Thursday, January 31, 2008

Little Luxuries

Since getting married, Kevin and I have both changed when it comes to spending habits. I used to pinch every penny until Lincoln screamed. Kevin has taught me to be better about letting go of money to enjoy life and buying better quality products when they’re worth it.

And Kevin never ordered off the dollar menu until he met me! Now he does this on a semi-regular basis. Ha! It’s funny to see how we’ve both changed in five and a half years. I’d say we’ve probably met in the middle.

Sometimes spending extra on little things goes a long way to making every day quality of life better. Here are a few little luxuries I think are worth it. I'd be interested to see what you all have to add to this list!

Bath and Body Works Gentle Foaming Hand Soap—If you’re a young mom who is regularly required to be exposed to poop, I think you deserve this! You need to be able to smell something really good at regular intervals throughout the day. I wait for this to go on sale, and then stock up. Also, this soap is great for kids because it foams up and so kids use a lesser amount. Who knows, maybe it even saves money. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself, anyway!

Tropicana Orange Juice—Kevin and I don’t drink tea or coffee every day. But we do drink orange juice a lot. Tropicana is the next best thing to fresh squeezed O.J.

Loose Leaf Tea—Like I said, we’re not regular tea drinkers. But when I do have that cup of tea once a week or so, loose leaf tea is what I want. The difference is profound, even if you just buy the Archer Farms (Target) or Lipton loose leaf brands. I have to credit Kevin’s mom for getting me hooked on loose leaf tea!

Good shampoo—Maybe other people don’t see a dramatic difference, but I think professional shampoo (I buy whatever is on sale at Trade Secret) is worth it!

Real Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla—There is no comparison. Desserts taste so much better. If you’re going to eat all those calories anyway, you might as well enjoy it to the fullest extent, right?

Can anyone else think of other little luxuries that are worth it?

A Bread Pudding Story

At a tender age I once tried bread pudding and pretty much hated it. So I had long given up on bread pudding. But last night we had last-minute company coming and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. So, I decided to give it another try! And I'm SO glad I did.

This bread pudding rocks! (I omitted the raisins, and added extra spices--extra cinnamon and some nutmeg and clove.) I can't wait to try it again!

After reading some of the user comments, I decided to drizzle some vanilla sauce on the top and I think that was a really nice touch.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Archive of the Internet

Kevin found this interesting website recently. Apparently, this guy has taken pictures of the internet at various points in time and they are on this site for your viewing pleasure. Who would have thought--a record of websites! You can see if your own blog is there (e.g., my blog), or any company or nonprofit's website (e.g., HSLDA). It's interesting to see how various websites have evolved.

Monday, January 28, 2008

At least we'll eat!

My Monday got off to a hectic start. As I was giving Clara her first feeding of the day, Meredith comes bounding in the room and declares, “I made a big mess everywhere! It was an acci-gent and YOU need to clean it up!” (She had spilled her milk and cereal all over the kitchen table and floor.) Sigh ...

As busy as I’ll be this week, at least we’ll eat. Here’s the meal plan.

1) Chili in bread bowls, green salad w/ feta, cranberries and walnuts

2) Hawaiian pizza and green salad—I’m going to try this dough recipe

3) Beef Carbonnade over egg noodles w/ roasted carrots and squash—this is an excellent recipe I found in Cooking Light (I’ll post it below).

4) Cheddar and Beer Soup w/ baguette croutons, and fruit salad

I’m also going to try making homemade cinnamon wheat bread (not sure what recipe yet). I’ve been inspired lately to bake more bread. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done this on a regular basis. And, is there anything better than bread fresh out of the oven?


Beef Carbonnade

2 bacon slices, finely diced
1 ½ pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ t. salt
½ t. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
5 cups thinly sliced onion (about 4 medium)
3 T. all-purpose flour
2 t. white wine vinegar
½ t. sugar
½ t. dried thyme
1 (10 ½ oz.) can beef broth
1 (12 oz.) bottle light beer
1 bay leaf
6 cups hot cooked wide egg noodles (about 12 oz. uncooked pasta)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp, remove bacon, reserving drippings in pan. Set bacon aside. Add beef, salt, and pepper to drippings in pan, cook 5 minutes, browning beef well on all sides. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds. Remove beef from pan with a slotted spoon, set aside. Add onion to pan, cover and cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour, cook 2 minutes. Add vinegar and next 5 ingredients, bring to a boil. Return bacon and beef to pan. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours or until beef is tender. Discard bay leaf. Serve over noodles. Yields six servings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Friends and Blogs

My friend Sara left a comment on one of my recent posts, where I stated that blogging can satiate our desire to connect with people but I bemoaned the fact that many women appear to let this meet their need for fellowship without pursuing real relationships where they connect with the women in their own communities, face-to-face.

Sara made some good points, articulating much more of what I have been thinking about this topic, especially her remarks that “you never see the whole person” through a blog.

You can read the rest of her excellent post here.

My Clara

Clara is six months now. She’s sitting up a lot more these days but still not interested in moving around much. She’s happy to play with whatever toys are in arm’s reach. I used to worry when Meredith didn’t roll around much, but with a second child it’s funny how much less you are concerned by things. It’s probably a combination of the fact that things turned out fine once already and I have less time to worry!

We are hearing a lot of “dadadadadadada” lately and other baby sounds. My favorite thing she’s doing now is pulling my head towards her and giving me wet kisses.

She’s also starting to notice other babies and interact with other babies a lot. The other day she carried on a lengthy “conversation” with an older man (seven months old). He would grunt and she would squeal. It went back and forth like this for quite a while.

Seriously, I think six months is my favorite baby stage. Is there a cuter baby age? I submit no.

Meredith Sayings and Doings

Upon telling Meredith that she couldn’t have any more sugar for the rest of the day, she asks, “Is crackers a sugar?”

Like all children, she always wants to push the elevator button. As she reached for the button at the library elevator the other day, the door opened and someone started to exit. She looked SO disappointed. I told her, “That’s okay Meredith. Go ahead. You can still push the button.” She then gave me this “like-duh” look, turned her palms to the air, and said, “But, mom! The door opened already!”

Yesterday I told her that she could watch a video during my shower. I suggested the “Leap Frog” phonics video because it’s educational. To further persuade her, I told her that “Leap Frog will be sad if you don’t pick him.” She replied, “Well, I think Peter Pan will be MORE sad.”

I tell Meredith that the reason big people don’t wear bibs is because they have learned not to spill their food. Yesterday I spilled milk out of my cereal spoon, while holding Clara (who is grabbing for everything these days). Meredith promptly said, “See mommy, you DO need a bib. You need a very BIG bib.”

M: “Mom, where’s my hair clip?”
A: “I don’t know.”
M: “But you have a barrette. A barrette is a clip.”
(Some days I feel like I’m being cross-examined.)

Meredith cracks us up with her ability to find similar words to help us understand another word that she is having a hard time articulating. For instance:

M: “I saw a sworoll.”
K: “A what?”
M: “A sworoll.”
K: “What?”
M [with exasperation in her voice]: “A chipmunk!!”
K: “Oh, you mean a squirrel?”
M: “YES!!”

Also …

M: “I want hot chock-it.”
K: “What do you want?”
M: “Hot chock-it?”
K: “I’m sorry Meredith, I don’t understand you.”
M: “I want COCOA!”

And also, recently …

M: “Where is my wahn?”
K: “Your what?”
M: “My whan.”
K: “What?”
M: “My bibbety-bobbety-boo!”
K [laughing]: “Oh, your wand!”
M: “YES.”

Meredith loves to dress up. Understatement! She has a new outfit on about every ten minutes or so. When I tell her that she looks beautiful, she often said, “Yes, I am, thank you.” At least she says thank you, but we need to work on the humility part.

She is SO opinionated about how her hair should be done. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what she wanted until after the fact and she acts like it was a life and death thing! She is very specific in her instructions about how her hair should be done. These are the exact words she uses: a high pony tail, a low pony tail by my neck, a middle pony tail, a half pony tail, piggy tails by my ears, one braid, two braids, French braid, etc. If we don’t do EXACTLY as she says, we … hear … about … it!

She’s starting to correct us when we skip over words in her favorite books. When I was reading her Corduroy the other day, I came to the part where the girl “looked into Corduroy’s eyes.” She said, “No, it says BRIGHT eyes.” Yes, my bad! It’s fun when toddlers memorize their favorite books. But also unfortunate—no more quick reads!

She is constantly trying her dress shoes on my foot and saying, “Mommy, you are not the true princess.” Then she tries it on her foot and she beams, “I am the true princess, and I can marry the prince!”

When we ask Meredith what are the names of her friends at MOPS, she always (without fail) tells us that their names are “Anastasia and Drizella.” These are the names of the stepsisters on Cinderella! Ha!

She says “Peter Pan” with a British accent, just like Wendy.

When Clara was crying the other day, she nuzzled up to her and said, “Trara, I’m here. Don’t worry. You don’t cry. Everything will be alright.” She said all of this in such a loving and caring voice, while patting her on the head.

The other day I told Meredith, “You know what? Your eyes are so pretty.” She nonchalantly replied, “You know what? I put Desitin in my eye.” I then leaned over to smell her eye, and sure enough, it smelled like Desitin. It’s a good thing I paid her that compliment!

M: “I don’t have any more bracelet.”
A: “Why not?”
M: “Because the Cheerios took it away.”
A: Looks over and notices that there is a pink rubber band (aka, Meredith’s bracelet) wrapped around the Cheerios bag.

Upon seeing the parmesan cheese on her breadstick the other night she said, “Look! There’s hay on my bread.” She also says that Little Boy Blue is “like Jesus because he sleeps in the hay.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lovin' Bloglines

About a year ago Kevin tried to get me to use a feature similar to Bloglines. Anyway, I wasn’t sure about it and decided to just keep my old system of rapid mouse clicking.

Then recently several friends have mentioned it. Because I’ve been discouraged by my general lack of time and the fact that I haven’t been able to keep up with friends’ blogs like I want, I decided to give it a try.

Let me just say that I LOVE it.

No more clicking through ten blogs only to discover that no one has updated … or going an entire week without checking blogs only to realize that there have been 20 new posts on one blog alone.

It works kind of like an e-mail inbox, telling you how many “messages”/posts are out there.

This will enable me to read twice as many blogs in half the time.

Did I mention that I love Bloglines?

Quaker Questions

Ever heard of the Quaker Questions? Last night I went to a fondue party with some friends from my Mother of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. About halfway through the evening the “mentor mom” host directed the conversation to the Quaker Questions.

The Quaker Questions: 1) Where did you live when you were six years old and who lived with you? 2) How was your home heated? What were the winters like? 3) What person, place, or thing was the center of warmth in your life when you were a child? 4) When did God become a “warm” being to you and how did this happen?

I had experienced this icebreaker about a year ago. It’s a creative way to dig deeper and get to know people’s backgrounds more. One person remarked how each question gets harder to answer.

After spending an evening with these ladies I realized more how blessed I am to have met them. They are a sincere and transparent group of women, which I value.

As important as it is to maintain old friendships, I think it’s also important to make new friends and always be open to new friendships.

Sometimes as moms, it’s easier to stay home with our kids than make an effort to get out and be a part of the broader community. But I think that’s crucial to our well-being and it also enables us to bless others and society. (Obviously, our homes should be our priority. But in addition to being wives and moms, we are also neighbors, community members, and citizens.)

I think excessive blogging can even be a danger because it satiates our need to connect, while allowing us to avoid face time with others.

For me, not making new friends hasn’t been an option. In the past eight years, I’ve moved across the country three times. It’s been a choice of either making new friends or not having friends.

In many ways, I’m glad that I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone because each time I could have never guessed in advance the blessings of those new friendships.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Humility and Reality

Andree Seu had a thought-provoking article in World recently, Keeping it Real: Want to achieve humility? Acknowledge reality.

“Shoot for that low opinion of your talents that you’re sure is the essence of humility. You may not get there, but the devil will be pleased enough by all the time you’ve spent thinking of yourself. Or you may indeed arrive at humility, and notice it—which saddles you with another problem: pride in your humility.”

“Would you be free of the roller-coaster ride of a life of serial humiliations? Then assess yourself accurately. Humility is acknowledging reality, nothing more or less. And here are some realities: Everyone is smart at some things and stupid at some things.”

The entire article is excellent, you can read it here.

After reading Seu’s article, I thought of the Gothard teachings about “deflecting praise” and a conversation I had several years ago with a young woman who is still seeped in that way of thinking.

The young woman, an acquaintance of mine from childhood, had played a violin solo at my parents’ church during the service. I felt that the music was God-glorifying and beautiful and I paid her a genuine compliment after the service.

Her reply? “Well, my parents should really get all the credit for encouraging me to practice my music lessons. Everything I am today is because of them.”

First, this isn’t true. This young lady had worked very hard herself and she was very gifted musically. Secondly, because I was aware of the seminars she had attended, I knew that this was a canned answer. It was a line that had come straight from the textbook, or something she had copied in her own notebook. So it seemed entirely disingenuous to me.

It was everything I could do to not burst out laughing. Or worse, say what I was really thinking.

If this young woman had simply said, “Thank you, I was so happy to be able to play today,” I would have been blessed by that and we could have continued our conversation. Instead, I was struck by her canned answer—even though I know it was well-intentioned—and I quickly realized that I couldn’t have an honest conversation with her. So why bother?

Deflecting praise is meant to be a gesture of humility. But I think what Seu is saying about assessing ourselves accurately is so true. When we don’t, we are either truly prideful or, arguably even worse, we are proud of our humility.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fancy Nancy

I think this book—Fancy Nancy—deserves mentioning on this blog because it has been Meredith’s favorite book for the past three months. Thanks to Fancy Nancy she sees everything in life as either “plain” or “fancy.”

In early December she observed that her grandma’s Christmas tree had yet to be trimmed. She then declared, “Grandma, your tree is plain. You need to make it fancy.”

After only a few weeks of reading this book aloud to Meredith, she memorized all the lines. So, basically, now she reads the book to us.

The illustrations in Fancy Nancy are just as enjoyable as the text. We highly recommend this delightful book for other young girls, and even older girls/women seeking to find their inner princess.

Parenting Books

In the past month I’ve read two books on parenting that have challenged and encouraged me. I’m planning on purchasing both books for our home library.

Don’t Make Me Count to Three was recommended by my friend Catherine and is probably one of the best books on parenting I’ve read so far. It’s along the lines of Shepherding a Child’s Heart but the latter is more theoretical. Don’t Make Me Count to Three is full of practical guidelines and scenarios. I was encouraged by the reminder that discipline should always be accompanied by instruction. The author has some good things to say about speaking scripture to your children, avoiding child manipulation, and teaching children through role playing.

Parenting with Scripture: a Topical Guide for Teachable Moments was recommended by my friend Kristi. It covers a variety of topics like bragging, fairness, hospitality, loneliness, etc. and has multiple verses for each topic. (For the record, we will probably be focusing a lot on the “obedience” section for the foreseeable future.) It encourages parents to help their children think biblically by using scripture in their instruction. Each topic also has discussion questions, parenting tips, and guidelines to “take action.” The author encourages different ways to use the book. It’s not just a reference for teachable moments, but also helps to facilitate communication and discover what your children think about certain topics/issues. You can also use the book as a family devotional.

I highly recommend both these books!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Rethinking My Zicam Policy

A conversation that occurred about a week and a half ago.

Amy: “Ugh. I’m getting a sore throat.”

Kevin: “You should take some Zicam.”

Amy: “Gag. I would rather be sick than eat that stuff.”

Amy then proceeds to get probably the worst head cold she’s ever had.

Kevin never got a cold. Why? He swears it’s because he ate nearly a whole bottle of Zicam.

Amy is seriously rethinking her Zero Tolerance toward Zicam policy.

California Christmas

I’m really bummed because I mistakenly left the CD with all my pictures on it in California. My parents are going to mail it and so I’ll have to share pictures at a future date. I did take a few at Disneyland, though, before my camera ran out of battery power!

Yes, my parents surprised us and took us to Disneyland as a Christmas gift. Meredith realized her dream of seeing Cinderella face-to-face and meeting several other princesses. At one point I wasn’t sure if waiting in line with two million other parents and their daughters was worth it. But it was. I got some pictures of Meredith with Belle. Unfortunately Cinderella was not one of the princesses available when it was our turn for the meet-and-greet. As soon as Meredith hugged Belle, she said, “But where’s Cinderella?” (Sorry, Belle!) Later on we got to see Cinderella’s coronation and a story time with Cinderella. Thankfully that was enough.

I told the worker at the princess meet-and-greet that they need to have five Cinderella characters stationed around the park because she is unquestionably the favorite princess. The worker looked at me incredulously and said (for Meredith’s benefit, I’m sure), “But there is only ONE Cinderella.” Yeah, and there’s only one Santa Claus too.

It truly was comical watching all these Disney princesses surrounded by their adoring little fans, Meredith being one of them. Cinderella is probably a woman named Sheryl Jones who takes the bus to Anaheim every day and makes $13.50 an hour, yet to these little girls she’s a beautiful princess and their magical dream come true.

Aside from the princess stuff, Meredith will tell you that her favorite thing was the Peter Pan Ride. If she could talk, Clara would tell you that her favorite was It's a Small World--her eyes were wide with excitement during the entire ride!

Christmas morning at my parents’ house was crazy, as usual. My “favorite” gift was a pair of battery operated socks to keep my feet warm in the winter. It was regifted. Steve gave it to Betsy, who gave it to David, who gave it to me. Be careful … maybe you’ll get it next year. Ha!

The rest of our trip was really great, too. One sunny day we went to a park and flew some motorized airplanes. When Kevin had the controls, the plane took a dive and almost killed me and Christy. But after we overcame our shock, we laughed, and laughed. I also really enjoyed going to Naples to see the Christmas lights. Naples is a part of Long Beach, on the water, with lots of canals and bridges. The homes in Naples are incredible and are all decorated to the hilt for Christmas. The lights are nothing short of spectacular.

Here are some of the precious few pics I have! Hopefully more later!

OH YEAH! And here’s one of Kevin when he went to play “air soft” with David. First, he will tell you, there is nothing “soft” about “air soft.” I was nervous when I watched one Rambo after another filter in. Kevin is really not into the whole guns/Army thing. But I think he had a good time with David.