I’ve been thinking a lot about what my niece, CandidlyCaitlin had written in my post, But I Call Her Cait. The burdensome weight of knowing so much about what’s going on in the world can leave us feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and crippling us from even attempting to reach out to others or lend our efforts to improve the world around us.
Remember childhood, how simple and carefree life was? To us, our whole world consisted of the few blocks that made up our neighborhood. When we turn off the TV, radio and our phones, we can return to that. Our area of influence and care becomes focused to where it should’ve always been…our own small corner of the world. It’s easier than you think.
When Clay and I married, we bought a huge house in a brand new neighborhood. This house was the longest I’d ever lived in one place. When we sold it 5 years later, I still did not know one of my nieghbors names! We purchased a farm in the small town of Tuttle Oklahoma and it changed everything, including me.
We finished moving in around midnight and fell into the mattress on the floor. By morning, rifling through boxes for a coffee cup, my doorbell rang. The neighbor across the street had come to welcome me and knowing how tedious it is to unpack, sought to ease my burden by providing our dinner! She handed me a large pot of soup and a card with both her and her husbands phone numbers in case we should ever need anything! By nightfall, I had met all my neighbors, each one knocking at my door bearing gifts of welcome and offers to help with any needs that arose. This was true community experienced for the first time.
Leaving our small town home and moving to the lake 2 years ago, the most important thing we brought with us was the sense of community that we were blessed with there.
We moved in around the holidays so we went to the store and bought gift bags, festive holiday mugs, hot cocoa mix, ready whip, candy canes and small bottles of peppermint schnapps. Most items were purchased from the dollar store so for less than $10 each, we made gift baskets for the neighbors who share our cul-de-sac. We went door to door, greeting each with a warm welcome to the community we would form.
Putting our hearts where our talk is.
After our weekend guests had left for home, Clay busied himself with yard work while I took inventory of the remnants of my pantry. Clay noticed our newly widowed nieghbor walking her dog and stopped to visit a few moments where he learned that her sister was coming to visit the following weekend. He noticed too, that her yard had become overgrown.
When he finished mowing our yard, he went over to hers, mowing, weed eating, edging and blew the leaves off her porch so she’d have a nice place to sit in the shade. On his way back home, he stopped at another neighbors who’s mower had been broke down. He brought it back home, cleaned the carburetor, gas tank, checked the spark plug and replenished the oil, taking him back a running mower. Any wonder why I love this guy?
Our weekend guests had left a bunch of bananas and not wanting them to go to waste, I roasted them and made 3 loaves of banana nut bread. As with anything else, it appeared as though I was trying to feed an army. I used to think of this as a fault or flaw in myself, I simply cannot cook a small portion meal! But, just maybe, it’s my gift or talent. There’s always enough to ensure that no one is ever turned away hungry and always plenty to share. I carried a loaf to a young nieghbor friend and another to the widow.
Being frugal and a little bit lazy, I wanted to use the things I had on hand before building a whole new menu and shopping. I had 2 lbs of ground beef, leftover smoked ham, part of a bag of potatoes, some canned vegetables, a bag of dried beans, rice, few vegetables and peppers in the fridge.
Meal #1: Pinto beans seasoned with smoked ham, fried ham slices, au gratin potatoes and cornbread.
Au gratin Potatoes
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 5 cups thinly sliced peeled potatoes (about 6 medium)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
Preheat oven to 350°
In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a simmer. Add potatoes and allow to simmer until potatoes are par boiled and sauce is thickened.
Spoon enough potatoes to cover the bottom of a buttered dish then sprinkle with cheese. continue layering until all the potatoes are in the dish then top with cheese. Pour the sauce over the top. Lightly cover with foil and bake for 30 – 40 min until potatoes are tender.
While being budget frugal, why not be frugal with our time as well? I browned the 2 lbs of ground beef at once then seperated them for 2 separate dinners.
Meal #2: Minestrone Soup.
1 lb ground beef browned
4 tablespoons margarine
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 can Kidney beans drained and rinsed
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste. 1 can corn
1 can green beans. 3 cubed potatoes
1 quart Beef broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup elbow macaroni
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Melt butter or margarine in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots; saute for a few minutes. Add ground beef and brown.
Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, potato, stock, garlic, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer for approximately 1 hour until vegetables are barely tender.
Add pasta, and simmer for 30 minutes more. Correct seasoning, and serve hot with grated cheese.
While spending my afternoon in the kitchen peeling, dicing and simmering soup, the aroma filling our home with longing for cool autumn nights, I thought of the young couple who live nearest to us, how I hadn’t seen her for a while. I thought of her working all day and remembered how tired I’d been at the end of my days only to face having to cook dinner then clean the kitchen before I could rest. My heart felt for her then as I stirred my huge pot of soup, too large for just the two of us and wondered if she could use a cup of kindness today. I texted her at work telling her what I’d made for dinner and offered to bring them the same.
She enjoys my cooking and was so grateful for the simple kindess and an evening of rest. I found a loaf of sliced French bread in the freezer, thawed it then tucked pats of butter between it’s folds, wrapped it in foil and warmed it in the oven. As I saw her pull into her driveway, I carried up a serving bowl of the rich steaming soup and hot bread. The warmth of a thoughtful gesture can bring a smile to a stressful day.
Meal #3 Pepper Steak? Ok, so I didn’t have the paper thin steak that I like for this recipe but when making due, you use what you have. Clay was under the weather so he spent the day slipping in and out of sleep. He had mentioned the other night that he would love some brownies so I rifled through the pantry, collecting items for a simple brownie but found a few extra special ingredients. To the batter, I added a cup of oats, 1/2 c. chocolate chips, 1/2 c. peanutbutter chips and suprised my sickling with a hot gooey brownie topped with the last of leftover Vanilla Bean ice cream.
1 lb ground beef ( or thin sliced steak)
2 c. beef Broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium bell peppers, cut into strips
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup cold water
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
Brown the beef over medium high hear then add the onions, bell pepper and garlic. In a bowl, add Beef broth, water, soy sauce, red pepper flakes and corn starch. Pour over beef mixture and add tomatoes. Simmer until sauce has thickened. and serve over rice.
In short, dear friends…
Get to know your neighbors, the people you work with, the lady who checks you out at the grocery store. Introduce yourself, say hello, make eye contact and offer a smile! Make a point of knowing which of your nieghbors are sick, widowed, elderly, struggling, could use a hand or celebrating a special time and extend a simple kindness. How?
While making a pot of soup, carry a bowl to tired neighbor. Cook a meal for the family of a sick mother. While mowing your lawn, mow the lawn of the elder gentleman down the street or the widow next door, rake their leaves. Help the guy a couple of houses down build his fence. Invite the stay at home mother over for coffee or the guy doing lawn work, a beer.
Ask someone how they’re day is or how they are and ask it as though you are truly interested and listen. When asked genuinely, people usually really want to share it with you. Instead of critiques or criticisms, look for the best in others and offer a compliment to brighten their day. Offer a handshake, a hand, a hug, an ear.
Caring for the needs of others builds community. Being neighborly makes our corner of the world a great place to live. Being friendly makes good friends…And it all begins with simple kindness.