The LL Challenge – Day 11

We’re eleven days in, how are we doing? Are you still with me?

Well, I told you I’d be posting periodically throughout the challenge to show you what’s in some of that pile-o-stuff. Unfortunately a bunch of stuff got in the way, one of them being whether or not I should even let you in on what I’m putting in that pile. I decided, however, that I have nothing to hide, and I’ve made a commitment to being real with everyone, so that includes you!

So, here’s a little bit about the very first item I pulled out:

{a.k.a. maybe one of the hardest posts I’ll ever write…}

This Easter-egg-yellow sweatshirt from Tennessee represented something absolutely major to me. But now, it’s become something that I’m also willing to let go of.

This was not pre-orchestrated. I had absolutely no intentions of pulling this sweatshirt first, nor did I even realize it was stowing away in the first drawer I opened. But there it was.

My Tennessee yellow. My emblem of freedom.

{Story}

You see, you may or may not know that once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago… {wait for it… wait for it…} I was married.

Gasp!

Neither the relationship nor its subsequent demise is something that today I am particularly proud of, nor frequently talk about. But let’s be honest for a minute, ok? I can’t change the fact that I was once married and am now divorced. I don’t announce that proudly, but neither can I ignore that it is the truth. It has now become a part of my history, just as much as is having had a pet hamster named Smoky when I was 10. I’m not trying to be humorous about it, I’m simply stating facts. Praise God that even through that season of darkness in my life {the divorce, not the hamster}, He saw fit to redeem me from really what felt like a grave. Thank you, Jesus. You are my Redeemer!

{If that’s going to cause you to stop reading and enjoying my blog right here right now, then that’s your prerogative. To which I would say, that’s also your loss.}

But let’s get back to that yellow sweatshirt.

When my marriage ended, I went on a long journey. It was quite a special journey, never to be replicated… One U-Haul with one car on the hitch, one iPod, one GPS, one loyal brother, one exasperated mother, and one very reflective, melancholy, brokenhearted, lost, deluded, troubled girl. And together, we drove. We sang, we cried, we ate, we yelled, we talked, we cursed, we sang, we shouted, we laughed. And we drove. Actually, my brother and I drove most of the time just to avoid having to sit spread-eagle in that middle seat, which wasn’t really a seat at all. {Sorry, Mom…} And when we got to Tennessee, things got a little chilly. So I browsed through the Cracker Barrel shop after dinner one night and found this. It was warm. It was a happy color. It said “Tennessee” on it, and I had never been to Tennessee, and so far, I thought it was just beautiful. It was the place where the first few real smiles had emerged from their hiding spot. I wanted to remember Tennessee.

Did I have to have it? No, probably not. I didn’t really think I had to have much of anything at the time. Life was just sort of swirling around me, dizzying me. Numb.

But it was late fall, a crisp wind was in the clear night air… and when one tiny thought suddenly flashed through my mind like a white-hot bolt of lightning in a summer desert sunset, it was settled.

I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to purchase it.

You see, he and I didn’t have any sort of mutually-trusting financial arrangement. I made a lot of money, and he made a lot of money. But I was not the accountant of the money, so the arrangement was pretty much this: If I wanted something, I had to ask first. And if anything was purchased outside of that arrangement, things didn’t bode well for me, which in turn didn’t bode well for the relationship itself. I will spare you the details, because this is really about that sweatshirt.

I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to purchase it.

I looked – ok, gawked – at the price tag. {Remember friend, I’m in the Cracker Barrel gift shop. Who buys sweatshirts there? Apparently I do.} I bought it because I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could. Surrounded by the glorious colors of fall on that early evening in Tennessee, I found my new leaf, this yellow sweatshirt-of-a-leaf, and turned it. That sweatshirt represented freedom for me. Hope.

Please don’t go thinking this post is all about women’s lib or how I must not be obedient to Ephesians-Five-Submissiveness. This is not about philosophy, feminism, or theology. This was simply one quiet act of acceptance that a very dark chapter in my life was nearing its close, and I was about to embark on a new one. A happy, yellow one.

Here’s where it gets a bit interesting. Naturally, I wasn’t eating well, wasn’t sleeping well. I basically had to remind myself just to breathe. I had lost so much weight through this ordeal, through my pain and heartache. Not by trying, mind you – that’s not my style – but just because. I already had major self-image issues due to the expectations of perfection that he had for my appearance, which didn’t help the fact that I wasn’t eating well. So I felt awful, and felt as if I looked awful. As it was, I was the skinniest I ever recall being.

But, oh the irony. That sweatshirt? I bought a size Xtra-Large.

I put it on right there in the Cracker Barrel gift shop and wore it for what seemed like another lifetime. But I was swimming in it! In fact, I think I kept myself hidden inside it for the rest of the trip.

Now, when I look at that sweatshirt, I see a lost, skinny girl who thinks she’s huge and feels like a $50 purchase is some sort of act of rebellion. No wonder I don’t wear it anymore. I certainly was pathetic.

I’m so thankful that God has pulled me out of that dark muck and mire that was tearing up my soul. Since He has put my feet on solid ground, He has helped me come to learn that:

  • The end of that relationship was not the true freedom I needed. Yes, it was not a good relationship for either of us, but my prison was much larger than the relationship itself. I want to make that distinction clear. I am free – not because I am no longer married, but because Christ has set me free. Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” {John 8:31}
  • Beauty does not depend on the size of one’s body, yet whose attention should I really be striving for anyway? “For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. {1 Samuel 16:7}

Dear Jesus, thank you for my Tennessee yellow, and the token reminder it was to me of the turning point I was going through. Thank you that it represented a new lease on life for me during my darkest days. I pray that it finds its way to another cold person who needs it more than I do and blesses them with warmth. God, I thank you most of all for allowing me true freedom which comes through you and you alone. O Lord, truly I am your servant; you have freed me from my chains. {Psalm 116:16} You are my Redeemer. Amen.

Do you feel like you are truly free? If not, do you want to be? What are the chains that are holding you back from experiencing true freedom? Just something to think about…

Ok, on to living lightly!

xo,

jen

The Live Lightly Challenge

God’s been really working on my heart and calling me to rethink my lifestyle.

Ok, wait a second before you go judging…🙂 First off, if you know me, I hope you know that I’m not exactly flashy. I don’t drool over name-brand purses, I hardly ever wear jewelry, and I’m still wearing the same pair of Payless tennis shoes since 2007.

But fancy purses and expensive shoes aside, I’ve still managed to aquire an awful lot of… stuff… And it’s becoming more and more obvious that God’s plan for me is to live lightly. Why? Well, here are a few reasons He has revealed to me.

  • Owning so much stuff is expensive. Looking back on my history, it seems as though I make a pretty considerable move every two years. By considerable, I mean across state lines, not just to a cooler apartment. This most recent relocation from Northern Virginia to Western Pennsylvania was especially stressful. I hired a moving company to do the hard work, thinking I was giving myself some relief from the stress of moving. Nope. My moving truck broke down leaving me with nothing but an overnight bag for nearly three weeks! That was my first wakeup call. When that moving truck finally arrived, I was ashamed at the amount of stuff that was unloaded – most of which I wasn’t even using! There are a lot more lasting things I can invest my money in, and I will save so much money {and stress} by owning less “stuff.” 
  • I often find myself clinging to what is familiar, instead of clinging to Jesus. With every move, the transition seems to get more difficult. I’m sure that’s because I’m getting older. I’ve become a bit more cautious. I’m still adventurous, but I don’t jump in with as much gusto that I used to. And in times of uncertainty like a big move, we look for what’s certain, what’s comfortable, what’s familiar. My things! I can see them and wear them. Familiar books can be reread, favorite bowls or plates dug out and all of a sudden my life looks like what I’m used to. But God calls us to cling to him during uncertain times. “Do not worry about tomorrow… Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” {Matthew 6:33-34} Why is it so hard to cling to God when it’s unfamiliar? Well, that’s obvious. We have to look harder to see Him. He’s not as visible. But I know he’s there. By living lightly, I leave myself nothing tangible to cling to when I need a sense of security, and force myself to cling to God alone.
  • It’s one of the costs of following Jesus. When he sent his disciples out, he specifically told them, “take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic {Luke 9:3}.” What does that mean to me right now? Well, I’m preparing to be used. I am waiting for him to send me out. And when he does, I want to make sure I’m ready to go. What if he calls me to go to Guatemala and work in an orphanage? What if he sends me to India to work with rescued girls? Even if he were to call me back to Arizona, or to Northern Virginia, my “baggage” does not reflect my readiness to follow very easily. And I don’t want to give him any reason to think I’m not willing and able to go wherever he wants me to go – whenever!
  • It’s about giving to someone who needs it more than I do. In John 21,
    Jesus asks Peter three times if he really loves him, and each time Peter says yes. With each response and with no hesitation, Jesus calls him to prove it by saying “feed my lambs,.. take care of my sheep,.. feed my sheep.” By meeting the needs of others, even through giving my clothes away to others who need them, I am not only showing them Christ’s love but also showing Jesus that I love him. In one of his parables, Jesus also says that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” I’m not willing to have the reputation of someone who is perfectly capable yet unwilling to meet a need. Especially when so much has been given to me.

I’ve been milling this over, and praying about it, and talking about it with a few friends for quite some time. Enough thinking already, it’s high time for action! So here’s my gameplan: I’m choosing 25 items of clothing to donate on April 1, and will continue selecting one item of clothing each day during the month of April. I’ll keep you updated throughout my destash. I’ll go through the good, the bad, and the ugly with what I’m saying adios to. I don’t want anyone to assume that I think this will be easy.

I don’t think it will be. {I’m already nervous about the end of the month and what my dress stash might look like.}

But it will be rewarding for all the reasons I’ve listed above.

Will you join me?

It’s not too late to start!

Here’s a picture of my day one pile to get you thinking!  I’ll tell you more about what’s all in there next time!

xo,

jen

Back from my hiatus

No hard feelings if you “defollowed” me.🙂 It has been a really hectic few weeks! Here’s a quick look at some photos to show you what I’ve been up to:

A trip to the desert, one of my favorite places in the world… Love having family and friends there, since it’s a great excuse to get me travelling!

Some serious silliness with these lovelies…

Of course with their mama {my cousin} and scootchie lil sis!

Then, of course some time with our other cousin {that’s her in between my mom and I}. Wish we could have stayed longer.

Bridal shower and wedding for one of my dearest friends! I couldn’t imagine not being there.

Of course, for a true desert experience, I convinced my cousin and mom to hike Camelback {the easy hike!} It was gorgeous.

Ok, you are right. This is not eight weeks worth of pictures. Sadly, only for the fun things do I carry a camera.

The less photogenic activities things can be summed up in this: studying!

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

A very dear friend and I have been talking about getting together for a few weeks now before she has her second baby.  {She’s due any day now!}  We finally made plans for Superbowl Sunday, but after I heard that just a few days before that she was in the hospital and having contractions, I started thinking I may not see her that weekend after all.  As God would have it, it was a false alarm!  She and her hubby headed back home later that same afternoon.  When we spoke over the weekend, she said she still wanted me to come over and keep her company on Sunday for a bit.

I decided if she’s that darn close to delivering, well, maybe I should bring some food with me, so she can relax and not have to worry about food.  {Plus it gives me another excuse to make cupcakes!}

Lasagna seemed like a great choice.  A huge tray makes tons of leftovers.  Plus, she’s Italian.

Only one problem…

I’ve never EVER made lasagna before. 

I didn’t realize that her parents were still in town from having dropped everything and coming just a few days before during the false alarm labor.  When I saw them as I walked in, I secretly panicked.  Famous for her homemade gravy (Italian for tomato sauce) and all things wonderfully yummy and Italian, I wondered how my tray of spinach and turkey would measure up for her.

Luckily, it was spectacular.  Everyone thought so – even her mom!

Here’s the recipe:

Spinach and Turkey Lasagna

*supposedly this is the official recipe from the White House Executive Chef, Sam Kaas.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound fresh ground turkey
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16 cooked whole-wheat lasagna noodles
  • 15 ounces low-fat ricotta or low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, washed, but not dried
  • 1 pound low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add ground turkey and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add damp spinach, stir until wilted. Add plum tomatoes, tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper; let simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in basil and parsley; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and egg; season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Ladle one-quarter of the turkey mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; spread to cover. Add 1/4 of lasagna noodles, one-third of the mozzarella, one-third of the ricotta mixture. Repeat process two more times; top with remaining lasagna noodles. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top; transfer to oven. Bake until bubbly, about 35-40 minutes.

Let stand about 5 minutes before cutting, and then serve.

What I learned from making this recipe:

  • I boiled my lasagna noodles before realizing that I had bought “no-boil” noodles.  It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  It was difficult to separate the noodles once they were cooked and drained, but rinsing in cold water helped with this.
  • I completely forgot to add the fresh herbs into the tomato sauce mixture but it still tasted fantastic.  I won’t forget it next time – who doesn’t love fresh basil?
  • The tomato/meat sauce seemed a touch on the stingy side, so be prepared for this if you are serving a crowd that may want extra sauce on the side.  {That’s how my own mom usually serves it.}

Whipped Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting with Red and White Stripes

Today was my day to bring a ‘treat’ for one of my classes.  To me that means, ‘bake something’ for my classmates.

I’m always talking about how much I love to bake, so often times they ask about it.  I usually have some kind of excuse like “I was so busy studying this weekend, I didn’t do any baking!”  In reality, I should be saying to them, “I baked cookies this weekend and didn’t save you any!

Shame on me.

Well, now if they’re reading this, they’re likely to be more inclined to push the issue.

{Good thing I just found the flat beater for my Kitchenaid that had been missing for nearly a month!}

With that in hand, I set out to make a perfectly chocolate cupcake with red-and-white peppermint cream cheese frosting.

Here’s my very own recipe for the frosting. This was also my first attempt at it, so I was praying the whole time that it came together and, it worked!

Whipped Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

{Makes 12 cupcakes.  Easily doubled.  Piping is a breeze.}

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese *Don’t skimp and get low-fat or fat free kind.  You will thank me later.
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure mint extract
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream

Use your Kitchenaid mixer with the Whisk attachment to whip the cream and cream of tartar.    Spatula it out into a huge bowl.  Then put your flat Beater attachment onto your mixer {no need to clean the bowl}, and beat the cream cheese, sugar, and mint.  When that’s nice and fluffy, add your cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream, folding gently but thoroughly, using a wooden spoon or a spatula.

{No stand mixer?   No problem – your electric mixer will do just fine for both whipping the creams and beating the cream cheese. Just make sure to do them separately.}

It’s done!  Let me show you my piping skillz.

I’ve seen frosting stripes a few times online and wanted to try a new technique.  I cut the tip off of my piping bag, and used a Wilton 1M tip.  Using a small paintbrush and some red food gel, I painted about five or six long, dark stripes.

pastry tip with gel paint stripes

{Your cupcakes must be completely cooled before piping.  It doesn’t take long.  Your impatience will otherwise give you frosting that slides right off your cake!}

What I learned from making this recipe:

  • Everyone loves the frosting.  It’s light {no butter} so with a light cake, it’s the perfect combination for a non-filling treat.  {After eating one, I overheard my professor say something like “hashtag frosting,” which made some of us laugh.  I’m so glad this was a hit!}
  • I was pretty heavy handed with the food gel, since it was my first time with this method.  Just a few dark stripes of food color in the bag striped about 35 cupcakes.  But the first few were very dark and unappetizing, and the last few were so faint that the color was barely noticeable.  It was that middle ‘sweet spot’ of about 25 cupcakes that looked the prettiest.  {I’m sorry I do not have pictures!} Next time I make this, I’ll paint the lines, then just squeeze a fair amount of frosting back into the bowl.  Or I may just make the paint lines a bit lighter.
  • My cupcakes caved inward a bit.  I used the first few wonky ones as practice, but using the Wilton 1M tip covered them over really easily and no one noticed.  It was my first time doing roses, I usually do swirly caps.  {Start in the middle and pipe outward for a flat rose.  Start on the edges and pipe inward for a swirly cap.}  I love how the roses came out.

pretty swirly cupcake

It’s Superbowl weekend!  Cupcakes on your gameplan?  You can try this with just a few red and blue stripes, and you’ll be a hit with whoever your crowd is rooting for!

Happy weekend!

xo,

Jen

Do you seriously think God can’t use you?

I’m in this great new small group at church, and we’re reading Me, Myself and Lies by Jennifer Rothschild.  I love this woman!  Not only is she a woman who really strives to know the Lord, she’s got a great personal story.  And she’s a good storyteller, too!  That usually makes a difference.  Read more about Jennifer on her homepage here.  You might hear me talk more about her later, since she’s a favorite of mine.

But this week, we talked a lot about labels.  Labels that we impose on ourselves, labels that others impose on us, or labels that just sort of become part of who we are.  Some labels we might use to identify or describe ourselves could be things like “stepmother,” “outgoing,” “teacher,” “anorexic,” “fat,” “stupid,” “divorced,” or “irrational.”

“Incapable.”

“Broken.”

“Failure.”

Ouch.  When I examined my own labels this week, I really had to dig through which of my labels were actually true and which ones weren’t.  Whether they are true or false, unchangeable or permanent, how often do I find myself hiding behind them?  How often do they keep me from acting, saying or doing something that I know I should?  Should I allow them to hold me back?

I can think of quite a few labels that paralyze me or hold me back.  I bet you can, too.  Often, particular labels that I choose to (or simply have to) bear seem to have the ability to render me useless to God.  Or so I think they do.  There are things I want to do, or wish I could do, but inside I hear myself making excuses based on my labels.  “It’s useless to try because you know you won’t finish. You’re just lazy.”  “Why would they believe anything you say about {whatever}?  You’re just ______!”

I’ve been mulling all this over since small group this morning, wondering about those various labels I hide behind, knowing that God wants me to start taking them captive.  That’s right -full on imprisonment.  Punishment.  Life Sentence.

Then later this evening on Pinterest  {Remember my love affair with the site?}, I came across this great quote.  Ok, a bit more than a quote… a mini essay.  But it speaks to exactly what I’ve been thinking about, and I know God put it there to catch my eye.

{So, is wasting time on Pinterest permissible when it’s really divine intervention?  As I say… “oooh, how pinteresting.”}

{By the way, what a fun image of Jesus, pinning.}

But seriously.  One label in particular can really hold a lot of power over me.   It can sometimes make me feel incapable of so many things.  I’m finally ready to pull out my handcuffs and read it the Miranda.

Anything you can take away from it?

xo,

Jen

My favorite artisan bread

If you’re like me, you spend too much lots of time on Pinterest.  These days, who doesn’t?

{Oh, you don’t?  You are missing out.  Well, email me for an invite, and we’ll take care of that.}

Anyway, one of the very first things I found on Pinterest when I started playing around a few months back was this amazing artisan bread recipe.  It’s super easy to prepare, and very affordable for a cost-cutting grad student like me.  It’s also easily the best bread I’ve ever had, so that’s what I call a triple-win!

 

I’m reposting it right here so you can have it, and also so I don’t have to dig through my bookmarks (or Pins) to find it.

What a waste of valuable ‘pinning’ time that would be.

http://theitaliandishblog.com/imported-20090913150324/2010/2/26/amazing-artisan-bread-for-40-cents-a-loaf-no-kneading-no-fus.html

Easy Homemade Artisan Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water – just a touch above 100 degrees
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of granulated instant yeast {or two packets}
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher or coarse sea salt       *I tried regular table salt once, bad idea…
  • 6 ½ cups unsifted all purpose flour

Make the dough:

Dump all the ingredients into your stand mixer and mix just until combined.  20 seconds is all it should take!  (If you don’t have a stand mixer, just stir it with a wooden spoon.)  The dough should be loose and pretty wet.

Transfer your dough to a plastic bucket and cover with lid (not airtight).  The dough needs to be able to breathe.  I use a basic plastic shoebox from the Container Store.  Let your plastic bucket sit on the counter at room temperature for at least two hours.  Let it rise!  Then, put it in the refrigerator for at least three hours before shaping a chunk into a loaf.  Unless you are so hungry for bread that you can’t wait to bake it!  In that case, just know that your dough will be sticky and harder to work with.  It’s the price you pay for impatience.

{Three hours later}

Shape it:

Place a piece of parchment paper on top of a baking sheet (or upside down baking sheet).  Dust your hands and parchment with a bit of flour.  Grab your dough from the fridge and marvel at how big it has become!

Cut a chunk of dough about the size of a grapefruit and shape it into a ball.  You need  to stretch the skin of it out a bit on top to smooth it out, and push the excess underneath.  I don’t have pics of this but my link does.  {maybe I’ll add some later.}  It is hardly as complicated as it sounds, just pull the dough taut onto itself.  This smoothes the top and creates the “gluten cloak” for a good crust.  It shouldn’t take you any time at all once you get the hang of it.

Let the loaf rise for an additional 30-40 minutes uncovered on your parchment paper-lined sheet.

{Hungry yet?  I know!}

Preheat your baking stone or sheet on the middle rack for 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Put an empty cake pan below it to preheat as well.   Set a cup of water next to your oven.  You’ll need this!

{30-40 minutes later}

Dust your loaf with a tiny bit of flour and slash the top with a very sharp knife.  Make it pretty!  Three slashes across or an X.  This allows the gases out of your bread while it bakes.  Pretty and functional.

{It’s time, my friend.}

Bake it!

Slide the sheet of parchment with your lovely loaf onto the hot baking stone/sheet in the oven.  Quickly pour that cup of water into the baking pan under the baking stone and close the door!  Quick!  Did you hear it sizzle?  That’s the sound of a crispy crust forming on your bread.   {I usually have T help me out because the oven is so dang hot by then!}

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until crispy golden brown.  When you remove it from the oven you will hear the bread ‘sing’ and crackle.  That means you did it just right!

It will be cool enough to eat in about 15 or so minutes, or as long as you can wait for it.

Keep the remaining dough covered (not airtight) in the refrigerator and enjoy it for as long as it’s there.   It’s like wine, it will get better as the days go by.  {Ok, well up till about 2 weeks or so!}  The original recipe says to keep the little bready bits in your container when you make a new batch.  I usually clean it after maybe three go-rounds or so.

The hardest part of this recipe is the waiting.  Honestly!  It takes a small investment of time but it is such a cost-savings.  Most of these loaves will run you $3-5 each at the grocery store!  This bread is fabulous with Nutella, butter, jam… I love it best with the homemade apple butter I made in the fall.  Sometimes before baking, I sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top to make it like a yummy salty pretzel bread.  So good!

Why hello, yummy pretzel!

So, what are you making that you found on Pinterest?

xo,

Jen