Friday, January 30, 2009

Show and Tell Friday - Valentine Tablescape

I put together a little tablescape including the embellished postcards and flower heart wreath I made (instructions a few entries below) I added rose petals from some roses I picked up at the dollar store.

My table is all set for tea with friends...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yummy Bread Bowls

There is something so ancient about serving soup in a bread bowl. It hearkens back to the days of eating with your hands and wild boar meat.

Here is a great recipe I found on which I embellished a bit...

Italian Bread Bowls (makes 8)

2 (.25 oz) packages active dry yeast or 4 1/2 tsp. bread yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 Tbl. Raw sugar
1 tsp. Italian seasons (or just oregano)
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
7 cups unbleached flour

I did the first part in my breadmaker. I threw all of the ingredients in except 2 cups of the flour. After it got going a bit, I threw in the rest of the flour. My breadmaker isn't large, so I had to take the mixed dough out and let it rise in a large bowl in my oven. (In cold weather I turn my oven on to 200 and let it run for a few minutes to warm it up. Then I turn it off and put my dough in to rise. If it isn't cold, you can stick it in a corner of your kitchen that isn't drafty) Let rise for 40 min. Punch down the dough and divide into 8 equal portions. Shape each into a 4" round loaf. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cover and let rise for 35 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes.

Optional: Beat 1 egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush over loaves and bake for 15 minutes. Brush with more of the egg mixture and bake for 10-15 more minutes.

To make bowls: Cut a 1/2 inch thick slice from top of each loaf. Scoop out the centers, leaving 3/4 inch thick shells. Fill bread bowls with hot soup and serve immediately.

A good soup for this would be anything creamy. I love Cream of Asparagus or Cream of Broccoli. Or try Rockin' Cheesy Bacon Corn Chowder on this site if you want it to be the main meal.

Here is an excellent recipe passed on to me by my friend Rhonda. It is a shortcut recipe in that it uses canned soups, but tastes like you cooked all day. I'm not one for using canned soup for any recipe, but this one is exceptional.
Crawfish Chowder

2 yellow onions chopped up
1 clove of garlic finely minced
2 bellpepper chopped up
4 cans cream of potato (do not dilute)
2 cans evaporated milk
2 cans cream of corn
2 lbs of crawfish tails
1 Stick of Butter melted
Tony Chachere’s Seasoning

Saute onion, bellpepper & garlic in butter. Cook until onions are clear.
Add crawfish, potato soup, cream of corn, seasoning, evaporated milk.
Cook for 20 minutes.

Valentine Decorations

Valentine's Day is special at our house because it is also my dear husband's birthday. I really wanted some pretty Valentine decorations but was disappointed by the gaudy decorations in the stores. I like the pretty heart-shaped rose covered wreaths, but again, the flowers on them are often cheap. I'm not the best at flower decoration, but I thought I could do a better job than those found in the store.

I found a pretty heart shaped Styrofoam form at my local craft store (Hobby Lobby). I also had to hunt around, but found some beautiful flowers there. I chose a stem with large roses, another with smaller roses and another one of one white hydrangeas. I try to pick the flowers stems that also come with other decorations in them. I took all the flowers off of the stems and used some pliers to cut off the little stub left over so that the flower would lie flat against the wreath. I also picked off some leaves.

Then I hot glued the largest flowers first. I then filled in with the smaller flowers and some decorations. I then glued some leaves (cut off of the stems) in the places that were bare around the edges of the wreath. I also added in some of the small berries that came with one of the stems.

Embellished Valentine Postcards

I found two websites that had some gorgeous old fashioned postcards on them.

I printed them out on my best quality setting on my printer and glued them to card stock. I cut them out and then got the idea to embellish them with a little glitter. It made all the difference. I used them as a unique decoration on my tablescape. I'm also going to experiment with making parts of the card 3-D. I'm going to print out duplicates and cut out a small item (like a dove) out of the second one and glue it on top of the first one with a thick bead of hot glue so that the item pops out. I've entered this project on "There is no Place Like Home" blog Paper Craft. Check out the site for more projects.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Greatest Author of All Time

This weekend Greg was gifted with a beautiful bookshelf from our friends. My husband is a book hound and books were starting to stack up all over the floor. His beautiful office was getting cluttered and messy.

We started arranging all of the books on the shelf and I didn't realize how many great classics my husband had hidden in his library. Many of which I can use for the boys school work. Some of the books I had read many years ago, but hadn't picked them up in years so I had forgotten a lot of the details. Many I had never read, but Greg told me they were worth reading.

This Sunday I looked around at the faces in church and realized how our congregation is like a bookshelf full of books. Some of them I know well and can quote from their lives. Others I have only read a chapter or two and want to know more. Some I haven't even picked up yet, but have heard about their story and I am very interested. Their "covers" often don't hint as to their content.

The great Author has written their stories. He knows every word and every scene. Most I know are still being written. A few have ended quietly... a few tragically.

I take comfort that my life is in control of the great Author. He knows just what Chapters lay ahead in my life. He knows the ending. He has even written my name in His book called the Lamb's Book of Life when I accepted him as my Savior. Doing so assures me of the best ending of all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The miracle of the wedding band

Today I had to have my wedding ring cut off of my hand. I've been married for 20 years and have only removed it once for a repair. That was 14+ years ago and it hasn't left my hand since. I shower with it, sleep with it, cook and clean with it. It was becoming a part of my hand... a permanent and dangerous part. Any injury to my hand could have caused me to lose my finger so it had to come off. It made me sad to have it removed but in a week or so my finger will be back to normal and I will have it resized. It isn't a large diamond or an expensive ring. We had no money when we bought it. But I love the simple design. It reminds me of where we started.
Fourteen (14) years ago I thought I had lost one of tiny diamonds on the wedding band. My husband and I were seperated at the time. It was a horrible chapter in my life. I still wore my ring and looked down to see that one of the tiny diamonds was lost. It was very symbolic of this turbulent time. I took it to the jeweler who looked through her eyepiece and confirmed it was missing a stone. She even let me look through the eyepiece and it was definitely gone. I got a quote to replace the stone and left the ring for the repair.

I came back a week later to pick up my ring. There was a note with the ring that said that the diamond was not replaced because the original was still there. I was flabbergasted. I had looked through the eyepiece and saw that the diamond was gone. There was no explaination for this. Yet, miraculously the diamond showed back up. It was a sign for me. It was a sign that God himself would miraculously replace what was gone in my marriage. He did. He worked a miracle. Do we have a perfect marriage? Absolutely not. But we celebrate 21 years this May and God gets all the glory for it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January - National Homeschool Burnout Month

Welcome to January or, as it is known in homeschool circles, "National Homeschool Burnout Month". It's that time of year when you are suddenly feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling.

It is common for first timer and old timers to feel frustrated with homeschooling during this time. We have just come off of a long break from school and getting back into the routine can be difficult.

Many first timers hold the end of the December as their “trial” period. “We will see how it goes until the end of the year.” Then January burnout hits and they throw up their hands in frustration. It is normal.

Some people don’t experience burnout. I am not one of those people. Although I have homeschooled for six years, I still experience it. I try and have a sense of humor about it all and over the years have given myself some strategies to work with the frustration.
  • I ease into school work after a long break. Adding only a few subjects when we start and slowly adding all the subject in over a two week period.
  • We take breaks and visit with friends or go to the park.
  • I don’t overcommit myself this month to projects outside of homeschool.
  • I take some time to relax and do something I enjoy away from homeschooling.
Most important is recognizing you are going through it and then taking steps to deal with it. This too shall pass my friend. Ask God to give you wisdom and to help you stay focused on the task ahead.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dear Editor: Is there Cappuccino in heaven?

Yes, Virgina, there is cappuccino in heaven. I'm sure it will taste even better than what we get here on earth, but it will taste pretty close to the cappuccino's made with Community Espresso Roast.

If you know me well, you know I'm a big fan of anything that Community Coffee cranks out. If you are a dinner guest, you would also know I love to serve cappuccinos at meal's end. I have a few friends that I could probably convince to give me a kidney in trade for a cappuccino. You know who you are. My old standby Krups machine has been cranking them out for years. We figured out we have owned it for approximately 14 years and it still works perfectly. A few years ago I got serious about making an excellent cappuccino and did some research on the secrets to making a good one. I didn't find too much online, which was surprising. I will share what I did find and what works.

-Grind your own beans. Grinders are cheap and the quality they give you more than pays for them. You will have to grind it finer than you do for coffee.

-Use an aluminum frothing container.

-Use whole milk. I like the Wal-Mart brand organic milk. It seems to froth the best.

-Put the frothing container and the milk in the freezer right before you start the process of making the cappuccino. You don't want it to be frozen, but making it a little colder than normal really helps it hold its froth.

-Use Sugar in the Raw. It doesn't have the aftertaste white sugar does. Although at this writing I am out and really missing it.

-Move the frothing container up and down on the steam nozzle and hold it at a slight angle toward the espresso machine.

-Bang the frothing container on the counter during and after the process to pop all the bubbles and make the froth denser.

-Dust the finished cappuccino with a little McCormick Saigon Cinnamon. Yes, it makes a difference.

If all this talk about cappuccinos has made you crave one, run rapidly to your kitchen and make one by all means. Enjoy!

Friday, January 9, 2009

How to make a Budget

Budget - the very word makes people groan. I'm not the best person with budgets and money, but I am learning. My husband is much better with avoiding impulse and emotional purchasing. In his infinite wisdom, God put us together.

One thing I did learn after I was married for a while, was how to make a budget. It really isn't as bad as you are thinking. Once you do it, you use it over and over. I've gotten off of my budget for the past few months and boy did I suffer. This month, I'm determined to get back on track. The basis of my simple budget is cash in envelopes. Sure there are fancy systems out there, but sometimes fancy systems can make people balk and avoid trying to budget at all.

Here is how I do it. I took a piece of paper and made three columns


Then I wrote down under the "What" who I paid the bill to

When = when it is due

How much = a high average of the bill

Then I flipped the paper over and wrote down when we got our first monthly paycheck and the amount.

I left some space and wrote down when we got our 2nd monthly paycheck and the amount.

Then I looked at WHEN the bills where due, and put them under the paycheck that came BEFORE the due date. Add up all the bills under each paycheck and subtract them from each paycheck. That's how much you have left with each paycheck to divide out for other things.

Write down other things you spend money on. Divide the remaining money out between those things. You may have to tweek things the following month depending on how it goes. OK - this is the key to success... the money for bills tithe, dues, and gasoline, stays in the bank. Everything else you take out in cash and divide into envelopes labeled with the name of the category and amount. Once you use up the cash in the envelope, you can't spend any more in that category. Period.

The fun part (yes, I said fun part) is that if you have any money left over in your envelopes at the end of the month, you can use it for what you like. It is a real incentive to use coupons and shop around for the best deal. The exception to this would be "home repairs". This is like a savings account and you should save the money in this envelope from month to month to pay for costly, unexpected repairs. You can add other envelopes like this for Christmas or other expenses that sock it to your budget.

You will notice I have "Fun Money" envelopes. This is money that my husband and I can spend on whatever we like and the other person can't fuss at us for it. You know what I mean. If my husband starts to fuss, I just say "Fun Money" and the argument is over. Of course, once the money is gone... that's it. It really makes you conserve that fun money.

Another little helper is to figure out exactly what denominations I needed for my cash envelopes (how many $20 bills, how many $10 bills...) You do it once and then you have it every month. It helps me when I'm at the bank teller's booth to tell them exactly what I need.

Here's what mine looks like (without the amounts of course) The items in red get cash folders.

1st Paycheck
Home Phone & Internet
Homeschooling (books, field trips...)
Dining & Entertainment

2nd Paycheck
Cell Phone
Natural Gas
Car Insurance
Dad's Fun Money
Mom's Fun Money
Medical - Doctor visits
Medical - Medicine
Home Repairs
Dining & Entertainment
Groceries & household
Gifts given

I hope this helps. Of course, there are probably lots of tricks and software to help you with budgeting, but I prefer to keep it simple so I stick with it.

Inside Out Cabbage Rolls - economical and delish!

I do love Cabbage Rolls on a cold day. I had three beautiful heads of lettuce in my winter garden and I wanted to use them. I wanted to find a quicker way to make them. I found a great recipe on Allrecipes that I tweaked (of course) quite a bit. Enough to call it my own. This is economical, colorful, easy and healthy. What more could you ask! We've gotten two+ meals out of it for a family of four. Everyone in our family loved it and went back for seconds. Leftovers are even better.

Inside Out Cabbage Rolls

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. Owens Hot Breakfast Sausage
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 - 14.5 oz Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1 - 6 oz can tomato paste + 2 cans of water
1 head of cabbage chopped
olive oil
1 cup uncooked Basmati rice (you can use regular long grain rice also)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
28 oz of chicken broth (you can also use beef broth)

Preheat oven to 350
Brown the meat. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions are clear. Add spices.
Mix in the Rice & tomato sauces with the meat mixture.
Pour it into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Put the cabbage on top.
Pour the broth over everything.
Cover with foil and seal it well.
Bake for 1 hour.
Stir, replace the foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

Gluten Free Option:

Inside Out Cabbage Rolls

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. HEB Gluten Free Italian Sausage (removed from casing) 
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 - 14.5 oz Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1 - 6 oz can tomato paste + 2 cans of water
1 head of cabbage chopped
olive oil
1 cup uncooked Basmati rice (you can use regular long grain rice also)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
28 oz of  CENTRAL MARKET ORGANICS FREE RANGE chicken broth (you can also use beef broth)

Preheat oven to 350
Brown the meat. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions are clear. Add spices.
Mix in the Rice & tomato sauces with the meat mixture.
Pour it into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Put the cabbage on top.
Pour the broth over everything.
Cover with foil and seal it well.
Bake for 1 hour.
Stir, replace the foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What about suicide?

Asking God why is the natural reaction to disaster. He is our Father and we naturally run to him. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking He caused it. He doesn't. This world is full of evil and bad things happen.

In my quest for comfort, I'm spending more time in nature. Even though there isn't much green around, it helps to be out there among what God created. I feel closer to Him. My family and I went hiking this weekend in a nearby state park. It was beautiful and peaceful.

God gave me some revelation on my friend's suicide that I want to share. I know it isn't anything new, but maybe it might be new to someone reading it.

Mental illness is a sickness just like any other horrible sickness. It has such a stigma we sometimes forget that. A person with mental illness is like a person whose body doesn't have the ability to fight off the disease. They succumb to any sickness easily. The Word of God (the Bible) is like an inoculation. You have to keep taking it regularly to help fight off the disease. As you continue, your body becomes stronger and stronger. Hitting it now and then doesn't do it.

Let me clarify a bit here. Reading the Bible is wonderful. However, the words might not even make much sense to the person who has not accepted Jesus as their personal Savior. The Holy Spirit that we receive at salvation opens our eyes to what the words in the Bible mean (I Corinthians 3:16). They come alive. Click here to find out more about salvation.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated.

1 Corinthians 2:10 Yet to us God has unveiled and revealed them by and through His Spirit, for the [Holy] Spirit searches diligently, exploring and examining everything, even sounding the profound and bottomless things of God [the [a]divine counsels and things hidden and beyond man's scrutiny].

Suicide is contagious. It is an evil that jumps from one to another. A friend with mental illness who is around another that commits suicide has to be very careful. My friend had another friend who committed suicide. She was obsessed with her friend's death. She thought about it often. I see now how she succumbed to it. She wasn't strong enough spiritually to fight it off. There were times my friend was in the Word of God and she was strong. When she wasn't, she succumbed to all sorts of evil. Eventually death.

Keeping this in mind, we need to help our friends with mental illness by encouraging them to stay in the Word. Praying for them. Being available to them but not allowing ourselves to become their Savior. Even though I feel I did all these things, she is gone. Ultimately, it was her choice not to remain strong in God's Word. I do take comfort in the fact that she loved Jesus and that He was her personal Savior. I know I will see her again in Heaven.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Puppies and Mrs. Warbler

I'm feeling so low today. The death of my friend weighs so heavy on my heart. Satan knows that and decided to give me a double whammy. I really wanted a puppy from our homeschool friends down the road. It's the kind I've always wanted. My husband refused. I guess he was right, but I was disappointed. Well, I went outside today only to see our across-the-street neighbor with two of the puppies right in her front yard. She had gotten the puppy I wanted and her sister. You say, that's not great, but not awful. Wait, there's more.

Our across-the-street neighbor man, we'll call him Spaz, divorced his wife. The day the ex-wife and the three kids moved out, a new lady moved right in. Let's call her Stick. I couldn't believe that Spaz moved a new lady right in to his 4 bedroom home and his three kids have to live in an apartment. Whatever. That's their deal. A few months later, while typing at my computer, I heard noise outside my window. I looked to see Stick and the ex-wife screaming at each other and Stick was towering over the ex-wife ready to strike. I see the kids running for the house. I went across the street and broke up the fight but not before Stick yelled a threat at the ex-wife. Awesome. Stick called the police on the ex-wife... what? No, the police never talked to me about the whole situation even though I was right in the middle. Wonderful work by our crack police force. The ex-wife goes to jail. Go figure. What was the whole fight about? Stick decided to turn the children against their mother by speaking despairingly about her directly to them. The ex-wife confronted her about it.

I recently saw Spaz standing on his roof yelling at his neighbor's dog for barking. Your ideal dog owners wouldn't you say.

She is in her front yard all morning with the dogs and makes sure she gets our attention when we returning home from shopping. She makes a point to say she got the dogs from "your neighbors". She was rubbing it in my face. I just went inside and ignored her. My husband carries on a whole conversation with her which just gets my goat. He heard it from me when he got inside. I reminded him who washed his socks and made his meals. Don't say "sour grapes" to me please. I'm just seething mad.

I know our friend had no idea about these people or she wouldn't have sold her beloved dogs to them. She just wanted to get rid of these last two puppies. It just hit me on the wrong day at the wrong time.

I went in the back yard to cool off. I was just praying and praying and rocking and rocking in my rocking chair. Then the cutest little green bird came into the yard and cleaned the bugs off of my flowers. I've never seen him before. I thought he was a Finch. He wasn't afraid of me at all. He entertained me and got my mind off of my anger. I calmed down a bit and came inside. I looked it up in my bird book, she was a Mourning Warbler. I thought that was a wonderful sign.
I might need another trip out there later. I hope I see my new counselor, Mrs. Warbler.


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