Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tracking What We Eat

I have never paid much attention to the exact nutritional value of what
I eat or how many calories I consume each day. I just sort of eat mostly
good food and have tried over the years to curb bad eating habits at certain times.

Ben has had great success in the past couple years with tracking his food intake
and has found freedom in knowing what works for him to attain his goals.

I don't have to explain that our culture has a gazillion dollar industry in weight
loss and healthy living.

We've done some research and had some experience with a few websites that are
helpful for the person who wants to eat well, set healthy goals and monitor
his/her eating and exercise behavior.

A food scale is helpful and of course you need access to the internet, but other
than these tools,all you need is determination and grace to succeed.

Accountability to another person is helpful too.

We all need support in our efforts.

Ben is more the expert here so I asked him to compare websites that anyone can
use to track their nutrition and exercise.

We are committed as a family to healthy living and this is one way we are
making progress towards healthier eating.

Here is what Ben has to say:

A little bit of very personal history. I have been tracking what I eat on a
regular basis since November of 2008. I was first introduced to the concept
of tracking my calorie intake via website by John Hunter, a colleague at US Bank
in 2006. I opened a free account at in the spring of 2006 and
used it off and on again for about 2 years. In November of 2008 I was very
motivated to change my shape (I'm in shape… round is a shape) and I had great
success with weight loss in late November 2008 into spring of 2009 dropping
from 220 lbs to 160 lbs (60 lbs). I am currently working to get back down to
my target weight of 160 or BMI 22.3 : ) I have struggled with keeping the weight
off and am currently 185 lbs or BMI 25.8. When I get back to 22.3 BMI I'll stay
there this time.

FYI: I have read that a BMI of 22 is the healthiest.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing. ~ Abraham Lincoln

I currently weigh almost all my meals. Basically if I put it in my mouth I either
weigh it so I can track it or know what a serving size is so I can track it.
I like using grams as the unit of measure because I can track both food and liquid
in the same unit of measure.
I place my wine glass on the scale and pour 135 grams of wine. I can look up
red wine and select grams for an accurate calorie count. If I am at a restaurant
I know most pours are about 5 fl oz. Tracking in grams is easy and fun and you feel
sophisticated like a European when using the metric system.

I have used the following free websites in the last 3 years:

If you are interested in tracking your food/drink intake along with your
exercise I would suggest it is by far the most complete
website I have come across. Thanks to my brother Jake who told me about the
website a few weeks ago.

Here is a comparison of the sites that I have used.
- free
- mobile app is clumsy and hard to use
- mobile app only lets you track 99 grams of something at a time
- entering custom food isn't hard
- I entered 537 custom foods to track my food intake
- limited food database native to the website
- ads can be a little racy
- can track how your friends are doing if they give you their users name
- free
- I only used this site for building recipes
- It gives very detailed nutritional data
- not sure if they have a mobile app
- may continue to use this site if doesn't provide the
level of detail I am looking for
- mobile app cost $2.99
- good database of food
- good articles on health
- didn't like flow of entering food
- mobile app had nice graphics
- free
- mobile app does not let you track in grams
- good database of foods
- posts website and mobile app activity to twitter or facebook to keep
other in the loop on your entries
- free
- great database of foods
- can search other member's custom foods
- free mobile app
- mobile app is easy to use and flexible
- can build recipes and food groups
- loads of great information on health
- the most complete site I have used

If you are interested in tracking your caloric inputs and outputs I would
suggest it is by far the most complete website I have come

I would also highly recommend the Oxo food scale,
specifically the Oxo 1130800 Good Grips Food Scale with Pull-Out Display.
This was the highest ranked scale at in
September 2008.

I have recently started making burritos on Sunday mornings with my 5 year old
daughter. I eat them for lunch everyday. I love them! We get a little assembly
line going. It looks something like the following:

Turn on the scale
Place a plate on the scale
Zero out the weight
Heat up the tortillas
Place a tortilla on the scale
Zero out the weight
Add refried beans until the scale reads 40g
Zero out the weight
Add rice until the scale reads 110g (2/3 cup of cooked rice)
Zero out the weight
Add cheese until the scale reads 28g
Zero out the weight
Hand the tortilla to dad who rolls it up into a burrito and wraps in tinfoil
Place in freezer

Back to me:
I have been using now for about a week.

I input my food after almost every meal to watch the calorie count and levels of
nutrition over the course of the day. It has helped me to see holes in my diet and
just how many extra calories are added when I indulge in my favorite goat cheese
and crackers or extra glass of wine later in the evening. I also think the site
is very user friendly. I spent only a couple minutes tops setting up my own account
and entering my first meal. I also easily set a few goals, ones for me that I know
I will have some success with. It has never helped me to set goals so lofty that
the chance for actual success is too remote. I am less likely to stick to the
behavior to attain that goal if it remains unattainable. Smaller scale goals work
better for me. Hence, I chose to add a goal of eliminating "mindless eating" at
night. I also chose to journal a few sentences about my health three times each
week. Finally, I noted that I wanted to stretch for five minutes each day.
This may not sound like much, but for someone who lacks a firm commitment to daily
exercise, this one is doable and one that I am likely to keep in the long run.

So far, so good.

I have been able to be honest about what I consume and not too hard on myself
when I indulge in something so incredibly mouth watering scrumptious that I could
care less the amount of calories it has.

Just seeing a serving of something. Cheese, for example. Or what a serving of corn
chips looks like is helpful for better habits in serving myself and my kids portions.

Most of what I already eat is in the database or someone else has added it so I
spend little time hunting around for the food itself. Recipes of your own can be
entered and saved so you can refer to them at any time and share them with others
if you wish.

Again, so far so good. I set a few goals and have seen progress in just this short

The real test, as you probably already know is maintaining good habits and embracing
new ones.

All in the name of health.

Amen and Happy Tracking!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From Sap to Syrup

Sunday was one of those "just in time" outings. We headed to the Richardson Nature Center to observe and learn about the maple syrup process - their final presentation of the year.

We saw the evaporator at work, boiling the sap down. That's steam, not smoke, we were told.
And it smelled heavenly. The fire, that is.

We learned that the four kinds of maple trees can produce sap with different sugar levels. The higher the level of sugar (say 5%) the less sap needed to make a gallon of syrup.

This is a device that collects a sample of sap and tests its sugar level.
Someone in the background has a sweet tooth!

We tasted the runny, clear sap...
...then made sure to lick every last morsel of the tiny syrup sample we were given...
...and wished we were old enough to try what everyone else was raving about.
We learned that syrup will be darker in color early in the season and will become lighter as the month wears on.
We enjoyed a short walk in the woods.
And we waited. Waited for the sap to drip from the spout.
Considering it takes 86 gallons of 1% sugar level sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, I'm guessing they will be well into their 60's until they have enough to boil down into the good stuff.
We saw beautiful trees.
And one of us enjoyed a ride back to the car.
It was a full and glorious day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Half Way Through the Prayer

Part Five of the Prayer for My Husband is an easy one for me to say.

Since his Senior year in college, Ben has chosen to have critical conversations with guys he admires and to make time for fun and leisure with guys who know how to do fun and leisure well. He sought out a pseudo men's group while in college and had the opportunity to be challenged and encouraged to live a good strong life in the Lord. It was the start of something big in his life.

Since that time, Ben has submitted his life in headship to solid men of God. They have each brought a unique perspective to Ben over the years. I have seen how having different men in his life that he chooses to disclose his life to has been fruitful in his growing as a person and man of faith.

It has also helped our relationship and his fatherhood.

Solid and dynamic friends also have been present in his life. He has known the companionship of good men to bike with, camp with, talk technology with, mix up a good drink with, and re-model a basement with.

I smile each time Ben's friend Rodnie (and god father of our eldest) calls for him. I just know that a good conversation is around the corner for Ben. I know Rodnie will call him on, provide him perspective about marriage and family, challenge him, ask him about his life, offer wisdom and advice when asked, and make him laugh.

I smile when Ben expresses to me, "So and so is a good brother." And he means a good brother in the Lord. A good person for him to be around. A person who helps direct him towards the good.

I smile when I think how much I can't provide for him and how much other men freely choose to do so without expecting much in return.

I am thankful that he has a good relationship with his dad and meets him for lunch once in awhile just to talk.

I am overall grateful for the men present in his life.

I hope I remember to lift up this crucial need in his life for the rest of his life. People come and go. We have seen that and will continue to. But the Lord always provides somebody. He wants us to be happy and fulfilled in our friendships.

I don't think we were ever meant to or really can carry out a lot of close relationships. Like my morning latte or a piece of rich creamy Cafe Latte-like cheesecake, quality is better than quantity.

Pray that he finds and keeps quality guys.

He needs them in his life.

So do you.

Prayer Part Five:

Help him develop friendships with other men that would encourage, strengthen, validate, bless, and focus him on His identity and purpose in You.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Prayer: Part Four

I was exercising last week and through the ear buds heard the nice computerized voice of iPod shuffle lady say, "Battery Low, Battery Low."

Time to re-charge.

Which seems simple, but I had to ask my husband for the gizmo thingy to plug it into and for what color light I should be looking for to know it was completely recharged. (I really need to find the tiny box this thing came in to read the tiny 2 inch square paper on which the directions are printed in tiny type.)

That's my brilliant segue into the next part of the Prayer for My Husband.

It is about re-charging.

When I think about re-charging I think about getting a boost of energy, being strengthened and uplifted, increased zeal, joy, being motivated to keep get the picture.

I believe the home is a great place and maybe the best place for one to be re-charged. The place where one is built up because of the close supportive relationships there; the place where one is comfortable relaxing in their way; where one feels freedom to be in his own skin, to be who he is; the place where one ought to be appreciated and cared for and loved when present; a place one longs for when he is not there.

Certainly there are other places that also provide these things. But I believe the home ought to be the primary one, especially for family. And for husbands.

I believe that part of my vocation is to build the kind of environment that Ben and the kids and myself long to be a part of. I try to work hard at cultivating a setting where the spaces, the tone, the attitudes, the expectations and the details are geared towards a happy life together.

My particular vocation is a homemaker and I grant you that I have more time to do this since I am home a lot. I realize I am in a minority in my job. But, this vocation can also be taken for granted. I could and sometimes do become lazy, bitter, vocal, tired, emotional, disgruntled, anxious...just as any person does in his/her job.

But, I also believe its important to always try to better oneself and grow in doing one's work well. This includes contributing to a home life that is pleasant, welcoming, inviting, peaceful, and happy. And it often takes good old fashioned hard work.

It doesn't happen automatically just because one snowy day in January I said I would "love you all the days of my life" in front of hundreds of people.

Lord knows it sometimes takes a lot of seemingly super human effort.

And, I think that is the point.

Through the blessing of grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to turn these small enclosed 8 foot high walls into a haven where we all desire to be. And, hopefully into a place where he wants to be. Even more so than at his job, out with his friends, on then bike, at church, on the water riding the waves, etc.

Not that he shouldn't find solace and comfort and peace also in his other endeavors. Of course he should. They are also important for being a well rounded and whole person. I want to wholeheartedly support his passions and interests and career.

But I also want him to come home to open arms. To a pleasant greeting. To a setting where he just knows he is appreciated for the sacrifices he makes. Where he feels loved in his way.

And so I pray,

Prayer Part Four:

Recharge him at home more than at work or play.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Prayer for Him, Part Three

Let's face it. Money and its lack there of can cause stress. With or without it challenges seem to rear their ugly heads in family life and marriage.

Ideally in dating someone you would have had many conversations about the lifestyle you want together. You would have asked the other to paint a picture of what they saw themselves having and how they saw themselves living 2, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 years down the road.

Whether we are aware of it or not, I think most people when pressed could articulate how they saw themselves living and with what kinds of things around them for the future - at least to some degree.

Even if one is called to a life of poverty and sees themselves living among the poor and choosing a simple lifestyle, that is one person's specific picture. Marrying someone with the same picture in mind would be really helpful for this person. Their pictures matching up well would help ensure a happy life together.

As a side note, I recently took a lengthy survey of my own thoughts and experiences to determine some God given charisms I have. It turns out that I score very low in the category of mission/poverty. This isn't a less virtuous or bad place to be. It is no more or less holy than someone with great wealth.

Anyway, it is helpful for my marriage that Ben also matches up more closely to a kind of lifestyle I envision and am naturally attracted to.

Still, we have our differences.

Our threshold for feeling secure in our family finances is quite different.

I prefer more money in the bank just to be there in case...I am rattled by a situation that doesn't match up with this. I am out of my comfort zone so to speak when savings are spent.

Ben has less attachment to a certain amount of money that is just there, in case....He is certainly responsible with money, but he does not come quite as unglued as I do with prospects of less in savings.

Herein lies one of our "issues". An imbalance occurs in our relationship when our pictures of financial health do not match up.

There is probably some trust issues here, but anyway...

We are mainly a one income earning family. Ben earns most of the income that supports us. He is very aware of and pays attention to how well his income serves and blesses our lifestyle. It is the source of a lot of conversation and some stress depending on the times/circumstances.

I have seen over the years the amazing blessing of things like unexpected timely bonuses. Come to think of it, when is a bonus not timely? I have experienced the joyous news of a raise and the pride in his voice that he earned it and now we can do "x". I have experienced the generosity of an anonymous donor couple who left some money for us very early in our marriage because they had received the same when they were first starting out. I have known the comfort of rebates, tax refunds, REI dividends in our mailbox, stocks doing well, etc.

We have been blessed. We have attempted to live within our means while having the fun and "extras" that also bring joy and enhance family life.

I think the following prayer is an okay one to pray.

Our lives are meant to be lived well.

Even if one is called to live without many or much material possessions at all, praying for others to be so blessed helps the whole Body of Christ grow too.

Prayer Part Three:

Grant him (us) more than enough income to provide for our family
and to serve Your people.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Braided Bread

One of my gifts to Kate for Christmas was a promise to bake bread with her. For two Saturdays now we have baked this recipe, a sweet bread. I got the recipe from Jen, a friend of mine who really ought to host baking sessions in her home and charge money for her expertise. She is really good.

Like most breads, the ingredients you need are simple. Also, like a lot of breads, time is a factor. That is, you need to carve out time to check on the bread at its various stages and attend to it as necessary. I kind of like this element because we can come back together and really be part of the whole process.

And, like most homemade breads, it tastes fabulous right out of the oven and smeared with butter, the real kind, made from cows' milk.

We have found it a good bread to use for opening our Lord's Day too.

If it happens to not be consumed beforehand.

We have bread thieves in our house that sneak pieces when no one is looking.

Saturday mornings have worked best for us to make this bread. We have managed to carry out the steps in between chores, play, and waiting in a virtual line for over two hours to buy Twins tickets for the 2011 season. Then, when our internet mysteriously "went down" and I was forced to start all over from square one in the virtual line and missed the chance for Yankees vs. Twins tickets on my birthday, I about died. Another two hour wait until I reached the front of the line. Then the clock started ticking and I had to re-group, check and re-check out calendar for alternative dates. It was slim pickings by that time. Next year I am camping out in front of the computer to get a better place in the virtual line. Maybe an iPad would help ease the pain of this loss?

Wait a minute. Was I talking about bread?

Oh yes, baking bread is a great way to spend time with your daughter...that's the point here.

And, here is the recipe.

1 c. warm water
2 pk. yeast
2/3 c. sugar
4-5 c. flour
1 stick of butter, the real kind, from cows' milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. salt
egg wash (Kate's favorite part, well, a close second to the kneading)


Mix water, yeast, 1/3 c. sugar and 2 c. flour in a bowl. Let rise 20 minutes.
(I warm up my oven for a few minutes, then turn it off for the rising process. I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel.)

Meanwhile, combine 2 c. flour, 1/3 c. sugar, and salt. Cut in butter.

Add eggs to yeast mixture and then work in flour mixture. Knead and add up to one cup flour. It should be a sticky dough.

Let this rise for about 1.5 hours.

Divide dough in half. Roll dough slightly and cut into three strips.
Then braid.

Like this.
This recipe makes two loaves.

We place the loaves on one large baking sheet.
Then cover and let rise another hour.

Glaze with egg wash.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

It will look like this and you will need to use all powers of resistance to save any amount for dinner.
Good Luck!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Second Prayer

This is the second part of the ten-part prayer concerning praying for your husband. Again, the whole thing is simple and short, but I think it cuts to the heart of the basic needs and desires of men.

It helps me keep in mind what is important to him.

So often, I tend to ignore or pay little attention to the work and happenings of my spouse unless it is directly related to our life. Meaning, if it happens in our home, or with one of us, then I tend to give it more attention and concern. Well, the fact is that most of Ben's time isn't spent with us. He has a career, an exercise routine, passions that he cultivates outside the home, friendships of his own, a prayer life and so on. This is not to suggest that he isn't present to us. On the contrary, he actually juggles all the responsibilities and commitments of his life very well. And, we feel loved and cared for.

A side note, he can actually juggle, which is entertaining and, as you can imagine if you know him, often hilarious to watch.

But, I realize that it is important to pray that all his endeavors, whether they be with us or for us or not, deserve prayer and concern.

It is important for any person to be successful; to accomplish what they set out to do; to gain the respect and attention of those around them for support and encouragement; to attain a goal; to complete a task well; to have one's efforts produce good, if not excellent results.

Maybe one is not always conscience of these desires, or they all don't carry equal weight. After all, recognition is more important to some than others. Setting goals is more of a priority for some. Excellence in our work is not valued as highly by some.

And yet, I think deep down if we really seek the depths of what one wants, these are important. They do matter.

For men especially, I think there is a pride and self-confidence that comes with success in their work. They have something to prove.

It's important for me to remember this and to daily offer up the endeavors of my spouse. That he will be supported in his drive to do his duties and passions well. Actually, that they produce excellent results, not just good ones.

Let's just shoot for that. I think it is worth it.

Prayer Part Two:

Give him success in all that he does.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Service with Style

Ben and I were treated to a date night yesterday by, get this, our daughter. Her Girls of Praise group came up with the idea to bless their parents with a dinner and entertainment following our community meeting at River Ridge. They made invitations, prepared lasagne and brownies ahead of time, and set the tables in the family room at River Ridge so we could dine in style.

Our evening began with our daughter (donned in her apron) escorting us to our table where we had handmade place cards indicating our seats. Once the parents were all assembled, we were treated to music and encouraged to dance with our spouse. With giggling in the background, Ben and I enjoyed a couple dances, one to Stevie Wonder's I Just Called to Say I Love You....that one never gets old. Then we took our seats again to be entertained by the girls. Some had prepared a song, some a piano piece and two girls shared their favorite joke.

Next we were served bread and salad.

Then heaping portions of lsagne, which was delicious. Next, fruit served from a carved watermelon basket. And finally, brownies and ice cream topped with chocolate.

This was a feast indeed.

I think the best parts were watching the girls do ALL the work and enjoy it at the same time. They truly honored us with their service and smiles. They treated us with respect and care. I was blessed to see that at a young age, they now have the experience of seeing what makes a good date. One hope we have is for the girls to be attracted to a gentleman who knows how to date well. If it is their calling to be open to being married, I pray for them to have this kind of picture in their minds. Here they saw their parents laughing, talking, dancing, eating, appreciating, and loving each other.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the parents we sat next to. The couple we talked with most of the evening is originally from Columbia. They have quite a story and were able to share about the hardships there. Another parent shared his amazing and often humorous stories of visiting Venezuela on a mission trip for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He is the main photographer and a writer for the Catholic Spirit newspaper. His stories of meeting the church members of the parish he visited, seeing the barrios, praying he would survive the harrowing trips in the car, conversations with the locals about Chavez, etc....We had a marvelous time just hearing more about the two countries, their differences, their similarities and how things have changed over the last several decades. It was a blessing indeed to share a meal with brothers and sisters in our body and appreciate even more the One Lord who unites us.

From the flowers and Hersey kisses on the table, to watching the girls clear our spots and clean, to sharing our life and stories with new friends, Ben and I were grateful.

Nine year olds are amazing!

Thanks for a great date, Kate.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Prayer

A friend shared a prayer with me that is composed of ten parts. It is a prayer to offer up for your husband. Prayer is dis-arming; it is honest; it is real; it is a conversation.

I think God wants to hear and bless our efforts to lift up the particular concerns of our hearts in regards to our spouse. And, I think the ten parts of this prayer speak well to the concerns and make up of men.

So, here is the first prayer. Simple. But it can be hard to say. Often, I have the plan in mind. I have the ideas for how best he should channel his energy and to which passions he should devote his time and money. I am a planner after all. I can stir him up. I can create the picture for him of God's intentions. I am good at that.

Well, I really need to just get out of the way. I need to respect, appreciate and love the unique and unrepeatable man that he is. And I need to allow for his own heart to lead him to those things that will most glorify the Lord and bless our family.


Prayer for my husband: Part One

Open his eyes to Your plan for his life. The plan for which

he was created and that would stir up energy and passion in him.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fancy Fish

Our recently turned eleven year old was blessed with these as her birthday treat. Her godparents brought them over as a tasty dessrt. The idea origianted in a magazine and they copied it for all of us to enjoy.

Fancy fish up close.
Fancy fish on fire.
Fancy fish about to be devoured.
Some colored frosting, M & M's, gummy sugar candy wedges for the tails - super cute!

Conservatory Visit

We recently visited the Como Zoo and Conservatory to walk among the flowers, drink in the aromas and sketch our favorites blooms.

Kate brought along her sketchpad and handy homemade (by Uncle Nike and Aunt Grace) carrier pouch for her pencils.

And she settled into a spot in the sunken garden area to sketch.
Maddie and I kept busy photographing the flowers up close. Here are some of our favorite shots.

Soon, we'll see these gorgeous colors outdoors!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clutter Be Gone

I have been taking extra moments here and there to go through boxes and bins in the basement. We are attempting to prep the area for a possible new bedroom, bathroom and laundry area. Those details have yet to be determined and scheduled, but in the meantime I plan to make space and clean house. It has proven beneficial so far. I have several extra and empty bins just lying around. Our outdoor trash bin is full and it only gets picked up on Friday. That's several days yet of garbage and we share the bin with our neighbors (to keep costs down). You do the math.

Anyway, I was forwarded this blog and ran across this posting about How To Clutter Your Home. There are 15 suggestions here for sure ways to add clutter chaos to your living space.

One particular thing I have done in the past is label or set something aside because of its assumed value for the family down the road. Most of these things are actually something sentimental, that I want us all to share in at some lovey dovey sentimental time in the future. But, let's face it. If I really don't need it now, there is very little chance I will absolutely need it in the future.

And, one thing I am convinced of lately is the need for practicing and perfecting our story telling. We can "hand things down" with a rich oral tradition. No need to store the stories anywhere but in our heads. Sure, some details may be changed or altered, intentionally or not, but that's part of the fun, I think.

Not everything is garbage material. It seems there is a reasonable amount of things you ought to keep for their value of holding memories and sentiment. But, I think much could be weeded out and turned into a really good story.

I also find it is hard to get rid of things I no longer use but paid good money for. I like calculating in my head how cheap an item is now based on the years I have owned it. But, nothing is cheap enough if it takes up space and just sits there. Ask yourself, "When was the last time I used this?" If it was over a year ago, pitch it. Give it to someone who can use it. Give yourself permission to part with those things your household no longer uses and needs.

I have also found it helpful to have a goal in mind when looking at a space. I picked a shelving unit in the basement, looked at Ben and said, "I will empty that shelf and we can either get rid of it or move it to the garage where it will be used better." It was helpful to imagine the shelf empty and to make a new plan for it. I did get rid of everything on it, either re-locating to a more efficient and convenient space or disposing of it. The shelf is now my "garage sale" spot for collecting items to be sold and then will be officially empty at the end of May after the sale. And ready for a new home.

Tackling small spaces like a set of shelves or even one shelf of a closet can be liberating and helpful in the long run. Most of us don't have the luxury of lots of time at once to tackle big projects. But, over the course of a few weekends, one could substantially alter for the better those pesky spaces you'd rather close off and pretend are not there.

Even the small stuff adds up. Recently I got rid of several paper clips; return address labels I will never use; manuals for appliances we no longer own; the Spanish version of manuals for the girls' cameras; a beautiful vase we received as a wedding gift, but no longer need; a coffee mug (how many do you really use at one time?)...all of this plus more added up to a lot of clutter.

So glad it's gone.

I doubt I will ever miss it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Lenten Journal

One new thing for us this Lent is keeping a weekly journal. The idea is from our Finding God curriculum that our children use in their Faith Formation class at our church. When I saw the idea, I thought it could work well on a weekly basis. So, I introduced it to my 5th grade class. The kids in the class created a simple journal with a cover page and a few blank pages stapled inside. They decorated the cover and/or back any way they chose. Then, I encouraged them to write the following items on the first page.

The Date.

Temptations from the last week.

My plan for more prayer this week.

My plan for fasting this week.

My plan for giving this week.

My personal prayer to Jesus.

We kicked around some ideas for each of these categories, but I let the kids know that they are free to be creative.

I also told them that these journals were theirs. No one else was going to see them. They could fill in the categories as they wished.

Each week, I plan to give the kids time to review what they wrote and enter a new page with the same categories.

So far, they have completed two entries. I think this is a great way to get them thinking on a consistent basis about the movements of their hearts and what the Lord is saying to them about their choices for Lent. I think keeping this kind of journal provides a place to make Lent personal. It also makes it doable, since the observances are re-visited each week and can be changed if one wishes. And, it respects their age and stage in life. They have personal thoughts and reflections and these can grow and change as the weeks of Lent go by.

My hope is that this kind of exercise can help make the traditional observances of Lent more tangible and will aid in one's focusing their thoughts and energy not just on themselves, but on the larger body of Christ.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A New Page

I've created a new look for our blog. I love it!

Anyway, I also updated our "A Deal's A Deal" page with date ideas. Here's my list so far.

Keep your relationship center stage with a weekly date. Here are some of our ideas.

Catch a movie and try a flight of wine at the Riverview Movie theater and wine bar across the street. Movie and drinks all for under $15!

Keep up with FREE things to do in St. Paul and Minneapolis by visiting this site.

Pack a picnic and a kite and make an afternoon fly by.

Bring Canasta or Cribbage to a coffee shop and let the competition begin.

Try one of his hobbies. Try one of hers. Together.

Look ahead to an event or festival and experience something new together. Check out this calendar for Twin City events/festivals.

Make a gift for someone else together. Maybe for one of your kids? For a parent.

Visit a book store or library and find a new book to read together.

Read together. I know one couple who spent a few nights before Christmas reading "A Christmas Carol" out loud.

Volunteer together.

Make something to donate to someone or to a charity together.

Go out for dinner or dessert and plan to ask each other two or three new questions of the other. I know a couple who decided to ask each other a new question each time they go out.

Cook a new recipe together and eat it on the floor picnic style. We did this in the winter and cozied up in the basement in front of the fireplace.

Look ahead to a special date (like a birthday or anniversary) and plan a trip together. Make a date of planning a BIG date.

Use an alternate form of transportation to your date. Ride a bike (tandems are fun) ski, roller blade, run, hike, canoe, swim, kayak (we have a kayak story that will show you the test of a relationship!), etc.

Go out on your first date again.

Plan a surprise date for your spouse. Let him/her surprise you.

Think about the last year -write down the blessings you have had in being in a relationship with your spouse and share them with each other over a glass of wine. This is a way to reflect upon the good things you have together and a wonderful way to honor each other. Try it on your next anniversary!

Get up a half hour early and make him/her breakfast in bed. Just enjoy the morning together. I can still remember a morning early in our marriage (before kids, so it must have been really early) when we lounged around in bed with coffee and listened to "acoustic sunrise" a Sunday morning program on a local radio station. Ben called in and requested one of our favorite song artists and we got to hang out and listen to our special request.

Visit an art gallery or a local artist's art show.

Plan to attend a concert together.

Attend an outdoor concert together. Bring mosquito repellent.

Pick a play you both want to see. Go out afterwords for a drink and talk about it. Hands down, my favorite play that I saw with Ben was the Guthrie Theater's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. We absolutely loved it.

Attend a sports event together. Umm, anyone ever heard of the Twins? And their new ballpark? Single Game Tickets go on sale March 19!

Start Your Day Right - Part Deux

WARNING: Do not proceed in reading this post if you have given up coffee or lattes or any other espresso related drink.

If you have given this up for the next 37 days, and still want to proceed, I can't stop you. But consider yourself warned.

You may be tempted to break your Lenten promise.


All set?

Here goes:

I promised my husband to make him breakfast in bed one time each month for this "homemade" Christmas gift for him. So far, I have made good on my promise and prepared two meals served with love bright and early. Well, not so bright yet, but we're getting there. Spring is a couple weeks away!

The most important part of the breakfast is the latte - reminiscent of our honeymoon in Paris where we were served one of these every morning. I have to say, sipping on one today really does bring us both back 12 years to the lovely streets of Paris where we people watched and smoked our way through the days just enjoying the view, conversation and the company. Each other. The smoking is long gone, but the lattes and conversations remain.

Anyway, we have resurrected the homemade latte made possible with these two essential pieces.

One is the outdoors mini espresso maker from REI. We have had this for years and taken it on many a camping trip.
We use a standard camping cup to catch the espresso.
The other essential item is this, the frothing gizmo. This is what I found in my stocking for Christmas- an unexpected treat!
I like this one from Aerolatte because it comes in a hard plastic case to keep it from bending and warping in our one overstuffed utility drawer that sheds little bits of warped wood all over our kitchen tools and gadgets. This one stays clean and protected thanks to the cover.

In just under five minutes, I can whip up a perfect latte. With perfect foam.
The actual brewing on the stove top takes about three minutes and heating the milk in the microwave takes a mere 23 seconds.

And it only costs 47 cents total.

I use 1/2 ounce of espresso and 3 ounces of 1% milk.

In my figuring (with the help of a calculator) the espresso costs 38 cents each day and the milk costs 9 cents.

The total again is 47 cents.

Forty seven cents.

I triple dog dare you to find a latte that cheap and one that tastes soooooooooo good elsewhere.

Sometimes homemade means more maintenance, more time, more space, more money, and a sacrifice of some sort - maybe taste, or quality.

Not this time.

The tools are easily stowed and take up little room.

The cost can't be beat.

And the time is minimal.

Oh, and the taste is just as good, if not better than what you would be served at Starbuck's.

I have to say whether it is sitting at a morning campfire or lounging in bed with a hot breakfast and the day's paper, this is a wonderful way to start the day.

Thank you, Paris, for getting us hooked.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's With the Ashes?

While on a layover in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, we were asked this very question by a stranger. She noticed the black blotches on our foreheads and wondered what the heck it meant. Ben and I were journeying to Paris for our honeymoon and we left town on Ash Wednesday. The airport intercom in Chicago announced and invited its patrons to Ash Wednesday services being held in the airport chapel every hour on the hour.  We had enough time between flights to attend a service and receive ashes. Quite a beginning to Lent and our honeymoon! Anyway, this woman was curious about this weird marking. Who wouldn't be? If you hadn't seen it before, it is rather odd looking.

Well, Lent is upon us again. And, the question "What's with the ashes?" often comes up especially with children.  This website from Loyola Press provides an explanation and some other resources for education of children in the Catholic tradition.

And another site that explains some basic information about Lent and its history in the church.  And it helps us understand those three little words a bit better:  Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving.
All About Lent 

Finally, here is an Ash Wednesday prayer.

Father in Heaven,
Protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin the discipline of Lent,
make this season holy by our self-denial.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, for ever and ever.
International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)

 Have a Happy and Productive Lent!

The Solution

Here's the one solution I received from my dad for the puzzle I posted yesterday.

First he brings the chicken to the far side, leaving fox and seed.
He returns, then brings the seed to the far side, but returns with the chicken, leaving seed alone on the far side.
He brings the fox to far side and leaves it with the seed, returns empty.
He brings the chicken to far side and is finished.

Alimentary, dear non-Watson.


And, he is correct! 

Maggie O. from my 4th grade class was the one who solved the puzzle then and the visitor who posed the puzzle said to her, "I like the way you think."

So, dad, I like the way you think. You were always good at puzzles and analysis.

It helps to have a problem to solve regularly to keep our brains healthy.

I will try to find more to post.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Fox, A Chicken and A Sack of Seed

I remember being in 3rd or 4th grade and a visitor to the classroom posed this challenge for us.

A farmer has a fox, a chicken and a sack of seed. He needs to get all three safely across a river. The farmer has a small row boat to transport himself, the animals and the seed. A few problems. He can only take one thing in the boat with him at a time. Also, he cannot leave the fox alone with the chicken because, well, you can imagine what would happen.  And, he can't leave the chicken alone with the seed, because, well, the chicken would get hungry.

No one else can aid the farmer. And neither he nor the animals can swim.

How can he get all three across safely without losing one or the other to a hungry appetite?

Answer revealed soon!

Good Luck.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Meaningful Conversations With Children

With our kids growing older by the minute and maturing before our eyes, we have seen the even greater importance now to introduce to them the skills of a good conversation.

We have found the dinner table to be a good place for this kind of training and since we sit around our table every night, we ought to have lots of practice!

Up to this point, we have mostly relied on encouraging everyone to share something about their day - a report of sorts. We've found that even a very young child can do this. In fact, sometimes the youngest has the most enthusiasm and wants to have the floor for a looooooooong time.  We have had to reign her in just to be fair and give the others a shot.

This evening, I had the pleasure of sharing the dinner table with four lovely young ladies.

Here are their top highlights from their day, or what they chose to emphasize tonight.

"Today we studied the Greek and Persian war which was basically a review, but today we looked at it from the Greeks' perspective."

"Today we got to try kimchi, a Korean food."

"Today we measured buoyancy by doing an experiment with a bobber and weights."

And last, but certainly not least...

"My teacher said the elephant is the largest, largest, largest, largest, largest animal in the jungle."

Talk about interesting and fun topics to get into further!

Now comes the hard part where we help the kids learn to ask questions of each other and comment on what someone else has said in an intelligent and respectful way.

I think doing this is one of those life-long lessons.

If you have any input as to how to teach these skills or have insights from your own experience, pass them on!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Quilts and So Much More

I love it when worlds collide.  Here are some loves on mine all wrapped up in a wonderful ministry led by a local woman who is featured on the front page of our paper today.

St. Paul
Care for Kids
Teaching Skills
Welcoming people to church
Working hard for a long time, not giving up or letting "getting old" get in the way
Neighborhood Havens

Check out the story here.


I was thankful yesterday to have something so current to share with my family and our guests as we passed around the wine and bread to open our Lord's Day meal. 

A few hours earlier, I had been anticipating Kate's Girls of Praise group coming over to sew headbands.  It was 12:53pm and I realized we were probably supposed to provide a snack for the group. The girls were expected to arrive at 1:00.

Well, we had nothing readily available. Not even some fruit to cut up. I usually keep our shallow pasta bowl filled with fruit so anyone can grab a piece for lunch or a snack.  Well, no fruit today. No munchies. Not even a few carrots to slice and divide. What would we serve? Cereal?  A can of black beans? I mean really, the cupboards were not screaming decent snack material. 

Luckily, I remembered that the day prior when I visited my friend Jill, I asked her for a recipe I had always wanted to make - No Bake Cookies. I had copied down the recipe on a post it and whipped it out praying I had the ingredients and enough time to make a batch.

Sure enough, I had just enough of both.

In just eight minutes I had prepared the "cookies", placed them in the fridge to cool and set and was ready to welcome our guests at about 1:02pm.

Rescue #1 was a blessing.

Rescue #2 happened minutes later and we began to cut, pin and iron pieces of fabric to sew into headbands.

While my iron light shone red, it had failed to heat. A cool iron is nobody's friend. Especially when it had been working properly the day before and had shone no signs of quitting.

Well, we needed a working iron. And fast. These six girls were on a mission to complete their project.

I called our neighbor and fellow hub member Shellee. I knew she was home and had an iron.  She was willing to lend it and even brought it over.

Rescue #2 kept us on task and provided a crucial step in completing the project.

I am blessed by the little blessings of the day and thankful I had two so close together to see the goodness of friends and neighbors.

Here is the easy and quick recipe for No Bake Cookies. Watch out though, they are addictive and really hard to have extra around!

No Bake Cookies
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. cocoa
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter

Place the above ingredients in a saucepan, stir and bring to a boil. Stir and remove from heat.

To the pan add the following
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. peanut butter
3 c. oatmeal

Stir together.

You can either plop spoonfuls of the batter onto a cookie sheet or do as I did and place all the batter into an 8 x 8 pan. I then put it into the fridge to cool and set. Then, I cut it into bars and served.

 Delicious and rich!

Two Ways

Our way, with sleds and snow
Their way, with body boards and sand
Our way, with snow attacking trees
And their way, trees strangling other trees
Our way
Their way
What uses up space in our garage
And theirs
Our way
And their way
Oh, wait. I guess this one works just about anywhere there is wind and space.

Ben purchased this two meter Liquid Force Trainer on Maui and its gotten quite a work out since. It even made it up to the Boundry Waters two weeks ago - Ben strapped on some skiis and the kite dragged him across the lake!