Thursday, January 31, 2008

My first nephew

We welcome you, Samuel Joseph, son of my wonderful sister, Monica!
(cradled in this photo by our mom, Samuel's Grammie)

Green Team


Better Homes and Garden magazine recently started a wonderful program to encourage readers to be more environmentally friendly. Living Green allows participants to receive a weekly challenge, and to track energy savings. I'd love for you to join my "green team"--if you'd like to be involved, please send me your e-mail address. You'll then receive an invitation to sign up. Your individual and team results will be compiled on-line--what a motivator! Even if you choose not to sign up, the website offers lots of ideas and articles on green living.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Make your own cake mix

For my birthday, I was pleasantly surprised to receive my mom's yellow Bundt pan. I've wanted one for awhile, but had specifically told her I did not want a new pan, and was waiting patiently until someone in the family decided to pass theirs along.

Since I hosted two friends for lunch the day after opening my gifts, I scrapped my brownie plans and looked through the Bundt recipes I've saved over the years. A cinnamon swirl cake caught my eye, but I noticed with disappointment that it called for a yellow cake mix, which I did not have on hand. Then it dawned on me that you can find any recipe on-line, and I was excited to find this recipe for homemade cake mix.

I divided the recipe in thirds, wanting to try it out before I made the triple batch of mix the recipe called for. Here's what you need to make a single batch, followed by the recipe for the delicious cinnamon swirl cake.

Homemade cake mix:

2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. salt (which I omit)
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 T. and 1 t. baking powder
1/4 c. butter

Combine until fine and well-mixed. Recipe says the mixture can be refrigerated or frozen.

Cinnamon swirl Bundt cake

1 yellow cake mix (or equivalent)
1 package vanilla instant pudding
3/4 c. oil
3/4 c. water
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla

Mix all ingredients, and beat on high. Pour 1/3 of batter into a well-greased Bundt pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon sugar mixture (1/4 c. sugar and 1 t. cinnamon) over batter. Repeat, adding a third of the batter and the cinnamon sugar. Top with final 1/3 of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Once cool, cover with glaze: 1 c. powdered sugar, 2 T. milk, 1/2 t. vanilla

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cultivating joy

Sunday's sermon was well-timed for me. I haven't been feeling very joyful lately, and joy was the subject of our pastor's message. He defined joy as grace + gratitude, and he said that to cultivate joy, we should be on the lookout for God's gracious gifts, and also we should intentionally pray the Scriptures. Challenged by those points, I set out to find a passage that would help me focus on being more grateful, and thus more joyful.

As I searched for verses containing the words "joy," "heart," and "thanks," I came across a familiar passage. Eric and I selected Colossians 3:1-17 to be read at our wedding, and the end of that section says:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I will be praying these verses this week and hopefully beyond. Anyone want to join me in praying a specific passage of Scripture this week?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Birthday celebration

I just loved all the birthday notes, calls and e-mails. It warms a girl's heart to know she's being thought of by so many! Thanks to each of you who blessed me with a comment or e-mail. (My favorite bloggy greeting came from Frances: "May your heart be full of joy as you look back with gratitude and forward with hope.")

I had some casual gatherings with friends, and then on Saturday night, my husband took me out to this yummy place. After dinner, we went to a hockey game! Eric made me our traditional birthday breakfast in bed (Betty Crocker cinnamon streusel muffins--they are awesome! Please e-mail if you know a homemade version that's as good or better . . . ) and he also surprised me by hiding 29 notes around the house of things he appreciates about me, which was so encouraging!

Here's us at the hockey game in our 4th row seats. Wahoo!

Book it!

UPDATED: Jan is the winner of Idol Eyes, and Audra Marie won Summer Snow! Congratulations, and thanks to all who entered!

For the winter bloggy giveaway carnival, I'm not giving away free pizzas (remember the Book-it program?!), but I am giving away free books, courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers.

Here's what you can win:
  • Idol Eyes by Mandisa--If you're a fan of American Idol, you'll enjoy going behind the scenes of the popular show with this former contestant.

  • Summer Snow by Nicole Baart--I reviewed Nicole's first book in the fall, interviewed her, and then met her in person. I'm excited to read this sequel to continue reading about Julia's story!

All you need to do is leave a comment on this post by Friday 2/1 at 11 am CST. If you'd only like to be entered for one of the titles, please indicate that. Otherwise, your name will be put in the drawing for both--I'll select two winners, one for each book. Contest open to US and Canada addresses--and please make sure I can contact you via e-mail.

Want a chance to win more fun stuff? Click here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Merci

Thank you so much for blessing me yesterday with all the wonderful comments and e-mails! I had a nice birthday and will post details on Monday, as we're celebrating over the weekend.

Serve God, Save the Planet part 2

I really wanted to share this excerpt with you from the chapter "A Christian's Case for Earth Care":

"Contrary to some popular opinions, God gives only partial responsibility to humanity when He gives us dominion over the earth. Dominion comes from a Hebrew term meaning 'higher on the root of a plant.' Dominion does not mean ownership or even unrestricted use. Implied in our dominion is our dependency on everything under us. Cut the root out from under a plant and the fruit above it will perish, despite its superior position."

I am not a fan of the slang term "tree hugger" for people who desire to be more green, and appreciate what Sleeth says regarding those who care about the environment. "Being pro-stewardship is not a case of valuing forests more than people; rather, it means valuing human possessions less, and God's world more." Love that statement.

You can read part 1 of this series by clicking here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Strength

I pushed into the cold
two months early,
instead of staying tucked safe inside
'til St. Patrick's Day.
Immediately detached
from my warm jelly sac,
I was placed into a heated glass box.
My skin was yellow and wrinkled and hairless,
and my body was scrawny,
less on the scales
than a standard bag of white sugar.

Daddy held me in the palm of his hand.
My newly formed fingers fought tenaciously to grasp his,
so my parents named me "Carrie," which means "Strength."

January 24, 1979. Best wishes to my birthday twin, A!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wheat critters

Because my son likes crackers so much, I thought it would be good to make them sometimes instead of just dishing them straight from a box. My mom used to make these for us when we were little. She called them "critters" because she made them in animal shapes, but you can use any cookie cutter you'd like! I made hearts in honor of Valentine's Day.

Here's the recipe for wheat critters:

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 c. white flour
1 stick (1/2 c.) margarine
1/3 c. honey
1/2 c. milk

Combine ingredients. Mix dough well and chill for several hours. On floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and re-roll as needed. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Use a fork to prick the top of each cracker. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes, and cool on wire rack. (Makes about 3 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutter.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Big questions

In my former roles as a middle school teacher and women's dorm director, I've been faced with my share of big questions that have caught me off-guard. I'm sure many more are in the future in my role as a parent!

It has been such a blessing to meet with 9 young ladies from our church for the past few months. Sunday night, as we were wrapping up our time together, one of the girls suddenly asked me, "How does God speak to you?" The timing and intensity of such a question definitely surprised me. Fumbling for words, I said that I often sense God telling me something through the Holy Spirit. Not in an audible way, but somehow I still feel it. She nodded, but pressed on. "Well, how do you know it's God saying something and not just your mind?" Oh, my. I knew mini-vans were already idling in our driveway, and yet isn't spiritual growth and learning the reason we're meeting?! I answered from my heart, the best that I knew how, and prayed that God would take my feeble reply and use it--somehow. It's frightening to be a teacher sometimes, isn't it? (James 3:1)

Although I felt overwhelmed and put on the spot with the above questions (and many others I've been asked over the years), I count it a privilege to be put in such a position. It's both an honor and a lesson in humility.

I'm interested to hear from you--what is a "big question" you've been asked that you caught you off guard, or that you weren't quite sure how to answer?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Movin' on

We have been part of the college community where we live for many years, but the time has come for us to move on. I will post more about that in the future, but right now I am seeking your wisdom and advice on the house hunting process. Neither my husband nor I have ever done this before. When we got married, I moved into the house he was already living in on campus. Before that, I lived in apartments.

We're staying local, so have the luxury of taking our time. In a small town, our housing options are limited, which can be a positive and a negative. But after two rounds of touring houses, I'm struggling to "see" ourselves in any house but this one. Yes, sentimentality is involved, and big changes are often hard for me! We have made a list of things that are important to us regarding location, layout and various amenities. Since many of the homes around us are older, we have seen some pretty quirky things, such as a tin-can miniature golf course built into a basement floor, and (also in a basement) a working toilet in the middle of the concrete floor with a shower curtain around it. Yikes!

For those of you who have been through this before, what were some of the questions you asked as you toured homes and made this decision? I appreciate your input to help broaden my perspective!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Serve God, Save the Planet part 1

A couple of months ago, I wrote about hearing a lecture by Dr. Matthew Sleeth. I received his book, Serve God, Save the Planet for Christmas (thanks to my husband!) and it's my first pick from the list.

Wow--this book contained a lot of information and inspiration! I am very excited to share with you some of what I learned.

In the first chapter, Sleeth says the book will address the following questions:

  • How can I live a more godly, equitable, and meaningful life?
  • How can I help people today and in the future?
  • How can I be less materialistic?
  • How can I live a more charitable life?
  • How can I become a better steward of nature?

I hope at least one of those resonates with you. I so desire each of those things!

You may remember from my earlier post that Sleeth was a wealthy physician who decided to trade in his material riches for a simpler lifestyle and a career of speaking about environmental stewardship. His family drastically downsized their home, their possessions, their electricity usage, and the amount of trash they produce.

One of the turning points for Sleeth was conducting a self-assessment of the environmental impact of his family. He says, "We were going about life as it we were the center of the universe, and there was no tomorrow to protect. This honest inventory is what the Christian faith required of me. How could I say that I was being a good steward when I was causing so much damage to God's creation?"

Reading this book motivates me to do better, which Sleeth says is the point. As I often say, we can all improve in this area! Here's another quote:

"God's beautiful earth will not be saved by words or good intentions. It will be saved by humble, anonymous acts like turning off the lights, hanging clothes on the line, bicycling to work, and planting trees. People who are grateful for God's abundant gifts, people of faith who are not afraid to be held accountable for care of His creation, will save it."

And that's just from the first chapter. I'll be sharing more from the book in future posts.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

7 random things

Niki tagged me to share 7 random things about myself.

1. I do not like football. I have never understood it--the rules just don't make sense to me. Thankfully, my husband's also not a big fan--we much prefer basketball.

2. I became a vegetarian when I was a senior in high school. I gave a persuasive speech on not eating meat, and convinced myself through that research. A few years later, I did start eating poultry again but I haven't had beef for ten years and have never missed it! Ironically, we live in one of the highest pork-producing counties in the U.S.!

3. I have never dyed my hair, and I don't use a blowdryer or curling iron.

4. My least favorite household chore is dusting. (Anybody with me?)

5. During my junior year of high school, I received the "Actress of the Year" award for my role as Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest.

6. I can't seem to get into the habit of flossing my teeth. My dental hygienist called me (long distance!) on my wedding day to remind to floss!

7. My Myers-Briggs type is ENFJ.

I always love reading others' random facts--I tag Rebecca (my real life friend and blogging newbie) and Wendi.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Works for Me Wednesday: the traveling treat jar

I love the idea of surprising friends with treats, so I started this a couple years ago for a small group of women in our community. I filled a mason jar with baked goodies, and attached the following note:

Fill this jar with something yummy,
and then just pass it on.
Please repeat the first step
as soon as the treats are gone.

On the back of the tag, I wrote my name first, then listed each of the women, putting my name last so the jar would end with me (filled with sweets, of course!) I really enjoyed it and hope the other ladies did, too. After two complete rounds, we've taken a long hiatus, but I'm planning to start it up again next week. That works for me! Click here for more ideas.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Getting STARTed

Last night I had the privilege of attending an organizing workshop, led by Elizabeth Hagen. I wanted to share with you some of the notes I took from the evening session. This is such a great time of year to dive into this--I always love sorting after the holidays (or anytime, really!)

Here is Elizabeth's START method, using the junk drawer as an example:

First, take everything out of the drawer. Then,

Sort-Do I need this? Do I even know what it is?
Toss, donate, recycle, garage sale pile
Appoint a home for everything
Restrict items to a container to hold them together
Take back control

One of Elizabeth's ideas that I really liked was to walk through your entire home, room by room. Armed with a clipboard, you look around each room in a clockwise direction, writing down any area that irritates you. I tend to organize in a piece-meal fashion, so I like this intentional approach. Once you've gone through you entire house, you sit down and prioritize your projects. Love that!

At the end of the workshop, Elizabeth asked each of us to write down an action plan. My projects are 1) make a master list of favorite meals to aid my menu planning, 2) use the START method to better organize my son's clothes (too many piles in the closet right now!) and 3) do a walk-through assessment of our home. I'm excited to get STARTed!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Springing into reading

You may remember "Fall into Reading," which was hosted by Callapidder Days. Because the event ended right before Christmas, I forgot to post at the end. I'm so glad I joined in, though, as I found that I was much more motivated to read because I had a specific (but manageable) list, as well as a deadline. In order to "wrap it up," I'm supposed to pick a favorite book. I'm not sure I can do that, as I picked such a wide variety. Living More with Less definitely impacted me the most, as you can deduce from the series of posts I wrote. And I liked The Kite Runner and At Home in Mitford enough that you'll see their sequels on my list.

When I read in the paper that our local library is sponsoring an adult reading challenge, I signed up to participate. We need to read at least 12 books between today (1/14) and April 5. That will stretch me, as I think I read 8 books for the fall session. But I'm excited to try, and each participant who reads 12+ books wins a prize--wahoo! (And it looks like I might be able to double-up, as I noticed Callapidder Days hosted a spring reading challenge in 2007.)

Here is my (updated) list of what I'd like to read this spring:
  • Animal Vegetable Miracle by B. Kingsolver
  • Serve God, Save the Planet by M. Sleeth
  • Frugal Luxuries by T. McBride
  • The Jane Austen Book Club by K.J. Fowler
  • Eat, Pray, Love by E. Gilbert
  • A Light in the Window by J. Karon
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by K. Hosseini
  • Idol Eyes by Mandisa
  • Living Simply by J. Heim
  • Grace Eventually by A. Lamott
  • Summer Snow by N. Baart

Friday, January 11, 2008

Gloves in a Bottle

UPDATED: winners are Liisa and Need a Nap 2!

I had seen this product at a local pharmacy, and since I suffer from dry skin in the winter, I was eager to try it when I received a free sample. It's unusual name comes from its claim to protect skin from bad stuff (irritants, etc.) while allowing skin to "breathe." According to the website, it doesn't come off when you wash your hands; rather, it adheres to the skin and is removed by exfoliating skin cells.

Users with very sensitive skin will be grateful that Gloves in a Bottle is fragrance free, but I love my scented lotions. Although it has no added fragrance, the scent strikes me as something a hospital would use. (And they do--the product website lists quite a few health institiutions and industrial companies that have ordered the product.)

I found that I had to rub it in longer than other products I've used, but it really does make my hands feel soft. If you have dry skin, this may be worth looking into. If you prefer scented lotions, just add a little on top. (I checked with a rep from the company and he said that wouldn't negate the moisturizing effects of Gloves in a Bottle.)

I received two more samples that I'd like to pass along to two of you (a packet contains 2-4 applications). If you'd like to try it, just leave a comment. I'll select two names on Monday (1/14) at noon CST.

Gems of hope

I told you yesterday that I am focusing on hope right now. I spent a good portion of my monthly retreat with a concordance and Bible, looking up verses containing my key word. (I enjoyed reading about your key words--thanks for sharing!)

Here are some of the gems I found:

"Those whose hope is in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23
*I made my garland with colored rub-on letters, patterned paper scraps, plywood gift tags, and fishing line. I love how it turned out!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The power of one word

Amy's recent post reminded me of the power of selecting a single word that represents something you're trying to focus on. As she begins the new year, her word is "fresh." Ali Edwards has some cool and artsy ideas for keeping your word in view (she chose "vitality")--check out her ideas here.

In my first year as a dorm director, I felt like I was constantly praying for wisdom. Interacting with students and making big decisions demanded that I be conscientious. A friend gave me a little stone with the word "wisdom" etched into it as a visual reminder.

Lately, the word I have been focusing on is HOPE. 2007 was a difficult year for us, and some days I feel discouraged and overwhelmed. These lines from the beloved hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" have been very meaningful to me: "strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow." I sing those words, I pray them, I hold them near.

I also take great comfort in this passage from Lamentations 3:21-24:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.


I made a little "hope" garland and hung it as a reminder in a prominent place in my kitchen. Seeing it each day encourages me to persevere!

What would be your one word?

My niece

During our holiday vacation, my brother-in-law filmed my niece, Brianna (age 2.7), reciting several passages of Scripture. Her memory is amazing! Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Winter One-derland

Isn't it amazing what ideas you can find on-line? I knew I wanted to do a winter/snowman theme (when I say theme, I mean cake and a couple additional simple details) for Nathan's first birthday. When I found this cake design, I knew it was the right one. My mother-in-law willingly searched for the needed candies, and even bought edible glitter to replace the coconut (several in our crowd are not fans of this yummy treat), and my two sisters-in-law helped decorate. Here's how the cake turned out--my favorite part is the scarf!
The napkins were purchased on the half-off clearance at Target several years ago and I am so glad I saved them:
I made the invitations with materials I already had on hand. I stamped the front with silver snowflakes to create a frame and then included Nathan's one-year portrait in the center. Here's the pose we selected:
Our party was at lunch-time, so we served kid favorites: mac and cheese, pb+j sandwiches cut into quarters, canned pears (Nathan loves these!) and snowflake-shaped pretzels. The menu was a hit with the adults, too!

We had a wonderful time, and I enjoyed watching Nathan eat his cake. As a little boy who usually does everything with much gusto, I was surprised at how gentle he was!
Thanks to all of you who left kind birthday wishes!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy holidays

We traveled to Michigan for the holidays to be with my husband's parents and siblings. Here's the whole clan:

I was surprised at how engaging the children's museum was for a one-year-old. Nathan had a great time, and I love this picture of all of us inside a soap bubble!
Nathan loved sledding, except when he had to share the sled with his cousins!
Eric's dad is an elementary physical education teacher, so he opened up the gym one night for us to "horse around"
We got lots of snow while we were there, and everyone enjoyed playing outside.
For some strange reason, Nathan loved eating the snow. This was fresh, so I was less worried--but still--he cracks me up sometimes because he never seems bothered by cold temps.
Living in 5 different states makes it challenging to see each other, so it makes the time we do spend even more special. We had a wonderful visit!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Dollar Dime Day

It is so good to be back! I haven't had a chance to post or to check most of your blogs since we've returned from our holiday travels, but I look forward to catching up in the next couple of days! I want to share photos from our celebrations but need another day or two to get them sorted out. In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about a fabulous bargain-hunters' dream from the past weekend:

Dollar Dime Day! My favorite local consignment store clears out their entire inventory twice a year during the course of a week. Monday through Thursday, all items are half-off. On Friday, the discount jumps to 75%. Not too shabby. But the real deals come on Saturday: anything that is priced less than $4 becomes a DIME, and anything over $4 becomes a dollar. Wahoo!

You can imagine the scene. Crowds of people, ransacked racks, packed dressing rooms. I had a blast! For my son, I snatched up 3 cute long-sleeve shirts for 10 cents apiece, and paid a dollar each for a denim jacket and nice sweater. I even bought a couple of gifts at the deeply discounted prices, and a couple of nice sweaters for myself. My favorite find of the day was a barely-worn pair of navy Dockers for my husband. The prices can't be beat! Adding up the totals at the check-out counter was made even more fun when I discovered I had a solid amount of credit from clothes I had sold at the shop. Gotta love cash back!

Anyone else have a local sale event that's hard to pass up? What do you do with clothes you've outgrown or no longer want?