Wednesday, December 31

Christmas: Then and Now

Originally published December 21, 2006

Then: Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, dragging the big box with the artificial Christmas tree and box after box of ornaments, lights, and silvery tinsel garland out from storage. It was our all-day project to match up the color-coded branches, test every string of lights, unwrap each fragile ornament from its nest of paper toweling (often in a print that had been discontinued years before and was yellowed with age).

Now: We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas (beginning Christmas Day and ending with Epiphany, January 6th). The tree and all the decorations go up on Christmas Eve. And the tree is real--even if it's just a small potted one from Target.

Then: Presents collected under the tree from the day it went up until they were opened Christmas Eve. We did have to wait until Christmas Day to open our stockings, though.

Then: Beautifully crocheted stockings (made by my grandmother, I think) were hung for each of us kids. They were filled with trinkets and treasures, and always at least one Avon-brand lip balm, all wrapped individually with Christmas paper.

Now: Stockings are strictly decorative. Our daughter is young enough she doesn't really understand either "the stockings were hung by the chimney with care" or the concept of opening lots of little presents. We may fill them someday, but we haven't yet.

Then: Dad would put on easy listening radio while we opened our gifts, one at a time. Either Dad or one of us kids got to be Santa each year, passing out presents from both sets of grandparents and the aunts and uncles in addition to our parents and each other.

Now: Christmas doesn't come in packages anymore. That's not just a philosophical line either. We're just as likely these days to get a check in the mail or a gift card (or just a greeting card) from our parents and siblings, rather than packages to be unwrapped.

Then: Christmas dinner included turkey, stuffing that had actually been stuffed inside the bird, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce from a can (I was a teenager before I realized there was any other kind), and two homemade pies, pumpkin and usually blueberry for my sister who claimed that one piece of pumpkin pie was enough for her in a year.

Now: If we do it up, Christmas dinner is chicken, green bean casserole, potatoes, dressing, and homemade cranberry sauce (which I've discovered is incredibly easy to make, and much tastier than the canned variety).

Then: Christmas stollen (a sweet yeast bread studded with candied fruits and nuts) made in big batches that Mom mixed and Dad kneaded. We'd have some when it first came out of the oven, then Mom would warm it up for breakfast over the next several days. YUM!

Now: My husband doesn't think it's very tasty. We've only made it once. I'm working on him.

Then: My parents used to give each of us a special ornament for the tree every year. Often they had the date on them and for several years we got the flat brass ones with our names etched into them.

Now: Adam and I have continued this tradition, with a minor caveat that the ornament should be particularly representative of that year. Last year, for our daughter's first Christmas, we chose an ornament that is symbolic to the meaning of her name.

Tuesday, December 30

Rest

I need a break. I've decided to take the rest of Christmas off from blogging.

I'll be back with some new posts in the new year; meanwhile enjoy a few of my favorites from the archives.

Monday, December 29

Eating and Sleeping

The other day, my daughter let me take a nice nap while she watched Mary Poppins. After she came in to wake me up, I asked her if she could tell me the time by looking at the numbers on the clock. I know she can't tell time yet, but she's starting to get a pretty reasonable grasp on numbers, so I figured maybe she could read them to me and I would figure out the time.

The first time I asked, she answered, "Two-eye-forty." Huh?
So, I asked again, "What time is it??"
She responded, "Five-eye-thirty." Of course.

It was only after I'd rubbed the collected sleep out of my eyes that my brain engaged enough to decipher her meaning. When I'd asked her to tell me the numbers, she shared all the symbols on the clock; she was reading the colon as the letter "i".

Later ...

Me: Do you want pasta for dinner?
My daughter: No! I don't like pasta.
Me: Who are you and what have you done with my little girl?
My daughter: Fermat* is a boy, not a girl! thinking for a moment I want chocolate chips.
Me: No, you can't have chocolate for dinner.
My daughter: No ... the other chips, in the lellow bag.
Me: Potato chips?
My daughter: Yeah, potato chips.
Me: No.

*Fermat is one of the characters in the movie Thunderbirds, which she has been obsessed with ever since Adam found it on Hulu a couple of weeks back and watched it with her. Sometimes she is Fermat, sometimes her doll is Fermat, and, lately, she's been calling me Fermat. I try not to answer to it.

Sunday, December 28

I Do Much Better with Spinning Rides

I used to write songs a lot when I was younger. One I wrote in high school started like this:

Life is like a roller coaster
Up and down and all around
Spinning out of control ...

That's how I feel about our financial lives lately. We have no money (down). Oh, we got some money; we can pay off XYZ creditor (up). Wait, here's another bill I thought we'd already paid off (down). People gave us cash and gift cards for Christmas (up). One of my clients found another designer willing to work for free (down). Adam has been offered some overtime hours to bring in more money (up). Our credit cards raised the APR to almost double what it used to be (down).

I think I'm starting to feel sick to my stomach. Can I get off this ride now?

Please?

Saturday, December 27

Tell Me About Facebook

I keep hearing more and more about Facebook: how much fun it is, how great it is for getting back into contact with people you haven't talked to for years, how I am invited to join this group or that group or make someone my friend.

Only, the Facebook people have set it up so I can't just take a test drive and look around, I have to sign up for the site in order to see anything. This bugs me.

Those of you who do Facebook, can you tell me what it's like? I have a couple of specific questions, but mostly, I'm just wanting to know your experience about how it all works.
  1. Do you use your real name or choose a screen name?
  2. How do groups work? Is there a section with message boards or do group messages show up on your profile page?
  3. What information do you put on your profile page? What is required? What is optional?
  4. Why do you use Facebook? How do you feel it enhances your life?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on any or all of these issues!

Friday, December 26

11 Other Things to Do with Leftover Turkey

Besides reheating turkey and dressing for the next week, here are some ideas you can use to be a little more creative in finishing up the too-large turkey your family didn't eat on Christmas Day. Some of these ideas would work well with leftover ham or other meats as well.
  1. Turkey Vegetable Soup
  2. Saute a couple of carrots, a small onion, a few celery stalks, and a bell pepper (all diced) in butter or oil until softened. Add diced turkey and enough chicken or turkey broth to cover all the ingredients. Simmer 20 minutes to 1 hour. To make a cream soup, add a tablespoon or two of flour to the softened vegetables before adding broth and add a bit of cream to the soup at the end of cooking.

  3. Bone Broth
  4. Angela has an excellent broth-making tutorial on her food blog, Restricted Gourmet.

  5. Turkey Salad
  6. Simply add diced turkey to a green salad, or mix shredded turkey with a little mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, celery, onion, apples, walnuts, or whatever you normally put in a chicken salad.

  7. Turkey Rice Casserole
  8. Make Wild Rice Casserole, substituting about a cup of diced or shredded turkey for the ground beef.

  9. Turkey Fried Rice
  10. Stir fry a couple cups of mixed vegetables: diced carrots, diced onions, peas, and a minced garlic clove or two. Add salt, pepper, and Chinese five spice powder or a dash each of cinnamon and ginger. Scramble two eggs (I usually do this in the center of the pan with all the vegetables--it doesn't matter if a few mix in, but you don't want egg-coated veggies). Add a handful of diced or shredded turkey and a few cups cooked rice. Sprinkle with soy sauce and let it all sizzle in the pan for a few minutes until heated through.

  11. "Pulled" Turkey
  12. Add a small diced onion and a few minced garlic cloves to a couple cups of shredded turkey (if turkey doesn't shred easily, let it simmer for 20 minutes in broth and cool before shredding). Cover with a cup of mustard; half a cup each brown sugar and vinegar; a tablespoon each butter, lemon juice, and paprika; and a teaspoon each salt, pepper, and cayenne. Mix well and serve on soft squishy sandwich buns.

  13. Turkey Pot Pie
  14. Using the Cream of Broccoli Soup recipe, substitute diced mixed vegetables (carrots, onions, peas, celery) for the broccoli. Make sure the soup is really thick before blending. Add a cup of diced or shredded turkey after blending the soup. Pour mixture into a double pastry crust and bake at 425°F for 30-40 minutes. Let cool another 10 minutes before serving.

  15. Creamed Turkey on Toast
  16. Make a white sauce using equal amounts melted butter and flour (about a quarter of a cup) with a dash each salt and pepper. Add a couple cups of milk, a cup of diced or shredded turkey, and a handful of cooked peas. Let boil one minute. Serve over toast, rice or biscuits.

  17. Molded Turkey Salad
  18. Let me preface this by saying I've never made a savory gelatin mold. But, if you're getting desperate to use up the turkey, this might be just what you're looking for.

    Dissolve a package of cranberry, orange or raspberry gelatin in 2 c boiling water. Stir in a teaspoon of salt and a quarter cup of broth. Let chill until gelatin begins to harden (1-2 hours in the refrigerator). Add a couple of celery stalks and a small onion (both minced or shredded) and two cups finely diced or shredded turkey. Return to refrigerator and let set completely (another 2-4 hours).

  19. Turkey Potstickers
  20. Blend together in food processor (or finely chop together) a cup of diced turkey, a couple of whole water chestnuts, a couple of mushrooms, a couple of green onions, and a teaspoon of soy sauce. Mix with one beaten egg. Drop by tablespoonfuls into wanton skins and press edges together with a fork to seal. Arrange a single layer of potstickers in a frying pan. Add a cup of water, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Drain any remaining water and add a couple of teaspoons of oil. Fry potstickers until golden and crispy on both sides.

  21. Turkey Sandiches
  22. Layer slices of turkey, cranberry sauce, lettuce, and fried onions between slices of your favorite sandwich bread.

God Said Yes



On Christmas Day, Rhys was able to hold her baby again.

Thursday, December 25

Very Merry

You know you have a close relationship with someone when you can show up at their house for Christmas dinner and ask for a roll of toilet paper to take home.

I don't recall ever running out of toilet paper on Christmas Day before. I suppose if I had in the past, I wouldn't really have considered it an issue. Everywhere I've lived in the past, at least one major store would be open on Christmas. No luck on the afternoon toilet paper hunt here in Sioux Falls. Even Walmart was closed.

Dinner was lovely, though, and I really enjoyed spending some time with my brother and sister. My niece wasn't feeling well, so I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with her, but I did finally finish her birthday/Christmas gift: a crocheted art bag with room for a large sketch pad and individual pockets for pencils and markers. She made big smiles when she opened it up.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to sit back and have some adult conversation, while my daughter told stories, played with her cousin's stuffed animals, and practiced her pounding skills on her uncle's drum pad. I'm feeling much more relaxed and smiley than I did yesterday. It still doesn't seem quite like Christmas, but the lack of seasonal spirit is not nearly so depressing to me today.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 24

Amy and the Routine Monochromatic Christmas

I'm having a really tough time this year getting into the whole Christmas thing. The house is still cluttered with packing boxes that we meant to have emptied, broken down, and recycled six weeks ago. I wasn't able to buy many special Christmas-y foods or extra ingredients for cookie making. My daughter and I went to a Christmas Eve candlelight service on our own because Adam is working tonight.

I think of my friend Rhys and realize I could be in a place much more challenging than this. But I still don't feel much like celebrating.

I'm tired. I'm weary. I'm hoping that all of you are having a happier Christmas Eve than I.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Tuesday, December 23

Merry Christmas Adam

Once upon a time, I read a magazine article that listed the most popular family words and phrases in the country. One of them was "Christmas Adam" referring to the day before Christmas Eve, as Adam was created before Eve.

I haven't written too much about real life lately. Mostly because not much has been happening. I'll share a few highlights of the past couple of weeks.
  • I met some neighbors
  • Unfortunately the circumstance of the meeting was a burst pipe in our building, four floors of flooding, three false-alarm fire drills, two emergency calls to Adam, and a partridge in a pear tree.

  • God sends stock, too
  • Last spring sometime, I was talking with a friend about finances and not having enough money to pay the bills. She told me about an anonymous envelope she'd found in her mailbox with $500 cash. "We've been praying for the money we need," she told me, "but I didn't realize God sends cash!"

    The other evening, Adam brought in the mail. One item was a dividend check from a stock that was supposed to have been sold off two years ago. Only, for some reason it hadn't been. So I looked at what I needed to do to sell it. There's $50 more dollars to put in the bank that we didn't have before!

  • I got a phone call
  • One of my good friends from Illinois called a few nights ago. We were able to talk on the phone for almost an hour. It was so nice. Unfortunately, it ended rather abruptly when my daughter woke up from a bad dream, but the conversation was great. We've decided to make it a monthly event!

Monday, December 22

She's Learning Something in Sunday School

This evening, my daughter had finished her bath and was playing with a towel. I wanted to get through the bedtime routine a bit faster, so I hurried to dry her and tried to hang the towel back up. She grabbed onto two corners with her hands, so I managed only to create a hood over her head. Looking up at me with a big grin on her face, she announced, "I'm Mary."

Sunday, December 21

Something You Can Do

Check out posts marked NICU for back story.

I finally asked my friend if I could share some more information with everybody, including their names.

Please meet Rhys and Dave, pictured here with baby Lia shortly after she was born.

I met Rhys more than five years ago in an online forum for missionary kids. Her son, Zaya, and my daughter were born just a month or two apart. Rhys made me my first real ring sling. Over the years, we've traded stories about everything from babies to poetry to computer programming to recipes, and much, much more. She was one of the first to welcome me as a part of the MK group and is still one of my favorite people there.

Once Lia was in the hospital, Rhys and Dave set up a website for friends and family to help keep everyone up to date. Rhys told me to go ahead and post the link, so feel free to visit Lia's site for more photos, updates, and even a guest book you can sign to let them know you are praying. The news the last couple of days has been very good. You can get all the details by clicking on the Journal link on the site.

Maybe it's the "Martha" in me, but whenever I get a prayer request, I am always wondering what else I can do for those in need.

When we got the news of Lia's hospitalization, another friend from the MK group was also looking for a practical way to help. She and her husband set up this donation page for Rhys and Dave. Although their medical bills are covered by insurance, they are faced with other expenses such as childcare, lost wages for missed work hours, and travel costs back and forth to the hospital. I'm not trying to pressure anyone into giving money, but I did want to let anybody who might want to know how you can.

I'd also like to offer a special thanks to everyone who has been praying. I have a request I'd like to make for Rhys. Lia has been improving to the point that the nurses are saying she may soon be able to be held. Wouldn't it be a wonderful gift for Rhys and Dave to be able to hold their daughter on Christmas? Please, pray with me.

Saturday, December 20

The Name Game

Yesterday was rotten. I got bad news about work from two clients and an e-mail with bad news from a bank we owe lots of money (they want more). Since I really don't want to dwell on either of these issues, I'm writing about something else entirely: Names and how to choose them.

I had a philosophy of naming for quite some time before I ever conceived a child. Because my given name is simply Amy, rather than Amelia like the great-grandmother after whom I was named, I always wanted a long, classic name that had more nickname options. I decided my kids would have nice long names. Three of them, in fact.

My three-name system included one name each based on
  • family tradition
  • the Bible
  • our own desires
None of the names should be after living relatives, with the possible exception of a "Junior" named for his dad. I didn't particularly want a Junior in the family, but I was willing to give my then-unknown husband rights to one son named for himself, if it was really important to him.

I determined that none of the names would be invented. Before I was married, my middle name was a hyphenated compound of my father's name and my grandmother's name. It was unusual and always looked funny to me--to this day, I can't remember if the second half of the name is supposed to be capitalized or not. In any case, I didn't want my poor child to be saddled with an invented name such as mine, which I'm sure sounded hip and groovin' in 1975, but by the early eighties, I was an odd duck in my grade-school classroom full of _____ Janes, _____ Maries, and _____ Elizabeths.

Any names up for consideration were required to have a strong positive meaning, not spell strange words with initials, and not sound like anything obscene or hurtful. Official naming could not take place until after birth, as I wanted to meet my child before bestowing a name upon him or her. Once Adam and I got married, I added another caveat: No names that start with "A"! I really didn't want to be that family.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, we'd chosen a name to call the baby in utero. We hadn't specifically declared that we would incorporate that name into her given name, but I didn't want to rule out the possibility either.

Really, when I think about it, it's a wonder we managed to find any names at all!

At my behest, we took the scientific approach. Adam and I each went through the name-your-baby book individually. We collected all the names we really liked and noted their origin and meaning. Because no names from the country of Adam's birth were included in our book, we added a few of those to his list as well. Once we'd completed the collection phase, we traded lists. Each of us had the opportunity to veto names that we wouldn't consider because of personal connotations. Then the real fun began.

I put all the names into a priority comparison tool and printed out two copies, one for Adam and another for me. We spent a day or two (or twelve) comparing each name to identify our personal top 10. By the time I went into labor, we had narrowed our list of girls' names to just 18 (from which we needed to choose three). We still had 60-some boys names because I never did finish the prioritizing exercise with those; Adam had given up and just circled ten he liked. I actually brought the folder to the hospital with us so I would have it for reference, in case we had a boy.

In the end, we did give our daughter three names. One of them is a family name, one is appropriate to the nickname we used in utero. One is just for fun. Her initials don't spell anything scary. The worst problem we've had is that her first name is quite unfamiliar to Americans and almost no one pronounces it correctly.

Since I'm not telling you my daughter's name, let me share the three most popular names in the US for the year she was born (2005): Emily, Emma, Madison.

The most popular names for 1975? Jennifer, Amy, Heather. In fact, Amy has been in the top 200 most popular names in the US since 1951.

1973 (the year Adam was born)? Michael, Christopher, Jason.

Want to know the top names from your birth year? Check out the Social Security Website. They have lists of the 1,000 most popular baby names each year since 1880, when the top names were John, William, James (for boys) and Mary, Anna, Emma (for girls).

Friday, December 19

Raining on the Inside

Anybody else remember that old Amy Grant song? That's sort of how I'm feeling this week--all full and about to spill over any moment. In reading through my archives, this post seemed to articulate just what I was wanting to share today.

Originally posted October 25, 2006


I used to play this game with myself. I would try to imagine all the bad things that could happen and what I would do in case they did. Once upon a time, I thought it made me feel better. This was back when I still figured I could control the world. Now, I mostly just pretend like I can.

I read a story tonight, well, I skimmed it and looked at the photos. It was about a little boy who had a heart transplant, but he had a bad reaction to the transplanted heart and after several weeks of unexplainable complications, he died. I started to cry.

I realized as I was crying and asking God why He allows such hard and horrible things to happen to such little people...I'm scared. I want to know I can do everything right and put all my ducks in a row and tape my daughter up in bubble wrap and always keep her safe. But I can't do that. No matter what I do, I can't ensure her health and safety every moment. I don't have the power to control her environment to that extent. Though she'd probably enjoy the bubble wrap for a while, pop-pop-popping with every move.

I've read somewhere that becoming a mother is discovering what it is to live with your heart outside of your body. That's a hard thing to do. Especially when my little heart annoys the heck out of me and all I want to do is yell at her. Or maybe bop her on top of her cute blonde head.

Several months after my mom's death, we were cleaning out her closet and sorting through what to save, what to toss, what to donate. I found a letter from me that she'd kept in her jewelery box. It basically told her that I loved her, because I knew I didn't say it enough. I'd written that letter several months before her death, in the midst of some teenage rebellious act or another. When I found it, I started to cry. I cried because it had meant so much to her that she had saved it in a place she'd see it every day. I cried because, what if I hadn't written out my thoughts to her?

Death rarely comes at opportune times. I learned that lesson the hard way. Still, the lessons of caring for others and showing them how much you love them on an ongoing basis...they often get lost in the shuffle of trying to live my life. So I yell at my daughter. I scream at my husband. I wish I could have more time alone just to do what I want, when I want. And then I get scared that something will happen and I will feel horribly guilty for the rest of my life that I could have said something nice, I could have taken the high road, I could have opened my heart a little bigger...but I chose not to.

I've never read the book What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, but I think about the title a lot. If you were raised as a Christian or even just around them, you probably have heard the song "Amazing Grace" hundreds, if not millions of times. It's so familiar it seems to lose all meaning. But, grace is amazing. God chooses to love me ALL THE TIME. Not just when I'm being good. Not just when I'm loving my family well. Not just when I pass out fliers for Him on the street corners (which is a relief, because I've never done that). When I'm at my worst, yelling at my daughter, screaming at my husband, arguing with God that I could really run the world better, plotting revenge against the driver that cut me off, He looks at me and He loves me.

And that makes me cry, too.

Thursday, December 18

More Information for Prayer

To catch up on this prayer request, click NICU in my file menu.

I don't think I could even begin to cover the details of what has happened over the past few days, so let me try to summarize the highlights:
  • Baby has been completely weaned off at least one medication and is being slowly weaned from several others. She's lost more than a pound and a half of retained fluid.
  • At separate times, each lung has collapsed. The doctors have inserted chest tubes to help eliminate the air in her chest and they have repositioned her onto her stomach.
  • She is beginning to show reflexive actions, such as trying to raise her fists to her mouth.
  • Her ventilator has been changed and they've dropped her oxygen from 100 to the mid-forties (I think that's percent, but I'm not certain).
  • She's been diagnosed with low thyroid function and has been or will be started on a synthetic hormone.
  • Mama has started singing to her, which calms her down and improves her levels (as visible on the monitors).
  • Finally, the medical staff seems to be more hopeful. Mama sent a message today that for the first time the doctor used the phrase "long term" when referring to her care.
Obviously, she's not out of the woods yet, but she has made, and is continuing to make significant improvements. Please continue to pray for baby, mama, daddy, and big brother.

Wednesday, December 17

In Which I Announce the Contest Winner

Congratulations to Danielle from Two-third's Red! Danielle has chosen for her prize a small crocheted doll wearing a doggy hood and paws--a gift for her daughter. I'll post updates as I'm working on it so she, and all of you, can watch the project progress.

So far, the only progress I've made is to look at patterns. I am inspired by these patterns I found on Ravelry (you can see pictures if you click on the links):

Morgan - Unisex Amigurumi Baby Doll (PDF) by Rowena Holt
Peach Delight Baby Doll Dress by Christina Budd
Baby Girl Sleeper Set by Abigail Goss
LollyPup by Rachel Crowthers
Dog/Puppy Doll by Ally W. (I can't seem to get the pattern to load, so I'm linking to a photo from someone who made the doll)

Monday, December 15

I Won!

I won a giveaway! I can't say which one, since the prize just might be used as a Christmas gift for someone who reads this blog, but I can say it was from Michelle at Scribbit. Thanks, Michelle!!

*happy dance*

Now, you still have a chance to win, too. My 300th post/10,000 visitor custom crochet contest ends TODAY. Enter here. Good luck!

Sunday, December 14

Pretend that He's a Circus Clown

Winter arrived today. I'd always thought the first day of winter was December 21. Silly me.

Yesterday, the high was 39° and it was sunny out.

Today was overcast and COLD. The wind chill was below zero. Right now, just before midnight, the actual temperature is -4° with a wind chill of 30° below zero.

Tomorrow, the forecasted high is -6° with a wind chill of -20°. Mind you, that's the WARMEST it will be all day.

Remind me why we moved to this frozen wasteland???

On the plus side, it's supposed to warm up on Tuesday. They're calling for a high of 5° with a wind chill of just -7°. Oh, and it's supposed to snow.

I better get back to work on the winter hat I'm making Adam. He'll need it tomorrow.

Winter wonderland, indeed! Brrrr ...

Saturday, December 13

Another Update

It's been a couple of days, so I wanted to offer another update on my friend and her baby. If you're just joining us, you can read the background here and here.

Baby has been making white blood cells to fight off the infection. She's gone from 0 on her birthday to 45 today (normal for newborns is above 90). The doctors weaned her completely off dobutamine (a drug used to counteract heart failure), and she's being slowly weaned from dopamine (I think this is for blood pressure). Her platelet count has increased as well, so they've removed the IV used to give her blood transfusions. There is a possibility of brain damage which cannot be assessed yet. Testing for that will require a spinal tap, which she's not yet been strong or stable enough to bear.

Mama is being allowed to help with her daughter's non-medical care, which has offered the opportunity to touch baby's head, feet, and hands the past couple of days. Mama still isn't able to pick her up and cuddle her, though, which I can only imagine is absolutely heart-wrenching. For the first time since this vigil began, mama was able to sleep through the night last night without waking up after just a couple of hours.

I didn't ask, but I don't think she'll mind if I share just a couple of her own words. In her last update, she wrote:
    We had an inscription placed inside our wedding bands. It's the only ring I wear right now, since it doesn't hurt my skin after being scrubbed to a nether.

    The inscription reads 'Te sere fiel'. This means 'I will be faithful to you'. Spanish is neat, this verb tense is the same 1st person and 3rd person. Which means it can also be understood to say 'God will be faithful to you'. And He is, He really is. My (daughter) is still here, and slowly making a turn of good proportions towards a healthy strong body.
Please continue to pray for health and healing. Thank you.

Friday, December 12

Recycled Giftwrap

This year, as I was thinking about what it takes to make a frugal, green Christmas, It occurred to me that I could combine recycling, crafting, and gifting!

If you're looking for money saving holiday tips, you can find a whole bunch over at Keeping the Kingdom First. There is a contest for the most creative frugal idea, with a $500 gift card to Wal-Mart as the prize. Head on over to the contest page and check it out!
click photos for larger images      

Materials
  • 25 plastic grocery bags made into plarn (plarnmaking instructions from My Recycled Bags.com), using only the solid color portion of the bag (if you want to use both the solid and printed sections of the bags, you'll only need about 15)
  • A few yards of contrasting scrap yarn or plarn for embellishment (optional)
  • 2 contrasting plastic bags for wrapping (I used bags from Barnes & Noble and Target for green and red)
  • Handles from approximately 10 bags and one bottom seam for bow
  • Size H (5.00 mm) crochet hook
Instructions

Box

Note: most rounds are worked continuously, do not join rounds with a slst unless indicated.

  1. Ch 2; 4 sc in 2nd ch from hook.
  2. 2 sc in ea sc around. (8 sts)
  3. 2 sc in ea sc around. (16 sts)
  4. 2 sc in 1st sc, *1 sc in next sc, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 times, 1 sc in last sc. (24 sts)
  5. 1 sc in 1st sc, *2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in ea next 2 sc* repeat 6 times, 2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in last sc. (32 sts)
  6. 2 sc in 1st sc, *1 sc in ea next 3 sc, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 times, 1 sc in ea last 3 sc, join with slst. (40 sts)
  7. Ch 1, sc in ea sc around, join with slst.
  8. Turn to ws; slst in ea sc around.
  9. Turn to rs; sc in ea slst around.
  10. Sc in ea sc around. Repeat for next 6 rows, join with slst at end of last row.
  11. Ch 1, sc in ea sc around, join with slst.
  12. Tie off and weave in ends.
  13. Embellish as desired.
Lid

Note: most rounds are worked continuously, do not join rounds with a slst unless indicated.
  1. Ch 2; 4 sc in 2nd ch from hook.
  2. 2 sc in ea sc around. (8 sts)
  3. 2 sc in ea sc around. (16 sts)
  4. 2 sc in 1st sc, *1 sc in next sc, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 times, 1 sc in last sc. (24 sts)
  5. 1 sc in 1st sc, *2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in ea next 2 sc* repeat 6 times, 2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in last sc. (32 sts)
  6. 2 sc in 1st sc, *1 sc in ea next 3 sc, 2 sc in next sc* repeat 6 times, 1 sc in ea last 3 sc. (40 sts)
  7. Sc in ea sc around, join with slst.
  8. Ch 1, sc in first 10 sc, *2 sc in next sc, sc in next 9 sc* repeat 2 times, join with slst. (43 sts)
  9. Turn to ws; slst in ea sc around.
  10. Turn to rs; sc in ea slst around.
  11. Sc in ea sc around.
  12. Sc in ea sc around, join with slst at end of last row.
  13. Ch 1, sc in ea sc around, join with slst.
  14. Tie off and weave in ends.
  15. Embellish as desired.
Wrapping

Cut handles, ends, and writing off contrasting colored bags. Use one to line box and protect gift. Wrap another around the outside of the box and secure with tape, as you would wrapping paper.


Bow
  1. Flatten creases out of the handles of about 10 bags; the more handles you use, the fuller your bow will be.
  2. Stack handles together, folded at seams (the very top of the bag).
  3. Squeeze centers together and tie tightly with the bottom seam of one bag; do not trim ends of tie.
  4. Trim off top seams and bottom edges of handles to within 2" of center tie.
  5. Make ½"- to 1"-deep cuts across trimmed edges to fringe.
  6. Spread out layers into a pleasing pouf.
  7. Attach to wrapped gift using ends of tie.

Thursday, December 11

Prayer Request Update

If you didn't read the first post, catch up here.

My friend and her little girl are doing better. Blood pressure numbers are up and they've stabilized. The doctors have eliminated one of her medications completely. Her blood oxygen levels seem to be approaching normal.

Pray today in particular as Daddy must return home and start back to work. Mama is staying at the Ronald McDonald House by the hospital.

Thanks.

Tomato Herb Focaccia

I found an illustrated recipe for Italian Focaccia online. Unfortunately, even the "oven-sized" proportions the recipe writer suggests are a bit too much for our kitchen. Here's my version, with some added whole grain for texture and nutrition.

2 c flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1½ t yeast
¾ c very warm water (about 120°F)
½ c oil, divided
½ t salt
2 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 T fresh basil, finely chopped (or 2 t dried)
1 T fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 t dried)
½ t coarse salt
  1. Combine dry ingredients; stir in water and ¼ c oil.
  2. Knead until smooth, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Cover dough and let rise 1-2 hours, until nearly tripled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, set tomato slices to marinate in remaining oil and herbs.
  5. Gently press and stretch dough into 9 x 13 pan sprinkled with cornmeal.
  6. Press dimples into top of dough using fingertips or a small spoon. Let rise 15-30 minutes more.
  7. Preheat oven to 450°F. Set a shallow pan of water on lowest rack.
  8. Arrange tomatoes atop focaccia; drizzle with marinade and sprinkle with coarse salt.
  9. Bake focaccia 20-25 minutes or until golden.
  10. Cut into 24 strips.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 2 piece (32 g)
Serving per Recipe 12
Amount per Serving
Calories 111 Calories from Fat 4

% DV
Total Fat 0.5g
Saturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 1mg
Total Carbohydrates 23.5g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 0g
Protein 3.5g
1%
0%


0%
0%
8%
7%

Wednesday, December 10

WFMW: Free is a Good Color

When I was planning my wedding, I spoke to the florist about getting some rose petals for the flower girls to drop. She told me I'd have to buy them if I wanted a specific color (as she'd have to order the flowers especially for me), or I could have them for free if I was willing to just take whatever color petals were culled that week. When I told my sister about the conversation, she told me, "Free's a good color." Since then, the phrase has become something of a tagline for Adam and me for anything that's unexpectedly free.

The following restaurants and retail outlets offer freebies if you sign up. Many are birthday specials, some are just for being a part of the e-mail club.
These are just some of the places I have personal experience with freebies. It definitely pays to check out your favorite places online or in person to see what deals they might offer. In addition to the freebies above, most of these places will send you coupons throughout the year. If you'll be shopping or eating there anyway, you may as well save some money!

For more tips, tricks, and techniques, check out Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, December 9

Please Pray with Me *UPDATED*

I got the news last night that a dear friend had her long-awaited baby girl. Unfortunately, both mama and baby have been diagnosed with group b strep septicemia and pneumonia. At less than 36 hours old, the daughter is fighting for her life. She has been sedated and is on a ventilator to keep her blood oxygen levels up. Her mother is not even allowed to touch her as outside stimulation must be kept to a minimum.

Please be praying for this little girl, her mom and dad, and her 3-year-old brother.

Thank you.

***UPDATE***
The ventilator has been turned down slightly and blood gasses are improving. I don't know what that means except that those are positive signs. As she continues to improve, it looks to be 10-14 days before she would be released from the hospital, so there is still a long road ahead.

An Introduction to Zoology

The family was watching a nature documentary the other day. The narration was provided by James Earl Jones, but the following commentary, while less educational, was eminently more entertaining.

My daughter: What's that?
My husband: An elephant.
My daughter: I don't like elephants. They smell like penguins.
Me: They smell like penguins??
My daughter (nodding): They smell like penguins.


My daughter: What are those?
My husband: Those are zebras.
My daughter: I don't like zebras. They smell like elephants.


My daughter: What's that?
My husband: A water buffalo.
My daughter: I like water buffalo.


My daughter: What's that?
My husband: Hyenas.
My daughter: I don't like hyenas. They sound like penguins.


My husband: What did you like about the water buffalo?
My daughter: They smell like lions or something.

Monday, December 8

Food, Glorious Food **Updated with More Recipe Links**

Here is the list of menus I've come up with for the next few weeks. Had I no constraints, I'd add a bit more meat, use some additional eggs, and vary the vegetables a little more. Still, I'm pretty excited that we do, in fact, have enough food in our cupboard to make it through the next few weeks. I'm thinking I will be pretty tired of beans by the end of the month, though. I'm hoping that there are enough variations in the way they are prepared that it won't really seem like we're eating the same thing every day.

A few of these dishes are new to me. If they turn out well, I'll be sure to post recipes in the coming weeks. I have linked to the recipes I've posted previously.

**Updated**
I'm adding some additional recipe links and comments as we eat our way through the month.

Breakfast and Brunch
  • granola
  • farina with raisins
  • oatmeal with apples
  • egg sandwiches
  • pumpkin waffles
  • cornmeal popovers
  • French toast
  • apple puff pancake
  • pan fried farina/polenta
  • eggs in toast
  • polenta with peanut butter and honey
  • oatmeal with raisins
  • monkey bread
  • cinnamon rolls with orange sugar glaze
  • beef sausage patties and biscuits
  • cold cereal
  • cornbread with peanut butter
  • pancakes with vanilla syrup
  • scrambled eggs and raisin toast
  • bagels with peanut butter
  • carrot muffins
  • egg & bean breakfast burritos

Lunch and Dinner
  • beef roast with potatoes and carrots
  • roast beef sandwiches
  • vegetable fried rice
  • cream of broccoli soup in bread bowls
  • hummus and pita with fresh veggies
  • pork potstickers
  • red beans and rice
  • tortillas and fresh veggies with refried beans
  • sesame chicken and rice with ginger glazed carrots
  • broccoli calzones
  • vegan potato pierogi with shoestring carrot fries
  • chicken broccoli stir fry
  • bean stew with carrots
  • chicken salad sandwiches with celery
  • lentil pastitsio
  • wild rice casserole
  • peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • pita with dal
  • vegetarian beans and rice
  • mini-burgers with caramelized onions
  • flat bread and falafel
  • risi e bisi
  • pasta with broccoli cream sauce
  • bean burgers with fried tomatoes
  • YUM!! This one's a keeper! I didn't have enough black beans for the burgers, so I used a combination of black, pinto, and kidney beans (2/3 c dry or 2 c cooked). I had red roma tomatoes rather than green but they worked just as well. Very yummy, even without the bacon grease.
  • French lentil soup
  • bean burritos
  • pumpkin soup with yeast rolls soft pretzels
  • broccoli beef pies
  • beans and corn cakes
  • tomato wheat focaccia
  • vegetarian potstickers

Sunday, December 7

Creative Menu Planning

One of the wonderful benefits of Adam's new job is health insurance that starts on day one. He's had any number of positions in the past which require new employees to wait 30, 90, even 120 days before benefits start, so this is a real treat for me.

Because he now works for a large multinational corporation, we had to choose from among four or five different medical plans. Unfortunately, it took us a few weeks to figure out which option would work best for us, so we're now being treated to double medical withholding for the rest of this month. As our other bills aren't any lower (and a couple are significantly higher this month), that doesn't leave a lot extra for groceries. In fact, we have grocery money at all because we got a wonderful gift of cash over Thanksgiving.

Tonight I'm working on menu plans for the remainder of the month. My challenge is to get 24 days worth of menus out of what we have in the house, plus one or two items Adam is planning to pick up tomorrow. He's not sure I can do it, but I love a good challenge. I'll post the results tomorrow.

As a side note, keeping to our extremely tight grocery budget has had one added side benefit. I think I'm losing weight. Most of my clothes are part of the mom uniform, so it's hard to tell, but I'm pretty sure I am.

Saturday, December 6

God's Parenting

I wouldn't make a very good god.

Now that we're all agreed on that, let me share my latest reason: I have little patience with the process of things. I tend to be very results oriented in my thinking. The path is not nearly as important as the destination.

Sometimes, that's a good thing. When a project needs to be organized, a problem solved, or a task completed, it's a great trait. The rest of the time, though, it can get me into trouble.

While I prepared dinner the other day, for example, my daughter was climbing on top of the kitchen counter. Again. And I was telling her to get down. Again. I was no longer using my indoor voice. The words came out of my mouth before I even realized I'd thought them, "How many times do I have to tell you?"

It suddenly struck me, God has never once said that to me. Now, granted, He's tried over and over to teach me some lessons that I certainly didn't want to learn anymore, but He never ever expressed frustration that I hadn't yet learned them.

Sometimes I think we expect entirely more of ourselves, and each other, than God does. Or we go the other way and don't set our expectations high enough. If only I could figure out which is which.

In the meanwhile, my prayer is that God will help me to be more the sort of parent to my daughter that He is to me. Would you pray with me?

Friday, December 5

You Make Me Laugh

Hooray, it's my 300th post! And I finally decided what to give away. Woo-hoo!

What you can win

A custom crocheted item, such as a hat, shawl, bag, or stuffed toy.

Take a look at my sidebar to see a few examples of my work, or click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

      

How to enter

I've been having a tough week. Adam told me it's been showing a bit in my most recent posts, so maybe you already knew that. I could use some fun. Your mission is to entertain me. Tell me a joke or a funny story in the comments. Link to a video of you making a fool of yourself. Share with me what has made you laugh out loud.

You can earn an extra entry by publicizing my contest on your blog. Feel free to use my blog button or the rotating image banner in my sidebar (let me know if you need the script for the banner).

As a special bonus, if you actually make me laugh out loud, you will earn a second (or third) entry.

I will be accepting entries through December 15th, so be sure to spread the word. And please, keep it clean. Confine all toilet humor to incidents involving training. (Thanks!)

This contest is open to everyone, but my international readers should be forewarned that if you win, your crocheted piece will be mailed slow-boat-to-China class, so it may take a while to arrive.

I make you laugh

I'll get us started on the laughter. I've shared this story before, so it may be familiar to longtime readers.

I was visiting Cornwall a few years back, and I watched the local news one evening. They had a story about a nearby football (soccer) team that had gotten into trouble because their ball boy was wearing shorts on a cold game day. Some official body was giving the team management grief about it. I probably missed some of the details, since I don't understand UK organized (or should I say "organised") football, but I was under the impression that the big concern was the ball boy's age and making sure he wasn't working under unduly harsh conditions.

At any rate, the news show had an interview with the team's manager and he pointed out that the boy had been wearing plenty of other warm clothing (mittens and wool socks and a jacket and so forth) and he never even complained of the cold. The interviewer asked some question about the upcoming game and what plans had been made to be sure the ball boys kept toasty.

The team manager kept a completely straight face and said, "Well, if the boys get cold, we can just wrap their legs in red tape."

Thursday, December 4

Who Am I?

Last weekend, I listed a couple of my patterns on Ravelry. I got an e-mail this morning that the new policy for the site requires all designers to use full names. That was a problem for me, since I don't use my full name online. Erica from Ravelry suggested a pseudonym might be the answer.

Well, that got me to thinking. Have you ever wanted to be someone you're not? I spent a whole lot of my childhood trying to decide what I would call myself if I ever wrote a book or starred in a movie or made an album. In fact, the leading contender in junior high was "Lysandra" after Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

So, I gave myself a new name today: Amy James Gray. When I asked Adam what he thought of it, he wanted to know why I chose a man's name. I explained that the "James" was a surname. Even as, in real life, I'd taken my maiden name as my middle name when I married, Amy James became Amy James Gray when she got married.

What do you think? For those of you who know my real name, this is sure a lot easier to spell, eh?

Wednesday, December 3

The Experience of Imagination

I've been trying to help my daughter understand the difference between make-believe and reality. She's probably a little young for it, but she has such an active fantasy life, it tends to impinge on family interactions--like blocking the door, making her father and I wait outside with groceries so her imaginary friends can all get inside.

Today she was wanting to play with a purse-sized collapsible umbrella. I was in the midst of making lunch and told her she'd have to wait.

"But it's raining," she insisted. "For real!"

"It's not raining for real," I responded. "It's raining for pretend inside your head."

"No," she exclaimed. "It's raining for real inside my head!"

I Know I Promised a Giveaway

And I'm still considering what exactly it will be. Meanwhile, I've got a couple of big work projects I'm trying to complete this week, so my celebrating may just be pushed off until next week.

I did pass 10,000 posts over the weekend, though.


Get some use out of the confetti and noisemakers for me, okay? I'll join in the celebration another day.

Tuesday, December 2

Okay, Which One of You Didn't Vote?

It's not so bad to lose, but I really didn't want to lose by just one vote! Congrats to Lisa at Crazy Adventures in Parenting for creating the winning design.

Monday, December 1

Update!

Okay, here's the deal. There have been some technical difficulties over at Inspired Bliss, so the contest is still going on!

Attention all you late night folks ... voting will now close at 7:00 AM PST--and last I checked I was only down by ONE VOTE!

Off to see who else I can cajole encourage to go vote.

No Update

Well, I was going to come back this afternoon and share the results of the design contest. Only I don't have any yet. I've been checking every couple of hours since about 8:00 this morning, but no news yet. In fact, voting still seems to be going on. Go check it out for yourself, if you'd like.

Meanwhile, we're hanging out on the couch watching Big and trying not to drip hamburger grease on ourselves. Adam was convinced to make homemade french buns this morning. YUM! I made some oven-baked seasoned fries. Also yum, even though they stuck to the pan.

After dinner and the movie, apparently we'll be playing soccer in my daughter's room. She's been really interested in soccer ever since we've started watching JellyTelly. They have a little snippet of soccer techniques that's one once in a while. Lately she's been trying to hit headers on her beach ball.

Voting Ends at Noon

Just a reminder: Voting ends at noon Pacific time.

If you haven't yet voted for your favorite Mother Letter badge over at Inspired Bliss, you only have a few more hours.

Go. Vote.

Please.

Oh, and thank you so much for everybody who has been e-mailing to compliment my design. Warm fuzzies are just flowing through the internet lines!

Sunday, November 30

It's a Sad Day to Be a Bears Fan

I think John Madden summed it up well.

It's not flying on the airplane, it's the guys you bring with you on the airplane that make you lose the game.

Sigh.

My hopes for watching the Bears in post season are getting pretty slim. You know what's really sad? They have some terrific players. They just can't seem to get their act together and play consistently as a team.

Hey, Lovie, send the guys out my way. You're almost here anyway. I'll run a three-day seminar on teamwork for you. It'll only cost you $4,000 a head. Bring the whole team!

Maybe I need to take my cue from the Cubs fans; there's always next year!

Crochet Happiness

I just wanted to post some pictures of crochet projects I've been working on. The orange set is actually several months old, but I'm just now getting a photo. The other I finished only a couple of days ago. Click on either photo for a larger image.

               

Please excuse my inanimate models. When I went to take the photos the other night, I didn't have access to small children as my own was already in bed asleep.

The froggy hood and mitties I came up with after seeing this pattern on Ravelry. I wanted to make a more Kermit-like one, so I started with a basic hat and added chin flaps and the neon-green collar. The mitties are a single-strand version of my Ducky Slippers, but with the flipper sewn up at the fingers (to keep them warmer) and no turn for the ankle. I really need to start writing down all my patterns as I play. I could probably come up with one for the mitties, but I'm not sure I remember everything I did for the hood. It was lots of fun, though.

The orange beaded set was just an excuse to start crocheting with beads! I took my daughter shopping with me to purchase some yarn for a gift I am (still!) working on for my niece. As I talked to her about the project, she wanted a bag of her own, so I let her choose a couple of balls for herself. She decided bright shocking orange was her color. Again, I didn't write down the pattern, though, I might be able to figure these out. Both are pretty simple designs, as I recall. Most of my crochet projects are gifts, though, so if I don't take notes as I'm working, I don't get another chance to inspect them for pattern clues.

PSA ("Promotion-of-Self Announcement"): Please remember to vote in the Inspired Bliss badge design contest. You only have one more day!

Saturday, November 29

Vote for Me!

Below is the button I created for The Mother Letter Project badge design contest, hosted by Inspired Bliss.


Voting lasts through Monday at noon PST. Please go vote for your favorite design. Tell your friends!

Friday, November 28

Greenlandic Pita

I love the internet! You can find so much stuff you never knew you wanted to know. The other day I wanted to make hummus and pita, but was out of yeast. I was out of lemon juice and tahini, too, but that's a post for another day. I found a recipe for baking powder pita that is said to have originated in Greenland. Here is my version.

2 c flour
1-1/3 c whole wheat flour
2 t baking powder
2 t salt
3 T oil
¾-1 c water
  1. Mix together flours, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Stir in oil and water.
  3. Knead until smooth (about 5 minutes).
  4. Allow dough to rest 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 480°F.
  6. Divide into 8 balls. Roll each to 1/8" thickness.
  7. Spray pitas with water.
  8. Bake on pizza stone or greased cookie sheet 7-8 min. or until pitas begin to turn golden.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 pita (52 g)
Serving per Recipe 8
Amount per Serving
Calories 210 Calories from Fat 51

% DV
Total Fat 5.5g
Saturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 4g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 123mg
Total Carbohydrates 35g
Dietary Fiber 2.5g
Sugars 0g
Protein 5.5g
9%
4%


0%
5%
12%
11%

Thursday, November 27

Losing and Letting Go

This post was submitted as part of The Mother Letter Project.

Dear Mother,

I don't know if every mother is like this or if I'm especially morbid. Ever since my daughter was born, I've had visions of losing her to an accident or sudden illness. Maybe everybody has these fears, but if we all share them, we certainly don't talk much about it.

While I was pregnant, or maybe when I had a newborn, I read an article written by a woman who'd lost her daughter at age 4. I don't remember the events surrounding the child's death, but I'm haunted still by the way her mother described her own grief: missing the feeling of her daughter's head snuggled into the crook of her neck, her arms aching to carry her weight just once more.

I often catch myself after I've pushed away my own child's attention or affections, when I've been too caught up in what business must be done, the household tasks to be completed. I wonder how I would feel if my little girl were gone. How much I would miss the interruptions, the distractions, the giggles and wiggles and snuggles and songs.

The other night, I was passing my daughter's door on the way to bed. I stopped in for a peek at her as she slept. I leaned down to brush a stay curl off her cheek and tucked the blanket around her shoulder. I thought, again, of the agony it would be to miss her if she were no longer here.

As I was leaving the room, it hit me. There is no "if" about it. I am going to lose her. It may be soon or years from now, by accident, illness, or simply growing up, but the girl she is now will be gone. For the first time, I realized she won't be mine forever. I will look back and have moments of sadness that she doesn't snuggle against my chest anymore or clamber up into my lap to play on the computer, and I will miss her.

Whether she is living here on earth or has moved on to heaven, my daughter won't be mine anymore. And maybe, when that happens, I'll begin to understand that she never really was.

Peace,

Amy

Wednesday, November 26

WFMW: Unique Donations

It's that time of year again. That's right, this week we're heading into Junk Mail Season. As the daughter of a self-proclaimed "junk mail writer," I can get pretty cynical about charitable contributions. It's always easier, in my mind, just to write out a check than to really consider how we can serve others.

This year, since checks are a bit scarce at our house, I've been trying to consider what we can give. In addition to volunteering (and there are many, many fine organizations that could use our time and energy), I wanted to see if there was any way to use some of our clutter to make the holidays a little better for someone else.

During an afternoon visit with my friend Google, we compiled this list of things you may not realize you can donate to a good cause.
  • DVDs
    • DVDs4Vets coordinates the donation of new and used DVDs and portable DVD players to veterans hospitals throughout the US. Visit dvds4vets.org or contact your local VA hospital.
    • KidFlicks supplies DVDs to children's hospitals nationwide. Visit www.kidflicks.org or contact your local pediatric unit.
  • Professional Clothing
  • Dress for Success (for women) and Career Gear (for men) specialize in providing business suits and interview clothing for those who are trying to get back on their feet. Visit dressforsuccess.org or careergear.org or contact your local homeless shelter.
  • Cell Phones
  • Call To Protect refurbishes phones for survivors of domestic violence. Visit www.wirelessfoundation.org/CallToProtect or contact your local women's shelter.
  • Hair
  • Wigs for Kids and Locks of Love create hairpieces for children who have lost their hair and cannot afford the cost of a custom human-hair wig. Visit www.wigsforkids.org or www.locksoflove.org or contact your local salon.
  • Airline Miles
    • Hero Miles provides airline miles to injured military personnel undergoing medical treatment and families. Visit www.fisherhouse.org/programs/heroMiles.shtml.
    • Miracle Flights for Kids flies sick children to medical centers around the country for surgery or therapy. Visit www.miracleflights.org.
    • Many other organizations also accept donated miles, contact your favorite charity or your airline directly for more information.
  • Books
    • Books for Africa is working to end poverty in many African nations by providing textbooks and other reading material to enhance the educational systems in impoverished areas. Visit www.booksforafrica.org.
    • Prison Book Program helps to provide books and educational resources to prisoners. Visit www.prisonbookprogram.org
    • You can also check with your local library to see if they are accepting book donations or for additional organizations that can put your books to good use.
  • Shoes
  • Soles4Souls distributes new and used footwear to those in need around the world. Visit www.soles4souls.org or contact your local shoe store.
  • Coupons
    • Overseas Coupon Program volunteers mail coupons (even expired ones!) for use on military bases around the world. Visit www.ocpnet.org.
    • Food pantries, homeless shelters, and anti-cruelty societies also may accept donated coupons. Check with those near you to find out their policies.
  • Other Stuff
    • Churches, preschools, and daycare centers often collect household items for use in craft projects. Contact those in your area to see what they might be able to use.
    • Homeless shelters will often accept hotel or trial-size personal care products. Check with your local shelter for their donation guidelines.
    • Animal shelters often take worn towels and bedding items. Contact shelters in your area to see what they can use.
If anybody else has some great ideas to donate items that might otherwise be wasting valuable storage space or find their way into a landfill, be sure to leave them in the comments.

For more great ideas, tips, and tricks, visit Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, November 25

My Office

We don't have any extra rooms in our house for me to have a home office. Instead, I work from the corner of my living room. I have my desk set up so that I'm facing the sliding glass door with my back to the kitchen. I can oversee my daughter if she is playing on the couch or watching TV or sitting at her own little table across the room.

On the one hand, it's a little crazy-making to not have my own defined space to work, especially when Adam and our daughter are both in the living room talking and playing and laughing. On the other hand, I think if I were holed away off in my own little room, I might actually miss everybody. Maybe someday I can have my own little alcove. Separate but equal ... no, wait ... gone, but not forgotten?

Whatever it is, it would be nice to have just a little more break between my work and my family, especially when I'm coding. Some days, I just have to wait until I've put my daughter to bed before I can get any work done. Were I in a completely separate space, though, I'd miss being a part of things out in the common room.

I've noticed I feel this way a lot, not just about working. Periodically, life gets really overwhelming. I get stuck in my life and just want to get away and do things differently for a while. About this time, wonderful husband usually asks me if I want to have some alone time. So, I go away for a few hours, relax, read a book, think some thoughts all on my own, do some (window) shopping. After this refresher, I suddenly realize that I miss being with my family. I want to see Adam and our daughter playing together. I want to be a part of the tickle fights. I remember, once again, why I wanted to be married and have kids in the first place.

Monday, November 24

Because It's Been that Kind of Weekend

You Are Boggle
You are an incredibly creative and resourceful person.
You're able to dig deep and think outside the box to get things done.
You are a non linear thinker. You don't like following directions
You draw your inspiration from the strangest places sometimes. You're constantly inspired.

Your Attention Span is Short
What attention span? It's difficult for anything to keep your interest.
You are so easily distracted, it's a wonder you could finish this quiz!
You find focusing a challenge. Your mind tends to wander to the strangest places.


While it may be hard for you to complete tasks, you're very creative.
You are easily inspired, and you are often thinking of something interesting.
The world would be a boring place without people like you.


You Are a Hazelnut
You are very unique and distinct. You may even freak some people out.
Most people don't really know how to interact with you.
You get along best with anyone who is super sweet.
But you really do get along with almost anyone. You just need a chance to wow them.


You Are a Club Sandwich
You are have a big personality. It's hard for anyone to ignore you!
You dream big. You think big. And you eat big.
Some people consider you high maintenance, but you just know what you want... and when you want it.

Your best friend: The Tuna Fish Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich


Your Mind is 57% Cluttered
Your mind is starting to get cluttered, and as a result, it's a little harder for you to keep focused.
Try to let go of your pettiest worries and concerns. The worrying is worse than the actual problems!

Sunday, November 23

My Daughter's Favorite Website

My daughter is absolutely crazy about JellyTelly. This mini-online kids network is really cute, but don't just take our word for it, check it out for yourself!


Isn't it cool? To sign up for your free trial (or to jump straight to a paid subscription) click here.

Saturday, November 22

What Would You Like to Win?

I'm fast approaching my 300th post as well as my 10,000th blog visit. I'd like to host a wonderful giveaway to celebrate, but I'm not really sure what would inspire you to sign up and tell your friends.

As you think about it, bear in mind, I have no money, so whatever it is will have to be free for me to get or make and the delivery cost must be negligible. In other words, I'd love to send you my extra computer system, but I can't afford the shipping.

In the past, I've given away a couple of blog headers (see my work on the blogs of previous winners Mudpies to Dragonflies and There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town). I could do that again, if there is interest, but I'd really like to give away something my readers want.

Some other thoughts I've had:
  • Custom crocheted hat, shawl, bag, or stuffed toy
  • Set of personalized notecards or writing paper
  • Handmade calendar or journal
  • Paperback book
  • Collection of my favorite recipes
  • ???
Please leave your ideas in the comments. You can choose one of the things I've listed or suggest an alternative I haven't mentioned. Ask your friends, have them bring me some ideas, too.

I'm accepting submissions through Thanksgiving weekend and I will announce the contest the following week.

Thanks for your help!!

Friday, November 21

More Good Thoughts

Almost immediately after I posted some great links last time I read two or three more wonderful posts that I knew I'd need to share. Perhaps I'll start a regular feature of Stuff That Makes Me Think.

Eh, we'll see.

Meanwhile, here are some thoughts that deserve a gander and a consideration.

Ever think about how different the concepts of "equal" and "same" really are? Take a look at Palm Tree Pontifications. Ash has a very interesting essay discussing racial identification and how we view one another.

Over at Yarns of the Heart, Jena has a good discussion going about what determines success. In her post, she shares some ideas about what success means and how to inspire success in our children.

Want to be inspired? Check out Mary's story at Owlhaven about a young man in the Dominican Republic who has nothing but God, yet he's willing to share all he has.

Sometimes, I think I could really be a better mother if I had a few more arms. Amy, who blogs at The Finer Things in Life, shares a conversation with her daughter, who suggested becoming an octopus in order to be a better mom.

Finally, I just found this great blog called The Mother Letter Project. It's all about sharing stories of motherhood with other moms, specifically the blogger's wife, who will be receiving all these letters as her Christmas gift. If you post or e-mail your contribution before Christmas, he will send you a copy of all the letters as well.
Special thanks to Shannon from Rocks in My Dryer for this one

Thursday, November 20

Pick Me, Pick Me!

Mary over at Owlhaven has a very nifty giveaway going on right now. She has a selection of books that would make perfect holiday gifts for yourself, your kids, or your friends. The winner will be able to choose two books of her (or his) very own. You can check out all the books and the contest guidelines here.

Dream Songs and Night Songs          The De-Stress Diva's Guide to Life

If I won, I think I'd be going with Dream Songs and Night Songs: From Belgium to Brazil and The De-Stress Diva's Guide to Life, or maybe A Duck in New York City, just because it looks so cute!

A Duck in New York City

Now head on over and pick some for yourself!

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

While I don't follow a vegan diet, I often look at vegan recipes or purchase vegan prepared foods because they are sure to be made without milk. The original recipe on which this soup is based calls for fewer vegetables, but also adds cheddar cheese at the end. I think this one is great all on its own, though if you aren't vegan or allergic to milk, a little cheddar on top could be yummy, too.
click photo for larger image       
1 T oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (approx. 1 c)
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped (approx. ½ c)
1 clove garlic, crushed (or 1 t minced)
3 T flour
¼ t each salt and pepper, or to taste
dash of nutmeg
1¾ c vegetable broth
3 c steamed broccoli florets, divided
1 c soymilk
  1. Sauté onion, celery, and garlic in oil over medium high heat until soft. Add flour and spices.
  2. Cook, stirring constantly, until flour begins to brown. Add vegetable broth and 1 c broccoli.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until quite thick, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from heat and blend until smooth, adding a bit of the soymilk if it’s too thick to blend.
  5. Return to pan and add remaining florets and soymilk.
  6. Heat through and serve.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 2/3 c (303 g)
Serving per Recipe 4
Amount per Serving
Calories 121 Calories from Fat 43

% DV
Total Fat 5g
Saturated Fat 0.5g
Monounsaturated Fat 2.5g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 226mg
Total Carbohydrates 14.5g
Dietary Fiber 5.5g
Sugars 4g
Protein 7.5g
7%
3%


0%
9%
5%
22%

Wednesday, November 19

Messages in My Inbox

My K-LOVE verse of the day this morning:
I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to Him, and He answered my prayer.

Psalm 120:1, NLT

Anybody else have the tendency to cry out to your spouse, your kids, your mom, your friends, the blog-iverse at large ... basically everybody who can't answer your prayers? And, meanwhile, I'm so busy crying, I've forgotten to pray to the One who can actually change me.

Therein lies the real issue. I would much prefer not to change. No, I may not be happy with me. I may realize, intellectually, that growing in my own faith, hope, and charity would lead to greater life fulfillment. Yet, it's hard. Growing up requires that I put God first, and put others before myself, and *shudder* sacrifice. And I don't just mean in my grocery budget, but myself. My material comfort, my desire for financial security, even my need for sleep (especially when I'm the one who chose to stay up late finishing my book last night).
    Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

    Therefore I urge you ... by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 11:33-12:1, NASB)
The problem with being a living sacrifice, I've discovered, is it leaves the option open to squirm off the altar.

We're called to wait on the Lord, not to wriggle away from Him. So, I'm learning more about sacrifice. Discovering what it means to grow up. Here I am, in this place, still.

Tuesday, November 18

Money Talks

I'm starting to realize ... there's "frugal" and then there's "broke." All this time, I'd been thinking we were still coasting down the money-saving path to the first, but in reality, we hit the second a few stops back.

When I think about it, I shouldn't be surprised. We went nearly 17 months between regular paychecks. It's tough trying to economize, still, while we pay off the move and struggle to adjust to about $500 less per month than we were expecting (and had budgeted for). Really, just how much can I cut down on my grocery spending?

One thing I've found is the sheer number of articles about saving money. The problem is, most of them aren't really very helpful. I read one online just the other day. As I recall, it was aimed at working moms who wanted to quit their jobs and stay home with the kids. Unfortunately, the author's suggestions were worthless for us. I don't remember them all, but a few that come to mind were: cut down to basic cable, cancel gym membership, eliminate magazine subscriptions, and consider paring down to just one car.

Uhm, yeah. Thanks.

Meanwhile, where do I find suggestions on saving money when you really don't have any to spare? None of this "trim the fat" nonsense; I mean, we're already cutting each other's hair, we've taken our (only) car for one non-work trip in 10 days, and I crocheted a scrubby sponge out of a plastic onion sack this afternoon so I wouldn't have to spend $2.95 on a package of them at the store.

Or how about making more money? Anybody need a freelance designer? Copy editor? Wanna pay me to design you a new blog header?

Anybody?

Dang, but this trusting-God-to-provide thing is tough.

Monday, November 17

But Not Quite

I have a rumbly in my tumbly, only it's not the cute Winnie-the-Pooh kind.

Blech.

Looks like it's a blustery day out, too, but I don't know that I'm not doing much to enjoy it besides moaning quietly on the couch.

Eventually, I'll need to get up and make some lunch, but until then, we're hanging out here on the couch watching Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap.

Does anybody know the name of the guy in Rat Race? My daughter keeps asking. Apparently that's what she and Adam watched before I got up.

I need to go gather what's left of my wits and figure out what I can cook with what's in the house that isn't going to make me lose my lunch, if I'd had any.

Hope everybody else is having a better day. Cheers.

Sunday, November 16

New and Improved Children

Now even more uses!

Do you bake your own bread?

Have you been eyeing those newfangled stand mixers with dough hooks or so-called "bread machines" all with the prices to match?

Are you the mom or dad of a young child? Do they like play dough?

If so, you already have all the "bread machine" you need!

Rather than spending your hard earned money on machines that make bread for you, then spending even more money on dough for your children to play with--include your kids in the bread making game, and let them do the kneading for you!

Public Service Announcement brought to you by your friends at Experience Imagination.

Friday, November 14

"For born this day ..."

Today, a very special man in my life turns 35.

Happy Birthday

I thank God so much for Adam. On days like this, I make a special note to thank Him for taking the time and effort of knit Adam together in his mother's womb.

God gave me an amazing gift in this man He designed to be my husband. He gave him a kind heart and great strength--both in body and in character. He has given him a heart for others and the desire to put relationships first. Adam still chooses to love me, even when I am difficult to love. Yup, God made a pretty special guy, born on this day, and I am ever in His debt for sending my love my way.

Adam, I pray that you have a fabulous birthday. Know that I am celebrating your birth, your life, and your love. May your days be full of grace, peace, joy, and thanksgiving! Loving you today, tomorrow, and forever.

Thursday, November 13

Hope

I subscribe to a verse of the day e-mail from the K-LOVE radio network. Today's verse is Psalm 33:22,
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

As it happens, I was in the middle of organizing my day when I read the verse. It occurred to me that, in all my planning, I wasn't hoping in the Lord to give me strength, but trusting in my own organizational skills to be able to fit everything in that I wanted to do today.

This may seem like a minor distinction, God having given me whatever talents I may possess, and having granted the ability to learn skills, but I think it's an important little difference.

You see, if my focus is on organizing, getting every part of my day set up perfectly, putting all the plans in place, the focus of my day is on, you got it, me. I start to think I am the one making it all happen, rather than God working through me.

Furthermore, I started to pray a bit as I finished reading the verse. I prayed that God would help me to keep my hope in Him alone. Which was when I considered: God's been trying to teach me this lesson for months. In fact, I got much better at trusting and hoping in Him when I didn't have any reserviors of energy, money, or hope. But the moment I start having resources of my own again, I shift back into coast mode. It's as if I tell God, "Okay, I've got it from here. I'll call You if I need You."

Maybe my real problem isn't so much the hope issue itself, but the attitude I've been ascribing to God. I tend to see God as very busy, as if all of my little concerns are just keeping Him away from His "real" work. What I fail to realize is that God is never busy. I often wish I could just take time out of my schedule to play with my daughter without the cursor on my mental to-do list blinking incessantly at me. This is one of the reasons I'm trying to organize my time better. But God's to-do list is already done! It is finished. He's got, as they say, nothing but time to spend with each and every one of us. And there is nothing He desires more.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
From Romans 8.