Monday, April 30, 2012

"Quick" Update

I've been missing you, dear readers, so I thought I'd give you a quick update on where I've been lately and what I've been doing. I never seem to be able to write anything quickly, so we'll see if this ends up being "quick" or not.

1. Birthday season. From late January to the end of April is not just hockey season, it's birthday season around here. All five of us have birthdays within a couple of months, so it's a little crazy baking cakes, hanging crepe paper, and buying gifts.

2. School. Last Friday was the last day of classes, so I picked up a little light reading.

3. Grading. (See above.) Those puppies need to be graded this week, and since it takes me nearly 30 minutes each, this could take some time.

4. Not writing. (See #2 above.)

5. Saying goodbye. College students are leaving, so we had a couple fifteen or so over for one last dinner last weekend. That has to be one of my favorite things to do.

6. Thinking about graduation. This year we have two graduations--one from high school and one from middle school. This means planning and dress-buying. These things take time.

7. Getting ready. . . for guests, that is. Over the next few weeks our home will be filled with family and friends--just the way I like it. It's going to be a busy time, but so much fun to have people in and out.

8. Getting together . . . with friends. Last week I went into the city to spend a day with Glenda, and it was what I'd consider one of my perfect days in the city: lunch at Julius Meinl Cafe, a walk around a cool neighborhood, a trip to Vintage Pine, and a stroll through the Lincoln Park Whole Foods--all with a great person! In the coming weeks I have many other fun get-togethers planned with friends.

9. Nominating. Have you ever served on a nominating committee at your church? If you have, you know what I've been up against since January. Almost done.

10. Planning. Have I mentioned that I'm going on a missions trip this summer? We leave in nine weeks. Wait. What? Nine weeks?! How can that be? Oh dear.

So there. Just ten things I've been doing lately. I'm sorry I'm not around here as much as I'd like to be, but it just can't be helped right now. I'll get back here as soon as I can think again, which will be soon, because this pile?

will soon become this pile.

Those grades WILL be posted and summer WILL begin. Soon!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Shaklee Basic H winners

Well, the odds were certainly in your favor on this one!

Winners of the Shaklee Basic H giveaway are:




Congratulations, girls! I'll be in touch so you can claim your prize.

Come back later this week because I'll have another fun giveaway for you!


Friday, April 20, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Banana Streusel Muffins

I can't believe I haven't shared a muffin recipe with you yet. I love making muffins--so easy!

I especially love eating muffins--they're kind of like your own personal cake, except healthier.

At least I tell myself they're healthier--they have fruit in them, right? One can dream.

For these muffins, I simply searched around on the internet and found a recipe that looked like a good start. But, of course, it's me; I had to tweak the recipe just a bit. And one of my tweaks was adding whole wheat flour. Yea for healthy muffins!

So if you've got some bananas hanging around that are threatening to turn brown pretty soon, grab them, smash them up and get baking.

Here we go!

Basically, muffins take three bowls: a big, daddy-size bowl for dry ingredients; a medium, mama-size bowl for wet ingredients; and a small, baby bowl for the topping.

After you've mixed your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon) in one bowl and your wet ingredients (eggs, sour cream, melted butter, mushed bananas) in another, you just combine them.

Wet ingredients into dry, please.

Voila! Batter!

True confessions time: I only wanted to make muffins because Julia and I recently found these adorable muffin papers at Sur Le Table (LOVE!).

Aren't they the cutest?!

Of course, I don't need much of an excuse to bake. Excuses galore needed to exercise, but baking? Never!

I digress . . .

Now make your streusel. It's not hard. Just remember to combine the flour, sugar, and cinnamon first, then cut in the butter using either two knives or a pastry blender (my preferred method).

Now sprinkle the streusel on top of the batter in the muffin papers.

Another true confession: I doubled the streusel from the recipe I found on the internet. I like a lot of streusel! Don't worry, I doubled it on my recipe, so you won't have to.

Now you're ready to pop them in the oven. Pop! (Side annoyance: I've already written about how I kinda dislike Sandra Lee. She's the one who always says, "Pop! them in the oven" all perky-like. Ugh.)

See? Plenty o' streusel.

Bake these puppies for 20-25 minutes in a 375 degree oven and here you go . . . banana deliciousness.

Another side note: don't you love my cake stand?

I got it last year when I was in New York at a store we stumbled upon one evening called Fishs Eddy. Such a cool store! I was so happy to find this cake stand because the stand comes apart from the plate, making it easier to store in my cupboard. Plus, every time I use it I remember the fun times I had with those sweet girls in NYC.

These muffins turned out great! Not too sweet, and just the right consistency. Give them a try this weekend.

You can find the printable recipe here.

And also, if you paid veeerrry close attention to this post you got a bonus recipe. Did you find it? :)

Tell me, what's your favorite kind of muffin?


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shaklee Basic H {giveaway!}

I’m known for my killer cinnamon rolls. I can decorate my house fairly well most of the time. I love doing those things. I could spend all my days just cooking and decorating and doddling about my house.

But there are certain household tasks that I just don’t like. Laundry, for one. After many, many years of doing laundry for five people (that number is getting lower these days, thank goodness!), I find that chore to be sheer drudgery.

And cleaning. I’ve never been very good at it. Probably because I try to rush through the job so I can get to the chores I prefer.

My friend, Harper, recently told me about a product that can save me time in the areas that I don’t particularly like to do around the house: Basic H by Shaklee. This stuff is amazing! You can clean everything in your home with it, including mirrors and windows. You can use it for bubble bath and to wash your car!

Basic H was formulated over 50 years ago, and the formula still works. People have found thousands of uses for Basic H over the years, and I’m sure the uses just keep coming. Best of all, it’s safe for your children, pets, and the environment. Just use a small amount of Basic H diluted in water (the amount depends on what you’ll be using it for), and you’re good to go!

This week Harper is giving away three bottles of Basic H to my readers—isn’t that cool?! (You can learn more about Basic H by clicking here.) Three separate individuals who don’t already use Shaklee products (sorry, current members are not eligible) will win a bottle of Basic H AND a lifetime membership to Harper’s Shaklee store. That way you can stock up on all of the other great products Shaklee offers.

All you have to do is head over to Harper’s website, check out the products she offers, and come back and tell me which products you find interesting and leave a comment below. Make sure I have your email address so I can contact you if you win!

Three random winners will be chosen on Sunday night and will be announced on Monday morning.

Let the (easy) cleaning begin!!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

To Work? Or Not to Work?

I’m sorry, but I have to weigh in on Hilary Rosen’s comment about Ann Romney. It has touched a nerve with me and, hey, why have a blog if one can’t use it as a platform every now and then?


I get it. Maybe that’s not what she meant, but it sure is what she said.

“She hasn’t worked a day in her life.”

It may have been a commentary on Ann Romney’s lack of experience in the field of economics, but still, the comment packed a punch.

Why? Why would that statement create such a firestorm among women and men, liberals and conservatives? Why is this issue of stay-at-home moms so electrifying?

Because the decision to stay at home with our children or to spend time working outside the home is an intensely personal decision, and when someone makes a comment, even a seemingly innocent one, that attacks that personal decision, it hurts. Deeply.

There are a thousand different ways I could go with this blog post, but I only want to say this, especially to my many friends who are just now learning to navigate the tricky waters of motherhood and working and family life: there is no right or wrong way to work out your own family.

Don’t misunderstand me: there are rights and wrongs in this world—the Bible makes it very clear on those issues. And the Bible gives us definite guidelines for our families.

But we Christians—and I am speaking to those of us who claim Christianity right now—sometimes put some extra parameters to those guidelines set forth in the Bible.  It’s like we want to add an 11th commandment: “your family shall look just like mine.”

In my lifetime I have heard things like, “You really should have more than X number of kids.” Or “You really should only have two children, then stop having kids.” Or “If you don’t breastfeed your children you’re not doing what’s best for them.” Or “If you don’t send your children to [insert type of school here] school you’re not doing the most you can do for your kids.”

And it goes on and on. The judging.

I’m guilty of it too. It’s something I pray about regularly.

But truly, I believe this, there is no right or wrong way to work out your family. If there were, God would have told us exactly how to do it. But he left some things intentionally hazy, probably so we could learn a thing or two about ourselves and about Him while we were working out how to do family life.

In the 20-plus years that I’ve been a mother I have . . .

-       stayed home full time.
-       worked outside the home part-time.
-       worked from home.
-       volunteered, a lot.
-       thought that having two kids was just perfect.
-       changed my mind about two kids.
-       wondered what kind of mom I’d be to four kids (probably not that great).
-       breastfed my baby (only one, and not for long).
-       bottle-fed, happily.
-       allowed my children to eat junk food.
-       gave them vegetables occasionally.
-       put my kids in preschool.
-       put my kids in regular school.
-       wondered if I’m doing any of this right.

My list probably looks very different from your list. And you know what? That’s O.K.!

What’s wrong is for anyone to look down on your list or mine for the choices we’ve made. And that’s my beef with Hilary Rosen. There’s just too much second-guessing the choices we women make in our lives, and Hilary Rosen simply added fuel to the judgmental fire.

Last week I talked with a friend who will be leaving for the mission field soon. She and her husband and two sons will be living in a place with one of the highest costs of living in the world (I can’t imagine having to raise the kind of support they are trying to raise!). To help supplement their income, my friend has applied for a job, but she told me she’s worried about her two young sons. Will they be O.K. if she works? (Her husband will be available to spend time with the youngest each afternoon.) What will people think?

I told her this: “There is no right or wrong here. Pray, and God will make it clear what you need to do.”

Friends, we need to release ourselves and each other from our own pre-conceived ideas of what’s right and wrong for our families.

-  Whether a mom works outside the home or chooses to stay home full time for 25 years is not a right or wrong issue.
-  Whether a family chooses to have two children or twenty is not a right or wrong issue.  
-  Whether the father stays home with the kids while the mom goes to work is not a right or wrong issue.

God is ultimately in control of our families. Let’s let Him decide how they should look. Seek Him, look to His approval, and focus on His ultimate glory and I promise you, your family will be blessed.

O.K., spill it. I'd love to know your thoughts. Leave me a comment! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good Friday

We had had a bad week.

Well, I can’t speak for him, but I had had a bad week, and it culminated, as it usually does, in us taking it all out on each other.

The busyness. The frustrations. The obstacles. The fears.

They all came crashing to a head, and I broke under the weight of it.

I’m not pleased nor proud that this is my pattern, but it is. The pattern of the everyday. The pattern of the worn out, the weary. The pattern of the sinner.

I stumbled, feeling every frayed edge of the day, into the Good Friday service, not feeling it, not wanting it, and not expecting it. It was supposed to be a time of reflection.

Oh, I had reflected alright. Reflected on hurt. Reflected on anger. Reflected on injustice.

Reflected on me rather than Him.

So I stumbled from the car—did that door close a little too hard?—and up the stairs—Why, hello! How was your day?—and straight into Him.

Only He was wearing a dress. And had thinning hair. And was sitting in a wheelchair. And was reaching out to me with a shaking hand, eyes locked on mine.

He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, and His husband was standing behind the chair, eyes pleading too, begging.

I grabbed His hand, trying to be kind.

“Will you help us, please?” His husband asked, gently. “My wife really needs to use the bathroom.”

The worn and weary became fear and I-can’t-do-this-but-what-choice-do-I-have?

Let me tell you something about me. When I sin, I sin big; you just can’t see it. Oh, it’s there, festering, stumbling, growing underneath a smile and a hug and a kindness that seems real.

And so I did what any person would do in a church. I said, “Sure. I’ll help you. Just tell me what to do.” But inside I was praying, “Why me?!

This is a fear, a huge fear of mine: Sick people. Weak people. People who need other people. And Jesus, seeing my weakened, sinful state, after a week of outright ugly, knew this.

Still, He asked. Of course, He asked.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40
Help Me? When it’s convenient.

Serve Me? When I have time.

Die for Me? Wait, You’re supposed to do that.

When I joined my family in the darkened church, unready to worship, I was wrecked.

The huge, wooden cross, draped in black, crown of thorns perched on top, mocked me from the front. The words to every song humiliated me.

He was not the One needing my help--I was the one needing His. His help, His service, His death. In my selfish state, I could not see Him until He asked me to do the one thing I did not think I could do.

Sick, weak, needy. That is the state of my heart every moment of every day. I should be in a hospital, I need healing so badly.

Yet in His merciful, graceful, lovingkindness He showed me that even at my worst—my sickened, weakened, needy state—He could still use me, helpless. In fact, only in that state can He truly use me.

“But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Upside down grace, that’s what He showed me last Friday.

Good Friday.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Spring Green Risotto

Note: This is a reprint of a post I did last June, but since it's Spring and also asparagus season, I thought this would be good to share again. Have a wonderful Easter!

This recipe comes straight from my cooking muse, Ina Garten. I want to be Ina. I want to cook her fabulous food and work in her fabulous kitchen and live in her fabulous home and throw fabulous parties for my fabulous friends. She is the epitome of fabulous.

Alas, I am not Ina and I'm pretty far from fabulous, but I can make her fabulous food (on Friday . . . get it?).

Let me tell you, this one truly is fabulous. I'm pretty much a risotto freak, and this is one of the best I've ever had. I've made it twice now, and both times it has been amazing.

Let's get cooking!

Assemble your ingredients (there are kind of a lot for this one--and I have no idea why they aren't all in the picture): olive oil, butter, leeks, Arborio rice, white wine, chicken stock, asparagus, peas, lemons, mascarpone cheese, and Parmesan.

Ina tells you to use a couple more ingredients like fennel and chives, but I didn't have them and I didn't feel like using them. My risotto turned out just fine.

Warm your stock in one pan while you heat the oil and butter in another.

Add the chopped leeks to the oil and butter, and cook a few minutes.

I just need to stop and say that I had never cooked with leeks before. Yes, it's true. I was a little intimidated because every time someone on the Food Network talked about leeks they sounded like leeks were such a pain in the neck to clean. I mean, what with all the tough green stems you had to cut off and the sand between the leaves, they made it seem like you could spend the whole day washing the darned thing before you got around to cooking it.

Enter Trader Joe's and their pre-washed, pre-cut, pre-packaged leeks. Can we all shout a collective "Amen" for Trader Joe's and their leek situation? Hallelujah!

Alright. I'm fine now.

Once you've softened the leeks, add the rice and stir it around a little bit to coat it.

Add some wine. And maybe just a splash more. Because . . . you know . . . wine!

Here's where you do the risotto thing. Once the wine is absorbed, start adding the chicken stock a couple of ladles-full at a time. Stir it around a bit so it doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pan. Because it will, if you don't watch it.

While that's happening, cook the asparagus in some boiling water for just a couple of minutes. Be careful here because you don't want mushy asparagus.

After two or three minutes, pull the asparagus out of the pot . . .

. . . and give it a good old ice bath.

By now, your risotto should be getting all nice and soft, but not too soft.

Add the asparagus and the peas (I don't know where the peas went in this picture!) and cook for about another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix together the mascarpone cheese and lemon juice.

Add that, along with the lemon zest and some salt and pepper, to the pot, stirring to mix everything together well.

And there you have it . . . Spring Green Risotto. Serve in a pretty dish and enjoy! (I know you will . . . it's that good.)

For a printable copy of the recipe (the way I made it, so it's not exactly Ina's recipe), click here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Three Signs

“Mom, can I ask you a question?”

I looked up from my cereal bowl.

“Sure. What’s up?”

And thus began one of the most significant conversations and, bonus!, time of prayer with my daughter that I’ve had in a long time.

It did not go unnoticed by me that my computer sat on the table nearby.


Later, walking the dog, I was thinking hard about how I haven’t written in a while and how I’ve been trying to balance (not all that well, mind you) being digitally distracted with doing the actual work of writing. Basically, I was thinking about slowing down to see what’s in front of me and what that meant and what that should look like in my life right now.

And then, a goldfinch.

Just sitting on a ledge. Near the sidewalk. Causing me to slow down, take a good look, and smile.

You just don’t see goldfinches around here every day.

Goldfinches require stopping because they’re skittish, goldfinches, and if you hurry or rush to see them they will fly away. Quickly.

Kind of like kids.

Later still, reading a couple of my favorite blogs, I read this from Suzanne. Click over. Read it. Listen to the music (Suzanne plays the BEST music).

Is it middle age? Is it God speaking to me? Is it just the fact that between my family, my church, and my class I have very little time left for this space here?

I don’t know what it is, but today I think I’ve found the balance. For now.

See, here’s the thing. I need to write my thoughts. I love writing those kinds of posts—the ones about the things I’m thinking about. But you don’t always want to read that. I mean, I’m kind of boring and a little strange and not to mention boring, so my thoughts might not always interest you (unless you’re married to me and then my thoughts HAVE to interest you).

You seem to be interested in food. 

Well, I am too. I love food!

But you seem to be especially interested in the food I cook for my family. Go figure.

So where I see things right now, at least until school ends in early May, at which time I will probably inundate you with posts about nonsense and my sorrow about my oldest turning 20 and being gone for the summer and only spending two weeks of 2012 in our actual home . . . *sigh* . . .

Where was I?

Oh yes, where I see things right now . . . is that I like to write deep thoughts (don’t laugh) and you like food. So I’ve come up with a compromise based on the three signs I got today telling me to slow down or let it go or whatever those signs were supposed to tell me. 

And the compromise is this: I will keep writing here. I want to keep writing here. But I will have to, for the next month or so until classes end (oh, I also have a high school graduation in May!) cut back a bit.

So between your needs and mine, I’m going to write one post for you every week, and one post for me. Your post will be called "Fabulous Friday Food," which will allow you a small peek inside our kitchen window, with a recipe to boot. My post will be posted here somewhere around Tuesday and will be something I’m thinking about, concerned about, happy about, or just plain about.

Sound like a deal?

Oh, one more thing. Since I’m giving you a recipe, will you give me something? Like a comment? Or a “Follow”? I’d love it so much, like, with whipped cream on top (but no cherry—I hate those cherries).

So today was productive. I figured some things out, thanks to the three signs I received.

How good is God?!

Photo credit