Cookies & Stir-Fry

Well, so much for my weekend full of projects. I spent most of the weekend doing absolutely nothing, i.e. catching up on episodes of Raising Hope, sleeping/napping, and watching the Butler/Florida game at Chili's with Deric. (Side note: Eating only bottomless chips & dip and a Coke + 3 refills for dinner isn't a great idea.) It was a great weekend, but I went back and forth between enjoying being lazy and wishing I had the energy to get something done. But then I thought about the upcoming week and the exhaustion caused by 2 1/2 year olds, and I didn't feel so bad.

I made up for my laziness a little on Sunday night, however. If you'll glance over to the right of this here blog, you'll notice that I follow Elizabeth @ Lizzy Writes. I don't actually know her, but I wish I did. She went to culinary school and therefore has some seriously good recipes. I've tried a few of them before and always liked the dishes. So on Sunday night, Deric and I made her stir-fry pasta for dinner. Its a perfect dinner for us because Deric loves anything stir-fried whereas I love anything with pasta. Needless to say, we both loved the recipe and will have it again.

Didn't stop there, though. Deric innocently picked up a bag of chocolate chips at Walmart knowing full well that I would end up baking chocolate chip cookies. He claimed the chips were so he could make chocolate chip pancakes, but he knows I hate them and would rather make cookies so that I don't miss out on the chocolate. So, back to Lizzy Writes for her so, so, so good chocolate chip cookies. I've never been able to make chocolate chip cookies that stay soft after they cool, and her recipe solved my dilemma. I froze most of the dough and every day this week, I've heated up five or six cookies and we've shared them. Before dinner, which is definitely when they taste the best.

I've got at least four or five more of Elizabeth's recipes written down and waiting for me (or Deric, since he cooks now...). But not tonight. We've been saving an Olive Garden gift card since Christmas and we can't wait any longer :)


Oh, the Places We Go

(Dr. Seuss, anyone?)

Last weekend, as you already know, Deric and I traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to look at a church. It was a long weekend. We left around 7pm Friday after I got off work and we packed up the car. We drove until midnight and stayed in a hotel near Lansing, then got up at 6:30 to leave by 7/7:30 and drive five more hours. We got into Sault Ste. Marie (a town on the northern coast) around 12:30, met up with the minister for lunch, then headed to the church for an interview with the elders. After two hours with the elders, one of the elders took us on a brief tour of the town and then we headed back to the church for a potluck dinner. Thankfully, after the dinner we went to our hosts' home and had a chance to relax. The next morning, we did Sunday school and church, hung around to meet some of the members, then went to lunch with the minister and a few elders and their families. And before we knew it, we were back on the road for a 9 hour drive home. Needless to say, it felt so good to get home that night. I'm not one for roadtrips so it works out perfectly that Deric enjoys driving those long hours. We listened to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for probably 17 of the 18 hours we were on the road. Deric loved it and since he was driving, I figured I'd let him listen to whatever he wanted :)

I didn't have time to take any great pictures-- most of these were snapped on the way up to the Sault or on the drive through town on Saturday afternoon.

View of Lake Michigan (I assume) as we crossed the bridge to the UP.
Completely frozen over. Not a good sign :)

The next exit after Sault Ste. Marie. 

View from our hosts' back window. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture
 of the sunset we saw Saturday night, which was stunning.

But even when its cloudy, it was still really pretty.

Canada, right across the river.

As for whether or not we'll be taking the position up there, we haven't decided yet. We're still praying and asking God for discernment. We both feel that we'd need a fair amount of convincing to move somewhere thats so cold for so many months and is somewhat remote. So we're praying that if God wants us to be there, He makes it very, very obvious. I'm just not sure I could handle six months of winter :)



I am so unbelievably happy its Friday (night, now)! Its been two weeks at the new job and I'm worn out. Two-and-a-half year olds ask more questions than I ever thought possible.

"Ash-e-ley, whatcha doin'?"
"Cleaning off the table."
"Ash-e-ley, whatcha' doin?"
"Cleaning off the table."
"Ash-e-ley, whatcha' doin?"
"Cleanin' off da table."

Now multiple that times twelve (since that's just one little friend) and then multiply that times, oh, maybe one hundred times a day. Oh, and add in potty training twelve kids at one time. I think its safe to say I just want some peace and quiet, some me time.

And that's what this weekend is for. Last weekend, we left immediately after I got off work at six to drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to check out a church. (I'll post about that tomorrow.) We had no time to relax all weekend and then it was straight back to work for the week. After that, it feels so good to have absolutely nothing planned this weekend. I'm going to sleep in (of course), maybe paint, maybe sew, finish my library book, get more library books, catch up on reading blogs, clean the house, and watch basketball with Deric. Bliss.

Happy weekend!


Welcome, Spring.

In celebration of the first full day of spring-- not to mention the 70 degree weather-- Deric and I spent the evening in the backyard. Deric started a fire in the firepit and I had the luxury of sitting back and watching him do all the work :) It was so unbelievably peaceful that we're going to do it again tonight, despite the chance of rain. After a winter spent cooped up inside watching movies and The Office, it was so nice to get outside, feel a breeze, and not listen to or watch anything except the bugs and the sunset.

Thank the Lord for spring!


Chef in the Making

While there are many drawbacks to working full-time after getting used to being home and doing whatever I wanted, there's definitely at least one perk: Deric makes dinner now! When I wasn't working, it was obviously my job to get dinner going. But now I don't get home until at least 6:30 and Deric's usually home by 4:00, so if we want to eat before 8:00, Deric's got to take over. I think he actually enjoys cooking more than I do. I'd rather bake. He's so good at timing it to be ready right when I walk in the door, too. I never got the timing down and would have to make him wait for a while. Always felt bad about that.

Anywho, tonight I came home to a brand-new meal that neither of us had eaten or made before: fettucine carbonara, a la Joy of Cooking.

Definitely not good for you, but it tastes good! I was impressed. Deric says he likes cooking because he's never really had to do it before and he likes experimenting with recipes. I say, have at it. I get to reap the benefits :)


Lightning Fast

That's how fast I was moving on my lunch break today. (That's also how fast I tell my kids to move to clean up, finish their lunch, go to sleep, etc.) I had an hour and decided to check American Eagle for another pair of khakis for work, then return tablecloths to Target that I'd planned to make into curtains. Oh, and eat. Always important.

Ended up that AE didn't have the pants I was looking for, so that saved me some time. I headed to Target, returned the tablecloths and decided to check for khakis there too. No luck once again, BUT! I happened to walk past the 75% off rack and noticed a shirt I'd wanted to buy a few months ago. Nothing fancy, just my typical solid-color long-sleeved shirt. It was so cheap that I bought two...in the same color.

Can you see that price?? I have plans for the shirts-- I'm not buying two for no reason. Ashley from Make It & Love It used two shirts of the same color to create one embellished shirt...

Her tutorial makes it seem easy enough, so I hope that it turns out well when I try it. Even though the shirts only cost $5, I'd still hate to waste it...and a perfectly good shirt. I hope to work on it soon, but after work I usually have no desire to do anything. Then this weekend Deric and I are headed to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to look at a church, so this weekend is definitely out. Maybe next week?


A Visit from Court & Isaac

Yesterday, I was blessed with a visit from Courtney and Isaac. I hadn't seen them since Christmas, so it was great to catch up. I'm always amazed at how much Isaac has grown between visits. He's gotten so tall, he knows a few words, and that fiesty personality of his just keeps developing. Oh, and he never stops moving. Good luck, Court;)

Our time together was mostly spent talking about and watching Isaac, which is fine with me. He did quite a number on our not-used-to-children house. Left a few post-lunch fingerprints on the white curtains, reprogrammed the tv, temporarily lost the back of the remotes, pulled the magazines out onto the floor, scattered all the contents of Court's purse and the diaper bag throughout the house, hid a few graham crackers for me to find, used the kitchen utensils as drumsticks, and used that smile of his to make me ignore the mess. :)

And now, since I know you'd rather me stop talking and just show you the pictures, here's Isaac.

One adult water bottle 

+ one tiny child

= pure joy

& a whole 'lotta dripping.

After a clean, dry shirt, it was time to relax...

and put his feet up. On the wall.


Read It Before You Eat It: Fresh Vegetables

Thankfully, shopping for vegetables is a lot simpler than shopping for eggs. Mostly because vegetables are always good for you, even if they've been exposed to pesticides. With vegetables, making a good choice mostly involves determining if its seasonal and if its local.

First, a few quick reasons vegetables (and fruit) are always good for you:
-Naturally high in fiber
-Fresh vegetables are either sodium-free or low in sodium
-Plants don't produce cholesterol
-More vitamins, minerals, etc. than any other food group

But you probably already knew that, so on to the more important stuff.

Seasonal: Most produce that's out of season has traveled between 1,500 and 2,500 miles to get to us, plus it was picked before it ripened. Vegetables picked before they're ripe don't taste as good and haven't had a chance to develop all the vitamins and minerals. (Side note: 'long-distance' produce uses resources such as oil, which isn't good for the environment.)
Local: Local, seasonal produce is fresher, tastes better, and doesn't need as many preservatives. Plus, you support your local farmers. Epicurious.com has a interactive seasonal ingredient map that helps you find vegetables growing in your area.
Color: The more color you eat, the bigger range of nutrients you're getting. Eat as many bright, deeply colored vegetables as you can. Try to eat red, orange, green, yellow and white.
Organic: With vegetables, organic refers more to how it was produced. Some vegetables are more pesticide-laden than others, even after they've been washed. **The Environmental Working Group says consumers can reduce their exposure to pesticides by 80% by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables.

"Dirty" Vegetables:                               "Clean" Vegetables:
apples                                                      asparagus
bell peppers                                            avocados
carrots                                                     bananas
cherries                                                   broccoli
celery                                                       cabbage
grapes                                                     cauliflower
greens (lettuce, kale, spinach)         corn
nectarines                                              eggplant
peaches                                                   garlic
pears                                                        kiwis
potatoes                                                   mangoes
raspberries                                             onions
strawberries                                           pineapple
                                                                  sweet potatoes

Now remember: we're supposed to be eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. That's 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, 2 1/2 cups of fruit. I'm not even close, unfortunately. Hopefully ya'll are better at eating your vegetables than I am!


Spring. Hopefully.

These little guys have been working so hard to grow. I don't know how they're doing it, considering the on-and-off snow, the floods when its not snowing, and the fact that I haven't seen sunshine in at least four or five days. (At least it feels like it.) They're all alone, too. I haven't seen a single blade of green grass, a bud on a tree, or temperatures over 40.

Despite all that, they're giving me hope that one day (hopefully soon), spring will actually be here...and stay for awhile. I think I still have to wait a few weeks though, seeing as its supposed to rain all day tomorrow and then snow Thursday. Hooray. Hope those little guys can make it through!

P.S. My mother-in-law informed me they're gonna be daffodils! I can't wait to see 'em-- daffodils are one of my favorites.
P.P.S. You know how words start to look funny if you stare at them for too long? I stared at daffodils to make sure I spelled it right, and now I'm wondering who came up with such a funny word for a flower...


Whole Wheat

You guessed it; I made whole wheat bread. I've actually made it three times already, but its a little more finnicky than the sourdough so I'm just now getting the hang of it. I love how it tastes-- grainy and a little sweet, thanks to the brown sugar. I think I prefer the taste of whole wheat over the sourdough, but I love the lightness (is that a word?) and texture of the sourdough over the dense whole wheat. I'm never satisfied;)

I seriously love baking bread for Deric's sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches (fried egg & bacon on wheat: yum!) and to accompany chili, etc. (Deric just told me he loves it too. I already knew that, seeing as he's forever eating it and asking me to make more. I think he just wants to be included in the post.) To make him feel included, I'll go ahead and show you one of my favorite pictures of him...

Isn't he handsome?! I certainly think so.


Read It Before You Eat It: Eggs

Now that I have a 6'6 husband who likes to eat more than just cereal and whatever I bake, I find myself at the grocery store more often than I ever have. Now that I grocery shop more often, I've realized how hard it is to decipher food labels and actually pick the healthiest food. I end up reading every label to compare types of lunch meat in hopes that I'll (blindly) pick the healthiest choice. And then as I put vegetables in the cart, I wonder how many chemicals have been sprayed on them, how far they've traveled, and if they'll even be nutritious after all that spraying and traveling.

So, imagine my excitement when I wandered through the library aisles and found this:

The author has a bachelor's in Clinical & Community Dietetics and a master's in Nutrition, so I feel she knows what she's talking about. The book has so much information on literally every type of food and all the packaging lingo that I've barely made my way through it. I wish I wasn't a cheapskate and could buy a copy so I can highlight and dog-ear everything. But instead, I thought I'd write a series of posts that focus on a single item of food so that once I return the book to the library, I still have the information I want (and now so do you!). (P.S. I'll do my best to summarize; if I use quotes, it's a direct quote of the book. Don't wanna be sued for plagiarism!) So without further ado, the first item of interest is: eggs.

EGGS: What to Look for on the Label

Grade: The USDA has a grading system for quality: AA, A, or B. AA is superior, but most eggs are Grade A.

Antiobiotic-free: Suggests that the hens weren't given antibiotics. Antibiotics may cause illness in humans because they encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The term is unregulated and can't really be verified.
Brown eggs: No difference between brown and white eggs. Hens with brown feathers lay brown eggs; hens with white feathers lay white eggs. Easy enough.
Cage-free, free-range/ free-roaming: The hens aren't caged; however, there may be thousands crowded into a barn or warehouse. They probably don't have access to the outdoors or may not take advantage of that access. There's no verification of this practice unless the eggs are also certified organic. This term doesn't guarantee they're organic.
Fertile: The hens are regularly exposed to a rooster and are probably not caged. Fertile eggs are no different from non-fertile, except that they don't last as long and are more expensive to produce (and therefore more expensive to buy..).
Hormone-free: Hormones are banned in all poultry by the FDA, so companies can't put "hormone-free" on their label to advertise unless its followed up with "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."
Natural: The term isn't regulated and doesn't mean the food is healthy in any way. However, the USDA's definition of "natural" is "being free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and ingredients that do not occur naturally in the food". For eggs, this means that unless they've been pasteurized, they're natural. "Natural" has nothing to do with how the animals are treated.
Omega-3-enriched: Omega-3s are heart-healthy and brain boosting. Enriched eggs come from hens who were fed more algae, fish oil, or ground flaxseeds than other hens.
Organic/certified organic: These eggs are certified by the USDA. The hens are never given antibiotics, they're cage-free and have access to the outdoors. Plus, they're fed organic chicken feed, which is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, commercial fertilizers, and animal by-products.
Pastured/pasture raised: These hens have free range outdoors and eat organically, plus they're usually raised without antibiotics. These hens are able to eat a more natural diet including grass, fruit, nuts, bugs, and worms in pasture. The eggs may have slightly more nutrients such as vitamins and omega-3s.
United Egg Producers Certified: Most egg producers comply with this program, but all it ensures is that the hens are fed food and water. The hens are also supposed to be given enough space, proper lighting and fresh air every day. However, the UEP doesn't regulate farm practices or caging, so these hens can be subjected to inhumane treatment and restrictive caging.

Vegetarian/vegetarian diet: This refers to the hens' diet. If its a vegetarian diet, there are no animal by-products. However, chickens are omnivores so they may eat insects and worms alongside the vegetarian diet provided by the farmers.

As you can tell from the pictures above, I didn't pick my eggs so well. Those eggs are as standard as you can get and are probably from chemically-enhanced, abused chickens somewhere in South America.

The healthiest choice? Certified organic: no chemicals, no antibiotics, no cages & a natural lifestyle. You probably already knew that, but hopefully now you know what all the other terms mean as well. I didn't, so I hope you learned as much as I did!


Like Christmas Morning

That's how it felt yesterday morning when I was anxiously waiting for Fed Ex to drop off my brand-new sewing machine, my birthday present from Mom and Dad. (Thank you times a million!) Here she is in all her glory on my kitchen table, the only working surface with decent light. (We never eat there anyways.) 

Maybe it wasn't exactly like Christmas though, seeing as I knew what I was getting beforehand and had plenty of time to go to Walmart to pick up some basic supplies:

and stop by the library to pick out these:

I know, I know, a little ambitious. But if you look close, the bottom book is a complete photo guide, which is good for a beginner like me. The top three are for inspiration at this point. Its hard to be patient and dutifully work through the instruction manual to learn all the ins-and-outs of the machine, plus all the different stitches, tension, etc. But I'm making myself go slowly and thoroughly learn about the machine. Its a good thing, too, seeing as I've already jammed the bobbin twice... on my first day... doing a practice stitch. So, check back with me in about a year and maybe I'll have worked up to some curtains! :)


Lessons & Cheat Sheets

I just came across Isaiah 48:17 and it could not be more perfect for Deric's and my situation right now.

"I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go."

See what I mean?!
I realized a few days ago as Deric and I were talking over the 'praying over the list' scenario that I had imposed the one-week time limit on God telling us where to go. Maybe I heard what I wanted to hear, maybe it was pure imagination-- maybe I'm getting a little impatient :) It is frustrating to still not know our next step, but after reading this verse I feel a little more sure that everything will work out, even if it takes longer than I'd like. Deric and I both feel that these past few months will be used to teach us something-- no idea what, though-- so I have hope that when we do finally find jobs that we love, we'll be able to look back and see what lessons we learned.

To be honest, I wish I could figure out what lesson(s) we're supposed to be learning so I can grab a cheat sheet and get it over with, already....but somehow I know that's not how God does things. ;)