Monday, November 18, 2013

Crockpot "Baked" Potatoes

I don't know about you, but the crockpot is hands down one of my favorite kitchen appliances. I use almost every day to cook supper. Who has time to stand over a stove and cook when you can throw all the ingredients together in 5-10 minutes and have a lovely supper ready when hubby gets home? Kudos to you if you can do that. I'm not in that stage of life anymore, but I'm LOVIN' the freedom the crockpot gives me.

One of my new favorites is making a HUGE batch of baked potatoes. Yes. Baked potatoes. In. The. Crockpot. 

OK, so maybe I'm completely behind the times on this. Maybe everyone else already knew this beautiful gem of knowledge. I forget where I first heard it mentioned, but half a bag of potatoes about to go bad encouraged me to give it a try. (If it messed up, they were about to go bad anyway. If it succeeded, I just saved 5 lbs of potatoes.)

5 lbs of potatoes were saved. Hallelujah! 

Yes, I fit 5 lbs of potatoes in my 6 qt crockpot. I ended up cooking it on high for around 6 hours before they were done. I think it would go faster if you didn't have quite as many in there as I did. 

I literally washed them and threw them in. No foil. No poking with a fork. Wash. Crockpot. It's beautiful.

Seriously, they're perfect! And you don't have the oven on for hours trying to get them perfect which saves on your electricity bill. And you save on foil. And on the time it takes to repeatedly stab multiple potatoes. Added bonus tip - if you don't want to stand and scrub massive amounts of potatoes, you can throw them in your dishwasher on a rinse cycle. Voila! Clean potatoes ready to go straight to the crockpot.

Given how much I love a baked potato, I'm pretty excited about this new-found trick - a complicated side dish just turned into something easy peasy. Seriously, your five year old child can do this all by himself. 

Just in time for the holidays. 

Cheers! From my kitchen to yours. ♥

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dear Mom & Dad - I'm Sorry

image source
My daughter is beautiful & sweet & growing right up. She's definitely not to the point that she can intentionally do anything to hurt me, but, since we are all sinners, I know that time is coming. I can't exactly say I'm looking forward to it. It makes me sad just knowing that it will happen one day - and it makes me sad knowing that I did do things (intentionally and on accident) that hurt my parents growing up.

I'm sorry, Mom & Dad. I didn't really know what I was doing.

It's amazing how perspective changes when you become a parent. It also brings to mind our actions against our Heavenly Father.

If I'm pained at simply the thought of my daughter, whom I love dearly, hurting me, how much more will the actual pain be? How much more do our hurtful actions hurt God, who loves us purely?

On the flip side - my daughter regularly recognizes me and smiles when she sees me. Full face, beaming smiles that involve her eyes. Sometimes her nose crinkles. It's adorable. She can't intentionally obey me yet, but just knowing that she recognizes me is heart-warming.

How much more does it make our Father glad when we recognize him? When we know he is the one who provides for us, watches over us - and we smile at him?

How has God provided for you? Have you taken time to smile him a thank you?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

YouTube Debut

I made my debut on YouTube yesterday - yay! haha

Check it out:

I thought a "demo" or "live sample" of my Handmade, Heart-Shaped, All-in-One Stationary would be helpful. It's so hard to convey the function and cuteness of these envelope stationaries in the 5 allotted pictures on Etsy.

The video showcases the small size option.

If you like the idea, you can purchase stationary like this here. I have small vintage-style, small natural theme, and large baby girl themed sets currently available.

Don't forget you can like my shop on FB to keep up with all the latest.

I'm also on Pinterest and Twitter where you can see great tips for home style and food (Pinterest) and giveaways and sweepstakes (Twitter). And, of course, I love having you as a reader here!

PS - I have a collection of books available on Amazon as well, if you're in the market for something to read.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What Childbirth Taught Me About Grace

In case you've wondered why I've been inactive for almost a month, I gave birth end of June to my beautiful daughter. Since she's almost a month old already (so hard to believe!) I thought I would share some reflections on the childbirth process and some takeaways.

I decided to give birth naturally (no anesthesia, epidural, etc) for a variety of reasons. This meant pain. Now most of what I remember was no worse for me than my normal that-time-of-the-month cramping, but of course it intensified over time. I prayed a lot through my pain. In fact that's apparently all I did for the last few hours of labor.

I remember that it hurt - quite a lot actually. And I remember thinking about Adam and Eve, and what birth could have been like before the fall.

I imagine Eve laying in a meadow of flowers calmly sipping refreshing tea and nibbling on some fresh fruit with the honey the bees delivered to her. Adam and her talk about their future. They know their baby is on the way because Eve's abdomen is contracting, but of course it doesn't hurt. (They don't know what pain is.) Then, her face lights up and she pushes a few a times. Adam catches the baby as he slides out. They sit and stare at him for awhile and smile at each other. Then Adam helps Eve up and they start walking around the garden showing their newborn off to all of their animal friends.

Quick. Easy. Painless.

We aren't told if Adam and Eve had children before the fall or not. I like to think she did since God told her there would be pain in childbirth now as a part of the punishment for their disobedience. Why would she know that was punishment unless she had experienced birth as it should be first? But I wouldn't stake anything on that theory.

Now there's pain in childbirth? There wasn't before? Curse you, Adam and Eve!

Wait. That's the problem.

Uncurse you!

Funny thing. I remember that labor hurt - quite a lot, actually, but I don't actually remember the pain. It's like God has grace even in his punishment...he erases the memory of the pain. And in the end you're just left with a beautiful gift.

But even if I didn't forget my pain, my daughter is absolutely worth every second of pain I was in. That was what motivated me to continue. I knew the outcome. I knew I would be bringing my child into the world. So I labored on.

The pain brought new meaning to many passages of Scripture, too. While I was in labor, I kept thinking about the last days, and times when God would bring his judgement on the nations. One of the most common and vivid descriptions of what folks feel during that time is pains as of a woman in labor.

Now, before I gave birth of course I knew the birthing process was painful. I was not fooled in that regard. Still, the head knowledge is totally different from personally experiencing birth.

In my case, I knew I had a beautiful blessing waiting for me at the end of the pain. With God's judgement? There's no happy ending. It's just pain. Pain like you can't imagine (please don't let that scare you if you're wanting a natural birth. The pain's totally worth it in that case, and, yes, I plan on doing natural birth for any future children I have.), but there's no blessing. Only wrath.

That's a terrifying position to be in.

But nature is also groaning like a woman in labor. Why? Because its waiting. It's waiting to be redeemed like humanity. It's waiting for it's rebirth - for Christ to return. For the new heavens and the new earth to be born. For nature to be restored to how it should've been - a prefall state. And these labor pains are much longer than any we experience in childbirth.

They're longer, and, I daresay, more intense. For if childbirth is a beautiful blessing (and it is) how much more so the restoring of the world to how it should be? For the final stage of redemption? For Christ's return and reign? If childbirth is worth the pain and time, how much more so is this?

And this is grace. For we ought to be groaning in those pains waiting for wrath. No hope. Just pain.

Just pain, and knowing it's only going to get worse.

Instead, we're given the blessing of childbirth - the earth waits through it's pain, groaning. But redemption has come. Restoration is coming. And then there will be no more pain, and our tears will be wiped away.

All of creation deserves the pain with no blessing and all wrath. And instead we're given grace. We're given blessing after blessing. Hallelu Yah.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

original image source

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why I am Not a Minimalist

I know a lot of folks are into minimalism lately, and I understand it's attractiveness and why it's so popular. As a whole, Americans are laden with stuff. I've often felt compelled to just throw everything away and start fresh (I never do. That's way too expensive a proposition with all the things I'd be forced to replace.). So I'm sympathetic to minimalism.

Most of the time, though, when I hear people talk about minimalism it seems unrealistic. Some examples include:

  • You only need enough clothes so that you wear them all and wash them (and you're doing laundry pretty much all the time because of this).
  • You don't need any books, movies, or music. All of that can be borrowed/rented, or found online.
  • No decorations or pictures set out on a shelf - that's clutter.
  • Who cares that your grandma made that blanket for you, it doesn't match your decor so toss it.

By no means do I argue with the idea that Americans in large should learn to be content with less. Nor do I think that decluttering is a bad thing - its something I've been working on for several years. I've downsized a lot. But I don't view it as living minimally, I view it as a part of living simply. 

Simplify your lifestyle. Don't say "yes" to everything. Don't pick up all the Swag you don't need. Do throw away, give away, or donate possessions that don't serve a practical, sentimental, or other specific purpose.


Sentimental value does not have to mean that you can never part with something that was given to you as a gift. It's ok. If it's not enhancing your life or bringing back fond memories it's ok to let it go. At that point it's a burden in your life, and I'm sure that was not the intent of the gift-giver.

By "other specific purpose" I mean that china you rarely use is ok to hold on to. Have a hobby? A collection? You don't have to toss them. Get rid of things you don't need or don't bring you pleasure, don't think because something isn't dreadfully practical it must go.


Though I've been working on downsizing for many years, I have recently tried to regularly find things I don't need/use/etc and handle them appropriately. Some of those decisions were not easy to make, but truthfully, thus far, I've missed nothing, and haven't even felt the cuts.

And that's the point. You can simplify your life by free up your space and time without having to do with the bare minimum. You shouldn't feel guilty for owning things. It's a blessing. Give yourself grace and allow yourself to take pleasure in what you enjoy (unless it's hoarding, then we might need to talk). And think of how you'll be able to bless others by simplifying your life.
  • Your family will be better off because you'll be less stressed because you have fewer things that just get in the way. (double blessing!)
  • If you give away things, there's an obvious way to bless others you know personally!
  • If you donate, you're blessing those who likely are unable to afford to pay full price for something, but are truly in need.
  • If you choose to sale, you're providing the item to someone who wants it, and you're making something off the deal too! (I recommend saving this money, or putting it toward something you need ... not just going out and blowing it on more things you'll just toss later. *grin*)

Live life fully. As I mentioned over here, Satan is the accuser. That's exactly the spirit I've caught from many self-professed minimalists. Condemnation. Guilt. Satan catches you coming and going - first he traps you with a ton of useless-to-you stuff, then he makes you feel guilty for owning any of it. Don't listen to him. That's not the spirit of Christ. He is full of grace and love. He is the provider of our needs, and appears to often bless us above what we need. 

Do stop buying things if won't serve a specific purpose. Clear distractions. Focus on Christ and your family. Simplify, and live life to the max. 

n.b. - I am not saying that if you claim minimalism, you are in league with the Devil. I am commenting on the general spirit I have felt often from self-professed minimalists. Many probably are unaware they convey this spirit when discussing their philosophy. 

Anyway, I do not think most minimalists are true minimalists. I think they usually take what they like and ditch the rest ... you know, minimally applying the philosophy to their lives ok, I know that wasn't funny, but please humor me. Some would argue that what I've articulated is minimalism. If it's helpful to you to think of it that way, that's fine. As long as you know I don't think of it that way and I view minimalism in a different context than simplified living. 

At the heart of the issue, in a broad sense, I would say that minimalism's goal and the goal of living simply are quite similar (don't let stuff bog you down) - the main difference I see is the heart behind the philosophy. One screams you must have less and throws guilt at you because you have; the other is filled with gratitude for what you have and wanting to bless others with what you don't need.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

24/6 (Book Review)

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."

It's the only commandment that beings with the word remember - almost as if God knew we would forget.

Well, guess what?

We did. 

 So says Dr. Matthew Sleeth on his book 24/6: A prescription for a healthier, happier life. And he's right.

I knew I agreed with the premise of his book before I picked it up. I've actually been trying to more actively keep the Sabbath - to set aside one whole day a week and rest (some weeks that is Saturday, some weeks that is Sunday, but I try to make one of those days happen a week). Total break. No doing housework or anything like that. Even hobby stuff is taboo if its going to be tiring.

When God created the world, he "created [everything] out of nothing, but on the morning of the seventh day, God makes nothing out of something. Rest is brought into being." (pg 23)

I'd never thought of that.

Who spoke the light into shining and the earth into spinning and the creeping, crawling things into crawling? God! How? That's not the point. Imagine an infinite God creating for six infinitely glorious days, and then on the seventh day he rests. We don't know the details. ...

The point is that something very important about the character of God is revealed on the seventh day: God stops.

Stopping is a problem for humans. We get a comfortable house, and then we want a bigger one. We get enough to eat and then we want more.

God doesn't need to rest after creating the universe because he's tired. He rests because he is holy, and everything that God does is holy. God rests. God is holy. Therefore, rest is holy. It's simple math.

Rest shows us who God is. He has restraint. Restraint is refraining from doing everything that one has the power to do. We must never mistake God's restraint for weakness. The opposite is true. God shows restraint; therefore, restraint is holy. (pg 32-33)

Resting. Restraint from work. Holy. It's true, but I'd never thought of that before.

When I began to take one day off every week, I was not a follower of Christ. Yet I found a spiritual benefit. I wanted to share the wonderful aspects of the day with the people I worked with in the hospital. I found that we were  great about listening to one another's tales of woe, over-work, purchases, action-packed vacations, and failing marriages, but we didn't have the language to talk about quiet, relaxation, love, and rest. The church often shies away from these topics as well. (pg 165)

You know, it's true - when was the last time we asked someone else what they did to relax that weekend? But look - even there "what did you DO to relax" - we're wired to constantly think in the active state. What about were you able to relax? Are we comfortable even thinking about just resting?

Many people describe a feeling of dread and anxiety when they think about spending time in quiet or alone. ... they experience boredom. ...

I believe the negative emotions and feelings we experience when we come to a stop are a barometer of our comfort with God. Are we truly bored by being alone with God in the midst of his glorious creation? Perhaps it is not God, the times, or the world that are boring. Maybe it is us. (pg 167)
Maybe never resting makes us boring - makes us unable to appreciate the interesting world we live in. We are made to be intimate with God, and the Sabbath helps to facilitate that. God set the example for us to rest and told us to follow that example. I believe this is something we should try and reclaim. Not to be legalistic about it as the Pharisees were, but to get back to what God said about the Sabbath, and not what man thinks...or is currently popular.

I don't agree with everything Dr. Sleeth says in his book, but I think the heart of the book is spot on, and he does make some excellent points.

I also really enjoyed his stories from his time in the OR and ER (don't worry, they're not gross). I found them very relatable and kept relating them back to stories my sister tells (she's an OR nurse). If you don't know that kindof background, though, his stories stand illustratively on their own. 

I think this is a book that many need to read. If people take it heart, it could honestly revolutionize our culture.

I read this book as a part of the Tyndale Summer Reading Program (which I explain in detail along with the program here, if you are interested in signing up for Tyndale Rewards, you can do so here.) This post does contain my affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive compensation for referring business. Thank you for your support! All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: The Judge by Randy Singer

The Judge is a difficult book for me to review because it was pleasant, but it wasn't a stand-out novel, or, on the other hand, something atrocious I would never recommend.

I was not bored while reading the book (very important!) and it certainly wasn't a drudgery to keep reading. Singer kept me actively engaged in the story, and I read it without taking many breaks. Even though I read it more or less straight through, I wasn't left anxiously wondering what happened next - as I usually am with books of this nature.

Honestly, though, that could be me being in pregnancy brain fog where I just don't engage anymore than necessary because I don't have the brain power right now.

I enjoyed the integration of fiction mystery with some defense of Christianity. It was a little weird for me though with all of the modern pop culture references ... can you tell I usually stick to reading the classics and don't frequently venture into modern fiction?

I thought the book was tastefully written, and I don't have any qualms about recommending this book for others to read. I didn't get wrapped up in trying to decipher the codes in the book (as I would have at an earlier time in my life), but that certainly didn't detract from the book. I think it awesome that if people want to try and figure out the codes in the book they have that option because Singer wrote the book The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ which contains the codes in The Judge. One word of warning though - this book was previously published as The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney, so don't think that this is a brand-new Singer book.

I read this book as a part of the Tyndale Summer Reading Program (which I explain in detail along with the program here, if you are interested in signing up for Tyndale Rewards, you can do so here.) This post may contain affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive compensation for referring business. All opinions are my own. Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Dopple Ganger Chronicles

The Dopple Ganger Chronicles is (currently) a three book series following the troublemaking Dopple twins and their friend Erik on happenstance adventures.

I chose these books to read as a part of the Tyndale Summer Reading Program because I was intrigued by the style of the books. These books are intended to help the reluctant reader learn to enjoy reading.

Some pages look like what you'd expect in a normal book, but those pages are not the norm. Here is a sample of what is more typical in this series:

Well, I thought it was a great idea - part graphic novel, part regular novel...but how was the content?

Book 1: The First Escape

I was less than impressed with this book. While I loved the concept of the book layout (as sampled above), I did not like the fact that the Dopples were troublemakers who bullied their fellow orphans, and the only punishment they ever received was extreme, unjust, and from cruel headmistress.

Shouldn't we be teaching children how they ought to behave instead of giving them examples of bad behavior never handled appropriately? Where were the Christian values (after all, Tyndale is a Christian publishing company)?

It was also a strange book with a seance and creepy talking puppets. Thankfully, the hoax of it all is explained in the book, but it is not something I would want my young child to read. There is the unexplained very strange Madame Raphael (for whom more explanation is given in later books, but some things are just odd).

Also, the "mystery" wasn't what I expected. The book tells a story, but there's not much wondering whodunnit, or whosegonnadoit. Given the mixed style of the narrative, the book is much thinner than it appears (meaning the 200 some pages goes by fast). Overall, this is my least favorite of the DG Chronicles thus far.

Book 2: The Secret of Indigo Moon

My concerns about the twin's character, lack of showing what a family ought to be, and unfit punishment all remain for this second installment of the Dopple Ganger Chronicles.

There is more of a mystery feel to this book, but the storyline is not complicated. NOTE: I do not expect a complex story line for these books, I recognize they are aimed at reluctant readers. They are, however, marketed for youth/young adult, and I feel the story line level is more suited to children in elementary school. Of course, older children could also enjoy these books - especially if they are not used to reading in the first place.

Madame Raphael continues to raise questions (it's stated in this book that she is probably an angel) - and while she talks of The Companion, the kids don't know The Companion, and pray to her in times of trouble. Even though Madame Raphael tells them to pray to The Companion, I think children are more likely to follow the characters lead, which is to pray to the angel (concerning).

Book 3: The Great Mogul Diamond

This book is my favorite thus far in the Chronicles. 1. Because most of my concerns from the previous two books are not present 2. Because we actually start learning more about The Companion and 3. There are ethical/moral questions raised that I think are good for  youth to think about (like - is stealing ok to save someones life?)

Because of what G.P. Taylor did in this book, I'm reserving judgement for the series. I understand that he's probably trying to reach a broader-than-Christian audience and so slowly introducing Christian ideas into the series is likely to be more effective than jumping in midstream. If future books show continued character development and if they accurately incorporate Christian theology then I think this has the potential to be groundbreaking - and not just in terms of the illustronovella, which already is innovative and groundbreaking.

So I have mixed feelings about the Chronicles. My initial reaction to the first two books is tempered by the improved third book. One thing I would recommend for certain: read them in order. Otherwise, you're very likely to be lost.

I read all three books as a part of the Tyndale Summer Reading Program (which I explain in detail along with the program here, if you are interested in signing up for Tyndale Rewards, you can do so here.) This post may contain affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive compensation for referring business. All opinions are my own. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Reading Program (Earn Free Books!)

I'm excited to participate in the Summer Reading Program that Tyndale Publishers is doing this summer! The program runs from June to August. Basically, you read books from their list, post a review (on your blog, on Amazon, ChristianBooks, etc) log the link to your review on their website, and after you do that with 5 books, you earn 1 book for free!

They don't provide free copies of the books you'll read to you, but you can find a lot of them through your library. Of course, if you wanted to, you could always buy the book (personally, I'm sticking with the free route *grin*).

I don't really branch out much in what I read (even though I read a lot) so this is good incentive for me to broaden my horizons a little bit. The really sweet part of the deal if that you can also sign up for Tyndale's Reward program where you take surveys, post reviews, etc to ... you guessed it - earn points that can be redeemed for free Bibles and certain books! Woop!

If you sign up through my referral link, they'll even start you out with 25 points, just for signing up. Books available to redeem change over time, and right now they range from 35 points to 200 points necessary for redemption.

If you participate in the Summer Reading Program, you can link those same reviews to your Tyndale Rewards account ... same amount of work, twice the reward. Sign me up, please!

Full disclosure: The link to the in the above post is my referral link. You receive 25 points for signing up through it, and I receive 10 points for referring you. My opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sweepstakes and Freebies

I don't want to fill up the blog with short term offers, but I want to let you know about these offers if you love signing up and giving it a go like I do! Twitter seems like the best vehicle for that. So, if you're interested in finding out about sweepstakes, giveaways, and freebies you can follow me on Twitter @seeking4wisdom

Don't worry, I'm not constantly tweeting ... after all, I do have a life offline *grin*

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Theology of the Home - made practical

Two weeks ago, I talked about why we ought to care about how our homes look. I challenged you to think about how our homes speak about what we believe about God. And I told you that I'd be back to share my thoughts on how we can move from chaos to order in the home.

I've been following Crystal over on for many years. I've thought it was great how she would challenge her readers to tackle particular projects in their homes - deep cleaning, surface cleaning, busting clutter, etc. The problem for me was that I was working a full-time job and didn't have time to do what she laid out every day. Even though she had an option that didn't require as much time, I was busy cooking supper as soon as I came home from work, and after that it was time for bed. And we were hardly ever home on the weekends.

You'd think with most of our life existing outside the home, that our home would be the pristine picture of perfect. Far from it. And it drove me and my husband nuts, but we just "couldn't find the time" to tackle it.

Then, I somehow stumbled across this post on The Prudent Pantry. I don't think she said anything that I hadn't heard elsewhere, but sometimes we just need to hear it said a particular way in a particular moment.

I walked away from reading her post with the outline of a plan in my head. I talked with my husband about it and he agreed that we could give it a try.

My takeaway? Make a list of everything that needs to done in the house. Not because you plan on getting it all done at once, but so you can make a gameplan.

My husband and I actually had a weekend at home, and we decided to make it count. After making a list of everything that needed to be accomplished, things already looked less intimidating. We decided that we would work in hour long increments, followed by an hour long break. We would tackle two increments on Saturday and three on Sunday.

A 1:1 ratio of work and break. That's not bad at all. That idea was my husband's, I thought it was excessive ahead of time, but it worked out great by helping us not get overwhelmed and be able to rest and recover (particularly needed for this pregnant momma!) If we had bitten off more than we could chew we likely would've been discouraged, and our task would have been left incomplete.

We had the total list, we knew our time schedule. Next, we decided what we would tackle when.

We went about this in two ways: if there was an area that either one of us felt was a "problem area" (aka it really stressed us out that it was a mess) it was given high priority and put into the game plan first. That doesn't mean it necessary was taken care of in the first increment, but that everything else scheduled into that increment was placed there around the high priority item.

The other way we decided what to schedule was by asking ourselves (1)what would show the biggest impact to the overall appearance of our apartment, and (2)what needed to be taken care of so we could have access to other items on the list?

This is going to look different for each person depending on the layout of your home, and what kind of a mess you have. How much you can fit into an increment also depends on how many people are working on cleaning up, and how many people contributed to the mess to begin with. eg, do you have three children, but only you and your spouse are cleaning up? If so, are the children in the house while you clean, or are they out of the house with friends and family? Is your sister coming over to help you tackle the mess? Talk about these things before you get started so you aren't blind-sided and can make the most efficient decisions to kick-start your way to clean.

After we had mapped everything out, we set the timer for 60 minutes and went to it. Don't be surprised to find the timer beeping and you still carry forward with momentum for a few extra minutes to wrap something up. I would encourage you not to count your momentum as a part of your break time, though. Make sure you give yourself the full amount of your break time for a break.

You just worked hard for your increment. You need to re-energize before tackling the next one. Enjoy looking at what you just accomplished. Watch a TV show, read a book, take a cat nap. Rest. Then move forward.

This is what our increment list looked like:
(Sa=Saturday, Su=Sunday. I1, I2, etc = Increment 1, 2, etc)

-- Clean off the bar (and take care of the box behind the bar)
-- Put away piles under the bar
-- Put away piles in front of the TV

-- Clean stack beside both sides of the couch
-- Clean the stacks of paper off the futon and file
-- Clean off the balcony and clean out the 5 gal buckets
-- Take the "garage" stuff to the "garage" area

-- Take care of jewelry/straighten dresser/put away purchased gifts
-- Clean off desk
-- Clean the entryway to the bedroom

-- Clean up all the gift-wrapping stuff, put away neatly
-- Clean off 2nd desk
-- Shred box of paper

-- Go through two boxes (filled with misc stuff) and shred/trash/donate/put away

-- Review/walk-through
-- Vacuum

Hubby also had an extra increment to deep clean the bathroom, and I had "an extra increment" but it was broken up because I had to start, switch over, and fold laundry.

We didn't get everything done from our Master list, but we actually knocked out most of it. What we didn't get accomplished over that weekend, we listed out and decided that we would tackle in half-increments (for us this means we set the timer for half an hour) when we got home from work each day. We would also maintain what we had accomplished. It's much easier to put your jacket up at the end of the day if there's not already a stack of jackets to add to, to put your jewelry in the proper container if your dresser isn't littered with the stuff. It's much less stressful, and really doesn't take that much time.

Have we actually tackled a half-increment every night? Of course not. Life happens. But we have maintained our new order. And we have checked a few more things off the master list.

It's freeing, really. We know exactly what needs to be taken care of, and we're much, much less stressed now that things are mostly in order. We get irritated with each other less, we smile more, and our schedule is more flexible to let friends or family pop over last minute without feeling like we need to hide a ton of stuff or be embarrassed at the state of our home. (or set out the vacuum to make it look like you were just about to get to cleaning - you know what I'm talking about! ;-) ) We're happier now. Sure it sounds strange, but it's true.

Of course we still have work to do, but we are actively working on aligning our home in God's order. God sees your efforts and smiles. You might not be able to dedicate an entire weekend to kick-start your clean, but you can do something.

Maybe you have 20 minutes while your kids take a nap to clean your bedroom, or to fold the laundry that's been sitting in the basket and put it away. Do what you can to convert your home from reflecting Satan's chaos to showing God's order.

What steps have you/can you take to creating and establishing order and cleanliness in your home?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Movie Review Rating System

I think it's high time that I gave an explanation for how I rate movies.

We're all familiar with the 5-star system, but I meet with objections over the low stars that I frequently give movies...even if I enjoyed the film! So I thought it would be helpful to give an explanation. After all, if you don't understand my philosophy behind the stars, telling you how many I give a movie won't be helpful.

I have observed that the standard course of action is to start a grade at the top. E.g., you begin with 100 points on a test and whenever you get a question incorrect, points are deducted from your grade. If you get every question on a test wrong, you will not have a zero. You will have a failing grade, but you will likely have a grade that rests in the 50s.

A grade of 50 (out of 100) ought to indicate that you correctly answered - that you know half of the material. Instead, it means you learned nothing?

Another example. I used to judge debates, seeing the problems with the aforementioned system, I determined I would start every debater with 3 stars in rating their effectiveness. (There were several components to this.) I figured: 3 out of 5 stars is an average presentation and argument, if I start them there they can earn additional points, or lose points. I thought to myself - at least then, the stand out debaters will shine in their ratings, instead of being lost in the crowd of average speakers who didn't do anything wrong, but weren't stellar.

After each debate we rated, remarked, and moved on. The sheets were turned in, and there was no changing our ratings or comments. But this system still had problems - the folks who did better than average, did a pretty good job, got high marks ... and then came the one or two that really stood out in excellence. I was forced to give them the same ranking as the pretty-goods. I couldn't give them more than 5 stars.

It was shortly after this experience that I decided everyone should start with nothing and that ever star would have to be earned. In judging, there are sometimes those who really bomb and you can't give them worse than one star, so it's not perfect. With movies, I can definitely give less than one star. So far, I've only done that once. I hope I don't have to again.

The movie market is seemingly flooded with 4 and 5 star movies. If there are really that many that are that good then the scale should be adjusted. In the time to date that I have been reviewing movies on my blog, I have never given out a 5 star review. I have given out 4 star reviews (3 of them), and 3 placed somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. 3 have 3 stars, and 3 are between 2 and 3 stars. (If you're counting, that's a total of 12 movies that rate higher than a 2.0. Out of 25 films.)

13 of the 25 movies I have reviewed through yesterday have earned 2 stars or less from me. Only 6 have earned higher than a 3.0.

Am I a harsh critic? Maybe. But if you take a look, I enjoyed a number of those movies, and have seen most of them more than once. But just because I enjoy a movie doesn't mean that it is superb. Art doesn't have to be a Michelangelo for it to be appreciated (otherwise my home decor is in trouble!).

Also, just because a movie receives a higher rating, doesn't mean that I'll desire to watch it more. It means that it met certain criteria or exceeded expectations elsewhere. Iron Man 3 ties for the 2nd highest ranking of any movie I've reviewed to date (3.75). That does not mean I want to see it a lot. I'm just not that into action, but it delivered in fantastic dialogue and strong development.

Each movie is unique. As much as possible, each movie is evaluated on its own merit. If the stars I assign to a film aren't helpful to you - skip them. I don't mind. Just don't think of a 3 as an average C. Realize instead that, right now, it's in the top third of the class.

original image source

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Movie Review - Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (finally) releases in the US in two days. It's about time. The rest of the world has seen it already. Are you excited?

I was blessed to be able to see a special pre-release screening in Imax 3-D. I thought I'd give you my take on the movie to amp you up a little more ... which, if you're anything like my husband, you don't need. And if you're anything like me, you won't particularly care. But, for what it's worth, here are (some) of my thoughts ...

Intense. That was the word I used to describe Iron Man 3's first trailer, and it's a description that stuck through the rest of the previews as they were released. It also aptly fit the movie itself. My poor husband was a sweetheart and let me squeeze the life out of his hand throughout the movie.

For being an intense film, there was a lot of humor neatly tucked in. It's always nice to be able to break a smile and chuckle, even if the next moment you're on the edge of your seat again.

Going into the movie I was particularly interested in Tony's character development. In Iron Man we see playboy, egotistical, billionaire start his transformation into something more. In Iron Man 2 we still have a narcissist who doesn't play well with others, but he has made improvements (after all, he is in a stable-ish relationship now). In Avengers he actually takes one for the team. I mean, the guy's come a long way! Honestly, I wasn't sure -- where do you go from here? where would they go?

The one thing that couldn't happen was for Tony to stagnate. We couldn't have the Iron Man, Iron Man 2, or the Avenger's Tony. We needed more. And we get more. Tony's still Tony - there's no question, but he certainly does not disappoint in his character development.

Another key point I was interested in was the relationship between Tony and Pepper. There's a lot in the previews to keep you wondering what happens here, and I think the scriptwriters did a pretty good job of not letting things get stale. They're in a different place in life than before, and we get to see how they react to current challenges and how that affects them as a couple. When an old wanna-be suitor and a former one-night stand show up, it's bound to effect something.

I didn't miss Rhodes in Avengers. He didn't belong, but I know a lot of people did miss him, and it was nice to see him back and him and Tony working so beautifully together, as always. One man can't go up against the Mandarin (a formidable and surprising villain) alone, and even a genius-soldier team need back-up.

Oh, for all of you who are dying to know about the special effects and explosions and what not... don't worry. There's definitely enough to go around and make you very happy. I won't say I didn't think some of it was over the top, but I didn't find it so excessive that it detracted from the rest of the movie.

I think this is the best Iron Man movie yet, but it's strength lies in the fact that its number 4 (watching Avengers before you see this film is a must). For Iron Man 3 to shine, it needs the other movies.

My review in one sentence? I'm glad we get to see less of the iron, and more of the man.

3.75 of 5 stars
(For comparison, most movies don't get above 2 stars in my book.)

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Theology of the Home

We all have our ideal home. And most of us have given up trying to make our home into that ideal. It's just too exhausting to even think about. Where do you even begin? How can everything that needs to be done possibly get done in the amount of time we have to do it -- on top of all of our other responsibilities? And so our ideal home serves only to haunt us and make us feel like we should be doing more than we already are. And we're already

I'm not talking about your dream home -- I'm talking about how you wish your current home looks. Dishes all cleaned and put away; laundry washed, dried, neatly folded, and put away in precisely organized drawers. That never-shrinking pile of mail dealt with appropriately - all of the stuff that every available flat surface somehow seems to collect when you aren't looking, vanquished.

Or maybe it's just me.

And then you come home from and see everything a mess and get stressed because you only see even more work for you to do. Or maybe you're home most of the day keeping track of your children and juggling everyone's schedules and you also only see more work for you to do when you look around your home. It's not peaceful, it's stressful ... which doesn't naturally lend itself to keeping up a positive and upbeat attitude.

You get cross. Not because anyone has done anything wrong. But because there is so much to do. And you feel like it falls on you.

I totally understand. I'm there myself.

I was talking to my husband about everything that needed to be done and how overwhelmed I was and how I didn't know where to begin and ... well, rambling. Somewhere in there a light bulb went off that had flickered several years before.

My home was not glorifying to God.

Huh? My home, with all of its clutter, mess, disorganization, uncleaned up spills, and piles of "organized mess" was not honoring to God - it did not reflect his intended created order. Instead, my home emulated the order of the Devil, HaSatan, the Accuser (is it any wonder I never feel that enough is done? That I always have more to do? That I'm a sorry wife and mother because of all this?!).

Let me explain.

God is a God of order.

He created the world in an orderly fashion - 6 days, tackling like things on a given day. Untainted. Unmarred. It was perfect. When he was done, he pronounced it "very good."

Imperfection - disorder - entered the world upon man's sin.

God created an orderly world. Satan, in his opposition, created (and creates) disorder.

As Christians, we are supposed to reflect God and his intended order for the world. That means we should be orderly - that our homes should not be a chaotic mess, but should instead be clean, neat, and peaceful. If we do that, we are glorifying God.

I would argue, that if we do that, we are proclaiming the gospel. Why? Because redemption through Jesus brings our lives back under God's order. This redemption accomplished by the first coming of Jesus paves the way for his second coming when the world will be brought back under God's rule.

By modeling our homes to reflect God's intended created order, we are also proclaiming our redemption and the coming restoration of the world - the ultimate defeat of Satan and therefore also of disorder.

By defeating disorder in our homes now we are foreshadowing its ultimate defeat. 

By ordering our homes, we are proclaiming God's victory.

I don't know about you, but that makes keeping my house clean seem a lot weightier - like something I ought to make a priority in my life...instead of being the thing that always gets pushed aside because I have so much else to do. We can't allow Satan to have any place in our home.

The disordered must made ordered.

So how do we begin? How do we go about changing our priorities so that the theology our homes ought to reflect is actually present?

Spend some time answering that for yourself and your family. Think about what I've said. Share your thoughts below.

I'll be sharing my thoughts on how to answer those questions in the next week or two.

photo credit

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Are You Shunning Sin or Pursuing Holiness?

Aren't they the same thing?


And no.

See, it's a perspective - an attitude difference. I saw this idea a few weeks ago in a comment on another blog. I cannot remember which blog. Nor who the commenter was. But the idea stuck with me, and that's the important part.

The commenter made the observation that as we look at our lives and try to follow after Christ, we often ask ourselves "is this sin?"

Of course, we don't want sin in our lives, so this is a natural and a good question. But it might not be the best question. Ever notice that grey area? When you get the I'm-not-really-sure feeling? It might not be inherently wrong but does that mean we should okay it for our lives and the lives of our families?

Instead of asking ourselves, "is this sin?", the commenter suggested asking ourselves, "is this holy?" That puts a different spin on things. I find that when I ask that question, instead of asking the other, there's a whole lot less grey.

No, something may not be morally wrong, and not therefore sin, but that doesn't mean that it's glorifying to God. And that is what our goal should be.

We shouldn't be looking at the world, wondering how close we can stay and still be safe. We should be looking Jesus and trying to see how close to him we can get instead.

Pursue holiness ... you'll be shunning sin as a natural result.

picture credit

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Redemptive Animals?

"The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world."

So begins the Foreward to the 1966 edition of Wind in the Willows.

"Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavours of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder. ... Science analyses everything to its component parts, and neglects to put them together again. ... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Launcelot in shining armour on a moonlit road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?" 

This is something that has been impressed upon my mind for a number of years now. Ever since I first read Sophie's World, which has to be one of the more formidable books I have read in my life. Wonderment can lead to science, no doubt, but science should only increase the wonder in return. It should not leave you cold and mechanistic. Life goes by too quickly to allow our appreciation of wonder, awe, and beauty to fade away as we grow up.

"Granted that the average man may live for seventy years, it is a fallacy to assume that his life from sixty to seventy is more important than his life from five to fifteen. Children are not merely people; they are the only really living people that have been left to us in an over-weary world."
Without wonder, we are left with dreariness. We are left with nothing new - nothing to stir the imagination. We are bored.

"In my tales about children, I have tried to show that their simple acceptance of the mood of wonderment, their readiness to welcome a perfect miracle at any hour of the day or night, is a thing more precious than any of the laboured acquisitions of adult mankind."

Children have one foot in our world, and one foot in the fairy world. This is how we ought to live - not to forsake actual explanations of things, but to realize that we do not know or understand everything, and the explanation we are given - no matter how fantastic - may be the truth. Living with one foot in fairy land allows us to understand our world better. It allows us to see things from another perspective, which can only enrich our lives. It allows us to understand ourselves ... for in fairy land we are allowed to explore and think in ways our world cannot accommodate.

"As for animals, I wrote about the most familiar and domestic in The Wind and the Willows because I felt a duty to them as a friend. Every animal, by instinct, lives according to his nature. Thereby he lives wisely, and betters the tradition of mankind. No animal is ever tempted to belie his nature. No animal, in other words, knows how to tell a lie. Every animal is honest. Every animal is straightforward. Every animal is true -- and therefore, according to his nature, both beautiful and good."
Given this, when we anthropormorphize animals, we are able to communication great truths to others in ways we would be unable to do with humans because of our bent nature. Animals, too, do not behave as God intended, but that is because of man's wrong choice. Animals can only do as their nature dictates -- man can resist, for good or ill, while animals can only live according to their instincts. Grahame is right. They tell no lies, and thus, perhaps, they are closer to what God intended for his creation than man.

Perhaps, in stories, they also are redeemed, and can help lead a child, or the child at heart, to the good life.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Breakfast Muffins

 This is the best muffin recipe I have found yet. And it's versatile. I found the recipe here, labeled "To Die For Blueberry Muffins." While I wouldn't go quite that far, they are quite yummy.

What You Need:
Muffin tin(s)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh fruit

n.b. on the fruit - the recipe originally said fresh blueberries. I have only used frozen fruit in these, and they have worked just fine. Here is what I've found out though

-- Huge blueberries (or pieces of fruit) don't work. It creates these caverns that fall in and get filled. It still tastes great, but looks less than great ... and isn't very functional as a muffin. So make sure you cut your pieces up into small pieces of fruit
--  Coat the fruit in flour. This prevents all of the fruit from sinking down to the bottom of the muffins. The flour coating helps ensure that the fruit doesn't sink, so it's evenly disbursed throughout the muffin.

-- Experiment. We did blueberries the first time. It was good. We did strawberries the second time (that's what I have pictured) Ah-may-zing. Truly. This is our favorite so far. We tried peaches the third time. Honestly, didn't give it much flavor. At all. Was disappointed, but the muffins still weren't bad. Next: we plan to try with mixed fruit!

-- Crumb topping: If you click through to the original recipe, absolutely do NOT use their recipe for crumb topping. 1. It makes wwwaaaayyyyyyyyyy more topping than you need - and this is coming from a girl who loves her crumb topping! 2. It melts (as you can see in the pictures). It doesn't keep a crumb-like consistency. ... Which also means that sometimes IT sinks into the muffin. Especially if it happens to be right over a really large piece of fruit. I haven't perfected a crumb topping yet in it's stead, but I think just sprinkling brown sugar and cinnamon on top would probably be sufficient. But I haven't tried that yet soo no promises.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners. 

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done. I start keeping an eye on mine between 10-15 minutes ... I can't stand a muffin that's over cooked. I like mine soft and springy.

This recipe makes 8 oversized, bakery style muffins, or 12 regular size muffins (which I what I always do). I think this would make 24 mini muffins.

Usually, when I make this recipe I double it. It doesn't take that much long on the prep side, and then I have delicious muffins for breakfast for longer ... which means more time I can spend doing something else, instead of standing in the kitchen. These muffins also freeze well, which is always a nice bonus. *grin*

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cleaning House

I downloaded a "Get Organized in 30 Days" plan to cleaning and decluttering your home from Home Made Simple. Honestly, I was disappointed by the list. Not that there aren't good suggestions on there (I'm still hanging on to it to remind myself of areas to target), but here's some examples of this "plan":

"Day 03: Coat closet. From coats to boots, wrangle your outdoor gear."

"Day 17: Desk. Clean and streamline your workspace."

"Day 25: Purse. Put an end to digging around for that tube of lip balm with a total purse clean out."

Now, there are (somewhat) more helpful tips on how to go about doing these things elsewhere on their website. But that's not exactly what I call a "plan" ... I think a plan would look more like Crystal's "4 Weeks to a More Organized Home" Challenge. Here's Day 1:

Day 1 Assignment

::Get dressed in something that makes you feel great {there’s something about dressing in clothes that make you feel great that just gives you more energy and zest for life! Get your free copy of SarahMae’s ebook, Frumps to Pumps, if you need more motivation in this.}
::Sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and make a list of 5-10 goals for this week.
::Complete your morning routine {if you don’t have a morning routine, take some time to create one today! Read my How to Develop a Routine That Works–And Stick With It series for step-by-step help.}
::Set the timer for 15 minutes and quickly pick up the main living areas of your home.
::Clean out your purse and/or diaper bag.
::Find 7 items to get rid of today. Throw them out, stick them in a donate or garage sale box, give them to a friend who can use them, or list them on Craigslist or eBay.
Note: If you work outside the home or have a really busy week with little time for extra projects, just do the bolded project above.

Now that's what I call a plan. And she does this for four weeks. Bite size goals that are attainable ... and a shortcut version for those who can't get to the full clean, even if they wanted to right now! I like that. It's real. It's flexible.

Now, I'm not saying the other list is totally useless. Actually, it made me feel a *little* better about the state of things in my house. Of the 30 day assignments, I have recently done 12 of them (or they didn't apply (e.g. our linen closet has always been neat and easy to maintain. So I don't need to "tackle" it).

That's the way I like to start a project ... with almost half of it checked off *grin* And there are a number of items that are decently kept up, but I haven't checked off the list because I'm sure when I get to them they will bear a little work (like making sure I've kept my jewelry organized and put away).

Sometimes, you know you have irrational and overblown hesitations. For example, I know if I start planning a week or two of meals at a time, I will be less stressed and we will save money. But I find the task of sitting down and planning that out daunting. I don't know why, but I do. I'm hoping that once I do it, though, I'll breathe a sigh of relief and go that was easy, and a load off of my mind ... why didn't I do it sooner?

 What are your organizational and cleaning tips and strategies?

original image source

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chewy Sugar Sprinkle Cookies

Sound amazing? Look incredible? They DEFINITELY live up to every expectation I had for them.

Actually, I think they surpassed my expectations.

I'm not going give you the recipe here, because, well, I did not come up with this wonderful creation. Averie did. And you should totally check them out on her site because she deserves all the credit for these. Leave her a comment and tell her what you think, but please come and leave me a comment too. Really. I want to know if you love them as much as I do.

What I will do is show you process through my pictures. But don't look unless you want to get the urge to make them RIGHT. NOW. Seriously, just posting these pictures makes me want to go make another batch.

All mixed and ready to go. Honestly, I was perfectly content with the idea of stopping here. I love cookie dough better than cookies. Alas, I was taking them over to a lunch. I couldn't just bring a bowl full of cookie dough, could I? So into the fridge it went overnight to be chilled.

Next morning I rolled them. Aren't they cute? I  was definitely having second thoughts about putting them in the oven.

Then, I slightly flattened them. DO NOT OVER-FLATTEN. I know Averie makes that point, but I thought I would echo it.

See? You roll them, and you flatten them. It's fun.

These are the finished product. Yes. Finished. Fresh out of the oven. But they look barely baked! I can hear you now.

Barely baked, perhaps. But there's a nice crunch on the outside, followed by chewy middle. That's the best. My mom, upon trying one at the lunch, said she liked them because they were almost like eating cooking dough.

That's absolutely right. But, there's enough of a shell outside to keep the texture varied, and to make my husband (who doesn't like cookie dough) reach back for another cookie as many times as everyone else.

They're fun. They're soft. They keep well (I only found this out with the greatest discipline) ... but even so, there's really no reason for them to keep. They're so good you're going to want them all. NOW. ... my husband and I may or may not have had a couple for breakfast with tea one morning.

Hey, our baby's still inside me. And as long as they don't see you do it, it's ok, right??

So what do you think? Are you going to give them a try?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reading Aloud

I love reading (if you haven't figured that out). I've been reading for as long as I can remember.

Another long memory is of my father reading aloud to our entire family. He read many works, but the one I remember best was an old Grosset & Dunlap copy of the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. My mom also read to us.

Book have such treasured memories for me, and the love of books and knowledge is something I have desired to pass on to my children. I also wanted them to have lovely memories of being read to.

What I didn't expect was that I would be reading out-loud before they born ... to their future father.

We were dating when he first asked me if I would read to him. I'm not sure what prompted him asking (maybe he does, I don't know) ... maybe it was because I was astounded that he had never read the Chronicles of Narnia, even though he professed that he wanted to.

He just never really read fiction, he said, didn't particularly get into it.

And he liked hearing me read.

Well, I liked reading outloud, and didn't get much of an opportunity. So we began reading together. I believe we read through the first 4 books of Narnia before we married and finished the 5th on our honeymoon.

Yes, I read to him on our honeymoon -- it was very relaxing, being able to read together curled up in front of the fire!

Concurrent with those we have been reading nonfiction to personally edify us and facilitate discussion.

We also started The Four Loves (Lewis) before we married, but haven't finished it yet. It's a very good book, but dense, which makes it hard to read aloud and the listener be able to process it.

We have since finished out Narnia and read The Hobbit. That book wasn't as easy to read aloud as Narnia ... I think because each chapter is lengthier.

As for my husband not getting into fiction ... almost every time I would finish a chapter, he would beg for "just one more!" Precious.

We just started reading the Space Trilogy. (Honestly, I'm just not looking forward to reading That Hideous Strength outloud, but can hardly wait to read the other two again!), and we'll probably read The Return of the Dragon (Zaring) after that.

Return of the Dragon will be different, because it'll be a fiction book I haven't read before that I'll be reading outloud to him ... so I won't be to suppress a smile when he conjectures about what happens next, because I won't know either! From what I could find, it is a children's book that has pretty consistent high reviews. I'm looking forward to reading it.

There are so many books I think he would enjoy - so many books I want to read ... But, I thought I'd ask: what books would YOU recommend I read? Are there any books you think I should read to him?

original image source

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