Saturday, July 6, 2013

Move-Out Cleaning

Being a college student, I'm very transitory. In about a month, I'll be moving into the fourth semi-permanent residence I've had in the past two years. Moving is exhausting! I've spent several evenings after work already trying to organize and get rid of junk so that I can fit myself and my stuff into an even smaller two-bedroom apartment, this time with two roommates instead of one.

I find myself inwardly complaining, But I just did this! I already got rid of all my junk, when I moved out of my dorm just a few months ago! It's true, I did. But apparently I didn't do as good of a job as I thought. I'm trying even harder now to pare down, and I've lowered my standards of what counts as "junk." That pair of shoes that I've had for several years and worn maybe twice? I let them stay last time, because I was just sure I'd regret getting rid of them. Sure, they're great shoes, but this time--to the consignment store they go.

Just a few months ago, I lugged 3 trash bags full of clothes (they-still-fit-but-they're-from-8th-grade-and-let's-face-it-I'm-never-wearing-that-again clothes) to St. Vincent de Paul. I felt pretty good about it! But now, going through again with higher standards for the clothing I want to keep, I find myself getting rid of even more. I've got bags full of craft materials I'll never use that I can pass along to kids and young mothers. Cute mementos, doo-dads, lotions, candles (who knew how much stuff a 20-year-old could accumulate?)--all in trash bags and give-away bags.

And yet I still somehow have so much stuff! Could it be that a year and a month from now, when my new apartment lease is up, I'll be doing this all over again and getting rid of even more? I don't doubt it.

Why am I telling you all this?

I'm writing this blog because through the process of cleaning, kind of like throwing out the leaven before the Days of Unleavened Bread, I'm seeing a spiritual principle that, I think, applies to all of us in our Christian walks.

The principle is this: We always have more work to do. We always have more sinful "junk" in our lives that we need to get rid of in order to draw closer to God. We may think we have done a pretty good job of cleaning ourselves up as we examine ourselves one year, but that doesn't mean that the next year we'll take a look at ourselves and think, wow! I'm completely de-junked! No, we all know that's not true at all.

Sometimes, it's because God is merciful and doesn't open our eyes to see all of the filthy and ill-fitting garments all at once, because He knows we can't handle it yet. Sometimes, it's because we've chosen not to notice the sins that have become deeply ingrained in our spiritual closets--things we're used to, things that make us feel comfortable.

But slowly, day by day, we should be getting rid of everything that clutters our lives, "every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1), to make space for God.

I really look forward to one day settling down in a house that I own, and not having to worry about moving for awhile. But truth is, while we're alive, we're all pretty transient.

We're all cleaning to move out. Move out of this physical, ephemeral existence and into our eternal home in God's spiritual family. The ultimate lesson is that nothing physical that we can own or get rid of really matters. What matters is our hearts--that they are clean and pure before God, and that we don't let them get crowded with junk that will stand between us and Him.

"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. ... Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." (Romans 6:4-6,13)

Shared on MercyInk, Growing Home, and Time-Warp Wife.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Philanthropic Friday: Rebuilding Oklahoma

I'm sure we've all been closely following the devastation caused by the EF5 tornado just outside of Oklahoma City, OK, on May 20. 24 killed, 377 hospitalized, schools and homes destroyed...  Above all, as always, residents badly need your prayers. Parents have lost children, children have lost parents, lives and homes have been permanently damaged. What's needed most is hope. If you'd like to donate to help rebuild their lives, money is generally the best way to assist in providing clothing, food, and supplies to those in need,  unless you live very close.

A teacher hugs a child at Briarwood Elementary school in south Oklahoma City.
Photo: Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman, May 20, 2013
  • Send a personalized message of hope to be hand-delivered to families in Moore, OK. Text HOPE to 38383 and you'll be asked to send a message with words of support--maybe your favorite scripture, maybe just let them know you're thinking of them. This service is provided by
  • Give blood. Disasters like this where so many are injured and treated at hospitals create high demands for plasma donations. Do your part by giving blood at your local blood bank or hospital. To find one near you, search your city on the AABB website.
  • The Red Cross has set up shelters for those whose homes were destroyed by the tornado. To support their efforts, you can donate in several ways--via their website, by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 (to have the donation included on your cell phone bill), over the phone by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or even by donating frequent flyer miles that they can use to fly volunteers and staff into emergency areas. For Delta, email with your SkyMiles number, the number of miles you want to donate, and specify the Red Cross as the charity. Click here to donate US Airways miles, and here to donate United miles.

  • Support teachers and help rebuild Moore schools. Two schools were completely destroyed and more were damaged. The website helps teachers raise money for needs in the classroom. They are doing a special project to help teachers and students in Moore. "When teachers in Moore are ready, we will help them create classroom recovery projects for critical supplies such as clothing, food, books, therapy resources and classroom furniture. These teachers know best what their students need, and we can empower them to rebuild their classrooms. Your donation will be sent directly to teachers in Moore, OK, empowering them to restock their classrooms and help their students recover." If this is something you're interested in getting involved in, click here.
  • The OK Strong Disaster Relief Fund was established by Governor Mary Fallin, "in coordination with the United Way of Central Oklahoma... to assist with the long-term needs of victims devastated by the May tornadoes." If you'd like to donate to this fund, head to the United Way website portal here.

  • For an extensive list of other ways to donate, see this article from US News.
Thanks for your generosity and your prayers!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Portraits of Proverbs 31: Abigail {Part 2}

Last week, we discussed the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 and how she exemplifies the lesson of Romans 12:21. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Today, I'd like to talk about some of the more specific lessons we can learn from Abigail and her dealings with Nabal, with David, and with the rest of her household. We'll start with the core issue: love.
What is the love that God expects from us, and how is it evident in Abigail's story?

Love is an active choice (not merely a fuzzy emotion) that we owe to every person because we all have the same loving Father.

In 1 Samuel 25, Abigail shows love for David, for Nabal, for her household, and for God through her wise and generous actions. She would not have been killed in David's planned slaughter, because David only vowed to kill all Nabal's males. But Abigail could not stand by and let this happen, even if the course of action she took was action more dangerous to herself.

Picture yourself as a teenager going down to the basement to tell your older brother that dinner was ready, and he was going to have to stop playing [insert gory masculine video/computer game] right before he clobbered a whole bunch of bad guys. Now multiply that by 127 and you've got Abigail's encounter with a furious David. Her love for her husband and her household (I like to focus on her husband, because I think her respect for a man who, from a human perspective, deserved no respect whatsoever, is an incredible example) were obvious in the courageous stand she took to pacify David.

I used to wonder why on earth an intelligent, graceful woman like Abigail would be married to a fool like Nabal. Then I found in my research that according to the customs of the day, Abigail and Nabal's was almost certainly an arranged marriage. (Duh, Erica!) It's reasonable to assume Abigail's family benefited from her marriage to him, as he was a very wealthy man. God blessed her through it because of her character and faith, but her marriage to him (and even her marriage to David afterwards - see v. 43-44) was not ideal.

So, while Abigail did a commendable job of showing respect and love for her very undeserving husband, it's good to keep in mind that he was not the kind of husband God would have wanted her to choose. We today are blessed with the ability to choose our own mates, and we should take that task very seriously. How should we, as Christian women, use our ability to choose who we date and marry to ensure the most spiritually and physically nurturing lives possible for ourselves and for our children?

For example, carefully consider:
-Does he put God first, even above you?
-Does he make wise decisions, and seek God's guidance and sound advice in making those decisions?
-Does he love and respect you, and all other people?

Back to Abigail.

Abigail showed love for her husband by protecting him in the way she could and trusting his fate to God. In the same way that David, no matter how horrid Saul was to him, would never kill God's anointed, Abigail, as horrid as her husband was being, would never stand by idly when she could do something to prevent his death. She selflessly saved him and all the males in her household from death due to his foolish actions.

In both cases, David and Abigail knew that if Saul or Nabal were to die, it would need to be clearly by God's hand. Because she loved and respected God, Abigail, by extension, loved and respected her husband, regardless of his own personal merit.

She also showed love and respect for David in stopping him from taking foolish, bloody action that would have brought bad results for both her family and for him. Her love for God are also evident here, as she respected his will and his laws and did what she could to keep David from breaking them.

Thus, Abigail exemplified love for her mate, for all people (see John 3:16 and 15:12), and for God Himself (see Deuteronomy 11:1 and Mark 12:30).

She also demonstrates active love--her love was not just a feeling (and possibly not really a feeling at all, in the case of Nabal) but a choice demonstrated by action seeking the good of the other parties (see Romans 12:9-10, Romans 13:10, Matthew 7:12, and James 2:15-16).

Jesus told His disciples shortly before his crucifixion and death, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). Jesus's love was the ultimate active love, as He not only felt it and spoke of it, but acted on it through teaching, through healing, through forgiving, and through giving His priceless, perfect life as a payment to cleanse us from our death-deserving sins.

Abigail's self-sacrificing love is a beautiful example to apply to our lives today. In what areas of your life can you improve to make your love look a bit more like hers?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Philanthropic Friday: WFP {The Syria Crisis}

The goal is to bring you a different charity every week that I think you may be (or that I think you should be (; ) interested in donating to or volunteering for. I tend towards skepticism when it comes to spending my money, so I usually hold off on donating to charities until I've done a lot of research and I'm certain that they're honest and that the majority of their money really does go to where they say it does.

I'll do my best to bring you only the best charities, but please understand that as much research as I do, I still might miss things. So if there's something you think I or other readers should know about an organization, please keep in mind that viewpoints may differ on many issues, but please do share the information with us so everyone can make a decision accordingly on whether or not they feel comfortable donating.

We'll start with an organization very close to my heart: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

According to their website, "The World Food Programme (WFP) fights hunger worldwide, saving lives during emergencies while building a better future for the next generation. WFP is funded solely by voluntary donations."

They are a very large humanitarian agency (they claim to be the largest fighting hunger) and traditionally they have received most of their funding from governments around the world. Of late, however, individual private donors and businesses have given increasingly significant amounts of aid. Care to add your name?

First of all, take a look at this Hunger Map and learn about where the world's greatest needs are, and where WFP works. Click on any country to see its hunger status and what programs WFP has in the area.

The focal point: The Syria Crisis is the current focus (and has been for awhile). WFP is aiming to feed 2.5 million displaced people in Syria and 800,000 refugees in neighboring countries every month. Plus, they're providing snacks at school to kids in refugee camps. That's a lot of mouths to feed, and they need $19 million USD every week to do it. Your help is urgently needed! Donations can be given through Paypal to make it safe and convenient.
  • Click here to donate to the Syria Crisis and help WFP feed 3.3 million who have been affected by the tragedy. (You can read more about the crisis itself on this page so you can understand and pray about the conflict.)
  • Click here to donate to help the children in Zaatari Refugee Camp continue to receive snacks in the classroom--they are currently only funded until the end of May, and they urgently need your help to keep the program going.
  • Aside from the Syria Crisis, you can also donate to the WFP "Fill the Cup" program. $1 feeds 4 kids a nutritious meal. The money you donate to this program goes to whatever area has the greatest need, or you can select a specific program to donate to.
Besides the Syria project and the many other programs WFP runs to which you can donate, they also have some awesome sponsors that enable you to help even if you're unable to give money.
  • I challenge you to the Hunger Quiz! All you gotta do is answer 5 questions and a child will get a hot meal. Look how precious this is and tell me you don't have 1 minute and 15 seconds to take a quiz. (Not to brag or anything, but I got a 5 out of 5 my first time taking it... this is my appeal to you competitive people... can you ace this?? You might be surprised!)

  • Freerice is an online vocab game. For every right answer you give, Freerice donates 10 grains of rice through WFP. I'm a huge nerd so I love that I can play this game in French or Spanish or Italian. (Or even Korean. But that would be... well... not very productive for me.) You can also start groups to play the game and donate together so you can watch even more rice accumulate! Bored in a meeting? About to fall asleep in lecture? Well, you could be doing something productive and feeding the hungry. So do it. :)
  • Also, be sure to sign up for email updates (just enter your name and email address at the top of the WFP home page)! You'll get cute pictures and updates about projects every now and then, usually not more than once a week.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Portraits of Proverbs 31: Abigail {Part 1}

Saul didn't start out a bad guy. When we first meet him in 1 Samuel 9, he seems genuinely nice--humble and caring, if a little stingy.

But it wasn't long before Saul messed up big time due to a lack of faith (1 Samuel 13), and God removed the blessings that would have belonged to him and his family. "The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you," Samuel told the presumptuous king (1 Samuel 13:14).

After yet another serious blunder by King Saul, Samuel was sent to anoint that other man--David, the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd and musician.

David proved to be an asset to Israel even before he took the office of king--playing peaceful music for King Saul and becoming his armorbearer, killing Goliath, and serving as a powerful military leader. He became best friends with Saul's son and caught the eye of one of Saul's daughters, and at first Saul loved him like his own son.

But as time passed and the Israelites grew fond of David, Saul became jealous of the attention he felt he should be receiving himself, and David was forced to flee.

David behaved, for the most part, very honorably in his dealings with Saul. Saul was the de facto King of Israel, and he knew no matter how hard Saul tried to kill him and those who protected him, it was God's right, not his, to end Saul's kingship.

Yet in a moment of peace between himself and Saul, David and his men encountered a man that apparently made David far angrier than Saul ever had: Nabal (1 Samuel 25). Nabal was a very rich man with a very foolish heart. (As you've probably heard, his name, Nabal, actually means "fool." You know what they say about self-fulfilling prophecies...)

David and his men protected Nabal's shepherds and possessions for some time, and subsequently went to Nabal on a feast day and asked for some food. It was customary to give gifts of food as common hospitality. This kind of generosity would be especially expected from such a rich man, and especially on a feast day (1 Samuel 25:6-8). But Nabal was not feeling so generous.

In his request, David called himself "your son David," but Nabal responded scornfully, "Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?" (v. 10-11). (I just love that response, because I feel like I can hear him saying it in my head!)

This made David very angry, and he instructed his men to strap on their swords and get ready to murder Nabal and all the men in his household. As a man of war, perhaps killing had become commonplace to him. It seemed like the logical solution to this problem: this man is disrespecting me and not giving me what I want, so I'll just take him out. That'll teach him. (I don't mean to sound disrespectful myself of such a godly man--however, this is an instance where David's response is quite rash and illogical.)

Thankfully, someone told Nabal's beautiful and intelligent and definitely-not-foolish wife Abigail about the issue before it went too far. She acted quickly, not telling Nabal what she was about. Abigail hurried to get together food (lots of food) and to come down to David, humbly pleading for his forgiveness for the foolishness of her husband.

"Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: 'On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be!" (v. 23-24). Abigail humbly took blame she didn't deserve and gave a touching speech encouraging David to rethink his intentions.

"No therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. ... For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days.

"Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling" (v. 26,28-29). (Side note: notice the "pocket of a sling" analogy, probably referencing the original source of David's fame. I love that.)

Abigail knew that God was with David, and she knew the end intended for him (and for her husband, and all David's enemies) by God. Some call Abigail a prophetess because of her words, but either way, she certainly knew God's law and the blessings that come from following it. She only asked that once David became king, as she knew he would, that he remember her and the good she had done for him in keeping him from murder.

David took her gifts, blessed her, and turned back.

She went home, found Nabal busily getting drunk ("holding a the feast of a king"), and decided it still wasn't the right time to tell him. She waited till the morning to tell him everything, and "his heart died within him" (v. 37). Ten days later, he died. God exacted the revenge for David (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19) and granted Abigail a new happy beginning with a man after His own heart.

A followup post is coming soon with several of the lessons we can learn from Abigail's beautiful example. The general lesson I'd like to close with here, though, is found in Romans 12, nestled around the "Vengeance is Mine" scripture I referenced a moment ago.

Paul writes, "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-19,21).

Abigail was married to a very wicked man, yet she did not let his darkness snuff out her light. She knew that with God on her side, her light would overcome his darkness. Evil can easily snowball us over, coating us with it and sending us hurtling down the same treacherous path. We have to instead stand firm in goodness, and trust that no matter what it seems like at the moment, God's way will always overcome in the end.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Take Charge of Your Health! {With Printables}

This Friday, I'm giving a presentation on some healthy lifestyle basics to a group of employees at a cancer center where I volunteer. The staff is doing a weight loss challenge this month, and they asked me to come and speak to them about some simple things they can do--they want to win! I agreed, and I thought it might be helpful to share the resources I'm putting together for them.

Click here to access the flyer version of the presentation below.

Click here to download the health log I put together (see notes at the bottom of this post regarding the health log).

I love this graphic from Susan Albers, PsyD. Take time to read over it and really think about how you can apply mindful eating principles to your daily life. Some things to consider:
  • What triggers you to eat?
  • Do you tend to crave unhealthy foods?
  • How often do you snack in front of the TV?
  • Do you ever think about seconds while you’re eating your first serving?
  • Do you stop eating before you’re full? (Remember the 20 minute rule--it takes 15-20 minutes for the signals of fullness from your stomach to be sent to your brain, so eat slowly and give yourself time!)

  • Find something you enjoy! Pilates? Swimming? Walking? Dancing?
  • Do something active for 30 minutes every day—make it a part of your routine!
  • Focus on strength, flexibility, and endurance more than weight loss.

  • Keep track of what you’re eating so you can see what nutrients you’re getting and what you’re missing. You have to keep track to stay on track! There are plenty of online sites and apps where you can do this paperlessly (see resources below), but if you like to have something real to write on, I'm attaching a printable to help you keep track of your intake (see notes for how to use the printout)!
  • Make your meals and snacks count—focus on “nutrient density.” This means that your food should have a greater proportion of vitamins and minerals in it compared to calories. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains are good examples of nutrient dense foods.

  • Make a grocery list of healthy foods, including lots of fresh fruits and veggies for snacks, and stick to that list! It's much easier to eat healthy when the unhealthy foods aren't readily available.
  • Eat out less. When you do eat out, check the menu and nutrition facts online first so you can make informed choices.

  • Write down what you ate yesterday, including condiments and snacks. What could you cut without missing it?
  • Switch from whole milk to low-fat or fat-free.
  • Switch from sugary cereals to fiber-rich cereals.
  • Pick at least one snack to replace with a vegetable (swap out pretzels for carrots, for example).
  • Eat your salads with less non-vegetable extras. Swap out creamy dressings like Ranch or French dressing for oil-and-vinegar dressings (such as Italian dressings or vinaigrettes), and limit the croutons and cheese.
  • Bake foods instead of frying them.
  • Cut 1/4 of the fat (butter, margarine, and oil) and sugar from some of your favorite recipes--you should be able to cut this much without noticing a big difference or greatly impacting the texture of the food. You can also try replacing part of the fat with applesauce or pureed prunes.
  • Use more spices. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice can bring out the flavor of sweet foods so that less sugar is needed, and savory spices like basil, oregano, thyme, and pepper can be used instead of salt.
  • Be choosy about your calorie dense foods. Eat small amounts of the ones you really enjoy, so you don't feel like you're depriving yourself. Let things you don't enjoy immensely, go. (For example, I love cheesecake--one of the most absolutely calorie dense desserts ever created. I don't love donuts; in fact, I find them kind of tasteless--but if they're in the break room, I tend to eat them anyway! So I've made a rule that I won't eat the donuts, but if there is cheesecake, I allow myself a few bites--which is really all it takes.)
  • This is only a brief listing. What simple substitutions or changes have you made/can you make?


Nutrition/Exercise Tracking (most of these are also available in app form):
Online Exercise Routines:

What are your favorite resources for nutrition and exercise?


On the back page, you can use your total daily calorie needs to figure out the Calorie deficit you are creating each day. 3500 Calories = 1 Pound, so a 500 Calorie deficit each day should cause about a 1 pound loss each week. Keep in mind that no calculation of total daily needs is perfectly accurate, and you should always talk to your doctor before starting any kind of weight loss regimen. 

To calculate your approximate total daily needs, first calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the minimum amount of Calories your body uses each day if all you do is breathe, using this link. Then click on the Harris Benedict Equation link from that page to calculate what you need with some exercise factored in. Use this number in the Total Daily Needs blank at the bottom of the second page.

Regarding the Weigh-In, I suggest doing this no more than once or twice a week. Any fluctuations from one day to the next are likely just changes in water weight, because it's nor really feasible to lose a pound of fat in a single day. Make sure you're weighing yourself at the same time of day (same fullness and hydration state) as well to make the changes as accurate as possible.

I hope this is a helpful resource to you should you choose to use it! Please let me know if you have any questions about it or suggestions for improvement. Feel free to print as many copies as you like and use it for anything for which you think it would be helpful!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

They Would Have Called Her Beautiful Before (A Sketch)

A spray of dirty rainwater awoke her and she looked up to see the weathered tires spinning past into the dreary gray morning. She was tired and weathered herself, and her upturned face invited the fat droplets that shook her worn frame. Rain was supposed to be revitalizing, but instead it just made her weary. Rain like the day she was here to commemorate. And it was still raining; rain day after day, as if it had never stopped at all.

An SUV sputtered by, and a little boy peered out the tinted backseat window at her. Children were the only ones who ever seemed to notice. His nose was pressed up against the glass, his nostrils fogging the window in two small ovals. But his eyes only lingered on her for a moment as they passed, quickly leaping forward to some new object of interest along the roadside.


His name, so lovingly and tearfully inscribed with a black Crayola on the small wooden cross next to her, had long ago washed away, ink leaching into the dark soil and disappearing. Forgotten. She was the only one left to mark that he had ever driven down this road; the sole memorial of the anxious moment before the boy in the SUV started watching but after the rain started and then never stopped; the dreamlike Newtonian nightmare when two sliding objects stayed in motion and he was laid to rest.

She was tired of being the only one to remember.

He was one moment here, the next moment evanescent. And yet she was tied down, ageless yet dying slowly in the rain that never stopped. Would never stop until her last weary silk rose petal fell and washed away toward the ocean with all the rest.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I started my first "journal" at age 6, started writing my first "book" at age 7, and started writing "poetry" around age 9. My first dream job was to be a book publisher so that I would get paid to read all day. Writing has never really been something I talk about or share, though. So, with a dash of characteristically under-developed boldness, I decided that I'd like to share this with you. Pair it with Matthew chapter 24.

             ly ache for of a
flowerburst! moment
      eria (growing up the wall upon the sky
and listen)
silver mouth of ocean shudders shut
stars trickle like gravity
flowers turn their heads
and listen for of up

but.shouting faces affixed machetes triggers booming clawing fingers scrabble (down
listless rolling white eyes up)petal quivers down.
great red gash across a vacant garment of sky and
stars trickle like thunder

and.detonation of passionate color
amid greenbluegold (for of up
      eria breaks into rose
        er blossoms into song

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crock-pot Zucchini Chicken with Orzo

Another day, another crock-pot meal! I’m beginning to think even once I have my own kitchen I’ll still be cooking out of the crock-pot pretty consistently. It’s so simple! I threw this one-pot meal together last week, and I’m still loving the leftovers! (Mmmm zucchini! J) Plus, this recipe is super healthy, coming in at just 140 Calories per cup.

There are a lot of misconceptions (or, at least, I would consider them misconceptions) about what can and cannot be cooked in a crock-pot. I don't have as long-ranging experience as many people, but from that short experience I can definitely refute a few of them.

-YES, you can cook pasta in a slow-cooker. In fact, I think it turns out less sticky and more flavorful, since you are kind of "marinating" it in its sauce.
-YES, you can cook chicken in a slow-cooker. Just make sure you don't cook them for too long (not too much over 6 hours) to prevent them from drying out too much. Fattier meats cook better in crock-pots, I'm told, but I don't really like fattier meats, so I'm stickin' with chickin'!

If you don't believe me, try this recipe and you'll see!

Crock-pot Zucchini Chicken with Orzo

3 (4-oz) small boneless skinless chicken breasts (I cheated and used Perdue Italian Style Perfect Portions, due to my aversion to touching raw meat... Plus, they are pre-marinated.)
 ½ large onion
2 small zucchini
1 (14.5-oz) can stewed tomatoes (again, I like using Italian style)
½-¾ (15-oz) can tomato sauce
½ teaspoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup orzo pasta
3 cups fresh spinach
2 Tablespoons low-fat cream cheese

1.      Place chicken breasts on the bottom of the pot. Cover with tomato sauce, onions, stewed tomatoes, zucchini, and spices. You may need to add more tomato sauce to ensure the chicken is completely covered, depending on the sizes of your chicken breasts.
2.      Cook on low for 4-6 hours.
3.      Shred chicken (I did this in the crock-pot to save the mess), then add orzo and spinach. Cut the cream cheese into small cubes and stir them in as well to melt.
4.      Cover and cook for another 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the orzo is tender.
5.      Stir again to evenly distribute the melted cream cheese.
6.      Be sure to let it set for a few minutes before digging in!

You can see (in the picture above) mine was runny the first night because I put in a whole can of tomato sauce. Obviously, after being in the fridge awhile, it wasn't as runny (and also not as photogenic), so I served it with a warm pita the next night. Yum! I really like this sauce. I might have liked it so much that I cleaned my plate really well. I won’t go into any more detail than that. No one was here to witness either way.

[Yield] about 8 cups (serves 4-6 people, or one person for a week!)
[Calorie count] 140 Calories per cup

Friday, February 15, 2013

Virtuous Wife's Guide to Being Single (Why I'm Counting to 31)

It begins with a jolt with the first “Yikes-I-went-to-high-school-with-you-and-now-you’re-planning-your-wedding” moment. And from there the feeling just continues to accumulate. For some it’s a minor nagging, while for others it reaches desperation. The noble “I’m just praying he comes into my life when the time is right” attitude can be far too easily exchanged for “There must be something wrong with me! I’ll never get married!”

I’m young, and I have years before I have to start thinking about marriage. But that’s exactly why I should be thinking about marriage. This post is my attempt to explain the purpose behind this blog: to be a record and a resource supporting gradual growth toward Proverbs 31 ideal. In thinking about marriage from so far afield, I can do so much to strengthen my future marriage and to better myself as a prospective wife that would be nearly impossible were I already engaged or married.

I will admit that I’ve had many of those thoughts I described in the first paragraph, but I’m certainly not pining away daydreaming of Mr. Right. God has put each of us in this position at this stage of our lives for a reason. We have so much to learn, and He knows exactly how each of us can best learn it. Life is so big, so full of opportunities, and there is great joy or great growth (or, preferably, both!) in every experience. So now is the time to have as many growing experiences as possible!

The Wife of Valor (as I like to call her, per my Bible margin) in Proverbs 31 was not always married, you know. From the picture of her marriage, there’s an incredible amount to be learned about how we should spend our single lives! Here’s my list:
  1. Making decisions about what you want your future husband to be like. Not only is our virtuous woman an absolute baller, it’s pretty obvious that her husband is, as well. She chose well! Not just any guy off the street was fit to marry this lady. He is “respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23, NIV). The city gates were the center of public life. They were the location for legal tribunals and kingly addresses, among other things (see here for more on this). For him to be seated there among the elders is certainly a high honor, and a sign that both he and his wife are highly esteemed. The way he treats her is also beautiful. He “safely trusts her” (v. 11) and gives her the highest praise: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all” (v. 29). As godly young women aspiring to the high standard that Mrs. Virtue sets, we should also set high standards for our future husbands. God wants to give you Mr. Virtue! Don’t settle for anything less.
  2. Learning important life skills. The virtuous wife didn’t magically know how to cook (v. 14-15), spin (v. 19), or make tapestry, clothing, clothing, and sashes (v. 22-24) when she got home from the honeymoon. From her extensive list of abilities, I would guess she spent a good portion of her life learning them. But of course, it’s never too late to start learning! Her extensive skill set includes hospitality, cooking, making clothing, and financial sense. I’ve chosen some similar abilities to work on, as you can see looking around this blog. She is also active in caring for the needy in her community (v. 20). Service is an incredibly rewarding way to spend time. Especially as a young person without my own family to care for, serving can provide the wonderful feeling of being needed. It’s also great practice in building the patience, tenderness, and outgoing love that are so necessary in a familial environment.
  3. Most importantly, building a strong relationship with God and building spiritual character. The Wife of Valor is not only smart, savvy, and industrious, she is wise, kind, and she fears God. She knows God personally and highly respects Him, and cares for her family in the way He designed her to. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household… Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (v. 26-27, 30). Her husband and her children can see the evidence of her relationship with God, and because of it they “rise up and call her blessed” (v. 28). Who wouldn’t want to hear that kind of praise from her children? Certainly once we are married and have children, we will have many more “opportunities for growth” in these areas, but wouldn’t it be great to have a headstart on dealing with the difficulties of marriage and parenting? Building from the ground up with a healthy, vibrant relationship with God, we can begin to develop the emotional, spiritual, and social characteristics of the virtuous woman.
  4. Having faith in God’s goodness and wisdom, that even if you are not married in this life He can and will provide so much more for you, both in this life and the life to come.

One of the Bible versions I was reading from (the NIV) stuck in the title “Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character” before this section of Proverbs 31. Certainly, after all the verses recording Solomon’s warnings to young men about women, this is a fitting epilogue! It offers great encouragement along with lofty goals to work toward.

What would you add to this list?

Friday, February 8, 2013

DIY Flavored Oatmeal

I love those flavored instant oatmeal packets, but when you're trying to save money, it's much more cost-efficient to buy the big boxes of oats... not to mention the incredible list of ingredients you'll find in those instant oatmeal packets (you can keep the partially hydrogenated soybean oil, artificial flavoring, artificial color, artificial...yeah, you get it). I find myself putting lots of cinnamon and brown sugar in my plain oats, though, and compared to the instant packets it still seems flavorless!

I'm a tea drinker, and one morning while I was making my oatmeal and thinking about making myself a cup of peach tea, I decided to see what they would taste like together! I loved the result and wish I would have thought of it before!!

DIY Flavored Oatmeal:

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup water
1 fruit-flavored black tea bag (I like peach, raspberry, and spiced apple chai!)
1 Tablespoon milk or half-and-half (if you like your oatmeal creamy)
Nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice... whatever spice mixture goes with your tea flavor!
Brown sugar or honey, to taste
Other mix-ins - chopped apples, craisins, walnuts, golden raisins, flax seed meal, etc

Steep the tea bag in at least a cup of hot water. Add 1 cup of the tea to your bowl of oats (put the rest in your mug to drink while you make your breakfast!), stir it around a little to make sure the flavors mix in, and stick it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. 

That's it! Now you can add your milk, spices, and toppings. It may not be instant, but it's oh-so-much more fun! I love peach tea oatmeal with nutmeg, cinnamon, and flax seed meal. What about you??

Recipe note: So maybe I'm a tea snob, but I would suggest avoiding Lipton for this... you want something with more flavor! Some lower-quality teas you won't be able to taste hardly at all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Crocheting vs. Physics

If you're an older lady and you crochet, seriously, you're awesome. I'm 20 years old and my eyes are tired from all this stitch-counting and figuring out where to put my hook and such! But I must admit... I am in love.

When I was younger, my mom taught me to make chains with a crochet hook, and I could make those chains from sun-up to sun-down. Well. Not really. But I never realized how much more you could do with a crochet hook till a few years later! Over winter break, I made it my project to learn to crochet. For real. (First, I had to re-learn making a chain.) And now I'm addicted, and, as proof of the old lady I am turning into, I am procrastinating on doing my online physics homework right now by, you guessed it, crocheting. Leg-warmers, to be exact. I'm also calling all the local animal shelters and adopting every cat in the Tristate area.

Anyway, since this was a solo project and I learned everything I needed to know online, I thought it might be nice to post links to some of the great verbal and video tutorials I found for anyone else who might be trying to learn! (Also, selfishly, so that I can find them more easily when I need a refresher in the future!)

Rachel at Maybe Matilda has some GREAT tutorials from her Crochet Along, and that was the main resource I used (thank you, Rachel!!), as you'll see below!

2-part video tutorial for beginners that takes you from the yarn-buying to holding your hook to chaining, turning, all the important stitches, and crocheting in the round (very well explained!):

As for where to start, definitely start simple with a one- or two-stitch wonder. Something to let your fingers get the rhythm of crocheting before you launch into a pattern that throws a combination of stitches together into one big stitch! And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that it's worth it to take out your stitches, even if you've done rows and rows of them, if you realize you've made a noticeable mistake. Nice yarn is expensive, and your time is precious, so you want to make something you'll actually wear/use/give away, and not just hide on the top shelf of your closet!

Here's the pattern for the quite simple leg-warmers I'm making right now:
And here's my other project, the cowl they were working on in Rachel's Crochet Along:

If you have any questions about crocheting, at this point there is only a small chance of me being able to help you, but I will give it my best effort! Happy crocheting--I hope we can be old cat lady friends! :)

Here's the finished product of my leg-warmers! Finally finished my first real crocheting project!]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top 3 Reasons Why You Should Never Call Anyone (Including Yourself) Fat

  1. Physiologically, fat is a nutritional compound. It is necessary for bodily function. We store it in our bodies as adipose tissue, and some of us store more than others. You can appear “skinny,” but if you don’t exercise or eat right, you may actually have more fat stores than if you appear overweight but actually have a healthier balance of muscle and fat. So, to summarize, we all have fat, but that doesn’t mean that we are fat.
  2. The word has become loaded with stereotypes and derogatory connotations. Whether or not you mean it that way, it is an insult. In our culture, people are expected to look a certain way (a way that very few of us really look without airbrushing), and the generally desired appearance is size XS for girls. When you call someone fat, you are comparing them to the cultural XS ideal and saying they don’t fit it, instead of using a term that can be meaningfully (physiologically) defined, such as overweight. (Be careful about this term as well, though, because it can be hard to know if someone is actually overweight without knowing their BMI... and even BMI is far from a perfect measurement.)
  3. What someone looks like outwardly has nothing to do with who they are inwardly. Labels based on appearance are poor descriptions of anything that a person truly is, and detract from self-worth and confidence in one’s ability to change. If someone is overweight and wants to reach a healthier weight, the first step to sustainable change is to believe in one’s ability to make that change. Saying, “I am fat,” can evolve quickly into “I will always be this way; this is just how I am, and I cannot change it.” That is a dangerous mentality for weight, for all aspects of health, and for life itself.
Just remember, the foremost concern is health every time, not subjective evaluations (we can argue the subjective nature of health on a different day)!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Butternut Soup

First, let me tell you my sob story. The building I live in had all the ovens removed because of some kind of fire code. I didn't learn this until after I'd applied to live here. It's torturous to love cooking and baking and have to spend a year without a stove or an oven! But then, one happy day, I found a gorgeous crock-pot on Amazon for $20, and now I have both that and the microwave in which to prepare food! Much as I might complain, I know that I really am blessed to have that much, plus the money to buy all the delicious produce my heart desires to experiment with cooking. 

I think crock-pot cooking is really quite fun, especially in the winter-time. Soups are lovely in fall and winter, and crock-pots make it so easy! I buy some assortment of veggies, beans, pasta, rice, or whatever and throw it all together with some spices before I leave for class in the morning and voila! a delicious dinner is waiting (I can smell it from the stairwell... my poor tortured housemates!) when I get home that night.

Tonight's soup was inspired by a recipe in the book "Wholefood" by Jude Bleareau. (Which I highly recommend, by the way.) She put sweet potato, winter squash, and garbanzo beans together in a recipe, and, well, first of all, I happened to have all those things, and second of all, it's 23 degrees outside and that just sounded amazing. 

So, here's my Winter Butternut Soup:

1 butternut squash (or other winter squash), peeled and roughly chopped
2 sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 large onion, chopped small
1 red bell pepper, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 can garbanzo beans
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon basil
salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups water

Now, here's the best part: throw it all into the crock-pot (potatoes and garbanzo beans will cook best closer to the bottom of the pot, but you can stir it up a bit anyway to mix the flavors), and let it cook on low for 8 hours. I started it later than I meant to today, and so was impatient and hungry and dug in at about hour 6 and a half, so the beans were still a little al dente (can you use that word to describe beans? anyways.) but it was still delicious! 

Had to take another picture from the side just to show off my new dinnerware. I got my first set of porcelain dishes yesterday ($11.25 for a set of 4!) and I just think they're so pretty!

Let me know what you think of this recipe--I'm not a very experienced cook, so I'd love to hear what changes you would make! Enjoy!