30 March 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

**Sorry, another short one.  Did I mention we're in survival mode?**

Not long ago, on one of our Fun Friday pizza making nights, I was chatting with my son's school friend.  Somehow, the topic got around to food.  Not hard for a 7ish year old, but the next part of the conversation surprised me a little:

friend:  what are you having for dinner tonight?
me:  we're making pizza.
friend:  making pizza?
me:  yes, we do that a lot on Fridays.
friend:  aww man, I wish we were making pizza!  All we ever do is order it!

If there is one thing you can rely on, it's that kids will say what's on their minds.  No sugarcoating, no holding back.

If I ever wonder if I'm somehow depriving my children of some innate right to eat fast food and go out all the time, I can just remember this conversation.  Home made food is instinctively appealing to even our most discriminating tastebuds.

So, if making food from scratch is cool, does this make me cool?  I choose yes.

29 March 2011

Life Gets in the Way

Argh!  I missed Funday Monday...

Husband is gone again, and kids take priority.  Survival mode it is.

I do want to say, though, that one recent thing I've been loving is the fact that I found two ways to clean my windows without streaks, and without window cleaner.  Silly, I know, but since we've actually had sunshine the past 2 weeks, I've been hating my streaky windows.  And I just don't have the time right now to worry about it, but when all I see is streaks, I can't help it.

Ready for my brilliant cleaning methods?  I took them from a google search, so please hold your applause.

1.  Dish soap + squeegee
     rub soap and water over window with rag, squeegee off

2.  Damp microfiber cloth
     even easier - wipe window with damp cloth


That's all I've got.  Hoping tomorrow gives me a little breathing room.  At least I can see out of my windows.

27 March 2011


Waste Not...

I recently read an article about this family who has little to no waste and hardly any recycling (go directly to her blog here).  Since we are trying to consume less and less, it naturally piqued my interest.

They are a family of four, so although they only have one less person in their house they only produce enough garbage waste to fill a small container.  I could hardly believe it was possible, but I was hopeful for some tips and tricks to put in our pocket.  

But after I finished reading the article and visiting their blog, I had mixed feelings.

It's true that they do many things to reduce their consumption, and it's true that she actively advocates for less waste by emailing, writing and calling companies to encourage them to find less wasteful alternatives when packaging items.  

But it's also true that when a piece of "garbage" comes into their home, her solution to keeping it out of their personal waste bin is to send it back to its place of origin (see her answers to the Netflix envelope papers and the wrapper her son brought home from a pair of 3d glasses at the movie theater).

While I certainly understand her reasoning behind these actions (she sent them back along with a letter asking the companies to change their practices), technically these items are still being consumed by this family, and this waste is their responsibility.  Sending it to another trash can seems somewhat disingenuous, doesn't it?

I do credit her for their personal changes, and I myself have enjoyed reading some of her ideas for alternatives to things like makeup, food buying, etc.  The waste idea is particularly interesting because trash is only collected at our house every 2 weeks.  The off weeks are for "plant waste" which pretty much includes anything but meat.  It's a good alternative to composting since we don't really have any cultivatable land. The recycling program is quite strenuous here as well, but even with all these alternatives, it still took some changes to decrease our garbage enough to only be collected twice a month.

I feel a little nitpick-y here, but it is Soapbox Sunday, so if I'm every going to nitpick, today is the day.

What do you think?  Friend or foe?  Are her ideas workable?  Any converts?

26 March 2011


*sorry this is posted a day late...crazy birthday jubilee week for my son*


I suck at laundry.  I do.  I guess I just don't care about it all that much.

I don't even usually separate my colors.  Sometimes I pull out special whites, or new bright colors in case they bleed.  But most of our clothes fill the color spectrum, and frankly I have more important things to do.

So, I take shortcuts.  I make my own detergent with Fels Naptha soap, which is fantastic for stains.  Also, I try to hang my clothes outside to dry.  The sun is amazing for bleaching and disinfecting.  That ultraviolet light that's so terrible for our skin is apparently amazingly awesome for fabric.

I guess it's true that we spend time on what is important to us.  The rest we just get good at faking.

24 March 2011

Mary Intentions

I had some people over recently.  New people to the Netherlands.  Well, relatively speaking, since I am also new.  But less than them, making them newbies by default.  Ok, focus.

Anyway, I invited them over because our kids are the same age, and it's hard to get to know people sometimes in a foreign country.

I did this with the best of intentions.  Mary intentions.  To be in the moment, to forge meaningful relationships, and to love others.

And then an hour before they arrived, my ugly Martha came out.  Not that Martha was ugly to Jesus, but my Martha was definitely ugly.  All I could see was the dust flying through the air, the sun shining on the smeared windows, and kid crumbs left everywhere.

So I cleaned.  Never mind that I clean every day, and really the house was already clean.  Nevermind that I should have been rejoicing for the rare sunshine, and that I was able to hang the clothes outside to dry.  Nevermind that my daughter wanted me to play with her.

Mama's busy, I said.  Help me clean.

And most of all, never mind that none of these people signed up to come to a Martha house, although I am the first to admit that it makes visits more pleasant when things are in order.  But these people just wanted to socialize, to let the kids play, and to get to know some fellow expats.

No one commented on how streak-free my windows looked.  No one asked if I had just dusted because all my bookshelves looked so nice and tidy.  No one.

Later, I realized that all I was doing was creating chaos.  Focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong moment.  Like I do a lot. I mean, I still had a good time.  We still laughed and talked, even though it is way outside of my comfort zone to be the one to do the forging of the relationship, the inviting first to my home, the initiative.  But I think I could have saved myself a lot of mad dash craziness if I had just stayed focused on my intention.

Here's hoping and praying you stick to your intentions, that you focus on the right thing at the right time, and that you reap the benefits of knowing and sticking to what's important.

21 March 2011


My Favorite Things


When I read my favorite blogs, I often come across links to other blogs or websites that make for some compelling reading too.  Now that I have sunshine now and again (yeah for spring!), I am seeing all the things that could use some good spring cleaning, so of course I am linking to cleaning sites.  Here are a few that I have enjoyed reading, as well as some other things I found personally interesting:

All for now - enjoy your Monday.

20 March 2011



Today my whole family ran a race.  I ran an adult race, and my husband ran with the kids in a pint-sized race.  The boys were so very excited to run today...they've been wanting to run in a race since my husband and I ran our first one a year ago.  They did a spectacular job, and the oldest is already planning his training schedule to run his first 5k.

This morning, before the race, I told the boys they needed to eat breakfast.  Boy #1 thought very carefully about what to eat, and when I asked him why, he replied that he wanted to make a good choice that would be healthy and give him lots of energy for his run.

I love this age, the age where my habits and activities interest my kids also.  Of course, they have their own interests, but at this point we as parents are deeply influential regarding what our kids want to spend their time doing.  It's a huge responsibility too, if you think about it.  I mean, bad habits are easily picked up. What I do and encourage them to do will shape them as they become adults.  And it won't be long before they don't want to do what I do, so I'd better make the most of it and cherish the time.

So, I ask myself, and I ask you, what will it be?  

Outdoor lover or inside stay-er?

Active or not?

TV watcher or book reader?

Solo or team sports?

Smoker or health nut?

Fast food or home cooking?

Traveler or homebody?

Everyone agrees these days that both nature and nurture play a role in the development of our children.  The question is, how much of each?  I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to take a chance that my influence doesn't matter much.  I'm going to act like it means the world.  

Because, in the end, it does.

18 March 2011



I didn't make my bed today.

I didn't follow the cleaning schedule.

I don't know if the kids brushed their teeth before bed.


I spent time with my husband and kids.

We gave our son an early birthday present.

And we ate homemade pizza for dinner.

Sometimes there's a tradeoff.  Sometimes it's not homemade pizza, it's rice with cheese.  Sometimes it just really doesn't matter.

But every day that I strive towards my ideal, every time we eat homemade, real food, every day we make a step towards good stewardship of our resources, well, it's better than a day when we don't.  

My biggest struggle, though, is to not feel guilty about the floor that didn't get swept or the bowl of cereal the kids ate for dinner.  I'm prone to guilt, even when no one is making me feel guilty.  How do I get over that?  

16 March 2011

Be Still

We moved to the Netherlands from Japan.  If I didn't know from experience that we would have a wonderful adventure in Europe, I would have refused to leave our dear adopted country.  We loved everything about the Japanese land and culture:  the people, the food, our church, our kids' school, the beauty.  I could go on.

So naturally I was devastated by the news of the massive earthquake, and subsequent tsunami, aftershocks, and nuclear plant crisis.  I worried for our friends, and I ached for strangers.

Thankfully, all of our friends are fine.  But with every day that brings news of people still trapped, of possible radiation leaks, of threats of more devastation, my heart breaks a little more.

And then, this morning, I went to do my small group study and realized I had already finished it for the week.  I'm not good at picking something from the Bible to read on my own.  So I sat for a minute, and then I heard God tell me to read Psalm 46.  It says:

God is our strong refuge; He is truly our helper in times of trouble.
For this reason we do not fear when the earth shakes, and the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, when its waves crash and foam, and the mountains shake before the surging sea.  The river's channels bring joy to the city of God, the special, holy dwelling place of the Sovereign One.  
God lives within it, it cannot be moved.  God rescues it at the break of dawn.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms are overthrown.  God gives a shout, the earth dissolves.  The Lord who commands armies is on our side!  The God of Jacob is our protector!  Come!  Witness the exploits of the Lord, who brings devastation to the earth.  He brings an end to wars throughout the earth; He shatters the bow and breaks the spear; He burns the shields with fire.  
He says, "Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations;  I will be exalted over the earth.  The Lord who commands his armies is on our side!  The God of Jacob is our protector!  
I wept and prayed.  I continue to weep in my heart, because some do not know.  Some have not heard.  But I rejoice at the words of authority, and I faithfully pray that through the devastation, people will find their strong refuge in our God.

14 March 2011


My favorite things

Sorry I've been out of touch.  We took a spontaneous family trip for a few days.  What a great mental health break!  We hiked, got dirty, stayed on a farm, and enjoyed each others' company.

I realized as I was driving home that I never posted my blog for Friday.  Well, some other day...

Anyway, back to some products I love.  Today I'm posting some staples in my kitchen.  I don't cook fancy.  It's beyond me.  But since I don't use many processed foods either, I rely on a few foundational ingredients so we always have something on hand.  Here are just a couple of my "must never ever run out of" items:

1.  Rice
     Carbs are good.  Carbs are bad.  Stay away.  We've heard it all, but the reality is that rice is a staple of many diets throughout the world, and strangely enough, most of these cultures do not have the obesity problems that we do.  Rice is not bad.  We invested in a good Japanese rice cooker (this one if you are interested), and we try to buy Japanese rice from an Asian grocery.  It makes a huge difference.  We make rice the basis of many of our meals, from stir fry to soup add-in, to mexican, or even plain.  It's a great way to bulk up just about anything you want to eat.

2.  Quinoa
   Since we've stopped cooking meat at home, I'm always looking for alternative sources of protein.  Quinoa (keen-wah) is a complete protein in itself, and it can be used in much the same way as rice.  It's a jiffy to make, and I usually pop in some vegetable bouillon for some added flavor.  It's a great base of many meals.

3.  Black beans
   We started eating beans and rice many many years ago when we were on the road to becoming debt free.  We took our mentor's advice literally:  Dave Ramsey, financial dude, is often heard saying, "beans and rice, rice and beans."  We found that not only is it an extremely frugal meal, it is so tasty!  Again, great base for many add-ins, and good source of protein.

4.  Peanut butter
     Natural peanut butter is an absolute must for us.  We're all big fans, and it's a great tummy filler upper.

5.  Trail mix
     On the same note, trail mix is another must.  Again, nut products are great tummy fillers, but many pre-made trail mixes have things in them like yogurt coated raisins, which are full of unnatural ingredients.  It is much easier and more economical to buy ingredients separately and make your own.  As an added bonus, creating your own mix is endlessly customizable, so no containers that have been picked through so there's only banana chips with a handful of coconut flakes.

6.  Honey
     Oh, how we love honey.  Fresh, raw honey is really unbeatable as an alternative sweetener.  It has not been processed, plus it is full of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.  We put it on sandwiches or waffles, flavor our oatmeal, and add it to yogurt and smoothies.  Just be aware that most honey found in conventional grocery stores has been pasturized, taking away a lot of nutritional value (heat has negative effects on honey).  However, some people feel that eating raw honey carries a risk of ingesting harmful bacteria (although this is controversial).  Just be aware of they type of honey you want to buy and where to find it.

7.  Pure maple syrup
     Another alternative sweetener.  We don't really bother buying any syrup other than pure maple, as most other syrups can easily be made with sugar/corn syrup/water combinations.  It is expensive, but worth it to us as a useful whole food sweetener.

8.  Flour, yeast, and kosher salt
    For making bread, of course.  I've spoken before about my lifesaver breadmaking book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  It has changed our bread eating habit, so I am always sure to have the ingredients on hand to make a fresh loaf.  And just FYI, those three ingredients are all you need for a basic loaf.  It's pretty amazing.

9.  Eggs
    Another fantastic source of protein, and incredible options for meals for any time of day.  From frittatas to tortillas to fried rice, eggs make their way into our diet several times a week.

10.  Cheese
     Full of tummy-filling fat and protein, a couple pieces of cheese make a great snack.

The list could go on, but these are some basics.  Of course we keep baking supplies and spices on hand, as well as other canned goods, but the above items are must haves.  Keeps us fed and happy, which goes a long way in a house with three kids.

08 March 2011

Tuesday's Tips and Tricks

 The Freezer is your Friend

We all know that soups and sauces are so easy to make big batches of and freeze, but I am pleasantly surprised by the number of things I have been able to keep in my freezer.  Once I ventured into the world of real food, I needed a place to keep things so they would last longer.  Freezing fresh meals from a double batch also solves the problem of eating real food when there is no time to cook.

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have successfully stored the following:

             --I buy bulk of both and keep them in my freezer--they last for months and months this way

            --when a banana gets too ripe, I throw it in the freezer--when I accumulate enough, I make bread

           --I do this when we go on vacation, or when I am able to get a good price on something rare over here like shredded cheese

*homemade apple or pear sauce
          --I do not own canning supplies, nor do I intend to any time soon.  The freezer keeps any fruit sauces I make fresh--I just keep them in small batches and move them to the fridge as I need them.  That way I can load up on seasonal fruit at good prices.

*cookie or bread dough
         --just be sure to thaw in the fridge the day before you intend to bake it

*fresh veggies
        --they need to be blanched first--another thing that can be saved if you leave for vacation

These are just a few things living in my freezer.  I have an article about how to save dairy, meat, fruits, and vegetables, and I'm sure the internet is brimming with advice on how to freeze what.  When we finally settle down, I think I'll have to break my cardinal rule of not wasting a gift opportunity with household items and request a deep freezer.

07 March 2011


My Favorite Things

Recipes I love:

I just tried two new super easy recipes that I want to share.  I don't buy many prepackaged snacks, but sometimes I need something that can be left in a bag for several days (i.e. not cheese, yogurt, etc.).  Because we try to make as much "real" food from scratch as possible, I'm always on the lookout for simple recipes.  We already spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so I can't be bothered with fancy pants recipes that take all day.  We just tried a granola bar recipe that was a huge hit (I'll share that one another day).  So, today, with my kids off of school, we decided to make crackers.  It went over so well, I also threw together some mud balls that I got off my friend's blog (who got it from someone else's blog).  I have to give credit where it is due, so I'll link to where I found these recipes, because maybe you will find something else you want to try.

1.  Whole Wheat Crackers - from this blog

Homemade “Wheat Thins” Style Crackers Recipe
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook
1 ¼ c. whole wheat flour (can use spelt flour, traditional whole wheat or white whole wheat)
1 ½ Tbs. sugar (or honey)
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. paprika
4 Tbs. butter
¼ c. water
¼ tsp. vanilla
salt for topping
Mix ‘em: Combine the whole wheat flour, sugar, salt and paprika in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter thoroughly into the dry mixture until it looks like large crumbs, no bigger than a pea. Some people use a food processor to cut in the fat, but I prefer to save dishes and keep it all in one bowl. Combine the water and vanilla in a measuring cup, plus honey if using, and add to the flour mixture. Mix well until combined and dough forms, but only as long as necessary for the most tender crackers.
Prep ‘em: Use parchment paper, a lightly greased cookie sheet, or an ungreased baking stone.  For crackers, I would HIGHLY recommend using a baking stone (I love my Pampered Chef Rectangular Stone Gadget Wishlist), or at least parchment paper or a Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat.  I roll the dough right out on the stone or mat and bake them.  Yep, right on the stone.  That way I don’t have to worry about rumpled crackers as I move the fragile dough.  People say, “Those are homeMADE?” because most of my crackers have perfect shape and are sooooo delectably thin.
Roll ‘em: Only use one fourth of the dough at a time. Cover all your surfaces with flour and roll the dough as evenly as you can. You might flip the dough to make it easier to roll, but I don’t always have to. Keep rolling until the dough is as thin as humanly possible without tearing. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and cut the dough into squares or triangles, about 1 1/2 inches each. Fork pokes make them look extra authentic. If you want all beautifully square crackers, you can trim the edges square.  I skip the trimming and just deal with weird shaped crackers.  Those go to the toddler right away! (Note: be sure you don’t cut your silicone mat!)
Bake ‘em: Make sure your oven is preheated to 400 F. If you have used a mat or parchment paper, just slide it onto a cookie sheet. If you don’t have either, you’ll have to move each cracker individually. Sprinkle the squares lightly with real salt, if Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Bake the crackers, one sheet at a time, until crisp and browned, 5 to 10 minutes. (If you want to do two trays at once, you can put one on top and one and bottom and switch them halfway through the baking time.) If some of the thinner crackers on the edges brown too quickly, remove them and return the remaining crackers to the oven to finish baking. These crackers bake quickly, so watch them closely – even 30 seconds can turn them from golden brown to toast!
Are they done? You want them to be almost crispy, but not totally breakable to deem them “done”, because they will crisp up a bit as they cool.  You’ll learn after a tray or two the difference between “too soft” “done” and “oops”.  They’re still tasty when they’re soft, just not so cracker-y.  Remove the crackers from the oven and cool on the pan or on a rack; they cool quickly. These crackers will stay crisp for many days, but are best stored in airtight containers.
For extra crispy crackers, If you have space and baking stones to suffice, simply turn the oven off a minute or two early with the crackers still inside.  They’ll crisp up just lovely as it cools down.

2.  Mud Balls - I got this from my friend Amy's blog, but she got it here

1/4 cup peanut butter  **I used cashew butter and they turned out great**

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup wheat germ  **I was out of wheat germ, so I used flax here and sesame seeds later**

1/2 cup oats

1/4 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup sesame seeds or chopped almonds or sunflower seeds or flax seed

Cook peanut butter and honey on low until melted. Add remaining ingredients. Cool. Roll into


That's it!! 
I think this recipe will freeze well, so next time I'm going to make a huge batch and try it.

06 March 2011


The Safety of the Womb

I once worked in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  One of my responsibilities as an occupational therapist was to meet the infants' sensory needs so they could achieve a state of deep sleep, because in deep sleep their bodies were able to heal and/or mature.

And their sensory needs were always the same:  to have a small space where they could feel their boundaries.  Because those boundaries made them feel safe.

And so we wrapped those infants in special wraps called snuggies (yes, that was the technical term).  We wrapped them tightly, with their hands right next to their faces, because putting their hands next to their cheeks was a way to self-soothe.  We made sure there was something close to those hands and feet so that when they ventured to reach or kick, they would feel something, something that gently pushed back.  In short, we mimicked the womb.  

My own full term babies were the same:  they needed to reach out and feel something, like when they were in the womb and would push the wall.  They needed those boundaries.

And they still do.  Kids push boundaries for safety.  They want to feel something, they want that something to gently push back.  To let them know where they are, where they stand.

I recently watched a fictional TV program where the subject matter was about inner city kids.  Troubled kids.  One child was talking to another and said, "I can't go anywhere.  She has me on a short leash these days."  And the other one answered, "At least you have a leash."

No matter what my kids say to me as they get angry at me for setting limits, they want and need those limits.  It will help define them as they grow.  Kids with no boundaries have no safety net, and they grow into teenagers with no boundaries or safety net.  I don't yet have teenagers, and even with boundaries I am not so delusional as to think it will be easy.  But if I wait until my kids are teens to start imposing limits, then I've waited too long.  I've let them flounder when I should be holding them close.

And so I'll keep showing them their boundaries.  They will grow up aware of their limits.  And I won't take it personally when they tell me I'm no fair.  And I'll love them.  Always.  And I'll keep believing that some day they will stop telling us that we're no fair.  They'll get it.  And they'll love us back.

04 March 2011

Just One Thing

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you; I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  John 14:27

I slept fitfully last night, for some reason.  And my husband had to wake early this morning.  So, at 6am I was lying in bed desperately wishing for a few minutes of rest before having to wake the rest of the house.

And I distinctly heard a Voice asking me to give Him a few minutes, that I wouldn't regret it. 

And I said ok.  Later.

And then The Girl woke up.

So I dragged my okole out of bed and brought her up to my room.  She sat with me for 10 minutes, while I read about Peace.  While I sat and reflected on true Peace, otherworldly Peace.

And the Voice?  The Voice was right, I didn't regret it for a second.  The thing about Peace is that it is irrelevant to whatever else is happening.  No matter what I am enduring, true Peace rises above.

It's not happiness.  Not the same thing.  Happiness depends on what is going on in my life.  Peace just is.  It is a gift.  There for the taking, if I so desire.

I always talk about how I can have peace if I control chaos.  But Peace is always available, no matter what other chaos is around.

Peace passes my understanding.

02 March 2011


Making A House My Home

We have not owned a house since 2006, when we sold our home in Savannah, Georgia, and moved to Tokyo.  Moving around every few years since then has made buying again in a tanked economy simply silly.

 But white walls remind me of college apartments.  Here are a few things we do as soon as possible after moving into a new place to make yet another rental feel like home:

1.  Photos.  
     Hung on the wall, if at all possible.  Non-negotiable, for a couple reasons.  First, obviously, hanging photos of my family personalizes the       space.  And secondly, I try to hang pictures (and other meaningful items that are able to be hung) so that they aren't making clutter on bookshelves.  There are a couple of good options on the market for hanging pictures without having to put a hole in the wall.

2.  Color.
     Obviously, painting walls is difficult.  We've done it before and just painted it back when we moved, but that's kind of a pain to do.  So, whenever possible, we try to add color in creative ways, including:
             *fabric* obviously pillows and furniture items can add color, but we've draped an entire wall in fabric using a staple gun and then hot glued a border of ribbon around the edges to hide the staples.  Interesting fabric can also be stapled to a wooden frame for instant "art"
             *rugs*  super easy way to go a little crazy.  Beige is boring, right?
             *paint* I just got finished saying it's a pain to paint a rental wall, but what about just painting a square or two, or a stripe?  As long as your walls are white, you can paint over the color when you move out in just a few minutes.

3.  Plants.
     It's hard to justify spending big dollars on huge plants that you have to get rid of in a few years when you move.  But for me, the impact is well worth the money.  Plants help me feel like I live here, like this is home.  I've always been able to find someone willing to adopt my plants when I move.

Yeah, it would be nice to own my own property.  But then again, it's also really nice to have the flexibility of renting, of not being tied down.  And for now, this is our life, so we've gotten pretty good at making it (all of it) ours.