Time for a change…

…if you’re looking for fresh posts from me, you can find them over at be.loved chronicles starting now!  http://belovedchronicles.com/

Don’t worry, you can still read all my old posts here at Blessings for awhile longer.  Looking forward to seeing you at my new blog!

Jen


Feeding the Frenzy: Favorite Crock Pot Meals (recipes included!)

True Confession:  When Hubs and I got married, I didn’t know how to cook.  Toast and grilled cheese were my “specialties.”  In fact, I toyed with the idea of adding “I promise to do all the cooking” to Hubs’ wedding vows:) We received a really nice crock pot as a wedding gift.  For months, it sat in the unopened box in the hall closet.  The first time I used it, I made chili.  Actually, I made the chili on the stove and just used the crock pot to keep the soup warm!  Slowly, I learned to cook…a roast here, a meatloaf there. Hubs bought me a subscription to Fine Cooking and the techniques laid out on those pages took my budding skills to a new level.  I discovered that I loved cooking!

It took a few years and a few babies for me to discover the handiness of the crock pot.  The first few recipes I tried were…bleh.  Crocks full of mushy, flavorless goo.  Okay, maybe not that extreme, but definitely not winners.  A friend gave me a crock pot recipe for BBQ chicken that worked beautifully for a family get together.  From there, I began searching for more recipes, more ideas.  Now, our crock pot gets used once a week, usually on our busiest nights.  After a lot of trial and error, these are a few recipes that are “winners” for us…one is a new gem from my Mom.  Delicious!  Let’s start with that one…I don’t know what the original name is, but we call it:

Chicken with Tomatoes and Mushrooms (or ‘that delicious thing Mimi made’)

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 onions, chopped (we use one large, or 2 small)
  • 1 lb thick cut fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 1 C chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh basil for garnish

Place chicken in bottom of crock pot and top with remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low 7-9 hours, high 4-6 hours.  Garnish with basil.  We serve this with rice and a nice, big salad.  I even put the chicken in frozen!  I know, I live on the edge…

Crock Pot Swiss Steak

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4-6 cube steaks
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 carrots, sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Coat the cube steaks with flour and brown in the oil.  Remove steaks from skillet and drain.  Place the potatoes, carrots and onion in the bottom of the crock pot.  Place meat on top of veggies and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour tomatoes and tomato sauce over meat.  Cover and cook on low for 10 hours or high for 6 hours.  We serve this with egg noodles and a big, green salad, though it would be fine without the noodles.  This is a great way to make cube steak (a very affordable cut of beef) flavorful and tender.

Asian Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 12-16 boneless, skinless chicken tenders (or chicken breasts cut into strips)
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 6 oz frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp ketchup
  • olive oil for browning chicken

Dredge chicken strips in flour and brown in olive oil.  You aren’t trying to cook the chicken, just give it a nice outside color and crisp coating.  Place chicken in crock pot.  Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over chicken.  Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, low 6-8 hours.  Serve with rice.  We have also substituted orange juice concentrate and it is equally delicious.  Just cut back to 1 Tbsp of brown sugar.  Our kids LOVE this dish:)

and last, but not least, this great little recipe for BBQ chicken.  You can make double or triple the recipe to serve a crowd.

Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bottle BBQ sauce (your favorite flavor and brand)

Place chicken in crock pot.  Pour BBQ sauce over chicken.  Cook on high 4-6 hours, low 7-8 hours.  Before serving, take 2 forks and shred the chicken.  I mean, can you get any easier?!?  Such a great little recipe for a backyard party, family reunion, church picnic…you name it!   I love this recipe for summer…warm chicken sandwiches without heating up the kitchen!

So, what are your favorite crock pot recipes?  Wanna share any winners??

Next Sunday, we’ll talk about stress-free entertaining.  Really, you CAN have folks over with a house full of kids and enjoy it!

**For help with menu planning, read last week’s Feeding the Frenzy post on menus.**


Bike Ride

We took the kiddos on a bike ride/jog this evening.  Olivia learned to ride her two-wheeler!  Beautiful weather and scenery, tho we were a hot mess all over the trail.  I felt sorry for the other joggers, walkers, and bikers as they tried to politely maneuver around us.  We saw a couple of friends along the way and managed to get in a good workout and wear out the kiddos at the same time.  Hubs has been taking the older four on the trail quite a bit this summer, letting me stay behind to catch up on chores or sleep or just enjoy some peace and quiet.  I’m so glad I joined them today!  I couldn’t help but praise God the entire time…for His faithfulness to us, for our beautiful kids, for our marriage, for so many good and perfect gifts.

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Remember

I was at home, dressed and ready for work, but resting my weary pregnant body on the couch.  I was flipping through the TV stations when Katie Couric said something about planes flying into buildings.  I don’t remember many details about the rest of that day, but I do remember rubbing my belly all day, wondering what kind of world my baby was about to be born into.

The fears of that day have long subsided, but I haven’t forgotten the effect they had on me…on so many others.  I haven’t forgotten how bonded I felt to total strangers, just because we were all Americans.  I haven’t forgotten how good it was to hear Hubs’ voice on the phone that day, or how good it felt to feel his strong arms around me that night.  I haven’t forgotten how fervent the prayers were the next Sunday, or the hundreds of flags hung on houses, in stores, from vehicles.  I haven’t forgotten how faithful God was to calm my fears and how His name was invoked by so many.  I haven’t forgotten.

This morning, I took our girls and a friend to see the 9-11 lawn memorial at our nearby college.  I was moved to tears as I told them about the plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania and the bravery of the people onboard.  The girls walked around the flags so quietly and reverently, stopping to read the story of a young woman who worked in one of the towers.  They asked a few questions, but mostly looked.  On the way home, I caught snippets of the two oldest girls talking about mission work and wondering aloud if it would have mattered if someone had explained who Jesus is to the terrorists.  I love that they were so sure that it would have mattered.  I love that it was the first thing they thought of.  I love them.

Today, we all remember…the grace of God, the Love that drives out fear, the sacrifice of Jesus.  We remember.

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C25K Day 1, Week 1 (alternately titled ‘pretending to be athletic’)

Know what the best thing is about the first post-baby workout?  Me neither!

I’m blaming my age, the crazy, hectic schedule we’re maintaining, the hot/cold/rainy/muggy/dry weather…I’m assigning blame to anything I can think of for my nearly 2 year hiatus from physical actvity.  I can’t even remember why I stopped exercising.  But I did.  Hubs has registered to participate in this insane race at the end of the month and listening to him talk about how much better he is feeling made me realize how bad I’ve been feeling.  I tried this crazy hard workout DVD and discovered 2 things:  1) I can’t move that fast anymore, and 2) I have become crazy uncoordinated.  My sister-in-law has been following this regimen for a year and looks fabulous…I’m so proud of her!  But, it isn’t really my thing.  Yet.

So, I’m making running my thing.  It’s cheap (just a pair of good shoes and some pavement.)  You can do it anywhere.  It’s time-effective (you can burn twice the calories in half the time, and I’m all about being efficient.)  I’m following the “Couch to 5K” program since, basically, I’ve been sitting on my duff for the last couple of years.  The program is set up to take the basic out-of-shape couch potato and turn them into a runner.  I watch people run past our house every day and have always been intrigued by them.  Especially the serious ones…you know, the ones in spandex pants, dripping with sweat, running 10 times faster than I can imagine…and no iPod.  The lack of entertainment always impresses me.  I mean, that’s some serious running when you can do it without music or podcasts or anything:)

I did my first “run” yesterday.  Three comments on that:  1) I actually fantasized about wearing a burqua.  Something to hide my identity and save myself the embarassment of trying to maneuver around the neighborhood without breaking my neck.  Also, to hide the insane amount of sweat pouring off me.  2) I spent half my workout time obsessing over whether or not people were watching me run. I spent the other half of my workout repenting of conceit and pride.  3) You cannot underestimate the usefulness of ibuprofen.

I don’t plan to turn my blog into a play by play of my running exploits, but an occasional check-in is nice.  Everyone I know who is even remotely physically fit promises that it will get easier.  I’m counting on that…and a full bottle of Advil.


Summer’s Last Hurrah

I can’t believe summer is nearly over!  Where did it go??

Oh, yeah…we had a baby.  That’s where our summer went:)

Over labor Day, we made our first trip to the in laws since Selah’s birth.  It was so nice to get away.  They spoil us rotten with good food, sleeping in, free babysitting, and family adventures.

We made sure to pack appropriately…I won’t embarass myself by admitting just how many peanut m&m’s I consumed…vacation calories don’t count, right?  Right?

We hit the trail to test out g’ma’s new motorized scooter. Emma and Ruthie kept pace with some old two-wheel scooters, Selah and Sammy rode comfortably in the stroller, and the rest of us jogged to keep up!  Hubs had to “test drive” his old scooter, just to make sure it worked okay:)

Selah was doted on all weekend…getting lots of QT with g’ma and g’pa…

On the way home, we made our annual pilgrimmage to The Big Peach, where we bought Amish popcorn and a fresh-from-the-oven (yum!!) blackberry pie.

We got home just in time to unpack and get Sammy ready for his first day of preschool…he’s getting so, so BIG!

 

Summer’s last hurrah!


Feeding the Frenzy…a series!

Food.  It’s a love/hate relationship for me.  I love to eat it, love to cook it, love to serve it.  But I hate how much it costs, hate doing dishes, hate the mundane of 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  And I go through these crazy ups and downs.  At my best, I clip coupons, buy organically, cook from scratch, use our nice dishes, and always have a plan.  At my worst, I’m digging the least oldest leftovers from the recesses of the fridge, slopping it onto paper plates and tossing it at the kids while they sit mesmerized by the TV.

Okay.  I’m exaggerating.  I don’t toss it at the kids.  I make sure they’re looking at me first.

Anyhoo, I’m always inspired by the cooler temperatures of Fall to turn over a new leaf (or spatula) and renew my efforts to make good, clean food, stay within budget, find new recipes, and make monthly menus.  For me, having a plan is the key to success in the kitchen.  My grandma taught me this little gem: always work ahead.  Applying this idea to my kitchen chores is especially helpful.  For example, after cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I defrost any meat we need for dinner, prep sandwiches for lunch, chop up veggies or fruits we need for the day, start pizza dough, etc, etc.  It only takes a few minutes, but it seems to ensure that meals will get on the table in a more timely manner.  After dinner, I lay out cereal bowls and boxes, make sure we have milk and/or juice for the morning, slice up bread, prep oatmeal add-ins, etc, etc. Thankfully, our oldest girls can make their own breakfasts, so that meal is a pretty simple event.  The same principle can be applied to meal planning and food purchases.

This week, I want to focus on menu planning.  BK (before kids, not the fast food chain) my idea of menu planning was to make a grocery list at my desk on my lunch break, pick up ingredients on my way home from work and throw something on the table.  Kraft mac n cheese and take-out Chinese were also regular “menu” rotations.  Fast-forward 12 years and we still eat mac n cheese and take out Chinese, but I’ve discovered that a more detailed, well-planned monthly menu works much better for our family of 7.  Not only do meals come together easier, we also save a TON of money.

I sort of stumbled upon this monthly menu planning method by hopping and jumping from one blog to another.  Over the years I’ve tweaked it to work for our family and I would encourage you to do the same.  First, I gather our family calendar and get a feel for what our activities are for the month…which nights we have activities, which nights we will be home; trips we have planned, company coming to visit.  Next, I work up an excel spreadsheet ( I love, love, love spreadsheets…I’m just that nerdy) that organizes the month something like this:

Mondays

Theme:

Side Dish:

9/3

9/10

9/17

9/24

I do this for each day of the week.  Sometimes (if I feel like being really organized and nerdy) I also include notes for each day of the week:  Hubs works late, soccer practice 4 PM, Bible study 7 PM, etc, etc.

You can see that I give each day of the week a “theme.”  Basically, I’m assigning either a method of cooking (crock pot, grilling, stir fry, etc), a type of cuisine (Mexican, Italian, Chinese, etc), or a type of dish (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc) to each day of the week.  We always have a “must go” night (usually on trash night) where we eat all the leftovers and clean out the fridge.  (My g’ma also coined that word for me…”mustgo.”  She was a clever lady…making leftovers sound kinda fancy:)   For the month of September, our themes look like this:

Mondays:  crock pot

Tuesdays: homemade pizza

Wednesdays:  must go’s

Thursdays:  homemade soups

Fridays:  casseroles

Saturdays:  grill night

Sundays:  roasts

After assigning a theme to each day of the week, I then assign a side dish.  For example, on grill night our side dishes are salad and baked potatoes.  Since I know we are having salad and baked potatoes every Saturday night this month, I can plan to buy a large quantity of potatoes in confidence and add lettuce to my weekly grocery list, knowing they will both be used.  From here, I start filling in specific dishes for each day of the week.  On Saturdays, I might plan to grill hamburgers and hot dogs, pork chops, chicken, and steak strips.  We already have baked potatoes and salad planned as side dishes so Saturday night dinners are planned for the month!  I repeat this for every day of the week and voila!  A month of dinners planned!

Because we homeschool and are generally all at the table for lunch, I make large dinners that can serve as leftovers for lunch.  For breakfast, we almost always do cereal and/or oatmeal. ( I’m just not one of those “get up early and make eggs and bacon for breakfast” kind of mamas…around here, everyone kinda fends for themselves.)  Even so, I find it helpful to go ahead and write out what we’re eating for breakfasts and lunches.  Again, it makes our meals more timely and saves moolah.

So, that’s it…that’s how we plan a month’s worth of menus, saving time, energy, stress, and money.  How about you?  Do you have any tried and true methods for menu planning for your family?

Next Sunday in our Feeding the Frenzy series:  Favorite Crock Pot Meals


Helpful Homeschooling and Learning Links

This is our sixth year of educating our kids at home and while I would never consider myself an expert, I have come across a few websites that have helpful information and/or games.  I always appreciate it when others share what’s working for them…that’s probably the way I found most of these sites!  So to the homeschool mama or the mama who just wants to help her kids learn better, here we go!

1.  VARK    As part of their Fall assessments, the online school we are using this year asked the kids to complete a VARK questionnaire.  While I don’t know a lot about the founder of this system, the questionnaire portion of the website has been so helpful to us.  Our youngest school-aged daughter seemed so bored with her studies.  We discovered that she scored high in the kinesthetic area of this quiz.  Basically, she likes more hand-on learning experiences.  Incorporating more activities that involve puzzles, alphabet tiles, and math counters has helped get her more engaged in the learning process.

2.  Orisinal:  Morning Sunshine  Sometime, you just need something to occupy one of your kids for a few minutes while you work with another child.  Our kids can earn time to play on the computer and this is one of their favorite places to spend that time.  All the games are clean and the music is just lovely.  There are about 60 games to choose from…my favorites are the cats and the train:)

3.  Free Rice   Free Rice is a site with a LOT of great learning quizzes.  For ever correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated to the World Food Programme to help end hunger.  Our kids LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this site!!!  I challenged them to earn 10,000 grains of rice each and they are nearly halfway there:)  They especially love the foreign language quizzes.

4.  Math Blaster  Organized by both grade level and skill, Math Blaster has helped my kids hone their skills in an area that might have been tricky for them.  They also offer worksheets you can print for extra help.

5.  Home Spelling Words  I used this last year instead of ordering spelling workbooks.  It worked beautifully.  I also appreciated that I could customize the lists, incorporating words from the books they were currently reading.

6.  Homeschooling Methods  One of the biggest choices we faced when we began teaching our own children was concerning the method we would employ.  This site gives a decent overview of the variety of methods without trying to sell the reader on a particular path.  We chose a “classical” method, but have adapted to a much more fly by the seat of your pants “eclectic” method as we have come to understand our children as learners and ourselves as teachers.  At any rate, this is a nice, compact way to learn about a variety of homeschooling options.

7.  Just Good Reading  There are tons and tons of great books out there.  Tons.  This is a good little post about great classic children’s books.  I could compile my own, but why? :)   As a side note, I also really love a lot of things about Passionate Homemaking’s blog…great ideas about simplified homekeeping.

I’m sure there are more great sites out there…what are your favorites?  I’d love to hear about them!

 


The Boy is Four!

Sweet Boy, you turned four today.  Four years of loving, laughing, changing.  You challenge me.  You make me pray.  You are honest.  You make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts.  You are LOUD, dirty, wild.  I love watching you with your baby sister.  I love how you have started conquering the world around you.  I love…you.  Happy birthday, sweet Samuel.

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And so we had another baby…

A nice, long bloggy break was long overdue.  Time to write for myself, for God, for no reason at all.  And time to live this life, instead of just recording what seems note-worthy.

And time to have another baby.

Sweet Selah (say lah) Joy joined us in early July…also overdue, but full of God’s goodness and faithfulness.  I wonder so much these days…How did our family ever feel complete without her in it?

I am spending these days connecting truths…the mothering truths God has already shown to me, to truths I am seeing now.  Wrestling in the familiar tug-o-war of flesh (I need sleep! and coffee! and clean clothes, for Pete’s sake!) and spirit (lay down…die to self…love others.) Watching my older children change before my eyes…my babies holding my baby.

More thoughts on mothering and discipleship and the goodness of God to come….for now, a little peek into our world.

Blessings, friends.

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