Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Things I Learned in May

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in May:

1. I love my minimalist capsule wardrobe. 

The basic idea of the capsule wardrobe is to have a small number of useful clothes in your closet and remix them each season. I pared my closet down to 38 items (tops, bottoms, shoes, dresses, and outerwear). This doesn't include workout clothes, sleep wear, underwear, or accessories. My current capsule wardrobe is mostly made of classic, quality basics, with a splashes of coral and blue. It is simple, I love every item, and I can dress creatively without getting overwhelmed with too many options. If you want to try it, check out some of these resources for inspiration: my Pinterest boards Project 333 and Minimalist Wardrobe Fashion, blog Project 333, or blog Un-Fancy

2. My kids love creating, and I love watching them create. 

We found a great neighborhood art studio with workshops and open art times. My kids can spend hours there. 

3. Getting halfway through a project is both invigorating and daunting. 

It's about the halfway mark in the 100 Days of Memoirs project. I'm feeling proud of what has been created so far, and also starting to wonder if I have 50 more stories in me to write. Send me inspiration and creativity vibes, please.

4. Starfish have an eye on each of their legs.

My son taught me this after his class watched some nature show. I thought this factoid was highly amusing. 

5. Cutting down on sugar is difficult on the front end, but so good for our family. 

We purged all junk food out of our house, and made a strict rule to not keep anything with added sugar around. Now our kids simply know that there are no cookies or ice cream, so they happily snack on apples or carrot sticks. We need to now work on helping them make good food choices outside our home. 

6. The first step to gaining wisdom is desiring it. 

I've been surrounded by wise people lately, and am so grateful for the life lessons I'm learning. Speaking of wisdom, I've been reading Never Go Back by Dr. Henry Cloud. Really good stuff. 

7. Do not try cutting your own hair. Really, don't even think about it!

One morning I decided to chop off my hair. I've cut other people's hair, and trimmed my own bangs, so I figured why not? The "why not" is because hello, I can't see the back of my own head. It was a mess that sent me on an emergency trip to the hair salon. Thankfully, Marcy the hairdresser fixed everything. If I EVER consider doing that again, please talk me down from the bad place. 

8. Also, my hair is getting more wavy. 

Apparently this is a thing, according to the woman at the hair salon. Some people's hair goes from straight to wavy as they age. Weird. 

9. People changing more into who they are meant to be is one of the most beautiful things in the world. 

This month I had the joy of witnessing several people make life-altering choices toward more purpose and love. So amazing. 

10. If you can't be silly and stupid with your spouse, then really, what's the point of marriage? 

Here is a screenshot of the most recent texts between Steve and me. Also, we were sitting TWO FEET away from each other while sending the texts. 

Now it's your turn...what did you learn this month?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Creamy Baked Potato Soup

I realize that it is summer, and very few of us are looking for soup recipes to try. But last week the temperatures in Honolulu dropped to the low 70's, which is practically freezing cold for Hawaii, so I made creamy baked potato soup. It was so good. Even my non-soup-fan kids thought it was good.

The soup comes together quickly, especially if you already have leftover baked potatoes sitting around. Not for the dairy-adverse, the soup is rich with cream, milk, yogurt, and cheese. I always, always use plain yogurt instead of sour cream because it's a consistent item in our fridge. Be sure to stir the soup frequently as it is cooking. Burnt soup would be a tragedy.

Creamy Baked Potato Soup

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12 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup flour
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 large potatoes, baked and cubed
4 green onions, chopped
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in chicken stock, milk and cream, whisking constantly until thickened. Stir in potatoes and onions. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. 

Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Mix in bacon, cheese, sour cream or yogurt, salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy 6th Birthday, Aaron

I write letters to my children on their birthdays. Here is last year's letter to Aaron

Dear Aaron,

Happy Birthday, son. Holy ninjas, you're six!

We had a birthday party at Magic Island Park with family, friends, a bounce house, and chocolate cupcakes. This was the first birthday when you had an opinion on friends to invite; it was fun to see you playing with your classmates.

Highlights of this year...

You started kindergarten, where you enjoy playing during recess and learning how to read. I realize that learning to read is a pretty common skill, but it amazes me that you've gone from identifying letters to actually reading multi-syllable words and sentences. You also love math, and thank goodness your dad is a great math teacher, because I am totally not. I will do lots of art projects with you, though.

You're a great older brother to your sisters. Being the oldest comes with challenges, but you're learning. You and Alex go from best pals to worst enemies about twenty times a day, and often need coaching in conflict and reconciliation. You're super affectionate with baby Aria, and treat her with so much gentleness. Thanks for your willingness to help with dishes, laundry, and the occasional diaper change.

I can sense you transitioning from little boy to boy. You still need our help in lots of ways, but are also growing into your own independent person. You still cry if you're hurt or sad, but are now able to recover quicker and manage your emotions.

The other day you took your first karate test (and passed!), and I was amazed at your confidence. You take after Dad, and love board games. On a typical week night, we'll sit around the dinner table and play a good game of Settlers of Catan. Not the kid version, but the real adult one.

You love peanut butter sandwiches, reading Elephant and Piggie books, making paper airplanes, watching the Friday Waikiki fireworks from our porch, playing Plants vs. Zombies on my iPhone, making people laugh, counting the money in your piggy bank, and sleeping with Herman the stuffed manatee at night.

There are days when I look at you with disbelief. How did the time pass? And I remind myself to give you a quick hug and to listen well to you.

I love the boy you are, and the boy you're becoming.

I love you always.

Your Mom

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Beef Daube Provencal

Of all my pots and pans, the cast iron Dutch oven is the timeless classic. It is sturdy, weighs a ton, and has so many cooking uses. It's been used for soup, stew, bread, and taken on camping trips. Since cast iron gets better with age, I hope to pass this on as a family heirloom at some point.

One Dutch oven dish I've made several times is beef daube provencal. It is a classic French beef stew with red wine and vegetables. The stew is braised and then baked for several hours, allowing it to be tender and flavorful. I usually double the recipe, and it provides our family with several days of meals. It can be served hot over rice or egg noodles.

Beef Daube Provencal (slightly adapted from Cooking Light)

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2 teaspoons olive oil
12 garlic cloves, crushed
2 lbs. boneless chuck roast meat, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 cup red wine
2 cups chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Dash of ground cloves
1 tomato, diced
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat a Dutch oven over low heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 5 minutes or until garlic is fragrant, stirring occasionally. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon; set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add beef to pan; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove beef from pan. Add wine to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add reserved garlic, beef, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, carrots, and next 8 ingredients (through bay leaf), and bring to a boil.

Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hours or until beef is tender. Discard bay leaf. Makes 4-5 servings. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

10 Things I Learned In April

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in April:

1. Having a bigger family means there is an increasing complexity of needs.

At any given moment, there are multiple needs, requests, and demands. Someone may be crying, while someone else wants milk, while someone else needs help with homework. I've been learning to quickly assess what is most urgent and important at each particular moment, and being okay with other needs not getting addressed immediately.

2. I am a better writer when I have structure, accountability, and daily discipline.

I've learned so much about myself through doing my 100 Days of Memoirs project, and am so glad I decided to do it. I'm 24 days into the project, and already see how good the process has been for my writing.

3. Don't mess with Scientology and sugar.

We watched several documentaries that I recommend. First, Going Clear, which presents a history of the church, but also tells the stories of ex-members. It was eye-opening, and revealed so much abuse and exploitation I wasn't aware of. Second, Fed Up, about food, exercise, the world-wide obesity epidemic, and the particular dangers of sugar. It made us reevaluate our family's eating habits in a major way. If you watch either of these, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

4. People are more important than tasks.

I keep learning this lesson over and over again, especially in this season of life. I could easily prioritize all the endless "things that need to get done" over all the people around me. Sometimes I need to intentionally choose to be present to people, and let go of other agendas.

5. A major perk of living in Honolulu is the frequent out-of-town visitor dropping by.

This month we had a steady stream of friends visiting from various places, and it was great!

6. Ministering with young kids is a challenge and a joy.

Steve and I have been called to minister in a variety of ways, and also believe in integrating that with our family. This month we had opportunity to co-teach a workshop for a large group of college students, and brought 1-month old Aria along. We tag teamed teaching, me nursing the baby, Steve rocking her to sleep in his arms, and doing Q & A with the students. It was a little crazy, but a good experience.

7. Feeling desperate is often a great place to be. 

In moments or seasons of complete desperation, we are more open to experiencing healing, freedom, new hope, and transformation. I've seen this to be true in my own life, and others around me. What if we embraced the areas of desperation, and asked how it might birth new life in us?

8. A huge part of parenting is finding the right motivators. 

Somehow my husband came up with this deal with Aaron (who generally doesn't eat well-rounded meals):

9. After about half a year of doing little/no exercise, my body's core is really weak. 

I'm gradually working physical activity back in, starting with being able to do one good push up. Another related lesson - it's really difficult to exercise while caring for a newborn and toddler full time.

10. Empower people vs. rescue people. 

A very wise friend reminded me of this paradigm. If we're going to effectively parent, lead, minister, serve, and teach people, it really does need to be primarily about empowering them. Rescuing may solve an immediate problem, but only empowering will lead to real, deep change.

Your turn...what did you learn this month?

Monday, April 20, 2015

No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

With regards to kitchen tools, I have a love/hate relationship. Sometimes I get a thrill from using a kitchen torch or ice cream maker. Other days, I relish a recipe that requires simple techniques and no fancy appliances.

No-churn ice cream is exactly that. There are a few common ingredients, and you don't need any ice cream maker. I've made several iterations of this ice cream, all with great results. This vanilla bean ice cream is creamy, with a rich vanilla flavor. I use both vanilla extract and beans for a full flavor. If you don't have vanilla bean on hand, just use extract. The ice cream also makes a great base for other flavors.

No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream (adapted from Nigella Lawson)

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1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Whisk all ingredients together until soft peaks form, and the mixture is airy. Pour into an airtight container, and freeze for at least 6 hours. Serve straight from the freezer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lessons from One Week of Memoirs

As I shared a few weeks ago, I'm writing memoirs for 100 days.

Today is day 9 of the challenge, and so far I feel really glad that I'm doing it. I've never before written so consistently, and have learned a lot about myself, writing, and creativity. Here are some of my take-aways from this first week of the project:
  • It is a fun challenge to recall meaningful people and events, and another challenge to translate the memories into words and stories. 
  • I love storytelling. It's a powerful way to process and reflect on life. 
  • A thesaurus is invaluable. 
  • Some memories make good stories, others memories are more like snapshots. Both can be interesting and meaningful. 
  • I was a weird kid, and an even weirder adolescent. 
  • There are some memories that I have never shared with anyone until now. It has been, at times, cathartic. 
  • Writing my memoirs has drawn me to reading other people's memoirs. 
  • I want to write with authenticity and openness, but also believe that not everything should be shared. 
  • Drawing with a black pen and crayons is fun. That said, I am definitely no great illustrator. 
You can read the memoirs at 100 Days of Memoirs or follow daily on Instagram