For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows grace and favor and glory - honor, splendor and heavenly bliss! No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Psalms 84:11

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Who Is My Neighbor?

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is hijacked by bandits in the middle of nowhere and badly beaten. On several occasions others walk by on the road, each pretending not to see. But finally a Samaritan (a detested class among Jews) came by, and chose to help the man. To take him to safety, to make sure his injuries were attended to and to make sure his basic needs were paid for. After Jesus tells this story he asks:

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

So who are our neighbors? Sometimes it's hard to see. Sometimes it's easier not to. I know I'm certainly guilty of turning the blind eye to someone in need, or simply becoming so wrapped up in my own life that I just don't have time or energy to pay attention to those around me. We're all unfinished projects in the eyes of God, all of us have room for improvement. But as Christians, our goal should be to become more Christ-like. To see with His eyes, look at the world around us, and have compassion.

Sometimes it's easier to look afar to find those in need (our distant "neighbors"). It's easy to look to the third world and see poverty, hunger, sickness, and war. But one of the greatest lessons I learned during my visit to Honduras when I was in college was that we are all most effective in our own home towns. During that week of rebuilding a damaged Church it became obvious that sure, we brought money and college student man-power, but it was really the Nationals who contributed the most. Why? Obviously because they had a vested interest in the result. The same is true for us. We have a vested interest in what goes on in our own neighborhoods/towns/cities/states/country. I'm not saying that missionaries shouldn't go to the third world, in fact I think more should go. But that's not everyone's calling. However, everyone CAN look around and find those in need wherever they are.

Need some ideas of who you can help? First, PRAY! And then pray some more! I fully believe that if you ask God to show you who needs your help that opportunities will practically fall into your lap.

Second, try asking yourself the question, "Who would Jesus hang out with if He lived where I live?" Jesus hung out with some pretty unsavory individuals. Tax collectors, lepers, invalids, poor, hungry, disadvantaged, you name it. So who are the lepers of your home town? Who are the people who no one else wants to deal with? Who are the ones that get the cold shoulder? What group would most of us prefer to ignore? Or wish would go away? I believe that in every place there are people who live in the edge who are not accepted by the whole. And I think that if Jesus lived where you live, those are the people He'd want to help. In Matthew 9:12 it says, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

It's very easy to say that Jesus lived long ago, before there were guns, drugs, etc. True. And I don't think that Jesus wants you to get yourself into a dangerous situation and get yourself killed. Remember, He said mercy, not sacrifice. So be safe about it. He gave us reason for a reason. Use it. It's likely that for every group that needs help there's a non-profit of some sort already established. Work with them, ask what's needed, donate items, time, money, etc. Look at your own family situation and figure out what you are able to do. For us, I don't have a lot of time on my hands, and the time I do have I'm usually stuck at the house with sleeping toddlers. So volunteering somewhere is generally not possible for me, unless there's a way I can bring my kids along. But I certainly can clean out my closet/pantry and give what I can. Other mom's in my position who are crafty might spend nap time knitting hats for preemies in the hospital, or using whatever abilities they have to give to others in need. I've already decided that if I have a surplus of produce from my garden that I intend to give it to the local homeless shelter, which I'm sure they'll appreciate since fresh produce is getting expensive.

I also give to It's a non-profit that lends money to business owners all over the world. You make a micro-loan (for as little as $25) via their website and choose where your money goes. And then over time as they repay your loan you receive Kiva Credit which you can either cash out or re-lend. I've used Kiva to make loans for 2 years now, and during that time I've helped finance 7 loans. Two of them were unable to pay back due to a war in their home country, but everyone else has. The ones that didn't repay? Frankly, I just hope they're still alive, who cares about the cash! For me this is an easy way for me to give and benefit lots of people over time for a very small contribution on my part. I help the business owner expand and earn a better living, which in turn gives a better life to his/her family, which in turn helps the local economy. I really don't see the downside to that!

When your heart is open to serving it's amazing what opportunities will present themselves. So pray, and listen to that "still small voice". Pay attention to those around you. Is someone you know on bedrest? Do you know someone who's unemployed? These are tough times and there are possibly more people hurting around us than there ever will be during our lifetime. Keep an open heart and open mind, be receptive to what God's leading you to do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Does My Garden Grow?

I showed you one picture of my garden yesterday as a bit of a teaser, so here's the rest! Feel free to click to enlarge the pictures, some of the plants are hard to see otherwise.

Here's the one I showed yesterday, my strawberry patch is in the foreground with lettuce planted between the plants. Behind them are my huge spinach plants, a few pepper plants, some marigolds, and if you look closely you'll see my little lavender plant wedged between a lettuce and a spinach. I'm planning to move the lavender plants to another part of my yard very soon.

Here's what my strawberry/lettuce patch looks like up close:

And this is the other half of that bed. In the back row from left to right we have bok choy, spinach, lavender. The row in front of it is 1 pepper plant and some green onions. And in front of that there's marigolds and 3 more pepper plants.

Ok, this picture is kind of confusing... We put up vertical elements before we left on vacation. And thank goodness we did because obviously the peas and tomatoes REALLY needed it! But this is not the best picture of the vertical elements (which we built out of steal water pipe and wire netting in case anyone is interested). They seem to get all jumbled up visually with the chain link fence behind it.

Here's a better picture of the peas, man they really took off!

Up close you can see that I've got a HUGE nasturtium plant. Behind them there are actually some lettuces that you can't actually see. Next to the lettuce, chives and parsley. Next to the nasturtiums are lavender and on the other side carrots. Then in the front row are marigolds, nothing, zinnias, and carrots.

Next to the peas are my tomato plants. From left to right they are Early Girl, Heirloom, Yellow Pear, and Sweet 100 (a cherry tomato).

In front of the tomatoes I have chives, cilantro, green onions, thyme, 1 lonely overgrown spinach headed for the compost, beet greens, basil (which is hiding behind the huge nasturtium), carrots, walla walla onions, and the nasturtium.

Half of this bed is green and wax beans, the other half is thyme, dill, walla walla onions, lavender, a pepper plant, basil, parsley, nasturtiums and green onions which I grew from the root end of ones that came from the grocery store! They're WAY healthier and more advanced than the ones I planted from seed! I don't think I'll ever try growing green onions from seed again.

Half of this bed is corn, I planted 2 different varieties and I need to get out there and replant in the spots that didn't grow.

Here's a close up of the other half. Back row is cucumbers, I'm hoping to train them to grow up the vertical element. In front of them is a row of sweet peppers. In front of that (L to R) are carrots, LETTUCE!, and parsley. Front row is marigolds, carrots, and radishes.

And that's my garden! I'm planning to split up the nasturtiums and plant some of them somewhere else so they aren't taking over the whole world. And of course we'll be eating a lot of salad this week! I got some cucumbers, tomatoes and blue cheese from the store so go along with all the lettuce we have. I also have quite a bit of weeding to do around the beds, but thankfully no weeds IN the beds! :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fresh From My Garden - Pasta Salad with Fresh Spinach Pesto

Yes, I know it's Monday. Today is usually Mystery Spice Monday around here, but I think we're gonna take a little break from the Mystery Spices and instead turn our (and by our I mean my) attention to the garden. Hopefully some of you also have gardens that are producing fresh veggies that you must find a use for and you'll be able to use some of my ideas in your own kitchen over the coming months.

I'll share my recent garden pictures tomorrow, but to give you just a little hint of what it looked like after a week of rain and sunshine...

Yup, looks like it's time for some eatin'! In the foreground is my strawberry patch, and this year I decided to plant some lettuce in between the berry plants to make use of the space. Behind that on the right you can see my overabundance of spinach and bok choy. So I had to come up with some meals including them FAST!

Father's Day presented an excellent opportunity! My family was hosting a BBQ at a local park. So I offered to bring the pasta salad. We had this excellent store bought pasta salad while in California last week and I've been itching to replicate it at my house ever since! Mine is quite a bit different since I used my own sauce rather than Italian dressing (which was totally delish too!). And if you don't have huge quantities of fresh spinach at your disposal you could always just buy some pre-made pesto sauce or Italian dressing. That's probably what I'll do next time. :)

While my water was boiling and my pasta was cooking I went to work picking and washing my spinach. I'm guessing that I had about 4 cups of spinach. And yes, I washed every single little leaf. I don't know about you but I'm not a fan of bugs in my salad.

I stuffed as much spinach as I could into my food processor. Then I added a 1/2 cup of pine nuts, 3 garlic cloves, and 1 T of dried basil.

Blend it a bit, and add in more leaves. You might have to stop every now and then and use a spatula to push down the leaves and/or add more oil.

Once it's pretty well combined add 1/3 cup of parmesan cheese. Blend, then add salt to taste.

By now your pasta should be ready. Secret to good pasta? Add salt to the water while it's cooking. Otherwise it'll come out bland and tasteless.

I used corkscrew pasta, just in case you were wondering.

Next, the fun stuff! The original pasta I ate on our trip had artichokes, olives, red onions and I think that's about it. When I was at the store I kept seeing other stuff that I thought would be good so I just grabbed whatever tickled my fancy. There are no rules to this, just add whatever you like.

I used artichoke hearts... As you already know, I LOVE artichokes!

Olives. Another thing I love! You could use Kalamata's instead if you like.

Red onions... yum!

Roasted red peppers. I used about 1/2 a jar and diced them up.

Capers. Because I LOVE 'em! Oh man... just posting these pictures is makin' me hungry! Good thing I have leftovers! lol

And feta cheese! VOILA! One of the most scrumptious pasta salads ever if I do say so myself!

It was a big hit at the Father's Day pic-nic. One of my relatives thought I was pulling everyone's leg when I said the sauce came from my garden. lol

Pasta Salad with Fresh Spinach Pesto

4 cups of spinach
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
Enough olive oil to blend
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Taste and adjust flavors as needed.

1 lbs. of pasta, cooked, salted & drained
1 jar of artichoke hearts
1 can of whole black olives (or kalamata olives)
1 red onion, diced
1 block of feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 jar of roasted red peppers
2 T capers

Toss pasta with Spinach Pesto Sauce, then add all other ingredients. You may add grilled chicken or shrimp if you like.

So what fun things have you made from your garden lately? If you've shared about it on your blog feel free to leave the link in a comment! :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm BACK!!!

We had a great time on vacation visiting Hubs' family, but DANG it's good to be home!! As you can imagine, I have boxes of stuff laying all over the place waiting for my attention, dog hair drifting across the floor like tumbleweeds, and speaking of weeds I have plenty of those to pull too! So I might not be back to my regular blogging life right away, but I have a ton of great things to share with you so I thought I'd make a little outline as a little note to myself of what's to come on my blog.

- Vacation pictures
- Hometown Swap Goodie Box Reveal
- Bic Soleil & Off Lantern reviews for BzzAgent
- How Does My Garden Grow
- My thoughts on Loving others less fortunate
- Things to make with Zuccini (apparently there are some places that actually have zuccini in season already!)
- Funny things the girls are doing these days

I think that should keep me busy for a while! Obviously lots to catch up on, and I'll attempt to catch up with some of YOUR blogs too!

PS: You guys are awesome! I totally didn't expect that I'd actually GAIN followers during my time away, and yet I have!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Goin' On Vacation!!!

That's right! We're actually heading out of our house and hitting the road next week. As I look at my ever increasing to-do list of things that HAVE to get done before we go I realize that something has to give. And you guessed it, it's blogging. So I'm gonna be gone until June 17th. I hope you all decide to stick around until then! I promise, I WILL be back, and hopefully will be inspired to post about all kinds of great things. :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dove Visibly Smooth Coupons - GIVEAWAY!

We're goin' on vacation next week, so I'm cleaning up, getting ready, making lists, cleaning out my refrigerator... oh who am I kidding?! I'm wasting lots and lots of time playing SimSocial too! And I'm sure I'll pack up the girls tomorrow in hunt of a copy of the game. So really, I have alteriar motives for trying to get all my chores done NOW!

So while I'm looking at my messy desk, I noticed these lovely Dove Visibly Smooth coupons that I still have leftover from my contest the other week. Wanna learn more about Dove Visibly Smooth? Click on over to that post and read more. To recap: it's great!

So I'm gonna make this super simple. If you would like to have one of these coupons (which also include a coupon for you to give to a friend) then drop me a comment! The first 10 people who do will get a coupon. That's it! If you are within the top 10 it would be a huge help if you also just went ahead and emailed me your mailing info. THANKS!

Hope you have a great day!


Monday, June 1, 2009

Mystery Spice Monday: Blueberry Pie

Ok I know, it's a little early for blueberries. But I happened to have some pie crusts and frozen blueberries laying around so I decided to make a pie anyway! Hubs LOVES blueberries, I think he's actually addicted to them. Which is really awesome because blueberries are considered "super foods" because they have such a high concentration of antioxidants.

I planted some blueberry bushes in my yard this year, which do have green berries on them. So we can hope to have a batch of blueberry pancakes or muffins in a couple months. Until then, frozen berries will have to do.

No step by step pictures this week, I think I was trying to do too many things at once when I made this pie.

Blueberry Pie
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust
3 pints of blueberries (cleaned and stemmed if yours are fresh, thawed and drained if they're frozen like mine)
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs butter

Prepare crust as instructed on the box. Place bottom crust in pie plate. Combine all other ingredients except butter, pour into pie plate. Dot the top with butter. Add top crust. Pinch the edges together to create a seal, flute if desired. Cut an X on the top of the pie for venting. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove from refrigerator. Bake for 20 minutes (you may want to place a baking sheet under the pie to prevent spillage), then reduce heat to 350 and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes or until the juices are bubbling. Allow to cool before serving.

Would you like to share your very own Mystery Spice Recipe? Please visit the link about MSM on my sidebar to read the guidelines and then leave your link in a comment! I'll add your link to this post since Mr. Linky isn't that awesome these days. :)
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