Sunday, October 30, 2011

Simply Scrumptious Greek Chicken Gyros

If I didn't know any better, I would be sure my husband gets cravings WITH me when I'm pregnant!  This is one of his constant cravings and maybe you will come to love it and crave it too...

(FYI-I made this up so don't have exact measurements/etc.--sorry!!)
Makes 6 or more pitas
* 2 medium tomatoes
* 1 large cucumber
* 1 med. red onion
* vegetable oil
* red wine vinegar
* salt & pepper
* lemon/herb seasoning
* oregano seasoning
* 1 bag (approx. 3 lbs.) chicken tenders
* feta cheese, your fave flavor
* 6/more pitas
* ranch dressing

Chop up tomatoes, cucumber and red onion into small cubes.

Combine the three in a big bowl, this will make the "Greek Salsa" to top off the pita, make it first as it needs time to chill and let those yummy flavors marinade.  Once combined, add equal parts (to taste--I try it as I go!) oil and vinegar.  Careful not to get too generous with the vinegar or it will be a little sour, a dab will do you!  Then add salt & pepper (again to taste) and a small amount of dried oregano.  Stir well and place in fridge until ready to serve!

On to the chicken--ole...or is it OPA?!  Let some vegetable oil (I'm so precise, I know!!) heat up in a skillet then add in the tenders, cooking in batches so as not to over-crowd the pan.  Lightly season each side of the tenders with season salt (or salt and pepper works too), the lemon/herb (or lemon/pepper) blend and a little oregano again.  If you have a "Greek spice", that would work well here also!  Get creative and have fun!

Set out the tenders while they are still smokin', the Greek Salsa and the feta cheese along with the pita bread (don't confuse this with pita POCKETS, they won't work as well).  Heat up pitas in microwave for 30 sec. or so if desired.  Cut up the chicken if desired also to make it easier to pile into the "gyro".  (Yes, this is my THREE year old who LOVES these pitas with all the fixins'!! And I DO have picky-eater kids but even kids love these gyros!) 

Once the Greek Gyros are assembled, serve with ranch dressing on top if you'd like...delicious and simple!
Don't forget they are healthy too with all those fresh veggies on top!  The Greek Salsa can be refrigerated and used for up to a week if you would like the leftovers again!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Spooky Spider Cupcakes

These cupcakes are an easy and fun little idea for Halloween!  Although the original idea calls for orange and black colors (black licorice legs and orange sprinkles) my boys decided they should be red and blue spiders in honor of the spider that transformed Peter Parker into Spiderman (they love their superheroes!).  You could do either way...have fun!

* cupcakes, baked and ready (any flavor you like)
* frosting, vanilla
* thin red or black licorice 
* red hot candies
* candy corn
* sugar sprinkles (orange, black or red, etc.)

Frost the cupcakes.

It helps to use a toothpick to poke the "legs" into the cupcake.

Kids are great at "helping" to create the spiders...or eating all the candy-corn!!

The best part of making spooky spiders: eating them!  Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

tiny toes

My two year old, EvaLee, was snuggled under my arm as I rocked her in our overstuffed rocker at nap-time today.  It was just another typical day and I felt my own eyes growing heavy as I stared absently at her tiny toes poking out of her fuzzy blankie.  Contrasting my own feet, hers were new and perfect in every way with no signs of aging or veins showing on her soft and pudgy skin.  The week before, EvaLee had insisted her nails be painted pink when she saw me painting my own and the bright color was chipped and fading.  

Suddenly, the realization of where her toes have been and where they could go struck me as remarkable.  These toes had been pressed into black ink the day she entered our world and her imprint will remain in both her baby book and our hearts forever.  These toes were kicked in delight during her first bath and their first swim.  They have been one set of many little toes dangling over the edge of our couch as we tugged on little socks and buckled little shoes.  They’ve been doused in sparkly red nail-polish (along with our bedroom carpet!) when they were lovingly “painted “by a two-year-old who wanted to be just like her Mommy.  They have been attacked with tickles, smothered with kisses and teased with “This Little Piggy” more times than one could count.

I could almost see her pudgy toes growing before my eyes as I dreamed of the future and what these little toes may one day do.  They could be squeezed into uncomfortable shoes by a junior high girl longing to be cool and fashionable.  They may be flung into the air during a cheer-leading routine at a football game, or tenderly held as they ache after a difficult dance recital.  These toes may be carefully painted by shaky fingers hours before their first prom.  In fact, by the time our daughter graduates, these toes will have undoubtedly been painted more unique colors than I could have dreamed!

One day, the same toes that peeked out from under a graduation gown may practically float down a long, white aisle runner on the day she is given over from our loving care to the care of the courageous man who will win her heart.  Years later, these toes may swell and be gently massaged by that same good man as he watches her belly grow with the life of their child inside.  These are the precious toes that will follow another set of tiny toes as they learn how to walk, jump, dance and maybe even be “lovingly painted” by a two-year-old who wants to be just like her own Mommy.  These toes will begin to age as they travel to many places and witness many things that only time will tell.  Above all, I pray these toes will be “the beautiful feet” (Isaiah 52:7) that carry the gospel message of Christ’s salvation to her family, friends and the world.

Although at nap time today it seems an entire lifetime away for our two-year-old, these tiny toes will one day wrinkle and I pray they will be lovingly held and cared for by her own children and even her great-grandchildren as a testament to the kind of life our daughter lived.  I pray these toes will have many, many years to walk this earth and fulfill the destiny her Creator has called them to fulfill.  And when these toes are once again small due to the effects of time and aging; and after they have lived every single year God has planned for them; I pray these precious feet will walk down those streets of gold and break into a joyful run to be received by her Saviour’s arms as he says, “Well done, my good and faithful daughter.”  

In that surreal moment, that I myself dream of, I hope I can hold her in my own arms and once again kiss those precious toes that started out so tiny and full of so much promise many, many years earlier.  
Today was just another typical day...but because of a set of tiny toes, it turned out not very typical at all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My NOT-So-Great Expectations!

I have been in the middle of a big fight with someone these past few days!  No matter where I go, she’s always there...I see her staring back at me in the mirror every morning.  I’ve been in a battle with myself, but don’t worry, I am not going to introduce you to me, myself and Irene here!  I think what I’ve been struggling with is something we may all contend with from time to time.  

So here is my challenge of the week: what is triggering my frustration and anger when things don’t go MY way?  At first, it was easy to blame all the OUTER  issues: a person, an unmet need or a bad circumstance.  But when I dug a little deeper to the ROOT of these things, it all came back to ME. I had an expectation that something or someone wasn’t living up to.  Oh Lord forbid others not meet MY great expectations since I know I ALWAYS meet the expectations of others (this is meant to make you laugh hysterically, especially if you are a dear friend or family member that is still awaiting a returned email, phone call or late birthday gift!!).

I love how subtle God is when he wants to get a message across to me.  I basically keep taking the SAME dang test until I pass (over and over and over).  There is no fail in God’s school only re-take...and re-take, or as Master Yoda would say, “There is no try, only DO.”

ALL week long I faced the same dilemma and I almost wished I could just fail the test and be done with it!  After all, test taking makes me break out in a cold sweat!  But alas, I was not so lucky...or maybe I should really say, I AM so lucky that God doesn’t ever give up on me.

Part of God’s subtle approach to my struggle this week included a scripture verse that nearly knocked me over it hit me so hard, it was just what I didn’t want to hear and exactly what I needed to hear.  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have...You do not have because you do not ask God." (James 4)
I FINALLY got the message!  A light went off and I realized what the Lord AND my loving but head-strong cheerleader (thanks, dear!) had been saying, “Tara, it’s NOT a person or circumstance that is disappointing/making you upset/________ (fill in any destructive emotion here).  It is YOUR NOT-so-great-expectation in someone other than God to fulfill something that they were never even created to fill.”

I’m definitely not saying it’s wrong to have expectations, we all have them!  But when our need for the satisfaction of that expectation begins to steal our peace and joy, honey, we have to let it GO!  Take that need to the Saviour who longs to fulfill your every need.  Did a close friend forget call on your birthday or have to cancel something with you three times in a row?!  Yeah, those things aren’t cool...BUT that desire for recognition and love is a need that God longs to satisfy for you.  

The battle between me and myself is drawing to a close for the week...okay, who am I kiddin’...for the day, er...minute!  I know the war between MY desires and God’s desires will continue on but this week was a really nice kick in the pants in the right direction for me (even though it was hell getting there!).

The greatest part?  I’m free.  Try it out if you’d like: let go of all your expectations of what your kids should be, what a friend should do, what your spouse should give you on your anniversary (of course I have no personal experience with this one, wink, wink!)  and any other circumstance or person that you are hoping to get your happiness from.  Our happiness should be based on the ONE thing we CAN control: the condition of our heart.  

When it comes to the condition of our heart...there is no try, only do!  So I’m going to let God do that work in me, let go of the rest (including my not-so-great-expectations) and enjoy life for what it is..and sometimes for what it isn’t!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Ice-Cream Truck Surprise

Does just the mention of the word, “lecture”, make you start to feel very...very....sleepy?  When I think of the times I was subject to lecturing (think: boring professor-taught classes at college and the teen-age years), I have to admit, I spent most that time trying to just STAY AWAKE!  Thinking back, I can’t recall any great words of wisdom that were imparted in that setting that stuck with me for life.  

When I think about what sticks with me and what I draw upon for wisdom and direction in my own life, it’s what I saw LIVED out.

Those lessons that were lived out quietly yet with strong conviction in my parents, friends, mentors and teachers are forever emblazed upon the walls of my memory.  These are the wordless words that I treasure.  I love the way Francis of Assis said it, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

Now that I’m a parent, I’m finding this to be one of my greatest challenges.  How can I communicate these important lessons about life to my children without transforming to Professor Lecture (and putting them to sleep)?!

I’m discovering that life itself will present many learning moments and if we are watching for them, those moments can be seized and a BIG action with a FEW words could emblaze an invaluable conviction on the hearts of our little students, no lecture required!

Just yesterday, one such moment arrived in the most unexpected of ways: it was delivered via an ice-cream truck!

My kids and I had spent the afternoon at the park and there could be no sweeter way to end a perfect day than with a treat from the local ice-cream truck!  It was our lucky day when the little black-and-white (I guess it’s supposed to be a cow?!) painted truck loaded with frozen-kid-delights pulled into the parking lot.  After we were all seated at a picnic table and happily getting brain-freezes with red, white and blue firecracker Popsicles, we noticed two sad-looking little girls standing nearby.

I overheard the conversation between the girls and their dad, “Sweetie, by the time I run home to get money and come back, the ice-cream truck will be gone.  I’m sorry.”

I quickly pulled out some cash from my pocket and ran up to the family, “Here, take this.  I know what it’s like to not have some cash on hand when the ice-cream truck arrives!”  The father looked at the money and started to shake his head so I added, “Please, get something for your girls.”  He smiled and mumbled a thanks as they hurried to catch the truck that was about to leave the park.

It was then I realized that was one of those moments when a big action and few words could impart something important to my kids.  My boys were watching wide-eyed and when I sat back down at the table with them, we talked about sharing and being generous.

I was surprised when I asked Gideon, my five-year-old, why we are blessed and he didn’t hesitate to answer, “If God blesses us and we didn’t bless others, that wouldn’t be fair!”  His little brother, Judah, needed a few more gentle reminders before he got the point.  When I asked him why if we were blessed just to keep it for ourselves, he whole-heartily agreed...oops!  But after a little review of what we were learning that day, he seemed to get the main idea (hear it in the kid's own words with a fun video from that day)!

The kids left the park happy (and stained VERY blue!) that day and I felt pretty happy too.  I was amazed at what an ice-cream truck and teachable moment could impart to tiny and impressionable hearts.  All of this without any boring lecture needed and I think my children could say an enthusiastic “thank GOD!” for that!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Upside-Down Moment

It happens just every once in awhile but when this moment occurs, it is priceless.  It’s the upside-down moment that instead of seeing our little children from the grown-up perspective, we look up WITH them to view ourselves the way they see US. Last night, my five-year-old turned my perspective upside-down and I was shocked what I saw....I saw ME.

A mess of puzzle pieces all over the floor is how it all began.

“Hey, Mom, I picked up that puzzle mess for you.  You didn’t even ask me to, I just did it.  I wanted to help you.”

“Oh, wow--thanks, sweetie.”  I was only half-listening as I helped get Gideon’s little sister into her pajamas.

“Yeah,”  Gideon shrugged and offered this little, sweet smiled that caught my eye and melted my heart, “Sometimes your job isn’t too hard, right?  Sometimes we help out and it’s a little more easy for you.  I hope it will be a more easy job being a Mommy.”

I froze in the middle of zipping up pink footsie pajamas and felt myself suddenly shrinking to three and a half feet tall.  I was a five-year-old looking at my Mommy, proud that I helped her because I could make her job easier.  I somehow knew that my Mom thought her job was difficult...could it be because she complained about it sometimes?  Did she sometimes even communicate an unspoken message that I was a burden instead of a blessing in her life?  

My heart sank.  I wasn’t sure I liked being five years old at that moment.

Nothing in life mattered more in that upside-down moment then pulling that little boy into my arms and setting the record straight.

“Gideon, do you know that I love being a Mommy?  Even on the days it is hard, there is nothing in this world I would rather do than be your Mom.  I’ve had a lot of jobs through the years but this has been and will ALWAYS be my favorite job ever.”  I squeezed him in my arms while a tear squeezed from the corner of my eye.

My world was turned upside-down when I viewed myself from the eyes of a five-year-old.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

BETTER Than Disneyland!!

Last week, during one of those long and rainy days, me and the kids had an absolutely boring day.  Here’s what we did (or maybe I should say, didn’t do!); we stayed inside and I caught up on laundry while the boys played superheroes, I hauled some old boxes up from the basement and the kids made them into forts and ocean-liners (I think someone even lost a leg in a shark attack), we read the same ol’ books (hit a record of the day with “Go, Dog, Go”!  I lost count after twenty-something...), ate some soup from a can (though who can beat Campbell's Chicken Noodle?!), and finally, wrestled with Daddy when he came home from work.  That was all we did.  Thrilling, right?  Hardly!

Here’s what we DIDN’T do; we didn’t do a thing that cost money (okay, the soup was a buck or so), we didn’t make any cool art projects or play any exciting games, we didn’t go on any special trips to swimming pools, hotels, or Disneyland--heck, we never even left the house!  That is why I did a double-take that night as I was tucking in my oldest, Gideon.  He sighed in contentment as he nuzzled under the covers and whispered, “Thanks for today, Mommy.  That was the funnest day ever!”  I felt faint with shock, did I just hear my son correctly: TODAY, one of the most “boring days” we’d had in a long time was ranking at Numero Uno Status in his mind as “The Funnest Day Ever”!?!

I staggered out of his bedroom that night, my head reeling.  The old adage of “quality time makes up for quantity time” was just blown out of the water, at least in the highly expert opinion of a fun-loving-five-year-old!  

In our busy and work-oriented society, so often kids are interacting less and less with their parents.  The day-care worker, teacher, nanny or babysitter spends large quantities of time with the child but the parent shouldn’t be concerned so long as they make up for the deficit with some spectacular, memory-making QUALITY time.  A big show at the mall, a weekend away to a water-park, or even a trip to Disneyland, these should make up for the hour or so a day they actually interact with their son or daughter during the hectic week.  Or does it...?

Could it be that true QUALITY moments happen when we spend QUANTITY time with our children?  Perhaps it’s not WHAT we do (and not how much MONEY we spend in those moments) but that we spend AS MUCH of the most precious gift God has given each one of us with our children: the gift of time.

I’m NOT saying a trip to Disneyland isn’t an awesome gift to give our children once-in-a-while.  Heck, what kid wouldn’t want to dance with Cinderella or go on a exciting ride that gives me chills just thinking of it!  What I am proposing is if those times are an attempt to make up for the lack of quantity time we spend with kids...we may be missing what matters MOST.

There are definitely situations where one or both parents may not be able to spend the amount of time they desire to invest in their children, but TRUE cases of these situations are usually the exception.  Many times, a choice we could make as parents to live more simply (i.e., drive a used vehicle or live in a smaller home) could free us up from the burden of work and debt to be with those little people that are only in our care for a short season of time.

If you think I’m off my rocker, ask your kid tonight what some of their favorite memories are.  If they are old enough to tell you, I’m guessing it may include LESS of the “special trips” and more of the “day-to-day” happenings then you might have guessed!  

Quality moments happen in quantity times; during long, rainy day spent inside building rocket-ships to the moon out of cardboard boxes and reading books that are dog-eared with affectionate use.

These simple moments spent together have the potential to become the “Funnest Day Ever” in the eyes of a child!