Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Resolutions or Convictions?

It’s that time of year when people make one (or more) New Year’s resolution. Promises made, resolve strengthened, bad habits kicked and diets started. It is no surprise that January is the most profitable month at health clubs with new memberships initiated. According to various internet polls, the top three resolutions are to exercise, diet and quit smoking. A quick Google search shows that upwards of 90% of resolutions made will not be kept. That is a disappointing statistic, especially for the one who failed to keep the resolution—again. I do not want to admit how many years I am in that "failed resolution" category.

Where does this whole thing fall apart? What part—if any—has a spiritual component? Is it that human efforts and strength just wear out? Do we not plan well or plan enough? Is it possible that some of the well-intentioned resolutions are really convictions that we are being prompted to adopt? Kinda all of the above? I am learning to realize that there is a difference between a resolution and a conviction.

Webster’s dictionary defines resolution as, "the act or process of resolving; the act of determining" (rooted in action) and the given definition for conviction is, "a strong persuasion or belief; the state of being convinced of error" (rooted in belief, resulting in action). I believe a conviction is a God-prompted leading to take action and make real change in my life (turning away from old and marching on towards the new), for my good and God’s ultimate glory.

Wanting to be timely in sending out birthday cards is a great idea, as is the determination to deep-clean the house closets. But what about getting on and sticking to a spending plan (budget), purposefully strengthening my relationship with God, creating better time management skills or changing eating and exercise habits? Perhaps some of these "resolutions" are actually God calling me to real, lasting change that not only benefits me, but points to God as the giver of my strength…because I could not do much on my own power. Past experience has proven that I really can’t stick to much on my own strength….I wear out, get tired, get bored and just plain ol’ don’t care about my original good intentions! Resolutions tire out. Convictions keep going when I feel like quitting because it’s more than just changing behavior…it is a change in my belief system. (It’s actually a change in my thinking, which then affects my behavior; but that seems like a deeper subject for a different day!)

As it says in Psalm 8:6, "You have given him [man] dominion…You have put all things under his feet." It states in 1 Corinthians 4:2, "It is required of stewards [manager or supervisor] that they be found trustworthy." It adds a greater sense of duty and responsibility when I see my resources as a gift, to be used right, with me as the manager. My health, home, family – all gifts on loan that can be gone in an instant. This realization adds (or, should add) a deeper level of commitment (conviction) to make sure I’m being a good steward of what I’ve been given. To properly take care of all my blessings should be much more than just a flippant, sure-to-be-broken resolution.

A long list can be made of the various areas in life where change is needed and required. I’m already overwhelmed and am getting nervous about how long my list needs to be! We can be encouraged and prepared for New Year’s resolutions and convictions by giving some thought to the following:

PRAY! Ask God for guidance and revelation in knowing the areas in which He is calling for obedience and change. Request that He reveals the new road He would have you travel—for His glory and your good—even if it is hard and it hurts. Most good things are not easy! Having a baby, remodeling a house, repairing a relationship, running a marathon...all good, but none categorized as easy.

PRACTICAL PLAN! It’s not common to decide to work out five days a week and be able to keep it up much past February. (not impossible, just not common) Start with bite-size pieces in all areas. Walk three times a week, lose five pounds (not thirty), start going to bed or getting up 15 minutes earlier than usual, limit the budget to one latte a week. Start with baby steps and work from there. Forward progress may be slow, but it will be progress nonetheless. The emphasis is on "practical" since what works for one will not work for all.

PARTNER! It’s all about accountability. Ask someone who will "hold your feet to the fire" and someone who will not accept excuses. Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man [woman] sharpens another." We all need a tough and sharp friend!

PRACTICE! To borrow from a popular slogan, "Just Do It!" There is never a good time to begin something that will be difficult. Statistics show that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. (It sure feels like more!) Old habits die from neglect. When we faithfully "feed" a new habit, the old habit will start to die away. This is by far the most difficult part of any resolution or conviction….keeping on track when it is easier and more comfortable to stray off course. (Thus, the vital importance of accountability!) Sadly, I can crown myself queen of going off course, but I think my throne would be shared by many!

In my life, I am really considering what lasting changes I need to make. Maybe it was having a serious medical emergency in 2009 that is making me think "bigger picture" for my future. Or maybe it’s watching my kids grow up really fast and seeing time fly away. Or it’s the stupid wrinkles near the corners of my eyes. Whatever. It just feels like I’m doing a lot of grown-up thinking about my life and how I’m living it and realizing there need to be some changes that are more than just "good ideas."

Of course, that means I gotta finish all my Christmas candy THIS WEEK! Then you feel free to hold my feet to the fire!

Every now and again, not often, but sometimes, God brings us to a point of climax. That is the Great Divide in the life; from that point we either go towards a more and more dilatory and useless type of Christian life, or we become more and more ablaze for the glory of God - My Utmost for His Highest.
~Oswald Chambers

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Mom

I don't know if it's the time of year, where stress runs high and patience short, but I have seen SO MANY moms completely controlled by their kids! Are there really that many wimpy moms, afraid of their kid's anger and displeasure if they don't give their child his or her own way? Or am I just running into every one of them while I'm out and about? In the doctor's office, the grocery store, Target, the local coffee shop, restaurants, you name it! "I'm not going to tell you again to stop touching stuff!" was threatened more than eight times by one mom to the same child! And, this wasn't a two-year-old child I'm talking about. These harried moms are anything but joyful at this season of joy. How amazing is the power of a small, stubborn human. I always wonder at the moms (and dads) who want to be their kid’s friend; the parents who really want their child(ren) to like them. My kids know full well that I don’t care if I make their "good list" for the day or if I meet their approval…which usually revolves around them getting what they want. (I’m not going to go into the whole be-a-parent, not-a-friend thing since that’s a whole other topic for another day.)

While I am FAR from the perfect mom or a poster-mom for all that is made of sweetness, understanding and patience, I am pretty sure that over-all, my kids do not run me or my life. Oh sure, they make it busy and crowded and full, but it's not because I'm letting them run over me with their will and wants. Not that it NEVER happens, but it's sure not the norm or how the kids and I are characterized. I've had to work hard at letting them know that while I love them and they are vitally important to my husband, me and God, they are not the center of the universe and life isn't about them.

Years ago when the kids were a lot younger, we were enjoying a family lunch at a restaurant in Nashville. A few tables over was a rather loud family, where the kids were rowdy and the parents were demanding, begging and pleading with the kids to "sit down, behave and be quiet." Lunch got a lot nicer (and quieter) when that family left! We continued on with our meal, which included a lot of instruction ("Don’t dip your napkin in your sister’s water!") and numerous potty breaks. (Do they save it all up just for when we’re out?!) While it was a nice meal and nothing horribly bad happened, it was tiring for us as parents! As another couple was leaving the restaurant, the woman came over to me and complimented our children’s behavior. She also told me that while it was hard and tiring work, she thought I was doing a good job with the kids. I almost burst into tears of gratitude! Her words of encouragement made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside for a long time afterward. I NEEDED her words, and her kindness had long lasting affects on me as I pressed on in doing what was right. (Which is NOT synonymous for "what is easy.")

Next time you’re out and you see a mom doing the RIGHT thing with her children, speak a word of encouragement to her. A simple, "Being a mom isn’t easy, but I see you’re doing what’s best for your child even if he/she doesn’t appreciate it right now" can make that mom’s day. Never underestimate the power of a smile and, "I’ve been there and done that – stay strong, Mom!" as you’re walking out of the grocery store. All too often I can point out the trouble child, but how often do I look for the positive? How often do I address the positive? Truthfully, not often enough. Proverbs 25:11 says "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Words of encouragement are precious and valuable to the hearer! If there is a mom teetering on the edge of giving in, giving up and turning to the wimp-side, some fitly spoken words will be strengthening for her – especially from someone who is also in the trenches of motherhood!

Hmm…maybe I should write Diary of a Wimpy Mom...a book of warning and what I've learned along the way. I'd get be a stick figure...not likely to ever happen in real life! :)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recipe Time!

I really enjoy hosting and attending parties and it seems this is the time of year for lots of parties! If you have been to my house (or I’ve been to a party at your home), then you may have tasted one of these tried-and-true recipes. For SUPER EASY and SUPER YUM, I’d recommend the "Fiesta Dip" and "The Great Pumpkin Dessert." I always have the ingredients on hand to make these two recipes. While I do not care for the taste of pumpkin, I love the smell! The pumpkin recipe bakes for an hour and makes the house smell heavenly…better than any candle! It is worth finding the Fiesta Ranch dressing mix for the "Fiesta Dip." Where I live, I can find it with the salad dressings at Jewel, but it’s not carried in Dominick’s or Wal-Mart.

Because I love baking and entertaining/hospitality, recipes and I carry on a certain love-affair. I’m the nerd who likes to read cookbooks. I own the Food Lover’s Companion, and I buy new ingredients just to try them. (Another one of my new favorite cookies is made with a syrup from London. I originally bought the syrup from a specialty shop while on vacation in Florida only because I love anything having to do with England! Then I had to search for a recipe that used this syrup. I guess I’m also the one who likes to visit non-chain grocery stores and markets while on vacation…..) Along the way, I have stumbled across some fantastic recipes that I tweak to my liking, then I use my friends and family as taste-testing guinea pigs. These recipes have passed all taste-testings!

Enjoy and let me know if you have any specific questions about any of the recipes. Be SURE to let me know if there’s a typo!

1 ¼ c. flour
½ c. cornstarch
1/3 c. powdered sugar
¾ c. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel (opt)
frosting: 2 ½ c. powdered sugar
¼ c. butter, softened
2 - 3 Tbsp. lemon juice, more as needed for desired frosting consistency

With mixer, combine all cookie ingd. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often til well mixed. (2 – 3 min) Divide dough in half. Shape each half into 10" long roll (approx.) so that it’s about 1" in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate til firm, about 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. With sharp knife, slice each dough roll into ¼" thick slices. Place 2" apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (or, just place directly on baking sheet) Bake for 10 – 12 min or til set. Cookies will not brown. Bottoms of cookies should be slightly browned. Cool completely.
With mixer, blend all frosting ingd, adding lemon juice as needed for consistency. Blend til fluffy. A thicker frosting is best. Frost cooled cookie.
**cookies can be made in advance and frozen if NOT frosted**

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk (I use fat free)
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 box (18 oz) golden butter recipe cake mix (or use yellow)
1 stick butter, melted
chopped walnuts (opt)

Oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 pan with Pam. Whisk together pumpkin, canned milk, eggs, sugar and spice. Pour into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin. DO NOT STIR OR BLEND. Drizzle with melted butter. DO NOT STIR OR BLEND. Top with chopped walnuts, if using. (I usually top half the dessert with walnuts.) Bake 1 hour or til set and golden brown on top. Serve warm with whip cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

1 ½ c. sugar
3/4 c. butter, melted
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 ½ c. flour
1/4 c. sliced almonds, lightly toasted
2 tsp. sugar (for topping) or use lg. granulated decorator sugar

Oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9" round cake pan with PAM and dust with flour. Blend melted butter and 1 1/2 c. sugar. Beat in eggs. Blend in extracts. Add salt and flour and mix well. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle with sugar and toasted almonds. Bake 30 - 35 min. or til edges are lightly browned.

(also known as "Jenni Dip" in my house, since she introduced us to this treat!)

1 – 16 oz. container sour cream (I use low fat)
1 dry package Fiesta Ranch dressing mix
1 can (about 15 oz) petite diced tomatoes with green chilies, well drained
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar in this recipe)

Mix all ingd together. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with thin wheat crackers or tortilla chips. Can be made a day before serving.
1 unsliced round loaf sourdough bread (about 1 lb.)
16 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, sliced thin (2 "bricks" of cheese)
½ c. butter, melted
½ c. green onion, chopped
3 tsp. poppy seeds

Cut the bread lengthwise and crosswise without cutting through the bottom of the loaf. Be sure to use a good, sharp knife. I do 6 to 7 cuts each way, to create a checkerboard look. Insert the cheese into all the cuts, stuffing the cheese as deep as possible. The bread will now be bursting with cheese and the more cheese that is deep in the bread, the better. Combine the melted butter, green onion and poppy seeds and drizzle over bread. Cut 2 sheets of foil and lay them on a baking sheet like a plus sign. Place the cheese stuffed bread in the center of the foil and bring the foil up the sides of the bread. Cover the top with another piece of foil. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 min. Uncover and bake another 10 – 15 min. more or til cheese is melted.

Monday, November 23, 2009

'Tis the Season!

Now it’s official….’tis the season! The catalogs are arriving daily, the dried fruit infused door stops are being sold (who actually eats fruitcake?!) and my coffee shop latte is sipped from its annual red paper cup. Although the local lite station has been playing Christmas music since the 4th of July (ish), it wasn’t until the Salvation Army bell ringers appeared that I believed it. It’s the men and women standing by the red bucket, ringing the bell who help put me in the "Christmas mood." I admire the fact that most of the bell ringers are volunteers and I like to support their efforts. Each Christmas, the kids and I have some purposeful habits we practice when we encounter the bell ringers, and I love when the kids get involved in giving! Yes, it’s small scale giving, but you have to start somewhere! I desire that my children grow to be generous and thoughtful adults, and that starts with practicing generosity and thoughtfulness as a child.

Smile and say "hi" with eye contact!
After watching person after person hurry in to and out of stores, often on their cell phone and ignoring the bell ringers, we have purposed to slow down. The power of eye contact is amazing. (Try it sometime with a bell ringer, a bus boy, and the drive-thru window employee.) The kids have become great with stopping to say hello to each bell ringer we see, and we usually offer a small-talk sentence. We don’t engage in a get-to-know-you conversation, but sometimes a smile and friendly comment can really make someone’s day!

Money bags
With so many people using credit and debit cards for everything, there is often an issue of not having change for the red buckets! It was too often that I realized I had this problem, so we now keep a little baggie of change in the minivan, and the kids grab a few coins on our way into the store. It seems like such a small effort, but it works and enables us to participate in giving.

The extra donation
I was out with then 10-year old Carter when we stopped at a local drug store, and he assured me that he already had some money for the Salvation Army bucket. As we approached the bell ringer (who was singing Christmas carols!), I saw Carter pull $5 out of his pocket. It was his allowance! I should be embarrassed to admit that my first reaction was to whisper to him, "Are you sure?" He was very happy with his choice to give away his allowance and I was proud of him. A week later, we were grocery shopping on a cold, windy, snowy day. The bell ringer outside was a slight woman who appeared to be a bit down on her luck. We greeted her as we walked in and made some small talk and a donation on the way out. Acting on a spur of the moment idea, we went back into the grocery store, heading for the Starbucks within. We bought a hot chocolate for the bell ringer, and it made me kinda sad to see her shock in response to the small kindness. That hot chocolate was the best $3 I spent all week!

The next time you’re out, try something new when you encounter a bell ringer! All it takes is a little consideration and thought. Never underestimate the smallest effort or friendly kindness.

Gotta run and change the radio station…I cannot handle that sad Christmas shoes song any longer!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nooks and Crannies

Today I saw an English muffin delivery truck with the phrase "nooks and crannies" written on the side. It is very possible that my ten gluten-free weeks are what caused my mouth to immediately water. It is possible I drooled. (Possible.) Without those nooks and crannies, an English muffin is not much more than a thin bagel, minus the center hole or a piece of round toast, minus the crust. It’s the nooks and crannies filling up with warm, melty butter that give this dough disk its yummy beauty.

I’m not much different than an English muffin. (And I do mean more than its shape!) Generically, I am a daughter, woman, wife, homeschooling mom, friend, etc. What I allow to fill up my life’s "nooks and crannies" is what can give my life its yummy beauty. Or not.

While I do not pretend to be a master or expert on any subject, there is one area which I frequently practice – to allow (or at least attempt to allow) to fill up the nooks and crannies. It is the practice of purposeful thoughtfulness. Proverbs 11:25 has been my continual confirmation and conviction in this area. It says, "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered." The giver of thoughtfulness is just as blessed as the give-e! When I practice purposeful thoughtfulness, it is a yummy flavor filling up my life. And without getting too deeply theological, the yummy flavor is NOT intended to pat my own back or sing my own praises. It’s to show others the "aroma [flavor] of Christ." (II Corinthians 2:14 - 16)

Thoughtful parents raised me. Because my mom was home with us, she set the bulk of the examples. I learned from the master! My goal has been to continue to practice thoughtfulness and to pass this "skill" on to my own kids. Thoughtfulness goes against our built-in selfish tendencies and there are a plethora of reasons why we don’t or can’t take the time to act on our "good intentions" of thoughtfulness.

While not being any kind of master expert, I do hope to share some ideas, successes and struggles along the journey of practicing thoughtfulness…to share the stuff of life that fills up who we are and decides our flavor. So many of my friends have (jokingly) asked when I planned to write about this subject, and one friend made herself my "just do it" accountability partner until it WAS done. Ok girls, it’s been done!

And to think it took an English muffin.