Friday, April 26, 2013

Love ruined my life (Part 4)

Guest post by Dasha



This is part two of Dasha’s story, read part one here.



I was searching for hope. God turned my head and I saw light in the darkness, it was the end of the tunnel, because darkness pulled me in so far I had to run away from it.

Running toward the light was the turning point in life. I still fight with depression, but I have God to fight for me.

I used to not smile, and always walk with my head down. I wasn’t able to make friends easily and God changed that, He gave me my family!

Let me back up to tell you how I got to this point of finding the Light in my darkness.

I heard the Gospel often for about 6 months and for me it was just words, some theory.

Anybody can tell the Gospel, but to live it is something that takes sacrifice and being willing to go out of the comfort zone.

For me, seeing the love Laura and Landon shared with each other was eye opening, the way they treated people was so different from what I've known all my life. That right there was love of Christ, it was impossible to miss it.

But, I guess I needed to see something else, now I know that it is called fellowship and the body of Christ as a whole.

Five months into Landon and Laura’s year in Russia I was invited to attend the Christian conference that was held in St Petersburg. Of course I wanted to go, solely for my selfish reasons wanting to see this beautiful city. Little did I know the conference was held 40 minutes outside the city, but I would never regret a minute spent there.

There I saw that Jesus is personal, I saw that Christians are not only elderly women at the end of their lives (which is much more typical in Russia, grandmothers that held on to their faith in spite of many years of communism).

I saw that Christians can be young, fun and full of life! I saw what Christian fellowship meant. I saw a big family of 250 people coming from completely different families, cities, backgrounds, and nationalities. It was a breathtaking, life changing, extraordinary experience.

While we were there we had a day of outreach where we partnered up to share the Gospel in the dorms. I had not accepted the Gospel as truth myself, but was obedient to share what I knew and saw a girl trust Christ with me that day!

After I came back from the conference, I asked Landon for a copy of Passion of the Christ to watch at home. As I watched it, right there there God touched my heart. Before that I was only perceiving Him with my mind and finally the truth pierced through my soul, travelled through my mind to the wellspring of life (proverbs 4:23).

I am a visual learner, so everything that has been told to me about Christ before came on to the screen and it was as if I lived through the whole experience.

It was a life switch for me, I finally knew who Jesus was, I got it!

I then opened the good ole 4 spiritual laws booklet, skipped to the last page where there was a sample prayer and I frantically read it.

I didn’t know back then it was SO important, that angels rejoice in heaven when yet another child is accepted in the kingdom of the Father.  

The Father I so desperately was longing for all my life.

I decided to keep this secret and tell Laura later to make it a going away surprise in the letter she was supposed to open on the plane. Well, I shared a little earlier.

Laura is my sister I have always wanted; this year marks our 9 year anniversary. What a journey it has been to live with God as Daddy and to have such family as Laura and Landon.

Laura is my example of how to be gentle as a dove and wise as a snake. God has given her a genuine gift to love people.

We have been through thick and thin together.

We've shared endless laughs, best walks, jokes, stories, tea (iced or hot), peeling and eating pomegranates, cooking, taking pictures, shopping hunts, Bible studies, praying together, road trips, playing games, playing with my nephew Liam, taking pictures, being goofy, doing make up, pajama parties.

We have also been together for some heartbreaking news, weeping, grief and sorrow, and sickness. We’ve spent hours studying Russian and coming up with the craziest ideas, painting the walls, and eating ice cream.

We have taken turns literally saving each other’s lives in scary situations (taxi rides, walking across busy streets, etc.). This post definitely won’t hold all of our memories, and I hope that we will have many more to come.

Landon has the official status of my father-brother who always cares, first of all for my spiritual growth. He has supported and encouraged me when I needed it most. He is the man representing what a godly husband, brother, and father should be. Believe me, I have watched him closely and know he is not perfect but God has made sure I would have a great example.

And Liam, my nephew, no words to describe what a blessing he is to me, what a picture of joy and love, of God's redemption. I miss my little hedgehog.

God sought me out and I am forever grateful I get to share His greatness with His children.

So, love did ruin my life as I knew it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Refurbish

Written by Kelly

Today I am back with another furniture refurbish tutorial.  I love getting old pieces of furniture from family members to make a part of our home.  To me there is something so special about the history of a piece and the way it can bring someone to mind just by its presence in your home.  This dresser was in the bedroom of two of my aunts when they were growing up.  I am sure there are lots of stories it could share.



I have moved the dresser around our home to suit various needs.  Currently, I have decided to use it as a buffet in our dining room.  We have a lot of wood furniture in this room so I wanted to paint the dresser a different color to give some pop amidst the darker tones.  

I followed Centsational Girl's "How to Paint Furniture" tutorial.  It walked me perfectly through the process step by step.  I began by sanding the dresser a little bit just to rough it up some so the primer would adhere to the wood.    


I used my favorite primer oil-based Zinsser Cover Stain.  It worked like a champ!

After the primer dried, I was ready to tackle painting. Kate's secret painting tool is a product called Floetrol.


Floetrol is a paint conditioner that you add to your paint.  It helps minimize brush strokes and roller marks.  Another must have tool is a high quality angled paint brush.


I used Benjamin Moore paint in Great Barrington Green.  This is a color Edie used in her kitchen aka my dream kitchen.  I am obsessed with Edie and her house so I love having one of her colors in my home.


As recommended, I painted two coats on the dresser waiting 4 hours between each coat and then waited 24 hours for it to dry completely.


The last step that Kate recommended was a water based protectant.  This helps your furniture hold up to everyday use.  A little goes a long way.

I also spruced up the hardware on the dresser.  The pulls were pretty rusty so I used Rust-oleum Metallic spray paint in Vintage Copper to give the pulls new life.




Here it is all refurbished.  I love it!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Regular Maintenance

written by Laura


So, I told mentioned in my last post that I was trying something new and out of my comfort zone. I'm ready to spill the beans. 

For the last 3 weeks I have not used shampoo or conditioner on my hair! 




Crazy right?! 

Yes, I thought so too! 

I got the idea from Pinterest. (I know, shocker!) It started out as something to try just to see if I could do it and if it would work with my hair. I have only used baking soda and vinegar on my hair for the last three weeks. 

I just pictured one of those homemade volcanoes sitting on my head, but I assure you it is nothing like that. 

Now, before you write me off as too granola, and stop reading right here, let me give you a little insight on me. 

I was once detained and questioned in a foreign airport about the amount of personal care/toiletry/makeup products in my luggage. I couldn't understand what they were so fired up about, but they just kept pointing at my makeup bag. They finally eeked out the English words, "to sell?" 

Yes, they thought my personal stash of cosmetics was inventory for some black market makeup ring. Hubby was dying laughing and made a comment something along the lines of, "how do you say 'high maintenance' in Russian?" I shot him what he calls a "death look" for that one. 

So, I am definitely not what you would call low maintenance, but I argue that I am just regular maintenance. 

Regardless, not the type of girl that you would expect to be rubbing baking soda on her head in lieu of traditional shampoo and conditioner.




But, I love it! It has a shampoo-like result for me and I like that I am not putting so many chemicals onto my hair and skin. And, baking soda is pretty close to free, so it's a win-win in my book.

The nitty-gritty (literally) is that I typically use just baking soda on my hair every 3 days, but about once a week will use it with vinegar, or just vinegar. I just wet my hair and make a little paste of baking soda and water in my hand (about the size of a half dollar) and slather it on really close to my scalp. Then just wait a minute or so and rinse it out. Easy peasy!

Ok, now for some disclaimers. 

I do have relatively "easy" hair. I have never needed lots of products or tons of tools to make my hair work. Or maybe I did need them, but I don't typically use them. I can't remember the last time I blow-dried my hair. Probably more than a year ago. I do use a straightener and/or a curling iron about twice a week. 

I have been "training" my hair for years to go longer in between washings. I can typically go 3-4 days without washing it. This makes life so much easier and cuts down on my getting ready time. 

The actual experience of washing your hair with baking soda is not quite like an Herbal Essences commercial. Imagine rubbing sandpaper on your head. Or trying to get wet sand out of your hair at the beach. It's more like that. Now, I bet you're really eager to run and try this, right? I have gotten used to this by now, but if you are really averse to textures it may take longer.

Try it and let me know if it works for you. I am especially interested to know if it works on color-treated hair.

It scares me a little to "out" this in public. 

For the record, I am still shaving under my arms. 

If I ever go that far over the edge, please sit me down and have an intervention. I'm serious.



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

LIfegiving

Written by Kelly


Do you ever feel like your tank is running on empty?  Sometimes you just need a break from your everyday schedule and get a change of scenery.  That is exactly what I did last week.  Caroline was on Spring Break so I packed us up and headed south to spend the week at my mom’s.  

I had been feeling run down and just not myself so some rest and relaxation was exactly what I needed.  Here’s what my week looked like...

I laid in bed and slowly welcomed the day while my mom fixed breakfast for little one each morning.

via Food Network
I watched Giada, Ree and Ina cook up some mouthwatering food.


I picnicked at the park and strolled through gardens of azaleas.


I sipped on blackberry tea and ate hot popovers with strawberry butter at my favorite tea house.

I walked on the beach and watched dolphins swim in the ocean.


I enjoyed delicious meals planned and prepared by Mom, including my favorite fried chicken.

It was a week that totally refueled my tank and helped me to return to my real life feeling refreshed and renewed.  This past week breathed new life into me.  

This month we will be discussing the theme of life.  I’d love to know what breathes life into you when your tank is running low.  Please share in the comments!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baby Steps


written by Laura





I feel like March has flown by.

I feel like there is so much more we could delve into on the topic of budgeting.

I hope that this month has been a good reminder of what is truly of value in this world, but also challenged you to rethink your spending and budget to be free (mentally and financially) to enjoy the treasures that God has given you.

One thing that I want to stress in regard to money management is to just keep moving forward, make small good financial choices and they will add up. Don't get overwhelmed, people don't get into debt, or out of it, in a day.

I am not an expert by any means, I am very much a student and learning how to be a better money manager every day.

Confession: I went over my grocery budget this week! Now, a Trader Joe's did just open here and I had to stop in. I had little man with me and I got swept up in the experience and all the new (to me) products and when I got to the checkout I realized that I had spent more than I had planned. Like $20 more!! It happens. The biggest thing is not to let one mistake sink you. Eat your Trader Joe's knockoff Doritos (hypothetically) and chalk it up to a learning experience. And try not to do it every week. 




One of the biggest things that I have learned about budgeting is that it isn't always about pinching every penny, but more about your attitude and evaluating how you can save money in a way that works for you and your family. And consistently challenging yourself to think outside the box, whether it's with meal planning, trying cheaper alternatives to products your family uses regularly, or simply doing without.

Some of the thing we think are "necessities" are actually luxuries for most of the world. I am not promoting a poverty theology any more than I am promoting a prosperity gospel. Money is something that God has given us to steward, but it becomes an idol when we look to it as a mark of our personal holiness (because of all we do without) or God's favor (because of abundance of material things). Both of these extremes miss the mark.

It is important to examine how we spend and steward our money to see if there is any way that we can be more faithful in our finances. Most of this starts with just challenging the status quo. Upon examination, many of our beliefs (especially about money or possessions) have roots not in scripture, but in our American culture.

Like for us, as much as I would have loved to buy a house right when we got married, we moved 9 times in 9 years of marriage. It wouldn't have made sense for us to buy a house. But, I love decorating and making a place "my own," so it was hard to be limited in that.

God provided some great places for us to rent that were cute, and I got really fast at hanging pictures and curtains. But coincidentally, now that we have bought a house and lived here a month, I haven't hung a single picture.

I am not saying that buying a home is bad, as it can be a really great investment. I am just giving an example of something that we often feel is our "right" as Americans and something that we can easily buy into without a second thought. Specifically for us, if we had bought a house earlier in our marriage, we probably wouldn't have been able to adopt Liam when we did. Could God still have provided another way? Of course, but we were thankful that our money wasn't tied up when we needed it.

We didn't set out to rent for so long, but it did allow us to realize that home is truly wherever we were together. Don't get me wrong, I am so thankful for my new home, maybe even more so because I had to wait 10 years for it!

Every solution for cutting back or saving money won't work for every family, but find the ones that will. It has been really fun for me to find creative ways to save and challenge myself to do things that I may not have learned how to do otherwise. It's about learning what you can do and what you can't.  It also helps to keep in mind what you're saving for, whether its a tangible thing like a car or vacation, or an intangible thing like getting rid of debt.

Here are some things that have worked well for us, and some that haven't.

Wins: sharing one car (for 2 years), haircuts/color at home, doing our own pest control, minor home improvements, making coffee/lunches instead of always grabbing them out, cutting our home phone (does anyone still have one?), cutting out cable (we do Netflix/Amazon), getting books/DVDs from the library instead of buying them, running outside instead of paying for a gym, cooking/eating most dinners at home, getting Little Man's clothes at consignment sales or thrift stores.

Not so much: homemade laundry detergent, making my own sushi, knitting, refinishing furniture (Which I decided to do outside, in the deep south, in July. The first words of instructions were, "Put on long sleeves, pants, gloves, and a mask." Not my finest moment.)

I am not going to pretend to know your specific situation, but I would challenge you to think about one change that you could make in your spending habits this week. I would love to hear your ideas! I am trying something very new for me, and very out of my comfort zone. I hope to share about it next week. 

To get you motivated, dream about and share with someone what you are saving for. We would love for you to share with us too!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reality Bites

written by Erin

It's Tuesday and I have $33.50 left of my $50.00 food budget. $33.50 to last me until Saturday. I don't know if I can do it. I had a fairly social weekend watching March Madness and I realized that much of the almost $18.00 I spent on Saturday and Sunday was on eating out and beer. I texted Laura on Sunday to ask her if I could have a few more dollars and she said, "No, I guess that means no more beer for you!" I was a little bitter at her response, but I got over it fairly quickly. It became apparent I was going to have to tighten my spending to make my goal. 

Yesterday, I was mindful of the fact I couldn't spend money on food because I have a lunch and a dinner scheduled for later in the week and I need to have cash for those commitments. I came home for lunch and dinner yesterday and I'm trying to stretch things farther as well as be more creative with what I've already got on hand. Canned tuna, sweet potatoes, black beans, and rice. Got any ideas on how to creatively use those ingredients to whip up something tasty?! I'm serious about suggestions. I need help.

It's amazing what choices I'm willing to make when I have a goal in front of me that seems attainable. I usually get overwhelmed with the thought of budgeting because it seems so beyond me. I also relate spreadsheets and receipts to budgeting and I kind of don't like to deal with either of those things. Ever. Laura challenged me to make a small, manageable change and I'm really encouraged because I think I can actually achieve the mark set before me. 

I used a coupon to grab a Starbucks Carmel Macchiato today. I relished a yummy treat and it was FREE. That's a win for a girl whose got $33.50 left in her food budget. I will make it work. I'm determined.







Monday, March 25, 2013

Spice Up Meal Planning

Written by Kelly

I may not be the budget guru but when it comes to cooking I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  If you ever struggle with expanding your meal plan beyond chicken and ground beef today I have the answer for you.  Don't worry.... it's budget-friendly too! 

Meet one of my favorite cuts of meat:  Boneless Pork Loin


It is extremely versatile and can easily be made to stretch to multiple meals.  Here's what I do when I buy one:

1.  Remove from package and trim excess fat from the pork loin.


2.  Cut the pork loin into thirds.


This will give you three roasts.


3.  Next I slice one of the leaner roasts, like the one on the left, into boneless chops.



4. Put each roast and sliced chops into a separate freezer bag and freeze.



It's so simple and takes 10 minutes!

Next the fun part!  The yummy dishes you can turn this into!  Here are our favorites! Click on the links for the recipes.




For the chops here are the recipes we love:

Pecan-Crusted Pork with Orange-Maple Glaze

Ingredients:
Boneless Pork Loin Chops
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
4 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 cup pecan pieces, finely chopped
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 oranges (1 juiced; 1 cut in wedges)
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:
Season chops with salt & pepper.  Place 3 tablespoons syrup in dish; place pecans in second dish.  In 12-inch skillet heat oil over medium heat.  Coat pork in syrup, then press in pecans.  Place pork in skillet in single layer; top with remaining pecans and syrup from dish.  Cook 3 to 4 minutes each side, just until cooked through.  Remove from skillet.  Stir in orange juice, remaining 1 tablespoon syrup, cumin and cayenne into skillet.  Cook, uncovered, 1 to 2 minutes until slightly thickened.  Pour over pork.  Serve with orange wedges.


Pork Chops with Gravy

Ingredients:
Boneless Pork Loin Chops
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
Onion, sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 Chicken Bouillon Cube
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme

Directions:
Salt & pepper pork chops.  In medium hot Dutch Oven (make sure your Dutch Oven is oven safe!) add 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Sear the chops about 3 minutes on each side. Remove chops to a plate and add sliced onion to the pot and saute until tender and translucent. To the onions, add chicken broth, Cream of Mushroom soup, parsley, basil and thyme.  Simmer a few minutes then add chops back to the Dutch Oven.  Cover and put in 350 oven for about 30 minutes or until pork chops are tender.  You cannot overcook them! They just get more & more tender!

Hope this helps you try some new things in the kitchen!