Friday, December 30, 2011

Girls Night!! (With the "Sister Wife")

My friend Jennifer quit school with me.

It's always more fun to quit together.

She has been such a great help and source of encouragement to me throughout this first year of homeschooling our children, both of whom have flourished under CC although our approaches and supplementary curricula are very different.  Jennifer is always a trooper and willing to do crazy things like field trips in other states that coincide with our history sentences. Even on local field trips she's such a great help, especially since I always seem to have between 1 and 10 extra children with me! One day we joked that everyone kept staring at us at a museum because we had so many children.  "They must think we're sister wives!" Never one to let an inside joke go, it stuck :)

One thing that I love about Jennifer is that she NEVER complains.  Ever.  (Although if she ever needs to, I will be more than happy to listen to her).  Girlfriend had some serious, serious issues in her first marriage.  Her health has been in jeopardy several times over the last year, including a bout with cancer and surgery to remove it.  She moved.  Just this week, her husband left for Afghanistan.  She's raising 3 kids, including her daughter she adopted from her now husband's first marriage and a little girl with Lyme Disease.  If anyone could take a day and just completely lose their ish, it would be her.  But she doesn't.  (I think it's the wine, personally, but maybe she's just incredibly strong, too)  I'm so inspired by her ability to keep calm and carry on.  Oh, also, I love that when I whine, she doesn't throw it in my face that my problems are petty.  Thanks for that, Sister Wife!

Anyway, this is all to say that since hubby is away and she's such an awesome person and we play hooky from Public School together, she's a great girls night out date! Her friend from high school made a local independent film called "The Fellows Hip", which is not really my scene (it's about gamers who are trying to make it to a Lord of the Rings online gaming competition), but I was excited to go to a premier and it was really fun to see all the local places they used in what was actually a very well done film!
I'm not as cute as her husband, but since he's getting ready to fly to Afghanistan, I'll do in a pinch.  We had dinner first at a Great American restaurant and I got to introduce Jennifer to the fantastic fried dough balls of fatness, which are really very fantastic :) Dinner was awesome and I had lemoncello martinis.  Love.  Next we went over to the theater and checked in.  I have not done many cool things in my lifetime, but the two times I've had to say "We're on the list" I've felt way cooler than I actually am. This was one of those times!

Wait, wait, wait- there's a red carpet?? This calls for some fun with iPhone pictures, even though Mrs. Jennifer had an ACTUAL camera that would have taken good ones!  Work it, girl!
I am not sexy in any way, shape, or form, but my shoes were sexy, and they worked the carpet.  Work it shoes, work it!! (I love these shoes and I hate being taller than Austin so I NEVER wear them.  My feet were strangely unhappy after being forced to run 4 miles before I went out and then being in 3 inch stilettos for the first time in 2 years for a few hours, but they make me feel pretty!)

We had a great time, and as I mentioned, the movie was well done, even if I didn't understand the gaming and Lord of the Rings references.  Plus, it's always great to get a night out with your "Sister Wife", especially when you don't actually have to share husbands!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas: A Holiday with one spelling

My munchkins were so cute this year crafting away.  Logan made chocolate covered pretzels that he added to trail mix (3 kids of marshmallows, banana chips, almonds, peppermint pieces, it was odd).  He was very proud.  Riley helped me scan his artwork and make a calendar on snapfish.  It turned out so awesome! Savannah Lynn made tie-dyed soap.  All three made candy necklaces and cookie mix in a jar for various friends and family.  It was cute and it was fun.  I tried to cut back on the number of presents.  It didn't work.  I forget they have 2 insane grandmothers who love buying stuff.

Yeah.  That's our "downsized" room of junk.

But, before we got to that, there was Christmas Eve.  Despite knowing better, I agreed to have Christmas Eve in Springfield.  6 Flags Over Jesus (my loving knickname for our mega-church) was "sold" out of free tickets, so I gave ours back so someone else could have a seat.  I just have come to embrace the fact that my crazy self gets angry when I'm stressed, and I knew that I would be stressed Christmas eve.  Anyway, driving up to get to Springfield I was freaking out and crying, we got to the Lutheran Church of Silence at 6:45 to be sure we'd get seats and Service didn't start until 7:30 (not 7 like we originally thought), the kids were exhausted by 8, service didn't end until 9:15, Savannah was crying in the car and fell asleep, Austin insisted on going back to my brother's house for dessert, so Savannah and I stayed out in the car while they went in- it wasn't great.

As a funny aside, on Tuesday, Austin met another new VP at his work who happened to be sitting behind us at Christmas Eve Service! Wheee!! It's always good when you have to ask your work superior "Did our overtired children drive you nuts?"

Christmas morning (is it morning if the sun isn't up?) started with lighting our Advent Candles and singing Happy Birthday to baby Jesus.
Yeah, it's still dark outside.  When I was little I hated that I had to wait until 6:30 for Kevin to be allowed to wake my parents up because that meant he just drove me nuts until then.  (True story- Kevin woke me up every 15 minutes on Christmas Eve until he was 14 and started OD-ing on NyQuil.)

Grammy and Papa were on time, but we had to wait for Uncle Kevin and Lauren, so we got a few pictures:
(Still dark.  Very very dark.) Check out my special snowflakes on the windows, btw.  Anne (the nice MIL) sent them to me early so I could have them up with my decorations.  They're very beautiful and quite delicate! So far the kids haven't ripped them to shreds, though, so I have hope!

Breakfast was Blueberry French Toast Bake with Cream Cheese.  It was phenomenal.
-2 loaves egg challah, chunked.  Yes, chunked is a technical term.
-12 eggs, beaten
-1 cup heavy cream (I did not call this diet French Toast)
-1 cup milk
-1/3 cup maple syrup
-2 8oz blocks of cream cheese, frozen and chunked.  Yup, we're chunking again.
-1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries.
Mix eggs, cream, milk, syrup.  Add blueberries, cream cheese, and challah chunks.  No challah? You could use panetonne, brioche, or another sturdy, slightly dry bread.  Or, you could stop hating and find some challah.  Put it in the fridge overnight.

Grease a 13x9 pan.  Dump in the purple mess you think looks horrible and unedible.  It'll bake up toasty and gorgeous, so don't worry. While it bakes for 1 hour at 350, mix the following in a sauce pan and bring to a boil until syrupy:
-1 cup water
-1 cup frozen blueberries
-1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
-3T butter

In an hour, your French Toast will have baked up and gotten super tall like a freaking souffle.  It's okay, you used 12 eggs.  When you take it out of the oven, it'll collapse and fall down, like a souffle.  Let it set for 10 minutes so the cream cheese isn't like liquid lava, and then serve with the blueberry syrup.  I think this would easily make 2 slightly less packed 13x9's if you're concerned about the amount you're cramming into the baking dish.  We ate every last bite over the course of the day, with people shunning lunch to have more.  This will definitely be made again soon!

Dinner was pretty standard, prime rib cooked in rosemary, dijon, and red wine, served with horseradish cream (2 parts sour cream to 1 part mayo to as much horseradish as your peeps happen to like.  We like ours spicy.) and garlic mash.  I tried something new this year and poached the sliced potatoes and garlic in enough cream (I used 1/2 a cup) and chicken stock (I used a box of low sodium) to just cover them.  You scoop out the soft veggies and mash them, using any remaining liquid if you need it (I didn't).  These were the BEST mashed potatoes ever.  EVER EVER.  So creamy and flavorful!  There were orange glazed string beans with candied pecans, spinach salad with winter fruit, fresh rolls, and red velvet cake.  It was tasty :) I have to admit, though, after Hannukah dinner, a dinner for friends, and Christmas dinner all in one week, even I am a little cooked out!!

This year was good for me as we made a conscious effort to focus more on Jesus and less on anything that typically frustrates mommy (like ZOMG SANTA! for an entire month. They know, they're okay.) and it was so beautiful for me.  I loved our devotional this year and we'll definitely use it again, and I especially loved that my reader and beginning reader could help share the message with us.

These flowers were purchased for our Friday night dinner with friends and lasted until Christmas, which is really good for tulips! They're gorgeous and it turns out that one of my presents from Austin was a year of once a month flower delivery from my favorite local florist.  I've always said that if I won the lottery I'd buy a house with a yard, a minivan, and weekly flowers and then I'd stick the rest in savings and investments....apparently he was listening!


Apparently you can spell that beast with a K, too! Who knew.  However you spell it, this is how we spent it:
 Num num num.  I have actually come to make pretty yummy latkes, but I use (gasp!) defrosted shredded hash brown potatoes.  Oh, the horror.  Luckily, Jesus loves me despite my flawed Jewish cooking, so we're cool.
Shiksa Latkes
(In the south, y'all, we call them hash browns!)
1 30 ounce bag of shredded potato hash browns, thawed
2 medium or 1 very large onion, shredded (see, I still put my fingers at risk!)
1 t salt
2 large eggs
pepper to taste (yes, I put pepper in my latkes.  you wanna fight?)
1/4-1/2 cup Matzo meal.  I prefer Streit's brand to Manishewitz.  (I said now it's all out on the table)
Mix.  Fry in hot vegetable oil.  I know coconut oil is better for your and blahdy blahdy blah.  They're fried potatoes, friend, I don't care if you put magical rainbow powder on them, they're still not good for you and they may as well not taste like a pina colada spilled in them.  When you put them in the pan, LEAVE THEM ALONE.  Seriously.  Don't keep peaking or test flipping, because they'll be gross.  Your oil should be hot enough that the end of your wooden spoon bubbles (I think that means it's 350) and usually on medium heat mine take 4-5 minutes per side to get crunchy and delicious.

Then we had carrot slaw (was supposed to be cooked carrots, but I got lazy), pomegranate arils, applesauce (I like to use the slow cooker- just toss in your peeled apples, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon to taste and a little water and let er rip on low until it's, well, saucy), peas (were supposed to be green beans, but the kids wanted peas), and some london broil, which is not traditional but was OH.SO.TASTY!
London Broil (is falling down)
In a ziplock bag mix 2 cups of red wine, 3T worchestire sauce, 3 crushed garlic cloves, 3 T dijon mustard, herbs of your choice (I had a provence spice blend) add meat.  Let sit overnight.  Remove, pat dry, and broil on high for 5-7 minutes per side depending on desired doneness.  I cooked 3 separate pieces so our serving platter actually ranged from bloody mess to my shoe leather, but all of it was tender and very flavorful.

Then, there was the epic fail.  I proof my yeast every time, but my donuts and my challah were EPIC fails.  The challah in the picture? It came out like a 2 week old stale pretzel.  Now I must conquer Challah.  It's on egg bread, it's on.
 Yes, that's my husband and kids lighting the advent candles with the shamus from our menorah.  If you don't like it, look away.  In our house, Christmas (which the kids spilled the beans to the other homeschoolers is probably "not Jesus' actual birthday") and Hannukah are about the fact that God is faithful and keeps his promises.  If God says he'll make some oil last or kick some Greek booty, he will.  If he says he's going to send a Savior, you better believe it's going to happen. He's not playin.  That's what I like about God.
Savannah dressed for dinner.  I was inredibly jealous I don't have a purple sparkle ballet recital dress to wear for dinner! This is daddy with his extra-special desert (since the donuts didn't rise he got us donut holes from DD) from the kids! We melted candy cane pieces in the oven to make Star of David shaped candy.  It was fun!
Directions from my facebook: "You just break the candy canes into pieces and make equilateral(ish) triangles on a greased cookie sheet and bake them for 2-5 minutes at 300 degrees. Take them out, stack one on the other, back in for one minute to set them together, and then out to harden. Use a metal spatula or board scraper, the plastic ones are too fat and roll the candy. These are SweetTart candy canes, and they're pretty yummy :) Blueberry ones would be cute and the right colors :) When they're hard, you wipe any non-stick spray residue off with a napkin, and then you can hang them up or eat them after you light your candles :) You can use little pieces all put together, too- actually my favorite one was all the different leftover colors together!"

Savannah's class had a Channukah Party thanks to her buddy Alison's mom, and Savannah came home with her very own driedel (she did not, in fact, make it out of clay) and explained to us that "How you play drey-dull is you spinned the drey-dull and then Ow-ison's mom gives you a chocolate coin."  When I tried to explain the actual rules she rolled her eyes and repeated you need Ow-ison's mom in order to play.  We invited them for dinner on Friday night (I should have taken a picture of that dinner!) but Savannah and Alison ended up playing dolls and tea party the whole time, so it was just a fun dinner with no work involved handing out gelt :) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cookie Swap 2011

I love these crazy women.
 The Schnotlus Cookie Spectacular (TM) started five years ago.  The only fixtures are myself, Kathy (next to my mom) and my mom.  Every year we get a slightly different group of women and a slightly different mix of cookies, but we always have a great time.
 This year, our crafts were alcohol-inked gingerbread man tins to use for gift cards (ask me about how I got the wrong brown clay and melted everyone's original gingerbread men and I'll deny everything!) and layered "Candy Cane" candles in mini martini glasses.  This was the first year in a long time that my godmother, Beth, has been able to join us with her daughter Denise, and it's always so fun to see them.
 I decided this year I would make cake pops.  They took me ALL freaking night and I was an hour late to my own party.  Luckily the "Schn" part of the party was already at home.  I'm not sure they tasted good, but they looked pretty!! I found adorable chinese takeout shaped Christmas boxes with cutouts on the front and packed my cake pops in those with a small piece of floral foam to put the sticks in.
We clean up well :) I love that we have such an age range and such a diverse group of women, but we have a fantastic time!! Ashley (in white) is mom's friend from Mason, Kathy is a friend from the church we attended when we first moved down here, Lauren (in red, front) is Kevin's girlfriend, Gaby is a new friend who's military, Jennifer (behind her) left Public School with me, Beth is my godmother, and Rachel, behind me, is the most amazing Children's Ministry coordinator you'll ever meet!! Our youngest swapper was 20 and our oldest was...well, 39 ;) we'll call it 39.

We have everyone bring a dozen cookies for each person, and let me tell you, we all give the best cookie trays to our neighbors of anyone I know!

Friday, December 23, 2011

An Open Letter to the Mother of my Savior

Dear Mary,

I was raised protestant, so we've never really paid that much attention to you.  Of course, each year when we'd do our nativity play the girls would fight over who got to be Mary, especially if all the angel spots were full and all that was left was shepherds, but that's about it.  We like to focus more on your son.  You were a Jewish mother, I'm sure you don't mind.

However, the Christmas after I had my own son, I felt intensely connected to you.  I was 19 and having a child 5 months after getting married.  You do the math.  I couldn't look up.  My family was disappointed, my friends were was really hard.  I'd imagine even if you knew what was going on, that not everyone around you was particularly understanding.  I read the magnificant over and over and am in awe of your joy- but I wonder if it lasted.  I remember staring at the floor in church one week as they talked about you, the teenage mother of a child not her husband's, and I wondered if you kept looking up.  I wonder how hard it was for you- if you ever outlived the stigma. If when your son was bleeding on the cross there were still a few people snickering "maybe if his mom wasn't so loose..."

I just wonder.

I don't remember the exact day, but I do remember a few years later, after much depression and self-loathing that I finally looked up.  A professor remarked to me "Why Mrs. Kristina, what a beautiful face you have.  I don't think I've seen it these few years! I'm so glad you've decided to see what's in front of you!".

I promptly burst into tears.

Anyway, that's all just to say that every Christmas, I now wonder what it was like for you.  Even with great faith, it must have been hard.  Even as a protestant, I've come to respect how difficult your journey must have been and how much you must have sacrificed so that we could all have the gift of your son.  I hope that you looked up one day, especially in realization of the gift you gave us by being humble.

In appreciation,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa Concert

I'm not sure who our preschool thinks they're fooling with the massive Santa Concert they do every year.

I think we all know that the big man is associated with Christmas.

But, whatever, they swear up one side and down the other they're "non-sectarian" and "multicultural", which has nothing to do with why we picked the school, but is something I've started to find funny as the school increases in numbers, especially of Indian and Muslim students!

Either way, the concert is always cute, and the kids have fun showing off their skills.

This is actually a remarkably good picture of Grammy and Savannah, both of whom tend to make funny faces in their pictures!! Grammy has exams this week, but took some time off from studying to come and hear the concert.  The funny part was that Savannah promised that she'd sing extra loud, but then her age group did a dance and not a song!!  Too funny!! She was very adorable dancing to music from the Nutcracker, though!

After the concert we made sure to snap a picture of Savannah and her best preschool buddies.  It was complete chaos in the fellowship hall, there were millions of people and cookies everywhere, so if the girls look a little overwhelmed, that's why!! These three are such fun to watch together!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kids Craft Tutorial- Hot Cocoa Gift Bags

Mmmm Hot Cocoa.  Did you know that there's a National Hot Cocoa Day? AND it's today!?!? That's right, December 13th is the day to celebrate Hot Cocoa.  (If you missed it, no worries, I hear January 31st is National Hot Chocolate Day....sooo, just hang in there)

Today we made a fun hot cocoa mix that you can give away on your cookie platter or to a friend or teacher assistant.  It would be cute with a gift card attached for a coach or Sunday School teacher, too!  A lot of my "kid" crafts are ones that I've done before that I just make a little simpler for my kiddos (or, in this case, our homeschool friends) to do.

You'll need:
     *A large can of hot cocoa mix (or make your own- we love Alton Brown's although for my crew I sub a pinch of cinnamon for the pinch of cayenne)
     *Candy Canes.  We like to use our broken ones this way.  If it falls off the tree but is still wrapped, it can be repurposed!!
     *White or Dark chocolate chips- the mini chips work especially well.
     *Marshmallows, we like the holiday shapes!
     *12x12 cardstock
     *adhesive (double sided sticky tape and/or glue stick) and/or a stapler
     *Embellishments (paper, stickers, stamps, ribbons)
     *Tie-top bags, plain or seasonal will work just fine!

Step One, Crush:
Crushing things is very fun.  We find that candy pieces tend to be very sharp and break our ziplock bags, so use two to prevent spills.  Don't make the pieces too small, or you won't be able to see them in your bag!

Step Two, Fill:
Start with a 1/4 cup scoop of hot chocolate mix (or more if that's what your recipe calls for) to make one mug of cocoa.  Then layer on chocolate chips, peppermint pieces, and marshmallows.  Yum :)  Secure your bag well.

Step Three, Cut:
You'll need a long piece of cardstock. All of mine were 12x6, but you can use what you have.  Fold at about 1/2 inch from the top and then set your folded edge over the other cut end.  Stand it up on the table to figure out your center folds, which will need to allow for about a 1-1.5 inch "bottom".  Once you do the first one, unfold it to use as a template if your other papers are the same size.
Voila.  She is the beautiful.

Step Whatever We're on, I'm sick of scrolling up- Insert chocolate:
Yup.  Put it inside the now-folded paper.  We stapled, but you don't have to.  On ours, the staple will be covered by ribbon.  You can either put the flap under or over.  Side note- if you're not doing this with kids, and actually have some time, I would make them look like THIS instead of like the ones we did today :)

Step the Next- Seal and Decorate:

Note: I find it helpful to have several pre-cut shapes (like squares) so that kids don't get frustrated.  

Surprise inside! Guess what's inside!! (Gingerbread Marshmallows is a way cooler prize than you get in Cracker Jacks now, anyway!) 

Look! It's a mini one! It's cute, too!

Fun and quick, you could also fill these up with any home-made treat from Russian Tea Mix (but for heaven's sake, put some red-hot candies in!) to peanut brittle.  It makes a simple homemade gift that much more special because you took the time to dress it up!!

Happy Crafting :)  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Soul Mates?

For those of you amused by my vampire interaction, I bring you true stories from Trader Joe's.
Me: (Looking at Nut Butters)
Older Gentleman with cane in his cart: "Well, are you gonna tell me I'm in your way?"
Me: Nope- you're not in my way yet. When I find what I'm looking for and you're in my way I'll just shove ya over (wink)
OG: Hah! Most people get all flustered and say "you're not in my way!!" and then blush!
Me: Do you need me to patronize you? You look too tough for that.
OG: I like you. If I were younger, I'd chase you down.
(From my cart there arose such a clatter from my 2 youngest beating each other)
Me: Is it quiet at your house? I'll walk slowly so you can catch me.
OG: Ha! Yes, and I get a social security check every month.
Me: Sold.
OG: Good. Now get walking slowly, you're blocking the jelly.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Need to Go Back to School

One of my friends on facebook mentioned that she is "forced to "celebrate" Christmas" with her (converted) husbands still-Christian family. Jokingly, I suggested it's a mitzvah to celebrate the birth of a child. In the next few lines (as facebook conversations are wont to do) she managed to inspire me to write a paper.

Yes, Virginia, there are people that are that dorky.

Here's the final comment: it still a mitzvah if one knows that millions will be cheerfully slaughtered in the name of that one single birth? Somehow I don't think "he who saves one life saves the world entire" applies here...

So we need tit-for-tat life justification? Done.  

Several of my favorite authors from undergrad spend volumes discussing the capacity of religion to become or veer towards evil.  Kimball and Armstrong were two of my favorites.  From "Terror in the Mind of God" to "When Religion Turns Evil" in classes from "Religious Fundamentalism in the 21st Century" to "Militant Islam", I've spent my fair share of hours contemplating the disconnect between a loving God and wretched people created in his image.  

But I still think that all religion gets a bad wrap.  Christianity in particular is suffering from want of some positive PR in our country, which I think has something to do with currently being "top dog" in terms of numbers.  It wasn't so long ago, compared to other faiths, that Christians were being fed to lions.  

However, tabling the topic of Christianity's place in American society, let us consider, how many people Christianity (since this is the religion in question) has killed.  Using data from the University of Hawaii , let's set the number killed by the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the burning of witches at 300,000, rounding up for error.  None of these deaths are justifiable, however, I submit 1 John 4:20- "If anyone makes the statement "I love God" yet hates his brother, he is a liar", to say that these events should never have happened.  However, since we use the claim that if we profess our positive actions to be done in the name of Christ, they are like Christ doing them, by the same logic, if we profess our negative actions to be done in the name of Christ, people will interpret them the same way.  This is definitely one area where I'm sure Muslims and Christians feel a great deal of comraderie as Muslims try to make the world see a religion of peace in the face of images of planes crashing into buildings and Christians try to show a faith of love in the face of abortion clinic bombings.  

Moving from the 300,000 people killed by the three largest instances of Christian atrocity, we could also include the 1,000,000 slaves in the United States between the colonial period to the civil war as those who were negatively impacted by Christianity.  While these slaves can't be added to the number killed in the name of Christ, they certainly suffered by a systematic oppression that frequently attempted to use scripture to justify agony and mistreatment.  These people were not specifically killed in the name of religion, however, as was the case during the crusades.

Some people would include the Holocaust as part of Christianity's violence.  However, Nazism bastardized the Christian church, putting state officials in positions of power and jailing clergy that didn't follow the party line.  Further, Hitler's alignment with Japan and study of the core of the Nazi party following the fall of the regime point to the fact that Nazism was, in its purest form, a pure-land cult, much like violent Shintoism and did not hold to Christian doctrine or even seek to pretend it did (quoting also from Professor Hebbar's Notes, Eastern Religions, 2007 GMU). While the actions of many churches in not doing more to stop the genocide taking place in Germany are abhorrent and an abomination in comparison to Christ's teachings, the violence perpetrated by the Nazi's was not a Christian movement.  I recommend reading Hitler's Willing Executioners for more on the concept that German antisemitism was, by the time of the Holocaust, a secularized notion.  

Next, we have the abortion clinic bombings and attacks.  These have killed seven abortionists.  Adding in any additional incidental murders claimed to be in the name of faith, from the 74 killed in Waco, Texas to attacks on Mormon settlers, to a crazy neighbor stabbing someone they claim to be apostate, the number of people killed directly by Christianity is far from "millions" as claimed by my friend.  

I do not wish to turn this into a "who's religion is worse", so I am going to resist the temptation to point out numbers of people killed by Muslims, Jews, cult leaders, etc.  People have, in the name of Christ, killed others in acts of senseless and unbiblical violence.  

It's not okay.

     * In 2009-2010 alone, Feed My Starving Children helped Jesus pack 97 million meals for starving children, whether or not they're Christians. That's 3 meals a day for some 88,000 people. While there distributing food, they also buy out local artisans to begin sustainability in the communities they serve.
      * In 2011, Samaratin's Purse paid for 360 medical personnel to come to Africa, paid for 25 life-saving cardiac surgeries, and taught 40,000 people how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, which will help every sexual partner those 40,000 have in their lifetime.
      * The United Methodist Church's Committee on Relief (UMCOR) sent $3,800,000 to Japan following the tsunami that helped with various relief efforts including emergency shelter, food, and safe drinking water.
      * This church feeds 200 people once a month.  And I don't even like their pastor. This church just fed 300 children for an entire year in 4 days of work.  

What are we at? Definitely over a million.  And that's 5 Christian organizations in one year's time each.  

Christianity killed, and occasionally still does.  I will not make excuses or say that "those people weren't real Christians" because if they claim Christ, then it is my responsibility as a fellow believer to rebuke them in wrong beliefs, and obviously there have been cases where we have failed in this endeavor.  Miserably.  However, I can assure you that while Christianity has to claim these people, Christ does not, and I fully believe that he mourned each of those occurrences as a tragedy in the same way God mourned the failures of the Israelites in the Torah.  However, more than it fails, and it fails daily, even if it is in ways "smaller" to the world than murder, Christianity also succeeds in being what Christ called it to be- hands and feet in a hurting world.  Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, loving the orphaned, and more.  If you're looking to point a finger of blame and say "Those murderers claimed Christ, so those are his murders", then you must also point a finger and say "Those who helped the world this year claimed Christ, so those are his successes."

Judaism kills.  Islam kills.  Hinduism kills.  Religion kills. But it also heals and saves, espeically one that has called us, more than anything, to love because that is the nature of our God. 

I John 4:8 
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

These Are the Eyes of a Killer, Bella

Oh, wait, that's sparklepire skin.

I am seriously going to start a service where I let people pay me to follow me around on any given day.  At the jewelry store I work at occasionally, they have an expression- "Who turned the sign on?"- referring to the "Crazies Welcome" sign we were all sure was out on the porch that day.

I Haz Dat Sign.

It's apparently tattooed on my forehead.

Today, I had the occasion to run to the grocery store.  This is always dangerous for me since I seem to attract people with my invisible sign.  This particular store doesn't have, as far as I know, a goth club or D&D society that meet in the storage room, but that had no bearing on what was about to transpire.

Goth dude: "Excuse me, do you know about your eyes?"
Me: "Umm, they're blue...and they work decently with contacts or glasses?"
GD: "Huh.  The dark outer ring and washed out inner color indicates you're one of us."
Me: "How about that."
GD: "Do you know which us I mean?"
Me: (Looking for an exit, but cornered by a large woman taking way too long looking at the ranch dressing"
GD: "You are a vampire."
Me: (Contemplating wild laughter, but deciding that most of GD's jewelry would work as a weapon) "Huh, I've never known"
GD: "Your eyes are a dead giveaway.  You're also very pale and I bet your hands and feet are unusually cold.  Do know, crave?"
Me: "Oh, like people? No, actually I verge on vegetarian."
GD: "You poor thing.  You must be very sick.  You should have a steak."
Me: "I will take that under advisement"
GD: (Dramatic turn and exit)

So there you have it, people.  These are the eyes of a Killer.
I wonder if I can get a spot on Breaking Dawn Part II.  I'm willing to glitter up. In the mean time, y'all apparently shouldn't mess with me.  I need a steak.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Running to Finish

Today I got to run my first 5k! It made me incredibly nervous- I hate doing things that I'm not good at and with all the health problems I've been having and Austin's work schedule I've only been running once or twice a week consistently.  My friends Stacey and Riann who are "real runners" and did the 15k were so encouraging and kind to me, though, and made me feel much better about the fact that I was running to finish and not running to be good :)

(If I keep running....can I look like them?)

We did the Hot Chocolate 5k/15k which was a little bit of a logistic nightmare- they didn't really think about their being only one entrance into National Harbor, so the traffic was insane, but we got to parking okay (eventually) and our being late helped since they started the race almost an hour late.

I didn't get to run at the pace I'd hoped to keep the whole time since the 5k bottlenecked through a tunnel almost immediately, but, again, I was running to run (insomuch as the crowd of 20,000 allowed) the entire 3 miles, which I did.

At the end of the race there was hot chocolate and chocolate fondue, and then I went to cheer on the 15k people while I waited for Riann and Stacey.  They did such a great job- I hope that in a few decades I can keep up with them!! They were also very sweet to be so kind to me when they ran 3 times as long and 10 times as fast.  I actually really enjoyed doing a race and I'm excited to do another!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Craft Tutorial: Advent Countdown

Quite possibly the easiest craft you'll ever do! You could easily alter this project to be a countdown to Hannukah (use blue and white peppermint patties!) or Easter (pink, yellow, and green wrapped candy), or even a child's birthday.  If you prefer not to use candy, a small toy or trinket would fit, too! You could also easily dress this craft up (Look at THESE!!), but we planned this craft for our CC friends to come over and do, so I wanted it to be easy enough for the kids to do fairly independently.

Here's what you'll need:
Ribbon (curling or fabric, either is fine), number printouts, scripture printouts (optional, but why not!), scissors, a one-hole punch, plastic wrap, mixed Christmas wrapped Hershey Kisses.  I like using my ironing board for this craft so that I can lay the plastic wrap out, but a long kitchen table would be fine, too!  If you have a stampin up circle cutter that can fit around your numbers, all the better!!

This process could not be any easier! Spread out your plastic wrap.  I've found that for 3-4 kids (so 3-4 kisses in each bundle) I need about 5.5 feet of plastic wrap.  If you need extra, it's easy to add by tying it into a bundle and it sticking to the other piece, so no worries if you're short.  For 2 kids I think 4.5 feet is enough.  At the top of your wrap, use several colors of ribbon to tie a bow, using one piece to tie a loop so you can hang your countdown up!
Next, bundle in one piece of candy per child per night, tying securely under each bundle with ribbon.  For an Advent countdown, you obviously need to have enough "bundles" to get from 1-25!
Next, cut out your numbers.  I got mine from HERE and I think they're so cute! (Plus it's a free download!) You could mount these on Christmas paper, or you can put them on top of folded scripture cards, or you can just use them alone.  Hole punch each card once so that you can thread it onto the ribbon between each section.  The number goes under the candy it goes with so that when you untie it to take the number off, you get the candy above it, and then next number and its candy stay securely tied!
I love how it looks for two kids because you can put the kisses in a diamond shape and they fit so nicely!! For more kids it's a little harder to bundle nicely, but it works out!!
Fun!  Some other versions that work, too, include printing numbered cards with quotes on them, or glueing your numbers onto folded scripture verses (we did these at a church I worked at):
After the jump, you can get versions of my devotional scripture readings to go along with the countdown, or a more "meditational" version I designed to be a little more "seeker friendly" with some quotes, carol verses, and a little less scripture.  I printed these using a 4.5 inch margin on the left so that they could be folded over into cards with the number on the front.

Happy Crafting! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Day in December

Homeschooling in December is amazing.  Yes, yes, it's the first day of December, but still.  I love that we can take advantage of the very small window of time where it's not dark and freezing.  I love that we can get our work done with plenty of time to enjoy the season and get projects and baking done.  I love that baking counts as reading comprehension and math....actually, I love that a lot :) 

Today was such fun.  We started our day off slowly, but got through our Primary Arts of Language work, math, reading, and some CC review by noon.  Logan's PAL handwriting has looped around to include uppercase letters, so I took the opportunity to match up Riley's work so that he can do cursive on the same schedule as Logan's printing.  It makes my life easier when I can get something to match up! 

We took a few minutes to get our rooms clean and put our schoolwork away, and then the kids helped me get a few snacks ready because we had friends coming over to play some games for the NWF.  The woman taping went to middle and high school with me and needed some kiddos to play, and I definitely have those.  My mom nearly had a heart attack about it because this person had been just right of center of some girl drama and foolishness that really hurt me "back in the day".  In fact, my dirty little secret is that after said drama (which involved both girls and church youth group, a lethal combo) I tried REALLY hard to be an atheist for two years.  

Don't worry- it didn't take.  

The self-loathing took, though.  I was good at that before it started.  However, as I told my mom, I'm not 13 anymore, and I grew up.  It makes my heart happy that I can be over things that, at the time, truly truly felt like the end of the world.  

I'm a grown up and stuff, people.

Anyhow, the kids had a great time, and it was truly great to see someone from the past.  So often, even when we see people on facebook, our ideas about people get frozen in the past and it's just not who people are anymore.  I really enjoy "meeting" people that I knew decades ago as totally different people.

The kids had fun playing games and being filmed (they're all talking about being movie stars now) and between "scenes" had a great time playing pretend with every toy in the house and, of course, Riley's birthday present from Uncle Kevin.

Her name's Caramelita (you can't see it- but she's caramel colored). She's the nicest bunny, ever, and if you let her out to hop with access to her cage, she won't even poop on the floor.  We're hoping that she and Bun Bun will bond, since our research indicates that female rabbits will form bonded pairs and live happily together, but Bun Bun keeps trying things that make us worry BunBun is not, in fact, a female.  It makes me worry.

After our friends left we had a very successful first night of our pantry challenge with baked potatoes stuffed with pulled chicken and sour cream, cole slaw, and broccoli.  Savannah helped make the chicken, which turned out really good!  We did 3 (VERY LARGE) chicken breasts with garlic powder, chopped onion, a pinch of cayenne, a bottle of honey bbq sauce, 1 cup of diet coke, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1T honey, and 1t cumin.  We probably could have just done the bbq sauce and water, but Savannah really loves to add stuff to the pot so we just kept adding and it turned out really good! All the boys went back for more, I cleaned my plate, and Savannah categorically refused everything on the plate because her arm was too tired to pick up the fork, which she's done every night for the last month.  

She eats breakfast like a champ, though!

While I was finishing dinner the boys make some Russian Tea Cakes with pecans instead of walnuts because that's what I had left over from Thanksgiving.  They did such a great job following the directions, and just needed help with "granulated" and "confectioners".  Rolling the balls into equal sizes was a little challenging for Logan, but he got it down in the end! We did one cookie each for our Advent treat and the rest were put into a tupperware to go in the freezer until we're ready to do cookie plates, which is the plan for the cookies we make tomorrow night, too.  I usually do a baking marathon over a weekend to get cookie plates done, but spreading them out over the month and using baking as a lesson is going to be so much better and less stressful!

Advent devotion tonight was about how God had a plan for salvation in creation.  We read from Genesis and talked about how even in the beginning God knew he would send Jesus to reconcile man to himself.  Savannah Lynn blew my mind with this little conversation:
"Momma, I knowed that!" 
Okay, Savannah, that's good.
"No, Momma, I knowed that! I knowed Jesus was from the beginning!" 
Good Savannah, let me finish reading.
"But Momma, In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God and the word is Jesus, Momma"

Huh.  I guess two things.  One- wow, that CC memory work is really taking (she did the sign language, too!) and two- man do I love that Jesus came as a baby.  Is there anything more powerful than the faith of a child or the profound impact of such a tiny person telling us such great truth? 

How to Stock Your Pantry, The Kristina Version

I started typing a response to a friend on facebook and decided it was going to be too long and complicated for that format.  (Having re-read this before posting, please do not panic when you start reading this.  It should take you several months to a year to build a useable pantry and freezer, not one shopping trip....although if you have several hundred dollars laying around with nothing to do, you certainly COULD go on a bender at Wegmans, but please invite me because I think it'd be fun!)

The question was, basically, "say someone has never really developed pantry staples, how would they go about doing that"?

Here's my answer, although I'm sure there's a few ways to do it.

Step 1- Decide if you're going to shop with or without coupons.  Coupons can save you an insane amount of money, but they do require time and organization.  Then, decide what your stock-up price is on various items.  It's important to have standards.   Each week when you shop, make part of your grocery budget be for "stocking up" on an item that is on a good sale.  Keep in mind where you have storage available.  I have a regular fridge/freezer in my kitchen, LIMITED cabinet space, and a full size freezer in my laundry room.  That means I prefer to have freezer-friendly items! You might rather have shelf-stable. Some examples of stock up prices (without coupons, so it's fair for everyone):
Pasta Sauce, $1 a jar or less.  Giant runs 10/$10 sales on a very regular basis.  I usually get marinara (because I can use it in a pinch on pizza or pasta) and "doctor" it with veggies, herbs, and spices.  It's a great go-to back up meal, too.
Butter, $1.75 or less per pound.  When butter is on a good sale, I'll buy a few pounds and freeze it.
In-season Fruit, $1 or less per pound for in-season fruit. Packages of berries I am really happy to get at $2 each, but usually once a summer they'll do them for around $1, too. This is another that I'll freeze like crazy.  We love fresh fruit, too, but if it's a good price, I'll buy extra to wash and freeze.  (Apples get peeled and sliced in 2 cup increments to use in applesauce, crumbles, and pies.  Berries get washed, dried, and frozen on a cookie sheet before being put into ziplock baggies so they aren't stuck together.  They're awesome in smoothies, breads, pancakes, jellies, etc)
Frozen or Canned Veggies- I consider the Wegmans brand prices on these items to be stock-up every day.  Their corn, peas and green beans are consistently under 50 cents canned and their frozen veggies tend to be around the $1 a bag mark.
Meats- here's one where you need to know what you like to eat.  I think that buying whole chickens is genius and I love to do a roast chicken on Sunday that becomes enchiladas mid-week and soup or chicken and dumplings on the weekend.  Whole chickens go on sale for under 50 cents a pound and freeze well :) Around $2 per pound for chicken breast is pretty good, and $3 or under per pound for most steak items (lean ground beef, stew meat, etc).  The meat with the "Save $2 now!" on it is usually 2 days from its sell-by date, but if you're going to freeze it before the "use or freeze by date" it doesn't matter :)
Tuna- 50 cents or less per can
Pasta- 50 cents or less with a coupon, I've never bought it without one....but I'd guess $1 without.

Some items that I like to have in my pantry are always stock-up price, and I buy them in rotation with my "stock up money".  I like to have beans, lentils, rice (rice is another one worth printing off a coupon for because you can get it for FREE) and there's always some baking item that's on a great sale, like flour, sugar, cake mixes, etc.

Step 2: Figure out what you like to eat and ignore anything I'm suggesting that you won't.  I (in the words of a dear friend) "cook some seriously weird shit".  In any given week we might have tofu tikka masala, homemade mac and cheese, vegetable pad thai, spaghetti and meatballs, and chicken fatteh.  If you do not like ethnic foods, spicy foods, vegetarian proteins, etc, then ignore me and buy what you'll eat.

As for a "What do I need in my pantry", here's where I've built to.  Note that we are a family of 5 and love to feed other people.

Shredded Cheddar and Mozarella Cheese (I buy them in ENORMOUS bags and then repack them into usable amounts.  Cheese freezes very well) We have 5 people in our family, I like there to be at least a pound of each.
Chicken of some kind (whole or breasts) I usually have 2-3 whole and 2-3 packs of white meat
Ground meat (beef or soy crumbles, we'll eat either) 2 pounds
Ham or ham steaks (mostly for soup, but if spiral ham goes on sale it makes great sammies!)
Hash brown potatoes
Bread (when bread goes on sale I buy several loaves since my family goes through about 1/week)
Frozen green beans, corn, mixed veggies, and stir-fry mix, 2 bags of each
Frozen chopped onion and bell pepper (this is where my veggies go to live when they're getting close to not being good but I don't need them)
Frozen apples (about 3 pounds), frozen berries (about 3 pounds)
Butter 2 pounds
Flour and Sugar usually around 20 pounds of each depending on if it's baking season :) and yes, I keep them in the freezer.  We got flour beevils once and that crap is never going down in my house again.  EVER.  Period.
Stock.  If you are ever cooking something with bones in it and you're not making stock you don't love yourself.
Casseroles or soups- I was better about this when we were a 2 person family, but I have only ever known how to cook for "family" size meals.  When it was just us and a non-eating baby, I'd make chili and instantly put half in the freezer.  Now I usually only do this for spaghetti sauce or stew or lasagne, but making double of something and tucking it away for a night you don't want to cook is smart.

Canned beans- chickpeas (for Indian and Lebanese), kidney beans (for chili) and black beans (for Mexican).  3 cans of each is my happy number.  One to use, one to know I have and one as a backup for when I forget I used the other 2.
Dried beans/peas- navy bean, peas, various colors of lentils (red for Indian, brown for Italian) Usually a bag or two of each.  They keep forever and they're cheap.  My grandmother used to tell me if you bought a ham bone and a bag of beans, you could feed your family for a week for under $2.  She's still right.
PASTA! Listen people, if you have Jesus and some pasta, you can be saved from most dinner emergencies.  You can generally put anything on Pasta and people will eat it.  Have pasta.  I like to keep angel hair or spaghetti, rotini or spirals (casseroles, mac and cheese or pasta salad), and a soup shape like ditalini.
Cream Soups.  Don't hate.  They're totally horrible for you, and yes you could make your own, but I have limits.  3 cans each of cream of celery, cream of mushroom, and cream of chicken will get you through a lot.
CANNED TOMATO PRODUCTS- I don't think you can have enough of these.  Sauce, spicy rotel brand, paste, diced, crushed, whatever is on sale, I'll buy and keep around.  Tomatoes are a great base for so many things.  Also, jars of pasta sauce, as previously mentioned.
Cereal.  Lots. :)
Oatmeal, whether because you like to eat it or because it makes meatballs, cookies, and meatloaf.
Peanut Butter and Jelly.  I have small children.
When ramen and tomato soup in a can go on sale, love yourself and buy some.  I have some great ramen noodle recipes and sometimes, there's nothing like tomato soup from a can.  Don't hate.
Vinegar (I buy the gallon containers of both white and apple cider but also like to have balsamic at a minimum)
Vegetable oil (frying) and olive oil (everything ever)
Rice (white medium grain will do you just fine, but for me I need jasmine and sushi rice, too.....and nori)
A box of nice crackers and a jar of olive tapenade.  Trust me on this.
If you don't have stock in your freezer, have bullion cubes or broth in your pantry

Also, build yourself a spice collection.  Start with garlic powder, salt, pepper, baking powder, baking soda, flour, white and brown sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, parsley, bay leaf and an Italian Seasoning Blend.  Next get poultry seasoning, cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper.  Ginger, dill, season salt, onion powder or flakes, allspice and nutmeg.  Then you can move on to others- I like tumeric, fenugreek, sumac...this post is making me hungry.

Yogurt (both vanilla for eating and plain greek as a base for ethnic sauces and/or a sour cream substitute)
Cream cheese
Fresh fruit
Mayo/Mustard/Ketchup/Worcestershire Sauce and Soy Sauce (side note- buy tamari, it'll change your life).  If you cook "weird shit" like me, you'll probably also like to have hoisin sauce, chili paste, tahini, wasabi, etc.
And then whatever veggies you've bought for the week.  We tend to keep bell peppers, cucumbers, baby carrots, and celery for the kids to nosh on, but broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and tomatoes are also popular.

Now- this is obviously what an "ideal" pantry looks like for me.  For example, right now, I'm out of beef/soy crumbles, all beans except kidney and dried navy, and I'm running copiously low on both cheese and yogurt.  However, with any combination of these items, you can make a million things.  If you literally have nothing in your pantry, I'd start with this list:

-Frozen vegetables
-Onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, garlic
-Canned tomatoes, jars of pasta sauce
-The first spice set
-Dried beans
-Fridge sauces
-A good olive oil
-Apple cider vinegar

If you've already got most of these things, then when you shop for next week's dinner, add one stock up item to your list (for example, oh look! pasta sauce is on sale 10 for $10! I'm going to buy 5.  Also, pasta is on the same sale! I'll get 6 boxes).

If this was your pantry, here's just a few things that you could make:
Chicken and Dumplings (only I use a leftover chicken from roasting one)
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce (using a jar of sauce you add to sauteed onions, garlic, and beef with extra seasoning)
Breakfast for dinner
Chili (Rotel tomatoes, spices, onions, beef, chili powder.....and a bud light)
Macaroni and Cheese using yellow mustard in a MUCH SMALLER AMOUNT
Navy bean soup (ham steak, onions, carrots, dried beans)
Split pea soup (ham steak, onions, carrots, bay leaf, dried peas)
Roast Chicken (whole chicken, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, butter) with mixed veg and mashed potatoes
Tuna Noodle Casserole with peas (pasta, tuna, cream of mushroom, frozen peas, greek yogurt)
Stew (crockpot! beef, carrots, onions, potatoes, flour, peas, stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf, bonus points for red wine)
Cheddar Garlic Biscuits to go with anything listed above (you don't need bisquick- just flour, baking powder and salt)
Vegetarian Sushi
Spicy Red Lentil Dahl with Naan
Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken Tenders with Garlic-butter noodles and green beans
Schechuan Noodle Salad
Hoisin Glazed Chicken with mixed veggies and fried rice
Chili stuffed potatoes
Grilled steak with baked potatoes and green beans (fine, you'd have to shop for the green beans but it's so worth it)
Vegetarian Burrito Bowls (rice, black beans, sauteed bell pepper and onion, drained canned corn, rotel tomatoes, cheese and greek yogurt)
Apple pie
Berry Crisp
Oatmeal Cookies
Chicken Salad (I don't put raisins in mine because re-hydrated raisins make me want to die)


Plus, you could make 8,000 other things just by picking up one or two ingredients, which is the ultimate goal.  The goal is to get to a point where you can say "Oh! I want to make THIS for dinner! I have everything except the sundried tomatoes!" and instead of buying 17 ingredients that aren't on sale, you use the stuff you bought at home when it was a good price, and just buy the sundried tomatoes that aren't on sale.

This looks way more intimidating than it is.  Another way of doing it is to buy double of the ingredients of foods you know you like to make (ex: "I'm making lasagne this week.  I know we love that, so I'll buy two boxes of noodles and two jars of sauce and two pounds of cheese") and then store one set of ingredients so over time you at least have the stuff you need to make what you know you like.