Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Reading Report :: January 2015

Oh this book. I read her first book and it spoke volumes to me about the bed situ and gift of family and this book was no different as she shared her heart on friends and community and her relationship with the Lord, as well as deep thoughts on stirrup pa

I always start January with great reading intentions. I've finished reading everyone's "best of" list from the previous year and I've perused my own shelves, noting the books that I somehow bought last year and missed reading. My "want-to" list for 2014 is already ridiculously long ... I just keep getting sidetracked from the reading by the children that need feeding and educating.

The current read-aloud. One of my favorites!

So far in January, I've tackled:
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I can't remember who's reading list from 2014 I found this on and I wish I could. For my first book of 2014, this one wasn't a winner for me. The story was interesting - a man walked across England to see a friend of his who was dying of cancer. Obviously there is more to the story than that, and it might have been an interesting read if I hadn't constantly been shocked by the amount of bad language in the book. That's one of those red flags for me that really turn me off what I'm reading so I can't give this book a good report, even if it had an interesting premise. I was sent a copy of the sequel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, to review, and to be honest, I'm not terribly excited about cracking the cover based on the first book if the language is the same.
  • The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein. Last year, both the N's and I read the first book by this author, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, and loved it! A really great mystery for my girls (5th and 3rd grade) with literary references scattered throughout. (I think my friend Amy may have reviewed it, but her blog isn't coming up for me right now so I can't link it). N1 has already read this new book with me, and though we didn't love it as much as Mr. Lemoncello's Library, it was still fun.
  • Home is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson. Of what I read in January, this one is by far the winner and best I read. Sophie writes the blog, Boomama, and it is one of the blogs that I have been reading for just forever. Her funny style of writing is some of my very favorite, and when her first book, A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet came out a couple years ago I promptly read it, sighed deeply with great joy when I finished it, and then turned around and read it again. I compared her sweet stories about her family as reminiscent of my beloved Mitford series by Jan Karon and if that isn't one of the highest complements I can bestow on a book, I don't know what is. : ) This book is no different, but instead of spending most of the time sharing about the wonderful relationship she has with her family, she talks about her relationships with friends she has had over the years and this book struck such a huge cord with me on the importance of community and friendship. I also resonated so deeply with her stories of her walk with the Lord. She also has some deep and honest comments about her stint with stirrup pants in the 80's that could have been written about me. (If you are a child of the 80s there are so many references that will have you rolling. All the laughing aloud was really quite disturbing to my kids.) I really can't recommend this book highly enough. I'm already looking forward to my reread, but I'm trying to pace myself. : )
In my "currently reading" stack, I'm winding my way through The Voyage of Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting, Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson, and Sweet Tea Revenge (A Tea Shop Mystery) by Laura Childs. (Sometimes I'm just in the mood for a nice clean mystery! It might be time to pull an Agatha Christie off the shelf.) I've also got a couple of read-alouds with the kids in process but hopefully I'll have something worth saying about them later this week. : )


PS. Sophie's first book is free on Kindle right now if you want to snatch it up!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese Success

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(Food blogger wanna-be strikes again.)

Homemade macaroni and cheese has been my nemesis for lo these many years. I can't count how many times I have tried to make it only to be met with a burnt or lumpy mess or something that really didn't taste very good.

One of my CC mama friends to the rescue! She sent me her recipe for crockpot mac and cheese so with trepidation I mixed up a batch and surprise! My kids loved it! The husband loved it! I made it a second time and doubled it and it still was a huge hit! Another sign of success was that my Dad asked for the recipe! (Lots of explanation points because this recipe is really, really good!)

I'm sure the secret is the Velveeta, but I'm not complaining. I wouldn't cook it more than 3 1/2-4 hours in the crockpot, even on low, because it will start to stick, but for something you want to throw in the crockpot late afternoon to have ready for dinner time, this is perfect.

Stephanie's Crockpot Mac and Cheese (not me, another Stephanie) : )

3 Tbsp. margarine, melted, put in crock pot
2 1/2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Velveeta, cut in cubes
4 cups milk
 
Mix all ingredients lightly.  Cover and turn on high.  Do not remove lid or stir for three hours.
 
Note: you could mix in all sorts of stuff and make it a meal. Precooked ham, peas, taco seasoned meat, etc. I served it above with the Pioneer Woman's Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork for a recent Sunday lunch with family (cooked in my cast iron dutch oven), green beans in one crockpot, and mac and cheese in another crockpot. We ate well.

Two six quart crockpots on the counter plus the Dutch oven in the oven since a little after 6am. It can only mean one thing - Sunday lunch is coming!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Currently :: January 2015

Evening read aloud.

Reading: currently reading aloud The Story Girl and Heidi. I just finished reading Home is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson (more soon on this, I hope).

Watching: Toy Story 3 with the boy upstairs while the girls are having music lessons downstairs. It's the one time during our school week where he gets to watch a video and he (and I) look forward to it immensely.

Trying: to make time for 30 minutes daily on the treadmill. I haven't been successful this week so far.

I have been thinking about these leftover chicken and dumplings for two days and have been very thankful no one got to them before now.

Cooking: crockpot chicken and dumplins for dinner tonight. Yum.

Eating: Pioneer Women chocolate pudding. So good. N1 did her CC presentation on the history of pudding and as part of her "research" she made a batch of pudding from scratch. One of my favorite topics that she's picked - ha.

Drinking: all the coffee.

Calling: no one - yay. Texting and email are my friends.

September and October 2014 caught up in my #projectlife album. July, August, and December to go.

Crafting: working on finishing up my 2014 Project Life album. Last weekend was productive and I got two months knocked out. Hoping for another good stretch this weekend. It's not hard to get done - I've got the pictures in there, it's just rustling up time to work undisturbed. That is in short supply.

Doing: lots of afterschool pick up runs. One of our fosters is in tutoring afterschool everyday so that is a run to get her at that point in the day where I am ready for comfy clothes and not leaving the house. We have been spoiled by homeschooling and not having to schedule our days around bus pickup and dropoff.

Going: this week has been slow(er). CC one day. Bible study another. A quick run to Walmart this morning for guinea pig bedding so that a cage can be cleaned. Plus the aforementioned retrieving of children from school.

Loving: going to bed as early as possible as I can lately. Several nights I've crawled in bed as soon as I've gotten children tucked in. Days are long and full right now and by the kids are done in the evening, so am I.

Hating: when I forget about the holiday schedules! I knew that Monday was MLK Day because our fosters were out of school. However, that didn't include factoring in that the fun library trip I had planned wouldn't work out because the library was closed. Or an afternoon trip to the park that didn't work out as planned - it was 65* on Monday (yay!) but with school being out, EVERYONE was at the park when we headed over. Oops.

Discovering: the Great Artist / Composer series of books. A little late to the game on these, but they have been a great addition to our artist studies for CC this cycle.

Hoping: and praying for a friend who is quite ill.

Celebrating: someone turning nine in just a few more days!

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Thanking: a friend for a surprise gift last week. A sweet mama friend gave me a beautiful scarf for a belated birthday present. I would never have thought of myself as a scarf person, but it matches my favorite sweater perfectly and makes me feel a bit more dressed up when I leave the house. (Also, PS. I do not take good selfies.)

Considering: how much better our days have been going since we started back up on January. We have made a few tweaks to the day - nnotably, starting earlier (not the kids' favorite) and our spiral notebooks (my favorite). We are tackling our days head-on and there is no excuse to not getting our work done because I actually am taking the time to right down each day's work. Yay us.

Starting: to think about 2015-2016 plans for school. It happens every January.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Romans 8

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For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (v.18)

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Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (v.24b-25)

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Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (v.26)

Tuesday's are our long day. When we get home from our co-op I'm done but fostering means it's time to do homework with them. And homework with them is a whole 'nother story. Real life right now. #itssimplytuesday

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (v.28)

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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (v.35)

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For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (v.38-39)

"If we are to embrace the power of the gospel and become free, joyous, and zealous servants of Jesus Christ, then all the work has to be done by him. Why? So that all the glory will go to him, so that we boast in the work of Jesus alone." -Elyse Fitzpatrick, Comfort from Romans.

Monday, January 12, 2015

15 Random Things to Start 2015



1. Wasabi Peas. My current favorite snack. So good and spicy.

2. Daily journals for the kids. Still going on this although I have missed some days, as expected. However, having them here and having started them made them that much easier to pull out last night when I had some stuff to write out that I wanted to remember.



3. Menu planning. Saving my sanity every. single. day. I get so tired of coming up with a plan for what to eat, but life right now is so busy and, honestly, our two foster girls eat SO MUCH FOOD that if I don't have a plan for almost every meal, it is not pretty around here.

Because I took @edillow up on her Unfinished Project challenge and said my goal would be to finish my 2014 #projectlife album in January, I totally spent 30 minutes this morning making the title page to my 2015 album.

4. Project Life. I still love it even though I have some serious catch-up to do on 2014. I'm hoping that my friend Elizabeth's Unfinished Project's challenge will be what I need to power me through finishing the last pages before January is done. It has already inspired me to do my 2015 title page. #procrastination

5. Reflecting on such a good Christmas this year. I went into December wondering how the month would play out with two extra kids in the house. With that came some things we hadn't had to plan around before - visitations with their family. Excessive amounts of gifts from "angel tree" programs plus gifts from their biological family. End of the "semester" activities for all kids. And so on. We ended up cutting several annual events from our to-do list and we survived. Sure, Travis and I missed going to the one annual Christmas party that we attend, but it was worth it for the greater good of a cleaner calendar. We gifted our munchkins with one biggish gift each and then lots of little stocking goodies that they loved and it was the easiest Christmas ever to keep up with. I'm making notes for next year.

Four days into my daily journals for the kids. Hands down, my new favorite habit for 2015 ... so far. :)

6. My giraffe blanket. Seriously, this is the best blanket ever. It was a gift from my sister and BIL for my birthday and it is so soft and heavy.

7. Making lists of what I want to read this year. It's already getting a little out of control. As part of that, I am planning to participate (as I can) in two reading challenges hosted by friends:

8. The Reading to Know book club hosted by my friend Carrie. (I'm hosting May!) Always a great variety of books and I love that I can participate as life allows ... which I try to make happen as often as possible.

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Getting to see Amy last week was an extra special treat - someday I hope to have a picture with my friend Carrie as well!

9. Amy's Newberry Challenge. Amy is reading through the Newberry winners by decade and I would like to jump in on this one as well. January's challenge is to pick one of the winners from the 1920's and I pulled several from the library shelves with hopes that I can get to at least one of them ... I'm eyeing Dr. Doolittle as my first choice.

10. Being healthy ... for the moment. We have been sick as dogs this fall and I'm so thankful we are well for the moment. I'm pretty sure there is a direct correlation to when we starting having foster placements in our home that are in and out of the public school daily and we started catching stuff. So far, we have had a round of the flu and strep go through the troops.

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11. Hot tea and coffee, multiple times per day.

12. Pondering starting a IRL bookclub for my girls. Just pondering at this point because I certainly don't need anything else on the calendar. However, we love books so much and love talking about books and recommending books that I think it's something we would enjoy that would be fairly low stress.

13. Making some changes for the coming year that I'm excited about. As of the first week in January, I have stepped down from a position at my church that I've held for the last 12 years. It was an administrative role and one that I really did enjoy. However, as I told our elders in the email I sent them, life is just extremely full with homeschooling the girls + the busy calendar for all six munchkins currently in the home. It's hard to be as available as I once was for handling the church's communications and miscellaneous needs that come up. I waffled for months on asking Travis if I could quit and we finally came to the consensus together that it was the right decision; there was a huge weight of relief off my shoulders. Such a confirmation that I waited until the right season to step down.

14. Coming to terms with how I want social media to play out in my life and as an example to my girls. As of January 2015, this is what I'm setting as boundaries for me:
  • adios to Facebook. Now that I'm no longer working for the church, I don't have to keep up with my church's facebook page, therefore I don't need to get on as often. I can't delete my profile (and I'm not 100% sure that I want to because there are some relatives that tend to communicate primarily through FB messages), but I've logged out and am taking a break from checking it. If someone really needs me or wants me to see something, I'd suggest another route of communication.
  • yes to Instagram. Taking pictures is something that encourages me and makes me focus on blessings in my life. Saying to posting (ie., micro-blogging) there for now and making that my social outlet of choice.
  • yes to sporadic blogging. I do miss the practice of putting fingers to keys and pecking out thoughts and lists and remembrances of what our family has done. I've read several great "state of the blog" posts of late (here and here), and I was reminded that I really do love this form of communication and recording of memories. I'm trimming my blog reader to those blogs that I absolutely, positively love and calling it good. I obvious don't blog to make money or gain and large readership, so for myself, I'm turning off comments in this space so that I don't have that pressure either. Email is always an option and a much more intimate space for a conversation. (I don't know about you, but I rarely if ever remember to go back and check comments that I've made to see if I've gotten a response from a blog author.)
15. Happy Monday. : )

    Thursday, January 01, 2015

    1/365

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    Happy New Year! This year I'm easing into the new year nice and slow. I think there is a word for the year out there for me, but I'm sitting on it for a few more days and letting it percolate a bit. January is going to be all about a return to routine - in school, in home, in healthy eating and moving - with a few new things I want to fit into my days.

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    Day 1 - journals for each of my kids. This was an idea I spotted last year and 2015 is the year it happens. Just a sentence or two to remember something from their day. It won't always be profound - the boy's journal has a funny conversation documented that he and I had tonight about buying him some new underwear. : ) Even if I only write in everyone's journal a couple times a week it will be worth it a year from now.

    Tuesday, December 30, 2014

    Favorite Books of 2014

    I'm not sure whether to call 2014 a good reading year for me. I did a quick tally this morning and in the last twelve months I tackled 79 books ... that came as a shock to me! Granted that number was padded by a reread of the Harry Potter series late summer / early fall, but there were lots of books on my list that I had forgotten I had read. It was definitely a fiction (primarily juvenile/young adult) heavy year, but since pre-reading books for my girls is one of my favorite things ever, it was a task I happily take on. All for the children.

    Of the batch, these are the favorites that stuck with me. The ones I still think about and / or the ones that made it hard to pick up the next book because I needed to mull this one over for a while. I didn't put them in any particular order but if I needed to make a book recommendation to someone, these would most definitely make the list.

    1. The Giver by Lois Lowry

    I've read the Hunger Games trilogy and the first book in the Divergent series, and The Giver is an entirely different type of dystopian book. For one, it's not violent. (How refreshing!) It is a book I had to think through as I read as they deal with issues such as memory and emotion and whether or not you are protecting someone by withholding those things from them. There is a reason the author won a Newberry medal for this book. And, in my opinion, the movie is a poor substitution so if you are interested, read the book.

    Ignoring the fact that there's something I should probably be doing.

    2. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith

    I actually just finished this book a few days ago so with a little more time, it might not make my "favorites" list. (But it probably would). This one popped up on my radar after Sarah Clarkson highlighted it on Facebook. After realizing that this author is associated with Andrew Peterson, author of one of my favorite series (The Wingfeather saga), I snatched it up. I have a weakness for stories about small talking animals and this story about rabbits fighting for their territory against wolves and birds of prey was so good - the adventure was fast paced and I was rooting for the characters the whole way through. And - BONUS - it left me with the impression that there will be a sequel. I'm pretty sure this will be a fun read-aloud for us in the coming months.

    To my friend Amy who told me ages ago to read this book, I am so grateful. This will go down as one of the best books I have read in my life (and I have read a LOT of books). An amazing, amazing man who served our country and Jesus. I will look forward to

    3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

    Amy told me to read this and she was right. I started it on the drive home from our summer trip to visit Travis' family and about six hours in the car later (thank goodness I didn't get carsick!) I had made a serious dent in the book. This has probably been my most recommended book of this year and while I admit the first part of the book has a lot of military details that might be easy to get bogged down in, the second half of the book was impossible to put down as we followed Louis Zamperini's journey through concentration camps and his life after imprisonment. So, so good. If you are curious, I haven't seen the movie (yet). I'm going to wait until it's a rental, and even then, I'm not sure if I want to see some of the scenes from the booked acted out. This will be required reading for my kids when they are in high school.

    Currently.

    4. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    (Blogged here). Somehow this book escaped my radar as a child even though The Secret Garden is one of my favorite books ever. What a delightful book! My girls had watched the movie with their dad some time ago so they were somewhat familiar with the story, but I had missed out on that and was the one dying to find out how the book ended! (FYI, I was absolutely satisfied with the ending. Just perfect).

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    5. Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

    I blogged this one here and still stand by my review. This is another that I hope to read this spring to tie in with some of our history studies as it gives a great kid's-eye view of what life would have been like in small town in America during the Cold War (with a little bit of a Nancy Drew twist to it). Of note, I also read this author's other children's book The Water Castle, and it was another excellent juvenile mystery story (ooh, it's super cheap on Kindle right now, too!) Her next book is already on my to-read list for 2015.

    6. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

    I was encouraged and inspired by this book on community, specifically fellowship surrounding food and the dinner table. I loved this food based memoir and devoured (see what I did there?) this one. : )

    Sometimes there is a reason you're behind on your #shereadstruth study - because you need to hear the lesson on a certain day. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to

    7. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

    Carrie (I think is where I heard of this book first ... or maybe a random photo on Instagram?) tipped me off to this book and it was a short, encouraging, kick in the pants read and reminder of the importance of knowing the Word, being in the Word, and studying the Word. One of the few non-fictions I read this year, and I'm glad I made time for it. This book + combined with the She Reads Truth studies that I have participated in this year made for a wonderful summer and fall of scripture study this year. So thankful for these two resources that crossed my path this year!

    I think I'm going to stop with seven though there were several others that I could expound on and might make the list if I wanted to keep typing for days. Other that probably should make the list are:
    All in all a good year of reading and reading-aloud. I am brainstorming what I want to read in 2015 - I'd like to see some more non-fiction make my list. I'd also like to make a serious dent to some of the books that are languishing on my kindle and my shelves that I'm constantly skimming over to read "someday." Thankfully, there is never any shortage of wonderful books to read!

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    All the Merry Making

    UntitledMyles: "Feliz Navidad is the best Christmas song ever." Christmas cookies and cousin bonding today. Not sure we are ready for this level of madness!UntitledUntitledShe's making me a secret popcorn recipe. It might be my new love language.

    This Christmas season has been one where many normal things, those that I would have considered traditional, haven't happened. Though today was quite chaotic, it was important to me that we squeeze in one cousin day before Christmas on Thursday. There was mass cookie baking and decorating, some playing in our cul-de-sac in between the rain showers, and catching up over a cup of coffee (say what?) with my 17-year old niece.

    The introvert in me is ready to curl up in a hole and hibernate for about 72 hours, but overall, the chaos of today was well worth it.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Crockpot Potato Soup ... or What We are Eating on Christmas Eve

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    It's never too late to start a new tradition for your family ... last year marked the first year that we hosted my side of the family for Christmas Eve. For many, many years, we had spent the evening with friends and it was a much anticipated time of visiting and snacking. However, as children have grown and more and more grandchildren arrived (ourselves included!), the crowd got to be a bit much for a huge Christmas Eve get-together, and so we started our own tradition.

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    This recipe is courtesy of a fellow CC mom. She brought this to a recent potluck and it was delicious! Once she emailed us all the recipe, I knew this was going to be part of our Christmas dinner menu. My favorite potato soup of all is my mom's recipe which isn't quite so heavy; however, it isn't a crockpot recipe and since we'll be coming home to eat from the Christmas Eve service, I need something that doesn't take as much babying.

    Kate's Crockpot Potato Soup

    30 oz frozen hash brown potatoes (I diced up a bunch of potatoes since I didn't have hashbrowns and it worked just fine.)
    32 oz chicken broth
    1 can cream of chicken soup
    8 oz cream cheese
    Bacon bits (or turkey bacon)
    1 c. shredded cheese
    Salt, Pepper, and Granulated Garlic to taste
     
    In the crock pot, put the hash brown potatoes, broth, cream of chicken soup, half of the bacon bits and salt, pepper and garlic. Cook on low for 8 hours. One hour before serving, add the cream cheese and bacon bits. If you take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator earlier than that to warm up a little bit, it will incorporate better with the soup - I also gave it a whirl with an immersion blender to smooth it out some. Serve with cheddar cheese on top.
     
    Again, the verdict by the six kids in our house was that it was GOOD. I was hoping for quite a bit leftover and I had to scrape out the crockpot to get enough for one more serving the following day.
     
    Another crockpot potato soup we love is here which is quite a bit cheesier and super good as well.

    Monday, December 15, 2014

    In another life, I'd be a food blogger

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    I'm not going to lie - my kids think I'm weird when I take pictures of food. I do it anyway. I love looking at food blogs and cookbooks and making menu plans is one of my favorite things ever. Except when it's not ... and then I'm totally uninspired and don't want to cook anything and want to get take out all the time! Alas, the budget doesn't support that type of behavior.

    This is a new recipe to us that we tried a few nights ago and was a hit with almost everyone. My child that doesn't like her food touching was not a fan, but the rest ate without complaint.

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    Chicken Enchilada Rice Casserole

    3 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (leftover thanksgiving turkey from the freezer for the win!)
    2 cups dry Basmati rice
    2 cans (10 oz each) Enchilada sauce
    1 can (16 oz) refried beans (I used fat free)
    1 cup white cheddar, shredded (I used whatever was in the fridge!)
    1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
    1 can (11 oz) corn kernels (I used a regular sized can because that's what I had)
    cilantro for garnish (optional)
    salt and ground black pepper to taste

    Cook the rice. While the rice is cooking preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Mix the 2 cheeses together. In a large bowl mix the shredded chicken with the enchilada sauce, refried beans and half of the cheese. Add rice, season with salt and pepper if needed, and mix well. Pour rice mixture into a large casserole dish. Top with corn then with remainder of cheese. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbly. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm.

    We ate it for dinner with tortilla chips to scoop it up - basically it very hearty and filling dip. I ate leftovers the next day on top of some lettuce and it was just as good. I imagine it would make a great taco/soft taco filling as well.

    Original recipe was here, and the version I made was from here. My edits are noted above.
     

    Tuesday, December 09, 2014

    Christmas Books Under the Tree

    Several of my favorite blogs have been publishing their suggestions of books for Christmas gift giving. I LOVE looking at these. Since I've done a little of our shopping, many that I spot don't make it under our personal tree, but there is a more than likely chance that they will end up on an Amazon wishlist to peruse later or to try out from the library before purchasing. I'm always up for good book recommendations! I thought I would list here for my own sake the books that we (or other family members) are putting under the tree for our crew this year - to jog my memory for future years and there is the off-chance that someone out there might be looking for an idea or two.

    For N1 (age 11, a fairly voracious reader):

    The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Deedy and Randall Wright
    Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
    Hatchet by Gary Paulson

    For N2 (age 8, just a few weeks short of 9):

    She is enamored with Shakespeare right now so I've scrounged up some used copies of several different Young Reader's Shakespeare versions for her. (We already own A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo & Juliet which she's recently reread on her own).

    The Young Reader's Shakespeare: Hamlet
    The Young Reader's Shakespeare: MacBeth
    Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare

    B (age 7, just starting to really take off independently with her reading):

    A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond - how do we not have this book?!
    Katie's London Christmas by James Mayhew - we love all of his picture books

    E (age 4):

    Waiting is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
    Eli by Bill Peet

    For our fosters:

    Mercy Watson Boxed Set by Kate DiCamillo
    Jesus Storybook Bible

    For our neice, age 2:

    Pride and Prejudice: A BabyLit Counting Primer
    Alice in Wonderland: A BabyLit Numbers Primer

    What books are you looking at for Christmas? There is always next year's list to start working on. : )

    Thursday, December 04, 2014

    Winter Comfort Food :: Crockpot Chicken & Dumplins

    I have been thinking about these leftover chicken and dumplings for two days and have been very thankful no one got to them before now.

    This week has been crazy. I have had appointment after appointment after appointment on the calendar and I'll be honest ... I'm tired. Thankfully I went into the week with a pretty decent meal plan and there were several crockpot recipes on the menu to make the evenings a little less hectic. This is the first of two new ones that I've tried this week and it was a keeper. I cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot on Monday and the leftovers were reinvented into chicken and dumplins on Tuesday. It's been years since I've had chicken and dumplins and I'm pretty sure that it's going to go into the rotation for the rest of the winter.

    Crockpot Chicken and Dumplins (recipe origin unknown)

    4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used leftover chicken, precooked, but you could dump frozen chicken breasts in as well)
    2 Tablespoons of Butter
    2 cans of Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup (I added a 3rd can near the end to thicken it b/c I added too much water)
    1 Onion, finely diced

    1 Package of refrigerated biscuit dough
    Sea Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste

    1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables (optional)
    Water


    Directions: 

    Place the chicken in the slow cooker and top each breast with butter, then sprinkle sea salt and ground pepper on each breast. In a separate bowl, mix together well the cream of chicken soup and onion and frozen mixed vegetables (optional), then pour this mixture over top of the chicken, spreading to cover each. Next add just enough water to cover the chicken. 
    Cover and cook for 4-5 hours on high or all day on low.

    During the last hour of cooking: Take one can of the biscuits and cut each biscuit into 4 pieces and place in the mixture and stir well to distribute the biscuit pieces (these are the dumplings).

    All six kids here ate this (for the most part) without complaint. I did have a couple that were not crazy about the dumplins, but they ate the chicken and veggies so I consider that a win.

    Friday, November 28, 2014

    Christmas Tea and Being Thankful

    Untitled

    I've been working through the #shereadstruth study on thanksgiving the last few weeks and it has been good. In years' past, I haven't spend as much time really thinking on what it means to be thankful during the month of November. Of course, you can't help but think about it some - it's everywhere from listing your daily gratitudes on Facebook to hundreds of crafts and ideas on Pinterest to inspire you to list your blessings. I've read Ann Voskamp's book. I have a thankful journal. I'm good on what it means to be thankful and just going through November without a pause to really reflect on it.

    Or not.

    I've been reminded about so many things that I know about God, but it was time to hear them in fresh ways.
    • God is good all the time. Even when things look unjust from my earthly point of view. Or, ahem, when I act unjustly towards others and need God's abundant grace.
    • Even in our sorrow there can be thanksgiving. When we are struggling we can still acknowledge there is a glory that will one day devour our sorrow and take it from us.
    • When I am in times of searching for answers and/or reminders that God is with me, sometimes I need to non insist on finding the answer. I can rest in the certainty of the one who IS the answer. In the face of situations I can't understand, he is a God that I can fully trust.
    • When I'm in a season that I am ready to be done with, I need to stop looking to the next season of life and imagining it will all be better once I have ________ (fill in the blank with whatever I think will fix the current season). Stop looking ahead and remember to look to Jesus. Sometimes waiting is the season I'm in and endurance is the lesson I'm learning.
    My life is far from awful ... so far, it's almost comical when I worry about different things. I am so blessed, but yet I struggle when I feel like our days are uncertain with extra little people in our home through foster care, doctor appointments on the horizon, and a dear friend struggling with a serious medical need. A reminder of what it means to be thankful as a believer was what I needed this year and I'm so very ... thankful. : )

    And to share, a recipe. I'm thankful for my friend who shared her recipe for spice tea with me. I remember this recipe from when I was a girl in Pioneer Girls, but I hadn't made it in years. I mixed up a double batch this weekend and just enjoyed my first cup while typing this post. I'm sure another cup will be enjoyed as I tackle Christmas cards and post Thanksgiving laundry and all the other things that will go into this weekend.

    Spiced Tea

    1 1/4 cup Tang (yes, the powdered orange drink)
    2/3 cup instant iced tea with sugar and lemon
    1 t. ground cloves
    1 t. ground cinnamon
    1 t. ground allspice
    (The recipe also calls for 1/4 t. of grated lemon and orange rind, each, but I never add it).

    Mix together. Add a heaping spoonful to a mug of hot water and enjoy.

    Thursday, November 20, 2014

    Our Recent Read-Aloud : James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

    My favorite part of the day. After lunch read-aloud. #weekinthelife

    We recently finished our latest read-aloud, James and the Giant Peach. This was in anticipation of attending the play at our local children's theater and we all declared the book a great success. Our girls had seen the movie of James, but we hadn't read the book yet, so itneeded to be rectified for that reason alone!

    James is the story of an orphan who's parents were tragically killed by a rampaging rhinocerous. James was sent to live with his aunts Sponge and Spiker who were less than caring in their treatment of him. One day while out in their garden, James comes upon a strange man who offers him some magic "seeds" made from crocodile tongue. These special seeds, of course, have magical properties, but they have one use so it's IMPERATIVE that James is extremely careful with them. As expected, he drops them in the garden where they are swallowed into the ground, and coincidentally, near a sad peach tree in the yard that doesn't produce fruit.

    The next morning, the aunts and James awake and to their amazement there is a giant (and I mean GIANT) peach on the tree. Large enough that the aunts are able to sell tickets for viewing the peach and have quite the productive first day raking in money to curious onlookers. Unfortunately, this prosperity last one day as the aunts reach a tragic end, at the hand of the peach, no less, and James is off on an exciting adventure inside the peach with a motley crew of supersized insects.

    Confusing? You'll just have to read the book. : )

    Roald Dahl manages to pull all this craziness into a likeable story and tie it up somewhat neatly at the end. I came across the following quote and thought it so appropriately describes James, as well as Dahl's writing style, that I couldn't help but share it:
    ... there was just something about Roald Dahl books that made everything seem like a dream. The vivid colors, the underlying darkness that sometimes hinted at despair. The ending seemed just a bit too happy to fit the rest of the book, but I wasn't one to complain about a happy ending.

    - The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma
    I actually have very limited experience reading Dahl's works; I think we have only read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox besides this book. His quirky style as well as his poems scattered throughout his stories are worth the read though I wouldn't want a steady diet of his works. Eventually I need something with a little more meat and a little less nonsense. : )

    I'll end with one of my favorite conversations in the book between James and the Ladybug, my favorite of the fantastical insects that James travels with:
    "I think you're wonderful," James told her. "Can I ask you one special question?"

    "Please do."

    "Well, is it really true that I can tell how old a Ladybug is by counting her spots?"

    "Oh no, that's just a children's story," the Ladybug said. We never change our spots. Some of us, of course, are born with more spots than others, but we never change them. The number of spots that a Ladybug has is simply a way of showing which branch of the family she belongs to. I, for example, as you can see for yourself, am a Nine-Spotted Ladybug. I am very lucky. It is a fine thing to be."

    "It is indeed," said James, gazing at the beautiful scarlet shell with the nine black spots on it.

    "On the other hand," the Ladybug went on, "some of my less fortunate relatives have no more than two spots atogether on their shells! Can you imagine that? They are called Two-Spotted Ladybugs, and very common and ill-mannered they are, I regret to say. And then, of course, you have the Five-Spotted Ladybugs as well. They are much nicer than the Two-Spotted ones, although I myself find them a trifle too saucy for my taste."

    "But they are all of them loved?" said James.

    "Yes," the Ladybug answered quietly. "They are all of them loved."

    "It seems that almost everyone around here is loved!" said James. "How nice this is!" 
    I'll be linking up with Amy's Read Aloud Thursday at the end of the month; it's a great place to find recommendations for books to read with your kids. I'd also recommend the Read Aloud Revivial podcast, one of my favorite finds this year and full of fantastic books to discover as well.