Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

I'm a pretty even-keel sort of girl. I don't get angry often, don't usually raise my voice, and I rarely cry. It's a calm and relatively stress-free life I lead, and I am grateful for that. But on the flip side, I also don't often experience the thrill of belly laughs, tears running down my face in glee, pure joy (unless I'm watching a dear sister slide backwards, fully dressed, helpless to stop her progress, into Lime Lake while her husband stands by doing absolutely nothing because he doesn't want to get his new shoes wet). And although I haven't often felt that incandescent feeling of joy, I want to. I've been in pursuit of it now for years, and that search led me to this book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

One Thousand Gifts

Ann is a farmer's wife, a home-schooling mother of six, and a writer whose prose reads like poetry. She has a gift for finding the beautiful in the common-place, in what others might shrug off as mere part and parcel of everyday life. Ann's life has been one of stunning early loss (her young sister was killed in an accident), mental and spiritual anguish as a result, and finally, a sense of peace won through hard-fought battles with her self. She has found this peace only through daily communion with God. And this is the message that threads through the book.
Here is a transcription of the notes I took as I read:

- Satan's greatest lie is that God is not good. God is all and only good.
- Mankind's first sin was ingratitude: God had given everything, and we wanted more.
- Sin blinds us to God's goodness.
- Eucharisteo: a Greek word meaning "he gave thanks." This is the foundation of the sacrament of Holy Communion and of this book.
- Eucharisteo comes from the Greek word charis, which means "grace," but it also comes from that word's root, chara, which means "joy."
- We are designed and compelled to give thanks in all things and for all things.
- The act of thanksgiving is integral to faith.
- Ann began keeping a daily gratitude journal, in which she listed the gifts she already has.
- Erasmus said: "A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit." We can overcome a bad habit (complaining, discontent, anxiety) by replacing it with another habit (gratitude, peace, service).
- The importance of naming things goes back to creation. Naming, counting, listing our blessings is a valuable exercise.
- J.R.R. Tolkein: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Words to live by.
- We stress often because we feel we don't have enough minutes in a day. But giving thanks creates time because the attitude of thanksgiving in all things redeems time we waste in apathy, inattentiveness, and boredom.
- G.K. Chesterton: "Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian."
- All is grace; all is God's plan. Even that which seems bad, ugly, painful. She says: "God is always good, and I am always loved." There is grace in that, and great joy.
- Faith is in the (constant) gaze of the soul: a soul that is always seeking, seeing God in His creation.
- Deeply seeing leads to gratitude, which leads to joy.
- Complaints about setbacks, trials, tribulations: these are actually blasphemy because they doubt God's divine power to work good through all things. This is painful to consider, isn't it?
- Joy is always present. We must not turn from it but turn toward it and receive God's ever-present gift.
- G.K. Chesterton: "Our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again." Recognizing God's gifts to us in the familiar is one of the key steps to the daily practice of gratitude.
- Although dark times may loom heavy over us, we must remember that it is in those troubled times that God is closest.
- We must make ourselves small, must humble ourselves in order to truly stand in awe.
- Anger, pride, fear: these things smother joy.
- We open our hands wide to receive God's grace and joy--and then we keep them open to give it away. If we clench our fists tight around what we've been given, it molders.
- This act of service--of giving and sharing grace--is central to the faith-walk. We cannot just sit back and accept. We must in turn share God's goodness.

This book was full to the ends of each page with moments that made me think, made me breathe deeply, made me ponder who I am and who I can be. After reading it, I set a blank journal near my Bible, on a table in the dining room. In it, I began a list of things I am grateful for, gifts God has given me this day.

At lunch, with my family gathered around, I read my list, talked about this book, and encouraged Clint and the kids to add to the list. At dinner, I read what had been written: 18 things in one day! We plan to keep adding to the list throughout the year, maybe reaching Ann's goal of one thousand--or maybe surpassing it. It is our first step in a conscious journey toward gratitude for the grace God showers upon us, and in this list and the path it will inevitably take us down, we will all find the joy He longs to give us.
If you long to find joy, to find a spot of peace in your fast-paced life, I urge you to read this book. Also, Ann's blog is a place to find peace, encouragement, and joy. Check her out; check this book out.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Birthday Weekend

June is a very busy month in our family. Clint and I celebrate our birthdays at the beginning of the month, and then Jared and Lauren celebrate theirs back to back at the end. So, Jared (somehow) has skipped right along to his eighth birthday. 

One of his cuddliest presents was this stuffed doggie (more about him later).

After presents but before we headed out to the lake for the day, Daddy decided the kids needed to recreate a picture we took of them when we brought Jared home from the hospital. Surprisingly, it was a little more difficult this time around.

And Lauren turned 19 this year (seriously? how is THAT possible?). Jared was so helpful with her present opening. Just always giving, that kid.

Lauren's favorite present was SuperBoyfriend, which Dad picked up at a garage sale a few weeks ago. Who knew something like this would become So Important? (And the bonus: SB is fully poseable.)

But what really surprised us all was the revelation last night that the birthday celebration wasn't over yet. Jared's new doggie was celebrating his birthday TODAY. So, Jared and I spent a few hours last night planning Shorkie's birthday party. Shorkie invited all of his friends. And, happily, they were all able to attend. Even though Grandpa Perry (the platypus) and Grandma Lumberjack (the beaver) are moving to Texas TODAY.

Shorkie loves his new collar, made and designed by Jared.

He's also very thankful for the thoughtful card his grandparents made for him. (That's Grandpa Perry and Grandma Lumberjack, of course.) (Oh yeah, and his full name is Shwarcansquater, but that's a bit of a mouthful for some of us.)

His grandparents also gave him a real dollar bill.

And he got a new home, which smells a little like cinnamon and apples, for some reason. And also a tennis ball.

Jared was hoping I'd make Shorkie his own birthday cake, but I told him two cakes in two days is enough. Shorkie can have some of his or Lauren's leftover cake. Apparently Shorkie is allergic to chocolate, though, so he'll have to settle for Lauren's cake.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gramps Turns Ninety

I remember when I was a little girl, I would fall asleep next to Gramps, both of us stretched out in the sun streaming in their living room window, the flecked green carpet rough under my smooth cheek. I remember walking across the road to go fishing with him, watching the birds fly to his squirrel-proofed bird feeders, sitting on his lap and watching--fascinated each time--as he sucked his dentures back into his mouth with a click and a grin. 

It seems impossible to believe he turned ninety today, but he did. 

My youngest sister planned a surprise for him: as many of us children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren as possible would meet at his house in the morning and surprise him by cleaning up his yard. Gramps had a stroke about 13 years ago, and while he can still get around in a wheelchair, he certainly can't get outside to tend to his yard, so this sounded like the perfect way to wish him a happy birthday. 

I must have read the memo incorrectly, though, and we arrived almost an hour early. Gramps and Grandma get tired out pretty easily, and we didn't want to cause any fuss by walking in early, so we killed some time at a park down the road. I found the first empty robin's egg, always a reminder of the precious tenderness of new life.

It was a cool, windy morning, perfect for our first family hike in the woods.

A tree had fallen, split maybe by a lightning strike or a heavy burden of ice. Someone had begun to cut up the fallen limbs.

And the best treasure of the trip, this find, sitting near the trail head:

Clint figures it's a chicken egg. 

And then, we left the park and headed over to see Gramps. We raked leaves in the front yard and the back. We didn't have much to do, maybe an hour's work of leaves that had been blown up against the fences and the house.

We found all sorts of treasures as we were working. Gramps and Grandma both hate to throw things away. 

And then, when we were done, we went inside for a few minutes to give them hugs and kisses, to sing, to eat cake, and to remember. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Altoid Tin Craft: Young Isaac

A few months ago, I finally bought the pattern from Larissa's shop to make the Wee Princess Pea. I'd had my eye on the pattern for Quite Some Time, but it's a funny thing: our extended family has produced a plethora of little boys but very few little girls, so I didn't feel like I had enough little ones to craft for to make the (not really that expensive at all) purchase worthwhile. So anyway, when Jared got the invitation to his best friend's party (Yeah, she's a girl. I love that/), I felt the craving to buy the pattern again, and this time I caved. Also, I figured I could use the pattern a few months later to make a princess for my god-daughter.
Then, as I was crafting away on the princesses, I had a moment of pure crafting genius. I have lots of little boys to make things for, I thought. Not many girls. If only there were a way I could use this pattern to make little princes. Hmm...but would a boy play with a prince? Probably not.

Now get ready: here's where the genius part happened.

As I drew a face and glued on lovely long hair, I kept thinking: What would a little boy play with if it was tucked into an Altoid tin? Especially a tin a thoughtful Mama has tucked into her purse to keep the boy quiet during...say...church?

I thought of my nephews: Elijah, Sam, Noah, Micah, Jacob, Thaddaeus, Gideon, Isaac...Hmm...Yes! That's right. Bible characters. They wear long cloaks and tunics not much unlike a princess's nightgown and robe. I would just need to alter the pattern a bit. And that's how Young Isaac was born. You see him above with his princess friend. He's wearing his tunic and has long-ish hair. (My artistic critics thought it was a bit too long, but I was happy with it.)

This is his Altoid home. I glued paper inside the tin, and I copied out the verse from Genesis that is the climax of young Isaac's story.

And here he is with his robe on. I added cross stitching to the hem to spiff it up a bit.

 I cut some strips of leather for his bundle of sticks and tied them together with a piece of brown embroidery floss.

And of course he needed a lamb friend, so I made a very tiny lamb out of wool felt. He's about as big as the last joint of my thumb.

And here's Isaac waiting to be packed up into his new home. I gave him to my tiny baby nephew as a baptismal gift. I hope my sister tucks him into her purse when her Isaac is old enough to play with him in church.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pioneer Living

It's tradition at their elementary school that the 2/3 graders visit the local historical museum to learn about daily life for pioneers. Jared was really excited about the trip because they'd finally get to see Inside the Log Cabin. I didn't go along, but I heard the following report from a Very Reliable Source.

When they entered the pioneer log cabin, the tour lady invited the children to look around carefully and observe ways this cabin was different from their houses. One child raised his hand and pointed out the ladder to the sleeping loft.
"Yes, good job!" the lady said. "We don't have ladders in our houses anymore to get into the upstairs. We have stairs."
Jared raised his hand. "Actually, I have a ladder in my house."
The lady smiled at him. "But you don't use the ladder to get into the upstairs, do you?"
Jared nodded. "Actually, we do. That's how we get into my bedroom."
Nonplussed, the lady looked around at the adults. My Source nodded. "He's telling the truth. He does basically have a ladder up into his bedroom."
The lady continued. "Pioneer children slept in lofts like this one," she said, pointing up. "Don't you think it would be unusual to sleep in a loft like this?"
Jared raised his hand. "I sleep in my attic."
The lady stared at him for awhile, maybe uncertain whether or not to believe him. Then, she continued. "Well, children, do you see any other things that are different from what you have in your houses?"
A child pointed to the wood burning stove. "That's right," the lady said. "In pioneer days, people used these to heat their homes."
Jared raised his hand. "We have one of those."
The lady raised her eyebrows. "Okay, but you probably don't use it to cook your food like pioneers did."
"Actually, we do. Sometimes. My mom makes soup on it in the winter and my dad likes to cook on it too."
The lady eyed my Source. He shrugged. "They probably do," he said.
The lady continued, talking about chores and how hard pioneer children had to work to bring in enough firewood to keep the house warm in cold months. Jared raised his hand. "I help bring in firewood at my house."
At this point, the lady just led the group outside, where she showed them trees
with sap-collecting buckets.
The children listened attentively as she explained how syrup is made from sap. Jared's teacher leaned in close to the lady before they moved on. "Jared's dad collects sap too. Just thought you should know."
I do not know how she responded to this little tidbit.

So there you have it. Apparently, we live like pioneers. Who knew?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lesson Learned

I've been nagging Jonah all week (yeah, I know it's Spring Break) (yeah, I know I'm mean) to study for his upcoming AP World History test. But I have to add this note: he stresses out about these tests, and his teacher Kindly Gave them extra time by setting the test after break. So WHY shouldn't he take a few hours here and there to study and prepare for the essay questions?
Today, after I nagged him once again to stop procrastinating (this morning, it was building darts out of thorns and printer paper), he asked if he could invite a few friends over to study. Why not? I thought. Why not indeed.
This is what I pictured: while I finished up a project upstairs, Jonah and his well-mannered friends would sit around with binders and highlighters, politely asking: "What do you think are the impacts of globalization and industrialization in 19th century China and Japan?" or "How should we best discuss the geological and cultural impacts of silver mining in Central and South America?" You know, stuff like that.

Clearly, I don't know my son or his friends very well. Here's a small sampling of what I overheard:

"Wow, Jonah. You already most of the (15 page) packet done? Wow. We haven't even started yet...." (Jonah sighed. He was hoping they'd be able to help HIM with a few answers.)
"Jonah, your binder is really cool. You're so organized." 

And that, folks, is about all they said about AP World. Here's what came next:

1. Jonah showed them all the neat birthday presents and gadgets he has acquired since they visited last, complete with full explanations and demonstrations of how each works.
2. Jared popped in and out of the conversation, just enough to be annoying.
3. They had a lengthy Nerf Gun battle.
4. I'm pretty sure I heard someone say: "Jared, just stand still. Right there. We promise this won't hurt" at least once.
5. I heard a lot of that snickering sound teenage boys make when they have just done something a) painful, b) embarrassing, c) disgusting, or d) all of the above.
6. They ogled an Army Surplus catalog.
7. They tied fishing line to one of Lauren's old baby dolls to make a marionette named Cody (who is currently watching Star Wars VI with Jared while Jonah's at a movie with Clint).

So...next time Jonah asks to invite a few friends over to STUDY, I think I'll make sure those teenage boys spend at least twenty minutes doing what they're supposed to be doing before the inevitable mayhem begins.
Hmm...yeah. Maybe I'm a little too optimistic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I'm working on

Today we have another snow day, and I'm hoping it's our last! To keep winter at bay, I'm embroidering this bird, which will decorate the front flap of a new messenger bag soon. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How Not to Cut an Avocado

As I held my (very sharp) chef's knife over the pit of a halved avocado, the silky green flesh winking up at me, I had a thought: You know, one of these days I'm probably going to cut myself as I whack a knife into the pit to remove it.
I can't remember whether I physically shrugged that little pearl of wisdom off, but I know I did a mental shrug and a wink to boot. Nah, I'm not going to cut myself. How silly is that.
Then, with a wickedly sharp swish, I dropped the knife and a jolt of pain spun through my body.
Here are three things you should know right now:
1. Clint is very keen on keeping our knives sharpened.
2. I was holding the avocado in the stupidest possible fashion--cupping it as I should have been--but with my thumb sticking up at least an inch above the edge of the avocado.
3. I have awful aim.
I must have cried out. I'm pretty sure I tossed the knife across the counter (thankfully injuring nothing else). And I looked down at the rush of blood--far too red, far too bright--welling from the cut in my thumb.
I dashed to the sink, turning on the water, squeezing my thumb and watching my blood drip down the drain. That's when Clint and the kids rushed into the kitchen. Now, if you don't know Clint well, you need to know this: he is a man who knows about bodily injury. He once got a fish hook stuck in his back while cleaning the shed--and he tried to make me remove it  by pushing it the rest of the way through. He almost chainsawed his leg off and then walked up to the house holding his leg together to calmly ask for a ride to the hospital. His hands have had many intimate encounters with power tools, and once, as the doctor was stitching him up, he said, "Huh, I've never seen anyone with skin this tough on his hands. The needle (tug tug) doesn't even want (tug tug) to go through it at all." And Clint just sat there. I am not saying my husband is clumsy or foolhardy! No, when a guy works with dangerous tools as often as my husband does, the likelihood of injurious encounters grows exponentially.
So, back to me: as I wailed at the blood flowing into the sink, he took charge of the situation. He stood beside me and bent over the wound. "Let me see how deep it is," he said. He pulled the edges of the cut apart gently, and that is when I remembered that I had felt something Very Wrong when the knife hit my thumb. As in, I thought that maybe the blade hit my bone. Suddenly, I could feel my heart battering against my ribs and tingles shot up and down my skin.
"I think I'm going to pass out," I breathed.
"What?" he asked, still staring down at the skin he was pulling apart. "You only lost a tiny bit of blood."
"No," I said. "I feel sick. I think I'm going to..." And then the tingling got worse and my scalp started to buzz. I was going down.
So, like any veteran fainter, I did the smart thing. I crouched down beside the sink, getting as close to a prone position as I could, while Clint continued to fiddle around with my thumb. I'm pretty sure he just sighed at me at this point.
That's when Jonah showed up with the bandaging stuff. Clint wrapped my thumb in several layers of intricate bandages and then released me.
I sat on the floor, holding my injured hand to my heart. I could feel it throbbing in a separate rhythm of agony, but I didn't dare to look at it for a long time. When I finally did, I saw that my bright blood had already stained the bandage. "Don't you think I need stitches?" I asked, my voice charmingly tremulous.
"You're fine," he said. "It's not really that bad."
Not that bad! It was awful! I almost fainted. He has no sympathy.
I had to lie down on the couch while Clint and the kids finished making dinner, and afterward, they pressed me back toward the couch to lie down while they cleaned up. I felt faint for the rest of the evening, suffering from heart palpitations and flashbacks of that awful knife descending toward my innocent thumb. (Oh, and I also hosted the first meeting of the Boozy Girls' Craft Night, which was going to be a blog post but I'm not even really sure what happened once everyone showed up. That's what ibuprofen + wine can do.)
The next evening, Jared wandered into the kitchen as I was chopping carrots for dinner. "You should be careful with that knife, Mom," he said. "You might cut yourself again."
Yeah. Thanks, smartie. Momma already thought about that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Science Fair Project: How Much Help to Give

When Jared brought home a note from his teacher last month about the upcoming science fair, I sighed a motherly sigh. Because you know what I thought: Oh great, a project for ME to do. One more thing on MY list. 
But then as Jared and I spent time talking about the project, I began to reshape my thinking. This was HIS project, not mine. It did not need to become a big chore for me; instead, it should be a learning experience for him. 
I think many of us parents have fallen victim to this issue: we want our children to do well in all things, and if the project is going to be publicly displayed, we REALLY want our children to do well. So, we help them study for tests and we help them with their homework and we help them with  their science fair projects. But when does helping become doing? Where do we draw the line? When does it become the parent's project instead of the child's project? 
Clint and I usually gave Lauren and Jonah broad strokes sorts of help when they did their science fair projects in grade school, but neither of them had to do one when they were this young. Second grade...it's a young age to tackle something this large.
So finally, after much discussion and a false start (you can't wait till the week before to plant your seeds if you want to measure whether a seed can grow in a sideways or upside down pot), Jared settled on his project: Which Brand of Bubble Gum Has the Longest-lasting Flavor? A project perfectly suited to a seven year old.
Jonah generously volunteered to be Jared's "fact checker|" by chewing a piece of gum too while Jared performed each of his gum trials --to ensure complete scientific accuracy--and helping Jared with the timer. After a two days of assiduous chewing (they took lots of breaks to rest their tongues and jaws), the results were tallied and it was time to start on the display board.
To save on printing costs, I drew block letters for the categories, and we had Jared color them. Then, he had to write out his explanations (with a bit of coaching). 

When we got done writing all the important information, Jared thought the board looked a little boring. So, he decided to add bubbles made of colorful paper. I suggested using my circle punch and handed him a pile of gum-colored scrap paper. He added a little touch with marker to each one to make it look like a true bubble.

We talked about how he should make his chart to show the data. (He noticed how much data sounds like dada and repeated the word over and over as he worked on this section.) He decided a bar graph would be best, so I drew the lines and labelled it. He filled in the information.

He did a great job on much of the poster, but the "Conclusion" portion of the project was difficult for him: WHY did some gum flavors last longer--and why were all of the longer-lasting gum brands packaged in such "boring" packages? We broke it down on a table like this and talked for a long time. He got frustrated. He looked off into space. I asked leading questions. I called in reinforcements (Clint). Finally, Jared was able to state this:

Which basically sums it all up, doesn't it?
And here's the finished poster. I will be the first to admit it will probably not be the most beautiful poster at the science fair, but you know what? Jared did most of the work, and because of that, I think it's pretty close to perfect. When I asked him what he learned from this experience, he said these wise words: "I learned about gum." Exactly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Homemade Granola

When you have to get out the door in a hurry, cold cereal is an easy choice for breakfast, but so many of the choices are high in sugar and low in health benefits. A few years ago, Clint and I started eating a bowl of bran flakes with a sliced banana and a sprinkle of granola on top for breakfast each mornin. It's hearty and nutritious, and the bran flakes complement the granola well. We found a yummy and inexpensive brand of granola at Aldi, and we stocked up on it. Then, a few months ago, I went in to resupply, and it was gone! Completely gone. I bought a different kind and when I was at the register checking out, I asked the cashier where my favorite granola was. She said Aldi was discontinuing it. Bad choice. Very bad choice.
I complained to Clint, and he said, Why don't we just make our own granola? I had thought about it before, but it seemed like it would be more expensive than store-bought once we added all the nuts and dried fruit and stuff. But he reminded me: the kind we liked best just had coconut and almonds, aside from the oats and stuff. 
We decided to try it. After testing several recipes, we found our favorite on Martha Stewart's website (here). We tweaked it a bit, though, using the ingredients we already had. Here's how I made my granola this time:

Boil together:
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup syrup (we've used honey too--it makes the granola taste better, I think, but we didn't have any)
1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix together:
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped almonds 
(NOTE: You don't need to use all of these nuts. You can use any kind you want--just make sure the total nut + coconut quantity is about 2-3 cups)
(SECOND NOTE: Do NOT add dried fruit at this point! It will burn in the oven and taste awful. Wait till your granola is done baking and then add it in. Learn from our mistake.)

Pour melted "syrup" over the dry ingredients and mix well.
Spread on a greased, rimmed cookie sheet and bake in a preheated (325 degrees) oven for 25-30 minutes, stirring every ten minutes of so.

Here's the granola before it's baked...you can see how pale the oats look.

When it's done, the oats will look golden brown and the nuts will be fragrant. Let the granola cool on the baking sheet, and then crumble it into small pieces. Store in an airtight container. It keeps for a few weeks--if it lasts that long!
And of course, an extra bonus: your house will smell delightful as it bakes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Day Project

When I got the call yesterday afternoon that we had another snow day, I rejoiced. Another day to spend at home--another day to sleep in--another day to snuggle with my kiddos--another day to make stuff. Sigh. Life is most definitely good around here, even if it is blasted cold. 
So, Jared and I decided a snow day was a great day to make some snowflakes to decorate my branch. I cut a plethora of small squares of printer paper (4 inches square) and we began cutting.

Jared is very serious about his business. He stuck with me for a good long time, making maybe ten snowflakes. Lauren and Jonah popped in for a bit and contributed a few snowflakes apiece, but Bubs was in for the long haul. And of course, I took the best scissors for the task, so he even had to deal with the frustration of cutting thickly folded paper with those scissors they make for preschoolers. (I didn't tell him his scissors were awful, though, so he probably didn't even realize what he was missing out on...)

Soon, we had a snowstorm on the counter top...

And then, after we had made them all, I had a moment of near-panic, for I realized I had lent out my spool of baker's twine to a friend so she could truss up her roast beast for Christmas dinner--and I didn't have it back yet. But, never fear: plain old thread worked just fine. And soon, I had a little snow storm hanging over my favorite reading chair.
The birds don't seem to mind the cold up there either...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Glimpse into the Process: Handmade Cards--The Watercolor Collection

For several years now, I have sent handmade birthday cards to our family members--and our list has grown significantly in those years. (I'm up to 70 cards per year) I usually carve out several days (like Christmas break) to work on a large batch at a time.
First, I start by thinking. I think about the past year, and what pops into my head when I consider my family members. For some, it's easy. Some of them do ridiculous things--or have outlandish hobbies that just beg to be immortalized in a birthday card. For others, I am more kind and heartwarming and create a card that might (if I'm lucky) bring a tear of liquefied love into their eyes. For others, it's a toss up. They might laugh or they might have to smother irritation with me when they open the card.
But I figure if I enjoy making it, hopefully they will enjoy opening it and receiving it. Nobody has complained so far.
I haven't always sketched the cards out ahead of time, but I started doing it last year, and it's nice to have a catalogue of what I've done. I am not very diligent about keeping records of cards I've made, so this is a way I can look back and congratulate myself on my creative genius. (So, these are sketches for the fall 2013 birthdays.)

After I've completed the preliminary sketches, I start making the individual cards. Last fall, I had a moment of what I now recognize to be stunning brilliance in which I tried reversing my process. It has saved me precious hours (which I have employed doing my other favorite thing: reading) and wasted watercolor paper. I had always started by sketching on the watercolor paper in pencil, then painting, and then outlining in pen. Last fall, I (get ready: here it is) REVERSED the last two steps. Yes, that's right. I outlined first and then I painted. I know what you're thinking because I've already thought it myself So Many Times: this girl is a revolutionary artistic genius.
Yeah, so anyway, after I ink them all in, I start painting.

Those of you who have gratefully received my cards in the past, don't be put off by these next pictures. Although what you see may look like a Henry Ford induced assembly line, it is not. Nope, not at all. I am simply cutting a few (very unnecessary) corners in the boring part so that I can devote MORE quality time to reading making your cards more amazing. Plus, it saves me the hassle of mixing the colors so precisely for skin tones. Urg. That part's a little annoying, I'll admit.

Of course, after filling in all the fleshy parts, I get to do the fun stuff: details of hair and clothing and shoes and backgrounds. This is what makes the painting part so fun. This year, I splurged and bought myself a really nice detail brush, and it made painting the really tiny parts a work of great joy.

I'm not sure whether I like the final stage best or whether it's tied with sketching and drawing and painting, but I do like crafting the lines for the bottom. I really love tiny things: babies, robins' eggs, espressos, truffles, stuff like that. When I think about it, I realize that's why I like this last step so much: each card tells a really tiny story. Some of them are hands down hilarious (ask my dad to see his Father's Day card from last year--or Micah's birthday card--those two still make me laugh till my belly hurts) and some of them are so heartwarming you can shed your sweater (you know, 'cause your heart's hot). But all of them capture (I hope) a tiny piece of the recipient's life as I see it.

My family gets involved in the last stage because I make them sit down in a row next to me and we all sign the cards. Then, I carefully slide them into envelopes, address each one, and seal them with fun tape ('cause I hate licking envelopes). I organize them by the date they need to be mailed and put them in a basket. Today, I finished up the first 20 for this year. I'm set through April. Only 50 more cards to make! 
You know, my family is a blessed family--blessed with the gift of giving. Birth. (Remember when you said that, Dad? In Bible study at church when we were studying I Corinthians 12?) And I'm blessed to be a part of such a wonderful collection of people.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dinner at Home: Day One

Today has been a chilly day, and when I'm cold, I crave soup. Chicken noodle sounded just about right. I used two whole chicken breasts (bone in, skins removed), a handful of chopped potatoes and carrots (about 5-7 of each of them), 3 or so cloves of chopped garlic, and a chopped onion. I sauteed the veggies in a little olive oil and then added the chicken breasts. Then I covered all of the ingredients with water, allowing about 3 inches of extra water on top. Jonah seasoned the soup for me. I know he added salt and pepper, and I think I saw him add oregano, basil, rosemary, and garlic salt too. I set it on the wood burner to boil for an hour.

Then I mixed up the noodles. If you've never made noodles from scratch, you should try it! They're easy and much more satisfying than pre-made noodles. 
Here's the recipe:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper (optional)
2 eggs
1/4 cup water
Stir together the dry ingredients, stir in eggs, and then incorporate the water. All of this can be done by hand in a mixing bowl, although the dough will be dry. Usually, I take it out of the bowl and knead it a bit on a floured counter top. Then, roll out the dough so it's about 1/8-1/4" thick.

After I have rolled out my dough, I use this handy board scraper to cut my noodles into long strips. You could also use a butter knife. After I've cut the strips, I cut each strip into 4-5 pieces so we all get plenty of noodles in our soup--and cutting them into shorter pieces makes them easier to slurp up.

This is the pile of noodles once I got them all cut up. I let them rest on the counter top with a little extra flour mixed in so they wouldn't clump together. Once the chicken was cooked through and the whole house smelled like soup, I pulled out the chicken so I could cut it up and then put the noodles in to cook.

And then I added the chicken back into the soup, and there you go! Simple and satisfying.

My lovely husband added some fresh whole wheat rolls that he just happened to whip up this afternoon, and it was a perfect supper.