes to make this time of year is Captain’s Soup. It’s easy, nourishing and makes enough for an army (well, at least a large family). My mom got the recipe from a lady we met while we were vacationing in Colorado. She and her husband rode the train from Durango to Silverton with us. We got acquainted and they invited us to stop by for a meal at their home in Buena Vista. We did stop at their house on the way back to Kansas and the lady made this soup for supper.

Captain’s Soup

1 pound ground beef  

1 can (46 oz.) vegetable juice

1 small can cream of mushroom soup

1 small can cream of celery soup

1 package frozen vegetables

In a skillet, brown ground beef; drain and set aside. Combine soups in a crock pot. Simmer on low heat and stir until well-blended. In a medium pan, cook vegetables until tender; drain. Add beef and vegetables to soup mixture. Heat on High for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with crackers or bread.

Do you have a favorite kitchen memory? Do you have a recipe that has an interesting story behind it? Please share it with me.

Getting Back to the Basics

Like most people around the country, I’m trying to find ways to cut back on expenses. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been looking at my budget trying to find ways I can trim it down. I also got on the Internet to do research on how to save money, pay down debts and manage my finances.

I’ve found that there are things I thought I couldn’t live without that I’ve managed to give up. It’s amazing what a person can live without when it be comes necessary (needing to buy a new car did it for me).

I decided since I wasn’t watching that much TV anymore, I’d not only get rid of the channels I wasn’t watching, I’d give up my DVR as well. That was a hard decision. I loved my DVR. Anyone who has one can tell you how much better they are than a VCR. It’ll be hard going back to the dark ages and relearn how to program my VCR, not to mention being unable to pause and rewind live TV, but I‘ll survive.

Another thing I decided to cut back on is my hair color. I’ve had it professionally colored for more than 10 years. I began having my color done at the beauty salon because I didn’t want my color to look like it was from a bottle. Also, it just seemed easier to have it done the same time I got my hair cut and I didn’t want to deal with the mess myself. I haven’t quite decided whether to try to do the color myself, or just let my hair go natural. Would that be so bad? Would people think less of me because I had gray hair? I don’t think so.

I’ve always been a bargain hunter, trying to get the best value I can for a product, but I’ve really had to hone my skills in that department recently. I switched grocery stores, so I can save money on groceries. Besides, the store is closer to work, so I’m saving on gas, too.

Speaking of gas, getting a newer car has helped me save on gas just in the short time I’ve had it. Not only is it a more fuel efficient car, I’ve found that filling the gas tank when it gets down to a half a tank helps me budget better for gas. Although I couldn’t afford a new car, I was able to benefit from the sagging economy and get a great deal that I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Another way I’ve been able to save money is by patronizing dollar stores more. Why pay 3 or 4 dollars for an item at one store when you can get the same or similar item for a dollar? You do have to watch some of these places though. I’ve discovered that some of the dollar stores aren’t any cheaper on some items than discount stores. If you go to a store where everything is a dollar, you’re more likely to get a better bargain, providing you don’t care about brand names. I’ve been getting generic brands for years, so that doesn’t bother me. More than likely, the same company that makes the brand names also makes the generic brands.

I’ve also curbed my spending on clothes, eating out and entertainment. I have all the clothes I need right now, I can take my lunch to work (which is probably healthier for me anyway) and I can rent movies from the library for free.

There are several books from which I’ve been gleaning information. One is America’s Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides. The Economides have managed to feed their family of seven on just $350 a month, buy cars with cash, go on fabulous vacations and put money in savings. If they can do it, anybody can!

Other books I would recommend include Managing Debt for Dummies, The Tightwad Gazette (a compilation of The Tightwad Gazette newsletters) and Penny Pinching 101.

Online resources are abundant and only a click away. The one I’ve been going to quite often is www.thesimpledollar.com. I’ve already benefitted from one of the Web site’s articles called “Little Steps: 100 Great Tips for Saving Money for Those Just Getting Started.” Another helpful article is “31 Days to Fix Your Finances.” It’s a downloadable document that you can purchase for $2.

As anyone who has been in debt will tell you, it took some time to get into debt, it will take time to get out. Aside from hitting the lottery, there is no quick fix to getting out of debt. I am, however, willing to do whatever it takes to become debt free and stay that way. Once I do, I will be able to do my part to stimulate the economy.

Are you finding creative ways to survive this tough economy? Have you found books or online resources that have been helpful to you?  If so, please share them with me. We’re all in this together.

Expect the Unexpected

When I say goodbye to one year and say hello to a new one, I almost always have mixed feelings. If it hasn’t been a good year, I look forward to wiping the slate clean and starting over, hoping the new year will be better. If it’s been a good year, I find it sad to see the old year end.

At the close of every year, I’m amazed at what the Lord has brought me through – both good and bad. I’m thankful I don’t know ahead of time what the future holds. I think if I knew about the bad things, I would want to stay right where I was. If I knew about the good things, there wouldn’t be an element of surprise – and perhaps I would be less thankful – when those things happened.

For instance, at the beginning of 2008, I didn’t anticipate getting a new car by the end of the year. I didn’t think I could afford a newer car for at least 2 or 3 more years. My car was 15 years old and I’d had it for 12 years. I was hoping I could get a couple more years out of it. When I got that car, I said I was going to drive it until it fell apart. Well, it was not only starting to fall apart, it needed two major repairs. My mechanic advised me to get a new car.

Normally, I would get excited at the possibility of getting a new car, but because I had to get a new car, I was a less than thrilled. I liked my car. I was comfortable in it. It had been a part of my life for 12 years. It was like an old friend.

Needless to say, it got to the point where I had to make a choice. I called a friend of mine who is a car salesman and explained my situation to him. He encouraged me to come in and test-drive a car he thought I’d like. I did. It was a nice car, but I just didn’t have a good feeling about it. As it happened, another car came in as a trade-in the very same day. I wound up driving it back to work, taking it home that night and buying it the next day. I still couldn’t afford a new car, but considering the price was right and the condition of my old car, I couldn’t afford not to.

I still feel like I’m driving someone else’s car, but I’m sure in time, I will become more comfortable with my new car. It was one of those unexpected blessings for which I’m very thankful.

Did you experience an unexpected blessing this past year? I’d like to hear about it.







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