Thursday, September 29

The Bible vs. The American Dream

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream is unlike any other book I've ever read. I knew it would be when, in the very first paragraph, the author confessed that he cannot rest easy in his role as pastor of a megachurch because there is no template or justification for a megachurch in the Bible

I didn't like a lot of what came after that line, but I could not disagree with the fact that it every part was backed up by scripture and historical precedent. Regardless of where you stand on faith, I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. It will stretch your mind and challenge your life.

(Check out the first chapter for free and other resources here.)

Wednesday, September 28

Disadvantaging Our Nation's Children

I went to college, and I'm not sorry that I did. In the years since, however, I've often been reminded that getting my degree (Hospitality Management) was not nearly as essential as everyone assumed it would be. I've met many a great manager who never went to college or never graduated; getting a job in the industry as soon as they were old enough to work, they made themselves students of the best managers around and worked their way through the ranks.

As college tuition continues to rise and the unstable job market dumps more and more people with multiple degrees back into the market, it irks me that as a nation we continue to send people to college without giving serious consideration to other options. At very least, I've come to feel, people should work their way through school - the simple act of holding down a consistent, real-world job of some kind will go further towards opening doors and making them employable in the future than their degree of choice.

When online polls come back with results like the recent Harris poll finding that "fifty-nine percent of parents provide support to their adult children who no longer attend school", is there really any way to avoid acknowledging that the current system is fatally broken? When both grads and their parents feel trapped, scraping by and financially co-dependent because neither can seem to get or stay solidly above water, red lights should be flashing and alarm bells should be sounding at all levels!

Historically, people began laying the ground work for their futures in their teen years. Whether it was a young woman teaching school to support herself and put something away until she married, or a young man apprenticing himself to a trade and squirreling away funds to start his own shop, people hit their twenties ready to start families, buy houses and invest their strongest, most energetic years in growing the business or career that would fund their lifetime and hopefully be passed on to their children.

With modern labor laws preventing young people and teens from being in the workplace or starting any kind of useful employment before age 18, we've successfully handicapped generations of children. Is it any wonder so many people are getting married and starting families later, or not at all? Are we surprised that marriages are on the rocks and failing at record levels? When you try to squish 20 years worth of education, experience and growth into less than 10 years, something will have to give!

I was delighted recently to read on Rural Revolution about a homeschooling family who decided to be practical, proactive and set an excellent example for others. Thanks to their common sense and forethought, their daughter is set up to have the hands-on experience, a tailored educational program and solid references for the degree of her choice before she graduates from high school! In addition, she'll avoid the expense of college attendance completely.

In reading about the steps that family was taking and keeping in mind the experiences I've seen friends and other new graduates go through, I'd like to offer a few ideas for anyone interested in being part of breaking the nasty cycle of pursing extra degrees, racking up school loans and struggling to find a job.

1. If you are a grad or the parent of a grad, consider learning a trade first. Even if you intend to go to college in the future for an advanced degree, learn an in-demand trade, skill or certification first. You'll make a lot more money and develop a much better work history and broader skill set while to fund your education than you would hopping between entry-level retail jobs during the same time frame. As an added bonus, maintaining that skill set will give you a ready backup plan or the easy opportunity to make money on the side should the financial road ahead get rocky.

2. Help get kids into the workplace early. Do you work at home? Are you self-employed? Open your doors to teenagers! Hire an off-the-books seasonal assistant or partner with your local high school, youth group, scouting club, etc. to offer an internship, mentoring or shadowing days! The more hands-on experience and good references kids can build early, the better off they are later on.

3. Take the statistics with a grain of salt. Companies and colleges make lots of money projecting what fields will need new graduates in the coming years. But they only tell you about the ones that require degrees they provide. For example, did you know that America will need 130,000 new long distance truck drivers this year? Obviously that isn't for everyone, but getting licensed to do that costs dramatically less than a degree and if you listened to the Great Courses series while on the road you could have a great head start on a degree before you even started college! The point is, there are plenty of jobs out there with solid market growth numbers and it could be well worth your while to find them - just don't expect colleges and newspapers to give you the whole story.

4. Be open to self-employment. It annoys me that as an independent beauty consultant I am barred by the National Experiential Education Association from hosting any interns from colleges that belong their group. I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and other people by being self-employed. Things I wish I'd known before I went to college and got a managerial job! Although self-employment is often more precarious than an office job, it has many benefits and is not necessarily mutually exclusive to being employed by someone else as well. It might be a good fit for you or a student you know. There are plenty of low-risk ways to try it and find out, so don't pass it by without at least looking!

Tuesday, September 27

1 Timothy 2:15

I went to church my whole life and done tons of independent reading, but I don't recall EVER hearing anyone teach on 1 Timothy 2:15. I've also never heard/read of the difference between ontological and typological readings of the Bible. 

Until I ran across an article that blew my mind.

Mary over at Girls Gone Wise tackles a tough subject with sincere heart, articulate tongue and sharp mind. If you have a couple minutes check out this awesome article and see if it doesn't make you feel smarter too. 

Monday, September 26

31 Days 2011!

Last year, Melissa over at Inspired Room and a bunch of her blogging friends did a 31 day challenge. Each of them picked a topic they were passionate about and did a post on it every day during the month of October. Although there was no way to read all the posts those awesome ladies did, there were some great posts to be enjoyed!

This year, they're at it again and they've issued an open invitation for anyone who wants to join them! I'm sure it's insane, but as a challenge to myself I'm going to go for it. I picked the most "me" topic possible - food! Specifically "Building a Frugal, Functional [Real Food] Kitchen". Some of the posts will be short, none will be earth-shattering, but I hope it will help me focus on what really works and share the best practices (and best recipes!) I've come across that might help someone else.

(Check out this button I made on Picnik, which I'd never heard of until two days ago. Not amazing, but not bad for a first try either!)

If you are inspired to join, just click on the link above for Melissa's page to find out the details. Then head back over there Oct 1st to link up and see what everyone else is writing about.

If not, that's okay too. You can just stop by here periodically and watch me unravel myself into craziness with this challenge! :0)

Sunday, September 25

Close Enough To Hear God Breathe

Street Pastor Greg Paul brings readers to a deeper, more intimate understanding of the love and desires of God through correlations of scripture and anecdotes of daily life. The compassion of a parent for a child, the comfort and camaraderie of a best friend and the passion of a lover, Paul argues, each exist as mimicry of the heart and role of God in humans' lives. Building on these experiences, Paul invites readers to enter deeper, richer and more intense relationships with their heavenly Father

The author works with addicts, prostitutes and the homeless at his Sanctuary facility in Toronto; his experiences in that role clearly shape this work. His explanations and invitations seem particularly suited to those who are disenfranchised and might particularly struggle with knowing and understanding heavenly love and grace. At the same time, the lessons seem as if they might have a hard time reaching that particular population since many of them do not have the solid, grace-based relationships with parents, children or friends that the author uses as analogs.

For someone in a dark place, needing reassurance or seeking to re-find the intimacy of a Faith long lost, this could be a moving and welcome book. As a stand-alone, casual read however, I didn't find it captivating or inspiring.

Saturday, September 24

Losing Basic Skills

Since ancient times, women of all stations of life have been taught by their mothers, grandmothers and aunts the honorable craft of needlework. Whether it was stitching beautiful things for their home or building a respectable wardrobe for their families from nothing more than fabric and thread, needlework was a basic and essential skill.

Somewhere in the last few decades that skill, like so many others, has fallen out of favor. We are to the point the now where few women even know an accomplished seamstress to learn from if they wanted to. What classes are available commercially teach patronizing fragments like how to make a pillow case and brush off the intricate skills of tailoring clothing as unnecessary or too advanced for the would-be homemaker.

Within the last week, I have run into three separate posts about the serious and detrimental impact on women's lives and health that resulted when girls were no longer taught to sew:

It's not you, it's the clothes.
Why your clothes don't fit.
No s**t.

They all have the same message: clothing off the rack cannot (and is not intended to) properly fit any of us. When something does fit just right, it is a happy accident. When things do not, it is simply our cue to pick up a needle and thread and tailor the piece to fit our needs. Or at least it would be if we knew how! Instead, people are so intimidated by and incapable of tailoring their own clothes that they starve and berate themselves (sometimes to the point of illness) for failing to live up to an entirely arbitrary standard.

This is not an isolated trend. Women who do not learn to cook because they are "destined for a career" and "liberated" from the kitchen are not empowered. They are slaves to fast food, tv dinners and the toxic slop that comes from tin cans and cardboard boxes because they've been denied the skills that would give them the option to do better and make healthier choices.

Real freedom and genuine empowerment are anchored in knowledge. Practical, functional knowledge. It is infuriating and deeply sad that this trend towards learned helplessness is both broad and growing, but I believe there is still hope for reversing it. 

If you know how to sew, will you consider making your time and knowledge available to younger women in your life who need someone to teach them?

If you don't know how to sew, I encourage you to consider putting basic sewing supplies on your Christmas list this year and adding learning to sew to your list of resolutions for next year.

We don't have to be (or stay) dis-empowered. We can turn the tide.

Friday, September 23

Free Museum Admission!

Who knew there was a Free Museum Admission Day?!
In the spirit of the Smithsonian Museums (who offer free admission every day) Museum Day is apparently an annual event sponsored by Smithsonian Magazine where participating museums across America welcome visitors with free Museum Day Tickets! This year's event is tomorrow (Saturday, 9/24)!!
You can get up to two free tickets (yourself and a guest) by going here.
To find out if any museums near you are participating, use the Smithsonian's super easy search function here.
It's pretty short notice, but if you don't already have plans think about grabbing a friend (or your kids!) and having an impromptu adventure at a museum near you! 

Banned Book Week

It's no secret that world history is full of books many people would rather had never been written. From the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria to modern day movements to outlaw Huck Finn, people have passionately and sincerely argued about the shadowy gray area on the front lines of the battle between preventing objectionable literature and freedom of speech.

I was introduced to the fierce debate over banning books in high school - way back when the first Harry Potter book came out. Skeptical of the antithetical arguments for and against the tome, I picked up a copy and read it myself.

After that, I picked up the Banned Book List to find out what else was supposedly unfit for mental consumption. Unfortunately, that endeavor didn't last long - when I picked up Forever by Judy Blume I quickly grew to appreciate the motivation to burn a book. (If you've ever accidentally read smut, you know that fervent longing to be able to crack open one's own skull and bleach out what you just put in. Ugh!)

At that point, I finally wised up. I started reading reviews of banned books and finding out why people didn't like them before I considered putting them on my reading list. A little (historically appropriate) racist language? Not a big deal in my book. Nasty, filthy subject matter? Thanks, but I'll pass.

I've actually read a number of banned or "objectionable" books since then. I always come away with the same general opinion. It's far more important to teach individuals how to think and judge for themselves than it is to protect them from bad writing.

Keeping in mind that you can't ever erase something from your head once you've read it, unless something is grossly macabre or sexually disturbing, people often become a lot more intelligent and articulate when they read things that don't align with their opinions or beliefs.

It isn't until something we have always held as true is challenged that we really learn to explain our position and defend out beliefs. It isn't until we see sloppy, insulting writing that we appreciate why we liked or preferred a different author's prose or style.

The American Library Association (ALA)  has declared September 24th - October 1st Banned Book Week.

If you have older kids, I encourage you to consider whether there are any age-appropriate banned or controversial books you could read together this coming week. Talk about why the book is a source of contention, how people can make good choices about what they read and why it's so important to carefully guard what we fill our minds with.

If you don't have kids, consider challenging yourself to read one book off the list and do a little critical thinking yourself.

Finally, if you happen to be particularly pro-book-banning will you do me (and every future high school student) a favor? Start banning depressing, annoying authors like Dickens, Hemingway and Melville that no one wants to read anyway and get them off the required high school reading lists! If you're going to ignore the virtues of free speech, at least do so in a constructive way, okay?

Thanks. ;0)

Thursday, September 22

Excersizes in Futility

I've suspected for some time now that state governments have a secret bargain with Murphy. 

You know... the one behind Murphy's Law?

That suspicion was 100% confirmed yesterday morning on what should have been a simple errand: replace my long-missing social security card.

In an attempt to make the task as painless as possible, I took a number of steps in advance to smooth the way.

1. I looked up the website, printed out and fully completed the necessary form.
2. I called the office, verifying directions and what documentation I ought to bring.
3. I planned the trip for a day when my husband could go with me. (I'm not a fan of driving downtown by myself.)
4. We left the house 15 minutes before the office opened, planning to arrive bright and early to avoid lines and delays.

Do you think that any of this helped at all? Of course not.

The GPS told us we had "reached our destination" in the middle of a road with nothing on either side. Asking for directions en route (twice) got us to the correct building, although we never did figure out how to get to the free parking lot supposedly available behind the building. (God forbid someone just point out that it's in the giant, blatantly labeled Lotto building which anyone could find with ease!)

After waiting patiently to be called and wondering with slight annoyance why the office had a useless, expensive digital sign inside advertising it's hours (which anyone who had managed to find it and get inside clearly already knew), it was our turn to go talk to the nice lady behind the multiple layers of bullet proof glass.

I handed over my paperwork, agreed to tell the truth under penalty of perjury charges, and hit a brick wall. Because I haven't had a card issued since my marriage, it constituted a name change rather than just a card re-issuance. Thus, I needed my marriage license... facts they failed to tell me when I'd called previously.

To top things off, the woman completely blew me off when I explained that the marriage certificate I was issued does not have my married name on it, only my maiden name. The town clerk who issued it has refused to issue a new one because she swears I can legally go by either surname at my sole discretion and therefore the document I have is sufficient.

Only it's obviously not. And the woman at the Social Security Administration insisted that I just didn't know what I was talking about because she "sees marriage certificates every day".

At this point, we just left because if we stayed I would probably have punched someone. Yes, I know. Not very Christian or ladylike. But we'd wasted over an hour and had nothing but headaches to show for it.

Later, when we'd eaten and unwound a little bit, my husband asked what I wanted to do about the situation. I told him they can all go screw themselves. I've gone ten years without a card and I can keep going without one for another ten years. If someone wants one for something, they can figure out an alternative. I'm not wasting another minute of my life on pointless bureaucracy.

Some days I really wish the zombie apocalypse would just come already. Obliterate all the insane mountains of red tape and idiocy our country is drowning under and let us start over with common sense and respect. Anybody with me?

Monday, September 19

Quick, Easy Cookies

We don't eat a lot of cookies around here. Partly because cookies lend themselves much more poorly to our low-sugar eating habits than other forms of dessert and partly because we already use copious amounts of butter and I cringe to sacrifice another whole stick to a single recipe.

Possibly the fact that cookies are addictive and don't last very long also plays a role...

Either way, I was craving something sweet a couple weeks ago but just wanted a little something. Not too sweet, not too much. So I scrounged around my kitchen and threw together some super-simple cinnamon cookies with two ingredients: phyllo dough and cinnamon sugar.

Just cut your phyllo into small sticks and lay them on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and pop in the oven for about 10 min at 400* (time may vary slightly depending on your oven). They get light, puffy and little crispy and the sugar topping makes them just sweet enough.

These worked out really well for me, and I think I'm going to tuck this 'recipe' (such as it is) away for future reference. I think it would be great to make for something fun like a high tea or as a last-minute option when something comes up.

(Note: my apologies to everyone eating GF. It appears there is no GF phyllo unless you make your own, which kind of kills the whole fast-and-easy aspect... which was the point. Sorry!)

Thursday, September 15

Accidetal Elite-ism

Remember this picture? It's from this post.

(Yes, I know. My picture taking skills are unimpressive. That's beside the point.)

That is my French Press. I bought it last year in a preparedness fit because it happens to be a sure-fire way of making coffee in any eventuality. Boil water, pour over grounds, wait two minutes, then slowly depress the knob on top. Voila! Flawless coffee every time. (Unless of course you can't boil water, in which it doesn't matter since you'll probably be dead soon anyway. *ahem*)

The irony of that purchase is that everyone else I know with a French Press bought it because they are a coffee snob (which I mean in an entirely positive way - I'm all in favor of eating only quality, truly enjoyable food). Years ago already French Presses became the rage among coffee gurus because they brew an alluringly smooth and strong cup of delectability.

Despite pulling the Press out for special occasions, I kept using my trusty four- cup Mr. Coffee every morning out of habit. I bought that thing back in college and it still works faithfully! Or at least it did... until the local stores stopped carrying filters for it.  Apparently, the general logic is that either people make entire pots of coffee (8-12 cups) or they've given in to the combined forces of Starbucks and Keureg.

Either way, I announced to Eric about two weeks ago that we were now accidental elitists. The Mr. Coffee is being given away, and we have been enjoying our suddenly gourmet level brew ever since.

It feels decadent to actually pay attention to making my coffee every morning, and I certainly enjoy it more. I can't help but smile every time, though, remembering that if it weren't for the burning desire to be prepared for the coming Zombie apocalypse I would never have bought this little treasure in the first place.

If you're at a loss for good presents to tack onto your Christmas list this year or if you know anyone who'd rather be eaten by Zombies than go without their coffee, considering adding a French Press to your list!

Wednesday, September 14

Take Out... The Whole Foods Way

We've largely given up on eating out around here. The service is lacking and almost all the food is made with processed crap, white flour and tons of sugar. In fact, we always feel the after effects if we try to eat out.

Fortunately, my library system has a bazillion cookbooks and my husband is generous with my experimentation. (He's actually pretty good at cooking for himself when he needs to.)

On a whim, I picked up The Take-Out Menu Cookbook from the library. Imagine my surprise when I flipped it open and discovered that not only will it save you tons of money in not eating out - the authors went the extra step and used all real, whole-food ingredients!

If you read cookbooks at all, you know this is a rare and wonderful event. No working out substitutions in your head and hoping to approximate the new recipe because it's already done for you. Recipes made with things you likely already have in the house!

If you're looking for something different, or struggling with giving up some of your favorite restaurants for health or budgetary reasons give this a try. I guarantee you'll come away with at least a few recipes that prove to be worth their weight in gold!

Tuesday, September 13

Women of Faith

It's been years now since I darkened the door of a church. Although I was raised as a church kid, getting into the food service industry pretty much wrecked my habit of attending. It was just impossible to go consistently around the mandate to work Sundays. Crazy hours the rest of the week prevented me from making connections and building friendships at non-Sunday opportunities like small groups, a Bible study or ladies' book club. (Moving every year or two didn't help either, I suppose.)

All excuses aside, it's safe to say that beyond what's happening online and the faith-based books I read/ review from Thomas Nelson via BookSneeze, I'm rather behind on the big names and big news in the Faith World.

So it's with a little trepidation and a little excitement that I am making plans to attend this year's Women of Faith Conference in Rochester, NY. (Nov. 4th &5th)

I confess I'm excited about Angie Smith and Natalie Grant being there - big fan of both those ladies! (Have you seen Angie over at Bloom and (in)Courage recently?) I'm also considering this a personal challenge to step outside my comfort zone and beyond my status quo. I'm not sure what I'll find, but I'm expecting it to be good!

Are you attending a WOF Conference this year? They're holding events all over the country, so see if there's one near you.

If you're headed to the Rochester event, I'd love to hear from you! How awesome would it be to head to the event already knowing there were beautiful, awesome ladies to meet and hang out with!?

Been to a WOF event before? Leave me some pointers! 

Either way, I'll do a post-event review up here so check back to see how to goes!

Monday, September 12

Quick Pic

Behold - my Labyrinth quilt top! I'm SO excited!

It still needs a couple borders around the edges before it's ready to be quilted (one of them being the same blue color that's in the middle), but I was rather nervous about pulling this pattern off and had to share my delight that it worked!  :0)

(If it looks huge, it's because it is... and if it doesn't look huge, it should! Queen size... because why would I practice an intimidating new pattern on anything small and easy first? Lol.)

(Many thanks to my favorite quilt shop Joyful Quilter for holding a five hour class last Friday to demo how the technique worked!)

Redrawing the Line

I haven't been in a Toys R Us (or any other toy store) for years. Not because there's a lack of little people (or not so little people, for that matter) in my life for which I'd like to buy toys, but rather that toy stores seem to have given up carrying anything I can identify as a toy. Everything on the overflowing shelves is branded – an extension of some over-marketed, brain-draining tv show, video game or social media fad. Most of what is being direct-sold to today's children is desensitizing, morally degrading and educationally bankrupt.

It was an article on that theme that introduced me to Peggy Orenstein. Her clear writing voice and obvious personal investment in her topic drew me in so, despite her noticeably feminist leanings, I picked up a copy of her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter from the local library.

It proceeded to completely consume my brain for several days. Not, perhaps, in the way the author intended, however.

Although Ms. Orenstein has a wonderful writing style, contagious passion and some excellent points to make, something else entirely stood out to me: the futility of trying to redraw the line.

In her corner of California, Ms. Orenstein is surrounded by fellow liberals and feminists (not my judgment – she says as much). Over the course of her book, they all slowly and agonizingly give themselves ulcers measuring and re-measuring their every decision against the vague, precipitous standards of feminist theology. They want the best for their children – everyone does. But as adults and more specifically as parents, they are terribly, terribly lost in the world of shifting sands that they have created. How do you lead someone else when you have no solid guideposts yourself?

The same idea resurfaces in shifting forms and across examples throughout the book: where is the line? We all feel sick disgust watching Toddlers & Tiaras because we inherently know that it's wrong. Righteous anger flares when we see middle schoolers dressing like tramps and trashy, moral-destroying movies pitched to kids. We examine complicated issues like social media use and educational curricula critically, but struggle to find any answers because we've moved the line, but cannot figure out how to redraw it.

Whether you're Christian or not, you have to admit that when God laid down the standards by which mankind should live, He did a really good job. 

Seriously, think about it. Can anyone argue that waiting until marriage to have sex is a safe, wise plan? Have you ever met anyone who was harmed or degraded by following that standard?

How about Titus 2 or Proverbs 31 as standards for what women should seek to be? Have you ever met a Titus 2 or Proverbs 31 woman and said to yourself “wow, what a doormat”? Of course not! Kindness, good work ethic, respect for others, good judgment, strong communication skills, self-confidence – these are things we all want for our daughters!

When women like Ms. Orenstein and her compatriots buy into the lie that everything traditional is bad and repressive, they automatically toss out the very standards and guidelines they need to shape the kind of powerful, beautiful and confident girls they want to raise.

One cannot create something beautiful without consistent, intentional shaping and vision for what the end result should look like. The standards by which humans build solid connections and successful lives do not change just because some people, like a resentful teenagers, want to disobey them solely for the perverse pleasure of spiting authority. 

Though Orenstein has searched the world over and tried to maintain a positive tone, one cannot leave her work without clearly understanding the message she did not intend to send: the line cannot be arbitrarily redrawn.

The chilling question then becomes: are we willing to sacrifice a generation of children on the altar of our spite rather than humble ourselves and accept the gift of wisdom freely given to us so long ago?

For all our sakes, I hope not.

Friday, September 9

Love Letters & National Encouragement Day

Did you know that the 10th of every month is Love Letter Day?
Did you know that September 12 is the National Day of Encouragement?

If you have anyone in your life who counts Words of Affirmation as their primary love language, these are great opportunities to intentionally speak love in their language!

Dayspring offers a ton of free ecards - no registration or hoops to jump through required! (Hint: You can hop over and complete one right now and then where it says "send greeting on" just change the date to have it auto-sent either tomorrow or the 12th.)

Or you can do things the old fashioned way - grab a piece of paper (extra points if it's pretty) and write a few lines reminding someone that you're thinking of them and leave it somewhere they're sure to find it.

Who do you know that could really use some encouragement this week?

Thursday, September 8

Our Last Great Hope

Pastor Ronnie Floyd is rabidly passionate about the Great Commission (in a good way). He's something of an expert on the subject: In addition to considering it his own personal mission statement and that of the large church he leads in Arkansas, Floyd spent a year doing intensive research on the GC for the Southern Baptist Convention's Great Commission Task Force. In an effort to share his passion and broad knowledge with others, he has distilled all the essentials into a single enthusiastic call to action entitled Our Last Great Hope.

Floyd writes with unbridled energy and an unselfish spirit; he wants everyone to share the same thrilling move-of-God adventure he's on. I was surprised and impressed by the insights he drew from verses so over-quoted as to be rote and ignorable in other contexts. I also gave high marks for his courage to tackle notoriously touchy subjects like money.

Having dealt with poorly run churches, however, I cringed at his suggestion that thousands of new churches need to planted. I struggled with his singularly outward perspective; training was in order on how to evangelize, but no mention was made of crucial issues often ripping apart the church such as building strong marriages or handling finances (beyond tithing).
Anyone interested in missions or church leadership would do well to read this book. Cynics will either be humbled or need to read it with a grain of salt.

Housewives: The Original Smart Meters

I'm fairly sure audio books weren't intended to be talked back to, but I couldn't help myself recently while listening to Mike Huckabee's A Simple Government. The man had plenty of commonsense things to say, but one comment really set me off: Mr. Huckabee is in favor of Smart Meters.

Are you familiar with Smart Meters? They're an “upgraded” version of your gas/electric meters that monitor the energy your home consumes and provide constant, specific feedback to the provider company about what you're using and when. Supposedly, they have many wonderful uses such as allowing cost differentials in your bill (based on whether you use energy at peak or off times) and generating reports on what appliance upgrades will give you the biggest bang for your buck (by assessing which ones run most often and create the biggest power drains).

Of course, anyone with an innate tendency towards skepticism or *ahem * subversion might be quick to point out that they are also programmed with capability to interface with the new “Smart Appliances” - to the extent that your power company (or other powers that be) can selectively turn off or cut off any appliances in your house that they feel are drawing too much power or being run too often. I'm sure I don't need to get into why that is not something most of us would cheerily sign up for on purpose. (Oh yeah - they may expose your family to unsafely high levels of radiation too.)

But, all ranting about the value of Smart Meters aside, what irked me most about Mr. Huckabee's support of the idea was that he'd just finished talking about how things like rising crime rates, falling literacy levels and the seriously precarious state of Americans' health were all family problems. We don't need new social service regimes or psychologically overhauled criminal justice procedures – we need to fix the family issues at the root of the problem! I completely agree with that assertion, which is why I'm baffled that he misses the same point when it's made in a different (but related) context.

Excessive energy usage is a family problem too.

There are abundant studies proving what should be common sense: every time a family fragments into divided homes, national energy consumption increases. Every person that lives alone, running their own heat, appliances, etc. is doubling the amount of energy needed over what would be required if they shared a home with their family.

Every family in which both parents work because they don't feel they can afford to live on one income almost automatically is forced to run numerous appliances at peak hours – because that's the only time they're home! They can't choose to run laundry in the middle of the morning, because everyone's at work. They can't choose to save money by hanging clothes on the line to dry because they don't get home until after dark and have to be out before the sun is up the next day. (Or because their HOA doesn't allow clotheslines, but that's a whole story unto itself.)

The most ironic part of this whole subject? Americans used to have Smart Meters. They were called Housewives. Women who were able to plan their days around what needed to be done at home were able to run laundry while the kids were in school (and hang it on the line to dry). Their households were able to accommodate live-in grandparents or single relatives. Guess what? They could carpool, make food from scratch and engage in a bunch of other “green”, “socially responsible” and “health conscious” lifestyle choices too! (In fact, some modern housewives are already getting plenty of press for doing just that!)

Am I saying every family must have a stay- at- home wife/mother? No.

Do I think it's foolish to praise such limited, potentially dangerous technology when there is an obvious and multi-beneficial alternative readily available to tackle multiple major concerns in one fell swoop? You bet.

What do you think? Could housewives be the secret weapon of the next Green Movement?

Wednesday, September 7

Recipes & The Great Marshmallow Disaster

I have a tendency to clip / print / stash recipes that sound appealing, with full intentions of making them in the future. When it's the right season, when I have the ingredients in the house, when I have time for something new and complex, etc.

Some recipes I get around to pretty quickly. Others, for one reason or another keep getting shuffled through my pile but linger unmade. So I decided this past weekend to pick a handful of the long neglected and make time to try them.

The results? Three successes and one apocalyptic disaster.

Marie's Chicken French  was easy, inexpensive and every bit as delicious the versions I remember serving ad infinitum in my catering days.

Mushroom and Potato Gratin with Thyme and Parmesan was a Williams Sonoma recipe that was much easier than it sounds, but every bit as decadent as you'd expect. (Did you know WS makes a huge selection of their fail-proof recipes available for free on their website?)

Carrots Normandy - Essentially glazed carrots with the added zing of vinegar, these were unique and excellent, quick, cheap and easy. Really, what more can you ask for? (No link for this one, so here's the recipe. I tossed some cinnamon in with the sugar for good measure.)
       2 cups carrots (sliced into 2" strips or large diced)
       1/4 tbsp cornstarch
       1/2 cup vinegar
       1/2 cup sugar
       1/4 tsp salt
       2 tbsp butter

Boil carrots 7-10 minutes; drain. In a saucepan, stir starch into vinegar. Add sugar and salt; boil 5 min. Add butter, stir until melted. Reheat carrots in sauce and serve hot.

Speculoos - everything you like about spice cake in a super convenient cookie! Reminiscent of snicker-doodles, I liked these because they had a very quick, very forgiving dough. I used about 1/4 cup less sugar than suggested and was quite happy with the result. (I also cut mine into half- dollar- sized rounds rather than sticks, but they cooked up in the same amount of time.)

My only kitchen disaster was my enthusiastic attempt to make my own marshmallows using the recipe from the awesome cookbook Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. Everything else I've tried from that source was fantastic, so I had high hopes for this as well. After all, who wouldn't be psyched about the idea of making something so inherently commercial looking in your own kitchen? Totally- from-scratch s'mores, anyone? 

It started well, with my sugar boiling on the stove, gelatin softening in a bowl and my greased, sugared pan waiting. At the last minute, about ten degrees before my sugar hit the required temperature it abruptly caramelized. Pulling it off the heat, I tried to finish the steps, hoping I could salvage the project and just have unintentionally gourmet caramel marshmallows. Instead of getting puffy, though, the mixture turned into a clingy, toffee-like mess that crawled up my electric mixer beaters like a sci-fi alien over a space ship and stuck fast to everything it touched. The final result had the consistency of bubble gum and an only vaguely caramelized flavor. Final score: sugar monster: 1, me: 0.  Clearly, there will be no s'mores....

Anywho, we can't win them all and I am pleased with myself for tackling the project even if it was unsuccessful. Much praise is also due to my boys for being patient with my kitchen endeavors...

Incidentally, I highly recommend cooking with a border collie on hand. When my sugar alien left me sticking to my bowl (and my spatula and everything else) and decidedly in need of assistance, Arthas ran and fetched his Daddy to come rescue me. Lol. Note to self: don't try crazy cooking projects without supervision and backup!

What wild kitchen fun have you whipped up lately?

Tuesday, September 6

Real Food Cookbook Giveaway at Raising Homemakers!

Raising Homemakers is hosting a cookbook giveaway - Health for Godly Generations by Renee DeGroot!

Although I haven't read this one personally, a quick review of available info suggests that it is right on track. You have until midnight next Tues (Sept 13th) to leave a comment on the Raising Homemakers page to be entered to win.

If you or anyone you know would benefit from a free book like this, please consider checking it out. RH doesn't sell names, emails or anything else so there's no risk to enter!

Friday, September 2

Great Finds

I posted last week about some solutions I've found and things that really work for me. That must have gotten my brain going more than I realized, because I've noticed several other things since then that really should have made that post. So here's a few more great things that really make my life easier.

(Please note, these are all just my opinions. I don't profit from any of them, and was in no way compensated for these happy remarks, except by the convenience or satisfaction they bring me when I use them.)

The Sourdough Cookbook I've tried sourdough at least four times in the past, but I've never been able to master it. The starter didn't work, it turned moldy, the bread didn't turn out well or the process outlined in the books were for artisan breads that took multiple days to make and I just couldn't hack it. On a not-very-hopeful whim, I picked up The Sourdough Cookbook from my library. It was written in the 70's by a lady who looks like she was channeling the Betty Crocker of her era, but wow is it amazing! The starter was simple, took right away and works like a charm! The recipes are easy, widely varied and flexible. The bread turns out delectably, and I can't wait to try the sweet rolls, cookies and waffles too! If you've been eying the health benefits of sourdough but have struggled for success like I did, snag yourself a copy of this and enjoy!

Watermelon Frosty I am not a huge fan of watermelon, and only eat bananas if they're baked into something. But when I got a giant watermelon from the CSA, I figured I'd have to get creative to use it all up before it went bad. I'm still not sure how an entirely healthy treat, made almost entirely out of two ingredients I'm not thrilled with ends up being so awesome, but I've decided not to worry about it. Try it. I bet you'll love it too!

Redken Smooth Down Shampoo & Conditioner I love having long hair, but it has a tendency to frizz in any kind of humidity which drives me nuts! (We get a lot of humidity around here.) I finally got up my nerve to ask my hair-stylist neighbor if he could recommend anything and he was happy to toss me some samples of this fabulous stuff! I've never been one to spend lots of money on hair products, and this isn't cheap, but it's SO worth it! Combined with Paul Mitchell's Super Skinny Relaxing Balm it keeps my hair soft, non-frizzy and completely free of the gunky, sticky, un-touchable mess that it can quickly become if I try to use hairspray or gel. The sheer amount of stress reduction involved in not having to worry about or fuss with my hair throughout the day is fantastic! (Hint: if you know a stylist, ask if they'd be willing to barter with you for good hair products! They can buy this stuff for half what it costs the rest of us, and many would be glad to swap some out for whatever you have access to. Yeah for tax-free bartering!) :0)

Pinterest Yes, I admit that if you struggle with managing your online time you probably want to stay far away from Pinterest. But if, like me, you find your web browser bookmarks spilling over into double pages and making it a struggle to find the recipe, museum exhibit idea or the link for that shirt you wanted to buy every time you hop on this could be the perfect solution! It's essentially an online corkboard that allows you to grab a picture from any website, caption it, and “tack” it to a themed board of your choice without interrupting anything else you're doing. (I have boards for the museum, food, clothes, holiday gifts ideas, etc.) When you want to find something again, you pull up the board and all your photos are there, making it easy to scroll through and snag the one you want. Click on it, and it auto-opens to the original link! You can also send “pins” to people or see what other people are pinning. It has seriously cleaned up my browser and saved me a bunch of time.

Pottery Barn Color Palette Okay, so this hasn't actually made my own life easier but it's such an awesome idea I had to include it anyway. Benjamin Moore puts out a paint palette (on display at my local hardware store) with all the current Pottery Barn colors! I would be one of those people that marketers hate; I refuse to spend $500 on PB decor when I can recreate the look for a lot cheaper with similar pieces from The Christmas Tree Store. If you are the same way, check your local store for this display. It's a great resource to have, especially if you're looking to recreate a color scheme with accessories – grab a few paint chips, tuck them in your purse and take them shopping with you! It's the best way I've found to ensure that all your pieces from various places match and you end up with the same coordinated look as if you shelled out oodles of money at PB or its equivalent.

Hope some of these make your life easier the way they have mine!

Thursday, September 1

Trial Run

The interwebs abound this week with blog posts about what people learned (or should have) from Hurricane Irene.

Locally, I know several people who found themselves unable to get to work and a few businesses/ services closed for a day or two because their employees were stranded on the wrong side of the river with no way to get across. Even after the weather had cleared and the sun was shining, our electricity flicked off and on erratically as crews removed trees from power lines. Thirty-six hours post typhoon we got a boil-water order.

Of the most impact to me personally was news that if NYC had been hit hard my husband and his unit would have been called up and had to go down there to assist with evacuation efforts. Fortunately, they were able to function on just volunteers this time through, but it made me think.

I tend to consider myself pretty prepared, but this trial-run provided me with some valuable feedback with which to evaluate and improve my preps and plans.

Menus My stove-top stayed on, but every time the power flicked off my oven went out. I am thankful I have a collection of skillet recipes, but I realized that I need to be more proactive about keeping crackers and other dry, ready-edibles in the house.

Escape Routes Our plan has always been to shelter in place unless evacuation became truly impossible to avoid. But having seen so many bridges out and portions of the major highways completely shut down has forced me to explore alternative bug-out locations. If “out” is open in only one direction, how do I get somewhere safe? Something to think about.

Me, Myself and the Dog I've always known that there's a good chance emergency will strike while my husband is deployed; I'd never considered that he might be home and deployed because of the emergency. Honestly, a little heart work is necessary here because I'd be pretty pissed if he had to go take care of strangers somewhere like NYC sure to be full of looting, rioting and people who've never bothered to prep at all (reference their complete melt down last winter during a snow storm for the basis of my assessment) rather than here with his family and friends. Beyond that, I clearly need to address our communication plans since I could be forced to evacuate while he's gone and it would be important that we be able to relay valuable info despite cell restrictions. I'd been trying to avoid the third-party plan, but I may have to bite the bullet and make it happen.

Like a Good Neighbor Friends of ours have a three month old baby; the father works with my husband. God forbid they got called up, the poor new mom would be by herself – all their local family is on the other side of the river! Although I'm used to keeping half an eye out for my physical neighbors, this was the first event that made me consider whether or not I need to expand my view when it comes to thinking of people to check on or offer to assist.

Procrastination Is A Suicide Installment Plan A slightly more impressive version of the “don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today” idea, I picked up this line in Mary Kay training believe it or not! It really stood out to me as the most valuable lesson from this storm, though. Laundry, food prep, grocery shopping – life if meant to be lived, certainly, but letting chores and seemingly mundane tasks pile up simply because we assume we can always do them later could come back to bite us badly in an emergency when everything instantly gets harder or takes longer.

Those lessons give me plenty to work on right now. What did you learn?