Featured Posts

Have You Eaten? Very Easy Homemade Breadsticks (or Rolls!)

We LOVE these breadsticks from the moneysavingmom.com blog.
They are fantastic. Highly recommended. Delicious. Easy. So happy. 

What? No bread machine? Don't let that recipe title stop you! 

Have you ever looked inside one? 
No? Well, here you go. The little paddle goes round and round and doesn't give up, the pan holds everything, and the computer keeps the time. That's it! You can do this. 

I mean, bread machines are awesome, but all they are really doing is giving you confidence as your dough is mixing, kneading, and letting it rise. So that's all you have to provide. :) 

Mixing: Your own bowl, your own spoon (or mixer!), and your own arm. Round and round until you have a blob! 

Kneading: Put a little flour on the clean counter. Pick up your dough, flop it down on the counter with as little or as much force as your day dictates. Fold it in half and mash. Repeat until it's stuck nicely to itself and has gotten a little stretchy. 

Rising: You can grease a bowl with a little olive oil, put in your dough ball, and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. If your house isn't very warm, you can let it rise in the (TURNED OFF) oven with just the oven light on. If you wait an hour, it should be ready to proceed with the recipe from the part where you take it out of the bread machine! Ta-dah!

Shaping: I liked her method of shaping these breadsticks, but I have been enjoying just making snakes and baking them that way. You can also make balls and suddenly you have so amazingly made homemade rolls! 

Give yourself some mad credit for going over and above! You're suddenly the kind of person who can make homemade bread...oh yes, you are!

Have You Eaten? Super Easy Beef and Noodles

If you're in a season of "just trying to hold on," it can be hard to 1) have creative ideas and 2) do anything that requires extra effort.  In my experience, figuring out what to have for dinner and then executing that plan can feel tough. When you add in picky eaters, your pantry situation, a limited take-out budget, and whatever happened between 4 and 6 p.m. today that you didn't expect--it starts to feel impossible. Never mind thinking about the dishes that will have to be washed. If it is harder than making four boxes of mac and cheese, it goes to the bottom of the list. Sometimes mac and cheese feels too hard also, and if you're there...you are not alone. We are just trying to hold on!

This recipe is for you. I got it from my aunt years ago, and I've been grateful ever since. It's one of the few things that everyone in my family likes right now (no promises for yours). Since it’s really easy to make mostly ahead, I like it too. I seriously just throw a frozen hunk of beef in there and let it go. Then it doesn't much matter what happens at 4 p.m., and I can let the morning's coffee carry me through the main execution. I'm no chef; I'm just a woman trying to get the food in the bellies. 

Beef and Noodles in the Slow Cooker

I make this in a 6 or 7-quart slow cooker to serve about 8; but you could easily scale down for a 3-4 qt. crockpot—just use half as much of everything as a starting place.

3-4 lbs. chuck roast; or stew beef
Water to cover beef and fill crockpot 2/3 full (8-10 cups)
3-5 beef bouillon cubes or equivalent amount of beef broth instead of water, to taste
1 lb. wide egg noodles (could use whole wheat noodles, or frozen egg noodles, as you please)
Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: Place roast in crockpot, cover with water and stir in beef bouillon. Cover with lid and cook on low for...several hours or until you want to eat in an hour. I generally leave this all day. 
Step 2: Half an hour or so before eating, shred meat in crockpot with forks. (A chuck roast will probably just collapse before you. A particularly tough piece of meat like the cubed steak I was using yesterday can be beaten into submission with a stand mixer, then put back in.) Taste broth and add more beef bouillon, salt and pepper, or other seasonings as desired.
Step 3:  Add egg noodles and stir, replace lid and let sit for until the noodles are ready--that's somewhere around half an hour, but it can wait a while too. I serve this in bowls with spoons. 

One might do better to thaw it or use fresh meat, brown it in some oil, make it the day ahead and chill the broth in the fridge to skim the fat off, then reheat and go to the noodle stage the next day...but...I haven’t done that since I had kids. I'll leave that to you.  That lowers its rating on the Box-o-Mac Scale significantly.  

One feeling creative might add whatever other spices you please...but I think the non-spiced factor here explains the success with my crew.

If you have other super easy "just fill the bellies" meals, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below!

Making Progress Against "All-Or-Nothing Thinking"

One of the Life Pits I often fall into is "all-or-nothing thinking."

What "all-or-nothing thinking" is, essentially, is this: if I can't figure out how to do or be something all the way to my ideal, I feel paralyzed to doing or being anything at all. This works its way out in things such as:

  • "If I am going to eat a cookie, I should go ahead and eat every cookie that exists. Or, I will NEVER be able to eat any cookie EVER again." 
  • "If I can't workout for 150 minutes a week like the recommendation says, I should not even bother to get any exercise in at all." 
  • "If I can't workout for 60 minutes, I don't have time to work out." 
  • John Wesley said something like, "I don't have time not to pray," so since I'm not even wanting to pray for four hours a day, I can't bother to discipline myself to pray for 10 minutes. Or five. Or one. Same with scripture reading. 
  • If something is broken in my marriage or my friendship, nothing that may be good about it actually counts. The entire thing is irretrievable, and I need to approach it defensively because it will surely end in the worst-case scenario. 
  • If I can't mop the floor, there's no reason to sweep it either. 
It's amazing how prevalent this way of thinking is in my mind. It's unhelpful because it often keeps me from taking any positive action and leave me feeling hopeless about future change. I struggle with my attitude overall, then, because I feel like I am either doing things perfectly or failing entirely.

But one of the things the Bible calls us to is to have sound or sober judgment. One instance of this is Romans 12:3.  "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." (NIV)  

Over the years I simply have been unable to have the kind of clear-headed self-assessment like we're encouraged to have in this verse. My temptation is to go all the way to blind condemnation borne out of disappointment and shame. I heard the call to sound self-assessment there, but it didn't strike me as life-giving. At best, I saw it as a call to pop whatever happy or hopeful balloon may have been floating by. Even though I strongly hesitate to judge others' performance according to all-or-nothing criteria, I'd be very quick to condemn myself on the same ones.  In my heart that has usually gone directly to "You, Katie, have been weighed in the balance and found wanting."

All-or-nothing thinking buddies up with shame to distort my perception and paralyze progress.

But to be of sound mind, to put a moderate estimate upon one's self as opposed to thinking too highly of one's self (you can check out the great study tools at www.blueletterbible.org for yourself) is the actual charge in this verse.

Yes, thinking "I'm the best one ever! I never get it wrong! No messing up here! Jesus sure must love me because I'm a good disciple" is also incorrect. But to go directly to "You Loser! How could you even think Jesus would want to use you, let alone accept you!" is also not using a sound and sober judgment. That's just a voice of shame, not God's voice. And one of the many lessons that we need to practice in our life-long pursuit of becoming more and more like Jesus is--hearing his voice! Let's listen more to the truth and less to just whatever I'm thinking or feeling today.

After all, back at Romans 12:3, Paul says that this sober-mindedness is in the context of "in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." Even if it's small faith; let's offer it up to God.  Let's not forget while we're reading Romans 12 that Romans 8 came before--"Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:34)

So, yes, today I may have blown it. And I miss the mark, a thousand times. I have! I do! I'm slow to grow a lot of the time. I struggle with things; the same things; for years and years. But the other side of the balanced assessment is that I am also accepted by Jesus, who loves me, values me, and does in fact have a good plan for me. This is the same Jesus who has began a good work in me and will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

It's good to be in the process. It's good to be taking baby steps. It's good to start out with doing the smallest possible thing to improve if that's what it takes. Baby steps are not for the weak losers who can't take bigger steps. They are for people who are learning to walk!

So if it's 60-seconds of working out today; hey--you worked out. If it's reading and repeating to yourself one sentence out of the Bible today; hey--you have the beginning of a spiritual discipline there. Do what is actually do-able for you today and offer it up to our loving Jesus who can sympathize with our weakness (see Hebrews 4:15) and is interceding for us.

What do you think, friends? Do you have any experience with this struggle? How have you dealt with it?

The Soul of ShameP.S. May I recommend to you the book The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson? It is a helpful explanation about how shame operates in our minds and hearts, and how we can fight back. It's helped form some of my thinking on this topic.

When I Feel Sad (With Chart!)

Here's a theory for you, at the risk of over-simplifying:

Emotions are like the instruments in my van's dashboard. They monitor the interaction between my engine and the ground and provide data about how that's going. My control panel can tell me how hard I'm pushing it the engine, the relative speed at which I'm cruising, and how much fuel is left in the tank for future adventuring. My check-engine light may come on to tell you something isn't quite right....and ignoring it may lead to nothing or to disaster. And yes, sometimes particular instruments or even the whole panel could be broken and need to go see the mechanic.

Even unpleasant emotions, I think, are gifts from God to alert us to something. So, anger can tell us that there's something wrong in the realm of justice that needs to be redressed or stopped. (I didn't invent that example; I heard it somewhere once....and have been chewing on it since. If I ever figure out where it was, I'll let you know.) Sadness can be our heart's cry over loss or disappointment; loneliness reminds us of our need to connect with others. The pleasant feelings are gifts to alert us also: feelings of happiness and love, for instance, point us to the awesome reality of God's love and presence, to the joy of being in healthy relationship with others; and to our hope for the moment when we will be made new!

What I do not do with my van's instrument panel, though, is assign a moral value to what it says. The tools are just there to help me drive safely to where I want to go.  I know I can get to the supermarket and back even if I'm LOW FUEL, so I can safely carry on until I get to the gas station. A  mood swing? Probably I can just deal until it swings back. A bad day? Sure; tomorrow will probably be better.

But what if I can't just keep on going effectively? If I'm suffering or limping along because of my emotions, it would be wise for me to stop and see if there's something that needs adjusting. Sometimes it can be a small adjustment, sometimes it's going to need to be a harder and deeper series of fixes, or maybe it's going to be something I have to learn to sit with for the rest of my life. For instance, I'd point you to Mary's insightful and grace-full posts about depression, anxiety, and other hard things. But it's okay to be feeling.

There have been so many times where I knew something wasn't quite right with me, but I didn't know where to start and didn't have the energy to figure it out. May I humbly offer you this little chart as a very basic tool if your dashboard is flashing "SAD"?

What other things might be helpful for dealing with sadness in its various forms? I'd be happy to hear your ideas in the comments.

Learning to Pray the Psalms: Quarantine Edition

I was chugging along in 2020 like the rest of us; excited about the things God might be doing in the earth and with me; excited for signing up my baby for kindergarten and not really looking back; excited for moving into some kind of new phase where I might feel like a Really Useful Engine Person. Okay, so maybe I didn't have any solid plans yet, but I had lots of ideas!
Now it appears that whatever plans I had for 2020, they've been cancelled. Opportunities I wanted to have come to me...and even the ones I may have been planning to go and grab...seem to have vanished. We're all suddenly in a different world.

I've heard from many sources the idea that this all just goes to show us how little control we actually have over anything--except--as I keep insisting to my teen...our own attitudes! She finds this insistence truly bothersome, but I see providing friendly true commentary that she will one day have to reflect back on as correct as my job :).

But actually. Keeping my attitude in check can be difficult. Fear is there, waiting. Anxiety lurks, calling out. Difficult interactions at home abound.  Uncertainty about the future suddenly is in sharp focus.

Everybody I know has spoken of having a day in the last 6 weeks that just really got them down. Mine was the day school got cancelled for the rest of the year. The tears were right at the surface for me that day, all day long. Since then, there have been good days and less good days, and bad days. It changes.

This is okay, I think. This situation has its real difficulties and is calling upon us to respond to things we're not accustomed to. Whatever difficulty or even plain old sin issues we faced in our families or in our own hearts before, now there's no distraction and less chance to take a break from dealing with them before God or with one another. To my mind, that pressure is a grace and an opportunity--but it's still difficult.

Our pastor has been pushing in on the Psalms in his sermons regularly for many months now. The general flow of these has been that in the Psalms we can see how God's people can take every opportunity to pray honestly and faithfully, and how God's faithfulness, mercy, and love reaches out to them in, through, and beyond anything that life can bring.

So when I do remember to open up my Bible lately, I've been opening up there. But when we start talking about "Praying the Psalms," I have traditionally kind of dried up.

Now, here's a psalm that I've seen before and found a little baffling, especially as it comes to "praying it."
Psalm 131 (NIV)
My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Maybe I just wasn't reading with enough imagination, but I've always wondered...how am I supposed to pray that? Am I just supposed to just read it out loud to God and stick "me" in there for the "I" of the Psalmist? I'd then sort of get stuck worrying about whether my heart actually was proud, and knowing it probably was, and how this person could actually be so bold as to claim his wasn't.
Then, I mean, I liked to think my eyes weren't haughty, because that's a cardinal value in my family of origin: don't be a snob. And then the next part---in earlier years I considered very few matters to be too wonderful for me, and frankly I wanted the world's great matters to be my matters. And that next section that I'd hear the commentators say is so lovely--well, my experience with weaned children suggested someone pulling and demanding things, climbing on top of me, and making me have to sit still even if my arm had gone numb. And what any of this had to do with Israel putting hope in the LORD I couldn't say.

But happily I have grown slowly over the years, and this psalm came more alive to me the other day. The first hook for me to climb in was here as a gift from God from the new COVID-19 reality: a renewed sense of great matters being too wonderful for me. The government's plan for me to stop, fix, or pause the spread of coronavirus is to keep my family on my property and put on my Spiderman face mask when I go out alone for groceries as infrequently as possible. That's not particularly wonderful, but the problem sure is a great matter above my pay grade.

That brought me back around to "my heart is not proud." Let me open up space in my heart to believe that God's definition of what is good for me may not match what I thought was good for me, but that if He says it's good...it's me that needs to adjust. Maybe this is part of 'my heart is not proud'.

So I can pray:
God, please change my heart to be humble, to have a strong trust in you and your plans. I know that you are not asleep and that you are fully at the helm to steer us according to your purpose. Let my eyes not be haughty, God. Let me look at the things You're directing me to, with Your right perspective.

But GOD's plan for me right now appears to be involves praying for him to intervene because of his Great Mercy and do what I have no capacity to do. I can check in and show care and concern for the people in my neighborhood, church community, or city--and act on whatever needs I might stumble on. I can do what I can to pray my kids and family through this unique situation, and to pray them through the struggles they were already having anyway!

So I can pray:
God, please intervene in our situation and stop COVID-19 from further spread. Please provide relief and comfort to the suffering, make our hearts soft to you, and empower me to do what I can to help others. Help me to do well with the things you have put in front of me: help me remain physically and mentally healthy, help me to love and care for my family well; protect us, God.

Now, onto the weaned child part. My delightful 5-year-old has been helping me with this one. Her dad was reading Ramona the Pest to her the other day as she protested. "This book is boring!" (No, child, this book is hilarious because it's about YOU!) A few more minutes went by...and it became clear that she had fallen asleep in her dad's lap as he read. We called her for dinner. She woke up and cheered, and came to the table. "I don't like this dinner!" she said as she shoved her plate away...and abruptly put her head down on the table--asleep again. She stayed there until after dishes were done, when I transferred her to bed ("Oh yay!" she said through closed eyes). This girl has no doubt whatsoever that she is loved, provided for, and safe in her parents' care, even when she needs discipline, even when she makes a mess of things, even when she can't go play with friends because of coronavirus.

So I can pray:
Thank you, Lord, for a picture of resting in your love that I can see with my own eyes. God, help me to rest in You like such a child. Thank you that your word says I'm loved, chosen, and delighted in. Increase my faith, please. I know you are caring for us, God, and I thank you. 

And then what used to strike me as a weird ending--Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore...It's an encouragement to us. Let us as God's people take this opportunity to rejoice in God's faithfulness throughout history and our own personal timelines, to trust in his goodness, and to expect with confidence that he will continue to keep his good promises.

So I can pray:
 Jesus, please move through your Spirit in the hearts of your people, that we would find our HOPE in YOU, forever. Thank you that you've allowed us such an opportunity; comfort us in our difficulty, grief, and fear. We know you are Emmanuel, 'God-with-us,' Jesus--thank you, and open our eyes to your words, your movement, and your calling to us even in this time. Help us be faithful.

I'd love to hear about any scriptures that have been meaningful to YOU in this season, and maybe we can encourage one another--if you'd please leave a comment for that purpose, I'd be grateful.

Facing the Opportunity to Make Changes

My husband and I noted recently that we have entered a new season of parenting. It's not so physically demanding anymore--I only have to intervene in the bathroom occasionally, though there's definitely pee on the floor. People can brush their own teeth, if they only would. Everyone can change clothes independently when they want to. Most of them can bathe themselves. Even the youngest is in school for a few hours each week. That's a beautiful thing. 

No, there's still physical labor involved, but parenting has largely become an exhausting mental and emotional exercise: I have a full-fledged middle schooler with whom drama waits around every turn. There’s another in whom I can actually see the transition into preteen happening--and before my eyes he's boarded the emotional roller coaster and gone for a long and grumpy ride. The next one will collapse to the ground screaming about how he's "the worst boy in the world" if he's corrected about anything. And one is incredibly energetic preschooler who is just as likely to cut her hair off at the roots as she is to take a nap. (As I said, there's still some physicality.)

In the next year, all of the little people will be having an entire school day. At school. Like, they won't be home. With me. A lot.  That will be a new season.

So my thoughts have been turning to what might I do with myself as the hours of my day are not filled up with direct childcare? I've been pondering this at length and come up with...little. My husband asked me, "Well, where do you want to be in 10 years? What steps might you take now towards that?" I think that's a wise thing to think about, but my head nearly exploded. 10 years from now?! I can barely imagine it. I'm going to hold that in the back of my mind, but I think I need to just consider the upcoming season for now.

I stepped entirely out of the workforce to be a mom, and I'm very out of practice and out of licensure. Should I go back to school myself? For what purpose? Should I take baby steps toward some out-of-the-house career reentry and substitute teach, or volunteer more than very part-time? Should I try something entirely new? Should I immerse myself in hobbies, or in housework (bleh--please, no!), or in writing something long, or in looking for any job I can find, because...at least one of these kids is college-bound and someone has to pay for it? I know something doesn't have to be financially profitable to be valuable, but...do I need to be partially profitable? How is what I have been doing valuable, and if that's right, shouldn't I just keep on doing it? Or no? Or partly that, but partly something else?

How do I figure out if the opportunity to make an adjustment is the same thing as a desire to make one, or a calling to make one? Or is there such a thing?

Here are a series of questions that I'm thinking about as I ponder "what's next--"  if anything! These are not in ranked order; they are all swirling around, some larger and louder than others. Maybe they would be worth considering for anyone facing an opportunity to make a change.

  • As a follower of Jesus, what might Jesus be asking me to do or become? What might it look like to continue in my desire to lay down my life, day-by-day, for Christ's sake? Maybe it's just to keep on keeping on where I'm at, with what I'm doing? Or maybe it's to adjust a little? Or maybe a lot?
  • What's good for me? I've been persuaded that this should factor in somewhere. But...what if I don't even know what I might want? I hardly know how to spend a morning out at this point?
  • What's good for my family? They still need me, don't they? But how much, and at what times and in what ways? How would any new things mess with what we've been doing? 
  • What's good for my marriage? It's good, but how might it remain so? How might we grow? 
  • How can I invest my life, my time, and my energy in what is good? I'm nervous about wasting it.
  • How can I be faithful in the upcoming season? Can I envision a way in which the steps I take next are wrapped up in the same story God's writing with my life already? 

I'd appreciate your prayers on my behalf about this, personally. 

As I continued to wrestle with these thoughts recently, I was both encouraged and a little distressed by re-reading the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  Jesus talks about the master going on a long journey, who calls three servants to himself, entrusts to each a certain amount of money (the talents, in certain translations), and leaves. The two servants with the larger amounts of money each traded with or invested them and earned a return on their investment, which they happily brought back to the master when it was time. The servant with the smallest amount of money succumbed to fear of his master's harshness and buried his potential investment in the ground. All he had to show for his time and the trust that his master had shown was the same piece of money, just dirtier. 'You should have at least left it with the bankers to earn interest!' the master scolds. The other two servants are praised for their actions and invited to enter the master's joy, and he gives them the leftover dirty talent to work with in the future.

This teaching is nestled in between the parable of the ten virgins who either do or do not run out of lamp oil for lack of foresight and preparation; and Jesus teaching about the judgment of the King where the people are sorted into the blessed sheep and the goats who are sent away. The sheep were the ones who acted with compassion and mercy toward the suffering, and the King takes this as a personal favor; the goats failed to do so, which the King takes a personal insult.

This parable at this time means a couple things to me.

First, it reminded me that my very life is a gift given for God's use; and likewise, so are my interests, my abilities, and my gifts. To spend them with Christ in mind is the first step in making a solid investment--after all, no investor can MAKE her investment pay a return; we just try to choose wisely, keep an eye on it, adjust as necessary, and wait for a return. So, self--Just Keep Breathing.

Second, it reminds me that the needs of others matter very much to God, and He just may have created me in my situation, with my interests, abilities, and gifts, to be able to make an investment in alleviating suffering or otherwise provide some remedy to the problems or challenges facing my sphere of influence. What if the privilege to not have to immediately find the biggest income possible is itself one of the talents I have been given in this season? I have the freedom to sit and consider these things; let me be thankful and rest a bit in that rather than take it up as yet another thing to be anxious about. So, self--there are many opportunities, and possibly Several Good Answers. This may not be about finding the One True Thing.

Do you have such an opportunity coming up? How have you gone about making your decisions? Have you lived through it already? What has your experience been? How have you seen God's faithfulness in your story?

I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Mom for the Win!

So...on NPR the other day I read an article about a kid who shoved a Barbie shoe up her nose. The loving parents took her to the ER (because you've gotta get it out, right?) and got the thing taken out with surgical instruments in 60 seconds or less. Then they got a huge bill--that's what the article was about. But in there they discussed what other options these parents later learned they had. One of these is "the mother's kiss": You press the kid's one nostril shut with your finger, seal over their mouth with your mouth (cpr style), and blow. Do this a few times, and your foreign object may just be blown out back into the "grabbing with a tissue" range.
I had occasion to test this out for you today.
If you must know, these two actually we got out with her own blowing; it was a third that had gone into the abyss...which I figured out after she clearly was still feeling tickly in her nose after this first round.
It worked. You're welcome.

The kid was playing with these beads unsupervised. Apparently that was unwise. I thought about calling this "Mom Fails" because that's how I generally feel about it. On reflection, however, I decided to go with "Mom for the Win!" because that's going to make me chuckle. Plus, it's another ridiculous situation we get into that we ultimately get out of...so that's a win.

Even "Good Moms" still fail sometimes. Fail to supervise with extreme precision every single minute. Fail to protect from every possible hazard. Fail to think of every possible scenario the kids might get themselves into. Fail to respond in the absolutely most positive way. Fail to respond positively at all. But you know what? It's okay. More on this another time.