Monday, February 28, 2011

Early Retirement?

At the breakfast table this morning....Cooper (age 13 ~ 14  in April) has already started to work on his pre-Algebra assignment for the day... evidently a pretty grueling one.


Robert:  What award was Sandra Bullock up for last night?

Me:  I don't think she was up for an award ~ just a spectator/presenter at the Oscars last night. Actually, I don't think she's done any movies since Blind Side.  Remember, when they interviewed her before the award ceremony, she said she hadn't worked in over a year.  She adopted her son, and has been focused on that ~ and going through a divorce as well.

Cooper:  So did she retire?

Me:  No, just took a year off, I guess.

Cooper:  How could she take a whole year off from work?

Me: Sandra Bullock has made a LOT of movies and she got paid a LOT of money to do that.  She puts the money in the bank, and uses it to live on when she's not working.

Cooper:  How do other people retire?

Robert:  They work hard and save money for years in a retirement account.  When they need to stop working, they use the money in that account to live.

Cooper:  Can I just retire now?

Me:  Well, how do you plan to buy food and clothes and a car and a house?

Cooper:  Well, can't I just live here?

Robert AND Melanie in unison: NO.

Cooper:  hehehehehehe



Sunday, February 27, 2011

We Love Lettuce Wraps!

 Ever since we were introduced to P.F. Chang's and their gluten free menu, our whole family has fallen in love with lettuce wraps.  I'd never made them at home, but was inspired to try after friends from church invited us over for dinner and served them to us.  They were delicious and the kids gobbled them up like crazy.
 I searched around and read lots of recipes, morphed a few of them together and came up with this beef version.  It calls for flank steak, but that can be a little pricey, so I just opted for a less expensive steak.
We first had these a few weeks ago, and then I whipped some up before I left for the our Beloved Women's Retreat this weekend, so that my family would have something to eat while I was gone.  As you can see from the clean plates and second helpings, I knew they would be excited about having them again. (Oh ~ and the retreat went well, and I'm not obsessed with things I said and didn't say ~ hurray!  Now I just need to learn to stay within my time limit ~ it was a VERY long talk.  Eeeek!)

Next I want to try my hand at spring rolls, which are another favorite and naturally gluten free appetizer/entree of mine.  This month's issue of Eating Well has an asparagus and smoked salmon version that I can't wait to try.

Beef Lettuce Wraps & Dipping Sauce

2-3 lbs flank steak

Marinade:
1/4 cup gluten free soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp minced, fresh ginger
4-5 minced garlic cloves
1/4 tsp black pepper

1 head green leaf, iceberg, or romaine lettuce

Shredded veggies ~ carrots, green onions, bell peppers, cabbage, anything you like!

Sushi rice

Dipping sauce:
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/3 cup gluten free soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp honey
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix together marinade ingredients, place in baking dish or large ziploc bag.  Add steak to marinade, coat, and let sit in frig for 2-8 hours.  Place steak in baking pan with marinade, cover, and bake steak for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 350 degrees.  Cut in strips or small chunks, pour juice/marinade over cut steak.

While steak is cooking:
Shred veggies and arrange on serving platter.  Pan roast sesame seeds until slightly browned.  Whisk together dipping sauce ingredients.  Add sesame seeds.  Wash and dry lettuce.

To serve: 
On one leaf of lettuce, add spoonful of beef, rice, and raw veggies.  Add a spoonful of the dipping sauce, roll up, and eat.  Or dip the rolled wrap into the sauce ~ but no double dipping!  Give everyone an individual serving of dipping sauce in a ramekin if in this case!

Friday, February 25, 2011

So I Said to My SELF ~ DECREASE!

A few weeks ago, we held a marriage conference at our church.  Three churches participated ~ ours and the two church plants that have come out of ours.  Anyone could come ~ married couples, engaged couples, dating couples, or singles. There was a great turnout.  Robert and I spoke on Friday night, giving the biblical purposes of marriage, as well as sharing the many reasons that marriage can be difficult. (We used Taylor Swift's "Love Story" as a way to introduce our talk, and Robert wrote another version of the song from the male perspective ~so funny!)  I spoke again on Saturday to the women, along with my friend Sarah.  Then I spoke again on Saturday afternoon on a panel along with the other pastors and wives and one other couple.

I don't know if you caught it but ~ I spoke, I spoke, and I spoke some more.

Once we got home on Saturday evening, I was sick of hearing my own voice. Sick of myself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Too Pink For Pics

 Just wanted to give another room remodel update for a few of you who have asked about it.  It wasn't so easy to get good clear pictures, as the room just sort of GLOWS PINK now, but you get the idea! We're about finished, and I've been so blessed by how the Lord has provided for this project.  Kayla and I prayed together before we started, asking for His guidance and provision, and in His caring and compassionate way, the Lord has even answered what may seem to some as frivolous requests.  He DOES love to give His children good gifts!
 At church two Sundays ago, Sarah approached us and said she had been reading about Kayla's room makeover.  Then she proceeded to tell us that her dorm room at Smith College is all done in pink, green, and brown, and offered to give Kayla some of her things, since she will be graduating soon!  Sarah went back to her room, took pictures of several items that we might want, and emailed them to me.  Kayla looked through them and decided upon the PINK SHAG RUG ~ OH MY! (she kept looking at them while shopping, but they were not in the budget!), the green storage ottoman, and some pink and green storage bins.  While I was away at the PURE Conference last weekend, Sarah and her boyfriend, Conner, brought them over to our house. So sweet!
 Yesterday, Kayla and I went to pick up her friend Maddie for a playdate. Maddie's mom, Christie, and I were talking about how the room was coming along, and I told her about the remaining things we needed to do.  I mentioned that I kept meaning to put out a request on Facebook for a box-springs mattress for a twin bed.  (Kayla's bed only has a regular mattress, and we were still wanting more height!)  Christie immediately replied that she had a box-springs just sitting in her bedroom, as one of their daughters had just graduated to a queen sized bed.  I couldn't believe it, and in just a matter of minutes, Ryan, Christie's husband had retrieved the mattress from their bedroom and loaded it into my mini-van single-handedly!  We brought it home and put it under Kayla's mattress right away, and it felt like a whole new room all over again.
 This bulletin board was one Kayla already had in her room, which had been made by my friend Shemaiah about 11 years ago.  It was covered with yellow and blue fabric.  I couldn't believe how easy it was to remove the old fabric, and recover it with a piece we had purchased last weekend not really knowing what we would do with it.  I just stapled it on the backside and re-used Shemaiah's buttons which were already hot glued to tacks to anchor down the pink ribbon ~ which I just happened to have amongst my craft and gift wrap supplies in the basement!

The mirror was also in Kayla's room before, but hanging on the wall with white ribbon tied in a bow above it.  The white bookcase was in our living room, but I decided to remove my books, and let Kayla use it in her room, because it seemed to work perfect with her new desk ~ which her dad lovingly put together when he returned from the men's retreat he was on two weeks back. (NOT an easy task!)
Our last three projects will be her headboard ~ a sheet of plywood is waiting in the garage to be cut and covered with brown fabric (click here to see our headboard inspiration and plan!),  a dust ruffle ~ made out of the fabric draped over her desk chair, and lastly, painting the desk chair white and then making a cover and cushion out of the same fabric.

Oh, how she loves her new room!  After breakfast this morning, she said, "I'm going to go back up to my room and read for a while."  And she loves having her friends over to see the transformation.  I hardly ever see them again after they arrive.  They all just disappear into the land of pinkness for hours on end. (Or until they get hungry!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PURE Fun and Inspiration

Yesterday I returned from a wonderful weekend in Texas! There were just so many great things about it  ~ from the sunny and 80 degree weather, to the PURE conference, to time with my sisters, to meeting some new friends, wonderful speakers, a beautiful resort and even more!  It was also Melissa's (middle) birthday, which added some extra celebration.  One more year before the big 4-0!

The above photo is of me with my two sisters enjoying a wonderful dinner on one of the patios of the Lost Pines Hyatt Resort.  Our view was of the swimming pool, golf course, and fire pit, and it was a perfect and beautiful evening after a full day of conference speakers and activities.
 I found out about this conference from my friend, Laura Wilcox ~ pictured in the middle here.  Laura was the first Bible study leader I had in college at the University of Texas 22 years ago.  Laura had connected with the founders of PURE through her ministry with Campus Crusade and Priority Associates.  Laura led one of the breakout sessions on the topic of the pure heart.  She also recently published a Bible study entitled Capture my Heart, Lord.  (The pretty red-headed lady on the right is a childhood friend of Laura's ~ also a blast from her past!)
 It was especially fun to meet Margery ~ one of my sister's friends who went along with us and shared a room.  What a special lady she is, and how fun it was to talk food, theology, and men with her!  :)
 I think the highlights of the conference were hearing from three women in particular.  Lysa TerKeurst spoke three times on the topic of saying yes to God.  Her testimony is an incredible account of Christ's ability to redeem women from the sins of promiscuity and abortion as well as a religion of rule-following. She was extremely funny and yet incredibly passionate in her relationship with the Lord.  Her story of how the Lord led her and her husband to adopt two teenage boys from Liberia (while parenting three young biological daughters) was so precious and miraculous.

Another woman was Lisa Luby Ryan ~ a prominent interior decorator and community leader in Dallas, TX.  I was in awe of her bravery in telling her story ~ one of extremely horrific childhood sexual abuse, multiple abortions, forsaking a husband and children through adultery, and THEN the redeeming and restorative power of Christ after it all.  Absolutely heart wrenching and beautiful all at the same time.  You can see her and hear some of her story here.

Allison Shigo did a short presentation during the Global Ministry session of the conference.  Her love for film making, but her restlessness over the worldliness of the business led her to leave a job with a production company(hostile and anti-faith atmosphere), take a job with a documentary company ("at least these stories would be true"), which led to her coming across a Times article and National Geographic feature on obstetric fistula. The documentary that she produced, called A Walk to Beautiful, on this African epidemic led her to begin a ministry to the women who suffer from it called Healing Hands of Joy.  The work she now does there with the women in Ethiopia is truly beautiful.

My one regret from the weekend is this:
video 
I missed one of Cooper's basketball games and his first points scored in a game.  And it wasn't just one basket he made ~ it was THREE, one of which was a three pointer!  I kept getting text messages like this:  Coop just scored.  Then a few minutes later: Scored again.  And finally: 3 pointer for Coop! Fortunately, Robert got it on video via his Blackberry, and sent it to us at the resort.  And yes, that would be my husband whooping and hollering in the background noise!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some Progress...

 ...but not as much as we had hoped, which trains Kayla in (and reminds me of) a basic tenet of home improvement: all projects always take much longer than you think.

Kayla sent my sister a photo text message of the wall to show her our progress.  The response she got said: "CUTE!!!  Some of the polka dots look like paper plates. ; )"

And she was right.  They were paper plates.  Once we got going on the polka dots, we decided there should be a third color, but we didn't have that color yet, so we used paper plates to give us an idea of where each color was going to be.  It was also an opportunity to teach Kayla another unfortunate part (at least in our house) of room remodeling:  at least 300 trips to Home Depot will be required before the project will be complete.
 So...we removed all of the tape, ate some dinner, changed out of our paint clothes, drove to Home Depot, came home, put paint clothes back on and started painting the white polka dots and the second coat of the green and brown ones.
Well, this is as far as we got.  Three walls have "dotty polks" as our friend, Mr. Hammack in Austin, used to call them, and there is one wall left to go. We did find a desk today and this very cool and very PINK lamp. We are pretty wiped out, and as I write, there is a little 10  1/2 year old girl who just drifted off to sleep beside me.

So thankful for her, and so thankful for the Lord's provision in all of this.  We prayed together before we started the project, for good ideas (faux headboard design!) for good prices ($4.99 curtains, $5.99 throw pillows, and a $19 green comforter!), help in decisions (desk or beanbag?  DESK!), and for the Lord's leading in and filling of all of it (we began with some serious mother/daughter attitude and relational issues!).  
And He has been with us, making it a fun, affordable, and do-able project.

We'll hopefully be able to show you final results in a day or two ~ now off to look over my Sunday School lesson for tomorrow!

While the Boys are Away....

 ...the girls will PLAY!  
Play interior designers, that is.  Pretend we are on the cast of Home Makeover: Extreme Edition, and FINALLY work on the "big girl" room that was promised to Kayla on her 10th birthday in July!

 Our boys left to go on a men's retreat in northern Vermont Friday afternoon with about 25 other men from our church.  Well, almost as soon as they were out the door, Kayla and I headed out ourselves to do some shopping for all of the room makeover essentials:  paint, fabric, new bedding, curtains, and possibly a new desk.
 Her color palate of choice was brown, pink, and green.  We bought paint supplies at Wal-Mart, but the "Associates" were not very eager to mix any actual paint for us (help at the paint desk was called for 3 times, but no one ever showed.  Ahhhhhh!), so we went across the street to Home Depot where they were very eager to mix paint, explain the different paint finishes, direct us to bed risers, etc.  In fact, I think every employee we passed there asked, with a smile, if they could help us in some way.  Wonderful!
 We enjoyed some dinner, take-out style, from Whole Foods, but we waited for a couple of hours to actually eat it, because, as you can see they were having a special Valentine's fest.  There were booths and tables set up all over the store and all offering some sort of chocolate sample.  We had chocolate mousse made with ricotta and blackberries on top, vanilla ice cream with cacao nibs, dark chocolate bars, chocolate pudding, and braised beef and cocoa chili!  Oh my ~ it was all so delicious, and we were full after the fist two samples!  What a perfect treat for our girls' night out of shopping!
 I didn't get a true "before" picture, as Kayla had already emptied her room of most of its contents, but at least you can see that it was blue, and what her current bed looks like.  (We did put the risers on it, as you can see.) She has lived in this blue room since she was 2 years old.  It's a tiny room, so we're going to try and make the most of it in this re-do.
 The chosen wall color is called "Silk Ribbon."  Looked like bubble gum going on, but has dried a bit darker and looks great.  Green and brown polka dots are coming...
 Some spackling was needed because of holes left by nails and screws.  Both houses we have owned have been built around 1950, and have had plaster walls.  If you're not careful about hanging things, the walls will just crumble.  (Very frustrating!) We resorted to the hair dryer to get a few of the spots dry and sanded, so we could start painting last night.

This morning we got up early (guess who slept with me?), had breakfast, braved the single digit temps to water the chickens, (Robert usually does this!) and got busy on the second coat.  Kayla is a great little worker!  She's careful and doesn't "poop out" like some other little workers I have known.  She just keeps going even when the process is taking much longer than she hoped. (wiping down the walls?  spackling? sanding? taping? drop cloths? Whew!)  Now we're off to dance class, and to another mall to do a bit more shopping.  Maybe we'll have another progress update tonight!?!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

You Can't Spell Texas Without......

  
My dad sent me the link to this Superbowl commercial yesterday, and I just had to share it with you for educational purposes.  It's educational in that you will get a bit of Texan culture and history all while watching a Texas-born music star sing about a Texas-only chain grocery store.  I know.  Just the thing you were hoping to add to your higher learning repertoire.

One of my favorite blogs to read is by another Melanie from Texas.  It's called The Big Mama Blog, and she cracks me up on a weekly basis with all of her Texas references.  She lives in San Antonio, where I grew up for the most part, and constantly refers to shopping at H.E.B. Her readers are always writing in about how one should pronounce H.E.B.  Is it "heeb?" or "heb" with an "e" as in "wet?"

Well, at least you can humor me and immerse yourself in Texas for 3 whole minutes. It's like a scrap book of themes and locations of my childhood. We were even at the Gruene Hall just last month ~ had dinner for my birthday just behind the dance hall at the Grist Mill.  Oh ~ and if you watch, you will also learn the true way to say H.E.B., which I'm sure you are on the edge of your seat about!

Yep...bluebonnets, San Antonio, Bexar County, shopping in Fredericksburg, tubing the Guadelupe, the Alamo,  Austin, Longhorns, Aggies, the Cotton-Eyed-Joe, barbeque, Gruene Dance Hall, Padre Island, and H.E.B ~ all bring on the nostalgia like nothing else!

Happy Superbowl Sunday!

P.S.  H.E.B. even has their own brand of gluten free pasta, etc.  Pretty impressive for a south Texas grocery store chain, I'd say.

Rave For Rudi's ~ and other GF Gems


I should have posted this LONG ago, but better late than never.  When we arrived home from Texas two and a half weeks ago, a special package of gluten free goodness was waiting for me at home.  Rudi's Gluten Free Bakery had sent me a sample loaf of their bread, a reusable sandwich storage container and several coupons for more of their products.  It was like Christmas all over again!

And while it was very nice of them to do this, they really didn't have to, because I was already convinced of the delicious-ness of their breads after trying a few loaves out from our local Whole Foods store.  It really is a great gluten free bread that rivals gluten-full bread in so many ways.  It is light and spongy (i.e. it doesn't feel like a brick or doorstop) and makes a great sandwich.  It is good toasted, but toasting isn't necessarily required like it is for some gluten free breads.  Our whole family is partial to Rudi's.  (And they didn't ask me to say that or to blog about their free gift!)

Rudi's has also started a program in partnership with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA).  For every dollar coupon that is downloaded from their website or Facebook page, they will donate a dollar, up to $20,000 to the NFCA to support diagnosis and education of Celiac Disease.  Did you know that there are an estimated 3 million people in the U.S. suffering from Celiac Disease, but only 160,000 are currently diagnosed?  That is so disheartening to me, especially after seeing the rapid improvement in my son's health once he was on a gluten free diet. (And now myself and other 2 children!)

So...click on over to Rudi's for your dollar coupon and help spread the facts about Celiac Disease!

Also, I recently received and email from Ken at Nursingschools.net regarding a really nice list of gluten free recipes and meal ideas that are very kid-friendly.  He asked if I might like to include a link to it her on my blog and I'm more than happy to do so.  I enjoyed referring to it, and I hope you will, too!    Here it is:  100 Delectable Recipes for your Gluten Free Kid.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Almond Pulp = Raw Vegan Cheesecake (The Suspense is Over!)

OK ~ I know you are all DYING to know what I used the leftover almond pulp for, and because I don't want to keep you from sleeping tonight, I will go ahead and tell you.  While I was brainstorming about what to use it for, I remembered one of my favorite things to eat from the "Raw Food Bar" at the Austin, TX Whole Foods ~ Raw Vegan Cheesecake!  Last month, as I was checking out with two pieces for my birthday ~ one for me and one for my sister the cashier said...

"Oh, is this that vegan cheesecake?"

"Yes!" I enthusiastically responded.

"Is it any good?"

"You wouldn't believe how good it is.  I'm not even a vegan, but I get a piece almost every time I come here!"

"Huh." he replied skeptically.
From looking at the list of ingredients (How in the world does one make vegan cheesecake? ~ And please, oh please let it NOT be from tofu!) I knew it was made from nuts and nut milks.  (Whew!) Well, I figured my almond pulp could somehow fit into this equation, so I started researching raw cheesecake recipes.
Most of the recipes I found used cashews, probably because they are a bit softer than almonds, but I thought a combination of the pulp and some cashews might still work.  The crust is a mixture of pecans, walnuts, dates, coconut, and cinnamon.
I was so happy to see the beautiful creamy mixture that formed in my Vitamix.  It looked like the recipe was definitely going to work!
After pouring the "cheesecake" part into the crust and letting it set in the freezer, this was the end result ~ looking almost identical to the many pieces I've had at the Raw Food Bar!

And the taste?  Oh my goodness.  Would it make any sense to say it tastes more like cheesecake than cheesecake?  It was just so good.  My kids were raving and begging for a second piece after dinner ~ Robert, too.  It was a complete success, and I can hardly wait to make one for my sister, who's been steering clear of dairy lately, this summer when she and her kids (hopefully!) come to visit. There is only one little slice of this one left that I'm carefully guarding for my allergic-to-eggs-and-dairy-friend, Debbie, who will be here next week barring any more blizzards.

Lots of protein, healthy fats, and natural sugars, too ~ Wow!  Here's the whole recipe:

Raw Cheesecake

Crust:

2 cups macadamia nuts, pecans, or walnuts
12 pitted dates (double check them ~ one of mine still had a pit and got hung in the food processor)
1/4 cup dried coconut
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Process coarsely in food processor or blender and press into a pie plate or spring form pan.

Filling:

3 cups cashews (or 1 1/2 cups cashews ~ soaked an hour if you like, and 1 1/2 cups almond pulp)
2/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
dash sea salt

Place all filling ingredients in high-powered blender and process for about 2 minutes until creamy.  Pour into crust and freeze for several hours. Serve with fruit or chocolate drizzle (or both) and watch it disappear!

There you have it!  Sweet Dreams!


Blizzards and Basketball

 Just wanted to post a few snow shots from today.  This is the view out our front window to the house across the street. Aren't the icicles so pretty?  Yesterday, on the way to church I drove past a house that had icicles hanging from the roof and touching the ground!  Ours aren't quite that long yet.
 This is looking out our front door.  It's a snow day today, so I've got 6 kids here (mine and a friend's) since we didn't have Classical Conversations.  I did make them do one hour of schoolwork, but it's been Foosball, Legos, stuffed animals,and guitar playing since then.  The only one who ventured out this morning was Robert, hence the tracks in the snow.  He had appointments and lots of computer work to catch up on. 

"Now don't try to get out there and shovel today,"  he said as he left.  "It's no use until tonight, and then we'll at least clear a path for the storm that's due tomorrow."

"No problem," she said while still in her flannel pjs and SmartWool socks!
 This is the view from the mudroom and out the back door.  Can you believe those drifts?  We even have a little pile of snow INSIDE the mudroom because of a less then weather-tight house built in 1947. We HAVE had this much snow before, but it's been a while.  Last year there was hardly any, but 9 or 10 years ago at our old house, they had to come and haul our snow away in a dump truck.

We just finished lunch, and the plan was for me to drive the 4 boys at my house today over to UMass to play basketball in the dry, warm, gym there.  I told the boys I could take them at 1:30pm, (Was still eating my lunch and was still wearing the above mentioned outfit!) but they felt that 45 minutes was WAY to long of a wait and decided to gear up and trek to the court on their own......and immediately.  

They LOVE basketball, which reminds me that Cooper is playing on a basketball team for the first time ever.
 Saturday night was his second game since we've been back from Texas.
 He has made some great plays, but gets quite disappointed at missing shots and not scoring at every opportunity.  He could hardly get to sleep after the first game for rehearsing a shot he had missed.
We love it when he's "in" to something like this, but we're trying to help him to not beat himself up over mistakes.  (If only he felt this way about loading his dinner plate into the dishwasher or flooding the bathroom floor after showers!)  He's definitely better at constant motion sports ~ tennis, basketball, etc. Too much "lull time" in baseball for him to stay engaged.  

Maybe while I'm waiting for the call to go and pick them up I'll post about my almond pulp creation ~ as if I have nothing else to do.  Kind of wish the snow day could magically reduce the length of my to-do list, but I'm afraid the pj time has only made it longer!

Are you having a snow day?  Hope it's nice and relaxing!