Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Garden Window Spring Makeover

You know how when you look at something everyday, you stop really noticing it? Well, for some reason, last week, I looked at the garden window over my kitchen sink and thought "Wow, that looks really boring and neglected." Not the look I was going for. Here is a "before" picture (please excuse the poor picture quality - my camera died and I am improvising with a phone until I get a new one)...

How about those dirty dishes in the sink? And, doesn't Ajax just say "spring" to you? Just keeping it real. Anyway, I wanted something simple, clean, spring-i-fied (that a word?), and free. So, I shopped the house and came up with a basic vignette that I can add to as funds allow. 

I decided on a platter and a grape ivy in a weathered galvanized bucket (love the farmhouse look!) and a plaque with one of my favorite verses on it. Then I just added some lilacs and lavender from my yard to "spring it up" a little and a candle.

The colors are not as washed out as they appear in the photos, but this area definitely needs a pop of spring color. Hopefully when we head down the mountain in the next few days for our weekly town day, I can check out what Hobby Lobby has in the way of spring decor. C'mon sales!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Serving as a Family

As a Christian home schooling mom, I consider teaching my kids to serve to be one of my top priorities. It is not something "to do when they get older" or "when they are ready". I strongly believe that serving needs to be core in our daily lives. I need to teach them why we serve and how to serve. The basic act of meeting needs is one of the simplest ways we can participate in the Great Commission. That said, I also have a huge responsibility to serve in a way that is safe for my kids, age-appropriate and preferably teaches us all something too. Since I have children in a wide range of ages, I have found it is best to serve as a family. Here are some of the more structured ways we have served:

When we are presented with a service opportunity, we ask ourselves if we have time. We guard our time knowing that the most important ministry we have in this season of life is our own children. But, that must be balanced with being intentional about teaching service. If the answer is yes, we do have time or want to make time, then we ask if we can serve together. Sometimes mom, dad, and the teenagers are working while the younger kids are participating in the program. Other times, we are all working together, right down to our youngest child. It just depends on the work we are doing. 

I also believe that serving does not need to be a scheduled event. Those things are good too and definitely have their place, but I love it when we can just be ready, at the Holy Spirit's leading to serve. Some simple things we do to be available to serve are:

  • Realizing that we can serve our family in a myriad of ways everyday and intentionally finding ways to do that.
  • Keeping the common areas of the house ready (or close to ready - 15 min worth of tidying or less) for impromptu company. Honestly, I have struggled a ton with this one. I have a major pride issue here centered around having my house look "right". I am tons better than I used to be (when I just wouldn't have anybody over unless it was spotless) but am not where I want to be yet. I am able now, to frequently have people over, but still feel that prideful twinge looking around and seeing things that could look nicer. But, I am so convicted that making our home available for God's use is one of the most important things we can do. He blessed us with our homes and they truly should be used in any way He sees fit. It is my desire to show hospitality to anyone He brings to my door and be sensitive to His leading when He nudges me to invite someone over. I hope to write more about this soon - He has been up to a lot in this department lately!
  • Keeping a plastic bin in the back of the car filled with pre-packed lunch bags for the homeless. I read about this idea from Lorrie Flem several years ago and loved it! We packed our bags with non-perishable items from the dollar store like vienna sausages for protein, apple sauce, water bottles, granola bars, sunscreen (in the summer), Bible tracts and sometimes gift cards for fast food or a single dollar (enough to use for a value menu fast food item, but not enough to buy something detrimental). This is a good reminder for me to stock up another bin with these bags!
  • Keeping the pantry well-stocked with basic items that can either stretch a meal for extra guests, or can be quickly made into a meal or treat to take to someone.
  • Keeping a bit of extra bedding on hand plus a Hide-A-Mat from Costco (only $48!)  for extra sleeping space.
  • Listening! This is so simple but so effective. I have heard about so many needs that I could simply meet by just paying attention. We have been able to provide Christmas gifts for kids whose dad was unemployed, taken meals to people who needed them, given rides to those who didn't have one, and "scooted over to make room for one more" when someone needed a place to stay, a meal to eat or just an ear to listen. 
How do you and your family serve? I love hearing new ideas! And, how is God asking you to serve in the future?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Olive Nation: A Product Review

*Update: I just found out that Olive Nation has these on sale right now for 15% off. Just enter coupon code EXT15. Offer expires 04/21/12.

Recently I won an awesome giveaway at Heavenly Homemakers  for a $25 gift certificate to Olive Nation. Woohoo! Olive Nation is a great resource for all kinds of healthy and yummy foods. I splurged on several fun things like premium olive oil, a bag of quinoa and a bottle of strawberry extract. I was the most excited about the extract. I have only really tried the usual suspects like vanilla, almond and mint, so using something completely different sounded fun!

The first thing I used it in was a strawberry smoothie. This is the recipe I came up with:

1 c ice cubes
3 bananas broken up in chunks
2-3 c frozen organic strawberries
1 c coconut milk
1 c (+ more if necessary for desired consistency) water
3 Tbsp ground flaxseed

I have to say, these were amazing. The kids liked it so much I had to make a second pitcher. The strawberry flavor was really nice - not fake tasting at all. The extract enhanced the strawberry flavor in a really pleasant way.  It was so fresh and re-mindful of a homemade strawberry milkshake - creamy and good!

Next, I wanted to try it in something baked, so I made a double batch of strawberry muffins this morning. I came up with this recipe:

For 24 muffins:

4 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour (or fresh ground)
1/3 c sucanat
1/3 c turbinado
2 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp real salt
3 c chopped frozen organic strawberries
4 eggs
1 c water (could use milk but we are sensitive to dairy so we use good ole' water)
1 c yogurt (we used coconut yogurt)
2/3 c melted palm shortening (non-hydrogenated) or coconut oil

I know I should mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately and then combine, but honestly, I just dumped everything into my Kitchenaid and blended it. It came out great!

I spooned the batter into 24 lined muffin cups and topped with this strudel topping:

1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c turbinado
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp (give or take, you may need to adjust a bit to get the right consistency - I did) palm shortening.

Work these ingredients with a fork until it resembles course crumbs. Then just spoon over each muffin.

I baked these at 425 for 20 minutes and then popped out to cool. 

The muffins were really good too! I was so pleased. They passed the kid test and even were requested again later in the day. Since I made so many, I popped one dozen into the big freezer to have on hand as a convenience food for later. Again, the extract was not a phony strawberry flavor. It was so subtle in the muffins that I think I will actually use at least 2 tsp next time if not more. 

I was really impressed with Olive Nation's product and would definitely recommend it. And, I really want to try some of their other amazing sounding flavors like blackberry, apricot, peach, pear and how about chai for the holidays! Yum!!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are Fresh Eggs Worth It?

We started keeping chickens quite a while ago and love our organic free-range eggs. However, as the price of chicken feed creeps up and up along with everything else, I really wonder if it wouldn't be more economical to just buy local organic eggs at the health food store. Our Costco also carries organic eggs for a fairly good price (although they are definitely not local). 

In an effort to avoid GMO corn and soy in any form, we have recently switched over to an organic feed, which is, of course, more expensive. In anticipation of this switch, I began free-ranging our birds so they could find a large portion of their diet on their own and be healthier for it into the bargain. The idea was to use less commercial feed and let them forage for the rest. They also receive a good amount of kitchen scraps almost daily. 

Even so, organic chicken feed does make a significant dent in the budget. We seem to go through about a bag of feed a week at about $22 a bag. We have a large family and so, keep a largish flock (seems like about 20 or so). This keeps us in eggs most of the time, with a few to share and/or barter with friends and neighbors now and then. 

Any experienced chicken keepers our there with wisdom to share? Is there a way to use even less commercial feed and make this enterprise more lucrative? I plan to research vermiculture and am open to growing some extra produce for the "girls" as a couple of alternatives to just buying bags of feed all the time. How do you stay in the green with your chickens?