Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crockpot Chicken Tacos {For Breakfast, Lunch AND Dinner!?!}

Well, here we are...School has started, football season is in full swing, and I am happily back together with "Old Faithful", my crock pot.  If there is one thing I love more than an easy, inexpensive set-it-and-forget-it dinner, it is one that can be used to feed my growing family any time of day. This recipe is one of those rare treasures. Not only can I start it in the morning and finish it up in about 15 minutes at dinner time, it is a favorite with everyone in this household. And let me tell you, that is music to this Momma's ears.

I serve this dish at least once a week, and I always put the leftovers to good use.  I intentionally make a little extra each time to throw on top of my eggs in the morning with a little salsa and sour cream or whip up a quick batch of nachos for lunch the next day. I have also used this recipe to make yummy nachos for game day.

Crockpot Shredded Chicken Tacos:


2-4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use 3 and it there is plenty to feed my brood and then some)
1-15 oz. Jar of salsa (any kind)
1 Packet Taco Seasoning

Combine all ingredients and cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours. That's it! The chicken shreds easily with a fork and I don't even thaw my chicken breasts before hand. 

I serve ours with warmed tortillas, sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheddar cheese, Mexican flavored rice and pinto or black beans, but there really is no limit to what you can do with these. Top as desired and enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Write (& Why I Don't)

I have a love/hate relationship with this writing thing. I have days that I feel the pull to sit down and put the proverbial pen to paper only to shy away out of fear. Words have weight and most days I don't feel strong enough to bear the burden of it all.  I can't say what scares me so much exactly - the vulnerability & responsibility of it I guess.   

And then there are days that the words in my heart are so heavy that I think my heart might actually stop if I don't get them out. I write on those days, despite my fear.  God uses my ramblings as a way to help me sort out some of the mess that goes on in my head and turn me right side up again.  I have wrestled with the whole idea of blogging for more than 3 years and every time I walk away, convincing myself it's not my thing, I am pulled back. 

I haven't really written much in about a year and a half, and it feels good to finally put some words down.  My life started to feel a bit sideways a few summers ago and I wasn't sure how to walk through it or what I could or should share so I closed down my blog and Facebook so I could take some time to reflect and learn without distraction. It was good for me I think, but it's time to come alive again.  Time to try new things, reach out and believe that God will help.

Being offered the opportunity to write for Douglas County Moms and connect with other local women has really been a lifeline of sorts.  It has given me structure and deadlines and that little push I needed to jump back in.  There are seemingly endless topics to write about and I am encouraged by how each one is broached and delivered daily by women with same Momma heart beating in their chests as mine.  It seems that everywhere I turn these days, I am being reminded that my story matters...and yours does too.

There are whole writing communities like (in)courage and superhero mom writers like Lisa-Jo Baker all cheering us on to share our stories. On paper, online or in person. With our kids, neighbors and friends. It's all about relationships and understanding that our stories - even the ugly parts - are meant for glory and growth. They are necessary. They are needed. They are ours.  So we write - I Write. I write to remember where I came from and give glory to the One who got me here. Some stories are really cautionary tales and others are simply testimonies of God's faithfulness, because truthfully I need those to be remembered.

I need them for the hard days when I feel life going sideways again. I need them like an anchor for my soul. And I am learning that as much as I need to write them, to declare them as Truth to the world, someone out there may need to hear them. Maybe my friend, maybe a stranger, maybe my daughter.  There are countless women whose words have strengthened my heart and given me bravery for another day. I am so thankful they shared their stories with me.  I am so glad I have a story to share. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kindergarten Blues

So, here we are just 1 week away from school starting and I find myself with so many conflicting emotions. Usually, I look forward to this time of year. School is starting back up, routines are kicking back in, football is just around the corner and I can almost taste the homemade apple cider & pumpkin pies.

As you all know by now, Summer is not my favorite season. I am not really a warm weather gal and the long unscheduled days of Summer can feel a bit daunting to me.  So why the change of heart you ask? I only have 1 week left at home with my soon-to-be Kindergartener.

Yep, that's right. This Momma is fighting the back to school blues over one blue-eyed blondie and how much his life (and mine) are about to change.  He is so excited packing his backpack and picking out his first day outfit and I am still trying to convince him that I'd homeschool him if he wants me to. He doesn't of course, but assures me he'll miss me and I assure him I'll cry the first (and maybe second) day of school. 

We have lots of conversations about how long 8:00am-3:30pm are (Yes, we have all day Kinder) and whether or not he'll ride the bus and does this mean he can start sports now and all I can think is we may as well be filling out college applications because I know that's just around the corner.  I know..."It gets easier.", you'll say - and you'd be right. This isn't my first experience with the Kindergarten blues, but I blinked and that round faced little boy walking into his first day of school is about to walk into his first day of MIDDLE SCHOOL!  My Momma heart aches at how quickly these days can go by.  I don't always slow down enough to realize it, but when I do it makes my head spin.

The beauty of the lives I have blessed to care for leaves me breathless and I have to admit that at times, I am afraid for them and all the ugly that this world can spew.  More often than not, I wish I could freeze these days. I wish I could keep my little guy "little" and that he wouldn't have to face mean kids, broken families and the lack of morality that abounds.  I wish young girls still dressed like ladies and that 1st graders didn't care about being "hot".  I wish we still used and taught manners, that we didn't accept disrespect or foul language, and that the future for our kids looked a little brighter than the news portrays these days.

And for now I guess, that's all I can do. Wish and pray.  And so I will, I will pray for my kiddos and yours. For the ones down the street and across the globe. The ones who are afraid and hungry, the ones without parents, the abused and forgotten. I will pray for them all and I will keep praying until I feel a little less powerless and a lot more brave. 

Mocha Truffle Cookies

Like it or not, fall is on its way and that is my favorite time of year to do some serious baking.  I came across this recipe a few years back and it instantly caught my attention. Why, you ask? Two words - Coffee and Chocolate. That's always a winning combination in my book.  These cookies have quickly become my go to treat for open houses, potlucks & house warming parties. They are also a staple of my Christmas goodie baskets.  These cookies aren't too sweet, and almost have a brownie like texture to them which makes them even better. The recipe is super easy to follow and one batch makes a ton of cookies. Like I said, winner all around. Enjoy!

Mocha Truffle Cookies - Taste of Home Magazine
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
2 to 3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Recipe yields about 5 1/2 dozen

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Remove from the heat; stir in coffee granules; cool for 5 minutes.

Stir in the eggs, sugars and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; fold into the chocolate mixture with remaining chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets.  Bake at 350* for 9-11 minutes or until tops appear slightly dry and cracked. Cool for 1 minute before removing to wire racks to cool completely.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Caution: Work in Progress

I recently turned 30 and in all honesty I have been looking forward to it for a while now.  I never quite understood women who struggled with this age.  I've always looked forward to it thinking, "I will finally feel like a real grown up when I reach 30."  As if 3 kids and more than a half dozen years of marriage hadn't quite qualified me as an actual grown-up adult.  And besides, your 30's can't possibly be worse than your 20's right? ...Right? 

I have been a 30-something for all of 2 weeks now and I can testify that I don't feel any different.  My days are still long and sometimes hard but my life is full of joy and blessings. The same joy and blessings as I had a year ago, but also the same difficulties. I guess what I am starting to realize is, we are all a work in progress. There is no magic age or stage of life where I will finally have it all together. I will always be in progress. I'm not sure my control freak, perfectionist self is okay with that but I think I am. I mean, think about it - what are we if not "in progress"? Stagnant, stale, decaying or dead.  No thanks. Progress is where it's at. 

The struggle I have as a wife and mother - heck, as a woman in general - is that I want progress to equal perfection. Or the possibility that I can attain it. Truth be told, I can't and neither can you. Can we grow? Absolutely. Mature? Of course.  Be better today than yesterday? You betcha.  But that has to be enough for me. I have to be able to wake up knowing that all I can really do is be a better wife, mom, employee, sister, daughter - whatever - than I was yesterday. That I have to keep on keepin' on and know there will be times when life feels like 2 steps forward and 1 step back.  SOmetimes progress is slow, but it's still progress.

For so long, I had this idea in my head of what perfection was and in fact, I can think of so many women that I have given this title to in my own mind. Truth is, they're not. They struggle just like me, but unlike me they have allowed themselves to fail (and move on) instead of just labeling themselves a failure and giving up. My life will always be in progress. We will not be made perfect and complete until the day the Father takes us home and declares His work finished.  I can rest assured that my relationships, finances, fitness, emotions and spiritual health will always be in progress and that Christ will always be there to guide my way if I let Him. To me, that is the true measure of success.

And hey, if the 30's don't work out, there always 40 right? ...Right?  I hope I am blessed enough to find out.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Measure of a Momma

I used to say that if I was guaranteed only boys, I would happily have a football team and drive a 15 passenger van - and then I had her. This tiny and terrifying bundle of sweetness who decided to enter this world on the one day of the year I swore I would never have a baby.  She is fierce and funny, sweet and (sometimes) sassy, a dreamer and a daddy's girl and all she wants to be is just like me.  I have never known this kind of pressure and it frightens me.

As a woman who has struggled most of her life with confidence and self-esteem - who can't quite reconcile the Truth of who she is and who she was made to be with what she sees in the mirror, I feel completely inadequate to lead my daughter through this tough & twisted maze of life into womanhood.  I understand the enormity of the task and in so many ways all I really want to do is shrink away from the responsibility. As I have done in so many other areas of my life, I feel convinced that I am unqualified for the task ahead and it is all too easy to believe the lie that I am not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, patient enough, organized enough, thin enough - as if the size of my jeans has any bearing whatsoever on my ability as a mother - and yet I can believe it does.  Given enough time, and without proper evaluation, all lies can start to look like truth.

Here's the thing that strikes me though - the one thing my daughter hears most often (only second to comments about her ridiculous amount of hair) is how much she looks like me.  It makes her beam and it makes me cringe.  When I hear that my instinctual thought is, "Don't tell her that - tell her she's beautiful".  When I look at her I see freedom, joy, beauty and light - not things I typically associate with my own reflection...but God is using her to change me.  Through her, I am learning to seek out the good and give myself Grace for the rest.  I want her to grow into all the things I was never brave enough to be and she can't very well do that if in one ear she hears how much she is just like me and in the other ear she hears me tearing myself down.

I want her to try new things. I want her to fail and get back up, to forgive and be forgiven.  I want her to know that being kind is more important than being pretty because a gentle heart is the best kind of beautiful there is. I want her to know that God has a plan for her and that I will do my best to help her live it.  I want her to know that I am not perfect and she won't be either - and that's ok.  I want her to know her worth has nothing to do with her dress size or bust size or public opinion.  I want her to know that we are both loved by an awe-inspiring God who created us to be exactly what we are.

And so, He is teaching me first - and He is using her.  This wild-haired, starry-eyed, beautiful baby girl of mine has wrecked my world in the best way possible.  She will break my heart and cause me to cry out for His.  Through her, I am learning how to be a better me, not a perfect one.  And I am so glad God cared more about what I needed than what I wanted, because I would have missed out on the blessing of being her Momma.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Is Not For Every Mom

So yeah, summers here and the craziness has begun - am I the only one who dreads this season? Maybe dread is too strong a word, but honestly...it's a struggle.  Everyone around me is waxing poetic about how great their summer break is going to be and how they are so excited for lounging around the pool, lazing the days away and I feel like I can't breathe at the thought of it all.  I am a routine-loving, schedule-keeping, task-doing momma and summer is just NOT the season for that type of ambition.  Add in the fact that I melt at any temperature above 80* and we have a recipe for (potential) disaster. 

I'm not sure how exactly, but every year summer break sneaks up on me. Maybe it's because it's sandwiched between graduations, weddings, lamb show and Memorial Day campouts but it seems like we're cruising through our school day routine - and one day BAM! it's the last day of school and we all lose our minds. Figuratively, of course :)

Here's the thing - I really want to enjoy summer.  I dream of days at the local pool, trips to the library or Wildlife Safari, hiking the falls, swimming at the river, visiting the local produce farms, camping and on & on.  I have visions of TV free days spent playing outside, riding bikes, reading books in the hammock and sitting around the fire pit at night....and perfectly behaved lovely kids with clean faces, matching shoes and no fighting. YEAH RIGHT.

I did say I was dreaming.  I guess for me, the thing that's hardest about summer is, I gotta let go of the expectations and just make the effort anyway, because honestly - I am the only one that will remember the fights or the messy house in the rearview.  My kids will love knowing their crazy, tight-wound, type A momma made an effort to enjoy them for the few months of summer break.

So here's to all the other summer-loathing moms out there!  Throw away your list, ignore the laundry and grab an ice cream - it's gonna be a wild ride.