Friday, September 30, 2011

Food For Thought - Revisited

This week has been just plain nutty!  There's not much more I can say about that, except,

"EEK! Next week doesn't look much better!"

I told Brett last week that I seriously needed to get a handle on our daily schedule as I felt the waters closing in.  And then I turned around filled everyday this week with "important stuff".  Blurg.

But it's not all a loss.  I did carve out time this week to ...

~ get laundry done twice (so much better than the one time last week which resulted in six loads!)
~ play a cut-throat game of Sequence with Ashley (she's quite the card shark)
~ spend time reading my Bible (first I had to dust it off ... hence to drowning sensation of last week)
~ walk the kids to school and back almost daily (great for the mornings I opted to sleep through my workout)
~ take a trip to the park with the baby girls (no agenda, just playing and eating)
~ hose down the 3,472 cobwebs from the front porch (shudder ... I still feel a little itchy and buggy)
~ paint my toes (at least some part of me feels fancy)
~ browse my foodie magazines, choose and prepare several yummy meals this week (but not one picture has been dumped from my camera and my schedule doesn't allow for much creativity in writing).

So ... this week I dug through the archives and found a fall post from last year to share with you.

With the crisp cool weather, maybe one of these recipes would warm up your home ... and your bellies!

Slow Cooker Lasagna
(from "Taste Of Home ~ The New Slow Cooker") 

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 29 oz can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 8 oz package no-cook lasagna noodles
2 cups mozzerella, shredded
12 oz cottage cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
In a large pot brown the beef with the onion and garlic.  Add the sauce, water, paste and oregano and mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine the cheeses and egg.  Mix well.  Spread 1/4 of the meat sauce in the crock-pot.  Arrange a few noodles over the meat - break them if necessary to make a complete layer. Spoon 1/3 of the cheese on the noodles.  Then meat, noodles, cheese, meat, noodles, cheese, meat.

meat layer
cheese & noodle layer

Put the cover on and cook on low for 4-5 hours until the noodles are tender.  Yum!

The kids scarfed this meal down!

Five Can Chili
(from yours truly!) 
1 pound ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
Ground Red Chili Pepper
1 can each of pinto, kidney, dark kidney and chili beans
1 28 oz diced tomatoes

Doesn't get much easier!
Brown the beef in a skillet with the garlic.  Season to taste with cumin and chili pepper.  Transfer to crock-pot.  In a colander, drain and rinse all the beans except for the chili beans.  Dump all the beans into the crock-pot.  Drain the tomatoes of some of their juices and transfer them to the crock pot.  Add a few shakes of basil and stir.  I let this sit on low for 5-6 hours.  We serve our chili with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheese and, for the adults, some fresh chopped onion.

(We'll be having this chili for dinner on Sunday ... a no-cook, homemade meal!)

Slow Cooker Enchiladas
(from "Taste Of Home ~ The New Slow Cooker") 

1 pound ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can pinto beans, rinsed & drained
1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 10 oz can diced tomatoes
1/3 cup water
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups cheddar, shredded
6 flour tortillas

beginning layers
In a pot, cook beef, onion and green pepper until no longer pink.  Add everything else except the cheese and tortillas - mix well.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Spray the crock-pot with a little cooking spray before starting the layers.  Begin with about 1 cup of the beef mixture, followed by one tortilla and 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat layers until your run out!  Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours.  We topped our with a bit of sour cream.  Delish!


Pork Carnitas
(from "Dinner Doctor") 
3 lb pork roast
1 small onion, chopped coarsely
1 4 ox can chopped green chilies
1 package taco seasoning
1 cup water
3-4 green onions, chopped
Burrito makings:  tortillas, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, avocado, salsa, etc.
Place the roast in the crock-pot and toss in the onions and green chilies.  Pour the taco season packet on top and pour the water over everything.  Put the lid on and walk away!  Warning:  about two hours into this cooking, your house will be filled with the most delicious aroma.  You will spend the day salivating!

Simmered to perfection!

About 30 minutes before dinner, take the roast out and place it carefully on a plate.  With two forks, pull the roast apart.  You are wanting to have shredded pork when you are finished.  Transfer the meat back to the crock-pot and stir all the meat, onions and chilies back together.  At this point, I like to toss in the green onions for some extra color and a fresh flavor.  All that's left is to serve it up!  We wrap our carnitas up in tortillas and top them with any of the above toppings.  I also like to serve the meat mixture on top of rice and serve in in a bowl with a side of chips.  So very wonderful and easy!

Ready to roll and eat.

I hope that you will enjoy a few comfort meals this Fall ... and if you use a crock-pot, you can be outside enjoying the changing of the seasons, instead of in your kitchen!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

If I Didn't Work ...

The truth of the matter is that while I don't have a paying gig, I work all day long.  All. Day. Long.

In light of this, in order to brainstorm some ideas about what I would do if I didn't work, I had to go right to the source ... the least-working person in our house.  That would be Lydia.

Unfortunately, Lydia is still working on her conversational skills, so she didn't have many words of wisdom to share with her mom.  Also, she was too busy not working to teach me much.  Apparently my almost three-year-old is hard at work playing.  This required me to do a little on-the-job observation.

Here is what would fill my day if I wasn't working:

  1. I would stay in my pajamas until 9:30 in the morning.  It's so lovely to lounge around in my Blue's Clues pj's.
  2. I would eat my breakfast in stages - preferably three.  By the end of the meal, it's almost time for the mid-morning snack, which works out great for me.  For the most part, I would graze all day.
  3. I would walk really, really slow to and from school.  This would allow me to inspect everything in a three-foot radius around me and I wouldn't break a sweat, either.  I would feel utterly unrushed and oblivious to any other plans for the day.  Or even what time it was.
  4. I would stay in the bathtub until the water was tepid and my fingers and toes were shriveled.  This might wreck havoc on my pedicure, but it might be great for my skin and hair.
  5. I would wear whatever I very well please, thankyouverymuch.  If I wanted to wear a pair of black stretchy pants scattered with rainbow stars and a blue and green flowered, frilly tank top and pink and red striped Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer socks, I would.  And I would top it off with my black kitty-cat mary-janes (on the wrong feet) and an animal print vest.  And I would look cute.
  6. I would park myself in a swing at the playground and stay there.  The whole morning.  From this vantage point, I would have a great perch from which to people watch and I wouldn't get my feet all dirty in the wood-chips.
  7. I would have a wonderful and loving person tuck me in for my afternoon nap.  We would snuggle, read my favorite book for the 12th time this week and this lucky person would rub my back and sing to me.  Just lovely.
  8. I would settle in for a intense afternoon of puzzling.  I would cover the kitchen table with all of my masterpieces and when I run out of space, I would move to the floor and spend my time sorting blocks and making designs in the Battleship game boards.  My concentration wouldn't be broken by phone calls, dinner to prepare, laundry to fold, a barking dog, or anyone needing anything from me.  Only a periodic break to go potty would interrupt my gleeful, song-filled play-time.
  9. I would be the evening's entertainment at the dinner table.  My audience would be riveted on my every word and my new goofy antics.  I would hold my family in the palm of my hand ... and mooch off their plates if necessary.
  10. I would have another wonderful someone help me get ready for bed.  I wouldn't have to brush my own teeth, change back into my pj's or brush my hair.  We would read my favorite book for the 13th time this week and then I would drift off to sleep after sweet kisses and songs.  I would benefit from 11 hours of sleep, in both my beauty and my behavior.

Hmmm ... I think I wouldn't mind working after all.  As long as I could have Lydia's job!


Prompt #4 - Ten things I would do if I didn't have to work.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time-Warp Wednesday

This week marks the end of an era.

The end of Aaron squinting to read the clock across the room on the stove.  The end of Aaron getting up from the table and walking across the kitchen to read how many more seconds are ticking down on the microwave oven.  The end of Aaron standing one foot away from the TV so that he can see what his Wii character is up to.  The end of Aaron asking, "What did that say?" as we watch a movie with subtitles.  The end of Aaron needing the song sheet at church because the lyrics on the screen are blurry.

The end of Aaron being spectacles-free.

In the past, he has liked to wear sunglasses, as evidenced in this fun picture from several years ago.

The future's so bright ...

But now it's the real deal.  He's in glasses full-time.  And he's enjoying having life in focus!

How could he get even handsomer?!?

It was so great to see his joy/surprise/relief Monday when he slipped his new glasses on and remarked, "This is great!  It's all in focus!"  I had to laugh as we walked out of the doctor's office, headed to the van and drove home.  All the while Aaron was tipping his glasses on and off, on and off, on and off, comparing what he used to NOT be able to see with what he now sees with beautiful clarity.  It took us five minutes just to get out the front door with him testing his new vision with every sign, license plate and vehicle.

"Hey, Mom.  That license plate says, ERV-365.  Hey!  That's a Camaro.  Mom ... I can read that street sign.  It's says "Crossroads".  This is awesome!"

I couldn't help but think about a verse in the Bible that talks about our limited vision here on earth.  In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul talks about how someday in heaven we will see Jesus face-to-face and we will know Him intimately, just as He now knows us.  No longer the glimpse of a shadowy reflection like we catch now and then, but a 20/20 crystal clear vision of our Savior.

I'm quite certain that we will all be saying, "Hey!  I can see Jesus!  This is awesome!"

Monday, September 26, 2011

Listen Up

I don't imagine that this will come as much of a surprise, but ... sometimes I don't think my kids are listening to me.  At all.

Just the other day, my four munchkins were piled around the kitchen table eating breakfast.  They were silent as the slurped their cereal and I took that opportunity to fill them in on what the day looked like.

"This morning we are going to do some laundry, so I need you all to bring your dirty clothes to my room so I can sort it.  Then we have just a few chores to do.  Norah, I need you to unload the dishwasher.  Aaron, the trash really needs to go out and Ashley, I need you to help me clean up the puzzle in the living room.  blah, blah, blah, blah ..."

The kids kept slurping.

I paused in my dishwashing.

"Hello?  Did anyone hear me?"

mumble, mumble, nod, nod ... more slurping ...

I turned off the water, perhaps a bit roughly.

"Hey there ... I would appreciate it if you would respond when you hear me talking to you, please."

Four grunts of, "Yes, Mom."  More slurping.

Back to washing dishes, with my own internal mumbling and grumbling.

It drives me crazy when they ignore me.  I don't talk just to hear myself yammer on.  Is it really too much to ask for a little acknowledgement? A little respect, please.  grrrrr ....

As the kids cleared their breakfast dishes, I was tempted to remind them of their responsibilities, but I bit my tongue (quite literally) and resisted the urge.  Not out of a noble decision not to nag, but out of my yucky old sinful self that partly hoped they would forget just so I could bust them.

Yep.  I was having a great morning.

It is at this point that I would like to say with gratefulness and relief that this is not how God operates.

He is not on the look-out - waiting to bust me when I mess up.
He is not harping on me day in and day out, waiting for me to get my act together.
He is not shouting, "Hello?  Are you listening to Me?" after every word He whispers.
He is not growling when I miss out on His words to me and He has to repeat Himself.

My God is full of grace.
My God is shepherding me gently.
My God is loving in His words.
My God is eternally patient.

He has had all of history to demonstrate these astonishing qualities, including way back with the Israelites.  And that same stubbornness that landed God's chosen people in years of wandering in the desert is very much alive and well in lives of my children and me.  Yes ... I would most definitely include myself in that guilty party.

Recently I was shopping for a dress for a friend's wedding.  I entered the store with a positive attitude, confident that I would be successful in finding what I needed.  But as I began to browse the clothing racks, my confidence wavered.  Suddenly my old insecurities about my hips and arms and hiney all began cropping up.

"You don't have the body to pull that off."
"You don't really think that would fit, do you?"
"You don't stand a chance of making that dress work."

With God's help, I had been feeling better about me and I had been better about accepting this body as is, but as I walked into the dressing room and approached that tiny torture room of mirrors, I wanted nothing more than to head for the van.

And that's when I heard God repeat Himself.  He didn't yell.  He didn't growl.  He didn't announcement that He had something important to say.  As I closed the changing room door behind me, I heard Him sing to me.  Again.

Through the speakers in the changing room came the voice of Bruno Mars singing, "Just the Way You Are".  This is a song that God had already used to touch my heart in regards to my self image.  And he took this opportunity to reassure me.  One more time.

This is how God shepherds my heart.  Not always through Bruno, of course ... but always faithfully and lovingly and patiently.  And I truly believe that He desires me to shepherd my children's hearts in the same way.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah in Romans 10:21, "All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people."  That would pretty much sum up how I sometimes feel about my efforts to get my kids to be on the same page as me.  But it would appear that if anyone knows what it's like to have to repeat Himself for centuries and centuries, it would be God!  Not only does God endure our stubbornness and waywardness, but He continues to extend His love to us.  This kind of love ...

4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

I believe I have quite a bit to learn from God about how to shepherd my kids.  Gratefully, He gives me instructions (the verse above) and first hand experience (the story above) so I know how much better His way works.

By the way, I really love my kids.  And I love the new dress I got for the wedding, too. :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Food For Thought - Mexican Dishes

This afternoon I checked my meal list (trying to remember what I had planned for tonight's dinner) only to realize that I chose three different Mexican dishes for this week.  Apparently I'm in a bit of a "South of the Border" rut!  As you can imagine, my kids will be saying, "Mexican?  Again?" by tomorrow night!

The thing is, Mexican foods are some of the easiest for me to toss together.  More often than not I have the necessary ingredients in my pantry or fridge ...

Beans?  Check.
Beef?  Check.
Tortillas?  Check.
Cheese?  Check.
Tomatoes?  Check.
Salsa?  Check.

And dinner is served!

I can't say that any of the dishes for today come from an actual recipe.  In these cases, I have simply put together what sounds good, added a few tasty sides and said, "¡Olé!"

Meaty Quesadillas

Flour tortillas
Ground beef
Garlic clove, minced
Ground Red Pepper
Green onions, chopped
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Salsa & Sour cream for garnish

Brown the ground beef and drain off the grease.  Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes.  Add the salt, red pepper and cumin to taste.  Set the meat aside.  Heat a griddle on medium high.  Lay one tortilla on the griddle and top with 1/4 cup of shredded cheddar.  Spoon about 1/2 cup of the meat mixture onto one half of the tortilla.  Top with green onions and then fold the tortilla in half.  Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes and then gently flip it over.  Cook for 1-2 more minutes until the tortilla is crispy.  Use a pizza cutter to slice the quesadilla into triangles.  At this point you can either serve the quesadilla or slide them onto a cookie sheet to keep warm in the oven.

When it's time to eat, serve the quesadillas with a dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of salsa and a lime wedge.  Super simple, but filling and delicious!

Great for lunch or dinner!
Taco Salad

Romaine or Iceberg lettuce, chopped
Tomatoes, diced
Green onions, chopped
Black beans, drained and rinsed
Ground beef, browned and seasoned (See above.)
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Cilantro, rinsed and chopped
Sour cream & Salsa 
Limes, cut into wedges

How much of this is already in your fridge?

Layer lettuce, beef, beans, cheese and remaining veggies in a bowl.  Top with sour cream and salsa ... and maybe some guacamole.  We also like to crush tortilla chips over the top for some crunch.  If the kids aren't in the mood for salad, I can make tacos for them with any tortillas I have on hand.  Everybody wins!

One of my favorite salads ... year round.


Flour tortillas (small sized)
Chicken breasts, cut into strips
Garlic clove, minced
Ground Red Pepper
Onion, sliced
Bell Pepper, sliced
Red Pepper, sliced
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Lime wedges
Salsa & Sour cream
Brown rice

Prepare the brown rice according to the package directions.  Take note that most brown rices take 45 minutes to cook, so plan ahead.

In a large skillet, cook chicken until no longer pink.  Season the chicken with garlic, salt, pepper and cumin.  Add the peppers and onion to the skillet and cook on medium high until the veggies begin to char.  Add a little fajita mixture to a small tortilla and top with cheese, salsa and sour cream.  Serve with a spoonful of brown rice on the side and a few tortilla chips.  For a low-carb meal, we also like to eat our fajita in a bowl.  Skip the tortilla and place the brown rice in the bottom of the bowl, topped with the fajita mixture.  Add the salsa and sour cream and a squirt of lime.

Sizzling fajitas ... mmmmm ....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Nemesis ... Gym

"Mom!  Today we played this really fun game call 'Survivor'!  We had two teams, one on each side of the field, and we each had hula-hoops on the ground with balls in them.  Each team was trying to run across the line to the other team's hoops and steal their balls.  It's the "food".  Then you have run back and put the ball in your own hoop without anyone pulling one of the tags off your belt.  But you also have to guard your own balls.  And if someone pulls your tag you have to go to jail.  But you can get out of jail if one of your teammates comes over and leads you by the hand back to your side ... or if the teacher yells, "Jail Break!!"  Then you can just run like crazy back over to your side and play some more.  I am so good at that game.  I'm so fast!" ~ Norah

"Hey, Mom.  Today we learned how to do this silly dance.  Our gym teacher has all this fun music playing and she taught us these cool moves to go with the music.  Like we have to stand on one leg and put our arms out like an airplane and balance.  That was kinda hard ... I had to really try hard not to fall over.  Or we get to do a funny walk to the middle of the circle and then walk backwards out to the edge of the circle moving our arms in a wave.  I love the music.  Have you ever heard of a group called Cold Play?  I love their song, "Viva La Vida".  Can I put it on the iPod?  I can show you some of the moves we learned.  It's really a work-out.  I sweat a lot."  ~ Aaron

"We got to have gym today!  I'm so glad that I wore my running shoes.  We played this fun game today where we have numbers on the floor and we have to sit on our number.  My number is #5.  Then the teacher yells, "Calling all kids!" and then we have to run to him as fast as we can.  He's counting backwards, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" and when he gets to "1", we have to quick sit down, clap our hands together and put our hands on our heads.  It's so fun!  I love all our gym games, but that's my favorite.  I love to run!"  ~ Ashley

"Today in gym class we had to run around the gym about 50 times.  When we got done, Coach pulled the bag of dodge balls out of the stinky old gym closet.  We divvied up into two teams and Kelly and I made sure that we got on opposite teams.  That way we could get each other out and then go sit on the sidelines and talk.  That's better than getting nailed by Libby.  She throws so hard.  One time she knocked the wind out of one of those younger kids who was unlucky enough to go head to head with her.

But at least today was better than Monday.  On Monday the weather was nice so Coach sent us all out to the baseball field for a game of kickball.  I can't ever seem to make good contact with the ball and even when I do manage to kick it, I can't run fast enough to get to first base before somebody tags me.  I was relieved when my team took the field and Kelly and I were sent to the outfield.  I have no idea what happened in the game at that point because we were having a really funny conversation about one of the boys at school.  It wasn't until Couch yelled, "Enough with the tea party, Ladies!" that I realized that our team was back up to kick.  Oops.

But I guess dodge ball and kickball are both tons better than having to do the plyometric boxes.  Those are the worst.  I can't think of anything in my future in which this skill of being able to jump up two feet in the air ... and down ... and up ... and down ... will be necessary.  And the fact that we also have to do it fast is ridiculous.  I am terrified of either clonking my shin on the edge of the wooden box, spraining an ankle on the trip back down or tripping and falling off the top of the box resulting in a concussion.  Or at the very least, a humiliating experience to have to live down throughout my high school career.  I spend most of my time faking a side ache.  I hate gym."  ~Me


I do wish that I would have learned about the fun and value of exercise as a kid.  If I had enjoyed gym class, maybe I wouldn't have spent all my years as a young adult trying to figure out how to be slim and slender without exercising!  As my kids retell their most recent gym adventures, I listen with a mixture of envy and thankfulness ... envious of their creative teacher who is teaching them at this early age about the joys of a life of healthy activity and thankful that some of their exercise habits inspire me to get busy, too!

Prompt #4 -Feeling wronged by a teacher.  Sorry, Coach.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Time-Warp Wednesday

This past week, we celebrated my brother's 40th birthday.  Wow.  How did that happen?  In my mind's eye we are still a bunch of goofballs.  Oh, wait ... I guess that is one thing that hasn't changed!
Here are a few of my favorite pictures with my brother ... and a little something I wrote for him.

Sitting in front of our old house with some crazy pups.

Proof that we clean up pretty well.

We're all sporting some interesting hair.

My Nana had this one framed on her wall.

This one, too.

Say, "Cheese!" ... and blink, Allie. 

Yosemite is cool ... and so are we.

I may not be John Lithgow ... but I still have a pretty good story to tell.

Growing Up
In an old house that was crooked and sweet,
With its front door facing Charles Street,
Three kids all grew up,
With two ducks and a pup,
In just a mere thousand square feet.
Big bro, you were the first one to bloom,
With two sisters who knew how to loom.
Your own place to sleep,
Space for your things to keep,
But take a number to use the bathroom.

On nights when our bickering would quit,
We’d squeeze into one bed, quite a fit.
I’d tell stories in bed,
From my own silly head,
Then we’d sleep ... “please, scoot over a bit.”

Sprawled across the floor way back when,
We’d divvy up all of your Star Wars men.
You put up with our “brreecks!”
And our weak sound effects,
If it kept you from Barbie and Ken.

Bundled up, we headed off to the streets,
With our sled loaded up with sweet treats.
Delivering to Ms. Opal,
“Keep the sweets from that mongrel!”
You had cocoa while I froze my feets!

Years of swimming and lots of pep talks,
Ziploc bags full of cherry Knox Blox.
Trying to keep cool,
On the decks of the pool,
Gulping green H2O at the blocks.

We packed the Cutlass and made it all fit,
Now if only there was some place to sit.
Headed west to Cali,
See the beach and family,
Then Yosemite and ‘round the fire pit.

You were fashionable, or so I was told,
Tight-rolled jeans with a remarkable fold.
A mullet, an earring,
A perm - oh, so daring -
And a prom jacket, glittering gold!

You were the first of us to leave the nest,
Off to college, where you did your best.
You fell for sweet Jill,
Who said, “Yes, I will”,
Now you’re designing your own family crest.

Letting God set your pathway before you,
Unearthing all He’s planned you to do,
Leading us as we sing,
Raising children who bring,
All the glory to God that He’s due.
You were the pioneer for Allie & Shorty
First to walk and talk and be sporty.
The first one to drive,
Find a job and to thrive,
And the very first one to turn forty!

Happy Birthday, Joshua!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shade, Sweet Shade

As we trudge up the hill to school, my five year old trots alongside me.  There is room next to Lydia in the double stroller, but today Ashley has opted to walk.  She feels a little more grown up that way, I guess.  Being on the ground also enables her to fulfill her role as look-out.

Yesterday on our way back from school, Ashley spotted a few little cactus plants that had cropped up along the sidewalk.  She is determined to keep us safe from those pokey little pests.  She has also taken it upon herself to alert me of broken glass, cars on the road and red ants.  Who knew that our quarter mile stretch between our house and the elementary school could be so fraught with danger?

As we near the crest of the hill, however, it isn't the cactus, glass, cars or ants that have my attention.  It's the heat.

Wow.  It is a hot one today.

The intense sun is blazing.  I feel a trickle of sweat run down my back.  The heat off the pavement is scorching.

I look down at Ashley and her flushed little face tells me that she's about done in.

"Just a bit further, Honey, and we'll be under that tree."

As we roll under the branches of the cottonwood, there is a noticeable difference in temperature.  I put on the brakes and reach for the water bottle in the stroller.  After a cool sip, I hand the bottle to Ashley, who has collapsed in the spare seat.

At that moment, another mother on her way to the cross walk pauses under the tree.

"The shade is lovely," she sighs.

This little patch of shadow is an oasis on this blistering day.  For just a moment we find relief, respite and rest.  We still have to continue on our trek, but briefly we have found a bit of much needed refreshment.

In the same way, God has promised to be our shade on this sometimes exhausting, tiring and taxing road of life.  

7 Show me the wonders of Your great love, 
   You who save by Your right hand 
   those who take refuge in You from their foes. 
8 Keep me as the apple of Your eye; 
   hide me in the shadow of Your wings (Psalm17:7-8)

He promises that He will hide us there in the shadow of His wing.  In that shadow we will find relief, respite and rest.  We will also find refreshment.  A spiritual refreshment that will restore us for the remainder of our trek.

Of course we have to head back out into the heat of the day, into the heat of our trials, but we start again with a sense of renewal and a reminder that we are not on this road alone, but with Jesus.  

And He's trudging alongside us as our faithful Look Out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stressed Out

Poor Petey is stressed.  

He is in the midst of a six-week molting season and he's miserable.  He sits trembling on his manzanita twig, fluffing what feathers he has left and periodically peering out of the cage with one black beady eye.  He has obvious bald patches on his belly and shoulders and with each fluff of his wings, more yellow feathers flutter out of his cage and to the floor.  He still has a hearty appetite and can regularly be found sitting in his food dish picking through his seed.  It would appear that flax seed, oatmeal, broccoli and wheat bread are his only actual comforts in life.  He periodically will plop into his bird bath for a quick soak, but even that simple task seems to be exhausting to him.  He is skittish and frightened.  Someone simply walking past his cage prompts him to hurl himself to the furthest corner of his cage.  It's pathetic.

The absolute worst part of this re-feathering season, however, is that he has apparently forgotten how to sing.  My sweet little friend who typically serenades me as I wash dishes now sits silently on his perch, eyes closed and head tucked.

A song-less canary fluffing his featherless-ness and quivering.  So sad.

According to all the websites I've explored, this is a natural part of a bird's life.  It might be inevitable, but that doesn't make it any easier.  On Petey or me.  I can't wait for this stress-filled season to be behind us.

Like Petey, we also face the inevitability of stress in our lives.  And like Petey, that stress often presents itself in a variety of ways.

What do you do when you are stressed?

Do you stuff it in or let it explode?
Do you go for a run or run to food?
Do you chew out your kids or chew on your nails?
Do you get quiet and withdraw or do you get vocal and expressive?
Do you search high and low for a quick fix or do you settle in and wallow?

In all honesty, I am a stuff-it-in, stress-eating, kid-chewing, withdrawn wallower.

And you?

Stress in my life seems to come and go in seasons, too.  I find that stressful times typically are the result of too many demands and not enough time, energy or inspiration to manage it all.  I can get so focused on the pesky and stressful aspects of my life (no names, please ... ) that I lose sight of the good and lovely aspects of my life (Aaron, Norah, Ashley, Lydia, Brett, Jesus ... ).

In the midst of a stressful episode, I find myself wishing for a giant bowl of chocolate to sit in and eat from, desiring to fluff myself up and hide my head under the covers and flee from anyone else who might possible need something from me.

I also would admit that when I am stressed, I forget to sing.  This is certainly one of the worst parts of stress.

In the Bible, Jesus tells us that one of our jobs is to sing praises to God.  It's not only a job, however,  but a privilege.  Jesus goes on to say in Luke 19:39-41, that if we choose not to sing praises to God, that the stones of the earth will cry out instead.

How often have I allowed daily stresses to steal my privilege to sing?
How often have I let my inevitable stress rob me of the joy of praising God?
And how often have I missed out on the miracle of having my perspective changed through praise?

I know that poor Petey can't help his predicament.  In a few weeks, he'll find himself re-feathered and ready to sing.  I, however, have a daily choice.  I can choose to stuff it in, eat my way through it, chew on a few kids and withdraw into silence.  Or ...

I can choose to praise.

And you?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food For Thought - Tomatoes

I have taken up a new hobby.


As I walk around our garden boxes, I am thrilled by the buffet in my own back yard:  Blood red, meaty Mortgage Lifters; sweet, pearl-shaped Cherry Tomatoes; hefty, juice-filled Beefsteak Tomatoes and more than a few volunteer, yellow pear tomatoes.

A mini-Mortgage Lifter - it was delicious!

I have decided that there is nothing quite as delightful as walking out to the garden, plucking a Cherry Tomato fresh from the vine and popping it into your mouth.

Warmed by the sun, only ever touched by your two fingers and exploding with the flavor of summer!

They are awesome just eaten straight from the vine, but if you feel the need to dress them up, here are a few of the many ways that we enjoyed our tomatoes this summer.

Grilled Panzella
(from Bon Appétit, August 2011 via Epicurious ... with a few changes.)

1 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
2/3 cup olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeno, finely chopped
2 tsp lemon zest
Juice of one lemon
3 pounds of tomatoes, any variety
12 oz loaf of sourdough bread (day old is best)
Coarse salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, puree basil and 1/3 cup olive oil until only tiny bits of basil are left.  Add shallot, jalapeno, lemon zest and lemon juice to basil oil and whisk well.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Slice the tomatoes (chose to leave the cherry tomatoes whole) and toss with basil dressing.  Let marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the bbq.  Slice the sourdough bread into 1 inch slices.  Brush each side of the bread with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Grill bread on both sides until lightly charred.

Tear or cut grilled bread into bite-sized pieces.  Toss bread with the tomatoes and serve immediately.  The crunchy, chewy bread combined with the flavorful, juicy tomatoes is a party for your mouth!

We also grilled chicken and zucchini.  Bon Appétit, indeed!
(This recipe is just what I would throw together.  A little of this and a little of that.)

1 pound tomatoes, quartered
1 large cucumber, peeled and quartered
1 bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1/2 yellow onion, in large pieces
1 lime
Crushed red pepper
Sour cream

The tomatoes and cucumbers were from our garden.

In a food processor or blender, add half of the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and onion.  Puree until smooth.  Transfer this to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining veggies.  Stir in a dash of red pepper flakes and the juice of one lime.  Stir well and let chill for one hour.  Top with a dollop of sour cream and cilantro.

Summer spooned up in a bowl.

Tomatoes on a Plate
(Sometimes there is no need to dress them up!)

Enough tomatoes to go around, cut into wedges or thick slices
Coarse salt
Fresh herbs (in this case, basil and chives)

Arrange the tomatoes on a large platter, sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs.  Serve on the side of ... well, anything!

My kids' favorite ways to eat tomatoes!