Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Big Littles Gets His Wish

We've had flurries and a few flakes, but no ground cover to speak of... nothing snowball worthy.  Big Littles has been dreaming of snow for weeks.  Thanks to facebook friendships, we've seen pictures of people living north, south, east, and west of us all getting snow, but nothing here.  It's actually been too warm here most days and we've had lots of rain instead.  Big Littles announced one day that he was going to pray to God that we would have snow on Christmas.

I took a deep breath.  That was a tall order.  But I told him to pray anyway.  God would hear him, and if it was God's will it would happen.

On occasion I gave him further explanation and told him that sometimes God has other plans that need to happen for other people and that sometimes when God says "no" it has nothing to do with us.  But I also said that God loves to bless the people that love and obey Him, and we could pray that God would bless us with snow on Christmas. 

So for weeks he has prayed that we would have snow on Christmas.  And I just kind of held my breath and hoped he wouldn't be too disappointed because the weather forecast was not looking very cooperative.

Yesterday, after not saying anything about it for about a week, Biggie confidently announced that we would indeed have snow on Christmas.  I asked him how he knew that and he said, "I've been praying to God about it."  I smiled and gave him a few more encouraging words, but honestly, he had the faith to move mountains and I had almost none that this was going to happen.

So when we woke up this morning and Preacher Man looked out the window and announced that we were going to have a white Christmas, I almost didn't believe him!  And the next moment, I thought of the joy this was going to bring to my son and how this one blessing from God would do so much for his growing faith (and I must admit, mine), and I thanked God for this wonderful gift.

Indeed, it was the best gift of all today.   Sometimes God just blows me away.  I am humbled and thankful that He would be mindful of my young son... and me. 

Luke 18:15-17 - "And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  

Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.
The long-anticipated snowball fight!

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Martha, Martha

 If Thanksgiving is a holiday where I work like a slave in the kitchen for days, I'm trying to not let Christmas become that and it would be so easy to do.  My favorite Christmas memory with my children is from a couple of years ago when I collapsed on the floor in exhaustion and my two boys who were still just babies, laughed and cuddled and crawled all over me.  That moment was pure happiness.  And so I try to keep that image in my mind as my goal for the big holiday.  THAT is what I am trying to achieve, not culinary perfection or a home straight out of Pinterest.  It is hard for me, but here is what I am doing to let go of my Martha tendencies and just enjoy the holiday.

my cardinal tree topper that I just love
We eat more junk food.  We just do and I don't stress about it.  For breakfast Christmas morning, we still need protein, so I buy those Little Smokies sausages and crescent rolls in the tube and make pigs in a blanket for us to munch on while we exchange gifts. 

I try to also have some tempting fruit available.  This year, we are doing our big dinner on Christmas Eve, so lunch on Christmas Day will just be leftovers.  I'm liking this arrangement more and more.

For dinner, we are having frozen pizza. 

Frozen pizza came about because we have Bible study that evening and we will be leaving at about 2 am the day after Christmas for a big road trip.  We very rarely have frozen pizza, so this will be a rare treat that everyone will love.  And you know, Trader Joes has cheaper and healthier frozen pizza, so it is easier to let go of the guilt.  I think this might be a new tradition. 

Be blessed, my friends.  Enjoy your day with your family, no matter where you are and no matter how you celebrate. 

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comfort and Joy

This is a meal that never fails to leave a sense of satisfaction.  I had major tomato soup/grilled cheese cravings when I was pregnant with my second child.  I grew up eating Campbell's in a can but I finally took the plunge and tried a homemade version and I LOVE it!  It is so easy, I can't believe I didn't do this sooner!

Tomato Soup
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (or 1 tsp. garlic powder if I'm in a hurry)
  • 1/4 c. flour (or cornstarch or arrowroot powder)
  • 28 oz. can whole canned tomatoes
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
 Saute the onion in the butter over medium heat until it starts turning golden brown.  Add the garlic.  After about a minute, quickly stir in the flour and try to incorporate it all into the butter.  Cook and stir it for about a minute and dump in your canned tomatoes and chicken stock.  Season with the oregano, salt, and pepper.  Use a stick blender to puree your soup and let it cook on the stove to meld the flavors for 15 minutes or so. 

(I LOVE my stick blender for soups, but if you don't have one, you can transfer your tomatoes to a regular blender or food processor.  It's just much messier that way.)

Grilled Cheese
I fee like I hardly need to share a recipe, but I guess not everyone knows how to make it... I know I didn't when we first got married!  The first time I made it, I burned the outside and the cheese was still cold!  Butter the outside of two slices of bread and lay the butter side of one of them down on a heated griddle or skillet.  Quickly add your cheese - our favorite is good old cheddar or pepper jack.  Top with the second piece of bread, butter side up.  Once the bread turns golden brown, flip it over to toast the other side.  Once it is done, let it sit on a cutting board for a minute before cutting your sandwich into triangles. 

Also yummy when you add sliced lunch meat, or thinly sliced fresh tomato.  Really, the possibilities are endless.

Do you have a favorite comfort food? 

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Alpha Omega

Isaiah 64:8 - "But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
    We are the clay, and You are our potter;
    We are all the work of Your hand."

Just like sand blowing across a canyon, life shapes us.  I also believe that when we are willing to be molded, God shapes us, and He is the Master Artist when it comes to creating a vessel for His glory. 

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how God has been molding me, particularly when it comes to my need to relinquish control.  

Just before the birth of my first child, my midwife warned me about the need to relinquish control.  Almost every day, she came face to face with life and its beginning.  The birth of a baby, but also the birth of a mother.  Occasionally, she witnessed the end of life as well.  Seeing the nature of life's beginning and end, she knew very well that we have no control over such things.

Still, I fought for control of my child.  When he was born, he was taken from me.  He was kept in NICU for six days without good cause.  Many of the earliest parenting decisions I had intended to make were taken from me.  I was not even allowed to see my child for more than 10 minutes until the day after he was born, and I was not allowed to be with him or hold him when I wanted.  Thank the Lord he was just fine and we were able to bring home a perfectly healthy boy after those six days.  But I had nightmares about the experience for the next two years.  I dreamed that he was back in NICU, attached to wires, and that I was not allowed to hold him.  I dreamed that when we were allowed to bring him home, there were doctors chasing us down in the parking lot demanding that we bring him back.

I have a friend that had undergone a similar experience with her third child just months before.  She made encouraging comments to me about this being a good lesson for her in understanding the need to relinquish control.  But I clung to control more than ever.  This was MY child.  I would protect him with all of my might.

It is so ironic to me that we have two beautiful unplanned children.  You see, we tried to control when we had children and took those matters into our own hands.  Two times, God showed us that He had better plans.  The third child that we prayed about and asked God for months to conceive was lost before he was ever born.  It was then that I finally began to understand that when it comes to life and death, we have no control, it is only God. 

And so we turned our hearts to God and have made the commitment to give Him all control over the lives brought forth in the Holy Covenant of our marriage. This is not a realm we wish to control anymore.  We do not bind this choice upon others, it is simply where God has brought us and we seek to glorify Him with a family devoted to Him.

So God has blessed us with a new life in our family... a little one that should arrive some time in June.  The moment I told my husband the news, he thanked God and immediately said a prayer dedicating this child back to the Lord.  We are finally beginning to understand - these children are gifts from the Lord.  They are not our own.  He has lent them to us and entrusted them to our care for a time so we can bring them up in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord".  The time may be long or it may be very short.  We have no guarantees.  Even the two children that have been born to us already may not live through tomorrow.  For that matter, we may not live through tomorrow.  God alone holds the power over life and death, and thankfully, He, in His grace, has offered us a way to be with Him when we die.

Until now, I had not been able to face this thought, and even now, it is deeply painful, but I can finally say, with tearful joy, that I have a child in heaven, gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. 

God is good.  Always.

Lord, come quickly.

From Revelation 21 -
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
"And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son." 
"And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life."

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tortilla Night

Mini Tacos

We've started a tradition of having "Tortilla Night" in our home (almost) every Friday night.  We have a Bible study as a family and open up our home to friends and neighbors to join us for dinner and the Bible study, and people are welcome to arrive whenever they can.  My husband sends out e-mail invitations/reminders every Tuesday and we don't ask for an RSVP.  Ever since we started, we've always had at least one other family join us, and sometimes up to four, though many just come for the Bible study.  I got the idea from a large family that did this back in our previous home congregation and we've been happy to carry on here in upstate New York.  (This family orders pizza for everyone, but we have a dairy allergy in our family that makes pizza complicated, so just do whatever floats your boat.)

I thought it might be helpful to explain some of how we make this work and perhaps you will get some ideas that will be useful in your efforts to "practice hospitality".

Logistics -
Doing the same routine every week is very helpful for me.  After a few weeks, my mind has gone to "autopilot" and Fridays fall into a predictable routine.  I keep a check list on a post-it note on the fridge for all of the foods and utensils I need to set out (I'll go into that in the next section).  Thursday is my "kitchen day" giving me a chance to do some extra food prep and Friday is my house cleaning day, which means I give the bathrooms a good cleaning and do some extra dusting/glass cleaning if I am able.  I am intentional about not making my house spotless... we are simply opening up our home and welcoming others to join our family, we are not hosting an "event".  I have the children clear away toys while I fix dinner, but I do not stress about the appearance of our home.

During the Study -
I keep a large basket of Bible books, notebooks, and pencils for the children to use while we have our study.  My children are expected to sit quietly while we study and get involved as they are old enough to do so.  My husband leads the study and usually does different Bible stories.  Right now we are spending a few weeks talking about King Saul and his character. 

The Food -
As food allergies, special diets, and plain old finickiness are on the rise, I find the food we serve for "Tortilla Night" to be the perfect solution.  I keep all of the ingredients in separate bowls served buffet style - hot foods on the stove and cold foods on a side table.  Everyone can chose what they like and ingredients are available for taco salads, bowls, soft tacos and burritos.  I haven't found another meal that better suits the wide variety of needs for our guests and because the food is fresh and tasty, everyone enjoys it too!  (It's also not an expensive meal, which is good since we are doing this regularly.  I can buy many of the ingredients at Aldi which saves a lot of money!)

This is what I generally serve:
  • Homemade Refried Beans (recipe follows) - though I use canned in a pinch
  • Taco Meat (1 lb. ground beef with 2 Tbs. homemade taco seasoning)
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Rice (recipe follows)
  • Avocado or Guacamole
  • Diced Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Chipotle flavored Salad Dressing - I buy this, but have a homemade recipe I want to try soon
  • Diced Green Pepper
  • Diced Red Onion
  • Salsa and Hot Sauce
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Flour and Corn Tortillas
  • Sour Cream 
Do I have every ingredient every week?  No, but this is the list I go from when making a grocery list and getting things ready.  I often make the meat and/or rice in bulk and freeze it and this saves a lot of time.  I buy salad in the clamshell containers so I'm not prepping lettuce (plus it lasts so long this way!)... in other words, I look for ways to save time so Friday prep is not so overwhelming.  I also set out cups, a pitcher of water, cloth napkins, silverware and plates/bowls so people can feel free to help themselves.   I don't worry about fixing dessert, so if someone wants to bring something, I tell them they can bring something sweet to share.

Some recipes:
My old standby recipe for refried beans and Spanish rice is here and we still use this method sometimes.  The beans are not as smooth and the prep for both of these is more last-minute.  I've since found a new refried bean recipe that we really love and a friend gave me a rice cooker.  Try out the different recipes and decide what you like the best.

Refried Beans - all in one pot!
  • 3 c. dried pinto beans
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chipotle powder (Penzey's)
  • 1 tsp. chili powder (Penzey's) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
Sometime the day before you want to serve your beans, sort and soak the pinto beans in enough water to cover by a couple of inches.  In the afternoon before our meal, I drain the beans and rinse them in a colander, then put them right back in the pot.  Add the onion, garlic cloves, chipotle powder and chili powder.  Cover with water by about an inch and bring to a boil.  Once it is boiling, I put the lid on and lower the heat to about medium so the beans are gently bubbling.  Cook them for at least an hour - long enough for them to get nice and soft.

Now comes the tricky part... you want enough liquid to keep the beans moist, but don't want them too runny.  You might need to drain off some of the cooking liquid at this point and I recommend reserving it in case you want to add some back in.  Use a stick blender to puree the beans and once they are all nice and smooth, mix in the salt, and check for flavor and texture.  If they are too runny, you can just cook them on the stove for a while with the lid off and if they are too dry, you can add back some of your cooking liquid.  Keep warm until ready to serve.   

Cilantro Lime Rice in the Rice Cooker

  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 scoops of white or brown rice (the scoop that comes with the rice cooker)
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • water that comes up to the "2" line of your rice cooker
  • 1 Tbs. cilantro (I have also used the kind in the tube when I can't find nice fresh stuff and it works very well.)
Put all of the ingredients except the cilantro in your rice cooker and turn it on.  When the cook cycle is finished, stir in the cilantro and let your rice cooker keep everything warm until ready to serve.

For a stove top version see the original recipe here.

Do you have any regular ways that you open up your home to show hospitality?  What do you do to make things go smoothly?  Got any favorite foods your guests have enjoyed?

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Saturday, December 1, 2012


This is such an exciting time of year!  Last year we started a tradition of a special way of counting down until the holidays, and celebrated by doing something small together each day.   I try to make most of the activities focused upon serving others or at the very least, just being together and doing simple things and not so much about "getting stuff".

Here is our lineup for this year:
1 - make gingerbread
2 - M&Ms   (I keep things VERY simple on Sunday mornings!)
3 - make cinnamon applesauce ornaments
4 - read  Up On the Housetop
5 - make paper snowflakes
6 - make snowmen pancakes
7 - make stained glass trees
8 - read The Polar Express
9 - M&Ms
10 - make treats/cards for the neighbors
11 - deliver treats/cards to the neighbors
12 - make beaded candy cane ornaments
13 - make stamped cards for the relatives
14 - make pies for a special Pie Party that evening
15 - put out birdseed in our feeder and watch for birds
16 - M&Ms
17 - Daddy Appreciation Day  (it is his birthday!)
18 - write a letter to Santa
19 - read The Grinch
20 - make cut out cookies
21 - make holiday snack mix
22 - read  Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (my favorite Christmas book!)
23 - M&Ms
24 - make cookies for Santa
25 - make pigs in a blanket and hot cocoa for breakfast

If you are interested in doing something similar, here are a few more sources for good ideas:
Our 2011 Countdown
Friends at the Common Room Countdown - some ideas for older children
I also really like their idea for writing these activities on colorful paper and making a paper chain as a way to count down. 
Countdown Aussie Style

What are some of the small, but special traditions you do in your family to enjoy the holidays together?

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