28 February 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday: Favorite Worship Albums

A few more favorites, this time three of my favorite worship albums. Since I'm not on my own computer tonight (using Christopher's laptop instead so I don't have to freeze downstairs), I won't include images. Might update that later, but none for now.

Life has been kind of crazy, but there's something about remembering who God is and the price that Christ paid for our freedom that is so peace-instilling in the midst of all the crazy. That's when I'm grateful for the worshipful hearts of others that capture thoughts I've been trying to piece together for years. 

Please note that I hold nothing against more mainstream worship albums. I have my share of Chris Tomlin, DCB, Desperation, and Hillsong just like the rest of us - these just hold a special place in my heart. And, yes, I am aware that none of these artists are releasing music these days. Here's hoping they do again soon (except for maybe Delirious?, who had a long and glorious run - ending with the incredible Kingdom of Comfort), but that's a digression...

Jason Morant - Open (2006)
I don't remember just when I first heard this album, but I remember it belonging to my brother. Somehow, I inherited it with a bunch of his other CDs, and it has become an easy favorite. There's a simplicity and beauty in Morant's understanding of God in "Holy" and "Veils" - calls for me to see Him for Who He is and not for what I can so readily make Him out to be. "Offering," "Display My Love," "All of Me," and "At Your Feet" all speak to the desperate desire we have to be able to offer something of worth back to Christ for all He has done for us. And last, but certainly not least, is my favorite track - "Hosanna." Eight minutes long, this beautiful song has a chorus built around traditional Latin liturgy: "Hosanna / Filio David // Hosanna / in Altisimis //" (Hosanna / Son of David // Hosanna / in the Highest //). Goosebumps every time I hear it. It's like being in a European cathedral and worshiping Jesus. Amazing.

Delirious? - The Mission Bell (2005) 
Delirious? made a lot of worship albums, including World Service, which remains a close second to Mission Bell. There's something raw and quirky about this one, however - the main reason it remains my favorite from the band. Chris and I both love the version of "Solid Rock," rap courtesy of TobyMac included. It's awesome. "All This Time" and "Miracle Maker" remind you just Who is in charge of this whole life thing. "Our God Reigns" is brutally honest about the condition of the world around us, but the emphasis on God's promise and sovereignty through it all still gives me chills. My two favorite tracks are the album's last: "Take Off My Shoes" and "I'll See You" - reminders of God's holiness and the incredible gift Christ gave us when He bought our entrance into His presence.

Something Like Silas - Divine Invitation (2004)
We got a lot of random CDs from Hoi Polloi, a huge music festival that the Christian community in Denver tried to get going at the Pepsi Center one year (or maybe two - we only went one). Amidst the large selection of junk that you get with samples was a Something Like Silas single. One of my absolute favorites is "Spirit Waltz," a relaxed kind of ditty that somehow holds incredible power in its words and understanding of the depths of God's love. Some of the slower songs carry vocals a little reminiscent of Copeland's In Motion, particularly "I Fall" and the title track. Another standout for me is "Infinite," describing the breadth of God and how His infinite nature enables us to trust Him in His full sovereignty. If you enjoy this album, you might like the band that emerged from SLS - Future of Forestry. 

26 February 2012

No Weekend Workroom this week...

Sorry, everyone. I know you've waited with baited breath (because, apparently, we all know what that means even though the phrase doesn't make much sense) for my next project post, but I'll let you in on my last few days:

Wind + Me = Allergies + Massive 3-day Headache

Therefore... not much happening around here the past few days, much less projects. Stupid, stupid wind. I was plugging away on my blanket for a while, but I stopped a few days ago.

Hoping to get life back on track tomorrow. Until next time, I bid you adieu.

18 February 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday: Phoenix Edition

We were recently blessed to be able to go down to Phoenix and see our dear friends who left us over the course of the last year to do the noble task of infusing a GC church with their energy, love, faith, and talents. It was great to see the fruit that God is bearing in their midst, mostly through relationships.

While we were there, however, we enjoyed the crazy restfulness of tagging along with Eddie and Jen, two of our best friends who just happen to be married to each other. Here are some of the treasures we found along the way...

Treasure #1: Warmth in the Winter
When we left, it was 19 degrees in Colorado. We spent the weekend in the beautiful mid-winter 70s. And it was glorious. Another trip is already on next winter's to-do list.

Treasure #2: Annual VNSA Used Book Sale
The Volunteer Non-Profit Service Association (VNSA) has put on an annual used book sale for 56 years now, collecting books throughout the year by way of drop boxes throughout the city and using the proceeds to help the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation and the Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County. We went on a whim, thinking it would be a few folding tables on the streets downtown - and we missed the mark a bit on our expectations.

The sale had more than 500,000 items this year, from books to movies and music, and the selection is something quite impressive. If you know what you want, there's a good chance that it'll pop up somewhere in the well-organized sale. And, even though we stood in line for more than an hour just to get in, going with friends allowed for a great chance to talk in the sunshine. It's a good thing we came with room in our bags because if there's anything that Chris and I love, that would be books at a great price.

Check out http://vnsabooksale.org for more and details on next year's sale!

Treasure #3: In-N-Out Burger
I didn't used to understand the appeal, but maybe I grew up or spent more time on the West Coast or something, because I do sincerely enjoy the simplicity of the burgers at In-N-Out. Arizona is close enough to a distribution center that they have quite a few - not bad when you live in a state where there are none.

from Arizona State Parks web gallery

Treasure #4: Sedona
True, Sedona isn't in Phoenix, but it's an easy day trip when snow isn't a consideration. We stopped by the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built in the rock formations just outside of the city, and drove a bit further north to Slide Rock State Park, which was a great little afternoon hike. The water's a bit chilly to take advantage of in the middle of the winter (even in Arizona), but it's still incredible to look around at the glory God has displayed through His creation.

The Antiques Plaza, from Google
Gotham City Comics, from Google

Treasure #5: Main Street Mesa
While a lot of the church played Ultimate on Sunday afternoon, a few of us ladies wandered to Main Street in Mesa. We checked out the Antique Plaza, a coffee shop, and Gotham City Comics. It was a great way to spend the afternoon, but be aware that not everything is open on Sunday afternoons. Saturdays or weekdays are better days to see even more of this great downtown.

Treasure #6: Desert's End
This growing group of believers is full of good friends, both newer and older, and has a heart centered on the Gospel in great ways. It's a great place to stop in when visiting the city or to suggest to someone who is looking for a church in the area. There is good fruit growing here, and that is perhaps the greatest and most encouraging treasure of all. Every Sunday includes a service, pot-luck, and Ultimate - all resulting in life-giving fellowship. For more info, check out the church's newly launched web site at http://desertsend.com.

Weekend Workroom: Two Favorite Recipes

Thanks for bearing with my inconsistency... our camera is totally on its last leg (if it hasn't already finished its last leg - we're still waiting to figure that out), and the result is that I've been preoccupied and not quite able to get into my groove. I'm hoping to stockpile some entries this weekend so that they're ready to go for next week. I think that's how most people do it, anyway...

Regardless, I wanted to share two of our favorite recipes. One is a more recent find and one was adopted really early into our marriage. Both are super-simple, so I hope you might give them a try as well!

One of our more recent finds has been Broccoli Chowder with Cheddar Toasts from the Great Easy Meals cookbook put out by the Food Network. I received the cookbook as a birthday gift last year, and almost everything we've made from it has been simple and has tasted amazing. This soup has a great base to it, which means it's versatile - you can make almost any kind of chowder using the base and I'm fairly certain that it would be excellent. Granted, it has bacon in it, so unless you don't like bacon it kind of has to be great, right?

Anyway, we've adapted it a little to suit our own tastes, but the original recipe can be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/broccoli-chowder-with-cheddar-toasts-recipe/index.html

The first thing we changed is kind of major - we use half a pound of bacon instead of two slices. We use bacon a lot as our protein in the winter because you can use half a pound at a time in soups and get a lot of eating out of it. Especially if you can find a great deal on bacon, it's a great meat to use.

As with just about all of my soups, I add more vegetables than recipes call for, and here we added a small can of yellow corn, the broccoli was frozen rather than a fresh head (for approximately a dollar a bag for the store brand, I love the freshness and convenience of the frozen vegetable section), and I think I put in more potatoes than I'm supposed to, but I love potatoes.

It becomes a really colorful and flavorful soup when it's all put together. Easily good for four servings, and since it uses milk instead heavy cream or half and half to give it its cream base, it's a lot better for you than most cream soups, too.

We also don't make the "cheddar toasts," partly because I'm trying to be a bit healthier than cheese broiled on bread most days, but also because there's something great about how a simple whole-grain baguette or piece of bread just tastes better. At our grocery store, they have take and bake baguettes, which are awesome because I don't have to make it right away to prevent it from going crusty - I can make it when I'm ready. Whoever came up with that = genius.

This last time, we also sprinkled some fresh cilantro from my garden on top. Great light flavor that ties in really well with the whole thing.

The other recipe is a really simple way to make chicken fajita mixtures, which we turn into enchiladas. I adapted it out of a slow cooker cookbook several years ago, and it's one of the great meals we look forward to fairly regularly.

Therefore, The Reynolds' Chicken Enchiladas:

Ingredient List
12 oz. red salsa (fresh or canned; medium is best heat level)
1.5-2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken (can be light or dark meat)
1 bag frozen 3-pepper and onion blend
   or 2.5-3 cups sliced yellow onion and colored bell peppers
6-8 tortillas
1.5-2 lbs mixed cheese (colby jack, Mexican blend, etc.)
1 small can diced green chilies (from Old El Paso or Hatch)
olive oil spray

The first thing is to spray the slow cooker well with an olive oil spray. I prefer olive oil, but you could use most any other cooking spray that isn't butter (unless you really like butter) - there's a few varieties to choose from at just about every grocery store.

Start layering. Dump the salsa into the bottom, and make sure it coats the bottom before adding more ingredients. You can just pick up the slow cooker and swish it around to do this. Then, place your chicken on top of the salsa. The salsa is your liquid, so this helps the chicken be really tender and fall apart at the end of the cooking process.

I love that this recipe is really versatile when it comes to the chicken you use. We've tried it with chicken breasts (light meat) and thighs (dark meat), and it has been great every time. You can also use either frozen or fresh chicken pieces, so even if you don't have time to defrost chicken before putting it in the slow cooker, it still works and works wonderfully.

After the chicken, layer in the onions and peppers. If you have extra pieces of fresh peppers lying around (this happens to us a lot, since there are only two of us), feel free to chop those up and add them in so that they don't go to waste.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of the cook time, turn on the broiler for your oven.

When the filling is done, break up the meat with a pair of tongs or some forks and make sure the meat is well-mixed with the vegetables and remaining salsa. It should just fall apart.

Spray a standard 9x13 baking dish with the same spray used on the slow cooker, and begin rolling the filling into tortillas. For 8-inch tortillas, we use 3/4 cup filling for each, which typically results in 6-8 enchiladas, dependent upon how much chicken mixture you have and/or if you'd like to save some for nachos or quesadillas (it's a very versatile mixture).

Over the rolled enchiladas, spread out the mild green chilies and the cheese (see first picture from above) and place the baking dish in the oven for broiling. Broil for a few minutes (keep a close eye on your meal) to melt the cheese and warm the tortillas a bit. Some like their cheese a little browned, and some don't - so I'll leave that up to you.

When desirably melted, remove from the oven and serve with sour cream, fresh cilantro, extra salsa, or whatever you would like to add to your dinner.

And there you go - simple, tasty chicken enchiladas!

07 February 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday: Some Recent "Mainstream" Favorites

Another new feature is kind of a take-off of something I typically do anyway, which is share what I've been listening to/what my favorite albums are and other things that I particularly enjoy, such as books, TV shows, movies, etc. - Basically just things that I consider "treasure" in the midst of all the junky media that can often drown out the better things in life. Each week, I want to highlight favorites from a certain category.

This week, I want to introduce you to some of my more recently discovered "mainstream" favorites (like, say, from the last three years or so). Don't be confused, however, not all of these are the most recent releases by the artists - just ones that I've latched onto in more recent years and that continue to be played wherever I can find music.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - This is Somewhere (2007)

Now, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals DO have a more recent album, their 2010 self-titled third album, but this is the album that made me fall in love with the Southern rock and blues style that makes this group very different from a lot of other music. It's like a road trip through the South, some fast, some ambling, from "Apologies" (the first tune I heard off the album and perhaps still my favorite) to "Big White Gate" and "Ain't No Time." Typically, I make sure not to listen to "If I was from Paris," which took me a few listens to realize was a little sketch. But an all-around great album. Also great, the band's first album, Nothing but the Water, which is quickly becoming Christopher's favorite.

Monarch - Lowly (2007) 

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled onto Monarch, but I remember being floored enough by their debut, The Grandeur that was Rome, that I ordered the CD from Northern Records' web site (something very uncommon for me). Lowly, the band's follow-up, tones down the band's vibe a bit for a more mainstream-sounding album - though perhaps they are still far from mainstream. The album doesn't appear to be available on iTunes as it once was, but is definitely worth a listen. Favorites include the crazy drop-in on "Lose It All," the haunting simplicity of "Save Your," and the memorable title track where the choir-backed ending is chilling and poignant.

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (2010)

At this point, I think everyone knows about Mumford (and if you don't, you might actually have been living under a rock). The thing is, while most heard "Little Lion Man" hit the airwaves about 18 months ago, I heard "Timshel" for the first time in April of 2010. I couldn't get it out of my head for days because it was so incredibly pervasive and haunting. Therefore, my purchase. Destined to be one of the best albums of this generation, Sigh No More is some strange concoction of whirling dervish, folk, and bluegrass that somehow draws even the least country-inclined individual into its grasp. The band set out to make music that mattered - and I'd say they succeeded.

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow (2011)

The first time that Joy Williams stepped onto the touring circuit, I saw her perform at a church with Avalon and some other contemporary artists. While I was impressed with her vocal prowess, I wasn't terribly with whoever was writing her songs. Apparently, I had reached the point in my life where I needed more than the confections that CCM offered then (and still does now). One of the reasons I loved Williams' last solo effort, Genesis, was that it did offer something a bit deeper. Once dropped from her label, she released a few EPs on iTunes through her own management group, filled with great songs like "We Mapped the World" and my personal favorite, "Speaking a Dead Language." 

And then she paired up with this guy. There's something about John Paul White's ability to tone down Williams' voice, and the folksy style they adopted that is incredibly captivating. When "Poison and Wine" was released, it caused a minor ripple in the industry. This crazy independent duo was making music with a fairly resounding impact. Live from Eddie's Attic tided fans over until Barton Hollow was released early last year. I tried to wait until midnight so I could buy it on iTunes, but fell asleep. Instead, I purchased it the next morning, and I have loved it ever since. Particular favorites: "The Violet Hour," "My Father's Father," and the more traditionally country "Forget Me Not."

06 February 2012

Weekend Workroom: Learning the Chevron

So... this is why I haven't attempted regular features in the past: Life happens. In this case, life being the fact that our computer is currently not opening applications correctly. Therefore, I am currently re-installing applications and attempting a large-scale cleanup.

And that is why this post was delayed because, even though I took pictures and had things ready to go on Friday (go me!), I couldn't access Photoshop on our computer and I don't substitute with iPhoto, so... At long last, here we go.

As I mentioned in my post-Christmas post, I received some great books on crochet stitches for Christmas and was eager to get to work learning new ones. I've taken up a similar approach to what I do with new recipes - I mark when I actually conquered them (a simple date) under the name of the stitch itself. I've learned a few new things (and have kind of taught myself how to crochet properly - or at least the terminology that allows me to follow patterns, since I figured it out on my own many years ago).

One of these things has been the wonder of the chevron. There are a lot of chevron patterns to be had, certainly, and the book I'm using, Basic Crochet Stitches by Erika Knight (Interweave Press), has no shortage of them. I was drawn to the "Close Chevron Stitch" because it was a tighter and shorter pattern (and I'm not so great at counting my opening stitches, so shorter = easier to keep track of at first), plus it has an extra bit of gathered texture due to the tightness of the chevrons.

I decided to start a blanket for Chris, since I haven't made him one before. It might end up being a birthday present or an anniversary present because it'll take me a while to finish, but it was neat to go to the store with him and watch him pick out what he thought would go well together.

He settled on three yarns: A bronze-colored tan, a mossy green, and a variegated yarn with both colors, plus some dusty blues and a hint of aqua thrown in the mix. I've been alternating colors/yarns in sets of four rows, with the variegated between each solid color block. While the yarn's weight and size was meant to be used with an I hook, I used a J hook because I don't have an I hook. It essentially just makes the stitches a tiny bit bigger.

The one piece that is kind of distracting is that, at the beginning, I wasn't quite sure how to compensate for the extra stitches I kept running into at the end of my rows, so the first few rows are a bit longer than the rest of the blanket (if you come over once it's done, don't judge me). I'm not the type of crafter who is willing to put the work in again (it's like a half an hour for each row, people!), so I left it as it was. It's not highly noticeable. The book just says something like, "Repeat row 2," which isn't quite accurate, since rows 1 and 2 need to be handled just different enough at the ends.

Essentially, just take it as a reminder that practicing a new stitch for several rows on a smaller scale is good - that way, you can work out the kinks and not end up with them on your bigger piece of work.

In other news, our fabric store in town moved to its new location at the end of last week, which resulted in a severe markdown on many things (90% sometimes) that I've been looking at and hoping for a great markdown on in recent months. I think I spent somewhere in the ballpark of $14 total, but I wound up with a ton of great things for future projects.

Hydrangea stems (hello!), which I've been looking at for many, many months, were marked down to ~80 cents apiece. Compared to the $6-8/stem price tag they typically sport, I was more than eager to take them off the store's hands, and incorporate them as a new addition to our living room. I also got a pair of bamboo bag handles for about the same price (see below, with fabric remnants).

The big score, however, was that Simplicity patterns were on sale for $1.99 apiece. Seriously? I love making things, and often end up doing so from scratch or from free Internet patterns since the store-bought patterns usually run in the $12-18 range. So, I stocked up for future projects, and I'm seriously stoked to do something I've been wanting to learn for a while: How to make clothes!

First, however, I have a few things that are also on my to-do list: Continue the chevron blanket (naturally), a new purse for myself that is work-appropriate (using fabric remnants above, which I found in the bin at Walmart when I bought squid material), a Bible-cover how-to (per Laura's request), designing a new cross-stitch project (apparently my memory of what happened before Christmas has rubbed off a bit), and I'd really like to make some more earring sets because I still have a lot of beads floating around... Stay tuned.