10 May 2018

Read: Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible AgainInspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new book from Rachel Held Evans? I'm in! I've read all her previous work, and I can't remember quite how I first heard of her writing. Probably through her blog.

This book approaches a lot of questions I wrestle with about the Bible (genocide, slavery and submissiveness for women to name a few). There are answers and more questions, but I'm especially drawn to the memoir parts, where Rachel writes about her life and faith journey. This book is so much more than that with lots of research and sources that could keep a person reading for ages! (Relate-able line in the book: "I know I can’t read my way out of this dilemma, but that won’t keep me from trying.")

"Inspired" is organized around different Bible story types, including familiar stories rewritten from various perspectives that are really engaging. The final chapter addressing Paul and his writings was particularly meaningful to me, but they're all, well, inspiring.

I would recommend "Inspired" to anyone wondering about the many contradictions in the Christian Bible and how to hold those while maintaining faith in a loving, good Creator. The Bible is a collection of stories that together point to an overarching story, a story that I cannot quit or dismiss. A story around which I try to build my life and in which I'm raising my girls.

I finished the book in tears (maybe because of the dedication to her family and son), and looking back at my blog about reading her previous books it seems that's a theme: crying my contacts out when I finish an RHE book! (Still waiting for a truly motherhood-focused book, although I'm sure I'd cry the entire way through that one!)

I received an Advance Reader Copy of the book from the publisher. The book will be released June 12. (I also bought myself a hard copy that will come next month!) You can pre-order here: https://rachelheldevans.com/inspired.

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23 April 2018

Lego Crayons: Treasure from Trash

A family who was also visiting "the U" left earlier this month and passed along some things they had acquired: crayons and books. The books were from a Little Free Library, so back there they will go. But the crayons were ROUGH, and we already had multiple bags of crayons, including a new box that we got at the Crayola Experience (so much fun). I had never seen so many broken crayons -- in this whole big bag I found three that were intact. The family is three boys (2, 4 and 12), but I was still surprised that most were snapped entirely. I knew my girls wouldn't use them, but what to do, what to do?

I'd made melted crayons before, when Jane was littler, and had just used a muffin tin. They'd turned into chunks that Jane played with as cookies and weren't that useful for coloring. It was a failed attempt at reusing old crayons. But after seeing the fun shapes we could make with melted wax at the Crayola Experience (bull, ring and car), I did some more googling and Amazon shopping and got some Lego-shaped silicone molds to give it another try. I did the first batch on my own, just to make sure it would work.

To unwrap the crayons I found that soaking them in warm water with dish soap worked best. I tried X-acto knife, but it wasn't as effective. Crayons from the Crayola Experience (with custom labels) wouldn't let go of their labels -- they were sticky all the way around, and normal labels are just sticky on the parts that touch the rest of the label and came off easily. So I had to trash some of the crayons anyway.

I separated the crayons by color and snapped them to fit into the molds, overfilling to allow the melted wax to fill the mold. I put the molds onto a cookie sheet for ease of in-out of the oven. The second batch I put foil on the pan to keep it clean. Important step!

I started with a low oven, about 200, but later found that higher, 250 or even 300, gave better results (and faster). It took about 30 minutes, and the smaller ones melted and filled faster than the large Lego guy (who is the favorite plaything!). I checked every 10 minutes, and stirring with a chopstick helped the last bits melt for the big guy. I let them cool completely -- I put one in the freezer and it definitely speeds things up but you need to pull them out of the freezer and let them come back to room temperature before you unmold because they're too old and will snap. (Ask me how I know... although I re-melted that guy in the next attempt and he was fine.)

Even Shawn was impressed and has been trying to think of whether we could make our own molds. We've taken what's basically trash (nubs and scrubs of crayons that we'd never use) into treasure, or at least some toys the girls will play with. They've "built" with the Lego bricks (they don't snap together since they're flat on the bottom) and had adventures with the little guys. They've colored with them a bit, mostly to smooth out the feet and make them more even. I think trying mixed colors and watching carefully before they swirl would be fun. We have a TON more crummy crayons at home in BR, so that's one more reason to look forward to going back! These would be so fun as birthday favors or just give-aways to classmates.

Edit to add: Washable crayons don't work as well. They work, but the washable part will separate and float to the top, leaving a milky top layer that won't color at all. We have a few guys with that on their back, and Jane's solution is to shave it away (in theory ... we haven't done it yet). 

24 March 2018


We weren't able to march today, but we support March for Our Lives and gun control reforms.

We will continue to resist. Also: Black Lives Matter.

(Fun aside: marching has been a theme in our house lately, as we've fallen in love with the Laurie Berkner Band, especially her song We Are the Dinosaurs.)

12 March 2018

Laundry Cycles

I still read a lot of blogs (praise be to Feedly for filling in after Google Reader died - RIP). Recently one savings/couponing blog wrote a post about a not-worth-it product. It was about a laundry divider that ended up not working (too big, so heavy when full of laundry and not breathable so got mold on the inside). She ended the post with a question for readers to share their laundry basket tips because she threw that one to the curb!

I went to post my comment and saw there were already 99 comments! Who knew laundry would be such a conversation starter?! Instead of writing out a comment I decided to hold the idea and just write my own post about it, as it ties into my ongoing struggle with laundry here in our sabbatical apartment.

My system at home is great. My husband built a wooden rolling cart that holds a mesh divided-in-two pop up laundry hamper. We sort lights and darks there (undies kept separate for their own load, a tip from my sister that I never would have done otherwise). Then I can wheel the whole cart to our laundry room for weekly washing, almost always Saturday -- four loads with lights, darks, jeans and undies. I have a separate regular plastic basket for towels (dirties only) and do that wash about twice a week (after my breastfeeding yeast stuff I go through a LOT of towels). Each girl has her own smaller pop-up mesh hamper and I wash their clothes separately -- a load per girl, also about once a week, sometimes on Saturdays but also other days -- they each have a lot of clothes and could easily go 2-3 weeks before NEEDING clean laundry.

Laundry never felt daunting, per se, at home, although the folding and putting away is never my favorite chore. Hanging up stuff is the worst, and I keep a lot of things hanging because I hate ironing even more. We have a huge washer and dryer -- side by side and front loading, and they're raised on pedestal drawers, so the strain on my back is minimal even moving wet towels or jeans from washer to dryer. I can do huge loads, and get almost all the laundry done in one long day of washing.

In this little apartment things are different. I get the lamenting and struggle of "the laundry is never done"! We are also in a colder climate, which means more layers, effectively doubling or tripling the laundry output! (Although we don't wash the outer layers often, and even the middle layers can be worn two or three times before washing ... except for the girls who are prone to spill ... who are we kidding, I spill a lot on myself too!)

The washer and dryer here are in the unit, which is a blessing, as I remember lugging laundry up and down to the basement in NYC (don't get me started about the bed bugs!) and to a completely different building during undergrad and grad school apartment living! They are stackable front loaders here, and in a small closet. But they're not at an outside wall, which means the dryer is "self-venting." This also means that the clothes don't get dry quickly ... and sometimes at all. The dryer has some kind of moisture sensor and if it thinks things are dry it won't dry anymore even if they feel slightly damp to the touch. At that point I have to shake them out and hang them or hope for the best. (At least the air is dry here and mold isn't really an issue like it is at home in the swampy south.)

The actual machines are very small, which means about half-size loads that I'm used to at home. I'm washing the girls clothes 2-3 times per week to stay ahead of it. They have fewer clothes here (although I'm always shopping ... at first to get more warmer clothes and now to give Jane more choices and to size up for Liv who keeps hulking out of her pants!).

Basically I'm ALWAYS doing laundry now. It's not the end of the world, of course, and I can stay on top of it without a whole lot of effort. But it's still a constant hum in my brain. And I regret ever scoffing at the memes or comments of complaint. Also, before we know it I'll be back in my big suburban lifestyle and missing all the brilliant parts of apartment and city living...

10 March 2018

One Third

We are just over a third of the way thru our six month sabbatical. We've seen a lot and done many things in our time in the Twin Cities, but there still feels like so much more to go, and so many more things I want to check off my list.

22 January 2018

Crochet: Little Big Rib Scarf

She likes it!
The cold weather here is inspiring for my crochet fingers because we can actually wear/use things like scarves, hats and cowls.

I bought Jane a big, soft Cat & Jack fleece cowl (circle scarf) at Target for Christmas. She really likes it (and we've only lost it once so far -- thankfully the restaurant kept it for us until we realized it was missing and called to check if they had it!), but she also wanted a "real" scarf that you can tie like "everyone else" at school has.

I was happy to oblige. I ordered some Red Heart Gumdrop yarn on Amazon, just because I was itching to crochet and it was an "add on" item to go with some razors I restocked. I didn't have this scarf in mind, but once I had the yarn I figured I would use one of the skeins to make something for Jane because it's a fun, multicolored yarn. The colors are Rock Candy and Cherry.

I searched for different scarf patterns, mainly looking for something with warmth. You can never go wrong with Moogly, and her Big Rib Scarf's simple stitch pattern was no different. It's basically back-loop-only double crochet, and I just made the starting chain (actually foundation double crochet) shorter to suit Jane's height. As per the design I held two strands of the two colorways together with a large (J) hook for a thick, cushy and quick fabric. I did fewer repeats of the stitch to make a narrower scarf, just to keep the proportions right for Jane. I added crab stitch/reverse single crochet edging around to even things out and make it look a bit neater (that's a flaw of the crocheter, not the pattern designer I'm afraid).

Jane can wear the scarf knotted, like in the picture, or just barely she could fold it over and pull the ends through for a double thickness all around her neck. She ties it herself in any case. There's no way to label it, so if it gets lost at school it might not make it back to us, but I can always make another...

There was enough left on the skeins to make a quick, short cowl for Liv. She shouldn't really have anything tight around her neck, but I worry about the blowing wind and wanted SOMETHING for her. Plus she really wanted one! I don't have a picture of it yet, but it's just three rows of the BLO double crochet stitch, so narrower, and I sewed the ends together to make a cowl. I didn't have enough left to do the crab stitch edging, but that's OK for her.

Little "Big Rib Scarf"

16 January 2018

Climate Acclimation

I grew up in southwest Oklahoma, which certainly gets cold, but I don't remember using lotion on any regular basis. When I was little I know I had rough elbows, which I believed to be from laying on the carpet on my stomach, so perhaps I did need lotion somewhat. But when I was in high school and playing basketball (season mostly in winter) if I did put on lotion I'd feel greasy and gross on my legs so I just didn't use it and didn't mind or need it. The water at home is very soft, so that may have had something to do with it too.

When I went to college a few hours north of home the weather was a little colder in the winter, and the water was much harder in the dorm. My skin revolted and was itchy and felt weird. I couldn't figure out what the deal was until my middle school-age cousin said "use lotion."


I started using lotion, and it certainly made a difference. I don't really use lotion that much in Baton Rouge, just because of the humidity levels and my skin being OK without it.

An exception to this is my facial moisturizer, which I've been doing for years -- the Clinique yellow stuff moisturizer and in the last few years an eye cream from Clinique too, plus Argan oil that I dab under/in my nose as a preventive measure because even if my skin is fine sometimes my nose gets dry and gross.

In the ~2 weeks we've been in Minneapolis we've definitely stepped up our moisturizer game as a family. Liv always got lotion after a bath, but for Jane we'd kind of slacked. No more -- they're both slathered after a bath or shower, and I put a bottle of Aveeno lotion in their bathroom to use after every hand washing. (I used the rubber band trick to make each squirt only half a pump since their hands are so small.) The girls have also had some chapped skin -- Jane on her hands, Liv's on her cheeks -- and CeraVe ointment has done wonders, really making a difference overnight, and it's not too greasy once it sinks in. Shawn has been using it a lot on his hands too.

I can tell the difference in the air because of my skin after the shower. At home I can't always tell if I've put on my face lotion, but here my skin drinks it up and is definitely tighter/uncomfortable without it. And if I don't put lotion on my body it's a little itchy (not like the college-era itch, but that probably built up over a few days or weeks). I'll go through my moisturizer faster (that Clinique stuff isn't cheap), but it's worth it for comfort and skin protection.

No product in hair - washed last night.
Could use some actual makeup.
So far I'm having trouble remembering to sunscreen up, even though it's only our faces showing there's so much white from the snow and the sun is so bright that we'll definitely get burned if we're out for any amount of time. I sent a sunscreen stick with Jane for her recess and she puts it on her face herself. Such a responsible girl.

My hair can tell the difference too. I'm washing with random Pantene that I bought for Shawn (the siren song of the Target gift card if I bought four bottles was too much for me), so that's a little different, but I'm pretty sure it's the climate and air. My hair isn't as puffy and without any curl enhancing product it is going flatter and straighter, although not straight by any means. I think it will be easier to run a flat iron through and get a straight style to last. I need to work up the energy for that effort though.

(This has been an entry for the world's most boring blog post...)