#Selfie

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror this morning and it caught me by surprise.  I hadn’t seen my face in a while.  Since I don’t wear makeup and my hair doesn’t listen to me anyways, my morning routine doesn’t have me looking in the mirror very often.

My strategy for staying body-positive in our social media world has been to ignore how I look.I work out because I want to be strong and my capsule closet is an insurance plan to cover clashing so there’s no reason for me to spend much time examining my features.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • Looking at my face isn’t as scary as I thought
  • My eyes really are more green than brown
  • My hair really is out of control

I’ve found myself with more time for reflection (both literal and figurative) during this time in Russia.  I don’t plan on becoming a millennial selfie queen but I am very grateful to be forced to take life a little more slowly.

In high school, I studied and volunteered and worked to fill out my college applications.

In college, I studied and volunteered and worked to fill out my resume.

In California, I studied and worked to fulfill my duties as an employee and make a living.

Here, I’m finally free to take a deep look in the mirror and learn more about what I actually enjoy doing.  There are no more applications to live for, no more resumes that cry out to be updated.

For the last 10 years I’ve been running away from not being enough, not doing enough to get where I thought I needed to go.  And now I’m finally able to look forward and whisper “Onward and upward!” and mean it.  I walk slowly and cautiously as I explore what the future could look like.

Everything But The Dutch Oven

The mission: find as many different recipes as possible that all call for basic baking ingredients: flour, yeast, baking powder. Baking Basics is a fun cooking challenge I’ve been on since moving to Russia and today’s installment features two favorites of gluten lovers everywhere: artisan bread and homemade biscuits.

Luke and I have been making our own bread since we got married 2.5 years ago. However, we usually employed a bread machine so we could come home to the delicious wafts of freshly cooked bread meeting us at the door.  Without our plethora of appliances, I went back to making bread the old-fashioned way–in the oven.  Here’s how to make artisan dutch oven bread without a dutch oven:

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon active yeast
  • 1¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine flour, yeast, salt, water in a bowl. Stir until combined. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let dough sit on the counter overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
  2. When ready to make the bread, place an enamel oven-proof stock pot in the oven at 180 degrees Celcius while the oven preheats, around 30 minutes. While  the pot is heating up, transfer dough to a floured surface, it will be bubbly and sticky. Add a little flour and gently fold and tuck it into a round ball (it will still be a pretty loose dough). Using oven mitts, carefully take the hot pot out of the oven, add just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot (olive, sunflower, vegetable whatever) and drop the ball of dough into the hot pot. Cover with the lid and place back into the oven to bake for 25 minutes..
  3. After 25 minutes, rotate the pot, remove lid and let it bake another 15 minutes or until brown.

NOTES

Recipe adapted from http://www.nutritiouseats.com/rosemary-dutch-oven-bread/

RESULTS

Wonderfully fluffy and flavorful bread that is perfect with lentil soups.

Another recipe recommended by a friend was the classic biscuit.  The only glitch with this recipe was it calls for buttermilk which very well might be available for purchase at my local grocery store, but I have no idea what buttermilk is in Russian.  Instead, I used my trusty trick: add 1 TBS white vinegar per cup of milk and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Voila!  Buttermilk biscuits without the buttermilk.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk + 1 TBS white vinegar

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  2. Add 1 TBS white vinegar to 1 cup milk, let it sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients. With two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingertips, cut or rub the butter in  until the mixture looks like bread crumbs.
  4. Add the liquid all at once, mixing quickly and gently for about 20 seconds until you have a soft dough.
  5. Drop the dough by the spoonful onto a lightly floured baking sheet.
  6. Bake the biscuits for 15 to 20 minutes, until they’re lightly browned. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm.

NOTES

Recipe adapted from https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/baking-powder-biscuits-recipe

RESULTS

Fluffy, not too sweet, biscuits that warm up a Russian winter, especially when served hot with butter and honey.

Capsule Closet Part 4 | Are You Ready?

Note: This article was originally posted on http://www.beautifulchristianlife.com and can be found by clicking here.

A capsule closet is a curated wardrobe built around a few foundational clothing items, designed so that each piece is multifunctional and can be worn with any other item. I’ve been on my capsule closet journey for over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed the process.  If you’re on the fence, ask yourself these four questions.

1. Are there pieces of clothing I haven’t worn in a year?

Image credit: @colorsofspring

Image credit: @colorsofspring

If so, it might be time to pare down the pantsuits in your closet. Here’s a helpful hack: turn all your hangers to face the same direction in your closet. When you wear and return a piece, flip the hanger so that it faces the opposite direction.  After six months, clear out all the items you didn’t wear (hangers not turned) and put them in a bag to donate.

2. Do I get frustrated trying to find an outfit to wear?

Rummaging around in your closet and coming up empty-handed is not the best way to begin the day. If you consistently find getting dressed to be more of a chore than a joy, one of the reasons could be that you can’t find pieces that work well together. A capsule closet filled with pieces that you love and that love each other could help reduce your stress getting out the door.

 

3. When I buy something new, do I return home to find it doesn’t match anything in my closet?

Image credit: @cladwellapp

Image credit: @cladwellapp

You just found the perfect blazer or skirt. It fits like a glove, and even better—it was on sale for fifty percent off. When you get home to show your piece its new home, you realize that it clashes with all your tops and bottoms. How did you let this happen—again? A capsule closet designed around a few base colors with two or three coordinating accent colors ensures that you always match.

 

4. Do I feel comfortable with the way I look in most of my clothes?

This was an unexpected benefit for me after creating a capsule closet. I was able to let go of those dresses that never lay quite right and that pair of jeans I couldn’t fit into anymore. Whenever I put on a piece of clothing now, I know it will fit well and make me feel great wearing it. Instead of feeling self-conscious throughout the day, I feel confident and comfortable.

 

Creating a capsule closet isn’t about forcing someone else’s restrictions on your wardrobe, in fact, having limits can be a huge boost to creativity. Pretend you’re on the food show Chopped while you clear out your closet and design a curated wardrobe.   After all, the train is most free when it’s on its tracks.

Hey Sugar, Sugar

Baking is my love language.  It’s how I love myself by providing time to play with dough and decompress by kneading the heck out of bread.  It’s also how I try to love others, by pumping them full of sugar and carbs.  Who wouldn’t want to be my friend?

Fun fact: I thought I was a good student in high school but had several teachers tell me they gave me A’s because I brought in baked goods.  Were they kidding?  Probably.  But you never know…

We’ve been living in Russia for three months and once I got a lay of the grocery store land, I figured I’d have to hang up my baker’s hat for the time being.  A lot of the ingredients I was used to relying on (vanilla extract, chocolate chips, nuts, etc…) were hard to find.  Plus my gas oven is persnickety and I only have one oven-safe baking dish.

I’ve decided to rise to the challenge instead.  I asked you guys a few weeks ago for your favorite recipes that don’t require a lot of fancy ingredients and you delivered!  I’ll be trying them all out (full list found here) and sharing the recipes and adaptations on the blog.

Without further ado, today’s baking basic is the classic sugar cookie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, for rolling

PRE-STEP: Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Wipe baking dish down with butter wrapper. Set aside.

STEP 1: Stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, vanilla sugar and baking powder in your large bowl, then realize you need the large bowl for the next step and dump it into a medium size bowl. Set aside.

STEP 2: In a large bowl, cream together the butter, and granulated sugar until combined using all the arm strength you’ve got.

 

 

IMG_20171018_183353STEP 3: Add egg yolks.

STEP 4: Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.  You won’t overmix it, because your biceps are exhausted.

STEP 5: Using your hands, scoop dough into balls about 2 tablespoons each, roll in sugar and place onto prepared baking dish.

STEP 6: Bake for 9 minutes, rotate pan to compensate for oven unevenness, then bake for 8 more minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet before moving them to a makeshift egg carton cooling rack.  Let cool completely or eat immediately.

This recipe was adapted from Soft Sugar Cookies by Deliciously Sprinkled.

Luke ate 6 of them in an hour, so I say they are a success!  Crispy on the outside with a soft middle. Next up: buttermilk biscuits with no buttermilk and dutch oven artisan bread without a dutch oven.

Sights and Sounds of Saint Petersburg in the Fall

Each month, I select three daily goals that I aim to hit each day (thanks to my favorite Nomatic planner).  Over the past 12 months, one of those daily goals has been “Russia” and all the related work involved. Between job searching, visa applications, and language acquisition, I’ve checked the “Russia” box consistently for a year.

We’re here now.  The visa work is done, I passed the migration test, and I know enough of the language to survive and buy coffee.

Entering this autumnal season forced me to reflect more on my daily goals for the month.  Bible reading and working out still made the list but I decided to swap out “Russia” with a more reflective ritual that I’d like to incorporate into my daily life in the long-term: Going on walks.  

This is a bit of a cop-out goal because we have no car here so I have to walk everywhere  but there are still days when I don’t have any real need to leave the apartment.   Luke and I love walking together, but I haven’t done a lot of solo adventures so I was excited about this opportunity to slow down every day, put my phone away, and simply exist for a bit while strolling around.  Here’s a little taste of Saint Petersburg in the fall.

My background beat is the steady beep of the pedestrian crossing lights, mixed with rustling wind in the rows of trees that line each street and the little ones screaming in delight when their babuska shakes a leaf off the tree for them.

I see schoolchildren on scooters in their uniforms and moms holding onto little hands while balancing bulging bags of groceries.  The golden orb of an Orthodox church breaks the backdrop of shades of white clouds.  

IMG_20171017_163109-EFFECTS

When the wind blows my scarf from my head to my shoulders, my velcro hair rushes to cover my ears from the crisp air.  Leaves fly across the path, much to the frustration of a worker raking, although you wouldn’t know it by her face.

I pass cafe after cafe and mentally gamble with myself about whether I’ll go in and try to order something complicated.  I usually chicken out and find a bench for reading since that doesn’t require me to speak Russian.

Now that temperatures are flirting with the freezing line, my walks have a different flavour and feel.  Tune in next time for “Saint Petersburg in the Not Quite Winter but It Sure Feels Like It”

Misplaced Funds

If you know me, you know I’m in love with budgeting. In 5th grade, I started my first account ledger not knowing what it was and I’ll continue making them forever just because this is the budget that never ends. But I’ll spare you the subsequent 4,582 verses.

When I was 10, I was budgeting off of my $2.50/hour babysitting income. You don’t have to hit a magical amount of income to stop misplacing your funds and start benefiting from tracking your money.  Even if you think you only have enough money to buy the essentials of life, start tracking that money.  When I didn’t know how much is coming in and out of my  checking account, I tended to fall into one of two dangerous extremes.

  1. Never spending money because you’re worried you don’t have enough.  This was me for most of college.
  2. Spending too much money on things you don’t really need or want 5 minutes after you buy them and then not having money for the things that add value to your life.  Hello, impulse buys.

The solution? You guessed it–start budgeting. I found an incredible amount of freedom and peace from knowing where my money is going. It may mean limiting how many times you go out or saying no to the dress today but it means getting to buy a nicer dress in three  months or being able to take care of the ones you love (and yourself) in retirement.

Working in a foreign currency with a Russian teacher’s salary has given us an added budgeting challenge. My QuickBooks ledgers aren’t as effective here as we balance special international checking accounts with our rubles and kopecks.  

We needed to start fresh with a new budget.  If you’re just getting started budgeting, here’s what worked for us:


  1. Find your net monthly income.  Take out the taxes and anything else taken out of your salary (social security, insurance, 401(K), alimony, etc..)  The easiest way to find this would be to look at your last two pay-stubs for the “Net” number and add those two numbers together.
  2. Multiply the number from #1 by 10%.  If you want to tithe and/or save 10% of your salary each month for retirement, write down this number. Subtract these numbers from #1.
  3. List known recurring expenses and saving goals.  These are bills that are the same every month, like rent, mobile phone, internet, etc…  Also include savings goals, like car maintenance/replacement, large vacations, or a down payment.
  4. Subtract the sum of #3 from #2. This is your monthly disposable income.
  5. Divide your monthly disposable income across the categories that make the most sense for you. For us, these categories are:
    1. Groceries
    2. Transportation
    3. Fun Money (Together & Individual)
    4. Clothing
    5. Vacation
    6. Shoes
    7. Household goods
    8. Gifts
  6. At the end of each month, tally up your expenses in each category and compare it to your estimates from #5.  Make a new budget for the next month.
    1. If you’re under budget in some categories, reduce your estimate for that category and move the money to a different spending or savings category.
    2. If you’re over budget in some categories, see if you can move money from an under budget category.  If you’re over budget in most categories, reduce your spending and tally up expenses each week for the next month to stay on top of your spending.

You  may not spend all or anything from some categories (like Clothing or Vacation).  We choose to “roll-over” those categories so that they accumulate over time.  Think of them as mini-savings account and add what’s left over for next month’s budget!

To track our expenses here in Russia, Luke and I made an old fashioned expense sheet on lined paper with vertical columns separating the categories and a row for each day in the month.  If apps and Excel sheets aren’t your thing, this is a great way to start tracking your cash flow.  For my smartphone savvy friends, I’d recommend YNAB (You Need a Budget) and for those with more intense budgeting and home business needs, Quicken is fantastic.  

After a few months of adjusting and reworking your budget, you’ll be able to maintain the same budget  and stick to your spending and saving estimates!  It may take a while to see the positive results, but keep at it.  Consistently saving, even in small amounts, really does add up! 


This was the last in a series of 5 “Misplaced” blog posts.  If you missed any, you can find them all under the “Misplaced” category. Thanks for joining me as I try to put my kindness, attention, stuff, imagination, and money in their proper places.

In A World of Pure Imagination

Faith, hope, & love.  These three easily recognizable Christian virtues from 1 Corinthians 13:13 are also widely valued as human characteristics that benefit ourselves and our society.   All 3 require an element of imaginative thinking.  To have faith, we must believe in a God bigger than ourselves and our own limited conceptions.  We hope in a future and eternity that we do not physically see, but must imagine.  We love others best when we imagine them as God sees them–immeasurably valued and worthy of glorification through Christ.

Imagination enriches our lives in many other ways too.  Getting lost in a book, dreaming up new businesses, playing make believe with a child.  But when imagination gets misplaced into the hands of an idealist, things get messy.

Idealism sounds nice but has some fairly nasty side effects.  At it’s essence, idealism is the practice of forming expectations about the way the world should operate, especially unrealistically (the dictionary’s words, not mine).  When we start projecting our idealism on a very real world, we set ourselves up for disappointment at best and destruction at worst.

My imaginative ideas about what makes the world better might not actually be good or wise.  Or even if I do happen to strike on a good vision of what the world ought to look like, the way I go about forcing my will on reality will probably hurt others in the process.

But what happened to our hope, our faith, and our love?  Don’t those require some idealism?

Not necessarily.  We need our imaginations to develop our virtues and we need optimism to live out those virtues in this often confusing and hard life.  But idealism and optimism are not the same thing.

The optimist is full of hope for the future whereas the idealist insists that the future fit their vision.  The optimist seeks ways to make the world a kinder place while the idealist works to make the world their kind of place.

Well-intentioned optimists can easily become dangerous idealists when imagination is misplaced.  Living in a country where I don’t speak the language has taught me that the hard way.  Things never go as planned and insisting on forcing my vision inevitably leads to frustration.  I’m slowly learning to redirect my imagination and view this world with optimism instead of idealism.  It’s a process for us perfectionists but I believe it’s worth it.


The last installment of my Misplaced series will hit the blog next week!  It’s about one of my favorite topics–budgeting and personal finance.  Thanks for following along so far!

Dinosaur Dreams

When I was a child I believed that I could be everything I wanted to be, in fact I told my kindergarten teacher I would become a dinosaur when I grew up.  In college, I exchanged that lie for another: “You can do anything, but not everything.”

That’s not true either.

Four years of studying entrepreneurship and economics taught me that we can expand the pie instead of fighting over the last piece.  Our Creator made us creative beings who construct buildings and businesses, families and food, and that’s a beautiful thing.

ECON 101 also taught me that our basic economic resources (land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship) are limited.  We live in a world of scarcity.  There are only so many hours in a day and acres on the earth.

I will never be an Olympic gymnast or piano aficionado, because I’m already too old for those things and I’m not gifted in those areas.  I can’t do everything.  I’m not a photographer or a coffee connoisseur or an amateur guitarist.  I can’t be anything I want.  As I get older, instead of happening upon my “true calling”  I’m mostly just getting good at crossing dreams off my list.

The pessimist in me says I’m giving up on my dreams but really, I’m just finally acknowledging that not only can I not do everything, I can’t even do anything.  Instead of chasing a vague notion of our “vocation”, Luke and I are spending time taking a hard look at the resources we’ve been given.  We still love to dream and scheme about the future but rather than hyping up false hopes, we’re thinking about what God has already provided us and how we can humbly position ourselves to receive the gifts He may have for us in the future.

There isn’t a limited quantity of happiness, wisdom, or fulfillment in the world that only the lucky few get to experience.  It just may not come in the forms we expected when we were 8 or 18. Recognizing that our time and abilities are necessarily limited allows us to more freely explore the possibilities for creation.  It’s okay when the dinosaur dreams go extinct.

The Freedom of Stuff-Forgetfulness

My husband and I are accidental minimalists.  We ditched half of our belongings before moving to California and then cut our stuff in half again before trekking cross-country again.  We recently packed everything we need for a year of living abroad into two suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and a backpack.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard.  We’ve learned a lot over the last two and a half years about what we don’t need to still live well.  Also, I watched a documentary on minimalism once, so that makes me an expert, right?

A quick Google search will uncover a plethora of articles on the benefits of “less is more” and a rising tide of counter-articles based on the idea that minimalism can lead to idolatry of nicer things instead of just lots of things.

Based on my clearly established expertise on the matter, here’s my two cents.

  1. Less stuff makes life easier.

It means less to pack when you’re moving, less options in the closet to paralyze you, and less risk of buying things you don’t really need and letting them clutter your home.  

  1. The freedom of stuff-forgetfulness is better than minimalism or maximalism

Tim Keller wrote a short read on “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.”  It’s a great exposition of what true humility really means and the joy that comes when you stop connecting every experience to yourself.

Likewise, there is a great freedom in just thinking about our stuff less.  Personally, I’ve found that one way to do this is by simply having less stuff.  In order to have less stuff, I’m more thoughtful about my buying decisions so that I don’t buy useless stuff, but that doesn’t mean I have to obsess over every item in my home (or currently, suitcase).  

The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 provides apt warnings against both forms of idolizing stuff–both the quantity and the quality of it.  After reminding the crowd that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” Jesus goes on to tell the parable of a rich man with many quality goods and grains to whom God says:

“Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12: 20 – 21)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the very next verse Jesus exhorts his disciples:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (Luke 12: 22 – 23)

There’s not a perfect number of items in your closet or kitchen utensils in your drawers, but when your decorations take up more mental space than the incredible glory and majesty of our Creator, that’s when it’s time to reevaluate.  For me, it meant shipping off a few boxes to the Salvation Army.  For others, it might mean taking those thoughts hostage and redirecting them towards the things we are called by God to think about.

 Either way, it’s not the stuff that matters as much as the place we give it in our lives.

This post is the third in my “Misplaced” series–click on the words to find my thoughts on misplaced kindness and misplaced attention.  I’ve got a few more up my sleeve, enter your e-mail below if you’d like to follow along.

Rituals of Reticence

“Quiet time” might be one of the most confusing words in the Christanese English Dictionary.  It’s revered, insisted upon, and I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for not doing enough of it, but it’s hard to know what it actually is.  Quiet time involves Bible reading, of course, and definitely some praying.  I hear whispers about worship songs and something about a special chair in a corner with a quilt.  Not to mention #CoffeeAndJesus.  Or should that be #JesusAndCoffee?

I’m an ex-seminary wife, but I’m no theologian so I won’t attempt a dissertation on the means of grace.  However, I think it’s fairly clear from the Bible reading I’ve done that we are called to read God’s Word regularly and come to Him with our prayers, thanksgivings, and worship.

When I think about those activities, they have a common theme of requiring a great deal of attention.  It may or may not be audibly quiet but to be still before God requires, well, being still.  And reading the Bible well requires time, an attention span, and the mental space to reflect.

I still feel like my 5 year-old self who was constantly getting scolded in Sunday School for playing with the Velcro on my shiny patent leather shoes during prayer time. I continually find it a struggle to sit still for long enough to read Scripture well or to place my attention on God instead of myself for more than 10 seconds at a time.

But why should I expect myself to be able to be quiet before God if I’m not quiet any other time of the day?  If I can’t carve out times to think or reflect about anything without obsessively scrolling through my Instagram feed, why would my time with God be any different?

Our attention is so often misplaced, refracted by the prism of technology into infinite beams of distraction–red inboxes, blue newsfeeds, yellow snaps, and rainbows of images–all stealing my ability to focus on just. one. thing.

The habits we allow to rule the majority of our lives will naturally spill over into the times we set aside to intentionally grow in our faith and relationship with God.  If I lose my literacy by skimming online articles and headlines, my ability to read the Bible suffers as well.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Luke and I often remind each other of this quote from Blaise Pascal. The bad news is that it’s harder than ever nowadays to be quiet and alone. The good news is that replacing the rituals of distraction with intentional attention will not only make being quiet before God more natural, it will smooth out some other wrinkles in the rhythm of life.

And sure enough, when we begin to prioritize thinking over texting and listening over “liking”, we find our problems smaller, our hearts calmer, and our minds clearer.

Living in Russia without a traditional 9-5 grind has provided me with the opportunity for more mental space.  This fall, I’m going to focus on growing my attention span and creating rituals of reticence throughout my day.

I’ll be sharing my thoughts on misplaced stuff (not the lost luggage variety) next week! Same place, same time.  You can sign-up for an e-mail notification in the box below.