January 30, 2011

Meals in Review 1/9-1/30

I've been doing well in keeping to my goal of 4-5 meals cooked at home per week.  Here's a quick run down of the meals that I have made in the past three weeks since starting this blog.  I linked each recipe to a separate recipe page I made as well.  It's called Recipes for the Proverbs 31 Mom.

1.  Crock pot shredded chicken tacos on wheat tortillas, salsa, tortilla chips, and homemade queso

2.  Pizza bubble ring with pizza sauce or 
light Ranch dressing for dipping and a green

3.  Homemade chicken noodle soup with a green salad--I made this tasty and easy dish twice:  once for us and once as an agape meal for a friend combined with a green salad and an easy peach cobbler.

4.  Bacon, Caesar, & mozzarella paninis, baked sweet potato fries, and a green salad

5.  My Mom's Italian meatloaf, green peas, mashed potatoes, and a green salad

6.  Creamy spinach and tortellini with a green salad

7.  Quick and Fruity Crescent waffles for a weekend breakfast.  Every now and then we like to make something special for breakfast on a Saturday morning.  My cousin, Kristen, was in town, so we had these family favorite waffles.  I've made them many times, but this time my husband and my cousin tried making them for the first time, and they turned out wonderfully!

8.  Baked salmon, wild rice, and sauteed asparagus

9.  Southwestern chicken tortilla soup and a green salad

10.  Allegro pork chops, left over wild rice and baked apples

11.  Greek chicken and a green salad--I had to separate all the things in this dish out into different compartments on my son's plate in order to get my son to eat this, but he loved it.  I didn't give him any onions or bell peppers, though, and I didn't put any extra feta cheese on top of his chicken.  He ate the orzo, chicken, zucchini, tomatoes, and black olives.  He especially liked eating the black olives the most, strangely enough.

12.  Mission trip chicken enchiladas --I made the enchiladas for a pot luck get-together with my friends from my old teaching team.  My family ate the left-overs with a green salad later in the week.

13.  Homemade hamburgers on wheat buns, zucchini fries, and my friend's baked beans recipe--My husband grilled hamburgers a couple of months ago.  He didn't grill all the patties that he made, so we froze the remaining four.  We pulled those out of the freezer, and he grilled them up on the indoor grill pan.  I made the zucchini fries and baked beans to go with them.

14.  Party pasta and a green salad--I'm not exactly convinced that this recipe is anything special, but I'm going to give it another try since my husband liked it so much.  I made some mistakes in making it, so that might have contributed to its blandness.
This is not the one I made.  I messed up my recipe, so I got this picture online.

I love this version of a salad that my mother-in-law makes, who is from Germany.  This was my first time making it myself.

16.  BBQ chicken, and roasted veggies--I made this as an agape meal for a friend.

January 26, 2011

The Family Table: More Than Just Wood and Screws?

Bringing the family together...what could be more important?  The people who I look up to most in my faith are my mother and the pastor who was at my church when I was growing up.  He was and is a wonderful spiritual mentor and teacher to many, and I call him a dear friend.  As a youth struggling with balancing my priorities and letting stress take over my life, he would always remind me, "There's three things that matter:  your relationship with God, who you love, and who loves you."  It's as simple as that.  Has my life been reflecting these priorities lately?  Um, that would be a big fat no.  That is why I am on this journey to become a more faithful child of God, a more loving wife, a better mom, a more caring friend, and a more humble servant to the people in this world.  Going along with that, one of the goals that I mentioned in my last post is to bring my little family together by making family meals important in our home.  For the past few weeks, starting about one week before I started this blog, my family of three started sitting down together at the kitchen table to eat dinner.  What has transpired in the last few short weeks has amazed me.

Before starting on this journey, I'm embarrassed to say that I hardly ever sat down with my two and a half year old to eat.  While he was eating breakfast, he would sit in his high chair watching a t.v. show we had DVR-ed off of Nick Jr. or PBS Kids, and I would be working in the kitchen or sipping my coffee on the couch near the kitchen.  When he would finish, I would clean him up, let him down to play with his toys, fix my own breakfast, and then sit down in the living room to eat so that I could be in the same room as him.  Lunch looked similar.  He would eat his lunch, and I would work in the kitchen or the adjoining laundry room, or I would sit on the couch.  After I would put him down for a nap, I would eat my own lunch.  Dinner would be more of the same.  While he ate, I would either be cooking a separate dinner for my husband and I, I would be working in the kitchen, or I would be relaxing on the couch.  Another t.v. show would be on for him while he ate.  Once he went to bed, my husband and I would then sit down to eat our dinner--usually in front of the t.v. in the living room.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I think watching t.v is bad.  The shows that my son likes are educational, fun, and age-appropriate.  Watching t.v. with my husband is something that we love to do together once our son goes to bed.  We pause our shows and talk with one another, laugh, etc.  We don't just sit starring at the television., isolated from one another.  It's something we do with one another.  But, involving t.v. during mealtimes was a mistake for us.  It may work for other families, but for our particular family, it was making matters worse.  The t.v. on made each meal last 45 minutes to an hour, which meant that my son was watching at least three hours of t.v. a day--waaaaaaaaaay to much for his little impressionable, developing brain.  My son's mischievous behavior during meal times was escalating each week as well.  Throwing his milk cup on the floor, putting food on the table, dropping food on the floor on purpose, using his outside voice, being obstinate and strong-willed, and refusing to eat certain foods became commonplace.  I dreaded mealtimes because I knew it would be a battle each time.

In November we moved our son from the high chair to a booster seat at the kitchen table, in which he cannot see the t.v. at all.  This helped some, but not nearly enough.  In the past few weeks, however, we have gone a step further.  Well, it's actually more than a step.  It has been more like a leap forward.  The one place in the house that was designed to bring people together around it, we constantly kept buried.  We changed that.  The kitchen table is no longer a place to store the ever-increasing stack of unopened mail, my purse, our keys, my son's backpack, our jackets, and just stuff.  It now stays clean.  It serves one purpose, and one purpose only--a place to eat.  By using our family table as a place to store clutter, what were we saying about us as a family? What was that telling our son about how we view each other and about the importance of spending time with the people you love the most?

The table being a place where people come together is not a modern-day concept.  Huge, important, life-altering things happened at a table over 2,000 years ago.  Jesus spent his last night with his best friends in the entire world around a table.  He knew his fate.  He knew this would be the last night he would have to spend with this dear family of friends as a man on this earth.  He knew he was about to be betrayed and handed over to die an excruciating, drawn-out, tortuous death.  And where did he choose to spend the precious little time he had left with the people who had become like a family to him?  You guessed it--around a table.  He shared a meal with them celebrating the Passover, and during this meal around the table, he instituted Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper for the first time that night.  Since that sacred night, the table has been a powerful symbol in the Christian faith.  The communion table has been a place where bodies of believers, families of Christ, brothers and sisters in the faith, have come together as communities to break bread together, collectively remembering what Christ has done for us.  So, why treat our family table as just a simple piece of stained wood with four legs attached to it with screws?  It could be so much more than that.  If we let it, what goes on at the family table could be huge, important, and life-altering, too.

So, that's what we have done:  we have made the family table an important place in our home, something much more than just a table.  It's become a place to come together as a family, to talk with one another, to laugh with one another, to pray with one another, to share a meal together, and to listen to one another.  It's become a place where we show each other that we value one another more than cleaning the kitchen, more than the television, more than checking facebook and email on our cell phones, more than cooking.  It's a place where we show each other that we matter.  It's become a symbol for family.  Now when my son eats breakfast, I sit down at the table with him with the t.v. off (or tuned to a music station), and I eat breakfast with him. I do the same for lunch.  I sit down with him--no t.v., no cell phone, no doing other stuff around the house.  Even if I occasionally wait to eat lunch once he is napping, I still sit down and drink something at the table with him, and I stay at the table as if I were eating.  For dinner, I have been cooking earlier in the day so that the meal I make for my husband and I can be ready by my son's dinner time around 6:30 p.m.  No more fixing two different meals.  Our son is eating what I make for the family as a whole.  Has this changed mealtimes for us?  Yes!  Are mealtimes still a battle?  No!  We have so much fun sitting together as a family.  We're finding out that our little two year old is a very funny kid, and he really enjoys making us laugh with his little sense of humor.  I'm finding that the time of day in which I laugh the most is at our family dinner time.  My son's meal time behavior, for the most part (he still is two and a half after all), has been pleasant, calm, joyful, and enjoyable.  He is even trying new foods more willingly!  He has tried everything that I have cooked in the last three weeks, and has liked much of it.  I think now he feels like his mommy and daddy are making time for him.  We're showing him that family matters.  There's no need for him to throw his milk, to scream, or to do any of those things that made me feel like I was about to lose it.  He gets plenty of positive attention, and he even has positive attention to dish out to us.  My husband and I also know so much more about each other's days because we are setting special time apart out of our busy lives to just focus on one another.  I've been amazed at what the family table has done for us.  I have to say that it is quickly becoming my favorite place in our home.  Thank God for our family table.

January 18, 2011

Why Set Goals for Myself?

I am hopeful, excited, and to be quite honest with you, nervous, to begin traveling down this path towards becoming more like the noble woman in Proverbs 31.  For a long time, this nervousness has been holding me back.  In the beginning I didn't recognize what it was that was keeping me in fear. Finally I realized that it was nervousness (of failing, of not being able to do it on my own, of looking foolish, of disappointing others, myself, and God, the list really can go on forever...).  Yet at first, and extending into a very long time after that, I fully didn't understand why I was even nervous in the first place.  Recently, however, God has been giving me insights into my past and into my soul, and I'm now more aware of why this paralyzing nervousness exists.

Deciding how and in what areas of my life I needed to grow used to come easily to me.  In high school, both in academics and in athletics, I excelled in setting goals, following through with them, evaluating and re-evaluating myself, and setting new goals again.  I pushed myself, and I always aimed to better myself.  I never tried to be the best.  I just tried to do and to be my best.  My very wise and beautiful mother instilled that into me at a very young age, and she always stressed that she would be proud of me no matter what.  So, growing up in my small southeast Texas town, my motto was:  Be the best student that I can be.  Be the best volleyball and softball player that I can be.  Be the best friend that I can be.  Be the best leader that I can be, and so on, and so on.  This was what I did.  It was who I was, and I'm ashamed to say that I had a hard time identifying with people who struggled with motivation.  (Yuck, how arrogant!)  Looking back I now understand why it was so easy for me to stay motivated.  How could one surrounded by such an amazing and altruistic support system not be motivated?  This was one of those "ah ha" moments in my life.  My motivation did not come from myself at all.  Rather, it came from very specific people who God purposefully placed in my life as a teenager:  amazing teachers who believed I was capable of doing great things one day (God bless Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. McBride, and Mr. Perryman), tough, no-nonsense coaches who pushed me to my limits, loving parents who always encouraged me, loyal friends who supported me, and a selfless pastor who invested his precious and valuable time to teach and nurture me in the faith.

Unfortunately, during my college years, in which I was away from my support system and comfort zone, I seemed to lose sight of how to set and achieve goals effectively.  Don't get me wrong; I didn't go crazy or anything like that.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  It was in college that my heart burned even more for Christ.  I became extremely active at The Wesley Foundation Methodist Student Center at Texas A&M University.  I couldn't get enough of the worships, the deep bible studies, the small groups, the accountability, the crazy fun, the memorable trips, and the awesome friends.  I practically lived there.  I met my husband and some of my best friends there.  My parents even joked, and still do for that matter, that I majored in Wesley instead of in psychology.  Sure, my spiritual life was blooming.  I longed for authentic worship, I felt a part of a faith community, and I devoured the scriptures.  For the most part, I tried to let my spiritual growth affect my thoughts, my behavior, my attitude, and the words that came out of my mouth.  But I made a critical mistake:  I was not open to letting the spiritual growth permeate into other areas of my life, such as my seemingly ordinary and boring academic life.  Let me be clear.  When the Holy Spirit approached the flat, non-scenic, academic road of my life, I presented it with a hideous, bulky roadblock accompanied by a big, ugly, orange sign that read, "Detour".  During that time, instead of letting go so that my spiritual life could affect other areas of my life in positive and godly ways, it's as if I used my spiritual growth to replace the need to set and follow through with goals in other areas of my life.  I became unbalanced.  The result?  A very average, ho-hum college education.  I could have gotten so much more out of that experience.  I could have learned so much more.  To me my spiritual life and my academic life were two very separate things entirely.  Not only that, but I even thought, "Why should they have anything to do with the other?"  Behold, the idiot.

When you grow spiritually, it should not only be evident in your worship and in how you practice what Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline calls your spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, studying scripture, fasting, etc.) , but it should be evident in every aspect of your life--no matter how mundane, worldly, and seemingly unimportant you think it might be.  I just didn't get that.  When graduate school finally rolled around, and also with my teaching career, it seemed easy to set and achieve goals again.  In graduate school, I knew that my future depended on it.  With so many cooperative study groups and projects, I also knew that other students were depending on me and the work that I put into it.  With teaching, I knew that I was standing on holy ground.  Being a part of children's lives in a positive way, impacting their hopes and dreams, loving them enough to set boundaries for them and discipline them, and spurring them on to do great things and to believe in themselves--that was sacred.  And I knew it.  I knew the stakes were high, and I knew what it would take of me to be the best graduate student and elementary school teacher that I could possibly be.  So I put in the time to make sure that I excelled.  I finally got it.  My professional goals and how I achieved them were closely intertwined with my journey of faith.  God was calling me to be in seminary, and God was calling me into the first grade classroom.  Therefore, the goals, how ever practical they may have been, held deep, significant, and spiritual meaning.

Now, I've come to a new chapter in my life--a chapter that began when my son was eleven months old.  I am now a stay-at-home mom.  More than anything in my life, I felt this calling the deepest.  Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have realized that I have been growing more spiritually again, which excites me.   When I first began to stay at home full time, I knew that calling involved spending more quality time with my son and husband, making them more of a priority, focusing on our family time together, nurturing my son spiritually, playing with him, having silly fun together, and teaching him social skills, his letters and numbers, and all sorts of other things --all the easy and fun things about being a stay-at-home mom.  That part of the calling was a no brainer.  Here's the sad part.  I never realized until recently that if being a stay-at-home mom is truly a calling from God for me, then I should embrace ALL aspects of being a stay-at-home mom as a calling--even the mundane, worldly, seemingly unimportant tasks that go along with being a stay-at-home mom that are not that fun at all.  Even those things are part of this calling.  Who am I to pick and choose what part of my calling to follow?  When I first realized this,  my prayers and struggles with God looked a little something like this, "Grocery shopping and cooking?  Really?  That has something to do with spiritual things?  All sitting down at the table to eat together as a family?  And, God, did you say eat without the t.v. on?  Maybe I'm hearing you wrong.  Surely, you don't care how hard I work to get my child to eat vegetables willingly?  Seriously, God?  This is intertwined into my relationship with you?  Getting our family on a budget, spending money wisely, and getting out of debt?  That is a part of my spiritual walk with you, Lord?  And come on.  Laundry?  Give me a break.  You've got to be kidding."  Once I finished throwing my temper tantrum, I accepted that the reality of the situation is that being a stay-at-home mom is my full-time job, my calling, and it's time to embrace all of it--not just the parts that I pick and choose.  My behavior would be like the Israelites choosing to skip the forty years of wandering in the desert.  No thank you, God.  Just please fast forward me straight to the promised land, the good stuff.  Thanks.  Now, saying that I need to view the every day, ordinary tasks of running a home as part of this calling is not to say that my husband doesn't cook, clean, spend time with our son, change diapers, do laundry, etc.  In our marriage we are equal partners.  But, lately, I have not been carrying my load when it comes to these ordinary tasks.  And when I do, I am not doing it out of a joyful heart and with a heart of a servant carrying out her divine calling.

So, what are my goals for 2011?  How do I plan on beginning on the path towards becoming like the godly wife and mother that Proverbs 31 speaks so highly of?
  • Plan meals for one entire week at a time and grocery shop once a week for these meals.
  • Cook at least 4-5 meals at home for my family per week.
  • Get my son to try everything that I cook for a meal at least once, and get him to fully eat at least one thing that I cook each meal (It can be a main dish or a side, and it is acceptable to supplement with other food he likes.)
  • Get my son to eat a variety and all of his vegetables at meal times.
  • Have my son, my husband, and I all eating dinner at the same time, sitting down all together as a family at the table with the t.v off and no cell phones.  (Music is okay.)
  • Sit down at the table with my son when he is eating breakfast and lunch, even if I am not eating.  I won't simply be in the kitchen doing other stuff while he is eating.
  • Load and run the dishwasher at night before bed.
  • Designate one day a week to doing multiple loads of laundry.
  •  Try the local early childhood PTA. (This will be an outlet for me to socialize and learn from other stay-at-home moms and guest speakers as well as an opportunity for my son to have structured play time and activities with other children.)
  • Be more committed to attending the weekly women's bible study at my church on Wednesdays.  (Make it to at least 24 sessions this year.  The bible study does not meet during the summer.)
  • Try the MOM'S group at church that meets bi-monthly. (This will be another great outlet for me to fellowship with other moms, but in a Christian setting where we can learn from one another, encourage one another, grow spiritually with one another, and keep one another accountable.)
  • Take part in at least one other various bible study at my church throughout the year (Crossing Point mini bible studies every three months, lent bible studies, advent bible studies, etc.)
  • Teach my son his letter sounds and numbers in a more organized way.
  • Join the weekly Christ-focused preschool group that my friends started.
  • Nurture my son spiritually and creatively (through having him attend Sunday School and church, through taking part in the weekly Christ-focused preschool group together, and through nightly prayer time).
  • Schedule at least one play date a week outside other weekly activities in which being with other children is a given.
  • Set a reasonable family budget, stick to it, and use Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace concepts to learn how to spend money wisely so that we can begin to get our family out of some debt.

The Proverbs 31 Project runs much deeper than surface goals for me.  This, above all, will be a spiritual journey.  Yes, I have goals that are very practical concerning my development in my role as a mother and a wife.  Yes, I have goals concerning my household and my family's well-being as a whole.  And yes, I have goals concerning the educational, social, and physical development of my two year old son.  But all of these goals and the accomplishment of these goals spawn from a deeper yearning:  to personally grow spiritually as I carry out my calling to be a stay-at-home mom and to help my son, in turn, grow spiritually.  These are not things that I can "accomplish" or that I can do on my own.  God is the One who is the ultimate transformer.  It will not be me doing the work, but God doing the work through me.   So here I am, Lord, waiting to be transformed.

January 13, 2011

The Purpose for this Blog--Becoming The Proverbs 31 Woman

I want to be something that I'm not.  I want to be the woman of all women, the one so many of us women of faith strive earnestly to be.  Who is this mystery woman, you ask?  Who else?  It's the ever allusive Proverbs 31 Woman.  Some of you might be thinking, "Okay, but who in the world is that?"  Then again, some of you might know who I'm talking about and may be able to say that you already are living the life of the Proverbs 31 Woman, or you're at least on the way to becoming this woman.  Well, congratulations.  I want what you have!   I, on the other hand, am not there yet.  Not even close...that is yet.  After ten wonderful years of marriage to the most loving, supportive, giving, intelligent (and not to mention handsome)  man there is, and after two and a half years of being a mom to the most adorable, amazing, joyful, funny, and energetic little boy ever, my mission for 2011 is this (drum roll, please):  stop beating myself up over not being like the Proverbs 31 Woman and do something about it.  I'm beginning on the journey, folks.  Not only do I deserve to be this kind of woman for myself, but my husband deserves to be married to this kind of wife, and most importantly, my son deserves to have this kind of mother.

Some may say that it's a lofty goal, that it's impossible to become this noble woman who King Solomon speaks so highly of in his little book of wise sayings in the Old Testament of the Bible.  After all, she does have it all together.  Maybe that's what has kept me from trying in the past.  The outcome just seemed too far out of reach, too ethereal and mystical, like something you see and want in a dream but never seem close enough to touch.  But recently, I've been praying and thinking, thinking and praying, reading scripture, thinking, and praying some more.  Maybe as godly women who want to influence our families in extraordinary ways and be amazing wives, mothers, friends, daughters, workers, members of society, etc., we don't have to be perfect in all of these roles.  And to go even further, maybe God doesn't expect us to be perfect in all of these roles.  Here's a thought.  Maybe, just maybe, we are called to just have the heart of the Proverbs 31 Woman, and God will use our hearts to lead us towards gradual transformation into the ultimate wife, mother, friend, etc. The Proverbs 31 Woman is the role model.  She's the example that all Christian women look to.  Maybe God can take the very small things that we do in our simple, every day, ordinary lives and turn them into something absolutely extraordinary. 

So this year is going to be the year that I finally get my act together and start at least trying to live like this amazingly strong woman.  Year after year I have a yearning to whip my life into shape, but I never seem to be able to follow through.  My goals are usually wishy-washy, vague, immeasurable, not rooted in my faith in Christ, or too overwhelming; that is, if I even name my goals at all.  This is the year that all that changes.  I have a clear focus, and I have created a list of goals that are actually very practical in helping me on this long road of becoming more like the Proverbs 31 Woman.  I'm actually quite proud of myself for being able to do this, thank you very much.  During this process in which I am about to embark, I'm sure that I will have moments of success, and I'm most certain that I will fall flat on my face more than once.  I'm sure that there will be times of joy, frustration, tears, pride, accomplishment, discouragement, laughter, apathy, and such, but I am committed to doing this for my family and for me.  I believe with all my heart that THIS is what God is calling me to do this year.  This blog will hopefully give me the accountability that I need in setting out on this long journey.  I'm not so arrogant to think that I will be like the Proverbs 31 mom and wife by the time 2012 rolls around.  I know that this journey to get to where both God and I really want me to be will probably take me a lifetime, but it's a beginning... 

A wife of noble character who can find?
     She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
     and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
     all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax
     and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
      bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark;
      she provides food for her family
      and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
     out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
     her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
     and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
     and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor
     and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
     for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
      she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate, 
     where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
     and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
     she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
     and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
     and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
     her husband also, and he praises her;
"Many women do noble things,
     but you surpass them all."
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
     but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her the reward she has earned,
     and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
(From Proverbs 31:10-31 in the Bible)