Explore the Archives: March 2010 on Life Blessons

I'm still plugging away at manually creating a browser-friendly archives page for all my past blog posts, month by month. Here's a look at what was going on in my life, way back in March 2010. From misadventures in the kitchen to a surprise trip to Savannah to celebrate my birthday, I hope you enjoy getting to take a little step back in time with me:

Archive Posts from March 2010
Misadventures in Cooking: From "Polenta" to "Placenta"
Homemade Black Bean Burgers Recipe 
A Love-Hate Relationship with my Bread Maker 
When I was Young: Remembering what Jesus was like ... 
#101: A look back at my first 100 blog posts
A List of the New Recipes I've Tried 
Show and Tell: My Mug of Many Colors 
Decision-Making: Out of Fear or Faith? 
Learning to Plant In Spite of Stormy Weather 
Surprise! A Birthday Trip to Savannah! 
Not Your Typical Babyshower Game  
Loving God for who he is, rather than for the benefits 
A Book for Your Wishlist: "Chasing Francis" by Ian ... 
You know it's spring when... 
The Power of Words: Learning to commend rather than ... 
My daydream of late... 

I'll share another post in a couple of weeks with the next installment of archives, but you can always jump ahead and browse all the posts in the archive.

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A look back at my first 100 blog posts
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Secrets of a Newlywed: The Power of Our Words

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: The Power of Our Words.

You might hear an older woman, knowingly, say, “You know, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, my dear.” The idea is that if you want to make something stop—whether it’s that fly buzzing around your kitchen or your husband’s annoying habit—you’re better off to be sweet than sour.

Put that into the context of marriage, and it means that we’ll see more good come from complimenting our husband than criticizing him. As Proverbs says, “Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife.” There will always be things to criticize our husbands about, but likewise, there will also always be things to compliment him for.

And when we choose to compliment him rather than criticize him, we can watch wonders. It’s simply a matter of changing our perspective and keeping your eyes peeled for the good rather than the bad.

I’ve seen this in my own marriage, where I’ve made the conscious decision to zip my lips when I find myself about to criticize my husband for how much water he’s wasting when doing the dishes, and instead compliment him for doing the dishes. What is more important to me? That he’s doing them or that he’s doing them my way? And you know what, I start to notice that he’s more willing to do the dishes after that than if I nag him about the details of the process.

Honey, not vinegar.

But encouragement is not just about manipulating your husband to get him to do what you want. That’s simply the tip of the iceberg. The real beauty of it comes when your words become transformative—making both of you better people than either of you imagined.

Once you get in the habit of complimenting your husband, you’ll start noticing more and more things he does that impress you. Put words to those instances, even if it seems silly to thank him for working long hours at the office or for the way he played with the little kids at church. Those words of yours can be a catalyst for him to develop those qualities even further: acting with more integrity at work, doing more to serve those around him, relishing his role as provider, etc.

By looking at him and finding his potential, you can use your words to prod him further down that road, giving him the encouragement he needs to press on.

Even more, I’ve found that when I start to look at my husband with eyes of affirmation, my own heart is changed in the process: My selfishness starts to melt away, ever so slowly. I garner a heart filled more with gratitude for all he does. Contentment comes easier when I look for the good in my world rather than the bad. I find myself leaning onto God about how I can be a better wife.

In short, we both are transformed. That is the power of words.

(To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

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The Power of Words: Learning to commend rather than complain 

Giving up "Negativity" for Lent This Year

Secrets of a Newlywed: The Role of Being His Encourager

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: The Role of Being His Encourager

In Proverbs it says that, “A worthy wife is a crown for her husband.” That verse goes on to say that, “but a disgraceful woman is like cancer in his bones.” Ouch.

When my husband and I were first married, I pondered that verse: Who is it that wears a crown? Someone of royalty. But how do you know that they’re royalty? Because they wear the crown. If they remove the crown, they look just like everyone else. The crown is what distinguishes them from all the others.

And, ladies, that’s what we can be for our husbands, too. We can be what distinguishes our men from all the others that are walking down the streets everyday, going into work everyday, mowing the lawns everyday.

We have the unique propensity for helping them achieve more with us by their side than they could alone!

But how do we do this?

When God created Eve for Adam, she is called his “helpmeet.” We are uniquely made to come alongside our husbands and help them. One of the ways that I believe that we do that as wives is by embracing a role of being an encourager to them.

I’ve said before how powerful I believe our words are—that every word that slips from our lips has the potential to edify or to afflict. I believe that one of the main ways for us to be an encourager to our husbands is through the words we choose when we speak to them and about them.

Because I think this is such an important subject (and I have lots to say on it!), I’m going to stop here for today and pick back up with the discussion tomorrow, where I’ll go in-depth into the words we say to our husbands, and next week I’ll address the power of the words we say about our husbands.

Until then, let’s strive to be crowns our husbands wear with pride!

(To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)

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Words of Love: 5 Ideas for Encouraging Your Husbands 

What God's Been Doing, All Along...

Through my chronological reading of the Bible, I’ve now made my way to the New Testament. And as I started thumbing my way through this section, through the first pages of the story of Christ, there was something in this grand unfolding of the Messiah who has come to earth that caught my eye…

As I was reading, I noticed that when Luke and John both begin their gospels, they start not immediately with the birth of Christ, but instead with the birth of John the Baptist. Matthew, too, begins his gospel by looking first at John the Baptist before making his way to Jesus.

Luke tells “Most honorable Theophilus” that his letter is one that provides “a careful summary” of “the events that took place among us” and “of what God has done in fulfillment of his promises.” (Luke 1:1-3)

So why is it that, I wondered, instead of starting off at the manger, these gospels begin with John the Baptist?

From even before his conception, John the Baptist was intended to be “a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old” and one who would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.” He was one who was born into great purpose: “He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival.” (Luke 1: 15-17)

I wonder if it is not this purpose—to prepare people’s hearts for the coming Messiah—that makes him so important to the story of Christ? Because isn’t that what the entire Old Testament is about, what every page before the New Testament leads up to, as well?

In the Old Testament, we see that the law is given which is a means for God’s people to live in communion with him and bring some of his heavenly kingdom to earth. The history of the nation of Israel is recorded with story after story about how God is merciful and loving to his children, even when they don’t deserve it. Prophet after prophet speaks of the day when all will be made new by the coming King of Kings, urging the nation to turn back to God.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God reaching out to his people, time and time again. For centuries, he asks them to come back to him, to be his bride as they were meant to be, to live the life of faith that were their wedding vows back in that desert so long ago.

In that chain of people beseeching their brethren to turn back to God, comes John the Baptist. Perhaps it’s less about John the Baptist and more about what God has been doing for and through his people all along, showing them his grace and mercy as he prods them again and again, as he gives them chance after chance, to return to their standing as a holy people.

And into this unending rhythm of God’s mercies to his people, a Messiah is finally born. Grace beyond compare. This is what everything in The Good Book is pointing toward, even John the Baptist himself.

What are you reading about in your Bible studies? What are some of the things that have caught your eye in Scriptures lately?

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Support Life Blessons When You Shop on Amazon

Wanted to let you know that I recently set up an Amazon shop, which I've curated with some of my favorite products and book titles. You can go there and check out (in one place) the kind of bread maker I use, my sewing machine, study Bible and a host of other favorites that I use day after day.

But even if you aren't interested in any of those items, I wanted to let you know that anytime you buy anything off Amazon, if you click through using my affiliate link, then any purchases you make will be earmarked as coming from Life Blessons and a small percent of that sale will be donated back to this blog. And don't worry, doing that won't cost you a penny more but it will go toward supporting this blog! (As well as to supporting International Justice Mission, the charity I've partnered with to donate some of the revenue that's generated from this site.)

So please bookmark this page, and remember to start here when you buy from Amazon. It's an easy way to support the site without costing you anything!

Click here to visit my Amazon shop, or click here to go straight to Amazon from my affiliate link.

Thank you so much for your support!!

Waste Not, Want Not: How I Saved $600 in Less Than an Hour

There’s a saying you’ll hear if you hang around me at home long enough: “Waste not, want not.” My husband has heard this adage over and over again, whether I’m digging out the last vestiges from a ketchup bottle or popping some bread heels in the freezer to save for making bread crumbs in the future.

It’s because I believe that with just a little extra effort, saving even a little bit at a time adds up. Recently, though, I was impressed by how we managed to save a lot at once, just by taking a few minutes to crunch some numbers.

We are fortunate that my husband gets pretty good benefits through his job. For the first year of our marriage, we had to buy our own private insurance because he was finishing up school and I was freelancing full-time. So when he got the option to sign up for things like health and dental and vision insurance and a flexible spending account, we eagerly signed up.

But when it came time to re-enroll in our benefits programs this year, we sat down at our kitchen table, with the spreadsheets and a calculator in hand, and started tallying up the costs. As the numbers on the calculator screen grew, we started to wonder if some of those supplemental insurances—namely, vision and dental—were really as good a deal as we thought, given we’re both young and pretty healthy.

For our vision insurance, we were paying about $250 a year for my husband and myself. Dental insurance was another $600, because we could only choose between purchasing a single or a family option. As it turns out, though, the single option would be paid fully by my husband’s work, so we were essentially paying $600 just for me to be covered.

Since we’d already used both insurances for a year, I dug into the folders where I file away all our medical expenses and started adding up how much the services would have cost if we hadn’t had our insurance.

The vision insurance, it turned out, was a great deal, where the total cost would have been $500 had we paid for everything ourselves. Essentially, a discount of 50 percent.

The dental insurance, though, was actually costing us more than we were using: We were paying $600 while the costs billed to our insurance for my visits were less than $300. I called up our dentist and confirmed how much costs would be if we paid out of pocket and she said since I’m already an established patient, they’d be even cheaper; likely $100 per visit.

We ended up deciding to drop the family-plan dental insurance and just keep the insurance on my husband, since that would be free. For my services, we could pay out of pocket (using our flexible spending account with money earmarked especially for those purposes) and still be paying less than the insurance would cost. Of course there’s the chance that something could happen—a rogue cavity or filling—but I haven’t had a cavity in a few years, so that seems unlikely. Even then, we figured if something does happen, we shouldn’t end up paying more than the $600 we would be paying just for premiums.

Then we can take that extra amount, a couple hundred dollars, and sock it away into a savings account that we can put to use at another time.

It took about thirty minutes of culling through the paperwork and calling the dentist’s office to confirm their rates, but in the end we’ll be saving $600 through the course of next year.

Waste not, want not, indeed!

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Secrets of a Newlywed: The Truth About Struggles Having Sex

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’m grateful to get to share a guest post with you today from one of my friends about a pretty sensitive subject: Sex. More specifically, when there are complications having sex. This isn’t something that many people talk about, so I appreciate her willingness to be vulnerable and share her story with us: The Truth About Struggles Having Sex.

During our engagement, we put careful consideration planning our wedding weekend. All the normal stuff we were checking off the list. But, what I didn't carefully prepare my heart for was the changes that would come.

In preparation for the wedding night, I started using birth control and doing some exercises in preparation to have sex for the first time. I had been on birth control for two months and during the week of our wedding, I started having some very negative effects. I was on my period for well over two weeks. It was seriously painful. To help me to stop, they gave me several hormones which probably did help anything. My period did stop, but I felt very sick for the next month. It was stressful to feel so horrible and have to tend to family arriving, last-minute wedding details, and all of my in-laws (some whom I hadn't met before) staying at my home.

The wedding came, and it was perfect. Tears came to my eyes about how God had provided for us to have such a beautiful wedding. I loved every second of our ceremony and reception. We danced our hearts out with our friends and family, smashed some cake in our mouths, and marched out the door. We happily headed to the hotel. Our hotel room was perfectly lit with candles and rose petals were all around. It was breathtaking. My now-husband carried me through the door; this was it.

We both were very inexperienced virgins. All through our relationship, we chose to guard our purity in order to have a beautiful marriage. Well, the first night was a disaster. Without giving too much detail, we couldn't figure how or why he couldn't enter me. We tried all kinds of tricks that we had read in marriage books. Nothing was working and I was getting more and more anxious, scared, and emotional. My husband, though, was calm, peaceful, and a total gentleman. We prayed and prayed then drifted off to sleep. It had been a beautiful night, and we were exhausted.

The next morning we left for our honeymoon. We had a week to go away and figure all this sex stuff out. We tried and tried. And failed and failed. Why was this so hard? We searched the internet for Christian advice and came up empty handed. It was hard not to feel like a failure. God really gave us grace despite having complications and my being sick, so that we really enjoyed our honeymoon.

We returned home and all my girlfriends were waiting on pins and needles to hear about every detail. I told two of my closest friends what we were struggling with and they couldn't understand. I was really hurt when they shared the information with our other friends. Not only did I feel like I failed my husband, but I let my friends down, too. I tried to not let it affect me, but it did. After seeing my friends’ reactions, I didn't want to talk with anyone else about it.

I was hurt to find out that all my single girl friends were having girls’ nights and not inviting me. I asked them why and they would say they thought I'd be home with my husband. Which was true. Every time I did hang around them, they would keep telling me how much I changed. I didn't tell them anything anymore because I refused to go into depth about my sex life with them. I wasn’t being open with them.

I was hurt. I was emotionally hurt by not being able to have sex for the first few months of marriage. I was hurt that my friends shared my secret with others. I didn't know what to do but to turn to God.

More changes came as I lost my 45+ hour job and we decided to leave our church (at the time we disagreed with some fundamental theology). And we moved across the country. A few things didn't change, most importantly our relationship with God didn't. Putting God first in our relationship, engagement, and marriage has been the number one reason our marriage is anything. And our relationship grew deeper and stronger. This I couldn't be more thankful for.

Although all of this was going on, I loved being married. It was so fun to spend all this time with my husband. We could make out all day, finally. We could watch movies, and I could cook daily meals. What I'm genuinely so blessed about my marriage is that even through the early struggles we weren't shaken. We didn't place blame on God or each other. Before we were married I knew my husband. He was the most patient, loving, and long-suffering guy I'd ever met. This held up to no end. I never felt pressured, and he never felt unsatisfied. God gave us grace and continues to give us grace.

We saw a doctor and it still took us several months to be able to completely have sex. After talking to the doctor and hearing that this is more common than not, I felt more at ease and it was easier to keep trying. I remember when we finally could have sex; cue the angel music. It was beautiful. One mountain down, and many more to go.

What I would advise other women who may find themselves in a similar situation would be to trust God. Ultimately, our marriage is only satisfied and sustained by Him. Sex is a glue, but it's not a foundation. I learned to view myself through God's eyes. The fact of the matter was God knew what struggles we were going to face before we faced them. In His eyes, I wasn't a failure.

Practically, my husband and I communicated through the whole process. I didn't hold any thought back and he didn't hold any ideas back. We sought advice and learned from others. We cried together. We prayed. We were hopeful together. And we laughed together that we had the rest of our lives to enjoy one another fully. Personally, at times it was a struggle to try over and over and over again. This was a constant battle within me to not give up. At times, that’s all I wanted to do. But, I had a lovely husband to woo my heart back into trying.

Looking back into my newlywed life, I still wonder why there isn't more material for girls who have complications when having sex for the first time. I now know that I'm not the only person that couldn't have sex at first. Every Christian sex related book I've seen or read deals heavily with purity before marriage and how wonderful sex is when you wait. The world views sex as casually beautiful. What I struggled most with I couldn't find help for. I had to turn to Christ. We had to turn to Christ. Which in the end, strengthened our relationship together and with Christ more than anything ever has.

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!

UPDATE: I'm so glad to hear from all of you who have left comments, that you have appreciated the honesty of this post and that it's been an encouragement to those of you who are experiencing similar struggles. My friend said that she would be happy to talk, pray and share more of her story in hopes of helping other readers who feel alone in this. You can email her at fairbutlovely0@gmail.com. (Note that it's a 'zero' and not an 'oh' in the email address.)

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Giveaway: Win a Dress from Shabby Apple

Each year, when springtime starts to roll around, I keep my eyes peeled for a dress, what will become my "wedding dress" for that year. You see, once I got old enough to where I was attending a couple of weddings a year, I found myself always running to the mall at the last minute to pick out a "just-right" dress for the occasion.

Finally, I realized that I didn't need a new dress for every wedding but just one dress that I could wear multiple times throughout the season. The biggest thing was that I had to love wearing it; that it didn't feel "old and frumpy" the second time I went to wear it.

A couple of years ago, I found a dress on Shabby Apple that became my go-to "wedding dress" for that year: A soft olive green with cascading ruffles along the top, that I like to dress up with a belt or ribbon around the waist. (Yep, it's the middle one pictured above!) It has a touch of vintage to it that makes it feel timeless, which is why that dress still gets plenty of wear, wedding or not.

Well, today, I'm pleased to let you know that you can have the chance to get your own vintage-inspired dress or skirt from Shabby Apple, thanks to their generous offer to host a giveaway for one Life Blessons reader! And even if you aren't selected as the winner, you can also receive a 10% discount from their site if you enter the code lifeblessons10off at checkout (code good thru 11/7/11).

enter this giveaway

You may enter up to 3 times, by completing any of the tasks below. Please leave a comment on this post for each entry and a way to get in touch with you if your email address is not linked in your profile. 
1) Visit Shabby Apple and copy the link to your favorite dress or skirt from the site. Come back here, and leave the link in a comment.
2) "Like" both Life Blessons and Shabby Apple on Facebook (please include your first name and last initial in your comment)
3) Follow both Life Blessons and Shabby Apple on Twitter (please include your Twitter username in your comment)

details about the giveaway

The giveaway will end at 11:59pm on Sunday, November 13. One winner (US addresses only, please) will be selected using Random.org from all valid entries. (Entries that do not follow the rules or cannot be verified will be disregarded.) A representative from Shabby Apple will email the winner a list of dresses and skirts from their site that they can select from for their prize.

P.S. In full disclosure, I did not receive anything in return for hosting this giveaway; I just thought you guys deserved a chance at a free dress!

Some New Artwork I Created for the Bathroom

Ever since I decorated our apartment, there’s been something that was nagging at me. It was in our bathroom where I’d created a small little gallery-style wall of blue-and-green-hued artwork. The thing that nagged me about it was that it was visually uneven; the left side was begging for something more. (Click here to see a "Before" picture from the apartment tour I featured when we first moved in.)

But I’m not one to jump into decorating distress and just throw any old thing up there. I’d prefer to take my time and find the right thing for the right place. I’ve found that kind of patience and intentionality makes me enjoy whatever I do select that much more.

It’s been about six months that we’ve been living in this little apartment of ours. And an idea finally came to me about how to properly fill this space. If I can, I love to make my own artwork (as evidenced by my travel map that’s in our bedroom and the framed robin’s egg nest that sits on the mantle in our current living room).

So it was only natural that for this project, I turned on my laptop, opened up my favorite photo editing program, and starting getting creative.

First up was typing up a favorite Bible verse. (When in doubt, I think Scripture always makes for beautiful artwork.) Our bathroom linens are a variety of blues, greens, and whites, which is just a result of my husband and I cobbling our collections together when we got married. I wanted to make this spectrum of colors seem more intentional, so I’ve been using blue-and-green artwork to ground the palette. I felt like it needed some more greens, so I filled the background of this piece with an olive green.

Then I got the idea to play with clip art. With an avian theme already evident in the existing artwork, I decided to play off that. I downloaded a free clip art picture of a bird’s feather, pulled it into my editing program and added a deeper green background, which I made ooze over some of the feather lines to give it more of a rough-around-the-edges look.

Pop them into frames that I already had on-hand, and there you have it. A collection complete!

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Build a Better Pizza: Make Your Own Pizza Seasoning

It’s a weekly ritual around here that we sit down to a homemade pizza pie. If I’m going to eat the same meal that frequently, you better believe I’m going to see to it that it tastes that good, too. Which is why, each week I make my own pizza dough and pizza sauce. But no Friday night meal of ours is complete without our trusty accompaniment: Pizza Seasoning.

I originally picked a bottle of this up at the store on a whim. It was labeled as pizza and pasta seasoning, and I was hooked once I realized how incredibly a little bit of this and a little bit of that could transform a dish that is already so delicious one out of two kids (adults?) names it as their favorite meal.

But a month ago, our reserve ran out and the little shaker shook its last vestiges.

I thought about buying another version of some pasta or pizza seasoning from the store. But then I stopped myself. Why not try to recreate it myself, first? Of course.

So I whipped up a small batch—just a few teaspoons of less than a dozen spices and herbs. Wouldn’t you know, it was a success? One of the many reasons why I love trying my handing at making things myself; it works out much of the time!

Homemade Pizza & Pasta Seasoning Recipe: The Secret to Great-Tasting Dishes
1 Tbsp. rosemary
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. basil
1 Tbsp. peppercorns
½ Tbsp. sea salt
½ Tbsp. garlic salt
½ Tbsp. crushed red pepper

Combine all herbs in grinder. (Feel free to re-use a grinder you already have on sale. If not, look at buying a grinder that comes with sea salt or peppercorns in it, twist the top off and store the contents in another jar. Usually it’s more affordable to buy the grinder this way than empty.)

Shake all seasonings together, and then sprinkle over any pasta or pizza dish and taste the difference!

How to Build a Better Pizza

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Build a Better Pizza: Make Your Own Pizza Sauce

It’s a weekly ritual around here that we sit down to a homemade pizza pie. If I’m going to eat the same meal that frequently, you better believe I’m going to see to it that it tastes that good, too. Which is why, each week I make my own pizza dough (which I shared the recipe for yesterday) as well as my own pizza sauce.

I'd been making our pizzas with storebought sauce for quite awhile before I got the guts to try this recipe. Last year, I tried my hand at making tomato soup which turned out so poorly that I was nervous about attempting anything else that was tomato-based.

But of course, my curiosity got the best of me.

I figured I'd just go on and give it a shot. So I picked up a can of tomatoes at the store, crossed my fingers and went to work, simmering and stirring.

I was surprised at how easy the recipe was and how good the results were! My fear of cooking with tomatoes was soon overcome, and I've been whipping up this sauce ever since.

Homemade Pizza & Pasta Sauce Recipe
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 dried bay leaf
  1. In a stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the celery, carrots, salt and pepper. Saute until they are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered over low heat for about an hour until the sauce has thickened. Be sure to stir often to keep the sauce from burning.
  4. Remove from heat, and discard the bay leaf. 
  5. Depending on how chunky you like your sauce, you can use an immersion blender to smooth out the veggies. (Here's the immersion blender I use.) This will make enough sauce to fill one 28-ounce pasta-sauce jar. Store in fridge.
How to Build a Better Pizza

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    Build a Better Pizza: Make Your Own Pizza Dough

    It’s a weekly ritual around here that we sit down to a homemade pizza every Friday night. If I’m going to eat the same meal that frequently, you better believe I’m going to see to it that it tastes that good, too.

    Which is why, each week, I whip up a pie using pizza dough, sauce and seasonings that I've made myself and that taste oh so good, every time. Now that I've gone homemade, no other kind of pizza can quite compare.

    So, over the next couple days, I'm going to be sharing the recipes for each of these pizza-making staples, which make for a great way to kickoff the weekend—no greasy cardboard box or delivery-guy necessary.

    First up: How to make your own pizza dough.

    When I first got my bread machine, pizza dough was one of the first things I tried in it. While most breadmaking recipes are quite easy, this is a great one for beginners. I've never had a batch go wrong with it yet, and it makes a nice, hearty crust that's not too thin, not too thick.

    Recipe to Make Your Own Pizza Dough Using a Breadmaker
    1 cup water
    2 Tbsp. olive oil
    1 tsp. salt
    1 Tbsp. sugar
    3 cups flour (Note: At least 2 cups should be unbleached all-purpose flour; for the remaining cup, you can use whole wheat flour, wheat germ, ground flaxseed or any other alternative to healthify it. For this particular batch, I used ½ cup wheat flour and ½ cup wheat germ.)
    2 tsp. bread machine yeast
    1. Combine all ingredients in the bread machine in the order listed (meaning, add the water first and add the yeast last). For the yeast, make a shallow well in the middle of the flour and add the yeast there.
    2. Select "Dough" setting on bread machine, and press "Start."
    3. When the dough has risen long enough, the machine will beep. Turn off bread machine, remove bread pan, and turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. (I like to use my trusty baking stone for this.)
    4. Use rolling pin to flatten dough into a disk. (It should make one 12-inch pizza, or you can divide the dough in half to make two smaller pizzas.)
    5. Add your favorite sauce, cheese and toppings to pizza dough. 
    6. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is starting to turn golden. Remove from oven, and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
    How to Build a Better Pizza
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      Secrets of a Newlywed: Know Thyself—And What Makes You Cranky

      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: Know Thyself—and What Makes You Cranky. 

      "A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls." Proverbs 25:28

      I used to have a friend who would carry a granola bar in her purse. Just in case her boyfriend got hungry. Because when he got hungry, he also got cranky.

      She realized this cause-and-effect situation and was smart to realize how easy it was to avoid, simply by carrying a treat with her. This is certainly not a bad idea if your significant other operates in the same way.

      But for me? I carry the granola bar because I’m the one who gets cranky when I’m hungry.

      There are lots of things in life that can set us off, so to speak. Things—like being hungry—that can make us crankier, meaner, snarkier than normal. For me, I’ve realized that things get ugly when I’m hungry, tired or rushed. (Don’t even think about what it’s like when I’m facing all three at once!)

      This really doesn't have much to do with marriage until you go back to that whole "becoming one" vow that we took and realize that when these kinds of situations come up, it's our spouses who are affected most by them. They’re the ones who have to deal with our cranky, mean, snarky selves. They're the ones who have to deal with these situations that we can take steps to avoid.

      If we take a moment to figure out what it is that sets us off, we can stop the situations before they escalate into a Jekyl-and-Hyde-like transformation. So, I know to bring a snack along with me if I'm going to be away from home for awhile. I know that when it’s getting late, I need to tell my husband it’s time for us to leave. (Remember, we have to tell him; he doesn’t have a script!) And I know that if we need to go somewhere, it's my responsibility to start getting ready with ample time so that I don’t feel rushed.

      By being aware of the things that make me cranky, I can be proactive about avoiding those situations in the first place. But even when they do crop up, and I find myself without a granola bar in my purse, I can recognize that the problem is not my husband (even if he is doing something annoying) but it actually has more to do with the fact that I haven't ate, or I'm sleepy, or I'm fill in the blank.

      So, I carry a granola bar in my purse. Which surprisingly makes not only for a happy spouse but also a happy marriage.

      What is it that makes you cranky? What do you do to be proactive to avoid those cranky/snarky moments?

      (To read through all the posts in this series, click here.)  

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      A Good, Old-Fashioned Game of Scrabble

      Under our coffee table is stashed our collection of board games, which we’ve been collecting since the early days of our marriage. We’ve got chess, Cranium, Scattergories, Yahtzee, Clue, to name a few. Since we don’t have a television, when we find ourselves with an evening and nothing to do, we turn to this little spot for some good, old-fashioned fun-in-a-box.

      The other night, we pulled out Scrabble and went at it, flexing our brains and our spelling to crank out words like “jetty” and “guild” until we emptied the bag of letters.

      It was a delightful way to end the night, and as I put all the wooden letters back into the bag and folded up the game board, it made me wonder how other couples spend their free time, without turning on the TV or breaking the bank?

      So, I’m curious… What are some ways you make use of a free evening, that doesn’t involve television? And if you have any good two-player games to suggest, I’d love to hear your recommendations. (Because you can only play Scrabble so many times!)

      Update: I'd encourage you, if you haven't already, to check out the comments that readers have posted about their favorite boardgames and some other unique date ideas. You guys have some great recommendations and ideas! Can't wait to give them a try! 

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      The Truth About My Inadequacies: A Lesson from the Bible

      Through my daily Bible reading plan that walks me through the writings in a (mostly) chronological order, I’m almost at the end of the Old Testament. I’ve made my way through the Garden of Eden, the stories of the patriarchs, the Jews being delivered from slavery in Egypt and making their way to the promised land.

      I’ve made my way through the establishment of King David over the tribes, his son, Solomon, building the Temple, then the splitting of the tribes into two kingdoms and the messages from the prophets pleading with the people to turn back to worshiping the Lord instead of gods and idols made by human hands.

      I’ve made my way through the people turning their backs on those messages and consequently getting attacked, overthrown and exiled to foreign lands as a means for their hearts to be softened toward God. And then, the Lord, filled with mercy, brings them back home.

      It’s here that I am now.

      Many of the Israelites who were once captives in Babylon are now back in Jerusalem, reestablishing their lives. When they first arrived, they started immediately to rebuild the Temple, which had been destroyed during the Babylonian siege on the city. With the town in ruins around them, they built an altar and began the routine of worshiping God again.

      As they made progress with the Temple, though, some of the older Israelites were discouraged as they looked at the new building that was being erected and remembered how ornate the original Temple built by Solomon was. It says that they “wept aloud.” The younger ones, though, had nothing to compare the building with, so they were filled with joy. “The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud commotion that could be heard far in the distance.” (Ezra 3:12-13)

      But the Lord has a message for these workers, which struck me as so beautiful. He sends the prophet Haggai to them, saying, “Take courage,” to each of the leaders and then to the people. He repeats this refrain and then says, “Take courage and work, for I am with you, says the LORD Almighty.”

      God continues this message of encouragement by telling the people that although this Temple may not have the splendor of the old one, “I will fill this place with glory … The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the LORD Almighty. And in this place I will bring peace.”

      The people here were saddened by the inadequacy of what they were building. They wanted it to be more—more beautiful, more grand, more worthy of being the Lord’s house. But the Lord steps in and reminds them that that isn’t what this is all about. It isn’t about the grandeur of how it appears, but about the grandeur of the Lord himself.

      God was not concerned with the inadequacies of their work at all. He just wanted them to be doing the work! “Take heart and finish the task!” he says in Zechariah 8:9, and a few chapters earlier, he says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…” He would do the rest, and that was all that mattered. In fact, even though the place may look inadequate from the outside, God will make it more glorious than the building that was gilded in gold!

      This resonated with me, as I often struggle with feeling that what I’m doing to serve God is inadequate. I feel like I’m not doing enough, especially in comparison with others. But the truth is that anything we will do is going to be inadequate, even with all the gold and silver in the world. Really all we ought to focus on is doing what we’re capable of and letting God do the rest. He is the only one who can bring true glory to the work of our hands.

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      Secrets of a Newlywed: Letting Your Husband Provide for You

      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 a guest post with you from Kristen: Letting Your Husband Provide For You.

      I have always been an independent person—a mild feminist, I suppose. When I know what I want, I work hard to achieve my goal. I’m the oldest child from a divorced home, so I guess I always felt like I had to take care of myself.

      My husband and I got married when we were still in college, so we both had to work, waiting tables. We always felt like we were in this together: A welcome balance and equality—something that I think was crucial in our early years.

      We’ve just passed our sixth wedding anniversary. We’re done with school (I finished grad school a year ago), and we’ve started (or will soon be starting) our careers. And, we’ve finally gotten to the point where we want kids in a few years.

      Our marriage has changed a lot in six years—and we have changed a lot ourselves. Lately, God has been teaching me a lot about being a wife. What it means. Who I want to be. What my husband wants.

      We recently moved from Philadelphia back home to Louisiana. It was all very sudden—we felt God leading us back home, so we obeyed and went. We lived with my mom for a little while just to save up some money and find jobs.

      My husband wanted me to take a month off before getting a job. Of course, I was delighted to take a break! However, I found that after a week, I felt the urge to work again. I’ve had a job since 11th grade, even while in school. We’re trying to get debt free, so I felt like I should be contributing to our finances. But, no, my husband said I’ve always worked and needed some time to relax, refresh, and recenter. (What a keeper!) And, what’s a sure fire way to figure out what God wants you to do? Be still and listen.

      I found that after I let go of the need to be in control—be independent—be the one to make sure everything is always fine—God started teaching me about trusting not only him, but my husband.

      Now, it’s not that I didn’t trust my husband before. I’ve just always wanted to do it myself. And, this was the first time I was letting him do it. Letting him take care of me.

      Of course, I will get a job eventually and contribute financially. My husband found a teaching job, so we have a stable income and benefits, and right now we can make it on his salary.

      For probably the first time in my life I feel okay with just being. Not working towards something or stressing over something or taking the burden on all by myself. And you know what? I feel at peace. In no rush. Living everyday and enjoying it and what we have. It feels good to relinquish control and let someone take care of you financially, while I can take care of the home for him.

      As a woman in our era I think I fought against being a “wife” in the traditional sense. Lately, though, God has shown me the joy you can feel when you’re not trying to do it all—all by yourself.

      So, I think, especially when we have kids, I will have a better (and much-needed) respect and reliance on my husband. And I think, this will be important in his development as a father. Equality is not just about how much each person contributes financially, but how we trust and rely on each other. I take care of him and he takes care of me. Respect, appreciation, and trust. Marriage is a partnership, so getting out of the feeling that I have to rely on myself will make our relationship stronger.

      This was a guest post by Kristen, who recently moved back home to Baton Rouge, LA and is attempting to make healthier choices with her life—body, food, family, God, and finances, which she writes about on her blog, Live Better. Live Wholly.

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      Do It Yourself: A List of All the Projects I've Tried

      If you've been around here long enough, you know that I love trying to see if I can make ordinary household products myself. Things that typically come in cans or bottles, boxes or bags. More and more, I've found myself asking, "How can I make that myself?"

      As anyone who's attempted to make their own    fill in the blank    knows, this process of scouring for recipes that actually work can feel overwhelming, so, for a handy reference guide, here's a compilation of the myriad homemade / DIY / made-from-scratch projects I've attempted:

      Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread (plus some breadmaking tips & tricks)
      Pizza Dough & Pizza Sauce & Pizza Seasoning
      Bagels made with a Bread Machine 
      Raspberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing 
      Vegetarian Fish Sticks  
      Black Bean Burgers
      Chocolate Pudding  
      Hummus Made Simple 
      Bitesize Corn Dogs
      Chewy Granola Bars 
      Freezer Sweet Potato Fries 
      Yogurt Made in the Crock Pot
      De-Boning a Whole Chicken
      My First Attempt Making Chicken Stock
      Chicken Pot Pie From Scratch
      Chocolatey Bitesize Brownies 
      Popcorn Without a Microwave 
      Freezing Your Fruits & Veggies

      Natural Liquid Castile Soap Bodywash
      Baking-Soda Shampoo (plus answers to your most common questions here and here)
      Foot Soak from Coffee 

      Creating Your Own Vegetable Container Garden
      Any DIY projects you'd love to see me tackle in the future? Any favorite DIYs of your own? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments! 
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