Monday, January 31, 2022

January Brighter Winter Reading Challenge

Charity and I both enjoyed the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge this month. Nothing beats reading a  good book on cold winter evenings. Here are a few of our favorites read this month.

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Charity - Read a book published in 2021.
Turtle Heart by Lucinda J. Kinsinger
The unlikely friendship between a young Anabaptist woman and an elderly Indian woman is the subject of this thought provoking memoir. Lucinda is challenged to work through what she really believes about God, salvation, and much more. I found this book hard to put down and written in a way that made me feel for the real life characters and their struggles.

Gina- Read a book written by a female missionary and read a biography.
Mimosa by Amy Carmichael
As a young girl, Mimosa was told about a God who loved her. She had never heard the name of Jesus, and she didn't have a Bible, but for many years afterwards, she faithfully served God in her Hindu village in India without any Christian support. This story is inspiring, yet sobering, because I have so much more than Mimosa had, yet I wonder if I live as faithfully to the truth I know.

Charity - Read a new-to-you middle-grade book.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
What can I say, but that I feel cheated that I didn’t meet Caddie and her family as a child! As I read about Caddie I was reminded of Laura Ingalls and all the delightful hours I spent in her books. Caddie is a lively tomboy living in Wisconsin surrounded by hard work, mischievous brothers, Indian friends, and a faithful dog. A delightful middle-grade book that made me want to turn back time.  

Gina - Read a book published in 2021.
I think one of the Home Joys readers recommended this book to me. Every week four women knit prayer shawls in the chapel, but their pastor has a bold plan for the women to knit in a public place. This book has the charm of a Mitford book, and though the plot is a bit predictable, I found myself wondering, what would happen if several women knitted in the mall each week and offered to pray for people? The result might be as amazing as in the book.

Charity - Read a book set in winter and a book borrowed from the library.
Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks & Micah Sparks
Two brothers set out on a once in a lifetime trip around the world in three weeks. With all the skill of a gifted novelist,  Nicholas Sparks writes about their trip while also remembering growing up with his brother, sister, and parents. Warning: this book is gripping. I laughed, I cried, and I read fast. I have never read any of Spark's novels, but I can recommend this true story of two brothers that learned the value of family. 

Gina - Read a book about food.
The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
I cook every day, but not like this. Ruhlman takes the reader behind the scenes into the Certified Master Chef exam and into the kitchens and dining rooms of two award-winning chefs. The food he describes is so far out of my league that I can't even visualize it. He is describing an unknown culture. But his writing is superb and I found the book riveting. (Note: I didn't appreciate the one chef's use of profanity.)

Gina - Read a collection of essays
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
I love Gladwell's books but find them hard to define. Gladwell is a journalist who does an amazing job at connecting unrelated subjects to give insight. Whether he writes about dog training, finding criminals, or the difference between marketing ketchup and mustard, Gladwell always surprises me by the way he makes me think in new ways. These essays were first published in The New Yorker and kept me riveted.

I can't wait until February1st so I can start the February Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Making Yogurt in an Instant Pot

 Long-time readers may remember how slow I was to climb on the Instant Pot craze. But one thing that has become a routine in my kitchen is making yogurt in the Instant Pot. It is so simple and always turns out. No more milk boiling over on the stove or struggling to keep the proper temperature.

I start by pouring a gallon of milk in the Instant Pot. I use raw cow's milk, but other types of milk will work too. 

On my pot, I have a "yogurt" button. I press that button then toggle the "manual" button until it shows "boil." I place the lid on the pot, and it brings the milk to the perfect temperature - very hot but not quite boiling.

Meanwhile, I get out my yogurt culture. I buy a quart of plain yogurt and freeze it in an ice cube tray. I keep these yogurt cubes in the freezer. When I make yogurt, I pull out two ice cube portions and allow them to thaw.

When the Instant Pot beeps to show it came up to temperature, I sit the insert in a sink of cold water to cool the milk. I occasionally stir the milk, but usually just walk away and forget it for an hour. I want the milk to be below 110 degrees. 

When the milk has cooled, I mix a cup of milk with my yogurt culture and stir it well. Then I stir the culture into the whole pot of milk and again stir well. 

Next I place the pot of milk back in the Instant Pot and again hit the "yogurt" button. I press "manual" until it gets to "8:00." This will incubate the yogurt for 8 hours. I sometimes let this incubate overnight. Other times I start the incubating in the morning.

At the end of 8 hours, I pull the pot insert out of the Instant Pot, cover the top, and place in the refrigerator without stirring. After it is totally cool, I take the first dip into the fresh yogurt. I'm always  awed that the liquid milk has turned into a totally different product. I then stir the yogurt well and place it into containers for serving.

Obviously this makes a lot of yogurt which is perfect for a large family. My favorite way to eat yogurt is with granola. You can add sweetener to the yogurt before you incubate it, if you wish. I prefer it plain, but my children like it a little sweeter.

Yogurt intimidated me until I tried it and found out how truly simple it was. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Shaping Surroundings for Good Habits

For the last number of years, I've done a series in January that has had something to do with Bible reading and schedules.  

2021- 30-Day Phone Challenge

2020 - Friends share Goals and Routines that Work 

2019 - Friends share Choosing His Words

In the last five years or so, I've read several very good books on habits. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig, Switch: How Change Happens When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and Atomic Habits by James Clear. I read a lot of books in a year, and maybe it shows the value of these books that I can remember so much about each one, though some were read quite a few years ago. (This post contains affiliate links.)

But, of course, it is not enough to read a book and agree with what it says. A book on habits has no power unless it changes my habits. 

I know from reading about habits, that change best happens when we make a specific plan to make the good habit "obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying." (from Atomic Habits)

"If you're having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn't you. The problem is your systems. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don't want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change." James Clear in Atomic Habits

Lots of people make goals at the beginning of the new year, including me. And it shouldn't be a surprise that when I make a goal without thinking through how I'm going to make that goal a habit, it flounders by mid-January. 

Since last January, I've been thinking about the changes I want to make and why some of them can't seem to become consistent habits. 

For example, in the last few years, I've been terrible at planning. All kinds of planning. Planning meals. Planning grocery lists. Planning schedules. As the result, I often feel like I'm running behind, not knowing what I'm going to make for dinner tonight. Going grocery shopping only to get home and find I missed a necessary items. Completely forgetting an appointment. 

While I feel like I'm doing relatively well holding together and most people in my life think I'm organized, I know how scattered I feel inside. 

Last January I made it my goal to begin using my planner again. At one time I used my planner often. I covered it with to-do lists, reminders, and random thoughts. But the last few years, the pages have been blank. I knew that if I would begin to consistently write things down, I would feel less disorganized. 

But I had no plan for how I'd actually begin this new habit and nothing changed. 

And that is just one example. I could make great goals, but unless I knew how I was going to incorporate them into my life, nothing would change.

So I've spend the last couple months thinking about my specific routines. I don't have babies anymore. I'm crawling out of the grief fog. My life is fuller than ever, but it has more predictability than in past years. I knew I could find a way to shape my environment to encourage better habits. 

Now is when I start to feel silly. This probably isn't worth sharing on a blog post. And I know it is only January 19 - too soon to tell if this will truly work. But I've been analyzing this for months, it isn't a hasty idea, and I've been slowly making tiny changes, so I think this will last. 

I'm also hesitant to share this because you may not need, or want, to copy me. I'm only giving this as an encouragement to look at your life, consider the changes you want to me, and find ways to shape your environment to make the changes work for you.

One problem I found was that I had things scattered around the house. I read my Bible on the couch, but if I wanted to journal, it was beside my bed. I kept my planner in the kitchen, so if I had an idea before bed, it wasn't handy. 

My bedroom is small and can tend to be the catch-all room. For example, it contains a large bookcase that contains school materials and teacher's manuals. There isn't many options on moving furniture in that space. But a few weeks ago I had an inspiration. By moving the large bookcase in the opposite corner, I was able to squeeze out space for a chair and a small bookshelf. I picked up a lamp at Goodwill and instantly I had a comfortable spot that I couldn't wait to use. 

This comfy spot became what I needed to shape better habits. My Bible, journal, and planner now have a home. I anticipate sitting there each morning and evening to plan my day. Walking in my room became a delight. And my phone is not kept in this space. No longer am I faced with the temptation to check my phone before reading my Bible because I have a lovely place to read my Bible, with no phone in sight.

Ask me in a few months how it is going, but because I've shaped my surrounding to support my goals, I think this will give long-term benefit.

I'd love to hear how you set up your home to encourage good habits.


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