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Sunday, April 8, 2018

What's In A Name?

What's in a name?
Names and their meanings are important in our family.  I'm not really sure why.  It probably has to do with the importance of names in the Bible, or maybe it's because the person being named is stuck with it forever, or maybe they're not even that important, I've just always been interested in it.  Whatever the reason, I've always known all our names' meanings.  Now, people don't always reflect their name's meanings, I get that.  But in my family it did seem to go that way.

Paul (my dad): humble, small.  Now, the "small" part was always funny, because he's 6' 7''.  But he definitely is humble, and always puts others' needs before his own, willing to make himself "small".

Abigail (me): Father's joy.  When my mom was pregnant with me, I would go BANANAS if I heard my dad's voice.  I came into the world in love with him, and except for some hormone-fueled years there in the middle, that hasn't changed.

Jonathan (my brother): God has given. Which is funny, because we all were told we were getting a girl, and my parents didn't even have a boy name picked out, my dad gave the name to the nurse just as a backup, and... God gave us a boy!  Also, Jonathan in the Bible was the best friend anyone could've wished for, which has always been true of our Jonathan.

Stephen (my brother): Crown.  Also, his middle name is "Andrew", which means manly.  Stephen was born a little prince in our family, with everyone carrying him, reaching things for him, etc.  Also, he is now a junior at West Point.  So the manly thing is pretty accurate too, I'd say.

Daniel (my husband): (Only) God is my judge.  I'll just leave that there, lol.

Aidan Judson (our son): Aidan means little fire.  And he is just that.  Every time I wonder why he does the things he does, I remember what we named him.  Judson is Dan's middle name, and the family name that gets passed down on his side.  I love it!

??? (baby girl on the way)

So.  Clearly, we don't take names lightly in this family.  
As I've mentioned in a couple other places in my blog, strong female literary characters are what I feel shaped my childhood, and young girl-hood the most.  So, who do we go with?

Anne - with an E?  Jo from Little Women?  Elinor from Sense and Sensibility? Emma?  Laura (Ingalls Wilder)?  Hadassah from Mark of the Lion?

As I sat there thinking about who I would like my little girl to emulate most, I couldn't help but think of the woman who introduced me to all of my heroes.  My greatest hero, my mom.


Jocelyn.  
She grew up on a farm in North Dakota, in a family of Kathys, Nancys and Susans - an anomaly, a Jocelyn.  She had dreams to see the world.  She had/has style.  She has endured more heartache than a life should be able to hold, and yet has perpetual joy.  She has an infectious laugh, and can tell a story like no one can!  She loves fiercely (fierce being the opportune word - you get it whether you asked for it, or not, lol).  She bravely followed God's call on her life, and left the comfort of the known to live and raise her family in a new culture.  She is solid in her convictions.  She doesn't waver.  She is honest.  She is the absolute most creative person I, or anyone who knows her has ever seen.  She's an insane book-lover (like, read us all, out loud the entire Anne of Green Gables series, Narnia books, The Lord of the Rings, Little House on the Prairie and many others).  She has a tender heart.  She gives everything her all.  She tries new things.  She admits her fears, but faces them anyway.  She's my best friend.
She is everything anyone could hope and dream for their daughter.  There is no one else in the world I would want my daughter to be more like.
Jocelyn means "Joyful".  She is that, unfailingly.  It also means "one of the Goths".  A warrior.  An overcomer and overthrower.  

And so, there is no greater name, as far as I am concerned.


Jocelyn.  

3 Easy Ways To Support Your Community - Financially

I've lived a few different places in my life, and each place that I've lived, I've made an effort to pour back into my local community.  I try to do this on many levels - of course spiritually, by working at/volunteering at my local church; socially - again, by volunteering, trying to notice the needs of those around me; and financially.  This is the part I'd like to talk about a bit.

The old adage "put your money where your mouth is" fits aptly.  We spend money on things that we find important.  So, let's talk about where we spend our money.  None of these points are going to be earth-shattering, but I will be giving you some practical ways of actually doing them, and examples of what we've done.



1. Support local businesses

Most of us in the States are familiar with "Small Business Saturday", the day after Black Friday.  It's a day when people are encouraged to shop at their locally owned stores.  This is a great idea, but I think it needs to go beyond one day of the year.  Here are some of the practical things we've done.  

 In Jacksonville, when I became a stay-at-home-mommy, I was desperate for a place to let Aidan play, and meet other moms.  Some people suggested My Gym, or Gymboree, but we decided to become members at Bay & Bee.  This place was not only amazing (it fed the wanna-be-crunchy-mom inside me, with cork flooring, cleaning with essential oils, etc.), but it's a business started by two local moms, and I made some lasting friendships!


Because of how much we loved this place, we also ended up having two of Aidan's birthdays here.  Do you see that beautiful cake?  That was from a local bakery, too, Sweets By Holly - instead of say, Costco or Walmart.


Here in Ljubljana, for example, we've found an adorable hole-in-the-wall (although not unknown) coffee shop, Črno Zrno.  The owner/operator's name is Alexander, he's Colombian, and his wife is Slovenian.  He knows our names, coffee preferences, and asks us the types of questions an acquaintance would.  I never had that kind of a relationship with my barista(s) at Starbucks.  We love going here!



2. Support local artists

One of the times we were at Bay & Bee, they had this wonderful music time, and the singer was a local artist, named Mere Woodard.  Again, I especially loved that she was a mom, going out and doing what she loved, but beyond that, she had a great bluesy/folksy voice that spoke to me - and Aidan couldn't stop dancing!  So, after we went home, I went on iTunes, and bought her album.  There.  It can be that easy!  Now you're a patron of the arts, lol!  Jacksonville has a really fun event annually, called One Spark, where they feature local artist, people with great ideas, and of course good food.  Events such as these are great ways to find out who is out there beautifying your city, and find ways to support them!

Now, I realize that we travel much more than the average family, but I've made it a point, that whenever we go somewhere, instead of buying a souvenir, I buy Aidan a book either by a local author/illustrator, or about something significant in that area.  One of the examples is this book about Congo Square in New Orleans.  We also have a book by an author in Key West, the Poet Laureate of Springfield Missouri, and one about a dolphin found in Galveston.  I also glue a picture in the front of the book about our time in that place.  It has become a really nice keepsake!

When we moved to Slovenia, I knew that I wanted to buy dishes from a Slovenian potter.  It was just something I'd decided ahead of time.  I can't explain how much I love these dishes!  They're made by an artist, named Jasmina Verbič.  I love that each piece is unique, that it's hand-crafted, and I love the relationship we've built with her, and her son who runs the shop that sells her pieces.  Again, I would have bought dishes anyway, this was not an unplanned purchase - but instead of giving even more of my money to IKEA, I was able to put money back into my community.

These tea towels are also by a local artist, whose creations I keep coming across in different places, and love each one.  Her page is Kukamkuro, and you can find her on Etsy, too.  Again, she is a mom, who is finding a way to making a living out of her passion - which I 100% support!  Slovenia is making a big effort to support their local artists, so many/most of the shops downtown carry exclusively Slovene products, which is exciting!

This one isn't local to me, it's local to my parents, but it still fits into the small business category.  When we were buying furniture for our apartment, we bought this table and two benches, all made out of repurposed wood from a giant cask, by a Hungarian father and son carpenter team.  Now, I know what you're thinking, but it actually cost less than the sets we were looking at in IKEA.

3. Eat/buy local produce

Now, I am not saying you can't shop at regular grocery stores, of course you can, I know how busy life gets.  BUT Local Fare Jax couldn't be easier, or more friendly to busy families!  It's like a subscription, you set it up for weekly, bi-weekly or monthly delivery, they bring it to your door, and it's all locally grown, usually organic produce, and a loaf of bread.  You can even add local meats.  WHAT?!?  We loved this service so much, and if you live in the States, chances are there is something similar to this in your area too.  

We are very lucky, because here in Slovenia shopping at the local market is normal, it's not really an "event" like in the States.  It's comparable, if not cheaper than at the grocery stores, we're getting to know the grocers, eating local and in-season produce, and even getting some fresh air while we're at it.  Aidan loves to go, because all the grocers like to give him snacks (this country adores kids), so it's even fun for him!

There's the outdoor, produce and floral section, and then an indoor section with dried fruits, nuts, honey, breads, dairy products, butcher shops, and an amazing cookie stand.  Something good to remember about local honey - honey can be great for allergies, but it has to be local honey, because the local bees use the pollen from local plants/flowers, ergo the anti-allergen properties!

So... why shop locally?  There are many reasons, one of them being, that local business owners put their money back into the community as well - they use local suppliers, local companies for advertising, etc.  It boosts the economy in your area.  Regarding artists, it might be a personal thing for me, but I love when people pursue their passions, and I want to be a part of it.  Also, it's often artists who make festivals and streets such pleasurable places to be - and they should be appreciated for those efforts.  As for produce, when you buy locally, you're getting produce at the best possible time - they weren't pick too early, only to ripen on a boat.  Also, you are supporting local farmers, which as the granddaughter of a farmer means a lot to me.

And there you have it!  Some practical suggestions on how to support your community - financially! 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Life Poured Out

Exhausted.  Overwhelmed.  Defeated.  Worn out.  Spent.  Already ready for tomorrow morning's coffee.  That's how I feel most evenings.

2 weeks ago, when I spent all night on the couch with one very very sick little guy.

People have called this period the "trenches of parenting", the "tough years", and many other names I'm too tired to think of.  I am fully aware that every stage of parenting - and life, have their own struggles.  But there is a special kind of tired when you're in charge of a little-person's eating, health, sleep, fun, emotional well-being, etc.

All I want is to raise a decent human being.  Someone who is kind to those around him, someone I would want to spend time with, and someone who has a personal relationship with Jesus.



And yet, my days are full of snack-making (so many snacks), loads of laundry (I'd rather make another snack), answering non-stop questions, like "is Jupiter hot or cold?", "why is it daytime?", "can I have another snack?", "why is Batman's logo starting to come off?", and "how do construction workers get water into buildings?"

I'm just going to start having him call me "Alexa".

I kiss boo-boos, get him dressed (and then dressed again), take him potty a million times (ooops... get dressed again), read books, try to come up with fun/educational things to do, answer some more questions, and do another load of laundry.  I find myself saying, "be careful", "stop", "sit on your bottom", "are you okay?", "do you need a time-out?" more times than one can count.  As I'm writing this, I can hear the washing machine sound going off.



And by the end of the day, most days, I feel wasted.  I feel like I have wasted my time, energy, talents and brain.  Wasted.  

And then I'm reminded of a sermon I heard.  I couldn't tell you where, when, or who preached it, but it was about the woman who anointed Jesus' feet.  I've heard the story many times, but this time this was the passage that stood out to me:

Mark 14:4 "There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?"

Mark 14:6,8a,9 "But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me... She has done what she could...And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."

Huh.  Wasted.  Everyone around the woman thought that what she had done was wasteful.  That she had wasted something precious.  Something irreplaceable.  She had spent it on the wrong thing.  She could've used what she had for this, or that.  But she'd wasted it.

But then Jesus stepped in, and with the kind of comfort only His words can bring, he defended her, and said that she did what she could - and that what she had done was beautiful to Him.  Not only that, but He said that her deeds would be spoken of throughout the world, for all the ages.  

What others saw as waste, Jesus saw as treasure.  What others saw as stupid female hysteria, Jesus saw as sacrifice.  What others saw as disdainful, Jesus saw as beautiful.  
Because it came from her heart, and it came at a precious price for her.  She was giving up something of immeasurable worth, to show someone how much He meant to her.  

And that wasn't a waste.

So now, back to my world.
This story doesn't make me less tired or worn out.  It doesn't "magically" keep snacks on my kid's plate, or help potty train.  It doesn't get rid of the mountain of laundry.

But it does give me the ability to change my perspective.  I am sowing seeds I don't even know that I am sowing.  Sometimes I listen to Aidan play, and I'll hear something that gives me a glimmer of what all my hard work is doing.  Or I'll knock something over, and say "oh, sorry", and he'll reply "it's okay mommy, we all make mistakes".  Or if I tell him I'm not feeling well, and he says, "I can pray for you!"


Even the small things, like picking up his toys, or taking his own clothes off, and putting them in the hamper.  Or sitting on the potty swinging his legs, singing "I like you, I like you, I like you, just the way you are."  Or letting him help me with the laundry - the sorting, putting it in the machine, pushing the button.  Watching him peel his own orange.  Listening to him pray before his meal.  Or retelling what his class learned about in Sunday school, or asking me questions during our Bible story time.  Remembering his letters, counting to 19 - in two languages now! 
 All of these things matter.
And these are the results of my "wasted" time.  Because it's not wasted time (well, most of it).  It's time that I am investing in a little life that I love a hundred times more than my own.

No clue where to look...

This post isn't about neglecting self-care, or giving into mom-guilt.  I'm not saying this to humble-brag, or to tell you that I whistle while I work, and have woodland creatures help me around the house.  I'm not saying you need to buck up, and enjoy every minute of parenting.  I am not saying you can't feel like running away from your kids.  (What???  I know you don't feel like that.  Just kidding.)  I do have a wonderful husband who does just as much, if not more than I do, I have hobbies, and ways to decompress - I'm not trying to make my life sound harder than it is.  But it IS exhausting, and it's okay to say that out loud.  Sometimes it feels never-ending, and I feel like what I do doesn't matter.  

So this is a reminder in those low and tired moments, that our lives are not wasted, they are given in sacrifice, in love and devotion...

And it's a beautiful thing.

Dancing to Ol' Blue Eyes. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Minimalist Christmas Decor

Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year.
I enjoy elaborate Christmas decorations as much as the next person (honestly, you should see my mom's house - it's amazing!!!), but my personal style is a little (okay, a lot) simpler than hers.
It's due to a few factors, one - I just like it, two - with recently moving, and not having our own place for quite some time, we just haven't accumulated that many non-Christmas-tree type of decorations.  I DO have a fair amount of Christmas tree decorations, which are very special to me, and I am thankful to report, that they all made it across the ocean, and not a single one broke!

So, here is our "minimalist" Christmas decor this year.





























The stockings are from Target
The Nativity is Willow Tree
The felt winter pillow cases are from the Budapest Christmas market
The very very cool mountain pillow is from here in Slovenia.
The candle holder is something my dad found us at the flea market
My mom made the table runner
We decided to do different metallic wrapping papers this year, and I love how simple it is, and yet festive!
I just used different branches and garland on top of the cabinets, and loved how it looked.
I love displaying our Christmas cards from years past - unfortunately this years' hasn't arrived in the mail yet (international shipping and all), but I like how it ended up looking on the back of the couch.
We've been using a galvanized tub for our tree for a couple years now, and I just love it!!
The green and white quilt on the teal chair was a gift from a dear family that has "adopted" us.  It's from the Target Magnolia Hearth and Hand collection.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Family Christmas Cookie Recipes

Dear friends!  It is my favorite time of year!  To make it even better, for the first time in my adult life, I live near my parents, which makes the holidays even better!
One of the family traditions of ours that I've always loved, is that my mom would bake cookies like crazy leading up to Christmas, then she would make plates of them to take to our neighbors.  Now, as a young kid, delivering cookies on Christmas Eve, when all you want to do is open presents, is pretty much torture.  But as an adult, I realize all the things my mom was doing through this practice - as missionaries, she was reaching out to those around her, she was spreading true holiday cheer, and she was keeping us out of the house so she could wrap up the last bit of our gifts.

So this year, I invited her to come stay with us for a few days, so that I could learn from the great master, and glean all that I could.
And friends... I now have all the recipes, as well as permission to share them.

You're welcome.



So, here are the "secret" family cookie recipes.

1. Peanut Butter Blossoms

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening (or margarine)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg at room temperature
2 tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla
48 Hershey's kisses, or in our case, 48 squares of Milk chocolate
Extra sugar in bowl

Instructions:

1. Heat oven to 375 F (191 C) or for a convection oven 350 F (176 C).  

2. Combine all ingredients except chocolate, and extra sugar in large mixing bowl.  Mix on lowest speed until dough forms.  (Or if you don't have a mixer, you can use your hands, like I did.)

3. Shape dough into balls, using a rounded teaspoon for each.  Roll tops of balls in sugar.

4. Place on un-greased cookie sheets.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes (5:40-6 minutes for a convection oven).

6. Top each cookie with a Hershey's kiss or Milk square immediately out of the oven.  Press down firmly, so the cookie cracks around the edge.






2. Snickerdoodle

Ingredients:

1/2 cup shortening (or shortening)
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
2 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cream of tartar

Separately - make a cinnamon sugar mixture for rolling.

1. Mix in order given.



2. Form into balls and roll in sugar and cinnamon mixture.  



3. Place on un-greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 F (204 C), or if you have a convection oven, bake for 5-6 minutes at 375 F (191 C).



3. Mexican Wedding Cookies

(These are my favorite.)

Ingredients:

1 cup butter or margarine at room temp.
6 tsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cake flour (or regular flour with a tbs taken out of each cup.)
1 cup walnuts or pecans chopped as finely as possible

Extra bowl of powdered sugar for rolling.

1. Combine all ingredients to make dough.



2. Roll into balls, place on un-greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 F (177 F) for 10-15 minutes, or at 325 (165 F) for 7-8 minutes for a convection oven.

3. Once out of the oven, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, roll them in the powdered sugar.  



4. Sugar Cookie

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs at room temp.
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt.  Cover and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).  If chilling over night, take it out of the fridge about 2-8 hours before using.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F (204 C) or 375 F (190 C) for a convection oven.  Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  (This is actually harder than it sounds - but stick with it, it'll work.  I cut the dough into about 4 chunks, because it made a lot.  I put the chunk of dough on the flour, flattened it out some, then flipped it over.)  Use cookie cutters (dipped in flour first) to get the desired shape.  Place on un-greased cookie sheet.

3. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or 4-5 minutes in a convection oven.  Partly, it depends on the size of the cookies. 


After this we made a quick drying glaze that worked PERFECTLY. Here's the recipe:

1 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

We used this to dip the cookies in, as well as in piping bags. It really worked like a charm, and dried beautifully!





5. Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients:

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs ground ginger
1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
6 tbs unsalted butter
3/4 dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp vanilla

In Europe I couldn't find liquid molasses, only powdered. If you find yourself in the same boat, add an extra egg, the powdered molasses and add about 1/2 cup of agave syrup.



Directions:

1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves until well blended.

2. In a large bowl beat butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until well blended.

3. Add molasses, vanilla, and continue to mix until blended.

4. Gradually stir in dry ingredients until blended and smooth.

5. Divide dough in half, put each half in a zip top bag, and refrigerate. (Overnight is best.) Let sit at room temperature for at least 2-8 hours.

6. Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C) or 350 F (177 C) for convection oven. Line baking sheet with baking paper.

7. Place the first half of the dough on a floured surface. Sprinkle flour on top of dough, and rub on rolling pin.



8. Roll dough to 1-4 inch thick. Use extra flour as needed.

9. Use cookie cutters (dipped in flour) to cut out desired shape, and place on baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inch apart.





These are my gran's antique cookie cutters.
It was so fun to share them in a new tradition.


10. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes (5-6 for a convection oven). Remove cookies from oven, and allow them to sit and cool until firm enough to move.



11. After they're cool, it's time to decorate! I used the same icing as the sugar cookies. They turned out fabulous, if I do say so myself!




And then, you package them in whatever way seems best and prettiest!



And I think that's all of it!
I hope you enjoy the recipes, that you make them your own, and make many memories with your own families!