Monday, June 28, 2010

Before & After

My whole life in this house has been one continuous before and after. Yes, 6 years of construction, progress, and the pain of hard labor. Child birth has nothing on carrying out a 400 lbs. marble counter top with attached sink.

On the left was the bathroom as it was Saturday morning. On the right is the bathroom as it ended Sunday night. Our family is really good at demolition. The picture at left is strangely deceptive. Some would think that that bathroom was after the remodel. What is deceptive is that the vanity is 30 years old and the doors no longer stay shut without the aide of a very strong magnet. I can't tell you how many times in the last 6 years I have whacked myself in the shin with those very doors trying to overcome the very strong magnet. The floor tiles are cracked and discolored. The sink is also cracked and the fixtures are broken. We painted over the multiple layers of wallpaper when we realized that the wallpaper had been applied to un-primed drywall. The tub has long given up it's glossy new-ness in favor of a very stained, uneven, satin finish. The grout in the shower was also growing some serious mildew. I have some plans for this bath to restore it's former glory.

At left is our house the day we purchased it. Our realtor thought we had lost our minds. At right is our house post-jungle. I had the vision to see through the chaos. I knew that the bones underneath the mess were beautiful. This house, not surprisingly, had sat on the market for 10 long months. I thank God for saving it just for us. I wasn't sure how we were going to make it beautiful when we bought it, but I had faith in the plan. God placed us here in this neighborhood, in this house and I knew that He would ultimately take responsibility for the how and when we just had to be patient.

Patience is not my strongest virtue. I want it done now and the way I want it. What I have come to realize is that God's way and timing is always better than anything I can imagine. Were it my choice, I would not have remodeled the basement. I would have done the kitchen 2 years ago instead. Little did I know that the drought would soon be over in a big way and our basement was not even remotely waterproof prior to our remodel. I got a new sewing room which has been such a blessing. We put in a second kitchen which will be so wonderful when we finally can remodel. The Lord has provided in miraculous ways. I am excited to see what He will do next.

For dinner tonight: Grilled Pizza- this pizza gets a great smokey wood grilled flavor from being on the grill. It's our favorite method of pizza cooking and we use our grill year round.

1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 C white bread flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/8 C honey
1 C warm water
1 pkg. rapid rise yeast
Pizza toppings of your choice

Combine water, yeast, honey, oil, and salt in a bowl. Mix. Add in whole wheat flour. Add enough white flour to make a soft, smooth dough. Let rise 45 min. Punch down dough and shape into pizza. Place on heated grill (yes on the grates). Flip after a couple minutes and add pizza toppings. We like fresh basil, sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese. If your pizza is large and has lots of toppings, you might want to pull it off the grill while you decorate. Cook until cheese is melted.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Sweets

I love the fresh fruits and berries of summer. I love all the fresh veggies too. Growing up in Maryland in between Baltimore and DC, summer meant crab feasts and fresh fruit. My dad had a bit of an orchard in our yard. I remember sitting under the cherry tree and eating till I felt sick. The neighborhood kids and I used to pretend we were surviving in the wilderness and eat blueberries off the bush.

So when I saw that our County Extension sold blueberry bushes every spring, I just knew I had to have some. Last summer the birds and squirrels ate ALL of my blueberries. This year I wised up and moved all the bird feeders out to the front yard. Happily we have started harvesting about a cup a day and really it's only one bush producing at the moment. For breakfast this morning I made us some good old fashioned oatmeal sweetened with maple syrup, topped with pecans and fresh blueberries. It was so good, I think I will have it tomorrow too.

Dinner tonight was pasta with Mild Italian Chicken sausage, homemade tomato sauce, and a salad. I was craving some yellow cake with chocolate frosting for dessert. The girls were complaining that we didn't have any junk in the house. I don't often buy cookies and cakes because they usually have butter, milk, and/or soy in them. Plus I think they are better for me and my family if we make them from scratch.

I am quite accustomed to making cake dairy/soy free. My struggle has been frosting. I've made a delicious boiled frosting with egg whites. It whips up beautifully and looks almost like marshmallow cream. It tastes great however tonight, I wanted good old fashioned chocolate frosting. I did a quick Google search and managed to find traditional frosting recipes that had just subbed the butter with fake butter or shortening. With my trusty Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, I could have figured that out.

On a whim, I set out to make up my own. What I ended up with is a creamy, rich, almost buttercream frosting like confection that met all of my dessert demands. It has no dairy, no soy, no shortening, and doesn't taste synthetic. Following is my recipe for all to enjoy!

Non-Dairy, Soy free, Vegan Chocolate Frosting

1 Cup Vegan Chocolate chips (Whole Foods are SO good)
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 C powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp regular almond milk or water

In a microwave safe bowl combine chocolate chips and canola oil. Microwave for 1 min. or until chips are melted. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 2 cups of powdered sugar. Mix with a handheld mixer until crumbly. Add 2 tbsp. almond milk and mix. Continue adding almond milk and powder sugar until it reaches a nice creamy spreadable consistency. Makes enough for one 13x9 sheet cake.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vicious Turtles

We live in a suburban area but that does not mean our yard is void of nature. In fact we are always amazed at the creatures that visit our yard. We have a resident hawk that swoops through occasionally perching on our deck or bird bath. There are Red Headed and Pileated woodpeckers that frequent our trees. The bluebirds are on their third clutch of eggs this year and it has been so much fun to watch them tirelessly feeding their young.

I like to think we coexist with nature not in competition. We recycle. We grow a vegetable garden. We don't use harmful pesticides or toxic chemicals inside or outside our house. I've been known to release ladybugs and lacewings to combat the aphids that eat my tomato plants.

So it is with great enthusiasm every year that we welcome the box turtles that frequent our yard looking for tomatoes or blueberries. I had no idea that box turtles ate either tomatoes or blueberries until I saw them with my own eyes. The girls are thrilled to see them every year. Our dear old Penny used to bark at the turtles as they made their arduous trek across our yard. I'm not sure what barking did but the turtles just ignored her.

This year the arrival of the turtle was especially amusing because our pugs weren't with us last year. At first they ignored it. Then they sniffed it but as it looked like a rock, they quickly got bored of sniffing and laid down on the deck. Then the turtle decided to come out and try to escape and that is when things got interesting. First they tried sniffing it's butt because that's how dogs say hello. The turtle didn't like this method of greeting and hissed at them. At this point Ava decided the best course of action was to hide behind S. Casey decided to bark. They were definitely more afraid of him than he was of them. If nothing else, it was our entertainment for the afternoon.

What's for dinner tonight? Homemade fish sticks, roasted potatoes, green beans, and a salad. At the request of dear hubby. Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Big "D"

What would you do if you won a million dollars in the lottery? Pay off the house. Take a trip around the world. Go on vacation. I would bet that these answers are probably among the top ten answers. I bet donating to the church would be on the list too just to rationalize gambling in the first place. At the very least most people would say that they would take care of their family members or perhaps help a friend in need. Does the ends justify the means?

The subject of money has popped up numerous times in the last couple weeks. I have so many friends that are unemployed and facing possible financial ruin. I have other friends that are gainfully employed and yet still facing financial ruin for one reason or another. Our idolization of wealth and prosperity has truly brought our country to it's knees. The melt down of so many banks is definitely indicative of our financial faux paux. As a nation we diligently sought the American dream which entitles you to a house, a Disney vacation, and a big SUV. We see where this ruin. We are no better than the Israelites of so long ago with their golden calves and temple prostitutes. We are worshiping another God, the American Dream.

The big "D" stands for two things; the Dream and the impending Debt from seeking the dream. Our banks gave out more money than we could pay back. We recklessly spent more money than we made and when the economy crashed and burned, we cried out to the government to fix it. Perhaps the government should have cried back "do as I say, not as I do".

I heard an all too familiar story of a woman that lost her house to an Ipod, a video game, and the inability to say "no". Her family had bailed her out once before but she didn't learn from her mistakes because she had been given a free pass. She continued to spend herself into foreclosure as she continued to teach her kids that stuff equaled love. I don't know what the answer is because we must learn from our mistakes and asking forgiveness entails changing our actions. We need to be held accountable for our purchases. Nobody should bail us out but ourselves lest we continue our bad behavior. Like a toddler has to face consequences for poor choices and bad behavior, so must we.

God wants us to be financially responsible. The burden of debt is not a yoke we were meant to wear. Some people take on this yoke and then cry out to God to fix it. Surely, He will not give us a "free pass" in the form of a lottery ticket so save your dollar.

What was for dinner tonight? Leftover chicken and steak fajitas turned "fajita salad".

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Puggie Love

This is me and my Casey pug. She has a sister named Ava who has also snorted her way right into our hearts. The two of them are a constant reminder to me of God's providence. They are constantly under foot, they snore really loud, they incessantly lick each other, but are just so cute and we love them so much.

Last summer about this time, we were quickly losing our Molly dog to liver cancer. Every afternoon after VBS we were heading back and forth to the vet. There was lots of lab work to pay for and yet still a lot of hope. We didn't know she had cancer until after she had passed. She had just stopped eating. She was the sweetest most loving dog and wagged her tail until the very end. We cried and cried when she was gone. We still heard her collar jingle and saw her running through the yard. We were heartbroken and missed her so very much.

I had always wanted a pug and so when Molly was gone, it seemed like the right time to start looking at breeders. After much research on the breed, I contacted a breeder. We met Vallarie and her 12 pugs at Peachtree Pugs in late July. She truly loves her dogs and loves the breed. She was set to breed one of her females that summer and we were hopeful of a beautiful baby girl by Christmas. As it turned out, her female had 2 puppies and only one female. It seemed all hope was lost and we would not have a pug for Christmas. At that point, I turned to God and opened my heart to the grief of losing Molly and how I longed for another canine member of the household.

Vallarie emailed me late summer and asked if we would take an older pug, about 18 months. I was thrilled and so she put me in contact with the breeder. Turns out, it wasn't 1 pug, it was 2 pugs that were 18 months old and she wanted to know if we wanted them both. Well if one pug is great, two is even better. Their brothers had died of PDE (pug dog encephalitis) and she was just trying to find them a home. Ava and Casey did have a certain amount of risk involved as they are unsure of the nature of PDE. Researchers are not sure if it is genetic and are working on finding a genetic marker. We knew at 2 the risk went down significantly and is practically gone by age 3. We celebrated their 2nd birthday on March 2. I truly believe it was God's work that we got such beautiful pets. They fit into our family so perfectly.

What's for dinner tonight? Grilled salmon, roasted carrots, brown rice, salad, and bread. Here's my roasted carrot recipe that my family just LOVES.

Roasted Carrots:
Peel and slice into chunks enough carrots for your family. Toss with olive oil, salt, and thyme. Place on a baking sheet (I use a stoneware pan) and bake at 400 deg. F for about 30 minutes. Stirring once or twice so they don't get burned on one side.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

VBS: All Hands on Deck

It's that time of year again. Time for Vacation Bible School. I love it as much now as I did the first time I went at the tender age of 12. Yes, I didn't grow up in the church. My family did not attend. I happened upon VBS at the invitation of my neighbor. I ended up going to the church and becoming involved in Youth Council and the youth group. I rode the church bus. You know, the bus that goes around and picks up the elderly that can no longer drive but still attend church every time the door opens. I was the youngest on the bus by a good 60 years or so. We had a common bond though the elderly and myself. We both wanted to go to church but had no drivers license. We both loved the Lord with child like innocence. Mine because I was a child, theirs because they had lived a lifetime of following the Lord and knew for certain that He loved them.

Looking back, I think how amazing that God called me. Scrawny, awkward, bad haircut, crazy eyebrowed, brace face, me. While some may never face persecution for their beliefs, I did. My dad insisted that church was full of hypocrites and self righteous sinners that called themselves Christian. My mom was raised Catholic and saw God as far removed and not a personal relationship. I prayed for their souls and tried to spread the love. I wanted them to feel God's presence like I did, but my dad called Centrifuge my week of brainwashing. I wanted so badly to be that family that went to church together on Sundays. I wanted my parents to host the youth group and be counted among the leadership of the church.

My parents divorced when I was 20. My mom came to the Lord and was baptized the same year I was baptized. I had accepted Jesus at 14, but did not really come to know him until I was 29. My girls are being raised in the church. We always want for our children those things that we did not have. I am so excited about VBS as I am every year. I know that it is important and that we never know who we might touch. It might be a scrawny girl that needs to hear the truth. I hope to ride on that church bus again someday.

Friday, June 4, 2010

We Play with Fire

At left is my 11 year old playing with molten glass and a 2000 degree blow torch. I'm not sure how this happened but I think it started in India. She is studying ancient history and there was some mention of glass blowing in India which reminded me of an old college friend that took a glass blowing lab. She thought glass blowing sounded really cool so I looked online to see if there were any classes in our area. I found a studio that taught marble making so I emailed them. Unfortunately they would not entertain the idea of letting an 11 year old play with a blow torch and molten glass. I am sure the liability would be tremendous. Thankfully they gave me the name of a wonderful lady that taught out of her home. We went for our first lesson yesterday and learned the art of making glass beads. It was so much fun that we are going back for more. We picked up our finished (annealed) beads today and were so excited with the results. Can you guess which ones are mine, hers and the instructors?

Homeschooling to me is freedom. Freedom to try new things. I always said that if they wanted to try something they would have my full support. My youngest wanted to try gymnastics. I'll admit that I wasn't thrilled about her doing gymnastics. She tried it and said she liked it but wasn't that great at it. In the end, we decided it wasn't her thing. The best part is that 20 years from now she won't be saying "I could have been a gymnast". I didn't get to try lots of fun stuff until I was married and in my 20's. When I was young I really wanted to sew but there was no support. Mom didn't have time and didn't really want me using her machine. I learned to cross stitch and embroider. It wasn't until my 20's that I learned to crochet, knit, and make garments. Sewing has become a passion over the years and a creative outlet. I say all this because at 18, what person knows what they want to do if they've never done anything? I wanted to be an architect but never knew what that entailed until I spent 2 years in college trying to fit my square self into a round hole. Honestly, it wasn't my thing. Maybe I should have taken the glass blowing lab.