Saturday, July 24, 2010

Like Christmas

I hope to post about our recent transition from Africa back to the US, but first I have to share my excitement. I've been a little disappointed since Friday when we arrived and discovered that one of my suitcases was lost somewhere between Maputo, Johannesburg, Dubai, New York, and Pittsburgh. (OK, I'm more than just a little disappointed, but this, too, is from the Lord's hand.) I've been praying that it will be miraculously located (I don't think it was ever tagged), but the greater miracle would be if it were never found and I still maintain a good attitude about it.

I unwisely put all of my best clothes into the missing bag, along with a few other choice items that I miss. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a skirt from Morgan for church this morning. On a lighter note, I was greatly consoled to arrive at my parents' house on Friday and find some wonderful mail waiting for me.

A while back, I mentioned that I was invited to participate in a swap making these gathered clutches. I have yet to uphold my end of the deal, since we've only just arrived from Moçambique and I'm awaiting the delivery of my sewing machine. However, I was delighted to discover that I had received my package from my swap partner already. To my great surprise, the partner assigned to me was the very talented lady who created the original tutorial. I am greatly honored to be her recipient. Isn't the clutch so cute? I love the dictionary print on the main fabric. This is very much up my alley.

She included a credit card pocket and a divider inside. I'm particularly pleased with the wrist strap. The colors are very refreshing. I love blue and green together, and they flow nicely with the black and white patterns. This is just a great little bag on so many levels! I'm tickled with it!

As a special bonus, Anna was so kind to include a variety of zippers in the package. This was a pleasant surprise. I am always in need of zippers. In Moz, these were hard to get. Isn't this a sweet gift?

To further shower me with postal love, I received from Liesl the contents of one of her recent giveaways. I was so excited to win this treasure trove of goodies, including a sampling of her scrap stash, a checkbook cover and matching card holder, beautiful lace, a sample of her photography, and a few other items. Just look at her generous offering:

I'm really pleased to now have a Liesl Made original. These coasters are too cute!

This kit looks like it'll afford hours of fun. I'm anxious to get started on some of the projects in here. What a great item to include in the package! (Thanks, Liesl, you sweet girl!)

Aren't these ribbons fabulous? I can't wait to use them. I have a couple of projects in mind. Oh, how I hope my machine will arrive soon!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meatless Stuffed Peppers

I finally know how it felt for my mother when I would make something for dinner and my dad would give me higher praise than she had ever received for the same meal. Looking back, I think that he just meant to encourage more kitchen productivity in me, and I can admit that there are certain things that my mom just does with matchless skill.

A few days ago, I was craving another old family favorite: stuffed peppers. My dad makes these and they are incredible! (Of course!) Wanting to work on something that I needed to finish, I asked the girls to please make the stuffed peppers in my stead. I've never had them do this before, but Morgan has proven her skill at making red sauce, and Caelyn has made really great meatballs. Applying those same concepts, they had simply to blanch the peppers, mix the meat filling, make red sauce, assemble it all and bake. The final result was a flavor symphony!

Craig Grayson, who only eats the peppers because it's required of him, announced that these were the best stuffed peppers we've ever had. (This, of course, means that he hasn't enjoyed mine as much as the ones that the girls made. I'm OK with that now, but I had to let it settle into my psyche first.)

When the girls had assembled the stuffed peppers, there were several peppers that were left without filling or sauce, so I began brainstorming ways to use them, since they had already been blanched. I started thinking that a meatless spinach concoction might work. In the grocery store yesterday, I spied abobora, and the idea was complete.

Again, I had something else that I was working on, so I had the girls bring it all together. From what I could tell, Caelyn sauteéd onions, garlic, and spinach in olive oil with herbs, salt and pepper. She added some steamed, chopped butternut squash and mixed it together. (Perhaps I should have asked her to explain...) Then, she added this mixture to the pepper "shells" and topped each with cheese (or maybe Morgan did this part -- it was a joint effort). Gabriela made one of her amazing salads, and Craig Grayson contributed drop biscuits in lieu of bread.

This was one mean meal! Still, my pride was a bit hurt when Craig offered rave reviews, elevating this version above my very own semi-original stuffed peppers. I find comfort, however, in claiming it as my brainchild and pointing out that I've taught the children everything they know. :-)

If you're interested in knowing how to make stuffed peppers, simply do this:

1. Purchase enough bell peppers (I use red, yellow, orange, and sometimes purple, but never green unless it's an accident.) -- one whole pepper yields two stuffed. Cut each in half to make tiny "bowls". Blanch until pliable, but not too soft. (They still have to bake.) Set into a baking dish (or two, depending on how many -- I make 16- 20 just for our family).

2. Mix raw ground beef, cooked rice, herbs, salt, pepper, an egg (and any other seasonings you may prefer) in a large bowl, and scoop into pepper "shells" until as full as you'd prefer. I tend to be rather generous with the filling, and if any is leftover, I bless Craig Grayson's heart by making large meatballs and adding to the dish between the peppers. That way, he gets the meat filling without the peppers (only for "seconds").

3. Pour the red sauce of your choice over the peppers, cover and bake at 350℉ until the meat is cooked through (45 minutes-1 hour). Uncover, sprinkle with cheese (mozzarella, Romano, parmesan, Fontina, feta, or whatever you prefer), and bake until cheese melts and bubbles a bit.

4. Enjoy the smiles around the table as you please your senses and engage in meaningful conversation with the people you love the most.

Monday, July 12, 2010


"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Hebrews 10:23-25

example: "a person or thing regarded in terms of their fitness to be imitated or likelihood of their being imitated"

I've always enjoyed the opportunity to glean the wisdom and inspiration of others. As a wife and mother, it is particularly important for me to have older, more experienced, biblically-grounded women to spur me on to bring glory to God in my role and tasks.

I find great motivation in the above verse. The mental image of "spurs" brings greater depth to the meaning of the admonition, I think. When we want a horse to "giddy up", we have to dig in with our heels and "motivate" him to move forward! This is true among believers, too. We aren't naturally inclined to do our best, strive to serve others, please the Lord, be productive, etc. As humans, by default, we tend to do what makes things more comfortable and convenient for ourselves. It is for this reason that Jesus commanded us to "love [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves]". I'm ill-equipped to offer a psychoanalysis, but even someone who struggles with a so-called inferiority complex, depression, low self-esteem, and the like, is still -- once the layers are peeled away -- considering all of life from the perspective of self. So, since we innately concern ourselves primarily with what makes us most satisfied, we are told by our Lord to redirect our efforts and make others the beneficiaries of our good will.

The portion of the passage that admonishes us to "not give up meeting together" is almost always applied to Sunday morning worship attendance, but I think it's much broader than that. I think it ties in nicely with the doctrine that Paul taught to Titus when he gave an outline of the way that older and younger believers should relate to one another (Titus 2). How can we "spur one another on" if we are not meeting together? And when we meet together, what exactly are we to "spur one another on" to accomplish?

Obviously, spurs are a painful motivator, and at times it doesn't feel warm and fuzzy to be directly admonished to live a certain way. A wise example of right living can be an offense to anyone who is resistant to change. This described me in my early years of motherhood/wifehood. Praise be to God that His plan is perfect and He worked in my heart to make me receptive to the biblical input of godly women.

Once we get beyond the basic aspects of our Christian walk (Hebrews 6:1-3; 5:14), it's necessary to examine the daily use of the time God gives us. The nitty-gritty details do matter, and we must ask ourselves whether our moment-by-moment choices are in line with the goals we pursue as we seek to do God's will on a grander scale. How will I "prepare my mind for action" (I Peter 1:13) if I'm sitting in front of the TV letting Oprah determine my worldview? And for what kind of action is my mind to be prepared? How will I train my children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6) if the lion's share of their instruction comes by way of example of their peers who also require training and admonition, or the pop-philosophy of some young, rebellious music artist?

I'm in that time of year again where I begin browsing my own bookshelves for fresh inspiration for the blessed calling that is Motherhood. As I consider curriculum for our upcoming homeschool year, I'm also considering habits that need to die, ways to refine our routine, skills that need polishing, prayer concerns (which I should have mentioned first), and character training. At the same time, I'm pondering the fact that our oldest daughter -- recently graduated -- will be away from us for the upcoming fall months as she goes to help a young family with their children, and wondering if I've sufficiently done my part to prepare her for the next season of her life.

When I discover a helpful resource, I like to share it. Craig and I have made a habit of buying extra copies of especially relevant books to share with friends who may benefit from them. There are also CDs and DVDs that have enriched our parenting, which we've loaned on occasion. Across the web, I've been greatly encouraged by a few blogs where the authors aim to inspire us to work more efficiently as keepers of the home.

Having procrastinated since our school year ended in late May, I was relieved to be reminded by a friend that it was high time I brought some order to our summer days. I immediately got to work on drafting a new daily routine for all of us, which has proven a bit difficult to follow now that we're preparing to move back to the States, but will be ever so helpful when we're ready to resume it again in a few weeks.

This year, I've enhanced my preparation by adding to my home-keeping arsenal a couple of very edifying and practical blogs. Passionate Homemaking I've mentioned before, and the author is a wonderful example of godly womanhood. The second is one I've just discovered today via that same blog, and the author of this one is hosting a giveaway. Her list of blog topics speaks to her passion for running a home efficiently and to God's glory. She's giving away a music CD, and the current topic is motivation. She wants to encourage her readers to take action and stop procrastinating, realizing that no day is promised and we should make the most of every opportunity.

Even after eighteen years, I still love to soak in practical ideas, and these young ladies bring a fresh, new perspective. There's always something new to learn, and I urge you to visit and be encouraged, as well.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Winding Down

I wanted to have something to share today since this time next week my sewing machine will be packed for shipment back to the States. I realized last night that I hadn't done any sewing at all this week, so I came up with an idea and got right to work this morning. My flow was briefly -- and happily -- interrupted when I took a break to resume our study of Deuteronomy and Ephesians with the children, then moved on to meet Craig for lunch at our favorite pizza shop. I got right back to sewing when we returned, as we watched a really great movie together. (By the way, I'm not one to give movie recommendations, so it's a big deal that I've included this.)

I've made this purse twice before, using this tutorial. I had an idea to make it again using the scrappy strips technique from here.

On my first time using the tutorial, I used an elastic closure with a button. The second time, I left it completely open. This time, I wanted to try a partial zipper with the ends open. I probably should have made the zipper a little longer, but it was a fun attempt, anyway.

While shopping for gifts to take back to friends and family in the States, I came across some locally-made zipper pulls. They each cost the equivalent of $1.86, so I bought several.

I'll be so disappointed not to be able to participate next week, but I look forward to being able to join everyone again for Amy's Sew & Tell Fridays once we get settled back in the good ol' US of A! It won't be long now...

Have a marvelous weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Straight Arrows, Sharp Iron

"Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded."
Titus 2:6

There are certain books that Craig and I like to buy in bulk and keep on-hand to share with others -- particularly younger couples/parents. When we were first married, we were absolutely clueless; but the Lord was gracious to surround us with those who have "gone before". We've had the blessing of a handful of faithful mentors who weren't afraid to tell us what we needed to hear, rather than what we may have wanted to hear. With the current dearth of mentor-types among believers in Christ, we've realized that we are now entering that season of life in which we are called to follow the Titus 2 model of paying forward what was offered to us in our youth.

As I was going through our summer books a moment ago, I picked up Thoughts For Young Men, by J.C. Ryle. This is one of those little nuggets of wisdom that we like to share with the young men that have spent time in our living room and around our table, sharing meals with our family and learning from Craig. These are young men who are steadfast in following the Lord and seeking to do His will, in preparation for being future leaders -- and some of whom have already begun families of their own.

Our boys were rather small when we first read this book, so it is a welcome treasure to see them now taking to heart what was written so long ago by that great pillar of the faith. I began thumbing through the pages this evening, refreshing my memory, and noticed a few dog-eared pages. I was impressed by a some bits that Craig Grayson had underlined:

"Determine as long as you live to make the Bible your guide and adviser."

"Never be satisfied with the friendship of any one who will not be useful to your soul."

"Clothes and company tell true tales about character."

"'He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.' (Proverbs 13:20)"

I noticed, too, a couple of passages that Craig underlined or otherwise noted: (For clarification, in case any reader may be unfamiliar with our family, Craig is my husband, and Craig Grayson is one of our sons.)

"What young men will be in all probability depends on what they are now, and they seem to forget this."

"'Experience', says the proverb, 'is a hard school to attend, but fools will learn in no other.'"

We are realizing more each day how precious and fleeting is the time that we have to disciple our children and be God's stewards for preparing them for the plans He has for them. Our sons will, Lord willing, one day lead their own households and bring up the next generation in the "training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). The things we allow them to practice now will naturally carry into their future lives, making it imperative that we teach them now to guard their hearts and redeem the time. This is something that must begin with the most basic teaching in earliest childhood, just as a crop is tended from seed to mature plant before becoming fit for the table.

While the Word of God is the principal source of instruction for families, I am grateful for other "mentors in print" who are those wise ones with whom we may walk in our pursuit of wisdom. J.C. Ryle is certainly one of these. I look forward to going through this book again, along with Craig Grayson and Graham, and hearing what insights the Lord places on their hearts concerning the application of biblical principles and how they may begin now to prepare for the future.

*Above is a photo of our boy getting his hands dirty doing "man-work" recently when our van was stuck in the mud on a trip to Inhambane, Moçambique.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

When I come across something particularly helpful or noteworthy, I like to share it. Unfortunately, I haven't done much of that on this blog. So, I want to take this opportunity to share a very interesting link that I think may help at least one person out there.

I've mentioned before that several years ago (about a decade ago), I began making changes in the way I view food and the way I feed my family. My goal was to turn from the way my extended family has eaten for generations, which has led to rampant health issues. I don't want my children to face some of the same things that I've seen the previous generations suffer, and I'd like to avoid some of that, myself.

I still have a lot to learn, and I allow for times of indulgence that aren't at all beneficial to our bodies. Still, I like for the general pattern of our eating to be healthful. The author of Naturally Knocked Up is offering an e-course on how to eat well for optimum health, with a focus on how real foods contribute to fertility. Although I have not suffered infertility problems, I have many friends who have. While I'm sure that there are other factors that contribute to the problem, it makes sense that eating well, which enhances the body's functions, would also hold some benefit for the reproductive system.

Kitchen Stewardship is sponsoring a giveaway for the e-course. Even if infertility is not your concern, there are other basic aspects of real-food living being offered. Who wouldn't want to learn how to help her body function better and set her family on a path to better long-term health? After all, the daily choices we make in our homes now will affect generations.

* The cute little baby in the photo above is our Gabriela, now 11.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

... In Which Craig Gets His Way

I held them in my hands yesterday. I'm referring to our plane tickets back to the States. I can still recall the first magazine ad that Craig ever showed me of the luxurious airline that is... Emirates. He got that twinkle in his eye that comes when he's pondering a "bucket list" item. I knew he'd eventually get his wish. He did, in fact, get to fly Emirates on a business trip in May.

One of the countless things I love about my man is that when he has a remarkable experience, he's eager to share it with the rest of us. So, he's arranged for us to take a brief detour through Dubai later this month when we move from Moçambique back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. What a guy!

These tickets represent many things for me. Here are just a few:

* Lunches and shopping trips with my mother

* Going to the farmer's market with my dad

* Bible study with friends in our home

* Braces (finally) for #3 child

* Resuming my running routine

* Lots of special time with my great-niece

* Mail delivery

They mean that I'll miss some things, too. For example:

- Spectacular sunrise over the Indian Ocean

- Hearing multiple languages on any given day, depending on where we go

- Wearing our very curly hair "au naturel" without giggles and smirks

- Beautiful mosaics interspersed about the city

- The people we've met

- The gorgeous beaches

- Regular trips to South Africa and Swaziland

- Safari drives

Perhaps we'll have another opportunity to live overseas in the future. I'm totally open to that. I look forward to the comfort and convenience that characterize American living; but I'm very thankful for the privilege of having spent a year in a unique country, learning a new language and having our perspective broadened in many ways.

What If Cheez-Its Qualified As "Healthful"?

The proverbial baton has officially been passed in our house. Tired of bad-for-you processed foods, and longing to satisfy that salty/crunchy craving, Caelyn did a Google search yesterday and happened upon a recipe for homemade crackers. (Bless her heart. If she would have asked me, I could have shown her that I already have a few of these. Still, it was nice to return from an afternoon outing with Craig and find a batch of fresh crackers in the kitchen.)

She modified the recipe a bit and made two versions: with and without herbs. They ended up tasting a bit like Cheez-Its, only much better. I only regret that I didn't have some yummy dip or spread prepared.

Not quite a decade ago, when I first made the switch to fresh grains and started ridding our pantry of center-aisle fare, I purchased an invaluable resource that has taught me how to read labels. (I'm now experiencing a little buyer's envy since discovering that this book has been drastically updated.) It never occurred to me that I should have the rest of my family refer to this handy little book to learn how we've been poisoning our bodies with shelf-life "food". Finding that Caelyn has taken interest in abstaining from harmful ingredients, I remembered the Food Additives book and showed it to her this morning. She was shocked to see what's in those chocolate-covered Oreos Dad's been bringing home on a dangerously regular basis these days. (Please, don't ask me if I've eaten them, and I won't tell.)

When I asked Caelyn where she got her inspiration to make crackers, she answered that she had been browsing Passionate Homemaker's nutrition articles. She can't remember which one it was that triggered the "oil" train of thought, which led her to search for recipes, so I've just provided the link to Lindsay's nutrition posts. Before visiting the link, be sure to clear a space of time. There's a veritable treasure trove of helpful topics to give anyone's dietary habits an overhaul!

We arrived just as she was rolling this out.

It was such a treat to satisfy a craving with a guilt-free option.

In case you're interested, the recipe was originally found on; but Caelyn modified it a bit. With her permission, I'll share it with you here (have fun personalizing yours by adding a variety of spices and such):

Unnamed Yummy Crackers
(we couldn't agree on a name)

3 1/2 C of flour (I mixed millet with white wheat)
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 cup of water

1 tsp of Salt

Mix all those ingredients together (I added shredded cheddar and herbs). Spread out to max of 1/8" thick, put on a non-greased pan, and score the dough with a butter knife, but make sure you don't cut it completely through. Then sprinkle salt over the tops and jab the dough with a fork. Bake at 350 for 15-20 min.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Outfitting Gabriela

My talk was pretty big about my sewing plans once we finished our school year. I'm finding that it was just that: talk. We have less than three weeks left in Moçambique, so I choose to use our move preparation as an excuse not to have spent as much time at the sewing machine.

I've felt a bit guilty about most of what I've been making over the past several months. It's all "fun" stuff, and I've really wanted to make some clothing for Gabriela. It's so hard to find decent clothes here for the children, and what we do find is way over-priced. I've finally put to use a pattern I bought last year for shorts. Clothing is not my forte, but I don't think this eleven-year-old little girl minds one bit. She's pleased to be my guinea pig.

I started these shorts last week and walked away from them when I discovered that the zipper I used was poor-quality and would need to be replaced. Also, the shorts ended up being a bit snug and would need to be altered. In the past when I've used a pattern that claimed to be her size, it always ended up being too large in one way or another. This time, I went ahead and made modifications in the usual problem areas, only to find in the end that I over-compensated. (I'm convinced that I really do use my seam ripper more than my toothbrush.)

In Africa, lots of things are repurposed. The pattern called for buttons on the side tabs, but I decided to make bows from the twill tape that held together the bundle of fabric I recently got from Sew Mama Sew. A little girl should have bows, even if she is approaching the threshold of puberty.

Zippers really aren't as scary as I used to think, but it took me three tries to get this one as right as is possible for my novice ability. I don't regret it. We learn from our mistakes, right? (Gabriela stood nearby saying, "Aw, Mom. I'm so sorry." She felt my pain, remembering the multiple times she had to rip seams while making her skirt.)

Gabriela has wanted to make another project from old denim capris. She recycled a pair into a denim skirt a few months ago. Recently, she decided to make a long multi-tiered skirt from another pair. She wanted it to be very colorful, so she chose a few bright fabrics from Caelyn's and my stashes. I helped her to measure and cut fabric, but she did all of the labor. Bless her heart. She came to tears during one or two of the eight or ten times she had to rip seams. The end justifies the means, though, and she is very happy with her "new" skirt. I'm "sew" proud of her persistence.

This totally captures her.

It's time again to visit Sew & Tell with Amy and see what amazing projects the others have finished this week. I've had such a fun time participating each Friday. The ladies in Amy's group are so talented and inspiring. Take a moment and browse their projects, and have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eu Gosto Do Abobora Muito!

Happiness is... having a staff. All of those people who used to shake their heads and offer (unfounded) pity at my having my "hands full with all of those children" should see me now! Those days of caring for five children, birth to seven years, have paid off. Allowing them to be underfoot in the kitchen, begging for the chance to "poison test", has brought them happily into my arena, and now I can choose to kick back and let them do it all if I'd like. Hooray!

Yesterday after running errands, we returned to start dinner. I quickly cleaned a chicken and put it into the oven. That was the extent of my role in dinner prep. I should give an honorable mention to the yummy Lebanese 7-spice gifted to me by a friend in Alabama. I carefully ration this valuable ingredient, and I'm so glad to have it with me in Moz. Mixed with a few other choice ingredients, it brought salivary bliss to our mealtime experience.

The original plan was for Caelyn to make abobora/lentil soup. "Abobora" is a Portuguese word, the meaning of which is interchangeable between butternut squash and pumpkin. We are fans of different varieties of curry, and Caelyn does amazing things with a butternut, a bag of lentils, a can of coconut milk, and some curry. Sadly, we forgot to buy lentils on our errand, and we were out of coconut milk. Thankfully, my daughter is a genius in the kitchen. While I've tethered myself to my growing collection of cookbooks, Caelyn requires no such trappings. When she gets a taste in her head, her hands go to work, and a good time is had by all. Having to forego the soup, she made a lovely puree/soufflé-type item, topped with a bit of Feta (my new universal cheese option) -- a perfect accompaniment.

Our second dinner obstacle was the fact that I was also missing a key ingredient for the Naan that I had planned to make. What to do? Wheat bread is wonderful, but it's not exactly prime fare for sopping and scooping an eastern chicken and abobora ensemble. Again, my Kitchen Genius saved the moment. Why not use the delicious ginger waffles left over from the truck-load of them that Craig Grayson made for breakfast (no doubt in hopes of a repeat today)? Bravo!

Gabriela finished our meal prep with one of her amazing Greek salads, and we all lived happily ever after.