Photography Adventure

EEEEEEEEK! My precious husband encouraged me to jump in and buy a new camera yesterday. It is a combination 10th anniversary, birthday, Christmas, Mothers Day (and any other holiday you can throw in) gift. It has lenses and gadgetry and enough tweakable things to keep me busy for months! I read the basics of how to use it without breaking it, and I was off…shooting everything in sight.

I have pictures of…

Marbles

Marbles

a monkey

annnnnd…a monkey.

Tiny flower's close-up shot. :)

Tiny flower’s close-up shot. :)

 

Crushed Sidewalk Chalk

Crushed Sidewalk Chalk

The chalk and marbles are going to be printed out and used as artwork for the monkey’s bedroom. They’re both his, and their destruction was by his hand. I think they’re a good reflection of him. :) The tiny flower is just my favorite nature shot thus far.

I also took some GREAT shots of my two boys and my niece. I’m hoping to get my nephew tied down long enough to get a similar shot of him ASAP so that I can print them as a matched set for the walls.

This is so much fun, and maybe it’ll be the ticket to making money from home. Oh the possibilities!

 

But I Made a Committment!

Hey! We are working on something really worthwhile, and we are one person short for our leadership team. Is there anyone who would be interested in helping out?

I see you there.

With your hand up.

Yeah…you.

The automatic-overvolunteering expert. You don’t even know what the worthwhile project entails, or WHY this project is sooooo important (aren’t they all?), but your hand is in the air because you’re NEEDED.

Here’s the thing–you’re needed elsewhere too. In fact, your talents and energy are needed in pretty much every volunteer role in every organization in your life. EVERY. ONE.

Don’t believe me? Just go to a PTA meeting and utter the words, “I’m available to help.” You’ll be on 6 committees and have a fundraiser to plan before you can say, “where do I sign in?”

The same exercise can be performed at your church, your alumni groups, your youth sports leagues, or at a variety of other venues. It’s like magic–people need people who have time, talents, and resources to donate. You can literally quit your full-time job and go into full- time volunteering only to find that you have LESS time for your outside life than you had before making the switch. Ask me how I know. I dare you. :)

I can write this because I am a chronic overvolunteer. I’m currently in recovery, but relapse is never farther away than a phone call. All it takes is one, “we REALLY need someone to…” to drag me right back in. Maybe with a, “it won’t take much time at all!” thrown in for good measure.

I know there’s not much room left on your plate for another project, but if I just pile this a little closer to that…..

Once I’m in, I’m hooked. I know that I made a commitment–people are depending on me. So I adjust my schedule.

I ask my mom to keep the kids, try to make a supper that will still be edible when my husband gets home in two hours, and fly out the door to another meeting. Yeah, it’s the third night this week that I’ve had to do this, but I made a commitment. I feel guilty because I don’t have ALL of the skills that the position really requires, so I try to push myself to develop in that area. Yeah, I may have to stay up a couple hours after my husband goes to bed to fit it all in, but at least I’m honoring the commitment I made, right?

Wait…no? But I made it to every meeting! I fielded every email and phone call that came in! I soothed the angry parents, I paid the vendors, I made sure the reports were filed, and I wrote those three recommendation letters. I balanced the PTA checkbook, figured out that tax code problem, and designed a new system for expense tracking. What did I miss?!?

Oh…the soccer practice. The class party. The shared meal time. The evenings at home with my kids. The quiet conversations with my life partner before sleep. The precious moments that you never realize you’re missing until two years has gone by, and you have no idea where they went.

Yeah…I did miss those. But I made a commitment, and I have to honor it.

What about the other commitments I made? Before PTA…before leadership roles…before all of this.

I made a commitment to God to love and serve Him. I made a commitment to my husband to be his wife and life partner. I made a commitment to my children to be there to love, support and train them. I made a commitment to my family to have our home as my first priority when I became a stay-at-home-mom.

What about those commitments?

So, I’m freezing my volunteer availability indefinitely. Just like an alcoholic can’t have “just one drink,” I can’t allow myself to “just serve on this committee.” I know my weaknesses–or at least I do NOW. I’ve seen them wreak havoc on my house, family, and relationships. For this season in my life, I will not be available for your committee/project/office. I am going to commit to focusing in on developing into the best and most intentional wife/mother/homemaker that I can be. I am going to pour my time, talents, and resources into the precious life I have been given…

Because I made a commitment.

Unless You’ve Got A Better Plan: Why I’m Observing Lent This Year

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For the first time in my Christian walk, I am observing Lent. I haven’t converted to Catholicism, so what’s going on here?

I was raised in and continue to be part of the Southern Baptist community, so Lent wasn’t really something that I was even aware of until I reached college. Although the idea of giving up something that I enjoyed/relied on for 40 days was intriguing (I always love a good challenge), I never really saw the point of participating in what–from all I could see–amounted to a Spring-Break-prep diet of no chocolate (or bread…or alcohol…or sodas…or whatever troublesome food group the friend chose). Good thing I don’t have to do that since I’m Baptist!

Obviously, I was missing a critical piece of the puzzle.

In the past several years, I have gained a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Catholic faith through interaction and discussion with some of my dearest friends (along with several great bloggers that I enjoy following). I have also gained a bit of maturity (I hope) and the ability to better appreciate and understand the value of learning from others with greater experience and perspective than my own. I have realized that there is a wealth of beauty and wisdom in many of those time-honored traditions which are simply lacking in my own experience. There is a reason that the church, many years ago, instituted this practice of setting aside a season for the preparation of believers’ hearts and minds for Easter. The reasons are both biblical and practical. In order to be able to fully celebrate the Resurrection, we must break out of our routines and spend time drawing closer to God in preparation. To facilitate that process, the Catholic church created a structured set of expectations and obligations to guide believers in the weeks leading up to Easter.

Since I am not Catholic, however, I am not under any obligation to observe those rules. Whew! That’s a relief…they seem kind of tough…

The problem is that we, as Protestants, often reject the traditional/structured methods of accomplishing such things (Lent, confession, etc.) automatically without understanding their purpose and therefore fail to see the need to replace them appropriately. It is fine to say that we aren’t going to follow the prescribed Catholic Lenten policies of when to fast, when to break our fast, what to eat, and so on. It is fine to do so, however, ONLY if we implement our own appropriate plan of spiritual preparation instead–which should only be undertaken with much prayer and using scripture as your guide.

The thing is, the structured observance of the Lenten season was specifically and carefully constructed over the years to fulfill the spiritual needs and scriptural obligations of Christians (not just Catholics) with the experience and wisdom from centuries of walking believers through this process. It addresses the many issues and struggles that can keep us from having a deep and meaningful experience in this season. It is also, quite honestly, a much better plan than I have come up with thus far in my life, and I’m pretty sure that it would take a LOT more trial and error before I got anywhere close.

So the question I’m left with is this: why should I insist on reinventing the wheel and rejecting the observance of Lent just because I (or my denomination) didn’t come up with it? Why can’t I, as an educated and capable individual, examine the practices for myself to find the biblical and practical reasons and thereby understand the intrinsic value of those traditions?

Is it my (our) own pride that is the reason for the automatic rejection of a plan that could provide huge opportunities for obedience, growth, and spiritual cleansing in this most sacred of seasons? Or is it as simple and juvenile as a “You can’t tell me what to do!” mindset? Either way, it seems short sighted and self defeating to me.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m not suggesting that the observances I witnessed in college are what I should attempt to replicate. What I had observed was often people going through the motions of following their faith, completely divorced from any meaningful discussion or awareness of the underlying spiritual journey that should be taking place as a result. Ritual without reflection is empty, powerless, and even potentially harmful. It lures people into a cultural christianity which depends on “checking boxes” instead of challenging the believer to dig deep and draw close in a personal relationship with God. That’s NOT what I’m looking for, and I’d dare to guess that it isn’t what any of us have in mind–Catholic OR Protestant.

With that understanding in mind, I would like to share with you my plans for observing Lent this year. Please let me know if you see any Rookie mistakes. ;)

Sacrifice: Instead of “giving up” a food or drink or something similar, I have decided to give up sleep. Not all sleep, of course, but sleeping-in specifically. :) I’ve made a commitment to embrace the model set by Proverbs 31:15–rising early to plan for the day ahead. I will use the time for prayer, Bible study, and planning for my household duties for the day.

Why this makes sense to me–the practice of choosing something to sacrifice (however small) is intended to prepare our hearts to appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for us. It also serves as a way to repeatedly draw our attention to that sacrifice each time we think of (or struggle with) that small personal sacrifice. In those moments, we have the chance to  offer up prayers of praise and thanksgiving as well as prayers for strength. Adding the additional element of Bible study will add another layer of spiritual growth to this season of preparation. I’m going to be continuing my efforts to read through the entire Bible (now stretching out to almost three years with my distractions and delays…), and I should have just enough time to finish the rest of the Old Testament if I push myself! How exciting to be starting the New Testament on the day we celebrate Resurrection of the One whose coming divided the two Covenants into old and new! :)

Fasting: This year, I’m choosing to adopt another element of the Lenten season and fast on Fridays and special Holy days (like today!).

Why this makes sense to me–I have never participated in a fast. Ever. At all. Then I read Matthew 6:16 where Jesus said, “and WHEN you fast…”. Wait…that’s a problem. If Jesus took it for granted that his followers would spend time in fasting, then as a believer I should have some reflection of that in my walk. Fasting (when executed thoughtfully and intentionally) helps to focus a believer’s mind and energies on God and specifically on prayer. It is also intended to be an act of penance and remembrance of the death of our Lord. I know that the traditional rules say to fast specifically from meat on those days, so that’s the minimum I’ll observe. I have a very real and pressing prayer need right now as well though, so today’s fast is going to be more strict–perhaps they all will. I am going to try to eat only minimally, and only raw fruits/veggies on fasting days. I am going to let God lead on this, and I am going to really focus on prayer for that issue on those days. I know that He is more concerned with my heart than my stomach, so I am not going to allow this to become an “all-or-nothing” thing where guilt gets to hang out and beat me up. I’m making an effort to choose obedience, and that’s 90% of the battle, my friend.

Worship: To the best of my knowledge, traditional rules also require attendance at a weekly worship service as well as those held on special Holy days. This year, I will commit to attend at least one worship service each week from now until Easter.

Why this makes sense to me– I have been out of the habit of corporate worship for a while now because of a lot of different reasons–schedule conflicts, personal struggles, family obligations, and so on. The bottom line is that God created us as a body of believers, and He instructed us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. So…we will be there. It’s that simple. There are many churches in this area, and they hold too many meeting times to allow for my lame excuses. Even my own home church offers at least 4 different opportunities each week between small groups, two Sunday services, and Wednesday night prayer meeting…and we live close enough to walk there. No more excuses.

That’s it!  That’s the plan. It seems a bit overwhelming when I write it all out like this, but I believe that the end result will be more than worth it. I am in desperate need of spiritual growth after the last year and a half of stagnation, and that’s honestly my only motivation. I desperately want to be closer to God. I’m not checking a box. I’m not competing with myself or anyone else. I wouldn’t even be sharing this at all, but I really felt like I was supposed to. Maybe it was just so that I could hold myself accountable, or maybe someone else needed to hear someone think through all of these things too. I don’t know, but here it is for what it’s worth. :)

In short, I’m adopting a mantra of “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” in regards to some areas of spiritual tradition like the methods for observing Lent. Because it doesn’t make sense to throw out a perfectly good system–unless YOU’VE got a better plan. :)

 

Christmas Pictures with the Kids

My mom and I spent a fun hour in my backyard today with the four kids. We were trying to get a picture of them together that would be good to blow up into a print for my grandmother and father’s Christmas gift. There were a lot of out takes, and a lot of giggles. We finally found the perfect shot, but I wanted to share a few of those other precious moments that we were able to capture.

This is the one that won the prize. A bit blurry for my graphic design heart, but the subject matter is too good to pass up.

This is the one that won the prize. A bit blurry for my graphic design heart, but the subject matter is too good to pass up.

Annnd there's that personality jumping out in Mr. Wyatt. :)

Annnd there’s that personality jumping out in Mr. Wyatt. :)

This pretty much sums up the group...

This pretty much sums up the group energy level alright…

One of the last trips into this tree house. It is coming down soon to be ready to rebuild this spring!

One of the last trips into this tree house. It is coming down soon to be ready to rebuild this spring!

Kids in the Kitchen

My guys and I had a great afternoon in the kitchen. Things have been really hectic lately, and I haven’t gotten to spend very much time just hanging out with them in a while. Since Zander’s progress report was really good (including a 7 point jump in his lowest score from his last report card!), I had promised to make monkey bread as a treat.

As I was gathering all of the ingredients, Wyatt popped open his step ladder to join me. He was determined to help me cook, and instead of trying to get him out from under foot…I found him a job. In fact, I let him do a job that he’s never gotten to do before–using a knife to cut something up! He got to use a table knife to cut the biscuit dough into quarters before dropping them into the bag of cinnamon sugar. Zander got in on some of the cutting action too, and we had the whole pack cut up before long.

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A few shakes of the bag in each set of hands, and we were ready to dump the dough pieces into the Bundt pan, pour the butter and brown sugar goo on the top, and bake it!

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I tried to let it  cool a bit before serving, but it already looked like this before I was able to snap a shot. :)

A half eaten loaf of monkey bread.

This is how the monkey bread looked after I tried to let it cool enough to eat. I had to put it out of reach (notice it is sitting on the coffee pot) so the kids couldn’t grab any more before supper. It didn’t help at all to keep MY hands off of it.

This project wasn’t anything fancy, and we just used the recipe on the 4-count package of small Pillsbury Biscuits. It was the time and focus and fun that really made this one special.

Broccoli Cheese Soup Success

I love the idea of including an occasional meatless meal into your weekly meal plans. The idea is great–but I married a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. If it doesn’t have meat, it isn’t a meal.

I have tried several different approaches to meatless dishes: adding lentils to “beef up” a stew, scrambling tofu (which then resembled shredded chicken) in a skillet meal, throwing so many ingredients into a casserole that you wouldn’t be able to spot meat anyway, and more. Nothing worked. One bite in Michael would say, “Does this have meat in it?” If the answer was no, that was that. He would either pick at it or fix a sandwich instead.

It isn’t that he doesn’t want me to try new things or support my culinary endeavors…he just wants them to include recognizable ingredients and meat. :)

For about a week I’ve been wanting to try cooking broccoli cheese soup. Potato soup with smoked sausage has been a big hit with my guys, so I thought that the broccoli soup with likely succeed as well. I planned to make this soup pass the “meat test” by tossing in some chicken at the end, but when I mentioned it, Michael surprised me by suggesting that we leave it out!

It brings me great pride, therefore, to present the FIRST  EVER meatless* meal from the Purser household!

*The recipe does contain bacon, but any nutritionist will tell you that bacon is not considered a meat in dietary terms–it is a fat. I’ll split hairs if I have to, since it has taken us 10 years to get this far. ;)

Broccoli Cheese Soup

  •  3-4 strips of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (I use homemade)
  • 1 large crown of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 cups milk (you need enough stock + milk to cover the broccoli)
  • 1/2-1 T  sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/2-1 t black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used mild cheddar, but I might try sharp next time)
  • additional bacon and/or cheese for garnish

Cook the bacon until crisp and browning. Add onion and cook until pieces begin to soften (about 2 min). Stir in flour and cook 1 minute, taking care not to let it scorch. Add in stock, milk, broccoli, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer 15 minutes (or until broccoli is tender).

At this point, you have a choice–you can use your spoon to chop/mush up the broccoli a bit, use a potato masher to do the job, or blend the soup with either an immersion blender (which I don’t have but would love) or a regular old blender. I was in a hurry to get supper on the table, and my crew isn’t really picky on the texture of their soups, so I just mushed my broccoli a bit with my spoon.

Mix in the cream and cheese until combined, then check the seasoning levels. I had to add a bit more cheese, salt, and pepper to get mine just right (hence the range of amounts in the instructions).

I served mine with a loaf of Peasant Bread, and it was awesome!

In fact, this is all that was left of the whole big pot of soup:

Enough soup for two (small) lunch servings.

Enough soup for two (small) lunch servings.

I sent the Thermos with Zander today–at his request. The other bowl will go with Michael for lunch tomorrow.

That’s it! Every other bit was gobbled up by those lucky enough to be at my house last night. :)

In all, it made 5 adult + 3 child sized servings. This isn’t a low-fat meal, and it wasn’t intended to be. It is, however, full of good, fresh, real ingredients and plenty of nutrients from those foods. I know everything that was put into it, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Plus, it has bacon. Enough said.

Do you have a favorite soup on a chilly night?

Muffins, Muffins, Muffins everywhere!

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted…I’ve been baking muffins.

Ok…maybe I’ve done a few other things too. I have baked a LOT of muffins though.

We’ve tried lots of new recipes over the last few weeks with lots of new ingredients. I’ve been trying to master the art of making a whole-wheat muffin taste more like a muffin and than like…well…warm spicy bread. Although my dad and Paula Deen say that you can never have too much sugar, I’ve been trying to find a balance that will allow the natural flavors to shine without feeling like I’m feeding my family a candy bar.

Since I’m trying to move toward more whole-food ingredients, there has been a definite learning curve. Some of the new ingredients I’ve been playing with in my muffin recipes include whole wheat flour, ground flax seed, raw honey, less refined sugars, and veggies!

I’ve had success with recipes like carrot-applesauce muffin, zucchini muffins, pumpkin muffins, and our old reliable banana muffins. I’ve also had failures with those same recipes–except the banana muffins…those are resilient enough that I haven’t managed to mess them up yet. :)

Some things that I’ve learned:

  • Adding sour cream or yogurt to the batter will help moisten whole wheat muffins and make the sweetener sweeten better
  •  Although they say you can substitute ground flax for an egg (1T flax + 3T water) or some of the fat (3T flax for 1T butter/oil) in a recipe, I’m almost always too chicken to try it. I usually just adding a bit for an extra boost of nutrients in the overall recipe.
  • Whether or not it is possible to have too much sugar, it is definitely possible to have too little.
  • If you put too little sugar in a recipe, you will clean up 6-10X the crumbs from your floor/furniture because the kids would rather crumble the muffins than gobble them down like properly sweetened ones.
  • Baking my own muffins from scratch is much less expensive than buying pre-made muffins, and I get to control what goes into them!
  • Muffin recipes are amazingly flexible. As long as you add enough sweetener (see above), you can add or substitute ingredients pretty much at will. Batter seem too thick? Add a splash of buttermilk! Don’t have buttermilk? Use sweet milk or almond milk or yogurt or sour cream or applesauce or…you get the idea!
  • I hate muffin papers. I don’t use them. I bake muffins in an oiled muffin tin and they come out just fine. I don’t lose any muffin yumminess to that sticky paper, and I have one less thing to pick up when the boys forget that our maid doesn’t exist.
  • I love silicone baking liners, but I don’t use them for baking. I use them for separating items in Zander’s lunch…sometimes even muffins! :)
  • Muffins freeze really well. I just cool them completely and pop 6 into each quart sized freezer bag. They warm up in 30 seconds in the microwave for a fast breakfast, or I can just pop it still frozen into the lunchbox. By the time they get to lunch, the muffin is ready to eat.

Now for a recipe!

Whole Wheat Banana Muffins (adapted from Heavenly Homemakers)

  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (I usually bump closer to 2 cups) 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup mashed over-ripe bananas (about 2-3 bananas–I always use 3 and have a bit more than 1 cup in the end)
  • 1/3 cup honey (if using sugar, I would probably double this amount)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • up to 1/2 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate bowl, mash bananas, or puree them in a blender. 

I keep ripe bananas in my freezer all the time for this very purpose. You just let them sit for a few minutes on the counter (or zap them for 30 seconds in the microwave if you’re running behind like I usually am) to soften them enough to squeeze them out of the skins (gross but oddly satisfying). The great thing is that they’re already pretty mushed when they come out, so there’s not much mashing or pureeing required–just a few swipes with a fork to finish it off.

Mix mashed bananas, honey, melted butter and eggs into flour mixture.

Fold in pecan pieces if using–I actually spoon half of the batter into cups first, then fold them in for the last half of the batch because Michael only likes them WITH nuts and Zan only likes them WITHOUT nuts. Naturally. :)

Spoon batter into buttered or paper lined muffin tins. Bake in a 400° oven for 20 minutes.

I get anywhere from 12-15 muffins from this recipe, depending on how I hold my mouth when I’m mixing it up.

When they come out, I let them cool for a minute or two in the pan before removing to a wire rack. Since these are quite moist, they need to be completely cool before putting them into a container or you can put a paper towel in there with them to absorb the extra moisture if you’re too rushed to wait the whole time.

Enjoy!

I’ll post my pumpkin muffin recipe tomorrow, after I test it one more time tonight. It’s an adaptation of this recipe, but I have to make sure I can recreate it before I unleash it on anyone else. Ha!