Pleasant Places

I tossed and turned a lot last night. Tuan is out of town and I don't sleep well when he's gone. But with each waking in the night, waves of gratefulness kept sweeping over me.

I think that's the theme of this season of my life: gratefulness. After some wild and crazy and hard and good years, where we saw the LORD move in incredible ways to guide and provide for us--even as we struggled with the means of His provision, I'm just so thankful for right now.

Our hearts beat for camping--for serving this gospel ministry and the staff who do it. In the season where the LORD took us away from camping (and provided in amazing ways!), I wrestled so much with contentment and this question: Is Jesus enough? Could I be content just in Him, even if the door to camp never opened again and we stayed in our current situation for the rest of our days? I think I was just beginning to dig into the depths of my heart on the matter when this job was offered. Lots of folks said, "of course you'll go back into camping!" However, I knew that the LORD might not do that, and my heart needed to be okay with his leading. It was a similar situation to the chaplain who told me when Aubrey was in the NICU (and all was uncertain), that "your baby is going to be just fine." Well, no. God hasn't promised those things. Can He? Absolutely. Will He? I don't know. I only know what He has promised in His word.

I'm in a bit of a skeptical place where when I hear outside-the-Bible advice and wisdom, that I question it. "Is what you're so passionate about declaring as true for the mourner, the wounded, the refugee and the oppressed as it is for me?"

So here we are. The Ebenezers are piling up and I'm just savoring HIS kind mercies and graces. It isn't always easy, but its good. I'm deeply thankful that Tuan loves his work and that the kids have friends to play with. I'm thankful for the staff and every chance I get to talk with someone and hear their stories. I'm thankful for a church family to get to know. As the psalmist said, "the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places". Then again, they always have. It's just easier to see it right now.

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

  As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.

  The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or ltake their names on my lips.

  The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

  I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
  I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
             Therefore my heart is glad,              and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

  You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16


Easy Breezy Artisan Bread For the Laid Back and Frugal Crowd

I have shared a few pictures of our "no-knead, quick, artisan bread" on Instagram and a few people (two!) have asked for the recipe. I thought I would sort of blog it out with pictures if you want the full idea of how this works for me. (I think they asked in JANUARY. So sorry for the delay!)
You know how on Facebook these people post a recipe with the disclaimer "hundreds are asking me for this recipe again, so here it is and share it on your wall so you don't lose it." Well, I'm under no such delusion of grandeur. This one's for Melanie and Carol!

Here's the short and sweet of it. (I can't find the original recipe source, but it has been slightly modified).

In a large bowl or container, combine:

6 Cups warm Water
1.5 TBSP Yeast
1.5 TBSP Salt
1.5 TBSP Sugar

Then, add in 13 cups of bread flour. Stir until just combined, leave loosely covered in a warm place for two hours or until the dough doubles.
Pull off as much as you like, shape into loaves (add extra flour if needed). Place in or on a pan (lined with parchment is best!) and let rise for forty minutes. Store extra dough in the fridge covered with a little bit of gap in your lid for air.

Bake at 485 for 20-30 minutes

The dough keeps for around a week. Anytime you want to bake, remove from the bowl, shape, let rise for 40 minutes and bake 20-30 minutes at 485.

It's so easy!

I started doing this when money was a little tight and spending heaps of "dough" on bread was KILLING me. This method is so economical and really stretches our grocery budget. I can get a massive bag of flour for around 8.00 and it lasts many, many batches.

I buy my flour and sea salt and yeast at Sam's. The flour is stored in its own bag, wrapped in very fancy plastic. : ) I want to find a good flour bin, but I'm not shelling out money for a full price one, yet.

The dough is stored in this FANTASTIC, vintage Tupperware cake plate I bought ages ago. It's huge and wonderful. Because it is always is in the fridge, I don't clean it thoroughly between uses and I am convinced the bread tastes better because of it. I scrape it down with my bench scraper and it dissolves into the warm water of the new batch.

To keep it simple, I taped a card with proportions of ingredients, so that when I bake, I don't have to find the recipe card. Mine is kind of janky and sad, so I am providing a printable card for anyone who wants to have a prettier label.

You can use the dough for loaves and boules and baguette shapes and pizza. I think the loaves make a heavenly tomato sandwich. And the wetter the dough, the better. Just flour the outside enough that you can shape it.

It really makes a good pizza dough--knead just a little with flour to not be sticky and then roll it out on a mixture of cornmeal and flour. Sometimes I spread a little olive oil on the crust.

Lining the pans with parchment paper (bulk purchase from Sam's) is a huge help--nothing sticks and I don't have to scrub pans.

We don't eat the bread every day. But I usually start the week out by throwing a batch together on Monday morning and we just have it as we need it all week long. It's so handy to be able to throw a loaf in the oven when I can't figure out/am not prepared for lunch.

Final things. I think every kitchen should have a "bench scraper". It's so helpful for scraping down the sides of the bowl, cleaning a wooden cutting board and moving chopped things. Its one of my my most beloved tools.

The "lastest" thing is that if you had ANY doubt this recipe isn't perfectly suited for Type B folks, let this spoon and cup reassure you. I lost all my measuring spoons in a move, so for the last two years I've been using that soup spoon for my tablespoon measure and I often use that cup for my cup measure . . . and the bread STILL turns out. Every time. Eventually I'll break down and get a new set, but I take a bit of perverse pleasure in not using real measuring spoons.

Happy baking! Let me know if you try this method!


A Lot of Nothing, a Little Something

Dear friend,

I'm not writing to an actual, specific friend, but this is basically a letter to my blog friends. And don't worry, it's not an "open letter" where I make assertions and accusations and tell you what is wrong with you and your church and your subculture. This is a real, honest, old-fashioned letter.

I burned leaves on Sunday afternoon. It's hard for me to be out in the yard for long stretches of times with a little person afoot, who goes in and out of the house and needs supervision, still. So, with Tuan home, I was able to just stand in the yard and fiddle with the fire and the leaves for several hours. It was delightful and restful and I smelled of leaf smoke after, which is Tuan's favorite smell in the whole world. He kept smelling my hair. We are romantic in our own, strange, way!

I kept beginning to think of analogies and life lessons to be found in leaf burning, but in the end, I decided that I simply wanted to burn leaves and not turn it into anything deep. So I burned and fiddled with the fire and thought of a thousand other things and waved at the folks who drove past.

We have been busy with our living room situation. Removing the 1970s paneling, pulling a hundred nails off of the walls, prepping the windows for painting. It's always more work than you expect, but this has definitely taken longer than planned, because life.

The windows are primed and I hope to sand and prime the walls this week. Then we'll be that much closer to Joanna Gaines levels of interior greatness.

I recently read a blog post about how a woman had to turn off Fixer Upper because it brought about discontent in her heart. Oddly enough, it has been the opposite for me. I've been so encouraged by what can be done, that seeing the quick results has bolstered me so much when it seems like we are taking a long time to get things done.

We also ripped out the carpet and linoleum and the the plywood faux subfloor to find the original pine tongue and groove flooring in excellent shape! Whoo-hoo. It's a little bit draftier, but we can don wool socks for the sake of style!

Our housing situation is a wee bit complicated for the blog, but we are living in and fixing up a house that belongs to a very dear and kind friend. The glorious thing is that this is not a "family" house for her. I'm not ripping out "Aunt Myrtle's linoleum that she saved and scrimped for". My friend has little emotional investment in this house, which is a huge blessing. Our house, as I call it for the sake of easy writing, belonged to matriach and patriarch of our road, then their daughter owned it and she is the one who sold it. I hear the most delightful stories about this lady, who is still living, but has family on and near this road. The propane man even raves about her.

My gratefulness about our house owners not being emotionally connected to the house was solidified at a local Christmas party, where I met people who had grown up in the house, or visited the house or had celebrated countless holidays in the house.

As I was introduced as the woman who lived in "M------- K--------'s house", people kept tearing up as they reminisced of the memories and how dear that place was. Whoosh! The burden of southern family heirloom property possession obligation hit. A near relative asked what all we had done, "oh, we renovated the bathroom and are going to pull up the carpet and took the paneling off the living room walls. . . . " {the blush pink painted 1970s paneling!} My audience did not hear me correctly, and said, "oh, yes, she just had that painted a few years back". (whoops!) "but I never did like carpet in a living room" (thinking to self: she didn't catch that I ripped out the freshly painted paneling, but approves of the carpet removal! Victory)

So, I feel a little bit more of an emotional burden than I did, but I do hope they are all pleased with the final results!

In other things: I changed my iphone language to British English, so Siri speaks with a lovely accent and I basically have a butler of my very own. It's the closest I'll ever get to being an aristocrat, so I'll take it.

I also scored a fantastic deal on hams at Kroger the other day. .69 a pound! I stood at the meat case and inspected hams with a fellow mom who I had never met, but who obviously understood the deal we had found. 39.00 hams now 5.00?! I loaded up my buggy like a Supermarket Sweep contestant.

At the register, they rang up at the old price and the cashier, who was MORE than wonderful and kind to me, had obviously been dealing with this all day and called the manager over and then the meat department who had still not entered this price change into the system. She had to manually adjust all the prices of my hams and calls out to the manager (over all the people around the checkout!) "hey! she's buying about eight hams . . . so you know I have to change the price. How many hams you buying? six? no she's buying six hams!" (I was a bit mortified but the customer behind me was very approving).

"I've got a deep freeze and I'm not afraid to use it! Ha. Ha." I said with forced lightness.

Tuan meant to grab a ham sandwich he had prepared to take with him for breakfast on the way to work and grabbed a bundle of ham instead. "I ate every bit", he informed me, "I think I ate ten dollars worth of ham."

That explains why he was not so keen on the ham I prepared for supper.

And that is all I have to say, dear friends. I remain---

yours, affectionately,


Too Fast

We decorated for Christmas this evening. Our moms had taken the older kids for most of the weekend, leaving me and Rosie all to ourselves.

I was having flash-forwards to when our kids are older and they only come home for the day and leave right after (please don't do that, future La-lings!). It was quiet and lonely.

Then I got used to it and the quiet was a wee bit nice, but boy, I was ready for my peeps to come home today.

We pulled out all of our Christmas boxes and were rather organized and tidy until the ornaments came out and all the crazy broke loose. Decorations were flying hither and yon-landing on whatever surface didn't move.

I turned my back for a moment and icicles were tossed all over the tree like so much spaghetti not stirred in the pot.

It was a glorious chaos. All the extra strands of lights that still worked were hauled off to the bedrooms to decorate in there.

Y'all. It was one of those times as a mom where you just have to stop and take it all in.

No one tells you when you are pregnant for the first time how hard parenting is. Yes, there are dire predictions about the lack of sleep and the physical changes.

But I'm learning that's not the hard part.

No one tells you how you grow to love your children so much you just ache sometimes. 

How the deepest part of you trembles at the thought of someone hurting them and the fear of the world they are growing up in.

The pain of feeling like you've really messed up and made a wrong decision and your kids have to live with the results.

The worry that out of all the choices you could make about activities and schooling and church and social stuff that you might be doing it all wrong.

How you one day look up and see that your baby isn't so much a baby anymore.

The deepest joy of getting to know the incredible little souls God has entrusted you to care for--its sobering.

The delight of seeing them learn and grow in the fear and knowledge of God.

Tonight, Johnny, who is nine, was so fired up and excited and enthusiastic about the decorating that he simply couldn't contain himself. It was beautiful. I started to calm him down, but then I realized that in a few short years that unbridled enthusiasm could be a thing of the past.

So I soaked it up. That's why the otter is wrapped in tinsel and lights and the boys room is decorated with a motley assortment of cast-off lights, and gift-wrap bows are stuck all over the place.

The beauty is in the imperfection this year.

My precious boy. Even as I often pray, "come, Lord Jesus" when I see the craziness of this world,  I'm also begging the Lord to slow this time-thing down. The hurry I was once in to move on to the next stage is quickly evaporating.

We had "party food" for dinner and kicked off Advent with reading, singing and prayer. Owen was answering questions right and left, and Rosie is just excited about it all. Aubrey has planned all sorts of projects for gift-giving. She's got SUCH a generous heart.

This was tonight's reading:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  John 1:1-3
I keep trying to comment on this passage, but honestly? Its so full of richness that tonight I just can't do much but read and meditate and ponder. 


Stepping Out . . .

Until I hit my late twenties, I had picture-perfect skin. I didn't really know what a pimple really was and didn't do anything to my skin with regularity. Occasionally I washed it. Every now and then I slathered it with petroleum jelly because my grandmother has great skin and does that every night. Oh, but then . . . I hit my late twenties and am now in my mid-thirties and my skin feels like it is making up for lost time. Blemishes . . . the works!

I've tried the oil method and a brand from Ulta. I've tried nothing and then scrubs and drug store brands. And my skin is showing it. The one thing I have yet to try is Rodan and Fields. Until now.

Can I say that I'm stubborn? Sometimes I dig my heels in the ground because I decide I won't try something and because I'm stubborn, I keep on digging those heels.

I finally decided to give R+F a shot and ordered some Unblemish and the Macro Exfoliator. I have watched my good friend Michelle's face just glow from using R+F these last three years. When the Macro Exfoliator came out I was super curious to try it, but also very stubborn. (Is this a pattern? I think it must be).

Y'all I am pacing the floor waiting for this delivery. I'm REALLY excited to try it out. I'm also glad there is a sixty day trial period. As Michelle said, "what have you got to lose?".

I'm also stepping WAY out of my own comfort zone and have signed on as an R+F consultant. The discount was appealing, but after watching how the R+F model has given several friends extra income and hearing Andrew and Michelle's story, I decided to take a leap and see if this is a good fit for us.

I'm super nervous. I'm super excited.

We hope the Lord leads us back into ministry one day. That's our dream-where our hearts beat. Having some extra income to give away and save would be a great benefit now--and then. I'm trusting that the Lord will make it clear to us if this is what he wants us to do.

But for now. I'm taking baby steps. I'm excited to see how Unblemish
helps my skin. Knowing real people who have had incredible results using Rodan and Fields has me excited that perhaps I can someone with bad acne, sun damage, or severely irritated skin find a solution that could really help them feel better about the skin they are in. Or if you've just been curious if a regimen would work for you and want to give it a go, I would love to have you as a customer.

Friends, I'm kind of on a journey of discovering what this looks like for Tuan and me. I'm a writer at heart, so blogging about this feels like natural way for me to leap out of my comfort zone. If you are curious and perhaps have held off giving R+F a try, or are interested in becoming a consultant, I'd love to walk this road together. With sixty days to try it out--and return it if it doesn't work, what have you got to lose?  Let's talk!

Here's my website: paulala.myrandf.com