Monday, December 31, 2012

Triumph Over a Dorito

As I mentioned in my previous post about couponing, I've been making some changes in how we eat around here.

Aside from the obvious reasons (Getting married?  The freshman 15 has nothing on you!), I've been reading a lot about food -- where it comes from, what's in it, etc.  Let's just say it has been rather eye-opening.

But change is difficult, and I had to start small.  In fact, as small as a tiny triangular chip coated with a bright orange cheese food product.

Let me be very clear.  I was never under the impression that a Dorito was health food.  I did not, in fact, give it much thought, to be honest.  I just found them irresistible.

When I was in college, my roomie and I would wait anxiously for the Doritos to go on BOGO at Publix.  We would then buy two bags and smuggle them back to our dorm room.  We would fill our plastic orange bowls to overflowing repeatedly, reveling in the cheesy crunchiness while we studied or watched TV.  The bag would never survive the night.

Later, when I got married, I remembered those magical nights and bought the BOGO Doritos once again.  Not surprisingly, my self-control was not much improved, and a bag of Doritos would not last much past the weekend in which they were bought.  My addiction continued...

One fateful day...I actually read the ingredients list on the bag of Doritos.  What was this??  Hydrogenated oils...and MSG??  Be still my soul!

I finally decided to. just. stop. buying. the. darn. things.  Not that I did not love them still -- I just didn't see that the trade-off was worth it.

As of this month, it had probably been a  year since I had eaten any Doritos whatsoever.  A thought of them had not even crossed my mind.

Then, I was out to lunch with my husband and in-laws and ordered a sandwich that came with chips.  Lo and behold, arising from the waitress's hand was the once-coveted red bag adorned with a fiery logo -- my long-awaited Doritos.  I considered whether to eat them or not, but I thought since it was too late to change the order, I might as well give it a shot.  One bag would not kill me.

As I popped the cheesy orange triangle into my mouth...I couldn't believe what my tastebuds told me.  "Ew"???  They were certainly not as good as I remembered.

"Maybe you really can change your tastebuds..."  I thought. 

And then I proceeded to eat the whole bag of chips.

Next lesson: "You don't have to eat it just because it's there..."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Coupon Mishap... Redeemed

Once upon a time, I was an avid couponer.  I would routinely spend at least 30-60 minutes per week scanning ads, making lists, and clipping coupons.

Many circumstances conspired to interfere with this hobby. 

For one, it became a bit less thrilling as time went on.  Then, the downward spiral of the economy combined with the rising popularity of couponing began to affect the value of coupons that were available.  (For example, when I first started couponing, I could at least once per year find a coupon for 1.00 off chocolate chips.  Now the most common one is 1.00 off 2, and .25 ones have also been found).  Finally, I embarked on a journey to change the way we eat, and it really worked.  We hardly buy the processed foods that are profitable for couponing these days.

In any case, I somehow ended up with almost my entire coupon collection scattered across my office floor in an extremely disorganized fashion.  Even an INFP can only put up with so much!

Today, my long-suffering husband agreed to assist me in organizing the office.  As he sorted through the coupons, I exhorted him to look at the fold of the coupon inserts to see the date they were published.  Somehow, to him, this translated as "Look at the fold of the coupon inserts to see when the coupons expire." 

Alas, my entire collection of coupon inserts made its new home in the dumpster before I realized what was happening!

On the plus side, my office is now very clean.

Faced with a range of possible reactions, I chose not to freak out in this instance.

I will look at it as a new start.  A chance to begin again and really evaluate how I spend my time and make my shopping lists.  A chance to actually keep things organized.

We will begin by rebuilding the coupon stash and avoiding shopping at regular supermarkets for the month of January.  We will stick to the Farmer's Market and the health food store, hitting Publix only if we really need to.  And no, chips do not count as an emergency.

2013 beckons...  I'm not much for resolutions, but I saw someone posting intentions the other day, and I like that idea.  But instead of just intentions, I will be more intentional. 

And I think this is a good place to start.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Awake, my soul!

There's something about the Advent season that awakens me, a cold, brisk wind pushing across my soul.  Maybe it's the change in liturgy.  Or the change in seasons.  Or just change.

I find myself wanting to write again.  I look for the beauty that swells just beneath the surface during this season.  The anticipation is ripe, full, bursting with color and flavor.

This really has not much to do with Christmas as it is celebrated here.  Not shopping and crowds.  Lights and decorations only tread lightly, leaving not much of a footprint.  No, this is a mystery, full-fledged, waiting to break forth.

In Advent, we wait for what has already come, and we wait for what is yet to come.

And in that sense, Advent is not over yet.  Though Christmas has come, and Advent is another year away, still we wait.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Peace from Chaos

Cleaning has never been my thing.

Cooking, yes.  Making a mess from art projects, definitely.  Sitting amidst the clutter lost in a book -- oh, yeah.

But cleaning has always seemed boring, repetitive -- something to be put off--indefinitely, if possible.  Dust seems to gather, dishes pile in the sink, a dark ring of dirt build-up forms around the rim of the sink, whether or not I attack it with the weekly or daily prescription of cleaning.

And what more important things I could be doing with my time!

Since I've had my own house, though, I've found some rhythm in the dailiness of these tasks.  True, I'm no model housekeeper, but there is something soothing about putting things where they belong, cleaning surfaces till they shine, sweeping away the crumbs from the meals of our lives.

Kathleen Norris echoes in my mind as I learn the liturgy of folding and putting away clean towels.  A sweet Sabbath peace settles over the house.

Tomorrow, the piles will slowly begin to reappear, the dust will start to settle, the dishes will pile up in the sink once more....

But tonight...

we will rest.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Lost Are Found

I may have mentioned before that I am an INFP.

In other words, I can be scattered.  I am good at coming up with big ideas, but not necessarily following through on little details.  I get inspired.  Very inspired.  Then I get depressed when reality does not seem as inspirational as it should.

Also, I lose things.  Many things.

When I was very young, I would get stacks of books out of the library.  In classic INFP fashion, I would then straw them from one end of the house to the other, reading as I went.  Perhaps it is no surprise that on the day the books were due, I had some difficulty collecting them all to return to the library.

After that, my mom limited me to two books at a time.  I could usually keep track of both of them.

Remember the camera?  Yeah, me too.  Well literally, not a week after I wrote that post, I was packing for a beach vacation, and what did I find wallowing in the bottom of my closet among flip-flops and sneakers and sandals???  MY CAMERA!  Yes, the very same camera that was thought to have been lost in New Hampshire was really only lost in my closet.  And no, numerous interrogations have not yielded any information as to why it was there.  I literally had not seen it since that trip...

Then there was my J hook.  For those who do not crochet, crochet hook sizes are labeled in letters.  So a J hook is just a hook for crocheting that is medium-sized.

Anyway, last year sometime, I took a notion to teach myself to crochet.  Again.  (Another classic sign of an INFP -- starting projects and not finishing them.  Yeah.)  Well, the crochet pattern that I found required a J hook and some thick yarn.  I found the thick yarn.  But the J hook had mysteriously disappeared from my case of crochet hooks.  I vaguely remembered taking it out to do some project, but who knew where it had ended up after that....

I went to the craft store to buy a new J hook.  I ended up buying an I hook by mistake.  Then I gave it up and just used a K hook.  Alas...

Just yesterday, my J hook was resurrected from the bottom of a bag containing materials for loop weaving with a plastic loom.  Who would have guessed?

Rereading my blog posts, I noticed my enthusiasm at the beginning of the summer.  How much writing I would do with so much time in which to do it!

My last post?  A month ago!

Apparently, stress motivates writing more than lack of stress.  Who knew?

I think perhaps it is too late to change my personality.  I will always lose things.

But the sudden inspiration of finding lost things is all mine.  And I am OK with that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Camera is Back... and So Am I!

As you may recall, I left my camera in New Hampshire last September.

So, to punish myself, I had to wait until I could save up enough to get a new one.  Thus, my mostly picture-less posts up till now.

Fortunately for me, a lovely deal site called Plum District, offered an amazing deal where I could get a very basic camera for less than half price.

Needless to say, I jumped on it.

So now I have a camera again, finally! *cheering*  It is not a great camera, but it is a camera.

Not only that, but I am about two weeks into summer, which means I will have much more time to write.  Hooray!

Now, on to the story!

My sister, niece, and I went blackberry picking on Saturday.

Ellie was excited for her first time picking berries!

And also a little silly!

But very excited!

We had a great time wresting the berries from the bees and other crawly bugs.  Ellie alternated between running up and down the rows of bushes and finding berries that she could reach, announcing with gusto, "Here's a BIG, fat one!"

What else to do with delicious, fresh-picked blackberries but make a superb dessert for Father's Day?

I call it...

Sarah's Famous Berry Crisp
(adapted from a Blueberry Crisp recipe from Peas and Thank You)

3 1/2 cups of any berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and, of course, blackberries)
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
sprinkle of nutmeg
1/2 c. oats (can use gluten free)
2 T. almond flour (made from ground almonds -- you can use whole wheat flour if you like)
1/4 c. toasted almonds (I used the slivered almonds and toasted them in the toaster oven)
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 t. salt (optional)
2 T. butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and drain berries and place in a small casserole dish or 8 x 8 baking pan.  If you are using strawberries, quarter them before placing them in the pan.

2.  Sprinkle berry mixture with two tablespoons of brown sugar, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg.  If you like, you can also sprinkle some vanilla or almond extract over the berries at this time.  Mix well.

3.  In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, almonds, remaining brown sugar, and salt.  Cut the butter into small pieces.  Use a pastry cutter to mix in the butter until the mixture has small chunks.

4.  Sprinkle topping over berries.

5.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


 Indeed, it was well received by the Patriarch.  And also his loyal subjects.

So ends a blackberry adventure well begun.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Center Holds

    "Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold..."
--W.B. Yeats "The Second Coming"

I am an introvert; my mind is always busy.  It rushes and chatters, a waterfall over rocks, leaving me desperate for silence.

For something like seven years, I have practiced Centering Prayer, a Christian contemplative practice somewhat akin to meditation.  I have practiced, I should say, in hopes that some day I might get better at it, might access that mind-peace that so many claim they find in it.

To no avail.  Instead, I spend countless minutes chasing mind monkeys, and occasionally stumbling upon a smooth lagoon of soft waves and sweet breezes.  But only occasionally.

This morning was no better.  Amid the background noise of my darling hubby watching Sports Center in the next room, and my cat purring loudly at my side, I settled down for prayer.  The kitty then decided that my prayer period could only benefit from her methodically sticking her claws into my leg as she kneaded my thigh.  Finally, fascinated by some video or other on the computer, my loving partner began to blast some sort of mechanical noise over the murmer of the TV.

I could only laugh to myself and attempt to refocus.  Surely, Lord, you are in the midst of things falling apart.

I felt the prayer period was a mega-fail.  I spent more time refocusing than focusing.  Just how was I to meet God when I could not even hear Him?

Oh, well, try again next time, right?

And I headed off to work.  I was surprised to find, though, that the time of day when I usually start to get a bit frazzled, hadn't arrived quite on schedule.  I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting it to appear any moment. 

But it did not.  By the end of the day, when I checked my state of mind (this only sounds strange if you've never taught in an elementary school classroom -- you do not have time to check your state of mind during the day!), I dipped deeply into a clear calm in the core of my soul.

And where did that come from?

Many teachers of Centering Prayer say that there is no "wasted" prayer session.

Perhaps they are right, after all?

What I'm Reading...

I have always been an avid reader, from the time my chubby hands could barely hold the book that I had memorized and was now "reading" to anyone who would listen, and it amazes my husband how I can read multiple books at the same time.  It amazes me how he can not read multiple books at the same time!  Here is a peek into my current bookshelf.

The Art of Slow Reading by Thomas Newkirk.
Bought for me by my principal as a "professional development" tool, this book surprised me in the first few pages.  It graduated almost immediately to a "reading for fun" book.  (Shhh -- don't tell my principal -- I don't think we're supposed to enjoy "professional development.")  Newkirk begins with the premise that when it comes to reading (and many other things), speed is not necessarily an advantage.  He proceeds to demonstrate in voice-laden exposition six practices that help readers to literally wallow in good writing.  If you are a reader or a teacher of reading, this book will inspire you!

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
I've enjoyed reading several accounts of life in Afghanistan and have been amazed by its troubled history and the immense personal strength of its citizens.  This story, told by an American journalist, displays the beauty of bravery in the most powerless citizens as the Taliban conquered the country.  This book  courageously lays bare the facts but weaves a thread of compassion throughout the narrative.  I am still early in the book, but I am looking forward to developing a relationship with it as I continue to read.

The Gospel According to Moses by Athol Dickson
This is my second attempt to read this tangled mass of exposition and narrative.  I had to get about fifty pages in before I could sense the rhythm of the book, but now I am determined to finish this time.  Dickson tells the story of his visits to a Jewish Torah study (Chever Torah) and the insights it provided him about his faith.  Although the prose is clumsy in places, I applaud his open mindedness to questions and ability to tie together the threads of Judaism and Christianity.

Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill
This book makes me a bit uncomfortable in a sense, but I figure that in discomfort there is growth, so I push ahead anyway.  This is not the Psalter, and I cannot read it as such.  But there is beauty in what it is -- a reimagination of the Psalms from a certain point of view.  I take issue with certain key phrases that Merrill uses, like "ego," which I feel has no place in poetry.  However, she does manage to capture much of the rhythm of the original psalms with a certain contemporary flair.  Not a read for the faint of heart or even for people whose roots are deep in fundamentalism.

So there you have it -- a tiny taste of what I'm reading.  What are you reading this week?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alas! A Failure Already...

The Great Farmer's Market Experiment is going well...that is, it would be going well if I were actually doing it.

Unfortunately, I fell prey to the high gas prices (almost $4/gal., thank you very much).  Publix, our nefarious local grocery store, offered $10 off a $50 gas card if you buy $25 in groceries.

The temptation was too much for me, and I caved.  I bought ice cream and frozen-meals-in-a-bag and Cape Cod potato chips -- vast numbers of highly unhealthy things with so-not-local-or-humane-ingredients.

I guess that's why they call it a process; I shall forgive myself and begin again next week!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Great Farmer's Market Experiment

...otherwise known as "A Break from Couponing Never Hurt Anyone."

A little background -- I've been a mildly avid (as opposed to extreme) couponer for almost two years now.  I follow two different deal blogs, pretend to organize each week's coupon inserts from the newspaper, and manage to usually save right around 50% on my groceries each week (on average).

Lately, I was surprised to find that my stacks of coupons I brought to the grocery store were getting smaller and thinner.  And the sale ads were looking less appealing.

Perhaps the ads and coupons had changed.  Or perhaps I had changed.

Recently, I've begun reading a several books about our food -- where it comes from, what is in it, how it is grown.

And with that growing knowledge has come a sense of responsibility.  See, I'm not really liberal, and while I care about the environment, I'm not extreme in that sense either.  But it struck me that stewardship means taking care of and being responsible for the plants and animals around us.  Even though Jesus didn't say "Thou shalt not eat factory farmed food," I think the compassion we are called to live into extends to more than the people around us.  Indeed, if we are to be truly a loving presence in this world, we must be more aware of the ongoing effects of the actions we take.

That being said, I have also realized that being aware, being present must be practiced and walked by day.  I cannot find change all at once.

With that in mind, we have embarked on The Great Farmer's Market Experiment.  This is our way of hopefully changing what we buy a little bit and being more aware of what we eat and where it comes from. 

Resolved: we will shop mainly at the Farmer's Market during the month of April with the exception of certain items that cannot be bought there (mainly dairy products).  We will work towards saving our extra food budget money to be able to buy humanely raised meat from a local farm.

So, with much patience for steps backward and much hope for steps forward, we are working towards more simplicity in our food supply.

And may our efforts make us more loving as well.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

On the Beauties of Refrigeration

Yesterday morning, I had a glass of milk with breakfast.   And as I was drinking, it occurred to me -- this milk tastes a bit warm.  Odd....  So I went to the refrigerator, and no blast of cold air greeted me when I opened it.  I placed my kitchen thermometer (usually used for making yogurt) in for five minutes, and when I took it out, it read only 70 degrees!


I proceeded to  very calmly inform my husband that we needed a new refrigerator. run around the kitchen randomly removing things from the refrigerator and freezer while yelling for my husband to come there right now.

Long story short, we ended up unexpectedly paying our fifth visit to Lowe's this week.  We were able to find a very serviceable fridge/freezer combo at a reduced price (due to a new model coming in), with the promise of a free ice maker, and, of course, free delivery and take away.

It is not a lovely side-by-side like our previous model, but I have high hopes that it will also not suddenly decide to stop working on a Friday morning for many years.

The ice maker is also a bonus because we did not have one in our old freezer, and my husband is quite famous for his love of ice.

In the end, I am thankful that one year ago, we decided to take a class by Dave Ramsey that encouraged us to start a budget and begin a small emergency fund.  We still have a long way to go down the "getting financially healthy" road, but I am grateful that a minor disaster is just that -- minor. 

And I am also grateful for Lowe's dudes with trucks that know how to move furniture.

And I will not take cold milk for granted.

That is all.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

10 Things We've Learned Since Owning a Home...

My husband and I bought our first home almost a year ago.  We've enjoyed having our own space though home ownership has been a bit of a rollercoaster.  It has also been a veritable education.  Here are some of the course descriptions!

1.  The price of the home on paper is just the beginning...

2.  If your garage door starts squealing loudly and getting stuck halfway up, you should not wait to call a repairman!

3.  Just because your older sister could have her house unpacked and organized within 2 weeks (while 9 months pregnant) does not mean that you can do the same (even if you are not pregnant)...

4.  If you live in Florida and own a cat, it's not a matter of whether fleas will come... it's a matter of when fleas will come.

5.  Just because the home inspector says your house is safe, that is no guarantee that the homeowner's insurance company will agree with him.  You just might end up directing an exterior paint job from your vacation at the beach.

6.  Gardens don't just happen.

7.  There comes a time when you have to get over the fact that you don't know how to do something, and just make up your mind to keep trying until you figure it out.  You might surprise yourself.

8.  Cat hair may cause tufts on the carpet, but it causes tumbleweed on tile floors.

9.  Cats usually do not respond to reasoned requests that they stop destroying your new-used furniture.  But they may be bribed.

10.  Lowe's is your new home away from home.  Just bring a sleeping bag -- tents are provided.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Adventure comes without knocking

Come spring, the garden-lust surges in my blood.

Spring arrives early in Florida, particularly this year, so my fingers have been itching to bury themselves in dirt for several weeks.

Unfortunately, the demands of lesson plans, papers to be graded, and various other teacher-related detritus stood in my way.

But now, spring break is upon us.

So, my darling husband and I paid a visit to Lowe's. 

Since we moved into our house in June last summer, this was our first chance to establish a garden of any type.

And we had no clue what we were doing.

We bought our soil, seeds, and spade, then headed to the lumber section for materials to build our raised garden bed (soil in Florida is notoriously poor, and a raised garden bed is the only way to go).  After an encounter with a rather rude employee, who was most definitely not helpful (rare at Lowe's), we were finally able to find out what we needed by calling our brother-in-law.

As we pushed our loaded cart to the check-out, it occurred to me that there was a strong possibility that my car was not ten feet long -- and the wood was.

A quick test once we got to the car confirmed my suspicions.  Alas, we would not be bringing the wood home in that vehicle.

We were rescued within the half hour by a mother-in-law in shining armor in a silver steed (or a Camry if you prefer).

Thus our unexpected adventure ended happily.

And our newly planted garden lends an air of mystery to our backyard.

What other adventures will it bring?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I did it!

After way more procrastination than is necessary (hmm... am I seeing a pattern here?), I finally managed to make my own chocolate syrup!

Can I just!!??

I would have done this a long time ago if I had only known.  In the end, inspired by a concern about some of the ingredients in Hershey's chocolate syrup, in addition to its less than stellar quality of chocolate taste, I found this recipe:  Annie's Eats DIY Chocolate Syrup

You have to go look at it to believe how easy it is.

Not only that -- it tastes like real chocolate -- rich, deep, sweet (but not too sweet), and not even slightly metallic.  And for a 20-minute time investment (most of which is not too intensely supervised)?

I am only too happy to say...see ya store-bought chocolate syrup (or maybe not)!

P.S.  I would post a picture of its beautiful, dark, delicious beauty in its super-cute glass bottle, but...  I left my camera in New Hampshire (a story for another day).  So go look at Annie's Eats if you want to make your mouth water.  Believe me, it will.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


It suddenly occurred to me that not all blog posts have to be profound.  I know, I know -- duh.  I've been struggling to write regularly on this blog for over a year now...and I have struggled because I'm always waiting for the lightning to strike and the clouds to scroll back with the topic of my blog post engraved on the sky.  Yeah.  So now you know why I haven't posted much.

As I was cutting vegetables with my husband for a healthy, yummy meal, I thought: Of the blog posts I enjoy reading, probably 80% are everyday posts about everyday things.  The other 20% are profound or profound-ish.

So this post is a tribute to everyday posts about piles of laundry and making soup.  May there be more of them in my future.  And may my profound posts be more profound in the halo of their influence.