Friday, April 29, 2016

Fabulous Friday Food :: Mexican Food Done Three Ways {slow cooker recipes}

Some days call for taking it slow. Some days call for Mexican food. Some days call for walking in the door to a dinner that's ready to go.

And some days call for all three.

This week we're talking Mexican food done in a slow cooker for just those days when you want to throw something together and forget about it until dinner time. And, bonus! I'm giving you not just one, but THREE ways to do Mexican in the slow cooker.

This week's post is for Kate, my busy working girl who likes to cook but needs new ideas. Easy ideas. Slow cooker ideas. (And who asked me to do a post specifically for the slow cooker).

I got to thinking, what do I like to eat from the slow cooker? And one of my favorite things is Mexican food. Carnitas, tacos, shredded meat of any kind.

So I decided to try slow cooker Mexican recipes using three different types of meat: pork, chicken, and beef. I thought I'd do a little taste test and tell you which I liked best, but to be honest, I loved them all so much I couldn't pick a clear winner (although one person in the house did say that she liked the pork the best). The recipes I'm sharing today are all equally delicious, easy to prepare, and versatile.

And, as a bonus, they make a TON of food, so you can use the meat for leftovers all week. Think tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, nachos. No two meals need to be the same. (Although, if you really like tacos, go ahead and eat them every night. There's no rule about not repeating meals that I know of.)

This week, rather than step-by-step instructions, I'm just going to tell you a little about each recipe. Then you can just head to my Recipes page to get the printable recipe.

First up, Pork Carnitas.

This recipe came about because I saw a huge chunk of meat at Costco and knew I needed to have it. (Yeah, I'm not that girl who sees a new jacket or a cute workout top at Costco and needs it. I see meat and need to try it out. I'm so weird.)

Pork shoulder is a cut I had heard discussed on Food Network lots of times, but one that I had never bought before. I thought it would be fatty and gross, but actually, the meat turned out to be tender and flavorful. Absolutely delicious!

For this recipe, I bought a 7-pound pork shoulder and cut it in half. One half went directly into the freezer for another time (hmmm, this weekend, perhaps?), and the other half got cut into chunks, seasoned with a spice rub, and placed in my slow cooker.

You guys, there was nothing to it! Seriously. Rub the meat. Put it in the slow cooker. Squeeze some lime juice over the top. Chop up some onions and garlic. Add a couple of chipotle peppers and some chicken stock, and you're DONE!

Oh, the juicy goodness that came out of this one. We loved it.

[And can you believe that I forgot to take a picture? Yeah, me too.]

Up next, Slow-Cooker Chili Chicken Tacos (via Martha Stewart because, well, she's Martha and it's hard to improve on perfection).

I was a little hesitant to try this recipe because it called for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, and I am not, repeat NOT, a dark meat person. But I searched a ton of recipes for the one that met my criteria--moist, easy, and sounded delicious--and this one seemed to fit the bill.

So I put my big girl panties on and used the chicken thighs. Oh, I know, I could have probably substituted boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but sometimes the white meat can turn out dry in the slow cooker, so I got the thighs. I'm so glad I did!

This chicken turned out so tender and delicious, plus it was SO EASY to throw together.

You basically just toss all of the ingredients in the crock pot and let 'er go. Amazing.

Finally, the beef. This may be my favorite recipe of the three because I'm a farm girl and I love me some beef.

I've been making this recipe for a while now, and I can tell you that it's really, really good. It takes a little more effort than the previous two recipes, but it's worth it. Trust me.

As far as cuts of meat go, I've used a chuck roast (a pot roast for those of you who don't know your cuts of meat), and I've used round steak. The chuck roast comes out a little more juicy and tender, but in a pinch, round steak works just fine. It's a less fatty cut, too, if you're worried about that kind of thing.

For this one you make a spice rub, which you rub all over the meat, and then you brown the meat in a skillet or dutch oven until the meat is very brown on both sides. These are the extra steps. If you can get through rubbing and browning, you're home free.

Next, just place the meat in your slow cooker, throw some onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and beef stock on top, and forget about it.

Until you come back home later and your house smells like Mexican food heaven.

Obviously, all three of these recipes require shredding the meat with two forks. You can do this. I have faith in you.

And toppings. I suggest avocado or homemade guacamole, tomatoes, salsa, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

Ahhhhh. This is making me so hungry that I'm going to go thaw some meat and make some more.

And you should too. Make one of these recipes this weekend. You'll have more time to get outside and do fun stuff and your family will thank you.

For the printable version of these recipes, click on the recipe title below.

Pork Carnitas
Slow Cooker Chili Chicken Tacos
Shredded Beef Tacos

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Intentional Stewardship

Continuing in my Intentional Parenting series for the next two weeks, we'll explore the idea of stewardship. Money is a tricky topic, so I'd love your thoughts in the comments!


Let me just say right off the bat that I am no financial expert. I don’t even play one on T.V. (But I do sleep with one, so maybe that makes me qualified to write this post.)

What I do know is that money is a tricky, tricky issue. It can be the source of great joy, but it can also cause great sorrow.

Frankly, I hate money. I hate the necessity of it. I hate the lack of it. I hate when I disagree about it with my spouse. I hate everything about it.

Which is exactly why I have to be intentional about teaching my kids about money. Because I really believe that if you don’t show money who’s boss, it’ll quickly turn the tables on you and become your ruler.

Why do kids need to know about money?
Think about it. How much did you know about money when you got out of college or headed out on your own? Had you ever managed a check book? Had you ever had a savings account? Had you ever paid a bill?

I’ll bet you had a credit card, but did you know how much interest you were paying if you didn’t pay your entire balance at the end of the month?

Money is such a huge part of life, but too many kids are sent out into the world ill-equipped to make financial decisions for themselves. Too many young people have no idea what it takes to be financially savvy in the world today and they easily get themselves into trouble. They suffer because of their lack of knowledge, and, ultimately, the rest of the world suffers too.

But I truly believe that with careful planning and solid biblical training, anyone—even a child—can learn to be good stewards of their finances.

Financial principals we believe in
B and I trained our girls to handle money from a very young age, believing that knowing some basic financial principals would then turn into habits which would carry them into adulthood. And it has!

From the time they were four years old we have stressed stewardship in three ways: giving, saving, and spending. Today I’ll focus on giving and saving. Next week I’ll share how we taught our girls about spending.

The first time that B and I sat down as newlyweds to pay bills together was an eye-opener for me. He made it very clear that the first check we write on payday was our check to church. No exceptions. He said that if we were faithful in this, God would supply the rest of our needs.

And you know what? He has. Always and faithfully, God has met our needs as a couple. I could tell you stories about days when we didn’t think we’d be able to pay our bills, but how, at just the right time, God came through in miraculous ways. Today I am so thankful for a husband who has made giving a priority.

So when our girls were about four, we started them on a meager allowance of four quarters a week. Each girl had three jars that were labeled “Giving,” “Saving,” and “Spending.” And each week they would say the same thing over and over again: “One for God, one for saving, and two for spending.” It became a family mantra after a while, “One for God, one for saving, and two for spending,” but they knew the mantra and can repeat it today.

The order in which those quarters were dropped into the jars was extremely significant: the God jar was always first.

As they grew up their allowances got bigger, and everyone was expected to have a job, whether it was babysitting, painting, or hostessing at a restaurant. And we always expected them to put aside the first ten percent for God. They have learned, from a very young age, that God gives us money for a reason—to live, yes, but also to give. It’s a habit that I pray will continue as our girls get older.

The second jar was for saving. It got the same amount as the God jar (one quarter at first, more later) and came second, after God got His money. The idea here is that saving—even just a small amount—adds up and is just as much a priority as giving. If you don’t think you can save anything, think again.

Giving your kids savings goals is one way to help them learn this principal. We expected our girls to help pay for part of their college expenses, so each one had a savings account for that since they were very young.

But we’ve also gave them smaller savings goals as they got older. For instance, once they got into 6th grade, we made them start paying for part of their summer camp expenses. (Do you have any idea how expensive summer camp is?!) It’s not that we couldn't afford to pay for camp, it’s that we wanted our girls to appreciate the privilege of going to camp by investing in it themselves. In 6th grade we expected them to contribute $200 toward their camp fee. After that, it increased until eventually they have to pay half (which was about $500).

That probably sounds like a lot of money for a kid to have to save, but just think about the look of pride on your child’s face when they meet this difficult goal. I bet they will be beaming with pride.

Making and meeting savings goals helps keep kids accountable both to us as parents, but also to themselves. And the sense of accomplishment that they feel when the goal is reached will hopefully help them set more and higher goals in the future.

So to recap: emphasize giving back to God among the highest financial priority our kids should have. Teach them the concept of tithing first and foremost. And second, encourage your kids to have a savings goal. Even if they think they can’t save a dime, they will soon learn that they can do it and they will be happy they did.

Next week I’ll share some spending principles that worked well for us as well as some tips for teaching your kids about money. I hope you’ll join me then!

Previous Posts in my Intentional Parenting :: Reprise Series 
Introduction, Part 2

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Raise a Daughter Who Doesn't Need to Date {at Mothers of Daughters this week}

I have three grown daughters. All three are incredibly smart, hilariously funny, and strikingly beautiful. All three are either in or headed toward careers in business and medicine. They are gifted women who love Jesus.
None of them has ever dated seriously.
And that’s O.K.
I want to talk honestly about dating from the perspective of NOT dating because this is the reality for many girls. For some it’s a choice; for others, not so much. But for all of our girls, dating is a subject that is talked about so much, even in Christian circles, that a girl who doesn’t date might begin to feel that there’s something wrong with her.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
So today I want to write to encourage you to think about dating in a slightly different way: your daughter is not failing you, herself, or Jesus if she doesn’t date in high school or even in college.
Want to read more? Hop on over to the Mothers of Daughters blog to read the rest of my thoughts on raising girls and dating and all that good stuff. 

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Friday, April 15, 2016

When Life is Like Sprite

“Mom,” Julia said, “I learned today that vacations are ruined on little kids. I don’t know why parents even bother.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, today I asked the little girl I babysit for what her favorite part of her trip to Florida was and you know what she said? ‘I got to drink Sprite!’

We had a good laugh over that one, but I keep thinking that there’s got to be a lesson in there somewhere. It makes me wonder, is life completely wasted on us? Maybe God’s just looking down thinking, “I gave them so much. Everything, in fact. And all they do with it is barely exist. I came to give them LIFE . . . abundantly . . . and this is what they do with it?”

Kind of reminds me of “It’s a Wonderful Life” when the old man is sitting on his porch listening to a young George flirt with Mary. The old man casts aside his newspaper and says, “Why don’t you kiss her then?” George says, “What did you say?” and the old man repeats himself, “Why don’t you kiss her?” George hems and haws and can’t figure out how to take action, and finally the man throws his hands in the air and says, “Aw, youth is just wasted on the young.”

When we were young we thought like a child, but as we get older we’re supposed to have open eyes, to see the world with more maturity. But do we? Do we look around and see those who need a touch from us? We hold the most important thing in our hands—do we share it?

I read a heartbreaking essay this week, written by a friend of mine who recounted sitting with a little boy on a plane—an 8 year old unaccompanied minor. The plane hit turbulence and was diverted to another airport for a while, and the little boy was scared. My friend comforted him, sat with him, and became his friend on that flight, but she lamented that she didn’t share with him the most important thing—that he is loved by Jesus.

I’ve done that--or not done that. I know I have. I’m absolutely certain that I’ve had more misses than hits in that area.

So what do we do? How do we open our eyes and really see? How do we go to Florida and do so much more than just drink Sprite?

How do we walk on the beach, feeling every grain of sand between our toes?

Or splash in the water, waving our arms overhead with abandon?

Or take in every pink and blue and purple, every wispy cloud, every sparkle on the water while the sun sets spectacular like the most amazing free show on earth right in front of us?

How do we really feel the warmth of the sun on our skin or the breeze that brushes our hair across our face or the tingle of electricity when our lover takes our hand?

How do we really live when life seems like endless hours of travel for work or a never ending stack of papers that needs grading or when the baby won’t. stop. crying? How do we move one foot in front of the other when the diagnosis isn’t good? How do we open our eyes to the needs of others when our own needs feel so, so great?

Life feels, some days, like our Sprite has gone flat.

Here are perhaps a few suggestions that help my soul on those lifeless days. Maybe they will speak to yours as well.

Get to know Jesus. He is, after all, the one who came so that we can have life (John 10:10). Seems like life, especially a well-lived life, might be important to Him.

Say your prayers. When I was a little girl we prayed a nightly prayer that I still think about today: “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. When in the morning light I wake, help me the path of love to take.” That simple prayer reminded me to daily choose the path of love. I like that. I find that when I pray regularly I am better able to keep my eyes trained for the person who needs a little more attention that day.

Give thanks. A grateful heart looks around and sees so much more than a complaining heart does. A grateful heart takes note. A grateful heart sees not what has been lost, but what has been gained. Through gratitude, the colors of our day become richer, the experiences more meaningful, the details more noticeable.

So, yeah, vacations may be lost on the little ones. Youth may be wasted on the young. But may it never be said of us that this life that God has given us has been lacking.

It’s Sprite . . . and then some.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Intentional Truthfulness

As you are well aware, we're in an election season. The races are tight. Talk to a handful of people and you'll get a handful of opinions on candidates and their character. 

Frankly, nobody I talk to seems to know for sure who to vote for this year because the candidates appear to be less than forthright about who they are or what they believe. 

Scandals abound on both sides of the political aisle. No political party has the corner on the integrity market, that's for sure. It's hard to know who's telling the truth anymore.

And it's disheartening, isn't it? It's wearying, trying to sift through all of the propaganda and spin to get to the truth of what each person is saying. 

What really happened?

What does he or she really believe?

What will they really do once they get into office?

Wouldn't it be so much easier if people just told the truth?

But they don't. Plain and simple, that's the society we live in today. People do not think that their integrity matters.

Funny thing is, when the rare person steps forward who actually does tell the truth, someone who lives by the principle of honesty and integrity in all things, that person becomes noticed. For good or for bad, the light of truth shines forth.

Why Truthfulness?
Parents, let me say this as clearly as I can: start now to build integrity into your child. Teach them to tell the truth, no matter what. 

Because integrity matters, especially today when it's such a rarity in our world.

I see at least three reasons to build integrity into our kids:

1. Their relationship with God will benefit.

In His word, God tells us over and over again to be people who tell the truth. He commands it, in fact. And He does this for our benefit so that there is nothing between Himself and us, His children. Our reputation before a holy God is at stake.

2. Their relationship with others will benefit.

God also commands us to be truthful so that we will have positive and productive relationships with others. In his commentary on Proverbs 12:22 ("The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in those who tell the truth." NLT), Matthew Henry notes that lying is "destructive to human society." When we base our relationships on anything other than complete honesty, we are responsible, in part, in the degradation of our community, and society as a whole suffers from it. People who tell the truth are people who can be trusted.

3. The gospel of Christ will benefit.

I think this is the most important reason to build integrity into our kids--the cause of Christ. The more we live in this world as lights, the more different we become to those who are in darkness. People take notice when we choose to tell the truth, to take the high road, to be people who refuse to compromise our values. 

And when a Christian messes up? You've seen it in the headlines, shouted from the rooftops, heralded in the evening news. The name of Jesus is dragged through the mud and it's pretty ugly.

How Can We Start?

I said this in my earlier post: insist on truthfulness every time. Do not even allow "little white lies" to become a habit with your kids. Explain to them the importance of being truthful--it matters in their relationship with God, others, and the watching world. 

And one more thing: check yourself. Do you, Mom or Dad, have a problem with lying? It's so easy to fall into. Do you expect complete and utter truthfulness from yourself? Do those little white lies trip off your tongue easily? Know that your kids notice this too. If we don't expect the most from ourselves, how can we expect it from our kids? 

The truth matters in our world today. Being people of integrity matters. When we choose to tell the truth, people know they can trust us and the light of Jesus shines even brighter.

To read my original Intentional Parenting post on truthfulness, click here.

To read the other posts in the Reprise series, click below:

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Letter to My Daughters Featured at "For Every Mom" today!

Hi again! (Twice in less than 24 hours? I think that's some kind of record!)

Just wanted to let you know that my post, "Letters to My Daughters: Let's Talk About This Election," is being featured over at For Every Mom today. I'm pretty excited and hope you'll pop over to read it there (if you didn't read it here first).

And if you're stopping by from For Every Mom, welcome! I'm so glad you're here and hope you'll poke around a bit. I've got some of my favorite posts highlighted over on the right there. And if you need help with dinner, just click on my "Recipes" tab and you'll find a ton of family-friendly recipes.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Has Sprung (Or Has It?)

Hi there!

I thought I'd just do a quick update post today since I feel like it's been a little while since I've been around. I posted last week only because of the magic that is blogging--I scheduled the post ahead of time, shut the front door, and walked away.

So let's talk about spring, shall we? What is with this crazy Midwest weather? We've had warm, then rainy, then last week it was apparently warmish again, and today I PULLED OUT MY WINTER COAT! Seriously?! I'm feeling schizophrenic here and am definitely ready for the roller coaster of early-spring to be gone. Away. Out of here.

I'm ready for all out WARMTH.

Still, I shouldn't complain. Last week we enjoyed a few warm (and windy) days in Florida for what, I realized while we were there, might very well be our last spring break. Not that we adults actually "get" a spring break anymore, but it was our last spring break with a child in school in our home.

So that's a strange reality.

You know what else is strange? That same kid, our last, is graduating from high school in less than two months, and in less than four months she leaves for college, making us . . . empty nesters!

For what it's worth, I'm having all the thoughts. And yes, all the emotions. But as I told Julia, I'm going to write an article one of these days on why I'm excited about the empty nest. Yes, it's fraught with all kinds of feels, but it doesn't have to be a bad thing.

So this spring (and summer) is bringing big changes to our family.

Not only will Child #3 be shipping off to college, Child #2 will be shipping far, far away (our first to move out of the Chicago area) for graduate school. We're so proud of her and thrilled for the opportunity (she'll be entering a doctoral program in physical therapy), but to think it won't be an adjustment would be naive. Right now she lives less than a mile from home, and every so often she pops in my front door with a "Hiiii!" and a hug. Come August, I'm going to have to drive 15 hours to get that hug.

It'll be totally worth it.

What else do I have to tell you? Ah, yes! Every-other spring brings one of my favorite writing conferences ever: the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, and it's next week. I've attended this conference for the past 10 years--this is my sixth Festival--so it's obviously a favorite. Plus, it's usually around the time of my birthday, so it feels like a bit of a present to myself to geek out to go listen to writers talk for three days.

I'm also excited to be leading a Festival Circle (a small group that will meet twice during the weekend) on writing prompts, which will serve the dual purpose of making me feel like a teacher again (yea!) AND dusting off some of the more creative ideas I've had rolling around in my brain. Who knows? Maybe I'll find some inspiration in my own seminar.

Inspiration. That's what I feel like I'm lacking these days. Things have been slightly crazy around here, so it will be nice to slow down and have a few days to just soak in the writerly life. (Not that the Calvin Festival is a chance to slow down--not at all! This serious introvert will come back exhausted from all the people and the talking and the stimuli. But it will be great.)

A couple of weeks ago, amid calendar coordinating and tax preparations and talking through business travel, I asked my husband, "Do you think our lives will ever slow down?" To which he simply asked, "Do you want it to?"

He knows me so well.

And now, so do you. At least, you know a little more about what's been happening in my life and what's to come.

It's always a whirlwind.

But such a good whirlwind it is.