Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How do you read?

I love books. Books, books, books. The more the merrier! I recently discovered the wonders of the online hold at my local library, and the ability to request transfers from lots of other libraries in north Georgia. Now my insatiable desire without monetary backing is being fulfilled. I do try and limit myself somewhat, because who can read 100 books in 2 weeks? I don't want to be selfish. I do however get several on a subject to see which I like best.

There is a regular routine for me when perusing a new book. I first take note of the title and author, and also what year it was written or updated. (This often will be my deciding factor to even check it out or not. Because, let's face it, a book about great websites to visit that is 10 years old is, well, rather antiquated.) Then, I survey the chapter titles and subtitles and skim through the book, looking at pictures (or the lack there of) just so I know the lay of the land. Now, my flaw to my online-hold system is that I will occasionally end up with books I never would have checked out had I seen them in person before. I try to survey my books as soon as I get them, because I don't want to keep others from reading books I have no intention of ever reading. I love recipes but really prefer lots and lots of pictures. I recently requested a book simply because someone said it was a great cookbook only to discover it had no pictures and few recipes. It was more a cooking journal. Although perhaps interesting, it wasn't what I really had in mind...

I like a wide variety in my selections and will often get things just out of curiosity. I may only peruse at surface level, or I may read 3 books cover-to-cover. It just depends on how interested I find myself. I know there are many things I can read about online, and I do, but sometimes books are easier. Here are my current 'active titles' as I like to think of them. These are personals and library books I am currently reading.

Mark of the Lion Trilogy - Francine Rivers (4th time reading through this, I'm on the last one.)
The color encyclopedia of hostas - Grenfell, Diana
A Greener Christmas - Goldsmith, Sheherazade. (This one is sooo good, going on my amazon wish list.)
The backyard homestead - Madigan, Carleen.
VeggieTales Holiday pack - Big Idea Productions
The complete illustrated book of herbs - Reader's Digest Association (Also great)
The tale of three trees : a traditional folktale - Hunt, Angela Elwell
The birth order book : why you are the way you are - Leman, Kevin.
Grace-based parenting - Kimmel, Tim.
Elmo's world Opposites - Clash, Kevin. (Had no idea they would love this so much.)
Don't make me count to three! a Mom's look at heart-oriented discipline - Plowman, Ginger. (AWESOME)
Photoshop CS3 for dummies - Bauer, Peter J.
Boys should be boys : 7 secrets to raising healthy sons - Meeker, Margaret J.
Green design : a healthy home handbook - Berman, Alan (Alan J.)
Walking with God : talk to him, hear from him, really - Eldredge, John
Home made, best made : hundreds of ways to make all kinds of useful things - Reader's Digest Association
The Georgia fruit and vegetable book - Reeves, Walter.
Trade secrets from Use What You Have decorating - Ward, Lauri.
The everything canning & preserving book - Telesco, Patricia
New herb bible growing and knowing your herbs - Foley, Caroline.
Birth order blues : how parents can help their children meet the challenges of their birth order - Wallace, Meri. (Very interesting - had no idea twins develop an older/younger status usually.)
The complete idiot's guide to preserving food - Brees, Karen K. (great, simple)

(I'm not bothering with my 'on hold' list. It's even longer and constantly changing. When books come from other libraries, it can take days, weeks, or even months if there's a waiting list.)

I am a huge fan of the 'for dummies' series. I've discovered I like it better than 'idiot's guide' and 'everything' series. They just aren't quite as cleanly organized.

To keep up with my selections for future reference, and perhaps, my own personal amusement, I keep a book journal. I created an excel spreadsheet including vital information, how I read the book (all, in parts, skim) and my notes about it. It's not as beautiful as say, a handwritten journal, but the sheer multitude would make that impractical. I want to be able to easily reference this so it serves its purpose for me. Perhaps one day I could fancy it up and print it for a notebook.

So my question is, how do you read? Are you like me with a multitude that you select from reflecting your current mood? Or do you prefer to finish one at a time? I used to do that, no compromise. One day I may wander back to that philosophy. For this season of my life, the book buffet is working quite nicely.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I repent, little Gingersnaps

For many, Christmas is the season for baking. For moi, it lasts all year long! I need no excuse to try a new cookie recipe. However, come the holidays, I am ecstatic to peruse the new baking mags. Numerous times. Wanting every single one. I have only purchased one this year (shock, awe) and it's the Better Homes & Gardens Best Loved Cookies. Lots of fun recipes in there! The one I'm all excited about discovering is the, you guessed it, gingersnap recipe. I hadn't found a really great, "drop what you're doing, they're outta the oven!" one yet. But now, I believe I have.

When I was first making them and attempting to put them on the sheets, I decided right then and there I would never make them again. They were gooey and annoying, even after they 'chilled for 2 hours' just as the recipe 'suggested'. Then they came out of the oven all beautiful...and I tasted one. Oh. My. Yum. Yum. Yum. I was so wrong. They would have been worth twice the effort! Hence, my repentance to the humble little recipe.

My one command suggestion would be to chill the dough in the freezer, not the fridge. Molasses has a very low freezing point, and just doesn't get un-gooey enough in a fridge, in my opinion. It doesn't seem to matter how much is in a recipe, it always means you have a high goo-factor to contend with. (I know, there's lots of highfalutin jargon.) Ok, so I actually have 2 suggestions. I wouldn't even consider making these without my favorite gadget, the cookie scoop. I'm sure other companies make these, but I have 3 sizes from the Pampered Chef. I have used these for 8 years and if I haven't worn them out, they're definately quality! If you currently use a plain old spoon for your drop cookies, trust me, you would never go back. Seriously. And now, without further ado, here is the lovely recipe herself:

1/2 C butter, margarine or oil
1/4 C shortening
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/3 C mild-flavored molasses
2 C flour
(1/4 C colored sugar or coarse sugar for decorating)

*Beat butter and shortening for 1-2 minutes until fluffy. Add egg and beat for a 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients minus the flour and mix well. Add flour slowly. Chill (ahem, freeze) until not sticky and easy to work with. (1-2 hours) Using cookie scoop or hands, shape 1 inch balls and roll in sugar. Place 3 inches apart to allow spreading. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. (Using the scoop, I didn't even shape them, but they came out just fine.)

I hope you enjoy this holiday treat as much as I did. Twice. I find it really helps the flavor if a nice Christmas cd is playing while I bake. You know, something really classic, like the Muppets and John Denver. :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy birthday, boys!

A whole year has come and gone; the boys are one year old. People told me time really flies, and to be truthful, I believed them. I just didn't realize how it would feel! Often over the last year I would catch myself impatiently waiting for the next 'season' in their maturity. The older they get, the more independent they are, the longer they sleep, the less they would cry. I tried to remind myself to try to enjoy their dependency, and the tiny-ness of their clothes and their lack of choice in being cuddled. The other day my friend came by, and she has a 1-month old little boy. He was so tiny! And yet, I couldn't help but think how tiny they were the night they were born, for he was easily twice their newborn size. Weighing in at 5 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds, nearly 2 months early, they felt like cuddling air. I was so afraid to hurt them because they seemed so delicate. You can see how big the preemie clothes were on them. This was when they were close to a month old too, because they didn't come home for 2 (Caleb) and 3 (Jacob) weeks.

As they play rough with one another in their playard, those days seem very far away. They eat well, they crawl and climb, and it won't be long before they're walking. It's so easy to miss all the subtle changes and the daily blessings of their baby giggles. When we're up in the middle of the night rocking one, or they're devastated that I left the room, I pray I remember how short these days are, and remember to stop, and not get caught up in 'keeping up the house'. It's so easy to have a 'Martha' heart and be so busy trying to get everything 'important' done. Maybe it's because that's easier for people to see. We imagine success as having a kept-up house that smells and looks wonderful. Anything other than that might make us appear as though we've failed. But who can tell the hours spent reading and playing with our children? After all, that is what has the eternal significance. That's what Mary knew. While there is certainly a time for the work, and we don't want to be lazy, finding that balance is important to me. (Because, after all, I have Martha inclinations.) I don't want to have a pristine house only to look at my children in 5, 10 or 20 years and realized I missed the investment of time that really mattered in shaping who they become.

But, I digress. Saturday was their first birthday and we had a family party. They were wonderful! They happily ate their caterpillar cakes...

I made 3, because we have so much family...they were a lot of fun to decorate. I got the cake pan for a great deal at the Williams Sonoma outlet. (Gotta love that place...) The boys also happily sat at their new wooden table set from Gamma and Papa. I was totally impressed! I expected them to just crawl all over it, but they sat in the chairs the whole time we opened presents. Who knew they had it in them?

On to their second year...and all that God has in store for our little family!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You could make that, Lee

*edited 7/21/2010:
After using the following recipe for awhile, I have fiddled around and improved it. I found the ivory left a residue, so I switched to fels naptha laundry soap. I LOVE it! It rinses so clean, I noticed an immediate difference. Here is my new adjusted recipe. All directions are still the same, and I now use this as my pre-spot spray too.

1/2 bar fels naptha
1 C borax
1 C washing soda
HOT water

My Grandmother lived with me until I was 9, which I consider a wonderful privilege. She taught me many things, one of which was that there are many things I can do myself and it's not sensible to always be paying for them. Sometimes my mother and I have found this humorous however, because we draw the line in some areas. (While we very well may be able to do that, it's hard to beat buying something for $5 that would have taken us 5 hours to make and probably wouldn't have looked as nice.) That being said, what her generation knew is that it pays to be frugal, self-sustaining and to live with some just plain common sense. Such as, if I can make laundry soap myself, in 20 minutes, and it costs me less than 1 cent a load, why would I pay over 50 cents a load at the store? That one is definitely on my side of the line. And, quite frankly, I think my homemade baked goods and my mother-in-law's bread are better than anything I can buy in the store. Plus, they're so much cheaper!

I was making a new batch of laundry soap for my dad this morning and I was thinking how grateful I am for this small blessing in my life. Sometimes the daily rhythm of chores is very comforting to me, and this was one of those times. The following is the recipe I use for laundry detergent (courtesy of my wonderful MIL). I really love this stuff and feel it is every bit as good as the store bought, with the exception that it actually has less chemicals and my nose doesn't run because it's not filled with perfumes. Oh, and I use it as a concentrated presoak too and it hasn't met a stain it couldn't best.

1 bar of ivory soap, shaved
1 cup of washing soda (not baking)
1/2 cup of borax

  1. Bring a pot of water (2-3 quarts) to boil.
  2. Reduce to medium heat. (Boiling makes the soap foam.)
  3. Slowly sprinkle shaved ivory soap until completely melted. Take your time. Dumping the whole pile of shavings will actually take you longer.
  4. Add about 4 gallons of HOT water to a 5 gallon bucket.
  5. Pour pot of soapy water in the 5 gallon bucket too and stir well.
  6. Add washing soda and borax to hot water mixture and stir well.
  7. Put lid back on bucket and let sit overnight.
  8. Stir well the next day.
*Use 1 cup for regular washers, 1/4 cup for high efficiency front loaders.

Also, you can pour the soap in half gallon jugs if it's easier to measure and handle. However, if you have enough room in your laundry room, I recommend just keeping the bucket right beside your washer. I keep a 1 cup measuring scoop sitting right on top of the lid. Whenever I'm washing I use the scoop to swish the soap around, scoop it out, and rinse it off in the running washer water and set it right back on top of my bucket. This works best for me and I haven't noticed it ever separating badly. If your water is hot enough when you make it, your soap should be pretty even, but kinda goopy. So, if it's goopy, you did it right. Just make sure it's evenly goopy and there's not a lot of water sitting at the bottom or top of your bucket.

I plan in the near future as I run out of my soap stock to try some other money-saving recipes I've researched. Dish washing detergent, dish soap, hand soap, shampoo and body wash reviews will hopefully be appearing soon...