Sunday, February 22, 2015

To My Honey on Our 12th Anniversary


Always a good time, even if its just $3 pita date night.

Dear Joel,
     I probably wouldn't be writing this, I haven't in the past, except for the fact that we find ourselves once again apart on the anniversary of the day that we vowed to stay together forever. Thankfully, our separation is geographic rather than emotional or legal! I do hate to be away from you any time of the year, but it is especially a bummer when we should be celebrating our togetherness. The beauty of being an adult though, is the ability to postpone festivities to a day that is more conducive, rather than being governed by the calendar, but I still hate to let the day pass without notice.

    Twelve may not seem like an "important" number-not like 10 or 25 or 50. But the fact of the matter is, you can't get to the "important" ones without those that are "less" significant. Which in my mind means one thing: they are all pretty darn equal. Twelve is no more or less special than any other number. We have already surpassed many others that we know!

    Every year I can't help but remember our first anniversary. We were so young, and we didn't have any really marvelous ideas for making it special. Neither one of us had great jobs, and we didn't have any time off, so we decided to keep it relatively low-key and celebrate by going to the St. Louis Art Museum (we lived in southern Illinois at the time, so it was close by) and then to the much-anticipated Cheesecake Factory for dinner. That was high living for us at the time in the budget department, wasn't it?

   We arrived to the crazy parking situation in Forest Park. Wasn't it always such a pain to find anything decent? We were excited to find a spot that wasn't two miles away, and we pulled in quickly. We headed up to the museum and poked around, I don't really remember that what we saw, it was what happened after that I won't forget. We came out to our good-but-not-fantastic spot to find a *parking ticket*! We had inadvertently parked too close to a fire hydrant-we weren't in front of it, but we weren't the specified number of feet away, either. I was so mad! You know how much I hate that kind of thing, it always feels personal, even though it isn't.

    A parking ticket isn't the steepest of traffic fines, but that one was higher than the usual because we were "blocking" the hydrant. I think it was $75 and that was not the way we had wanted to spend money on our anniversary! We tried to shake off our frustration-we joked about mailing pennies in for the fine, and decided to not let it ruin our day. We headed to the big fancy mall to do some window shopping (We agreed that our "stupid tax" was enough big spending for the day.) before dinner.

   That was when I got a call that was not what we were expecting. We had anticipated, based on information from our friends, a higher than usual tax return, and in our excitement we counted our chickens before they hatched. We decided to spend the money before the return had even been calculated and buy a brand new desktop computer. We spent close to $1000, on credit, with the plan to pay it off once we had our money from Uncle Sam.

    What does that have to do with our anniversary? Well, the call was about our return. It had been calculated and was far less than we were counting on. It was $100. I just remember standing in the middle of Penney's, wondering how to tell you, knowing that it would pretty much ruin the day. We would both feel guilty for spending money we didn't have, and wonder where we would conjure up the funds to meet our new money bill. Not to mention that we both knew we would pay a hefty fee in interest.

   You handled it the way you handle most every challenge, and I know that it made me fall even more in love with you than I had been before. You just said we needed not to worry about it-we would figure it out. You didn't try to blame me, and you didn't get angry. YOu said we should just try to enjoy our day and leave the problem solving for later.

   But as we headed to dinner we both knew that we would feel terrible about spending $50-$60 more on food after the ticket and the "reduced" refund. So we agreed to eat in the food court-you had Chinese, and I can't remember what I had, but the part that sealed the deal on making the day a sweet memory was that after dinner you walked all the way back to the Cheesecake Factory and brought back a piece of my favorite cheesecake for us to share. You didn't want me to be disappointed anymore, after it seemed that the day was just going to keep downhill. And I cried into that cheesecake, not because the day had been nothing like I had hoped, but because your simple gesture humbled me so intensely.

    And now, the memory of that day has lost all its sting, and it is just sweet. We did survive, and we learned so much, but the most important part of that day was that we had each other. We didn't need fancy dinners, or a huge celebration, or tons of money (good thing!). We could overcome and still find joy in the small things because we were together. And that first anniversary has set the stage for our whole marriage. It's never been about perfection, but we have made so many wonderful memories already because we know that things are just that-things. You really can't buy love, or joy, or contentment.

   I'm so thankful that the Lord gave that day to us. I'm so thankful that I learned early on that Hollywood romances are not what real love looks like. It looks like a little piece of cheesecake after a day of disappointments, from someone who cares so much more about your happiness than his own. We learned to not take for granted that being with each other is what matters.

    And we don't. If I have to say one thing about us, it is this: we truly appreciate each day we have together. Because some anniversaries have been spent at nice restaurants, while others were spent in shoddy motel rooms while waiting for a house after a stressful move when celebration meant a dozen gas station roses in a Big Gulp cup. And some have been spent on a cruise in Mexico seven months after the actual date because thousands of miles and a war separated us. And some have been spent with our kids, and some alone, but they have all been sweet because they were a celebration not of the number of years, but the millions of in-and-out, morning and night beautiful "boringness" of sharing, truly sharing, our lives together. The mundaneness of thousands of breakfasts, of grocery shopping and potty-training. Of car maintenance and church-going. Of every day "I love you"s and goodbye kisses.

    And so, I don't really care that today is our anniversary. I love to remember our wedding, but it isn't the 22nd of February that is important. I want to be with you whether it is the 22nd of February or the 31st of August, or the second Tuesday in May. I want to wake up to you every morning, and go to bed with you every night. I want to do exciting things with you, and boring things. I want to pay bills, and buy shoes, and yell at the kids and make dinner. I miss you because you are my most favorite person in the world, and there isn't a single day that goes by that I don't thank the Lord that He allowed me the joy of being your wife. So, today I miss you, but that is just because I'm not with you, not because of the date on the calendar. And today is special, not because it is our anniversary, but because every day that we are allowed to go on, two as one, is special.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." 1 John 4:7

   I know God's love better because of you. I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm thankful for the twelve years of days I have had with you, and I am praying that He will graciously grant us many, many more. I love you. 
                                                                                                        Love, 
                                                                                                              Me

Friday, February 20, 2015

Practically Perfect Rice Krispy Treats


     Rice Krispy Treats. A snack so easy that monkeys could make it. However, if you have been faithfully following the recipe from Kellogg's all these years (or Jet-Puffed) you are missing out on a truly delicious dessert! I won't claim to be a genius, I'm sure other people have tweaked their recipes, too. But I have come up with a tried and true method for making better-than-average Rice Krispy Treats that will make you wonder why you didn't make them this way before.

    My changes are small, but they are important. I don't like dry Rice Krispy Treats-so if you like them to taste more like cereal and less like a sweet than you will want to stick to the old way. But if you prefer them to be gooey and buttery and vanilla-y, then you should definitely try my changes. So easy, but so much better!

Ingredients:
1/4 c. butter (only use real butter)
6 cups miniature marshmallows (the entire bag)
5 cups Rice Krispy cereal
1/4-1/2 tsp. vanilla, depending on how much you like (the secret ingredient!)


    Melt the butter over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add the marshmallows once the butter is completely melted and stir continuously until melted. As soon as the mixture is completely smooth, remove from heat and carefully add the vanilla (It can react with the hot sugar add slowly!). Stir in completely and then add cereal and mix well. Dump mixture into a well buttered 9x9 (this makes them thicker and more chewy). Wet your hands with water and press firmly into the dish. Allow to set up (usually not more than 30 minutes) before cutting into squares. I usually dump the entire dish over onto a cutting board and use a large serrated knife to get even squares. Makes 16. Try not to eat them all! If you don't, cover tightly with plastic wrap to store.

   I know it doesn't seem like any huge differences, but I have found these little changes make people rave about these Rice Krispy Treats. The whole thing is kind of hilarious, because in my family I was known for years as "the girl who burned the Rice Krispy treats". How, you ask? Because if you burn the butter and then dump everything in anyway, the whole thing turns out to be a gross mess. I've come a long way since then!


Linked up at:
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Red Velvet Cream Cheese Frosting Filled Oreo Truffles

   I heard back in January that Oreo was releasing a limited time seasonal RED VELVET Oreo. Reports were that they were outrageously tasting-some even said better than the original. Well, I could only think of one thing: Oreo Truffles. But I wanted them to be special, have a little something extra. And what is more perfect on a delicious piece of Red Velvet cake than gobs of cream cheese frosting?

   My love affair with Red Velvet started as a child. My birthday is practically on top of Valentine's Day and my mom made her wonderful homemade Red Velvet cake for my special day more than once. I love that my birthday is so close to V-Day, it has always been one of my favorite holidays. So, I couldn't resist creating a truffle (another one of my fav things!) to tie it all together. This truffle takes the Oreo truffle to the next level-the creamy filling is the perfect touch to the rich Red Velvet flavor and the color makes them perfect for the holiday of love!

 You will only need a few things for this recipe.
For the truffles you will need:
-Red Velvet Oreos (Note that these come in a smaller package than regular Oreos!)
-4 oz. cream cheese (softened)

For the filling you will need:
-3 oz. cream cheese
-1 and 1/2 c. powdered sugar (approximately)
-1/8 tsp. vanilla

For the coating you will need:
-1 package white chocolate chips
-1/2 to 1 tbsp. shortening
OR
1 package vanilla candy coating

Sprinkles, food coloring,  or other toppings to suit.

Begin by crushing the Oreos in a food processor, blender or in a ziploc, until fine and completely mixed. Use the entire package. Aren't those Oreos so pretty? I love the deep red color! And they smell amazing. They should make a candle out of that scent!


Completely incorporate the cookie crumbs into the cream cheese. Make sure it is thoroughly blended using either a spoon or your hands.Refrigerate while making the frosting to make them easier to handle.

 Meanwhile, make the frosting. Mix together the powdered sugar, cream cheese and vanilla to make a very thick frosting. It isn't necessary to make it moldable, but I did make it thicker than I would have for a cake. Scoop into a sturdy quart size ziploc and refrigerate for at least 15-30 minutes.

   Once everything has had a chance to chill, use a 1 inch candy/cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop the dough into your hand. Unlike with regular Oreo truffles, it isn't necessary to roll them at this point, because they will need to be re-shaped after they are filled. Using your thumb, press a well into the truffle. You will be adding about 1/4 tsp. of frosting into this depression. I quit taking pictures at this point because it gets a little messy. You will then need to gather the truffle around the filling, If you need to grab a little extra Oreo mixture to make it "close" then do. After you have completely covered the filling with truffle, you should be able to gently shape it into a ball. Place onto a wax paper covered tray.

   You should be able to get about 20-24 truffles. Once they are all rolled, place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I actually refrigerated mine overnight before dipping because I didn't have time to do it the day I made them. That isn't necessary, but you can if you need to!

    When they are firmly chilled, carefully melt your white chocolate chips with 1/2 tablespoon shortening. Use more if necessary to make it smooth, but be very careful not to overheat it. You may need to use a double-boiler. I hate working with melted white chocolate chips-they are super fickle and tough to dip with! I am not at home though, and was using what was available. Personally, I will always choose CandyQuik or other type of candy melt. They are much easier to work with. If you want to color your candy coating, add the food coloring as soon as it is completely smooth.

   Working quickly using two forks, dip each truffle and place onto a wax paper covered tray. Immediately after dipping, garnish with sprinkles or decoration of your choice. (I used Sixlet candies and pearl sprinkles because it is what I had!) As soon as coating has harden truffles can be eaten, or stacked. Refrigerate any that aren't consumed right away.

     I don't usually cut my truffles open, but these are so pretty in the middle! And while it seems like such a tiny amount of frosting, it is actually perfect as you get frosting and truffle in every bite, but the frosting isn't overwhelming. 

     These are so amazing! Even my mom, who doesn't normally enjoy Oreo truffles (or anything with white chocolate) thought these were really good. I am already planning variations-you could dip them in dark chocolate, or roll them in nuts....I better stock up on Red Velvet Oreos!
   
Linked up:
"Titus 2 Tuesday" at Cornerstone Confessions

Monday, February 9, 2015

After Your Prayers Have Been Answered

 

     I have read blog after blog about how to trust God, be faithful and continue in prayer during tough times. There are lists and Scriptures and commentary. And that is so wonderful. It is tough to persevere when it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But what about when you are finally out of the tunnel? What about when you have passed through valley? What about when you get what you have been longing for? What do you when your prayers have been answered?

   This may seem like a crazy question because it seems so obvious: you rejoice! But, as with anything in life, it is never quite that clear-cut. I went where I always go when I had questions, and not surprisingly, I found the answer:

"Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." 2 Corinthians 1:9-11 (NIV)

   I laughed when I saw this passage, because it really couldn't suit our circumstances any more perfectly. If you have been following me for the past few months you know that my niece was in desperate need of a heart transplant. She had truly received a death sentence, her own heart could not sustain life. We were completely without options, we had to rely on God. No one had any power to obtain a heart on her behalf, we could only pray, hoping and trusting that the Lord would see fit to allow her life to continue while we waited, and that He would answer our prayers by sending a heart that would, in so many ways, "raise the dead". Because without that answer to prayer, she was as good as dead.

    So we prayed and waited, and waited and prayed. Sometimes, honestly, I had more faith than others. Some days, I had complete peace, and sometimes the tempest raged. Sometimes I smiled, sometimes I cried. But I knew He was working.

   And it took four months, which may not seem that long, but it felt as if it were an eternity. Many days, I went to bed praying that "tomorrow" would be the day. And it would pass. My sister lives a three days drive from where most of our family lives, and because she has three children at home we had decided that either my mom or I would plan to come and help her while she juggled being a homeschooling mom and also being at the hospital (which is over an hour away). We finally decided I would fly out and leave my own kids with my mom.

      But it still wasn't coming together, plane tickets were expensive, it wasn't really feasible for me to drive so far by myself, and about a thousand other little details just weren't being taken care of. It just wasn't working. We kept looking for a solution and everyone was frustrated. We discussed all kinds of plans. And then on the last Friday in January I felt the clearest Voice saying, "Wait." That's all, just wait. I was worried that my mom and my sister would be frustrated that I wasn't still looking for an answer, but when I talked to Robyn on Friday I finally admitted to her that I really felt like the Lord had an answer that we couldn't see. That I really felt like we needed to just pray about it over the weekend, and I strongly believed that He would give us a clear answer if we were just willing to bide our time. And surprisingly, they both agreed. We would take the weekend to pray and make a decision about what would happen on Monday.

    Well, if you follow Miss Gracey's Facebook page you know what happened. Joel and I had decided to sleep in, and I actually still had my phone on vibrate Saturday morning, but I was awake enough to realize it was buzzing at about 8:30am. My mom was calling-her voice was shaking, and she only had a minute, but she said, "They think there is a heart for Gracey." Well, I knew right then that was our answer! And boy, was it sooo much better than anything I could have planned! Shortly after that, Robyn called. She didn't make a whole lot of sense, but I couldn't blame her. Gracey was getting a heart!

    Everything we had been praying for, fasting over, dreaming of, was about to come true, And in typical fashion, God had covered every detail. Because He is THAT good. I would say I couldn't believe it, but the funny thing is, I never doubted that He had done it in His perfect timing, and this was exactly what we had been praying for.

  And I contemplated fasting, for Gracey and the surgery, and the doctors, and my sister. But I decided that it was a day for rejoicing, for recognizing and reveling in the goodness of God. It was definitely a day for "giving thanks for...gracious favor"!  And the excitement carried well into the next day after she had the surgery. Everyone was elated, we just kept exclaiming over and over what a miracle the whole thing was.

   But a few days after that, I became a little overwhelmed. There were still so many things that could go wrong. You don't take a heart transplant lightly-recovery is long and arduous, there were still many obstacles to overcome. Should I have been praying about these things before she even got a heart? Should I worry that the Lord had brought us this far to take a sudden turn? Should I feel guilty that Gracey got a heart when so many other babies needed one? Should I be sorrowful for the family that generously allowed Gracey to live when their own sweet child had died? I felt guilty, because God had given me exactly what I wanted and it seemed that I still wasn't satisfied.

    And that is when I realized: an answered prayer isn't an end-all, be-all. We will still need God and continue to need Him, and that is a very important part of His plan. He gave us what we wanted, knowing it would bring glory to Him, but He wouldn't have allowed it to take place if it had relieved us of our reliance on Him. It was still very good and right to know that we will need to be "delivered again". I needed to set my hope on the fact that He will continue taking care of the details and not overlook anything.

   And so, while I am rejoicing and praising Him in gratitude, I will still be relying on Him to answer all the questions that this answer has brought. The two needn't be mutually exclusive. He is still using Gracey to bring glory to Himself every day. Healing brings great glory to Him, and I wasn't at all surprised that the sermon text this Sunday was one that I referenced in my original blog about Gracey's great need.

"As He went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:1-3 (NIV)

  God has displayed a great work in Gracey's life. But He still has much that He wants to do, so now that my prayer has been answered, I will rejoice and be glad, but I will still look to the Lord to provide for the future. I won't ask why He chose us to receive this great blessing, but instead will rest knowing that it is what brings the greatest glory to Him. I am sure in Jesus' day there were many blind people who He did not heal. That did not diminish the miracle of this healing in John. So, it is also true that Gracey's healing is not diminished by the seeming lack of His response to others whose needs are just as great. I can trust that He will work in those lives in a way that will bring the greatest glory. I can trust that He will provide peace and healing to the donor family-that their loss which brought us such amazing gain will glorify Him in their lives-perhaps drawing them closer to God and each other. Only He can know. I can continue to pray for the situations that come up now that Gracey is post-transplant, believing that He who has delivered us will continue to deliver us again.

   And I already know that many are giving thanks, after many have prayed. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing to celebrate answered prayers with the family of God. Nobody knows quite how to party like His people. So, the short version: After your prayers have been answered, you should praise and pray. I can promise you that the answer to your prayer will not be the end of your story, so keep looking to Him and for Him. And thank Him for allowing your need for Him to continue. He wants to keep answering your prayers, He longs to show you that He is truly all you need. Trust me, that's a good thing. He won't be done showing His glory in your life. That's what I'm planning on doing, anyway.

P.S. Gracey is truly doing amazing. There are thousands of people who are covering her in prayer, and I know that the Lord is working in such a mighty way through all of that. I can't believe that the grinning baby in the photo above was barely opening her eyes a little over a week ago. God gave us a definite miracle and I will never stop being thankful.

Linked up:
"Titus 2 Tuesday" at Cornerstone Confessions

     

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Crockpot Salsa Chicken Soup

          I love soup. Judging by the plethora of recipes on the internet, I am not the only one, especially during this time of year! And if it can be made in my crock pot, well then it becomes irresistible!

     I found this recipe several years ago on a blog that is now unavailable. I made some changes and I also took the liberty of replacing the name. It was called chicken tortilla soup, but I take issue with that name. It doesn't have any tortillas in it (Although it is delicious served with chips!) and I don't feel like that is a great description. However, it has all the components of my favorite salsas: tomatoes, chilies, corn and onions. So, I feel like "Salsa Chicken and Bean" soup is a much better moniker!

    This soup is so easy, and it is pretty healthy all things considered. Slow cooking makes the chicken literally fall apart, and everything is so flavorful because it has had time to marinate in the spices. It isn't really hot (My kids eat it with no problem, even the one who is afraid of anything that might be hot).

Crockpot Salsa Chicken and Bean Soup
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cans Ro*tel diced tomatoes and chilies (I use original because it has just the right amount of heat!)
1 can black beans (low sodium)
1 can kidney OR pinto beans (low sodium)
2 c. frozen corn, thawed or partially cooked
1 white onion, diced, about 1 cup
3 cups chicken broth (I dissolve this bouillon base into boiling water, and add it straight to the crockpot)
1 cup water
3/8 c. taco seasoning of choice

    Rinse and drain the beans. Place the chicken in the crock pot and add Ro*tel, beans, corn and onion. Thoroughly mix the taco seasoning into the chicken broth and add both the broth and water to the crockpot. Cook on low 5-7 hours. Remove chicken and shred with two forks. Return chicken to pot, stir in. Cook for another 30 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with sour cream (Tillamook is the best, if you have it!), cheese and tortilla chips if you like. Serves 6-8.

   This recipe freezes beautifully. I usually serve it the first night, and then freeze the remaining portion flat in a gallon Ziploc. To reheat, place frozen soup in a large stock pot, and pour 1/2 c. water over it. As it thaws, continue to break it down into the pot. Once it has reached a boil it will be ready to serve. You won't know it isn't freshly made!


Linked up:
"Hearth and Soul Blog Hop" at April J. Harris
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less

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