When you don’t have a lot of money, certain holidays like Easter can be stressful for parents. How do you reconcile your desire to make your children’s day special with the fact that you don’t have a lot of money to spare? Easter baskets are getting bigger and bigger, and church clothes are getting more expensive … not to mention the chocolate bunnies and Peeps. What do our children really need to be happy? Keeping it simple is usually the best choice. Let me tell you how a few potatoes changed the way I think about what I do for my own children.
Growing up, my sister and I would never have known if our family was struggling financially or not, but through thick or thin my parents were definitely thrifty. We did not always have the most expensive blue jeans or the trendiest tennis shoes, but we never went without food or new school clothes. As children, we also had plenty of toys and games, but one we never had was a Mr. Potato Head. Our Uncle Mike had one at his house, and, of course, when we went to see him Mr. Potato Head got a workout. We shared him nicely, and Mike always made sure we knew to put him away correctly. All his pieces had to be tucked safely inside his bulbous body before we left.
On the way home from Uncle Mike’s house, my sister and I would beg Mom to stop at a store on the way and buy us just one to share. Mom resisted our pleas and, as a parent now, I truly do not know how she resisted. At the time, we were too young to know that she had a point to make about not being able to always get exactly what you want when you want it. Mom offered us a deal. She would stop at the grocery store and get the two biggest potatoes she could find and then each of us would have one of our own to play with.
"Mama, a potato? A real potato?" we moaned.
On one trip from Uncle Mike’s house, she actually pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store threatening to drag us through the aisles to the pile of rough, scruffy potatoes. We didn’t want to play with a real potato. We wanted our mother to pull into the TG&Y and buy us a plastic potato with all the body parts.
For all those years, I thought our mom was so cruel-hearted. Not only were we denied the fun that is Mr. Potato Head, but she expected us to draw faces on a potato, give it a name and play dress up with it. We would never be caught playing "Potato Town" with real potatoes. The horror, we thought. At the time, we didn’t know the first Mr. Potato Heads were just plastic body parts children stuck into actual produce. Our mother wasn’t being cruel, she was being nostalgic!
Last fall, Jason and I took our children, Rolley Len and Cason, to the fair in Montgomery. They love to go on all the rides, but we also spend a lot of time in the exhibits. Chickens, rabbits, ducks and livestock always get a lot of attention from our kids every visit. This year the kids discovered a new interactive display with potatoes buried in a sand-filled box. The "potato farmer" asked children to help pick her potatoes and they were super excited to help. There was no prize or reward for finding the most potatoes, but they searched the sand over and over for the little potatoes hiding beneath the sand. Jason and I had to almost drag them away so other kids could search for the spuds.
Watching them play, it hit me that I was proud of Rolley Len and Cason. I was proud because they were not afraid to get dirty, they wanted to be helpful to the "farmer," and they didn’t need a prize to play the game. With plenty of imagination and good will, all they needed were potatoes and sand, and they were happy. In a time when children and teens feel entitled to the best in everything from high-tech phones to big loud trucks, it feels good to know that, at least right now, my children can be happy with just a potato instead of a store bought toy.
In February, Rolley Len said she wanted to make homemade Valentine’s Day cards. I got stickers, glue, markers, scissors and construction paper, and spread it out on her floor. Cason soon joined us to make his own. I watched as they enjoyed making something special for their friends at school. Cason picked out a colored piece of paper for each person by name, had me cut each into a heart, and then he chose a specific sticker for each one. Rolley Len made each Valentine an original work of art with stickers, messages and her artistic flair. Those Valentines they took to school may not have been the neatest or fanciest, but they were absolutely heartfelt.
I know this contentment will not last forever, though. Just last weekend, Pop and Pawpaw Willie took Rolley Len to get a mobile phone. Trust me - it is nothing fancy, but she LOVES having one. Yes, she is only 6 years old, but since Pop and Pawpaw got it for her it is okay. The lady at the phone store took the time to help them carefully enter five of Rolley Len’s grandparents’ phone numbers into her phone. Now she can call them whenever she likes, which is pretty often.
This Easter if you need to keep spending to a minimum, there are a few ways to do it without limiting your family fun. Check calendars of local churches and other organizations for Easter egg hunts. They are almost always free for all the children because the events are sponsored by the membership. One of the biggest in our area is at Kiesel Park in Auburn. The hunt is for children 12 and under, it is free, and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.auburnalabama.org/ParksDir/Brochure.pdf.
Jason and I take the plastic eggs we bring home, and use them for our own hunt at my in-laws’ house on Easter Sunday. Instead of refilling with more candy, we put loose change in the eggs. The kids do not care if it is only a penny or two in each one; they just like to hear them jingle when they pick up the eggs. The Easter Bunny does not leave over-the-top baskets for our children because Rolley Len and Cason will hide and play with the same eggs for a couple of weeks before moving on. We make a big deal of putting the change in their piggy banks, too; so it is also a good way to teach your children that every penny counts.
Whether you go all out for holidays or choose the thriftiest or homemade options, the most important thing you can do is enjoy the time you spend with your children and encourage them to get to know their family. In this issue, I have included some simple and inexpensive recipes for your Easter holiday. I hope your next holiday meal is a special one.
A twist on a Southern specialty
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges in light syrup
1 (8.25-ounce) can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2½ cups frozen whipped topping, thawed and divided
3/4 cup flaked coconut, toasted (optional)
1 (9-ounce) graham cracker crust
Toasted coconut, for garnish (optional)
Drain oranges and pineapple reserving 2 tablespoons pineapple syrup. Gently press oranges and pineapple between paper towels to remove excess juice.
Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add reserved pineapple syrup and condensed milk. Beat until smooth. Fold in 1½ cups whipped topping. Gently fold in orange pineapple mixture and coconut (if desired). Spoon filling into crust. Cover and freeze until firm.
Let pie stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving. Add whipped topping to top of pie and coconut, if desired.
RAISIN SAUCE for Easter Ham
1½ cups vinegar
1¾ quarts water
3 cups brown sugar
3 Tablespoons mustard
3 Tablespoons flour
1½ cups raisins
Mix dry ingredients. Add raisins, vinegar and water. Cook to a syrup and serve hot over ham. Makes 25 servings.
HAM CROQUETTES (from leftover ham)
2 cups cooked ham, chopped
2 Tablespoons celery, chopped
Nutmeg, to taste
¾ cup fine bread crumbs
1 egg, gently beaten
2 Tablespoons water
Grind ham very fine. Add celery and nutmeg. Mix well. Chill and mold into croquettes. Roll in crumbs then dip into egg and water. Roll again in crumbs. Fry in hot oil 2-5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
1 cup milk
3 Tablespoons flour
2-3 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)
Soften butter and blend with flour. Add milk and heat slowly. Stir occasionally as it thickens. Bring to a boil until it thickens. Pour over ham croquettes.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.