Monday, September 29, 2014

Freezer Cooking

Every time I freezer cook there are so many real life friends, Facebook friends and other friends who ask, implore, and beg me to include the recipes, them in the next round, or just pop some meals by their freezer.
I've done this a number of different ways over the past few years, sometimes it's just me in my kitchen with an overabundance of an item that needs to be used or frozen, sometimes it's a dozen ladies from church, my MOPS group and even people I don't know previously, and this time it was just me, one of my besties, and her Mama who was visiting from far away. We still used the church kitchen for convenience and space, but it was quick, painless, and oh so delicious.

If you are squeamish or overly concerned about germs, I do not advise doing this with large groups. Just don't. Everyone ends up touching your food in one way or another. We take all the usual precautions and wash hands and surfaces and even sometimes use gloves when handling raw chicken. But just wanted to put a general disclaimer in there. I should also note that most of the people I do this with are not picky. Nothing gets measured exactly every time. It just isn't likely to happen when making a large quantity of something. Quality control is compromised sometimes. And I always run out of something. It never fails. Sometimes it's honey, this time it was salsa. I forgot my salsa.

Katie, Grandma Darlene (as my kids call her), and I did 22 meals in about an hour. We had prepped a bit the night before by browning our ground beef, so there was no actual cooking the day of, just cutting, assembling, and labeling.

All this to say, here are the recipes Katie and I used and their origins to the best of my knowledge. We started by making a Pinterest board where both of us could pin our favorites. We had a request from a very pregnant friend for lasagna, so we knew we couldn't let her down. And then we just chose a few more. We have similar eating families (a few picky eaters between us and some not-so-picky eaters too) and so it was pretty easy and actually hard to narrow down. Once we picked 5 dishes, making two for each family (totaling 4 of each dish, except the lasagnas- we made six) was easy, its just the same thing over and over assembly line style. I made a shopping list, texted it to Katie, we did our shopping separately and showed up that morning with our supplies.

We lay it all out according to dish and just divvy up the duties, lasagna is more intensive, so Katie and I worked on that together, but the others are easy and we all kinda just pitched in. (Kudos to Grandma Darlene for cutting some super strong onions!)

Let's cut to the chase, here are the recipes.

Lasagna from Andrea Richards
This is my family's favorite Lasagna. We had it in Nebraska last year and now it's the only lasagna I make, mostly because you don't have to boil the noodles. I hate boiling the noodles.
1 lb. hamburger                        8 oz. uncooked lasagna
32 oz jar spaghetti sauce           ½ c. water
1 tsp. salt                                  3 c. mozzarella cheese
2 c. cottage cheese                   ½ c. parmesan cheese
Brown hamburger, drain.  Add water, salt & spaghetti sauce.  9x13 pan, layer 1/3 spaghetti sauce mix, ½ noodles, ½ cottage cheese, & ½ mozzarella cheese.  Repeat layers ending with sauce.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Bake covered @ 350 degrees for 2 hours.

We had this tonight for dinner. Hubby was a skeptic (he's not a huge fan of black beans in his Mexican) but everyone loved it. We froze these without the sour cream and cheese and I froze mine without the salsa and just added it to the crockpot this afternoon when I put it on to cook. I used plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream (shhhh, don't tell the family!) and quite a bit less cheese (and cheddar at that) and let everyone add their own to theirs. My boys ate these as tacos, baby girl ate hers as a soup, and I ate it over cooked frozen veggies because I forgot to make brown rice.

Italian Chicken from Kelly Drews
This is a family favorite that we made at our first ever freezer cooking thing and I have made at my house ever since. Hubby drains it a little and eats on a sandwich bun, the kids eat it over pasta, and I like it over brown rice and add cooked frozen veggies. (Are you catching a theme here?)
1lb chicken breasts                 1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 c tomato sauce                 1 packet Italian dressing seasoning mix
2 TBSP soy sauce
Put this all in a bag and freeze together. To cook put in crockpot and cook 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Take chicken out once cooked and shred and add back into crock.

The last two I haven't tried yet. Obviously, we think they seem delicious or they would not have made the cut. :)

Do you freezer cook? Cook together with friends? Have a favorite freezer meal? Let us know in the comments and we'll likely give it a try!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why I don't cry on the first day of school

Our school was the last in the area to begin school this year. Part of me felt like the the last week of summer lasted FOREVER and I wondered if I was going to survive (I might still not, pre-k doesn't start for another week). But part of me got all super nostalgic and I wanted to cram in everything we didn't do over the summer into four days. I resisted. I realized we'd done enough and my children's summer memories were already made.

One other thing I noticed this year was the amount of tears from Mamas all over the country as their precious babes returned to the hallowed halls of school buildings all over. Granted these are Facebook and Instagram tears, so the figures may be skewed. I thought about the motivation behind these tears. Was it tears of regret, time passing too quickly, sheer happiness of a returned schedule? I hugged a crying mama at the bus stop this morning sending off our first graders (I know this mama, she's not just a stranger at the bus stop) but also felt a little guilty, I have no tears. I kinda just want to do a little happy dance!

It's the first day of school! There's new pencils and notebooks and new teachers and friends. There's the smell of new books! There's the joy of making it to another mile marker in the road of life without any trips to the emergency room and so many memories were made!

I decided that me not crying showed a couple of things about me.

One. I love school! I love that my overly social and extroverted little kids can have 7 hours of asking someone else questions. I find a huge value in our public school system and choose to show my kids that school and education and all the things that entails are something to be excited about and hunger for instead of sad about. Being a teacher at heart, I still get excited when the school supplies show up in the Target aisles and still have dreams (sometimes nightmares) about being in the classroom.

Two. I'm not overly sentimental. About my kids anyway. I get super sentimental about old movies, and babies, and smells that remind me of something. But not my kids. I love them with a fierce and enduring kind of love, but their baby scrapbooks may never be finished. 

Three. I value the time I have with my kids so much more when we have time apart and I love them having their own little experiences and interests. I'm the kind that needs to miss something a little to value it all the more. I love hearing their little stories and watching my little people become big people in this world.

Now comes all my disclaimers. Crying on your kids first day of school is not terrible, horrible, or make you a bad mama. :) Also, I haven't cried yet, but I'm leaving myself the grace to change my opinion at any time.... isn't that what being a mama and doing all this parenting stuff is all about?

All that being said, here's the obligatory first day of school picture. It was promptly followed by a sprint to the bus stop because the bus was FIVE minutes EARLY on the first day. Seriously. FIVE.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Organizing You - Not just a book review, but a heart review

I have a friends list on Facebook full of weird acquaintances. Unless you are diligent about unfriending people, then you probably do as well.

I have a friend, Megan, that I went to high school with. We were in orchestra together and had overlapping friend circles (imagine a Vinn Diagram here, it's high school). I believe she was a year ahead of me (but maybe two). Now, I love our Facebook interactions, we possibly know each other better through our posts on facebook than we did in high school. Her family seems like one that I would totally want to hang out with, her kids are adorable, and she just remodeled her kitchen. I love Facebook for it's ability to have relationships with those who we normally would not.

Megan still lives nearish to where we grew up (much closer than I) and belongs to a MOPS group. She contacted me about a friend who is a speaker and writer and connected me with her.

Reading Shannon Upton's book Organizing You: Finding Your Spiritual Clutter and Using Organization to Clear It Out started as more of a preview to see if the MOPS Mamas in my group might be interested. I honestly didn't expect to get much out of it. I'm an organizing junkie. I mean I've got Pinterest boards with all kinds of ideas and life hacks. I've got bins in all my cupboards and most of them are labeled, I dearly love my day planner and use it daily. I've got a messy counter here or a secret drawer there, but who doesn't. But yearly, when planning our meetings, my MOPS leadership team clamors for more organizing tips and tricks.

I didn't realize what this book would do for me. Shannon doesn't give you tips to keep your desk top cleared, but instead uses a Biblical framework to attack the clutter in our hearts and minds and souls. And really if we are focused on the inside, the outside just tends to follow suit, in my opinion.

And then I suddenly got the title.... Organizing YOU. Ah! I get it.

Shannon uses old school organization techniques to help clear and process the millions of things that go through our Mama brains at any second and gives them a place and a purpose and commits them to action. She gives multiple ways to do this and shares her whole strategy.

Here's what I love.  I was able to easily incorporate what I know works in my life and finish off what was already working to clear the rest of the clutter from my head and heart and allow me the freedom to plan to get things done.

One way she does this is through organizing days of the week into types of tasks. Assigning days like with pioneer times (Little House reference!) with modern applications. Adam just wishes that I'd scheduled a Baking Day like Ma did back on the prairie. For instance, I'm writing this on Monday because Monday is my correspondence day. I'll be blogging this morning, responding to emails, cleaning out my Dropbox, writing bills, sending thank you notes, planning my Sunday school lesson. Correspondence.

Normally one or two of those things would get done a day, but this way I can sit down, get it all out, and knock it out, not fret about it all week and cram in a bit of Sunday school planning late Saturday night (or to be more honest during breakfast on Sunday). I've planned it out, I knew it would be sitting here Monday morning, and my anxious heart has been calm about it.

All in all, Shannon is intentional about assigning tasks and time. To borrow a Dave Ramsey idea, she takes her time and tasks and assigns it a place and a name. It's the little tweak I needed to give me a little more guidelines for this school year. But her focus is to do what's important to our faith, our souls, our responsibilities as Christians.

Shannon's got more tricks up her sleeve, but I'll leave that to the book. What I truly appreciate about this is that Shannon is not a writer. She has a clear and distinctive voice, but she's not trained in writing. She's a mom.. She's got a wonderful idea. She's passionate about what she does and wants us all to be better JesusMoms. And it shows.

Here are some of Shannon's ideas being put to use. Along with my to do lists. Don't look too closely, you might faint.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Standing Tall

I've thought a lot about standing tall this week and it all came crashing into me this morning.

My breath has been taken away by Sunflowers growing on a vacant-right-now lot where a house used to stand pre-November 17th. The whole lot is covered with Sunflowers standing tall and nodding their heavy heads in the breeze.

Just a block over I've watched builders make amazing strides on a home that didn't exist a week or two ago. It's standing tall-er and taller each day as I slink past in my mini van taking pictures and trying to explain to the workers that it's not my home, but I'm excited just as well.

I've been making strides (this time pun intended) on running and realized that my back was out of alignment, so went to my favorite neighborhood chiropractor. I always feel I'm standing tall-er afterwards for a few days. 

I've stood tall next to dear friends of our family while their little girl has open heart surgery, not afraid of our faith and praying with them in a hospital waiting room knowing the peace that surpasses all understanding falls upon them as they wait.

I've also cried in my car because I'm tired, cranky, a little bit lost for direction and pulled in so many others, wishing I could stand a little taller to see what's just around the bend in my future that would make it all ok.

This morning Penny was doing some crafts. Making little flowers to attach to pencils or straws. She hands me the one pictured below as I'm making appointments and sending emails and doing my daily grind. I'm working furiously while I have a few moments of (semi) quiet, I almost miss it, this little gift and blessing from my little girl, clearly sent by God, that little change of perspective, that little nudge. Right there on my calendar, for me to write the last of my to-do list and appointments with.
Romans 5:2 (MSG) We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

That's where I want to be. Standing tall and shouting my praise. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I've started a new Bible Study with ladies from my local Mothers of Preschoolers group and ladies from my church. Stronger by Angela Thomas has opened some doors in my relationships with these women who I am so very thankful for and Angela's heart and soul and insight give my heart and soul and insight a refreshing tweak on some things that are dormant and weak. That combined with some other words of wisdom from Kristin Armstrong in Mile Markers I've been reworking some things on the inside.

Angela's tone of voice and her inflection and sweet,sweet spirit take ideas and make them come alive. I've had this happen with certain things over the years that I've read, or speakers I've heard. Jane Austen in high school with Pride and Prejudice, Michele Cushatt at the first Hearts at Home Conference I attended, CS Lewis's Mere Christianity, Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts. All these things left me feeling clean and new and with a shift in perspective.

Part of what I'm working on is taking my weaknesses, my shortfalls and giving them over to to God's strength. Don't let the exterior, shiny, happy, Sunday face fool you. I'm not as brave as I'd like to be, as secure in myself as I've ever wanted to be, and more critical of myself and extensions of myself than I ever should be.

Angela's point is that Our Weakness + God's Strength = God's Glory . When we take all of our failures and give them over to God's strength, He turns them around to His glory. The more we give Him of ourselves the more of His strength He can (and will) give us. 

The best part? This was only the first week. I'm so very excited to be tweaked by this woman of God who doesn't promise to fix my life in 20 easy steps, but instead, biblically and caringly lays out the truth of God's Word for me to rediscover, water to a dry soul.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rough ReEntry

I've been trying to figure out where this summer will shake out. So far it's been bumpy, full of turbulence, and just enough dips and dives to keep us in our seats with our seat belts fastened.

The end of the school year is just what we all expect, full of big-deal awards ceremonies and everyday being a special day for some reason. Adam and I escaped the last few days by taking our own magical vacation to Disney World without the kids to "relax." Relax in quotes because it was spent with 10 hour days rushing from attraction to attraction and barely at all relaxing. But it refueled my husband, allowing him to be as goofy as he wanted and adding to his list of characters he has robot danced with.

Our plane ride home was not smooth, Adam and I squabbled, both worn out and coasting down from vacation highs, and there were storms outside causing a physically bumpy ride home as well.

It was definitely a great metaphor for what has been and what continues to be our summer.

The only thing that was keeping me afloat through those last few hectic days of school was flipping to the middle of July in my calendar to find the pages empty. I quickly filled them with lazy afternoons at the pool and Popsicles out on the patio.

Instead we've come home to Vacation Bible School, and tumbling, swim lessons and birthdays, play dates and doctor appointments. My desk is so crowded again that I had to arm shove things over to make room for the laptop just a few moments ago.

I'm discouraged by things that need left silent, and encouraged by so many others. It's a cloudy roller coaster of highs and lows, just like on that airplane. I'm a little unsure of where we are but I know I'm supported and kept flying by God's love and grace. I just have to blindly hope in that and somehow rest in that, while I continue to shuttle to and fro with the kids, with our schedules, with the open ended things I've been ignoring, and while jumping in and beginning new things.

Today I needed to write. I stole 10 minutes of the scheduled kids' school time and sent them out to play early so I could. Now I'm going to push post and crank up an upbeat Pandora station and move some stuff around on my desk  hoping to make a dent in it.  It's been a rough reentry into my life as I know it, but I should have expected it. Taking a break from life doesn't change it, but only makes you more aware of it. For better or worse, it's mine, so I'll take it and make it as joyful as I can.

Monday, April 28, 2014

tornado cry

I'm supposed to be meal planning, but I've been sitting here for an hour. Just praying. Devastated for those who lost their homes, and even lives, yesterday in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. 
Tornados rip your heart out. There's nothing like a tornado. There's no way to describe it. 
Today I had a "tornado cry". My local friends will understand the term. They'll even chuckle a tiny bit in reverence and nod their heads. They'll have "that" look on their face and their hearts will say a prayer for those hurting today. Scenes will run through their heads, as they are mine, knowing the pictures on the news we will all be glued to today do absolutely nothing to show the depth and scope of hurt and destruction. 
I let the littlest one watch a news blurb on my phone. She asked if that was our town. I said no. She knows the sight. It's ingrained in her too. The oldest was the one who told me this morning of the tornados. He heard it on his radio. He knows of the mess, the importance of life and safety, the look of our currently warm, but severe, weather. He looked a little worried but had no words to express it. 
But they also know the Hope. They know Who watches over them. They know that while there is sin in our earth that bad things will happen, even to good people. Even to people who love The Lord. But they know that no matter the circumstances, they are loved. That The Lord will take care of them. They know their Hope is not in this world. 
I'm giving up on the meal plan. We're going to drive through the rebuilding and watch a friends foundation be pulled out so that a new, stronger one can be poured. We will pray. The earnest connected prayers of ones who have seen the total destruction but have come through the valley and are being constantly redeemed and showered with grace. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Pruning

Most mornings I sit with my calendar in my lap while I drink a little coffee on the couch. Cuddled next to me is a rapidly growing little girl. She grows so fast sometimes I think I can hear it happening as we are watching Peg+Cat on PBS. 
My calendar as my constant companion reminds me of things (hopefully) before I forget them. It contains my ever growing and changing To Do List. Sometimes I can hear it growing as I sit here as well. 
This morning sitting here on my phone, calendar in lap, after rushing through the bus stop routine of packing a lunch, sending hubby to an early meeting, the big kid off to school, I found myself day dreaming of the approaching summer. Of lazy mornings with little obligations except soaking in water and sun at the local pool. I'm dreaming away the next few weeks that run at a fever pitch of end of year recitals and picnics. 
It makes me begin to think about this past year and evaluate the work we've been involved in, by choice or obligation. By nature of full time ministry or by choices we've made as a family. I've felt over extended this year, stressed in ways that can just as easily bring growth as much as exhaustion and anxiety. But as any good runner knows, after an extended time of pushing limits, you need to rest to become stronger, to recover. 
I'm yearning for a rest. For a quietness. For pruning a few things out of my life to allow what I love to become brighter and stronger. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

the thief

I do it all the time. I compare things. I compare prices on the shelf at the supermarket, name brand vs store brand (there's very few things I won't buy in store brand), the reviews of the new running shoes I've heard are lighter, streamlined, faster, my eight weeks uncut, roots growing out from my last color, hair to the freshly coifed (and awesomely dressed too btw) mom in front of me in line at the library.

I compare myself to those in my circle who stay home with their kids, to those who work all day and balance motherhood. I compare myself to the ones who spend the majority of their time at home cozy and warm and comfortable in their houses and those who are always on the go. I compare myself to the people I know who homeschool, unschool, private school and those who public school. I compare myself to the girls in the gym who are much quicker around the track, less flabby, longer legs.

Ugh, all this comparing takes up a lot of mental capacity, a lot of time, a lot of effort. It makes me want to change the way I stand, what I wear to the grocery store, how I carry myself and speak to those around me.

But really, it just steals my joy.

It steals my confidence in decisions I've made for myself and my family. It changes how I view my self worth, my ability to love every second of the life I've chosen, the life God has given to me.

I've been practicing stopping the comparisons in my head. I've been attempting to head off the "me/them" thoughts before they turn into doubt and jealousy.

I'm painfully reminded to block the comparisons when I view things through the eyes of my three year old daughter. She does not see the world through lenses of comparison. She sees her yellow and white striped leggings and her green shoes and her pink and orange shirt and sees a rainbow. She doesn't see the conformity that I sometimes wish she would see in a coordinating outfit. So I let her wear that outfit, because I don't know how long she'll last without seeing the comparison, and man I love her joy.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Agathosune is a Greek term to mean loosely, "to do a little good," but more officially the intrinsic goodness that comes from God and shows itself in moral excellence.

This word appears four times in the Bible, but its caught my eye in one in particular. In Galatians 5:22-23 the Fruits of the Spirit are listed. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (NIV italics mine) I've studied this list recently during a study by Beth Moore, but it's the thought of goodness that has kept rolling around my head. 

I've written this word, this agathosune, on a card and taped it to the window above my window. There's a whisper in my head when I feel my voice getting a strained tone with my preschooler, "do a little good," that reminds me to change my tone and give a little grace. When one more person asks me to complete a task as church and I'm tempted to inwardly roll my eyes, even though I know I'll say yes, I remember agathosune, just do a little good. 

I'm not being asked to move mountains, I'm not being told to run the world with three cotton balls, a roll of duct tape, and five quarters. It's not an impossible task I'm asked to complete. God has asked me to "do a little good" to possess and show that goodness He has shown me time and again.