Friday, November 30, 2012

Never Buy Bread Again!

Oooh, I made my title sound like a too-good-to-be-true infomercial. But this really can be done, and I'm living proof. I can be a, let's say, casual homemaker. I love baking, but I don't care to do it on someone elses schedule. To know you have to go through the process, including daunting clean up, three times a day, seven days a week, for eight people (well, less for lunch, but you get the idea), can turn just about anyone off to cooking. So, in order to make me feel better about myself, I decided to give up store bought bread and make my own bread. We go through 10 loaves a week, which means that I make bread at least five days a week (I give a fair amount of it away too). If you are a stay-at-home mom, or a work-at-home mom, it's really easy to do (although people seem to have the mistaken idea that working with yeast bread is hard). It doesn't take a lot of active time, but it does take someone to be around the house for several hours. Consider yourself warned, though - once you move to homemade bread, you'll never want to go back to store-bought bread. My kids complain mightily if we ever run out of homemade bread. This is an easy, basic recipe that will make a great-tasting white bread that works for sandwiches, toast, or snacking. Now one last caution about homemade bread, before I give you the recipe and instructions: it's a very finicky thing, the dough. Now, the end product nearly always tastes the same, but the dough and the appearance of the loaves vary quite a lot from batch to batch. So, sometimes you have a perfectly rounded loaf, sometimes it'll be flatter. Sometimes your dough ball will be satiny smooth, other times it'll be stickier. Yeast dough takes on a life of its own, which makes it a fantastic "science experiment" to share with your kids.

First, put on some good tunes.  Right now I'm grooving to Holiday Happenings on DirecTV's music channels, although I usually enjoy The Spirit.  I find that happy music makes a task that's sometimes mundane more enjoyable (and very Disneyesque, am I right?)

Next, grab an apron.  You'll feel like the real deal with it on, and you'll save yourself from any flour spills.  Right now I'm sporting my Feliz Navidad (made by my mother-in-law) apron, but usually I'm a sucker for a pretty, frilly vintage apron

Okay, now on to the actual baking work.  First you must warm 2 1/4 cups water to 110 to 120 degrees.  I just do this in the microwave and then use my candy thermometer to check it.  This is crucial because if the water is not warm enough it won't activate the yeast, but if it's too hot it'll kill it.  When the temperature is right, pour the water into your mixing bowl.
Next comes the yeast.  If you plan to bake a lot, you'd do well to buy a compressed packet of yeast.  I bought mine at Costco and opened it and keep it in a well-sealed canister.  You can also use packets.  Add one packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise) to the warm water, which has been transferred to your mixing bowl.  Let it sit for a few minutes - I usually take advantage of this time to load the dishwasher with breakfast dishes and wipe down the counters 

Now we're ready for the rest of the ingredients.  Add 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 Tablespoon salt, 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (canola oil will work too), and 3 cups flour (I usually regular white flour).  Stir until combined.  Then add 3 to 3 1/4 cups more flour gradually, until the mixture forms a soft dough.  I have a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook, so I let it do the kneading for me.  I set the timer for six minutes and I wash the leftover dishes while it kneads (I have the Artisan mixer, so this is a lot of dough for it to handle and it has a tendency to "travel" a bit while kneading, and sometimes the dough will try to climb up the hook, so I keep an eye on it the whole time - with the 6 or 7 qt KitchenAid, you could probably walk away).  If you do not have a dough hook or heavy duty mixer, you need to take the dough out and knead it by hand for eight to ten minutes on a lightly floured surface.   


Now, there are all sorts of ways that you could let your bread rise, but the easiest way I've found is to preheat my oven to its lowest setting (which, for me, is 170 degrees) and then crack the oven a few inches.  Grease a large bowl with cooking spray, put the rounded dough ball into the bowl, spray the top lightly with cooking spray, and lay a lightweight towel gently over the top.  I put mine right on top of the stove for its rising cycle.  The time it takes for the bread to double can vary quite a bit.  On a humid day, it's closer to an hour, but on a very dry day it can take twice as long.  I set my timer for an hour and then check it.  Once it's doubled, punch the dough in the center and then flip it out of the bowl onto a clean counter.  Divide it in half and gently shape it into a log shape with the seam on the bottom.

Lay your two logs into two loaf pans sprayed with cooking spray, lightly spray the top, and cover with the same light towel.  This rising cycle is even more variable than the first, in my opinion.  It might take as little as 30 minutes, or as long as an hour.  You want to see the loaves double in size.  Once that happens, close your oven and preheat it to 375 degrees.  Remove the towel and pop into the middle shelf of your oven, side by side.  Set the timer for 30 minutes.

Voila - two leaves of gorgeous, tasty, homemade white bread.  As an added bonus, your home will smell absolutely wonderful throughout the baking process.  I let the bread cool completely (which takes several hours) and then wrap in plastic wrap.  Day-old bread is easier to cut, and tastes just as delicious as same-day bread, so we usually are baking one day ahead.  The bread is preservative free, but it still lasts, wrapped, for five or six days. 




Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I'm "That" Mom

Hero, in standard skating garb, which she wears a lot of the time anyways.

I don't exert a lot of control over what my teenager wears.  I know that's unfathomable to some.  I control what I buy for her, certainly, but I try my best not to control what she wears to fit MY sense of taste and decorum.  There are boundaries that cannot be crossed, of course (I have had to pull the "you will not leave my house in that" card a few times), but outside of those, I try my best to leave it up to her discretion.  I think that that might put me on the fringe, for someone who has pretty strict standards for herself.  Most blogs I read have mom working hard to make sure that her daughters live and dress exactly like herself.  But that just doesn't sit right with me.  I mean, I hope my daughters grow up to dress in a way that is something I like seeing.  But, forcing the issue is antithetical to me.  I want my childrens' eventual, mature (although, of course, we are always growing) relationship with God to be one not borne out of habit and environment.  I want it to be something intensely personal.  I don't want them to substitute going to church, tradition, style of dress, holding a certain set of morals, or behaving in a certain way for real, true faith.  And so, I allow my teen to develop her own style, to decide what makes HER feel beautiful and confident and empowered.  It's a thousand times more important to me that she learn to be obedient and committed to Christ than that she wear a hemline or neckline of a certain length. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another Thankful Post, With a Twist

My, I know I'm jumping back and forth, so forgive me. I thought of another thing I'm thankful for - my four girls. Now, of course I'm thankful for my two boys too, that goes without saying, but lately my own lack of sisters has been weighing on me. I'm sure that many women with sisters would be quick to point out that there's no guarantee that you'd be close to your sisters. And, besides the time when my mom called from the hospital after my second brother was born to tell me that it was a boy (I was 7 at the time, and that was before people had routine ultrasounds, so gender was still a surprise) and I hung up on here because I was upset (she never let me live that one down), I actually hadn't spent a lot of time sad about not having a sister. I tended to focus on the positive - that I was the only girl in the family (which I think has its perks) and that my mom and I were especially close. My mom and I always got along well, especially becoming close friends as I became an adult. But now that she's gone, I feel the absence of a sister more keenly. I mean, I truly, truly enjoy my brothers. I wouldn't trade them for a hundred sisters. But I do think it's just different. They don't want to chat on the phone for a few hours, they don't want to go shopping with me, they don't want to be in the room when I give birth - that's the kind of stuff that I miss sharing. I'm not one who makes friends easily. I'm not sure why. I'm just not very likeable or warm (ha, that sounds pathetic and woe-is-me, but I really don't mean it that way - I'm being perfectly blunt, is all). I've always been that way, I suppose - closely bonded to one or maybe two people at a time. And I certainly haven't gone out of my way to make friends in town (will I always consider myself an "outsider", even though I've already lived here for 14 years? perhaps). But, anyways, the point of my post was not to dwell in what I don't have, but instead to rejoice in what I DO have - which is four amazing young ladies and little girls that will grow up to have each other and me (and their daddy and their brothers) for the rest of their lives.


These are the most recent pictures I have of all the sisters, from November 2010 - I need to make sure I take another one soon!

This is a more recent one from this month, of the littlest girls - I love this picture.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

American Self-loathing vs. Radiating Joy

I see a common refrain as the holiday season gathers steam amongst Christians - a gloom and doom assessment of the state of the American people.  I've heard Americans call other Americans, as a whole, disgusting, ungodly, horrible, worthless people.  I'm not sure where this phenomenon of American self-loathing comes from - perhaps guilt about having so much when so many in the world have so many (but that's a whole other post for another day)?  But, coming from a Christian, as it more often than not does - I REALLY don't get it.  Too many Christians live a life of fear and anger.  The joy that should be absolutely flowing out of us is missing.  Especially during this precious season when we are preparing to celebrate God's greatest gift to us.  I'm not naive - certainly gross materialism and over consumption is a problem that plagues this country.  And yes, a few people behave badly on Black Friday (that's what spurred this post - a Christian upset about Black Friday in particular).  But I tend to think that you find what you are looking for.  If you are convinced that America is a worthless Sodom or Gommorah, you will (conciously or subconciously) latch onto the stories that confirm that viewpoint.  And goodness knows that that's not difficult in our modern world because sensationalism and bad behavior makes news and sells ad space.  But I think America is still an amazing country, full of incredible people.  So, I observe the little niceties that go on on Black Friday (on both sides of the aisle - I worked retail for several years during Black Friday back before I had a homeful of little ones, and I've made a tradition with my mother and sister-in-law and daughters of doing shopping and enjoying a meal afterwards every Black Friday).  People sharing.  People being gracious.  People teaching their children to have manners.  People giving a salesperson a gentle smile to defuse a tense situation.  What a difference that makes in my attitude.  Focusing on the positive helps me (hopefully!) radiate the joy of the immeasurable gift of the season - God's only Son. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Ruminations

Being that this is a Thanksgiving post, I'm thankful, first and foremost, that my Lord is a God of comfort.  I don't think I've ever expressed that before, but this year that was the way in which I needed Him the most. 
Because of the LORD'S great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Thank you Lord, for sustaining me through this difficult year. Thank you for allowing me to find some measure of joy and happiness each every day, no matter how small or mundane, which I hold onto like a life preserver when the grief and sadness crowds its way back in. My life and my heart will never be exactly the way it was, but I can still sing:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford, 1873

I'm also thankful for my beautiful, loud, chaotic, loving, boisterous, loud, enthusiastic, fun family. Did I forget to say LOUD? I'm so blessed.

Ian (8.5), Colin (5), Hero (13), Elle (2), Cecily (3.5), Allegra (10.5) on Thanksgiving Day, prior to heading over for dinner at the in-laws
In the interest of making sure that I'm in family photos, even though I despise photographs of my self, here's a picture of the kids and I.  Ian has a "thing" about family pictures.  He always seems to develop an insta-attitude.  That's why his pictures are so lovely.

This was attempt number two.  A no go, as you can see.  I think Elinor was physically knocked off the piano bench there.  And Mr. Photogenic Ian is missing from the picture.

This picture was even harder for me to include, but there you go.  A rare photo of James and I.  We were quite coordinated, if I do say so myself.  The skirt and top were my mom's, so it was nice to have her "near" in that small sense. 

Identity Crisis

It's not me - it's my blog.  I can't decide what it should be: newsy family journal, advertising piece for my business, personal diary, aspirational blog, or any number of other descriptors.  It's been stressing me out a bit, but I think I've come to the conclusion that it can be all of those things.  And if any of my readers (ha, all three or four of them ;-P) are looking for just one of those angles, then they can certainly take those and leave the rest. In a way my blog is representative of my life.  No, I don't have a multiple personality disorder.  But I do wear many, many (are you getting the sense that sometimes I'm overwhelmed?  if so, you are absolutely correct) hats.  I'm a Christian, wife, mother, entrepreneur, teacher, musician, daughter, sister, homemaker, baker, chaffeur, Liberal, and the list can go on and on.  All of those rolled up make me, well, me (crazy and all).  And so you'll get some of this and some of that.  Maybe some day I'll feel led to seperate things, but at this stage in my life my family and home needs to come first, and that's hard enough as is, so I'm going to stick to one.  I thank you all in advance for your patience with me as I just throw everything right at you.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SOS (on Tuesday, I know!)

My thoughts are scattered today (and they shouldn't be, because three of my middle children have been gone all day at Nana's and Papa's house, so all's quiet here), so I'm not sure if I can get out what I want to say, but I'm willing to give it the proverbial college try.  This small portion of scripture has been on my mind for quite some time:

     "Enter through the narrow gate, For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to
destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Matthew 7:13

I've known it for a long time (and the more expanded version in Luke 13), but never really paid much heed to it.  But lately I keep coming back to it.  Christianity stands as the largest religious group in the world - approximately 33% of the world population self-identifies as Christian.  The number is substantially higher in the US, with as 73% (!) of the population claiming Christianity as their religion.  You know, it really doesn't make sense.  But the Bible ALWAYS makes sense, right?  So, something's gotta give, and it isn't God's Word.  I'm almost scared to put this out there, because I don't want to step on any toes, but, here goes:  I think that the majority (yes, majority) of people who self-identify as Christian aren't.  Now, it's definitely not my job (and thank the Lord for that) to say who is and who is not, let me make that perfectly clear.  That's not what my post is about.  It's about the need for the so-called Christian community to wake up!  And this is not one of those "oh, the world is so bad and evil nowadays, and how I wish it was old times" things (I really, really despise that line of thinking and think it shows an incredible lack of critical thought and historical knowledge).  I would think it's been trending this way ever since the widespread persecution of Christians stopped and the Christian faith became mainstream.  Christian faith has become more of a culture and less of a relationship.  If you act in certain ways (or, perhaps more accurately DON'T act in certain ways), celebrate the big "Christian" holidays, or even, at the lowest common denominator, were born into a nominally Christian family, then you consider yourself Christian.  But Christianity is not an ethnicity or a guideline for living a good, moral life (although that's there too).  It's so much more personal than that.  And even I, who have considered myself Christian for, well, just about my entire life, didn't grasp that for many, many years.  For me, I "aspired" to be a good Christian and that was good enough.  But that's hogwash, quite frankly.  Let me explain it through metaphor.  I view nearly everything through body image.  It's something I don't like about myself, but it's simply fact and has been for a very long time.  It's a problem for any woman in western society, I think, and that's especially true a thousand-fold for someone like me, who struggles mightily with weight and self-image.  But anyhow, how many times have I (and maybe even you) looked through a magazine, or a blog, or a movie and saw a woman with a beautiful, healthy physique and longed, with great intensity to look just like her?  And then that's where it ends, most every time (or, perhaps, I'll be motivated to do something concrete for a week or two, and then fall back into old habits).  But longing, however earnest, is never enough.  It takes sweat, pain, dedication, self-denial, and self-discipline to acheive a strong, healthy body (or at least it would for me).  And I haven't been willing to do that yet.  Faith is much the same.  If your faith doesn't ASK something of you every day - then you probably aren't doing it right.  It's not enough to merely desire to be a good Christian.  You must be intimately connected with God and on a journey closer to where HE desires you to be.  This sounds nearly impossible, doesn't it?  And indeed it would be, but here's where the beauty of having a relationship with God comes in - He's right there beside you.  He will catch your elbow when you stumble.  He will point you on the right direction when you come to a fork on the road (if you are quiet and patient enough to only listen).  He will share his Bread with you when you are famished and feel like you can't take another step.  When you know that God is your truest and most faithful companion on this journey, THAT's when faith becomes something more.  And once you've discovered that, you'll find that you simply can't really, truly live without it.       

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas is Coming Early

to my house!  Well, that's not surprising - lately I've been putting out the decorations before Thanksgiving anyways.  But, as fun as Christmas decorating is, that's not what I mean.  I bought myself a plethora of boots on eBay.  I have freakishly wide calves, so it's always been a problem, but I found four pairs of leather boots for steals, and decided to just go for it.  I wear a lot of skirts because I love them, and boots make so much more sense in the winter than my usual ballerina flats.  Plus, there's just something about putting on a pair of tall boots that makes me automatically feel more put-together.  Also, I find them incredibly romantic and sophisticated because I've been obsessed with all things related to horseback riding since I was little.  In fact, I should probably break out my actual riding boots (I tend to forget they are buried back in the closet - a dead hobby since we really started piling the kids into our lives LOL), only, unlike fashion boots, they are a bit uncomfortable because I didn't wear them long enough to break them in and the leather is stiff, stiff, stiff.  Anyhow, I totally went down the rabbit hole with this post, so I shall wrap it up with pictures of my lovely Christmas prezzies on their way to me.

I got the dark brown and the burgundy pair (the burgundy is kind of frivolous, but I couldn't resist because they were $24.99 - again, for leather boots).

Brown with Croco Trim, yum!

These were a little more expensive but still a great find.

And then, a little icing on the cake - I found a vintage full slip with lace hem on eBay - hopefully it'll work under my denim skirt and maybe even peep out a little bit at the hem, petticoat style.  Vintage stuff is the most fun - you just know you're looking one-of-a-kind when you wear it!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sketchy Halloween Post


I'm so angry with myself - I took horrible Halloween photos.  It was a busy, busy night, but still, I should have done better.  Now I don't even have any pictures of Elinor as Alice in Wonderland.  It's so hard to find a balance some days between LIVING life and DOCUMENTING it.  Halloween coincided with Family Night at church, so, after much discussion, we decided to change up plans this year.  Instead of trick or treating in our neighborhood, we headed over to church for a chili dinner and mini-Awana, and then over to Nana and Papa's house for an abbreviated trick or treat session in their neighborhood followed by some food and drinks (usually we do hot apple cider, but it was super warm on Halloween this year).  Our candy consumption was much reduced, I do have to say.  As I mentioned already, Elle was Alice in Wonderland, then Cecily was a sunflower, Colin was Darth Vader, Ian was Robin Hood (he was a bit put out about his costume, because we didn't get him the real bow and arrow set he wanted with it - yeah right), Allegra was Cleopatra, and Hero was Princess Bubblegum from the tween/teen cartoon Adventure Time (she trick or treated with her cousin, Oriana, who was "Fiona" - a female version of the main character, Finn).   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cautionary Add

I don't think it's any secret that I've undergone a pretty radical change in my thinkings, conviction, and lifestyle in the past five years or so.  Some of these changes have involved what I deem to be universal truths - values and lifestyle changes that have real worth and application to everybody.  But a portion of them are very personal.  Clothing and manner of dress is one of those "personal" things.  Honestly I really don't think that Christ cares how a person is dressed - I think that verses that speak about modesty are mostly referencing the heart and mindset.  I don't think that there's anything redemptive about dressing in a particular style or covering your hair or any of that.  And I think that what one Christian will feel God prompts her towards will not necessarily be the same as what the next woman feels.  For me, I've mostly been a woman (and girl) that dressed conservatively.  I think it started young, because I had such a desire to just grow up already (I remember distinctly wanting to either stay single my entire life or just skip over the whole dating thing and be married at once) and also an obsession with all things historical.  I loved Halloween not so much for the candy or any of that, but because I could dress up in historical costumes (which I was always begging my mom to sew for me, although she didn't really like sewing - I think she was glad when I was old enough to manage myself).  Even as a senior in high school, I convinced four of my friends to dress up as characters from Little Women (that's one extra, I know, but we had the four sisters and Marmee).  Of course I immediately claimed Jo, because that's just me.  ;)  But anyhow, I'm getting off-track.  As I've gotten older I've been drawn to a purposefully conservative (but hopefully elegant!) style.  I really love wearing skirts, which is something I wouldn't have said before - and the longer the better.  Because of this personal taste evolution, I've started watching a few blogs of women who have very stern convictions regarding dress and modesty.  I'm adding them onto my blog, but I wanted to add a vitally important disclaimer before I do: I do not agree with everything they say in the slightest.  For instance, a common complaint I've read is that society dresses in an androgynous manner (which strikes me as kind of funny, really, because there are very few people who you can't tell immediately what gender they are, even if they are in pants).  But then those very people are constantly complaining about the short skirts, tight pants, and cleavage-baring tops that are drawing men's eyes towards women in a lustful manner.  That doesn't add up, and I think therein lies the danger of trying to universally apply a "dress code" to Christians.  I'm also not an isolationist who believes that the secular world, public school, and feminism are damaging to our ability to be Christlike.  But I think there's room for lots of different "Christian" lifestyles and my particular style doesn't make me any more or less a Christian than theirs, so I've decided to go ahead and add it into my public blog reading list on the basis that anything that encourages me to dig and delve into the Bible more MUST be a good thing regardless of whether I agree all of their opinions or not.     

On a ever-so-minimally-related note - I am totally crushing on this skirt.  It is fleece!  Ah, the heavenliness of wearing clothing that is fleece.  It's handmade by a guy in Virginia, which I totally respect, and at $50, if I would wear it a lot, I think that's well worth it.  I'm thinking Christmas present to moi...