So many good things

There are so many things I want to do in life, and so little time to do it all. There are many different career paths I’d like to take, hobbies and skills I want to learn, places I want to go, and things I want to see and experience. Each day my list of things I want to do is longer than what I can possibly get done.

Because there are so many “good things” that I could spend my time on, I have to be very cognizant of making time for the most important things.

Have you seen the illustration of the jar with pebbles and sand? Imagine that the jar is your life. The biggest rocks are the most important things in life, smaller pebbles are not as important but still very good and beneficial, and the sand is all the extra stuff that fills in the rest. If you pour the sand in first, then you will not have any room for the pebbles and rocks! But if you put the rocks and pebbles in first, then you can pour the sand in afterwards and it will fill in all the gaps.

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In other words, it is imperative that I make sure my big rocks are in the jar before I start filling in with sand. The biggest rocks for me are spending time with my family and teaching my children, spending time in God’s Word and prayer, and being part of a church fellowship. Smaller pebbles for me are exercising, cooking healthy meals, adequate sleep, having quiet time each day to reflect and ponder – still very needed in my life, but not as important as the big ones. Then the sand is all the other stuff – tv, facebook, gardening, traveling, reading, hobbies, and so on.

Notice here that the small pebbles and even all the sand particles are still beneficial, good things. I’m not advocating for making room in your life for any unfruitful endeavors or unhealthy leisure activities. Your rocks, pebbles and sand will be different than mine are, and that is fine and good, but all the things we are filling our jar with should be beneficial things.  And then out of those good things, we need to prioritize.

This reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible. Martha was busy busy busy with “good things”. She was rushing around trying to get some food together to serve Jesus. She had invited him in, so of course she wanted to serve him perhaps some tea and cookies, or maybe even a whole Thanksgiving dinner. It seems noble and good to serve Him some food. He is a guest in her home after all. But sadly, she missed out on the most important thing. Her day ended up being filled with small pebbles and sand, rather than a huge rock of the most important thing – sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Luke 10:38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

I can relate to Martha in this story, because each day, there are so many activities clamoring for my attention. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness, and forget the most important things. It’s tempting to turn on my phone and check facebook “just for a few minutes” before reading my Bible (which just happened last week as you can read about right here). But if we spend time on our “sand” first, then what so often happens is that we end up filling up all of our time with sand and leave out the rocks and pebbles of the most important things. Facebook is not wrong to spend time on, but if it is taking the place of the more important things, then it’s got to get out of the jar until the rocks and pebbles are in place.

There are so many wonderful things we can spend our time on in this life. Good things, beautiful things, helpful things, fruitful things. But we must not fill our jar with so much sand that we miss out on the rocks and pebbles. Look at your life and consider your rocks, pebbles, and sand. Does your day reflect that? Are the most important things, the rocks, getting a prime spot in your day? Do you ensure the rocks and pebbles get time in your day, or is the sand filling up so much that you can’t squeeze the rock in?

Prioritize. List out your “to-do’s”. Make sure that the most important things get done before spending time on your not so important ones. Rocks before pebbles, pebbles before sand.

I will never have enough time on this earth to do all that I want to do. Too many places to go, things to do, ideas to explore. But I do have time for the most important things.

Mark 12:28-31: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Be fruitful, healthy, happy. And get those rocks in the jar first.

Grain-free meatballs (paleo)

When I was growing up, my mom was known for her delicious meatball recipe. She took it to potlucks and it was requested for birthday meals. Everyone raved about her meatballs.

When I became an adult and moved out, the recipe was handed down to me, and I figured it would become one of my go-to recipes too.

But…fast forward several years, and I have two children who can’t eat grains. Mom’s recipe has bread crumbs in it, and my children can’t eat bread, so for a long time we did without meatballs. But, oh, how I missed this childhood comfort food! So, I took matters into my own hands, and developed my own grain-free version that tastes pretty similar to moms. Maybe not quite as good, but an excellent substitute.

So first preheat your oven to 350, and just mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

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3 lb ground beef or turkey

2 eggs

1/2 t. dried basil

1 t. dried garlic powder

2 t. dried oregano

1/2 t. pepper

1/2 t. dried onion powder

1 t. salt

1/2 cup coconut flour

A spoon doesn’t usually work for mixing these. You’ve got to get messy with your hands. Mash it all together. Smash, smush, squeeze, until it’s all uniformly mixed.

Now take a nice little chunk of it and shape into a ball. Whatever size you feel like making. Preciseness is of no importance here. I usually get about 20-25 balls out of this recipe.

Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. You like my stained pan? My unsolicited advice – don’t trust a cook with spotless shiny baking pans. IMG_6323

After they’re done baking, place them all in a crockpot and cover with your sauce of choice (my simple marinara is at the end of this post). Keep on low for about 4 -5 hours. If you don’t have time for the slow crockpot, then just put all the balls in a big saucepan, cover with sauce and simmer for 30 minutes or so.

And then, yay for meatballs!

Be fruitful, healthy, happy. And eat more meatballs!

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Simple marinara sauce recipe:

Mix all in a bowl: 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 14 oz can diced tomatoes, 6 oz. can tomato paste, 2-4 t. chopped garlic (depending on how much you like garlic), 2 t. dried oregano, 1/2 t. salt, 1/4 t. pepper, 1 t. sweetener if desired.

(If you want plenty of sauce for the meatballs and also for pasta or zoodles, then double the recipe of sauce. One batch is sufficient for just the meatballs though.)

Planning my time

Every morning, I wake up with a whole list of stuff I need to do, an even longer list of stuff I want to do. Goals for the day. This morning, I woke up at 6am, so I could read my Bible and pray until 6:30, and then exercise for 30 minutes until the baby woke up at 7am. Well, I decided to check my phone/email/facebook for just a minute. I’m sure you can guess what happened. I got sucked into facebook land, and I glanced up at the time and it was now 6:20. I wasted 20 minutes of my precious morning time. With my houseful of children, my 1 hour before their waking is PRECIOUS. And I wasted 20 minutes of it on scrolling through facebook. So now it was 6:20am and I was already behind on my day. I got my Bible reading in for the day, but no exercise. This is my example of what not to do to have a healthy, happy, fruitful life.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not villainizing facebook. Done in moderation it’s great for keeping in touch with friends, discussing topics important to me and so on. But facebook time needs to be planned into the day, or it becomes a huge vacuum that sucks in my time that is needed for my other goals. Just as leisure of any sort is not wrong in and of itself, it needs to be put in its proper place. Work and then play. Get done what is on my list of daily goals, and then fill in the rest with leisure if there is any time left.

We’re not getting any younger. The sands of time are always drifting away, and so we’ve got to be very aware of the way we are using our time.

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Ephesians 5:15-16  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Having a schedule or plan for the day is the first half of the battle. I look ahead at the time I have available, and figure out ahead of time how to utilize that time to reach my goals. I’m constantly tweaking our schedule to try to fit in all that we need to do as a large homeschooling family. I like the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. A lot of truth in there. If I had no plan for the day at all, then I would not accomplish half of what I do. I plan in my work, and I plan in my time for hobbies, relaxing and reading, and facebooking. I have a plan for when to cook, eat, sleep, exercise, garden, rest.

HOWEVER, merely having a plan isn’t the end, as you saw with my morning of time waste. We can have the best laid plans, but still not accomplish anything. Actually implementing the plan and following through is integral. A plan without the follow through is pretty much worthless.

 

So I make a plan, and I stick to the plan as best I can. Sure, sometimes things outside my control will happen to change the plan, and that’s okay.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 ESV

If a child wakes up sick, I roll with it. If my car breaks down, I go with the flow. These things happen, and we can’t hold our plans so tightly that we can’t adjust and adapt when these out of the ordinary things happen. But wasting time, scrolling facebook when I should have been accomplishing my goals and following my plan for the morning, that’s not the way to lead a fruitful life. So please don’t follow my example from today 😉

Be fruitful, healthy, happy. And make the best use of your time.

Simple, quiet habits

I’ve always been fascinated with the Amish life. Although i don’t want to give up my electricity (can you imagine washing clothes by hand for 7 children!?), I do like to glean some life habits from the Amish who have been able to avoid the rat race mentality of modern American culture. Constant noise makes me feel jittery. Constant entertainment leaves me feeling empty and depressed. And what is our culture made up of predominantly? Jittery depressed people. It’s no wonder.

The average Joe wakes up, checks his phone, browses facebook, turns on the tv, gets ready for work, listens to music  or talk radio in the car, then works all day, drives back home in rush hour traffic with more music or talk radio, turns on the tv when they get home, browses the internet some more until it’s time to go to bed. Busy busy busy, Rush rush rush. Noise noise noise. No silence. No contemplation. No peacefulness.

The Amish? They wake up to a relatively quiet house. If they have to leave for work, they ride in a horse and buggy. Quiet, slow. They work with their hands. They spend time enjoying dinner around the table with their family. Slow and relaxed. No internet, no tv, no radio.

One habit or practice the Amish have is that they simply enjoy routine, mundane, quiet things. There’s something to be said for just being quiet. Now I’m not saying there’s no place for tv, radio, internet, but moderation is key.

One habit I like to do everyday is hang a load of laundry on the clothesline. It started years ago with trying to save money, and by drying on the line, we saved the electricity cost of the dryer running. Our financial situation is a little better now, to where the small amount I save in line drying doesn’t make a huge difference, and at first glance, it may seem like a waste of my time. After all, it takes me 10 minutes to hang it up, and 10 minutes to take it down in the afternoon, when I could just throw it in the dryer and save myself some time. But here’s the thing – while I’m hanging it up and taking it down, I can hear the birds sing, I feel the breeze in my hair, I see the clouds gently rolling over the sky. It’s quiet. It’s simple. I have time to think. I consider how huge the world is and how small I am. And about how women across all of time and in all places hang out the laundry. There’s a connectedness there with generations past.

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I love to sit on the front porch, watching the leaves dance in the wind, listening to the music of the wind chime, seeing a butterfly float past. Rocking in my chair, oblivious at the moment to the world news or the latest viral video on facebook, because I left my phone in the house.

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I work in the garden, digging in soil, planting something small that may one day grow big and feed my growing family. Seeing the way the little worm burrows deep in the soil. The way the bean tendrils wrap around the fence. The way the plump blackberries shine in the sun.

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Stillness is a rare thing in today’s culture with the bombardment of media. But it is in the still, quiet moments that we can begin to understand who we are, who God is, and where we fit into His plan. When we develop quiet habits in our life, we regularly get to pause, unplug from this modern world, and enjoy the simple things.

Maybe hanging  clothes outside sounds like drudgery to you. Or the thought of gardening sounds dull. But find something you can do during each day to “stop and smell the roses.” Maybe take a quiet walk. Notice the sky. Notice the sounds you hear. Or just really look at your child or spouse, concentrating on the small details. Notice the freckles on her face. See how his eyes twinkle when he smiles. At the very least, turn off your phone and tv for a time each day so you can clear your mind.

Be fruitful, happy, healthy. And be quiet, enjoying the simple things.

One in, one out

Is it just me, or do we all have way too much stuff in our homes, with more coming in nearly every day? Most of us have closets full of clothes, but we still buy more. We have cabinets full of kitchen gadgets, but we still buy more. We have bookshelves full of books, and we still buy more.

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to hold to the rule of “one in, one out”. If I buy a new shirt, then one old shirt must be donated. If I buy a new pair of shoes, one old pair must go. I also keep this rule for my children as well. When toys come in, toys go out. When clothes come in, clothes go out. I keep a “donate” box in the closet so I can easily add to it, and then carry it to my van when it’s full to drop off the next time I’m out running errands.

For us, this is integral so that we don’t literally drown in stuff. We have 7 children, and live in a 2,000 sq. ft. house. I know this is not small by world standards, but here in America, this is smaller than the average, and we have double the people than the average home.

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By keeping to the one in, one out standard though, we never accumulate more than we have right now. We get new stuff of course, because old things wear out or stain, but we don’t gain additional volume.

I honestly can only imagine how stressed and overwhelmed I would feel if our home was more cluttered or full than it already is. “Stuff” adds stress. It honestly does. I’m so pleased to see the minimalist lifestyle becoming popular! Americans are infamous around the world for over indulgence in all aspects of life, and the minimalist idea runs completely counter to that.

If this sounds like a good idea for you to implement, I just read about a new program that helps you with the one in, one out. I haven’t personally tried it out yet because I drive by a donation center every week, but if getting to a drop off to donate your stuff is a problem, then this seems to be a great solution. This is a charitable organization that will give you a postage paid label to put on your amazon box (or any other box) that you fill with your old stuff and then it’s free for you to ship to them. You even get a receipt for your giving. Here’s the link. Give Back Box

Give Back Box® provides vendor services to retailers and charities, giving each and every cardboard box a second life to help people in need. So it is also a ‘green’ solution! Reuse your online shipping boxes in which you received your purchases, or any other cardboard box you may have, to donate your unwanted household items: such as gently used clothing, shoes etc., to make a major difference in the life of another person. www.givebackbox.com

The next time you go shopping, consider removing a few of your old things to donate to someone else. It will give you a clearer mind, and a cleaner closet. Win win.

Be fruitful, happy, healthy. And donate your old stuff.

Homemade pasta sauce

Have you ever truly looked at the ingredients on your favorite store bought pasta sauce? The first several ingredients usually sound innocent enough. But as you keep reading…

Here’s the ingredients for a popular store brand taken from their website: Tomato puree, diced tomatoes, sugar, beef, canola oil, salt, beef fat, spice, dehydrated onions, dehydrated garlic, citric acid, flavoring, dehydrated beef stock, onion extract, garlic extract, beef extract, yeast extract.

That thing that says “flavoring” down towards the end – that can mean anything and everything. You honestly have no idea what you’re getting in there. It doesn’t even clarify whether its natural flavoring or artificial. But let assume it’s “natural flavoring”. According to FDA, “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Sounds complicated and confusing. And all those extracts? Beef extract? Yeast extract? What is that? Does your body know what it is? Can your digestive system recognize it as a food item? I’m not sure.

This list looks much better: Tomatoes, peppers, onions, beef. Flavored with garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano. We know what these are. Our bodies know what these are. Our digestive system can identify them all as food items and process them accordingly.

Here’s my tried and true recipe for a hearty pasta sauce, tweaked several times over the years, but a family favorite now. If you don’t like peppers and onions in your sauce, you could leave them out – I’m a fan of chunky pasta sauce though.

Homemade pasta sauce

  • 1 or 1.5 lb ground beef (or turkey or venison)
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 t. minced garlic
  • 2 t. oregano or basil or combo of both
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 1 t. maple syrup

Brown the beef over medium heat. When its about halfway brown, add in peppers and onions. As onions start to become translucent, add the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. When beef is fully browned and onions translucent, add in all 3 tomato cans, liquid included, and maple syrup. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, or even up to an hour on low heat, or in a crock pot on low for a few hours.

This pasta sauce is great served over zoodles (zuchinni noodles) if you’re grain free, and also great over regular spaghetti or pasta if you’re not grain-free.

Please do yourself a favor and stay away from ingredients like “flavoring”. And if you really need to know the ugly nasty truth, some “flavoring” is castoreum, which is “natural”, and is a bitter, orange-brown, odoriferous, oily secretion, found in two sacs between the anus and the external genitals of beavers. Seriously y’all. 

Yeah….just stay away from things with “flavoring” or “natural flavors”. You really don’t know what it may be…

Be fruitful, happy, healthy. And don’t ingest fluid from beaver genital glands.

Roasted Chicken, simplified

Oftentimes, moms feel like they just don’t have time to cook healthy for the family. Many “healthy” recipes are long and involved and use strange ingredients. I know. I’ve been there, done that. And I do enjoy cooking, and when/if I have the time, I like to try out those exotic new recipes. But for most weeknights, I just need something easy and simple. This Roasted Chicken is one of those meals.

For those who have never roasted a whole chicken before, the process seems intimidating. There’s that strange stuff inside of it, the question of how to cook it, and endless recipes to wade through of brining, various temperatures, herbs, rubs, marinades, etc. I’m here to say that a roasted chicken can be extremely simple, not to mention frugal and healthy too! My weeknight roasted chicken recipe only takes about 5 minutes of prep time.

I know there are various recipes that can make a roasted chicken a culinary masterpiece. And I realize there is a time and place for masterpieces in the kitchen, but for me, most days, I just want to get something healthy and easy on the table to feed my family. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure the fancier roasted chicken recipes taste better. But this roasted chicken recipe is for the moms with toddlers hanging onto their legs throwing a tantrum. Ain’t got no time for lemon juice and rosemary sprigs and sea salt brines.

This “recipe” (although I can’t really call it a recipe, it’s so simple) is a great weeknight meal. It will also likely give you leftovers for lunch or even another dinner later in the week. It only takes about 5 minutes of active prep time on your part, and then 90 minutes in the oven time. It’s similar in taste to those rotisserie chickens you can get at the grocery store, but this is much healthier because it doesn’t have the “flavoring” injected into it like the supermarket chickens do. (look at labels! “natural flavoring” = who knows what is in your chicken)

So first, you buy that big, raw, whole chicken. In my neck of the woods, these roasters are about 5 pounds, and typically about $0.95/lb, roughly $5.00 for the whole thing. If your family is smaller than mine, it’ll probably give you 2 meals worth of meat. We sometimes get 2 meals out of it depending on how hungry the children are. The leftover meat can be used for chicken tacos, or served on a salad or sandwich, or put in soup.

Ok, now for the “recipe”. Put the chicken, still wrapped in your sink. Cut the plastic off, and then get “the guts” out. Kind of gross, but cooking is not for the faint-hearted. Neither is motherhood. Or life, I suppose. So, “the guts” are just sitting inside the chicken and you simply scoop them out with your hands and into the trash. Some brands wrap them nicely in paper which makes it a tad easier, but it’s still inside the chicken. Now, use some paper towels to blot the outside of the chicken so the skin is dry. (This will give it the nice crispy skin)

Then put the chicken on the baking pan, breast side down. (this keeps the breast meat juicy and not dried out). It’ll probably look a little lonely and sad laying there. You can throw a few big sweet potatoes on the pan to keep it company and cook alongside if you want too.

Drizzle a little oil on top. If you’re feeling fancy, add some salt and pepper too. But if the toddler is still screaming at the base of your feet, you can easily skip the salt and pepper. I speak from experience.

Bake at 425 degrees F for about 90 minutes.

Voila. Done. Simple.

Serve with a couple sides or a salad. Dinner is done.

No, it won’t win any awards. But it is healthy, easy, and frugal. My kind of meal.

Be fruitful, healthy, happy. And simplify your chicken.