18 January 2012

Three Hair Conditioner Hacks

Dear Lissy,
Just a little bit of fun today. . .

Use hair conditioner BEFORE you shampoo to help remove product build-up.  Shampoo as normal.

Hair conditioner works exceptionally well in place of shaving cream or soap for sensitive/dry skin.

Mix 1/4 cup hair conditioner in 2 cups warm water and pour into a spray bottle  to make detangler.

Love ya!

Sunfish, Piranhas, and Sharks

Dear Lissy,
It may seem a bit odd to you that I'm writing a letter about swimming in Grammy's lake in the middle of January, but I want to share a bit with you about enduring trials, so bear with me.
Grammy caught this beautiful shot of a double rainbow from her dock.
Do you remember how much you and your brothers hated the sunfish nests?  If you walked within a foot of the nest, the fish would come over and give you a good nip.  Now, a sunfish never drew blood, or even left a mark, but all three of you acted as if you were in a lake full of piranhas.  One of you, usually Matt, would try various tactics to scare the fish, or catch them, or destroy the nest.  It doesn't work:  the nests -- and feisty momma fish -- are back again within hours.

Sunfish Trials
God places "sunfish" trials into our lives continually.  They irritate us rather than harm us.  Muddy footprints on a newly washed floor, a neighbor with a dog that barks 23 hours a day, or an inept driver in front of us can all send frustration soaring.  Generally the volume of "sunfish" trials comes from those who live and work closely with us.  They're particularly effective at teaching us to die to self and live for others.  When you're still a young Christian, these trials will help you develop the servant mind of Christ.  As you mature, you'll consciously choose to hold back your reaction.  When you are mature in the Lord, there won't even be a reaction at all most of the time.
Your Aunt Debi and I used to call each other and just sob out: "I'm being eaten to death by goldfish today!" when we were parenting toddlers.  That was code for the other person to comfort and encourage us in the mind of Christ.  Occasionally one of us would call to "vent", and the other one would have to remind them to work on having the mind of Christ.  I sincerely hope you have an "Aunt Debi" to sharpen and strengthen you throughout your life.

Piranha Trials
God will eventually ask you to cross a river in life that is full of piranhas.  Piranha trials hurt a lot, and we know deep down enough of them could do lasting damage.  God often allows entire schools of piranhas into our lives, one right after the other, or even simultaneously.  A friend who betrays us, a child diagnosed with a long term medical condition, or personal financial trouble all leave us bloodied and hurting.
There is a remarkable difference between the way a believer and an unbeliever handle this level of trials.  An unbeliever, immature, or carnal Christian will panic and go to the ends of the earth to "rescue" themselves.  The believer quietly waits and confidently trusts (Lam.3:26).
Trials of this magnitude also threaten to unravel our faith.  "Why would God allow this?  Is He trying to punish me for something?  Does He really love me still? -- I would never treat my child this way!"  will come into your mind during these times of testing.  These thoughts need to be "taken captive" and executed!  God has promised He will never give us above what we can bear. (1 Cor. 10:13)
These trials are particularly effective for growing both our faith and our character.  We are forced to say "I cannot see, but I trust His hand."  We also have dross that comes to the surface when God holds our feet to the fire, and we are given the opportunity to deal with sin that we didn't even know was there.  Lastly, as we patiently endure, we mature.
I cannot begin to tell you how important it is to read biographies of great heroes of the faith while you're enduring "piranha" trials.  Seeing how others have remained faithful during times of intense testing will strengthen your own faith beyond measure.  I particularly like Jeremiah, Joseph, Daniel, Philippians, and missionary biographies.

Shark Trials
Occasionally God allows a shark into our lives.  Shark trials dramatically change our lives, and some even have the potential to end it.  Loss of a job, a car wreck, the death of our spouse, or a terminal illness can all send our lives into somersaults.  These trials pose the greatest threat to a Christian.  You would think that a diagnosis of cancer, or the death of a child would cause a person to lose faith, but that is rarely the case.  There is a greater danger:  I have seen dozens of  unbelievers and Christians alike soar above a life-changing trial in the strength of their flesh.  There is a natural human tendency to thrive in a time of great adversity.  I have also been privileged to see Christians for whom these trials unlocked a relationship with the Lord that I covet.  You will nearly always see a "fighting", "coping," or "overcoming" mentality in someone who's operating in the flesh rather than a "resting" or "trusting" mentality.  Those who choose to fight the shark instead of heading for the safety of the boat are in great danger.
These trials are particularly effective at teaching us His presence and power in our lives.  Never in your life will God be nearer and dearer than when you are facing a trial that has changed "normal" as you knew it.  Throw yourself on Him in prayer, bathe in the Word, and consciously hand over the part of yourself that is rising up to overcome.  His strength is made perfect in weakness.  While none of us would choose a "shark", they are inevitable.  Sometimes we can see them circling, and sometimes we're just surfin' along without a care in the world when they blindside us.  As soon as you've been mauled, head straight to the Great Physician.  You will have many godly friends who step in during these times to strengthen and encourage you, but only God can be with you 24/7.

This letter ended up being far longer than I intended, but please know that even now I pray that God will strengthen you and uphold you as He charts your life.  Wherever God leads, your life will be bathed in prayer until the day I head home to Heaven.


16 January 2012

Simple Sweets: Insanely Easy Macaroons

Dear Lissy,

You've decided on a "Make Your Own Sundaes" for your birthday dessert.  I made a quick batch of macaroons to chop up for the buffet this afternoon.  I tried numerous fancy macaroon recipes when I was newly wed, and thankfully your Daddy liked these best.  They're egg, nut, and gluten free,  and can be dressed up with a quick drizzle of chocolate for a fancier occasion.  For a puffier macaroon, add a single beaten egg white to the mixture.

1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 (14) oz bag Sweetened Flaked Coconut
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
1 egg white (optional, will give the cookie added body)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, move rack to upper middle position.  If using egg white, beat in large metal or glass bowl until stiff peaks form. Mix in the can of sweetened condensed milk and the extracts.  Stir well.  Stir in bag of coconut.  Mix well.  Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment.  If all you have is foil, grease and flour it.  These cookies will stick!  Using wet hands, form coconut mix into loose balls and place on lined cookie sheet. about 2" apart.  Bake 15 - 17 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool briefly, and then remove to wire rack with oiled spatula.  The condensed milk may form a ring of dulce de leche around the cookie.  Carefully push toward the cookie with an oiled spatula to neaten before removing to rack.  Allow to cool completely and store in airtight container.

Can't wait for your birthday!!!

13 January 2012

Enchiladas Blanco

Dear Lissy,

Nasty weather outside, but the two of us are cookin' up a storm today!  We made chicken broth this morning for Enchiladas Blanco tonight.  This recipe is wildly popular:  It's been featured on dozens of blogs and gets "pinned" on Pinterest at least once a day.  The veloute sauce that tops the simple meat & cheese filled tortillas bakes into an authentic tasting queso that's a favorite with our whole family.  This recipe is presented without alteration from Let's Dish.
The author of Let's Dish, Danelle, is an incredibly talented photographer, too.  Check out her bio and work at Let's Dish.

12 January 2012

Dining On a Dollar Without Despair

Dear Lissy,

We've been economizing for the last few weeks, and I've been working hard to feed our family of five on about 1/3 of what the government considers a moderate food budget. I have an "only ingredients" in the shopping cart rule.  I try to buy pre-frozen or marked down meat , clearance fruits & veggies, or day old bread to stretch the budget, too  By far the biggest challenge is keeping up morale during lean times.  We'll return to a normal budget in February, and when we start harvesting our garden in late spring, grocery shopping will be a breeze.

A few tricks from my mom and our depression-era grandparents I use to keep morale high...

~ Once a week (usually Sunday) I allow for a substantial serving of meat and a regular dessert.   Having one big meal a week keeps us from feeling "pinched".
~There is a little something sweet every night after dinner.  It might be as simple as a graham cracker and a cup of hot chocolate, but it makes a big difference!
~I replace expensive meals  (fajitas) with similar, less expensive options (beef & rice burritos)
~ I make hot meals three times a day.  Yes, it's a ton of work, but the cost difference is enormous.  Polenta & scrambled eggs are a quarter of the cost of cold cereal with milk, and warm homemade cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing cost less than a box of Poptarts.  Grilled cheese, a cup of homemade soup, a bowl of air popped popcorn, and half an apple chunked into slices costs about 50 cents, less than 1/3 of the cost of a typical school lunch, and ten times cheaper than the average "Value Meal" at a fast food restaurant.
~We've trained you to expect water.  Juice and soda is a rare treat at our house.  When times are tight, I appreciate the fact that even a glass of iced tea is extra special.
~I look to foreign cuisines for inexpensive main dishes, and to old cookbooks for baking recipes.  Stir fry, risottos, and curries are hardly a sacrifice!  The original Betty Crocker cookbook has good recipes that use a minimum of ingredients.  They're not bakery quality, but they're tasty and nutritious.
~ I'll accommodate an occasional dislike in order to keep mealtimes positive.  Nate hates hot cereal for breakfast, so he gets a slice or two of homemade toast instead. I abhor beans in any form, and Dad doesn't like the cracker crust pizza the rest of us adore.  You only like potatoes with sour cream. We should probably pay Matt:  he likes everything.

The other half of this equation is teaching gratefulness and trust.
We're reading George Mueller's autobiography as a family.  We've tried to teach you by example all your life to look for the good, and thank God, even when it's hard.  One of our favorite family moments was when Nate was two years old and exclaimed:  "Oh, goody!  A big pile of warm fish!"  He loves fish now, but that took a lot of courage for him when he was a toddler.
We trust that the sacrifices we are making now so that I can be home full time to educate you according to a Psalms 1 model will produce eternal fruit not just in your lives, but in future generations as well.  

And my sweet thing,  less you think that we're subsisting on a diet of rice and kidney beans, we're enjoying pulled pork sliders on sweet potato buns with coleslaw and oven fries tonight for just under $1.15 per plate.  Imagination & creativity are king and queen when dollars are tight!

Love you every minute!

01 January 2012

Resolutions or Resolve? Setting Goals for a New Year

Dear Lissy,
This was one of the those beautiful years where the first day of the year was The Lord's Day.  I can't imagine a better start to a new year than spending it worshiping, praising, and serving!  It's a little hard to believe you'll be the only sibling still living at home the next time we celebrate New Year on Sunday.
New Year's Resolutions were wildly popular when I was a child:  I can even remember having to write them out as a school assignment.  Only rarely would a resolution last more than a week or two.  They currently are out of fashion in our cynical world, but  I expect they'll cycle back around in popularity again by the time you're reading this.
I no longer write New Year's resolutions for January 1, but I do take time to evaluate the previous year and renew my resolve to continue to put myself in "a place of grace".