Friday, October 31, 2008

More proof the crockpot rocks...

Question: Can you make an entire meal in a crock pot?

Answer: Absolutely!

Check this link out. The Crockpot Lady, as we affectionately call her, has successfully made an entire meal of rib-eye steak, baked potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob in her crock pot. I can't wait to try this!

Question: Does this change how I feel about my crock pot?

Answer: Is it possible to hold any more love in your heart for an inanimate object? Then yes.

Tales of unemployment...

As many of you know, Jim and I went through a very difficult season in our lives and our marriage last year when Jim was unemployed for seven months. At the time I was going to nursing school full time and working two jobs at the hospital. Our monthly income added up to be exactly half of our monthly bills. To take on more hours at the hospital, I sacrificed any free time I had, including Sundays.

I wish I could say that I handled this time well, but the truth is I struggled. A lot. In my relationship with God, in my relationship with my husband, in other relationships. Although I knew God was in control, and was at work especially during this difficult time, my faith was very weak.

Jim and I have two very dear friends facing this exact season in their lives and marriage today. While I do not wish that kind of hardship on anyone, I feel as though I should share what God taught me during that time and how God blessed us in the end.

1. God always provides. This lesson was learned very practically as Jim and I counted up our monthly expenses and our monthly income, and saw a large discrepancy between the two numbers. Yet, even as our income was only half our expenses, each month every bill was paid and every need was met. We experienced the seemingly impossible - two bags of groceries left on our front step, a check in the mail, cash slipped into our wallets... yet, "with God all things are possible".

2. God has a plan. The question Jim and I most often asked during this season was "Why?". And we soon found out... seven months later. God had a specific plan for Jim involving full-time ministry, and He used unemployment to grab Jim's heart and place him in exactly the right place. Before this season, Jim struggled in his job, feeling unfulfilled and as though something was missing. Now Jim is at peace, knowing he is exactly where God wants him. That kind of peace is perhaps the greatest blessing we have experienced.

3. God is in control. This lesson may seem redundant after the last two lessons, but for Jim and I, it was very much something that we specifically learned. In the midst of the financial hardships and the why's, Jim and I struggled with knowing God was in control. Often during this season He felt so far away. Jim and I both felt that our prayers were hitting the ceiling and falling back down, and for the majority of those seven months, we did not see God's hand clearly. Don't get me wrong, Jim and I both knew that God was ultimately in control, but its one thing to know it in your head and know it in your heart. It wasn't until after this season was over that Jim and I were able to truly say in our hearts "God is in control".

There were many other lessons learned during this time that I won't go into. I think to sum up everything Jim and I experienced would be accomplished by a passage from Malachi. If you are not familiar with the last books of the Old Testament, I highly encourage you to read them. Malachi is my favorite book of the Bible, mostly because God puts His thoughts into terms simple enough for me to understand!

Malachi 3:6-12 (ESV)
"For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

As my pastor shared last week, this passage is often used in the context of tithing in the church. For me, it so adequately describes what God was trying to say to us through those seven months. God tells us, "Return to Me and I will return to you" and then He tells us we have robbed Him. How? We robbed God, so to speak, of ourselves and the blessings that He has for us. How do we fix this? By bringing our full selves to Him, leaving nothing out. And then, He promises us that if we put Him to the test, He will open the windows of heaven for us and pour down a blessing until there is no need. No emptiness, no confusion, no lack of gain. When Jim and I were able to fully surrender ourselves to God, the windows of heaven were opened for us. Not just in a practical sense dealing with our physical needs, but in all ways. God provided for every need - spiritual, emotional, mental.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Chili

Tonight's Dinner: Homemade Chili with Cornbread Muffins.

Being the rebel I am, I hate using traditional recipes, so many of my dishes are "dump and cook" based on whatever ingredients I have on hand. This can result in a very good meal. It can also result in tragic meals. However, I tend to have quite a bit of success with this method. The main problem with cooking like this is that when I have a success, I often can not replicate the dish later. My own sad example of this - two weeks ago I made a delicious white chicken chili. Jim raved for days. And for the life of me, I can't remember how I made it! To solve this problem, I will start blogging my "successful" recipes to share - and reuse at a later date!

I love homemade chili. Growing up, Mom would make big vats of chili and stews in the winter, and we would eat on them for days at a time. Jim used to love chili... until his evil gallbladder started acting up. So when I sat out to try my hand at homemade chili today, I tried to make it as mild as possible. I think this chili would work out well for very picky eaters. And guess what - it can be made in your crock pot!

Daja's Homemade Chili
- 3 cans of beans, drained and rinsed (I used 1 can Great Northern Beans, 2 cans Chili Beans)
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 12oz can tomato paste
- 1 12oz can tomato sauce
- 2 cups broth (I used 1 cup leftover beef broth, 2/3 cup leftover chicken broth, and 1/3 cup apple juice because I ran out of broth)
- 1 T Italian seasoning
- 1 med onion (I used 1 tsp onion powder instead... Jim's gallbladder can not tolerate onions either)

Step 1 - Brown ground beef in skillet over med-hi heat. I used 1 T flavored olive oil to brown the meat. Drain meat and place in crock pot.
Step 2 - Add all other ingredients. Stir if you are feeling particularly culinary.
Step 3 - Cook on low for 6 - 8 hours. Stir occasionally.

If you wish, spice it up by adding sliced jalapenos, chili powder, or my personal favorite - red pepper flakes.

Serve with warm buttered cornbread muffins. Yum!

Fun Fact #3

Fun Fact #3: I do not know my left from my right. Or vice versa.

Yes folks, I may be the only nurse in the world who doesn't know her left from her right. I like to think that's not a make-it-or-break-it deal.

My husband discovered this for the first time last night. We've been married now for almost two years and dated for a year and a half before that - but he just realized this about me last night. Which goes to show either a) I am really good at hiding this or b) he really isn't observant.

The conversation went like this:

Daja: "Where is the wireless router?"
Jim: "It's on the right side of the TV."
Jim: "No, your other right."
Jim: "Your other right, Daja. The other side of the TV."

4 hours and 39 minutes later...

Jim: "Do you really not know your left from your right?"
Daja: "How did you figure that out?"
Jim: "Well, earlier you didn't know how to find the right side of the TV."
Daja: "And you just figured this out now?"

Monday, October 27, 2008

And a wee bit about frugal eating...

There is much celebration going on in my house right now. Why? Because I found an awesome new blog: $5 Dollar Dinners.

Many of you know that since we have become Dave Ramsey-converts, Jim and I have completely cut fast food and restaurants out of our lives. We live by a very strict weekly grocery budget now and have to find ways to make that money stretch. Beyond the money, now that we are no longer eating out, planning and preparation of all our meals has fallen on my shoulders.

I am by no means a good cook, but I like to think practice makes perfect. And that's what I do now, 7 days a week - practice. Along the way I've picked up some great skills and even better tools (like my crock pot!), and I find that I really enjoy cooking.

I have also put my impeccable planning skills to good use in the area of meals. Each week, I organize daily meals based on the foods I have on hand and plan a shopping list accordingly. I have been able to cut our weekly food budget down to $30-$40 per week, including all other groceries. Not only does this save us money, but the extra money allows us to do things we otherwise wouldn't have been able to. For example, we were able to attend the Liberty Christian School Fundraising Banquet with the extra money in our food budget. We were also able to participate in our church's annual Blessing Baskets by providing items for thanksgiving meals to families in need.

I have to admit, eating inexpensively is not always easy. I have found a few good inexpensive menu ideas, but eating the same meals over and over again gets boring. That is why I was so excited today to find $5 Dollar Dinner! There is a plethora of meal ideas on this blog that serve a small family on $5 or less. Check it out - you'll love it!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Just a wee bit about personality types...

Jim and I attended the Liberty Christian School Fundraising Banquet tonight. As Jim is an alumni of the school, and I am related to him by marriage, and we have friends who teach at the school and friends who have their children enrolled, we receive all sorts of little loves notes from Liberty encouraging us to participate in their endeavour. Which we are happy to, given Jim's experience with the school and the core values the school operates on.

Typically at a fundraising banquet, you pay a large sum of money to sit in a chair, enjoy a catered meal, and listen to people beg you to get your checkbook out. I must say, while I enjoy getting to eat a meal I didn't have to prepare myself (especially these days; thanks Dave Ramsey!), typically the idea of going to a fundraising banquet isn't ranked very high on the fun scale. There are ways I could spend my time having more fun that doing the above-described events, if you catch my drift. But Jim and I are very happy to support LCS, and having scrimped and saved in our food budget money to afford the tickets, we were looking forward to the event. Even if it was just for the food.

I must say, we were very pleased with how the night turned out. The food was a delicious turkey dinner that left me ashamed at how much food I could consume in one sitting (okay, I did starve myself in preparation for this event!) and the speaker gave a very stimulating discussion on personality types. His premise for this talk was, "How can we love each other as Christ has called us to love each other if we don't understand each other?" Good point.

There were four distinct personality types he outlined tonight: the Saint Bernard's, the Golden Retrievers, the Rottweilers, and the Puppies. Saint Bernard's are the "boy scouts" of our society, Golden Retrievers are the "buddies" of our society, Rottweilers are exactly what you think they should be, and the Puppies just want to have a good time. Jim and I discovered tonight that we are both a mix of the exact opposite personality types. He is a Golden Retriever/Puppy, which means he is fun-loving, a people person, gets along with everyone, impulsive, and not as concerned with the results as having a good time getting there. I, on the other hand, am a Rottweiler with a smidgen of Saint Bernard. I am ambitious, determined, critical, stubborn, autonomous, and a terrible perfectionist. I know those of you who know me personally are finding this hard to believe, but there you go.

As the speaker was describing these different personality types and the traits they portray, I mulled over how Jim and I could be complete opposites in our personality types and have a functional marriage. I am stubbornly independent and need my personal space. Jim is very dependent and needs constant emotional connection. I am driven and obsessed with accomplishment to the point that I do not feel validation if I have not accomplished. Jim is easy-going and rarely knows where he's going, except to know that its going to be a good ride. I am precisely planned and organized in every aspect of my life, and Jim is impulsive and led wherever the moment takes him. Jim is warm and loving, I am harsh and critical.

And yet, it works. How? I do not know. All I do know is that every day, I am assured more and more that our marriage is the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who puts all things together. I am even more assured that left to our own devices, our marriage would be in shambles. Or non-existant.

Am I thankful for my husband? Oh yes. Do I struggle with how I interact with him? Often. When Jim wants to spend the day doing nothing important, relaxing and having a good time, and my precisely planned to-do list suffers, I struggle. When the way Jim lives his life doesn't match up to my critical standards, I struggle. When I desperately want to be alone and Jim is craving connectedness, I struggle. Sometimes I allow the Holy Spirit to work inside of me in those circumstances. More often, my sinful nature wins out and I wind up saying or doing something I regret.

Then I thought about how God placed us, with our differences, together in such a way that we complete each other and create oneness. Jim needs my attention to detail and planning and organizational skills as much as I need his ability to relax, unwind, and enjoy life. Even now, as I write this, Jim is trying to share a story with me while I struggle with my inward desire to quit listening to him and finish my blog.

The moral of this story? Thank God He is in control and He knows what He is doing. Because I sure don't have a clue.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fun Fact #2

Fun Fact #2: I have an irrational fear of talking on the phone.

I admit, it's stupid. But I would MUCH rather get in my car and drive out of my way to talk to someone in person than call them. With the invention of the text message, my fear of talking on the phone has soared to ridiculous new heights.

My coworkers think this is hilarious. Anytime calls need to be made to patients, or to our own fellow nurses, I volunteer to do any other task rather than make the calls. Even though making the calls would allow me to sit for a lengthy period of time, something that I am denied often in my line of work. Thinking about talking on the phone (regardless of whether or not I know the person on the other end) produces more anxiety in my little heart than resuscitating a dying baby. Or being covered in amniotic fluid. Or being simultaneously pooped, peed, and spit up on by a terribly unhappy baby. All of which have occurred to me thus far in my career and I would rather do anytime than talk on the phone.

I also refuse to answer the phone. Many of you reading this blog know this. Caller ID has not improved my success rate in answering the phone either. I don't care if you are my mother, my work, or "Unknown Number"... I still don't want to talk on the phone. My coworkers have learned this about me, and now leave messages on my phone like, "Daja-I-know-you-won't-answer-the-phone-because-of-your-personal-issues-but-can-you-please-come-in-to-work-if-you-can-just-come-in-I-won't-bother-calling-back-because-I-know-you-won't-answer-by-the-way-your-fear-of-talking-on-the-phone-is-ridiculous-hope-we-see-you-soon!"

So I will issue this blanket apology, hoping that if you have ever not received a phone call from me and thought I was just ignoring you, you will forgive me. And next time, just text me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fun Fact #1

Fun Fact #1: I can not live without my crock pot.

If I were to choose one item, and one item only, to have with me on a deserted island, it would be my crock pot. I am convinced the crock pot has magical powers. What else can take random raw ingredients thrown together is no particular order, be left alone for 6 hours, and produce a delicious meal?

I recently found a fun blog: The author of this blog has chosen to make a new recipe daily in her crock pot for 365 days. She posts the recipe along with pictures and the verdict each day. If you need good crock pot recipes, check this blog out!

If all else fails, do what I do:

-Step 1: Gather all leftover ingredients found in refrigerator.
-Step 2: Dump in crock pot.
-Step 3: Turn crock pot on.
-Step 4: Leave.

*The figurative "I" in this post refers to Daja, not Jim. Jim could live a perfectly happy life without the crock pot. Daja, however, can not.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tales of MORE babies...

Can I just say it?

Everyone I know is having a baby. Or two babies, for some of you!

I'm pretty sure it's an epidemic. All I can say is... I'm not drinking the water!

On that note, it is such a joy to share in these young lives. There are several babies in this world that I call myself "Auntie Daja" around, hoping maybe one day it will catch on! I delight in every miracle of life around me, knowing for each one that God willed their life to be in His perfect timing.

I was so incredibly blessed to be an integral part in bringing my friend Jordan's miracle babies into the world exactly one week ago. What an amazing privilege it is that my job is welcoming new life into this world! And what more blessing it is to do that for those I hold most dear! Jordan, you allowed me to share in your incredible journey to motherhood and I can not express how thrilled I was to be there for that all-important beginning. I look forward to being part of your babies' lives and your new life as a mother.

And I will never let your daughter forget that she pooped on me the first time we met. Of course, I wouldn't be happy either with the person who pulled me out of my comfy water bed!

Need a Good Politically-Based Laugh?

If watching the Saturday Night Live parodies of the recent political debates hasn't done it for you, just watch this. I'm thinking this kind of logic has a future in risk management planning. Perhaps in my line of work?

Enjoy! I'm still trying to figure out if this is a joke or not.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tales of My New Grocery Budget...

As many of you know, Jim and I are now faithful followers of Dave Ramsey and have completely revolutionized the way we make, save, give and spend money. We dedicate time to writing out a complete monthly budget and have adopted the envelope system for saving and spending money. We have successfully worked this system for two months, and in that time we have paid off a credit card and saved money for upcoming car repairs, Christmas, and a vacation.

Another benefit of managing our money better is that it allows me to channel my obsessive-compulsive organizing skills into a new hobby - meal planning! Every week I sit down and write out a menu for the entire week based on our nightly activities and plans. I examine the contents of my refrigerator and pantry each week to determine what items I have on hand and what items need to be used up before they go bad. I then make out my shopping list, organizing it by where I can find the best deals and the aisles in the store.

Okay yes, I am a complete nerd, but through spending thirty minutes a week doing this, I have made my grocery shopping more efficient, enjoy healthy home-cooked meals everyday, and cut my grocery budget in half. I never wonder anymore what to make for dinner, and we no longer make expensive food decisions on impulse (such as eating out or last minute trips to the grocery store). By incorporating what I have on hand into my weekly menus, I was able to squeeze extra money out of our food budget to pay for a fundraising banquet last month that otherwise Jim and I would never have been able to afford.

If taking control of your budget and the food you eat sounds like a good idea, but way too much work, I found this great website that sells weekly meal plans online. For $5 a month, will provide you with a weekly meal plan including seven complete meals and a shopping list of items needed each week. offers meal plans for two people or a whole family that are tailored for shopping at a particular store or a specific dietary need. For example, meal plans tailored to Wal-Mart will give you a shopping list of items to purchase at Wal-Mart with actual prices. They have meals plans that are low-fat, low-sodium, and even meal plans based on the Weight Watchers points system. My particular favorite: the coupon meal plan, which offers meals based on what coupons are available that week. The best part is that the meal plans for two average $35 per week, and the family-sized meal plans average $75 per week. What a great way to save money, eat healthier, and bring your family together for dinner each night!

One of the best gifts I received for my wedding was 12 meals from Entrees Made Easy. Being a full-time nursing student and working 12-hour shifts on the weekend meant that I had no time to shop or cook. It was so nice to be able to pull a meal out of the freezer before going to bed, knowing the next night Jim and I would be able to enjoy a delicious meal. Unfortunately, expensive Entrees Made Easy did not fit into our tight budget, and when our meals were gone, we once again resorted to fast food and ineffective grocery shopping. I wish I had known about during nursing school. It would have saved Jim and I money, time and many poor food decisions during that stressful time in my life.

The moral of this story is taking control of our menu, like our money, has paid off immensely for Jim and I, and we highly encourage others to do the same.

Dave Ramsey would be so proud!