Tuesday, May 31


In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville spent 10 months in America. Though only 25 at the time, the Frenchman would go on to write the foundational text on democracy upon which almost every successive discussion of the topic would be founded.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a lecture series on his work recorded about five years ago by a professor from SUNY Geneseo (part of the Great Courses series - I love our library!). The lectures were phenomenal; I found a many insights well worth chewing on and several that I am astonished not to have heard more about in recent years given national and international developments.

Rather than have a huge long post about them, I'm going to do a series of shorter posts by topic. Here are a few of the ideas that stood out for me:

1. Gun Control - every discussion ever had about gun control was unnecessary. The Founding Fathers made it explicitly clear in their writing and by their actions that the fundamental reason behind arming a populace (preferably to the teeth) is so that they can resist and restrict an overbearing government.

2. Social organizations (be it the local garden club or the NRA) serve an essential function in training up democratic citizens and grooming potential leaders for their future posts. Participation in this type of group should be held as a standard of behavior rather than an optional extracurricular.

3. Jury Duty was designed to be a training ground for informed, empowered citizens. Modern developments and attitudes have stripped us of this powerful tool.

4. The Federal government was never supposed to have any say in education. At all. The primary focus of education was literacy, because a literate populace can educate themselves on whatever subjects they need to master; they are also equipped to exercise and benefit from the essential Freedom of the Press.

5. Freedom is a double-edged sword; to fully embrace it, we will need to accept that some people will fail or make bad choices. It is their right to do so, and "nanny-state" attempts to change that are incompatible with democracy and freedom.

6. "Habits of the Heart" are an essential piece of a successful democracy. Without the correct foundation, the Republic will crumble. Puritan Christianity, Tocqueville believed, is an essential component of maintaining the national heart habits needed for the nation to thrive.

7. Democracy in America was created from the ground up, not the top down. This has serious implications for both how We The People handle our current government and political challenges and in our efforts to encourage democracy in other nations across the world.

8. Given the two above statements, Tocqueville did not find Islam to be compatible with democracy. Given our recent and current foreign policies, that thought alone may be enough to make most Americans ill.

I look forward to sharing with you some of what learned and hope you'll consider checking your library for the lecture series as well. With the current politcal and economic turmoil, we could all use a solid grounding in the truths that not only founded our great nation, but are likely the only way to save it.

Thursday, May 26

Caveat Emptor Rant

Not long ago, I reviewed Beyond Talent, in which author John Maxwell discusses the idea that instead of worrying about their weaknesses, people would do well to focus on developing their key strengths. The book was excellent, and I highly recommend it.

One of the books Maxwell mentioned in his discussion was Now, Discover Your Strengths. I picked up a copy from my local library, excited about the its promise to help people explore their own strengths and how to build on them. What I found was a huge disappointment that should have come with a giant Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) sticker!!

The entire book revolves around a Strengths Finder assessment, available only on their website. In order to access it, you must have a code. The ONLY way to get a code is by purchasing a brand new book.

I appreciate that they don't want people re-taking the assessment, since its designed to be most effective the first time through. I understand that they don't want people randomly taking the test without reading the book so they understand the results. I appreciate that they are writing this book to make money rather than just out of the goodness of their hearts.

But I find it unreasonably irritating that they ruined such potential with the asinine edict that there is no way to get a code without buying a brand new book.

This book could have had a lot to offer if they hadn't chosen to instantly rip off every purchaser who didn't buy the book exclusively for independent private use.

So, as an avid reader I would like to offer my humble suggestion to authors, present and future: please realize and gracefully accept that not everyone has an unlimited book budget and infinite shelving. Some of your readers will get your book from a library, on loan from a friend, or second hand. Win us over and we will gladly welcome into our circles, probably buying your work for ourselves and our loved ones along the way. Alienate us through greed or arrogance and you only shoot yourself in the foot. Thank you.

One final thought: There is a bright side to my disgust with these authors and their poor decision making - I can whittle down my extensive reading list very efficiently now by striking off anything else they wrote! :0)

Tuesday, May 24

Recipes Quick Post

I cannot wait for farmer's market season to be here in full swing! I have three summer veggie cookbooks out from the library, ready to be put to good use!

In the meantime, here's a quick round-up of the yummy new recipes I've tried recently.

Bacon & Asparagus Pizza - this was amazing! Ridiculously good.

Braised Garlic Chicken - I diced this up and used it to make garlic chicken pitas and they were delectable. It was madly easy, too!

Chipotle Chicken - this wasn't bad, but the whole adobo thing didn't really do it for me. Worth trying, but not something I expect to make again.

Midnight Asparagus with Creamy Eggs - this was good, but did not live up to the hype the cookbook lavished on it. A quick, easy meal but not life changing.

Mushroom Ragu over Polenta - I'm not a fan of mushrooms, but my husband likes them so I made him a batch of this to take to work today. I have to say, it smelled intoxicatingly good and was easy besides. Well worth checking out if there's a mushroom lover in your house.

Black Pepper and Honey Steak - Also a treat for my love, I tried this recipe for steak and it turned out excellently. Quick and easy!

Saturday, May 21

No He Can't

Chronicling his presciently accurate predictions of Barack Obama's rise to fame, election as President and catastrophic policy maneuvers, Kevin McCullough offers perspective and commentary on America's current President. Exploring Obama's actions, policies and decisions during his first two years in office, McCullough juxtaposes the deceptions, failures and goofs and the reasons behind them with factual truth.

I wanted to give this book five stars; the author's facts are correct and his assessments are fair. After slogging my way through the chapters, however, I cannot in good conscience give such a high mark. The writing is clunky and the sentences like boondoggle. While I appreciate that the author deserves credit for having gone out on a limb, his comments on his own foresight and actions as a pundit during the unfolding events were intrusive rather than neatly woven into the book's structure.

Having read several other books recently on similar subject matter, I found this one coming up short all the way around by comparison. Both the dry humor of What Would the Founders Say and the acerbic wit in Culture of Corruption deal more effectively with the same subject matter, and I would advise reading those instead.

Friday, May 20

The Good, the Bad and the Crunchy

I've done some experimenting in the kitchen recently with mixed results, and I thought they might be worth sharing.

First, my success - homemade cornmeal! Last summer, we got a massive over-abundance of fresh corn on the cob from our CSA. There was far more than we could eat, so I dehydrated it with a plan to use it over the winter in soups, casseroles, etc. It was a good plan as far as it worked but, this being my first winter trying such an arrangement, I did not do a good job of budgeting things. I ran out of pears and peaches early but still had several quart jars of dried corn on the shelf! I've discovered several great polenta recipes recently, so I threw what remained of our corn through my amazing grinder and got this:

I wish blogs came with smell-o-vision so you could understand how intensely this smells like fresh corn! I'm very pleased with the result and will plan on doing this again with this year's CSA bounty.

Next up on my list of experiments was dehydrated snacks. Eating Real food, we don't tend to have a lot of travel-ready snacks around; the shortcomings of that practice being made very obvious to me a week or so ago when we took a day-long road trip on short notice.

Although I took lunch with us, there was nowhere to stop for dinner and we ended up just waiting it out until we got home and could eat a fast, very late, meal. Clearly, having shelf-stable and travel friendly snacks would be a wise investment in the future.

For my first round of recipe testing, I tried Peanut Banana Treats, Apple Oat Snacks and Brown Rice Snacks.

The Peanut Banana Treats turned out the best; I was able to use the powdered peanut butter and got what amounts to peanut butter banana fruit roll-ups. If I liked bananas, these would be a cheap, practical option. Since I really don't, I plan to repeat the process using applesauce instead of mashed banana in hopes of finding a more appealing alternative.

The Apple Oat Snacks taste like apple cinnamon pop-tarts. Really, they do. Unfortunately, they don't look terribly appealing (on the left in the picture). They are wafer thin and chewy, but since I was hoping for crunchy I was disappointed. I'm hoping to combine this recipe with my granola bar recipe in the future to make crunchy apple-ly granola bars more along the lines of what I had been hoping for.

The real losers in this endeavor were the third option, the brown rice treats. I'd been expecting something like rice cakes, but that wasn't the result at all! These have no texture or crunch - they're just hard! The flavor isn't bad, but they definitely aren't worth making again.

(Incidentally, my counter is not dirty in the picture above. The random flecks are part of the design which, apparently, was considered attractive by someone several decades ago. That or everyone else agreed flecks in counter-tops were hideous and the apartment builders were able to get a great deal on them because no one else would buy them.)

I look forward to trying some other snack alternatives and hope to eventually find some mainstays. Eating Real food is no reason not to be prepared and have solutions that fit your lifestyle!

Thursday, May 19

Object Lesson

Pinwheels are time consuming. One queen size quilt took me 5 months. It's huge, super warm and comfy. But it took five months.

Double four patch blocks are SO much faster! Also queen size, this one only took a couple weeks!

I used various scrap fabric that I had on hand, and took advantage of strip piecing to whip off the four patch blocks. I'm not going to back or quilt it right away, since I've got plans to do another quilt top out of my scrap fabric and it will be easier to back and quilt them both at the same time. I don't know where this quilt is destined to end up yet, but the bright spring-time colors make me happy amidst the endless rain we've been having.

Conclusion: rotate quick and easy quilt patterns in between the complicated ones - you'll be very happy you did! :0)

CDC Prepping for the Zombie Apocolypse!

Enola Gay over at Paratus Familia observed this morning that the CDC is advising people to prep for the Zombie Apocalypse!

Kudos to the CDC for getting on board and reaching out with information people really need for once! :0)

(Note: While it's fantastic that they're getting on board, the CDC is new to the zombie prepping arena. You may want to check out some more experienced and educated preppers to guide your actual preparedness efforts. No offense to the CDC, but zombies are a pretty serious thing and should not be taken lightly!)

Tuesday, May 17

They're Coming for Your Ho-hos!

What Would The Founders Say tackles the big questions of our modern era and explores what the Founding Fathers would have thought or done about them. Education, gun control, the military-industrial complex - the author doesn't shy away from any of the hard stuff.

The result? This book was phenomenal! Well organized, impeccably researched and wittily written it pulls no punches. The author cuts through rhetoric, sifts through context and draws clear lines in the sand. The Founding Fathers come to life in these pages as real, imperfect but passionate and brilliant men. Their thinking patterns, reasoning and intellectual foundations took shape and projected forward clearly. I definitely came away from this book with new understanding and appreciation for the subjects covered.

I also greatly enjoyed the author's humor and tone. He applies his broad vocabulary effectively without making you feel like you need to go get a dictionary to keep up, and his dry-witted comments enlivened the pages. If everyone read this book, America would be a better place!

Incidentally, how much fun would it have been to live in an era when everyone had hard cider for breakfast and was required to carry guns around and even mandated to bring their guns to church! And allowed to own cannons...

For all the fun comments in the book, one thing really caught my attention and honestly made me feel a bit ashamed. The Founding Fathers fought the revolution so their children wouldn't have to. They suffered the brutality, deprivation and hardship so their children could live free and have a chance to thrive.

If this generation loved its children, shouldn't it do the same?

Shouldn't we, and our current government, be making the painful choices and doing the hard work of changing expectations and lifestyles to make sure that our children don't have to endure it? We should have the courage to tackle our foreign oil dependency, the national obesity crisis and its causes, the national debt and everything else that's crippling our nation and threatening their future livelihood. If we are truly still a nation cut from the same cloth as those brave men who gave us the chance to live free, then we owe it to ourselves and our children to take a look around us and start biting some bullets.

Ron Paul Sign Contest

GrannyMiller is running a Ron Paul sign contest! To support the only potential candidate who actually understands things like the Federal Reserve and knows (and agrees with) what the Founding Fathers said and did, she's giving away 3 oz of silver bouillon. Not having a yard, the best I can do is throw a sign on my balcony, but if you have a yard and want to participate, click on the link above and check it out! :0)

Monday, May 16

The Approachability Principle

In his book Winning With People, author John Maxwell offers an abundance of wisdom about getting along, communicating and building genuine relationships with others.

One of the chapters I most appreciated was The Approachability Principle; something about it just clicked with the hospitality major in me. Maxwell explains that people who are approachable and put others at ease tend to demonstrate a handful of key characteristics:

1. Personal warmth - they truly like people
2. Appreciation for the differences in people
3. Consistency of mood
4. Sensitivity towards people's feelings
5. Understanding human weakness and exposure of their own
6. Ability to forgive easily and to quickly ask forgiveness
7. Authenticity

Note that he uses none of these suggestions in their politically correct sense, but in their demonstration of honest and humble character. Even those of us who are introverts or those who struggle with self-confidence can cultivate these characteristics in ourselves and both bless and be blessed by them. Maxwell reminds readers that:

"When you stop worrying so much about yourself and start looking at others and what they desire, you build a bridge to other people, and you become the kind of person others want to be around."

These principles connect with a lot of themes I've been reading about lately that keep turning up at places as diverse as Raising Homemakers, (in)Courage, LAF and Kingdom Commerce among others.

As I seek to create a home where people feel welcome and as I meet new people through both Mary Kay and ESAM, I am finding a lot of application for these ideas and many occasions to practice them! If you've never read any of Maxwell's books, I highly recommend them. They are easy reads, but packed with information and encouragement that will bless you!

Thursday, May 12

Cooking "Creme" ... ??

I hopped over to food.com today to reference a couple recipes I'd saved and an ad for something called "Cooking Creme" by Philadelphia (the cream cheese maker) popped up. The nutritionist in me is intrigued by anything that's name clearly shouts "not a real food", so I watched the 20 second commercial. Then I looked up the ingredients.

Ingredients ("Santa Fe" flavor): Pasteurized nonfat milk and milkfat, water, whey, whey protein concentrate, salt, red bell peppers, cheese culture, onions, maltodextrin, garlic, tapioca starch, spice, yeast extract, sugar, lactic acid, corn flour, carob bean gum, guar gum, natural flavor, corn syrup, citric acid, chipotle chili pepper, lime juice, sorbic acid (as a preservative), jalapeno peppers, vitamin A palmiate.

Doesn't that sound yummy? *gag*

Pasteurized non-fat milk and milkfat, completely devoid of nutritional value after their separation and processing. "Natural flavors" which is typically code for msg or other neuro-toxic chemicals, hydrolyzed starch (maltodextrin) and corn flour (most likely from GM corn, increasing the likelihood of allergic reaction). Don't forget the vitamin A palmiate which is believed to accelerate cancer in lab rats and the 480 mg of sodium per 1/4 cup serving!

Tell me again why people pay money for this stuff?

You can make a simple sauce with endless seasoning variations from chicken stock, milk, a little flour and whatever spices you've stocked your cabinet with. Or use natural, herbed goat cheese for heaven's sake! It will give you the same creamy result and be good for you besides.

Review of today's lesson: There are always natural alternatives to the imitation foods you see on tv, and they are always worth finding!

Wednesday, May 11

Sneak Peek

Aren't they pretty?! Bright and cheerful... and completely free, because I made them from scrap fabric. Yeah!

These are the first blocks of my current quilt project. I am SO not missing those bazillion little pinwheels from the last quilt! Lol.

Monday, May 9

Recipes Quick Post

I've been making a few old favorites this week, so not too many new recipes at the moment, but here are a few to check out if you're looking for something new and fun to try!

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie - I don't even like bananas, and this was really good! All real ingredients and easy to make to boot!

Potatoes Lyonnaise - this sounds fancy, but it's essentially a prettier, dinner-oriented version of breakfast potatoes. Very yummy, and these actually didn't come apart and burn on me like breakfast potatoes always do. Easy and yummy - always a keeper!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes - Did I post this one yet? They were tasty, but took a lot longer to put together than I expected. I will also make a much lighter sauce next time as this was a little heavy. But make the crepes ahead and sub in a quick velute sauce and these would be a cinch!

Pork Chops with Pears and Gorgonzola
- Can't find where I got this recipe from, but its probably just as well since it wasn't so hot. The Gorgonzola cream sauce was a sick grey color and didn't really appeal. Don't try this at home...

Beyond Talent by John Maxwell

Talent will open the door to success, but it alone cannot make you successful. It is the choices you make and the character traits you choose to invest in that will determine the outcome of your endeavors. Exploring the functions and necessity of belief, initiative, focus, preparation, practice, perseverance and character, Maxwell walks readers through everything they need to know go move from a place of mere talent to the success they seek. Well organized chapters include engaging anecdotes, key points highlighted in side-page brackets and end with insightful, action-oriented application exercises.

Although not familiar with Mr. Maxwell when I picked up this book, I now count myself among his newest fans! I loved the logical, organized format and the simplicity of the author's points; this material is not rocket science, but applying it creates a big impact.

Especially impressive were the application exercises ending each chapter. Specific, applicable and designed to allow measurable success (or need for improvement), these exercises are far above and beyond standard reflection questions.

I found the author's integrity clearly noticeable throughout the work; he neither recycles material from his previous books, nor hypes them as is common among business writers. He openly admits pieces of wisdom not his own, giving credit and thanks to those who shared them with him. He maintains a positive, common sense tone, placing the dream of ultimate personal success within reach for everyone willing to work for it. I will definitely be reading more of Mr. Maxwell's work!

In accordance with FTC regulations, please note that BookSneeze provided me with a free copy of this book for review, but the opinions expressed herein are my own. I happened to really like this one, but if you check out my other book reviews it will be quite clear that I don't hesitate to give a book bad reviews when I feel they are appropriate. :0)

Friday, May 6

Intentional Homemaking

For the longest time after I got out of college, my apartment was just a place to crash. My seventy- hour work weeks didn't leave much room for decorating or entertaining and the place sported a serious lack of cohesion in theme and decor (if my conglomeration of mix- matched pieces and random art actually qualified as decor). That attitude of neglect spilled over into the first years of our marriage, as we moved every year without finding somewhere to settle in and create our own space.

In the last year or so, though, we've begun to set down roots. We've talked about what we want our home to be, and started investing in making those ideas a reality. This apartment is slowly transforming into a home, a place in which to celebrate our blessings and to be a blessing to others. It is my heart to have a home in which people can feel welcome and at ease. A place where they are safe to relax, renew and fellowship. Find community and laughter or a shoulder to cry on when they need it.

William Morris's admonishment to have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful lingers in my mind as I work toward this goal, and I am so excited to have found some amazing companies that seem to be on exactly the same wavelength - like Dayspring!

I've loved their cards and ecards for years, but only recently paid any attention to their home decor line. I so appreciate that they have incorporated themes and symbols of faith and encouragement into functional pieces I can use around my home. When you're trying to keep clutter down and make the most of limited space functional and beautiful is the perfect combination.

Look at this!

(Yes, I was so excited when it came that I had to immediately take it out of the box and check it out.)

I am not a good picture taker, obviously, because it is drastically more gorgeous in real life. It's metal (and not the thin, cheap kind either), with an antiqued finish and it fits in perfectly with my stoneware dishes and dark wood furniture. I tend to be rather hard on trays (I've killed several plastic ones in the past), so I'm very happy to have this one which I know I will NOT kill!

Even with my over-sized mugs and the French press, there's plenty of room for tea service and the wide, solid handles make for easy carrying. Pieces like this fit in with the theme we are building in our home and serve as daily reminders to reach out, invite others in and not get so pre-occupied with myself and my thoughts that I miss what's really important in every day.

If you find yourself looking for more intentional decor or meaningful gifts, I highly recommend checking out the Dayspring Shop. They're running some great specials this month and usually feature some great posts (in)Courage ladies and other great bloggers sharing their own ideas, lessons learned and encouragement too!

In accordance with FTC requirements, please note that DaySpring provided me with the above reviewed product for free, but all opinions expressed herein are my own. If you've seen my book reviews, you know that I'm not shy about giving my honest opinion whether something was free or not! :0)

It's Done!

Bound, washed and dried! After five months of work, weighing in at 7 pounds, my quilt is done! Yeah! Destined for Eric's plane whenever we find him one, this is fuzzy and incredibly warm.

Is it bad that I've already picked out my next pattern and started cutting? One thing is for sure - no small pinwheels this time! I'm going for a much easier route. It's called Frosted Candy but I'm making from pink, blue and yellow scraps.

Arthas continues to be my quality control, napping on the fabric and my feet whenever possible. :0)

Tuesday, May 3

Hope for the World

While looking for something else today, I accidentally ran across an article out of South Carolina that caught my attention.

Short version: a 21 year old black man was shot by a white homeowner after breaking in the man's house with two of his friends in the middle of the night. After reviewing the facts, and in light of SC's Castile Doctrine law, the local police force declared the death a justifiable homicide and the dead burglar's family is mad. Implicating racism, they claim the burglar was shot while fleeing the home and that the shooting was therefore not justified and should be considered murder.

I was going to post a short rant highlighting the following points:
  • Anyone foolish enough to take up burglary in a Castle Doctrine state knows (or should know) ahead of time the risk that they are taking.
  • The homeowner was in his own house, didn't pick or lure in the burglars, nor did he treat them any differently than he would have any other moron who broke into his home.
  • Burglary is a crime and it automatically makes the criminal the one in the wrong. Period.
But then, something rare and wonderful caught my eye - the comments section below the article was FULL of smart, sensible people (black and white, I might add) who agreed that for the media to even give a nod of coverage to this was shameful and ridiculous. They not only pointed out everything I was going to list, but other perfectly reasonable and logical points as well!

Given how much nonsense there is in the news these days, I just had to share this bright spot - with comments like those openly and articulately posted, there may be hope for the world yet!