Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Twitterature– The Kitchen House

the kitchen houseWOW! One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Historical fiction in early 19th-century Virginia, on a plantation. We witness the dynamics between the family in the “big house,” the house “servants” (It was so uncouth to use the word “slave”), the field hands, the overseer, and the protagonist, a little white Irish girl whose parents who had indentured themselves to pay for passage to America, then died on the voyage over. She lived somewhere between the worlds of white and black, of Kitchen House and Big House.

I had to peek at the end to avoid heart failure… the tension was so great!

FIVE STARS!!

5 stars book

Twitterature- book reviews with Modern Mrs. Darcy

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“Good Enough” is Good Enough

For many of us, school is about to start. If you are a teacher, you might start weeping and gnashing your teeth when you read that statement! No matter how much you enjoy it, teaching school has a way of sucking the life out of you — and I’m sure other jobs are the same way.

Sometimes my job gets out of control– I stay too late; bring work home; and even when I’m away it’s on my mind. But I’m better than I used to be! I’m always optimistic that I can manage my work time and tasks better so I won’t be a blob on the couch when I get home. How bout you? I’ve put together some ideas specifically aimed at perfectionists and overachievers– the Marthas of the world. In a job like mine (high school choir teacher), I get a salary and I have some expected outside activities, but I could find or make things to do at school every day till 6:00. But only if SCHOOL (or my program, or looking good in my region, or others’ admiration) were my first priority! I have to find the right balance.

1. Start with some quiet time to think. You’re going to brainstorm, so tell Martha to be quiet while Mary uses her imagination. Don’t let “It won’t work” or “How can I do that?” come in the picture.

2. List your priorities. Then put them in order. Don’t worry about what they SHOULD be– or what your schedule says they are– just what YOU think they are. Here are mine: God, husband, my children, church/service, job. (Don’t overanalyze. Just write down what your first thought is. You can change it later if you want!) If you have been frazzled, what areas do you feel like were neglected?

The next few steps are to be done in layers. First build the skeleton, then come back and add some muscle.

3. Now to the nitty gritty: What activities does your employer REQUIRE of you outside regular hours?

This might be vague, especially if you’ve been a Martha . Ask yourself if your boss would reprimand you if you didn’t do it. (Tell Martha to shut it; she is not welcome in this exercise!) These are the tasks that you MUST do if you want to keep your job. An example in my case is that  I prepare my students for All-Region Choir competitions , UIL Concert and Sight-Reading, a Christmas concert and Pop Show in May.

4. What is required for you to do your job during regular hours?

I have to teach our repertoire to performance or competition level. By doing this the students learn music theory, music history, and vocal and ensemble skills required by the state.

5. Now draw your “yellow lines” around your priorities. (I just read Body by God by Dr. Ben Lerner and he used that concept– You don’t cross yellow lines in traffic, and you don’t cross yellow lines in your schedule. If it’s family time, GO HOME from work!) If work infringes on your family time, I would recommend starting with family time. In a perfect world, I would leave work at ….? Don’t start listing reasons why it won’t work. Just say what time you need to leave in order to make your family time your priority. For me it’s 4:30, an hour after school gets out.

Now remember, Martha, you’re still not making any decisions, just brainstorming!

Now to flesh out your “skeleton.”

1. How can you make your outside expectations fit in your priorities? Remember my All-Region Choir requirement. That could take up all my waking hours if I let it. Here’s how I cut it down to size:

We work on the music in class; we bring in paid voice teachers one afternoon a week, and I offer morning sectional rehearsals. I cheer, encourage, and make online resources available, I’m also available for individual help upon request. What I DON’T do is require everybody to come in for sectionals, or set up times for private lessons for me to work with all of them after school. I would be at school all hours if I did, and my philosophy is it’s THEIR responsibility to practice and get help. If they can do it only with my pushing and holding their hand, they don’t need to do it. They are in high school. And besides, my kids are some of the busiest ones on campus- advanced classes, band, drama, church, sports, etc… They have lots of demands on their time too. I try to make my class time very productive so they will need little outside time.

Brainstorm options to lessen the demands of your requirements.

2. What about your work-hours expectations? I have to teach repertoire, including the theory, history, and technique needed to perform it.

I love making videos and powerpoints or slide shows. However, they are very time consuming. But they engage the kids more than plain old paper or projector do! Yes, but how much more is learned? My very wise mentor asked me one time early in my career (when I was practically living at school), “For the extra 2 hours you put in that project, how many kids honestly benefited more than if you had taught it another way?” And the answer was, “Maybe none.” It was just prettier, flashier, and more fun for me.

If you are a teacher who is trying to scale back work time, and have lesson plans that have worked well, use them again! For heaven’s sake why reinvent the wheel? My wise daughter Sis reminded one of our overachiever perfectionist students who was way too stressed for a high school student that “Good enough is good enough!”

  • Make 1 or 2 projects/units each summer.
  • Collaborate with colleagues. Dropbox or other online resources make this so easy!
  • Google something before you make it! Chances are, somebody else has done it already.
  • Delegate! For me, the obvious thing would be to have students make the videos. More learning for them, less time for me.

If you have an activity you love that is not required, balance the time it takes and the benefits gained. We always sing at our Veterans’ Day programs, For me, the benefits gained are easily worth the time involved: giving my kids the opportunity to learn about the sacrifices made for our country, honoring the Vets, and serving in our community. Easy win, well worth the time involved. But we have sung the National Anthem at events in Houston that end up taking 8-10 hours out of a Saturday. It’s fun for the kids, and a cool experience, but that’s about all. Way too “expensive.” Maybe we could do that every other year, and alternate with singing at a sporting event at our local university.

Be creative and play devil’s advocate. If you have only a certain number of hours– and you do– how can you adapt this activity to make it fit? If you can’t, ditch it.

Let me address the elephant in the room now.

If you have been running and doing and giving much more than is required, and you decide to make your actions match what you say your priorities are, some people will not be happy with you. Anticipate this. You might want to give them a heads-up if you are not going to do some things you’ve been doing. You might want to phase out some activities gradually. But they probably will still be unhappy. You ultimately have to ask yourself who is higher on your priority list, those people or your family? (or whatever other priority you are moving up on your list) The apostle Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Once you’ve brainstormed, leave your list a while. Pray. Think. Get counsel from one of your Board of Directors. Then go back to it and see how you can change your world.

"Good enough" is good enough

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A Merry Heart– A Visit with Mr. Rogers

A merry heart is good medicine…

Proverbs 17:22

I didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers, and my kids didn’t either– no cable– but every time I’ve seen him I’ve wished we had! What a kind man and great teacher. Before you watch the video, let me tell you a story shared by a dear friend of mine:

 He was a superior human being. I’ll always remember being his busboy at The Plaza Hotel. He was running a meeting for PBS execs, and when I brought over more butter for their bread, he stopped what he was doing, turned around to make eye contact with me and said, “Thank you for the butter.” HIS VOICE saying thank you for the butter. Priceless. So kind.

This is a flashback clip of a young boy visiting Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, then the boy all grown up surprising Mr. Rogers at his TV Hall of Fame induction. I know sometimes I can’t take 11 minutes to watch a video and maybe you can’t either– so here are the highlights:

3:00 They sing together. (Cuteness overload!)

5:32 the Awards ceremony begins

7:40 Mr. Rogers’ message. This is the heart of it. FAME is a 4-letter word.

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What’s Your Anchor?

 

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She did it again… Sarah Young wrote one just for me. (Jesus Calling) The visual of the anchor on a short rope tugging you back to where you are supposed to be spoke to me like carrying around the bag of rocks never did. (You know the one– you pray for something but rather than leave it with God, you carry the heavy bag around till next time you pray.)

Let me back up. There have been times when things I should have left with God after I “gave” them to Him– forgiven sins of my own or others; failures, hurt feelings, disappointments; requests for one thing or another– have tied themselves to me like an anchor. I would pray for something. or grant forgiveness; I’d be free of it for a bit, then suddenly– YANK! It jerked me back to it.

“I can’t believe I did that.”
“I can’t believe he did that.”

“Why did she have to say THAT?”

“Why can’t I ever [fill in the blank]?”

“When will it ever happen?”

Every time something OTHER than God pulls us up short, taking control of our minds until we obsess over it, we are allowing it to be our anchor. Maybe it’s a dream you’ve been working toward, and you’ve done your part but now are having to wait. Maybe it’s a relationship you are waiting for healing in. Maybe it’s your health– your finances– your children.

Yes, we are to pray persistently. (the persistent widow in Luke 18) Yes, God sometimes answers prayers in the way we would like. But God does what He chooses (Psalm 115:3), and sometimes it’s not what we, in all our wisdom, want. In the case of relationships, and other people, He allows THEM free will just as He does you. Some relationships will never be healed in your life. But who knows what will happen after you die?

Do we trust God enough to ask for a thing in prayer, and then leave it to Him? To tell Him, “However you choose to answer it is okay with me”? To say, “I receive Your forgiveness and believe what You said, that I am a new creature”? Do we trust His love for us enough to accept “NO?” Or “wait indefinitely?”

Is GOD alone, enough?

Dear Father, I ask that You help our paltry faith when we try to pin You down to proving Your love for us by answering a prayer in a certain way, or at a certain time. Help us believe, Lord.

While you are pondering that, please listen to the wonderful Concordia Choir from Minnesota sing the late Moses Hogan’s “My Soul’s Been Anchored.”

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HighTech 101– The Apple Calendar

Many people that are … Ahem… “Of a certain age” are intimidated with technology, but we CAN be taught! If I can figure this stuff out, anybody can. Auntie Em is here to be on your Board of Directors, so I’m going to do a few posts about some techno-groovy things that I use, and maybe you’ll find something you can use too! I’ll have lots of pictures and give you small bites at a time. Feel free to share with your grandmas and grandpas!

The Apple iPad/iPhone Calendar
I’m relying on my calendar more and more. The more I use it, the more sense it makes (imagine that!) and I’m doing better at remembering to enter things. No matter how good a calendar is, it is useless if you don’t actually USE it lol!
So– here we go.

Here is what it looks like. It should be on your phone or iPad when you get it.

apple calendar

There are different views you can select– list, day, and month on the phone; additional week and year on the iPad — depending on your preference and what you are doing. You can go back and forth. Today we’ll work in the month view.

Here’s how it looks when you start:

apple calendar blank month view

Adding different calendars:

You might want to use different calendars, to avoid confusion. This is the best time to do it, but you can do it later too. Obvious choices are “home,” “work,” “church,” “birthdays,” etc. I find that this helps me because I don’t want to look at everything at once! Tap “calendar” and this dialog box appears. Name your new one and pick a color. (Oops, this is on the DAY view… see at the top? I didn’t do that on purpose.) You can choose “year” and see all 12 months, or “list” and see the next events you have coming up. The “week” and “year” views are available on iPad but not iPhone. (or at least my old-timey iPhone 4!)

name new calendar and pick color

Here’s mine with all my calendars: (You can see how busy it looks when they are all visible.) When I’m blogging, I show only that one. I normally keep “me” and “work” showing all the time. You’ll have to fiddle around with it till you find what you like.

apple calendar all calendars view

Adding and editing events:

You can add an event by touching the date you want. A dialog box will pop up. In the “starts/ends” box you can check “all day” or, if you uncheck it, you can add start and stop times.

  • Note there are spots to add “repeating,” events. This is for yearly events like birthdays, or weekly or monthly events.
  • You can invite people to add it to their calendars (it syncs with your contacts if you have that option checked in settings);
  • Set up to 2 reminders for yourself, beginning with 2 days before and going to 5 minutes before; and choose which calendar to put it on. I don’t use the “availability” option, but if you share schedules or have someone make appointments for you, you would need to mark yourself as “busy” or “free.”
  • Note you can add a URL and notes too. For instance- I have a Prayer Request calendar. This is where I can update that.
  • If you add an address, then you will be able to look it up on your maps app.

apple calendar

If you need to review an event, that’s easy! Touch the event and this box will pop up. Any notes will show. If you need to change something, click “edit.” (Many times when I was first starting to use the calendar, I forgot to put it on the right calendar. You can set a default calendar in “settings.”)

apple calendar

That’s enough for now. If you’ve not tried using your Apple calendar, give it a whirl!

Next assignment: Fun with photos!

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Repainting Metal Furniture: Easy as 1-2-3

We’ve had our little bistro set for a long time– at least 7 years. It began life black, and a few years ago I repainted it this light green color. One of the legs came loose, too, and Mr. Sunshine welded it back for us. (You can see the ring holding it together if you look closely.) Anyway, it was really showing its age… (As you well know, “As we age,” all sorts of things begin to fall apart lol!)

repainting metal patio furniture

repainting metal patio furniture

So I got some rough sandpaper and smoothed over the worst of the bad spots.

repainting metal patio furniture

Then I used an old shower curtain to protect the porch, and prepared to spray. I used a spray primer just on the unpainted spots.

repainting metal patio furniture

Read your directions carefully. Both the primer and paint I used said you can repaint in 15 minutes. (or, oddly enough, 24 hours!) I used Rustoleum, and both the primer and the (hammered textured) paint covered a lot more than I expected. I used only a small amount of the primer, and a little over a can of spray.

To repaint metal patio furniture:

  • Please just buy some cheap work gloves. I didn’t and had to clean up with whatever I had on hand, which was paint THINNER (not remover) and foot scrub. Just about rubbed the skin off my hands! For the 2nd coat I stuck by hand in a grocery bag and held the can. It kept my hands clean but was awkward to work with!
  • Spray with light coats to avoid drips.

1. Use sandpaper or a steel brush to loosen up rust, then clean surfaces.

2. Use primer on rough spots. (Even if the spray paint says “use directly over rust.” It also says “Better results will be obtained if you clean and prime.”)

3. After you think you’re finished, go back and look again. Re-spray “holidays” if you find them. (Those are uncovered spots, where the painter took a holiday!)

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Cute, huh?

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My Delight

Delight yourself in the Lord

Sharing with More to Be today. Come on over and get a good dose of delight!

transfromed_tues_banner_beach

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Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of… English Country Quaint

The Modern Mrs. Darcy has challenged us to share a book we love that perhaps everybody’s missing, because they’ve never heard of it! I can give you a whole opus I bet you’ve never heard of!

Miss Read, pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint, was an English schoolmistress and novelist. She lived almost 100 years and passed away last year.

She was most well known for her 2 series set in tiny English villages, Fairacre (20 books) and Thrush Green (13 books). She also wrote an autobiography, children’s books, a cookbook, and some others not in her 2 main series.

“Saint’s novels are wry regional social comedies, laced with gentle humour and subtle social commentary. Saint was also a keen observer of nature and the changing seasons.” (Wikipedia)

Her books remind me of the novels of Jane Austen and Jan Karon. They are easy reading, sweet, books that explore characters and relationships. No tawdry sex scenes, car chases, or foul language here! Plus, if you get the right edition, they feature sweet illustrations by John Goodall.

And if you’re like me, once you find a book you like, you want to read a lot by the same author… These will last you a while!

Click here for a full bio and bibliography.

 

The Best Book You've Never Heard Of | Modern Mrs Darcy

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A Merry Heart– the 2012 London Olympics

You have probably figured out that I’m a serious Anglophile! But I don’t feel quite so out of place with the rest of the world obsessed with all things English at the moment. Combined with the anniversary of the London Olympic openings, I thought it quite the thing to share these hilarious videos. The Brits really outdid themselves!

Here’s Mr. Bean and the Chariots of Fire theme.

And my favorite, Daniel Craig as James Bond with Her Majesty the Queen as herself. (I got Dressing the Queen by Angela Kelly, where they featured the peach dress she wears. Her dressmakers made 2 identical dresses, and like the discreet royal employees there are, never asked or told!)

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Real Food Challenge– What Do I Eat?

As you know if you’ve been reading this week, Auntie Em has taken on The 7-Day Real Food Challenge presented by Mary’s Kitchen. As I said in my “What Do You Mean, Real Food Challenge?” post, that may mean different things to different people. A very strict Real Food diet would include ONLY fresh, whole food in its original form. That’s more restrictive than fits my lifestyle, so rather than toss it out completely, I’m doing a modified one. (You can read my guidelines on the “What Do You Mean?” post.)

(Obviously) Eat Fresh or Frozen Fruits and Veggies.

Limit your fruits if you are trying to lose weight or keep your sugar down, as they are higher in natural sugars. Real butter is a real food– flavor with that or with olive oil. Don’t use margarine or “lite” stuff. This kind of cooking/eating is time consuming, so be smart about it: Cook larger quantities and then just reheat them for subsequent meals. Here are just a few Auntie Em recipes:

Auntie Em’s Country Squash

Tropical Fruit Salad

“Complicated” Fruit Salad (It’s really effortless!)

Garden Fresh Broccoli

Broccoli Salad

Green Beans

For several months I’ve been starting my day with a packet of oatmeal. *bangs head on table* Compare the ingredients in the first picture (pre-packaged) and the canister (1-minute rolled oats).

I don't know what these are. Do you?  ingredients only rolled oats

These still wouldn’t pass muster on a strict Real Food diet, but they are a lot closer than the boxed, packaged stuff. Rule of thumb: The more steps between original food and your mouth, the less “real” it is. Mr. Quaker Oats had to do something to make those oats cook in 1 minute. (For a simple explanation of the journey from oats from the field to steel cut oats, to rolled oats, to quick oats, check here.)   I made up a “2-serving” batch (1 cup of oats, 2 cups water) and added a chipped-up apple, a tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 TBS maple syrup. Good! 2/3 cup was plenty. I added a TBS of vanilla almond milk for a little extra and it was quite tasty. A little more trouble up front, but now for several days I will be able to just microwave it like the little package.

From packaged oatmeal to quick oats: Progress!

I used to take 4 packets of Splenda in my large mug of coffee. (Don’t judge) Now, I pour my half and half and sip. Not terrible. Then I add ONE Splenda and it tastes quite sweet enough!

4 Splenda packets to 1: Progress!

I’ve used spaghetti squash in place of pasta– a lot of trouble but okay taste and texture. Today I julienned zucchini and sautéed it, then topped with spaghetti sauce. Just as good, and much less trouble!

Pasta to vegetable: Progress!

Main dishes

A salad is great! Add chicken or any other meat you grilled last night. Be wary of croutons and salad dressing. Those are often very processed. Make your own salad dressing- cheaper, healthier, and you get exactly what you want. Soups and stews are another great way to eat clean. Add homemade broth and fresh or frozen veggies to meat and you’ve got it.

Desserts

I made this paleo strawberry shortcake that was pretty good. I used real whipped cream, not Cool Whip.

{Guiltless} Paleo Strawberry Shortcake | Fitcupcaker

I haven’t fixed many desserts– if anything, we are mostly eating fruit — because we are trying to cut calories too. And as my wise son said, “If it’s superfluous, why eat it?”

I hope I’ve given you a bit to “chew on” in your Real Food journey!

Mary's Kitchen: Real Food Challenge day 3

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