A Merry Culinary Christmas!

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

The holiday season is full of activity, parties, decorations, rituals, traditions and FOOD, no matter what faith you do or do not practice. While we all enjoy the music, gatherings with christmas friends, shopping for and giving gifts, time with family (we DO enjoy that, right?), I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a person alive who would say they don’t enjoy the food that accompanies the season.

My family attended a “cookie swap” at a neighbor’s house this year, which was great fun. In addition to the cookies, the kids dove into a giant pot of hot chocolate while the adults took advantage of my friend Heidi’s rum punch. The older kids made grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone and it was a great get-together. My husband brought along a high school friend and his family, who came through town on the way to Tennessee. These guys hadn’t seen each other since 1986. So, we ice skated then settled down to have sushi and Tex-Mex together (thanks, TakoSushi!)

This year my sister and her family came home from Houston for Christmas. My three-year-old niece made my mom aware that she had eaten snow crab legs at some point in time and was in need of her own “cracker.” Mom found lobster claw-shaped crab crackers for her and settled on us having a glorious seafood themed Christmas. And, trust me, there were no complaints here! So, on Christmas Eve I made crab cakes while mom and dad went to the airport to pick everyone up. We paired our crab cakes with my dad’s shrimp and grits, which was off the chain. This version involved a light brown roux, peppers and Andouille. Add some salad and it was off to the races.

On Christmas, we did the traditional ham (I LOVE ham!), sweet potatoes, broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese. My husband was delighted that my mother-in-law brought her deviled eggs, which he gives a blue ribbon. But the day after Christmas was crab legswhen Clara got her chance to break in her new crab cracker. Now, we all know that no sort of cracking device is necessary with Alaskan crab, but hey, she’s only three. We had a giant platter of snow crab, boiled corn and potatoes, and focaccia bread. Turns out, Clara is like most kids. While the cracker seemed so necessary & grown up at first, she prefers to have an adult just open up all the crab legs and place a pile of crab meat on her plate. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind that setup myself!

So, we had our culinary feasts to celebrate Christmas and it was just wonderful. I’m sure that you all had similarly satisfying suppers at your house. “Eat, drink and be merry” starts with the food because it’s the best part…it brings us together, demonstrates our love for each other and gathers us to the table to share our time with each other. Happy New Year and Bon Appetit to you all.

Elizabeth Akre is a mom, a Realtor®, and an avid and completely amateur home cook. She writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)” and would love to have you read and follow the blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Art of the Haggle

By: Lydia Scott

Both in my job and in my home life, haggling happens. At work, I help customers looking for used pieces, and I used to work with vendors as the buyer. At home, my husband and I run an eBay business. Nothing fancy, but it helps out when we need it to. Truth be told, dollarmy honey does most of the real work and I just take care of the financial red tape. In both situations, we come across the need to negotiate for something. Usually it’s prices for goods, but sometimes it’s services.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned when it comes to trying to negotiate to get what you want. These may not apply to all situations, but so far they have applied to smaller negotiations like eBay sales, small furniture sales, yard sales, thrift store shopping, and even vendor negotiation. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the provider of goods or services as a “seller.”

1. Don’t low ball.

Insulting the seller by starting off with a low ball offer is a bad idea. Why? Because it insults the seller and shows a lack of concern for their need to make a profit. Basically, giving you what you want is purely a matter of whether the provider actually wants to, or not. It’s your job to make them want to help you out by selling their goods for less than the asking price. See #4, below. As the seller, we’ve had potential customers offer half (or less) of the asking price, and when we come back with a price that’s only a few dollars less than the original price, they stick with the low ball. That’s when the negotiations stop, and if they try to continue with the low ball, our offered price will actually increase. You wanna save some money, and we need to make some. Be fair or move along. Offering $100 on a $200 item is not a fair start in most instances. You’ll have more success by starting at a price that’s 10% to 30% lower than the asking price than you will starting at 50% lower. You want room to negotiate, but that does not equal half price.

2. Listen.

When the provider says “that’s the lowest I’ll go” the first time, feel free to come back with an offer below that number once more, but still higher than your last offer. But if he repeats that X dollars is the lowest he can take, either match it or walk away because you’re wasting time and increasing the chance that the seller won’t accept any offer from you later on no matter how much he wants to sell. Which bring us to….

3. Timing.

Pay attention to when the goods were put up for sale, and don’t be one of the first few responders unless you’re willing to pay close to the original price. Wait until your seller starts to get nervous. Once some time has passed and they still haven’t gotten the interest they hoped for, they are more willing to say goodbye to a higher amount of their profit than risk not selling their goods at all. Yes, that means you may lose out on your item, but really, if you weren’t willing to pay the asking price to make sure you got the item, was it that important to you? If your answer is “no,” then give it some time, and try haggling or try haggling again if you’d already been to the seller once before. (See how not insulting him with a low ball can work in your favor now?)

4. Make them like you.

This goes back to number 1. If you approach the seller with a smile (or if online, a friendly, caring, respectful attitude), and you keep the banter friendly and light-hearted, you’re more likely to make the seller actually like you, and then want to say “yes” to your offer. You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar, so be real, and be real friendly.

At the end of the day, both the buyer and the seller have the same goal: to make a profit. The seller needs to rid himself of goods for a price that helps him pay his bills. The buyer needs to obtain goods for a price that helps him keep his bills paid. See? Same goal. With a smile and a reasonable expectation, you can both go home happy and with some change in your pocket!

What about you? What techniques have you helped you save some cash when haggling for something you needed (or wanted)?

I’ll Be Write Back

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. ~Norbet Platt

I’ve never called myself a writer, but writing is an important part of who I am. I still have one of the first things I remember writing. It’s a letter to my father, awkwardly lettered, full of misspellings and written on bright yellow notebook paper, circa 1970s. Computers and pencil and paper 2keyboards have long replaced those wonderful Husky pencils and yellow paper, but the magic is still the same. I still love bold pencils, soft erasers and the challenge of blank paper, no matter the color.

In college, I had an epiphany that writing was my way of exploring my feelings, making sense of a crazy world and sorting the personal wheat from the chaff. I enjoyed writing for people I love, like the piece on being an adult at the holiday kid’s table at my grandmother’s house or the college updates I sent my dad when he was hospitalized. I loved firing off impassioned pleas against an injustice, whether it be a letter to the editor pleading the case of an underdog or a complaint letter about a chicken claw found in a chicken noodle soup. (Yes, that really happened!) And I discovered lists, word maps and diagrams, and used them daily to clear my mind and keep me moving forward.

Since college, I’ve written a lot. Press statements for politicians, copy for sales teams and letters for bureaucrats. Non-profit grant applications, government web site copy, newsletter articles galore. Emails, texts, social media posts and the enigmatic 140-character Tweet. And, of course, I write for the Every Woman Blog and my own LeanGreenMP.com, too.

Despite a full portfolio and ever expanding electronic trail, somewhere along the way, I lost my voice. I limited my words to others, and I forgot myself. Don’t get me wrong. I love using words to make a living. But the last few years, months – heck, even the last couple of weeks – I’ve run up against some emotional, complicated and/or otherwise challenging stuff. And for some reason, I haven’t taken pencil to paper.

Starting with this post, I’m going to work hard to rededicate myself to exploring my world through writing. You’ll probably start seeing more personal posts about my wellness journey on the blog, but a lot of what I do, I hope to keep in a special notebook, just for me. More like it used to be. And I’m hoping that, like Norbet Platt says, it just might help me regain my equilibrium.

Christmas Books

By: Leah Prescott 

Christmas books are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. I have a large collection of vintage classics and newer favorites that I’ve read to my children again and again. Some, like “Frosty the Snowman,” are books my parents read to me years ago and the words are as familiar as the ornaments passed down from generation to generation. Others are funny and silly and make my toddler smile, like “Snowmen at Night.”

Christmas books

There is one particular book that will always hold special meaning to our family. Though not a book I would normally have chosen for our collection, it has become very dear to me over the last few years. This book is called “Silent Night.” It’s a huge board book with glossy thick pages, and a bright yellow star button that plays music and lights up the entire page as the words tell the story of Jesus’ birth. And it just so happens that we have two identical copies of the exact same book.

Christmas books

One day when my twins were a little over one, we were doing some holiday shopping at Sam’s Club. I was trying to find gifts for family members as well as groceries for the next few busy weeks, all while wrangling twin toddlers at the height of flu season. To say I was stressed is a huge understatement. While I tried to shop, I gave the girls each a book from the toy section to occupy their attention. A woman approached me and started talking to me about the girls. I don’t remember much about our conversation but I remember her kindness. A few minutes later she found me at the front of the store and pressed $25 into my hand. She wanted to buy those two books for my girls.

Christmas books

I was amazed and touched. Seven years later I am still amazed and touched. I don’t remember that stranger’s face or know her name but I will never forget her sweet, unexpected gift. For me, that gesture meant so much more than two identical books for my children. It meant much more than the amount on the receipt. It meant that someone saw me, where I was that day. She saw me and cared about me enough to stop and chat. On a day when I was tired and discouraged and overwhelmed to the point of tears, that woman showed me the love of Jesus right in the checkout line of Sam’s Club. And I will always remember it.

Last night I read Silent Night yet again, this time to my little son. I told all three children the story of a stranger giving us a gift that meant so much to me. I’m reminded that we can show God’s love in unexpected ways, and it can make a lasting impact, even on a stranger. I’m reminded that even small acts of kindness can point people to the greater Gift of the Season.

Mistakes

By: Shannon Shull

Miss Chloe BarlowI have the honor and pleasure of teaching an incredible amount of talented students at Chapin Middle School – 166 students to be exact. Their unique talents impress me on a daily basis.

Most recently, Chloe Barlow, one of my 8th grade honors drama students, shared a poem with me. I was so touched by the depth of her writing. Her words ring so true and are so thought provoking. I asked her (and her parents) if I could share her poem in my blog and fortunately she was happy to let me. So please enjoy her words and let them sink in. I’m sure Chloe’s brilliance will take her to great places in her lifetime and I thank her for sharing it. 😉

-Shannon 

Mistakes by Chloe Barlow

Mistakes are a symptom of life.

They are unavoidable;

no matter how hard you try, we all go through them

And learn from them.

Yet somewhere in the quest to become perfect,

we disown those mistakes,

those very mistakes that make us who we are.

We place the blame where it is unwarranted,

trying to take the shame off of ourselves.

But somehow fault always finds its way home.

Home to our restless souls,

ever blackened by our troubled thoughts.

For it is those thoughts that make us human.

They themselves are the mistakes we live by,

even thrive on.

Those thoughts are the essential factor in determining who we are,

Those thoughts are the boundaries as to what we can become.

Disowning our mistaken thoughts is like disowning ourselves.

Without them, we would be nothing more than an irrelevant waste of space.

Handpicked

By: Katie Austin

Today is the day. They knew when they woke up that morning that life would be forever changed. It’s like Christmas morning, except you know the gift you are about to unwrap and the responsibilities that come with it. All of the planning and preparation comes down to this one moment.

I wonder what they were thinking when they traveled to their appointment, knowing that their family would grow by one when they left? Happiness. Joy. I could only imagine the excitement was building as they left their house, everything coming together for the next chapter in their life.

How do you pick when there are so many to choose from?

There are so many things to consider. You want to look them over and find one that isn’t too playful yet not to bashful. One that you instantly connect with, that captures your heart when you look into their eyes. That special connection that happens in an instant. You know then that you can’t wait to take them home to become part of your family.

Katie's parentsI wonder if that is how they felt? How I would feel adopting a new member into my family?

You see, this isn’t a pet we are talking about. It was me that my parents brought home that day.

I was adopted before celebrating my first birthday. My biological parents were in college at the time and I would venture to say that I wasn’t part of their degree planning. I was born January 28, 1968 and put up for adoption. I could only imagine how hard it was for her. To birth me and then let me go. I am so thankful that she decided to have me, to give me the opportunity at life. What a gift I was left with. To let me go not knowing how my life would turn out or who would raise me.

My adopted parents were trying to have a child of their own but it wasn’t working out. What they didn’t realize at the time was that God had plans for them to have a son later. My parents went through the the adoption process and in the end, it was me that they took home. I know the process works differently than adopting a pet, as you get to look the group of them over to pick out the one you want to take home. I often kid with my parents that they should have taken more time to pick out the less active one as it might have been easier raising me, especially during my teenage years 😃

But, I truly feel that they didn’t pick me out but that God picked them out for me. I am so incredibly blessed with the parents and brother that I have! They have always been there for me even when I didn’t know it or was too busy in life to appreciate it. My teen years are an example of that but in college, I had an epiphany. I realized that no matter what happened, my parents were there to listen, give advice and to extend a hand to help me get back up. They had always been there and would continue to be there.

During my cancer fight in 2010, my parents were with me at every doctor visit, scan, chemo/radiation treatment, surgeries, and everything in between. We were called the ‘A Team’ because between my parents, husband and myself, we were prepared to fight my cancer head on. Through the highs and lows, my parents were there. No matter what I was faced with, they were standing there with me. When I was at my lowest, it was my mom who told me “Kate, it’s a walk in faith. You just have to keep believing and take this one step at a time.” That was the turning point for me. I knew then that I had to keep fighting. They never stopped believing that I would one day be in remission. They kept me laughing, gave me a shoulder to cry on, and were with me every step of the way. They stopped everything they were doing in their own lives to help save mine.

I am often asked when people find out that I am adopted if I would like to find my parents. I smile and tell them “Why would I need to look for them when they are already here.” I have been blessed with the most amazing, wonderful, caring, loving parents and I thank God every day for bringing me into their lives. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. This world is a better place because they are in it. I love you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for picking me. 💖

Wishing each of you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year!

 

Happy Birthday to My Favorite Cow

By: Lara Clark

I recently read an article about cows and how they are one animal that scientists believe have a best friend. In the article it said, “When heifers have their preferred partner with them, their stress levels in terms of their heart rates are reduced compared with if they were with a random individual.”

SONY DSCThis got me thinking about these “preferred partners” or best friends and how true these affects might be.

Today is my best friend’s birthday. If you have spent any time with me, you know about my best friend. We met our first day of college. I can tell you what she was wearing…fun fact about me: I can tell you what most people are wearing on significant days. We lived together for almost 8 years after college and before marriage. I joke that we should have just bought a duplex together – sort of joke, sort of a good idea.

This post does not need to be the history of our friendship-mostly because it is only funny to us and can be a little freaky (Example: our husbands work at the same place, our children are weeks apart, and there was a time that we spoke in an accent particular to each other – kinda like a best friend dialect…drove our boyfriends (now husbands) crazy.

But this is what I will post – there are parts of our friendship makes us better wives, better mothers, and better friends. I am thankful for this special cow.

When we no longer lived together it was unnatural for us not to talk every day about mundane things, so we instituted a 9 a.m. phone call every morning on the way to work. Now it is after kid drop-off and before work – a small moment of adult conversation. During this time we talk about really important stuff like marriage, potty training and new shoes. We share frustrations, fears, and laughs all in about 10 minutes. The calls are important for a variety of reasons and we joke that we have saved hundreds on therapy, but I think there is one simple ingredient that make these calls matter so much. For those 10 minutes, I know I am talking to my girl power teammate. These mornings are strictly for GIRL TALK-chatting about being a mom, a wife, friend or just plain being female. We have similar roles as wife, working mom, we have the same body parts, hormones, and our long special history. Talking every morning balances me out. I bet these calls have been lowering my stress level for years.

The second thing about a best friend is this: A best friend may tell you when you are wrong or that maybe you need “a little perspective,” but before that conversation ends you know that they stand up for you, if need be. Good friends are invaluable because they can be a cheerleader. but may not always be up for the messy business of truth telling. That’s what a best friend is for. Truth telling and back=up. Who doesn’t need that every once in a while?

I have been blessed with this friend for many years (more than I will tell). We have cried over boyfriends, laughed at our weddings, and held hours-old babies together. Happy Birthday, Cow! This friendship, the phone calls and the occasional dose of reality keep me relatively sane. Everyone should hug their cow today!