Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Favorite Soup...Chicken & Wild Rice

Ready for another family favorite?  This one is a keeper!  As far as soups go, this is our absolute top choice...we love it!  And guess what?  It's surprisingly easy to prepare.  (Yay!)  This was given to me by my friend, Cindy several years ago.  We were speaking about it recently and she mentioned it was said to be a recipe from The White House (yes, that White House) wonder it's sooo good!  ;  )

You will need:
1 medium onion, chopped
10 oz mushrooms (sliced)
1 clove of garlic (minced)
6 Tablespoons Butter (For the last batch, we used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter instead)
6 oz wild rice (cooked)
1/2 cup flour
6 cans chicken broth (we use 4 cans and add more if necessary)
2 cups Half & Half (we use fat free)
1/2 pound Velveeta cheese (we use 2%) (cubed)
1 pound chicken (cooked and cut into bite sized pieces)
1/2 cup white cooking wine

(Substituting I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Fat Free Half & Half and 2 % Velveeta barely altered the taste, but did make the broth thinner than the original version.)

Prepare rice according to package instructions.  In a separate skillet, saute onions, mushrooms and garlic in butter or I Can't Believe It's Not Butter until onions are tender and semi-clear. 

Add flour and toss quickly until most everything is coated.

Immediately pour in one can of the chicken broth, stir in to combine.  Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occassionally.

After 15 minutes, add remainder of broth, chicken, rice, cheese & wine, stir to combine. 

Transfer to a deep pot.  Add 1-2 more cans of broth if you'd like. Cook for 10 more minutes.  Lastly, add the half & half.  Stir to combine well and remove from heat.  Serve and enjoy! 

If you'd like to see more recipes, stop by Colleen's Weekly Recipe Exchange at And Baby Makes Five

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Christmas in February...Clay Pot Snowman!

You will remember, I promised to post a Christmas ornament idea every month on the 25th.  With just a little pre-planning throughout the year, think how well prepared you can be for Christmas!  This month's ornament...a snowman! 

Start with a tiny clay pot.  There was no size increment on the package, but I can tell you it was similar in size to a medication cup. You will also need:  acrylic paint (white and other colors of your choosing), ribbon or thread for hanging, small scraps of fleece or felt, tiny pom-poms (optional), needle and thread, tiny rubber bands and glitter or Epsom Salt (optional).

Start by painting your clay pot white.  It took two coats.  Take a felt or fleece scrap approximately 3 x 6 inches in size (it needs to be large enough to wrap around your clay pot toward the top (actually the bottom) with room for stitching.  There will be lots of excess over the top of the clay pot. 

(Sorry for the change in colors...) Fold your fabric in half and stitch along the short side as shown. 

Trim the excess close to the seam and turn inside out.  It should look like this.  Set aside.
Back to your clay pot.  Paint the rim as desired (this is the scarf of the snowman).  Once dry, you'll want to prepare it for hanging.  You'll need approximately 7" of ribbon.  Fold in half as shown and feed the ribbon through the bottom hole.  I used a washer to keep it from going through.  It just occurred to me you could use a little jingle cute would that be?

Place your clay pot face down with the ribbon through the top. (Don't worry that your washer is resting on the table.) 

Slide your felt or fleece tube over the ribbon onto your clay pot. Fold up the lower edge and rubber-band or tie tightly the upper-most portion of the tube. Pull up on your hanging ribbon. It should now be secure. Take a sharp pair of scissors and trim little notches in the gathered felt on top as shown.

I used pom-poms for the nose (you could also use paint or tiny buttons or beads).  Paint the eyes and mouth (or use a fine point Sharpie). 

Decide one of your snowmen looks like he could use some ear muffs (larger pom-pom, cut in half) = ) 

If you choose to glitter or cover your snowman with "snow" (Epsom salt), you'll want to do so before adhering the pom-poms (or you'll need to take them off and move the hats slightly off the clay pot before coating with glue).  Sprinkle with snow or glitter.  Replace hat & pom-poms. Enjoy!

(This would also make a fun tie-on to a Christmas gift!)

Want to see more crafty, creative ideas?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Only One Mother

Hundreds of stars in the pretty sky,
Hundreds of birds that go singing by,
Hundreds of shells on the shore together,
Hundreds of lambs in the sunny weather.

Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn,
Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,

Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,
But only one mother the wide world over.

~George Cooper

I love you Mom!  How I thank God that in all the world, he choose you for mine.  What an amazing gift.  I wish you a wonderful and special birthday!  Can't wait to celebrate with you!  XOXOXO 
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Valentine's Weekend

First, I want to thank you for your kind words and prayers for the families in Thursday's post.  I can't tell you how much that means to me.  This post was in the works at that time, but had been set aside.

Are you digging out of snow where you are?  We've had record-breaking snowfalls this month and currently have about 7 inches on the ground.  (I am sooo looking forward to Spring!)  Between two large snowfalls, we had a several cold but clear days.  We had tossed around the idea of traveling south to see the kids, but hadn't finalized our plans until we knew what kind of weather was in store.  (Normally, we would wait to visit until it wasn't questionable, but there were performances at the college that we really wanted to see.)

Thursday night, we decided it was a go and got packed.  I had taken Friday off, so we hit the road in the morning, hopeful we had left the snow behind (for a few days anyway).  Would you believe, 6 hours into the trip (two hours outside of Greenville) it started to SNOW!!!  By the time we arrived, there were about 3 inches on the ground! A very rare occurence there.

We arrived in just enough time to get checked into the hotel, change our clothes and head to the college.  We saw Bren & Breezy just moments after walking through the door.  It was great to see them!!  We hugged and chatted for a few moments with them (and some of our "adopted" kids) and then settled in to enjoy some pre-show entertainment, planned especially in honor of Valentine's weekend.  Then, it was onto the plays -- two of them, back to back with an intermission in between.  The Miracle Worker (the story of Ann Sullivan, teacher to Helen Keller) by William Gibson and The Last Leaf written by O Henry.  Each was only about an hour in length, yet both were very moving  (we were in tears on more than one occassion) and beautifully performed. 

Chatting with many of the cast members afterward.  I was definitely swooning over their wardrobe!  Hard to believe the old man on the far right is only 21 years old!  ; )

Don't they look great!?   

My two favorite guys in all the world!  I wish you could have seen the makeup on stage.  Very effective and Brennan portrayed his character extremely well! 

Love this photo.  When Breezy's Mom saw this, she started singing "When I'm 64!" ;  )

Peter & Jaimie (they too are newlyweds!) 

After the performance we spent a little time with the kids, then called it a night.  (All those hours travelling were catching up!)  

On Saturday, the performances were matinee which was wonderful because it allowed for much more time with the kids. = )  It was really great to see each of the plays again.  I think Saturday's performances were even better than Friday's (and they were awesome to begin with!) 

When everything wrapped up, it was still early evening, so we had lots of time to "catch up" with Bren & Breezy during dinner.  (Yay!!!)  Afterward, they came to our hotel.  We had the best time!  We had a couple of Valentine gifts for them and I made some Valentine cookies so we just snacked and chatted for at least a couple of hours (maybe more).  It was bliss! = )  When we all started to get sleepy, they headed home and we made plans to meet for a quick breakfast on Sunday morning before we headed home. 

Sunday morning, we checked the weather forecast and learned they were predicting more snow back home beginning late that night and we wanted to get home well before that started.  We met the kids at McDonald's, shared a quick breakfast (so happy to get to see and hug them one more time!) and then were on our way.  Tom and I had decided this  trip was our Valentine's gift to one another (and one that would be hard to top!)  The kids are hoping to come home sometime in March.  If not, they'll be home for spring break in April.  Either way...we cannot wait!  = ) 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joys & Sorrows

I'm not sure how to start a post like this...except to say I can't ever remember a time when my heart was so strangely divided between joy and sorrow. 

Extraordinary joy for a dear couple who are currently half-way around the world, preparing to bring their long-awaited baby girl to her new home on American soil.   Extraordinary sorrow for another as they try to say goodbye to their daughter who was unexpectedly welcomed to her eternal home in Heaven this week. 

# # # # # # #

We met Craig and Celeste as young newlyweds back in the mid 90's.  We were part of the same Bible study.  Both are elementary school teachers, each of which taught Brennan.  Later on, we served with them when they headed up our junior high youth group. In all the time we've known them, they have taught and cared for countless children, yet never having one of their own.  They have exemplified quiet patience, trust and faithfulness as they've walked this long and difficult road. 

A couple of years ago, they prayerfully began pursuing a private adoption.  Everything seemed to fall perfectly into place. There were many showers and gifts and they prepared a special room in their home for this baby who already had a place in their hearts.  When they received the call to come to the hospital on the day of his birth, they were overjoyed.  They arrived and began waiting to meet their new son.  After a number of hours, they were given the news...the young mother had decided to keep him.  They were devastated. 

After continued prayer, they began pursuing other options which ultimately lead them to this adoption, which is now finalized.  We've been getting updates from Korea each day this week.  As of Friday, it will be official.  On Sunday, they will make the long flight back home to start their new life as a family.  As you can imagine, a huge number of people (past and current students, their familes, teachers, friends and family) are completely overjoyed that God has blessed them with a beautiful baby of their own.  

# # # # # # #

It was also in the mid-90's, when we met the other family, Kurt and Shari and their daughters, one of which also named Celeste and Rachele. They were brand new to our area at the time, and we met at church.  We learned Celeste and Brennan were the same age.  Beginning in first grade and for many years, they attended school and church together.  She was very well-loved, beautiful, smart, energetic and fun.  She transferred toward the end of high school and soon thereafter, her family relocated to California.  We saw her once after that time. Apparently, she had just come home several weeks ago during Christmas break, as well.

This past Sunday, she was a passenger in a car that was involved in a very tragic accident, and she passed away.  It's still so hard to believe.  All week, our hearts have been broken for her family, and others who knew and loved her.  For our kids, this is the first such loss of a former classmate in their adult lives, which I think is especially hard.  There is a helplessness we all feel because her family is so far away.  There has been quite an outpouring of love to her family on Facebook, and of course many prayers on their behalf which her family indicates has been a great comfort.  Praise God for the peace that comes in knowing we will see her again!  

I can't tell you how many times Matt Redman's song "Blessed be your Name" has played over in my head this week.  He does indeed give and take away...  May we show humble gratitude when he gives, humble grace and strength when He takes away. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines from God

Greetings my sweet friends!  I hope this day finds you well.  I'd like to share a former post that is near to my heart for two reasons.  First, it was written about "Aunt Helen" -- a very special woman who would have celebrated her 90th birthday this past week.  Secondly, in the context of Valentine's Day, I can't help but think about the incredible nature of God's love for us...perfect, ever-faithful, unchanging  and demonstrative. 

He places loving reminders, or "Valentines" all around us every day.  We need only open our eyes to see them.  Have you received one lately?  A moment amidst the ordinary when He speaks through the face of a sleeping baby, a vibrant rainbow or a friend's encouraging word, and you just know it was something He meant especially for you?  Allow me to share one of my favorite of these such moments...

It happened several years ago. My husband, Tom and I found ourselves in the midst of some challenging situations at the time and were feeling particularly overwhelmed. Among other things, there were major difficulties going on at work for Tom. In addition, several months prior, we had joined the youth staff which meant each of us were caring for our own small group of 8-10 middle school students. Although our hearts were willing, we were completely out of our comfort zone in this new and unfamiliar territory. (Our own son was just then in middle school for goodness sake!) There was much we didn't know. Add to this, one of our biggest challenges was helping to look after Tom’s elderly Aunt, who lived next door.

God had divinely placed us here for the purpose of helping to care for Aunt Helen. A widow with no children of her own, she had practically helped raise Tom and his sisters, and she had always been so good to me. Being nearby to help her was truly a privilege, yet it could also be quite a challenge. She was 81 years old at the time and though her petite frame suggested frailty, it spoke nothing of her legendary determination. She took great joy in doing something challenging (and often dangerous) just to prove to herself (and to you) that she could.

It was January or February in one of those winters where we kept getting snow, just a few inches at a time, for what seemed like weeks. Shoveling the driveway became almost a daily task, in an effort to keep Aunt Helen from slipping and breaking a leg or hip, should she take a notion to walk outside (which she often did).

We tried everything to keep her off that driveway…we got her newspaper early each morning, we got her groceries and we picked up medicine. However, since Tom and I were both working, there were often hours when no one was home and the mail was delivered during that time. Despite our pleas, and offers to bring her mail as soon as we got home from work, many days we returned to find her mailbox already empty, because she insisted on walking that driveway and getting it herself.

And so…with every snowfall, whether a little or a lot, we were over there shoveling and salting like mad. With everything else that was going on at the time, this typically minor chore grew to be a bit of a thorn in our side. We were long past enjoying its beauty. In fact, every time it started to snow, we would find ourselves groaning.

Well, on this particular Sunday, I woke up very early – well before my alarm. It was still dark outside and I realized Tom was already up and out of bed. When I didn’t see him anywhere in the house, I peeked outside and spotted him (yet again) shoveling snow next door. (We had gotten around an inch overnight.) I made my way through our garage and opened the side door just a few feet away from where he was working. "Good morning," I said…He greeted me with a smile and said, "Grab a flashlight and your coat and come out here…I want to show you something..."

A few moments later, I returned as instructed. He took my hand and led me to the end of Aunt Helen's driveway. I turned on the flashlight and there, in the peaceful silence of that early Sunday morning, this is what we saw...

Now a logical person might assume it was pure coincidence that these tire tracks (most likely from the newspaper delivery truck) formed two hearts. Instead, what we saw was a blessing from the Lord, spoken straight to our weary souls saying, "I know your struggles, I see your faithfulness, I care about what burdens you, I love you and I'm right here with you."

It's hard to put into words the encouragement that flooded our hearts that morning, truly when we needed it most. We stood there for several moments, not saying anything, just taking it in and thanking the Lord. Then I went to get my camera to capture this moment I didn't ever want to forget. It still encourages me every time I look at this photo. I pray it does the same for you this day.

...May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Rose

I first heard the story of “The Rose” nearly 15 years ago as a sermon illustration and it gripped my heart. A little research revealed it was actually written back in 1943 by an author named Sulamith Ish-Kishor, and first published in Collier’s magazine. More recently, it was shared by Max Lucado, in his book “And the Angels Were Silent” and also “A Third Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Since then, through wide circulation on the internet (where some slight variances on the story are noted), it has become a favorite for many. It remains one of mine.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose.

His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind. In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner's name, Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond and their exchange began. Soon thereafter, he was shipped overseas for service in World War II.

During the next year and one month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like.

When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting - 7:00 PM at the Grand Central Station in New York. “You'll recognize me,” she wrote, “by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel.”

So at 7:00 he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen. I'll let Mr. Blanchard tell you what happened:

A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose.

As I moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way, sailor?” she murmured. Almost uncontrollably I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes.

The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.

This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever be grateful. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. “I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?”

The woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. “I don't know what this is about, son,” she answered, “but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test.”

It's not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell's wisdom. The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive.

“Tell me who you love,” the famous quote says, “and I will tell you who you are.” In his book, Lucado goes on to share a reminder that Maynell is not the first person to test character based on a person’s concern for the unlovely. Christ himself reminds us what we’ve done unto “the least of these,” we’ve done unto Him. “To see Jesus, see the unattractive and forgotten. The rejected people of the world wear roses. Sometimes we, like John Blanchard have to adjust our expectations. Sometimes we have to re-examine our motives. Had he turned his back on the unlovely, he would have missed the love of his life. If we turn our backs, we’ll miss even more.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sandahl's White Chicken Chili

Our friend, Sandahl recently shared her recipe for white chicken chili, a perfect winter-time lunch or dinner.  We made it for the first time last weekend and boy, are we hooked!  It's fabulous (and easy)!  With her blessing, I'm sharing the recipe with you!  

First, gather your ingrdients...(oops, just realized the onions are missing from the photo...)

3-4 cans white kidney (cannellini) beans (we used 3)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
4 cups diced cooked chicken breast
6 cups chicken broth
2 medium onions, chopped
2 - 4 oz. cans green chiles
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
grated monterey jack cheese
sour cream

First, drain and rinse your beans...

Next, combine beans, broth, garlic and half of the onion in a large pot.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer.

Saute rest of onion in oil until tender; add chiles and seasonings and mix well.

Add mixture to beans and broth. Add chicken and simmer for 1 hour.

Top each serving with sour cream and grated cheese, the perfect finishing touch.  Enjoy!!!  I'd love to hear what you think if you try this.  Thanks again to you, Sandahl! 

If you'd like more recipes, follow this link to visit my friend, Colleen.  She hosts a recipe swap every weekend on her terrific blog, "And Baby Makes Five".  (That's where I'm heading!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When Only God Sees...

I read this inspiring piece for the first time a couple of years ago, entitled "I'm Invisible," a special tribute to Moms.  Perhaps you've read it, too.  Today, it crossed my desk again as "author unknown."  I did just a little research and learned it was written by Nicole Johnson (who has a website of her own  It's apparently an excerpt from her book entitled "The Invisible Woman - When Only God Sees".  For those who may not have seen it (and for those who may want to simply enjoy it again),  I wanted to share it with you. 

I'm Invisible

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'

Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.
The invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more:

Can you fix this?

Can you tie this?

Can you open this?

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being.

I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?'

I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?'

I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, and she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a hair clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.'

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:

'To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour – the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And, the workman replied, 'Because God sees.' I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime, because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'You're gonna love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.