31 March 2011

Family Friendly Beef Jerky

Dear Lissy,
I'm looking forward to hiking and camping season even as we batten down the hatches for a spring snowstorm.  During the next several weeks I'll keep an eye out for sales on London Broil, top round, and even flank steak so I can start building up a supply of beef jerky.

30 March 2011

Time to Garden!

Dear Lissy,
The raised garden beds are finally clear of snow, and the soil is warming rapidly.  We're expecting a nor'easter on Friday, but Lord willing we'll be planting our spring crops in about 2 weeks.

28 March 2011

Brownie Bake-Off: Basic or Bombshell?

Dear Lissy,
I'll choose a quality piece of dark chocolate over almost anything else on a dessert cart.  But if brownies are offered, I go weak in the knees.  I like my brownies dense, chewy, fudgy, and chocolaty...no fluffy contenders accepted.  These two recipes are my favorites.

Educating at Home, Part Two: Teaching Mathematics

Dear Lissy,
The days are growing longer and finally a bit warmer.  Our first flowers, snowdrops, made their appearance over the weekend, and I hope to see crocuses soon.  You've shot up nearly 6 inches and put on 10 pounds over the winter, so I'm working to put together a spring and summer wardrobe for you.

I'd like to take a few minutes today to cover how I taught math at home.  Even if your children are in school, much of the training in mathematics will occur in your home.  Because Math/Science Education was my college major, it's one of the subjects in which I have the most confidence teaching.

25 March 2011

Dicing an Onion

Dear Lissy,
Sharp quality knives and good knife technique are essential!  This video teaches both the classic onion dicing technique (including the flying hand option) and an onion "cheat" that's great for younger cooks.

24 March 2011

Classic Pancakes

Dear Lissy,
The last few years have been difficult ones with the downturn in the economy.  Food prices nearly doubled as the gasoline prices tripled, and we've all had to adjust our menus and shopping accordingly.  Pancakes are an economical choice any time of day, and a favorite of most children.

Journaling the Journey, Part 2

Dear Lissy,
I ended my last letter with the statement:

"My diaries are the hearts of those I have loved through the years."

I have shared
my hurts,
      my highs,
             my hopes
with ones that I loved and trusted, and they have faithfully listened, encouraged, and consistently pointed my thoughts toward
the One Heart that loves above all others, Whose very essence is love.

23 March 2011

Journaling the Journey

Dear Liss,
In my mind's eye I can see a shelf with each year of my life represented by a thick bound book.

Little white and pink diaries with locks and keys from my childhood.

22 March 2011

Secret Ingredient Garlic Bread

Dear Lissy,
Last night you helped -- really helped -- make your Dad's 40th birthday dinner.  We spent a wonderful half hour in the kitchen together, and you made the salads, set the table, and filled water glasses.  Dad usually chooses steak tips, and this year was no exception.  I made a toasted garlic bread recipe I've been tinkering with for over a decade to accompany the meal.
The original photo that accompanied the recipe

21 March 2011

Education at Home, Part 1

Dear Lissy,
The ability to educate you three at home has been one of the great joys of my life.  However, that has been a decision made with your father under the guidance of our Heavenly Father each year.  You and your husband will also have to make the decision of how your children will be educated.  Because I don't know what your options will be, or what your husband's heart will be, I am not going to share our reasons for home education in these letters.  I will, however, share our philosophy and experience.  Today's letter is primarily philosophy.

Education ideally trains the heart of the child to godliness, provides excellent and thorough academics, and fits the abilities and energy level of the mom.

19 March 2011

Planning for a Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Dear Lissy,
Who wants to always have good days?  Where's the fun in that?  When you're ready to plan a horrible day, don't forget these important steps...

18 March 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Dear Lissy,
Last night Pastor Joe opened his sermon with a question to get us all thinking:  What's the difference between fun and joy?  I've been meditating on the fruit of the Spirit off and on for almost 2 years, and I've always contrasted happiness and joy in my thought processes.  Well, that one question sent my head spinning off in a hundred directions and I'm afraid I didn't listen as well as I should have because I was so excited.  Good thing I always take notes!

17 March 2011

3 Reasons for Immediate Obedience

Dear Lissy,
Change is brewing in the parenting world, and I foresee a complete paradigm shift in parenting by the time you have your little ones.  From where I sit poised between the two realms of thought, I see a great danger on both sides.

16 March 2011

Daddy's Snackin' Cake

Dear Lissy,
This old-fashioned sponge cake has been a particular favorite of your Daddy's since we were first married. I usually serve it plain, but it's very good with fresh berries and a dollop of whipped cream or a drizzle of hot fudge. It has the soft, light texture of a mix cake and all the fresh buttery goodness of a cake made from scratch.

Dottie, a mentor from your toddler years, taught me the little trick of mixing equal parts of lemon, almond, and vanilla extracts to make a cake flavoring that is hard to identify but sublimely delicious. I've altered the recipe to include her "secret blend."

Hot Milk Snackin' Cake

4 fresh eggs
2 cups sugar
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract OR 1 tsp if using only vanilla
1-1/4 cups whole milk
10 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs at high speed until thick, about 5 minutes.  Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy.  Combine flour and baking powder; add to batter with extracts and beat at low speed until smooth.  Heat milk and butter just until butter melts, stirring occasionally.  Add to batter, beating until combined.  Pour into a greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until cake tests done.  Cool on a wire rack in pan.

Take care of your man!

P.S.  In order to make the blog work properly, I've had to insert a photo with every letter.  These are just stock "googled" photos that aren't under copyright.  I expect by the time you're reading these letters a lot of them will be dead links.  You aren't missing out on anything special from me...they're simply a graphic for a widget to grab onto.

15 March 2011

My Thoughts on Nature Walking/Study

Dear Lissy,
Spring is on the move! Yesterday you, Nate, and I went for an after dinner walk and enjoyed some serious puddle jumping (well, not Nate...he's a very dignified 13).  The extra daylight in the evening is a shot of adrenaline for all of us, I think.  I could do without the skunks, but their distinct odor is a sign that winter is indeed over...yay!

Nature walks have been a vital part of our "school" curriculum since before we started home schooling.  Dad and I have long teased that ADD stands for Acute Dirt Deficiency.   We usually spend our family time outdoors hiking, camping, swimming, gardening, or even boating occasionally.  We've just started geocaching, especially when we have a computer gaming addict along with us, and we love it.

I didn't grow up "nature walking".  If we went outside we had a Purpose, and that Purpose usually had a number attached.  Run 3 miles in 25 minutes.  Rake 1/4 of the lawn.  Shoot 20 baskets in 30 minutes.  Hay the back 40. It took your poor father years to teach me to simply enjoy and relax in a natural setting.  Camping?  With no recreational facilities or even a beach?  What do you do all day?  You want to just go walk through the woods?  Why???  Climb a mountain?  Sign me up!  Walk around a circle and never actually get to a destination?  Umm, thanks, but I really need to floss my cat's teeth today.

For our family, nature has two purposes:  relaxation and observation.
We demand excellence and hard work in all of your core subjects:  Mathematics, Language Arts, History, and Science.  We insist that you do your chores well, and that you pitch in diligently on family, community, and church work days.

Nature walks are designed to be restorative.  To create an opportunity to open all of your senses, get the blood flowing, and perhaps begin to learn about alone time as you head into your teens. Nature is a form of therapy that is more powerful than many prescription medications.  The benefits include:
  • Reduction of stress
  • Increased attention span
  • Relaxation
  • Decrease in worries and anxiety
  • Reduction of blood pressure
  • Exercise (strength and flexibility)
  • Decreased risk for depression

 Sometimes we have a specific purpose:  mushrooms, wild edibles, wildflowers, animal tracks, or even that elusive geocache; but usually we just move quietly through the environment.  We try to choose a variety of biomes, and we walk throughout the entire year.  It's amazing to walk by the bend in the river you've walked by every week for almost a year and then see hundreds of deer tracks after the first snow.  We have dozens of field and nature guides so that we can find the names of that delicate bell-like flower swaying over long speckled leaves (trout lily) or find out what creates grooves in the sides of a river bank (otter slide!)  What is that track?  What kind of tree has leaves twirled into tight spear points that furl open?  Which kind of fiddlehead is edible?   Noticing the millions of details in Creation is a delight!

What about nature journals?
While I like the concept of regular nature journaling, it goes against one of our main purposes, which is to simply unwind.  We encourage the use of cameras, magnifying glasses, binoculars, nets, and field guides; but we've chosen not to formally write much down.  We do occasionally draw, rub, press, or make a spore print to better understand what we're looking at, but at this stage we don't have a formal system.

We do however, try to encourage close attention to details and how they relate to the rest of the biome and others in the species.  The famous story of the student and the fish will give you an idea of what we seek to accomplish regarding observation. This is all accomplished very casually, and we often have to look things up when we get home.

We may point out a plant that has medicinal value -- jewelweed sap takes away the toxins from poison ivy, for example, or one that is edible and eatable, such as Indian cucumber.  We always try to point out poisonous plants like water hemlock.  We might challenge you to determine whether you're looking at a grass or a sedge ("sedges have edges"), or ask you what family a plant belongs to if it has a square stem (mint).  Again, these are incredibly informal quizzes, given as we walk through the area.  We might have you stop dead still right at the point where woods meet a field, and look for wildlife.  We might sit quietly on a bench in the woods after the Blue Jay Early Warning System has alerted every living thing in the vicinity that we're there, and wait for the birds and small mammals to relax and reappear.

Finally, we always, always, always (!) seek to draw your mind to the intelligence and wonder of our Creator God.  Nature is His handiwork, first and foremost.  We learn a great deal about our God when we start learning the intricacies of nature and how he's provided for the lilies and sparrows.  We see his awesome power in the geological formations that still exist from the Flood or any one of several smaller catastrophes that have affected our area.  We see his faithfulness in the rhythm of the seasons year after year.  He is the Master, the Artist, the Mathematician behind the whole of Creation.

Wishing you many happy years in the great outdoors,

14 March 2011

Home Medical Cabinet

Dear Lissy,
We've started another week of school, and excitement is running high.  We are covering Athens, Sparta, and the Persian Wars, which have been eagerly anticipated topics for your brothers.  Matt is busy making himself a paper mache helmet, greaves, and a shield; while Nate is developing a board game based on the battle of Thermopylae.  Since Spartan girls were active in athletics, I'm hoping to go for walks together and teach you HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) this week.

With all the emphasis on sports and battles, I decided it was high time to help you put together your household medical supplies.  I like to keep my supplies separated by category in labeled shoe boxes stored on a high shelf.  I keep a list of supplies for each category tucked right into the appropriate box.

I prefer being well-stocked on medical supplies in advance so there's a minimum of fuss and expenditure when a need arises.  You may choose to keep just a few basics or a pre-made kit when you're first starting your home, and add "as needed". To try to stock all of these items at once would be very expensive!  This looks like a lot typed out, but in reality it only takes up one shelf of a cabinet.  In my mind, the more emergencies you can anticipate, the fewer true emergencies you'll have.

Bandaging:  I also keep just a tin of assorted band-aids and a tube of antibiotic ointment in the downstairs bathroom medicine cabinet for normal cuts and scrapes.  A facecloth with soap and water work just fine to clean out the wound.

  • Assorted Bandages  Consider adding waterproof, fingertip & knuckle, and the extra tough varieties if you have boys!
  • Butterfly bandages or Steri-strips  You won't need these often, but when you do you'll be VERY glad to have them on hand.  They hold the edges of wounds closed until you can get to the ER or Dr.'s office for stitching.
  • Liquid Bandage
  • Blister treatment patches 
  • Bactine, not Peroxide!
  • Alcohol to sterilize tweezers, scissors, etc.
  • Gloves (in case you're treating someone who is not a family member or dealing with an infection)
  • Triple anti-biotic ointment (honey or fresh EV Olive Oil can be used in a pinch)
  • Tweezers and pin
  • Pack of sterile razor blades
  • Standard gauze pads in 2 x 2 sizes for use with Bactine or alcohol
  • Sterile non-stick Gauze pads in 2 x 2 and 4 x 4 sizes  Pantyliners or thin feminine napkins cut with alcohol-sterilized scissors will do in a pinch.
  • First aid tape
  • First aid scissors
  • Roller bandage
  • ACE elastic bandage
  • craft sticks for splinting
  • 2-3 tampons  The cotton inside makes excellent packing for nosebleeds or deep wounds.  The tubes can be used as splints in a pinch.
  • 2-3 heavy flow feminine pads  These are commonly used to put pressure on badly bleeding injuries
  • Small disposable cup (for covering puncture wounds without removing the object)
  • Controversial!  Keep the end (or entirety) of a narcotic pain killer prescription in a locked location.  If you have a major incident (broken tooth, etc) ask the doctor if you can take it without affecting further treatment.
Asthma, Allergies, and Skin
  • Benadryl, both adult & child strength  Consider keeping this on hand even if no one in your home has allergies...it can save a life!
  • Eyedrops for allergy relief  I also keep a plain eye drop solution in the washroom medicine cabinet for everyday use.
  • Gel or rice mask to warm for sinus relief
  • Saline spray,drops, or neti pot labeled for each family member
  • Hydrocortisone cream for reactive/allergic skin rashes and insect bites
  • Grapefruit SEED extract  (GSE) and a printout describing how to use it
  • Lamisil or GSE for athletes foot, jock itch, and yeast rashes under breasts or around pantylines on legs.  A thick, shaggy build-up of heel skin is often caused by yeast, and can be smoothed by using athlete's foot cream as well.
  • Medicated powder
  • Salicylic acid patches for wart removal (or use duct tape in a pinch)
  • Aloe with Lidocaine for 1st degree burns or sunburns ONLY
  • Prid (drawing salve for boils)
  • Sunburn relief:  1 oz of 1% hydrocortisone cream in 1 bottle of witch hazel, shake well, and place into a spray bottle.  This allows an even coating of medication without having to touch the victim.  Check with your pediatrician to ensure any small children are old enough for hydrocortisone.
  • Spare inhaler for anyone in your home that uses one.  If a friend's child is regularly at your home, ask if she would be willing to leave an inhaler with you. 
  • 911 meds for anyone in your home that requires them.  Epi-pen, Prednisone, etc.
Tummy Relief
  • Antacid, chewable (also mint tea sachets)
  • Gas-X 
  • Pepto Bismo, chewable (also/or in washroom medicine cabinet)
  • Ginger tea sachets for nausea
  • Dramamine for motion sickness/vertigo
  • Immodium (also BRAT diet:  bananas, rice, applesauce/juice, toast; yogurt)
  • Ex-Lax (also berries, prunes, raisins, coffee)
  • UTI treatment card:   Remove all sugar and sugar substitutes from your diet for 1 week.  Drink up to a gallon of clear caffeine free liquids, including cranberry juice per day.  Make a cream of tartar "tea" with 1 tsp. of cream of tartar in a cup of warm water to relieve symptoms.  2-3 drops of GSE in a cup of green tea three times a day will cure most infections.  If symptoms are not gone after 3 days, see RN for antibiotic treatment.
  • Treatment kit for vaginal yeast infection or instructions for using GSE
  • Midol or similar
  • Hot water bottle or rice pack
  • Ear pain drops (warmed olive oil will work in a pinch)
  • Eyewash cup
  • Cotton balls and sterile swabs
  • Abreva, if a family member gets cold sores (or GSE diluted in green tea)
  • Cankersore medication (or GSE diluted in green tea)
  • Dental emergency kit  I cannot stress how important this is to have ON HAND.  If you break a tooth or lose a filling the pain is almost unbearable. 
  • Chloraseptic, lozenges or spray (alternately or in addition gargle GSE/green tea)
  • Cough suppressant (liquid and lozenges)
Colds,Flu, and other nasties
  • Thermometer
  • Notepad  It is very easy to lose track of who took what medications at what time as well as temperatures.  Write it down!
  • Nasal aspirator if infant or small child lives in home
  • Multi-symptom relief, day and night formulations, enough to treat every adult in your household simultaneously  I choose one without acetaminophen or ibuprofen so I can dose that separately.
  • Infant and/or child's multi-symptom medication, enough to treat every child in the home simultaneously   I choose one without acetaminophen or ibuprofen so I can dose those separately.
  • Acetaminophen for every age in household (also/or in washroom medicine cabinet)
  • Ibuprofen for every age in household (also/or in washroom medicine cabinet)  There is a danger inherent to using ibuprofen or aspirin during influenza with children.  Talk to your pediatrician
  • Large packet of herbal or glycerine throat lozenges such as Ricola or Breezers  These help alleviate discomfort from post-nasal drip.  Give small children a half-frozen sippy cup of juice.
  • Cough expectorant/suppressant combo for each age in your home  I also keep JUST suppressant in the ENT box. 
  • Vicks Vaporub
  • Emesis bags  We use empty wastebins or buckets for vomiting, but if you have to make a car ride, the disposable emesis bags from either airlines or your doctor are nice to have on hand.
  • Pantry/freezer supplies:  Cans of ginger ale and Coca-cola, apple and orange juice concentrates, popsicles or sherbet, plain crackers, canned or frozen soup assortment (I prefer barley to rice or noodles in soup because it stabilizes blood sugar), 3-5 complete meals in freezer in case Mom is sick.  I try to have these items stocked by Oct. 1st.
  • Instructions from doctor on how to treat common complications.  If you have a child or spouse that regularly develops conditions related to a common flu or cold, write down how to treat it as well as symptoms that signal it's time for a trip to the clinic.  Matt gets hyperemesis with vomiting and reactive airway disorder with chest congestion, for example
Emergency Preparedness:  This is gravy...we're still working on this for our family.  We would have to be in a world of hurt to actually need these items.  However, in the case of a massive disaster like an earthquake, large hurricane, or warfare, we would be exceedingly glad to have these extra items.
  • 30 day supply of all prescription meds
  • Where There Is No Doctor, currently the definitive book on medicine in places where hospitals are unavailable or overwhelmed.
  • Water filter or treatment tablets
  • Spare bottle of GSE  GSE is both a powerful antibiotic and antiviral preparation.  It can be taken in water or used topically in many, many ways.  
  • Woundclot or similar dressings  These dressings have saved many military personnel during the last 5 years.  Most are capable of controlling arterial bleeding for several hours.  They can be very pricey, but 1 or 2 in an emergency kit are a nice bonus.
  • Suture/syringe kit, either multi person or 1 small kit per family member  Because sterile supplies (or any supplies at all) are at a premium during times of national duress, these kits provide the basic tools needed for EMT level medical care on your family...suturing, drawing blood, starting an IV, etc.  They aren't intended for you to use yourself (unless you're trained), but for use on you or a family member by a trained medical provider. Look for kits with scissors and a hemostat since both are almost a must for suturing.  
  • Filled prescription of a basic antibiotic
  • Face masks, gloves, and heavyweight garbage bags
For all of our other first aid needs -- car, camping, and hiking -- we buy the appropriate pre-packed kit.  I keep a fairly substantial kit in the car we purchased when Daddy was a scout troop leader.  I've used it multiple times and have been very glad to have the larger assortment to work from.  There are a couple of sources online for replacing the individual packets of medication, creams, and wipes that are used to stock the kits.

Hoping you and your family will never need even half of these items!

13 March 2011

Guest Post on laundry from Mrs. F

Dear Lissy,
Mom asked me to share laundry tips with you...well, I actually LIKE doing laundry. More like I DON'T like it to pile up.

I do not own any hampers...just 2 laundry baskets. One small one is for Dad+I and one big one for the kids. At night, I throw in a load, before I go to bed. In the morning, I switch it over to the dryer, and go on to the next load. I find it easier to do it every day. 

As soon as my dryer beeps, I hang up what needs ironing, to attend to later. I don't set up my ironing board until I have at least 3 things to do. When my kids were toddlers, I waited until they were napping to iron, for fear they could be burned. Sometimes I would review verse cards, which were easy to lay on top. Or pray for the person whose garment I was ironing. 

I felt it was easier to fold as it was coming out of the dryer. When it was full, one of the girls was responsible for sorting it and putting everyone's laundry on their bed. (For modesty, I never had David sort).
I've give each o f the girls their own permanent marker, whenever they get a new item (sox, underwear) I tell them to mark their initial.
Helps sorting! 

Sometimes while I am ironing, I find a garment really needs to head to the trash...so I will put a note in the pocket, (or clothespin a note) "throw out after you the next time you wear". You get one more wear out of it, and don't have to launder!
Hope that helps!
Mrs. Carrie F

11 March 2011

Controlling Clutter

Dear Lissy,
Today's letter is about the bane of my existence:  STUFF!  I've got a double hit against me:  I love to sew and I educate at home.  Keeping all of our belongings corralled and our things neat sometimes feels like mission impossible.

Organize your storage areas and allow your living spaces to
be lived in!  Most people get this backwards, wanting a neat
living space and cramming their stuff out of sight.

The goal of organization for me is NOT a pin neat home, but a home where everyone can quickly and easily find what they need or want without my assistance.  It's also important that everyone in the house can consistently return things to their proper place.

As long as I have kids home all day, and a house that's a perpetual construction zone, our home is never going to look like a hotel, or even a magazine.  There will be projects, books, shoes, and papers about.  We live here. That said, Dad and I hate clutter, and we do our best to get things back to their designated homes by the end of the day.

The method I use for storage and organization is Julia Morgenstern's Organized From The Inside Out.  I've gotten a little more than halfway through our house, and hope to finish it up within the year.

Sort:  Gather all like things together.  I'll use my sewing supplies as an example.  I need to collect every scrap of fabric, every bobbin, needle, machine attachment and spool of thread into one location.

Purge:  Get rid of duplicates, things you no longer use or want, and anything that's broken or missing a piece.   I choose to donate anything I purge that's still in good condition, but you can also consign it or have a yard sale.  A note on clothes:  seriously consider how big a wardrobe you really need and have room for.  Most Americans have far more clothes than they need, wear, or have storage for.

Assign a Home:  Now that you've seen the monster in it's entirety, where are you going to store it?  The attic?  A closet?  Underbed storage?  It's best not to spread it out too much.  I have a section of the attic and a cabinet downstairs to store my sewing supplies.

Items that are used daily should be stored within reach of where they are used and should be "one motion" storage, that is, nothing else has to be moved or lifted to get them.

  • Place storage where the items are naturally dropped.  Your dad always drops his keys, phone, mail, and loose hardware in a pile on top of the dishwasher.  I stained a wooden tray and put it in that spot and simply ask that he empty the tray when it starts overflowing.
  • Seriously consider wall storage for frequently used items.  There are hundreds of solutions from country to modern that utilize wall space and make finding and putting away a snap.  You may remember the antique porcupine wall basket in the bathroom that held all of our hair brushes and combs while you were growing up or the mesh shoe organizer on the wall by the stove that held all of the mittens and hats.
  • When you purchase furniture, look for pieces that have storage areas. Something as simple as a small drawer in a coffee table can hold remotes and coasters and get them out of sight.
  • Don't forget the space at the top of closets or under the bed.  I kept a pantry in rolling under bed boxes the whole time our bedroom was downstairs. 

Containerize:  This is the single most important step of organization!!!!!!  After you have determined where you are going to store these things, you must divide that area up into smaller, labeled containers or it will never stay neat.  Be sure to write down the sizes you need before you shop for containers.

  • We don't have extra money, so most of my hidden organizers are cardboard reinforced with packing tape:  shoe boxes, shipping boxes, even a few cereal or cracker boxes make it into the mix.  
  • I've also purchased very inexpensive plastic drawer dividers for general storage in areas that get heavy or daily use like the drawer of kitchen utensils.  
  • I prefer shelves with baskets or totes that function as "drawers" to large cupboards or trunks.
  • For children's storage, I usually get clear plastic totes or carts with drawers.  Kids aren't gentle enough to keep cardboard from falling apart.  Labels can be thumbnail sized pictures for pre-readers.
  • Kids can take care of their own clothes from a very young age if you install a peg rack or hooks at their height.  Get over the "lid on the hamper" fetish.  Husbands and kids will put dirty laundry in open topped hampers, but you'll find laundry on top or beside the hamper if it has a lid.  This is a hang up most women have and you only make yourself irritable.
  • Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield has hundreds of ideas for family storage from puzzles to Legos to sports equipment.
  • Baskets and tote bags are cheap or free at most thrift stores and make great storage for one person's projects or reading.
  • If you have a crafter in the family, consider project boxes.  A project box (or basket or tote) holds all of the supplies for only one project.  When that project is complete, the extra supplies are put back into storage, and the tote is re-used for the next project.  Whether the passion is paper, beading, painting, or fabric, this allows for quick pick-up and neat storage in between work sessions.  Every project hits a stage where it is tedious or runs into a snag.  The temptation is to leave it and start a new project rather than working through the unpleasant part.  If you only have room for 2-3 project boxes, you mentally encourage yourself (or a child) to either finish up or discard the project and make room for a new one.  I learned this trick from the ladies in my quilting guild.
  • Don't "over containerize" unless you enjoy that level of organization.  It's ok to have all your kitchen utensils floating around in a drawer and take 10 seconds to find what you need. Save the ultra-organization for areas everyone in the family accesses like the office supply drawer or the first aid cabinet.
Equalize:  Take time every day to put everything back where it belongs.  Learning to pick up and clean up as you go is a habit that prevents hours of housework. Teach your kids to pick up one set of toys before they drag out the next set. We called our evening pick-up time "bangerang" when you were little.  We set the timer for 15 minutes right before bedtime and we all (except Dad who'd already worked all day!) ran around like crazy getting everything back where it belonged.

When you have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place the whole family is calmer and runs more smoothly.  I'm disgusted by the amount of stuff we have and keep trying to get rid of more.  Stuff will never bring happiness, and there are people who genuinely need what we never even use.

Loving you, Little One!

10 March 2011

Time Out! for Momma

Dear Lissy,
We are heading into the final stretch of the school year, and enduring the cold, wet end of an unusually difficult winter.  I feel stretched thin, my drive, my energy, even some of my personality gone.  Grammy and Grandpa are headed to Florida for a couple of weeks,so I will quietly pack a bag of books and head to their cabin on the lake to renew my heart and soul.  Some years I am hard-pressed to take a full 24 hours, other years I get a weekend or more.  I don't take a single hour of this time for granted.

Solitude is a long-forgotten discipline of the Christian life that reaps rich rewards.

It began a few years ago when I wasn't just stretched thin, I snapped.  I prayed, begged, God for time alone with him.  I craved long hours, uninterrupted by animals, phones, music, computer, television, or even other human beings to care for.  Just God and I.  Out of the blue, Grammy casually mentioned that I was welcome to use their house while they went away.  I've been doing it ever since.  Once, maybe twice a year, I pack study materials, and a few books I've had time to skim and want to read more thoroughly and head for the beauty and solitude of the lake.

You may think it's utterly impossible, but if your heart desires time alone with God, pray about it.  He will answer --He longs for time with you, too!  You can expect the tender comfort of His Spirit as you step away from your life and release the pent-up emotions, illumination as you spend time in the Word, and sweet times of prayer.  You can also expect the silence to be deafening.

A few moments...
There are seasons of life when 5 minutes away seems impossible.  Keep a book that nourishes your soul in the powder room and escape for a few minutes when life presses hard and close.  I like Simplify Your Spiritual Life and Valley of Vision.

An hour...
Plan to spend a chunk of time with God every day.  It doesn't always happen, but if you don't plan it at all it will almost never happen.  For many, many years I've spent the quiet hours of the afternoon when babies napped and children were busy with room time to pursue my relationship with the Lord.

Jonathan Edwards was the first person I read that spoke of unusual times of blessing and prayer during nature walks.  There is an entirely different power to meditation and prayer when you are moving through Creation with the Creator.  For a good chunk of the year, this is part of my morning routine.  It's difficult to move back inside when the mornings become too dark and cold for an outdoor walk.

A morning (or afternoon)...
If your husband, a grandparent, or even a gracious friend is willing to take you children for several hours, head to a park with your Bible, a hymnbook (and perhaps and instrument), and a journal.  You'll never regret these hours wandering or just sitting in Creation, enjoying the presence of your Creator and God.  I've found a park owned by the Audobon society that is usually deserted but has benches placed in little nooks throughout the property to spot rare birds.  It's a perfect spot for solitude because even if someone sees you they hike a wide berth around you so as not to disturb the birds.

A day or longer...
From house-sitting to a friend's timeshare on the beach, I've heard men and women give testimony of how God has provided for those who are desperately seeking time alone with Him.  Make commitments ahead of time about how much and what kind of electronics you'll allow yourself.   I choose none, creating music with my voice or an instrument if that is what I need, and using an old-fashioned concordance and notebook for my study.  Silence is crucial to these seasons of solitude for me.  Also consider fasting during this time if the Lord directs.

Remaining silent about your solitude...
When I first started taking these retreats, I expressed my joy and praise publicly that God had chosen to answer my cry for a time apart with Him.  That was not a wise decision.  While virtually everyone in my circles is over-busy and would love a vacation from their responsibilities, very few understood the desire for a spiritual retreat from the noise of life.  They assumed I was napping, kayaking, quilting, shopping, or just enjoying some rare downtime with cable or a good book.

"I wouldn't even know what to do with myself alone for 24 hours!" was a common refrain.   "You're so lucky!  I would love a whole day to do whatever I wanted," was another.   I wasn't alone...I had gone apart with God.  I wasn't pursuing personal pleasure, either, although I would be hard pressed to think of  sweeter times in my life.  I didn't bother correcting the misunderstanding -- it simply wasn't worth it.  In the future I simply slipped away with no one or only a close friend the wiser.

Until God fully and painfully reveals your own weakness to you, you cannot understand the need for extended periods of time -- or even daily times -- set apart with Him.

Start learning Him in the moments when you're overwhelmed.  Close yourself in the powder room or your bedroom for just a few minutes of prayer rather than calling home or getting on the computer to escape the fray.   Graduate to an hour or an afternoon spent in His presence, and experience first hand the cares and noise of life slip away.  Pray, and ask Him to provide the day or weekend apart with Him, and you will know a peace that eludes most in this world.

Love and deep peace to you,


08 March 2011

12 Signs Pride is a Problem

Dear Lissy,
One of the great battles of my life is with pride.  It manifests itself in many different forms, and often re-appears when I least expect it.  From conversations with friends, and reading that spans centuries, I know I am not alone in the battle against this hydra-headed monster.  I suspect most people seeking to develop an intimate relationship with the Savior find themselves plagued time and again with pride.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is simply not thinking about yourself at all.
When your focus and attention is on Christ, when you are busy in the work He has given you, you simply lose yourself.  Your desires, your rights become of little consequence when you are consumed by something so much larger than yourself.
Beware false humility, a favorite form of pride for Christians in which you purposely denigrate yourself or your accomplishments in order to elicit sympathy, praise, and affirmation from others.

Ideally, we'd hear the whisper of the Spirit when the first cancerous cells of pride began to multiply in another area of our lives.  By it's very nature, however, pride often drowns out the still, small voice of God.  The following questions are ones I have developed from a number of resources to help evaluate my heart and life.  This list is most definitely not a tool to judge the humility of others.  If a question hurts, or makes you uncomfortable, pray about it, and ask the Lord to search your heart.  Not everyone would agree with every sign, and many more questions should be added.   I find most of my meditations develop and grow through the years, so I suspect I'll hit on this topic again at a future date.

Is my conversation edifying?
  1. Am I curious about things that are none of my concern?  Do I enjoy gossip (joining or initiating a conversation in which I am neither a part of the problem nor a part of the solution)? Do I insert myself into other's private conversations?  
  2. Am I characterized by light-minded chatter, jokes, laughter, and boastfulness?  Do others find it difficult or uncomfortable to have a serious conversation with me? Am I annoyed by light or repetitive conversation, especially that of children, the elderly, or those who are mentally challenged?
  3. Do I prefer talking rather than quietly listening to others?  Do I think about the next thing I plan to say or interrupt rather than listening to what the person speaking now is trying to communicate? Do I avoid interaction with others indefinitely, remaining either aloof or shy?  Do I leave comments on social networks, forums and blogs that direct the attention back to myself, or do I show a genuine interest in the topic being discussed and/or the person posting?
  4. Do I interfere in other's business without being asked or give unsolicited advice rather than waiting to be asked or being moved by the Spirit to give exhortation?  Do I take credit for others' thoughts and work, or do I give attribution where it is due?  Do I correct or highlight others' mistakes publicly when it isn't absolutely necessary?
  5. Do I downplay and refuse compliments or graciously accept them and deflect the glory to God?  Do I dismiss or bristle at constructive criticism, or do I believe the person has my best interest at heart and consider their words carefully?  Do I regularly make negative statements about myself or my abilities in an attempt to elicit compliments and affirmation from others?  Do I give false compliments in order to please another?  Do I lie or stretch the truth in order to make myself appear more connected or appealing?
Are my attitudes excellent?
  1. Do I believe I deserve special rights, position, or recognition within the groups to which I belong?  Are there jobs I refuse to do because they are beneath me?  Do I neglect or procrastinate on unsavory tasks, hoping someone else will pick up my slack?  Do I believe that everyone has to like me, or like me the most?  Do I cultivate an "inner circle", drop names,  or shun certain individuals to make myself appear more important or connected?   Do I often find myself complaining -- either officially or unofficially -- to managers, supervisors, leadership, and anyone else who will listen that I have been treated unfairly?  Do I skip or shorten my attendance at church services or family events because my agenda and preferences take precedence?   I will write more about singularity in a future letter because it has become such an overwhelming problem in our society.
  2. Do I get easily annoyed or impatient with people, things, and situations that are not following my agenda?  
  3. Do I believe that I am holier or more spiritual than others because of my education, experiences, abilities, appearance, or actions or do I forget the things which are behind and press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?  Do I avoid people who are from a different social station or age group than I am because I am repulsed, uninterested or intimidated by them, or do I make an effort to show kindness to and interest in everyone God places in my path?  
Are my actions exceptional?
  1. Do I defensively justify myself/my children or give an insincere confession when I'm confronted about an attitude or action, or do I take responsibility and humbly allow God to search my heart and deal with sin?  Am I more concerned about getting caught and losing face than I am about restoring my relationships with others and God?
  2. Do I criticize, gossip, and actively or passively rebel against the authorities God has placed in my life or do I show respect, whether or not they've earned it? Do I have a difficult time following instructions because I think I have a better way or know more than my superior? Do I arbitrarily insist that my children, students, or employees perform in a particular way and up to a particular standard that will reflect well on me or make my life easier at their expense?
  3. Do I find sin easy, or am I convicted at the first step away from God?  Do I habitually sin in an area, or do I maintain watchfulness in areas I am tempted to fall?  Do I break certain rules because "everyone else does", because I feel that I am above them, or I know I won't get caught?  Intentionally speeding would be a classic example!
  4. Do I change my convictions, opinions, mannerisms, or appearance simply to please and win the approval of others?  Do I stubbornly refuse to alter my convictions, opinions, mannerisms, or appearance expecting others to conform to my personal standards? Do I have difficulty producing consistently excellent work because I insist on perfection or indulge indiscriminately in recreation?  Am I persistently late?
These questions are a synthesis of the Word, exceptional writings on pride & humility through the centuries, and bear the mark of your Daddy and brothers' thoughtful help, too. As I've already mentioned, this is an area I will continue to meditate and write about as God continues to teach me through His word and through His servants. 
Ultimately, we once again come back to Jesus.  Stay focused on Him.  Die daily to self -- your rights, your desires, your schemes.  Trust and obey the Captain of your soul.  Humility brings a deep quiet to your soul that is the hallmark of a godly woman.  I've been privileged to serve with and be mentored by a few of these precious saints during my life, and it is my earnest desire that you will one day be marked by that same sweet humility I see in their lives.

Loving you,

07 March 2011

Frosty Drinks

Dear Lissy,
I try to do something a little special for each person's birthday supper that they're not expecting.  For your birthday this year I surprised you with buttercream sodas, a family favorite.

Buttercream Soda
1 cup Cream Soda
1/2 cup French Vanilla Ice Cream
3 Tbsp Butterscotch Syrup
Cool Whip
Combine ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until ice cream is completely incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Pour into chilled glass and top with Cool Whip.  Serve immediately.

This next simple recipe was my go-to the summer I was pregnant with Matt.  It's also a great treat when your nursing someone with a fever and sore throat.

Chocolate Malted Milk Shakes
1 cup milk
1/4 cup Chocolate Malt Ovaltine powder
1 Fudgesicle, paper and stick removed (2 for an extra thick shake)
Combine ingredients in blender and blend at high speed until fudgesicle is completely incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Pour into chilled glass and serve immediately.

Love you,

06 March 2011

"Irish for a Day" Soda Bread

Top o' the day to ya, Darlin'!
Well, it's that time of year again.  We all wear green for the day, and I, with just enough Irish blood to give me  pale skin and freckles, choke down our annual corned beef and cabbage dinner.  Your father and brothers love this meal, which makes it worth the effort.  The one redeeming feature of the March 17th meal for me is soda bread served with a less-than-healthy smear of Irish butter.

My recipe is far from authentic.  If you've been lucky enough to land an Irish lad, dance a jig right over to Mrs. Leland's blog for a genuine, bona fide Irish loaf.   "Irish for a Day" soda bread, while not technically Irish, features a flaky, buttery crust encasing a light-textured loaf with a sweet, creamy-moist crumb. Who could possibly resist?

I usually divide the recipe into two loaves and freeze one, but on St. Paddy's Day, only a giant golden loaf will suffice.

"Irish for a Day" Soda Bread

4 cups flour, reducing by 1/4 cup if you use half white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl, and cut in butter.  Stir in buttermilk and egg.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead just 6-8 turns.  Form into a ball, and then flatten it slightly. If it is too thick in the center, it will not bake properly.   Place on baking sheet, and use a serrated knife to cut a 1/2 inch deep "X" across the entire top.  Brush with a mixture of:

1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter

Place in center of oven, and bake 45-50 minutes until loaf is golden brown and pick inserted in the center comes clean.  Continue to brush with the remaining buttermilk/butter mixture throughout baking.  If the loaf is getting browned before the center is done, tent with foil.  Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing and eating.  Be sure to call it a bonnet, not a loaf!

Traditions -- from first snow donuts to family fun night -- are an integral part of creating family unity and a sense of belonging.  Food  accompanies many of these traditions, strengthening their impact by appealing to the five senses.  As a mom, you are often the one responsible for creating and upholding the traditions that your children expect.  Don't neglect or despise them:  they are the stuff memories are made of.

If God has chosen a different path than marriage and motherhood for your life, holidays are the ideal time to bless those with whom you serve.  Bring a loaf of soda bread and some Irish honey butter to your workplace, host an Irish night at your home for the teens in your church, or set up up an Irish feast for a young couple in your home and go to their house to babysit their kids while they enjoy the alone time.  Pray and ask God who you can bless, and use the "excuse" of a holiday to brighten and encourage another person's heart.  Part of being a blessing is learning to receive the hospitality and love of others, too.  If you're invited to another Christian's home for St. Paddy's Day go join in the fun, even if it doesn't fit perfectly with your schedule.

I be lovin' ya, sweet colleen,

P.S.  You can fold in a cup of raisins if you like, but the Page men give me a hard time about dead flies in their baked goods every time I add them, so I've learned to leave them out.

05 March 2011

Caution: Falling Moods Ahead

Dear Lissy,
One of the great concerns I have for you as an adult is learning to handle life Biblically.  I want to use these letters to map some of the submerged dangers in the river of life that snag many a woman with godly intent.  Today I'm going to focus on discouragement and depression that are the result of your reaction to circumstances.  I'll hit other causes of discouragement and depression in future letters: pain, failure, betrayal, physical changes, or even medications can cause real and deep depression, too.

Most circumstances that cause discouragement, and even depression, are unavoidable. 

Change = Loss
Any time God changes your surroundings, you will lose something.  College.  Marriage.  Motherhood.  Moves.  Deaths.  In many cases, like marriage, you will gain far more than you lose.  But there is still a loss you have to recognize and talk about with the Lord.
When you leave home for college, for example, you will be excited.  New friends, dozens of fun activities, challenging courses in a field you've chosen, and a potential for love all lay bright in your mind.  But then you'll face difficulty with a roommate, struggle with a difficult course, become overwhelmed with your class and work schedule, or feel lost in the giant campus church.  Your mind will instantly fly back to the warmth and love you remember at home, and you will feel the loss of people who have known and loved you all your life.
This is the moment of truth. 

Loss demands a reaction.

Escape is the first, and most common reaction when we are faced with an unexpected loss.  We try to drown out the sorrow with more activities, lose ourselves in media -- books, movies, tv, internet, music, or run to a comfort food, the gym, or the mall.  You may not even realize you're facing a loss at this level.  All of these escapes are knee-jerk reactions of the flesh.  If you find yourself over-busy; or your time consumed by media; or your diet, exercise, or spending habits changing; you are already caught in the rip-current of a loss.
You are in danger.
Escapes will drown out the noise, but they will never quiet it.

Discouragement is the second step downward when you have lost something precious (and usually intangible).  Quite literally, you lose heart.  Life seems tedious and pointless.  Activities and people that once brought you a great deal of energy and joy lose their luster.  You've become consumed with the escape you first chose, and others are noticing your addiction.   The noise within disturbs your internal rhythms at this level, and your sleep patterns are distorted.  Discouragement is usually accompanied by peckishness, too.  You will find yourself becoming increasingly short-tempered with the people and environment surrounding you.

Depression is a continuation and intensifying of discouragement.  You will continue to withdraw from activities and people you once loved.  You may find yourself sleeping or daydreaming for large portions of the day.  Often even basic needs like personal grooming, meals,  bills, and tidiness are neglected.  You feel like a dead person in a live body.  Nothing makes you happy or sad or angry or excited.  You simply exist.

Despair is the final, and often fatal, reaction to a loss.  You simply refuse to live without the thing you have lost.  You would rather die.

Let's go back to that moment of truth.  How do we prevent this whole deadly whirlpool from dashing your life to smithereens?  It is far easier to avoid a known pitfall than climb out of it!

Stay in the Word.  Remain constant in private prayer.
God will change your platform often.  He will never change your purpose of glorifying Him, edifying other believers, and reaching the lost.  We return again to submission to God's plan for your life, humility before Him and others, and obedience in your new role.
More importantly, He never changes.  His presence is the one constant in a life fraught with change.  Allow his attributes to replace the happiness you lost.  When you head to college, remember this.  His care is far more intimate and constant for you than mine.  He is always available to talk.  He will always provide, often silly things that only have value to you.  His Spirit will give you sweet counsel from His Word, and it will be all the more precious because it wasn't filtered through a frail, human mother.

An actress changes roles almost yearly.  She wins awards for how well she portrays her particular character in that play or film. Some roles suit her personality and skills perfectly and are a joy to play.  Some roles stretch her acting abilities, and make her a better actress.  Her performances are dependent on her willingness to follow both the script and the director's vision for how her character fits with the story being told and the other actors.
2 Corinthians tells us we are made a "spectacle", quite literally an "arena" in the Greek, from which God displays his power and glory both in this world and in the one unseen.

Develop a plan of action with a godly friend or mentor when you know you are anticipating a life change.
Ideally this will be someone who knows you well and has already navigated this section of life's river.  This plan should be a concrete set of actions you will follow as you begin your journey through into this new stage of life.
It is helpful to set up an "if-then" type chart that identifies common challenges.  Returning to our college scenario...
IF I have a personality conflict with a roommate,
THEN I will speak with her directly and calmly, not gossip or retaliate
IF I am struggling with my course work and feeling overwhelmed,
THEN I should make an appointment with my advisor.
If you have pursued the follow-up action without results, it's time to contact your mentor for further direction.

It is also helpful to identify actions that are counter-productive.
It is not a good idea to call home for 3 hours on a Friday night because you are bored and lonely.  That simply reinforces the loss.  Skipping a meal because you have no one to go with will only add to your misery.  Have some easily prepared meals available in your room, or reach out to someone else who is lonely and invite them to go with you.

Identify your escape behaviors, and make a "911" call to God and a godly friend the minute you get caught in their current.
Following an extremely difficult time in my life this fall I leaned heavily on a friend I knew to be a woman of the Word.  I vividly  remember calling her because my sleep patterns and energy levels had changed, and I was scared.  She graciously dropped everything, listened as I sobbed out my heart, and brought me back to reality.  Because she knows I am a voracious reader, the Holy Spirit was able to custom tailor her advice. "Spend extra time and study in the Word.  Journal your thoughts and prayers.  Here's a book that you should read that deals with your exact situation."  Lots of hugs.  Waterfalls of love and prayer.  Liss, I was back on my feet in a day.  It's not always that fast, but God was gracious.

Maintain normal routines.
This seems like a no-brainer when you're not discouraged, but when you are, it can become an ascent of Everest.  There is an ocean of documented evidence that a life without routines breeds depression.
Get dressed.  Fix your hair.  Put on make-up.  Tidy your living space.  Pay your bills.  Eat a healthy diet.  Get fresh air and exercise.  Faithfully attend church services.
Our college scenario falls apart here.  You will probably never have your life as regimented as you do there!  But when you first bring that little bundle home from the hospital, or you move to a new city, maintaining routines is vital.  If you have a friend who has given birth, been hospitalized, or lost a spouse or child, step in and help her maintain her routines until she is strong enough to resume them.

Keep a gratitude journal.
The darkest forest is where fireflies shine brightest.  Make it a habit at every stage of life to record blessings, large and small.  This becomes especially important during times of change.  It is doubly important when that change has no inherent rewards.  Losing a job, a child, a spouse.  Moving to a part of the country where you don't know anyone.  Facing the rest of your life in a wheelchair.
Provide yourself a sure way to refocus not just on new responsibilities, but on new blessings.

Seek new ways to fulfill your God-given purpose.
How do you possibly find anyone to witness to on a Christian college campus?  You don't.  You get into an extension or service ministry that places you amongst the unsaved.
How do you encourage or exhort fellow believers as a freshman?  Keep your space neat.  Join the missions prayer band.  Sign up to tutor another person who's struggling in a class you're taking.  Be on time for classes and work, and work cheerfully and diligently.
How do you glorify God? Submission. Obedience. Humility.

If you find yourself wrecked, bleeding, and alone on the rocks of discouragement, depression, or even despair, it's time to seek counsel.
Even the best maps can't prepare you for every eventuality.  Sometimes you need EMS.  If you have already reached the point of discouragement, depression or despair, you need another believer who knows the Word and is willing to stick with you until your boat is back in the water.  Sometimes that's a professional counselor, perhaps someone in church leadership or a NANC certified counselor.
Often it's better to stick with a friend or mentor who has proven their faithfulness to God and you over the years.  They've stuck with you through thick and thin.  Given hard counsel along with the hugs.  Ask them to help you identify and deal with the loss.  Make yourself accountable to them for time in the Word, prayer, and any other problem areas.  Let them know you're still struggling, even if it's been months or years:  they can't help if you don't remain open.  There is no shame in falling, even repeatedly.  The shame is in staying down.

I hope you never know the depths of discouragement and depression that can follow change.  My heart is that whatever the Lord hands you, no matter how bitter, you will trust His heart and remain tender and obedient.  This life is a vapor, a moment.  It is also an arena.  You are being watched over by a loving heavenly Father.  You are being watched by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before.  You are being watched and imitated by those who live with you.  Draw your strength from the Source.  Use the resources He has so graciously provided:  His Word, prayer, His church, godly friends, books, music.

And never, ever forget how very much you are loved.

03 March 2011

Itza Meatball!

Hi, Baby!
I finally "manned up" as your Daddy would say and went for a long walk with Harley.  They keep the cemetery well-plowed, and we had it all to ourselves. The snow is almost four feet deep up on the hill, but the temperatures are flirting with the 40's this afternoon because of the sunshine.  The crisp air and much needed exercise cleared my thoughts and lifted my mood considerably.  Harley is sacked out in front of the stove and looking like he just ran the Iditarod...such a funny dog!

I'm sending you a recipe my home ec teacher had us copy out in high school, Leadership Conference Meatballs.  The sauce is from my friend Fran who is passionate about authentic Italian cuisine.  She wouldn't approve of the meatballs at all:  they're sturdy enough for a sub sandwich (which is how they're served at NELC) or a crockpot recipe, and you can make literally hundreds of them in a couple of hours if you use a #50 cookie scoop.

Fran's sauce
Good quality cold-pressed olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (use 1 large if doubling recipe)
2 cloves garlic minced, or more to taste.
Preheat stock pot over medium heat.  Pour in enough olive oil to coat bottom of pan.  Chop onion coarsely and fry over medium heat in oil.  When translucent, add garlic.  Do not allow onion or garlic to brown.
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Add and fry for 1 minute until the aroma releases
1 (28 oz) can ground peeled Pastene "kitchen ready" tomatoes + 1/2 can water
1/2 can water
8-10 leaves fresh basil, minced
1 shake oregano (I substitute marjoram since we hate oregano)
Add and bring to a boil.  Add meatballs if desired, and reduce to simmer for 90 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Mom's note:  I add 2 Tbsp sugar along with the other spices. Don't tell Fran!!!!

Leadership Conference Meatballs
1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 Tbsp dried onion
3/4 cup flavored bread crumbs (I like Pastene Whole Wheat Italian Crumbs with Romano)
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil a cookie sheet.  Mix all ingredients except sauce and shape into golf ball sized balls.  Place meatballs on cookie sheet and bake 20-25 minutes, shaking pan halfway through to brown meatballs on the other side.  Drop meatballs into simmering sauce and poach until they are cooked completely through.

These meatballs also work wonderfully for fancy event buffets.  Corral several nice looking crockpots or use a chafing pan.  Be sure to put frilled picks out if there is no cutlery.  You can fit up to 1-1/2 recipes of these meatballs into each recipe of sauce.

Cocktail Meatballs
Baked meatballs, 1" diameter
1 can cranberry sauce
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Whisk together cranberry sauce, juice, sugar, dry mustard, cloves, and Worcestershire.  Place meatballs in crockpot and pour cranberry mixture over top.  Heat on low for 3-4 hours and hold warm until needed.  I always think of Grandpa Rhodes when I make these.  He must have eaten a pound of them at his granddaughter's wedding and kept winking at me and saying: "My, those are tasty little rigs!  Don't tell on me."

My time is short today.  Both of your brothers have influenza, and Matt is struggling with his asthma.  We had to make a run to the clinic so he could start a round of prednisone.  Hopefully this is the worst of it.


02 March 2011

How to Plan, Part 3: Life is Just so Daily

Dear Lissy,
We've finally arrived in March, but we still have almost 3 feet of snow in the yard.  All of us have cabin fever, and your brothers are fighting influenza this week, too.  I think we'll probably take a drive over to Grammy's house tomorrow to water her plants, feed the birds, and clear off snow and ice from the last storm.  She's invested many hours of time and energy into our lives it's a pleasure to be able to be a blessing to her.

We've already talked about a weekly plan and keeping focused on the work at hand.  It's time to dive into the heart of time management, the daily plan.  You will find that you have demands on your time and energy coming from at least a dozen different sources: house, church, school, mail, community groups, family, friends, and the list goes on.

You cannot possibly accomplish everything that is asked of you.  You have to make decisions on what to do, and what to leave undone.
God has given you the task of managing your home, and loving your husband and children.  That is your top priority.  You and your husband must take the time together to decide where you will spend your time and energy.  If you decide home education is a priority for your family, for example, that is going to substantially reduce the number of other things you can take on in the church, community, or even for your extended family.

When you say "yes" to one thing, you are automatically saying "no" to something else.
A wise woman carefully considers the not just the value of the additional task she is taking on, but the value of the task(s) that will remain undone, too.  She also knows that her heart, longing for acceptance and praise, may gravitate towards doing things that will earn her the praise of others at the expense of her family.  A daily plan gives you a concrete tool for deciding whether or not you truly have time to add another item to your to-do list.  It also lets you see in black and white what will have to be amended or sacrificed in order to make the additional commitment.  It allows you to consider the additional commitment in light of your family's eternal goals.

The tools for a simple, flexible daily plan

A calendar
Whether your family uses Google calendar on your phones, a framed wall calendar, or a Day Planner system, you need a place to write down date-sensitive information.
I choose to enter ONLY appointments and work schedules on our calendars. 
Anything that doesn't have to be done on a specific date at a specific time doesn't belong on the calendar.

Routines  "She looketh well to the ways of her household."
Routines are simply sets of tasks that have to be done everyday, and are best done by a certain time.  These are the lifeblood of home management.  If you are transitioning to home after working, it is sometimes difficult to go from a calendar centered life to a routine centered life.  Just remember, Hon, progress not perfection!
Too many people make routines into a complicated Everest of tasks carefully printed and placed into elaborately crafted notebooks.

You need two tools to have great routines:  time and eyes.

1.  Set aside enough time every morning to prepare yourself and your family physically and spiritually for your day.  
Have a benchmark in your mind of when you'd like to everyone washed, dressed, fed, and done quiet time.  At whatever time you choose, look at yourself and your children.  Are you completely dressed with your hair and makeup done?  Have you eaten a nutritious breakfast and tidied the kitchen afterwards.  Has everyone spent time in the Word and prayer?
This looks different in every family.  I despise having everyone hanging around in their jammies with morning routines half done.  I have good (and godly) friends who love a relaxed atmosphere and stay in their jammies until after lunch.

2.  Set aside enough time every morning, afternoon, and evening to enter each room of your home and make it "company" tidy.
You can easily see what needs to be
done in this room.  You don't need a list!
You really don't need sheafs of to-do lists for every room.  Start in the same room every morning, set a timer if you need to, and quickly pick it up/wipe it down.  Start a load of laundry after you've gone through all the rooms.  Afternoon is a quick pick-up with the kids so that Dad doesn't walk into a cluttered, messy home.  Evening routines can set up for the next morning by choosing outfits, packing school bags and lunches, and preparing breakfast.

3.  Set aside time every day for weekly and monthly chores.
You took the time to think through your week, make sure you take time to actually implement your plan.

4.  Set aside time every day, even if it's only 15 minutes, to maintain your storage areas.  
Pick a place that's gotten seedy, and plug away restoring organization in that one spot.  Ideally you've already assigned your "stuff" a particular area and used storage containers to make it easy to restore order.  If you haven't, now is a great time to begin.

5.  Set aside time every day for meal preparation and clean up.
I like to set aside time in the morning to marinate/defrost meats, make salads, and prepare breads and side dishes.  I plan 45 minutes for lunch prep/eat/cleanup, and 90 minutes for dinner.  We rarely need that much time, so that gives me a few minutes for odd tasks.

Ticker File
This set of 43 manilla files allows you to manage anything that has to be done by a certain date and gives you a home for papers you need on a particular date, like tickets, permission slips, and bills.

Ticklers have been used by administrative assistants for over 100 years and are an extremely powerful tool.
To set one up, label 30 left cut folders from 1 to 30/31. Right cut folders can be turned inside out to create additional left cut folders if necessary.   Inside the folder labeled 23, write "Check upcoming month folder."

This diagram uses left cut for months.  I prefer center cut.
Label 12 center cut folders with the months.  Label one additional center cut folder with the word "Future".

In a 6" open-topped file folder box or a file drawer in your desk, place all of the month folders of the current calendar year starting with NEXT month in front.  Place the "Future" folder behind December.  You may have several months for the next calendar year which should be placed behind the "Future" folder. This month's folder should be the last folder in your box.

Now place all of the dated folders in the front of the box with tomorrow's date in front.  Place any date folders for next month (1 - ?) behind next month's folder.  I like to turn Sunday date folders around backwards so I don't accidentally put anything in them.
That's it!  Every day, take out that day's folder, empty it, and include the information on your daily plan. File the folder into next month, and re-file any permanent to-do and reminder cards into the next date you'll need them to pop up.  On the 23rd of each month you'll empty out the folder for the upcoming month and file the papers into the appropriate date folder.
I'll write you another letter with dozens of ideas for how to use this tool at home because almost everything available is for an office situation.

Running To-Do List
This is a list of all of the things you simply need to do at some point in the not-too-distant future.  It may include calls, purchases, or even research you need to do.

Writing Your Daily Plan
I like to do this on the computer and just print it out, but do whatever feels most comfortable for you.  It's ideal to do this the night before, but as long as you get it done first thing in the morning it will still serve you well.

My to-do list after a day in my pocket.  Items in red were
tasks Dad asked me to do for him.
On the top half of your paper, create a basic time schedule.
I have 8, 12, and 4 spaced pretty evenly down the left side of my paper.
Write or type in any appointments from your calendar.
Block off any time that you have already scheduled, such as work, school, church, or clubs
Block off times for routines.
On the bottom half of your paper, create a basic to-do/call list
Empty your tickler folder, clipping any papers you need throughout the day to your plan.
Check your running to-do list for any items that will naturally fall into the day's plans or that are getting close to needing to be done.
Look at yesterday's paper and see if there is anything that still needs to be done.
Now pencil your to-do list into time slots on the top half of the paper.  When are you actually going to do the items on your "to do" list?

This is an outline of how you anticipate your day going.  God may have other plans.  Your husband may have other plans.  Graciously accept that, and re-schedule or simply leave things undone.

Make a commitment that you won't change your own plans without careful prayer and perhaps a phone call to your husband or an older mentor.  The things on your list represent your desire to faithfully serve and bless your family by managing your home well.  Changing the timing to accommodate an impromptu trip to the park with friends isn't a big deal.  Ditching the whole list to go to the beach for the day may not be the wisest decision.  But there are times it will be, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and your husband are crucial to knowing the difference.

It has been said if you mind the minutes, the hours take care of themselves.  I think the same is true of days.  If you faithfully manage your home each day, the weeks, months and years care for themselves.  You will have far fewer crises, and many more opportunities to bless and serve your family and friends.

I love you to the moon and back,