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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yarn Along: Not Much Progress

I was hoping to be finished with one of these socks by this week. That didn't happen. With our preparations for my dad's arrival and just life going on, I didn't get as far as I wanted on either the socks, or the leg warmers I'm making.

I want to have both finished in the next couple weeks, though. We'll see if I can make it. In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire is an interesting read. Heavy. I've just started it, and I don't think I'll finish it before Lent. It is definitely one I want to get back to, though. I also have my Lenten book basket prepared. I had another book suggested to me, but neither our library, nor Paper Back Swap had it readily available, so I'm noting it for next year.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Frugality (Part XVI): Reconsidering Convenience

I had another thought about living frugally: This is more of a mind over matter issue. I really think that people need to reconsider what they think of as convenient if they want to live a more frugal life. There is definitely a trade off of convenience or time when we are trying to save money. Not always, and not always in hugely demanding ways, but there are compromises made with every choice. Part of the reason that we eat well is because I have committed to cook nearly all of our meals and do the budgeting, grocery shopping, and menu planning that I do to make it happen.

Yes, we all know that time is money, and that our time is valuable, but if you don't want to spend the money on something, or if you don't have it to spend, then you need to spend the time. I take about an hour a week to plan our menus - after I have shopped the sales at the store and farmers' market (when it is open), and checked what's in our pantry. I don't simply plan our menus and look at the best price I can find for what I want (though I do that, too, sometimes), I see what I have to work with and what is a good price and plan our menus based on that. That time could be worth whatever we assign to it. In our family, it is worth about $300 in savings each week. Yes, it takes time, but the payoff is huge to us. I spend a good portion of my day on food preparation and cooking. That's where the hours really add up (though, now I also have older children who can be given a recipe or some specific tasks to cut down on my time doing it). Doing this means we aren't eating more expensive (and usually less healthful) convenience foods or eating out. It means that our health care costs are lower as well as our food bill. This is just in the realm of food.

This year, we tried an experiment, mostly because we didn't want to move a huge, heavy bookcase in our living room, which was blocking the heat control for the room. We bought what we normally bought in fire wood for the year (we've always had extra in prior years) and heated the living room entirely with our fireplace. Even on the coldest days here (and we have very cold days here), we were warm. And our electric bill was much lower. We also used up nearly all of our wood, including what was left from the prior two or three years. The savings, though, was still worth it. Even if we had to buy double, which we probably would, to do this next year, that is a cost of about $360 over seven or eight months. Our electric bills over those months were reduced by more than that. We normally pay an average of $250 a month in fall and winter here. We had that average down to $175 this year (we usually pay closer to $150 in the fall and $300 in the winter). This year, that was a savings of around $345 over the past seven months. Next year, if we do this again, that would be a savings of around $165. If we were too cold, or if we ran out of the wood earlier, we would have moved the darned bookcase, and paid more, but it was interesting that we didn't have to do that. This meant that we had added chores each day. The kids had to bring enough fire wood in for the day, I started the fires early in the morning, Rich banked it at night. That was about half an hour of extra work each day. It was well worth it to us. And it doesn't hurt that we like wood fires.

Delaying gratification also does this. In general, we don't go out and buy what we want right away. We wait and see if we really want it. We see if we can find it at the library and determine if it's worth buying to keep. This reduces the clutter in our home (though we really need to work on reducing it more!), keeps us from spending frivolously, and makes it more likely that what we buy we will be happy with in the long run. Letting ourselves be inconvenienced by extra time, work, or delayed gratification makes it possible for us to use our money as we like, and free it for uses we especially want.

One of the benefits of this way of life, and this compromise, is that we are able to better bless others. When friends or family have an illness, a death, a hospitalization, a new baby, a lost job, we are able to provide meals, supplies, sometimes even money, to help. We are able to donate to charities and charitable programs more often. We couldn't do this if we relied on convenience meals or eating out for a significant portion of our meals for the family. This was one of the most important things we wanted to do with our money and time. God has blessed us with better and better circumstances financially, and it is our responsibility to be wise stewards of it, both to provide for our family and to assist and provide for others.

Likewise, we are able to afford lessons and activities for our children because we have chosen to utilize the library for many of our media wishes, we also use Paper Back Swap (they deal in hard backs as well) and Swap a DVD to empty our home of those books and dvds we don't want or need anymore and to replace them with those we do want. We belong to a homeschool co-op here, which opens up some more elective options for our children, but there is a cost associated with that, especially for a family with eight children. Two of our daughters are in ballet, with another likely starting in the fall, two boys fence, one boy does t-ball, these all cost money. When we are wise about our entertainment choices as a family, only spending where it is absolutely necessary or when we have an event or occasion to mark, we have more money free to provide the activities our family enjoys and wishes to pursue.

Another great benefit to our choosing time and effort over convenience and expense, to our delaying our gratification somewhat, is that when we want to take a trip back "home" or Rich and I want to go on a date because life has been crazy, or we have a little celebration, we can do it. Living frugally does not mean depriving yourself (unless you are truly in dire straits, which we've had to navigate before ourselves). Even in the toughest circumstances or tightest budgets, there are ways of setting back a dollar or two and using buy one get one coupons, while exploring free activities in your town or area, to allow you a date or a treat when you just need that break. Since we've been paying off hospital bills from Nejat's stay, we've been a little more careful about our outings. So, one night this winter, Rich called me from work and asked if I could give him 10 minutes extra so we could go on a mini-date. We had to take Amira in to ballet, so he got popcorn and cookies from one of the FBOs at his work (they have them out for their clients/customers, and were glad to let him take them), some hot chocolate packets that he mixed with coffee, and had me bring a play list of our songs. We dropped off our daughter, drove around town listening to music and enjoying our treats and talking. It wasn't a huge thing, but it was a bright spot in winter, when I'd had a tough day, and it only cost us a little extra gas than we normally used.

I challenge and encourage you to reconsider what you find convenient or time consuming. It can help you, not only financially, but allow you the freedom to help others, to cut down on the excess in your home, which helps reduce what needs organizing or cleaning as well. Streamlining your life and home this way helps you have more time and energy for the things that will truly permit you to live within your means, serve the poor and needy (or some other group or individuals you wish to serve - I know someone who makes dinners for veterans, for instance), save for a trip, allow your family to do some activity that has been outside of your budget, or give you a date night fund.

One other thing: We are about to enter Lent. One of the practices our family does each year is to try to come up with 40 bags for the 40 days of Lent. We sort and eliminate each day and come up with a bag or box of items to donate or give away or to throw away if it is truly of no use to someone else. This frees us from our attachment to material goods, from the time and energy necessary to keep up such items, and allows us to give liberally to those in need, or just offer something nice that someone else might have wanted, but not been able to justify buying.

If you can't do it all at once, join the club! Trust me, we live in as much or more chaos as you do. Our home is still in need of so much decluttering, so much streamlining, but having an idea of what matters and where our energy and time should be focused helps us to work at it little by little. In this way, we can take the time or do something "inconvenient" that will help us and others in the long run.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips
Storing Bulk Purchases
Turn It Off
Grow Your Own
Buying in Bulk
Entertainment on the Down Low
Finding Fun Locally
Holiday Shopping

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Menu Plan Monday: February 23 - March 1

We do have one repeat this week. The next few days are taken up in preparing for having my dad here and Alexander's name day this week. This is our last full week before Lent, and we're doing it up well here. I have almost all of our Lenten dinners planned for the entirety of Lent. There will be changes as we go, of course, based on schedules and what is available or on sale at the grocery store. We thought that this year, we should try to plan ahead more, so as to be focusing less on what we're eating and more on the why of it.
What is on your menu this week? If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can. If there are any starred recipes, I will follow up separately with a recipe round up on Saturday.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yarn Along: Socks, Leggings, Birthday Ballet Bag & Baby Hats

I'm kind of trucking along on a pair of socks that are pretty basic. They're sized for a man, though, so they take a little longer. My goal is to have one finished and the other started within the next two weeks. I'm trying desperately not to cast on a million things that I want to start so I can focus on a few projects at a time.

Or several.

I also have a pair of baby leggings I'm designing on needles. These are pretty small, but are ribbed, so they stretch to almost twice their size. These are going to be a baby gift for a couple at church, if they aren't too feminine. They have a little boy, so I thought the x's and o's might be too girly, but in the green, I thought it might be doable. Thoughts on that?

And a baby hat, to match my design submission (I had extra yarn, how could I resist making a set?), plus one to match the leggings planned. And a crocheted ballet bag for Amira that is just started. I'm itching to start something else, though. This is good practice in self control for me.

I'm reading an interesting book, based on a recommendation from a very holy and thoughtful person. He said this was a rather fair look at how different Christian groups viewed and treated homosexuals in their midst. Neither of us particularly agree with the author's conclusions, but his writing is thought provoking and much more fairly presented than I would have expected. His credibility is compromised in my eyes, because in the first chapter he presents the trope that fourth century Rome adopted Christianity as its official religion. Any decent encyclopedia could have dispelled that myth. The Edict of Milan simply introduced toleration, making it illegal to imprison, torture, kill, or in other ways persecute, Christians because of their faith. While that is certainly a good thing, it is not the same thing as making Christianity the official religion. This taints any other facts he presents, either about the groups he interviews or history or religious theory in general.

The chapter on Westboro Baptist is particularly surprising, both in how they receive him and in how he presents them, and is, perhaps, the most touching account of a group that is so despised by most of us that I have ever read. The most humorous line in that chapter comes when the author goes to the home of one of the church members and is offered refreshments.

"Do you want anything to drink?" he asks, opening the fridge to do a quick inventory. "We have Coke, Diet Coke, iced tea, juice, water. But we don't serve Kool-Aid. It makes people a little nervous!"

Reading that chapter made me think that they have the same basic understanding as the author, only from the other side. The author wants to believe that if God loves you, He must approve of what you are doing. Westboro Baptist teaches that if God does not approve of what you are doing, He must hate you. They are both wrong. In any case, the book is engaging, interesting, and likely won't change anyone's opinion.

My next book is either going to be The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West or something from my Lenten book basket. I try to choose something spiritually edifying during Lent and Advent, and we're almost there. I have a stack of four books to tackle this year. A friend gave me another recommendation, but I couldn't easily get it, so it may go on next year's list.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Menu Plan Monday: February 16 - 22

We have a few things repeated this week. Our schedule shifted around a few times.

This week we are preparing for my dad visiting us. The last time we saw him was two years ago, and before that it was almost 14 years earlier. He's being really game about visiting us during Lent and working around our school schedule. We're excited to have him come to co-op and sports and dance with us, too.
What is on your menu this week? If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can. If there are any starred recipes, I will follow up separately with a recipe round up on Saturday.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ancient Faith Practices

Fourth century icon of St. Paul preparing to make the sign of the cross.

We are a family that prays with our hearts, minds, souls, spirits, and bodies. Since God made humanity in flesh, before the Fall, since He created matter, matter matters to us. So, we pray with our hands and our bodies as well as our mouths and minds. The Sign of the Cross is the first prayer most of our children attempt. It is not the first prayer they say, but it is the first one they do. They copy us and try to make their hands do as ours do. Even if your family does not pray in this way, but bows your heads in prayer, or fold your hands in prayer, you are also praying with your bodies, and you probably have witnessed your children imitating this before they were able to articulate the words of any prayer.

The Sign of the Cross is an ancient Christian prayer that dates to the Apostles. The way people did it has evolved and changed, in some times and places it was only done on the forehead, in others from the head to the heart and torso as is commonly seen now. However, I was delighted to find out that not only is it found all the way back to Apostolic times, but can be traced to a specific Apostle and deacon.

Most Christians know the story of Philip the Evangelist (the deacon, not the Apostle) and the Ethiopian eunuch.

But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Can'dace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this:

"As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth."

And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?" And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:26-39

The African churches trace their lineage to this official and his interaction with St. Philip. St. Matthew, the Apostle, also evangelized directly into Africa. The Christian community there was not as closely tied to, and had difficulty maintaining connections with the rest of the Church, so they lost many aspects of orthodox Christianity over the years. However, 300 years later, missionaries traveling in Africa found communities who were aware of and made the Sign of the Cross in Ethiopia and the Sudan. They had no other contact with Christians for the most part, and their knowledge of this ancient prayer were directly traced to their contact with St. Philip and St. Matthew. While the missionaries did need to correct some of their theology, and strengthen them, they had no need to explain this prayer.

We use this method to teach our children the Sign of the Cross. The thumb, index, and middle fingers are together to remind us of the Trinity, and the ring and pinky finger are down to remind us of the hypostatic union, that Jesus is fully man and fully God.

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Menu Plan Monday: February 9 - 15

For those of you who pay attention to such things, I've updated my side bar to contain links to my patterns for sale as well as some more free patterns. I also have my new book list there and my FO tally for the year.

I don't think there are many repetitions this week, except in breakfasts, and that is normal for us. We are only about three weeks from Lent, so we are readying our hearts and our kitchen for that. There will be some more extravagant and rich meals in these weeks as well.
What is on your menu this week? If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can. If there are any starred recipes, I will follow up separately with a recipe round up on Saturday.

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Recipe: Tomato Rice Soup

This recipe is easily halved, but for our family, this is how much I make. I can make this in a hurry if I either have pre-cooked rice or leftovers from another meal. I slice the onions while the pot is heating, I add the oil and onions, then slice the carrots and celery while the onions are cooking at first, then chop the garlic while they cook, and so on, reducing the amount of total time it takes in my preparations.

1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, sliced thinly
4 large stalks of celery, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
2 medium carrots, scraped and sliced thinly
6 cloves of garlic, minced
12 large tomatoes, roughly chopped, juice reserved
8 cups vegetable broth or bean broth (I save the pot liquor from cooking beans and freeze it to use later as a vegetarian stock)
8 cups water (you can use all water, too)
4 cups cooked rice
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (you can use red pepper flakes or ancho pepper flakes instead)
1/4 teaspoon saffron
finely chopped parsley to garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium high heat. Add olive oil and swirl in the bottom of the pot to coat. Add onions, celery, carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and the onions are just starting to turn brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so.

Put tomatoes with their juice into the pot along with a small amount of the broth, maybe a quarter of it. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes to reduce the liquid in the tomatoes and concentrate the flavor.

Add the rest of the broth and water, the rice, salt, thyme, Aleppo pepper and saffron, breaking up the rice in the pot. Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Finished Object Friday: Sweet Pea, Belmont, Epipa Cabled Booties, and a Sneak Peek at Saint Catherine of Alexandria

I have a lot of almost finished items right now, but only four that are completed this year so far. One is this little car seat blanket I made for some friends of ours who recently had their sixth baby.

It is the Sweet Pea Baby Blanket, and I used some stash Fantasy Naturale Multi yarn. It is a nice, washable cotton.

I have also crocheted a pair of boot cuffs. I messed up a little on my reading of the directions on the first one, but I didn't want to undo the work I had done, and they didn't look bad, so I just recreated the errors on the second one.

Here are a pair of booties I made for Nejat. The pattern was in German, but there were translations online that I used.

This one is a sneak preview. I have been working on a design for another One Skein book, this one for babies, and this is what I have made. I used the lace heart motif from a stitch pattern book and came up with a lovely little design for a baby.

You'll have to check in later to see if it makes it into the book.

This past year was a huge year, in terms of creating, for me. I was able to step back from many things, was forced to really, and enjoyed being able to use my hands to make things. I'm not sure I'll be able to accomplish as much this year, with no enforced rest, but I am enjoying creating more still.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Menu Plan Monday: February 2 - 8

Rich invited me on an impromptu date Saturday night, to try a semi-local pizza place, and they had a deal so we brought home a couple for the kids and moved Saturday's dinner to Sunday. This week is pretty full of activities for us, so a lot of our meals are either quick to put together, or can be made slowly in the oven or crock pot.
What is on your menu this week? If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can. If there are any starred recipes, I will follow up separately with a recipe round up on Saturday.

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

The End of Christmas

Today is the last day of the Nativity season. Today, our Nativity scenes will come down. We play Christmas carols and hymns for the last time. It is the 40th day of Christmas, the day the Virgin Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem to be purified and that both she and St. Joseph brought the infant Jesus to be presented in the temple and to redeem Him as the first born son - the male who opened the womb. Jesus was the "Author of the Law accomplishing what was laid down by the law."

Our priest at the church we attend here gave a most excellent sermon drawing from the gospel reading for the Purification:

And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel."

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

"Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. - Luke 2:22-38

Father preached about how even though Jesus was God, and St. Mary and St. Joseph knew that, they still fulfilled God's law. That it wasn't simply an option to them. Yet, how easily we make excuses, and dispensations for our own disobedience. He went on to explain the obligation to attend the liturgy, and how easy it is to stop after that first lapse. He contrasted the ease of using contraception with the challenge of using NFP and charting. We really appreciated how he contrasted the actual opposites, rather than contrasting contraception with lots of children as our society does. He focused on how both Mary and Joseph went to present Jesus, not just one of them. The faith is transmitted when both parents share in it themselves and share in teaching it to their children. He closed by discussing how Jesus was not consulted as to whether or not He wished to do this. They did not wait until He was old enough to make a decision Himself. Their role as parent and guardian was to provide His most essential needs, such as food and shelter, clothing, education, but spiritual grace, belonging to the faith, was the primary need of any child. They, in modern terms, "forced" Him into the faith. The faith of the parents is what provides for their children's faith, and it was their job to provide it, just as they provide the other necessities to their children. Rich and I were thrilled to hear such a direct and true teaching.

This is the end of the infancy narrative of Jesus' life in scripture and in the liturgical year. We are moving now toward preparing for Lent and the Resurrection. We will live out His life and the lives of the saints throughout the year so as to experience them ourselves and grow more deeply in love and knowledge.

In our life this past year, we experienced a little of this on a more comprehensive level with Nejat. The Orthodox Church imposes (as did the western Church until the middle of the last century) a time of rest and recuperation on mothers. For 40 days she is to stay home with her baby, not even going to church, caring for herself and her child. She is brought back to church on that 40th day, to be purified and churched again, welcomed back into the assembly. Again, God shows His wisdom in guiding His Church. This is an excellent way to allow the woman to recover from childbirth in health, and a way to protect a tiny infant's immunity. An Orthodox friend of mine shared that her pediatrician, on learning this practice, said that she wished all churches taught this.

Since Nejat had a weakened immunity, we decided it would be wise to look to Mother Church for guidance. We had already come to the place that we wished to start this practice, but now, it was essential for her health. It was just to risky to introduce any other germs, bacteria, or viruses to her. So, I took 40 days of rest with her at home. I did miss much. I couldn't go to the girls' ballet recital (but we bought the video, and Rich took pictures for me), Jerome's t-ball games, Alexander and Dominic's fencing picnic. We couldn't allow even our own children to hold her until this time was over (and they scrubbed up as though entering the NICU/ICU before even going in the room with her). We were told not to allow anyone outside our immediate family to hold her until after she was six months old, and even then, only if they had not been exposed to serious illness.

It was a time of fear. It was a time of rest. It was a time of expectation. It was a time of weakness. It was a time of quiet. It was a time of learning. It was a time of creativity. Eventually, it was a time of strength. We had to lean on God each day. We had a brutal schedule of feeding her every two hours, which required waking a sleepy preemie newborn, sometimes stripping her naked to get her cold enough to wake up to eat, and since Rich had used all of his sick leave and vacation time with me in the hospital, he had to return immediately to work when we got home. Our other children had to do almost all of the cooking and cleaning and managing of our home, and Nejat had no margin of error. We were weighing her daily. She had been nursing so well, but was burning too many calories nursing, so we had to go to pumping and bottle feeding for the first three weeks or so. She was born at 4 pounds, 13 ounces, and by the time we brought her home from the NICU, only four days later, she was 4 pounds 4 ounces, well below the comfortable 10% weight drop. The day we were able to let her sleep through one feeding was a miracle. I learned hard lessons of literally crying over wasted milk, milliliters of it. A lack meant our daughter didn't eat. Even when I was permitted to nurse her directly (for two feedings a day), my supply was lower from the inefficiency of even a hospital grade, high end pump, and it was hard for all of us. Poor Rich woke one morning to his crying wife and tiny daughter who were on the couch having trouble nursing and me terrified of what it meant if our daughter couldn't gain enough weight to regulate her own temperatures and to develop. He told me to get him the next time, but more than that, he asked me to let go of my fear. He held my hands and prayed with me and pushed me to pray and give my fear to Him who casts out all fear. It was a time of refining.

I learned to lean on God in ways I never had to do before. We were watching for weight gains in half ounce increments. She grew, and she was able to nurse completely again, my supply came up, she passed her birth weight. She is doing well, though she is still much smaller than even our skinny babies are at this age. We've heard that she won't really catch up to her potential size and development until around two years old. Although she was born only a month early, since the trauma happened at two months prior to her due date, and we watched her growth and development in the hospital, we suspect that her body went from growth to development so she'd be ready to be born at any moment. She was so little, but she was able to do almost everything she needed to at birth. In some ways, though, it is like she was born two months earlier, so her development seems to match that. At first, she had excellent neck control from birth, she could nurse like a full term baby, she smiled right on time, rolled to her back on time, laughed close to on time, so I had hopes she'd just develop at a normal rate, but at nearly nine months, she still can't roll from he back to her stomach, though she's close and she can get on hands and knees and rock and scoots like nobody's business, she cannot sit up on her own, though she's getting there. At around 11 pounds, she just doesn't have the body mass to do this. We've only started her on tastes of some solid food because of this.

So, this year, as we walked through the Nativity season, we had a more intimate understanding of that time of separation and the time of purification. The first words Nejat heard from us were "I love you," and "Christ is risen!" They were the two most important things she needed to know. The first food she ate was the Eucharist, which was the most important food she could receive. A medicine for the soul and the body. Having lived through this experience has drawn us closer to God, to our faith, to each other, and as a family. It has distilled what is truly important and necessary about life and our faith to us. We are so much more dependent on the sacraments now, as those are truly the things that matter. We realize the reality of them in a way that we didn't before, even though we believed it before. So, coming to the Purification this year has been a deeper and richer experience, a more meaningful understanding of the faith that we hold.

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Recipe: Bierocks

Bierocks are a German hand food. A meal in one's hand. Meat in bread, as so many other cultures also make.

I've halved the recipe I make for our family, so this will produce more of an amount in line with the average sized family. However, these freeze really well, so you may want to double it anyway, and freeze the assembled, but not baked, bierocks in a single layer, then either seal in a vacuum bag or just put in freezer bags in the freezer and bake fresh when you want them again. This recipe is probably not authentic. I didn't know what kind of dough was used, so I used my pizza dough for it. This is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes from another meal, too.

2 recipes of pizza dough
1 pound ground beef
1 large onions, diced
2 cups sauerkraut
2 cups shredded cabbage
mashed potatoes (made from about a pound of potatoes, and thinned a little with milk)
Semolina or corn meal for the pan
Mustard, to serve

Brown the ground beef and onions together and add the sauerkraut and cabbage when the meat is fully browned and the onions are softened. Cook until the cabbage is soft, season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Divide the dough into 2 inch balls. Preheat the oven to 375 F and prepare baking pans by sprinkling with semolina so the bierocks will not stick.

Roll each ball of dough into a flat oval. Put a heaping tablespoon of mashed potatoes (maybe more, look at how much you have and judge for yourself) and about the same amount of the meat mixture in the dough. Seal up and lay in pan, seam side down. At this point, you can freeze the rolls for later baking if you wish.

Bake in preheated oven for about 25 - 30 minutes, until the dough is slightly browned and risen. Serve with mustard to dip, a salad, maybe some fruit.

I have, in times of great exhaustion, made giant ones like calzones and sliced them up for us. That also works, but it removes the self contained nature of this.

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