Homemade Breadmaking Tips & Tricks

I’ve been making my own bread in a bread machine once or twice every week for the past few months, so I’ve learned quite a lot along the way about how to make a good loaf, each and every time. If you want to try to my recipe to make your own whole-wheat sandwich bread, here are some tips and tricks that you'll find handy:

If you don’t have bread flour, make your own! You can mix up some of your own bread flour by adding a tablespoon of "vital wheat gluten" (found in the baking aisle, usually on a high shelf) to one cup of all-purpose flour.

If you don’t have an egg, there’s a substitute for that, too. I learned this from my Food Substitutions Bible: Instead of using an egg in bread recipes, you can swap in 3 tablespoons of water plus 3 tablespoons of ground flax seed along with 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder. If you do try this substitution, I’d suggest you keep a close eye on the dough as it’s mixing up, because I often find that it gets too clumpy and sometimes I have to add extra water (a couple of tablespoons) to help it along.

Let liquids warm up to room temperature if possible. I don’t always do this and my bread still turns out fine, but the bread-machine recipe book I use recommends it.

Keep an eye on the bread dough. Even if you don’t substitute an egg, you’ll want to keep an eye on the bread dough at least while it’s first mixing to make sure you don’t have to add any extra water. Depending on what kinds of other ingredients you use, you might need to add some. Just add a little bit at a time until the dough mixes easily, and you’ll be fine!

Ensure your loaf won’t stick to the bread pan. Spray the inside of your bread pan with non-stick spray (with your Misto if you have one!) before adding your dough. Once it’s baked, you’ll thank yourself when it slides right out without a struggle.

The cheater’s method to let your bread dough rise. When your bread recipe calls for leaving the dough in a warm place to rise, an easy way to do so is by turning your oven on to its “Warm” setting. Pop the dough in there (covered with a dish towel or cloth napkin) and let it warm for one minute. Turn the oven off and let the dough sit in there for the duration of time.

A good bread knife will save you so much headache. The first time I tried making bread, I used the bread knife that came with my cheapo knife set. Big mistake: The slices were ragged and ripped, not suitable for making sandwiches. But then I upgraded to a nicer knife (the 8-inch bread knife by Victorinox, $22 from Amazon), and ever since, I’ve been able to cut up loaves and shed only a few crumbs.

Homemade bread doesn’t have preservatives, so store it appropriately. Depending on how fast you go through your bread, you might consider keeping it in the fridge, which is what I do, to make sure it doesn’t go stale before we’re finished with a loaf. You can also pop it in the freezer and defrost it later; you won’t even be able to tell the difference!

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How to Make Your Own Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

At some point, when I was making my own hamburger buns and bagels, I decided to try out making my own bread. I wasn't really sure what would come of it, whether it would really be good enough to replace our weekly allotment of Arnold's Bread loaves or whether I could get the slices thin enough to slather on peanut butter and jelly. But, pleasantly, I was surprised.

The loaf came out golden and crusty—even shaped like storebought bread. And once I sliced it, toasted it, topped it butter and jam, it was no different than the kind we kept in our pantry. Except that it was better—as evidenced by the fact that we actually enjoy having the heel of the loaf as morning toast. To boot, it's surprisingly cheap and super easy to make, thanks to my bread maker.

Needless to say, it's been months since I've bought a loaf of bread from the store. Instead, now my cart will have a bag of flour or a carton of yeast. And once or twice a week, you'll find me in the kitchen, pulling a new loaf of wheat bread, fresh from the oven.

Want to try your hand at making your own sandwich bread, too? Find my whole wheat bread recipe below, and then check out my post devoted to breadmaking tips and tricks that I've picked up along the way.

Recipe to Make Your Own Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread with a Bread Maker

⅝ cup warm-ish water
⅜ cup milk
1 egg
1½ tablespoons canola oil
1½ tablespoons honey
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1½ cups bread flour (if you don't have bread flour, check out my breadmaking tips for an easy substitution)
2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

  1. In your bread machine (mine is similar to this one), add ingredients from the water to the flours, in the order given in the recipe. (So, you'll add the water first and the bread flour last.)
  2. Once you've added the last of the flour, use a spoon to hollow out a little dent in the middle of the flour. Into this, add your yeast.
  3. Program your bread machine on the "Dough" cycle. Press Start.
  4. Let the bread machine mix the dough and go through the rising cycle. At the end, it will beep.
  5. Prep a loaf pan by spraying it with non-stick spray.
  6. Remove the ball of dough from the bread machine's pan, and put into the loaf pan. Press it down a bit so that it flattens to fit the shape of the dish.
  7. Put a cotton dish towel over the dish, and set in a warm place to rise for an hour. After an hour, it should have about doubled in size. (For an easy way to let your bread rise, read my breadmaking tips and tricks article.)
  8. Turn your oven on to bake at 350-degrees. Remove the dish towel from the dough, and let it bake in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.
  9. Remove from oven and let cool. 
  10. Once cool, cut into slices. Store slices in a sealed bag or airtight container for up to a week. (You can also keep the loaf in the fridge.)
Recipe makes one medium-sized loaf of wheat bread.
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Lessons from Reading Through the Prophets

Right now in my Bible reading plan, I’m in the midst of the prophets, as they cry out to the people to stop sinning and start loving God again, as they once did.

One of the things that has struck me as I’ve been reading through these writings is how specific many of these prophecies are. In Isaiah, he points out that Jerusalem is going to be conquered by Babylon but someday a man named Cyrus will let the Israelites return to their homeland. By name, he calls this country and this leader, and both come to pass 150 years later. In Micah, we get the prophecy of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem. By name, he gives us the city where the Savior will be born.

I’ve also noticed how similar many of these prophets' messages are. In Isaiah, he talks about “a remnant remains,” that even though God will bring destruction to the Israelites for abandoning him and worshiping other gods, he will not destroy them all. A remnant will remain, and those he will bring back to himself. Then, in Jeremiah, I noticed it again. He didn’t use the same language, word for word, but he still says that he will save a few and they will return to God’s blessing. I am reminded through these texts how consistent God is.

But I also noticed something else. How God always comes back to restoration. Even in the midst of warning the people that destruction is coming, he always points toward the future when they will be redeemed, when they will come back to him, when heaven will wipe the slate clean.

A few weeks ago, I heard some upsetting news, which left me almost in tears. It was nothing against me personally, just a story I heard. But it moved me. And my thoughts flashed to what I'd been reading through these Scriptures. Curled up against my husband in a hug, I whispered, "Someday, none of this will happen." I remembered the words of the prophets and how they always looked far into the future, when the sheep will lie down with the lions and peace will reign. It encouraged me to look there, myself, when faced with hardship close to home.

There is hope.

And that is essentially what these prophets are crying out, at the top of their lungs. Through their anger and disappointment and frustration, they are screaming out that there is hope—if we would just look to it and see.

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Secrets of a Newlywed: Two Simple Truths

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I and a handful of other bloggers open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have strengthened our marriages. (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

Today, I am happy to share this guest post with you from one of my real-life best friends, Holly. We lived together for a year after college and did in fact throw a 1950s-housewives-themed party where we served pancakes. How's that for a best friend?! Here's what she has to say about: Two Simple Truths.

Carmen and I have been friends for a long time. She is one of the most loyal people I know, and she makes excellent pancakes. It's an absolute honor to be able to guest post here today.

Marriage is about getting used to the up's and down's, isn't it? There are seasons in which I feel I have a lot to say on the subject. Then again, there are times where I can barely hang on to my “MRS,” let alone feel accomplished enough to blog about it. Honestly, this is what I'm working through right now. They are simple truths, but they are so gosh dang hard. I hope they inspire you and help me, as well.

1.) Life is not about you.
I wrote the book on "I'm an adorable wife/girlfriend, so this should all be about me.” I can actually remember a time when my defense to one of my husband Tim's requests/suggestions/constructive criticisms was, “But...don't you still think I'm pretty....and NICE!?!?!!?”

For real.

To which he replied, “Yes. But just because you're nice doesn't mean you aren't also selfish.”

Holy cow. He's so right.

We've come a long way, Tim and I.

With that being said, I know I've been harsh. I know this is a hard one. But your marriage and your life is.not.all.about you. In fact, VERY LITTLE of it is.all.about.you.

I think some of the most important things we can do when it comes to having happy marriages is to realize that "It's not all about you." And then fess' up when we-sort-of-kind-of-do still want it to be about us, at least a little.

It amazes me sometimes, how gracious Tim is. When I fess' up to my selfishness, it gives him the opportunity to display that grace, that willingness to help, perspective.

Out of selfishness, comes compromise. Or something like that.

You're going to have to miss someone's birthday party to go see your in-laws. You're going to have to sit through countless character reviews from games like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and The Troll Hunter's Dragon's Lair. (Ok, I made that last one up, but you know what I mean.)

The quicker we can make peace with that and surrender to this thing called marriage (that is BIGGER than ourselves), the better off we'll be.

2.) Stop getting mad over stupid stuff.
Stop getting mad about:
a.) Things that are Petty & From the Past (or T.t.a.P & F.P).
b.) Things for which he as already apologized
c.) Things that never really happened.

When I stop to think about it, this happens more in my marriage than I care to admit. And it's totally all my doing. Here are a few examples:

Tonight, I was late. I thought Tim said, “Twenty minutes.” He thought his tone said, “Now.” Holy cow. My boxing gloves, please.

That stuff is going to happen. Meh. It just is.

In the car, we had One of Those Talks. You know the ones. Basically, you find yourself in an argument in which you know you just.aren't.going.to.win. (Even though you really want to.)

We pulled into the parking lot, and I knew, for the love of Pete, I just needed a minute. I realized this was petty. Even though it only occurred a mere 15 minutes ago, it was also in the past.

Sigh. See? I'm still learning to let go.

Still need another example?

Tim and I recently had a conversation about a couple who had shared with us their struggle to evenly divide household chores. (Been there...still doing that.) I defended my friend. He, of course, defended the husband. Then this sparked the “What would you have done...?” conversation.

(I think all wedding vows should state, “To love, honor, cherish, and avoid talking in hypotheticals as long as we both shall live.”)

Because then we bought a one-way ticket to Crazy Town.

The next thing I know, he's bent out of shape with me because I didn't clean up the kitchen before I took our imaginary/unborn kids to the park while he was at work. Now he has to come home from his pretend job to a messy, fictional kitchen.

And before I knew it, I was mad. Mad, I tell you.

He apologized for his tone. I woke up grumpy, and the next day I prayed a loud and grouchy prayer on the way to work.

And God said, “...So...let me get this straight. You are mad about something for which he has already apologized.”


“And....you're mad about something that didn't even happen....you know, in REAL LIFE?”



And then I realized that I am impossible to live with sometimes, and God had to iron me out, just a little. More and more, everyday, actually.

Here's to being more POSSIBLE in the future.

Love, less anger and more love,

Holly and her husband have been adventuring together as husband and wife for about 3 years.  To learn more about their adventures, dogs, and how she takes her coffee, you can visit her at http://yourstrulyh.blogspot.com.  

If you are interested in sharing a lesson from your own marriage, please get in touch for details about guest-posting in this series!

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Capturing the Sights & Sounds of Right Now

Over the weekend, my husband and I took a walk to the nearby park, which is easily one of my favorite things to do in our (still kinda) new neighborhood. About a ten minute drive away, and we get to walk through meadows and through woods, watching for deer and other woodland animals to cross our paths as sunlight drips down from the treetops. It's a serene thing to do, to put my mind at ease and to just walk in awe of the world all around.

I took my camera and tried to catch these fleeting moments, pluck them from the air before all of summer is lost and fall and winter take hold, because I know it isn't too far off before that happens again. They are the images of this time in my life right now, when I can sit back and simply breathe in the beauty that is strung all around me.

And these are the words that play in the background right now, lyrics from the songs of my right-now favorite band, All Sons & Daughters, that have been dancing through my head non-stop. What I like about this most is that it's not just the beat and the rhythm that of the songs that draw me in, but the words, too, which point over and over to the Lord and his goodness and grace. I find that combination is hard to come across; oftentimes you have to pick one or the other when it comes to music. Which is why I've been savoring them, over and over, this past week. Letting them paint the soundtrack to these moments of time, before they, too, drift away...

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A Few of My Favorite Things: Cleaning Supplies Edition

These are A Few of My Favorite Things, an on-going, once-a-month series that sheds some light on, well, my favorite items throughout my home. (To read through all posts in the series, click here.)

In this Cleaning Supplies Edition, I'll be looking at five different tools that are necessities in my cleaning routine. Not that I love cleaning, because I don't. But these make the task at hand easier, which means that I can then get on to doing the things that I really enjoy!

1. Mop with washable covers:
Okay, truth be told: I do not enjoy mopping. At all. I'm fine wielding a broom and sweeping things into a dustpan. But a mop? Not my cup of tea. That being said, it is still something that has to be done. Given that reality, I like this mop that we got for a wedding present because it doesn't involve hauling a huge bucket of water; we just fill a spray bottle with a water-vinegar mixture. Also, you use washable terry-cloth covers so that you're not pushing dirt atop dirt, which makes the task a bit more bearable!

2. Baby-bottle cleaner: Such a handy tool to have around, especially since we now have to hand-wash everything. It is great for getting into the nooks and crannies of all our water bottles, glasses and skinny-mouth jars. The one shown here is fancier than mine, but I picked mine up at a dollar store and it's worked just fine! 

3. Pail for food scraps: This is a tip that I picked up from a former co-worker: Stash your perishable food scraps in a lined bucket (good way to reuse those produce bags from the grocery store) that you keep in the fridge until it's full and you can toss it in an outdoor trash can. If you're anything like us, our kitchen trash can fills up pretty slowly, and I don't want foodstuffs rotting indoors, getting smelly, or attracting bugs. (Ick.) We use a pail that we had lying around, but this one from Urban Outfitters is way cuter.

4. Copper sponge: There's been a lot of study regarding all of the germs that live on generic sponges, which convinced me to give ours up. But a copper sponge avoids being a breeding ground for bacteria, plus I love that unlike steel wool, it doesn't rust or disintegrate. I've been using mine (Chore Boy brand) for about 6 months (!!), and it does a great job of scrubbing any glass, our bone-china dishware or stainless steel surface with any stuck-on food residue.

5. Bon Ami: I was looking for a good way to clean some of the gunk that had burned on to one of my pans, and came across a recommendation for Bon Ami. The best part about it is that it is safer to use than other cleaners because it doesn't contain any chlorine, perfumes or dyes. I found it at Publix for 89 cents and figured I might as well give it a try. This has now become a staple that I use for all my deep cleaning, whether it's on stained pans, dishes or even my bathroom floor.

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Secrets of a Newlywed: Who's At the Center of Your Marriage?

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I and a handful of other bloggers open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have strengthened our marriages. (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)

Today, I am happy to share this guest post from Rachel Parker: Who's at the Center of Your Marriage?

I didn’t grow up caring about weddings or even wanting to get married, so the hubbub around getting engaged was something I didn’t quite understand until my three year relationship turned into a four-month engagement. Suddenly there were all of these lists that needed to be checked and ten versions of the color white. And the more I thought about a wedding, the more I felt like Carrie Bradshaw planning her wedding to Mr. Big—too much focus on the wedding and not enough on the marriage.

So we ended up eloping over a long weekend tucked between writing essays for graduate school and tutoring students on their writing. Instead of a lavish ceremony, our wedding was a small moment of looking forward and seeing a future filled with happiness and love and hope—a deliberate pause to celebrate the things we saw and still see for our future together.

Even though we had a long relationship before getting married, we soon found out that marriage itself can be hard and complicated. This isn’t to say that marriage isn’t filled with happy moments, but marriage is not a bridge to immediate happiness. You don’t cross the threshold and immediately become the happiest version of yourself for the rest of your life.

Or at least that didn’t happen for us. The happiness of our wedding day gave way to the tensions of graduate school for me and the boredom of a customer service job for my husband, and rather than taking advantage of the few hours we had together each week we would argue about nothing or get annoyed with each other because we were so used to being apart. Focusing so much on our separate lives meant, well, that we were living separate lives.

After a year of frustration, we began questioning what was happening in our relationship. And then we both realized we were doing this marriage thing all wrong.

We built our marriage on the idea that being married would lead to personal happiness, but that foundation was shaky, uneven, and breaking already under the stress of daily life. We wanted God to be the center of our marriage, but we were leading lives centered on personal pride and strung together by rings.

Recognizing the level our pride had reached was enough to open up a conversation about how to create a stronger marriage that would glorify God rather than disappoint Him. We began reading and talking about examples of marriage—models from the Bible and from our lives that we want to someday be like. We created a family mission statement that articulates the qualities that are important to us and the vision we have for our family. We began to make an effort to spend more time together, to concentrate less on school and work, and to work harder to see each other through God’s eyes rather than our own flawed, judgmental eyes.

This is the point where I say everything is perfect now, right? It isn’t. We wrestle with the same problems now as we did early in our relationship precisely because these problems are just symptoms of the larger issue: our pride. But we’re wrestling that pride now, not just living with it.

What we’ve learned, I guess, is that when you make room for God in your marriage and treat it with the respect and the love God demands then the struggle is not only worth it, but impossible to walk away from. Because you’re fighting for someone more important than yourself.

Rachel Parker recently graduated with a MA in English. She currently lives with her husband of two years in a college town in North Carolina and spends her free time writing about food and life at Eat and Write.

If you are interested in sharing a lesson from your own marriage, please get in touch for details about guest-posting in this series!

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Blog Housekeeping Update: New Navigation Menu for Easier Browsing

Just a quick note to let you know that earlier this week I did a little cleaning around the blog, which included adding a new navigation bar along the top with (oh la la) a drop-down menus for different categories.

So now, if you want to dig into all the posts I've written about, say my marriage, you can hover over the "Love + Marriage" tab and a few different options will pop up, one of which will take you to posts about my marriage or posts that record the little whirlwind love story between my husband and I.

Other categories include posts about my life, my faith, my home, stuff I've made and a hearty helping of miscellaneous items from blogging tips to what I've read recently. If you want to go exploring through them, just visit the homepage and click around to your heart's desire!

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Thoughts on Having Too Many Ideas for My Own Good

Sometimes, I have too many ideas for my own good. You see, I’ll find myself walking around my apartment, and an idea for a blog post will jump to mind. I’ll start writing it in my head, in a daydream-like state while I put my water on to boil and put away the dishes in the kitchen. Later that day, another idea for a post will come to mind, and the cycle will repeat. But at the end of the day, how many blog posts do I really have on paper? Oftentimes, not a single one.

Ideas swirl around me like air it seems. I can pluck one down, then another, until a bowl is filled to the brim with them. But it seems that I never quite seem to follow-through on them. I let them steep there in the air, as I consider one and another, until all the flavor is drained from them all and I can’t quite remember what they were about in the first place.

And it’s not just blog posts. With my newfound journey into freelancing, I’ve found this to be true, as well. I can fill page after page with story ideas and magazines to write for and ways to make contacts. But my follow-through on just one of those ideas is sorely lacking.

I am trying to be more disciplined about this. Today, I grabbed a three-ring binder and three sheets of paper. I started a writing binder, where I can collect all my thoughts and then be able to draw from them, one by one. One page is filled with all my stream-of-consciousness ideas for this blog, another page is for all my ideas for freelancing. The other page, which sits on top of them both, is my action page. I pick the top two or three ideas for both categories and place them here, as a way to prioritize my efforts—and actually get things done. Before I can move on to the other ideas hidden on the pages behind it, I must mark off these first few.

It’s a simple idea really, but one that has been helpful in grounding me, keeping me from jumping back and forth, here and there, and then feeling like I never really got anything done at all.

So, here I start, taking baby steps—one page at a time, it would seem—toward learning the fine art of follow-through and watching my ideas become reality.

Do you struggle with following through on your ideas? If you have any tips or suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments!

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Women of Faith Conference: A Recap of the Weekend

I mentioned that I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Women of Faith conference that I had the chance to attend over the weekend. I’d never been to one before and carried the assumption that it would be a lot like church, with sermons where you take notes and flip through your Bible and learn more about Greek root words and historical explanations. I love that kind of stuff, but thought that two days full of it might get pretty old, pretty fast.

As it turns out, I did learn a couple of Greek root words, but I was more impressed that the women who took the stage at the conference weren’t there to lecture us. Instead, they were there to open up their hearts, share their stories and tell the thousands of women gathered there how God met them in some of their darkest hours: There were stories about marriages falling apart, spouses suffering, babies being buried.

But they were more than just that. They were also stories of hope, as they told, through real and raw tears, how they cried out to God in those moments, begging him to get them through these tragedies—and how He did. That was the refrain that threaded through session after session: God is here. God will get you through this. Don’t give up on God.

It reminded me a lot of the Testimony series I ran on here a few months ago, where many of you opened up and shared how God was with you in hardships and struggles. The fact is that we need those stories and we need to have those to look to, because we are going to face hardships and struggles. Mine may look differently from yours, but we both have to walk through our own fair share.

So when I hear what she went through and how God was present in her time of need, it builds my faith to face my own with the confidence that though the clouds billow and the rains pound, God will come alongside me and shelter me from the depths of the storm.

One of the biggest things that struck me about many of the women who shared their stories from the stage, shared them in light of the fact that they aren’t all beautifully wrapped up in a bow, where you shout "Hallelujah!" at the end: One woman’s husband has a brain tumor and they’ve been praying for a miracle, but have yet to see it happen. Another woman was told her baby wouldn’t survive, and they prayed for a miracle, but the baby died hours after birth. These are not the stories we rejoice over in church; but they’re the stories of women who are learning to trust God even in the midst of uncertainty and struggles that linger on.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the conference, but I know that when I walked out, it was with a deeper awareness of God’s love in spite of our circumstances and a bigger trust in God's redemptive work, no matter what storms we face.

If you want to find out more about this year’s Women of Faith conference, which will be running events in cities across the country up until Thanksgiving, visit their website

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Secrets of a Newlywed: What Can You Do for Him?

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have made my marriage the wedded bliss that it is. Like anything else, they are easier said than done. But I know from personal experience that when I do manage to live them out, I've seen what beautiful fruit they bear in my relationship with my husband. So, today, I share another with you: What Can You Do For Him? (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)

As God’s followers, we are called to be servants. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Pay attention, O Israel, for you are my servant.” In the New Testament, Jesus washes his disciples feet, commanding us to serve one another and that the last shall be first.

Whether married or not, we should be looking for ways to serve others and making efforts to do so. But within marriage, those opportunities especially abound, and we should make it a habit to look for ways to help our husbands.

For instance, when my husband had some paperwork to fill out for his new job, he asked me to call the human resources department and find out what he needed to send them. The woman told me that he needed to write her a letter stating such-and-such and to fax it to her. I made a note of everything he needed to include, but then I figured, why not go ahead and type up the letter for him?

It was pretty straight forward and I had all the information, so I went ahead and wrote it. Then, when he got home, all he had to do was sign it. It only saved him about five minutes, but it’s about more than just saving him time or effort.

Cultivating this practice not only communicates—in real, tangible ways—to our husbands how much they mean to us but also fosters within us more gracious, selfless hearts. I don’t know about you, but I can use all the help I can get in that area!

Even if they are the smallest details that I take upon myself and even if my husband doesn’t even notice that I’m doing them for him, it still is a way for me practice learning to think of others before myself and learning to turn words into actions, let love speak loudly, live out my faith in the routine of day-to-day life.

It starts with asking myself, “What can I do for him?”

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New Music-Listening Tool I've Been Using Lately

My husband (the one who introduces me to all things musical in our marriage) introduced me to this handy new site / download / application. (Not sure what you’d call it exactly.) Except to say that I think it’s awesome.

It’s called Spotify, and you download it onto your computer. Then, open it up and type in any artist. Their albums will pop up and you just click on the album or the song and stream them while you listen. (You can even look listen to my husband’s EP, just search for “Still I Believe.”)

It’s like a personal radio and I like it better than Pandora because you pick the songs, not them. I’ve used it to listen to a bunch of new bands lately or artists I’d heard of but not really dug into. Right now, I’m bopping along to the new-to-me band All Sons & Daughters that I saw in a banner ad on Relevant’s site. Really enjoying them. (If you need other suggestions, check out this post I made with 5 of my favorite good-for-your-soul songs.)

I just downloaded the free version, so there are a couple of ads plugged in every few songs or so. But it’s not too bad. If you want to sign up, you have to get invited. However, the website HITS Daily Double has a link here (scroll way down to #6) and you can get a subscription without a hassle. Pretty sweet. Try it and see for yourself.

Any new band recommendations to pass along?

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Explore the Archives: December 2009 on Life Blessons


Dress Up Dinner: Recipe for Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing

I'm not one of those people who inherently loves salads. I think they're alright, but I'd much prefer the sandwich with mayo or a dish with roasted sweet potatoes on the side. However, I know that a good hearty salad is a great way to get some extra veggies into your diet, so I make sure to serve a couple throughout the week.

One thing I've learned is that if you're going to try to go healthy, you need to make it enjoyable. So it is with me and my salads. Which is why I've been on a quest to find salad dressings that make the plateful of lush greens something to savor.

I mentioned before that I started making my own Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing, which my husband loves. And that's one of the things I like best about this recipe: that it makes your salad taste so, so good. (Now of course, that probably has something to do with the fact that there's a good helping of sugar in the recipe, but we'll let that little fact slide, right?)

This recipe is extremely easy to make, with ingredients you likely already have stocked up in your cupboards. Once you've made a batch, keep it in the fridge and shake it up before each use. And then, eat your fruits and veggies to your heart's content!

Recipe for Raspberry Vinaigrette
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. pepper

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a container. Store in the fridge and let sit for a day before using (otherwise the vinegar will be too strong.) Shake well before using. Makes one half-cup batch.

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Women of Faith Conference: I'll Be There!

I'm thrilled to announce that I've been selected to attend the when it comes to Atlanta, Georgia next month! I will be covering the conference as one of a few selected bloggers, and I'll be able to report back here how it was and what all I learn. (I'm especially excited about that part!)

If you're not familiar with the Women of Faith Conference, it's a two-day event that will be taking place in 28 cities across the country this fall. During the two days, there will be a series of Christian speakers (Sheila Walsh and Luci Swindoll among them) and entertainment (including Natalie Grant) that aims to refresh, encourage and inspire you in your walk. "Because the God who loves you can do far more than you can ever Imagine," according to the event details.

The Atlanta event will be taking place on August 12th and 13th downtown at the Philips Arena.  If you want to find out more about the Atlanta event, you can look through the details here. If you want to see if there's a Women of Faith event coming to a city near you, search here.

I've never been to a live event like this myself, so I'm really looking forward to the opportunity and getting to sharing my experience here with you here afterward. I'll take good notes, I promise!

If any of you have been, I'd love to hear your experiences and any tips you might have for a first-timer! 

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Secrets of a Newlywed: Learning What My Husband Really Wants

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I and a handful of other bloggers open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have strengthened our marriages. (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

Today, I am happy to share this guest post from Amanda: Learning What My Husband Really Wants.

Before I was married, it was never my ambition to be an amazing housewife, but becoming a wife changed me more than I expected. I found myself wanting to be the perfect wife and do all the perfect things for my husband.

A 1955 article in Good Housekeeping that has made the rounds on the web instructs wives to "plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, and on time, for his return." This advice may sound laughable to wives today; such expectations are long gone in today’s world. But a friend of mine mentioned how nice it is that his wife has dinner ready when he comes home.

If I loved my husband, I thought, why wouldn't I want to greet him with a home-cooked meal like all these other wives? Early in our marriage, I made this my mission.

The only problem with this idea was that I work full time and often arrive home after my husband. But determined to at least have dinner ready as soon as possible, I would start cooking. If I got home first, my husband would walk in the door to a wife with her back to him as she worked away cutting up potatoes. As he tried to put his arms around me, I would often get annoyed with him. Couldn't he see that I was working hard to make his dinner? I didn't have time for that!

Eventually, I realized that my husband didn't want to come home to a meal; he wanted to come home to a wife! After a long day at work, he just wants to see me. He wants to be able to hug me and talk to me. He can wait for food. In fact, on days when I'm not feeling well, he'll immediately tell me not to worry about dinner. It's not a big deal to him. He didn't marry me because he needed a cook.

While my intentions were good, I failed to examine what my husband truly needed. It's not about what my friends or family or other bloggers or anyone else thinks a wife's role should be but rather what my husband needs from me. Now when I come home from work, it's all about my husband. If he wants to cuddle on the couch or go on a walk with me, then that’s great.

Thinking of my husband has not only made him happier but also made me feel happier and much less stressed. Our evenings are much better when we spend that time relaxing together, even if only for a few minutes. After being away from each other all day, we need that time to reconnect! Dinner can wait.

Amanda has been married to her husband Nathan since June 2010. She blogs her journey through the ups and downs of life and marriage at Newlywed Trek

If you are interested in sharing a lesson from your own marriage, please get in touch for details about guest-posting in this series! 

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A Prayer for a “Humble but Sturdy” Home

I was sitting on the couch in my living room, in the house that we currently rent. We moved here to cut down on my husband’s commute time to work and because the rent was quite a bit cheaper.

And yet, since we’ve moved, we’ve discovered a trail of things of housekeeping-gone-wrong, which I’ve shared before and before.

I suppose you come to expect that when you’re living the renting lifestyle, where landlords don’t want to put in the money for quality upkeep because they expect you not to take care of it yourself. We’ve done our best to fix up the place as best we can and make it livable with some loving DIY ourselves, involving quite a bit of duck tape.

And we’re content with it, knowing that right now it is a good place for us because the rent is cheap and we're in a good neighborhood. But it also makes us aware of all the things we don’t want in a home whenever we do decide to buy a house someday.

While I don’t know when that time frame will be, I know at some point we do want to be able to buy a home. And because of that, it is something that I’ve been praying about since the hunt first began and continue to keep praying about even now, while the house-hunt is on hiatus.

So it was that from the cushion of my living room couch, I prayed, once again, for that someday house of ours: “I just want a humble, sturdy home! Nothing big and fancy, nothing that will crown us the Joneses. Just a home that we can settle into, that—sure, will have its fair share fixing-up to do—but without all the duct-taped headaches that have plagued us in our few months here."

And as I prayed that, I realized that it’s not just true for the home we plan someday to buy, but also for my own daily life: I want to have a humble, sturdy life. I don’t want to vie for fame or riches. I just want a life that is lived with purpose, a life where I can find contentment. Most of all, a life that has a sturdy foundation built on the Rock.

I smiled at the thought of all that God is teaching me in this little, ramshackle-of-sorts apartment. Without a doubt, I get annoyed every time something goes wrong, but the Lord always opens my eyes to some sort of silver lining that comes through, whether it’s a wake-up call about what home-ownership is like or heart issues that run deep, paving the way to what is sure to be a humble, sturdy life, after all.

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Secrets of a Newlywed: Choosing to Forgive

This is the next post in Secrets of a Newlywed, a series where I and other bloggers open up and share some of the lessons, insights and understandings—the little secrets—that have made our marriages the wedded bliss that they are.
(To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)

Today I'm sharing another one of these lessons with you, courtesy of a guest post from one of my friends. Her struggle especially is not an easy subject to tackle, which is why I appreciate her honesty and vulnerability about: Choosing to Forgive.

"I'm sorry." I've probably said it a thousand times in the nine years since my husband and I got married. He's said it just as often. We've said it after leaving a pile of clothes on the floor or accidentally spitting tooth paste on the other in the bathroom (yes, that has happened). We’ve also said it at times when our relationship itself was at stake.

I met my husband on the first day of tenth grade. I had just started attending a private Christian high school, and I was delighted to have met this amazing Christian guy: He was president of his senior class, he led worship during our Friday morning chapel services, and our first date was to a youth group function at his church.

We dated throughout the rest of high school. Three weeks before I graduated, he proposed, and then we were married just months later. Soon after, he joined the US Navy and was deployed overseas.

Somewhere along the way we just lost sight of the important things in life. Our relationship with God became less and less important. We stopped praying together, we stopped going to church, we both drifted away from the very thing that had brought us together.

On one of his deployments, he was gone for a year. It was the longest year of my life. The day he came home was so incredibly happy and special, I felt like a newlywed all over again.

However, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Our relationship was strained and uncomfortable.

Finally one night in June, the truth came out: My husband had betrayed me in the most intimate way possible. Not just one time but multiple times over the course of our marriage. He admitted to an addiction to pornography and to sexual website that offered chat between members.

I was destroyed. “I'm sorry,” didn't seem to cut it. I was so mad, so hurt, and so unwilling to forgive.

For days I was numb, I couldn't comprehend this perfect life that was in fact a perfect lie. Every story, every experience over the last eight years had to be examined for the truth, and most of the times I didn't like what I discovered. I didn't believe that divorce was the answer, but I knew it would take a long time to trust my husband again.

I cried out to God and asked him why this had happened. I prayed for the wisdom to know what to do. I wanted an easy fix for this situation. "Please God, show me how to forgive him." I searched scripture for answers:

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:21-22)

I wouldn't just have to forgive my husband once. I would have to forgive him over and over again. That was the hardest thing: Choosing to forgive. It's easy to forgive someone for not doing a chore, or forgetting an important event, but how do you forgive someone for such a betrayal?

Sometimes I would just burst into tears as the painful words of that night replayed in my head. Each and every time I had to forgive my husband again. Not always in words that were spoken, but often in my own soul I had to remind myself that I was choosing to forgive him.

Choosing to forgive instead of to hate was like any physical exercise, it got easier over time.

There were many prayers for strength, many late night conversations with wise women who I trusted to counsel me and pray with me, many conversations with my husband about where each of us were in our recovery.

As badly as I was hurt, I had to recognize that my husband was hurting as well. He had lived with the guilt and the shame of what he had done for so many years. Not only had he lived with the secret, but he also thought that our struggle with infertility was God punishing him for his infidelity. He begged for my forgiveness and held me through every tear I had to cry. Through a Christ-based, 12-step program, he found peace and recommitted himself to our marriage and to God.

Together we returned to church. We worked hard to bring our marriage back to God and to realign ourselves with him. We relearned to trust and love each other.

Our story is one of extreme forgiveness, of fighting back from the worst kind of "I'm sorry." Today we're better than ever. Closer than before it all started because now we both know that what we have is worth fighting for.

There are still moments of pain as I look back and remember the betrayal, but each time I pray for strength and I choose to forgive.

This was a guest post by one of my friends, who wished to remain anonymous due to the personal nature of the topic. Please take a moment to leave her a note in the comments and show her some love for her willingness to open up and share this struggle. Thanks so much!

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What I'm Looking Forward to in August & Highlights from July

Another month has passed. Don’t you wonder where all those days went? I certainly, do. So here’s a little bit of a look at some of the highlights that made up the month of July for me:
  • My husband and I celebrated our two-year anniversary on July 10th. In some ways, it feels like it’s barely been that long at all, and in other moments it feels like it’s been so much longer than that. Either way, it’s thrilling to know that we’re slowly building our marriage, stone by stone, lesson by lesson. That’s why, alongside this milestone, I kicked off the new series Secrets of a Newlywed. We celebrated our two-year anniversary quietly with, what felt to us, like a swanky brunch out, since we don’t eat out nearly as much as we used to!

  • I also used this month to get my freelance endeavor off the ground a little more, by launching a new website, which you can see here. (I also added a little button that links there in the sidebar.) I built the site myself over the course of a few days and have also pitched a few writing ideas around to new publications, although no bites from those ones just yet.

  • There were a bunch of blog posts that I wrote this month, from sharing my favorite gadgets in the kitchen to an update about how my garden has been growing. I think my favorite of all this month’s posts, though, was one from the Secrets of a Newlywed series, Let Your Husband Lead. I really want that series to be transparent about the struggles we face in marriage. This post, especially, took a lot of vulnerability to write about areas where I have had to make the conscious decision to let my husband lead, because, more than anything else, it was admitting my weakness as far as wanting to have control. I hope that in doing so, it provided inspiration to some of you reading!
And here we are, with August already at our side. Here’s some of what I’m looking forward to with this next month:
  • Experiment more with photography, thanks to a new camera I got that allows me to manually adjust more of my settings. I’ve been reading through this 31 Days to a Better Photograph series and learning quite a bit! I would also like to tackle the 30 Day Photography Challenge I came across on Pinterest at some point.

  • Continue to forge ahead with my freelance writing. Right now, I’m reading through a couple of books about freelance writing (I’ll share more about them later) and I’m taking the whole process step by step, trying to tackle one thing at a time. I would love to be able to pitch an article to a new-to-me publication this month and have it get picked up for publication. We’ll see!

  • I’d also like to commit myself more to journaling during my Bible-reading time. This is a practice I pick up and put down frequently, and I think it really impacts my retention and ability to dig in to Scripture when I take the time to journal and note-take as I go. I’m also looking forward to praying more intentionally for other people through the Women Praying Boldly initiative that I just started. I have been asking over the past couple of months that the Lord would give me more of a burden for intercessory prayer, and I think that this is part of developing that passion. If you want to sign up, there’s still time!
So there you have it. The calendar flips from July to August, and we find ourselves with a blank slate, a new string of days just waiting to be written. Goodbye, July. Hello, August!

Do you have any favorite highlights from July? What are you looking forward to during the month of August?

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