Friday, January 25

Advice Forum: Keeping Ice in the House

We don't have an automatic ice maker in our freezer, and I'm too cheap to buy ice in a bag, so we use the old-fashioned ice cube trays. And when I say "use," I'm speaking metaphorically, because I think they've only been in our freezer twice since we bought them. They did sit there for a loooong while, though, with one lonely little cube in the last mold.

So, since both Adam and I seem to be too juvenile to simply use up the last cube and refill the trays, does anybody have fun ideas on how to make a game of it?

For more queries and responses, visit Queen of Dirty Laundry.

Thursday, January 24

Out of the Mouths of Babes

It's been a while since I shared any cute-kid stories, so I thought I'd blog about a few phrases my daughter has started using.

At two (almost three, now), she's really getting into the idea of possession. She's very interested in what belongs to her and what doesn't. Well, mostly just what does, and how to make sure that group includes everything she sees and desires.

When she starts to get a bit grabby, I remind her, "That is not yours." Lately she's begun to argue with me. In childhood confidence, she frowns and responds, "Yes. It is mines."

Then there are the times we tell her she's not able to do what she wants right at the moment the idea enters her head. "You're not allowed to do XYZ right now," we tell her. With all the indignation she can muster in her three-foot frame, she replies, "Yes, I'm ARE!"

Wednesday, January 23

Works for Me: Free Stickers!

I have a sticker-crazy child. If one side is sticky and the other has some bright colors on it, she's a happy camper. Unfortunately, she thinks any sticker within arms reach (you know, on top of the bookcase, where she can reach after she climbs onto the arm of the rocking chair) belongs to her. Even ever-increasingly expensive postage stamps.

However, after hiding the stamps on top of the fridge, I discovered a wonderful source for free stickers: credit card offers.

Who'da thunk it?

Seriously, though, at least 50% of the credit card offers that clog up our mailbox have some kind of stickers. Most of them are pretty basic ("Special Offer" and "Platinum Plus") but, some are even kind of cool, like Mickey Mouse Visa cards from Disney.

I just think of it as my own little addition to the recycling movement.

For more hints, tips, and tricks, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, January 22

Allergies and Substitutions

This post originally appeared on By Hook or By Cook.

I can't remember just now if I've blogged about it before (and I'm too lazy to look it up), but both my daughter and I are allergic to cow's milk. Over the years, I've found a number of pretty decent substitutions that I can just throw in a recipe measure for measure.

My basic go-to milk is Silk® Soymilk. I've tried just about every commercial soy brand out there and this one comes the closest to the taste of cow's milk. Even my dairy-loving husband agrees.

For cooking, Silk works great as well. I've also tried both Almond and Hazelnut Non-Dairy Beverages from Pacific® Natural Foods. They are nice if you're looking to add a bit of nuttiness, such as in a quick bread recipe. I found that I tasted them a bit more than the Silk, though in sauces and other milk-based items.

One of the few items I'd still really like to find a good source for, but haven't yet, is dry milk powder. I haven't looked too hard for it yet, since it's not something I use that much, but I'd love to be able to make a hot cocoa mix, for example, that I could just add water to and drink on these cold winter days!

My daughter's favorite is Silk LiveTM Soy Yogurt. I like the price, as it's usually the cheapest of the soys, but the taste, especially plain and vanilla, are a little off for me. I prefer WholeSoy & Co.® Soy Yogurt for myself. Unfortunately, it generally costs half again as much, so I'm as likely to eat the Silk as not.

Redwood Hill Farm Goat Milk Yogurt is tasty, but extremely cost prohibitive. It usually costs about twice as much as Silk. I save this for special treats.

I have tried making my own yogurt with Silk, but I can't really see that it's worth the effort on a regular basis. Maybe if we had a yogurt maker ...

I get most of my cheeses at Trader Joe's. They tend to have the best prices for goat and sheep cheeses. Here are some of my favorites (and how I use them).
  • Basque Shepherd's Cheese (sheep's milk)--this is a nice semi-soft cheese. I use it like cheddar or mozzarella, though it is quite a bit tangier than the latter. My favorite uses for this cheese are baked pasta dishes, pizza, and Pears and Cheese.
  • Pecorino Romano (sheep's milk)--this is a hard cheese, wonderful for grating. I substitute this whenever Parmesan is called for in a recipe. The taste is slightly tangier and saltier, but there is little enough difference that when I serve it to others, they don't comment on the flavor.
  • Manchego (sheep's milk)--the absolute best on wheat crackers! I'm guessing it's classified as a hard cheese, though it's not as hard as Pecorino Romano. This cheese stands well on it's own, as a cracker topping, with fruit, or in sandwiches. I'm not sure I've had any success melting it, though. Correction: Manchego melts beautifully. I just had it in an omelet a few weeks ago and it was fabulous.
  • Chèvre, also called Goat Cheese (goat's milk)--I use this soft cheese in place of cream cheese. It is slightly tangier and a little stiffer (sometimes I thin it slightly with milk) but generally it holds up to anything from cheesecake to bagels to blintzes. I also use this for stuffed pasta dishes, such as manicotti or lasagna. It is definitely tangier than ricotta, but if you're using a spicy tomato sauce, the difference is negligible. I rarely use fresh goat cheese as a crumbled topping to salads, but it works well for that, too.
  • Goat Cheddar (goat's milk)--I've been going back and forth on this one. Depending on the shopping trip, I seem to get nice mild cheddar or very strong goat-y cheddar, even within the same brand. The first is yummy, and a perfect substitute for cow's milk cheddar. Unfortunately, the second is a bit overpowering. I'm not sure what makes the difference.
  • There is only one vegetable-based cheese I've tried that I can recommend: Tofutti® Better than Cream Cheese. I don't like it as well as Chèvre, but for a bean product, it does pretty well. I had the best luck using it for the baked pasta dishes. As with goat cheese, it is a bit tangier than cream cheese, but not dramatically so. If you like tofu and it is a regular part of your diet, you probably would have no problem using the Tofutti on bagels or anywhere else you might otherwise use cream cheese. I found it a bit too strongly flavored of bean for those purposes.
Cream, Butter, Half-and-half
Because I have problems with the whey (protein), I am able to eat real whipping cream and butter made from cow's milk, since they don't contain enough protein to cause me problems. I have learned, however, that there are several brands of cream that are called "heavy" but contain milk proteins. It's just a matter of learning to read labels with care.

Generally, when a recipe calls for half-and-half, I simply substitute half whipping cream, half soymilk.

I have also evaporated my own milk to use in place of half-and-half (see below).

Evaporated Milk, Sweetened Condensed Milk
For evaporated milk, I generally just use cream, cup for cup, or make my own, starting with 2½ times the amount of evaporated milk called for and boiling it down. I wouldn't recommend evaporating soymilk for sweet recipes, however, as the soy flavor becomes concentrated as it evaporates. One of the nut milks or perhaps an oat milk would work better for most desserts.

Sweetened condensed milk could probably be made the same way, just add sugar (1½ times the amount milk called for in the recipe) while you're evaporating. I've never tried this through. If you have, please let me know you're results. I have substituted coconut milk in a few recipes, but my success has been somewhat varied.

Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

book coverThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson

I don't remember the first time I read this book, but I'm sure it was before I was in high school. I have read it many times since, and enjoyed reading parts aloud to my daughter this holiday season--though she didn't seem to get nearly as much out of it as I did!

The story takes a new spin on the traditional Nativity scene. I appreciated looking at what a child has heard her whole life, but never really stopped to think about much. Suddenly, her whole world is upended by the Herdmans, a family of scruffy kids who take over the church Christmas pageant. Seeing the ancient tale through their eyes, brings up questions in her mind, and unexpected answers.

I was going to list one of my favorite quotes, but now I can't seem to find my copy of the book. The gist of it is after the first rehearsal the narrator's mom (the director of the pageant) comes home to ask her dad what he would think if he'd never heard the Christmas story before. He thinks about it for a moment, then states that it was really sad no one could find a decent place for a pregnant woman to sleep for the night. Her mom agrees, saying she's never really thought about it, but Mary had to give birth in a barn!

Friday, January 18

Anybody Know ...

... how to make the space for imbedded images appear before the image itself loads?

I've noticed as I visit other people's blogs, especially those of you who tend to post a lot more pictures than I do, sometimes I'm scrolling down the page and the pictures are slowly loading, which keeps moving the text around. This has always bothered me. Then, I realized I have the same problem on my blog!

I have seen some sites where a box the same size as the loaded image appears immediately, so there is no shifting around of the text as it loads. I'm guessing it's not too difficult, if only one knows how to do it.

So, who knows how???

For more questions and answers, visit Advice Forum Friday hosted by Lori, The Queen of Dirty Laundry.

Thursday, January 17

Turn, Turn, Turn

I'm not sure whether it's a sad state of affairs or an amazing one when I am looking back at my own archives and see just the post I need--because I'm dealing with the same issue again!

I read today's My Utmost for His Highest and was just struck by how much I expect God to expect from me. I journaled about it some, then remembered writing this.

originally published October 28, 2006
In my growing up years, I learned a very poor lesson about my own value. While my parents didn't set out to specifically teach me this, I learned that I was most valuable when I had something to offer. That is, if I could help out in some way or give something of myself or my own, then I had value, but coming to the table empty handed meant I wasn't worth as much. Although formally I was taught that Christ died for us all because He loves us so much, that lesson never really had the chance to sink into my heart, contrary as it was to my daily experience.

As an adult, I have begun to explore what it means to be under grace (Romans 6:14). When God chose to save me, and the rest of the world, it wasn't because we were pretty. Or talented. Or good. Or in any other way accomplished. And that's the whole point. If we could accomplish the means of grace on our own then why did Christ die?

In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way, "But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him" (MSG). I like the way Eugene Peterson has translated that phrase. Christ loves us, He loves me, because He chooses to do so. God thinks I have worth, just because of who I am, when I am unable to do anything for God.

I was sitting in a Bible study one evening in college, when this point was made by my friend Matt. He was drinking a bottle of Mountain Dew at the time. It had occured to him while he was buying the drink that this bottle of Dew was worth the 99¢ he spent on it. If he hadn't thought it was worth the price, he wouldn't have been willing to pay it. In (almost) the same way, God payed for us with the life of His Son, telling us, "You are worth as much to Me as My own Son."

Now that I am a parent, I can look at my daughter and recognize, at least in part, how God must look at me. There is a lot that my daughter is not able to do on her own yet. She cannot dress herself or make her own lunch or even change her own diaper (though a mother can dream). I don't expect her to be able to do all of these things because, developmentally, she is simply not there yet. I don't love her less because I have to stop whatever I may be doing to go change a messy diaper. I may not be excited about it, but I don't blame her for making a mess in her pants. She simply doesn't have the skills to keep from doing so at this point.

So many times, I get down on myself because I've landed face first in the metaphorical dirt. Again. I wonder at God's ability to have patience with me, one more time, making the same mistakes again. Yet, maybe that shouldn't be so surprising to me. God knows, clearly better than I, what I am capable of doing. He is not shocked that I can't keep my pants clean. He does not have the same unreasonable expectations of me that I seem to have of myself. He knows I'm prone to anger. He knows I get easily frustrated when too many demands are placed on me at once. He's okay with that. I am the only one who thinks I need to be perfect right now.

I've said before that I'm not a happy process girl. I like to see results. I've been trained in sociology and research methods. I like quantitative data. But life is mushy. My ducks refuse to stay in their row, and I exhaust myself lining them up over and over and over. Perhaps it's time just to let them roam the barnyard. I am not perfect. Repeat after me: I am not perfect. I am not supposed to be perfect yet. God isn't done with me yet. When I try to be perfect on my own, I'm just interfering with what He's trying to teach me in my imperfection.

May we all recognize our many blessings today.

Unexpected Hiatus

Sorry, folks. I haven't meant to be missing in action lately. I started writing regularly, ahead even, a week or two ago, but then my ISP started giving my trouble. It's been on the blink for about three weeks, flickering on and off at random, but this past week and a half it's been mostly off. When I have been able to get on line, I've needed to focus on the really important stuff, "Ooh, the connection is up, let's see if we have time to pay bills!" In any case, I plan to be back, so long as American Telephone & Troublesome lets me.

Note to anyone else using on-line bill pay: If you haven't already, please keep off-line and hard copy records of where to mail payments for your regular monthly bills. Next time your power goes out or your connection isn't available for several days, you'll be so glad you did.

Tuesday, January 8

Book Review: After the Leaves Fall

book coverAfter the Leaves Fall
by Nicole Baart

I picked this book up because I wasn't in the mood for yet another boy-meets-girl, happy-happy, wedding-at-the-end, chick-lit novel. Score points on that one. It's definitely not happy-happy. In fact, it's almost ... gritty. The writing style reminded me very much of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. This is not a criticism. The writing is very striking. I'm just used to a bit more fluff in my fiction.

The story was not unexpected. As soon as I read the back cover, I was pretty sure what the "one wrong decision [that] changes her forever" would be. And yet, the predictability of the event does not make the story leading up to it any less dramatic.

My one real criticism of the book is the ending. The story ends in the middle. A sequel is scheduled to come out this spring, but I felt the place at which the first book ends leaves the reader hanging.

P.S. This is my first book review--what do you think? Should I tell more of the story or talk in some detail about the characters? Is the link to the publisher's summary enough?

Monday, January 7

Apparently, It's That Time of Year Again

Join me for a little post God has reminded I need to review.

originally published February 20, 2007
Can somebody help me out here? I'm looking for that verse where it says, "Blessed are the busy Christians, for they keep the programs running, the nursery open, and the bulletin printed on time."

What do you mean, it's not there? It's got to be there. I mean, I think I want to make it my life verse! Besides, how else can I show everybody what a good Christian I really am?
[T]hink about what we do...spend time praying and seeking to discern what is done because it 'should' be, and what is actually part of God's plan and will. It is easy to feel like I 'should' be busy and active and accomplishing tangible things. But maybe for this season living the Gospel authentically means being content without being particularly productive. It's a challenge to live to please God and not others or myself.

I read this recently in a letter from my friend Abigail (check out her blog abirumania). She was inspired by something she was reading from Henri Nouwen. For me, this particular paragraph in her letter just jumped up and bit me, so to speak.

Lately, I've been feeling pulled in so many directions. I need to spend more time with my daughter because these are her impressionable toddler years and I need to make sure she gets molded right.... I need to spend more time on my volunteer activities at church because we're building a whole new vision and each of us must do our part.... I need to spend more time on my blog because I don't post often enough.... I need to spend more time with my husband because if I'm ignoring him, our relationship is just going to go to pot and there goes our marriage.... I need to spend more time balancing our household budget because we need to be good stewards of our money and get all our bills paid on time.... I need to spend more time exercising because it's so good for me and would really help with the weight I'm trying to lose.... I need to spend more time with God because that's really the most important thing.

Anybody else tired yet? I'm not even through with my to-do list. Surely God didn't make us to run around with our stress levels up to our eyeballs and feeling like we need a few more hours every day in order to get it all done. Yet, how do I get myself into this position?

I think I get afraid when I'm not busy. I'm not sure what to do with myself. Even though I crave regular time out of this busy hubbub that is my life, I'm not sure how to do anything different. I'm not sure how to just be. Besides, if I'm being, who's going to get all the work done?

What I'm having trouble with, I guess, is the whole idea that God's priorities are different than mine. While it's important for me that everything looks good and well put together, God's view is somewhat different. I want my daughter's clothes all to match. I think God is more concerned with her knowing how much He loves her. I want my blog to look all pretty. I think God wants it to be honest and honoring to Him.

I still don't quite understand how I'm supposed to get everything done. I can't quite figure out the balance of work and play and relationship building. But, I also haven't really tried to focus first on God and secondarily on everything else. Frankly, I'm a little afraid to. I have such trouble keeping up now, I think to myself, how on earth will I be able to get it all done if I'm focusing on God all the time?

Anybody else hear Martha in that statement? "Mary...sat before the Master, hanging on every word He said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do" (Luke 10:39-40, MSG). Then she complained to Jesus that she was doing all the work, while her sister just sat there not doing anything.

Remember Jesus's response? "Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it" (Luke 10:41-42, MSG).

Dear Amy, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential....

Sunday, January 6

God Is God and I Am Not

I had a sort of revelation the other night. I was on my way to sleep and thinking God-thoughts when it suddenly occurred to me that all of those verses that encourage us to be looking outside ourselves as we build our relationship with God are there for a reason.

Consider God as the Center of the universe. In order to journey closer to the Center, I have to reach beyond and outside myself. Because I am not the center of the universe.

And it only took me 32 years to figure that one out. How long it will take me to actually make it practice? I'm hoping it will be less than another 32.

Have a blessed Epiphany Sunday.

Saturday, January 5

New Year, New Job, Same Old Trust Issues

God has a sense of humor. If I ever doubted that, which I don't know that I did, I certainly won't now. He thinks He's really funny sometimes.

Adam has a new job. He starts next week.


But, wait, there's more.

I may not have come across this way in my virtual life (or even in my actual life, on the outside), but a part of me has been waiting for this unknown new job to appear on the horizon with a nice big salary, so I don't have to be trusting God for money every day.

Yeah, it sounds kind of bad when I put it that way. Sort of like blasphemy or idolatry or one of those other nasty sins. But, that's how it is.

God decided I need some more work in the faith department. He brought Adam a great job: lots of potential for bonuses; from all appearances, a healthy work environment; and a boss who looks at the heart at least as much as the bottom line.

But, there's one little catch. There's no salary. His total income will be in the form of commission for insurance policies sold.

That's a really tough number to budget.

Apparently, I still have to trust God.