Friday, August 31, 2007

The price is right?

Does anyone else find it ironic that bleached, over-processed white flour is cheaper than healthy whole-grain flours? Why is it that the prices of organic, even local, foods are much higher than foods that have been shipped half-way around the world?! (This question is somewhat rhetorical--I understand that most organic farms are smaller and produce less, and also there is the issue of longer shelf life when it comes to bleached flour and products made with hydrogenized oil.)

Is it possible to eat well (being a good steward of my family's health and my own) without spending a fortune (being a good steward of our finances)? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you buy organic and/or local products? Why or why not?

Relevant articles: why organic food costs more, tips for saving money on organic food, and Is it worth the extra cost?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"We were all in there together"

I'm sure most of you have heard of this movie, even if you haven't seen it, but I don't know that anyone had the same viewing experience I did! Saturday night, at 9:00, I dragged my gettin' sleepy self over to the lounge of one of the women's dorms on our campus. Over 200 ladies crowded together with pillows and sleeping bags to watch the premiere of this much-anticipated sequel. Cheesy, yes. But I haven't laughed that hard in a long time, mostly because the energy in the room was so high and the women were so into it. I didn't get home until 11:30, which reminded me of when I was in college--or at least before I had a baby!

The post title is a spoof of one of the songs from the original movie: "We're All in This Together".

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Baking tips from our house to yours

You may want to print this out and keep a copy in your favorite cookbook:
  • Next time you make a quick bread, take poppy seed for example, I suggest that you not omit the baking powder (whether intentionally or not)--the bread will not rise or bake properly. (Think dense and doughy--yikes!)
  • On a similar note, I recommend that you not accidentally triple the amount of baking soda--it will cause the unsuspecting guests to choke on their banana bread. It is important to point out that a teaspoon and a tablespoon are not equal.
  • Lastly, it's always a good idea to make sure you check and double-check that 1) nothing is in the oven before you preheat it, and 2) that you actually turn the dial from preheat to bake after sliding that delicious cake into the oven.

Anyone else have some profound baking tips to share?!

While you're thinking of making things from scratch, head on over here for inspiration.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Make your own mix: cream soup

I'm interested in trying various homemade mixes (no/less preservatives and packaging, cheaper in some cases, and I'm just plain curious) so I plan to test one every so often and will review it here. The first review was on fajita seasoning mix. Here is the second:

We are unapologetically casserole people. Throw a bunch of ingredients together for a one-dish meal? Love it. But I don't always love buying those gloppy cans of cream of celery soup. When my sister sent me the following recipe, I thought it was worth a try. I don't use it every time a recipe calls for cream soup, but it has been wonderful to have on hand, and it's healthier than the full-fat canned versions. I have been surprised that I haven't noticed a difference in taste or testure, but I guess in a casserole it can be hard to tell!

cream soup mix

2 c. powdered milk
3/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 c. chicken bouillion
1/2 t. pepper
2 T. onion flakes
1 t. basil
1 t. thyme

Mix in airtight container--makes equivalent of 9 cans of soup.

To use: Combine 1/3 c. of mix with 1 1/4 c. cold water. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring until thickened.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A playful observation

Yesterday we spent a couple hours with a friend who has 3 kids. My son sat down in front of a large pile of toys, and do you know what he wanted to play with the whole time? My water bottle and his socks. It was a good reminder to me that sometimes "non-toys" can be the best things to play with!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

100

Well, it came quickly. I guess I've had a lot to say, as this is my 100th blog post. Cue the party horns and confetti!

Defying tradition, I wrote a list of 100 fun facts for my very first post. Shocking, isn't it? Go check it out if you haven't already--and thanks for reading!

Thanks also to nods from Sarah (who thinks I'm nice) and Rebecca (who thinks I'm rockin'--I picked a good week to comment on her blog!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Panini: it's what's for dinner! (a WFMW post)

My husband and I were in London when we first met the panini, a glorified relative of the humble (but tasty!) grilled cheese sandwich. It had never occurred to me to make them at home until I saw an idea in an old issue of Real Simple. No fancy panini press is required; in fact, all you need is a plate and a heavy can or two.

A loaf of Italian or French bread, or something similar probably works best. My husband requested turkey, pepperoni, colby jack cheese, and green pepper in his sandwich; mine contained the same minus the pepperoni, and with the addition of fresh tomato slices. I also added a "splash" of raspberry vinaigrette dressing, which we agreed greatly enhanced the flavor.

On medium heat, I placed the sandwiches side-by-side in a greased saucepan and set the plate on top, weighting it down with two large (28 oz.) cans. Each side was grilled for 3-4 minutes.

In addition to tasting great, the panini meets all my requirements for a winning meal: nutritious, quick, inexpensive, and easily-"customizable"!

Bonus idea: Because my husband likes to order grilled burritos at a local fast food joint, I thought I'd try the same plate and can technique for those, too, and it worked great for us!

Want some other ideas? Click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Information overload

I have always like to read and to learn new things. This can be an asset, but it can also make my brain very tired!

A few years ago my department at the college read this book. From taking the inventory, I learned that my top strength (according to their list) is Input. A basic summary of their description is that I am inquisitive, I find many things interesting, I read to add information to my "archives," and I like to collect things. Yep, all true.

But with this quest for knowledge, I find that there are more blogs and books and articles than I have time and energy for. When I started my blog a few months ago, I listed just a few sites I was checking regularly and posted a selection of books I wanted to read this year. Well, my blogroll is growing steadily, and I have a marker in 6 different books right now, only one of them being on my original list. (I decided to remove the list of books from my blog because every time I see it I feel guilty that I've allowed other titles to surpass them. =) )

Anybody else on information overload?!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tidbits

A few random things from our weekend:

On Friday night, we were sitting in the living room when we suddenly heard a huge "boom" and saw a bright explosion. A tree outside of our house was struck by lightning! We are so thankful no one was hurt, but you can see that the tree was split in half and will be taken out in a couple days.


Thanks to my mom and sister for sending me this hospitable sign for our entryway:

Fun times at the park!

Simplicity score

I occasionally watch a PBS show called Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska. While perusing Wanda's website, I noticed she offers a survey that "scores" simplicity. It's an intriguing exercise, though the results are not detailed. For example, my score was 4.76--but there was no explanation of what the score means. (I guess they were trying to keep it simple!)

According to the site, simple living is defined as "a self-endorsed pattern of activities, possessions and values that is substantially free of detractions from fulfillment and sufficiency, fostered by conducive social policies."

What does simple living mean to you?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lord, have mercy.

If you've ever had something taken from you, you know it can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. A few years ago when I was teaching 8th grade language arts, I entered my classroom one morning to see that it had been ransacked. My hidden stash of candy and other prizes was gone, and items from my desk had also disappeared. There's an eerie anger when you realize someone has trespassed and taken things that belong to you. In the case above, two students decided to sneak into the school after hours, stealing items from several classrooms.

This morning as we were leaving for church, I looked out the window and noticed that our son's swing was gone. I ran outside to see if it had merely fallen, and all that remained was the rope hanging from the tree. What a way to head to church! I was frustrated and indignant (Who would steal from a baby?), my mind racing with when it happened, who did it, etc.--not the best attitude to bring to worship.

During the service we sang this simple, profound refrain:

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on me.

And it all makes me wonder: what is an appropriate response--what is a Christ-like response--in this situation? Do I let it go, trusting that the swing will now provide another child with joyful fun? Do I actively search for the swing, confront if necessary and bring "justice"?

I don't want to be petty, and the monetary value of the stolen item is not high, but it's the principle of it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Freshmen!

It's freshmen move-in day here on our campus, and in honor of the occasion, I want to offer a little "tribute" to my freshman roommate, Hayley. (Photo taken at our wing Christmas dinner.)

We had a fun year together, even though we had a lot of different tastes. Hayley loved John Michael Montgomery (a country singer), bright colors, and clowns. I preferred Christian or alternative music, dark or neutral colors, and am not a fan of Bozo, Bubbles, etc. Hayley also loved rearranging our dorm furniture, whereas I balk at even small changes.

Hayley was with me when I was feeling homesick (being a 12-hour drive from my family), and she was there to support me when I greatly embarrassed myself by calling a guy I had a crush on to wish him a "Happy Thanksgiving." That may not sound like a big deal to you, but the guy's loud roommate answered and made a big deal about why I was calling. I never thought I'd recover. =)

Hayley and I made many memories together in going camping, adjusting to college life, talking about boys, and making a road trip to her sister's wedding that spring. We gave each other the nicknames "Croc" and "Dile," though I honestly can't remember why.

We still keep in touch via Christmas cards and occasional e-mails, and I wish her the very best. To you, Hayl!

Your turn--care to share a story about your freshman roommate or something you remember about the day/weekend you moved in? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Makes *sense* to me!

I've been tagged by Leah to create pictures using the names of some of my blogging friends, including the person who tagged me. The guidelines state that I should try to incorporate a natural wonder of the world.

I once read a neat story about a little girl who was asked to write about the wonders of the world, and she chose to write about the five senses. It was much more poetic and beautiful than I've made it sound, but I thought it was a profound observation.

With that wonderful inspiration, here are 5 of my blogging friends, and the sense they represent:
Leah: taste--Leah just started a new recipe blog. She loves cooking and baking and she recently bought me a raspberry iced tea!

Monica--touch--Monica has touched my life in so many ways--she is a wonderful sister, and her blog is full of warmth, hospitality and creativity!

Lisa--sight--Lisa is an amazing photographer and has gorgeous pictures all over her sparkling new blog!

Susan--smell--Susan is "the aroma of Christ"--she is such a kind person and is very upfront about her love for the Lord!

Meredith--sound--Meredith is a new blogging friend, with whom I have many things in common, and I can't wait to hear what she has to say next!

Thanks to Monica for figuring out how to post these photos, and to Leah for offering to help. I told you I had great blogging friends!

Letting them go

I have been a subscriber to Real Simple magazine for more than five years now, and I have saved every page. I recently counted more than 60 issues in my closet, and I've decided it's time to let them go. Some of you may be horrified, thinking either: 1) Why on earth have you kept them this long? or 2) How can you stand to get rid of them now? Those are both valid responses. =)

It's been like visiting old friends as I thumb back through articles--some that have been referenced numerous times. I am of course tearing some ideas and recipes out as I go, and watching for artsy photos to make "my sister's cards".

My husband has willingly supported my collection, but we'll both appreciate having additional space in our clothes closet. (Why I've stored them there, I can't say--it's just where they ended up.) I think the magazine would approve of this purging, too--after all, their tagline is "life made easier".

Anyone else have a magazine they love? Can you beat my record (more than 62 issues of the same magazine)?!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Garden abundance

Our garden is produce-ing (ha) a ton right now! In the last few days, we've picked dozens of tomatoes, green peppers (with red ones on the way), green beans and onions.

So what do we do with it all? I'm excited to squirrel away onions and potatoes (soon to be harvested) for the winter--we store our onions in an old pair of pantyhose, tying a knot between each one, and just clip them off as needed. After saving some out to eat fresh, the green peppers and green beans are chopped and put in the freezer. (Mary Ann gives helpful instructions on freezing green beans here.) I haven't decided yet what to do with all the tomatoes, though we have given a lot away already, especially since my husband is allergic to them!

Anyone else have a garden report?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Seeing things firsthand

On a rare trip to the mall this weekend to purchase several gifts, I realized how uncomfortable I felt there. I have gotten so used to buying secondhand, that even department store clearance sales didn't fit the bill (pun intended). I also couldn't help but notice all the shopping bags others were carrying. (On that note, I refrained from taking a bag from each store where I purchased something, and instead nested all of the items in two sacks.) I have never really been a "shopper," although I do like browsing certain stores, and am always excited to find a genuine and practical bargain.

What about you--do you buy secondhand? If so, what? What don't/won't you buy used?

Friday, August 10, 2007

The "un-list"

I make lists of everything--gifts to buy, people to call, ongoing projects, recipes to try, etc. Lately, however, I've been thinking about "un-listing" when it comes to daily tasks. Too often I take the time to write "water plants" or "call for an appointment" on a piece of paper instead of just doing it. I've never participated in the blog carnival "Tackle it Tuesday," but when I see the logo on other blogs, it motivates me to make more of an effort, especially for jobs I tend to put off. Now if I notice something needs to be cleaned or taken care of, I'm trying to get it done right then. (Not profound, I know, but it's making a difference for me!)

Of course, this subject makes me think of Megan's recent post ("Why I Get Nothing Done"), which I could totally identify with. But hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A refreshing summer treat

Earlier this summer, my mom presented me with the little cookbook (a pamphlet, really) from my middle school home economics class. (Is that still a class, and is it still called Home Ec? Just wondering!)

As I flipped through the wrinkled pages, I smiled when I came across the recipe for an Orange Julius. I remember being home by myself one summer afternoon and deciding to make this little concoction. Unfortunately, my experience with the blender was minimal. The parts at the bottom were not attached properly, and when I picked up the blender jar to pour the drink into my glass, the orange liquid oozed all over the place. To make matters worse, whatever method I chose to "clean" the floor was completely inadequate. Understandably, my mom was less than pleased to come home to the sticky kitchen, and for awhile I was only allowed to use the blender under adult supervision!

I recently made another attempt at making an Orange Julius, and this time everything went OK. Here's the recipe--enjoy this easy summer treat!

1 c. milk
1 c. water
2 T. sugar
6 oz. orange juice concentrate
1 t. vanilla
8-12 ice cubes

Blend all ingredients. Make sure all blender pieces are firmly attached. =) Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Works for Me Wednesday: Kid's clothing inventory

Babies/toddlers fly through clothing sizes so quickly that I wanted a system in place for storing my son's clothes and keeping track of what we have. I initially got the idea to create a clothing inventory from this post, and began making a detailed list in a notebook. When I made the list, however, I just wrote down a description of each item (red long sleeved shirt, cargo khaki pants) without categorizing, so the list was not very practical. I wanted something I could keep in my purse for yard sale and thrift shop finds so I could buy things we actually needed.

I then checked out this book (Thanks for the tip, Meredith) and read about another way to inventory clothes by listing general garment types (pants, shirts, etc.) and putting an X on that line for each item of that type: 3 jackets, 3 X's.

Now I have both systems in place and am loving it so far. I have the more detailed descriptions in my notebook, and then I created a little index card file to keep in my purse. Now I can see at a glance how many shirts and pants I have in each size, and I also made categories for pajamas, winterwear, etc. It takes awhile to create, but is easy to update and has been great for knowing what to look for. That works for me! Check out other great ideas here.

Mailbox fun

I just love getting fun mail, and have a couple of bloggers to thank for these recent goodies:

Thank you to Megan for sending me this book, and to Zondervan for sponsoring her giveaway!

Thanks to Sandi for sending me these infant multivitamins, and for participating in the wild and crazy Dog Days of Summer giveaway!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

And so it begins . . .

If you have just started reading my blog, you may not know that we live on a college campus. My husband oversees housing and discipline at a small Christian liberal arts school, and our house is smack-dab in the middle of the action. It's a very unique living situation, but we enjoy it--mostly =). During the year, we get phone calls and visitors at all hours of the night and day. But we also have many opportunities to offer hospitality--which, for me, is the best part. Plus, we have open access to all kinds of amazing events put on by students--plays, concerts and crazy activities.

Tonight it all gets started. As I write this, I am waiting for the first of six teams to arrive at our house to pick up a "clue" from me. This year's resident assistants are kicking off training with an event modeled after The Amazing Race. It's so fun to see the stuff they come up with!

I started blogging in May so didn't have much to write about it terms of this aspect of our lives, but I'm sure there will be much material in coming months!

Swap deadline tomorrow!

We have a fabulous group of swappers already: 24 women from SC, MI, OR, NY, IN, ON, PA, AR, CO, WA, IA, KY, IL, and NC! We'd love to have you join us--click here for the details.

Ever put a song on repeat?

Last week in the car, I put in one of my favorite worship CD's: this CD by these guys! I listened to track 10, "Your Grace Still Amazes Me" over and over again. Check it out*--you won't be disappointed. Powerful lyrics--and a powerful reminder of grace.

*You can hear an excerpt by scrolling down to the "sampler" section. FYI, the CD is just $10 if you buy it off the PCD official site.

My faithful Father, enduring friend
Your tender mercy is like a river with no end
It overwhelms me, covers my sin
Each time I come into Your presence
I stand in wonder once again

Your grace still amazes me
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my knees
'cause Your grace still amazes me
Your grace still amazes me

Oh patient Savior, You make me whole
You are the author and the healer of my soul
What can I give You? Lord, what can I say?
I know there's no way to repay You
Only to offer You my praise

Your grace still amazes me
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my knees
'cause Your grace still amazes me
Your grace still amazes me

It's deeper, It's wider, It's stronger, It's higher
It's deeper, It's wider, It's stronger, It's higher
than anything my eyes can see

Your grace still amazes me
Your love is still a mystery
Each day I fall on my kness
'cause Your grace still amazes me
Your grace still amazes me

Monday, August 6, 2007

Does "bag" rhyme with "vague"?

Apparently, I have a "good voice" for TV and radio. I just took this quiz that I saw over at Leah's place. What a hoot! (If you take the quiz, my result said I have a "Midland" accent.) I'm going to have my husband take this quiz--he's from Michigan and says "baggle" for bagel, and "vag" for vague. So for him, yes, "bag" rhymes with "vague"! =) How about you?

Wardrobe bargains

I had a really fun outing Friday afternoon. My husband had just returned from a 3-day trip and I was thrilled to get out of the house for a couple hours. I headed to a nearby town where a clothing consignment store was having a 75% off clearance. Wahoo!

Because I had just inventoried my son's clothing last week (which I plan to post about on Wednesday), I knew exactly what I did and didn't need in various sizes. I ended up with some great stuff for the little guy, and then checked out the woman's department. Post-maternity clothes have been hit or miss (mostly miss) for me, and I was a little skeptical about finding anything. Nonetheless, I pulled several potential items from the racks. I was excited when a denim skirt and a couple different tops not only fit me, but I actually felt cute in them. (You know what I mean?!) More importantly, the bargain prices were just another factor in their favor, not my overall motivation to purchase them. I have too often purchased items that were good deals, even if I had doubts about the color/fit/style. Ah, buyer's remorse. (I'm sure each of you could share a similar story?)

When I got home, my husband humored me by letting me play "dress up" and show him my new clothes. I also laid everything out and had him guess the total cost. At $1-2 per item, I got some great deals--14 items of clothing for just under $20.

To make the deal even sweeter, Iowa is one of several states that offered tax-free clothing shopping over the weekend! Now it's your turn to humor me--here's the photo of me in my new outfit (total cost: $3.24!) and the rest of my great finds.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Clothes closet dividers

Several times while organizing the clothes in my son's closet, I have thought it would be nice to have some kind of label to divide various sizes. A few days ago I was reading a baby magazine and saw a blurb about a set of closet dividers--only $10 for 6. Well, that motivated me to make my own. I rummaged through my crafty supplies, and my eye caught a wonderful solution.

In my swap box, Alex had included some orange and yellow paint chips shaped like Mickey Mouse ears. (They're from the Disney line by Behr and can be picked up from Home Depot.) Using the magazine photo as a guide, I made a sample and tweaked it before making a set of seven for free.

It took me less than 15 minutes to make and hang them, and I am pleased with how they turned out. A cheap, cute, and practical organizing tool--I'm all for that!

It's the little things

Here are a couple easy ways to be a little more "green":

  • Next time you need to "google" something, try this instead. (I learned about it here, a great site on eco-friendly cleaning and household tips.)

  • Recycle printer ink cartridges at home and at the office--there are many no-cost options, including this one.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Target: Missing the mark?

If you've ever tried to return something to Target without a receipt (how dare you?!), you have to read this.

A special treat


Ever since we discovered each other's blogs, and that we live in the same corner of Iowa, Leah and I have been e-mailing back and forth. I have really enjoyed getting to know her this way, but yesterday was even more fun as we got to meet in person for the first time!

I wish we could have had a longer visit, but I really enjoyed getting together. And I'm embarassed to admit, I "tricked" Leah into buying my drink. =) I was concerned about getting home in time for my son to wake from his nap, and I walked out the door without paying for my raspberry iced tea--it didn't even cross my mind until later in the day. So thanks, Leah, for the treat!

I'm just curious--we've all been blessed to meet people through blogging, but I'd love to hear from others who have arranged to meet a blogging friend in person!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Retreating

One day last week I had a particularly low patience level with my son. Thankfully, my husband came home for lunch and was able to give me a little break. But as I thought further about my quick fuse, I realized I needed a longer break to re-charge spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

I tearfully told my husband that I needed a few hours by myself for quiet time and reflection, so we arranged for me to be gone Saturday afternoon. I felt guilty saying I needed this, as it seemed so selfish--and I felt incompetent, like why couldn't I make this work at home while my son is napping? But as much as I love to be at home, sometimes it can be the least relaxing place for me, as I am distracted by the phone or by tasks I should be doing.

My afternoon "retreat" was exactly what I needed. I grabbed a journal, my Bible and a couple books and headed to the farmhouse of some dear friends. Perched in a quiet corner of the house, I began journaling some of the many thoughts that have been swirling around in my head. Writing things down has always given me a sense of clarity and release, and I could feel weight lifted from my shoulders just from being in a calm, peaceful place.

I came home feeling refreshed, and I told my husband that I'd like to commit to taking a retreat once a month. Though I was only gone for a few hours, it was the content of the time, not the quantity that was so important.

I tend to find "fulfillment" in getting things done, in crossing an item off of one of my many lists. But too often I get caught up in achieving and accomplishing, and I have to remind myself to take time to pause and to reflect.

Words from "In the Secret" by A. Park

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there.
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait
Only for You, 'cause I want to know You more.
I want to know You, I want to hear Your voice.
I want to know You more.
I want to touch You, I want to see Your face.
I want to know You more.