Monday, December 28, 2009

A Crash Course in Hospitality, pt. 2

This is the rest of the story about my first time hosting a full dinner for my in-laws this past Sunday to celebrate Christmas a little early. You can read the first part here.



A little after 3pm, about 3 hours until serving

We pulled out the old, old cookbook on hosting dinner parties that my husband had picked up somewhere along the way long before he picked up me. There, in the middle of the brunch section, was what I wanted as the crowing centerpiece of my appetizer tray: a pineapple tower. It looks just like a regular pineapple, just with toothpicks sticking out. You pull a pick and a bite sized piece pops out for you to enjoy. Cute, right?

The problem is, the cookbook showed a beautiful picture, but no instructions. So, my brave husband handed me the paring knife and backed away, no-so-quietly whispering prayers that I wouldn't cut my hand off.

I think I figured out why they didn't have directions: The whole process is ridculously complicated. We ended up coring the pineapple and cutting wedges through, sticking in our toothpicks. But then, the pineapple was "structurely unsound" and kept falling over, so we constructed a scaffold of sorts inside using more toothpicks. When we'd done half of it and realized there was no way it would stand if we continued, so we stopped where we were and hoped that everyone would only want a few bites. I built a shelf out of MORE toothpicks and replaced the top (just like a pumpkin) so that it looked complete. It was a juicy mess, but it looked just like the picture! I don't think Shaune will let me try again, although I do have some ideas for making it better next time...

5 pm, 1 hour until serving

It started to snow. My mother-in-law called to tell us that they were on their way, but the roads were getting slippery and it might take them a little longer than expected. Dinner was to be pushed off half an hour. No big deal -- my meat thermometer told me that the ham still had a LONG way to go. I took a break and sat down on the sofa with a cup of tea. Shaune looked at me and said, "Everything ok?" We spent the next 20 minutes laughing about me, my tendency to get in over my head, and life in general. The whole situation was really funny.

6:30 pm, everyone had arrived and was having a good time

It all turned out OK in the end. I think my in-laws are still trying to figure me out: Who, really, spends an hour on a snowy Sunday afternoon trying to cut a pineapple? Or molding brie into the shape of a heart? (Cookie cutters do more than cut cookies.) This was my first attempt at hosting a bunch of people at my house for a formal meal. I don't think it will be the last!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Crash Course in Hospitality

I promised you a story. This is the tale of one young lady (me!) and her first attempt to serve a formal holiday meal to her in-laws.

It all started back at Thanksgiving. My father-in-law was good-naturedly grousing about having to host another holiday. He pretends to not like people. It's all a game, part of his charm, but in retaliation I replied, "Well, fine. Let's do Christmas at my house."

"Are you serious? Are you sure?"

"Why not?" And with that, I stepped off the cliff. We decided that Sunday the 18th was close enough to Christmas to count, fit everyone's work schedules, and offered me enough time to figure out what I was doing.

I spent days pouring over menu ideas. There were some important requirements: it had to be healthy, it had to be easy enough to accomplish, and it had to be cheap enough to feed 7 people without breaking my budget. I settled on this menu:
  • Spiral cut ham, on special at Aldi for $1.29 a pound
  • Scalloped potatoes with onions and cheese
  • Green bean cassarole
  • Cranberry Relish (a Holiday tradition passed down by my grandmother)
  • Dessert brought by my mother- and sister-in-law

So after a fruitful planning session and a bargain-filled shopping trip, I pushed the dinner to the back of my mind, confident that everything would work out just as I had planned without any more input from me. Which brings us up to Sunday...

12 pm, leaving Church, 6 hours until serving

"I've been meaning to get my oil changed," my husband declared. "Can we go do that now?"

I felt confident. I had 6 hours before my relatives were due. The ham was fully cooked and just needed warmed, so... "Sure, let's go."

We drove over to Sam's Club to drop the car off at their Tire and Lube while we picked up a few last minute gifts. This is officially when things began to go wrong. This is also when things began to get really, really funny.

1pm, at Sam's, 5 hours until serving

"What do you mean, you don't do oil changes?" That's right, Sam's installs batteries and tires, but doesn't actually do lube after all. But since we were already there, we decided to wander around, try the free samples, and throw things in our cart that we may or may not have actually needed (2 huge jugs of Welsh's Grape Juice?). While there, one of the samples I tasted triggered a reminder:

"I DON'T HAVE ANY APPETIZERS FOR TONIGHT!"

Which led to an hour long pursuit of brie cheese to make a snack tray. I finally found some at Shop n Save at a price I was willing to pay. I also decided to try a feat I saw once in a cookbook from the '60s -- a pineapple tower. We still had 4 hours to go, so why not?

2:30 pm, at home, 3.5 hours from serving

Shaune and I decided that, with only a few hours to go, we should really get started on some parts of dinner so that we wouldn't be scrambling once his family arrived. The ham was supposed to cook 15 min per lb, at 8 lb, was right about 2 hours. Time to spare. The potatoes cooked right at an hour. Plenty of time. I'd already changed the green beans to be stove top instead of a cassarole, so that would only take a couple minutes. Then I realized one huge, glaring, unacceptable problem with my kitchen...

"Shaune, did you know there is only one rack in the oven?"

I had two things that needed in there, both at the same temperature for long periods of time. I put in my first paniced phone call to my mother.

"Well, you could take aluminum cans and put a cooling rack across it to build a shelf." But I don't have any cooling racks... "You could just put the pyrex dish on the cans." But the cans went out in the garbage, which was just picked up the other day.... "You could... try something else."

So, I pulled out my trusty crock pot. 3 1/2 hours on high might just be enough to warm it throughout. I grabbed the crock, unwrapped the ham, and dropped it in -- only to watch it land right on the edge and stay there. It was several inches too large. I ended up using the crock pot lid like a template and cutting off one large corner of the ham, praying that there would be enough meat without that bit. Then I pushed and shoved until the ham fit. I turned the crock pot on high, pushed it to the corner, and for the first time began wondering if I had gotten in over my head...

********

I have to dash off and take care of Christmas Eve festivities now, and this post is getting long. I have more to tell you! I hope to finish this story very soon. I hope you're laughing as much as I am. It was a wonderful time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight




I absolutely love decorating for Christmas. It has been so much fun this year. This is the first year that my dear husband and I have actually had a Christmas -- it's our first spent together at home with friends and family. I've been collecting decorations for the past year or so. The glass balls and vases are from our wedding. I found the poinsettias for $0.10 each at Michael's.





And lest we forget the meaning of the holiday, the Nativity takes center stage. My dear parents gave this to me my last Christmas at home in the hopes it would become an heirloom for my new family. It's headed that way! My favorite piece is the angel saying "Thank You."





Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.




The first gathering was for my husband's family. His parents came over, as well as his sister with her husband and baby Alex. I guess he's not so much of a baby anymore -- he's 2 1/2 -- but he's limited so we still think of him as a baby. He just completed surgery this fall for his Spina Bifida. He's actually starting to crawl, which is a huge and unexpected blessing. Someday, God willing, he'll walk. He started treatment in the spring for his autism, too, so this is the first time I've seen him really be playful and trying words. He even said "eat" to me when he wanted to steal my bread! I love my husband's family. I've been totally blessed with awesome, loving in-laws.

I had a blast cooking for the family. I've never really hosted a meal before so it was all over the place. I think I'll save that story for tomorrow since it was so dramatic. But! All the food made it to the table, there was more than enough to go around, and I had more fun than I knew what to do with making this appetizer tray:


The pineapple was cut up leaving just enough to hold the structure, then reassembled. You pull a toothpick to eat a piece. The heart on the green plate is brie cheese I molded using a cookie cutter. The red cheese is cranberry/cinnamon goat cheese that was on sale at Aldi a few weeks ago. Mmmm.... I could have skipped dinner and just enjoyed this.


Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Lord allows
Hang a shining star
upon the highest bough.
And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now.


Next weekend, my parents, sister, and brother will be joining us for another holiday feast. Hopefully that meal will have less of a story to tell. But wait! I haven't told it yet ;-) You'll have to come back for it later.

May you and yours have a blessed Christmas this year. May it be filled with warm food, hearty laughter, and a good dose of the Holy Spirit to boost your family into the New Year

Song written by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane, 1943

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Modesty

Modesty has been on my mind a lot lately. Working in the schools, I see so many 12 and 13 year old girls (and 6 and 7 year old girls) wearing things that were designed for ages 20+ specifically to draw attention to certain aspects of their figure. I've also been increasingly troubled by the immodesty of some of the members at our church. While I believe firmly that men must take responsibility for their own lust issues, we are certainly not making it easy on them.

Mrs. Parunak over at Pursuing Titus 2 has written a beautiful blog entry that hits at the heart of this issue. I suggest you read it: The Top 10 Reasons Modesty Gets a Yawn. She regularly writes enlightening posts about modesty. While some of her ideas are still rolling around in my head for consideration, she writes eloquently and backs up her claims with research. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Favorites Meme

Sarah Jane had this up today and I couldn't help myself. I'm so excited about Christmas. Last year, my husband and I were on our honeymoon, so I didn't get to decorate or cook or anything. This is basically our first Christmas! I may be going a bit overboard but I've never had so much fun leading up to a holiday.

1.Eggnog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate! But I don’t make it according to package directions. I measure using one of my mugs one mug worth of skim milk and one mug worth of water. I heat this up on the stovetop to barely simmering, then stir in 3 packets of Swiss Miss. We bought a huge box of this at Sam’s last year when it was on sale. Simmer that a little bit until everything blends nicely and some of the water evaporates. Sometimes I even stir in crushed peppermints or the occasional Andes mint. Makes the perfect rich, warm, chocolatey snack for before bed.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? We don’t have littles yet, so we’re still discussing how to handle the whole “Santa” thing. We do wrap our gifts to each other. We even wrap any empty boxes we have around to 1) Make it look fuller than it is and 2) Keep each other guessing as to what is gifts and what is filler.

3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white? We use white lights this year. They’re built into our (unfortunately fake) Christmas tree.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope. I stick to wreaths and ribbons.

5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? This is the first year I’ve decorated! Last year we were on our honeymoon, so I didn’t do much beyond setting up the nativity set. This year it’s been an ongoing process. The wreath went up on the door on Thanksgiving, I just hung two more ribbons today, and there’s more ideas still flooding my little head.

6. Favorite holiday dish? Cranberry Relish! I wish this was made more often. Fresh cranberries, oranges segments, sugar, all roughly chopped together. I can’t do the cranberry jelly though. Just the relish.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? My favorite holiday memory is that we were always at home. Several years from my childhood have blended together because they were so similar and so peaceful. My sister and I would always get up super early. Whoever got up first would go into the other’s room and sit on her bed. We had to stay in our rooms until 7am. Then, we’d creep into my parents’ room and sit on their bed grinning at them until they woke up. Finally, they’d sigh and make a big deal about us bothering them (all in jest of course). Daddy always had to “check” to see if Santa had come, so he went downstairs first to set up the video camera and plug in the tree lights. When he gave the all-clear, we’d rush down. We always read the Christmas story out of the Bible and “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” After opening stockings, we made blueberry muffins with crumble topping. We’d play with our new toys while they were cooking. Only around 8:30 would we even get to the gifts from each other. One person opened at a time while the others looked on. We never finished “Christmas Morning” before 11. We also never traveled on Christmas. It was a happy family time.

8. When did you learn the truth about Santa? I don’t remember, but I do know it didn’t bother me or surprise me very much. What was strange is that my parents chose to have the best gifts from “Santa” instead of from themselves. My brother’s 9 this year and I think he knows that it is Mom and Daddy but is playing along because they enjoy doing it so much.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No! Never! Christmas Eve is for candlelight service at church and a relaxing (usually make-your-own-pizza) dinner.

10. How do you decorate a tree? As I said, this is the first year I’ve gotten to decorate, so I’m so excited! We decorated our wedding with those glass ball ornaments in white, silver, and various shades of purple, so I have literally 1,200 to work with. This year we’re using just the large white and silver ones. Mixed in with those are big red silk poinsettias I got on sale at Michael’s on a Black Friday sale – 10 for $1. I think I may stick some candy canes on there too… it’s a work in progress. Other than the balls, though, we don’t own a single ornament.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I love snow, but only if I can stay home. Although having a little snowball fight with the neighborhood children on my way to school yesterday morning was pretty special. I love watching it fall. But I only want it to stick around if it stays pretty.

12. Can you ice skate? Yes! Shaune and I met at an ice skating party, actually, so we love to go to the open air rink in Forest Park, Saint Louis. It brings back good memories. Now, am I a good ice skater? NO! I can go forward. Most of the time.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? I have several favorites from different stages of my life. When I was 8, I received my first American Girl Doll. She’s the beautiful Asian “Girl of Today” (my parents encouraged multiculturalism – I also have Josephina from Mexico and Kirsten). She was my best friend for many years and became my dress form for pattern design as I grew. I learned so much about how pattern pieces work from her! My second favorite was when I got Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design. It’s a textbook all on flat-pattern drafting. It coached me through two prom dresses and countless other projects. Either the year right before or right after that gift I also got the Better Homes and Gardens Baking Cookbook. Mmmmmm… Oh! And, the year I got engaged, my parents gave me the entire Willow Tree Nativity set. You know, those neutral-colored angels with no faces? So classy and beautiful.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? To de-clutter the schedule and truly enjoy the process of shopping, cooking, and being together. To remember why we are celebrating and be certain that God is honored throughout.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Pretty much all of it. Dessert is my favorite part of dinner.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? We just started this tradition this year because I saw it in a magazine. We made a rice krispy treat train to be a centerpiece for the table during the season. This is instead of a gingerbread house. I’ve already got plans for how I want to decorate it and what cereals I want to use for the next several years!

17. What tops your tree? A plaid bow. It’s made from the same ribbon I’m using elsewhere in the house.

18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving? Giving is so exciting for me. I love the process of saving money, thinking carefully, shopping for that “just right” gift, and watching my family open it. I could go without receiving, actually, I get so much fun out of giving.

19. Favorite Christmas song? “Mary, Did You Know.” I get shivers every time I hear this. I’m hoping Hubby will learn it for guitar this year so we can sing together.

20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum? I decorate with them but rarely remember to eat them. I do like them though.

21. Favorite Christmas show? Do you want to know the sad truth? I’ve never seen any of the classics. The only two Christmas movies I’ve ever seen – both of which I love – are The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Charlie Brown is the best though.

22. Saddest Christmas song? There’s a new one out right now about a family member being in the Middle East for Christmas and “maybe next year you’ll be home.” It makes me cry.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Made It!

I officially made it through 4.5 years of undergraduate studies! My portfolio review was Friday morning and I passed with flying colors. To celebrate, I have spent the whole weekend decorating for Christmas. Pictures soon, but I just had to share my joy.

What a huge sigh of relief. I can finally relax.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Tis the Season of Busy

I feel like I haven't been on here forever -- mostly because, I haven't. Things have been absolutely zooy here at our house. The biggest time-taker is done: I made it through student teaching! August seems like so long ago. I've got two more weeks of observations, then I am completely, utterly, forever finished.

This holiday season has already presented some unique challenges and opportunities. The first is that since we're going to Liberia in January, Shaune has no days available to take off. So, he'll be working until 5pm on Christmas Eve and have to return right away on Monday morning. It isn't ideal, but it does allow for us to take our two and a half weeks in January for our missions work.

The second kind of ties in with that. Since we can't go anywhere, we have both decided to accept seasonal positions at the nearby shopping mall to bring in a little extra income. I'm working at The Glass Gallery selling hand-blown glass. We're working together at Hickory Farms with cheese and sausage gift sets. They're paying us to work side by side in a slow moving mall. It's the best of all worlds -- working with Hubby, getting a little cash, and filling in the time between graduation and traveling.

So, hopefully I'll be able to pop in a little more regularly to update on our family's first Christmas here at home. Last year we were out of town on our honeymoon, so this is the first time I've gotten to decorate, bake, and all those other wonderful warm-smelling house things. The tree is up with lights and I'm working on the decorations this afternoon, all to the sound of Manheim Steamroller Christmas in the background. Gotta love this time of year!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm Hooked on Phonics

I swear, my students think I’m crazy.

For the first time today – in my entire life – I get phonics. I get why we say “plain” like “plain” and not “plah-in” or something else bizarre. And that everyone in the Midwest calls those things in the center of every hallway at the mall “kEE-osks” when they’re really “kI-osks.” And when I finally had this revelation, I may or may not have shouted out “I GET IT!” fairly loudly into the fairly silent Reader’s Workshop…

Phonics may just make sense after all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What I've been so busy with

Friday was (finally) the Medieval Fair at school. That means I only have 8 more days of teaching! It's shocking -- it seems like it has been forever, but then all the sudden it is almost over. I finish being "in charge" on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I'll be observing again in this room and various others for my last two weeks. I'm so grateful for this experience. And, I'm so tired and ready for it to end.

This is a picture from the end of the fair. You can't see it, but I'm wearing a full medieval princess gown made out of silk (um... cheap not-real-silk stuff from the $1 bin, but I told the kids that it was silk since "that is what they used") and a heavy pink something that was also in the $1 bin. I made it 7 years ago for my own medieval fair in high school and have been looking for excuses to wear it ever since. I'm in the middle. I'm so proud of my kids!


We also had our open house today. It was small but fun. I think more people would have came if it hadn't been raining and cold. I made a table full of treats and had some great conversations with friends from church and a couple of neighbors.

But I wanted to show you something exciting! I actually, in this new wonderful house, have a place to call my own for sewing:


The table is small, but very sturdy. The dresser is full of my patterns, fabric, and notions. Things actually feel organized. I'm glad I won't be sharing the kitchen table for my sewing. It is less than ideal for both purposes: when I was going on a project, I didn't want to clean up to eat, and I didn't like having to get my machine out, move the centerpiece, and get it all set up whenever I wanted to sew. Now there are seperate spaces on seperate sides of the house. Perhaps more of both will happen this way.
See that floor space in between the sofa and the dresser? That's where my much-hoped for Christmas present will go (if it can happen). I very much want a dress form to help me with my fitting. I've been having a nightmare of a time with a jumper I've been working on. The straps keep coming in at strange angles. Hubby's tried to help me at the bathroom mirror but the pins always seem to move when I pull the dress off again. Things like that always seem to happen. I know exactly HOW to make fitting happen, but I don't have enough hands. I believe a dress form will help with those things. SO! Do you ladies have any suggestions for a brand or model to look for?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Fast-Approaching Deadline

I always have the best of intentions. Start a new dress that will become a wardrobe staple. Plan a menu and only grocery shop once a week, or even every other week. Move into a new house and make it a pretty home...

The problem is, life tends to get in the way and my big ideas get put on the back burner. Well, this time, I refuse! I'm not living in a half-unpacked house any longer. How am I going to ensure that? By having an open house. On Sunday.

It seemed like a good idea when I first planned it. I will be motivated to keep pushing on and get the house ready. We'd rush to move in then have a lovely party to celebrate. But... life got in the way, in the form of sickness, job projects, family commitments. And the house got put on the back burner. So... me being me... I set a deadline. Of Sunday. As in, three days from now. And my in-laws are coming over for dinner tomorrow night.

I'm not sure what posessed me, but it's coming like it or not! Some of the ladies from Bible study are helping with the treats, at least, but my dear friends will hopefully have a giggle at my half-hung pictures and un-curtained windows. Unless a miracle shows up between now and then!

Wish me luck! And, since everything will be done (theoretically), there will be many more pictures of our little paradise very soon!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Road Trip of Great Joy

I was approached with an unexpected and massively wonderful offer through Craigslist a few weeks back: If I would go visit this lady, she would give me all of her patterns from the 1950's. When yesterday proved to be a lovely, sunshiny, great for driving day, my darling beloved husband agreed to drive me just over an hour north to Peoria so that I could recieve these:



Arlene was in high school in the mid 1950s and made nearly all of her own wardrobe. She's been hauling these patterns around for the past 50 years. She and her husband just recently moved into a new, smaller home and she wanted to get rid of them. I happily obliged. She's a tiny, vibrant, active woman -- I was shocked when she told me these were hers, not her mother's! I didn't believe she was in her 70's.

I'm torn as to which of these to make first:

2958, from 1959


4743, I can't find the year. If you know, please tell me!


They're both a good bit small. Looking at the back of the patterns, sizes were about 2" smaller all around than they are now. And I'm a larger size than this anyway. All of them will need scaled up -- I *think* I know how to do that. It'll take some experimentation. Look at the bust on the second picture: a size 11 was a 29 inch bust! Thankfully I'll have tons of time after graduation -- only a short 5 weeks away now!

There's 15 more patterns beyond these 10, but these are the ones I'll be playing with first. The others are mens and childrens, and some from the 1960's - 70's that I'm less interested in. I'm so blessed by her generosity. These patterns can't be found anymore. It's an honor to carry on their tradition. Yay! Dresses!

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Clothes

I've been quiet lately because I've been beyond swamped with constant work. But I finally had a day to run down to the city with my best friend and do a little shopping. I'm so happy that finally the major stores are selling clothing that covers! (At least for the most part). I was able to find some lovely sweaters and long sleeve tees to replace those pieces in my wardrobe that have bit the dust. My dear friend also bought me these lovely hats:
I've never considered myself a hat person before, but these are charming. And warm! I think I'm hooked...
My dear mother also gave me this lovely fabric. Each piece is becoming a skirt. Specifically, they're for my trip to Africa in January, since the women in the village we're visiting don't wear pants. However, I'm also looking to incorporate more skirts into my wardrobe, so I'm excited to add these to the closet. They'll go nicely with my new tees... and hats! They were each $2.25 a yard at Wal-mart, 100% cotton.
The pink circles are going to be a three-tiered skirt like I saw on Sarah's blog a LONG time ago -- if I can find the post again, of course. The plaid is going to be an ankle length A-line. The purple flowers are going to be a full wrap skirt based upon a pattern of my mom's from the 1970s.
Funny story about this flowered fabric: when I was in 3rd grade, my very first ever historical costume was made out of this fabric. It was a Little House on the Prairie dress with a matching bonnet that I wore ***all the time*** I swear it was my favorite outfit for several years, until I way outgrew it. I still have the bonnet, even though it is too small. When I saw this fabric again at the store, my heart was stirred! I couldn't walk out without it! I don't need another prairie dress at this point in my life... but I'll have another favorite outfit. How funny the way things work out.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Green & White Pizza

I wanted to share with you a special treat that my husband and I enjoy with our dear friends on a regular basis. I got this recipe from Amanda (thank you, dear!) and haven't even tweaked it! We each have our own favorite crust recipe though, so mine tastes a tiny bit different.



This pizza is a bit more expensive than what I typically spend, but it is SO worth it!



Green and White Pizza
  • Your favorite crust recipe, preferably one with olive oil

  • corn meal to dust the pan

  • one packet Korr's basil pesto mix

  • a good handful of shredded spinach

  • feta cheese

  • mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 to 1 can of chicken (depending on how much you want)

Dust the pan with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking. Stretch the crust to the pan. It should be fairly thick. Know that it will rise a good bit -- these toppings don't weigh it down the same way that lots of cheese and meat does. Cook up the sauce according to packaged directions, then coat the crust. Cover the pesto with the shredded spinach. I like to use LOTS! It's my favorite veggie.

Once you have your "green" layers, you have to add your white: just a few crumbles of feta around the pizza and a sprinkle of mozzarella. I don't use much since they're both such flavorful cheeses. Then, I crumble the canned chicken over the top and stick it in the oven for about 25 minutes at 375. You can adjust that to however your family likes it -- other than the crust, everything is already cooked or doesn't need to be.

This twist on pizza is SOOO good! I'd cook it more often if feta wasn't so expensive. But I'm not aware of an equally fabulous alternative, so I wait until it goes on sale. Aldi often has it for right about $2 for 4oz, not bad at all in the world of cheese.

*****

Do your families have a favorite pizza recipe? I'd love to hear about it! We're always trying something new. Some weeks it feels like pizza is a food group in our home!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Introducing Sundowner Lane

I'm excited to show you, for the first time, our new home!



We live in the lower level of this split level house. We bought it for this view here:



I swear this is the ONLY hill in Springfield. Maybe all of Central Illinois. It's so pretty! This picture doesn't do it justice. We went biking on Thursday evening and it was absolutely stunning. There's a creek (currently flooded) just at the bottom of the hill. Riding into it stirred my heart. I'm so happy to be out in the country. We can see the stars for the first time since moving to Springfield. We can also see amazing sun sets -- hence the name of the street. Everything about this place was carefully provided for us by the One Who Cares.
Things are still chaotic. We spent the first half of the week scrubbing the 6th Street apartment then the second half of the week scrubbing this one. I refused to unpack boxes until the windows were clean -- there was a 1/2 in of dirt in the sliding tracks that made them so they couldn't open. This is the first and only room so far in my house that is pulled together:


That extra shelf unit was because we've got a ton fewer cabinets that at 6th Street. It was a $12 Goodwill find. It'll also be a nice place to knead my bread and stuff, because the other countertops are a little clasuterphobic. It's got all my frequently used appliances on it in easy reach to grab and plug in: crock pot, toaster, rice cooker, blender. The rack will hold bread and fruit, napkins, and other easy-grab things. The trash can is hiding behind the shelf.
All the paintings are still stacked in our bedroom closet and there's still three suitcases of clothing to be opened and washed. It's a far cry from finished, but now we're into the fun part. I love arranging everything.
Blessed Sunday to you all!

Monday, October 19, 2009

New House Happiness

We have a new house! We're almost entirely moved -- there are only the vacuum and a box of cleaning supplies at the old apartment. Already the hassles of the move have been well worth it: I have done 8 loads of laundry since Saturday night. That would have cost at LEAST $20 to wash and dry at the old house. I can finally stop wearing those "I think I can get one more wear out of this before washing it" outfits!

The biggest blessing still floors me. While my friends and I were carrying boxes into the house on Saturday, I heard someone calling my name from down the street. "Jenny! Jenny -- are you my new neighbor?!" One of my dear friends from Bible study lives in the duplex right across the street. I'm eagerly anticipating our relationship deepening over the next several months. What a blessing to move in not only knowing someone, but knowing a fabulous sister in Christ!

I'll have pictures soon, but right now everything is a massive (and slightly dangerous) pile of boxes and bags. I'd rather show you all something I'm proud of once I get things arranged.

Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Family Update

Hey all!

So yesterday, Shaune successfully completed the Chicago Marathon -- all 26.2 miles of it -- in a little over 6 hours! I am so proud of him. He's trained so hard for six months, all for this big day. He had some pretty interesting revelations while he was running that he shared with me last night; I'm going to try and write them up as a post soon because I think they're extremely insightful.

I finally got a new dehydrator! After almost 2 months of talking on the phone to various customer service reps, they decided to service my warranty. Within a week of sending in the broken motor, I recieved a brand new one in the mail. I was so excited I cried. Now... to find some more apples...

Our house is a disaster-land of boxes. We move on Friday -- only 4 short days away! We pick up the keys at 7am, have to go to work, and start moving as soon as we get off work and change. We've got some dear friends lending a hand all weekend, so hopefully everything will be packed, moved, and unpacked in it's new location with a minimum of struggle.

I'm officially half-way through student teaching. I'm glad to see the end approaching. But, with the end comes the potential for new beginnings. I have been informed that the school is seeking a new kindergarten teacher to begin in December -- directly after I graduate. Shaune and I are spending a lot of time in prayer to decided what to do. Part of me wants to work and help us achieve our financial goals. The more persuasive part of me wants to come home. We'll see which wins out after we pray.

Things are constantly a whirlwind! Thanks to all of you for sticking around in this post-less wasteland named "too busy to write." Things will hopefully start settling out sooner rather than later.

God bless!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Peace Prize?

President Obama has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. I have little to say because I'm stunned. Stupefied. Whaaaaaaat?

You may read the article here, if you're interested.

After reading the article carefully, I've learned two very scary, very important facts that I'd like to share with you.

1. Good works are no longer necessary -- good intentions are enough.

"Rather than recognizing concrete achievement, the 2009 prize appeared intended to support initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change." (From the artcile, about half-way through)

As my husband said when I read this to him, "The road to **** is paved with good intentions..."

2. This is a blatant political "buy" to ensure Obama continues to support things the Prize committee and others choose for him, even if it isn't in the best interest of the country

"'We trust that this award will strengthen his commitment, as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to continue promoting peace and the eradication of poverty,' the foundation said." (From near the bottom)

So the Nobel Peace Prize goes to someone who has big ideas but no results, with the expectation that results must follow in the future... Where's the peace? Where's the honor in *not doing anything yet*? I'm confused and saddened for the memory of those who won this prize legitimately. It has just been cheapened.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Breaking the Moses Habit, Pt. 3

This is part three of a series of posts I am writing that dig for deeper understanding into Moses' response when he faces God in the burning bush. You can read the whole story for yourself in Exodus 3 and 4. Part one, the introduction, can be found here, and part two, the first excuse, is here. Studying this passage has been very eye-opening for me. I hope it is helpful to you, as well.
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Breaking the Moses Habit: Who are you, God?

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
Exodus 3:13

I believe that the reason Moses reacts like this is that Moses is not sure who God is himself. He fears having to explain this unknown God to the Israelites. It is not in the end about the name (although that is what Moses asks for); instead, it is about God’s character. Who are you, God, that you can demand these people to follow you to you-only-know-where through the desert for however long it takes? Who are you, God?

God responds in a way that only He can:

“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14

God does not stop there. For the next eight verses, God elaborates upon who He is and what He is going to do for the people of Israel. He proves himself trustworthy. He explains that He has been watching the suffering of His people and has chosen to do something about it now. He tells Moses exactly what to say and what to ask for from Pharaoh – “Let us take a three-day journey into the desert…” Exodus 3:18. He even promises to make the Egyptians feel compassionate and help the Israelites along (Exodus 3:21)!

Our God gave Moses what he asked for and so much more. God desires to show Himself to us – He wants us to know who He is and to trust in Him wholeheartedly. For Moses, He did is in the speech which can be found in Exodus 3:14-22. For us, we seek in the Bible first and then through the testimonies of our own souls and our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lord used His Word to show Samuel who He is, in 1 Samuel 3. Samuel heard the voice of God as a young boy and as he grew, he studied the Word with his tutor, Eli. And while he studied, God “revealed himself to Samuel through his word” (1 Samuel 3:21). His Word – the Bible – is how the Lord Almighty demonstrated to Samuel and countless others that He is a God worthy to be trusted and honored.

If we do not stand firm on our understanding of who God is, we are weak. We hesitate when asked to take a risk for Him. If we do not know who we are standing for, we could just as easily be standing for ourselves. We must build our house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24 – 27). Our rock must be Christ revealed to us through the Bible.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God made me take a break

I'm six and a half weeks into student teaching. It's been good but exhausting! For about three weeks now, I've been fighting quite the cold. Well, today, God told me (through my dear husband) that I was taking a break.

Shaune wouldn't let me go to work this morning. Yesterday I went in even though I should have and he didn't want that happening again. It was kind of cute actually -- he turned off the alarm clock and piled an extra blanket on top of me. Then he piled MORE blankets on me and downloaded an entire season of Project Runway so I didn't even have to get out of bed.

I love when love takes this form. I feel so loved, and almost more importantly, back up to 100% for my kids tomorrow. Yay husband!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Long Delay

I've not been much into posting lately for so many reasons. I'm dragging myself through each day as our neighbor has restarted his disruptive behaviors which interrupts my sleep. In addition, my non-work time has been completely split between preparation for the next day of teaching, preparation for the Marathon, preparation for our mission trip, preparation to move... well, let's just say I've been a busy girl.

We recieved a HUGE blessing on Sunday! You can read about it on my husband's and my blog, The Preston Persuasion. God has been working even in my own busyness and lack of time set aside for Him. What a good, gracious God we serve!

Friday, September 18, 2009

We're getting a house!

I'm so excited. Last weekend, Shaune and I had a long talk about where we are and were we want to be and cam to a unanimous decison -- we don't want to be here anymore.



This has been building for a while. Many of you saw the post below about our neighbor. The dryers haven't worked the whole time we've lived here, so several nights a week our apartment looks like a clothing store as every doorframe has been claimed as drying space. Our friends downstairs recently moved to a different apartment in a better school district. Etc, etc, etc. This home served its purpose, but it has come to be time to move on.



We started scanning Craigslist and the classifieds for a rental house on Sunday. We started touring on Monday. Last night, we found the "house of our dreams," at least as far as rentals in our price range go!



Compared to where we are now, it's like moving to Martha's Vineyard. It's a quiet little duplex on the north west edge of town -- the one part of town that isn't a cornfield. There are actually hills and mature trees. We'd be downstairs from a family with three little ones under the age of 7. You can hear footsteps but no voices. Plus, they're sweet, we met them briefly while touring last night. We'll have our own laundry hook up. There is a front door and a back door. And a yard! And a garage! And even more closets than I have now! And it only costs $5 more per month than where we currenly live!



Oh, there's always things that could be better. "The grass is always greener..." We could be upstairs, or have bigger windows, or a bigger yard, or a mansion in a gated community that someone else is paying for.... :-D



But as my darling husband says, "Let's take what the Good Lord chooses to dump in our laps."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Briefly sad news

I was making dried herb tomatoes the other day and my dehydrater pooped out. The motor just stopped running. I have no idea why -- it was barely a month old and I've only used it about 5 times.

So now we're playing the "call the company" lottery. Hopefully it'll get figured out because I LOVE apple chips and haven't had a chance to make any yet!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Bountiful Harvest

We've been super busy this past week! Although we don't have a garden ourselves, we've been picking at my in-laws house and pulled in almost more than I have time to deal with.
So far we've made 2 quarts give or take of sun-dried roma tomatoes. That doesn't sound like much, but it started as three plastic shopping bags filled to the brim. The bushes are still producing, too, so there may be more to come.

My father-in-law also had more jalapano peppers than he knew what to do with. That provided hours of fun, especially when we kept finding little patches of the oil on our skin throughout the day! My husband got some in his eye; I got lucky enough to avoid that. Next time I think we'll have to get gloves. We froze 3 quarts so far and will probably pick up some more next weekend.

Then, today, we wanted to celebrate Labor Day by, what else, laboring! But this was the fun kind of work. We went to a small country apple farm where they run the tractor out to the orchards and let you pick your own apples. We got just under 25 lb of apples today: 20 (2 pecks) of jonathons and 5 (1/2 peck) ozark gold. Which led us to our next fun experiments...
Shaune elected himself to be in charge of apple pie filling. He manned this cool contraption here, which did all the work for him:

That there is my mom's Apple Peeler-Corer-Slicer from Pampered Chef. It is such a fun toy. I had to stop Shaune or else he'd do all 25 lbs of just that! It makes like a giant apple yo-yo that is excellent to play with. We sliced the yo-yo in half, dumped them into a large freezer bag, and added the spices. We've now got 5 pies worth of filling ready to whip out and bake whenever we need it.

I decided to make apple butter. This is my first experience canning and although it was a little rocky, all 10 jars sealed correctly on the first try! I love apple butter. This stuff started as a full pot of apple pieces and cooked down to 10 cups worth of cinnamony, sweet, perfect goo. We couldn't help taking a spoon and eating a good bit while cooking. I think I'm going to save it and give it away for Christmas presents.




I still have about 12 lb of apples to deal with. I know what we'll be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week. I'd like to can more but with the pot I have, I can only do 1/2 pint (8 oz) jars right now. Unless I can borrow a bigger pot, I think it would be too expensive to buy enough jars for the rest of the apples. Not to mention the time. So for now, they're going to hang out in the cooler and be fresh treats, at least until I can come up with a better idea.

Any suggestions?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Student Teaching Update

Kids are so funny. My 5th and 6th graders are finally past that "new-class apprehension" and are letting their real personalities shine. And oh boy! do some of them have personality!

I don't really want to be there, as I've expressed before, since I'd rather be at home caring for my house and my family. But once I walk in the door I'm making the best of it. And I am coming to adore those children. Pre-teens have such a strange balance of child-like and adult behavior. One minute they have their act together, the next they're in tears over something small -- the boys too. They're real sweethearts, eager to please (until the next distraction pulls them away).

If I ever do end up in a situation where I have to work, this is where I'd like to do it. I feel like every day I'm doing a little something for these kids. So many of them have rough home lives. The rest have incredibly permissive parents. What both groups need is caring adults to invest in their lives. I feel very strongly about being home investing in my own children, but I wouldn't be surprised to be back in a classroom sometime in my life.

However! Through all this, and because I'm at an innovative, multiage, continuum-based school, I've found the perfect curriculums for my home school in a few years. That is, once I have kids and they get old enough to play school with me.

If anyone needs recommendations on writing or word study (i.e. spelling) curriculums, let me know! My poor brain can't wait 6 years to try them ;-)

P.S: Mrs. G, I can't access your blog anymore!

Monday, August 31, 2009

EGR: Extra Grace Required

We're living above an EGR: Extra Grace Required. You know the type -- loud, annoying, won't listen to reasonable explanations about why a booming stereo is unwelcome at 4 am...

We're far from being done with this situation, but it's the first I've had to handle since seriously trying to live as a Christian. I'm glad that I now have the voice of the holy spirit in me, because the voice of Jenny would rather do something really crabby like tape a highlighted copy of the lease to his door, or vacuum the floor first thing when I get up at 6.

Please pray for me! My patience is wearing thin, since this is the 4th night in a week I've not been able to sleep. I need to remember that our Lord made those EGRs just like the rest of us... even if we wish He didn't. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Finally Finished: Denim Jumper


I started this nearly a month ago and life keeps getting in the way of my sewing! It originally started as New Look pattern 6726, but I changed in a few key ways:


  1. I took out the back zipper and made it pull-on

  2. I lengthened the bodice 2 inches so it fit

  3. I lengthened the skirt nine (9!!!!) inches to cover my knees

I've always wanted a denim jumper, but I didn't want it to be too homely. This dark denim, bought at the Memorial Day sale for 50% off was just the ticket. It's comfy, easy-wear, and just right for my current role as a 5th grade teacher.

I have a brown linen dress that is so close to done it makes me want to clear my schedule for the 2 hours it would take to finish it. It's SOOO pretty I've thought (seriously) about just wearing it unfinished... until I realized the thing I have to finish includes the straps! :-D

Monday, August 24, 2009

Breaking the Moses Habit, Pt. 2

This is the second post in a series I am writing about Moses' reaction when faced with God through the burning bush. God tells him to go to Egypt, and Moses refuses, using five excuses that I have found myself using repeatly when faced with God's call in my life. You can read my inspiration text in Exodus chpt. 3-4, and the first part of my writing here.
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Breaking the Moses Habit: Who am I?
But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11


Who am I? I’m just little me, minding my own business. What right do I have to demand anyone’s attention – especially that of someone important! I’m only one in 6.7 billion!
I completely understand how Moses felt here. Who hasn’t at one point or another!? It is hard not to feel small when faced with the staggering problems of this world – poverty, hunger, slavery, genocide. Even the staggering beauties (mountains, oceans, plains) have the same effect. Culture does its best to encourage this line of thinking – “You’re only one person. What can you do to change the world?”

That’s how it looks from our perspective. Thankfully, God has a different view:

And God said, “I will be with you.” Exodus 3:12

I wish I could have seen Moses’ face at that moment. I imagine he was flooded with emotions. Joy – he is not alone. Hope – maybe this task isn’t impossible after all. And fear – there goes one really great excuse!

We have the same promise as modern Christians. We may not be special in and of ourselves, but “we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). We have been adopted into the family of the King and given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and support us. If He calls us, He will provide the means to further His glory.

I have been caught in this “who am I?” trap on countless occasions. I’m a young woman with a short track record as a Christian – only five years. I haven’t finished a degree or taken any special bible classes. A lot of the time I do not feel qualified to speak. I feel the urging in my heart but my mind gets in the way. This “right to speak” idea permeates my life – not just my faith. The last thing I want to do is having someone be offended and remind me that I am not worthy of sharing my opinions.

It is a hard concept to fully comprehend: I have value not because of who I am, but because of who God is. Which leads us to Moses’ next excuse…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stress and Student Teaching

I've not had a chance to post since Friday because I've entered the busiest time of my education: student teaching. Basically, I'm a full-time teacher in a 5th/6th grade classroom from now until December. I'm observing under a mentor teacher this week and next, then I begin to take over the various subjects. Although I've been writing every night (for HOURS!), none of it has been for my blog. I'm afraid, dear friends, I may be hitting a dry spot for a while.

I think the hardest part of this experience is that my heart isn't in it. I love the kids and I love teaching -- don't mistake me there! However, my heart's at home. My husband and I have already decided that I can stay home and care for our family. Finishing school is simply so we have a back-up if anything happens to him, to teach and care for our children to the best of my ability, and to make both sets of parents happy. (They only agreed to our getting married young if we promised I would graduate)

But I'm so unmotivated!

I know I'll get through it, I'm just dragging my feet today. The first week of school is chaos and I've always hated it -- first as a student, now as a teacher. In addition, we had not one but TWO tornadoes blow through town, so we spent the better part of the afternoon shhhing kids while they leaned up against the interior walls.

I'll have a chance to write more on my Moses project come Friday. I just didn't want everyone to think I'd disappeared! Have a great week!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Breaking the Moses Habit, Pt. 1

This is the first part of an essay I am in the process of writing. It began five years ago as a devotional for my high school youth group. Since then, I have put a lot of thought and prayer into this passage. Although I have not finished it yet, and have no idea how long it may eventually end up, I hope you'll follow along and add your thoughts on this topic.

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Breaking the Moses Habit

Stop for a minute and think about Moses. What do you know about him? The plagues, leading the people through the desert to the Promised Land, parting the sea, the Ten Commandments, and of course – all those laws! But before the Sunday School Moses, the popular Moses, there was an entirely different man.

I love the story of the early Moses. I see so much of myself in him. True, I have never killed a man (Exodus 2:12), but I have done more than my share of unthinking, foolish actions. And like Moses, my desire is to turn and flee. Moses fled to Midian, far away from his home in Egypt, where he joined a group of shepherds. He made himself comfortable. He took a wife, and had some kids, and (at least in my imagination) set his mind to forgetting as much about Egypt as humanly possible.

But God had other plans for Moses. He always has. Remember the basket in the water? From the very beginning, God’s hand ensured that Moses even made it to that fateful day out in the desert. The scene takes place in front of a miraculous sign: a burning bush. On one side, we see a normal, comfortable, graying and balding middle aged man. On the other, the Master and Creator of the Universe:

There an angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” Exodus 3:2-4

The following conversation stirs my heart. Our God knows the pain His loved ones have suffered at the hands of their Egyptian masters. He wants to heal them. He cares. He has a plan! But… oh Moses! When faced with his life’s mission, he refuses. Not just once, but fully five times does he present excuse and fears as to why he can not fulfill the role that the Lord has shaped for him.

The first time I read this – REALLY read it – my heart broke. For Moses, yes, but even more so for myself. I have heard each of his five refusals fly from my mouth on many occasions. When presented with an opportunity to serve the Lord and his people, I like Moses hesitate. See, although I am not a balding middle age man several centuries before Christ, I, too, am comfortable. I let my comfort and fears lead me to reject God’s will. Moses’ five objections are familiar, and represent the broad categories of excuses that we each fall into. They are:

1. Who am I?
2. Who are you, God?
3. What if they think I am crazy?
4. I do not have the skills.
5. Please! Send someone else!

I find myself returning to this passage repeatedly. Studying the conversation between Moses and God has helped me to understand myself better. More than that, seeing how God responds to each of Moses’ objections shines a light on His holy character. And since we have been promised that, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6), I can safely believe that God’s responses to my objections will be similar to those of Moses. This passage can help us to understand and overcome our excuses. Then, we can be free to pursue the challenges the Lord has planned for us.

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The first section, "Who am I?" is almost finished. I hope to post that in a day or two, followed by each of the other four excuses. I pray that this study will help you at least a fraction of as much as it has helped me!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dehydrated Goodness

First off, I want to say thank you to all of you for your sweet comments on my last post. It's so nice to reminisce on weddings every now and again!


I've used my dehydrator 3 times now! The first time I already wrote about. Next, I made zucchini chips. Although they're a little bitter (I've never been a huge zucchini fan), they're so tasty and easy to snack. This only a fraction of what I originally made, since more disappear every time we walk into the kitchen. What a way to add veggies -- another thing I'm bad about!
The small jar with the black lid is celery. With student teaching this semester, I'm planning a bunch of homemade soup mixes to be ready in the cabinet for when I walk in from school. This is five stalks of celery; most of my recipes call for one, so this should make about 5 mixes. I was **shocked** at how much the celery shrank. I guess it really is mostly water after all.
The red-lid is 6 green peppers. Organizing Mommy -- I'm glad you laughed about wasting 1/2 a pepper. I realize it's not a big deal, I laugh at myself all the time, but it makes me feel better this way that I won't be wasting. Does this make me frugal or a fanatic? (LOL)
Finally, carrots. I love carrots in all shapes and forms. These will be chopped a little smaller to go into the same soup mixes as the celery. I love being able to make my own convenience food.
Oh, and as an aside, the cake in the back is our anniversary cake. Funny story. When we got home from the wedding, we found a cake about the same size as the one shown here. Somehow, with the exhaustion of moving and marriage, it didn't even sink in that that was the top layer we were supposed to freeze for a year! We ate the whole thing in a week. I didn't realize what we had done until, oh, 2 days before our anniversary. My mom found humor in our situation and didn't want us to be cakeless, so she took the original photographs and re-made us a top layer. French vanilla cake with nutella (hazelnut) spread in between the layers. And, if I may brag on my mom a tiny bit, her version actually looked much prettier and more like what we wanted than the baker's. I'm so proud of her and her cake baking hobby.
My husband's preoccupied with martial arts belt testing all weekend, so I intend on writing several more posts between now and Sunday. One may even be intelligent!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Time Flies... and a present!

Sorry I've not been around all week; it's been hectic. Part of the busyness -- and a huge helping of joy -- is that my dear husband and I celebrated our very first anniversary last Sunday, August 2nd. Some days I can't believe it's been an entire year. And others, it feels like forever!


We had a very plain, very beautiful wedding at the church I grew up in. We wanted to keep it simple so we could invite everyone we knew. And, the church is pretty on it's own. As you can see, we added essentially nothing in terms of decoration.


Then, we just had cake and punch.. and a tiny bit of dancing... in the fellowship hall downstairs.


But enough about last year! Since money is tight this year, my anniversary gift had to be practical. It had to be something that I could use, and wanted, and would help improve our life for more than just a day. So I got something I've been pining over for several months now: a food dehydrator.
It's nothing fancy, a Nesco Snackmaster with four trays. But, it's quiet and very fast. The first night I had it I wanted to use it right away, but I hadn't been to the store to buy anything specific to dry. I wandered through the house and came up with some fresh mint from the garden, a big can of pineapple, and some leftover sausages from dinner (they had spinach and all sorts of loveliness in them). I flipped the machine on right before bedtime and got up in the morning to perfectly preserved food! Shaune took the sausage-jerky for lunch and we've been snacking on the pineapple all week. The mint's been added to teas every morning.
Today I finally got to the grocery store, so I've got tons of in-season produce to work with tonight. I'm making carrot and zuccini chips for snacking (tossed with a tiny bit of olive oil and salt). I'm also drying several green peppers. Many of my recipes call for a half pepper or less. I never get around to using the second half. Hopefully, drying will help cut down on our waste.
I'm so excited! LOL. I'm going to my father-in-law's garden some day this week to collect tomatoes and other produce he wants me to dry for him. This is an excellent new hobby.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Blog

My husband and I have started a new blog together, The Preston Persuasion, as a family blog. The primary purpose is to write about the exciting adventures God is calling us to persue -- such as a missions trip in January that will take us to Africa! If you're interested, hop on over and check it out. I'm still working on the layout and everything, it is definately a work in progress.

Thanks!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our Daily Bread

One of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to being married is only cooking for two people. At home, I would cook for 5 – myself, my parents, my brother and sister. In college, I would cook for a bare minimum of 3, but we had so many friends in and out of our apartment that left-overs never lasted more than a couple hours. If I didn’t feel up to cooking, someone else would step in, and if they didn’t, the local pizza place offered $5 pizzas ready when you walked in to pick it up. No planning was required.

Well, life isn’t like that anymore. I’ve had to adjust to cooking for two; one of whom (myself) has never liked left-overs and refuses to eat them if it can be avoided. Shaune’s a good sport and usually takes last night’s dinner for lunch to the office, but we still seem to have more food than we can handle. I’ve tried halving recipes or freezing some for later, various things that all seem to work at least sometimes. But one of the things I’ve practically given up on is fresh, hot, wonderful, homemade bread.

Until now!

Last weekend I was perusing my various cookbooks for ideas and came across one for “Refrigerator Bread.” It is dough that you can mix up and leave in the fridge until you need it. In fact, it has to rise for at least 24 hours. So, I made up a batch on Sunday, then packed it into four separate containers. Each has enough dough for 6-8 rolls. Monday night I pulled out the first container – we had friends coming over for dinner and hot rolls were on the menu. Although the dough was very sticky, they turned out PERFECT! I gave one of the packs to our friends who came over. We cooked up some tonight to use as hamburger buns. We’ve got one left for fresh bread later in the week.

I think I’ve finally come up with a system for our small, bread-loving family. I can have fresh bread in less than an hour – ½ to rise, ½ to cook. I can satisfy my carb-tooth whenever I want. I think I’ll be making a batch of dough most weekends from here on out!

I wanted to share the recipe if anyone’s interested:
  • 3/4 c hot water
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt (I used much less without any ill effects)
  • 1/4 c shortening (I used margarine)

Combine so sugar and shortening can melt. Let cool til lukewarm then add:

  • 1 c warm water
  • 2 packs Active Dry Yeast (I buy yeast by the pound and used about 1 tbsp)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 5 1/4 c flour, give or take

Beat until smooth. Dough remains soft and sticky. Place into greased bowl and cover with waxed paper/plastic wrap/lid. Store in refrigerator until doubled, or until needed up to 1 week. To bake, shape as desired. Allow to rise until doubled and bake at 375 until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Makes about 32 rolls.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Only Hair

Today we made one more step towards independence -- I'm excited! It's a tiny step in the grand scheme of life, but may be a big one in the long run.

I woke up this morning and realized that my husband's hair is absolutely shabby. It was time for a haircut. Shaune refuses (with my complete understanding) to not go to a Great-Clips type place or the beauty school... only an authentic barber shop will do. Unfortunately, all the local barber shops charge between $14 and $18 a cut before tip. That doesn't fit into our budget the every 3 weeks or so that he needs it. Usually we stretch it to 5 or 6 weeks, but the trade off is dramatic (he looks much older when it's long).

I decided to take the somewhat scary step of taking responsibility for my husband's hair. I found a well-rated hair cutting kit for the same price as one haircut and gave it a whirl.

Although I probably need some more practice (and confidence), it turned out very well. Now, I have the freedom to trim him as often as he needs, without worrying about money or the barber shop's schedule. It's a small step, but a rewarding one.

And, if I mess up, it's only hair. It'll grow back next week!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Acceptable Offering

I was reading a passage yesterday in my Bible that really struck my heart deeply. It led me to seek a clearer understanding of sacrifice, of what we should offer to God. I wanted to share it here. The background of the passage is that King David sinned by taking a census of the people during peacetime, so God punished Israel by sending a plague. The whole story can be found in 2 Samuel 24.

18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, "Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." 19 So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
21 Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" "To buy your threshing floor," David answered, "so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped." 22 Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 O king, Araunah gives all this to the king." Araunah also said to him, "May the LORD your God accept you." 24 But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."


So often we give to the Lord out of our excess. We take care of our own needs and comforts first before seeing what we can spare for Christ. We pay the bills and write a check to the church for a reasonable amount of what's left... maybe $10 this month? Maybe $50? Maybe nothing? It depends on what's left over after everything else. This "me first" attitude is pervasive in our culture -- and persuasive, too.

It's also been a long problem.

All the way back in Genesis, Cain and Able make offerings to God (see the story in Genesis 4). One, Able, offers the choice piece of fat from his prized lambs -- the firstborn of his flock. His offering is accepted by God with pleasure. The other, Cain, brings "some" of the fruits of the soil. His offering is rejected. Now, I've never been to seminary or read a stack of commentaries, but I believe I can figure out why Cain's gift didn't make the cut. He responds by becoming "very angry, and his face was downcast" (v. 5). His attitude wasn't right; his heart wasn't in the gift. I always picture Cain as contemplating, "Now, if I do this for God, he'll do xxxx for me." His sacrifice didn't cost where it counts -- in the heart.

Selfish "gifts" were a problem in the New Testament, too. Ananias and his wife Saphirra try to lie about how much money they made for selling a piece of land so they could secretly withhold money for themselves (Acts 5). The Apostle Peter responds:

3Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."

Once again, it's a heart problem. I don't see that the actual money is the problem. Rather, they make a show of giving a gift to the growing church while lying. They were not FORCED to sell the land. Again, I'm not a bible scholar, but I truly believe that if they had spoken truthfully that they wanted to keep some of the money for themselves, everything would have been fine. Because of their lies, they sacrifice their lives.

Through my study of these three passages, I believe that an acceptable offering needs three elements:

  1. To be done in the right attitude -- praise and thankfulness (Genesis)
  2. To be a true gift, not hiding an act of selfishness (Acts)
  3. To truly be a sacrifice -- to cost something meaningful (2 Samuel)

I also firmly believe that, although these passages all deal with material wealth, the ideas about offering can and should be extended to all things we give to God, such as our time. We can't buy God's favor and we can't trick Him. Rather, we should pour our hearts out to Him and offer our best -- the first of our money, the freshest of our time, all of our worship. I don't usually use The Message Bible paraphrase, but I love the way it states 2 Samuel 24:24 --

I'm not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Honest Scrap Award



Gillian who writes over at Delighting in Pure Song gave me this award, and I'm thrilled! Here it goes:





The Rules:


* Thank the person who gave you the award


* Post 10 honest facts about yourself


* Pass the award on to 7 others - I truly don't have 7 blogs I read that I can tag, so we'll see how many I can get...





1. My first anniversary is two weeks away, on August 2nd! I can't believe it's been a year already. It feels like a lifetime. Everything about marriage has changed me and made me a better person. I have no doubt in my mind that God designed this man to be my perfect match.



2. When I was 17, I nearly died in a white-water rafting accident. It was the most profound moment in my life. Two boats went over my head before I passed out and saw the Lord. I woke up with a rope over my shoulder, two paddles clutched in my hand, and singing "God of Wonders." I gave my heart to Christ the second they pulled me out of the river and have never looked back since.



3. I love to start projects. I'm horrible about finishing them. That's why in the house right now there's two quilt tops (with backing fabric stacked near them), two blouses that need hemmed, a nearly-done dress that needs some design tweaking, and countless stacks of magazine rip-outs and patterns (some with designated fabric already purchased and prewashed). This is a weakness I hope to cure... someday.



4. I love historical fashions. My Senior prom dress was a Regency-inspired gown that I spent months researching and designing. I get such a kick out of studying books of fashion plates and drafting up patterns to make the design elements work. I wish I had more chances to wear the dresses, though.



5. I am currently enrolled in my 3rd college. Technically 4th, if you count the dual-enrollment courses I took during high school. Every time I get comfortable, it seems that God changes the plan. I'm only one semester from graduation, though, so hopefully this is the last (at least until I pursue post-grad work). I was originally Business / French, then secondary English Education, and now, finally, Elementary Education. I'm student teaching at the most innovative, child-centered school in the region starting in August. I'm so excited!



6. I am spoiled rotten when it comes to sewing, because I grew up in a sewing store. It was always my mother's dream to further the arts of sewing and English smocking, so when I was eleven my parents opened a machine dealership. Although I was 18 before I owned my own sewing machine, I got used to picking any floor model I wanted to use for a project (and I ALWAYS picked the $4,000 top-of-the-line). I also got very used to having free thread lying around. The first time I had to buy thread I almost cried. I've gotten over that, though, and gotten much more thrifty in my sewing habits.



7. If I had a choice, I would curl up with a novel before doing almost anything else. I've read thousands of books. I learned how to read long before kindergarten and have never slowed down. My husband and I downloaded a list from a college that uses a "Great Books" curriculum and are starting from the beginning to read every last one of the works together. I have always desired a classical education. See the program for yourself here.



8. We are thinking very seriously about homeschooling our children. This seems like a huge break for someone who attended school from 3 years old to the present and has almost completed a degree in education, but the more I've been in school the less I believe it is the best place for our children (at least in our area -- yours may be different). Besides, once I have my teaching licence... who can object?



9. (Warning, this is completely silly) Even at 22 years old and married for a year, I still sleep with a stuffed animal. Daddy gave it to me the day I was born. Why break tradition?


10. I believe in miracles. I've been saved from death, watched others be cured of incurable cancer, and seen way too many "coincidences" to believe in coincidence. Every day miracles occur on a regular basis. You just have to be willing to see them for what they are.

Most of the few blogs I read have already been tagged. I've not spread my wings too far into blog world at this point... but I can tag one!
  1. My Song of Joy

Monday, July 13, 2009

Homemade Cake

This may sound lame to many of you who've been homemakers for a lot longer than I have... but last night I made my first cake that didn't come out of a box! I even made the icing. I just had to share. I don't think I'll ever go back to boxed, this was so easy and tasted so good.

The recipe came out of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook from 1955. I had all the ingredients on hand, which is part of why this recipe won out over other options. The cake is a basic recipe. The icing is butter cream flavored with creme de menthe candy oil I had in the pantry from Christmas treats. The mint leaves decorating it are from my very own, rapidly spreading spearmint bush.

Simplicity 1-Egg Cake

  • 1 1/4 c flour
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c shortening (next time I think I'll use butter for more flavor)
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg

Heat oven to 375. Grease a 8" cake pan. Sift together all dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Add mild and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Crack in egg and beat at least 2 minutes. Turn into pan and bake 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Butter Cream Frosting

  • 1/3 c butter, margarine, or shortening
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3 c powdered sugar
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla -- I replaced this with a few drops of mint to taste

Cream ingredients until fluffy. Spread and serve.

PS I posted about my new skirt, but it is out of order since I started drafting it Friday. See below 2 posts!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saying "Yes"

I've been feeling convicted by all the wonderful posts on marriage lately throughout the blogs I read. I spent a bit of time on Friday thinking, and I realized that so often when my husband asks me to do something, I say "no." It isn't typically big things... I just already have a plan I'd like to fulfill and would rather stick to it than deviate. So this weekend, I decided to commit myself to saying "yes" to my husband for 3 days to see what happened.

On Friday evening, I intended to stay home and sew. I'm working on 2 dresses and a skirt that I'd really like to get done as soon as possible. I spent most of the day Friday drafting the patterns and started cutting fabric. Well, when my dear husband came home, he informed me that his best friend would be joining him at Martial Arts class that evening and the friend's wife had invited me over to catch up while the boys were playing. I REALLY wanted to sew, but remembering my commitment, I agreed. It turned into a great evening to reconnect to dear friends that I've been pulling back from over the past few weeks. We had good conversations while cooking and playing together, strenghtening our relationships as well as pointing towards Christ (they're fellow Christians). It was such a blessing, even though it wasn't what I had planned. Saying "yes" to Shaune provided healing that my heart needed.

Saturday I got several hours of sewing time. But, right when I got to the finishing touches on my skirt (stitching the lining in place then the hem), Shaune asked me if I'd like to go for a drive with him to return a movie. By saying yes to that errand, we ended up on the best date we've had in months. We saw that two movies we were both interested in were playing at the drive-in theater. Now, we very, very rarely go to movies. I don't believe in spending so much each for an uncomfortable seat in a sticky-floored theater. I'd rather wait for it to hit the RedBox where I can rent it for $1 and watch it at home. But, Shaune loves going to movies, so when he asked I agreed.

Once again, saying "yes" turned into such a blessing. Our outting was a chance for us to reconnect and laugh together again, as well as talk about some of the multitude of things we've been through in the past few weeks. It definately strengthened our marriage. That special time spent together helped remind me just who my husband is and why I love him as much as I do. And it all started just by saying "yes" to a breif errand.

In all aspects of life, it becomes easy to fall into a routine. It is easy to stay where we are comfortable and do the things that we have planned to do. In faith and in marriage, we so often do what we've always done. This weekend has shown me how powerful simply opening yourself up to an interruption can be. Twice I said "yes" even though it disrupted my plans. And twice, that "yes" turned into an opportunity for healing in some very important relationships in my life. I feel stronger because of everything that happened this weekend.

Sometimes, the thing you need the most is the thing you expect the least.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Drop-waist Skirt, and How I Sew

I sew much differently than anyone I know, which has always interested me. I wanted to walk you through my latest project the way that I do it, and see if anyone else does things similarly to me.


The biggest difference -- I don't use mock-ups when I sew, except when I am very uncertain of a project or did a lot of unique drafting. Instead, I use math. My calculator and measuring tape are my best friends when designing. When I do sew a sample, it's typically out of somewhat nice fabric and can be used as a garment itself, even if I end up tweaking it a little.

I've always been a math geek. I even competed on the Math Team in middle school, winning a trip to the State Finals in Chicago my 8th grade year. That was about the time I also started studying flat-pattern design. I bought a textbook used in fashion design programs and spent hours pouring over the various elements and how they could be achieved with a little bit of paper, scissors, and tape. (At the time, I thought I was going to go to fashion design school and become world-famous. LOL.) I used this knowledge, plus a lot of learning from mistakes, to make all my formals for high school and several articles for my every-day wardrobe. Since straight-from-the-envelope patterns typically don't fit my long-waisted, narrow-shouldered frame, I must draft at least part of every project I create.


I always start by tracing the pattern onto brown paper grocery bags. I use these for several reasons: 1) I have a ton 2) They hold up. through the project as well as through storage 3) Since they're so firm, I usually don't have to pin them to my fabric. I just use canned veggies to weight the pattern down.


After that, I start drafting. I use the "finished measurements" information for a lot of my work. These are on every pattern I've used lately, though sometimes you have to look for it. I use up the scraps of the brown paper for the math -- if I add to the bodice, where and how much to add to the skirt? If I shift the front neckline by 1/2 ", how is the back affected? By the time I head to fabric, I am fairly confident in a garment that fits ME well. I also have the freedom to adapt design elements to fit my mental image.

On this skirt, I took a standard pattern and went wild. The inspiration was a linen skirt (originally from the Gap) that I picked up at Goodwill on Tuesday. I fell in love with it and just HAD to make another. I started by cutting a yoke at the top of the pattern and closing the darts on the front yoke. This adds fullness at the bottom -- perfect for the look I was working towards. Then, I began using the slash-and-spread to add about 20 inches of fullness to each of the front and the back. Finally, I created the inset piece. It's basically pie-shaped, but squared off at the top. The top is four inches across, the bottom is 15 inches. Once I have my pattern pieces, it is an easy jump to fabric.

The pattern for this skirt. The white is original, brown paper added.



My soup cans

Then, I sew. I very rarely adjust anything once it's stitched. Not to say that it's perfect, but usually everything is good enough that I don't bother changing. Careful work at the paper stage saves work at the fabric stage, which means less pin-holes, less frayed edges, less seam ripping (my least favorite task ever). This skirt required absolutely no alterations from the pattern. I LOVE it! It's still a little narrower than the linen sample it's based off of, even after adding 55" of fullness. But I think much more of this print would be overwhelming.




This is a close-up of the front inset.



Stay tuned -- I've got one dress cut out and one ready to be cut. Tomorrow's my sewing day! I should have them both done by the end of the week.

Pictures Without Words