Archive for February, 2011

I’ve been thinking this morning about difficult parenting seasons, and how God is faithful to give us wisdom in those seasons.  I don’t claim to be a parenting expert – only an expert in understanding my unique children.  But one thing I know from experience is that God keeps his promise to give wisdom to those who seek it:

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path.  For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.  Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
– Proverbs 2:1-6, 8-11.

There’s No “Babies 1.0” Manual
We live in an age of “experts.”  We rely on experts to tell us what to eat, how to exercise, what to wear, and how to raise our kids.  Don’t believe me?  Head to your local bookstore and check out all the shelves lined with “how-to” books.  Chances are you may be reading this blog because you’re hoping to gain some helpful insight or parenting tool.  But the truth is, the only one who knows best how to parent our kids is the One who created them.

God prepared me for this truth when my firstborn was still in my womb.  I had been given several parenting books written by “experts,” and was dutifully reading them and praying about them.  My sister gave me the book, “Babywise,” which had worked well with her first child (and when we parents find a method that works – including me – we want to tell everyone about it so they can find success, too).  As I read about scheduling your baby’s feeding and sleep schedule to fit the needs of the parents, it sounded pretty good to me.  But when I presented it to the Lord, he said, “No.  That’s not my plan for you with this one.”  That method may work fine for others, but it was not to be for me.  Ironically, my son was very scheduled.  He ate every four hours like clockwork, and had a regular sleeping schedule, but I always felt directed by God to step back and observe his needs, look at his natural schedule, and adjust my own to fit it.  The difference is slight, but looking back, I see now that God was preparing me by laying the groundwork for how he would challenge me to parent later on.

Potty Training – a.k.a. “Why We Stopped After 2 Kids”
One of the scariest hurdles young parents face is the dreaded potty training.  You know it has to happen, since no child goes to college still wearing diapers, but how to get your child from A to B can range from mystifying to terrifying.  So what do we do?  We ask our friends and family how they did it, and we read every book and magazine we can get our hands on.  My poor little boy was subjected to half a dozen different methods in one week, and by Sunday I felt totally dejected by their complete and utter failure.  (We had tried when he was 2 and determined he wasn’t ready, then waited until he was well past his third birthday to try again.  It was time.)  All the “experts” said you shouldn’t put a child back in diapers once you’ve begun potty training, so I had to choose to either stay home from church with him and continue our efforts or put him in a pull-up and go to church.  We chose to honor God and took a sabbath rest from potty training, praying for God to give us wisdom and insight.

On Monday morning, I woke up to a full rundown from the Lord on why all the methods I’d tried had failed.  God opened my eyes to see how they clashed with the way my boy was created.  Of course, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the the Holy Spirit instructed me as clearly as any book or magazine as to what I was to do.  God pointed out that my son was – and still is – very scheduled when it comes to eating, sleeping, and bowel movements.  His instruction was the same as it was when my son was a baby: step back and observe his needs, look at his natural schedule, and adjust your methods to fit it.  So that’s what I did.  I starting putting him on the toilet every few hours and simply took note of when he had to go.  I let him wear a pull-up because he was very upset by wet underwear and was capable of going in the toilet.  After just a few days of observation, I figured out how often I needed to take him to the bathroom.  Soon, he began to go on his own.  He was completely trained in less than 2 weeks with no tears or upset.  Please understand, this is not a post on how to potty train, but simply an example of how much easier it is to parent when we seek God’s wisdom for how to meet the unique needs of our children. Potty-training with my daughter was completely different and took a long time, but God gave me wisdom (and patience, mostly) for her too.  Parenting books and magazines can be helpful tools, but only if we have the discernment to know which methods fit our kids.

The Elementary Years: Becoming a Student of My Child
Halfway through second grade we sensed God urging us to pull our son out of public school and begin the adventure of homeschooling.  Even though the traditional public school method of education clashed with his personality and learning style, I still made the common rookie mistake of trying to duplicate it at home with a desk, workbooks, and a set time for each subject.  This only made us more miserable.  As my husband and I prayed for wisdom, we received the same instructions we did when he was a baby: look at how he was created and adjust our methods to work with him rather than against him. Once again, I had to become a student of my child before I could teach him.

  • I noticed that he does not do well when timed (both reading and math drills are timed in the public school system), and becomes frantic and angry when he feels under pressure.
  • I noticed that when I let him choose where to work, he prefers to sit on the floor or use a lap desk and sit in the rocking chair instead of at a table.
  • The most important truth God revealed is that my son cannot be forced to do an assignment he doesn’t want to do (which doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries and expectations for proper behavior, but when it comes to schoolwork he will do what he sees value in doing).  This is why his teachers were always stumped by how to motivate him.  What worked one day wouldn’t work the next because rewards always had to get bigger and threats of punishment had to escalate  – neither extreme is acceptable to me.  However inconvenient it may be, this is who he is, and no method of coercion was ever going to work with him.  (I should clarify that he is not an obstinate child.   When he avoided an assignment, it was not out of defiance, but rather disinterest.  He does not have ADHD, and is capable of spending hours reading a book or completing a project of interest to him – it just has to be of interest to him!)

I mentioned in another post that God eventually led us to the “Thomas Jefferson Education” or “Leadership Education” approach (so named because it is how our country’s founders, like Thomas Jefferson, were educated).  My son is currently in the “Love of Learning” phase, when kids are encouraged to pursue areas of interest to them.  So instead of pushing and pulling to get him to learn what an “expert” decided all third graders should learn, in the way that is suitable for a classroom of 30 kids, I’m able to provide him with an educationally rich environment and fan the flames whenever I see a spark of interest.  He’s internally motivated to learn because he’s allowed to pursue his interests which, surprisingly, are varied enough to cover most of the typical third grade curriculum without much prompting from me.

Looking back at God’s instructions from the time my son was a baby, it makes sense now that God was preparing me to approach parenting and educating as a mentor who inspires and leads by example.  By following God’s instructions to observe my son and adapt my methods to work with him, we have found a joy in our home that I would have never thought possible.  Both my kids are now homeschooled, and they love to learn – even math (which used to be dreaded) is tackled with enthusiasm!  Of course, homeschooling is not for everyone, and I think public school is fine for many kids.  Just like there’s no one-size-fits-all method for potty-training, there’s no one-size-fits-all method for education, either. But that’s why we continue at each stage of parenting to heed the advice in Proverbs to “call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding.”  God is faithful to answer, and he knows what is best for our kids!

If you’d like to join me in reading through the book of Proverbs, as well as the entire New Testament this year, the daily Bible reading schedule is always available on the Faith tab above.  The Bible is the best parenting book I know because my kids will do what they see me do.  So my best hope of raising godly children is to seek the character of Christ myself.

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There’s just something about coming home from church to a house that smells like pot roast.  My favorite Sunday dinner is still roast, potatoes, and carrots cooked overnight in the crock pot.  In our pre-GF days, I would sprinkle a packet of gravy over the veggies and add a little water.  Now I just season the roast with some salt and pepper, then throw in an onion and a little water to keep the veggies moist (I cook my roast on low for 14 hrs., so I usually have to add a bit of liquid).  To make gravy, we add any drippings to some gluten free beef broth and thicken with a little cornstarch mixed with water.  My favorite discovery is jarred Organic Better Than Bouillon (decently priced at Costco), which can be used like bouillon cubes but is better for you and gluten free (many beef broths and bouillons contain wheat).  It’s also way cheaper than buying cans of broth, and allows you to use just a little in recipes that don’t require a whole can or box of broth.  Since it’s low sodium, I like to add a dash of onion salt for a little extra flavor.

I try to take advantage of the fact that we always have leftovers when I cook a roast, by planning to make two favorite quick and easy dishes: French dip sandwiches and shredded beef burritos/chimichangas.  We used to think our French dip days were over since having to give up sub rolls, but we like the GF version I came up with even more!

Gluten Free French Dip Sandwiches

Leftover roast beef
Provolone cheese slices (or Swiss)
Ener-G brand Light Tapioca bread (be sure to get the “light” variety)
Beef flavored Better Than Bouillon
Onion salt

Assemble French dip sandwiches like you would a grilled cheese sandwich, by buttering the bread slices and grilling them with a piece of provolone and a generous amount of roast beef inside.  (To make this dairy free, just omit the cheese and use a dairy free margarine, like Earth Balance.)

In a small saucepan, heat 1-1/2 c. water to boiling.  Add 1-1/2 T. beef bouillon (or more to taste) and a dash of onion salt.  Pour into small dishes and serve with grilled sandwiches.

Gluten Free Roast Beef Burritos or Chimichangas

1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 T. vegetable oil
1-1/2 c. shredded cooked roast beef
1/2 c. salsa
1/4 tsp. cumin
8-10 corn tortillas
Shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place tortillas on an extra-large cookie sheet (or 2 baking sheets that fit side by side in the oven), overlapping slightly, if necessary.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Set aside.

Heat oil in a medium skillet.  Saute onion for 2 minutes or until tender.  Add garlic and heat for a minute.  Add the roast beef, salsa, and cumin.   Stir and cook over medium heat for 4-6 minutes until heated through.  Meanwhile, put tortillas in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes or until softened and just starting to crisp around the edges.

Remove tortillas from oven and immediately place a large spoonful of filling down the center of each tortilla, distributing the filling equally among the tortillas.  Working quickly, roll up the burritos by folding in the short ends, then rolling up the long side.  (The cheese helps it hold together.)  Serve with additional salsa, or fry both sides in a frying pan filled with little oil over medium heat to make chimichangas.

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It is time to unveil the pinnacle of my gluten free baking achievement, my Sistine Chapel.  For two years I tried to duplicate my favorite Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe (which is slightly different than the original recipe) with various gluten free flour blends.  But there was always something not quite right.  Since I can still eat wheat (the rest of my family can’t), I’m still aware of what a “regular” cookie should taste like.

After discovering the magical flour blend that enabled me to make my grandmother’s sour cream sugar cookies last Christmas, I decided to see if it works in other cookies.  So on New Year’s Eve, I created my masterpiece.  I served them to our “gluten eating” friends that night, and no one could tell that they weren’t made with wheat flour.  (Alright friends, you need to back me up in the comments section!)  I’ve been making my cookies – mostly for my dad, who loves them in a way that is just slightly lower than idolatry – since I was in junior high, so I know what they should taste like.  These are spot on!  They’re slightly crispy on the edges, chewy on the inside, and taste delicious. When I told my dad I’d finally figured out how to make them gluten free, he didn’t say a word, but walked over and gave me a huge bear hug.

What makes my cookies addictive is the result of what was likely a typing error when my mom typed up the recipe years ago.  On the Nestle chip bag, the recipe calls for 1 tsp. vanilla extract.  The recipe I grew up making called for 1 tsp. vanilla – not extract.  The lower amount of vanilla gives the cookie a more salty taste, so it has a sweet/salty combo that makes you want to munch on them all day long.  I increased the amount of vanilla slightly in my gluten free cookies because GF baked goods often require a little extra flavoring.  I also use butter flavor Crisco instead of butter for better texture than butter, but with all the good buttery taste.  (Normally I choose butter over shortening, but I only use shortening in 2 recipes where it really does make a difference.)  Plus, by using shortening and Ghirardelli or Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips, this recipe is dairy free.  I’ve also found that GF baked goods tend to turn out best if they’re baked slightly longer at a lower temperature – about 25 degrees lower – than original wheat flour recipes.  The last modification (besides my gluten free flour combo) is to slightly flatten the balls of dough, which helps it spread and cook evenly (instead of browning around the edges while a lump of dough remains in the middle).  So here it is, my secret revealed:

WARNING: The following cookie recipe is highly addictive.  I’ve learned to only bake a dozen at a time and keep the rest of the dough in the refrigerator to keep from eating them all in one sitting.  (You think I’m joking…)

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. + 3 T. Brenda’s cheap & awesome flour blend (below)
1/2 c. tapioca flour/starch (it’s the same thing)
1/2 c. potato starch (NOT the same as potato flour)
1 T. sweet rice flour (also called sticky rice flour)
2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. Butter Flavor Crisco
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 T. vanilla (not extract)
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together until completely blended.  In a separate bowl or electric mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugars.  Mix in eggs.  Add flour mixture, a little a time, until blended.  Stir in vanilla and chocolate chips.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drop tablespoonfuls of dough or use a cookie scoop.  Flatten slightly with your hand to help them cook evenly.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden around the edges.  Let rest on pan for a minute or two, then remove to a wire rack to cool.  As soon as they’re cool, put in an airtight container.

These cookies stay chewy for several days if stored in an airtight container – if they last that long.  This dough also keeps well in the refrigerator for weeks, and can be frozen in balls for a quick dessert anytime.

My flour blend:

  • 1 c. white rice flour
  • 1 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/3 c. tapioca flour/starch
  • 1/3 c. potato starch
  • 1/3 c. corn starch
  • 1 T. potato flour
  • 1 T. sweet rice (also called sticky rice) flour

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Awhile back I read a magazine article about a mom who decided to award her kids for learning some basic life skills with scouting-type badges.  She made a sash and badges to go on it for things like learning how to pack a suitcase, sewing, navigating with a map, etc.  When they’d earned all their badges, they went on a family backpacking trip.  I think that’s a great idea for encouraging kids to learn and parents to be intentional in teaching life skills.

As a homeschooling mom, I’m planning to use this strategy both to motivate my kids to work on some remaining educational goals this spring, and encourage them to work toward their own goals.  Since our kids don’t get grades, this is a nice way to acknowledge their achievements.  Our goals are broken down into 4 areas:

  • 10 educational goals based on some remaining Idaho state standards my kids still need to work on
  • 3 physical fitness goals (jump rope, throwing/catching, learning to rollerblade or ice skate)
  • 2 musical goals (sing in the children’s choir at church, name musical notes on a staff)
  • 5 goals chosen by them (learn internet/word processing skills, sew, cook 3 meals and a dessert, etc.)

To encourage the kids to keep working on them, we’ve established both short-term and long-term rewards.  For each achievement they check off, they’ll get to pick a movie and dessert for family movie night – their favorite treat!  When the 10 educational goals are completed – essentially the end of their “school year” – they’ll get a week of vacation and a day trip to some fun location nearby.  (I actually prefer to do a little school each day year-round, since my kids don’t do well with more than a week of unstructured days.  Breaks are good, but I’d rather spread them out and take them when we need them.)  When all 20 goals are completed, they’ll get their choice of either a slumber party at Grandma’s house or a sleepover with a friend at our house, plus a toy from my goody stash.  I’m excited to see how this will turn out.  After explaining it to the kids, they were both ready to dig in to some of the goals.  My son decided to tackle one of the math goals, and I took my daughter to the craft store to buy a sewing project with a gift card she’d received for Christmas.

Our educational philosophy most resembles the Leadership Education model, so we don’t have a set curriculum that we follow.  Our kids are naturally curious and motivated to learn since we’ve stepped back and let them take charge of their own education.  But from time to time I step in and target a few areas for further study in order to keep the “What if my kids end up missing something?” fears at bay.  So this kind of goal-setting with rewards helps to balance the interest-led learning that takes place most of the time with a few priorities I set for them.  They still choose which goals to focus on during the time we’ve set for school, and they have a lot of input and flexibility as to how they want to accomplish the goals (i.e. learning math skills through games, worksheets, playing grocery store, computer programs, etc.).

If all goes well, I’d like to work with the kids on developing another set of goals for this summer that are less education-oriented and centered more on personal growth and development.  But for now, I’m looking forward to celebrating their achievements and watching them continue to grow.

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There are wonderful health benefits to making homemade chicken broth, and when you use the bones from a leftover roast chicken, it couldn’t be cheaper!  While this recipe does take some time, there’s very little work involved.  You can either make this with bone-in chicken, which will give you a little more meat, or a leftover carcass plus a few drumsticks.  I keep a cheap bag of drumsticks in the freezer for this purpose.  You can use this as a flavorful broth in cooking, add cooked rice or noodles plus additional vegetables to make soup, or try the recipe below for soup and dumplings made with leftover mashed potatoes.

2 lbs. bone-in chicken parts or 1 chicken carcass plus 2 drumsticks
1 onion, peeled
2 tsp. cider vinegar (to draw out nutrients from bones)
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules or jarred Better Than Boullion
1/2 T. salt
3 carrots, peeled
2 stalks celery or 1/4 tsp. celery salt, optional
1/2 T. dried parsley

Place chicken and onion in a 4-quart pot and fill with water.  Add vinegar.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered for 2 hours, skimming foam off top as necessary.  Remove onion.  Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT dried parsley; cover and simmer for 1 hour.  (If making potato dumplings, start dumplings at this point since they require 1 hr. of refrigeration prior to cooking.)  Strain soup and add parsley.  Cook 15 minutes more while you separate meat from bones.  Season to taste with additional salt, bouillon, or celery salt if desired.  (I sometimes strain the broth at this point to remove the parsley if I want a clear broth for cooking.)  If making soup, chop carrots and add back to soup along with meat and any additional add-ins like cooked rice or pasta.

Potato Dumplings:
Add 2 eggs to 1-1/2 c. leftover mashed potatoes.  If desired, add 1 tsp. dried dill.  Stir in 1/3 c. potato starch until thoroughly combined (add more if mashed potatoes weren’t firm).  Refrigerate the mixture for 1 hour.  Bring soup to a boil.  Use your hands to gently form rough ball shapes from one tablespoon of batter at a time, and submerge dumplings in the soup.  If you prefer, you may use a soup spoon or cookie scoop to move free-form spoonfuls of batter into the pot.  Boil for approximately 5-6 minutes or until cooked through.  The dumplings will float up to the surface quickly but will need several additional minutes to cook all the way through.

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My son has the flu.  I knew something was up last night when he was curled up in a blanket on the couch instead of engaging in his usual pre-dinner, running laps around the house routine.  If you’re going to get sick, running a fever is about the best thing.  There are no messy tissues or vomit to clean up.  Your kid is basically just wiped out and lethargic – which, for those of us with high energy kids, can kind of feel like a vacation.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate seeing my little guy in pain, but the reality is that his immune system needs to be exposed to these bugs in order to develop properly.  If we overprotect our kids and try to keep them from catching anything, their immune systems won’t have the necessary opportunities to learn how to respond and protect them later in life. I read that autoimmune disorders are on the rise, partly due to all our germaphobic ways.  If our immune system doesn’t have bugs to fight while it is developing, it can go haywire and end up attacking the body later on.

So I recognize that today’s temporary setback is an important part of my son’s long-term immune system development, and provides an opportunity for a little pampering.  I remember when my sister and I both had the flu at the same time when we were kids, and we got to sit on my mom’s bed, watching The Dukes of Hazzard and eating Twinkies.  It was awesome!  So today I get to spoil my little boy.  While I can’t give my son Twinkies (because of gluten intolerance and because Twinkies don’t decompose – ever), there are nourishing foods I can give him to bolster his immune system and help him feel better.  One super food you’ve probably heard a lot about is yogurt.  By introducing the “good” bacteria into the gut – where our immune system lives – it helps your body fight the bad bugs.  So along with some egg casserole and an Udi’s GF bagel (a rare treat in our house) for breakfast, I made him a yogurt smoothie with frozen raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries (high in disease-fighting antioxidants), fresh banana and a little pomegranate juice blend I picked up at the dollar store.  Berry smoothie + Phineas and Ferb on the Disney channel = happy 9-year-old.

I’m also starting a pot of homemade chicken soup on the stove, made with bones from the delicious roast chicken I made a few weeks ago (and stored in the freezer).  I regularly make this awesome rotisserie-style slow cooker chicken from the crock pot lady, Stephanie O’Dea (whose fantastic crock pot recipes are gluten free).  I substitute 1 tsp. garlic salt for the minced garlic (and omit the chili pepper) so I can make a big batch of the seasoning and keep it on hand for this easy recipe.  I always save the bones, and sometimes freeze them if I don’t have time to make soup right away, because homemade chicken broth has so many health benefits.

According to Katie Fox over at Simple Organic, “Homemade stock contains tons of nutrients that you just don’t get in a box or a can (and many brands contain hidden MSG). The key is using bones. Yep, bones! Bones are full of minerals that will leach into the liquid as it simmers, and the result will be a rich, healing bone broth.  The minerals and nutrients in homemade chicken stock are in a form that your body can easily absorb and use. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, real gelatin, and fancy-schmancy things like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine – for which people pay top dollar in supplement form – are all abundant in homemade chicken stock.”

The key to getting all these benefits is to add a little splash of cider vinegar to the water as the bones simmer because it will draw out these nutrients.  I never made homemade broth before we went gluten free, but now that I can’t just open up a can of chicken noodle soup, I’ve had to learn how to make my own.  I have a great chicken soup recipe that is full of flavor and nutrients.  You can add rice, dumplings made with leftover mashed potatoes, or your favorite noodles.  For kids soup, I like to use Tinkyada’s GF brown rice “Little Dreams” noodles that are in a variety of fun shapes.  However you make it, nothing beats homemade chicken soup (and The Dukes of Hazzard) when you’re sick!

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Joyful Faith: Dealing with Fear

A few years ago we went to Disneyland with my parents and sister’s family.  At the time, my son was 7, and my daughter celebrated her 5th birthday while we were there.  My little girl has always been somewhat fearful when encountering new situations, so I prepared her for the unknown by watching videos of the rides through the Disneyland website.  We would watch the slide-shows and videos over and over as her excitement grew.

Then we got to the park.  We went to California Adventure on her birthday and found a great spot for the Pixar Play Parade, of which we’d seen video clips on the internet dozens of times.  But all of a sudden she was terrified of her favorite costumed Pixar characters.  She was crying and shaking because she…wait for it…thought the characters were going to eat her.  The rides turned out to be an even worse nightmare because we would stand in line for 40 minutes to go on a ride, and just as we got to the front, my daughter would flip out and start screaming (and this girl has some serious vocal chords) that she can’t go on the ride.

One such experience was when we were about to get on one of my favorite rides, The Pirates of the Caribbean.  Since this was one of the few rides our entire extended family could go on (my sister has twin boys who were only 1 year old at the time), we weren’t keen on sitting this one out with her.  As we got closer and closer to the front, her refusal to go on the ride escalated.  She was absolutely convinced that the animatronic characters (that are nailed down) were going to get into the boat and hurt her.  No amount of reasoning with her could convince her otherwise.  We tried distracting her with her cousins, and pointing out how they were not afraid to go on the ride.  We pulled out the big guns – Grandma – and even Grandma couldn’t work her magic on my terrified little girl.  Finally, my husband picked her up and asked her flat out, “Have I ever let anything bad happen to you?  Would I take you some place where I know you will get hurt?”  She shook her head “no,” and continued to whimper.  Then he assured her, “I will be right there with you, holding your hand the whole time.  I will protect you, and I promise nothing bad will happen to you.”  She still was afraid, but got on the boat with us and closed her eyes for most of the ride.

Her fear seemed so ridiculous and unwarranted, and yet we have all probably experienced this kind of crippling fear when facing the unknown.  My husband’s company folded last September, after a year of uncertainty and unfulfilled hopes that it would survive.  We are just 2 months away from the end of our unemployment checks, and my husband received a rejection yesterday for the job he interviewed for this week.  I can identify with the fears my daughter felt, inching down the dark hallway toward the unknown.  I don’t know what kind of ride is ahead of us.  It might be pleasant and refreshing, like Splash Mountain on a hot afternoon.  It might be a crazy whirlwind, like the Tea Cups.  It might be exhilarating and exciting with unexpected twists and turns like Space Mountain.  Or it could be a bit frightening, like the Haunted Mansion.

I don’t know what is ahead, and it would be so easy to give in to fear’s paralyzing power.  But I have a choice (remember, the theme of this blog is choices).  I can kick and scream all the way because I have made up my mind that what’s ahead must be terrible.  Or I can listen to my Heavenly Father, who’s standing right here with me, saying, “Have I ever let anything happen to you that I have not used for your good (Romans 8:28)?  Have I not promised you my plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future (Jer. 29:11)?  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).  I can face the unknown because I know that my Father is holding onto me.

We can find safety and comfort in God as our refuge, but his plan for us goes beyond simply providing a safe haven from the troubles of this world.  You and I were meant to overcome them – which doesn’t mean we will escape them.   (As Beth Moore puts it, “You can’t overcome something if you never underwent anything.”)  We are given the power through Christ’s death and resurrection to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).  After all, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  I believe God has given the power to overcome discouragement, fear, and doubt to all who call on his name.  It’s so easy to focus on our present struggles, but God’s plan is not for us to just hunker down and wait out the storm, going through the ride with our eyes closed.  The Holy Spirit gives us the same power that raised Jesus from the dead in order that we may have victory in this life, when by the world’s standards we should be falling apart.

I was reminded in my Beth Moore study of the book of Revelation, that when God is about to do something of great magnitude in our lives, he will often let us feel its absence deeply so that we can have a greater testimony of his deliverance, and a greater appreciation for the gift he’s about to give us.  Personally, I don’t know when God will choose to act on our behalf.  The last time my husband was unemployed, he got the call for his job after his unemployment checks had run out and our savings were dwindling.  Sometimes God waits until the 11th hour to act, but it is because he is working out a powerful testimony that will bring him glory.  As sons and daughters of the King, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).  He holds us up when are afraid and need our Father.  But when we approach the throne and choose to surrender those fears to him, God equips us with everything we need to be conquerors and live a life of victory as a testimony of his power and might.  To God be the glory!

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Some days I love to cook, and happily spend an hour or so preparing dinner.  Today is not one of those days.  Since I often pick up a package of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts at Wal-Mart (always $1.78/lb.), I can typically throw together something with chicken fairly quickly – especially if I’ve taken the time to trim all the breasts and remove the tenders the first time the package is opened (kitchen scissors make short work of this task).  Last week, when I was in one of these moods (meaning “lazy”), I created a fabulous chicken dinner using some Stonehill Spinach and Artichoke Parmesan Dip from Costco.  It was so good, we had it four days in a row!  I made it on the stove with tenders, and also baked it in the oven using the breast portion.  The oven baked version was moist and juicy, but the stove top version was super fast.  Since both methods have their merits, I’m sharing the directions to both.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip Chicken
Oven Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle chicken breasts with a little olive oil to keep it from drying out.  Sprinkle with salt (I used coarse salt, but regular salt would work).  Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and spread generously with Spinach and Artichoke Dip.  Bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked through and top is bubbly.
Stove Method: Pour a thin layer of olive oil in a frying pan and heat pan over medium heat.  Put chicken tenders (or breasts pounded flat) in pan and sprinkle with a little salt.  Cook for 5 minutes or until lightly browned underneath.  Turn chicken over and cook for another 5 minutes.  Coat generously with Spinach and Artichoke Dip.  Reduce heat a little and cover.  Cook 5 minutes more or until chicken is done and topping is heated through.

Another great use for chicken tenders is in chicken pizzas.  This month, Kinnickinnick gluten free pizza crusts are on sale at Fred Meyer, so we’ll grab a few boxes since this crust is particularly good for chicken pizzas.  My son loves buffalo chicken pizza, so I like to make this when I have a few pieces of chicken to use up, but not enough for a meal.  In the summertime, I like to grill extra chicken breasts (with a little Lowry’s Seasoned Salt) to use in barbecue chicken pizzas.  We like Sweet Baby Rays Original sauce for barbecue pizzas, although Bulls-Eye barbecue sauce is also good and contains no high fructose corn syrup (both sauces are GF).

Barbecue Chicken Pizza:
Cut up some leftover grilled chicken into bite-size pieces.  Cover pizza crust with barbecue sauce and sprinkle with chicken (we put the cheese on top of the chicken, but you can certainly put the cheese down first if you prefer).  Sprinkle pizza blend cheese or a combination of mozzarella and cheddar on top.  We also like to add some bacon bits and chopped red onion, if we have it on hand.  Bake according to crust directions.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza:
In a small baking dish (I have one that’s a little smaller than a 7″x11″ baking dish), cut up chicken breasts or tenders into bite-size pieces.  Pour a generous amount of buffalo wing sauce over top (we’ve tried Frank’s and Texas Pete’s buffalo sauces, and they’re both good).  Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Cover pizza crust with your favorite Ranch dressing (we like Newman’s Own because it doesn’t have any naughty ingredients).   Separate cooked chicken pieces with a fork (they’ll stick together while baking, but are easy to separate).  Using a fork, lift a few pieces out at a time and place on crust, letting a little sauce run onto the crust.  Sprinkle with pizza cheese blend or some mozzarella and cheddar.  If desired, top with bacon bits and chopped green onion (you should desire this).

Of course, the ultimate lazy chicken recipe is to simply drizzle barbecue sauce over some chicken in a crock pot and cook on low for 5 hours.  I like to sprinkle the chicken with a little Lowry’s Seasoned Salt first.  It’s the easiest recipe I know since you can even start out with frozen chicken breasts.  In the summertime, I like to finish the cooked breasts on the grill for just a minute to give it a little grilled flavor.  You can also do this exact same recipe using boneless ribs or a combination of ribs and chicken (but “Lazy Ribs” didn’t sound like a good blog title).  This is a great recipe for a party since you can give guests a choice of chicken or ribs.   Round it out with a baked potato and salad, and this menu can be put together early in the day, leaving you time to clean or put your feet up and relax!  If you need a dessert (and what party doesn’t?), check out last week’s post on yummy gluten free desserts.

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Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “What in the world does joyful faith have to do with diet soda?”  Absolutely nothing – yet I’m going to tie them together in the post anyway, because that’s how I roll.  I’m not good at compartmentalizing.  I believe our body, mind, spirit, and relationships are all connected, and I believe God juxtaposed this week’s daily scripture readings from Romans with the following articles on strokes and diet soda for a reason.  So here goes…

Diet Soda Tied to Stroke Risk
In the February 10 issue of the Idaho Press Tribune, two articles were printed about strokes right next to each other.  The first article mentioned that strokes are rising dramatically among young and middle-aged Americans.  “The sharpest increase – 51% – was among men 15 through 34.”  Right below that article was a report on a study done in the New York area that found a higher risk for stroke and heart attack among those who drink diet soda every day versus those who drink no soda at all.   Hmmm.  Do you think these two reports could be connected?  Could it be that the rise in strokes among young people is due to the preference for diet soda among young people in our culture?  (I can refer to this age group as “young people” because I have, sadly, outgrown this age bracket.)

We all assume that the ingredients in our foods must be safe because they’re regulated by the FDA, right?  Sort of.  Much of the testing on new chemicals is done voluntarily by food manufacturers, and they’re only required to test the safety of that one ingredient.  Less testing is done on the safety of the chemical cocktails we drink when all these chemicals are combined in something like diet soda. The ingredients in Diet Coke are: carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine.  The only thing that sounds natural are the “natural flavors” – whatever those are.  The original formula of Coca Cola contained small amounts of cocaine, which is “natural” – hence the name Coca Cola – so I think we can agree that just because something is found in nature, doesn’t always mean it’s good for you.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably guessed that we don’t consume diet soda or other food-like substances that are developed in a lab.

So What Does This Have To Do With Faith?
This week I’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans about weak and strong faith as they relate to personal food decisions.  Romans 14 says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. ”  While Paul was addressing specific food issues of his time, I think the spirit of Paul’s words still applies to food choices today.

Each of us is on his or her own personal journey in regards to what foods we feel are acceptable.  Your journey is different from mine.  While I will continue to share what I’ve learned – like the link between diet soda and strokes – I do not pass judgment on those who are not on my same journey.  So don’t hide your Diet Coke when I walk by because I’m not going to look down on you for drinking it.  If you offer me something to eat and I refuse, please don’t assume it’s because I am judging it as evil – I may simply not be hungry.  When I am a guest in someone’s home, I gladly eat what is offered to me, whether it fits into my food preferences or not.  When we’re at a party where other children are drinking pop and my kids ask for some, I give them a choice between a half can of pop or dessert (my daughter will choose the pop).  We eat natural foods most of the time, but I would never want my preferences to be a burden to someone else (with the exception of gluten, which is a medical issue – but even then, I prefer to bring a gluten free substitute with me rather than impose on someone else).

So I hope this random post helps to illustrate that even though I write passionately about food issues from time to time, I value relationships with others over food preferences.  God accepts us all wherever we are on our food journey, according to Romans, so we also need to accept one another.  If you’re interested in more articles on dangerous chemicals in food, check out this post.  If you’d like to join me in daily Bible reading, we’re in Matthew, Romans, and Proverbs this week.  Feel free to jump in and share what God’s teaching you!  The Daily Bible Reading Schedule is always posted on the Faith tab above.  (See, I told you I’d tie all this together!)  🙂

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Okay, after a month of pushing the low sugar diet, I’m finally pulling out the dessert recipes for Valentines Day.  Whether you’re looking for homemade goodies to give as gifts or a special dessert for you and your valentine, you’ve come to the right place.  Every recipe is gluten free (with the option to use wheat flour) and guaranteed to please – they don’t call me the “dessert queen” for nothing!  Just click on the links below to find the recipes for these yummy goodies that are sure to bring a smile to your valentine.

Gifts from the Kitchen:

  • Earlier, I posted the recipe for kettle corn.  However, I’ve added another variation at the bottom for Chocolate Drizzled Kettle Corn.  Packaged in a decorative tin or treat sack with a few valentine M&Ms thrown in, this looks fancy but is very easy to throw together.  I especially like making this for kids parties (a nice change of pace from sugary cupcakes and cookies) since it’s inexpensive and naturally gluten free.
  • Another great treat for kids parties or potlucks that is also inexpensive and naturally gluten free are the Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies & Bars.  You can push Hershey’s Kisses into the cookies for a special valentine touch, or press valentine M&Ms into the bars for a dessert that tastes great with ice cream and is ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.
  • Sometimes you just have to make sugar cookies, and this gluten free adaptation of my grandmother’s soft Sour Cream Sugar Cookies recipe tastes just like the original.  (Of course, you can use regular all-purpose flour for these if gluten is not an issue for you.)  Since I hate trying to store and transport frosted cookies, these are my favorite because they only need a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar or colored sugar sprinkles for a more festive look.

Saying, “I Love You,” with Chocolate:

  • In case you missed my Decadent Brownies recipe in my last post, it’s worth repeating that these are the best brownies ever!  I originally made them with self-rising flour, but modified them to be gluten free.  Either way you make them, these blow away anything from a box.  (Typically, after eating a few bites of these brownies, my husband will look up at me and say, “Have I told you today that I love you?”)
  • Everything tastes better dipped in chocolate, so wow your valentine with a fabulous Chocolate Fondue.  I prefer the easy milk chocolate sauce, but I’ve included a dark chocolate variation, and even a dairy free fondue (the peanut butter bars and most of the items for dipping are also dairy free).  All the dipping items are gluten free, and I promise you won’t miss the pound cake!

I’ll have lots more recipes to share over the coming months, so keep checking back.  (To automatically receive each yummy recipe and post in your email inbox, just click on the “subscribe” button beneath the calendar.)  In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful Valentines Day!

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