Friday, January 18, 2019

In the Kitchen: Make-Ahead Dishes

I absolutely love make-ahead dishes, especially at holiday time! Recipes that can be made ahead of time and either stored in the freezer or the refrigerator until the day of serving are a life-saver for me.

This is true especially at Christmas-time. We were so very blessed to have our whole family home for Christmas ... twenty-six precious family members around our table(s)! It is essential that I can prepare some dishes ahead of time so that I am not completely worn out on our special day. I want to be able to be fully present that day with those I love the most.

Here are a few of the dishes that I was able to make ahead of time.

Clockwise from the top left photo:

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes (first two photos) ...
For years I've been making a Mashed Potato dish that can be made up to two or three days in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and then baked the day of serving. I've used this recipe - click here. But this year I combined several recipes and ideas I found online, and made Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes that could be made even a week or more ahead of time, and then stored in the freezer until the day of baking it to serve. It was amazing! Click here for the original recipe where I got the idea, and check back here on my blog in a week or so to see my recipe that I came up with (combining several recipes/ideas). I really loved being able to do all the work of this dish a week and a half before our Christmas! And by the way, it makes a great mashed potato dish - we loved it.

Cinnamon Rolls ...
It's a tradition to have this cinnamon roll recipe on Christmas morning. You can see the recipe by clicking here. These cinnamon rolls freeze well after baking, and just need to be thawed and warmed up in the microwave (or oven) before serving.

Christmas Goodies ...
Pictured are three of the goodies that I made this year: 
Date Pinwheels, a favorite recipe passed down from my mother. They take a bit of time, as there are several steps to making them. I'm so grateful they freeze well, as I was able to make them in early December. Click here for recipe.
Wheaty Thumbprints, another favorite, also takes a bit of time. They freeze very well, too, which is great. Click here for the recipe.
Brownies topped with white frosting and Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips, a new idea that I used this year. It's so very easy, using a favorite brownie mix (I actually use two boxes of brownie mix - fudge and chocolate chunk together, baked in a jelly roll pan, then spread with a can of white frosting, and topped with the peppermint chips). It works well to make ahead of time, cut into squares, and freeze. (These baking chips were a bit hard to find, but I eventually found them at Target.)

Bacon Green Bean Casserole ...
You can imagine how happy I was to find this recipe a few weeks before Christmas! A fresh green bean dish that can be prepared up to two days in advance of serving. I prepared the dish two days before our Christmas, and then stored it in the refrigerator. On our Family Christmas Day, I allowed the dish to come to room temperature, reheated the sauce and poured it over the baking dish of green beans/bacon, and cooked as directed. It is easy, can be made ahead of time, and very delicious! You can find the recipe by clicking here.

Creamy Meatballs ...
This is a favorite recipe of mine, that I have made for two Christmases in a row now. I like serving it alongside the main dish of ham that we always have for Christmas. And, of course, the only way that I can serve it for Christmas, is that I can make it ahead of time, and freeze it! I made it several weeks ahead of time, froze it, and then heated it up in a slow cooker, which left the oven for other dishes. I usually add another can or two of cream of mushroom soup, and also more evaporated milk before heating up in the slow cooker when I have frozen it. You can read the details by clicking here.

I must also add that so much of the fun of the holiday meals is also involving the whole family with getting our feast on the table. Our daughters help with bringing sides, and our kitchen is filled with family as we prepare, and also as we clean up ... daughters, sons, sons-in-law, a son's girlfriend this year, and also grandkids. I absolutely love it all!

It's been fun for me to share these make-ahead recipes with you! And now, for another year of cooking, baking, and trying out new ideas "In the Kitchen"!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Word(s) of the Year for 2019: Undivided Heart

In the midst of resting up, cleaning up, and treasuring the memories from our wonderful and very memorable Family Christmas - just three days ago - I am thinking about this brand new year  ...

In a world of so many things, so much to pay attention to, so much to do, how can I (and you) keep a clear focus? How can we use our precious days and moments to nurture what is most important to us? How can we keep from becoming frazzled and used up? How can we care for our own souls, and in turn, be able to give our best to those we care for the most? 

How can I live with an undivided heart
for what matters the most?

What is it that matters the most to me? To you? Our lists may be different, but the core will be the same ... what matters the most is what makes us come alive. What is life-giving, what feeds our souls. Maybe even, what we are created for.

What matters the most to me ...

Immanuel: God with us. 
Living each day experiencing the greatest love there is: God's love and presence with us. This is what we are made for, and what is most soul-feeding, and life-giving ... walking closely with God. Our greatest gift, our greatest privilege.

My precious husband and family.
Every year that passes I grow more in love with Gary, and also with the family God has blessed us with, gifts beyond measure. I don't want to be too busy for the people I love the most.

Kindred friends, and all those God brings us to love.
The gift of friends becomes more precious with each passing year. We are made for community, for loving and caring for others, and I want to make room in my heart and my days for them.

Our home, a place of refuge, of belonging.
Home matters to me; it's where we spend so many moments, where we are refreshed and energized for all that God has for us. It's a place to share life with others, a place of rest.

Encouragement and care through words, through writing.
Writing is how I process my thoughts, how I learn and grow, and often, how I encourage those around me. Using our words is how we communicate, how we seek to grow and understand, and how we share things of the heart. 

What are the things 
that matter the most to you?

Today, at the start of this New Year 2019, I am asking God to show me, to lead me through the year, each day, each moment, towards what matters the most.

I am asking for an 
"undivided heart".

Saturday, December 1, 2018

On My Heart: December Rhythms

I still keep thinking about that word that grabbed my heart a month and a half ago as we were returning home from our trip east. And it comes back to me as we enter the month of December.

And I'm reminded that maybe of all the months in the year, it is especially important and even crucial that we keep our lives, our hearts in rhythm with His heart this month. 

This most wonderful month of the year, the month of celebrations and of gathering with family and friends, can also become filled with stress and an overload of busyness. For everyone, but possibly more so for mothers and also for grandmothers? We have much to do as we prepare for times of celebration this month. And it is wonderful; the most wonderful time of the year.

But what I need, what we all need ... 
is to keep in step with our Creator. The One who made us, who gave us this privilege of loving and caring for our families, and for others. 

What can keeping in step with Him   
look like during December?

Maybe it means that we need to slow down a bit, and allow ourselves to do less than we sometimes try to do during this month? There's no doubt that there is a lot we need to do to prepare for Christmas in our homes, but just maybe there are things that we really don't need to do. 

Maybe the best gifts are the simple gifts - the gift of presence. A listening ear, paying attention, taking time to really care. 

And maybe we need to first of all, allow ourselves to be cared for, and to receive His gift of presence. To daily and moment-by-moment, live in His presence. Allowing ourselves times to be still, and to soak up His love and His peace. 

This is what He came for.
 Immanuel, God with us. 

His presence, His "with us", is for all our days, for the month of December; for each day and each moment.

For our quiet moments ...
pausing to soak up His love each day. Reading His Words, reading Advent readings such as The Greatest Gift (which I hope to re-read again this year). Journaling my thoughts, my prayers. Making my life a prayer.

For our days filled with activity ...
as we work at our jobs, as we shop for gifts, as we decorate our homes, as we prepare for our family feasts and times with friends ... inviting Him  into everything we do. Talking with Him about everything; depending on Him for all that we do in preparation for Christmas. Day by day, and moment by moment. There is nothing too small to bring to Him for His help, for His care.

For each day of this month ...
walking and living in rhythm with Him. Opening our hearts, our eyes, to Him. Watching for His gifts everywhere. Watching for all the ways He loves us. Watching for the people that need our love, His love. 

Lord, may I choose to look to You for the rhythms of my life this Christmas. Not to others, not to the hustle and the "to do's". But to You, "God with us".

The second in a series of posts on rhythms.
The first ... On My Heart: Rhythms

Monday, November 19, 2018

On My Heart: Gratitude

It is good to give thanks. 

At Thanksgiving time, and all through the year. 
Even every day.
All through the day.

"Make thankfulness your 
sacrifice to God."
(Psalm 50:14a)

"Giving thanks is a sacrifice
that truly honors Me."
(Psalm 50:23a)

What makes thankfulness so essential, so important?
Is it really that crucial? Why are we prompted to hold
thanks in our hearts and to speak it, to give it away,
to bring honor to God, to bless others with it?

Could it be that it also holds the key to a deeper,
life-giving relationship with our Creator, our God?

"When we thank and praise God, 
His presence inhabits our lives more and more.
We might think of thanksgiving as a portal
to the presence of God."

"Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and bless His name."
(Psalm 100:4)

What could this look like for me, for you?

At the start of the day, as we come to Him, come with
thanks on our lips. Develop a habit of praise, of thanks.
In my journal, it has become my habit, to start out
with thanks, to write out my thanks. A record of thanks.
A gift to Him of my thanks. And it fills me up
with His presence, with joy. A gift to Him that brings joy
to Him ... and also to me. Lifting my thoughts off of the
concerns, the tasks; lifting my heart to Him, to joy.

As we practice this giving of thanks, 
"our minds are primed to notice good things, and so we
become more grateful, joyful, and content". 

And in honoring God with our praise, and in becoming more
aware of His presence and His gifts through our thankfulness,
we become a blessing to others. Gratitude overflows in thanks
and words of affirmation and love to those around us.

"But I will sing of Your strength
and will joyfully proclaim
Your faithful love in the morning.
For You have been a stronghold for me,
a refuge in my day of trouble."
(Psalm 59:16)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On My Heart: Rhythms

Sometimes a single word can grab our attention, and not let go. It sticks in our minds, turning over and over. 

This happened for me in October. It was near the end of our 20-day New England Fall Trip. I had a growing desire for a thought, a new idea or perspective to take home with me. Maybe a new word. Going from 20 days of a much-anticipated vacation trip (such a wonderful road trip visiting our son in NYC and then driving up into the New England states to soak up the beauty of autumn colors), back to the fullness and also busyness of daily life ... well, I just wished for some fresh perspective.

And it came. The word kept appearing in various places, repeatedly, and then it stayed with me. I couldn't get it out of my mind. It intrigued me and drew me in. And since then, it has continued to grow as additional layers of understanding and insight are added.

That word is ... r-h-y-t-h-m-s.

The word popped out to me as I started reading the book  Survival Guide for the Soul by Ken Shigematsu near the end of our trip. The first words in the foreword by Ann Voskamp were:

The drowning keep to-do lists.
Soul survivors keep rhythms.

I'm a to-do list person by nature. But when the lists begin to dictate my days, and become my main focus, I can feel like I am drowning. It's easy to slip into a world of to-do lists, as there is always so much to do. And being productive is held in such high value in our world.

But I am intrigued with rhythms. Focusing on rhythms feels more like freedom. It feels like peace and rest; it feels like the life we are meant to live.

Rhythms .. it implies a steady state of being, of living in the present, of being attentive to whatever God has placed before us. It moves and changes with the seasons, even within our day. But it is tethered and secure, peaceful and constant.

It reminds me of some favorite verses of mine from Matthew 11:28-30, from The Message Translation ...

Are you tired? Worn out?
Come to Me.
Get away with Me and you'll recover your life.
I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with Me and work with Me -
watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with Me,
and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

I see rhythms in the life of Jesus. He was here on our earth just a short time. Everywhere He looked, everywhere He walked, there were people to care for, a message of hope to share. He did not give in to worry or frenzy in His days, but He modeled rhythms for us. Giving His full attention to the people around Him; spending time with the crowds or spending time with one. And above all, He repeatedly pulled away to spend time with His Father. 

And I want the same ... rhythms of work and of rest. Rhythms of being attentive to what God has for me, of being present with who God places near me. Rhythms of spending quality, consistent time with Him.

There are more thoughts to share, and I'll be back. I'm in a rhythm of work and of rest, of Cru ministry and of home care, of family and of friends, of learning and of sharing. And I'm thankful ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Digital Scrapbooking: Our New England Fall Trip

What would we do without photos? I took so many photos on our recent 20-day road trip to NYC and New England! It will take me awhile to digital scrapbook all of our trip, but here are the three pages that I have completed so far. It was an amazing trip ... one that we prayed for, saved up vacation days and the funds for. And now, we love having the photos to remember our trip with!  

The highlight of our trip was spending time with our son, Lance, in NYC! Each of our five days there was just amazing ... here is a page with photos from our first day there. We met up in Chinatown!

Another highlight was our time in New Hampshire. We tried to time our trip around the fall colors, and it turned out perfect. The leaves were simply gorgeous while we were there!

Note: Most of the page templates and digital products that I use are purchased from Digital Project Life. About seven years ago I switched from paper scrapbooking, and took some online lessons from Digital Scrapper to learn how to digital scrapbook using Photoshop Elements. You can also click here for some great tutorials on the Digital Project Life website - this is a quicker way to learn than the site that I used seven years ago. I recommend using these tutorials. Also, besides being able to share my completed pages online, I also print them out at home in 8x8 inch size to fit in the albums that I purchase from Michael's.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

On My Heart: Our Treasure Within

Do you sometimes feel
small, unnoticed, average -
as I often do?

Just maybe this is
the best place to be.

Maybe if all that people see
is us - our accomplishments,
our gifts, ourselves,
then they would miss the
greater beauty. Within.
The beauty of the gospel
living in us.

"We now have this light
shining in our hearts,
but we ourselves are
like fragile clay jars,
containing this great treasure.
This makes it clear that
our great power is from God,
not from ourselves."
(II Cor. 4:7 NLT)

"We may be worn, average,
unimpressive vessels.
But let it be so -
the true treasure 
is the gospel in us."
(Ruth Chou Simons)

(Thoughts on my mind as we are in NYC. And also, thoughts to remember everyday, wherever we are. We can feel so inadequate at times in this big world, with so much going on, so many influences all around us. We can also be tempted at times to feel like things are all up to us, and we can be so very aware of our limitations and our inadequacy. But life is not all about us. It is about the treasure that we have. Within. The greatest treasure of all.)