Entrusted Recipes: Mom’s Chili

moms_chili.png

My most favorite time of the year is Fall. I’m the one who anxiously waits for the stores to bring out their pumpkin-spiced food and drinks, checking almost every day to see if anything is out yet. I’m the one who stalks Starbucks to see when they’ll bring back their Pumpkin Spice Latte – this year Starbucks even had a secret group where lovers of all things Fall could share their excitement.

I love football, wearing leggings and comfy shirts, cooler temps, pumpkin farms, and beautiful leaves. I love breathing in crisp, fresh air that smells like dry leaves. I love Fall so much that my husband and I were married in the Fall of 2006. And I love Fall so much that the paint colors and accents in our living room and kitchen are rustic earth tones that resemble Fall leaves. Yeah…I kinda like Fall.

With my love for Fall comes a love for Fall food – pumpkin scones, pumpkin pie, beef stew, mac and cheese, soup, and most of all, chili! But not just any chili. My mom’s chili. I’ve had many types of chili but my favorite is my mom’s recipe. And because I want others to enjoy her recipe as much as I do, I asked her if I could share it.

So here it is – the best chili you’ll ever eat. (Yes, I’m completely unbiased.)

Susie’s Chili

Ingredients

2 lbs. ground beef

2-3 Tbsp chili powder (to taste)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1 medium chopped onion (if I don’t have onion, I use dried, minced onion)

1 large can tomato soup

1 can diced tomatoes (with chilies if you like more heat)

2 large (or 3 small) cans drained kidney beans

1-2 cups water (1 cup makes it thicker, 2 makes it thinner – in the picture of the simmered chili, I added 2 cups)

 

Directions

Brown the beef in a large pot. Add seasonings and onion. Simmer for a few minutes. Add tomato soup, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, and water. Heat through for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Then simmer an additional 10 minutes on low. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes.

moms_chili-2.png
moms_chili-3.png

 When it comes to how to top your chili, there are many options! My favorite is sour cream, cheese, and corn chips. My dad likes to top his with black olives. We also usually make cornbread muffins as a side.

moms_chili-4.png

However you top it, it’s good chili. You’ll let out a contented sigh as you get comfy on the couch to watch football with a warm bowl of chili in your hands. I love it anytime of the year, but it’s even more delicious now that it’s Fall.

moms_chili-5.png
Posted on September 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

Phases vs Lifestyles: What a Determined Plant Has Taught Me

phases_vs_lifestyles.png

My in-laws live on a 200-acre farm in southern Kentucky. My favorite time of year to visit them is in the fall because the southern heat and humidity have eased and the rolling hills are yellowed with drying hay and bean crops.

When I can get myself out of bed at a decent time, I like to take morning walks along the paved driveway between the farmhouse and the main road.

It’s a pretty and serene walk as the road rises and falls with the land. As I was walking one morning last fall, I looked down at the side of the driveway and was so intrigued by what I saw that I stopped, took off my head phones, and knelt down for a closer look. Growing up through the asphalt was a plant. Through the asphalt! It was yellowed like the plants in the field next to it, but it was still growing. I took some pictures with my phone and continued my walk, marveling at the determination of the plant.

phases_vs_lifestyles-2.png

I can be a pro when it comes to determination, too. I’ve gone through phases where I’m very determined to accomplish something. For example, I pursued my Masters for three years and even switched degrees part-way through when I realized that I didn’t really want an MBA; I wanted a Masters in writing. And when my husband and I bought our townhome in 2008, I spent hours poring over paint chips, curtain fabrics, and flooring samples. We redid the half bath and installed new light fixtures. We worked every night for weeks until we finished all the tasks on my list.

On the other hand, there have been times I’ve set out to accomplish something and have started out strong and disciplined only to falter, then give up altogether. Case in point: I’ve struggled with my weight since college. I’ve lost and gained as much as 60 pounds twice just in the past seven years. I start strong and have at times kept up with a pattern of healthy eating and exercising for a year or more. But, inevitably, I allow life to derail me and now I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and feel miserable.

I also struggle to be consistent in my time with the Lord. A lot. I start strong, spending time in the Word, praying, and being conscious of my thoughts and temper. Then I trick myself into thinking that other tasks like a load of laundry are more important than praying. One misstep leads to another, I feel defeated, and then I give up altogether.

It’s taken me a long time (an embarrassingly long time) to figure out why I’m successful in some things but not others. It’s because some are actual phases and some are meant to be life-long disciplines. Phases aren’t permanent routines – they’re temporary. Life-long disciplines last for…well, a lifetime. Most people can stick with something when they know there’s an end point – even something as fun as decorating my new house was sure to feel cumbersome if it lasted for more than a year.

Many of us like to have a starting point and an ending point. We want to know how long we need to push and work because it gives us hope and encouragement. We know there’s an end so we can hammer through with determination and persistence until that end comes.

But some things in life don’t have a stopping point that we can look forward to – we won’t have that specific moment when we know we’ve finished the task and can relax. My physical well-being won’t be perfected until I take my last breath. My spiritual well-being won’t be perfected until I take my last breath. I need to continually work in both areas of my life; I’ll never get to a point where I can or should stop working on them.

Both my physical and spiritual well-being are vital. And yet, these are the two parts of my life where I’m the most lazy. That’s the plain and simple truth: I’m lazy.

I’m empathizing more and more with Paul as I age. In Romans 7, he expressed sorrow and frustration over being divided within himself. His will was torn. Flesh versus spirit. Romans 7:19 says, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (NASB). While I may not be purposefully practicing evil, I’m still practicing it because I’m not doing what I know I should and can do. When I think about it that way, it’s very convicting.

For me, it’s come down to this: I can’t think of my desire for a healthier body as a phase. And I can’t think of my desire for a healthier spiritual life as a phase. They’re disciplines. They’re lifestyles.

phases vs lifestyles.jpg

So, now what? Now that I’m confessing this openly, I need to have a game plan. The first thing I need to do is to find what works – what type of eating and exercising regimen will I realistically stick to? And what kind of personal time with the Lord is most realistic based on how my days flow and where I’m at in terms of kids at home, work, etc.?

A second thing I need to do is print the picture of that plant I found in Kentucky. The plant has taught me and continues to remind me that while it’s not easy, it’s possible to pursue physical and spiritual health for my lifetime. I won’t be perfect as I move forward, but I can and must choose to persist in doing what I know I should do and not doing what I know I should not do.

Posted on August 22, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

Memories for the Long Haul: The Value of Establishing Summer Family Traditions

memories_for_the_long_haul.png

July was one of my favorite months when I was a kid because it was when we took our annual trip to Winona Lake, Indiana. My dad worked at Moody Bible Institute and part of his job was running sound for the sessions at their annual summer conference. For more than ten years, we knew that every summer we would stay in the same hotel, in the same hotel room, and we knew we would spend our mornings with Frank Buckley who, along with his family, put on a fun, biblical program for all the kids. I loved this trip. And I loved that we got to do it every summer. It was a family tradition.

 my sister and I with Frank Buckley and his puppet, Daniel. Frank ran the kids program at the conference we went to as kids.

my sister and I with Frank Buckley and his puppet, Daniel. Frank ran the kids program at the conference we went to as kids.

Last year when my husband and I decided to start our own summer family tradition, we knew that we wanted family camp to be our thing. We both love the camp atmosphere and experience: staying in a cabin, worship services in the tabernacle, Lake Superior (the camp we go to is in the UP of Michigan), meeting families from all over the country, speakers, all of us falling asleep in minutes from blissful exhaustion, and (a very big deal to me) not having to meal plan or cook for a whole week. This July was our second year of family camp and we already have our reservation for next summer! Our kids are three, five, and seven. The older two remember many experiences they had a year ago and are already excited about going back next year. They told us that they like knowing they’ll get to go back again.

 My sister and I on swings near the hotel.

My sister and I on swings near the hotel.

Another summer family tradition we’ve started is going on an outing the weekend before school starts. The first year we went to the zoo. Last year was our second year and we went bowling. They’re not over-the-top outings, but they have a specific purpose: to kick off a new schedule for our family. We celebrate the great summer we’ve had and talk about what we’re looking forward to as fall approaches.

Family camp isn’t everyone’s preferred vacation. And maybe your weekend before the kids go back to school is already packed with buying school supplies and getting in those last-minute doctor appointments before your youngest starts Kindergarten. My point is not so much about the kind of trips or outings you do or when you do them, but the act of establishing summer family traditions. Maybe your family loves exploring new amusement parks, going to baseball games in different cities, or the visiting local or out-of-state fairs. You know your family and what kinds of trips and activities will appeal to everyone. Pick a couple and make them your non-negotiables every summer.

Why? Because kids aren’t likely to remember what they got for Christmas when they were eight but they’ll remember the trips or outings they did every summer for five, ten, or fifteen years. And those experiences might be things they’ll want to do with you after they have their own kids. Last summer at family camp, we were fortunate enough to have my parents and my sister and her family all together for the week. We were only missing my younger brother. It was a dream come true for me to have us together at camp and reminisce about the similar experiences my sister and I had when we were young.

There are a lot of things I don’t remember from my childhood. But I remember going to Winona Lake every July. I remember the smell of the lake and knowing that sometime during the week I’d get to buy copious amounts of Atomic Fireballs® from the local pizza place. Each year was a little different but it was also the same. I think that’s why it means so much to me now that I have kids.

The emotions that my memories of our family tradition evoke are the kind I want my kids to have when they’re talking to their kids about their annual trip to family camp. And when they’re getting ready to send their kids back to school, I want them to think back to the beginning of each school year and recall how we celebrated the end of summer and the start of new routines together.

It’s the end of July, but there’s still time to establish your first annual _______________. What trip or outing will become your family’s summer tradition?

 My three kids at the Bible camp we go to each summer. 

My three kids at the Bible camp we go to each summer. 

Posted on July 19, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

The Last Lemon Cake: A story about submission and the tender loving care that God the Father had for our three sons

last_lemon_cake.pn

A lemon cake is baking in my oven right now.  It is the 13th lemon cake baked in my kitchen in as many years.  Here is the true story of why, and how and who it is for. On January 6 of 2003, a day we’ve come to call Bloody Monday, David was told that he no longer had a job—as of that day! 

 

The natural reaction to conserve kicked in.  He called to let me know this had occurred and that there would be a moratorium on spending. 

My deepest concern, even more than the natural reaction of “what are we going to live on?” was how my sons would perceive God, what would they think of him when the church that claims to love and obey him was so callous?  Would they be able to separate the two?  Would this shipwreck their faith?  I pondered this for a couple of days.

Meanwhile, I realized I had made commitments, which I felt would have to be fulfilled, regardless.  The first of these promises was a batch of cookies.  These had to be made and taken to the kindergarten class to celebrate Michael’s 6th birthday.  They were going to be Veggie Tale cookies.  I already had the cookie cutters: Bob the tomato and Larry the cucumber and budgeted for the baking ingredients.  I also told Michael that I would get a lemon cake mix per his request,  and bake it for his special day which would be on that Wednesday.  While shopping for the cookie ingredients and cake mix, I remembered that I actually had a yellow cake mix at home already!  I had to honor David’s wishes—no extra spending! Yikes!!!  Although I felt in good conscience about spending for the cookies to give away, I didn’t feel as free to buy another cake mix—a lemon cake mix—when I had a perfectly good yellow cake mix at home.  I would just have to explain it to Michael—he would understand, after all he would be 6 years old! When I broke the news to him he accepted it like a little man!  Phew!

last_lemon_cake-2.png

It was now Wednesday, January 8, Michael’s birthday. I started to bake that yellow but decidedly very un-lemon cake!  First, however, I would need to get my mixer blades back from my neighbor, Laura, who had borrowed them some time ago. I called that morning to say that I was baking that afternoon (I did not tell her why or what) and could I pick up my mixer blades?     I went over later and she handed me a grocery bag with some movies she’d borrowed,  the mixer blades and since she’d been feeling guilty for keeping my stuff for so long, she threw in something from her pantry…a lemon cake mix!  I remember pulling that out and giving it to Michael, he began running around the house shouting--“How did she know?!  How did she know?!”  I just answered, “God knew!” Right there beside me were my other two sons, Andrew and Nate.  They were seeing this miracle, knowing that no matter what or who brought us to such a difficult place that God did not forsake us and beyond that, cared for a little boy to the fine detail of the flavor of his birthday cake. I determined from then on that Michael would always have a lemon cake on his birthday and that we would remember that God cares for us personally.  He cared for my sons.  I’ll ever praise him (Psalm 146:2) and let this be a reminder that it is my job to obey—He will provide! 

Today, then, I’m baking what might just be the last lemon cake; after all Michael said recently now that he’s all grown (18 years old) this should be the last lemon cake—I didn’t promise anything!  

(Welcome guest blogger, Helen Jones, wife of Dr. David Jones, Pastor of Village Church, Barrington, IL!)

Posted on July 13, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

Becoming My Parents

becoming_my_parents.png

I’ve watched my parents be parents for forty-one years. And now that I’m married, have kids of my own, and am more mature (some days), I’m keenly aware of how fortunate I am to be their child. They’ve created a legacy for my sister, brother, and me, and they’re helping us create a legacy for our kids. And you know what? I hope that I become my parents because they raised us (which was no small feat) and we would all say that we are who we are because of the Godly example they have given us.

They put family first.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” Deuteronomy 6:6-7.

My parents always put us first. They made many sacrifices so my siblings and I could go to Christian schools. I didn’t understand the depth of the sacrifices back then, but I do now – and I’m happy to do the same for my kids. My dad worked full-time in addition to getting as many freelance jobs as he could get to make ends meet. Right now, my husband works 50+ hours a week between his full-time job and part-time job and I work from home as an online faculty member for a Christian college as well as getting every freelance job I can so we can keep our kids in a Christian school. Why? Because my parents believed God wanted us in a Christian school and we believe the same for our kids. We do what we have to do.

My mom and dad were always faithful church attenders. But they didn’t just go to church; they lived out the truths of the Bible every day. By making their faith a priority, they made us a priority. We learned that God comes first, then family, then everything else. And we learned how to serve. My dad’s motto is that when he serves, he arrives early and stays late to make sure that everything is done well.

They protected us.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” Psalm 127:3.

They knew where we were and who we were with all the time – and this was before cell phones were around. We had to tell them what was going on and they would then tell us what time to be home. It varied based on what we were doing, but we were usually with our youth group or kids from our Christian school so they were ok with us being home around 10:30 or 11. But we were never allowed out past midnight. Why? Because my dad says that nothing good happens after midnight. He’s right.

My parents didn’t drop us off at the mall unchaperoned. That made me so mad because everyone else got to walk around the mall without their parents – at least it seemed like everyone else did. But they said no. And now that I have kids, I wouldn’t drop my kids off at the mall either. I understand why they said no. Kids are precious and there’s no reason to take an unnecessary risk.

becoming_my_parents_pull_quote.png

While there were times when it felt like they just didn’t want us to have fun, I now understand that they were protecting us. And my husband and I will protect our kids the same way.

They’re givers.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lamentations 3:23.

My parents were and are givers. They give of their finances, their time, their resources. They give so much to me even as their adult child. They help us send our kids to a Christian school. My mom will ask what I need at the store and pick up things for me while she’s shopping for herself. They’re our babysitters – or as my mom likes to say, they’re our grandsitters.

My parents have set the ultimate example when it comes to tithing. Even though money was tight, my parents tithed. Faithfully. And now I see how God blessed them because of their faithful giving. They drove older cars, but I’ve lost count of how many of those cars were given to them or they purchased cheaply. My dad knew how to fix cars so no car was too far gone that he couldn’t resuscitate it. They gave faithfully and God faithfully provided for them in countless ways.

My mom says that people don’t stop being parents when their kids get married and have their own kids. They learn to parent in a different way. But they’re still always parents. I pray often that I will emulate to my precious kiddos the same love, devotion, and faithfulness that my parents have shown me. I pray that I will become my parents.

BECOMING_PARENTS-2.jpg

Proverbs 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Posted on June 20, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Entrusted Recipes: Summer Salad with Brown Rice

summer_salad_with_brown_rice.png

A little while back I stumbled upon a recipe video online where the chef put cooked brown rice on her salad. I had never seen such a thing done, but it looked so yummy that I tried it immediately. It was a game changer! I absolutely loved how the rice added new texture to my salad, and how much heartier it became. It is now my go-to for building a healthy and fast salad that can stand-alone for a meal.

summer_salad_with_brown_rice-2.png

I usually throw together a random assortment of on-hand ingredients to build my salads, but I’ll share one of my favorite combinations. (Calling it a “recipe” is a bit of a stretch, I will admit...it’s more of a “suggested guideline”.)

The best trick I’ve found for incorporating brown rice easily into my diet is to cook a big batch over the weekend. We usually grill a bag of chicken breasts on weekends as well, to have on hand during the week. Having these two things in the fridge, along with a fresh bag of spinach, makes healthy summer lunches quick and accessible.

To make my favorite salad, start with a heaping fist full of lettuce in a large bowl. I like to use a spinach & arugula mix, but any combo of dark leafy greens that suits your taste buds is fine.

For dressing, I keep it simple and use olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Toss your lettuce in this mixture.

Next, top with a heap of brown rice. For all of these ingredients, you can use however much you like. I usually use about half a cup of brown rice. To me, it tastes fine even if it’s still warm from cooking, but it’s even better pre-cooked and refrigerated.

Summer_salad_with_bown_rice-3.png.JPG

That’s all you need for the base of a great salad!

For toppings, my favorite combination is:

  • cubed grilled chicken
  • sliced avocado
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped apples
  • sliced almonds & chopped pecans
  • and sometimes a little blue cheese
summer_salad_with_brown_rice-4.png

This is definitely one of those recipes that you can experiment with, depending on what you have on hand and what suits you. But give the brown rice a try as you’re building—it might be just the healthy and hearty zip your salad needs for the summer.

Posted on June 6, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

Tips for Success: Potty Training Little Ones

tips_for_success_potty_training.png

After I had several children I realized something. When one of my children struggles with something, it is possibly a reflection on my parenting. When a few of my kids struggle with an issue, it is probably due to my lack of training or consistency. Right now my boys are really struggling with picking up toys right after they play with them… yep, I have not been consistent enough there, and I need to be more intentional.

The same rule is true for positive traits. All of my kids LOVE to read and look at books. This is something I took great effort to foster in them. I can take a little credit for that in my kids. Another area my kids have done amazing at is the potty training phase. I have potty trained three boys… all by 27 months.

My oldest son began potty training at 26 months. He nailed it. Finally--his strong will was helping me in an area! He was motivated, and it was a breeze.

I assumed my second son would be more challenging. He has always been the one that likes to drag his feet a little on milestones. He is just more laid-back and doesn’t usually feel the need to prove himself. However, he was showing some interest at 25 months, so we gave it a try. I was blown away at how quickly he picked it up.

My third son was 23 months when we tried to potty train him. He exited the womb wanting to be like his big brothers, so it was a quick process.

And I’m not just talking day-trained, they were set for nights pretty quick too. Have they all had instances that they get their underwear wet at playdates because they are having too much fun to stop and use the restroom? Yes, but for the most part, my work was done early on. (Releasing that fact into the blogosphere makes me a little nervous that my fourth will give me a run for my money…. :) )

*This is not a “How To Potty Train” post, but rather a resource as you are compiling ideas. I don’t know exactly why this was so successful for me, but I can tell you what I consistently did that seemed to help my kids.

Just as with many parenting phases, you have to decide whose will is stronger and if you will buckle when it gets hard. When parents say “I just don’t think he’s ready yet,” sometimes they are saying they aren’t ready to do what it takes. I’m not saying that’s wrong; it’s good to know yourself and what you are ready for. And just as with other parenting decisions, you and your spouse need to be a united front. When it gets hard, you don’t want your husband saying, “Do we really have to do this now?” You’ve started. It is confusing for your child if you stop. (Although I know there are rare circumstances that you may need to turn back because of a medical issue. For example, my pediatrician told me that occasionally when children with normal development have an unusual amount of difficulty potty-training, it can be because of an ENT issue. This is just something to consider if you face this challenge.)

Tips:

tips_for_success_potty_training-2.png
  1. Start “potty training” way before they are ready.  One way I prepared my kids was unintentional, but extremely effective. I used cloth diapers. If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late for you to jump on that train, but it worked really well for us! Cloth diapers don’t stay as dry as disposable diapers, so these kids love the feel of the dry underwear. It makes them very motivated to stay dry! This next tip will sound weird…. but for awhile before I started potty training my oldest, I would “encourage” my husband when he went to the bathroom. He would leave the room, and I’d say things like “Good job listening to your body, Daddy!” Then Lincoln was really excited to be like his daddy in this way.
     
  2. Set proper expectations. This will be hard. Even if it’s only hard for 3 days, it will most likely be a hard three days. There will be stain treating, accidents, and you’ll probably question yourself. With that said, don’t add any chaos to that recipe. Clear your calendar for the week as much as you can. Put your phone away. Be all there. You will be more successful if you aren’t distracted by other commitments. If possible, ask for help with your other kiddos.
     
  3.  Be ready for lots of quality time! Be prepared with activities. Gather age-appropriate puzzles and games, and play dough. You may be thinking--Ewwww! Play dough in the bathroom?!?!?!?  Some people prefer to camp out in the bathroom for a time. I actually got a large tarp to cover my living room floor so we could do life while my little guy was learning. This was largely due to the fact that I did not have a bathroom on my main floor… so you take your pick. I did really like that we had plenty of room for playtime while he was sitting on his little potty. Maybe you’re still thinking I’m gross, but I stand by my choice… and my essential oil disinfectants! Also consider renting some potty training videos from the library. I allowed a lot more screen time than I usually did to make sure my son stayed on that potty!
     
  4. Water, snacks, water, juice, and more water! You will be pumping that kiddo full of fluids so they can be successful. The more they drink, the more they need to go, and the quicker they understand the connection.
     
  5. Have a reward system in place. I bought fun underwear for my boys to start the process, but I also started a sticker chart. They needed something tangible to see their progress. I discovered a tricky part right away with this, however. Do I give a sticker for staying dry for a certain amount of time, or for going in the potty? Both are reward-worthy. My middle son can hold his bladder much longer than my other kids. I didn’t want to punish him for it. I decided I would reward him for every half hour that he stayed dry as well. To be honest, I can’t remember what my kids got when they filled up the sticker chart…. I think they were pretty excited about the stickers themselves! Whatever it is, you don’t want to make it too amazing because you want them to be intrinsically motivated to keep up the pattern.
     
  6. Foster an atmosphere of family encouragement. If you have older children, make sure they are supportive. Let them share how why they like being a “big kid” now. Also, commit to staying positive. It is important that you don’t shame your child when they aren’t successful. Be ready to explain something that was hard for you to master right away.
     
  7. Have a Scripture to meditate upon. Ephesians 4:1-3 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Sometimes this is my challenge to myself when I’m in a tense parenting moment. If I can allow the Holy Spirit to reign in my flesh, and walk with humility, gentleness, patience and love, I know I have been successful. Write your verse where you can see it so you remember to be gracious even when you are exhausted or frustrated.

I encourage you to ask friends and family for tips before you begin. You want to start out well-informed so you can be faithful! Godspeed, Mamas! You got this!

Posted on May 30, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.