Friday, April 27, 2012

Making Dinnertime Memories...

OK, defrost the chicken, chop the cilantro and jalapeƱo and add to processor. Now, where are those cashews I made a special trip to the store to get...alright, add a cup of those to the processor, get the garlic and toss it in with the oil and the soy sauce, squeeze guts out of lime...warn the girls of impending loud noise...blend until paste is achieved. Shoot! I forgot the brown sugar...there...blend again...paste again...Voila! 

On and on droned my internal narrator coaching me as I prepared a nifty new meal for my family who had not enjoyed a real-life everyone-at-the-table-no-meetings-after dinner for what seemed like forever.

If I do say so myself, I had it all together. I'd begun the meal prep in time to allow the chicken to marinate in the above concoction for the prescribed amount of time. I had assembled a wonderfully diverse pair of side dishes that were sure to please.

There was the obstacle of Kate's softball practice smack dab in the middle of dinner time at 5:30, but I was working around that and surely practice would be called for rain...or not.

Kate and I scooted in the door as the clock neared 7 and, channeling my inner Rachel Ray, I promised my gang dinner in thirty minutes or less. I turned on the oven, stopped to inform a lovely child that even though tomorrow was swimming day with our homeschool group, we would NOT be going to the store tonight to purchase a new bathing suit. "I am NOT leaving this house again tonight!" I announced and turned to heat the vegetables on the stovetop. After that, I headed to the porch to light the grill for its inaugural performance of the season.

Put the chicken on the grill, oh listen to that sizzle, smells good, might be a keeper? Back to the kitchen to check oven...fine...veggies...check. Time to turn the chicken...back outside to the porch...WHO thought it would be a good idea to build the porch off of the living room and not off of the kitchen??? 

Just as I was mentally reengineering the layout of my home, the sight of smoke outside of the back door caught my attention. Hmmmmm...."Honey??? Can you peek out here a minute? Is it normal for fire to be coming from that part of the grill?"

"No. No, it's not."

"MEGAN, bring us a large cup of water!!!"

"Wait," I said, picking up a piece of chicken with tongs and blowing it out, "we can have a New Orleans theme tonight...blackened chicken! I can scrape most of the charred part off..."

"Gretchen, turn off the grill. NOBODY is gonna be able to eat that chicken."

"But the other side isn't completely ruined. Surely we can make do?"

Or not. The chicken was pink inside and thick-crunchy-black on the outside.

Megan appeared with the water and we were able to douse the flaming grill pan and blow out the rest of the chicken much like one would blow out candles on a birthday cake. I placed each piece of chicken on a plate and carried it back into the house, still smoking.

"Why is da chicken on fiya?" asked an already pajama-clad Molly.

"Oh, Molly, it's not on fire...anymore."

"Somebody get clothes for Molly, everyone else get shoes on and get into the car," the assistant fire chief directed.

Well then, another one for the memory books. The family dinner I had planned with the whole gang ooohhhhing and ahhhhing over my snazzy new chicken creation had quite literally gone up in smoke, but a family dinner happened all the same.

 The oooohhhhing and ahhhhhing still happened too, only it was focused at the very spicy salsa and queso we were enjoying at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

NOTE: If you, like me, missed the part of home ec class where "Getting Your Grill Ready for Grilling Season" was covered, there is a spiffy little article here which will tell you just what you need to do to avoid arriving at the local Mexican restaurant precisely at your three-year-old's bedtime.

There is also another enlightening piece here by Consumer Reports that discusses what may have been the cause of my enlightened chicken...The Five Most Common Grilling Mistakes.

Education, folks, is the key. Now I'm off to get a lecture from Smokey Bear...

Monday, April 23, 2012


On her way out the door with the rest of my family, Molly marched into my bedroom and handed me her stuffed horse. "You're in charwge here, but we're all yea-ving so I brawt you him to be in charwge of till we get back, okay? When we get back, you give him back." And with those instructions, serving to identify exactly which one of us was actually in charge, Molly joined the rest of the gang in the car and I was left on my own, here at home, in bed, alone...with a stuffed horse and a cold.

I've been blissfully (but for the cold) in bed for most of the day, listening to life continue right along with me not at its center, but rather at the edge, on the other side of a closed door. Molly's been hanging about with her dad and the older three children have been working on their lessons. I hear feet thumping up and down stairs, history timelines being recited aloud from creation to World War II and beyond, a computer math lecture posing questions in the dining room, giggles and a spat or two, a squeal here and there, and possibly a wrestling match.

This concert of sound is interrupted once or twice when a tentative knock on the door is followed by a puzzled face and a whispered question. Whispered I suspect, because they've been given orders not to disturb, but it is urgent and do they really have to draw the earth's layers and am I quite certain that the word project really has more than three meanings and therefore three different synonyms?

Otherwise, I was on today's sidelines and cushy sidelines they've been...reading a spy novel I've not had time to enjoy until now, watching a marathon of my favorite TV show, snoozing under a heavy comforter on what has turned out to be a strangely cold day for late April, and eating my favorite cornbread made by Cole and Meg as they prepared dinner for later this evening.

I'll be playing first-string again tomorrow, getting back to real life as the perscription my Man picked up for me first thing this morning takes effect. There's a softball uniform to be laundered, spelling sentences to be dictated, things to be baked, and stories to be read.

Today, however, I'm benched. Me and this here horse...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

10 Tips for Stealing Candy from Your Kids' Easter Baskets

It's a few days after Easter and my defenses are weakening. I can stand it no longer...those candy-filled baskets are callin' my name and it's high time to answer back. I can claim more than a few years of experience lightening the candy load from my children's Easter baskets and I thought I'd share my knowledge for those of you who may be newer at this than I.
  1. Become familiar with the basket, or as they say in the big house, case it, like jewel thieves do on TV. Know which kind of candy lives within each plastic egg. This knowledge is vital for stealth missions.
  2. Have a working knowledge of which child enjoys which candy the least. Begin by eating the least liked candy from each basket. If they don't relish the candy, they'll never miss it...probably.
  3. After the theft, hide any candy wrappers skillfully in the garbage so that they don't discover your  crime.
  4. If you get caught with a mouthful of sugar, run to the bathroom as if you are having a digestive emergency and finish your prize in peace. (Don't forget to lock the door behind you.)
  5. Be prepared to lie, but only if its for a Cadbury Creme Egg, don't soil your soul over ANYTHING less, it's just not worth it.
  6. Only pilfer a Peep if you feel your window of time will allow for the cleaning up of all of the sugar that will remain in the basket, on the table and most unavoidably on your face.
  7. The easiest candy to steal = jellybeans. No noisy wrappers, no crunchy chewing, and if your are already a bit full in the cheeks, you can hide them easily if taken in small quantities.
  8. My favorite candy to swipe this year has been the Mini Cadbury Creme Eggs. Other than the pesky foil wrapper, it's perfect. Small enough to eat in one bite and they pack lots of sweet goodness in their small size. AND because of their very small size, if you get caught eating one, you only have to tell a little white lie instead of the big one required for the full size Cadbury Egg. It's just a good all-around set up.
  9. If all else fails and you need a late afternoon sugar rush, put all children in time out on trumped up charges and pillage those baskets at your leisure.
  10. Finally, the classic: bide your time...wait until after bedtime and dig in!

A FEW FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS: If you become too skilled at candy thievery, you will most likely experience eventual guilt and may be tempted to replenish the candy in the baskets of your little angels.

Fight that urge.

By now, the Easter candy is no longer in the stores, it sold out yesterday when it was on sale for a quarter per bag. You will find yourself paying full price for three bags of candy which will equal the proverbial arm and leg, the same arm and leg that have increased in size substantially as a result of of all of that stolen Easter candy you've been eating and that's just way too much to pay.

Trust me, you and your little ones will be better off the moment all of that candy is out of your home. The end of the obsession is near.

If your children bring your candy crime into the light of day and confront you, do the right thing and blame your husband confess. You may or may not wish to include in your confession that you were only seeking their best interests by saving them from painful trips to the dentist and from a life-long addiction to Peeps (I know whereof I speak). You may also find it helpful to have all Scripture references dealing with forgiveness of one's fellow man at hand for quick reference.

That's it. That's all I know. Happy hunting!

**Please note: the author of this post realizes that lying is wrong and does not plan on getting caught and being forced to lie. The author of this post does not necessarily feel the same way about taking candy from children, however {wink}.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fun for Your Friday

I woke up the morning after a fairly rough day (see previous post :-), and found myself eye to dark-brown-eye with Molly. Kate, who had been my bed buddy during the night, had vacated the warm blankets in search of a perfect outfit for the day, but she left her baby doll behind. It took Molly absolutely NO time to notice.

"Why do you have a baby doll in your bed?" she asked me suspiciously glancing at our beloved Ethel.

"Kate slept with me last night and she left her baby when she got out of bed," I explained gravel-voiced.

"Kate slept in your bed all night?"

"Yes, she did." I confirmed.

"WHAT a WOMAN!" said my shocked three-year-old.

I do not know which of us it was, Kate or me, who had so impressed Molly. Neither do I know exactly WHAT we had accomplished that had gained her praise, and at that early hour, I was too sleepy to ask!

Have a super weekend!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Mercies? Yes, please.

She's snuggled down amidst pillows and sheets and blankets in the spot where her Daddy usually sleeps. Waiting for me to crawl in beside her, a life-sized baby doll rests in the crook of her arm, eyes closed tight in sleep just like hers.

I agreed to let her sleep with me tonight hoping that time spent together in rest can heal the time spent earlier in the day in angst.

It's good practice to watch a child sleep in peace especially when that child's waking hours were less than peaceful.

I denied her request to sleep with me last night, wanting to enjoy time on my own, alone in my big girl bed, free of kicking feet and chasing covers, but tonight was different. Tonight I needed to be near to this child, she, on the receiving end of most of my day's exasperation. So tonight, when she crept timidly downstairs in her fuzzy robe, doll awkwardly in her grasp and dared to ask once more, I said yes.

It seemed like it might help to iron out the wrinkles we'd placed in each other today, both of us a bit off-kilter from the slight imbalance of a missing person in our dailyness. Could it be that laying my head next to hers as we sleep will perhaps negate all of the head-to-head moments we'd both endured during the day?

I can only hope.

I move the baby doll aside and scoot blanket-warmed body parts over just enough to allow space for me to sleep too, but not far enough away that I can't feel the warmth of her and hear the sound of her soft breathing or smell the sweet scent of her hair.

Sighing, I am reminded that tomorrow begins fresh for the both of us, clean slates, rested bodies, cleared minds and fresh resolve. The only thing from today that we need to carry into tomorrow is the knowledge that our Father loves us both dearly, and that He is able because, as today has proven, we are so very not. Tomorrow will dawn with all of its potential, all of its promise, all of its blessings, and all of its challenges and I and this child, who, even as she sleeps, has snuggled tightly against me, will meet it head-on first thing...together.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

With a Few Simple Ingredients and a Seven Year-Old, We Can Conquer the World...or at Least, Make Dinner!

It's rainy and dreary, the perfect time for a one skillet wonder--warm, and belly-filling, with common ingredients, and a low dishwashing commitment. Nacho Beef Skillet comes from a family-famous paper Pillsbury cookbook given to me by my sister when I was visiting her about 10 years ago, because she had two copies.
The date on the cover is September 2002.

Please, cast no haughty glances toward my humble paper cookbook. I count no fewer than nine recipes, all of them using beef that have become a part of our menus from this tiny volume. When I have an extra supply of ground beef, this is my go to resource. I learned all about quesadillas within these very pages.
(I may be a bit sentimental about this cookbook, sorry. But NINE recipes! Just saying')

Back to the dish. Here's all that you'll need:
{Printable Recipe HERE}

1 pound ground beef
1 1/2 cups water
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes (with chilies if desired)
1-2 cups of frozen corn (or a can drained if you have that instead)
1 envelope Spanish Rice & Sauce mix (mine from WalMart but just like the packets Lipton/Knorr makes)
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese for topping

Oh, and a seven year-old with a pink flower in her hair, who...
...knows how to operate a can opener!

While she's at it, we'll just let her make dinner...

First brown or "scramble" as Kate says, the beef, breaking it in to small pieces with the side of a spoon or your handy-dandy kitchen tool.

After the beef is scrambled, drain off the fat if you need to.

The rest is simply a matter of adding ingredients to the skillet. 

Add 1 1/2 cup water.

The can of diced tomatoes, undrained.

Add the corn, as much as your family likes is definitely the way to go here.

Nest the Spanish rice mix, ole!

Now...stir, preferably after you've painted your fingernails bright blue.
 Once your creation has come to a gentle bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and 
cover your skillet, ours has no lid so we made one...

Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice has been cooked well.

While you're waiting, it is essential that you change clothes and your hair accessory and don your glasses from Claire's before reappearing in the kitchen for the big reveal and the final step...

Now, sprinkle cheese on top and call the gang for dinner!

We eat this dish a few different ways: plain in a bowl, wrapped in burrito shells, or on nacho chips! Feel free to add a little heat with chopped green chilies or a shake or two of Texas Pete or Sriracha sauce.  Anyway you like it it's a yummy, easy, one-pot wonder!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter!

{Good morning, dear reader and Happy Easter. Please enjoy this Easter post from two years ago with our most heartfelt Resurrection wishes! HE is RISEN INDEED!}

'Twas the day before Easter and all through the Place,
Things were progressing at a very fast pace.

The eggs had been dyed and the children had fun.
"Hurry quick!" said the mama. "There's more to be done."

The chicks began hatching as little cupcakes.

Then onward to cookies, the next things to bake.
The icing was squirted, the dots were applied.

Little tummies couldn't wait to get them inside!

The day went so fast, as it usually does,
For Easter's tomorrow, and we're all abuzz...
Our clothes are all ready, they're ironed and straight.
Tomorrow's so special, we don't want to be late!

"He has risen!" we'll say, "He has risen indeed!"
He has conquered the grave and has met our great need.
We'll celebrate tomorrow that He rose from the dead.
I love Him so much. He died in my stead.

So tomorrow when we put on our ruffles and bows,

We remember this day's more than pretty new clothes,
And eggs and cookies and other fun things,
Tomorrow is to celebrate The King of all Kings!

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And then I blinked.

Here he is, three weeks early...
...13 years ago.

His Daddy wasn't quite ready he said, he still needed to get a few things done at home and at work before our son arrived. 

Our son had other plans...
 ...13 years ago.

We brought him home and placed him in his bed in the room across the hall from ours and he looked so tiny in that great big crib so...
...we scooped him up and snuggled him into our room, to a smaller bed where he stayed for the next few months,

13 years ago.

He transformed us from a young married couple to a
 ...13 years ago.
 We've had a blast learning how to be his parents, we two, who grew up with only sisters, began our family with a son.

A son who taught us all we'd ever need to know about trucks, bulldozers, tractors, combine harvesters, & dinosaurs. 

A son who survived as my first kitchen student...

...who patiently endured as we learned how to take care of another human,

...and who was such a good sport when he became a big brother just after celebrating his first birthday!

Eventually, our baby boy hit two years old and oh what fun! We'd soaked in those baby years and we settled in, ready to enjoy his preschool years.

And then I blinked.

...and not believing what I saw...

...I blinked once more...

...and, oh my...

I feel a bit now, like his Dad did on the day he was born, 13 years ago. I'm not quite ready...there are a few more things I'd have like to have gotten done...

Everyone tells you, when your children are little, not to blink, that it goes by so quickly, and that you'll miss "these days". As a young parent, you are sleepless and weary of changing diapers and are longing for the day when your precious babies can feed themselves and stop spitting up all over you, you really don't believe that the days will ever go quickly. You also can't imagine that you'll ever, ever miss this season in your life. 

And then you blink...

Happy 13th Birthday Cole, 
I'm so thankful God gave you to us, 13 years ago.
What an awful lot you've taught us in the blink of an eye,
how much more we get to learn together as we head on, into future's adventure!

*Image credit: Megan Wright

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