Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Even more random facts about me

Both Amy and Gail tagged me to do a list of 6 random things about myself. I keep thinking I'll run out of things to say, but I guess I have plenty of quirks to spread around!

1. I read somewhere a long time ago that the first stall in public bathrooms is the least popular, and thus the least germy (or at least that's how I took it). So I usually head for that one--isn't that useful information?!

2. I have always had an outie belly button. I strongly dislike it, especially since pregnancy makes it even more of an outie!

3. I have mixed feelings about Facebook. I don't spend much time on there, but it has been fun to re-connect with people from different times in my life. It's just weird to me that it's all so "public"--that tons of people can read your messages to your friends. And I don't add all the games and applications--simple is just fine for me. So if you send me a request to adopt a virtual Chia pet or to take you on in the world's biggest Scrabble tournment, I will probably reject your invitation. (Just so you know in advance!)

4. I really dislike painting my nails--I'm terribly clumsy with it. I don't like how painted fingernails look on myself, but I do keep my toes painted during the summer.

5. With a new month beginning tomorrow, I look forward to flipping to the next page of our kitchen calendar. (Mer, did you say this sometime? It really is a fun monthly ritual!)

6. My favorite pen is the Uniball vision fine-tip in black. They're kind of expensive, so I put them on my Christmas list, and am truly excited if I receive some. (Yes, I am both thrifty and practical!)

7. I just finished the final book in the Mitford series and will be posting about that later this week.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby steps

I have to tell you about a guest post I recently found over at Keeper of the Home. The writer, Katie, describes her baby steps towards more natural living, and I identified with much of what she said. In the intro, Katie confesses that she wants to be more natural, but admits she sometimes makes Jello and dyes her hair. I can so relate to that push-pull: wanting to do better but often falling back to "convenience items."

Here are the paragraphs that made me nod my head vigorously in agreement:

"It's not that I'm not convinced that there is a better option. I know there are better options. It's that I'm overwhelmed with information. What's worse, I'm often paralyzed. And perhaps a little rebellious. I have limited time and resources. I'm sure you can relate. I'd be hard pressed to find one person out there who can't think of one thing they could be doing to be a better steward of their time, their finances or their home. I can personally think of a plethora of things I wish I were doing to be a better steward.

However, I've also recently discovered that the first step is so important. I can choose to be immobilized, or I can make small changes now. I probably won't ever be an entirely natural person. I am overwhelmed when I think of how enormously I would have to change in order to address every component of natural living. However, there are several steps my husband and I have implemented in the past few years that have really added up."

Katie then shares a list of things she and her husband are doing to make small steps towards more natural living. I appreciate hearing from a perspective like this--someone who's kind of in the same "place" as me. To be honest, I am easily intimidated by people who are *really* into natural living (soaking grains is one example that comes to mind) and I can be too easily critical of those who don't seem to care a hoot about these issues. So that's me. (Maybe I should start a natural living babystepper's club--to help keep me motivated without the guilt or "paralysis" Katie referred to in her post.)

If you're someone who does give a hoot about natural living, I hope you'll click over to read the post. And by the way, let me know if you want to be in the NLB club! =)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Harvest moon

Iowa, some people think you're blah and boring. But I know better--you're beautiful, especially this time of year. The stalks of corn stand tall and proud, the golden soybean fields gleam, and when there is a full moon rising in the autumn sky, it takes my breath away.
(The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1)
Wednesday was a pop comments post--I loved reading about your unique mom styles! The winner of a MOPS book about motherhood is Linds, which is perfect for today's post, because she's a fellow Iowan! Thanks for commenting.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mom style

In one of my very first blog posts back in May of 2007, I linked to a fun article called "What's Your Mom Style?" I thought it would be fun to re-post about it, and if you didn't comment then, I'd love to hear from you now. I really enjoy personality-type inventories and have a decent knack for guessing the Myers-Briggs type of friends and acquaintances. So I'd love to know--what's your mom style? (And if you're curious, I'm a "heart-to-heart mother.")

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Falling into reading again

I really enjoyed participating in "Fall into reading" last year and decided to do it again to help me get to some titles in my stack that have been waiting a long time for their turn in my queue!

Here is my list for September 22-December 20 (which happens to be Nathan's 2nd birthday!), keeping it real like I did last year by starting with 6 books so I can add more if appropriate and feel even better about my reading accomplishments!
  • Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon (I don't want this series to end!)
  • Cleaning Up the Clutter by Emilie Barnes
  • The Girlfriends' Guide to Toddlers by Vicki Iovine (and I'll probably re-read at least some of the pregnancy guide, too)
  • Cheaper and Better by Nancy Birnes
  • What is a Family? by Edith Schaeffer
  • The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs

So there you have it--my fall reading titles. I'm sure I'll review most of these as I go along, which adds to the motivation and the fun of learning since I seem to gravititate towards non-fiction these days. To make my list more well-rounded, I think I need to add another fiction book, and probably something by a male author to be a little more balanced in that aspect--any suggestions?

Happy reading, everyone! (You can read tons of other fall book lists here.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

From Clutter to Clarity

I have really appreciated the Counting the Cost newsletter since subscribing last year, and I was thrilled when the creator, Nancy Twigg, asked me to review her latest book, From Clutter to Clarity.

Unlike some other books I've read about simplicity, I felt this one was more in line with my understanding of simplicity. The sub-title of the book is "simplifying from the inside out," and I truly think it lives up to that premise. There are four main sections: "An Issue of the Heart," "From Cluttered Thoughts and Attitudes to Inner Clarity," "From Cluttered Lifestyle to Inner Clarity," and "From Cluttered Money Matters to Financial Clarity."
We often think of clutter in outward and tangible terms, like piles of toys or papers. But Twigg defines clutter as "any possession, habit, thought pattern, attitude or activity that 1) you don't need or use anymore, 2) doesn't fit or work for you like it used to, or 3) doesn't add value and meaning to your life as it once did."

Some of the "cluttery" thought patterns she mentions are worry and discontentment, two areas of mental clutter I'm familiar with. Regarding worry, Twigg writes, "Guard your mind against worry. Be aggressive in not allowing your mind to wander down the path to worry . . . when worry tries to sneak back in after you've let it go, be ruthless." This is something I really need to tackle. I'm especially prone in the middle of the night after getting up (thanks, little baby!) as my mind switches into "go" mode and doesn't shut off very easily. I run over the same situation in my head dozens of times, wasting precious sleep and energy. I need to fight my worrying more aggressively, and want to use Philippians 4:6-8 as a focal point.
In a chapter called "Finding Contentment in a Discontented World," Twigg says that "True contentment is not having everything you want, but learning to appreciate everything you have." Love that! She also reminds us that contentment grows as we nurture it with gratitude.

Another topic that really spoke to me right now as I'm juggling more duties than normal were boundaries and overcommitment. How many of us can relate to the following paragraph?!

"Do you ever feel guilty for not being able to juggle all the plates in your life without dropping a few? If so, that's exactly how Satan wants you to feel. He loves to seduce you into saying yes to too many things and then make you feel guilty for not doing them all well. He knows that you, as a woman, are likely to have difficulty setting boundaries. He also knows that many women take pride and pleasure in being the one who cares for everyone else."

I alluded to that tension in a recent post, as I really desire to use my time wisely. I've struggled more than usual with this these past several weeks after adding a part-time (temporary) job to my "stack of plates."

Another quote on this subject that really made me stop and think: "Is it possible to be too busy for God? Our adversary loves to make us think so. Keeping us too occupied to connect with God is one of his favorite tricks. It doesn't matter to him what we busy ourselves with, but . . . he particularly enjoys using things we think we're doing for God to keep us from spending quality time with God." (emphasis mine) Twigg goes on to write that we complicate our lives when we fail to make time for God because we're too focused on our own abilities, and what we think we can accomplish by ourselves.

To help us make our time with God a priority, Twigg encourages us to commit to change, find the time that works best for you, be inventive and set yourself up for success. I think that last one is especially important, because I too often set big goals for myself that aren't easily attainable, and I need to remember that small steps are usually easier to adjust to. "The problem," Twigg says, "is not that we don't see the need for God's presence in our lives; we simply aren't disciplined enough to make it happen on a regular basis." Until summer, I'd been very faithful in my monthly retreats, and I have yet to get back in the swing of things. I did, however, take some retreat time over the weekend, which was very refreshing.

If you're reading this post, especially if you have your own blog, the chapter on technology is certainly relevant and challenging. Twigg gives a three-part test to help us determine how much technology is too much in our lives: 1) Does the technology I use draw me closer to or pull me further away from God and my loved ones? 2) Does the technology I use truly enrich my life or only add to clutter? 3) Does using this technology give me more or less time for what is most important in my life? Those questions give us much to ponder, don't they?

I of course appreciated the chapters on financial stewardship, and particularly liked this statement: "Stewardship is just as much about living as it is about giving. Good stewardship is about being faithful in using all your resources--not only your money and possessions but your time and talent as well."

This book is written in an easy to read format. There are questions to challenge you on each topic, and I also enjoyed the personal testimonies at the end of each chapter, including one by my blogging friend Anne Marie!

If you desire to conquer the clutter in your life (both tangible and intangible), this book will challenge and encourage you. Monica's reviewing the same book today, so you can read her review here. To read my other book posts and reviews, click here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy fall, y'all!

We have a fabulous pumpkin farm just a few miles from us, and it's proven quite popular with Nathan, especially because they have a free petting zoo. He keeps talking about goats, chickens and puppies! =)
We went to the pumpkin patch the other night, and tried getting a rare family photo but you-know-who didn't exactly cooperate. I told Eric we should at least get a cute pic of the two of us:
The same generous neighbors who shared their apple harvest last year extended the same invitation to gather windfalls. Nathan had fun helping pick up the apples. My mom and I already made a double batch of muffins and a big crockpot of applesauce. Oh, I just love apple baking in the fall!
Thanks to my mom for coming to visit, and happy birthday wishes to my dad--love you both!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Early birthday trip

When my sister turned 30 a couple years ago, she and my mom took a weekend trip to celebrate. In anticipation of my 30th, I asked Mom if I got to do the same. (You other younger siblings are nodding your heads, I'm sure!) I chose Minnesota as my destination. But who wants to go there in January, especially while 7 months pregnant? Not me! So we decided to travel a few months early, and had a wonderful time!

Being more of a small town girl, I wanted to explore some of the small towns we've driven through on rare trips up to the Twin Cities. So that's what we did. We stayed in a very comfy bed and breakfast the first night, and were hosted by a dear friend the second. It was so much nicer than an impersonal hotel, in my opinion! Here are my mom and me outside our B+B:
Unfortunately, it rained the whole weekend, but we didn't let it deter us from exploring a farmer's market, an orchard, and some fun gift shops. Here are a couple fall scenes:
My mom had never been here, but she's heard Monica and I talk about it many times, so she was quite excited to have her first taste of this unique shopping experience.
We had a very fun weekend, and I am thankful to my husband for watching Nathan so my mom and I could spend this time together.

(I'll be back on Friday--just wanted to check in and share these pix.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wanting to be faithful

I have dozens of journal entries/blog posts brewing in my head right now. It's been really interesting how having a part time job has made me process my decision and commitment to stay home full-time with Nathan. I am definitely enjoying my work at the office, but I am also thankful it's a temporary set-up. Though I have many hard days and moments in my job at home, I am seeing anew that it is the place I feel I am supposed to be.

Since reading my friend Amanda's post on Tuesday, I've been reflecting on these words she shared after hearing a woman speak at her church: "She talked about the order of priority that needs to be established in our lives. Her order was, Jesus, Husband, Children, Job, and then ministry."

I've been thinking about what I am doing (and in some cases not doing) to intentionally nurture these relationships and fulfill my responsibilities.

my walk with God: morning and evening quiet times--brief but pretty consistent. In the mornings, I've been reading My Utmost for His Highest, but think I will switch to something else soon. At night I journal, pray for loved ones and read the Bible. My retreats were kind of haphazard over the summer, and I'm hoping to do an extended one sometime soon.

Eric--weekly date nights on Wednesday. We started that back when we were dating, and have done pretty well at keeping it a priority. Summers are usually "off" due to travel and our babysitters being gone, and we've just resumed these on a regular basis. We also pray together every Sunday night.

Nathan--This looks different right now during this season of part-time work and a new pace. We spend a lot of time together, but I'm definitely still working on the balance of quality and quantity! One thing Nathan really enjoys right now is reading, so it's fun to join him in an activity where he actual sits still (and on my lap!) for a few minutes.

job--Primarily, I am a homemaker. There is so much I want to be doing at home to make our household run smoothly. I feel kind of scattered with these details right now, and don't feel I've found a groove with getting things done around the house since starting my job, which is secondary to my job at home. I am helping out at the college for a few more weeks. Our event date is quickly approaching, and the details are numerous. It's reminding me in some ways of planning a wedding! It's fun, but there are many things to keep track of and people to coordinate.

ministry--This part of my life is expanding this year. I will continue to lead the middle school girls small group, and to serve in the nursery at church. Eric and I have already lined up some ways to be host others on a regular basis. In addition, I am going to be a MOPS group leader this year. I'm nervous and excited for that role, as we start in just a couple weeks, but I think it's a great way to support moms! (Anyone else out there in MOPS?!)

I recently made a list of all the things I'm involved in, which includes a couple things not written here. It was clear to me that I have a pretty full plate right now, and I asked the Lord to help me to not add any more commitments. Well, wouldn't you know it? This past week, two other possibilities have come up, and I agonized over each decision. And though I wanted to say yes to each of them, I felt the Lord telling me that there are many good things, but they are not always the *right* things, or perhaps not the right timing. Sometimes saying no allows us to better serve where we've already said "yes." So I need to trust in that, and to be faithful in these other things He's called me to.

My mom's arriving later today, and she and I will be heading off for a weekend getaway! I'll be back on Tuesday to share details of our adventures. I hope each of you has a wonderful weekend. (By the way, my comments have been and will be a little sparse this next week. I look forward to catching up soon.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Works for Me Wednesday: Personalized geography

During a summer jaunt to Target, I found a basic US map in their infamous dollar spot. As someone who loves geography, I thought it would be fun to hang it in our basement playroom. While walking around the store, it occurred to me that I could use the map in a more personal way. Since our family is literally scattered around the country, I decided I would use photos to mark the spots where our relatives live.

I used thumb tacks to mark each location, and then cut yarn to connect the map to the corresponding photo. I plan to add a star sticker to show where we live, and possibly post tags with the names and location of each family, but for privacy reasons, took these photos first (the Internet-friendly version).

I love how the map project turned out, and hope it will give my son a better picture (ha, no pun intended!) of his family and where they live.

Setting this up took less than a half hour, and because I used photos and supplies I had on hand (other than prints ordered free through an intro offer), the total cost of this project was one dollar!

Cheap and easy personalized geography works for me--check out more ideas here!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A light unto his path

First, thank you for all the wonderful comments yesterday. I appreciate your support, prayers, and good wishes!

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I was using a day-by-day guide in praying for my son (and now two children!) This has really helped me to be more focused, and because the guide uses Scripture, it's even better!

Over the weekend, one of the requests was praying for your child(ren) to have a love for God's Word. Eric and I are wanting to be more intentional in talking about and reading the Bible with Nathan, and I could use some inspiration as to what has worked in your family. We have quite a few Bible storybooks, and we read a couple of them regularly, but I don't feel like we've been as purposeful as we could be. (Or maybe I'm making it harder than it needs to be, which is very like me. Ha!)

So, how do you encourage your kids to love God's Word? I'd be grateful for your responses, and would venture that one response could and should be that we love His Word ourselves!

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

Recipe round-up

I've tried some new recipes lately that I wanted to share with you:

I personally am not a fan of cream cheese, but I needed some of the plain low-fat stuff for a fruit salad I was making. I wasn't sure what to do with the rest, and it occurred to me that I could probably mix my own flavored cream cheese for my husband to enjoy on bagels. A quick Internet search (what a handy tool!) revealed this; I just substituted jam for actual berries. My husband really liked it, so it was a successful experiment.

My friend Jody has been bestowing us with a fair amount of zucchini. I made a couple loaves of bread, but wasn't sure how to use more until she gave me this fabulous cake recipe. I have to say that I am not usually a chocolate cake person, but this was yummy, especially a la mode. (My alterations: I omitted the orange peel and nuts, and did not make the glaze, though I'm sure it's delicious.)

It's also the time of year to enjoy one of my favorite pairs: Roma tomatoes and red onion. Click here and here for my favorite dishes with this combination.

Last winter, I asked for suggestions on what to do with dried lentils. I finally tried a dish based on Tracy's recipe for mazidra, and scooped it into a tortilla like a taco. Delicious, and so good for you!

Now I need to ask for some more suggestions. I confess that when a recipe calls for crushed garlic, I use the kind from a JAR! I know you purists are shuddering right now, but I had to be truthful. A friend just gave me a clove of garlic from her garden, and I really want to maximize this "opportunity." I don't know if I'll convert, I just want to make the most of what I've been given. =) So, what are your best recipes that call for garlic? I'm eager to hear. (Reminder: I don't eat red meat. Ever. That I will not be converted on!)

Monday, September 8, 2008

My $7 outfit

I was excited about this outfit I put together for $7 from 3 different garage sales recently: sweater $2, shirt $1, jeans $4. This ensemble will come in handy this winter, especially because it's maternity. Surprise--we're expecting Baby #2 in mid-March!

I'm finding out that we're in good company with expecting a baby in March. My blogging friend Jamie just announced her pregnancy, and we're due a couple weeks behind my sister-in-law, Kendra (who just started a blog to chronicle these new adventures). I also know several others who are due right around the same time, so there will be quite a baby boom this spring!
Don't you love the way I styled my hair for this photo?! (aka fresh from the shower!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Home improvement, part 2

My husband loves spreadsheets. After we moved into this house, we (he!) started making a list of all the projects we needed/wanted to complete. Eric then had each of us rank the projects in order of priority, and created a master list according to our preferences. There were 23 projects in all, ranging from 10 minute tasks (hanging shelves) to a job that took several days (completely re-doing our staircase to the basement, which was quite narrow and steep). So it was that list that we presented to my gracious and talented father-in-law when he arrived for his two-week stay. He did an amazing job, and I am thankful to enjoy the fruit of his labors and to show it to all of you!
So here's how he worked his magic in our laundry area, which is the back entryway of our home. First of all, our house is so old that it still has bulky metal heat registers (the one pictures is quite small compared to the others). I've been told they produce amazing, even heat, and their look certainly coordinates with the woodwork, etc., but they are very space-consuming. Our main floor has just one closet, which is in the guestroom. So we really needed a spot to store hats and mittens, items to return, etc. I was originally thinking I'd like to just add a cabinet to extend the laundry/cleaning cupboards, and then was inspired to put up cubbies instead! They're a very basic design, but Eric and his dad did all the work themselves, and I love how they turned out. I don't think I have a before pic, but they also replaced the laundry cabinets, as a bonus surprise for me. The old ones were bulky and inefficient in that space, and my father-in-law was able to re-purpose the piece into storage for our basement. He's brilliant!
This was a quick project, and cost less than $5. I'd seen this creative idea (hat tip to Like Merchant Ships), and thought it would be fun to try in our basement. We were buying gutters for our house, anyway, and got a sweet deal on some used ones. My father-in-law attached it to the wall, and voila! unique book storage. Nathan loves having the shelf at his level, and naturally the books spend less time in the gutter than out!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Giving and receiving

I have some bloggy business to attend to today. First of all, I need to announce the winner of yesterday's book giveaway: Susan! (I have your address, Susan, so will get this sent off to Germany in the next few days!)

Second, it must be blog award season, because I received three last week. I appreciate being thought of so much! I just don't have the time right now to forward all three, so I'm just going to pass along the first one I received.
The first award is the Blog Friends Forever award, given to me by Angela. Thank you so much, Angela, for this fun honor--I can't wait to hear the news of your second "busy boy!"

The Blogging Friends Forever Rules are:
1. Only five people allowed.
2. Four have to be dedicated followers of your blog.
3. One has to be someone new, or recently new to your blog, or live in another part of the world.
4. You must link back to whoever gave you the 'Blogging Friends Forever' award.

I have so many people I would consider blog friends, which is such a treasure. With one exception, I am passing on the Blog Friends Forever award to blog friends I've never met before. Thank you so much for your friendship!

Katie--fabulous former swap partner, encourager extraordinaire
Abbey--we have lots in common, and I enjoy reading about her family and life in Rome
Gail--Though we've never met, I can tell that she is a really loyal person, and I appreciate her consistent comments and e-mails
Frances--thoughtful, a fellow advocate of stewardship, and an excited mommy-to-be!
Amanda--my real life friend who just started a blog this summer--I've really enjoyed keeping in touch with her and her family this way and reading her thoughts about healthy and sustainable living
The second award I received is the I love your blog award, courtesy of Melody, a fellow Iowan! Thanks so much, Melody!

Lastly, Liisa gave me the Smile award--what a nice gesture, Liisa! Characteristics for the Smile Award:1. Must display a cheerful attitude. (not necessarily at all times--we are all human). 2. Must love one another. 3. Must make mistakes. 4. Must learn from other. 5. Must be a positive contributor to blog world. 6. Must love life. 7. Must love kids.

Thanks so much, friends. How glad I am to be part of such a wonderful community!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Two fun recent "customer service" things I wanted to share:

1. Last year in Target's back-to-school department, I found a planner (calendar) I really liked. Though it was geared for students, it didn't have a lot of the "filler" many student planners do, and the design was clean and easy to use. During our trip to Kansas City, I thought I'd be able to walk into Target and pick up the same planner. Alas, they had none and neither did W-mart. Since I live quite a distance from each of these stores, and wouldn't be able to check again for awhile, I decided to look up the company who made the planner I'd used last year. I explained my situation and asked if I could order a planner on-line. Within a few days, I heard back from a friendly representative who said they wanted to send me a sample. Wahoo--less than a week later, a planner from this cute collection arrived at my doorstep. It's been fun filling in my appointments, and I'm so appreciative to the company for responding quickly and generously. Sometimes it pays to write!

2. I rarely enter contests of the sweepstakes variety. (Blog giveaways, of course, are a different story!) But when I saw this contest in a magazine, I liked the prize and I thought my chances were pretty good--5000 winners would be selected to win one of these. Entries were due by the end of June, and you could enter once a day. I probably entered a couple dozen times, because it really didn't take long (just filling in contact info) and then I forgot all about it. However, I recently received an e-mail that I was a winner. What a great prize--the hardest part was deciding how to use it! I'd never made one of these books before (Have you?) It was time-consuming, but I can't wait to see the finished product, which I will share with you soon.

Your turn: When has it "paid off" for you to share feedback with a company? Have you ever won a great prize from a contest? I'd love to hear your stories!

And speaking of prizes, I won a book last year that I just cannot seem to bring to the top of my pile. If you're interested in a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha, just leave a comment on this post for your chance to win. I'll pick a winner sometime tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

On Saturday, Nathan had his first trip to the zoo. He was in a particularly good mood, and it was probably the best family outing we've had. Nathan loved seeing all of the animals, especially the "monk-mees." =) Here are some pictures from our day together:

The best seat in town: riding on Daddy's shoulders!
Nathan "milking" a cow with Mommy
Nathan is really fascinated with goats, so he had fun feeding them!

The weather was perfect, and we'd also packed a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed at a nearby park. Since we live so far away from the zoo, we decided to make a day of it!

What a great day we had. What about you--did you do anything special over the weekend?