Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick & Easy Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is my new favorite quick & easy meal. I am always looking for these kind of recipes due to life always seeming more and more busy. Isn't it that way for everyone? How can it be that life continually gets busier and busier even with efforts to slow down? Well, I don't know that answer to that but I do know that lately it has been even more tornado-like than usual. I suspect it has to do with the holiday season.

When life gets busy, I'll buy more convenience items from the store, such as frozen pizza, to save money on ordering in pizza or going out for fast-food. Life may get busy, but my people still need to eat. So I love it when I come up with quick & easy recipes. This one has green stuff in it, which is always on low supply when life is busy, so it already had that going for it and then it was also a big hit with the family. It actually surprised me how much they liked it!

But because they liked it so much, we've had it several times in the last month.   It is also super easy to prepare right when I get home from the grocery store. It helps to have an easy meal after a trip to the grocery store; it's kind of like a reward.  This recipe took 15 to 20 minutes from in my door to sitting down and eating. Amazing!

So this is it:

Chicken Salad

1 package frozen, precooked chicken, 22 o.z. Servings said about 7. Cook according to package directions. This package said bake @ 400 for 8 minutes.
1 bag of romaine, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces. Our package had three stalks.
fresh veggies, whatever I have on hand, cut into bite size pieces; last night it was  carrots, cucumbers
croutons, if available
peanuts, if available
salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese
salad dressing, most of us prefer a creamy kind, such as ranch

This fed my family of six. We also ate pears and Christmas cookies and we were satisfied. There was certainly requests for seconds so it definitely could be doubled, especially if we wanted a second meal out of it.

I love filling my recipe box with quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious meals. 
And I need to be careful that I don't wear them out on this one. 
So what meals do you have that are super quick & easy? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas cheer: It's worth it!

My nine-year-old son has been initiating Christmas cheer around here. Not the teenagers. Not the parents. It has been the joy and wonder of the youngest that has motivated us to put up our tree, to read our Advent calendar, to decorate our house, to bake Christmas cookies.

I am thankful for this encouragement to find Christmas joy in the nooks and crannies of our home and our busy lives.

I get stressed at this time of year -- what mother doesn't? Yet, I don't always realize how much my children know that and dislike a stressed out momma.

During the past few years when life got a bit more topsy-turvy than usual (read about that  here and here), I haven't had the drive to create all of our usual Christmas traditions. This year the kids were asking to bake cookies again since we hadn't done it in a few years. My oldest noticed the look on my face; he said that he would rather not do the cookies if it was going to stress me out.

His comment caused me to pause.

I know that the look on my face was partly due to the sigh in my heart at letting traditions, such as the cookie decorating, fall to the wayside. I love the rituals and the traditions. I want to be able to say that we decorated Christmas cookies: Every. Single. Year. But... I can't.

So part of my look was that disappointment and part of it was wondering: 'How can we fit it all in?' My oldest took the look to mean: Mom is stressed by this request.

I'm glad he spoke. It got me thinking.

First, I realized this: Life is stressful.There is a lot to do in this season, a lot of which hinges on the momma. But taking out the meaningful or fun parts will never reduce my life to being completely stress-free. Therefore, I must make time for joy. We must do I the activities that give our lives meaning.

However, this is where discernment is needed. These 'must-do' activities are not to be confused with pressure, or the obligations or the images I have of  'just how things are suppose to be.' They need to be the essential ones we really love.

I need to examine in order to reduce how much I need to do; having less to do also helps to reduce my stress level. Keep it simple. Keep the list short. Then, I need to be sure to keep the activities that give meaning and energy to our lives do not fall by the wayside because I am too stressed.

Secondly, I realized this: not only do I need to do those important, meaningful life giving activities, such as decorating Christmas cookies. I also need to participate in them with a non-stressed look on my face. It would be best if I would be light and free spirit and truly enjoy the moment. 

It helps if I remember I have chosen this moment and it's worth it. I can do this by remembering that the fun, the memories, the traditions, they are not what add stress to my life.  Life is just stressful.

So instead of throwing out all of the fun we're making time for a few of our favorite traditions this year: Christmas cards, birthday parties, and cookie decorating. We are filling our lives this season with opportunities for joy, laughter, and memories due to a momma listening to the desires of a nine-year-old boy and letting it inspire her to keep on, keeping on the very best things in her world.

How is this season going for you?
In this busy -- often stressful -- season:
Which activities bring you and your loved ones energy & joy? 
Could you reduce your list to a small core of the 'most meaningful'?
What activities are the most important to keep doing for you and your family?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving memories, grief and gratefulness

The surgical glove turkey bouquet that inspired my daughter's writing.

My daughter had her hands in soapy dish suds when I asked her for inspiration for a blog post. She had lots of ideas. One of them was to write a Thanksgiving memory. Before I could apply myself to write, she had finished a memory that she wanted to share with me.

She was so inspired by her own suggestion that wrote in-between washing the dinner dishes. She'd wash some dishes. Stop, dry her hands, and write a little bit. Then stop writing and wash some more dishes. Then, stop, dry her hands, then write some more. By the time she was done with the dishes she had composed a Thanksgiving tribute.

She read her narrative to her father, sister, and me. (Her brothers happened to be off somewhere.)

Her memories undid me.

I had started to type a Thanksgiving post while she was doing those dishes but I didn't get very far. The draft is still sitting in my stack of unfinished posts. I even went back to it after she had read hers to me. But I had been undone.

I had asked for an idea and received some therapy instead.  Somehow whatever it was that I was going to write dimmed in my mind. Instead, I cried. But instead of alone tears, we cried together the four of us that night.

We cried quiet, silent tears. For just a little while. It didn't take long and we all hugged together on the couch as we cried together. Those tears sure felt better than the Alone Tears we cry. Better than the sadness we carry in our hearts all alone. At least that's part of what I learned that night. That I wasn't the only one still feeling sad, still grieving.

Still grieving the death of  Papa, my husband's father. And perhaps we are still grieving the many days up to his death. Perhaps we are still crying the tears that we didn't have time to cry while up close we watched him suffer.
Papa on the left with his brother that same Thanksgiving of the turkey bouquet.

I often hover alone in my sadness wondering why my friends don't understand why I might still be sad. They seem surprised: "He was your father-in-law. Were you that close?" They look at me quizzically, especially if their own father-in-law has passed and they can see they haven't experienced what I am experiencing. But...that isn't the point.

Or maybe it is.

We all walk different paths. We have different journeys. While I'm part of the human race, therefore I do experience emotions that others experience. It's just that sometimes the people I'm rubbing shoulders with haven't had a similar enough of a journey to understand me at that moment in time. Especially without words volunteered from me about the path that I've been walking on. But sometimes it is hard to volunteer words when the path of crisis didn't allow time for feeling, for processing, for figuring out. And somehow it goes numb, or at least it's all so mixed up you don't know what to feel and all you really want is a nap.

Until two years later when my daughter writes and reads about Thanksgiving memories, putting into words what we were feeling, even if we didn't know it before she read her words.

There it was: an epiphany! It is right here in this house that I need to look for comfort. Right here with my own people: my husband, my daughters, my sons. These my closest of friends. We have traveled the paths together. The uncomfortable changes. The front row seat to suffering. The amazing provisions. The answered prayers. And... the lingering sadness.

Here is a source of comfort that I had overlooked.

I was cheered that night of the tears and the group hug on the couch. Perhaps it is why it was easy to speak of Papa over the Thanksgiving table.

We shared memories and laughed. We ate and talked and reminisced and sat in the hot tub he kept running. We slept peacefully in the house that he and Grandma lived for more than twenty years.

It was a peaceful Thanksgiving and I'm giving quite a bit of credit to a reading shared, a group cry and a group hug before we headed off to Grandma's house. We added to that long conversations, long naps, and easy laughter.

A peaceful Thanksgiving for which I am grateful. Amen.

"Give thanks in all circumstances. " I Thessalonians 5:18

Some circumstances are just easier to give thanks in than others. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, November 21, 2014

What To Do With Day Old Bread or How We Make a Great Team

My husband & I make a good team. Just a day or two ago, I prepped our breakfast of French Toast the night before using our day old French bread. He cooked it in the morning.

This works for us because I am the night owl and he is the morning guy. He sets the alarm and makes sure that I get up to eat breakfast with him about once/week. Usually he wakes and leaves for work while the rest of us are still snoozing. But one day a week, we make an effort to eat breakfast together. This started a little over a year ago.

He preps a nice breakfast, such as the French Toast I mentioned or perhaps an omelet with fresh fruit as pictured here. We have coffee and breakfast under our twinkle lights that light up our dining room year round. Much of the time I just sit there without much to say. I am amazed at how much staring at him with my morning hair makes him happy.

Can you see the lights behind him and his big smile?
We do make a great team. However, like all great teams we have to keep working at the fundamentals to keep being a winning team. This idea of once/week morning breakfast came after a long season of unusual circumstances in our lives. Hubby & I were struggling to stay connected beyond the communication it took to handle the logistics of caring for others (which included emergency foster care and his dad in the hospital for five months in addition to caring for and homeschooling our four children).

This effort to connect in a new way for this new season has reaped much more than the effort it takes to get myself out of bed. We only get about 10-20 minutes before he dashes off to work at 6:30 a.m. but we both look forward to this time.

Something fresh. Something that has a cost. An effort at connecting. These elements contribute to our winning marital team strategy. We both win.

Another bonus has been using up day old French bread; it makes fantastic French Toast. I don't think that I can ever go back.

How about you? 
How could you connect in fresh, meaningful way with someone in your life this week? 
Or perhaps you have a great way to use old bread?

And for those so inclined, the recipe, straight from Betty Crocker, follows:

Custardy Overnight French Toast,
per Betty Crocker's 40th Anniversary Edition

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs
18 slices French bread, each about 1" thick

Beat flour, milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs with hand beater until smooth. Arrange bread slices just to fit in single layer in glass baking dishes. Pour egg mixture over bread slices. Turn to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat or to 375 degrees. Cook about 6-8 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

10 Lessons of October 2014

10 Things I Learned in October 2014

1) I miss my family more than I realize. While hanging out with my mom, my sister, & my niece during their October visit, I realized afresh how much I miss all of my family. Just because I've adapted to the gap, does not mean the gap isn't there.

2) Huge beach balls, bubbles, and confetti all contribute to the art of celebration. Thanks to the Rend Collective concert and the reminder that we need to be intentional about celebration in our lives.

3) Trick or treating for teenagers is much more fun with friends.

4) I am inspired by high school debaters. They give me great hope for the next generation.

5) Sometimes when I am compelled to lead a Bible study, it isn't about some great work that God will do through me. Instead it is about a message that God has for me,  the Bible study leader. Right here.  Right now. The study is Stronger: Finding Hope in Fragile Places by Angela Thomas.

6) I have thoroughly underlined the book Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. One among many insights gleaned and embraced is the fact that it is okay if I need to grieve differently than other people. I don't need to wait until everyone feels the same as me. I can do what I need to grieve even if it means this extrovert needs to do some of it alone.

7) As my sister shared some of her struggles as a single mom due to the death of her husband four years ago, I realized afresh we never know someone else's story and how they got where they are. I know her story; I have great admiration for how she lives out her path. However, when she shared some of her story, I realized that I needed to have more compassion on people when I don't know their story. It is a reminder that it is easy to judge by appearances.

8) I am learning afresh how much that I like to write. My Wednesday evenings have changed and I am taking the opportunity to write. I love it.

9) After one year on Facebook, I realize that more of my on-line time has gone to Facebook instead of reading and writing blog posts. Is this good or bad? Or the way that I want it to be? Not sure. But it is the reason why I have posted even less over the past year.

10) I am learning right now that I would really like lists to have 10 items even when I can't think of things that I have learned.

Linking with friends at Chatting at the Sky.
The End.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebrating a man deeply admired

Happy Birthday to my Father-in-law, Clarence. October 22, 2014, would have been his 81st birthday. He was a man who worked hard, played hard, and loved deep. He had a twinkle in his eye, an easy laugh, and a hankering for sweets.

For a little over twenty-one years, I have lived near my father-in-law. Yet, I learned more about the depth of his character during the last 13 months of his life than all the years before. Oh, his character was there all along but the depth of it was revealed through a long trial of watching him struggle to breathe in the hospital for months. It is hard to remember those days of suffering – it was equally hard to see his wife so distraught at his distress. And yet, it was in the suffering, that I saw a man worthy of my deep admiration.

He left a strong legacy in his daughter and five sons. This year he celebrates his birthday with Jesus.

In a few days from now, we will remember the last day we saw him alive. Then, a few more days and we will remember the day he went to be with Jesus. We miss you Clarence!
Some links to the other part of the story:
and one of my favorites from this season:

We grieve with hope, as it says in I Thessalonians 4:13-14:

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How to Change Frustration to Thankfulness

Let’s play a game. What do a rock, a magnetic letter “R”, and a fruit snack wrapper have in common?

Can you guess their commonality?

Aww, it may be a trick question since their connecting point is simply that they have all been found in my purse.

Yep, you got it. A rock, an R, and a wrapper lived in my purse for a time.   

Sometimes when I notice such things, I get a ‘burst of love’ and I delight in the children that put them there. But, unfortunately, there are the many other times that I just get frustrated. Often, I sigh, “Why is this in here? Who put a rock in my purse? Why do they think my purse is a garbage can?”

On those days, all I can see is work, inconvenience, and thoughtlessness. Rocks need to go outside. Toys need to be put away. Wrappers need to go in the garbage can. Why am I the only one who cares about such things?

When I first became a mom, it was easier for me to be thankful because there was a time when I thought that I couldn’t have children. Sadly as the years sail on by, I easily forget these words that I penned long ago:

“There are so many hopes and dreams tied up into having a baby that I never fully realized were there. Until now. When we are really trying.  And it’s not happening. I can’t believe how much it is a daily ache within me. Yet, I am still hopeful and know that it’s the Lord who opens and closes the womb. And He can choose to do that for us.”

 Eventually, God granted our hope and dream of children.

About nine months after my firstborn son arrived, I said, “The hardest of days with my child are better than the best of days when the longing was so great.”

I wish I could hang onto those feelings of overwhelming gratitude.

But, to be honest the day-to-day grind takes its toll. I often do not stop to ponder and delight in my children. Nor am I thankful for all things at all times.

However, I recently discovered how to change my frustrated thinking into thankfulness. Angela Thomas, in her book Tender Mercy for the Mother’s Soul, says:

The blessings of motherhood have been honored through the ages. Somewhere inside of us, God has told us that this assignment and these relationships surpass any calling on earth. Somewhere in your soul, you know that to hold your own baby and kiss the back of his neck is a holy privilege. The blessings of motherhood are the kinds of things that take our breath away—the moments you hold in your heart forever.
            One day someone asked me, “What are the three hardest things about having four small children?”
            I quickly responded, “No sleep, the never-all-folded laundry and talking to little people all day.”
            Then he asked, “What are three of the best things?”
            I immediately realized that the blessings came attached to the frustrations. “The best things are having my three-year-old crawl into the middle of our bed around 2 a.m. and hold my hand the rest of the night … clean-footed pajamas on freshly bathed toddlers, scooting around the house until bedtime…and the tender words that come from the pure heart of a child.”

 ‘Blessings come attached to the frustrations.’ To learn how to see the blessing that is tied to the frustrations of life is the key to learn how to give thanks for all things at all times.

So, here, I’ll go first.

What can I be thankful for with this rock? Well, when I ask my children who made the rocks, they gladly shout, “God did.” I am thankful for their tender hearts that so easily claim the truths of Jesus.

What about the letter “R”? When I think of this letter R, I can see my two-year-old handing it to me and saying, “Here go, Mommy.” It is a gift from the hand of a two-year-old just because she loves me.

What about the fruit snack wrapper? I can remember the delighted whoops in the grocery store when I finally said “yes” to one of their repeated demands of ‘Mommy can I have this?” Truly, it takes so little to please them.

I am deeply thankful to have children. Therefore, I am glad that I have a rock, a letter R, and a fruit snack wrapper in my purse. They are reminders that God has fulfilled a deep longing in my heart.

And so you just might find a rock in my purse and wonder why it’s there.

Well, I left it there to remind me to be thankful for the frustrations in life because they are really just reminders of how God has fulfilled a deep longing of my heart.

How about you? 
Can you think of the blessing that is tied to a frustration in your life? 
Please share in the comments.

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