Friday, November 30, 2007

Taking drastic measures

One of the best things about living in this community is the opportunity to hear amazing speakers. Recently, my husband I traveled to a nearby college for a lecture by Dr. Matthew Sleeth.

Dr. Sleeth's story is a compelling one. Trained as an emergency room doctor, he practiced medicine for many years before pursuing a new calling to write and lecture about creation care and the environment. His family, including his wife and two teenage kids, made a radical decision to downscale dramatically. They gave away half of their possessions and moved into a home the size of their former garage; granted, their previous garage was more than spacious. In addition, they drastically reduced their consumption of fossil fuels and their home use of electricity. Matthew told us their most recent utility bill was just $21!

I had listened to a lecture by Matthew when he spoke at this church, and I was excited to hear what he had to say in person. I confess that when he started in with a story from his days as an ER doctor, I was kind of antsy, waiting for him to discuss the topic I'd come for. He was telling us about a guy who'd come in one night with major heart and lung trauma. Under other circumstances, Matthew said he would have ordered a chest x-ray or another examination. But as he continued checking the patient, he realized the situation was so critical, that he had to take immediate action. He literally stabbed the man's chest with a scalpel in order to break the mounting pressure that would have proven fatal. When, at the end of the story, Matthew made the connection to the environment, it stopped me in my tracks. He said that we have to be willing to take more drastic measures. An x-ray won't cut it when emergency surgery is needed. A very profound point.


I have more I'd like to share from his lecture, but wanted to introduce him first. I'm also hoping to get my hands on a copy of his book soon and will review that when I can. For a more in-depth interview with Matthew, click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Born to hunt

From late October through mid-January, it's pheasant season here in Iowa. That means every Saturday (and sometimes other days, too), my husband and our springer spaniel, Reggie, head into the fields. As Eric says, Reggie was born to hunt. I wish you could see how excited he gets when he discovers he's about to head out! Reggie has a keen sense of smell and is adept at "flushing" the birds and then retrieving them. Trust me, by the end of the winter, we'll have a freezer full of meat.

The limit here is 3 birds per day, so lest you think this photo shows illegal activity, these five birds were acquired over the Thanksgiving weekend. Good job, guys!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Doorways

The theme this year for MOPS is "the home factor," so at each meeting, we discuss a different room of the house. We've talked about the dining room and how to create special memory-making meals for our families. We've covered the family room, learning guidelines for what we allow our children and ourselves to watch on TV. This week we discussed an area in our home that I rarely think of--the doorways.

Our speaker encouraged us to think about doors--how important they are in welcoming others when they're open or in providing boundaries when they're closed. (Our verse for the day was Deuteronomy 6:5-9, which of course made me think of when my sister literally inscribed her doorpost with Scripture.) The message this week encouraged us to consider what our front doorway communicates to people, so our speaker asked us a few questions: Is the outside of our home welcoming? With the way we live, do we give the impression that we're a revolving door (constantly rushing around), a door with a "do not disturb" sign, or a door that says WELCOME?


I think we were all touched by the message. I was challenged to be more intentional about welcoming others into our home. We have a few groups we host on a regular basis, but I want to pursue extending invitations beyond that. I want our doorway, and our lives, to say welcome.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Living more with less part 4

"More with less does not mean a somber lifestyle which preaches only responsibility and condemns beauty, excitement and humor." --Doris Janzen Longacre

In the midst of the holiday season, here are some ideas from Living More with Less regarding celebrations, with my thoughts in red.
  • Celebrations are more than entertainment--they should nurture people and strengthen faith. I totally agree! For more ideas on this subject, see this recent post about an inspiring book on traditions.

  • When planning celebrations, look for moderation and simplicity. I have been thinking about this a lot. We are looking for ways to cut back, which includes our decision to not give our son any presents this year. He's just one year old, his needs are being met, and we have a generous family who desires to give him some new toys and clothes. (We compiled a list of suggested items.) With gift giving occasions, we're trying to communicate our desire for simplicity to loved ones while also acknowledging our gratitude. Please note: I really enjoy giving and receiving gifts, but in recent years we've made several steps in decreasing the quantity. For my husband and me, this is a positive decision, not a somber one (see quote at top of post).

  • Save energy and avoid products that litter and pollute. It's so easy when we're busy or hosting large groups to opt for disposable. I've also found many cute designs on paper plates and napkins, and these products can often be acquired very cheaply. Though we're still setting out paper napkins when we're hosting, I've been using "real" plates and cups almost exclusively. It really doesn't take much effort to clean up, and I feel good knowing I've taken a small step to be more green. Cloth napkins would be the next step for us.

  • Give gifts that meet genuine needs or reflect the giver's desire to show love, or both. What a thought-provoking statement! My favorite gifts are usually the most practical. I really enjoy receiving socks (cute ones, of course) and postage stamps for Christmas. I also appreciate sentimental gifts, such as the porch swing my husband gave me as a wedding present. We had our DTR ("defining the relationship" conversation) on a friend's porch swing and were engaged on that same swing, so acquiring one of our own was a very fitting gift!

I've really appreciated the challenges and inspiration from this book. What are your thoughts on these topics?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stuck in a (beauty) rut

UPDATED Tuesday night: What a riot! I had no idea so many people would respond, and moreso--be so honest and specific! Responses ranged from 2 products (my husband, who forgot to include toothpaste in his tally, thus it should be a whopping 3!) to 16. I enjoyed reading your lists. As for me, I went without mousse this morning and I was surprised that I could really tell a difference! At $2 a can (Suave), I think I'll stick with it. But I'll continue experimenting to see if other products can be dropped from my routine. Thanks for commenting--these little surveys have been fun!

Sometimes I wonder if certain beauty products really make a difference (mousse, for example) or if I'm just using them out of routine (or hope?) If you were to rummage through your supply of toiletries, I'm curious what you would find.

This little survey is just for fun--how many beauty products (lotions, makeup, etc., but nothing medicinal) do you use in an average morning (just your "getting ready" routine including shower)? Have you been using any product for more than 5 years (brand loyalty, hopefully not the same container!)?

My answers: 8 products in the morning; I sheepishly admit I still purchase Clean and Clear out of habit--I think a switch is long overdue!

I want to experiment a little and see if there are any products I'm using that I can do without. As I tend to have dry skin, I know I won't get rid of my moisturizer, but I will re-evaluate other products in my current "line-up."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just desserts

I was in charge of dessert for our Thanksgiving gathering so I made an apple crisp (a last-minute change as my pie crust did not turn out), Monica's award-winning pumpkin pie and this chocolate pie for my husband and other non-traditionalists. All delicious recipes!

Yesterday morning we had our first snowfall of the season. It was very light, and nothing stuck, but it still felt cozy. Today, I'll pack away the pumpkins and other fall decor and pull out my beloved Christmas and winter decorations! Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Grateful heart

"O Thou who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one thing more--a grateful heart." --George Herbert

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fun with Grandma

An unusually warm November afternoon was a perfect chance to take a ride in the wagon!
Sticks are one of our son's favorite toys at the moment. Cheap entertainment!

Nathan's stick (seen above) had just preceded him down the slide; thus, his expression of concentration on the aforementioned item!

Thank you for coming, Mom/Grandma! It was great to see you.

Living more with less part 3

As many of us approach a season of gift-giving and hosting, here are some ideas for conserving energy from Living More with Less, with my thoughts in red:
  • Set a reasonable standard for cleanliness and pare cleaning and beauty products to the basics. I think that phrase "reasonable standard" is rather humorous--I'm sure that looks quite different for all of us! I would say I am more neat than clean, but I do have a basic weekly cleaning schedule. With cleaning supplies, I'm making a slow switch to non-toxic and want to try homemade cleaners using vinegar, Borax, etc. As for paring down beauty products, I'm planning to adopt Megan's approach: purchase environmentally-friendly products when my current ones run out. I'd also like to try to use fewer products than I am currently.

  • Purchase fewer products and materials which are nonrenewable or not biodegradable. This point deserves more of my consideration. I recently attended a workshop on environmental stewardship in which one panelist encouraged us to really think before we buy anything. She said she asks herself if the product can be reduced, reused and/or recycled. If not, she re-considers the purchase.
  • Recycle glass, paper and aluminum. Compost organic materials from the yard and kitchen. We do recycle paper and aluminum but I still need to be proactive in finding where we can recycle glass and cardboard locally. I have never tried composting--this is something I need to learn more about.

  • Save energy by doing some chores the slow way rather than buying more machines. A fascinating concept for the times in which we live--there are machines for everything! Little example: my husband and I recently noted that a department store was selling "quesadilla makers!" It truly is something to consider as we make lists of gifts to give or receive.

Living More with Less is a very insightful book and I am enjoying sharing various sections with you. Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cozy swap

What a fun time we've had sending and receiving our cozy shoeboxes!

My partner, Amy, put together a fabulous box of goodies for me: a pretty journal, fuzzy pink slippers, a snowman cookie cutter, a scrapbooking kit, homemade hot cocoa with marshmallows, and my favorite things--invitations with a Christmas light design and an eclectic CD from Starbucks.

Here is what I sent Amy: Chai, tealights, foot lotion, socks, stationery, waffle mix, a picture frame and a gift card for her favorite cozy drink--a pumpkin spice latte.

My mom received lots of lovely goodies from her swap partner, Deea. Her favorite item was a mulling spice mix that is part of Deea's family's traditional wassail recipe.
OK, swappers, now it's your turn to show off your cozy treats--just link below. Thanks for joining the fun!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pieces of my journey

Tina at Stewardship Living is beginining a weekly series of interviews with bloggers who are committed to stewardship, and she invited me to go first! Please click here to read my interview and to get a copy of one of my favorite recipes. Thanks for the opportunity, Tina--I look forward to hearing from others who care about this important topic!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Austenland

UPDATED: The winner is Overwhelmed with Joy! Thanks to all who entered!

Being a fan of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (in which Mr. Darcy is played dashingly by Colin Firth), I quickly added the novel Austenland to my reading list, and shortly thereafter, I won a copy from a local bookstore. I wouldn't say I loved it, but it was definitely light and fun--a nice change of pace from some other books I've read recently.

I'm going to "pay this book forward." (FYI, it's an advanced reader copy, thus not the final version. The cover and presumably some of the text are not fully edited.) If you'd like to enter the drawing, just leave a comment by Saturday (11/17) at noon CST. This contest is open to everyone!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happy birthday, Jill!


About a month ago, I received an unusual e-mail from the husband of Jill, whose blog I really enjoy reading. In the message, he referred to the recipients as BFOJ's (Blogging Friends of Jill's) and asked us to join his mission of giving her a fabulous 40th birthday! I was blown away by his forethought and creativity (though not trying to pressure other husbands out there, especially mine!) in celebrating Jill's special day. Here is a picture of the happy couple--Happy birthday, Jill!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Double date

I had so much fun meeting Leah in August that we decided to do it again, this time with our husbands in tow!

Can you tell what kind of restaurant we ate at?! Leah was a good sport to don the sombrero in honor of her upcoming birthday! She brought me a cute little pilgrim couple decoration and they also gave us a sackful of winter squash. Thanks for the gifts, and for meeting up with us, Leah and Gary! We had a wonderful time!

Friday, November 9, 2007

My favorite salad

The other night when I wanted a little snack, I was trying to decide between some of this salad and M&M cookies. Sound like a no-brainer? I chose the salad, believe it or not. But then of course, like any chocolate lover, I had the cookies after I finished my greens. =)

Here's the way I make it--thanks to my friend Amanda for getting me hooked!

1 bag baby spinach
1 small can of mandarin oranges, drained
1 diced pear
1/2 c. slivered almonds
1/2 c. red onion

dressing:
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. oil

Mix dressing well and toss with spinach and other ingredients. It's best fresh, as the spinach wilts under the power of the deliciously tangy dressing. Enjoy!

Battleground

I'm not entirely sure why I added Every Man's Battle to my Fall into Reading list. A lot of men at our college (including my husband) read the book together a couple years ago, and I considered reading it at the time. Seeing it on Megan's list of recommended reading brought the title back into light, so I added it to my list to ensure I'd pick it up.

It is not an easy book to read, as it deals with something that can be very uncomfortable: s*xual integrity. The title itself contends that this is a battle for every man. While it is not fun, lighthearted reading, it is eye-opening and challenging. It makes me want to commit to praying more for the men in my family. It makes me more aware of dressing and acting modestly. It makes me sick that an entire industry exists to lure men into promiscuity. Though this has not been a major issue in our marriage, for which I am thankful, the book offers wisdom, truth and freedom on a subject that is often undiscussed.

Women are wired so differently from men that I think this issue can be difficult to understand. The authors are incredibly honest about their struggles, which I'm sure many men can connect with. The book goes beyond discussing the danger of racy shows and websites, and discusses integrity in ways that even women are prone to fall: daydreaming, comparing your own husband to other men, even flirting.

The Bible says that we are to live above reproach. ("So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." Acts 23:16) Whether male or female, married or single, integrity in this area is something worth fighting for.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Living more with less part 2

I found the following list from Living More with Less to be very insightful. This is a compilation of suggestions for "development projects" (for North Americans) given by Europeans and Asians who had lived in North America for at least one year. I wrote down some of my own thoughts in red to accompany each suggestion.

  • Build an energy-efficient public transportation network among small towns and cities. I have a difficult time imagining this in rural Iowa. We walk or ride bikes when we can, but winter is almost here!

  • Learn to cook simple, nutritious meals (consume less meat and fats, add more fruits and vegetables, decrease amount of waste). Because I don't eat or prepare red meat, we have a lot of vegetarian meals. I do eat poultry, but I always use less in a recipe than it calls for. I think our family eat more fruits and veggies, especially in the winter, but we make every effort to not waste food.

  • Use fewer kitchen appliances. (Cook only once a day, cut food smaller to decrease cooking time) This is an interesting suggestion! I do try to group baking projects together to decrease oven usage, and I'm starting to use my crock pot more.

  • Live without disposables, set up community systems for repair and recycling, reduce waste. I definitely want to do better with this. It often seems easiest to me with a baby to use disposable products, but I need to look for places where we can improve. Currently, we recycle aluminum and newspaper, but I recently found out there's a place in our area that will accept glass and "shiny" paper as well.
  • Plant home and community gardens. We've had a lot of success with our garden, and highly recommend it!

  • Value family ties and friendship above making money. Yes, so vital! One of the things I appreciate about my husband is that having a lot of money and possessions is not important to him.

  • Build simpler, less expensive church facilities. I'm intrigued by this suggestion right now as our church has plans to build in the next couple of years.

Of course, any nation or group of people could offer suggestions for improvement to another. I share this list merely as a challenge--it is not meant to tear down or exalt anyone, but to say, "We can all do better!"

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Works for You Wednesday 2!

It's another edition of Works for You Wednesday!

My son's birthday is December 20, and I would appreciate hearing from those of you who have navigated a child's birthday that is close to Christmas. When do you celebrate? Do you have a party? How do you handle gifts? Thanks for your advice!

To give and get more advice, click here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Paper trails

I am passionate about finding little ways to reduce waste and consumption. Lately, I've been making some steps in decreasing the amount of paper we use and/or receive.
  • I purchased 2 dry-erase magnets (3x3 in.) from the infamous Target dollar bins, and have been using these instead of scratch paper for quick phone messages, brief lists, and even game scores. (Good thing the marker can be erased as I lost the last card game pretty badly!) I love the idea of using a dry erase board as a replacement for paper in all kinds of ways.

  • Catalogs--yikes! We've definitely been getting more than usual with the holidays fast-approaching. When we receive a catalog, which 9 times out of 10 we do not want, I promptly call the company and asked to be removed from their mailing list. If we wish to peruse their products, we can always shop on-line. My husband even brings catalogs home from the office, and I cancel those as well. Less paper, less junk mail, and it even saves the company some postage!

  • I decided to cancel my one magazine subscription and am now sharing with my mom. It's a brilliant plan. I rarely read it during the intended month, anyway, so now my mom just passes along each issue after she's read it. I have a small group of friends and family with whom I exchange magazines, which I love! I have access to several wonderful subscriptions without having to pay the price in money or in storage space.

I'm not trying to say paper is bad; I actually have quite the stash of stationery and crafty paper. But I do want to be a good steward of the environment, and for me, this means cutting back on paper where I can. What are some ways you decrease paper usage?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Laundry

UPDATED at 9 pm: Thank you for all of your responses. These numbers are fascinating, as predicted! The average size household among 24 respondents is 4 people exactly; the average number of loads per household is 8.125--two loads per person almost exactly. My math major husband wanted to figure more numbers and enter them into an Excel spreadsheet, but I told him these simple calculations would suffice. =)

The other day as I was doing laundry, I thought it would be interesting to find out how much you do in an average week! This is just for fun--motivated only by my curiosity. In the comments, please indicate how many people are in your household, followed by the average number of loads you do in the course of a week. Tomorrow, I'll compile the numbers and share the averages.

My response would be 3, 4--3 people, 4 loads. Thanks for sharing--I think the results will be fascinating!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Giveaway winner

The winner of my book giveaway is Nise'! Thanks to all who entered!

Friday, November 2, 2007

And so I come

My monthly retreats have been such a needed time of refreshment. I don't follow a strict plan, but I like to begin by journaling. Writing down my thoughts has always been very helpful to me, and usually clarifying as well.

This week as I poured out my heart on the page, I listed some things I've been feeling lately (tired, overwhelmed), and then I wrote the phrase, "And so I come." Those words instantly brought to mind a song that has been very meaningful to me. Though I usually maintain silence in my retreats, I grabbed the CD and relished these lyrics:

Holy, You are still holy
Even when the darkness surrounds my life
Sovereign, You are still sovereign
Even when confusion has blinded my eyes

Lord, I don't deserve Your kind affection
When my unbelief has kept me from Your touch
I want my life to be a pure reflection of Your love

And so I come into Your chamber
And I dance at Your feet, Lord
You are my Saviour and I'm at Your mercy
All that has been in my life up 'til now
It belongs to You
You are still holy

Holy, You are still holy
Even though I don't understand Your ways
Sovereign, You will be sovereign
Even when my circumstances don't change

Lord, I don't deserve your tender patience
When my unbelief has kept me from Your truth
I want my life to be a sweet devotion to You

And so I come into Your chamber
And I dance at Your feet, Lord
You are my Saviour and I'm at Your mercy
All that has been in my life up 'til now
It belongs to You
I belong to You
You are still holy

(words by Rita Springer, sung by Kim Hill)

I've been discouraged about some things lately, and these words remind me that God is in control and that I can rest in that. He is holy, sovereign, kind, patient and merciful. And so I come.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A barrage of recipes!

I have found so many yummy recipes on various blogs lately, and in the past week tried 5 new dishes! They were all winners, so I wanted to compile and share the links with you--enjoy!

Chicken burritos--made in the crock pot with just 3 ingredients!

Pineapple black bean enchiladas--we used crushed pineapple (an "accident"--but so tasty!) and green chile enchilada sauce; these were a big hit at our recent potluck. Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I saw this one--let me know and I'll give credit where it's due!

Pumpkin patch cake--made even easier by using store-bought frosting (a bargain with a coupon) and decorated with candy corn instead of pumpkins

Chicken delicious--another crock pot meal, so good with mashed potatoes!

Crescent roll apple pies--I decreased the butter by 2 T. and substituted Sprite for Mountain Dew since we had it on hand; These were amazing--best served a la mode! (Thanks to Angela and Kat for linking to this fabulous dessert!)