this is denver

In most circles, talking about the weather is considered lame. It's what you talk about when you can't come up with anything more interesting. I mean, come on. It's weather.

Not so in Denver, where the weather is pretty much the topic of a year-long, ongoing conversation. It changes. A lot.

For example, this month. October started out fine enough - a little too warm for me, but I don't get much say in the matter. We had snow toward the beginning of the month - just a dusting really, but SNOW! There was a frost somewhere in the first week or two, and then another frost last week, I think. Overall it's been in the 70s mostly, with a few days in the 60s and some fantastically "crisp October nights" that I wished for but never really experienced in NC.

Yesterday, Oct. 24, we set a record high of 80 degrees. I got sunburned on my arms while sitting in a parking lot. And tomorrow's forecast is predicting 3-6 inches of snow.

See? Weather is interesting out here!


two fails and a win

Wouldn't you know, I would finally start feeling better here in the third trimester, just in time for swelling, sleeplessness, and general fat-ness to start making life a little more difficult?

There are some things I've been meaning to get to for months... maybe years... that I've finally taken on. As encouraging it is to get some stuff done and have a little fun while doing it, I am not really feeling the Winning At Life. What's funny is, the thing I thought would be easiest ended up being a total failure, and the thing I thought would be the hardest has been surprisingly, upliftingly, easy.

Thing 1 To Do: make jam. I have wanted to start canning and preserving for a while now, but for some reason I have been too intimidated to try it. I've read a billion recipes and how-tos and essentials, but it wasn't until I found some cheap strawberries that I worked up the nerve. And guess what: it is REALLY TART. Like really tart. And a little runny, which I was expecting because I used honey instead of sugar. Mostly it's the TART that makes this a fail. I will have to open my 12 little jars, dump it all back into the pot, add some more sweetener, boil it a while, TASTE TEST THIS TIME, and re-jar and re-process the whole batch. Not the worst thing in the world, but...ug. I already made this jam, and I am not really stoked about making it again. Verdict: FAIL

Thing 2 To Do: make soap. Making soap is another of those things I've wanted to do for a while, but I was (somewhat more reasonably) intimidated. My brother even made me a soap mold for Christmas last year, but it's now mid-October and I have just worked up the nerve. Except... something went horribly wrong with what was supposed to be a fool-proof method. My soap, it is not hardening (that is, I can't get it to trace). I've got another hour of attempting to trace, but if it doesn't thicken up I'm going to have to toss the whole thing and go cry in a corner regroup. (And buy more olive oil.) This is really, really disappointing. I had such high hopes for soap-making, and because I don't know where I went wrong, I don't know how to fix it for next time. Verdict: FAIL

Thing 3 To Do: take down the wallpaper border. The room that will be our nursery was a nursery a few years ago, too. The walls are the only non-[sorta]white walls in the house, and there was a "darling" wallpaper border across the top. I mean, it was cute, but not anything I would ever pick. And not boy-appropriate (in my book). So it needed to come down. I was also planning to repaint the room white, to make it easier to decorate (I am all about easy. Easy totally dominates over cute, in my book) for The Babe of Unknown Gender. But repainting it white meant buying the stuff, painting the walls, painting the trim, and painting the ceiling so that there weren't 3 shades of white in one room (not that there aren't 3 shades of "white" in all the other rooms of the house). So this was kind of a Big Thing that I was Really Not Looking Forward To. First step: taking the wallpaper down. Because I am cheap, I started with the cheapest method - a bucket of hot water and a rag. Not even a scraper or a scorer or special chemicals. And guess what! It worked! I'm only about 1/8 done, but it's coming down pretty quickly. Really stoked about this, especially because when the border disappears and you look around in the regular daylight, the wall color itself is really not that bad! So I'm going to leave it. There goes the major hassle, not to mention the fact that my "total room makeover" is going to cost me pennies. The drawback: I will only work on it while Brian is home, as a safety precaution. I'm standing on a big, sturdy bed (and pushing it around the room as I need to), but I'm still standing on something.


aurora borealis

Maybe it's because I'm pregnant, or maybe it's because there's a record high temperature on tab for today (it's OCTOBER, enough with temps in the 80s already!), but I can't get enough of this video:

Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland 2011 from Flatlight Films on Vimeo.

Hat tip to the Denver Egotist

I don't have a bucket list, but if I did, seeing the northern lights would be on there. That's a trip I've wanted to take for as long as I've been aware of the northern lights. So who's up for a trip to Siberia?

NOTE: My lifelong affinity for the Aurora Borealis had nothing (or at least not much) to do with the dog's name.


What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Well folks, it's been an eventful year, with the past 6 months playing host to some major developments. So what did I do with my summer vacation from the blog? A lot.

1. Brian and I traveled! In the 3.5 years we'd been married, we'd been on one big trip together. I grew up traveling, and Brian has a perpetual travel itch, so it's something that we both would really like to do more of but have never been in much of a position to make happen. Until this year! We took two international trips this summer, and Brian has a third lined up for later this year. There's something so... cool ... about having a new stamp in the passport. We went to Israel with a group from church (and Brian stayed for another 2 weeks to do some backpacking and general man-venturing). It was life-changing, and totally awesome, and I will maybe share some snippets from that at some point. Our other international trip was to Costa Rica for the destination wedding of a friend of ours. Israel was awesome, but it was definitely NOT a vacation. Costa Rica was allllll vacation, and it was glorious. We'd like to go back, and for more than 3 days. We'll need the money to start rolling in for that to happen. Which brings me to the next thing I did on my summer vacation....

2. I overhauled my freelance business! With a new website, some legit government registrations, and even official swanky contracts, Ashley Daoust Editorial Services is better than ever. Well, or at least better than it was last year. Wahoo! If you need a freelance editor, copywriter, proofreader, transcriptionist, ESL translator, or grantwriter, I'd suggest you check out my professional site and see if you think we might be a good match. And I'm working up some literature for a new service I'm offering. More on that as it develops. And speaking of developing (I am on a segue roll here!)....

3. I grew a human! Well, sorta, because it's not done yet. We found out in late April that I'm having a baby! I spent part of April, all of May, most of June, and a good portion of July feeling decidedly not-good, so my productivity went waaaaay down as I restricted myself to doing only those things that were absolutely necessary for survival and sanity. I am sending up daily (and sometimes hourly) prayers that this baby will arrive BEFORE Christmas Eve. (I am also hoarding old wives' info on things to do get your baby to come out. Also: two different acupuncturists' numbers are stored in my phone...they both have great track records with their acupuncture inductions.) The due date is Dec. 22, and if I hear one more person say "well that was poor planning" I might have to go on a third trimester pregnant lady rampage. But threats of rampaging aside, we are so excited and maybe a little nervous about the little guy or gal. I'm now far enough along that I go see the doctor every two weeks, and the baby is head-down which means that I get regular kicks to the ribs and innards, while my bladder experiences near-constant pressure. The good news is that it's actually kind of cool, and not a pain in the butt (or diaphragm, as it were). Ah, the miracle of life. And I think the office pools for gender and arrival date are getting started soon, so let me know if you want in on that. I'll be honest, I am not one of those women who thrives on being pregnant. Expecting a baby is awesome... dealing with the physical aspect of it is not so awesome. If I could just stop bumping into things (and spraining things, and tearing nails off, and hitting my funny bone, and feeling barfy at the sight and smell of chicken) I'd be really down with the whole glowing-pregnancy bit. But being pregnant is no joke... it really does a number on you. I don't even recognize my own body, most days. At least my face hasn't swollen up (yet)... so there's that.

So there you have it! Any questions?


ANNOUNCING: an announcement

It's a busy Friday. Despite the fact that my border collie got me up at 5am, I am short on time to blog. Unfathomable, I know.

BUT! I have stuff to tell y'all! So I'll do that as soon as I can.

Like, next week.

In the meantime, here's another goofy picture!

Woe to you who would dare wake a napping border collie.


CAPTION THIS: funny dogs

I was uploading photos from my iphone to my laptop the other day and I saw this old gem. This is one of my favorite pictures of the dogs, and there are some funny caption ideas. 

He went that way. I'm sure of it.

What's your best caption for the photo?


Monday funny

The major interstate my husband and I travel most is I-25. It cuts through the city and tends to show up in the areas we frequent.

One of the places we take I-25 to visit is the REI Flagship Store. (Coolest facility ever? I think maybe so.) We don't go to REI terribly often, but we go there enough to be familiar with the sights we'll see on the way. Including the occasional stunning vista or two.

But purple mountain majesty aside, I think my favorite thing to see along 25 is the shed warehouse.

Storage, we all know, is a booming industry. My rental house sports a separate 2 car garage along with an additional (empty) shed. My neighbors one one side have a separate 2-car garage as well as a driveway where they like to store their stuff. My neighbors on the other side have three sheds, two of which are 12x20! Every other property adjacent to my little rental has at least one shed, sometimes two or three. Sheds abound. Lots of sheds. Sheds everywhere.

Not that that has anything to do with I like the shed warehouse. I like the shed warehouse simply because of the business name.

Tough Shed.

Oh yes. This place is called Tough Shed and I love it. Specifically, I love saying the business name out loud as we pass it. Sometimes I'll say it loudly. Sometimes I'll mutter it. You never know, with me. But it makes Brian do a 'say-whaaaa?' every time, because for some reason he is surprised by it. Every time.

Nothing gives this recovering fundie the jollies like a 'sounds like profanity' moment.

(Also, Mom, sorry I said hell the other day.)


blogger ate my posts

As you're probably aware by now, Blogger has had some problems this week with something or other. As a result, the posts I had planned for this week Friday  disappeared.

In my case, this is probably a good thing, because I was talking about Amendment 10a, and my thoughts are probably not welcome in my immediate circles.

See you next week!


regarding amendment 10a

Last night, a majority vote was reached in the PC(USA) for the adoption of Amendment 10A, which removes the definition of marriage as between man and woman and lifted the ordination standard of 'fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness,' thereby allowing for homosexuals to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons in the denomination.

I have mixed thoughts on the issue, many of which I will share in the coming days. But in the meantime, and in keeping with the recent trend of posting quotes on Wednesdays, I thought I would share with you this portion of an opinion on the matter shared by Dr. John B. (Mike) Loudon in a webinar hosted by the denomination. I should note that I am a fairly new member of the PC(USA), that the main reason I joined was so that I would be able to serve in voluntary administrative/leadership capacities at the church where my husband serves as Associate Pastor, and while I tend to be more conservative than the average Presbyterian, especially on issues related to sex and morality, I don't consider myself an Evangelical.

Emphasis below is mine. To read Dr. Loudon's full statements, or the text of a full point-counterpoint, click here. You'll find it about halfway down. 

"Most progressives view the issue of gay and lesbian ordination as a justice issue – a civil rights issue. They see it in the context of other social stigmas addressed in scripture. My friend, Jack Rogers, in his book Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality writes that most people in the church have changed their minds on subjects such as race, the role of women, and the issue of divorce and remarriage, and therefore they should be able to change their minds on the issue of homosexuality.

"Most conservative evangelicals, on the other hand, some of whom are also very strong advocates of justice and civil rights, cannot get around the biblical texts that address the subject of homosexuality. They view the Bible as God’s divinely inspired word, and therefore believe they are compelled to trust it and live by it.

"The texts about homosexuality are not numerous, but they are of one mind on the subject

"So the biblical witness against homosexual practice is of a single voice, it is morally wrong, and this is the reason that evangelicals do not view gay ordination as simply a justice and a civil rights issue. Evangelicals believe that homosexuality differs significantly from matters such as slavery or the subordination of women, concerning which the Bible contains internal tensions and a counter-posed witness. Therefore, deep divisions have arisen over the last few decades between progressives and evangelicals on this issue, and not just in the Presbyterian Church, but in many Christian denominations. We seem to be able to talk through our differences on most social, political, and theological divisions, but not on the subject of gay and lesbian ordination, or gay marriage for that matter.

"The new overture from General Assembly states, 'Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.'

"Most of us have no argument with what that says. The amendment is well thought out. Submitting to Jesus Christ brings joy. My liberal and progressive friends have done their homework well. I think it’s the best attempt yet to overturn the Fidelity and Chastity Amendment. But the problem is what this amendment does not say. It does not say, 'Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.' Therein lies the rub. Those of us who are evangelicals believe that the new amendment removes an important constitutional standard on sexual purity and morality, a standard based on scripture that is extremely important to us, and such action is therefore unacceptable. If that standard is removed, many evangelicals and conservatives may come to the conclusion that the denomination has crossed an important boundary and abandoned moral truth and biblical principles."


favorite quotes from Monday

In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.
- Father Federico Lombardi
(h/t Cindy)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 
- Matthew 5:44-45
(h/t 6th grade memory work)


bin Laden's Afterlife Surprise

Recently, Osama bin Laden made his way to the pearly gates. There, he was greeted by George Washington.
"How dare you attack the nation I helped conceive!" yelled Mr Washington, slapping Osama in the face.
Patrick Henry came up from behind. "You wanted to end the Americans' liberty, so they gave you death!" Henry punched Osama on the nose.
James Madison came up next, and said "This is why I allowed the Federal government to provide for the common defense!" He dropped a large weight on Osama's knee.
Osama was subject to similar beatings from John Randolph of Roanoke, James Monroe, Nora Fontaine Davidson, and sixty-five other people who have the same love for liberty and America.
As he writhed on the ground, Thomas Jefferson picked him up to hurl him back toward the gate where he was to be judged.
As Osama awaited his journey to his final, very hot destination, he screamed, "This is not what I was promised!! Where are my 72 virgins?!?"
St. Peter replied "You thought I said virgins? No, no, no...I told you there would be 72 Virginians waiting for you."


"I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then


learning to read, all over again

Have you ever studied a foreign language?

Have you ever studied one that uses a different alphabet?

Maybe one that is written in the opposite direction of what you're used to?

I've been studying Hebrew since January. This isn't the first foreign language I've studied, but it's the first one I haven't been able to read. And let me tell you this: when you can't rely on your eyes to help you out, your ears do a lot of working. It's been really good for me, though. After the first few lessons, I could feel my super-rusty language-loving brain getting back into shape. I love learning this new language, and I don't know if my brain is functioning any better necessarily, but it's running on a different gear, and that's kinda fun. We're moving at a nice clip now, and I can almost feel synapses in my head reconnecting as I learn a new pronoun or a new verb.

I must tell you that it is very reassuring to know that I am still capable of learning a new language. For a while there, I wasn't so sure I'd ever succeed at that again.

So now, after 10 weeks or so of speaking, I'm beginning to teach myself how to read and write in Hebrew. There aren't many letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but it's been surprisingly difficult to pair up letters with sounds with any consistency. I know it'll help me in my studies, though, and it'll be a huge benefit to be able to read when we go to Israel.

The course instructors are an older Israeli couple. The husband, Moshe, is a retired doctor of some sort and is so excited to see us growing in our abilities. The wife, Tori, is very sweet and encouraging, too. They seem to work well together and it helps to have both male and female voices to get the male and female conjugations right. And there's a bonus: Moshe has a hilarious sense of humor and is full of funny commentary.

The other day, one of my classmates was asking about some conjugations. Tori helped him get to the right answers, and then Moshe piped up and said "Now do you want to know why that is?" My classmate said yes, and Moshe leaned in and said "Because that's the way it is."

And that's the way it is, studying Conversational Hebrew at the Jewish Community Center in Denver, Colorado.


the literary monogamist

life is too short not to read good books.

I read that quote somewhere, a long time ago, and in all this time, it has bugged me. The way a rock stuck under my foot when I'm wearing my Birkenstocks would bug me. Birks are a prison for tiny pebbles.

The problem with the quote is that I am one of those people who feels compelled to finish every book. Even when I don't particularly care for the book(s) I'm reading. Reading, which is something I've loved for just about as far back as I can remember, can sometimes resemble a chore. I strap a nice heaping 'should' onto something I'd rather enjoy, and my attitude about it changes.

Does this sound familiar? If you've been reading here a while, it might. About three years ago, I was mired in some pretty nasty depression and anxiety (too much debt, impending unemployment, and an odd but lastimg lapse into wedding PTSD, because it takes a special kind of person to be traumatized by weddings and I am that kind of person). I'd been knitting, but not necessarily in a good way. I had too many projects going, which led to some ridiculous but very real pent-up anxiety and mental self-flagellation. I know. About knitting. Ridiculous, yes. So I decided to go firmly against the knitting grain and become a monogamous knitter.

The benefit to having more than one craft project going at any one time is that when something new catches your attention, you can work on that for a while, until you feel like coming back to one of your unfinished projects. You have options, and the only downside is that maybe your projects won't get finished as quickly as they would be if they were the recipient of sole focus. But you don't usually have to start all over when you're returning to a half-knitted scarf.

Books are a little different - for me at least. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time holding more than one story or argument in my mind, and there's always an expiration date. This was true even before the head injury, but it's more true now. Back before I cricked my neck and swole my brainz, I could read more than one book as long as the books were different genres. Nowadays, if I don't finish a book in two weeks there's a good chance I'll be completely lost by the end, having already forgotten the beginning. If I'm going to read, I need to read one book at a time.

I'm good with this one-at-a-time system. I cook one meal at a time, I have one conversation at a time, I knit one project at a time, I read one book at a time, and most days I don't even remember to consider multitasking. This way is simple. It works for me. That's what is most important, right? It works for me, at this point in time, with my current capabilities.

Accepting this is sometimes difficult. I want to be one of those people who can remember multiple stories at a time. The truth, though, is that I'm doing well if I can remember the first names of the 8-or-so ladies who get together Wednesday mornings for knitting group at the church. And so now, five years later, I am still choosing to embrace the 'new' me and this 'new' reality.

To make it easier on myself, I need to let go of the self-imposed rule that every book I start must be finished. Because life really is too short to slog through books just for the sake of slogging through them. And when my reading capacity is as limited as it is, I need to do some favors for myself.

What about you - do you feel like you have to finish every book you start? Do you have multiple books going at a time? What's the best book you've read recently?


the D word

But I can't think of anything good about divorce as far as the children are concerned. You can't kid yourself about that, although many people do. They say things like, "It's better for children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage." But unless the parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Children are much too young to shuttle between houses. They're too young to handle the idea that the two people they love most in the world don't love each other anymore, if they ever did. They're too young to understand that all the wishful thinking in the world won't bring their parents back together. And the newfangled rigmarole of joint custody doesn't do anything to ease the cold reality: in order to see one parent, the divorced child must walk out on the other.

from here.



a cookie recipe and a subtle birthday hint

Behold, the long-awaited (but requested!) losing cookie recipe that is actually full of the winning:


3/4c honey
3/4c sucanat*
1c butter, softened
1tsp vanilla
1 large egg
2 1/4c flour
1tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (use less if you like your cookies shockingly sweet)
1 giant hershey bar, chopped
1 ghiradelli semi-sweet or dark chocolate bar, chopped

1. heat the oven to 375
2. beat honey, sugar, butter, vanilla and egg. stir in flour, baking soda and salt. add more flour if you need to.** stir in the chocolate chunks
3. drop dough by rounded spoonfuls about an inch or two apart on a cookie sheet.
4. bake until they're done. for me, i check at 10 minutes and decide then.

- *use turbinado or, if you must, brown sugar in place of the sucanet
- **the honey makes the dough pretty wet, and you want a stiffer dough, so you may need to add a few tablespoons of flour when you get to the end.
- mixing some whole wheat flour in makes these nice and hearty - great for dunking in milk, in my opinion
- because there's so much honey in this recipe, you aren't going to get very crispy cookies. if you like crispy, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Because my birthday is Sunday(!), I plan to make up a batch of these. The jury's still out on whether I plan to share any with Brian.


book review: The Charlatan's Boy

I've got another review for the Blogging for Books program. Are you tired of these yet? Here's the scoop: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah, and I'm fulfilling my end of the bargain by posting my review here.

Let's be honest for a moment here. I just finished The Charlatan's Boy, and I LOVED IT!! This novel is so sweet, so charming and soooooo much fun to read. It starts with the cover, which is a fantastic piece of artwork, and the story is interesting and satisfying. It's told in the first person by a boy named Grady.The diction and turn of phrase connote a Southern type of place - maybe Georgia or Louisiana - with swamps and the associated legends of the Feechiefolk who live in them. 

Grady is an orphan who has been working with a huckster named Floyd for as long as he can remember. He and Floyd leapfrog from one village to another, coming up with all kinds of shows and schemes to make money off the inhabitants of Corenwald. Think State-Fair-act-meets-two-man-circus. Throughout the account of their antics and travels, Grady continues to reflect on his history - or his lack thereof. Knowing nothing of his family and unwilling to believe anything Floyd might tell him, Grady feels lost and out of place wherever he goes. His favorite show with Floyd is their feechie show - it's when he is playing the role of a wild he-feechie that he feels content. 

I spent my time with Grady hoping, along with him, that some day he might learn about himself and find his family. He's a sweet, insightful, earnest and unassuming hero, and Jonathan Rogers (the author) has delivered him to us flawlessly.

See my full review here. I would love it if you rated my review, too.
Also posted at Amazon here.

You can see all my Blogging for Books reviews here.


reading, and lack thereof

As I was wasting away from The Funk a couple of months ago, trying desperately not to cough up a lung and apparently torquing a rib, which, OUCH, there were brief but glorious periods when I found myself able to read.

The Funk had burrowed its way into my nasal passages and was building a homey little nest in what felt like the space immediately behind and below my eyes. For nearly two weeks, my days were spent squinting at the ceiling, or, when our wireless router was feeling benevolent, at the iPad as it played all 5 seasons of Say Yes to the Dress (which is perhaps the most delightful show ever made, especially to me, the girl who didn't go wedding dress shopping but who would have loved it).

But delightful as that show is, I am more of a reader than a tv watcher and I have something like 130 books languishing in my TBR pile, or more accurately, my TBR shelves. Not to mention the 450 or so on my paperbackswap reminder list and the additional 180 or so on my wish list there. So really, if I'm going to be quarantined and unproductive for two weeks, I at least want to be reading, if at all possible.

The problem is, it wasn't possible. And my up-to-then established habit of voracious reading came to an embarrassingly quick halt.

It has now been 6 weeks or so, and I have managed to make my way through approximately 3 books, one of which was read aloud to me and another of which was a decorating book, heavy on the photos. For some reason, I've had a hard time finding the reading mojo. This is frustrating because now I have both the time and the ability to read, and my incoming-to-outgoing books ratio has progressed way beyond the point of 'discouraging.'

I think the slowness can be attributed at least in part to poor choice. I keep starting books that I think will be nice, only to realize that I am maybe not so into them. But of course, I have to finish, because I'm stubborn like that. (You were surprised?) And there, it seems, we have solved the Case of the Missing Reading Impetus.

And now I am stuck. Last night I finished the Draggiest Book of All Draggy Books (which would really not be that draggy at all for a normal person) and I can't decide what to pick up next. After a series of false and frustrating starts, I'm a little bit gun-shy.

So I ask you: what would you choose? Here are some options:

- Fun, useless chick lit
- Brainy book on social media strategy (I'm actually into that stuff)
- Quirky, maybe bizarre, novel (which..ahem...I was supposed to review within ten days of receipt, which was like 20 days ago)
- Serious books on faith/doubt/spirituality, deep but think-y and 'good'
- Fun books on faith/spirituality, interesting but maybe not quite as compelling as the doubt-y ones
- Norton's anthology of poetry
- The book we're currently reading in Sunday school (affectionately known as Breakfast Club)
- Essays on Judaism through the lens of Christianity


this will make your friday even better

Brian has an account with something called StumbledUpon. What this does is take notes on things you like and then, one by one, it presents you with another website it thinks you may like. Could be pictures, could be blog posts, could be top ten lists, could be videos, could be TED talks, could be anything. You give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down as soon as you're ready to make a judgment call, and then it gives you something else. I haven't signed up because I don't have much room for brain clutter, being introverted and all. Brian, however, he is all about the brain clutter. Being extroverted and all. He likes all that rapid-fire stimulation coming at him all willy-nilly.

My head would explode. It starts to overheat just thinking about it.

(Now, if there were a StumbledUpon for knitting patterns, maybe I could give that a shot. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my million-dollar idea.)

Anyway. Brian will, in the throes of another evening with StumbledUpon (our lives are so glamorous), occasionally send me gems.

And this, my friends, is a gem. The shiny kind, that fits perfectly into that old ring mount you've had lying around for years.


an etsy item you should see

You guys.

I needed a new glasses case. And I found one. From this shop. And I love it.

Check it:

photo by WickedStella

You can see his brother here.

Check it out. You will laugh. And maybe you will buy your own? (Note: there's nothing in it for me.)

Besides, it's almost Easter. And I'm pretty sure Jesus is the closest thing to 'zombie' this world will ever see.


attitude of gratitude

My family has a fairly open gift-return policy. We give things to the people we love with a hefty dose of 'I will not be offended if you don't like this' subtext. That's not to say that we give haphazardly and without much thought toward the recipient. If I had to guess, it might be a practice developed in response to (alleged) difficulties of finding something that I like. Ever been told you're hard to shop for? I have. (That's why I maintain an online wishlist year-round. Problem solved.)

This return policy, though, it's pretty nice. But I recently found something that could add a whole new dimension, making said policy even more effective.

Behold, the Gift Complaint Form.

It's cute, though at first glance the notion of complaining about a gift is off-putting. But it reminds me of the feedback forms at the college dining hall, so nostalgia mitigates the otherwise-unwelcome pang of complaining about gifts.

Plus, the serious and official format and middle-schooler language of an already fairly ridiculous concept makes it funny to me. It could be an interesting surprise response to a gag gift, too. Or it could be a gag itself! I'm giggling at the thought of my brother receiving one of these in the mail from me (in 'response' to a fictitious gift, maybe?).

My birthday isn't very far away, but I don't plan to be using this form in any serious manner. Still, it's kinda fun to look at, right? (Though if any kid of mine submitted one to me, things would not go well for said kid.)


next best thing

I've been digging this funny, funky Sara Bareilles song lately. It's fun to listen to while unloading the dishwasher, perhaps the worst chore ever invented. Catharsis? I think so.

What do you think of it?


The Garden Project

I should have titled this post The Garden Project, Which Is Sure To Fail. Because I lack a little thing we call 'follow through' - especially when it comes to manual labor.

Remember the compost bin? Yeah, composting only started happening like a week ago. But whatever, it's happening.

I feel like everybody on Earth has a garden except for me. This is, of course, illogical, and yet here we are. Unsurprised, I might add.

Anyway. I finally managed to haul, drag and toss Brian on board with the building a raised vegetable bed idea. I even found a lady on freecycle who wants to freaking GIVE me a wheel barrow. Plus I know a guy who knows a guy who has GREAT manure, whatever that means. So all that to say, I was beginning to think that maybe, maaaayyyyyyyybe, the garden thing might happen. maybe.

The dance of joy might have happened, as well.

So anyway, I was thinking last night about the prime location for the garden. We'd picked a spot, but frankly, I thought that spot would be ugly and annoying and frequently trampled by a hyperactive border collie who Does Not Like Change. And it occurred to me that a MUCH better place for the garden would be right smack in the middle of a Very Odd Landscaping Installation toward the back of our yard.

Now. I haven't shown you our back yard here. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is, our yard is kind of ugly. Other factors include my supreme laziness, my tendency to delete all images showing the back yard from my camera, and also how easily I am distracted. (I was gonna have a picture for this post, but then I got distracted, and then it was dark, and then ... )

And one of the ... less attractive, more difficult to understand ... things going on in the yard is... a mystery circle, outlined in large rocks of about 12 different makeups, and filled with dirt about a foot higher than the actual ground. It really is kind of a weird thing, with various other pieces of rock-like debris filling the center. I mean, seriously. What the heck is that thing? Was there a fountain there once? Maybe a hammock? Maybe a fire pit? But it's too big around to be a fire pit, and too small to have a fire pit AND places to sit. Is it a grave of some sort? (and if so...what the...) I have spent the past 6 months basically stumped about this...thing...in my back yard. It's really just kind of weird.

Incidentally, Rory LOVES it when her tennis ball bounces up there. It's like a crazy-land for ball-obsessed dogs who want the ball to remain in perpetual motion. There's just so much weird stuff for it to bounce off. It is also an ideal location for a doggie version of King of the Mountain, in case you were wondering.

But anyway, when it occurred to me that that would be the best spot for me to put our garden, I thought that maybe we could clean up the mystery dance circle/altar/platform/burial grounds and turn it into something of use. Brian would once again need to be hauled/dragged/tossed on board - I think he had grown fond of the idea of 'building things' and 'using tools' - but before I began a new campaign, I needed to investigate the potential site.

And investigate, I did! I was turning the compost like the most awkward composter you've ever seen (I was doing it with a rake, because I don't even own a shovel, just a rake) and I figured a rake might also be handy to poke around the mystery fire pit/pedestal/henge/outpost. So I trudged over with my multi-purpose rake and started...I don't know, raking the dirt, and the dead plants, and the whatever and stuff. There was some stuff, rocks and twigs and dried up brambly looking plant-like leftovers on the surface of the dirt and I just kind of moved it around, maybe toward the edges or something. Shut up, you wouldn't know what to do, either.

I should let you know right here that I would not have been surprised if I uncovered remains, if you know what I mean.

Anyway. So I'm raking, and I'm looking around, and I'm combatting rocks with my super awesome rake of multi-purposing glory, and I realize.... this dirt doesn't look like half-bad dirt!

You see where this is going. You probably saw where this was going, but like 6 months before I did. You are that much savvier than I.

So then I notice what appears to be the remains of several of those little tabs that come stuck in potted plants.

THIS! used to be a raised vegetable bed!!!

I should have expected nothing less.

Winning, duh.


overcoming my inner fundamentalist, or, how i made peace with the beatles, pt.2

I've previously shared a glimpse into my experience growing up in a conservative Christian family fully steeped in a fundamentalist church. The thing is, my family, while conservative, probably did not take our mutual faith to the extremes I tended toward. I didn't realize this at the time, though.

I set up for myself a rigidly imposed fundamentalist mindset. I thrived in it. Rules? I am so into rules. Gimme guidelines and I'm happy. The more instruction I can find on something, the better I feel, especially when it came to 'my daily walk' and the guidelines of good and right Christian living. If Pensacola College ever invented a 'right and wrong' game show, I would have been the champion.

It's important to note here that while I was taught that the earth is young, that creation happened in 6 24-hour days, and that acid rain is a myth and science is out to 'get the Christians,' I was NOT taught to judge and condemn the world around me. "In but not of" was big in my home church/school, but so was grace, love for the lost and needing, and a genuine desire to see souls redeemed. Today I look back and am frustrated with the deliberate ignorance of some aspects of my upbringing, but I am so grateful for the many other, typical, things my fundamentalist church didn't teach me.

However. My inability not to assign 'good' or 'evil' labels to everything really screwed me up as I got older. First, it was the Back Street Boys - listening to their music on the way home from school did not, in fact, cause me to go and have sex with my high school boyfriend (much to his dismay). Wearing tops with spaghetti straps did not, in fact, send me on a downward spiral to prostitution. And the Beatles, as it turns out, are kinda weird sometimes, but generally not very evil. At least not the stuff that gets played on KBCO.

But more significantly, the older I got, the more I watched loved ones and trusted advisors make 'bad' choices while calling them 'good.' People I thought were 'good Christians' were living with consumer debt. Women whose faith I'd appreciated were in church leadership. (I was actually kind of afraid, the first time I received communion from a female, a church elder. I was 23 at the time.) Friends of mine, otherwise good Christian friends, had tattoos and said 'damn.' My own family made decisions that seemed contrary to everything I'd been taught, not to mention a Levitical law or two. (Yes. That means I read Leviticus. On my own, for my own edification.)

The resulting quagmire of confusion and conflict grew to the point that I could hardly see beyond my faith questions. It led to my undoing - physically first, and later, spiritually. 

I'm still recovering. 


the swing of things

You won't believe this, but I'd actually planned a post for Monday. Planned it in my head, anyway. You remember that cookie contest that I didn't win? Well, I was going to share with you my not-winning* (no duh) cookie recipe. But I was planning to write the recipe post as a response to one of you fine folks actually requesting said recipe.

Alas, I received no requests.

It was a lonely weekend.

So lonely.

But about these cookies. Brian loves them. I'm not really sure why, because Brian is not one to show enthusiasm for much of anything in the culinary realm of dessert (except for his mom's chocolate pudding pie - which is SO GOOD - and this weird pasty bland thing called New York Cheese Cake, which I have never come to appreciate). Brian's sweet tooth must have fallen out or something.

But these cookies? He raves.

I had about a billion leftover cookies after the contest. They sat here on our table in their little lidded bin carrying tray thing for a while, quickly making us fatter. Every now and then, Brian would go over to the table, carefully select one cookie, take a bite, tip his face toward the heavens, close his eyes, sigh, and say 'just like [insert name of some place he used to go to in New York with his grandparents but no longer exists] ' Then he'd pop the rest of it in his mouth and continue whatever he had been doing moments before the cookie hiatus.

It was like watching a sitcom. Or my adorably dramatic little cousin with the British name spelling. Or a really bad commercial. Only 60 calories!

Eventually Brian took a bunch of the leftovers to work, and he says 'everyone' said I should have won. So there's that.

Then again, he is known for occasional exaggeration. So there's that, too.
*flips tables*

So anyway. If you want the cookie recipe that makes husbands sigh but fails to beat out white chocolate macadamia nut cookies in the church chocolate chip cookie contest, just let me know.


overcoming my inner fundamentalist, or, how i made peace with the beatles

I grew up in a big Southern city with a good Oldies station. Every Sunday morning, that station had a program called the Beatle Brunch. Perhaps you have heard of it.

When I was in maybe 5th grade or so, I had a good friend who loved the Beatles. (She still does, by the way. She even married a boy who, she says, looks like John Lennon.) We went to the same school and the same church - incidentally, these were the same place. And she would listen to the Beatle Brunch, getting ready for church and then on the way to it.

My family, we did not listen to the Beatle Brunch. At that time, we hardly listened to anything 'secular.' We had our New Life Christian radio station, and my mom's old Maranatha! praise tapes, and Gloria Estefan  pretty much took care of everything else.

Not knowing much (read: anything) about the Beatles but knowing how much my friend enjoyed this particular band, one day I asked my mom if we could listen to the Beatle Brunch on the way to church. What followed was a 'teaching moment' had a profound impact on the following 10+ years of my life.

My mom more or less told me that no, we wouldn't be listening to the Beatle Brunch, that Sunday morning is holy and that we will be listening to praise music exclusively, so that we could prepare our hearts for worship.

(Aside: If you went to my church, you would probably need a moment to 'prepare' yourself, too. There aren't too many charismatic/fundamentalist/evangelical LCMS congregations out there.)

Now don't get me wrong. I am not criticizing my mom's response. Faith is very important to my family, and we 'do church' deliberately. Church, for my family, is Important, and we Take It Seriously as an Expression Of Our Faith. Taking a moment on the drive to church to gear yourself up to experience and participate more fully is, I think, a great idea. I still prefer to have a few minutes of silence to myself before any worship service starts. People today might call it a 'time to connect' or, maybe, a 'time to disconnect' from the 'outside distractions' or something like that. Surely you understand the benefit, whether or not you would choose it for yourself.

My takeaway from that teaching moment, however, was not that we need to center ourselves around a focus on God before we go into a church service. No, I absorbed something entirely different.

I came out of that conversation with a firm conviction that the Beatles are evil. (I didn't realize that, in 1993, the Beatles weren't really around anymore.)

You see, I was a very, very rule-oriented child. I was rigid in my interpretation of right and wrong. I firmly felt that there absolutely was absolute truth (I still feel that way) and that the world could be divided into Good and Bad. There was not much room for grey area with me.

I still even criticize my own handwriting because my cursive lower-case Ys and Gs don't have 'straight backs' - my grandmother once taught me that they're supposed to have straight backs and I have not, to this day, mastered that art.

I tried really hard to be a good Christian, as much as a lost little girl can when her home life was in near-constant turmoil. (YOU try to have a well-balanced adolescence while growing up with a perpetually sick mother and a father who'd moved to another country!) I guess I felt an intrinsic need for structure, for reliability and stability and something steady to be my foundation. (My room, however, was always a mess.)

I really wanted to know God's rules and obey them. (Why yes, I am a firstborn!) To me, the world was black and white, and that's just the way things were. I didn't approach everything with a critical eye - actually, very rarely did I come to my own conclusions about right and wrong. I ate up every ounce of instruction from my teachers and pastors, though. And I applied their teachings, and the Scriptures, with a wide stroke.

That's how I started at "our family will listen only to praise music on Sunday mornings" and arrived at "the Beatles are evil."

Read some further thoughts here


Ash Wednesday

Dust you are, and to dust you will return.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

There's a deep quiet in my mind today as I prepare for tonight's service. The imposition of ashes causes a stillness that I'd like to recognize and embrace today.

I'll be back Friday with part 1 of a crazy story for you.


the results are in

I won't keep you in suspense about the baking contest.

My team did not win.

HOWEVER, we got loads of nice compliments. So there's that.

Next year, it's on like donkey kong. The 'mid winter challenge,' as this event is called, will be a barbecue contest! And since I don't really have a barbecue sauce recipe (heh..unless Kraft counts) I've got to get to work.

Any pointers?



Baking in progress!!

Image Source

If the cookie-loving folks at my church agree with me on Sunday, I will return to this space on Monday, VICTORIOUS. There's a chocolate chip cookie contest going on at my church this weekend, and yours truly has entered!

Back to the kitchen...


Book Review: The Shape of Mercy

At the risk of this becoming a 'book review blog' - which is not my intention - I am going to keep posting reviews with the Blogging for Books program. I've received another review book from the publisher WaterBrook Multnomah, and I'm fulfilling my end of the bargain here.

Today's book is a novel called The Shape of Mercy. I read this book over the course of about 30 hours, staying up untl 1am to finish it...it was one of those books I didn't want to put down.

In short, I thought the story was very compelling and the topic was interesting - the Salem witch trials, an event I haven't learned much about yet. The writing was sometimes a little too... hackneyed, like the author was trying too hard. But most of the time the writing didn't get in the way of the really good story. If you're looking for a satisfying, compelling, and easily read historical fiction, I would recommend this novel.

See my full review here. I would love it if you rated my review, too.
Also posted at Amazon here.

You can see all my Blogging for Books reviews here.


take me to your leader

After about 7 weeks of illness and healing, I'm easing back into posting here. And because lately I've been in a major music acquisition mode, I've got songs on the brain.

As such, I thought I would share with you one of the first videos I ever loved, by one of the first bands I ever loved.


Take Me To Your Leader, by the Newsboys
(from back in the day, when they were awesome...dare I say?)

In case you were wondering, Duncan (Dunny) Phillips - the one on the hand drums - is the one I had a crush on.


book review: Radical

I just finished reading Radical, by David Platt. I received a free copy through Blogging for Books, a WaterBrook Multnomah program that sends bloggers free books in exchange for reviews. I posted my review here (it'd be swell if you ranked it after reading). You can check out all of my Blogging for Books reviews here.

In short, Radical (and another book with a similar focus, the Irresistible Revolution) completely altered my stupid notions about 'living for Jesus' and what 'being a Christian' should look like. I don't know that I'll really ever be the same. I certainly hope not.


brief hiatus

For all three of you who care, I'd like to mention here that I am taking a brief break from the blog. I've spent the past two weeks in bed, recovering from something awful. I'm planning to spend this week catching up on everything, including blog posts that I have been ruminating but unable to write. I'll likely be back on or around Valentine's day.

Just in case you were wondering...



We've been in our little house for about four months now, and I've just realized that I am still acclimating.

Sure, I don't feel the numbness in my fingers anymore as I sit in the cold dining area, shivering just a little bit as I wait for the heat to kick on (or so I tell myself, when you and I both know it rarely gets above 65 in here during the winter).

The creaky spots on the floor are familiar enough now. So's the raspy struggling fan in the guest bathroom. Even our neighbor's (giant, totally BA) truck that sits outside our window only sometimes wakes me as he makes his pre-dawn morning commute. And the barks of neighbor dogs are fairly familiar now, too.

That's the thing, though. The dogs. I would venture that at least half the houses in our neck of the neighborhood are home to at least one dog. There are lots of dogs. And they make noise. Like, a lot of noise. I'm not complaining - Lord and sundry know that my dogs probably make the most noise. But I just had a moment, and I realized that I have these moments almost every day.

With all the dogs around, and all their attitudes and urgent communications, it can sometimes be hard to tell a shrill bark from a panic, or to tell a lonely, bored wail from agony. And when I hear what sounds like panic or pain from the canine cacophony, something happens to me.

I get a rush of adrenaline. I drop what I'm doing immediately, and make a visual sweep for my pups. Eli is usually passed out on the couch, easy to find. Rory, though, could be anywhere. I'll call for her if I don't see her within half a second, and the clank of her collar tags is instant relief.

When I hear what might be, but probably is not, a distressed animal, and I have to make sure my own are safe.

It's not exactly my favorite way to pass the time. Really though, this might be the only complaint I have about our little house. That, and the chilly corners.


Tha Mountains

Just a quick update this Tuesday morning. I'm still 'recovering' from the events of the weekend, and Monday sort of melted away without my even realizing it!

Specifically, I managed to go along on the young adults ski retreat this weekend - something I wasn't sure I'd be able to do, like ever, for lack of dog-sitting. Which was fine with me, I'm not a skier. But when a friend kept making a big deal about how much she liked our dogs, and I realized she wasn't going on the trip, I thought I'd ask if she'd mind hanging out here while I made a brief escape. She is awesome and it all worked out.

Breckenridge is a cute ski town, but I was laid up all weekend knitting, thanks to my chronic hip problem making a gnarly time of things. I wasn't able to go snow shoeing, but I had lots of down time to finish what may be one of my favorite knitting projects of all time. I'll post pictures once I get it washed and dried.

This week is shaping up to be eight kinds of busy. I totally phoned in last week, so there's some stuff to be done. You know how that goes...you spend too many days doing not quite enough, and then it bites you in the butt? I am right there. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Happy Monday Tuesday to you!


Financial Milestones

I mentioned here that I'd found a list of 20 financial milestones to reach in your 20s. Well, I'm in my 20s, and it's not too late to take a gander at this list. The list comes from Gen Y Wealth, a GREAT personal finance blog for people like me.

I've pasted the list of 20 milestones below, with my comments about where we are and where we're going. All in all, I think we're in pretty good shape. Once I get some retirement funding set up, we'll be in great shape.

Here goes!

1. Finance a dream vacation in cash.  Doing. We've been married three years now, and we've only really had one vacation - our honeymoon (8 months after we got married). We didn't take on any debt for that trip, but a lot of it was made possible by our parents (frequent flyer miles, timeshare, a wedding gift of cash specifically for the honeymoon). This summer we're going to Israel with a group of young adults from the church. Part (ok, nearly half) of the trip will be funded by the church since Brian's a pastor, which is the only way we'd be able to save enough in the 10 months from plan to execution (THANK YOU, CHURCH!!). We are so excited.

2. Pay off your student loans. Doing. I was fortunate enough to make it through college without taking on any student loans, thanks to my mom and grandparents. Brian made it through grad school without any loans (amazing) , but we're still being visited by the undergrad loan fairies monthly. We make steady payments on these and are on track to paying them off early, but there's still a ways to go. It'd be pretty awesome if we could get these taken care of in the next 2 years, but that isn't going to happen unless I start bringing in some cash money (which is admittedly the goal).

3. Automate paying your credit card bill in full. Done, but done MY way. Everyone says that automating your finances is a good thing, and it probably is. But I've found that I much prefer having my finger in every pie, so to speak. I like writing the checks. I like tallying and pushing buttons to make the money go here and there. I like reviewing every credit card statement before paying it off (in full every month). I get why automating is pretty sweet, but I have deliberately chosen not to automate at this point. We do pay off our credit cards in full every month, and I have about a billion email reminders set up to make sure I don't miss anything.

4. Get rid of all bad debt. Done. A lot of finance people say any debt is bad debt. I get that. And I don't like being in debt. But I'm ok with two kinds of debt - home mortgages (which we don't have) and student loans for a finished degree (which we do have). We lived on credit cards for a few months in the first year of marriage, because we simply had no money and all of our savings was gone (not to mention my ability to sleep at night...2008, the year of depression and anxiety). But I found a better job (better pay, not necessarily environment) and wiped the credit card debt within a couple of months. Because that stuff sucks the life energy from you.

5. Build an adequate emergency fund. Done. I haven't really decided what an adequate emergency fund is for us, but whatever it is, we've got it.

6. Make your first, and last, investment mistake. Done? I think we've made ok investment choices, but the biggest mistake we've made is not doing more, sooner, especially retirement investing. BIG mistake. After having negative dollars for a while, I kind of needed to see commas in our regular checking and savings accounts. BUT, this is the year to get past that and start setting up some things for the future. More on that in a minute.

7. Develop a statement of cash flows.  Doing. I haven't done this before now. I kept the checkbooks balanced and made sure there wasn't more outgo than income. But as far as anything on paper, haven't done it. Until now! I spent an hour or so on New Years Day putting together some new spreadsheets for our new budget. (Is it weird that I get a rush from that stuff?)

8. & 9. Max out a Roth and Contribute to your 401(k). About to do. So....we don't have any retirement accounts set up yet. Being nonprofit/church workers for the vast majority of our working lives, we've never had 401(k)s. I did have a shot once at a 403(b) but we couldn't eek out the minimum monthly contribution, so it stayed empty (no employer contributions before a year of employment, and I left before reaching the year marker). I think Brian has a retirement account of some sort through the denomination now, but I haven't figured out what exactly is going on there. But it's on the to-do list for this month, as is opening a retirement account for me! I've started researching and expect there will be a new Roth IRA in my name in the next ...oh...8 weeks? By April I should have a good idea of what kind of contributions we'll be able to make, and then I'll get those automated. Or at least I'll get Brian's automated. Or something like that.

10. Get a degree or certification that increases your earning power. Done? Brian took care of this with his masters degree. Me, I'm not sure how to approach it. I took some coursework, though not a full certification, to increase my earning power, when I was working. Getting a certification doing the kind of office work I do is overkill. As a freelance editor, I've read that certification isn't going to help me out a whole lot since I already have the right degree. But if I do go back to admin work, I think there's plenty of room for certification.

11. Take a career risk. Done! I worked a hellish soul-sucking job right when the market crashed and hundreds of thousands of people in Richmond lost their jobs. In the middle of the bedlam, I got an offer for a 2-month temp job paying a lot more than what I was making, doing work that was a lot more enjoyable, with people I'd worked with before and knew I liked (and who wouldn't stand outside my door talking in raised voices about how some people had better step up their game because there were lots of people looking for work). I decided to go for it. And it worked out to my great benefit. My new boss connected me with a friend who needed someone to do what I do, which led to probably the best job I've ever had. I was really sad to leave that job when we moved out here, but I'm crossing my fingers that my days with the organization aren't over.

12. Negotiate something. Done. I don't think I've negotiated anything of import (though marriage has been one long negotiation, it seems). I do negotiate every Craigslist deal I've done, though. Brian is a terrific negotiator when he sets his mind to it. He talked himself out of a contract with one cell phone company 9 months early and then talked himself into a contract with a new company to include no startup fees and a reduced price on a cell phone. I'm still dazzled by that, and it happened a year ago.

13. Earn your first side grand. Doing. I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way! Brian's about halfway there, too, I think. Though he's not really trying.

14. Start a sub-savings account for an upcoming financial goal. Done, basically. Our banks don't do this, and the ones that do offer a lower interest rate, so I keep the numbers on a spreadsheet instead. I'd rather earn higher interest and still have the numbers handy. If you're really into line-item savings, ING Direct gets rave reviews.

15. Set a target retirement date. Um... not there yet. I can get my head around retirement savings, but retirement itself is kind of an enigma. I guess I would have had to have a steady career for retirement to be a factor. Brian says he doesn't want to retire...we'll see what he says when he's 65. I think that's kind of a minister thing, though...not retiring.

16. Monitor your credit. Done. For three years now. Did you know I have credit accounts dating back to 1978? This is of particular interest to me, given the fact that I was born in 1983.

17. Say no to a financial salesman. Done. Step off, life insurance salesman guy. We've got bigger priorities right now.

18. Give just enough to make it hurt. Done, and doing. We made a lot more money last year than we have ever before. We also gave away a lot. Some days I really would have liked to skip the giving, just for a month or two. But we never did. And that hurt. Looking at our donation balances and comparing them to our student loan balances hurts. Those debts could be more than halfway paid down by the amount we gave last year. But ultimately, giving is more important to us. I'm really glad we stuck with it.

These next two are for the Over Achiever, which I apparently am not. 

19. Invest $1 for every $1 you spend. Right now this is simply not feasible. I'm ok with that, though. Unless you define 'spending' as leisure/recreational spending, and not total spending. If that's the case, we probably could do this. If we chose to, anyway.

20. Start a 529 College Savings Plan. I get how flexible and cool these things are, even for folks without kids, but I think it's more important for us to get our loans paid off and our retirement beefed up before looking at things like this. 

So tell me, what do you make of this list? Like it? Hate it? Wish you never saw it?


How to make Greek yogurt

What is this madness?

We've been making some changes in our food habits lately. Eating more vegetables. Eating  less in general. Making less-bad snack choices (usually). Brian's been having yogurt-based smoothies. I have kefir when it's in the house. 

Brian asked the other day what the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is. My understanding is that Greek yogurt is regular yogurt with whey drained out of it. Incidentally, it's pretty easy to make. I made my first go of it yesterday, with a little encouragement from my Nourishing Traditions cookbook.*

Have you ever gone a day or two and then looked at your yogurt tub and found this yellowy liquid in the middle? That stuff is whey. And have you noticed that the yogurt itself is a little thicker when it separates like that? Ta-da, Greek yogurt by neglect!

It's easy to make on purpose, too. Most instructions will tell you to set a strainer in a bowl, line it with cheese cloth or a dish towel, and spoon the yogurt into it. Check back in a couple of hours and test it for thickness. When it's as thick as you like it, put it in a container. 

Me, I'm not so much into washing dishes when I don't have to. So I saved the previous yogurt container and washed it. If you look at that picture, you can figure out what else I did....but I'll spell it out for you here, anyway. 

I pulled the yogurt container from the fridge, folded up some cheesecloth, rubber-banded it over the container, and turned that thing upside down over the empty one. Easy, peasy, and no extra dishes to wash. (I did wash the cheesecloth, though. That stuff is gonna see some good use.)

Too thick? Stir some whey back in. 
Lots of time to wait? Let it drain until it's done draining and you've got cream cheese!

My guess is that most people toss the whey, which is unfortunate because there's some cool stuff you can do with whey. I haven't tried any of it yet, but I have some ideas. It'll keep in the fridge for 6 months, they say, so I've got time. 

I'm thinking about soaking rice grains before cooking them and/or playing with something called lacto-fermentation. 

I really love this stuff. 

*Not an affiliate link.

What's the most ambitious thing you ever made, in the kitchen or otherwise?


frugal hack-job of the day

I washed a load of dog towels the other day. You know, the ones we use to clean up messes the dogs (and maybe the people) make from time to time. It's the stash of towels Brian and I brought to the marriage and thankfully replaced via wedding gifts. They didn't see the light of day much, other than use as makeshift bath mats, until Rory came along. 

The Danger of Working Dog Puppies in Apartments

Rory, you may know, was a hot mess as a puppy. She was, to put it nicely, a roly-poly bundle of floppy, bouncy, fluffy, shrieking, chewing, pooping, agonizing hell. And she really did a number on my psyche these towels. There are holes in every single one. Some of them progressed beyond holes into 'half-shredded' territory. The shreds and strings would always get tangled and caught in the wash, but I, as a young mom puppy caretaker, was exhausted. (This animal, she sucked my lifeforce. All of it. Bone dry. It's a wonder that she and I both managed to survive her early youth.) And in that exhaustion, I could never manage to cut more than a few of the strings at a time. 

That was then, this is now

Thankfully, we have progressed. I learned to stop putting towels in her crate, and then we moved to a place more suited for her insanity nature. We might cycle through the towels once a month at this point, rather than once a day. 

As I was attempting to fold the load of towels, it occurred to me that perhaps it was high time that I create some order out of the jumble of strings and tangles and holes. And so I did.

I thought about documenting the process, but really, who wants to see pictures of cutting up old towels? That's what I thought. 

What took ya?

This is one of those things that was on my mental to-do list forEVER. It took maybe 10 minutes to finish. And what a relief to check this one off the list!! I now have some cleaning rags, which I use all the time now that I'm a housewife again, and a few larger pieces that are about half the size of a regular bath towel. I put all the strings and bits and scraps in our lint bag, which we take on camping trips to start camp fires. And there were a few odd-sized pieces that will do nicely for another sewing project of a personal and feminine nature. (Take a guess if you're so inclined.)

The Greater Good

It feels so good to take something that looks like trash and reuse it - in this case, every bit of these towels will be reused. This may be my triumph of 2011. Fortunately I've got about 350 days to top it.

What's your greatest frugal hack to date?