Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring has sprung

After a long winter, we are relishing time outside. Here's some of what we've been up to lately:

*Learning to ride a bike without training wheels! Don't let the pink throw you. Nathan learned on this bike, and then he was ready, we took the training wheels off his BLUE one. =) We are so proud of him. He struggled at the beginning, but now he's loving it so much, he wants to ride his bike for hours every day!
*Hosting a dear college friend overnight. Thanks for coming, Erin!
*Lots of playing at the park--we've been going every day it hasn't rained.
Hooray for spring!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

American Wasteland

When I saw my mom in Kansas City in March, she showed me the book she was reading, and I was thrilled to find that our local library had a copy. The book is called American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It).

All areas of stewardship are compelling to me, and since food is something I obviously encounter on a daily basis, this was a subject I was interested to learn more about. Written by a journalist named Jonathan Bloom, the book gives an inside look at the waste prevalent in American agriculture, grocery stores, restaurants, institutions and homes. The statistics in the book are alarming. According to one study, the average American throws away 197 lbs. of food per year. Yikes! "No matter how you slice it," the author writes, "we're sending far too much food to the landfill--and that has dire long-and short-term consequences."

Reading this book is making me think more about what I buy (and how much) because "Creating the meal on our plates is an energy-sapping, environment-impacting process. Wasting that food squanders our supply of water, depletes our soil's nutrients, and wastes the fossil fuels that are used throughout the food chain." I try to be intentional about checking our fridge before I plan meals so that I know what we have and what needs to be used up. I actually really enjoy the challenge, and think we do pretty well in this area overall, but I've definitely allowed some produce like spinach to get past its prime, and I've seen more than one loaf of bread develop fuzz. I'm sure we can keep striving to improve in this regard, thereby decreasing the amount of food wasted by our household.

Contrary to what you might expect him to say, Bloom states that while he hopes people will reduce waste, he doesn't want anyone going to extremes and feeling guilty if they leave a few peas on their plate. Some waste, he says, is inevitable, but we can do our best to avoid it when possible. "We can be mindful of all that went into growing, shipping, and preparing our food and remember that there are those who go without enough to eat. Then we should act accordingly."

One of the issues Bloom identifies that could be easily corrected is to have a standard system (and understanding) for sell by/use by dates on products. Some consumers and grocers are probably too strict with this system (pitching items that are about to "expire"), and others are perhaps too lenient. But as Bloom asserts, we as individuals can use common sense when making decisions about whether a product is still edible or not. For example, I don't mind buying or even eating cheese that's at or just past it's stamped date, but I admit I get kind of squeamish when it comes to milk. (Which I know doesn't make a lot of sense, given that they're similar products!)

The section of the book that most fascinated me was a peek into another family's refrigerator. A couple from North Carolina shared a list of the contents of their fridge, which I found very intriguing. The couple discovered quite a few duplicate products crammed in their fridge, as well as random ingredients they'd bought for one dish and never used again. That's not a common situation for me. I actually often avoid some new recipes that include ingredients I think we're not likely to use regularly, or I make a substitution. To quote the author of a major food waste study, William Rathje, "The more repetitive your diet, the less food you waste." That doesn't mean you have to eat the same menu every week, but using the same ingredients in a variety of ways means you're less likely to have forsaken ingredients in your pantry or fridge.

I counted the number of items the couple listed, and came up with a total of 103 items. That number seemed really high to me, so I immediately opened my fridge and tallied 68 items. Because it was right before my weekly grocery trip, I'm guessing that number is a little lower than our norm. So interesting!

Thinking about the contents of my fridge makes me want to be more intentional with making sure I'm using the ingredients we already have there and in our pantry. I think it's a fun "game" to use up random bits and pieces. I loved one of the resources the book listed--a British campaign called "Love Food Hate Waste." The site is inspirational for increasing awareness about food waste, and has lots of tips and recipes for preparing the right amount, using up leftovers, etc. Brilliant! =)

If you are interested in learning more about food waste in our culture, I definitely encourage you to pick up this book or to look at the site mentioned above. Awareness is key!

What do you think of this topic? Anyone else willing to share the number of items in your own fridge for my entertainment? (I counted every jar and container, but things like a carton of eggs just counted for one item.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Odds and ends

Note: This post was supposed to go up this morning (Friday). Instead, my post for next Tuesday was published due to the system-wide problems with Blogger. Thanks to those who commented on the Tuesday post. I'm guessing your comments won't reappear, but I plan to copy and paste them from my e-mail archives.

*Nathan's last of preschool was this week. He said he would most miss his friends and making things, so we'll have to see what we can do on both of those counts over the summer. Here is an example of something he made at school:I saw a brilliant idea years ago about taking photos of your kids' artwork, and that's what I've been doing this year with pieces that are too large to fit in a 3-ring binder. I plan to print the artwork photos and make some kind of collage that can go in the aforementioned binder.

*We had the chance to check out a medical helicopter last week (Claustrophobia!!), and I thought this was a great picture of father and son:
*Our weather has been all over the place. We went from having our heat on to temps in the low 90s and back to the 40s two days later! All of the humidity earlier in the week did this to my sweet girl's hair:I love it! Nathan's hair did that at this age, and Eric and I both had more curly hair as toddlers, too.

*Lastly, and not related to anything else in this post, if you haven't signed up for Groupon yet, I encourage you to check it out. Even in my rural area, I've been able to take advantage of on-line deals for photo sites and E-bay.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From my kitchen

Just some random thoughts and ideas from my kitchen to yours . . .

*I bought one of these fabric potato baking bags at a craft fair, and I really like it. So nice to not have to poke potatoes for microwave cooking, and I think they turn out less wrinkly, too. Have any of you tried one?

*I decided to use our oven's self-cleaning feature recently, and though I've done it before without incident, this time the clock area displayed an error code hours after the cleaning was completed. I read in the manual that if the oven continues to beep, it needs to have some maintenance done. Since that is what happened, Eric called his friend who owns the local appliance store. (Yes, I said "the," as in singular!) His friend said he recommends people not use their oven's cleaning feature because the high temps can often melt wires and sensors, which is what occurred in our case. Yikes! We had to replace a $50 part to restore the oven's functionality. Makes me wonder why ovens have a self-cleaning mode if it can cause damage to the oven's parts! Though I'm sure it's out there somewhere, I couldn't find any information on-line about this. Anyone else care to weigh in?

*I have tried frozen grapes in the past, and haven't really cared for them, but I decided to make another attempt by fixing this smoothie. It has a refreshing taste, and I'll probably make them fairly often, given that grapes are now down to 99 cents a pound on sale around here.

*You may remember this post where I shared some recipes that did not become favorites. Recently, I made a meal that both Eric and I thought was terrible. I can't tell you what it was, because I actually got the recipe off of one of your blogs! (Now you'll all be wondering . . . Ha!) This was the third time in our marriage that I've made a meal that Eric couldn't stand. And though I felt badly about the failed dinner that night, I guess that's not too bad a ratio!

*I saw on a blog (can't recall where) a few weeks ago that you could make microwave popcorn without buying the pre-packaged kind, and I was excited to try it. I made it successfully in a paper lunch sack and then read all the warnings here about that a week or two later. So lately, I've been experimenting with a glass bowl covered by a plate. I like not buying chemical-laden bags, and it's a quick alternative when we don't feel like getting out our popper.

*Eric and Nathan assembled parfaits for my Mother's Day breakfast using granola, yogurt, and fresh fruit. Pretty, delicious, and such a fun idea! I hadn't had one in ages, but I was reminded what a great combo they are of some of my favorite foods. Plus, this was Nathan's first time to make me something for breakfast. Gotta love that!

*It's definitely been challenging decreasing the amount of sugar I consume! The hardest moment was making cookies last week. I wanted so badly to eat a spoonful of dough, but I made myself wait so that I could have a fresh-baked treat instead. I'm one-third of the way there! =)

Friday, May 6, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

Though I don't read A Holy Experience regularly, I am always challenged when I do. I'd seen mentions of Ann's new book popping up all over blogland, and decided to give it a read.

As expected, I wrote down lots of insightful quotes, including the following:

"Our fall was, has always been, and always will be that we aren't satisfied in God and what He gives." And on those same lines, "Ingratitude was the fall--humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives."

"Thanksgiving--giving thanks in everything prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ."

I loved this quote Ann shared from Julian of Norwich, "For of all the things our minds can think about God, it is thinking upon His goodness that pleases Him most and brings the most profit to our soul."

I was stunned by the pastor she quoted who said his life's most profound regret was being in a hurry. "Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away." If that doesn't make you stop and think, read it again!

I was challenged when Ann reminded us that we always have the choice to be fully attentive. I am often guilty of letting my mind wander, especially (gulp) when I'm playing with my children.

An especially poignant section of the book involved a sinful exchange between Ann's two sons. Though saddened and even angered by her son's selfish behavior, Ann realizes in that incident that she needs to pray aloud with and for them. She thanks God for her boys, and thanks God for not leaving us in our mess. In doing so, she reminds her sons--and herself--about the hope of forgiveness.

Though the content in this book is excellent, I sometimes struggled with the writing style. Adverbs are often shortened ("clock ticks slow"), words are inverted to what seems natural to me ("The sun rolls across wheat warm"), and articles (such as "the") are often omitted. The book is certainly worth reading--I'm just mentioning that the nontraditional writing style was distracting to me at times.

Shortly after finishing the book, the main message of intentional gratitude was reinforced in the March 22 devotion from Jesus Calling: "Rejoice and be thankful! As you walk with Me through this day, practice trusting and thanking Me all along the way. Trust is the channel through which My peace flows into you. Thankfulness lifts you up above your circumstances. I do My greatest works through people with grateful, trusting hearts. Rather than planning and evaluating, practice trusting and thanking Me continually. This is a paradigm shift that will change your life."

Have any of you read One Thousand Gifts? What did you think? My sister, Monica, and I decided to post our reviews of this book on the same day, so please click here to read her thoughts, and also to wish her a happy birthday!

*Thanks to all of you who left comments on my blogiversary post. I truly appreciated your feedback! I always use the random number site for my drawings, and this time the number chosen was 9. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the 9th comment came from none other than The Homespun Heart! Happy birthday, Monica!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

4 years of blogging (and a giveaway!)

658 posts in the past 4 years. Wow! (As I looked at the numbers, I couldn't help but notice that the number of posts I write was cut in half when we doubled the number of kids in our family! Ha!)

I thought it would be fun a few months ago to put the topics I write about into a word cloud, and I was thrilled to see that the subjects I write about most still reflect what is most important to me: The top 3 words are family, faith, and homemaking!

Thanks for joining me on this journey. As a way to say thank you, I'd like to give away a Leslie Sansone DVD. I've mentioned how much I've enjoyed her workouts--my February challenge seriously got me back on track with exercising, and I'm so glad! If your name is chosen in the random drawing, you will receive a gently used copy of Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds Ultimate Collection.

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post, telling me what topic or type of post you most enjoy reading on this blog. (Not to elevate me or my writing in any way, but rather to help me tune in to who's reading and what is interesting to you.) Thanks! I'll choose a name sometime Thursday, and will announce the winner on Friday.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sugar, sugar

(When trying to think of an appropriate title for this post, all I could think about was this oldies song!)

So, a month ago, I stated that my challenge for April was to floss every day. Boy, did I fall short this time around! I improved my 2-3 times a week to just 4 times/week. It's hard to get into a new habit. I often forgot, and a few times, I confess, I just didn't feel like it. Kind of funny, since it takes less than a minute to do, plus I knew I'd have to report back here on my blog!

My May challenge should also have a positive impact on my teeth, as I want to be intentional about consuming less sugar. Though I would consider myself a pretty healthy eater when it comes to meals, I am a snacker and a sweet tooth, and that does not make the best combination. I have some kind of dessert (cookie/s, piece of candy) after one or two meals a day, and sometimes I also reach for a sweet snack in the afternoon or evening. It's really a lack of discipline, and that's why I'm targeting it for my next challenge. The fact that I feel embarrassed about what I just admitted to you will hopefully be some good motivation for decreasing my sugar intake to one serving of sweets each day!

I thought about doing some kind of sugar detox--as in not eating any--but I know myself well enough that I would be setting myself up to fail with such an extreme attempt. This goal I've set will be challenging for me. As I've often heard my mom say, "Everything in moderation."

I often have headaches, and lately I've wondered if there's a connection to the amount of sugar I'm consuming. I've done some on-line research on the effects of sugar, but haven't come to any real conclusions at this point. If you have thoughts on the subject, I am interested to hear them!