Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why We Don't Do Easter Baskets

We have never bought our kids Easter baskets for Easter.  Never.

Now maybe this is the part where you expect me to excoriate Christians for falling prey to the Easter-season commercialism.  Or maybe you thought I was going to point out the fact that so many of our Easter symbols, like eggs and bunnies and baby chicks, have pagan roots and so they should have no place in our Easter celebration.

But, no, I'm not going to say any of that stuff.  Our reasons for shunning Easter baskets are actually far less complicated than that.

Now I do hate the way Easter is commercialized.  But, then again, it's hard to find a holiday more commercialized than Christmas and yet I unabashedly decorate and shop and gift-give with the best of them every December, though I'm careful to keep in mind, and teach my children, of course, what Christmas is all about.

And as for the pagan roots thing...Sure, some of the symbols we connect with Easter are rooted in paganism, but the same is true of many of our common practices and customs, even in this country.  In most cases, the pagan origins have been long forgotten, so trying to consistently tow a hard-line on that issue can become really tricky really fast.

Personally, our reasons for refusing Easter baskets are really far more boring and practical than they are controversial.  I grew up with the tradition of waking every Easter morning to a pastel-colored basket of plastic eggs filled with candy and chocolate bunnies and packages of icky jelly beans, all resting on a bed of shredded plastic "grass".  (That was sometimes pink.  Because pink grass is such a common sight in Kentucky in the springtime, right?)

But then when my own kids got old enough for an Easter surprise of some sort I would go to the stores and look at all those ready-made Easter baskets lining the shelves and I would choke!

For one, they are ridiculously expensive.  Even the boring, mostly empty, more-bright-packaging-than-anything-else baskets are $15-$20!  Baskets of real substance start at $30 and go up from there.  Per kid, you can run into some crazy money very, very quickly!  Even putting together a basket, while somewhat more economical, can still be very expensive.

Not to mention the fact that Easter baskets are mostly just candy.

Now I am not one of those anti-sugar moms who confiscates all candy like it was a grenade in the hand of my children.  I don't mind my kids having candy on occasion, but a lot of it is both unhealthy and unnecessary.  If candy was something my children never got, maybe buying them some of it for Easter would make more sense, but it seems they're always getting candy from somewhere or somebody.  And once they eat it, it's gone!   If I'm going to spend money on a treat for my children, I would rather it be something that will last longer than the time it takes them to eat it!

So what do we do in our house for our kids for Easter?  Anything?

Well, of course!  Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important holiday we can celebrate as Christians.  Even more so than Christmas?  Absolutely!  While we celebrate his incarnation at Christmas, His coming and even His dying would have meant nothing had He not risen from the dead.  As Paul the Apostle put it, "...if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain," (1 Corinthians 15:17,) so of course we do something special for Easter!

But in lieu of Easter baskets, we give our children Easter gifts.

It's the same thing, I suppose: a special treat to commemorate Easter, just in a different form.  And, no, we don't give as many gifts as we do at Christmastime, but my children usually receive at least one gift, wrapped in bright spring paper and set next to their bed during the night so that they'll see it first thing when they wake up on Easter morning.  They all go to bed excited, knowing they'll find a special surprise when they open their eyes.  My teen included!

And we don't spend a lot of money.  In Easters past we've tried very hard to make the gift meaningful:  Just something special to remind them that it's a very special day.  Others might even prefer to put the gift in a basket, or to fill a basket with odds and ends--small gifts their children might enjoy.  We would just rather invest the money we might spend on an Easter basket of candy on a more lasting gift.

I realize gifts don't make the holiday.  I do want my children to know, however, that Easter Sunday is a very special day.  It's the day our Savior overcame death, hell, and the grave that we might be saved, and it's an event to be celebrated.  


How do you commemorate Easter at your house?  I'd love to hear how your make Resurrection Day a special event in your family...

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chewy Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Granola Cookies

My kids love granola bars and I love the convenience of quick, grab-and-go snacks.  On a busy morning or for a light snack at any time throughout the day, prepackaged granola bars are an easy choice.

But there's one problem:  Granola bars are really pretty bad for you.  

In spite of their reputation as a health food, most granola bars contain more artificial ingredients and preservatives than they do real food.  In fact, some nutritionists actually consider granola bars one of the worst snacks parents can give their children because they generally contain very few natural ingredients and the fact they are perceived as "healthy" leads many moms and dads to let their kids eat far more of them than they might otherwise.

Bad, BAD idea, moms.  And don't be fooled by all-natural or organic labeling either.  I've been disappointed to learn that many of the pricey nutrition and protein bars sold in the natural foods section are only slightly better for you, if at all.

I've tried making homemade granola bars, but I've never been thrilled with the results.  The bars I've made in the past are either mostly flavorless or very peanut-buttery, (neither of which appeals to me much,) or they're so crumbly they make an awful mess.

But granola cookies??  Maybe that's where I've been making my mistake all along!  Cookies are bound to be better than bars.  I found this recipe in an old magazine, did a little tweaking to suit my fancy, and oh my goodness did they ever turn out good!  Soft, chewy, DELICIOUS cookies that put to shame every granola bar I've ever tasted.  Even my picky, if-it-doesn't-look-right-I-won't-eat-it child loves these.

Now the ingredient list is a little lengthy, but these cookies aren't hard to make at all.  At the end I'll give you some ideas for different flavor variations.


Chewy Chocolate Chip & Cranberry 
Granola Cookies

1/2 cup butter                                                                              1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup + 3 T. honey                                                                 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs                                                                                    1/4 pecans, chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract                                                                   1/4 granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour                                                 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder                                                                  1/4 roasted, lightly-salted, no-shell        
1/4 tsp. salt                                                                                         sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups uncooked regular oats                                          1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350.  Melt your butter and allow it to cool to a lukewarm temperature.  Whisk together melted butter, honey, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  In a separate large bowl, mix together all remaining ingredients.  Add flour mixture to the butter mixture, a little at a time, stirring just until combined.  (Don't overmix, which will make your cookies heavy and less tender.)  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Bake 10 minutes or until very lightly browned at the edges.  Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes:  About 4 1/2 dozen.  


If you want to change these cookies up from time to time, here are a few ideas for some variations:  

For the milk chocolate chips, substitute white chocolate, butterscotch, or caramel chips.  

For pecans, substitute chopped peanuts, walnuts, almonds, or cashews.  

For sunflower seeds, substitute flax, pumpkin, or chia seeds, or pine nuts.  

For cranberries, substitute raisins or dried blueberries, chopped dried apricots or pineapples, or your favorite sweetened dried fruit.  

Personally, I think cranberries are wonderful combined with white chocolate and almonds, but I'm sure caramel or butterscotch chips combined with cashews and apricots would be fabulous!  Mix it up to suit your taste or to give you some variety.  You can freeze the dough for up to 3 months or freeze the baked cookies in freezer bags for about a month.

These cookies make a great quick breakfast or an easy, healthy snack.  The original recipe above produces cookies that are about 80 calories each, which isn't bad compared to most granola bars, and they are very filling.  Plus I know they're full of real foods and not a lot of preservatives and fillers I can't pronounce.

So have a good and mostly-guiltless cookie for breakfast in the morning!

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Essentials of Essential Oil Use: EOs for the Beginner


It was just over a year ago that I started taking an interest in essential oils.  Before that, and for quite a while even afterward, I was clueless.

And I was pretty skeptical, too.  EOs just reminded me of old wives' tales or witches' brews.  You know, bury a bat's wing and two lima beans under an oak tree on a moonlit night to remove warts, or rub a banana peel spread with mayonnaise on your kneecap to get rid of a headache.  

It just sounded...kooky.

But again and again I read these shining testimonials that were very intriguing, if not entirely convincing.  Add to it that while I am NOT anti-modern medicine by any stretch of the imagination, at the same time I have a lot of concerns about the synthetic drugs we so readily pump into our bodies every time we're sick or tired or downhearted.  My own experience with a couple of drugs several years ago fuels much of my concern, (which is a story for another day,) but again and again as you look into many of these drugs, even over-the-counter ones intended to treat non-life-threatening illnesses, the side effects are only slightly better than the illness itself, and sometimes they're decidedly worse! 

So I figured, hey!  Why not give essential oils a shot?  What could it hurt?  

And a year later, I'm hooked.  And while I'm certainly no expert on essential oils, I run into other curious souls sometimes who are interested, but who have no idea how to sort through the barrage of information available online.

I remember thinking...If someone could just answer some basic questions for me, just to help make sense of this information-overload I run into every time I start reading about essential oils!  

Thus my decision to write this blog post, which will hopefully answer some of those questions.  

Now, let me tell you a few things straight up:  I don't believe essential oils are a miracle cure for anything.  I don't think they are sufficient to treat all illnesses and I would never recommend essential oils in lieu of professional medical treatment for a serious health condition, though I do believe they can provide a supplemental treatment in many cases.

I'm also not a seller of essential oils or a representative of any essential oil company, so rest assured I'm not about to hit you with a sales pitch for one essential oil brand or another.  I just want to give you some basic information by answering some of the questions I had early on.

What are essential oils?

EOs are just natural oils distilled from plants and plant parts.  Distilling, in case you're interested, is just the process of vaporizing and condensing a substance or liquid in order to concentrate and purify it.

Do they really have medicinal value?

Yep.  Even skeptics in the medical world will have to acknowledge there are at least some benefits to the use of certain oils.

Most of these oils have been in use for hundreds and even thousands of years, (though obviously not under any of the brand names you'll find at your local health store.)  Some are mentioned in the Bible.  Many have been used for generations.  I've even been listening to a zillion-page book about Kentucky's own Daniel Boone, who learned much about medicine from the Native Americans.  And they weren't medicines manufactured in huge pharmaceutical factories in the Kentucky wilderness!  These were very effective medicines developed from native PLANTS and used to treat various illnesses and wounds.

So this stuff isn't the latest medical discovery, though it certainly seems some of the "old ways" are being rediscovered, which I think is a very good thing.

How do I use essential oils?  

There are lots of ways you can use EOs.  Some people love to add a few drops to their bathwater or use them to make their own lotions or salves.  You can also add them to homemade laundry detergent or use them on dryer balls.  Many people use them to make their own household cleaners.  Some people even ingest essential oils, though with some oils that is NOT safe and with others it may be questionably so, depending on who you talk to.  

You can also use EOs directly on the skin. You need a carrier oil for this, though, since some oils can irritate your skin.

So what on earth is a carrier oil?  It's just a mild oil you use to dilute your essential oil.  I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, so I used olive oil early on, which actually worked okay, though I smelled a little like a dip for Italian bread.  I learned later of other very good, very lightly scented carrier oils.  Fractionated coconut oil is my favorite now, but almond oil is another I have on hand.  Some people prefer oils like jojoba or grapeseed, all of which are available for purchase online or right alongside essential oils at stores.

My absolute favorite way to use essential oils, however, is with a diffuser.

A what?  An EO diffuser is just a little gadget that spreads essential oils in the air so you can breathe them in.  Some call it aromatherapy or inhalation therapy...meaning you're inhaling the essential oils.

There are different types of diffusers and they can range in price from $10 to $200.  I have a couple of small plug-ins like this, which work decently in a smaller room.

They include a little pad where you add a few drops of oil and the diffuser warms the pad to diffuse the oils.  These are usually on the lower-end of the price scale.  I think I paid $12 for mine, and you can find them online or at natural or health food stores.

I also have a cold-air diffuser which I LOVE.

I add a few drops of oil to some warm water in the diffuser reservoir, I turn it on, and my room is INSTANTLY filled with fragrance.  The scent is STRONG for a couple of hours, but the aroma will linger a couple hours more until the water inside is gone and the diffuser shuts itself off.  Some cold-air diffusers may work slightly differently.  Ones like mine can also be used as nightlights.  And let me just add that there are many of these available in the $30-$50 range.  

What brand essential oils should I buy?  

Here's where the subject can start getting a little sticky.  Some people are devoted fans of one oil brand or another and they can argue till doomsday why their favorite oil company is the best and why their oils are purer or their distillation process is better and the other guys are selling cheap-grade oils...blah, blah, blah.  The arguments can get tedious and in the end nothing is really proven anyway because there isn't an official "Essential Oil Board" putting their stamp of approval on EOs.  (Thank heavens!  Like we need another government agency...)

I have my own personal preferences when it comes to essential oils and you'll probably have yours.  Price figures into it a lot, too, of course, and sometimes the oils from the fancy-schmancy EO company just aren't affordable.  At that point all you can do it buy the best quality oil you can afford.  Anyway, I'm not opposed to trying oils from various companies and my own EO collection is a hodge-podge of brands.

One more thing on this subject:  I once had the opportunity to talk with a healthy living "expert" who was very, very knowledgeable in the area of natural and alternative health issues and products.  When I tried to pin her down on the best oil brand, she refused to put one company above another, saying only that, generally speaking, the cheapest oils are cheaper because they're heavily diluted.  In other words, if you notice that a tiny bottle of peppermint essential oil runs $15-$25 with various brands, you probably should be suspect of an enormous 8-ounce bottle selling for $6.  While you may not always have money for the more expensive brand oils, keep in mind you'll usually get what you pay for.

Which oils should I buy first?

This is largely a matter of opinion, but the basics I started with were peppermint, lavender, and lemon, all of which are fairly easy to find and are less-expensive than many of the other oils.  My local Kroger even carries a common over-the-counter brand of peppermint and lavender, so they're becoming more and more readily available.  The three oils I mentioned are just basic oils with many, many uses, both on their own and in various blends.

Is there anything else I need?  

If you intend to put oils on your skin, then you need a carrier oil.  Like I said before, fractionated coconut oil is my favorite, but almond oil, jojoba, and grapeseed are just a few of the other options available.

And if you plan to dilute or blend oils, you'll need bottles.

Many health food stores offer a variety of them, some with droppers or roller balls.  These can also be found online.  And always buy dark bottles:  the dark color helps protect the oils from light damage.

Okay, I've purchased a few oils.  Tell me how to start using them. 

Essential oils have so many uses and probably no two EO users use the same oils in the same way for the same things.  If I tried to write out every use for every oil, this would be the eternal blog post, so instead I'll just mention some of my favorite oils and the ways I love to use them.  No doubt my readers can share many more uses for these oils and others, and I gladly invite them to do so in the comment section at the end of this post.


I love this oil for treating headaches and joint pain.  For a headache, I dilute a few drops with fractionated coconut oil and apply it lightly to my temples or the back of my neck with a roll-on bottle.  I do the same around my knee to ease occasional joint pain.  Even if it doesn't end the pain altogether, it certainly tempers it.


Lavender has a sweet, relaxing aroma.  Before I had a diffuser I would put drops of diluted lavender on the edge of my pillowcase to help me relax and sleep.  I apply it behind my ears when I'm feeling uptight or emotional, and I also like to diffuse it with lemon for the same purpose.  I also use it often as a soothing salve for cuts and scrapes, sometimes combined with lemon and tea tree oil.


Citrus scents can be amazing mood lifters, not to mention the clean, fresh aroma they leave behind.  I mix lemon often with several different oils, mainly for diffusing.  I also like to add a few drops of lemon to homemade household cleaners.

Peppermint, lavender, and lemon

This is a wonderful mixture for cold and allergy issues.  When my kids are congested, I'll roll it on the bottoms of their feet or on their chest and it really seems to open airways and help them sleep, so much so that they all ask for it the moment they feel a stuffy nose coming on.

Tea tree oil  (also called melaleuca)

Tea tree has wonderful antiseptic qualities.  It has a very strong medicinal smell that may not appeal to everyone, but I find the scent very clean and fresh.  I always add several drops to my mop water, (which both disinfects and adds a little shine,) and I also put it in any homemade household cleaners I make as well.

Just recently I tried tea tree oil on my son's athlete's foot.  I rubbed it full-strength all over his feet and toes, applied cotton socks, and was pretty startled when it was almost completely gone by morning.  That's a little trick I'll be sure to remember!


We use lemongrass primarily for muscle aches or back pain.  Massaged into the skin, it's very soothing.  But it has a uniquely potent smell, so be warned!

Tea tree, orange and/or lemon, and eucalyptus

This may be my favorite blend.  This mix is a natural air purifier and I love the fresh, clean scent that fills my home when I diffuse it.

Clove, orange, and cinnamon

I'm sure this blend of oils has some kind of therapeutic benefit as well, but I'll confess I just like it because it smells really, really good!

Young Living's Thieves and doTerra's On Guard

This is the only time I'll mention products specific to any particular EO companies.  Both of these blends contain oils like clove, eucalytus, rosemary, cinnamon, and a citrus scent.  The combination is supposed to have great antibacterial qualities and to help boost the immune system.

And I believe it!  I have used both of these oil blends, (which are very similar, though I hope I'm not about to be sued for saying so,) and both have what I consider an oddly lovely scent.  But at any hint of illness this winter, whether it was flu or colds or stomach viruses, I have immediately diffused this blend of oils throughout the house.  And though the less-optimistic side of me fears we'll all come down with flu tomorrow just because I write this, we have honesty had less illness of all kinds this winter than ever before, even with flu rampant this season all around us and scores of friends fighting awful stomach viruses and respiratory infections.

I've also spread this oil often on mine and my children's feet or I've rubbed it on my wrists when I felt ill or had been around someone else who was.


Health-wise, we have done very, very well this year, and I have to credit that to the essential oils we've used.  Even if we all become terribly sick tomorrow, (and hopefully that won't happen!) we've still faired far better this year than the last several as far as sickness is concerned.  And I have to believe essential oil use has made all the difference.


So do you have any advice to offer an essential oils newbie?  What oils are your favorites?  

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why We Don't Do Book Reports

When I first started into homeschooling, and especially as I began following various homeschooling blogs and Facebook pages, I was pretty amused at the things I found were controversial in the homeschooling community.  I once got wrapped up in a pretty heated discussion about whether or not kids should be taught cursive.  I won't tell you what side of the argument I was on, but I will confess to being very much in the minority!  I came out of it a little bruised, (in only the most virtual sense,) but no less convinced of my position on the subject.

The truth is, we all have our opinions about the best way to teach our children and encourage their love for learning, and I think a little healthy debate and disagreement on the details of it all can be a very good thing, so long as we are careful not to take our differences of opinion too personally.  Disagreements about the "right way to homeschool" can do much to open our eyes to new ideas and methods, or else confirm to us the rightness of our own homeschooling choices, both of which can be helpful to our homeschool.

I say all of that because I discovered early in my days of homeschooling that doing book reports was actually one of those sometimes controversial subjects among homeschoolers.  I do everything in my power to encourage my children toward good books, but are book reports a good way of testing a child's reading retention and comprehension, or are they really just needless busywork that discourages reading?

It's all in the eye of the beholder.  But in case you're interested, here are a few reasons why I'm firmly settled in the No Book Reports camp...

I don't think a book report is necessarily a good indicator of my child's reading comprehension.  In fact, it's not always even a good indicator that they read the book!

I say that mostly because I did a few book reports in school on books I never even read.  Or at least books I never completed.  (More about that in a second.)

It isn't hard to skim through a book and get enough of the gist of it to write a fairly sensible book report.  I can't tell you the kids I knew in school who never read an assigned book.  Cliffs Notes were invaluable when I was in high school, but today all a kid needs is access to a computer or smartphone and in a couple of minutes they can find out all they need to know about a book, including characters, plot, summary, etc.

Getting away with something like that in your homeschool may be more difficult.  Maybe.  But just because a child can produce a decent synopsis of a book doesn't really mean they comprehended it.  It doesn't even mean they finished reading it!

If all I'm looking for is a book summary, I don't have to assign a written book report to get it.

Doesn't an oral summary, (call it an oral book report if you want,) accomplish the same thing?  Why ask my child to spend an hour writing a book report when they could do the same thing orally in 3 or 4 minutes?

Not that I'm opposed to writing assignments to coincide with their reading!  That's not the case at all.  But I do believe writing assignments can be far more interesting than a plain ol' book report.

Personally, I like writing assignments like character analyses and thought-provoking questions about various events or themes of the book.  To me, they reflect better my child's comprehension of what they just read.

Book reports are...well...kind of boring.

Not that every assignment I give my children has to thrill them down to their socks.  I realize some aspects of school just aren't so fun no matter how you try to wrap them up and present them to your children.

But I also see a huge difference in my kids' response when I come up with a more interesting book-related assignment than a mere book report, like when I have them write a letter to Liberty from the Rush Revere series, or write a set of entries from Gertrude's, (Hamlet's mother's,) diary.  It's just a more creative approach to writing about the book.  And it's way, WAY more interesting than a boring ol' summary, which is all most book reports end up being.

But, believe it or not, I (gasp) don't even give reading-related writing assignments much of the time.  My kids will learn more throughout their lives from personal reading than they will ever learn from me as their teacher, so I want them reading as much as possible.  I never want to turn reading into a drudgery for them by always tying it to written work.  Especially where my little guys are concerned, if they start out associating books with work, they're less likely to develop a real love for reading.

I never want to do anything that rushes reading.  

Granted, as homeschoolers we have the freedom and flexibility to give our kids as much time as they need to read a book, but I'm not sure that always happens as it should.  Especially when people follow a stricter, more scheduled curriculum, and book reports are part of the daily plans, reading can be rushed so the report can be finished and the student can move on to the next assignment.

And here lies the reason I did book reports on books I never finished reading:  I am and have always been a slow reader.  Always.  And, no, I don't have a reading disability.  In fact, I've always read very well and with very good comprehension.

But I read slowly.  Chalk it up to a love for language, but I have always appreciated books not only for what they say, but for the way they say it, so much so that I read to myself only slightly faster than I read out loud.  And considering some of the articles I've read recently dealing with the disservice we've done our children in teaching them to speed-read and the awful way it hampers comprehension, I'm actually pretty glad it's something I never mastered!

In elementary school teachers would hand us a book and tell us a book report was due in one week and I would go into a panic!  I knew I couldn't complete the book that quickly and I was afraid to say so for fear I would either look really dumb or really lazy, so I would do the best I could and then skim the rest of the book well enough to scribble down a decent book report. In one English class in high school I had to read a certain number of books from a list of 100 classics.  Fortunately I could choose my own, so I went with plays because I knew they were the only books on the list I could finish in time and I didn't want to be dishonest by saying I read books when I really only skimmed them.  (It's NOT the same thing!)  While, granted, I read some very good plays that year, I wish I had had time enough to read some of the books on the list as well.

I want my kids to read.  But I never, ever want to push them to read quickly.  Book reports don't have to do that, but they certainly can.  


Maybe you feel like book reports are a great judge of what your kids are reading and comprehending as they read.  And maybe they don't mind doing them.  If so, that's great!

But for us there will be no book reports.  As far as I'm concerned, skipping book reports has done nothing but encourage reading around here.  And since reading is the door to learning, that's certainly a good thing!

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The SIN Cover

Around here, we don't get big snows very often.  It snows every winter...usually...but an inch or two at a time is about as much as we can expect, and it doesn't generally hang around for very long when it comes. 

But we got real snow earlier this week, about 10 inches of it, and with the frigid temperatures that have set in since, plus a little fresh snow added just yesterday, the white stuff is sticking around much longer than usual.  

Kentucky is blanketed in white. 

Our normal snows do well to fully cover the grass, but a snow like this covers everything and covers it fully.  The world looks so incredibly different; even the worst of its imperfections are hidden from view.

And given some of the imperfections in our yard, I'm especially thankful for that.  Like the landscaping stones in front of the house that aren't level and never stay stacked the way they're supposed to.  Right now they're covered in snow, so what does it matter?  Nobody can see them anyway.

And there's the unsightly ring in our back yard where the former owners of our home had a pool they weren't kind enough to leave behind for us.  It's there, but if you come over, you won't be able to see it.

And my boys tried to dig their way to China last kidding...right in the middle of the back yard.  We never filled in the hole and it isn't pretty.  But you can come look for it now if you want.  Believe me, you're won't be able to find it.

Those imperfections are hidden.  The blemishes are covered.  The evidences of past misdeeds are forgotten.

And of course the glistening white brings to mind this scripture:

"...Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow..." 
Isaiah 1: 18

Is there anything purer white than fresh snow?  And yet even the darkest of sins can be covered in white.  Forgotten.  Buried in a blanket of grace so deep as to hide the worst of imperfections from the eyes of a holy God.

Not because of anything I have done, of course.  Because I can't do anything to earn that kind of favor.  The ugliness of sin is there.  Faults and failings and imperfections are ever-present with me, and even in my absolute best state I will never escape them.

What the apostle Paul said of himself, I, too, can say.

"...In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing..."

I know it better than anyone.  There's nothing good in what I am or what I can make of myself and my efforts to alter that are humiliatingly feeble at best.  

How fortunate, then, that the covering of my sin is not dependent upon my own goodness!  If it was, there would be no hope for me, because my righteousness looks an awful lot like the fallen and unlevel landscaping stones in front of my house:  While they are an attempt at beauty, they are still glaring evidence of my ineptitude as a landscaper.

But cover all that up in a thick coat of white and the best groundskeeper in the world will be hard-pressed to know the difference between my work and his own.  Because the flaws have been covered up.  

My sin is covered, too, cloaked in grace bestowed upon me by the Savior of the world.  Through simple faith in the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am pure and white and clean in the eyes of God.

The sin.  The shortcomings.  The failures.  The inadequacies.  His grace covers it all.  It is cloaked in a blanket of white -- His righteousness, placed on my account, because of faith in what He has done for me.

And what a beautiful, remarkable thing that is.

"When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne."
--Edward Mote

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lessons from a Dying Dishwasher (The Appliance Kind)

My dishwasher is still functional.  Kind of.  I mean, it still disinfects my dishes and semi-washes them, provided I fill it about half-full, wash nothing but smallish items, and give each dish plenty of wiggle room.

But I know the truth:  I know that this lovely modern convenience I've depended on so heavily for nearly a decade now is dying a slow and painful death.

I couldn't have asked for a better dishwasher in the beginning.  It could power-blast the worst of caked-on food gunk in those early days, but it has cleaned less and less well with every passing year until sometimes now it not only cleans poorly, but it leaves behind this gritty residue that reminds me of play sand, which might make sense if I was feeding my family sand for dinner every night, but since I'm not, I'm mostly just confused by it.

And I can't forget to mention the freakish, unpredictable, completely untraceable leakage of water.  It doesn't happen often and doesn't leak much when it does, but obviously that's not supposed to happen.  

I tried to do a little 'dishwasher doctoring' last summer and thanks to a fascinating video I found on YouTube, I managed to dismantle my dishwasher and clean out it's internal filter.  It was clogged with interesting things like bits of plastic, corroded rubber, and even pocket change, plus lots and lots and LOTS of nauseating soap goo.

I cleaned it all out.  And it helped.  Some.  For a while.

Meanwhile, my dishwasher's silverware basket started falling apart and had to be thrown away.  The soap dispenser stopped latching, too.  And I'm not sure the rinse aid dispenser has worked in years.

So why am I writing this rather than shopping for a new dishwasher?  Believe me, a new machine is in my plans for the very near future, though I was hoping very much to hobble through till spring when my husband's work begins picking up a bit more.  We'll see if we can make it that long.

But there are some things I've learned, particularly in the past 2-3 months of nursing my dying dishwasher.  And I hope the lessons I've been taught will stick with me even when I am blessed again with a healthy, fully-functioning dishwasher.

First of all, I've learned that...

1.  Having a really good dishwasher can turn you into a really messy cook.

If you cook often and if you cook things from scratch, you're bound to dirty more dishes.  That's just the way it works.  But I realize now that I was developing some pretty rotten habits even years ago, all because I had a powerful dishwasher that took care of most of my mess for me.  Those bad habits have come back to bite me in the last couple of years.

When you can load up most of your mess in a good dishwasher, it can be a whole lot easier to be careless and uncalculated and really, really messy when you're cooking.  That wasn't a problem when my kids were very small and when a couple of them were in school.  We often ate quick, grab-and-go breakfasts and I was packing lunches, so the only meal I really cooked was supper.  Making a mess and dirtying lots of dishes one meal per day really wasn't so big a deal.  I could still fit all of it inside the dishwasher!

But now I homeschool and we do more clean-eating and so most days I'm cooking three from-scratch or mostly from-scratch meals at home per day, which makes for lots more dirty dishes!  Being a messy cook on top of that can mean some nightmarish clean-up when supper is done.  It wasn't unusual for me to literally spend hours in my kitchen and still leave dirty dishes in my sink when I went to bed, all because of some really bad habits I had allowed myself to begin developing years ago.

But I've learned...

2.  When I'm cooking, I CAN do better job of cleaning as I go.

I would have told you I did this already, but it's really been my dying dishwasher that has shown me that I've really not been so good at it after all.

It's amazing how much a few simple habits can help cut down on the kitchen cleanup time.  Starting supper prep with an empty sink makes a huge difference.  I can fill one side with soap and hot water and then drop in measuring cups and dishes and utensils as I go.  It's pretty incredible how much time that can save.  I can wash things while I'm waiting for water to boil or between stirs when I'm browning meat, and I actually accomplish much more in these little spurts of work than I ever dreamed possible!  And washing pots and pans while they're still warm is SO much easier, rather than waiting until the food inside has turned to concrete!

And when I take little steps like this, I really find that...

3.  Not having a dishwasher, (or at least not having a good one,) doesn't mean kitchen cleanup has to take a lot longer.

I've had people tell me they don't have a dishwasher and they don't want one and I must admit to you I've mostly just given them blank stares because I absolutely cannot fathom that.  Like I said, we will have a new and healthy dishwasher at the earliest opportunity.

But at the same time, I fully recognize that much of my hatred for kitchen cleanup has been due to my own bad habits.  I've allowed my kitchen to get out of control and for the dirty dishes to pile up in ridiculous ways.  And that's been MY fault.

Washing dishes and cleaning up my kitchen doesn't have to take as long as I've allowed it to take.  In fact, I can even believe those who have told me they can clean up their kitchen faster without a dishwasher.  I believe they can!  (Though personally I'll still opt for a dishwasher's help.)

And finally...

4.  I don't really mind washing dishes.  

Okay, that was a little hard for me to admit.

I was convinced I HATED washing dishes, that I despised kitchen cleanup almost as much as I hate putting folded laundry away.  (And I. HATE. THAT.)

But you know, it's really not so bad!  I mean, when they're really dry and crusted over it can be rough.  And I still struggle a little when I have to empty all the gunk leftover in the drain.  Blech!  But especially if I make the family do the dish-scraping well, it's really not bad at all.  Washing dishes, even washing all of them, isn't nearly so awful as I used to think.  In fact, with a little music or, (my personal preference,) an audio drama or book going, I can semi-enjoy it.


Now don't get me wrong:  There will be a new dishwasher in my home at the earliest opportunity!  But I do have to confess that I've learned a lot since mine has been on its way out.  I've learned some lessons I think will help me in the kitchen from now on.  

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