Wednesday, August 31

A Jarring Reality

Though I've read that canning is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, I don't personally know almost anyone else who does it. So it has been a bafflement to me why it is so hard to find canning jars. Granted, the stores around here don't carry as many because of anticipated low demand but still, there seemed to be a mysterious dearth of this valuable commodity – even second hand.

Then, while looking for something else entirely, I uncovered the culprits – crafters!! Crafters and non-canning foodies are snapping up jars left and right for a dizzying myriad of projects!

Sure, I understand that canning jars are perfect for hot cocoa and other gifts from the kitchen.

I understand that cupcakes in a jar are still a hot trend.

And yes, mini pumpkin pies in a jar are such a fun idea I might even have to make some myself (if I can find enough jars)...

Who can argue with the creativity and frugality of using (and reusing) glass jars when there are awesome, photo-illustrated lists of 50 ideas at a time?

Still, with harvest season in full swing and canning jars at a premium, I'd like to offer a few humble suggestions for anyone who - like me - is finding canning jars in short supply.

1. Consider picking up antique canning jars at your local flea market or antique store. Although not suitable for canning any more, they're just as functional for things like organizing buttons or holding flowers.

2. Take advantage of pretty, similarly sized/shaped glass jars not designed for canning that can be substituted for mason jars in most crafting projects.

2. Make good use of chipped jars. Even tiny chips on the rim of a jar compromise their ability to seal and knock an otherwise lovely jar out of the "functional" category - but they remain perfect candidates for any other food-related uses like mini pies, cupcakes and as pretty display dishes. (Tip: mark the bottom of chipped jars with nail polish for quick and easy identification so they don't accidentally get put back with your good jars!)

3. Watch craigslist and local estate sales. Discretely spread the word that you can or craft. This hasn't panned out for me, but I know some people have made a killing when friends, family or locals clean out their stash of unused jars. It's worth a try!

4. Try to plan ahead and consider buying your jars in bulk. I've had great luck with two different locally owned hardware stores with this. I stop in during canning season (earlier the better) and ask if they'll bring in four cases or so for me. It doesn't cost any extra, since they were already bringing in an order, and I know I'm getting exactly the size and type I want. They call me when it comes in, and I'm good to go! (Added bonus: since I didn't wipe out their shelves picking up what I needed the first time through, I can go back and snag an extra case or two later if I underestimated or get a windfall of produce!)

(Psst... canners! Have you seen Tipnut's 85+ Recipes For Home Canning, Under the Table's 50 Different Foods You Can Put in a Jar and Marisa's Food in Jars Canning Blog? Wow!)

Tuesday, August 30

A Whisper of Fall

After Sunday's drenching twenty-four hour typhoon (compliments of Hurricane Irene) petered out, yesterday dawned bright, clear and clean. If you looked beyond the debris strewn about the lawn by the high winds and ignored the trees resting precariously on the power lines out back, there was plenty of cool air and sunshine to enjoy – a whisper of wall lingering on the edges of the day.

Fall is by far my favorite season, and I've been craving the taste of fresh apples for weeks already. I can't wait to head for the orchard and bring come a couple bushels to simmer down into applesauce and pie filling. Yum!

But the reminder that September is nearly upon us prompted me to think about all the things I wanted to have done before the days start getting colder. My handsome Love came home last Thursday (thank God they got in before the storm!) and we have already tackled a few projects.

Saturday we painted our bedroom. It's been on the to-do list for a while, but we finally buckled down and got it done – I wish we'd done it sooner! We chose Benjamin Moore's Sweet Innocence, which is an elegant blue-gray color that makes the whole room seem warmer and more sophisticated without closing it in. (I'd never used that brand of paint before, but it did a great job! If you're planning a paint project, I'd definitely recommend it.)

My generous husband also bought me a step stool for the pantry so I won't have to keep climbing on pickle buckets every time I have to get the vinegar down. (Which is often, now that I've realized vinegar and lemon juice do a better job of cleaning the hard water stains off our tub than bleach!) It doesn't sound glamorous, but little things like that go a long way towards a happy marriage...

I also realized that somehow we've misplaced the camera (which I know I JUST used), reminding me that if I want to do any serious cleaning or re-organizing, now is the time. Before it gets too cold to have all the windows open and use the balcony I need to pull everything out, give it one last scrub down and start thinking about snuggling in. (Of course, one could always subscribe to the theory advocated in this poster I saw. Lol.) Will we have plenty of warm, sunny days left? You bet. But Murphy's law guarantees that if I count on them, winter will come early!

Finally, this year I am going to be very intentional about approaching fall. There are always things we want to do and never get into the schedule, and the holidays sneak up before I'm really ready (though I'm usually ready to be done with Christmas music ages before the holiday actually gets here). So I've pulled out my planner and picked up my phone. I'm scheduling in the really important stuff NOW – before everyone is overwhelmed and schedules are full. Apple picking, Christmas movie nights... will I actually make them happen this year? I hope so!

Are you ready for fall?

Thursday, August 25


I tend to cause a problem when I talk to people... if they talk to me too long, they begin to feel like there's nothing left safe to eat!

Soy, artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, TBHQ (it's in crackers now - ugh!)... the list gets long, but what people really want is to hear what they CAN eat. Especially if it's something they don't always have to make themselves!

So I thought it might be nice if I shared a few easy, positive food ideas with you.

First, Pure Natural Bars. To my complete surprise, these are not only delicious but contain absolutely nothing that isn't good for you! You can buy them off Amazon if your local store doesn't have them. They are individually wrapped, won't melt in the heat, come in a variety of flavors and are perfect travel food. I ate the whole box I had already, but intend to get another and stash them in the car for road trips and unexpected delays. If you're frustrated over all the junk contaminating granola bars and crackers these days, these are a great solution!

Next up is a great tutorial from Smitten Kitchen on Homemade PopTarts! If, like me, you were forced to give up PopTarts because you could taste the chemical soup they made it out of, you can now rejoice! Deb at SK has laid out a great tutorial, allowing you to stuff your homemade poptarts with your favorite fillings. They cook up in 15 min, freeze well, and can be customized to fit your diet - low sugar, whole wheat, gluten free - whatever you like! Plus, if you're in a hurry you can buy ready-made pie crust and whip these off in no time. Watching your portion sizes? Make mini-tarts! :0)

This last solution isn't a food, but it will save you plenty of money! Make your own foaming hand soap using Castile soap, glycerin and essential oils. Adrienne over at Whole.New.Mom has a collection of great make-your-own recipes for household items that are worth checking out.

Hopefully, these hints and tips make up at least a little for all the things I've discouraged people from eating! Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24

Guest Post

I'm so excited to be guest posting over on Modern Mrs. Darcy today with my Top Ten Best Practices from the Hospitality world. Check it out!

(Anne has some awesome stuff over there, so take a minute to look around while you're there!)

Food for Your Body, Food for Your Mind

The last couple weeks have been a bit haphazard here as I adjusted to Miss Munchkin's schedule and planned National Aviation Day, but tucked in a few stolen moments in between I've gotten my hands on (or finished up) a few really promising books worth sharing.

Pot Pies: Comfort Food Under Cover has some of the most original and delectable sounding pot pies I've ever run across. Most don't require unusual or expensive ingredients, and if you're starting to think fall and comfort food try looking this up at your library. (Note: they don't all have pastry crusts, so if you're watching your waistline or staying away from gluten you can still check this out!)

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It
- I so loved this author's previous work that as soon as I heard about this one, I knew I had to read it!
This is the kind of book that you read and say "I can make that at home? No way!" Then you dig in and make things so yummy you'll never buy the store bought version again.

While your body is indulging in some culinary decadence, don't forget to feed your brain too! Thugs, Drugs and the War on Bugs may blow your mind, but it's a fascinating read. Even for someone like me (who taught food safety and reads too much about food and medicine already) there was a ton of new and startling information. Warning: the author seems have a bad taste in his mouth about organized religion and makes fairly harsh comments towards it in the beginning of the book. The rest of his insights and research, however, are valuable enough to make it worth overlooking them and continuing to read. Even if you disagree with some of his points, he has some arguments and valid points worth considering.

If you want to stretch your brain on subject matter that will encouraging rather than depressing, try And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning. Despite it's intimidating title, this is not a Bible bashing book! Dr. Hoffman instead peels back layers most of us never see or hear about, explaining why some verses in the Bible have always sounded funny in English (in their original language, the words rhymed or had poetic cadence) or gives a peek into some of the impact the words lost in translation across languages or cultures. (Did you know that shepherds, as referenced in the 23rd Psalm are more akin to Marines, firefighters and even kings than they are to modern farmers and animal tenders?)

Last, but certainly not least is another book with a misleading subtitle: Sacred Marriage - What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? I guarantee if you read this book the things you learn will make you - and your marriage - happier! Some of these ideas I've seen other places, but Thomas handles them very skillfully and addresses other topics that aren't often seen in marriage books. There was nothing in here that I felt didn't have value, and I can only imagine how much lower the divorce rate would be if couples were given copies of this book at their weddings! Not married? Read it anyway! Many of the concepts will bless you in other relationships as well.

Hope I haven't completely lost you with all these summaries, but I hit a spate of great books all at once and wanted to pass them on!

Tuesday, August 23

A Smashing Success!

Last Friday (Aug 19th) was National Aviation Day and the 140th anniversary of Orville Wright's birthday. To celebrate, ESAM planned a big family day event! It was my first time planning an event at the museum, so there was a pretty steep learning curve but everybody pitched in, said tons of prayers and then celebrated when the proved to be a smashing success!

This is a vintage WWII tent that a fantastic group of re-enactors brought - they brought their truck too! It's apparently (and logically) called a "half-track". It was quite funny to see such a hard core vehicle crawling down the main thorough-fare with all the regular cars and then catch a glimpse of the NYS plate tacked to the back. Lol.

The group did an Army Air Corps (early Air Force) bombing run briefing that visitors were allowed to sit in on. I wasn't able to make it, but I heard it was awesome!

They also brought a bunch of vintage training models and front lines maps, decoding books, etc. My favorite was a spinning spice-rack style holder with a series of stamps saying "secret", "top secret" and "classified" - how fun would it be to have one of those in your office?!

Dinosaur BBQ (relatively new to Albany) attended, offering up pulled pork sandwiches, beans, coleslaw and drinks. Absolutely delicious, as always! As a Rochester native, long acquainted with Dinosaur, I was delighted to introduce my Albany friends to them.

Out in the Air Park, the restoration team cracked open the cockpits of our Huey (Bell UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter), our F-5 and the A-7. Kids and adults alike had a blast climbing into real, decommissioned planes and getting their pictures taken.
We gave rides in the museum's parade plane, too, which was drastically more popular than I anticipated.

A friend from a local day care center made a bunch of aviation-themed kids' crafts and did them in the kids' tent alongside stick rockets. My favorite was this super-simple but adorable candy plane.

I am so thankful that everything came together!

(ESAM's resident photographer took a bunch more pictures of the event (tours, presentations, flight simulator, etc) - if you'd like to see them you can check out the facebook page. )

Thursday, August 18

Warning for NYS Teachers!

We all know that New York State rarely has the best interest of its citizens in mind when writing laws that could potentially make it money.

A frightening example of this came to my attention yesterday, and I wanted to pass it along in hopes that raising awareness of it will help someone: If you are a teacher in NYS, please go over your retirement and insurance plans with a fine tooth comb and an advisor! There is a loophole in the law which, if not specifically and intentionally closed by an extra document, allows the state to pay out a one time lump sum to your surviving spouse/child and confiscate the rest of the money you paid into the program when you die!

My parents' advisor recently watched another of this clients get screwed over by this loophole and is now scrambling to prevent it from happening to anyone else in his circle. I doubt all advisors will be so aware or diligent, so please take steps to protect yourself!

(I apologize for the lack of specificity about the particulars - I don't have them on hand and wanted to post this asap. Email me or leave a comment if you'd like more info and I'll be happy to pass it along.)

Don't leave the state your money by mistake!

Wednesday, August 17

Peace Be With You

Like most Americans, author David Carlson was harshly shaken by the tragedy of 9/11. In the years that followed, he decided to explore a variety of monastic communities across the country in search of wisdom and direction to help him sort out the issues of justice, conflict and tension that he continued to feel lingering between Christianity and Islam.

Unfortunately, he seems to have found neither wisdom nor helpful direction. Carlson reduces his expeditionary findings down to nothing more than the standard media lines: America is bad. All Americans (who are not monks/nuns) are shallow consumerists and all Muslims are righteously angry about America's sins. Christians who don't love, trust and actively explore the Islamic religion are fearful, hateful and wrong.

The monasteries and interviewees featured were chosen solely by their availability to be interviewed during the author's scheduled tour times; not, as one might have hoped, by some more relevant criteria such as direct experience with the subject at hand. The author's own faith and attitude towards Christianity smack badly of New Age and globalism, showing very little Biblical basis or scholarly diligence.

I was extremely disappointed in this book, and strongly recommend reading Brigitte Gabriel's Because They Hate if you'd like factual, experienced insight into Christian-Muslim relations.

Mary Kay Makeover Contest!

This is friendly PSA - Mary Kay is doing another Makeover Contest! It's completely free, and runs from September 1st to October 31st.

There are two (totally FREE) ways to participate - call your MK consultant and schedule a makeover for yourself, and/or go online between Nov 1st and 10th to vote on which makeovers you like best!

Entrants in the New York! New You! makeover contest have a chance to win the Grand Prize of a fabulous trip for two to New York City! They'll also have an opportunity to attend a beauty, fashion or fitness photo shoot for Fitness magazine. The winner will have a professional makeup, wardrobe and hair makeover and a fantastic new fashionista wardrobe. It's enough to make any fashion Diva drool with envy!

Whether you opt to participate in this great contest or not, I recommend scheduling a (free) appointment with your MK Lady soon - fall will soon be upon us, and it's always a good idea to have a check-in this time of year. Skin and beauty needs change with time and the seasons, so take a few minutes in the next month to make sure the products you're using are still the best ones for your needs.

(PS -Now is also a great time to ask about any holiday open houses or specials your consultant will be running - start planning for your gift giving needs now and spare yourself unnecessary stress come Christmas. If you haven't updated your wish list recently, review that with your consultant as well - you never know who else might be planning ahead and have you on their gift list! :0)

Miniature Human-ses

Meet Miss Munchkin. MM is not mine, but she's started hanging out with me four days a week while her mommy and daddy are at work.

She would be the primary reason I'm a week behind on updating this blog, despite the pages worth of posts I've written in my head. Lol.

Arthas thinks that MM is a playmate specifically for his benefit and adores her. If she cries, he whines. If she moves, he has to follow. If she's close enough, he sneaks puppy kisses. He tries to share his ball, though she's not quite old enough to appreciate the gesture yet.

I'm not new to miniature humans; many of my friends have kids and I babysat extensively through high school and into college in addition to working nursery, vacation Bible school and children's church back in my youth. That said, it's been quite a while since I had any this young around for any length of time! It's been a bit of an adjustment, but we're in our third week together now and getting a routine down.

One of the most interesting developments in this little adventure for me has been an sudden awareness of my word choices. I talk to Arthas all the time - I always have. Talking to MM is just a normal continuation of that pattern. But whereas I can say anything to Arthas, because he'll respond to my tone rather than the words (unless they're key words like Daddy or Jeep), I find myself abruptly paying more attention to my choices when MM is around.

Reading blogs like Raising Homemakers and (in)courage (and being a Mary Kay lady) has made me very aware that women hear and internalize more than we think we do, for better or worse. Having a little person around keeps that realization at the front of my mind, and I am resolved to speak only good things (as much as humanly possible) in her presence. It's never too early to set a good example and start filling an impressionable mind with positive things, right?

On the same theme, I've decided to adopt a habit my amazing Mary Kay Director has - greeting all the women in my life as "beautiful", "gorgeous" or some other equally affirming title. It sounds corny until you start to do it or until someone does it for you a few times. Then it becomes a great little boost in your day. So if I randomly start emails to you with such a greeting, now you'll know why. :0)

(And for anyone baffled by the title of this post, think The Hobbit - "what has he got in his pocket-ses" and "silly hobbit-ses"... miniature human-ses has become how we refer to children around here. What can I say? It works for us. Lol.)

Tuesday, August 9

Fresh Brewed Life

Women of Faith speaker Nicole Johnson invites readers to pull up a chair, wrap their hands around a hot cup of coffee and join her in reflecting on life, pulling back the veils of lies and expectations we surround ourselves with and exploring what it means to live well and freely.

The author's heart and love for women shone brightly through the pages, as did her honesty in sharing the trials, mistakes and hurts of her own past with others so that they could bring hope and new perspective. Most of the topics covered (journaling, dealing with anger, embracing dreams, living fully) are standbys of the genre; few will be new to readers. If you read a lot of this type of book, you'll be tempted to skim the pages and hit just the highlights.

That said, the book was easy to read and abounded with encouragement. If you're new to genre, this would be a great place to start.

Thursday, August 4

Youth Ministry

It was a provocative headline, and my curiosity was piqued: Modern Youth Ministry a '50-Year Failed Experiment,' Say Pastors.

By far the biggest news in the article was notice that the movie Divided has been posted for free viewing until September 15th!

If you have children or go to church at all, I strongly recommend checking out the movie. It's a documentary based on one man's search to find out why modern youth ministry, despite strong growth as a market and intensive focus, has such an abysmal success rate and what (if anything) churches can do about it. It isn't terribly long and contains interviews with some very well known and well respected authors, speakers and pastors.

Whether or not you agree with its premise or conclusions, the subject matter is obviously very pertinent and the hearts of those involved passionately sincere. The questions it poses are worthy of serious consideration and discussion.

I also recommend a post I read over a year ago that has stuck in the back of my brain ever since on the subject of children, faith and youth groups.

Please consider passing word along to the parents, youth and pastors in your circle - this movie is available for viewing free of charge for just over the next month. I think that no matter what conclusions people draw, we'll all be better off for having explored and discussed this topic!

Monday, August 1

No Kids Allowed

In the last few years there has been a recurring trend in the news provocatively titled the “No Kids Allowed Movement”. It flares up every time a business bans (or considers banning) children from a place or activity. Movie theaters, restaurants, airplanes, housing developments – the list varies but the fury and backlash are constant.

Bitterness, honest frustration and deep concern are bandied about in Internet comments and spirited articles until eventually the intelligent arguers genuinely seeking a resolution come to the central truth of the matter.

It's not kids that are the problem – it's the lack of good parenting and basic respect for others that's at issue.

While plenty of ink has been spilled on that theme, the angle that most gets under my skin is rarely addressed – businesses can't fix the problem; expecting them to is both pointless and unfair.

Ban opponents indignantly claim that simple, clearly stated policies requiring ill-behaved families to leave upon request are enough to address the complaints of other patrons. It sounds good, but has no more basis in everyday reality than purple flying unicorns.

It's nearly impossible to evict someone from a business unless they pose a clear and present danger to others regardless of stated policies.

In the event that an individual did step in, he'd be risking his job (including future employability) and inviting the vicious, bank-breaking discrimination/ defamation lawsuits that our society is rife with right now. Even winning such a case carries blistering social and financial costs; for a small business they can easily prove fatal.

In our litigious society, companies are safer making a blanket “no kids” policy than they are in trying to enforce reasonable standards of politeness and common sense.

My heart goes out to parents doing everything they can to raise polite, respectful and well-adjusted children. I pity today's children who have so many fewer freedoms than their parents and grandparents had because the carelessness and self-righteousness of others is eroding their opportunities. All I can ask is that we not unnecessarily and unkindly expand the scope of hurt and damage by laying blame and false motives at the feet of people equally impotent to force positive change and just as frustrated.

While I don't believe there are any easy answers, I have seen some simple but surprisingly effective tools of intervention that I'd like to share.

  1. Set An Example – Many good parents do this already, and they are the best hope for derailing the “no kids allowed” movement. Actively teach your children to behave in public and use good judgment when deciding when and where to take them to limit the trouble triggers. (If you don't have kids, make an effort to ask your friends with kids what's easiest for them before you make plans. Don't make assumptions – be an active part of the solution!)

  2. Speak Up – Managers may not be able to say much, but other patrons can! If you see someone out of line speak up! Don't be rude, but draw attention to the fact that the child's unsupervised behavior could put him/her at risk of injury. (Use your best concerned smile and see what kind of nasty response they can come up with that doesn't make them look like a loser-of-the-year-award contestant.)

  3. Speak Up Some More – See a parent doing something right? Tell them so – and keep telling them! They need the encouragement, and other parents need to know people are noticing and caring.

  4. Be (Politely) Explicit – It seems that some parents interpret things like too-hot plates or poorly-timed kids meals as inherently “anti-children”. Please, clearly and politely discuss with your server what you're looking for from the start. If they absolutely can't do it (food temperature rules for example are simply not optional or flexible), listen to their reasons and take them up with the people who have the power to do something about it at a more appropriate time. Don't make a scene or blow someone off as an uncaring idiot. Sure, there are bad servers in the world (God knows I'd had – and managed – my fair share, but most are awesome people in a tough situation. Help them help you!)

  5. Show Grace – No matter where you stand on this issue (or any issue), purposely showing grace makes all the difference. We're all imperfect, doing the best we can but with grace and elbow grease there's still plenty of hope to turn the tide!