"LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." Psalm 16:5-6


Ours is a story of what God can do with two silly teens, starting off with no clue;

And baby thrown in, just for good measure. We didn’t know that God would increase our treasure

With four added on in rapid succession, filling our lives with joy and hard lessons.


We’ve had our share of valleys and hills, of times of abundance, and unpaid bills.

We once thought success would bring us bliss; we’ve learned that loss does a better job of this,

As we lean on our Savior, Who always delivers, regardless of the size of our quiver.


Although we’re grateful for the times of ease, the hard times are useful for learning to please

Our Heavenly Father, learning to walk in His Truth, of which we often talk.

May the Lord help us humbly and faithfully serve, staying mindful that the next generation observes.


Prop up your feet and grab a cup of coffee or tea while I open up

The book of my life, without further ado, and narrate the musings of my heart to you.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cooling My Jets

Light Up Night, Pittsburgh 2010

We have had many pleasant things going on these days. Since arriving back in the States, our schedule has been quite busy and very full of many blessings. Still, I feel that I can't seem to get my act together, and there are several things amiss in my daily routine. For that reason, dear friends, I must take a break from blogging. I fear that when I start again, no one will know and I won't have any readers. (*sigh*) I must take that risk. My schedule depends on it.

I'm not sure how long my break will last - perhaps a week; perhaps a few months. When I return, I hope to have useful and edifying things to share with you all. Until then, may the Lord bless and keep you!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Triggering the Salivary Response



We had a unique outreach opportunity this evening, so Craig called home and asked me to make sure that dinner could be prepared and consumed quickly, easily, and early, allowing us to leave soon after his arrival from work. Very little that we do in our kitchen is quick or easy, but we do have some tricks up our sleeves. I've made these sandwich rolls oodles of times before, but today is the first time that it dawned on me to use a quicker method.

Normally, I use my favorite bread recipe from the Bread Beckers, which takes a couple of hours. I can get four loaves of bread, or split the dough into combinations of bread/calzones/sandwich rolls/cinnamon rolls, etc. Today, however, it occurred to me that I can use our much easier recipe from Phyllis Stanley's book Healthy Recipes from the Heart of our Homes. This is actually a pizza dough recipe that takes mere minutes to prepare, does not need to rise, and bakes in about eight minutes. We've used this for pizza and breadsticks, and we personalize the recipe a bit, adding herbs to the dough for extra flavor.

I'm not sure if I've shared this sandwich roll recipe before on any of my blogs, but I'll do so now. I get many requests for the recipe, which was born of necessity. About eight years ago, shortly after I made the switch to fresh grains, I had a few failed attempts at a stuffed loaf from the Beckers' recipe book. Either the loaves wouldn't bake all the way through the middle, or after removing them from the pans, they'd flatten. Finally, I realized that my over-indulgent nature was the culprit. I'm the daughter of Wally, Maker of Sandwiches, which means that I overstuff them. The filling that I included was simply more weight than the loaves were meant to endure. After much sighing and brainstorming, I came up with the idea of making them cinnamon-roll-style.

I'll share my method, but I won't be too specific about ingredients. That way I'll afford you some latitude in being creative with your own concoction. To make the rolls: *

1. Choose your favorite dough and roll it into a rectangle, just as you would for cinnamon rolls. If you don't have herbs in your dough, it may be a tasty idea to chop some and sprinkle them across the rolled-out dough. If you like garlic, this step is a good opportunity to chop or mince some and sprinkle it with the herbs. 

2. Next, spread a layer of a deli cheese of your choice. I like to use provolone for this layer. 

3. On top of the cheese, add two or three of your favorite deli meats. 

4. Be as creative as you'd like to be. Consider adding sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pepper rings, or any other such condiment. 

5. Once you're satisfied with what is spread across your dough, grate some hard Italian cheese over this. If Morgan is helping me, she normally campaigns in favor of smoked Gruyere cheese, as well. I think she'd try to add this to ice cream if I'd let her! 

*This process should go rather quickly, so you should have had your ingredients ready on your preparation surface before beginning. 

6. After you've fully assembled your toppings on your dough, roll it lengthwise into a long rope, just as you would for cinnamon rolls, and slice into spirals. 

I've found that using a baking stone is ideal for good results. The amount of space that you leave between the rolls on the stone depends on how soft or crispy you'd like them to be after they're baked. 

IMPORTANT: If you're using a normal bread dough recipe, it will have already risen once in a bowl before assembling the rolls. After assembly, they'll need to rise again. If you're able to procure a recipe that doesn't require rising -- like I did this evening -- it's time to bake them! 

7. Place the stone in an oven that's been preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and bake them for about 10 minutes or until they're a little golden-brown, per your own preference.

I try to make a few batches of these at once. I'm convinced that my family has an endless capacity for these, so I tend to ration them. I freeze some to have for lunch at a later date. They thaw nicely and can be warmed in the microwave or covered in the oven. I recently froze one batch in sets of two, wrapped in plastic and stored in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. On some mornings, I'd grab one of these packs and send it to work with Craig for his lunch. 

These sandwich rolls travel very well, and we've taken many a road trip with them in tow, along with some fruit salad served in individual Ziploc bowl (the ones with the handy screw-on lids). These are also great to take to sporting events, on hikes, or any other on-the-go occasion. It definitely beats fast food, in my opinion, and takes minimal planning and labor. It's worth it in the end, and your family will beg for more!

Random


I'm sure you're familiar with the analogy of the frog placed in luke-warm water, who slowly begins to boil as the temperature is gradually increased. Happily desensitized, he's oblivious to the danger and remains in the pot until he succumbs to the inevitable.

Although I hardly believe that having an inside dog will kill me, I am struck by occasional realizations of Rhodes's newly-broadened boundaries. It seems that little by little, he enjoys new privileges that were never intended for him. Entering the living room, where the large window affords him a better view of the squirrels, is among these presumptions. Yesterday, I even discovered that he was lying on the carpet in front of the window... and let him stay. What's happening to me?

*     *     *     *     *     *

One of life's little bonuses is when I'm told by my sixteen-year-old that BLTs are on the lunch menu for the day, only to be served this, instead:

Turkey pastrami, herb Havarti, egg, roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh wheat bread

*     *     *     *     *     *

In other news, I'm pleased to report that our outside railing was recently fixed. Guests may once again navigate the steps from the street to our house with confidence.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Y'all! Check This Out!


I love to glean from talented people. E at Pink Suede Shoe is one of those people. Not only does she do amazing projects for Sew & Tell Fridays, but just check out her recipe for this lovely snack pictured here! OK. That's all I have to say. I need a shower.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Compensating


I love my husband! There are so many things to love about him. One thing that I've come to appreciate is his weekend tradition of fixing Coco-Wheats and sharing it with the children. Although this particular choice lacks any real nutritional value -- and I strongly oppose it as an acceptable breakfast "food" -- I love that he and the children have this special treat together. They're building memories while giving me a break.


I poked a little fun of this on Facebook yesterday, so today I thought that I should make up for it. I did a little brainstorming and came up with a very yummy breakfast idea for this morning:

Roasted Garlic Chicken Sausage

Sun-dried Tomato Chicken Sausage

Roasted Vegetables & Feta on Eggs Over-Easy

Blackberry Chantilly with Fresh Wheat Biscuits 

And a good time was had by all!

I'm a Country Girl at Heart, But...

Don't be deceived. Craig's no coffee drinker. This is tea.

... the city certainly does have its perks! I think that I've mentioned 21st Street Coffee in the Strip District before. No visit to The Strip is complete without making this our first stop -- especially since the roasting chamber of my coffee roaster was accidentally shattered earlier this week. I was not only in need of a cup of coffee yesterday morning, but I also needed to buy some beans to carry me until my new chamber arrived. (Incidentally, the package was by our door when we returned home yesterday.) I ended up buying the Otoño blend. 

We stopped at Penzy's for some empty bottles for the spices I bought on our last trip.


 The street food was quite tempting, but we had a plan in mind.


We really miss mangoes. I romanticize about becoming a locavore, but I just can't help myself. When I see a good deal on mangoes, my desire for smoothies drives me to the checkout.

This guy claimed to have the "best fresh bread in the 'burgh". Hmm. Well, maybe the best purchased fresh bread in the 'burgh. He hasn't been to our house. Still, I give him credit. It all looked tasty, and he was very enthusiastic.




This was our plan. Craig hadn't yet been to the Smallman Street Deli, so we planned our trip around meeting friends there for lunch. (Somehow, our friends didn't make it into any photos this time. Sorry, Tom, Amy, & Levi!)

Filet Mignon Sandwich

The sweetest little teenage girls sold me this irresistible scarf, and I just had to buy these magnetic bracelets. I regretted not buying more of these before leaving Moz, so I was quite pleased to find them in the 'burgh. At first, I only bought the yellow and brown ones. As we were driving off, I realized that they almost matched the scarf. My wonderful husband agreed to return quickly so that I could add a green one to complete the set. What a guy! He understands a girl's need to accessorize properly.


I am always cold these days, so when we were admiring the wares of an Ecuadorian vendor and chatting with him about his goods, his former home, his children, our children, etc., I was smitten with this hoodie. It's perfect for wearing around the house to keep warm while trying to save on energy costs.


After making homemade pizza with my new friend, Esther, in her kitchen, I decided that I need a wooden pizza peel. The one I use has a metal paddle, which makes transferring dough a bit of a challenge. I found using Esther's peel much easier. I searched high and low (literally) until finding one at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. It was "high" above the produce display. I noticed it while standing in the checkout line. Craig Grayson reached one for me, and here it is! I plan to put it to use this afternoon. It's been a while since I've pulled out my pizza apron.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Finally, A New "Sew & Tell"!


It has been far too long since I've been productive at my sewing machine, and I have greatly missed being a part of Amy's Sew & Tell. After our overseas move, finding a house, getting back into a daily school routine, my son's football games, birthdays, and much more, I'm glad to again have the therapy of sewing.

Thankfully, my mother gave me a good excuse to have something to post today. Yesterday was her 64th birthday, so my daughters and I took her to lunch at a quaint little cafe in town. (I love homeschooling. When our server asked the girls how they were able to get away from school to have a lunch date, Morgan answered, "We finished our work early so that we could come.")

When we arrived from Moçambique in late July, my mom was armed with some quilted fabric and immediately "tasked" me. She had seen this tote and this tote I made from this tutorial, and she wanted me to modify it a bit and make a tote for her to carry her Bible to church. In the midst of all our transition, this project was tucked away in the outer recesses of life; but in anticipation of her birthday, I decided to finally sit down in my new little sewing corner of the world and get to work.


Because the original tutorial includes a lining, which hides all inside raw edges, it was necessary for me to find a solution for the pre-quilted fabric that Mom chose. It created an inside raw edge that would indeed be quite unsightly. So, when I mentioned that to Mom earlier, she bought some 1/4" bias tape, which fixed the problem nicely. (I once tried to reverse-engineer a Vera Bradley clutch of Gabriela's, and I saw that this is part of her design method.)



Mom was so pleased to pull her tote from the gift bag we presented to her at lunch. We had a marvelous time. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, you must try Iovino's Cafe in Mt. Lebanon. After lunch, we headed to Cold Stone to pick up her ice cream cake, then returned to our house to find that my dad and the boys had built a fire in the fireplace. They know that this something I particularly appreciate. 


My parents stayed for dinner, and we presented my mom with her final "gift" - a letter I wrote to poke fun at some of her amusing traits. Morgan made it so that Mom can add it to the scrapbook we made for her a couple of years ago. (I posted more birthday photos here.)




Today in honor of Grandma’s 64th birthday, we want to pay special attention to her many admirable qualities, as well as to some of her… idiosyncrasies.

Grandma’s house is a place where we always feel WELCOME. Her many, many knickknacks show her girlish love of whimsy. Always a child at heart, Grandma appeals the inner youth of all who enter her home.

Her CHRISTMAS SPIRIT shows 365 days a year, as made evident by the extensive collection of snowmen and gingerbread men, seen on kitchen linens, dishes, candle holders, tole-painted crafts, sweatshirts, jewelry, and much more!
           
Grandma has such a GENEROUS nature. She delights in giving gifts to others. Anyone who has known her for at least 20 years has probably worn one of her famous painted sweatshirts. This particular craft, in fact, is where I got my start as a crafter.

Grandma sets a strong example for the rest of us to follow in the area of ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS. Are you finished with that napkin? Perhaps she can extend its use by saving it for dabbing acrylic paint. Or if you no longer need that Q-tip that you used to clean your computer keyboard, she can certainly find a use for it in her craft room.

FRUGALITY is very important to Grandma, so when she passes a dollar bin in a store, she makes sure to stock up rather than miss an opportunity to save money.

Another thing we love about Grandma is that she always comes PREPARED. Whether it’s change for a $100 bill or a coupon for a free week of cross-country skiing in North Pole, Alaska, it can probably be found in her large, rhinestone-clad purse. And if you should happen to fall into a vat of mire, she’s armed with plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer – and possibly even a hose – to get you all shiny and new.

With her ANIMATED personality, she makes movie-watching a memorable experience. “Ooo! Whoa! Did you see that?! It’s taken 37 times watching this movie for me to see that part of the scene. It never stood out to me before!”

A working KNOWLEDGE of her home inventory is essential to an efficient homemaker like Grandma. Ask her for a cotton ball and she’ll answer, “Go into my closet and turn on the light. On the right you’ll find my collection of suit jackets from when I worked at the bank and they made us wear uniforms. I don’t know why those silly people didn’t just let us wear our own clothes. On the other hand, it eliminated the headache of trying to figure out what to wear everyday. Anyway, right beneath my suit jackets is a stack of tissue paper – so if you ever need any tissue paper, you’ll know where to find it. Just to the left of the tissue paper is a stack of shoeboxes. I think the one on top has that extra pair of Easy Spirit walking shoes that I bought and can’t use. (*sigh*) I wish you or one of the girls could fit my shoe size. I hate to see it go to waste, and it’s too late for me to return them. Oh well. It is what it is. OK. The shoeboxes are stacked on top of that plastic rolling cart that has all the drawers. I bought that from LTD when we were still National City, before we became Northwest Savings and that unkind boss of mine made us stop placing LTD orders at work. In the third drawer down, you’ll see a bunch of Michael’s coupons and some extra packs of travel-size tissues. Do you need any of those? If you do, just grab as many as you need. I have more upstairs in my craft room. Oh, did you see what your Dad did up there for me? He does such good work. Anyway, behind the tissues are brand new bags of cotton balls. Giant Eagle had them buy-one-get-one-free, so I bought six.”

If you're still with me, allow me to share other sewing news. It's been a good week for me. I can't wait to see what everyone else made for Sew & Tell!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Making Up For Lost Time


I have so many things to blog about and so many excuses for why I haven't done so. But there's no time for that now. First things first. A while back, I mentioned that I had the honor of being invited to participate in a swap making these adorable little gathered clutch bags.

The swap was being organized as we were planning our relocation from Moçambique back to Pittsburgh. The coordinator, Penny, very graciously agreed to let me send mine late due to the dynamics of an overseas move, waiting on our household goods, house hunting, getting settled in, etc. I had no idea just how long I'd end up taking to finish my end of the deal, and I'm quite ashamed at how long it's been. I certainly don't deserve the patience that was shown me, especially since Anna finished the one she made for me right away and had it awaiting my arrival at my parents' house.

I was excited and nervous to learn that Penny would be the recipient of the clutch that I was to make. She's quite a well-rounded gal, and I labored over the details. At one point, I was torn between just sending her a finished product in a semi-timely manner, and finding the final item that would complete the idea that was forming in my head. I'm so thankful that Penny is really a laid-back kind of person who assured me (several times) that she didn't mind waiting until I was really ready.

My friendship with Penny began with a giveaway that she held almost two years ago, when she asked readers to name her new espresso maker. I won with "Stella", and the beautiful items that Penny sent adorn my kitchen today. So, since Penny and I share a love of good coffee, I definitely wanted to somehow incorporate that into the details of her clutch - hence, the burlap. Penny has done some pretty amazing work with burlap, which made me a bit nervous. She's totally a professional! I managed to score a coffee bag from our favorite cafe in Moz. The beans had been imported from Malawi. I was pretty excited about including an element from our African experience.

I bought this zipper pull from a local gift shop in Maputo while shopping for beads to bring back to Craig's cousin who makes jewelry. I knew that I must also include this, adding to the African element.




If you peruse Penny's site, you'll find that she really does a great job of choosing cheerful fabrics with vibrant colors. I love this fabric that I used to make a nursing cover for a friend recently, so I thought it would be perfect for this project, as well.




Penny and her husband are outdoor enthusiasts. I wanted to include something that appeals to that part of her nature. I decided that a carabiner was the perfect hardware for attaching the wrist strap. It's rather hard to locate "biners" on our side of Pittsburgh, so I'm pretty thankful that REI has recently come to town. They've changed a bit since we originally purchased our own camping gear, so it was interesting to find that they now come in a double-sided "S" shape.




When I had the clutch fully assembled, I realized that I had forgotten to sew the divider inside. So, I took it apart and added the missing piece. Penny is definitely worth the effort!




On one of my very few fabric shopping excursions in Moçambique, I came across this print that just cracked me up. It's so fitting, considering the crime rate in South Africa. I couldn't pass this up. I thought I'd include this as the credit card pocket, just for fun.



It was Penny's tutorial that inspired the tags that I now include in my sewing projects. Naturally, I added one to her clutch.


I'm hoping that by the time she reads this post, she'll already have received her package in the mail from me. I waited a few extra days before posting this so that she'd see it in person first. I really hope she likes it! I had a blast making it for her. Hopefully I'll have an opportunity to do another swap and finish on time. I don't foresee any relocations in our near future, so I have no excuse.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Love My Vita-Mix!


If you used to read my old blog (my first one -- this is my third), you already know that my Vita-Mix is my favorite kitchen appliance. Although there are machines in my kitchen that are more practical and necessary, this one definitely offers the most fun.

From warm "raw" soup and fresh salsa to frozen desserts, smoothies, and nut butters, this machine lives up to its reputation and proves a worthwhile purchase. Shortly after it arrived at our Alabama home in spring of 2008, we had already done a great deal of experimenting with this tool that is too attractive and versatile to be referred to simply as a blender.

Years ago, my cousin, Stacy, showed me how to read labels and determine which ingredients cause a health concern. Commercial brands of peanut butter, for example, pose a real problem, with hydrogenated oils and other mysterious ingredients. Our family consumes large quantities of peanut butter -- except for Graham, who's allergic to it -- so naturally, I wanted to find a better alternative without having to give it up altogether. Although my sweet husband flatly refuses to kick the Jif habit, the rest of us have been on a quest to find the tastiest version of natural peanut butter.

We settled on a decent health-food-store brand for a while, but we were excited to begin experimenting with homemade peanut butter when our Vita-Mix arrived.


 Here's a photo of Craig Grayson's first attempt at peanut butter in 2008. I'm convinced that it was his own labor that made it taste good to him. He doesn't usually reach for the healthful option. I thought it was delicious, though.


Now that we're settled again, I've been brainstorming about peanut butter. This morning, I decided to give my idea a try:


peanuts
coconut oil
agave nectar
salt



It turned out really smooth and won the approval of all of the children, minus Graham. Morgan declared it to be the best she's ever tasted! I doubt that Craig will be convinced, though. I've added more Jif to my grocery list, just in case.