Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beta Day: 2009

It’s been two years. We still think about Beta almost every day, wondering what our life would have been like if he was here. Like we’ve done the last two years, we’ve spent today spending time as a family, and tonight we’ll make a special dinner to celebrate his short life.

We also have an announcement that we’ve been saving for today. Over the last couple months, we have been starting to seriously consider international adoption, for various reasons. This last week we started the application process with an organization called Loving Shepherd Ministries that helps to match families with adoption agencies. This doesn’t mean that we are definitely going to adopt, but it is a big step in that direction.

--The Oglesbee Family

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's Grading Time!

We're in that time of the semester when Eric has a lot (really, really, a LOT) of grading to do. Something like 100 homework assignments, 21 projects, 51 papers, 25 portfolios, and 57 tests have come and gone across his desk in the past two weeks, in addition to writing three exams from scratch. Because of this, he really hasn't had much of a chance to spend time with Ian. One solution? Grade together!
(Ok, so this picture was actually taken back in September, but it's especially applicable this week!)

Thankfully, today is the last day of the semester, and Eric hopes to have all this grading finished by tonight so we can enjoy a weekend together before trekking to Louisiana next week. I'm certainly ready for it to be over!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the Advent Conspiracy

Three years ago, during Ian's first Christmas, Eric and I started rethinking how we wanted to celebrate Christmas as a family and how we wanted Ian to understand the whole holiday. At eight months old, he had piles of presents so large we literally had to rearrange his bedroom to make room for all the toys, clothes, and books he received from loving and generous family members. While we were thankful for the displays of affection, we couldn't escape the lurking feeling that something was just not complete about the Christmas process we were experiencing and had experienced up to that point. Our parents (who are all very wonderful people) did make attempts to "keep Christ in Christmas" by doing things like reading the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke before our gift-giving extravaganzas and attending Christmas Eve services at our churches, but the reality for both of us was that, as kids, Christmas was more about getting what we wanted than it was about worshiping Christ and loving others. Maybe that was partly due to our lack of maturity, but a big part of it was also that we really didn't know how else to go about it. Even as newly-married adults, we slipped right in to trying to meet the expectations set for us by our culture: buying an abundance of gifts for pretty much everyone we knew. While the attention shifted away from "me me me" (at least on the surface), it was still a rather emotionally and economically stressful experience every year, with very little focus on the miracle of Christ's birth and our opportunity to share His love with the world, except for four or five Sunday mornings at church. This really started to bother us. We asked ourselves things like: "How much do we really need to give or receive? How can we teach Ian to be truly generous rather than succumbing to societal pressures of feigned generosity? How can we teach him to be content with what he has? How can we teach ourselves these things?"

So the past three Christmases have been a gradual alteration of our Christmas practices. We're not exactly sure what we're aiming at, but we do want Ian not only to see us being generous, but also to get to experience it himself. And we want the focus of Christmas to truly be on the incredible miracle of Christ's incarnation and the profound effect that has on our lives. So we're doing things like having nightly Advent devotions, talking about our waiting for Christ's coming, both the first time and the upcoming second time. We're limiting the number of our gifts to each other to one meaningful gift and giving our loved ones gifts that are relational in nature, so as to foster peace and goodwill among one another. We're spending less on ourselves and more on people who are really hurting or without basic needs. All in all, we're trying to find more ways to love others around us as an outpouring of the outrageous love we've received from Christ.

And, of course, we're still working out what that all looks like. Thankfully, about three years ago, a small group of pastors around the country started thinking the same things and asking the same questions, unbeknownst to us. They formed this movement called "the Advent Conspiracy," and encouraged their congregations to focus on four ideas during the Christmas season: worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. With the money leftover from what they didn't spend on extra gifts, they pooled their resources to dig wells for people who didn't have fresh water. Over the course of four Christmas seasons (and the time in-between), people have been hopping on board and the movement has been growing. So much so, in fact, that even our little church in South Bend, Indiana is discussing ways to implement these ideas, and our pastor is teaching them from the pulpit. Both CNN and Time Magazine did pieces on what's going on. Through hundreds of churches, millions of dollars have been given to help the poor, and ideas are flowing about ways to be intentional and generous with our gift-giving. What I love about them is that they're not taking a single penny for themselves. They're a movement, not an organization. They exist merely to facilitate the implementation of true generosity and the exhibition of Christ's love for us.

Anyone else out there interested in joining the conspiracy?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity of making and hosting my fifth Thanksgiving dinner....well, my third actually on Thanksgiving. The other two were for friends or family around Thanksgiving, but it was my fifth attempt at the meal overall. I think it was a success, no matter which way one defines success. Not only did the food turn out well and on schedule, but we also got to spend the day with both sets of parents and some of our best friends in the world, the Dunn's. I really couldn't have asked for a better day!

For you foodies out there, here was our menu:


Roasted Pecans and Pumpkin Seeds
Butternut Squash Turnovers
*Hot Mulled Cider

First Course
Creamy Carrot Soup
Ezekiel Bread
*2007 Toasted Head Chardonnay

Main Course
Roast Turkey with Fried Sage and Pecans
Bacon Onion Stuffing
Garlic Rosemary Mashed Red Potatoes
Fresh Green Bean Casserole
Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Apples
*2007 Foxglove Zinfandel

Chocolate-swirled Pumpkin Pie
Regular Pumpkin Pie
Latticed Apple Pie
*Espresso or Hot Rooibos Tea

In the menu planning, we went for traditional and simple dishes, but with new elements for flair and interest. We used a different rub on the turkey that was comprised of pureed fried sage and pecans mixed with butter. It was heavenly! And for the pumpkin pie, I tried my hand at completely from-scratch pies (ok, I didn't grind my own flour or make my own butter, but I did use homemade pumpkin puree and real cream), one of which had melted dark chocolate swirled into it. It was Eric's pumpkin pie dream, and I'm sure I'll be making it again. Also, I tried an actual mold for the cranberry sauce, and used a recipe that called for apples, which have natural pectin in them for jelly-izing. Garnished with rosemary springs and fresh cranberries, it was beautiful!

If there are any recipes that you're curious about, feel free to ask, and I'll send them to you!

And for you curious family and friends out there, here are some pictures from the day...

An example place setting

The table

Ian taking a break by the fire

One of the teacups Eric got me for my 30th birthday (Yes, I turned 30 last week!)

The main course spread buffet-style

The pies, the middle of which is a chocolate-swirled pumpkin, an experiment for this year that I think will become a staple in our family!

I'm so thankful that we live in a place and have the kind of life that we can celebrate with our family and friends in such an elaborate and enjoyable way. We are truly blessed, and I pray that God gives us more and more opportunities to share our blessing with others. I was certainly glad to cook and prepare this meal for my loved ones...not a single moment of it felt like work or drudgery. Thank you Mom, Dad, Nate, Pam, Jeremy, Andrea, Talisin, Kessie, Eric and Ian for giving me the chance to serve Thanksgiving this year!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Ian the Cave Dweller

A lot of fun can be had with two old futon chairs and a blanket!
(Those of you in Eric's extended family will certainly recognize these chairs and all the good memories you had doing similar things with them!)

Friday, November 06, 2009

More Leaves

"You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord -- I sing for joy at the works of your hands!" (Psalm 92:4)

Yesterday was a quintessentially perfect fall day here in northern Indiana: bright blue skies, bare branches wiggling their fingers in the chilly breezes, and fallen leaves dancing across yards and streets, just begging us to join them. So we did.
The boys and I grabbed our walking shoes and coats, put the oh-so-handy monkey backpack on the littlest one, and took a walk around our neighborhood, searching for and collecting different kinds of leaves. Of course, we stopped to play in various piles, rolling around and burying ourselves in the leafy mountains. When we got home, we laid all the leaves we gathered out on the dining room table and talked about their various colors and sizes. Then we pasted them onto a large piece of paper and made a collage. Here's what we found:
I think I count seven different kinds of oak leaves there, three or four different maples, three or four elms, one tulip/poplar, one redbud, one peony, and a vine leaf. This little exercise really made me want to re-learn all my Indiana trees! Isn't God's creation amazing and beautiful?!

Thursday, November 05, 2009


When I was little, probably about two or three, I had a traumatic encounter with leaves. I was walking across a gravel church parking lot with my parents one Sunday, wearing a brand new pair of white Mary Janes with adorable pink stockings, and happily kicking up little piles of autumn leaves that had gathered on the ground. While walking over one such seemingly innocent pile, my right foot was instantly sunk into a wet, muddy puddle, which filled my beautiful shoe with cold, blackish water all the way up over my ankle. My lovely pink stockings were ruined, and my shoe never regained its former luster, thus forever being mismatched with the left one. I have since come to step gingerly around such potentially deceptive leaf piles.

While I remember this incident every single fall, I was experientially reminded of it the other day on one of my bi-weekly walks to campus for the class I'm teaching. As I was rounding a curve of one street, a large pickup truck came barreling around the bend at a most unsafe speed. This forced me to hop quickly into the long pile of leaves in front of my one of my neighbors' houses and walk there for a few steps. Lo and behold, what happens, but that I step on the edge of the road which was expertly hidden by the leaves, trip rather ungracefully, and fall onto my knees in the middle of the leaf mountain. I'm sure the big, burly guy in the pickup truck got his laugh for the afternoon. However, nothing was hurt except my pride and whatever faith I had gained in leaf piles.

This got me to thinking, though: isn't most sin often a little like those hidden puddles and drop-offs underneath seemingly fun piles of leaves? You're walking along, shuffling through and kicking up crunchy leaves with the flourish of a three-year-old, and having a blast! Then, wham! Your foot discovers something nasty the fun leaves were hiding and that discovery completely messes up your walk...and potentially ruins something forever.

I don't really know where I'm going with this except that it just reminded me to be careful about where I "walk." Something that looks so fun and innocent can be hiding something sinister. So, I guess we should all just walk through leaves at our own risk...or maybe avoid roadside and parking lot piles altogether.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


One of Ian's favorite games: Wagon racing!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

If you haven't noticed already, in our family, we mark the seasons by our menus. In the spring, I pull out recipes starring fresh flavors and bright colors, like my spring pea soup. In the summer, the grill is often the main event, cooking up a variety of meats along with veggies from our garden. And in the fall, we love us some squash -- lots of it! Pumpkin dip with ginger snap cookies, maple-roasted acorn squash, Arabian squash casserole, and of course, the star of them all, butternut squash soup. Thanks to Food & Wine Magazine, I have a simple, mouth-watering recipe that keeps us coming back year after year and time after time. Want a true fall experience? Follow me on a journey of squash soup....and then make some for yourself!

Step 1: Slice the squash in half and roast it in a 350 degree oven, face down, and get it all nice and soft. This'll take about 40 minutes, during which time you can chop up the white and tender green parts of two large leeks. When the squash is fork-tender, remove it from the oven and let it cool. Scoop out and toss the seeds, then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Set it aside and discard the skins in your trash or compost bin.

Step 2: Melt 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large saucepan or soup pot, the saute the leeks and 6 or 7 fresh thyme sprigs until the leeks are soft and the thyme is fragrant (about 5 minutes). Your house will start to smell really yummy by this point! At this point, you can discard the thyme sprigs, and add the squash along with 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 3: Puree the soup with whatever method you have on hand. I use a stick blender (a.k.a., an immersion blender) for the job, but a blender or regular food processor will work too. Just puree it in batches if you use one of the latter two. Don't be afraid to pulverize the mixture, because, believe me, you want this as smooth as possible!

Step 4: Serve and enjoy the hearty, yet light warmth of this delicious fall recipe. It goes perfectly with a mug of hot cider and some fresh bread.

Happy Autumn!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Riding Topless...

...for probably the last time this season. We'll probably be putting the hard top on the Jeep in the next week or two to combat against these cold temps we're having. Bye, bye, Summer!

Canning Tomatoes For the First Time

As you know, the garden we tended this summer did not produce tomatoes like I had hoped. (See my lament here.) However, a couple of weeks ago, I was taking a stroll around our neighborhood with Ian and Jan (my nanny charge), and as we neared our house, my incredibly nice and generous neighbor Sheri came out of her garage and offered me some tomatoes that she had picked up from a roadside stand that afternoon. Apparently, the guy was desperate to get rid of his tomatoes, because he gave her a huge box for only $5, along with some red peppers. So, Sherri unloaded about half of the tomatoes on me. The next day, she came by my house with yet another box, explaining that she had driven by that same spot today and bought yet another huge box of tomatoes, and would I like some? And, oh yes, they're free. "Shoot!", I thought, "Load me up!" So she did.

What was I to do with this plethora of tomatoey-goodness? Why, can them, of course! It took me a few days to do it because we had a busy couple of days ahead of us, so I shoved the tomatoes in the fridge (I know, a huge no-no), hoping that they would last long enough for me to process them before they rotted. Thank goodness, most of them survived, and I was able to can them in two batches. Here's the 2nd batch, ready to be peeled, shoved into cans, and cooked to death:

I peeled them by putting them in boiling water for a couple minutes until the skins burst, then plunging them into ice water, followed by separating the skins from the meat, dicing them in my hands as I went. My kitchen looked like a murder had taken place.

Then, I filled a bunch of wide-mouthed glass Ball jars with the tomatoes and a teaspoon of lemon juice (to balance the pH), and processed them in boiling water in a large canning pot for 45 minutes. Place them on a towel on the counter, let cool overnight, attach labels with the name and date, and voila! Canned tomatoes are now in my possession. They joined my pickling attempts on my basement shelves for future use.

I was once a canning virgin, but no longer! Thanks to my mom for walking me through the canning steps and imparting her wisdom as I went. I'm looking forward to the salsas and marinaras and chilis that will grace our table this fall and winter due to my neighbor's generosity and willingness to help a poor farmer out by taking his tomatoes off his hands.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We'll miss you, Maggie Lou

Maggie: Sometime in the fall of 2000-9/23/09.

We never intended to keep her. In the fall of 2001, Eric's parents went on a vacation for a week or two and needed a cat sitter. They came home, and she just stayed with us. At first, I struggled with liking her. I had recently said good-bye to my childhood cat, Joy, who was a dainty, princess-like creature who had been a part of my life for sixteen of my twenty-two years. Maggie was a fat, lumbering, snappy kitty who didn't seem to want to get close to anyone. She'd had a hard year of life behind her already (due to illness and the affections of a particularly obloquious toddler of the previous owners before Eric's parents), and it took a while for her to warm up to a human relationship. But we loved her through it, and eventually, I even came to like her.

She was extremely independent in spirit, all the while being terribly dependent upon us for her care. We loved her through an eating disorder, issues with bladder sands, a liver infection that almost killed her in 2005, and finally an infected abdominal cyst that would ultimately mark the end of her life.

When we found the cyst earlier this summer and received the dire prognosis from the vet, we decided to make her as comfortable as possible and let her enjoy the summer. Since we had recently fenced in our backyard, she was allowed to roam freely while basking in the sun, chasing (and even catching!) chipmunks, and arguing with contentious squirrels. One such squirrel really hated her. Anytime she would walk outside and he was around, he would climb to a high point above her and chatter at her incessantly, even resorting to throwing acorns at her at times. Sometimes she would chase him, sometimes she'd chirp back, but mostly she would just ignore him and walk around the yard as if to let him know who really owned the property.

On the afternoon of her death, she was buried in the northwest corner of our backyard, behind some rose bushes. As she was removed from her box and placed in the ground, that very same squirrel came out of hiding, perched on the fence above her, and began his customary scolding. Maybe he didn't realize she was gone. Maybe he did, and it was his way of saying goodbye. Or maybe he just wanted to get in the last word.

Eric and Ian saying their goodbyes before taking Maggie to the vet. 9/23/09

We'll miss you, Maggie. Rest in peace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My poor zucchini

So, we had a garden this summer, which was only semi-successful. Since the plot of land recently used to be in a trailer court, the soil was not so much, shall we say, fertile? Anyway, half of the 15x30' plot was great: zucchini, pole beans, tri-color snap beans, eggplants, hot red chili peppers (as opposed to Red Hot Chili Peppers....don't even get "Dani California" in my head -- I'll go crazy at approximately 2am tomorrow morning), and cucumbers all had a hay-day and produced like mad for at least a little while. The other half produced, well, not much: my tomatoes were sparse, my green peppers non-existent, my watermelon was eaten by something else, my lettuce and basil didn't even bother coming up, and my experiment with tomatillos was a complete failure. But, hey, I had TONS of zucchini. Well, at least dozens of pounds, especially when I let them grow too long and they became mammoth, like scary zucchini from Giant Land. In the midst of my mourning for produce never to be enjoyed, I was consoled by the fact that at least I wouldn't have to buy zucchini for, like, a year. I even chopped, shredded, and sliced them, then dutifully froze them in freezer bags for future use, all the while dreaming of the enchiladas, zucchini bread, and stir-fries I would be able to make all winter. Take a look at all this lovely zucchini, ready to be frozen:
Then, the unthinkable happened. Somehow, the freezer door in the basement was left ajar....for at least a day or two, who knows how long. What I found was nothing but bags of drippy, water-logged zucchini that will almost certainly never be good eats. And remember all those blueberries we picked? Yep, blueberry mush. I nearly cried.

But, since everything was still at least cool, we cleaned out the drippy freezer and tried to freeze everything again. We'll see what happens. At this point, what's lost is lost.

Oh, and after cleaning up the mess, I shimmied up the front of the freezer, which apparently had been tilting ever-so-slightly forward on our sloped basement floor, so that the door now swings shut with a nice "thump." Hopefully, nothing like this will happen again.

And maybe next year, our garden will produce more than just zucchini.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Here are Ian and his buddy A.J. at the IU football game this past weekend:
A.J.'s mommy and I were both pregnant during the fall of 2005, when we all met for the first time at tailgating, and we've been tailgating together ever since, even though Eric and I are only able to make it to a couple games a season now. This time, the boys had a great time playing catch at the new Knothole Park, the scaled-down replica of the Hoosiers' football field. Hopefully, these boys will always associate IU football with each other!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We Will Dance

This past weekend we had the privilege of taking a trip to Bloomington where we got to enjoy an IU football win on a beautiful sunny day, eat some of our favorite food, and see some of our favorite people. On Sunday, we visited our former church, where, I swear, they knew I was coming back and decided to play all of my favorite songs during worship.

As an added bonus, Pastor Bob preached a killer sermon (as usual) on Philippians 2:12-21 about Paul's joyful and eternal perspective in the midst of and even because of his imprisonment for the gospel. Here this guy was in prison, chained to a guard, sitting in his own filth...and rejoicing, simply because the good news about Christ was spreading and God was being glorified through his suffering. Sounds pretty crazy and super-human, huh? Pastor Bob encouraged us by pointing out that while Paul was exemplifying the perspective we ought to have, he was just as human as we are and didn't feel this way all the time. He surely had his moments of fear, doubt, and weakness (see the "thorn in the flesh" passage in 2 Corinthians 12), but by the grace of God, he was able to see things with an eternal perspective and therefore, was actually joyful that he was suffering at times and had sufficient courage because he had hope that God would be glorified through it all. That's all that mattered to him.

In response to the sermon, we sang with joy, "We Will Dance," an ECC classic that is usually sung after communion. They get all rhythmic and clap on the 2nd and 3rd beats, skipping the first...which is pretty progressive and difficult for a bunch of white people! I couldn't find a version to share with you that was up-tempo the way the ECC band plays it, but Clay Crosse's rendition is close. Enjoy:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

10 years later

Labor Day 1999 at Warren Dunes: a Bethel tradition fosters the start of a glorious history.
Labor Day 2009 at Warren Dunes: We've only just begun....
And now we have a cool little kid to share life with! So blessed!
Swimming with Mimi and Papa. The water was freezing!!!
What's more fun than digging in the sand?


Monday, August 10, 2009

Wii have finally joined a cult

After a lot of unholy technological lusting, wii have finally joined the wii club. Using money saved from my 29th birthday, along with some cash from my 30th, I was able to scrape together exactly enough to purchase a Wii.

Why a Wii? Why not a PS3? Well, for one, the PS3 was more expensive. The real reason though was that a Wii seems like a more family-friendly gaming platform that will allow me to play games with Lisa and Ian. And you know what? I was right.

Ian has already latched onto baseball and bowling; however, I have real fears that he might take out our TV while playing. :)

As a side note, we are acquiring games for our Wii via Goozex is a fantastic video game trading site where you can unload games that you don't play anymore in order to earn points towards other games. For example, I listed 3 Playstation games on Goozex and was able to get enough points to get The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and I'm on a waiting list for Mario Kart. Reduce, Reuse, and works for video games too!

Meet Mukaddas

Mukaddas and her husband raise cattle in Tajikistan in order to provide for themselves and their four children. We're currently helping to provide an interest-free loan in order to make it possible for them to expand their business and provide a better life for their children.

You might be wondering how we got into the business of lending money for cattle farms in Tajikistan. Well, the answer is actually quite simple. We learned about Mukaddas (and others) through the microfinance non-profit organization, Kiva (www.

Kiva works with agencies around the world to provide zero-interest loans to businesses in developing countries. Basically, you deposit money with Kiva, choose someone to lend it to, and then wait for them to repay the loan. Once the loan is repaid, you can either (a) withdraw the money for your own use, (b) loan it to someone else, or (c) donate it to Kiva to help cover their operating expenses.

As with any loan, the borrower may default. You also do not earn any interest on your money. What you do get out of the deal is the opportunity to help someone, somewhere, improve their quality of life. From a Christian perspective, organizations like Kiva are a way for us to better love our neighbors...even the ones who live in Tajikistan.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

30 minutes to Cheap Laundry Detergent

Is anyone else amazed at how much it costs just to keep your house and clothes clean these days? I mean, we have our dish cleaners and laundry cleaners and floor cleaners and sink cleaners and toilet cleaners and carpet cleaners and window cleaners, not to mention all the gadgets that go with them (mops, dusters, brushes, etc.). Up until a few months ago, I was probably spending somewhere between $250 and $300 a year on laundry care alone with detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets.

But last winter, my friend Allison had a wonderful idea: homemade laundry detergent! She figured out that it cost her about 75 cents for 2 gallons. The idea intrigued me, but I didn't try it out right away -- I had a full bottle of detergent that I'd just bought and wanted to use it up first. Then when it ran out, I just didn't have the time that week to commit to making some myself (or so I thought), so I bought another big bottle. The next time I went to buy some, Meijer had raised the price on my favorite brand, and I was going to be paying 50 cents more for a bottle. By that time I'd had enough. It was time for me to give it a shot. So I bought the "ingredients" that Allison's recipe suggested, and took another baby step.

The recipe calls for a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap (*NOTE:  I now use Castille soap. I found this next to other bar soaps and hand soaps in the household products portion of Meijer's grocery section.)  It also calls for Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and Borax, both of which are in the laundry section of the grocery store.
To make the detergent, you first grate 1/3 of the Fels-Naptha bar (saving the rest for other batches) into a large stainless steel or aluminum pot, like this:
Then you add 6 cups of water and heat over moderate heat until the soap is dissolved. Next, add 1/2 cup of the super washing soda and 1/2 cup of Borax and cook for about 15 minutes, or until it's the consistency of honey.
Stir occasionally to keep the soap from sticking to the side of the pan. Smile and enjoy the lightly soapy scent wafting through your house!
Put the soap mixture into a bucket and add 5 1/2 quarts of water (that's 22 cups), and stir until well-blended. Here, I added a few drops of lavender extract for extra scent. Using a funnel, pour the mixture into a gallon jug or old laundry detergent bottle. It makes about 1 1/2 gallons of detergent, so I have to use two different bottles. Here, I used an old vinegar bottle (I'm sure I'll blog about my new love affair with vinegar sometime, as well):
When you do laundry, shake the bottle well, and use about 1/2 cup for a regular-sized load.

As it turns out, it only took about 30 minutes to make, and my first batch lasted me 2 months! That batch did only cost about 75-80 cents, so it was definitely economically friendly. Plus, it reduces the waste going out of my house since the ingredients make so many batches (I've only used 1 cup each of the soda and Borax, so there's a lot left!) and I can reuse old laundry detergent bottles. Then the boxes from the soda and Borax can be recycled. I haven't researched yet as to the environmental-friendliness of the detergent itself, but both the Super Washing Soda and the Borax claim to be natural. And the Fels-Naptha soap is such an old product, I'm thinking it's probably not too processed. At the very least, I'm saving on containers by reducing, reusing, and recycling, while saving money at the same time! Double score!

For an extra bonus, you may be interested to know that we've been very happy with the performance of this detergent and have noticed that it possibly even cleans better than the stuff we were previously using (Purex Natural Elements). I've even formulated my own stain fighter using an old Spray'n'Wash spray bottle filled with a solution of the detergent and some more water (so it doesn't get stuck in the sprayer). So happy and so cheap!

So what kinds of things is your family doing to save money?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Look what we grew....

Tri-color beans from seeds given to us by our friend Cary. Aren't they pretty? I can't wait to blanche and saute them with some almonds!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Collaborative Effort

Did you know we have a garden this summer? It's not at our house, but on some unused land that we (and some other faculty and staff) are borrowing from Bethel just a few blocks away. For some odd reason, I planted four large mounds of zucchini plants. Yeah, we're overloaded with zucchini right now. I've already made 4 loaves of zucchini bread and a huge batch of zucchini-filled enchiladas, and as of Sunday, I still had a stack of zucchini in my fridge. So in addition to shredding and chopping some up, then freezing it in zip-lock baggies for more bread and enchilada fillings later, I made a soup out of about three pounds of it (recipe to follow).

As I was making my menu and grocery list on Sunday night, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what to serve with the zucchini soup I was planning on making. Thank goodness, my ever-thoughtful and creative husband came up with the idea of grilled tomato and mozzarella sandwiches. Yum!

Whole-wheat bread, Roma tomatoes, sliced button mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella were the orginal ingredients planned for our summery sandwiches. But it felt like something was missing. Enter an arugula pesto with herbs from the little herb garden outside our kitchen window. Fantastissimo! And so easy, too!

While Eric expertly grilled the sandwiches out on the deck, I finished assembling the soup inside. A recipe from this month's Food and Wine magazine, this chilled zucchini soup is simple and fresh. Although, next time I make it, I'm going to use less water than the recipe originally called for; it was a little too thin for my taste. The flavor, on the other hand, was exactly what I expected: fresh, herby, and summery. Perfect with the hot grilled sandwiches.

Chilled Zucchini Soup (with modifications)
from Food & Wine Magazine, August 2009

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
8 small zucchini (or 3 pounds), thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 c. water
2 T. finely shredded basil
2 c. baby arugula
1 c. ice

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil; add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; discard the bay leaf and stir in the basil and arugula. Puree the soup until very smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add the ice. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Grilled Tomato Sandwiches

10 slices whole wheat bread
15 Roma tomato slices
5-6 button mushrooms, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 cup baby arugula
1 tsp. each of fresh basil, sage, thyme, and chives
3-4 T. chopped walnuts or pine nuts
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
2-3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
more olive oil for drizzling on bread

Prepare bread, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. To make the pesto, combine arugula, herbs, nuts, garlic, crushed red pepper, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food chopper or small processor, and puree until as smooth as possible. Brush one side of each piece of bread with olive oil. Spread about 2 tsp. of pesto on the other side of 5 slices of bread. Place mushroom slices, tomato slices, and cheese on top of the pesto. Grill the sandwiches open-faced, until the cheese is melted and the grill sides of the bread are golden. Place the tops on the sandwiches and serve immediately.

Monday, July 20, 2009


At the beginning of the summer, I had this goal of visiting several U-pick farms in the area and loading up my deep freezer with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries to snack on and cook with all winter long. Well, last week, I realized that I somehow completely missed strawberry season here in northern Indiana! Not about to allow myself to be complete failure, I vowed to go blueberry picking this week. So that's what we did this morning, bright and early.

At the recommendation of several of my Facebook friends, we went to the Blueberry Ranch nearby, an organic farm that grows five different varieties of blueberries for the community to pick. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day -- both in terms of weather and the ripeness of the blueberries. The sky was a bright, clear blue, a heavy blanket of dew was covering the blueberry fields, and thanks to this chilly summer we're having, it was so cool we hardly broke a sweat. And forget about those minuscule, bitter, shriveled berries you can buy in your local mega-mart for a premium price: in an hour and a half, we picked over 30 pounds of plump, succulent, candy-like fruit for a mere $1.50/pound!
Of course, Ian ate waaaaay more blueberries than he actually placed in his little bucket, even though we tried to deter him by playing counting games with the berries, but he had a blast. One of his favorite parts (according to him during our nightly "What was your favorite thing today" game) was riding on the tractor to and from the field where we were assigned our bushes. On the way back, though, he and Eric initially missed getting on the trailer before the tractor started moving with me on it, and had to chase it down a bit. This was a little traumatizing for Ian. I'd like to think he was worried that the tractor was taking me away, but it's probably more realistic that he was upset at the thought of not getting to ride on it himself!

We all made it safely back to the barn, though, where we paid for our loot and were enticed by all sorts of organic blueberry yumminess: blueberry jam, blueberry blossom honey, blueberry BBQ sauce, and blueberry salsa.

I think we're going to try to go back later this week for another 10 pounds or so, just to make sure we have enough to last us through all the cobbler, pie, sorbet, ice cream, pancakes, and muffins I'm going to be making, let alone the frozen blueberry snacks! Yum!