New Things Conquered in 2018

I’m a list maker. Not only to-do lists or grocery lists or prayer lists, though… I keep lists of books I read each year, lists of goals I set, lists of new things I’ve tried.

In 2018, I tried my hand at a few new experiences:  baking Arnold Palmer cupcakes (that tasty mix of sweet tea + lemonade) for a family member’s birthday; fermenting watermelon rind (for the pro-biotic value); and making homemade biscotti–to name a few. I also baked sweet potato bread for the first time–for a friend’s birthday and then also as a gift to my spiritual director, Elaine.

pickled watermelon rind

Watermelon rind in the fermenting process

All those new attempts were food related, weren’t there? Well, here’s one more new-to-2018 experience that also took place in the kitchen:  making my own Amish Friendship Bread starter.

I first heard of–and baked with–Amish Friendship Bread starter a few weeks before I gave birth to Garfield, when another mom gave me a batch. I let the process of feeding and dividing the starter–and then sharing and/or baking with it–fall by the wayside, though, once I had a newborn and toddler. {I also had two children in cloth diapers for three months.}

Then I read a sweet novel called Friendship Bread last year and started thinking of baking with this concoction again. The novel garnered such a following that it spawned a website–www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com. Since I now had access to many recipes utilizing the starter, I thought I would give it a try.

I followed the site’s instructions to create my own starter (yeast, milk, flour, sugar) and, within ten days, I had many cups of the starter to use for baking. I also learned from a former church friend (still my friend, just not at the same church) that I could freeze the starter so I wouldn’t have to use or give it away all at once.

blurry fireworks

I’ve had active starter since early this fall and have baked it in pizza dough, snickerdoodles, sandwich bread, blueberry muffins, strawberry bread (not nearly as good as it sounded), another batch of biscotti, and chocolate mint cookies. The cookies tasted good but had a face only a mother could love. The six dozen I baked yielded only about two dozen pretty enough to offer at a cookie exchange, but the boys scooped the rest up throughout the following week and let nothing go to waste.

But my favorite way so far to use this starter has been cinnamon rolls. They need a night to rise, but they are worth the wait. After making them once for my family, I decided I’d contribute these to Christmas festivities at my family’s home back in Mississippi. They were well-received there, too.

You can find more recipes at the friendship bread kitchen website, but not all are equally good. I did share one batch of starter with my friend Lauren, so hopefully she can begin creating her own AFB starter delights, too.

And outside the kitchen… I got published in two new-to-me periodicals (Woman’s World and Purpose magazines). I made bracelets for an outreach to party-goers attending a local rave. I performed two new roles for Cru, one of which finished in October. I volunteered with Jobs Partnership and re-purposed new cakes of soap from soap crumbles. Along with my family, I experienced a Jewish Passover Seder just before Easter.

The Lord has been so, so good to bring such sweet gifts into my life. I’m trusting that there will be more sweet things to taste, to experience, and to bake in 2019.

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There’s Victory Within the Almost Success

During 2018, we went without Netflix for 6 months:  4 months from mid-January to mid-May; then again from mid-October to mid-December, we bypassed that subscription. In the absence of Netflix, I watched several TED talks {for free} on Youtube.

One of those centered on the topic of achieving dreams by setting goals–but flipped that concept on its ear. Tim Ferriss’s talk on Fear Setting addressed the need to define our fears instead of our goals.

black and white antique car

After listening, I jotted down a few notes in my journal (I have a few of those–this particular one I’m referencing is where I write notes from books I read, among other ideas). I didn’t pay much attention to those notes, though, until recently, when I turned to that journal to write down something else.

And this caught my eye:  When considering setting and working toward a new goal, he suggests we ask ourselves this question:  What might be the advantage of the attempt or partial success?

monopoly car and game

The advantage of the attempt? I pondered this skeptically and thought I’d better talk to Jesus about this. Lord, is there success even in the trying–in the taking of a step of faith? Is THAT a success, really? And partial success–that can be counted victorious, too, Lord? 

Sounded too good to be true. And yet… This idea settled inside me. I reflected on the dreams I’d pursued over the past few years that fizzled or never came to fruition at all, and I let myself follow God’s grace to celebrate the attempts–stepping out in faith and trusting the results to God–and the partial victories:  My women’s service group closed after a year or so, but before it folded, we raised funds to help women, children, and families both in the U.S. and abroad. I never got to serve with GAiN and the Luo Pad project, but the presentation I gave on this program at my sister’s church resulted in LOTS of pads being created and donated.

This concept–that trying and that achieving some success can actually be called a triumph–is liberating for me. And it helps me dig deeper into this truth that I sensed God teaching me earlier this year:  The fact that Christ is worthy means He’s worthy of broken dreams and confusion and uncertainty as I try and follow after Him.

The defining question for those of us who belong to Him becomes not, “Is this worth it?” but “Is He worthy?” And asking that question can lead us to abundant victory in the small steps of faith and the almost-successes along the way.

 

 

The Loaf of Christmas Bread

Standing on our neighbor’s tiny porch (although still bigger than our nonexistent one), I wondered how long we’d stay and chat. We needed to finish cleaning the kitchen, to do our Advent reading with the boys, to get them to bed.

I’d baked a loaf of homemade bread as a gift to our neighbor, a single woman living alone, last year. She appreciated it tremendously, so I thought I would make one for her this year as well. I’d like to think of this as a new tradition–sharing bread when we celebrate the birth of the One called Bread of Life.

By the time I finished baking, cooling, and wrapping it in foil, the end of the evening drew near, and there were chores to do.

bread loaf in hands

But I wanted to give the bread to M. while it was still fresh, so the four of us trudged to her house together once I had our gift for her all prepped. As we handed over a Christmas card and the still-warm loaf, we struck up a conversation. As she stood talking with us, wearing her bath robe, she began to share more and more about her life.

M. explained how she’d almost lost her job this year, but in the end, she’d held onto her position as the company where she worked got bought by another one. She spoke about work she’d had done on her home, the surgery she’d had last spring…In all this, she expressed gratitude. At one point, she began to cry, overcome with emotion about the ups and downs of 2018.

Looking at the bread, wrapped in aluminum foil and nestled in a bag, I idly wondered if she would eat it. Then I remembered. The bread isn’t the important part of this budding Christmas tradition with our neighbor; it’s the visit. The conversation. The intentional step to bake something good with her in mind and then deliver it to her.

M. didn’t stand out on her porch talking with us about the time she got robbed at gun point or the transitions she’s experiencing at work because we brought her bread. She engaged with us because we shared ourselves.

It’s true, y’all. Presence trumps presents. Every time.

 

 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Dream Come True

Over the years, a lot of ideas have popped into my head that I’d like to try–some I’d even go so far as to call dreams. Or at least they seem as though they’d be fun to do.

Around the time I turned 30, I applied to be on Survivor. The show had been running for years before I watched even one episode. Then, when Mike and I got married, I joined him in his affinity for this reality show. When I saw the big 3-0 on the horizon, I must have thought I needed to do something, and Survivor was that something. Needless to say, the whole process didn’t go far; in the end, I realized it was totally for the best that I wasn’t chosen to wear one of those buffs (Do they still do that? I haven’t watched it in 10 years or more), because we went to New Zealand about 6 months after I submitted my application forms.

woman on branch

Those other ideas-slash-dreams? One was (I can officially call it past tense now) to get the chance to model, even for a one-off opportunity. I never pursued this, of course–I’m short and not particularly skinny and, at this point, too old to look for a way down that path. But still. It remained one of those rarely-thought-about, back-of-my-mind ideas. Like getting to be the voice of a cartoon character one day.

Then:  Craigslist. Last month, I found a photographer who wanted real-life women to model their thrift-store fashion for a magazine he’s designing. It’s a one-time issue that will be offered for free in shops around Orlando. I haven’t seen the magazine yet (it comes out later this month), but it has–according to the photographer/designer–a kind of subversive theme, disdaining high-price designer fashion and instead highlighting second-hand or homemade duds.

So, two days before Thanksgiving, we met up for a quick photo shoot–and it was SO MUCH FUN, y’all. James–the photographer/magazine designer–took 13 pics, I got to pick the best one for the magazine, and the rest I can use as I see fit. (And, yes, it’s legit–I’ve already seen some of the layout.)

Allison thrift store outfit

The shot above is one of those 13. For the magazine, each piece we wore (including jewelry) had to cost less than $20. Here’s the scoop on this outfit…

Shirt– $2; skirt– $12. I purchased both at Transitions Resale Boutique that supports Samaritan Village Ministries, helping women escape sex trafficking. Shoes–$8 bought at a thrift store in Colorado in 2017. All together, this get-up costs less than $23.

But perhaps the most significant part (or point) of this little experience goes far beyond my own sense of fulfillment. Because I did pray, as I made preparations for our 5-minute photo shoot (at an old church where a small school met, and one of the women working at the school watched us the whole time, because she said parents were about to come zipping into the parking lot to pick up their children. She didn’t want us to get run over, and we had to ask veeery nicely to get those 5 minutes by the brick wall. It felt slightly weird to have her observe, but I just pretended I was the real deal and didn’t care if I looked stupid, which I know for sure I did in at least a few of the photos)…

Anyway, I prayed…I prayed that God would be glorified in this, not Allison. And here’s how I think He answered that prayer:  With each photo featured in the magazine, the model gets to share her thoughts about choosing frugal fashion. Here’s what I submitted as my statement:  “As a follower of Jesus and His Word, stewardship of my life and resources is very important. If I spend more money on myself, I have less to share with others. I have a motto:  Live cheap; give big.” 

Of all the people who’ll eventually pick up this magazine, perhaps one will consider the reality of Jesus Christ because of these words.

This outfit not only fits the bill as a Wear It Well Wednesday ensemble, but it helped make a little dream come true. I’ll be sure to keep y’all updated on whether the cartoon character voice opportunity comes about. And, hey, it’s almost a new year–great things just might be afoot.

 

A Christmas Craft On the Cheap

Most Christmas seasons, I don’t set out to create handicrafts with my boys. I tend to focus my energies on finding ways for us to give as a family during Advent. Recently, though, I stumbled across an idea in a magazine that spurred me on toward some creativity.

boys painting cans

Using empty cans (ours once held mandarin oranges), we built a Christmas tree arrangement. After stripping off the paper wrappers from the exteriors of the cans, we painted them green. You can see the boys accomplishing that above. Truth be told, Cheapy McCheapSkate (aka Allison) wouldn’t have chosen to do this project if we hadn’t already had the leftover Jargon Jade from the painting we had done in October.

Once the cans dried, I’d assumed we’d stack them in a pyramid design (as I’d seen in the magazine) and admire our tin can Christmas tree. But Woodrow wanted to add paint to resemble twinkly lights. Garfield declared it didn’t quite look like a tree without a trunk, so Woodrow improvised one with an extra empty can, some brown construction paper, and a bit of cardboard.

tin can Christmas tree

But Woodrow hadn’t quite finished. For the star on top, he grabbed a birthday cake candle, lit it, and dripped some melted wax on the top can. He stuck the candle in the wax, then attached the yellow paper star he’d cut out to the candle. Then we concluded it was complete! And there you have it, folks:  an almost-free Christmas craft made by my children that will {hopefully} last for years to come.

Celebrating the Season With Books

One year in middle school, I asked for glitter perfume for Christmas. I tried explaining that to Woodrow today as we discussed his Christmas wish list.
Huh? He said. You mean it sprayed out glitter with the perfume?
Yep. I don’t know how well it worked; I didn’t receive any that year and never saw it advertised again in magazines or catalogs.
Christmas with tiles
To look at Woodrow’s short list of wished-for presents, you’d think we were raising Tarzan:  a Gator machete (the junior version, that is); another knife along with its case; a Jungle Hunter II slingshot.
We had a long conversation about the machete, y’all. He’s more or less persuaded me. I also plan to get him a book of Ansel Adams photography, since Woodrow is a budding photographer himself. And for his stocking? A couple canisters of French fried onions. Yes, the kind that go on top of green bean casserole. He and I love to eat those things right out of the can.
Still working on ideas for Garfield…he often asks for money to buy more collectible Hot Wheels. And both boys have asked for dry sacks for outdoor adventure, particularly camping. I tell you, it’s almost dangerous to go to REI with my family.
Christmas cookies
Apart from gifts, we have other holiday rituals–including Advent giving, which I’ll blog about in the near future. Soon, I’ll pull out our stack of children’s Christmas books that we’ll read throughout the season. In case you’re searching for Christmas books to share with children–your own or others’–here are some we’ve enjoyed. Naturally, they cover different age and grade levels. 
These stories are oriented around giving, serving, family, love, and the Christ child. In other words, they are primarily “non Santa” books.
And every year I try to read (on my own) a collection of L.M. Montgomery’s, Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories. Heartwarming, endearing, and predictable… Each one lifts my spirits year after year.
Happy holiday reading!
 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Polka Dot Hoodie + Gray Jeans

I realized a few days ago that ten–TEN–years have passed since I was last pregnant, since we celebrated Garfield’s tenth birthday last week. An entire decade. There’s still a part of me that sits in disbelief that I’ll never have another baby. But, alas, that season has passed.

All those years ago, when I got dressed or picked out an outfit to attend some event, I asked–Can I nurse in this? A dress that zipped up the back, for instance, got relegated to the back of the closet until my nursing sessions were less frequent. Now, I don’t have to ask that question anymore when I choose my clothes.

And here are the clothes I’m choosing for today’s Wear It Well Wednesday post (awkward transition, huh?)…

gray jeans and polika dot top

Here, I’m sporting hand-me-down jeans and necklace (from family members) plus the thredUP [second-hand] sandals purchased a few weeks ago. I also bought the multi-colored polka dot shirt I’m wearing.

The top, bought at D’echoes Resale Emporium (I told y’all about that shop before), has several interesting features:  a hood, shallow pockets right on the front of the shirt, and sleeves that cuff up to reveal more of the red and white polka dot fabric.

Not all my consignment shop experiences have been positive ones, though. Not long after we got married, I took a few items to a local consignment shop in hopes of selling them. This particular store accepted certain pieces without paying for them up front. If they sold, the store would keep part of the profits, and the seller would get some, too.

So, I left a bride’s maid’s dress, a jumpsuit (that looked great on the rack for next to nothing at a salvage store but just plain weird when I got it home), and a mini-skirt from my sister at Bonnie’s (or Connie’s or something like that) and hoped to make some cash.

A few weeks passed, and I called the shop to find out if anything had sold. No. A couple more weeks passed, I called again, and I got no answer on the phone–during business hours. I called the next day, the next, and the next, not getting anybody on the phone for several days.

Finally, Bonnie–or Connie or somebody–herself answered and told me that, since the store hadn’t been making much money, she’d decreased the hours. Which sounded backwards to me, but whatever… Then, a week or so later, I drove by the location of her store on the way to a doctor’s appointment, only to find it completely empty. Empty of everything:  clothing, people, racks.

Apparently, Bonnie’s/Connie’s/Somebody’s had gone out of business and taken the rest of the merchandise with them. I never did get that bride’s maid’s dress, mini-skirt, or weird jumpsuit back.

But my recent trip to D’echoes resale shop proved more successful than the unfortunate experience with Bonnie’s, because I do like this shirt. I hope you’re having fun putting together your fall wardrobe and that you’re finding opportunity to include some second-hand pieces, too.