Friday, April 30, 2010

Bags, Bags, Bags!

I'm doing a "turbo" post because we're on our way out of the country today, which means that we'll be away from internet service for the weekend. (I'm sure it exists somewhere in Nelspruit, but we haven't found it yet.)

Anyway, I didn't want to miss posting something for Amy's Sew & Tell Friday, so here's what I've been doing this week.

This is the rear side of the above tote. I call it The Three R's Bag: Reuse, Recycle, Remember. I've reused the burlap that I procured from a local cafe for the main body of the bag. The straps are recycled labels from pillows that I purchased in South Africa. And the floral fabric that forms the front pocket is to remember my Grandma Betty, who has just gone to a nursing home. The fabric is from her sewing box, which I'm sure she hasn't used in a very long time. I miss her very much and wish that I could visit her in the nursing home to play cards or read to her.

I had a blast making this very easy tote a couple of days ago. I've made two others using the same tutorial, but this is my favorite.

I made this little bag just this morning. Many thanks to Caelyn for making the braided strap. Our girls had a surprise birthday party for a friend who attends the American school here. It was so fun to make. I found the instructions here. It took no time at all, and I can't wait to make another one! Julianna was so surprised to arrive at the cafe and find all of her friends hiding behind the counter. She loved her bag, too. What fun!

I'll have to wait until our return to see what everyone else has made for Amy's meme this week. I hope you'll all have a wonderful weekend! Thanks for reading.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Better Remedy

I've just had the privilege of resuming Thursday lunch dates with Craig at his office. (Can I just say that I love that man?! I am a blessed woman!) Our sweet girls made us a Greek salad and some vinaigrette, and I had to take along my #3 addiction: my fresh salsa, accompanied by the fresh tortillas that I get when we travel to South Africa. (The latter were seasoned and toasted by Morgan, to make them crispy and tasty for dipping.) For purpose of clarification, Numbers One and Two are coffee and chocolate, not necessarily in that order.

I've posted these salsa photos before on my old blog, but I thought I'd revisit them since salsa is on my mind today. The above photo has a nostalgic feel to it, as I haven't been able to use my Vita-Mix since arriving here (long story). And those who know me, also know that it's my very favorite kitchen item.

A couple of friends have recently asked how I make my salsa, so I thought I'd share publicly. (Now that I think about it, I may have blogged on this subject twice in the past -- once relatively recently. Oh, well. It won't hurt to do it again, since this blog is new.) I've been making it for about a decade and a half (I started when we only had two children and I was exploring the realm of canning), and I've been on a quest to perfect it. I was kicked into overdrive a couple of years ago after eating at Cantina Laredo. We returned home, and Craig said, "That's the best salsa I've ever had." Well, that just didn't sit well with me, so I decided to ante up in my efforts to produce a salsa from which he'd never turn back. The colloquial game was on! I must say that I seem to have achieved favorable results.

I have been known to eat chips and salsa as a meal, and I justify it by the ingredients I use. This could never be done with a jar from the store. Mine has no sugar, other than the trace amounts found in the tomatoes, sweet bell pepper, and onion. My "secret" ingredient adds protein, so I have a full meal, in my estimation, if I just sit down to a bowl of "living" salsa and some good corn chips. (OK, so corn chips are terrible for me, but I allow for some naughty things in my diet.)

When a friend first learned that we were moving to Africa, she emailed me a recipe for a Master Tonic that is reputed to eliminate even the nastiest viral or bacterial sickness. (Click here for the closest thing I've found to it on the web.) Judging by the ingredients, I can see why a bug wouldn't want to stick around long. I imagine a movie scene in which a truck explodes inside a tunnel, consuming the oxygen supply and every living thing in its range. I'm no nutritionist, but even a surface perusal of enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients and such will shed light on just why this stuff is supposed to be so effective.

Well, with my salsa ingredients, I'm convinced that it helps me to stay healthy. (I promise to swallow my pride and confess if I get sick while we're here; but so far, I've remained well since arriving on this continent in early August.) I've said that if it makes my nose run and my breath stink, it's just about right.

First, my rule of thumb is that there is no such thing as too much garlic. I don't think a day goes by without using it in our kitchen. It is said to be a natural antibiotic, as well as an aid to cardiovascular health, among other things. (I briefly skimmed this article, but feel free to do your own google search if you are given to decry garlic.)

A quick aside: I'm no expert on etiquette, but I'm thinking that in today's foodie culture, we are less likely to offend others with our garlic breath and more likely to prove that we know how to eat!

My book Superfoods (rather old and apparently out of print, as I couldn't find my particular copy on amazon) lists the benefits of various kinds of peppers, of which I use two in my salsa. I prefer sweet bell peppers (usually yellow, just to make it interesting) and two very hot finger peppers. (I always wondered why these are sometimes referred to as "finger" peppers, other than by their size and shape; but the 24-36-hour swelling and tingling that ensue after I've chopped a couple of these has left me with a theory.) I was intrigued by the fact that capsaicin is the chemical responsible for the runny nose and burning throat that keep us returning to our favorite Mexican restaurants, as well as what helps us to cope with pain.

Onions are another key ingredient. I had the privilege of knowing my great-grandmother (who lived to the age of 90 and was able to at least meet four of our five children). This strong woman, who outlived three husbands, also lived in era before pharmaceutical incentives for medical professionals. So from her I gleaned the idea of using onion juice to cure an ear infection and other seasonal ills, of which my older children had many. Poor unsuspecting Caelyn joyfully consumed the stinky concoction of onion juice and sugar (Mary Poppins was right.) and suffered less because of it. (Don't go making major medical decisions based on my advice, though. I can't afford a lawsuit.)

Without further ado, if you're at all interested, I'd like to tell you how I accomplish this:

You will need a blender or food processor. Be sure to only pulse -- do not turn the blender on all the way, or your fate may be the same as my friend, Cristie, who asked me why it may be that her salsa turned out pink and frothy. Also, I make sure that the tomatoes are not the first thing that I drop in. I don't want them too close to the blades. I put the "chunky" ingredients in first, with the tomatoes somewhere in the middle. (This is not represented in the top photo because I was using my Vita-Mix. However, for now I have to use my Bosch blender, which does the job differently. I don't assume that everyone owns a Vita-Mix, so I'm giving you the basic version.)

Now for the ingredients:

-1/3 - 1/2 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
-1/4 red (or white or yellow) onion
-2-3 scallions, cut into chunks
-2 little hot peppers of your choice (I remove part of the seeds and veins of just one, to make it more tolerable)
-at least 3 cloves of garlic (but feel free to adhere to your own preference)
-a few handfuls (a cup or more) of grape tomatoes (I've always liked the flavor better with these than with Roma or others)
-1/2 yellow heirloom tomato (just for fun)
-a bunch of cilantro (somewhat chopped, but the blender will do the rest)
-juice of 1 lime (This is key! I wouldn't think of making salsa without this or cilantro!)
-about 1/4 C or so of black beans (my secret infusion of protein)
-cumin (absolutely necessary)
-and if you have some Mexican seasoning or chili powder, these help

I invent ways to use salsa because I can't get enough of it. Besides chips or toasted tortillas, it can be used on burgers, salad, burritos/enchiladas, black beans and rice, refried beans, crudites, and anything else that suits your fancy.

If you've followed me here from my two previous blogs, forgive me for being redundant and thank you for enduring my repetition. If you're a new visitor, thank you for reading. In either case, I'd love to hear about your homemade salsa!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook


Outside my window... ~ The blue sky and clouds are glorious! Our weather here in Moçambique is reminiscent of spring in Alabama, although we're currently heading toward "winter". I'd love to take the dog for a walk, but I must get dinner started. (My helpers aren't feeling well.)

I am thinking... ~ of my "to-do" list

I am thankful for... ~ fond memories; God's protection of my sweet friend who had a potentially hazardous mishap recently; traveling mercies for my husband and his co-workers; avocados; chocolate

I am wearing... ~ Denim and black; I think this is what I was wearing for my last "Daybook" post (on my previous blog). Hmm. I'll have to check. Anyway, my pink Chacos; big silver hoop earrings; a decent hairdo for the first time in months (ahh, the weather...)

I am remembering... ~ playing cards with my Grandma Betty, who is in the hospital and on her way to a nursing home soon; being called "Chickadee" by Grandpap and told to give him some "sugar" -- he, too has recently been in the hospital, and has returned to the nursing home, where he receives "hospice" care and continues to deteriorate physically, while woo-ing the nurses with his 95-year-old charm and tenor voice

I am going... ~ to South Africa again this weekend (it's my favorite part of living in Moçambique); to the track with the children tomorrow for a workout

I am currently reading... ~ Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson; Profiting From the Word, by A. W. Pink

I am hoping... ~ to finally learn Portuguese

On my mind... ~ the sewing I still have to do in preparation for the upcoming May Fair

From the learning room... ~ finishing up writing assignments for the year; doing some art; lots of reading, still; doubling up on work to finish sooner; browsing online for next year's curriculum choices

Pondering these words... "... Waiting on Him for Whom it is no vain thing to wait." -- Jim Elliot, in his journal

From the kitchen... ~ lots of guacamole these days, thanks to very generous friends and their gifts of avocados; fresh granola from Morgan; finding many uses for the bakery tortillas that we can only get in South Africa (so I call ahead and order 10 packages before we make the three-hour trip over the border)

Around the house... ~ I guess that, just because we're in a different country, it doesn't mean that I don't have to go through the children's outgrown clothing and reorganize; our books could use some straightening and even some weeding out

One of my favorite things ~ the fresh scent of rosemary

From my picture journal...

Now I'm off to Peggy's to see what other simple women are pondering today. Would you care to join us?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bits Of My Weekend

I nearly choked swallowing my pride before posting this photo. But, this is a bit of my weekend that I cherish. We usually spend either Friday night or Saturday night falling asleep all together in the living room (called the lounge in this part of the world) while watching a family movie. This time it was "The Hunt For Red October", so I didn't even try to stay awake. In the end, I think that only Craig Grayson watched the entire movie. This weekend, we ended up having back-to-back movie nights. Saturday's fare was our "Looney Tunes" collection, while we awaited the girls' return from the prom. After that, we were just too lazy to climb the stairs. The furniture provided in this furnished rental is very comfortable, but hosting a slumber party for a family of seven leaves it smelling less than fresh. I'm very thankful for lavender spray for linens and upholstery, a fan, and open windows.

A couple of the children's friends visited at the end of the week. This is Sessie. His family is from Ghana, and his entire name has nearly as many letters as our Preamble to the Constitution. Sessie enjoys dancing, and my fun-loving husband requested an on-the-spot lesson in "tectonic" dance. It was quite amusing.

On Saturday evening, Caelyn and Morgan attended a prom given by the American International School. Who would have thought that two homeschooled girls from the States would attend a prom in Moçambique? We are grateful for the two brothers who invited them. They come from a very godly family whom we admire, and the four of them are great friends. It's so nice to know young men who respect our decision not to have our children engage in recreational dating. We were able to rest easily knowing that our girls were in the company of true friends with no pressure toward a "relationship". We love these guys!

Tyler, Caelyn, Morgan, Austin

Caelyn and Tyler joined the other seniors for photos and dinner before the prom, so Craig and I joined Lance and Mindy in taking Morgan and Austin out for a special dinner before they were delivered to the location of the prom. We had a delightful evening. Good friends are such a treasure!

We were invited inside the host's home briefly for refreshments and hors d'oeuvres. Some of the seniors were just arriving, so I snapped a few photos. Everyone looked so lovely and handsome. One thing that I really appreciate about our time here is meeting people from all over the world. What a beautiful array of God's creativity is displayed in the differences seen in these faces! I love it!

Be sure to mosey on over to Michelle's to see what her weekend entailed, as well as that of her participants.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring Fever

By the time our school supplies arrived here in August, we were stir crazy and ready to get started on our new curriculum. By now, we are all ready to be finished. Although we're transitioning into winter in this hemisphere, my body knows that it's really being drawn by what used to summon me to the herb garden or the hammock. I have a bad case of Spring Fever.

The children, too, are ready for their time to be their own for a little while. Motivated by visions of carefree days, they have resolved to double up on their work. Looming over a couple of heads, however, is the burden of unfinished research papers, due so long ago that I've lost track of how late they are. I'm torn between two desires: timely work and excellent work. I'm hoping for the latter since it's too late for the former.

We abandoned our rigid schedule weeks ago. These days, we relax and pace ourselves to allow for lunch out with Dad, shopping, visits, or any other special event that might tempt us away from our routine. That's the great thing about a routine -- we're free to abandon it when necessary, and it's there when we want to return to it.

This has been a very special school year. We've learned so much more than could possibly be included in a box of books and supplies. Perhaps I'll blog about the details in the future. There's much to tell about our time here in Moçambique, and I don't know where to begin.

I allowed the children to choose their own curriculum this year, so that they'd be sure to enjoy what they're using and know what to expect. I felt that this would be important for a couple of reasons. First, it's Caelyn's last year, and I wanted her to feel good about what she was studying. Also, with so much transition and a whole new culture, it has helped them to have more control over what they're doing.

Most of my time has been spent with Graham and Gabriela. The two of them have matured so much as students. I'm pleased with their progress and enthusiasm over their work. We've had a few set-backs, over all, with technology, since everything is slower and less convenient in Moz. Even with that, Gabriela managed to finish her math mid-year, and she moved on to Graham's level. The two of them have done quite a bit of writing this year -- par for the course with Sonlight -- and I've been most impressed with their poetry.

Caelyn, Morgan, and Craig Grayson have done much of their work together, with the exception of Caelyn's British Literature (which Morgan will have next year). The three of them, also, have had a lot of writing to do. They've done their math and science using a CD-Rom, which has been very convenient. Several things have yet to be completed, but I think that these last few weeks will be rewarding and productive ones.

I've already begun considering what we'll use next year. It's strange to imagine only having four of the children homeschooling, and only one who will still be at the elementary level. The years have gone by so quickly. I'm confident that Graham is ready to join Craig Grayson, leaving me to concentrate more on preparing Gabriela for the middle school years. Morgan is self-motivated and only has a few credits yet to complete. She enjoys a great deal of autonomy. All that is required of me, really, is a little guidance concerning materials for next year.

What a privilege it is to spend my days with these children. The time is precious and fleeting. May the Lord continue to give us wisdom as we aim these arrows toward His will and purpose for their lives!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Double-Decker Card Carrier Tutorial

EDIT: I posted this on Cedars of Lebanon a while back, but I wanted to add it here so that it can be used. That blog will no longer exist after the end of April.

At long last! Here it is, Sue! It began once upon a time at lunch after church at ACAC. I think we must have been eating at Vincent’s in Greentree. Anyway, we were with the Kendricks and Gaudreaus, and Gabriela was at it again. Card sharking, I mean. (Well, not really, because she’s honest. But you’ve never seen a 10-year-old card enthusiast with such dealing ability!)

Amy remarked that with all of my sewing therapy, I should come up with some way to carry the deck of cards that always hitched a ride in Gabriela’s purse. She may leave home and forget her money or lip gloss, but she was never found without the capacity for a rousing game while awaiting appetizers.

I accepted Amy’s challenge and the Double-Decker Card Carrier was born:

After accommodating Gab’s cards for Spit, I decided that I should make a carrier for Progressive Rummy:

And one for Quiddler:

Sue has asked me to do a tutorial so that she may give these as gifts. I’m thrilled to have a reason to try my hand at a tutorial, never having done one before. How handy that I found this link, so that I’m not flying completely solo. Feel free to comment if you think I’ve left out any key points, or if anything isn’t quite clear.

Double-Decker Card Carrier


10 1/2 inch x 4 1/2 inch piece of Backing fabric

10 1/2 inch x 4 1/2 inch piece of Lining fabric

(2) 4 1/2 inch squares of Pocket fabric

(2) 10 1/2 inch x 1 - 1 1/4 inch Tie fabric



Iron/Ironing board

For the pocket, fold over at the top (approx. 1/4 inch), press and stitch. Fold (approx. 1/4 inch) sides and bottom of pocket; press. Fold pocket in half to find center, open, and fold tiny (approx. 1/4 inch) pleats toward center crease. Pin bottom of folds to hold in place. Repeat with second pocket.

Fold lining fabric in half to find center, as with the pocket. (Imagine each side as a separate rectangle.) Pin pocket in place, lengthwise, on each half of lining fabric, slightly fanning out the top of the pleat as you pin, and not centering the pocket exactly according to the center crease. The bottom of the pocket should be approximately 1 inch from the bottom raw edge of the lining, to allow room in the center later on for the carrier to fold with two decks inside, while still leaving a seam allowance at the bottom.

Stitch pockets in place. At this point, if you have a personalized tag you’d like to add, alongside the pocket, I’ve found, is a nice place to add it.

Next, place the backing fabric over pockets and lining, right sides together. Stitch around, leaving an opening at both ends for turning and inserting ties. Clip corners; turn right side out; shape corners; press.

NOTE: You can attach ONE tie on the inside, if you prefer, leaving just one end open for turning, but I leave both ends open and add the ties later.

For ties, fold one end over and the two long sides toward center, and then fold in half; press; stitch. Insert raw end of tie in each open end of carrier; pin in place. Topstitch all the way around, reinforcing at ties. (I’ve realized too late that I forgot to photograph the making of the ties. I remember thinking about it, but I must have become distracted.)

Behold and be pleased! (And it doesn’t hurt to knot the ends of the ties. I didn’t do it this time, but it isn’t too late.)

EDIT: Yikes! I almost forgot to ascribe credit to Penny -- quilter and all-around crafter extraordinaire -- for the tag idea. Not only is Penny a creative genius, she’s a hip, outdoorsy kind of gal, too!

Being Pleased With the Boundaries

A couple of years ago, as I was reading through Psalm 16, I was so encouraged by verses 5 and 6. However, I had to ask myself, "If my circumstances were not as satisfactory as I find them now, could I still say that the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places?" I pondered that question for some time. In those days, I was living very comfortably, getting my way most of the time, surrounded by friends who were affirming and encouraging, loving my house and neighborhood, shopping at Ann Taylor, eating organic food, and basking in all of the details.

Suddenly, our circumstances changed and we faced a drastic and unpleasant transition. For quite a while, I couldn't bring myself to even read Psalm 16. I knew that it had to be true for me, even in a situation that I would not have planned for our family. Slowly and lovingly, the Lord led me to a place of acceptance and acknowledgement that trials are meant for our good and for His glory. I can now say that, even (and perhaps especially) outside the "comfort zone", the Lord's assigned cup for me is indeed pleasant. His boundaries for me are safe and wonderful because they are of His wise choosing.

I've started this blog mainly because I no longer wish to use the previous program that I've had since I first joined the blogosphere. I also hope that it will serve as a platform where I declare the goodness of God in our lives, share the fun adventures we're blessed to experience, display the ways in which we explore creative outlets, and otherwise encourage, entertain, and maybe even challenge my readers a bit.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you'll enjoy what I have to share.