Money Saving Monday ~ Getting Creative with Beans and Rice

Saving money is something that has always been important to me. I love spending money on other people and helping with gifts and needs when I can, but I am a natural saver. Some (like my husband and my family) think I go a little too overboard, and I have been learning lately that some habits are not as thrifty as I once believed. But in my life of paying for college, and living with four kids on a missionary budget I have learned some tricks for saving money and I would like to share one every Monday with you for a few months.

Eating real food is another passion of mine, and I have learned not to let that get in the way of my frugality. Bean and rice is a favorite cheap meal enjoyed around the world. I take my dry beans and rice and soak them in water overnight with a few tablespoons of vinegar added.

Ways to save money on beans and rice meals:

  • Use dry beans instead of cans
  • Use dry rice, not precooked
  • skip the toppings of cheese, bacon and chives (I still use cultured cream or sour cream though for the spicy ones)
  • mix your own seasonings
  • use water or make your own veggie/chicken or beef stock
  • skip the cans of condensed soup (either make your own or use a different recipe)
  • buy your mineral salt in bulk
  • Bulk it up with carrots, celery and onion, it adds nutrition and depth
  • Mix up the beans, you don’t have to just use one more expensive type, mix in differently priced beans.
  • There is a lot of research saying that white rice isn’t as bad for us as we’ve been told, but I’m not here to give health advice necessarily. We use white rice and brown rice interchangeably and sometimes mix it up half and half to reduce the cost. Black rice is my favorite but its expensive so we use it sparingly.
  • Add lentils the last 20 minutes
  • Keep it vegetarian

Recipes:

I don’t use a recipe but rather more of a formula. I mix bean and rice about half and half, cover in two inches of water or stock/broth, add some extras (roots, etc, not veggies at this stage). I either cook it on Medium-high on the range and then simmer on med for an hour or two (I do use kettle water instead of cold water, that saves some time), or start the slow cooker. Slow for 6-8 hours or high for about 4-6.

seasonings – a new favorite would be a paprika mix I mentioned last week. It is paprika, salt, peppers, cayenne, oregano and basil (I’d add onion powder if I had but can’t find it in South Africa most of the time).

My oldest prefers more of a sage mixture and we enjoy chili seasoning mixes, taco, fajita, a Moroccan inspired blend (read:we just throw seasoning in there) curry inspired and even Italian. Using beef stock or soup and adding garlic, onion and parsley is delicious as well.

There is no right way or wrong way (unless you make it taste like charcoal, I have a special ability of making it burn when I’m reheating the leftovers). Your only goal is to boil the rice and beans in water until they are soft. If there is more water left than you care for, boil it off without a lid. If there isn’t enough water, add more.

Most often I cook all the beans and rices together despite the different cooking times, but if I need leftover rice, I’m happy to bake the rice (about 375 with 1:1 water to rice for 20 minutes, 35 for some types)

It might not be perfect the first time, but you can try again until you find your favorite. I will share more recipes as I think to write down our favorite combinations.

Using the leftovers:

  • Make the first batch a less exotic seasoning
  • Always add butter and or water to reheat, even if you use a lid
  • Serve the leftovers with tomato, guacamole, taco seasoning and sour cream
  • Serve the bean and rice (even if not Mexican flavored) over tortilla chips or in tortillas
  • pan fry the leftovers in a little butter with garlic and onion
  • add greens to the menu to add a little nutrition and diversity
  • cook the leftovers with tomatoes and change the flavor (without clashing the original seasonings).
  • Add broth and veggies and make it a soup.
  • Add meat and make it heartier.
  • Add toast, garlic toast, rolls, cornbread, biscuits, etc
  • Some flavors would do well with a fried egg on top of pan fried leftovers
  • Could also bake leftovers in a a muffin tin with an egg on top for little nest meals.

Creativity with leftovers keeps it from being boring. Even just making cornbread or biscuits to accompany makes a world of difference in the perception.

And there you have our first Money Saving Monday post, I know beans and rice are not all that exciting, but it is almost always the first meal idea in the budget conscience so it seemed fitting.

Piano Practice

I mentioned briefly that I took up playing the piano. Its really a keyboard, but I am learning to play chords and melody’s so I can hopefully play when we eventually start our own church.

There is a thing that my firstborn and I are learning about progress. Progress is not a straight line. Adelle can do a somersault one day and not be able to do one the next. I can play a hymn flawlessly today, and fumble on the keys tomorrow. That is what makes practicing so frustrating.

It is going to take quite a bit more time to be able to play in a church. I’m afraid to even post about it for fear of quitting and everyone knowing I quit something. But I didn’t start playing piano so I could play for church. I began playing because my children are learning to play instruments and I want to lead by example.

When my kids are wanting to quit and cry because something is difficult (I’m not pushing instruments to this point, but I’ve definitely seem some tears over subtraction borrowing), I want them to know that I feel the same way. I am also learning new things and wanting to quit.

But, I have little eyes watching. Little eyes belonging to little people who I believe can do or become anything they want to in life. It would be hard to convince them, though, if I don’t feign the same confidence in myself and lead the way.

 

Homesickness and a Seasoning blend

img_5688In full disclosure, I have had a hard few weeks. I started being a little short tempered and fighting some sadness here and there. I find myself needing to take breaks and keep things simple to try to stay on track. It is hard to put a finger on the one thing that has been getting me down. I think with there being a few conflicts of varying degrees going on in our life, and the stress of planning for the future, the homesickness has started to seep through.

Being pregnant almost 9,000 miles away from any friends or family struck a bit of a homesick chord. I was really missing the network of my church, anyone who was available to watch the kids during labor and recovery, someone to bring meals, family and friends to meet the baby and such (I personally love all the visits post baby!). The preparation of labor knowing I did not have that network I had in the past was hard. I really had to trust that God would bless my homebirth and I would not need a transfer because I would have had to go alone. And, praise the Lord, it did not go as I planned , but it went in such a way that the children never needed watched and neither I nor baby ever had to go to the hospital.

This is a similar type of homesickness to pregnancy homesickness. I miss having personal friends to go out with. I miss Goodwill and places that sell clothes I can afford (Walmart Garanimals clothes!), and I miss trading babysitting nights. But, what I miss most is my kids seeing family.

I hope it’s not awful to say that I don’t really even miss the family for myself, I know our relationships are stable. But, kids need to know their grandparents and aunts and uncles. Felicity is almost 1.5 and hasn’t met her granny yet, or any aunts or uncles and that breaks my heart at times. (I am trying to work out a plan to bring the baby to meet family and be in my sister’s wedding in October so I’m getting excited about that!)

All of that is normal for foreign work, and I think it’s easier to get over the distance part when the others parts of overseas ministry go smoothly. I’m not writing to complain but to keep my posts regular with my weekly life. I tried to keep from being too personal or spiritual before in my writing and I think it was a mistake. Not everything is sunshine and roses, but I will say this:

I still have peace. I still have comfort in my loving Savior. I am still happy and we are still finding ways to have fun.

I was able to talk to my best friend and that always helps. I read in Scripture and find an incredible amount of comfort and peace.

We have had some highlights this week that bring me joy and I am lucky enough to be married to an amazing husband and parent some of the most beautiful children. I think about the blessing of being able to stay home and raise them in a way that bring us so much joy, and I wouldn’t trade any of our struggles for any other life. I have the family life I could only have dreamed up our love, enjoyment, silliness, dedication and closeness is something Louisa May Alcott would write about (she’d have to call it “Poor Little Man Among So Many Little Women”).

Those thoughts are the ones that reign my ingratitude and frustration in to a reasonable amount of loneliness or what have you. No money could buy a good happy marriage, nor could any number of family reunions produce content children. I have to be honest with myself about how I feel and the struggles surfacing the homesickness (and give them to Jesus). Then, I need to remember that I have everything I *really* want in life so I can keep those important aspects of marriage and childhood in the right balance.

On a side note, we’ve been trying different seasoning blends on beans and rice and I found one that I just adore on potatoes, beans and rice, or chicken. I’ll add a picture before too long but the recipe is as follows:

1.5-2 TBSP paprika

1-1.5 TBSP salt

1 TBSP garlic powder

1 TBSP oregano

.75 TBSP basil

.25 TBSP cayenne (maybe .10 for super mild)

.25 TBSP white or black pepper or both

* store it in a jar or Tupperware and sprinkle on soups, baked veggies, chicken or potatoes

I would add some onion powder but I can’t seem to find it in South Africa. I think people who don’t have small children would add more cayenne, but we do so we keep it fairly mild. I have favored an Italian seasoning mix blend in the past and always have a jar premixed in the pantry but this will be joining my pre mixed seasoning shelf (next to the fajita, taco, and Moroccan blends) because it is a new favorite!

StayCation 2017

My kids and I were getting restless for a trip and a vacation. Off and on for a few months were trying to make a plan to go on a trip. Our budget is a bit strict, and the schedule tight at times, so it just wasn’t working out. So a few weeks ago we decided to take the days between midweek service and Sunday and turn our home into a bed and breakfast. Here is what we did to turn our ordinary location into a vacation with little time and almost no spending:

On Monday morning, I asked the kids what made a hotel fun and special. They gave me some answers that I could have predicted, sugary breakfasts, cuddling on the bed, fun places to visit, clean rooms with made beds, nice towels, time with Mom and Dad, no TV; But they also shared some parts of vacation that surprised me, answers like fresh air, open windows, picnics and going for a hike.

Tuesday, I took the list and got the house ready. It wasn’t much of a feat, we’ve been pretty decent at housework (this is new for me, and I’m loving it), but to make meals easy for the week I prepped some easy foods. I boiled eggs for breakfasts and lunches, made potato salad, hummus dip, salsa, a ton of guacamole, fruit dip, precut veggies and cheese, and made some roasted potatoes for reheating.

 

On Wednesday, the kids were to check in, Jeff had cups of Jello ready and a reception desk set up. The kids had a sign in sheet and were assigned room numbers and room ‘keys’. Jeff made his signs on the computer, and decorated the ‘keys’ with stickers of the kids’ favorite characters. I had their clothes for the week selected and packed in small suitcases. All extra clothes hidden out of reach and 90% of the toys stored away as well. The week was prepared for, and the environment swept of the possibility of making messes.


At breakfast time we took our time and enjoyed just being with each other. Everyone sat at the table together like we used to do at the thousandish hotels we stayed in on deputation. At breakfast we reviewed the schedule, and had one big item on the docket for each day.

Day 1: Check in 9:30 pm (after church)

Day 2: Aviary, packed lunch, rest at home, grill dinner at home

Day 3: Geocache, Local indoor water slide park, make pancakes and smoothies

Day 4: Book launch reading ~ The Selfish Shongololo, geocaching, lunch out ~ Italian

Day 5: Church day. Grill boerewors, icecream and a movie ~Jumanji

We had some ground rules for behavior. The kids were so excited they were thrilled to make their beds and do their chores (besides their room they each have one morning chore) before it was time to have family breakfast. My most important rule was not to be distracted with media. No TV usage during the staycation (besides movie night) and very little phone usage while the kids were up.

It is funny how they responded to the family staycation, since most of the things we did we do almost every day. There was an entirely different perspective on meal times, chores, and outings just because we said it was special family time. The schedule was pretty light for a vacation, they even still napped on two of the days, but there was no time for fighting and whining. When any issues came up they quickly put out the fires to retain the air of staying on a special vacation.

All told, I think it was a very relaxing few days. Jeff and I both kept up with the chores to keep the guesthouse feel, and we all worked together as a family. It was a romantic week, we produced little waste, and spent very little money for a vacation. I think what my young children appreciate most from vacation is the relaxed diet and undivided attention. What surprised me the most was that we were able to check off their bucket-list for a vacation without all the frills, travel or expense. In the future, even if we have the means for a trip centered vacation, I’ll have to remember that less is more.

A Week in the Life ~ Missionary Wife

So, you move to foreign field and then…..what do you do? Well, the answer would be different for every field, missionary and family. We came to South Africa to gain some experience and help a missionary that was recommended to us. That missionary couple was in the States for our first 9 months on the field. Without anyone on the ‘other’ side of the flight it was quite a jump to the deep end for us!

Thankfully there was a small church with ministries already in place, so we were not building our own connections and ministries. I’ll spare too many details, but from week to week I’ll share the ministries we work in.

The week starts with on Sunday with Sunday school, and then a regular church service. For Sunday school and church, I have been leading a children’s class. It is not a big class, but it has been fun. Leading the children’s songs is not my gift, but I do what I can and the children don’t seem to mind one bit!

In the afternoon on Sundays we alternate between service at a retirement home and my husband going to a church plant in the village. At the retirement home, the church’s music minister leads music, and Jeff will preach afterward. On holiday services the kids and I have made a habit of bringing treats. The workers and residents all seem to enjoy homemade sweets and cards. The kids enjoy making them too.

On Wednesdays there is Bible Club at a village elementary school. The children are from 6-11 and very energetic. They speak Zulu in school and at home, but some kids speak English. Jeff uses an interpreter because he does not speak Zulu. My kids interact pretty well even though they know just a handful of words in Zulu and the other children just a few words in English. Thankfully, play is a universal language.

Wednesday night is the midweek service at our church. Not very many people attend, and my children are almost always the only children so I keep them with me so we can listen to Jeff.

Thursday nights we had a Bible study at our house for a while, but it was moved to the church and now its on hold for a while. We had a great time with the friendly time of prayer, and study, and the kids and I enjoyed preparing homemade snacks. The kids loved cleaning and setting up for it. Not always easy to keep them quiet at the house, but it was a child friendly location. When possible, we will start a Bible study back up.

Fridays Jeff goes out visiting while the kids and I find a play date and run a few errands. Often I pack lunch and order a coffee wherever we go.

Saturdays occasionally there is church wide outreach where we pass out invites, but we mostly just do it on our own. We take the kids here and there, but Jeff does 90% of the visiting himself. I have also found it easy to pass out church invites and talk to people while out running errands.

We came to the Durban area to adjust to ministering in this region of the world and learn language. We found ourselves loving it here and filling needs instead of concentrating on language studies. Unfortunately, the language we need to learn is not prevalent in this part of South Africa. We will study Afrikaans when we move closer to Windhoek (or to Windhoek proper, still waiting to know what and when the next move is).

There are some aspects of ministry not in the schedule. Things like personal visits, helping out with needs that arise with acquaintances, playing host (we love this one personally), praying, prepping lessons, maintaining the church {last week I ran out of coffee, but thankfully I was early enough to run (yes literally) across the street and get new}. Another facet of mission work is maintaining contact with supporting churches and friendly church members of those churches. We just fit that in as we can during the week.

Our time in the Durban area has been an interesting learning experience. We have fallen in love with the area, people and the ability to stay in the same place the last two years. Next week I will get into some more personal aspects, but this is what the skeleton of our schedule looks like from week to week here in the Durban area.

Introduction

I have a hard time keep up with blogging, I might as well come to admit it. But I would like to start again. Many things have changed since I started writing, so allow me to introduce myself and my family. My name is Alyssa and I am a wife of (almost) 10 years, mother of 4, homeschool teacher, hobby addict, aspiring writer, and most of all, a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My husband is Jeffrey. He is a preacher and missionary in South Africa. We met as camp counselors at camp in 2006 and married in December 2007. Our marriage thrives on cooking, ministry, geocaching, nerdy television, board games, and hosting events for no reason, but not necessarily in that order.

_MG_0052

Jeff and I did not expect a picture of us during the shoot, but I am glad we have it

Our children are Adelle-7, Jeffery -5, Josephine-3 and Felicity-1. They love to be social, cook (and eat!), take nature walks, swing, paint, color, wrestle, ‘camp’ inside, play board games, read and cuddle.

As a missionary family living over 8,000 miles from family we have had to depend on each other. I depend on my children to cooperate when I get busy, they depend on me to keep them in contact with family, and fill the fun void grandparents used to fill. We have to be each other’s best friends as we make new friends. We are also teaching each other how to best manage housework and school learning.

It is probably cliche (and boastful but it isn’t meant to be) to say that we are the world’s happiest family. We battle loneliness, missing family, finances and we make a lot of mistakes, but we are content and thriving. I am grateful for our life as strange as it can be at times.

At this stage in life, I am writing fiction in my down time. Fiction is not something that I see as a world-changing vocation, but for all the years I denied the ‘itch’ I could not keep from it anymore. If God gave me a gift (and that is a BIG if, haha), then what kind of example am I setting for my children? I have no idea if it will ever go anywhere, but I needed to step out and try. It is what I would want my children to do.

I am also still learning how to be a housekeeper, homeschooler, preacher’s wife and (hopefully one day) a functional pianist. Housekeeping isn’t my favorite job title (I actually love cleaning, but only when I am home alone). Homeschooling is fun for me, but I am a very straight-to-the-point no frills teacher. So far its worked perfectly.

I also sew when I can, I find modest, stylish and affordable clothes come easier when I just make them myself. Honestly, most of the time I spend sewing (or cleaning up the disaster I make) I ask myself why I would bother, but I {almost} always love the result. Also, the longer I sew, the less often I need to reach for the seam ripper (any seamstresses reading who know what I mean???!).

And that is us in a nutshell. Next up is what we do in ministry here in South Africa.

 

Baby Led Weaning Journey #4

To say I do baby led weaning seems so trendy! I read up on it quite a bit with my third baby because it was a buzz issue. With my first two babies I did not know my philosophy of introducing food to babies had a name. It was kind of neat to read about the third go round.

My philosophy started with some research into the Weston A Price diet and what order they suggest food to be introduced to babies. So at about 9 months we started with bits of meat and then soft cooked green beans, carrots and the like. I tried to be normal and feed the first baby rice cereal, once I even gave her a jar food, but it just was not my style so those foods took a nose dive.

With our first three babies, we traveled all the time and we had to order our diet around foods we could easily make. Cost, ease and availability suggested that I use unsalted or un-sweetened canned veggies and fruit in addition to boiled eggs, bananas and avocados. We would order meat somewhere or buy a rotisserie chicken and split our food with the babies. It was also easy to find cheese, crackers, pretzels, apples, oranges and the like when the children were old enough. When we had to eat out, we tried to east cost effectively at Cracker Barrel, Chick Fil A, Sarku Japan, and local restaurants (Asian or diner style). Not all these foods were high on my list of ‘healthy’ foods, but the healthiest I could provide with our lifestyle.

Baby #4, Felicity, came along last year and shes been eating solids since December already! She is 12 months now and quite the pro! Her favorites are cut tomato and cooked carrots. She really only needs spoon fed if I am serving her my applesauce (which took some serious convincing for her to try!), I even put her yogurt in a snipped bottle so she can feed herself.

I think what draws me naturally to this philosophy is both the desire to breastfeed primarily for the first year and the idea of fostering independence. There is also a bit of insecurity of knowing how much a baby needs to eat and not wanting to over feed (maybe it is just me, I over worry). So I give the child the power to decide how much is enough. Like magic, when they are done they clear that tray onto the floor so fast!

Baby Led Weaning is a bit of a mess, but my absolute favorite part is watching those tiny fingers manage a pincer grasp with all the focus and dedication of a surgeon and put that food in their mouth with pride.

IMG_6310

My biggest hook up is cleaning avocado, but I have made it through 4 babies unscathed