Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Please, Feed the Birds

It gets really cold, snowy and windy in this lovely state of Iowa.

Because of our harsh winter weather, I like to feed the birds and other furry critters.

However, the antics of these two delinquents is not exactly what I have in mind:

This morning I read the forecast for 3-6 inches of snow, so I refilled all the bird feeders. Today is the day they will load up on calories to help them keep warm when the snow flies tomorrow, and our temps hit the deep freeze on Thursday and Friday. Feeding the birds can be as easy or complex as you'd like. A board or piece of cardboard on the ground makes a great place to dump a scoop of sunflower seeds. Many of the birds that hang out in Iowa during the winter like to eat off the ground and love sunflower seeds. (So do the squirrels.)

I recently made a batch of homemade suet for my feathered friends. It's super easy to make and young children would love to help stir this up.

Superb Suet Cakes
1 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 c. water
1 c. sunflower seeds, cracked corn, or wild birdseed
1 c. peanut butter
1 c. raisins

Mix everything in a glass bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stir.
Layer in a square container to match the size of square suet feeders, separating layers with waxed paper. Cover and freeze until solid. If you don't have a square suet feeder (see mine in the picture, hanging above the deer), freeze in a 2 cup plastic bowl. When frozen, place the suet in a mesh bag (like clementines or oranges come in) and hang outside. 

It's really fun to do backyard bird watching in the winter, and the critters will be so grateful they'll show up often to see what's for lunch.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Streusel Coffee Cake DIY Mix

While my family spent their days on skis flying down the sides of mountains last week, I led a tamer life back at the lodge. For months, I have been planning  to make a collection of my breakfast recipes like my favorite supper recipes on a ring that I made last winter. I took the breakfast recipe project along to Colorado.

In the process of re-copying some of my favorite breakfast recipes, I came across this coffe cake mix recipe that looked great, but never got baked in my kitchen. :(
I recently held "test kitchen" week for a few of the breakfast recipes, and the coffee cake passed with flying colors. Keep in mind it is a DIY mix. I copied it from Quick Cooking July/August 1998. (yeah, I was pregnant with my 8th grade son that summer)

Streusel Coffee Cake Mix
cake mix:
4 1/2 c. flour
2 1/4 c. sugar
2 T. baking powder
1 1/2 t. salt

streusel topping:
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 T. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 c. chopped nuts
(I didn't have nuts, and added more brown sugar and flour.)

to make the coffee cake:
2 c. cake mix
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. oil
Mix and pour into 9x9 inch pan.
Mix 3/4 c. streusel with 1 T. melted butter and sprinkle over cake.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

I like to keep mixes like these in large plastic canisters/containers, which makes it easy to scoop out the mix. I often label the front with a sticky note that includes the ingredients, so that I don't even need to get out the recipe. You could also store it in pre-measured ziploc baggies.
This recipe makes three 9x9 pans, with some mix leftover (annoying--I'll probably try to add some ingredients to get it to come out to an even 4 pans next time).

This coffee cake goes well with these fruit smoothies. Just ask my kids!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Five--Colorado Ski Trip 2013

1. We went to Beaver Creek in Avon, Colorado, last weekend and had a great time. Last year's trip was cancelled due to lack of snow, so everyone was excited to hit the slopes this year.
I see less and less of the family now, compared to when we started going to Beaver Creek in 2007. Don't worry--we have plenty of bonding time while we drive there and back! Speaking of which...who wears shorts to go to Colorado in January?

The first few years we went,  I had to help get kids to and from ski school each morning and afternoon.  This meant carrying the little kids' skis for them and taking boots to change into later, so they could walk back to our condo. I would pack a bag to haul ski gear in afterwards, another bag with extra gloves, boots, snacks, money for hot chocolate, stuff to do, and then I would sit in an easily accessible location for them to come warm up periodically.
Hot chocolate break with mom -- Jan 2007

I got in a lot of reading by cozy fires while I waited during those trips. I would also take lots pictures and occasionally see them get on the lifts or ski down to the base. We juggled kids around a lot more, because of differing abilities and endurance.
Now they leave in the morning, show up for lunch, and then drag in at the end of the day when the lifts close. They are hungry, cold and/or sweaty and tired. They don't want their pictures taken. We still have a great time...I do more of my own thing and feed them, and they do more serious skiing than ever before. The younger kids keep up with the older ones! I am thankful that Ellyn gets some pictures with her camera or phone on the tops of mountains. :)
We have tons of pictures from other years, right?

2. While I was killing time and the others were skiing, I made a tree skirt, recopied all my breakfast recipes, started an online class, started thinking about out how to relocate my craft room/supplies, read a couple of magazines, cooked some food, did some laundry, and enjoyed a hot chocolate break at Starbucks with some of the skiers. We also enjoyed our traditional meal at Blue Moose Pizza. Not a bad way to spend three days!

3. During the two days spent driving to and from Colorado, I didn't drive one minute.
We have four licensed drivers and one with a permit. Five out of six people could legally drive! Thanks for letting me off the hook, family!

4. We had a hilarious conversation about our genealogy over supper one night. It even included a phone call to my mom to clarify some names/relationships. Brandon quickly wrote out a family tree, showing several generations in linear form to help Meg understand which generation of cousins she lined up with. Rather than writing out all four Carson kid names, he quickly wrote "allofus" which equals "all of us" if you include spaces in the correct places. Ryan took the chart and reviewed all the names of relatives going back several generations. Then said, "Wait a minute...who's Allofus?" Brandon explained that it was actually supposed to say "all of us" and we all died laughing. Ellyn suggested we destroy this piece of paper, in case it became an official family record down the line causing someone else to think there was once a Carson kid named "Allofus".

5. It never gets old going to Beaver Creek. We were there this summer too, and I didn't mind one bit!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

They grew while I was gone...

My paper whites, which my kids now call my onions, are growing like crazy.
I planted them less than 2 weeks ago. I can't wait for them to bloom!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Parenting: It’s Never an Interruption, by Paul Tripp

This article was emailed to parents by our church's youth pastor.
It's too good to not pass on. I need to read this over and over, and I'm guessing if you have kids, you'll find something that you needed to hear, as well.

Parenting: It’s Never an Interruption

Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don't really know what's going to happen next. You don't really know when you'll have to enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, holdout for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see their heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love.

What you do know is that Scripture gives you the wisdom that you need and your always-present Messiah gives you the grace that you need to be ready to respond to the moments of opportunity he’ll give you. Along with this, you and I must remember that our Lord loves our children more than we ever could and his commitment to their growth and change is more faithful and persevering than ours could ever be. Because of this, in his grace and love, he’ll manufacture moments that expose the needy hearts of our children to us. He’ll faithfully employ the little moments of everyday life to expose to us and our children their need of rescuing and forgiving grace. And he’ll not do this only at the moments which you feel are appropriate and when you feel most prepared.

Let me give you an example. We had planned a day at a local theme park with our children. I was anticipating a day of familial amusement park bliss. You know, I was hoping that on this day my children would be self-parenting and if God could throw in a fully sanctified wife that would be cool! Well, we get to the park and are getting out of the van and one of my children said, "Dad, may we have something to drink before we go into the park?" It didn't seem like a dangerous request. I opened the cooler, which was full of soft drinks, and all of my children sighted in on the one can of soda that they all knew was the best. Immediately, global nuclear war broke out. They were pushing and shoving, grabbing and pulling, throwing ice at one another, saying unkind things and hitting one another's hands out of the way. I couldn't believe it, we’re not in the park yet and my day was already ruined!

So I jumped in and said, "Do you want to fight? We don't have to pay all this money for you to fight. I'll take you home, put a cooler in the backyard with one can of soda in it and you can fight forever!" Soon my children aren't fighting anymore because they're watching the crowd gather as I lose it in the parking lot of the theme park.

Let's analyze what's going on in this moment and what's happening inside me. What's going on is that a God of grace is taking a mundane moment of daily family life and using it to do something wonderful for my children and for me. He's making the condition of their hearts visible in order to produce concern in me that would hopefully result in awareness and a desire to change in them. But I'm not at all encouraged in this moment with what God is doing. You see, I'm not angry in the parking lot because my children are sinners. No, I'm angry that God has exposed their sin, and because he has, I have to forsake my agenda for the day and parent them! It all seemed a huge imposition; a hassle that I just didn't want to deal with.

But the reality is that if your eyes ever see, or your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, rebellion or failure of your children, it’s never an imposition. It’s never an interruption. It’s never a hassle. It’s always grace. God loves your children; he’s put them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace he will reveal their need to you again and again so that you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith and change. And because in these moments he asks you to forsake your agenda for his, this opportunity of grace isn’t just for your children, it's for you as well.
But my problem is that there are moments when I tend to love my little kingdom of one more than I love his. So I'm impatient, discouraged or irritated, not because my children have broken the laws of God's kingdom, but the laws of mine. In my kingdom there shall be no parenting on family vacation days, or when I am reading the paper on my iPad, or after ten o'clock at night, or during a good meal, or... And when I'm angry about interruptions to my kingdom plan there are four things I tend to do:

1.I tend to turn a God-given moment of ministry into a moment of anger.

2.I do this because I’ve personalized what isn’t personal. (Before we left for the amusement park that day, my children didn't plot to drive me crazy in the parking lot).

3.Because I’ve personalized what isn’t personal, I am adversarial in my response. (It's not me acting for my children, but acting against them because they’re in the way of what I want).

4.So I end up settling for situational solutions that don't really get to the heart of the matter. (I bark and order, I instill guilt, I threaten a punishment and walk away, and my children are utterly unchanged by the encounter).

There’s a better way. It begins with praying that God would give you new eyes; eyes that are more focused on his eternal work of grace than on your momentary plans for you. This better way also includes seeking God for a flexible and willing heart; ready to abandon your agenda for God's greater plan. And it lives with the confidence that God is in you, with you, and for you, and will give you what you need so that you can face, with courage and grace, the parenting moment that you didn't know was coming.

link to the article:
Parenting: It’s Never an Interruption

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Something Fresh for the New Year

Do you grow paper whites?

I love to get them each year to brighten the winter with some pretty white blooms.

I usually find a ready-to-go bulb kit sometime in December. This year I did things a little differently.

I wanted to use some of my own containers and grow the bulbs in rock instead of soil.
My local Earl May store had a nice supply of bulbs and rock. I picked up a couple of extra containers, as well.

Paper whites are so easy:
--layer soil or rocks in bottom of container (probably need at least 2 inches)
--cover the base of the bulbs at least half way with soil or rock to anchor/stabilize
--water until soil is damp or water level is just below the base of the bulbs
--place the container in a location with lots of light
--you should have blooms in approximately 6 weeks

I'll be sure to post more pictures later to report on the growth, but for now, here are some shots from "planting day."

One of my kids (20 yr old) had a friend over, and the friend asked if I was growing onions in rocks. :)
"Ummm, no. I buy my onions at the store."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday Five--on Saturday

1. This week has been quiet and slow, allowing me to get to some extra projects. I love updating the photo albums in January, but I really wish I hadn't "saved" the entire last year of photo printing for now. I am taking a new-to-me approach (wish I'd done it several years ago) this year and making a digital photo book of all the favorite family pictures from 2012. I decided to use Blurb.com.
This is one of my favorites from the year:

2. Did you know you can print your Instagram pictures? I made a Christmas gift/book of my daughters Instagram, used Blurb.com for this book as well. It turned out great. Their website says they print facebook photos and blogs too.
A couple of my favorite Instagrams from last year:

3. It has been great to catch up on house cleaning after being gone so much in December. (I can't believe how a house can get so dirty when a family isn't even home.) This week, I did a new home maintenance project seen on www.Pinterest.com. I dumped baking soda and vinegar down all the drains and then followed with hot water. It's supposed to keep the drains running clearer--I hope it works. I felt like I was doing a science experiment as it foamed each time! I also felt like I possibly had too much time on my hands. This would have never made it onto my to-do list when I was a crazy home-schooling mom of four!

4. My 14-yr-old son just got his drivers permit and started drivers ed class. Thank you to my husband for taking him driving on Saturdays. It is soooo scary to ride with brand new drivers, but hubby says he's doing really well! :)

5. I had two dates with my husband in the same week! My favorite date included lunch at a fun coffee shop and an airplane ride at sunset. I wouldn't mind doing that every week...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year Reflections--2013

I have struggled to celebrate the new year.

The past year, 2012, was a hard year. Not the first hard year and sadly, not the last.

The holidays were also hard this year, because of the death of my father-in-law. I have learned that you can never prepare yourself for the devastation of losing a parent.

Christmas distracted me from grieving for him, and his death distracted me from Christmas. It all seemed wrong. Mostly just sad. The blizzard on the day of his funeral was like another kick in the pants--one more distraction that took our thoughts and energy captive.

Last week, the thought of 2013 made me tired. Usually a new year is energizing and filled with optimism and hope. I usually love fresh starts. I have always liked Mondays. I have not had a good feeling about my attitude toward the new year and my negative attitude about the previous year.

The past few days have offered a quiet beginning to 2013, and it has been good. The quiet has allowed me time to ponder things and refresh my weary soul. I am beginning to feel a stirring within me that maybe 2013 will be ok. The fear of "what if 2013 is not ok" is starting to wane.

I thought I would pass on some of the things that have helped me these last few days, in case someone else is also struggling.

The book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
I bought this book when it was released in February 2011. I started reading it and never got past the first two chapters. This week it is just what I need, and the words are soaking into my soul like rain on dry land. It has helped me turn my focus from negative things to everyday blessings.

I read through my journal of inspiring scripture and quotes. I have written "special things" in it for the past few years. I really needed this one and it ties in so well with the message of One Thousand Gifts.
"The unthankful heart...discovers no mercies. But let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings." --Henry Ward Beecher

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

My Bible Study Fellowship lesson today focused on the Lord being our shield.
These verses are very comforting in a time when I feel vulnerable to pain and hurt.

Psalm 3:3
You are a shield around me, O Lord; You bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

Psalm 28:7
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.

Psalm 91:4
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 119:114
You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.

Thank you, Jesus, for being hope and light in a dark world. Help me bring the hope of You to others who need to know. I pray that you will use me and change me to be more like You in 2013 and that I can be transformed by being thankful.