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Monday, December 19, 2011

Caramel Corn


This recipe is a classic.  I didn't think I liked caramel corn until my neighbor Beckie brought this to us several years ago.  I ate almost the whole tin before anyone else even got to try some.  When I ran back down to Beckie's house to ask her for the recipe she acted a bit surprised as if there is nothing special about this recipe.  She could've also acted surprised because I was quite winded from running and standing in her kitchen holding an empty Christmas tin.

Anyway, she shared and there isn't really anything special about this recipe. No secret weird ingredients or pudding mixes [in case you've missed previous baking posts...I LOVE pudding mix]. I think this just happens to be a simple recipe [butter, brown sugar, popcorn mostly] with really good instructions.

I dare you to try it, I've made this for reluctant caramel corn eaters who have surprisingly been won over.  I've included the recipe at the bottom, but will walk you through the steps first.....

First put your butter, brown sugar, karo syrup, and a bit of salt in a saucepan.  The pan needs to be pretty big because this mixture puffs up later....stay tuned.  Turn it on medium high and stay close, stirring every little bit.


While keeping an eye on the butter/sugar/syrup mixture go ahead and start popping your corn.  [snicker - not sure why - I guess saying "start popping your corn" kinda cracks me up]. Two bags of full size microwave popcorn will work, I popped about 1 cup in my air popper and nearly overflowed my specially bought caramel popcorn metal bowl....maybe a heaping 3/4 cup would be best.  If unpopped kernels bother you, sort through the popped corn and pick them out.



After a few really frustrating attempts at caramel corn I bought this big metal bowl.  It holds 8 quarts and is just right. You need a big 8 quart bowl, the end.

Now put in your walnuts.....these are super fantastic after they've been roasted with the yummy caramel.


Meanwhile back on the stovetop, your butter mixture should just begin to boil and will look like this.  As soon as you see these little bubbles in the middle set your timer for 5 minutes and give this caramel your full attention stirring it often to scrape the bottom and sides really well.  When you put butter and sugar together......they make beautiful caramel [unless you forget them and walk away - then things get ugly really quickly, they are kinda high maintenance that way].



At the end of 5 minutes, your mixture will look like this.....it's gonna be yum!


When the timer rings, take your caramely goodness off the heat and stir in the baking soda, stirring well.  It will puff up and turn this light color.


Now it's time to pour this great good caramel over the popcorn and stir to coat.  Resist the urge to stick your fingers into this stuff.  It is so hot, but I can never quite wait.  I get burned every time I make caramel corn.  

Patience, I know.


When I make caramel corn I line a jelly roll pan with foil and spray it very well with Pam.  After the popcorn is all coated I pour it onto this pan and put it in the oven.  I let it bake for 15 minutes and then take it out and turn it and break it up a little bit and put it back in the oven for 15 more minutes (you'll do this three times so that it bakes for 1 hour total).


This is what it looks like after you've let it cool a little bit.  This is so good!  Great for gifts too....Enjoy!




Caramel Corn
Beckie Hall
2 bags microwave popcorn, pop and remove kernels or 3/4 cup unpopped corn
2 cups walnut halves
2 cups packed brown sugar
½ cup white Karo syrup
½ lb (2 sticks) real butter....don’t use margarine!
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
Heat sugars, butter, Karo syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Once mixture just starts to boil, set timer for 5 minutes and stir constantly.  After 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in soda....mix well.  Pour caramel syrup over popcorn and nuts in a very large bowl!  Stir until well coated.  Spread on a jellyroll pan or large cookie sheet with sides.  I line mine with foil or parchment paper and spray with Pam.  Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Advent Lesson


This post is about how we are celebrating Advent this year, sort of.  Mostly it's a lesson I learned while preparing to do Advent this year.  And by preparing I mean deciding on November 30th that we were going to have a little Advent lesson with our kids every night for 25 nights.

Yeah, right.

Years ago I started out with those intentions, and planned exceedingly and maddeningly accordingly.  Then I moved us to a weekly Advent (but that had to start by the last weekend in November), so I switched it to a "every night-ish for the four nights before Christmas" schedule which had to be modified and ultimately dropped.  I studied and researched and wrote and shared and decorated and taught it...but when it came time to actually do it at home, it never happened easily and I felt like a huge failure.  So I've been focusing on other ways to bring the true meaning of Christmas into our family the last couple of years and He's been sure (as always) to make Himself known when I look for Him.

When your life is about Jesus, 
of course your Christmas is too....

But Advent hasn't really been on my radar.  Quite honestly I'd grown a bit cynical about the whole thing.  I'd digressed to the point of eye-rolling and toddler fussing when I ran across a beautiful and involved Advent idea on a blog or on face book.  Something along the lines of "As if."

So this year, we finish Thanksgiving and my husband and I are out to lunch on the last day of November [the LAST day of November, my over-planning sisters are feeling my pain here].  We are talking about Christmas plans coming up and he says, "We should do Advent with the kids."  Insert previous paragraph running through my mind along with "yeah like we could plan an entire month of Advent lessons by tomorrow" and end with me saying, "Shuuurre, honey."  But he wasn't giving up this idea and started throwing out these fabulous ideas. So he paid the bill and we headed to Wal-mart to buy teaching props for 25 days of unplanned Advent lessons with our three children ages 4-14.  I did slow him down enough to brainstorm some ideas in the parking lot before we went in.  I grabbed an envelope that was lingering in my purse, wrote numbers down one side, and a beautiful thing happened.  We sat there and made up 25 little teaching points about real Christmas.  Not our favorite memories or reasons we love the season; 25 reasons we love Jesus and the story of His miraculous arrival to our troubled little world.  As we both threw out ideas and I jotted and scribbled, my heart filled with joy.  Not happy joy as all my little organized and researched Advent ideas went out the window, but humbly corrected joy. Joy because I was sitting in a car with a man who loves Jesus enough to know His story and creatively tell it to our children.  Seriously people, that could be The End.


As I happily drove home later, I began to plan how I would type up our ideas and add a few little things just to clarify and keep us on track, you know.  And then I was reminded of that humble joy and I knew that this was not to be messed with in any way.  I was only to follow, and I have. We've had six semi-planned, semi-spontaneous, semi-short, sometimes silly, Scripture-filled, amazing little life lessons about Jesus.





And the Mom-sized lessons keep coming.  I had decided I would just try to keep our youngest from being a distraction so the older two could really learn and participate.  On Day 4 we read the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew (I'm totally not teasing...we did that, we are such Bible nerds.)  When the kids opened the box that night there was a fishing worm and a butterfly ornament.  We shared the stories of the five women in Jesus' heritage and the truth that God takes things that are ugly and makes them beautiful.  As we hung the butterfly on the tree and asked our kids some questions to see if they understood our four year old piped up, "God takes mean things and makes them beautiful butterflies" And she said it like only a four year old girl can say the phrase beeyootiful butterflies.  Be-still my heart.

So here's an un-Advent lesson on marriage from my last couple of weeks of living:


If you love Jesus and aren't yet married; 
Marry a man that you can follow.  
One who, when he is really following God, 
is hard to keep pace with.
and will forgive you for ending a phrase with a preposition....

If you love Jesus and are already married; 
Give your husband room to lead your family.  
Don't over-plan, 
Don't smother him with expectations, 
Don't re-do his efforts.
Choose to follow.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Pistachio Christmas Trees


I'm so excited about sharing this recipe....today while I was making these little cookies my husband came into the kitchen and saw that I was blogging (camera on the kitchen counter is the give away I guess).  As I was using a cookie cutter to make little green Christmas trees he commented that he wondered if what I was doing was harder than it looked pondering what the cookies would look like if he were in charge of the project.  Our four year old answered him with, "Yes, yours would probably look like snowmen."  I would be willing to guarantee that the chances of seeing snowmen cookies on Todd's blog are, um.....well, not happening.

But, I want to assure those of you in charge of the cookie projects in your home that you can make these!  They are so yummy and not harder than they look!  I gave some cookie baking pointers in a blog post you can read here with my recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies.

This recipe for Pistachio Christmas Trees I just adapted from my favorite Gingerbread Cookie recipe from one of my besties Amanda...(and by favorite I mean it is a gingerbread cookie recipe that you actually want to eat and not just decorate).

Anyway, I took the framework of that recipe and changed a few things to accomodate one of my favorite things, pistachio pudding mix.  I thought about doing a little research about the invention of instant pudding mixes but realized I don't really care that much.....I can love them without knowing all their history (I feel the same way about the whole family of canned biscuits). I really just can't wait to blog about these...

OK, so on to the cookies.....

I mixed real butter with my super yummy pudding mix and some sugar, added an egg and some almond extract before I tossed in the flour and baking soda. Mixed all together it is this beautiful dough that looks like ice cream.....what was I talking about? Oh yeah on to the cutting out of the cookies.


Some tips for rolling out cookies:
  • Depending on how sticky your dough is (this one is great and not too sticky), flour the surface of your counter.  Add more flour if your dough is very sticky keeping in mind that adding flour makes your cookie dough tough, so you want to add as little as possible.
  • Sprinkle a little bit of flour over the top of your dough and rub a little bit of flour onto your rolling pin.
  • Use your rolling pin to roll out your dough, starting in the middle and going out to the edges (imagine starting in the middle of a wheel and rolling out along the spokes), spreading the dough evenly. 
  • Every few rolls, turn your dough a quarter turn to make sure it isn't sticking to the counter, adding a little bit of flour if needed.
  • I'm not sure how thin to tell you, it takes a little bit of practice - here's what it should look like.

Dab the edges of your cookie cutter in flour and push straight down...don't wiggle back and forth just straight down folks!
  • Cut out your cookies like a puzzle, keeping the cuts close together, remember everytime you add flour to roll out you are adding toughness to your cookies (ah, that's a sad story).

Put your scraps into another little ball and roll and cut again. At my house I always end up with a little ball of cookie dough and my oldest daughter turns up to make it disappear.
  • Use a flat metal spatula to lift cookie dough and put on cookie sheet.  Add a little bit of flour to your spatula if the cookies are sticking.
  • Don't overbake!  The cookies should barely show some brown around the edges.
After they cooled I found this little shortcut treasure....cookie icing.  Thank you very much Betty Crocker. I love this stuff because it dries hard enough to stack the cookies but it still tastes good (ever nearly broken your tooth on royal icing?) and it's actually bright red, which is really hard to do with homemade icing.


I just cut off the tip shorter than the instructions say.  There are two rings on the tip, I cut at the first one and then just squeeze it quickly into these little zebra stripes.  Do a few at a time adding any toppings you would like and you're done!


These cookies just make me really happy and they taste really good.  I've included all the specifics below.  I think one of the reasons I love recipes with pudding mixes is because they are so versatile.  Imagine these cookies with melted chocolate drizzled over the top sprinkled with chopped salted pistachios. 

And guess what I just discovered......candy cane flavored pudding!

Imagine the possibilites! 

Pistachio Christmas Trees
1 small package pistachio pudding mix
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon almond extract
Cream together the butter, sugar, and pudding mix; add egg and almond extract and mix well.  Add flour and baking soda and mix just until dough comes together.  Roll out and cut into small Christmas trees.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 9-10 minutes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Curses and Blessings in North Africa


Is there such a thing as blog neglect?  I do have a good reason for being away from my little cyberspace nook for awhile.  A little over one week ago I returned from my first international trip in nearly 20 years.  Between the preparing, traveling, ministering, and recovering I feel like my life skipped straight from Halloween to Thanksgiving…..and I am so thankful.  I’m just warning you, this post is pretty heavy and serious.  It’s my life lesson from this trip. 


On this trip I worked with a team from my church helping our friends who work in a small town in North Africa….you can read about what we did here. I have all sorts of fun stories about what we ate and played and learned while our friendships grew deep roots. Maybe I’ll save those for another post called“nowhere to file”. Because there is no place in my brain to store a memory of my girlfriends wearing traditional Berber garb singing at the top of their lungs complete with head bops to 80’s music as we traverse impossible terrain leaving a village called “The Moon”.  See what I mean?  Nowhere to file......

The Berbers who live in this place in North Africa are hospitable and friendly.  They definitely were on their best behavior while we were there, but to us they were truly beautiful and generous people.  Their belief system is a strange combo of animism and Islam.  Our worker friend described it this way; in their mind God is detached and far away but real and demanding (parts of Islam) and determines many of their rules and traditions.  Their everyday living though, is dominated by a superstitious belief that spirits/God can be offended easily (animism).  They work very hard to avoid what we call “bad juju” (totally our own description of their belief system-but I’m betting it communicates).  The blend of these two belief systems is the fear that dominates their days and nights and obliterates their hope.  Our friends work and live among these precious people, respecting their culture and sharing their language and friendship so that when the opportunity comes, they can share about Hope.  When we come for a week, we just provide a little bit of credibility to their work and Story.

Our Oklahoma team (plus a few of our friends' kiddos).

One of the interesting perspectives that our worker friends face regularly is the assumption of the curse.  In their language it is called “tagat” and is their explanation for the bad things that happen.  Physical deformities and illnesses, divorce and death, infertility, losses, accidents and struggles are as shameful as they are common and are believed to come into lives because of the curse. The people determine acceptability of friends and family members based on how cursed they might be.  We might see a family there who believes they are cursed because their child was born with a cleft palate as silly and superstitious because we could easily fix his sweet mouth where we live.  We have a true, scientific, physical explanation that has nothing to do with evil spirits.  For them, the curse explains the bad things, but also holds them hostage because they have no way to control these circumstances.

This little one has something we think is similar to cerebral palsy.
We loved holding and smooching and loving on him.....no curses here baby, only loving!

These people have mistakenly believed that the curse is the root of everything bad that happens. The problem isn’t that they recognize their need for Someone greater than themselves to lift the curse, the problem is that they don’t yet know Who.

So here is where the curse comes into my story.  One of the most amazing parts of this trip for me was the surprise blessing that some of my past struggles can be….still now, years after their usefulness seems to be used up.  I had brought a little photo album with pictures of my kids and husband and family.  These were great conversation starters and opened the door to some amazing things.  As our new friends looked at the pictures and asked our worker friend questions lost to me in translation, my friend shared my story.  She told about the loss of my babies to miscarriage and infertility (Total Curse Material), something very shameful in their lives.  Then she pointed to the picture of my four year old daughter, adopted into our family after our painful “curse-ish” years of loss.  She was able to share the amazing truth that sometimes what seems to be a curse is made into a blessing by God (Total Romans 8:28 Material).   At one point a dear lady who knows the Truth said to her mother,
“They don’t love like we do”. 
Even in another language I heard the spiritual door swing open and my friend stepped right through, sharing that we only love differently because we (like they)  are loved by God and love back like He does.  It’s Jesus. Mercy.

Sharing my little photo album....my story of curses to blessings.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written:
Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us….
He redeemed us in order that the blessing…might come…through Christ Jesus.” 
Galatians 3:10, 13-14

 The Message says it this way,
“That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross:
He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse.
And now, because of that, the air is cleared…
We are all able to receive God's life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing….”

 The word for curse in Greek is katara. It comes from two original words meaning “against” and “to curse”.  “The opposite of blessing, it means rejection and surrender to punishment.  It is equivalent to judgment without mercy (James 2:13). The word involves both the sentence of the divine judgment and the ruin therein inflicted, the manifested curse.” Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, p. 926.

So this is the truth about the curse.  It exists and we all live under it every single second we try to please God with our own efforts or ignore Him with our imagined indifference. It is only broken by Jesus, who became the curse (did you get that? He BECAME the curse) for us paying the unimaginable ransom to free us from its grip, surrendering to our punishment.  He endured judgment without mercy so that we wouldn’t have to; He stood up under our ruin becoming sin for us, so that we could escape the curse and live with hope and relationship with God free from fear.  

For those of you who have taken the blessing of a curse-free life for granted….listen up.  It’s a gift to live in a grace-filled relationship with God through Jesus.  It was free to you, but COSTLY to Him, so live up to it.  That’s what you were created for…..

For those of you who are living under the curse of working to gain God’s approval….stop.  It’s beyond you.  When you presume to be able to take Jesus’ place you make His sacrifice meaningless.

For those of you who are continuing to assume that you are walking in the shoes of the cursed because you can’t understand the pain of your current circumstances….look up and meet the affectionate eyes of Jesus who turns curses into blessings.  Let Him change your perspective.

And please, pray for the dear ones in North Africa that they would choose a grace-filled life of blessing.
 
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life….”
Deuteronomy 30:19


This is the picture of God's Blessings I shared in North Africa. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Undone

There is a ridiculous sock commercial that’s been out for awhile.  A mom walks into her house with a shopping bag to find her husband dipping their son’s feet in some kind of gluey plastic sock substance.  She asks what he is doing and he says, “None of our socks fit and we’re sick of it!”  The little boy echoes “Sick. Of. It!”  She then tosses them a bag of great fitting socks she just bought at the store, calls the whole idea stupid and the commercial is over.  Except that “Sick. Of. It!” is permanently stored in my brain and comes up with nauseatingly easy access these days.


One of the great things about blogging is that you can tell ugly stories about yourself and still write it out so that you look good in the end.  This isn’t one of those. I am just in one of those emotional funks and I am so Sick. Of. It.  Well, really I’m just sick of myself.  I hate these yucky phases.  I over-analyze and over-fix and over-blame and over-emotionalize and just wish it would pass.  I pray the whole time; but prayers just feel like a big “uuugggghhhhh, puuuuleeeeze!” complete with foot stomping impatience. My emotions are huge and heavy and I just run from one emotional “hook” to another trying to find someplace to leave them.  Nice.  I know.


Sunday night in Bible Study, we landed on Psalm 106.  It’s an amazing and scathing look at Israel’s faithless history and God’s faithful love.  One of the lessons came from verse 24 which says, “they despised the pleasant land having no faith in His promise.” We learned that part of the definition of “despise” means to feel undone.  Did you catch that? In the Jamy Fisher version it might say, “they felt undone where God put them because they quit believing the truth about Him.”  Verse 25 goes on to say, “they murmured in their tents and did not obey the voice of the Lord.”  Then in verse 28 we learn that “they yoked themselves to the Baals…..” Gross. In other words, they started worshipping and living just like all the lost folks around them.
 
Now the lesson I was teaching is all about feeling undone….and the truth that God is right there in your present reality (Hosea 11:8) even when you are despising His pleasant land as you come apart at the seams; undone indeed.  But this is what confronted me head on right as I was teaching.  Feeling undone is part of my life.  I can over-analyze and over-fix and over-blame and over-emotionalize and I will still feel undone. It’s part of me being me in this lifetime and the thing I will be most happy to kick out the door come heaven.  The important thing is what I do with my undoneness.  I’m embarrassed to say how long I’ve let being undone crash into my life and family and ministry.  But as my mind connected verse 24 to verse 25 to verse 28, I learned something that makes it worth sharing this icky part of my life.  And this morning it is finally filtering into my heart and settling over my undone emotions like my favorite fleece blanket.


When I feel undone (24)
And then start to murmur (25) in my most private and secret life,
Refusing to believe the truth about God (24),
Disobedience (25) and Dangerous Attachments (28) are just around the corner.
And I will remain undone.

Could it be that the reason my prayers are an irritatingly ineffective cacophony of “uuugggghhhhh, puuuuleeeeze!” is that I’m so busy murmuring my painful complaints to those who share my "tent" that I can no longer hear God and believe?  When I am undone I am especially vulnerable, and I need attachments.  Like the Israelites I will find attachment; right or wrong because I am desperate for connection.  In my busy doings or my job, in my DVR-ed TV shows or Netflix, in my food or books or exercise or other addictions, in my friendships…in good things and sinful things I find attachment.  And there is only One worthy of our attachment. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Interestingly enough in this “undone” conversation going on between my mind and my heart, my mind finally got a word in edgewise this morning while I was running.  The song, Light Up the Sky by The Afters was playing. Here’s one of the lines:  

So I'll run straight to your arms
You're the bright and morning sun
To show your love there's nothing you won't do,
nothing you won't do.

I thought of the picture on this post…..not remembering until just now that it is where I first wrote about secret life.  Cool.


So I’m going to quit being sick of myself, and my family, and anyone else who has the nerve to annoy me.  Instead I’m going to be sick of the attachments that confuse and steal from the precious gift it is to love and be loved by God.


“Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”
Psalm 106: 44-45 ESV

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bananas Foster Snack Mix



This is a dangerous recipe I found in the August/September issue of Taste of Home magazine, here is the online version. It's dangerous because I like it so much better than anyone else in my house does and it is so easy to just pop a handful in my mouth. The original recipe uses Chex Mix and is completely prepared in the microwave.  I switched to Cheerios and finished the snack mix in the oven.  This didn't change the yummy banana cinnamon-ey flavor but gave the final mix a crunchy delicious texture compared to the "made in the microwave" version.



This is super yummy stuff and an easy and versatile recipe. I'm already daydreaming about changing up the cereal and extract combinations.



I cut up 5 Tablespoons of REAL butter and tossed it with the brown sugar.  It goes into the microwave to make the base of the syrup.  Then I added the cinnamon and extracts.  In a large metal mixing bowl I stirred together the Cheerios, pecans, and banana chips and poured the finished syrup over it and mixed it all up good....



I poured the whole concoction into a foil lined jellyroll pan and baked it for optimal crispiness. This is what I love about blogging, when else do you get to type "optimal crispiness"? When it comes out of the oven let it cool if you can wait.  The pecans will burn your mouth straight from the oven, but you can handle the cheerios.....I'm just sayin'.



Here's the particulars for Bananas Foster Snack Mix
  • 6oz box Honey Scooters (off brand Cheerios)
  • 6oz bag Banana Chips
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 1/3 cup real butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon banana extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix cereal, bananas, and pecans in a large bowl.  Cube butter and combine with brown sugar in a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup.  Microwave for 1 minute on high, stir and microwave for 1 more minute.  Stir in extracts and cinnamon.  Pour over cereal mixture and stir to coat.  Pour out onto a foil lined jellyroll pan.  Bake at 250 degrees for 15 minutes, stir and bake for 15 minutes more.  Cool.  Store in an airtight container.


Perfect Crispy Snacking......Yum!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tough, Wonderful, Together Life

I recently started running.  I was always the one to say that the only way I would be running is if I were being chased with a knife.  But to support my husband and two of our friends who are running a marathon in January, I am officially running.  I suspect that there will be much more blogging, possibly a whole blogging novella about this subject eventually.  But I'm not yet convinced that I will transition from supportive jogger to actual runner.....so we shall see.

Back on subject, I am slowly training myself to run far enough to finish the 5K (which is about 3 miles) a couple of days before their marathon.  Surprisingly I don't hate running, but I have noticed something interesting.  My last stretch, when the house on the end of my block is in sight and I know my own home is right around the corner, that's when I run the hardest and the fastest.  Running is tough, but that last turn is wonderful.  Tough and wonderful.

Now to the reason for the running illustration. On Sundays and Wednesdays I have two amazing groups of women who are studying  through my Chains Falling study with me. This week was like running. Tough and wonderful. Together we've studied through some of the hard parts of Hosea. On Day 5 this week we rounded the corner toward a beautiful passage; Isaiah 35.  The subtitle in my ESV Study Bible says, "The Ransomed Shall Return" Ahhh, after some doozies like, "Do not Grow Weary," "Israel's Sin" and this gem "Job Laments His Birth" we really needed a happy subtitle.   

Here are some of my favorite parts of Isaiah 35......

"And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness.....It shall belong to those who walk on the Way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray." (verse 8).

I just love this description of God's Way.  I belong there, even though I'm often foolish and don't always have it all together. He protects me from getting lost as I follow along this Way.

"And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (verse 10)

This journey becomes full of glad, sigh-free, joy!  I really love a happy-grin sigh and often add them in little [  ]s when I write, but those frustrated painful I can't take much more sighs are what is absent on God's Highway [happy sigh here].

"Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come......He will come and save you." (verses 3-4).

This part is what I really want to get to in this post.  The week of study started with the subject of God's discipline in Hebrews 12.  After all the discipline part God tells us this, "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed."  (verse 12)

See the similarities? I like that the Hebrews passage comforts in the context of discipline and hardship.  I adore that the Isaiah passage promises in the context of a certain future. Discipline is actually a stamp of God's approval and acceptance over us, but it's still stinkin' hard.  Discipline strengthens us but only after it drains us and right in the middle of that we need each other.  Did you see in the Isaiah passage what we are to say to one another when we are feeling weak and anxious?

Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come......
He will come and save you. 

In other words, when dear ones around me struggle I need to be the voice saying, "Hang in there and do not let fear get the best of you.  Remember I am here, God is here. He saves, and He's coming!" 

As I was writing this post I remembered this picture of my husband and son at the Grand Canyon.
Sharing life, leaning into one another to hear, speak, listen, instruct, learn and encourage.

What if we did this?  What if instead of my busy self-centeredness I shared life with those on God's Highway around me and together we reminded each other:

     of His goodness.
     of the benefit of His discipline.
     of the memories of His past wonders.
     of the exact Truth of His Words.
     of the future we will share with Him.
     of the blessing it is to have one another.
     of His Saving Nature.

     of HIM.

Maybe you are like me and find yourself emptied by the monotony of daily demands.  Maybe you are in a season of loss or transition that has made everything around you including yourself feel like a stranger. Hear it,

Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come......
He will come and save you. 

We are running this race together and it's supposed to be Tough and Wonderful, but it's also supposed to be Together.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cakes, My Favorites

Just finished annual Birthday Week.  My husband and daughter have birthdays one day apart and we tend to celebrate all week long.  I thought it might be fun to post a few of my favorite birthday cakes.  My very favorites were pre-digital days, and I don't have them on my computer.....maybe someday I'll find, scan, and post them.

This year we did a Tie-Dye Cake.



And here's a Sunflower Peeps Cake my sweet girls and I made together - one of the rare times we just made a cake for no reason.




This year's cake for my chocolate lovin' Baby - really fun and SOOOO many things you could do with this.  Change up colors and candy bars to personalize.  I blogged about her party here.





I really love this Dora Cake too.  I found the original instructions from Nick Jr's website.  This link has a great sheetcake recipe, easy to cut for shaped cakes. I added the fruity pebbles shirt myself.  The pictures from this year have a bunch of wet cousins running around the backyard having a ball.  Makes me smile remembering.




I don't have a great picture of this cake, but this it's still a great EASY idea!  I ordered the stripes from Oriental Trading, they have some fun ones.....I just cut to fit and stuck the sugar paper to the icing. Wilton makes some called Sugar Sheets now.  You can buy them readily from Hobby Lobby or Walmart (we used them this year for the zebra stripes).



This one is an all-time favorite! For months before my baby's third birthday she would ask me EVERY DAY for a worm cake like the one Max makes on Max and Ruby.  I made a dome-shaped cake baked in a batter bowl and then iced and covered with crushed oreos.  This cake went straight onto a plastic tablecloth in the middle of the dining room table - complete with oreo dirt spread all over the tablecloth.  TIP - crushed oreos make good dirt, crushed cinnamon graham crackers make good sand. The rocks are halved coconut covered marshmallows. This one was fun.  One of the best parts of this cake was the fluffy pudding frosting, you can find the recipe here on allrecipes, perfect for a summer birthday.


And for my son's camping birthday a few years ago I made dirt cupcakes (same idea as the worm cake) - I put Swedish fish on top of some too.



A few years ago I found this wonderful recipe in a Southern Living magazine.  This completely from scratch Turtle Cake is completely wonderful.  It's lots of work, but so delicious and so beautiful.  This one is a great grown-up cake.


So there are a few of my favorites.  Maybe someday I'll pull out pics of my Pink Pony Cake and my Firetruck Cake....maybe.






Thursday, September 15, 2011

Taco Soup

My dishwasher tells me when my life is too busy.  True.  This morning when I unloaded my dishwasher it was all spoons, coffee mugs, and glasses.  This means that the only dishes being dirtied at my house are for coffee, cereal, and water.  Sad stuff, that. 

This realization motivated me to make a wonderful meal for my family tonight.  I went to the grocery store, bought food, and made supper - Taco Soup in the crock pot.  Then I realized that busy week is not over.....I AM THE ONLY ONE EATING AT HOME TODAY.  I'm not making that up.  I made dinner for my absent family completely forgetting that they wouldn't be here.  [Aaarrgh, pirate sigh].

So, instead I took a picture of my soup and scarfed the whole thing down so I could write a blog post before I have to go pick up my busy kiddos.  Now this makes sense.  I'm smiling, I love this crazy life and it's been a wonderful, amazing week - and tomorrow is Friday.


I chose this yummy stuff because my friend Rachel was talking about it last night and I couldn't stop thinking of it AND it is rainy and cold-ish today for the first time since Spring.  If you've never heard of Taco Soup, give it a try.  This is fantastic stuff - kind of like chili but better.  Here's how I do mine:

Brown 2 pounds of hamburger meat with 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic.  Season with seasoned salt and pepper.  While you cook the meat pour 2 cans of Ranch Style beans, 2 cans of Ro-Tel tomatoes, 1 can of hominy, 1 small can of Niblet corn (or skip the hominy and add 1 regular sized can of corn), 1 bean can of water, 1 packet of Taco seasoning and 1 packet of dry Ranch dressing seasoning in a large crock-pot.  When the meat is finished browing, add it to the other ingredients and stir it all up.  Heat on high all afternoon or low all day (depending on how far ahead you've planned).  If you are really behind you can mix it all up on the stove top and simmer, but watch it closely - especially if you are like me and tend to scorch stuff. 
Serve with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips.




Nothing is better than a recipe you can type onto your blog from memory.

So now I'm off to round up kids and head into the weekend, but first I must change into my stretchy pants.....Enjoy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Let's Roll

Let's Roll!  These were the last words of Todd Beamer, a hero of 9-11.  He, along with some other fearless passengers, fought the hijackers of United Flight 93 heading toward Washington DC on September 11, 2001. During the struggle, the plane tragically crashed in Pennsylvania. Everyone on board died, but many lives the terrorists had chosen for death were saved . As he talked on the phone with an Airphone operator sharing and receiving information he uttered his last words as he and fellow passengers began a counter attack..... "Let's Roll."


Lisa Beamer wrote a book about her life with Todd, their family, his life and death and how she coped when he was gone.  She titled the book Let's Roll after Todd's famous last words but I especially love the little sub-title;
                        Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage.

There are so many wonderful lessons in this book, but one especially has been amazing in my own life.  Toward the end of the book Lisa shares about accepting an invitation to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast the year after 9-11.  She shares about quoting this passage of Scripture from Isaiah 40:30-31;

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Then she shared her own perspective and wrote this;

"The difference between those who stumble and those who run is only the action of hoping in the Lord." 
Lisa Beamer, Let's Roll, p. 304


When I first read her book, I wrote that quote on a notecard to help me remember.  Currently it stays as a bookmark in my Bible.  For a long time it was pinned to a bulletin board behind my computer.  For a season it was lost.....only to be found at the perfect time during our adoption waiting months. I want to run and not stumble in my life and I love the reminder that hope is an action. This is such a comfort when I feel powerless and stuck in some painful limbo-land.

In an interview with Stone Phillips you can read here, Lisa says this when asked if she can forgive the  hijackers, "You know, bitterness and anger doesn’t get one very far in life. And I won’t allow it to seep in. I won’t allow someone else’s terrible actions to turn me into a person that I don’t want to be."

For me, as we remember and honor those who lost and lived through that time, I can think of no greater challenge than to take up the ACTION of hoping in the Lord, to refuse to let anger and bitterness even seep in to our lives. 

Whatever storm you face today; I hope that this reminder from a woman who walked with strength and poise through an emotional hurricane choosing hope encourages you to hang in there.....Let's Roll!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Voices



My son just started high school.  Sniff. The end.


Not really, it’s going great.  I’m always astounded at the stress I put this kid through.  Being the oldest child is a challenge when your mom is a control freak.  We made it through the first few weeks and I’m feeling pretty proud of how low key I was.  I sent my husband to do all the neurotic things.  He makes it look like normal concern rather than mom paranoia.


I’ve worked with teenagers since I was one (a teenager, that is).  I love this age.  I love their idealism and energy.  I remember learning a lesson about raising teenagers several years ago when my big kids were still very little.  One of “my girls” (I still think of that group of high schoolers as “my girls” even though they are grown with families now) called me and asked if she could come see me and ask me about some things she was struggling with.  She wasn’t having some kind of crisis of faith or morality.  She has a wonderful mother who had carefully and rightly instructed her. I think she just needed to hear someone she trusted echo God’s voice in what she was being told by her parents.  As we talked and I shared my short (then) years’ experiences with her she mentioned that her mom was a little confused that she wanted to come talk to me, when I would probably give her the same advice…..


I totally get this.  I have swallowed extreme frustration hearing my kids repeat the same instruction I’ve given them (which they seemed to ignore) with new words given them by someone else as if this advice is genius and breakthrough.  This also happens with husbands but that is for a different post called never.


Since then I’ve heard this described as the “voices” in our kids’ lives.  As I sat next to my teenage son eating Mexican food the other night, listening in as he talked and talked and talked to his youth minister across the table I remembered “my girl” from years ago. This is good stuff, because as he talks he also listens and I know he will be hearing true instruction and encouragement.  Instead of being threatened that my kids don’t bow in gratitude and hang on my every word (which is never going to happen and is probably why I talk to myself a lot), I should look up and be thankful that God is faithful to speak to my kids in lots of different ways which all echo HIS OWN VOICE!  That is the goal.  Instead of fussing at them for not listening to me, maybe I should just rejoice with them when they learn Truth and smile to the One who always sees and hears. 


Yes, I want to be faithfully instructing and sharing with my children.  It is a huge responsibility that is not to be pawned off onto others. BUT, neither is it meant to be completed by me. This passage should be a humble description of me as I venture for the first time into the high school parenting waters……
”There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” 
Philippians 1:6 Message


My kids need to be hearing this verse in my words to them and about them to others, in my hopeful and high expectations of their behavior, and my quick forgiveness of their mistakes.  Because in the end it’s all about God; He does, He is (to repeat a text from a precious friend recently).  So I will be diligent to instruct and be instructed, to protect my children from dangerous and lying voices, even while allowing other truthful voices to speak over them often and creatively.


This month I’ve been studying Psalm 107.  In verse 3, the people are praising God that He has “gathered them” from all directions where they have been scattered away from home and one another.  I learned that when He gathers them it is His action to “bring them together because they are attracted, not called.” 


This is good, really good and challenging, and irritating because my parenting technique is typically more about calling than attracting. 


So here’s what I’m learning; parenting isn’t about me doing a good job, it’s about God being free and abounding in our family because He is free and abounding in the secrecy and display of my own life.  Family is meant to be God reflective; full of echoes and glimpses that attract my children more powerfully than the voices of lies calling for their attention. 


“Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving,
and the Voices of those who celebrate.

I will multiply them, and they shall not be few;
I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.

Their children shall be as they were of old,
and their congregation shall be established before me….”

Jeremiah 30:19-20

Friday, September 2, 2011

Oven Bacon

I really have some important things to blog about; I have this amazing lesson I've been learning about sharing your child's heart with other people worthy of the task and a doozy on marriage that I just learned preparing for a Marriage Conference we get to teach soon.


But alas, I am here to blog about bacon.  But I'm ok with that, bacon is pretty exciting and I just learned something wonderful that I've only heard talked about before. 

Bacon is good baked in the oven. 

My son is a baconaholic.  He loves the stuff and will endure eating almost anything that goes with it [enter my quest to find the perfect pancake years] to have bacon.  You know those last minute lessons you shout out to your kid when they stay over at a friend's house or go to camp or youth group breakfast the first time? One of ours is always, "start with only two slices of bacon, and eat something else too!" Really, I'm not even kidding.

So the other night I made breakfast for dinner and decided to try bacon in the oven because no one was home yet to stop me and making bacon is messy.  I found a recipe that works beautifully.


See? 

I sprinkled brown sugar and coarse ground pepper on a few slices (again, no one there to stop me) and they were fantastic.


Oven Bacon
  • 1 package center cut bacon (not sure that it matters, but Oscar Meyer center cut is a little bit leaner which makes the "swimming in grease" issue a little less of an ordeal).
  • Brown Sugar
  • Coarse Ground Pepper
Line a jellyroll pan (or a large shallow baking dish with sides - do not attempt this on a cookie sheet without sides) with foil (I was out so I used parchment paper).  Lay bacon on foil in a single layer.  Sprinkle with brown sugar and pepper, or leave plain.  Put bacon in a cold oven [COLD OVEN, people] - this part is important.  Close the door, turn the oven on to 400 degrees, set the timer for 20 minutes and walk away.

Delicious....and clean-"ish". 

By the way, you can find the fruit of my pancake search here, a wonderful family recipe that I had all along.