Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We all need a good meal sometimes.

Today I pulled an entire page of my Bible out of my eight-month-old's mouth. Didn't I tell you she loves to devour the written word?

I walked into the bathroom to find the drain in our sink completely filled with little grape tomatoes. I think I pulled out NINE with the help of the handle of a skinny spoon. Good thing they were too big to get too far down into the pipe. [How on earth does she get these ideas?!]

I carried two kids up three long flights of stairs in the effort to get to a holiday show that our best friends' kids  school put on. I mean, it was pretty cute to see all those baby faces tooting on their recorders and showing off their dance moves. I kept thinking about how in a few short years it might be my kids up there wearing Christmas trees on their heads or sporting reindeer antlers while wearing ballet shoes. Classic. Can't wait. (Or can I?)

Came home to find that my husband's day did not go at all to plan and is buried (still) under a mountain of work. He has been working around the clock since Sunday and hasn't slept in days. :-(  (BOOooo to Ad agencies! They have NO holiday spirit whatsoever.)

So I decided to make something really great for dinner. Like actually cook a real meal for once.

Don't get me wrong, I like to cook, and make almost everything from scratch. But since Lyla came into the family, I have had a hard time enjoying the whole food preparation project. I figured it out tonight when I was preparing a 30 minute express meal and instead of taking the allotted 30 minutes, it took an hour and a half. I don't think Rachel Ray includes caring for two kids at the same time into those 30 minutes at all. Which makes sense. I realized that the reason I don't enjoy cooking anymore is because I am constantly interrupted. And a 30 minute meal takes 90 to prepare. Which is why we have a lot of green smoothies and eat a lot of rice and beans around here. Quick, easy, nutritious. And there are less tears and nobody is bleeding (most of the time).

But I digress.

Tonight I prepared a real meal. A follow-a-recipe-and-commit-to-it meal. And despite how long it took to finally get it all together, (keep in mind I was getting the kids ready for bed, cleaning the house, preparing a bottle, holding a tired and fussy baby, putting Lexi in time-outs and trying to cook all at the same time...why??!) it was F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C. So great that I have to share. Even Eric told me to make it again (that's kind of a big deal around here)! And I promise, it doesn't have to take 90 minutes. Just maybe prepare it while the kids are napping. ;) Because for the explosion of flavor and nutrition you get with this simple one dish meal, it's so worth it! And if you've never had arugula before, you are in for a treat.

I will even give you some mouth-watering, low quality phone pictures to whet your appetite! I know. I'm that awesome.

[Yes, that's a Fiesta plate. Be jealous. I love them.]

[Like my salad scoops? They are moose heads!] 

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad
from: Rachel Ray's Express Lane Meals

4 (very large) servings - great for leftovers!

1/2 lb short-cut pasta
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 T. grill seasonings, such as McCormicks Montreal Steak Seasoning, 2 palmfuls
2 t. hot sauce
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
5 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup EVOO (Extra virgen olive oil)
2 large onions, sliced 1-inch thick
6 thin-cut chicken breast cutlets
2 T. dijion mustard
Black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
2 bunches arugula, thoroughly washed and chopped
1 small head radicchio, cored and coarsely chopped (wasn't at my grocery store, so I did without it)
2 cups fresh basil, 20 leaves, coarsely chopped (I didn't have fresh and used dried - still good! Although if you have the option to use fresh, DO! It's delicious!)
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, a generous handful, chopped
3 celery ribs, thinly sliced (I don't like celery, so it didn't make it into mine)
1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes, left whole in small, cut in half if large

Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill to high heat.

Bring a large pot of water with a tight fitting lid to boil over high heat. Once the water boils, add some salt and the pasta, and cooking according to package directions until al dente.

In a small bowl, mix the garlic, grill seasoning, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and 2 T. of the vinegar. Whisk in 1/4 cup of EVOO. Divide the mixture between two shallow bowls. Add the sliced onions to one and the chicken cutlets to the other. Toss to coat both thoroughly and marinate a few minutes.

In a salad bowl, combine the mustard and the remaining 3 T. of vinegar with a little salt and pepper. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of EVOO then add the grated cheese. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and add it to the salad bowl with the dressing; toss to coat. Since you are adding the pasta while it is still hot, the dressing will really soak into the pasta.

Grill the onion slices, cooking them on each side until well marked, about 2 to 3 minutes. Grill the chicken cutlets for 3 to 4 mins on each side. Remove the onions and the chicken from the grill to a cutting board to rest and cool for about 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the grilled onions and cut the chicken into thin strips. Add them to the dressed pasta. Add the arugula, radicchio, basil, parsley, celery, mozzarella and grape tomatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Small Joys

I don't know how to appropriately transition back to normalcy after a week filled with so much sadness. Lots of death in five days. Too much and no more please. But here we are.

This weekend though, has been filled with life. And here are a few of my small joys.

- Hanging out in the kitchen together while Eric and Lexi made Christmas cookies.

- Making an impulse buy on Amazon after reading about the product on one of my favorite blogs. Seriously I got on Amazon within 30 seconds (I'm not joking) of finding out this product existed and discovering that there were only 4 left in stock, I bought one. I would tell you what it is, but then I would most likely bury my head in a hole and not come out for a few months (#iamsonotimpulsive and yes, #ijustputahashtagonmyblogcuzimcoollikethat).

- Finished an art piece that I started a few days ago. HUGE GIGANTIC victory for this Mama of two crazies and still aspiring independent artist! I am even framing it, it's that good. Boom. And not only that, but Eric has offered to move his office to the basement so that I can use the room as my studio (he must be impressed). Under the condition that I make the time to really invest in my art. Love him. Love him. Love him.

- Received an amazing phone call that gave life changing news about a dear dear friend. God is faithful and yes, He DOES answer prayers!

- Early morning breakfast with a close friend I haven't seen in a while. Renewal, forgiveness, and refreshment over coffee, juice, and a really really cream-cheesy bagel. Thankful for honesty and new beginnings.

- Piling the whole family in the car and driving all over Albany Park in the rain to visit several thrift stores (there are a LOT of them here) in search of the perfect white elephant gifts for our Christmas party this week. Our long search was hilarious, successful, and left us feeling incredibly grimy and in need of lots of hand sanitizer (as usual).  Lexi was also properly bribed into good behavior (this happens a lot when we go out - and I am not even ashamed to admit that, because it works) and came home with a pretty awesome toy xylophone on wheels that has been in use since I scrubbed it down (it was in need of some heavy duty sanitizer as well...).

- Eric brought Lexi into the kitchen with him and made homemade frozen yogurt this morning. Man of my dreams, people! We all indulged and it wasn't even eleven o'clock yet.

- Got the house picked up and in order. Big accomplishment, if you had seen the before picture (oh, yeah, I don't take incriminating pictures like that). Laundry still isn't folded, but is it ever? ha. At least it's in the basket and not all over the floor (...anymore...thanks, Lyla). That's right. I blame the baby. All the time.

- Read aloud through our new towering pile of library books to my girls once or twice and then sat in and listened to Eric read them over again. As much energy as Lexi has, she can sit for an hour or more just listening to us read to her. And I love reading, so we both win and devour words and stories together. Lyla, on the other hand, would rather devour the words literally. And does. She has an affinity for the taste of paper, what can I say.

- Going through our advent calendar each night together as a family and listening to Lexi retell the story of Jesus's birth as she memorizes the scripture. Discovering that it is never too early to start family devotions together. Thankful for a husband and father for my girls who takes his role as our spiritual leader seriously.

- Twinkling Christmas lights everywhere. Love. Love. Love. We could use some snow to complete the whole holiday ambiance, but the lights will do.

- Anticipating the culmination of Advent, and the celebration of our Lover's birth. This year the Advent season has been more meaningful to me than ever before, in light of all our recent happenings. And I am ready for some all out celebrating. For Christ has come. And this, friends, is GOOD good news.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It comes in threes.

This morning we found out that a friend of ours from college passed away yesterday. He was 24 and took his own life, leaving behind a young wife and his family.

Come Lord Jesus. Please come back soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Grilled cheese sandwiches and the true meaning of Christmas

I didn't start this blog as a means to make money, or have tons of followers, or even to be widely read. I started this blog to be an honest voice. Mostly to myself, and to whomever else happens to stop by and listen. I am an introvert, if you hadn't already guessed. And most often I am more honest in writing than I can be in person.

And today is an honest day.

The past three days have been sad ones. Monday I had the opportunity to serve at Lydia Home here in Chicago (just a few miles from where I live). I went with some ladies in my Moms group to help sort presents for the kids they serve. As I was sorting out the presents for the kids in residence, the foster kids, and the single moms with kids, my heart was breaking for them. It was breaking that these kids were born into broken homes, a broken life, a they now have to pick up the pieces of their parent's mistakes. And here I am, born into privilege  Always knowing there will be a next meal, new clothes when mine become unwearable, and presents that don't come from an anonymous donor, but from parents and family that cherishes me. I didn't have a choice in the matter of what kind of situation I would be born into. But now the least we can do is open our door for one of these fatherless children who didn't have a say in the matter either.

One of our Gospel Community members (our church's term for small group) just had a friend pass away suddenly and unexpectedly. She left behind a husband and a baby girl who just celebrated her first birthday. We spent the evening last night as a group praying for her family, and comforting our friends who are hurting and grieving her loss. Carrying each others burdens is no easy task. But that is what Jesus calls us to do. So we cried with them. Prayed with them. Gave them the space to be and grieve and remember.

This morning I finally heard back from a friend that I have been missing and have not heard from in a while (despite many attempts at my end). She told me today that she has just suffered a miscarriage, and that she is in a living hell right now. My heart is broken for her. And I pray that she finds life and truth and the only true comfort there is, in Jesus's open arms. I pray that she chooses to run into them.

As I sit here crying, and trying to make sense of how frail our humanity is, I am just so thankful that our God is BIGGER. That HE is LIFE. And that apart from Him, we are nothing. We have nothing. We are DUST. But in Christ, through His death and Resurrection, we have LIFE. And He is our only purpose.

And I wonder why we have to go through all of this pain here on earth. Why do we have to go through the pain and grief of friends and loved ones dying? Of babies leaving the earth before they've even had the chance to live? Losing our sisters, brothers, parents, spouses, children and friends to death. Why do our hearts have to break all the time?
And then I remember that it's because of ALL of this - because of our messed up, broken, hurting and lost world and humanity, that God sent His only Son into this world as a little human baby. A baby - who God had to watch live as a human being. A human being who hurts and has his heart broken again and again. A human being who is bullied and not respected. Who is so loving, but is continually shunned. Who loses his dear friend Lazarus to death, and grieves his loss. And then God watches His only human Son die on a cross, die a murderers death, an excruciatingly painful and humiliating death, just to fulfill God's promise and save all of us broken, hurting, unlovable people.

How great and deep is the Father's love for us.

I am also thankful that God is a God of joy. Because there has been a lot of it today, even in the shadow of all the loss around me. There is joy in waking up healthy, grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in ketchup, sunshine and a baby learning to stand on her own, discovering that the toilet paper has been dragged throughout the entire house by a giggling girl (without breaking! this is why I buy 3-ply), reading books together, a bright blue sky, and the anticipation of Christmas. A borrowed pen and new ink from a friend to try out, inspiration for my next drawing, and the joy of knowing that my life has purpose. Not in things, or in a self imposed identity, but in simply loving Jesus and following Him.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our dinner table isn't full yet

Yesterday morning, Lexi got mad at me while we were hanging out in bed because I wouldn't get her any more graham crackers. So she angrily announced, "I AM GOING TO GIVE YOU CRUMBS!!" (except in Lexi verbage it came out more like "CWUMS!!!" and then dumped the little bowl containing all the graham cracker crumbs onto my head.

Since it was barely 7:15 AM, I did the responsible parent act and rolled over while pretending to be asleep so I didn't have to deal with it (also so I could stifle my laughter with my face in the pillow).

And then there is Lyla. Who occasionally will find a cord to chew on until I tell her NO and then she goes on her merry way, happy and content as can be. I always assumed Lexi was an easy baby until I had Lyla. This kid is unbelievable. She is extremely active and physically coordinated (she is trying to walk already and is only 8 months today), but is also cautious and very content. Laid back. I went to the mall the other day with just Lyla and she sat in the stroller for two hours perfectly happy while I browsed (something very rarely get the chance to do) around and just had some time to myself.

Lexi, of course, is a joy and always full of giggles. She is also very extreme. Dramatic if you will. But I love them both so very much.

The other day a friend of mine was telling me that she and her husband were looking around their dinner table and saw empty places. "Our dinner table isn't full yet."  And then she looked at me and said, "And yours isn't either."  Presumptuous perhaps, but so true. My dad used to say that his quiver of arrows wasn't full yet. That the family wasn't complete. Of course, we all knew once my dad said this, it meant we were adding a new sibling to the family in approximately nine months, give or take (there are seven of us, after all).
I don't know if we will have more biological children. I would like to, perhaps in a few years. But the point is that our dinner table still has empty places around it. And there are children's voices and laughter and tears that still have yet to fill up this old house.

I was talking to another friend of mine recently and was telling her how funny it is that I see all these different paths that my life could take. I could be an art teacher here in the city, I could pursue illustrating, I could get in on Eric's photo and video business and be his full time second on shoots and editing, I could start a business and sell my arts and crafts and sewing creations, etc. etc. etc. I have so many options. And yet I always go back to the fact that I want to invest in our kids right now. Some of these things I can pursue part time, which I am attempting to figure out how to do, but childhood only lasts for so long. Eric and I always talked about raising a family while we were young, and having foster children grow up alongside them seems only appropriate (this might be crazy, but that remains to be seen). And the truth is, I love it. Even when I feel like all I accomplish in a day is wiping butts and preparing snacks, I am, at the same time, investing in the Kingdom of God. And if that doesn't give some purpose to a stay-at-home-mom's day, I don't know what does.

I have been bad at keeping pictures up to date, so excuse the tardiness. But I will leave you with some fun times from this last month during a lovely warm spell that swept across the city.

 [I am not a fan of Halloween, but was won over by these costumes!...ok...and the free candy...sheesh.]
 [Chubby bug]
[doodle bug!]
 [Love my lively little girl. And my ridiculously long arm.]
 [thoughtfully considering how to take away my camera]

 [goofy baby]
 [sippy cups are serious business]
[dandelions at the end of November?!]

To continue the trend, look for Christmas pictures to appear on here sometime in March. ;)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letter of Regret

Dear Future Self,

Just because you are out running errands and get really really hungry (since it is 11:30 AM) and the kids are getting squirmy, does not mean that you should eat out alone with them. Trust me. A trip to Chipotle will only end with multiple trips to the bathroom, a grabby eight-month-old (who really really wants to eat food but still chokes on her rice cereal), a quesadilla catapulted across the table, milk from a straw squirted on a child's head (and body, and table, and chair, and floor), very loud screams for more chips, and finally, a very embarrassing tantrum display by the two-year-old which turns everyone's heads. You, on the other hand, who wanted to stop and eat there in the first place because you are dying of hunger, will only manage to eat two bites of your burrito bowl before you pack everything up and make a quick exit out the door, with two sobbing children in tow.

So, the next time you get hungry while out shopping, take my advice. Eat the squished granola bar that is hiding somewhere in the depths of the diaper bag, and suck it up. Eating at home just may save your sanity.

My Regrets

P.S. Children grow up eventually. But then you will be alone. So in the meantime, pack snacks. Lots of them.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Birthday Joys

My favorite boy had his 27th birthday this weekend. 

Since the birthday boy is also the in house photographer, of course neither of us thought to get out a camera (and we have quite a few) and document the party (fail.)... So photo props to our friend Lucas for this little instagram of the cake and the birthday boy's luscious locks of hair. ;)

We had a great weekend with family and friends and were a little blue this morning when reality set in and the clock struck 7:30 AM, signaling the man of the house to leave for work. 

But today in the midst of mountains of laundry, very dirty floors, tired kids and leftover chocolate cake, I am so very thankful that God brought Eric and I together seven years ago. I still get a chuckle whenever I think about how when I first met him, I wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with him. Thanks to my friend Dan, who lived on the same floor as him, and my sister, who had a class with him and needed a study partner, he kept showing up. And eventually, so did I. 

And by his birthday party that first fall semester in 2005, ice skating downtown, I knew this guy was going to be my best friend for years to come. And I am so looking forward to the continuation of our lives together.