Sunday, November 28, 2010

18 Years Ago Today: An Anniversary Post

In January of 1992, The Big Guy asked me to share the rest of his life with him and, wisely, I said, "Are you serious?"  (Yes, that's an actual quote.)

Doesn't my Dad look handsome?
On November 28, 1992, my sweet Dad walked me down the aisle (even though they had never arm wrestled) to where The Big Guy was patiently waiting.  Little did the Big Guy know, this waiting for me was just a little taste of what his future would hold.  Sorry, Big Guy!
This is the man who was waiting for me...oh baby!
Earlier in the day, he had tried to get away.  Thankfully, his brothers and good friend Jim brought him back to his senses.  I still owe those guys now that I think about it...

Dad and I arrived at the end of the aisle where he kissed me and put my hand into the Big Guy's.

Where you trying to block his view, Dad?
No comments on what could quite possibly be the poufiest veil/head thingy in the history of weddings!

Before family and friends and, most importantly, God, I said these words:

I, Wendy, do take you, Ron, to be my husband, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful wife: in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.

Miracles of miracles, he said those words to me, too!

We were married!

After a really great kiss, we happily walked back down the aisle and out into the world as husband and wife.

This is one of my favorite photos of all time!

Eighteen years ago, I said and meant every one of those words when I made that pledge.  Today, I'd do it all again without one single regret.  Not one.

The top of our wedding cake.

Thank you for choosing me all those years ago.  Thank you for taking me along in your adventures.  Thank you for warming up my side of the bed all those cold nights.  Thank you for loving me in a way that points me to the Father.

I can't imagine my life without you - because half of myself would be missing.

I love you Ron Jung,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Homemade Vanilla

No, she hasn't been in the vanilla.  She's just a bit odd.

Thrifty, but meaningful Christmas gift idea #1:  Homemade Vanilla Extract

Yummy and SO easy.

I actually shouldn't be posting this because I've given vanilla to friends and family as Christmas gifts and now they'll know that, even though it was a delicious and thoughtful gift which they loved, it really wasn't a whole lot of work on my part.

This Vanilla is not your usual grocery store variety of Pure Vanilla Extract and the only thing it shares in common with Imitation Vanilla Extract is the word "vanilla." (And the word "Extract" too, I guess, but it sounded so much better just having one word in common...)  By the way, did you know that "pure" vanilla extract sometimes has extra stuff like corn syrup in it?

No, the Vanilla I'm showing you how to make actually smells and tastes like vanilla.  It's just amazing!  You'll love what it does to your baking.

It is a useful gift, too.  Those who receive it, unless you give some to your college aged brother or something, will love using it to make those they love happy!  It's a gift which keeps on giving.  They won't ever have to dust it or decide if they should keep it or send it to the thrift store 5 years from now.  That's my kind of gift!

All you need to make Vanilla
 To top it all off, homemade vanilla is easy on the budget.  There are 2 ingredients in Homemade Vanilla Extract - vodka and vanilla beans. 

You don't need expensive vodka.  To be honest, I don't know if expensive vodka makes it taste better or not.  I've only used cheap vodka and have loved the results.  In fact, I've never actually paid for the vodka used in my vanilla.  Around the holidays, the liquor stores in our area all have vodka with manufacturer's rebates which make the vodka free!  A 1.75 litre bottle of vodka will make about 60 oz. of vanilla and costs less than $10.00 or $1.33 per 8 oz.  Pretty cheap!

I've now typed the word "vodka" 8 times in one paragraph.  Pretty sure this about 7 more times than I've ever typed that word before.  Don't tell my Grandma.  I'm not sure she'd understand.

Vanilla pods with ends cut off
I've bought all my vanilla beans off Ebay.  You can get anything on Ebay.  This year I bought 40 organic Madagascar vanilla beans for about 12 dollars including shipping.  They came from France, which was an added bonus because the Young'uns love seeing the French postage stamps.  From all I've read Madagascar beans are best for making extract, but if you want to do some research of your own, go for it.  Google is a good thing.  It takes 2 beans to make 8 oz. of vanilla.  So, the beans cost about 60 cents per 8 oz.
One word about vanilla...technically, you don't buy vanilla beans.  You buy vanilla pods.  They are long, thin, dark brown and wrinkly.  They should be a bit moist and flexible.  The vanilla beans are INSIDE of the pods.  If you cut open a pod, it is filled from top to bottom with very tiny little black dots - these are the seeds.  The seeds can be scraped out and used in your baking and cooking.  I like eating a little taste by itself.  I'm a sucker for vanilla anything!

Are you doing the math?  $1.33 (vodka) + .60 (vanilla beans) = $1.93 for 8 oz. of REAL Vanilla Extract.  This is a steal when compared to buying it in the store!

About 5 years ago, I bought 8 oz. amber colored glass bottles from the Sunburst Bottle Company.  I bought a few cases and gave Vanilla as gifts that year.  I also saved some of the bottles for myself and have reused them every year since.  The bottles cost about $1.75 each including shipping.  This seemed a bit steep for a bottle, but they looked great and made the gift!  Even with the bottle costs, each gift still cost under $4.00.

If your vanilla will be a gift for someone, make a cute or cool label (depending on if you lean towards the cute or cool side) to stick on your bottle.   I wish I still had a copy of the one I made on my computer.  I must say it was cool. I'm not real computer savvy.  So, you can make an awesome one, I'm sure.

Just making vanilla for you own personal use? You can make your vanilla in any old glass bottle you want.  An wine bottle or vinegar bottle that's been well cleaned will work!  Just make sure it has some sort of tight lid because there's some shaking involved.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2 vanilla beans per 8 oz. of extract you wish to make
vodka (there's that word again)

Beans in the bottle

Cut ends of vanilla so that they fit into your bottles.  I usually have to cut off about 1 inch of the beans.  Place 2 beans in each bottle.  Fill bottles to near the top with vodka.  Place on the lid and let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least 4 months.  6 months is better.  Try to give your bottles a shake every few weeks.  (I told you it was easy.)

I have read about people who cut their beans into small pieces before they put them in the bottles.  This might make the vanilla permeate the vodka a bit more.  I'm not sure.  I don't do it because you'd have to strain your extract before using it if you did it this way.  Otherwise, there would be lots of little black vanilla beans in your extract. 

I leave my pods in the bottle even after I start using it.  When the bottle is empty, I put the pods on the counter to dry out and then stick them in a bag in my freezer.  After I've collected several pods, I stick 4 in a bottle and add some more vodka.  This gives me one more bottle of Vanilla without buying more pods.  Two soakings seems to be about all each pods can take.

This was a very long post for such a simple idea... Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thrifty, but Meaningful, Chirstmas

I know it isn't actually Thanksgiving yet and the Christmas season has NOT begun despite what every retail establishment has been telling us for weeks.  However, over the past couple of weeks, I've been in some conversations with friends about Christmas and Christmas gifts and how it all goes around here on the Farm.

A few of the conversations went the way of "Christmas is so crazy with all the gifts and stuff and running and blah, blah, blah.  I'd love for it to be simpler so the true reason for the celebration isn't lost."  A couple of others were more along the lines of "How do you get gifts for others and your passel of kids without breaking the bank?"

I've opinions on those questions to fill several blog posts, but here's my short answer.

In order to keep Christmas about Christ and his gift, you and your spouse have to think and talk about it now.  It's not too late, even though all the stores have been proclaiming Christmas is here already for the past month. In your talking and thinking, you need to decide what the holiday will look like for your family.  Not your neighbor's family or your sister's family...just YOUR family.  Remember you have your OWN ruler.

When you've got that vision...stick with it!  If you decided to get one gift for each kid, get one gift and don't be tempted by all the great deals on other things your child would like, too.  If you decide five gifts works for your family, just get five, not ten.  Maybe it's one family gift and a few smaller gifts for each kiddo.  Or, gasp, one family gift and no individual gifts.  Just decide and stick to it.

We tend to lean towards the one larger, which is a very relative term, gift for each Young'un with a few smaller gifts thrown in for fun and good measure.  It is such a JOY to give good gifts to our children.  I love it!  However, the joy of the giving would be robbed for us if the gifts we gave threw our budget out of whack and put financial strain on our family.

As far as giving gifts to extended family and friends, things lean towards small, meaningful or unique and sometimes homemade.  Again, giving brings us joy and we try to make up with thoughtfulness what might be lacking in the cost of each gift.

My plan is to share some of our ideas with you in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned for the Thrifty, but Meaningful, Christmas

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thankful, but Still Complaining...

'Tis the season of Thanksgiving and we're reminded we need to be/should be thankful every where we go.  From the big inflatable turkey in our neighbor's front lawn to the stacks of frozen birds at the store to my friends who are listing what they are thankful for on Facebook, giving thanks is all over.

This all is a good thing and I am happy to know the things for which others are thankful.  It helps to remind me to count my blessings as well. 

All in all, I like to think I'm a pretty thankful person in my everyday life.  Our path certainly hasn't been an easy one in the last couple of years, but God has provided and continues to do so in every way imaginable.  I'm thankful for His grace.  I know we are in His hands.  I KNOW all this.

I am thankful, but I still complain.  So, am I really thankful?

Our Cook & Book group is beginning to study a book called, "Calm My Anxious Heart" by Linda Dillow.  The book is about contentment and worry something most of us, women especially, struggle with from time to time.  I've only gotten through the first chapter and, let me just say it, "Ouch!"   This book is already hitting me where it hurts.
Only a few pages in, the author relates a story about an amazingly contented woman who, with her family, was a missionary to pygmies in Africa for over 52 years.  Their living conditions were primitive to say the least and the weather was hot.  The missionary told of having to take their thermometer inside on occasions because it was so hot it might explode and the thermometer went up to 120!  You get the picture.  Through it all this woman was known for her contented disposition and attitude in Christ.

This missionary woman kept a journal of her days in Africa and after she had died, her daughter found this journal.  In it, the daughter discovered her mother's recipe for contentment.  Her list was a great one!  However, I'm still stuck on the first ingredient in her recipe:

NEVER allow yourself to complain about anything - not even the weather.

Oh. My.

I've been trying to pay attention to my words in the week since I read this.  Watching to see how many times I find myself complaining when I'm not even aware of it.  Checking to discover if complaints find their way into my words or thoughts and with what frequency.

It's not pretty.

I've found that, while I'm pretty good at saying "thank you" and expressing my thanks, I'm better at complaining.  Which has led me to my question above, "Am I really thankful?" If I am such a good complainer can I really be thankful?

No answers here...yet.

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world 
 Phillipians 2:14 & 15

(Thanks for the book suggestion Sweet Lips or was it Sweet memory is failing.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

JJ Heller - Back Home

Today I'm Thankful for This Song

I'm working late in the kitchen tonight and listening to my new favorite CD - Painted Red by JJ Heller.

Have you ever heard a song many times, but all of a sudden, the next time you listen to it something hits you.  The words speak to you in a different way...

It happened to me tonight.

This song, "Back Home," is one of those songs.  I listened to it three times in a row and kept wondering how JJ Heller got inside my thoughts and wrote them down in a song.

Did you catch the words of the first verse?

Don't let your heart, get used to sadness
Put your hope in what is true.
Don't let your eyes, get used to darkness
The light is coming soon.

What a good reminder and blessed encouragement! 

Thank you for carrying us Loving Father.

PS- If you like the song, the CD is in my Amazon store.  You can find it on the sidebar.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Forced Family Fun...and Fish

sardinesThe Big Guy announced Forced Family Fun again at dinner tonight.  It was met with the usual cheers and squeals from the younger set and a tad bit of eye rolling from the older guys.  Jake tried to lobby for Forced Family Fish Tank Cleaning Fun, but he was out voted.
What is Forced Family Fun? All the exciting details are here...

Instead of playing a "thinking" game, my creative husband told us we'd be playing the always fun Sardines together tonight.

The basics of Sardines is this: turn out the lights, send one person off to hide, send everyone else out to find said person.  Everytime one of the players finds the "hider," the finder has to hide with them.  Obviously, the more times the person is found, the more crowded it gets.  Eventually, everyone gets packed into the hiding space like...sardines.  This is Forced Family Fun at its best, lots of close contact and suppressed giggles.

So, we gathered everyone in the school room, gave the newly turned 3 year old a flashlight and turned out all the other lights in the house. 

Nate was the first to go off and hide.  Somehow, he wedged his 6'3" body into the very back of our deep closet behind the clothes, port-a-crib, summer shoes and suitcases.  It took forever for anyone to find him.  Zach was first.  The Big Guy came second. I came third. 

At this point, the Big Guy and I had a little fun of our own.  I mean we were in a dark closet and standing next to each with ONLY two kids present.  That's pretty much like a date these days.  But I digress...

Ellie found us all and then came Jake.  This is when we realized the littlest Young'un was wondering around the dark house all by herself.  She is not an easily scared gal and we'd given her a flashlight, but still it seemed like an experience which could leave a few emotional scars.  Then we heard her downstairs calling, "Mom!  Dad! Did you guys leave me or something?"  Oops!

Jake ran down to get her and let her "find" us in the closet.  She thought it was great fun and laughed her curly little head off.

Some forced fun last summer
We spent another half hour or so finding each other and then the Big Guy called the game.  All in all, the night was packed (Sorry.  I couldn't help it.) with fun and some laughs.  Forced or not, it was good.