Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review - A Confident Heart

The Book: A Confident Heart by Renee Swope
Revell, $13.99 (2011)

I read A Confident Heart not long after I read Emily P. Freeman's Grace for the Good Girl. The two books are somewhat complimentary, though I suspect most readers will relate more easily to one or the other. Freeman writes of the masks we hide behind as we strive to look like we have it all together. Swope, on the other hand, writes what could almost be called Grace for the Slightly Ragged Around the Edges Girl. Her writing searches Scripture and pours out hope and encouragement to the woman who feels unworthy, not good enough and perhaps just a bit too screwed up to be loved by God.

Is it the deepest examination of theology I've ever read? No, but it's not meant to be. This book is meant to encourage women and to remind them of God's promises for their lives. And Swope does a wonderful job of that. She also has a wonderful chart at the back of the book listing Bible verses containing promises and exhortations from God on some of the tough issues that may cause us to doubt.

This book would be a great source of help and encouragement during those times when one feels too imperfect for God to use. Swope uses examples from Scripture such as the story of Gideon or of Martha or of the woman caught in adultery to show us that God uses people who somtimes doubt or worry over earthly things or sin and fall short of His commands. And she also digs deeply into her life experiences, bravely sharing stories of her own weak moments and failures, and the ways in which God has used her nevertheless.

Even though my life has been different than the author's, her stories are very relatable. I'm not a morning person, so I could relate to that sense of guilt over not being able to think deeply early in the morning. And I have felt the sting of being thought not good enough in human eyes and wondering if God would see that in me, too.

Filled with Scripture to change one's perspective and to encourage readers to seek God first rather than to try leaning on our own feeble strength, A Confident Heart is good encouragement. I also found the prayers at the end of each chapter very helpful and uplifting. I'll admit that when I got this book for Christmas, I was afraid it was going to be too heavy on the self-esteem psychobabble for my taste, but it's not that at all. Instead I got a sweet dose of godly encouragement right at a time when I was feeling a little rundown. And I am thankful to the author for that!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sweetest Moments

Sometimes it's the everyday things that yield the sweetest, most tender moments.

My tiny little cat gazing out the window....

My husband who pretends to be tough but lets all three cats pile up on him at once....

My husband tucking the covers back around me when they slide off....

My brother walking with my grandma, shortening his stride to her, and carrying her purse....

My neighbor outside with his little daughters and the bubble wrap, jumping because they love the sound of it....

The pastor at dedications carrying tiny babies around for the whole church to see and leading their toddler siblings gently by the hand....

The elderly client feeding his wife lunch and holding her hand every day, even on the days she cannot remember who he is....

Theses are the moments that take your breath away.


This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Midweek Links - Make Your Own Staples

One of the items mentioned in Tsh Oxenreider's One Bite at a Time is making one's own kitchen staples. I've long made my own herb blends(see one below) and mayonnaise, but only recently did I start exploring how to make other kitchen staples.

This do-it-yourself mustard looks pretty tasty, and I'm definitely going to be giving it a whirl in my own kitchen.

I know hummus isn't a staple in every kitchen, but we really like it and it's healthy, so I often keep it on hand as a snack food. This recipe is yummy, and it also has a sesame-free option in case you or someone you cook for might have allergies.

Coming from the South, I'm used to hearing debates over the merits of Hellmann's versus Duke's mayo. However, I prefer making my own. It has a much better flavor than anything storebought. I've used a whole host of recipes from Julia Child to the newspaper food section. Lately, I've been turning to this page because it has a good basic recipe and all kinds of variations. Try it! It's easier than one might think.

And then there's the great laundry list containing all kinds of staples. You can find it here at Simple Bites(part of the Simple Mom group of sites), and it just might inspire you to make over your kitchen. Personally, I'm thinking tomorrow will be the perfect day to make and freeze some chicken stock.

And as promised, here is one of my herb blend recipes. For a simple meal, you can brush chicken breasts with olive oil, bake them for 15-20 minutes and then sprinkle some of this herb blend over them. Continue baking chicken until done and then squeeze lemon juice over it right before serving. Easy and delicious! This blend is also very good mixed into meatballs or used to flavor soups and stews.

Italian herb blend

3 tsp. dried basil
3 tsp. dried oregano
3 tsp. dried marjoram
1 1/2 tsp. dried sage
powdered garlic to taste (optional)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mushroom Risotto - with a twist!

This weekend's cooking dilemma - I have a bag of barley and I need to figure out how to use it. I went prowling around the internet trying to decide what to make and I came across several sites suggesting that one use barley in place of rice in favorite recipes. So, armed with this tip, I pulled out an old mushroom risotto recipe (I think it's from America's Test Kitchen, but not positive; I didn't write down the source in my notebook) and went to work. Here it is!

Mushroom Risotto (Barley-otto?)

1/2 - 1 oz. dried shitake mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. bulk white or brown mushrooms, trimmed and quartered (cut into sixths if very large)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried minced garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 cups pearl barley, rinsed
1 cup white wine (or vegetable broth, if you don't cook with wine)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 T. freshly minced parsley leaves
1 T. unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place dried mushrooms in bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit until softened,about 20 minutes. With a fork, transfer mushrooms to cutting board. DO NOT discard mushroom broth!

2. Finely chop mushrooms. Pour the mushroom broth through a strainer lined with a paper towel and collect in small saucepan. Add 4 cups water, bring to a strong simmer, cover and remove from heat.

3. Meanwhile, heat 2T. of olive oil over medium-high heat in larger saucepan. Add the fresh mushrooms and 1/2 tsp. salt, and cook until browned nicely. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

4. Heat the remaning oil in saucepan and add onion and 1/4 tsp. salt., reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens. Stir in garlic, thyme and chopped shiitake mushrooms until fragrant. Then add barley and cook(stir constantly) for about 2 minutes until lightly toasted. Then add wine and cook, stirring often, until it evaporates, about 2-3 minutes.

5. Ladle 1 cup of mushroom broth into pot and cook, stirring, until barley absorbs liquid. Continue adding mushroom broth in 1 cup increments in this fashion and stirring occasionally until barley is creamy (not soup-like) and soft but still a little chewy - about 40-45 minutes. If you run out of broth, start using hot water.

6. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in cooked mushrooms, cheese, parsley, butter and salt/pepper to taste. Keep stirring until mushrooms are heated and butter melts.


Monday, January 23, 2012

After the Ice Storm

We had an ice storm sweep through area this weekend, and while cold (oh, cold and windy!), it left behind such beauty in its wake. Look how God made the world into frozen beauty:

The trees were eerily lovely in their coats of ice.

This almost looks like it belongs on the cover of a book:

In the quiet post-storm hush, the backyard became transformed

It's all melting away now, but this winter gift was so pretty while it lasted.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Life in Vivid Color

I have a strange sort of memory. Most folks I know seem to remember stories and a life in narrative. For me, the world is a photo album. Images burn themselves indelibly into my mind and when I'm remembering something, it is as if I pull a photo from the album. I can put myself right there in the image in my head and the memory springs to life.

My trip to Italy in 2010 gave me many of these moments. While in Italy, we visited Cortona, a small Tuscan village. On a sunny day, we went hiking to a monastery where Francis of Assisi had once lived. In my mind's eye, I can feel the unseasonably warm sun of that fall day, and the cold stones of his simple cell. I can remember all over again the simplicity and peace of the monastery grounds and if I close my eyes, I can see the greens and browns of it as vividly as if I stood there now.

Most importantly, the memory of God's closeness I felt that day is not part of a distant narrative for me. I felt it strongly then and whenever I pull out this memory and see it in my mind's eye, that feeling comes back again as vivid as before. And I cannot help wondering if this life of photographs in vivid color is how God reminds me of where He has taken me and how He has been with me.

This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why a Joyful Home?

Some days it feels like homemaking is a race against the invading raccoons and coyotes, dust and clutter to simply keep the house from falling down. However, deep in my heart, I know that's not my only purpose in life. I don't just want my home to avoid sliding down the hill (seriously, you should see my driveway - it scares the UPS guy!); God calls us to more than mere survival.

Everywhere I turn in Scripture, there is joy. People cry out to God in joy, the Psalms ring with joyful song("Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!" - Psalm 100:1, and that's just one reference of many), and we are exhorted constantly to serve God in joy. Indeed, Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit produced in the lives of believers.

Some folks have asked me why I named my blog, "Making a Joyful Home." And offline, I've had people ask why I want to focus my efforts on home. The answers to those questions really run together. I am a homemaker and I also work from home because that is where God has called me. And it is a calling I undertake with joy. I know, too, that it is a blessing I have been given.

On the messy and hectic days, life can feel more like drudgery than blessing, but when I take time to start thinking of what God has been doing in my life, in my marriage and in my home, my heart must change. Seeking God and trying earnestly, if imperfectly, to follow His calling has deepened my walk with Him to a degree I've never known before. And actually creating a home base for my family centers us; no longer do my husband and I have that sense that we are striving in directions that take us away from each other.

It's change. And it's a lot of work. Keeping house takes plenty of effort, but prayerfully making that house a home and a center of warmth and comfort can require much sometimes. And yet, when I see how God is moving, I can count it all joy. It's not a happy party here every day and there are some days when I fall short of who God would have me be and complain more than rejoice. But every day I strive to follow Him and to serve with joy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Midweek Links - In Search of Good Teaching

I've been spending more and more time in God's Word lately, and it has been wonderful! I've been feeling inspired by some of my favorite blogs, and being a contributor at Desiring Virtue has really led me to focus on my own Bible studies(Jessalyn and the other writers at DV share some wonderful information!) while being part of OneVerse bloggers has caused me to take that fucus and start turning it outward.

As part of that, I've really been seeking good teaching. One of my favorite sources is the sermon bank from my childhood church. If you are looking for some good teaching, check this out. Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) has a database that goes back to the 1980s and features sermons from a whole host of wise teachers. And if you feel inclined to wander around the website, they often have all kinds of other audio download treasures to be found.

As someone who comes at theology from a Reformed perspective, I also find many helpful articles and sermons on John Piper's website, Desiring God. For me, a real test of a teacher's effectiveness is not just whether he or she imparts information, but whether that person also makes me think. The things I find on Desiring God make me think (and pray, and maybe squirm a little).

And if you haven't checked out Daily On My Way to Heaven, you really should. Becky Pliego's thoughtful commentary has taught me so much, and she includes links to all kinds of helpful sources in many of her posts.

So, this obviously only scratches the surface. The Bible is obviously our best teacher, but I am thankful to be able to benefit from others' wisdom about God in addition to it. What are some of your favorite sources of good teaching?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bean and Sausage Soup

The Challenge: Find something to do with the about-to-expire dried bean mix and the single sausage link sitting in the fridge. And so I prayed for inspiration and came up with this...

Bean and Sausage Soup

2 cups dried mixed beans
48 oz. V-8 juice
1 sliced onion
1 cup sliced celery
1 green pepper, diced
3 cups water
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 T. each of basil, marjoram and thyme
2 T. Worcesterhire sauce
a link of two of Italian sausage (remove the casing!)

1. Sort and rinse off the beans. I like to go over them about 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time so I can pick out any beans that look iffy as well as find anything such as little stones that may not belong.

2. Soak the beans. I prefer the quick soaking method. This entails covering the beans with water, heating the pot to a boil for 5 minutes, then turning the heat to a simmer and letting the beans simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours

3. After beans have soaked, drain them. Then add beans and all other ingredients(exc. spices) to a dutch oven or other large, heavy pot.

4. Cook all ingredients over medium low heat for 1-2 hours until beans are tender. Add the spices (thyme, marjoram, basil and Worcestershire) within the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Enjoy! This soup is good with a little grated Parmesan on top. Serves 8-10.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: One Bite at a Time

The book - One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler by Tsh Oxenreider
Simple Living Media, $5.00 (2011)(e-book)

This book was the perfect way to start off my year! For those not aware, Tsh Oxenreider's Simple Mom blog is a great source of basic homemaking tips. And if you're looking to simplify your life, it's a wonderful place to find practical advice. This eBook contains some of the same advice one might find on the blog, but it's been expanded somewhat and there are plenty of articles in the book that do not appear on the blog.

For me, the greatest strength of the book comes from the format. Oxenreider gives readers 52 projects, one for each week of the year. This allows one to make great changes without getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work to be done. Her idea of breaking things down into manageable bits makes a lot more sense, and I think it's the sort of plan most readers will be able to stick to.

The projects in this book cover a wide variety of subjects from financial management to family relationship building to streamlining those chore routines. Some projects are things that I already do (cleaning as I go along in the kitchen, for example) while others are things I know I should do but perhaps haven't gotten around to yet (streamlining my receipt system - oh, that needs help!).

I tend to be a procrastinator, so the first project in the book was ideal for me. We are encouraged to "Eat your frog." In simple English, this means to take your least favorite item on the day's to-do list and get it out of the way first. Since I started doing this, my days feel so much more positive because instead of dreading a particular chore all day long, it gets out of the way and off my mind early in the day.

And other projects in the book likewise make sense. In addition to encouraging readers, the author does a good job of explaining reasons behind some of the projects she suggests. If you're interested in simplifying your household routines and finances as well as strengthening relationships with your family, then I highly recommend this e-book. It's a helpful, user-friendly resource, and it's been getting my 2012 off to a wonderful start.

BONUS: Tsh Oxenreider is also author of, the book, Organized Simplicity. That book is available in a print edition, as well as an e-book edition. And if you're looking for a bargain, the Kindle edition of Organized Simplicity is available on Amazon for free - today only!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Waking Up the Winter

Winter is sleepy time. Short days, long dark nights wrapped in warm blankets. Even in this year's unseasonable warmth, I find my "get up and go" giving way to the impulse to curl up with books and rest. The longing for community remains sharp as ever, the wanting to connect and make friends online as well as in real time persists, but the creating is a little harder.

Sometimes renewal means needing rest and yet...as thoughts build in my mind, I find myself fighting it. I want to live awake into the winter rather than hibernate. God has been bringing new thoughts to me, and some I need to ponder in my heart, but others beg for expression. That awake feeling of living rather than sitting back to watch life for a season has been taking hold. And so I wonder what this winter will bring, packed as it is with family events, books to read, fellowship online and off, and dreams to dream. Whatever it is, I want to see it with my eyes open. This dreamer wants to awaken.

This was written in five minutes with no editing for Five Minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Midweek Links - Cold Season edition

It's been unseasonably warm here in Virginia, so I thought I'd largely escaped cold and flu season. Erm...maybe not. I'm getting over a head cold at the moment, so I found myself reading up on all things cold and flu.

Over the counter cough syrups tend to make me really sluggish, so I was very interested to see this homemade cough syrup tutorial from Jill's Home Remedies. I'm definitely going to try this out.

In the "Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" department, I also like the idea of this immune system-boosting vegetable broth from Little Natural Cottage.

Since sometimes it can be hard to figure out the difference between allergies, colds or flu, I found this article on one of the Lifeway blogs helpful. It's aimed at parents, but in my personal experience, many of these observations seem to hold true for adults as well.

And I'm sure everyone has heard advice about washing hands often during cold and flu season. A lot of the usual drugstore soaps dry my hands out, but I've found some good soaps online that don't. And many of them smell so nice that I enjoy them all the more! My latest little splurge was an order from Vintage Handmade Soaps. Heather's soaps smell wonderful, and I like how they clean without turning my hands dry and rough.

I hope everyone stays healthy this winter!

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year, New Medicine Chest

First Aid Kit revisited

One of the first things I do each year is make sure that we have our emergency first aid/medical kit in order. I go through and pull out everything and wipe clean the inside of the box or cabinet that we're using.

Step two? Since everything's been pulled out, I sort through things and throw out anything expired. Most prescription meds have an expiration date on them. For items such as some over the counter medications or first aid ointments that don't have an expiration date, I toss out anything older than one year old - especially if it's been opened. Items such as bandaids and sealed packages of gauze can last longer, so I tend to leave those alone.

And now that I've sorted through things, I can figure out what I need. Your needs will differ depending on whether you have children or elderly relatives living with you, what medical conditions various family members may have, and so on. Here is what we keep on hand at home:

- bandaids
- gauze, bandages, tape and blunt scissors
- cotton swabs and balls
- arnica cream (good for aches and pains - do not use on broken skin!)
- neosporin
- benadryl and an epi-pen (I have both food and environmental allergies, so these are a must!)
- cortisone cream
- calamine lotion
- eye cup and eye wash
- rubbing alcohol
- oral thermometer
- acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- ginger tea bags or crystallized ginger (anti-nausea -great for folks like me who are allergic to Peptobismol)
- antacids
- herbal wound cleansing solution
- aloe vera gel (good for burns and if you have fair-skinned people in your household, it's a must for sun exposure!)
- blister stick
- small reserve of prescription meds that might be needed in emergency by anyone in household (examples: extra asthma inhaler, reserve supply of my great-aunt's heart and thyroid medications, etc..)
- small flashlight

Some folks keep both a home emergency kit and a portable one. It's a good idea to include a list of all household members' allergies and medical conditions in that kit in case you need to call emergency personnel. When help arrives, you can hand them the list and it's a big help.

NOTE: It's important to keep emergency kits somewhere dry and away from extremes in temperature. Keeping it under the bathroom sink will subject it to a lot of temperature and humidity variations and contents may spoil.

So, do you have your emergency kit prepared?

Linking up to Homemaker's Challenge HERE

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Verses for the Vidunda


When I read this article from Andrew Byers at RELEVANT magazine about boring Christians, I could relate. I'm probably one of these "boring Christians" myself even if I do wish the author had come up with a better label for those of us who aren't doing particularly glamourous work. I love God dearly, but my husband is not a pastor, we're not overseas missionaries, etc... We simply seek to follow God and to serve as a part of His body, the Church.

However, we "boring" Christians are still called to, "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (see Matthew 28:19) And it amazes me that, in this day and age, there are still people in this world who cannot be reached because we do not have the words. God saved me and His words are life to me.  They are my heart's songs of praise and my deepest well of comfort. 

Crossing distance and learning new cultures are daunting tasks, but how to teach the love of God and the beauty of His Word to someone whose language does not yet have a Bible translation?

The idea that there are people in this world who may remain unreached due to the lack of Scripture available in their languages is not something I can accept. I'm not okay with that.

I've mentioned One Verse before on this blog. And today I am so excited about the official kickoff of their project to raise money to translate God's Word into the language of the Vidunda people of Tanzania. I'm even more excited to be one of the One Verse Bloggers getting the word out about this project. God has put this project and these people on my heart and the more I learn about them, the more I want to share.

So who are the Vidunda? These people live in a mountainous region of Tanzania and sadly, their history has been one of fear and oppression. Over centuries, they have been victimized by slavery and during World War II, many of them were slaughtered. Sadder still, the Vidunda do not have the Bible available in their native language. That's right. A people in need of hope, in need of the true life that comes from salvation cannot read the Bible in their native language. Puts a new spin on something we take for granted, doesn't it?

But there is hope. One Verse has partnered with translators to bring the New Testament to the Vidunda in their own language and they hope to have it completed by 2015. What so many of us take for granted as an integral part of our lives will be available to the Vidunda one day soon.

And that is where we come in. As a One Verse blogger, I will be praying for the Vidunda and writing. All of us One Verse bloggers together are also hoping to raise enough money collectively to fund the translation of the entire New Testament. Translation of a single verse costs only $26.00 and donors will themselves receive a copy of the verse (or verses) that their donation has sponsored. I would be deeply touched if some of you reading would consider assisting us in reaching the Vidunda with God's Word. I may not be called to drop everything and translate the New Testament into the Vidunda language but I can, along with many other "boring Christians", help sponsor and pray for those who are.

There are an estimated 56,000 Vidunda speakers in Tanzania. Those are 56,000 people that God created and whom He loves who cannot access the Gospel in their native language. 

I'm not okay with that.

OneVerse Blogger
This post is linked HERE. I hope you'll stop by to join me and the other One Verse Bloggers in ending Bible poverty!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: Grace for the Good Girl

The Book: Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman
Revell, $13.99 (2011)
That's right. Of all the things I could write about to kick off a brand new year, I'm doing a book review. What gives? Well, I actually read this book in 2011. And it rocked my world a bit, to put it mildly. After going back through parts of it again, I decided that I really needed to write about it for my first post of the year because this is one of those books that lays bare a lot of assumptions many of us have about the Christian life. As Emily Freeman shows us how God intends us to live in freedom and to depend on Him rather than to hide behind masks of various sorts, I find myself inspired to look at my life and to seek my identity in Christ more purposefully every time I look at this book.

The first part of the book focuses on what it means to be a "good girl," living on our own responsibility, our own accomplishments, or our own strength rather than accepting grace. Over several chapters Freeman shows how this mask wearing takes on different forms for different women, but at the heart of it, many of us focus on hiding our fears and weaknesses behind a smile, a good reputation, or a Martha-like work ethic rather than being open and letting God's grace pour in.

Freeman does a wonderful job of breaking down the different kinds of masks that some of us may hide behind. Not all will apply to everyone, but I know when I reached chapters such as "martha and my many things: hiding behind her acts of service," I'll admit that I squirmed a bit. I do tend to see practical needs or to focus on doing things too much sometimes and Freeman's reminder, backed up by Scripture, that Martha's worrying over many things is not the life we have in Christ, really struck a chord with me.

All my life, I grew up in the church. And at times I felt like I was really being good. I went to Bible study, I made dishes for the potluck, I prayed for the sick and had a cheerful smile for everyone at Sunday worship. In short, I was a "good girl." Yet there's a heart to that which is missing if we focus on hiding behind our masks of doing good and being responsible and fail to really let God into every bit of our lives - even the parts we're not so happy about. After all, we do not earn redemption through our own actions and we cannot by ourselves become righteous. And it is in trusting God completely that our walk with Him deepens and we embrace the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ.

However, Freeman does not end by simply telling readers about the various masks. The remainder of the book deals with how we can respond to this gift of salvation that we have in Christ and be led to a more intimate relationship with God. The reassurance that we do not live on our own strength, but that we are safe in God when hard times come or when we fail, comforts deeply. The author clearly has a heart for encouraging women to live in grace and to seek their worth in God rather than to hide behind masks as they worry and seek self-worth in appearance or accomplishment.

Some testimonies out there involve harrowing tales of God's grace rescuing addicts, prostitutes and criminals from their sins. It can be hard to remember sometimes that we "good girls" need salvation and that we need to surrender to God, too. And since this world makes it so easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that we can earn our own way, this book's reminder to seek our identities in Christ is both challenging and encouraging. So if you're a good girl in search of grace and encouragement, I commend this read to you.

And if you enjoy the book, you can also find the author at her blog, Chatting at the Sky, where she talks about life and grace, and shares beautiful photographs.