Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Clean swap!

It’s time for another swap! Our theme is clean, so please keep that in mind when selecting items for your partner. As usual, please limit your gifts to what can fit in a shoebox.

Please read the following details carefully.

1. In order to participate, you must either have swapped successfully with us before, or you must be a regular commenter on one of our blogs (The Homespun Heart/with all that I’ve been given). We have many people write and ask what qualifies a regular commenter. You don't need to comment daily, or even weekly, but we need to recognize your name when you sign up.

Before you send us an e-mail, please consider if you have the time and resources to fulfill your swap. Every time, we have at least one person who writes to say they’ll be late in sending their box because they can’t afford the shipping. We want to respect your financial situation, and ask that you consider joining in next time instead so no one is disappointed.

2. You need to fill out your questionnaire as part of the sign-up. In order to sign up for this swap, please e-mail sisterswaps@hotmail.com with the following info:

name
complete mailing address
e-mail address
blog site, if you have one

If you would be willing to ship internationally, please indicate that specifically. If you don't mention it, we'll assume it's your preference to ship within the U.S.

Also, please answer the following questions in your sign-up e-mail. The more thorough your answers, the better we can match you with someone complementary.

What is your favorite and least favorite household task?
What scent says "clean" to you?
If you had a "clean schedule" for a day (a day of free time!), how would you choose to spend it?
How would you rank the cleanliness of your house overall on a scale of 1-10? Do you wish it was a different ranking?
What would make cleaning/household tasks more enjoyable for you?
What is your favorite cleaning or organizing tip?

Sign-up entries must be complete to be included. Even if you’ve swapped with us before, please send all of the information requested above.

Important dates to consider:
Sign-ups due by 8 a.m. (CST) Friday, January 30, or when 40 people have signed up.
Partner info will be e-mailed to you by Tuesday, February 3.
Please send your shoebox by Monday, February 24.

If you have not received an e-mail with partner info from us by February 6, please check your “junk” folder, and then contact us if needed.

Thanks, and happy swapping!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Festivities

I have to say that after reading on Friday what Eric had planned for me the next day, the anticipation was half the fun! I had a wonderful birthday "eve," with lovely comments already rolling in, some early gifts/phone calls, and an evening with girlfriends.

Saturday morning, Eric served me breakfast in bed, a tradition we adopted from some dear friends of ours. He made yummy caramel rolls, served with juice, coffee and fruit. Nathan thought it was the coolest thing to eat on Mommy and Daddy's bed! After we were done eating, I opened a few gifts, and then the boys whisked away the dirty dishes. Gotta love that. I stayed in my pj's until 10:00, which felt so delicious. I read some of this, and chatted on the phone with my parents. I then requested we go to the campus rec center as a family so I could walk on the track and the boys could play, and we had a nice little outing over there. We were only gone an hour, but when we came home, I'd received three voicemails and a gorgeous bouquet of daisies. (Thanks, E+M--don't you think daisies are the friendliest flower?! I love 'em, and I also love that movie I just quoted--know which one I'm talking about?!)
Eric made a lovely lunch of soup and sandwiches and then we just hung out for the afternoon. Monica sent me some craft supplies, and I couldn't help myself--I was immediately inspired to work on a little project for the baby's room. Wish I could show you, but it has her name on it, and everyone will just have to be patient a little longer. =)

We got Nathan and the babysitter all set, and then you know the plan from there. Our dinner was delicious--I've really been craving fruits and veggies this pregnancy (Praise the Lord--with Nathan, my biggest craving was French fries!), so an all-you-can-eat stir-fry buffet was just the ticket.

Due to snow and my extra-long deliberations at a couple craft store stops, Barnes and Noble unfortunately got wiped off the agenda. That ensured that I wouldn't feel rushed at the "big destination" of the night. (Just to clarify, we live in RURAL Iowa, which means a trip to a city is a special treat--thus, the emphasis on our final stop.) Some of you may be wondering what I bought with my $30 spending money. The truth is--I didn't get anything. Having just received so many nice gifts at Christmas and already that day, I just couldn't justify purchasing something else for myself. I'm going to keep thinking about how to use the money, which was a lovely gesture on Eric's part.

Wish we had more photos to share, but we forgot the camera in the car at the restaurant. I brought it into Target thinking we could have the lovely returns person take our picture, which was a funny idea, but not meant to be--the batteries had frozen from sitting out in the frigid temps (where do we live?!)

It was a fun day--thanks again for your part in ensuring it was memorable!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Simple abundance

I have written this post many times in my head over the past couple of days, and now that I'm sitting down to actually type, I'm not quite sure what to say. I'll try to relate what's on my heart, though, because I have been very touched by so many of you who took the time to write such special comments.

This post blew. me. away. Eric has surprised me many times--that man is so clever and crafty--but this one really took the cake (ha ha, a little birthday humor). On Friday afternoon, I sat down to check my e-mail, and when I clicked on my inbox, there were several messages labeled "comment on 'Blog Invasion.'" What in the world?! I popped over to my blog, and quickly read the "mystery" post. I immediately called Eric at his office, and told him how shocked and excited I was. Then I had to re-read the post, more slowly this time, as I'd missed a lot of the details due to my initial adrenaline! =)

Reading through your comments (three times so far!), I have felt abundantly blessed. I'm so humbled by your observations and encouragements, and I can tell you that I definitely am feelin' the love from all your words of affirmation. Thank you so much for your kind and meaningful thoughts.

I titled this post as such to 1) play off the book of the same name and 2) because I was struck by how simple Eric's idea was in a lot of ways--and yet it was abundant. What I mean by that is, I think the concept of love languages is fairly simple to understand once we start paying attention to what makes those around us feel most loved. And if we're not sure what that is, we can ask them, or just watch even more carefully. But by combining elements of all five of the love languages (and if you're not sure what I'm talking about, you really should check this* out!), Eric made sure I would feel love in abundance. What a special gift he gave me--and quite inspiring to the rest of us, don't you think?

I'll share more tomorrow about the actual details of my birthday, but wanted to promptly send out this "thank you note" to all who helped make the celebration even sweeter. Blessings, friends!

*I noticed the site has a 30-second quiz to help you identify your own love language--what a wonderful resource. I'd love to hear what your primary love language is if you're willing share!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Blog Invasion

Reader’s note: Carrie’s blog has been temporarily invaded by a guest author, her husband. Since tomorrow (Saturday) is a milestone day for her (hint: her birthdate is 1/24/79), I thought it was only appropriate that her birthday plans are revealed to her on her own blog.

Birthdays have been a big deal in her family, so like most males, I’ve naturally felt a bit of pressure to do creative things to honor her day. Milestones present even bigger tasks. So does planning for someone 7 months pregnant in a cold, icy climate.

Of the many books written about relationships, one of my favorites is this one. (OK, so I admit to inserting this link so I felt like a real blogger). Since a birthday should be a day in which the birthdayee should feel honored and loved, each language will be fulfilled as follows for Carrie on Saturday, January 24:

Acts of Service: One of the fun perks at my place of employment is that we get the day off on our birthday each year. Thus, I think it is only appropriate that Carrie is given the day off from her normal duties. She’ll start the day with our birthday tradition of breakfast in bed. I will then get our son out of bed, fix his breakfast, and he will be with me all morning. Carrie will be free to stay in bed if she chooses, to go to a coffee shop if she chooses, to have a retreat if she chooses…in other words, responsibility will be gone but choice will not. Lunch, if she chooses to join us, will be at noon. She will not be permitted to do any laundry, cleaning, or other items on her to-do list during this day.

Quality Time: From 4:30-10, a babysitter will come to our house and Carrie will be escorted by her husband to a nearby city in our 2002 Saturn. Once there, we will dine here, which is among her favorite places to eat. After a relaxing dinner, we will run a couple of inevitable errands, because that is what we do (this also falls under acts of service, as I really don’t like to shop!). Since errands can bring a bit of stress, we’ll leave some time to unwind by book browsing at Barnes and Nobles. Then we’ll move to the final destination of the evening’s adventure…

Gifts Given: The final destination might not seem like much to many of you. The “gift giving” language is the lowest of the five on my scale, and since I had to exhaust all my ideas for Carrie at Christmas, I’m going to cop out by allowing her to pick her own gift. It so happens that my least favorite place to shop is Carrie’s favorite: Here. I don’t like the place due to the fact that I’ve almost committed crimes while in the return department there. But, that is a whole other blog post as I’ve digressed. Typically, if I shop here with Carrie, I make rules like, “we have to leave in 22 minutes max” or “nothing in the cart that isn’t on your pre-made list of 8 items”. January 24, 2009 will be an exception. In addition to fulfilling her inevitable list, she’ll have $30 to buy anything she wants, guilt-free, and can take as long as she wants.

Physical Touch: Don’t worry, I won’t make this awkward. She’s 7+ months pregnant, remember? When we arrive home, and she is ready for bed, she’ll be treated to a back massage to end her day.

Last but not least is her #1 Love Language: Words of Affirmation. This is where all of you blog readers come in. I know that in some way, whether in person or through her blog, Carrie has impacted your life in a positive way. It is time to inundate her with the blessing of words from people she cares about. To keep this simple and to avoid putting pressure on you to write a book, I am requesting that on Saturday, January 24, each of you would, in the form of a comment on this blog post, affirm Carrie in one specific way about who she is…perhaps a character trait, a skill that she has, something you’ve learned from her, etc. I realize it is hard to narrow it to one, but that is the beauty of combining a community of comments for Carrie (alliteration intended). Thank you for your help.

Happy Birthday, Carrie! I love you, and I look forward to celebrating with you tomorrow. You deserve every ounce of love you will feel this day, and I am privileged to be in a permanent alliance with you. May God grant us many more birthday celebrations ahead . . .

Footnote: A special thank you to my sister-in-law, whose password knowledge and blogging expertise made this post possible.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blahg

I've been thinking a lot about my sister's post from last week on re-ordering her time and priorities. She and I had talked about some of this stuff when we were together last month (always a pleasure!), and I was excited to read about some of her conclusions.

While considering the same topic for myself, one of the things I've decided to ease up on is posting on my blog 4 times a week. I still have plenty of ideas waiting to be written, but I'm feeling a little blahg right now (get it--blog/blahg?!) As I finish up my part-time work at the college and prepare for baby #2, I'm not feeling as enthusiastic and motivated as I've usually been in regards to blogging. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that I needed to maintain my MTWF posting schedule, and lately that's been feeling like somewhat of a burden. That shift tells me I need to re-evaluate this piece of my life.

I started this blog to be a journal of sorts, to interact with old and new friends, and to share and glean ideas. It has been all of this and more, and I really have been blessed to be part of the community I've found here. So I'm not leaving, not by any means, I'm just taking away the self-inflicted pressure to check in as frequently as I have in the past. I hope you'll stick with me on this journey, and I'll see ya when I see ya!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Simple Living Guide

I'd had The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhr on my reading list for a long time, and I think the sheer size of the book (it's quite thick) kept pushing it to the bottom of my pile. Ironically, one of the first points in the book that resonated with me was "Stop trying to read everything." I took that to heart and instead of reading every page, I just skimmed the sections that only minimally interested me, so I'd have more time and energy to focus on the topics I found more compelling. My favorite parts of the book were the testimonials that concluded each chapter because I really enjoy reading about how others live simply.

Some random notes I took from the book:

*The two main rules for living on less are to "pay retail as little as possible and plan ahead." Love this, as I'm a big fan of bargain and secondhand shopping. I do think planning ahead results in saving if it's done properly. My clothing inventory has helped me with managing kid clothes, but I still need to work on a system for keeping my pantry stocked.

* I liked these ideas for teaching kids about money:

Set up a savings account for your children.
Discuss the difference between wants and needs.
Have your child learn to pay for extras.
Involve children in real-life budgeting.
Allow some mistakes to teach kids about money.

*My favorite chapter discussed dealing with clutter. Luhr writes, "The simple living lesson on clutter is this: if you don't like to clean, sort and fool with stuff, have less of it." Makes sense to me!

*I also liked this three-pile rule for sorting through your stuff:

1. love and use--things you feel good about and use often
2. ambivalence--things you both like and don't like, all at the same time (rarely used but held on to because of guilt or pack-rat rationalizations)
3. discard--things you never use and are willing to part with

(Variations for kids: I love it, I don't know, Out) I definitely identify with the ambivalence pile!

I'm glad I read the book, though I don't think it's one I'd reference again, even though I found it inspirational to simple living. Has anyone else read it--what did you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Linkadoos

*Thanks to Nicol, Christy and Hayley for gifting me with blog awards--I appreciate your thoughtfulness and am thankful to be part of this community with you!

*I wanted to re-print this paragraph I wrote in September of 2007, as I received another message recently from American Airlines that my miles are once again about to expire:

I recently received a notice that one of the frequent flier programs I belong to adopted a new miles expiration policy. For those of us who are not travelers logging several flights a year, this strict enforcement (18 months with no activity) is a real discouragement. I e-mailed the customer service department, informing them of my disappointment in their decision. They sent a cordial reply, detailing several ways in which I might extend my miles through affiliate purchases, etc. I am thankful that some programs, such as Northwest's Worldperks, are much more user-friendly--Worldperks miles do not expire, and they are also transferable to family and friends.

Both last time and this time, I opted to donate some miles to charity, which will help someone else while allowing me to maintain my sizeable balance. I also wanted to tell you about a cool site I came across that allows you to redeem miles for gift certificates. There are some restrictions (minimum balance, etc.), but I think it's a pretty good deal if you're unable to redeem your miles for a ticket.

*I posted this recipe for cream soup mix quite awhile ago and wanted to amend my notes by telling you that I recently tried microwaving the mixture to expedite the process. I haven't been using the mix much because it means using an extra pot and adds time to meal prep, but I hope to start trying it again with this quicker method.

*Eric and I recently watched this movie, and I was both touched and impressed. I know the Christmas season is "technically" over, but it's always a good time to reflect on God's gift to us, Jesus. I re-read Luke 2 that night after seeing the film, and felt the images/portrayal helped enhance my understanding of the story.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cranberry chicken

My friend Cora shared this simple recipe with me a few months ago. Judging by Eric's very pleased reaction, it's entered our regular rotation! Enjoy . . .

Cranberry chicken
4 chicken breasts (or pheasant breasts, if you're married to an avid hunter!)
1 c. salad dressing (recipe calls for French or Catalina; I've only used raspberry vinaigrette because that's what I had on hand the first time and we loved the result)
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 envelope of Lipton onion soup mix

I dump everything in the crockpot and call it good (ours is really speedy, so it only takes 3-4 hours), and then I serve the meat/sauce with potatoes and/or stuffing. If baking, it suggests refrigerating the mixture for several hours to let the flavors marinate. Bake covered at 300 degress for 1.5 hours.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Organize Your Home Day

With the start of a new year, it's probably no surprise that January is National Get Organized Month, but today specifically is designated Organize Your Home Day.

I'm reminded of this post I wrote a year ago on an organizing workshop I attended, specifically this helpful strategy I learned: Walk through your entire home, room by room. Armed with a clipboard, look around each room in a clockwise direction, writing down any area that irritates you. Once you've gone through the entire house, sit down and prioritize your projects.

When I did the walk-through a year ago in our old house, I came up with 27 areas (usually a specific drawer or shelf) that needed attention. The list was really motivating and I'm happy to say I completed 26 of the listed tasks. Now that we've been living in this house for nearly 8 months (!), I need to do a walk-through here.

A couple problem areas for me--I'd love to hear your tips and ideas for tackling these!

*Books and toys that are "out of rotation"--do you have a good system for rotating toys and storing the ones that are in hiding?
*In-process projects (crafts/gifts and papers related to the freelance writing projects I do from home)--I end up with numerous piles, and though they're not visible from the main areas of our home, I find I'm constantly shuffling through them to find what I need.

Did anyone else do the walk-through assessment last year? Anyone want to join me in doing it now (or soon)?

Friday, January 9, 2009

New tunes

It's been a long time since I've gotten a new CD, and I made up for it by receiving four new ones for Christmas!

Several months ago I asked you all for suggestions of uplifting praise music, and you didn't disappoint. I just received two of the recommendations and have really been enjoying them--Sing Over Me is a fabulous compilation featuring several wonderful female Christian singers (including one of my favorites, Nichole Nordeman). I also got a copy of the upbeat Seeds Faith CD and appreciate that all the lyrics are taken directly from Scripture.

The other two discs I received were Christmas albums. I find Jim Brickman's music to be quite relaxing, and was excited to receive a second one of his holiday recordings. At the recommendation of Mer, I added Sara Groves' Christmas CD to my list, and enjoyed Sara's new arrangements of old favorites.

While we're on the subject of music, I also want to tell you about a new singer-songwriter I just discovered. I'm really enjoying listening to her on-line, and was even more excited to learn that her music producer is a college friend of Eric's. What a small world! She's labeled pop/rock/alternative, so if that suits your taste, I encourage you to check her out.

Anyone else get new music for Christmas?

My dad

I really appreciate those who have inquired about how my dad is doing and wanted to provide a general update.

Amazingly, he's doing pretty well right now:

*His pain has decreased, for which we're very thankful. Ibuprofen of all things has been surprisingly effective in managing his pain.

*In addition to medication, he will begin radiation treatments soon.

*Now that he's in less pain, he's starting to run a little bit again, and is hoping to train for a marathon in June (out here by us--yay!)

There are still lots of unknowns, but we are grateful that he feels pretty good right now and is even, to use his word, content with his situation. Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oink, cluck, baa, moo


Farmer Nathan just turned two!

I wish I could take credit for that cute little rhyme, but I found it while searching on-line for farm-themed birthday ideas. I included that little poem in the homemade barn-shaped invitations, along with a cute RSVP idea: "yays or "neighs." =)

I found a cute cupcake design in this magazine, and made them a little healthier using a recipe from this cookbook. They were simple, tasty and festive.
Nathan loved singing "Happy Birthday" to himself, and he's enjoying saying that he is 2.
I thought it would be fun to take him here, because I knew he'd love the ball pit and other climbing equipment. Unfortunately, this location had completely remodeled since I was there(granted, that was YEARS ago), and it was really just an arcade better suited to older kids. We let Nathan go on a couple of the little rides, but he was more content to just pretend he was "driving," etc. That left a lot of extra tokens for us adults to play skeeball and air hockey, which was fun. We even earned enough tickets at the end to purchase two packages of crayons. =) Good times!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fun with cousins!

Nathan rarely gets to see his cousins because three live on the West coast, and three on the East. We look at their pictures a lot, but it's sure not the same as getting to play with one another.

It was fun to watch the kids interact, and we made many happy memories during our week together:

*Grammie let Emily, Rachel and Nathan lick the beaters after she made some of her delicious frosting!
*Reading books was a popular activity.
*A successful creative venture: bringing snow inside for the kids to play with. They lasted a long time scooping snow with spoons and building little snowmen. (Poor Emily needed a band-aid after the morning's sledding excursion, and Rachel wanted to wear a bandage, too!)
*Monica's homemade Christmas jammies turned out so cute--and the cousins are pretty darling, too!

Monday, January 5, 2009

A cozy cabin Christmas

My mom, Monica and I had a good laugh when people asked if our mountain cabin would have running water. Granted, we did a lot of tent camping growing up, but with four toddlers and a pregnant woman on board, primitive conditions are not my idea of a good time, especially in the winter! This was our beautiful home for several days of the Christmas holiday:
Isn't it fabulous?! My mom had the brilliant idea to bring a Christmas tree and a few simple decorations, and those really helped make the setting more festive. It was a wonderful set-up for our family.

As you can see below, the view wasn't too bad, either. Oh, Colorado, I sure do like you!
Tomorrow, I'll post some family photos, and Wednesday, I'll share about Nathan's birthday celebrations. Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Ebenezer

"Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I've come."
Several years ago, while singing that line from the familiar hymn "Come Thou Fount," I realized I had no idea what those words meant. I decided to ask the pastor after the service, and he explained that an Ebenezer ("a stone of help") is a monument to the Lord, acknowledging that He has led and helped us thus far. I love that! What an appropriate image as we transition to a new year.
Eric and I spent some time last night reflecting on 2008, specifically thanking God for these blessings to our family:
*The provision of Eric's job at the right time. He loves going to work each day, is no longer stressed, and is part of an amazingly supportive environment.
*This beautiful, cozy house. A year ago, even 9 months ago, I wouldn't have imagined we'd be in a home that perfectly met our criteria. Isn't God good?!
*Expecting a second child--a little girl. We praise the Lord that I've been pretty healthy so far and look forward to meeting our daughter soon!
*My dad's contentedness with his situation. His pain has decreased, and though none of us are glad about the diagnosis and many unknowns, I can see the good that has already come from such a challenge. We are much more aware of what is important. Our time together over the holidays was precious, and I can see that several relationships in our family have already been enriched during this past month.
*The opportunities I've been given to serve in ministry roles, as well as the 3 different part-time jobs that have been offered to me during this academic year. I'll be wrapping up the second job soon, and jumping right into the third, which will end in mid-February.
Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:5
Note: I'm making an exception today to my Thursday no-blogging rule, as I wanted to post this on January 1. I'll be back to "regularly scheduled programming" on Monday the 5th.