Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Everything and the Kitchen Sink Cookies

Since Made to Crave began back in January, I've been feeling convicted about all the processed foods I've let creep back into our diet.  There are some times that just seem to cry out for a cookie, you know?  And since seeing the monster sized chocolate chip cookies at Camp Harrison that were so good a counselor claimed his own half tray, I've been itching for a good cookie - but I didn't want to backslide.  So, Luke and I experimented last night, and this is what we came up with.  They're rich enough to make you want a big glass of milk with each one, but are full of fiber - and absolutely nothing white.

Here's how you make Everything and the Kitchen Sink Cookies:

You'll need:

  • 1 stick of softened butter 
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. applesauce
  • 1/8 - 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3 c. oats
  • 2/3 c. raisins
  • 1/3 c. shredded coconut
  • 1/3 c. mixed nuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cream the butter and peanut butter.  Add the honey and applesauce, mixing well.  Add the brown sugar and combine until smooth, then stir in both eggs and the vanilla.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine flour, soda, cinnamon, salt, and oats.  Gradually add to the wet ingredients.  Mix together raisins, coconut, and nuts; stir in gently.

Dough will be sticky but will form easily into balls.  Make tablespoon-sized balls of dough and flatten slightly.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until starting to brown at the edges..

Let cool slightly, then enjoy with milk!  :-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Joy of Painting

Sometimes, it gets old doing the same old things.

Sometimes, there's a little guy who's very sensitive to sensory things and doesn't want to do even ordinary things.

Sometimes, that bugs me.

When I taught first grade, there was at least one kid in each class who just didn't like to get messy.  Usually a boy, he didn't like putting his hand in shaving cream or getting near paint or even spelling in Jell-O powder.

My son is going to be that boy.

And while that really is not a big deal, there's a tiny part of me that wants him to know the joy of a good shaving cream fight or to paint a glorious picture and not stress about the mess.

Maybe it's the slob in me.

Regardless, for the past few years I've been on a quest to find projects that will gently stretch his limits in the hopes of pushing him WAAYYY past them one day.

Today was a good day.

We've finger painted, painted on paper, on eggs, on cardboard, on banners.  We've painted with Q-tips, with fingers, with carrots and apples.  Even trucks.  Today we painted with plain old toddler brushers, but today he got into it.

I let him paint the door.

I haven't tried that in a while.

We used water-based washable tempera paint from Hobby Lobby in his two favorite colors, and I mixed in a few drops of dish soap to make the clean up easier.  I spread several layers of newspaper on the floor  and then called him over.

His first comment was about the smell of the paint, but his eyes lit up when he saw the door.  At first he sat down to paint, but soon he stood up to make a bigger picture, and twice he asked for more paint.

He started small, scrubbing his brush around, but his tiny movements soon became grandiose gestures, pushing the paint all over the door.

After layering paint upon paint for several minutes, he got very excited.  "I'm making lines, Mommy!" he said.  I love when he describes his art.  It's even better when he makes something besides his favorites - tornadoes and giant spiders.

He loved his masterpiece and insisted on showing pictures to Daddy and his sister.  I washed the door long before they got home, which was surprisingly easy to do - though certainly the messiest part of this project.

This paint dries very, very fast, so when you're ready to clean up, be sure to have newspapers still on the floor underneath.  Spray heavily with Windex and wipe with a newspaper.  It will "melt" and run.  Keep spraying and wiping, and in just a few minutes, you'll be ready for a final go-over with a paper towel.

There's something exciting about having a large canvas on which to work, but being able to watch the rain fall outdoors made this one even more fun.  Because this paint dries somewhat translucent, it would be especially fun to create "stained glass" windows with older children.  Maybe the next time we'll try to paint shapes on the door.

But for today, the simple joy of painting is enough.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Time to Retreat

This past weekend I went back to camp.

As a kid I started going to camp around age 9.  First 4-H Camp Shehequa, later Methodist Camp Penn, some years both, but always camp was great.  To be outside, to be pushed just gently outside your comfort zone, to make new friends and try new things was a wonderful thing as a child.

I loved it so much I stayed - first as a junior counselor, then a senior counselor, then as director.  When I aged out of that, I just moved from the front of the mess hall, making the announcements to the campers, to the back, where I cooked their meals and ordered the food.

Hey, it paid for my books in college and kept me living temporarily on that beautiful Pocono mountain.

But all good things come to an end, and when Melissa Taylor invited her Made to Crave girls to Camp Harrison for a Women's Wellness Weekend, I was ready!

I traveled there with my mom and a good friend, and we made camping memories once again.  On our way to the opening bonfire, where the provided boas were the recommended attire, we clowned around by the pool.

There's just something about a good bonfire and s'mores that's totally relaxing!  The big open sky always reminds me of Who's in charge.

After an early wake-up call Saturday morning, a bunch of us hiked to the waterfall, an interesting climb complicated by the several streams that you have to cross - sans bridge - to get there.  This one looks tiny, but I'd guess it to be at about 12 feet high.  It was very impressive at 7 AM!

Later, we joined Melissa Taylor and her friends for a hike up the Overlook Trail, a mile-long hike to the top of the mountain.  We definitely got some exercise ...

and even with the cloud cover, we had a great view of the valley!

I haven't been in a canoe since I was 4 years old, and although my mom's dad was quite the fisherman, she hadn't handled a canoe in years - so we decided to tackle it.  We laughed ourselves silly learning how to maneuver the paddles and worried a cucumber-cool counselor when we headed straight for the pier, but we figured it out.  It was loads of fun - and the pier remained intact!

I even had the chance to do things I hadn't done since my own camping days.  Camp Harrison has a very tall double zipline, and while I used to be certified on our own course at Shehequa, this one was MUCH taller.  It was scary, but it still felt good to strap on that harness and brave the ropes.  (Although if I hadn't done a zipline before, I don't think anything would've convinced me to jump off that tower!)

But besides being just plain fun, there were lots of small blessings all around camp ...

The wild crocuses blooming randomly in the forest ...

The signs placed all over camp, even in the middle of the woods, drawing my mind back to the Creator who made it all.

My very first horse riding lesson.  It was bareback!  Well, except for the saddle blanket, but it kept sliding around, so let's not count that.  It was actually an EquiFitness lesson.  Who knew you could do Pilates on horseback?  I'll never view a sit-up the same way again!

I'm not sure what this little guy was doing up there - or even what he's standing on - but it must've been a hoot to see him climbing up there.  I laughed just noticing his accomplishment.

Sometimes, as a stay-at-home mom, it feels as if the work's never done.  As if there's never time to play, time to relax, as if someone always needs something and there's another deadline always looming.  But for two days this weekend, there were no deadlines, no laundry, not even a dependable alarm.  Cell service was spotty and rain was minimal.  The mountain beckoned.

So today, I'm grateful for Camp Harrison and Melissa Taylor.  Grateful to get away and hear grounded Christian messages.  Grateful for the chance to be adventuresome again, for the chance to be a kid again, for the chance to laugh myself silly in a tiny boat in front of an audience full of ducks.  I'm grateful for not falling off my horse and grateful for the chance to ride when it looked impossibly wet.

I love my life here at home, but even Jesus escaped His daily grind and went fishing!  I'm happy for this weekend's chance to do the same.  :-)

Join us for GratiTuesday at Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - March 28

I've just returned from my Women's Wellness Weekend at Camp Harrison (more about that tomorrow) and many of the supplies that I left for my family are still in the fridge, so I'm adjusting the plan for this week to include those.

Monday - Chicken pot pie soup with biscuits (a kid favorite at our house)
Tuesday - Baked potatoes with cheese, steamed broccoli, and barbecue chicken
Wednesday - Roasted turkey, Garlic brown rice, baked corn, and green beans
Thursday - Stir fry with steak strips, veggies, and rice
Friday - White pizza with tomatoes, canteloupe
Saturday - Tacos, Corn, Salad

Join in the Menu Plan Monday fun here!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"When Sparrows Fall" by Meg Mosely

Peace finally beckons to widowed Miranda Hanford when her controlling pastor announces a church-wide move to another state.  Hoping to find a balance between the Jesus she loves and the legalistic rules of pastor Chandler, Miranda is seeking a way out when a severe accident cripples her, making her and her six children dependent on her brother-in-law.  Professor Jack Hanford finds himself temporarily in charge of the Miranda's homeschooling efforts and is at a loss to understand the rules binding the family.  Can Miranda break free before Chandler condemns her publicly or Jack stumbles across hidden family secrets?

Meg Mosely writes a truly compelling story about faith and forgiveness.  No part of this story reads like a book; instead, it feels as if a good friend is sitting across the table, describing the neighbor who lives just down the street.  Miranda and Jack feel as if they could leap out of the book at any time - both make you want to know them, to know more, to become their best friends; despite their secrets and flaws, or maybe because of them, they are real.  Mosely's word choice is incredibly descriptive but also adds to the characters' intrinsic self; the words used by each one are not generic, but add depth and layers to each person.

I loved the way that this book added suspense while drawing you in closer to each character's life.  The full meaning of Miranda's secrets or Jack's motivation is not known until the very end, but learning what they've hidden only makes you connect further with each one.

This is one book that I can see myself reading over and over; the first read isn't going to be enough.  I can't wait to read more from this author!

If you'd like to read the first chapter of When Sparrows Fall for free, check it out here!  Mosely's first novel won't become available until May 3rd, but you can preorder it here.

I received a free copy of this book from Multnomah's Books for Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Curses, Confusion, and Frustration

I was reading along in my Chronological Daily NLT Bible when one verse stopped me.  "The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed  for doing evil and abandoning me. (Deut. 28:20)"

It made me think ... God really goes all out for drawing us back to Him, doesn't He?  He lets us suffer the really hard stuff so that ultimately, we go searching for Him.

Really bad stuff ... stuff that will completely destroy us ... like being shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean?

Happened to Paul, but not what He promises the Israelites.

Massive volcano, reminiscent of Dante's Peak?  Making entire states flee?

Nope, not lately.

Maybe an asteroid headed straight for North America?  Threatening to take us all out, just like in Armageddon?

So far, no.

I'm not making light of the tragedies that befall our planet.  There are a lot of them, and they seem to be increasing.  Earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.  Rampant disease in Africa.  Crime epidemics in America.  War in the Middle East.  Drugs everywhere.  It's awful.

But God doesn't promise those things in this particular verse, either.

He promises to give us confusion and frustration.

Isn't it funny how a negative attitude is all it takes to completely derail our day and ruin our lives?  Think about it.  If a middle schooler drops something in front of a football player at school, isn't their first reaction to dye their hair and move to another state, never to be seen or heard from again?  Drama, people.

God knows us, inside and out.  He knows that it doesn't take the doozies to get our attention - it only takes a lost key or missing shoe or burnt toast.  He uses those big natural disasters when they happen, but it's more likely that He'll test us with an alarm clock that doesn't go off and the ensuing mad dash to work to remind us that He's right there, waiting for us.

I'm glad that God is there in the big things, but I'm glad that He uses those little things, too.  I'm still working to be patient with missing keys and lost shoes - I don't think I'm up for regular landslides yet.

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." ~ Romans 8:28

And if you haven't listened to Francesca Battestelli's latest, give it a listen here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Curtain Savvy People

My daughter recently asked to paint her room purple.  Since she was about to turn 6 and still living in her 'nursery' room, it seemed to be time.  My husband painted away and two days later she was all ready to move back into her room, which now resembles the inside of a blueberry yogurt tub, but for one problem:  the curtains needed to be rehung.

I had washed them and even ironed them, though that is not a strong suit of mine, but still, it took me hours to get the right curtain panel on the right rod and in the right place.  I'm that curtain deficient.  It's not my thing.

As I ironed and moved and climbed up and down stepladders, I thought about all of the curtains in our house.  Though I've made several sets of them, they are mostly all the same basic style and just get washed, ironed (maybe starched), and rehung.  They don't ever change.  Even with our daughter's drastic change from mint green to blueberry yogurt, her same basic white panels still worked.

With all of that, what did I learn?  I am SO not a curtain girl.  But I'm really, really glad that there are people out there who are know about valances and panels and ties and drapes and who knows what all.  I'm glad they can help me pick out what I need and that my husband can get out his mighty-man drill and install the hardware.  I'm thrilled with how the right kind of window treatment can make a room look cozy and put together and complete.

But most of all, I'm glad that I don't have to be one of those people.

Join us for Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers!

Dental Hygiene

This week we were visited by Pat Cobb, a dental hygienist for a local pediatric dentist.  That might not sound too exciting, but Pat brought along Ally the Alligator and shared lots of good tips for caring for your teeth.

Pat talked to us about how important it was to brush our teeth each morning and before bedtime, and that taking care of our gums is crucial.  She told us that dentists recommend that children spend 6 minutes each evening on dental hygiene, both brushing and flossing, and that parents should be involved until age 10.  Pat also showed us how to brush in small circles, not scrubbing, on each tooth, and then brushing downwards three times while singing, "Wiggle, jiggle, wiggle, jiggle, 1, 2, 3" and then moving on to the next one.  She let each child practice on Ally - though Luke was a big shy of her big smile.

After Pat left we concluded a science project to demonstrate just how important it is to brush.

Start with a jar (I'd recommend a wide-mouth one), an egg, a tube of toothpaste, and some vinegar.  I've used both cider and white for this - both work fine.

Squeeze out the tube of toothpaste into the jar. Try not to get any on the sides.  I realize that this seems like a lot, but it takes a lot for this to work - and it's a very visual demo of why brushing and toothpaste is important.

Next, nestle the egg into the toothpaste nest at the bottom.  Bury half of the egg in the toothpaste and let the other half sticking out, hopefully toothpaste-free (this is why a wide-mouth jar is important - my hand didn't fit in there well!).

Using the egg as a target so that none of the toothpaste washes away, slowly pour vinegar into the jar on top of the egg.  Fill the jar to about an inch past the top of the egg.

Let the jar sit for 2-5 days.  I wouldn't wait much longer than that, but it will take a few days for the magic to happen.  When the egg is ready, you should see that lovely cloud of bubbles at the top of the egg.  Again, be sure to wait a few days!  Just set it on a shelf somewhere and watch what happens while the vinegar works.

When it's time, pour out the vinegar and rescue the egg.  Holding it carefully, wipe away or wash under a gentle spray of water to remove excess toothpaste.

Your egg will now look like this!  The vinegar, an acid, has eaten away at the shell of the egg, which is made of protein.

If you consider the eggshell to be like the enamel on your teeth, you can see what plague will do to the finish of your teeth.  Be sure to carefully tap your fingernail on the white shell - see how hard and firm it still is?  Didn't the toothpaste do a great job of protecting it from the tough plague germs?

Then try to tap the soft brown top.  The shell is gone, leaving only the outer membrane.  Pushing gently, you can actually push into the egg - it's that soft.  Who wants a tooth that looks like this?!!  I think I'll brush!

Disclaimer:  As this entire project is done with a raw egg, dispose of egg carefully when finished.  I've never broken one in nearly 10 years of doing this project, so the eggs are tougher than they look - but I'm sure it's still possible, and I know they won't smell pretty if they break.  :-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Women's Ministry @ She Speaks 2011

Each year at the end of July several hundred women descend upon Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the She Speaks conference hosted by Proverbss 31 Ministries.  This event is jam-packed full of learning sessions and good times both.  With special sessions geared towards writers, speakers, and ministry leaders, the conference is designed both to renew and educate women to be effective in their specific calling.  For more information about She Speaks 2011, check out the conference website.  Registration is happening now, and seats always sell out!

Why do I want to go to She Speaks?  Well ....

I'm a planner.  An organizer.  A detail-oriented person.  Few things make me happier than figuring out how make things flow smoothly so that other people can learn.

I wasn't thinking about any of that, though, a few years ago when I went to my very first women's conference with a few friends.  As I put the van into 'park,' this voice in my head said, "You should do this."  I thought that perhaps I was going crazy - who was I to plan a women's conference?  I'd never even been to one!  Many of the things that the speaker, Renee Swope, said to us that day completely changed my life, and I have come to know God in a much more personal way than ever before.

But that voice wouldn't leave me alone, and finally I mentioned the idea to my friends.  By the end of the day we had several ideas, and by the end of the week, we had complete funding for the entire event.  By the time of our conference, we had a committee of over twenty people - in a church where nobody ever volunteered - and 100 women in attendance.  God did amazing things that day.

And it continued.  I was made the Chairperson of the Evangelism Committee at our church, and things somehow just kept happening.  We had a consignment sale to help local mothers and tripled our committee's budget for the entire year, as well as helping many moms.  Two members of FFH - yes, them! - came and led worship at our church.  Four times in one day!

I don't say this because I did any of this.  I didn't.  Not a single bit.  It was completely God.  I just happened to have a front row seat that year to see Him at work, and it was wonderful.

How do I know this?  I'm a teacher by profession.  You know, I teach short people the alphabet and counting on their fingers and facts about Columbus.  I never thought that I could teach anybody in a church anything.  Never even dreamed it.  

But all during that amazing year, I loved how my skills as a teacher and my faith could mesh and become one.  They could serve one purpose, and my crazy colored-marker fetish could serve Jesus, not just first-graders.  

Now I lead a Bible study that began during that year.  We just finished Made to Crave and are considering It's No Secret as our next book.  I would love to learn how to be a better leader for ur group.  There's so much that I don't know, and there's so much wisdom at She Speaks - I would LOVE to go there and soak it up!  But ... I have two young children and am a stay-at-home mom.  I love my "job," and the benefits are great - who wouldn't want a zillion sticky kisses and "I wuv you, Mommys"  each and every day?  - but the tradeable cash is sadly lacking.  The funds to attend She Speaks just aren't in our budget.  For that reason, a scholarship would make it possible for me to attend.

If not this year, maybe sometime ... but until, I'm going to keep my scented markers ready.  Who knows what God is planning next?

Does She Speaks sound like something you'd like to attend, too?  Renee Swope is giving away a scholarship here - check it out!

What Makes You Wonder?

Do you ever just wonder?  Just ... wonder.  Think about what an experience must have been like for someone else.  What must have been going through their minds as they saw the things that we'll never see.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Joshua, son of Nun.  

I realize he probably seems like a very odd person to wonder about.  He lived a few thousand years ago, and we know very few things about him.

He was an Israelite scout into the Promised Land with Caleb and returned with glowing reports of it.

He was one of only two scouts who actually believed that the Israelites should proceed into the Promised Land - of twelve total.

He succeeded Moses as the Israelite leader.

It's that last one that makes me wonder.  Joshua hung in there with God when few others did.  He was probably pretty young during the Exodus, and many older than he folded and caved under the pressure of life in the desert.

What I'm really wondering about, though, is what it was like for faithful Joshua during the years of wandering in the desert.  The Israel nation was huge - hundreds of thousands of men alone - and all of them were slated to die.  How horrible must it have been to wake up each day, knowing there would be funerals to hold and preparations to make?  Waiting for more loved ones and friends and neighbors to die so that life could continue?  Knowing that a new generation was growing up who did not witness the miracles of the Exodus and who needed to be taught those stories to lean on during the thin times?  Wondering how soon even thinner times might come?

We modern people often scoff at those Israelites.  "They were stubborn!" we say.  "They got to follow along after His pillar of fire and cloud daily and still they disobeyed Him!" we say.  "God fed them pastry-flavored food every day for which they did no work and didn't get fat, and still they strayed!" we say.  "How crazy those people were!"  

And maybe we'd be right.

But really ... are we any better?  No.

Have we trudged along in the desert, fearing giants and without food, with no end in sight?  No.

Have we really had to watch thousands of people around us die, for no reason we understood, while we did nothing?  For most of us, probably not.  No.  We haven't done that.

The Bible doesn't really tell us what those 40 years must have been like.  I imagine it almost as one super long funeral service.  How depressing it must have been.  How difficult if you were one of the ones "scheduled" to die, knowing that your sin was preventing your children from God's best!  How awful knowing that you were trapped in the desert, feeling the pressure of learning all you could, wondering when your parents' turn would come, when you would be required to carry on your family's legacy?  How thankful I am that God has not called me to be an Israelite!

Where could that many people possibly be buried, anyway??

Wendy Pope is always telling her online Bible study girls that “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one.  We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever all that He has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.( Deut. 29:29)”

Joshua must have been really good at that.  His faith must have been amazingly strong.

I hope that someday further down the line my family says that I'm like Joshua.  That I'm strong, that I knew God and depended on Him daily, that I was obedient to His call.  I wonder ....

What makes you wonder??

The Miracle of Rocks

My son is never bored.  You can usually find him stretched out on the floor somewhere, setting up a worksite with his construction vehicles, or in his sister's room lining up dozens of Matchbox cars into a race of epic proportions.  If that fails, he's curled up with an animal or Bible book somewhere, carefully turning pages and studying the pictures.

His favorite place to be, though, is outside.  Not just any old place outside - not in the yard, not at the play set, not out back by the creek; he prefers to be right at the edge of the driveway and the carport, plastic shovel in hand, buckets lined up all around him, plastic dump trucks with beds uplifted - shoveling rocks.

Yep, my son likes to shovel rocks.

He's absolutely never bored.  He's that creative.  He can create an entire construction site with a few rocks and a beach shovel.  He drags along his street sweeper to clear a 'road,' then digs up another section and builds buildings.  Race tracks come with grand sweeps of his rake, and soon he's completely ensconced in a vehicular world of his own making.

My son reminds me of a simpler time, a time when it was safe to send your kids outside on their own, when toys didn't have to be hardwired into plastic boxes  or stored behind clerk's registers.  He has a few electronic gadgets, but in the end, the rocks always win.

So, today, I'm thankful for the little things.  I'm thankful for rocks.  I'm thankful that we have a gravel driveway and not a paved or concrete one, because then my son would never know the joy of finding his own worms or of building racetracks and mud pits every afternoon.  I'm thankful that he is drawn to God's building blocks like a moth to a flame.

Rocks.  Never thought I'd think about them as anything more than a muddy, inconvenient mess in the driveway ... but I'm happy to see a bit of God's creation through Luke's eyes.

Join us for Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - March 14

This is another crazy week around here, with a field trip, a birthday, two parties, and out-of-town company, but it's going to be loads of fun!  I'm trying to plan our meals around the craziness, though, so that they're easy and ready to go when we're ready to eat them - with a minimal amount of work.  Here's what's on the menu:

Scrambled eggs, oranges x 2
Muffins, oranges x 2
Green shamrock pancakes, oranges
Pink heart pancakes (by the birthday girl's request)
Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, bananas

We're in a real lunch rut around here.  Both kids prefer to have PB & J on whole wheat, and Dave and I eat either salads, soups, or leftovers, so ... nothing exciting to report here.

Monday - Grab it and Growl
Tuesday - Steak stroganoff and salad
Wednesday - Chicken corn soup, carrot sticks, grilled cheese on homemade whole wheat
Thursday - Irish stew, scones, Irish flag pudding parfaits
Friday - (The birthday girl's choice!) chicken tenders, apples, steamed carrots, cupcakes
Saturday - a delayed birthday dinner out
Sunday - (The big party with both sets of grandparents) grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, baked corn, followed by birthday cake and ice cream

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Philly Creme House Party

Have you ever had been to one of those catalog parties, where the hostess wins amazing gifts but the event is full of that subtle what-am-I-going-to-buy pressures?

I have.  The parties can be fun, but the stress of buying something that you don't really need is hard - and sometimes it's hard on the wallet, too.

There's a new way to showcase products, however, that totally eliminates that pressure.

They're called House Parties, and the idea is that companies directly sponsor parties at select homes across the nation.  People apply for the product parties they are interested in and receive a box full of supplies for the party, in return for holding a party on a certain date with a certain number of people.

I've won several of these parties, most recently a Philly Creme one.  The hostess gifts were great ...

and included a green pan and a Philly oven mitt.  I must admit that I'd never heard of a green pan before, but I love the way that it heats, and the polymer nonstick coating really works.  I also received 4 coupons for free tubs of Philly Creme.

The swag bag gifts weren't bad, either.  Each party attendant received a notepad, cookbook, magnet, two coupons, and a wooden spoon.  (We added the chocolate.  You can't have a party and invite women and not have chocolate.  I'm sure that's a rule somewhere.)

The night of the party, I prepared four different dishes using the recipes in the Philly cookbook that was sent to me.  I made Pasta Primavera, a white pizza, Sante Fe enchiladas, and chicken pot pie appetizers.  I think the pizza was my favorite, as that is not something that I normally make.  The other recipes closely resemble dishes I already prepare, but the Philly Creme definitely makes each one much faster.  It eliminates the need for most measuring and has all of the herbs and seasonings already included.

If you've never House Partied before, what are you waiting for?  There are some interesting ones coming up ... check it out!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Coming Soon - The Oreo Olympics!

We did something really exciting this week.  Something I've done in public school with first-graders and have now done with our playgroup, ages 14 months to 8 .... but I forgot my camera.  To make a long story shorter, I do have pictures, but I can't access them yet, so ... there will be a delay in this week's Field Work Friday post.  It will be up shortly.

In the meantime, grab a few bags of Oreos and be ready for some educational cooky fun!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

She Speaks 2011

Each year at the end of July several hundred women descend upon Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the She Speaks conference hosted by Proverbss 31 Ministries.  This event is jam-packed full of learning sessions and good times both.  With special sessions geared towards writers, speakers, and ministry leaders, the conference is designed both to renew and educate women to be effective in their specific calling.  For more information about She Speaks 2011, check out the conference website.  Registration is happening now, and seats always sell out!

Why do I want to go to She Speaks?  Well ....

A few years ago, right after starting a new job (for which I was certified and credentialed but had just barely found my niche) my husband asked me to inquire about another one.  In an attempt to be an obedient wife, I dutifully asked about the position, but made it clear that I was not really interested in anything more than gaining the information.  I didn't want to rock my comfy little boat, and after seeing how much I did not want a change, my husband agreed to let me drop the whole thing.

Six months later found me still happy in my little boat, but that other position had changed.  With a new job description and double the hours, responsibility, and pay, my husband asked me to inquire about it again; I still only went through the motions.

But this time something different happened.

After really listening to my husband's reasons for wanting me to look into this position, I began to pray about it.

For the next five days, God answered.

Like Moses before the burning bush, for each job responsibility I listed why I could not possibly do this job.  Me?  Who am I?

And the following day, something would fall into my lap making it clear that while I, perhaps, couldn't .... HE could.

How could I make that kind of schedule work?  The next day I won a Christian mom's organizational planner from Marybeth Whalen.  It quickly arrived in the mail.

Who was I to hold that kind of position?  The next day I read a blog post about God equipping the called.  

For five days God answered every one of my concerns until I just looked up at the night sky and said, "I'm here.  I'm Yours."

I applied for the job and did my best - but in the end, the job search committee chose someone else, and I learned a valuable lesson:  Obey.  Always.  Immediately.  As someone at Bible study said last year, "Delayed obedience is nothing more than disobedience."

What would have happened if I had obeyed and applied for that job right away?  I'll never know.  Maybe He only wanted me to be willing.  Maybe He had some grand plan that I couldn't see and so dismissed.  I don't know, but I don't want to let my own stubbornness get in the way of what God wants for me again.  I seem to be in a season of waiting and learning right now.  I'm not sure what God has in store next, but when He calls, I want to be ready to leave the wilderness and follow Him.

That's why I want to go to She Speaks.  The opportunities to learn about following after Jesus and knowing Him completely seem endless there, as well as learning the nitty-gritty how-tos.  For the first time in five years, there isn't a family commitment on the calendar for that July weekend.  I would love to get out my colored, scented, happy markers and  write in, "She Speaks."

Want to know more about the current scholarship opportunities for She Speaks 2011?  Go here to find out more!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Small Things

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  Matthew 6:34

This was my great-grandmother's favorite Bible verse.  She didn't quote it every day or anything, but I remember hearing it referenced a few times and even seeing her read it from her Bible once.  What made the biggest impression was perhaps that she had this calmness, this peace, about her that proved she really BELIEVED this verse.  She knew that God was taking care of her and she didn't need to worry.

Whenever a larger-than-usual storm of life looms on the horizon, I think about Grandma and this verse, and I KNOW that it will be okay.  While those storms can still be stressful, there's still a kind of peace that exists in the midst of it, because I know that God will turn even that craziness into good.

But I'm not so good about the little things.  You know, the things that Francesca Battistelli sings about in her new song This is the Stuff.  Stuff like, 

Or whether I'll be able to find the fruit I want on sale, or will Wal-mart actually have whole wheat flour this week?  So while I was out for a rare grocery run alone last week, I hit a local store that has great clearance sections in nearly every department, and upon leaving, I realized that for only 1/3 of my weekly grocery budget, I had filled in all of our more urgent gaps.  Combined with what we had and another sale we'd be hitting later in the week, we were looking quite good to go.  Why did I worry?  Didn't I know that God would provide?  Sure, but I guess I don't often think about God and my groceries in the same mental sentence.  Maybe I should start, though.  He's obviously still taking care of us, whether we need apples or car seats, so why do I stress about it?

I shouldn't.

As Battistelli goes on to say,

Monday, March 7, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

Meals are going to be pretty simple around here this week.  Actually, they're going to be pretty simple this whole month because March really keeps this family hopping.  As for this week, we'll be going to church on Wednesday for an Ash Wednesday service, having a Philly Creme House Party on Saturday, and prepping all week for a kids' consignment sale.  As Andi would say, "Yikes!"

Monday:  Grab it 'n' Growl
Dave has Kiwanis so the kids and I will have a simple, quick supper of leftovers or soup - something like that.  It's our 'no cook' night.

Tuesday:  Parmesan Potato Soup with Broccoli

Wednesday:  Steak fajitas

Thursday:  Stir fry with broccoli, onions, peppers, and rice

Friday:  Picnic Supper with the kids; we'll be eating in the car on the way to drop off things at the consignment sale

Saturday:  Philly Creme House Party

Sunday:  Party leftovers

What are you eating this week?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Signs of Spring

I've lived in North Carolina for nearly 10 years now, but each year I'm still caught completely off guard by the signs of spring that pop up seemingly waaaayyyy too early to my Pennsylvania mind.  The watery eyes and sneezing of Southern allergy season is usually the first thing to alert me that winter is on its way out, but this week as the kids and I were out and about, we found lots of evidence that God is at work changing the seasons.  We decided to take pictures of our findings, scavenger-hunt style, so here's what we found:

Andi thought that this afternoon was a great time to play baseball.  It was about 66 degrees and slightly overcast, but it was a good day for it.  I'm completely sports illiterate - but doesn't baseball season begin soon??

It may be difficult to see in this picture, but those lumpy looking things at the end of each twig?  Those are buds!  We'll have leaves soon, people!

Luke and I visited the Museum of Life and Science after our Mad Hatter outing the other day, and I was amazed to find BROCCOLI growing happily beside the train car.  Already?  This farm girl wouldn't even THINK of planting such a thing yet, yet alone having stalks nearly ready to eat.  Isn't God's creation wonderful??

The butterfly gardens just outside the bug building at the museum were showing signs of life.  These daffodils are much higher than ours are at home, and the blooms were beautiful.

The hyacinths were up, too!

Our front yard is just covered in these little blue and purple flowering weeds.  This fact makes Andi VERY happy, but I'm sure her daddy will be somewhat less than thrilled.

This - is it a tree?  a bush?  I'm not sure - but this green waxy-looking plant at the edge of the yard is sporting big red buds.  I think something will be blooming here soon, too.

Andi found this pink flowering dogwood in the yard beside ours ...

and this pretty yellow bush blooming away in the yard behind ours.  Can you find the cardinal hiding in this picture??

Best of all, though, you know that spring approaches when the fabulous Farmer-Brown type across the street gets out his rototiller and prepares his garden for planting, as he did today.  He is truly an AMAZING gardener - and if he is getting ready to plant, I guess I should start making gardening plans.

Of course, in the midst of all this searching today, Luke was mysteriously absent.   When we asked him what he was doing, he said that his trucks were looking for signs of spring "under the dirt."

I guess we all look in our own places.

The next time we venture out, Andi's going to take her camera out so she can take her own pictures.  She's decided to make a book using her own pictures for every season.  I can't wait to see her finished book!

What signs of spring are you finding?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Mad Hatter Bake Shop

This week our playgroup traveled to Durham to visit the Mad Hatter Bake Shop. We met with Dorian, the head pastry chef, for a 'backstage' tour of their kitchen.

After seeing the prep areas for the meals and the coffee bar, Dorian showed us the areas where she works the most.  We saw the ovens, where all of her cakes, pies, and other goodies are baked, and the racks where they are stored.  All Mad Hatter cakes are served the day after they are baked because they must cool before being decorated.  Each cake begins in the mixer, though. Isn't this a doozy??

After being mixed, the cakes move to the oven.  It can hold several at one time!  Here's a peek at the cakes in progress ...

When everyone had finished the tour, we returned to the pastry station for a demonstration.  Dorian showed us how to decorate a coconut cream cake.  First, she piped in the filling and added the top layer, bottom side up so that she would have a flat surface to decorate.

Next, she piped buttercream icing all over the cake ...

 and then she smoothed it out.

The cake was almost finished; it just needed coconut.  Dorian added it by the handful and pressed it in.

With our brains full of decorating know-how, Dorian sent us out to the cafe to decorate
our own Mad Hatter cupcakes.  (The really great thing about these cupcakes is that they are part of a cupcake kit that you can buy anytime - and that also comes with any kids' meal.  How cool is that?)

Dorian brought us each a cupcake, a small piping bag full their yummy buttercream, and three varieties of sprinkles in small cups.  Luke began by piping his icing ...

and finished by eating every last sprinkled bite.  He loved it!

Of course, before we left we had to check out the bakery cases to see what else looked good.

We decided that everything did!

Yes, we bake at home, and we decorate cakes at home, but there's something about doing this in the middle of the hustle and bustle of this busy cafe that made it seem extra special.  Maybe it was having your very own mini piping bag.  Maybe it was the cute little cups that the sprinkles came in, or maybe it was seeing the fancy cakes just begging to be devoured in the cake case up front.  Maybe Dorian's ease when decorating the coconut cream cake made us all ready to put on our own chef's hat and dig in.  I think, though, that it was a little bit of all of these.

The Mad Hatter was busy and crowded and rumbling with computers, coffee machines, and study sessions, but it was a fun kind of busy, and when you top that with beautiful sugar, who wouldn't want to go back?

We definitely will!