Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wedding Soup

Having lived away from our extended family for most of the past nineteen years, the responsibility of holiday dinners has been almost entirely mine. Only on a few occasions have we spent a major holiday away with family.
It's been especially fun when my parents have come for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I love working in the kitchen with the two best cooks I know!

As the children have grown & become more adept in the kitchen, my work load has become lighter.
This year, the work of Christmas meal prep was even lighter - for me, at least.
The children did almost all of the baking. I only made one batch of lemon sugar snaps (from Martha Stewart; my first time; marginal results).

We were invited to share Christmas dinner with The Cousins, with "instructions" to bring whatever we wanted.
The girls made a couple of quiches and some desserts, and I got over easily.
I decided to make soup, and the girls made a special request:
Wedding Soup.

Being from Pittsburgh, I learned about Italian food (and Polish food and German food) before I ever learned about "soul" food. In fact, growing up, my exposure to "soul food" was relegated to a mere handful of basic options (although, with my parents, even ordinary foods are extraordinary):

Fried Chicken

(I'll ONLY eat my dad's.)

Collard Greens
(I ONLY ate my dad's until Craig learned how to make them.)

As I've already mentioned, my parents are the best cooks I know, and this is true even with Italian food.
However, I never had wedding soup while growing up in their household.
I don't even know anyone else who makes it at home, except for a lady I once met in an Italian market. As a visual learner, I didn't remember much of her verbal recipe sharing that day. So, when I was ready to make it at home just a few years ago, I had to search online for a recipe.

I ended up finding two recipes that seemed promising. Each one lacked something that the other offered, so I combined the best of the two.
For the past several years, this has been a favorite, not only for my household, but also for friends and relatives who've tasted it.

On Christmas Day this year, though, I decided to wing it, and it ended up being the best yet! The Cousins don't eat much beef or any pork; so to be safe, I made turkey meatballs.
Here's what I did:

Turkey Meatballs = ground turkey, crumbled bread (a slice or so of something good - I used my homemade wheat bread and grated it manually), chopped onions, herbs, salt, pepper, egg, milk.
Don't make them too large. I used a tablespoon to scoop mine, and that's about as large as they should ever be.

Cook the meatballs in the bottom of the soup pot you plan to use. Add chopped vegetables when the meatballs are sufficiently browned:
(It'll be necessary to push the meatballs to the sides of the pot & add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.)

(I was out of celery, and I'm SO glad! Fennel is the way of the future. For sure.)




(Confession: I use frozen spinach.)

I keep a cute little covered dish of coarse salt next to my stove. I always feel more chef-like as I pinch and sprinkle while cooking. Don't be shy, but don't overdo it. That goes for pepper, too. It doesn't hurt to add a bit more herbs and other seasonings along with the vegetables. I added some ground celery seed, as well.

OK, I can hear your question. 
("Which herbs?")
I used rosemary, thyme, sage (all fresh), and dried oregano. I may have thrown in a little savory, but I can't recall for certain.

NOTE: This soup got rave reviews, even from The Cousins (who, surprisingly, had never tasted Wedding Soup before). So, if yours turns out bland, don't blame me. I am a seasoner. I just can't direct you on exactly how much. You'll have to sample as you go.
My only caution is that it is possible to use too much oregano, and it doesn't take much to cross the line. That stuff is powerful, unless it's fresh.

Cute little covered dish (gotta love Polish pottery, eh?)
 When the veggies start to get a little tender, go ahead and add chicken broth. Now, I'm leaving this up to your discretion. It really depends on how many meatballs you have, whether or not you add a mini pasta (I usually don't), and how brothy you like your soup. It's totally a matter of personal preference, but at least use enough broth to cover the ingredients and leave room for evaporation as it simmers.

That's it. That's how I made my wedding soup. It's all in how you season it - and your meatballs really make a difference, too. Please - whatever you do! - DO NOT cheat by buying frozen meatballs. Seriously. It's worth the effort to make them yourself. If you decide to ignore my advice, just don't tell anyone where you got the recipe, OK?

The girls said that this photo makes the soup look more like swamp water (the camera is still in the shop); but I assure you, it is far superior to that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Decades & Still a Rookie

This is late, but blame it on Christmas.

Twenty years ago, on Christmas Day, Craig & I embarked on a grand and fabulous new journey...

of parenthood.

One would think that two decades and five children later, we'd be the go-to people for how it's done.
Au contraire,
we are not.
But we strive to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4)

Each new day, season, experience, etc., of parenting is just that: new.
Thus, we remain rookies.
This is exactly as it should be, lest we deceive ourselves and assume that we no longer need to depend on the Lord for wisdom and guidance.

With fear and trembling, we seek counsel from the Word of God and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as we aim these children in the "way they should go".
We are fully dependent on the mercy of our gracious Heavenly Father, from Whose hands they have been given.

I'm grateful for the twenty years I've had so far as Caelyn's mom. She is a true blessing, always eager to serve joyfully, humbly, quietly.
Her quick wit, inherited from Craig, lightens the mood of our home and offers us the much-needed "good medicine" of laughter.

Caelyn loves people and has a knack for making anyone feel welcome in her presence - from the elderly, all the way to babies and toddlers, and anyone in between.
She is a true friend who "loves at all times" (Proverbs 17:17).

This is the purse I made for Caelyn's birthday, using this pattern that I first saw at the Houston Quilt Show. I knew right away that I must make it for her. I started it in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, and finished it around 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. I'd change a couple of things about the construction in the future, but overall, I love the design! I kept thinking, "These people are so clever!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I haven't owned a water globe in my adult life. I was so pleased to receive this beautiful one from our friend, Peggy, who joined us for breakfast recently.

We've been invited to share Christmas dinner this year with The Cousins, so we've had a low-key preparation period. In the meantime, we've enjoyed some opportunities to extend hospitality.

Our friend, Jon, visited from Pittsburgh for a few days last week. While he was here, we invited a few friends to join us for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Breakfast is arguably our favorite meal, so it was a pleasure to plan and prepare for a great time of morning fellowship.

Sue and I were excited for our daughters to finally meet. Allie is a sweet, outgoing young lady who loves the Word of God, and the girls had lots to share during the visit.

I'm pretty sure this is the best candle I've ever owned. The scent is Amber & Bergamot, and it's addictive, therapeutic, soothing... I highly recommend it. (Thanks, Sue!)

Yesterday, Morgan and I helped Gabriela prepare for her First Annual (maybe) Cookie & Ornament Exchange, with some of her friends.
Caelyn was away at her nanny job, and the boys helped around the house as we prepared.

For Gabriela's ornaments, we used Vanessa's tutorial.
These were fun and easy to make, but a little hard on the fingertips (with the hot glue).

I helped with stitching the circles and did a bit of hot gluing, but Gabriela did most of the work on these. I think she did well for her first project of this sort.

The girls, (l to r), Emily, AnaLisa, Gabriela, Sarah, & Chloe, had a delightful time playing games, exchanging goodies, and, of course, giggling.

AnaLisa's cookies were so adorable! Sadly, I didn't get to sample one.

Chloe spent the night at our house the night before the party, and made chocolate chip cookies with Morgan. Gabriela opted for kiss cookies, which Morgan volunteered to make for her. (Happiness is having a really amazing older sister!)

Sarah & Emily brought these yummy pretzel-Rolo sandwiches. My mom makes these with a pecan on top, and we make them with an M&M on top. Either way, these go quickly!

For the record - and I feel that my word should suffice - homemade peppermint patties (brought by Sarah & Emily) are far superior to the name-brand option.

On a superficial note, I'm still trying to be patient as I await the return of my camera from the repair shop. I'm no photographer, but I look forward to sharing better-quality photos in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.

How are you preparing for Christmas?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

Participating in the Sew, Mama, Sew! Giveaway has been such a fun experience for me.
Thank you to all who left comments on my nursing cover giveaway postMy family and I enjoyed reading through all of them (a few times)!

It was tough to choose a winner, because every comment was so intriguing. I'm amazed at how many common interests we share. It made me wish that I could have 24 nursing covers on-hand to give away!

Together, we've decided that Amber of "Bright and Shiny - Lovely and Good" will get the cover. In her comment, she said,

"If I could be anywhere, I'd choose a trip to Great Britain with my hubby. I've never gotten to use a passport, so that would be fun by itself, but I'd love to explore the streets of London, the Scottish highlands, Beatrix Potter's preserved countryside, and the gardens at Project Eden! I couldn't imagine ever going on a trip without my husband, either. I'd rather be home with him than there without. Your giveaway is so much fun! I have a friend who just had her second child plus 2 foster kids under 3 at home. It's fun to send her stuff once in a while because she deserves it! Thanks for the giveaway!"

Congratulations, Amber! Thank you for participating! Please send me your address so that I may send this to you as soon as possible.

We really enjoyed reading through each comment. I'm especially blessed to see all of the women who hold their husbands in high regard and prefer being with them - and with their children - rather than away from them. This is becoming more and more rare in our society. Family is so important, and our husbands and children need to know that we appreciate them and love being with them.

Thank you, everyone, for making this giveaway so much fun for me!

Friday, December 16, 2011

This Has Been a Good Week!

I've been on a roll this week. I had fallen behind in my menu planning and grocery shopping, but I ironed that all out early this week. It feels nice to be on track again.

My workout schedule has drastically improved after a long rut. I feel energized again (and my clothes are fitting better).

There are oodles of reasons to give thanks and praise to the Lord for His many blessings. I could go on, but these are just a couple of highlights.

Adding to the list are a few sewing projects that I tackled this week. I sent these off in the mail to my friend in Pennsylvania, and I managed to get this ready just in time for the giveaway.

A friend in North Carolina really liked the Nook bag I made for Gabriela. Her daughter saw it and asked for a similar one, but wanted it to be larger. So, my friend asked me to make a messenger bag for her daughter.

I sent her some photos of some fabric choices, and here's what she chose:

I decided to use the elephant print on the back to break up the dots.

Morgan does good work with her iPhone photos. I can't pull this off like she can. I hope to have my camera back very soon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Now, Why Didn't I Think of That?

Three-generation apron set; thanks to my girls for modeling

I've been making aprons for several years, and it never occurred to me that I should make a matching set for my girls, or my girls and me, or my girls and my mom and me.

I still haven't done it.

But my friend, Peaches -- for whom I made this project in the spring, and this project just recently (with a matching laptop sleeve) -- asked me to make a set of aprons for her to wear with her daughter and granddaughter on her next visit.
Oh, how I wish that I could be a fly on the wall of their kitchen to observe all the cuteness.

Except that I'd get swatted.

At least, that's what I'd do if I saw a fly on the wall of my kitchen.

I think that this technically qualifies as a Craft Book Challenge post, since it's my variation of a design in one of my magazines, and I haven't posted for Liesl's challenge in quite a while.
Maybe I'm stretching it...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A "Sew, Mama, Sew!" Giveaway

Disclaimer: My camera is STILL in the shop, so forgive my poor-quality phone photos.

I'm so excited to be hosting my very first giveaway! Sew, Mama, Sew! is hosting a gigantic giveaway week, and they've invited "any" blogger to participate.
(I think I qualify as "any" -- as in, 
"They'll let any ol' person participate, won't they?")

I decided to add something to the "Baby & Kid" category, so here it is: a nursing cover.
I've made several of these over the years, and you can sneak a peek at just a few examples here, here, & here.

In addition to installing boning in the neckline to allow Mama to peek at her nursing baby when necessary, I like to include a pocket for stashing nursing pads during the feeding.

I like to add a backing to my nursing covers, and I couldn't resist this fabric. I bought what was left on the bolt. :-)

Visit the SMS blog to see all of the fabulous giveaways that are happening this week -- there are many! 
But, hurry! 
The giveaway period ends on Friday, December 16 at 5 p.m. (PST).
I'm a bit late posting this, but I just couldn't make it happen sooner. 
(Actually, I found out about after it had already started.)

To enter my giveaway for this nursing cover (whether you want it for yourself or as a gift for someone else), all you have to do is leave a comment answering this three-part question:

If you could be anywhere in the world, with the companion of your choice, where would you be, who would be your companion, and what would you do there?

I'll choose the best one, in my opinion, and that commenter will be the winner of the nursing cover. I'll notify the winner by December 18, so please make sure that you include an email so that I may contact you.

How fun! Now I'm off to enter a giveaway or two, myself!

** ETA: It's sad, but true. The Giveaway is now closed. I hate to do it, but I don't want to break the rules on my very first time participating.
Thank you to everyone who commented. It's been a blast! The winner will be announced by Sunday evening (12/18).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Calendar for a Friend

I have a penchant for over-tasking myself, and I use the excuse that I work better under pressure. The truth is that I just procrastinate until I have NO CHOICE than to produce something under the pressure of lacking time.

I love it, though! 
My white board makes me crazy and happy. I'm one of those weird people who let out a little "mad scientist" giggle, as I cross off an item from my list.

Recently, my young friend, Kelly, sent me this link and asked if I could make something similar for her.
We've been friends with Kelly's family for nearly twenty years. She was a little girl in the youth group that Craig helped to lead back in the early 90s, when we lived in California; and she's now married and expecting her second child.

How could I say, "No"?

This ended up being a really fun project, and I'm so glad that she trusted me to give it a whirl.

I spent a couple of days thinking about what to use for the main background, and I remembered this old sweater of mine that had been added to my "recycle" stash.
This sweater is too big for me now, as I wore it in the "old days" (read "pregnant-and-nursing-days") before I took charge of my health and fitness.

Once I got over the fact that PART of a garment that used to FIT me could be used to make a WALL HANGING,
I was free to proceed.

It took several moments of soul-searching before I finally cut into the sweater.

Some of the details of the original sample that Kelly had sent just didn't sit well with me. She's a really special friend with really great style, so I wanted to pay closer attention to some of the details, without losing the rustic look that she was aiming to achieve.

In my heart I knew that the numbers should be embroidered, rather than "markered". Still, Morgan had to stand by me and help to build my confidence.
Embroidering the numbers made the project take about three times as long as if I had simply written them, but I'm so glad that I took the time.
Morgan helped with the placement and color choices, but we tried to be intentionally random with them.
I went for a "wonky" placement of the numbers.
For some reason, "3", "15", and "17" just wouldn't cooperate in the hoop; but I persevered.

Soon, Lord willing, my photos should improve, as I've finally taken my real camera to be repaired. My phone just doesn't cut it; but at least I have a record, albeit fuzzy.

Many thanks to Gabriela for scavenging in the back yard for a stick. I used twill tape to hang it.
I got lots of "oohs" and "aahhs" from my girls - especially Gabriela, who hinted around to wanting one for our family to keep.
I've had practice saying, "No", to her, though.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Grocery Store Discipleship

In just over a week, we will have been Texans for six months. (Well, that's if you don't get too technical and require a TX driver's license to make it official.)

This. Place. Is. Vast.

I depend a lot on my GPS these days in order to run my usual errands.
Some folks use Costco for "bulk" purchases, but with the size of our family (and our appetites), it's part of our regular grocery shopping.
It's taken a while, but I'm finally over the fact that the nearest Costco is located in the city. 
About 25 miles away.
In lots of traffic.

On Costco Day, I'm always sure to take along at least one helper from my "staff of volunteers". Yesterday, Craig Grayson packed his school books and joined me. We covered a lot of ground, and by the time we got to our final stop (Target), he opted to stay in the truck and finish his school work.
He had earned the break. That boy can pack a mean trunk!

I can remember when it was my life's dream to be able to shop alone. I used to think that it was so unfortunate that we didn't have family nearby and couldn't afford regular babysitters to keep the children so that I might enjoy a child-free day of running errands.

Nowadays, I beg for a companion.

It's now clear to me that it wasn't at all unfortunate that I didn't have anyone to ease what seemed a burden to me at the time.

As much as I longed for a shopping trip without car seats, strollers, reprimands, and taking head-counts at regular intervals, I'm thankful that the children and I didn't miss the lessons involved.
I'll admit that if I had been offered the help, I would have taken it; but we spend so much effort trying to alleviate what God intended for us to bear. 
(ref. Genesis 3:16-19)

Women no longer have to endure the pain of childbirth if we don't want to. Most go as far as to say that they don't even want to have children, or at least not very many.

Men no longer toil for the sustenance of the family as they once did. Labor is no longer valued as a means of provision. These days, time is money, and no one breaks a sweat while sending emails or making calls.

Likewise, moms who are able to stay at home with their children often forfeit the teachable moment that comes from including them on the shopping trip (or doing chores or baking or serving guests...). Someone else is left to pacify the children in order to lighten Mom's load. This isn't inherently bad, in itself - we are called to bear one another's burdens, but we must be wise about which ones to bear.
I understand the value of help, and I encourage my daughters to help other mothers of young children when the need arises.

Deuteronomy 6 tells parents to diligently teach God's commands to children "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (ESV)
How will children learn to be obedient in social settings if someone is always keeping them in the sterile environment of the toy room while mom goes "by the way" without them?
Nap time and scheduling are important; but giving our children opportunities to learn proper behavior and be reminded that the world doesn't bend to the whim of one boy or girl, is even more important. 

The grocery store is a perfect training ground for learning to "love your neighbor as yourself". 
My children's formative years were spent on Army posts, for the most part. This meant that we'd often encounter elderly retirees in the commissary, which offered the perfect opportunity to teach the children to "stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man" (Leviticus 19:32). 

When it comes to teaching children to be considerate of others, opportunities abound in a grocery aisle. I can't venture a guess at the number of times I've repeated this statement: 
"Stay to one side. Don't block the entire aisle. We're not the only ones here. Be considerate of other shoppers."

If children are allowed to join mommy for her errands - and required to be obedient - after a while, not only will it gradually become less daunting to "handle" them in public, but they'll even learn how to be helpful. 
Children should be regarded as producers, rather than merely as consumers. They are meant to be a blessing; but left to the toy room, they'll be hindered from opportunities to learn to be responsible and respectful when out.

Joining Mom on errands also prepares the children for learning to respond to others (safely by Mom's side, of course), look them in the eye, and respond coherently.

"So, is school out already?"
"No, Sir. We're homeschooled."

(By the way, learning to respond graciously to unsolicited opinions or snide remarks from others is another lesson best learned in the grocery store, and could be a blog post in itself. Oh. Yeah. I already did that here.)

An important thing to remember is that it is God Who sends these treasured arrows to us, and it is His Word that teaches us how to instruct them. What a comfort it is to know that He is patient with us as His children, and patiently guides us as we learn to parent according to His Word. As a mother (who is still in the process), I'm continually encouraged by these verses:

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." 
Galatians 6:9

"He Who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it."
1 Thessalonians 5:24

Remember, mothers, that God is concerned with our training as well as that of our children. He leads us as we lead them, and He uses the challenges of motherhood to teach us to trust Him.

Regarding our children:

"... in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." 
Philippians 2:3-4

Let's be interested in training our children diligently.

May the Lord richly bless you as you aim your "arrows" for His glory!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why We Homeschool: Part 1

(So our dogs will be smarter. ;-)

I can still recall the first time I ever heard the word "homeschool". I was watching a special news report about a family who had taken their children out of the public school system in order to educate them at home. As I watched and listened, I thought, 
"That is the strangest thing I have EVER heard, and that mom must be some kind of incredible woman with super-smarts and ultra-patience! Somebody should make an action figure of her!"
(Just kidding about that last part.)

A year or so later, we met a family who not only had more than two children 
but also educated their children at home. My thought then was,
"Yeah. They would."

A couple of years after that, I began reading - somewhat "accidentally" - some real-life accounts of homeschooling families. I appreciated that these moms shared the good, bad, and ugly about their daily journey. This really made me start thinking that homeschooling might be an option worth considering.

We were "dirt poor" in those days, so private school wasn't something we could even consider as Caelyn, our oldest daughter, approached school age. 
Eventually, I came across a statistic about the number of hours children spend in a classroom, compared to the number of ours the average family spends together.

I started to prep the battlefield, so to speak, with Craig, whose response was something like, "Yeah, that sounds like a really good option; but it's not for our family."
I quietly walked away and resolved not to hassle him about it (totally out-of-character for me).

Another year or so passed, and I brought up an idea that was entirely unrelated to the education of our children. Craig's seemingly random response to me was,
"I think you should, instead, focus on homeschooling Caelyn this year."


This was in June 1997. We were gearing up to travel to PA for a family visit just before relocating from Kentucky to Georgia, and I was rather pregnant with our fourth child. Having received a negative answer to my earlier request to homeschool, I had made absolutely no preparation, whatsoever.

"But he said to me, 
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

The agreement that we made when we began homeschooling was that we'd take it one year at a time and consider putting the children into school later. After the first year, we decided to continue all the way through elementary, and possibly middle school, with a plan to send them to high school.
By the end of the second year, we were committed to the long haul, realizing that the teen years would be no time to relinquish the guidance and discipleship that our children desperately need from us as they begin making larger, farther-reaching decisions.

It was around that same time that we decided it would be important to put into writing our goal and purpose of taking on the responsibility of teaching our own children - a mission statement, if you will. I recently came across the notebook where we sketched out our idea:

"To encourage a love of learning in our children by creating within our home an environment conducive for educating the whole child: mind, body, & spirit; making godly instruction the cornerstone while following biblical doctrine, thus producing wise, disciplined, God-fearing youth of character with a Christ-centered world view."

Reading this again after so many years, it's clearer that we, as parents, can't "produce" any particular type of youth; but we are fully dependent upon the Lord to have His way in the production department as we strive to be obedient to the commands and principles written in His Word concerning the instruction of our children.

Farther down the notebook page, additional thoughts were jotted down:

"... fully armed and capable to transform the world for Christ, if it is His will..."

"... armed with the Truth and capable to ignite the match of the comfortable-in-Christ and sound the trumpet for the lost..."

In America, the grand (and astonishingly successful) marketing scheme of universities has decided for us exactly how we are to define education: getting a college degree. Period.
We hold that there is so much more to education than that, and even a cursory background search of most of our key early-American historic figures would show that education a few generations ago was much broader than what takes place while sequestered on a campus for four years.
Shoot! Most key historic figures of any period were educated far beyond any university campus!
But I digress.

If you can get your hands on a copy of Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary, you'll be surprised at how the definitions of many words have lost much of their luster in modern times. Take this one, for example:

EDUCATION, n. [L. educatio.] The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties. 

'Nuff said.
(For now)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

In case you're interested, Part 2 of "Why We Homeschool" should follow as soon as I get the time to organize my thoughts. Currently, we are enjoying some R&R at a weekend family retreat in a beautiful country setting, where my sweet husband is the speaker.