Monday, December 26, 2011

The Gift of Gifts

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Funniest 2 Year Old:  Vera
Cutest Tax Deduction:  Lydia (born Apr 15th)
Craziest/Most Loved Dog:  Marlow
Best Scenery:  Rocky Mtn. Ntl. Park
Longest Running House Project:  Laundry Room cabinets
Most Listened To Album:  Josh Garrels,
"Love &War & The Sea In Between"
Most Comforting Weeknight Activity:  "Parenthood" on Netflix
with fresh popcorn
Best Description of God's Love: 
"Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever"
(The Jesus Storybook Bible)

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Progression of a Quiet Time

Quiet Time:  a 'Christianese' term for a time set aside reading the Bible, praying, and listening to God; being quiet in His presence so that we can hear from Him.

I try to have a QT every day.  Why?  Because it's a moment focusing simply on the relationship I have with my Creator.  It centers me.  It reminds me of Whose I am and who I am.  When my life is in order, I usually get up early before the kids in the morning to do it.  When my life is not in order (which is most of the time), I squeeze it in during nap time or during breakfast, doing it in front of the girls while they eat.  It looks different every day.  Some times I just read, just write, just pray, or am just quiet before Him.

Last Monday I spent it soaking in the lyrics of the Christmas song, O Holy Night.  Some powerful lines that popped out to me:  The weary soul rejoices.  His law is love.  His Gospel is peace.  In His name all oppression shall cease.

I then moved on to study the lyrics of my all-time favorite hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.  What makes it my favorite is the story behind the words.  Have you read about it?

The gist is that the writer endured many trials.  His 4-year old son died of Scarlet fever.  His heavily invested real estate properties were completely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.  His wife and four daughters set sail on a ship that collided with another, resulting in the death of his girls.  He received a telegram from his wife that said, "Saved alone."  Upon hearing this news, his heart cried out and he penned the powerfully written song.  The first verse is amazing, considering it was the ocean waters and storm that overtook his daughters. 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul. 

Chorus:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Pretty incredible, right?  No matter life's circumstances, I want the echo of my heart to be "Praise the Lord, O my soul." (Ps. 146:1)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making It Stretch

Chris and I each get $30 a week for our personal spending money.  Anything that does not fit it the categories of groceries and gas has to be purchased using our weekly cash.  Some weeks it's easier than others to make it last through Friday.  Other weeks it's more difficult.  It is Wednesday and my money is already gone.  Here's how I spent it.

$2.50     French Press coffee at Thunderbird Coffee
$2.15     oatmeal at Whole Foods
$5.00     Christmas gift
$7.82     stuff at Home Depot (supplying my Pinterest addiction)
$13.00   jeans at Old Navy (I had a Groupon and store credit in addition)
----------
$30.47

Considering I've got Thursday and Friday yet, I'll depend on the coinage in my change purse if I need anything.  Most weeks I think it's a fun challenge to stay within our means.  But I could do a better job and especially need a boost this time of year when spending comes so easily.
--
Anyone else live on a budget?  Love?  Hate?

Monday, December 12, 2011

There's Some Impressive Lights In Our Hood


Sunday, December 11, 2011

You've Got Mail

It's true.  Sometimes I am too lazy and too cheap to go to a store to find real toys for my kids.  But hey, it makes their imagination work harder, right?  :)  And look how happy she is--not tainted in the slightest.  What comes to my mailbox as junk mail is treasure to my 2 year old.  She loves to go get the mail and if her name is on it, then that's more mommy points for me.  She rips it up and looks through it with concentration, then has a ball pretending some more that someone sent her mail.  Sweet, gullible thing.  And yes, that's my baby in the background ingesting some of Vera's "mail."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What It Looks Like When I Am Wanting To Be Irresponsible

Chris walks in the door and these are his observations:

Vera is watching the Sesame Street credits roll (for who knows how long).
There is a humongous dough pile that has risen 3x it's size sitting on the counter in a bowl.
There are unpacked groceries still sitting in the bags all over the kitchen floor.
The trash is smelly and needs taken out.

And I am on the computer looking at shoes online.

Friday, December 09, 2011

And I'm Imperfectly Ok With It

Under no circumstances do I want you to come to this blog, read it, and leave with the sense that I have my act together.  Despite the crafting kicks I get on, staying up way too late or the occasional organized weekly menus, I don’t have my act together.  My life is far from perfect.  You don't need all the deets, but trust me.  I just follow a good God who gets me through it all.

I was perusing pictures of spray painted lamp stands last week because I am considering changing the color of the ones in our bedroom.  I came across a picture of a nightstand and I noticed how unrealistically perfect and dull it was.  Three things were on it.  Something fancy made by Steve Jobs, something that probably smelled like roses in heaven, and a perfectly placed designer magazine.  Perfect layered on perfect, with a dash of perfect.  I'm pretty sure my nightstand is a dusty clutter of books that I’m currently ignoring.   There's a baby monitor and water marks and used tissues.

While we're there, you should also know that I have to put my phone in the trunk of my car while driving to keep myself from texting and driving.  Every time I've done it, what goes through my head is, Carey!  You have your precious babies in the car with you.  What are you thinking?  Put the phone away!  Yet for whatever reason, I still do it.

There's visible dog hair on my carpet.  I let my anger get to me.  My trash smells like poop.  Hubs and I get in fights.  My kid's finger nails are dirty.  I haven't brushed my teeth yet today and it's nearing 2 o'clock.  That's barely scratching the surface and only the stuff that's blog-appropriate to share.  I don't have it all together, folks.

Embracing the Scarf

I have several scarves in my closet, most of which were given to me as gifts.  They are beautiful and I like the concept of wearing one, but I'm never sure how to do it without feeling a little awkward.  My goal this season has been to wear one once a week.  I've consulted this guide more than once to give me a boost of confidence in how I should wear them.
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Is there an article of clothing that you own that makes you feel a little awkward?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Tub Time

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Merry Christmas To Me

 
It was my goal this year to make as many people's Christmas gifts as possible.  I have been mostly successful, even for my difficult-to-buy-for-hubby, and it has been really fun.  I stay up late a couple nights a week for hours while everyone in my house is sleeping.  It is energizing to work by myself on projects and not be needed by anyone.  I have had piles of 'ingredients,' if you will, of stuff to complete these projects.  They had been mounding and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, so I promised myself I wasn't going to start anything new until all of my started on things were finished.  One of those things was this pillow that I made for myself.  Well, for our bed, actually.  It needed some kind of personalization.  West Lafayette, Indiana is where Chris and I met, fell in love, and got married.  Needless to say, it will always be a special place to the both of us.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Why I Run {This Is Church}

When picking up the race packet at the Expo on Saturday, I found a booth that was asking people to write down their reason that they run and say it in front of a camera for the news.  Why do I run?  That seemed like such a deep question to answer so quickly.  There are so many reasons.  I have to pick just one?  Because I was with a friend and we were headed out, I wrote down the first one that came to mind, but I've been camping out on this question all weekend.

Yes, one reason I run is to set an example of a healthy, active lifestyle and be a role model for my daughters.  If momma is healthy and happy, then that's a good recipe for teaching the daughters to be so, right?  I want them to grow up thinking it is normal and fun be physically active.  I want them to not be afraid to get dirty and sweat hard.  I want them to enjoy moving and exercise.  I don't want it to be a rigid, legalistic thing but more so something that is innately ingrained in how they live their lives.  They don't write "exercise" on their calendars, but instead head out for a run in between homework and TV because it matters to them and makes them feel alive and good.

But there are other reasons, too.

One thing I love about running is that it's just me and the road.  There is no one helping me or hindering me.  I've* got to come up with the strength and drive to do it.

It is the best mental release I've found.  With music or without, I zone out from mommy-hood, life's problems, and all other worries.  It gives me emotional balance.

I love that I don't have to watch what I eat.  It's worth it for that alone.

It makes me feel strong, empowered, and motivated in life.

It really feels good to know that I am taking care of my heart, lungs, and muscles.

When I am out on a run, I often get to a place where it just feels holy.  I don't have any other explanation except that I feel that it honors God.  Perhaps it's tapping into the way He created humanity to be; physically using our bodies and doing hard work.  When I am pushing myself and sweating, I often tell Him "Thank You, God, for creating my body to work hard."  I love experiencing a life opposite of laziness.  It makes me feel alive.  And it makes me feel closer to God.  There's something about the stillness when it's just me and the road.  Using my body in this way, I have experienced worship on a whole new level, and on those runs, I feel, this is church.

Christ in me, cuz really, I'm nothing without Him.

My Second Half Marathon

This was by far my most fun race yet!  It couldn't have been more perfect than running with a friend that I've known since middle school!  Stephanie just moved outside of Dallas this year so it made perfect sense for us to run The Dallas White Rock Half Marathon together.  We kept the pace with each other pretty well and made the time go by fast by being in conversation the whole time.  It was a blast!

Here's a quick recap (so I can remember in the future more than anything else):

The weather was awful!  It was pouring down rain and we were drenched the entire time.  Our feet were soaking wet from all the puddles and nothing was dry on us.  It was so cold, too.  The temps were in the high 30s, which is freezing in Texas.  I started off with a poncho, over-sized jacket, gloves, ear warmers, and then two layers of shirts.  By the middle of the race, I was warm enough to shed the poncho and jacket and gloves.  Though the conditions were unideal, it didn't put much of a damper on our moods.  We were excited to run.

That morning I slept through my alarm clock (of course), but woke up in the nick of time to throw on my clothes, eat some toast with peanut butter, do my pre-race dump, down a couple glasses of water and head out the door.  Stephanie and I had planned a rendezvous point to meet up in downtown Dallas before heading to the race.

Miles 1-5 went by like a blur.  We talked the entire time and were laughing at funny things we saw.

Mile 6:  I got emotional seeing a quadruple amputee running the race alongside me and everyone else.  It was so inspiring and I thought, If they can do this, I certainly can, too.  I also got a text at this point from a friend who took a picture of her and her daughter holding up a sign, rooting me on, from Austin!  It was so thoughtful and meant so much to me since no one was at the race cheering for me.  I ran with my phone and was able to read other texts I'd received from friends while running.  It was so encouraging!

Miles 7-9 were still on the easy scale.  I was actually really surprised by how manageable, enjoyable, and easy it was at this point.  I decided to kick it into gear and run faster.  I was still feeling really great and had tons of energy.  I put in my ear buds to zone out and listened to music.  I found the 2:10 pacer and kept up with him.  Whenever there were people cheering on the side, I'd hold my hand out to get some high fives from strangers.

Miles 10-12:  I was ready to start seeing mile markers by this point.  More than anything else, it started being a mental battle.  I knew I could do it but really wanted to beat my previous time, so I tapped into my reserve of mental power and busted it out.  At this point, I started focusing on my breathing and elongated my stride.

Miles 12-13:  Ready to get 'er done and still felt strong and optimistic.  Felt like I could keep going a few more miles, but was glad to see the Finish Line.  My final time was 2:16 which was 20 minutes faster than my last half marathon, so I was pleased.  Looking back, I think I could have finished in less than 2:10 if I'd increased my speed earlier.  Good to know for next time, I guess.

Once through the Finish Line, I slowed to a brisk walk to allow my heart rate to come down.  I walked as far as I could until the masses of people started piling up.  I found a spot to stretch until I met up with Stephanie.  After we had caught our breath and had a moment to rest, we both commented how we felt like we could run a few more miles at that point.  Not that we were going to.  :)

We were given heat sheets to keep us warm and were stupid to let those go after we'd warmed up inside because the walk from the pavilion to the car was miserable.  We were so.incredibly.cold. Our lips were blue, were were shaking, and we wanted to fall on the ground and cry in a fetal position.  The race started and ended on the Texas State Fair grounds, so you can imagine how many parking lots they have and how far we had to walk to get back.

All in all, a fantastic race which I would do again in a heartbeat.  I've caught the running bug, ya'll.  Today I am feeling pretty well and not too sore.  Last night I felt like someone had drilled a screw into the middle of both knee caps, but a good night's rest did me good.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

DIY Holiday Decor: Letters

I have to start off by saying I did not make these myself, but was actually gifted them from my in-laws!  I had similar gold letters that I bought several years ago that read "Noel" that I put out every Christmas, but I am convinced that they were my arch nemesis of all my holiday decor.  For the life of me, each year I could never figure out where to put them or how to arrange them.  It was the kind of thing that at the time I paid way too much money for, but hindsight is 20/20, I guess.  The previous letters ended up breaking this weekend.  They were just not designed well and ended up falling off the mantel and shattering.  I took that as a sign that I was being released from them!  :)  However, I did really like the idea of them, so my in-laws (who stayed with us for Thanksgiving) surprised me and went to the craft store to make me some similar ones.  They spray painted them and secured them on sturdy blocks (painted white to blend in with the mantle) so they would not tip over.  I have to say that I like this version ten times more than the old ones.  What a thoughtful gift, right?

My mother-in-law helped me decorate the house for Christmas this past weekend.  It was fun to do it with someone else.  She's really good at arranging things for display.  And if you are curious about the stockings, my mom hand made those for us!  I love them and they mean so much more than store bought stockings.  There are some creative women in my family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

DIY Advent Calendar

I love this idea (taken from here) for an Advent Calendar.  What a fun what to create your own board with stuff you already have around.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Look Down and Smile at the Ground, Tilt Your Hip, Angle Your Leg and You've Got It

In general, I would say that I'm clueless about fashion.  I'm not a big shopper and I have several pieces of clothing that I still wear from high school.  I don't keep up with trends but I do enjoy looking nice and feeling put together.  I was at a second hand store recently and came upon a couple of nice items that I thought I could pull off, but I wasn't sure how.  Thank goodness for Pinterest!  I typed in "black blazer" and "denim dress" and it pulled up a ton of options, a few of which I really liked.  The pictures below sold me on them and I walked up to the cashier.
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My Favorite Fashion Blogs
These are my favorite go-to places for inspiration, although I always make fun of fashion bloggers 'stances' when they are posing for the camera.  :)

Jen Loves Kev-- I just adore her and I don't even know her!
Kendi Everyday--I like her style, but she shops at places that are too expensive for me.
What Would A Nerd Wear--Fun blog concept.  Some outfits are winners, some losers.  Wish she'd cut her hair!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just So I Remember

 At 25 months old, Vera...
...is obsessed with doing somersaults, however precarious they may be.
...is beginning to identify emotion with words such as happy, sad, and mad
...likes to laugh alongside anyone.
....loves to color!
...drew a picture of a cat.
...sings songs on her own.
...knows the names of colors.
At 7 months, Lydia...
...crawls and sits on her own.
...feeds herself finger foods.
...bounces when she hears music.
...jabbers like it's nobody's business.
...lights up when I walk in the room.
...loves being held.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

These Times Are Fleeting


Have you ever had to get up out of bed for something, but you were in the most comfortable position ever and wanted to remember exactly how it felt? You study how your arm is laying and at what angle your legs are so that you can climb back into bed and feel that same exact comfort?  I do that with my babies, too.  What I mean is that I know these times are fleetingSometimes I will catch an expression or will study how it feels to be holding my baby so that I can lock it into my memory as best I can.  I don't want to forget what it's like to see Lydia gleefully clicking her tongue, imitating me.  I don't ever want to forget how it feels to hold Vera after she's been freshly bathed, smelling her hair, touching her soft skin, hearing her echo the words I am reading in a book.  I wish it were possible to hold these memories in a jar so that years down the road when my heart aches for my littles, I could open it up and remember exactly what it was like.

But we can't do that.  

So instead I settle for leaving smudged handprints on my front door, even for company to see.
I keep her blankie unwashed for awhile longer just so I can smell her night time lotion and picture her cuddled in my lap.
I leave a few crumbs in her car seat that show just how much she enjoyed that snack on the ride home.

They are my reminders of the incredible gifts they are in my life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pantry Chocolate Cake Saves The Day

You know why they call it 'Pantry Cake', right?  Because most likely you have all the ingredients on hand, in your pantry already, which meant Hallelujah-Praise-the-Lord in my book.  You see, last week I got my second speeding ticket within 3 months.  The first one occurred as I was driving my screaming kids home after a morning of holding both of them on my lap as I gave blood.  Both arms were poked, of course, since my veins are hard to get into, so I'm driving home with both elbows wrapped and can't bend my arms and I'm trekking a little too fast (10 over, I think) on the interstate home.  Though you don't want to have mercy on this momma, Officer, guilty as charged. 
Second ticket happened last week and I thought for sure the reason I got pulled over was that our permanent plates are not on the van yet and maybe the paper one was expired.  I definitely wasn't speeding because the speed limit is 65mph.  Buuut, apparently I was going 9 over the speed limit which warranted him in writing me yet another golden ticket to ComedyDriving.com.  Awesome.  To make matters worse, he came up to my window and mumbled a bunch of words in a harsh tone.  Since I was clueless at that point why I was pulled over, I said, "Say that again?"  Okay, maybe I should have rephrased but that's what came out at the time.  He thought I was being smart and threatened some kind of additional charge of disrespect.  What the crap, man?  I'm driving an Odyssey and clearly have no malicious intention as I hold a naked plastic doll in my lap while "Praise Baby" Lullaby tunes play in the background.  He gives me a talkin-to, writes me my ticket, and walks away.  I try to gather myself but I am just pissed.  Tears spill and I hear Vera's little whisper from the back, "Momma crying."  Sweet girl...yeah mommas cry, too.  This second speeding ticket (costing $170 a pop) occurred the morning after I had a conversation with my husband about how I feel like I've been spending too much money the last couple of weeks.  He agrees, so this situation didn't help.  Gah.

Hence, Pantry Chocolate Cake.  Yes, sometimes I eat my feelings.
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Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Pantry Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee (optional)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a foil sling and grease the foil.  Whisk the cocoa and the boiling water together in a small bowl.  Let the mixture cool slightly.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder (if using) together.  In a medium bowl, whisk the vegetable oil, egg, vanilla, and cooled cocoa mixture together.  Stir the oil mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.
3.  Give the batter a final stir with a rugger spatula to make sure it is completely mixed.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter.
4.  Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  Let the cake cool completely in the pan, 1 to 2 hours.

Quick Chocolate Frosting

Makes enough to frost an 8-inch cake or an 8-inch pan of brownies
After the cake has cooled for about 1 hour, melt 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil together in the microwave, stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes.  Cool the mixture until barely warm, about 5 minutes, then spread evenly over the cake or brownies with a spatula.  Continue to let the cake cool until the topping is set, 1 to 2 hours. If your kitchen is too warm for the frosting to set (like mine was) then place cake in fridge for 10 to 20 minutes to set the frosting.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Menu Making

I wrote a post awhile ago about my process of menu planning.  I get started mid-week and hope it is complete by Friday evening since I shop on Saturdays.  It is a task that usually takes a couple of days, but I love to see the week's menus come to completion.  (Okay, maybe I get a little too excited about it.)

Now that you know my process, here's another 'What We're Eating This Week' for ya.  For the sake of freshness, you'll notice we eat our fish first (fish deliveries arrive Tuesdays and Saturdays where I shop), then our meat, and onto the rest of the meals.  Sunday doesn't count though.  I'm off on Sundays.  That bread will be baked the night before and the slow cooker will be doing the magic for the chowder.

Sun.
Mon.
Trout with Almonds and Orange Zest
Porcini and Parsley Farro
Green Salad with Granny Smith Apples and Beets
Tues.
Turkey Burger with Spinach, Chevre, and Cranberry Sauce
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Lime Juice and Cilantro
Wed.
 Night out with Girlfriends--frozen pizza for hubs
Thurs.
Wheat Couscous
Wilted Garlicky Spinach
Fri.
out with hubs
--
How do you plan your meals?  Any helpful tips?

Friday, November 11, 2011

By Far, Her Best Birthday Gift

My mom is an amazing woman.  One of her many gifts is being a skilled seamstress.  For Vera's birthday, I asked if she could make some doll clothes.  Not only did she exceed my expectations, but she went all out on the details.  The pictures don't do them justice.  They are just darling and Vera has had so much fun dressing and undressing (and dressing and undressing) her babies.  I am so impressed and wanted to brag.  :)
Different fabrics, textures, and styles of clothing to choose from.
She is so creative!!
 
What cute little details!
I love this little outfit. It makes me think of watching "Little House on the Prairie" growing up.  It's got little white pantaloons to go with it.
She topped off this project with a Purdue cheerleader outfit.  Perfect!

These are the types of presents that mean so much more than anything store bought.  Handmade by my mom, these are priceless gifts that we will treasure forever!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Fun With Junk Mail

When Chris and I first got married, we would tear open the junk mail and stuff it back inside the prepaid envelopes and send it back to the marketing companies.  The things we did for a laugh back then.  :)

Now, in my more mature years (ha), I've found a somewhat productive activity in which to use the advertisements.  This being only Vera's second time using scissors, I definitely had to help her cut, but she enjoyed the challenging task.  We flipped through the junk mail, she would identify objects, then we'd cut them out together and tape them on a black poster board.
I find it interesting the things she picked out.  Coffee, for example, and boots.  For a quick clean-up, we picked up all the scrap paper and chucked it in the recycling bin.
 
Then we flipped over the poster board and got out the chalk.  I think she enjoyed breaking the chalk into little pieces more than scribbling.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Let's Wait a Month To Call These Gingerbread Cookies

While a culinary student, I remember learning some interesting marketing ploys in the food industry.  One in particular stands out in my memory.  How does it sound to order Patagonian Toothfish for dinner?  Sounds distasteful, doesn't it?  Then how about Chilean Seabass?  Much more appetizing-sounding, right?  However, the interesting thing is they are two names for the same fish.  Though not a bass, nor is it always caught in the waters surrounding Chile, it was named this because it was a more attractive name to consumers than Toothfish.  Things aren't always what they seem.

Likewise, this (really yummy) recipe I made today was called "Molasses Spice Cookies."  Sure, that's true and because of that name, more people will be drawn to make them any time throughout the year.  However, looking at the ingredient list, it's the same stuff that would make up a Gingerbread cookie.  But with the word Gingerbread comes the connotation of Christmas.  And Christmas only comes once a year.  My assumption then would be that to make this recipe more marketable in a year-round cookbook, they chose the name Spice Cookies instead.

Ah, that's just my two cents for the day regarding food business.  But I don't know anything.  (Except how to eat one too many!)
__
Molasses Spice Cookies
(America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup molasses, light or dark
Directions:
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, place 1/2 cup sugar for rolling dough;set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt until thoroughly combined; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses; beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once.
  5. Roll one heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball between your palms, roll the ball in the sugar, and then place it on the prepared baking sheet spacing the balls about 2 inches apart Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, about 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not over bake.
  7. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
Yields: 22 cookies

Thursday, November 03, 2011

This Is Not A Recipe Post

When it comes to breakfast (what they say is the most important meal of the day), I've never done a very good job.  For whatever reason, I'm not hungry when I wake up in the morning and it takes me a couple of hours for food to even sound good.  My typical morning routine is to down a tall glass of water with my vitamins, but on occasion I will make a bowl of oatmeal (with 1 T. raw honey and flax seeds).  But it takes effort for me to eat breakfast.

With both pregnancies, I tried to change that habit to give myself more energy and do the babies right.  Since upping my weekly long runs in training for this race, I have been getting into a routine and feeding myself this perfect post-run breakfast.  It is so satisfying that I crave it most days of the week now.

Scrambled eggs and raw tomatoes sprinkled with salt.  I spring for the organic at this point since they taste soo much better than the picked-when-green-hoping-they-are-red-upon-arrival ones.  This gives me the post-run protein that I need and is extremely quick to make.
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What's your favorite breakfast?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Save A Buck {Make Your Own Pumpkin Pie Spice}

Well, hi there, November.  I thought you'd never get here.  It's good to see you again and I hope you brought with you some cool weather to last us longer than a couple days.  This heat, geesh, is killin me.  Because I love you so, I decided to celebrate your arrival today with my first batch of pumpkin muffins of the season.  You're welcome.
In recipes when it calls for pumpkin pie spice, I reach for this line-up of spices in my pantry.  In recipes where it doesn't call for pumpkin pie spice, sometimes I still add it.  Like to milky iced coffee.  Or pancakes.  Or smoothies.  Or homemade doggy treats.

Pumpkin Pie Spice
makes about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Blend all spices together.  Shazaam. It's that easy.
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If you were a spice, which one would you be?  I have a friend named Cori Anderson.  Her hubs calls her Coriander.  I think that's the sweetest thing ever.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Nothing Amazing

Well, the hallway closet went from this
 
to this.

I did a little switcheroo with the guest room closet and decided that I like having the coats here as well as all of our games in one location.  Extra blankets folded on the bottom.  Dangerous chemicals are no longer kept at a child's reach.  Next re-org goal is the guest room.  It's a little scary in there, so wish me luck!

Monday, October 31, 2011

One of the 18,705 Reasons Why I Love My Husband

There's been an empty spot for awhile now in Vera's baby book awaiting a letter from her daddy.  He filled it this past weekend and I got permission to share.  Grab a tissue first though, will ya?
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My dear, sweet Vera,

My first born.  You are two years old as I write this.  You are inquisitive, smart, independent, and eager to do the right thing.  I am so thankful for you and love you deeply with a kind of love I did not know until you were born.  I want to give you three pieces of advice for this life...

First, the world can be a confusing and difficult place.  I will try to shield you from the harshness of life as best I can but at some point you will experience trial in this life.  Do not be surprised by it or lose your courage.  There is One who has gone before us and has overcome.  He said, 'In this life you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.'  And indeed I have found that even when all else fails, He is true.  This world will tempt you into thinking that Jesus is not who the Bible claims Him to be.  Do not be afraid to ask honest questions but know that I at least have found Him and His Word to be true and sound both from an intellectual and experiential perspective.  I pray that you will as well and that in your love for the Lord you will find safety and security to weather the storms of life.

Second, love people but do not let their approval rule your life.  If you pursue happiness in life, you are unlikely to find it, but if as an overflow of your love for the Lord you spend your life serving and loving others, you most certainly will find joy in this life and supreme happiness in the next.

Finally, your mom is a beautiful woman who loves the Lord and thus has wisdom beyond herself.  She is the love of my life, my better half, and my best friend.  She is worthy of your trust and admiration and you would do well to keep her in your confidences and lean on her for guidance.

Love you,
Dad

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What the Heck Are People Thinking?! {What Goes Through My Head When I Shop}

You've probably figured out by now that one of my soapboxes in life is in regards to food and making wise decisions in what I choose to put in my body.  I used to be self conscious about it because I wasn't raised with this acute awareness nor are many of my friends passionate about it.  I know at the end of the day it isn't a matter worthy of division in relationships, however the more I learn, I just can't shake my convictions about it.  I think it started in culinary school when we watched videos about the current food system in America, how food gets from farm to table, and how corporations have come in control over what is available in the aisles of our grocery stores.  It was such an eye-opening experience for me and since then, I have read a lot and watched more mind-infiltrating documentaries about what we eat.  It is not my goal to judge others on what they eat.  That is their prerogative and I can leave it be.  But when it comes to the diet of my family, I prefer to be as educated as I can be and make choices I believe in.  Call me crazy, but I'd rather be in control of our nutrition, not just trust production companies on what they do to create "food."  I'm not saying I am a health-nazi, because let's be honest, I majored in cream and butter and it's not like I've never enjoyed an Oreo (or gasp! fed my kid hot dogs and mac n cheese), but more times than not, I just want to eat real food.

Okay, now that we know that I love you and you love me despite all this, allow me to take you through some thought processes in my weird brain.

About a month ago I was checking out the jams.  Though this is my absolute favorite brand in the whole wide world and I swore my faithfulness to her years ago, every now and then I find my eye a-wandering and considering other brands to try.  What catches my eye but CALORIE FREE jars of jams and preservatives.  My first thought?  Holla!  Alas I can eat as much jam as I can hold and it not count against me in the love-handle department!  Tires screech.  Whoa, Nelly.  I know better.  Nothing that I want to eat is calorie-free.  That would make it a synthetic, laboratory-created product.  My second thought then was to check out the ingredient list.  Fake, fake, fake.  Of course, the marketing technique of bold and enlarged letters on the label will get some people's attention and might make a sale, but I'm not a believer.
 
With skepticism, I continue my shopping.  In the baking aisle, I come upon this fellow.  To some, a first impression might be:  Awesome!  All I have to do is add water, shake, and I've got muffins.  #winning  But really, friends?  Moreso, what appeals to me is real butter, granulated sugar cane, unbleached, un-enriched flour, eggs hatched from chickens that cluck, and blueberries that I myself can look over and wash before folding into my batter.  Add a little turbinado sugar on top before baking for that extra crunch of sweetness.  For me, there is satisfaction in knowing what is in the food that I put into my body.
Here's a napkin that made me scoff.  "Real Food.  Simply Delicious."  I know this is just me speaking, but I disagree with both statements here.
For example, from their website, here's the ingredient list for the pumpkin scone which is quite the rave these days:
unbleached, enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), icing (sugar, water, corn syrup, fructose, contains less than 2% of the following: gum arabic, agar, potassium sorbate [preservative], citric acid, natural flavor, mono- and diglycerides, locust bean gum, cinnamon), unsalted butter (cream [from milk]), pumpkin puree, sugar, whole eggs, honey, buttermilk (from milk), soybean oil, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate), soy lecithin, salt, invert syrup, vanilla extract, spices.
I don't know about you, but I don't have monocalcium phosphate or guar gum in my pantry.

All this to say, it's everywhere you look and not hard to find.  I have to give voice to the fact that I know it would be incredibly expensive to eat all natural, all organic, all the time.  We don't even do it in our household, but I can't help but wonder what kind of movement would occur in Washington if people would make healthier choices in the supermarkets.  Don't even get me started on kids that qualify for free school lunches that come with cash-galore to spend on candy, sodas, fried "chicken" sandwiches, gelatinous-cardboard pizza, and processed cheesy fries in the lunch rooms across America.

(Okay, I'm done.  Can we be friends again?)




Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friday Night Special: Roasted Portobello Sammie


We sat down for dinner on Friday night and as Vera was eating through her sandwich, she said, "mmm, yogurt" to which I replied, "yeah, it does taste kind of like yogurt."  (She was tasting the soured/tartness of the goat cheese that is similar to the Greek yogurt that she eats on a daily basis.)

This sandwich sums up the way I like to eat.  No meat.  Hearty.  Substantial.  Healthy.  Delicious.  Here's the run-down:
Roasted Portabella (olive oil, salt, pepper), sliced
Arugula (or spinach would be great)
Soft Goat Cheese (let it come to room temp.)
Creamy Dijon
Whole Wheat Pita

And ohmygoodness, these fries are so yummy and made the perfect addition to our meal.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

T.P. Pumpkins


I got together with some friends a few weeks ago and we made these adorable pumpkins that are simply wrapped with toilet paper.  How simple and creative for some Fall decor on the cheap!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In the Bumbo and Everything

When I wasn't looking, apparently Baby got fed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why Couponing Doesn't Work For Me

You've probably heard those amazing stories of people who save oodles of dollars by clipping coupons, right?  A few weeks ago I was at a friend's house and saw TLC's "Extreme Couponing."  Wow, those people are something else.  They trash dig to get extra newspapers for more coupons.  They grocery shop after midnight to get the newest stock of stuff.  They have their system down for saving money.  Kudos to them.  I can't imagine saving so much money.  I am a bargain deal hunter, that's for sure, but I've never scored that big before.  When looking for coupons online, I come across extraordinary pictures of the piles of stuff that have been purchased for such a small amount.
It would feel like quite the accomplishment to walk out the store with bags of stuff having spent only a few dollars, or even having been credited to take it out!  However, the more I research money saving tips and look at the available coupons in newspapers, magazines, in mailers, and online, I'm finding that they just don't match up with what we are spending our money on in our household.
I certainly don't look down on anyone else for how they might take advantage of these coupons, but our family doesn't eat most of the food products that provide savings; cereal, candy, chips, baking mixes, crackers, processed pastas, beans, etc.  I look at these pictures and find nothing that we would buy.  Therefore, I certainly wouldn't buy them just because they are on sale or free.  With grocery coupons, there's not much that work for us.

I have a similar mindset with deal-saving sites like Groupon, too.  If I wouldn't already be looking to purchase a good or service, then I'm not going to buy one just because it's a B1G1 or at a discounted price.  But again, that's just the way I roll and I understand that others find couponing advantageous for their families, so that's great.
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What works for you?  Do you have any money-saving tips for groceries or other products?

Dance Party

Vera likes to play the game 'dance party' quite frequently.  Chris recorded our most recent one.  And yes, that's all natural talent.

It's a Poll!

I like you.  Really, I like you a lot.  And I appreciate your reading my nonsense.

If you're reading this through an RSS feed, would you mind heading over to this page to answer a question for me?  The poll will be on the upper right hand side.  I'd be most appreciative!

It's The Best Tasting Gross Candy Out There

Have you ever said a word out loud over and over until it sounded completely absurd?  Try it with "thank you," for example.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you....

In a similar way, the more felt candy corn I made tonight, the more absurd they started looking and I questioned upon the completion of this project if that's what candy corn even looks like.  But it must have just been the wave of tiredness that was doing the crazy talk in my head.

It was one of those nights that I got the crafting bug and didn't want to stop.  I started by working on the girls' Halloween costumes, then decided to keep up the momentum and create this project seen on a friend's sewing blog.  Like I mentioned, I don't have any Halloween decorations, so I decided to remedy this tonight.

But the problem with this is that fake candy corn are now staring at me in my house.  Creepy?  Perhaps.  But I was thinking more along the lines of how can I not buy candy corn now?  And peanuts.  Because that's the best Halloween snack combo ever.
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Do you decorate for Halloween?  Do you do ghouls and ghosts or leaves and pumpkins?  Or felt candy corn?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weeknight Stuffed Pizza

9 times out of 10, I prep dinner during nap time.  I do whatever I can to maintain the freshness of the meal, but to only have a few steps left in finishing it off at dinnertime.  Last night we had this Stuffed Pizza.  This is another good 'clean-out' meal where you can use whatever you have on hand in your pantry/fridge.

I had a green bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, shallot, garlic, and mozzarella cheese.  And to be honest, I just cracked open a jar of marinara to use as the tomato sauce.  That made it extremely easy.  I simply sauteed the toppings in some olive oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and let it cool.  My dough had proofed in the refrigerator overnight, so it was ready to roll out and fill.  I rolled it into a long rectangle shape and placed the marinara and toppings down the middle, leaving about 3 inches on both sides.  To close, I folded in the ends the braided it close, though you could just fold it over and crimp the edges.  Then I wrapped it and placed it back in the fridge.  Come dinner time, I turned on the oven, brought it out to room temperature, then baked it until GBD (a very technical term I learned in culinary school meaning golden brown and delicious).

Then I called it a day and sipped some cider beer.  I love quick fixes to mealtime.

Believing The Best In Our Kids

I'm not sure typically when the "Terrible Twos" stage really starts, but we have already seen glimpses of a tantrum-throwing toddler inhabiting the body of our sweet girl.  We have days that I wish we could do all over again because the whole day was just wrong in attitude and heart.  But sadly, those do-overs are desired more so because of the way that I handle the frenzy.  I don't know when I started assuming that my daughter and I were enemies on those days.  I have to remind myself often that she has only been alive for 2 years.  She is merely a babe.  She is in the midst of figuring out life; how to behave in social settings, how to make decisions, how to react to others.  She is learning and growing and experiencing things for the first time.

Recently I came upon yet another amazing post by this lady that just stopped me in my track.  I had to read it out loud, then read it to my husband, then read it again.  I want to print it off and hand-deliver it to all my mom friends for Christmas.  It's not everyday you read something so moving.

To even write these words, I have to assume that she spends a heck of a lot of time inhaling Scripture because where she's arrived in her thought process is just so full of wisdom to be from any self-help or parenting book.  These are her words, not mine.
_________
The practice of assigning positive intent is, as Fancy Nancy would say, just a fancy way of saying "believe the best." I try to make my starting point for the day a belief in their goodness, in their love for each other and for our family, in the work that we have already done together towards wholeness.

So when things go pear-shaped, instead of assuming that they are manipulative little buggers out to get their way and rule us all, I choose to believe that their heart is as much for me as mine is for them.

A small example: When Joe was quite a small toddler, I met a scene from a mother-horror movie when I went to wake him from a nap. There was excrement everywhere - on the walls, on the sheets, in his hair. He was rubbing it with his stuffed animals, spreading it everywhere. Part of me wanted to holler at him: WHAT THE CRAP ARE YOU DOING? (Pun unintended, I assure you.)  This was unbelievably gross, he had probably pulled that diaper off himself and was now gleefully making a mess on purpose, painting with it. But then I realized that he was sick, his diaper had been insufficient for the experience and he was actually making an attempt to clean it up. His intent was positive even if the results were, um, absolutely disgusting.

I try to operate from the standpoint that they want to be good and my job is to help them navigate, with grace, the mistakes and missteps that naturally come with the enormous job of growing up to love God and love people well.

I enjoy mothering so much more if I believe we're all on the same side. It's not us vs. them in the war of the family. My role here is to help them learn and so if I try to assume that they truly don't know yet or are still figuring it out. (But even if they are trying to be bad, even if it is manipulation, few people are not disarmed by innocence. And that includes my tinies. If they do something wrong on purpose, gentleness goes a long way to bringing them back to right living, reconciling them with us and God, much farther than bellowing and isolation and fury.)

When I assign positive intent, I have much more grace, patience and gentleness to offer and I believe that they can sense this change of perspective. It moves us from adversaries to partners or co-operators in their wholeness. But, on the other hand, if I operate from the starting point that they are out to take a mile if I give an inch that is one sure way to make the days very, very, very long.

I enjoy mothering when I believe and hope and love in their personhood. I enjoy my tinies when I notice and talk about the things that are noble, pure, beautiful and good about them. I enjoy mothering when I remember that they really, truly don't know everything yet, that most of my expectations come with development, and my job is to really, truly, teach them well.

They will learn the big nouns of love, grace, forgiveness, mercy and peace in the way that I handle the small verbs and actions of our life together. And so will I. (I have so much to learn.)

So even if the action is wrong or infuriating, unless otherwise proven, assume that their heart is to love, to please, to help and learn the right way from you.
_________
These words have changed me.  They have given me a much-needed redirection of perspective.  Makes me excited to meet my little girl in the morning and do life with her again, realizing that we are not adversaries on those tough days.  On the contrary, she is my sweet, little girl that I get to teach and help mold.  What a huge responsibility.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where Is An Organization Fairy When You Need One?

I seriously need to get to business on some organizing in my home.  The temperature drop here is invigorating and has made me feel so motivated to clean out and organize.  For the most part, I'd say my house is pretty organized (though you'd never guess it from these pictures!)  I am one of those odd ball gals that really enjoys being domestic; cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, etc.  In my house, there is a place for everything and it's easy to find things.  But sometimes life gets busy and I get lazy which results in piles of stuff that need to find new homes.  I wish I could hire someone to help me because it takes work to figure this stuff out.  All I know is that when my house isn't in order, it doesn't feel peaceful to me.  And these pics ain't peaceful.
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Anyone got some organization tips?